POEM: Making a Fuel of My Self

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: The History of Civilization

They lived in the period of civilization
A properly punctuated death sentience
That no’s know end

This poem is a reflection on the deathly aspects of so-called civilization, its facade of propriety, and penchant for denial.  The members of most any civilization view their civilization as the pinnacle civilization, at least when compared to other competing civilizations — even to the point of war to prove their superiority.  There is typically present an overwhelming hubris that their civilization will continue indefinitely, which is a serious misreading of actual history.  Only through a selective lack of awareness, typically fostered by societal elites benefiting from the status quo, can such a myth be perpetuated to its inevitable demise.  American exceptionalism is perhaps the perfect exemplar of such a self-serving ideal.  What more dangerous ideology and destructive mythology is there than an entire nation built on the notion that it’s rules apply to others but can be “excepted” for oneself when convenient.  The rule of law devolves simply into rule.  Such an Achilles heel is especially tragic because Achilles is so strong, seemingly invincible.  Still, as any such civilization has its period, so shall its sentence come to an end.

POEM: As I Poor Myself

As I poor myself
Out into the streets
A pasture for the people
At ease with just us
Weather soon becoming
A torrent of change
Oar that which trickles our fancy
A tributary to humanity
That no’s know bounds
And has no interest in banks

This poem is about that which makes us human, which can run still and deep or as a raging river.  Much of life is somewhere in-between, yet hopefully that which reflects our passions and fancies.

This poem also weaves this being human into community.  We cannot be fully human alone.  Or better said, we are more fully human in community.  This may take the form of joining hands and hearts in working for justice or simply enjoying the company of others.  Such accompaniment breeds further humanity.

Since being human tasks us with the never-ending paradox of needing to be more than human, we face an eternal question of choosing growth or decay, participating consciously in the unfolding of life or feudally try to hold onto what is passing by.  Humanity is furthered when its members are self-transcendent and when humanity transcends itself.  This perpetual opportunity and call for growth seeds a certain rebellion into any status quo.  There are always frontiers to cross, new lessons to learn, and new experiences to take in.  The most vital moments in life cannot be banked, and this poem concludes simply with a bank shot.  The true currency of life is not money, status, or power, but courage, hope, and kindness.  And life is never so exacting that there is not change left over…

POEM: Enlightening Reflection

I looked into his eyes
And I could see the devil
More lightly peering
It was eye
A most enlightening reflection
Seeing double

This short poem hopes to shed some light on the concept of psychological projection. Projection strikes me as one of the most profound realities addressed in psychology. Confronting the reality that we regularly see the world more as we are than as the world is itself can provide a powerful tool for increased self-awareness and a practical way of better adjusting to the world around us. Consciously reflecting on how our attitudes, perspectives, and emotional states color our perception and experience of the world can help us move toward a more congruous and harmonious relationship with both the world and our own aspirations. In short, we can become more effective human beings, dealing with reality as it more truly is, from both within and from without. This is nothing short of dealing with the interface between the subjective and the objective.

Reflecting on projection is perhaps the most direct way to sort out what we want to bring into the world as a subjective being and how this actually fits into the world in which we live. Projection is typically employed in the context of dysfunction. This poem addresses the universal human experience of projecting our dark side, evil within us, to people and situations outside of us. This is a universal human coping mechanism for dealing with our own shortcomings and avoiding the hard work required to accept full accountability for our own actions or state of being. This form of denial is perennially popular. I strongly suspect that this bias is simply part of human nature, a de-fault mechanism, if you will. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that we are helpless or powerless over this condition. The point is to adjust, re-balance, ourselves to our environment. The counter-balance to denial is awareness. Conscious awareness may very well be the defining characteristic underlying human potential.

I find the practice of “If you spot it you got it,” as an enlightening game to play to overcome the denial implicit in projecting our dark side outside of us. The game is rather simple. For instance, if you are stuck in the line at the grocery store and you are feeling impatient, instead of focusing on factors outside yourself, such as why the store may not have enough clerks, or how slow the clerks or customers may be, focus on yourself, your inner state of being. By reflecting on your attitude, perspective, and emotional state in any given situation, you may very well discover a better balance within yourself and with the world. For instance, is your impatience the only option? To what degree, and in what way, must this situation “make” you impatient? If your patience is well-deserved, did you earn it through previous choices for which you were responsible? Maybe your life does suck at any given moment, but this is a small-minded, hard-hearted, and lazy non-leap to a conclusion that life itself sucks. Living into a larger perspective can offer solace and even joy in difficult situations. Focusing on yourself is not about victim blaming; it’s about balance and proportionality (perspective). You are, in fact, helpless to change most of the world around you. Of course, focusing on things that you can’t change is the leading cause of insanity! Recognizing and accepting that you can’t change something, or someone, is the precise reason you should stop expending energy on it. What a freedom in being able to take off your to-do list everything you cannot change! Of course, the wisdom to know the difference between what you can and cannot change only comes through experience and practice. Practicing self-awareness in the face of de-fault projection is a front-line tool.

The best news in the world is that you, and every other human being, has the power to make a difference within oneself and the world around us. The is the light side of projection. The influence and difference that we make comes through both conscious and unconscious processes. We inherit a lot in life that is due to no choice of our own — some good, some bad. This is the unconscious, deterministic side of life. If not consciously acted upon, by choosing one thing over another, the inertia of our lives will continue its trajectory — some good, some bad. Of course, denying your very ability to make conscious choices is a denial of your own humanity, and by implication and effect, a denial of the humanity of others. We have a responsibility to ourselves and others to seek increasing consciousness, both self-knowledge and knowledge of the world around us. This is where the light side of projection plays its role. Our conscious choices about how we wish to steer our own lives, given the good and the bad at any given moment, is what we project new into the world. Your conscious choices are your gift, your presence if you will, to yourself and your world. These choices change the world from its inertial, deterministic path. This is where the real you shines! You project yourself into the world. Something that was not present becomes present. The dark side of projection simply accepts the de-fault version of reality, a reality without the benefit of consciousness. This is an unconscious vote for the status quo, reinforcing a reality that is nominally lived, meaning we continue to have experiences, but the higher function of conscious choice, responsibility, is avoided. Response-ability is simple the ability to respond. Not simply as moving when poked with a stick, but deciding or learning to avoid being poked with a stick, or poking others with a stick. More positively put, you can explore and live into your highest dreams and aspirations, owning up to the presence you present to yourself, to others, and the world around you.

When we are in love the whole world is in love. This does not mean that the whole world is in love at that given moment. Factually, this is false, and many will go out of their way to point this out to you, with a stick if necessary. Nonetheless, your experience of love is the rich soil from which you project love into the world, making the world a more loving place. Even if your love is unrecognized or unreturned, the simple fact that you experience love increases the love in the world. Of course, when we experience love, it is hard to control. Love has a life of its own. Perhaps love is life itself. Love projecting itself into the world — a life longing project…

POEM: Model Citizen

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

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

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

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

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

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

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

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

One main point that I believe could help bring a more balanced perspective in our dealing with poverty is this: from a spiritual perspective, we must give equal time to spiritual poverty.  This is perhaps most succinctly captured by Mother Teresa, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”  I see Jesus as quite clearly spelling out the dividing line: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)  And, of course, serving God is inextricably linked with serving our neighbors: ” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLK Day Poem

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

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

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

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

Owed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

view the full MLK Day poem here.

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

POEM: Their Undoing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Luther King Day history and reflection

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

As told here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Certifiable

Certifiable

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

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

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

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

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

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

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

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

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

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

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

Truth and Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

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

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

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

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

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

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

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

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

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

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

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

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

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

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

C. Authority versus Control

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

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

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

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

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

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

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

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

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

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

E. Expecting persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vision/God’s Dream

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

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

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

TAM’s Mission

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

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

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

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

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Civility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

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

Doing Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

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

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

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

Boldness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

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

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

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

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

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

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

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

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

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

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

Offering all to God:

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

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

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

Recommended reading:

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

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

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

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

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

Does the issue impact creating community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the issue impact working for justice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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…)

Risk Taking in War and Peace

PEACE QUOTE: Risks Making War Risks to Secure Peace–PEACE SIGN BUTTON

PEACE QUOTE: Risks Making War Risks to Secure Peace--PEACE SIGN BUTTON

PEACE QUOTE: Risks Making War Risks to Secure Peace–PEACE SIGN BUTTON

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This simple peace or antiwar quote challenges our thinking by asking a question about what we are willing to risk or invest in securing peace.  Everyone seems to understand that war is costly.  However, oddly, many people seem to think that peace should just happen.  Though, this might be true, if we just dis-invested from war, but this would involve great risk and sacrifices that I would simply call taking risks to secure peace.  Either way peace takes work!   The status quo, which is solidly in the war camp, is what will continue to happen if we do not change the way we do things.  This involves a cost, a high cost, the cost of war.  This is a choice, just as much as making a conscious choice to take the risks to secure peace.  As quoted elsewhere, war is costly, peace is priceless.  I hope this peace and antiwar quote stimulates some meditation upon what price you are willing to pay help secure peace on this precious planet, for all of its inhabitants human and otherwise.

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

Every Revolutionary Ends Up Oppressor or Heretic–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

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For those of you who aspire to being a revolutionary, or wake up one day and learn that you are revolutionary, this Albert Camus quote is for you.  Camus presages the results of revolutionary means by pointing out that all revolutionaries either end up as oppressors or heretics.  I don’t know about you but I’m a proud member of the national heretics society.  In terms of means and ends, I believe that this quote speaks to the issue of violence versus nonviolence.  Violent revolutionaries may change or even upgrade the oppressors, but ultimately, they do not defeat oppression, just other oppressors.  I believe that violence is inherently oppressive.  Now, I am willing to argue what constitutes violence, particularly since I define violence and nonviolence quite broadly.  In fact, it may be better to say that I believe that oppression is violence and that nonviolence is liberation.  In the end, I see violence is reinforcing the status quo, the powers that be.  Thus, violence is not really revolutionary, even though it may bring a lot of outward change.  To be truly revolutionary I believe that there must be an inward change that is consistent with any outward change.  I think that this is where the heretics come in.  Most people will settle for an outward world that advantages themselves, even if it means disadvantaging others.  For violent revolutionaries, this typically means disadvantaging one’s defeated foes as some sort of punishment or retributive justice. This is generally accepted as a practical reality, the conventional wisdom and practice of our world.  I believe that this type of approach is extremely dangerous since history seems to prove that the turning of the tables simply means new oppressors.  However, if one wishes to overthrow conventional wisdom, it is likely necessary to practice unconventional wisdom.  If the endgame is equality, an egalitarian society for all of its members, then treating former oppressors punitively becomes a poor foundation for egalitarianism.  I think that this gets to the heretical nature of nonviolence.  Nonviolence is a way of life, not just a tactic or a means.  It means and the ends are inextricably intertwined.  More simply put, the means determine the ends.  How could it be otherwise?  I find it quite ironic that hard-nosed revolutionaries advocating violence somehow think that violence will lead to nonviolence, or perhaps more depressingly, cynically accept that violence is unavoidable.  Perhaps Camus recognized the intractable nature of the struggle between violence and nonviolence, thus he laid out the dichotomy of either becoming an oppressor or becoming a heretic.  I find myself attracted to the iconoclastic, because it seems the most apt attitude to create revolutionary change.  This may be simply tied to the definition of what revolution is: a paradigm shift from the status quo, a change in the nature of the powers that be.  You can’t defeat the status quo by the means of the status quo.  You can’t defeat the powers that be, by simply wielding authority over others in some better fashion.  I think the point is that we should not even be wielding authority over others, and this never quite seems fashionable.  As long as people want to lord over one another, then nonviolence will be unfashionable.  So, join the unfashionable heretics.  Be free to ignore conventional wisdom when it seeks to enslave us, and when it asks us to enslave others.  Be free, because being free is the best way to teach others about being free.  Be the change.  This is a revolutionary.

POEM: Getting Your Ducks in a Row

I once put all my ducks in a row
Only then realizing
What am I doing with all these ducks?!

Getting one’s ducks in a row is an idiom or metaphor that most people are familiar with, meaning that we should get our business in order.  The twist in this poem is a reversal of the typical order that my poetry takes.  In this short poem, I take a common phrase that is not intended to be taken literally, and then take it literally.  Predictably, this leads to absurdity, and the ensuing absurd question of what am I doing with all of these ducks.  Of course, the absurd question is actually a question intended to jar one into a realization that getting one’s business in order is not always the most important thing in the world, though it often seems so.

Perhaps ironically, the pervasive idea of getting one’s ducks in a row, getting one’s business in order, can be a stagnant or deadening proposition that actually kills a higher order in our lives.  Life is messy.  Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy doing other things.”

The question here is not whether one is for order or against order.  The question here is one for a higher order or a lower order.  Increasingly, my experiences in life lead me to believe that one of the most fundamental issues is achieving some clarity about following a higher order over a lower order.  Again, this does not negate the value of lower order stuff, it simply puts it in its proper place, puts it in its proper perspective.  Given that lower order stuff is typically more clear, concrete, and easy to see, it is little surprise that we give an inordinate focus to such things – they capture our attention (and us).  After experiencing many dis-orders in my life, I have come to the realization that the best way to reorder my life around those things which are most important, those higher order things, is to practice simplicity.  What I mean by this is that I need to be aware of those relatively few things in life that are most important to me.  Combined with an actual commitment to these things, then I can use these few important things to better order the many lower things.  More simply put, the higher should lower the order, and a few more important things should order the many less important things.

Another major reason that I see lesser things getting a disproportionate amount of attention versus greater things, is a common confusion regarding what is urgent versus what is important.  Our culture value busyness.  Busyness is seen as an indicator of productivity.  Also, busyness is a way to avoid being seen as engaging in a cardinal sin of our culture, which is laziness.  I think this confusion leads to a systematic bias that often runs over truly important things in our lives.  Given the attachment to busyness, busyness actually becomes a surrogate for urgency.  Thus, the confusion between urgency and importance.

Now, actually, there are many things in life that are both urgent and important.  These are the most important things to which we should attend.  However, there are many, many things that seem urgent that are not really that important.  Likewise, there are many things that are very important but do not seem very urgent.  I believe it is in these very important things that do not seem very urgent that we get lost.  The Achilles heel here is that attention to these most important things that don’t seem very urgent, requires a more relaxed perspective, a broader perspective in relation to time.  Most great things in life require a substantial investment of time.  Also, most things worthwhile require some effort on our part.  But let me deal first with the time issue (the most important thing here).  This gets back to the laziness issue.  Our culture reinforces the notion that relaxing our views about urgency is somehow lazy.  If you are not dealing with the commonly accepted stuff that is seen is urgent, then you are viewed as lazy.  This is not necessarily true.  Now, while truly lazy people don’t deal with what’s in front of them, whether it is urgent or not, important or not, to deal with the important but not urgent things requires some way of being that is neither characterized by mere busyness nor laziness.  This is the difficult counter-cultural work of dealing with the most important and often most overlooked stuff in our lives.  It takes a great amount of discipline and work to slough off the avalanche of seemingly urgent stuff in our life in order to attend to the most important things.  In fact, it is this lack of developing such discipline and boundary setting that is the more important and urgent form of laziness to address.

Laziness is definitely an issue.  This gets back to the issue that most things worthwhile in our life require effort on our part.  Being fully human requires a lot of effort.  This reality requires that we overcome a certain lazy inertia in our lives.  The status quo, the way things are, has a certain stability, momentum and inertia to it.

If we keep going the direction we are headed in, we will probably end up where we are going.  However, equally true, the past is the best predictor of the future, but if you use the past to predict the future, you will always be wrong.  Or more eloquently put, by Yogi Berra, “Prediction is very hard, especially when about the future.”  This is because people are not billiard balls.  People are not simply determined being.  People possess freedom.  People are subjects, not objects.  Certainly, as long as people are involved, predicting the future with complete accuracy will be impossible (actually, this is true for so-called “things” as well; this involves a discussion of the inherent probabilities necessary to understand quantum physics, which I will gracefully save for another day).  This is the way it’s supposed to be.  This is not chaos; this is simply uncertainty.  This is the way the universe is ordered.  This is a higher order, not to be subjected to a lower order.  This takes us full circle, back to our zealous clinging to stuff that is more concrete, seemingly certain.  Our felt need to substitute certainty for uncertainty plays neatly into the hands of confusing the urgent and the important.  Life is uncertain.  If life were not uncertain, it would not be life.  If life were not uncertain, then life would simply be a quest of learning everything and then being ordered (notice the use of the passive voice, and the same language that we reject often from the bosses in our lives) by the ultimately determinable (that which can be reduced to certainty).  This would inescapably lead us to our endgame of being all-knowing and totally impotent (not free).  If this strikes you as a concept of God that is rejected by the vast majority of humanity on this planet, then you must be paying attention.  This so-called God that so many people legitimately reject, is not God, but the vain and enslaving-ourselves project of trying to be God ourselves.  Neither can God be reduced to simply “everything.”  God is more than “everything.”  This concept arises out of the paradox of subjectivity and objectivity, the difference between subject and object.  In this case, the difference between people and things, and between God and “everything.”  I hope that I’m not getting too far off course by getting straight to the heart of the matter.  If you want some additional commentary on these matters, and subjects, I would suggest browsing scientific reductionism.

So, now that I have put all of my ducks in order, I can get beyond the whole “duck” thing. In the end, for all this to work well, this means having our lives ordered in a way that is consistent with what we consider to be the most important, then we must actually know what is the most important stuff in our lives.  Do you know what the most important things in your life are?  If so, I would suggest that you make a list of such things, and while doing this may be of the utmost importance, I would recommend that you take your time to get it right.

Now, if you really want to blow your mind, and perhaps blow the lid off your heart, I recommend meditating upon this poem from the Sufi poet Rumi:

A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down
the three things you want most.
If they in any way differ
you are in trouble.

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

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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?

Obama Bookends State of Union Address With Militarism

Obama Bookends State of Union Address With Militarism

President Barack Obama said a lot of nice things in his State of the Union address last night.  While these days I don’t pay much attention to what politicians say, I thought it was interesting to note that Mr. Obama bookended his State of the Union address with two rather long militaristic segments.  While Mr. Obama may have a slightly different take on US world domination than some of his predecessors, when it comes down to it he flatly said that the US must be THE world power.  Nationalism and militarism is a disease that has inflicted our great nation for many generations.  Perhaps more importantly, the disease of US militarism has plagued the rest of the world for as many generations.  It almost goes without saying that in US politics our overwhelming military might is preeminent, both as a practical matter for running the rest of the world, and at the center of our national religion.  I can’t think of a single thing that receives more reverence in this country than the military and military service.  It is very dangerous and considered blasphemous to speak against US military. I believe that standing against militarism is our only hope in this country and the world to save our planet and its inhabitants.  If militarism is not defeated, then the violence necessary to sustain the status quo and its injustice will defeat this, that is, at least, kill us.

Please feel free to join me in any nonviolent revolutionary action that you can find and/or create.  Might I suggest getting involved in the occupy movement.

Toledo Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity Celebration

Toledo Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity Celebration

I just got back from the Toledo Martin Luther King Jr. Day unity celebration. I was delighted to see thousands oMLK T-shirtf people celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Toledo once again. I’m not sure there were quite as many people as there has been in recent years’ MLK unity celebrations in Toledo. Nonetheless, it is nearly impossible to have an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. without being inspired in some way. I particularly enjoyed the keynote address by Hari Jones, Curator of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum. He spoke quite eloquently about the tension between empirical skepticism and metaphysical optimism in the creation of this nation and the American dream, which includes and is perhaps typified by Martin Luther King’s dream. I like the quote from Art Tatum, a native Toledoan and celebrated jazz artist, who said that in jazz often all that there is a “there is no such thing as a wrong note.” This elicits a great concept about unity. Dr. Jones spoke at some length about how everyone must play notes and in this apparent discordance harmony paradoxically can arise. I wonder at times though, given our cultural value of conflict avoidance, that we focus on and perhaps vainly hope for an authentic unity that is forged somehow without conflict. If there is anything that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, it surely would be something to do with dealing with conflict and authentic manner that is loving, respectful, and challenging — very challenging! While there is certainly merit in promoting community service, if we are truly to understand, appreciate, and embody the life and work of Martin Luther King, then we need to recognize and honor that his unique contribution to American society and the world was about successfully organizing masses of regular people to challenge and overthrow an unjust status quo. This is hard work. This is work that divides people as far apart as justice and injustice. Like Jesus was misunderstood in saying that he came to bring not peace but a sword, MLK is often misunderstood or idealized as some peacemaker who doesn’t understand the true nature of conflict and what it takes to bring justice in the world that can be cruel and apathetic to those suffering injustices. This misunderstanding often leads to acceptance, even if reluctant acceptance, of violence, as a necessary evil. The division that Jesus was referring to was not the division of flesh by a sword, but the division of people by those who would stand for justice and those who would let injustice stand. Pacifists like Dr. King and Jesus understand that there is no real way to get around conflict in life and its injustices, that we need to go through conflict. The trick is to go through that conflict with a humane measure of dignity and respect, a big dose of discipline, and an undying commitment to the fact that humanity and creation is one. This task is so large that it escapes mere human grasp and relies on grace from God, a power greater than ourselves, our family, our community, and even creation. Pacifism has historically been rooted in people with a deep relationship with the creator not simply the created, whether that be other people or the material world and all its bounty. In our modern or postmodern secular world many people may feel uncomfortable with the obvious, undeniable fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the reverend, was a deeply religious man. Because MLK was so successful at providing a model for dealing with practical and large-scale injustices in our society, he is accessible to many who would like to claim him as their own. Unfortunately, to not delve to understand the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a religious pacifist is perhaps the miss the main point of his life, and death. At this point, I will stop babbling on and asks simply read or listen to some of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings or speeches. Equipping ourselves with a greater depth of understanding of MLK is a good start to honoring and celebrating his legacy.