A Spiritual Autobiography

I wrote the below spiritual autobiography a dozen years ago as part of a servant leadership study group.  While it definitely needs updating, it serves well as a brief overview of my spiritual history and development over much of my life, particularly my early years.  Fortuitously, my humor remains righteously irreverent and my faith grows.

RUTTS
by Alex Haley
(that’s just my pun name)

The year was 1961. Preceded by John, a child was conceived, fathered by a closeted gay man, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the city of brotherly love. In my mother’s womb, I was transported to Haiti, where my parents, as doctor and nurse, were beginning their service as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee. A dozen (and a half) generations ago my ancestors had fled religious persecution and military conscription in Germany to settle in America. For a new beginning, they were gifted with land from William Penn. This land was some of the most fertile in the world; so fertile, in fact, that even gay men father children there! Though now in Haiti, they were soon to be counted again among the privileged of the world. I was born. And on this journey, Joseph followed. Continuing my heritage as a sojourner in a foreign land, I was born a true child of the 60s.

I have no specific memories of those first couple of years in Haiti. However, only in recent years have I realized my ideal vision of serenity as sleeping without a care late in the morning in a mountain cabin while the rain pounds on the tin roof likely came from memories as a baby (now, if only I can figure out why I have a pleasant association with the smell of skunk!). Also, I am told that I was scared of most white people. Strangely, I am still haunted by white people on occasion.

After a brief stint in Detroit, perhaps explaining my love of urban life, I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The town was Mennonite-free, so I was raised a United Methodist. My childhood was strikingly trauma-free (only striking in retrospect). I knew safety. I knew predictability and caring. Our family always ate meals together, beginning with a prayer too short not to recount here: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” A lot more theology in that prayer than I usually give credit. Our family participated in worship and church functions regularly. Worship was generally boring. One of my few memories was a teenager with a guitar, singing “Blowing in the wind.” I guess that would have been contemporary music, huh? And that was before Bob Dylan was a Christian. I attended Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and youth group. I only vaguely remember confirmation. I remember good times. Except for a desperately poor matching of gifts by placing me in a children’s choir – my first, and really only, experience with “playing hooky.” I loved summer camp. First there were church camps, then Boy Scout camps. My younger brother and I earned Eagle Scout ranking (the highest in Boy Scouts) in record time. Our scoutmaster was easygoing and playful. Perhaps paradoxically, it was easy to achieve in that environment. If “achievement” had been required of me, I probably wouldn’t have done it, or at least wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. When we later moved and joined another scout troop, which was probably better organized and certainly more rigid, we dropped out after a while.

My understanding of diversity was child-like. I knew that Catholic families were the ones with five or six kids. Good families to play with. My best friend’s dad was Cuban. He also had two older half-siblings. In retrospect, this was the only somewhat non-traditional family I recall; though I don’t recall giving it much thought.

I was baptized at age eleven. Apparently, I was out of the country at the time such events usually occur. Fortunately, my understanding of baptism was still pretty much that of an infant, so it worked out well. I was confirmed a year later. About this same time, I was in little league baseball. In an attempt to deal with performance anxiety, I kept a pocket-sized New Testament in my back pocket. This crude attempt at spiritual osmosis was discovered by my brothers who with little affection labeled me “Bible boy.” I didn’t like this. I remember that my parent rebuked them.

When we moved to Dearborn, Michigan, before my ninth grade, my parents looked for a church nearby, but had little success – “too suburban” I think. Not surprising, considering we lived in a nice home with a pool, only 100 feet from a golf course. They decided to return to their church from earlier years, Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, 20 minutes away. Central is the oldest Protest-ant church in Michigan, and has been called “the conscience of the city.” Always a leader in social justice, their most widely known pastor preached pacifism before, during and after World War II. I was soon to be raised on 45+ minute sermons, truly epic sermons. A turning point happened to me sometime during my high school years when my mom took me to a peace conference at church. My eyes were opened and my heart would soon follow.

I went to Hope College, a small, private, liberal arts school. It was a Christian College, as were most of its staff and students, mostly Reformed and Christian Reformed. However, it was unlikely that I would ever be Reformed; conservatively speaking that is. My college years began with my father lightly warning me of these Calvinists. I didn’t know what he was talking about. My first roommate and I, who were boyhood friends, unknowingly were matched because we were both Methodists – apparently, a rare breed thereabouts. Early on, I must have been an easy target for an overabundance of evangelism. A friend invited me to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I went to what turned out to be a practically diversity-free zone; even ALL of the other persons in my small group were named “Kathy” (though probably a diversity of spellings). Later, when I saw out my dorm room window the friend who invited me, I said, “hello.” She asked me what I thought of the meeting. I shouted from the second floor window something to the effect that it was “too religious.” I did like church, and I went willingly. I even went to chapel services three times a week – religiously. I was also on part-time staff of the campus ministry. Though a biology major, I was frequently mistaken for a political science or philosophy major. Apparently, I was succeeding at the liberal arts (or at least the art of being liberal).

I very soon got involved with a small group of students known as the World Hunger Committee. Being a United Methodist, I must have known that there would be a committee for that! This formally launched my work in social justice, and my personal interest in stewardship, vegetarianism and nutrition. That first year, God brought together this son of a Mennonite with a Hope graduate who was a Mennonite (perhaps the only one). I told him that I was concerned about President Carter re-instituting draft registration. He said, “Why don’t you start a peace group?” I said, “Yes.” Fortunately, I didn’t now what I was doing. So, I helped found “Hope for Peace.”

For my own concerns, I hooked up with a Viet Nam war-era draft counselor. To make a long story short, when President Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration, I was identified in the Detroit News as a non-registrant. Being the only publicly-identified non-registrant in Michigan, I garnered much media attention. Eventually, the Reagan ‘get the government off your back’ regime and his Attorney General, Edwin ‘people are only hungry by choice’ Meese III, saw that out of millions of non-registrants, I was number 13 to be prosecuted. In the end, six years later, after heroically losing half a dozen pre-trial motions (with the help of a volunteer team of legal experts), my older brother dying, graduating from college, getting married, having a son, graduating from graduate school, and getting a job, I defended myself before a jury of my peers (though none of them were subject to the law I was defending myself from). I lost. But what did I win? (that is, beside three months room and board at the taxpayers’ expense) I learned to live in good conscience. I learned to refine my beliefs, even amidst great public scrutiny. I learned about civil disobedience, or as A.J. Muste, a great American pacifist and Hope College graduate would have said, “holy obedience” (in my write mind I say, “wholly obedience). I learned that the U.S. government has the absolute authority to draft any citizen regardless of conscientious objection. Any exception to this is due only to “legislative grace.” I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my government. Actually, I presented my case at the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, in conjunction with a resolution to support young men’s consciences who were subject to draft registration laws, whether their conscience led them to register or not. The resolution failed. So, I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my denomination.

During college, after guest preaching at my home church in Detroit, someone came up afterwards and said, “I didn’t know that you were in seminary.” Nonetheless, I consider myself a theological mutt. I have drawn from many Christian traditions. I have studied Asian religions, and I am drawn to Buddhism. I am an amateur philosopher (that is, until someone pays me) and I am intrigued by the angst of existentialism. I have experienced a spiritual re-awakening in Alanon, which has given me things that my church could not. I believe that “religionism” may be the ultimate “-ism,” preventing us from experiencing the oneness of God. I may be a leading candidate to be voted, “most likely to be heretical,” by the powers that be. This is my orthodoxy. I believe that paradox lives in the neighbor of truth; and we should love our neighbors. In true Zen-like fashion, I find that irreverence is often the highest form of reverence. Among my heresies is my unabashed appreciation of “The Simpsons” (but, as the Hindus would say, “Don’t have a cow.”).

After an intense summer working for Bread for the World as an organizer, and days before my senior year began, my brother John was killed in an avalanche in Western Canada; but only after dropping out of college while on foreign study, wandering, rock-climbing and working (pretty much in that order) for a couple of years in Africa and the Western U.S. His death has given me a much greater sense of mortality and the preciousness of life each day. I actually find funerals as fruitful opportunities for reflection and renewing my sense of “living in the moment.” I have undervalued such opportunities. One of the few regrets in my life was missing three of four funerals of my grandparents.

My paternal grandparents were particularly religious. Only upon the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary (and doing the math) did I realize that my father was a near-bastard child to a teen mom. Years later, when my sister was pregnant and out-of-wedlock at age 19, my grandfather said, “The sins of the grandfather are being visited upon the granddaughter.” My thought: get over it! Well, at least, I can now understand why my gay father was closeted until his parents were either dead or demented. While I didn’t see healing in my grandparents, I saw that having an understanding of God under construction is a good thing, and sometimes demolition work is required.

That brings me to my marriage. To make a long, and usually happy, story short, my marriage of 11+ years ended 10 years ago. Nonetheless, we were blessed with two wonderful children, Joshua and Kathryn. I love being a parent. It may be the closest I’ve been able to experience what God must feel in His/Her unconditional love for us. Kate’s life is an ongoing miracle since she was born with multiple heart defects. She underwent two heart surgeries, and at one point with surgical complications, a doctor, trying to be optimistic, said, she has at least a 50/50 chance of living. A brush with death. There’s that mortality thing again. Not unlike death, I thought I had no problem with divorce – as long as it was happening to other people. Accepting our divorce was the most difficult thing I have ever dealt with.

Being out of a “relationship” for a number of years helped my re-develop my relationship with myself and with God. This came more through Alanon than church. Now, being in a relationship for eight years with a wise and beautiful woman has taught me to appreciate life as it comes, one day at a time – with both of us half single, half single parent; no longer with in-laws but ex’s. I’ve learned that God makes all things new, and often faster than I want. God never gives me what I want; God always gives me something better!

My career. God brought me to a career in public health, as I savored its roots in social justice. God brought me out of public health, re-naming me “Top Pun,” and appointing me as a jester for peace, where the pun is mightier than the sword, and justice is no yoke. My canvasses are buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the World Wide Web. My business, by definition, is good – that is, maximizing prophets. My business is exactly on schedule; though I don’t know what the schedule is.

God brought me to Central’s neighborhood, and a few hours later, to Central. Centralites were my kind of people. Some happened to be Christians who were gay. Through my social justice work, not my public health work, God brought me to work in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This opened further opportunities to work with persons who happened to be gay. My dad “came out.” My parents divorced. God had prepared me.

I have issues with money. I aspire to live simply, gracefully facilitated by my recent poverty-level earnings. Living with less financial security has inspired me to give today because I may not be able to give later. Whatever old car I’m driving facilitates my prayer life (of course, no “auto”-biography would be complete without a mention of my car).

I am a mystic at heart, journeying as a gifted rationalist, Caucasian, male, father, lover, businessman, American, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada. While embracing the enigmatic, I hope these few words will offer you a clue as to who I am. Hopefully, these few words will offer you a clue as to who we are. One of my favorite poems is from Muhammad Ali: “Me. We.”

In all, God has never left me; except for an instant in 1981, but that’s another story…

FREE POSTER: Sen. Rob Portman teams up with The Trump Company to solve the problem of the sick and the sick economy by bringing back Soylent Green

Please enjoy this surreal health care commentary brought to US by senate Republicans and a president who wants to win a legislative victory at any cost: “Sen. Rob Portman teams up with The Trump Company to solve the problem of the sick and the sick economy by bringing back Soylent Green.” This free poster is the next in my continuing series of free posters called “Parity or Parody in democracy.”  Sen. Rob Portman is seriously considering offering tens of millions of sick and poor Americans to feed the greed of the richest Americans.  Normally, such a horrific endeavor would be reserved for a slasher film or science fiction movie.  The Republicans are well practiced at slashing, but are now honing their skills at science fiction, now better known as “alternative” facts.  In a typical misreading of the American public, Republicans have come up with a Soylent Green solution to the people’s unified chorus of “Eat me!”FREE  POSTER: Sen. Rob Portman teams up with The Trump Company to solve the problem of the sick and the sick economy by bringing back Soylent Green

POEM: Rousing Fresh Fortune

To no what is possible
Sum look too the passed
To undertake certainties
Too due dreams untested
Some are moved
Bye this present
Liberating futures seized
And undo
The knot tied
And never tried
How
Ever prospecting possibilities in awe that is mine
From now on in
Rousing fresh fortune
Or die
Try in

The past is the best predictor of the future, except that will always be wrong.  Unpredictability is an essential aspect of the future.  Like Yogi Berra noted: predictions are difficult, especially when they are about the future.  It's kind of fun to do the impossible. Walt Disney quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONI am fascinated by existential possibilities, trying something and seeing what happens.  This is perhaps the truest life science: taking action and paying attention to what happens. Somewhere between overanalyzing the past and dreaming about what things could come the present unwraps the future.  Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Soren Kierkegaard quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONAs Kierkegaard observed, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” And as Homer Simpson might say: “Mmmmmm…the present.”  Dreaming with your eyes open is not merely realism, but the basis for enlightened action. Surfing the future is at least as much an art as a science.  Of course, this present reality is not meant to be some exacting, and perhaps depressing, data collection in a notebook, but rather the experience of rousing fresh fortune.  May you discover much joyful anticipation and spirit rousing serendipities as your present unwraps the future.

Feel free to browse Top Pun’s many spiritual and life philosophy designs:

Make Peace With The Future PEACE BUTTONBe willing to give up what you are for what you can become SPIRITUAL BUTTON 	 Don't let your victories go to your head, or your failures go to your heart. SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Don't Look So Hard At My Past, I Don't Live There Anymore SPIRITUAL BUTTON 	 If you are in control, then you are going too slow. SPIRITUAL BUTTONAnd in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Find Your Own Way -- Buddha SPIRITUAL BUTTONHe who never walks except where he sees other men's tracks will make no discoveries. J.G. Holland quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhy not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is? Mark Twain quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Don't take life so seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway. SPIRITUAL BUTTONExperience is what you get when you don't get what you want SPIRITUAL BUTTONBe daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers. Sir Cecil Beaton quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

The Beginning is Near SPIRITUAL BUTTONThere Is No Gift Like The Present SPIRITUAL BUTTONExpect Miracles SPIRITUAL BUTTON

The cure for boredom is curiosity - There is no cure for curiosity --Dorothy Parker quote SPIRITUAL  	 Life Isn't About Finding Yourself, Life Is About Creating Yourself SPIRITUAL BUTTONEver Wonder? SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Got Awe SPIRITUAL BUTTON

HAPPINESS: Hedonic Happiness Versus Meaningful Happiness

I have long been interested in happiness and happiness research.  I recently stumbled across one of the most fascinating scientific articles of any kind that I have read in recent years: Some Key Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life.  This happiness research focused on the crucial differences between happiness attributed simply to one’s pleasurable experiences — hedonic happiness — and happiness attributable to experiencing meaning in life.

This particular happiness research peaked my interest because I have been accused of arrogance or hubris in claiming that some people with high levels of happiness may be missing out on substantial aspects or portions of happiness.  My alleged “second guessing” of peoples’ subjective state is substantially confirmed by this groundbreaking happiness research.

From the authors’ abstract:

“Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Happiness was largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness.”

The pleasure of satisfying needs and wants (hedonic happiness) has little to do with leading a meaningful life.  Plus, worry, stress, and anxiety are linked to higher meaningfulness and lower (hedonic) happiness.  The developmental tasks of integrating meaning into and across one’s life can be stress-inducing.  Fortunately, to cut to the chase, leading a meaningful life contributes substantially to a happy life, often accounting for losses in hedonic happiness.  Though the stress of leading a very difficult but meaningful life may result in lower overall level of happiness.  From my perspective, risking or sacrificing hedonic pleasures for a life of increased meanings strikes me as, well…meaning full.

From the introduction:

“The wishes for happiness and for a meaningful life are two of the most widely held goals by which people measure and motivate themselves. A breathtakingly broad variety of other common goals and strivings — as examples, the desires to be healthy, to be loved, to succeed at work, to raise children, to serve one’s religion or country — can be subsumed under either or both of those broad wishes. The present article addresses the relationship between the two. Although undoubtedly happiness and a meaningful life have substantial overlap, our focus is on the differences. More precisely, we shall develop theory and provide data about what factors differentially predict happiness and meaningfulness.

Positive psychology took off in the 1990s as a corrective to psychology’s heavy emphasis on illness, suffering, and misfortune. It sought to enrich human life and enhance human functioning. The study of happiness has received a tremendous boost from the advent of positive psychology. Research on what makes life meaningful has increased as well, but perhaps not nearly as much. This special issue of the journal may be a useful corrective in that it undertakes to call the attention of positive psychologists (and other interested researchers) to issues of meaning and meaningfulness. The present investigation was intended partly to clarify some key differences between happiness and meaningfulness.

We shall argue that although happiness and meaning are important features of a desirable life and indeed are interrelated, they have different roots and implications (MacGregor & Little, 1998). Happiness may be rooted in having one’s needs and desires satisfied, including being largely free from unpleasant events. Meaningfulness may be considerably more complex than happiness, because it requires interpretive construction of circumstances across time according to abstract values and other culturally mediated ideas.”

I deeply appreciate an integrated middle ground between the all-too-frequent pathologizing in modern psychology and a common superficial view in both research and everyday life of happiness as in essence simply pleasant emotional states.  This research seems to get at the heart of integrating our understanding of the interplay between “positive” emotional experience and the genuinely difficult search for experiencing meaning amidst the hardness in life.  Such an understanding seems critical to a more holistic view of happiness, fuller of our best shot at living amidst ultimate realities (objective realities?) than the surreal view of happiness potentially, perhaps even ideally, disconnected from and unmediated by objective reality, i.e., happiness as a purely subjective state.

In defining happiness:

“Happiness is generally defined as subjective well-being, which is to say, an experiential state that contains a globally positive affective tone. It may be narrowly or broadly focused: A person may claim to be happy to have found a lost shoe, happy that the war is over, or happy to be having a good life. Researchers have conceptualized and measured happiness in at least two quite different ways. One is affect balance, indicating having more pleasant than unpleasant emotional states, and is thus essentially an aggregate of how one feels at different moments. The other, life satisfaction, goes beyond momentary feelings to invoke an integrative, evaluative assessment of one’s life as a whole.

Meaning can be a purely symbolic or linguistic reality, as in the meaning of a word. The question of life’s meaning thus applies symbolic ideas to a biological reality. Meaningfulness is presumably both a cognitive and an emotional assessment of whether one’s life has purpose and value. People may feel that life is meaningful if they find it consistently rewarding in some way, even if they cannot articulate just what it all means. Our focus is on meaningfulness and the meaning of life.

Operationally, we let participants in our studies define happiness and a meaningful life in whatever way they chose, rather than imposing specific definitions on them. We also assumed (and found) that the two overlap substantially…In particular, it should be possible to have a highly meaningful life that is not necessarily a happy one (e.g., as religious missionary, political activist, or terrorist).”

These researchers anchor their theory of happiness to the idea that happiness is natural and meaning is cultural.  Of course, these two constructs overlap and interrelate.  How they are related was the purpose of their research.

“We assume the simpler form of happiness (i.e., affect balance rather than life satisfaction), at least, is rooted in nature. All living creatures have biological needs, which consist of things they must obtain from their environment in order to survive and reproduce. Among creatures with brains and central nervous systems, these basic motivations impel them to pursue and enjoy those needed things, and the satisfaction of those needs generally produces positive feeling states. Conversely, negative feelings arise when those needs are thwarted. Hence affect balance depends to some degree on whether basic needs are being satisfied. Possibly life satisfaction too could be swayed by whether, in general, one is getting the things one wants and needs. Human beings are animals, and their global happiness therefore may depend on whether they generally get what they want and need.

If happiness is natural, meaningfulness may depend on culture. All known cultures use language, which enables them to use meanings and communicate them. There is a large set of concepts underlying language, and these concepts are embedded in interconnected networks of meaning. These are built up over many generations, and each new person comes to learn most of these meanings from the group. Appraising the meaningfulness of one’s life thus uses culturally transmitted symbols (via language) to evaluate one’s life in relation to purposes, values, and other meanings that also are mostly learned from the culture. Meaning is thus more linked to one’s cultural identity than is happiness.

Although this special issue is devoted to “personal meaning,” meaning itself is not personal but rather cultural. It is like a large map or web, gradually filled in by the cooperative work of countless generations. An individual’s meaningfulness may be a personally relevant section of that giant, culturally created and culturally transmitted map.

One crucial advantage of meaning is that it is not limited to the immediately present stimulus environment. Meaningful thought allows people to think about past, future, and spatially distant realities (and indeed even possibilities). Related to that, meaning can integrate events across time. Purpose, one important component of meaningfulness, entails that present events draw meaning from future ones. The examples listed above of meaningful but not happy lives (e.g., oppressed political activist) all involve working toward some future goal or outcome, such that the future outcome is highly desirable even though the present activities may be unpleasant. Meaningfulness may therefore often involve understanding one’s life beyond the here and now, integrating future and past. In contrast, happiness, as a subjective feeling state, exists essentially in the present moment. At most, happiness in the form of life satisfaction may integrate some degree of the past into the present — but even so, it evaluates the past from the point of view of the present. Most people would probably not report high life satisfaction on the basis of having had a good past but while being currently miserable.

Consistent with that view that meaning integrates across time, Vallacher and Wegner (1985, 1987) found that higher levels of meaning were consistently marked by longer time frames. As people shifted toward more concrete and less meaningful ways of thinking about their actions, they became more focused on the here and now. Thus, a wedding can be described both as “making a lifelong commitment to love” and as “saying some words in a church.” The former invokes a longer time span and is more meaningful than the latter.

Indeed, Baumeister (1991) observed that life is in constant change but strives for stability, and meaning is an important tool for imposing stability on the flux of life. For example, the feelings and behaviors that two mates have toward each other will fluctuate from day to day, sometimes even momentarily, but culturally mandated meanings such as marriage define the relationship as something constant and stable. (And marriage does in fact help to stabilize relationships, such as by making it more difficult for the partners to dissolve the relationship.) Such ongoing involvements undoubtedly contribute to the degree of meaningfulness a life has. Put another way, the pursuit of goals and fulfillments through ongoing involvements and activities that are interlinked but spread across time may be central to meaningfulness.

Again, we assume there is substantial overlap between meaningfulness and happiness. Humans are social beings, and participation in social groups is a vital means by which people satisfy their basic needs in order to survive and reproduce. Hence interpersonal involvement, among other things, is surely vital for both meaning and happiness. We do not intend to dwell on such things as interpersonal belongingness, because our focus is on the differences between meaningfulness and happiness, but we acknowledge their importance. Although both happiness and meaningfulness may involve interpersonal connection, they may differ in how one relates to others. Insofar as happiness is about having one’s needs satisfied, interpersonal involvements that benefit the self should improve happiness. In contrast, meaningfulness may come instead from making positive contributions to other people.

Although needs can be satisfied in a selfish fashion, the expression and development of selfhood tends to invoke symbolic relations and is therefore more a matter of meaning than happiness. MacGregor and Little (1998) found that the meaningfulness of individuals’ personal projects depended on how consistent they were with core aspects of self and identity. Many animals have the same basic needs as humans, but the human self is far more elaborate and complex than what other animals exhibit. Part of the reason is that the human self is created and structured on the basis of the cultural system (see Baumeister, 2011). On that basis, we predicted that selfhood would have different relationships to happiness and meaningfulness. Happiness would mainly be linked to whether the self’s needs are being satisfied. Meaningfulness would be far more broadly related to what activities express and reflect the symbolic self, some of which would involve contributing to the welfare of others (individually or in general) or other culturally valued activities.”

In more simple term, culture is what separates humans from other animals.  Much pre-existing happiness research focused too closely on the animal (natural) aspects of humans and not adequately accounting for meaning (cultural) aspects.  I can’t help but notice that modern science, with its mechanistic models, often leaves the heart and soul — meaning — of humanity unasccounted for, and therefore devalued.

To conclude and integrate these happiness researchers’ findings:

“Meaningfulness and happiness are positively correlated, so they have much in common. Many factors, such as feeling connected to others, feeling productive, and not being alone or bored contribute similarly to both. Yet the two are distinct, and the focus of this investigation has been to identify the major differences in correlates of happiness (corrected for meaning) and meaningfulness (corrected for happiness). Correcting highly correlated variables for each other can reverse effects, which may contribute to some inconsistency in the literature. Future research should distinguish happiness from meaningfulness, because many ostensible contributors to happiness are in fact mainly associated with meaning and have little or no direct contribution to happiness except by way of increasing meaning. For example, helping others may actually increase happiness because it increases meaningfulness, which in turn contributes to happiness, but when we corrected for the effect on meaningfulness, the pure effect of helping others was if anything the opposite: a reduced level of happiness.

Our findings suggest that happiness is mainly about getting what one wants and needs, including from other people or even just by using money. In contrast, meaningfulness was linked to doing things that express and reflect the self, and in particular to doing positive things for others. Meaningful involvements increase one’s stress, worries, arguments, and anxiety, which reduce happiness. (Spending money to get things went with happiness, but managing money was linked to meaningfulness.) Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker. Whereas happiness was focused on feeling good in the present, meaningfulness integrated past, present, and future, and it sometimes meant feeling bad. Past misfortunes reduce present happiness, but they are linked to higher meaningfulness — perhaps because people cope with them by finding meaning.

The Highly Meaningful But Unhappy Life

Our data enable us to construct a statistical portrait of a life that is highly meaningful but relatively low in happiness, which illuminates the differences between happiness and meaningfulness. This sort of life has received relatively little attention and even less respect. But people who sacrifice their personal pleasures in order to participate constructively in society may make substantial contributions. Cultivating and encouraging such people despite their unhappiness could be a goal worthy of positive psychology.

Our findings depict the unhappy but meaningful life as seriously involved in difficult undertakings. It was marked by ample worry, stress, argument, and anxiety. People with such lives spend much time thinking about past and future: They expect to do a lot of deep thinking, they imagine future events, and they reflect on past struggles and challenges. They perceive themselves as having had more unpleasant experiences than others, and in fact 3% of having a meaningful life was due to having had bad things happen to you.

Although these individuals may be relatively unhappy, several signs suggest they could make positive contributions to society. High meaningfulness despite low happiness was associated with being a giver rather than a taker. These people were likely to say that taking care of children reflected them, as did buying gifts for others. Such people may self-regulate well, as indicated by their reflecting on past struggles and imagining the future, and also in their tendency to reward themselves.

One can also use our findings to depict the highly happy but relatively meaningless life. People with such lives seem rather carefree, lacking in worries and anxieties. If they argue, they do not feel that arguing reflects them. Interpersonally, they are takers rather than givers, and they give little thought to past and future. These patterns suggest that happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

I am so delighted, even happy, that I stumbled across this happiness research.  May the deepest harmonies of nature and human culture conspire to bring about profound happiness for us all.

Human Rights are Universal and Inalienable, Interdependent and Indivisible, Equal and Nondiscriminatory

Human Rights Are Not Optional POLITICAL BUTTONHuman rights are inherent to all human beings. PERIOD.

Human rights are universal and inalienable, meaning that such rights cannot be taken away based on what people do.  Human rights are interdependent and indivisible, meaning that they work together as a whole, where the deprivation of anyone’s human right deprives us all, and the enhancement of anyone’s human rights enhances us all.  Human rights are equal and nondiscriminatory, meaning that they apply equally regardless of whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, gender, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status.  Finally, human rights give rise to a fundamental responsibility to protect and promote human rights both for humans and their governments.

Globalize THIS - HUMAN RIGHTS [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONIn 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration had been drafted by representatives from around the world, coming from many different legal and cultural perspectives.  Since then, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has set the world record for the document translated into the most languages: 477.

The declaration has stood up quite well across its eight decades spanning two millennia, though I would better incorporate LGBTQ rights and change the document’s pronouns to gender neutral.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Human Rights NOW POLITICAL BUTTONMay we each individually and collectively cherish our human rights as the foundation from which our humanity is ever more fully manifest.  One humanity.  One planet.  One love.

POEM: Awe Due Consideration

What is good
A bout religion
At best
There is little to say
Giving a fare hearing
More about listening
Too small
Still voices
Respecting only what due
Saving
A few choice words
For those empower
Occupying humanity
Only in sow far
As won for all
Quiet an undertaking
As ambitious silence
And ponderous a void
That vulnerable space
And venerable pace
Between word and deed
Owned by awe
Wear know thinking
Aloud
For awe to consider

This poem is about the confounding truth that the universe of truth is quiet literally beyond words.  Words are representations, symbols of something else, which may allow us to think about something but often are poor vehicles for bringing about the direct experience to which we are referencing.  Even mathematics, considered the purist science, is mirrorly a representation of truth, not truth itself.  Even if a unified theory of mathematics and physics is elucidated, this will give mournfully flimsy assurance in the quest for an enlightened humanity and moral living in everyday life. Perhaps the most grave bias in postmodern existence is mistaking words and science, even the most erudite collections of words and symbols referred to as ideologies, theologies, or bodies of scientific knowledge, as the living truth.  I consider the most profound truths as existing directly through experience, not the recounting of experience or observations.  This is why I consider consciousness as the most fundamental aspect of reality/existence.  I won’t elaborate on that, hear.  It is no accident that I am drawn to poetry in the Siren’s song of the whirled’s parent chaos, and reverent silence in the muse’s presents.  He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words --Elbert Hubbard quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONI save irreverence for my words.  I prefer the metaphor as a vehicle for reflecting upon truth because it has the humble recognition that what it is trying to say is quite literally not what it is literally saying.  This poem picks on religion first and foremost, perhaps paradoxically, because its grand task is most poorly suited for words.  The phase, “shut the hell up,” comes to mine.  I am a big fan of St. Francis’ proposition, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”  This is close kin to my favorite proposition of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Both of these quotes lift up action compared to fancy erudition.  Both seek integral and centered being as the pivotal place and space for right action.  St. Francis recognized that speaking, languages of symbols, is a grand gift of humans, but that in many circumstances, a moral economy imbues greater value with scarcity.  While, awe things considered, silence may be the language of God, the awesome need to share our experiences with one another bids us to dare speak, to dare improve upon silence.

POEM: More Than Just, A Tinkle In The Pants

Sum people say
Show me the money
Only taking
That folding
Money
Maid of paper
Illegal to ink for won self
You’re money or you’re life
Weather helled up
Or razing heaven
Our soles speak
As bodies of evidence
And life stiles of the rich and famous
Calling out
Be the change
Beholden to common cents
More than just
A tinkle in the pants
Pissing off the powers that be

In my book, any poem that can incorporate wetting won’s pants and pissing off the powers that be can’t be all bad.  This poem taps perhaps the most fundamental divide in moral life: do we serve God or mammon, the worldly powers, the powers that be.  In this poem, I don’t mention God per se, but instead referred to “you’re life.”  I’ll give a tip of the hat to those uncomfortable with any notion of God.  “Life” or “love” is a synonym-spiced confection more palatable to some.

In this crazy postmodern milieu that we live in, the revered field of of science, with its deep commitment to smoking out causality, has mysteriously led to widespread convictions of randomness.  This perhaps began its accelerative phase with the genius of Darwin pinning his monumental theory of evolution to the notion of randomness.  Concrete evidence has proven the theory of evolution as a powerful scientific tool for accounting for the origin of species.  Of course, explaining things backwards is much easier than predicting the nature of future evolution, other than predicting that we will evolve in some random (sic) way.  Randomness is a notion at least as resistant to a coherent cosmology and worldview as the notion of God.  More troubling, randomness, that which has neither antecedent or predictability/causality is exactly the mythology that science is designed to debunk.  While inserting a “miracle” that cannot be measured by science by either observation or in principle may be irresistible if you can convince others to go along with it, but it is not science.  Randomness is no more a scientific principle than God.  Randomness is not a scientific principle — as God is not.  This facet of the philosophy of science can only be ignored at our own peril.  Quite telling, the field of mathematics has failed to identify any form of mathematics that gives adequate support for the unproven assertion of randomness.  Randomness can rightly be pursued as a hypothesis within metaphysics, the realm in which God is explored.  Still, randomness strikes me as antimatter in the matter of coherency.  We do know that any complete coherence MUST contain more true statements than ANY possible logical system can contain within itself.  This is a space that is in principle incompletely accessible by science and mathematics.  This is a space big enough and unknown enough for God and free will to reside or originate.  Is such a neighborhood the zip code for randomness?  At best, it can not be proven by science or mathematics.

Here is a little more on Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, the mathematical proof under-girding such thoughts:

“In 1931, the Czech-born mathematician Kurt Gödel demonstrated that within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be some propositions that couldn’t be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms… of that mathematical branch itself. You might be able to prove every conceivable statement about numbers within a system by going outside the system in order to come up with new rules and axioms, but by doing so you’ll only create a larger system with its own unprovable statements. The implication is that all logical system of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete; each of them contains, at any given time, more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.

Moving to a cultural level, the affection for randomness has brought us to an infection with randomness in everyday life, reflecting both some nihilistic sense of life and sense of humor: “That was so random.”  Our sense of life and humor has been moving from being centered in an elegantly interconnected system to a severed existence plagued by events “coming out of nowhere” — the antithesis of both scientific and religious worldviews.  Is it any wonder that we are possessed by notions of a zombie apocalypse, a world populated by those who are both dead and alive — or is that neither dead nor alive?

I think that Bob Dylan may have stated it about as bluntly and poetically as anyone, in his song, Gotta Serve Somebody (full lyrics below).  “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  Of course, the popularity of the devil or the Lord seems to be in decline.  So, for many, the love triangle between self, neighbor, and the mystery of mysteries is reduced to self and neighbor — and perhaps nature (creation).

Well enough, such truth is still great enough to fill many lifetimes. Wee fight for one another to a void being reduced to a mirror monetizable entity.  Most have a palpable sense of what money is, what worldly power looks like, and the rules into which it invites us into its service.  And still, what is the opposite of serving money?  Is serving money just a vain vocation for the terminally unimaginative?  Perhaps the opposite of serving money involves living a life free of attachments to material security or cultural status.  Whatever there is in life that money cannot buy, I see as that which is truly valuable — able to bring a present with authentic integrity and a future that cannot be bought, only given to one another.

To me, money seems to be one of the least interesting things in life.  Personally, I am in wonder at both the abundant curiosities present in scientific discoveries to date and beyond any imagined horizon AND the mysteries of the heart, my own and others, which inspire countless souls to risk life for more life, and to go where no mere scientist dares.  Can we serve awe and give that which can only be proven to exist by giving it.  Life and love awe weighs fine a way. Serve it up!

Gotta Serve Somebody (by Bob Dylan)

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 business man 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 you are
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 you are
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
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
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

Still, you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
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

POEM: A Blinding Faith

Hers was a blinding faith
Sow bright
That it often left her without peer
Few could fathom such countenance
As she left them smiles behind
A grate number are partial
To glean faint moonlight
Mirror dim reflections
Of their dreary world
Rather than stare into one such bright star
Of such undifferentiated light
In discriminate hope
From celestial furnaces
Most believe
Better to be leery
Anywhere near foreboding
Inclement whether
Shoes dropping
On roads paved with good intentions
Or easy devotion to cynical amasses
Having it made
In the shade
Or even to a void in certitude
More at home groping in the dark
Than by a blinding faith

This poem is an ode to faith.  Faith is metaphysical optimism, the blood that beats through wholehearted living.  Faith is only manifest in the mettle of life fully lived, put to the test.  Such a way of life is akin to the scientific method, but its subject is subjectivity, metaphysics, a life lived to discover or confirm how metaphysical optimism can transform living.  Bold testing is the natural course of faith.  Where and how far can faith take us?  Empirical skepticism, the fuel that powers the engine of science, is analogous to this bold testing.  Yet, scientists, who are subjects themselves, often project their own hubris onto subjective matters, leveling “spirituality” for putting forth bold — unfortunately, sometimes bald — faith assumptions for good living.  All the while, there is a nagging tendency to conveniently overlook that there is no such thing as an assumptionless philosophy, even by those subjects operating in scientific endeavors. Yep, as quantum physicists know awe to well, the experimenter changes the experimental results.  In “real world” terms this is simply recognizing that what questions we ask determine the answers.  We, subjects awe, deeply participate in whatever answers will come our way. Look for the answer inside your question --Rumi quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON I, for one, am much more fascinated by the questions of how we transform our lives through the science of living matters, than simply nailing down the science of dead matter, fixated on predictability and control.  Of course, nailing down stuff plagues the human condition in both scientific and metaphysical endeavors.  As Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”  The question still remains: in which half of the creeds does faith live?  This can only be tested and confirmed by personal discovery, in our living.  While there is a lot of truth in the truism that misery loves company, I would venture to say that passionate optimism is far more attractive than life-sucking cynicism.  This poem is intended to capture the reactions of living in the wake of bold metaphysical optimism, often through an irresistible pull to live fuller lives, and sometimes by shrinking into the seeming security of smaller certitudes.  May you find yourself putting your deepest faith to the test, and in this mettle may you discover many bright and beautiful alloys along the way.

Double Oh No: The Name’s Cadabra, Abra Cadabra

God’s
Name is knot
Abracadabra
Too be unloosed
Unwhirled
As owed man
Putting on
Some kind
Of spectacle
Who’s genesis
Giving
No quarter
To years
Behind
In a sense
Out right hostility
And udder a version
Sow called
Crater of the whirled
And awe wanting
Clear too see
Not a wood be casket
Drowning in a box
That must
Not hold water
As wee might reckon
Only too be
Delivered
In the final seeing
As figure out
By no means
Self evident
Pulling rabid
From won’s hat
Empty
Sored in passable caskets
Wee suspect
As a parent harms
As sure as there are no teeth
In taking
A bullet to the head
Wear the art
Matter’s not
And yet
Who is
The one
Cutting people in
Have
Awe that is given
Taking it
To the blank
As grater than
A loathe of bred
From nothing
Excepting freely
Wile rooting fore the nix
In a New York minute
As some goaled in goose egg
In disposed
Of whatever
Ladder day judge meant
Too due no wrung
As diff a cult
To under stand
As re-bounding
Back to the show
Is caping
Behind curtains
For the wrest of us
Only too be duped
In mere images
Peering real
Mirrorly a muse
Meant for inspiration
Knot too be swallowed
Hole in won
Or fish tails sow bred
Subject to
Dis tract
As divine accessory
And slight offhand
In vane miss direction
On the eve of knowledge
As simply a trick
Convinced one no’s
How it is
Done
Nothing
Too see
Hear
More than wee in vision
In blinding silence fallow
In a tacit urn hoarse
And yack knowledge
A bit fancy
Meager too please
As inn sufficient
Comforted buy con jury
In the worst kind
Of source err he
As if
Got hour
Back
To slots plain
As abettor
Be helled
No good
For make believe
When cloaked in daggers

This poem strikes a familiar theme of mine, the parent elusiveness of God and the unsophisticated ways of even daring to speak of such things from most any perspective brought to bear.  The dark side of religion has wreaked hellish trauma, bludgeoning both real people and tender hope for sublime understanding.  Militants, that is fundamentalists, from both theist and atheist perspectives routinely bash each other.  Religionists often infantalize atheists, and atheists are often eager to throw the baby out with the bathwater.   My guess is that if theists and atheists got together and compiled all of the gods they don’t believe in, that there would be a pantheon of common ground.  I view militancy, that is fundamentalism, as the primary divide, not theism and atheism.  There are plenty of poor intentions and chronic misunderstandings to go around.  As I see it, militancy bespeaks violence, that is a commitment to winning by creating losers, forever separated buy uncrossable divides in human life, terminally fighting over uncommon ground.  Fundamentalism of all types reduces perpetual paradoxes and the centrality of metaphorical ways of seeing the higher aspects of life to small-minded literalism stuck arguing facts rather than truth and stiff-hearted relationships valuing right ideology over harmonious community.  The siblings of truth and harmony, which are deep quests of theists and atheists, religion and science, or of anyone seeking to work out the seems of their worldview, knead less judgment and a sober patience unwilling to bury others in uncommon ground.

As in most conflicts, power and trust are the ultimate issues, or perhaps more to the point, abuses of power and trust.  Personally, I am increasingly convinced that absolute power absolutely corrupts.  Hell, I even believe God shares power in order to create a better overall world, that is not merely more benevolent and fair, but creates the very foundations for the highest human aspirations and shatters the ceiling of cosmological and worldly puppetry (and the inevitable puppet tiers).  I experience my most human living on a small-scale, in community, where direct accountability to one another breeds well proportioned living.  This brings humanity to power and builds trust seamlessly into the process.  Such human-scaled enterprises are far more sane, represented by the encouraging movements to local — not loco.  Large-scale enterprises are typically suited and tied in hubris, albeit the the finest hubris civilization can offer.  Only such large-scale undertakings can globalize insanity alongside the endemic learned helplessness paralyzed in the reality of “how did we get here?!”  In human community, power resides in people.  Power in human community requires consent.  Complicated — often called “civilized” — nonhuman mechanisms to consolidate power, typically under the auspices of creating “bigger and better” things, ultimately rely on people’s consent.  This often does succeed in producing bigger things; though the better part, our humanity, commensurately suffers in the accelerating smallness and relative unimportance of people in such enterprises.  Not surprisingly, people, not built for such inhumanity, become viewed as the problem, gumming up the efficient workings of the machine.  Depressingly sow, our views of human nature are then tempted to align with the misanthropic view that people are less important than things — see corporate personhood.  Withdraw consent and these nonhuman and inhuman structures and mechanism whither.  This speaks to the importance of protest and noncooperation/resistance to appointed authorities of all unkinds.  Opting out of institutional and corporate enterprises starves the beast and  frees up time and life energies for building alternative human communities.  Active noncooperation and resistance naturally arise as the dominant and dominating culture (sic) inevitably will clash with any growing culture (hopefully viral) that questions the sick assumptions and unearned trust of its immeasurable victims.  In such a project, Jesus radicals, atheist anarchists, and sordid kinds of others can find common ground, fertile for reclaiming our humanity in a whirled of profit tiers.  Let us not be distracted by our differences, but rather unite  in disavowing all things undermining the human heart.

POEM: Kindness 1.618 — Owed To The Goaled In Proportion

A parent
In the relationship
Between to be gotten
The larger to the smaller
The goaled in proportion
Amidst just us
Sum times christened
The divine proportion
And it doesn’t take
A mathematical genus
To divine its kind
Never the less
As if
Sum
Knew specious
And miss conceive
The gold in mean
Barren resemblance to
The sores of our being
An aesthetic
Of beauty
In nature
And human arts
Desserting know one
The hole slew
To gather as won
And when de-part
Leaving soully
Good will
That is
Grasping the incalculable
After math

This is a geek poem about the golden proportion, or golden ratio.   \frac{a+b}{a}=\frac{a}{b} \equiv \varphiIn mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. The Greek letter phi is used to signify this value of 1.618. The golden ration holds a special fascination in mathematics, architecture, and art.  The golden ratio is considered to represent beautiful proportion, often found in nature.

In this poem, the relationship between the larger to the smaller is defined beautifully by kindness.  In computer age parlance Kindness 1.618 — a soft wear if you will.  Social justice issues always involve power differentials, and hard ware is meaningless without soft wear.  Without kindness, social relationships will necessarily be trapped in perpetual struggle, with neither the larger or the smaller experiencing the beauty of peace.  Neither justice nor peace is a finely engineered and calculating existence.  Both justice and peace flourish in generosity and grace.  Oftentimes justice comes through those who have a steady experience of peace that creates sacred spaces enough for the hard work of justice to be performed without resentment, growing hurts. Living out of generosity creates conditions conducive to generosity.  Like produces like, sometimes.  Love produces love, eventually.  Though like is more of a product than love.  Love is the way.  Love loves love.  As life produces life, love produces love.  The seamless reciprocity of love perpetuates itself and invites others to participate in love.  There is necessarily always more room to grow and make the circle wider.  For another geeky poem on this theme, see Wading for Godel, and ode to Kurt Godel and his Incompleteness Theorem which mathematically proves that science, ideologies, and philosophy — that is, anything that is based on any set of propositions — is necessarily incomplete and there are always true propositions which always lie beyond the perspective of any given belief system.   Enough geekiness for one day?  You can always simplify.  As the Dalai Lama most succinctly summarized awe, “Kindness is my religion.”  May you find kindness often in your days, and if there is not kindness, perhaps you are the one to bring it.

POEM: More of the Sane

Going through life
Various docks said
You are just
Going through a phrase
And heeling
Wood be
Yores soon
Enough
Finally cured
Of awe
That is
Green
With envy
Of what might
Passably be
More of the sane

This poem is about the insanity of sanity.  This has less to do with the faults of the status quo — though they are myriad — than it does coming alive, infectiously alive, in a living world.  Security, in conventional wisdom, is sought through well-worn, predictable means.  Such security is based on a knowledge of order present in the world.  This is simply the triangulation of scientific facts, providing a coherent framework from which to navigate our lives. Yeah, go science!  Well, order is knot the whole of life.  Disorder is necessary for possibility, any veering from a determined course.  Order as the hole of life negates freedom, creation, and certainly most of the fun.  Of course, the point is not to create disorder, an abundance of that already exists, the point is to bring to life — that is, create — new order, more conducive and congruent with the higher and deeper orders present in creation.  This perpetual creation and recycling is sharing in the experience of what it’s like to be God, perhaps God’s greatest gift.  We are meant to play with creation, as God’s children, not be some play set for God or other humans to manipulate to their own — and our — constipated end.  Our creation is not a disorder that needs to be cured, it need only respect life by infectiously creating more life.  Such disorder is not a threat to the well-ordered physical world.  However, such disorder is a metaphysical dis-ease with existence being reduced and lived (sic) out in simply a mechanical weigh.  In truth, such disorder is a higher order that cannot be reduced to mere mechanics, lifting up the hood and fixing it.  Such disorder is the infectious need to sail life’s oceans.  Of course, this is vastly aided by abundant knowledge of shipbuilding, navigation, etc.  Even greater though, it requires a love of discovery, a love of the feel of the ocean’s wind and spray in your face, and the courage to risk the vagaries of the wild, the powerful, and the unknown.  While boldly and infectiously sailing life’s oceans may strike many as much less secure than, say, building ships for others, I strongly suspect that one of God’s deepest desires for us is to freely be the captains of our own lives.  However exquisitely we may craft tools for others, God does not desire that we simply be tools for others — that would deny God’s exquisite craftsmanship.  God is a crafty one, peering behind the veil of indeterminacy, which many consider a disorder itself.  This thorniness behind creation results in much anguish and pain, the inescapable fareness of a free life.  The thorny crown atop God’s craftiness is unparalleled, except perhaps among humans, made in God’s image, where an irrepressible willingness to pain the prize is billed in.  May your inborn desire to create be guided by an abiding respect for life and it’s infectious nature seeking know cure.

POEM: Liberal Mined Violent

Some liberal mined violent
Call up on pacifists
To condemn a brand of violence
To wit
They object
Ultimately subjected
To accost
Without benefit analysis
Coming efface to efface
With realty
And a sorted loved wons
Unwilling to accede where others have flailed
The brand they hide
Singularly fingered
Buy pacifists
Calling a tension two
A third weigh
Of the largesse possible
An unwelcome piece
When wanting more than have
Of everything fourth with
Ironying details
Ever beyond that which is a greed
How to saddle for less
Than being cowed
And truth be tolled
The violent
As a madder of practice
Get their weigh
A tempting feudal steer
Milking it for all a veil
In udder disbelief
As much as we can
Due better
Keeping nothing bottled up
Unleashing everything even remotely herd
Know longer listening
Too the artless
Like sum stock ticker
An engine only for the vain
Abase symbol for awe to hear
As the lover of awe kinds
Relinquishes the bully pulpit
In respect to those assembling
Not dissembling

Pacifists such as myself are sometimes called upon by those who are selectively violent to roundly and reliably condemn some violence that is repugnant to their preferred modes of violence.  PACIFIST - Someone With The Nutty Idea That Killing People Is Bad PEACE BUTTONThis convenient opportunism by “liberal mined” violent can hopefully serve as an opportunity for pacifist to draw connections and expose biased interests in enterprises that vainly wish to promote some kinds of violence and condemn other forms of violence, yet miraculously divorce means and ends and somehow produce a nonviolent state.  The situation that came to mind for me in this poem harkens back to the early 1980’s as a peacemongering student at Hope College.  I was asked by a conservative political science professor to serve as an expert witness in the campus’ mock United Nations proceedings.  Specifically, he was asking me to address violence by Palestinians against Israelis.  Much to his chagrin, I spoke about violence in the Israeli occupation of Palestine proportional to the violence present, that is, overwhelmingly committed by Israel and backed by the political and financial patronage of the United States.

Probably the largest complaint that apologists for violence have against pacifists is that they are “passivists,” complicit and enabling of injustices, specifically, and perhaps presumptuously, injustices that seem only solvable through violence, or at least the right “kind” of violence.  Complicity to violence and injustice is a profoundly true charge to both pacifists and apologists for violence.  Pacifism sets the bar high and regularly fails at fully fulfilling its high calling.  Feel free to contrast this limit of idealism (and its harms?) with the cynical acceptance (realism?) that killing others is necessary for justice (usually just us). If the notion and practice of necessary evil doesn’t make your head explode, it will quite assuredly shrink your heart, particularly if aspiring to follow a God of love.  I see Gandhi’s simple taxonomy of roles in the necessarily epic struggles for justice as insightful. Gandhi spoke of nonviolent “warriors,” violent warriors, and cowards.  I'm not a pacifist. I'm not that brave. Phil Donahue quote PEACE BUTTONHe saw these ordered in terms of moral achievement; the pacifist activist, then soldiers, and lastly, cowards. Of course, poorly performing pacifists can fall into the pit of fear and cowardice, unsuccessfully bridging the gap between talking the talk and walking the walk.  Soldiers have an inherent advantage in that a significant proportion can be expected to face death in combat situations.  This engenders a palpable sense of courage for facing such situations, whether, in fact, these situations are just or not.  Willingly facing being killed or severely harmed is the definition of courage. We can learn a lot from soldiers (not the least of which is that the most vehement anti-war activists are often veterans of military combat, sometimes simply slaughter). Courage is commendable.  Having skin in the game is the necessary good.  Any pacifist worth their salt will embody courage and skin in the game.  Evil, and its even uglier companion, necessary evil, can only thrive amidst cowardice and not having skin in the game.  Without courage, cowardice will rule the day (and night).  Without skin in the game, the privileged will continue to keep their foot on the neck of the disenfranchised, usually through a complex system of subcontracting not requiring their actual foot to do the dirty work.  A cowardly, distracted and narcotized public will earn an assist in maintaining their somewhat more advantageous state in the hierarchy of privilege and disenfranchisement.

Of course, the difference between a pacifist and a soldier is not the willingness to die for a cause, but the (un)willingness to kill for a cause.  The willingness to kill is the preeminent prerequisite of a soldier.  Object of War Not to Die for Your Country But Make Other Bastard Die for His -- General George Patton ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONIn regard to willingly dying and willingly killing, perhaps the infamous WWII General George Patton said it best, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”  Further, in the calculus of soldiering, we must remember that in modern times (the last 100+ years), military combat has frighteningly consistently killed over ten noncombatants/civilians for every soldier killed.  By what stretch of imagination do “realists” consider this courageous and honorable?  The cowardice inherent in the proposition of necessary evil is the root of much evil in this world.  The fantasy of necessary evil is nothing short of an abnegation of responsibility, an idol worship of something other than the free will and moral agency of which we are endowed.

As a spiritual practice, I find pacifism, ruling out the killing of others, as a profoundly creative practice.  You may be surprised at the depths of creativity accessible by dispatching the human perversion called necessary evil and the barbaric practice of killing others.  Without presupposing limits on human goodness, you can unleash new experiments, pioneer new ground (sometimes observed as common ground), raise the heights to which humans may aspire, and make the world friendlier to love.  Nonviolence is Organized Love -- Joan Baez PEACE QUOTEAs Joan Baez so elegantly and succinctly said, “That’s all nonviolence is — organized love.”  Of course, my paraphrase would be: nonviolence is just, organized love…

 

POEM: Paying In Attention – Owed To Mind Fullness

I under stand
You are on
Some kind of in
Stall meant plan
As long
As you still
Pay attention
In do time
I’ll pay for such in deference
Hopefully not the final time
Having been
Pre-disposed
In the passed
And per severe
Beyond just us
And awe claims
Sow gossamer a ledge
Holy prone
Sacred out of my wits
With that owed time religion
Bard none
U of life
Won
As in daze of your
Still
In the hear and now
As I right
A tone
Sublime volume
For all too here
It is
My willing
As well
For give
The ineffable scene
Wear knot all is destined
And only that be
Which under stood
Hear after
That awe in life
Sir passing the grave
Life meeting its maker
Coming a cross
In attention
Out pacing
Thought fullness
Fated to outstrip
Getting just desserts
And given
The wrest is history
To whatever extant
I am
Sow
Inclined
End lessly
App’ed
Too think
For what is mind
For what is yores
In-during-ly
A where-ness
Bequeathing real eyes

This poem is about mindfulness.  This poem is about acceptance, seeing things as they truly are, with a minimum of preconceived notions.  This poem is about intimacy, vulnerability, living openly and freely in a whirled that often runs one over unconsciously, even at the hands of those with good intents.  More specifically, this poem is informed and inspired by my experiences over recent months as a regular bicyclist, since I became car-less.  It has dawned on me that riding my bike amidst distracted and unaware drivers of huge masses of metal, glass, and plastic — formerly known as cars — is a powerful metaphor for my worldview.  Even if highly aware, the power differential possessed by unaware car drivers reliably results in them imposing the cost of their lack of awareness on those less powerful; in this case, a biker.  They are insulated from the feedback, the costs, of their own mindlessness.  I see such mindless, abusive power differentials wreaking havoc on our world most anywhere I look. Only Thing Necessary for Triumph of Evil is for Good Men to do Nothing -- Edmund Burke quote At best, these mindless abuses of privilege (privilege as being on the stronger side of a power differential) are maladaptive.  At worst, these mindless abuses of privilege are the foundation upon which evil can successfully manipulate the unconscious aspects of humanity to its own ends.  In regard to intimacy, I would say that in the car-bicyclist relationship the car-driver represents the antithesis of vulnerability, literally protected by a huge wall of metal, glass, and plastic.  To which the bicyclist offers their bare skin and an oft-ill-fitting plastic helmet for one’s consciousness-bearing noggin.  You can draw your own particular picture of the implications of this larger dynamic played out in our social and political life together.  In the world of urban cycling, let it suffice to say that good intent is not sufficient.  Most drivers who violate your legal right-of-way are palpably repentant after they realize what they have done.  I take great pride in offering my existence as a biker to drivers to help them learn about the existence of other people who are made vulnerable by their mindlessness.  Still, it is I who pays the greater price for this potential evolutionary relationship.  Thus, this poem.

If I am to be run over and killed by a mindless driver, please read this poem at my funeral, and offer this poem to the manslaughterer.  Similarly, I offer myself up in the path of mindless (and mindful) political forces, in hopes of expanding humanity’s potential for evolution.  If I should be run over and killed by some overtly political force, I am sure their are plenty of my other poems appropriate to be read at my memorial.  In any case, wish me luck — if you believe in such things.

I view consciousness, or mindfulness, as the primary force and indicator of human evolution.  I view most of the bad things in this world as a byproduct of a mindfulness deficiency.  Quantitatively, having no one at the wheel allows many, many bad things to happen.  Qualitatively, having people who are aware of their destructive choices and yet still choose them — one definition of sin — is a scary situation because mindfulness alone is insufficient for self-correction.  This is an active disease of the will.  Still, the passivity of the will, of active mindfulness, carries most of the day in most of our everyday lives.  I see that our lives are lived for us, as passive beings, to a larger degree than we live our lives consciously, mindfully.  The epic showdowns between conscious evil and conscious good make for great, even necessary, storytelling, but does not reflect the less sexy, more mundane bulk of our own struggles for increasing consciousness, the prerequisite for any life truly lived.

In the order of consciousness, self-awareness is a prerequisite for any fruitful other-awareness.  Without self-awareness, we will be mired in unending unconscious, biased projections of our self onto the world of other people and things that make up our shared reality.  My love of science is congruent with a desire to have an accurate understanding of our shared reality.  Still, science falls disturbingly silent in addressing one’s inner life, and the ultimate, inescapable assumptions or projections onto other people.  My working assumptions, based on my experience of my own inner life, is that people want to be accepted for who they are, positively appreciated, and want to contribute to a better world, our shared reality.  I willingly project empathy and lovingkindness into the world, in hopes of a better world for all of us.  If this is not what you want, feel free to let me know.    	 Better To be Slapped With The Truth Than Kissed With A Lie -- Russian ProverbIf I stray from these working assumptions, feel free to gently remind me of my deepest commitments.  If I stand clearly apart from these working assumptions, feel free to tell me like it is in no uncertain terms.  As the Russian proverb goes: “Better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie.”

 

 

POEM: Succor Punch: Owed to Water

Water is
Liquid liveliness
On the surface
So abundant
Yet its unique
Properties for gotten
Pre-sumptuously owin’
The establishment
Of hour get-up and go
Taken
For granite
In difference to animating schemas
And listless graces
Making passable
Setting in motion
The commencement of
Every unfinished sentience
In ungraduated wisdom
Wading fore
A singularly strange sappiness
Perfectly suited too
The fluidity of life
A veritable firmament
Unearth
Melting arts
Unequalled
In the eyes sickle
Of all that is mined
And how to trust awe that won thaw
And whose falter
A mist
Viscous rumors
Holding heat
And reflecting lightly
Upon a painful temp
Such is life
Nigh and lo
Knot becoming
More dense
When faced with extreme code
Mysteriously arising
Unfathom-ably
Too lie on the surface
An enigmatic float
In a provocative parade
Of ineluctable chemistry
Dis solving orthodoxy
Putting a damper on bottom-feeding doctrines
And brown-nosing pax
Getting over simplifications
For what we moist dew
To reach
The molting point
A decidedly impossible sublimation
From solid to ethereal
Buy passing juicy rationalizations
To eternal quest in
So wet behind the years
De-man-ing an evolution
From unsurvivable fits
And try cycles
Spoke like a child
Turning around
Agin and agin
In a dizzying dis play
A baby threw out
With the bathwater
To except that
God reigns
On the just and unjust
As many will refuse
To fall
For such
A succor punch
A luscious liquidity
In which offed times
Wee can’t seam to a fiord

This poem is an ode to water.  Water is one of the most familiar substances on earth, covering approximately 3/4 of the earth’s surface.  Yet, water, one of the most chemically simple compounds, behaves very strangely, differently than predicted from its chemical structure.  Water doesn’t behave like other fluids; in fact, compared to similarly sized molecules, water should be a gas at room temperature.  Water, unlike most liquids, gets less dense when it freezes, causing it to float.  Water is sometimes referred to as the universal solvent because such a wide variety of compounds are able to dissolve in it and it is the most common chemical solvent on the planet.  The presence of these and other mysterious characteristics of water make life possible on earth.

As a scientist and a poet, I find water is a powerful metaphor for the mysteries and nature of life.  How is it that such a common, even mundane, substance incarnate such an incalculably improbable set of chemical characteristics that makes life possible?  Through science, humans have made incredible discoveries about how our universe works.  Still, scientists must stand silent in answering how life originated, or why life exists.  Life exists; this we know.  Answering why life exists transcends science.  Scientist are often like fish in a sea of meaning who are not simply blind to meaning but must willfully and ideologically ignore its claim on them; this is popularly called being objective.

In Buddhist tradition, creation stories are not considered that important because they consider how we got into our problems as much less important than how we get out of them.  This seems to be a very practical approach, if perhaps a little incurious.  Scientists share this practicality.  Nonetheless, nothing is even a problem unless we are functioning in a world infused with meaning.  Where does meaning come from?  This strikes me as essentially the same question as where does life come from.  Buddhism incorporates meaning into its practices based on the direct observation of mind, where there is thousands of years of agreed upon coherency forming the tradition, of which participants are invited to confirm for themselves.  While many of the truths of Buddhism have been confirmed by science, the defining truths related to meaning can only be confirmed (or denied) though direct personal experience.  Such “facts” lie outside the purview of science.

Science helps us accurately define the if-then conditions of the world — if this happens, then that will follow.  Strangely though, as fish in a sea of ifs, scientist cannot or will not see that the defining nature of humans rests in choosing one course of action over another, which resides in a world of meaning, something/somewhere transcendent of the causal chain of events that science works to describe.  If remains an eternal hypothesis which science cannot test.  Scientists can study Buddhists, but they can’t study Buddhism with science — at least not the reductionistic science favored in Western cultures.  The practicality shared by Buddhism and science is a commitment to rigorous observation.  Buddhism points its rigorous observation to inner as well as outer life.  Science limits itself to the outer world; the inner world is off-limits.  The inner world of meaning and choice is willfully ignored, sometimes simply assumed to be irrelevant, or worse yet, denied to even exist.  The inner world may be mysterious and elusive, but its secrets are definitely much less likely to experienced if one isn’t even looking there.

Philosophical ponderings and panderings aside, contentions between religion and science, physics and metaphysics, lie in misunderstandings in each respective realm of inquiry.  We are served by scientific literacy and its delineation of many useful facts.  We are served by fluency in our inner life and exploring the humanity of others.  And still, the realm of meaning begs our attention and intention: who, or what, shall you serve?

 

 

 

 

POEM: Ebola US Over

Ebola US over
When fear metes science
When we no what too due
Still, rabidly executing our will
As wee act in sanity
Cheap as rationed rationality
Upscale absurdity
As some fret butler
Frankly red-faced, not giving a damn
As long as they are on the winning genocide
As good as dread
Only wont
Too feel safe
Feverishly incubating terrors
In the timed, spaced continuum
Of the perpetual see of terminable daze
Enduring weaks
Of what dismay
Or may knot
Deliver us
Into harm’s weigh
Stamping out indignantly
Aversion of reality
We cannot except
Fomenting in a culture
Fixed on negative results
Mirrorly symptoms apprehended
Temperatures rising
Going viral
As the unexplained hemorrhages
Everything alarmingly scene
As through
A prism of fear
For which there is no anti-dote
Forever catching
US on the flip side
Little escaping what is in
Our nature
Passing
On that sore option
Liquefying our cells
Or seizing only
That which is key
To the beginning of our end
In courage unbolting
And open fortitude
That other wise will
To our enemies heel
Yet for all won knows
Bolus over with a feather
Joining farces with that gag reel
Fore what bitter medicine than that
Given the bird
That can’t swallow
Or a flee
In deed doggedly drug
A collar
Not worthy a copper or gumshoe
So give it a rest

I wrote this poem a while back, just after the first Ebola case showed up in the United States.  I have training and experience in public health, and I worked in the 1990’s in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Communicating risk accurately is difficult, particularly in an environment of fear and histrionics. Also, it doesn’t help that the scientific literacy level of the American public is disabling in this matter.  As a scientist and poet, I hope that this poem offers some insight into such conundrums.

Fear and ignorance are a lethal combination, and they have a nefarious synergy with infectious disease outbreaks.  Ignorance often leads to a dangerous undervaluing of prevention early in an epidemic.  Then, when the epidemic becomes visible, closer to home, fear often demands actions that are often useless or counterproductive.  If confusion prevails amidst a population, infectious disease can flourish, as energies are squandered on off-mark enterprises and scientifically-validated methods are not sufficiently adhered to, often because of ignorance and suspicion, even if plenty of fear and concern is present as a motivator.

The Ebola virus is particularly lethal, yet it is not easily transmissible nor transmissible in people without easily-identified symptoms (though not necessarily Ebola-specific symptoms).  The chains of Ebola transmission can be broken.  We need to persistently apply our abundant knowledge about Ebola, with a measure of courage, to defeat it.  If our unfounded fears overwhelm our capacity to address Ebola in a rational manner, then the legitimate fear that Ebola poses us will become unnecessarily magnified into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

May we drum up the courage and resolve to fight Ebola based on what we know well rather than that which is uncertain and subject to fear-mongering.

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: Albatross Necklace Futures

I stared at the world
I could have built
Had I
Grasped more
Farce fully
A stock pile
Awe but reaching
Heaven
Falling short
Of mature stature
Leaving behind
Child’s play
The ripe now
And not trading in
Futures
Of albatross necklaces
Adorned by all

This poem is a tip of the hat to the story of the Tower of Babel, where mankind tries quite literally to build a stairway to heaven.  This ancient tale of vanity is perhaps even more true now than when it was first told.  With advances in science and technology the notion of building a socialist paradise that saves humanity from its own perennial moral dilemmas seems all the more possible, and therefore, tempting.  Of course, knowledge is no sin; but, the hubris to think that you can cheat reality is.  There are no technological means to bypass courage, faith, and compassion or love.  Humans are the proper instrument for courage, faith, and love.  Any worldview that negates humanity by pretending that humanity can somehow be bypassed, along with its unavoidable moral responsibility, is idolatrous.  Idolatry is simply constructing the foundation of one’s life (whatever you consider authoritative) on images of reality rather than reality itself.  Simply put, humans cannot create a world where they no longer need to be good, that is make moral choices, with their commensurate values or “costs”, which include courage, faith, and love

Any ideology or social system can function idolatrously, if it is considered an end not the means to something greater.  Such rigid, graven images impair proper human functioning, which is relational, not simply a “thing” to be better sculpted.  The something greater is dynamic living relationships.  In religious terms, the great commandments are relational as loving God and loving neighbor.  Unfortunately, humans are quite adept at over-concretizing spiritual truths and settling for worshiping the stone images (e.g., ten commandments) printed word (e.g., Bible), or any system of thought, rather than the reality to which they point: God and neighbor.  Inasmuch as we stop and settle for an image of what our relationships should be, we actually step outside of that living relationship and kill it.  In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the “People of the Book”), God keeps it very simple by declaring to Moses to tell the people only “I am who I am” (or, “I will be what I will be.”)  The rest involves having a relationship with the “I am who I am.”  Of course, in modern secularism, this is epically avoided by denying even the existence of “I am who I am.”  Not surprisingly, the “I am who I am” residing within us all gets short shrift and humanity is left to define itself simply by its material aspects, limiting it’s nature to “I am what I am” — which I call the Popeye fallacy.  The Popeye fallacy omits a dimension of our being, leaving us a mirror caricature.  Much alienation in modern Western civilization is rooted in mistaking humans as “what” not “who.”  People are not things, at least not things alone.  To add to the irony and epic misdirection, legal fictions like corporate “personhood” are considered “human,” while humans have difficulty mustering such status.  Such battles over what a person is, a who or a what, may very well define our age.  May we have the wisdom to know the difference!

Of course, this poem frames the epic theme of idolatrous hubris on a more modest, individual level.  Hubris often hides in the “humble” context of the individual, with a built in rationalization that one person cannot make the difference.  This itself is an amoral or immoral act.  Morality always plays out among individual moral agents.  This is the very point of what is often avoided by shifting agency onto society, deflecting moral agency altogether, or claiming that “the devil made me do it” (insert ‘terrorist’ for ‘devil’ to upgrade to “modern” worldview).

Lastly, moral agency is played out in real time, the now.  Respecting the relational process of being human, which is inherently subjective, must favor the present over some conception or image of a future end.  More simply put, humans are ends in themselves, not to be subjugated to another’s systems of images of the future.  Keeping it real means honoring humans as sacred participants in this process, always valuing who people are more than what they are, or even what they may be.  I suspect that faith in God, the “I am who I am,” is trusting that the greater is lived out by focusing on who, not what.  This may very well be the inseparable nature of loving God and loving neighbor, each reinforcing one another in blessed mutuality.  May it be so.

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: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Jaden’s skepticism
Was like a cannibalism
That learned to crave
The taste
Of it’s own flesh and blood
And could settle for nothing
Less
Then a connoisseur
Of embalming
Empty vein hopes
Of immortality
In some unremitting pâté
With every golden goose cooked
In a dish best served cold
A first course
Able to stave off
Most kind of appetites
With well-bread relish
Where one helping
Is too much
For the rank and file
Of such a prison
Making ciao of anyone’s best guest
Too have your cake
And not eat it
For what may be
Inside
And passably left

I am very skeptical of skepticism.  Skepticism is most warranted when exploring empirical truths, those facts of the physical world, the realm of reductionistic science.  Skepticism has diminishing returns, and can even become cannibalistic, when applied overzealously to metaphysical or subjective truths.  While skepticism has its place, it can blind ourselves to subtler, higher truths, those of our subjective realm.  Many of such truths in life can only be taken in with a measure of grace.  Those refusing to risk being taken in are at risk for missing out of some of the best things in life.  Hope, love, and faith will wither in the face of unrelenting skepticism.  If your quest is for passable reasons to bypass hope, love, and faith you will almost certainly be rewarded with their loss.  Reducing them to mundane forms of psychological or sociological constructs will strip them of their transcending power.

Unrelenting skepticism is perhaps most dangerous at home, in one’s inner life.  Our own experience is the direct access we have to the world of subjectivity, a world mold-able to our free will.  This direct personal evidence cannot be shared in a verifiable or provable manner with others, as the methods of reductionistic science follow.  This does not mean that such realities experienced do not exist, or that subjectivity does not exist.  It simply means that they fall outside the methods of reductionistic science to examine.  Nonetheless, our experience, or consciousness, is at the center of our lives, not just some afterthought.  Plus, it can offer insights into others, as experiencers of their own human subjectivity.  Knowing thyself is the foundation for knowing others, the most important aspect of navigating the human world.  Metaphysics deserves our attention.

Some committed cynics consider free will an epiphenomenon, a mere shadow, illusion, or ghost, in a deterministic world.  Such determination is unwarranted, and cripples our abilities to perceive the world.  Of course, most people, and most philosophers, recognize that metaphysical realities exist.  To move from perceiving physical realities to perceiving metaphysical realities, one needs to move increasingly from skepticism (doubt) to openness (faith).  Such a move is not blind; it is based on experience.  Still, it requires a growing acceptance of uncertainty.  This veil of uncertainty is somewhat analogous to the veil of uncertainty in reductionistic science.  As our observations and experience grow, the veil moves.  The key difference is that science moves to include knowledge that we can know with scientific certainty, whereas metaphysical knowledge always includes a much greater degree of uncertainty, and the metaphysical veil can never be fully lifted, since it represents an intrinsic limit to human knowledge.  The metaphysical veil has a mysterious nature that becomes self-fulfilling in our approach to it.  If we approach the veil with too much skepticism, our knowledge of higher truths will be stunted and the resulting ignorance will appear as justification for a too constricted veil.  If we venture down the rabbit hole of such things as hope, love, and faith, we learn much more of such higher truths, and the territory once bounded by the veil will recede, even revealing vast expanses previously unimagined.

Fortunately, the payoffs of metaphysical knowledge are well worth the uncertainty and risk. As Saint Thomas Aquinas famously pointed out: “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.”  Exploring our own hearts, and risking relationships with others’ hearts requires courage, one of the highest things.  Clinging only to dead stuff, inanimate matter, because it is the most certain is the height of human foolishness.  Here the truth lies, in this grave of lifelessness.  Wisdom resides elsewhere.  Find it and you will find yourself, and a whole world as well.