POEM: Tasting God

Tasting God

I almost tasted God
In what turned out
To be
A fine guacamole
A common mistake
Well worth repeating

I find eating guacamole a religious experience.  As family legend has it, when we lived in Haiti when I was a toddler, my Mom found me under the kitchen sink eating rotten avocados.  While in college, I food poisoned myself with a bad batch of guacamole.  This imprinted in me an aversion to avocados which lasted for months.  Fortunately, I have fully recovered — and then perhaps some!  Though I delight in avocados, I rarely buy them.  Mostly because I am cheap, and somewhat poor.  Partly, because I have so many delights in my life where I can access God, many of them sensual.  I suppose if God hid better in my life, I might have to resort to avocados more frequently.  Fortunately, my sweetheart is familiar with this highway to God, and she feeds me avocados with some regularity.  One of her many titles is “Giver of Guacamole,” though in goddess-like ineffableness she seems to resist pet names.

This poem plays with the experiencing of God as a sensual experience.  The almost tasted God suggests that it may be close to experiencing God, but perhaps not directly.  Of course, the “turned out to be” could mean that the mistake was in the almost.  Either way, the experience is well worth repeating; and if there is some mistake involved, the sheer gloriousness of a fine guacamole should amply cover any falling short.

POEM: Synctretised Swimming

Synctretised Swimming

Unearth as it is in heaven
Land and see
The evolution
Of God’s creation
And learn
Who or what
Our teachers be
In theology schooled
Like fish in water
Expounding on thirst
All the wile
Shitting where they drink
Considering it a symphony
When just one movement
And by miracle
Pinching loaves and fishes
Feeding scores
Still
Some live on bread crumbs
And what will follow

This is one of those poems that came to me in the middle of the night, and a few lines quickly grew into a full poem.  The poem’s title, “Syncretised Swimming,” is most apparently a pun of “synchronized swimming.”  Probably less obvious, is the reference “syncretised” which refers to syncretism.  “Syncretism is the combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, while melding practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.”  Religious purists view syncretism as some form of error or heresy.  This poem speaks against such religious purism.

So, why the “synchronized swimming” reference?  Schools of fish swim in perfect synchronization, moving the same way instantly, in a way that science cannot explain.  This mystery is used as a parody reference to the three seminal lines: In theology schooled/Like fish in water/Expounding on thirst.  Trained theologians, awash in mystery, manage to move in surprisingly similar ways, apt to expound on a set of similar abstract truths that may engender blank looks like when trying to explain thirst to fish in water.  Theology undertakes the humbling enterprise of trying to make mystery a science.  Of course, mystery cannot be fully explained by science — that’s why it’s mystery.  To try to reduce mystery to a science would deny and kill mystery by pretending to banish it.  My objection to religious purists and the issue of syncretism is that ultimately there are things that we cannot know, in principle!  Philosophers and theologians call the discipline of what we can and cannot know, epistemology.  The heart of theology is ultimately unknowable in any modern scientific sense.  This rubric of theology builds in an irreducible amount of hubris for any absolute claim.  This is why I see a necessary foundation for spirituality is openness, especially if one is looking for a living God that moves.

The reference to evolution evokes a popular conflict between scientists and some religious people, most heated between those scientists who don’t understand epistemology and religious folks who don’t understand science.  I don’t think that there is a conflict between religion and science.  Rather I view religion and science as complementary fields which need to give proper due to one another.  I intend the analogy of evolution more specifically as a context for my mixed metaphors.  Most poignantly, the line “Shitting where they drink.”  For humans, generally understood to be more advanced than fish, “shitting where you drink (eat),” is an obvious and palpable example of short-sighted and self-destructive behavior.  For fish, not so much.  The difference is context.  I think that religious purists tend to view syncretism in a limited context, perhaps not worthy of the unfathomable depth and diversity of God’s creation.  As a biologist, I look at human culture as analogous to ecosystems.  There are countless possible configurations of thriving ecosystems.  I see human culture as similarly adaptive; though human’s seem to have an accelerated trajectory of epic successes and epic fails.  What this ultimately means is appropriately a theological question.  Nonetheless, I have perhaps a more synchronous view of religion and science, whereby they are both judged by their fruits; what is produced, what works, what follows.  Of course, the most intriguing questions are not about mere utility and manipulation, but what constitutes a good end or state of affairs.  In this case, theology trumps science.  Which is fine in my book, as long as it doesn’t thump science.

I get a chuckle out of how God can take our impure, zigzagged paths and sanctify them. I get somewhat less of a chuckle out of how we humans can seem to take credit for this through our various programs of sanctification, none of which are very pure.  As a former United Methodist, I chuckle that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement never envisioned as separate denomination but desired only to be an Anglican – of which he lived, breathed and died.  Of course, the Anglicans, the Church of England, is a sooty descendant of the Roman Catholic church which had irreconcilable differences with a King over divorce.  Even further, Christianity, at times claimed solely by the Roman Catholic church, is founded upon Jesus, a Jew who never wanted to be anything other than a Jew.  Yep, Christianity is a Jewish sect.  Thank God for syncretism, holding it all together amidst our unholy messes!

POEM: Ad Dulled State

Ad Dulled State

Well come
To this ad dulled state
What will it take
To see the light
Tell a vision
Divining every yen
Razing the whys
Jacking up
All that meters
Taxi’ing every quarter our
Static being drug
Swallowing minute libations
To our own
Dram nation
Pros astute
Shop lifting thirsts and seconds
Feigning coy
Eat us
Interruptus
Lusting an instant
To be
A loan
Stop the word and let me get off
Yet in the end
A foreign language oui read
LITTLE PRINTS
Exposing
Astor risks
Like a John going down on the Titanic
Can that
Be conceivably kosher
Such an untold clip
That diabolic scroll
In nothing flat
Can we circumspect nothing else
So ordained
A diction
Razing
High couture
That calling
NOW
To see double
Speak easy operators
Reaching the hype
Of pop culture
Soda whatever happens
The dream of auto pilots
Every wear
Fashioning model consumers
In compassing all the rage
Insuring all lost
A luxurious cell
With the laidest technology
Everyone fast
Food again
Con fronting counter fits
With an app petite
To be ravenous nevermore
Conquering SOBs hankering
Whatever man
You fractured
To undemanding specks
Whatever you craven

The near omnipresence of advertisements in so-called advanced civilization can lead to an addled state of mind.  Capitalism cannot resist, and even lifts to a virtue, monetizing everything possible.  And where does this road lead?  To one big commercial, occasionally interrupted by life.  The need to convince people about all of the needs that they didn’t even know they had takes unrelenting programs of repetition assaulting our senses in increasingly novel and clever ways.  Our brains can find little refuge from such assaults.  Weather coy interruptions or sensory overload, the lowest common denominators of sensuality, status, and power tempt and train our baser instincts to buy products basking in their glow.  Unfortunately, the glow of big-screen televisions, neon lights, and fancy packaging rarely deliver even a fraction of their alleged benefits.  The truth evaporates like ethereal promises scrolling by as incomprehensible fine print.  We are expected to rest upon verbal promises not even worth the paper they aren’t even printed on.  Such means produce similar ends.  The consumer is consumed.  Elusive wants grow larger the closer we get.  In our dreams, we Chase Freedom™ like a fairy tail.  Our simplest needs are crushed under the weight of gadgets, accessories, and the inevitable infestation of bugs in Life v.16.2.01.   What we need is life unplugged.  A blackout might reveal what is truly electric.  Even in the darkest of ages, those who are be-wild-er-ed will find a road less travelled.  The best things in life cannot be manufactured.  The best things in life are free — that is, if you can pay the cost…

POEM: Taken In

Taken In

What powerful minds
Can wrap themselves around
Pails in comparison
To the sea of mysteries
Taken in
By an open heart
Keys to a door unlocked
Incite weighting
A mountain of presents
Countless
Un-rapt
By lesser mines
Fuels goaled
Lead buy ail chemistry
Living on bread crumbs
Sour grapes
And ancient plumbs
Which might
Make rite
Miss taking
For old prunes
Spurring nature’s calling
Turning awe
Into mere droppings
What more fertilize see
Beyond star dust
Big bangs
And clever hides
Sphering only
That wee are food again
For the gods
Flailing to clutch
Their pursed ellipse
Unquipped beyond their gears
And graveyard shifts
From wents the flowers come and go
And to the see returning
From a where
The eternal calling
With endless drops
Echoes beyond mine
Let it go
And be
Taken in
By an open heart

Not surprisingly, the title of this poem, “Taken In,” is a pun.  “Taken in” can mean being fooled or conned, indicating gullibility; or, it can mean invited in or accepted into.  An open heart is vastly larger than even an open mind.  The heart is the only organ of perception that can take in the whole of life.  Even the most powerful minds are constrained by the mind’s own faculty of dividing and analyzing; and while the mind can synthesize, it is limited by the parts available to it, unable to access the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  The mountains of presents that life offers stretch far beyond our minds reach.  Only by opening our hearts can we be taken in by the whole of life and take our rightful place and role.  I see the heart as naturally open, our default condition.  Nevertheless, through conditioning of hurt, fear, and uncertainty, we may learn to close our hearts.  I particularly like the image of “keys to a door unlocked.”  The fact that the door is open and unlocked must sit with the intrigue of the door having a lock and you possessing a key, not to open the door which is already open, but to lock it.  This “incites weighting,” trying to lock up parts of life for our own.  Unfortunately, however much we are able to lock up for our own, we will end up with less than if we kept the door of the heart open.  Clever minds may on occasion get the upper hand on those with open hearts, but cleverness is no substitute for wisdom.  Cleverness adeptly grasps and manipulates for its own purposes.  Wisdom lets go, and is taken in by a high power, better aligning oneself with higher purposes.  May you be taken in…

POEM: Tracing Humanity

Tracing Humanity

They say that
You can tell
A lot
About a person
By what they do
This, of course, is on track
Still, there is a better weigh
The difference between animals and humans
That which earthly scales can’t fathom
Consider what someone won’t do
To trace their humanity
The difference between can’t and won’t
That sacred space
Where freedom occupies
And character reins
Cryptic secrets contain
Not in the telling
By lyings in the sand
But outlined simply in chalk
After words fly
And beings are grounded
You can judge one’s humanity
By where they stand
And where they won’t

Many folks assert that you are what you do.  This may be correct, but it is not the complete story of who we are.  All ethics and morality implies some restraint of power, refusing to do something that we have the power to do.  If we have no choice in the matter, no power to choose anything differently, then you are no more bound by ethics than a billiard ball.  Certainly there are aspects of our lives that are out of our control and these aspects define us to a certain extent.  In addition, our lives are defined by the choices we make, sculpting a positive manifestation of who we are, an example to others.  However, to fully trace our humanity beyond the motion of molecular physics and merely measuring external behaviors, we need to ascertain that which we will not do.  This will more fully complete the outline of our integrity and character, defining our humanity.  Because ethics and morality imply restraint, there is an irreducible type of rebellion at the heart of spirituality — the refusal to do something simply because one can.  In popular psychology, such limits are called boundaries, and boundaries are considered essential to our well being.  These boundaries, the outlines of our humanity, are marked not by words, but by our very selves, whatever skin we have in the game.  What we are willing to die for fleshes out what we are willing to live for.

Nevertheless, many “heady” folks get lost in the puzzling reality that we must voluntarily limit our freedom, in the face of questionable authority, in defining ourselves.  While capturing the rebellion at the heart of spirituality, many are extremely uncomfortable claiming any authority.  They get lost in a related conundrum: by what authority do we question authority?  I believe that the truth that is contained in this conundrum is that an irreducible amount of faith is present in skepticism.  Faith is unavoidable!  What we choose, and refuse to choose, manifests our faith to the world.  I believe that the uncertainty, or tentativeness, that pervades the human condition, is evidence that remaining open is a fundamental way of of being congruent with reality.  Of course, an irreducible amount of tentativeness need not result in perpetual indecisiveness, just openness.  This openness also speaks to a dynamism in life where we adapt and grow in response to changing conditions — may we not settle for less!

Every great spiritual tradition is aimed at openly moving beyond our self, nurturing that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism, and not settling for a “self” contained logic or worldview.  This process can lead to greater harmony within our own experience and within the world we live in.

When I see people caught up in recursive conundrums, cursing over and over in frustration, I find this perfectly captured by the French word “oubliette,” which is a little place of forgetting, a small, windowless room where someone is locked away, forgotten, left to go mad.  May you not forget to nurture that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism.  Denying that you have any faith is maddening, and the surest route to a room without a view.  Faith is unavoidable; enjoy the view.

Sometimes believing is seeing.  Changing our perspective allows to see more of reality.  Plus, how we view a situation helps form that situation.  Like I used to say to my kids, with the not uncommon reluctance to go to school, “You don’t have to go to school, you get to go to school.”  The same situation with a different attitude changes that situation.  May you find that glorious balance of serenely accepting that which you have no choice about, wholeheartedly jumping into that which you may, and stubbornly resisting that which you cannot take with serenity and a whole heart.

 

POEM: The Deep End

The Deep End

I fell
Off
The deep end
Only too narrowly
Missing a shallow end
As was my aim
The river is wide
Full of whys
Like some
Chicken of the see
Not to swim
To the other side
To get over
The waterfall
Planted from above
To churning, disorienting bellow
Grasping for breath
Vainly trying to separate
Water and light
Wallowing in a rainbow
How becoming
I am
Proclaiming
Deep and wide
Once
Is enough
Or, yearning only
Too due it
Again

The deep part of the river of life is the center.  The point is not merely to cross over the other side — as if efficiency in this matter were some virtue — but to experience it longly and deeply.  Of course, going over the deep end in a river is a waterfall.  Again, the point is not merely to “get over it,” but to embrace it in awe of its churning and disorienting bellow.  Drink life in, even choke on it, rather than leave via a “shallow end.” Accepting the sheer beauty of life in its totality can be a powerful spiritual practice leading to more robust experience — though some may recognize that you have went off the deep end.  Without incessantly trying to break life into good parts to be sought and bad parts to be avoided we can better appreciate the epic arc of life, and our own story within it.  Of course, lived well or poorly, most of us can identify with both feelings that “once is enough” and “let’s do it again!”  May it be so.

POEM: Revolutions Violent

Revolutions Violent

Any revolution
That must dispose of enemies
Remains
Mirrorly
A turning
Of the tables
Going round
Not with standing
How grate thou Art
And wore
A game that can only
Play you
Fraught with duel intentions
That two-sided sored
Giving rise to dark knights
In the theaters of life
Gone batty by our blindness
Convinced of our sound mind
Squealing beyond any hearing of just us
Re-lying on eary reflections of reality
A doody-full radar responding to this MASH
Efficiently allowing for corporeal punishment
Beyond the mountaintops
And promised lands
MLKing our hopes
With bullet points
Only outlining
The gravest of matters
In chalk
Where truth lies
And faux canons
Turn on
US

Violence begets violence.  Violent revolutions must declare violence inviolate, seeding the next violent revolution.  What goes around comes around.  Playing God with war ends up in us being played.  Violence and killing demands the denial of another’s sacred worth.  This truth is the first casualty of every war fraught.  The drums of war are beaten with solemn speeches, truth-challenged bullet points, and faux demonization.  The myth of redemptive violence lays the bloody groundwork for violence in all forms, providing the easy cover of necessity — “you made me do it.”  As the theologian Walter Wink puts it, “The myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known.”  Unfortunately, these unsound canons always turn on us eventually.  Of course, taking responsibility for our own actions, and our own dark impulses, may be even more difficult than making others pay for our shortcomings with their lives. Yet, as I like to say: peace may cost as much as war, but it is a much better deal!

POEM: Navy Yard Killings

Navy Yard Killings

In these crazy times
Of senseless killings
Nations seek a return
To sensible killings

There are many levels of crazy.  There are perhaps even more levels of crazy when it comes to killing.  I am not surprised at all that mass killings by “crazy” shooters rip the heart out of a nation and its citizenry.  I am more surprised that killings as part of an industry, a solemnly premeditated projection of military power unparalleled in human history, are accepted as routine, “business as usual.”  Even as these crazy shootings rip our hearts out, as a nation we seem stuck in a place where such crazy killings seem to be a new normal.  The most recent mass killings happening at a Navy shipyard juxtapose these two seemingly separate realities with some irony.  Is the convergence of accepting as a new normal, as unavoidable, crazy mass killings within our borders in “civilian” settings somehow related to our longstanding societal acceptance of war and other “extrajudicial” killings.  I suspect that they may be.  Nevertheless, I hope that our experiences as victims of violence helps us develop compassion and empathy for those routinized military situations where we are the perpetrators of violence.  President Obama, in the memorial service for the twelve people murdered at the navy shipyard, quoted the ancient Greek poet, Aeschylus:

“Even in our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart until…
in our despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

May we gain a wisdom through our awful losses, a wisdom that transcends violence.  As the dead continue to speak to us, through our grief, let God’s awful grace remind us that every one of us is loved — by family, friends, neighbors, God — regardless of our status as victim and/or perpetrator.  And may this unconditional love, the awful grace of God, reigning on the just and the unjust, transform us into a peaceful people, at home and abroad.

I dream of the day when the violence of war will be as unacceptable as slavery/human trafficking.  Only when nations lay aside their weapons will the peace where one side fits all become a reality.  God’s awful grace demands it.

POEM: I Could Have Swore

I Could Have Swore

Backs against the wall
And faceless
No name to call
Wandering
If anyone
Ever
Will get their drift
Homie-less
At the center
A cross person
Surrounded by thieves
And gawkers
In a sea of blindness
In heaving this very day
Like a bunch of drunken sellers
With a king dumb struck
At hand
Suffering
A body politic
Right
And left
A loan
In perpetual lent
Wanting us to be saved
A dollar store
Perhaps
Inescapable worries
Of exactly how spent
Just
Give me
Those goddamned crackers
And a little whine
On my breath
My broken body
And bypassed heart
Giving
For you
Not me
I am
A men!
All of life taxing
Except perhaps one percent
Forgetting the rest
Waging undomesticated lives
Unmanageable
Where people have to sell themselves
To survive
And giving it away
They are down with that
That lame walk away
I could have swore
I was in church
Universal
Unconditional
Love
Going off like a balm
Proclaiming release
To those dammed feelings
In unfamiliar tongues
Wheel gather together
In a circle unspoken
Everyone faced
Crying only
Jesus
We need a man
Who knows what it’s like
To be
Unfucked
And when we see him
Will wee
No it

This poem was inspired by an open mic session held at a church where several people made comments throughout the evening about how they were editing their work and/or trying not to swear.  I’ve long felt this was a somewhat odd thing, given my understanding of God.  If God is the Lord of all and omnipresent, why are we so concerned about doing something wrong or inappropriate in a church building.  Frankly, I am much more perturbed by religious folks who are all pious and reverent on Sunday and offer offense freely to God throughout the week.  Swearing as an offense is technically “taking the Lord’s name in vain.”  Of course, the Lord’s name is not a series of letters spoken.  “Name” here refers to God’s character.  To speak or act as if God’s character is powerless or meaningless — “vain” — is the offense.  It seems to me that God is way more concerned with our actions than our words, and whether our actions are consistent with God’s character.  Having said that, I can recognize that irreverence and humor can actually be a very effective tool to deflate the pious and self-righteous.  In this case, irreverence is reverence to God’s character.  I definitely can swear that God’s character is mysterious.

POEM: Straight Shooter

Straight Shooter

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

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

 

POEM: Relationship Test

I like to be alone
Especially when you and I are together

I wrote this as a love poem.  Surprisingly, really surprisingly, I did not see the second way to read this poem. Herein lies the test.  If you read this poem as especially wanting to spend time alone together, then you pass.  If you read this poem as especially wanting to be separate when you are together, you fail.  If it is YOU who wants to be separate when together, then you have won a big red flag.  However, if you read the poem as your significant other as not wanting to be with you when you are together, this may merely indicate that YOU may have some insecurities about your relationship — not a bad thing to know.  Of course, if you, both of you, want to be together, regardless of any constellation of insecurities, then you can devise your own consolation prize alone, together.

Interestingly, I only became aware of the second way to read this poem after I gave it to my sweetheart — clueless meets insecurity?  Nothing a little alone time won’t solve…

POEM: Finding Myself

One day I found myself
What do you know, it was right where I left myself

Amidst the ennui of modern society, people are prone to set about finding themselves.  Amidst fast-paced living, there is a tendency to look ahead and move forward, expecting to find ourselves there.  This poem about authenticity suggests that looking back into our experiences can offer clues to where we parted from our true selves.  Perhaps more importantly, sometimes we just have to stop chasing happiness and let happiness catch up with us.

POEM: Unemployable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Traveling North Still

I was traveling on a journey
And it was definitely not south
I watched the mile markers grow in number
Until I found myself in a different state
Noticing that
The mile markers restarted
And lo, it was different
Though northern still
Through and through

No matter what direction you are journeying, something will change.  What a joy to travel on a journey that is good (“definitely not south”) for a long enough time to see the proverbial mile markers rack up!  Nonetheless, at some point, things will transition to another state.  In this new state, the markers of progress along your journey will change.  This typically requires a recalibration of our thinking, a new start.  While most of us hope and pray for new starts, at least somewhere along the journey, new starts, even those viewed positively, require effort and some re-orientation to new conditions.  This poem addresses the issue of integrating new states and experiences into a coherent and positive larger journey, such is our life.  Faced with constant change, we can still keep our eye on the prize.  There are things in life that can be counted on.  Natural laws can be uncovered through science and meditation on the existential realities of humanity’s place in the world (that is, through physics and metaphysics).  There is a true north that transcends any human timeframe or temporal set of conditions (“states”).  Regardless, of if or how we think of true north it is still.  Perhaps most comforting, it can provide reliable beacons in which to frame and map our life in a coherent way, “through and through.”  Seeing our various journeys as a coherent AND positive story is somewhat trickier.  Given that most of reality is outside our control, that is, we can’t change it, can we view this “helplessness” as a positive thing?  I, for one, regard a persistent order to the world as a magnificently beneficial state of affairs.  On the other hand, that persistently elusive free will and subjectivity at the center of our being carves out a space as delicious as it is bewildering in which we get to reign ourselves into this world.  This is that space that is irreducibly ours.  We are free to act within it and act out into the world.  We have soul responsibility for these free acts, that is, that of which we have control, namely, ourselves (or at least that “part” of ourselves).  Since, this freedom seems to define what it means to be humans, many focus most of their attention to this aspect of our being.  These are the “way existential” people.  Many others just have a way overblown sense of what they are in control of!  Unfortunately, if one does not balance out their focus on freedom with an adequate understanding of the larger part of the universe, then their freedom will be running blindly, ignorantly into the rest of reality (that which we cannot change) with painful results.  By simply making note of those thing which stay the same regardless of what we do, we can avoid a lot of hurt.  Of course, teasing out the sometimes subtle differences between what we can change and what we cannot change is the stuff of wisdom.  This all rather succinctly captured in the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

May you have the wisdom to make a difference, in your own life, and in the world around you.

POEM: Walling Yourself In

I am reason
Number 921
For building a wall
Between you and me
Overly ecstatic
Seemingly erratic
You think that you are keeping me out
But you are just walling yourself in
Weather a fence
Or a prison
Your own freedom you steel

There are many reasons, perhaps even 921 reasons, for building walls between people.  However, in the end, it’s impossible to close out other people without closing yourself off.  Ironically, experiencing truly free people can feel exasperating (due to them being overly ecstatic, seemingly erratic) and may lead to protective or defensive responses, e.g., “building walls,” literally or metaphorically.  The irony is that by trying to limit others’ freedom you risk limiting your own freedom.  Of course, freedom isn’t everything; but without freedom, everything else may be rift of meaning.  So the next time you face some discomforting anarchism, take solace that freedom is not only being defended, but lived.

POEM: Love Tag

“I love you.”
“I love you back,
you’re it!”

One of my more simple love poems, this playful back and forth is an invitation to continue exchanging loving acts and loving expressions.  Of course, “you’re it” is a pun, as an expression in the game of tag and as an expression that you are the one with whom I want to exchange love.  Keep playing!

POEM: Efficiency Expert

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: My Ransom

I had drug
All my holdings
To the pinnacle of possessions
And the depths of conceded
Realizing
Long the way
It was
My ransom
Delivering me

Oftentimes our possessions end up possessing us.  Like a drug addiction that has a hold on us, requiring more and more to get the same high.  Many will concede that wealth, status, and power lead many to be conceited — having to put more and more people below them in order to feel the same high.  This is the dark side of wealth.  However, sometimes the very pinnacles and depths of our “holdings” reveal, perhaps by simple contrast, another way.  Something works until, well…it doesn’t work.  By letting go of our “holdings” a whole, new world frees up beyond the world of things.  Exhausting a vast array of other possibilities before a transforming epiphany may be a long way.  Nonetheless, if it serves as our ransom, then it may very well be worth it — a sacrifice of something lesser for something greater.  May your possessions lead you to a better place…

 

POEM: Paying Attention

Are you too broke to pay attention?

This one-line poem most directly seeks to de-link material wealth from perhaps the greatest tool available to humans: consciousness, or mindfulness.  Being able to access mindfulness, regardless of wealth, status, or “worldly” power, is perhaps the greatest foundation for achieving justice and equality, as well as “enlightenment.”  Being mindful of our inner life and our outer life, particularly other sentient beings, better aligns us with reality. Mindfulness is necessary to mine the inner life of our own subjectivity and how this may resonate with others’ subjectivity (including any conception or belief about God).  Mindfulness is necessary to accurately, minimizing bias, “objectively, ” understand the outer world we share with others.  While mindfulness is simply a process, the end result is compassion and empathy, which I believe is the glue that holds humanity together.  By truly paying attention to the difficulties of life encountered by ourselves and others, it is nearly impossible to avoid developing compassion and empathy.  This includes humility for ourselves, in facing the daunting challenges of life.  This humility serves as a shield from hubris, the arrogance that distorts our own view of ourselves in relation to others and discounts our many ignorances about ourselves and the world in which we live.  I am not too broke to pay attention.  However, I am just enough broke to appreciate humility and the many graces which even allow me to ponder such matters.

POEM: Taking Care

Take care
Steal it if you must

There may well be an epidemic of people not taking good care of themselves.  This is often times due to an undue focus on other things and other people.  Of course, caring for others is a good thing.  It is a prevalent ideal to hold up others as more valuable than ourselves.  This can be a valuable spiritual exercise in many instances, to help overcome our own egocentricity and selfishness.  Still, the idea of valuing people is violated if we don’t value ourselves.  We need to strike a balance of caring for self and others to achieve and maintain abundant care for all concerned.  If I am depleted by not taking care of myself, then I harm my ability to care for others.  You can’t give what you don’t have.  To achieve balance and equality in valuing people, we often times need to love and care for ourselves more, rather than loving and caring for others less.  By caring for ourselves, we empower and even leverage our ability to care for others.  To achieve the ideal of treating people equally, we need to include ourselves as a person worthy of equal treatment.  Plus, modelling a balanced approach to caring for all people equally, including ourselves, may very well be the best gift we can give one another.

This poem is intentionally provocative to perhaps jolt someone who is not caring for themselves well into a better balance.  Acknowledging our own sacred worth may help center ourselves around our worthiness to receive adequate care.  Receiving adequate care is a human right on par with receiving our daily bread.  While at first glance, stealing some care for oneself may seem objectionable, it should receive at least as much compassion and empathy as a starving person stealing some bread in a world of abundance.  For we don’t live by bread alone…