Three Haiku for DC

(So they’re having a haiku contest in DC – here are my three entries…)

1.

The swamp lies undrained
But dragonflies can still dance
As blossoms emerge

2.

Even the great weight
Of this city – powerless
To hold down the spring

3.

New growth emerges
From the old and decaying
In gardens – and halls

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Uncle Sam (Checked into Rehab)

Uncle Sam
Checked into rehab
Finally realized that there was something wrong
Uncle Sam
It took an intervention
For him to realize that there was something wrong

Now he sits in a circle with a cup of coffee
Tries to listen to what other people say
So used to being the center of attention
Now he just has to learn to live life day by day

Uncle Sam
Started to question
Certain assumptions about how he’d lived his life
Uncle Sam
Sought a Higher Power
Lessons in humility cut sharper than a knife

Now he sits in a circle, tries to tell his story
The other addicts listen with attention and respect
Acknowledging the damage, grateful for the blessings
Striving for honesty and life without regret

Uncle Sam
Took an inventory
Made a little list of everyone he’d harmed
Uncle Sam
It took a lot of courage
To lay down his attitude and lower his arms

Now he sits in a circle, older but wiser
Tries to live these principles in all his affairs
Starting to realize that though he’s far from perfect
God will love him anyway and help him through his cares

Uncle Sam
Checked into rehab
Finally realized that there was something wrong
Uncle Sam
It took an intervention
For him to realize that there was something wrong…

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: TOWARDS AMERICAN RECOVERY

(My column for November 2018)

In the past few months, I’ve been trying to make the case that American society in the Age of Trump is very much like an addict – an addict that will soon be confronted with an existential decision: to recover or perish.

So what might that recovery look like?

The genius of the folks who developed “twelve-step” programs for alcoholics and other addicts beginning back in the 1930’s was simple. They saw that in order to recover, the addict couldn’t rely on his or her individual will alone, but needed to find something outside of themselves – they hit upon the term “higher power” – to which they could refer to help guide their decisions.

And the real genius was that they realized that it didn’t much matter exactly what that “higher power” was. It didn’t need to be a deity. In fact, it was better if the addict decided for himself or herself what it was, according to his or her own understanding. This avoided the need to reconcile oneself with someone else’s dogma or theology, and the possibility of destructive disputes or schisms. But th8s “higher power” did need to be something bigger than one’s self… something, in a sense, spiritual.

But if I were to say that the solution to America’s troubles is “spiritual” in nature, I fear that quite a few people would take me exactly the wrong way. The kind of spiritual solution of which I am thinking has absolutely nothing to do with posting monuments to the Ten Commandments, absolutely nothing to do with mandating prayer in the public schools or using the words “In God We Trust” – or, for that matter, with governments using public funds to support religious displays.

It has nothing to do with outward displays of religiosity at all.

It begins instead internally, with a strong dose of humility – a quality in short supply in the American national consciousness. It begins with an acknowledgment, an admission to ourselves that things have gotten out of control. Things are happening that seemingly exceed our ability to cope with them – from gun violence and opioid addiction to inequality and climate change.

To take even this first step would be a huge challenge for the American psyche, even in normal times. It runs completely counter to our treasured national narrative of “can-do” confidence, of “manifest destiny,” of shining cities on a hill.

That’s why this process won’t start – can’t start – until it absolutely has to.

But once it does start… then we will have to find what the term “higher power” means for us as a people. I don’t think that it’s God per se. Rather, it may be the set of values that we have always professed to believe in – things like equality, justice, fairness, freedom, responsibility – but have frequently failed to implement fully.

These qualities are not ours alone, of course. To rededicate ourselves to their service will also mean acknowledging that there is something beyond our own narrow perception of “national self-interest,” and that we are no longer some kind of final authority. Given our historical attitudes towards institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, this will also be a hard pill to swallow… but swallow it we must.

That is, if we wish to recover our collective soul.

Just a Symptom

Mister Trump
Is the lump
That you find
In your breast

His soul
Like that mole
That looks different
From the rest

He’s that thought
In your head
You might be better
Off dead

That rasping in your lung
That strange taste on your tongue
That little twinge in your hip
That small sore on your lip

Just a sign of what’s coming
That something’s wrong with the plumbing
Of a rot deep inside
That a suntan won’t hide

He’s a symptom, that’s all
Just a small warning call
The pride before the fall
It’s okay. Build your wall.

Prayer Against Fascism

Dear Lord, Guiding Spirit, Power beyond and around and within us…
as You know, there is a disease going around
a deep and terrible sickness
it attacks the soul, the mind, and the heart
of individuals, communities, cities, of whole nations
it’s infectious, virulent, easily communicable
spread by word of mouth, by constant exposure to lies
by propaganda’s relentless drumbeat
it feeds on fear, ignorance, and bruised pride
and it makes people do horrible things
sometimes in Your Name

let me not succumb to it

keep my heart open to the Other
keep my mind open to truth and to inquiry
keep my soul free of hatred and fear
grant me the courage to speak out
when I see this disease raise its ugly head
grant me compassion both for its victims
and for those infected by it
keep me free from arrogance and illusions of superiority
grant me humility and acceptance
let me never come to believe
that I have any exclusive answer, any special privilege
or that others are any less worthy than I am in Your sight

Lord, I pray for the humbling of bullies,
of those who abuse their power over others –
I ask for their hearts to be healed,
for the calming of their rage
Grant them empathy and inner peace
Let them find what it means to be human again

Help us to celebrate everything that we are
To fully embrace both our diversity and our unity
To care for each other and your Creation
Let the mighty step down, let the lowly be raised
Help us temper justice with mercy
Help us replace dissension with harmony
Help us overcome this disease, this epidemic we call fascism
with the healing power of love. Amen.

Sympathy for the Devil: New Verses

While listening to a local musician play “Sympathy for the Devil” recently, it occured to me that the time had come to add some new verses… so here you go:

The golden calf is all grown up
I’m the bull that rules your souls
I make you rampage over Creation
For the silliest of goals
I’ve set up frauds
In the name of God
And you follow them – now don’t you find that odd?
Pleased to meet you…

I set up shop in Washington
Got one in Tel Aviv
I relish Gaza’s sufferings
Made a hell that they can’t leave
Made a deal with a chump
By the name of Trump
On God’s own Church we’ll take a dump
Pleased to meet you…

Assignments

Here is my life
As I have to live it
Here is my gift
As I have to give it
Here is my work
As I have to do it
Here is my time
As I have to go through it

Here is the world
As I have to see it
Here is my self
As I have to be it
Here is my house
And I have to clean it
Here is my promise
And I have to mean it

Here is my heart
As I have to show it
Here is my truth
As I have to know it
Here are my feelings
As I have to feel them
Here are my wounds
As I have to heal them

Here is my darkness
That I must bring to light
Here is my struggle
That I have to fight
Here are the things
I don’t yet understand
You are my friends
With whom I can stand

Here is my soul
That I have to show
Here is my God
That I must get to know
These are the tasks
That I have been given
This is my life
I had better start living
This is my life
I had better start living