POEM: Keep Your Eye On The Ball

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

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

POEM: Shown Up

The last time
He punched
A time clock
It was time to stop
A feudal gesture
Accept that
It got him fired
Up to his passions
Eyes wide open
After halving it awe
And feeling dread
In the mirror mourning
Shuddered into pieces
Having watched
His life
Go bye
As hows divided
Against won self
But now
Happening upon him
To be
Re-billed every moment
A knew
Yet know longer
Buy
Sordid clock suckers
And boorish time machines
Transporting too distant years
Never wanting
Such promise
A-trophy
Re: tired
Too due much
As everything ails
In the passed
Having shown up
Today

This is perhaps an appropriate Monday poem for many of the wage slaves working out there.  The first theme addresses one of my grate pet peeves in modern capitalistic culture of most daze experiencing the violence of an alarm clock to get out of bed, usually to work for someone else.  The evil genius and efficiency of replacing a human taskmaster with an electronic device in which wee dutifully assure our appointed time as “shown up,” speaks the the successful internalization and colonization of our lives by bosses.  Most spend most of their waking hours at a job, or jobs, that most would leave if they felt they could.  Many would rather be sleeping.  Some may find it difficult to find the difference between a-little-too droning-on working and a-little-too fitful sleeping.  We sell ourselves wholesale, some might say prostitute ourselves, for the promise of what remains.  This poems overall theme is about trading now for the future.  This can be a dangerous busyness — sometimes as dangerous as living fully in the now!  The strange paradox here is that the danger of seeking predictability and security in life is often the very thing that robs us of life; while a passion-driven now may bring a careening future routinely beyond prediction, such a future is a more lively and life-filled future than the promise of conventional wisdom’s financial security and touted freedom from uncertainty.  The present is uncertainty, and the freedom this entails.  Inasmuch as we recoil from uncertainty, we make ourselves vulnerable to the purveyors of branded futures, featuring proprietary properties, that are designed to convince you to sell today for tomorrow — or more commonly, a paycheck every two weeks.  Granted, a few folks experience the serendipity of their passions now lining up with their various bosses (or co-conspirators).  Still, the inescapable equation is that quality of life is directly tied to how often you show up for your own life, that is compared to pawning your life for money or a boss’ designs on your own.  May your life be shown up by an incredible series of presents.

P.S. This is my 500th blog entry.  I better watch it or I may be considered productive.

POEM: Annoys Pollution

Every wear but hear
Beeping phones
And nobody at home
Impossible to a tone
Even with wringing personally
With poor timing
Watching volumes
A little too lewd
Mindless won
And awe the artless
With every bell and whistle
Ears unplugged
Irking their responsibility
In all do coarse
As a pester chide for
Every imaginable
Impertinent busyness
Craven for unsound practices
In the face
Of boorish applications
Inane games
Of hashtag
One trivial hi
After another
As drug nowhere fast
My only resort
A pun with a silencer
Putting on
Quiet a show
Only now
As if
Stuck up
Harass
Muted
To match
The best of them
Dumb typists
Trans mitting
Techs massages
Ghostily beyond their reach
Inescapably com posing
As virtual monkeys
Only slightly more
Than shake a spear
Pointing fingers
At key boreds
As some incanting spell
And in such easy fancy
Imagine many fates
Worse than deaf

This poem is about one of my pet peeves: noise pollution.  This is some indication of how wonderful my life is, that such a first world problem lingers near the top of my list. The mental and spiritual pollution of unwanted noise and glaring lights captures my attention far too often.  Free Range Human Being - POLITICAL BUTTONAs a free range human being, I am cell free (exceptions made for civil disobedience).  The long tentacles of Western civilization purport freedom as being wired without wires, in sum sort of civil religion.  Such annoys pollution is closely related to a leading candidate for the biggest myth of modern progress: that multi-tasking improves our lives.  Multi-tasking may make sense if the point is to make a race of better virtual monkey slaves, but multi-taking is the enema of mindfulness and how trying it is to do too much shit.  Perhaps the most useful definition of Zen that I have ever heard is this: do one thing.  When smart phones are employed as multi-tasking machines, such so-called technological progress is analogous to the infamous anarchist slogan: Bigger Cages, Longer Chains - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON“Bigger cages, longer chains!”  If this is smart, then I prefer dumb — or perhaps, shut the f__k up!

I wrote this poem while on a long bus ride with plenty of multi-tasking smartphone cyborgs.  I was largely spared of such an invasion due to my sage employment of a low-tech solution called earplugs.  Plus, witnessing people trying to do too much shit provided fertile ground for an even lower tech resolution: writing poetry about whatever issues emerge from my life at the moment.  Or, as poets are apt to say. “It happens.”

POEM: Signs of The Tines

At the White House speak easy
Blah blah blah blah blah blah
The media drinks it up
At a mine-blowingly vapid clip
In the mean time
On the plantation
Grounds to a halt
Surrounded by offense
In arose guardin’
At least since 1984
Black sheep a massing
Estate clearly
As to klan destined premises
And as such a tract
An overwhelming farce
Met with all arm
As privates in public places
And wile mill or tarry
As eventuality
Weather picked up for loitering
Or trashing national security
Hour constitutional is put down
And though wee are like
A communal terrain
Pigs offer another forum of public transportation
A signing
This won in the can
Matching our zeal to the maxim
In another banner day
For homeland security
Or whatever it scald
As free speech grows smolder
And another die cast
For the prints of darkness
Wielding a pitchfork for the signs of the tines
A tail never to be told

This is a poem about police and/or military — sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference these days — putting down a protest at the White House.  Typically, the corporate media give little coverage to such democracy taken into the hands of ruly citizens, and what coverage they give is often superficial and dismissive.  The demonstration in this poem has overtones of a Black Lives Matter protest, making it contemporary, but it could very well be most any protest in modern times at the White House.  The title of this poem, Signs of The Tines, has what may be an easily missed pun, referencing the tines of the devil’s pitchfork casting signs into a bonfire, which might very well be the preeminent renewable energy source in America.  Protest politics and direct nonviolent resistance has always forced America to confront a legal and political conundrum of law enforcement routinely violating constitutional rights, often under the pretext of national security.  Most any perceived threat to the state triggers an overreaction, even an existential crisis, from most any nationalist from right to left.  Exposing the naked sovereignty of the state, particularly when in moral bankruptcy, is one of the most useful effects resistance offers.  The veneer of civilization can be quickly peeled back to witness the assertion of brute force in the religion of nationalism and state sovereignty.  And for those of you who may dare to believe that we are a nation under God, think again.  I confronted this directly in my legal challenge to draft registration.  As a motion to dismiss based on draft registration offering no opportunity to indicate conscientious objector status, the federal judge rejected the motion citing a Supreme Court case from the 1930’s which stated that the federal government has the absolute power to conscript anyone in the United States, regardless of conscience or anything else.  Conscientious objector status is merely a historical and political concession which was literally referred to as “legislative grace.”  I must admit, in this decade-long resistance to forced military participation in Team America, this was the only thing that truly surprised me.  I, for one, am unwilling to concede absolute authority to any government.  I actually wasn’t even very excited about this motion for dismissal, but my pro bono lawyers wanted to test this legal argument.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have registered even had there been a way to meaningfully indicate conscientious objection.  I think I registered my objection quite meaningfully without their approval or feigned “grace.”  You might want to pay attention to the wizard behind the gracefully flowing curtain, dutifully colored, red, white, and blue…

POEM: How Ever Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb

In his rock
Solid doubt
Thomas
Had herd rumors
Of unflailing love
Abuzz of hope so high
If only
To find himself
Quite
In the dark
Wear time stops
To the ever sow gentle
Beating
To a singular conundrum
As sound as it gets
In the artlessness of won’s
Perpetual searching
Where awe is aloud
And know license kneaded
Yet so long
Due
Over
Come
Warming to the extremity
In a hospitality of patients
Still
Not sure
What he thaw
He’s frozen code
Hesitatingly lust
Pulling out
Aplomb
The surest proof
Of assurance
Yet knot enough too
Drink the Kool-Aid™
Turning to whine
Taken in
Bred of skepticism
Only willing
To live on
Crumbs
That will
Surly re-seed
In annoys
Of the daze
The quest in
For gotten
How ever dumb dumb dumb dumb

This is another poem on a familiar theme of skepticism of skepticism.  In this poem, skepticism is juxtaposed with a simple and profound reality at the center of each human life: your heartbeat.  In fast-paced, postmodern society, we live in a precarious and constricted mental and spiritual territory.  We are, well, maladapted to ask “What have you done for me lately” a-long-side routine strings of epic fails to live in the moment.  In a triumph of evolution, we walk a mathematically constructed line that every mathematician knows doesn’t exist except as a mental construct.  And then we complain about God’s ethereal nature — with a periodicity much less regular than a heartbeat, in between ignoring God’s good creation.  I can’t help but note that the bulk head of such complaining seems more fitting on bar stools than in poem or song.  Of course, I don’t recommend sobriety when it comes to being drunk on poetry.  In the book, The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, the main character tells two stories: one hauntingly mesmerizing and another as a police report.  When asking another character which story they prefer, not surprisingly, they choose the captivating story; to which the main character replies, “and so it is with God.”  I, for one, would much rather be captivated by a good story than limit my reading — and living — to police reports (though many good stories include police reports).  I strongly suspect that God wants us to make epic stories of our lives, for our hearts to beat captivating rhythms, to grow bigger and fuller today than we were yesterday.  For this to happen, at some point, we have to make stuff up as we go along.  This process can be analogous to scientific discovery, proposing stuff that we are not quite sure are true and then testing them out with out lives.  Not surprisingly, scientific-minded folks are greatly disturbed when religion hypothesizes great truths and then fails to adequately test them in the here and now.  Not all shit is worth making up.  Fortunately, most any shit can be used as fertilizer.  Even cautionary tales are indispensable.  Nonetheless, as Native Americans traditionally began their storytelling, “This may not have happened, but it is true.”  Or, as I might put it: God is the coolest being I ever metaphor.

But back to the even more palpable.  Your heartbeat serves as a metaphor, gentle reminder, and literal lifeline to, well, life.  The heartbeat is both a shared human reality and intensely intimate and personal tether to life.  In astounding irony, the common ground of a heartbeat at the center of each human life seems to be easily taken for granite, that is, common ground.  There may be a fine lying between common ground and complicated dirt, but I suspect that the road less travailed makes awe the difference.  Akin to breathing, our heartbeat is a great center for meditation, that is, simply centering our life (see my poems, Breathing and The World’s Shortest Meditation).  I find the persistence, reliability, unobtrusiveness, and effectiveness of both breathing and our heartbeat as a wellspring of metaphors and insights into the deepest nature of life.  Still, may your life take definition by those moments which take your breath away and that which makes your heart to skip a beat.

POEM: Awe The Deference In The Whirled

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

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

POEM: Innocence — An Owed In A Sense

Her innocence
Was immune to their dis ease
As be wilder
And a tempt
However tempered
Only to be
Dis missed
As just
A guile

His innocence
Deified awe bravery
In the face
Of accusations summoned
As subdude
As never a cur to them
Posing the quest in
Guise will
Be guise

Her bosom leaped
Skipping to a beat
As sir passingly chaste
Giving birth in maternal rapture
Nun the lass
Put out
By those racking up
Scorn points
Holy to be allayed

His heart sang
As here the music
Faced
Temporal forces
Craven reseeding
To proper gate the race
Certifiably birthed
In a heil of ballads
Or castrating scores
Of bullet points
Writing
Him off
In tom foolery or gaiety

Sow
There it is
In a sense
Light as it may be
Worth the wait
Up till
Abated breath

This poem, an ode to innocence, addresses the default cynicism and mistrust in contemporary modern culture.  Innocence is suspect.  Original sin has much more effective branding than original blessing. The unguarded are as likely to be blamed for violations as violators.  Plus, passionate living is often viewed as potentially dangerous.  Freely following one’s passions can often be inconvenient or unnerving to others who might prefer a more staid, predictable environment.  Exercising freedom, by definition, limits the predictability available to those who live alongside you.  Exercise freedom enough to challenge the socializing forces of any given culture and you can expect these forces to provide sanctions designed to exorcise your freedom.  Shame and punishment is a poor trade for the inevitable vagaries of free and passionate living.

This poem, with alternating female and male subjects, also confronts gender roles and their over-sexualization, particularly of women.  Hyper-sexualization is a major means of reducing free human beings to controllable objects, for the proper gating of the race.  Viewing others as free subjects in a shared humanity rather than objects in a controlled environment is essential to the evolution of humanity.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of innocence is the shame-free liberation it unleashes.  As a child responds freshly to the world unfolding before them, harmony and positive change become more accessible.  The maturity of experience can bring a disciplined freedom committed to an innocent wildness and natural generosity, even in the face of powerful shaming and sanctions bidding us to sell our freedom for a slice of the take.  May you successfully dance circles around the forces of shaming and punishment, ever inviting others to joyfully join the dance of freedom.

POEM: Putting The Monet In Monetize

The starving artist
Whose art couldn’t be made
Fast enough
Fore his dealer
Rejecting means
Except as accede
In awe but name groan
Poising as a plant
To the extant one can make cents
Putting the Monet in monetize

This poem goes out for awe of the artists successfully resist compromising their heart in order to achieve commercial success.  Compromising our humanity to monetize our lives seems to be at the core of our capitalist culture.  The stark choices between money and people often appear surreal due to the sheer omnipresence of selling out.  It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society -- Krishnamurti quoteWhen sickness becomes the norm, a healthy path seems insane.   As Krishnamurti so aptly stated, “It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”  Art serves a purpose far deeper than “making a living, ” by connecting and re-connecting us to our most primal and highest feelings and aspirations.  Art can serve as an antidote to the societal sickness built on wanton conformity and shallow efficiency. Perhaps fortunately, art is often so undervalued that it serves as a ready vehicle for giving freely, de-linked from monetary ventures.  Perhaps giving freely seems like an un-fiord-able luxury (perhaps privilege is a more apt word), but carving out spaces and places for that which cannot be bought is at the core of a healthy humanity, and hopefully not merely an afterthought.  In perhaps the ultimate irony of artists and their art in a capitalistic culture, the most reliable way to increase the commercial value of your art is to die.  Rather than the death by a thousand compromises suited to most modern jobs, artists may literally need to die to boost the commercial value of their work.  The gods of supply and demand favor dead artists.  Hopefully, artists will be better valued by their enlivening passion instilled in their art rather than the mortifyingly clammy calculus of the marketplace.  Starve the beast, make art; and may you find it full, filling.

POEM: Liberal Mined Violent

Some liberal mined violent
Call up on pacifists
To condemn a brand of violence
To wit
They object
Ultimately subjected
To accost
Without benefit analysis
Coming efface to efface
With realty
And a sorted loved wons
Unwilling to accede where others have flailed
The brand they hide
Singularly fingered
Buy pacifists
Calling a tension two
A third weigh
Of the largesse possible
An unwelcome piece
When wanting more than have
Of everything fourth with
Ironying details
Ever beyond that which is a greed
How to saddle for less
Than being cowed
And truth be tolled
The violent
As a madder of practice
Get their weigh
A tempting feudal steer
Milking it for all a veil
In udder disbelief
As much as we can
Due better
Keeping nothing bottled up
Unleashing everything even remotely herd
Know longer listening
Too the artless
Like sum stock ticker
An engine only for the vain
Abase symbol for awe to hear
As the lover of awe kinds
Relinquishes the bully pulpit
In respect to those assembling
Not dissembling

Pacifists such as myself are sometimes called upon by those who are selectively violent to roundly and reliably condemn some violence that is repugnant to their preferred modes of violence.  PACIFIST - Someone With The Nutty Idea That Killing People Is Bad PEACE BUTTONThis convenient opportunism by “liberal mined” violent can hopefully serve as an opportunity for pacifist to draw connections and expose biased interests in enterprises that vainly wish to promote some kinds of violence and condemn other forms of violence, yet miraculously divorce means and ends and somehow produce a nonviolent state.  The situation that came to mind for me in this poem harkens back to the early 1980’s as a peacemongering student at Hope College.  I was asked by a conservative political science professor to serve as an expert witness in the campus’ mock United Nations proceedings.  Specifically, he was asking me to address violence by Palestinians against Israelis.  Much to his chagrin, I spoke about violence in the Israeli occupation of Palestine proportional to the violence present, that is, overwhelmingly committed by Israel and backed by the political and financial patronage of the United States.

Probably the largest complaint that apologists for violence have against pacifists is that they are “passivists,” complicit and enabling of injustices, specifically, and perhaps presumptuously, injustices that seem only solvable through violence, or at least the right “kind” of violence.  Complicity to violence and injustice is a profoundly true charge to both pacifists and apologists for violence.  Pacifism sets the bar high and regularly fails at fully fulfilling its high calling.  Feel free to contrast this limit of idealism (and its harms?) with the cynical acceptance (realism?) that killing others is necessary for justice (usually just us). If the notion and practice of necessary evil doesn’t make your head explode, it will quite assuredly shrink your heart, particularly if aspiring to follow a God of love.  I see Gandhi’s simple taxonomy of roles in the necessarily epic struggles for justice as insightful. Gandhi spoke of nonviolent “warriors,” violent warriors, and cowards.  I'm not a pacifist. I'm not that brave. Phil Donahue quote PEACE BUTTONHe saw these ordered in terms of moral achievement; the pacifist activist, then soldiers, and lastly, cowards. Of course, poorly performing pacifists can fall into the pit of fear and cowardice, unsuccessfully bridging the gap between talking the talk and walking the walk.  Soldiers have an inherent advantage in that a significant proportion can be expected to face death in combat situations.  This engenders a palpable sense of courage for facing such situations, whether, in fact, these situations are just or not.  Willingly facing being killed or severely harmed is the definition of courage. We can learn a lot from soldiers (not the least of which is that the most vehement anti-war activists are often veterans of military combat, sometimes simply slaughter). Courage is commendable.  Having skin in the game is the necessary good.  Any pacifist worth their salt will embody courage and skin in the game.  Evil, and its even uglier companion, necessary evil, can only thrive amidst cowardice and not having skin in the game.  Without courage, cowardice will rule the day (and night).  Without skin in the game, the privileged will continue to keep their foot on the neck of the disenfranchised, usually through a complex system of subcontracting not requiring their actual foot to do the dirty work.  A cowardly, distracted and narcotized public will earn an assist in maintaining their somewhat more advantageous state in the hierarchy of privilege and disenfranchisement.

Of course, the difference between a pacifist and a soldier is not the willingness to die for a cause, but the (un)willingness to kill for a cause.  The willingness to kill is the preeminent prerequisite of a soldier.  Object of War Not to Die for Your Country But Make Other Bastard Die for His -- General George Patton ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONIn regard to willingly dying and willingly killing, perhaps the infamous WWII General George Patton said it best, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”  Further, in the calculus of soldiering, we must remember that in modern times (the last 100+ years), military combat has frighteningly consistently killed over ten noncombatants/civilians for every soldier killed.  By what stretch of imagination do “realists” consider this courageous and honorable?  The cowardice inherent in the proposition of necessary evil is the root of much evil in this world.  The fantasy of necessary evil is nothing short of an abnegation of responsibility, an idol worship of something other than the free will and moral agency of which we are endowed.

As a spiritual practice, I find pacifism, ruling out the killing of others, as a profoundly creative practice.  You may be surprised at the depths of creativity accessible by dispatching the human perversion called necessary evil and the barbaric practice of killing others.  Without presupposing limits on human goodness, you can unleash new experiments, pioneer new ground (sometimes observed as common ground), raise the heights to which humans may aspire, and make the world friendlier to love.  Nonviolence is Organized Love -- Joan Baez PEACE QUOTEAs Joan Baez so elegantly and succinctly said, “That’s all nonviolence is — organized love.”  Of course, my paraphrase would be: nonviolence is just, organized love…

 

POEM: 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: Not Buying Heaven or Hell

Being not tempted
Buy heaven or hell
I yearn my keep
From the love unearth

I like epic themes, such as heaven and hell.  Nonetheless, I find the carrot of heaven or the stick of hell to be a distraction from good living on earth.  Love strikes me as what melds the good life on earth.  Love is a good in itself, reflecting the grace of our Creator.  Love is the way.  Love puts hell in the refuse category, rejecting the cynical notion that redemption is a dead end street.  Hell implies that God gives up on us, and that God’s will can only overcome us with some sort of eternal prison.  More insidiously, hell accepts that human will is somehow supreme, even trumping God.  Death itself seems a more than adequate fail-safe for limiting any human’s will! If there is a heaven, it would prove consistent with God’s pattern of surprising me with good things, taking me beyond my limited intellect, experience, or even imagination.  My conception of how God operates is much more like a parent raising a young child, or in my more mature states, like a lover wooing me into even greater ways of being.  My siblings in this big, strange human family may behave badly at times, but we are still family and need to have each others back, and at least not kill each other!  Cain murdering Abel was all the more outrageous because they were brothers.  It is no different today — we are all brothers and sisters.  We should not forget such things.  This is not simply a metaphor.  Evolutionary biology indicates that all modern humans descended from a common ancestor on the continent of Africa.  Humanity would be better served to remember our African mother and know that we are one race, the human race. Love of family is our greatest inheritance. Let this love bring us together, not tear us apart.

POEM: The Taoist Dowager

The Taoist dowager
Bends gently to that before her
Inclined to bless
Those below
Indivisible
To the high and mighty
Wholly touched
Braille beyond the see
Maid of tender harmonies
Composed
Of one, a chord
The maladies of life joyfully singing
Farming the music of our years
Covered by perfect lines
Of what may be
Momentarily forgotten
Only later recalled
By progeny
And prodigy
And even those
Occupying there posterity
Like some kind of bum
Or a baggy lady
Udderly fool of it
From cradle to grave
Fully pampered
Content
To cede generations
For a moment
For hour
A muse meant
This consummate ode lady
Siren from beyond hear
A thirst only quenched
By water on the rocks
Having strung out
Countless improbable moments
A mist
An impossible life
Beyond contemplation
Not getting bent
On 100% proof
With a taste that smacks of grace
A singular savor
Unpalletable to sum
Treated like a fragrant
Bye others
Having
Perfected that groovy hide
From a rash
Of uncommon sense
Fore hers
Such an inconceivable vehicle
As chary it
Like the wind borne
In quiet the mine
A sentience unabridged
Having awe ready arrived
A slow motion ninja
Only to be
In what will be
Carried away
In eternity

This poem emanated from the title phrase, Taoist dowager, that emerged from one of my many ruminations.  As is often the case, a phrase that is too good to pass up grows into a complete poem.  I am drawn to Taoist philosophy and Eastern thought in that it seems to quite reliably offer balance to Western modes of thought and being.  The dowager metaphor is apropos in that it is typically a feminine sensibility that is the antidote to afford balance to dominant and domineering Western male culture.  Plus, wisdom is often rightly associated with increasing age and experience, not the least of which is experiencing and reflecting on the vulnerability inherent in senescence.  Buddhists make a practice of meditating on their own inevitable death, not as popular a practice among the young and seemingly invulnerable.  Nonetheless, Taoism claims the ever-present and eternal as accessible in the now, a certain holy equality, a pathless path, perpetually wooing us with enlightenment experiences that cannot be grasped but hold the key to living in harmony with reality and all living beings.  The folly of every age is to try to reduce such knowledge and wisdom to some type of elixir that can be bought, or more to the point, sold.  Even after being taken countless times, the allure of the latest snake oil quite reliably rouses our more base instincts.  The basest instinct blocking our experience of the Tao, the Way, is to take, for our self to acquire something from an other.

Clearly, in the Way of things, things come our way.  However, being given, to receive something, and taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, are opposite perspectives.  Being given, receiving, is an attitude of gratitude and selflessness.  Taking is an attitude of greed and selfishness.  Now, Taoism is lauded for its mastery of complimentariness, the understanding that opposites interpenetrate each other and are only conceivable in contrast to one another; e.g., you can’t conceive of light without dark, or tall without short.  There is little doubt that a deep appreciation for the complimentary nature of reality is a powerful tool to keep us honest and on track in perceiving and aligning our life with reality.  Still, there are clues within each opposite to their relationship to the Whole, the Tao.  Its conceivable to me that people could live in perfect harmony, without contradiction, with an attitude of gratitude. It is inconceivable to me that people can live as greedy takers without contradictory and irreconcilable selves.  In the mysterious light of the Whole, gratitude is more consonant with reality.  Further, taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, without any claim upon it from elsewhere is simply self-assertion.

There seems to be a consensus among philosophers and theologians of all stripes and perspectives that human beings cannot be the ground of their own being.  On one end of the spectrum this was most famously articulated by John Paul Sartre in his book, nay tome, Being and Nothingness, which built the intellectual foundation of modern existentialism.  On the other end of the spectrum, most human beings throughout human history have claimed life to be a gift from God (or gods).  Sartre and some others are content to contend that human freedom is condemned to naked self-assertions, however well-clothed in rationalizations.  God-seeking humans have sought a source of life, a ground for their being, a giver who is also a subject, not a happenstance collection of stardust within a serendipitously profoundly ordered universe.  The harshest and most minimalist existentialists settle for an existence where subjects cannot truly meet, or, if taken most strictly, cannot even be confident that other subjects even exist.  Such a bizarre assertion is welcomed by God skeptics who cannot fathom a Subject, but the corollary laughable denial of other human subjects’ existence is kept conveniently and shamefully out of public consciousness.  Taoists and many philosophers of consciousness posit something akin to a Consciousness that all consciousnesses partake in, a whole in which each part is inescapably in relationship with, even if well-clothed in ignorance and plausible deniability.  Christians speak of being made in the image of God.  Taoists, perhaps the least literal in their claims, allude to a dynamic Whole that informs our being of the Way.

A beloved metaphor often employed by Taoists is water, with all of its life-giving and unusual properties yet part of daily, seemingly-mundane experience.  The one who lives fluidly like water moves easily around that which is hardened.  Yet water, given time (an equally mysterious aspect of life), wears down mountains [see patience as the mother of all virtues!].  This poem gives a tip of the hat to this water metaphor with the lines: A thirst only quenched/By water on the rocks.  Thirst cannot even be conceived without quenching — unless perhaps you have the brutally masochistic tendencies of an orthodox atheist existentialist who braves permanent and absolute alienation (from even one’s self).  The line, Siren from beyond hear, intimates the dangerous half of thirst.  The water on the rocks alludes to the sober attention needed to recognize that water and ice (on the rocks) are fundamentally the same stuff, just in a different form.  Having strung out/Countless improbable moments/A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation.  When faced with conundrums and uncertainties, there is a common tendency to hear beguiling Sirens and throw ourselves against the rocks.  Sober minds recognize this as A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation/Not getting bent/On 100% proof.  In embodying an attitude of gratitude and selflessness connected to the One, one can quiet the mine/A sentience unabridged/Having awe ready arrived/A slow motion ninja/Only to be/In what will be/Carried away
In eternity.  May it be so.

 

POEM: The Lost Heart of Wore

Dave lost his head
On the edge of barbarism
Shariq found his blown to pieces
On the edge of civilization
Savage swordplay and droning videogames
Medieval meets modern
Death metes equally
To those dispensing
Aid to enemas
And bad abettors
In gruesome gambols
Where the hows always wins
And the whys are confounded
Weather fatally sored
In phase too phase war fair
Or insights of a video chimera
A cross continence
Either weigh
Each respectively
Given the finger
In a speak easy of honor
Wear suits are sir rated
And buttons pressed
United in death
Lilliputian tears fill our see
Crescendoing whoppers bound by feared flees
Fooly contempt plated
Wear wee be headed
A long the heart of wore
Our ultimate objective
Hour final destiny
Only too find ourselves
Naked to death
And life
All the amour
Of which elicit

This anti-war poem was inspired by recent beheadings, which seem to have been very effective in eliciting a spirit of war in Team America.  Such barbaric acts by our enemies strike at the heart of our civilized sensibilities, much more than our regular less-than-civilized killings of the occasional enemy and more frequent nearby noncombatants.  U.S. wars have droned on for years.  This has been mostly below the radar of U.S. public awareness and above retaliation by its non-American and un-American victims.  There is little doubt that when theatrical barbarism and video-game inspired drone warfare meet that war will be the big winner.  The losers will be uncountable. The few winners will be unaccountable.

This poem’s title is a take off on the infamous treatise, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.  Wearing your heart is a dangerous thing when the drums of war are beating.  No doubt, the world can be a scary and dangerous place.  Nonetheless, I am convinced that humanity is in much greater danger of losing its heart than losing its head.  Each of us will be dead some day.  The more important question will be whether our hearts are intact, not our heads.

POEM: A Full Life

Charlie’s life was full
Every available space laden to wrest
His productivity well suited
To his interests
Taxidermy and robotics

This short poem offers a challenge to what it means to have a full life in modern Western civilization, where increasing speed and productivity are worshiped as the means to a good life.  I am a big fan of rest and empty spaces as an essential way to fully round out one’s life.  Our culture’s addiction to productivity, fitting in (“well suited”), and a focus on narrow interests has most of us bamboozled.  In this poem, the inane and the productive meet in the metaphor of taxidermy and robotics, representing the deadening and dehumanizing effects of an overfull life.  This metaphor also juxtaposes vocation and avocation, where it is unclear what is a job and what is a hobby.  While this may be confusing, it hints at the underlying connection that a capitalistic culture makes.  Capitalism works best when we devote ourselves to both work/productivity AND inane consumerism.  Capitalism wants to own both vocation and avocation.  Of course, an endless array of inane avocations are offered, as long as they support the consumption of some product or service, hopefully in the service of distracting you from the emptiness of your “full” life and the avaricious nature of endless “growth.”

Emptiness can be revolutionary.  This is why capitalism works best when it crams every available space with inane crap.  Capitalism’s very life depends on it.  Surely, capitalism must provide abundant avenues to distract us from our emptiness.  However, emptiness is not empty!  If we sit with our emptiness, in the sense of lack of fulfillment, this will foment unrest poorly suited for capitalism.  Even further, in experiencing empty spaces and silence, we expand our perspective, the framework upon which we see things, allowing us to truly grow.  Buddhists and Taoists are particularly adept at exploring such realities.  Deists might frame this as silence being the language of God, that small, still voice.

After experiencing a period of relaxation, have you ever then experienced increased anxiety or dread when “going back to work” appears on the horizon?  In a life abundant in balance and wisdom, while work requires effort, it does not require dread.  Dread is a sign of imbalance.  Chronic dread signifies a shortage of wisdom.  Dread speaks to us.  One of the central concepts (the first of the Four Noble Truths) of Buddhism is often stated in English as “Life is suffering.”  I have heard this elaborated upon as realizing that life requires effort (work).  Work is not the enemy.  Work is an integral part of life — as is rest .  The issue becomes how to achieve balance and minimize suffering.  I like the image of breathing in and out as a metaphor for balance.  Questioning whether breathing in or out is better misses the point — as is often the case in Western convergent thinking.  If you do ask which is better, the only sensible response is “what did you do last?”  If work causes anxiety, then rest.  If rest causes anxiety, then work.  If everything causes you anxiety, then look to emptiness.  Of course, emptiness often looks like rest, but there is good work to be done there…

POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

In a universe beyond apprehension
She caught herself
Vexing once again
Is there meaning?
Looking above
The stars just winked
Looking below
The grass said
“How can you stand it?”
Looking forward
Her next meal said
“Eat me.”
Looking back
She grasped so many broken peaces
Looking in
She divined an unfathomable whole
On her look out
Giving weigh
Too eternal vigilantes
Buy passing awe
The enduring
Rejoined her
Instead fast
As kin
Neighboring on
Know ledge
And good will
In solid-air-ity
Surfing
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

This poem was inspired by a facebook post asking, “Is it the human curse to be constantly seeking meaning in life when there really isn’t any?”  This poem is for you, Polly, and all of angst-ridden humanity.  Of course, looking for ultimate meaning on facebook may be analogous to looking for love in all the wrong places.  Joking aside, I feel the existential pain of such questioning.  My conservative Christian college roommate warned that I shouldn’t take the philosophy course: Existentialism.  In a display of prudent Calvinistic theology, he said this is a place you shouldn’t go.  I was raised to question and explore.  One surefire way to raise my curiosity is to say you shouldn’t go there!  Banned books should probably well populate our reading list.  I never seriously questioned not taking the class.  Existentialism, nihilism, and the oft-elusive quest for meaning are frequent themes in my poetry and associated rants.  I would never say to not go there.  I would suggest that you not build a home there.  The profound freedom expounded upon by existential philosophers bids us travel widely and put scarce stock in a cozy number of questions or answers.

Rather than giving another pages-long rant on existentialism, or an extensive apologetic on meaning, I will let my poem due most of the work.  I will point out that I find some humor in this most serious of questions.  This poem launches with a series of anthropomorphisms, the stars, the grass, even your next meal, begging some equal standing with you to answer your question.  This is meant to be funny in multiple ways.  I find funniness a particularly good antidote to excessive seriousness.  However, for you philosophical types, projecting human qualities onto inanimate or “less animate” nature is often a first line of critique on the question of God.  I would agree that limiting your search for the supernatural in nature is setting the bar too low.  The mismatch in the adequacy of question to answer makes for a laughable pair of foolishnesses: looking to dirt to enlighten us and considering ourselves to be just dirt (albeit very complicated dirt).

Surely, we can fill a lifetime with learning about nature and its wonders, but we should look up the proverbial food chain rather than down it to find higher meaning.  Or, at a minimum, we should focus on the apparently most evolved life on earth, human beings.  If by happenstance humans are the most evolved conscious beings in our known universe, are we reduced to permutations of cannibalism, or is there some higher power to nourish us?  I find the metaphor of cannibalism as quite apt, since the first monarch of existentialist philosophers, John Paul Sartre, spoke forcefully and eloquently about two subjects never being able to connect, forever trapped in alternately being a subject and making the other an object, then being reduced to an object by the other.  Of course, any philosopher that claims that two subjects can never connect as subjects, besides permanently disabling human relationships, certainly precludes any human-God relationship (subject-Subject).   It is worth noting that later existentialist philosophers claimed that subjects can actually connect without reducing the other subject to a mere object.  Not to get caught in intractable discussions of God, it will suffice to say that I believe this, that subjects can connect with one another.  First, this recognizes that human relationships are the everyday stuff of subjective beings living out their nature.  This seems to imply that human community is foundational for human fulfillment.  More provocatively, this opens up the possibility, dare I say hope, that we can connect with some higher power (Subject) to facilitate our spiritual evolution and find greater meaning than that which can be deduced from mere facts/objects of the physical world/nature (or intuited from individual human subjects).

You may note that I consider subjects/subjectivity in the realm of the supernatural, transcending the natural (not negating it).  As confirmed by quantum physics, observers (subjects) influence and change the natural world without any evident contradictions in the deterministic aspects of the scientific world.  In short, at least some form of transcendence of the merely physical/deterministic world is allowed; in fact, necessary to account for quantum physical evidence.  Of course, this brings us full circle to where we began, leaving open the question of the nature of the indeterminate (e.g., free will) and determinate (e.g., physical) aspects of reality.  Basically, the accepted convention of modern science is that the indeterminate has no nature, which is represented by the concept of “randomness.”  Randomness is an indispensable component of the current understanding of Darwin’s evolution of species.  A relationship with nothing is necessary to stir up possibilities allowing for new configurations of life-forms [I don’t think that it was an accident that Sartre’s foundational work was titled, Being and Nothingness].  If evolution was fully determined then some form of God as a first cause with a specific nature would be necessary, and there could only be one outcome, the present reality.  I think this sort of view is rightly rejected as a poor representation of life as experienced and as any notion of God.  However comfortable you feel with the notion of randomness, evolution, as presently expounded, does a masterful job of explaining the origin of species.  However, evolution is silent, even impotent (which is key in any theory so thoroughly wrapped up in reproduction), in accounting for the origin of life itself.  This concept of randomness strikes me at least as problematic as assuming that there is any nature within the realm of indeterminacy.  While the concept of something coming from nothing has often been used to mock those of a spiritual inclination, this is an essential conundrum of modern physics, both in quantum indeterminacy and in a unifying theory for quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and the theory of general relativity which applies to astronomical scales.  The assumption that all truth lies within reductionistic science has been disproved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a mathematical proof that there are always predicates (true statements or facts) that lie outside any possible mathematical or rational system.  Those positing some form of metaphysics (spirituality) simply claim that there is some nature outside of facts and truths that can be ascertained by reductionistic science and assembled into any rational system.  Further, many claim that we can ascertain truths about the nature of reality through subjective experience, not fully verifiable by science.  This connection to other subjective/indeterminate realities can bring about a fuller understanding of reality.  In such ethereal undertakings, I seek in solidarity with others to incarnate such realities in our lives, thus making our lives fuller, more congruent with reality.

I posit that life itself encompasses the subjective, and that there is a nature to nature, a nature that transcends and lovingly gives birth to countless wonders.  Transcendent.  Loving.  Giving birth.  Wonder full.  This is the God I seek.  We need not leap from essential uncertainty to an abyss of meaninglessness.  We need not build arbitrary prisons to some cruel god of logic, while others walk and explore a world brimming with life and meaning.  Nor do we shrink from visiting those in the darkest of places, for even God overflows there.  I seek to worship a God that cannot fit in any box anyone can construct.  I leave such gods to the dustbin. The present is evident, even if the future is not.  Life is a gift.  Pass it on.  This is the nature of life.

For those of you who waded through my rantings, or those who were wise enough to read the last paragraph first, you are now titled to learn the meaning of vex lex.  Vex lex is a takeoff on rex lex, which means “Law is king.”  Vex, of course, means to distress or bother.  Thus, vex lex means to be distressed or bothered by the prospect of law ruling our lives as our ultimate authority.  Most of us recognize that legalism often strangles life.  The law can be government or any system of thought (ideology).  We are born to be free.  Our room to grow is unending…which can be vexing.  Game on!

 

 

POEM: Albatross Necklace Futures

I stared at the world
I could have built
Had I
Grasped more
Farce fully
A stock pile
Awe but reaching
Heaven
Falling short
Of mature stature
Leaving behind
Child’s play
The ripe now
And not trading in
Futures
Of albatross necklaces
Adorned by all

This poem is a tip of the hat to the story of the Tower of Babel, where mankind tries quite literally to build a stairway to heaven.  This ancient tale of vanity is perhaps even more true now than when it was first told.  With advances in science and technology the notion of building a socialist paradise that saves humanity from its own perennial moral dilemmas seems all the more possible, and therefore, tempting.  Of course, knowledge is no sin; but, the hubris to think that you can cheat reality is.  There are no technological means to bypass courage, faith, and compassion or love.  Humans are the proper instrument for courage, faith, and love.  Any worldview that negates humanity by pretending that humanity can somehow be bypassed, along with its unavoidable moral responsibility, is idolatrous.  Idolatry is simply constructing the foundation of one’s life (whatever you consider authoritative) on images of reality rather than reality itself.  Simply put, humans cannot create a world where they no longer need to be good, that is make moral choices, with their commensurate values or “costs”, which include courage, faith, and love

Any ideology or social system can function idolatrously, if it is considered an end not the means to something greater.  Such rigid, graven images impair proper human functioning, which is relational, not simply a “thing” to be better sculpted.  The something greater is dynamic living relationships.  In religious terms, the great commandments are relational as loving God and loving neighbor.  Unfortunately, humans are quite adept at over-concretizing spiritual truths and settling for worshiping the stone images (e.g., ten commandments) printed word (e.g., Bible), or any system of thought, rather than the reality to which they point: God and neighbor.  Inasmuch as we stop and settle for an image of what our relationships should be, we actually step outside of that living relationship and kill it.  In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the “People of the Book”), God keeps it very simple by declaring to Moses to tell the people only “I am who I am” (or, “I will be what I will be.”)  The rest involves having a relationship with the “I am who I am.”  Of course, in modern secularism, this is epically avoided by denying even the existence of “I am who I am.”  Not surprisingly, the “I am who I am” residing within us all gets short shrift and humanity is left to define itself simply by its material aspects, limiting it’s nature to “I am what I am” — which I call the Popeye fallacy.  The Popeye fallacy omits a dimension of our being, leaving us a mirror caricature.  Much alienation in modern Western civilization is rooted in mistaking humans as “what” not “who.”  People are not things, at least not things alone.  To add to the irony and epic misdirection, legal fictions like corporate “personhood” are considered “human,” while humans have difficulty mustering such status.  Such battles over what a person is, a who or a what, may very well define our age.  May we have the wisdom to know the difference!

Of course, this poem frames the epic theme of idolatrous hubris on a more modest, individual level.  Hubris often hides in the “humble” context of the individual, with a built in rationalization that one person cannot make the difference.  This itself is an amoral or immoral act.  Morality always plays out among individual moral agents.  This is the very point of what is often avoided by shifting agency onto society, deflecting moral agency altogether, or claiming that “the devil made me do it” (insert ‘terrorist’ for ‘devil’ to upgrade to “modern” worldview).

Lastly, moral agency is played out in real time, the now.  Respecting the relational process of being human, which is inherently subjective, must favor the present over some conception or image of a future end.  More simply put, humans are ends in themselves, not to be subjugated to another’s systems of images of the future.  Keeping it real means honoring humans as sacred participants in this process, always valuing who people are more than what they are, or even what they may be.  I suspect that faith in God, the “I am who I am,” is trusting that the greater is lived out by focusing on who, not what.  This may very well be the inseparable nature of loving God and loving neighbor, each reinforcing one another in blessed mutuality.  May it be so.

POEM: My Brand of Value

My brand value
Has plummeted recently
So says sum consultant
As some seer into my pristine hide
Speaking a bout
Clashing symbols
In the mark it place
Some limbic game how logo
Soliciting every thing
That can be taut
As I must be
Scarred for good
Pimping my horrors
To a void
Tear attacks
Or fiscal fits
In a world lackeying so much
I’ll pass
Perhaps in tact
Or knot out live
Still
Forever chaste
Know thanks
I do believe
I’ll steer clear
Of dis figure or dat figure
And risk being
De-filed

In order to sell ourselves for a high price, we need to pay homage to our brand.  We often need to distort and simplify our deepest passions and interests so others can easily recognize our “value,” that is as such value may be determined at any given time and culture.  In the marketplace of our modern world, this typically means configuring our lives to maximally monetize ourselves.  Reducing our lives to money is a dangerous undertaking for our humanity.  This poem takes issue with the assumption that we should spend much of our life trying to sell ourselves.  What exactly would be a good balance?  Perhaps 15% slave, 15% whore, and 70% free range human would be a good compromise.  After meeting our basic physical needs, it strikes me that we should be devoting ourselves to the things that money can’t buy.  Even meeting our basic human needs can be much more human than often offered by modern, so-called civilization.  In fact, if we can trade, have mutual aid associations, grow some of our own food, build or repair our own stuff, we can loosen the grip that the moneychangers have over life, trading currency for the gloriously ineffable now.  Humans are not machines to be ever more standardized, even in the most complex and beauteous contraptions.  Rather than leveraging the seductive, money-making enterprise of simplifying and reducing humans to means to some financialized end, we should develop human relationships that harness the curiosity and appreciation of the unfathomably deep eccentricity and beauty of every human being.  Then, we can move from boredom and cynicism to enthusiasm and bounteous hopes.  This glorious movement from the bowels of an uncaring machine to a feral existence may be messy, even pricey.  Nonetheless, the value of living undomesticated lives is boundless, offering more than any mechanized existence, no matter how tamed, how well-trained, or how profitable.  Branding is not for the benefit of cattle or humans, and it is painful and scarring to boot!  Branding is for the ease of those who want to own and trade you and every commodifiable aspect of your existence, rather than taking the glorious time and robust effort to see you fully for who you truly are, worthy of avoiding all mean ends, and courageous enough to face being de-filed.

POEM: Arousing Spirit

She had a profoundly rousing spirit
Unfortunately, he did not believe in spirits
And lack of belief
Will only
Carry you so far

I like this short poem because it plays with the notions of spirit and disbelief.  There are very few people who would welcome reducing their most intimate friends or significant others to a machine, even a fabulously complex, particularly useful, and/or entertaining machine.  At the same time, postmodern society is crippled in its thinking about spirit.  Even those who are religious or intentionally spiritual often have a low level of literacy when it comes to the metaphysical.  When push comes to shove, there are many, if not most, who feel uncomfortable in an apologetics of spiritual matters.  Skepticism as a predominant mode of being makes trust more difficult than it has to be.  Not surprisingly, materialists may experience a great deal of awkwardness in relating to ghosts in machines, formerly known as humans.

I view postmodern society as addicted to certainty or “security.”  Most children of postmodern society experience tremors when they can’t get their fix of certainty.  The materialism of postmodern society, at first glance, seems to offer more reliable solutions to issues of uncertainty.  Predictability is at a premium.  Unfortunately, since humans aren’t machines, human problems will remain stubbornly unsolved if limited to materialist solutions. Materialists cannot escape viewing messy freedom as a problem, not the solution.  Most simply put, materialism is a negation of the better portion of being human.  Stuff like faith, hope, courage, and love — let alone freedom — simply don’t make much sense from a materialist perspective.  Reductionist approaches rip the heart out of higher ordered realities.

This short poem succinctly portrays what is lost by disbelief.  A full appreciation of a rousing spirit becomes impossible because a materialist perspective inevitably “understands” such unique manifestations as mere statistical anomalies, at best arising out of “randomness.”  Lack of belief will only carry you so far.  I have to shake my head in disbelief every time a scientist includes randomness in their equation, hypothesis/theory, or worldview.  These seems like a modern equivalent of “insert miracle here.”  Though such a miracle is of the lowest possible order!  I find it much harder to believe in randomness than that the free choice of the metaphysical world responds within a framework of reality that often, even predictably, elicits higher ordered functioning, a tip of the hat if you will to an experienced higher order.  Randomness and determinism are strange bedfellows.  What type of worldview relies on randomness to explain order?!  Wouldn’t it be much more coherent to posit a form of order from which order arises?  The logical conclusion of those addicted to this bizarre, false idol of certainty is actually that there is no order, that it only seems like there is order.  When determinism is hybridized with randomness, should we be surprised that it produces an absurd bastard child?  In any case, what follows from such a worldview is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Choice, human freedom, IS a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And, if you don’t believe in choice, then…well, that’s your choice…

POEM: Unemployed Stat

Unemployment hit a 5-year low
Still, Bob remains 100% unemployed

This short poem highlights the difference between statistics and people.  Statistics can estimate probabilities with some accuracy of how a large group of people may act, or be affected by something.  Statistics cannot reliably predict stuff on an individual level.  The farther we get away from individuals, the greater “power” statistics wields.  Of course, we could compile all the statistics in the world and estimate what the average or typical human would be like, yet never actually know anything meaningful about any individual human.  That typical human being would be a 27-year-old, Mandarin-speaking, Christian, female agricultural worker.  Those researchers might well learn more about humanity by going to lunch with their other researchers.  To take a simpler example, suppose researchers measured the foot size of every person in the United States and calculated the average value.  If leaders used this information to provide everyone with a pair of average-sized shoes, there would be a lot of shoes thrown at such foolish leaders.  Except for the exceptional genius of baggy pants, one-size-fits-all often doesn’t work well. In many cases, the truth is closer to one-size-fits-none.  The point is that the farther we get away from knowing individual human beings the less we know about humanity.

Statistics is impersonal.  Statistics knows nothing of intimacy.  Statistics treats human beings as deterministic objects.  Only by studying huge numbers of people can statistics succeed at sufficiently washing out individual differences.  Granted, most human systems are very complex and many of these differences are, in fact, “material” or deterministic differences.  Nonetheless, the grandest fallacy or illusion brought by the power of statistics is that human free will is insignificant and can be ignored or rounded down to zero.  The greatest fact that can only be ignored only at the peril of losing our humanity is that human freedom is the very reality that most defines humans.

Bob is not a statistic.  Bob is not simply something to be tallied up, or experimented on for other people’s edification.  For those who actually care about Bob, statistics provide little human warmth and limited meaning.  Without human caring, which is ultimately rooted in intimate human relationships, statistics serve to dehumanize us.  The issue is not whether to abandon statistics as a human tool to help understand the physical world around us.  The issue is whether our humanity will wield tools for our betterment, or such tools will wither our humanity.

People who seek great power need to scale up their individual power through tools.  If the scale of power sought exceeds one’s ability to exercise their humanity, by growing their own humanity and the humanity of others, then tools become weapons against humanity.  The exercise, and even threat, of such power exceeding a human scale can tempt others to react in an equally inhumane way.  This “self” defense is often justified as an equal and opposite reaction.  However, unless inhumane treatment is met with humane treatment, then the interaction is nothing more than physics — every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction.  If humanity doesn’t respond to inhumanity out its own higher nature, humanity, then it is reduced to inhumanity.  Part of human existence is physics.  However, if we don’t recognize and live into our higher nature, in the realm of metaphysics, then humans will closely resemble billiard balls, albeit very complex billiard balls.  The ability to react in a humane way to any situation is, in fact, what human response-ability is!  Newton’s third law of motion, that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction, is not adequate to explain human behavior.  Though, ironically, the less free we become, the closer this seems true.  I don’t know about you, but for me, as a free range human being, that’s not the way I roll!

Sadly, the temptations of great power, whether to secure great power for oneself or to react in “self” defense against such dehumanizing power, seem to be an everyday reality for most humans.  Modern-day success often seems to rest on either wielding dehumanizing power over others, or, at best, reaching a form of detente, where we react in equal and opposite ways, hoping not to reduce humanity any further, but not willing to risk our humanity to up the game.  Unfortunately, any slightest miscalculation will degrade humanity.  And the calculating humans required for even the best detente have already sacrificed their humanity to play a game of billiards.  In fact, without higher aspirations, people become tools — or at least begin to appear as tools.  Yet, people are not tools.  Hope springs eternal.

Reintroducing human scales, necessarily smaller and decentralized, resting on a rich and robust foundation of human intimacy, is the greatest challenge humans face in responding to globalization and cancerous capitalistic and consumer culture.  We need to get over the notion that modern civilization’s institutions are too big to fail.  We need to get over the notion that wee, the people, are too small to make a difference.  The truth is the opposite.  Western civilization is deeply dependent on dehumanization and continues to race unabated past natural limits, most notably by destroying the very environment we depend upon.  Humans depending on dehumanization and doggedly insisting that we “shit where we eat,” is unsustainable.  Either humans transcend such dehumanizing dependencies or we will descend into fascism.  Either humans learn to live in harmony with nature or nature will “select” us, or at least our cancerous globalized civilization, out of existence in some Darwinian extinction.  Nature may be kind enough to simply scale us down a bit, doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves, in a Newtonian third law of motion tour de force.  We can do better.  Not through hubris and ever more precise power grabs.  I suspect the seed of a successful human future will be rooted in personally nurturing Bob and singing songs of humanity rather than bowing to the steady hum of a wickedly efficient bureau of labor statistics.

POEM: Model Citizen

Rowan was a model citizen
One-eighth scale
Painstakingly posed
With animating make up
Almost lifelike

This short poem, “Model Citizen,” is a reflection on the life-like which should only be mistaken for life at one’s own peril — or, in this poem’s case, at one’s community’s own peril.  The status quo and the powers that be provide a straightforward framework, including incentives and disincentives, to behave in a certain way.  This is a large part of what we call culture.  Busy-ness and business are dominant aspects of modern Western civilization.  Unfortunately, being busy, or just seeming busy, isn’t necessarily linked with human betterment or progress.  Like Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  Surely, the capitalist business and consumer culture feeds the need for speed, ever-increasing “industriousness” to grow the economy and standard of living.  Perhaps the best example of why this path is perilous is the reality that a “successful” growth of worldwide standard of material living requires an increasingly unsustainable exploitation and consumption of natural resources, and concomitant waste.  If such growth is not to be a fatal planetary cancer, there needs to be wholesale changes in the way we do business, and busy-ness, as relates to the urgency of the situation.  We cannot settle for life-light or lifelike.  Such citizen posers may be the death of us all.

This poem points to the role of good citizenship in creating, maintaining, and sustaining healthy communities and a healthy planet.  In good citizenship, democracy is the process and the common good is the goal.  Neither democracy nor the common good can reasonably be entrusted to elites, whether these elites are political, business, technocratic, or religious.  It is precisely these elites which have an interest in selling us something other than the common good.  The proprietary nature of modern existence, driven by the profit motive, has brought us to this place.  The common good is anathema to profit as king.  The unjust advantage held by elites is what keeps us on this perilous trajectory.  Nominal democracy is a common tool used to fool average citizens into accepting something less than the common good.  There is a great divide between elites, who are generally viewed as portraits of “success” — a mere fantasy for many — and the masses who would be greatly advantaged by securing the common good.  Of course, in affluent societies, the “middle class” comprise most of the so-called “model citizens.”  Their advantage in the larger scheme of things is sufficient to buy into the status quo, if not the powers that be.  The amorphous common good of some possible life is bypassed for the reasonable access to the concrete benefits of living in a materially affluent society.  Most simply put: if I’ve got mine, then risking that for something less certain seems like a bad bet.  So we settle.  In terms of democracy, made nominal, this appears as that oft-too-common choice of the lesser of two evils, choosing between two elites who have no real interest in the common good, other than to pacify the masses and maintain stability and predictability.  Just note the language used with the utmost importance regarding financial interests and “markets” needing “certainty.”  Predictability has many nice facets to it, but in this case, the greatest certainty is that the rich will grow richer and the poor will grow poorer.  When this almost-cliche formula receives little complaint or resistance, it is a sure diagnostic that you are richer than poorer, or at least a committed wannabe richer.  In the end, this poem is a call to the poorer masses to throw off the illusions brought by nominal democracy (in a plutocracy) and the modest temporary incentives to play it safe as a “model citizen” only one-eighth scale.  Then, we can join together in a much truer democracy able to secure the common good for all — yes, even the richer.