ANTI-FASCISM POEM: In Efface of Creeping Fascism

He was a custom
Too accept
That creep
Creep
Creep
Of fascism
Without a furor
Incite
Picking wons
Fights
Posedly agin
And agin
Sow frayed
Peering opposed
Laws and orders
As just
Be for
It’s too late
Over
Due
In efface of populations abashed
In habiting legions of apprehensions
With all
Act right
A weigh
Even as if
Unhinging
On won soul

got fascism? POLITICAL BUTTONThis anti-fascism poem was inspired by some recent situations in my life and my reflection on the endemic response of many to use the rubric of “picking one’s fights” to avoid pushing back against creeping fascism.  My most recent experience with creeping fascism was on a long bus trip when a U.S. Border Patrol agent boarded the bus during a layover at a station in the middle of the night.  The agent asked some riders “Do you mind telling me your country of origin?”  First, this was odd because we were in Rochester, New York, several hours from the Canadian border (a known backdoor for alien entry); and the bus had been in the Buffalo station, which is much closer to the Canadian border.  I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONThe Border Patrol agent was profiling passengers and he never asked me, a white guy, anything.  The agent also did not ask for identification or “papers,” so he was not very rigorous in this fishing expedition.  Perhaps this was a tip of the hat to the honest-faced people he was profiling, but I strongly suspect that the primary purpose was actually to make people afraid rather than nab aliens or criminals.  QUESTION AUTHORITY Before It Questions You POLITICAL BUTTONAs this agent was questioning passengers, I was pondering what to say if he asked me the loaded question: “Do you mind telling me your country of origin?”  Of course, I minded.  Refusing to answer the question was my first preference.  I could answer honestly, that I was born in Haiti.  Perhaps I could reveal to him that I am a convicted felon.  Maybe I could let him know that I detest creeping fascists.  But, alas, I didn’t fit his middle-of-the-night profile.  Perhaps us hippies are going to have to work harder to make the list.

A Nation of Sheep Soon Beget a Government of Wolves - Edward R. Murrow Quote - POLITICAL BUTTONI was somewhat surprised and very much creeped out by this incident, but it has increased my resolve to push back against creeping fascism at every opportunity.  As luck would have it, I arrived back in Toledo early morning Tuesday, in time for our weekly Trump Tuesday protest outside Sen. Rob Portman’s office and his aid happened to be available that day to speak with a group of us.  So, I was able to share this story of the Border Patrol agent on the bus.  Plus, us Trump Tuesday protesters had been experiencing ongoing creeping fascism in the form of building security arbitrarily limiting only four of us in the lobby at any one time to fill out comment sheets for Sen. Portman.  While there was an alleged policy regarding this, I suspect it never existed, nor could it hold up to constitutional muster.  One Nation Under Surveillance POLITICAL BUTTONThis alleged policy apparently applied to an identifiable group of people peaceably assembling, not, for instance to a dozen apparently random people in the lobby.  The lobby security guard didn’t like us, and he spoke demeaningly, especially to the women protesters.  Most of the protesters complied with this arbitrary restriction by herding only four people at a time into the lobby.  However, I made a point of filling out a comment sheet only if I could be a fifth person.  I never got any hassle for doing this, but if I had, I would of insisted on seeing a written policy.  For whatever reason, there was a new security guard in the lobby.  The new security guard didn’t care how many of us came into the lobby.  As five of us entered, I declared the new reality, “We now have 25% more democracy!”

Police Everywhere, Justice Nowhere POLITICAL BUTTONBeside directly oppressing target groups, creeping fascism has the nefarious side benefit of training others to tolerate little creeps of fascism that may seem uncivil to resist.  I find this a good example of how our quest for propriety can interfere with simple, and small, moral actions.  Perhaps ironically, resisting these little creeps may bring about disproportionately large consequences.  I contend that this disproportionality is the best evidence for an unjust situation and social control through intimidation.  Unfortunately, the risk of disproportional consequences is the very reason that people often cite for not resisting, and in solemn pronouncements of practicality state, “You have to pick your battles.”  Of course, you do.  Though I prefer to call them opportunities.

Feel free, to browse my anti-fascism designs.

Bee Sting Allergic Reaction Health Care Experience Number Three

On Monday, July 17, 2017, I was stung by a yellow jacket. I am allergic to bee stings and the like. This is the third time I had been stung by a bee since I found out that I was allergic to bee stings [see here for account and poem about previous bee sting]. If untreated, a bee sting would cause anaphylactic shock and probably death. The first line of treatment for bee stings in people who are allergic to bee stings is an injection of epinephrine. This can prevent the onset of anaphylactic shock.

Fortunately, I had an epinephrine autoinjector. Unfortunately, this autoinjector had been expired for two years. I had not refilled a prescription for a new epinephrine autoinjector, since the most common brand, Epipen, which has 95% of the United States market, has in recent years been price gouging consumers who rely on such a life-saving device and insurance companies who may pay for it. I could not bring myself to be held hostage to a price gouging pharmaceutical company, even though my insurance would pay 100% of the cost. Since acquiring the company that manufactured EpiPens, the new company (Mylan) kept raising the price until it was 600% more than the original price. Such entrepreneurial genius was rewarded even more by granting the CEO of the new company a 700% pay increase. Not being a complete fool, I had researched if expired epinephrine autoinjectors retained their effectiveness past their expiration date. I found that given reasonable storage temperatures, the bulk of their effectiveness was maintained even years past the expiration date. Thus, I decided to wait until alternative products were available or until the offending price gouging company made their price reasonable.

So, back to the story. After being stung, I looked quickly in the neighbors driveways to see if a car was there and somebody might be home who might be able to drive me to the emergency room. No such luck. So, I injected myself with the epinephrine autoinjector. Since I don’t have a car, I rode my bike to the emergency room at St. Vincent Hospital about a mile and a third from my home where I was stung. It was a nice sunny day in the low 80s. I rode there vigorously on my bike. I was feeling pretty well and had no welts blooming like in my two previous bee sting occurrences.

When I walked into the emergency room, there were two people at the desk and one clerk. After waiting a few seconds after receiving no greeting or acknowledgement of my presence, I asked if somebody was available to provide medical triage for me. I indicated that I had been stung by a bee, that I was allergic, and that I was in danger of going into anaphylactic shock. The clerk called for another person. This person turned out to be another billing clerk. This person took my personal and health insurance information and asked no information about my current emergency. This person walked me through two big double doors into a hallway where I was told to sit on a gurney and wait for help. I was left unsupervised. I was in partial line of sight of the emergency room nurses station. After sitting there for a few minutes, a man in scrubs moved into my view. I asked him if I could get some help, and asked him somewhat facetiously if this was an “emergency” room. He very nonchalantly said that he would see if somebody could assist me. Some minutes later, someone came to ask me questions. They took me into an emergency room examining room. This was about 10 minutes after I had walked through the front door.

They immediately hooked me up to many of the usual devices, such as a finger oxygen monitor, a blood pressure monitor, and EKG leads. Eventually, they gave me an IV. Apparently, my heart was racing, not too surprising since I was having a serious allergic reaction, had an epinephrine injection and a vigorous bike ride. However, the EKG showed abnormalities, which they diagnosed as atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is where the upper chambers of the heart send signals sporadically so smooth, coordinated, regular blood flow is impaired. My heart rate was moving back and forth from about 80 or 90 up to about 160, which is my maximal heart rate. To my knowledge, I had never previously experienced atrial fibrillation. They were concerned that this may be an underlying condition, triggered by the stress of the sting allergic reaction, and/or the epinephrine, possibly in conjunction with vigorous exercise. I indicated to the nurse that if I should die that they should throw my dead body on the lawn of the corporate headquarters of the pharmaceutical company practicing price gouging for epinephrine autoinjectors, i.e., EpiPen made by Mylan pharmaceuticals.

While they were monitoring the atrial fibrillation situation, they asked if I wanted an ice pack for the bee sting site on the back of my hand which was red and swollen. I said “sure.” They brought in an elongated icepack about 3 inches wide and 15 inches long. Oddly, the covering seem to be somewhat insulated so the cold didn’t seem very cold. The physician noted that this device was meant for another purpose — though she did not indicate what purpose. My hand wasn’t suffering too badly so I didn’t worry about it much. It just struck me oddly that’s some ice in a plastic bag would have done nicely at probably a thousandth of the cost.

At about 50 minutes after arriving in the emergency room, I was given prednisone, a steroid to keep the swelling down and fight back the allergic reaction. Fortunately, I was not blooming in welts as in my two earlier experiences with bee sting reactions, both of which were not initially treated immediately with epinephrine.

Their primary concern seemed to be the atrial fibrillation, which they continued to monitor. I half-jokingly submitted that the atrial fibrillation may simply be due to my broken heart over the Senate Republican health care bill. The doctor did not disagree. The supervising physician first recommended that I’d be admitted for further testing and observation. After some questioning about the nature of this, I pushed back somewhat, partially based on my two previous experiences at the same ER and hospital where I was hospitalized for further testing and observation and my experience proved that this was not useful and perhaps even hampered by treatment and recovery. I have recorded one of these bee sting experiences elsewhere in my blog.

Eventually, after the atrial fibrillation did not resolve on its own, they gave me some heart medicine, and within five minutes or so, my heart settled down. While this atrial fibrillation event lasted for quite a while, perhaps an hour and a half or so, I was feeling pretty well physically and mentally, with only one five or 10 second bout of heart racing where I felt moderately distressed — but, then again, I don’t get distressed too easily.

The doctor indicated that my thyroid stimulating hormone test was high normal, that is, 4.75 in a normal range of 0.5 to 5.0. They thought that this might be a possible indicator for low thyroid activity which could contribute to an atrial fibrillation condition. They asked that I be retested in three months. They were encouraged by the fact that I had no other risk factors and was in excellent general health.

They ended up discharging me without any additional request for my hospitalization. This pleased me. I was glad to be saved a day locked up in a hospital. I was glad to have likely saved the health care system another few thousand dollars. Plus, I was planning to attend a health-care protest the following day at noon, where I had planned to read a poem I composed specifically for that event, dedicated to our own Sen. Rob Portman, who has been equivocating over how many millions of Americans losing their health insurance is acceptable.

In the discharge process, I requested a refill prescription of my epinephrine autoinjector, given that it was a generic or less expensive competitor than from the EpiPen manufacturers. I indicated that I had done some research on this before, and that if they wrote the prescription more generically such as epinephrine autoinjector rather than by a brand name, then a less expensive version may be available. They researched this and discovered that only one local pharmacy chain carried a less expensive version. This wasn’t my usual pharmacy, but it was about the same distance from my home. The less expensive version was $109 versus the up to $600 for the EpiPen.

I am very grateful that this bee sting occurrence ended up being less serious as far as the allergic reaction than in my two previous occurrences.  Apparently, my two-year expired epinephrine autoinjector worked just fine. I’ll have to wait and see if this atrial fibrillation occurrence is due to an underlying condition or simply brought on by the very stressful conditions of an allergic reaction, epinephrine and vigorous exercise. I am still aghast that in none of the three times I’ve gone to this same emergency room have I received prompt medical triage. It seems to me that without prompt medical triage, it is somewhat difficult to actually consider your emergency room an actual “emergency” room. Sadly, they are quite efficient at getting your billing information promptly, but it as to dealing quickly with whatever emergency you are presenting with, that is another and another and another story.

COMEDIAN JESUS: Pax Romana — You’re Killing Me!

This Comedian Jesus political cartoon highlights the shallow liberalism and false choices of Pax Romana, the metaphorical stand-in for Pax Americana, peace through so-called enlightened domination.

Comedian Jesus Pax Romana Killing Me

This Comedian Jesus cartoon also ties the all-too-convenient collaboration of political and religious elites in the less-than-enlightened shared interest of self-preservation and the status quo.  Prophets, making radical calls for accountability, and modeling self-sacrifice, make the powers that be grate agin and agin.  Many American Christians oddly reframe Jesus execution as simply some sort of metaphysical accounting adjustment, minimizing his direct challenge to political and religious elites.  Jesus was a threat to Roman political rule, brutally enforced by military rule in its extended territories, the colonies of the age.  Racism, xenophobia, and straightforward domination was part and parcel to the Roman order, cynically referred to as Pax Romana.  Non Violent Revolutionaries Raze Hell--POLITICAL BUTTONJesus’ creative nonviolence suited the oppressed Jews (and others) with amor of hope, and provided bold tools to disarm Roman rule.   Non Violent Revolution--POLITICAL BUTTONJesus was a threat to religious elites due to his profound challenges to the authority and legitimacy of religious elites and his surging popularity.  Also, Jesus was seen as indirectly stoking the possibilities of a violent insurrection (Judas, from the Zealots who believed in violent insurrection, may have betrayed Jesus in hopes that his martyrdom would trigger revolutionary actions among the populace).  The religious elites had much to lose as their collaboration with the occupying Roman powers had bought them special privileges, a classic technique of dominating powers to buy so-called peace, in this case the brutal-for-most Pax Romana.  PEACE QUOTE: Peaceful Revolution--PEACE SIGN BUTTONPilate, in questioning Jesus employs another classic technique of ultimately evading accountability with his infamous “What is truth?” interrogative.  This now infamous questioning, would eventually become an iconic emblem of what is now central to postmodern thought: the relativity of truth.  For the worse, such an easy liberalism provides great smokescreens for the powers that be to evade accountability with feigned intellectual and ideological credence.  The modern day Roman empire of Western civilization has assured full employment of this shallow liberalism.  This Comedian Jesus political cartoon parodies this with the brutal liberality of getting to choose your method of death, the too-close-too-home reality for millions under Pax Americana.

America Is NOT At War, The Military Is At War, America Is At The Mall POLITICAL BUTTONTo bring all of this home in contemporary fashion, the choice of Roman/American citizens choosing which shade of empire they want to enrich its citizenry, casts a long shadow, and essentially false choice from the perspective of those not benefiting from Roman/American citizenship. End The Warfare State ANTI-WAR BUTTON While the votes of citizens are bought with many denominations, and presented in contrasting shades of liberality, the church of American privilege is built on a foundation of military might and awe that money can buy.  For those whose world is colonized by America, or who live and die as nominal citizens relegated to apartheid-like ghettos, the so-called choice of their brand of ruler remains of profoundly grate consequence.  People Before Profits POLITICAL BUTTONPlanetary citizens are hoping for prophets over profits.  It's A Planet Not An Empire POLITICAL BUTTONMother Earth is quiet udderly sweating this election.  I witness the desperate fighting for our own scraps of privilege as sadly pathetic in the light of America’s finest ideals.  May we rise up in another American revolution, this time for the benefit all God’s children and beauteous creation.

rEVOLution is the Solution (LOVE) - POLITICAL BUTTONIn Times of Universal Deceit Telling Truth a Revolutionary Act--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Feel free to browse more of Top Pun’s anti-imperialism designs designed to end global domination.

POEM: A Full Life

Charlie’s life was full
Every available space laden to wrest
His productivity well suited
To his interests
Taxidermy and robotics

This short poem offers a challenge to what it means to have a full life in modern Western civilization, where increasing speed and productivity are worshiped as the means to a good life.  I am a big fan of rest and empty spaces as an essential way to fully round out one’s life.  Our culture’s addiction to productivity, fitting in (“well suited”), and a focus on narrow interests has most of us bamboozled.  In this poem, the inane and the productive meet in the metaphor of taxidermy and robotics, representing the deadening and dehumanizing effects of an overfull life.  This metaphor also juxtaposes vocation and avocation, where it is unclear what is a job and what is a hobby.  While this may be confusing, it hints at the underlying connection that a capitalistic culture makes.  Capitalism works best when we devote ourselves to both work/productivity AND inane consumerism.  Capitalism wants to own both vocation and avocation.  Of course, an endless array of inane avocations are offered, as long as they support the consumption of some product or service, hopefully in the service of distracting you from the emptiness of your “full” life and the avaricious nature of endless “growth.”

Emptiness can be revolutionary.  This is why capitalism works best when it crams every available space with inane crap.  Capitalism’s very life depends on it.  Surely, capitalism must provide abundant avenues to distract us from our emptiness.  However, emptiness is not empty!  If we sit with our emptiness, in the sense of lack of fulfillment, this will foment unrest poorly suited for capitalism.  Even further, in experiencing empty spaces and silence, we expand our perspective, the framework upon which we see things, allowing us to truly grow.  Buddhists and Taoists are particularly adept at exploring such realities.  Deists might frame this as silence being the language of God, that small, still voice.

After experiencing a period of relaxation, have you ever then experienced increased anxiety or dread when “going back to work” appears on the horizon?  In a life abundant in balance and wisdom, while work requires effort, it does not require dread.  Dread is a sign of imbalance.  Chronic dread signifies a shortage of wisdom.  Dread speaks to us.  One of the central concepts (the first of the Four Noble Truths) of Buddhism is often stated in English as “Life is suffering.”  I have heard this elaborated upon as realizing that life requires effort (work).  Work is not the enemy.  Work is an integral part of life — as is rest .  The issue becomes how to achieve balance and minimize suffering.  I like the image of breathing in and out as a metaphor for balance.  Questioning whether breathing in or out is better misses the point — as is often the case in Western convergent thinking.  If you do ask which is better, the only sensible response is “what did you do last?”  If work causes anxiety, then rest.  If rest causes anxiety, then work.  If everything causes you anxiety, then look to emptiness.  Of course, emptiness often looks like rest, but there is good work to be done there…

POEM: Sex Before Marriage?

He in choired
So you think people should have sex before marriage?
My straight forward rejoined her:
Hell, I think people should have sex before breakfast!

This short poem is a playful response to the straight-laced attitudes of many religious folks surrounding sexuality. The “in choired” intimates that he is speaking out of a community, most likely a religious community. Ironically, a congregation’s choir is perhaps the most likely part of a congregation to contain gay folks, often condemned by fundamentalist or conservative religionists. In some cases, a congregation’s choir may actually be more gay than happy!

The leading question implies the desired answer and is designed to put the questioned on the defensive. The whimsical answer transcends the intended course of the debate, with an unapologetic celebration of sexuality. The “straight,” “forward,” and “rejoined her” implies a straight male responder — perhaps even myself — who is not backward, perhaps straight but not narrow. Beginning the response with “Hell,” playfully mocks the judgmental implications of hegemonic religiosity. The argumentative nature of judgmental questioning betrays the very tender nature of authentically intimate sexuality. As neither a fan of orthodoxy nor the dominant Catholic version of sexuality, I will not be drawn into the narrow and unwelcoming clutches of evangelistic mass debaters.

In the end, if this poem made you laugh, it has served its purpose.

POEM: Big Bang Burrito®

Under a first rate inquisition
I mussed a test
I don’t know
If God
Can make
A bean burrito so big
That God can’t
Eat it
Such a peerless quest in
May be
Scorn points with sum
To be little God
Though conceivably
A cause
Fore the big bang!

This poem and joke is a mocking attempt to deal with mocking.  Questioning is great, as close kin to curiosity.  In any case though, the answers we come to are led by the questions we ask.  Sometimes our questions just don’t rise to the occasion.  This elementary school question about God’s omnipotence is such a question.  To make my point, I would proffer that this poem is a complement to the question: Can people ask a question so stupid that even God would be forced to publish a comeback?  Framing omnipotence as brute force, God’s purpose as some carnival showiness, and/or insisting the God be able to be digested whole by human brains, leaves us with a limited universe of pre-ordained “acceptable” answers that are unsatisfying.  Perhaps God has published God’s resume in a glorious splendor transcending what can be captured in the human mind and reduced to a scale or scoring system that would allow the employment of God.  Perhaps God doesn’t even want to be “employed.”  Perhaps God doesn’t demand authorship rights, but seeks only presence.  “Seek and you shall find” has an unspoken sister phrase, “Don’t seek and you won’t find.”  Many skeptics of religion and spirituality are rightfully wary of claims of authority, and how acceptance of certain authority squelches curiosity.  Nonetheless, what if God’s presence in the universe is supposed to be an ever-unfolding mystery with intriguing clues and an irreducible amount of doubt to assure that the game is perpetually beguiling?  Endless discovery of God’s fathomless presence.  Sounds to me like curiosity may very well be a fundamental facet of true religion.  Jewish tradition holds that the face of God cannot be seen by human eyes and live.  Perhaps we would be torn from our human existence with such revelation, either dying as a human and/or transmuting into a form of being which can adequately hold such knowledge and experience.  There is an image in the Old Testament (Exodus 33:23), “Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen,” where it is held (beheld?) that Moses sees God’s butt (backside) as he departs the encounter, but Moses will not be allowed to see God’s face.  In an endless game of curiosity and intrigue, this may just be one aspect of that relationship.  Pessimists may just consider this God mooning us.  Yet, since God’s son was a carpenter, should it really come as a shock that the Father is a plumber?  Or, perhaps, God is otherwise occupied, maybe in a Big Bang Burrito® eating contest.

POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

In a universe beyond apprehension
She caught herself
Vexing once again
Is there meaning?
Looking above
The stars just winked
Looking below
The grass said
“How can you stand it?”
Looking forward
Her next meal said
“Eat me.”
Looking back
She grasped so many broken peaces
Looking in
She divined an unfathomable whole
On her look out
Giving weigh
Too eternal vigilantes
Buy passing awe
The enduring
Rejoined her
Instead fast
As kin
Neighboring on
Know ledge
And good will
In solid-air-ity
Surfing
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

This poem was inspired by a facebook post asking, “Is it the human curse to be constantly seeking meaning in life when there really isn’t any?”  This poem is for you, Polly, and all of angst-ridden humanity.  Of course, looking for ultimate meaning on facebook may be analogous to looking for love in all the wrong places.  Joking aside, I feel the existential pain of such questioning.  My conservative Christian college roommate warned that I shouldn’t take the philosophy course: Existentialism.  In a display of prudent Calvinistic theology, he said this is a place you shouldn’t go.  I was raised to question and explore.  One surefire way to raise my curiosity is to say you shouldn’t go there!  Banned books should probably well populate our reading list.  I never seriously questioned not taking the class.  Existentialism, nihilism, and the oft-elusive quest for meaning are frequent themes in my poetry and associated rants.  I would never say to not go there.  I would suggest that you not build a home there.  The profound freedom expounded upon by existential philosophers bids us travel widely and put scarce stock in a cozy number of questions or answers.

Rather than giving another pages-long rant on existentialism, or an extensive apologetic on meaning, I will let my poem due most of the work.  I will point out that I find some humor in this most serious of questions.  This poem launches with a series of anthropomorphisms, the stars, the grass, even your next meal, begging some equal standing with you to answer your question.  This is meant to be funny in multiple ways.  I find funniness a particularly good antidote to excessive seriousness.  However, for you philosophical types, projecting human qualities onto inanimate or “less animate” nature is often a first line of critique on the question of God.  I would agree that limiting your search for the supernatural in nature is setting the bar too low.  The mismatch in the adequacy of question to answer makes for a laughable pair of foolishnesses: looking to dirt to enlighten us and considering ourselves to be just dirt (albeit very complicated dirt).

Surely, we can fill a lifetime with learning about nature and its wonders, but we should look up the proverbial food chain rather than down it to find higher meaning.  Or, at a minimum, we should focus on the apparently most evolved life on earth, human beings.  If by happenstance humans are the most evolved conscious beings in our known universe, are we reduced to permutations of cannibalism, or is there some higher power to nourish us?  I find the metaphor of cannibalism as quite apt, since the first monarch of existentialist philosophers, John Paul Sartre, spoke forcefully and eloquently about two subjects never being able to connect, forever trapped in alternately being a subject and making the other an object, then being reduced to an object by the other.  Of course, any philosopher that claims that two subjects can never connect as subjects, besides permanently disabling human relationships, certainly precludes any human-God relationship (subject-Subject).   It is worth noting that later existentialist philosophers claimed that subjects can actually connect without reducing the other subject to a mere object.  Not to get caught in intractable discussions of God, it will suffice to say that I believe this, that subjects can connect with one another.  First, this recognizes that human relationships are the everyday stuff of subjective beings living out their nature.  This seems to imply that human community is foundational for human fulfillment.  More provocatively, this opens up the possibility, dare I say hope, that we can connect with some higher power (Subject) to facilitate our spiritual evolution and find greater meaning than that which can be deduced from mere facts/objects of the physical world/nature (or intuited from individual human subjects).

You may note that I consider subjects/subjectivity in the realm of the supernatural, transcending the natural (not negating it).  As confirmed by quantum physics, observers (subjects) influence and change the natural world without any evident contradictions in the deterministic aspects of the scientific world.  In short, at least some form of transcendence of the merely physical/deterministic world is allowed; in fact, necessary to account for quantum physical evidence.  Of course, this brings us full circle to where we began, leaving open the question of the nature of the indeterminate (e.g., free will) and determinate (e.g., physical) aspects of reality.  Basically, the accepted convention of modern science is that the indeterminate has no nature, which is represented by the concept of “randomness.”  Randomness is an indispensable component of the current understanding of Darwin’s evolution of species.  A relationship with nothing is necessary to stir up possibilities allowing for new configurations of life-forms [I don’t think that it was an accident that Sartre’s foundational work was titled, Being and Nothingness].  If evolution was fully determined then some form of God as a first cause with a specific nature would be necessary, and there could only be one outcome, the present reality.  I think this sort of view is rightly rejected as a poor representation of life as experienced and as any notion of God.  However comfortable you feel with the notion of randomness, evolution, as presently expounded, does a masterful job of explaining the origin of species.  However, evolution is silent, even impotent (which is key in any theory so thoroughly wrapped up in reproduction), in accounting for the origin of life itself.  This concept of randomness strikes me at least as problematic as assuming that there is any nature within the realm of indeterminacy.  While the concept of something coming from nothing has often been used to mock those of a spiritual inclination, this is an essential conundrum of modern physics, both in quantum indeterminacy and in a unifying theory for quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and the theory of general relativity which applies to astronomical scales.  The assumption that all truth lies within reductionistic science has been disproved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a mathematical proof that there are always predicates (true statements or facts) that lie outside any possible mathematical or rational system.  Those positing some form of metaphysics (spirituality) simply claim that there is some nature outside of facts and truths that can be ascertained by reductionistic science and assembled into any rational system.  Further, many claim that we can ascertain truths about the nature of reality through subjective experience, not fully verifiable by science.  This connection to other subjective/indeterminate realities can bring about a fuller understanding of reality.  In such ethereal undertakings, I seek in solidarity with others to incarnate such realities in our lives, thus making our lives fuller, more congruent with reality.

I posit that life itself encompasses the subjective, and that there is a nature to nature, a nature that transcends and lovingly gives birth to countless wonders.  Transcendent.  Loving.  Giving birth.  Wonder full.  This is the God I seek.  We need not leap from essential uncertainty to an abyss of meaninglessness.  We need not build arbitrary prisons to some cruel god of logic, while others walk and explore a world brimming with life and meaning.  Nor do we shrink from visiting those in the darkest of places, for even God overflows there.  I seek to worship a God that cannot fit in any box anyone can construct.  I leave such gods to the dustbin. The present is evident, even if the future is not.  Life is a gift.  Pass it on.  This is the nature of life.

For those of you who waded through my rantings, or those who were wise enough to read the last paragraph first, you are now titled to learn the meaning of vex lex.  Vex lex is a takeoff on rex lex, which means “Law is king.”  Vex, of course, means to distress or bother.  Thus, vex lex means to be distressed or bothered by the prospect of law ruling our lives as our ultimate authority.  Most of us recognize that legalism often strangles life.  The law can be government or any system of thought (ideology).  We are born to be free.  Our room to grow is unending…which can be vexing.  Game on!

 

 

POEM: Needling a Haystack

The stockpiles of human knowledge grow exponentially
And wisdom, like needling a haystack
Says, “What the hay?!”
Finding better questions is where it’s at
Not how fast you can shovel it
Nor how big your pitchfork is
Rather what thread follows
And sew what

This short poem is a tribute to questioning with a purpose.  Unfettered skepticism produces cynicism.  Wisdom recognizes that some questions are better than others.  In fact, what questions you ask determines what answers you get.  This poem cuts through the exponential amassing of knowledge by honing our attention to that which mends our reality together into a meaningful whole.  Without meaning full questions to guide our inquiries, greater access to knowledge simply leads to greater confusion.  The attraction and distraction of a tsunami of available answers to questions, i.e., knowledge, can actually hamper wisdom.  Now, this isn’t some anti-intellectual argument.  This simply recognizes that intellect lacking wisdom is much less fruitful, even dangerous.  The quests for scientific knowledge and wisdom are consonant.  Both seek to integrate knowledge into an ever greater whole.  Knowledge that serves the whole, as opposed to just some part of reality, is a better quality of knowledge.  Knowledge isn’t just about bits and pieces, mere facts; true knowledge is about a deeper understanding of the relationship of these parts to each other, and most importantly, the whole.  Wisdom has a deep respect for the whole, and an even deeper reverence for the fact that the ever greater whole can only be tentatively and incompletely described.  Thus, wisdom is characterized by both humility and curiosity.  Wisdom opposes militant ideologies and apathy.  In fact, militant ideologies are simply ideologies that have lost humility and curiosity and stopped seeking out the ever-elusive, ever-greater whole, which is at least partially represented by those outside a militant ideology.  This fact escapes many trapped in militant ideologies because they mistake totality for unity.  Wisdom is an inoculation against militancy, fascism, and fundamentalism.  This is because the humility and curiosity of wisdom breeds a generous attitude in seeking a harmonious relationship with the whole.  The openness of wisdom is not merely a corollary of the tentativeness of empirical skepticism and scientific reductionism; it is is rooted in the positive appreciation for the value of the “other” which comprise the yet-undiscovered aspects of reality and ineluctable mystery.  This may be your enemy.  This may be God.  It may be both.  A generosity transcending mere openness is made possible by a trust or faith in the whole being more valuable than the parts, even the sum of the parts.  This faith is as essential to healthy scientific investigation as it is to loving human relationships.  This simply assumes, or prefers, science that serves the whole rather than some special interest.  This simply assumes, or prefers, human relationships that don’t reduce humans to things to be manipulated, but beings to be appreciated.  The generosity of wisdom is the mother to its only true child: kindness.  In humility, stripped of arrogance and egocentricity, and equipped with an overpowering curiosity and a transcendent appreciation of the “other,” only kindness remains.  And all good will follow.

POEM: God Gets a Bad Wrap

God gets a bad wrap
As do men
Gloom
Over
Rite and wrong
Babies borne of bathwater
Throne buy themselves
Like clay
Giving rise
To the pitter potter of little feats
And inconceivable images
Speaking out laud
In a class by themselves
Bastards won and all
In celestial relationships
With awe thumbs up
Too given the slip
Sow fatefully fired
Knot from above
Hardened arts of ode
And stone code making cooler heads
Commandments all deca-ed out
Can you digit
For what remains
Won in the mettle
No’ing only gods enflesh
And bones picking
Wons fecund knows
As dead pan humors
And how to think themselves
Outside the box
And portending wake
Only breaking
That awkward silence
And bound curiosity
Ex-splaying stuff
A coffin in drag
Employed in the coroner office
As doody-full janitors
So disposed
In a sweeping universe
Taken out
Behind the would should
Wile hearts still
Beating
Out standing in there feeled
Straw men ghostly flailing
Which came first
The bunny or the egg?
An ironic inquisition
Unable to eat crow
So far a field
Full of crop
Making hay
Of men
Which can’t be bailed
As so determined
Only Abel to must-er
Barren stock aid
A vestigial humanity
Remains incalculable
Even as calculating
Blinded by the blight
Reckoning slight unseen
Nothing sound to be hold
No peeps to be herd
In this objective a praise
Un-re-lie-able reports
Of being touched
During wholly observances
Untraceable soles
Save those who follow
A fare hearing too steep
Know inviting savor to a t
Angles abandoning
No read scent to be found
Not to be
Incensed by fragrant violations of logic
Having bin burned before
And thinking it novel
Sticking to non-friction
Yet a tribute to nothing a tract
Easily excepting gravity
And perhaps animal magnetism
In a random house
A glorious reproduction
Fit to survive
In terminable halls of tomes
Covering smiles from end to end
Atlas, holding the whirled
And shrugging
As passé
Ages of old
Quipped with a thesaurus
In countering the unspeakable
Super seeding doubt
Calling out
Awe hail
Too the faithful
As libel to slander
Of rites unridden
And xenophobic farces
Poorly versed
Caricatures
With drawing
From think wells
Drying too hard
Distasteful to unknown palettes
A vapid likeness
Running lapse
Around good taste
For bitter or worse
Never winning
The grace
Unfounded
Even though profits speaking
Assure us
From the freely given
We make the most sense
Only from blessed assumption
Are we
Infer the right of our life
Or in ability
To take our hunch back
And so stoop id
Egos on and on
Un-till
We are
Super
With unassuming cape-ability
There is all ways won more
Last sup pose
Surrounded by friends
Or enemies
So tight
God sheds tears
In a wrap so taut
A hide sew made
Pelted by the dead
The cruelest of stoles
Witnessed ever
Only
Escaping such a cloak
From beyond assent
As leapers never heeled
By any crowning bluff
Transcending any convictions
Illiciting something knew
Surpassing the bounds of a head
A risqué gambol
When all that you are
Goes for bust
Never able to hold its own
In the public square
Spilling the truth
On all who will here
Should their eyes beam
And motes be crossed
To take a hike to knew places
Where nothing will be left
Wanting more
Even when full
Groan

This poem is a long elaboration of a familiar theme of mine: the transcendent bigness of God and the cramped quarters built by man’s hubris.  The poles of this theme are occupied by scientifically unverifiable but glorious experience of life and the denial of God, often on the grounds that any mental packaging of God is necessarily inadequate, a too messy foundation for some.  The mystical reality that no description of God can do God justice is fodder for both believers and skeptics.  Those anywhere on the spectrum from belief/openness to skepticism/denial are doomed to at least some measure of failure trying to give God any wrap in human terms.  Believing in an open-ended God that cannot be put in a box strikes me as a rather predictable characteristic of the creator of life — life being a dynamic and messy endeavor.  To continue maturation beyond a certain point as a human, belief is necessary — necessarily messy.  Those who are agnostic strike me as trying to avoid confronting this juncture between the transcendent and the mundane.  I think this can leave one developmentally disabled or delayed.  Deniers strike me as having more hubris than tenuous believers because they must assert certainty to disqualify the question as a legitimate question.  Of course, the is a seductive simplicity to addressing the nature of transcendence by simply saying it doesn’t exist.  But, like Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Disagreements about God probably have little meaning as an abstract intellectual argument.  God is definitely too big to fit in your head!  Our conceptions related to the God question are ultimately questions of power.  There seems to be a universal tendency in humans to not be lorded over by others.  This part of our nature can serve both skepticism and belief.  Questioning authority is a natural process when ultimate authority is open-ended and messy.  Belief in such a higher power, one that doesn’t want submission but rather co-creative participation, frees us rather than enslaves us.  Reality is bigger than our self.  In at least one inescapable sense, we’ve gotta serve somebody or something (for those more comfortable with the impersonal).  Bob Dylan captured this sense well in his song, Gotta Serve Somebody:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

In life, as in tennis, even before the first serve, there is never zero, only love.  It is only our need to score points that obscures this primal reality.

POEM: Censorship

The worst thing about censorship is

This short, one-line poem could be mistaken for half a poem.  This poem may leave the reader wondering what I, the author, consider to be the worst thing about censorship. This poem may even beg the reader to fill in the blank, the censored blank, for themselves.  Part of the point of the poem is that we will never truly know what we are missing when our ability to express ourselves in censored.

There are at least two types of censorship: self-censorship, and being censored by another.  Most often censorship refers to the latter, typically in objection to censorship as an unjust social relationship.  This type of censorship is important to identify and address because it is a direct threat to free speech.  This type of censorship creates a climate of fear among those whose expressions may be threatened, and a mistrust of authority among those who question the legitimacy of such censorship.  Censorship stands in almost direct opposition to free speech.  No doubt, some expressions should not be considered free speech, such as the proverbial shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Nonetheless, I suspect that such cases are quite rare.  The fear and social control generated by direct censorship ripples far beyond a person’s expression being squelched, and beyond potential recipients of that expression losing out on that expression.  The fear of some social sanction leads to countless forms and incidents of self-censorship.  This is the insidiously successful child of direct censorship.

If those in a position of power to censor can cow us to become sheep, then their mold of our culture will grow more pronounced in our silence.  I suspect self-censorship accounts for much, if not most, of the seemingly miraculous hold that the powers that be have over the masses.  Self-censorship allows the illusion that power comes from above, top-down, rather than power being derived from the consent of the people.  Of course, power from above, in the form of sheer force, is a scary reality.  Social sanctions for simply speaking out can be large.  In fact, the presence of a disproportionately large social sanction merely for speaking out is perhaps the surest clue that the underlying reality is unjust.  After all, talk is cheap.  But if questioning power structures is not dealt with early enough on, then the precarious illusion of top-down power masquerading as authority, and the seeming futility of bottom-up power, will continue unabated.  A little shock and awe is sometimes needed to remind people of who is in control.  Learned helplessness will do the trick the vast majority of the time.

Overcoming self-censorship is a necessary condition for a free society.  We can only deal well with reality if we know what that reality is.  This requires liberal self-expression.  Heavily redacted realities make poor citizens and sick societies.  This may be the best single reason for either avoiding most of popular media, or consuming it with a high degree of literacy, to see it for the spectacle that it is.  The images and messages, both overt and subtle, in media have a powerful effect on how we view reality.  The simple fact that there is a whole genre of “reality” television that has little to do with reality is probably the best illustration of how far afield we have become.  TV is a poor representation of reality.

Overcoming self-censorship requires courage and sacrifice.  As Amelia Earhart said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  We can flow with the idolatrous, heavily redacted realities that invade our consciousness unrelentingly through media and advertising.  Though such illusions are unsustainable in many ways, there is a lot of force applied to maintain them.  Adding your consent to those forces may benefit you in many ways.  Or, we can freely and courageously express our own realities which often differ profoundly from the heavily promoted narratives around us.  This may exact a price, but, at least it is a price paid in homage to reality, not illusion.  Who knows, we may very well find that the realities of the vast majority of humans on this planet have more in common with one another than the dreams foisted upon us.  This is the making of peace.  As Gandhi so simply and profoundly stated, “Peace is possible.”  This reality is so routinely obscured.  You can be a living expression of this reality.  You are the channel.

POEM: Eulogizing Fort Hood

Eulogizing Fort Hood

It is not ours to ask
Why those so schooled
In violence
Should act violently
On a vocation so seriously
Taking
Won too many weepings
Lead so quickly
Penetrating human hearts
Our own flesh
Not at home
In alien nation
And returning veterans upon veterans
What doors have been shut
What calm
Might be expected
It is
Not enough
Guns to keep us safe
But arms withheld
Once again

Today were the funeral ceremonies for the victims of the recent Fort Hood shootings.  Such tragedies are probably not well prevented by doing violence better.  Perhaps we should try to do nonviolence better.  Let’s give peace a chance.  Maybe some day we can eulogize Fort Hood.

 

POEM: The Game of Life

One day
I realized
The game of life
And going back
In the box
Only to find
The rules had been lost
Long a go
And still
The game goes on

This short poem plays with the notion that life is a game.  Of course, there are many different types of games, each with their own set of rules.  Even if there is one monolithic set of rules that defines reality, it appears that there are countless games that can be played within that set of rules.  A wise person realizes that each of these sets of rules, for whatever game chosen (or implied in one’s actions), possesses a certain arbitrariness.  Such arbitrariness lacks a full claim in ultimate reality.  Any such partial claim, when lifted to sacred status, deserves and invites mocking.  Such playfulness and mocking delves into the wondrous paradox that irreverence can be the highest form of reverence in a given situation.  Irreverence playfully invites us to a fuller and more sacred view of reality.  And such playful invitations can harness the awesome character of pointing out high truths without the downer of overzealously demanding obedience.  Such playful invitations abide by a sacred respect for higher truths as demanding obedience in and of themselves, without contrivance or brute force.  In the games of life, there is often a negative connotation with playing in the sense of “games people play” — when we treat other players as objects in the game, not an equal or full players.  I prefer a more positive connotation, as elucidated by Zen Buddhism’s nonseriousness, apparent foolishness under-girded by wisdom:

“There is a certain quality of foolishness in a real wise man. Why? Because a real wise man contains the opposite. He is both together. He is more comprehensive. A wise man who has no foolishness in him will be dry, dead. His juice will not be flowing. He will not be green. He will not be able to laugh; he will be serious; he will be a long face. A wise man who is just wise and in whose being the fool has not been integrated will be very heavy. It will be difficult to live with such a wise man. He will be very boring. He will be boring to you and he will be boring to himself. He will not have any fun; his life will not know any joy. He will be completely unacquainted with laughter. And when laughter is missed, much is missed.

And one can never know God without laughter. One can never know God without joy. One can never know reality just by being wise.

The fool has something to contribute too — the laughter, the joy, the nonseriousness, the quality of fun, delight. The fool can dance, and the fool can dance for any reason whatsoever — any excuse will do. The fool can laugh. And the fool can laugh not only at others, he can laugh at himself.

When the wise man and the fool meet together in a consciousness, then something of tremendous value happens. There are foolish people and there are wise people. The fool is shallow; the wise man is serious. The fool does not know what truth is, and the wise man does not know what joy is. And a truth without joy is worse than a lie. And a joy without truth is not reliable. A joy without truth is momentary, cannot be of the eternal.”

Nonseriousness and humorlessness are linked to fundamentalist religious faith and militancy.  Militancy — including militarism — and violence are anathema to good humor:

The overarching difference is between the mental rigidity of religious faith and the mental flexibility of humor.

1. The first contrast is between the respect for authority in religious faith, and the questioning of authority in humor. In faith-based religions, people believe what they are told, and do they do what they are told, by a leader, typically a patriarchal leader. God himself is pictured as the ultimate patriarchal authority, the Lord, the King of the Universe.

The psychology of humor, by contrast, involves questioning authority. The humorist’s role, from the court jesters of ancient China to today’s standup comedians, has been to think critically about people’s language, about their reasoning, about their actions, and about the relations between all three. From the days of ancient Greek comedy, the creators of humor have looked for discrepancies between what political and religious leaders say and what they do. Aristophanes poked fun not only at political leaders but at intellectual leaders like Socrates, and even at the gods.

2. The second contrast is between the simple, often dualistic, conceptual schemes of religious faith and the more complex conceptual schemes of humor. Faith-based religions offer believers simple concepts with which they can classify everything they experience. Master categories include “good and evil,” and “us and them.” Osama bin Laden’s speeches and George W. Bush’s speeches are full of name-calling based on such simple dualistic categories. As Bush has admitted, he “doesn’t do nuance.”

Comic thinking, on the other hand, is more complex and messy. The world doesn’t separate neatly into a few categories. In comedy, there aren’t any all-good people, nor any all-bad people. Even the best person involved in the best kind of action is likely to be tainted by some selfishness, foolishness, and maybe even hypocrisy. When characters appear in comedy promoting simple conceptual schemes, they are often satirized as fanatics or fools.

3. The third contrast is between the militarism of religious faith and the pacifism of humor. Religions based on faith tend to feel threatened by other world views and so tend to want to eliminate the proponents of those views. And so they often justify violence against “the heathen” or “the infidel,” as General Boykin and Osama bin Laden do.

From the beginning, however, comedy has been suspicious of calls to eliminate those who think differently, and has been suspicious of violence as a way to solve problems. Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata satirized the insanity of the constant fighting between the Greek city states. In modern times, the futility of war has been the theme of dozens of comedies, which have lampooned the willingness to kill or die on command. Comic heroes are usually good at talking their way out of conflicts, and when that fails, they are not ashamed to run away. The comic attitude here is captured in the old Irish saying “You’re only a coward for a moment, but you’re dead for the rest of your life.”

4. The fourth contrast is between the single-mindedness of religious faith and the willingness to change one’s mind in humor. The person of faith treats alternative viewpoints as possible sources of doubt, and so something to be suppressed. Once they make a divinely sanctioned choice of action—as in George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, they “stay the course” no matter what happens. They do not look for mistakes they might have made, they do not try to think of how they might proceed differently, and they tend to be defensive when they are challenged. Faith-based religions tout what Conrad Hyers (1996) calls “warrior virtues”: courage, loyalty, duty, honor, indomitable will, unquestioning obedience, stubborn determination, and uncompromising dedication.

In comedy, by contrast, the person who has an idée fixe is portrayed as foolish. Comic heroes do set courses of action, but they are adaptable after that. As situations change, they can too. Their plans are not set in stone but are contingent and reversible. Often, the comic hero has not even determined in advance what will count as success or failure.

5. The fifth contrast is between the idealism of religious faith and the pragmatism of humor. The rhetoric of faith-based religions is full of abstractions like Truth, Faith, and Freedom. On the enemy side are those who love Evil.

Comedy, on the other hand, is based not on abstractions but on concrete things, people, and situations. Comic heroes are concerned not about Truth and Freedom but about their next meal, and getting the one they love to love them in return. Not longing for some utopia, they are at home in the world as it is.

6. The sixth contrast is between the convergent thinking of faith-based religions and the divergent thinking of humor. Convergent thinking aims at reaching the correct answer. In divergent thinking there is no single correct answer, but dozens, maybe hundreds of possible good answers. A standard exercise in divergent thinking is to think of thirty uses for a building brick.

With their simple conceptual schemes and their emphasis on thinking in traditional ways, faith-based religions do not encourage creativity or cleverness. A good example is George W. Bush and his wife Laura. On a TV interview program, Laura Bush was asked if she and the President had pet names for each other. She said, “Oh Yes.” “What is your pet name for him?” the interviewer asked. “Bushie,” she answered. “What is his pet name for you?” “Bushie,” she said again.

Unlike such unimaginative plodders, people with a rich sense of humor are creative. The master skill of the comedian is to look at something familiar in a new way.

7. The seventh contrast is between seriousness and playfulness. Faith-based religious visions of life are paradigms of seriousness, and humor is a paradigm of nonseriousness. It is persons, I take it, who are serious in the basic sense of the word. Issues and problems are called “serious” because they require persons to be serious about them. For us to be serious is to be solemn and given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. It is also for us to be sincere in what we say and do. We say only what we believe, and act only according to our real intentions.

Seriousness is contrasted with playfulness. When we are playful, we are not solemn and are not given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. We are not bound to sincerity in what we say and do. We may say something outlandishly false for the mental jolt it gives us and others. We may impersonate someone, or feign some emotion, just for the fun of it.”

I suspect that an accurate reading of reality would call out for more Irreverends than Reverends.  Religion, institutionalized spirituality, must perpetually wrest with its own laughableness.  For any institution branding itself with any given set of “authoritative” creeds, must be able to laugh at itself, and accept mocking in good humor, to even hope for greater authority — an authority forever lying outside any gaming.  Yet, the show must go on!

POEM: Her Voice

Her voice could be heard
Three generations within earshot
Yet the man in front of her
Was two ears short of listening
At times she spoke
Simply to convince herself
That she could
Due more
Then listen
Wading for something more than deaf
And dumb ruse of men
Relegated to quaint shams
Engendering stupefactions
As a pathetic answer
To unquestioning order
In a guise whirled
Gent-ly herd
In tasteful reservations
And if more than udder
He turns out
To be the outright shovin’ist
Is it possible
For him to do without
As if
You list a strata
And he’ll forevermore
Still fancy himself
On top
The crowning member
Of some exclusive club
The human race   
Oft leaving
Room for only one abet
Take it or leave it
Never quite getting it
What he wonts
So leading ladies
Show him a role
Un-for-gettable
And when it comes to you
It will be
Awe about
That transcending property
You’re choice

Being heard is perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of positive human experience.  This poem addresses the profoundly prevalent and persistent reality that women are not listened to as much as men.  The need for human connection is so strong that being ignored can be more harmful than active dislike.  Being treated as an object rather than a subject is the primary mode of dehumanizing people.

The male privilege present in most human cultures, often called sexism, may be the most important -ism in humans’ communal experience.  Sexism may also be the most stubbornly persistent -ism.  I think that this is true because women are interspersed in all human cultures.  Many -isms, such as racism and classism, flourish because of in-group and out-group dynamics that can more easily be stratified in one’s everyday life and experience.  However, since women are nearly omnipresent in households with more than one person, there would seem to be powerful forces integrating women in a relatively fair way into the most fundamental units of society, the family or household.  A nearly universal factor in advancing equality for disenfranchised groups is to have that group exposed in meaningful ways to the dominant group.  It seems that the theory is that exposure leads to understanding, compassion and justice.  This doesn’t strike me as having much truth in regard to women.  Boys grow up with the proverbial “hand that rocks the cradle,” subject to profound influence by their mothers.  In the dominant heterosexual world, men seek and have close relations with women, as lovers, partners-spouses, raisers of children.  Still, it seems that these interpersonal and family dynamics are trumped by larger social and cultural forces.  I don’t pretend to have a solution for the ages old “war of the sexes” (which is typically framed in male fashion).  Nonetheless, I am quite sure that men not listening to women is not only a profound insult to women, but a profound loss to men.  Listen up guys!!

POEM: State of the Union – Barack Obama

The State of the Union

In come in equality
Barack Hussein Obama
Raising a question
Of will he deliver
His second state
Of the union
Different than the first
Shot from Chicagoland
Now addressing
From 1600 sumpin’
Pennsylvania Avenue
A White House
Supremely courting
Separate but unequal
Early childhood education
Ivy league schooling
Whether constitutionally a lawyer
Or a product of a miscegenation
A black community organizer
A white Harvard lawyer
Finessing Goodwill industries
Racking the Gap™
Lust but always found
His customary locution assured
In custom HeartMarx suits
In trademark blue
Navy blue
Projecting power
No longer caught
In the wrong hoodie
Or his name isn’t Hussein
And what race winning
Between time and money
Soul and intellect
Vulnerability and power
Weather fair skin in the game
Or black ass on the line
Given the can
And the will
The eternal questioning
Lying in the fold
The gap
Between Barack and Obama
In-creasing
And yes
De-spite the rhetoric
We can
And we will

I heard on the news that President Barack Hussein Obama will address income inequality and early childhood education in his state of the union speech today.  Given Obama’s presidency thus far, that’s all the rhetoric I needed to launch this poem.  This poem is a play on the tensions between who we want to be, who we think we can be, how others view us, and what expectations others may have of us.  From many angles, the inescapable tension present in the body politic and the body of Barack Obama is a race question.  For a long time now, I’ve found it puzzling that a biracial person in America is quite universally identified as the minority race.  In America, if you are half black and half white, you are black.  Is being black some type of pollutant that defines someone?  Is this some type of white fear that black is actually stronger than white, posing some inherent threat?  No doubt, culturally, for bi-racial people, it makes sense to identify with one’s minority status, since this defines ones external reality quite pervasively; thus framing to a large degree one’s own experience.  Of course, this is really a cultural question because the genetic foundation for racial differences is as flimsy a foundation in science as profoundly dangerous a reality on society.  Put simply, race is a social construct.  Race is a lazy and prejudicial classification of humans feeding our own biases.  Racism distracts us from the deeper realities of our oneness as a human family.  Racism is a tool to divide and conquer others.  Racism can no more be won than war can be won — it only creates more lost human potential.  I empathize with President Obama who must daily face the many powerful contradictions or tensions in his life and America.  However, I see class trumping racial identity.  I find it a much more coherent view that Obama is a Harvard lawyer than a black community organizer.  His high social and economic class seems a much better explanation for his actions than his racial and ethnic heritage.

Fortunately, my aim in human relations is infinitely higher than merely explaining, or even predicting, human behavior.  We can, and likely will, argue about the extent of human freedom, for any particular individual or “class” of humans.  Still, we are always at least somewhat free.  And it is in this space, whether narrow or wide, that we define our humanity.  This is true for the President of the United States of America, the presumed leader of the “free” world.  This is true for me and you.

If you follow politics at all, you cannot escape that even the most powerful person in the world, presumed to be the President of the good ole USA, is plagues by limits on his freedom, or perhaps more appropriately, his ambitions.  Personally, I revel that lowly me can do things that the President could not fathom; such as living without an alarm clock, or truly taking a week off.  Politics is said to be the art of the possible.  I’d like to think so.  However, it seems that politics is captured much more accurately as being the art of the probable.  The art of the possible is about acting out of an idealism ever-appreciating the stark reality that we can choose to act freely within reality present or looming.  Shrewdness is not well served by fixating on mere probabilities at the expense of our freedom, that defines us as human.

Of course, in this poem, I hope to raise the “race” question to a higher level, not bound by mere particularities, especially racial identity.  Ah, yes, the quest of a poet to tease out eternal themes and universal truths from our particular lives.  In this poem, this is framed as various races: between time and money, soul and intellect, and vulnerability and power.

Still, I am not, nor wish to be, immune from particularities.  I relish in the deliciously punny and serendipitous particularity that Obama wears custom Hartmarx suits.  I have taken the liberty of spelling this brand (probably trademarked!) with my own trademark style: HeartMarx.  The tensions and irony run deep as it can imply a (hidden) heart of Marx for Obama, or the pinnacle of a personal capitalistic brand perhaps too well-suited to speak authentically of income inequality.

May your state of union with reality be harmonious and joyful.

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

Here is a portion of a document that I drafted a couple of years ago while I was a board member of Toledo Area Ministries (TAM).  It was never adopted in any form, but I put a lot of work into, so I wanted to make this work available to others. If you are interested in a Christian perspective on justice, try this one on for size:

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

All power and glory is God’s.  Power originates in God’s sovereignty.  From God’s sovereignty, comes TAM’s core value of the Church as “the most powerful certainty on the planet.”  God will work God’s will in God’s own way:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.

‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 We are called to exercise power responsibly, and not lord over one another:

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

“But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The LORD will rule over you.’” (Judges 8:23)

Whatever power we possess is a gift from God.  However, with power comes the temptation to use it for our own purposes instead of God’s purposes.

Responsibility and accountability are proportional to the amount of power possessed:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)

Power and power differentials are an inescapable fact of human life.  Power and power differentials exist within families.  Power and power differentials exist within community and governmental organizations.  Power and power differentials exist within faith communities.  Power and power differentials exist between nations.  Power and power differentials exist between all of these.  In fact, power and power differentials exist within any form of community.

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12, King James 21st Century Version)

God in Christ, shares power and authority with us through authentic community:

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

Truth and Accountability

Injustice is rooted in evading accountability to God and one another.  “What is truth?” (John 18:38)  This rhetorical question as posed by Pilate to Jesus is the classical evasion of accountability made by the “powers that be.”  Of course, this evasiveness is not restricted to powerful political leaders.  Cain, while his brother’s blood cries to God from the ground, attempts to evade God’s accountability by saying, “I don’t know…Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9-10).  Nor is evasiveness of accountability restricted to murderers.  An expert in religious law, in testing Jesus, himself confirmed that loving your neighbor as one’s self is necessary to inherit eternal life: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:29). Of course, this leads to the parable of the good Samaritan, where the hated enemy is judged righteous because he took effort and risk to help one in need.

“Distracting and conquering” is the conventional first line of defense in evading accountability.  What these three Biblical accounts have in common, besides a big dose of simple denial, are questions implying doubt that the truth can ascertained.  In attempts to deflect accountability, we have all encountered many versions of, “I don’t know.  Who can really say?  It’s all so complicated.” or “This is so important that we should study it (to no end).”  The key problem this raises when dealing with power differentials, is that this takes the “powers that be” off the hook, so they can maintain their power without being called into accountability, and injustice can reign.

“Distracting and conquering” results from being trapped within a misunderstanding of Truth.  As already noted, the evasive “What is truth?” question by Pilate was used to evade accountability to the Truth incarnate right in front of him.  The assumption implied in this question is rooted in the belief that ultimate truth cannot be determined by objectively studying all the facts in the world — which is a fact, though not the truth.  Believing this state of affairs to be the ultimate truth is relativism.  Unfortunately, relativism is only half of the dualistic confusion called materialism, brought about by worshipping creation rather than the Creator.  In fact, many secularists believe that you can determine ultimate truth from the many facts of the scientific world.  This form of idolatry employs the vain hope that if we only look at all the facts, Truth will be determined.  This is the conundrum of modern science without God.  In fact, secularists inevitably must vacillate between these two facets of materialism simply because each is inadequate to answer life’s deepest and most important questions.  Not surprisingly, when this confused world view can’t bring peace, violence is employed.  Ironically, this conundrum leads to both Pilate’s “tolerance” of Jesus and the brutal Pax Romana he ruled within.

The living God offers a way out of the dualistic confusion of materialism:

“For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

and Jesus’ words eliciting Pilate’s evasion: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

“Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don’t depend on Christ.”  (Colossians 2:8, NIV Reader’s Version)

“Objectively” studying all the facts from all of the different views of the world cannot reveal the One Subject, the great “I am.”  There is more than Nature, the created world.  There is a Creator.  God reveals truth to us through the Holy Spirit, the person of Jesus Christ, Scripture, the traditions of the Church, and peoples’ experiences.  Reason confirms these means of grace, but cannot access life’s deepest truths alone.  Conventional wisdom is not enough:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)

The living God offers a way to out of life taking a beating with a “dead” philosophy where “the powers that be” can “manage” avoiding accountability to their unjust benefit.  The living God offers a way beyond the false neutrality of the secular world which declares God’s Lordship over all as off-limits, or irrelevant at best.

Of course, being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), humans have an innate conscience, inescapable sense of morality, and desire to have a relationship with God.  So, distracting and conquering will eventually reach its limits.

“Dividing and conquering” is the next line of defense in politics in evading accountability. 

When the “powers that be” cannot quell or manage the moral demands made upon them, they turn to what they know best: self-interests.  Welcome to the world of “divide and conquer.”  When you can’t “distract and conquer,” pit the self-interests of individuals and groups against one another.  Again, this serves the purpose of reinforcing and maintaining the status quo and the power differentials enjoyed by the “powers that be.”

Pilate’s moral reasoning was reduced to managing self-interests [“…he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover.  Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:38-39)].  Pacifying constituent interests to meet one’s own interests falls far short of accountability to God and one another.  Beyond Pilate’s ill-equipped moral reasoning, Cain and the expert in religious law sought to evade accountability to “my brother” or “my neighbor” by questioning the great commandments to love God and the second, like unto the first, love your neighbor as yourself, from which all the Law and the Prophets hang (Matthew 22:37-40).  Beyond obvious self-interest which short-circuits right relationships, in the end, we can no more focus on just our neighbor — to the exclusion of God — than we can focus only on God –to the exclusion of our neighbor.  Neighbor without God results in secular interest-based politics, an endless clashing of unfulfilled interests. God without neighbor results in a vain search for piety unsullied by engagement of worldly politics and transforming “the powers that be.”  

Injustice ultimately rests on violence, the end result of worldly politics, relying on simply conquering when other more “civilized” means fail.

Eventually, God’s justice must be confronted, and violence remains the only option left to maintain or force injustice upon others. This can take brazen forms such as the Roman Empire crucifying Jesus or waging war.  Though simply conquering often takes less brutish forms such as power grabs and punishing of political enemies. 

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

1) the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy;

2) competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership; and

3) the total complex of relations between people living in society.

The first definition is “Politics with a capital P.”  The second and third definitions are “politics with a small p.”

God, as the Lord of all, is also the Lord of politics, of all varieties.  This includes legislative and policy issues.  This includes advocacy with community groups, including churches.  Ultimately, this is about how we work out our common life together as God’s children.

Our primary concern is where power differentials exist and the potential for “Lording over” one another is greatest.

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

The “powers that be” has been the subject of study of Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary, and author of a seminal trilogy of books addressing the issues of power.  Dr. Wink defines the “powers” as “the impersonal spiritual realities at the center of institutional life” (Wink, p. 28), “… the ‘corporate personality’ or ethos of an institution or epoch…” (Wink, p. 27), and “… the soul of systems…” (Wink, p. 29).  As such, the powers are not necessarily evil.  This “ethos” or “soul” of an institution, system, nation or epoch can move us positively or negatively.  It can motivate us to extraordinary unselfishness and service for good or it can be manipulated in the service of evil.   The powers are at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.  In any institution, we need awareness of its goodness, fallenness and redeemability to discern effective steps towards change.

In working for justice, we often confront the powers as one of the many “-isms,” such as racism, sexism, materialism, consumerism, militarism, nationalism, or patriotism.  As Dr. Wink puts it, “This overarching network of Powers is what we are calling the Domination System.  It is characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all…from the ancient Near Eastern states to the Pax Romana to feudal Europe to communist state capitalism to modern market capitalism” (Wink, p. 39).

from When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1998):

Wink points out that a world-wide system of domination is the problem, not just occasional expressions of it, like Rome in Jesus’ time:

“Jesus’ message has traditionally been treated as timeless, eternal, contextless teaching proclaimed in a sociopolitical vacuum, but his teaching and deeds are directed at a specific context: the Domination System.  Jesus’ message is a context-specific remedy for the evils of domination.  God is not simply attempting to rescue individuals from their sufferings at the hands of an unjust system, but to transform the system so as to make and keep human life more human.”

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

“Jesus does not condemn ambition or aspiration; he merely changes the values to which they are attached: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’  He does not reject power, but only its use to dominate others. He does not reject greatness, but finds it in identification and solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Matt. 5:3-12/Luke 6:20-23).  He does not renounce heroism, but expresses it by repudiating the powers of death and confronting the entrenched might of the authorities, unarmed.”  Jesus’ words and deeds “repudiate the very premises on which domination is based: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”

Wink notes Jesus’ pivotal call to end economic exploitation and nonviolently overthrow evil:

“Economic inequalities are the basis of domination.  Domination hierarchies, ranking, and classism are all built on power provided by accumulated wealth.  Thus Jesus’ gospel is founded on economic justice.  Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few.  His followers were to begin living now ‘as if’ the new order had already come, seeking first God’s reign and God’s justice.  It is not described as coming from on high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land.  It is established, not by aristocrats and military might, but by ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people…An egalitarian society presupposes nonviolence, for violence is the way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality can only be maintained by violence. The root of violence, moreover, is domination. Turning the other cheek to a ‘superior’ who has backhanded an ‘inferior’ is an act of defiance, not submission; stripping naked when a creditor demands one’s outer garment brings down shame on the head of the creditor causing the poor debtor’s nakedness; carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile would put him in violation of military law (Matt. 5:39-41). These acts do not at all mean acquiescing passively to evil, but are studied and deliberate ways of seizing the initiative and overthrowing evil by the force of its own momentum.”

DOMINATION AND THE CHURCH. “The failure of churches to continue Jesus’ struggle to overcome domination is one of the most damning apostasies in its history. With some thrilling exceptions, the churches of the world have never yet decided that domination is wrong.  Even in countries where the churches have been deeply identified with revolution, there has been a tendency to focus on only one aspect of domination, such as political freedom, and to ignore economic injustices, authoritarianism, the immorality of war, domestic violence, gender inequality, hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and the physical and sexual abuse of children.  We have tried to take on evil piecemeal.”

SEEING A SINGLE FRONT. “While it is true that we cannot take on everything, we have not always located our struggles within Jesus’ total project: the overcoming of the Domination System itself. Jesus’ vision of a domination-free order enables us to see every struggle against injustice, illness, and greed as part of a single front, and gives us a perspective that links us to everyone engaged in similar struggles.”

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32-34a)

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’ ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 18-32-34)

Surely, budgets are moral documents revealing where our treasure, and our hearts, are found.

God decreed the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) to prevent large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude.

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

Hierarchy reinforced by “shaming” – false moralism, enslaving us to legalistic categories, using unjust social norms to reinforce an unjust status quo

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

C. Authority versus Control

Jesus ran no formal organization, had little money, and no great worldly titles

In the world closely related to status (which is closely related to money),

“Who is this man who speaks with such authority?  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22)

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

In 1 and 2 Kings alone, prophets proclaimed that no less than two dozen kings “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 11:6, Solomon; 15:26, Nadab; 15:34, Baasha and Jeroboam;  16:25, Omri;  22:52, Ahaziah;  2 Kings 8:18, Jehoram; 3:2, Joram; 8:27, Ahaziah and Ahaz; 13:2, Jehoahaz; 13:11, Jehoash; 14:24, Amaziah; 15:9, Zechariah;  15:18, Menahem; 15:24, Pekahiah; 15:28, Pekah; 17:2, Hoshea; 21:2, Manasseh; 21:20, Amon; 23:32, Jehoahaz; 23:37, Jehoiakim; 24:9, Jehoichin; 24:19, Zedekiah).  Also, the Bible records judgment on the entire nations of Israel and Judah (e.g., Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1, 2 Chronicles 29:6, Isaiah 65:12, 66:4 and 1 Kings 14:22).

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ ” (Acts 4:18-20).  And later in Acts, Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)  The daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah pointedly violated the Pharaoh’s edict to kill all male Hebrew children (Exodus 1:17). Even after he was ordered to be silent, Jeremiah continued to preach that Jerusalem was doomed unless its leaders repented and submitted to the Babylonians.  Jesus broke Sabbath laws (John 5:16-18) and carried out a public witness by cleansing the Jerusalem temple (Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13–16) for which the authorities crucified him.

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

God commanded Israel not to treat widows, orphans, and foreigners the way the Egyptians had treated them (Ex. 22:21–24).

E. Expecting persecution

Persecution is a natural consequence of challenging the “powers that be” — in fact, it is a sign of success, a blessing!

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult youand reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now,  for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22-26)

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him.” (Acts 7:52)

Prophets are invariably infuriating to their own people, and God often turns to outsiders to do God’s work:

“ ‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.’  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.” (Luke 4:24-28)

 Jesus was a prophet, killed because he challenged powerful religious and political elites.  The seductive logic of the world is to save our church, our people, our nation — which means giving up Christ:

” ‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’  Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ ” (John 11:48-50)

 Our church, our people, our nation already have a Savior who has shown us the way:

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

 In prophetic witness, we are in good company, a “great cloud of witnesses”:

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Is it any wonder that complicity with the “powers that be,” which offers rewards of money and control, greater status, and ‘security,’ is such a tempting alternative to guaranteed persecution?

The Vision/God’s Dream

The God of all, including the future, holds for us blessings greater than we dare imagine.  Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah boldly declares this vision:

“ ‘Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.  For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.  Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:20-25)

God’s vision for his children is real and powerful, calling out to be manifest in the world, to transform the world.

TAM’s Mission

To help the Church meet God’s vision, TAM’s mission encompasses three broad areas: meeting human need, creating community and working for justice.

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

The greatest commandments are hinged by connecting love of neighbor as self with loving God:

” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

 Meeting basic human needs is part of loving God and neighbor:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

 ” ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

God’s mercy to us is the model for our behavior toward others.  Relying upon ‘deserving’ is ultimately a denial of God’s basic character, unconditional love.  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45b)  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), yet God is merciful.  We are on the short end of this fundamental power differential and God shows us mercy:

“I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’  I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23)

God reminds us often of where we have been and what God has already done for us, that which we could not do ourselves:

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 22:33, 23:43, 25:38, 25:42, 25:55, 26;13, 26:45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:37, 5:6, 5:15, 6:12, 6:21, 7:8, 8:14, 13:10, 20:1: Judges 2:1, 2:12, 6:9; 1 Samuel 10:18, 12:16;  1 Kings 9:9; 2 Kings 17:36; 2 Chronicles 7:22; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalm 81:10; Jeremiah 16:14; Daniel 9:15)

Humility is the opposite of self-sufficiency.  Expecting God to provide for us and forgive us undeservedly while insisting that only ‘deserving’ neighbors have their human needs met is unjust and denies our complete dependency on God for forgiveness and ‘our daily bread’:

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13b)

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

Our reconciliation with God makes us new creations, ambassadors of reconciliation to our neighbors:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20a)

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:11-14)

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

We can engage in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ.  We can humbly explore the sources of our differences.  We can honor the sacred worth of all persons.  In prayerfully seeking the mind of Christ, we can work out our life together in love.

The way of Jesus is one of radical hospitality.  Radical hospitality is a sacred process of transforming a stranger into a guest, or even family.  It witnesses to the reality that God entered the “world” to reconcile us to God and neighbor.  Jesus was the incarnation of radical hospitality: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34)

Where radical hospitality is practiced God’s realm flourishes.  Examples of these include:  Abraham receiving the three strangers — angels (Genesis 18), the Midian priest taking in Moses (Exodus 2), Rahab allowing Joshua’s spies to stay with her (Joshua 2), the widow at Zarephath offering Elijah her last bit of food (1 Kings 17:8-24), and the Samaritan woman inviting Jesus the stranger to stay with her community, which he does (John 4).

Where radical hospitality is not practiced, God’s judgment waits:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

Beyond Civility

The golden rule provides guidance in how to live in community with one another: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)  Nonetheless, God requires even more than human love that returns its own:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)

Jesus did not avoid harsh words for those in positions of authority.  In fact, Jesus saved his harshest words for religious elites who avoided accountability to those they were to serve.  After calling the teachers of the law and Pharisees “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:23, 25, 27, 29) and “whitewashed tombs” (v. 27), Jesus says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (v. 33) (see also Luke 11:37-54)  Jesus boldly overturned tables in the temple, declaring “but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” (Matthew 21:13b) in response to an affront of the religious establishment to the Lord’s declaration that “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7b)

True worship in authentic community produces justice.  God despises religious practices that do not produce justice:

 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.  (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Calling one another into account with God and one another, i.e., working for justice, is an essential part of creating authentic community.

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

Love leading us to live as a community of equals starkly highlights the many injustices in the world.

Doing Justice

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Proverbs 29:7)

“Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.  He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’  So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.  Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?  Did not your father have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.  He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?  declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 22:13-16

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

Advocacy, prophetic witness, social witness are all related expressions dealing with working for justice

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-7)

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’  And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:5-8)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Boldness:

[In response to rulers conspiring against Jesus…] “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4: 29)

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (2 Corinthians 3:12)

“So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelations 3:16-17)

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent” (Acts 18:9)

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” ( 2 Tim 1:7)

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

Leadership requires a balanced view of the “powers that be” as being at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

Our Biblical values manifest themselves in the world in many ways; many of these issues are encompassed by these categories:

1.  Being stewards of the natural world that sustains life on earth.

2.  Building up families and our nurturing communities, which underlie the

potential for each to live into the fullness of their humanity.

3.  Support our social communities and human rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes.

4.  Upholding an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread.”

5.  Engaging the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society.

6.  Recognizing the oneness of God’s world and world community and seeking our particular role in it.

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

The status quo is.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Money.  Status.  Control.  These are the ways of the world.  Falling back into these ways offers many temptations, for the world rewards these ways, and punishes those who challenge these ways.

God judges us as nations according to how we treat “the least of these.”

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

In what areas do I depend upon the mercy of God and others?

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

From a spiritual perspective, we are all indigent.  We cannot be made whole by ourselves.  We depend upon God and others for our very life.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Offering all to God:

God makes us whole.  God works through our areas of giftedness and advantage and our areas of vulnerability

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Recommended reading:

The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink, Doubleday, 4/98, ISBN: 0-385-48740-1

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

How significant is the impact on human need, justice, and authentic community? (importance test)

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

Will people be deprived of meeting a human need that will directly and significantly harm individuals or families (human suffering test)

Does the issue impact creating community?

Is a partner organization or local faith community involved and/or affected? (good neighbor test).

Does an issue affect our local community (the local test)

Do many Christian faith traditions have statements supporting such advocacy and/or very few, if any, faith traditions have statements that may contradict such advocacy? (tradition test).

Does dealing positively with a controversial issue offers an opportunity to model a Biblical alternative of authentic community to worldly politics (Biblical alternative test).

Are families and/or our nurturing communities undercut in a way that threatens community members in living into the fullness of their humanity (nurturing communities test).

Is “civility’ violated and/or opponents are demonized and offering a faith-based perspective could be of substantial benefit (civility test)

Is the common good threatened or diminished, where short term gain creates long term loss (seven generations test)

Does the issue impact working for justice?

Does an issue threaten the poor and vulnerable (“least of these” test)

Does an issue weaken an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread” (shared benefits test)

Does an issue threaten human rights/civil rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes (children of God test)

Does an issue threaten the ability of people to engage the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society (fair representation test).

Does an issue threaten public safety, peace and non-violence (non-violence test)

Are power differentials so large that it precludes a fair hearing of the issues (fair hearing test)

Does an issue threaten stewardship of God’s creation (creation stewardship test)

Does an issue deny the oneness of God’s world and world community (one world test).

Is there no other local faith body addressing an issue of Biblical justice (voice in the wilderness test)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

POLITICAL CARTOON: CEO Jesus – Birthers

CEO Jesus Arises to the Occasion!

Jesus Cartoon: CEO Jesus - Re-Birthers Press Conference

CEO Jesus really rises to the occasion this week of Easter!  What could be tougher than answering the difficult and often inane questions put forth at a press conference?  In his first go around, Jesus’ public relations department really had a big gaffe by sending two women to witness the resurrection.  In Jesus’ day, women were not considered reliable or viable witnesses.  What was he thinking?  Of course, the modern-day CEO Jesus understands the complexities of oppression in Western civilization.  These days, proper paperwork and avoiding getting bogged down in innuendo are the armor and shield of modern management.  There’s no question that many modern folks doubt the actual physical resurrection of Jesus.  For me, that’s less the point than addressing truth in an upfront and Jesus like manner — actually living a life that witnesses to the profound truth that life is stronger than death.   In these modern times, with all of our science and technological sophistication, obfuscation of the truth is as old school as ever!  This week’s parody is on the birthers.  Who needs facts when simple doubt will do?  Why accept evidence when such realities don’t suit one’s biases and bigotries?  When Jesus appeared before Pilate, Pilate mocked the irrelevancy of truth, with his classic rhetorical question, “What is truth?”  In the end, Pilate just tested the political winds and gave the mob what they wanted.  Some things never change.

Interestingly, modern day evangelical Christians seem more interested in proper documentation through theological litmus tests and dogmas of belief in whether one should receive the proper credentials of being “born again” than the incarnate power of Jesus boldly witnessing to the reality that life is stronger than death, and good is stronger than evil.  Rather than exchanging résumés of belief, I would suggest that they will know we are Christians by our love, not our doctrine.  Unfortunately, for human control freaks, the way of love is way too wild and free.  By reducing deep spiritual truths to belief and dogmas, institutional religion is born, again, and competition for brand control become the preeminent reality.  Jesus rocks, quite literally on Easter, but I find that Christianity often gets in the way of following Jesus.  Wherever you are entombed in your life, come out!  Hmm…is that Jesus calling?

POEM: Commercial Interruption

We interrupt this commercial
Now that wasn’t so hard
Or was it?

How many times a day is our consciousness breached by some form of commercial interruption?  Way too many times!  I consider this commercial assault a major form of violence in our culture.  This short poem is geared to get the reader to think about taking back these interruptions and reclaiming our consciousness.  Rather than the commercial interrupting us, we interrupt this commercial.  Initially, this may not be difficult.  A momentary victory is not difficult to achieve.  However, the assault of commercial interruptions is so pervasive and penetrating that keeping them out of our consciousness requires constant discipline.  In the long run, avoiding those settings where commercial interruptions are prevalent is probably the best strategy.  Like any kind of mindfulness or meditation practice, maintaining complete control over where the mind goes is probably impossible.  Nevertheless, we can train our minds to let go the commercial interruptions and build associations in our mental state that eventually rate these commercial interruptions as not worth paying attention to.  Live Simply So Others May Simply Live-POLITICAL BUTTONAnother suggestion on the social front would be not to buy any of the crap that’s advertised. This is not really that difficult since most of the crap that’s advertised is crap.  Questioning consumption and consumerism, as well as living a simple life, are long-term strategies to interrupt the violent assaults of commercials.  Also, given the sloganeering and design work that I do, I like to parody and satirize the vanity and absurdity of many commercial endeavors.  I find this method of fighting back both cathartic and joy producing.  May the farce be with you as well!

If You Think The Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich

If You Think that the Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich-POLITICAL BUTTON

If You Think that the Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich-POLITICAL BUTTON

If You Think that the Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich-POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Political Buttons.

I created this design long before the occupy movement.  Nonetheless, this timeless commentary on the rich and the poor is a tip of the hat to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  One of the main quests of the rich, the 1%, is to convince the masses, the 99%, that they can’t make a difference.  A saying that fits into this genre, that the poor will always be with us.  I guess that this is meant to reflect some underlying reality about human society, but I think that it distracts from a more important question.  Somehow this saying is an effort to discourage those who try to ameliorate the conditions of the poor by emphasizing how difficult that work may be.  This may be true.  However, have you ever tried to get rid of the rich?!  They are at least as difficult to get rid of as the poor!  By reversing or extending the meaning of the saying, we can better reflect on the whole picture, and make a better judgment about to which ends we wish to exert our efforts, even considerable efforts.  Some people will immediately get distracted by the question of whether we should try to get rid of the poor or try to get rid of the rich, or if and how these two tasks may relate.  However, pondering this is only a secondary concern of mine.  I am more interested in neutralizing the depressing and hope-sapping implications of focusing on the difficulty of changing the lot of the poor.  I believe that much power is mediated by the ability to define the questions in our public life together.  Having the power or the privilege to ask questions is probably at least as important as having the power or the privilege to answer the questions.  Unfortunately, the powerful elite and a complicit media are very adept at asking less important questions that distract us from more important questions.  Then, we spend an inordinate amount of time answering the less important questions and typically never get around to asking the more important questions.  Mission accomplished!  That is, for the powers that be who benefit from the status quo, advantaged by the present injustice.

Back to that much debated relationship between the rich and the poor, I would offer another saying or proverb, “where there is no wealth there is no poverty.” Well, hopefully, this design neutralizes the negative message of working to change the lives of those who are poor, and ends with a beginning, that is, a question about trying to get rid of the rich. While this may not be the ultimate question, it is certainly closer than the original question that this design addresses, and moving in the right direction is a very good start.  So, what would you propose is the best question to be asked relative to the relationship between the rich and poor?

POEM: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Who wants to be a millionaire?
Is that your final question?

I like this poem because it deals with the theme of money and the theme of questions.  Perhaps needless to say, I have issues with money.  And as far as questions go, I come from the camp that says you must choose between God and money.  I love parodying popular culture, which seems like most the time to be quite inane.  The word “surreal” has become an ever popular part of my lexicon.  Probably because the gap between seeking God and seeking money has grown starker, or least my awareness of that has.  It seems hard to get more crass than “Who wants to be a millionaire?”  Nevertheless, our popular culture seems quite successful at reaching ever new heights of crassness.  Of course, the parody of the final line, “Is that your final answer?” is actually a conceptual pun in the sense that rather than coming to some final closure that our scientific reductionist culture values so highly, it turns this value on its head, and perhaps heart, by answering the question with a question, which seems to resemble life much more closely than the vain desire to wrap things up in a nice little bow of security, that is, being a millionaire.  Of course, the obvious answer to the question, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” seems to be “Me, duh!” And indeed that may be the answer for most, I  merely submit the question, “Is that your final answer?”  Any questions?