POLITICAL POEM: Trump U Verses Screw U

O pose
The establishment
Of his style
Outside is in
Down with up
As drive in reveres
“I love sow and sow more than anyone”
And awe
That is
Con men
Selling Brooklyn bridges
To no where
That is good
The big apple buying the farm
As if
Building no hows
With less than for walls
One card to trump them all
A big hand
In no need
To play with a full deck
Holding his own
Against women and labor
And everything in between
Winner loose
Screw U

Washington And Wall Street Have All The Money And Power, The Media, The Courts And The Police -- All We Have is 300 Million People -- Do The Math POLITICAL BUTTONAs Donald Trump moves from his many business scams such as Trump University to his latest and biggest scam, running the U.S. government into fiscal and moral bankruptcy, he will take the American people to school concerning authoritarianism and oligarchy with massive xenophobia.  Trump’s vacuous grandiosity may fool a few desperate for change, but his histrionic casino regime will produce many losers and few winners — a rich man here, a fascist there.  His parochial nationalism, riddled with partisan policies and incoherent rants, will chop this nation into ever smaller pieces.  The one hope to overcome such sectarianism is a unified opposition resisting in solidarity with one another, having each other’s back.  A love of the planet and the rest of humanity wouldn’t hurt either!  A longshot would be that running American empire into the ground might be the most practicable route to a better world.  People Before Profits POLITICAL BUTTONTrump loves creating chaos, betting that power and privilege can profit off crisis and uncertainty.  While this approach may seem new, and perhaps ripe for change, in contrast to the stultifying certainty and fixation on calculable security of traditional elites, it is simply the other favorite tool of power and privilege, though typically reserved for widespread use in imperial rule outside the U.S.  Bringing chaos and crisis home as the preferred governing mode is dangerous to civil society and democracy.  We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONThe answer to such a challenge wrests in the creativity and unflagging unity of those subject to such an assault.  Creativity trumps chaos.  Solidarity trumps divide and conquer strategies.  May we revel in creative resistance and overwhelming solidarity!

POEM: Possibility Verses

Her mastery
Of the glorious bounty
Of possibility
Taunts those enslaved
By the vain security
Of mere probabilities

This poem is a tribute to the existential divide between possibility and probability.  Possibility is the purview of free will, introducing new realities through choosing one option over another.  Probability is the domain of calculation, predicting the course of endless strings of cause and effect events.  got creativity? SPIRITUAL BUTTONPossibility is the realm of creativity, launching new cascades of cause and effect, and expanding meaning.  Probability is the sphere of the walking dead, where all that matters is predetermined and life is but ghostly animation, navigating predictable paths.  If predictability is what you are about, then probability is probably where you inhabit predominantly, with habitual domesticity.  If fashioning new ways of being in the world is your manor of being, then possibility may very well be your first and last resort.  Those preoccupied with mere probabilities will undoubtedly shortchange much purpose in life, and find themselves as serf the web of feudal circularity.  Those spellbound by possibility will find immersion in life itself, imbued with meaning and the unfathomable intrigue of other free souls.  	 Got Inspiration SPIRITUAL BUTTONThe predictability of a deeply ordered universe provides sound launching places for curious and free spirits, but entreats us to much more than mere security and manipulating control, the ultimate vanity of the undead.  May you find the incalculable freedom of possibility, inspiring others as you breathe in their spirit as well.

 

You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONGot Freedom POLITICAL BUTTONLet Freedom Ringb--bMartin Luther King, Jr. BUTTON

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: Howie Tried And True

Too fine
The word
That was lust to him
As a gossamer knight he
Oh Howie tried
And true
Enough
Wading in silence
Only to peer
Parently from know wear
To meat
His every knead
Too fine
Word
Maid flesh

This is a poem about the role of the muse in writing poetry.  On occasion, I exclaim, “Where does it come from?!”  This is an indirect compliment to awe that the muse does, plus a certain humility on my part for feeling unable to take credit for awe of my work. For me, the creative process often includes the experience of both peak concentration and seeing something come from seemingly out of nowhere, no place for which I can give adequate account or testimony, except perhaps in a completed work.  The creative process often entails both intense flow and an irresistible beguiling that on occasion may be mistaken for work.  There have been more than a few times that I have been gloriously exasperated by the joyful wear of a relentless muse, for which I can only gleefully apologize.  This poem employs a sexual metaphor to better reveal the palpability of the artist-muse relationship.  Also, this poem climaxes with perhaps the most profound aspect of religious theology: incarnation, spirit imbuing flesh.  In Christian sacred text, this is referred to as “The Word became flesh,” from John 1:14.  That which is most ethereal — God, life, light — becomes that which is most palpable to humans on earth.  These juxtaposed metaphors are similar to my description of writing poetry as the head and heart making love — which makes me simile.  May your life be overflowing as your ineffable spirit is enfleshed in this world.

POEM: Keep Your Eye On The Ball

The red ball bounces
Like a metronome
But with less rhythm
Over every lyric uncomposed
Like a wrecking ball
But less harmonious
A juggernaut emblazoned
In fire engine red
But less melodious
Like a no alarm fire
But with less refrain
The only words aloud
Keep your eye on the ball
And you need not no
Its whirled of hurt
A bouncer of chorus
And ballads unkneaded

This poem employs the metaphor of the little bouncing ball over the lyrics in karaoke as a distraction from what is really important in life.  This poem sets up a double-take as it reverses the usual meaning and positive association with keeping your eye on the ball.  Karaoke is unoriginal mimicry at least.  At worst, karaoke is skin-crawling, nails-on-blackboard-scratching, cat-in-heat-howling torture.  The powers that be in life benefit from the distractions of “harmless” entertainment as opposed to mind-provoking and heart-expanding artistic endeavors which erode social control.  In modern Western civilization, the risk-averse obsession with safety and security routinely leads to a dull relationship with the precarious risks inherent in living fully.  At least karaoke offers an opportunity to put yourself out there and make a fool of yourself, a good skill to practice.  The whirled of hurt that characterizes a substantial portion of human existence is often enough to leave us overly defensive, even walled off, with untold, unwritten and unsung ballads.  Perhaps even worse yet, avoiding hurt, discomfort, and presumed foolishness, regularly provides ready-made rationalizations for even considering dreaming as dangerous, leading to trouble, and supplies built-in blinders to the fortuitous perks of risk-taking.  May you dare to write your own lyrics, sing out loud to your own tune, and discover deeper harmonies than simply pop culture.

POEM: Can She Be Eunuch?

She stated
No one else can do what I do
To witch
They rejoined
Realing in whore
Accept that you are a cog
You intractable wrench
Unfit for cloning round
And unstranded
She cut out
From the puppet tier
Knot to be
Am ployed
As if
She were eunuch

This poem is about breaking away from the artifice and inhumanity of the machine, aka, capitalism, which is designed to monetize you in any way possible.  When someone discovers the passion of their unique role and contribution to the world, the machine pushes back as it has difficulty incorporating one’s soul eccentricities into it’s standardized system and dehumanized algorithms.  Generous portions of creativity easily overwhelm “the way we have always done things” as well as distant, disconnected orders from big bosses.  Creativity is so unnatural to the machine that it ultimately creates huge inefficiencies, even amidst its seeming devotion to efficiency.  The machine typically finds it much more expedient to grind cows to hamburger than even milk them for all that they are worth.  Workers’ humanity routinely suffers the analogous outcome.  Creativity that cannot be easily plugged into the machine is ignored, discounted, or actively stifled.  In this poem, the sheer stupidity and foolishness of a system that fails to adapt to the unfathomable creativity of the human spirit is represented by the rhetorical question that is the title: Can she be eunuch?  Beside the overlayed meaning of the pun eunuch/unique, the definitional absurdity of a female being a eunuch (a castrated male) illustrates how the machine fundamentally misunderstands and misuses the very people it is alleged to serve.  The machine is indiscriminate in its castration!  Of coarse, such crudeness does serve some people, just not workers within the system.  Even though a system well designed to incorporate human creativity and eccentricities could unleash incalculable efficiencies and productivity AND be well aligned with the desires and needs of each of those working within such a system, the capitalist system is not intended to produce the greatest good, particularly the common good, but instead is geared and cogged to produce material wealth for an elite few who pull the levers of so-called industry.  Private profit at the expense of human potential and the common good is the only real order of the day in capitalism.  The common good is reduced to foolhardiness as it is wide open to being robbed by the capitalistic princes of virtue, greed being the organizing principle of capitalism.  Human attributes not easily monetized atrophy in capitalism.  Turning humans into cogs for personal profit may very well be one of the better definitions of evil.  Robbing others of their God-given creativity and eccentric passions for a few bucks and a cynical acceptance of a diminished humanity is a pathetic way of honoring the countless gifts humanity brings to the world.  Courageous creativity, the bold commitment and determination to find a way to be who you were created to be, is the answer to the dehumanizing capitalistic machine.  Reveling in the infinitely greater portion of life that is not easily monetized assures a home and hearth for your own humanity and all those who take the time to be present to such gifts.  May you find your unique passions and the courage to boldly follow them in their many serendipitous consummations.

POEM: Awe The Deference In The Whirled

He said
She said
You seem full of yourself
Or full of something
As I would
Decidedly be
Rather mistaken
As too much for sum
Than sow scarcely perceived
In convenient lacking
A peace meal
Leaving hungry
Or crocodile tears
Without hankering
Putting oneself out
With friendly fire
And faux alike
Sew much
Wee must take in
The unconsuming whole
Hemmed in
The bind leading the bind
For if we were to a peer
As God sees us
As children sew sew proud
We’d break out
In stitches
Rather than
Go bust
At the seems
Making awe
The deference
In the whirled

This poem is about living largely into the grandiosity and wonder in which our souls are made.  I have been accused on occasion of being full of myself.  I just see this as being me — albeit really me!  I see one of the major forms of social control in modern, so-call civilization as keeping people small.  This oftentimes passes for humility.  I suspect that as many times as not, the offense people commit against God and their nature is living much smaller than for which they were designed.   I suspect that as many times as not, when someone expects someone else to stay “in their place,” it is less out of a desire for high morality than maintaining a predictable and unintimidating (also read uninspiring) environment that conveniently benefits their own status quo.  Fully alive human beings are going to have an overflowing and even overwhelming quality that can be intimidating to those trying to hang onto a tightly ordered, small piece of real estate.  Well, the real state of being fully human involves a perpetual freshness and a range of freedom that should be challenging and hopefully inspiring to others.  Such newness incarnated in the world reveals the irrepressibly of hope, curiosity, playfulness, and creativity.  Such free range humans inescapably reflect a certain lightheartedness in the face of seemingly serious social boundaries, recognizing the often arbitrary and inhumane nature of substituting abstract rules for face-to-face human relationship.  Any dimension of newness present in humans can serve as a reminder and invitation for a fresh look into the soul of another.  Such fresh looking can help us step out of the constricting algorithms of triangulating rules and compounding conventional wisdom into a jazzy rhythm that can only be experienced by playing with a band of eccentric souls.  Such playing can cure the oh so lame and the hardening of the attitudes.  When the overwhelming awesomeness of life bumps into the brick walls and lines in the sand of any given culture, that culture better get ready to change as purveyors of life dance over purported lines and occasionally take time out to break down a brick wall.  Giving deference to awe invites a certain boldness in this whirled of ours.  And if you should find hurt in this world, may you also find a way to break out of your stitches.

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: Flagging Defeat

He had enough
Privilege
To ignore
The increasingly grave mound
Of white lies
Worshiping some cruel over lode
Surveying all that was once
Theirs
A teetering tower of babble
Atop spinning
Helled up only buy its careening whirled
Mything the point
All together
Now
Clandestined
Putting on
Unthinking caps
And underhanded false hoods
As lynch
Pin
Heads for defeat
Know madder
How much strange fruit barren
When one states rights
As truth is strangers are friction
Aspersing crowds
For their own good
Libel too change things
Such hyper bully
Spreading tall tails
In their own rapaciousness
Selling specious whoppers
Sow roil fast fooled
Culumny-ating
In counter revolutions
And when hearing the music
Appropriating Supremes
To court continuing prophets
Of the status quo
Inebriated by fomenting hip hops
Staying the sway
Of flag in defeat
All white like
Its shadowy cross
And comforting gray
Relegated to daze of ode
Lying their
As soldiers do
In the by and by
As civil war
(or any wore for that madder)
Can only be one
Surrendering to
That which is
Equal to its humanity

PROTEST Is When I Say I Don't Like Something, RESISTANCE Is When I Put A Stop To ItThis poem is a tribute to recent events leading to the taking down of the confederate flag at several southern state capitols.  Special props go to Bree Newsome who unequivocally demonstrated direct democracy by taking down the confederate flag on the South Carolina statehouse grounds in the aftermath of the racist Charleston massacre.

Sad as it is to still be fighting the civil war 150 years after its official end, the tide is turning.  While a flag may only be symbolic, flags are powerful landmarks in American culture.  Around the world, the American flag represents a nationalism tainted by an imperialism exceeding that of the Roman Empire, waging perpetual war on people of color, non-Christians, and anyone else who resides in the way of national economic interest, such as living in an oil-rich region.  Domestically, the “rebel” flag of the confederacy has held its place for generations as a racist symbol from a failed treason in trying to form a slavery-filled nation-state.

RACISM - If One Of Your Proudest Achievements Is Being White, That Says A Lot About What You Have Done With Your LifeWhite privilege, and its sister, white denial, are alive and, well, dominate the American landscape.  Like water to fish, most whites most of the time don’t see it.  Institutional racism is the elephant in the room of America that few dare speak of openly and publicly.  Beside degrading the lives and humanity of African-Americans, their positive culture and creativity are regularly appropriated for the profit of mainstream — read “white” — America.  The confederate flag has been one of the most persistent and visible signs of continuing white dominance and supremacy.  To get confederate flags out of public places is mind-bogglingly and heart-breakingly overdue, and this process will hopefully mightily speed dialogue and awareness of the perniciousness of racism.

SLAVERY Is The Legal Fiction That A Person Is Property - CORPORATE PERSONHOOD Is The Legal Fiction That Property Is A PersonRacism is one of many forms of dominance that continue to plague humanity.  Today, corporate personhood is trumping the legal rights of actual persons.  The legal fiction of a person being property, known as slavery, may be formally over, but the legal fiction of property as a person, a corporate person with constitutional rights on par with actual persons, is running roughshod over America and the globe.  Corporate personhood is eroding, perhaps even already stolen, democracy as typically conceived in America.  Wage slavery and corporate rule are the weapons of choice these days to enslave the body politic.  Getting money out of politics may dry-dock the fishiest elements of political elites.  Our lives and the future of humanity may very well depend on it.  People will only fare better than money when we value people — all people — more than money.  May it be so…

 

POEM: Evolution of a Writer

Evolution of a Writer

You have evolved into quite a writer
Could you write something for my company?
He solicited
Presumably thinking
I was still into monkey business
Not even grasping
I was clearly out of my tree

This poem is a playful way to address some tensions between creating art and the business of selling art, in this case writing.  Many artists struggle with having the creative process compromised based on market or business realities at any given moment.  The need to materially survive can draw in sharp relief — or deep depression — the vocational viabilities of the higher creative processes and the lower needs for material survival or comfort.  Fortunately, this can actually be a great source of inspiration of one of the many tensions in life — that of surviving versus thriving.  There are good reasons for the portrait of a starving artist.  This reality speaks both to the passion and value many artists place on their work, and the relative lack of value others may derive from the artist’s products of their work.  I separate the process of creating art from the created “product.”  I have little doubt that I derive much more joy from writing poetry than any other one individual can derive from my work.  Of course, the social and commercial nature of an artistic work product can leverage its overall value much higher because many people may experience it and derive some benefit.  The artist’s tendency to value the creative process makes sense — though perhaps not cents — since the creative process itself is typically what drives even further passion and creativity.  Selling stuff is typically secondary. Of course, the relatively few artists which can make a decent living selling their art may leapfrog to another level of freedom in their creativity and expression — assuming selling stuff doesn’t compromise the height of creativity.  Many view artists as “clearly out of their tree” if their valuing of commercial viability or success doesn’t match societal expectations.  Ironically, this may be one of the main purposes that artists serve in society: to expand society’s limits and depth of experience beyond that which can be relatively easily bottled for commercial success.  Yes, life is about much more than money.  This is the nexus with evolution.

In this poem I play around and push the limits of our current understanding of evolution.  Let me be clear, I am not claiming or even insinuating that the facts of Darwin’s theory of evolution are missing or wrong; nor that the theory is inconsistent with the scientific facts.  What I am saying is that sheer survival to sexually reproduce is too narrow a framework to explain human experience or predict human behavior.  Humans have evolved to such an incredible level of flexibility and adaptability that transcendent experiences (that would include subjectivity) outside of scientific reductionism present is difficult to ignore — if we want a more complete account of humanity.  Of course, this debate and tension between “spirituality” and reductionistic “science” are not new.  In the philosophy of science, there are understood to be limits to human knowledge.  In the case of Darwin’s theory of evolution, it does a powerful job of explaining how life evolves, but it (nor the rest of science) cannot explain how life itself came to be.  Plus, it leaves open the question of meaning or purpose in life or for life — NO SMALL QUESTION!  The theory of evolution uses “random” as a convenient assumption or framework to build an explanatory theory of how life evolves.  I consider the nature of “random” the great unanswered (and unanswerable) question within Darwin’s theory.  While reductionistic science, in proper accord with its assumptions and arising precepts, denies subjectivity as an area of investigation which science can legitimately explore.  Of course, accepting this assumption, though powerful in explaining some stuff, leaves the greatest questions in human life off-limits, and by improper cultural convenience and over-simplicity, simply ignores this aspect of reality (subjectivity), or worse yet denies it altogether.   It is no logical surprise, that the gaping hole of “random” leaves much to be desired in a more fully coherent account of human life and experience.  We need to evolve beyond this disability or maladaptation.  The sheer physical survival of a purely materialist worldview strikes me as our past, not our future.  This deterministic survival instinct, while part of our reality, becomes mere monkey business if taken as the whole truth.  So who is it in the human species that is not grasping this next level of evolution?  Maybe it will take some folks who appear “clearly out of their tree” to get us there…

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!

POEM: A Rude Invitation

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

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

POEM: Success Can Be Trying

She was not a success
Nor was she even a failure
For failure has a prerequisite
Trying
Not reaching
The successful cobble
The stones of failure
So becoming
The rode integral
Too success
Finding that success can be trying

The people who fail the most are usually also those who are also the most successful.  Exceedingly few people succeed on their first try.  First comes trying.  Then, comes practicing, or trying something different.  As my daughter was growing up, I remember us watching Olympic figure skating, and she asked, “How do they do that?!”  I answered, “Lots of practice.”  I repeated, practiced, this response with her over the years.  When she was about ten years old, she talked about wanting to play the guitar.  Her Grandma got her a junior-sized guitar for her birthday.  She picked it up and held it in a similar fashion as she had seen the folks she had admired play it.  She immediately exclaimed, “It doesn’t work!?”  The guitar didn’t play.  She had thought that somehow just holding the guitar would somehow draw music out of her.  I don’t think she even tried after that.  Not to worry, my daughter has tried many other things since then, and persistence is one of her strongest traits.

In trying, there is great wisdom in knowing the difference between when to hunker down and keep practicing the same thing and when to move onto something different.  Some of this depends on balancing our desires to be a virtuoso at something and our desires to experience many different things, being a proverbial jack-of-all-trades.  Being a virtuoso opens up new possibilities by being able to perform at a level that few, if any, can match.  Taking a more liberal arts approach, you can learn at little bit of everything, though perhaps not be an expert in any particular field.  This may strike some as indecisive, unfocused, or even lazy, but it takes advantage of a foundational principle of learning: we learn much more at the beginning of the learning curve than later in the learning curve.  For many things in life, there are diminishing returns, less output per unit of effort, by doing/practicing the same thing over and over.  By moving to areas with less mastery, we can harness the “first fruits” effect.  By harvesting the low hanging fruits in many different fields, we can learn accelerate the total amount we learn.  Plus, cross-fertilization of ideas and experiences is at the core of creativity: combining two or more things in a way to produce something new.  Higher level learning is about making robust connections in the brain.  Virtuosos achieve deep grooves in their brain and mastery of a particular skill at about 10,000 hours of practice.  Of course, devoting 10,000 hours to a greater variety of activities may not produce similarly deep grooves in specific areas of the brain, but perhaps more robust, complex connections.  Perhaps the connection between these two different approaches is persisting in a level of challenge that develops and strengthens brain connections.  The virtuoso is challenged by a necessarily greater singularity of focus.  The jack-of-all-trades is challenged by the awkwardness of regularly venturing into new fields and having to make sense of much new information.  Both require patience, which I consider the mother of all virtues.

In Western civilization, great value is placed on specialization, so that you have easily identifiable, easily marketable skills to navigate “successful” careers.  I think that shifting our balance toward trying things new would produce greater returns in quality of life, perhaps be challenging what is meant by “success.”  Of course, much is perspective.  Thomas Edison tried 10,000 materials to perfect a light bulb filament.  When asked whether he thought that represented a waste of time, he declared that he had learned 9,999 ways not to make a light bulb filament.  I am with good old Tom, that in if we approach life with a positive attitude toward the trying task of learning, nothing will be wasted.  And even then, if you enjoy time wasted, it’s not time wasted.  This I have learned — and keep trying to remember…

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: Ounce of Prevention

An ounce of prevention
Is worth a pound of cure
Unfortunately, stuff is sold
By the pound and dollar

Virtually everyone knows that prevention is preferable to cure.  As Ben Franklin put it, “A stitch in time saves nine.”  Much of prevention takes relatively little knowledge but a good dose of long-term thinking and patience/persistence.  So why is prevention often poorly practiced?  First, as this short poem says, “stuff is sold,” meaning that tangible goods and more-easily defined services are easier to sell than intangible goods and complex, difficult-to-define services.  For example, in health-related fields, it is easier to sell a pill or distinct procedure than a whole lifestyle that offers healthy eating, regular physical activity, lower stress and adequate sleep.  Such healthy lifestyles are not achievable with a small number of simple, easy-to-define products or services.  Moreover, overall, the desire in Western civilization to monetize everything possible plays into our more base instincts that favor the concrete, the simple, and the immediate.  This profoundly affects what we make and do in our careers.  Those vocations which may advance human progress but are not easily monetized are at-risk for atrophying in modern, capitalistic culture.  Human creativity is relegated to a too-narrow focus to come up with solutions adequate for our problems.  We end up focusing on solutions that create as many or more problems.  If Western civilization where a pharmaceutical cure being advertised, the list of side-effects would literally take us to our death beds!  If we cannot together create a culture where the organizing principle is more than buying and selling, then our lives will continue to be bought and sold to the highest bidder, down to the last pound of flesh.  May we live our lives in such a way that we treasure and guard our ounces of prevention as it reigns pounds of easy cures and silver bullets; and may the fruit of our labor enrich us all.

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

Here is a portion of a document that I drafted a couple of years ago while I was a board member of Toledo Area Ministries (TAM).  It was never adopted in any form, but I put a lot of work into, so I wanted to make this work available to others. If you are interested in a Christian perspective on justice, try this one on for size:

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

All power and glory is God’s.  Power originates in God’s sovereignty.  From God’s sovereignty, comes TAM’s core value of the Church as “the most powerful certainty on the planet.”  God will work God’s will in God’s own way:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.

‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 We are called to exercise power responsibly, and not lord over one another:

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

“But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The LORD will rule over you.’” (Judges 8:23)

Whatever power we possess is a gift from God.  However, with power comes the temptation to use it for our own purposes instead of God’s purposes.

Responsibility and accountability are proportional to the amount of power possessed:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)

Power and power differentials are an inescapable fact of human life.  Power and power differentials exist within families.  Power and power differentials exist within community and governmental organizations.  Power and power differentials exist within faith communities.  Power and power differentials exist between nations.  Power and power differentials exist between all of these.  In fact, power and power differentials exist within any form of community.

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12, King James 21st Century Version)

God in Christ, shares power and authority with us through authentic community:

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

Truth and Accountability

Injustice is rooted in evading accountability to God and one another.  “What is truth?” (John 18:38)  This rhetorical question as posed by Pilate to Jesus is the classical evasion of accountability made by the “powers that be.”  Of course, this evasiveness is not restricted to powerful political leaders.  Cain, while his brother’s blood cries to God from the ground, attempts to evade God’s accountability by saying, “I don’t know…Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9-10).  Nor is evasiveness of accountability restricted to murderers.  An expert in religious law, in testing Jesus, himself confirmed that loving your neighbor as one’s self is necessary to inherit eternal life: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:29). Of course, this leads to the parable of the good Samaritan, where the hated enemy is judged righteous because he took effort and risk to help one in need.

“Distracting and conquering” is the conventional first line of defense in evading accountability.  What these three Biblical accounts have in common, besides a big dose of simple denial, are questions implying doubt that the truth can ascertained.  In attempts to deflect accountability, we have all encountered many versions of, “I don’t know.  Who can really say?  It’s all so complicated.” or “This is so important that we should study it (to no end).”  The key problem this raises when dealing with power differentials, is that this takes the “powers that be” off the hook, so they can maintain their power without being called into accountability, and injustice can reign.

“Distracting and conquering” results from being trapped within a misunderstanding of Truth.  As already noted, the evasive “What is truth?” question by Pilate was used to evade accountability to the Truth incarnate right in front of him.  The assumption implied in this question is rooted in the belief that ultimate truth cannot be determined by objectively studying all the facts in the world — which is a fact, though not the truth.  Believing this state of affairs to be the ultimate truth is relativism.  Unfortunately, relativism is only half of the dualistic confusion called materialism, brought about by worshipping creation rather than the Creator.  In fact, many secularists believe that you can determine ultimate truth from the many facts of the scientific world.  This form of idolatry employs the vain hope that if we only look at all the facts, Truth will be determined.  This is the conundrum of modern science without God.  In fact, secularists inevitably must vacillate between these two facets of materialism simply because each is inadequate to answer life’s deepest and most important questions.  Not surprisingly, when this confused world view can’t bring peace, violence is employed.  Ironically, this conundrum leads to both Pilate’s “tolerance” of Jesus and the brutal Pax Romana he ruled within.

The living God offers a way out of the dualistic confusion of materialism:

“For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

and Jesus’ words eliciting Pilate’s evasion: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

“Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don’t depend on Christ.”  (Colossians 2:8, NIV Reader’s Version)

“Objectively” studying all the facts from all of the different views of the world cannot reveal the One Subject, the great “I am.”  There is more than Nature, the created world.  There is a Creator.  God reveals truth to us through the Holy Spirit, the person of Jesus Christ, Scripture, the traditions of the Church, and peoples’ experiences.  Reason confirms these means of grace, but cannot access life’s deepest truths alone.  Conventional wisdom is not enough:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)

The living God offers a way to out of life taking a beating with a “dead” philosophy where “the powers that be” can “manage” avoiding accountability to their unjust benefit.  The living God offers a way beyond the false neutrality of the secular world which declares God’s Lordship over all as off-limits, or irrelevant at best.

Of course, being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), humans have an innate conscience, inescapable sense of morality, and desire to have a relationship with God.  So, distracting and conquering will eventually reach its limits.

“Dividing and conquering” is the next line of defense in politics in evading accountability. 

When the “powers that be” cannot quell or manage the moral demands made upon them, they turn to what they know best: self-interests.  Welcome to the world of “divide and conquer.”  When you can’t “distract and conquer,” pit the self-interests of individuals and groups against one another.  Again, this serves the purpose of reinforcing and maintaining the status quo and the power differentials enjoyed by the “powers that be.”

Pilate’s moral reasoning was reduced to managing self-interests [“…he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover.  Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:38-39)].  Pacifying constituent interests to meet one’s own interests falls far short of accountability to God and one another.  Beyond Pilate’s ill-equipped moral reasoning, Cain and the expert in religious law sought to evade accountability to “my brother” or “my neighbor” by questioning the great commandments to love God and the second, like unto the first, love your neighbor as yourself, from which all the Law and the Prophets hang (Matthew 22:37-40).  Beyond obvious self-interest which short-circuits right relationships, in the end, we can no more focus on just our neighbor — to the exclusion of God — than we can focus only on God –to the exclusion of our neighbor.  Neighbor without God results in secular interest-based politics, an endless clashing of unfulfilled interests. God without neighbor results in a vain search for piety unsullied by engagement of worldly politics and transforming “the powers that be.”  

Injustice ultimately rests on violence, the end result of worldly politics, relying on simply conquering when other more “civilized” means fail.

Eventually, God’s justice must be confronted, and violence remains the only option left to maintain or force injustice upon others. This can take brazen forms such as the Roman Empire crucifying Jesus or waging war.  Though simply conquering often takes less brutish forms such as power grabs and punishing of political enemies. 

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

1) the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy;

2) competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership; and

3) the total complex of relations between people living in society.

The first definition is “Politics with a capital P.”  The second and third definitions are “politics with a small p.”

God, as the Lord of all, is also the Lord of politics, of all varieties.  This includes legislative and policy issues.  This includes advocacy with community groups, including churches.  Ultimately, this is about how we work out our common life together as God’s children.

Our primary concern is where power differentials exist and the potential for “Lording over” one another is greatest.

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

The “powers that be” has been the subject of study of Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary, and author of a seminal trilogy of books addressing the issues of power.  Dr. Wink defines the “powers” as “the impersonal spiritual realities at the center of institutional life” (Wink, p. 28), “… the ‘corporate personality’ or ethos of an institution or epoch…” (Wink, p. 27), and “… the soul of systems…” (Wink, p. 29).  As such, the powers are not necessarily evil.  This “ethos” or “soul” of an institution, system, nation or epoch can move us positively or negatively.  It can motivate us to extraordinary unselfishness and service for good or it can be manipulated in the service of evil.   The powers are at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.  In any institution, we need awareness of its goodness, fallenness and redeemability to discern effective steps towards change.

In working for justice, we often confront the powers as one of the many “-isms,” such as racism, sexism, materialism, consumerism, militarism, nationalism, or patriotism.  As Dr. Wink puts it, “This overarching network of Powers is what we are calling the Domination System.  It is characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all…from the ancient Near Eastern states to the Pax Romana to feudal Europe to communist state capitalism to modern market capitalism” (Wink, p. 39).

from When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1998):

Wink points out that a world-wide system of domination is the problem, not just occasional expressions of it, like Rome in Jesus’ time:

“Jesus’ message has traditionally been treated as timeless, eternal, contextless teaching proclaimed in a sociopolitical vacuum, but his teaching and deeds are directed at a specific context: the Domination System.  Jesus’ message is a context-specific remedy for the evils of domination.  God is not simply attempting to rescue individuals from their sufferings at the hands of an unjust system, but to transform the system so as to make and keep human life more human.”

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

“Jesus does not condemn ambition or aspiration; he merely changes the values to which they are attached: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’  He does not reject power, but only its use to dominate others. He does not reject greatness, but finds it in identification and solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Matt. 5:3-12/Luke 6:20-23).  He does not renounce heroism, but expresses it by repudiating the powers of death and confronting the entrenched might of the authorities, unarmed.”  Jesus’ words and deeds “repudiate the very premises on which domination is based: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”

Wink notes Jesus’ pivotal call to end economic exploitation and nonviolently overthrow evil:

“Economic inequalities are the basis of domination.  Domination hierarchies, ranking, and classism are all built on power provided by accumulated wealth.  Thus Jesus’ gospel is founded on economic justice.  Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few.  His followers were to begin living now ‘as if’ the new order had already come, seeking first God’s reign and God’s justice.  It is not described as coming from on high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land.  It is established, not by aristocrats and military might, but by ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people…An egalitarian society presupposes nonviolence, for violence is the way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality can only be maintained by violence. The root of violence, moreover, is domination. Turning the other cheek to a ‘superior’ who has backhanded an ‘inferior’ is an act of defiance, not submission; stripping naked when a creditor demands one’s outer garment brings down shame on the head of the creditor causing the poor debtor’s nakedness; carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile would put him in violation of military law (Matt. 5:39-41). These acts do not at all mean acquiescing passively to evil, but are studied and deliberate ways of seizing the initiative and overthrowing evil by the force of its own momentum.”

DOMINATION AND THE CHURCH. “The failure of churches to continue Jesus’ struggle to overcome domination is one of the most damning apostasies in its history. With some thrilling exceptions, the churches of the world have never yet decided that domination is wrong.  Even in countries where the churches have been deeply identified with revolution, there has been a tendency to focus on only one aspect of domination, such as political freedom, and to ignore economic injustices, authoritarianism, the immorality of war, domestic violence, gender inequality, hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and the physical and sexual abuse of children.  We have tried to take on evil piecemeal.”

SEEING A SINGLE FRONT. “While it is true that we cannot take on everything, we have not always located our struggles within Jesus’ total project: the overcoming of the Domination System itself. Jesus’ vision of a domination-free order enables us to see every struggle against injustice, illness, and greed as part of a single front, and gives us a perspective that links us to everyone engaged in similar struggles.”

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

“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)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32-34a)

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’ ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 18-32-34)

Surely, budgets are moral documents revealing where our treasure, and our hearts, are found.

God decreed the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) to prevent large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude.

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

Hierarchy reinforced by “shaming” – false moralism, enslaving us to legalistic categories, using unjust social norms to reinforce an unjust status quo

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

C. Authority versus Control

Jesus ran no formal organization, had little money, and no great worldly titles

In the world closely related to status (which is closely related to money),

“Who is this man who speaks with such authority?  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22)

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

In 1 and 2 Kings alone, prophets proclaimed that no less than two dozen kings “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 11:6, Solomon; 15:26, Nadab; 15:34, Baasha and Jeroboam;  16:25, Omri;  22:52, Ahaziah;  2 Kings 8:18, Jehoram; 3:2, Joram; 8:27, Ahaziah and Ahaz; 13:2, Jehoahaz; 13:11, Jehoash; 14:24, Amaziah; 15:9, Zechariah;  15:18, Menahem; 15:24, Pekahiah; 15:28, Pekah; 17:2, Hoshea; 21:2, Manasseh; 21:20, Amon; 23:32, Jehoahaz; 23:37, Jehoiakim; 24:9, Jehoichin; 24:19, Zedekiah).  Also, the Bible records judgment on the entire nations of Israel and Judah (e.g., Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1, 2 Chronicles 29:6, Isaiah 65:12, 66:4 and 1 Kings 14:22).

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ ” (Acts 4:18-20).  And later in Acts, Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)  The daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah pointedly violated the Pharaoh’s edict to kill all male Hebrew children (Exodus 1:17). Even after he was ordered to be silent, Jeremiah continued to preach that Jerusalem was doomed unless its leaders repented and submitted to the Babylonians.  Jesus broke Sabbath laws (John 5:16-18) and carried out a public witness by cleansing the Jerusalem temple (Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13–16) for which the authorities crucified him.

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

God commanded Israel not to treat widows, orphans, and foreigners the way the Egyptians had treated them (Ex. 22:21–24).

E. Expecting persecution

Persecution is a natural consequence of challenging the “powers that be” — in fact, it is a sign of success, a blessing!

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult youand reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now,  for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22-26)

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him.” (Acts 7:52)

Prophets are invariably infuriating to their own people, and God often turns to outsiders to do God’s work:

“ ‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.’  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.” (Luke 4:24-28)

 Jesus was a prophet, killed because he challenged powerful religious and political elites.  The seductive logic of the world is to save our church, our people, our nation — which means giving up Christ:

” ‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’  Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ ” (John 11:48-50)

 Our church, our people, our nation already have a Savior who has shown us the way:

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

 In prophetic witness, we are in good company, a “great cloud of witnesses”:

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Is it any wonder that complicity with the “powers that be,” which offers rewards of money and control, greater status, and ‘security,’ is such a tempting alternative to guaranteed persecution?

The Vision/God’s Dream

The God of all, including the future, holds for us blessings greater than we dare imagine.  Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah boldly declares this vision:

“ ‘Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.  For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.  Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:20-25)

God’s vision for his children is real and powerful, calling out to be manifest in the world, to transform the world.

TAM’s Mission

To help the Church meet God’s vision, TAM’s mission encompasses three broad areas: meeting human need, creating community and working for justice.

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

The greatest commandments are hinged by connecting love of neighbor as self with loving God:

” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

 Meeting basic human needs is part of loving God and neighbor:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

” ‘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)

 ” ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

God’s mercy to us is the model for our behavior toward others.  Relying upon ‘deserving’ is ultimately a denial of God’s basic character, unconditional love.  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45b)  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), yet God is merciful.  We are on the short end of this fundamental power differential and God shows us mercy:

“I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’  I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23)

God reminds us often of where we have been and what God has already done for us, that which we could not do ourselves:

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 22:33, 23:43, 25:38, 25:42, 25:55, 26;13, 26:45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:37, 5:6, 5:15, 6:12, 6:21, 7:8, 8:14, 13:10, 20:1: Judges 2:1, 2:12, 6:9; 1 Samuel 10:18, 12:16;  1 Kings 9:9; 2 Kings 17:36; 2 Chronicles 7:22; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalm 81:10; Jeremiah 16:14; Daniel 9:15)

Humility is the opposite of self-sufficiency.  Expecting God to provide for us and forgive us undeservedly while insisting that only ‘deserving’ neighbors have their human needs met is unjust and denies our complete dependency on God for forgiveness and ‘our daily bread’:

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13b)

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

Our reconciliation with God makes us new creations, ambassadors of reconciliation to our neighbors:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20a)

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:11-14)

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

We can engage in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ.  We can humbly explore the sources of our differences.  We can honor the sacred worth of all persons.  In prayerfully seeking the mind of Christ, we can work out our life together in love.

The way of Jesus is one of radical hospitality.  Radical hospitality is a sacred process of transforming a stranger into a guest, or even family.  It witnesses to the reality that God entered the “world” to reconcile us to God and neighbor.  Jesus was the incarnation of radical hospitality: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34)

Where radical hospitality is practiced God’s realm flourishes.  Examples of these include:  Abraham receiving the three strangers — angels (Genesis 18), the Midian priest taking in Moses (Exodus 2), Rahab allowing Joshua’s spies to stay with her (Joshua 2), the widow at Zarephath offering Elijah her last bit of food (1 Kings 17:8-24), and the Samaritan woman inviting Jesus the stranger to stay with her community, which he does (John 4).

Where radical hospitality is not practiced, God’s judgment waits:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

Beyond Civility

The golden rule provides guidance in how to live in community with one another: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)  Nonetheless, God requires even more than human love that returns its own:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)

Jesus did not avoid harsh words for those in positions of authority.  In fact, Jesus saved his harshest words for religious elites who avoided accountability to those they were to serve.  After calling the teachers of the law and Pharisees “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:23, 25, 27, 29) and “whitewashed tombs” (v. 27), Jesus says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (v. 33) (see also Luke 11:37-54)  Jesus boldly overturned tables in the temple, declaring “but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” (Matthew 21:13b) in response to an affront of the religious establishment to the Lord’s declaration that “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7b)

True worship in authentic community produces justice.  God despises religious practices that do not produce justice:

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

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.  (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Calling one another into account with God and one another, i.e., working for justice, is an essential part of creating authentic community.

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

Love leading us to live as a community of equals starkly highlights the many injustices in the world.

Doing Justice

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Proverbs 29:7)

“Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.  He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’  So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.  Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?  Did not your father have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.  He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?  declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 22:13-16

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

Advocacy, prophetic witness, social witness are all related expressions dealing with working for justice

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-7)

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’  And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:5-8)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Boldness:

[In response to rulers conspiring against Jesus…] “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4: 29)

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (2 Corinthians 3:12)

“So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelations 3:16-17)

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent” (Acts 18:9)

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” ( 2 Tim 1:7)

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

Leadership requires a balanced view of the “powers that be” as being at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

Our Biblical values manifest themselves in the world in many ways; many of these issues are encompassed by these categories:

1.  Being stewards of the natural world that sustains life on earth.

2.  Building up families and our nurturing communities, which underlie the

potential for each to live into the fullness of their humanity.

3.  Support our social communities and human rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes.

4.  Upholding an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread.”

5.  Engaging the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society.

6.  Recognizing the oneness of God’s world and world community and seeking our particular role in it.

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

The status quo is.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Money.  Status.  Control.  These are the ways of the world.  Falling back into these ways offers many temptations, for the world rewards these ways, and punishes those who challenge these ways.

God judges us as nations according to how we treat “the least of these.”

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

In what areas do I depend upon the mercy of God and others?

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

From a spiritual perspective, we are all indigent.  We cannot be made whole by ourselves.  We depend upon God and others for our very life.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Offering all to God:

God makes us whole.  God works through our areas of giftedness and advantage and our areas of vulnerability

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Recommended reading:

The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink, Doubleday, 4/98, ISBN: 0-385-48740-1

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

How significant is the impact on human need, justice, and authentic community? (importance test)

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

Will people be deprived of meeting a human need that will directly and significantly harm individuals or families (human suffering test)

Does the issue impact creating community?

Is a partner organization or local faith community involved and/or affected? (good neighbor test).

Does an issue affect our local community (the local test)

Do many Christian faith traditions have statements supporting such advocacy and/or very few, if any, faith traditions have statements that may contradict such advocacy? (tradition test).

Does dealing positively with a controversial issue offers an opportunity to model a Biblical alternative of authentic community to worldly politics (Biblical alternative test).

Are families and/or our nurturing communities undercut in a way that threatens community members in living into the fullness of their humanity (nurturing communities test).

Is “civility’ violated and/or opponents are demonized and offering a faith-based perspective could be of substantial benefit (civility test)

Is the common good threatened or diminished, where short term gain creates long term loss (seven generations test)

Does the issue impact working for justice?

Does an issue threaten the poor and vulnerable (“least of these” test)

Does an issue weaken an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread” (shared benefits test)

Does an issue threaten human rights/civil rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes (children of God test)

Does an issue threaten the ability of people to engage the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society (fair representation test).

Does an issue threaten public safety, peace and non-violence (non-violence test)

Are power differentials so large that it precludes a fair hearing of the issues (fair hearing test)

Does an issue threaten stewardship of God’s creation (creation stewardship test)

Does an issue deny the oneness of God’s world and world community (one world test).

Is there no other local faith body addressing an issue of Biblical justice (voice in the wilderness test)

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POEM: Mother-Father of Invention

Necessity is the mother of invention
The father is wholly
Less certain
Until paternity is decided
I’ll consider other innovative bastards my brothers

POEM: Empty Plates With Dancing Tales

Empty Plates With Dancing Tales

A crowd gathers
A performer spins
A dozen plates on poles
Like angels dancing on pinheads
How many are possible?!
Worthy of a few coins
Fore a collection of small bills
[Unmarked except by bankers]
Gathered wear
One’s head might normally be
South versus North
An animal magnetism
Whose gravity is unequaled
And might be considered
Un-slavery to sum
A spectacle to most
Providing little food for belly
Or thought
Still
Within arms reach
Yet outside rapt attention
Against the wall
Even rarer
A woman’s plate
Holding earthly delights
From seasons passed
A cache returned
From soil and toil
Yielding
A patience
Unseen by any human hospitality
As sun and seed conspire
As clearly as mud
Untrampled from above
Clan destined
To over-look
From whither
Rations aplenty
And from the gaunt let
Turn their eyes
And just
Beyond the pale
I specked
Return dimly
To one’s own moat
For a fort night
Never leaving port or ail
A thousands channels to sea
What can’t be seen everyday
Every day
Never the less
The woman sews
Yet another see’d
Acquainted with empty plates
And those by which continents are divided
She undertakes the tectonic shift
In udder silence
As the upper crust
Takes
Up
The mantle
Picturing itself free
Ingeniously framed
Buy empty plates
With dancing tales

I have long been fascinated by the often sharp and surreal contrasts between the inane and the meaningful.  In post-modern times, it seems that inane distractions are reaching all-time highs on a daily basis.  Still, the generous forces of nature and creativity counter such head-bobbing and rubber-necking with constant access to simple and awesome pleasures to participate in as co-creators.  In this poem, growing and eating one’s own food is that tectonic shift that will change the world, though perhaps at an imperceptibly slow pace to all but those with the largest perspectives.  I am grateful that it is more than possible to surf such tectonic shifts and still be well grounded!

Also, in case you missed it, I choose a woman to represent those connected with the forces of creation.  Women do most of the work in the world, including most of the underpaid and unpaid work in the world.  We all owe a debt to them.  THANK YOU!

Julia Bates Retirement Party, Mock Award

Today a few dozen people descended upon the Lucas County Courthouse in downtown Toledo, Ohio, to wish Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates a happy retirement and demand justice for Danny Brown

Occupy Toledo had a cake, party hats, noisemakers, and a card to sign.  Several persons went into the courthouse to deliver the card to Julia Bates and chant, “Exonerate Now, Clear Danny Brown’s Name!”  They were escorted out of the courthouse under threat of arrest, continuing to chant.  They were joined by those outside, and soon Julia Bates, under armed escort made her way to cocktails and lunch at a nearby drinking establishment.  The crowd followed her there and protested outside chanting.  Some of the favorite chants were: “Cocktails for Julia, Justice for Danny” and “Serve Justice, Not Cocktails.”  Ms. Bates was protected by a half-dozen or so sheriffs inside the restaurant and another half-dozen or so sheriffs and Toledo police outside. She reportedly was able to stomach lunch and a couple of cocktails with approximately the same ease as she has stomached injustice for Danny Brown for many years.

Below is the script of the retirement party mock award that occurred outside the courthouse:

Retirement Party

Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates

Justice for Danny Brown

Occupy Toledo

May 1, 2012

 

 

MOCK AWARD

HABEAS B. CORPSE: Hi, my name is Habeas B. Corpse.  I am the president and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors.  The National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors is proud to present the 2012 Habeas Corpus Award to Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates.

The Habeas Corpus Award recognizes outlandish success in furthering the principle of speedy justice of the criminal variety.  Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has managed to parlay a wrongful conviction of Danny Brown for murder and rape in 1982 into an open-ended, indefinite murder case. Although Danny Brown served 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates was unfazed by such an obstacle to her success. By perpetually holding another suspicious criminal investigation over Danny Brown’s head, Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has successfully avoided letting an innocent man clear his name. Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has devoted the last decade to producing no evidence worthy of bringing any charges against Danny Brown.  Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has demonstrated fantastical creativity in avoiding any exoneration or apology to Danny Brown for his 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Perhaps, most significantly, if Danny Brown is ever allowed to clear his name, under Ohio law, he would be eligible for compensation for his wrongful conviction resulting in 19 years in prison. This compensation could total over $900,000.  Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has successfully postponed this indefinitely.  She has saved Lucas County taxpayers money by devoting virtually no resources to her shallow criminal investigation and by avoiding spending any resources to allow Danny Brown to have his day in court. Please note that Danny Brown is also currently suspected of being innocent of over 666 murders in Lucas County since 1982. With her unending patience in persecuting an innocent Toledo citizen, Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has brought new meaning to the term “criminal” justice.

As part of the Habeas Corpus Award, the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors provides an honorarium of $30,000.

With equal speed and due diligence the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors realized that this 2012 Habeas Corpus Award to Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates is actually the product of 30 years of wrongful conviction, wrongful imprisonment, and open-ended, unmerited criminal investigations. Yes, we just figured this out. Thus, the National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors has determined that Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates is entitled to the Habeas Corpus Award, not only for 2012, but for 31 years:

2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, ………………….1982

[foldout 28.4 foot certificate accordion-style for each year and have persons line up holding them].

We are awarding the Habeas Corpus Award retroactively for 31 years.  Only now do we truly realize what “speedy” justice is. Since the Habeas Corpus Award comes with an honorarium of $30,000 each year, this makes Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates’ honorarium a total of $930,000. The National Association for the Advancement of County Persecutors promises to pay this honorarium with the same speed and due diligence that Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates has so amply demonstrated.

[delivery person rushes in, holding up “RUSH DELIVERY” envelope as delivering it]

[Habeas B. Corpse opens envelope, holds up BREAKING NEWS BULLETIN for crowd to see]

HABEAS B. CORPSE: Wait, what is this? It looks like a breaking news bulletin. Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates, at this very moment, is filing for moral bankruptcy.  Well, we will just have to trust her good judgment on this one. I’m sure she has an airtight case.

[enter citizen]

Hold on, we are not done here! I am here on behalf of Lucas County citizen’s and in the good name of Danny Brown, to conduct a citizen’s arrest. I demand the arrest of Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates. She is wanted for murder, the murder of justice for Danny Brown. Warning, Julia Bates, also goes under the aliases of “Julia Will Fool Ya” and “Bates and Switch”. She is armed with a public office and is considered a threat to justice. Her last known whereabouts are reported to be lurking about the county courthouse. We ask that any good, justice-loving citizen of Lucas County arrest her immediately upon determining the whereabouts of this fugitive. I have here “Wanted Posters” to help you identify her, apprehend her, and bring her to justice. And please hurry, rumor has it that the best practices in such matters is to wrap up such matters within 30 years, give or take a decade or so.

[handout wanted posters]

POEM: Free Will Compelling

I find the experience of free will very compelling.

I like this simple one line poem because it juxtaposes two seeming opposites.  Free will is often viewed as some kind of absolute.  Compulsion is on the other end of the spectrum, except that we also typically view it as some kind of absolute, that which one has no choice about.  Of course, this reminds me of perhaps the only quote I can recall from the complex, sophisticated and difficult-to-read author and philosopher, John Paul Sartre: “We are condemned to be free.”  I view neither free will nor compulsion as absolute.  Free will always has limits, and the very existence of free will and human beings bring some freedom to any situation no matter how compulsory we view it.  However, let’s get back to the poem.  What I mean by finding the experience of free will very compelling, is that it is predictably surprising how free we are, meaning that we always have a choice in any situation.  By exercising our free will, our awareness of this essential and irreducible freedom can grow.  We are faced with an infinite number of choices at any given moment.  If you don’t believe this, you may have just flunked the first question of a creativity test.  The reason I like Jean-Paul Sartre’s quote so much is that it also juxtaposes two apparent opposites.  Being condemned, or forced, to be free.  Of course, this is what drives John Paul Sartre into an existential frenzy, being unable to pin down any ground of our being, or God, he is left with a conundrum of being condemned by some unknown or unknowable reality, yet mystically or coincidentally, he happens to experience the good fortune of gaining freedom within this reality.  In fact, freedom can be viewed as a nuisance, in that facing that infinite number of choices at any given moment, and seeming to have no ultimate basis for making any particular choice, leaves us to our own subjective devices.  I actually find it kind of funny and ironic that Sartre felt so compelled to find the determinants (sic) of free will.  Of course, I’m teasing him a bit.  More fairly, he did groundbreaking work in epistemology, the study of the limits of human knowledge.  Quite obviously, one cannot find the determinants of free will.  However, one may be able to map out certain boundaries to where and how free will operates.  Since he won the Nobel prize for literature, I’ll assume that is genius exceeds mine in this respect, or perhaps, no one could understand what he was saying and thought that giving him a prize might be appropriate to not appear stupid.  In my own experiments with free will, I feel compelled to experiment more — to exercise my free will more and more.  This seems to be more practical than writing a 300+ page book about the structures of consciousness.  But that’s just my choice…