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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FREE POSTER: Who Would Jesus Masturbate In Front Of? American Evangelical Apologists for Sexual Predation Reach a New Low . . . And Keep Reaching

I am sickened by American evangelical so-called Christians serving as apologists for sexual predation.  There is a seriously dark evil engulfing Christians who profess conservative sexual morality and also serve as the first line of defense of sexual predators, whether this takes the form of not listening to victims of sexual assault or minimizing the endemic trauma women must endure in our rape culture.  This free poster goes out to all Christians who don’t defend women from sexual harassment and sexual assault: Who Would Jesus Masturbate In Front Of? American Evangelical Apologists for Sexual Predation Reach a New Low…And Keep Reaching.Who Would Jesus Masturbate In Front Of? American Evangelical Apologists for Sexual Predation Reach a New Low And Keep Reaching While this may be the most far out “What Would Jesus Do” design I have done yet, I have a whole collection of WWJD designs from a leftist, social justice perspective:

What Would Jesus Do? Protest War ANTI-WAR BUTTONWho Would Jesus Refuse Health Care To -- SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTON with Jesus graphic Who Would Jesus Execute--SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTON

What Country Club Would Jesus Join -- FUNNY WWJD SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhat SUV Would Jesus Drive--FUNNY SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTONWhat Mutual Fund Would Jesus Invest In -- FUNNY WWJD SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Who Would Jesus Bail Out SPIRITUAL BUTTONWho Would Jesus Outsource -- SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTONWho Would Jesus Torture SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTON

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.

A Spiritual Autobiography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendly Rant: Voting FOR Jill Stein NOT Wielding “Privilege”

Oddly, with the presidential candidates from the two dominant and domineering political parties setting new records for low approval, voting for anyone else is met with bafflingly high contempt.  My friend, local activist, and Green Party Jill Stein supporter, Shannon Frye, nailed it with this recent facebook post:

Facebook friends, I don’t think I’ve been shy expressing my views on our current election cycle, but I have tried very hard to remain respectful of the decisions you might make when you step into the ballot box. Even if we have sparred, I have still maintained your ability to elect the candidate of your choice. Know that this prerogative is not born of some feigned Victorian politeness, but rather out of desire to see each of you better articulate your realpolitik and claim your stake in the building of a better future for us all.

That being said, I have not, nor will I ever, tolerate the erasure of my person, my experiences or my conviction in order to capitulate to terror, be it tangible or intangible. I will not bend my moral arc in order that you may rest easy. And if you attack my position based on any difference between us under the false assertion that in that difference lies weakness, I will turn your blunt argument into a pointy reckoning.

One such example lies below. A person, who shall henceforth be known as Mr. Charlie, asserted on Jill Stein’s Dank Meme Stash that white privilege was the driver behind her surge in popularity and would be thusly responsible should Drumpf win the presidency. He erroneously held that the Green Party was the enemy, luring POCs, LGBTQ people and the socioeconomically disadvantaged away from their true salvation, Hillary Clinton.

I lost my cool…

“Mr. Charlie, what particular variety of White Savior Complex do you suffer from to make such an ignorant and ill-informed statement?

I am a queer feminist of color and I fully endorse Jill Stein for president precisely because self-righteous idealogues like yourself have absolutely no clue as to the remedy my people desperately need in order to set in motion our uplift.

It boggles my mind how the ONLY political party willing to stand up for racial, gender, socioeconomic and environmental justice has been so maligned by white neoliberalism under the supposed banner of care. How dare you attempt to whitewash the contributions of Green POCs motivated by the grassroots organizing and solution-oriented policies that would bring us into a new era of justice based not on our social capital – of which we have very little – but upon the mettle of our conviction?

You are speaking from a place of fear. Fear of a mango-faced minstrel who shouts deplorable things. Fear of an imagined confrontation with the rage born of over 400 years of oppression reigning. Fear of losing the mask of white indignation that threatens to reveal the fragility of your baseless, store-bought identity. Fear that causes a paralysis of logic and compassion. Fear.

On the social justice platform alone I’d vote Green for life.

The Green Party advocates for the continual challenging of racism, sexism, Homo/bi/transphobia, ableism, ageism, classism and religious persecution. The DNC has at no point in this election cycle or in its history committed itself to fighting inequality on every front in the manner in which the Green Party has fearlessly undertaken. What we, the underrepresented and oft voiceless, have instead received is a piecemeal equality, which is no equality at all. Hillary Clinton and the current incarnation of the DNC has done nothing but pay lip service to creating a level playing field. Clinton’s support for her husband’s 1996 Crime Bill, which contributed to the largest surge in prison populations since the Reagan Administration , has done nothing but ensure the institutionalization and disenfranchisement of scores of POCs – this did us no favor. Clinton’s silence during her tenure as senator amid the growing body of research that proved the inherent bias and disparate impact of stop-and-frisk police tactics on communities of color perfectly ensconced her ambivalence toward the further destruction of the Black and Latinx family. Had she desired more than the occasional Harlem photo op, she would have used her considerable privilege in service to the people she so shamelessly panders to every few years.

On the subject of LGBTQ people, Clinton supported the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as First Lady; as a senator, Clinton could have been the alky she pretends to be and challenged her fellow New Yorkers to expand their definition of marriage, or at least advocate for the inclusion of domestic partnerships in benefit programs for state employees. She didn’t do this. In fact, as recently as April 2013, Clinton went onto CNN with Wolf Blitzer to assert her belief that marriage was an institution between a man and a woman; she didn’t throw her support behind marriage equality until the conclusion of several SCOTUS cases were completely forgone.

As for sexism, which the Clinton campaign loves to cry each time a reasonable critique of her ability to govern justly occurs, there is no better political organization than the Greens to address the systemic oppression of women in the US and beyond. Why would I support a white feminism that capitalizes on the rape of our natural resources, a gross, self-indulgent imposition of Western cultural norms across the globe, and the plundering of our social security net budget in order to fund an imperialist military force that does nothing but wreak havoc in Black and Brown nations in service not to democracy or liberation, but rather in service the corporate master class? Either your feminism is intersectional or its shit: And straight up, if you’re running for office and posturing aggressively against 2 nuclear powers and continuing to take money from and politically ally yourself with nations we know have direct ties to ISIS, then you are not a feminist.

Mr. Charlie, have you any idea what war DOES to women?

1. It kills the civilian population, namely women and children

2. War increases the aggressive violence against women: gang rape, genital mutilation & forced childbirth are all methods used by occupying forces to demoralize a people .

3. War restricts women’s freedom of movement: women, who wind up bearing the burden of being the sole provider for their families and often are hindered by curfews and checkpoints from gaining access to food, medicine, work opportunities and building effective social supports.

4. War forces civilian populations to flee from their homes: this displacement causes refugee surges all over the world, which only seems to respond with more aggression to those already traumatized. For the unwelcome refugee, war continues, as their labor and sexuality are often exploited due to lack of legal protections. Yes, war is a huge contributor to sex trafficking and modern human slavery.

6. War and imperialistic culture prioritizes weaponry over human services:The war machine makes victims all around. Me? I’ve gotten kicked off of Medicaid 4 times this year. But at least our military can afford to bomb the hell out of brown people in 7 nations right now.

As a feminist, I have no country. As a feminist, I want no country. As a feminist, my country is the world and I will do everything in my power to protect her. My question is, how can any woman look at Clinton’s trigger happy approach to foreign policy, her dogged pursuit of profit over the safety and well-being of our planet, and the furtherance of the destabilization of the 3rd world and actually vote to keep it going?

So again I ask, who in this conversation is wielding privilege? Certainly not my brothers and sisters in Green, who care enough about me and my continued existence to vote for the one candidate, the one party, that could help free me from this state of perpetual subjugation. Surely not Dr. Stein, whose mettle has been tested time and again and stills shines brilliantly, compassionately and with the strength of truth on her side. Surely it is not me.

Must be you.

Now take several seats, STFU, and let the grown folks discuss strategy. Your petty semantic games and sanctimonious neoliberal lies will not stop our revolution or my liberation.”

THIS.  Enough said.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER – SUPPORT THE ARTS – Artists Make Lousy Slaves

This free poster takes a relatively apolitical statement, “Support The Arts,” and combines it with a socially and politically provocative assertion that artists make lousy slaves.  Slavery is perhaps the penultimate expression of dehumanization, literally selling humanity for simple utility and profit.  Art and artists are commonly viewed as of marginal utility, which is simply another way of saying that our vain culture and capitalist/consumerist economy finds it relatively difficult to monetize and/or control artistic expression.  Thus, artistic expression is routinely relegated to the margins.  Of course, the margins is where unvarnished truth tends to hang out more freely and where the marginalized more freely embrace truth.  Heartfelt and expert expressions of the human experience are anathema to slavery, the crude making of chattel of men, women, and children for mere utility.  Art and artists align with social justice concerns inasmuch as free expression is neither simply sold or controlled by commercial interests.  May the experiences and expressions of artists provide inspiration for free living and just us for awe.FREE POLITICAL POSTER - SUPPORT THE ARTS - Artists Make Lousy Slaves

Please feel free to share or print out this FREE POLITICAL POSTER: SUPPORT THE ARTS – Artists Make Lousy Slaves.

POEM: Owed To Chet Chambers

His exacting integrity
Was seeded only by generosity of heart
He loved
Awe of God’s children
As well
As he kin
He planted seeds
That others would harvest
He worked side by side
Under God’s reign
And the radiance of a singular Son
Today the earth is a little less salty
Yet let our tears renew
Our taste for justice
And peace unearth

Chester “Chet” Chambers died October 4, 2016, at the age of 87.  Chet was a good man; though, like Jesus, Chet may very well have responded to such an assertion with: “Why do you call me good? “No one is good — except God alone.” [Mark 10:18]  His good works were cloaked in humility, yet any person of good will would testify to his deep and abiding faith in God and humanity, God’s precious children.

Chet was a friend, neighbor, fellow activist, and life-long United Methodist.  His life touched so many other lives.  All of our lives are better because of Chet; the fortunate are aware of this.  He will be missed by many.  His life, ministry, and example will echo into eternity.

Here is the obituary for Chester Chambers, as published in The Toledo Blade on Oct. 6, 2016:

Chester Chambers, born December 2, 1928, passed October 4, 2016. He grew up in Luckey, Ohio, where the Methodist church was the central activity of his family. He graduated from Ohio Northern University, where he took a pre-chemical engineering course of study. He was involved with the Ohio Methodist Student Movement, and following his junior year decided on ministry.

He went to Garrett Theological seminary on the campus of Northwestern University in 1949, where he gained a deep understanding of John Wesley’s theology and experience of grace. Following up on ideas and contacts gained through OMSM in undergrad, he became involved in the civil rights movement in the Chicago area.

While working as a student charge at Weston Church in the summer of 1951, he met Donna Fast, then a nurse in the Bowling Green hospital. They married a year later. He served at Mt. Blanchard five years before moving to Toledo in 1962 to pastor two inner-city parishes in the old north end.

In 1969 he was appointed Coordinator of Urban Ministries for the Toledo District of the United Methodist Church (“UMC”). In succeeding years he helped develop an “alphabet soup” of over forty local organizations from the local ACLU to Welfare Task Force, with Fair Housing Center and Personal Rights Organization among the many in between. The Levite asked, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' The Good Samaritan asked, 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' MLK QUOTE BUTTONHe had particular passions for racial justice, affordable housing, and acceptance of the LGBT community. As a minister and happily married father of five, he lent great credibility to the cause of same-sex oriented persons, at a time when societal attitudes and practices were far more negative and hostile and few spoke out to change that.

Chet made many fact-finding trips in later years. The poverty he witnessed on his first, to Nicaragua in 1989, was life-altering. He would return there, as well as go to Cuba, Brazil, Mexico (maquiladoras) and Venezuela.

He retired at least twice: after serving six years as Superintendent of the Findlay District (UMC) in 1996, and again in 2003 after serving as Associate Pastor of Monroe Street UMC in Toledo. He remained active in many groups and causes long after the “retirements,” including many annual protest trips to the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA. He was arrested at least three times over the years, in various locales, for civil disobedience over causes he championed.

Chet was a master card player, and avid camper with his family. He played piano, sang, and rarely missed a Toledo Symphony concert. He was a mentor and role model for many; inclusive, empowering, grass-roots. His biblical and theological knowledge was immense, and undergirded most everything he did and said. He never stopped believing in God and humanity’s capacity for good.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Fred and Audrey Chambers, and is survived by his wife, Donna; children, Mark (Susan), Nathan (Clara), Brian (Debra), Kevin (Susan), Jocelyn (John) Blaufuss, and 12 grandchildren.

A celebration of Chet’s life will take place October 15, 11 a.m. at Monroe St. United Methodist Church.

Contributions may be made to Monroe St. Neighborhood Center, Methodist Federation for Social Action, or any organization helping the most vulnerable or working for social justice.

Rest in peace, friend to all and faithful servant.

POEM: Standing On My Privy Ledge

I am a white, straight, Christian, male
And you see that
I am afraid
Though paying attention
To what is fare
I am more afraid
Of whites than blacks
Of straights than queers
Of Christians than Muslims
Of men than women
Of what is in than out
Of wear it so easy
To be dark, crooked, un-Christian, and un-manly
Standing on my privy ledge
Only names dropping
And eliminating a void
For it’s all in
The taking
That in is capable plunge
Before the plumb it
Takes us
Awe down
Oar
Run over by a drain
Holey a bout
In which wee re-side
And set assail
As expect torrent-ly weight
Up on that wayward look out
Going long with dinghy surroundings
Only keeping us on won’s tows
Castles in the err
As hope tangles with whose faltering
If only to feel
The win behind your back
In one fell sloop
Without assemblance of humanity
Ripping that one accord
With know shoot culpable save you
You are precariously throne
As a matter of coarse, bowled over
Un-less first choice
To devote your undivided tension
To what is fare
Forsake of humanity
Either weigh
That first step
Is a due see

This poem is about privilege: the privilege men have over women, the privilege whites have over blacks and other people of color, the privilege Christians have over Muslims, the privilege straight folks have over queer folk.   Privilege Is When You Think Something Is Not A Problem Because It's Not A Problem To You Personally POLITICAL BUTTONEnd Heterosexual Privilege - Rainbow Pride Bar--Gay Pride Rainbow Store BUTTONThis is a first person poem, in that I am such a multi-privileged person.  The unnamed privilege in this poem is the privilege people living in the first-world have over people living in the second- or third-world (or as some say: the two-thirds world).

I have been pondering the reality of privilege most of my life.  I consider my birth into this world in Haiti, but as a son of white, well-educated Americans, as representative of profound tensions within my life in relation to the many human conundrums set up by vast differences in privilege.  My Mennonite heritage, steeped in values of simple living, has been a fortuitous foundation for my drift into economic irrelevancy and semi-voluntary poverty. Live Simply So Others May Simply Live - POLITICAL BUTTONMy training and career in public health has afforded me a perspective rich in dealing with social justice.  My vocation and avocation as a social justice activist has yielded abundant opportunities to stand in solidarity with my human kin, and even reflect upon erudite concepts such as intersectionality.  My short stint in prison plus hanging around more poor folks has helped prompt me to shed some of my middle-class sensibilities.  I am working intentionally to trade many of my first world problems for second- and third-world problems.  Yet, perhaps the greatest testament to my many privileges, is that I still feel like the richest person I know (though I don’t really get out that much).

Recently, my dealing with privilege has been kicked into high gear, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement.  BLACK LIVES MATTER [Black Power Symbol] POLITICAL BUTTONI am deeply grateful to all of the people of color, queer folk, highly conscious feminists, and “others” who have enriched my life beyond belief.  got privilege? POLITICAL BUTTONI hope that the privilege I have at my disposable serves the larger interest of equality for all.  May any privilege we possess not possess us but spur us to break down any inhuman barriers that separate us.

Feel free to check out LGBT equality designs, Black Lives Matter designs, feminism designs, human rights designs, and anti-hate, anti-discrimination designs.

POLITICAL POEM: Among Politicians For Sail

In the art of politics
We are the wind
Awe that madders
To those who sea
Among politicians for sail
Transcending them to helm
In their infernal riggings
And whatever weigh
As such politics
Blows
And how ever along winded
Wee will
Prevail
Sow go a head
Win
Be my gust

Q: What can transcend the riggings in the political system?  A: The strong winds of political movements derived from the consent (or resistance) of the people.  Perhaps the most reliable characteristic of politicians is their ability to do most anything to gain power or maintain power.  Politics is often referred to as the art of compromise.  Power Requires Consent POLITICAL BUTTONPolitics is as often at the heart of selling out.  Power requires consent, the consent of the people.  This is the foundation for nonviolent resistance and noncooperation with evils in society.  Fortunately, the malleable morality of politicians can be harnessed by the exercise of power directly by the people, without relying on simply moral appeals.  In the body politic, the moral state of the state is mediated by the people either exercising their values which manifest political realities and shape power, or by the people delegating moral behavior to politicians (sic) and/or relinquishing morality altogether.  The people define the political realities by which politicians must navigate.  The pragmatic malleability of politicians makes them far better suited to follow than lead, to reflect current political realities rather than challenge and change them.  The notion that power is fundamentally derived from political elites is mistaken and not what the founders of the constitution understood of governance as derived from the consent of the people.  Likewise, moral behavior is derived from each person as a moral agent, a responsibility that cannot be relinquished and a privilege that each human shares.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONAuthentic leadership, by being the change you want to see in the world, is often punished by the powers that be of the status quo, whose interest is in maintaining things the way they are, that is, to their own advantage over others.  Your resistance and its equal and opposite force applied by the powers that be is exactly the measure by which your values are valued.  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 BUTTONMore simply put, your values are values exactly to the extent that you are willing to pay a price for them.  Many good things in life come cheap, either through the work of others or the grace of God.  The luck of the draw in possessing such good things that come to us without us personally paying the full cost is what is often called privilege.  Good things are, well, good.  But, when we haven’t paid the full cost, or worse yet, someone else is involuntarily paying the cost for you, such an imbalance in the balance sheet requires moral action to assure fair treatment of others.  It is exactly such imbalances in the balance sheets that fundamentally amoral ideologies such as capitalism cannot produce balance.  In fact, amoral ideologies such as capitalism act to leverage inequalities and unfairness into further inequalities and unfairness.  In short, it takes moral force, truth force, what Gandhi referred to as satyagraha, to set the world right.  Those experiencing the short end of inequalities and unfairness most fully experience the material conditions suited to such enlightenment.  Those experiencing the long end of inequalities and unfairness find that their the material conditions are rife with easy denial and low-cost rationalizations suited to maintaining their advantage, their advantage over others.  This is another way of describing the “preferential option for the poor” in liberation theology, recognizing that the dispossessed are naturally better positioned to exercise moral leadership since their personal interests and social justice interests are better aligned.  Surely, the poor have their own special set of temptations to choose the low road in morality.  However, the privileged are only required to give up privilege over others for justice’s sake, which is a nominal sacrifice compared to coping well or poorly inside chronic injustices.  This is particularly true since the powers that be exact a price disproportionately higher to the dispossessed than what would represent a fair price for their personal, individual justice.  In other words, the dispossessed must invest in social justice to experience personal justice.   If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor -- Desmond Tutu quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe privileged are free of such costs, and worse yet, are personally advantaged by injustice, a cruel incentive to unjust action, or more often than not, inaction.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONAs can be seen through the lenses of power derived through the consent of the people and the material conditions conducive to acting morally in the face of social injustices, the hope for a more just and moral world is founded in actions of solidarity with and among the disenfranchised of the world.  Expecting the privileged to relinquish their privilege — or manage the poor justly (sic) — is a lame substitute for disenfranchised peoples acting in the interest of both themselves and all people.  May we act in solidarity with one another to overturn injustice anywhere.

Feel free to browse Top Pun’s designs about social justice and a huge choice of political action issues.

POEM: They Knot His and Her — Owed To Gender Fluidity

They cross that strait
When they get two it
As engender queer
In mirrorly two be
Or knot too be

This poem is an ode to gender fluidity, to anyone who looks in the mirror and sees a different gender than at first glance, or seize more than one gender.  Fight Transphobia TRANSGENDER BUTTONGender, as a complicated amalgam of biological and social constructs, should be expected to manifest itself in a myriad of ways.  The simplistic binary of male/female is abridge too far for many folks.  Life is as often as knot incredibly nuanced or calling us to weighs of being that no mirror man or woman has gone before.  To be pronoun challenged is that splendiferous juncture wear he/she and us/them simply becomes they and we.  To coin an old phrase, E Pluribus Unum, “from many, one.”

In the U.S., transgender issues have taken the forefront since the gay marriage equality issue is largely resolved. Trans-fabulous! TRANSGENDER BUTTONLike many social justice issues, transgender equality will be brandished about, weaponized by reactionary bigots where it may still win political points amidst a rapidly changing status quo.  I strongly suspect history has a distinct direction in this struggle, and it will resemble the future more than the past.  June is gay pride month, or perhaps better named LGBTQQIA Pride Month.  Hopefully, this time of special celebration will help people relish their own gender identity and the gender identity of others.  May our diversity enrich us all.

I'm Trigender. I Tried One Gender, And Now I'm Trying Another One. --Ranae Cole quote TRANSGENDER BUTTON

 

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: My Proffered Busyness

My proffered busyness
Is riding poetry
Wherever
It takes me
And even as sow many
Times come a bout
The heist spot in the whirled
Strong-armed by incoming
Dealing with lives steel
As sell sum
Pilfer everything
As if
Following racing rats to a loot
Or tender my resignation
And well come
My big amble
Out performing
Peddling vagabonds
At any prize
Wear happiness too spare
Rambling on

This is a poem about a poet’s joy in writing poetry — that would be me.  This is yet another ode to the muse which strikes without warning, though with overwhelming warming.  There is little question that writing poetry is a way for me to work through living in such a surreal world, where grave injustices and serendipitous joys reign over my life.  This tension between the often heart rendering work of social justice and profound gratitude for the many blessings in my life is a familiar theme in my life and poetry.  May you work for justice with a grateful heart; and may your joy be deep enough to sustain you in the most difficult times.

POEM: Kindness 1.618 — Owed To The Goaled In Proportion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

POEM: Brew Aha

In the mettle of this
Brew aha
Beside myself
I took a stand
In countering
Such ponderous courting
How civil this obedience
Wear black
And white lies
Segregated
Only spotted
As if
Sent out to posture
Presumptuous in a sense
Hankering and pining
For a lessen in manors
A peace of cake
Where there cannot be
Moor to see
From the grate beyond
Beyond boarders
Is it sow untoward
A peace of meet
Only Abel
Too illicit
Just a position
In a neighborly weigh
Only taken in
Buy such con text
The privilege of preaching to a pact crowd
Per chased by background checks
Belting out promissory notes
Not worth a single digit
Nor circling the wagons
In a parent blackface
Falling off
Won’s bluff
Of unending figuring
For a fraction of pi
Her ratio
Of protracted circumference
Over the shortest distance between points
Ever present friend
Over cunning counsel
More than subject
To this hamlet
Their I stood
Quiet a seeing
As others
Might due
The riot thing
For wanton reason
And only if
My silence aloud
My batter judgment
Too get the best of me
Admitted to a transcendent hospitality
As dumb found patients
For which we stand
The qualm before the storm
Overcoming that which is
Fast fooled
Bringing order to the unrule he
Untold smiles to go
For better than even
As they crack me up
Or split my side
I live
For that aha moment
Heart and neck stretching
All the wile
Rapping accord
That can’t be broken
So I’m tolled

This is a poem about white privilege and racism, social justice and civil disobedience, and quite literally, putting some skin into the game.  The brew aha theme offers a lighter, more ethereal tone to the poem.  This poem addresses the immanent dangers of being deeply rooted in both transcendent realities and harsh physical and social realities.  Race is the species argument driving this narrative.  White privilege is the real dope here.  Only such unmerited advantage can inspire such twisted rationalizations for ongoing supremacy and gross injustices.  The challenges are great for both those to renounce unmerited advantage and for those to swim upstream against deep-seated oppression.  Though there is no doubt that the ultimate accountability for justice rests with those who hold unmerited advantage over others.

From a literary point of view, I am quite enamored with the blending of mathematical pi with Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Horatio in:

Falling off
Won’s bluff
Of unending figuring
For a fraction of pi
Her ratio
Of protracted circumference
Over the shortest distance between points
Ever present friend
Over cunning counsel
More than subject
To this hamlet

Amidst the endless, fruitless scheming in Hamlet (Falling off/Won’s bluff/Of unending figuring/For a fraction of pi), Horatio (Her ratio) defines the whole of pie fully in his loyal and unpretentious friendship with Hamlet (Of protracted circumference/Over the shortest distance between points).  And with that last phrase, perhaps I’ve even invented a new poetical form: die a meter.  Of course, Horatio (mathematically) proves his loyalty, offering a true home for Hamlet, more than mere pandering to royalty (Ever present friend/Over cunning counsel/More than subject/To this hamlet).

As recounted elsewhere:

At the end of the play, Horatio proposes to finish off the poisoned drink which was intended for Hamlet, saying that he is ‘more an antique Roman than a Dane’, but the dying prince implores Horatio not to drink from the cup and bids his friend to live and help put things right in Denmark; “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, / Absent thee from felicity a while, / And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain / To tell my story.” Hamlet, speaking of death as “felicity”, commands Horatio to wait “a while” to tell the story; perhaps Hamlet dies expecting his friend to follow as soon as the complete story has been told.

Perhaps one of the greatest honors we have in life is to witness and re-tell the stories of others.  May we each live lives worth re-telling…

POEM: Joining That Mystical Union

Having
Evolved
Too keep
Every last won
Of this sophisticated specious
Under opposable thumbs
Like a perch
In a stream of consciousness
Executing my porpoise
The best
I can do
A thwart on the phase of humanity
This avowing
That it is
Just us
And by what means
Can we make a diffidence
Of that a ledge
Too due
Joining the crowded
Signing off
On that
Collective bargain
As wee
All a greed
As far as we reckon
Bunching up
In a scanty throng
Of self-proclaimed wizzes
In the brook of life
Where awe is swill
In our out standing potable potty
In the heat of august
Quenched
Buy the patently falls
That is
Not so
Crappy
Requited in terminally wading
Who gets
The last ward
From what sores then
Only then
Where naught else fallows
To find oneself
In silence
A loan
Yet not feeling solo
In fact
Feeling unrivalled
Caching in
Empyreal cents
Fore that which is
Unfallible
Without rank
Revolting
Caste a side
Even without
Empty congregation
For going
As it is written
Upon stationery
In place of life
Wear awe is won
In a corporeal merger
Of all that is ardor
With all that is light
Enrolled into one
That mystical union
Joining arts
And boundless trades
Uniting awe
In a baptism of matchless flare
Emerging from water
Besting the supposed fin
By no less than two feet
Upright
On wholly ground
Accompanying sound sole
In the rarefied guardin’
Of one constitutional
Heartwarmingly vein to sum
Countless succeeding
With heir to breathe freely
Living in
The hear and now
Beyond what can be herd
No longer weighting
Only to expire
That which is fleeting
Trafficking in exclusion
Flailing to sea
The catch all
Recognizing each
To be won
Of a kind

Here is a poem that plays with themes of the oneness of consciousness, the oneness of humanity, and the merging of the spiritual and physical realms.  Of course, it begins with recognizing the sea of vanity that passes for much of so-called civilized life.  Seeing past this pollution is a necessary precondition to more fully experience life’s ever-present gifts and freely give our unique selves to the world.  This requires mastering letting go more-so than grasping.  Letting go prepares us to receive the perpetual, dare I say eternal, stream of gifts available to us at any given moment.  This process of freely receiving this veritable tsunami of presents is only possible when harmoniously matched with freely giving, letting go, which continues, reflects, and magnifies the true abundance in which we are awash.  The difference between this process and the close-minded, close-hearted clinging and collecting of much of daily life is the difference between heaven and hell — perhaps even heaven and hell!

Giving and receiving is one of the central yin and yang of our lives.  Much of the pain in life can be traced back to the felt need to keep account of all of the giving and receiving that is going on, and then expending precious energy (sometimes called ‘work’) attempting to make sure that the receiving side of our ledger is adequate.  Then, when we have ‘enough,’ we can be gracious on the giving side.  I suspect that how we answer the question with our lives, “how much is enough?” lies at the heart of how well we contribute to our shared humanity and shared reality.  The harmonious yin and yang of giving and taking is often befuddled and turned upside down by a predominant (and ultimately dominating) focus on receiving, aka taking.  This conundrum rests on how we answer the proverbial question of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” — in this case, giving or taking.  As any practiced Taoist would realize, these yin and yang questions are ultimately incomprehensible without a deep appreciation for balance, or, as the Taoist would say, complementariness.  I think this is also why Buddhists are not big on origin or creation stories (‘egg’ stories); what we have at any given moment is much more important than accounting for where it came from.  The Christian contribution to this dialogue is a focus on grace, that any giving on our part is only made possible by something outside our selves gracing us with anything to give.  In the human experience, grace, and the gratitude that evolves from living in it, quite universally leads to more harmonious (happy) living.  Our natural propensity toward accounting cannot escape the balance shit completely!

There Is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the WayAs a devotee of social justice, the problem of the balance sheet often consumes — or at least dominates — any conception of justice.  I prefer to frame justice as harmony and injustice as disharmony.  Both the way and the goal, the means and the ends, is peace (harmony).  As one of my favorite pacifists, and fellow Hope College alumnus, A.J. Muste proclaimed, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  I see the chicken and egg argument about which comes first, peace or justice, as the divide between self and other; that is, injustice is typically described as conditions of disharmony outside one’s self, amongst the human community and our shared reality. The role we contribute to bringing justice into the world is one of bringing harmony.  And as most any human would agree: you can’t give what you don’t have!

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quoteIf you are still convinced that justice is fundamentally a balance sheet then ponder this: how can you possibly experience injustice if you came into the world on no account of your own, experience a measure of life, and return to nothing (or at least certainly not something less than something) — how can you ever be in debt?  The only “debt” that we have is the positive reality that we have been given anything and everything we have.  This is well captured by Alice Walker who declared, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” I see this debt as the foundation for any ethical system, a shared debt owed with each and every human, setting up solidarity as a fundamental shared human reality. This was eminently stated by Albert Schweitzer: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”  Injustice can be viewed as some having more than others (earned/unearned more than others?) but any conception of this is still rooted (and must give just due) in the harmonious relationship between giving and receiving.  The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quoteTaking away, WAY different than receiving, is dishonoring the mystical ying-yang of giving and receiving, in whatever brand of accounting one might ascribe too.  Any thought that re-framing your account of justice as “giving” justice to others might be well served by meditating on your dependable feeling when others want to give you their justice.  While there are immature forms of resisting others actions “for our own good,” I suspect that resisting others taking our account is rightly and justly rooted (a gift of human nature) in the shared and absolute nature of each and every human being’s life as a sheer gift beyond merit.  Fights about whose debt is bigger are probably best resolved by demonstrating the recognition of our own immeasurable debt.  Albert Schweitzer also infamously said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”  Be the Change You Want to See in the World - Gandhi quoteThis is a close cousin to my favorite Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Hopefully, amidst such ponderings you will find this awe difficult to take!

May you join this mystical union, and whatever dues you may pay, may they be well worth it…

POEM: Meet Me Their

Meet me
Wear the sky
Kisses the ocean
Where the day’s heat
Meets the cool of eve
Where a child’s cry
Meets his mother’s loving ears
And a full groan man
Brought to his knees
Now stands
Before his new home
Meet me
Their
Where the mountain rises to our feat
And our souls bound
To that which cannot die
Yet awe the more
Touched
By life
All meet
You there
Where mourning brakes
As just us
Kisses peace

This poem arose from a hybrid of inspirations, from a phrase from the musical South Pacific (about the ocean and sky meeting) and from a poem read at today’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) demonstration outside Toledo’s federal courthouse to end racial profiling by police and the border patrol.  This poem is grounded in a hybrid of sorts, the daily beauty of the earth and a mother’s love combined with the longing-filled work of living for social justice.  Of course, these ongoing works bring joy and peace in both the present and the future.  Hope is well fed both by places near home and far away.  May you be well fed AND hunger for justice.

POEM: Suffering Artists

I heard that
Artists are supposed to suffer
For their work
No matter how hard
Beaten
Their head against a wall
So trying
I have failed
Miserably
Only finding my work
Adore
I am through
And not
Well
Done

I am not much into suffering.  Of course, some may not consider my a truly devoted artist.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have an ascetic streak.  My values of living simply and for social justice drive such asceticism.  Also, I have a level of detachment from many hedonistic pleasures where I can enjoy such experiences without unduly relying upon them (see guacamole).  Surely, life brings with it enough suffering and pain that we never ought to seek it out!  As I like to say: just because you can learn something from being hit across the face with a 2-by-4 is no reason for hitting people across the face with a 2-by-4!  I consider the so-called suffering intrinsic in the creative artistic process as a form of passion that is not fully under control.  This process is analogous to love, in which the sickness and the cure are one.  Experiencing art, like love, demands something from us.  Inasmuch as we are lazy, this can bring suffering.  Yet, inasmuch as art enhances our response-ability, life grows deeper and richer.  This is adore in which we are never through…

POEM: Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Isaiah was a man
A kind of a man
More generous than his wealth
Untouchable by another’s profits
With a frugality beyond any poverty
He was a gentle man
With a purposefulness typically beyond words
Speaking with a clarity too spirited for some
In jail for disturbing the peace
Though he would have said
“I am disturbing the war”
He was a headstrong man
Though less determined than unshakable
His single-mindedness
Exceeded only by a purity of heart
In that instant where mourning breaks
In the face of a rising dawn
Awaking
Following that first night
With an irrepressible smile
On his face
Realizing he is the freest person
He knows
Simply saying
“I really need to get out more”
Fast becoming hungry
Thirst things thirst
In spite of being
Like naked
For I’s guarded
Surrounded by men of this stripe
Wholly innumerable
Ever-present in the passed
His work was before him
A long line of just us
All the same, some lost
Some merely on their way
To share some food with his mates
Then off to work
For there is
No such thing as
Free room and board
From some anonymous uncle
After all the feds
Reckon the rest
As what will follow
When expecting to be herd
As well as something more

This poem is a tribute and extremely loose paraphrase or interpretation of Isaiah 58 in the Bible.  This Old Testament chapter is a classic among lovers of justice.  In this poem, the title alludes to a chapter in the biography of a man.  This modern-day take is inspired by those faithful and devoted workers for justice who commit civil disobedience in the course of their work for social justice.  The setting is a free man who finds himself in prison.  Barring all irony, he is still free!

The only truly obscure reference that I would elucidate springs from the lines: In spite being/Like naked/For I’s guarded.  It’s more easily accessible meaning is a reference to being vulnerable, particularly when at the hands of someone who, like a prison guard, literally oversees your every movement, peering into the bowels of your very being!  The obscurity is in that “Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen 9:20-27).”  In Matthew 5:40, Jesus says, “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” The theologian and author Walter Wink explains how Jesus instructed his audience, the poor, how to fight back using creative nonviolence, taking advantage of the cultural fact that viewing nakedness is more shameful than being naked:

“…so the debtor parades his nakedness in prophetic protest against a system that has deliberately rendered him destitute.  Imagine him leaving the court, naked: his friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened.  He explains.  They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade.  The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked.  The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness, destitution, and abasement.  This unmasking is not simply punitive, therefore; it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.
     The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity.  Nothing depotentiates them faster than deft lampooning.  By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible.  This message, far from being a counsel to perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed, and it is being lived out all over the world today by powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands.
     Jesus provides here a hint of how to take on the entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its pretensions to justice.  Here is a poor man who will no longer be treated as a sponge to be squeezed dry by the rich.  He accepts the laws as they stand, pushes them to absurdity, and reveals them for what they have become.  He strips naked, walks out before his fellows, and leaves this creditor, and the whole economic edifice which he represents, stark naked.”

I encourage you read the full article by Walter Wink, Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Jesus’ Nonviolent Way, where Dr. Wink outlines three of methods of creative nonviolent disobedience that Jesus taught, from Mathew 5:38-41 (NIV): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”  One of the truly magnificent revelations in this article is how it illustrates the extent to which Jesus’ teachings are commonly misunderstood; or perhaps more to the point, often understood as the exact opposite of what Jesus meant!

The spirit of Jesus is manifest in the scripture inspiring this poem, Isaiah 58 (NIV).  It is no accident that Jesus quotes Isaiah to kick off his public ministry!  The heading for this chapter is usually rendered, “True Fasting;”

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.