POEM: The Next Best President

Victory lies
In the wanton
To be a sitting president
Existentially unable to take a stand
As a wizard behind the bully pulpit
Meaning only
Curtains for US
A commandeered
In chief smitten
Buy the status qouteth
Juggling interest
In a-moral bankruptcy
Issuing debt sentences
Wile balderdashing dreams
In compromising positions
Poll dancing
For hard one
Elections
In feckless cockiness
If only
Too covet to term
Any chide or promise
The next won’s problem
And if such a state of the union
Bares an infantile posterity
Too whatever
Extant illegitimate
In the victory lies
The spoils

With this poem, I grudgingly join the charade sometimes referred to as Presidential election season.  Unfortunately, it is rarely too early to say that the next commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military superpower will not bring us peace.  If you want to join the truly delusional, give them a Nobel Peace Prize before they do anything to not earn it!  The good news is that the system is not broken.  The System Was Never Broken It Was BUILT That Way - POLITICAL BUTTONThe bad news is that the system is fixed!  Electoral politics, particularly the farther you go up the ladder, has a limited range of possible options.  This simply means that the leadership we get is tightly constrained to the powers that be, the status quo.   Electoral politics is akin to changing the system from within, using presumptuously representative democracy garnered through elections and direct means (think money and status) of influencing such alleged representatives.  Non-electoral politics is akin to changing the system from outside the standardly sanctioned tools of democracy.  Protest beyond the law is not departure from democracy; it is essential to it Of course, these two ways of being politically active are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, non-electoral politics is simply a more holistic way of changing the body politic.  For example, I would encourage people to vote.  It doesn’t take much time and it makes some difference.  Let your representatives know directly from you what you want from them.  Ask for what you want.  However, if we rely only on electoral politics to meet the needs and demands of the people, the 99%, then we should expect to be sorely disappointed.  My view is that politicians are largely akin to the rigging on a sailboat, and they will ultimately go largely wherever the wind blows.  Speaking into the captain’s ear may be considered proper protocol, but this is largely reserved for a privileged few who can cancel out voices heard from the masses from dinghies or from people who are overboard.  My goal is to change the political winds.  Part of power is the ability to define or frame the questions we ask. The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake people up first -- Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTON The answers we get depend profoundly on the questions we ask!  Oftentimes, wee have to take such power, not simply ask for it.  Movements like Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street have been successful at manifesting such power.  “The 1%” and “the 99%” are now part of our lexicon, framing the way we view the world and molding the questions we ask.  The simple and persistent assertion that black lives matter has thrown a wrench into the largely invisible (to white people) machine of white supremacy.  One of the greatest tools of the powers that be is the power of distraction.  The insistence that large movements have a detailed set of demands is central to this playbook.  As if the powers that be simply overlooked these huge injustices (yes) that could be legitimately be attacked on multiple fronts and they are waiting (stalling) to jump into action.  Truth is on the side of the oppressed. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONWhat part of “Stop Wall Street from robbing us,” or blacks crying out “Stop killing us,” don’t they understand?!  The powers that be are not stupid, simply shrewd.  They will do everything in their power to distract us, divide us, and if need be, conquer us with violence, exposing their morally bankrupt and anti-democratic foundations.  Of course, the people pushing back on the lies of the powers that be exposes the veneer of civility and democracy that so-called respectable governments need to function.  All Truth Passes Through Three Stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. --Schoepenhauer quote POLITICAL BUTTONThis was central to Gandhi’s political strategy.  As paraphrased in the Movie, Gandhi: “What you cannot do is accept injustice — you must make the injustice visible. The function of a civil resister is to provoke a response, and we will continue to provoke until they respond or they change the laws. It will not be over if they arrest me, or if they arrest a thousand people…it is not only generals who know how to run campaigns! They are not in control — we are. That is the strength of civil resistance.”  May we hold firm to the truth, “satyagraha,” and be patient as the details will follow.

They can cut all the flowers, but they can never stop the spring -- Pablo Neruda quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: More of the Sane

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

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

POEM: Liberal Mined Violent

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

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

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

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

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

 

POEM: 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: Awe Full Going On

In oblivious camp
The guard threw shoes at us
My pair was too big to fill
More suited to Tariq
Though mine were newer
Tariq’s were old
And bound to be
A little too snug
Seeing more than a pair
In his eyes
More than a trader
As a Spanish Moor
Don quixotically
His feat covered
In such a broad cast
O Don my don
Won
Never entreating
Me mirrorly
For what
I had
My number coming up
Finding myself only
Equal to death
In life
And awe full
That’s going on

WARNING: This commentary contains spoilers — and/or clues.

This 92-word poem is packed with overlapping and intertwined cultural references.  First, the initial inspiration came from an unexpected source, a source to which I stumbled upon, from a momentary image in the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, where he chronicles his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors; specifically in a short “Making of Maus” presentation by PBS. A character commented on the shoes he was thrown by a concentration camp guard paying no attention whatsoever to matching the shoe with the man.  This struck me as a surreal brandishing of a perversed proverb, “If the show doesn’t fit, wear it.”

Fast forward to today.  Instead of in a concentration camp, the setting is an “oblivious camp,” a self-parody of the horror of genocide.  Given a recipient named Tariq, the implied guard is an Israeli, a Zionist, maybe even a Jew (this is the author speaking).  The apparent irony of Israeli fascism is further multiplied by shoe throwing as an especially insulting gesture to Arabs.  The guard neither knows nor cares.

The story is told in unnamed first-person.  Those who know me, the author, know that I am not Palestinian.  Those who really know me, know that I am Palestinian — at least if weave ever metaphor.  The narrator has a newer, “better” pair compared to his companion shoe receiver, Tariq.  The “too big to fill” as well as “pair” also refer to a man’s balls, i.e., courage.  The hubris of violent retribution may pass for courage, yet, remain “too big to fill.”  Something of a higher spiritual nature is lacking, preventing fulfillment.  Being puffed up with worldly power also leaves us cramped spiritually.  The “too big to fill” is also a reference to “big shoes to fill,” meaning of a challengingly high moral fulfillment — “More suited to Tariq.”  While Tariq’s shoes (and balls) were old, he was “Bound to be,” to exist freely in his being and be bound in his existence.  To the unschooled, “A little too snug” can appear as cramped, naive, even smug. But, alas, “Seeing more than a pair,” there is more to life than mere possessions, or even worldly courage.  “Seeing more than a pair/In his eyes,” is the meeting of souls, through truly looking into the eyes, the windows of the soul, and seeing one another’s humanity.  “More than a pair” alludes to more than a pair of shoes, more than even a pair of companion souls, including and transcending even the oblivious guard, alluding the an ever-mysterious, even awe full third.

Ironically, Tariq means conqueror.  And conquering covers a lot a ground (often with blood).  The Spanish Moor reference deepens the “More than a trader” reference, alluding to more than simply trading tit for tat, more than trading by means of outright conquering, and more than a traitor by alternating roles as oppressor and oppressed in life.  The Moors were African (black), Arab, and Muslim.  They occupied “Spain” for 800 years beginning in 711 AD.  Tariq ibn Ziyad was the conquering Moor general.  They brought literacy and “civilization” to Spain.  The ironies emanating from such history into contemporary life exceed perhaps even that of the most famous Jew, Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, now portrayed as a Christian.  Now, the black Arab, Muslim, Spanish Moor reference turns on Spanish culture with Tariq’s Don status, meaning a lord or gentleman, or even mafia boss; plus, there is the allusion to donning another’s shoes as need be even amidst one’s idealism (Don quixotically).  “His feat covered” alludes to accomplishments lost to history, met with the acceptance and certainty of death.  The inevitable turning of fates does not confound the wise man who sees these as the inexorable breathing in and out of history.

Back to the narrator, “In such a broad cast,” the oblivious dropping of the shoe of history upon us engenders the seeking of redemption in the equanimity of Tariq the conqueror now vanquished of earthly victory.  “O Don my don/Won” is a cry to a Don with a capital D from a don with a lowercase d to move beyond simply donning one set of circumstances after another in a perpetually unfulfilling chase for the ultimate tale — or whatever tale won can muster.  Here lies the reference to “don Won” (Don Juan), history’s most notorious tale chaser, ever confident in youth’s distance from death, ever accessible superficialities, and repentance as procrastination’s crowning achievement in the face of a God sow loving.  What good is clinging to victories when death, the great equalizer, stands over us?

The narrator suspects that Tariq might have an answer.  The narrator’s cry “O Don my don” is a venerable ripoff of Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain,” about Abraham Lincoln and his death, reminding us that after even achieving epic victory (e.g., freedom from slavery), our greatest will eventually fall cold and dead, and we will each be left with “mournful tread” as we seek to fulfill our own soul’s purposes without the benefit of particular great souls by our side.  When you are going through hell, keep going -- Winston Churchill quoteThe narrator’s cry to Tariq, all ready as good as dead, confesses his unreciprocated vanity: “Never entreating/Me mirrorly/For what/I had.”  No matter how high we might be able to crank up our number, our number always comes up.  Tariq lives and dies in this essential equality.  Tariq sees beyond the pinings that box us in.  Mysteriously, the challenge becomes clearer when we have little to cling to, and perhaps clearer still, when what we cling to is an unbefitting shoe, freeing us though its tragic comedy.  Know longer cluttered by the stuff of life, the narrator confronts a new reality: “Finding myself only/Equal to death/In life/And awe full/That’s going on.”  As the awful is going on, may you find yourself full of awe, for that’s going on!

 

POEM: A We Occupation

I get deeply cared away
Buy you being
On the same side as me
Conveniently not paying
A tension
To the under
Lying fact
That there is but
Won side
Which wee occupy

This short poem addresses a theme that underlies much of my poetry, that, in ultimate reality, we are one.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  The ego, wed to its own independence, over and above interdependence, resists a shared destiny, routinely seeking to carve out its own apparent advantage over larger realities.  After experiencing one’s fair share of unpleasant events, and witnessing the sheer pervasiveness of such events in life, competing to rise above such a fray seems eminently natural — eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.  Only a deep humility and an unbound love for life can transform destruction of selves into self-realization.

Must life feed on life?  Of course, as one, what else could one feed upon?  As a literal example, our food comes from living beings.  Now, some meat-eaters employ this fact as a convenient rationalization that killing is normal, or at least a “necessary” evil, and lazily leap to a mode of thinking (and eating) where killing is of little consequence.  I see enlightenment of living beings gently resting on that thin line between eating and being eaten.  If life must feed on life, is there a way of feeding upon life that enhances life not diminish it?  I believe that life can get bigger or smaller, as a whole, and as a self within the whole.  How big or how small I’m not sure.  Nonetheless, that thin line, our consciousness, is where the expansion or contraction rests.  Is our consciousness, and conscientiousness, confined to our self, our family, our tribe, our species, our planet, or what?  Consciousness may very well be the heart of life itself.  In this case, increasing consciousness increases life and decreasing consciousness decreases life.

One construct of evil would be feeding on death, a level of (un)consciousness that does not recognize or share consciousness with other beings.  Evil consumes consciousness.  In a sense, what evil does share is unconsciousness or contracted consciousness.  Functioning with a shared unconsciousness reduces humans to mere billiard balls, a set, albeit complex set, of cause and effect relationships guided by causes (including others’ wills) outside our self.  In essence, “choosing” unconsciousness or declining to expand consciousness takes us out of the game (the game being enhancing consciousness, life).  Contracted consciousness is a set of relationships (a “contract”) created and maintained by our wills, consciously chosen.  It is these contracts that form the substance and style of our culture, ethical debates, and political fights.  Still, consciousness, and its creative existential force, the will, lies outside any particular set of relationships (material conditions) that can be chosen.  Expanding consciousness will necessarily run into this awareness, that any particular culture, set of social conditions, or ideology, cannot control our conscious free will.  The seemingly obvious exception to this is death, or more specifically, killing, presumably ending conscious free will.  Justified killing is included in most contracts among humans today.  What this often overlooks is that killing particular expressions of conscious free will does not eliminate conscious free will; most bluntly illustrated by the fact that this would require suicide (thus, the fascination of murder-suicide by existentialist writers).  No doubt, killing is a very blunt way of trying to reign in conscious free will.  Of course, many contracted belief systems include an afterlife, the survival of conscious free will.  If this is true, this radically alters the effectiveness of killing.  Unfortunately, sometimes the belief in an afterlife, rather than simply leading to bold living, serves in the rationalization of killing (e.g., “kill them all and let God sort them out”).

Conjoining our consciousnesses seems best served by the most profound precept: love your enemies.  That which is not you — or more aptly put, that which you do not want to be you — must be both transcended and entered into.  Each of us and all of us are best served by manifesting the courage to confront and reconcile both our own inner dark side and the darkness manifest in others.  Back to the eat or be eaten metaphor, the question is begged: what if you were the pray.  The more gently profound precept, have compassion on all living beings, spurs us to walk in another’s shoes and no what it is like for shoeless souls laid bare to the world.  May we all be grounded, and laid to rest, with such compassionate and conscious living.  I deeply appreciate the Zen story of the man encountering another man somewhat boasting in tales about his great relationship and love of animals, to which he interjects, “A fish once saved my life.”  The boaster’s curiosity was peaked to hear such a tale.  To which he was told: “Once I was lost in the woods and perilously hungry.  I found a fish in the stream, and I ate him.”  This signature Zen approach is transcendentally funny and, not coincidentally, enlightening.   He deflated pomposity.  Lauded the fish which saved his life.  Plus, he outflanked even the most compassionate ideology, witnessing to the mystery of mysteries needed to instill life into any chosen ideology.  The Christian take on dietary ideologies is less clever but makes a similar point: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11)

All great philosophies and the mysticism at the heart of all religions recognizes the irreducible, creative freedom present in humans.  The mystery of creation parallels the making of humans in God’s image as co-creators, romping around the created universe.  Creation focuses on the will, the power present in human consciousness, and presumably God’s consciousness.  However, consciousness is the prerequisite to experience itself, whereby meaning arises, even made possible. Consciousness gives rise to (the experience of) the other, the myriad of things, including our body and mind.  Consciousness, sometimes called “The third eye,” is the seat of all seeing, even able to see our mind from a vantage point other than the mind itself, the true “I.”  Consciousness enlivens existence with experience and we can meaningfully participate in the myriad of things (the created world) through our will.  I strongly suspect that the foundational importance of relationships, sharing, and creation spring out of the nature of God.  As I see it, God consciousness and will give rise (create) to the other so it can share the experience of an other.  Maybe God just got tired of self-consciousness (see my poem: An Answer to the Problem of Evil, which is much more playful than the weighty title might connote).  Giving/creating seems to be the foundational nature of sharing present in enlightened beings, which cements the centrality of relationships among others.  I am struck by the tripartite truth of consciousness of self, the palpable created reality in which we experience, and the irascibly creative will from which we add our own touches.  Granted, I may be touched.  Still, there is a spirit within me that will not rest until our created reality is won size fits awe.

 

POEM: Where The Win Blows

He axed me
What are your demands
Other than justice
Or saving life?
Claiming that
We must shed light
On just said
Shady distinctions
I mirrorly pronounced
That the win blows
And we no knot wear
Such goest
In this Ruth-less whirled
Whither fallowing
Long the weigh
In grave deliverance
Or
Idol metings
And hollowed turning
Led to goaled
As wee are ruled out
In is capable
Voiding this cryptic rout
Wear even
The wise crack
Quipping us
Beyond what said
As inevitable
Ran some
Never the less
A firm
I no people
Who are experts
In every thing for sail
Filling the echo chamber
With rounds and rounds
And shots for the hole shebang
Who wouldn’t know just us
If it
Peered before them
Un-less
Creating an impression
As passing wind
A harness for the people
Those political wins
Properly rigged
As canvassing
In every dialection
That exclusive rationale
Making everyone wont to yacht
Just saying
Utterly finished
With such stale heir
And wads of dollareds
For which the winds of change blow
Only wanting to go somewhere
Wear I can
Breathe
Just as
The win

This poem is about means and ends, and the dangerous complications of focusing so much on methods and techniques that the intended ends are no longer produced by the means.  For example, much ado about the Occupy movement focused on the perplexity about the apparent lack of specific demands.  Nevertheless, if you asked most any American what the movement was demanding, most of what they perceived was accurate.  Fix Wall Street; resist injustices with your whole body and soul — this might be one fair interpretation.  However, the distractive powers of the concrete are usually sufficient to keep one’s feet from hitting the concrete.  Getting caught up in the details can allow us to quiet effectively bend those details to our own privilege and self-interests.  If we keep our eyes on the prize, details will remain details, and how we get there becomes, well, details.  Still, even Wall Street, in its seeming Teflon vacancy, may appear immune to hanging the big picture upon.  You have to bring your own faith, they are sold out.  There is little argument that the Occupy movement has changed the political winds.  Who doesn’t immediately recognize and resonate with the framework of the 99% versus the 1%, and what justice demands?

The pragmatism of the world usually carries the day.  Courageous idealism, breeding hope and sacrificial solidarity, carries generations.  For the pregnancy of ideals to be borne into the world, they need to be carried to term, long-term.  The political riggings of short-term wins offers tempting short-term relief and the lure of incremental change.  Still, the winds of change will carry any riggings as it will; the pragmatism of politicians will follow any political wind.  Such is God’s genius, that even the most conniving politician will eventually, even dutifully, follow the political winds. The purpose of the citizen is to be the wind.  The patience, passion, and wisdom necessary for the good life can never be nailed down by technocratic solutions.  Whether the most “civilized” political compromise or outright crucifixion, a vital human heart cannot be built or destroyed by the best and brightest minds machinations nor the most-well-trained minions.  The spirit enlivening humanity comes and goes freely as the win.  Our way of life is literally a way of life, not an end to be achieved.  In the inescapable and quite capable dynamism of life, the means and the ends are, in fact, the same.  Daily living in a courageous and just fashion, no matter how unfashionable, is the truest currency of democracy; the rest is derivative, that is, follows.

POEM: Nevermore Contrived

In the distant future
But not too distant
Man fashions
A machine
That does every thing
For us
For the trees
Imperceptible
To awe but sum
Living in passed tense
Eternal re-pose
Holding sway
In make believe lives
And unexamined lies
So bold over
Weather manner machine
Companied buy nerves of steel
No more tempting stripped ease
Fore incalculable futures
Re-buffed completely
In surging acts of sedation
Knot in any weigh
Quiet getting
What
We came for
Never more
Contrived

This poem is about the many falsehoods being sold as truth in the marketplace of ease and predictability.  Such calculating contrivances pawn the notion that two half-truths are of equal value as a singular truth.  While many such a fool’s formula are accompanied by beguiling animations, the lively hood they occupy is a barren busyness.  Life is not a package deal that can be souled by gimmicks and machinations, no matter how inventive.  There is no technology that can substitute for the disciplines of the heart.  There is no security system that can supplant the the counsel of courage.  There are no makeshift maneuvers that can unseat sacrifice.  There is no peril that does not shrink before wisdom.  There is no coercion that can do a way with liberty.  There is no worldly power or unequaled minions that can equal trust.  There is no status or celebrity that is the match of intimacy.  There is no brand identity, fan club or religion that can replace true solidarity.  There is no ploy that can stand-in for play.  There is no narcotic that can super seed hope and dreams.  There is no outsourcing of accountability.  Reality will have its weigh with you. We must throw our counterfeits into the forge of Mordor, as the hollowed ring of power leads us to false thresholds, revolving adores that steer us to idol pastures and perpetual cowing.

POEM: Ebola US Over

Ebola US over
When fear metes science
When we no what too due
Still, rabidly executing our will
As wee act in sanity
Cheap as rationed rationality
Upscale absurdity
As some fret butler
Frankly red-faced, not giving a damn
As long as they are on the winning genocide
As good as dread
Only wont
Too feel safe
Feverishly incubating terrors
In the timed, spaced continuum
Of the perpetual see of terminable daze
Enduring weaks
Of what dismay
Or may knot
Deliver us
Into harm’s weigh
Stamping out indignantly
Aversion of reality
We cannot except
Fomenting in a culture
Fixed on negative results
Mirrorly symptoms apprehended
Temperatures rising
Going viral
As the unexplained hemorrhages
Everything alarmingly scene
As through
A prism of fear
For which there is no anti-dote
Forever catching
US on the flip side
Little escaping what is in
Our nature
Passing
On that sore option
Liquefying our cells
Or seizing only
That which is key
To the beginning of our end
In courage unbolting
And open fortitude
That other wise will
To our enemies heel
Yet for all won knows
Bolus over with a feather
Joining farces with that gag reel
Fore what bitter medicine than that
Given the bird
That can’t swallow
Or a flee
In deed doggedly drug
A collar
Not worthy a copper or gumshoe
So give it a rest

I wrote this poem a while back, just after the first Ebola case showed up in the United States.  I have training and experience in public health, and I worked in the 1990’s in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Communicating risk accurately is difficult, particularly in an environment of fear and histrionics. Also, it doesn’t help that the scientific literacy level of the American public is disabling in this matter.  As a scientist and poet, I hope that this poem offers some insight into such conundrums.

Fear and ignorance are a lethal combination, and they have a nefarious synergy with infectious disease outbreaks.  Ignorance often leads to a dangerous undervaluing of prevention early in an epidemic.  Then, when the epidemic becomes visible, closer to home, fear often demands actions that are often useless or counterproductive.  If confusion prevails amidst a population, infectious disease can flourish, as energies are squandered on off-mark enterprises and scientifically-validated methods are not sufficiently adhered to, often because of ignorance and suspicion, even if plenty of fear and concern is present as a motivator.

The Ebola virus is particularly lethal, yet it is not easily transmissible nor transmissible in people without easily-identified symptoms (though not necessarily Ebola-specific symptoms).  The chains of Ebola transmission can be broken.  We need to persistently apply our abundant knowledge about Ebola, with a measure of courage, to defeat it.  If our unfounded fears overwhelm our capacity to address Ebola in a rational manner, then the legitimate fear that Ebola poses us will become unnecessarily magnified into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

May we drum up the courage and resolve to fight Ebola based on what we know well rather than that which is uncertain and subject to fear-mongering.

POEM: Know More Than Sentimental Fuels

I am petroleum
I am coal
I am “natural” gas
Set me free
From my dark and stony hearth
My fiery nature lying in wait
Sow vent on destruction
And I will bequeath
Once-in-an-eon jobs
That you will blow
In your cracking and fracking
As so much money
With climate change to spare
Busy having
The tomb of your life
For when civilization collapses
And you are waste deep interred
With my underworld nature unleashed
Meting yours
I will catacomb your world
Exchanging your place for mine
And what remains of humanity
At best will see me
As know more than a sentimental fuel
Spewing out worthless airs
To the end of the earth

I find myself writing more and more poems about our environment, particularly about the crisis of climate change.  This aptly reflects my conviction that dealing with climate change and establishing a sustainable harmony with mother nature is the biggest challenge that humanity faces this century.  I feel confident saying this, even though we are still early in the century.

This poem is written as a first person poem, where carbon-based energy forms, long sequestered safely underground, encourage us to free them from their long-established place in nature.  In this poem, the personification of carbon-based energy takes on a demonic, underworld character.  The promise of “once-in-an-eon jobs” seems an offer more than generous enough to lock us unto our fossil fuelish addiction.  Now, I don’t believe in demons, surely none emanating from mother nature’s bosom.  But who needs hell when you have greedy and lazy humans who apparently would rather drown in their own waste than pay adequate respect to their mother.  Humans have, in effect, made themselves a bunch of mothers — and not very good ones. This is original sin; the rest is derivative.  I see no animus in mother earth.  Still, nature does have boundaries with predictable feedback.  If mother earth keeps have to dealing with all this human shit, then I expect mother earth will have enemas.  And even us fans of the earth will get hit with it…

POEM: As I Poor Myself

As I poor myself
Out into the streets
A pasture for the people
At ease with just us
Weather soon becoming
A torrent of change
Oar that which trickles our fancy
A tributary to humanity
That no’s know bounds
And has no interest in banks

This poem is about that which makes us human, which can run still and deep or as a raging river.  Much of life is somewhere in-between, yet hopefully that which reflects our passions and fancies.

This poem also weaves this being human into community.  We cannot be fully human alone.  Or better said, we are more fully human in community.  This may take the form of joining hands and hearts in working for justice or simply enjoying the company of others.  Such accompaniment breeds further humanity.

Since being human tasks us with the never-ending paradox of needing to be more than human, we face an eternal question of choosing growth or decay, participating consciously in the unfolding of life or feudally try to hold onto what is passing by.  Humanity is furthered when its members are self-transcendent and when humanity transcends itself.  This perpetual opportunity and call for growth seeds a certain rebellion into any status quo.  There are always frontiers to cross, new lessons to learn, and new experiences to take in.  The most vital moments in life cannot be banked, and this poem concludes simply with a bank shot.  The true currency of life is not money, status, or power, but courage, hope, and kindness.  And life is never so exacting that there is not change left over…

POEM: Sew Your Frayed

Fear takes you
Too the toil it
For those privy to life
If you have years, listen
Courage makes you
What sow ever the seasoning
Spring dew
Or winter flakes
You knead not be
Scared for life
Weather an incite job
Or out word bound
So telling
Down with that
Quizzical expression
Facing your maker
Sew your frayed
Stranded
Over looking
Needle-less to say
What will
It take
Enough
To send a chill down your spying
Feeling so
Small still
Voice
Which can knot
Be herd
In a big baaaaad whirled
Wear everything
Is holey
Flocked up
As you
Sheepishly secede
Just getting
Threw it
Wandering
If only
Poor Me
Might be
Better off
Dread
Then mined
Racing
As if
Possessed
Yet without
Apprehension
Shuddering your vary life
Frighting fore breath
Too feel the qualm
As dismay
Or may not
Come about
Or in courage found
A future borne
Weather bold over
Or destiny snatched
You will
In deed
Learn
To let go
And discover
Whatever
Attain meant
Having shown up
As fully present
Equal too
The fair and bizaar
Yielding
A candid life, sow sweet
On the up and up

This poem about fear was by request — yesterday.  I thought that it would take a couple of weeks to get to it, but the muse is fickle and demanding.  Thanks to my neighbor’s unduly loud alarm going off AGAIN at 5 AM, I surrendered to wakefulness and wrote this poem.

Fear and worry seldom pay good dividends.  I do find fear to be a great diagnostic tool to identify issues that I need to be aware of and work on.  Fears seem to populate the surface of life, often masking deeper desires.  One of my favorite quotes is by Amela Earhart, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  Our lack of peace is probably directly proportional to our lack of courage.  I cannot tell you what form courage needs to take in your life, but it is the engine of peace.

I often like to boil ideas down to their simplest distillation.  One formula for life that I’ve run across has impressed me with both its brevity and power:  Show up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.  Let go of the outcome.  This covers a lot of ground!  May you find wisdom and courage to secure a sweet peace.

POEM: Never Wanton Too Leave

In the tree of life
I take my leave
Looking not
To politicians, generals, celebrities, or philanthropists
For salvation
Re-lying not
On triangulating hourly opinions
In gluttonous cynicism
That fuels no bodies everywhere
But their own
Leaning not
On skulking intelligence
And hulking legions
Bulwarking the eternal fewed
With the shock and awe of epic fauxs
Not giving my nod
To looking glass likenesses
Endorsing make up
For broken weighs of life
Nor counting on
Oversized purses
Itemizing riddled coffers
Curmudgeoning us to death
Only bequeathing
Close-fisted sermonettes
Instead
I look to
Neighbors
As well as I kin
And friends in deed
Awe ways in courage
So gorge us
Prone to gentleness
To won another
A parent
And a peer
In our wake
We gather intimately
Cultivating our bounty
Where everyone is a head
And strangers honor guessed
Only kneading dough
To break bread
Round the table
At know time
Turing on us a test
Knot on your life
Leaving no one behind
Never wanton too leave

This poem strikes again at my frequent theme of the inane versus the meaningful, pitting the superficial and dehumanizing forces of the powers that be against more intimate and personal ways of relating to one another.  The poem also intimates the bounty of healthy human community that wins hands down (and fists down) against lesser machinations of the political, military, famous, and monied.

I feel obliged to disclose the most obscure pun in this poem, lest it be gravely mistaken as a typo or such.  Turing on us a test is an alliterative pun for turning (e.g., turning the tables), but also a reference to the Turing test which is used to distinguish a human being from a machine (human intelligence versus artificial intelligence).

I find the notion that humans are just complicated dirt as both bizarre and dangerously foolish.  If humanity cannot distinguish between itself and inanimate matter, then we should hold very little expectations for humans and any higher potential.  The rationale that seems compelling to some, that we are merely some type of biological computer, leaves the human heart empty, sterile, out of reach, and puzzlingly irrelevant.  Anyone committed to reducing all human friendship, love, joy, hope, and faith to deterministic factors (mere machinations) is an amputator of humanity and a denier of the mystery of life.  My hope with this poem is to remind folks that living into the mysterious grace of life, particularly human life, when shared, not denied, leads to growth of said life.

The title of this poem, and its final line, Never wanton too leave,beckons the metaphor of the tree of life.  We are each a leaf on the tree of life, we cannot live alone yet we are an important part.  There is both a profound humility and sacred value in being human.  May we never be less than we were created to be, nor overblown, in finding our way in life.

POEM: Albatross Necklace Futures

I stared at the world
I could have built
Had I
Grasped more
Farce fully
A stock pile
Awe but reaching
Heaven
Falling short
Of mature stature
Leaving behind
Child’s play
The ripe now
And not trading in
Futures
Of albatross necklaces
Adorned by all

This poem is a tip of the hat to the story of the Tower of Babel, where mankind tries quite literally to build a stairway to heaven.  This ancient tale of vanity is perhaps even more true now than when it was first told.  With advances in science and technology the notion of building a socialist paradise that saves humanity from its own perennial moral dilemmas seems all the more possible, and therefore, tempting.  Of course, knowledge is no sin; but, the hubris to think that you can cheat reality is.  There are no technological means to bypass courage, faith, and compassion or love.  Humans are the proper instrument for courage, faith, and love.  Any worldview that negates humanity by pretending that humanity can somehow be bypassed, along with its unavoidable moral responsibility, is idolatrous.  Idolatry is simply constructing the foundation of one’s life (whatever you consider authoritative) on images of reality rather than reality itself.  Simply put, humans cannot create a world where they no longer need to be good, that is make moral choices, with their commensurate values or “costs”, which include courage, faith, and love

Any ideology or social system can function idolatrously, if it is considered an end not the means to something greater.  Such rigid, graven images impair proper human functioning, which is relational, not simply a “thing” to be better sculpted.  The something greater is dynamic living relationships.  In religious terms, the great commandments are relational as loving God and loving neighbor.  Unfortunately, humans are quite adept at over-concretizing spiritual truths and settling for worshiping the stone images (e.g., ten commandments) printed word (e.g., Bible), or any system of thought, rather than the reality to which they point: God and neighbor.  Inasmuch as we stop and settle for an image of what our relationships should be, we actually step outside of that living relationship and kill it.  In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the “People of the Book”), God keeps it very simple by declaring to Moses to tell the people only “I am who I am” (or, “I will be what I will be.”)  The rest involves having a relationship with the “I am who I am.”  Of course, in modern secularism, this is epically avoided by denying even the existence of “I am who I am.”  Not surprisingly, the “I am who I am” residing within us all gets short shrift and humanity is left to define itself simply by its material aspects, limiting it’s nature to “I am what I am” — which I call the Popeye fallacy.  The Popeye fallacy omits a dimension of our being, leaving us a mirror caricature.  Much alienation in modern Western civilization is rooted in mistaking humans as “what” not “who.”  People are not things, at least not things alone.  To add to the irony and epic misdirection, legal fictions like corporate “personhood” are considered “human,” while humans have difficulty mustering such status.  Such battles over what a person is, a who or a what, may very well define our age.  May we have the wisdom to know the difference!

Of course, this poem frames the epic theme of idolatrous hubris on a more modest, individual level.  Hubris often hides in the “humble” context of the individual, with a built in rationalization that one person cannot make the difference.  This itself is an amoral or immoral act.  Morality always plays out among individual moral agents.  This is the very point of what is often avoided by shifting agency onto society, deflecting moral agency altogether, or claiming that “the devil made me do it” (insert ‘terrorist’ for ‘devil’ to upgrade to “modern” worldview).

Lastly, moral agency is played out in real time, the now.  Respecting the relational process of being human, which is inherently subjective, must favor the present over some conception or image of a future end.  More simply put, humans are ends in themselves, not to be subjugated to another’s systems of images of the future.  Keeping it real means honoring humans as sacred participants in this process, always valuing who people are more than what they are, or even what they may be.  I suspect that faith in God, the “I am who I am,” is trusting that the greater is lived out by focusing on who, not what.  This may very well be the inseparable nature of loving God and loving neighbor, each reinforcing one another in blessed mutuality.  May it be so.

POEM: My Brand of Value

My brand value
Has plummeted recently
So says sum consultant
As some seer into my pristine hide
Speaking a bout
Clashing symbols
In the mark it place
Some limbic game how logo
Soliciting every thing
That can be taut
As I must be
Scarred for good
Pimping my horrors
To a void
Tear attacks
Or fiscal fits
In a world lackeying so much
I’ll pass
Perhaps in tact
Or knot out live
Still
Forever chaste
Know thanks
I do believe
I’ll steer clear
Of dis figure or dat figure
And risk being
De-filed

In order to sell ourselves for a high price, we need to pay homage to our brand.  We often need to distort and simplify our deepest passions and interests so others can easily recognize our “value,” that is as such value may be determined at any given time and culture.  In the marketplace of our modern world, this typically means configuring our lives to maximally monetize ourselves.  Reducing our lives to money is a dangerous undertaking for our humanity.  This poem takes issue with the assumption that we should spend much of our life trying to sell ourselves.  What exactly would be a good balance?  Perhaps 15% slave, 15% whore, and 70% free range human would be a good compromise.  After meeting our basic physical needs, it strikes me that we should be devoting ourselves to the things that money can’t buy.  Even meeting our basic human needs can be much more human than often offered by modern, so-called civilization.  In fact, if we can trade, have mutual aid associations, grow some of our own food, build or repair our own stuff, we can loosen the grip that the moneychangers have over life, trading currency for the gloriously ineffable now.  Humans are not machines to be ever more standardized, even in the most complex and beauteous contraptions.  Rather than leveraging the seductive, money-making enterprise of simplifying and reducing humans to means to some financialized end, we should develop human relationships that harness the curiosity and appreciation of the unfathomably deep eccentricity and beauty of every human being.  Then, we can move from boredom and cynicism to enthusiasm and bounteous hopes.  This glorious movement from the bowels of an uncaring machine to a feral existence may be messy, even pricey.  Nonetheless, the value of living undomesticated lives is boundless, offering more than any mechanized existence, no matter how tamed, how well-trained, or how profitable.  Branding is not for the benefit of cattle or humans, and it is painful and scarring to boot!  Branding is for the ease of those who want to own and trade you and every commodifiable aspect of your existence, rather than taking the glorious time and robust effort to see you fully for who you truly are, worthy of avoiding all mean ends, and courageous enough to face being de-filed.

POEM: Arousing Spirit

She had a profoundly rousing spirit
Unfortunately, he did not believe in spirits
And lack of belief
Will only
Carry you so far

I like this short poem because it plays with the notions of spirit and disbelief.  There are very few people who would welcome reducing their most intimate friends or significant others to a machine, even a fabulously complex, particularly useful, and/or entertaining machine.  At the same time, postmodern society is crippled in its thinking about spirit.  Even those who are religious or intentionally spiritual often have a low level of literacy when it comes to the metaphysical.  When push comes to shove, there are many, if not most, who feel uncomfortable in an apologetics of spiritual matters.  Skepticism as a predominant mode of being makes trust more difficult than it has to be.  Not surprisingly, materialists may experience a great deal of awkwardness in relating to ghosts in machines, formerly known as humans.

I view postmodern society as addicted to certainty or “security.”  Most children of postmodern society experience tremors when they can’t get their fix of certainty.  The materialism of postmodern society, at first glance, seems to offer more reliable solutions to issues of uncertainty.  Predictability is at a premium.  Unfortunately, since humans aren’t machines, human problems will remain stubbornly unsolved if limited to materialist solutions. Materialists cannot escape viewing messy freedom as a problem, not the solution.  Most simply put, materialism is a negation of the better portion of being human.  Stuff like faith, hope, courage, and love — let alone freedom — simply don’t make much sense from a materialist perspective.  Reductionist approaches rip the heart out of higher ordered realities.

This short poem succinctly portrays what is lost by disbelief.  A full appreciation of a rousing spirit becomes impossible because a materialist perspective inevitably “understands” such unique manifestations as mere statistical anomalies, at best arising out of “randomness.”  Lack of belief will only carry you so far.  I have to shake my head in disbelief every time a scientist includes randomness in their equation, hypothesis/theory, or worldview.  These seems like a modern equivalent of “insert miracle here.”  Though such a miracle is of the lowest possible order!  I find it much harder to believe in randomness than that the free choice of the metaphysical world responds within a framework of reality that often, even predictably, elicits higher ordered functioning, a tip of the hat if you will to an experienced higher order.  Randomness and determinism are strange bedfellows.  What type of worldview relies on randomness to explain order?!  Wouldn’t it be much more coherent to posit a form of order from which order arises?  The logical conclusion of those addicted to this bizarre, false idol of certainty is actually that there is no order, that it only seems like there is order.  When determinism is hybridized with randomness, should we be surprised that it produces an absurd bastard child?  In any case, what follows from such a worldview is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Choice, human freedom, IS a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And, if you don’t believe in choice, then…well, that’s your choice…

POEM: Know Knead to Brink

I live at the fringes
At the boundary of what is and what could be
Sow playful a lure
At the threshold of what might not be and what should be
Seriously brewed
At the edge of the abyss
I peer
Gathering friends
And enemies
So called
Out
From the owed
Into the new
Horizons discovered
Each fresh berth
Launching unforeseen recreations
On the verge of another
Unfamiliar stretches becoming home
As novel know longer
Ridden in the margins
We find ourselves
In the bosom of creation
A rootedness so moving
We share awe freely
A steadfast revel
Dispelling fear
Looking straight in the I
With know knead to brink

This poem addresses the necessity and profound benefits from living on the cutting edges, the fringes of life, and courageously facing the abyss. The abyss, at first glance may look frightful. However, I view the abyss simply as the place where those thing beyond words reside. This is the heart of subjective reality. This is scary inasmuch as we can’t pluck our experiences in this realm and “make” others understand or experience the same. This initial sort of isolation and lack of control is often experienced as uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking. Of course, experiences in this realm can profoundly influence us. I would even go as far as saying that this part of life is inextricably part of us, and even contains and encompasses the higher parts of life. However, success in the everyday world is often about “making” things happen. The more we are focused upon and enmeshed in controlling stuff, the scarier and less “useful” this abysmal realm seems. The subjective reality of the abyss doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, this metaphysical reality is where meaning resides. Those who poo poo subjective reality find their search for meaning handicapped, and tenuously moored to meaning drift toward nihilism or amoral sociopathy. Courageously facing and delving into the subjective realm is the only way to discover the mysterious purposes of life. The nature of the subjective realm is instructive in and of itself, as uncontrolling yet highly ordered. Discovering order in the abyss is the root of meaning and purpose, a higher order in which lower order matters are organized in ways increasingly harmonious with life, and reality itself. There, that doesn’t sound so scary! However, the profound limit of subjective experience is that it can not be reduced to mere facts, easily shared in bits and pieces. In essence, subjective experience is a relationship with a larger, transcendent whole. The best we can do is integrate our subjective experiences into a whole, coherent life so others may witness to an integrity not fully explainable by the sum of the factual parts. This is the equivalent of Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Or St. Francis would say that we are instruments of God’s peace. I would simply add that we are more than pieces.

The fact that we are more than just pieces is the underlying reality of why salvation lies in community. The initial isolation typically felt when staring into the abyss is either the fear that there is no meaning at all, or the equivalent of standing alone before God. Still, the nature of our subjectivity is what binds us with other people, and even Subjectivity with a capital S, God if you will. Even more so than individuals, communities of people can exhibit the integrity of higher ordered living. Perhaps most importantly, the value of reciprocity is most easily manifest and understood in community. In its simplest form, a relationship between two people, the power of love grows exponentially when present with reciprocity. Love is not unconditional in the sense that one aspect of love is reciprocity, or mutuality. One cannot overcome another with love. One can only invite another into the beautiful dance of reciprocity and mutuality that powers up love for all who participate.

An important exception to this human reciprocity is the mutuality expressed in loving our enemies, those who will not return our love, or worse yet, seek to manipulate us by threatening or destroying those with whom we have built love. The mutuality in this relationship is not dependent on the other person, a subject who chooses to engage in love-building. The mutuality here is based on our relationship with life itself, or God. Life gives without forcing payment. This is the foundational grace and gratitude that drives life-affirming ways. The only force is the chaos and disorder that comes about by not living in accord with harmonious higher order. Fighting reality itself, separating ourselves from reality is our own punishment. However, since reality is one, this punishment is shared by all. Our destinies are woven together. Writing off enemies is a misreading of reality. Not surprisingly, creating separate realities for different people creates divisions and gives birth to snobbery and hypocrisy, different standards or rules for different classes of people.

I would not rely on first impressions when staring into the abyss. Patiently and openly delving into the “inner” life of subjectivity, and the “outer” experience with communities of life-affirming folks has for millennia reliably resulted in better, more whole, human beings. Only in looking beyond ourselves do we become more whole, more fully human. The abyss awaits. And the crowd says “Woo.”

POEM: Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Jaden’s skepticism
Was like a cannibalism
That learned to crave
The taste
Of it’s own flesh and blood
And could settle for nothing
Less
Then a connoisseur
Of embalming
Empty vein hopes
Of immortality
In some unremitting pâté
With every golden goose cooked
In a dish best served cold
A first course
Able to stave off
Most kind of appetites
With well-bread relish
Where one helping
Is too much
For the rank and file
Of such a prison
Making ciao of anyone’s best guest
Too have your cake
And not eat it
For what may be
Inside
And passably left

I am very skeptical of skepticism.  Skepticism is most warranted when exploring empirical truths, those facts of the physical world, the realm of reductionistic science.  Skepticism has diminishing returns, and can even become cannibalistic, when applied overzealously to metaphysical or subjective truths.  While skepticism has its place, it can blind ourselves to subtler, higher truths, those of our subjective realm.  Many of such truths in life can only be taken in with a measure of grace.  Those refusing to risk being taken in are at risk for missing out of some of the best things in life.  Hope, love, and faith will wither in the face of unrelenting skepticism.  If your quest is for passable reasons to bypass hope, love, and faith you will almost certainly be rewarded with their loss.  Reducing them to mundane forms of psychological or sociological constructs will strip them of their transcending power.

Unrelenting skepticism is perhaps most dangerous at home, in one’s inner life.  Our own experience is the direct access we have to the world of subjectivity, a world mold-able to our free will.  This direct personal evidence cannot be shared in a verifiable or provable manner with others, as the methods of reductionistic science follow.  This does not mean that such realities experienced do not exist, or that subjectivity does not exist.  It simply means that they fall outside the methods of reductionistic science to examine.  Nonetheless, our experience, or consciousness, is at the center of our lives, not just some afterthought.  Plus, it can offer insights into others, as experiencers of their own human subjectivity.  Knowing thyself is the foundation for knowing others, the most important aspect of navigating the human world.  Metaphysics deserves our attention.

Some committed cynics consider free will an epiphenomenon, a mere shadow, illusion, or ghost, in a deterministic world.  Such determination is unwarranted, and cripples our abilities to perceive the world.  Of course, most people, and most philosophers, recognize that metaphysical realities exist.  To move from perceiving physical realities to perceiving metaphysical realities, one needs to move increasingly from skepticism (doubt) to openness (faith).  Such a move is not blind; it is based on experience.  Still, it requires a growing acceptance of uncertainty.  This veil of uncertainty is somewhat analogous to the veil of uncertainty in reductionistic science.  As our observations and experience grow, the veil moves.  The key difference is that science moves to include knowledge that we can know with scientific certainty, whereas metaphysical knowledge always includes a much greater degree of uncertainty, and the metaphysical veil can never be fully lifted, since it represents an intrinsic limit to human knowledge.  The metaphysical veil has a mysterious nature that becomes self-fulfilling in our approach to it.  If we approach the veil with too much skepticism, our knowledge of higher truths will be stunted and the resulting ignorance will appear as justification for a too constricted veil.  If we venture down the rabbit hole of such things as hope, love, and faith, we learn much more of such higher truths, and the territory once bounded by the veil will recede, even revealing vast expanses previously unimagined.

Fortunately, the payoffs of metaphysical knowledge are well worth the uncertainty and risk. As Saint Thomas Aquinas famously pointed out: “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.”  Exploring our own hearts, and risking relationships with others’ hearts requires courage, one of the highest things.  Clinging only to dead stuff, inanimate matter, because it is the most certain is the height of human foolishness.  Here the truth lies, in this grave of lifelessness.  Wisdom resides elsewhere.  Find it and you will find yourself, and a whole world as well.

POEM: Censorship

The worst thing about censorship is

This short, one-line poem could be mistaken for half a poem.  This poem may leave the reader wondering what I, the author, consider to be the worst thing about censorship. This poem may even beg the reader to fill in the blank, the censored blank, for themselves.  Part of the point of the poem is that we will never truly know what we are missing when our ability to express ourselves in censored.

There are at least two types of censorship: self-censorship, and being censored by another.  Most often censorship refers to the latter, typically in objection to censorship as an unjust social relationship.  This type of censorship is important to identify and address because it is a direct threat to free speech.  This type of censorship creates a climate of fear among those whose expressions may be threatened, and a mistrust of authority among those who question the legitimacy of such censorship.  Censorship stands in almost direct opposition to free speech.  No doubt, some expressions should not be considered free speech, such as the proverbial shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Nonetheless, I suspect that such cases are quite rare.  The fear and social control generated by direct censorship ripples far beyond a person’s expression being squelched, and beyond potential recipients of that expression losing out on that expression.  The fear of some social sanction leads to countless forms and incidents of self-censorship.  This is the insidiously successful child of direct censorship.

If those in a position of power to censor can cow us to become sheep, then their mold of our culture will grow more pronounced in our silence.  I suspect self-censorship accounts for much, if not most, of the seemingly miraculous hold that the powers that be have over the masses.  Self-censorship allows the illusion that power comes from above, top-down, rather than power being derived from the consent of the people.  Of course, power from above, in the form of sheer force, is a scary reality.  Social sanctions for simply speaking out can be large.  In fact, the presence of a disproportionately large social sanction merely for speaking out is perhaps the surest clue that the underlying reality is unjust.  After all, talk is cheap.  But if questioning power structures is not dealt with early enough on, then the precarious illusion of top-down power masquerading as authority, and the seeming futility of bottom-up power, will continue unabated.  A little shock and awe is sometimes needed to remind people of who is in control.  Learned helplessness will do the trick the vast majority of the time.

Overcoming self-censorship is a necessary condition for a free society.  We can only deal well with reality if we know what that reality is.  This requires liberal self-expression.  Heavily redacted realities make poor citizens and sick societies.  This may be the best single reason for either avoiding most of popular media, or consuming it with a high degree of literacy, to see it for the spectacle that it is.  The images and messages, both overt and subtle, in media have a powerful effect on how we view reality.  The simple fact that there is a whole genre of “reality” television that has little to do with reality is probably the best illustration of how far afield we have become.  TV is a poor representation of reality.

Overcoming self-censorship requires courage and sacrifice.  As Amelia Earhart said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  We can flow with the idolatrous, heavily redacted realities that invade our consciousness unrelentingly through media and advertising.  Though such illusions are unsustainable in many ways, there is a lot of force applied to maintain them.  Adding your consent to those forces may benefit you in many ways.  Or, we can freely and courageously express our own realities which often differ profoundly from the heavily promoted narratives around us.  This may exact a price, but, at least it is a price paid in homage to reality, not illusion.  Who knows, we may very well find that the realities of the vast majority of humans on this planet have more in common with one another than the dreams foisted upon us.  This is the making of peace.  As Gandhi so simply and profoundly stated, “Peace is possible.”  This reality is so routinely obscured.  You can be a living expression of this reality.  You are the channel.

POEM: The Game of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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