ANTI-VIOLENCE POEM: Sisyphean Tax

He was steeped in the slippery slope of violence
An idol escalator
Heedlessly powered by gravity and gravitas
A climb it denier
Of the worst breed
Not giving won ascent
A bout others
In spite of the accost
Whatever
It takes
Dispensing that too summit madders
Impoverishing awe
With Sisyphean tacts

Our animal instincts present us with the “natural” reaction to hit someone else when they hit us.  Fortunately, we are not limited to responding mirrorly as animals.  Violence First Refuge of Incompetent -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONSuch reactionary responses, unchecked by higher human functioning, quite easily escalate into wildly disproportionate harms to parties involved and routinely inflict harm to nearby parties.  Creative and humane responses to violence help limit the worst effects of violence before it is too escalate.  This poem is a metaphor for the interplay of the reactionary nature of violence and the creative human spirit yearning to be free of domination.  Hate is the Utter Lack of Creativity -- PEACE BUTTONLike Sisyphus, violence rocks this world so palpably feudal.  Nobody likes to suffer hurt.  Of coarse, meting hurt with hurt only brings a bout hurtful means and ends.  The truism of hurt people hurt people is a starting place to understand such hurtful cycles and connect us to one another’s dislike of suffering hurt.  Unfortunately, the only way out of vicious cycles of violence is to experience hurt without inflicting further hurt.  The accost of experiencing violence without returning violence is how a nonviolence world is necessarily and legitimately built.  Other wise, gravity and gravitas will perpetually, endlessly, forever, unceasingly, repeatedly, in perpetuum, till hell frees us over, lock us into violence as a weigh of life.  The creative human spirit willing to put skin in the game is the antidote to the least creative, least human reaction of violence for violence.  Nonviolence isn’t easy.  Of coarse, violence isn’t easy either, except in that we may be able to put the accost on an other.  Nothing enduring can be built on violence. Gandhi quote PEACE BUTTONIf nonviolence was easy, everybody would be doing it.  In fact, most of us practice nonviolence much of the time.  Nonviolence could be argued to be our natural state.  However, when violence and nonviolence meet, violence temps a seemingly easier solution — the cause AND solution to all of our problems.  Violence challenges the creativity of nonviolence with its well-warring familiarity.  Grooving to a mesmerizing Sisyphean chant, violence offers a bizarre, homie comfort to tribe and clan, with a kin do attitude wrapped up in moral doody.  Violence Is A Bout Means And Ends ANTI-WAR BUTTONIn both means and ends, violence is the antithesis of creativity.  Choosing nonviolence may not be easy, but nonviolence does offer an infinite abundance of alternatives other than “they made me do it.”  Yep, those proprietors of violence have it made, made for them, the creative human spirit lying fallow.  The human spirit exists for more than an infinite chain of sow called necessity, made to yearn its way to freedom and higher consciousness.  Non Violent Revolutionaries Raze Hell--POLITICAL BUTTONThe human spirit most fully manifests itself when it creatively draws from the wonderfully precarious reservoir of possibility.  This udder cistern is void of Sisyphean guarantees, yet those daring to surf its prospects may just find the truly fare life a mist a world of suffering.  May our spirits renounce domination over others through sheer force and patiently invite others into the high stakes game of fare play.

Please feel free to browse Top Pun’s other creative nonviolence and lovely peace designs.

Look Ma No Arms (Peace Dove picture)--FUNNY PEACE BUTTONNon Violent Revolution--POLITICAL BUTTONPractice Nonviolence PEACE BUTTON

got creativity? SPIRITUAL BUTTON

POEM: That Wholly Lessen

Kneeling before
Mother
Earth
Shattering
Knews
Buy sum mirror mortals
That scant except abundance
Farced too
Under stand
That wholly lessen
Taut
As awe for one
And won for all
And what too due
To be apprehended
Those borne too big for their breaches
Both yearning their keep
And wanting to cry like a baby
As partially dread
King Solomon’s wisdom
Discerning a real mom
From a ‘mother’ in name only
In every crook and nanny
Of awe that might be
Haunted by possessions
Those who cull out
For halve of everything
As if
Like some indivisible man
In a crowd
Stealing a weigh
Amidst a pound of flash
As a parent
As won
Divided buy too
Is not twice one peace
However disposed
Won is to give
Forbear
Meaning less labor
For priceless heir
And each arrival
Comes a bout
In his stork visit
That universal root
Digs ever deeper
Beyond belief
Yet sum people
Proffer a Roamin’ umpire
A tempting
A scuff-law-less Caesarean delivery
To buy pass
The belly of the best
Dilatorily a void
Mete cleave her
Where even moderation can be excessive
Only too grasp
After brooding over
In a so-so pregnant pause
And sow ill-conceived
Being a touch bankrupt
Morally in half-way hows
That irresistible fix
Working for you
And know won ails
Halve the weigh homme
Leaping twice across the chasm
Returning
To Mother
Earth
Won way or the other
Making a hole world
Of deference

Here is yet another poem about the ongoing crisis of Mother Earth’s destruction.  To portray the half-ass response by so-called developed nations and industrial powers that be, I employ the metaphors of King Solomon’s infamous wisdom in dealing with dispute over motherhood and that of crossing a chasm in two leaps.  To add another metaphor regarding our relationship with Mother Earth, we want to have our cake and eat it too!  In the case of the King Solomon judgment, two mothers living in the same household claimed a baby as their own.  After one of the mothers accidentally smothered her own child while they were sleeping in her bed (by the way, an ancient public health problem that persists today), she claimed the other mother’s baby was her own.  Without enough evidence to make a reasonable determination, King Solomon wisely and shrewdly ordered the baby cut in half, so each mother could have their “fair” share, to determine their reaction.  The true mother insisted the baby be given to the false mother to spare the baby’s life.  The false and jealous mother said go to it.  Of course, this revealed the true mother to which King Solomon ordered the whole baby as hers.  Our greed and jealous protection of our own unjust interests would rather halve the world we live in than deal with a whole new world.  Globalize THIS - ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONAs greed and envy continue unabated, we naively and vainly assume that things will “naturally” work themselves out.  As if the day after we can reassemble two halves of a baby and have a whole baby.  This is akin to jumping a chasm in two leaps.  It don’t work that way!  Our fundamental disrespect for motherhood is a parent to anyone who possesses the wisdom to differentiate between motherhood and smother-hood.  Of course, in the real world, there is no second baby to even attempt to appropriate.  And the chasm is too wide for even a long series of half-ass measures.  I’ll take a flying leap here: we either return to mothering Mother Earth or we will return to Mother Earth, as a specious not suited to evolve any further.

POEM: Shame Old Story

A little bit
Of shame
Goes along
Weigh
Too much
With blinders
Knot visible
In a sense
Lost
To over looking
As awe full as life is

This poem is about the overabundance of shame, a tail as owed as time that wags the dog.  Shame is one of the all-time popular weighs of controlling others.  Shame is a lazy substitute for inspiration.  Inspiration comes with a whole lot of work, such as patience, integrity, passion, and compassion.  Shame is a seductive shortcut that cheats us out of the beauty full results of worthy effort.  In essence, shaming others is shaming ourselves.  As they say: you can’t point your finger at someone else without pointing four fingers back at yourself.  Relying on inspiration and example is a much better weigh.  There is a tribe in Africa where anytime a member commits some offense, they surround them and pummel them with every good thing about them, a wellness practice very telling.  Social psychology has well documented that focusing on building assets is more productive than focusing on deficits.  The rhythms of the human soul seem to be much more in tune with inspiration and positive regard than shame, criticism, and punishment.  In theological terms, this might be simply stated that good is stronger than evil.  Traditional religion often betrays this belief by focusing on original sin rather than original blessing; that is, accenting our inherent falling short rather than our inherent goodness.   May you readily see the goodness in yourself and others, and faithfully live out of our better portion.

POEM: Opportunity Accost

Having arrived
Delivered by a private message
The bad knews
Out of the weigh
Surrounded
Only
Good news ahead
Able to attack
On any affront

This poem is based on an old joke, that goes something like this: The courier arrives with news from the battlefield, telling the general that he has good news and bad news, and asks which he would like first.  The general asks for the bad news first.  The courier indicates that they are surrounded by the enemy.  The general then asks for the good news.  The courier replies, “The good news is that we can attack on any front.”

Every person that works on bettering the human condition knows that there is an abundance of needs, bordering on the overwhelming.  This very reality is perhaps the leading cause of burnout among do-gooders.  I like this old joke because it highlights the overwhelming opportunity present in life.  While we may spend huge amounts of resources in needs assessments, and countless hours in planning meetings, to get just the right mix of strategies and interventions, you don’t have to look very far or even very closely to find human need.  If a human need touches your heart, lend a hand, even your whole life if need be.  As a former professional planner, now trying to recover from such a chronic predicament, I am reminded again of the quote from United Methodist theologian and activist Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  I suspect that whatever purported efficiency gained by most needs assessments and most time spent in planning meetings would be better invested in doing whatever makes us come alive amidst the dizzying array of human needs ripe for the plucking.  For some rare individuals that may even be conducting needs assessments or planning meetings.  For most, the time would be more enlivening spent in the fields of humanity where “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Luke 10:2, Matthew 9:37)

POEM: More of the Sane

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

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

POEM: Reining In Global Warning

The economy was
Humming
Having change
Their tune
Given
The overabundance
Of hot water
And cell a-steam
Showering down
Hour earthly reign
In the scheme of things
In a call amity
Of biblical portions
They had everything
Save the earth
And after
Having one
Wore on the environment
Mother earth’s
Pursed lips
At the outpouring cache
A river bed
Tried to the bone
Of no use
Pointing fingers
As more than
Putting up
With money where mouth is
Re: tardily sane
As never too be
Ever food agin
Mouthing a mint
In perpetual bad taste
Sow un-full
Filling a void
That wee only have
Won planet
Wont of reign

Extinction Is ForeverYet another poem mourning the way we treat our beloved Mother Earth.  As global warning wrings out more lost species, extinct forever in the wake of our mindless consumption and heartless capitalism,  	 Only when the last tree has been felled, the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, man will know, that he cannot eat money. Cree Indian Prophecy quoteI am reminded wince again of the Cree Indian prophecy: “Only when the last tree has been felled, the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, man will know, that he cannot eat money.”  Can you help but ask weather when we put our money where our mouth is if it will be too late.  If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.  If mankind can’t let go of the crappy job he’s doing, mama will get unrule he   Let us not temp our mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

POEM: Joining That Mystical Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: The Awe Might He Acorn

The acorns fall
Like reign
From above
As the mighty yoke is broken
Flailing to grasp the gravity of the situation
Each won
A tiny oak
Tolled by nature
If only
Such nuts
Can hold there ground
And a void
Either being
Squirreled away
As the winter takes root
Or perhaps robin
Their shady future

I wrote this poem amidst writing another poem.  I was reclining on one of the benches outside the Toledo Museum of Art, in the sculpture garden that is their front lawn.  This bench happened to be under a large oak tree.  There was a slow rain of acorns punctuating my experience.  I was hit several times as I interrupted the arc of the acorn-gravity continuum.  The squirrels seemed quite domesticated, likely due to their stomping grounds being traversed by a pedestrian highway populated by humans more civilized than normal.  One squirrel, only half a dozen feet away from me, nibbled on the abundance of freshly fallen acorns, seemingly satisfied with compromising each acorn shell within grasp, taking a quick nibble, and then tossing the acorn aside.  This struck me as being a bit wasteful. Yet, the scarcity of my perspective was in sharp contrast to the overabundance of acorns, of which nature unlikely intended each acorn to become a mighty oak tree.  This situation reminded me of an aphorism: the mighty oak is simply a tiny nut that held its ground.  Of course, in the complexity of nature, perhaps the author of this aphorism might have amended it to include something about that nut avoiding his cranium being crushed by a squirrelly beast.  My daughter has a serious fright about squirrels.  The origins of this fear are unidentifiable.  Perhaps she was an acorn in a previous life and a squirrel nonchalantly crushed her cranium and then casually threw her aside, thinking nothing of her casualty.

Sometimes the job of a poet is to take seemingly mundane or routine occurrences and infuse them with epic meaning.  While the crushing of one’s cranium by a seemingly harmless squirrel may be an apt definition of epic meaning, I look to more hopeful outcomes.  In this case, it is the off-chance, against-the-odds probability that even one acorn in the season of life survives, even thrives, to become a mighty oak.  From a sheer statistical point of view, this could be viewed as the fodder of a cruel joke.  But, alas, after a dark, cold winter, on occasion, as predictable as rare, the surviving sun teems with such fodder to produce a mighty oak which can outlive even the many seasonings on human life.  Of course, you first have to be a nut to truly believe this.  And if by some miracle you survive, even thrive, you will truly be for the birds…and even overly generous to those cranium-crushing squirrels squandering your babies.

POEM: Just Desserts

I had a dream
Where we lived
In a world
Where everyone got
What they deserved
I woke up
And was pleased
To recollect
We receive
More than we deserve

This short poem is about grace. In more tight-fisted moments, we may fantasize about people getting what they deserve. Many times this is more about punishment or revenge than justice. Grace is the infinitely large context that allows justice to flourish without devolving into mere retribution. There is no doubt that life has consequences. And sometimes those consequences spring from wise boundaries set with other people. Nonetheless, life also has origins. The fact that you are even alive is as mysterious as it is unaccountable. This reality is the context and basis for the perspective of grace. Good things come our way without our doing. The gratitude that emerges from such a perspective may very well be the most life-affirming aspect of human consciousness. Of course, bad things come our way without our doing. The former is called the problem of good. The latter is called the problem of evil. You don’t hear much about the problem of good for the simple fact that most people don’t consider it a problem. But, good is no less puzzling than evil. In fact, whether good (or evil) arises out of our human consciousness and experience may very well depend on our focus and perspective on good (or evil). As moral agents, it should come as little surprise that humans are self-fulfilling prophets.

When facing the puzzling “problem” of good and evil, many will make little account of where good comes from in life. However, it is a rare individual who doesn’t have strong opinions about where evil comes from. Let the rants begin! Ironically, the very reality that life is so awesome and precious (and undeserved) can lead us to fixate on unenlightened actions that threaten life. Tighten those fists; it’s going to be a scary ride! Even those who are highly skeptical, thinking that good and evil come from nowhere somewhere in the human heart, have to accede to the simple equation put forth in Eric Idle’s song, Always Look at the Bright Side of Life, from the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian:

I mean – what have you got to lose?
You know, you come from nothing
– you’re going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing.

See here for the irreverently rousing version of this song from Eric Idle himself in the movie.

I believe that life comes from something, not nothing. Somewhere in the mysterious heart of hearts from which life springs we can join in its rhythms and melodies. Or, we can tighten our fists fearing we will lose what we so mysteriously wonderfully have in the first place, which ironically, causes us to lose the spark of life within us. I think that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 25:29) May you bubble over with life, and may others not fear that there is not enough.

POEM: Until The Banks Overflow

In awe of creation
I am
Not alone
There is just us
Like an ever flowing stream
Until the banks overflow
Into unquenchable cache
And from the breast
Of life
Sucking
I am left
Nothing more
Than write

This short poem, like many of my poems, has dueling parallel narratives.  The first and foremost is the awesomeness of creation.  The overflowing nature of this awesomeness is the abundance upon which life is rooted.  Only when people start hoarding more than they need, banks overflow / Into unquenchable cache, does scarcity rear its ugly head.  This utter misreading of reality leads only to perpetual scarcity, within and without.  Whether experiencing awesome abundance and/or witnessing restless greed, I am often left with only the righting instrument of a poet.  Write on!

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: As The Tao Plunges

As The Tao Plunges

I seek boundless horizons
Beyond what can be billed
What you can have
Fore walls
No bull work
A retainer for passable living
A cistern to dammed dreams
Reining upon you
Only knot to be brothered with
As some look out
Your winnows
Punctuating all that you can
A fort
Out to sea
A veritable glass menagerie
To one’s peers
Pipe dreams
Leading too
A fire place
Your hanker chief
Scant comfort you
As most daze
Facing a cold hearth
An exhausting flue
And ashen remains
Yet why carp it
When you can have
Your Parkay® floors
For butter or worse
As you slip
Pitter pottering a bout
Your life cast
Dangerously close to kiln
For my ran some
I seek the earth’s bounty
To rise up
To meet my feat
And when I fall
I shall look up
Sharing a ceiling with the stars
No guise worrying
A bout some prostrate iffy canopy
For without
You might lose your marble’s
Stony ledges looking good
As the Tao plunges
And to the great abyss plumb it
To one’s own depth

This poem explores the relationship between the commonplace cubicles of the workplace, both literally and figuratively, and the great abyss singing its siren song, daring skilled sailors to plumb it, risking one’s own depth.  A life, well, lived, requires effort.  Beyond that, I’m not a big fan of work.  This is particularly true in modern America, pawning itself off as the pinnacle of Western civilization.  You’d think that the timeless questions of humanity had been answered once and for all, and all that you had to do is buy (and sell) one of the many great brands available.  Well, in my book, brands are for cattle.  Plus, my preference for vegetarianism leaves me with little use for cattle — or sheep — or chickens.  These days, people expend huge amounts of energy, and cash, to dress themselves up with others’ brands, defining themselves by what they own — or what owns them — by what they consume — or by what consumes them!  The fact that many people will pay extra for essentially advertising another’s brand shows the vacuousness of our own unique lives.  Gee, at least get paid to be a walking billboard.  And as I like to say, if you are going to sell yourself, at least get a good price!  It seems that living vicariously through someone else’s image, identity, celebrity, or sheer familiarity in pop culture, commands more value than undamming our own dreams.

The Tao is a masterful critique of the superficial.  The Tao in Chinese history and culture plays, perfectly synchronously with itself, a balancing role in contrast to Confucianism with its focus on set rules, set roles, and the centrality of propriety.  Unfortunately, Western civilization suffers from the worst of both worlds.  Modern America lacks both the harmony and balance of the Tao, and suffers a sociopathy, even nihilism, that Confucianism holds in check.  Perhaps America can harness its restlessness to throw off the dehumanizing forces of greed and undue focus on economic necessity.  The Tao offers a vision of the rest that gives rise to all.  The Tao is more than serendipitously short.  The Tao is concise, poetic, and sparse on words precisely because reality and relentlessly emerging life cannot be reduced to any imperial plan assuring a particular outcome.  It surely cannot be reduced to a brand!  The awesome abundance of nature’s bounty and the beautiful openness of human experience invites us, even begs us, into continual re-birth and re-creation.  All of creation groans for our freedom and participation in its bounty.  So, if it should seem that your life is ever in the toil it, be mindful as the Tao plunges, bypassing technological fixes and vexations, your dammed dreams may very well be unplugged.

POEM: Hungering for Answers

Hungering for Answers

We should stay the course
To turn the corner
To see the light
At the end of the tunnel
Yet long-term solutions
For the hungry
Are difficult to stomach
As for those who have
Empty hearts
Eatin’ out
Over the question
What too due
And how fast

This is another poem in honor of the 50th anniversary of the “War on hunger.”  Well-fed minds are familiar with the tensions between short-term “charity” and long-term solutions in addressing social issues.  Of course, long-term responses and procrastination across generations often go hand-in-hand among those with well-fed stomachs.  Hunger is not an issue that can be compassionately put off.  Tomorrow’s solutions still leave today’s empty belly empty.  It strikes me that the juxtaposition of great wealth and grinding poverty in our world yields a parallel juxtapositioning of empty bellies and empty hearts.  A typical excuse that well-fed minds make to their empty hearts is that continued hunger will teach those hungering how to be more responsible and avoid their hunger at some later date.  This sets up a bizarre serendipity in that children are most likely to be poor and hungry as well as thirsty sponges for learning.  So, what are these hungry children learning?  My guess is that hungry children learn more about the callousness of those with excess than the obvious lessons in securing food.  As if the excruciating experience of grinding poverty isn’t incentive enough!  Apparently not.  Of course, there are profound social factors outside of the control of hungry children and the overwhelming majority of hungry adults.  Given these realities, it is absurd to posit that individual irresponsibility is the primary cause of hunger.  Probably much worse than absurd; in fact: empty-hearted.  May we smash the barriers that keep us from sharing our abundance with those who have too little.

POEM: Lust Potential

Lust Potential

He looked about him
And saw
Their cups were filled
Even overflowing
And still
He mourned
The size of their cups

Years ago, I heard a description of heaven as a place where no matter the size of our cups all that we would know is that our cups are full.  I thought that this was a brilliant and beautiful image of humans resolving their relentless need to be more than who they are now.  This heavenly description illuminated some brilliant facets of human reality: that regardless of our capabilities we can be fulfilled, and that we need not compare our capabilities to others.  Of course, while this is a heavenly scenario, an illuminating ideal, us earthbound folks must grapple with envy, jealousy, and the unquenchable inclination to be more than we are now.  I believe that the first two can be redeemed; the latter I suspect is behind any impetus to even be redeemed!

Envy is the emotion that we feel when we want something that another possesses.  Typically, this is viewed with a negative connotation, a precursor to destructive behavior and relations. Envy lives within a worldview of scarcity, closed-sum thinking, and the fearful consequence which may ensue.  However, it can be viewed as inspirational, a precursor to creative behavior and relations.  Such inspiration can be made possible by living into abundance, where even loss or lack is parlayed into some positive gain, creating room for growth.  Jealousy is the emotion we have when we fear that we may be replaced in the affection of another.  Jealousy is also typically viewed with a negative connotation, living out of a place of insecurity, focusing on what we may lack and what another may want.  Jealousy is simply pre-mourning a potential loss.  And while mourning is a critical human developmental process, attempting to do the work of mourning before an actual loss has several great dangers.  First, the loss may never occur and we end up training for an event that is only in our head — this is needless worry.  Worse yet, such needless worry may actually facilitate our fears coming true, become a self-fulfilling prophecy — or perhaps more aptly, a self-unfulfilling prophecy!  Next, dealing with an imagined loss may have little bearing on what it takes to deal with an actual loss that does occur.  Like envy, jealousy is rooted in fear.  Fear holds us back from deeper and larger realities.  Nonetheless, even fear offers the pregnant possibility revealed in a stark contrast between itself and love.  Redemption is always looming!   Weave only got to hang in there!!  Both envy and jealousy can be wielded as an effective diagnostic tool to identify our fears, thus opening the possibility of testing these fears against the standards of love.  Love manifests itself in many ways.  Love can be the enjoyment and passion aroused by the preferred particularities of our life.  Love can be the filial or brotherly affection we experience with one another.  Love can be the intimate and erotic pleasures of a lover and best friend.  Love can be the unconditional love of God-like proportions, ever wooing us to be better, even more than we are now.  Love can be experiencing unconditional love so that we need not worry about what we have or don’t have, or who we are or aren’t.  Mysteriously and paradoxically, this latter unconditional acceptance seems to be the firmest foundation for change.

I wrote this poem partly because I have a personality where I see everything against a backdrop of perfection, which can drive me to heights of positive aspirations, or reduce me to a mole mourning mountains of loss potential.   I see the aspect of needing to be more than we are as an inescapable facet of being human.  Fortunately, it is not the only facet.  There is the rest.  I can experience awe that life has to offer without adding or subtracting anything.  And by not comparing myself to other, I become incomparable.

POEM: It’s About Time

One day
I had a dream
God came to me and said
Meet me tomorrow at 4:32 pm
On the bench
In the small park
At the corner of Ashland and Collingwood
Near your home
You have something I want
My first reaction was
Doesn’t God consider all of the riches of the world
As but a penny?!
Doesn’t God consider a thousand years
As but a second?!
What could God possibly
Want from me?!
My second reaction was
Isn’t that time and place
Awefully specific?
I closed shop a little early that next day
And I sat there
In the park
Lots of traffic
But not a soul
It seemed somewhat foolish
Know one there
Accept the neighborhood homeless guy
And, of course, me
So with perpetually bad timing
The homeless man blurts out
Yes, all of the riches of the world are as but a penny!
Yes, a thousand years is as but a second!
So be aware!
Now
A well dressed passerby
Shakes his head
Without breaking his gait
I was stunned
Buy the time
I could
Muster a thought
He was walking away
So I
Blurted out
So, if all of the riches of the world are as but a penny
And a thousand years is as but a second
Can you spare a dime!?
Without turning
He lightly raised his hand
Giving a somewhat dismissive gesture
Just
Saying
Sure
In a sec

This short poem is an elaboration of a joke I once heard.  I liked the juxtaposition of the sense of wealth and time from a divine and a human perspective.  The “better off” human(s) in this poem find themselves ironically betwixt the divine and “worse off” humans.  The joke exposes the gap between God and humans, as well as the gap between “better off” and “worse off” humans.  To someone with an immediate need, like the homeless, putting them off temporarily is essentially putting their need off essentially forever.  If not now, when?  The sad rationale that “better off” persons use regularly is that “the poor will always be with us” (to bastardize Jesus’ words), so we can help them occasionally when it is convenient for us — thanks homeless people for presenting that ongoing opportunity!  Unfortunately, this typically falls far short of meeting the need of many persons at any given time.

It is no accident that I wrote and published this poem during the Christmas season.  Jesus was a homeless man without worldly riches.  If we were to look to Jesus as a model manifestation of humanity and divinity, then celebrating Christmas would look little like modern Christmas, with its commercialization and focus on getting and consumption.  For at least centuries, humans have had the resources to meet every basic human need.  Yet, a painfully huge proportion of “present day” humans go without basic needs.  This fact of abundance stands as an indictment on the scarce and barren worldview that carries the day for most of us much of the time.  This is a worthy reality to reflect upon this “present day.”

POEM: Of Cucumbers and Fences

The punk was going to take
My cucumber
From my fence
So I clutched
My trusty shotgun
And I fired a shot
Way over his head
He scattered like so much buckshot
Having triggered his nerves
Like a fresh kill
Whose life would only ebb
A lessen all-too-familiar to mortals
Missing his heart
By a million miles
Would win me no award
As marksmen
Or neighbor
But sure enough
Would secure
My pride and property
For another day
My generosity unknown
For had he asked
A cucumber I’d have given
In unspeakable modesty
I am the grower of cucumbers
As well as
The builder of fences
And if I can’t have your respect
I’ll settle for your fear
Only growing
Outside my fences

This freshly grown poem sprung from a conversation I had yesterday with a new acquaintance in a coffee shop, perhaps appropriately with a poetry reading occurring across the room.  This poem is based on a story told to me by a self-described spawn of an old hillbilly, now serving as a leader of Libertarians.  Early in the conversation, I was threatened to be taken out back and beaten to a pulp, minus some snot.  This is not the first time I have experienced such a first shot over the bow in a conversation with a new Libertarian acquaintance.  As it was a public place and each of us apparently had some modest respect for the law, we could not compare manhoods directly.  He did confess that his threatening manhood was in fact a joke.  I suspect that there was a small truth to this.

While this poem is written in the first person, much like Adam or Cain and Abel, the story is of his proud hillbilly father.  Those who know me would expect that it wasn’t my own story, except inasmuch as it is all of our’s story.  I find the juxtaposition of a prideful swagger all-too-familiar with violence and a genuine down-home generosity as intriguing as it is commonplace.  The true conflict is between pride and generosity — one of which can be defended with violence.  Both the pride of the gardener, with his fence and shotgun, and the punk who dares steal from another’s labor, begs for something more, a deeper generosity.  Sometimes a punk’s taking is innocent, as from a garden meant for all, that garden of eatin’ of which we have all experienced.  Many times a punk’s taking is a lazy pride asserting that all is theirs for the taking, without regard to their neighbors.  Of course, the gardener’s pride can lead him to mistake himself for the Gardener, the giver of all, who possesses a generosity overwhelming any value-added we may contribute by our labor.  The fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, curses us with a fruit of awareness that competes with an all-encompassing awareness of the Gardener.  That competing awareness is the builder of fences, which both cuts ourselves off from the one garden and cuts others off with our fences.  The birth of private property possesses us.  Scarcity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, yet our profits remain strangely unfulfilling.  We look to grow fears outside our fences faster than thay grow within.  We learn to plunder with ease, not work, generous abundance.  And plucked from the vine such fruit dies.  Many a firstborn son has been planted at the hands of fearful gardeners a tempting to secure puny labors.  Such Abel-bodied young men stand as a testament, a very old testament, to the Cain-do attitude of private profits.  The first fruit is offering your best to God and neighbor.  The only sin: hoarding your first for yourself, and offering only your excess to God and neighbor.  What is it that would steal our hearts?  All fruits, and gardeners for that matter, die; only first fruits are born again and again, turning death into life — an offering Abel to banish fear, and transcend scarcity.  The fence between life and death is only the fence we truly know and fear.  And everyone knows: it takes a thief to know a good fence.  If you should cross a thief, or perhaps two, generously invite them in, or scarce join them.  May there be one fate shared: good for all.

POEM: A Farcical Foundation

A Farcical Foundation

An abundance
Of people
Build
Bank accounts
And resumes
In lieu of a better world
In the face of scarcity
Hoarding ourselves
Leaving our shares as chump change
Our resumes bankrupt
In grate sell deception
Talked into ahead in arrears
Left behind as good as a rite
A pauper wresting place
For a loan and a fraud dwelling
Only in habiting the largesse heart
As a lust resort
Fabricated upon a farcical foundation
Unable to settle what has been billed
Dropping all in loo
Of a better world
Too mulch
To imagine
For those with
The lyin’s share
Only as per jury
Of one’s peers

This poem gets to the heart of the matter.  The great divide in life is between wholehearted living and heartless living, which, of course, is not really living art all.  Choose life, not lifelessness!  As Jesus aptly put it, “You can’t serve both God and money.”  The love of God is the beginning of wisdom.  The love of money is the height of foolishness.  Of course, you only need to worry about this when God and money compete for your allegiance, say, most of the time you are awake! In modern monetized existence, a rather full assessment of what one values can be ascertained by how one spends their money (or not spends as the case may be).  Unfortunately, such an assessment process happens to be accurate precisely because of the great poverty in our lives which focuses on money (not God). A better accounting might include looking at how we spend our time.  Not surprisingly, in a culture which seems only to serve money as its highest value, Western civilization has managed to bastardize the typified 1950’s quest for leisure time by increasing work hours (and decreasing leisure time), even though productivity has grown by multiples.  There is way more money and “stuff” in the world than a few generations ago.  Still, the quality of life for the majority of the world’s population languishes.  As has been true for centuries, if not longer, there has been enough “stuff” to live good lives, except for the stubborn fact that humans have not learned to share well.  When will we accept the sociological and spiritual reality that beyond meeting our basic needs, money contributes little to happiness.  Perhaps more aptly put, if we hoard money for our own use beyond our basic physical needs, we will pay a social, political, and spiritual price for it, which will negate the perceived benefits of hoarding or consuming more.  In choosing disciplined simplicity for ourselves and generosity toward others, we can build more than bank accounts and resumes, and experience the most valuable stuff in life, the stuff that money can’t buy.

POEM: Same Old Hope

He said, “Wow, you’re the same old hopeful person.”
I said “Yes, and somewhat dyslexic.
I’m a Samo Hopien”

This short poem doubles as a bad joke.  Appropriately so, my dyslexia is in tandem with the double vision of punning.  I did not fully realize my dyslexic tendencies, until my son was diagnosed with mild dyslexia.  Looking back over my life, I realized that I had the same tendencies.  I had substantial difficulty learning to read.  I found scholastic mathematics vexing, but I could calculate numbers nimbly in my head. I still can’t look at a phone number, walk five feet to a phone and reliably dial the number.  This insight into a perceptual askewness explains a lot.  I think that I literally see things differently than most others.  I think that this jumbling of perceptions extends beyond the mere intake of data into my thought processes.  I have successfully learned to cope with this mild disability.  However, along the way, I think that I have developed a great gift: creativity in general, and punning specifically.  Creativity is most fundamentally combining a wide range of configurations of stuff and ideas.  My mind has little choice but to cope with this jumbled process of fumbling, sorting and making sense, finding meaning(s).  This has developed and honed my punning abilities over decades of practice.  Also in tandem with my punning is a terminal hopefulness.  This hope may also spring more robustly from an involuntary exposure to an abundance of possibilities catalyzed by mildly dyslexic tendencies. We are not stuck in chaos or cruelty.  As Gandhi revealed so simply and so elegantly, “Peace is possible.”  This hope, which energizes my work for justice, is the capstone of my persona as Top Pun.  Out of apparent chaos rises a deeply hopeful integrity and a semantic jujitsu rarely matched in the service of social justice. Take that you disability so miled!

POEM: Taking Care

Take care
Steal it if you must

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

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