POEM: Human Beans In A Chili World

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

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

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

POEM: Naught For Prophet Fun Razing

In the crucible
Of the well-heeled
And the, well, heeled
He surrounded himself
With corporate persons
Naught for prophet organizations
Possessed buy a cutting edge currency paper thin
The filing and folding kind
Their foundational hope
Nay only hope
To raze money
Life too be spent
Saving the whirled
From that witch
Is free
From the guilty floating
As the innocent sunk
Of sum cache
Their soul barometer

This poem is my tribute to the nonprofit industrial complex.  A fare characterization of non-prophet organizations is their never having enough, money that is — just, like the rest of our culture.  I have found both the focus and distraction of money in nonprofit ventures as a poor substitute for their supposed liberation from the stock aid of profit.  The noble missions of most nonprofit organizations have become largely moat points collared by the circular nature of rivers of money.  I am a huge fan of Jesus culling out our culture with surgical simplicity: “You can’t serve both God and money.”  More Hunger for Love Appreciation in World Than Bread--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONThe notion that money is the root to our salvation is anathema to every high ideal aspired to in faith traditions across time and cultures.  Today it is very fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately it is very unfashionable to talk with them -- Mother Teresa quote POLITICAL BUTTONThis world has bred, many kneads, in the grand inquisition of the yeast of these. The wretched view of chasing money from mourning to knight gives rise to few.  The many have material needs, indubitably.  Yet as Mother Teresa so aptly noted, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than bread.”  The poor will awe weighs be with us.  As we pour ourselves, in too the world, may we be measured buy such worth sow much more than money.

Where there is no wealth there is no poverty. African Proverb POLITICAL BUTTONIn a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. Confucius quote POLITICAL BUTTONNobody Gets Into Heaven With A Letter Of Reference From The Poor -- Rev. James Forbes. Jr. quote POLITICAL BUTTON

The Comfort Of The Rich Depends Upon An Abundant Supply Of The Poor POLITICAL BUTTONThe rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs. Karl Marx quote POLITICAL BUTTON If You Think that the Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich-POLITICAL BUTTON

Please feel free to check out Top Pun’s anti-poverty and economic justice designs.

POEM: Paying In Attention – Owed To Mind Fullness

I under stand
You are on
Some kind of in
Stall meant plan
As long
As you still
Pay attention
In do time
I’ll pay for such in deference
Hopefully not the final time
Having been
Pre-disposed
In the passed
And per severe
Beyond just us
And awe claims
Sow gossamer a ledge
Holy prone
Sacred out of my wits
With that owed time religion
Bard none
U of life
Won
As in daze of your
Still
In the hear and now
As I right
A tone
Sublime volume
For all too here
It is
My willing
As well
For give
The ineffable scene
Wear knot all is destined
And only that be
Which under stood
Hear after
That awe in life
Sir passing the grave
Life meeting its maker
Coming a cross
In attention
Out pacing
Thought fullness
Fated to outstrip
Getting just desserts
And given
The wrest is history
To whatever extant
I am
Sow
Inclined
End lessly
App’ed
Too think
For what is mind
For what is yores
In-during-ly
A where-ness
Bequeathing real eyes

This poem is about mindfulness.  This poem is about acceptance, seeing things as they truly are, with a minimum of preconceived notions.  This poem is about intimacy, vulnerability, living openly and freely in a whirled that often runs one over unconsciously, even at the hands of those with good intents.  More specifically, this poem is informed and inspired by my experiences over recent months as a regular bicyclist, since I became car-less.  It has dawned on me that riding my bike amidst distracted and unaware drivers of huge masses of metal, glass, and plastic — formerly known as cars — is a powerful metaphor for my worldview.  Even if highly aware, the power differential possessed by unaware car drivers reliably results in them imposing the cost of their lack of awareness on those less powerful; in this case, a biker.  They are insulated from the feedback, the costs, of their own mindlessness.  I see such mindless, abusive power differentials wreaking havoc on our world most anywhere I look. Only Thing Necessary for Triumph of Evil is for Good Men to do Nothing -- Edmund Burke quote At best, these mindless abuses of privilege (privilege as being on the stronger side of a power differential) are maladaptive.  At worst, these mindless abuses of privilege are the foundation upon which evil can successfully manipulate the unconscious aspects of humanity to its own ends.  In regard to intimacy, I would say that in the car-bicyclist relationship the car-driver represents the antithesis of vulnerability, literally protected by a huge wall of metal, glass, and plastic.  To which the bicyclist offers their bare skin and an oft-ill-fitting plastic helmet for one’s consciousness-bearing noggin.  You can draw your own particular picture of the implications of this larger dynamic played out in our social and political life together.  In the world of urban cycling, let it suffice to say that good intent is not sufficient.  Most drivers who violate your legal right-of-way are palpably repentant after they realize what they have done.  I take great pride in offering my existence as a biker to drivers to help them learn about the existence of other people who are made vulnerable by their mindlessness.  Still, it is I who pays the greater price for this potential evolutionary relationship.  Thus, this poem.

If I am to be run over and killed by a mindless driver, please read this poem at my funeral, and offer this poem to the manslaughterer.  Similarly, I offer myself up in the path of mindless (and mindful) political forces, in hopes of expanding humanity’s potential for evolution.  If I should be run over and killed by some overtly political force, I am sure their are plenty of my other poems appropriate to be read at my memorial.  In any case, wish me luck — if you believe in such things.

I view consciousness, or mindfulness, as the primary force and indicator of human evolution.  I view most of the bad things in this world as a byproduct of a mindfulness deficiency.  Quantitatively, having no one at the wheel allows many, many bad things to happen.  Qualitatively, having people who are aware of their destructive choices and yet still choose them — one definition of sin — is a scary situation because mindfulness alone is insufficient for self-correction.  This is an active disease of the will.  Still, the passivity of the will, of active mindfulness, carries most of the day in most of our everyday lives.  I see that our lives are lived for us, as passive beings, to a larger degree than we live our lives consciously, mindfully.  The epic showdowns between conscious evil and conscious good make for great, even necessary, storytelling, but does not reflect the less sexy, more mundane bulk of our own struggles for increasing consciousness, the prerequisite for any life truly lived.

In the order of consciousness, self-awareness is a prerequisite for any fruitful other-awareness.  Without self-awareness, we will be mired in unending unconscious, biased projections of our self onto the world of other people and things that make up our shared reality.  My love of science is congruent with a desire to have an accurate understanding of our shared reality.  Still, science falls disturbingly silent in addressing one’s inner life, and the ultimate, inescapable assumptions or projections onto other people.  My working assumptions, based on my experience of my own inner life, is that people want to be accepted for who they are, positively appreciated, and want to contribute to a better world, our shared reality.  I willingly project empathy and lovingkindness into the world, in hopes of a better world for all of us.  If this is not what you want, feel free to let me know.    	 Better To be Slapped With The Truth Than Kissed With A Lie -- Russian ProverbIf I stray from these working assumptions, feel free to gently remind me of my deepest commitments.  If I stand clearly apart from these working assumptions, feel free to tell me like it is in no uncertain terms.  As the Russian proverb goes: “Better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie.”

 

 

POEM: Awe Full Going On

In oblivious camp
The guard threw shoes at us
My pair was too big to fill
More suited to Tariq
Though mine were newer
Tariq’s were old
And bound to be
A little too snug
Seeing more than a pair
In his eyes
More than a trader
As a Spanish Moor
Don quixotically
His feat covered
In such a broad cast
O Don my don
Won
Never entreating
Me mirrorly
For what
I had
My number coming up
Finding myself only
Equal to death
In life
And awe full
That’s going on

WARNING: This commentary contains spoilers — and/or clues.

This 92-word poem is packed with overlapping and intertwined cultural references.  First, the initial inspiration came from an unexpected source, a source to which I stumbled upon, from a momentary image in the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, where he chronicles his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors; specifically in a short “Making of Maus” presentation by PBS. A character commented on the shoes he was thrown by a concentration camp guard paying no attention whatsoever to matching the shoe with the man.  This struck me as a surreal brandishing of a perversed proverb, “If the show doesn’t fit, wear it.”

Fast forward to today.  Instead of in a concentration camp, the setting is an “oblivious camp,” a self-parody of the horror of genocide.  Given a recipient named Tariq, the implied guard is an Israeli, a Zionist, maybe even a Jew (this is the author speaking).  The apparent irony of Israeli fascism is further multiplied by shoe throwing as an especially insulting gesture to Arabs.  The guard neither knows nor cares.

The story is told in unnamed first-person.  Those who know me, the author, know that I am not Palestinian.  Those who really know me, know that I am Palestinian — at least if weave ever metaphor.  The narrator has a newer, “better” pair compared to his companion shoe receiver, Tariq.  The “too big to fill” as well as “pair” also refer to a man’s balls, i.e., courage.  The hubris of violent retribution may pass for courage, yet, remain “too big to fill.”  Something of a higher spiritual nature is lacking, preventing fulfillment.  Being puffed up with worldly power also leaves us cramped spiritually.  The “too big to fill” is also a reference to “big shoes to fill,” meaning of a challengingly high moral fulfillment — “More suited to Tariq.”  While Tariq’s shoes (and balls) were old, he was “Bound to be,” to exist freely in his being and be bound in his existence.  To the unschooled, “A little too snug” can appear as cramped, naive, even smug. But, alas, “Seeing more than a pair,” there is more to life than mere possessions, or even worldly courage.  “Seeing more than a pair/In his eyes,” is the meeting of souls, through truly looking into the eyes, the windows of the soul, and seeing one another’s humanity.  “More than a pair” alludes to more than a pair of shoes, more than even a pair of companion souls, including and transcending even the oblivious guard, alluding the an ever-mysterious, even awe full third.

Ironically, Tariq means conqueror.  And conquering covers a lot a ground (often with blood).  The Spanish Moor reference deepens the “More than a trader” reference, alluding to more than simply trading tit for tat, more than trading by means of outright conquering, and more than a traitor by alternating roles as oppressor and oppressed in life.  The Moors were African (black), Arab, and Muslim.  They occupied “Spain” for 800 years beginning in 711 AD.  Tariq ibn Ziyad was the conquering Moor general.  They brought literacy and “civilization” to Spain.  The ironies emanating from such history into contemporary life exceed perhaps even that of the most famous Jew, Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, now portrayed as a Christian.  Now, the black Arab, Muslim, Spanish Moor reference turns on Spanish culture with Tariq’s Don status, meaning a lord or gentleman, or even mafia boss; plus, there is the allusion to donning another’s shoes as need be even amidst one’s idealism (Don quixotically).  “His feat covered” alludes to accomplishments lost to history, met with the acceptance and certainty of death.  The inevitable turning of fates does not confound the wise man who sees these as the inexorable breathing in and out of history.

Back to the narrator, “In such a broad cast,” the oblivious dropping of the shoe of history upon us engenders the seeking of redemption in the equanimity of Tariq the conqueror now vanquished of earthly victory.  “O Don my don/Won” is a cry to a Don with a capital D from a don with a lowercase d to move beyond simply donning one set of circumstances after another in a perpetually unfulfilling chase for the ultimate tale — or whatever tale won can muster.  Here lies the reference to “don Won” (Don Juan), history’s most notorious tale chaser, ever confident in youth’s distance from death, ever accessible superficialities, and repentance as procrastination’s crowning achievement in the face of a God sow loving.  What good is clinging to victories when death, the great equalizer, stands over us?

The narrator suspects that Tariq might have an answer.  The narrator’s cry “O Don my don” is a venerable ripoff of Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain,” about Abraham Lincoln and his death, reminding us that after even achieving epic victory (e.g., freedom from slavery), our greatest will eventually fall cold and dead, and we will each be left with “mournful tread” as we seek to fulfill our own soul’s purposes without the benefit of particular great souls by our side.  When you are going through hell, keep going -- Winston Churchill quoteThe narrator’s cry to Tariq, all ready as good as dead, confesses his unreciprocated vanity: “Never entreating/Me mirrorly/For what/I had.”  No matter how high we might be able to crank up our number, our number always comes up.  Tariq lives and dies in this essential equality.  Tariq sees beyond the pinings that box us in.  Mysteriously, the challenge becomes clearer when we have little to cling to, and perhaps clearer still, when what we cling to is an unbefitting shoe, freeing us though its tragic comedy.  Know longer cluttered by the stuff of life, the narrator confronts a new reality: “Finding myself only/Equal to death/In life/And awe full/That’s going on.”  As the awful is going on, may you find yourself full of awe, for that’s going on!

 

POEM: If the Shoo Fits, Ware it

They were fighting
For the sole of the Republican Party
Treading on one another
Hiking up the cost for all
No-ing only
Too exorcise their freedom
In runs for the money
And superior races
Doing whatever they klan
However big it may be
Of mice and men shrinking
Like an elephant on grass
Inevitably tramps
Leaving only
A closet full of boners
And empty, high-priced shoos
Re-lying on trite and true -isms
If the shoo fits
Ware it

This poem aims at the elephantine target of unforgettable Republican politics.  More specifically, this poem was inspired by the infighting between Tea Party Republicans and the Republican establishment — Tweedledee and Tweedledumber.  Self-destruction never looked so good!  Of course, such shenanigans are a poor way to uplift our nation.  I’ve incorporated a tip of the hat to the African proverb, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”  In this case, it’s a colonial and racist white elephant.  As the shrinking proverbial tent of the Republican Party is reduced to some pachyderm Speedo®, they will inevitably have to display their corporate sponsors’ logos as tattoos.  They might even be advised to monetize this train wreck by putting it on pay-per-view.  There is no such thing as throwing up your lunch for free!

May the Republican Party implode with a minimum of collateral damage.

POEM: For Shadowing a Life

She had saved
So much time and money
Only leaving
Too much too due
A well honed busyness
Yielding the best of the bust
A treasured chest
In hard times aplenty
Never the less
Predictably taking
A rugged helm
In a cagey realm
Plotting a cross
Lives less fortunate
To a steer
Clearing millions
For leaves of clover
And first class vocations
Such ruminations milking
To be cowed by no more than won
A gingerly bred man
Running as fast as he can
From what would eat him alive
So telling
In dropping old fox tales
As crossing too
The other side
Like a fish out of water
Or a scorpion getting a head
Of their fabled nature
A version of croaking
A pare for all time
Only to be left
A loan
Know matter
What shrewed investments
And generous self-helpings
She found herself
A sieve
Not the sort she counted on
A full colander emptied
Her labor saving devices
Gave birth
To so little
A listless family planning
Orphaned buy
A catalog of unequalled possessions
For shadowing a life
Reflecting on buy-gone delinquency
So quickly passing
In habiting exquisite coffers
Now coffin for discreet recognition
Mirrorly a pall bearing
In her high tech death bed
Stubbornly sterile
The best care money can buy
As in firm nursery
A weighting her delivery
As an empty car go
A body of controvertible evidence condemned
As howl I get through it
A void
A fading bellow
Of such eternal apprehension
I’m mortal
A rapidly reproaching sunset
Fallowing the light
Oh my brightness
And savvy hews
Will never be herd above
This inferno racket
Of contempt late
Ever wandering about the evil won
I can’t even
Here myself
I’d give
My hole life
Too take notice
Of any body et al
Letting out
A friendish laugh
In compassing
Nay gating
The presents of cloved feat
The beast of burden
Due another’s work
Seeking too earnest
For see
Forever dwelling
Wear you can’t take it
With you
All that
You don’t have

This poem is another reflection on the epic choices we make in our lives.  The would-be heroine in this poem settles for the heroin of a profitable job and a trophy husband (who eventually dumps her), only to find herself, perhaps too late, with failing health, facing death with a certain emptiness commensurate with her life.  Given busyness passing for worthiness, and material wealth passing for success, what passes for life fades into death.

In this poem, I allude to the fable of the scorpion and the frog, which goes so:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.” The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”

Most would agree that this cynical tail really stings!  Deathly self-destruction reverberates potential destruction to any in the vicinity.  Whatever constitutes such an irrational nature is a black hole for any logic or reason; worse yet, it resonates with a primal fear of the unknown (death being the great unknown), the proverbial abyss.  As long as we live in the shadow of scorpions, we must confront such deathly fear.  Of course, death comes to us all, but the river in which we are crossing over to the other side is denoted “denial” on many life maps.

Perhaps the highest state a human can attain is to face one’s own death with equanimity, particularly if it involves laying one’s own life down for another.  Most of us deal with our fear of death by justifying the death of others to preserve our own life, or ironically, our “way of life.”  This is not truly facing death, it’s trading another’s life for your own; thus, postponing your own facing of death.  Avoiding death by dealing out death to others is considered eminently rationale by most.  Preserving your own life, avoiding your own death, is viewed as a near-absolute value by most.  The right to self-defense is considered common sense.  Few would assail it.  Though some, like Jesus, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr., would make poor use of it.  The right to surrender one’s life for a higher purpose is considered noble, but beyond expectation for common folk.  Nonetheless, transcending one’s self is the only death-defying, even deathless, territory to reside within.  Inasmuch as humanity resides in the robustness of life, humans must transcend one’s self.  Humanists might consider humanity itself as the larger self to serve and in which to participate.  Transcendentalists might consider the larger self to transcend humanity, even transcending humanity plus nature. Either way, only through the whole can we find peace.  Accepting that life is bigger than us, and bigger than our death, can give us peace — provided that we are a true devotee of life, not death.

Scorpions, real or perceived, force us to confront our own nature and devotion to life.  The proverbial scorpion is perhaps best personified by “terrorists” in present-day America.  Terrorists are routinely and conveniently oversimplified to be scorpions.  Their nature is portrayed as both intractably irrational and completely predictably self-destructive.  In short, subhuman, unable to behave rationally, even in regards to self-preservation.  Those scraping the bottom of humanity at least send others to death to protect one’s own version of rationality.  We call these folks “generals” or even “Commander-in-Chief.”  Labeling that which we feel compelled to kill as subhuman is the only rationale way to preserve our notion of humanity.  This shot-full-of-holes rationale is an inhumane shortcut to deal with deathly fear by choosing death, for others

However, any dehumanization of others is a disproportionate focus or complete fixation on the scorpion nature present in humanity (and every human).  The potential for manifesting the scorpion nature is part of our nature.  The notion of “self” destruction simply rests on our notion of self.  If terrorists are not part of humanity, then we are free to kill them without killing part of our “self.” If terrorists are part of humanity, then we are not free to kill them and rationally claim “self” defense, since they are a part of the “self” of humanity.  No doubt, some would easily settle for maiming part of humanity, their humanity, to preserve their maimed image of humanity and have a hand in shaping which numerical portion survives the battle.  However, life is even larger than humanity, a point that probably has to be conceded by both humanists and transcendentalists.  Life does not need humans.  Life existed before humans.  Life could exist if humans become extinct (probably in grand gestures of “self” preservation).  To pay proper homage to life we must choose life as a whole, even if it happens to result in one’s self’s “premature” death (a death brought about by those less than mature).  Trusting that the whole of life is more important than our own self creates a harmony that propagates life.  Trusting that death is a more expedient way to preserve life is our scorpion nature!  One of the beauties of an ordered universe is that some things predictably follow others.  Paying homage to the whole of life brings peace to the piece we are.  Bringing death continues to confront us with repeating lessens, that death brings death, and killing others is killing our largest self.

Most simply put, from a more highly evolved point of view, killing is “self” destructive.  The irrationality of killing is our scorpion nature, a potential actualized when we can only see necessity and are blind to our freedom of choice.  Since freedom of choice is a part of human nature that must be manifest for us to be considered human, the denial of this freedom is a denial of our humanity, the death of humanity.  It is inhuman to deny that we are free.  It is inhumane to deny the freedom of others. Life bids us to more than we merely are.  Feel free to choose life!

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: 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: Setting Sail

Dear brother
This morn
I must part
Like the wind
I can
Know longer
Take your merchant ship
Any moor
Borne to sale
For that is knot
What I was billed for
To harbor
In relative safety
My cell in a dudgeon
Seeking asylum from
My most rugged dreams
And giddy travails
For this is
What it must be
A boat
Beyond fortuitous cape
Err akin a strait jacket
A-company-ing such a torrent
Of allusions
Weigh more than
I can fiord
A lock-ness monster
On every channel
A rout to cove it
With others’ bayou
For-going more spunky cruise
Yet before I am
Awe a loan
Scarcely able
To creek
I am disposed
To hanker a mist
Opportunity to feel
The rein in my face
A cross
My bow
Slinging my buoyant bones
Beyond sovereigns
So so stately
Powered by the moist awesome winned
Any challenger might face
A salt on any countenance
As wee grow stronger
With every see
That seventh heaven!
And in the end
If you get my drift
In come docked
For missing inaction
My life know more
Than a message in a bottle
Know assurance
That upon my death
Will pay
Cruel comfort
To those left to morn
Until you sea
Your craft is rigged
And waves bigger than you
Bid you
Your sole to leave dry ground

This poem is inspired by the John Shedd quote: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”; as well as the proverb: “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”  Of course, there is a parallel narrative weaved within this pun-ridden poem.  This parallel narrative speaks to the forces that keep us from setting sail on our dreams, reining us in on shore with seemingly better things to do.  In the rough seas of life, may you not merely seek safe harbor, but take the opportunity to hone your sailing skills.  The strange inevitability of life is that you won’t make it out alive; so, hopefully, at the end of your life you can pass attest to the thrilling aspects of life, not merely how you kept secure and comfortable til the end.

POEM: Fringe Benefits

Living on the fringe
Has benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Lovers of Dirt

Lovers of Dirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.  Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.”  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.  But, Sartre was only half correct, for: Heaven is other people.  If you can relax your skepticism and cynicism enough, you may just find that others are both your curse AND salvation, which is way better than being mirrorly a curse.  Jesus was a teacher of all subjects.  When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)  Attention all self-fulfilling prophets: seek and you shall find — but, if at first you don’t find, keep seeking…many subjects await you…and perhaps only one…

POEM: Pillar of the Community

I have a well-paid job
I am a captain of industry
I am a member of platinum circles
I am a pillar of the community
My name will live on
On plaques
And maybe a street
I need not
Pay the devil his due
For I’ve already been checked off his list

There is an African proverb: “Where there is no wealth there is no poverty.”  Many inhabitants of Western civilization have the notion that eliminating poverty comes from wealth.  Not true.  Eliminating poverty comes from sharing.  Without sharing, no amount of financial wealth can eliminate poverty.  The greed (anti-sharing) that accumulates financial wealth is a disease, of which poverty is a symptom.  As Jesus said, “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)  Make your choice — the devil has — and you decide which is the pillar of community.

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…

Direction Headed

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

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This is a great Chinese proverb.  Its simplicity and inescapable logic is a powerful way to break us out of inertial thinking.  Western civilization and its fixation on rationality (which ironically brings about irrational consequences), walks right into the inescapable logic of this proverb.  One of the many dangers in life is being desensitized to the negative aspects of the status quo.  Since we tend to rationalize whatever situation or behavior we are experiencing, and, in this respect, reality has a conservative bent, meaning a tendency or a bias towards maintaining what is already in existence and resisting a different course than wherever we happen to be headed.  I’m amazed at the powerful force that cognitive dissonance plays in the human psyche.  As a former health educator and having some training in human behavior, I was surprised to learn that the seemingly obvious assertion that behavior follows knowledge is actually largely backwards.  While knowledge may very well be a necessary component of a particular behavior, it is typically far from sufficient.  More typically, we engage in a behavior and then do what is necessary to align our thinking, attitudes and feelings with that behavior.  This makes sense if you reflect on the relative difficulty of changing behavior versus thinking.  It is usually easier to rationalize than actually make a behavioral change from whatever present course we are on.  So, cognitive dissonance serves as a psychic energy-saving mechanism by aligning a less difficult process in the face of a more difficult behavior or situation.  Of course, the way we think feeds back into our behavior.  Nonetheless, there is some mystical reality to acting on faith, when and where one may sense that a particular behavior may be better than a current one, but one can’t muster the psychic resources to first change one’s larger set of thoughts, attitudes and feelings, before giving the change in behavior a try.   I have heard counselors and therapists marvel at clients who struggled with many issues related to their thinking, attitudes and feelings, and found help on this front to be unhelpful, until taking the advice of “fake it till you make it;” then, found that when they changed their behavior everything else just “magically” fell into place (and, of course, the helper often received little credit for what seemed like stupid advice at the beginning).  Back to the concept of inertia, I’m reminded of the saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Both of these sayings or proverbs imply that the past present and future are connected – duh!  While this may seem oddly oversimplified, it may just remind the reader that we can change the future by changing the present, just as we can assure more of the same by not changing our present course.  If you want something different, try something different.

One last reflection on thinking and behavior change.  Trying to figure out which comes first, thinking or behavior change, is sort of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg.  For example, what needs to change for someone to actually take the advice of “fake it till you make it?” — a hurdle that may reap a quantum leap of change.   Of course, this can very well involve thoughts and attitudes.  So, maybe you shouldn’t try any of this behavior change mumbo jumbo (that’s reverse psychology by the way…)

If You Think The Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich

If You Think that the Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich-POLITICAL BUTTON

If You Think that the Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich-POLITICAL BUTTON

If You Think that the Poor are Hard to Get Rid of Try the Rich-POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

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I created this design long before the occupy movement.  Nonetheless, this timeless commentary on the rich and the poor is a tip of the hat to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  One of the main quests of the rich, the 1%, is to convince the masses, the 99%, that they can’t make a difference.  A saying that fits into this genre, that the poor will always be with us.  I guess that this is meant to reflect some underlying reality about human society, but I think that it distracts from a more important question.  Somehow this saying is an effort to discourage those who try to ameliorate the conditions of the poor by emphasizing how difficult that work may be.  This may be true.  However, have you ever tried to get rid of the rich?!  They are at least as difficult to get rid of as the poor!  By reversing or extending the meaning of the saying, we can better reflect on the whole picture, and make a better judgment about to which ends we wish to exert our efforts, even considerable efforts.  Some people will immediately get distracted by the question of whether we should try to get rid of the poor or try to get rid of the rich, or if and how these two tasks may relate.  However, pondering this is only a secondary concern of mine.  I am more interested in neutralizing the depressing and hope-sapping implications of focusing on the difficulty of changing the lot of the poor.  I believe that much power is mediated by the ability to define the questions in our public life together.  Having the power or the privilege to ask questions is probably at least as important as having the power or the privilege to answer the questions.  Unfortunately, the powerful elite and a complicit media are very adept at asking less important questions that distract us from more important questions.  Then, we spend an inordinate amount of time answering the less important questions and typically never get around to asking the more important questions.  Mission accomplished!  That is, for the powers that be who benefit from the status quo, advantaged by the present injustice.

Back to that much debated relationship between the rich and the poor, I would offer another saying or proverb, “where there is no wealth there is no poverty.” Well, hopefully, this design neutralizes the negative message of working to change the lives of those who are poor, and ends with a beginning, that is, a question about trying to get rid of the rich. While this may not be the ultimate question, it is certainly closer than the original question that this design addresses, and moving in the right direction is a very good start.  So, what would you propose is the best question to be asked relative to the relationship between the rich and poor?