Posted in Culture/History, General Interest, justice, Nature, Spiritual, Sustainability

Evolution and Capitalism: As Tarzan Said to Jane “It’s a Jungle Out There”

skepticBy this point in the 2016 presidential campaign, it has become something of a cliché to compare the candidacies of both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and all the turmoil, often violent, surrounding the former’s campaign rallies, to the spawning of the monster in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Progressives and people to the left side of the political spectrum sometimes joke that such comparisons actually insult Frankenstein’s monster. But by concentrating exclusively on Trump and Cruz and the perennial freak show of the lunatic right, the comparison misses the larger point that the real Frankenstein monster – the monster that ultimately gestated Trump, Cruz, the Great Recession, and their attendant pathologies– is contemporary capitalism itself. I emphasize contemporary capitalism deliberately, because the adjective “contemporary” is absolutely critical: the capitalism to which we have all-too-rapidly become accustomed is not capitalism as it existed in the few Administrations immediately following the Second World War. That capitalism – roughly speaking, the capitalism of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson years – was, comparatively speaking, a “kinder, gentler capitalism” than the system fortuitously denoted by the “c-word” today. To paraphrase an advertising slogan: This is not your parents’ capitalism.

600px-Boris_Karloff_as_Frankenstein's_monster

Now, before we go any farther and commit the criminal offense of misdemeanor sociology by over-idealizing what those years were like, I should back up a step or two and acknowledge that, no, the largesse of those supposed halcyon days by no means included everyone. Yes, the middle class was growing … but mostly the white, male, heterosexual middle class. Yes, home ownership was burgeoning … but mostly only for white, heterosexual families (and also in large measure because of the GI Bill to assist veterans, a measure a hard-right GOP Congress might well refuse to fund today, for fear of nurturing a “culture of dependency”). (The term “homosexual family” would have been considered as oxymoronic as “two-sided triangle”.) Yes, Dinah Shore sang her theme song – which I am old enough to remember – “See … the … U … SA in your Chev … ro-let … “ But you had to be able to afford a Chevy, which many people in that ostensible golden age of the American economy could not. This was also the time of the germinating civil rights movement; the schoolchild “duck-and-cover” time when we believed that the Nation could be annihilated in a half-hour – and when, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it nearly was; when schools were segregated … as Gov. Orval Faubus vowed they always would be in Arkansas; when registering black people to vote could be, in some cases was, worth your life, etc., etc., etc. But, that said, the fact remains that for some Americans – by no means all, but for a number unprecedented in world history – the middle class was, not just growing, but thriving … so much so that, in our optimism, we even coined a phrase for the coming of Camelot and the Kennedy era: “the Soaring Sixties”. Remember that?

So what happened? I like to think of it in terms of an analogy with biological evolution. A Reader’s Digest-condensed version of biological evolution, basically the skeleton of Darwin’s original theory, the first edition of which was published in 1859, says that as changes occur in an organism’s phenotype via random mutations in its genotype, the environment acts on the resulting mutated organism to determine whether the organism lives or dies. (Darwin had only the crudest conception — something called “pangenesis,” long since discredited — of how mutations originate.) It’s like a vast, jaw-droppingly complex, planet-spanning figure-skating competition: organisms “skate” their “program”, mutations included, and the environment acts as the panel of judges, determining which organisms survive and which do not … survival being defined as the ability to survive long enough to reproduce and thus pass on the adaptation to their descendants. But as the environment changes over time, the “judging criteria” that determine the fate of each species likewise change: mutations that were once advantageous or neutral may become disadvantageous – the technical term is “maladaptive” – under the new environmental regime. Perhaps the classical example of this process is the meteor strike on the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, that resulted in basically a “nuclear winter” due to the debris thrown up by the impact reflecting sunlight back into space and thus cooling the planet. Dinosaurs, being huge lizards which had no ability to regulate their body temperature, and which had been around for over 150 million years, suddenly found themselves in the midst of a catastrophe. Because the earth became colder – and there were other changes because of the meteor – the evolutionary niche once occupied by cold-blooded dinosaurs came to be occupied by mammals, which do have the ability to regulate their body temperature independently of the environment. Result: the dinosaurs died off; mammals – including humans about 64 million-plus years later – survived.

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Charles Darwin

OK … now back to capitalism … Societies – in particular, societies’ economies and the underlying technological infrastructure – evolve, too. And the process is intriguingly similar to biological evolution in response to a changing environment. The “figure skating competition” here, however, is between forms of socio-economic organization – what Marx called “the mode of production” – and the overall technological environment in which production takes place – what Marx called “the means of production”, with the “mode” playing the part of the skater and the “means” playing the part of the judges. (Again, the same caution: this is a Reader’s Digest-condensed synopsis.) Conservatives spill ‘way, ‘way too much ink pooh-pooh-ing Marx’s theory of the materialist dialectic of history – by which, Marx says at one point, he “stood Hegel on his [Hegel’s] head” – and ‘way, ‘way too little ink acknowledging the keen insights that, despite the undisputed oversimplifications of Marxist theory, lie at the heart of Marx’s basic paradigm. An example might clarify matters. In the Middle Ages, the production of goods was carried on according to what we today would call a “cottage industry” paradigm. A wainwright – a carriage-maker – would typically start with raw materials, fabricate the various parts of the carriage, put those parts together into higher- and higher-level assemblies, and finally put those assemblies together into a finished carriage – and, in the process, maintain exclusive control over the entire manufacturing process from start to finish, “touching” the entire carriage at each stage as it was being built. Working with the wainwright would be some young men – always men – who would serve apprenticeships as “wainwrights-in-training”. Furthermore, a master craftsman usually developed a close personal relationship with his apprentices, journeymen, etc., and the group often even lived together. As the “junior wainwrights” were trained, the supervising craftsman and the local wainwright guild would observe their progress and together determine what stage each trainee / “intern” was at: apprentice, journeyman, etc., all the way up to master craftsman – at which point the once-apprentice could become an independent craftsman in his own right, authorized to hire his own apprentices and teach them, whereupon the cycle would repeat.

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Karl Marx

Then came the factory movement from the middle 1700s on, the reasons of which are too complex to even synopsize here. Suffice to say that the factory movement eventuated from advances in technology that enabled the manufacturing process to be broken down into rather naturally occurring, small, easily identifiable, discrete stages, each of which could be physically isolated from the other inside an immense building – called a “manufactory,” later abbreviated to just “factory” – where a given worker, or more likely a cadre of several dozen workers, performed the same discrete sub-task, and passed the results on to other cadres of workers who would perform subsequent sub-tasks. In Marxist language, the “means” of production underwent a tectonic change. Now, instead of working on an entire product, each worker in the factory dealt with only a small, discrete task, and often had no idea how that one discrete task fit into the manufacture of the end-product. Furthermore, the idea of craftsmanship became quaint … then ceased to have any meaning altogether: there is no sense of craftsmanship in the fabrication of a mere “sub-widget”. Over time, and a rather historically brief time, at that, workers became mere fungible ciphers: if worker A and worker B fabricate the same type of widget X, then they are interchangeable; and given the simplicity of the discrete tasks, either can be trained to fabricate widget Y. The workers became strangers to the end-product, and, unlike a century before, strangers to one another. In Marxist language, the “mode” of production underwent a tectonic change. Our hypothetical wainwright building a carriage from start to finish with the help of his apprentices and journeymen became as obsolete as the post-meteor dinosaurs – and for essentially the same reason: the craftsman, like the dinosaur, was adapted to an obsolete environment. In the brave new world of the factory environment, mere physical dexterity – the ability to rapidly build sub-widgets – will win out over craftsmanship every time.

But the crowning humiliation came when the factory movement, leveraging advancing technology, gradually substituted machines for human workers altogether. In some meaningful sense, human beings became quite literally worthless in many contexts. What supplanted the value of workers was the value of capital, i.e., the money necessary to buy land and equipment, build factories, buy raw materials, and in general “jump start” the entire manufacturing enterprise. The cost associated with the workers themselves was relatively minimal: defined as the minimum wage necessary to enable a worker to subsist and to reproduce, so as to engender other workers to feed into the system. (The factory movement routinely employed children whose age was expressed in single digits.) Because workers could not afford the costs of transportation to and from their jobs, this also meant that workers had to move from the countryside, where most of the “cottage industry” work had been done prior to the factory movement, into great cities where they could be close to their jobs, usually congregating into vast, vast slums whose appalling misery has been so well documented in the novels of Charles Dickens, giving rise to scenes of human degradation that bear comparison only to conurbations of nightmare like today’s Mogadishu. It is this “para-Hegelian” dialectic between “means” and “mode” that drove the evolution of history, argued Marx. No wonder Romantic poets of the late 1700s and early 1800s like William Blake wrote of “the dark, satanic mills of Wolverhampton” and of the hellish filth-scapes of Whitechapel and the East End. No wonder the Luddite sect, with its hostility to any and all forms of technology, became increasingly popular. No wonder French workers, for fear of being displaced by machines, threw their wooden shoes (sabot, in French) into the cogs and gears of the machines … thus coining the word “sabotage”. As it is in biology, so also it is in socio-economics: evolution does not forgive.

dark-satanic-mills

So in many ways, the London of Charles Dickens is the tangible embodiment and vindication of Karl Marx: the means of production – factories leveraging technology so as to use human workers, if at all, only as flesh-and-blood machines – and the mode of production – wage-slavery intensified to a lyrical pitch through the massive urbanization of labor. All in the service of Capital. Now multiply the single example of London by all the great cities of Europe – their name is “Legion,” for they are many – and the sense of moral crisis becomes almost tangible. Two questions end up being begged: (1) how the hell did matters come to such a pass back then? and (2) why is the present so much like the past to such an unsettling extent? I would suggest that at least the outlines of an answer begin to emerge if we consider two factors we usually do not associate with each other: biological evolution and the European Enlightenment.

It’s important to remember a critical fact about the evolution of our species:  it’s about survival. Or, to be strictly precise, evolution is about surviving long enough to reproduce. Furthermore, given the short life-spans (on geologically and cosmically significant time-scales) of our species, homo sapiens sapiens, the type of survival toward which evolution is biased is short-term survival. Evolution — evolution alone and unaided by human intentions — is “concerned” with the long-fanged beast hiding behind that rock over there, not the long-fanged beast hiding behind other rocks elsewhere farther away. Evolution certainly has long-term consequences, but these are worked out in billions upon billions of particular, discrete, short-term instances. In an odd kind of way, evolution is like that verse in II Corinthians 6:2:  “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation”.  For evolution, now — or perhaps 5 minutes or perhaps an hour from now — is all that counts.  An organism that dies right now never reproduces, and thus falls out of the evolutionary stream.

human-evolution

As paradoxical as it may sound, given the time-scales involved, evolution is actually the ultimate in short-term thinking.  So we should not be surprised that humans are biased, down to the deepest sub-basement of our neuroanatomy, toward similar short-term thinking. We are evolutionarily predisposed to think in terms of the next 5 minutes or 5 hours. That is the consequence of the way the human brain evolved. Evolution tends to be very parsimonious:  it throws almost nothing away. (Most of the DNA in the human genome is so-called “junk” DNA:  perhaps functional, even vital, at one time, it has since been superseded and no longer “does anything” — but was never discarded.) So as the brain evolved from reptiles to mammals to primates, the earlier parts of the brain were, not discarded, but built upon, rather like a medieval castle or manor house. “Evolution” and “efficiency” both start with the letter “e”, but the similarity ends there. (The conservative parsimony of biological evolution, by the way, poses a sticky problem for advocates of intelligent design:  whatever Designer exists must have a severe hoarding fetish if S/He preserves so much “junk”.) Those archaic parts of the brain — less accurately but more descriptively called the “reptile brain” — are collectively called the “limbic system”, and include structures like the amygdala that do primitive, “fight or flight” processing of the emotions that demand instantaneous, reflexive, very-short-term responses, i.e. responses, like dropping a match when it burns your finger-tips, that do not require conscious thinking. Comparatively primitive structures like the amygdala reflect evolution’s “assessment” that stopping to think can sometimes be fatal — and therefore maladaptive

What does all this have to do with capitalism, both old and new? Well, if you stop to reflect on the fact that, at least in capitalist economies, the economic system is an arrestingly faithful analog of a biosphere, complete with “nature red in tooth and claw” survival for competition, the answer should be obvious. Because of the emphasis on competition and survival in the marketplace, the evolution that occurs in capitalist economies is no more predisposed to long-term thinking than the evolution that occurs in biospheres. The natural and “naive” tendency of all capitalist economies is to concentrate on today’s profit and tomorrow’s or next quarter’s bottom line, and if that means the growth of slums, the pollution of the natural environment, and social pathologies that can only be restrained and contained by the application of brute force, then … well …the Devil take the hindmost.

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But the limbic system was not the only part of the brain to evolve.  Human beings also developed a cerebral cortex — the part of the brain that, loosely and qualitatively speaking, deals with abstract thought and therefore, most importantly, with long-term planning. With only an amygdala and its associated structures, human beings would still be capable of pursuing their self-interest. But only with a cerebral cortex are we capable of pursuing our enlightened self-interest. But like any powerful instrument — a car, a computer, a nuclear reactor, etc. — there is the issue of learning how to use it.  Much of human history could be written in terms of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of humans learning how to use the cerebral cortex. And we are still very much in the process of learning how to use it. One of the most critical, make-or-break steps in Westerners’ learning how to use this awesomely powerful instrument was the European Enlightenment that began in the middle 1600s and that continues today. Much of human history between the fall of Rome and the end of the 30 Years War in 1648 consisted of religious zealotry placed at the service of the amygdala and the limbic system.  But because of the rediscovery of the classical world, the efflorescence of science, and in consequence a renewed confidence in the powers of the autonomous human intellect and rationality, Europeans gradually — it was a very near thing — discovered how to agree to disagree and live with their differences instead of slaughtering one another over them.

It would be literally impossible to overestimate the importance of this discovery. The fact that Europe, with all its faults, is not a late-Bronze-Age wasteland today is because, over time, the principles of the Enlightenment — tolerance of differences, the concept of inalienable human rights, the unique value of human beings, the idea that governments and economies should work for human beings instead of the other way around, that it is legitimate to circumscribe the behavior of the few for the good of the many, etc., etc., etc. — came to dominate the culture in terms of its rhetoric … and gradually in terms of its behavior.  Anyone who watches the news or even reads a newsmagazine occasionally or peeks at internet blogs now and again will be convinced that there is still an enormous amount of work to do to put these principles into practice.  But even a casual acquaintance with history will reveal that we have come a long way. As Dr. King once said, quoting an old slave hymn, “We ain’t what we ought to be, and we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God we ain’t what was”.

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So what conservatives miss in their critique of government “meddling” in the economy, e.g., their oft-avowed (though never fulfilled) pledge to abolish the EPA and like agencies, etc., is that the whole sweep of human civilization since humans descended from the trees and emigrated from east-central Africa has been to escape from, to transcend, Nature, and to temper and moderate Nature’s brutality, not to slavishly replicate it in our social and economic relations. “Nature red in tooth and claw” is fine if you are the “apex predator” who benefits from such an arrangement, so it is no accident that the farther up the affluence scale you go, the more intense becomes the hostility to government regulation:  if the game is already rigged in your favor, you will naturally be reluctant to change the rules of the game. But one of the benefits of the Enlightenment was a renewed confidence in humans’ ability to critique such arrangements and to perform tasks of autonomous moral reasoning, and thus establish a rational basis for altruism, for care for the weak, for the support of the disadvantaged — and thus to hedge about the otherwise-unrestrained cut-throat competition in the capitalist jungle with limits that ensure human life, human survival, and human dignity — values of which pure and unadulterated Nature is ignorant. Hence the abolitionist movement in 1850s England. Hence efforts to alleviate the suffering of the workers in the slums of London.  Hence the abolition of poor houses and debtors’ prisons. All were examples of “big government meddling,” and yet all were rooted in the Enlightenment-backed consensus that, while human beings emerged and originated from Nature, we are not bound to take up permanent residence there.

Capitalism can be and has been — and very often still is — a good and healthy and liberating thing. But capitalism is morally defensible only as long as, and to the extent that, human beings are in charge of capital for the good of the entire human community … never vice versa.

– James R. Cowles

© 2016, All rights reserved

Image credits:

“Rationality”:  public domain
“Capitalism is crisis” graffito: Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0
“Frankenstein” head: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
“Evolution” image: public domain
Karl Marx: public domain
Darwin photo: public domain
“Industrial mill”: COPYRIGHT © OLGA HARMSEN
“The School of Athens”: public domain

 

Posted in General Interest

Subsidizing Original Sin

skeptic

Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness. — George Santayana

There are not many tenets of orthodox Christianity in which I still believe.  But one of the few such – it may well be the only one – to which,at least  in some cognate form, I still subscribe is the doctrine of Original Sin.  Yea and verily!  I even believe that Original Sin is inherited in being passed down from parent to child, very much in the tradition of St. Augustine.  (I do demur from Augustine’s conclusion that the heritability of sin renders sexual intercourse intrinsically immoral.) In fact, so fervent is my agreement that I even meet and embrace Philip Larkin, who wrote, in a poem called “This Be the Verse”, “Man hands on misery to man; / It deepens like an ocean shelf”.  In fact, in some cases the second half of that stanza is also sound advice:  “Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself”.  I will leave to others of more orthodox beliefs the task of unpacking the moral, metaphysical, and theological consequences.  In the more pragmatic spirit of substituting the proverbial ounce of prevention for a pound of cure, I will only suggest some measures that I believe would preveniently mitigate the consequences of sin.  My suggestions are quite the reverse of radical.  In fact, I appeal to the stodgily traditional practice of using the US tax code to encourage and to incentivize certain forms of behavior.

Original Sin by Michel Coxcie
Original Sin by Michel Coxcie

Well … OK … probably not that easy – a corollary of Murphy’s Law says “Everything is harder than you think” — but comparable! Especially when you consider the alternative.

As matters stand right now, the US tax code supports Original Sin by subsidizing parenthood indiscriminately. In 2013, for example, you can claim a $3,900 exemption for each dependent child.  Period.  No qualifications.  End of discussion.  Elvis has left the building.  All the child has to do for you to qualify for the exemption is to meet the criteria in the tax code for being a “dependent”.  (What are those criteria?  Don’t ask me.  I’m not a tax specialist.  As a tax accountant, I’m a great short-order cook!)  But the point is that, as long as your child meets the dependency qualifications in the US tax code, then you may take the exemption, even if your skills as a parent make Gilles de Rais look like the Walton kids’ folks.  At least partially because of one’s incompetent parenting, one’s child can turn out to be as warped as Dracula’s assistant, Renfield, and, especially when grown, can wreak as much havoc on the community as Dracula himself.  No matter.  You still can take the $3,900 tax break, which in such a case will then amount to a subsidy for sociopathy:  “Hand[ing] on misery to man” with a vengeance. Or, as St. Augustine might say, subsidizing Original Sin. Then, if, as we fervently hope, one’s child is apprehended by the police instead of pursuing her / his career as a real-life character out of a Criminal Minds episode, society – meaning you, me, and everyone else – will pay the price, which we hope will only be monetary, for whatever contribution was made to the situation by virtue of incompetent parenting. In extreme cases, a court might even declare the parents to be unfit, and the child might then become a token in the pinball machine known as “Foster Homes”.

May I make a suggestion?  Let’s do things differently!

In the interest of fairness, let’s acknowledge up front that, yes, of course, quality of parenting, while important, is only one factor among many others in the kind of person a kid turns out to be.  Yes, of course:  children make their own choices, and even good parents can have children that go tragically wrong. Yes, of course:  children are human beings, not programmable automatons. Yes, of course:  if you want an iron-clad guarantee, go buy a lawn mower from Sears. That said, however, why not structure the tax code to encourage, not parenting as such, not parenting per se — but good parenting? How could we do this?  Well, we know many of the factors that make for competent parenting.  We don’t know literally everything, of course. We also don’t know literally everything that makes a good professional football player, either. But the NFL draft proceeds apace nonetheless.  Instead of encouraging parenthood promiscuously via the “shotgun” approach of giving $3,900 to everyone whose reproductive plumbing worked as advertised, as the current practice is, we should be as persnickety about encouraging parenting as NBA teams are in selecting athletic talent.  We should subsidize incompetence in neither one.

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IRS Form 1040

First of all, please be assured that I do not — I say again: I do not — propose to limit the number of kids as a matter of law.  So also be assured that you can have as many kids as you want.  However, there will be two salient changes to the tax laws pertaining thereto:

Step 1:  On as nuts-and-bolts-practical a level as possible, develop a curriculum on competent parenting in consultation with the best child psychologists, developmental psychologists, parents themselves, etc., etc. in the relevant fields.

Step 2:  Once this curriculum has been developed and appropriately vetted and implemented, change the tax code so that:

Step 2a:  You may only claim the dependent-child exemption if you can authenticate having successfully completed — just once, not once per child — the curriculum.

Step 2b:  If you do not complete the curriculum, not only may you not claim the dependent-child exemption, but your tax liability will be increased by, say, 1 percent for each dependent child, probably subject to some sliding-scale algorithm that takes into account adjusted gross income.

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Schoolgirls in Bamozai

Admittedly, this is only abstract training, and as Dostoyevsky’s “Underground Man” said, to know what is right is not to do what is right.  So it would probably be desirable to incorporate some type of parental counseling component into the curriculum. In any case, this scheme has two purposes:  (1) to shift more of the cost of inept parenting from society as a whole to the parents themselves, and (2) to do so preveniently, before the need arises.  Statistically and particular counter-examples notwithstanding, quality of parenting does make a significant difference.  The difference is that, at present, the social costs of incompetent parenting are incurred after the fact and by the community as a whole. I only propose to use the tax code in such a way as to (a) encourage people to be good or better parents by providing some type of training, and (b) to shift to the parents themselves the future costs of poor parenting by making the parents who do not elect such training pay in advance of need instead of the community as a whole after the damage has already been done.

Yes, of course, there are holes in the plan. Yes, of course, there are details to be worked out. This is a brief blog post, not a comprehensive policy white paper for the Brookings Institution or the Institute for Policy Studies or the Guttmacher Institute. I take it as axiomatic that, if parenting by the seat of one’s pants had immediate or short-term and significant pocketbook consequences to people who undertake the responsibility of raising kids, then greater care and thought would go into the decision of whether to have kids, and, if the decision was “Yes”, how to proceed.  To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, “The sight of a 1040 form focuses the mind wonderfully”. And to quote George F. Will verbatim, “You always get more of what you subsidize”. Simple justice — never mind theology — demands that we use the tax code, not to subsidize Original Sin and the dialectic described in the Larkin poem, but to mitigate it. Of course, we’ll never do it.  But we should.

James R. Cowles

1280px-Schoolgirls_in_Bamozai — Public domain (Capt. John Severns, U.S. Air Force – Own work)

435px-Form_1040,_2005 — Public domain (US government tax form)

Original_Sin_Michel_Coxcie — Public domain (artist:  Michiel Coxie [1499–1592], picture courtesy of: www.fineart-china.com, present location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

 

Posted in Beguine Again, General Interest, TheBeZine

a story of faith, hope and love

IMG_1955I feel almost inclined to start this story with “once upon a time” since it feels that we began our adventure so long ago.  I started The Bardo Group (though it wasn’t titled that way to begin with) in 2011 as a way to encourage a sort of world without borders by having people from different cultures and religions come together to show what’s in their hearts and in doing so to demonstrate that with all our differences we have much in common: our dreams and hopes, our plans for children and grandchildren, our love of family, friends and the spiritual traditions we’ve chosen or into which we were born  . . . not to mention our love of sacred space as it is expressed in the arts and our concerns for peace, social justice and sustainability.

At one point I decided that it would be nice to have a sort of virtual Sunday service and invited Terri Stewart, a Methodist Minister, to be our “Sunday Chaplain.”  In 2008 she founded Beguine Again, an interfaith platform for clerics and spiritual teachers to offer daily solace and inspiration. I felt comfortable inviting Terri in because she didn’t want to convert anyone and seemed to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of traditions other than her own. She even incorporated the wisdom of other traditions in her rituals and writings. Terri supported our mission. She didn’t appear threatened by different opinions or beliefs.

A little over a year ago, I suggested we might throw our two efforts together, Beguine Again and The Bardo Group. I hoped that would ensure the continuation of the The Bardo Group and the wise, beautiful and valued work and ideals of our core team and guests, a group of earnest and talented poets, writers, story-tellers, essayists, artists, photographers and musicians.  Each is a strong advocate for a better – fair, peaceful and sustainable – world. Together they are a powerhouse.

Okay, yes!  I’m a bit biased.  I’ve only met one of our group in person and only talked by phone with Terri,  but I’ve read everyone’s work – their emails, messages, books, blogs and FB posts for years now.  We’ve been through deaths in families, births and birthdays, graduations, illness and recovery, major relocations, wars and gunfire, triumphs and failures. Two of our original contributors have died. I feel that our core team and our guests might be my next-door neighbors instead of residing in  Romania, England, Algeria, the Philippines, Israel, India, Greece, Bulgaria, the United States and other countries I’ve probably forgotten. We’ve featured work by people ranging in age – as near as I can guess – from 19 to nearly 90. They’ve been Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics. The growth of our readership is slow but steady, loyal and just as diverse as our core team and guests.

So what did we do to facilitate this merger: At Beguine Again daily posts continued. That team joined The Bardo Group. We stopped posting daily on The Bardo Group site and started The BeZine, a monthly online publication with a fresh theme for each issue. Terri got a grant to establish a community website from the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Church. The website has been over a year in the works. Today, we unveil it.

footer-logo

The site is designed to be a spiritual networking community.  Though it is an extended ministry of the Lake Washington United Methodist Church, this effort remains both interfaith and a labor of love.

The site is supported by donations, membership (paid membership is optional) and a generous grant from Pacific Northwest United Methodist Church, which funded the design and development of the site. The grant from the church ends on December 31, 2015. Donations and membership fees will support the cost of technical assistance, web hosting and so forth. Should there be any excess funds they will go to the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition, a Seattle nonprofit (also interfaith) founded by Terri under the aegis of the church. Coalition members provide assistance to incarcerated youth. No income is earned by anyone associated with Beguine Again, The Bardo Group, The BeZine or the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition.  All are labors of love.

The BeZine can still be easily and conviently accessed directly either here at this site or through Beguine Again if you choose to become a member of the community.

Please check out the site. Any questions? Let us know … and do let us know what you think. Please be patient too.  The tech gremlins are still working behind the scenes.

A note on the name: Beguine Again.  The original Beguine community was a Christian lay order in Europe that was active between the 13th and 16th century.  Terri chose the name “Because they worked outside the religious structure and were a safe place for vulnerable people.”

© 2015, article and photograph, Jamie Dedes; Beguine Again logo, copyright Beguine Again

Posted in 000 Poets, 100, Bardo News, General Interest, justice, Musicians, poem, Terri Stewart, The BeZine

Conversations on Poverty and Homelessness (Part 1) – The BeZine, 100,000 Poets for Change

On our 2015 Facebook Page for 100,000 Poets for Change, we’ve been discussing poverty and homelessness.  I’m sharing some of the conversation here.  If you’d like to join us on Facebook, please let us know.  All are welcome. For the September 2015 issue of The BeZine, we’ll be exploring poverty and on September 26, we’ll hold our virtual event and we invite reader participation.  Instructions will be in our blog that day.  Links to everyone’s work will be collected and posted as a Page and also incorporated into a PDF that will be archived at 100,000 Poets (writers, artists, photographers, musicians and friends) for Change; i.e., peace and sustainability. 

This portion of the discussion was begun by Terri Stewart (Beguine Again) with this video:

Among the responses:

Michael Dickel (Fragments of Michael Dickel):

“If you want change, let me throw it at you as hard as I can at your dirty face…”

Let me throw justice at you, let it hit your face
and wake us up. Let me throw opportunity at you,
let it hit your face and give us a chance.
Let me throw change at you, change in the world,
change creating justice and freedom,
change creating opportunity, real change
for all. Let me throw democracy at you, let it
hit us in the face so hard that it cracks open
and spills out into the land, everywhere, change—
real democracy, real hope, real opportunity.
Let me throw change and the stinking, rotten
carcass of consumer capitalism and greed at
those so privileged and shallow as to think white
teeth are more important than your humanity.
And then, god help me, let me find love
and compassion to throw as hard as I can
into our faces, into our lives, into the hearts
of us all, of us all standing here watching
in voyeuristic pleasures of despair.

– Michael Dickel

Corina Ravenscraft (Dragon’s Dreams):

“I want to shake all of those people who wrote those mean things and ask them what happened to their compassion? I want to ask them if their judgment makes them feel better about themselves and what they would do if they ever found themselves in such dire circumstances.”

John Anstie (My Poetry Library):

“Yes indeed, Corina, maybe no compassion, but where also is their insight?”

Please share YOUR thoughts below. Thank you!

The August issue of The BeZine will be published online on August 15.  The theme for August is music. 

Posted in General Interest, justice, Peace & Justice, Video

A Mote of Dust Suspended in a Sunbeam

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and popularizer of natural and space science

CARL SAGAN was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the American space program since its inception. He was a consultant and adviser to NASA since the 1950’s, briefed the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon, and was an experimenter on theMariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileoexpeditions to the planets. He helped solve the mysteries of the high temperatures of Venus (answer: massive greenhouse effect), the seasonal changes on Mars (answer: windblown dust), and the reddish haze of Titan (answer: complex organic molecules). MORE [The Carl Sagan Portal

Video posted to YouTube by CarlSaganPortal.

Earth as seen from Apollo 17.

“A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam . . . ” Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan portrait courtesy of the Carl Sagan Planetary Society and in the Public Domain; Earth photo courtesy of NASA

This post is a part of our participation in 100,000 Poets – and Musicians, Artists and Activists –  for Change. Details HERE. Our theme is Peace and Justice.We invite you to participate in this global event by linking in your work with ours. We’ll be collecting all the links in a commemorative page shortly after we close this project on October 3. You may use Mister Linky below or include your link in the comments section. Thank you!

__________________________________

Posted in Essay, Photography/Photographer, Priscilla Galasso

Peace on Earth

In December, I reblogged a series of posts acknowledging the free gifts that are available to humanity every day.  The idea was to approximate an Advent calendar, opening a door to reveal a treasure each day as a count down to Christmas.  This one was first published on the 23rd day of the month.  — scillagrace

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head-on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those which cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Posted in Naomi Baltuck, Peace & Justice, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer

Black and White (or not)

A black and white photo is light and dark, its sharp contrasts easy on the eye.

Perhaps black and white is easier on the mind as well.  No difficult decisions, no wavering, no questioning right from wrong.  But real life is in color, with many subtle hues and shades.  Condemned prisoners who crossed over The Bridge of Sighs in Venice got one last peek at their beloved city.  Did they see their world in terms of black and white, or in color?  Perhaps one’s perception depended upon whether one was looking in or out, whether one was coming or going.

It is easy to cast judgements, until you have walked a mile in another person’s shoes, looked into her eyes, heard his story.  The world is not black and white.  It is the color of flesh and blood, with many gray areas.  What is the color of a human tear?

All images and words by Naomi Baltuck, copyright 2012

Note: For another facet of this topic,  check out this link by Carbon Leaf, The War Was in Color, and my post Remembering Uncle Lewis.

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Art, Gretchen Del Rio, Jamie Dedes, mystic, Poems/Poetry

she leaps from the cleavage of time . . .

she’s present
returned to bite through the umbilical of tradition,
to flick her tongue
and cut loose the animus-god of our parents,
like a panther she roams the earth, she is eve wild in the night,
freeing minds from hard shells
and hearts from the confines of their cages,
she’s entwined in the woodlands of our psyches
and offers her silken locks to the sacred forests of our souls ~
naked but for her righteousness,
she stands in primal light,
in the untrammeled river of dreams
the yin to balance yang
the cup of peace to uncross the swords of war ~
through the eons she’s been waiting for her time
her quiet numinosity hiding in the phenomenal world,
in the cyclical renewal of mother earth,
whispering to us as the silver intuition of grandmother moon
watching us as the warm vigilance of father sun ~
she, omen of peace birthed out of the dark,
even as tradition tries to block her return,
her power leaps from the cleavage of time

)0(

– Jamie Dedes

Original water color by Gretchen Del Rio
Original water color by Gretchen Del Rio

©2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved 

Illustration ~ this lovely watercolor painting by Gretchen Del Rio with its girl-tree, panther and other spirit animals seemed the perfect illustration for my poem on the spiritual return of the feminine. The real back-story on the painting is just as interesting. Gretchen says, “I painted this for a 14 year old Navaho girl. It is for her protection and her power. She sees auras and is very disturbed by this. She is just amazing. Beauty beyond any words. You can see into the soul of the universe when you look at her eyes. She has no idea. I loved her the moment I saw her. My blessings for her well being are woven into the art.” Such a charming piece. I posted it full-size so that everyone can enjoy the detail. Bravo, Gretchen, and thank you. J.D.

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer. For nearly six years I’ve blogged at The Poet by Day,the journey in poem, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight.  Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space.

Attn.: Poets and Writers

Victoria C. Slotto’s Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is tonight.

7 p.m. P.S.T. here on Into the Bardo

See you then …

Posted in justice, Terri Stewart

Sunny Sunday: Moving to Action

This piece is from Rev. Terri Stewart’s blog, “Clocked Monk.” It’s an acknowledgement of someone who is involved in doing some rather controversial work regarding civil rights and the justice system. J.D.

Posted in Essay, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

The Story of Justice

womeninfield
cc licensed flickr photo by OSU Special Collections

In Christian tradition, there is a story of Jesus walking down the street in a foreign town, a mother seeking healing for her daughter, and a strange and unique interplay between Rabbouni and a woman stepping outside of her traditional roles, demanding healing for her very ill daughter (Christian scripture, Mark 7:24-30).

In extra-biblical literature, the girl who needs healing is named Justa. Justa means “fair” or “upright.” Yep. Justice.

A friend and I were speaking about this story recently and we were remarking on one noticing in particular – Justa’s immediate needs were met, but what about her deepest desires? There is much to ponder here. When we see someone hungry, do we give them food? Possibly-some of us do. But do we take the time to discover their deepest desires? When do we slow down enough to notice with wide open eyes the deepest desires of the other? And then, instead of fixing or fulfilling those deepest desires, can we just become a container? A facilitator? How do we let Justa and her mother tell the story, have their immediate needs met, and discover their deepest desires?

So many questions!! The truth is, we can be slow enough, mindful enough, noticing enough to discover the deepest desires of the other. The truth is, so often we don’t. The truth is, when we can become a container of compassion and love, we will discover our own deepest desires.

Below is a poem I wrote for Justa in September, 2011. About 10 days before 9/11.

Justice

the daughter of
the discarded
canaanite woman
was named justice.

when justice lay on her
bed half crazed from
demons or schizophrenia
or whatever unnamed
disorder that bedeviled
her she was all that was
wrong with the world.

a separation of the haves
and have-nots.  those who
have access to healthcare
healers and those who
must die alone and destitute.

justice reached
and crossed boundaries.

her spirit floated through
the wooded path alongside
her mother as they desperately
sought the one who could heal
and put her fractured
psyche back together.

justice became a jumble
of screams as
nails on a chalkboard
incessant bees buzzing
sulphur burning
and constant drip-drip-dripping
clamored intently intensely
inside her skull.

time was running out.

her mother ran
searching and seeking
tree limbs slapping her
in the face as she sprinted
through the wilderness
seeking out anyone who
would promise healing
encountering charlatans
and just the misunderstood
and even those that would
send her away.  calling her
a dog.

not worthy of healing.
she wasn’t one of them.

finally, she sees the one
some call love walking down
the street.

mother screams out as
pain is ripped from her
heart like a bandage from
a fresh wound seeking
hope once again for
justice and knowing that
the hopeless seems so
much stronger.

love keeps on walking.

once more
mother bares her
psyche screaming hope
with barely a glimmer
on the horizon like candle
snuffers putting out all
the stars that exist.

except this
last
one.

finally
mother is heard and justice
is walking with her heart
receiving confirmation
of the great hope mother
always knew was there.

somewhere.
deep within.

a great symphony sprouted
in the heart of justice
with melody sung by
a white-throated sparrow
and harmony enchanted
by love.

Shalom and Amen,

Terri

© 2013, post and photos, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriREV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Posted in Charles W Martin, Peace & Justice, Photography/Photographer, Poems/Poetry, Uncategorized

while the blind-lady danced…

while the blindlady danced

i asked
the brown bag prophet
if he’d heard
about
the new round
of
demonstrations
for justice
he said
yes
and
why don’t
you-all
go sing
another verse of
we shall overcome
with
any luck at all
you’ can
harmonize
with the voices
i’ve heard before
and let
your
blood
be washed away
from these concrete streets
of freedom
washed away
into the ocean
of history
like
those
well-intentioned folks
now rotting
in their graves
with
copper pennies
as their only reward
and
please
don’t bother me
with your
these things
take
time
bull
i ain’t got time
i got
this corner
and you
got
nothing

Charles W. Martin

© 2013, poem and illustration, Charles W. Martin, All rights reserved

.
678ad505453d5a3ff2fcb744f13dedc7-1product_thumbnail.phpCHARLES W. MARTIN (Reading Between the Minds) — earned his Ph.D. in Speech and Language Pathology with an emphasis in statistics.  Throughout Charlie’s career, he maintained a devotion to the arts (literature/poetry, the theater, music and photography).  Since his retirement in 2010, he has turned his full attention to poetry and photography. He publishes a poem and a photographic art piece each day at Read Between the Minds, Poetry, Photograph and Random Thoughts of Life. He is noted as a poet of social conscience. Charlie has been blogging since January 31, 2010. He has self-published a book of poetry entitled The Hawk Chronicles  and will soon publish another book called A Bea in Your Bonnet: First Sting, featuring the renown Aunt Bea. In The Hawk Chronicles, Charlie provides a personification of his resident hawk with poems and photos taken over a two-year period.

Posted in Peace & Justice, Photography/Photographer, Poems/Poetry, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

then the blaze

Then the Blaze
Then the Blaze

blaze dances wildly-
a tango of love
between earth and air

reaching a full roar-
a symphonic orchestration
of heat and wind

creating a searing heat-
a blistering of the senses
by forces of good and evil

be the blaze

dance passionately
roar completely
sear injustice.

© 2013, post and poetry, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Posted in Essay, General Interest, justice, Terri Stewart

Moral Courage

This is a re-blog of my very first blog post ever from 2008! I have edited it a tiny bit.

Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change. Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966. (Source: Wikiquote )

What are our sources of moral courage? I can tell you that I find moral outrage easy, but where does moral courage come from? Relying on my Methodist heritage, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral would have us examine scripture, tradition, reason, and experience in making deliberations. What does this tell me?

What does scripture say?

In Hebrew Scriptures and in Christian Scriptures, we are taught to care for the alien, orphan, widow, and poor among us. In the story of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), we see a Jesus that stands between the accusers and the marginalized. This is what Christians are called to do. Take action in the face of injustice and stop pain from happening. Jesus teaches us repeatedly that we are to extend our hands to the hungry, the poor, the marginalized, and those outside of authority. This continues from the Jewish traditions. In Hebrew Scripture, we are told in Micah 6:8 that we are to “do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God (NRSV). These teachings can be encapsulated in the single commandment “love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14). Leviticus 19:34 tells us that our neighbor is the alien among us. Christ tells us that our neighbor is people outside of the power structure that he ministers too—the bleeding woman, the blind, the demon-possessed, or the widow. Those are the neighbors Jesus stands with.

What does tradition say?

In the Methodist tradition, John Wesley spoke out against many issues facing his generation. This included human rights, slavery, prison reform, labor rights, and education reform. Methodists also have the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions to guide thoughts and deliberations in our present day. Wesley emphasized shaping public policies that would ensure equal and fair education for all children.

What does experience say?

It is very difficult to quantify experience across the board, but if I just examine one system, the education system, we know, through social sciences and the statistics they bring us, that poverty is the single most important factor in education. Poverty riddled areas simply do not have access to a great education system. And unfortunately, for many minority ethnicities in the U.S., poverty riddled areas are disproportionately filled with them. Why would that be? A good source for thought is this YouTube video from Tim Wise–

And we know that poverty is a world wide problem as the recent collapse of the factory in Bangladesh illustrates. The women who were lost there are typically impoverished, but they were considered the lucky ones. They were one step above abject poverty and simply impoverished. The literacy rate is 59%. Poverty and lack of education go hand-in-hand.

Bereaved mothers hold up pictures of their daughters who died in the factory collapse, but whose remains have yet to be identified. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian

There is much to be outraged about. Let us find moral courage.

What does reason say?

Is it reasonable to expect there to be poverty in the world? Is it reasonable to expect there to be violence in the world? Is it reasonable that we hurt each other by action and inaction? I would say no. Jesus does say that the poor will always be with us (Matt 26:11), but that is after he has said that the world will be judged by its treatment of the poor, the hurting, and the hopeless (Matt 25:31-46). Why would Jesus say this bit about the poor being with us always? Perhaps he knew that the entirety of believers would not follow his command to visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, and to clothe the naked. What would it look like if all of our faith communities fought against poverty by directly participating in feeding, clothing, and visiting? That is why it is unreasonable–we hurt each other by our actions and inactions because we are not doing the simple things that Jesus told us. It is unreasonable. Reasonably, we know that if we had a global will, hunger would be eradicated. God would be so pleased, I believe, to see all children fed.

And last, with these sources of moral courage available to us, what do we do with it? Issues in the world today are so complex and systems are so vast that it seems a hopeless exercise. We must remember that we are not called to fix the whole world, but we are called to be faithful. Be faithful and to keep moving forward one step at a time. Maybe even one meal at a time.

(c) 2013 post, Terri Stewart, all rights reserved

terriTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Posted in justice, Peace & Justice, Poems/Poetry, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Perpetua

I met Perpetua today.
Ready to die, to sacrifice all.
For the sake of a child.

Her child clinging.
Unaware of the rising trauma.
Taken away to a forsaken father.

“Renounce Christianity and you will be saved!
Your child returned to you.
Your home restored to wholeness.”

Perpetua does not flinch.
She steps forward.
Recanting the family.

Soldiers rise on their toes.
Readying for battle.
A jumping of the broomstick.

Divorcing the family that once enslaved.
She calmly faces each one.
Taking punishment for freedom.

© 2009, Terri Stewart

This was written to honor the courage and strength of a young woman who is being jumped-out of a gang.  She is doing it for her child and for God.  Perpetua was an early Christian martyr who, while imprisoned, kept her child with her for a time.  She was imprisoned for the sake of her belief in the Christ-child.  This young woman is being jumped-out for the sake of her child. We know of Perpetua because she was educated enough to keep a diary. There are fragments of this diary in existence today. She stayed with her child in prison until she was done nursing him. At that time, he was taken away from her and given to her family to raise.

Gangs and the fear they create are a scourge and it breaks my heart.  If we could lift people out of poverty and the resultant system failures (failure of healthcare, failure of education) these kids, who join gangs by the age of 7 or 8, might have a shot at turning life around.  In the long run, it is much cheaper to educate someone than it is to imprison them.  In the US, there are approximately 800,000 gang members. El Salvador has at least 50,000 while Mexico is at 100,000 at least. There are about 90,000 in Japan and over 160,000 in China. Italy has at least 25,000. (Source: Wikipedia).  This is a world-wide problem with real, heart-breaking consequences.

© 2013, post, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com

Posted in Essay, Poems/Poetry, Spiritual Practice, story, Terri Stewart

Abandoned, Alone, and Angry

In my faith tradition, Jesus is crucified on the cross. He cries out, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?” This is a reference to Psalm 22 which explores emotions of abandonment, anger, and finding hope. I have used this methodology to express the anger and hope that I find for the youth that I work with who are affected by incarceration.

One night when I was working in detention (re: jail for kids), I heard story after story of hopelessness. It came to me that these youth were torn apart by their parents, by the education system, by poverty, by global issues beyond my understanding. One youth was going home the next day. To a crack addicted mother. Why couldn’t he go to his dad? His dad smuggles guns into the country and was a high placed gang member. He was certain he would be dead if he lived with his dad. So to his mom he goes. Where she will offer him drugs and he will become hooked. Again. He said, “I do not have the strength to say no to my mother.”

Another youth, noticably affected with psychological and educational challenges, was from Somalia. He was living with his auntie here. In Somalia, he had seen his parents dragged from their home, his mother raped, and both parents killed in front of him. But instead of investing in mental health centers, we have invested in mental health courts. This young man, clearly with a minimum of PTSD, will be locked up where the focus is on “treatment” (in this setting that means that they admit to crime and say they are sorry) not on therapy.

This makes me so mad! So my heart cries out to all who have let down these children. Let me say it again–children. But in order to do this work, I needed to discover why. The below poem was my journey through the anger to discovering how I can possibly continue to find hope and love in a system that is hopeless and loveless. It is also my way of putting words to the stories that the youth tell. And my own story.

And PS, if you’d like to support my work with these troubled youth, I’d love it!

 

Psalm
Eli Eli lama sabachthani?

where were you
when the embryo
hatched and was formed
by blood-spattered hyenas
tearing hope from
limb to limb and
laughing gleefully
at the mockery

where were you
when the embryo
fell and love
offered a hit
of a crack pipe
covered in symbols
flashing through
the ghetto offering
escape from the
desolate heat

the hands that
should be reaching
out are cut off at
the wrists bleeding
sanctimonious tripe
in defiance of the call
to love the
least , lost, and lonely
while sentencing each
embryo to death

guilty rings through
the room as we
continue to bleed the
embryo out with
ignorance born of
fear and shame and
the lie of the only way
being my way standing
on the corner shouting
belligerently to
repent or die

revelation rings through
the cosmos as the
embryo marches the
guilty to sheol while
silent tears are birthed
wresting the stumbling
breath of hope into a
silent scream reaching
to the ramparts and
calling forth the final
battle fought with
easter lilies

© 2013, post, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

© 2009, poem, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriTERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com, www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com
Posted in Book/Magazine Reviews, Jamie Dedes, Poems/Poetry

The Lives of Women


… For when I shut myself off the outer tick
I find myself listening to the quickening beat
of this dear planet as if it were my own heart’s clock.”
The Composition Hut, Myra Schneider in What Women Want

www-cover
In this short collection of nineteen poems  – including the ten-page narratively-driven long-poem, Caroline Norton – Myra Schneider manages to cut through our many-layered lives. Her poems often move from the intimacy of  personal experience to a broader frame of reference. The opening poems are nature-and-spirit driven and bespeak a love of and concern for environment. The second part of the collection fulfills the polemic promise of the title to present hard lives and harder times in a clear and righteous outcry.

Among the opening poems is Losing, written for her publisher. Myra starts with the unimportant lose of socks and moves on to finding what is valuable:

“a sparrowhawk perched on your gate, eyes alert
for prey, words that toadleap from imagination,
from heart – to make sure every day is a finding.”

In two poems she hints at the symmetrical beauty of mathematics, “… the square root of minus one you once grasped, dumbfounded.” A visit to the Garden is bursting with color and movement and triggers speculations …

“but what does it matter? You know too well
how the years have shrunk your future,
that the past is an ever expanding suitcase.”

… and further along in the poem she closes with …

“to your feet, to the bees still milking
flowering raspberries. You free a frog
watch it hop back to its life.”

I was riveted by the story of Paula Schneider in Crossing Point, as Paula (probably Myra’s mother-in-law) crosses with her children from Germany into Holland during World War II. This is included in the second half of Myra’s book, which comes to the business at hand: injustice as it affects women and children.

Interesting that this book came my way when I am standing by two friends whose physical and emotional frailty are much entwined with their relations with fathers and husbands or boyfriends. It’s not that things haven’t been improved since our parents’ days…at least for many of us it has. It’s not that there are no kind and enlightened men. Certainly there are. It’s not because women and society are without culpability, because they are not.

The complexity of the gender and social issues examined are clear in Myra’s long poem, Caroline Norton, about the nineteenth century writer and poet,  social reformer and unwitting feminist. Caroline came to the latter two occupations, not so much by choice as necessity. As the poem folds out, we see that the brutal husband who separated Caroline from her children (with tragic results for them), was abetted and aided by the women in his life, influenced as they were by a social context in which women and children are property with no legal rights of their own. No doubt those women were numb to the implications, threatened by the hint of change, and anxious to bolster the sense of surperiority they got out of putting this woman down.

Myra stands firm in her poetic commitment to continue the fight started with Caroline Norton, since half the world is still under siege and the other half still begs improvements. We read about the child-bride (Woman) and the woman who is stoned (Her Story). One wonders what happens to the children – boys and girls – of such women. The short story here is that: What women want is justice.

For two years, I have enjoyed Myra Schneider’s work and appreciated her commitment to encouraging others to honor their inner artist, through her books on writing, her classes, and her support of Second Light Network (England), an association of women poets over forty. I suspect that her work doesn’t have the audience it deserves. I hope the day comes when that is remedied.

The closing poem in What Women Want:

WOMEN RUNNING
by Myra Schneider, 2013, All rights reserved
posted here with Myra’s permission

after Picasso: Deux femmes courant sur la plage
Look how their large bodies leaping
from dresses fill the beach, how their breasts
swing happiness, how the mediterraneans
of sea and sky fondle their flesh. Nothing

could rein them in. The blown wildnesses
of their dark animal hair, their hands joined
and raised, shout triumph. All their senses
are roused as they hurtle towards tomorrow.

That arm laid across the horizon,
the racing legs, an unstoppable quartet, pull
me from my skin and I become one of them,
believe I’m agile enough to run a mile,

believe I’m young again, believe age
has been stamped out. No wonder, I worship
at the altar of energy, not the energy huge
with hate which revels in tearing apart,

in crushing to dust but the momentum
which carries blood to the brain, these women
across the plage, lovers as they couple,
and tugs at the future till it breaks into bloom.

What Women Want, publisher (Second Light Publications)

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Cover art and poetry, Myra Schneider, All rights reserved

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer.  I’m in my fifth year of blogging at The Poet by Day, the journey in poem, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight.  Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space.

Posted in Essay, Guest Writer

Giulas is a thoughtful, talented South American film-maker and photographer. I have followed his blog and YouTube channel for a few years now. This post is one I particularly appreciate. Guilas gives us something to think about, which he has drawn from his refined spiritual and artistic sensibility. Thanks, Giulas. Jamie

The eternal solitude of the restless Mind

We live in a world with lots of differences. People are dying of poverty by the millions while other people are feasting in fancy hotels in Europe and Asia. People are suffering for not been able to afford dental treatment while people are spending hundreds of thousands in a new shining smile. That’s the world. I know it can get a lot better but i also know it was a lot worst. At times slavery was common. At times killing with no reason was acceptable. It sounds like the world we live in now, right? Look up in history and you will see it was a lot worst. Our life expectancy is proof of that. This is already subject for a lot of arguments but this is not the main subject here. The main subject maybe has to do with the fact things doesn’t get even better. Much better. And…

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