POEM: Amateurs and Prose

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

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

POEM: Forgiving Justice

Forgiveness can no more refute
The demands of justice
And its claim reguarding the lost
Than justice can outflank
The necessity of forgiveness
To open the door for peace
A heart rendering choice
The difference being
Securing one’s house
Or living in a precarious home

Being a lifelong peacenik, I have happened across numerous conversations along the lines of: which comes first, justice or peace.  It’s not quite a fair question, but my heart tells me that like produces like.  Justice produces justice.  Peace produces peace.  Like many questions posed as either/or, the truest answer more resembles both/and.  The question is really about forgiveness and grace.  Everybody at sometime wants forgiveness or grace when they have behaved badly.  If justice were sufficient, then forgiveness should be denied.  But we want more.  We want peace.  If you feel that justice is sufficient, and that you are willing to forgo peace, then I suspect you may have some unresolved anger issues.  Of course, anger can be a great driver of working for justice.  This anger can be a good thing.  Equally true, anger is a poor foundation for forgiveness and grace.  Peace comes from a place rooted in hope and possibility.  Peace cannot be guaranteed, but it can be denied.  Peace is a gamble.  Peace requires taking a chance.  As John Lennon said, “Give peace a chance.”  As Gandhi said, “Peace is possible.”  Peace is not simply a theoretical possibility.  Peace is also rooted in the direct experience of forgiveness, grace, and love.  The sheer gratitude of having a life present that was given to us without our doing often gets eclipsed by the dreadful threats of loss of that life, by whole or piecemeal.  The gift of life makes possible all else in our life.  If our life is taken from us, have we lost more than we have been given?  Dare I ask: how can this even be unfair?  As I like to say: life isn’t fair, it’s excellent!  I sense that this question has been answered in the reality that it is a rare person who would believe that it would have been better to never have been born at all.  It may be equally rare to find folks who can persistently focus on this primary grace making all things possible in our life rather than dealing with the actual or feared losses in our lives of things that we have built or gained at least partially due to our doing.  The latter is the makings of justice-seeking.  The former is the makings of peace-seeking.  Justice-seeking and peace-seeking are not mutually exclusive.  However, achieving peace requires a perspective rooted in the grace of life, which is fragile and uncertain.  In fact, the very fragility and uncertainty of life makes it all the more precious!  I do see peace-seeking as a higher function, encompassing and fulfilling justice-seeking.  Peace-seeking is rooted in gratitude, the expression of recognizing grace.  I think of it this way:  To truly believe in justice, you must believe in justice for all.  Believing in justice and fairness only for myself or some in-group (which I happen to belong to) is not justice.  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently and simply put, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”  With widespread injustice, which no sane person would deny, to seek justice for all means balancing, risking securing justice for yourself and your own in order to achieve widespread justice.  Such a bold undertaking can only be embarked upon with a measure of grace and forgiveness in your heart.  It is the promise of hope — real possibility — rooted in the experience of grace and forgiveness, that is an inescapable element of fulfilling justice.  There must be a peace in our heart, based on this real possibility, that foreshadows the peace and justice that we hope for.  So, what is my answer to the question: which comes first, justice or peace?  My answer: gratitude, and, of course, the corollary of gratitude, which is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is an expression of fairness, even justice, that others should be afforded the same infinite and sacred respect for life that life itself deserves.  We have already “won” by being alive.  The rest of life just needs to be lubricated generously with such a gratitude-filled awareness.  So be aware, life is good!

POEM: BUCKET BRIGADE – Owed to Karen Krause

BUCKET BRIGADE

Owed to Karen Krause

While some pine
That faith
The size of a mustard seed
Can move mountains
Like magic
Perhaps with a wrinkle of their knows
Wiser women know
How mountains move
Bucket by bucket
By outstretched hands
And sturdy hearts
In awe ways
Moving
Forward
Crossing generations
And races
Not to the swiftest
But the truest
Seeking won peace
In couraging
When injustice seems beyond the pale
And hate appears justified
A brigade appears
As well
And in the shadow
Of a rising calvary
Appears victory and solace
Beyond belief
For what death cannot touch
We have firmly held
The mountaintop
In portions made human
Sizing us up
Long the weigh
Only making us stronger
Such trails and tribulations
Are now more plainly marked
And the eternal answer echoes more clearly
Be more
Karen
Be won for all
Not bewitched
By fancy
As some go before us
Surely, we must follow
And may we all be carried away
In the arms of friends
And when such days we face
The un-Karen powers that be
May we hear the call to arms
And just bucket

I wrote this poem, this ode, as a tribute to my friend and my public health mentor, Karen Krause.  Karen died Monday, October 21, 2013, at the age of 73.  [You can see her obituary and local news story for a small outline of her life.]  I shared this poem with her when she was healthy enough to take it in.  I would like to live in a world where everyone has poems written about them and for them.  This poem takes us one step closer to that world.  The idea for the poem was inspired by a conversation I had with Karen and a couple other friends.  I spoke of the commonly misunderstood scripture quote from Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Of course, most people mistakenly refer to this as if faith were some magical spell, cast successfully if only you believe hard enough.  Karen’s life emulated its true meaning: that spending a lifetime, even generations, moving a bucket at a time, can move mountains.  [Check out one of my other blog entries for more background on the historical context of this scripture.]  I knighted Karen as “Leader of the Bucket Brigade” and this poem soon followed.

You can download a printer-friendly PDF version of this poem here: Bucket-Brigade-Owed-to-Karen-Krause

I was deeply honored when Karen asked me to write a letter for her, her last letter, to be distributed upon her death.  Karen and I, from our years working together in public health, drafted many letters and such, spending hours editing and re-drafting.  Perhaps as a fitting culmination and closure of our relationship as friends and colleagues, Karen, defying precedent, accepted the letter with virtually no editing. Here is that letter:

Karen Krause asked me to write this letter.  Karen died peacefully on Monday October 21, 2013.  She wanted to give thanks, especially for her friendships and experiences in her final months. She was in hospice care since July.  Karen decided to forgo treatment to maintain her quality of life in her remaining time.  She and her doctor were content with this decision.  She lived and died as a nurse and a patient, without regrets.  She was tremendously thankful to be able to stay home and maintain her independence for most of her hospice experience.

Karen was deeply grateful for her friends and colleagues — and Karen had a way of making friends colleagues and colleagues friends.  Karen continued to bring people together until the very end, just as she had brought people together her whole life.  She was heartened by the outpouring of visitation, food, medical help, pastoral counseling, assistance of all kinds, and abundant words of encouragement.

Her last months were invaluable for Karen recognizing her own humility.  Her often unsung work was just her way: “that’s Karen.”  Karen’s dedication and perseverance inspired countless others, yet, she was faithfully, even doggedly, focused on higher purposes than herself.  Many friends shared what she meant to them, the positive contribution that she made to who they are.  This enabled Karen to better see and more fully appreciate how important her life has been to others.   Hopefully, such realizations helped serve as just wages for decades of work serving others.

As in her life, her dying wish was for social justice.  Among other things, Karen was the moving force for Toledo Area Jobs with Justice/Interfaith Worker Justice Coalition (JwJ/IWJ).  She knew this work needs to go on.  Toledo JwJ/IWJ is reorganizing.  Karen made clear that her preferred way to be honored is to assure that Toledo JwJ/IWJ is able to continue its vital work.  Please contact Bob Lynn, Jr. to see how you can help out jwj@jwjtoledo.org ; PO Box 13048, Toledo, OH, 43613; or 419-787-5245.

Karen succeeded in making the world a better place for all.  Her life, and death, is a call to all of us to do the same.  Karen accepted the gift of gratitude for her life, and she asked that you accept her gratitude as her final gift to you.

Please see Karen’s obituary in the Toledo Blade Obituary, Foth Dorfmeyer Funeral Home and Toledo Blade Featured Article for more about Karen’s life.

Her legacy lives on, but we will miss her…

Peace,

Dan Rutt

POEM: Fortunately

Unfortunately
I am deeply cynical
The sum of my hurts, disappointments, and fears
Fortunately
I am unfathomably hopeful
Beguiled by unearned graces
Surrounded by serendipity
And pelted by joys out of the blue

In many ways, life is a double-edge sword, fortune and misfortune mysteriously entwined.  The difference may largely be what we focus upon.  I find that the firmest foundation upon which to rest my attitude is gratitude for all that is fortunate in my life.  Most of this, such as the gift of life itself, is not my doing.  Granted, much of the difficulties in my life also originate outside of my control.  Of course, I have a great say in what I choose to focus upon.  Frankly, I find gratitude so much more pleasant than resentment.  That which I do have some control over is a priceless gift of opportunity.  And such opportunity is best engaged with courage rather than fear and timidity.  As Amelia Earhart said so well, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  May you find, that inasmuch as your life is out of control, that it comes to you characterized by grace, joy, and hope, rather than hurt, disappointment, and fear.  May you find, that inasmuch as your life is in your control, that you meet it with courage and gratitude, rather than fear and resentment.

POEM: Disillusionment

You say that you’re disillusioned like it’s a bad thing

My whole life I’ve heard people talk about being disillusioned in one way or another.  Not once have I heard this with anything but a negative connotation.  This one line poem alludes to another way.  Some years ago, it dawned on me that losing your illusions is a great thing.  Disillusionment may, in fact, be one of the grandest goals in life.  What greater meaning can be attained than aligning one’s life with reality, as it is, not as we happen to think it is.  And how can this happen except by letting go of our illusions?  I would like to see humanity reclaim the term disillusionment.  Will you join me in claiming an attitude of gratitude when our illusions run into reality and those illusions lose handedly?  Let’s rejoice at this inescapable process of disillusionment on the way to enlightenment and more truthful living.  Alas, hope springs eternal, even in the face of determined cynicism.

POEM: Unemployable

I am unemployable
Partly because no one can afford what I’m worth
Partly because I prefer to give it away

This short poem harkens to a more organic way of relating to one another than contractual relationships.  What if people did what they love in life and gave freely?  I suspect that the world would be much better off.  Love unleashed is much more powerful, and synchronous with the deepest reality, than any personal profit or “earning.”  Giving freely is an invitation to escape the binds of the quid pro quo of contracts.  Contractual relationships are bound by a reciprocity that is defined by a limited payback.  The best that a contractual relationship can offer is an equal, reciprocal exchange or payback that ends when the direct participants/contractors get what they bargained for — it’s largely a closed system.  Of course, many would be quite satisfied with such a fair exchange.  I am not.  I yearn for an open system of unending streams of acts of kindness where little time and effort is spent on trying to guarantee that the giver gets back a commensurate, proportional return in a specific way. How about paying it forward?  Many will cry out, “Life is not fair; if you act that way, then you will get shortchanged.”  My answer: you are right, life is not fair — life is excellent!  My life is a gift that I can never repay, except in kind!  What is fair in life is that what we sow is what we reap.  The means produce the ends.  And the kinds produce new beginnings.  As Gandhi, a man well accustomed to the darker and lighter sides of humanity, proclaimed, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” People convinced that mutual exchange negotiated by two parties is the best we can do, will likely not do much better.  I, for one, would like to participate in a much bigger party!  And like John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live as one.”

Us dreamers don’t deny that people can treat you badly, worse than you treat them.  What dreamers don’t deny, but affirm, and live into, is that people can treat each other better than they are treated.  Within this blessed inequality is a sacred space where forgiveness, grace, and gratitude flourish.  I view this as the most fundamental and appropriate response to the existential reality that I did nothing to deserve my life; or, as John Paul Sartre and Paul Johannes Tillich would join in saying, “We are not the ground of our own being.”

The fright of giving freely is easily identified, and it is commonplace.  Interestingly though, perhaps more illustrative is the odd reality that receiving freely is also very difficult and scary for many people.  The fright that binds these two conditions is not the fear of not getting enough, but rather the fear of not earning one’s way.  If I receive freely, then I might owe someone or something.  This may trigger an even deeper fear of being controlled, having this debt being used against you.

I suspect that this fear of being controlled, having a debt being used against you, may be the most basic fear contained within false religion, that is, religion which controls rather than sets free.  Perhaps ironically, this fear of having a debt that one cannot repay may be a frightening undergirder of atheism (a rejection of a giver?).  The modern scientific atheist betrays this worldview by a singular focus on scientific reductionism, the world of causality where each individual party has a proper accounting (hmmm…sounds a bit like a religion).  In this world of causality, that paradoxically is proclaimed to exist without a cause (“it just is” — like God?), there is no room for generosity or forgiveness, only ever finer engineering and accounting.  Mystery becomes simply ignorance, a hubris-ridden assumption about what lies beyond the veil.  Humility and hubris seem as one.  Is it any wonder that scientific atheists may find their attitudes vacillating from extreme causality and exacting control to impenetrable absurdity.

Back to the basic theme of this poem, which challenges a worldview dominated by “earners.”  Humans and humanity are too valuable to be monetized for the convenience of more efficient commerce.  Human rights are not for sale, but arise out of the sacred worth of human life.  Perhaps the best illustration of how far we have strayed from this is by the fact that you can substitute “the market” or “the economy” with the word “God” and you would find that it all makes sense, in a strangely perverse way.  We must bow to the false god of Mammon, or worldly wealth and power, but it will never set us “free.” As Jesus adroitly put it, “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)   Reflecting on this basic pivot point in life may give rise to a more modern take on truth and freedom: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!

There are few things in modern American politics that will piss people off more than confronting “a sense of entitlement.”  Conservatives more typically take offense at a “sense of entitlement.”  Liberals more typically work to protect “entitlements.”  I think that this liberal desire to protect “entitlements” springs from a sense of human rights which transcend market valuations.  Unfortunately, the debates about “entitlements” pays too much homage to economic worthiness than sacred worthiness.  I view conservatives’ objections to “entitlements” as springing from this worldview that holds “earning” as sacrosanct.  Such a worldview rejects both “giving freely” and “receiving freely.”  Conservative religious rhetoric aside, the dubious conservatives’ claim that giving should be done freely (without government involvement) is perhaps best debunked simply by their giving behavior.  Feeble claims that government robs them of enough resources to give is easily countered by the fact that the more people have the less they give proportionally (whether conservative or liberal).  The urge to give must spring from some place different than having a lot of stuff to give.  If this sacred place from which giving arises is to become incarnate in this world, then we must behave congruously with the reality that each human is more valuable than any employer can pay, and we must prefer giving over earning.

May you resist the temptation to monetize your humanity, or anyone else’s, and may you give freely, centered in that sacred space where what is most valuable is experienced.

POEM: Serendipity and Dippity Doo

On occasions
I find it easy
To believe
In sarin gas
And dippity doo
Rather than serendipity
These are not special occasions

While many of my poems have an edge to them, my body of work is decidedly hopeful.  This poem reflects on the way too easy response in life to be inane or even cruel.  It seems that the “reptilian” deep part of our brain that responds to immediate threats with “fight of flight” is a default mechanism that is triggered, and acted upon, unless higher functions override it.  When confronted with violence or injustice, a first response is often to strike back (fight) or avoid conflict (flight).  In an unreflective reflex to large, institutional violence or injustice, the “sarin gas” option feels good, to strike back and hurt when hurt.  Fortunately, such actions are rarely converted to action!  More commonly, conflict avoidance is practiced by burying ourselves in simple denial or inane distraction — thus, the dippity doo (for those who may not get the reference, dippity doo is a hair gel).  Each of these fight or flight responses is contrasted with “serendipity,” a playful alliteration, and a lucky or pleasant surprise.  This is a call to live in a place that is more luminous, patient, and generous — to live in the presence of a higher power that is beneficent and life-giving.  This may seem namby-pamby or a cop-out to some, but it is actually a place of being from which right action emanates.  With gratitude rather than anger and hurt, we can de-link our actions from simple fight or flight responses and transcend to a higher level of action.  Of course, allowing time for reflective mental processing is essential for finding a third way, out of “reptilian” action-reaction.  When the instantaneously “easy” way is taken, and the “reptilian” brain runs our lives, “These are not special occasions.”

To learn, adapt, and grow, we need to be open to that which is new.  Humans have a special gift of conscious awareness and will or intent to aim and frame our experiences with a chosen attitude.  More simply put: expect to be pleasantly surprised.  Certainly, we are animals.  But more importantly, we are so much more than animals!

POEM: I am

The other day I got kicked out
Of an atheist’s club
Told in no uncertain terms
There is science
And no other!
And I am left
To wonder
Wow, where did that come from?!
I was raised
A Christian
A long story (some may say tall)
Which makes some short
Red chapters
Heavenly verse
To love
One, an other
To bless
Not curse
A Palestinian Jew
Named Jesus
We could do much worse!
I once heard a Muslim
Of five pillars he spoke
Coming down to One
And as a Muslim
I woke
Then along came Buddha
Who said: “Don’t follow me,
Experience it first!”
Which made me want to follow
This unslakable thirst
To find compassion and justice
A home
Here on this suffering Earth
A little man
Named Gandhi
To kingdoms united
He spoke
I am
A Hindu
A Christian
A Muslim
A Jew
And undoubtedly a Sikh he
So many will accuse
Well
Me too!

I have considered myself a theological mutt as long as I can remember.  While I have never found a home in atheism, I have a deep appreciation for those who have rejected theism when they experience theistic followers as extremely unwelcoming and exclusive.  Probably one of my most basic theological beliefs is that God is love, and that God’s love is unconditional.  I find it difficult to imagine such a “condition” that is any more inclusive!  This wreaks havoc on virtually every conventional way of thinking.  This is one of the major reasons why I consider spirituality as countercultural.  A healthy spirituality is constantly turning up statist views of reality and human conditions.  I see spirituality as basically a struggle of life over death.  How does one enliven, incarnate, the inanimate matter that is the object of science (there is no subject in science!)?  I don’t see differences of opinion around spirituality primarily as theists versus atheist, but rather as fundamentalists versus welcoming dynamicists.      In the myriad world of either/or propositions, the dynamicists welcome the answer of “YES!”, as opposed to “this, “that,” or “yes, but.”  Or, more simply put, does it enhance living?  Unfortunately, living in this both/and world can be quite disconcerting for those demanding hard endpoints or absolute certainty — which are dangerous to coming to healthy terms with the irreducible uncertainties of life.  In theological terms, this would probably be called process theology, where: “it is an essential attribute of God to be fully involved in and affected by temporal processes, an idea that conflicts with traditional forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal, immutable, and impassible, but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.”  But enough theology, suffice it to say that I believe that fundamentalism is a death knell for healthy spirituality and a living religion.  Perhaps ironically, I don’t see that atheism has done any better of a job than theism of minimizing fundamentalism.  I don’t see much difference between militant atheists and fundamentalist religionists.

But, alas, such debate has being going on for millennia, and with much dissatisfaction; so I would propose that the dividing line can be summed up by the attitudes represented in one’s response to this statement by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Or, to frame it somewhat differently, when Einstein was asked what the most important question that a human being could ask is, he answered: “Is the universe friendly?”  I don’t know if this question is answerable in some ultimate, final sense, but I do know that I can vote for the universe being friendly, and make the universe a little more friendly, by practicing kindness.  And the gratitude manifest by seeing everything as a miracle helps empower me to behave kindly.  But, you be the judge…or not.

POEM: No Longer on Speaking Terms with God

I am no longer on speaking terms with God
She keeps pouring drink into my cup overflowing
And I no longer have the heart to say when
Only ever with a rye smile
Would she say to me “eat me”
She is so much better bred than that
She is the host for me
And not often best served en masse

Words and rituals will always fall short of the true glory of God.  However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t experience God in a rich and robust way.  With tongue-in-cheek, God “rudely” keeps heaping blessings upon me, in such a way that if I fully take it in, then I will likely appear as a babbling drunk in most any conventional setting.  I’m not sure what more to say, except that I am eager for my next visit to God’s speakeasy!

POEM: Sleeping In

I love mornings that I can sleep in
I call them “weekdays”

I am a wealthy man!  I can go for months at a time without the need for an alarm clock.  How many have such wealth?  In crass terms, how much would you be willing to pay for this?  But alas, the value of such a freedom cannot be fully accounted for in terms of cash.  As part of my package deal, I find myself without health insurance, but I am well-rested, have relatively little stress in my life, and have room to pursue my daily needs and wants, which may include exercise and meditation.  The reference to “weekdays” alludes to that which is “normal” or most common in our lives, the bulk of our week.  Of course, I may sleep in on the weekend as well!  This summer I took three weeks for a vacation; how many of the most powerful people in the world can say that?!  Please don’t consider this bragging.  I see it more as fumbling gratitude…

POEM: Morning Prayer, Waking Up

I say a prayer of thanks every morning I wake up

Except about the whole having-to-wake-up thing

This is a simple one of my short poems.  The first line of the poem strikes a very traditional chord, dealing with morning prayer and thanks.  Of course, the every morning I wake up can be taken two ways.  It can be taken as a wordy way of saying every morning.  Or, it can be taken as a reference to giving thanks for those mornings that you wake up as opposed to not waking up.  Combining these two potential interpretations contrasts what may be a mundane routine of morning prayer with the profound gratitude of being alive at all.  Then, not surprisingly, as is given my style, the second line of the poem is a reversal or a contrast with the first line.  The profound importance of a morning prayer of thanks for being alive is contrasted with the mundane and often unwelcome chore of having to get up out of bed, which of course, requires waking up.  I recognize this conundrum mostly from past experience, as my present life is of a leisurely pace and structure that typically does not require me to force myself to get up at a particular time, which my mind and body might deem arbitrary and unwelcome.  I have largely solved this conundrum that is commonplace in our culture of busyness and structured time.  For this I’m extremely grateful.  I get a double dose of gratitude by getting the wonderful opportunity to wake up in the morning and to take little time to appreciate that by not having to worry or be pressed by having to get out of bed.  In fact, calling this a double dose may be short-changing the reality of the synergy of graces of getting to wake up and not having to get out of bed right away juxtaposed to one another.  I highly recommend it!

POEM: Those who take things literally are often thieves.

ONE-LINE POEM:

Those who take things literally are often thieves.

Here it is folks, my first one-line poem!  Quite appropriately, this short poem is a poem about poems, as well as a poem dealing directly and simply with social and political philosophy.  Not surprisingly, even this short poem contains a pun.

Oddly, the phrase “take things literally” means taking something at its most obvious face value, without presuming or exploring any deeper or metaphorical meaning.  I would take the phrase “take things literally” to mean something to do with literature and literature’s aspirations to communicate at levels much deeper and richer than considering language to be something that just matches a particular symbol with a particular thing like a rock or a box.

I would submit that meaning itself is something that transcends particular things like a rock or a box.  If literature is ever to rock, or if we are ever to think outside the box, we need to have a rich and robust appreciation for metaphors.  In fact, we should rely on them.  Anything less would not even qualifying as an aspiration.  And we dare to wonder why we find it difficult to find inspiration in such an aspiration-free world. This is another version of a common theme that I deal with in my life and how I see the world, that there is much more to life than the scientific reductionist, materialistic world.  This is a key factor in why I increasingly see the world as surreal.  We are human beings, subjects not objects, that seem intent on reducing the world to things, such as rubble.  It seems that the modus operandi of Western civilization is to take things literally, thus accounting for imperialism and capitalism. It seems that taking such a way of being to its logical and cruel conclusion is to conspire, as opposed to aspire, to the pirate motto of ”  Take all that you can and give nothing back.” And worse yet, our co-conspirators are only of use to us in as much as they assist us in taking things literally.  Therefore, we are literally at war with one another.  Further, we are literally at war with our self, since the subjective realm is inaccessible or denied when we are held captive by taking things literally.  Well, enough political philosophy, let’s get back to the poem.

We all know what a thief is.  A thief is a robber, someone who steals things.  However, this short, one-line poem begs the question of what exactly is being stolen.  With the above philosophical discourse on objects and subjects, I hope that you can guess that I am not wanting the reader to lock their doors for fear of their stuff being stolen.  Rather, I’m hoping that the reader will open their mind, and better yet, their heart, to infinitely more important things that can be stolen from us, if we are not careful and paying attention.  What could be infinitely more important than my stuff?!  What I’m referring to is something that is qualitatively different than stuff, or things.  Qualitatively different means that it cannot be substituted for.  The most obvious and even trite example is “money can’t buy you love.”  Money is clearly, and literally, the currency the modern Western civilization uses for virtually everything.  Not surprisingly, this explains why neglect more important matters, matters of the soul.  It qualifies as sheer vanity and insanity to engage in a commerce of the soul that attempts to exchange stuff for our humanity, the essence of what separates us from dirt, our soul if you will.  Of course, I believe that people, human beings, are more than complicated dirt.  If you believe that you are just complicated dirt, then there is much more remedial work that needs to be done for our minds and hearts to connect, to communicate.  Of course, ironically, if we are just complicated dirt, a wild statistical outlier from most of the rest of the barren material that we can identify in the known universe, and we are  just billiard balls in a mechanistic, cause-and-effect universe, then all that we do is fated, determined, a grand illusion of free will.  If you’d like to go to even one more level of irony, I find myself compelled to believe this!  Ah, the places such spiritual musings take you!

There is one word in this eight-word poem that could easily be overlooked and its significance missed.  That word is: often. Taking things literally is certainly not always a mistake.  Usually when we say “rock” we mean a rock.  Usually when we say “box” we mean a box.  Now, I chose the word “often” to access what I think the reality is, that the deeper metaphorical meanings are ignored or even stolen from us with great regularity (know shit!).  In speaking about subjectivity and objectivity, things and transcendence, dirt versus souls, and the like (and love), people often mistake me for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. More truthfully, in my own dyslexic fashion, it might be more apt to say, “throwing the bathwater out for the baby.”  To be clear, for the literalists in the crowd, I am not opposed to bathwater.  Bathwater is great!  My underlying point is that babies are more important than bathwater.

Okay, there is another word in this poem that probably needs to be mentioned for its significance.  Note that I use the word “those” rather than the word “people”.  This is intentionally meant to be ironic, since devoted literalists seem to be living in a world that denies the very fact that they are people.  Hey, aren’t you glad that this is only an eight-word poem!

Let me try to keep it simple.  Here are some of the things that I think are qualitatively different from stuff, the barren building blocks of our material universe: compassion, hope, gratitude and mercy.  Feel free to talk among yourselves.  Let me know what you think. My hope for you, and my hope for us, is that the trials and tribulations of this billiard ball world will neither destroy nor defeat you, nor steal from you the most important matters in life, and that you will live wholeheartedly in that place infinitely greater than the mere stuff around us.  May it be so.