POEM: Impartiality

Judge Stamper was renown
For his impartiality
Still thinking
Nothing of
Preferring
Stepping on others
Rather than being stepped upon
A justice so becoming
A courting to a void
Deputizing peons
Siding with minute ordnances
Backed up by deferential canons
Allege paper-thin
Untoward the tramped
His honor
Like a frozen statute
Without peers
A connoisseur of contrived generosity
More accustomed to threat than promise
Of a gavel from above
An arbiter of grievances
A master of small sells
To captive audiences
Gleaning threadbare
Take away messages
A requiem of dis interest
Overseers in black dress
Annunciating your last rights
Offering little chance of success
Unless over
A game of squash

This poem is a reflection on the criminal justice system, which is sometimes criminal.  The alleged impartiality is a convenient notion for those doing the judging.  Though if you look impartially at the effects of such a criminal justice system, you’d be hard pressed to say it is fair.  The poor are the most likely to experience injustice at the hands of the criminal justice system.  The same is true for people of color.  The rich are the most likely to have the criminal justice system protect them, or punish their opponents.  One only need look at who is in prison to see that prejudice is rampant, though noting who isn’t in prison surely cements the case.  White collar criminals are much less likely than “common” criminals to be convicted.  Also, if convicted, they receive much less punishment relative to the harm to society.

Well engineered legalisms often bear little resemblance to the truth.  Biases are institutionalized, blind to the injustice they create.  The veneer of objectivity helps shield unconscionable acts from their true effects.  Innocent until proven guilty is often reduced to he’s probably guilty if he was convicted.  This sad state of affairs seems to fit under the moniker of the banality of evil.  In an impersonal system, where human judgment is minimized and legalisms rule, personal responsibility is easily avoided.  The most palpable confrontation with this reality was during the Nuremberg Trials, following the horrors of Nazi Germany in World War II, which gave rise to a famous principle: It is not an acceptable excuse to say “I was just following my superior’s orders.”

The banality of evil is not limited to war crimes, nor international crimes.  The shifting of personal responsibility to an impersonal system is endemic in modern Western civilization.  This is an everyday experience for many, if not most, people.  Such experiences usually take one of the many forms of “I am just following the rules.” The real question should be: “Am I just, following the rules?”

POEM: Let Us Join Together

Let us join together
Leaving behind creed and class
Races and titles
Just walking the walk
And occasional talk
Working side by side with hands and hearts
Playing in fields with horizons stretching
And resting without fences or locks
Taking in awe
That life has to nourish us
To keep us growing
Giving freely
That which cannot be bought

The hopeful poem is an invitation to leave behind the apparent dystopia that reigns so prevalently.  This poem offers a vision and a broad formula of what a more utopian existence would look like and how to get there.  Hope invites.  Hope is a communal thing.  Feel free to invite others.  Feel free.  Who knows, one day we might just discover that we are free…

POEM: Ninja Poets

Poets are like ninjas
They come from anywhere
They come from nowhere
Everybody has heard of them
Yet few actually see their work

There are lots of poets.  Though some might say not enough.  Most people do not read poetry at all.  That is, unless you include clever advertising as poetry!  I may just.  I see poetry everywhere.  This is probably why I write more poetry than I read.  While I am inspired by others’ poetry, I tend to go straight to the source: life itself.  After all, poetry is just a written result of the heart and mind making love in response to life.  The inspiration is in the source, not necessarily the effect or interpretation of the source.  Poetry may just be a grasping for God, just another elucidation of a deeper, even ultimate, reality.  Poets are like priests.  In an ideal world, there would be no need of priests.  There would be no class of people to mediate our experience of God, and deep realities.  We would directly experience such realities.  But, alas, we do not live in an ideal world, and poets play a role of elucidating, perhaps even inspiring, others into experiences of deeper realities.  Though good poets want to work themselves out of a job, to see others read directly from the depths of reality and offer up their observations, not for some other end, to publish or convert, but as an inescapable expression of joy, grief, and every human emotion and experience.  Our lives would be our poetry.  Then, everybody would be a poet and nobody would be a poet.  Hey, and who doesn’t want to be like a ninja?!

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Compassion Hoard

I may not have bread
And I can afford justice
My feet may be bare
And still
I have wings unseen
A fly on the wall
Reflecting on wear thou art
I cons
A mass
Pining for eternity
I see boxes full of people
Some with bars
Some with stained glass
Awe waiting
For enough compassion
That whored without end
Saving us
In sum coffer
Every talent bared
Under earth
As in heaven
Nails securing
That final wresting place
Claiming one
Again
And again
A trinity of
Applausible deniability
Crossing into hermetic souls
Wading for the rite time
Over countless venerations
Vespering in our years
To take leave of our census
And idol observances
Of mere images
Where weave a cryptic silence
Marching on
A fortified city
Encyclical motion
While trumpets blare
And walls crumble
De-spite all that is yearned
And our judicious will
Hearts do spill
Into the streets
And hands dirty
Embracing a future unwritten
And the present
No longer passed
Hereafter enough
Like know tomorrow

Religion is often confronted with the impossible task of selling compassion.  Sometimes folks recognize that compassion is incarnated into the world by practicing compassion directly.  This both enriches our own experience and models compassion to others.  Talking about the benefits and virtues of compassion may have some value, though mostly in a more academic sense; but for compassion to become real, it must transcend the eddies of the mind on the longest of journeys: from the head to the heart.  This long journey from the head to the heart typically includes on its itinerary works of the feet and hands.  This is the difference between talking about God and experiencing God.  This is quite literally the meaning of Matthew 25:35-36, 40:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Of course, in this poem, I portray the worst in religion: when compassion is whored for self-enrichment, unjust purposes.  Christian scripture has plenty of rousing and poetical indictments of stinky religion; here is one of my favorites:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

Much of bad human behavior is rooted in our fear of an uncertain future.  This is the obvious attraction and relative success of securing financial wealth, high status, and powerful positions lording over others.  We want control.  We often want control way beyond what we can control.  Unfortunately, such overreaching creates a host of problems, not the least of which, quite ironically, is a more dangerous and unpredictable world.  Another irony emerges when we realize that grasping for an uncertain, and even unknowable, future we perpetually rob ourselves of the now, the only truly real present within our control. Quite naturally, the present brings forth the future.  Again, plenty of Christian sacred texts are focused on the promise of God responding to our deepest groans and highest dreams by following in God’s way, the way of justice and mercy.  Of course, “following” God is actually “leading” humans because acting in the present without waiting for other humans to follow God is how God’s plan is manifest on earth. Here is one of my favorite scriptural examples of this relationship, or dance, between God’s purposes and human action:

“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.  (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Where justice and mercy are present, God’s presence is experienced.  This is true of all the gifts of the spirit, such as joy, faith, generosity, patience, and love.  Such experience resides in a place transcending buying and selling.  The mystery is how deeply we want that which cannot be bought and sold.  Somewhat less mysterious, though perhaps at least as baffling, is how our dominant experience of buying and selling — of both ourselves and stuff — short-circuits or crowds out experiencing much deeper realities.  I may not have bread/And I can afford justice.

Testimony to NRC to Shut Down Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant

Below is my testimony for today’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s public hearing regarding the potential re-licensing of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant:

My name is Dan Rutt.  So, what are my credentials for being here tonight?  I live in the kill zone of Davis-Besse.  I have lived in the kill zone of nuclear plants almost my entire life.  I suspect few could argue against the mournful reality that way too many people share these credentials.

I do have a B.S. in Biology.  Though, I must confess, my B.S. pales in comparison to the B.S. of the nuclear industry and the NRC.

I also have a masters degree in public health.  But I am not here to debate technical minutiae, nor to discuss the arrangement of deck chairs, the lack of lifeboats, nor the alleged unsinkability of the titanic nuclear industry.

Today, I am here as a poet and an activist.  I am here as a child of mother earth and as a planetary citizen.  Most importantly, I am here today as a prophet.  And let it be said: nothing today will truer be said than that the nuclear industry and the NRC listen to profits!

I am here to do the impossible.  I am here to topple a multi-billion dollar corporate empire with a mere wisp of democracy — approximately 3 minutes worth.  Unfortunately, the NRC’s plan to protect itself from democracy is much stronger than it’s plans to protect us from nuclear disasters.

When the NRC circus comes to town, their death-defying prestidigitations may very well make you gasp.  Still, we will be safely confined to grandstanding.  This dog and pony show might allow us to bitch until we are hoarse.  But, at the end of the day, the elephant in the middle of the big, flimsy tent, will do its thing, and the little people of this world will be left with the mess.  And the NRC circus will skip town, to continue their tour de farce.

So, I am here to do the impossible.  I am here to speak for a thousand generations in 3 minutes.   Usually such hope and possibility requires the venue of something like American Idol.  Well, my friends, we have an American idol: the nuclear industry.  This American idol has reigned for 70 years.  This American idol has rained nuclear waste across this great land.  And today, 70 years later, as the waste of the nuclear fat cats grows larger, they offer a 600-page tome as their litter.  And who dares wade through this litter box?  Who dares to think inside this box?  Who of us will not be pooped out?  Can anyone venturing into this 600-page tomb view it as anything but a deathly undertaking?  What box can possibly hold such eternally reigning transgressions?  Do you have a staff member called Pandora by any chance?!  There is only one sane solution: let’s idle this idol!  The solution is simple: we must end nuclear generations to end nuclear generations.

The ultimate question for today is: In our call to shut Davis-Besse down, will we be heard?

Sure, NRC staff will herd our comments into another neatly formatted tome.  But will we be heard?  Sure, the decision-makers have ears, and stenographers, and word processors.  But will we be heard?

Will the people affected by nuclear power generation be heard?  They call this a public hearing.  But the reality is that it is physically and metaphysically impossible for over 99% of those affected by Davis-Besse’s nuclear waste to be here — for the simple fact that they have not even been born yet.  Will we weigh the testimony today to account for their interests, the interests of future generations?

Can you hear our great grandchildren cry out into the not-so-great ears of today’s nuclear executives: Why did you poison our world for a few kilowatts?

Can you hear our great, great grandchildren cry out into the not-so-great ears of today’s First Energy shareholders:  Why did you rob our future for a few profits today?

Can you hear our great, great, great grandchildren cry out into the not-so-great ears of today’s parade of crooning cronies, sometimes called politicians:  Why did you sell out your communities for a little patronage?

But…what if we are truly heard today?  Then we might just hear:

The gentle whispers of our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren saying “good job” to the employees in the former nuclear industry — and by “good job” they don’t mean thanks for taking that decent paying job, but rather, holding out and demanding good jobs, jobs friendly to both working families and our environment.

If we are truly heard today, then we might just hear: the gentle whispers of our great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren thanking the nameless thousands across this great land who worked for neither wages nor shareholder profits, but rather, worked freely for a world where it doesn’t pay to destroy our environment.

We must listen to our future generations.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?

As for me, in this generation, I will gladly live without Davis-Besse.  I will gladly trade the sliver of energy produced during my lifetime to spare thousands of generations the poison of nuclear waste.  Though make no mistake, even if the problem of nuclear waste disposal was somehow miraculously solved, I would still gladly trade this energy source simply to avoid the probability of a nuclear catastrophe from the safety disaster that Davis-Besse has so proven.   Shut it down!

Please listen to the prophets who seek the good of all, not the profits which only enrich the few, at the expense of the 99%.  THANK YOU!

Good Job
by Dan Rutt, alias “Top Pun” (it’s just, my pun name)

It was early Monday mourning
When the Davis-Besse nuclear plant
Finally ruptured
At the base of Lake Eerie
Weeping poison
From the once-great lakes
Now a watery grave for both sellers
And consumers
Of atomic drivel
For what human remains
The event became known
Simply as “The rupture”
Leaving sleepy millions
In its wake
Sucked into a glowing sky
For who knows watt
Feudal to press release
Fore their heavenly reword
A paradise rolled
Entranced buy snake eyes
In charge of all that meters
Relegating us to hoarse power
Silent partners
Dealt a roil flush
In a conniving casino
Pain only in skullduggery
Forging height reason
And absolute faith in stonewall
As a bet
A dark wager
Echoing in the empty halls
Of unions and congress
“Good job”

POEM: Passing Through Sublime Daze

I pass through
Sublime daze
Uninterrupted by alarms
Or dread lines
Clothed in a peril so frayed
I am practically naked
To the whirled
To wit each mourn
I live in that last squeeze of toothpaste
And that first blush of nature
Calling me out
Of every manor ad mired
Lodging in my heart
I live in vast open spaces
That most rush buy
Unseen
Like the homeless
With mansions to build
I live off what others store as waist
Happiness shelved
In small bytes
And simulated living
I lay away
With every breath
The air of my weighs
I have little
And want even less
I am
Enough
As I am
Fed up with awe
Save that primordial
Uddering
Simply
Well, I declare
I live on

I love my life.  I love life.  This poem is a tribute to my relaxed lifestyle.  I relish my seasons without an alarm clock.  I delight in sojourning along the road less traveled, so I don’t have to wait in those dreaded lines chock full of people trying to get to the same place, who often are at a loss at how they got stuck in the cruel trafficking of life.  I welcome a naked vulnerability as an irrepressible weed in a human landscape with more concrete than effervescent spirits.  I am fond of my wanderings daily leading me to the savor of the world, where the mundane and the sacred meet, whether it be a revel without a cause or a long-sought vocation.  I delight in experiencing the better portion of life, not by having more, but by wanting awe.  Ideal in letting go, sow serendipity can Marvel me with super powers.  Life inspires me, and the err that is human finds a gentle hommé as the human grace lungs forward.  I am.  Enough.  Living on.  That which know name can udder.

POEM: Guarding God

He stoutly guarded God
From an unruly world
An unreveling creation
And in such earnest
He, and millions others, were
Relieved of their doody
Perhaps only a small relief
For God above
Yet for such bellow
Refuse-ing
To be passed so easy
As some foul gag
Unyielding unearth
As unheavin’
A feudal gesture
In such an unholy rupture
Leaving behind
All the crap in religion
Until vomit us

Does God need guards or protectors?  Is God unable to fend for God’s self?  Can God create such a mess so big that even God can’t clean it up?

It seems to me that God and godliness are incarnated by our lives reflecting what is good, as opposed to enforcing precepts or ideas/beliefs.  I view means and ends as inextricably linked.  How else could it be?  Love begets love.  And God is love.  Violence begets violence.  And while many might be skeptical of love, of God, few doubt that “means” lead to “ends.”  It strikes me that the separation from living in the foundational nature of God, that is unconditional love, is the beginning of sin.  Similarly, trying to take  shortcuts to God’s reign by “enforcement” strikes me as the birth of idolatry, wanting to lord over others.  This approach strikes me as feudal!  This approach is futile in the same way that expecting violence will end violence is foolish.  Both our materialist and spiritualist aspects can unite around this necessary order.  Unless your view of reality is wholly absurd, there is lawful order in the universe — certain things lead to other certain things.  Now, not everything is certain.  But uncertainty is not a license to ignore those things which are certain.  For example, you can ignore the law of gravity, but, quite predictably, this will not serve you or others well.  Likewise, you can ignore the laws of love, or violence, but don’t pretend that such lawlessness will bring greater order and harmony in the world.

Back to this poem’s theme of “all the crap in religion.”  Organizing love can be a perilously backwards approach, since love is the prime mover.  Trying to franchise God — that is, franchise love — will fail inasmuch as: 1) love is not what we preach, and 2) we don’t practice what we preach (regardless of what it is that we preach).  The first is being on mark with the purpose of religion.  There is plenty of disagreement here, on what love means.  The second is about authenticity and authority.  Authority is undermined inasmuch as you preach one set of rules and live by another.  This perilous law is where law-giving and law-preaching most commonly fail.  Preaching lawfulness while practicing lawlessness, well, just doesn’t do much for lawfulness.  The Lord of all has authority because God’s nature is unconditional love, manifest in grace, generosity, mercy, patience, and joyful freedom.  In Christianity, Jesus is lifted up because he came as a servant leader.  Jesus is the way inasmuch as Jesus melded the sacred nature of God as unconditional love fully into his way of living.  That’s the kind of leader worth emulating.  And all who stand against this, will fail.  But like gravity, the law of love seems weak and slow, particularly in narrow contexts and short time horizons.  Still, gravity, as love, will work its way, its purpose, in a sure and steady way.  Ignore such laws at your own peril.

POEM: The Right and Wrong End of a Gun

I shot Bill
In the gut
He stood there
For a moment
Seeming like a lifetime
His blood flowing
Like
Well
Freely
Or
Might as
Well
Be
‘N aRiA
Souled
A Bill of goods
Now Kosher
A salt of the earth
A haughty boys’ game
So brand-ish
Shrouding
A right end
And a wrong end
Of a gun

This is another anti-gun violence poem in what is yet another recurring theme in my musings.  I can relate to the emotions leading to want to hurt someone, even kill them.  However, I am chronically puzzled by how humanity (or inhumanity?) allows these gut feelings to get the better of us.  This seems to be solidly within the immature stages of human development.  In this poem, Bill suffers from the incarnation of such a gut feeling, by feeling a bullet rip through his gut.  You may note that there is no context given for why Bill was been shot in the gut.  I suspect that many people might presume that Bill somehow deserved being shot in the gut. Our gun culture is moving us ever along a victim blaming worldview.  This thought process is similar to people’s reactions and inquiries when someone’s house has been robbed.  Were the doors locked?  Do you have a security system?  As if not locking your door or having a security system is justification for a robber to rob you!  Similarly, gun rights folks are selling Americans the wholesale paranoid notion that if you don’t have a gun then you are just asking for trouble, with no little irony, from a person with a gun.  The truth of such paranoia may very well be directly proportional to the self-fulfilling aspects of modern America’s love affair with firearms for personal protection.  As a trained public health professional, who has studied gun violence as a public health problem, there is a scientific consensus that the easy availability and increased presence of firearms leads to increased deaths.  Of course, most gun rights enthusiast deny such scientific evidence.  Who knows, maybe their being hot under the collar is confounding this whole climate change brouhaha.  What may be of some surprise to people is that increased gun deaths are very often suicides.  In fact, those with access to guns are more likely to kill themselves than be killed by someone else.  Perhaps this is some cruel twist of human evolution, but surely we can do better than killing off ourselves.  The polarization of views on the role of guns in American culture is stark.  Whatever your views, America is moving toward resembling the OKKK Corral, and I consider this a move toward increased terrorism, never knowing whose home and family might get caught in the cross fire.

POEM: Different Game

Sorry, I don’t have any bargaining chips
I’m playing a different game

Most of the rules that we live by are not part of our everyday consciousness.  Our working assumptions become just part of the background.  Much of Western civilization and capitalism are about “getting ahead.”  This “getting ahead” is typically about exchanging one thing for another thing in such a fashion that you “profit” or gain from the exchange.  This dominant, and dominating, premise is considered fact by many, even those on the chronic short end of exchanges.

I prefer a different game.  I prefer a game that neither reduces our primary way of being as bargaining nor measures one’s worth by how many “chips” one possesses.  I do not want my life put to the bidding of others, whether in a bargain bin or at Christie’s Auction House.  I seek to live simply and uncompromisingly.  I value compassion and frugality.  In short, I make a lousy capitalist and a lousy imperialist.  I make an even worse slave!

In between the frugal two lines of this poem, one might presage a loss by not having the appropriate bargaining chips to leverage success and “win” the game.  This is perhaps true if one accepts and adopts the values of a capitalistic system or “game.”  Frankly, I think capitalists are overly serious, lacking a sense of play and humor.  This should come as no surprise, since capitalists typically find it difficult to monetize play and humor, that is, profit off their experience of play and humor.  Just look at the language of capitalists par excellence.  A “game” has more to do with manipulation than lighthearted enjoyment.  “Playing” someone means “getting the best of the them,” which, deeply ironically, means bringing out the worst in all parties.  I prefer play and humor because they are good in and of themselves; they are not merely a means to something else, in some ultimately unsatisfying, endless chain of exchanges, ever trying to get the better of someone else and never getting the best of anyone.  At least that’s what I see in capitalism, especially in practice, as opposed to theory.  Of course, maybe I just have a bargaining chip on my shoulder…

POEM: Cautionary Tail

Ouch!
That guy should come with a warning label
She said after
Having had
A piece of cautionary tail

You can divide life’s lessons into two basic categories: 1) that which deserves emulating, and 2) that which warrants avoidance.  This short, funny poem highlights the latter of life’s lessons, the proverbial cautionary tale.  Fortunately, one of the redeeming qualities of life is that we can learn from both positive and negative experiences.  Of course, the content of this poem treads on the precarious territory of relationships and the ever-looming potential of the battle of the sexes.  Lust and romantic possibilities are often more than enough to pass by potential warning signs in dating relationships.  I am a big fan of throwing oneself fully into human relationships.  This seems consonant with living life fully.  Nonetheless, woo can turn to whoa very fast, often skidding deep into woe.  The reality is often that the best way to know where a line exists is by crossing it.  There is much in life that is unknown.  Spending too much time mapping out every sign and landmark may prevent one from living an actual life.  Hopefully, we can offer one another enough room and grace to make mistakes as we careen joyfully through life’s messiness.  In fact, such lives deserve emulating…

POEM: Amateurs and Prose

There are moments
When I feel
Like such an amateur
Then the payments come
So much more
Than I could ever hope for
The only falling short
Is ever thinking
That life
Is fated to be
Any won thing
Except
Well
Spent
Surpassing awe
In deed not
Buy miserly prose
Dying with more
Than a pauper attitude
Lein-ing on the everlasting alms
That train to glory
Bound
Less debt
Eternally

Life is good.  The gift of life offers so many great things and awesome possibilities.  Gratitude strikes me as perhaps the most fundamental human attitude toward life, if reality is seen in a large enough perspective.  Maybe I’m just lucky.  I prefer to view it as grace.  Either way, I have experienced the bounty of serendipity on countless occasions — and I count these occasions as priceless!  Hopefully, such a beautiful predicament engenders paying it back and paying it forward.  I see life as an invitation to more life.  I view vitality as best served by generously overflowing, by joining in and continuing the perpetual cycling of giving.  Miserly attitudes can stunt this wondrous cycling.  Greed is a parasite on plenty.  May gratitude and generosity carry you as a living antidote to miserliness and greed.

POEM: Twins

Chris and Pat were like twins
Only he was more so

This short poem uses ambiguous pronouns and unisex names to maximize the possibilities of interpretation.  The underlying twist is that if two people are alike, can one be more like the other?  The twist hinges on twin aspects of reality.  A more superficial aspect that is shared may bring others to characterize two people “like twins.”  However, an inner aspect may shed light on the nature of their twin-ness.  For instance, if Chris is a cowboy (or is that cowgirl?), and Pat dresses and acts like a cowboy/cowgirl, then Pat’s acting like a cowboy/cowgirl makes Chris and Pat like twins.  And it could be said that’s Pat’s wanting to be like Chris, makes Pat even more-so a twin than Chris.  Chris just happens to be a cowgirl/cowboy; Pat is driving the twin-ness aspect.  Outer appearances can be deceiving, not being a very good representation of a deeper reality.  I’ve heard it said that being sincere is the most important thing, and once you can fake that you’ve got it made.  Certainly, the difference between sincerity and faked sincerity is vast.  Perhaps being able to tell the difference is where true wisdom lies…

POEM: Her Voice

Her voice could be heard
Three generations within earshot
Yet the man in front of her
Was two ears short of listening
At times she spoke
Simply to convince herself
That she could
Due more
Then listen
Wading for something more than deaf
And dumb ruse of men
Relegated to quaint shams
Engendering stupefactions
As a pathetic answer
To unquestioning order
In a guise whirled
Gent-ly herd
In tasteful reservations
And if more than udder
He turns out
To be the outright shovin’ist
Is it possible
For him to do without
As if
You list a strata
And he’ll forevermore
Still fancy himself
On top
The crowning member
Of some exclusive club
The human race   
Oft leaving
Room for only one abet
Take it or leave it
Never quite getting it
What he wonts
So leading ladies
Show him a role
Un-for-gettable
And when it comes to you
It will be
Awe about
That transcending property
You’re choice

Being heard is perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of positive human experience.  This poem addresses the profoundly prevalent and persistent reality that women are not listened to as much as men.  The need for human connection is so strong that being ignored can be more harmful than active dislike.  Being treated as an object rather than a subject is the primary mode of dehumanizing people.

The male privilege present in most human cultures, often called sexism, may be the most important -ism in humans’ communal experience.  Sexism may also be the most stubbornly persistent -ism.  I think that this is true because women are interspersed in all human cultures.  Many -isms, such as racism and classism, flourish because of in-group and out-group dynamics that can more easily be stratified in one’s everyday life and experience.  However, since women are nearly omnipresent in households with more than one person, there would seem to be powerful forces integrating women in a relatively fair way into the most fundamental units of society, the family or household.  A nearly universal factor in advancing equality for disenfranchised groups is to have that group exposed in meaningful ways to the dominant group.  It seems that the theory is that exposure leads to understanding, compassion and justice.  This doesn’t strike me as having much truth in regard to women.  Boys grow up with the proverbial “hand that rocks the cradle,” subject to profound influence by their mothers.  In the dominant heterosexual world, men seek and have close relations with women, as lovers, partners-spouses, raisers of children.  Still, it seems that these interpersonal and family dynamics are trumped by larger social and cultural forces.  I don’t pretend to have a solution for the ages old “war of the sexes” (which is typically framed in male fashion).  Nonetheless, I am quite sure that men not listening to women is not only a profound insult to women, but a profound loss to men.  Listen up guys!!

POEM: Davis-Besse Nuclear Disaster – “Good Job”

It was early Monday mourning
When the Davis-Besse nuclear plant
Finally ruptured
At the base of Lake Eerie
Weeping poison
From the once-great lakes
Now a watery grave for both sellers
And consumers
Of atomic drivel
For what human remains
The event became known
Simply as “The rupture”
Leaving sleepy millions
In its wake
Sucked into a glowing sky
For who knows watt
Feudal to press release
Fore their heavenly reword
A paradise rolled
Entranced buy snake eyes
In charge of all that meters
Relegating us to hoarse power
Silent partners
Dealt a roil flush
In a conniving casino
Pain only in skullduggery
Forging height reason
And absolute faith in stonewall
As a bet
A dark wager
Echoing in the empty halls
Of unions and congress
“Good job”

This poem is inspired the chronic reality of having lived in the kill zone (50-mile radius) of nuclear reactors most of my life.  Currently, Toledo is smack dab between two nuclear power plants with very poor safety records, that is, Davis-Besse and Fermi 2.  A nuclear disaster at either of these nuclear reactors on Lake Erie would be catastrophic for both human populations and the entire ecosystem of the Great Lakes region.  For the oft cited improbability of such disasters, I publish this poem around the 3-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear reactors melting down, and still melting down with no good end in sight.

The specific theme of this anti-nuclear poem is triggered by multiple disturbing experiences at public hearings on these nuclear reactors.  At such hearings, there is typically a parade of power plant union workers — think Homer Simpson — and fawning public officials — think Mayor Quimby.  Their well-orchestrated homilies extol well-paying jobs and how magnificently the plant has overcome past safety failures.  Local political cronies typically wax on about how great corporate citizens these huge and hugely irresponsible energy companies are for their patronized communities.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is a willing conspirator and ringmaster to this surreal circus of blessed assurance.  I am particularly disturbed by how enthusiastically workers, and specifically labor unions, are willing to worship any job, however “well-paying,” that endangers humanity and Mother Earth.  Though, if you’re going to destroy the planet, I suppose it seems better to get well-paid along the way.

The farcical facade of nuclear safety has been exposed in three not-so-easy steps: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.  I, for one, am not waiting for a twelve step program to shutter the drunken gait of the nuclear industry.

POEM: Fermi Too

From Detroit to Toledo
I drive by and by
Monroe’s Fermi 2
Nuclear waste tower
Falling over
Penning only
A plume of death
In place of this poet
A prophet taking
Having called for its decommissioning
Offers no comfort
Only one more thing to mourn
Sanity unheeded
As the tsunami of insanity
Overtakes us
A graveyard of scant profits
Where we stood
Where we lived
And worked
No re-creation
As even the god of destruction
And his unwitting fallowers
Dare not rejoice

Today is the three-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear power plant ongoing disaster.  I joined some folks outside the Japanese consulate in Detroit.  The Japanese consulate and security would not let us in the renaissance center where the consulate is located.  We wanted to deliver a letter mourning the loss of life due to the Fukushima meltdowns, and deliver a call to remediate additional harms as this disaster continues to unfold.  We protested outside and read the letter publicly.  There were as many police and private security personnel as their were protesters, so no one was harmed in the protesting of this mega-disaster.  If only such well-resourced public safety extended to nuclear power plants.

I wrote this poem a couple of months ago, spurred on by driving past the Fermi 2 nuclear reactor in Monroe, MI, on my way to Toledo from Detroit.  I’ve driven through this nuclear kill zone many times, and I live most of my life in the kill zone.  The Fermi 2 nuclear reactor site has an overfilled high-level radioactive waste storage building, five stories tall, that cannot be off-loaded because it was not built to its design specs — oops.  If this tower falls, the death toll would be unfathomable.   There is no permanent solution to radioactive waste here or anywhere, which has been building up over 60 years of commercial nuclear reactor operations in the United States.  Making matters worse, there is a proposed Fermi 3 nuclear power plant, a $15 billion monstrosity as an answer to declining electricity usage in the region.  We need to end nuclear power before nuclear power ends us.

POEM: Pseudoscience

After a cursory perusal
Of your uncorroborated facts
In your unverified application
We are pleased to accept
The donation of your brain
To pseudoscience

The great thing about donating your brain to pseudoscience is that such brains are largely unused.  Scientific literacy, sound logic, and critical thinking seem to be largely optional in postmodern America.  Maybe this is progress.  I can see the headlines now: “Western Civilization Renders Effective Human Beings Superfluous.”  Of course, you’ll never see this headline.  Mostly because the word “superfluous,” in a crowning irony, is extremely unlikely to make it through the dumb-down filter that is omnipresent in mass media, rendering it unneeded.  In this juggernaut of progress, we will soon render focus groups superfluous, as big data will know us better than we know ourselves, and the lowest common denominator pabulum rendered by focus group results will be delivered by an algorithm.  Of course, such algorithms will be proprietary in the private sector and top-secret within government inner circles, to assure that the economy is fed and stability reigns.  But no need to worry, as consumers and consumed merge, we can bask in the glow of our glowing big screen boxes, approximating life so statistically accurately.  Our every emotional, snacking, and consuming need will be re-calibrated every fraction of a second.  Now, some might think that this is some grand conspiracy theory, but those in the know realize that the government has planted conspiracy theories to distract us from deeper truths…

POEM: Less Than Eternal Question

The Rev. Medley
Had risen
To the highest position
He would ever
It was only down from there
An awe too common
Occupational hazard
Of moderate irony
And accumulating lessens
Just falling short
Of making one cross
Facing that less than eternal question
If only Jesus
Had bothered to develop
Better retirement plans

Here is a poem that I wrote before the Lenten season, and now that we are in Lent, I realize that it is an appropriate Lenten poem.  I have always admired Jesus for being “all in” this thing called life.  While Jesus’ way of being in the world raises difficult questions, his life powerfully juxtaposes finding meaning in life with finding meaning in death.  Lent is a time for Christians to reflect on such things.  For years I have often joked that I have given up Lent for Lent.  More to the truth, my ascetic tendencies and frank goals of living simply leave me in a sort of permanent Lent.  In practice, I see that Buddhists seems to model better than Christians simple living and prudently avoiding attachments to material goods. Materialism has such a powerful and normative presence in Western civilization, that Christianity, at least as practiced in Westernized communities, seems to have accommodated rampant materialism quite well.  I see the divide between serving God or wealth (worldly power) as primary in my understanding of the message of Jesus’ life and death.  The conventional wisdom of sensible retirement planning, as alluded to in this poem, seems second nature to what is considered the good life in modern times. I have witnessed way too many fear-filled discussions in church settings about more financially secure appointments, health coverage, and retirement benefits for clergy.  In sharp contrast, I have found little traction for providing a living wage to janitors, secretaries, and many other employees of churches or faith-based organizations.  Church folks are too polite to crucify you for suggesting providing a living wage to low-wage church employees, but the resounding silence kills nonetheless.

In reflecting on the often lukewarm leadership of professional Christians, often called clergy, outsiders are at little risk of ever guessing that the founder of their movement was publicly executed by the state for his revolutionary, uncompromising life.  In sharp contrast, outsiders have little difficulty understanding that religious elites were complicit in Jesus’ murder.

I admire the Buddhist spiritual practice of meditating on your own death.  This practice seems like a powerful way to elicit the value and importance of life in the context of death.  Followers of Jesus have a profound leader who made such meditations an incarnate reality.  Jesus is the way.  But the retirement plan is a killer.