FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Republican Leaders Gather To Deal With Gun Violence by Banning Ritalin, Banning Abortion, And Declaring Another Generation of Silence

In the face of a continuing gun violence epidemic and yet another school shooting, Republican so-called leaders are talking about everything but guns. Perhaps guns don’t kill people, Republicans do. The new president of the NRA, Ollie North, blamed gun deaths on Ritalin. Why stop there? Ritalin doesn’t kill people, doctors do. Actually, Guns Do Kill People POLITICAL BUTTONOf course, my favorite framing and reframing of gun violence is blaming it on abortion. Guns don’t kill people, women do?! Of course, 98% of mass shootings are perpetrated by men. The latest mass shooting in a school in Texas was perpetrated by a male student who was aggressively pursuing a fellow student, and after she rebuffed him, within a week he came into the school, killed her first and then continued his murderous rampage. There were two armed security officers in the school but Republicans are calling for more armed guards and fewer entrances. There willingness to rebuild schools into fortresses while kids don’t have pencils and teachers have to buy school supplies with their own money betrays the delusional Republican worldview, perverted priorities, as well as their helpless and hapless paranoia. If Guns Don't Kill People, Why Do We Give People Guns When They Go To War? Why Don't We Just Send People? --Ozzy Osbourne quote POLITICAL BUTTONPerhaps the only small comfort in the Republican carny canard is that they seem to feel some need to talk about something, even if it is anything but guns, in the wake of endless school shootings. While they may wish for yet another generation of silence, their growing desperation in irrelevant fixes, speaks to the burgeoning salience among the American electorate of preventing gun violence with common sense, evidence-based actions.

In tribute to the Republican circus of irrelevance around gun violence prevention, I bring you this FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Republican Leaders Gather To Deal With Gun Violence by Banning Ritalin, Banning Abortion, And Declaring Another Generation of Silence.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Republican Leaders Gather To Deal With Gun Violence by Banning Ritalin, Banning Abortion, And Declaring Another Generation of Silence

Feel free to browse my designs on common-sense gun violence prevention.

COMMUNITY FORUM REMARKS: Need to address the main driver of criminal and criminalized behavior, substance abuse, and that the failed law enforcement model needs to be supplanted by a public health model driven by evidence and community benefit

The Community Solidarity Response Network of Toledo (CSRN), our local Black Lives Matter group, and the ACLU hosted a forum on “What Does a Safer Toledo Look Like?” This forum was in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ National Public Safety Partnership aimed at “fighting violent crime.” This initiative has been vague with little transparency, and has not included robust public input, let alone “partnership.” CSRN and the ACLU have good reason to suspect that this initiative is a further clamping down of traditional law enforcement, a “tough on crime” effort, and a revamping of the war on drugs. Such efforts will predictably make some people less safe, notably communities of color and the poor. Below are the remarks I prepared for this community forum, addressing the need to deal with the main driver of criminal and criminalized behavior, substance abuse, and that the failed law enforcement model needs to be supplanted by a public health model driven by evidence and community benefit:

A safe community is one where we demonstrate a willingness and competency in caring for one another rather than hurting or punishing each other. A safe community is one where all who seek or need help with substance abuse have easy access to help. The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population; we consume two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs; we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Locking people up with substance abuse problems is a terrible approach to addressing its ravages on society, including criminal behavior, unstable housing, social ostracism, poverty and unemployment. Punishing substance abusers has not and cannot work in creating a safe community for all.

The overwhelming majority of persons under the care of the criminal justice system are persons with substance abuse, mental health problems, or both. About 85% of persons under the care of the criminal justice system are there because of offenses related to substance abuse. The criminal justice system does a very poor job dealing with the underlying issue of substance abuse and addiction. Less than 20% receive treatment. Much more commonly, the criminal justice system exacerbates substance abuse and mental health problems. The criminal justice system supplies further trauma, separates people from their communities and social support systems, saddles people with criminal records and social ostracism, and is a terrible way to provide services that would help people live fuller lives in their community — services that would address stable housing, complicated health issues, and poverty and unemployment. The criminal justice system may serve as a way to screen people for enmeshment in socially destructive behavior. However, the criminal justice system fails as an effective or humane way to deal with the overwhelming majority of people whose underlying issue driving socially destructive behavior is substance abuse. This failure comes at great human and financial cost.

Further, the war on drugs, relying on a law enforcement model, has been a miserable failure in reducing substance abuse or its societal harms. A new model is needed for dealing with substance abuse. The best, evidence-driven model is a public health model of prevention, nonjudgmental harm reduction, and community-based treatment and support services. This public health approach is more humane and more effective, a winning combination for a safer community. We need to profoundly shift our focus, priorities and resources away from the law enforcement approach to a public health model and approach. For instance, providing treatment is cost-effective, saving between $2 and $6 for every $1 spent on it, which in part reflects reductions in criminal behavior and re-incarceration. Fortunately, a public health approach will actually reduce socially destructive behavior and better meet the objectives of the criminal justice system. One key shift needs to be redefining of substance abuse as a public health problem rather than a criminal justice matter. This includes decriminalizing the use and possession of drugs.

The criminal justice system can play an important role in this public health approach, by proper law enforcement dealings, assessment and treatment of persons with substance abuse and mental health problems, particularly partnering with community-based treatment services as alternative sentencing to incarceration. In preparation for release from the criminal justice system, it should prepare people to best face the many challenges to successful reentry into the community, such as lack of health care, stable housing, job skills, education, and connection to other support services to minimize their probability of relapse and re-arrest. We already have the resources to do much better. We can get much more for much less. This is a great opportunity.

Self-Made Trump Has A Fool For A Maker

In Trumpian fashion, fool of irony, I quote myself: “A self-made man has a fool for a maker.”  The man-child known as Donald Trump runs roughshod over the boundaries of lesser fools.  He fashions his fashion as the boss of a collapsing world, his world, his collapsing world.  If Trump where to know God, he would know himself — he knows neither.  His self-masturbatory god head is a lonely impossibility, even in his hugely culpable hands and with such a big mouth — something is missing, however compelled he is to grab it.  The loneliness of this pitiful and pitiless man is captured well in the essay by Rebecca Solnit, THE LONELINESS OF DONALD TRUMP: ON THE CORROSIVE PRIVILEGE OF THE MOST MOCKED MAN IN THE WORLD, with excerpts below:

Once upon a time, a child was born into wealth and wanted for nothing, but he was possessed by bottomless, endless, grating, grasping wanting, and wanted more, and got it, and more after that, and always more. He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires. He got a boost at the beginning from the wealth handed him and then moved among grifters and mobsters who cut him slack as long as he was useful, or maybe there’s slack in arenas where people live by personal loyalty until they betray, and not by rules, and certainly not by the law or the book. So for seven decades, he fed his appetites and exercised his license to lie, cheat, steal, and stiff working people of their wages, made messes, left them behind, grabbed more baubles, and left them in ruin.

He was supposed to be a great maker of things, but he was mostly a breaker. He acquired buildings and women and enterprises and treated them all alike, promoting and deserting them, running into bankruptcies and divorces, treading on lawsuits the way a lumberjack of old walked across the logs floating on their way to the mill, but as long as he moved in his underworld of dealmakers the rules were wobbly and the enforcement was wobblier and he could stay afloat. But his appetite was endless, and he wanted more, and he gambled to become the most powerful man in the world, and won, careless of what he wished for…

…The child who became the most powerful man in the world, or at least occupied the real estate occupied by a series of those men, had run a family business and then starred in an unreality show based on the fiction that he was a stately emperor of enterprise, rather than a buffoon barging along anyhow, and each was a hall of mirrors made to flatter his sense of self, the self that was his one edifice he kept raising higher and higher and never abandoned.

I have often run across men (and rarely, but not never, women) who have become so powerful in their lives that there is no one to tell them when they are cruel, wrong, foolish, absurd, repugnant. In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures…

We keep each other honest, we keep each other good with our feedback, our intolerance of meanness and falsehood, our demands that the people we are with listen, respect, respond—if we are allowed to, if we are free and valued ourselves. There is a democracy of social discourse, in which we are reminded that as we are beset with desires and fears and feelings, so are others; there was an old woman in Occupy Wall Street I always go back to who said, “We’re fighting for a society in which everyone is important.” That’s what a democracy of mind and heart, as well as economy and polity, would look like…

…Some use their power to silence that and live in the void of their own increasingly deteriorating, off-course sense of self and meaning. It’s like going mad on a desert island, only with sycophants and room service. It’s like having a compliant compass that agrees north is whatever you want it to be. The tyrant of a family, the tyrant of a little business or a huge enterprise, the tyrant of a nation. Power corrupts, and absolute power often corrupts the awareness of those who possess it. Or reduces it: narcissists, sociopaths, and egomaniacs are people for whom others don’t exist.

We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society. Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble—that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars—and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. This is why I always pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation. When you don’t hear others, you don’t imagine them, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it, and that surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine others exist in any true deep way that matters. This is about a need for which we hardly have language or at least not a familiar conversation.

A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not, but the people he bullied pretended that it did. Or perhaps it was that he was a salesman, throwing out one pitch after another, abandoning each one as soon as it left his mouth. A hungry ghost always wants the next thing, not the last thing.

This one imagined that the power would repose within him and make him great, a Midas touch that would turn all to gold. But the power of the presidency was what it had always been: a system of cooperative relationships, a power that rested on people’s willingness to carry out the orders the president gave, and a willingness that came from that president’s respect for rule of law, truth, and the people. A man who gives an order that is not followed has his powerlessness hung out like dirty laundry. One day earlier this year, one of this president’s minions announced that the president’s power would not be questioned. There are tyrants who might utter such a statement and strike fear into those beneath him, because they have installed enough fear.

A true tyrant does not depend on cooperative power but has a true power of command, enforced by thugs, goons, Stasi, the SS, or death squads. A true tyrant has subordinated the system of government and made it loyal to himself rather than to the system of laws or the ideals of the country. This would-be tyrant didn’t understand that he was in a system where many in government, perhaps most beyond the members of his party in the legislative branch, were loyal to law and principle and not to him. His minion announced the president would not be questioned, and we laughed. He called in, like courtiers, the heads of the FBI, of the NSA, and the director of national intelligence to tell them to suppress evidence, to stop investigations and found that their loyalty was not to him. He found out to his chagrin that we were still something of a democracy, and that the free press could not be so easily stopped, and the public itself refused to be cowed and mocks him earnestly at every turn.

A true tyrant sits beyond the sea in Pushkin’s country. He corrupts elections in his country, eliminates his enemies with bullets, poisons, with mysterious deaths made to look like accidents—he spread fear and bullied the truth successfully, strategically. Though he too had overreached with his intrusions into the American election, and what he had hoped would be invisible caused the whole world to scrutinize him and his actions and history and impact with concern and even fury. Russia may have ruined whatever standing and trust it has, may have exposed itself, with this intervention in the US and then European elections.

The American buffoon’s commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe just a sieve (this spring there was an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils and sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune’s fool.

He is, as of this writing, the most mocked man in the world. After the women’s march on January 21st, people joked that he had been rejected by more women in one day than any man in history; he was mocked in newspapers, on television, in cartoons, was the butt of a million jokes, and his every tweet was instantly met with an onslaught of attacks and insults by ordinary citizens gleeful to be able to speak sharp truth to bloated power….

…The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.

POEM: Hell In A Handbasket

I would rather live…
In a trailer
That proverbial mobile homme
Seeing stars when roofs are razed
And nothing but realty at my back
As awe of creation is present
As I am
Looked down upon
Wading patiently fore that noonday star
When every real Job calls it a day
…Than exist
In a fool length feature
That mansion of a handbasket
With mirror interior decorating
Magnificent all the same
In funhouse pleasures
Overlooking up
In efface of the bottom of men’s soles
Knowing not what frees us

Foolishness and wisdom look different and produce different results.  Better to have a life well spent than merely saved.  Conventional wisdom often mistakes comfort for happiness, a grand foolishness.  High success and high status are virtually indistinguishable.  As the addled adage goes: winning is everything.  Wise souls are far too ardent and awe encompassing to abide only within the rules defined by one culture and one generation, one place and time.  Faith Trumps Skepticism PEACE BUTTONWisdom is necessarily counterculture, precisely because it seeks to move that culture, any culture, to a greater wisdom.  Acting within such a greater wisdom, not yet carrying the day, perhaps even amid night, often appears foolish.  Acting “as if” something is true is an existential conundrum we all face if we want to be more than what we are now, if we want the world and the rules by which it acts to be more than what they are at any given time.  Suspending disbelief is part and parcel for acting to perform its human artistry, and all of the world is a stage.  There are great truths in stories that never happened.  There are great truths in lives whose stories are bigger than one soul can live.  Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. MLK QUOTE BUTTONAbout now, the postmodern brain must choose between serving only that within its reach or venturing to awe that the heart compasses.  Fools are conventionally portrayed as having an addled brain, which is infinitely better than having an addled heart.  This poem compares wholehearted living with merely existing — whatever the sum of our daze.  A willingness to be viewed as a fool by the conventionally wise may very well be the difference between heaven and hell.  Fools invite others into a better possible world, however improbable, not a theater of the absurd.  Typically, others are busy doing something else, absurdly similar to those around them.

In contemporary times, live theater has largely been replaced by movies [dead theater?].  This poem compares living, in a movie trailer, to merely existing “In a fool length feature.”  And as we all know, movie trailers are quite reliably better than the full-length feature.

FAITH is greater than FEAR SPIRITUAL BUTTONOne of the great dramas on life’s sufferings, unfulfilled longings, and doubt versus suspending disbelief is the story of Job in the Bible.  As the ever-hopeful person that I am, I was reminded of Job 11:17 “Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.”  Such poetry!  Here is the whole chapter, as the lineup of doubters mock Job’s enduring faith:

Are all these words to go unanswered?
   Is this talker to be vindicated?
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
   Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
   and I am pure in your sight.’
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
   that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
   for true wisdom has two sides.
   Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
   Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above — what can you do?
   They are deeper than the depths below — what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
   and wider than the sea.
If he comes along and confines you in prison
   and convenes a court, who can oppose him?
Surely he recognizes deceivers;
   and when he sees evil, does he not take note?
But the witless can no more become wise
   than a wild donkey’s colt can be born tame.
Yet if you devote your heart to him
   and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your handYou will not enter paradise until you have faith, and you will not complete your faith until you love one another. Muhammad quote PEACE BUTTON
   and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
   you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
   recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
   and darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
   you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
   and many will court your favor.
But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
   and escape will elude them;
   their hope will become a dying gasp.

May we awe find, life during whatever daze might be present.

POEM: Love Is Scored

He did
Not necessarily
Believe
In evil
Though he found it
Much easier
To commit
Than endure
And hear in lies
Won lessen
As love is scored

The man who speaks of the enemy is the enemy himself. Bertolt Brecht quote PEACE BUTTONThis poem is a tribute to apologists for evil everywhere.  The lesser of two evils rationalization is perhaps the all-time most popular moral shortcut.  Unfortunately, when evil is embraced, morality is cut loose.  The “necessity” defense is actually an abnegation of moral agency altogether, pretending that no choice exists.  Of course, where there is no choice, there is no morality, or perhaps more conveniently, no immorality.  So much for freedom marching on!  For you can’t have freedom without its twin: responsibility, that bully big brother.  The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles mine. Stanislaw J. Lec quote PEACE BUTTONUltimately, one’s own responsibility is morphed out of existence into an other’s accountability.  He “made me” do it.  As we become an impersonal — and amoral — force for precious accountability, we polish a veneer of morality, all the wile avoiding personal responsibility for our own actions.  Most simply put, we become mirrorly a consequence of evil, our moral agency be dammed! We become an effect of evil rather than a cause for good.  Morality necessarily involves restraint, the project of limiting our choices, hopefully to good choices, among all possible choices.  The key point is that it focuses on self-restraint, not other-restraint.  It's hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head. Sally Kempton quote PEACE BUTTONThis shift of focus on accountability of others, presumably punishing evil, is classical psychological projection of one’s own shadow, dark side, evil onto an other.  No doubt, evil happens.  No doubt, evil costs dearly.  Projecting all responsibility onto others serves the convenient purpose of shifting the cost away from our own costly choices.  No doubt, morality is costly — just as evil is.  Enduring these costs is the stuff of a moral life.  This is the price of true freedom.  Evil runs over the good for evil ends, for its own sake.  Good revels in the good for its own sake, and somewhat paradoxically, lifts up, invites true freedom for others’ sake as well   If No Enemy Within Enemy Without Cannot Harm--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONHalf of the moral life is the willingness to live into what we know to be good.  Half of the moral life is enduring the inescapable effects of evil, what we no to be evil.  Only God knows the half-life of evil.  While it may be a truism that we do not get out of this life alive, we can live more than a half-life.  May you live fully!  Moral choices may be unclear.  Moral choices may be extraordinarily difficult.  Still, moral choices are always a choice.  To deny this is the paltry heights of amorality and a brutal equivalency of evil with good.

May you find wide-open love stronger than shadowy hate in your life.

Who is a hero? He who turns his enemy into a friend. The Talmud quote PEACE BUTTONTransforming hatred of the enemy into compassion lies at the core of all religions. Sister Helen Prejean quote PEACE BUTTONOur enemies opinion of us comes closer to the truth than our own. Francois La Rochefoucauld quote PEACE BUTTONPEACE QUOTE: Met Enemy He Is Us PEACE SIGN BUTTONIn the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher. Dalai Lama quote PEACE BUTTON

POEM: Life As A Breeze

Life peers to me
As a gentle breeze
With fragrant harmonies
In the tenderest victories
Know longer bought a bout by yielding hope
Prospecting in rock
Dead set, vane certainties
Or coarse inclinations
While a sole breath moves through me
Not ever posing
As superior
From above
Securely skeptical
Of won scoffing up
A flunked up humanity
As a praising sneer life experiences
From the cryptic
As a well found cynicism
In the phase of unmerited bounty
On a head of the game
As dead or alive know matter
As inspiring expires
Weather we apprehend or knot
And how ever we reckon our peeps
It is realizable
Still possible
Life sucks
Or with equal viability
Life blows
Seemingly a parent either weigh
A cruel duplicity
Winds of change
Running lapse around you
Leaving won too
Giving no quarter
And only making spare cents
As scorn points
Awe the wile know one wants
Too be still
As the heart beats
Have the time
Know longer wanting
Just deserts
A trial of tears
And fated watering whole
Pooring out
As in is capable
Only too fine life in such delugings
In this tempest of life
Wear wind and water
Meet on earth
In a saucy plan it
Of surf and turf
Wandering whether
Life is fare
A mist such room and bored
With awe of its chinooks and grannies
Ever present ciao time
Reigning in time
And timeless
A mid week prostration
And fateful eras
Wrest a spell
As a right full heir
Fore life is a breeze
Only to be
Bared at see

This poem is about the ethereal nature of human life and the breezy character of the human spirit, where success has more to do with experiencing fragrant harmonies than vane certainties.  Ever Wonder? SPIRITUAL BUTTONMy skepticism about skepticism partners with my playful heart as hope and willingness trump willful crass pragmatism or cynical “realism.”  Apprehending such tender truths is better realized as believing is seeing more so than seeing is believing.  Hope, gratitude, and unmerited generosity open our hearts to seeing better than through stacks of the thickest and most erudite reams of scientific reports.  A fruitful life of the spirit is a prerequisite for a meaningful and abundant life.  In a paraphrase of the Bob Dylan lyric, “You don’t need a whether vane to know which way the wind blows.”  May you follow the winds of the spirit without overly kneading to no from whence it comes or where it goes…

POEM: The Miraculous Doubt Her

Due
You believe
In miracles
Yes and know
Awe or nothing
Beyond your current
Imagination
And resounding may be

This poem of hope and expansive imagination is intended to both stretch and comfort your heart and mind.  There are wondrous things of which we know little.  Not knowing doesn’t have to lead to fear or anxiety.  Not knowing can spur curiosity and leave open a space of immeasurable size where hopes call home.  Only the haughty portend that there are no marvels outside the reach of human finitude.  Willingness to explore, hope, dream, and chart fabulous possibilities is the perfect complement to willfulness, a tenacious navigator of gutsy hope amidst fields of dreams.  Life can be harsh and disappointing.  Yet, inasmuch as we are the captains of our own fate, we are built for sailing, not the safe and limited usefulness of harbor.  While it may be trite that life isn’t fair, there is little doubt that life is excellent!  If your life isn’t a miracle, I strongly suspect that this isn’t the fault of God, real or unimagined.

POEM: Weepin of Choice

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

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

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

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

POEM: Uncollecting Notions

She collected
Dangerous notions
Putting them on
A shelf like
Sew many trinkets
Going know where

This poem is about living on the edge, the fringes, the margins — which are populated with dangerous prospects.  This poem is about being centered and confident enough to boldly go where you may have never gone before.  This poem is about experimenting with your life to truly be the change you want to see in the world, rather than mirrorly dress oneself up with others’ logos like some NASCAR driver for a sellout crowd.  This poem is about a willingness to make mistakes in order to learn and unlearn what we need to be a better person, to embrace imperfection on the messy road to our ideals.  This poem challenges the conventional wisdom of being collected and going know where.  This poem points out the inanity of safe, superficial living, or so-called living.  This poem is more about being than being branded — living life in that vast expanse between having a cow and having a sacred cow.  May you find your way for just today, and wake up, fresh, for anew tomorrow.

POEM: More of the Sane

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

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

POEM: Liberal Mined Violent

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

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

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

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

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

 

POEM: Trust is the Glue

Trust is the glue
Sticking me to you
The favored few
The spoils of many
Consume mating
The fool
Faith and credit
Of US
Divining
Kindly mirror
Or unwelcome truth
A confidence game
And quiet passably
Escaped convictions
Sow what
Is the catch
Having been borne
Into a flimsy throng
With shortcomings taut
Exposed arrears
And know weigh out
From what hangs in the balance
And scaling up intimates dread
Both
Give and take
Be for you
A present
A forward looking gift
Offering as such
Promise
Seasons swimmingly
A rested development
And good grief
Those early mournings
In one’s out look
As prodigal hearts aplomb
And despite awe
One knows
Turning out
To be
Better than goaled
And silver locks fall away
Any hitch
A mere trailer of coming attractions
The untangled web weave
And too the our
Looming cleave

Trust is the real currency of human relationships and civilization.  True community can only be built upon trust.  We are born vulnerable, and vulnerability remains at the center of human intimacy throughout life.  Authentic human intimacy can only be achieved through vulnerability.  Exploring our vulnerability with others, and sharing our burdens of vulnerability with others, is a necessary process for building trust.  If we put ourselves out there and we are accepted and embraced, the space where we can truly be ourselves and truly learn about others grows wider and deeper.  This knowledge and experience of ourselves and others is essential for reaching our full human potential.  In its most simplest terms, we need others to be fully human.  Trust is an invitation to trust.  If another reciprocates that trust, then trust grows.  If another shuts us down or hurts us, then trust stagnates or recedes.  Similarly, mistrust becomes an invitation to mistrust.

We have all experienced rejection and hurt, and many have experienced outright trauma.  These facts of human existence provide the baseline for how much trust we might expect at any given time.  However, building trust or healing from mistrust can only occur by inviting others to trust, which requires a vulnerability from anyone inviting another to grow trust.  These are the true heroes of human community, not those who “make” things happen (the purview of force).

Without trust we devolve into isolation and fear.  Individualism can only be maintained by increasing control over others whom we do not trust and consider threatening.  This does not play well with the people sought to be controlled.  This is the most fundamental division in forming, maintaining, and building human community.  There may be a nominal alignment of interests within social classes to secure common goals, but these interests will remain forever in tension and at risk of erosion if the primary driver is individual security.  The perpetual warring of competing interests, and continual realigning of interest groups, is an inescapable result of an unwillingness or inability to share vulnerabilities with other people, to invite mutual trust.

Further, the drive to control others emanates directly from a subjugation of the common good to our own perceived good.  Whether conscious or unconscious, this drive is based on the calculation or assumption that, as an individual, one can fare better by competition against rather than cooperation with others.  While this may be true in limited contexts and time-frames, such competition and subjugation erodes the potential for human progress or evolution at any given moment.  There are many things that a trusting community, of two or more people, can build than an individual, no matter how much force they can apply to others to control others according to their own will.  If you have any doubt about the benefits of trust, consider the simple advantages of unlocked doors versus locked doors.  A fortress mentality, built on mistrust, is costly both physically and psychologically.  Of course, physical security for one’s person and property is perhaps the crudest manifestation of trust’s benefits.  At the heart of trusting relationships is self-discovery in the safety of accepting and loving others, and deep knowledge of others; both of which vastly improve our functioning in the human world in realistic and effective ways.

Since community builds from a growing trust in others, it is not surprising that families and close personal relationships are the building blocks of community.  Even the trust of institutions near and far is powerfully mediated by our personal experiences and from the example, character, and opinions of those whom we trust, those closest to us.  For this reason alone, building community is a bottom-up enterprise.

You can’t legislate trust.  Trust is synonymous with authority, not power to coerce but that which we believe has a legitimate claim upon us.  Institutions seem to have a life of their own, a self-replicating or self-perpetuating nature.  However, human institutions are dependent on humans.  Any authority that an institution has is derived somewhere down the line from the “street cred,” the level of trustworthiness of that humans associated with that institution.  Institutions are comprised of a set of humans associated with it, and a set of impersonal “corporate” relationships that govern its behavior.  The consent and trust of humans determines the legitimate authority of institutions (as opposed to simply force), not the other way around.

At the nexus of the personal relationships of humans and the impersonal corporate relationships of an institution, is the next level of human community where trust and mistrust manifest themselves.  Institutions guided by trust are mere tools, a technology to be used, by humans, to achieve some common good.  They act in accord with the will of the people associated with it, and demonstrate authority in as much as it behaves in ways with legitimate claims to creating common goods.   Institutions guided by mistrust are those plagued by humans who value the tool more than the people it was designed to serve.  Such human plague trusts tools, things, more than people.

The difference is between humans using a tool or the tool using humans.  Of course, the tool does not have a life of its own, but its character is derived from the humans associated with it.   Used appropriately, institutions serve as a tool to magnify the common good, and they both deserve and build trust.  Used inappropriately, institutions are weaponized by some to control others, magnifying the invitation to mistrust, and degrading community.  This weaponization of institutions hinges on a mistrust that chooses valuing “things” over people, in a quest for individual security.  In essence, such institutional abuse is a form of dehumanization, reducing people (and their institutions) to things simply to be used for one’s own advantage.  This tension or outright conflict within institutions greatly magnifies the dividing line between people and things.  While institutions can leverage the common good, I suspect that the ease of hijacking institutions compared to the great effort required to build healthy institutions does not bode well for the total net benefit of large institutions in human life and community.  Large institutions with their relative ease of weaponization sets up access to perhaps the greatest area of power differentials in human society.  Perhaps the best basis for securing human equality is minimizing large institutions which can magnify power differentials between people.

I suspect that widespread trust is much more efficient and effective than the widespread large institutions, the hallmark of Western civilization, at bringing about healthy, happy, and free human communities.  The fulcrum between trust and mistrust is compassion, or love.  Without compassion toward ourselves and others regarding our vulnerabilities and imperfections, we will forever fall short of being whole human beings, who can only be made whole in community.  Compassion builds trust and can banish fear.  I am hopeful that the experience of authentic, healthy community is more powerful and attractive than fearful isolation and individualism.  May it be so…

POEM: The Game of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

I would rather
Be Job
Less than
Renounce
A living wager
And know place to lie
My head
My heart
Made homeless
In loo of
A fast fooled nation
For going
The beast
Wee
Can due
Hitched to number one
Number too
As on the line
For given debts
In place of
Solemn assemblies
And last riots
As wreck we him
For the masses
Left too
Starve
As a full groan man
Eschewing
A distended belly
And infantile grimace
Dis gorging
To which I object
A single finger
And vomiting
A sour second
Relative to the toil it evacuates
As vying a bowel inconsonance
And those who are but in
Fringe benefits over doo
Be rated by privilege takers
Of a hollowed hire power
Pro claim
There is no Black day for employment
The unanswered trump it
As if
Falling flat to some honky
Reveres discrimination
As dark daze per severe
The fecund material bound
Now a mushrooming clerical class
Beaten too
A bully pulp it    
Copious crumbs and the blest whines
Offering salivation
Like no me
Biblically
Throwing the book at me
Showing me the works
As if in some fooled court
Taking out
On me
Sum type
Of contract
Know labor
No food
Nor time travel to
’79 sense
For every dollared earn
Or as a payday loan
Cash here
Slipping through my fingers
Each day
For another till
My dreams standing still
Idoling money changers
On short order
Cooking the books
Serving as sum batterer
Or fry guy
Who is just
Greased
At the end of the day
Pain
You less
Than what
You learned
With respect to
Meat grate people
Seriously toying
“Be the happy meal”
As if
I whir
To halve a cow
And go to town
Drug by sum ferry tale
A bout
Worshipping some magic beings
Stalking skyward
As some giant rumble
To expose my hide
Wont to grind my bones
For their bred
My blood smelt
As iron away
From their golden cuffs
Razing my shackles once again
I will only ax once
As you know not jack
Weather the heavens fall
Either I am
Udderly fed up
Or my last words herd
Eat me
As I will only be
Food once
It’s just
Awe in a daze work

I wrote this poem today, all in a days work!  This poem was triggered by my experience last night at a community meeting, “Faith Conversations on Income Inequality.”  I was somewhat disappointed that of the two hours, less than 15 minutes was conversation.  The meeting was mostly didactic, with two detailed presentations, a short film well documenting the existence of actual poor working people in our very state of Ohio, and a short small group exercise (where some conversation occurred).

The kicker for the evening was after the meeting when conversing with a woman who I had never met proclaimed the disproportionately too-often cited and familiar, “If a person doesn’t work, then they don’t deserve to eat” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10).  Of course, the key word and concept in this passage is an unwillingness to work.  I might add dignified and humane work.  Either way, it certainly doesn’t apply to people who can’t find work.  Further, in the previous verse, the apostles speaking about their own self-support when visiting the Thessalonians, say, “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  This seems to state that they did claim a right to such help (food), but were modeling an additional value of not being a burden on others.  If the apostles accepted help, when they were able to pay their own way, and this caused a burden to another, then they shouldn’t take such a necessary resource from another.  The higher way modeled by the apostles seems more apt as a critique of people unjustly benefiting from paying poverty wages, thus causing a burden to others, than as a critique of food as a human right.  Perhaps a less sophisticated yet more easily understood response to worrying about hungry people getting too much food is Uggghhh!

I had really hoped for an opportunity to share personal experiences and perspectives on faith and poverty, or income inequality.  For better or worse, I’ve thought about such things my whole life.  Still, I am actually eager to learn more, as I continue on my journey.  The story of dealing with poverty seems to me to be full of good news-bad news.  In my case, the bad news is that technically, I have lived in poverty most of the last decade — technically, meaning that my average income has been under the federal poverty guidelines.  The good news is that I am the wealthiest person I know — of course, I don’t get out much!  Such a conundrum has provided much experience and raw material upon which to meditate regarding what is true wealth.

One main point that I believe could help bring a more balanced perspective in our dealing with poverty is this: from a spiritual perspective, we must give equal time to spiritual poverty.  This is perhaps most succinctly captured by Mother Teresa, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”  I see Jesus as quite clearly spelling out the dividing line: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)  And, of course, serving God is inextricably linked with serving our neighbors: ” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

A corollary of this spiritual view of poverty is that we must not stigmatize the poor, or dishonor God’s special relationship with them.  I half-jokingly put this under the moniker of: “You say poverty like it’s a bad thing!”  A couple of generations ago, Latin American theologians developed the concept of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”  In part, this refers to the special relationship that the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized have with God.  Their vulnerability manifest by oppression in the world creates an openness to God’s way.  This openness fosters a greater intimacy, deeper understanding, and easier access to living in harmony with God’s laws (ultimate reality).  Of course, harmony with God’s laws is counter-cultural to the status quo and the powers that be.  Intriguingly though, the oppressed already stare down the brutal realities of the powers that be every day; so, being counter-cultural is much less of a leap “of faith” than those who benefit from the status quo.  This is perhaps the most simple reason why top down change rarely, if ever, benefits the poor more than the rich.  Thus, the poor are already primed to adopt God’s ways, as the world’s ways sure as hell aren’t working for them.  Jesus is a striking example of acting in accordance with this reality.  Jesus spent the vast majority of his time with the dispossessed, and “regular” folks, the 99% if you will.  In a stroke of spiritual genius, Jesus planted his message among people who were both most open to God’s message and had their material interests aligned to move in a direction parallel to God’s ways, including, of course, justice.  No doubt, Jesus played a prophetic role, in directly confronting the powers that be, whether religious, political, or economic elites.  Such confrontations were likely inevitable.  Even so, Jesus brought an unwavering dignity, intimacy, and authority (street cred) to such encounters.  Jesus did not shy from his fully humanizing ways, even in the face of dehumanizing forces.  This was a palpable measure of how Jesus loved his enemies.  This is God’s ways manifest.  The poor have fewer barriers to accessing such ways. Let’s learn from the poor!

I have lived among affluent people of faith most of my life.  For the affluent, the vast majority of us in the so-called developed world, I am convinced that voluntary poverty and simplicity is the most powerful tool to transform our world, God’s creation, into ways friendly to abundant life.  I have drawn this conclusion from my profound failure to convince rich westerners to truly care about the world’s poorest.  I am a formidable debater, both informed and with heart.  Still, the misery of my failure to convince others with words is exceeded only, and greatly, by the misery of the world’s poorest.  I cannot escape the weight of my experience that the affluence of westerners, including myself, and the material conflicts of interest we are embedded in, is the single most important factor preventing such a conversion.  Better aligning our material interests with the poor, through voluntary poverty and simplicity, can unleash a cascading journey where the soul’s force begins to flow more freely, as water invites gravity to do its work — and the most grave law unbroken, that of love.  This poem of mine alludes to the freedom gained by simple living:

Dining with Kings and Queens
Courtly balls
Knightly duels
And priestly indulgences
You can avoid it all
If only you are happy
Eating beans

Probably the greatest illusion humans face is seeing wealth (and its companions, status and power) as an answer to all of their problems.  Surely, people have material needs, and those needs going unmet is a tragedy.  However, once one’s basic material needs are met, wealth becomes a disability to the individual and a disease to society.  There is a great body of psychological and sociological evidence that increasing wealth makes us less compassionate and less generous.  In short, wealth serves as a wedge between people and God.  Science confirms the truth of not being able to serve two masters.  People can, and do, argue about the role of material scarcity in the problems of poverty — just witness political wranglings about budget-busting social programs in the richest nation the world has ever known.  Nonetheless, there is one pervasive and undeniable fact: there is, and has been for at least centuries, enough physical resources to more than meet the material needs of every human on the planet.  In this light, spiritual poverty is exposed.  We can solve material want; we choose not.  It is not a close call!

Poverty worldwide is endemic.  Billions of people live on $2 per day or less.  Those most likely to be the poorest are women and children — so much for family values.  People of color are also at much greater risk.  Those most likely to go hungry are those who grow food, our farmers.  The only way this can happen is to literally steal food from their hands.  The rich claim a hugely disproportional share of the world’s resources, including the productive labors of billions.  All the wile, pawning sham scarcity as an excuse for their hoarding and ravenous ways.  Gandhi captured it well when asked what he thought of Western civilization.  He responded, “I think it would be a great idea.”  I concur.

With untrammeled globalization, poverty can only be adequately viewed as a global problem.  The causes of poverty cannot be isolated within one country.  We, as a world, are in the same boat — though, undoubtedly, there is an increasing chasm between the accommodations of first and third class.  Debt, just as in biblical times, is used to enslave people.  We are told that the world is in great debt, accepting it as gospel truth.  Yet, to whom exactly are we are in debt?  Pay no attention to the money changers behind the curtain.  Exploitation and robbing of natural resources unjustly enriches the wealthier.  Such profitable cleverness is called business.  Meanwhile, non-prophet organizations stand by impotent to counter this unseemly necessity.  And governments suffer from electile dysfunction. The good news is that the cancerous idol of endless economic “growth” may not destroy creation, with such abundance and ingenuity.  Praise be to God!  If only, God forbid, the dream of a worldwide “middle class” can be averted.  Work.  Buy.  Consume.  Die.

Less poetically put, the “powers that be” work on a global scale.  This juggernaut of globalization reduces humans to economic beings in a consumer culture.  People become means to ends, not being of sacred worth and inherent dignity.  To enforce this state of affairs, wars are waged as “needed.”  These wars, unsurprisingly, do not serve the interests of the dispossessed.  This global reality is rooted in a distinct worldview: poverty is not the problem; poverty is the solution.  While a tsunami of rhetoric speaks of jobs, unemployment serves to lower wages, not just of the unfortunate unskilled, but of skilled labor too.  More unemployment is good for (someone else’s) business.  And if you missed that memo, perhaps the desperation of unemployment and wage slavery has you occupied.  Such desperation can serve as a distraction and thwart a healthy, functioning civil society (see electile dysfunction).

There is an African proverb which says: where there is no wealth there is no poverty.  This ancient wisdom emanates from the experience of humans over many generations and cultures that concentrated wealth creates poverty, that is, depends on poverty. There is a powerful illusion that wealth brings wisdom, that the rich must really know something that we don’t.  Well, if they do, it’s most likely occult or a cult.  I cite the incisive lyrics of “If I were a rich man” from the play, Fiddler on the Roof:

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!

The truth is much simpler, and more stark: the rich need the poor; the poor don’t need the rich.  For those who might cite the droll biblical retort, “the poor will always be with us,” have you pondered this: if you think the poor are hard to get rid of, try the rich!

The diseased worldview of consumerism and capitalism has at least on Achilles’ heel.  This rests on the utter inability to answer a fundamental question in life: how much is enough?  Capitalism thrives on convincing you that you never have enough, you are perpetually lacking something (which we happen to be selling), and by extension: you are lacking.  This turns the Gospel’s worldview upside down.  The good news is that you are enough; God made you that way.  Return to this truth, and capitalism recedes to a perfunctory process describing the nominal exchange of goods — and the goods are actually good!

The meeting on faith conversations about income inequality focused on the United States.  While poverty extends far beyond, and is rooted in, the larger world, the U.S. can serve as an enlightening case study.  The U.S. just recently observed the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty” as declared in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.  [For poetic versions of lessons learned from the “war on poverty,” see my poems, Hungering for Answers, and War on Poverty]  The “war on poverty” is about the same age as me.  During my lifetime, the U.S. has grown about three times wealthier in material wealth.  Nevertheless, more Americans work, and they work longer hours.  Some gains were made in reducing poverty in the early years.  However, the overall trend since the late 1970’s has been stagnating or declining wages, especially when compared to skyrocketing worker productivity.  Income inequality is higher now in America than in the last hundred years.

For those with biblical commitments, we are long overdue for a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).  The year of Jubilee is a Sabbath of Sabbaths.  It prescribed forgiveness of debt every seven years.  In the fiftieth year — after seven cycles of seven years, not only was all debt forgiven, but all slaves were freed and all land returned to its original owners land.  This is the biblical prescription for preventing large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude through debt.  Let’s make it so!

POEM: Balms Around Every Corner

Truth lives at peace with facts
Facts war with truth
As an orderly
Gone astray
In an awe in compassing hospitality
Scurrying from one stat to the next
Drunk on 100% proof
And in all probability
Will perpetually pass attest
With no lack of patients
Ever-presently over-looking
Medicine beyond
Preyer or medication
Still interrupted
Buy balms around every corner
Wear all is qualm
Where residents may not be drug
Round after round
Caching bullet points
For the heeling of others
A pour trade for lush living
In truth
Many facts cannot pay
They’re fair
In a cosmos a-washed with excellence
As truth is tolled
One piece
Is not as good
As what fallows
Or even Quickens®
In know way pandering
Anything other
That which they see
The whole in their soul
Wonting more than a void

This poem addresses a very common theme in my poetry, the relationship of scientific certainties and metaphysical realities: facts and truth.  The relationship between our mind and our heart has a profound affect on how we order our lives and how we experience the world.  Like facts and truth, the mind and heart are not contradictory, in the same way that science and religion (physics and metaphysics) are not contradictory; e.g., “Truth lives at peace with facts.”  Nevertheless, conflicts arise dependent on our view of the whole (“The whole in their soul”).  Metaphysics, a necessary element of spirituality, is a transcendent, awe-encompassing view of Truth.  Physics, the world of facts, is also a necessary part of human reality, but a necessarily incomplete view of many truths/facts.  Physics is the foundation of everyday living, providing a highly predictable platform for a coherent life, the rationale making life feasible.  Metaphysics enlightens physics, shedding light on higher, more complete realities.  Metaphysics imbues physics with meaning, the reason to live.

The fundamental problem that I see in modern life, especially Western civilization, is an undue fixation of “certain” aspects of reality, e.g., “Drunk on 100% proof.”  This addiction to focusing only on the lesser robs us of meaning, in a barren self-fulfilling prophecy — which makes sense, it just sucks!  I think that such a partially blinded view of reality is wrapped up in fear.  Whether fear leads to such a worldview or such a worldview leads to fear is a which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg type of argument.  Regardless, they are self-reinforcing.  So, why is such a worldview so popular?  I suspect because the force of certainty is a great selling point in trying to come up with a comprehensive view of reality.  If you are a certainty addict, the line you draw around reality is highly predictable, exactly parallel to that diaphanous line where our five senses stare into the nebulous abyss of metaphysics, the world of feral uncertainty and unpredictable freedom.  This place of metaphysics is messy, at least at first glance; and many find it much easier to look away.  The strangely beautiful thing is that the world of metaphysics is as highly ordered as the physical world, even more elegantly so!  The crux of the issue is a willingness to venture beyond the comfortable certainty of reductionistic science, bringing things down to familiar level, where things are easily coherent.

The train to increasing scientific understanding certainly has many hubs, branches of science, but train stops typically end at the last station before metaphysics.  And going beyond one’s station is scientific heresy.  Nonetheless, such a limit is arbitrary.  First, even in the most orthodox science, there are unprovable assumptions (see Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem or my crazy poem, Wading for Gödel).  In short, the mathematician Gödel proved (yes, proved) that any mathematical or logical system will always have truths that lie outside the ability of that system to prove them.  Second, from our assumptions, highly ordered worldviews mysteriously arise.  This is true for both reductionistic science and metaphysics.  Reductionist science makes the most fundamental mistake possible, violating its most orthodox — dare I say sacred — premise, by blindly accepting that it is assumptionless, the most blessed assumption, making scientists merry.  Science can rightly test hypotheses, but not assumptions.  Science cannot answer the question of where coherency comes from, or even whether coherency is better than coherency!  I vote for coherency being better, but I can’t prove it!  In fact, science cannot even speak to better or worse, only what is (at least at the time of the experiment), and with high probability: IF this happens, THEN that will follow.  Even with science’s well accepted foundational assumption that coherence is better than coherence, the elaborate worldview which unfolds logically and through rigorous observation cannot account for meaning!  It can catalog, categorize, compare and contrast the many ways that people behave within posited systems of meaning, but science must stand silent in declaring any one system Truth.  This is the truth of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

Unfortunately, this inherent limitation in logical systems brought to light by Gödel receives little appreciation.  Plus, instead of going forward with this understanding, recognizing its implications for further advances, we continue down a proven illogical, scientifically heretical, path of some type of pseudo-logical imperialism.  We must transcend this dead-end.  There is not much surprise that the scientific revolution during the so-called enlightenment led to an atrophy of metaphysical literacy.  Any pondering of anything metaphysical, let alone “God,” appears that it necessarily must be degraded.  And we are left with an amputated worldview, reduced to science’s presumptuous and incomplete reach.  Meaning escapes our grasp.  Alienation grows.  In fact, the imperialism of objectivity cannot account for subjectivity at all!  In this bizarro world, you, as a subjective being, don’t even exist — or at least you shouldn’t exist!  Is it any wonder we have created a world unfriendly to humans?  At best you are just one more “thing” to deal with, and likely with your unpredictability, formerly known as freedom, you will find yourself less favored than inanimate things and virtual reality mimicking what we truly long for.  The ancient alchemists’ scientific dream of led to goaled has been sorely unachieved.  Without going the next step, embracing metaphysics, we are doomed, “Scurrying from one stat to the next.”  For millennia, humans have asked and earnestly tried to answer the great questions of life.  Taking on the tried and true methods of science — hypothesis generation and rigorous observation — schools of thought, competing theologies, and myriads of human experiments, have resulted in a rich body of metaphysical understanding converging on eternal truths endowing humanity with a wealth unfathomable by perhaps most post-Enlightenment worldviews that have been posited.  Still, gaining from such wealth requires an entrepreneurial spirit.

God is the greatest balm to go off in history.  God is the pinnacle of metaphysical ponderings and wanderings.  Embracing our own subjectivity and the tantalizing possibility of other subjectivies, most commonly recognized as humans, and less well recognized as God, enriches our universe beyond measure.  Exploring our inner life, our own subjectivity, with the same disciplined observation of science, yields new truths, beyond mere science.  Exploring the subjective realities of others and how they resonate or react with us, opens progressively wider and deeper possibilities.  Experiencing God can help center our subjective experiences around a unity in reality that transcends and transforms our being and functioning in the world.  Of course, speaking about God is even far less productive than speaking about food and expecting delightful tastes and bodily nourishment.  Nonetheless, human language, can be a launching point triggering hunger which presages satiation.  Experiencing God is a new birth that is best communicated by our transformed lives.  For me, trying to speak about experiences of God is the birth of poetry.  For me, writing poetry is the mind and heart making love.  Even then, the occasional offspring are less reliably joyful than the love-making.

As I like to say: life isn’t fair, it’s excellent!  May you find wholeness and hospitality in your most excellent journey.

POEM: I Dropped My Sword and Shield

One day I dropped my sword and shield
And as it turns out, it freed more than my hands

It is not unusual for me to want to see someone hurt; this is the metaphorical sword.  It is not unusual for me to want to protect myself and limit my vulnerabilities to others; this is the metaphorical shield.  On a good day, I find freedom in heaping compassion on all living beings, and opening myself to the reality that me and the so-called other are actually one.  It has been said that resentment is like taking poison and expecting another to die.  Resentments hurt me first, and then often go on to hurt others.  It has also been said that hurt people hurt people.  However, it is possible for me to break that cycle. And when the cycle of hurt is broken, I am the first one freed.  To live this way requires a lot of vulnerability, that is, dropping my shield.  While our culture often lifts up the virtues of the warrior, I believe that a willingness to experience hurt without passing that hurt on to others takes more courage than hurting others.  Punishment as a lower form of justice.  Also, by offering a break in the cycle of hurt it serves as an invitation to others to break the cycle.  The point is not to visit the karma of violence upon another but to escape that karma.  This is a higher form of just us.

Blood Donor Deferrals Border on Insanity

I just returned from donating blood at the American Red Cross.  I have been a regular blood donor for a long time.  I usually donate blood two or three times a year.  Unfortunately, I have been deferred as a blood donor for two of the last four years.  I was deferred as a blood donor twice for one year each time, both due to traveling to an area where there may be some malaria risk.  The first time that I was deferred as a blood donor was because of travel to Haiti.  The second time was due to travel through rural Colombia.  In my case, these deferrals resulted in a loss of 4 to 6 units of donated blood to the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross is constantly trying to recruit new blood donors and to get previous blood donors to donate again.  From the regular calls and advertising campaigns, I get the impression that the US blood supply may be low at times and that my blood donations are greatly needed.  However, I am struck by the huge range of reasons for deferring willing blood donors.  It seems to me that the threshold for deferral is very low.  The willingness to accept any nonzero risk is very low.  This approach is insane, or least pretty darn close.  The vain quest for absolute security and zero risk is a dangerous fiction.  I understand the reasons for wanting to avoid blood transfusion related adverse events.  However, deferring extremely low risk willing blood donors and potentially depriving someone of a needed blood transfusions is not a zero risk enterprise either.  As stated by Richard Benjamin, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the American Red Cross, “The most dangerous unit of blood is the one we don’t have.  Not having blood for someone who needs it is worse than giving someone a unit of blood that carries a 1-in-5 million chance of disease.”

I am not your average blood donor.  I have a master’s degree in public health, so I have training in epidemiology, the scientific study of the distribution of disease, health and their determinants.  Also, in the 1990s I worked in a health department managing an HIV-AIDS program.  I am familiar with the political and cultural forces that can distort our scientific assessments of risk management.  However, you don’t need a graduate degree to recognize that our culture has great issues around security and fear of losing or risking most anything.

Less than 38% of Americans are eligible to donate blood according to the American Red Cross.  Today, as I read through the pages of reasons for which you could be deferred from donating blood, I was struck most profoundly by the deferrals based simply on where one has lived.  If, in fact, the scientific basis for avoiding such blood donors is sound, then the entire continent of Europe should refuse blood donations from virtually its entire population.  This cannot be sound scientific reasoning.

In the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of hysteria about mad cow disease.  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 22 cases of mad cow disease in the United States since 2003.  Three of these cases originated in the United States.  Most of the other cases were from Canada, which you may note is not one of the restricted countries that will put you on the blood donation deferral list by the American Red Cross.  The United Kingdom was the epicenter for the mad cow disease epidemic.  While in the United Kingdom there had been thousands of cases of mad cow disease in years past, in 2010 there were only 11 cases reported.  Maybe it’s time for the American Red Cross to relax its deferral requirements related to mad cow disease. Or, maybe we should come up with a new diagnosis for this irrational insanity, and declare that the American Red Cross has Mad American Disease.  You are literally dozens of times more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning in the US then getting mad cow disease.  I’m not sure what the chance is of lightning striking the American Red Cross, but I would settle for a light bulb above the head of somebody who makes these crazy decisions.

Over the decades that I have donated blood to the American Red Cross, I have noted the quickly changing and almost always growing list of reasons to defer a willing blood donor.  As a personal example, I had malaria when I was an infant in Haiti where I was born.  During the ensuing 50 years I’ve not had any symptoms of malaria.  However, how the American Red Cross deals with this distant case of malaria changes back and forth.  Many years ago, the American Red Cross simply asked whether you have ever had malaria, and if you indicated yes, the nurse would ask more specific questions.  This always made for an interesting blood donation visit as I suspect there were few Ohio blood donors who had ever had malaria, and the nurses often had to consult with other professional healthcare staff to figure out what to do with me as a blood donor.  Although sometimes it took a while for them to figure it out, it never prevented me from donating blood.  Then, at some point later, they changed the question as to whether you had malaria in the last three years.  I can answer no to this question, and this streamlined my visit quite a bit.  Now, in recent years, they are back to the more general question of have you ever had malaria.  Fortunately, there seems to be better training among the nurses during the screenings and they do not seem to need to consult anyone else to determine that I am, in fact, eligible to donate blood.

The American Red Cross’ quest for zero risk seems to be marching on.  Since I last donated blood less than three months ago, they have added yet another safety precaution.  Now, when they stick your finger with a needle to get a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin, they place a plexiglass barrier between your finger and the nurse.  Really now, how often does anyone ever got blood splashed in their eyes from giving a finger prick?  More importantly, does this represent any risk worth worrying about.  If it does, I’d hate to see what such risk assessment would do to health care workers in hospital settings.  Perhaps we should expect nurses in hospitals to soon be wearing spacesuits just to be sure.  According to the CDC, “Health care workers who have received hepatitis B vaccine and have developed immunity to the virus are at virtually no risk for infection…the estimated risk for infection after a needlestick or cut exposure to HCV-infected blood is approximately 1.8%.  The risk following a blood splash is unknown but is believed to be very small…The risk after exposure of the eye, nose, or mouth to HIV-infected blood is estimated to be, on average, 0.1% (1 in 1,000).” For instance, for hepatitis C,  “the risk is considered to be less than 1 chance per 2 million units transfused.”  That’s for a blood donation recipient who has an entire unit of blood transfused into them.  The risk of  the nurse getting infected by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor would be on the order of that one in a million TIMES the chance of getting a drop of blood splashed in their eye when pricking a blood donor’s finger TIMES the chance that such an event could cause disease.  You can do the math yourself.  For the example of hepatitis C, conservatively, we are talking about one in a million times one in thousands times one in a thousand.  In the end, we are talking about no more than a chance of one in many billions of getting infected by hepatitis C by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor without having eye protection .  For the number of blood donations every year in the US, it would take centuries for this practice to expect to prevent even one case of blood borne pathogens.  The risk for hepatitis C is the highest and adding in hepatitis C and HIV would not substantially change this basic calculation.  From the resource perspective, the question becomes how many billions of times do you want to place a plexiglass barrier between you and a potential blood donor to prevent a single case of infection?

I am well aware of the emotional place from which the quest for zero risk comes.  Unfortunately, the emotional experience of wanting to live in a zero risk world does not match up with a simple costs and benefits calculation of going very far down that road.  It quickly leads to unjustifiable contradictions.  Why defer blood donors due to a nearly incalculably small risk for mad cow disease from people who spend significant time in Europe but not Canada, where most of the US cases have originated from?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Starting a deferral process for people who spend significant time in Canada would expose the insane balance between actual risk and actual costs in trying to avoid the risk.  It seems that we can “afford” to ban, for example, military servicemen who were stationed in Germany or England from donating blood in order to “buy” some unscientific sense of security in our blood supply.  I recognize that plenty of people are willing to pay such prices.  I just ask that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that these choices are based on scientific evidence and well-reasoned analyses of risk management.

Another example of blood donor deferral that rests more on cultural biases than scientific and well-reasoned risk management, is The Lifetime Ban on Blood Donations from Gay Men, where policy analyst Robert Valadez writes:

“So where did this policy come from? And why is it still enforced despite advances in technology that can identify HIV in a unit of blood within days of infection?

The policy dates back to the early days of the HIV epidemic, when knowledge of transmission was nonexistent. Recognizing the disproportionate incidence rates among gay and bisexual men, the FDA responded by enacting a policy that prohibited all men who had sex with other men from donating blood. The year was 1985. Twenty-six years later, the policy remains unchanged.

Current blood donor eligibility criteria are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior. For example, a heterosexual person who has sex with a partner who is HIV-positive is eligible to donate blood after only 12 months. Yet the policy permanently bans all gay and bisexual men, even those who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or in monogamous relationships”

Like many experiences in my life, I find that even the wonderful experience of saving lives by donating blood, comes with the collateral costs of having to participate in the system that is driven by an insane quest for zero risk.  This insane quest has costs.  It has costs for the blood supply and the people who depend on it.  This insane quest for zero risk has costs for those who are subjected to its unscientific cultural biases, and for all of us who live in an environment that unnecessarily models for us this insanity and vanity.  Life has risks.  There are reasonable and scientific ways to reduce these risks.  We should pay attention to these.  However, we should not be driven and reduced by unreasonable fears, unfounded fears.  As is often the case in life, that which we feel threatens us gets a disproportionate amount of our attention.  Nonetheless, we should look at the full range of costs associated with trying to avoid some threat, and realize and accept that risk is an integral and unavoidable part of life.  I would hope that the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, in its broadest sense, would kick in as we live into the fact that taking and accepting risks can far outweigh the costs of those risks.  Maybe even the American Red Cross will take a risk and pare down its blood donation deferral list.  We can always hope — though this entails some risk…

Birth Control as a Human Right – Toledo Protest

On Friday, February 6, about a dozen protesters gathered outside St. Anne’s Hospital on Secor Road in Toledo, Ohio.  This protest was organized by the Toledo Chapter of the National Organization for Women (see Toledo NOW facebook page), it also supported by Occupy Toledo.  The purpose of this protest was to advocate for birth control is a human right.  This was triggered by the recent decision by the Obama administration to require that organizations owned by religious groups must provide birth control as part of their health insurance plans.  This rule does not require that religious groups themselves must provide birth control as part of group health insurance plans to their employees, only to those employees that work in organizations owned by religious groups, such as a Catholic hospital.Birth Control is a Human Right - Toledo Protest

Anita Rios, President of Toledo chapter of N.O.W., demonstrating for birth control as a human right (photo courtesy of The Toledo Blade).

I went to this protest.  When I pulled into the massive empty parking lot of St. Anne’s Hospital, I was greeted by two of their security guards.  They immediately asked, “Are you from Occupy Toledo?” Indicating that I was there for the protest, they told me that I could not park there.  Now, that’s what I call radical hospitality!  I recognize the right of private property, but I can’t help but find it ironic, that respecting the right of a woman to be the steward of her own body and her own life is trumped by a claim of religious freedom.  Personally, I consider conscience and religious freedom, the stewardship of one’s soul, the most sacred thing in which we are entrusted.  Also, I recognize that conscience and the functions of the state will inevitably come into conflict at certain points. The only question I would ask, that when religion and the state comes into conflict, can one tell the difference between a religion and the state.  I find nationalism as a religion is completely repugnant and patently idolatrous.  I will stand against such idolatry every opportunity I am afforded.  In the same vein, when I find that religion functions largely as just another interest in society, it profoundly diminishes its sacred role in society. So, how does one tell the difference between a religion and the state?  I would submit that a willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests for a larger good, and ever larger good, is a way of sacred living that points to the ever “more” that God is. Of course, with nationalism, that ever larger good comes to an abrupt end at our geopolitical borders and a rather crass commitment to our national interest ( as opposed to a global interest, or an interest in protecting creation).  With religion, the demarcation of giving up on an ever larger good is usually at the boundary of that religion’s institution.  This is where conventional wisdom takes over.  In the case of Christianity, the gospel becomes foolishness.  The profound and mystical sacred texts that speak about dying in order to be born anew are too large to be held within the boundaries of an institution.  In more practical terms, this is seen as sacrifice, self-sacrifice, giving up something of lesser value for something of greater value.  I am eagerly waiting to see the Roman Catholic Church’s response to this conflict between church and state.  If, in fact, the reality for the Roman Catholic Church is that its doctrine is sacred, then I would expect that they would be willing to pay a large price in order to see that its doctrine becomes manifest in the world.  Let me be clear.  When I say being willing to pay a large price, I mean that they themselves are willing to pay a large price, not forcing others to pay a large price.  The latter is simply the ways of the world, conventional wisdom, bad news.  If the Roman Catholic Church is willing to take on huge fines to witness to the importance and value of this doctrine that they hold to be true, then they will earn a commensurate measure of respect from me.

Birth Control as Human Right Protesters in Toledo, Ohio

Toledo Protesters Demonstrating for Birth Control as a Human Right

Defending and promoting one’s values is costly, typically in direct proportion to the value of those values.  I was delighted to join a dozen or so protesters who were willing to put a little skin in the game, invest a little time, enter the fray, risk ridicule and misunderstanding, etc. to demonstrate how much they value birth control as a human right. May many more join the fight for this and other human rights!