Testimony for National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — END DRAFT REGISTRATION

I prepared the below testimony to present at a public meeting in Chicago before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission created by Congress to deal with questions of draft registration, most specifically, whether to end draft registration or expand it to women. The Commission designed the format for this meeting with severely restricted opportunities for general public input. I intend to submit this testimony in written form, but I do not anticipate that I will be able to present it in person. At the end of this testimony is a much shorter statement that I intend to present to the media in Chicago, and directly to the Commission, if possible.

FULL TESTIMONY

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to be here today. I have come from 250 miles away to testify to you about service. I am volunteering my time to testify about that which is involuntary: conscience. I have come much further than 250 miles to be here today…

My testimony is rooted in family history predating the existence of the United States of America.  I am 12th generation in this land now known as the United States of America. In the early 1700’s, my ancestors settled on land given to them by William Penn, on what would come to be known as Pennsylvania. My Mennonite ancestors fled Germany to escape conscription and war.

With that wave of German immigrants and refugees, those that occupied the land had much fear about them ruining life as they new it. Newly-arrived German males age 16 and older were forced to take a loyalty oath to the British crown. The English oath was administered roughshod over the newly arriving boys and men, most of whom spoke only German upon their arrival. Apparently, a nominal and blind oath provided some comfort to those fearful residents already occupying the land.

As the Philadelphia harbor bells rang, signaling new arrivals, people gathered to greet them. Many gathered to welcome family or provide strangers with much needed assistance, knowing what it is like to leave one’s home and arrive in a strange land with little or nothing. Others gathered to enlist indentured servants. Here is my most important question regarding service. Serving freely or serving under coercion — which is the greater service? I submit that serving freely is greater. In this particular case, the free service of hospitality and welcoming outsiders is greater than enlisting indentured servants. In the shared scripture of The People of The Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — a similar exhortation is repeated multiple times: “You must love foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” This service of what may be considered radical hospitality is a time-honored practice of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The humble practice is at the heart of every great faith worldwide. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love because you were first loved. My ancestors, yearning to be free, wanted neither to be the cause of war as soldiers nor the tragic effects of war in its wanton destruction. This was at the heart of my ancestors’ journeys in life. This is my heritage.

More recently, in relation to war and peace, my great-grandfather, during World War II, ran an alternative service camp for conscientious objectors. As for me, I was literally born into service. I was born in 1961 in Haiti, while my parents were serving as medical missionaries, a doctor and nurse, with Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee has long encouraged and empowered years-long terms of service, often overseas. For my Dad, this was also as an alternative service to military service.

In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to this, President Jimmy Carter instituted draft registration of young men my age, ostensibly to send a message of military preparedness to Soviet leaders. I was in the first batch of young men required by U.S. law to register for the draft. However, the prospect of draft registration conflicted with a higher law, my conscience and ultimate commitments. I could not and cannot, in good conscience, participate in war-making. As the clarity of my conscience emerged, I could find no way to register for the military draft, whose sole purpose is preparedness for war. My conscience also dictated that if I was to disobey an unconscionable law, then I was to openly take full responsibly for my actions while I worked to change such a law. I began by writing letters to Selective Service and my elected representatives. I may not have had been well-schooled — yet, anyways — on the politics of waging war or peace, but I was intimately familiar with my conscience and the legal duty that my young male peers and I faced. I was a teenager facing obedience to my conscience. This obedience came at the legal threat of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

I quickly learned that my war resistance is not dependent on geopolitical circumstances, political pendulums, or legal threats. I am already opposed to the next war. Unlike in the pragmatism of war, my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. For me, war is the enemy. Nonetheless, the nearly 40 years since my initial confrontation with draft registration affords me a certain perspective as I have lived through a full cycle of history.  While I was a skinny teenager facing taking on the United States government, the U.S. government was backing the soon-enough-to-be-notorious Osama bin Laden as a so-called “freedom fighter,” leading the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation.  Of course, our support of Osama bin Laden, our enemy’s enemy, turned out to be a deadly lessen in the futility of weaponizing violent radicals in the vain hope that it won’t blowback in further violence on virtually all fronts. Today’s “freedom fighter” is tomorrow’s terrorist. Today’s war seeds tomorrow’s terrorist. Gandhi spoke frequently of the seamless connection of means and ends. War IS terrorism. How can we expect it to produce anything else — with it many “means” and “ends”? In the end, I cannot view warmaking as service to this country, or any country for that madder, certainly not to humanity as a hole. I find warmaking incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to be peacemakers, the children of God.

In speaking with hundreds of Americans over the years about draft registration resistance, I have found that people’s objections to my objections are of two basic types. One type of response is basically that draft registration is such a minimal requirement that it isn’t worth much fuss. If this is the case, then why don’t we just get rid of draft registration, without much fuss? The other type of response is about the utter graveness of our warmaking, and usually something about our national doody. If war is so grave, perhaps the concerns around someone refusing to go postal should receive more thoughtful and consequential consideration. To add insult to injury, in a surreal show of moral farce, war apologists routinely cite “necessary evil” as their moral foundation. This is not the God I serve. Straddling these two poles of minimal and supreme concern, are the tired questions that are asked pacifists, such as: “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother in the ally?” I learned to answer such questions with: “I’d register for the draft.” If their perplexity persisted, they might suggest that I go back to Russia (where I’ve never been) or indicated their inclination to see me face time in jail; presumably, so I am not around to not protect them.

Mean wile, back in 1980, soon after winning the presidential election, Ronald Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration. His campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the backs of people rang hollow, like a hollow bullet to my heart. The media wanted to do a story on this broken promise and how it affected the young men subject to the law, particularly those opposed to it. As it turned out, while there were millions of nonregistrants quietly in violation of the law, I was the only local public nonregistrant that they could track down, and I soon found myself highlighted in various media for years to come.

To make a long story shorter, in 1983, I was indicted for failure to register — I prefer refusal to register. In 1986, I was tried and convicted. My indiscriminate honesty more than compensated for their lack of investigatory skills. I served 107 days in the federal Community Corrections Center in Detroit, served two years probation, and served 200 hours of community service. I can’t help but note, today, since the theme is “service,” that the solution to my singular failure was to rip me from my community in order to integrate me back into my community. Plus, the court had to bean-count community service that you couldn’t have stopped me from serving anyway.

Of course, there were larger forces at work. I, and a select few others, had to be made examples of. I, for One, am proud of the example I served. In the case of The United States of America vs. Daniel A. Rutt, there was a focus on my failure/refusal. In the meantime, I had finished college, got married, finished graduate school, had a son, and got a job. I went on to serve in a public health career of almost two decades. I even got a national award from the feds for my work in health promotion — thanks for noticing, U.S. of A. For the last 16 years, I have run my own business promoting social justice.

I do not consider my time imprisoned or countless hours engaging in war resistance as any great burden. In fact, I consider this as service to my country and humanity. I do suspect that most any person who did a tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan has suffered more than I.  Unfortunately, war is replete with suffering. Of course, suffering is of no great inherent value. Nonetheless, whatever we willingly suffer for is a good measure of what we truly value. I hope that more Americans, whether male or female, young or old, will volunteer to put more skin in the game and resist war in any way they can. I believe that the cost of freedom is found in not killing, rather than killing. As General Patton so infamously stated, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

It is impossible for me to separate my service from my conscience. Conscience is that small still voice that emanates from the foundation of our existence, that calls us, at the risk of trademark infringement, to be all that we can be. My war resistance is deeply rooted in following Jesus, The Prince of Peace. The Jesus I follow was executed as an enemy of the state. He was executed at the behest of the religious elite. Today, the religious elite dutifully save themselves and their clan, more faithfully blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war, more conveniently blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war. The first wave of martyrs in early Christendom were men who refused military service. The broader wave of martyrs were Jesus followers who refused idolatry, the literal and figurative “pinch of incense on the altar” to Caesar.

For me, draft registration is that “pinch of incense on the altar” of the state. When it comes to military service, in the great U.S.A., there is no “one nation under God.” When it comes to military service, The United States of America is God. Specifically, The United States of America, does not recognize ANY Constitutional right to refuse military service for ANY reason, including conscience or freedom of religion. As we all know, the U.S. Constitution provides for many rights, rights that cannot be infringed upon by the state. There are many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to equal protection under the law, among others. These are often referred to as natural rights or God-given rights. Such rights define the character of a state, and place limits on its sovereignty, recognizing a power greater than itself. The United States of America, does not recognize ANY natural or God-given right to refuse military service for ANY reason. If you are surprised by this, so was I. I count this as the singular lesson that I learned in my draft registration resistance. This sad and idolatrous reality was unmasked only by a federal judge citing a Supreme Court case in a legal opinion rejecting my motion for dismissal on the basis of religious freedom. Fortunately, I have found that God’s grace extends further than legislative grace or constitutional provision of this republic. I strongly suspect that tens of millions of Americans of faith recognize that holy obedience sometimes requires civil disobedience.

My male ancestors age 16 plus who arrived to this land so many years ago were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the government, even though most didn’t even speak the language in which the oath was administered. This didn’t even seem to matter to government officials. Why is this? I suspect that the nominal and incomprehensible oath was a “pinch of incense on the altar,” a ritual form of national worship needed by a resident populace afraid of strangers. The minimal content of the oath served as a safe and surefire way to maximize compliance and minimize resistance. Who would get back on the boat and return across the sea because they had to mouth or sign an incomprehensible swearing. Who would not submit their name and basic information to the Selective Service System? Well, most young men do not register when they first become legally required. Most young men, hoping to go somewhere, register when they need to secure a driver’s license, or when they reach the shore of an education, needing a student loan.

I suspect that the ritual obedience of a “pinch of incense on the altar” may be more important than an actually functioning, fair and equitable system of potential conscription. Conspicuously absent from the Selective Service annual report is the noncompliance rate with the requirement for registrants to update their address (within 10 days) every time they move. Every observant person knows that 18-25 year-old men move a lot. How many address updates do they get? How many address updates don’t they get? Surely, this can be estimated, and certainly it matters if one actually cares about being able to effectively and fairly enlist young men in a potential draft. The noncompliance rate for initial registration is 8% for all 18-25 year-old men. I strongly suspect that the noncompliance with current address is much higher than noncompliance with initial registration; probably, in combination, high enough to blow a hole in any contention that draft registration is effective and fair. By the way, those young men not complying with address updates are subject to the same legal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In FY 2017, 184,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to initial registration were provided to the Department of Justice. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the names and addresses of suspected violators are forwarded? If the Selective Service System has the names and addresses of potential enlistees, what else do they need?

I contend that what Selective Service is largely after is your assent to civil obedience, participation in a national religion of warmaking, your “pinch of incense on the altar,” if you will. This seems to be a better characterization of Selective Service’s function than, in the case of a military draft, to “rapidly provide personnel in a fair and equitable manner.” Oddly, if you find yourself a male age 26 or older, beyond the age requirement to register, and you failed to register, you could still run into trouble by being denied eligibility for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal employment, or U.S. citizenship; yet, you may be in the clear if your can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that your failure to register was not knowing and willful. Just don’t be too conscientious; that is, until you have to prove that you were not conscientious. Apparently, the true crime is conscientiousness in not registering, more so than simply not registering. The selective prosecution of a few conscientious and public resisters while millions are noncompliant speaks volumes to this.  Certainly, a system where obliviousness is excusable and objecting conscientiously is a crime is a system that distorts our nation’s highest values.  I don’t object to Selective Service being shot full of holes regarding compliance. I do object to Selective Service dishonoring or punishing conscientiousness. As there is no way for a registrant to officially indicate any intent at conscientious objection, I would be very curious to see what would happen if conscientious objector status were a checkbox in the registration process. We might learn a lot about the state of conscientious objection in America. Of course, if Selective Service noncompliance is largely about non-conscientiousness, then I have to ask: What would such a level of non-conscientiousness say about what we might be fighting for and who might be fighting for it?

The draft registration system cannot account for true conscientiousness. The draft registration system cannot muster enough compliance, conscientious or not, to claim fairness and equitability. The honorable course of action, in both cases, is to end draft registration.

In truth, the actual practice of draft registration ignores conscientious objection. While there is no apparent constitutional right to refuse military conscription, there are some legislative provisions for what are called conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to indicate conscientious objection during the current draft registration process. This is objectionable to many conscientiously opposed to war. Somewhat oddly, the only legal way to make such a claim is to submit to a system, the Selective Service System, whose sole purpose is preparing for war, which you must reject completely. Plus, conscientious objector status is only possible as a military service classification, if and when a draft may occur. The longer a registrant is unrecognized as conscientiously opposed to war, the further the objection. Further, conscientious objector status can only be recognized for those who are opposed to all wars. If you in good conscience object to whatever current war in which you are subject to serve, this is oddly irrelevant. You could, in fact, turn out to conscientiously object to every actual war that comes down the pike in your lifetime and this is deemed irrelevant if you are not opposed to every theoretical war (or past war). This renders conscientious objection to a meaningless idea for what is perhaps the vast bulk of being conscientiously opposed to war. Finally, there is no real mechanism to truly count or officially value the service of conscientious objectors, meaning that men will be drafted until the military need is met, whether ten or ten million men have conscientious objection. The service of a conscientious objector is superfluous to the determining aim of the Selective Service System. This itself is offensive to many persons of conscience opposed to war-making. Let’s end the criminalization of conscience.

In truth, the actual practice of warmaking habitually runs roughshod over international law and human rights. The promise of some possible future alternative service as a noncombatant is little comfort to my conscience, and of many others. In a warring world, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants offers fantastical sanitization rather than actual sanity. The fact is that across time and across a myriad of modern armed conflicts, over ten so-called “noncombatants” are killed for every “combatant.” The first casualty of war is the truth; most of the rest are noncombatants. My duty is to oppose war, not escape military service. This is my service to humanity. This service is regardless of combatant status. Plus, the best way to serve warriors happens to be ending war.

In the age of terrorism, some will claim that we live in new era of war, not subject to the old rules of war. We do live in a different time than in the 1980’s, the decade when draft registration was initiated. I can testify to a profound shift toward anti-war sentiment since then. During the first Gulf war, in the early 1990’s, I never felt so isolated as an American, confronting palpable resistance even from liberals. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, our local peace network, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, initiated weekly Sunday demonstrations at busy intersections around town. These demonstrations for peace and against war occurred weekly for 15 years (and continue twice each month). In the early years, most of the feedback we had from passing motorists was angry yelling, middle fingers, and expletives flying. Over the years, this angry response has become rare, perhaps a couple a week, and the overwhelming positive responses are represented by hundreds of “honks for peace,” peace signs and thumbs up. Americans in the heartland of Ohio are tired of war and welcome peace. Draft registration is a relic of ages past. Why have draft registration when even the military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft?

One issue at the heart of draft registration and military conscription is what is the proper role of women in warmaking and peacemaking. I am delighted to see that women serve as 5 of the 11 commissioners. Surely, it is women who should determine what is the proper role of women, in this case, concerning warmaking and peacemaking. In my lifelong work across a wide range of social justice movements, I have found women to be the most reliable and most inspiring leaders and laborers for social justice. I strongly suspect that women will take up the mantle of even greater war resistance if they become subject to military conscription. I take inspiration to serve as a war resister from Julia Ward Howe. She, most famously known as the composer of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, was the founder of Mother’s Day, originally a day of war resistance. She issued this Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

I would much prefer entrusting my conscience and fate to such “a general congress of women without limit of nationality,” rather than the currently constituted National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

Perhaps somewhat ironic, given my heritage, Germany now has a constitutional right to conscientious objection while the United States does not. When Germany ended conscription in 2011, the majority of those serving were conscientious objectors, and the debate had shifted from conscience to whether they should give up a huge pool of cheap labor. I believe that forced national service is incongruent with our nation’s highest ideals. I believe that volunteerism is at the core of authentic service. I suspect that lowering our ideals by forcing service is a poor way to nurture true service. Let us lead by example. This is why I am here today. If you want to gauge both the heart and the cutting edge of service in this country and for this country, look to those who volunteer, willingly, without pay, to live out their deepest values. This is the clearest view of our highest ideals incarnate, that service, that work, which cannot be bought and sold.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Commission. From your bios, I can see that you are exemplary leaders in service. Unfortunately, I think that you may have an impossible job. I appreciate that Selective Service is technically considered under civilian control. Still, I can’t help but notice that both Selective Service and this Commission are heavily represented by persons from the military or traditional national security apparatus. This does not fairly represent America in the civilian service necessary to make for peace in the world. Also, about 4 in 10 Americans are persons of color, including many of those in the military. Why is this Commission even whiter than the overly white Congress who appointed it? This is not a service to America, and raises the question of whether white supremacy is part and parcel to your work. In tandem, the Commission’s overwhelmingly militarized representation and unduly whiteness, inspires little confidence that your recommendations can represent America. Perhaps it would be more honest to call this Commission an Omission. I suspect that this failure is rooted in the failure and cowardice of Congress to deal with draft registration in a changing world, that is, a world that recognizes women as equals. Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road for a couple of years by creating a Commission to address this question for them. Unfortunately, This Congress-created Commission is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, any hopes of sparking a national conversation on service will be sparks falling on damp firewood.  Further complicating the credibility of the Commission is the tightly controlled and choreographed public meetings in conjunction with severely limited open public testimony. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then using this input to shape additional “invited” testimony. This may already be too late to remedy. The chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic or representative. In my years of public service, both as a community planner and as a citizen participant in many public forums, I think that it is fairer to characterize the Commission’s public meetings to date more as “dog and pony shows” than as an open and responsive democratic process. For this Commission’s work to claim legitimacy, there is a lot of changes that need to be made. Lastly, having to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission. I hope that you have found worthwhile input in my testimony to move toward a peace-loving democracy in which every one of us finds ample opportunities, free of compulsion, for self-sacrificial service for the good of all.

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PRESS STATEMENT

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, about 250 miles away, to be here today. I am one of the select few prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft, back in the 1980’s. We are here today for one reason, and one reason alone: Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Congress punted by appointing a Commission to provide recommendations regarding draft registration a couple years down the road. That Commission is the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Unfortunately, This Commission’s work is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to honestly and openly addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, the Commission will be a failure. Draft registration continues to have no mechanism to accommodate conscientious objection. Draft registration is fraught with noncompliance by young men either not registering at all, registering late, or not updating their addresses. The military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft. This is no time to expand draft registration, whether to women or persons with select skills the military might want. Now is the time to end draft registration. Voluntary service is true service. Let’s keep it that way.

Today’s public meeting in particular highlights the failing credibility of the Commission. Previous public meetings around the country have had very limited opportunity for open testimony from the general public. Today’s meeting has even less opportunity. Previous public meetings have been billed as having opportunities to speak directly to the Commission; and when people get there they find out that there is a scheduled two minutes per citizen. This meeting is being billed as an opportunity for Q&A, not even to the Commission but to their invited speakers. Furthermore, the overall time for the public to even participate in this insular Q&A has been cut down to “20 or 30 minutes.” From the experience of previous public meetings, the chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic. The Commission is moving in the wrong direction. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then used this input to shape additional “invited” testimony as needed. This may already be too late to remedy.

Unfortunately, the Commission has other credibility problems that may very well make their job impossible. This Commission is dominated by members from the military or traditional national security apparatus, all the while trying to couch their work in a broader, more generic view of service. This Commission is extremely white, in a nation where people of color are about 4 of 10 Americans. This Commission is poorly designed to represent America. To make matters worse, the Commission has chosen to conduct its business in such a manner that citizens have had to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission. This does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission.

Originally, I planned my trip from Toledo to Chicago, for this public meeting, to deliver testimony to the Commission, offering a story of conscience and how draft registration fails to meet a broad range of America’s ideals. Because this public meeting cannot accommodate such open testimony, I stand before you, hoping that a free press will shine a light on the ill-conceived and poorly executed work of The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

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POEM: Promedica My Ass — Owed To Branding

Logos used
Too mean
Know ledge
Like that age owed ad vice
Would you jump off a bridge
If every won ails did
As in sayin’
Bye your good will
As money oozes from the non-prophet, health care (sic) system
The sores of philandering philanthropy
Well, come to PR medica
An unholy owned subsidiary
Of Tourette’s Industries
You will swear
Buy them
Weather you want to or not
Their marketing deportment is
As good as goaled
As black as poets inc
Greasing their wills
Stuck with irresistible pitch
As verbally contracted
Not worth the pay per
Printed upon
Yet this awe
Will in deed
Make it passable to live
As resistance is feudal
And being
Penned
Is what poets due
Indubitably
Sow branded
As live stock
For tolled
Too get a rise
The Tao jones
Working in our flavor
Over and over and over
Un-till bank rolled
In a dark ally
Buy and buy
Hour justifiable salivation
Attending too in trap meant anon
Agin and agin and agin
Fore the yoke is on-us
Awe the more
Fore the fire brand
Not with standing
In a flesh of genius
Is incensed
As won red scent
Becomes too
Until udderly crying out
In an unherd-of steer
I love the smell
Of nay palm
In the mourning
High noon
And too fly by night
Sullen this, sullen that
Soully worried
How irate
In some won ails size
Butt, its my skin in the game
Lonely hoping
Knot to be found
Within and without
My pants around my knees
As its only
My panties in a bunch
Over
Awe that madders
Poetic license
And corporate patronage
Some body
Has to
Pay the piper
To keep your roost ere plumbed
As upright as it comes
Why cant you
Say “uncle”
You know
Like that rich uncle
Who wants you
To sit on his lap
And tell you
Bed time
Stories
That will mark you for life
Butt kept mysteriously in a family weigh
As long
As in your genes
As in c’est la vie
Or sow, I’ve herd
As if
We are posed to be prod
Of being cattle
Scarred I’ll go
All Gandhi on you as
BE the beef
Awe the wile beating a different conundrum
Refraining that whole eat me thing
The mark of the best (sic)
Or rather sic sic sic’s
Sow fresh and hoary unholy revelations
Indulging vain wishes for dead presidents
And CEOs
Men of letters posterior to autograft
Ass-ever-rate
In playing defense
At my offense
With such propriety, proprietary and property
For my own good, posedly
Their mirror deflection
But, but, but, but, but
Except two a t
And so
I’m bare assed
And without
They’re money
You’re nothing butt
A bum
And the rush
Too be just
THAT

I am not a big fan of branding, whether it is of livestock or in corporate public relations. I was inspired to write this poem because at a regular monthly poetry reading they secured a small amount of funding to pay invited featured poets. Will Work For Universal Health Care POLITICAL BUTTONThe source of funding included local community foundations plus the nearly ubiquitous ProMedica, the largest health system within the Toledo region.  I have come to call Promedica, “PR Medica,” because of its often over-sized logo and branding in Toledo, aka ProMedica-ville, is nearly omnipresent in venues big and small.  I found its intrusion into the local poetry scene offensive, particularly because I am an iconoclastic, anti-commercial poet who specializes in addressing social justice issues.  This was a little too close to home for me.  I announced before my open mic reading that I did not want to be considered as an invited poet.  I suggested that to de-commercialize this reading, sending back the portion payed for by ProMedica, along with a strongly worded letter (might I suggest F and U), would be in order.

This is not the first time that I have unleashed my poetic visions against ProMedica.  The first time I devoted a poem to ProMedica was when they sponsored a state-wide poetry contest on the topic of anti-hunger with an honorarium to the winning poet that would befit and maintain the status of starving artist.  My unsubmitting, unremitting poem: Speaking With Spoken Sword: Owed To Hungering Fore Anew ProMedica.

Health Care is a Right Not a Privilege - PUBLIC HEALTH BUTTONSingle-Payer Health Care - Everybody In, Nobody Out POLITICAL BUTTONProMedica, if you want to combat hunger, pay all of your employees a living wage.  ProMedica, if you want to fulfill your mission and redeem your non-prophet status, devote 0.01% of your revenue toward advocating for universal health care, everybody in, nobody out.  Until then, you can bye this poet all you want.

POLITICAL POEM: Fighting Exclusively

It was his thing
Fighting exclusively
Battles he could win
His crowning I deal
Never finding himself
On-the-cide of losers
Whirled why’d
Naught ails
But win
Filling his sales
Whatever
He could bye
A captain of destiny
In habiting the same owed ship
Where awe is lost
Save hope
For another class

The modern conservative is engaged in man's oldest exercise in moral philosophy: the search for a moral justification for selfishness -- John Kenneth Galbraith POLITICAL BUTTONTake any conservative position on a social or economic issue and boil away all the rhetoric and what you have left is 'I got mine, screw you' -- Justin Rosario POLITICAL BUTTONThis poem is about doing most anything to win, and where pragmatism provides cover for sociopathy.  What one will not do, that sacred “NO”, defines the boundaries and character of one’s ethical system and ultimate values.  Without “no,” there is only sociopathy, boundless amorality.  This is synonymous with “winning is everything.”  The ability to lose, suffering loss, making sacrifices for a greater good, is at the heart of any mature system of values.  This is not saying that suffering is intrinsically good, but some suffering is a necessary part of any process which seeks to trade up to greater goods.   Our capitalistic culture provides easy cover for amorality, a mysterious “invisible hand” that will turn our selfishness, shortsightedness, and greed into durable goods.  This makes nonsense of literally any system of ethics and human values.  Capitalism is a meat-grinder of all that is human and humane.

In our contemporary context, Donald Trump is the consummate example of “winning is everything,” willing to trample anything and anyone to satisfy his rapacious appetite and infantile desires.  I DON'T ALWAYS LIE, BUT WHEN I DO, I AM DRUNK ON POWER POLITICAL BUTTONHis staggering indifference to coherency is perhaps the best testament to his sociopathy and megalomania.  As his collection of infantile desires churn about from crying to be fed by others, being lulled by the prospect of absolute security, and to poop and have others clean it up, momentary contradictions are twittered away.  During his campaign, Donald Trump illustrated well the height of his foolishness by claiming that he would regulate himself when he was president, even though he considered it his sociopathic duty to behave with no self-regulation in his shady business dealings, his defining “success.”  The fact that so many Americans ate up this pablum attests to the worshipful status of the mythical “invisible hand” at the center of capitalism that will magically fix our bad behavior while encouraging bad behavior (sic).

Though it is any easy target to point out Donald Trump’s extraordinary stockpile of character defects, “winning is everything” is essentially a corollary of electoral politics.  Losers don’t govern.  The threat of apparent helplessness induced by electoral defeat is enough for most politically active human beings to habitually subjugate their highest ideals and dreams.  Ideals and dreams are easy prey in the capitalistic meat-grinder of democracy for sale and ensuing plutocracy/oligarchy/kleptocracy.  The nonnegotiable principals of “losers” are better served outside electoral politics where this different class of human (“losers”) can demonstrate the true winds of change needed for equality and justice for all.  Losers, in terms of electoral politics, are simply those whose basic needs and human rights are not met by the governance of the current rulers in power.  The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quote POLITICAL BUTTONThere are a lot of losers!  When the many “losers” unite in solidarity against the fewer privileged elites, the electoral “winners,” justice is expanded.  You may correctly note that in this equation the truest source and force for justice for all resides with the “losers.”  Truth is on the side of the oppressed. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONWhen people with “skin in the game,” whether from involuntary disenfranchisement or in voluntary solidarity, confront those with soothing privilege, truth and justice favor the side off the oppressed.  May all of the “losers” of the world unite!

POEM: Human Beans In A Chili World

What’s too like
To be
Human beans
In a chili world
Offering ourselves
As nourishing fare
In the face of
Ingrate full consumers
Somehow besting
Our pre-sumptuous purpose
Of going to seed
And razing our own
Only to be
Food agin and agin
As brood over
What incite us
And what has meaning
At the end of your daze
Is the same
What’s eating you
Those unpleasant spitting images

This poem is an ode to one of the deepest paradoxes in life: that you must lose your life in order to gain it.  No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for. MLK QUOTE BUTTONSuch a paradox is replete with metaphors of seeds, death and resurrection, of sacrificing that of great value for that of greater value.  Plus, in life there is no dress rehearsal: we won’t be food again!  Of course, that perplexing aspect of human life which is infinitely complicated is humans: ungrateful, self-centered, and irreducibly exasperating.  In my view, the best way to see more clearly in the fun-house mirror that is human life is to cultivate self-awareness of psychological projection, the powerful and cunning tendency to attribute to others what is subconscious in ourselves, particularly the bad stuff.  In laymen’s terms: spot it you got it!  Of course, such cultivation is mirror reflection if there isn’t any skin in the game — little is harvested with simply good intentions.  Pacifism - A Way of Life - Man Does Not Die By Bled Alone -- PEACE BUTTONSelf-sacrifice is inescapable if we are to unearth enduring meaning rather than perpetual mean-ings on earth.  The ubiquity of iniquity, the proclivity to project our own evil onto others (“Those unpleasant spitting images”) is the tragic root of writing people off as chaff rather than cultivating seed.  Would You Die For Common Ground PEACE BUTTONThe paradoxical solution is that by becoming food for others, and — as in vice versa — by becoming food for ourselves, we are awe saved.  Such wonderment eternally returns me to loving my enemy, a journey that can only be made within one’s self and never without others.  I find this mysterious process at the heart of social action — the nexus of the inner and outer journeys, joined at the hip — perhaps most succinctly described in the social activist creed and Mexican  Zapatista proverb: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”  Or, in an earlier version, from the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos:  “What didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.”  The counterculture reality embodied by Mr. Christianopoulos was as a homoerotic poet in the 1950’s, accompanied by its commensurately dangerous seed.  Whatever you may offer as a human bean in this chili world, may it be nourishing fare.

Old Hippies Never Die We Just Flower Year After Year POLITICAL BUTTON

ANTI-VIOLENCE POEM: Sisyphean Tax

He was steeped in the slippery slope of violence
An idol escalator
Heedlessly powered by gravity and gravitas
A climb it denier
Of the worst breed
Not giving won ascent
A bout others
In spite of the accost
Whatever
It takes
Dispensing that too summit madders
Impoverishing awe
With Sisyphean tacts

Our animal instincts present us with the “natural” reaction to hit someone else when they hit us.  Fortunately, we are not limited to responding mirrorly as animals.  Violence First Refuge of Incompetent -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONSuch reactionary responses, unchecked by higher human functioning, quite easily escalate into wildly disproportionate harms to parties involved and routinely inflict harm to nearby parties.  Creative and humane responses to violence help limit the worst effects of violence before it is too escalate.  This poem is a metaphor for the interplay of the reactionary nature of violence and the creative human spirit yearning to be free of domination.  Hate is the Utter Lack of Creativity -- PEACE BUTTONLike Sisyphus, violence rocks this world so palpably feudal.  Nobody likes to suffer hurt.  Of coarse, meting hurt with hurt only brings a bout hurtful means and ends.  The truism of hurt people hurt people is a starting place to understand such hurtful cycles and connect us to one another’s dislike of suffering hurt.  Unfortunately, the only way out of vicious cycles of violence is to experience hurt without inflicting further hurt.  The accost of experiencing violence without returning violence is how a nonviolence world is necessarily and legitimately built.  Other wise, gravity and gravitas will perpetually, endlessly, forever, unceasingly, repeatedly, in perpetuum, till hell frees us over, lock us into violence as a weigh of life.  The creative human spirit willing to put skin in the game is the antidote to the least creative, least human reaction of violence for violence.  Nonviolence isn’t easy.  Of coarse, violence isn’t easy either, except in that we may be able to put the accost on an other.  Nothing enduring can be built on violence. Gandhi quote PEACE BUTTONIf nonviolence was easy, everybody would be doing it.  In fact, most of us practice nonviolence much of the time.  Nonviolence could be argued to be our natural state.  However, when violence and nonviolence meet, violence temps a seemingly easier solution — the cause AND solution to all of our problems.  Violence challenges the creativity of nonviolence with its well-warring familiarity.  Grooving to a mesmerizing Sisyphean chant, violence offers a bizarre, homie comfort to tribe and clan, with a kin do attitude wrapped up in moral doody.  Violence Is A Bout Means And Ends ANTI-WAR BUTTONIn both means and ends, violence is the antithesis of creativity.  Choosing nonviolence may not be easy, but nonviolence does offer an infinite abundance of alternatives other than “they made me do it.”  Yep, those proprietors of violence have it made, made for them, the creative human spirit lying fallow.  The human spirit exists for more than an infinite chain of sow called necessity, made to yearn its way to freedom and higher consciousness.  Non Violent Revolutionaries Raze Hell--POLITICAL BUTTONThe human spirit most fully manifests itself when it creatively draws from the wonderfully precarious reservoir of possibility.  This udder cistern is void of Sisyphean guarantees, yet those daring to surf its prospects may just find the truly fare life a mist a world of suffering.  May our spirits renounce domination over others through sheer force and patiently invite others into the high stakes game of fare play.

Please feel free to browse Top Pun’s other creative nonviolence and lovely peace designs.

Look Ma No Arms (Peace Dove picture)--FUNNY PEACE BUTTONNon Violent Revolution--POLITICAL BUTTONPractice Nonviolence PEACE BUTTON

got creativity? SPIRITUAL BUTTON

FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Incremental Change, Heads Up!

This free political poster posits that the conventional wisdom of incremental change can be lethal to paradigm shifts needed for humanity to evolve to the next level.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Incremental Change, Heads Up!

Devotees of incremental change may view death by degrees as safer, or at least postponing the inevitable, but it is often merely a fearful reaction to the vagaries of life rather than fulling embracing that which we hold most dear in life.  Incremental change is the preferred mode of neoliberal politics, often under the guise of inevitable progress.  The shadow side of incremental change is that it can acclimate us to unsustainable practices and also be easily co-opted by reactionary forces serving any particular set of privileged elites benefiting from the status quo.  In the current presidential race, this shadow is solidly represented by the Democratic Party and its candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Of course, not all large change is a positive paradigm shift or revolutionary evolution.  Sometimes it’s just chaos, which can also serve those who have a better position to profit from upheaval (e.g., war profiteers, prison profiteers).  In the current presidential race, the apparent chaos of Trumpism reinforces reactionary interests more so than creating human evolution.  Donald Trump is the poster boy for devolution.

So, what is a revolutionary to do?   rEVOLution is the Solution (LOVE) - POLITICAL BUTTONIf it’s a revolution of love, then cast out fear — which includes not casting a ballot riddled with fear.  Of course, limiting ourselves to electoral politics, relying simply on voting in a deeply dysfunctional and rigged democracy, is the surest way to maintain our status as sheep.   A sustainable and evolved humanity will be built it must be built on the bedrock of mass resistance and noncooperation with evil. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you've found out the exact measure of injustice which will be imposed on them. Frederick Douglass quote POLITICAL BUTTONCompromise is the art of politics.  Noncooperation with evil is the truth force that sets healthy boundaries enabling the good to flourish.  Compromising one’s values is a luxury of the privileged who don’t directly experience the daily onslaught of an injustice.  Bigger Cages, Longer Chains - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTONCompromised incremental change is the privileged managing the underprivileged.  Revolutionaries have their own skin in the game — nothing to lose but their chains.  In liberation theology, developed out of the experience of oppressed peoples in Latin America, God’s “preferential option for the poor” recognizes the reality that God’s values are more directly accessible by the dispossessed, those not compromised by worldly power.  This revolutionary theology understands that the salvation of the world rests in the hands of the dispossessed of the world, not supremely triangulated politicians or populist (sic) billionaires.

Please feel free to check out more of Top Pun’s designs about resistance, dissent, and revolutionary politics.

 If They Won't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let Them Sleep POLITICAL BUTTONNice Day For A Revolution POLITICAL BUTTONProtest beyond the law is not departure from democracy; it is essential to it -- Howard Zinn quote POLITICAL BUTTON

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONI am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject -- Henry David Thoreau quote POLITICAL BUTTONNever offend people with style when you can offend them with substance. Sam Brown quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Technicolored Jesus

Is it time for one of those
Come to Jesus moments
Wear there is skin in the game
Beyond black and white
Word
And what surrounds
Words
Becoming flesh
Another flood
In a see of
Red between the lyin’s
More than throwing the book
At smacking
Of the full lips of won’s savor
A forgiving fodder
All the wile preying too
Knowing not what due
Holy discriminating
No the color of blood
Know more
Technicolored Jesus
A mine blowing Palestinian Jew
Borne and razed
As soul
Property of another religion
Slaves to shedding
That which is
Indistinguishable from their own
Pooring into the world
Seedlings multifariously soiled
Converted to a cross
Saved fore Christ
Only knot
Apprehending
With due convictions
Buy red letter Christians
Drinking from rose colored glasses
As white as know
Giving him hail
King of the Jews
As a sign of the tines
In tongues speaking
Reportedly above cross
As fallower remains
Intent disciples
Paving the highway to hell
Trod by poor soles
Back in black
And who
Suspects
In America
As when roamin’ umpire
If a man is hung from a tree
He’s black
N conceivably
Some thing other

This poem is about a Jesus for all, black and white, boringly straight and fabulously technicolor.  This poem is about the violence and racism present in American Christianity.  If Christians must be black and white, the evidence points more to a Black Jesus than a White Jesus.  A nation built on slavery still undergirds contemporary lynching, parently paling in comparison in present-day whitewashed White supremacy.  Of course, America has ambitious rule beyond its boarders.  The imperial American rule of the world and its concomitant violence has been condoned, even blessed, by American Christianity.  A Palestinian Jew is inconceivable to most.  Perhaps this explains the prevalence of virgin birth doctrine.  We are all pink inside, and for some strange reason, the fruit of this seems to only be conceive Abel by shedding won an other’s blood.  May we reach a stage of enlightenment where we can live together as one humanity, or at least not use the crucifixion of one as rationale for the crucifixion of an other.

POEM: The Yeast Of These

Wile there is much bred
Daily preyed for
Ample for awe concerned
That seemingly still
Fomenting swell times
A mist repleting agin and agin
In dubitable motifs
Giving ascent to
That for most ingredient
A telling signature of homme
The yeast of these
Which will provide
That effervescent up
Rising
Without flail
Soully as flower and water
Well grounded
Flourishing in a rest
And taking the heat
Toward its full realization
Satiating more than just us
And peace meal gain

This poem is about hope springing eternal, utilizing the metaphor of yeast responsible for the rising of bread.  Hope often strikes me as a reality grounded firmly in both necessity and possibility.  The faith that hope is comprised of the stuff that makes for a juggernaut gives me profound comfort.  This fuels a much more joyful social activism. The subtle and permeating workings of hope inspire the artist in me.

The metaphor of yeast rising, the smallest portion of the bread — the yeast of these — responsible for the very nature of a successful outcome, speaks to the infective and catalytic role that hope plays in social transformation, in social uprisings giving results often surprisingly larger than the sum of the mere parts.  That the uplifting power of yeast is invisible to the eye is far from insignificant.  Even the penetrating scientific mind will likely lead to a disgust to our human sensibilities: the gas released by yeast that expands to rise the dough is the waste product of microbial fermentation, yeast farts if you will. To add insult to injury to some, the pockets of dough that successfully capture these farts so well is attributable to the much demonized foodstuff called gluten — be afraid, very afraid!

Beyond the world of bread-making, in the human world, the downtrodden, dispossessed, and disenfranchised are the necessary ingredient and driver in social justice movements.  The sanitized conventional wisdom that it is an elite class of intelligentsia or highly formally educated “managers” who guide social transformation is simply wrong.  In truth, such conventional forces are typically beholden to making a different kind of “bread” — or bred.  Bread Not Bombs Flour Power Its the Yeast We Can Do-FUNNY PEACE BUTTONThe lessens learned in the school of hard knocks are fertile fodder for street smarts and a built-in “skin in the game” that powers authentic personal and social transformation.  The primary purpose of so-called social success and “middle-class” living may very well be to erect a firewall between one’s own success (and kin or clan) and the milieu of the messy, grungy, and sometimes vulgar “lower” classes.  This firewall is the very barrier that creates and perpetuates social injustice.  The sanitized, impersonal, distant injustices of the board room and bedroom communities are normalized as “civilized,” even though they are responsible for far more human lost potential and suffering than the “barbaric” physical acting out of street crime and “bad” neighborhoods.  White collar crimes go unpunished or perhaps dealt with “as a cost of doing business ” — on occasion there is a slap on the wrist, more like going into the penalty box within a blood sport.  Almost without saying, waging war is a patriot duty, not a human tragedy.  “Street” crimes involving actual people — as opposed to corporate people — are an almost exclusive focus, to protect property and mostly respectable people.  People of color, those lowest on the social ladder — or any “other” — get the book thrown at them by erudite, costumed judges and enforced by less-erudite, armed, uniformed police.

This poem alludes to nonviolence, Rising/Without flail, but this is not simply a comfortable nonviolence of safe pacifists.  On the receiving end of violence by the state and the powers that be, its victims eventually realize that you can’t beat the state at its own game.  Besides being outgunned, “non-sanctioned” violence is used to discredit social movements and serves as a convenient excuse to violently suppress — in a “civilized” way of course — social revolutionaries.  When rising tides of resistance reach critical masses, violence is what the state knows best to put down resistance.  The usually unbroken veneer of civility is deeply threatened when persistent nonviolent resistance bares the brutish, overwhelming power of the state.  This is a highly effective weapon in manifesting true civility.  The solidarity needed for such a daring and dangerous venture is rooted in the shared experiences of the many disenfranchisements that the powers that be yield.  The equation of having more to gain than lose in such a venture presents the palpable opportunity and deep root for real social change.  Privilege works against such opportunity, when the status quo favors one’s own personal interests.  Plus, beyond any simple equation, the humanity gained by living in solidarity restores some measure of the humanity robbed by injustices.  Long the weigh, many realize that peace is the way, and such folks offer another way of living that doesn’t re-lie on the dehumanization of others.

May you find peace long the weigh and bare its many fruits…

POSTSCRIPT: On a somewhat more vulgar, and perhaps somewhat embarrassing, note, this poem can be red quite well as a sexual poem.  This was not my original intent.  If you read it that way, you are probably a man!  This is a fine example of how it is possible, particularly for a man, to sexual eyes most anything, any metaphor.  Hopefully, this multiple meaning will harm no one.  Enjoy!  I hope to never lose my touch…

POEM: Weepin of Choice

His unwillingness to be a victim
Soully exceeded
Buy his willfulness to be a perpetrator
Better to have
Willed a gun
Than mirrorly get
A ballad in ahead
That imminently natural selection
Of hapless pray
Re: in force
Such patriotic cant
And simp-ly a parent of chorus you can
Too the tear of awe
Weepin’s helled in our hands
Sow a verse
That thin red line
In the thick of
The deference
In the seaminess
Of oppressor and oppressed
The enigmatic quest in
Of weather you can
Have won
Without the other
To shed more hate than light
In discriminating prism
Only to con serve
Cell preservation
Or wherever egos
Fallowing death
A firm life
In mortality
A test too
They’re weepin of choice

This poem is a dramatic ode to the thin line between victim and perpetrator.  There is a horror in both estates of being.  The truism that hurt people hurt people begs for a broken chain, often presenting itself to beat the hell out of others or take it as unjust a beating.  Is there a fare-mined weigh to go on, strike?

The horrific picture in my mind is that of children in war zones enforced into soldiering, specifically by being forced to kill someone else, typically someone they know, as an initiation into the invading forces.  Or be killed themselves.  The ensuing trauma, and the desperate promise of survival as a perpetrator rather than death or indigency as a victim, often seals one’s fate in a choice beyond most adults, let alone children.  Such a display of soul murder is perhaps the most dramatic, even as an epic cautionary tale far removed from the real or contemplated lives of most adults in this world.  Nonetheless, the daily bred of the victim-perpetrator cycle is mostly much more subtle and insidious.  The routinized bargains most of us make are well fed by seamless self-serving rationalizations and hermetically sealed worldviews safely partitioning good and evil.  We are grateful, even thank God, that we happen to be, well, on the good side. Our own cultural in-groups are neatly washed in the wringer of what we typically call civilization, a convenient euphemism for “us” — now, even 25% cleaner; progress you know!  Our dark sides are projected on others, safely sequestered in “them” — the looming barbarous hordes, who mostly want to take our way of life (or jobs) — equally progressive and precarious — but will take the life of our hired mercenaries, peace officers, or even ourselves if we let our guard down.

What I hope this poem inspires is some contemplation about what might be that thin chalk line around your soul that defines what you would not do to save your bodily life.  What would you not do, even if a gun was pointed at your head?  Such a boundary quite starkly outlines that which you re-guard as sacred, worthy of the sacrifice of your bodily life.  If your skin in the game is only to protect your own skin (or kin), then the cycle of perpetrator-victim will be incarnated perpetually.  Protect your own or sell your kind?  What kind of quest in is that?  Won of kindness — your own kind and every other kind.  Dramatic examples can be highly instructive in contemplating the demarcations of our soul.  Still, my hope is to provoke a more thorough deconstruction of our lives, as our lives are sow much more than bodily existence.  What in your life would you be willing to lose for a higher purpose?  My favorite definition of sacrifice is giving up something of value for something of greater value.  I view this trading up as the primary vehicle for living up to our highest values.  What material/bodily stuff are you willing to trade up for that which is higher?  What parts of your life are you willing to sacrifice for a greater whole?  We all end up in a hole; not all become whole or make their fare share of the whole.  Of course, the hierarchy of goodness is not simply some binary division of material and spiritual.  Our bodies and material goods are gifts to be purposed and re-purposed in the progressive filling and fulfilling of our souls, shared humanity, and awe of creation.  If there is anything that all spiritual and religious traditions lift up, it is that our purpose wrests in that beyond our self.  Next in line would probably be that we each have a soul responsibility that cannot be contracted to others.  As you confront the many weepins in life, may your soul purpose find itself bigger and better, not simply at a loss.

POEM: Unfare

Weighter
Truth be tolled
Whoever’s pain the bill
I’d like a reseat
At the table

This poem addresses the truism that life is not fair.  I have spent most of my life and part of most days working to address social injustices.  Recently, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have redoubled my efforts to examine my own privileges and disenfranchisements.  In sum, I am a very privileged individual.  I am fascinated by how our own sets of privileges and disenfranchisements play out in society, particularly social justice movements.  Perhaps the most prevalent divide, present even within most households, is male and female.  Patriarchy is nearly omnipresent.  As in any privileged group, men must exert effort to not by default weaponize privilege against those disenfranchised, in this case, about half of the world’s population!  I have seen how people of color and trans folks have worked hard to claim their rightful roles and places within the LGBT equality movement.  In addition, socioeconomic class issues cut across virtually all social movements.  As a U.S. citizen working predominantly alongside other U.S. citizens, the privilege of First-Worldism profoundly impacts our relevance and importance as planetary citizens, where the poorest majority of humanity bears the brunt of the rest of the world’s over-consumption of resources, abuses of power, and assorted and sundry cultural dominations.

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONAs for me, solidarity is a primary guiding principle for my social justice activism.  Literally standing with people who are disenfranchised in one way or another strikes me as one of the most direct ways to step toward social justice.  This is related to “putting skin in the game,” which serves as my primary measure for authentic commitment to other human beings and the creation we share.  As Alice Walker so elegantly stated, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.”  This planet, so teeming with life, deserves our respect, appreciation, and honest efforts to make it the best home possible for millions of miles around.  As I like to say: Life isn’t fair, it’s excellent!

POEM: God’s Perish

I under stood
God’s might
And might not
And in awe probability
New
That I
Will only
Fooly see
Phase to phase
Until awe of creation
Come prized my parish

This poem is about dying to see the face of God.  This takes two forms: dying when unable to see the face of God and dying if a mere mortal human were to see the face of God.  The first form is the traditional form preached about and at others to point out their deficiencies and need for God.  I find this form fraught with peril as pedantic and fixated on the lack of God’s presence, the very thing it seeks to dispel!  As if God could successfully hide; fortunately, on this account, God is a total loser.  God bursts forth from creation, if not well reflected in humans, then from nature.  Still, God is a total loser because God cannot reveal God’s full face to humans without literally blowing out our mind and being as humans.  There is a protective veil necessary to preserve and maintain human existence.  I am far more intrigued with this second form of dying to see the face of God, the Oneness of awe, worthy of my worship.  My deep faith is roughly matched with deep skepticism for authority.  I want peace and reconciliation in this matter — perhaps even to the point of my matter exploding.

The Judaeo-Christian tradition of dying if one were to see the face of God originates in Exodus 12-23, when Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the ten commandments from “I am,” the name God chose to reveal to Moses.  This is how the conversation is retold (NIV translation):

Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

In a conversation with one of my former pastors related to seeing the backside of God, I noted that this made perfect sense, that is, a carpenter son would have a plumber for a father.  His irrepressible grin and laugh reflected the joy that is the infallible presence of God.

For as much as God does, God may seem to do little to nail down God’s intentions at the crossroads of our lives — humans seem much more intent on that!  In surpassing logic, God proffers a taught a logical lessen: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  Grate! So God expects me to lead my life based on mercy and compassion coming out literally from God knows where?!  Of course, there is also that whole ten commandments thing, written in stone no less!  In the coarse of life, the Jews expanded this to 613 laws, establishing a firm foundation for eternal arguments.  My whole point is this: it is never enough.  As my one-line poem matriculates: I often find myself stuck in that awkward time between birth and death.  This built in yearning to understand God and God’s creation drives both spiritual enterprises and scientific endeavors.  Learning to live into this fundamental yearning, whether experienced as the mystical union with God or a unified scientific understanding, comprises much of wisdom: Until awe of creation / Come prized my parish.

Awe of this wrests in the shadow of an unwholly dissatisfaction.  I am deeply intrigued by the profound dissatisfaction with spiritual enterprises, most commonly cited as religion, that live in this shadow.  Ironically, in such a critique of religion, this perfectionism and idealism to which religion falls woefully short is precisely that which under-girds religion: the quest for a coherent whole which can bring with it the peace of heart and mind.  This common quest is shattered by fundamentalism, weather buy religious legalists or militant atheists.  I view such fundamentalism as the grate divide in life, not simply the speak easy surrounding theism.

I am fascinated by the contention often put forward by atheists, that God is a projection of human minds.  There is much truth in this.  Psychologically speaking, projection is superimposing the ego’s shadow, or incomplete understanding, onto that outside the ego, thereby purporting or inferring a distorted truth.  We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. Anais Nin quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONMore simply put: “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.”  Of course, this is neither proof nor reproof in the master debate over theism.  This is true whether God’s perish or God’s parish.  Nonetheless, projection is a powerful force and critical diagnosis each of us should make to move toward a more robust and healthy relationship with reality.  The diagnosis of projection is a necessary but not sufficient condition, the hallmark of never-ending scientific discovery.

The deeper quest in is how do we best move through inevitable projection and, even more boldly, firmly center our self (ego) in a ground of being that will most reliably guide us to an expanding humanity and more accurate under standing of the deepest realities.  I contend that the spiritual master Jesus best articulated this in the spiritual practice and commandment (a should) by instructing us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles mine. Stanislaw J. Lec quote PEACE BUTTONI am unaware of any more powerful and reliable guide to an expanding humanity and more accurate under standing of the deepest realities, whether from a religious or an atheistic perspective.  I cite my own experience and the experience of millions of others in testing out this hypothesis with scientific rigor and skin in the game much greater than most of the most articulate purveyors of scientific discovery.  Most simply put, if you want to put the God hypothesis to the test and dare experience a glimpse of the awe mighty, this may very well be the closest we can get:  “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  This existential treat ease rests on authority emanating from scientific rigor applied to our whole life and God deeply roots for us to experience this phase to phase in hour life.  In the face of a whirled of hurt, may your life reflect the mercy and compassion that comes from God knows wear.

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…

 

ELECTION POEM: We De-serve More Than One Date a Year

Even with
The sorry lack
He in the capitol arena
He refuse
To beg for change
As riddled with ballots
From a stone throne
Presumed in a sense
As the free mark it
To mock a difference
In hour damn nation
Weather staying qualm
Or carrying on
As beheading
The wrong direction
Right
That’s going to work
Like pulling jobs
Out of a hat
Railroaded
And Rand over
Take
You’re choice
Taking liberties
Wear ever
Whatever
Left
Dying
With boots on
Won’s neck
And arms flailing
In the heir
Violins playing
US again
And masses cry
Weight
For some guardian angle
Following-lite
30 seconds and never the goaled
Promising silver ballots
For the monster knock off of your choice
The leaser of two evils
Billed on platforms not worth one read assent
Rhetorical quests in
Skirting half the populace
Out flanking the body politic
And the only deliverance
Is backwards male junk
Ridden on drossy stationary
Acceding Stepford lives
Androids answering robo calls
Buy passing any hire power
Rebutting humanity
Like sum tally whacker
Awl to govern us
Violating our hides
Out ranking privates
Another poll taken
As nations pawned
And questions razed
From the dread
The answer
Lies
Before us
And incite us
The time is now
To re-wind
These vane choices
Truly bearing
As wee
Vote with our feat
And in-F-able arts
De-serving
More than one date a year
Arrest of our daze
Courting flaccid elections
Feudal proposals
And tickets beyond won’s means
Soully to forge more candid dates
And over power
Our faux
Never miss lead

It’s election day!  This election poem captures the perennially popular cynicism concerning politics, particularly electoral politics, and issues a call for a more encompassing path to redress our collective grievances and embody our shared hopes.  In short, this entails year-round civic engagement where citizens vote regularly by putting some skin in the game and pouring their hearts into public life.  This sort of direct democracy leads by representing ourselves boldly and honestly to one another, backed up by whatever integrity we have in our lives.  We get the democracy we deserve.  Or, in this case, we get the democracy we de-serve.  We stop serving power structures and start serving one another.   This saps the top-down power so fraught with abuse and alluring to those more interested in governing others than governing themselves.  There is no patchwork of half-truths that can stand without the consent of the governed.  Elections are largely contrived of narrow choices pandering to the powers that be and offering mere styles of the status quo.  If we settle for a democracy that only works a day or two a year, and barely that, then we should adjust our expectations commensurately.  Though this is not the only choice: hemmed and hawed candidates or non-participation, not voting.  Whether you vote or not — and I think you should make such a modest investment of time — the body politic is not formed in a day or two.  What we do the rest of our days is decisive.  Work, shop, consume, die may be one way to go, but what price do we pay for our “free” time.  Free people live and give freely.  Free people are the freedom the want to see in the world; they are not waiting for license from others.  I like the saying: activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.  I occupy this planet first, am a member of the human race second, and a citizen of a particular political jurisdiction/shopping zone thirdly.  If we unabashedly order our lives according to our deepest values and priorities, the sheer existential force of our lives will champion our planet, give rise to a cherished humanity, and even create a firewall against bullshit politics mistaken for a fertile common-wealth.  Of course, like they say, freedom isn’t free.  Being change in the world will exact a price.  And while you may only get what you pay for, there are untolled pleasant surprises along the way.  The only real question is how much are you willing to pay, and how much are you willing to play?

POEM: Owed to Racism – That Whole In Our Soul

Owed to Racism: That Whole In Our Soul

Our life is
A thin line between
Loving hate
And hope filled madness
Dark mournings
And over joy
In this may hem together
To suture self
And community bound
For wince they came
Through painful needlings
Both sides
Right
And left
In stitches
Where it hurts to laugh
At such a heeling surgin’
Please
Do not real
At my site
Unless you are willing too
In counter me
Phase to phase
Offering me
More than mirror change
Wear wee are all scarred
Leaving behind
Broken images
In its place
Bad luck
And idol
Hands speaking
In victory clenched
Lifting up
The signs of the times
I am a man
And woo man
Never the less
Hearts beaten
As won
An incite job
Game to be fixed
Equal to awe before us
That whole in our soul
Onto grievous grounds spilling
Not simply in vein
As sometimes made pale
Sometimes colored
Weave all skin in the game
In this work of heart
For as it is read
Sow shall it be ridden
Free dumb
Of oppressor and oppressed alike
No longer sullen one another
Undertaking and overtaken
In the passed
To marrow
Never for gotten
Bidding us
To not be under souled
In the ours before us
Wresting in peace
So called
Beyond words
And belief
In action
To gather
With won voice
And undivided tension
Of won accord
Hand in hand
So becoming
Full circle
Un-brake-able

This anti-racism poem came out of my recent experience with a combating racism dialogue group, as part of a larger anti-racism initiative in Toledo.  This poem reflects both the devastation and intractability of racism and group members’ deep commitment and hope for a world free of racism.  The poem calls for united action to reclaim the wholeness of our community.  The level of denial of racism by white folks in America is staggering.  Confronting white privilege often makes even dialogue difficult.  Truly joining in solidarity to combat racism with concrete actions is often seen as unduly threatening to privileged whites.  I am grateful that Toledo has the wisdom and fortitude to operate these dialogue to change anti-racism groups.  May these groups unleash a juggernaut of positive social change for Toledo and the world!

POEM: State of the Union – Barack Obama

The State of the Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLK Day Poem

I have attended Toledo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Unity celebration for many years.  Today, I decided to pass on this year’s “show” (yes, the organizers used the term “show” to describe the festivities).  In recent years, I have seen this ceremony devolve largely into a whitewashed view of Dr. King and his difficult, unpopular work.  Not surprisingly, dead prophets are much more popular than living prophets.  From these “shows” in recent years, you’d think that MLK was the leading purveyor of generic volunteerism, charity detached from justice, flying a banner of “why can’t we all just get along” rather than “put some skin in the game for justice.”  These reinventions of Dr. King are dangerous since they transmute his hard fought battles and crucifixion by gunfire into a cheerleader for the status quo, the powers that be.  The image that comes to my mind is the rich and powerful atop their fortress of money, status and power looking down upon the masses calling for smiling faces and “positive” attitudes in the face of their unjust privilege and recalcitrance.  Instead, we should be calling out institutional classism and racism, perpetual wars (even the failed so-called war on poverty), wage slavery, income inequality, and reigning plutocracy.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed--Martin Luther King, Jr. T-SHIRT

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed–Martin Luther King, Jr.

In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2014, I am issuing a reprise of my epic MLK poem which I wrote two years:

Owed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rekindle the story
Of Martin Luther
King, Jr.
An unequaled story of two halves
Those who halve
And those who halve not
As far apart as North is from South
A Protest-ant leading a Reformation
To not have a preyer
What kind
Of moral fiber
In a sea of White
To pick
A fight
Bringing
Not even
A knife
To a gunfight
At the OKKK corral
Taking a beating
All that they can give
To the man
A hymn
Of racial harmony
Effacing off
With ballads
Against the elect
Impervious to ballots
Votes cast
Both sides agree to only won thing
Nobody wants even one King
Let alone a King, Jr.
And resistance is feudal
Incredible odds must be faced
At least
Hate to won
How to right a bout
A fray sew
Epic
Verses
Governors, mayors, and sheriffs
Wee the people
Wile police do the bidding of property owners
That would be U.S. versus “them”
Nationwide there would be no holiday
For aegis to come
With their eye halve a dream speech
Portending
Something between a White Christmas
And some Valentines Day massacre
Like anyone could be that cupid
Fêted
That somebody will eat Jim Crow
The too haves
Called out
“Be patient”
“Change takes time”
Like a sentry
Long asleep at his post
For a bad check
100 years overdue…

view the full MLK Day poem here.

You can also download a free mini-poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Obama “I have a dream…I have a drone.”  Surely, if Dr. King were alive today, he would be speaking out against and taking action against drone killings.

POEM: By No Means Necessary

By No Means Necessary

When the strident are
Up in arms
Staking their claims
By any means necessary
May such a battlefield
Arouse patience strewn
A bout
Of faith
Inciting our most gratuitous hopes
By any kinds possible
The prison door of necessity
Leaving us
Unhinged
Taking liberties
Only in dependence
On open hearts
In tact
In our chest
No longer hoard
Soles in a circle unbroken
Vaulting us
To claims unstaked
In arms above
Scaling untrodden heights
With such generous helping
Hands down
The best
Giving rise
By no means necessary

This poem is about hope and the possibilities that kindness open up to create a new and better reality.  Claiming a need to reach an end “by any means necessary” is precarious moral ground.  In common political parlance, the phrase might be “we are leaving all options open.”  At best this is a casual amorality, at worst a cruel compulsion or “necessary” evil.  I’m not big on “necessary” evil.  Militancy focuses on a “you forced me to” mentality, fixating on our most base needs and instincts alone.  No doubt, certain actions lead to likely reactions.  Nonetheless, we can do better.  Acting in hope with open hearts is an invitation to escape from closed-sum thinking and hurt feelings, and join together in something greater than the sum of its parts.  Hope is a vulnerable invitation in that it may be rejected.  If rejected, in retrospect, it may appear to have been better to have not made an invitation.  I think that this is why humans have learned a certain reactionary approach in life.  This makes sense, but such a reactionary approach does not represent all that is possible, or even all that is probable.  Leaders make invitations.  Leaders offer hope.  Leaders make themselves vulnerable and put some actual skin in the game, in order to walk the walk not just talk the talk.  We can make excuses by saying, “He made me do it,” but this denies our most basic freedom, to do something differently, that is our greatest asset in human progress.   Not surprisingly, hope is by its very nature a community project.  Only by joining together, with mutual invitations and mutual aid, can our highest hopes become real.  And the highest hope is a circle unbroken, everyone in and nobody out.  The cynical acts of confederates to “get ours” at the expense of others is ultimately self-defeating, degrading the vitality of human community of which we are inescapably a part.  Of course, the hope that springs from the faith that humanity is ultimately one is like all other faith: something not fully realized but believed to be present.  Such faith and hope cannot become fully realized “by any means necessary,” being by no means necessary; still it may be realized “by any kinds possible.”  Do not rise to every occasion in kind, rather, in kindness rise to every occasion.

POEM: Hope Inflamed

Hope Inflamed

Hope inflamed
That which cannot be
Put out
Will consume every individual
Testing their mettle
Forging in feeleds
Just discovered
From a crucible witch lies unknown
Alloys forever
Stronger than any metal
Purely a loan
No matter
How precious
Our faith
In one
Another
Together
With standing
The fiercest heat
Or the harshest in difference

This poem about hope rests on my trust and faith that together humans will rise to any problem that we can experience in this world.  I like the Amelia Earhart quote, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  I think that courage, while sometimes rare, is contagious.  I think that once one truly experiences peace and freedom, there is little going back.  I cite the Arab Spring as an example of a quantum leap forward that may be resisted but cannot be defeated.  Human consciousness or awareness is the nexus and seed of all good that springs forth from humankind.  Ignorance is the dark side and enemy of such enlightenment.  Ignorance and denial are powerful forces in human life, but, I believe, that they are less powerful than human mindfulness and the human spirit unleashed.  I see the human spirit as rooted and emanating from a place that is outside, transcendent of worldly power structures.  Further, an enlightened soul does not retreat into some other-worldly place, but engages the powers that be in this world, modeling better ways, those rooted in the deepest realities of human experience and being.  I am impressed by the sheer existential choice of Buddha to remain in the world to help others rather than blow out into nirvana.  This speaks to a state of higher consciousness, transcending self.  Similarly, Jesus did not shy away or retreat from the powers that be.  Jesus put all of his skin in the game, to the point of death, being crucified as an enemy of the Roman state.  Jesus modeled a reality of Pax Christi versus Pax Romana, the difference between shalom and détente, a higher expectation/hope for the state of human existence on this earth.  As Gandhi proclaimed, “Peace is possible” — a revolutionary statement in a world where conventional wisdom is that détente is the highest possible state; or perhaps some dystopia of trying to kill all of your enemies, giving rise to more enemies, resulting in endless war with some perverse patriotism demonizing one another.  I will cast my lot with one another together with standing the fiercest heat or the harshest difference.  What say you?

POEM: Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game

The gods are at war
A blood sport for many
The spectators are plenty
Seeded at the rite and
Overlooking the arena
As bleachers whitewash
The stain power of the players
Announcers pooring over each play
Drunk with ail
And inuries listless
Over actors breaking a leg
Pundits pining sicks feat
A box that no won can think out of
Merely the latest stat
Wherever you melee
With the gods at war
Who is it that dares to worship
With flesh and bone
Opening themselves up
On to marrow
A gaping dawn
For mirror mortals
Wear all we have
Or have not
Is in vein
A standing oblation
Know truer thou art
Sow secure
The peril of great price
Who will sell awe?
And who will buy it?
When will we come together
Means
And ends
Omen of good cheer
Root for all!

I’d Give My Right Arm for No Arms

I’d Give My Right Arm for No Arms (bomb graphic) – FUNNY ANTI-WAR BUTTON

I'd Give My Right Arm for No Arms (bomb graphic) - FUNNY ANTI-WAR BUTTON

I’d Give My Right Arm for No Arms (bomb graphic) – FUNNY ANTI-WAR BUTTON

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

View more Anti-War Buttons.

This design is a really bad pun for a really good cause.  The phrase I’d give my right arm for… paints a rather dramatic picture of what one is willing to sacrifice for something.  Of course, this design carries it even one more dramatic step farther, implying that one might even be willing to give up both one’s left and right arm to end up with no arms if that means disarmament, both literally and figuratively!  I find much inspiration in people who are willing to put some skin in the game.  I find all the more inspiration in people who are willing to put some bone and sinew in the game as well!  What would you be willing to sacrifice for no arms?