POEM: Tickling God’s Whiskers

He thought
Too himself
More or less
THAT would tickle God’s whiskers
Which was particularly funny
Since God has no whiskers
Un-less
That is
God is right
Under your knows

Human Race has one really effective weapon: laughter--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONThis short poem plays with the notion that God is more than we can even imagine.  To some, this may launch profuse ponderings of untold wise cracks, offering glimpses into eternal mysteries of the spirit.  Too sum, this may forebode cruel jokes of a grumpy owed man shitting up on his throne, offering butt flashes of the highest rank.  Either weigh, the joke is, well, on you.

What did the child say when he happened up on three holes in the ground?  “Well, well, well.”

Got Laughter SPIRITUAL BUTTON

POLITICAL CARTOON: CEO Jesus Retirement Plan

CEO Jesus: You Had Me At The Retirement Plan

CEO Jesus Retirement PlanAfter a long hiatus, CEO Jesus is back.  This comic was inspired by a poem I wrote recently:

At Jesus, Inc.
I came for the love and mutuality
I stayed for the retirement plan

This poem and political cartoon is a parody of the often namby-pamby, first-world Christianity that passes for following Jesus these days.  I sometimes joke that I wish there was a religion where the founder was a nonviolent rabble-rouser crucified by the state, perhaps even as their fellow clansmen stood complicit.  That’s a leader to which I could relate.   I occasionally wonder what Christianity would look like if we amped it up so that, say, 1% of Christians were killed as a direct result of their radical love challenging the powers that be of this world.  What if Christians seriously risked destitution or death for the cause of love more commonly than building “secure” retirement plans?  These are the kinds of questions that haunt me and in which I find little traction or resonance within the walls of American Christianity.  Ahhh, for a Church that boldly embraces such questions; this is the Church I long for…

Peruse more political cartoons featuring CEO Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, Dr. Jesus, and Palestinian Jew Jesus

POEM: Boulder Climate Change Strategy

Know madder
What
The body politic wants
Wee are
A given
Political climate change
Fueled agin
Buy dollareds
Hot air
And cheep solutions
Trapped in a net worth
A slew of zeroes
Proffering barren fruit
Taking
Their cut
Wile the snare drum beats
US like lemmings
Lurid over
A bluff leading know where
With the last feather in their icy cap
Plunging a head
At breakneck pace
Their ultimate un-doing
In won weigh or the other
Hung by a tight rope
For good
Snappy necks ‘n dashing suits
In their bald Sisyphean crowing
As gods joke
Boulder for brains

This is another in my unrelenting series of global climate change poems.  Western Civilization Is A Loaded Gun Pointed At The Head Of This Planet -- Terrence McKenna quote POLITICAL BUTTONI mock cowardly politicians beholden to earth-destroying corporate interests, offering only half-ass solutions to what is likely the greatest threat to humanity and the planet this century.  I mix several metaphors simultaneously, but the prime metaphor is of Sisyphus as the symbol of grandiose futility.  Of coarse, the climax of the poem offers Phoenix-like hope as these Sisyphean politicians bash their brains out on the rocks of the reality they so persistently deny and discount.  And for good measure, and a backup plan, they also hung themselves with their own rope, in a tip of the hat to the old Marxist joke that capitalists will sell the rope to the executioner for their own hanging. And for a triumvirate of metaphors to seal their destiny, a bird metaphor (“cheep solutions, “last feather in icy cap,” and “bald Sisyphean crowing”) assures that the brains dashed against the rocks are bird brains as well as boulder for brains.  Be on notice chicken-hearted and bird-brained politicians, there is no escaping the carnage of my poetry!  Of course, I hope to embolden planetary citizens to take bolder action to relieve such politicians of any authority or power over the fate of our Mother Earth.  Man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself --Rachel Carson quote POLITICAL BUTTONMay the people of planet earth rise up and create a sustainable destiny for humanity that fully respects the deep harmonies of nature.

POEM: Opportunity Accost

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

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

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

POEM: Wee Lives

Wee live
In a whirled
Determined
To be
Or not to be
Making head weigh
At an impassable gait
In effable hustle
A jeer of our peers
That hurry can knock us down
Or give momentary flights
Holding out that portentous raze
And awe that can be done
As one
Sounds off
Within
The I of the storm
Effacing hail from above
Heavin’ from bellow
It’s awe too big
Wee
Can’t hold it
In feudal urgency
To pee or not to pee
Is not the quest in
Prefiguring some wiz in the sky
Or spitting into the tempest of all
Expect or rating too much
As how many angles can you fit in a pinhead
And still idol minds alike
Sow ponderous
As wee plot a long
Master-full ark
Buoying our grave undertakings
Measured in feat (customarily half-dozin’)
Oar how many pee-wee leagues under the see
As wee under go
The vicious cycle a loan
And presumed raging above
Wile all else
Holy beneath me
Hour lonely consolation prize
An unending stream
Of I cons and effigies
From mobile chimeras
Re-cording virtually everything
Still life un-more
As colored in millions of weighs
Marooned, blue, and doggedly yellow
Leaking buckets of stout meanings
Full only of those flipping angry birds
As we pass on
And piss off
As a gust in this fare whirled
In league with one an other
In choir
How won might
Myth the point
A mist being
Sprayed and neutered
Engendering duplicity
And obscure human rites
From witch
Sow many
Must ultimately depart
A reluctant re-treat
In urgently having to go
And having flailed
In countering a wind wind situation
Must still
Go
Won on won
With our spitting image
Convinced that in what is wasted
Is a 95% solution
Worthy of imbibing
And mirrorly a tad yellow
Satisfied in its reigning from above

This poem juxtaposes many common yet seemingly incongruous themes.  This poem may be prototypical in melding daily life with divine ponderings and cheap jokes related to urination.  I delight in the interplay between such themes, ultimately pointing to the paradoxical reverence of irreverence.  I have little interest in a God distant from everyday life.  I have more interest in the plight of creatures vainly trying to escape their wee lot in life. I root for creatures to find their truest roots.  For me, I find this as a decidedly spiritual project tempered by kicking the buckets of piss and vinegar I find so abundantly.  Go deep or go home…but I repeat myself.

POEM: The Awe Might He Acorn

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

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

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

POEM: Bee The Sting

As in nature
I did stir
A kamikaze threesome
Of yellow-jackets
Making their presents known
Too me
Wherever egos
Joined by white-coats
Hopefully not fallowing me
As will bee
Or not to be
And little
Did they no
I would swell
With more than pride
At their deathly pricks
And the shock to come
Working best under
Lo pressure
A life long
Pursue it
A pin cushion
Buy day and night
Nature’s suicide cheated
Yet feeling
Thy sting
Eventually in choir
Sew what?

This poem is autobiographical, inspired by a bee sting, actually three yellow-jacket stings, that I got a couple of days ago.  Such a tale is made dramatic as I am allergic to bee stings, and without quick treatment I would be dead.  I was tearing out English ivy from my front yard bed when I felt three stings in rapid succession, probably within 5 seconds, before I even saw the attacking insects whose nest in the ground I had apparently disturbed.  At least one yellow-jacket followed me as I went into the house.  I had to deliberately maneuver to prevent it from following me into the house.

Fortunately, just two days earlier, I had picked up my epi-pen (to inject epinephrine/adrenalin) from the pharmacy.  Unfortunately, I had it sitting on the couch where I had planned to read the instructions at my leisure —  I had not (read, I had sufficient leisure).  Unfortunately, I was not entirely sure whether it was better to read the instructions and self-inject or seek emergency room treatment forthwith.  Being only five minutes from St. Vincent’s Medical Medical Center emergency room, I chose to race off to the ER.   I grabbed my epi-pen just in case things took a turn for the worse on the way. Fortunately, I was not experiencing any significant symptoms yet.  A yellowjacket chased me out to my car, and again I quickly maneuvered to keep it out of my car.

As I sped to the ER I could feel my hands tingling and getting itchy.  When I got to the emergency room, there was no intake person at the front desk.  She was at another desk taking down information from another patient.  I tapped the prescription box containing my epi-pen on the counter to get her attention and announced that I had been stung by bees several times, that I was allergic to bee stings, and that I would soon be going into shock.  She stated that she would need to collect my personal information first. I deftly and quite accurately tossed my prescription box to her and I said that it should contain the pertinent information.  She equally deftly caught the box — perhaps she was well-experienced with such procedures.  Fortunately, I had seen my new primary care physician within the last week or so, so my current information would be readily available on the computer.  I then carefully laid down in front of the reception desk as I had passed out in the ER the last time I was in this same ER for a bee sting reaction, and I did not want to add any injury to insult.  She asked why I was laying on the floor and I explained to her.  She said that they would get me in a wheelchair.  I said that I would get off the floor when I got a wheelchair.  She seemed discomforted by my lying on the floor.  I comforted her by saying that I am sure that their floors were clean enough for me to pass out on them.  By this time, I noticed that little white welts were forming on my arms and legs.  My whole body was flush and my heart was racing.  Given the circumstances, I think that I was rather calm; though I don’t think I was perceived as being the most patient patient.  I was not entirely convinced that the emergency room was necessarily best geared up for emergencies.  This was also based on my previous experience with a bee sting reaction in the same emergency room where they made me sit in the waiting room waiting for medical triage.  In this experience, as the shock took hold, I indicated to the intake person that I was getting light headed.  The next thing I remember I was being lifted onto a gurney, as I had passed out and slumped off my chair to the floor.  Fortunately, this did not add any additional injury; though I did take some insult in this.  The doctor later told me that she feared I had stopped breathing, which apparently moves you up the triage priority list real fast!  Later, I would half-joke that I would fake passing out in order to get seen more quickly.  Lying on the floor with full lucidity was my real-life compromise, given that this was no joking matter.

Okay, back to the situation at hand.  I started to feel pressure around my ears as the swelling and welts continued to bloom.  After a few minutes, a man came to me and asked me what I was doing on the floor.  I explained it to him.  He said that they did not have a wheelchair available, and he asked me to stand up.  I stood up and walked with him to the intake room, sat down in a chair next to a computer, and I started answering questions. He clacked away on the keyboard in what seemed to me a rather routine way.  After measuring my heart rate at 166 beats per minute (about what my heart rate would be if I was running full speed), his sense of urgency seemed to pick up.  He made a call.  Another person came and walked me to an exam/treatment room.  He left me there alone and said that someone would be there soon.  I couldn’t help but wonder how long.  I laid down on the exam table and waited for a couple minutes, though they seemed like very long minutes to me.  At this point, there we so many welts on my arms, legs, and body that they were beginning to merge into essentially one large metropolis of welts for each section of my body..

When a nurse arrived in the exam room, she started asking questions and attaching me to a blood pressure cuff, oxygenation sensor and EKG leads.  Then, a doctor arrived, asked some more questions (plus some of the same), and did some physical exams.  The nurse inserted an IV and the doctor ordered epinephrine.  I noted that the dose they gave me was identical to the dose in my epi-pen.  [They explained later that one should always inject the epi-pen immediately after an offending insect sting.  I know that now.  The nurse later offered to show me how to use the epi-pen and was confused by a different design than with what she had experience — apparently, a new technological, perhaps technical-illogical, innovation sometimes called progress.]  I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the front desk person coming in amidst all of this and having me sign their consent to treatment form.  Was their any expectation that I would read this legal document then and there?!   Perhaps my (im)patient antics to that point, as well as not refusing the ongoing treatment, constituted a legal definition of desire/consent for treatment, but the lawyers must have their way.  My only comfort in that absurdity is that the crooked, illegible, left-handed signature on the form will not likely garner the highest price on eBay upon my postmortem celebrity value.

They sat me up and gave me an oral dose of prednisone, a steroid to bring down the swelling.  Even with the fast-acting epinephrine in me, my reaction got progressively worse.  My face was swollen and numb, feeling something akin to that experience after dental anesthesia.  While I had no difficulty breathing, I did have substantial discomfort like gastric reflux pain at the base of the esophagus.  The doctor indicated that my abnormal EKG could be an indication of a small heart attack, though he did not state any connection to my “esophageal” pain.  I did remember all those ads for not mistaking a heart attack for mere indigestion.

At the height, or perhaps depth, of my reaction, my EKG went abnormal and my blood pressure was 56/30 (normal is 120/80).  The doctor said that the abnormal EKG reading might indicate a lack of oxygenation to the heart.  They were quite stunned and concerned with this extremely low blood pressure.  They were perhaps even more stunned that I was still conscious!  To provide additional motivation, I informed them that I am much more fun when I am alive.  Fortunately, my sense of humor was largely intact.  I was on the edge of consciousness/unconsciousness for perhaps five minutes or so, as they tilted the exam table feet up and inserted another IV for additional medication(s).  I definitely had a heightened concern during this time as I strongly prefer my unconsciousness to be long bouts of normal sleep.  While I meditated on the thought of my potential death for a few moments, I had a fairly high confidence that I was in good enough hands to keep me alive, if perhaps not conscious.  While getting the attention of a team of emergency room professionals may take some time, once you’ve got their full attention, they are quite capable. Fortunately, my EKG was normal within five minutes after the abnormal reading, and my blood pressure started to normalize.  The “emergency” had climaxed, and I was about to move into the chronic patient hood.

As I was recovering in the ER, the doctor explained that he would like to admit me to the hospital so they could quickly get a cardiologist consult in-hospital, who would likely order and conduct a cardiac stress test that next day.  They had already tested immediately for blood enzymes that would indicate a heart attack, which proved negative (which is good).  They did the same test again after two hours, which was again negative.  Still, the doctor explained that it could take 24 hours for the enzymes released from a damaged heart to show up on this blood test, and he wanted to repeat this test every six hours.  I inquired as to whether my state of anaphylactic shock might, in fact, be an “informal” cardiac stress test, and that an abnormal EKG under such conditions might actually be quite normal.  He said that could be the case, but that they like to have controlled conditions to interpret cardiac stress reactions.  The alternative would be to see my primary care physician, get a referral to a cardiologist, who would order a cardiac stress test if so desired.  Of course, this would all likely take several weeks.  I consented to being admitted, partly because of the simplicity and alleged speed of the process, but also because on the observation ward I might get better management and discharge planning for the allergic reaction which would take many days to treat and get back to normal.  I consented to being admitted to the hospital.

After about a total of five hours in the emergency room, I was admitted to the observation ward of the hospital.  It was almost 7 pm.  The nurse speedily did the appropriate intake just before the 7 pm shift change, put me in the one-size-fits-none hospital gown, hooked me up to monitors and various gadgets, and we were off.  To make another long story shorter, I could have managed my post-sting allergic reaction — the blooming of welts and itching — better at home.  As is well-known, sleeping well in a hospital is a lost cause.  For example, I wrote the above poem after being woke up by the phlebotomist at 3 am to take my blood and during the ensuing a 2-1/2 hour ordeal to get two over-the-counter pills (Benadryl), one at a time, to control my blooming welts and itchiness.

I was under an NPO order, which means you can’t eat or drink anything, due to potential testing needed the next day.  So, I was poorly rested and without food or water while waiting.  As I like to say: a hospital is no place for sick people!  Instead of the cardiology consult happening in the morning as they stated as their prediction, I didn’t see the cardiologist until after 2 pm and some uncertainty as to whether the order for the consult was put in.  This consult lasted less than 10 minutes, basically asking me if I had any heart difficulties when I exercise — of which I do not. He matter-of-factually confirmed that an abnormal EKG reading when in anaphylactic shock is quite normal, even expected. He still recommended a stress test but kind of laughed when I asked if they were going to do it that day.  I did manage to get out of there by 5 pm, even getting a meal in the hours waiting for discharge.

Fortunately, I have medical insurance, unlike in my previous hospitalization for a bee sting (when I learned the hard way that I was allergic to such insect venom).  I am curious to see the bill.  Nonetheless, I served society well as a job creator.  Plus, I am deeply grateful to live to see another day!  May we all cheat death occasionally and be patient with the annoying details…

POEM: A Scarecrow’s Doo

My life is very
Scuffed up
Round the edges
Hither too
Better than
A scarecrow
Keeping
Snobs a way
As they brood
Over heir dues
Wile
They are off
Making hay
Their own
Abrade
Turning straw men
Into goaled
Only for stalling
Such rumpled stilt skin
As tress up
And wig out
Combing the whirled
As eye sport
A primordial stile
Simply a tease
Even within
The realm
Of possibility
Dread locks
Or without
Mull it over
As if
Disguise a loser
Uncaptivated buy genteel waves
For going
AWW
That you are
Blowing in the wind
Air to the throne

This poem is an ode to living on the fringe, even if your life becomes somewhat scuffed up.  Living on the edge can be in stark contrast to the conventional wisdom and way of life in the dominant culture of so-called Western civilization.  Concern about status and appearance, as well as a fixation on material conveniences, drives many to trade deeper meaning for inane existence.

Many settle for a life too easily demarcated by stereotypes and oversimplifications.  I like to joke that my long hair is for the convenience of others in easily identifying me as a “hippie,” so they don’t need to spend much time really getting to know me — which is to love me!  Using the metaphor in this poem, my hair serves as a scarecrow to drive off superficial people.  Encountering stereotypes which make one uncomfortable can serve as a simple weeding out mechanism.  Of course, those that really know me, know why I have long hair, and why I pray for the day to cut my hair.  Also, those that really know me know that I don’t cringe from the label “hippie,” but it is a poor approximation of my character and life.  I am not particularly “hip,” my sexual mores are “live and let live” but hardly a free for all, and I like my consciousness unadulterated by drugs.

I try to assume that people are irreducibly eccentric and idiosyncratic.  In short, I believe that every person is infinitely interesting.  Of course, spending a great deal of our time exploring these individualities cuts into the efficiency of reducing people to shorthand stereotypes, placing them in definable little boxes, so that we can navigate people more like things and life can be more predictable.  Some of this is inescapable as we have to form an impression, however tentative or temporary, about people.  The dangerous temptation that is a threat to humanity is to solidify our views of people and discounting their unfathomable humanity for our convenience and striving for efficiency and productivity. This can blur the immeasurable difference between human lives and things.

I propose that a wise precept would be that, if in doubt, choose people over things — every time!  Perhaps the most valuable gift we can give one another is our presence.  Who wants to compete with another’s interest in inanimate matter (or inane matters) rather than have another lovingly delve into the whole of who we are?  Of course, simply being with someone, spending time with someone else, is a profound vote for how much you value them.  This is much more the currency of life than money and stuff.   We are so much more than dust in the wind, even stardust in the celestial wind; and whatever that “so much more” is is what we should pay attention to, if we want to participate in life, not simply have a life lived for us, as if we were simply complicated dirt.  We are not blowing in the wind, air to the throne…a scarecrow’s doo.

POEM: Big Bang Burrito®

Under a first rate inquisition
I mussed a test
I don’t know
If God
Can make
A bean burrito so big
That God can’t
Eat it
Such a peerless quest in
May be
Scorn points with sum
To be little God
Though conceivably
A cause
Fore the big bang!

This poem and joke is a mocking attempt to deal with mocking.  Questioning is great, as close kin to curiosity.  In any case though, the answers we come to are led by the questions we ask.  Sometimes our questions just don’t rise to the occasion.  This elementary school question about God’s omnipotence is such a question.  To make my point, I would proffer that this poem is a complement to the question: Can people ask a question so stupid that even God would be forced to publish a comeback?  Framing omnipotence as brute force, God’s purpose as some carnival showiness, and/or insisting the God be able to be digested whole by human brains, leaves us with a limited universe of pre-ordained “acceptable” answers that are unsatisfying.  Perhaps God has published God’s resume in a glorious splendor transcending what can be captured in the human mind and reduced to a scale or scoring system that would allow the employment of God.  Perhaps God doesn’t even want to be “employed.”  Perhaps God doesn’t demand authorship rights, but seeks only presence.  “Seek and you shall find” has an unspoken sister phrase, “Don’t seek and you won’t find.”  Many skeptics of religion and spirituality are rightfully wary of claims of authority, and how acceptance of certain authority squelches curiosity.  Nonetheless, what if God’s presence in the universe is supposed to be an ever-unfolding mystery with intriguing clues and an irreducible amount of doubt to assure that the game is perpetually beguiling?  Endless discovery of God’s fathomless presence.  Sounds to me like curiosity may very well be a fundamental facet of true religion.  Jewish tradition holds that the face of God cannot be seen by human eyes and live.  Perhaps we would be torn from our human existence with such revelation, either dying as a human and/or transmuting into a form of being which can adequately hold such knowledge and experience.  There is an image in the Old Testament (Exodus 33:23), “Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen,” where it is held (beheld?) that Moses sees God’s butt (backside) as he departs the encounter, but Moses will not be allowed to see God’s face.  In an endless game of curiosity and intrigue, this may just be one aspect of that relationship.  Pessimists may just consider this God mooning us.  Yet, since God’s son was a carpenter, should it really come as a shock that the Father is a plumber?  Or, perhaps, God is otherwise occupied, maybe in a Big Bang Burrito® eating contest.

POEM: Not The Usual Joke

A Hindu
A Muslim
A Christian
And a Jew
Walk into a bar
And the bartender says
Greetings, Mr. Gandhi
Let me guess
You don’t want “the usual”

This short poem takes the format of a common joke. However, one point of the poem is that you can expect that enlightened folks often transcend “the usual.”  When religion occupies transcendence, even the transcendence of itself, then religion no longer becomes a bad joke — simply a good joke.  God is too big for any one religion, since religion is a created human institution.  There is no end to transcendence.  God is always “more.”

Of course, this joke is based on the infamous quote of Gandhi that he was a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew.  This sort of syncretism (blending of beliefs from different religions) is frowned upon by most in religious establishments (see my poem, Syncretised Swimming).  Quite aptly, Gandhi’s friend Nehru commented that only a Hindu would say that.  Though this is funny, it isn’t quite true.  Mystics in every religious tradition recognize that transcendence is at the heart of religion and that there is no theological box that can hold exclusive claim on God.  An acceptance of God’s transcendence requires an openness to truth manifesting itself in ways that we do not, even cannot, fully understand. In Christian tradition, this might be expressed as “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8-9)  In fact, this scripture is used as an explanation of why someone must be “born again,” that is, freed from the slavery of human ideologies and man-made theologies, and re-born into a freedom that recognizes and acts in accord with the Spirit.

Even Buddhists, who are sometimes seen as discounting transcendence, sometimes as far as being reduced to some form of psychology, hold that Buddhism can be followed in conjunction with any religion.  Compassion, or love, is ever-expanding of one’s soul, ever deepening one’s experiences of fuller realities.  Theology is a framework for how we think about God.  Meditating upon God can be enlightening.  Nonetheless, thinking about God and manifesting God’s will for us in our lives are often two very different things — essentially, the difference between thoughts and experience.  I find that Gandhi’s formulation of “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is a better representation of effectively communicating our understanding and experience of God to others.  As Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main way in influencing others.  It is the only thing.”  St. Francis might not gone quite as far, but pretty close, in saying that we should preach the gospel (good news) at all times, using words if necessary.

The need to sell a particular brand of anything, including religion, has led to much misunderstanding and violence in human history.  Compassion and love everlastingly invite us to not just tolerate others’ experience of truth, but to parlay all of the truths we can’t get our hands on to harmonize our lives according to the highest powers present in the universe.  This is less a belief than a process, in an analogous way that life is less a theology than an experience.  Keep it real, my friends!

POEM: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: Less Than Eternal Question

The Rev. Medley
Had risen
To the highest position
He would ever
It was only down from there
An awe too common
Occupational hazard
Of moderate irony
And accumulating lessens
Just falling short
Of making one cross
Facing that less than eternal question
If only Jesus
Had bothered to develop
Better retirement plans

Here is a poem that I wrote before the Lenten season, and now that we are in Lent, I realize that it is an appropriate Lenten poem.  I have always admired Jesus for being “all in” this thing called life.  While Jesus’ way of being in the world raises difficult questions, his life powerfully juxtaposes finding meaning in life with finding meaning in death.  Lent is a time for Christians to reflect on such things.  For years I have often joked that I have given up Lent for Lent.  More to the truth, my ascetic tendencies and frank goals of living simply leave me in a sort of permanent Lent.  In practice, I see that Buddhists seems to model better than Christians simple living and prudently avoiding attachments to material goods. Materialism has such a powerful and normative presence in Western civilization, that Christianity, at least as practiced in Westernized communities, seems to have accommodated rampant materialism quite well.  I see the divide between serving God or wealth (worldly power) as primary in my understanding of the message of Jesus’ life and death.  The conventional wisdom of sensible retirement planning, as alluded to in this poem, seems second nature to what is considered the good life in modern times. I have witnessed way too many fear-filled discussions in church settings about more financially secure appointments, health coverage, and retirement benefits for clergy.  In sharp contrast, I have found little traction for providing a living wage to janitors, secretaries, and many other employees of churches or faith-based organizations.  Church folks are too polite to crucify you for suggesting providing a living wage to low-wage church employees, but the resounding silence kills nonetheless.

In reflecting on the often lukewarm leadership of professional Christians, often called clergy, outsiders are at little risk of ever guessing that the founder of their movement was publicly executed by the state for his revolutionary, uncompromising life.  In sharp contrast, outsiders have little difficulty understanding that religious elites were complicit in Jesus’ murder.

I admire the Buddhist spiritual practice of meditating on your own death.  This practice seems like a powerful way to elicit the value and importance of life in the context of death.  Followers of Jesus have a profound leader who made such meditations an incarnate reality.  Jesus is the way.  But the retirement plan is a killer.

POEM: Atlantis Rules

Atlantis Rules

The young Atlantean
The imprudent progeny
Of the now forgotten
Famed experimental physicist father
Was more infamous
Than his fabled land
In pawning his dad’s curiosity
And not taking his mother’s quiet advice
A lot on his plate
All mixed up
A recipe for disaster
Pasta touching antipasta
Fulminating in gastronomical proportions
Swallowing up his esteemed realm
And all that matter
Left for speculation
His lost continence
Embarrassingly flushed
Privy only
To his posterity
And time enthroned
Being wiped out
As history often is
Quite essentially mum

This short story of a poem is a whimsical take on a bad joke and the persistent mythology surrounding the lost continent of Atlantis, particularly the speculation about and the fascination with its epic demise.  The bad joke, really bad joke, is based on the physics of matter and anti-matter, popularized by sci-fi buffs; specifically, that when matter and anti-matter come into contact there is a huge explosion upon their mutual disintegration.  This whimsical tale parodies both the epic significance of Atlantis’ demise and the oft-underestimated importance of mothers’ advice, stemming from the hand that rocks the cradle.

This poem is a good example of how my twisted mind works, connecting seemingly unrelated facts and themes into an epically dysfunctional family which strangely resembles truths!  Of course, for those who find all of this difficult to digest, there is the perennial reference and joke about incontinence and other such eternally hilarious crudités.

Like the best of stories, this one is wrapped up neatly in untraceable facts, imploding upon itself in a climactic cautionary tale, quite deliciously epitomizing the myth’s truth.

POEM: It’s About Time

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

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

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

POEM: Of Cucumbers and Fences

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

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

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

POEM: Blood Donor

Blood Donor

I work 24/7
365 days a year
I work holidays and vacations
I even work in my sleep
I am a blood donor
My work is a gift
Enrichness
Serving what is but hours
The miracle of life
A present shared
Through countless vessels
And singular hearts
From whence it comes
I pay it forward
I save by giving
As the circles of life
Grow stronger in us
For today it is my bag
And some day it may be yours

I have been a blood donor most of my adult life.  Not too long ago, I got my 5-gallon donor pin from the American Red Cross.  Donating blood is one of the easiest ways to save a life.  As an answer to the perplexity some have regarding my relaxed lifestyle, eschewing work (at least in the form of a “regular” job), I joke that I work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Of course, this is referring to my job as a blood donor — which pays just about as well as my other jobs!  In my job running TopPun.com — maximizing prophets — I work virtually all the time as well, through the labor-saving device of the worldwide web.  Similarly, I see most good work as nonstop.  As Gandhi said, “My message is my life.”  In my quest for rest and abundant sabbath time, I am communicating an important message to the world: abundant rest and sleep are integral to a wholesome life.  Thus, I am working even in my sleep.  So, if you want a job that you can do in your sleep, allowing you work 24/7 and remain well-rested, I would highly recommend being a blood donor.

You can download this blood donor poem here: Blood Donor Poem.

POEM: Same Old Hope

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

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

POEM: Efficiency Expert

The efficiency expert asked me
How many poems can I write
Per hour
Well, if I only
Had but one hour
I would guess a singular poem

Western civilization seems obsessed with efficiency.  Of course, high efficiency is no guarantee of high effectiveness.  You can be very efficient at doing the wrong thing, and it will get you nowhere fast; or worse yet, actually farther away from what is desirable.  Western civilization’s desire to quantify every thing can become a distraction by leading us to ignore those things that are difficult to quantify.  I would posit that the most important things in life are difficult to quantify, and at some point trying to quantify them will likely do more harm than good.  What would be a unit of love, friendliness, hope, trust, courage, integrity, or humor?  Yep, sometimes dissecting something kills it!

I must admit that I am a big fan of blessed inefficiency!  The best things in life — a good meal, making love, a good joke, or all three — are not good subjects for efficiency.  Time wasted that is enjoyed is not wasted.  I like the variously attributed quote, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  Joy is a singularly better marker for guiding success than any quantitative measure.  So, how many units of joy have you experienced today?

In this poem, there is a stark contrast between quantity and quality.  The efficiency expert inquires with numbers in mind, typically assuming that more is better.  The poet takes one hour, but one hour, as all that they have; and such a profound limitation can provide clarity and depth of which an efficiency expert may not even dream.  The answer: a singular poem OR one poem per hour. Is not the answer clear?

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”  — Henry David Thoreau, from Walden (a read I would highly recommend as an antidote to frenetic modern civilization)

POLITICAL CARTOON: Comedian Jesus – Love Your Enemies

Comedian Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: Comedian Jesus - Love Your Enemies, Hah, Good One!

Welcome to Comedian Club Jesus!  This is the latest installment the Top Pun series of comics that run on Sundays, featuring CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!  This is the first appearance of Comedian Jesus, but he will undoubtedly return again!  Comedian Jesus knows how to make them laugh!  People have taken Jesus way too seriously in the past.  Seriously, how may times do you have to read the sermon on the Mount to realize that Jesus was just being sarcastic.  My best guess is that the person recording the sermon was laughing so hard that their handwriting must have been abominable, and confusion was bound to follow.  Of course, experience with the classic joke of this week, loving your enemies, is enough to ascertain that Jesus was joking.  Trust me, just tell someone to love their enemies and wait for the punch line.  Of course, the punch line being an actual line of people waiting to punch you, either literally or figuratively for suggesting such a ridiculous notion.  Of course, my guess is that this is not the biggest disappointment that Jesus had.  For instance, Jesus was probably really bummed by having to be crucified rather than just having an arrow shot through his head.  But comics, particularly jesters, often have little control over how things end for them, or how they are interpreted.  I’m guessing that some people are really hoping to for some new material in his second show…

So, until next Sunday, with the next edition of Comedian Jesus, CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, etc., talk amongst yourselves or let me know what you think.

POEM: What Does One Say After An Hour of Meditation?

What does one say after an hour of meditation?

How about, “What’s for breakfast?”

I like this two-line poem for many reasons.  First, the poem contrasts the rather ethereal subject of meditation with the eminently practical need to eat and the everyday routine of meals.  I love these apparent paradoxes, which drive much of my poetry and thinking.  While I believe that meditation and eating meals are both basic needs, most would agree that they are basic needs in very very different ways.  I also like this poem because its two-lines mirror the classical set up for a joke, misleading the reader or hearer with the first line, and then hitting them with something very different, unexpected.  And as in good joke telling, timing is important.  By tying the hour of meditation to before breakfast, it stresses the foundational nature of meditation in one’s day, and, especially for people like myself, who don’t like getting up early in the morning, it suggests that meditation is perhaps appropriate and important enough to rise early for.  Certainly, the practice of meditation is very difficult, even for short times.  The mention of an hour of meditation is probably scary for most of us.  Given the mystical nature that one might ascribed to meditation, one might expect something very grand, epic, perhaps even some miraculous revelation, after such a long endeavor.  Nonetheless, meditation may be less about achieving some temporary, mystical experience, than enriching our regular everyday experience, such as eating a meal.  I have to laugh at myself that trying to explain even some of what is behind such a simple, short poem, takes much much longer been reading it and giving it a simple meditation for oneself.  Of course, that’s the power of poetry, to say something seemingly simple, yet realize that it is much richer than it first appears.  Please feel free to read my short poems without the long commentary, especially if your simple meditations upon these poems give you a better, power-packed experience.