POEM: Metings, I’d Rather Do Without

I listen
To that which speaks
A bigger
In feeleds of dreams
Wanting more
Then words
Aloft from fences
Of unsatisfying breadth
And stealy calculation
Dis passionate mines
As inevitable ballbusters
Descending from bona fide guise
Even handed lines
Powerless as me pick-up
As I have not
There be little left
Of right
And wrong
Targeted means
As I am
Made to feel
That I have
Gone nuts
Sow detached
Over looking
My groan
Up cast
For what have wee
To sphere
On earth
Like broken vassals
What have I too loose
As a flea wagging doggedly
In treating me too stay
As a thorn in my pause
As if I was lyin’
Or some thing
Crying out
Give it arrest
Only wonting
Hang round
Like sum constellation price
For nebulous reasons
Orbit
The bull it points
Forsake of the cause
Professoring each reaction err he
As if
I am
Missing inaction
And it’s time
To grow a pare
Seceding where others have flailed
More than a head
Of their times
Boosting their future
For this is how
They roll
Off the curve
Into the streets
Overwhelming every buy way
And what have anew
Thorough fair for all
And rout in justice
As we due it owed school
Where truth metes feat
In tuition
Of life

I’m publishing this poem and blog post instead of going to a meeting.  I’m not big on meetings.  And I’m getting smaller with each passing day.  About the only meetings I go to are activists planning one thing or the other.  I tend to avoid even these meetings.  Unfortunately, I generally find them unsatisfying.  Fortunately, the outcomes of these meetings are not sorely changed without my presents. Over the last year or so, after the occasional meeting, I have quipped that I only go to a meeting once a season just to remind myself why I don’t go to meetings.  I have been to countless meetings in my life, as a recovering professional planner.  These activist meetings fare above the average level of meeting satisfaction — though that might not be setting the bar very high.  This situation is captured by another saying of mine: that isn’t beneath me; it’s behind me.

Of course, when I refer to meetings, I mean formal meetings.  I like meeting with people, just more informally.  I like planning, more like conspiring, for activist actions.  I’d rather meet and conspire with activists at actions or in social settings without any driving agenda.  Or, afterwards, just catch the gist of what may been accomplished, in a few moments.  Then, see how I might participate.  I find myself on a steady path of wanting to live more organically; that is, with a minimum of man-made organizational structures.  My bullshit meter has become quite powerful.  I find that formal meetings, by either design or effect, draw out our more base instincts of wanting power/influence and control over others.  This tendency enmeshed with what I view as an over-intellectualization of the issues at hand poisons my experience.  Of course, I am a recovering abstract intellectualist; and I deliberately practice avoiding taking that first proverbial drink of the ever-sought perfected ideology or strategy.  I feel that I have found some balance between my head and my heart.  I find most meetings stifling to my heart.  My deepest yearnings are for our broken hearts to pour into the streets for the healing of the world.  I suppose this is way too messy for the powers that be.  I have studied the ways of personal and social change for my whole adult life, and with increasing frequency my heart overturns my distinguished head.  I guess that am slowly gaining my anarchist credentials, which, of course, means not relying on credentials.  I am deeply intrigued in exploring collective action without relying on cumbersome formal power.  I am finding increasing peace on the margins of power, even the margins of activists’ power.  I strongly suspect that nurturing the ability to sustain peace even at the margins of formal power is, in fact, a form of informal power of which humans could use more.  May you be empowered to follow your dreams.

POEM: A Wrench In The Machine

He was having one of those lives
Where he woke up
Only to find himself
A wrench in the machine
Threw and threw
Putting his whole life into question
What kind of tool are you?

This poem was triggered by a recent conversation with my lawyer about a pending criminal mischief charge (for stickering poles downtown Toledo in the criminal justice district with stickers reading “JUSTICE FOR DANNY BROWN .COM”). In this conversation, I used the metaphor of a wrench in the machine. There is a growing realization in my life that jail time is in my destiny. Eugene Debs, perhaps said it best in his statement to the judge prior to his sentencing for resistance, stating:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. [see full speech here]

Quite a few years ago, I had a dream. In this dream, there was an image that has stuck with me: I was dancing effortlessly amidst the huge, moving cogs and gears of a giant machine. I was unhurt and at peace, even joyful. This image reminds me of the possibility of being at peace in the dance with the machine. Of course, this image does not include the pain and death of being ground up in the machine, a reality every moment. I believe that the best meshing of these two realities is to practice disciplines cultivating joyful dancing as we throw our whole beings into resistance of the machines of death and into the reawakening of the deadened souls who find necessity in siding with death.

Power requires consent. Our consciousness of this helps free us to choose to better align with the forces of life than the forces of death. My unofficial motto is “Screw ’em,” as modeled by the character Col. William Ludlow, played by Anthony Hopkins, in the movie, Legends of the Fall. This may seem unduly negative, or even juvenile, to some; but, the impulse to withdraw consent from unjust authority is divine. While such rebellion may only be a first step, it is a necessary first step to confront the powers that be and to speak truth to power. Either way, without consent, aka complicity, humans cannot multiply their worldly power beyond their own, short, God-given reach. People do bad things, though having their reach limited to a relatively small human scale mitigates the worst of it. When living a human-scale existence we find our kin within grasp — a grasp of hands, minds and hearts. This is enough. To want more, is to trade our humanity for mere stuff. Consent and complicity is required for technologies of death to persist, whether they be armaments or corporations. Let us examine our lives for where they are forged as tools, not as artisans and creators made in the image of God, but as artifacts to be bought and sold. Let us withdraw our consent to such dehumanization and create a joyful dance in which all can freely participate. May you be joyful in your resistance.

POEM: Making a Fuel of My Self

In the cold night
That darkest time
When dawns forgotten
My heart burns
With fear and pain
My home aflame
To an unaltarable offering
And fiery furnish
Of wanton change
Of hammering out or deal
For scanty respite
From that
I hate
Combusting
Up the world
With care less balms
And succors for bid
Sow overdo
And with such gall
I light
All things tinder
Overlooking the infernal warming
Of making a fuel of my self
In whatever eye wood do
Only just
In the mean time
Slamming on
The day brakes
I find myself
In the mourning
Executing catharsis
I come to
Grasping for breath
Only fearing what thou wilt due
I under stand
My shudders unbolted
Udderly apprehended
As in canned essence
Set free
Revealing my son ship
Brethren to awe
And cistern of tears
Still, don’t pine for me
For what
I have got
My ash kicked
By whatever might
Remain
As I urn my weigh
And when moan comes
My hearth is rekindled
Out shining
That which can never be
Holy defeated
Burnishing everything I knead

This poem is about both hope and the striking temptation of violence.  Violence begets violence.  Hate begets hate.  Likewise, love can overcome hate and violence.  Hope is embodied in nonviolent resistance to violence and injustice.  If we succumb to merely returning violence for violence, then we reinforce the cycle we supposedly resist.  If we don’t recognize and accept that at the deepest level of reality my enemy and I are one, then discord will be borne again…and again.  Violence is very hardy because it so predictably riles our most base instincts, the basic structure of our bodies and rudimentary psychology; that is, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Practicing the discipline of nonviolence is the way to break free from this self/other destructive chain of causal events.  Human will is transcendent, naturally rebellious, to this destructive lock-down of reactionary existence.  This inescapable rebellion against being trapped in seemingly perpetual violence is the birth of hope and the path of peace and justice for all.  An undefeatable aspect of human will always stands outside the seductive snare of merely reactionary behavior.  Choosing a higher path is possible.  As Gandhi so simply and boldly declared in word and deed, “Peace is possible.”  We can choose to dishonor this higher aspect of human existence by choosing to settle for reactionary participation in a seemingly inescapable chain of crap that nobody really wants but someone else “makes” me do, as if I am some soulless machine, voting in a rigged game.  This dishonors our true maker, mysterious and gracious.  Perpetrators, those who are most deeply embedded in the illusion that violence will give them the long end of the stick that is one humanity, erroneously believe that they possess some superior will in manipulating the machinations of the day to their advantage (at the expense of others).  Rather, their self-serving complicity with reactionary destructive violence is a denial of creative human will and hope for peace and justice for all.  To escape their own self-dehumanization they pompously attribute their apparent success in navigating the status quo of reactionary existence to a superior will, somehow free from others’ claims on them.  These so-called winners look to themselves apart, seeing themselves as self-made men — in a palpably peculiar insult to their mothers.  And as I like to say: if you are a self-made man, you have a fool for a maker.  Victims residing down the chain of injustice can mirror their perpetrators’ weighs by rattling the chain up or down, either giving the master curators of violence another specimen for their museum of humanity, or perhaps honing one’s hurt on someone even less able or willing to react commensurately.  The predictability of violence is captured in the insularity, unaccountability, and disconnect from humanity (their own and others’) that perpetrators of the powers that be experience in wanting mastery over their own lives.  The predictability of violence among victims is rooted in the reactionary reality that hurt people hurt people.  People tend to do what they know.  Can we know peace and justice, or at least cultivate its possibility?  While experiencing the hurt of violence and injustice can be a powerful impetus to respond unkind, it can also be a profound invitation to solidarity, empathizing, connecting and standing with others, each of who have experiences of hurt and injustice.  This is an aspect of God’s mysterious “preferential option for the poor” whereby reality is constructed in such a way that the poor have better access to their humanity than the rich.  As Brethren to awe/And cistern of tears we are better equipped to join together and bring peace and justice into the whirled.  May it be so.

ELECTION POEM: We De-serve More Than One Date a Year

Even with
The sorry lack
He in the capitol arena
He refuse
To beg for change
As riddled with ballots
From a stone throne
Presumed in a sense
As the free mark it
To mock a difference
In hour damn nation
Weather staying qualm
Or carrying on
As beheading
The wrong direction
Right
That’s going to work
Like pulling jobs
Out of a hat
Railroaded
And Rand over
Take
You’re choice
Taking liberties
Wear ever
Whatever
Left
Dying
With boots on
Won’s neck
And arms flailing
In the heir
Violins playing
US again
And masses cry
Weight
For some guardian angle
Following-lite
30 seconds and never the goaled
Promising silver ballots
For the monster knock off of your choice
The leaser of two evils
Billed on platforms not worth one read assent
Rhetorical quests in
Skirting half the populace
Out flanking the body politic
And the only deliverance
Is backwards male junk
Ridden on drossy stationary
Acceding Stepford lives
Androids answering robo calls
Buy passing any hire power
Rebutting humanity
Like sum tally whacker
Awl to govern us
Violating our hides
Out ranking privates
Another poll taken
As nations pawned
And questions razed
From the dread
The answer
Lies
Before us
And incite us
The time is now
To re-wind
These vane choices
Truly bearing
As wee
Vote with our feat
And in-F-able arts
De-serving
More than one date a year
Arrest of our daze
Courting flaccid elections
Feudal proposals
And tickets beyond won’s means
Soully to forge more candid dates
And over power
Our faux
Never miss lead

It’s election day!  This election poem captures the perennially popular cynicism concerning politics, particularly electoral politics, and issues a call for a more encompassing path to redress our collective grievances and embody our shared hopes.  In short, this entails year-round civic engagement where citizens vote regularly by putting some skin in the game and pouring their hearts into public life.  This sort of direct democracy leads by representing ourselves boldly and honestly to one another, backed up by whatever integrity we have in our lives.  We get the democracy we deserve.  Or, in this case, we get the democracy we de-serve.  We stop serving power structures and start serving one another.   This saps the top-down power so fraught with abuse and alluring to those more interested in governing others than governing themselves.  There is no patchwork of half-truths that can stand without the consent of the governed.  Elections are largely contrived of narrow choices pandering to the powers that be and offering mere styles of the status quo.  If we settle for a democracy that only works a day or two a year, and barely that, then we should adjust our expectations commensurately.  Though this is not the only choice: hemmed and hawed candidates or non-participation, not voting.  Whether you vote or not — and I think you should make such a modest investment of time — the body politic is not formed in a day or two.  What we do the rest of our days is decisive.  Work, shop, consume, die may be one way to go, but what price do we pay for our “free” time.  Free people live and give freely.  Free people are the freedom the want to see in the world; they are not waiting for license from others.  I like the saying: activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.  I occupy this planet first, am a member of the human race second, and a citizen of a particular political jurisdiction/shopping zone thirdly.  If we unabashedly order our lives according to our deepest values and priorities, the sheer existential force of our lives will champion our planet, give rise to a cherished humanity, and even create a firewall against bullshit politics mistaken for a fertile common-wealth.  Of course, like they say, freedom isn’t free.  Being change in the world will exact a price.  And while you may only get what you pay for, there are untolled pleasant surprises along the way.  The only real question is how much are you willing to pay, and how much are you willing to play?

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: Never Wanton Too Leave

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Destiny Mending

Weave had to live
In the shadow
Of our looming
Self-destruction
It’s time
To take
A strand
Enough
All ready
As we hit the concrete
Beyond erudite
Threads on facebook
Virtually no matter
How tightly woven
Betwixt loose yarns spun
And kittens so darn cute
Attesting we are left
In stitches
Save one
Netting nein
In time
A tangled web we weave
World wide
From pirates patch
People unplugged
The dogs of war heeling
Affronting banks taken aback
A seaming democracy redressed
Mother nature returning
Good work for awe
And sew we go
Destiny mending

This poem is a call to address and confront the multiple fronts on which humanity is racing to its own destruction.  We seem to be endlessly enamored with our own cleverness, even in a desert of wisdom.  We look to technologies for salvation, only fearing that our best stories are of robot or zombie apocalypses.  We float down the lazy river of denial, only to distract ourselves should a toe touch shore.  We beg the powers that be for even soul-numbing jobs to prop up feudal consumerism in earth-destroying lifestyles.  We mine virtual realities for solace and fleeting rations of hope.  We have descended even far below the bite of an apple.  But alas, perhaps even a simple taste of reality can lure us back to overturn the moneychangers, starve the dogs of war, and cradle a gentle democracy in a provident nature.  Hope springs eternal when we can see past winter takes all…

POEM: Censorship

The worst thing about censorship is

This short, one-line poem could be mistaken for half a poem.  This poem may leave the reader wondering what I, the author, consider to be the worst thing about censorship. This poem may even beg the reader to fill in the blank, the censored blank, for themselves.  Part of the point of the poem is that we will never truly know what we are missing when our ability to express ourselves in censored.

There are at least two types of censorship: self-censorship, and being censored by another.  Most often censorship refers to the latter, typically in objection to censorship as an unjust social relationship.  This type of censorship is important to identify and address because it is a direct threat to free speech.  This type of censorship creates a climate of fear among those whose expressions may be threatened, and a mistrust of authority among those who question the legitimacy of such censorship.  Censorship stands in almost direct opposition to free speech.  No doubt, some expressions should not be considered free speech, such as the proverbial shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Nonetheless, I suspect that such cases are quite rare.  The fear and social control generated by direct censorship ripples far beyond a person’s expression being squelched, and beyond potential recipients of that expression losing out on that expression.  The fear of some social sanction leads to countless forms and incidents of self-censorship.  This is the insidiously successful child of direct censorship.

If those in a position of power to censor can cow us to become sheep, then their mold of our culture will grow more pronounced in our silence.  I suspect self-censorship accounts for much, if not most, of the seemingly miraculous hold that the powers that be have over the masses.  Self-censorship allows the illusion that power comes from above, top-down, rather than power being derived from the consent of the people.  Of course, power from above, in the form of sheer force, is a scary reality.  Social sanctions for simply speaking out can be large.  In fact, the presence of a disproportionately large social sanction merely for speaking out is perhaps the surest clue that the underlying reality is unjust.  After all, talk is cheap.  But if questioning power structures is not dealt with early enough on, then the precarious illusion of top-down power masquerading as authority, and the seeming futility of bottom-up power, will continue unabated.  A little shock and awe is sometimes needed to remind people of who is in control.  Learned helplessness will do the trick the vast majority of the time.

Overcoming self-censorship is a necessary condition for a free society.  We can only deal well with reality if we know what that reality is.  This requires liberal self-expression.  Heavily redacted realities make poor citizens and sick societies.  This may be the best single reason for either avoiding most of popular media, or consuming it with a high degree of literacy, to see it for the spectacle that it is.  The images and messages, both overt and subtle, in media have a powerful effect on how we view reality.  The simple fact that there is a whole genre of “reality” television that has little to do with reality is probably the best illustration of how far afield we have become.  TV is a poor representation of reality.

Overcoming self-censorship requires courage and sacrifice.  As Amelia Earhart said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  We can flow with the idolatrous, heavily redacted realities that invade our consciousness unrelentingly through media and advertising.  Though such illusions are unsustainable in many ways, there is a lot of force applied to maintain them.  Adding your consent to those forces may benefit you in many ways.  Or, we can freely and courageously express our own realities which often differ profoundly from the heavily promoted narratives around us.  This may exact a price, but, at least it is a price paid in homage to reality, not illusion.  Who knows, we may very well find that the realities of the vast majority of humans on this planet have more in common with one another than the dreams foisted upon us.  This is the making of peace.  As Gandhi so simply and profoundly stated, “Peace is possible.”  This reality is so routinely obscured.  You can be a living expression of this reality.  You are the channel.

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.

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: 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!

MLK Day Poem

I have attended Toledo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Unity celebration for many years.  Today, I decided to pass on this year’s “show” (yes, the organizers used the term “show” to describe the festivities).  In recent years, I have seen this ceremony devolve largely into a whitewashed view of Dr. King and his difficult, unpopular work.  Not surprisingly, dead prophets are much more popular than living prophets.  From these “shows” in recent years, you’d think that MLK was the leading purveyor of generic volunteerism, charity detached from justice, flying a banner of “why can’t we all just get along” rather than “put some skin in the game for justice.”  These reinventions of Dr. King are dangerous since they transmute his hard fought battles and crucifixion by gunfire into a cheerleader for the status quo, the powers that be.  The image that comes to my mind is the rich and powerful atop their fortress of money, status and power looking down upon the masses calling for smiling faces and “positive” attitudes in the face of their unjust privilege and recalcitrance.  Instead, we should be calling out institutional classism and racism, perpetual wars (even the failed so-called war on poverty), wage slavery, income inequality, and reigning plutocracy.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed--Martin Luther King, Jr. T-SHIRT

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed–Martin Luther King, Jr.

In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2014, I am issuing a reprise of my epic MLK poem which I wrote two years:

Owed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rekindle the story
Of Martin Luther
King, Jr.
An unequaled story of two halves
Those who halve
And those who halve not
As far apart as North is from South
A Protest-ant leading a Reformation
To not have a preyer
What kind
Of moral fiber
In a sea of White
To pick
A fight
Bringing
Not even
A knife
To a gunfight
At the OKKK corral
Taking a beating
All that they can give
To the man
A hymn
Of racial harmony
Effacing off
With ballads
Against the elect
Impervious to ballots
Votes cast
Both sides agree to only won thing
Nobody wants even one King
Let alone a King, Jr.
And resistance is feudal
Incredible odds must be faced
At least
Hate to won
How to right a bout
A fray sew
Epic
Verses
Governors, mayors, and sheriffs
Wee the people
Wile police do the bidding of property owners
That would be U.S. versus “them”
Nationwide there would be no holiday
For aegis to come
With their eye halve a dream speech
Portending
Something between a White Christmas
And some Valentines Day massacre
Like anyone could be that cupid
Fêted
That somebody will eat Jim Crow
The too haves
Called out
“Be patient”
“Change takes time”
Like a sentry
Long asleep at his post
For a bad check
100 years overdue…

view the full MLK Day poem here.

You can also download a free mini-poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Obama “I have a dream…I have a drone.”  Surely, if Dr. King were alive today, he would be speaking out against and taking action against drone killings.

POEM: Their Undoing

They control the levers
Of a vast machinery
Of business, politics, education
They know no equals
Fusing work and ploy
Blind to their match
Game and set
Unable even to follow their own ruse
Our future
Remains
Incalculable
Though we be out numbered
What we have they can not possess
That which we share freely
Will be their undoing

The powers that be is simply a term for what levers exist at any given time to control worldly power.  These rules of the game, like any other set of physical rules, has inertia, a predisposition to continue of the path it is headed.  Without human volition or choice outside these rules, these rules will continue on their present course.  With human choice, these rules can be changed.  Unfortunately, making choices outside the reward system present at any given time comes with costs that are not incurred by just going and getting along with the status quo.  Of course, some courses, some cultural conditions, are less stable than others, and just like a physical object running into some natural limit, cultural realities will shift even without human volition.  The widespread hypocrisy in politics and business, making one set of rules for oneself and other rules for others, make such a culture less stable, less sustainable.  In every case, the rules farther from reality will be disciplined by natural limits, even if not met with particular courage and effort from humans.  Human choice is about shaping ourselves and our culture into a desired state.  Stability and sustainability are about harmonizing ourselves and human culture with natural limits, which is basically reality.  The hypocrisy of trying to maintain or manipulate two separate realities, one to your own selfish advantage, and another reality for others, is both inherently dangerous and stupid.

This poem refers to several forms of undoing.  The cowardly choice to follow a culture’s existing rules despite evidence that it is a vote for a lesser reality, is a danger to stability and sustainability.  This sort of default non-choice is actually the easiest (laziest) to justify based on present cultural conditions, demanding no changes.  This is the first form of undoing, the sheepish version.  Of course, many actively work for their own selfish advantage, an evil which puts us all at risk for the retribution or push-back from natural limits overrun, the undoing of evil.

The positively human form of undoing is actually an intentional undoing of dangerous “unrealities” in a culture.  This involves persons freely accepting a cost or sanction (or forgone reward) to better harmonize oneself and one’s culture with natural limits, to undo the status quo.  This is in tandem with other natural limits molding lesser realities into a more harmonious whole.

Freedom is not free.  Reality is perpetually shifting, in a a dynamism that can never be fully pinned down.  Exercising freedom demands effort to assess the changing conditions of outer reality, as well as disciplined self-awareness and courage to nurture peace and harmony from within.  The powers that be has a negative connotation because it reflects an all-too-common, lazy, and biased mode of being: using inequalities in our culture simply for our own advantage, not the advantage of all, which requires much more effort and work.  Our freedom has a purpose: to harmonize ourselves and our culture with ever larger realities or natural limits.  We are free to choose to get real, in a harmonious shared reality, or fight reality for some narrower, short-term gain, selfishly carving out lesser realities as our own little fiefdoms.

As cause for hope, reality will have its way!  The higher powers present in reality are powerful allies with which to align oneself.  History is full of the high and mighty forces of any given day lining the dustbins of history.  The struggle continues but has the promise of a more sustainable and stable future built on a foundation of higher and deeper realities.

Martin Luther King Day history and reflection

Martin Luther King Day is coming up on January 20, 2014.  MLK Day is celebrated in the U.S. on the third Monday of every January.  The first official celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as a federal holiday in the U.S., was 1986. This upcoming MLK Day will be the 29th annual celebration.  Many younger folk will not remember a time without a MLK Day holiday.  However, much like Dr. King’s long-haul struggles, getting an official King holiday met with strong resistance for a long time.

As told here:

“Congressman John Conyers, an African-American Democrat from Michigan, spearheaded the movement to establish a MLK day. Representative Conyers worked in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and was elected to Congress in 1964, where he championed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Four days after King’s assassination in 1968, Conyers introduced a bill that would make January 15 a federal holiday in King’s honor. But Congress was unmoved by Conyers’ entreaties, and though he kept reviving the bill, it kept failing in Congress.

In 1970, Conyers convinced New York’s governor and New York City’s mayor to commemorate King’s birthday, a move that the city of St. Louis emulated in 1971. Other localities followed, but it was not until the 1980s that Congress acted on Conyers’ bill. By this time, the congressman had enlisted the help of popular singer Stevie Wonder, who released the song “Happy Birthday” for King in 1981, and Conyers had organized marches in support of the holiday-in 1982 and 1983, respectively.

Conyers was finally successful when he reintroduced the bill in 1983. But even in 1983 support was not unanimous. In the House of Representatives, William Dannemeyer, a Republican from California, led the opposition to the bill, arguing that it was too expensive to create a federal holiday and estimating that it would cost the federal government $225 million annually in lost productivity. Reagan’s administration concurred with Dannemeyer’s arguments, but the House passed the bill with a vote of 338 for and 90 against.

When the bill reached the Senate, the arguments opposing the bill were less grounded in economics and more reliant on outright racism. Senator Jesse Helms, a Democrat from North Carolina, held a filibuster against the bill and demanded the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) make public its files on King, asserting that King was a Communist who did not deserve the honor of a holiday. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had investigated King throughout the late 1950s and 1960s at the behest of its chief, J. Edgar Hoover, and had even tried intimidation tactics against King, sending the civil rights leader a note in 1965 that suggested he kill himself to avoid embarrassing personal revelations hitting the media.

King, of course, was not a Communist and had broken no federal laws, but by challenging the status quo, King and the Civil Rights Movement discomfited the Washington establishment. Charges of Communism were a popular way to discredit people who dared speak truth to power during the 50s and 60s, and King’s opponents made liberal use of that tactic.

When Helms tried to revive that tactic, Reagan defended him. A reporter asked Reagan about the charge of Communist against King, and Reagan said that Americans would find out in around 35 years, referring to the length of time before any material the FBI gathers on a subject could be released. Reagan later apologized, and a federal judge blocked the release of King’s FBI files.

Conservatives in the Senate tried to change the name of the bill to “National Civil Rights Day” as well, but they failed to do so. The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 78 for and 22 against. Reagan capitulated, signing the bill into law.”

It wasn’t until November 2, 1983, that President Reagan signed the bill that made Martin Luther King Day an official federal holiday, to be first celebrated on January 20, 1986.

I have a tradition of attending our local community-wide annual MLK celebration.  In Toledo this event is called a “unity” celebration.  I find the theme of unity somewhat incongruous with the divisive issues that Dr. King boldly and controversially confronted and persistently pursued.  These celebrations seem much closer to “have a nice day” than “get jailed for justice.”  While I consider it a victory to have won official recognition of Dr. King’s life and life’s work in the form of a governmental and nationwide celebration, the institutionalization of Dr. King’s institution-challenging message and life’s work is problematic.  Of course, hard-fought victories can never be permanently institutionalized, but must be fought and re-fought by spirited and compassionate folks across generations.  Institutions tend to be guardians of the past and the status quo.  Fully alive people need to secure the day and the future.  Like they say: activism is the rent you must pay for living on this planet.  Otherwise our lives will face foreclosure.

Of course, MLK Day cannot expect to be immune from the inane, monetizing, unjust powers that be — just like every other holiday (formerly holy day).  You can expect way more people to get excited about businesses selling discounted merchandise of MLK Day, or most any other holiday, than righteous and indignant people overturning the moneychangers’ stranglehold of debt on working people or their insistence to monetize every ideal or spiritual venture.  Every celebration is met with a tsunami of merchandising.  Buy your sweetie something expensive, commensurate with your love — which can’t be bought, but may be sold.  Celebrate dead presidents by spending dead presidents.  Buy some munitions for Independence Day.  Honor veterans by living out the consumers’ creed: Live, Work, Buy, Die.  Thanksgiving has been overrun by the commercialization of Christmas.  Perhaps this is not surprising, since the Christmas season now reaches before Halloween.  Martin Luther King, Jr., quite aptly, is in good company with Jesus.  Yet the eternal question remains: Is MLK Day just a day off?

POEM: Certifiable

Certifiable

Respectability is the currency of the establishment
A religion of red carpets and relics
Propriety is its only denomination
Holding sway with all that moves
Trafficking in status
A multitude of sins covered in fine veneers
Indulgences purchased by another’s blood
Endless memorials to the dead
Crass facades for the living
Taken by mausoleums
As easy cache for what remains
Bequeathing scant prospects
Save those certifiable

Conventional wisdom is, well, conventional.  Wisdom, however, exceeds the merely conventional.  A fuller wisdom operates at a transcendent level, more than triangulating conventional wisdom in ever finer ways, with ever more data collection and ever better statistical models.  Wisdom sees beyond conventional wisdom, beyond mere facts, beyond mere statistics.  Wisdom sees beyond.  Respectability and status are the conventional ways to “succeed” in a given culture, intently focusing on existing landmarks or maps, and taking advantage of existing power structures.  A higher wisdom envisions new and better conditions and ways of being, and works in a way that transforms power structures to be fairer and more accessible by all, not merely privileged classes.  Most simply put, and perhaps most radically, true wisdom seeks a new and better world for all, for more.  Conventional wisdom settles for adroitly manipulating current realities to harness the status quo to one’s in-group’s advantage.  Generally, this is called winning or succeeding.  True wisdom necessarily crosses the boundaries of current conventional thinking and the status quo.  This is dangerous as it pioneers new territory, crossing the powers that be.  Nevertheless, such wise living is powered by the faith of fuller living and the hope of things to come.

This poem strikes at the lack of heart of conventional wisdom.  Still, this poem is not intended to negate conventionality, but rather to breathe life into, to give it heart.  True wisdom functions at a higher level, recognizing a higher order.  This brings order, or perhaps more aptly put, harmony.  The higher orders the lower.  Otherwise, we will live backwards lives, necessarily disordered.  Without hearts overflowing into the faith and hope of a better reality, life stagnates.  By only mastering what is, we confine ourselves, and others, by voting for hopelessness, not putting faith in the possibility of betterment for all.  There is probably nothing more dangerous to life’s vitality than hopelessness.  Such cynicism is a form of death.  Cynics, who often prefer to be called realists, may memorialize the dead but settle for building crass facades for the living on foundations purchased with the blood of others.

Like the eminent physicist and less well-known mystic, Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”  There is at least one thing certain: there is no mathematical model that can predict the future merely from the present.  If you try to predict the future based solely on the mountain of past facts and thin present, then you will be certainly wrong!  It’s time to start living in the future, not the past!  It’s time to start living into the fullness of life that is our present!  Our present state can be taken as unbearably thin somehow requiring us to accept only this emaciated reality; or, our present state can be taken as a launchpad of our robust hopes and generous dreams.  Life invites us to more, ever more.  The cynic may be right on occasion, as all of our hopes and dreams do not come to pass.  Nevertheless, wise and hopeful people cannot deny their hopes and dreams regardless of the probability of being right that the world is wrong, in knead of betterment.  Cynics are destined to be right in certain ways and wrong in ways they cannot predict.  Either way, they are predictably less happy.  The wise are destined to be right in some ways, the ways that right the world.  Any way, they predictably have greater happiness.

The wise bring hope, a dangerous hope, that invites us into a better future.  The possibilities are endless and somewhat less certain.  Hope is a game that must be played in order to be won.  More often than not, the odds are favored, and when not, rock on, leading in the light of possibilities more than cowering before dark probabilities.  The cynics vainly attempt to follow an even path that cannot be the future.  Cynics invite the danger of no hope.  And all of the difference lies in certifiability…

POEM: Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Isaiah was a man
A kind of a man
More generous than his wealth
Untouchable by another’s profits
With a frugality beyond any poverty
He was a gentle man
With a purposefulness typically beyond words
Speaking with a clarity too spirited for some
In jail for disturbing the peace
Though he would have said
“I am disturbing the war”
He was a headstrong man
Though less determined than unshakable
His single-mindedness
Exceeded only by a purity of heart
In that instant where mourning breaks
In the face of a rising dawn
Awaking
Following that first night
With an irrepressible smile
On his face
Realizing he is the freest person
He knows
Simply saying
“I really need to get out more”
Fast becoming hungry
Thirst things thirst
In spite of being
Like naked
For I’s guarded
Surrounded by men of this stripe
Wholly innumerable
Ever-present in the passed
His work was before him
A long line of just us
All the same, some lost
Some merely on their way
To share some food with his mates
Then off to work
For there is
No such thing as
Free room and board
From some anonymous uncle
After all the feds
Reckon the rest
As what will follow
When expecting to be herd
As well as something more

This poem is a tribute and extremely loose paraphrase or interpretation of Isaiah 58 in the Bible.  This Old Testament chapter is a classic among lovers of justice.  In this poem, the title alludes to a chapter in the biography of a man.  This modern-day take is inspired by those faithful and devoted workers for justice who commit civil disobedience in the course of their work for social justice.  The setting is a free man who finds himself in prison.  Barring all irony, he is still free!

The only truly obscure reference that I would elucidate springs from the lines: In spite being/Like naked/For I’s guarded.  It’s more easily accessible meaning is a reference to being vulnerable, particularly when at the hands of someone who, like a prison guard, literally oversees your every movement, peering into the bowels of your very being!  The obscurity is in that “Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen 9:20-27).”  In Matthew 5:40, Jesus says, “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” The theologian and author Walter Wink explains how Jesus instructed his audience, the poor, how to fight back using creative nonviolence, taking advantage of the cultural fact that viewing nakedness is more shameful than being naked:

“…so the debtor parades his nakedness in prophetic protest against a system that has deliberately rendered him destitute.  Imagine him leaving the court, naked: his friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened.  He explains.  They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade.  The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked.  The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness, destitution, and abasement.  This unmasking is not simply punitive, therefore; it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.
     The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity.  Nothing depotentiates them faster than deft lampooning.  By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible.  This message, far from being a counsel to perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed, and it is being lived out all over the world today by powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands.
     Jesus provides here a hint of how to take on the entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its pretensions to justice.  Here is a poor man who will no longer be treated as a sponge to be squeezed dry by the rich.  He accepts the laws as they stand, pushes them to absurdity, and reveals them for what they have become.  He strips naked, walks out before his fellows, and leaves this creditor, and the whole economic edifice which he represents, stark naked.”

I encourage you read the full article by Walter Wink, Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Jesus’ Nonviolent Way, where Dr. Wink outlines three of methods of creative nonviolent disobedience that Jesus taught, from Mathew 5:38-41 (NIV): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”  One of the truly magnificent revelations in this article is how it illustrates the extent to which Jesus’ teachings are commonly misunderstood; or perhaps more to the point, often understood as the exact opposite of what Jesus meant!

The spirit of Jesus is manifest in the scripture inspiring this poem, Isaiah 58 (NIV).  It is no accident that Jesus quotes Isaiah to kick off his public ministry!  The heading for this chapter is usually rendered, “True Fasting;”

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
“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.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

POEM: BUCKET BRIGADE – Owed to Karen Krause

BUCKET BRIGADE

Owed to Karen Krause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her legacy lives on, but we will miss her…

Peace,

Dan Rutt

POEM: Hope Inflamed

Hope Inflamed

Hope inflamed
That which cannot be
Put out
Will consume every individual
Testing their mettle
Forging in feeleds
Just discovered
From a crucible witch lies unknown
Alloys forever
Stronger than any metal
Purely a loan
No matter
How precious
Our faith
In one
Another
Together
With standing
The fiercest heat
Or the harshest in difference

This poem about hope rests on my trust and faith that together humans will rise to any problem that we can experience in this world.  I like the Amelia Earhart quote, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  I think that courage, while sometimes rare, is contagious.  I think that once one truly experiences peace and freedom, there is little going back.  I cite the Arab Spring as an example of a quantum leap forward that may be resisted but cannot be defeated.  Human consciousness or awareness is the nexus and seed of all good that springs forth from humankind.  Ignorance is the dark side and enemy of such enlightenment.  Ignorance and denial are powerful forces in human life, but, I believe, that they are less powerful than human mindfulness and the human spirit unleashed.  I see the human spirit as rooted and emanating from a place that is outside, transcendent of worldly power structures.  Further, an enlightened soul does not retreat into some other-worldly place, but engages the powers that be in this world, modeling better ways, those rooted in the deepest realities of human experience and being.  I am impressed by the sheer existential choice of Buddha to remain in the world to help others rather than blow out into nirvana.  This speaks to a state of higher consciousness, transcending self.  Similarly, Jesus did not shy away or retreat from the powers that be.  Jesus put all of his skin in the game, to the point of death, being crucified as an enemy of the Roman state.  Jesus modeled a reality of Pax Christi versus Pax Romana, the difference between shalom and détente, a higher expectation/hope for the state of human existence on this earth.  As Gandhi proclaimed, “Peace is possible” — a revolutionary statement in a world where conventional wisdom is that détente is the highest possible state; or perhaps some dystopia of trying to kill all of your enemies, giving rise to more enemies, resulting in endless war with some perverse patriotism demonizing one another.  I will cast my lot with one another together with standing the fiercest heat or the harshest difference.  What say you?

POEM: Infectious Hope

Hope is a blood-borne pathogen
The seed of martyrs
Inflaming that allergy to injustice
Present in us all
Infected by a singular epiphany
Of friend and foe
Alike

I see hope as an irreducible reality in human nature.  Just like “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again” (William Cullen Bryant), hope is rooted in a realm that mere brute force or violence cannot destroy.  Even in the face of deep despair and generations of disappointment, hope finds its way into our hearts. Hope rises like an infectious weed, out of control of the powers that be that rely on violence to grasp onto control. Trying to describe hope reminds of the description of love in the movie Shakespeare in Love: “Like a sickness and its cure together.”  In this poem I use an analogy and metaphor of hope as an immune response by reality to injustice. Of course, viewing hope as an antidote or a poison or pathogen can be a matter of perspective.  In the face of objectively crappy situations, hope can be viewed more cynically as Pollyannish. The blood of martyrs can be seen as a tragic waste or as fuel for hope and resistance to injustice. Hopes indefatigable nature can elicit respect and well…more hope.  While I posit that hope has a mystical quality to it that cannot be banished, perhaps the closest I can get to capturing its essence is the last three lines of this poem where people are “infected” by a singular awareness that friend and foe are one, “alike.”   I see hope emerging and growing where this epiphany takes root.  For instance, I consider “Love your enemy as yourself” as Christianity’s greatest commandment.  Jesus upgraded the Old Testament’s “love your neighbor” with this greatest of spiritual challenges:

 “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, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)

This is the greatest spiritual genius that I have ever seen!  This strikes me as the most straightforward and simple way to encapsulate one of the most basic tensions in life: balancing self-interest with others’ interests.  By explicitly linking these two, Jesus harnesses, leverages, and even redeems, the powerfully dangerous psychological dynamics of egocentricity and selfishness.  No doubt, the trinity of hope, faith, and love is called upon to dare confront such a powerful challenge.  Of course, the genius and simplicity of this formulation doesn’t make it easy.  Though in it I find much hope, even infectious hope! 

POEM: Lifting Fog

Lifting Fog

You can’t fight city hall
They are too big to fail
We are too small to make a difference
A mere drop in a vast sea
These lies can travel through vast deserts of grief and despair
Like a camel
Which has swallowed an ocean
Thinking it is a god
Only to apprehend itself
As a criminal
Who got the drop on itself
Buried in a straw world
Never knowing
The last from the first
Nor all in
Its mist
The back-breaking work
Of fog lifting

Working for truth and justice requires a large, perhaps even transcendent, perspective.  I see patience as the mother of all virtues.  The good fight takes patience and persistence to hold us over during the sometimes barren spaces between positive visible outcomes commensurate with our efforts.  Plus, much of our work must necessarily be carried on by others beyond our own lifetimes.  First, the seeming invincibility of the powers that be can be daunting.  Second, the seeming small power that any given individual has is humbling.  Together, they seduce many into despair and even slip many into amorality or nihilism.  Who is asking us to swallow oceans?  What honest worldview would require that we get to walk around dropping “the last straw” on the proverbial camel’s back of injustice any more frequently than we find that proverbial needle in the haystack (of straws)?  Perennial philosophies include some concept of illusion or deceptive aspect of reality that must be overcome in order to apprehend truth — the “fog”.  I think that a common mistake is assuming that we must move mountains or build some Tower of Babel to heaven.  I think this mistaken assumption is part of the “fog”.  The final twist in this poem is juxtaposing “back-breaking work” with “fog lifting”.   This is not a slam on hard work, but rather the notion that (ever-increasing) physical labors are our salvation — if only we worked just a little harder!  The spiritual project of “lifting fog” better represents the ethereal project of living out our humanity to its fullest.

Further, a great example of completely misunderstanding a sacred text is in Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”  The standard, and completely wrong usage of this passage is that if you just believe enough that God will come and instantly move a mountain for you.  In fact, it means the opposite. First, some context:

Herod the Great is best known for his attempt to assassinate the newborn Messiah, and while it was true he was brutal and paranoid, he was also a genius builder. He was responsible for an astounding man-made harbor at Caesarea Maritima, the mind-boggling desert fortress of Masada, and the magnificent Temple mount. Around 37 BC, his sights turned to the desert for a building site once again. He wanted to build a fortress palace there that could be seen from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas so that the Jews never forgot he was always watching. He also wanted to be sure it was the absolutely tallest thing in the surrounding landscape. So, he narrowed his building site down to two hills (small mountains) which were near each other.

Then, he simply used forced labor to pare the top off one to add to the top of the other to make it bigger. One pail full of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

And a little more context:

As clever as Herod was, he was perhaps known more for his wickedness. He maintained his authority by terrorizing his subjects. He grew increasingly paranoid and throughout his life he had thousands of people executed — including his wife, his son, and many family members. He killed everyone who might be a threat to his reign. This he tried to do as well to baby Jesus.

From the shepherds of Bethlehem to the priests in Jerusalem, all would have been reminded of the presence of Herod every time they saw the volcano-like hill in the distance, or any time they encountered one of his many buildings. But what would they have been thinking? Would they have admired his ingenuity and achievements or would they have despised him and feared for their lives?

It would not be far fetched to imagine that Jesus was looking toward the Herodium when he said:

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20

In this inspiring statement, Jesus was pointing out that it doesn’t take the abuse of thousands of workers to do what man might think is impossible. If they couldn’t see the Herodium, his listeners would have known about Herod’s moving of the mountain. He had done the “impossible” through fear, cruelty, punishment, and death; but Jesus was saying, “If you will only follow the Father, if you have even the smallest grain of faith in me, nothing will be impossible.”

The lesson we should learn from all this is that the Lord is not impressed by what we might accomplish — he is only interested in our hearts. We can also be sure that Herod, and all those like him, will one day learn that the wise men had it right.

Of course, moving mountains, or any grand project, regardless of the purpose behind it, takes a lot of time, and thousands of people moving persistently “one bucket at a time.”  Patience my friends…