POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

POEM: Albatross Necklace Futures

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: My Brand of Value

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

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

POEM: Needling a Haystack

The stockpiles of human knowledge grow exponentially
And wisdom, like needling a haystack
Says, “What the hay?!”
Finding better questions is where it’s at
Not how fast you can shovel it
Nor how big your pitchfork is
Rather what thread follows
And sew what

This short poem is a tribute to questioning with a purpose.  Unfettered skepticism produces cynicism.  Wisdom recognizes that some questions are better than others.  In fact, what questions you ask determines what answers you get.  This poem cuts through the exponential amassing of knowledge by honing our attention to that which mends our reality together into a meaningful whole.  Without meaning full questions to guide our inquiries, greater access to knowledge simply leads to greater confusion.  The attraction and distraction of a tsunami of available answers to questions, i.e., knowledge, can actually hamper wisdom.  Now, this isn’t some anti-intellectual argument.  This simply recognizes that intellect lacking wisdom is much less fruitful, even dangerous.  The quests for scientific knowledge and wisdom are consonant.  Both seek to integrate knowledge into an ever greater whole.  Knowledge that serves the whole, as opposed to just some part of reality, is a better quality of knowledge.  Knowledge isn’t just about bits and pieces, mere facts; true knowledge is about a deeper understanding of the relationship of these parts to each other, and most importantly, the whole.  Wisdom has a deep respect for the whole, and an even deeper reverence for the fact that the ever greater whole can only be tentatively and incompletely described.  Thus, wisdom is characterized by both humility and curiosity.  Wisdom opposes militant ideologies and apathy.  In fact, militant ideologies are simply ideologies that have lost humility and curiosity and stopped seeking out the ever-elusive, ever-greater whole, which is at least partially represented by those outside a militant ideology.  This fact escapes many trapped in militant ideologies because they mistake totality for unity.  Wisdom is an inoculation against militancy, fascism, and fundamentalism.  This is because the humility and curiosity of wisdom breeds a generous attitude in seeking a harmonious relationship with the whole.  The openness of wisdom is not merely a corollary of the tentativeness of empirical skepticism and scientific reductionism; it is is rooted in the positive appreciation for the value of the “other” which comprise the yet-undiscovered aspects of reality and ineluctable mystery.  This may be your enemy.  This may be God.  It may be both.  A generosity transcending mere openness is made possible by a trust or faith in the whole being more valuable than the parts, even the sum of the parts.  This faith is as essential to healthy scientific investigation as it is to loving human relationships.  This simply assumes, or prefers, science that serves the whole rather than some special interest.  This simply assumes, or prefers, human relationships that don’t reduce humans to things to be manipulated, but beings to be appreciated.  The generosity of wisdom is the mother to its only true child: kindness.  In humility, stripped of arrogance and egocentricity, and equipped with an overpowering curiosity and a transcendent appreciation of the “other,” only kindness remains.  And all good will follow.

POEM: Changing Kings

When I was a child
I crapped in my pants
Today I am a king in the world
Now I make others crap in their pants
This is the indigestible truth
Of too much power
That cannot be changed
Even by changing kings

Few people disagree that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Still, most people will gladly accept a little corruption, if it is backed by a little power swinging their way.  Of course, corruption seems much worse if we are on the short end of it!  Power is not distributed equally among humans, and those privileged to possess it, routinely wield it for their own advantage.  Whether through unconscious bias and egocentricity or just plain selfishness, imbalances of power in human relationships leads to corruption.  Even with good intentions, those with greater power end up molding the world into their image, at the expense of the reality of other people’s lives which are disproportionately discounted.  Who of us would not want the magic wand of power to mold the world to fit our ways?

Relinquishing power is not common, and might even be considered foolish by conventional wisdom.  The point is not to relinquish any and all power.  The point is not to have substantially more power than others.  This is rooted in recognizing that power differentials lead to human corruption; or, perhaps better put, lead to a corruption of human community.  In fact, relinquishing power in order to help establish a more healthy balance of power in human relationships is a form of exercising power.  This form of exercising power witnesses to an understanding of a higher power present in reality, that more egalitarian balances or power produces better humans and human community.  The sad truth is that most people have more faith in fascism or other forms of concentrated power than they do in egalitarian human relationships.  This is almost universally true when those with lots of power are aligned with our own particular interests. Even better yet if I am the benevolent dictator!

Large power imbalances typically result from and are maintained by violence.  A relative surplus of power quite predictably leads to a lazy humanity perpetuated by force, routinely re-“making” humanity in the mold of those wielding the power.  The purview of power is expediency, playing into our bias for our own ease rather than than often difficult work of building healthy human community.  The natural ascendency of the masses rooted in their common and democratic (in the sense of majoritarian) everyday reality can only be put down by large power differentials driven by elites.  Historically, there have been numerous rationalizations by elites to justify their minority rule over the masses.  None of these rationalizations can stand as they are founded on the bankruptcy of violence.  Violence is not persuasion; it is overwhelming force.  Violence is what people rely on when reasonable persuasion fails.  Of course, violence is persuasive in the sense that any human act carries with it the power of modeling how humans should act.  However, violence does not lend itself to reasonable human relationships.  Violence is the lowest form of community.  It should be no surprise that violence leads to more violence.  I actually like surprises!  If we meet violence with non-violence, there can be some really cool surprises made possible.  If we want something more than violence, the inevitable outcome of large power differentials, then we need to do something else.  We can do better.

 

POEM: A Befitting Size, That Matters

Starring on the big screen
Used to dominate young dreams
Super-sizing them for mass consumption
Today, celluloid immortality miniaturizes
So five minutes ago
Small screens test us
As we flail miserably
In a feudal limbo
‘Tween
Puffed up images
Flickering about
And atrophied soles
Going nowhere fast
No longer facing
A true converse
Of penetrating I’s
Present minds
And supple lips
Flush of heart
Given to a musing gesture
Deflating kings
And giving commoners rise
Surpassing hands shaking
And awe that follows
Neither settling
For collapsing our highest hopes
Nor minute fits
As souls meet the street
And welcoming nature
Banishing the might he
Of lesser woulds
And inspiring fresh heirs
To real feat
Baring our soles
Grounded in realty for all
A shared fete
A fare commune
Wear each mourning
Met lightly
With a celebration of the hearts
No longer idle worship of images
Every won an original
Not merely deference
Bland tolerance
Or thumbs down devolution
But powered by appreciation
You can bank on
A currency turning led into goaled
A redeeming alchemy
The most handsome ransom
For our ugly whirled
A watery swell so grave
Or a cowering inferno
Mything the point
With such hocus pocus
And uncounted allusions
To awe that would suitor
A befitting size
That matters
And keeping it
Reel
Never having too obsess
What’s the catch

This poem is a call to more real and human-scale relationships.  Social media technology, celebrity, and widespread shallow images of ourselves projected to others is robbing us of better ways of being.  We can easily be overwhelmed by images of celebrity, status, and wealth, tempting vainglorious dreams.  We can easily feel inadequate and too small by a juggernaut of Photoshopped images and word processed personalities.  Humans are best suited to face-to-face relationships.  As such real-time, real-world relationships are edged out by other more nominal relationships our humanity and satisfaction suffers.  Nobody wants to be multi-tasked, no matter the purported claims of efficiency.  Long-term, face-to-face, human relationships better reflect the awesome depth, complexity, and eccentricity of humans.  It is by far the best place for healthy intimate relationships to thrive.  Such relationships also keep us humble, rooted in reality.  I see humility as being right-sized, not too big or too small.  Perhaps the greatest threat to humility is technology and institutions which depersonalize human interactions.  Powering up through technology and institutions is a powerful temptation to become too big, overpowering human scales with impersonal agency and concentration of power among elites.  This is dehumanizing.  This creates persistent structural temptations to value things and concepts/ideologies over actual people.  The seductive drive of scaling up power disconnects us from our own humanity and the humanity of others.  I suspect that Western civilization is far-flung from any balance between being rooted in healthy, human-scaled relationships and powering up to “get things done.”  Further, I suspect that there may be a nearly proportional relationship between getting things done and getting humans done.  May we keep things real and not finish off humans.  I kind of like them!

POEM: God Gets a Bad Wrap

God gets a bad wrap
As do men
Gloom
Over
Rite and wrong
Babies borne of bathwater
Throne buy themselves
Like clay
Giving rise
To the pitter potter of little feats
And inconceivable images
Speaking out laud
In a class by themselves
Bastards won and all
In celestial relationships
With awe thumbs up
Too given the slip
Sow fatefully fired
Knot from above
Hardened arts of ode
And stone code making cooler heads
Commandments all deca-ed out
Can you digit
For what remains
Won in the mettle
No’ing only gods enflesh
And bones picking
Wons fecund knows
As dead pan humors
And how to think themselves
Outside the box
And portending wake
Only breaking
That awkward silence
And bound curiosity
Ex-splaying stuff
A coffin in drag
Employed in the coroner office
As doody-full janitors
So disposed
In a sweeping universe
Taken out
Behind the would should
Wile hearts still
Beating
Out standing in there feeled
Straw men ghostly flailing
Which came first
The bunny or the egg?
An ironic inquisition
Unable to eat crow
So far a field
Full of crop
Making hay
Of men
Which can’t be bailed
As so determined
Only Abel to must-er
Barren stock aid
A vestigial humanity
Remains incalculable
Even as calculating
Blinded by the blight
Reckoning slight unseen
Nothing sound to be hold
No peeps to be herd
In this objective a praise
Un-re-lie-able reports
Of being touched
During wholly observances
Untraceable soles
Save those who follow
A fare hearing too steep
Know inviting savor to a t
Angles abandoning
No read scent to be found
Not to be
Incensed by fragrant violations of logic
Having bin burned before
And thinking it novel
Sticking to non-friction
Yet a tribute to nothing a tract
Easily excepting gravity
And perhaps animal magnetism
In a random house
A glorious reproduction
Fit to survive
In terminable halls of tomes
Covering smiles from end to end
Atlas, holding the whirled
And shrugging
As passé
Ages of old
Quipped with a thesaurus
In countering the unspeakable
Super seeding doubt
Calling out
Awe hail
Too the faithful
As libel to slander
Of rites unridden
And xenophobic farces
Poorly versed
Caricatures
With drawing
From think wells
Drying too hard
Distasteful to unknown palettes
A vapid likeness
Running lapse
Around good taste
For bitter or worse
Never winning
The grace
Unfounded
Even though profits speaking
Assure us
From the freely given
We make the most sense
Only from blessed assumption
Are we
Infer the right of our life
Or in ability
To take our hunch back
And so stoop id
Egos on and on
Un-till
We are
Super
With unassuming cape-ability
There is all ways won more
Last sup pose
Surrounded by friends
Or enemies
So tight
God sheds tears
In a wrap so taut
A hide sew made
Pelted by the dead
The cruelest of stoles
Witnessed ever
Only
Escaping such a cloak
From beyond assent
As leapers never heeled
By any crowning bluff
Transcending any convictions
Illiciting something knew
Surpassing the bounds of a head
A risqué gambol
When all that you are
Goes for bust
Never able to hold its own
In the public square
Spilling the truth
On all who will here
Should their eyes beam
And motes be crossed
To take a hike to knew places
Where nothing will be left
Wanting more
Even when full
Groan

This poem is a long elaboration of a familiar theme of mine: the transcendent bigness of God and the cramped quarters built by man’s hubris.  The poles of this theme are occupied by scientifically unverifiable but glorious experience of life and the denial of God, often on the grounds that any mental packaging of God is necessarily inadequate, a too messy foundation for some.  The mystical reality that no description of God can do God justice is fodder for both believers and skeptics.  Those anywhere on the spectrum from belief/openness to skepticism/denial are doomed to at least some measure of failure trying to give God any wrap in human terms.  Believing in an open-ended God that cannot be put in a box strikes me as a rather predictable characteristic of the creator of life — life being a dynamic and messy endeavor.  To continue maturation beyond a certain point as a human, belief is necessary — necessarily messy.  Those who are agnostic strike me as trying to avoid confronting this juncture between the transcendent and the mundane.  I think this can leave one developmentally disabled or delayed.  Deniers strike me as having more hubris than tenuous believers because they must assert certainty to disqualify the question as a legitimate question.  Of course, the is a seductive simplicity to addressing the nature of transcendence by simply saying it doesn’t exist.  But, like Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Disagreements about God probably have little meaning as an abstract intellectual argument.  God is definitely too big to fit in your head!  Our conceptions related to the God question are ultimately questions of power.  There seems to be a universal tendency in humans to not be lorded over by others.  This part of our nature can serve both skepticism and belief.  Questioning authority is a natural process when ultimate authority is open-ended and messy.  Belief in such a higher power, one that doesn’t want submission but rather co-creative participation, frees us rather than enslaves us.  Reality is bigger than our self.  In at least one inescapable sense, we’ve gotta serve somebody or something (for those more comfortable with the impersonal).  Bob Dylan captured this sense well in his song, Gotta Serve Somebody:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

In life, as in tennis, even before the first serve, there is never zero, only love.  It is only our need to score points that obscures this primal reality.

POEM: Unemployed Stat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Less Taken Now

It was an eve to remember
The surf was swell
Giving rise to him
Way above his peers
He cried out mightily
“I’m on top of the world!”
Just moments later
Crashing onto the rocks
Baring him
No ill will
Nor give
A lessen too great for won
What remains
Borne by less fêted peers
Less taken now
By swell futures
Rocking on
Before the rising dawn

By accident or design, by great will or serendipity, we may find ourselves in epic places. This poem addresses issues of humility, grandiosity, and risk. A desire to be above our peers carries inherent risk. In both humans and the material world at large, there are natural limits. The organic nature of life does not easily support parasitical relationships. Even a parasite must take some care not to kill its host. I view humility as being right-sized, neither being too big, puffed up, nor being too small, shrinking to life’s demands. This poem addresses the puffed up half of the humility equation. Nature is not mean. Nonetheless, nature has laws. When nature’s laws are broken, such a lawlessness creates chaos rather than harmony. There is risk inherent in chaos. In pushing natural limits, we can reasonably expect push-back. Some might call this karma. Sometimes it is simply gravity.

To some degree, we must all deal with some form of chaos, if simply the unknown, or even unknowable. Life requires some space for give and take to thrive. Nonetheless, even gifted surfers of chaos would be better served by respecting grander surges. Living life in harmony requires a balance and a deep respect of the danger of extremes. A harmonious life, in contrast to a parasitical life, often demands from us to be “less taken.” This phrases double meaning encompasses both the material world where hoarding of nature’s bounty, or its destruction creates imbalance, and the transcendent world where our undue attachment to material wealth and power originates such imbalance.

Humans seem to have quite peculiar, even unique, role in nature. If we learn and respect natural laws, we can navigate the world in a nearly infinite number of ways, symbiotically glorifying both nature and the highest human potentials. If we live in ignorance and conflict with natural laws, in essence being parasites, nature may very well take us down, crashing us on the rocks from our foolish heights. There is great wisdom in understanding the simple and profound gravity of such situations. There is plenty of room for harmony. Nature is not miserly. Our own greed and blind grandiosity is the greatest threat to humanity. As Gandhi so wisely summed up, “There is enough for everyone’s need. There is not enough for everyone’s greed.” This is the most basic natural limit that humans face. It deserves the highest respect.

POEM: A Life Virtual, oh so…

There was twitter Jen
Facebook Jen
Work Jen
School Jen
Family Jen
Amongst others
Never at risk
That they would hookup
Or unplug
In some formidable Jen convention
Or at least the latest version
In some ever expending universe
Wear the cost of multiple personalities
Overrides the truest Jen
A pure work of heart
Jen buy Jen
Beholden
To know more
Hard wear or soft wear
Such careening upgrades
Only in the end
To what so becoming
A life virtuoso

This poem is a reflection and a critique of the affect that recent communication technologies are having on our actual ability to communicate and to form authentic identities. Humans have always had multiple roles to play in life, such as parent, child, sibling, student, worker, friend, lover, etc. However, communication technologies have ramped up the number of faces that we put out to the world and have to manage or integrate in some manner

First, face-to-face communications is the gold-standard for human relationships. There are no real substitutes for such things as physical presence, body language, and tone of voice to communicate and be fully present. Perhaps some people communicate with more people and/or have a greater number of communications, but quantity is not a substitute for quality. As people become increasingly reliant upon lesser forms of communication, this can erode both face time and the skills and info gained by face time. As often experienced, screen time can directly interfere with face time.

However, this poem focuses on the issues of identities and personal authenticity. By adding numerous faces, personalities, and roles in the virtual world, this shifts focus to more superficial, less personal, relationships. The inclination and pressure to put your best face forward further narrows the accuracy of such a face in contrast to your true or full identity. Plus, it introduces a distinct bias and growing gap in comparing our insides with others’ outsides, generally feeding personal insecurity and a sense of inadequacy. Managing or integrating one’s own identities can be demanding enough for oneself. But, the real cost comes in distorting the process of forming your own authentic identity and understanding others in a more deep and intimate way. The imperfections and vulnerabilities of virtual personalities is typically heavily edited. This editing is better at honing narrow conceptions of our identity than dealing with the messy, ecentric whole of our being, which requires building trust, investing time and full presence with one another. Increasing focus on well-crafted identities robs both ourself and others of an accurate grasp of reality as a whole

In the end, the best way to learn about ourselves is in close, intimate relationships. Such relationships mirror back to us the reality that our external self presents and which the other person reacts. Over time, hopefully in the safety of a trusting relationship, we continue to reveal more and more of our inner self. This allows us to better integrate our inner and external self, sifting through self-deceptions based on a trusted other’s feedback. Unfortunately, more superficial relationships are partially designed to deceive others by holding back our whole self, which may be taken as socially inappropriate, and may bring significant social sanctions. For instance, most people don’t tell their bosses anywhere near all that they are thinking or feeling. Our many social roles are molded by these real or perceived potential social sanctions. Virtual communities may escape some of this unpleasantness by socially stratifying and homogenizing, forming their own sets of socially acceptable of behaviors. While this may provide some safety, it cannot fully substitute for the hard work of growing face-to-face intimacy dealing with real world vulnerabilities. If you want to be a life virtuoso, you need to face real people in the real world. Confining oneself to virtual reality only makes one want to screen.

POEM: Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Jaden’s skepticism
Was like a cannibalism
That learned to crave
The taste
Of it’s own flesh and blood
And could settle for nothing
Less
Then a connoisseur
Of embalming
Empty vein hopes
Of immortality
In some unremitting pâté
With every golden goose cooked
In a dish best served cold
A first course
Able to stave off
Most kind of appetites
With well-bread relish
Where one helping
Is too much
For the rank and file
Of such a prison
Making ciao of anyone’s best guest
Too have your cake
And not eat it
For what may be
Inside
And passably left

I am very skeptical of skepticism.  Skepticism is most warranted when exploring empirical truths, those facts of the physical world, the realm of reductionistic science.  Skepticism has diminishing returns, and can even become cannibalistic, when applied overzealously to metaphysical or subjective truths.  While skepticism has its place, it can blind ourselves to subtler, higher truths, those of our subjective realm.  Many of such truths in life can only be taken in with a measure of grace.  Those refusing to risk being taken in are at risk for missing out of some of the best things in life.  Hope, love, and faith will wither in the face of unrelenting skepticism.  If your quest is for passable reasons to bypass hope, love, and faith you will almost certainly be rewarded with their loss.  Reducing them to mundane forms of psychological or sociological constructs will strip them of their transcending power.

Unrelenting skepticism is perhaps most dangerous at home, in one’s inner life.  Our own experience is the direct access we have to the world of subjectivity, a world mold-able to our free will.  This direct personal evidence cannot be shared in a verifiable or provable manner with others, as the methods of reductionistic science follow.  This does not mean that such realities experienced do not exist, or that subjectivity does not exist.  It simply means that they fall outside the methods of reductionistic science to examine.  Nonetheless, our experience, or consciousness, is at the center of our lives, not just some afterthought.  Plus, it can offer insights into others, as experiencers of their own human subjectivity.  Knowing thyself is the foundation for knowing others, the most important aspect of navigating the human world.  Metaphysics deserves our attention.

Some committed cynics consider free will an epiphenomenon, a mere shadow, illusion, or ghost, in a deterministic world.  Such determination is unwarranted, and cripples our abilities to perceive the world.  Of course, most people, and most philosophers, recognize that metaphysical realities exist.  To move from perceiving physical realities to perceiving metaphysical realities, one needs to move increasingly from skepticism (doubt) to openness (faith).  Such a move is not blind; it is based on experience.  Still, it requires a growing acceptance of uncertainty.  This veil of uncertainty is somewhat analogous to the veil of uncertainty in reductionistic science.  As our observations and experience grow, the veil moves.  The key difference is that science moves to include knowledge that we can know with scientific certainty, whereas metaphysical knowledge always includes a much greater degree of uncertainty, and the metaphysical veil can never be fully lifted, since it represents an intrinsic limit to human knowledge.  The metaphysical veil has a mysterious nature that becomes self-fulfilling in our approach to it.  If we approach the veil with too much skepticism, our knowledge of higher truths will be stunted and the resulting ignorance will appear as justification for a too constricted veil.  If we venture down the rabbit hole of such things as hope, love, and faith, we learn much more of such higher truths, and the territory once bounded by the veil will recede, even revealing vast expanses previously unimagined.

Fortunately, the payoffs of metaphysical knowledge are well worth the uncertainty and risk. As Saint Thomas Aquinas famously pointed out: “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.”  Exploring our own hearts, and risking relationships with others’ hearts requires courage, one of the highest things.  Clinging only to dead stuff, inanimate matter, because it is the most certain is the height of human foolishness.  Here the truth lies, in this grave of lifelessness.  Wisdom resides elsewhere.  Find it and you will find yourself, and a whole world as well.

POEM: Trust is the Glue

Trust is the glue
Sticking me to you
The favored few
The spoils of many
Consume mating
The fool
Faith and credit
Of US
Divining
Kindly mirror
Or unwelcome truth
A confidence game
And quiet passably
Escaped convictions
Sow what
Is the catch
Having been borne
Into a flimsy throng
With shortcomings taut
Exposed arrears
And know weigh out
From what hangs in the balance
And scaling up intimates dread
Both
Give and take
Be for you
A present
A forward looking gift
Offering as such
Promise
Seasons swimmingly
A rested development
And good grief
Those early mournings
In one’s out look
As prodigal hearts aplomb
And despite awe
One knows
Turning out
To be
Better than goaled
And silver locks fall away
Any hitch
A mere trailer of coming attractions
The untangled web weave
And too the our
Looming cleave

Trust is the real currency of human relationships and civilization.  True community can only be built upon trust.  We are born vulnerable, and vulnerability remains at the center of human intimacy throughout life.  Authentic human intimacy can only be achieved through vulnerability.  Exploring our vulnerability with others, and sharing our burdens of vulnerability with others, is a necessary process for building trust.  If we put ourselves out there and we are accepted and embraced, the space where we can truly be ourselves and truly learn about others grows wider and deeper.  This knowledge and experience of ourselves and others is essential for reaching our full human potential.  In its most simplest terms, we need others to be fully human.  Trust is an invitation to trust.  If another reciprocates that trust, then trust grows.  If another shuts us down or hurts us, then trust stagnates or recedes.  Similarly, mistrust becomes an invitation to mistrust.

We have all experienced rejection and hurt, and many have experienced outright trauma.  These facts of human existence provide the baseline for how much trust we might expect at any given time.  However, building trust or healing from mistrust can only occur by inviting others to trust, which requires a vulnerability from anyone inviting another to grow trust.  These are the true heroes of human community, not those who “make” things happen (the purview of force).

Without trust we devolve into isolation and fear.  Individualism can only be maintained by increasing control over others whom we do not trust and consider threatening.  This does not play well with the people sought to be controlled.  This is the most fundamental division in forming, maintaining, and building human community.  There may be a nominal alignment of interests within social classes to secure common goals, but these interests will remain forever in tension and at risk of erosion if the primary driver is individual security.  The perpetual warring of competing interests, and continual realigning of interest groups, is an inescapable result of an unwillingness or inability to share vulnerabilities with other people, to invite mutual trust.

Further, the drive to control others emanates directly from a subjugation of the common good to our own perceived good.  Whether conscious or unconscious, this drive is based on the calculation or assumption that, as an individual, one can fare better by competition against rather than cooperation with others.  While this may be true in limited contexts and time-frames, such competition and subjugation erodes the potential for human progress or evolution at any given moment.  There are many things that a trusting community, of two or more people, can build than an individual, no matter how much force they can apply to others to control others according to their own will.  If you have any doubt about the benefits of trust, consider the simple advantages of unlocked doors versus locked doors.  A fortress mentality, built on mistrust, is costly both physically and psychologically.  Of course, physical security for one’s person and property is perhaps the crudest manifestation of trust’s benefits.  At the heart of trusting relationships is self-discovery in the safety of accepting and loving others, and deep knowledge of others; both of which vastly improve our functioning in the human world in realistic and effective ways.

Since community builds from a growing trust in others, it is not surprising that families and close personal relationships are the building blocks of community.  Even the trust of institutions near and far is powerfully mediated by our personal experiences and from the example, character, and opinions of those whom we trust, those closest to us.  For this reason alone, building community is a bottom-up enterprise.

You can’t legislate trust.  Trust is synonymous with authority, not power to coerce but that which we believe has a legitimate claim upon us.  Institutions seem to have a life of their own, a self-replicating or self-perpetuating nature.  However, human institutions are dependent on humans.  Any authority that an institution has is derived somewhere down the line from the “street cred,” the level of trustworthiness of that humans associated with that institution.  Institutions are comprised of a set of humans associated with it, and a set of impersonal “corporate” relationships that govern its behavior.  The consent and trust of humans determines the legitimate authority of institutions (as opposed to simply force), not the other way around.

At the nexus of the personal relationships of humans and the impersonal corporate relationships of an institution, is the next level of human community where trust and mistrust manifest themselves.  Institutions guided by trust are mere tools, a technology to be used, by humans, to achieve some common good.  They act in accord with the will of the people associated with it, and demonstrate authority in as much as it behaves in ways with legitimate claims to creating common goods.   Institutions guided by mistrust are those plagued by humans who value the tool more than the people it was designed to serve.  Such human plague trusts tools, things, more than people.

The difference is between humans using a tool or the tool using humans.  Of course, the tool does not have a life of its own, but its character is derived from the humans associated with it.   Used appropriately, institutions serve as a tool to magnify the common good, and they both deserve and build trust.  Used inappropriately, institutions are weaponized by some to control others, magnifying the invitation to mistrust, and degrading community.  This weaponization of institutions hinges on a mistrust that chooses valuing “things” over people, in a quest for individual security.  In essence, such institutional abuse is a form of dehumanization, reducing people (and their institutions) to things simply to be used for one’s own advantage.  This tension or outright conflict within institutions greatly magnifies the dividing line between people and things.  While institutions can leverage the common good, I suspect that the ease of hijacking institutions compared to the great effort required to build healthy institutions does not bode well for the total net benefit of large institutions in human life and community.  Large institutions with their relative ease of weaponization sets up access to perhaps the greatest area of power differentials in human society.  Perhaps the best basis for securing human equality is minimizing large institutions which can magnify power differentials between people.

I suspect that widespread trust is much more efficient and effective than the widespread large institutions, the hallmark of Western civilization, at bringing about healthy, happy, and free human communities.  The fulcrum between trust and mistrust is compassion, or love.  Without compassion toward ourselves and others regarding our vulnerabilities and imperfections, we will forever fall short of being whole human beings, who can only be made whole in community.  Compassion builds trust and can banish fear.  I am hopeful that the experience of authentic, healthy community is more powerful and attractive than fearful isolation and individualism.  May it be so…

POEM: Duckiness

Long the weigh
I miss
Took some clash
Charging another
Once an abject of my affection
Now a worthy suspect
In a lineup
Of numbered whoa’s
Among many
Seedy subjects
On the lam
Yet beyond a shadow
Of doubt
To the maxim
Looking like a duck
Walking like a duck
Quacking like a duck
Then duck!
Turning in
Turning out
To be a quack
Apprehending
I’ve been doctored
Now witnessing
Neither
A ghastly tale
To be chaste
Nor a menacing bill
To be payin’
Strangely just
A beginning
Only under standing
Won mourn
The oblige-ations
Of duckiness
A-mending

This poem is a tribute to the healing process after the break up of a romantic relationship.  This healing process is about moving beyond taking everything personally and gaining some detached perspective regarding how poorly we all often behave under stress and duress.  This process is probably best captured in dealing with the end of an intimate relationship, but it applies widely across life.  Perhaps the greatest blessing of intimate relationships is that it allows us to take things deeply personally, hopefully in a safe manner.  Unfortunately, when an intimate relationship breaks apart, this vulnerability brings great pain.  Since both people in an intimate relationship are vulnerable, with lives meshed and knowing each others buttons, a breakup can be an irresistible invitation to hurt those who have hurt us so deeply.  While this may not be a particularly enlightened or healthy way to cope with loss, hurt people hurting others is perhaps a universal human experience, from both the receiving and dishing it out ends.

In this poem, this predicament and attitude is transcended by a process of “duckiness.”  Ducky simply means likeable or agreeable.  Things aren’t always as they appear.  A generous attitude toward other may very well be the most appropriate default attitude.  Of course, sometimes what looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck is, in fact, a duck.  Nonetheless, even if things are as they appear, our attitude and reaction toward any given situation molds oneself, even defines oneself.  And like they say, honey will get you farther than vinegar.  Our attitudes and behaviors are, well, ours.  What other people do is theirs.  What you do and how you do it does influence other people, but we all have our own choices to make, and can only be held responsible for our own attitudes and behavior.

Of course, the trickiness of relationships is that yours, mine, and ours is easily confused.  This is probably why love, generosity and simple kindness allow relationships to continue and grow.  We all need space to be who we are, without judgment or sanction, that is, to be accepted as the imperfect beings that we are all.  In a wonderful paradox, acceptance is often the greatest medium for bringing about change!  However, if a relationship is strained or at a breaking point, then boundary issues become more urgent, perhaps even a crisis.  People may start behaving in ways one considers unacceptable, or at least greatly dis-likable.  Accepting the other person the way they are, a pretty good working definition of love, does not demand some grand control or manipulation of their defects, but rather a healthy boundary for oneself to avoid harm from another’s toxic attitude or behavior.  No doubt, moving from a deeply personal meshing of one’s lives to a more detached way of relating can be difficult and confusing, especially if one is pondering severing a relationship completely, a relationship that may have provided many good things in each of your lives.  This can be the worst form of loss in life.  While suffering the worst losses in our lives may not bring out the best in us, this is equally true for those around experiencing great loss.  Such trying situations beg for compassion — compassion for ourselves and compassion for others.  There are few situations that kindness will make worse.  Try a little duckiness.  And if kindness doesn’t work, then it’s time to duck out…

POEM: Mountain of Love

He cried out
“I would climb the highest mountain for you!”
She said
“How about doing your fair share of housework?”

This short poem goes out to all the ladies in the house.  I am a big fan of epic love.  I salute grand romantic gestures.  There is an all-to-vacant spot in our universe for such sumptuous stunts for ailing hearts.  On the other hand, the foundation of love, and all grand acts, is sharing our day-to-day lives.  This includes such mundane tasks at housework.  To be a helpmate to one another is very sexy.  So step it up fellas.  Climb that mountain of laundry.  Scale that mountain of chores.  Otherwise, she may just clean house all by herself…

POEM: Cautionary Tail

Ouch!
That guy should come with a warning label
She said after
Having had
A piece of cautionary tail

You can divide life’s lessons into two basic categories: 1) that which deserves emulating, and 2) that which warrants avoidance.  This short, funny poem highlights the latter of life’s lessons, the proverbial cautionary tale.  Fortunately, one of the redeeming qualities of life is that we can learn from both positive and negative experiences.  Of course, the content of this poem treads on the precarious territory of relationships and the ever-looming potential of the battle of the sexes.  Lust and romantic possibilities are often more than enough to pass by potential warning signs in dating relationships.  I am a big fan of throwing oneself fully into human relationships.  This seems consonant with living life fully.  Nonetheless, woo can turn to whoa very fast, often skidding deep into woe.  The reality is often that the best way to know where a line exists is by crossing it.  There is much in life that is unknown.  Spending too much time mapping out every sign and landmark may prevent one from living an actual life.  Hopefully, we can offer one another enough room and grace to make mistakes as we careen joyfully through life’s messiness.  In fact, such lives deserve emulating…

POEM: Jumping From The Ledger

Rejoin the rat race
And all that chasten
Daring to make
A rodent in the machine
Which is all the rage
The bounty on your ahead
A golden hamster wheel
Retard after 50 years
Left dumb
Lips pursed
For so many years
Metering out your daily pillage
From shallow pools
Having waded for your due appointments
Not with standing
That grim reaper having
Sacrificed so much
For what
Spoils
As prophet in titles
Epitaphs
Ridden in stone
Forcing loved ones loanly
To visit what you once were
Suckling on memories
Dreams stoned
Starving
To full
Fill awe that is hollowed
Having
Lived once
Now never more knew
Daze passed
And by what means recaptured
How sew frayed
Of day’s passion
And once with
In is capable rejoinder
To finish this sentience
And not mirror animation
A resounding echo
No longer revere berating
In empty chambers
Wanton listless solutions
Having dropped the bawl
Bored stiff of what lame meant
Drawling on passed experience
Yakking on a bout
Scaling steep mountains
Out of mole hills
Trying
To get your goat and make you want to yacht
And in the end unmoved
Buy the blubbering of beached wails
Strewn by brown shirts and matching knows
Muted lives
Sullen everything
You can possibly think
Trading marks
And in proprietary secrets
May clinch some laconic inc.
Be rift of checks and balances
And should you withdraw
The hush of money
Prepare for it getting even
Silencer
Yet before your time
Sing
Like just
Another grammy
Inexplicably quite
Never herd again
A spoke in word
Unburden some
To pronounce
In that speakeasy of freedom
Drunk with poise in abating
From a salutary utter
After which you could hear a heart murmur
That could with stand a beating:
You can have your bigger cages
And longer chains
Be damned the shareholder value
of Cages and Chains, Inc.
I will jump from the ledger
Even if you won’t
Searching for the perfect pitch
Surpassing everlusting sirens
Till a gentler rock
Finding my voice
In a free Fall
Fallowing a summer
Fueled by that eternal spring
Hoping for more than allege
And giving know pause
To winters and losers
Sharing the good news
Freely
Never put out
To pastor

This poem is a reflection on the rat race of state-of-the-art employment, where even winning the rat race probably signifies that you are just a rat more than anything else.  Even though the productivity evangelists tout great success, the more than tripling of material wealth during my lifespan, has done little net good (mostly trapped people in nets) for workers.  With the wealth of experience and history, it doesn’t take a prophet to understand that ever-growing profits spells a cancerous existence in America.

Fortunately, since I quit my “regular” or “real” job, almost a decade ago, I’ve been able to live on less than what the average American would make with unemployment benefits (though I didn’t receive unemployment benefits because I quit).  I haven’t received food stamps or other government “welfare” assistance.  I have not been a very successful taker, with my frugal leanings and pride in autonomy.  Though Republicans have tried hard in Ohio, under Obamacare, I may not be able to keep my uninsurance, ending a decade without health insurance.

At best, it seems that this increased material wealth has little to do with increased happiness.  In fact, Americans work more hours and are no more happy.  Even having to point out that working more hours doesn’t make you happier is perhaps the best illustration that the productivity police can quite effectively rely on self-enforcement!  Our minds have been so effectively colonized that other options seem barely even thinkable.  The notion that your life can actually be profoundly better living with less is heretical in capitalistic America — if such a crazy notion were even given the time of day!

It seems that Western civilization has reached a point in its existence, where workers are functionally illiterate in life, meaning that they cannot adequately articulate and effectively navigate life outside of money/wealth as their measure of value.  Newsflash potential illiterates: money isn’t everything!  As the saying goes: you can’t buy love.  And, if you can’t tell the difference between love and a comfortable home with a trophy wife, then you might be an illiterate!  Worse yet, most workplaces are better characterized as places where we sell ourselves than places where we come together for our mutual betterment.  And if you can’t tell the difference between love and selling ourselves, then you are definitely an illiterate!

In the great exchange debate of values, circulates the notion that time is money.  Capitalists have effectively dominated this debate, demanding perpetual focus on the centrality of money.  Now, you may be able to exchange your time for money.  However, money can’t really buy time, otherwise the rich would live forever!  More to the point, money can’t buy life.  Money may be able to carve out more “leisure” time — that time when you are not selling yourself — or even buy some edge of health compared to others, and perhaps increasing your lifespan.  However, no matter how effectively we manipulate our material environment, through the proxy of money, this, at best, only offers the opportunity to live, not life itself.  Our time represents this opportunity for living.  While money has an interplay with how we experience our time, the very quality of our life, it is subordinate to time.  In youthful, or just plain oblivious, denial of our limited time, i.e., eventual death, we may convince ourselves that we have more time than money.  This perception influences our judgments about the time-money exchange rate.  I suspect that the best way to reflect on this is to ask yourself which is better: to have more money than time? or, to have more time than money?  In the end, ultimately, time will win this debate.  Nonetheless, many, if not most people waste a lot of time before realizing this, that time is more important than money.

Of course, living with a lot of money or very little money may confound this realization that time is more important than money; the rich thinking that their time is founded on money because they have it, and the poor thinking that their time is dependent on money because they have very little.  This is one aspect of the destructive reality of huge income inequalities, of greed and poverty.  This confounding of reality serves well neither the rich or the poor.  Wealth and poverty are conjoined twins, seemingly destined to believe that their life is best served by the machinations of material existence, to the deficit of a more full and complete life.  Both excess and lack, especially when conjoined, can lead to fearful and alienating lives.  The rich can become disconnected, unempathetic with lack, even paranoid of losing their excess (sic).  The poor can become discouraged and desperate, lacking in the face of plenty.

The apostle John offered the simplest, though apparently quite difficult, solution to the conjoined twin fates of excess and lack, by proclaiming: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).  This would put a lot of liberal think tanks out of business.  This would put a lot of conservative think tanks out of business.  In the end, thinking about such things, particularly if you are the well-clothed one with a full belly, does little to address our lack, our common fate: poverty.  Of course, this is America, so there is more than one brand of poverty: material or spiritual.  For the particularly unfortunate, you can have both brands.  Fortunately, God has the preferential option for the poor, the central tenet of liberation theology, founded by Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez:

 “The preferential option for the poor is much more than a way of showing our concern about poverty and the establishment of justice. At its very heart, it contains a spiritual, mystical element, an experience of gratuitousness that gives it depth and fruitfulness. This is not to deny the social concern expressed in this solidarity, the rejection of injustice and oppression that it implies, but to see that in the last resort it is anchored in our faith in the God of Jesus Christ. It is therefore not surprising that this option has been adorned by the martyr’s witness of so many, as it has by the daily generous self-sacrifice of so many more who by coming close to the poor set foot on the path to holiness.”

The preferential option for the poor is a perspective God’s grace giving special favor to the poor.  The way that God has created reality actually favors the poor more than the rich.  This doesn’t glorify material poverty, but it recognizes that the experiences of poverty more directly connect us and open us up to the deep importance of mutual aid and genuine, caring relationships.  The poor’s very survival depends on it.  The rich are insulated from this palpable, ever-present reality of the poor.  The rich can “afford” to make the mistake of buying their way out of this deeper and more difficult (yet rewarding) way of being.  The rich are more easily fooled into thinking that they don’t need others.  The injustice maintained by the rich is that as conjoined twins, the rich twin foolishly acts as if they can do whatever they want without the other, even when faced with the heart-wrenching realities of material poverty wracking his world.  Such heartlessness is a failure at intimacy with other human beings and reality writ large.  Perhaps a better formulation of a universal constant of metaphysics for the betterment of humankind would be the directly inversely proportional relationship of material and spiritual poverty.  Of course, this would turn capitalism, and its reliance on endless greed and profit, upside down, or more aptly, right side up!  Skeptics might ask if it is possible for the rich to spiritually prosper.  This is an ancient question:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” (Matthew 19: 23-24)

I love the common interpretation of this passage as a reference to a gate into Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle” that was opened a night after the main gate was closed, and this gate was so small that the camel (the rich) would have to unload all of their baggage and crawl through on their knees.  Yep, Jesus was one of the greatest poets I ever metaphor!

May you live into the reality that spiritual wealth is more directly accessed with less rather than more material wealth.

 

 

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

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

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

POEM: If I Were King

If I were king of the world
My first official act
Would be to resign as king

It is a common fantasy to be a powerful ruler so that you could enact your will over others.  This short poem is a simple, straightforward, and absolute condemnation of such “Lording over” others.  This is a variant on the theme of absolute power corrupting absolutely. The temptation to use such great power is strong, even if for just a little while, to get a few very important things done.  The essential problem is that any monarchical will over others cannot escape the larger reality that a mass veto of the masses’ will is inherently anti-democratic, even if done with perfect motives.  Surely a beneficent king is better than a cruel and selfish king.  Nonetheless, monarchical power is inherently illegitimate; that is if you ascribe to democracy and power of the people.  The point is not to have monarchical rule!

I suspect that I will never have to deal directly with the temptation of being king.  Still, the sin of “Lording over” others exists at both large and small scales, and we all confront such temptations.  For Christians, even the “Lord” Jesus didn’t “Lord over” others.  Instead, Jesus was a servant leader, leading by example as a servant.  Though this seems to be a lesson oft forgotten by many Christians.

Jesus incarnated God’s nature as a host ever-inviting others into fuller and more mature relationships, which are dynamic and respectful (reverent).  God’s edicts, as contained in the rules of creation, are a framework within which to experience these relationships, and these rules are “subjects” to God’s will and character.  Legalisms, which make easy prey of any ideological system, are not the end of “good governance.”  Whether mistaking the sum total of reality as the laws of nature discernible through science, or the legalisms of political or religious elites, we should not make the mistake of worshiping the created over the creator.  Reducing God to a set of rules is deeply pathetic, imprisoning the Creator in a box and pinning ourselves to design specs falling far short of our full capabilities.  God is more, and so are we.  May you experience the “moreness” of God and yourself, in an ever-deeper and maturing way.

POEM: Unending Vocation

She summoned me
To tell me
Of my new job assignment
I soon realized
That it was
Not beneath me
But behind me
So I moved on
In my unending vocation
As I was tolled

This poem is autobiographical.  This experience of mine could be viewed even as the first step in my unending vocation of poet.  I have often used the phrase “Not beneath me, but behind me” to describe the process that I experienced leaving my “regular” job and career.  This specifically applies to the new job assignment referred to within the poem.  In retrospect, I don’t think that my supervisor/boss expected my job reassignment to be a discussion, but rather a simple informing me of the way in which I was to me managed.  This disconnect exemplifies why I made a relatively quick decision, within a matter of days, to not accept the new assignment and request part-time work entailing my old job duties which were being curtailed.

I also knew that any job with this employer was terminal.  I would have to do something different.  It took me almost two years to quit the part-time work afforded me while I was starting my own business.  Though the decision and timing were more about my emotional and spiritual health than financial.  I hadn’t netted dime one from my new business.  Nonetheless, I knew that my toxic job environment was killing me, bringing out the worst in me.  Certain death is a good motivator.  I choose life, however uncertain, than certain death.  This choice seems somewhat obvious, but I think that it is a choice not made nearly as often as it should be.  Probably something to do with learned helplessness, settling for mediocrity, and false pride.  I took pride in being autonomous and tough, living on breadcrumbs.  I would rail against the stupidity of my employers for not even providing me breadcrumbs for my high aspirations.

Fortunately, I eventually came to realize the great gift that this total desert was, for me to be able to separate myself from such toxic work relationships.  It reminded my of my divorce, in the sense that I felt that my chosen profession, of which I was well-trained, was mine, and these fools should leave, not me.  Of course, this wasn’t going to happen (actually, in the case of my divorce, this did happen).  So, I left.  The leaving of my profession was entangled in another reality, that of having 50-50 custody of my kids and not willing to move elsewhere for work.  So, fate had its way with me…and I am all the better for it!  I sort of backed into parlaying my unique talents into a new vocation: as the greatest punster for peace in the English-speaking world!  How many people can say with certainty that they are the best in the world at something?  What a privilege to not relegate such a momentous reality to a mere hobby.

This whole process was very humbling and awe-inspiring for me.  I have grown a great appreciation for going through “bad” stuff, trusting my own instincts and the benevolence of a higher power to come out on the other side even better off.  I consider myself to be a very creative and imaginative person.  I consider myself very intelligent.  I could not have predicted the good things to come.  I fooled myself into thinking that I could foresee and control the future.  Fortunately, I could not.  Fortunately, my future was better than I had even dared imagine.  From this experience I have come up with a saying: God doesn’t give me want I want; God gives me something better!

May you find the courage and wherewithal to follow your instincts and dreams, trusting that there are powers at work that will bring good things into your life, even better than you dare imagine!

POEM: A Forgetting God

Remembering God is almost as hard as God forgetting us

Remembering God can be difficult.  Remembering God can be particularly difficult if we are not trying to remember God.  I believe that we all experience God, though some of us may not name it that.  Most simply put, God is love.  If we remember love and imbue our life with these loving experiences, then we will be well on our way to living Godly lives.  Every healthy relationship is reciprocal.  While remembering God may be difficult at times, recalling occasionally that it is even more difficult for God to forget us can bring comfort and serve as an invitation to a deeper relationship.  God’s call is better characterized by the woo of a lover — Love itself! — than a jilted lover in an unreciprical relationship, waiting by the proverbial phone for a call back.

I wish that traditional religion would harness this metaphor of lovers, the wooer and the wooed.  I think this meets resistance because some people think that it may imply some type of equality of humans with God; though most religious conservatives don’t necessarily see a reciprocal equality in human sexual relationships as an ideal anyway.  However, perhaps most importantly, institutional religion seems to have real issues with sex and sexuality.  The story of the virgin birth is perhaps the pinnacle of this disconnect: God has sex without really having sex, or daring to imbue a human sex act with divineness.  Then, Jesus is overwhelmingly seen as some asexual being.  My view is that these narratives are massive barriers to Christianity embracing a healthy human sexuality.  Jesus is purported to be fully God and fully human, yet the Christian narrative is notably silent on how Jesus manifests divinity as a human sexual being, except for not engaging in sexual acts.  I don’t consider total, lifelong (in Jesus’ case until age 33 at his death) abstinence as a feasible model for the perpetuation of the human race, or as particularly helpful for most people’s lives on earth.  Surely, there is a fuller picture that can be drawn.  Intimate sexual human relationships strike me as fertile ground (time to pull out the big puns!) for experiencing deep love, which is the stuff of God.  I pray for a way for Jesus to better redeem sexuality, which would go a long way to redeeming Christianity.  And the Church said, “Woo!”