POEM: Macaroni Art

Has it ever occurred to you
That your life’s work is but
Macaroni art
Only then realizing
That it is covering God’s refrigerator
And how great that is

This poem touches upon a number of themes: humility, self-confidence, perfectionism and grace. Every parent of a kid who is at least in elementary school has been given artworks that are of modest skill and humble materials, the proverbial macaroni art. Nonetheless, just as common, a parent receives such gifts with delight and affection. I find it encouraging to envision God receiving my less-than-skillful contributions to life with delight and affection. Of course, that which is most human and divine is so much more than “stuff.” May our relationships be overflowing with delight and affection.

POEM: Owed To Chet Chambers

His exacting integrity
Was seeded only by generosity of heart
He loved
Awe of God’s children
As well
As he kin
He planted seeds
That others would harvest
He worked side by side
Under God’s reign
And the radiance of a singular Son
Today the earth is a little less salty
Yet let our tears renew
Our taste for justice
And peace unearth

Chester “Chet” Chambers died October 4, 2016, at the age of 87.  Chet was a good man; though, like Jesus, Chet may very well have responded to such an assertion with: “Why do you call me good? “No one is good — except God alone.” [Mark 10:18]  His good works were cloaked in humility, yet any person of good will would testify to his deep and abiding faith in God and humanity, God’s precious children.

Chet was a friend, neighbor, fellow activist, and life-long United Methodist.  His life touched so many other lives.  All of our lives are better because of Chet; the fortunate are aware of this.  He will be missed by many.  His life, ministry, and example will echo into eternity.

Here is the obituary for Chester Chambers, as published in The Toledo Blade on Oct. 6, 2016:

Chester Chambers, born December 2, 1928, passed October 4, 2016. He grew up in Luckey, Ohio, where the Methodist church was the central activity of his family. He graduated from Ohio Northern University, where he took a pre-chemical engineering course of study. He was involved with the Ohio Methodist Student Movement, and following his junior year decided on ministry.

He went to Garrett Theological seminary on the campus of Northwestern University in 1949, where he gained a deep understanding of John Wesley’s theology and experience of grace. Following up on ideas and contacts gained through OMSM in undergrad, he became involved in the civil rights movement in the Chicago area.

While working as a student charge at Weston Church in the summer of 1951, he met Donna Fast, then a nurse in the Bowling Green hospital. They married a year later. He served at Mt. Blanchard five years before moving to Toledo in 1962 to pastor two inner-city parishes in the old north end.

In 1969 he was appointed Coordinator of Urban Ministries for the Toledo District of the United Methodist Church (“UMC”). In succeeding years he helped develop an “alphabet soup” of over forty local organizations from the local ACLU to Welfare Task Force, with Fair Housing Center and Personal Rights Organization among the many in between. The Levite asked, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' The Good Samaritan asked, 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' MLK QUOTE BUTTONHe had particular passions for racial justice, affordable housing, and acceptance of the LGBT community. As a minister and happily married father of five, he lent great credibility to the cause of same-sex oriented persons, at a time when societal attitudes and practices were far more negative and hostile and few spoke out to change that.

Chet made many fact-finding trips in later years. The poverty he witnessed on his first, to Nicaragua in 1989, was life-altering. He would return there, as well as go to Cuba, Brazil, Mexico (maquiladoras) and Venezuela.

He retired at least twice: after serving six years as Superintendent of the Findlay District (UMC) in 1996, and again in 2003 after serving as Associate Pastor of Monroe Street UMC in Toledo. He remained active in many groups and causes long after the “retirements,” including many annual protest trips to the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA. He was arrested at least three times over the years, in various locales, for civil disobedience over causes he championed.

Chet was a master card player, and avid camper with his family. He played piano, sang, and rarely missed a Toledo Symphony concert. He was a mentor and role model for many; inclusive, empowering, grass-roots. His biblical and theological knowledge was immense, and undergirded most everything he did and said. He never stopped believing in God and humanity’s capacity for good.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Fred and Audrey Chambers, and is survived by his wife, Donna; children, Mark (Susan), Nathan (Clara), Brian (Debra), Kevin (Susan), Jocelyn (John) Blaufuss, and 12 grandchildren.

A celebration of Chet’s life will take place October 15, 11 a.m. at Monroe St. United Methodist Church.

Contributions may be made to Monroe St. Neighborhood Center, Methodist Federation for Social Action, or any organization helping the most vulnerable or working for social justice.

Rest in peace, friend to all and faithful servant.

POEM: Chains of Command

A juggernaut of freedom
He proudly served
As the weakest link
In the chain of command
And above
Awe
Due no harm

This poem juxtaposes the contrasting notions of freedom achieved through tight, even militaristic, ventures versus embodying freedom through default nonviolence and decentralized decision-making.  This is a command and control model versus fostering non-hierarchical and autonomous action.  Free Range Human Being - POLITICAL BUTTONMy experience is that directly practicing freedom and modeling this for others is the best means for manifesting increasing freedom.  Most succinctly put, this is a matter of means and ends — or rather a madder of means and end for the militarist or militant fundamentalist.  Subcontracting out freedom by wholesale consenting to others’ directives strikes me as a fundamental bastardization of freedom, particularly in large militaristic bureaucracies dedicated to the end of freedom — through ever-escalating means.  This is part and parcel to anarchist practice and philosophy.   Anarchists value direct, unmediated experience as both a way to live and learn, in contrast to imputing authority (via consent, and ultimately responsibility) into impersonal human organizations or other impersonal social arrangements.  Humanity is best experienced and served through smaller-scale, personal relationships, where the creative expressions of voluntary association and the personally uplifting experiences of mutual aid flourish.  The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don't have any -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe title of this poem, “Chains of command,”  is a pun — a double meaning — directly linking the shackling of freedom to systems of command and control.  Anarchists are renown for their issues with authority.  Less well appreciated is their fundamental critique of large, impersonal ventures which are viewed as the primary threat to our individual and collective humanity.  Anarchists seek to live on what is considered a human scale, which is necessarily smaller-scale — you can only relate personally to a finite number of people — and decentralized in that your set of relationships is an organic, even alive, entity that is guided by free association and mutual aid.  While anarchists are often portrayed as dangerous (perhaps to many forms of social order) and cavalier (perhaps revealing how foreboding freedom can be), there is a certain humility built into the anarchist worldview; there is a profound lack of ambition to control others (and be controlled) through the bulk of social arrangements in modern, so-called civilization.  The hubris necessary for violence is for me the best example.  Now, the brand of anarchist practice that I would ascribe to might be referred to as green anarchism, where violence is not understood to be an integral and necessary part of being human.  So-called black anarchists might view the violence inherent in the present social order as necessitating violent responses.  My view of freedom does not consider violence as necessary to being human, though the choice to be subject to violence as opposed to inflicting it remains a difficult and necessarily challenging one.  Clearly the current world order considers violence as merely the order of the day, a necessity, outside the realm of free choice. The last lines of the poem are a tribute to a pacifist green anarchism, and the deep humility it engenders: And above/Awe/Due no harm.  Of course, this is a take on the Hippocratic Oath: Above all, do no harm.  Plus, the “Due no harm” alludes to the vision of a world where the cycles of violence are broken and there is no longer the cruel divide of victim and perpetrator.  To go full circle, we must cast off the chains of command.  May you find the freedom and courage to pay the cost of boldly adding your beautiful human life to the mix of humanity where fear and misunderstandings and inertial privilege stand in the way of our individual and collective humanity.

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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: Loving Your Enemas

The legal lists
Were longing
With who hurt
And who not heard
Attesting too
How much they love
They’re enemas
Only wading
For sue a side
As eminent just us
And inevitably knot
Passing the smell test

Look Ma No Arms (Peace Dove picture)--FUNNY PEACE BUTTONThis is a poem about the intractable mess of trying to love your enemies and kill them as well.  American Christianity generally considers pacifism a quaint way of life, tolerable in direct proportion to its relegation from the halls of power in church and state.  American Christianity has bought rather wholesale into war as a practical necessity — the necessity of evil, that is.  Wince again, the necessity defense is the greatest offense.  Is the oneness of humanity to be cleaved by the body of Christ?  For badder or worse, the inconvenient truth of dying for one’s enemy reliably leaves American Christians more than cross.  Object of War Not to Die for Your Country But Make Other Bastard Die for His--ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONAt best, nationalism, and at its worst, imperialism, become the legal ism for such a knotty morality.  And if any prophets may bedevil such an undertaking, their fate is bound in the hands of a certain high priest, possessed buy inescapable logic: “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 11:51)  Yep, to gain the world and halve the whole world parish.  American Christians all to often worship a bastard son, pax Americana, a modern day roamin’ umpire, overruling with just US, and as per fuming so extravagantly that we don’t even realize we fail the smell test.

May awe of US unearth humility enough to execute amorality, in a creation fit for all — for Christ’s sake!

 	 I'm not a pacifist. I'm not that brave. Phil Donahue quote PEACE T-SHIRTPeace - Won for All - Peace Dove-PEACE BUTTON

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POEM: A Truth Foul

If you should believe
The hole truth
And nothing
A butt the truth
You may well be
Full if it
Perfectly primed
For letting go
Unable to be taken
Any more
By a singular won
Given
By an other

This poem, like many of my poems, can be understood (or misunderstood) many ways.  Mostly, this is a poem about both hubris and hope.  If we are so full of ourselves in our ability to ascertain the truth and we are skeptical enough to find believing nothing as a dominant mode, then we may very well dangerous to others seeking truth.  Hubris is the blinding arrogance of our own experience of truth as the dominant mode.  This is typically matched by a substantial discounting of others’ experience of truth.  Hubris is cynicism producing and the enemy of hope.  Hope is able to blossom when our perspective is genuinely open to others’ experiences and whatever current ideology we hold is alive enough to grow in the light of the living truth in other living beings.  This is typically paired with a humble attitude toward our own limited body of experiences.  I see true humility as a right-sizing of our place and role in the world (and universe).  True humility, as most commonly viewed, is not being too big or oversized.  Of course, true humility is also served by us rising up to whatever responsibility matches our particular endowment of moral agency and power.  Being too small is a vote for humiliation, not humility.  The line in the poem, “Unable to be taken,” similarly cuts both ways.  “Being taken,” as duped or cheated, is perhaps one of the most unwelcome and trust betraying realities in life.  I suspect that it is difficult to overestimate the effort we will employ to avoid such situations.  Similarly true, “being taken,” as in being taken by a lover or experience of overwhelming awe, can be profoundly life transforming in previously unimagined ways.  I think that the openness and vulnerability inherently in “being taken” inextricably links both forms/meanings.  Hardening oneself to being duped or cheated likewise hardens one’s ability and likelihood of enthrallment.  By cutting ourselves off from vulnerability and intimacy, we rob ourselves of its upsides, in essence throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  I posit that living a life that is not adept at being taken is a life that to that same degree is not fully lived.   May you find hope and enthrallment that is worth infinitely more than whatever you have been cheated out of life.

POEM: Flocking Boss Leaves Behind Their Helm

He new
Not the least bit sheepishly
Just saying
I am not the boss of ewes
And ewes not the boss of me

This is perhaps my first poem that might be best read with a New Jersey accent.  This poem may very well be a tribute to a budding anarchist, one who newly recognizes that life is best lived as neither the boss of others nor the subject of bosses.  Such a way of living springs from a humility and holistic perspective that bossing others around is an insult to the fullness of life of all.  Plus, throwing off the rule of bosses demands courage and fortitude, perhaps not a little bit ironically, “like a boss” — though channeled to being the boss of one’s own life, not a boss lording over others.  This poem also accents the boss-like oppression of sheepishly following other sheep, where cowardly complicity in the face of bosses diminishes us all.  If you should seek to master such boss-less living, may you find ever new ways to live as equal partners with other people and all living beings, neither lording over or shrinking below.

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: A We Occupation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

POEM: Never Wanton Too Leave

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Needling a Haystack

The stockpiles of human knowledge grow exponentially
And wisdom, like needling a haystack
Says, “What the hay?!”
Finding better questions is where it’s at
Not how fast you can shovel it
Nor how big your pitchfork is
Rather what thread follows
And sew what

This short poem is a tribute to questioning with a purpose.  Unfettered skepticism produces cynicism.  Wisdom recognizes that some questions are better than others.  In fact, what questions you ask determines what answers you get.  This poem cuts through the exponential amassing of knowledge by honing our attention to that which mends our reality together into a meaningful whole.  Without meaning full questions to guide our inquiries, greater access to knowledge simply leads to greater confusion.  The attraction and distraction of a tsunami of available answers to questions, i.e., knowledge, can actually hamper wisdom.  Now, this isn’t some anti-intellectual argument.  This simply recognizes that intellect lacking wisdom is much less fruitful, even dangerous.  The quests for scientific knowledge and wisdom are consonant.  Both seek to integrate knowledge into an ever greater whole.  Knowledge that serves the whole, as opposed to just some part of reality, is a better quality of knowledge.  Knowledge isn’t just about bits and pieces, mere facts; true knowledge is about a deeper understanding of the relationship of these parts to each other, and most importantly, the whole.  Wisdom has a deep respect for the whole, and an even deeper reverence for the fact that the ever greater whole can only be tentatively and incompletely described.  Thus, wisdom is characterized by both humility and curiosity.  Wisdom opposes militant ideologies and apathy.  In fact, militant ideologies are simply ideologies that have lost humility and curiosity and stopped seeking out the ever-elusive, ever-greater whole, which is at least partially represented by those outside a militant ideology.  This fact escapes many trapped in militant ideologies because they mistake totality for unity.  Wisdom is an inoculation against militancy, fascism, and fundamentalism.  This is because the humility and curiosity of wisdom breeds a generous attitude in seeking a harmonious relationship with the whole.  The openness of wisdom is not merely a corollary of the tentativeness of empirical skepticism and scientific reductionism; it is is rooted in the positive appreciation for the value of the “other” which comprise the yet-undiscovered aspects of reality and ineluctable mystery.  This may be your enemy.  This may be God.  It may be both.  A generosity transcending mere openness is made possible by a trust or faith in the whole being more valuable than the parts, even the sum of the parts.  This faith is as essential to healthy scientific investigation as it is to loving human relationships.  This simply assumes, or prefers, science that serves the whole rather than some special interest.  This simply assumes, or prefers, human relationships that don’t reduce humans to things to be manipulated, but beings to be appreciated.  The generosity of wisdom is the mother to its only true child: kindness.  In humility, stripped of arrogance and egocentricity, and equipped with an overpowering curiosity and a transcendent appreciation of the “other,” only kindness remains.  And all good will follow.

POEM: A Befitting Size, That Matters

Starring on the big screen
Used to dominate young dreams
Super-sizing them for mass consumption
Today, celluloid immortality miniaturizes
So five minutes ago
Small screens test us
As we flail miserably
In a feudal limbo
‘Tween
Puffed up images
Flickering about
And atrophied soles
Going nowhere fast
No longer facing
A true converse
Of penetrating I’s
Present minds
And supple lips
Flush of heart
Given to a musing gesture
Deflating kings
And giving commoners rise
Surpassing hands shaking
And awe that follows
Neither settling
For collapsing our highest hopes
Nor minute fits
As souls meet the street
And welcoming nature
Banishing the might he
Of lesser woulds
And inspiring fresh heirs
To real feat
Baring our soles
Grounded in realty for all
A shared fete
A fare commune
Wear each mourning
Met lightly
With a celebration of the hearts
No longer idle worship of images
Every won an original
Not merely deference
Bland tolerance
Or thumbs down devolution
But powered by appreciation
You can bank on
A currency turning led into goaled
A redeeming alchemy
The most handsome ransom
For our ugly whirled
A watery swell so grave
Or a cowering inferno
Mything the point
With such hocus pocus
And uncounted allusions
To awe that would suitor
A befitting size
That matters
And keeping it
Reel
Never having too obsess
What’s the catch

This poem is a call to more real and human-scale relationships.  Social media technology, celebrity, and widespread shallow images of ourselves projected to others is robbing us of better ways of being.  We can easily be overwhelmed by images of celebrity, status, and wealth, tempting vainglorious dreams.  We can easily feel inadequate and too small by a juggernaut of Photoshopped images and word processed personalities.  Humans are best suited to face-to-face relationships.  As such real-time, real-world relationships are edged out by other more nominal relationships our humanity and satisfaction suffers.  Nobody wants to be multi-tasked, no matter the purported claims of efficiency.  Long-term, face-to-face, human relationships better reflect the awesome depth, complexity, and eccentricity of humans.  It is by far the best place for healthy intimate relationships to thrive.  Such relationships also keep us humble, rooted in reality.  I see humility as being right-sized, not too big or too small.  Perhaps the greatest threat to humility is technology and institutions which depersonalize human interactions.  Powering up through technology and institutions is a powerful temptation to become too big, overpowering human scales with impersonal agency and concentration of power among elites.  This is dehumanizing.  This creates persistent structural temptations to value things and concepts/ideologies over actual people.  The seductive drive of scaling up power disconnects us from our own humanity and the humanity of others.  I suspect that Western civilization is far-flung from any balance between being rooted in healthy, human-scaled relationships and powering up to “get things done.”  Further, I suspect that there may be a nearly proportional relationship between getting things done and getting humans done.  May we keep things real and not finish off humans.  I kind of like them!

POEM: Less Taken Now

It was an eve to remember
The surf was swell
Giving rise to him
Way above his peers
He cried out mightily
“I’m on top of the world!”
Just moments later
Crashing onto the rocks
Baring him
No ill will
Nor give
A lessen too great for won
What remains
Borne by less fêted peers
Less taken now
By swell futures
Rocking on
Before the rising dawn

By accident or design, by great will or serendipity, we may find ourselves in epic places. This poem addresses issues of humility, grandiosity, and risk. A desire to be above our peers carries inherent risk. In both humans and the material world at large, there are natural limits. The organic nature of life does not easily support parasitical relationships. Even a parasite must take some care not to kill its host. I view humility as being right-sized, neither being too big, puffed up, nor being too small, shrinking to life’s demands. This poem addresses the puffed up half of the humility equation. Nature is not mean. Nonetheless, nature has laws. When nature’s laws are broken, such a lawlessness creates chaos rather than harmony. There is risk inherent in chaos. In pushing natural limits, we can reasonably expect push-back. Some might call this karma. Sometimes it is simply gravity.

To some degree, we must all deal with some form of chaos, if simply the unknown, or even unknowable. Life requires some space for give and take to thrive. Nonetheless, even gifted surfers of chaos would be better served by respecting grander surges. Living life in harmony requires a balance and a deep respect of the danger of extremes. A harmonious life, in contrast to a parasitical life, often demands from us to be “less taken.” This phrases double meaning encompasses both the material world where hoarding of nature’s bounty, or its destruction creates imbalance, and the transcendent world where our undue attachment to material wealth and power originates such imbalance.

Humans seem to have quite peculiar, even unique, role in nature. If we learn and respect natural laws, we can navigate the world in a nearly infinite number of ways, symbiotically glorifying both nature and the highest human potentials. If we live in ignorance and conflict with natural laws, in essence being parasites, nature may very well take us down, crashing us on the rocks from our foolish heights. There is great wisdom in understanding the simple and profound gravity of such situations. There is plenty of room for harmony. Nature is not miserly. Our own greed and blind grandiosity is the greatest threat to humanity. As Gandhi so wisely summed up, “There is enough for everyone’s need. There is not enough for everyone’s greed.” This is the most basic natural limit that humans face. It deserves the highest respect.

POEM: An Answer to the Problem of Evil

An Answer to the Problem of Evil

One morning God woke up
Before there was such a thing as morning
God was well pleased with God’s self
“I know that I am all that!”
In fact, the only thing better
Than knowing I’m all that
Is to not know I’m all that and then find out I’m all that!
So God got lost
And it’s been mourning since
Good morning

The epic title of this poem is somewhat ambitious, since this poem, no matter how optimistic or hopeful, obviously doesn’t bring an end to the problem of evil.  Of course, the title begs some humility in suggesting “an” answer, not “the” answer.  What I hope this title and poem offer is a positive perspective on the intractable problem of evil.  This poem addresses one of the deepest and thorniest philosophical and theological issues that exists: how can evil exist alongside a powerful, loving God?  Nonetheless, my hope is that this poem’s playful tone elucidates something about the nature of God in the face of such a mournful human problem.

My understanding of salvation is deeply rooted in a transcendent perspective which ever moves me toward that which is larger, more all-encompassing, and more whole — some would call this spiritual perspective as seeking a higher power or God.  I see this process of salvation or enlightenment as a continual trading up to something better.  In the process of trading up, one must give up the current or old to make room for the new and better.  This is a mournful process.  Losing things of value is difficult  This is especially true when things of value are taken away from us without any choice on our part.  These events and processes of loss seem to capture our attention quite effectively.  Somewhat ironically, the process of gaining things of value, especially when due to no choice or action of our own, generally receives little complaint, and often scant attention.  Exhibit A: the gift of life, your very existence.  Unearned gains, the stuff of grace, is the companion of the problem of evil: the problem of good.  Of course, few people demand a solution to the problem of good, not seeing a need to address it as a problem.  Still the philosophical and theological issues are exactly parallel.  To be fair and balanced, these issues should be addressed as the problem of good/evil.  No doubt, some have aspired to amorality as a deeply ironic and banal way of “transcending” such a problem.  If we can’t do any better than this, then we certainly can’t do any worse!  Such a desperate, nihilistic approach seems to me like destroying the question to avoid having to answer the question.  But back to the question at hand!  The process of mourning loss (and celebrating gain) are inextricably linked.  My definition of sacrifice is this: giving up something of value for something of greater value — “trading up.”  When loss is put in perspective of gain, then loss can “gain” positive meaning.  This is certainly no justification for evil, but it opens the process of redemption.  My favorite example of this is getting hit in the face with a two-by-four.  It is possible to learn/gain wisdom from such a situation, whether it was at the hands of another’s cruel intent or an “accident.”  However, just because it is possible to learn/gain from such a situation, does not mean that it is good to hit people in the face with two-by-fours.  It means that such bad situations can be redeemed, placed in a larger, “transcendent” perspective, where wisdom can be gained.  No doubt there are better and worse ways to learn/gain wisdom, but every situation offers raw material for learning.  So, let’s redeem those worthless coupons of loss, whose face value is meaningless, into something greater, something with meaning and value.

This poem sets up this process as God getting lost to us, so the even cooler prospect of discovering God is opened up.  The implied calculus of this deal is that the pain and loss of not knowing God is worth the coolness of (re-)discovering God. The playful tone of this poem emphasizes the creative and playful aspect of God.  Hopefully, this lighthearted aspect of God can be manifest in us enough to make up for the heavy-heartedness of all the pain, loss, and grief that we experience.  So, let’s carry on with the longing and groaning of such discovery.

POEM: Mere Image

I look in the mirror
At a real piece of work
And I thank God
That genius recognizes genius
Sharing more than mere image

I am more than the sum of the images that you can make of me. If you can’t see the genius in this, then there isn’t much I can do about that.  The same as is with genius is with God.  Defining God is like trying to define pornography.   As one judge once famously said, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it” –Justice Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 US 184 (1964).

Some may cry out “Hubris!”  This poem’s assertion may strike some as arrogant, lacking in humility.  However, humility is a double-edged sword.  Humility is not only about not making yourself out to be bigger than you are.  Humility is also about not making yourself out to be smaller than you are.  Humility is about right-sizing yourself — you might even say righteousness.  To look at God’s obviously unfathomable creation and assert that it is only as it appears, is hardly a Kodak moment worth the film it is imprinted upon!

I will go a step further.  For those daring to contend that there is an inner self, then some may see this as merely about inner and outer worlds.  Endless images of the outer world cannot capture the inner aspect within me.  True.  Nevertheless, I contend that I cannot even fathom the real piece of work that I am!  There is part of me of which I cannot make sense, cannot be defined.  It is beyond me, transcendent.  Yet I know it when I see it.  I find it wholly.  And I stand dumb, humbled.  I want to share more than mere image.  Yet I can see if you don’t see it.

POEM: Lovers of Dirt

Lovers of Dirt

Wile in cathedrals
The atheist
Dares claim
The title
Of mass debater
As little comes
From behind the veil
That doesn’t exist
In the slightest
Hint elect
To believe
Methods to their madness
Seemingly beyond approach
However rue derangement
Identifying any genus
By its feces
So commonly specious
In its origins
By means
Naturally selective
Preserving favored races
In the struggle
For life
As fashioned
From flights of fancy
For the birds
In plain English
Triggering an evolution
Of rapacious masculinity
Vanquishing femininity
As it sees fit
Too survive
And nothing more
As awe is derived
As so much
Ground Chuck
No longer
A yin without a yang
A homme with only half a story
In tell gents design
New ways of poker
Without reason
Fueling themselves
With fantasies
Of being porn again
Any come hither looks
Reduced to contrivance
Goddesses none
Any go whither looks
Annunciating to the world
A piece of class
A coy that must be played with
Bastards and bitches all
Wed to nothing but progeny
Incesting that the best demands it
Endless reproductions
Preying for deviant genes
To a god of chance
Just for the novelty of it
Tails you win
Heads you lose
Either way
Stuck only
By wieners and losers
How fare
Abet
Between fancy pants
And the un-gaudy
Next to uncleanliness
Soully lovers of dirt
However complicated

This poem is a commentary on atheism, evolution, and gender.  Of any belief group in America, those unaffiliated with religion are the most male, 60%.  As much as religion may be a problem for women, it seems that lack of religion is even less attractive.  If reproduction is the key to human evolution, then perhaps unbelieving men should pay attention to the keyholes.  Both atheism and evolution often strike me as dominated by male pattern balledness.  Reducing human evolution to sexual reproduction strikes me as some form of porn, a way to partner sterile abstract thinking with screwing, an unproductive mating of reductionistic thought and base sexual impulses.

I find the conundrums of atheism well captured in this poem’s title: Lovers of Dirt.  Atheism may be the most poorly equipped belief, or disbelief, system to deal with love.  Perhaps because God is love.  For whatever reason, atheists cannot bring themselves to believe in God, fortunately, I have met many who quest for love.  This poem is partly inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester outside the Toledo federal courthouse, when we were protesting corporate personhood, as promoted and reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.  This man was clearly offended by considering corporations on the same level as humans, and willing to hit the street to make that point.  In the course of our conversation, it became clear that he was an atheist.  He could clearly tell the difference between the legal fiction of corporate personhood and actual human personhood.  However, he could not articulate the difference between people and dirt.  A parently, people are simply complicated dirt. This claim to be able to make higher level distinctions while being unable to make lower level distinctions seems to strike at the ultimate heartlessness of atheism.

Maybe there are other forms of atheism, but I have found this creep of distinctionless infecting virtually every atheist with which I have ever had a conversation.  Now don’t get me wrong, while I don’t believe in atheism, I do believe in atheists, certainly inasmuch as they embody love.  Plus, I am a big fan of distinctionlessness.  However, I view distinctionlessness as a spiritual aspect of reality, by definition outside the realm of science which only deals with distinctions.  Distinctionlessness might be cited as unity consciousness, the oneness of all reality (which includes consciousness).  Now, to give props to John Paul Sartre, the great atheist existentialist, and author of Being and Nothingness, he might consider distinctionlessness to be represented by nothing.  Sartre dealt in-depth trying to explain the structure of consciousness which necessitated a relationship with nothingness, a perilous journey where we are reduced to alternating between subject and object.  I am a subject and you are an object of my subjectivity.  Then, you are a subject and I am an object of your subjectivity.  And never the twain shall meet. Ad inifinitum!  Perhaps not surprisingly, Sartre was famous for saying, “Hell is other people.” (see No Exit, a one-act play). According to Sartre, other people, in the experience of subjectivity, must reduce others to objects.  Sartre believed that there can only be NO connection between subjects, no underlying unity.  I am at a loss how Sartre can even claim that other subjects exist, if he can only experience them as objects!?  Of course, this self-contradictory assertion is the basis for his atheism.  In this case, God would be Subject with a capital S.  The logic goes like this: if God existed, we would experience God as an object, and since there is no convincing evidence that such an object exists, then God does not exist.  Of course, this same logic, applied to other humans, would necessitate concluding that other people (if you can call them that) don’t exist as subjects.  These are the foolish places that highly rational and completely unreasonable men end up.  Except Sartre was not a fool.  He acknowledged that other subjects existed — only that these subjects existed outside his experience!  He could only experience their objectively ghostly apparitions masquerading as subjects, and occasional buyers of his books.  By beginning with an assumption of nothingness, he ends up with much, much, much, much, much less than if he had begun with an assumption of somethingness.  Both are assumptions, mere propositions or assertions.

Descartes launched modern Western philosophy off with “I think therefore I am,” taking existence as evidence against nonexistent.  Simple but compelling.  Sartre breaks this tradition in a striking way, he appears compelled by nothingness, nonexistence, perhaps quite appropriately, for no apparent reason.  By Sarte’s same logic and assumptions critiquing God’s Subjective existence, Sartre could just as easily made a profoundly good theist had he only explored the logical sequence of knowledge unveiled by allowing that just another subject may exist, another Subject may exist.  This seems a great leap of faith to some.  How could you equate little old me, a subject with a lowercase s, on the same par as God, a Subject with a capital S?!  Yet, this is exactly what Sartre did with his chosen path.  By Sartre’s own logic and apparent experience, he is the only subject that exists!  If there is only one subject, then this is the closest to God one can expect.  Sartre had no basis for distinguishing between a subject with a lowercase s and a Subject with an uppercase S.  Sartre was God!  And God is dead!!  Case closed — and it was a very cold case!  This should come as little surprise, that God was so little.  When being must have a relationship with nothing in order to generate consciousness, subjectivity is necessarily imprisoned: condemned to be free; with nothing to ground its being.  Now, to be fair, Sartre has nothing to stand upon.  By claiming that it was the relationship to nothing that generated consciousness, the breath of subjectivity, he allowed other subjects to exist (spookily as God allows).  All you have to do is believe in nothing.  How hard could that be?  Except that the other ethereal pillar holding up Sartre’s world is that nothing can be the ground of our being.  So, our being comes from nothingness.  Is this magic less objectionable than our being coming from somethingness?  I would agree that God is a no thing, in that the fullness of God, what God IS, cannot be ascertained from studying objective things, anymore than the fullness of human subjects can be understood by simply studying their junk.

In my book, Sartre should have devoted his keen intellect to a masterpiece call Being and Somethingness. In studying Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in my college existentialism class, what I most keenly remember is a footnote, and perhaps the only ultimate foothold in my book.  This footnote stated that his arguments did not preclude the possibility of hope, but that his purpose was not to explore that possibility.  This existential choice on his part left his work despairing.  John Paul Sartre was intellectually clever and outside of his formal philosophy, in real life, fought to be compassionate to others, though chronically despairing and doubting that he could ever really connect with them as fully human.  Perhaps Sartre’s greatest distinction is how well his worldview resonated with those cynical enough to be satisfied with studying the nooks, crannies, and shadows of this deeply pessimistic, foundationless-yet-sold-as-foundational worldview.  He created a lifetime of available preoccupation in his self-proclaimed hell.  And if there truly is no exit from this deadly state of affairs, aspiring to screw some less cruelly than others; then, being right will have to serve as a poor substitute for happiness.  Religion will be reduced to self-fulfilling prophets.  Humanity will never graduate from preoccupation to the much harder vocation of bringing hope to an obviously hurting world.  Hope requires the study of human nature, of which Sartre is so absolutely skeptical, even of its existence.  Such absolute skepticism begs for a different perspective, in that it worships subjectivity, our apparent ability to will one thing over another, either assenting to or rejecting preconditions.  Sartre aspired to build the slimmest possible precipice from which to perch looming subjectivity, a philosophy with as few assumptions as possible, resting on as narrow an objectivity as possible.  But rather than finding a holy grail, he found himself, and apparently the whole world, on a throne of spears. This creates perhaps the largest overreach possible in underestimating both objective reality and subjective reality.  Unity consciousness is the oneness of all reality, which includes consciousness.  Sartre’s arena was human consciousness, and declining to leave that arena, shortchanged the fullness of reality.  His reality lifts human consciousness beyond its ken.  Though he was perhaps within grasp of an occasional barbie — no offense to Simone de Beauvoir, his lifelong lover, to whom one day while they were sitting on a bench outside the Louvre, said, “Let’s sign a two-year lease.”  They never married.  Near the end of her life, de Beauvoir said, “Marriage was impossible. I had no dowry.”  In fact, there was no dowry that could cover the deficit in Sartre’s worldview.  Sartre’s reality became, through his own volition, human consciousness married to nothing, and no divorce laws.  His denial is nearly unfathomable.  His consciousness only unifies with reality in some zombie apocalypse fashion — which seems enduringly fashionable for some reason.  Sartre strips objective reality of any subjectivity but his own, except for those ghostly apparitions (that would be you) who are condemned to walk the earth, a living hell, negating his subjectivity with a moments notice.  His justice: he returns the favor, jousting with lifelike windmills.  This farcical, impossible dream, leaves Sartre riding his knight mare in a one horse town.  His reward: he is the grand marshal and sole entrant in this ludicrous parade.  Though quite miraculously, Sartre ends up joining an elite pantheon of self-fulfilling prophets of epic disproportions.

I can see how many people are deeply reluctant to believe in God.  What I find much more difficult to understand is people’s deep commitment to disallowing for even the possibility of God. In other words, agnosticism seems justified (though a bit indecisive), whereas atheists must take on a mantle of hubris unbecoming to open minds and open hearts.  Sartre proclaims that there is no exit in a house that he built with no doors!  In the end, using Sartre’s arguments against God, the Subject with a capital S, one must argue against subjectivity itself, all subjectivity.  It is to this that I object!  Sartre built an inhospitable house, a testament to his objectivity (or testament to his lack of subjectivity), and he has nothing to blame.  By leveling subjectivity, he finds, least of all, himself.  Not by humility, but by hubris.  And from nowhere comes a call, “Philosopher heal thyself!”  Yet, the great metaphysician, Jesus also begged the question of the physician healing thyself.  Jesus is recounted to have said in Luke 4:18-28 (NIV), in launching his public ministry, by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.  Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “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.

People are lazy enough to want miracles.  Some just want to be entertained enough to provide a break in their existential ennui.  A rarer few are happy being unhappy.  Jesus’ hometown crowd called for him to reproduce for them the miraculous events that they had heard transpired elsewhere.  Surely he would put on an even better show for the hometown crowd, they thought.  When Jesus implied that his prophetic acts would not get any traction amongst this hometown crowd, accurately citing history, the crowd got pissed.  They bypassed the good news and didn’t even get a good carny show out of it!

Interestingly, the crowd was incredulous even when the heard good news — “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” — asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  You remember, that snot-nosed kid who used to run around here some years back.  And we all know about Joseph, don’t we?  They just couldn’t believe that such good news and authority could be present in one from such humble and ordinary beginnings.  Jesus made it clear that enlightenment or salvation cannot just be handed to someone like an everyday object, miraculous relic, or even apprehended through the world’s best philosophy.  In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the condemned rich man upon his death and agony wants a heavenly message sent to his sons on earth, so that they might be saved, he is told: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:21)  The good news that Jesus proclaimed was to the poor, not the “successful” in society who have mastered the conventional wisdom.  Jesus proclaimed that freedom for the prisoners is possible, and that recovery of sight for the blind is possible, that setting the oppressed free is possible.  The miraculous is not concerned with overturning the impossible, but with the possible not yet manifest.  This is the realm of faith and hope.  This is the realm that Jesus calls us into.  Some hear this and are deeply moved.  Some hear this as a carnival barker.  Some more recalcitrant few hear this as a carnival barker who never even existed!  There are few problems that denial won’t solve, eh?

I think that Sartre’s cynicism ultimately lies in this fact that you can’t force people to be enlightened.  Jesus understood this.  Sartre knew that our choices literally create meaning by placing value behind some actions and not others, all within the realm of the possible.  Jesus understood this.  Unfortunately, Sartre neutered himself when it came to the realm of the possible, the worst form of self emasculation, with militant atheism — which ironically seems much more popular among men.  The attraction to overt force and militancy seems more hegemonic among men.  Though please note that I don’t think that spirituality is better suited or more fully manifest according to gender.  Nonetheless, I do think that there are specific forms of foolishness that are predominantly occupied by men.  The same goes for women; but that’s another story…

I commend Sartre for trying to tackle the immeasurable perplexity of the relationship of objectivity and subjectivity.  Such a task should vex even the greatest minds, of which I consider Sartre among.

Atheists typically claim to be concerned solely with science.  Fair enough.  Science is about understanding and manipulating the outside “objective” world, the visible, measurable world which makes the world more conducive to usefulness, or better means to some end. Spirituality is about understanding and experiencing the subjective world, the oft invisible, oft immeasurable, typically elusive world conducive to elucidating what are good ends and worthy states of being.  What unkind of world could we possibly expect if we studied only the ways to get places but refused to ponder the full range of places or states of being which are better to move toward?

The study of subjectivity includes understanding ourselves, others, and at least offering a shot at discovering or understanding God, if such a present manifests at any time.  The legitimate existence of metaphysics, the area of study beyond the physical world measurable by reductionistic science, surprisingly to some, is not really controversial amongst professional philosophers.  Of course, in the ever-changing, heated climate of rampant spirituality, there are always some climate change deniers in the crowd.  In the end, reducing the transcendent or spiritual nature of subjective existence to mere objectivity — i.e., humans are complicated dirt, nothing more — is amputating half of one’s existence, and the only half that can ascertain which is the “better” half (which is the one that can make us whole).

To advance metaphysics we must ponder other subjects – you, me, and even God.  Harkening back to the discussion of distinctionlessness, atheists with which I have conversed, seem to be pulled back to distinctionlessness.  I would like to draw a distinction between two forms of distinctionlessness.  There is the ground zero of distinctionlessness that atheists default to, apparently in the face of nothingness, the abyss.  This casts a pall over any ability to discern good from evil, or to carve out any solid ground for our subjective being, even going so far as to doubt whether others or oneself even exist (as a subject), let alone whether God exists!  I contrast this with unity consciousness which is present in the oneness of all reality, which happens to encompass consciousness.  I think that this distinctionlessness of unity consciousness is a fuller representation of reality than the atheist existentialism a la Sartre.  Oneness can only be present with consciousness because if consciousness was not encompassed, then consciousness would be separate, and there would be two disconnected realities, not one.  If these two disconnected realities seem familiar, it might be because they are eerily parallel to Sartre’s alienating description of alternating subject-object, object-subject relationships between so-called subjects — more like objects masquerading as subjects.  Sartre cleverly avoids the problem of two separate realities by defining nothingness as one of the two disconnected realities.  Many people might be willing to agree that nothing is not separate from our one reality, which seems somewhat different than saying nothing is separate from our one reality.  This clever configuration jury-rigs the vexing question of something coming from nothing.  Recall that Sartre views consciousness, a necessary aspect of subjectiveness, as arising from nothingness.  Or put somewhat differently, subjects are dependent on nothing. So which makes more sense: subjects are dependent on nothing OR subjects are dependent on something?  If subjects are dependent on nothing, then they should have no constrains on their freedom.  Deeply ironic, if Sartre is correct that a subject is dependent on nothing, then he has accurately described God!  Further, he has described a monotheistic God, because there could not be two absolutely free God’s operating in the same reality without clashing and limiting each other’s freedom.  Back to human-scale experience, I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is dependent on nothing.  Clearly, any coherent account of human experience testifies that human freedom is bounded, dependent on something.  If subjects are dependent on something, then an accurate account of reality must include a description of Being and Something, not simply Being and Nothingness.  Of course, existentialist thinkers following Sartre claimed that subjects could actually meet, dare I say, without distinction.  So, the limitations on our freedoms could arise from other subjects (as well as from objects).

But could Sartre be correct?  Yes, if you expect to learn the full truth from an incomplete truth that is factually accurate.  No, if you consider half a picture the full picture.  I think that Sartre is a freaking genius, and that his facts are correct.  Of course, I take some of this on faith, since he was wicked smart, perhaps too smart for his own good!  After all my critical analysis and occasional mocking, I will say that Sartre had all his facts right, he just didn’t have all the facts, or the full truth.

Like I enjoy saying, “Truth lies in the neighborhood of paradox.”  There is a persistently perplexing dualism present in human contemplations of reality.  I think that Sartre nailed down half of this dualism.  On one hand, the nailing down of hard facts was old-school, meaning it was completely consistent with the 400-plus year tradition of the enlightenment and the chain of progress that is Western civilization (as distinct from the contributions of the ancients).  On the other hand, his intellectual work was cutting edge and timely, even before its time.  Seriously, he was working with NOTHING!  This anchored the accomplishments of the enlightenment in a new way.  Of course, for those ultimately not happy with his militant focus, it could be viewed as the last nail in the coffin that is postmodernism. I think that the answer illuminating the full truth involves pursuing both-and answers rather than only either-or answers.  In this light, I would slightly restate an earlier proposition: I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is ONLY dependent on nothing.  Sartre was ahead of his time, and prescient of modern quantum physics, which has shed light on nothingness.  In quantum physics, particles arise out of nothing, seemingly independent, though subject to probabilistic behavior when viewed as waves.  And the best answer we have about which state of affairs is true is: both.  Subatomic physical behavior is best described as both waves and particles.  This answer, which is as perplexing as the original question, rests on the fact that it depends on how you look at it.  Literally, observing something changes it.  Conscious awareness affects reality in predictable ways (that is, probabilistic).  Translating this into our larger discussion, the freedom present in human consciousness arises from BOTH nothing AND something.  Possibilities collapse into specific actualities based on our observation and intent.

To be fair to Sartre, I’d like to think that had he lived much longer (he died in 1980), he may have been able to incorporate some insights from modern physics into his worldview.  However, the wisdom of the ancients was available to him.  As Jesus pointed out, witnessing miracles won’t necessarily make someone a better, more whole human being.  The power of skepticism and cynicism is strong.

Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.  But, Sartre was only half correct, for: Heaven is other people.  If you can relax your skepticism and cynicism enough, you may just find that others are both your curse AND salvation, which is way better than being mirrorly a curse.  Jesus was a teacher of all subjects.  When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘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 22:36-40, NIV)  Attention all self-fulfilling prophets: seek and you shall find — but, if at first you don’t find, keep seeking…many subjects await you…and perhaps only one…

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: 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: Paying Attention

Are you too broke to pay attention?

This one-line poem most directly seeks to de-link material wealth from perhaps the greatest tool available to humans: consciousness, or mindfulness.  Being able to access mindfulness, regardless of wealth, status, or “worldly” power, is perhaps the greatest foundation for achieving justice and equality, as well as “enlightenment.”  Being mindful of our inner life and our outer life, particularly other sentient beings, better aligns us with reality. Mindfulness is necessary to mine the inner life of our own subjectivity and how this may resonate with others’ subjectivity (including any conception or belief about God).  Mindfulness is necessary to accurately, minimizing bias, “objectively, ” understand the outer world we share with others.  While mindfulness is simply a process, the end result is compassion and empathy, which I believe is the glue that holds humanity together.  By truly paying attention to the difficulties of life encountered by ourselves and others, it is nearly impossible to avoid developing compassion and empathy.  This includes humility for ourselves, in facing the daunting challenges of life.  This humility serves as a shield from hubris, the arrogance that distorts our own view of ourselves in relation to others and discounts our many ignorances about ourselves and the world in which we live.  I am not too broke to pay attention.  However, I am just enough broke to appreciate humility and the many graces which even allow me to ponder such matters.

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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