The Responsibility of Those in Authority

The words of King Lemuel – an oracle his mother taught him.

What shall I say, O my son?
What, O son of my womb?
What, O son of my vows?
Do not spend your strength on women
or your vigor on those who ruin kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to crave strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what is decreed,
and deprive all the oppressed of justice.
Give strong drink to one who is perishing,
and wine to the bitter in soul.
Let him drink and forget his poverty,
and remember his misery no more.
Open your mouth for those with no voice,
for the justice of all the dispossessed.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the poor and needy.

–Proverbs 31:1-9

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Who Has Woe?

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions? Who has complaints?
Who has needless wounds? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
those who go to taste mixed drinks.
Do not gaze at wine while it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a snake
and stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind will utter perversities.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas
or lying on the top of a mast:
“They struck me, but I feel no pain!
They beat me, but I did not know it!
When can I wake up
to search for another drink?”

–Proverbs 23:29-35

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Wisdom

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.

–Proverbs 3:13-18

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Is Poverty a Choice?

I occasionally encounter the “poverty is a choice” mentality, but I can’t help but notice that those who say this often have never been poor and have no real idea what the details of poverty are like. There’s something a bit odious about a rich person trying to tell a person who has been poor and disadvantaged since birth that their poverty is a “choice.”

That said, I have chosen to remain poor at this time in my life, largely because I dislike the effects that having a lot of money has had on certain lifelong old friends of mine. I’ve watched them pursue money, property, and prestige — and I have not watched them become happy. Some of them are downright miserable.

I also dislike the effects that having had a lot of money has had on me. There have been times in my past when I had more money than I knew what to do with. I can sit here without money and dream about all the nice things I would do with a few thousand dollars, but the actual reality is that whenever I encounter money upwards of $5,000 or so, it has a tendency to vanish very rapidly. This leads to a lot of anxieties as to who my actual friends are on this planet. They sure do show up when I have money – whoever they are. I think I’ll remain poor, thank you.

As a poor person, I do not have to worry about who my real friends are. Nobody ever asks me for money, because I don’t have any. A rich person often wonders if somebody is actually his friend, or if they only want their money. I don’t have that worry. If somebody happens to like me, I know that it’s me they like – not my money.

wiser still though poorAs a poor person, I get to work on my inner spiritual issues around money without fear of spending a whole lot of it in the process. Nobody is advising me to go on an expensive retreat or pay for long-term psychotherapy, because both those options are financially out of the question. I find this refreshing, because an hour’s conversation with a caring friend usually works better than several sessions with a psychotherapist. Not to mention, the friend actually cares about me, whereas there’s a good chance the therapist mostly wants my money.  And of course, the friend probably won’t “charge” me anything more than the price of a cup of coffee.  

As a poor person, I actually enjoy running out of money on around the 10th of each month and challenging myself to live without money for the rest of the month. I have found that this is not at all an impossibility; and I believe that I have become a stronger person as a result of this challenge.

As a poor person, I have been able to sit down and write an entire musical — book, music & lyrics — about Homelessness in America. I wrote it from the heart, because I felt the themes I was putting into musical and dramatic form.  When I was a working composer, I wrote money for commission.  I felt forced to write songs, and the pressure of deadlines drastically reduced the authenticity of my work.   

My point? It has to do with integrity. As a poor person, I have developed integrity, and I am proud of the person I have become. When I had money, I had no integrity. I only had money.

When I say, for example. that I am looking for money to pay for singers, musicians, and studio costs to create a demo recording of a few songs from that musical, I mean what I say.  The money will not go into pocket, because I have trained myself to live on minimal means. This is a much happier choice than the earlier kind of choice I made, at a time when I had no inclination to detach myself from worldly concerns.  When I was well-off, my life was all about worldly stuff — passing stuff.  My life as a poor person is all about spiritual stuff — everlasting stuff. Does that make any sense to anyone?

If it does, I’m glad. At this point, I think it’s a lot more likely that 1,000 poor people will each kick down five bucks apiece for me to package this musical of mine, than it is that five rich people will each kick down a thousand bucks. When I talk to wealthy people about my ideas, I have to filter though all kinds of annoying perceptions that they think I’m some kind of a “con artist” or “scammer” or “hustler” trying to put one over on them somehow. When I talk with poor people about my ideas, they usually say: “Great idea, man! I hope that works out for you!” Which experience would you rather have? I think it’s a no-brainer, quite frankly.

Poverty in America is not, for most people, a choice. It is a condition. I myself have made the choice to remain poor, because I don’t care for the effects that money has had on myself and others. Therefore any money toward this project goes to my assistant Danielle — because I have a problem with money (obviously!) and she does not.

I will now cease these deliberations, lest I be construed for having a hidden agenda. My agenda is not hidden — it’s about as open as they come. Information on my project is on my home page, in case anyone’s interested in pursuing this theme a bit further.

I’m not a person who wants money or fame. Been there, done that, too old for all of that. I’m a person who wants to get an important message across about Classism in America. I placed my message in musical-dramatic form — because that’s where I’m strong.

Money is where I’m weak. So, while poverty may not be a choice in most parts of the world, it is my choice. Any other choice, in my 65 years of life experience, has led to disaster.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Note: this post was first submitted on the site Quora, which I am acknowledging in honor of their terms of service.  

 

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A Rain Like You

A couple mornings ago, I awoke a bit later than usual.   After a brief period of reflection, I decided to forego my morning shower, gather up my things, and set forth into the world.

A gentle rain proceeded to plop upon me. 

“Funny,” I thought.  “This reminds me of all those times when I was homeless, and a shower was hard to come by.   I would feel a rain like this, and I’d suddenly be really grateful.   At least my clothes were getting washed, and I was getting a bit of a badly needed shower.”

For another block or so, I continued to enjoy the heavenly feeling of water from above gifting my body with a “courtesy rinse” – no strings attached, free of charge.   After a while, though, the thrill wore off.   I began to brood.

“Somehow,” I mused, “the gratitude that I feel is not so huge as it once might have been.   Sure I’m getting rained on rather nicely.   Of course this is quite pleasant.   But — did I really need to evoke the rain for this purpose?”

I paused to wipe off the back of my neck, where a large drop had leaped down upon me from somewhere within the branches of a tall tree overhead. As the cold water slipped down my back beneath my shirt, I grimaced.

“I have my own shower, you know!” I cried aloud, as though needing to remind myself.  “I could have given myself an extra ten or fifteen minutes.   Of course, the rain would still be tossed upon my back, but at least I wouldn’t be thinking of it as my shower substitute.”

I pulled a part of my corduroy blazer up toward my nose.

“Seems a bit ratty, if you ask me.” I frowned.  “In fact, the whole outfit could use a wash.  When was the last time I did the laundry?”

It wasn’t long before the previously pleasant memory of free showers past had faded completely from my consciousness.

“There’s no excuse for this!” I shouted at a large, looming cloud of darkness. “The days when I needed a rain like you are long past.  I have my own shower — I even have my own tub.  I could have easily waited another ten minutes to clean myself up if I had known this was going to happen.”

teaching like rainBut the rain continued, more-or-less treacherously, more-or-less cynically — as though my frivolous complaint meant nothing in the face of such cosmic inevitability.  

“I can also wash my own clothes without your assistance,” I added.  “It’s a minor hassle trying to make sure I have the right change, but for three bucks in quarters, the laundry room isn’t very much further than the shower.   It used to be . . . “

At around this point, I stopped and slowed somewhat.   For one thing, I realized that I had been talking to myself.  The clouds weren’t listening, and the rain seemed almost stoic in its indifference to my plight.   For another thing, I had begun to sense a strange poignancy couched within the mundane.   Despite the apathy of the unfeeling elements, there was a sense of great caring and concern emerging.   Wherever it came from, I wasn’t sure.  But it was real.

“It used to be,” I continued, “that if I needed clean clothing, I might as well just get a whole new outfit at the thrift shop, and leave the dirty clothes behind.   It only cost a few pennies more than having to do everything in a laundromat, and besides I had no explaining to do after stripping down to my running shorts in public, just to make sure I still had something on while all the rest of my clothes were tumbling.  Easier just to buy new duds once a week or so.  No matter how many times I washed my clothes or showered anyway, it would still be pretty much assumed that I hadn’t.   

“It used to be, people would walk past my Spot and hold their noses in a gesture of scorn.  Funny, though — I hung around homeless people all the time, and unless the guy was drunk or something, I never smelled anything.   Then again, I wasn’t looking for it.  Funny how we often find whatever it is we’re looking for — even when it isn’t there.

“It used to be, no matter how much I tried to make my presence more palatable to passersby, I could not escape the scorn, the ridicule — I remember once how a man walked by and shouted: ‘Take a shower!’  This was literally less than fifteen minutes after I’d just stepped out of the shower at the Multi Agency Service Center.   Made me feel as though the three hours I’d spent waiting in the line for the shower that morning had all been for naught.   

“It used to be, they treated me like I wasn’t even human.  Just a piece of garbage, littering the sidewalk with my being.   But now . . . “

The clouds moved more quickly for a spell.  

“But now, they treat me like — one of the gang.   One of the crowd.   A person worth smiling at.   A person whose smile is meaningful . . . is safe . . . 

“Yeah!”  I laughed.   “When was the last time I had the experience of being treated as though I were not even human?”   

The sun slipped very nicely between a couple of passing clouds.  My gait lightened, as the Latah Recovery Center loomed in the distance.  I like to say a prayer before I step in the door to begin my shift.   My prayer, this time, was thus:

There was a time when I slept on my back in a thunderstorm
in a church parking lot, having no blanket,
and looking up at the howling night sky,
having no choice but to shout: “Bring it on!”
I was stormed on for years, Lord.
I want you to know how thankful I am
to be rained on
by a Rain like You.
AMEN.

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700 Days of Gratitude

You know you’re a Writer when you come back to edit your daily gratitude list.  This is List 700, by the way.

1. This morning I received the zany idea to compile all seven hundred of these lists into a single volume, do a bit of editing to protect the innocent, and publish it on Zulu or CreateSpace under the title: 700 Days of Gratitude.  Why not?

gratitude2. That said, these lists having long since drifted from their original purpose, I’ve created a new morning wake-up routine that reduces the role of the Gratitude List to five points sprawled with a pen onto paper at the end of each day, and five each morning, first thing upon arising.  Then I’ll take my thyroid medication, read something fun and light for fifteen minutes, read a spiritual book for fifteen minutes, and then make my coffee, and write in my journal.   In this manner, I won’t hit the Internet for 45 minutes – and believe me, I shall be enriched.

3. Walked four miles today at a brisk pace.   All set to go running tomorrow.

4. Grateful the Recovery Center was open, where I received encouraging peer support, and also was able to be of service to a recovering alcoholic, as well as two addicts passing through town.

5. Learned something important about myself last night, and use the pain of the experience to effect a positive life change.

6. Was granted a few scoops of coffee tonight at the Center, and it sits in my filter, even as we speak.  Tomorrow I’ll put on a pot while I read, and drink it once a large glass of water’s been downed, one half hour after awakening.   Can’t go wrong with that!

7. What a nice, secluded, quiet, neat, clean one-bedroom apartment I rent today!  The price can’t be beat, the neighbors are civil, and there isn’t a tweaker in sight.

8. Finally broke my block and hammered out a blog for my new writing gig – and I’m glad.  Though it was 1500 words (rough draft, stream of flow), and it’s supposed to be 600 words max, at least I got from A-Z.   Also:

9. I’ve got a professional editor now, a retired lady from my church whose second career was in writing and editing.   She’s smart as a whip, and extremely proficient, and I’m sure she can chop off those excess adjectives and superfluous phrases and cut that thing down to size.

10. This will be my last published Gratitude List, so I might as well speak my conclusive piece.  Gratitude Lists indeed have a way of improving my spirits, all the day long.   I feel good when I’m happy, and these lists have a way of making me happy.  But in the end, life isn’t about feeling good.  It’s about being good — and doing good.  It’s about cultivating wisdom, and nurturing compassion, and caring for those in need.   But most of all, it’s about caring for one’s own self; and showing in that manner of selfless self-love an example that shines before others, that they might see that our actions are worthy, and glorify our God from beyond and before us, the Giver of all good gifts.

The people who seek their own pleasure are the takers.  They eat better, and gluttonously so, and eventually become fat, and burst.  But the people who seek to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with their God are the givers.  They sleep better, and rest comfortably within their own skin, and wind up feeling better — about themselves, about their purpose, and about humanity on the whole.   So I ask you: is it pleasure, or righteousness, that one ought to seek after first?  It profits little if one gains the whole world, to the loss of their God-given soul.

 

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