POEM: A Re-View of a Plunk Rock Band, Tossing Watery Graves

I want it awe
Yet what do you no
What measures
Must we take
From emanate ripples
He helled the earth in his hand
Of what intimated
Of know consequence
A dinky mount
To sky ward heavin’
Hoping only to rock the whirled
Impelled to sea
In escapable gravity
Never in visioning
That there is
None boulder
In his pond-erous
And Sisyphean weigh
Casting all he once held dear
As flippin’ grovel
Into an unbroken mirror
As just
Hanging in
Con centric circles
Learning too a bridge lessen
As a bait
Waving less and less
To say good buy
As their reach is their largesse
Only to leave us
With an eerie qualm
And little
If any thing
To take
To the bank
Shoring up any pausible hope
Un-availed by the human I
Wither or not
As poetry
Reduced to pros
As awe things reckon
As precisely quota’d
A praising every angle
Bent on wane
Every thing
That is
Having fits
The scale
Leaving us
The lit-less
And immeasurable whoppers
The won with abacuses and slyed rule
Counting upon the inevitable apple
Fallen from trees on shore
Given too fruity beaches
With nothing
Better to do
A Newtonian uni-verse
As if
A lagoon squad
In sum kind of egression analysis
In a bounty us pool of data
Free from water
In err
With out-land-ish loch
On learning
Of fall-ibility
Grounded in certitude
Agitated a bout
Tsunamis of certainty
And faintest freedom
Fueled agin
Too buy too
An arc
Reliant up on
Being largely stoned
And heading south
All the faster
To murky depths
In this abyssal life
Wear there is
Every thing but
Life re-sides
In a soul place
For awe
As be-wilder-ed
Knot mirrorly a void
A stones throw aweigh
As be guiled
Cursory-ing like a sailor
Skimming the mirror surface
A mist watery solutions
Crying out
Over an abyss
All armed a bout
Drowning in what
We are trying
Too divine
What you can count on
In hitting one’s bottom
Throne down a well
As per cent
100 proof
Making a wish
Of scientific rigor
Sow rarefied
As iron out
Of awe that is mist
Worshipping statutes
That no copper can enforce
Nailing the truth to dead wood
Caskets and buckets
Hung out too dry
Bailing out
Awe that is well
A tempting
Sow perverse
Amiss under stood
Plunk rock band
Billowing out
In con sequential
To sum
So poor tending
The easily fluttered
And shirking
That beneath us
Or sow a peer
Do be us
As it may seam
Take me littoral
And fathom deeply
The coast of freedom
Fore who knows
More of that which swells
Those who lead
Unfetid lives
Learning their keep
In this
Life unearth
Or those who undertake
Properly measured lives
In a dogma eat dogma whirled
Vainly exacting an incalculable prize
On each and every won
For in
The sweet by and by
It is
Better to be
Taken in
Than taking out
And measuring cups
In the see of life

This poem goes out to my friend, Toby, who in a conversation a couple of evenings ago inspired and quasi-commissioned a poem (and blog entry) around the metaphor of fathoming the ripples from a stone being thrown in a body of water.  In our conversation this was about measuring the effects of our actions, specifically social justice actions, as to the effect they have on the world and its inhabitants.  The hope was to better harness this knowledge in order to parlay it into more effective actions.

This poem tackles a familiar theme of mine: how a fixation on scientific-reductionistic methods weigh too often rob us of access to deeper meanings.  So, here goes:

Most of my life, my working assumption has been that if other folks just knew what I knew that they would act congruently with me.  I don’t put much stock in this assumption anymore.  Hell, much of the time, I don’t even act congruently with the knowledge with which I have been blessed.  I have spent many moments and years projecting my sense of rationality onto others.  I have spent many moments and years projecting my favored modes of rationalization onto others.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe that reality is deeply ordered and that this order is accessible, even more so than we usually think.  I am still cursed with the double-edged sword of an abundance of right opinion.  Still, I have come to more deeply appreciate that we act more out of our emotional sensibilities, which are profoundly molded by our self-interest, whether that interest is privileged or disenfranchised.  I view our emotional sensibilities and the sum total in our life of our various privileges and disenfranchisements as the primary drivers of our actions, over and above our routine thinkings.  In fact, motivational and behavioral research shows that the primary causal direction of changed attitudes is from behavior, not knowledge.  In other words, our attitudes change more from changing behaviors than changing knowledge.  This is caught up in a matrix of cognitive dissonance, where we have a powerful need to make sense of our lives as it is at any given moment, and rationalizations supporting any given status quo are favored.  Changing what we do, voluntarily or involuntarily, shifts our attitudes much more robustly than even large changes in knowledge.  This undergirds the suggestion of “fake it til you make it,” recognizing the power of cognitive dissonance to drive our attitudes and thinking to match our behavior.  While this may seem inauthentic to some degree, simply compare it to the endemic hypocrisies represented by vastly incongruous knowledge and beliefs with our behavior.  This also gives a tip of the hat to the classical liberal paradigm of the importance of environmental conditions.  Our own personal collections of privileges and disenfranchisements, either personally or socially, are weigh more important to making sense of our behavior than cataloging, or even changing, our knowledge and beliefs. In sum, knowledge is routinely over-weighed in behavior change and social change.

My view is that plumbing the nature of our own privilege and disenfranchisement is a much firmer foundation upon which to build a life-affirming world.  This self-knowledge can generate powerful insights into others and is a prerequisite to empathy.  Reflecting on both grace (unmerited privilege) and unjust relationships (disenfranchisement) can leverage the attitudinal changes necessary for a better world for all.  Mustering the courage to let go of unmerited privilege when it perpetuates unjust relationships, and change our behavior accordingly, even if it feels uncomfortable and scary, will align our lives at a deeper level of comfort and peace.  Knowledge will follow.  Knowledge will catch up to our passions.  Life-affirming knowledge is wisdom.  All other knowledge is unnecessary clutter, actually confounding the manifestation of wisdom.  Where a whole heart rules, all is well.  Living in won’s head can foster a perversely dangerous idealism, disconnected from the world of the living.  If this strikes you as in any weigh anti-intellectual, you may want to delve into my blog — I speak from experience.

May you find a weigh in life that lifts up both yourself and others.


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
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

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

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

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

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

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

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



POEM: Needling a Haystack

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

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

POEM: 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
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
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.

POEM: Inexplicably Wonderful

The gift of life
Is quite inexplicably wonderful
But fear not
Teams of scientists
Are working
Around the clock
To redress this problem

Skepticism has its limits.  In practice, I am a skeptic of much skepticism.  Life is wonderful.  The foundation for life being wonderful is that it is a gift, something we received without any effort or merit of our own.  This foundation of life as a gift is the most natural springboard for gratitude.  Gratitude is the antidote for cynicism.  Try it.  Try being cynical and grateful at the same time.  Nearly impossible.  Of course, this poem mocks a particular form of skepticism, that of scientific skepticism.  Scientific skepticism is a religion to some, even a disease.  Not without deep irony, many of these same folks view religion as a disease.  I find very few militant scientific skeptics as happy and carefree.  While I appreciate the work ethic aroused by deep commitments, empirical skepticism, scientific reductionism, is simply unable to answer the most important questions in life.  Over-committed skeptics regularly rule out contemplating meaning as a legitimate enterprise.  If they do find some subtle tricks to allow for meaning, these heavenly concepts are confined to cramped quarters with narrow doors and frequently with no windows to larger realities.  There may just be no explaining my wonderful, carefree frolicking about.  Well, deal with it — and preferably not as a problem…

POEM: Evolution of a Writer

Evolution of a Writer

You have evolved into quite a writer
Could you write something for my company?
He solicited
Presumably thinking
I was still into monkey business
Not even grasping
I was clearly out of my tree

This poem is a playful way to address some tensions between creating art and the business of selling art, in this case writing.  Many artists struggle with having the creative process compromised based on market or business realities at any given moment.  The need to materially survive can draw in sharp relief — or deep depression — the vocational viabilities of the higher creative processes and the lower needs for material survival or comfort.  Fortunately, this can actually be a great source of inspiration of one of the many tensions in life — that of surviving versus thriving.  There are good reasons for the portrait of a starving artist.  This reality speaks both to the passion and value many artists place on their work, and the relative lack of value others may derive from the artist’s products of their work.  I separate the process of creating art from the created “product.”  I have little doubt that I derive much more joy from writing poetry than any other one individual can derive from my work.  Of course, the social and commercial nature of an artistic work product can leverage its overall value much higher because many people may experience it and derive some benefit.  The artist’s tendency to value the creative process makes sense — though perhaps not cents — since the creative process itself is typically what drives even further passion and creativity.  Selling stuff is typically secondary. Of course, the relatively few artists which can make a decent living selling their art may leapfrog to another level of freedom in their creativity and expression — assuming selling stuff doesn’t compromise the height of creativity.  Many view artists as “clearly out of their tree” if their valuing of commercial viability or success doesn’t match societal expectations.  Ironically, this may be one of the main purposes that artists serve in society: to expand society’s limits and depth of experience beyond that which can be relatively easily bottled for commercial success.  Yes, life is about much more than money.  This is the nexus with evolution.

In this poem I play around and push the limits of our current understanding of evolution.  Let me be clear, I am not claiming or even insinuating that the facts of Darwin’s theory of evolution are missing or wrong; nor that the theory is inconsistent with the scientific facts.  What I am saying is that sheer survival to sexually reproduce is too narrow a framework to explain human experience or predict human behavior.  Humans have evolved to such an incredible level of flexibility and adaptability that transcendent experiences (that would include subjectivity) outside of scientific reductionism present is difficult to ignore — if we want a more complete account of humanity.  Of course, this debate and tension between “spirituality” and reductionistic “science” are not new.  In the philosophy of science, there are understood to be limits to human knowledge.  In the case of Darwin’s theory of evolution, it does a powerful job of explaining how life evolves, but it (nor the rest of science) cannot explain how life itself came to be.  Plus, it leaves open the question of meaning or purpose in life or for life — NO SMALL QUESTION!  The theory of evolution uses “random” as a convenient assumption or framework to build an explanatory theory of how life evolves.  I consider the nature of “random” the great unanswered (and unanswerable) question within Darwin’s theory.  While reductionistic science, in proper accord with its assumptions and arising precepts, denies subjectivity as an area of investigation which science can legitimately explore.  Of course, accepting this assumption, though powerful in explaining some stuff, leaves the greatest questions in human life off-limits, and by improper cultural convenience and over-simplicity, simply ignores this aspect of reality (subjectivity), or worse yet denies it altogether.   It is no logical surprise, that the gaping hole of “random” leaves much to be desired in a more fully coherent account of human life and experience.  We need to evolve beyond this disability or maladaptation.  The sheer physical survival of a purely materialist worldview strikes me as our past, not our future.  This deterministic survival instinct, while part of our reality, becomes mere monkey business if taken as the whole truth.  So who is it in the human species that is not grasping this next level of evolution?  Maybe it will take some folks who appear “clearly out of their tree” to get us there…

POEM: Pulling a Steckler

Pulling a Steckler

Steckler was the type of guy
Who would ruin
The fun
Of magic tricks
Enjoyed by friends
By revealing their mechanics
Partly to annoy
Mostly because he could
His routine was so common
His act was named
Pulling a Steckler
So named by friends
With no first names
As a young chide
He had meticulously dissected
Almost two hundred frogs
A familiar story becoming mythic
Scores of animation erased
Weather comical or cruel
Such carrion luggage
Exacting a price
He became all too familiar
As corpses became cool
With rigid bodies of evidence
So much so
He became convinced
They were never really alive
In the first place
Winning a world without
To a place filled
With undead
Never quite living
Any warmth met with
More heat than light yielding
A cold and shadowy place
Needing no other
To take his breath away
Nor confer
Pulling a Steckler
Out of a hat
To be warn
His crowning achievement
In the mud
Like a croak
Hauntingly unfamiliar
In the passing years

This poem is another ode to the strange places that the logic of scientific reductionism will lead us.  Many will cross the line from elucidating the mechanics of everyday magic to an all out assault on mystery itself.  The worst offenders militantly believe in nothing.  Most just can’t make peace between objects and subjects — which is one of my favorite subjects!  On a good day, we can avoid hurling high-speed objects at subjects!  I find subjects infinitely more valuable and fascinating than objects.  The sad thing about the character in this poem, Steckler, is that he alienated himself from other people by missing the whole picture; ironically, by trying to explain the whole picture, as he sees it.  I can relate to this passion, if not obsessive compulsive disorder.  I am sure that I alienate some with all of my talk about spirituality, the transcendent, and mysticism.  My only defense is a claim that open minds focus more on more, and cramped hearts focus more on less.  Science without serendipity is like pinching aloof.  Speaking of serendipity, I chose the name “Steckler” as a pun on stickler.  Being a stickler for Steckler, upon further genealogical investigation, I learned that the origin of the name “Steckler” is a nickname for a person known for making snide remarks.  May “pulling a Steckler” add to awe, not take it away…


POEM: A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse

A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse (Tao Te Ching 38)

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety
Yet oddly
Even when
Awe is lost
Tao remains
The eternal rest
Giving rise to awe

The Tao Te Ching is the ancient Chinese sacred text of Taoism.  The authorship is attributed to Lao-Tse, which may have been an individual or a group.  There are many English translations of the Tao Te Ching, which seem to differ greatly.  The above poem is my take on chapter 38, which seems to have stuck in my mind.  I was struck by the truth of the progression, or deterioration, from the ineffable unity of Tao to virtue, then morality, then propriety, which is the beginning of chaos, with propriety being the shallowest foundation for life.  While the Tao Te Ching is necessarily perplexing, “the Tao that can be described is not the Tao,” this foundation which escapes our grasp is the very foundation which secures our hope.  No machinations, cruelty, nor any power on earth can overturn it or control it.  This irreducible hope persists as an untouchable in a world bent on holding and controlling way more than called for.  This irreducible hope gives rise to awe!

The Tao Te Ching is more of a comprehensive series of hints than a textbook.  I view it as an essential companion for any mystic. Of course, I see mysticism as the heart of any true religion.  The Tao Te Ching is very short read, especially when compared to the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, or especially the Hindu Vedas!  Plus, unlike perhaps most other religions and their sacred texts, a devoted Taoist would probably suggest burning your sacred text at some point!  This speaks of a truer reverence than the all-too-familiar Bibliolatry of Western civilization.  As a child of Western civilization, I would heartily recommend the Tao Te Ching as an antidote for many of the imbalances acutely present in modern society.  Western civilization’s addiction to scientific reductionism makes us hellbent on focusing on one thing in isolation, pressuring us to ever narrower contexts and ever greater specialization.  Central in the practice of Taoists is complimentariness, Yin and Yang, that the myriad of things that comprise our world, though arising from the unity of Tao, can only be comprehended by their opposites.  Perhaps the greatest formulation of this in Christianity is Jesus’ command to love our enemies.  Only by reconciliation with our enemies can we become whole.  Any demonization of the other necessarily degrades our own humanity.  We are defined by our enemies.  If our enemies don’t define us, then we are free, and in accord with Tao.  May it be so…because it is so…

POEM: Straight Shooter

Straight Shooter

If I were to do anything
And you looked back at me
If you were to say
I can see that
Then you might just know me
However, if this frightens you
Then you might not just know
The difference between
Possibility and probability
And determined to be free
You may suffer
From certain fears
Whose dread remedy lies
In looking forward
With fears uncertain
As is your hope
And make your choice
Not necessarily
As did I

This poem was inspired by the latest mass shooting in a litany of mass shootings.  The angle that struck me is the pressing desire to ascertain the reason.  It seems that we may be as afraid of there being a distinct reason as if there is no distinct reason.  This seems to be the two sides of the coin of control: that there is control and we are a prisoner of it, and that life is absurd and unpredictable, spurring anxious hypervigilance.  Personally, being both an unrepentant idealist and quite aware of my dark side, I can see that I contain the seed of all human behavior, good and bad.  I am a straight shooter.  Of course, those who know me would also know that I can articulate reasons for most everything I do do.  Whatever I do, you could probably say, “Yeah, I can see that.”  This simply reflects that seed of possibility contained within us, whether we are aware of it or not.  The probability that something happens is a somewhat different matter — perhaps more about matter than meta-matter (physics and metaphysics).  Regardless, the quest for control and/or complete understanding of the outside world can never alleviate the need to respond to whatever is with an irreducible amount of uncertainty — whether regarding our fears or our hopes.  While the collective behavior of others models a certain way of behaving, I must choose my response without a guarantee of a particular outcome.  And while it may seem eminently reasonable to do what is most likely, we are free to pursue a different course; we are not completely bound by probability.  Probability is the purview of “science.”  Possibility is the purview of the heart, an infinitely more mysterious and fickle state.  Science is good at predicting the accuracy of the behavior of crowds (large groups of people, where the veil of statistics masks our individual freedom).  Possibility is, well…quite possible.  Without uncertainty, possibility would not be possible.  So, embracing uncertainty is a good thing…perhaps even necessary!


POEM: Unemployable

I am unemployable
Partly because no one can afford what I’m worth
Partly because I prefer to give it away

This short poem harkens to a more organic way of relating to one another than contractual relationships.  What if people did what they love in life and gave freely?  I suspect that the world would be much better off.  Love unleashed is much more powerful, and synchronous with the deepest reality, than any personal profit or “earning.”  Giving freely is an invitation to escape the binds of the quid pro quo of contracts.  Contractual relationships are bound by a reciprocity that is defined by a limited payback.  The best that a contractual relationship can offer is an equal, reciprocal exchange or payback that ends when the direct participants/contractors get what they bargained for — it’s largely a closed system.  Of course, many would be quite satisfied with such a fair exchange.  I am not.  I yearn for an open system of unending streams of acts of kindness where little time and effort is spent on trying to guarantee that the giver gets back a commensurate, proportional return in a specific way. How about paying it forward?  Many will cry out, “Life is not fair; if you act that way, then you will get shortchanged.”  My answer: you are right, life is not fair — life is excellent!  My life is a gift that I can never repay, except in kind!  What is fair in life is that what we sow is what we reap.  The means produce the ends.  And the kinds produce new beginnings.  As Gandhi, a man well accustomed to the darker and lighter sides of humanity, proclaimed, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” People convinced that mutual exchange negotiated by two parties is the best we can do, will likely not do much better.  I, for one, would like to participate in a much bigger party!  And like John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live as one.”

Us dreamers don’t deny that people can treat you badly, worse than you treat them.  What dreamers don’t deny, but affirm, and live into, is that people can treat each other better than they are treated.  Within this blessed inequality is a sacred space where forgiveness, grace, and gratitude flourish.  I view this as the most fundamental and appropriate response to the existential reality that I did nothing to deserve my life; or, as John Paul Sartre and Paul Johannes Tillich would join in saying, “We are not the ground of our own being.”

The fright of giving freely is easily identified, and it is commonplace.  Interestingly though, perhaps more illustrative is the odd reality that receiving freely is also very difficult and scary for many people.  The fright that binds these two conditions is not the fear of not getting enough, but rather the fear of not earning one’s way.  If I receive freely, then I might owe someone or something.  This may trigger an even deeper fear of being controlled, having this debt being used against you.

I suspect that this fear of being controlled, having a debt being used against you, may be the most basic fear contained within false religion, that is, religion which controls rather than sets free.  Perhaps ironically, this fear of having a debt that one cannot repay may be a frightening undergirder of atheism (a rejection of a giver?).  The modern scientific atheist betrays this worldview by a singular focus on scientific reductionism, the world of causality where each individual party has a proper accounting (hmmm…sounds a bit like a religion).  In this world of causality, that paradoxically is proclaimed to exist without a cause (“it just is” — like God?), there is no room for generosity or forgiveness, only ever finer engineering and accounting.  Mystery becomes simply ignorance, a hubris-ridden assumption about what lies beyond the veil.  Humility and hubris seem as one.  Is it any wonder that scientific atheists may find their attitudes vacillating from extreme causality and exacting control to impenetrable absurdity.

Back to the basic theme of this poem, which challenges a worldview dominated by “earners.”  Humans and humanity are too valuable to be monetized for the convenience of more efficient commerce.  Human rights are not for sale, but arise out of the sacred worth of human life.  Perhaps the best illustration of how far we have strayed from this is by the fact that you can substitute “the market” or “the economy” with the word “God” and you would find that it all makes sense, in a strangely perverse way.  We must bow to the false god of Mammon, or worldly wealth and power, but it will never set us “free.” As Jesus adroitly put it, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)   Reflecting on this basic pivot point in life may give rise to a more modern take on truth and freedom: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!

There are few things in modern American politics that will piss people off more than confronting “a sense of entitlement.”  Conservatives more typically take offense at a “sense of entitlement.”  Liberals more typically work to protect “entitlements.”  I think that this liberal desire to protect “entitlements” springs from a sense of human rights which transcend market valuations.  Unfortunately, the debates about “entitlements” pays too much homage to economic worthiness than sacred worthiness.  I view conservatives’ objections to “entitlements” as springing from this worldview that holds “earning” as sacrosanct.  Such a worldview rejects both “giving freely” and “receiving freely.”  Conservative religious rhetoric aside, the dubious conservatives’ claim that giving should be done freely (without government involvement) is perhaps best debunked simply by their giving behavior.  Feeble claims that government robs them of enough resources to give is easily countered by the fact that the more people have the less they give proportionally (whether conservative or liberal).  The urge to give must spring from some place different than having a lot of stuff to give.  If this sacred place from which giving arises is to become incarnate in this world, then we must behave congruously with the reality that each human is more valuable than any employer can pay, and we must prefer giving over earning.

May you resist the temptation to monetize your humanity, or anyone else’s, and may you give freely, centered in that sacred space where what is most valuable is experienced.

POEM: Efficiency Expert

The efficiency expert asked me
How many poems can I write
Per hour
Well, if I only
Had but one hour
I would guess a singular poem

Western civilization seems obsessed with efficiency.  Of course, high efficiency is no guarantee of high effectiveness.  You can be very efficient at doing the wrong thing, and it will get you nowhere fast; or worse yet, actually farther away from what is desirable.  Western civilization’s desire to quantify every thing can become a distraction by leading us to ignore those things that are difficult to quantify.  I would posit that the most important things in life are difficult to quantify, and at some point trying to quantify them will likely do more harm than good.  What would be a unit of love, friendliness, hope, trust, courage, integrity, or humor?  Yep, sometimes dissecting something kills it!

I must admit that I am a big fan of blessed inefficiency!  The best things in life — a good meal, making love, a good joke, or all three — are not good subjects for efficiency.  Time wasted that is enjoyed is not wasted.  I like the variously attributed quote, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  Joy is a singularly better marker for guiding success than any quantitative measure.  So, how many units of joy have you experienced today?

In this poem, there is a stark contrast between quantity and quality.  The efficiency expert inquires with numbers in mind, typically assuming that more is better.  The poet takes one hour, but one hour, as all that they have; and such a profound limitation can provide clarity and depth of which an efficiency expert may not even dream.  The answer: a singular poem OR one poem per hour. Is not the answer clear?

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”  — Henry David Thoreau, from Walden (a read I would highly recommend as an antidote to frenetic modern civilization)

POEM: Incompetent Evil

I don’t care much for evil
I don’t care much for incompetence
Though when present together
Incompetence becomes a blessing

As in math, sometimes in morality, multiplying two negatives can produce some positive results.  There is at times some hope to be taken at the all too frequent observation that many stupid things happen in the world.  Specifically, there is hope to be drawn from evil actions accompanied by incompetence.  In this case, incompetence is an ally of the good, truncating evil, preventing it from manifesting its complete intent.  If you are an optimist such as I, you might even dare call this a blessing.

I like this short poem mostly because it illuminates perhaps the most fundamental division in human reality — physics and metaphysics, the mundane and the transcendent.  Physics is basically the realm of modern science, the sometimes uber-successful reductionistic approach characteristic of Western civilization.  Great advances have been made in understanding how the physical world works, the means of controlling the “outer” world, the so-called objectively real.  Modern science breaks things down to understand each of its constituent parts behaves (cause and effect) and how they interact with one another. Unfortunately, this is only the crudest form of how things work, and only “half” of the picture (in the sense of balance, not quantitatively).  At its worst scientific reductionism kills the whole to study the dead parts.  Dissecting a frog may produce a lot of knowledge but it does kill the frog.  Similarly, our quest for knowledge can kill life to study its lesser constituent parts.  Metaphysics is the opposite, the complement to reductionism, which studies life from the perspective of the relationship of the whole to the part, not the relationship of parts to each other.  Most people recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — due to humans’ metaphysical faculties.  Sadly, an overfocus on scientific reductionism has allowed our higher faculties to atrophy (use it or lose it!), and we literally cannot tell apart life from death.  My favorite example of the manifestation of this is our apparent inability to distinguish between human persons and corporate persons (which are famously said to be made up of human persons — well they got the “made up” part correct!).  When we can’t differentiate a human worker from a brick — reducing them both to “expenses” — we are in deep trouble as a human race!  We seem to be able to produce a lot of things, and cool stuff, but the art of human happiness seems resistant to such machinations — perhaps because we are not machines.  We need to strike a healthier, life-affirming balance between physics and metaphysics.  As often happens, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said much of this much more succinctly:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.  The two are not rivals. They are complementary.  Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

POEM: Barbarian Hordes

Only after building the wall
To keep the barbarian hordes out
Did I realize
That we are the barbarian hordes

Exclusion is the most barbarian practice.  Inclusion is the most enlightened practice.  To evolve in our humanity we need to move beyond our self.  Xenophobia, and its companion egocentricity, is a stubborn barrier to enlightenment.  Recognizing the oneness of all things is a spiritual practice that moves us out of an ego perspective.  As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

I am fascinated with meditating upon what I see as the most fundamental paradox of human reality, the juxtaposition of the oneness of reality with the “myriad of things.”  Of course, this apparent paradox is most pronounced, perhaps paradoxically, if one accepts no difference between anything.  My most clear and palpable retort to folks who assert that there is no difference between anything is to ponder a hypothetical punch in the nose — I avoid the actual punch in the nose because I believe that there is a difference between violence and nonviolence!  It seems that the post-enlightenment, modern scientific reductionism characterizing Western civilization lies silent, levelled if you will, stubbornly incapable of granting legitimacy (authority) to any difference or hierarchy, even though differences and hierarchies are omnipresent.  How do we move or evolve beyond the self-mutilation of scientific reductionism to a self-transcendence?  I am partial to E. F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed, which I would highly recommend if you are perplexed in most any way.  On nugget in this regard:

There are physical facts which the bodily senses pick up, but there are also nonphysical facts which remain unnoticed unless the work of the senses is controlled and completed by certain “higher” faculties of the mind. Some of these nonphysical facts represent “grades of significance,” to use a term coined by G. N. M. Tyrrell, who gives the following illustration:

Take a book, for example. To an animal a book is merely a coloured shape. Any higher significance a book may hold lies above the level of its thought. And the book is a coloured shape; the animal is not wrong. To go a step higher, an uneducated savage may regard a book as a series of marks on paper. This is the book as seen on a higher level of significance than the animal’s, and one which corresponds to the savage’s level of thought. Again it is not wrong, only the book can mean more. It may mean a series of letters arranged according to certain rules. This is the book on a higher level of significance than the savage’s . . . . Or finally, on a still higher level, the book may be an expression of meaning…

In all these cases the “sense data” are the same; the facts given to the eye are identical. Not the eye, only the mind, can determine the “grade of significance.”

To make the grade and avoid continually devolving our humanity into some nihilistic cynicism where meaning can find no root in our being we might benefit from looking up to a higher power, living in an ever-higher perspective — and thousands of years of meditation on such things informs us that this should not involve looking down on our fellow beings.

Force Attracts Men of Low Morality

Force Always Attracts Men of Low Morality–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Force Always Attracts Men of Low Morality--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Force Always Attracts Men of Low Morality–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

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Albert Einstein is recognized as perhaps one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived regarding physics.  However, few people realize that Albert Einstein was also a great genius of metaphysics, or spiritual physics if you will.  This simple rule that force always attracts men of low morality can be a powerful organizing principle in how we relate to the world.  What if we realized, truly realized, that the world of command-and-control, the world of the military and security apparatuses, did not attract the so-called best and the brightest, but attracts those of low morality.  While Einstein certainly devoted the better part of his life to understanding physics, his number one extracurricular activity was to work for peace and the uplifting of all humanity.  Of course, these types of activities typically don’t make the history books, if for none other than the simple reason that history books only deal with great persons in history with a few paragraphs at most.  However, dealing with issues of morality in our culture seems strangely avoided.  This seems to be entwined with the Western civilization worldview that science is objective and all is science, that is reductionistic science.  We simply don’t know what to do with subjectivity, of which morality is one of the more obvious subjects.  Is it any wonder that Western civilization can be strikingly amoral?  So-called Western civilization has nearly perfected the ability to neuter any productive conversations about subjectivity or morality.  Oddly, this is probably viewed as a highly moral position.  You’ve got to love the irony!  Well, back to Einstein.  I like to think that his commitment and fascination to humanity springs forth from the essential truths that he reflected and meditated upon in physics.  I believe that all things are connected, and that this is a profound truth that underlies both physics and metaphysics.  I would hope that very few would object to the premise that all things are connected, as this is profoundly interwoven in the assumptions of any science.  The problem that many people shy away from, of course, are those connections that could be called subjective between humans and the rest of reality.  In the end, I guess my point is that many would view of what Einstein as a prototypical scientist.  If this view is based in any reality, we should pay attention to the fact that Einstein concerned himself with the nature of humanity that cannot directly be put under the proverbial microscope.  While Einstein is perhaps the best example, and he is the most well-known, there are many examples of theoretical physicists who have  immersed themselves in and accepted a mystical reality that cannot be fully explored with traditional hard science.  Yes, Einstein was a softy – a really smart softly.

POEM: Arguing with Atheists

Arguing with atheists is like panning for gold in a bathtub.

This one line poem is certainly provocative, and probably dangerous.  First I would like to concede that I cannot prove that God exists.  Secondly, and equally, I don’t think that is a proper understanding of reality to conclude that God cannot exist.  Thus the chasm between theists and atheists.  Actually, the term “God” is so loaded for people I would like to suggest a different tack.  I think the issue boils down to an argument between subjectivity and objectivity.  I find that the predominant view of atheists that I have met or read about seem to take an objectivist view, what I would call scientific reductionism.  While this view can be very helpful for understanding part of reality, it specifically rules out any subjective reality.  While this seems eminently reasonable to most modern people of a scientific bent, it ignores the most basic experience of human life: that humans are subjects, subjective.  If folks would argue that people are not subjects or subjective, then we don’t have much to talk about, and perhaps all that we do have to talk about has been predetermined in the infinite cascade of objective cause-and-effect.  The philosophy or arguments that preclude or exclude subjects or subjectivity destroys both humans and God in a single stroke.  Now, while it seems quite easy in terms of simplicity or Occam’s razor, to just eliminate God, the “Subject”, from the equation, eliminating oneself and all other subjects seems much more dangerous, even foolish.  I can probably appreciate absurdity as much of the next person, probably more.  However, scientific reductionism comes to a nice clean and neat end when it reaches absurdity, which perhaps ironically, it inevitably does.  It can go no further.  I wish to go further.  This requires uncertainty, even absurdity.  However, I think that this is where the gold is found.  Panning for gold can be a long and tedious process, and it may not even pay off for many, maybe even most.  Nonetheless, such gold cannot be found in a bathtub, the proverbial scientific reductionist billiard ball world.

One last note, on the concept of arguing.  Arguing is often seen as an intellectual exercise.  Unfortunately, the intellect has its limits, and there are places for which it is not an adequate instrument to explore.  These are the matters of the heart, of subjectivity, of life itself, which cannot be reduced to a machine, at least not with the unintended consequences of killing life.  Residing in the heart, centering our experience around the heart, living a wholehearted life, is a way existential enterprise.  There is meaning, and we discover that meaning through our subjective faculties.  I must surpass or transcends mere intellect.  I must literally vote with my life, my life force, the subjectivity that is mine.  Ultimately, talking about or arguing about things is inadequate.  What we do matters.  How we live our life matters.  Ultimately, our life is our message.  If someone else’s life seems argumentative with our own message, then so be it.  A certain amount of conflict and absurdity is necessary in life.  I don’t think many would argue with that.  Though feel free to pan my views…

POEM: Getting Your Ducks in a Row

I once put all my ducks in a row
Only then realizing
What am I doing with all these ducks?!

Getting one’s ducks in a row is an idiom or metaphor that most people are familiar with, meaning that we should get our business in order.  The twist in this poem is a reversal of the typical order that my poetry takes.  In this short poem, I take a common phrase that is not intended to be taken literally, and then take it literally.  Predictably, this leads to absurdity, and the ensuing absurd question of what am I doing with all of these ducks.  Of course, the absurd question is actually a question intended to jar one into a realization that getting one’s business in order is not always the most important thing in the world, though it often seems so.

Perhaps ironically, the pervasive idea of getting one’s ducks in a row, getting one’s business in order, can be a stagnant or deadening proposition that actually kills a higher order in our lives.  Life is messy.  Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy doing other things.”

The question here is not whether one is for order or against order.  The question here is one for a higher order or a lower order.  Increasingly, my experiences in life lead me to believe that one of the most fundamental issues is achieving some clarity about following a higher order over a lower order.  Again, this does not negate the value of lower order stuff, it simply puts it in its proper place, puts it in its proper perspective.  Given that lower order stuff is typically more clear, concrete, and easy to see, it is little surprise that we give an inordinate focus to such things – they capture our attention (and us).  After experiencing many dis-orders in my life, I have come to the realization that the best way to reorder my life around those things which are most important, those higher order things, is to practice simplicity.  What I mean by this is that I need to be aware of those relatively few things in life that are most important to me.  Combined with an actual commitment to these things, then I can use these few important things to better order the many lower things.  More simply put, the higher should lower the order, and a few more important things should order the many less important things.

Another major reason that I see lesser things getting a disproportionate amount of attention versus greater things, is a common confusion regarding what is urgent versus what is important.  Our culture value busyness.  Busyness is seen as an indicator of productivity.  Also, busyness is a way to avoid being seen as engaging in a cardinal sin of our culture, which is laziness.  I think this confusion leads to a systematic bias that often runs over truly important things in our lives.  Given the attachment to busyness, busyness actually becomes a surrogate for urgency.  Thus, the confusion between urgency and importance.

Now, actually, there are many things in life that are both urgent and important.  These are the most important things to which we should attend.  However, there are many, many things that seem urgent that are not really that important.  Likewise, there are many things that are very important but do not seem very urgent.  I believe it is in these very important things that do not seem very urgent that we get lost.  The Achilles heel here is that attention to these most important things that don’t seem very urgent, requires a more relaxed perspective, a broader perspective in relation to time.  Most great things in life require a substantial investment of time.  Also, most things worthwhile require some effort on our part.  But let me deal first with the time issue (the most important thing here).  This gets back to the laziness issue.  Our culture reinforces the notion that relaxing our views about urgency is somehow lazy.  If you are not dealing with the commonly accepted stuff that is seen is urgent, then you are viewed as lazy.  This is not necessarily true.  Now, while truly lazy people don’t deal with what’s in front of them, whether it is urgent or not, important or not, to deal with the important but not urgent things requires some way of being that is neither characterized by mere busyness nor laziness.  This is the difficult counter-cultural work of dealing with the most important and often most overlooked stuff in our lives.  It takes a great amount of discipline and work to slough off the avalanche of seemingly urgent stuff in our life in order to attend to the most important things.  In fact, it is this lack of developing such discipline and boundary setting that is the more important and urgent form of laziness to address.

Laziness is definitely an issue.  This gets back to the issue that most things worthwhile in our life require effort on our part.  Being fully human requires a lot of effort.  This reality requires that we overcome a certain lazy inertia in our lives.  The status quo, the way things are, has a certain stability, momentum and inertia to it.

If we keep going the direction we are headed in, we will probably end up where we are going.  However, equally true, the past is the best predictor of the future, but if you use the past to predict the future, you will always be wrong.  Or more eloquently put, by Yogi Berra, “Prediction is very hard, especially when about the future.”  This is because people are not billiard balls.  People are not simply determined being.  People possess freedom.  People are subjects, not objects.  Certainly, as long as people are involved, predicting the future with complete accuracy will be impossible (actually, this is true for so-called “things” as well; this involves a discussion of the inherent probabilities necessary to understand quantum physics, which I will gracefully save for another day).  This is the way it’s supposed to be.  This is not chaos; this is simply uncertainty.  This is the way the universe is ordered.  This is a higher order, not to be subjected to a lower order.  This takes us full circle, back to our zealous clinging to stuff that is more concrete, seemingly certain.  Our felt need to substitute certainty for uncertainty plays neatly into the hands of confusing the urgent and the important.  Life is uncertain.  If life were not uncertain, it would not be life.  If life were not uncertain, then life would simply be a quest of learning everything and then being ordered (notice the use of the passive voice, and the same language that we reject often from the bosses in our lives) by the ultimately determinable (that which can be reduced to certainty).  This would inescapably lead us to our endgame of being all-knowing and totally impotent (not free).  If this strikes you as a concept of God that is rejected by the vast majority of humanity on this planet, then you must be paying attention.  This so-called God that so many people legitimately reject, is not God, but the vain and enslaving-ourselves project of trying to be God ourselves.  Neither can God be reduced to simply “everything.”  God is more than “everything.”  This concept arises out of the paradox of subjectivity and objectivity, the difference between subject and object.  In this case, the difference between people and things, and between God and “everything.”  I hope that I’m not getting too far off course by getting straight to the heart of the matter.  If you want some additional commentary on these matters, and subjects, I would suggest browsing scientific reductionism.

So, now that I have put all of my ducks in order, I can get beyond the whole “duck” thing. In the end, for all this to work well, this means having our lives ordered in a way that is consistent with what we consider to be the most important, then we must actually know what is the most important stuff in our lives.  Do you know what the most important things in your life are?  If so, I would suggest that you make a list of such things, and while doing this may be of the utmost importance, I would recommend that you take your time to get it right.

Now, if you really want to blow your mind, and perhaps blow the lid off your heart, I recommend meditating upon this poem from the Sufi poet Rumi:

A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down
the three things you want most.
If they in any way differ
you are in trouble.

POLITICAL CARTOON: Free Market Jesus – Blessed Are The Amoral

Free Market Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: Free Market Jesus - Blessed Are Those Who Let The Market Decide Your Morals

Welcome to Free Market Jesus!  This is a new Top Pun series of comics that will run on Sundays, featuring Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, Gen. Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!

This week’s comic captures the amorality and sociopathy of the free market.  People are moral agents, or least people should be moral agents.  Free markets are not moral agents.  Unfortunately, though, people who function with the amoral boundaries of the so-called free market relinquish their moral agency to other human beings, or worse yet, to inert matter.  Further, moral agents really don’t get the choice of being amoral.  The vain hope of amorality distinctly falls into the category of immorality.  I see the near religious attachment to the idea of a free market primarily as a way to avoid personal responsibility for one’s actions and how they may affect others.  Part of being a human being is taking responsibility for one’s actions.  You can’t outsource your personal responsibility, no matter how hard you try, or how little you try, as the case may be.  This lack of free choice in whether we are responsible for our own actions, is what Jean-Paul Sartre termed “condemned to be free.”  Free will is a part of human existence; though, free will is subject to much debate, mostly running along the lines of either how mysterious free will is, or how absurd free will is.  Either way we seem to be stuck with free will, however ironic that maybe.  Of course, you run across the occasional person who doesn’t believe in free will.  Though, apparently, they are forced to believe this, so don’t be too hard on them.  Some days it’s difficult to be complicated dirt, especially when another mistakes us for human!

The Jesus graphic is modified from the famous Sacred Heart painting that will be recognized by many, particularly those who are Roman Catholic.  Please note that the inscription on Jesus’ heart, “Greed is God,” is a slight takeoff on the proverbial “greed is good.”  While this is technically a pun, the root word for God and good are so close that it barely counts.  Hopefully, this elicits what I would consider a simple definition of God which would be that which is of the good.  This doesn’t necessarily require a traditional view of God, but may provide some common ground between more traditionally religious people and those who have trouble with the word or concept of God.  I hope that those readers who are more traditionally religious will not find my parodying of Jesus offensive.  My parodies are actually intended to cut through the bull shit of what passes for conventional wisdom, morality, or religious truth these days, and reveal the seed of truth that is often overlooked or under-appreciated.  I think Jesus would approve.  Any honest reading of what words are attributed to Jesus, and you have to admit that Jesus had a sense of humor.  For those of you who aren’t really big on God, I hope that these Jesus parodies make some truths more accessible.

We can’t afford the free market!  The free market is the bane of Western Civilization and the nadir of scientific reductionism.

So, until next Sunday, with the next edition of Free Market Jesus, talk amongst yourselves or let me know what you think.

It’s the Greed, Stupid

It’s the Greed, Stupid POLITICAL BUTTON

It's the Greed, Stupid POLITICAL BUTTON

It’s the Greed, Stupid POLITICAL BUTTON

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This cool design does not rely upon puns or complex twists.  This design is another tip of the hat to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Of course, for those that been around for little while, you’ll recognize that this is a takeoff on the presidential candidate Bill Clinton campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid”.  His Republican opponent, Pres. George H. Bush, was dealing with yet another economic turn downturn produced by the soon-to-be named “irrational exuberance” and casino economy that inevitably cycles into booms and busts.  Some things never change.  It almost goes without saying, since we worship the economy, that moneymaking by either corporations or by people in the form of jobs is perennially issue number one, and number two as well.  If you don’t think that we worship the economy, the next time you hear a news report or read a newspaper, just substitute “God” for “the economy” and it will make a lot of sense.  In this case, in this design, the simple twist is a substitution of “greed” for “economy.” This hones in on the normative driving force of the so-called neutral or generic economy.  The 1980s resulted in the coining of the phrase “greed is good.”  The inevitable logic that led us to such a stupid conclusion is centered around the idea that the economy is the ultimate provider of good in our society, i.e., our god.  This is why we must constantly serve the economy, feed the economy, and make it our ultimate focus. My simple definition for what constitutes one’s God, is what one values the most, what one serves over and above other potentially competing values.  It’s interesting to note, that in the 10 Commandments, while God commands us to serve God first, God does not claim to be the only god.  There are plenty of gods to choose from.  A companion to the incredible confusion that would lead us to say something as stupid as greed is good, is Western civilization’s quest for objectivity or neutrality.  Unfortunately, this perennially leads us to the conundrum of talking about what we value most while trapped in an underlying worldview that denies that any one thing is actually better than another.  This quest for ultimate objective reduces morality to simple if-then statements, neutering any morality.  This is the Achilles heel of denying subjective reality.  Just because something is subjective doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means I can’t be pinned down in some definitive empirical way.  Objectivism in our culture, and current political environment, is probably best represented by Ayn Rand.  Ayn Rand and her ideas are idealized, even idolized, by folks of the libertarian variety.  There is great force behind these ideas, that is, if you don’t mind ignoring the metaphysical violence that inevitably results.  Another term for objectivism is scientific reductionism.  In both objective reality and subjective reality some things follow other things; there is an order to the universe.  Those who have ears to hear, and those who have a heart listen.  A contemporary case in point would be Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.  Many folks with a libertarian sentiment find Ron Paul’s political philosophy very attractive.  In my judgment, his judgment is largely negated by his gross inhumanity that frequently crops up when he takes his political philosophy to its logical conclusion.  For example, in denying health care for those who need it and cannot afford it, quite literally saying “let them die”, reveals forcefully that his God is not about caring for one another, or caring for creation as a whole, but raises each individual to the status of a god, and is forced to accept the ensuing violence that is inherent in such an inhumane philosophy.  If the individual is a god, not subject to any higher power, then individuals are condemned to be at war, and civility, in its best sense, will be run roughshod over, necessarily so.  Bringing this all back to the economy, greed is not good.  To have to even state such a truism is a testament to the sickness from which we currently suffer.  The idea that greed is a legitimate organizing principle for society should be offensive to anyone with a heart.  Of course, if being heartless is not a barrier to living one’s life fully, then go ahead and follow this mechanistically violent path to its logical conclusion.  I guess my concluding point would be that logic reaches a conclusion before life does, and that to continue living, that is to not reduce ourselves to being some mechanistic robot, we need to transcend logic.  This is the realm of the heart.  This is the realm of God.  By living fully into this realm, logic need not be tossed out, it merely serves a higher purpose, a humane purpose, a godly purpose.  May it be so!

POEM: Those who take things literally are often thieves.


Those who take things literally are often thieves.

Here it is folks, my first one-line poem!  Quite appropriately, this short poem is a poem about poems, as well as a poem dealing directly and simply with social and political philosophy.  Not surprisingly, even this short poem contains a pun.

Oddly, the phrase “take things literally” means taking something at its most obvious face value, without presuming or exploring any deeper or metaphorical meaning.  I would take the phrase “take things literally” to mean something to do with literature and literature’s aspirations to communicate at levels much deeper and richer than considering language to be something that just matches a particular symbol with a particular thing like a rock or a box.

I would submit that meaning itself is something that transcends particular things like a rock or a box.  If literature is ever to rock, or if we are ever to think outside the box, we need to have a rich and robust appreciation for metaphors.  In fact, we should rely on them.  Anything less would not even qualifying as an aspiration.  And we dare to wonder why we find it difficult to find inspiration in such an aspiration-free world. This is another version of a common theme that I deal with in my life and how I see the world, that there is much more to life than the scientific reductionist, materialistic world.  This is a key factor in why I increasingly see the world as surreal.  We are human beings, subjects not objects, that seem intent on reducing the world to things, such as rubble.  It seems that the modus operandi of Western civilization is to take things literally, thus accounting for imperialism and capitalism. It seems that taking such a way of being to its logical and cruel conclusion is to conspire, as opposed to aspire, to the pirate motto of ”  Take all that you can and give nothing back.” And worse yet, our co-conspirators are only of use to us in as much as they assist us in taking things literally.  Therefore, we are literally at war with one another.  Further, we are literally at war with our self, since the subjective realm is inaccessible or denied when we are held captive by taking things literally.  Well, enough political philosophy, let’s get back to the poem.

We all know what a thief is.  A thief is a robber, someone who steals things.  However, this short, one-line poem begs the question of what exactly is being stolen.  With the above philosophical discourse on objects and subjects, I hope that you can guess that I am not wanting the reader to lock their doors for fear of their stuff being stolen.  Rather, I’m hoping that the reader will open their mind, and better yet, their heart, to infinitely more important things that can be stolen from us, if we are not careful and paying attention.  What could be infinitely more important than my stuff?!  What I’m referring to is something that is qualitatively different than stuff, or things.  Qualitatively different means that it cannot be substituted for.  The most obvious and even trite example is “money can’t buy you love.”  Money is clearly, and literally, the currency the modern Western civilization uses for virtually everything.  Not surprisingly, this explains why neglect more important matters, matters of the soul.  It qualifies as sheer vanity and insanity to engage in a commerce of the soul that attempts to exchange stuff for our humanity, the essence of what separates us from dirt, our soul if you will.  Of course, I believe that people, human beings, are more than complicated dirt.  If you believe that you are just complicated dirt, then there is much more remedial work that needs to be done for our minds and hearts to connect, to communicate.  Of course, ironically, if we are just complicated dirt, a wild statistical outlier from most of the rest of the barren material that we can identify in the known universe, and we are  just billiard balls in a mechanistic, cause-and-effect universe, then all that we do is fated, determined, a grand illusion of free will.  If you’d like to go to even one more level of irony, I find myself compelled to believe this!  Ah, the places such spiritual musings take you!

There is one word in this eight-word poem that could easily be overlooked and its significance missed.  That word is: often. Taking things literally is certainly not always a mistake.  Usually when we say “rock” we mean a rock.  Usually when we say “box” we mean a box.  Now, I chose the word “often” to access what I think the reality is, that the deeper metaphorical meanings are ignored or even stolen from us with great regularity (know shit!).  In speaking about subjectivity and objectivity, things and transcendence, dirt versus souls, and the like (and love), people often mistake me for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. More truthfully, in my own dyslexic fashion, it might be more apt to say, “throwing the bathwater out for the baby.”  To be clear, for the literalists in the crowd, I am not opposed to bathwater.  Bathwater is great!  My underlying point is that babies are more important than bathwater.

Okay, there is another word in this poem that probably needs to be mentioned for its significance.  Note that I use the word “those” rather than the word “people”.  This is intentionally meant to be ironic, since devoted literalists seem to be living in a world that denies the very fact that they are people.  Hey, aren’t you glad that this is only an eight-word poem!

Let me try to keep it simple.  Here are some of the things that I think are qualitatively different from stuff, the barren building blocks of our material universe: compassion, hope, gratitude and mercy.  Feel free to talk among yourselves.  Let me know what you think. My hope for you, and my hope for us, is that the trials and tribulations of this billiard ball world will neither destroy nor defeat you, nor steal from you the most important matters in life, and that you will live wholeheartedly in that place infinitely greater than the mere stuff around us.  May it be so.