A Spiritual Autobiography

I wrote the below spiritual autobiography a dozen years ago as part of a servant leadership study group.  While it definitely needs updating, it serves well as a brief overview of my spiritual history and development over much of my life, particularly my early years.  Fortuitously, my humor remains righteously irreverent and my faith grows.

RUTTS
by Alex Haley
(that’s just my pun name)

The year was 1961. Preceded by John, a child was conceived, fathered by a closeted gay man, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the city of brotherly love. In my mother’s womb, I was transported to Haiti, where my parents, as doctor and nurse, were beginning their service as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee. A dozen (and a half) generations ago my ancestors had fled religious persecution and military conscription in Germany to settle in America. For a new beginning, they were gifted with land from William Penn. This land was some of the most fertile in the world; so fertile, in fact, that even gay men father children there! Though now in Haiti, they were soon to be counted again among the privileged of the world. I was born. And on this journey, Joseph followed. Continuing my heritage as a sojourner in a foreign land, I was born a true child of the 60s.

I have no specific memories of those first couple of years in Haiti. However, only in recent years have I realized my ideal vision of serenity as sleeping without a care late in the morning in a mountain cabin while the rain pounds on the tin roof likely came from memories as a baby (now, if only I can figure out why I have a pleasant association with the smell of skunk!). Also, I am told that I was scared of most white people. Strangely, I am still haunted by white people on occasion.

After a brief stint in Detroit, perhaps explaining my love of urban life, I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The town was Mennonite-free, so I was raised a United Methodist. My childhood was strikingly trauma-free (only striking in retrospect). I knew safety. I knew predictability and caring. Our family always ate meals together, beginning with a prayer too short not to recount here: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” A lot more theology in that prayer than I usually give credit. Our family participated in worship and church functions regularly. Worship was generally boring. One of my few memories was a teenager with a guitar, singing “Blowing in the wind.” I guess that would have been contemporary music, huh? And that was before Bob Dylan was a Christian. I attended Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and youth group. I only vaguely remember confirmation. I remember good times. Except for a desperately poor matching of gifts by placing me in a children’s choir – my first, and really only, experience with “playing hooky.” I loved summer camp. First there were church camps, then Boy Scout camps. My younger brother and I earned Eagle Scout ranking (the highest in Boy Scouts) in record time. Our scoutmaster was easygoing and playful. Perhaps paradoxically, it was easy to achieve in that environment. If “achievement” had been required of me, I probably wouldn’t have done it, or at least wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. When we later moved and joined another scout troop, which was probably better organized and certainly more rigid, we dropped out after a while.

My understanding of diversity was child-like. I knew that Catholic families were the ones with five or six kids. Good families to play with. My best friend’s dad was Cuban. He also had two older half-siblings. In retrospect, this was the only somewhat non-traditional family I recall; though I don’t recall giving it much thought.

I was baptized at age eleven. Apparently, I was out of the country at the time such events usually occur. Fortunately, my understanding of baptism was still pretty much that of an infant, so it worked out well. I was confirmed a year later. About this same time, I was in little league baseball. In an attempt to deal with performance anxiety, I kept a pocket-sized New Testament in my back pocket. This crude attempt at spiritual osmosis was discovered by my brothers who with little affection labeled me “Bible boy.” I didn’t like this. I remember that my parent rebuked them.

When we moved to Dearborn, Michigan, before my ninth grade, my parents looked for a church nearby, but had little success – “too suburban” I think. Not surprising, considering we lived in a nice home with a pool, only 100 feet from a golf course. They decided to return to their church from earlier years, Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, 20 minutes away. Central is the oldest Protest-ant church in Michigan, and has been called “the conscience of the city.” Always a leader in social justice, their most widely known pastor preached pacifism before, during and after World War II. I was soon to be raised on 45+ minute sermons, truly epic sermons. A turning point happened to me sometime during my high school years when my mom took me to a peace conference at church. My eyes were opened and my heart would soon follow.

I went to Hope College, a small, private, liberal arts school. It was a Christian College, as were most of its staff and students, mostly Reformed and Christian Reformed. However, it was unlikely that I would ever be Reformed; conservatively speaking that is. My college years began with my father lightly warning me of these Calvinists. I didn’t know what he was talking about. My first roommate and I, who were boyhood friends, unknowingly were matched because we were both Methodists – apparently, a rare breed thereabouts. Early on, I must have been an easy target for an overabundance of evangelism. A friend invited me to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I went to what turned out to be a practically diversity-free zone; even ALL of the other persons in my small group were named “Kathy” (though probably a diversity of spellings). Later, when I saw out my dorm room window the friend who invited me, I said, “hello.” She asked me what I thought of the meeting. I shouted from the second floor window something to the effect that it was “too religious.” I did like church, and I went willingly. I even went to chapel services three times a week – religiously. I was also on part-time staff of the campus ministry. Though a biology major, I was frequently mistaken for a political science or philosophy major. Apparently, I was succeeding at the liberal arts (or at least the art of being liberal).

I very soon got involved with a small group of students known as the World Hunger Committee. Being a United Methodist, I must have known that there would be a committee for that! This formally launched my work in social justice, and my personal interest in stewardship, vegetarianism and nutrition. That first year, God brought together this son of a Mennonite with a Hope graduate who was a Mennonite (perhaps the only one). I told him that I was concerned about President Carter re-instituting draft registration. He said, “Why don’t you start a peace group?” I said, “Yes.” Fortunately, I didn’t now what I was doing. So, I helped found “Hope for Peace.”

For my own concerns, I hooked up with a Viet Nam war-era draft counselor. To make a long story short, when President Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration, I was identified in the Detroit News as a non-registrant. Being the only publicly-identified non-registrant in Michigan, I garnered much media attention. Eventually, the Reagan ‘get the government off your back’ regime and his Attorney General, Edwin ‘people are only hungry by choice’ Meese III, saw that out of millions of non-registrants, I was number 13 to be prosecuted. In the end, six years later, after heroically losing half a dozen pre-trial motions (with the help of a volunteer team of legal experts), my older brother dying, graduating from college, getting married, having a son, graduating from graduate school, and getting a job, I defended myself before a jury of my peers (though none of them were subject to the law I was defending myself from). I lost. But what did I win? (that is, beside three months room and board at the taxpayers’ expense) I learned to live in good conscience. I learned to refine my beliefs, even amidst great public scrutiny. I learned about civil disobedience, or as A.J. Muste, a great American pacifist and Hope College graduate would have said, “holy obedience” (in my write mind I say, “wholly obedience). I learned that the U.S. government has the absolute authority to draft any citizen regardless of conscientious objection. Any exception to this is due only to “legislative grace.” I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my government. Actually, I presented my case at the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, in conjunction with a resolution to support young men’s consciences who were subject to draft registration laws, whether their conscience led them to register or not. The resolution failed. So, I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my denomination.

During college, after guest preaching at my home church in Detroit, someone came up afterwards and said, “I didn’t know that you were in seminary.” Nonetheless, I consider myself a theological mutt. I have drawn from many Christian traditions. I have studied Asian religions, and I am drawn to Buddhism. I am an amateur philosopher (that is, until someone pays me) and I am intrigued by the angst of existentialism. I have experienced a spiritual re-awakening in Alanon, which has given me things that my church could not. I believe that “religionism” may be the ultimate “-ism,” preventing us from experiencing the oneness of God. I may be a leading candidate to be voted, “most likely to be heretical,” by the powers that be. This is my orthodoxy. I believe that paradox lives in the neighbor of truth; and we should love our neighbors. In true Zen-like fashion, I find that irreverence is often the highest form of reverence. Among my heresies is my unabashed appreciation of “The Simpsons” (but, as the Hindus would say, “Don’t have a cow.”).

After an intense summer working for Bread for the World as an organizer, and days before my senior year began, my brother John was killed in an avalanche in Western Canada; but only after dropping out of college while on foreign study, wandering, rock-climbing and working (pretty much in that order) for a couple of years in Africa and the Western U.S. His death has given me a much greater sense of mortality and the preciousness of life each day. I actually find funerals as fruitful opportunities for reflection and renewing my sense of “living in the moment.” I have undervalued such opportunities. One of the few regrets in my life was missing three of four funerals of my grandparents.

My paternal grandparents were particularly religious. Only upon the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary (and doing the math) did I realize that my father was a near-bastard child to a teen mom. Years later, when my sister was pregnant and out-of-wedlock at age 19, my grandfather said, “The sins of the grandfather are being visited upon the granddaughter.” My thought: get over it! Well, at least, I can now understand why my gay father was closeted until his parents were either dead or demented. While I didn’t see healing in my grandparents, I saw that having an understanding of God under construction is a good thing, and sometimes demolition work is required.

That brings me to my marriage. To make a long, and usually happy, story short, my marriage of 11+ years ended 10 years ago. Nonetheless, we were blessed with two wonderful children, Joshua and Kathryn. I love being a parent. It may be the closest I’ve been able to experience what God must feel in His/Her unconditional love for us. Kate’s life is an ongoing miracle since she was born with multiple heart defects. She underwent two heart surgeries, and at one point with surgical complications, a doctor, trying to be optimistic, said, she has at least a 50/50 chance of living. A brush with death. There’s that mortality thing again. Not unlike death, I thought I had no problem with divorce – as long as it was happening to other people. Accepting our divorce was the most difficult thing I have ever dealt with.

Being out of a “relationship” for a number of years helped my re-develop my relationship with myself and with God. This came more through Alanon than church. Now, being in a relationship for eight years with a wise and beautiful woman has taught me to appreciate life as it comes, one day at a time – with both of us half single, half single parent; no longer with in-laws but ex’s. I’ve learned that God makes all things new, and often faster than I want. God never gives me what I want; God always gives me something better!

My career. God brought me to a career in public health, as I savored its roots in social justice. God brought me out of public health, re-naming me “Top Pun,” and appointing me as a jester for peace, where the pun is mightier than the sword, and justice is no yoke. My canvasses are buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the World Wide Web. My business, by definition, is good – that is, maximizing prophets. My business is exactly on schedule; though I don’t know what the schedule is.

God brought me to Central’s neighborhood, and a few hours later, to Central. Centralites were my kind of people. Some happened to be Christians who were gay. Through my social justice work, not my public health work, God brought me to work in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This opened further opportunities to work with persons who happened to be gay. My dad “came out.” My parents divorced. God had prepared me.

I have issues with money. I aspire to live simply, gracefully facilitated by my recent poverty-level earnings. Living with less financial security has inspired me to give today because I may not be able to give later. Whatever old car I’m driving facilitates my prayer life (of course, no “auto”-biography would be complete without a mention of my car).

I am a mystic at heart, journeying as a gifted rationalist, Caucasian, male, father, lover, businessman, American, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada. While embracing the enigmatic, I hope these few words will offer you a clue as to who I am. Hopefully, these few words will offer you a clue as to who we are. One of my favorite poems is from Muhammad Ali: “Me. We.”

In all, God has never left me; except for an instant in 1981, but that’s another story…

POLITICAL POEM: You Don’t Say, And Ever Prey

To every American
YES
The president no’s stuff
That wee don’t
Real lies
Pinocchio without puppeteers
Cyrano’s muzzle sow credible
Undisclosed pickings of boogie men
Obscuring a lode of crop
Not too be shared
Impolite company
Helled as rue’d or over-sullen
Too reefer or a lude
As in appropriate cons piracy
Of the public goods
In farced buy their whored of privates
Free speeches and hush money
At our ever be quest
Only in the service of
Gag hors d’oeuvres
Wading for good ciao
As if
The qualm before the stormin’
Reading between the lies
You don’t say
And ever prey
An American
Yes

This poem is about the president and commander-in-chief enshrined in a web of secrecy and power, and the commensurate lies and inevitable compromising of the public trust.  The timing of the publication of this poem may allude specifically to Donald Trump, but I wrote this poem long ago about EVERY president.  Of coarse, the particulars on Donald Trump exemplify the harsh eternal truths that this poem dares udder.  Governments Lie POLITICAL BUTTONGovernments and politicians, the human agents of government, lie (to others and themselves) for the benefit of powerful interests other than the public good.  Some presidents squeak out more or less public good than others, but power is as power does — ask anyone living daily on the short end of power.  Speaking truth to power is not the natural habit of the powerful.  Speaking about, talking about, truth is a prerequisite for politicians in civilized societies.  Unfortunately, politicians’ rhetoric is, more often than not, directed at tutoring and propagandizing the masses rather than challenging the powerful few.  Cow-towing to powerful elites eviscerates the very power that truth offers: power for all.

Elites disparage the vulgar “mob” as a danger to democracy rather than a danger of democracy.  The masses are disposed to mistake the occasional rituals of voting as democracy.  Whereas, real democracy is derived directly from the lives and actions of the people.  I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONThis is the truth revealed by the statement that the people get the government that they deserve.  What else could be expected?  If we can or will not govern ourselves, then what will fill that vacuum of governance?  In this disrespect, Donald Trump offers himself as a striking poser, claiming that when he is running the government he will regulate himself in a better way than when he was not.  The sorry truth is that Donald trump cannot lead himself, let alone others — which he will not!  Of course, in the same disrespect that a traffic crash or celebrity captures our undisciplined attention, Donald Trump will have inordinate influence on our lives.  We must pry our eyes from the vagaries of disaster capitalism and disaster democracy and keep our eyes on the prize.

“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” is a folk song made most popular during the civil rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s.  The journey and the prize are inscrutably bound, exercising our freedom of body and soul for ever more freedom of body and soul.  Here are the lyrics:

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on, hold on

Paul and Silas thought they was lost 
Dungeon shook and the chains fell off 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

The only thing that we did was wrong 
Was staying’ in the wilderness too long 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

The only thing we did was right 
Was the day we begun to fight 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Freedom’s name is mighty sweet 
One day soon we’re gonna meet 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Got my hand on the gospel plow 
Won’t take nothing for my journey now 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Hold on, hold on 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

And some possible alternative verses:

We Are The People We Have Been Waiting For - POLITICAL BUTTONOnly chain that a man can stand 
Is that chain o’hand on hand
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

 We’re gonna board that big Greyhound,
Carryin’ love from town to town.
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on 

We’re gonna ride for civil rights,
We’re gonna ride both black and white.
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on 

We’ve met jail and violence too,
But God’s love has seen us through.
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quote POLITICAL BUTTONTruth is on the side of the oppressed. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONIf we are looking for presidents or other so-called great men to save us, then we will continue to be bamboozled by distant rulers over those within arms reach.  We are the people we have been waiting for.  And for just us, we must discover where the truth lies.

POEM: Human Beans In A Chili World

What’s too like
To be
Human beans
In a chili world
Offering ourselves
As nourishing fare
In the face of
Ingrate full consumers
Somehow besting
Our pre-sumptuous purpose
Of going to seed
And razing our own
Only to be
Food agin and agin
As brood over
What incite us
And what has meaning
At the end of your daze
Is the same
What’s eating you
Those unpleasant spitting images

This poem is an ode to one of the deepest paradoxes in life: that you must lose your life in order to gain it.  No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for. MLK QUOTE BUTTONSuch a paradox is replete with metaphors of seeds, death and resurrection, of sacrificing that of great value for that of greater value.  Plus, in life there is no dress rehearsal: we won’t be food again!  Of course, that perplexing aspect of human life which is infinitely complicated is humans: ungrateful, self-centered, and irreducibly exasperating.  In my view, the best way to see more clearly in the fun-house mirror that is human life is to cultivate self-awareness of psychological projection, the powerful and cunning tendency to attribute to others what is subconscious in ourselves, particularly the bad stuff.  In laymen’s terms: spot it you got it!  Of course, such cultivation is mirror reflection if there isn’t any skin in the game — little is harvested with simply good intentions.  Pacifism - A Way of Life - Man Does Not Die By Bled Alone -- PEACE BUTTONSelf-sacrifice is inescapable if we are to unearth enduring meaning rather than perpetual mean-ings on earth.  The ubiquity of iniquity, the proclivity to project our own evil onto others (“Those unpleasant spitting images”) is the tragic root of writing people off as chaff rather than cultivating seed.  Would You Die For Common Ground PEACE BUTTONThe paradoxical solution is that by becoming food for others, and — as in vice versa — by becoming food for ourselves, we are awe saved.  Such wonderment eternally returns me to loving my enemy, a journey that can only be made within one’s self and never without others.  I find this mysterious process at the heart of social action — the nexus of the inner and outer journeys, joined at the hip — perhaps most succinctly described in the social activist creed and Mexican  Zapatista proverb: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”  Or, in an earlier version, from the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos:  “What didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.”  The counterculture reality embodied by Mr. Christianopoulos was as a homoerotic poet in the 1950’s, accompanied by its commensurately dangerous seed.  Whatever you may offer as a human bean in this chili world, may it be nourishing fare.

Old Hippies Never Die We Just Flower Year After Year POLITICAL BUTTON

FREE EDWARD SNOWDEN POSTER: Pardon Me!

1984 Was NOT Supposed To Be An Instruction Manual POLITICAL BUTTONEdward Snowden, the infamous NSA whistleblower, is my candidate for the most heroic American this decade.  Is it time for President Obama to grant a presidential pardon to Edward Snowden?  YES!  The campaign is on, with the release of Oliver Stone’s new movie portraying Edward Snowden’s journey from ardent right-wing patriot to ardent left-wing patriot, while remaining quintessentially American and evolving into a formidable global citizen.

 I Love My Country, It's The Government I'm Afraid Of POLITICAL BUTTONAs American and planetary citizen Edward Snowden says, “Pardon me,” let’s work to get President Obama to grant a presidential pardon to this American hero.  Please feel free to circulate this free poster as a means of drumming up more public support for a Snowden pardon.

FREE EDWARD SNOWDEN POSTER: Pardon Me!

As reported in The Guardian, Edward Snowden made his case for a presidential pardon:

Edward Snowden has set out the case for Barack Obama granting him a pardon before the US president leaves office in January, arguing that the disclosure of the scale of surveillance by US and British intelligence agencies was not only morally right but had left citizens better off.

s It 1984 Already? POLITICAL BUTTONThe US whistleblower’s comments, made in an interview with the Guardian, came as supporters, including his US lawyer, stepped up a campaign for a presidential pardon. Snowden is wanted in the US, where he is accused of violating the Espionage Act and faces at least 30 years in jail.

Speaking on Monday via a video link from Moscow, where he is in exile, Snowden said any evaluation of the consequences of his leak of tens of thousands of National Security Agency and GCHQ documents in 2013 would show clearly that people had benefited.

“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” he said.

“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The [US] Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”

In order to assure the quality of your patriotism, your conversation may be monitored POLITICAL BUTTONAlthough US presidents have granted some surprising pardons when leaving office, the chances of Obama doing so seem remote, even though before he entered the White House he was a constitutional lawyer who often made the case for privacy and had warned about the dangers of mass surveillance.

Obama’s former attorney general Eric Holder, however, gave an unexpected boost to the campaign for a pardon in May when he said Snowden had performed a public service.

The campaign could receive a further lift from Oliver Stone’s film, Snowden, scheduled for release in the US on Friday. Over the weekend the director said he hoped the film would help shift opinion behind the whistleblower, and added his voice to the plea for a pardon.

Ahead of general release, the film will be shown in 700 cinemas across the US on Wednesday, with plans for Stone and Snowden to join in a discussion afterwards via a video link.

Transparency For The State, Privacy For The Rest Of US POLITICAL BUTTONIn his wide-ranging interview, Snowden insisted the net public benefit of the NSA leak was clear. “If not for these disclosures, if not for these revelations, we would be worse off,” he said.

In Hong Kong in June 2013, when he had passed his documents to journalists, Snowden displayed an almost unnatural calm, as if resigned to his fate. On Monday he said that at that time he expected a “dark end” in which he was either killed or jailed in the US.

More than three years on, he appears cheerful and relaxed. He has avoided the fate of fellow whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is in solitary confinement in the US. Snowden is free to communicate with supporters and chats online late into the night.

His 2.3 million followers on Twitter give him a huge platform to express his views. He works on tools to try to help journalists. He is not restricted to Moscow and has travelled around Russia, and his family in the US have been to visit him.

But Snowden still wants to return to the US and seems confident, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that it will happen. “In the fullness of time, I think I will end up back home,” he said.

“Once the officials, who felt like they had to protect the programmes, their positions, their careers, have left government and we start looking at things from a more historical perspective, it will be pretty clear that this war on whistleblowers does not serve the interests of the United States; rather it harms them.”

Snowden attracts lots of conspiracy theories. Early on, he was accused of being a spy for China and then a Russian spy. In August a cryptic tweet followed by an unusual absence prompted speculation that he was dead. He said he had simply gone on holiday.

There had also been rumours that his partner, Lindsay Mills, had left him, which would have been embarrassing as their romance occupies a large part of the Stone film. Snowden said “she is with me and we are very happy”.

His revelations resulted in a global debate and modest legislative changes. More significant, perhaps, is that surveillance and the impact of technological change has seeped into popular culture, in films such as the latest Jason Bourne and television series, such as the Good Wife.

Snowden also welcomed “a renaissance of scepticism” on the part of at least some journalists when confronted by anonymous briefings by officials not backed by evidence.

He warned three years ago of the danger that one day there might be a president who abused the system. The warning failed to gain much traction, given that Obama’s presidency seemed relatively benign. But it resonates more today, in the wake of Donald Trump’s response to the Russian hacking of the Democratic party: that he wished he had the power to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

If Obama, as seems likely, declines to pardon Snowden, his chances under either Clinton or Trump would seem to be even slimmer. He described the 2016 presidential race as unprecedented “in terms of the sort of authoritarian policies that are being put forward”.

“Unfortunately, many candidates in the political mainstream today, even pundits and commentators who aren’t running for office, believe we have to be able to do anything, no matter what, as long as there is some benefit to be had in doing so. But that is the logic of a police state.”

We Don't Need More Cameras Aimed At Citizens, We Need More Cameras Aimed At Politicians And Police POLITICAL BUTTONHe is even less impressed by the British prime minister, referring to Theresa May as a “a sort of Darth Vader in the United Kingdom”, whose surveillance bill is “an egregious violation of human rights, that goes far further than any law proposed in the western world”.

Snowden was initially berated by opponents for failing to criticise the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, but he has become increasingly vocal. It is a potentially risky move, given his application for an extension of asylum is up for renewal next year, so why do it?

“Well, it would not be the first time I have taken a risk for something I believe in,” he said. “This is a complex situation. Russia is not my area of focus. It is not my area of expertise. I don’t speak Russian in a fluent manner that I could really participate in and influence policy. But when something happens that I believe is clearly a violation of the right thing, I believe we should stand up and say something about it.

“My priority always has to be my own country rather than Russia. I would like to help reform the human rights situation in Russia but I will never be well placed to do so relative to actual Russian activists themselves.”

Might he end up as part of a US-Russian prisoner exchange, with Putin possibly more amenable to the idea if Trump was in power? “There has always been the possibility that any government could say, ‘Well, it does not really matter whether it is a violation of human rights, it does not really matter whether it is a violation of law, it will be beneficial to use this individual as a bargaining chip’. This is not exclusive to me. This happens to activists around the world every day.”

He said he saw the Stone film as a mechanism for getting people to talk about surveillance, though he felt uncomfortable with other people telling his story.

Snowden has toyed with writing his memoirs but has not made much progress. There are at least three books about him on the way; an extensively researched one by the Washington Post’s Bart Gellman and two others thought to be hostile.

Asked if he was the source for the Panama Papers – the comments by the source sound like Snowden – he laughed. He praised the biggest data leak in history, adding that he would normally be happy to cloak other whistleblowers by neither denying nor confirming he was a source. But he would make an exception in the case of the Panama Papers. “I would not claim any credit for that.”

got privacy? POLITICAL BUTTONFor someone who has spent his life trying to keep out of the public eye, he has now appeared in a Hollywood movie and an Oscar-winning documentary, and several plays, including Privacy, which just ended a run in New York and in which he has a part alongside Daniel Radcliffe.

“It was an alarming experience for me. I am not an actor. I have been told I am not very good at it. But you know if I can, I can try and maybe it will help, I will give it my best shot.”

For Snowden, his campaign for a pardon, even if forlorn, offers a chance to highlight his plight, and he expressed thanks to all those who were backing it. He also said he hoped that after the fuss of the movie he could finally fade into the background. “I really hope it is over,” he said. “That would be the greatest gift anyone could give me.”

Edward Snowden - AMERICAN HERO - Taking Great Personal Risk for Truth POLITICAL BUTTONThis Edward Snowden design is available as buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, mini-posters, caps, mugs, stickers, and more!  Also, check out more designs about the security state and secret surveillance.

 

 

 

POEM: In A Family Weigh

The future looms
Sew large
As we seam
Sow singularly stranded
In the present
Weave heir
A parent
With know designs
Beyond
Sum won ails
And grater still
The mine wandering
Too what end
As life goes
On and on
In and out
Adding up
One’s soul contribution
The pit or pattern
Of little feat
Never apart
Of the family busyness

This poem is about solidarity and hope.  At times, each of us may feel alone, facing an uncertain future.  This poem sets such worries and fears in the context of being part of the human family, children of God.  You are not alone.  While our individual actions may seem futile, they are an undeniable thread in the fabric of the future.  Even when we feel screwed, the future is pregnant with possibilities.  Not Your Obligation to Complete Your Work But Not at Liberty to Quit--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONThe Talmud wisely states, “It is not your obligation to complete your work, but you are not at liberty to quit.”  Change is ongoing — such is the nature of life.  Works worthy of the human race (versus the rat race) cross generations — even races!   Worthy hopes and dreams often need to live on across generations; thus, our hopes and dreams must pass the test of being in a family weigh.  As native Americans might put it: the arc of our lives should be aligned with the lives seven generations from now.  The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice--Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONFurther, as Martin Luther King, Jr. assured us, “The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”  Wherever your journey takes you, may you find courage and hope in the company of others, and do your part taking care of the family busyness.

 

 

Feel free to browse courage designs here.

The Opposite of Courage In Our Society Is Not Cowardice; It Is Conformity -- Rollo May quote POLITICAL BUTTONCourage - The Other National Deficit POLITICAL BUTTONHatred is the coward's revenge for being intimidated. George Bernard Shaw quote PEACE BUTTON

POEM: To Not Mirrorly Be

The powers that be
Screw you
Then you screw me
I don’t blame you
Do you blame me?
Either weigh
We don’t have
To be that way
An open secret
For awe to see
And not mirrorly be
Everywhere I look
Far and near
Strange and dear
There’s power in me
There’s power in you
It’s up to you
It’s up to me
Much the same
The powers that be
A tempting
To possess awe
But a clue
Of sow sow much
That is
Really
Too due

Eric Hoffer said, “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” While in many situations this may be perfectly acceptable, the evolution of humanity and each human depends upon exercising a judgment that transcends the reactionary forces of an equal and opposite reaction for every action.  This judgment, or will, is by its very nature counter-cultural, that is transformative of any given set of cultural conditions, oft referred to as the powers that be.  Any set of rules present in any society are not inclusive of our fullest being.  It is this fullest being, or perhaps a glimpse or shadow of it, which haunts our highest hopes as part of humanity.  The notion of human rights is rooted in this vision.  This perpetual journey toward fulfilling our fullest being unites us as actors on the set (a shared reality) of a play defined partly by the powers that be.  The more space we carve out in our collective and individual lives for this fuller being the more we act freely, not simply having our lives written for us, and following a script handed to us.  Shakespeare’s take on this metaphor outlines the typical stages in which we act, albeit more morose than my own:

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining school-boy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then, the justice,
In fair round belly, with a good capon lined,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, spoken by the melancholy Jaques in Act II, Scene VII

May you find yourself acting freely amidst whatever stage you find yourself, and not mirrorly be made in the image of simply an amassment of whatever reactionary forces operate upon your life.

POEM: Rare Prayer

I found myself
In rare prayer
A genus reserved for
Mother’s ilk
Only doing what
Kin be done
In udder neglect
Of that long a go
Cached in
Fore more sensible weighs
Now wholly saved
For foxholes
The mass
Of desperate men
And occasional women
Re-sorting
In rare prayer
As raw flesh exposed
With feudal armor flailing miserably
In stoic winsome
God’s mourning dawns
As initiate
Such supplication
With a hesitant plea
Claiming how sow little requested
And sow far between
Only mildly disappointed with the crop received
In won’s life
With such scanty solicitations
The ground of my being
Like an ungraceful sludge hammer cleaving diamonds
Seaming as a sedimental journey at best
A grime scene at worst
A present cut to ribbons
Stairing into a box
Bound for eternity
And still
As I here, a response
An uncommon sense
A peel for more
In treat awe
Even the one
Who reveres coarse
And bars none
The less
The great
I am
Fooly in chanted
Soully to that call
Which cannot be herd
Accept bye
One’s self

This poem was inspired by a prayerful moment at a protest to stop the BP refinery in Oregon, Ohio, from investing 2.5 billion dollars to retool to process tar sands, the dirtiest source of petroleum yet sought after by oily men. Toward the end of the demonstration, I found myself at the fence reflecting on the unlikelihood that we would be able to stop this fuelish investment in an environmentally destructive infrastructure, a generations-long commitment of resources to a dirty energy future, an asphalt super-highway to perdition.

The “rare” prayer in this poem, not surprisingly has several meanings. While I quite easily, with great frequency, say a prayer of thanks, I rarely ask God for anything very specific.  I can’t help but experience a feeling of hubris in the notion that God is waiting to align the universe according to my requests.  Also, this is a personal spiritual practice and practical way for me to decouple from the many manipulative aspects of religion, as if God exists to serve my will.  I am quite thrilled with God’s creation and how magnificently convenient it serves my will and purposes.  In this sea of grace, any desire to bend the world to my will seems like disgruntlement.   Most any traditional prayer life has been leveled by my integration into my heart of the mystic Meister Eckhart quote, “If there were but one prayer, ‘Thanks,’ would suffice.”  However, there are the occasional moments when I feel particularly vulnerable or mournful.  This is where the “rare” is “As raw flesh exposed.”  The world is definitely a mournful place.  Discord and loss are everyday experiences.  Harmony-seekers must confront ignorance, apathy, and outright intransigence.

In the face of the powers that be at BP, I can fantasize about God sending down a pillar of fire to destroy such intransigent offenders.  Unfortunately, this perverse desire is in much too scary alignment with the very BP offenders I wish to see punished or expunged from our shared reality we call earth.  Such greedy and spiritually lazy offenders wish nothing more than to secure their own little world from its many vulnerabilities and impinging insecurities.  Well, my God is not a mighty fortress!  My God is the giver of life, unmerited as we turn out to be at times.  My God mourns with me as discord and destruction rains.  My God is present in “it all,” yearning and wooing us to live fully, not settling for lesser dreams, half-truths, and lives broken into pieces.  I got the answer to my prayer before I even finished it.  As I was engaging God with talk of how I ask for stuff so infrequently, and how I don’t ask for much, I was gently but firmly and unmistakenly reminded that God does not want me to make merely occasional, hesitant or apologetic pleas for incrementally better lives.  God’s will for our life is for whole lives, lived boldly, even in the face of seeming intractable brokenness.  God incessantly invites us to be people of hope, a living hope which becomes incarnate in the world by boldly living in consonance with that hope.  In case this bold sentiment might be doubted, my quick prayer and swift response was punctuated with the crowd of witnesses present that day boldly singing about how we will not compromise, neither our hopes nor our demands for a world full of harmony.  God works in strange in mysterious ways.  Sometimes not so mysterious — though perhaps somewhat strange to some.

POEM: Dead Precedents

The whirled is full of dollereds
Strewing up our future
With dead precedents
And we no where
Greed takes us

This short poem addresses the persistence of greed, even though its poor outcomes are well documented and embedded in human experience.  The temptation to game the system and cheat reality by stirring up greed can only be explained by bad thinking or a shortage of moral fiber.  Of course, greed begets greed.  How could it be otherwise?  The moral compass we follow — or don’t follow — sets in motion a cascade of like results.  Greed and selfishness produces a shaky foundation and towering houses of cards and sharp objects as a testament to the denial of the gravity of the situation.  Life presents inescapable moral choices.  We may not like the choices available, but reality has a profound persistence and deep order.  It strikes me that a fundamental orientation or choice in life is whether to game the existing set of circumstances to one’s own marginal advantage and the whole’s marginal disadvantage, OR to commit one’s self to understanding and accepting the facts of human existence and devoting your existential force to participating in the good of the whole.  Saying “NO” to greed is a good start and landmark for the journey.  We know where greed takes us — to an unending chain of dead precedents; a world replete with moral dullards.  Disciplined compassion, joyful curiosity, and ebullient hope take us places better than we can even imagine, where we can be joyous and free in harmony with humanity and the created world.  May it be so.

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

I would rather
Be Job
Less than
Renounce
A living wager
And know place to lie
My head
My heart
Made homeless
In loo of
A fast fooled nation
For going
The beast
Wee
Can due
Hitched to number one
Number too
As on the line
For given debts
In place of
Solemn assemblies
And last riots
As wreck we him
For the masses
Left too
Starve
As a full groan man
Eschewing
A distended belly
And infantile grimace
Dis gorging
To which I object
A single finger
And vomiting
A sour second
Relative to the toil it evacuates
As vying a bowel inconsonance
And those who are but in
Fringe benefits over doo
Be rated by privilege takers
Of a hollowed hire power
Pro claim
There is no Black day for employment
The unanswered trump it
As if
Falling flat to some honky
Reveres discrimination
As dark daze per severe
The fecund material bound
Now a mushrooming clerical class
Beaten too
A bully pulp it    
Copious crumbs and the blest whines
Offering salivation
Like no me
Biblically
Throwing the book at me
Showing me the works
As if in some fooled court
Taking out
On me
Sum type
Of contract
Know labor
No food
Nor time travel to
’79 sense
For every dollared earn
Or as a payday loan
Cash here
Slipping through my fingers
Each day
For another till
My dreams standing still
Idoling money changers
On short order
Cooking the books
Serving as sum batterer
Or fry guy
Who is just
Greased
At the end of the day
Pain
You less
Than what
You learned
With respect to
Meat grate people
Seriously toying
“Be the happy meal”
As if
I whir
To halve a cow
And go to town
Drug by sum ferry tale
A bout
Worshipping some magic beings
Stalking skyward
As some giant rumble
To expose my hide
Wont to grind my bones
For their bred
My blood smelt
As iron away
From their golden cuffs
Razing my shackles once again
I will only ax once
As you know not jack
Weather the heavens fall
Either I am
Udderly fed up
Or my last words herd
Eat me
As I will only be
Food once
It’s just
Awe in a daze work

I wrote this poem today, all in a days work!  This poem was triggered by my experience last night at a community meeting, “Faith Conversations on Income Inequality.”  I was somewhat disappointed that of the two hours, less than 15 minutes was conversation.  The meeting was mostly didactic, with two detailed presentations, a short film well documenting the existence of actual poor working people in our very state of Ohio, and a short small group exercise (where some conversation occurred).

The kicker for the evening was after the meeting when conversing with a woman who I had never met proclaimed the disproportionately too-often cited and familiar, “If a person doesn’t work, then they don’t deserve to eat” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10).  Of course, the key word and concept in this passage is an unwillingness to work.  I might add dignified and humane work.  Either way, it certainly doesn’t apply to people who can’t find work.  Further, in the previous verse, the apostles speaking about their own self-support when visiting the Thessalonians, say, “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  This seems to state that they did claim a right to such help (food), but were modeling an additional value of not being a burden on others.  If the apostles accepted help, when they were able to pay their own way, and this caused a burden to another, then they shouldn’t take such a necessary resource from another.  The higher way modeled by the apostles seems more apt as a critique of people unjustly benefiting from paying poverty wages, thus causing a burden to others, than as a critique of food as a human right.  Perhaps a less sophisticated yet more easily understood response to worrying about hungry people getting too much food is Uggghhh!

I had really hoped for an opportunity to share personal experiences and perspectives on faith and poverty, or income inequality.  For better or worse, I’ve thought about such things my whole life.  Still, I am actually eager to learn more, as I continue on my journey.  The story of dealing with poverty seems to me to be full of good news-bad news.  In my case, the bad news is that technically, I have lived in poverty most of the last decade — technically, meaning that my average income has been under the federal poverty guidelines.  The good news is that I am the wealthiest person I know — of course, I don’t get out much!  Such a conundrum has provided much experience and raw material upon which to meditate regarding what is true wealth.

One main point that I believe could help bring a more balanced perspective in our dealing with poverty is this: from a spiritual perspective, we must give equal time to spiritual poverty.  This is perhaps most succinctly captured by Mother Teresa, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”  I see Jesus as quite clearly spelling out the dividing line: “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)  And, of course, serving God is inextricably linked with serving our neighbors: ” ‘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)

A corollary of this spiritual view of poverty is that we must not stigmatize the poor, or dishonor God’s special relationship with them.  I half-jokingly put this under the moniker of: “You say poverty like it’s a bad thing!”  A couple of generations ago, Latin American theologians developed the concept of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”  In part, this refers to the special relationship that the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized have with God.  Their vulnerability manifest by oppression in the world creates an openness to God’s way.  This openness fosters a greater intimacy, deeper understanding, and easier access to living in harmony with God’s laws (ultimate reality).  Of course, harmony with God’s laws is counter-cultural to the status quo and the powers that be.  Intriguingly though, the oppressed already stare down the brutal realities of the powers that be every day; so, being counter-cultural is much less of a leap “of faith” than those who benefit from the status quo.  This is perhaps the most simple reason why top down change rarely, if ever, benefits the poor more than the rich.  Thus, the poor are already primed to adopt God’s ways, as the world’s ways sure as hell aren’t working for them.  Jesus is a striking example of acting in accordance with this reality.  Jesus spent the vast majority of his time with the dispossessed, and “regular” folks, the 99% if you will.  In a stroke of spiritual genius, Jesus planted his message among people who were both most open to God’s message and had their material interests aligned to move in a direction parallel to God’s ways, including, of course, justice.  No doubt, Jesus played a prophetic role, in directly confronting the powers that be, whether religious, political, or economic elites.  Such confrontations were likely inevitable.  Even so, Jesus brought an unwavering dignity, intimacy, and authority (street cred) to such encounters.  Jesus did not shy from his fully humanizing ways, even in the face of dehumanizing forces.  This was a palpable measure of how Jesus loved his enemies.  This is God’s ways manifest.  The poor have fewer barriers to accessing such ways. Let’s learn from the poor!

I have lived among affluent people of faith most of my life.  For the affluent, the vast majority of us in the so-called developed world, I am convinced that voluntary poverty and simplicity is the most powerful tool to transform our world, God’s creation, into ways friendly to abundant life.  I have drawn this conclusion from my profound failure to convince rich westerners to truly care about the world’s poorest.  I am a formidable debater, both informed and with heart.  Still, the misery of my failure to convince others with words is exceeded only, and greatly, by the misery of the world’s poorest.  I cannot escape the weight of my experience that the affluence of westerners, including myself, and the material conflicts of interest we are embedded in, is the single most important factor preventing such a conversion.  Better aligning our material interests with the poor, through voluntary poverty and simplicity, can unleash a cascading journey where the soul’s force begins to flow more freely, as water invites gravity to do its work — and the most grave law unbroken, that of love.  This poem of mine alludes to the freedom gained by simple living:

Dining with Kings and Queens
Courtly balls
Knightly duels
And priestly indulgences
You can avoid it all
If only you are happy
Eating beans

Probably the greatest illusion humans face is seeing wealth (and its companions, status and power) as an answer to all of their problems.  Surely, people have material needs, and those needs going unmet is a tragedy.  However, once one’s basic material needs are met, wealth becomes a disability to the individual and a disease to society.  There is a great body of psychological and sociological evidence that increasing wealth makes us less compassionate and less generous.  In short, wealth serves as a wedge between people and God.  Science confirms the truth of not being able to serve two masters.  People can, and do, argue about the role of material scarcity in the problems of poverty — just witness political wranglings about budget-busting social programs in the richest nation the world has ever known.  Nonetheless, there is one pervasive and undeniable fact: there is, and has been for at least centuries, enough physical resources to more than meet the material needs of every human on the planet.  In this light, spiritual poverty is exposed.  We can solve material want; we choose not.  It is not a close call!

Poverty worldwide is endemic.  Billions of people live on $2 per day or less.  Those most likely to be the poorest are women and children — so much for family values.  People of color are also at much greater risk.  Those most likely to go hungry are those who grow food, our farmers.  The only way this can happen is to literally steal food from their hands.  The rich claim a hugely disproportional share of the world’s resources, including the productive labors of billions.  All the wile, pawning sham scarcity as an excuse for their hoarding and ravenous ways.  Gandhi captured it well when asked what he thought of Western civilization.  He responded, “I think it would be a great idea.”  I concur.

With untrammeled globalization, poverty can only be adequately viewed as a global problem.  The causes of poverty cannot be isolated within one country.  We, as a world, are in the same boat — though, undoubtedly, there is an increasing chasm between the accommodations of first and third class.  Debt, just as in biblical times, is used to enslave people.  We are told that the world is in great debt, accepting it as gospel truth.  Yet, to whom exactly are we are in debt?  Pay no attention to the money changers behind the curtain.  Exploitation and robbing of natural resources unjustly enriches the wealthier.  Such profitable cleverness is called business.  Meanwhile, non-prophet organizations stand by impotent to counter this unseemly necessity.  And governments suffer from electile dysfunction. The good news is that the cancerous idol of endless economic “growth” may not destroy creation, with such abundance and ingenuity.  Praise be to God!  If only, God forbid, the dream of a worldwide “middle class” can be averted.  Work.  Buy.  Consume.  Die.

Less poetically put, the “powers that be” work on a global scale.  This juggernaut of globalization reduces humans to economic beings in a consumer culture.  People become means to ends, not being of sacred worth and inherent dignity.  To enforce this state of affairs, wars are waged as “needed.”  These wars, unsurprisingly, do not serve the interests of the dispossessed.  This global reality is rooted in a distinct worldview: poverty is not the problem; poverty is the solution.  While a tsunami of rhetoric speaks of jobs, unemployment serves to lower wages, not just of the unfortunate unskilled, but of skilled labor too.  More unemployment is good for (someone else’s) business.  And if you missed that memo, perhaps the desperation of unemployment and wage slavery has you occupied.  Such desperation can serve as a distraction and thwart a healthy, functioning civil society (see electile dysfunction).

There is an African proverb which says: where there is no wealth there is no poverty.  This ancient wisdom emanates from the experience of humans over many generations and cultures that concentrated wealth creates poverty, that is, depends on poverty. There is a powerful illusion that wealth brings wisdom, that the rich must really know something that we don’t.  Well, if they do, it’s most likely occult or a cult.  I cite the incisive lyrics of “If I were a rich man” from the play, Fiddler on the Roof:

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!

The truth is much simpler, and more stark: the rich need the poor; the poor don’t need the rich.  For those who might cite the droll biblical retort, “the poor will always be with us,” have you pondered this: if you think the poor are hard to get rid of, try the rich!

The diseased worldview of consumerism and capitalism has at least on Achilles’ heel.  This rests on the utter inability to answer a fundamental question in life: how much is enough?  Capitalism thrives on convincing you that you never have enough, you are perpetually lacking something (which we happen to be selling), and by extension: you are lacking.  This turns the Gospel’s worldview upside down.  The good news is that you are enough; God made you that way.  Return to this truth, and capitalism recedes to a perfunctory process describing the nominal exchange of goods — and the goods are actually good!

The meeting on faith conversations about income inequality focused on the United States.  While poverty extends far beyond, and is rooted in, the larger world, the U.S. can serve as an enlightening case study.  The U.S. just recently observed the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty” as declared in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.  [For poetic versions of lessons learned from the “war on poverty,” see my poems, Hungering for Answers, and War on Poverty]  The “war on poverty” is about the same age as me.  During my lifetime, the U.S. has grown about three times wealthier in material wealth.  Nevertheless, more Americans work, and they work longer hours.  Some gains were made in reducing poverty in the early years.  However, the overall trend since the late 1970’s has been stagnating or declining wages, especially when compared to skyrocketing worker productivity.  Income inequality is higher now in America than in the last hundred years.

For those with biblical commitments, we are long overdue for a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).  The year of Jubilee is a Sabbath of Sabbaths.  It prescribed forgiveness of debt every seven years.  In the fiftieth year — after seven cycles of seven years, not only was all debt forgiven, but all slaves were freed and all land returned to its original owners land.  This is the biblical prescription for preventing large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude through debt.  Let’s make it so!

POEM: Compassion Hoard

I may not have bread
And I can afford justice
My feet may be bare
And still
I have wings unseen
A fly on the wall
Reflecting on wear thou art
I cons
A mass
Pining for eternity
I see boxes full of people
Some with bars
Some with stained glass
Awe waiting
For enough compassion
That whored without end
Saving us
In sum coffer
Every talent bared
Under earth
As in heaven
Nails securing
That final wresting place
Claiming one
Again
And again
A trinity of
Applausible deniability
Crossing into hermetic souls
Wading for the rite time
Over countless venerations
Vespering in our years
To take leave of our census
And idol observances
Of mere images
Where weave a cryptic silence
Marching on
A fortified city
Encyclical motion
While trumpets blare
And walls crumble
De-spite all that is yearned
And our judicious will
Hearts do spill
Into the streets
And hands dirty
Embracing a future unwritten
And the present
No longer passed
Hereafter enough
Like know tomorrow

Religion is often confronted with the impossible task of selling compassion.  Sometimes folks recognize that compassion is incarnated into the world by practicing compassion directly.  This both enriches our own experience and models compassion to others.  Talking about the benefits and virtues of compassion may have some value, though mostly in a more academic sense; but for compassion to become real, it must transcend the eddies of the mind on the longest of journeys: from the head to the heart.  This long journey from the head to the heart typically includes on its itinerary works of the feet and hands.  This is the difference between talking about God and experiencing God.  This is quite literally the meaning of Matthew 25:35-36, 40:

“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.”

Of course, in this poem, I portray the worst in religion: when compassion is whored for self-enrichment, unjust purposes.  Christian scripture has plenty of rousing and poetical indictments of stinky religion; here is one of my favorites:

“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)

Much of bad human behavior is rooted in our fear of an uncertain future.  This is the obvious attraction and relative success of securing financial wealth, high status, and powerful positions lording over others.  We want control.  We often want control way beyond what we can control.  Unfortunately, such overreaching creates a host of problems, not the least of which, quite ironically, is a more dangerous and unpredictable world.  Another irony emerges when we realize that grasping for an uncertain, and even unknowable, future we perpetually rob ourselves of the now, the only truly real present within our control. Quite naturally, the present brings forth the future.  Again, plenty of Christian sacred texts are focused on the promise of God responding to our deepest groans and highest dreams by following in God’s way, the way of justice and mercy.  Of course, “following” God is actually “leading” humans because acting in the present without waiting for other humans to follow God is how God’s plan is manifest on earth. Here is one of my favorite scriptural examples of this relationship, or dance, between God’s purposes and human action:

“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)

Where justice and mercy are present, God’s presence is experienced.  This is true of all the gifts of the spirit, such as joy, faith, generosity, patience, and love.  Such experience resides in a place transcending buying and selling.  The mystery is how deeply we want that which cannot be bought and sold.  Somewhat less mysterious, though perhaps at least as baffling, is how our dominant experience of buying and selling — of both ourselves and stuff — short-circuits or crowds out experiencing much deeper realities.  I may not have bread/And I can afford justice.

3D POEM: My Twisted Uni-verse (on a Mobius Strip)

This 3D POEM, My Twisted Uni-verse, may very well be the first poem ever written to be read on a Mobius Strip, made from a plain strip of paper with a half twist and joined at the ends, forming a bounded surface with only one side and one edge.  While the Mobius strip appears to have two sides, it actually has only one.  If you draw a line through the center of the Mobius strip without lifting the pencil off the paper, you mysteriously come back to the starting point but on the seemingly opposite side of the paper. Though some may think that they have met-a-physically impossible poem, this poem proves once and for awe that one side fits all.  This poem could be in the endless running for the coolest poem ever metaphor.  Here you can download the poem and instructions for printing and assembling this 3D POEM, My Twisted Uni-verse, on a Mobius strip.

Here is the poem in the much flatter, and much more boring, two-dimensional, virtual format:

START
My twisted uni-verse
Another Dan poem
Of a certain Rutt
A parent
Chaos
From the mine
Of a loving creator
And boundless art
Fathered
Strangely hollowed
By sum
Figure eight
Somehow fallen
Belying a symbol of infinity
Like some dodo’s flight of flimsy
Oar a Cardinal’s mind numb-er
Which holds no water
Wringing out
The tinkle and knell we’re in
Tintinnabulating K-9 jingles
The perpetually twisted calibrated
By nothing but
A bottomless equation
Divided by zeroes
In bogus denominations
Their value lying in fallowing the one
Scaling up to eternity
Or we’re all askewed
Yet inexplicably abstaining
From inner course
Where two become one
Long after one becomes two
Giving arise
Too
One’s third pupil
On the blink
Of such an incredible faculty
Agape
Unimaginable
To be
This school
Taut cursive
In a printsly world
A grade steeped
By advanced degrees
Such ascendancy
Offering eminent danger
Infinitesimally close
To sheer tear
Like shingles to a hommé
Con fronting flailing grades
How report a card
Where    so oblique
In all afield
Un-reckon-izable dimensions
3-D and then some
F’s thrown in
For good measure
Long the weigh
In consonant terms
Amidst an implausible dream
Of hitting AWOL
Having bolted
The ghetto of calculus
In the face of
A never ending Mo’ be us trip
That blings true
Where knot knowing
What to do with it
Effacing the feeble mined
Less pressing than a stack of bills
I’m patient to pay the flee
Only too fined
The wholly frail
Of hospitality
Having gotten aweigh
Unfounded
Hoodwinked
By sum comical
Met a physician
With a glean in his I
Leaving me
Duped up
And swallowing deludes down
In reality getting bent
Awe askant
Know longer
Mused
By the funny paper
Only peering as washed out
Two dimensional characters
In a whirled series
Remanding one
Of a duplicitous cell
Hopping to escape
In sum count ’em leap
With singular energy
Pack it
Heat
Of the pauper caliber
Miss taken
As if
Over a barrel
Stock piling weepin’s
Fauster than light
Long the way
A formula won raze
The devil in the detailing
Dashing drivers
And hopes
Un-car-ing
Off course
As oft
To the races
All that’s mind foiled
In a moving finish
Untouched
By scurry-less-ness
And a void
Some alien oversight
Or an other wizard-in-ski
Sow commanding fruit
Fully multiplying
Product placement
And elite divisions
Leaving us wanton
The winners circle
As vultures in compassing
Like sum gallop poll
Leading us to thirst place
Where life is a breeze
And as you might
Have gust
O so puffed up
Strung out
Like flying a kite
In the mettle
Of lighten-ing all a bout
That too for one sail
Err no’ing
One side fits all
A might he
Fortress is
De-moated too
In-F-able
Fore letters, words
Life unabridged
Elude to a kiss
Bye lingual
Surpassing prose
That speak easy
In two languages
Simply sed
A hearty dos upon ya (only slightly rushin’)
One tongue
The thirst
Of paper penned
Makes ciao
Of the other
Sum arrhythmia tic
With no cure insight
For one is too
Beholden to digitalis
Waving like a palm
Just out of grasp
Trying to out fox gLove
Without feeling
Ticking off reality
Taking one’s leave
Fig mental
The commencement of quotas
Espousing a Lot of ground
To earn their salt
And pilloried remains
Left behind
Uncovering too much for modesty
Too little cloak and dagger to brag
Yet cocky enough
To embody such a nit writ
Call me ish male
An inconceivable heir about him
A leg of the journey absent
Sailing the piqued
Untoward the Moby-est RIP
Ever-multiplying wails
On this one-sided outing
Wagering on just accounting
Wading for the fork in the rowed
And columns towering
As Babble on
At least two sheets to the win
Helled together as 180 degrees twisted
In a 360 daze
Like guinea pigs
On a treadmill
In the House of Escher
M.C. for a private first class
Of puzzling Coptic allusions
Walking and talking
More like dead Egyptians
On nether side of the tip of the iceberg
Feeling under the whether
Frees us
Or wholly deserted
Left wear thou dust go
A simple noshing of teeth
Where so little smacks of dearth
For all that scant do
Everlastingly lean
On arms and alarms
Free from
Double and triple crossers
Of the finish lyin’
A bout too
Rat grace
Just working to get too
The other side
Like you halve two
When mirrorly
Won for all
Soully routed
In sum final resolution
An attainment for all ours
In know jumping too
Conclusions
Of such curtains seamingly applausible
Yet knot de-terminus
To know end
Bringing you to
Cave
Of wonders
Just saying
O pun says me
FINISH (or knot)

Please download, print and assemble your own 3D version of this POEM, My Twisted Uni-verse, on a Mobius strip.

POEM: I Will Join The One, There is No Other

Alone
Where is God in that?
Does salvation lie in community?
Wherever two or more gather
In character
At present will be God
Therefore, I will join the one
One who was left behind
The one who’s going places no one else wants to
The one
There is no other

This poem attempts to address the tensions between the mystical loftiness of spirituality, characterized by the elusive “oneness” present in many great faith traditions, and the palpable, practical, everyday realities of a broken and divided world.  I find this tension ever-present in the inward-outward journey.  We cannot be saved alone, as one, and be true to the demands of much larger realities, including the world we live in!  Personal purity and piety become empty in larger contexts.  One answer to this tension was demonstrated by Buddha, when he attained enlightenment and instead of “blowing out” — a literal translation of nirvana — he chose to return to earthly existence to help others on the path.  Compassion for all living beings, at the center of Buddhist living, requires developing relationships or community with one another.   Buddhists call their intentional community sangha, which includes monks or nuns, and laypeople.  Compassion is the prime characteristic developed in a relationship with The One.  This “inward” compassion is then matched with “outward” compassion, becoming whole, compassion manifest fully.  Compassionate living is most fully manifest when it enters into relationship with the most broken and divided aspects of all living beings’ realities.  Joining those “left behind” or “going places no one else wants to” represents the highest level of compassionate living.  Perhaps paradoxically, even sticking only to one’s community is a falling short.  Active spirituality, rooted in compassionate living, is ever seeking to connect with out-groups.  Spirituality inevitable creates a tension with one’s own in-groups, ever-seeking to expand, transcend, make more whole.  This is why solidarity with outcasts is so essential to building authentic community.  This is the very process where wholeness is nurtured, for both the individual, community, and beyond.  This is why I see spirituality as fundamentally counter-cultural.  Culture is what defines a particular group at any given time, with its particular norms and practices.  Spirituality pushes both cultures and individuals to be more than they are.  This is why spiritual “growth” is almost a redundancy.  The vitality and dynamism that spirituality uncovers is the very nature of life.  There is no such thing as static living — though perhaps reactionary.    The status quo and the powers that be must perpetually be engaged and redeemed, made more whole.  Jesus captured this perhaps most powerfully in his command to love your enemies.  This command, which I consider the pinnacle of spiritual genius, literally instructs us to reconcile (apparent) opposites.  Such an epic task can only be dared by developing a deep and abiding relationship with The One.  Truly, we reap what we sew!

POEM: Balms Around Every Corner

Truth lives at peace with facts
Facts war with truth
As an orderly
Gone astray
In an awe in compassing hospitality
Scurrying from one stat to the next
Drunk on 100% proof
And in all probability
Will perpetually pass attest
With no lack of patients
Ever-presently over-looking
Medicine beyond
Preyer or medication
Still interrupted
Buy balms around every corner
Wear all is qualm
Where residents may not be drug
Round after round
Caching bullet points
For the heeling of others
A pour trade for lush living
In truth
Many facts cannot pay
They’re fair
In a cosmos a-washed with excellence
As truth is tolled
One piece
Is not as good
As what fallows
Or even Quickens®
In know way pandering
Anything other
That which they see
The whole in their soul
Wonting more than a void

This poem addresses a very common theme in my poetry, the relationship of scientific certainties and metaphysical realities: facts and truth.  The relationship between our mind and our heart has a profound affect on how we order our lives and how we experience the world.  Like facts and truth, the mind and heart are not contradictory, in the same way that science and religion (physics and metaphysics) are not contradictory; e.g., “Truth lives at peace with facts.”  Nevertheless, conflicts arise dependent on our view of the whole (“The whole in their soul”).  Metaphysics, a necessary element of spirituality, is a transcendent, awe-encompassing view of Truth.  Physics, the world of facts, is also a necessary part of human reality, but a necessarily incomplete view of many truths/facts.  Physics is the foundation of everyday living, providing a highly predictable platform for a coherent life, the rationale making life feasible.  Metaphysics enlightens physics, shedding light on higher, more complete realities.  Metaphysics imbues physics with meaning, the reason to live.

The fundamental problem that I see in modern life, especially Western civilization, is an undue fixation of “certain” aspects of reality, e.g., “Drunk on 100% proof.”  This addiction to focusing only on the lesser robs us of meaning, in a barren self-fulfilling prophecy — which makes sense, it just sucks!  I think that such a partially blinded view of reality is wrapped up in fear.  Whether fear leads to such a worldview or such a worldview leads to fear is a which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg type of argument.  Regardless, they are self-reinforcing.  So, why is such a worldview so popular?  I suspect because the force of certainty is a great selling point in trying to come up with a comprehensive view of reality.  If you are a certainty addict, the line you draw around reality is highly predictable, exactly parallel to that diaphanous line where our five senses stare into the nebulous abyss of metaphysics, the world of feral uncertainty and unpredictable freedom.  This place of metaphysics is messy, at least at first glance; and many find it much easier to look away.  The strangely beautiful thing is that the world of metaphysics is as highly ordered as the physical world, even more elegantly so!  The crux of the issue is a willingness to venture beyond the comfortable certainty of reductionistic science, bringing things down to familiar level, where things are easily coherent.

The train to increasing scientific understanding certainly has many hubs, branches of science, but train stops typically end at the last station before metaphysics.  And going beyond one’s station is scientific heresy.  Nonetheless, such a limit is arbitrary.  First, even in the most orthodox science, there are unprovable assumptions (see Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem or my crazy poem, Wading for Gödel).  In short, the mathematician Gödel proved (yes, proved) that any mathematical or logical system will always have truths that lie outside the ability of that system to prove them.  Second, from our assumptions, highly ordered worldviews mysteriously arise.  This is true for both reductionistic science and metaphysics.  Reductionist science makes the most fundamental mistake possible, violating its most orthodox — dare I say sacred — premise, by blindly accepting that it is assumptionless, the most blessed assumption, making scientists merry.  Science can rightly test hypotheses, but not assumptions.  Science cannot answer the question of where coherency comes from, or even whether coherency is better than coherency!  I vote for coherency being better, but I can’t prove it!  In fact, science cannot even speak to better or worse, only what is (at least at the time of the experiment), and with high probability: IF this happens, THEN that will follow.  Even with science’s well accepted foundational assumption that coherence is better than coherence, the elaborate worldview which unfolds logically and through rigorous observation cannot account for meaning!  It can catalog, categorize, compare and contrast the many ways that people behave within posited systems of meaning, but science must stand silent in declaring any one system Truth.  This is the truth of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

Unfortunately, this inherent limitation in logical systems brought to light by Gödel receives little appreciation.  Plus, instead of going forward with this understanding, recognizing its implications for further advances, we continue down a proven illogical, scientifically heretical, path of some type of pseudo-logical imperialism.  We must transcend this dead-end.  There is not much surprise that the scientific revolution during the so-called enlightenment led to an atrophy of metaphysical literacy.  Any pondering of anything metaphysical, let alone “God,” appears that it necessarily must be degraded.  And we are left with an amputated worldview, reduced to science’s presumptuous and incomplete reach.  Meaning escapes our grasp.  Alienation grows.  In fact, the imperialism of objectivity cannot account for subjectivity at all!  In this bizarro world, you, as a subjective being, don’t even exist — or at least you shouldn’t exist!  Is it any wonder we have created a world unfriendly to humans?  At best you are just one more “thing” to deal with, and likely with your unpredictability, formerly known as freedom, you will find yourself less favored than inanimate things and virtual reality mimicking what we truly long for.  The ancient alchemists’ scientific dream of led to goaled has been sorely unachieved.  Without going the next step, embracing metaphysics, we are doomed, “Scurrying from one stat to the next.”  For millennia, humans have asked and earnestly tried to answer the great questions of life.  Taking on the tried and true methods of science — hypothesis generation and rigorous observation — schools of thought, competing theologies, and myriads of human experiments, have resulted in a rich body of metaphysical understanding converging on eternal truths endowing humanity with a wealth unfathomable by perhaps most post-Enlightenment worldviews that have been posited.  Still, gaining from such wealth requires an entrepreneurial spirit.

God is the greatest balm to go off in history.  God is the pinnacle of metaphysical ponderings and wanderings.  Embracing our own subjectivity and the tantalizing possibility of other subjectivies, most commonly recognized as humans, and less well recognized as God, enriches our universe beyond measure.  Exploring our inner life, our own subjectivity, with the same disciplined observation of science, yields new truths, beyond mere science.  Exploring the subjective realities of others and how they resonate or react with us, opens progressively wider and deeper possibilities.  Experiencing God can help center our subjective experiences around a unity in reality that transcends and transforms our being and functioning in the world.  Of course, speaking about God is even far less productive than speaking about food and expecting delightful tastes and bodily nourishment.  Nonetheless, human language, can be a launching point triggering hunger which presages satiation.  Experiencing God is a new birth that is best communicated by our transformed lives.  For me, trying to speak about experiences of God is the birth of poetry.  For me, writing poetry is the mind and heart making love.  Even then, the occasional offspring are less reliably joyful than the love-making.

As I like to say: life isn’t fair, it’s excellent!  May you find wholeness and hospitality in your most excellent journey.

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

POEM: Fringe Benefits

Living on the fringe
Has benefits

I thought that this short poem would have been the seed for a larger poem, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to mess with the simple elegance of it.

Since I quit my “regular” job to run my own business full-time, I have learned that time is way more valuable than money.  This has been confirmed along my journey with much less money and much more time.  Research confirms that once we have enough money to meet our basic needs, additional money offers little increase in happiness.  Apparently, the proverb, “you can’t buy happiness” is largely true.  On the other hand, having additional free time, to do what we really want to do, does not seem to be limited by the principle of diminishing returns as money is, that is, after meeting our basic needs.  I would say that trading money for time would be a good deal for most Americans.  Of course, my approach is not to purchase time through vacations or hiring help, but rather to free up time by not selling myself pay any more than I have to.  Living simply and frugally is part of my vocation.  Such a vocation allows my life to better resemble a vacation.  Every dollar I don’t spend is a dollar I don’t have to earn in the not-so-free market.  If you are fortunate to have significant assets available to you, I would highly recommend transitioning to a much simpler life, by ransoming your life with whatever assets you have available.

A transition to a simpler life requires letting go of certain things.  For instance, I am living on the fringe, in the fact that I have been without health insurance for almost a decade.  Though I might add, our health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system, and now is as good of a time as any to be on the fringe of this non-system.  Fortunately, I am healthier than most of my peers.  I eat nutritiously.  I get plenty of rest.  I have much, much less stress than most.  I get a decent amount of physical activity.  I have something that the finest doctors in the world are unable to give their patients.

So, what are some other benefits of living on the fringe?  In recent months, I have written a poem a day, and a blog commentary to boot!  Just yesterday, I broke my record for length of a blog commentary.  I can’t remember the last time I set my alarm to get up in the morning — this is something that the richest and most powerful people in the world cannot claim!  One of my greatest hopes is for people to have morning without mourning!

I recently spent a couple of hours most days for a couple of months with a friend dying in hospice care.

I have spent most of my life on a quest for simple living.  I contemplated and calculated quite thoroughly the costs and “affordability” of quitting my regular job.  Perhaps the greatest single epiphany in my life has been how grossly I underestimated the benefits of working for myself, relaxing my security reflex, and living fully into the serendipitous benefits of simple living.  I feel like I have won the lottery!  Only without the money…

Like a former pastor of mine says, “If you aren’t living on the fringe, then you are taking up to much room.”  May you find the space and time in your life to discover fringe benefits beyond your dreams!

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: Traveling North Still

I was traveling on a journey
And it was definitely not south
I watched the mile markers grow in number
Until I found myself in a different state
Noticing that
The mile markers restarted
And lo, it was different
Though northern still
Through and through

No matter what direction you are journeying, something will change.  What a joy to travel on a journey that is good (“definitely not south”) for a long enough time to see the proverbial mile markers rack up!  Nonetheless, at some point, things will transition to another state.  In this new state, the markers of progress along your journey will change.  This typically requires a recalibration of our thinking, a new start.  While most of us hope and pray for new starts, at least somewhere along the journey, new starts, even those viewed positively, require effort and some re-orientation to new conditions.  This poem addresses the issue of integrating new states and experiences into a coherent and positive larger journey, such is our life.  Faced with constant change, we can still keep our eye on the prize.  There are things in life that can be counted on.  Natural laws can be uncovered through science and meditation on the existential realities of humanity’s place in the world (that is, through physics and metaphysics).  There is a true north that transcends any human timeframe or temporal set of conditions (“states”).  Regardless, of if or how we think of true north it is still.  Perhaps most comforting, it can provide reliable beacons in which to frame and map our life in a coherent way, “through and through.”  Seeing our various journeys as a coherent AND positive story is somewhat trickier.  Given that most of reality is outside our control, that is, we can’t change it, can we view this “helplessness” as a positive thing?  I, for one, regard a persistent order to the world as a magnificently beneficial state of affairs.  On the other hand, that persistently elusive free will and subjectivity at the center of our being carves out a space as delicious as it is bewildering in which we get to reign ourselves into this world.  This is that space that is irreducibly ours.  We are free to act within it and act out into the world.  We have soul responsibility for these free acts, that is, that of which we have control, namely, ourselves (or at least that “part” of ourselves).  Since, this freedom seems to define what it means to be humans, many focus most of their attention to this aspect of our being.  These are the “way existential” people.  Many others just have a way overblown sense of what they are in control of!  Unfortunately, if one does not balance out their focus on freedom with an adequate understanding of the larger part of the universe, then their freedom will be running blindly, ignorantly into the rest of reality (that which we cannot change) with painful results.  By simply making note of those thing which stay the same regardless of what we do, we can avoid a lot of hurt.  Of course, teasing out the sometimes subtle differences between what we can change and what we cannot change is the stuff of wisdom.  This all rather succinctly captured in the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

May you have the wisdom to make a difference, in your own life, and in the world around you.

POEM: Work Week

One day I didn’t feel like going to work
Some people call them weekdays

This one goes out to all of you who feel, chronically and/or acutely, that going to work is, well…work.  I wouldn’t mind being the guy who was known for proposing the 3-hour work week.  My suggestion of a 3-hour work week is based on the concept, and with some experience, that working on average more than 45 minutes per day for four days per week is detrimental to human well-being.  Now, I define work as doing something you don’t want to do.  As the economic beings that we are often reduced to, this largely means those activities where we simply exchange your life energy for money — most people call them jobs, where you sell yourself to someone else — and shortchange your quality of life .  Of course, it could mean squashing spiders occupying your living space — which generally fits well into one’s 45-minute allotment.  No doubt, one of the handier practices in achieving a 3-hour work week, is learning to like what you do.  A version of this would be called Karma Yoga in Hinduism.  However, those of us living in Western civilization may be better able to relate to following our passions, structuring our life in such a way that our passions flow more freely.  Unfortunately, Westerners are socialized from birth to achieve security through money, and that money will give us freedom.  Perhaps the best illustration of why this doesn’t work can be had by simply observing Western culture over my lifetime (50-odd years — some would say very odd!).  For instance, the U.S. has over three times the material wealth that it had when I was born.  Also, a dream from those days, and perhaps these days still, is for increasing leisure, often brought about by technological advancement minimizing boring or routine tasks.  Well, this hasn’t happened.  In fact, Americans work longer work weeks than they did in recent generations — with the added “benefit” of having more household members selling themselves outside their home. We are no happier.  I suspect that a more workable solution to living consistent with our passions would be to downgrade the whole money gives us freedom thing and start with the question, “What would I do if money were not an issue?”

You may have noted that clustering the work over four days implies that at least three or more days a week should be free of work.  I see the practice of sabbath as essential to create and re-create our lives.  My own personal take on this progressive spiritual practice would be to take off every seventh year, every seventh month, every seventh day, every seventh minute, and every seventh second.  This represents the re-centering our lives around something other than “work” — read “money,” and practicing mindfulness at all times, in all that we do (or don’t do).  Plus, as an addendum to this progressive journey of sabbaths, I am partial to the Jewish concept of the year of jubilee practiced. The year of jubilee is a sabbath year of sabbath years (every 49th or 50th year), where property returns to its original owners, recognizing that God owns that land (and all), and serves to prevent accumulation and concentration of wealth due to the vagaries and greed of human life.  Making such a grand project a reality definitely provides a lot of work that I can be passionate about!

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

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

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

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

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

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

Truth and Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

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

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

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

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

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

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

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

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

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

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

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

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

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

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

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

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

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

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

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

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

C. Authority versus Control

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

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

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

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

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

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

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

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

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

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

E. Expecting persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vision/God’s Dream

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

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

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

TAM’s Mission

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

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

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

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

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Civility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

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

Doing Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

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

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

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

Boldness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

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

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

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

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

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

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

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

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

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

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

Offering all to God:

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

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

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

Recommended reading:

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

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

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

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

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

Does the issue impact creating community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the issue impact working for justice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Poem: Wordless Dancing

Wordless Dancing

by Top Pun

If I told you that I’ve figured it out
You probably shouldn’t believe me
But, if by chance, you find me dancing
You need not ask me why
Simply discover what makes you dance
And dance!
Then, if our paths shall cross again
We may dance together
In that place where there are no words


I wrote this mystical poem, Wordless Dancing, first as an attempt to describe a parting of ways; but, in writing this poem, I discovered that in a deeper mystical way, that living authentically could very well lead to joining up again, if it is meant to be; and if it is meant to be, that joining up again with the good, that is, what is meant to be.  This poem represents part of the common everyday struggle to “figure out” the world, other people, and what they may need.  However, it dawned on me that by discovering and living that which makes one dance, the rest doesn’t really matter that much, or at least is out of one’s control.  In the end, or perhaps along the journey, if two or more people come together dancing, then getting caught up in what the other person is doing or needs is not so important, and dancing together need not be described (or may not even be describable) but merely experienced.  And as much as we influence one another, our own ability to dance freely and authentically is perhaps the best hope to bring about dancing freely and authentically and others.  I find this theme of differentiating oneself, finding oneself, and relating to others, creating authentic community, a rich theme.  It strikes me that a great part of wisdom is being able to dance both while alone and with others.  I am attracted to the mystical and wordless nature of poetic strivings, meditating upon that which is paradoxical, at least apparently paradoxical, and finding some synchronicity or synthesis.  It seems that such meditations are infinite and unending, in the sense that life is a journey and not resolved once and for all, except perhaps in death, which of course is not normally seen as life.  I like the image of dancing because it connotes freedom in a process that is flowing and beautiful, and least that is when some people dance; or least it can be beautiful to the one dancing even if it doesn’t appear beautiful to someone observing the dancer.  Dancing also seems to connote joy and engagement in the world as opposed to an outwardly motionless type of meditation.  This seems to embody a more naturally contagious way of being.  Hopefully, in this short poem, you will find rich meditations that will help you articulate better in words that which you feel and experience, and bring you mystical experiences, in that place where words are not only inadequate but unnecessary.  Well, that ends the rather lengthy, wordy dissertation on a short poem that perhaps should be allowed to stand on its own two feet; or better yet, dance.