POEM: I Do What I Love

I do what I love
I do what
I love

One of my greatest tenets of evangelism, sharing of good news, is encouraging all to follow their passions and do what they love to do.  It is a form of spiritual insanity to expect that we can manifest love in the world without doing what we love.  Love comes from love.  The way of love is love.  Fortunately, love finds a way in life even without our choosing it, ever inviting us.  Love does not depend on you or me, but when we participate in love then love grows all the stronger.  May your life, in all your doing and being, converge with love.  If not acting in accord with love, then your life will not be worth beings, and you will find all else that piles up in your life is simply what you do do…

POEM: Writing Poetry

I like writing poetry
except for the writing part

Writing poetry is an art from the heart.  If there is work in writing poetry, of which I don’t find much, it somehow relates to brain functioning.  My favorite definition of writing poetry is the heart and the brain making love.  Making love is usually about the experience itself rather than some particular outcome.  Of course, if you are trying to make a baby, this would be a notable and epic exception.  Quite oddly, the reader gets the final product, the poem, the baby if you will.  And like most babies, they can be quite messy, even a complete mystery.  Plus, the parent consistently finds their own babies more beautiful than others.  Most importantly, the poet gets the experience of composing the poem, the making love.  In my opinion, the poet gets the much better portion.  No doubt, a great poem can replicate much of the joy in the reading as in the composing.  Nonetheless, there is something intimate, personal, and even private, that the poet alone garners.  This poem alludes to the fact that the actual writing of a poem can often be the work or effort expended to make accessible some of the poet’s inspiration to others.  This may be the least beneficial aspect to the poet.  Certainly, poets would like to experience a resonance and appreciation of others.  Perhaps more certainly, the poet cannot expect much tangible compensation.  Thus, to the poet, the composing is often the most treasured aspect.  There is sometimes a chasm between the intense joy of creating and the created, a mere image of the creator’s experience.  This can leave the final product, the written poem, seeming something like word porn, unable to capture the act of making love, except perhaps as peeping into another’s private act.  Hopefully, on a good day, my poems will be experienced as heart-mind erotica.  If not, just screw it!

POEM: Blood Donor

Blood Donor

I work 24/7
365 days a year
I work holidays and vacations
I even work in my sleep
I am a blood donor
My work is a gift
Enrichness
Serving what is but hours
The miracle of life
A present shared
Through countless vessels
And singular hearts
From whence it comes
I pay it forward
I save by giving
As the circles of life
Grow stronger in us
For today it is my bag
And some day it may be yours

I have been a blood donor most of my adult life.  Not too long ago, I got my 5-gallon donor pin from the American Red Cross.  Donating blood is one of the easiest ways to save a life.  As an answer to the perplexity some have regarding my relaxed lifestyle, eschewing work (at least in the form of a “regular” job), I joke that I work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Of course, this is referring to my job as a blood donor — which pays just about as well as my other jobs!  In my job running TopPun.com — maximizing prophets — I work virtually all the time as well, through the labor-saving device of the worldwide web.  Similarly, I see most good work as nonstop.  As Gandhi said, “My message is my life.”  In my quest for rest and abundant sabbath time, I am communicating an important message to the world: abundant rest and sleep are integral to a wholesome life.  Thus, I am working even in my sleep.  So, if you want a job that you can do in your sleep, allowing you work 24/7 and remain well-rested, I would highly recommend being a blood donor.

You can download this blood donor poem here: Blood Donor Poem.

POEM: Picket Fences

More people are imprisoned
By picket fences
Than steel bars
Sometimes by splinters
Sometimes by stakes
Through the heart
Lonely in the end
To come home

Dreams of white picket fences have waylayed many more lives than prisons or jails.  The temptations of desperation and criminality that lead to prison are much more easily identified, and such temptations have obvious negative societal reactions that help keep them in check.  The temptations of materialism and comfort are much more subtle, and even more pervasive.  The structure and mores of Western civilization reinforce, even laud, such temptations.  The fact that the worldview where “greed is good” can persist at all is the best evidence for the backwardness of modern, capitalistic society.  Religious folks have commented that the greatest accomplishment of the devil is to convince you that he doesn’t exist.  This is a stunning metaphor for recognizing the powerful human tendency to downplay, ignore, or even lift to the highest value, our dark side.  Only by a steady awareness of our dark side, and a commitment to an equal compassion for ourselves and others, can we hold in check our baser instincts.  Of course, wrapping our most base instincts in dreams of white picket fences may pass for civilization, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. The sadness and disillusionment reflected in this poem is about the all-too-common reality that chasing our dreams may leave us feeling alone, even in our dream house.  May you set your eyes and heart upon the finest things in life, and wherever this leads you, may you feel at home.

POEM: Whimsically Beat

You may beat me physically
But I’ll beat you whimsically

The unbearable lightness of being calls for whimsy, not brute force.  Violence is appealing to persons of low character.  Whimsy is an invitation to the finer things in life.  For instance, humor and generosity are much more powerful forces than terminal seriousness and Scrooge-osity.  The lighter, finer things in life are inviting, wooing others to join in something larger and better.  Brute force is the purview of unimaginative minds and withered spirits.  Of course, the divide between violence and nonviolence is in one’s perspective.  I like the analogy of weak and strong forces in physics and their reach across larger regions.  The “strong” forces like electromagnetism are very powerful over very short distances, but negligible at larger scales.  The “weak” forces such as gravity are negligible at atomic scales, but reign supreme at scales comprising the overwhelming majority of reality.  Humans live at a scale where both of these forces are important.  In this analogy, I view violence as the so-called “strong” force dominating smaller contexts and negligible at greater human scales and beyond.  I view love as the so-called “weak” force, which seems to be helpless in limited contexts, but ultimately rules the fate of the universe!  I seek to harmonize my being more with the fate of the universe than brutish turf wars.  Of course, we could just whip out our perspectives and see which is bigger…

POEM: Pulling a Steckler

Pulling a Steckler

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

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

 

POEM: Certifiable

Certifiable

Respectability is the currency of the establishment
A religion of red carpets and relics
Propriety is its only denomination
Holding sway with all that moves
Trafficking in status
A multitude of sins covered in fine veneers
Indulgences purchased by another’s blood
Endless memorials to the dead
Crass facades for the living
Taken by mausoleums
As easy cache for what remains
Bequeathing scant prospects
Save those certifiable

Conventional wisdom is, well, conventional.  Wisdom, however, exceeds the merely conventional.  A fuller wisdom operates at a transcendent level, more than triangulating conventional wisdom in ever finer ways, with ever more data collection and ever better statistical models.  Wisdom sees beyond conventional wisdom, beyond mere facts, beyond mere statistics.  Wisdom sees beyond.  Respectability and status are the conventional ways to “succeed” in a given culture, intently focusing on existing landmarks or maps, and taking advantage of existing power structures.  A higher wisdom envisions new and better conditions and ways of being, and works in a way that transforms power structures to be fairer and more accessible by all, not merely privileged classes.  Most simply put, and perhaps most radically, true wisdom seeks a new and better world for all, for more.  Conventional wisdom settles for adroitly manipulating current realities to harness the status quo to one’s in-group’s advantage.  Generally, this is called winning or succeeding.  True wisdom necessarily crosses the boundaries of current conventional thinking and the status quo.  This is dangerous as it pioneers new territory, crossing the powers that be.  Nevertheless, such wise living is powered by the faith of fuller living and the hope of things to come.

This poem strikes at the lack of heart of conventional wisdom.  Still, this poem is not intended to negate conventionality, but rather to breathe life into, to give it heart.  True wisdom functions at a higher level, recognizing a higher order.  This brings order, or perhaps more aptly put, harmony.  The higher orders the lower.  Otherwise, we will live backwards lives, necessarily disordered.  Without hearts overflowing into the faith and hope of a better reality, life stagnates.  By only mastering what is, we confine ourselves, and others, by voting for hopelessness, not putting faith in the possibility of betterment for all.  There is probably nothing more dangerous to life’s vitality than hopelessness.  Such cynicism is a form of death.  Cynics, who often prefer to be called realists, may memorialize the dead but settle for building crass facades for the living on foundations purchased with the blood of others.

Like the eminent physicist and less well-known mystic, Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”  There is at least one thing certain: there is no mathematical model that can predict the future merely from the present.  If you try to predict the future based solely on the mountain of past facts and thin present, then you will be certainly wrong!  It’s time to start living in the future, not the past!  It’s time to start living into the fullness of life that is our present!  Our present state can be taken as unbearably thin somehow requiring us to accept only this emaciated reality; or, our present state can be taken as a launchpad of our robust hopes and generous dreams.  Life invites us to more, ever more.  The cynic may be right on occasion, as all of our hopes and dreams do not come to pass.  Nevertheless, wise and hopeful people cannot deny their hopes and dreams regardless of the probability of being right that the world is wrong, in knead of betterment.  Cynics are destined to be right in certain ways and wrong in ways they cannot predict.  Either way, they are predictably less happy.  The wise are destined to be right in some ways, the ways that right the world.  Any way, they predictably have greater happiness.

The wise bring hope, a dangerous hope, that invites us into a better future.  The possibilities are endless and somewhat less certain.  Hope is a game that must be played in order to be won.  More often than not, the odds are favored, and when not, rock on, leading in the light of possibilities more than cowering before dark probabilities.  The cynics vainly attempt to follow an even path that cannot be the future.  Cynics invite the danger of no hope.  And all of the difference lies in certifiability…

POEM: A Rude Invitation

Violence is an invitation
To more violence
And a rude invitation at that
Such invitations need not be returned
As you might have guest

Violence begets violence.  Means produce ends.  How can we escape this vicious cycle?  Must we accept every invitation offered to us?  Do we possess the freedom to decline an invitation?  Or, does violence rob us of any possibility of responding nonviolently?  There is little question that violence demands a response!  Returning violence for violence seems to be the first responder, but rather than healing only creates more victims and a cascade of crises.  We need to look beyond our first, most base, response.  Otherwise, violence becomes enacted in our lives as a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If Gandhi was wrong, and peace is not possible, then war defines both our means and our ends.  I believe peace is possible.  To practice making this a reality I simply rule out violence as a legitimate means.  Once violence is ruled out, then creation begins.  By setting a boundary disallowing violence on my part, I create the conditions where I must find alternatives, creative alternatives.  Many are uncomfortable with such a pacifist practice because they don’t want to sacrifice what might possibly be a legitimate practice of violence.  Though perhaps most importantly, disarming oneself may be way too dangerous too oneself and much too much work for most.  Nonetheless, my experience is that a working assumption of violence as a last resort, is largely a wholesale acceptance of invitations to violence.  As a classic example, the so-called Just War Theory, in practice better resembles the It’s Just a War Theory!  In fact, no nation has ever declared its assent to the just war principles, let alone that they have met them.  The powerful emotional response to violence is too closely linked to a similar, if not more-so, violent response.  Rage is simply too often too difficult to reign back in once violence is chosen.  Nonviolence is the prudent path.  As far as violence goes, which is routinely too far, we shouldn’t even go down that path — don’t even go there!  War, the grossest manifestation of violence on our planet, requires demonizing entire populations and groups of people to be “successfully” waged.  Preying on the epic human weaknesses of xenophobia, parochial patriotism, and unjust gain fuel the engines of war.  Channeling the outrageousness of violence into long-term, creative nonviolent responses strikes me as the way, and the goal, out of unending violence.  Channeling the emotions stirred when confronting outrageous injustices should stir a deep commitment to human rights, as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which the United States of America has never ratified).  Such a commitment to universal human rights propels the nonviolent to challenge nations to higher standards than the wholesale violation of human rights that is war.  If we fail at this challenge, and refuse to return the invitations to war, then war will persist, as you will have guest.

POEM: Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Chapter 58 – Isaiah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: My Indian Name

After my vision quest
My shaman told me
From now on
My Indian name would be
“Rhymes with orange”
Only having never
Seen an orange

This short poem can be viewed as one of my more whimsical poems, or perhaps not.  The poem begins with an epic undertaking, that of a vision quest.  A vision quest is an anthropological term used to denote “(especially among some North American Indians) the ritual seeking of personal communication with the spirit world through visions that are induced by fasting, prayer, and other measures during a time of isolation: typically undertaken by an adolescent male.”  Whether the poem descends into the depth of absurdity or ascends into the mysterious heights of the spirit world depends on your perspective.  My perspective positions itself on the thin line between the seemingly absurd and meaning itself.  While my poems dance about this magnificently thin line, I quite consistently fall on the side of meaning.  The venture of poetry itself may be aptly characterized as trying to use words to bring about an experience of reality that is beyond words.  The secret twist is in the Indian name chosen by the wise shaman, “Rhymes with orange.”  This moniker would be recognized by most poets and most anyone schooled in rhyme.  The commonplace meaning of this moniker is that there is no appropriate word to fill the shoes of such an attempted rhyme.  Exactly!  To drive the point home is the juxtaposition of the reality of “Only having never/Seen an orange.  The point of whether this reality is that of the shaman or the vision quester is intentional left vague, because the answer is “yes.”  Not only is there the elusive task of trying to find a rhyme for orange, but the poet, even using any existing universe of words (including “orange”), must select words that can never fully capture or exhaust the depth of the underlying reality one is expounding upon!  To risk getting impossibly lost in the paradox, the poet expounds on that which either has not been fully seen or cannot be fully seen (or at least communicated).  The poet’s job can never be finished.  This results in some not bothering with such a Sisyphean task, confronting newly discovered absurdities endlessly.  Others recognize the wide open field available for willing workers, mining the never-exhausted world of meaning.  Your choice is your.  My choice is mine.

POEM: Mere Image

I look in the mirror
At a real piece of work
And I thank God
That genius recognizes genius
Sharing more than mere image

I am more than the sum of the images that you can make of me. If you can’t see the genius in this, then there isn’t much I can do about that.  The same as is with genius is with God.  Defining God is like trying to define pornography.   As one judge once famously said, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it” –Justice Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 US 184 (1964).

Some may cry out “Hubris!”  This poem’s assertion may strike some as arrogant, lacking in humility.  However, humility is a double-edged sword.  Humility is not only about not making yourself out to be bigger than you are.  Humility is also about not making yourself out to be smaller than you are.  Humility is about right-sizing yourself — you might even say righteousness.  To look at God’s obviously unfathomable creation and assert that it is only as it appears, is hardly a Kodak moment worth the film it is imprinted upon!

I will go a step further.  For those daring to contend that there is an inner self, then some may see this as merely about inner and outer worlds.  Endless images of the outer world cannot capture the inner aspect within me.  True.  Nevertheless, I contend that I cannot even fathom the real piece of work that I am!  There is part of me of which I cannot make sense, cannot be defined.  It is beyond me, transcendent.  Yet I know it when I see it.  I find it wholly.  And I stand dumb, humbled.  I want to share more than mere image.  Yet I can see if you don’t see it.

POEM: Twittering Away – Owed to IPO’d

This poem is in tribute to today’s initial public offering of Twitter:

Twittering Away – Owed to IPO’d

Is there a longing beyond
The public stocks
IPO’d
Buy and buy
The Alpha and Beta of existence
Reduced to 140 characters or less
Hovering around tiny luminaries
Passing flesh and mortar like gas
A lusty err to some backwards throne
The writing on the wall
Its singular accomplishment
Bringing the end nearer the beginning
Posing as prose
Vainly bard
To the twitter’s fear
Like the teeniest scandal
In the wind
Exercising their ABBs
As won voidable six-pack
Dreams taken by whizzes
Raining in banality
Hailing nitwits
Flailing to put sole
Too their brevity
A game of hash tag
With a phony high
Never getting off
What’s beneath them
Trumped up charges
Powering a virtual reality
Their fullish ways
Dealing only
In fractions
Courting daft years
As married to miss demeanors
A puerile of grate value
Not just
For characters shy
Of simply being gross
Twittering away
Your life
In the palm of your hand
Exposing your briefs to the world
The embarrassing lengths
Willing to disclose
In heiring your dirty laundry
To the whirled

This poem is a tribute to a technology infrastructure that serves as a superhighway to the inane.  Of course, I’m slamming it ode school!  I’m surfing the vapids, because this insipid superhighway is littered with abbreviated lives, and perhaps the farthest thing possible from the novel!  Twitter is appropriately named.  Humanity flits about distracted by all but the punyest ventures.  Here is to trading up from private capital to the capitol of privates!  So beat it!  Unsuccessfully littering, your company papers and your loan company are strewn with thousands of public heirs. Congratulations, you’ve graduated from matriculating in class, to a mere one hand out from a classless society.  In the face of such inaneness, I must admit: IPO’d.  Still, I for won, am not buying it.

NOTE: there is a very obscure pun in this poem. ABB is the stock symbol for a robotics company.  I think that they build them with 100% irony — you can rust assured.

POEM: Civilization

Dogs pee to mark their territory
Humans build walls
This is called civilization

There are up sides and down sides to civilization.  Western civilization shares at least one thing in common with canines: they both demarcate their territory by the waste they leave at the interface between their territory and the wild.  A dog’s territory is just seems less removed from the rest of nature.  Nature has a way to deal with waste, with its intricate recycling processes.  Nonetheless, humans, in their quest for advancing civilization, put increasing pressure on natural resources and natural processes which maintain balance and health within ecosystems.  Not surprisingly, it appears that humans cannot build a wall secure enough to separate itself from the very environment that it depends. The human race does not yet seem to see the finish line as harmonizing with nature, but rather as exploiting and controlling nature.  This reality is a backdrop for this short poem.  The main gist of this poem addresses the larger issue of human nature.  Humans have their own culture, which seems to be a quantum leap different than other life forms found in nature — separate if you will.  Is this epic clash between human culture and many harmonies of nature at the essence of human nature?  Our propensity to building walls physically, emotionally, and metaphorically, seems as evidence that this might be the case.  Or, are these clashes and divisions simply stepping-stones in the evolution to some higher balance?  The advancing complexity of civilization strikes me as a confounding mechanism that is a barrier to achieving such a higher balance.  There is something profoundly simple in appreciating the harmony of nature.  We should not discount its value by its omnipresence; on the contrary, we should heed omnipresence!  Western civilization’s apparent addiction to increasing complexity and control, in my judgment, is a dangerous substitute for the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature.  Western civilization’s current heading is dangerously imbalanced.  Reestablishing this fundamental balance resides in the already present wisdom of nature rather than some further development of technology to control an unruly nature that can only bend so far to our whims.  Ultimately, we must make peace with nature, or humanity will suffer great harm, perhaps even extinction.  Perhaps this is exactly the awareness humankind must gain before it can evolve to a higher level.  May we grasp the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature and resist the temptation to worship our own ingenuousness to temporarily forestall impending doom.

POEM: Eternal Seasoning

A house divided soon Falls
From fair-weathered friends
A summer fallowing
Hommés united spring eternal
From perennial buds
After a parent winter
So goes
The eternal seasoning
A savor for all
The whirled

This short poem is about hope, friendship, and collective action.  I must give props to M.K. Gandhi who said something with a similar sentiment: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it — always.”

Hope is a common theme in my writings.  Partly because the world so commonly seems in so desperate need of hope.  Partly because I find the nature of hope intriguing, elusive and indefatigable!  After all, I literally graduated from Hope College!  Of course, it was with a B.S., so you may want to take what I say with a grain of salt.  Though, personally, I’d prefer that you’d take it with innumerable grains of salt, as in Gandhi’s Salt Campaign for independence from British rule:

Led by Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Congress’s Working Committee decided to target the 1882 British Salt Act that gave the British a monopoly on the collection and manufacture of salt and allowed them to levy a salt tax. Although he faced initial ambivalence and opposition to the idea of targeting the Salt Laws, Gandhi asserted that salt would help unite Indians of all religious communities, castes, and regions for salt represented a basic and crucial dietary need that the British colonial government monopolized for its own benefit. By encouraging all Indians to defy the Salt Laws by manufacturing and selling salt themselves, Gandhi argued, Indians could collectively challenge the authority of the Raj.

At the time of the Indian Salt campaign (1930-31), the United States was in the Great Depression, as a result of reckless financial speculation, another great trickle down from the money changers of the world.  Some things never change.  The more recent Occupy Wall Street movement recognized that the 99% vastly outnumber the 1% and that direct democracy, empowering the masses to take control of their lives without relying on the profiteering inter-mediators of the 1%.  Many mourn the rising and falling tides of social movements, but the currents favoring truth hold sway forever.  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”

The “house divided” reference is both to Mark 3:25: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand,” and the famous speech by Abraham Lincoln during his presidential re-election campaign amidst the Civil War (NOTE: “civil war” is perhaps one of the greatest oxymorons ever).  The most famous passage of the speech is:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

As described in Wikipedia, the people’s encyclopedia, Lincoln used this speech to frame the epic moral and political question of the day:

“Lincoln’s goals with this speech were, firstly, to differentiate himself from Douglas, the incumbent; and secondly, to publicly voice a prophecy for the future. Douglas had long advocated popular sovereignty, under which the settlers in each new territory decided their own status as a slave or free state; he had repeatedly asserted that the proper application of popular sovereignty would end slavery-induced conflict, and would allow northern and southern states to resume their peaceful coexistence. Lincoln, however, responded that the Dred Scott decision had closed the door on Douglas’s preferred option and left the Union with only two remaining outcomes: the United States would inevitably become either all slave, or all free. Now that the North and the South had come to hold distinct opinions in the question of slavery, and now that this issue had come to permeate every other political question, the time would soon come when the Union would no longer be able to function.”

This poem attempts to capture some of the flavor — the eternal seasoning — of this perennial cycling and recycling of the work for justice throughout our lives and across generations.  Savor the high tides, but be not discouraged when the tectonic shifts of social change seem imperceptible.  Winter always passes, and hope springs eternal.  And if you still have a headache from all of this, just mix two metaphors, ingest gently, and call me in the mourning.

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

POEM: A Forgetting God

Remembering God is almost as hard as God forgetting us

Remembering God can be difficult.  Remembering God can be particularly difficult if we are not trying to remember God.  I believe that we all experience God, though some of us may not name it that.  Most simply put, God is love.  If we remember love and imbue our life with these loving experiences, then we will be well on our way to living Godly lives.  Every healthy relationship is reciprocal.  While remembering God may be difficult at times, recalling occasionally that it is even more difficult for God to forget us can bring comfort and serve as an invitation to a deeper relationship.  God’s call is better characterized by the woo of a lover — Love itself! — than a jilted lover in an unreciprical relationship, waiting by the proverbial phone for a call back.

I wish that traditional religion would harness this metaphor of lovers, the wooer and the wooed.  I think this meets resistance because some people think that it may imply some type of equality of humans with God; though most religious conservatives don’t necessarily see a reciprocal equality in human sexual relationships as an ideal anyway.  However, perhaps most importantly, institutional religion seems to have real issues with sex and sexuality.  The story of the virgin birth is perhaps the pinnacle of this disconnect: God has sex without really having sex, or daring to imbue a human sex act with divineness.  Then, Jesus is overwhelmingly seen as some asexual being.  My view is that these narratives are massive barriers to Christianity embracing a healthy human sexuality.  Jesus is purported to be fully God and fully human, yet the Christian narrative is notably silent on how Jesus manifests divinity as a human sexual being, except for not engaging in sexual acts.  I don’t consider total, lifelong (in Jesus’ case until age 33 at his death) abstinence as a feasible model for the perpetuation of the human race, or as particularly helpful for most people’s lives on earth.  Surely, there is a fuller picture that can be drawn.  Intimate sexual human relationships strike me as fertile ground (time to pull out the big puns!) for experiencing deep love, which is the stuff of God.  I pray for a way for Jesus to better redeem sexuality, which would go a long way to redeeming Christianity.  And the Church said, “Woo!”

 

POEM: Laundered Hearts

Laundered Hearts

On those journeys
Through dark
Night
Watches
Ending only
With mourning
Broken
Finding yourself
Alone
With a ponderous God
Separating darks and lights
Threatened by grays
Hanging on by hairs and threads
Frayed
Washed out
Left
Only
Facing
The new borne
With blues and pinks
Occasional
Fresh attitudes
So nigh eve
A tough pill to swallow
That great beyond
Slipping passed
The Adam’s apple
Impassable to unknow
So stern the guardin’
Parently
A name
So hollowed
The coming reign
For given trespasses
Daily bred
On earth
As it is in heavin’
Temptations so waited
As lead
Into deliverance
Lying in stork contrast
Crying at the drop
Of a feather
Sticking together
Amidst the tears
In the veil
Throbbing us
Of our temple
Un-till
Our hearts beat back
What mourning brings
Is new dawnings
For those following the light
For light penetrates the dark
And we fear not vice verse
Burnishing us for all time
With laundered hearts

It seems that death and mourning has been on my heart recently.  After a long hospice experience with a friend, I received notice that my Dad’s ex-partner’s Mom just died.  I knew that he had a long slog of it.  My note to him triggered this poem.

Like most of my poems, this poem explores both the dark and light side of our experiences.  Death is an epic theme that frames and molds how we approach life.  Mourning is an essential developmental skill to navigate life.  There is much to mourn in the world — some distant, some nearby.  Eventually, death will close in on us.  None escape.

To bring this poem down to everyday reality, I use the metaphor of laundry.  This can represent the routine tasks that we must continue even if we are in deep mourning.  Sometimes this can reconnect us to our everyday living. “Laundered” can also imply an illegitimate, sleazy, or illegal process, such as in “laundering money.”  Both of these images can converge into being put through the wringer.  The real question is what comes out the other side.  Hopefully, something stronger and deeper, even cleaner, more pure.

I have also built into this poem the contrast, “the stork contrast,” between death and new life, newborns: the blues and pinks.  Those with more life experience know that such youth possesses certain naive qualities as well as a refreshing aspect to life.  Death puts these in sharp contrast.  Hopefully, this stark contrast imbues life with all the more preciousness.  My deepest trust and faith is that life is larger than death, more powerful than death, and even death can strengthen life.  In this poem, this is captured by the allusion to light penetrating dark but dark being unable to dispel light.

When death rubs up to you, may you be burnished, polished, and come out with a cleaner and brighter heart on the other side.