The Progressive Spirituality movement.

This post was inspired by the recent ABC Compass program on the Uniting Church in Australia, “The Uniting Church” highlighting a divergence of opinion within the church between conservative Christian traditionalists and a new movement emerging called “progressive spirituality” (P.S.).  P.S. is challenging traditional Christianity at its core by questioning key doctrinal concepts such as the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus and the church’s rejection of homosexuality.

I don’t believe the Compass program did justice to the ideas of either faction in this schism and seemed more interested in highlighting the existence of conflict within a church that calls itself “uniting”.

The Compass program did touch on what I consider to be a major issue which did not appear to be aimed at either side of the debate, and then dissapointingly did not return to it.  The Uniting Church’s modus operandi in its mission to the poor, oppressed and marginalised is a bureaucratic/welfare mode by way of welfare institutions. “But this work has become more professionalised, congregations have become less directly involved” according to Compass. I shall return to this issue.

The P.S. Movement is not confined to the Uniting Church. it has members and curious followers from all Christian denominations, it struggles with the word “Christian” as it excludes other faiths. However despite welcoming invitations to members of other faiths the movement is dominated by Christians or ex-Christians. The P.S. Movement is infinitely diverse, it cannot be pigeonholed as a particular tradition, philosophy or theology. It actively challenges preconceptions of religion and spirituality and as such is incapable of articulating a party line. It is indeed a post-modernist movement that sees respect for difference as part of the essence of their movement.

The P.S. Movement seems to have defined itself by way of adherence to the writings of radical theologians such as Bishop John Shelby Spong who recently visited Australia and invigorated this movement.

The movement holds scholarship in very high regard and its main spokespeople have been academic theologians which has its blessings and its curses.

Amongst the blessings of a theologian lead movement is a direct connection to the tradition and knowledge of ancient scriptures such as the bible and gnostic gospels. The cultural illusions that have been the substance of modern Christendom are stripped away with great authority and scholastic accuracy. This deconstruction of traditional Christianity has opened the gates to authentic spiritual experience without the constraints of artificial and outdated modes enshrined as holy and eternal. The scholars have assisted in liberating the captive Christian mind.

However the curse of scholastic spiritual leadership is the same as of academia in general in that the root or base experience of all (or most) knowledge is the written word.

I wonder if literacy itself is an obstacle to spiritual reality?

I am no anti-intellectulaist. However I am concerned that spiritual experience and knowledge is contained when it is a product of a book (or website). This would perhaps be my major criticism of traditional Christianity, in that it has demanded that the book, the bible, be the only source of knowledge of god.

Very few of the main characters of the bible got their wisdom through books, that was predominantly the domain of the often despised religious authorities. The new testament church taught spirituality by way of active engagement and participation in the Jesus community, through the oral tradition of story telling and through engagement in ritual such as baptism – bathing in the waters of a healing sacred site. Spirituality was a historical reality that people – all of them, body and all,  participated in, not an idea or a thought or anything contained in text including holy scripture..

Western industrialised society, not just the church has made literature the basis of our entire educational system from preschool to PhD. However literacy – the monotonous, one dimensional experience of shape recognition on a piece of paper or computer screen that triggers memory of pre-existing concepts in our mind by way of chemical and electrical impulses does not get to the truth of the matter.

Learning through literacy is a secondary, represented reality instead of a direct engagement with the subject being studied.

Spirituality is not an ideology but a lifestyle and the consciousness that grows from that, a holistic connection of physical and mental and of ourselves to everything else. Spiritual wisdom is the experience of living a holistic lifestyle, not a rational justification or idea that has been read in a book.

The greatest spiritual tradition this continent has ever known is Aboriginal culture. This is of course relevant to this P.S. Movement and indeed all Australians. However knowledge of this tradition cannot be gained through reading books but only by direct engagement with Aboriginal people, culture and sociology.

I believe that spirituality is a non-rational, subconscious reality on a dimension different from literacy and the experience of reading. Spirituality is multi dimensional and holistic but literacy is not holistic and just a simple exercise of our visual senses impacting on our intellectual capacity.

We all learn of spirituality and the depth of human experience when we encounter death. Our understandings of life that flow from the grieving process can barely be articulated in text and cannot be taught to another through text, yet the spirituality of life and death is the most profound of all. The funeral of a loved one is an intensely spiritual experience, whatever religion or ideology. It is this reality without language, from grief to joy to dialogue with the devil in the desert, that we find and share and teach spirit. Life, death and spirituality are all “lived” experiences not book-learned ones.

And this is where I return to bureaucratic/welfare modes of mission or engagement in the world. Can the P.S. movement incorporate service to the poor within a spiritual framework? Can this mission itself be a generator of spiritual experience for them?

The poor and marginalised’s direct experience of the church, by way of welfare agencies is of an empty structure while the congregations are having their own spiritual experiences and journeys somewhere else, in church on Sunday, social groups or theological colleges.

 I do not believed detached welfarism is the model of engagement with the community that occurred in the historical church of the bible.

I have seen nothing (yet) in my searchings to suggest that the P.S. Movement has a vision for any other modes of engagement with the poor other than managing, or in other ways engaging bureaucratically with, welfare or social justice agencies – the traditional church model.

This I believe is the challenge of the P.S. Movement, to explore a spirituality, lived experience and social engagement that is not so much outside the theology of the traditional church but  actively and intentionally outside of the culture of the traditional church.

I believe that the P.S. Movement could develop, on the one hand as a distillation of mainstream, secular consciousness and morality and engage with society on that level. On the other hand it could embrace a spirituality similar to the radical Christian community movement of the 1970’s which emphasised an alternative communal lifestyle (of different sorts) and real and active connection to the poor. This movement existed within traditional theology but lived a holistic spirit that had little to do with the institutional church and its Sunday services.

Can a new, liberated spirituality of the Progressive Spirituality movement get beyond a theological/academic tradition and evolve into a lived, daily experience and social reality that is accessible and relevant to those in need as well as church members?

 The emerging awareness that we have to relate to the Earth differently, for theological or ecological reasons, provides another reason to re-engineer the culture and lifestyle of the church, for its own sake and to have some positive relevance to the wider society.

 More info -

http://www.progressivereligion.org.au/ Centre for Progressive Religious Thought

 http://commondreams.org.au/ “Common Dreams”

http://www.progressivespirituality.net/index.htm Progressive Spirituality Network – Brisbane

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12 Comments

Filed under australia, justice, philosophy, psychology, society, spirituality, Uncategorized

12 responses to “The Progressive Spirituality movement.

  1. Hello John
    I too am not a member of the Uniting Church, but I have been enriched by studying with two of its scholars – Professor Dorothy Lee (New Testament) and Professor Chris Mostert (Systematic Theology). I think they would appreciate receiving your article.
    Sincerely – James Moulder
    Professor Dorothy Lee
    web page @ the United Faculty of Theology
    http://uft.unimelb.edu.au/staff/dorothy_lee
    e-mail = dorothy.lee@ctm.uca.edu.au
    Professor Chris Mostert
    web page @ the United Faculty of Theology
    http://uft.unimelb.edu.au/staff/chrisitiaan_mostert
    email = chris.mostert@ctm.uca.edu.au

  2. I attended the Common Dreams conference with a small group from our church, The Salvation Army in Brunswick (Melbourne). Whilst I found overall the content to be both rich and intellectually stimulating, the missing factor for me also was any real engagement with the plight of the poor and vulnerable – something which liberation theology has provided in abundance for many years now. As an officer in The Salvation Army, I recognise that my own denomination should be further along this path than we appear to be, however recently there seems to be some momentum in this area which connects practical Christianity with an intelligent 21st century expression of spirituality. Hopefully, some further exploration and dialogue between all of us will help to open some positive pathways forward.

  3. Thanx for the comment Jason,

    I believe the Salvation Army are a case in point of a dysfunctional welfare mode, they are the band-aid when major surgery is needed. However the S.A. also stand as a glorious model of spirituality in action. It seems that the Salvation Army insist on real engagement with “the poor” as a pre-requisite for the christian life. It seems to me that in terms of spiritual experience, the praxis of the Salvation Army is a much deeper spirituality than any theological orthodoxy or anti-orthodoxy.

    The danger of the progressive spirituality movement is that it will conform and adapt to the social norms of affluent australian society which include a safe insulation from the poor.

    Blessed are the poor

    Sell all you have and give it to the poor in order to enter the kingdom of heaven

    It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven

    I do not think these sayings of Jesus are necessarily prescriptions for economic management but relate to a basic consciousness and attitude to wealth and material possessions – sharing is a state of mind. However I wonder how much of the essence of the message of Jesus has been preserved in the new theology. Or have they thrown the baby out with the bath water? The underlying problem is the mainstream churches from which progressive spirituality is rooted, is itself defiant of the teachings of Jesus about the role of the poor in spiritual matters.

    Jason, are any of the thinkers in the Salvation Army considering modes of action in line with liberation theology, things that go beyond welfare engagement?

  4. My own opinion is that the social inequities that exist within our country (and this is probably true globally as well) need to be addressed on a variety of levels. Whilst you are right that some welfare work in this country could be categorized as ‘band-aid’ approaches, it is important to note that when people have a cut sometimes a band-aid is the most appropriate response. The difficulty arises when this is the only response that occurs because the source of people’s wounds is never addressed.

    I believe that The Salvation Army have an important role to play in holding our politicians responsible for their attitudes to and effect on the poor and vulnerable in our country. This is a role where there is much room for improvement.

    I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but in Melbourne there is a growth in Community Development approaches and The Salvation Army internationally have also been doing excellent work from a capacity-based framework with people in desperate need in developing countries.

    My personal theology has been deeply influenced by liberation theologians like Gutierrez, Sobrino and Boff. See our website for a taste of contemporary Salvationist theology (www.salvationarmy.org.au/brunswick)

  5. hello again Jason.

    A couple of things about band aids – strategy and theology, but first I agree that there are many times where a simple bandaid is usefull and appropriate.

    However,

    1/ strategy
    When the bandaid becomes institutionalised as a system it becomes a lifestyle. There are many homeless people in Brisbane (and I assume elsewhere) who have found living on the streets as a sustainable lifestyle. They can get food, showers and shelter by way of the band-aid organisations. These people do not have much choice, they take what they can get and are funnelled into a sustainable, survivable (sort of) life of dependency.

    There has been much discussion about the role of welfare dependence in Aboriginal communities encouraging alcoholism, poverty and hopelessnes. I believe the same exists with mainstream welfare notions too, from coffee brigades to centrelink payments.

    In essence these institutionalised bandaids entrench the status-quo. They are not a path out of any problems, they make the problem survivable from day to day.

    The poor are not transformed with bandaid welfare, their poverty is maintained and entrenched.

    I am certainly not saying the problem is the poor are lazy. I am saying that the pathways out of poverty are not offered to the poor by welfare bandaids.

    2/ Theology
    I agree with the notion of Jesus being incarnate in the contemporary poor that is on your website. This raises the question about how do we relate to Jesus today? Do we have some token connection to him by way of a donation at church to provide a meal or bed for the night? Do we offer him food vouchers? Or do we share with him, invite him to sit at our own table and generously share our own food with him as an honoured guest in our home and life?

    “Sell all you have and give to the poor” is a long way from donate a few dollars to provide a coffee and sandwich to the poor.

    As your website says, jesus was not seperate from the poor, he was the poor. If we take up the invitation to sit at Jesus’ table we are sitting with the poor and sharing their food. We are learning of God from their spirit and consciousness, not offering them salvation by way of our affluent church.

    Jesus and the early church shared with the poor, not donated to them. He did not lobby the government to take more care of the poor, the poor took care of themselves through community, mutual aid and sharing – with, of course, a lot of support from the wealthier members of the Jesus community who shared as equals not benefactors.

    These theological and strategic issues are are relevant to a critique of community development as well as traditional welfare.

    Is the community development process a question of rich and powerfull people devising a strategy for the lives of the poor? Or is it rich and poor people working together as equals to solve collective problems – sharing? as was the model of Jesus and the early church.

    Is community development an attempt to reorganise the lives of the poor? Or is it an attempt to reorganise the lives of the rich?

    In broad terms such as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer contemporary affluence is a causal factor in the generation of poverty. e.g. Aboriginal poverty in particular is a direct result of the dispossession from the land that built the wealth of modern Australia. Without a return of at least some land and wealth then Aboriginal Australia will be eternally disadvantaged.

    To tackle structural issues of poverty we have to tackle affluence.

    But on a more nuts and bolts level, the affluent have the capacity to make things happen in the world but the poor are in general powerless. Until the affluent rearange their lives then no meaningful change will be possible. The poor simply lack the resources to do anything beyond daily survival.

    Community development strategies that intervene into the lives of the poor without intervening into the lives of the rich will entrench poverty and hopelessness as much as bandaid welfare modes do.

  6. John,

    I think we’re in agreement about just about everything! Unfortunately our hopes are still a long way from reality in most places. Jurgen Moltmann talks about us creating ‘anticipations’ of God’s Kingdom and I can see these in a few places. They are all imperfect and fragmentary, but nevertheless serve to impart hope that things can be different.

    Regards,

    JDK

  7. I think you should consider:

    Does Traditional “Christianity” Follow Christ, OR Anti-Christ?

  8. Michael Erbacher

    Hi Jason and John,
    I read your responses with great interest and also with rays of hope.
    Being a person who has long stayed away from the church not being able to rest with the (as I saw it) rigid unjustifiable and unsupported rhetoric of main stream churches and then having followed another and interestingly painfull path to discover what is my own spirituality, I now see two intelligent well read and articulate men (you) who no doubt have spheres of influence and who are from two dsifferent churches actually communicating with each other. How wonderfull. Please continue your dialogue with as many people as you can. All of what you have shared is totally plausible and sensible.

    When all those who are effcted by this system are able to communicate responsibly together the answers will be found. They may not be the right answers but every answer will be one step closer to a more suitable outcome.
    Go well my friends.

  9. Michael Erbacher

    BTW
    if you where to do a google on Integral Theory, some answers may be forth coming.
    Cheers

  10. Ecothearcy,
    I cant download videos at the moment but will watch it when I can.

    Michael E,
    I had a look at some of the links on Integral theory. it is very interesting. I have not yet read enough to get a proper picture of it but what I have seen already seems a bit too academic for me. Ken Wilbur’s work seems to be describing and categorising reality in accordance with western scientific academic methodology. He dances around reality, describing all the ins and outs of the reality he sees but (based on a very superficial glance at his work) he does not seem to describe a path or process to connect to reality. He has provided an academic analysis of something that exists outside of the parameters of academic analysis.
    I am a bit skeptical about the suggested confluence between spiritual philosophy and science – because i do not believe science is objective, it is totally a construction of consciousness and will allways conform to the expectations of that consciousness. Science is essentially the process of measurement. Measurement is a charachteristic of measuring devices, not the reality that is being measured. The measurement devices are constructed to interact primarily with our own senses. e.g. a microscope is designed around the nature of the eye, not the nature of microscopic reality. A microscope describes the microscopic in terms of familiar notions of vision which are simply an electro/chemical connection between the eye and the brain creating an illusion in consciousness that informs our ego. What we see in the microscope is a self generated illusion, not the true nature of what we are looking at.

    I believe the higher, evolved state of consciousness described by Wilbur is the essential human experience. It is not a question of evolving to this consciousness but rather deconstructing and abandoning illusion and ego. The theory, which Wilbur seems to concur with, is that once the ego and illusions have been understood and dismissed, all that is left is nothingness which is the universal manifestation. I prefer to say everythingness – being the same thing as everything, beyond “connection” but being the same whole thing.

    The totally evolved consciousness that has its roots in the everythingness and is able to allow the everythingness to create, manifest in and drive the illusions of the ego is the nature of the new born infant and the baby in the womb.
    The “way” of universal consciousness is not of evolution or development but rather of regression, undoing the learning and consciousness of illusion that has encased universal consciousness.

    We are already in the highest consciousness, we just have not yet realised it because we are too distracted by the illusions that we believe to be real.

    Wilbur describes this process but in doing so he has also generated an academic illusion that is something different from the consciousness that he writes about. It conforms to the searchings and cravings of anxiety that is the nature of the ego, the very thing that must be transcended to even have a glimpse of this higher consciousness.

    Have you read anything of Adi Da Samraj (a.k.a. Da Free John)
    http://www.aboutadidam.org/index.html
    Apparently he was one of Wilbur’s teachers.
    I am not so sure of the guru’s claims of his own centrality to the process as the single incarnation of God, but I have never met him. However his writings (and I have heard a couple of tapes) are very good at identifying and deconstructing ego.

    I have recently discovered Krishnamerti also, who seems to be on a similar path to Adi Da and Wilbur. http://www.katinkahesselink.net/kr/core.htm

    It is fun to juggle the different ideas and philosophies but this process in itself is a distraction to the reality that all the philosophers try to describe. The very act of description submerges the process back into egoic thought.

    Getting back to the above discussion about “the poor”, this is why I believe service to the poor is a much more profound teaching than the words of a guru or academic. The loving bonding between ourselves and poor or marginalised people, where we are equal as friends in common spirit is itself a deconstruction of egoic notions of “rich” and “poor” or of “comfortable” and “disadvantaged”. In terms of evolution of consciousness, breaking down illusions and finding a communion with entities outside our own egoic frameworks is more powerful than, for example, Wilburs articulations of the confluences in different streams of thought.

  11. Lara DeLuz

    Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city
    And the heart and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave,
    And the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island,
    Of God hath been made, and His praise glorified
    –BAHA’U’LLAH

    “I joined the show (Buffalo Bill Wild West Show), because I might learn some secret about the white man, that I could help my people, somehow. I did not see anything to help my people. I could see that the white man did not care for each other, the way our people did. That they would take everything from each other, if they could. And so, there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all, and maybe were starving. They had forgotten that the Earth was their mother.”
    –BLACK ELK — 1887
    (A famous Chief and Wichasha Wakan (Medicine or Holy Man) of the Ogala, Lakota, Sioux Nation)

    A VISION

    Our world is vibrantly alive and abundant with talent that spans such diversity of ethnicities born of struggle, trauma, love and illuminating spirituality. Despite our continual quest to surmount the malevolent clinch of the “Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome,” the God Force emerges through the imagery of humankind’s creative vision, giving rise to hope for our world yet. One expression of that rapturous symmetry is through the milieu of Art.

    Impressions Upon Canvas

    Several years ago, I visited an art exhibit featuring Native American Art at the University of California’s Gorman Museum in Davis. I was particularly drawn to one painting depicting a beautiful Native American woman with white doves encircling her, as if in supplication to The Creator. The artist, a descendant of Cherokee lineage, is involved in Native American rights struggles. This served to heighten my joy, since in addition to Native American ancestry on my mother’s side, I appreciate any art form that conveys both a spiritual and social message. From a spiritual perspective the woman symbolized, to me, with her bare feet standing on a dirt mound, Earth Mother. With her mournful eyes raised toward the heavens, she was imploring the Creator to change the hearts of her wayward children. With great sorrow, she yearned for her global family to treat her with reverence, surrender their enmity to one another and recognize their shared divinity and affinity with all life.

    A Cradle of Grief

    Unfortunately, the emergence of Native Americans (or Indigenous People, as some prefer to be called), as primary contributors to our culture is still only beginning to be recognized. Thus, I stand in silent reverence with respect to such a people for many reasons. For one, certain tribes extended refuge too many run-away slaves when there was no respite from the ravages and cruelties in the Anglo-Saxon world they were chained to. Understandably then, it was with one of the Native American tribes that my grandfather’s enslaved ancestors sought refuge.
    Ironically, without the intervention of Native Americans, Anglos, who lacked appropriate survival skills, would have surely perished during the birth of this nation. Then, it wasn’t out of appreciation or reverence for life that 80 percent of Native Americans perished in the interest of Manifest Destiny, further justified by the notion of their savagery. Or, that, countless blacks died owning to similar logic erecting ivory towers while feeding their captors from the silver spoon of affluence
    The mystical insights of Native Americans, their reverence for the planet and the beast upon it should have stood as a testament that, humans and nature can co-exist in any ecosystem in harmony and attunement to divine law.
    –2–
    However, the way of balance was doomed, given the relentless delusion that some of God’s children feel superior to others. Subsequently, the earth was defiled; many diversified indigenous cultures were lost alongside plant and animal life that ensuing generations will never benefit from.
    However, because I believe the God-Light to be inherent in all people, we can choose to evolve to a higher level of consciousness globally, averting a future in which humans will be the next disappearing species. Thus, as we continue to embrace this new millennium, we will either end the proliferation of intolerance along with our other dubious agendas or realize unity in death, if not in life.

    Supplication for Righteousness

    As I observed the woman in the painting, her divinity and humility came through so distinctly. With hands stretched out in supplication, she prayed for her children to be freed of the madness that consumed and blocked them from a Loving Creator. She asked that commitment respond to indifference, understanding to condemnation and that foresight and honesty finally prevail in a world mired in hypocrisy, inequity and greed.
    Similarly, she asked that the wages of war, which are often promoted for reasons that obscure the truth, be abandoned. She prayed for a level of global accord that supplants awareness in place of widespread ignorance and subdues the kind of arrogance that breeds enmity across the board. She asked that the hostilities from past wars finally be laid to rest in the interest of averting yet others. She then petitioned that the vehicles of commonwealth and tribal governance focus on a peaceful coexistence built upon mutual respect as a conscious choice for human survival.
    Likewise, She asked that people finally acquiescence to the simple truth that many paths lead to God as opposed to the dangerous notion there is only one. She then implored that we come to understand the spiritual premise upon which all life rests that often suggests alliance is more often achieved through consensus as opposed to a dogged resolve. She cautioned that just as a thin line divides love from hate, so too does the line that forms a barrier between a nation’s inclinations to stray from loosely held democratic ideals toward a dictatorship. She then begged that sovereignty be seen as both a communal right and useful tool that liberates the suppressed from the unwarranted controls of a privileged few.
    Spirit Woman then petitioned that our ethnic diversity finally become a bridge to insight instead of the well-traveled road of fear and alienation that continues to block our assimilation, on every front. She prayed that religion be a means to faith instead of a widely used opiate and instrument of deceit, and that knowledge finally overcome the lethal effects of apathy and fear. She prayed that we abandon the relentless quest for material acquisition that leaves us vulnerable to the dangers of unchecked commercial manipulation. With a heavy heart, she asked that love, peace and unity, finally, become the driving force against all manner of imbalance and discord across her lands.

    –3–
    A Ravaged Legacy

    Spirit Woman then pleaded that her rivers and lakes be purged of toxins, her forests restored to their once lush grandeur, and that the seas and oceans be made blue and abundant with life, again. She prayed that the air be cleansed and her lands freed from the ravages of relentless wars and reckless misuse. She then asked that the animals, which have come to aid and teach love, be treated with dignity as an integral link in the Comic Plan.
    She called upon the Divine Elements, asking the Soil to consume the weeds borne of hatred and suspicion, and that the sacred waters wash away the wounds born out of the ignorance, corruption and oppression. She beseeched the four Winds to clear away the dust of faulty reasoning that continually clouds our vision, forming barriers to all that’s good. She asked that the Sun restore God’s light where darkness has blinded and withered the hearts of her children, far to long.

    Spiritual Portrait

    Spirit Woman, then, symbolically stands in tribute to wisdom, inner strength and nurturing. For, she is the benevolent guardian of life, appointed by the Creator, who upholds the foundation upon which humanity rests. Her spirit softens guides and fosters love, compassion and understanding to all. Balance is her anchor, discernment her compass and spiritual law her standard by which she measures all that is immutably bound to the Creator in life. As the Universal caretaker, she recognizes that life is an integration of diametrically opposed forces, the Yin and Yang, Positive and Negative, and the polar extremes of North and South. And that, through the synthesis of polarity are born the seeds of hope, enlightenment and a yearning to embrace The Infinite. In essence, Spirit Woman exemplifies the awakened divinity humankind can aspire to.
    She is an inter-dimensional being endowed with the realization that we are far more than the limitations imposed by an unrestrained ego or a precarious world. Cognizant of her true nature, she resists any barrier that impedes her from the sacred covenant she shares with God, the Ascended Masters and humanity. Within her aura rests an immutable poise and durability implying great humility, inner strength and the assurance that she is directed by an All Knowing and Loving Creator.
    To her, all life flows from the Celestial River, which pours forth an infinite wellspring of love, creativity and expression. Upon her head rests the gift of Spiritual Fulfillment. Permeating her heart are the heavenly ethers of Love and joy. And, upon her feet are anchored fidelity, self-assurance and a clear recognition she’s grounded in an Infinitely Perfect Power. Spirit Woman is the Alchemist who teaches us how to integrate and blend life’s experiences to gain mastery and transcend all manner of limitation. As the sacred vessel and co-creator of the Universe, she is also the portal through which the Ascended Masters pass to unveil the celestial splendors that await God’s earthly heirs.

    –4–
    The Ensuing Metamorphosis

    Embracing the mystical imagery of the Woman is within our grasp. For, as we learn to know and manage the gift of self honorably, we will claim a positive sense of direction, achieve balance and unveil the spiritual purpose in our shared humanity. We will also see with the Inner Light of our Spirit beyond the many deceptions and distractions in the world of form, and soar with the doves (in the Portrait) to a level of spiritual consciousness that surrounds Spirit Woman, our Earth Mother. But, not until we embrace the sacred love and receptivity of the Moon (female energy) and the dynamic creativity of the Sun (male energy) to create a New World, wherein balance, peace, love and unity are poised around the globe. And so it is written.

    By Lara DeLuz

    First North American Serial Rights
    Word Count: 1,630
    Revised: September 2006

    Spirit Woman final:GO
    –5–

    —————————————————————-

    North American Reprint Serial September 2006
    Rights By: Lara DeLuz
    Word Count: 2,848 Revised 09:06
    Non-Fiction-Commentary/Essay

    Homelessness is everyone’s affair,
    not just for the efforts of a few

    My first full realization of homelessness hit as I was waking up shivering one cold, damp and foggy November morning in 1991. The pain in my lower back was excruciating not to mention the numbness in my legs and feet. I was attempting to raise myself to a seated position in response to pleads from my two little daughters crying out, “Mommy, I’m hungry,” and, “Will we find a house today?” I’m not sure which pain paralyzed me more, the pain that immobilized my lower body from lying in a contorted position all night long, with one eye open (being too afraid to sleep), or the pain and fear that gripped my heart as I looked into the eyes of the most precious things in this world to me, my two innocent little daughters. How do you explain to a child (let alone two of them), they are homeless? Furthermore, how do you get them to understand that mommy doesn’t know when we’ll have a home again, because we are broke; and, every shelter in town is full.
    No one is ever prepared for homelessness, because no one thinks it can happen to them. I know I didn’t. So, how do you get children to accept, as they wake up on a raw, winter morning, in their car, you don’t know when they will see their warm cozy beds surrounded by clowns, mountains of teddy bears and dolls again? And, how do you explain to them that the stability they’ve come to expect in their lives that always brought the wonderful smells of breakfast, the warmth of a fireplace, hot cocoa and mommy’s joyful hugs and kisses is not there for them this morning? All mommy can do now is hold them as she steadies her trembling hands praying for the courage and strength to find a way. I’ve always had a deep and abiding faith in God. However, this particular morning, all I could do was raise my fist and scream quietly to “Him,” why us? Only a few months before, our lives were moving forward. We had plans, goals and dreams. Now life seemed little more than a cruel joke. However, despite my anger, I knew deep in my heart that homelessness wasn’t God’s plan; instead, it’s a condition born out of human ignorance, stupidity and indifference.
    Living in a quiet community in California, minding our business, a young gang maliciously signaled us out. For no logical or viable reason they meddled us, at first, by day and eventually at night. Four months later, there was extensive damage to our car and our nerves were badly shattered. The police could see the people who were responsible, but catching them in the act was another matter entirely. The night I watched the knobs and locks literally move on my front and back door was the last night we spent in that dwelling and in that town.
    On disability, recovering from a stroke, my expenses pretty much matched my income; we were “caught, literally, between a rock and a hard place.” To cut moving and storage costs, I gave away half of our cherished items. Some of these articles included beautiful furniture, a lovely doll collection, assorted appliances and clothing. To this day I cannot say why it started, other than; I called the police when dents, whose origin was initially unknown, showed up on my car. The streets became our new home. You don’t hang around when a gang wants to hurt you.
    –1–
    Unable to afford a new place, we stayed in a motel, until that ate us up financially; and then, the car became home for a short time, a virtual hotel on wheels. Local shelters that were immersed in their own crisis drew daily lines of homeless families several city blocks long.
    Already strained to capacity, they were understaffed, overworked and trying to manage their tiny operations on shoe-string budgets. Clearly, their concern showed as they were forced, repeatedly, to turn away countless men, women and children. Attempting to keep some structure in our lives, I tried to maintain some semblance of the “normalcy” we enjoyed in our home life. I continued to tell bed time stories and recited nightly prayers, which was followed by wrapping my little ones up in their coats and sleeping bags for another long cold, night. Between sobs and rubbing my hands and face to maintain body heat, I literally became a human blanket as I gently covered my babies, while they slept. A car heater is comforting, but only when it was on. We had to consider gas. Our money was dreadfully low, and food was the priority.
    There came a point, however, when the money was finally gone and the agony of trying to live in a car forced me to swallow what was left of my pride. I showed up on the doorsteps of people, in some cases, I hardly knew, because I couldn’t bear to watch my children suffer any longer. Eventually, after almost two months of agonizing struggles, we were able to secure a small apartment, thanks to the compassion of a kind and understanding landlord. By now I had learned to stop smoothing things over and was speaking candidly about our plight. It takes courage to walk up to a stranger in a city you know little about, state your situation, lay down all your cash and suggest some reasonable terms for the next couple of months. When you are struggling to survive and get on your feet, you don’t worry anymore about what others will think or say. You simply utilize the truth and do what you must to escape hell.
    Though our ordeal with homelessness lasted a little under two months, it was the longest period of our lives. Besides being brutally traumatizing, the experience sent my little ones into a deep depression that crushed what was left of my heart. It took every bit of the next six years to build our psyches and emotions back to a place known as “safe.” Since then, my philosophy about material possessions and life has changed dramatically. Things can always be replaced, but rebuilding the human spirit takes considerable effort and tremendous courage. Despite our cruel jolt in reality, we survived and grew.
    However, as I look around, California, and the many towns and cities dotting America, my heart breaks, again. Homelessness, which is everyone’s problem, is an epidemic. The day is gone when we can rely on faulty perceptions that have led some of us to believe, “they” or “those people” will, somehow, go away and get it together. We need to honestly look at the reasons “they” came to be there. And realize, the reasons for homelessness are as varied as there are people. Illness is a factor for some, while for others it’s domestic violence. Some come as victims of crime, while for others it’s the loss of a job. Many working poor and others living on fixed incomes are literally one paycheck from the streets. Homelessness can also result from a combination of situations, compounded by bureaucratic bungling, as was the case with me. And yet for others, the reasons can reach even deeper into life as we survey our human casualties of past wars who have been abandoned by an unappreciative and apathetic society.
    And yes, there are substance abusers and the mentally ill among the homeless, too, as with every other walk of life. Seeing some of these individuals humbled me and exposed the harm that comes from judging others without benefit of a profound insight into the human heart, of which only God qualifies. Like us, many of these individuals have a history that has left its share of wounds, too. I also realized, their misfortune, in a sense, is ours, especially when ignored. Tragically, it is this latter group that public perception distinguishes as the consummate image of homelessness. Somewhere along the way, it has conveniently escaped our attention that homelessness is a condition that harbors people of every age, color and background, and this includes families, too.

    –2–
    I am also of the opinion that homelessness, though preventable, has accelerated in part due to our indifference towards one another, today, which contrasts an earlier period in our history when neighbor reached out to help neighbor. What’s more, if you think life will never place you in the position of being without the basic amenities, think again. While I was homeless, I encountered individuals who, unlike me, had realized and lost every façade of the “American dream.”
    Coming to grips with my own situation, my grandparent’s came to mind and the fact some things never seem to change. Like millions, they endured the Great Depression of the thirties that ensued after a failed Market that was and still is driven by greed. How shocked they would be to know people still wait in bread lines, eat at soup kitchens and sleep on the streets. The difference now is that we are besieged by a more virulent form of economic exploitation that assumes countless guises. Again, the pillars of society are nothing more than yesterday’s robber barons that, in many instances, go unpunished for the harm they inflict upon millions. Even worse are the rare cases where charges are leveled, wherein punishment (if allotted at all) is seldom commensurate to the offense. Rather than stress about the volatility of a Market with an established track record of questionable practices, my concern rests more with the disingenuous entities (like Enron) that have yet to be exposed, and what this type of recurring behavior suggests about our “values” in these trying times. Equally disturbing is the implication that some of this intrigue may reach into the upper ranks of government that appears to be manned more by the top CEO’s of the fortune 500 “companies” than the grass root concerns that represent the real entities in America. This all becomes even more unforgivable against the huge backdrop of a war running in the billions of dollars that’s generating an even greater toll with respect to the loss in human life, as millions of Americans, increasingly, fall at risk of becoming homelessness, here at home.
    If we open our eyes, part of the solution to homelessness is in view. There are countless abandon buildings, vacant lots and former military installations throughout this country. Another resource is “…we the people, in order to form a more perfect union…,” can unite and end the secession that has divided this nation into haves and have nots by insuring inclusion and justice for all. We can also aspire towards a new awareness that rejects the belief that poverty and inferiority are inseparable. Too, there is a thing called human ingenuity; the homeless can be utilized in their own renaissance. They have capable hands, good minds and assorted talents. Armed with education, job security, a viable wage, affordable and decent housing and healthcare, America’s greatest resource would flourish by leaps and bounds. Finally, there is the alliance of government and industry that can be politically harnessed and reformed into a tremendous tool for good by a caring and informed electorate. Our choice is clear, we will either embrace the idea of public sovereignty and humanitarian priorities or future archeologists will be assessing what drove us to ruin.
    I shutter to think of where we would have gone had a local charity, which was almost forced to close it doors, not been available to us on a cold, dizzily December morning in 1991. I will never forget the warm hug from a nameless and caring soul there who held me and my daughters as we cried. It was in that moment, given this wonderful lady’s reassuring words and heart felt compassion that I knew our healing had begun.
    Perhaps we will earnestly tackle the issue of homelessness or the bigger picture, poverty, or at least grapple with the reasons people end up this way. Of course, this will require vacating our comfort zone, overhauling attitudes, and making a decided shift towards “values” and priorities that place human welfare at the top of our national agenda. Then, maybe, we’ll realize that somewhere in those huddled masses might rest: the genius to cure dreaded diseases, the vision to actualize global accord, the knowledge to end famines, and those who would safeguard integrity in our political and business dealings, both here and abroad. The potential for good is infinite when we ban together to eradicate all manner of injustice. END
    –3–
    Homeless Sidebar

    Though a small segment of the population is “chronically homeless,” there are no definitive statistics for such disparity at the national, state or local levels, primarily, because homelessness, for many, is a transient situation. Sadly, because homeless counts reflect only those fortunate enough to receive services, the same tallies overlook millions more that are turned away for lack of available resources. What’s more, homelessness tends to impacts rural communities more harshly than urban areas.
    Based on a study conducted by the Urban Institute in 2004, the best approximation of homelessness nationally suggests that at least 3.5 million people, of which 1.35 million are children, experience homelessness annually, with the prospect that many more Americans are at risk of becoming homelessness than ever before.
    The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) suggests some of the most compelling arguments as to why homelessness is on the increase nationwide owes to a continuing shortage of affordable housing, extending back some 20-25 years, along with a simultaneous increase in poverty. In fact, a recent study by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revealed that 5.4 million low-income, unassisted American households had the worst case housing needs, paying more than 50% of their income on rent, in many instances, for substandard housing. Of these households, 40% had at least one person working. Given the absence of definitive figures, and the fact that 37 million Americans (U.S. Census 2005) know poverty up close and personal, aggravated by economic difficulties that are escalating poverty nationwide, actual need far outstrips existing efforts to tackle this problem across the board. Homeless advocates suggest, “A missed paycheck, a health crisis, or an unpaid bill pushes poor families over the edge into homelessness.”
    NCH asserts that at heart of this problem are eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs, which offer fewer benefits, including the declining value and availability of public assistance that have exacerbated homelessness nationwide. The Coalition also contends that in times of economic growth, fiscal gain, in actuality, is realized by the top income and wealth distributions. Paradoxically, those earning at or near minimum wage continue to fall considerably short of what most Fair Housing Market rents require for housing, especially after basic necessities are considered. Disturbingly then, working affords no relief from poverty for millions. “Thus,” NCH asserts, “a rising tide does not lift all boats, and in the United States today, many boats are struggling to stay afloat.”
    Other factors cited by the Coalition owe to the real story behind declining welfare rolls, and the inherent problems with fixed incomes, along with a pervasive lack of affordable healthcare, nationwide. Though NCH contends welfare rolls have dropped significantly, they suggest, “Only a small fraction of recipients’ new jobs, following The Welfare Reform Act of 1996, actually paid above minimum wage,” which still holds true. Similarly, millions of Social Security recipients, in particular SSI beneficiaries, receive incomes that fall far short of most Fair Market Rents require nationwide. Curiously, Bush wanted to privatize Social Security at a time when many of this program’s recipients were already at risk of becoming homeless on the benefits they receive. Finally, it is argued that a lack of affordable healthcare, especially with the onset of illness, can lead to a downward spiral resulting in job loss, depleted savings and eventual eviction, among other catastrophic problems, as was the case with me.
    Ironically, the current Administration’s policy is characterized by a 200 million increase to homeless programs for FY06, while severely cutting mainstream social programs, which critics suggest will only exacerbate homelessness, across-the-board. The President’s priorities become even more skewed as he cuts 413 billion from domestic spending for FY06, while endorsing a 1.3 trillion extension in tax breaks that exclusively benefits America’s wealthiest.
    –4–
    Add to this his recent request for billions more to support a war that many believe is more about the weapons of mass deception than anything else, and eyebrows lift even higher. One has to ask the question, is bankrupting the American public the price of world dominance, these days?
    Finally, regardless of how Bush ignores the polls, overlooks environmental concerns, rewrites the laws, subverts dissent or attempts to elongate the powers of the Chief Executive, the glaring fact is, with the onset of his lassoed Presidency in 2001, the public debt has gone from 5.8 trillion dollars to 8.3 trillion today. He can no longer justify horrific tax breaks to the rich against a growing myriad of economic imbalances across the board, along with 37 million people with no where to go.
    Homelessness, in America, has assumed the level of a human rights crisis that is increasingly claiming those from the middle income brackets. Given the choppy economic waters of our time, further fueled by powerful commercial concerns exerting greater political control over our government, and the erosion of once cherished American ideals, our only direction is up. What will the ultimate toll for millions amount to before viable solutions are waged against this needless national tragedy?

    Homeless_final_FULL

    –5–
    __________________________________

    DissidentVoice__Published Essay: America’s Newest Civil War
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    America’s Newest Civil War: A Secession Along
    the Economic Divide?
    by Lara DeLuz
    http://www.dissidentvoice.org
    October 16, 2006

    Against the huge backdrop of relentless conflicts that are ravaging the middle east, with no solutions in sight, and the endless memorials to 9/11 that have been exploited by every political rogue here at home, where freedom is anything but free, we have all but overlooked another war raging across America. This war, deep inside America’s bowels, is a festering cancerous malignancy that’s gone into overkill. It’s symptomatic of want, avarice, injustice, gullibility, arrogance and hypocrisy of the worst sort. It’s a war that has left only the tattered remnants of a once promising democracy, and only the faintest hint that liberty may have ever existed here at all.

    How ironic that old Abe’s greatest fear of secession has finally been realized in America, though not owing to the dynamics of an industrial north engaged in an intense struggle with an agrarian south. This contemporary divide has been politically fashioned along the economic stratum where the chasm between rich and poor might as well be a galaxy apart. This is a war where one nation under God was sold to the highest commercial bidders and life has been predicated, literally, to the survival of the abominably rich that now demean what might have once been a great nation. This is a war that has also traversed the cultural divide that once separated the middle from the lower income, wherein the line between the two, now, is all but indistinguishable.

    Too, this is a war where at the behest of the erroneous Right and a heedless Religious Reich, all middle ground has been purged as sovereignty is usurped from a people so unwittingly. Of course, the byproduct of this war, as with any war, is death and mayhem on an imposing scale.

    So why should the needless deaths of a young mother and her six children, in an apartment fire in Chicago, matter in America anyway?

    Perhaps, aside from the fact the Ramirez family’s energy had been turned off for more than four months, while they lived by candlelight, should have raised the first red flag, validating the family’s dire inability to pay for a necessity. The second red flag should have surfaced with the overriding concern as to why 12 people were sandwiched in a small 3-bedroom apartment without the basic amenities of life.

    Though most of the Ramirez family is beyond the help we might have afforded them, the red flags remain indicating there is a much bigger problem here that goes directly to the heart of America’s own burgeoning third world population. What’s more, this tragedy was anything but an isolated incident in a nation where massive budget cuts of established social programs, by an errant administration, are occurring with such regularity so as to create the conditions that lead to these senseless disasters.

    Of course, the other part of this equation that swells the ranks of America’s needy bespeaks of the U.S. quest for domination of finite resources. Cloaked under the guise of a war on terror, we are paying a horrific cost in dollars, but far more, lamentably, in human life. Considering that power corrupts on a grand scale, gluttony has driven the U. S. to continually ignore all conventional, ethical and spiritual bounds, both at home and abroad, in the pursuit of an ever greater dominion.

    Thus, armed with the age old rationale of Manifest Destiny (right of way) and the ever thriving doctrine of Lazzie-Faire (unchecked trade), and a dash of Social Darwinism, applied preferentially, (survival of the wealthiest) America’s war mongering, which has taken on global dimensions with threats now aimed at Syria, Iran, and North Korea and an increasingly progressive South American alliance, suggests the sky is the limit.

    Now we have an uncontrollable war machine, that at the behest of the criminals that are getting rich while running it, has overridden an implied cornerstone of our democracy that once placed human welfare second to none, especially here at home. Yet, despite the deterioration of our infrastructure, and an economy that warns of dwindling resources and the inevitability of a bankrupt treasury, the U.S. can now lay claim to its own dictator, exploding third-world population and millions more that are oblivious to the glaring dangers surrounding them, and even deadlier threats a shady regime suggests they’re immune from, down the road.

    Meanwhile, back on the sheep ranch, too many Americans still wave their flag, which is eerily reminiscent of the type of nationalism that overtook Nazi Germany under another dictator, not so long ago. Obviously, history’s lessons have failed to enlighten us, once again.

    So how do we weight the Pentagon’s insatiable war budget against the value of seven human lives and two others hanging by a thread? Or, do the lives of seven Americans really matter or a hundred-thousand times that, when a misguided war effort has already claimed millions of lives across the globe, including thousands more from our own military, and all under the opuses of anything but benevolence.

    According to a report issued by a Congressional Research Service (CRS) in September 2006, titled, “The Cost of Iran, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” the projected cost of this Global War on Terror will cost U.S. taxpayers 549 billion by 2007. What’s worse, the Congressional Budget Offices (CBO) estimates that an additional 371 billion may be needed to finance these wars through 2016, which if approved would leave taxpayers with an estimated 808 billion dollar war debt ten years from now. With all of the political wrangling and posturing in Congress these days, do we have a war effort scaling down or gaining momentum with the advent of projected appropriations through 2016?

    Lastly, what is the point of projecting a dollar amount on a war in Iraq that has already been deemed lost by the experts? According to an article titled, “The US Has Lost in Iraq…and That’s a Good Thing,” by Robert Jensen, he suggests not only have we lost the war in Iraq, but that, “The tragedy is compounded because these deaths haven’t protected Americans or brought freedom to Iraqis.”

    While the CRS report tracks a continually ballooning war budget, dating back to 9/11, even this Washington based group cautions that it may not be in the nation’s best interests to squander our money and resources on a war where many Americans are working harder and longer and getting less bang from their dollars here at home.

    “Faith, peace and justice organizations and networks have pointed out that the military expenditure of this order is an unforgivable waste of resources, given that so many of the underlying problems of poverty and injustice in the world today fester unresolved.”

    — Congressional Research Service

    Maybe Americans need to follow the lead of certain South American nations that chose to galvanize, in a show of true patriotism, and reclaimed their governments, while ridding themselves of seedy politicians. Too, we may do well to go that extra step and redline war budget appropriations in favor of social programs that are in serious disarray, here at home.

    For instance, 6.4 billion, the monthly expenditure for the failed Iraqi war, might provide 46.6 million Americans with the healthcare coverage they desperately need. Or, that same 6.4 billion could provide 3.7 million homeless Americans, of which 1.35 million are made up of children, with affordable housing that are now living on the streets, under bridges, in cars and crammed in motel rooms across this nation, yearly.

    On the other hand, 1.3 billion, the monthly cost of the Afghanistan war, could give secondary education, childcare for the working poor and Medicare a big boost. Then there is the 413 billion that Bush commandeer from domestic spending, for Fiscal Year 2006, that could have shored up America’s deteriorating infrastructure, strengthen pollution controls among a host of other environmental concerns, including global warming that Bush tends to discount. Even better, 1.3 trillion, which is one of many tax breaks Bush gave exclusively to the wealthy in 2006, could outfit every American with a livable wage, shore up a seriously eroded job base, while addressing the concerns of mental health, and subsidizing poor students in their bid for a higher education.

    Then again, that estimated 371 billion that has been projected for the war on terror through 2016 could be used to address the concerns of the Katrina victims, another tragedy that happened on Bush’s watch, of which many could have been spared. Or, we could divert some of this projected war funding into restoring as opposed to redesigning a seriously damage Gulf Coast region, instead of standing idly by while Halliburton grows increasingly richer. Lastly, we might envision what 808 billion, the final estimated cost of America’s war of terror through 2016, could accomplish if vested in the U. S. public’s interests and a huge array of other legitimate and pressing concerns.

    Now weigh the cost of an energy bill and the lives of seven innocent Americans, and all those that died during the scorching July 2006 heat wave throughout the western region of the U.S., for fear of generating high energy bills they could least afford to pay, against war appropriations now standing at 507 billion dollars.

    Regardless of how Bush ignores the polls, overlooks environmental concerns, rewrites the laws, subverts dissent or attempts to elongate the powers of the Chief Executive, the glaring fact is, with the onset of his lassoed Presidency in 2001, the public debt has gone from 5.8 trillion dollars to 8.3 trillion today. He can no longer justify horrific tax breaks to the rich against a growing myriad of economic imbalances across the board.

    For example, the U. S. Census Bureau states from 2000 to 2004 the number of Americans living in poverty rose by 5.4 million, in other words, poverty took a mammoth jump in four years from 31.6 million to 37.0 million disenfranchised people. In a paper by Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar, titled “Who Will Pay the U.S. Debt,” it is suggested that 37 million Americans are poised at the bottom of this nation’s social stratum and are largely ignored, even by the government. Dr. Bakhtiar goes on to state, “The government has tried to reduce its expenditure by restricting access to social benefits and in some cases, by requiring the poor to work.” Dr. Bakhtiar charges that many of the new mandates, specifically those pertaining to welfare recipients and other poor, “…were created to reduce the budget deficit rather than help the poor.”

    The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), a Washington based advocacy, has long contended that at the heart of poverty in the U.S. are continually eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs. Further, the coalition suggests that in times of economic growth, fiscal gain, in actuality, is only realized by the top income and wealth distributions. Thus, working for millions of Americans affords no relief from poverty.

    In a study conducted by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2002, it was suggested low-income, unassisted American households often pay more than 50% of their income on rent and in many instances for substandard housing. Of these households, 40% have at least one person working.

    The Economic Policy Institute suggests, “Today, the minimum wage is 31% of the average hourly wage of American workers, the lowest level since the end of World War II.” Dr. Bakhtiar suggests, “It is clear that the poor will have severe problems in alleviating their economic condition by simply working for minimum wage. If they work hard enough, they may be able to join the ranks of the working poor.”

    In light of such staggering findings, does the Ramirez tragedy raise a huge red flag, suggesting there will be many more casualties from this nation’s internal war of want? Needless to say, I doubt that any of the foregoing analysis matters to Amado Ramirez, at the moment, having suffered the loss of his wife and six children on September 5, 2006, and with the lives of two more hanging in the balance. Yet, I’m sure, at some point, he will temporarily suspend his grief, to seriously consider the actions of the energy company and his community’s failure to respond to his family’s most pressing needs. He may even go one step further by suggesting that local government was also complicit in creating the agonizing sorrow he must now endure for life. Perhaps, in time, he may even assess his shattering loss from the perspective of many Katrina victims, in that this once great Republic is little more than a failed accord, especially in response to the needs of its poorest citizens.

    As heartbreakingly unthinkable as it is to suggest, Amado Ramirez may, eventually, consider the testimony of early eyewitness accounts that stated, along with bystanders’ inability to help his doomed family that, “As the fire raged, the children were heard screaming in the apartment.”

    Finally, regardless of how any of us may try, we will never fathom Mr. Ramirez’s thoughts or feelings as he ponders the coroner’s report that revealed, the bodies of his wife and children were discovered huddled together in one room, where autopsies suggested they died of smoke inhalation before the fire took hold. In the name of one nation under God, how far does a government’s duplicity go?

    In an effort to grapple with the enormity of this tragedy, I wonder, when the coroner remitted copies of their report to the appropriate agencies, if the energy company, in particular, and the city of Chicago got a detailed report, along with an indictment from the grand jury for complicity in such a senseless and heinous bloodbath. As well, President Bush should receive an indictment for his culpability in helping to orchestrate policies that have decimated social programs to the extent that innocent people are dying for lack of basic necessities, which low-wage jobs cannot provide for.

    Harry Belafonte, a long time peace activist, in an interview Amy Goodman, host of Democracy NOW!, part of the progressive media series that airs daily on Free Speech Television, candidly assessed, in January of this year, the plight of the U.S. and its war of terror waged against America’s poor. His remarks are, indeed, both painfully accurate and profound.

    Harry Belafonte: It is quite curious that we can find billions and billions of dollars to sustain an illegal and immoral war in the Middle East, invading a country that did not provoke us and moving into this conflict unconstitutionally, even though it had the approval of the Congress. Even the Congress violated the statutes of the Constitution. We were not invaded. There was no threat of an enemy. We unilaterally walked into a country that had no threat to this country, and we invaded it. That’s against the Constitution.

    Amy Goodman: You call President Bush a terrorist?

    Harry Belafonte: I call President Bush a terrorist. I call those around him terrorists, as well: Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales in the Justice Department, and certainly Cheney. I think all of these men sit — and women — sit in the midst of an enormous conspiracy that has been unraveling America for the last eight years — six years. It is tragic that the dubious way in which this president acquired power should have begun to unravel the Constitution and the peoples of this country.

    Yes, I say that there are people in this country who live in terror. Poverty is terror. Having your Social Security threatened is terror. Having your livelihood as an elderly person slowly disappearing with no replenishment is terror. Students who are dropping out of school because there are no resources to keep us in school are terror. You find people in the streets, watching drugs permeate our communities and destroy our young; it’s a life of terror. And men who sit in charge of that distribution mechanism, which can help the American people overcome these problems and refuse to do so, while giving the rich more money than they’ve ever dreamt of having, while turning around our institutions and redirecting resources from those who are truly in need to those who are already generously endowed, if not hedonistically so, it’s a great tragedy . . .

    At the end of the day, what will America’s final legacy to the world be, as it struggles to free itself from a death defying grip of excess greed and corruption on the one hand, and the necessity to fulfill its founding principles for a people in dire want of a democracy on the other? In the final analysis, it may be said that America’s current civil war, captioned by the colloquial expressions of the haves against the have-nots, is better characterized by none other than that timeless struggle of good versus evil, as each side postures itself in an effort to overtake the world. But, will the average American see this in time?

    Lara DeLuz is a freelance writer from Sacramento, California. Her writing has appeared in the Progressive Populist, Salon, Sacramento News and Review, which are all listed on the internet. She also wrote for the Antelope News, a California publication with five monthly newspapers. She can be reached at: laradeluz@aol.com

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    First North American Serial by: Lara DeLuz
    Word count: 2242 02/2007 Final_5
    Political Commentary

    America’s Other War
    Is Also Mounting Casualties here at home

    Against the backdrop of a dark Sunday morning sky in early September, on Chicago’s north side, a fire blazed through a small 3 bedroom, third-floor apartment. When the inferno was finally extinguished, gone were a mother and her five children that ranged in age from 3 to 14 years, including a friend’s daughter age 3. The fire also left two other children in grave condition.
    According to the Chicago Fire Department, the blaze was started by a candle and spread rapidly throughout the unit of Amado Ramirez and his common law wife, Augusta Tellez. Both were employed by a local laundry. However, from all accounts the family had come up against hard times, which necessitated the older children taking on odd jobs to help out. Despite this, though, neighbors affirmed Amado Ramirez and Augusta Tellez were very devoted and conscientious parents.
    While there is no question this incident was a horrific tragedy, closer observation, especially of the circumstances that led to this fire, suggest it had all the earmarks of duplicity on behalf of local government. However, others might argue this was an incident just shy of wholesale murder considering what’s happening with domestic funding nationally.
    Having had their electricity and heat disconnected four months earlier by Commonwealth Edison Power Company, in Chicago, Ramirez and Tellez resorted to using candles. Interestingly, following the fire, ComEd, which is part of Exelon, one of America’s largest, privately owned, utilities that grosses on the average $15 billion dollars annually in revenues, refused to comment on the tragedy. According to Tom Mackaman, a reporter with the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), “In the second fiscal quarter for 2006—the same period in which the Ramirez family went without power—ComEd boasted $644 million in profit.” Yet despite ComEd’s consistent record of soaring revenues, local officials intimated it is common practice for struggling families to have their heat and electricity disconnected by the power giant, even during the winter months, when an energy bill becomes delinquent and cannot be paid.
    Another tragic fact in this story, according to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times papers’, the fire department established that the smoke alarms were not working. Surprisingly, Ramirez’s landlord stated, “The smoke alarms are hard-wired directly to the building’s main electrical system.” What has still not been determined by the Chicago Sun Times is if the interruption of power to the Ramirez’ unit led to a simultaneous shut down of their smoke alarm system, putting the sleeping family at even greater risk in the event of a fire.
    –1–
    Despite the possibility the smoke alarms may have been inadvertently shut off, Raymond Orozco, of the Chicago Fire Commission, in a shocking and callous comment laid blame on the family commenting, “If the batteries went out in someone’s remote control, how long would that last? But they won’t spend a dollar on a 9-volt battery.” Sadly, his observations weren’t the only misguided and insensitive remarks. Following the tragedy, the Chicago Tribune surmised the disaster by reproaching the victims when they suggested, “Using candles for light…was a dangerous decision that proved to be deadly early Sunday.” WSWS criticized the Tribune by suggesting the paper should have been more interested in why a family with two working adults was without power for four months in the first place.
    Another interesting sideline to this heartbreaking tragedy is that Jay Johnson, a wealthy developer that owns numerous apartment units throughout Chicago, including the building Augusta Tellez and her children died in, has a history of contributing heavily to Democratic campaigns in the region. Following the successful elections of candidates Johnson has supported financially, his own appointment, ironically, has followed on both the local planning and zoning commissions. What is not known, if such placements might afford Johnson some control in helping to shape local policy that may influence sky rocking energy costs in the area. Interestingly, when Johnson was questioned following the fire, according to Mackaman, the developer rejected any responsibility for the Ramirez tragedy claiming that, “…functioning smoke alarms were in place when the Ramirez family moved in and that it was the responsibility of the tenant to inform the landlord if the alarms malfunction or are missing.”
    However, the tragic irony of this story is far from over. Mackaman reports that Ameren, the power giant that dominates energy distribution over a sizeable portion of Illinois has promised residential rate hikes in the coming years. These increases, which could average out to a 30 percent hike per year, will coincide with ComEd’s graduating increases through 2009, despite the fact these hikes will pose a severe hardship on millions of struggling families, state-wide. Mackaman also states, “Politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties have authorized this change—ending years of state regulation on energy prices at the behest of ComEd and Ameren, which stands to reap windfall profits in the coming years.”
    In a statement following the disaster, Joe Parnarauski, candidate from the Socialist Equality Party for the state Senate in Illinois’ was quoted as saying:
    The fire that killed six young Chicagoans is an enormous tragedy that demonstrates the barbarity of the capitalist system. Workers everywhere should be outraged, as these deaths were not merely a tragic accident. They were the easily avoidable result of an economic and political system, which puts the profit imperatives of enormous corporations above the most basic needs of working people.
    Even though both parents and a number of children in the Ramirez family worked, they apparently could not afford to pay their electricity bills. They were then compelled to illuminate their house with candles, one of which caught the apartment on fire while the family slept.
    This tragedy highlights the social crisis facing millions of working people in Illinois and throughout the United States, who are facing rising costs and stagnating wages. On a daily basis, people are forced to struggle to meet the costs of basic necessities—food, electricity, housing, and health care. At the same time, a small layer of the population continues to amass huge fortunes.

    –2–
    Better Alternatives?
    Though the Ramirez family is beyond the help we might have afforded them, their story alludes to a much bigger problem in our country. America harbors its own burgeoning third world population that, in my estimation, in part, is the result of our government’s complicity in a system of enterprise that has become permeated with incidents of greed and corruption, especially in recent years. The other cause, I believe owes to our President’s agenda to push costly wars that the majority of Americans want brought to an end.
    Though recent elections suggest a change of direction in Washington, the fact is, this global war on terror coupled with massive tax cuts to the rich has taken a toll on established social programs that were designed to help those like the Ramirezes. Now, with the effects of continual deep cuts into domestic funding being felt all over, life grows increasingly more difficult for the average American. What’s more, given our President’s protracted motto of “… staying the course,” (largely supported by Congress), has left many Americans feeling they have been politically and economically marginalized, while the line between lower and middle income continually blurs.
    In an effort to assess the financial fallout from these wars on US taxpayers is to have some knowledge of the Congressional Budget Offices (CBO). In a report issued by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in September 2006, titled, ‘The Cost of Iran, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11’, the projected cost of all of this warfare will be 549 billion by 2007. What’s worse, the CBO estimates that an additional 371 billion may be needed to finance these wars through 2016, which if approved would leave taxpayers with a 920 billion dollar price tag ten years from now.
    Changing our nation’s course may require more than just some sweeping electoral victories. The American public may be required to stay politically motivated, if we are ever to face our world with any degree of dignity and a conscience, again.
    Moreover, by redlining unwarranted war expenditures we exemplify, in my opinion, the truest expression of that phrase pro-life, which upholds the integrity of human life for those already here and across the globe. With human casualties climbing into the thousands on our end and soaring into the millions in the Middle East, with little evidence of a democracy here and none there, surely, America’s hard earned tax dollars can now be spent saving lives. Besides, when will we learn that peace can never be cultivated with the pointed barrel of a gun.
    By redlining 6.4 billion, the monthly expenditure for the failed Iraqi war, we could provide 46.6 million Americans with the healthcare coverage they desperately need, or outfit 3.7 million homeless Americans, of which 1.35 million are made up of children, with affordable housing, that live on the streets, under bridges, in cars and cramped motel rooms across this nation, yearly.
    On the other hand, 1.3 billion, the monthly cost of the Afghanistan war, could give secondary education, childcare for the working poor and Medicare a big boost.
    Or, the 413 billion that Bush commandeer from domestic spending for 2006, that was highlighted in a NCH report, could have shored up America’s deteriorating infrastructure, addressed environmental concerns, including global warming that Bush tends to discount.

    –3–
    Even better, the 1.3 trillion tax breaks Bush gave exclusively to the wealthy in 2006, could have outfitted poor Americans with a livable wage, shored up a seriously eroded job base, addressed the issue of mental health, and subsidized poor students in their bid for a higher education.
    Further, that estimated projection of 371 billion for the wars through 2016 could address the lingering concerns of the Katrina victims, another tragedy from Bush’s watch. Or, we could divert some of this war funding into restoring as opposed to redesigning a seriously damage Gulf Coast region, instead of standing idly by while Halliburton grows increasingly richer. Lastly, we might envision what 920 billion, the final estimated cost of America’s war of terror through 2016, could accomplish if vested in the U. S. public’s interests and a huge array of other legitimate concerns.
    Now weight the cost of an energy bill, the lives of the Ramirezes, and the deaths from the July 2006 heat wave, in the western region of the U.S., that resulted from a fear of high energy bills the poor could least afford to pay against a current war budget of 507 billion dollars.
    The US Census Bureau reported that 5.4 million more Americans joined the ranks of the impoverished between 2000 and 2004. In a report authored by Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar in September 2006, “Who Will Pay the US Debt?” it is suggested 37 million people languish at the bottom of this nation’s social stratum, which are largely ignored by our government. Bakhtiar adds, “The government has tried to reduce its expenditure by restricting access to social benefits and in some cases, by requiring the poor to work.” What’s more, Dr. Bakhtiar charges that many of the new mandates, specifically those pertaining to welfare recipients and other poor, “…were created to reduce the budget deficit rather than help the poor.”
    The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), a Washington based advocacy, has long contended at the heart of poverty in the US are continually eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs, which offer fewer benefits. Add to this the declining value and availability of public assistance and the fact that fiscal gain, in actuality, is only realized by the top income and wealth distributions, creates a recipe for disaster, for millions. Paradoxically, those earning at or near minimum wage or living on fixed incomes come up short, especially after basic necessities are factored in along with Fair Housing Market rents. Thus, NCH suggests, working for millions of Americans affords no relief from poverty, today.
    In a study conducted by Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a few years back, it was suggested that low-income, unassisted American households often pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent, in many instances, for substandard housing.
    The Economic Policy Institute suggests, “Today, the minimum wage is 31 percent of the average hourly wage of American workers, the lowest level since the end of World War II.” Dr. Bakhtiar adds, “It is clear that the poor will have severe problems in alleviating their economic condition by simply working for minimum wage. If they work hard enough, they may be able to join the ranks of the working poor.”
    Regardless of how Bush ignores the polls, overlooks environmental concerns, rewrites the laws, subverts dissent or attempts to elongate the powers of the Chief Executive, the glaring fact is, with the onset of his lassoed Presidency in 2001, the public debt has gone from 5.8 trillion dollars to 8.3 trillion today.

    –4–
    He and his cronies can no longer justify horrific tax breaks to the rich against a growing myriad of economic imbalances, across the board. Nor can he distance himself from the fact Americans are dying here at home given his determination to push an agenda for the fortune 500 group, at all costs.
    Frankly, with so much corporate and political collusion and the unending corruption this has led to, at the highest levels of authority, our government harbors more the earmarks of a criminal cartel rather than an enterprise that promotes social equality, justice and peace. END

    America’s Other War and Mounting Casualties Final GO

    –5–
    __________________________________

    First North American Serial Rights By: Lara DeLuz
    Word Count: 1,355 April 2002

    The Full Circle Children’s Retreat

    “Changing our world is done one person at a time”

    On a breath taking 6.5 acre spread, in Antelope, California, William (better known as Bill) Macklem has been overseeing plans to open a Retreat where physically challenged children, including those struggling with the ravaging effects of cancer, can reap enormous benefits, with the aid of young mentors. The property, located at 9200 Watt Avenue, which encompasses a section of Dry Creek, is part of a leased deal that Macklem has financed out of his own pocket, from 27 privately owned acres. Having had his eye on the area for a little over two years, he is currently fencing off 1.5 acres for utilization as the actual Retreat that will include: therapeutic riding, a small animal refuge, gardening projects, an environmental salmon run, a barn, out houses and small cabins that can be utilized as a respite area.
    “The remaining 5 acres,” he states, “are part of an area flood plain that last experienced some minor flooding in 1995.” He envisions this section, which can never house permanent fixtures, as a nature walk for joggers or those who just want to break away and commune with the natural world or God. In a larger sense, Macklem sees the entire 6.5 acre spread as a teaching device where, “Young people can learn some important lessons about conservation and preserving the pristine integrity of the area that will benefit both wildlife and the surrounding communities.” In the process, he suggests, youth will also learn something about the interdependence of life throughout the greater ecosystem.
    Listening to Macklem express genuine concern for youth and his desire to make a decided difference in so many lives, I got the distinct impression that he is truly a visionary and philanthropist at heart. Having worked with troubled youth for the past 15 years through various local and state correctional facilities as a volunteer-mentor, Macklem hopes to put his vast knowledge to work by utilizing potential young offenders, before they reach places like the California Youth Authority (CYA) or Folsom Prison, where many, in his estimation, eventually return. “I want to get the kids away from everything and back to nature. I would like to see these kids join with youth from the surrounding area to donate their time and make a difference in their world, literally in their own backyard.”
    Armed with a background in carpentry, Macklem hopes to teach girls and boys how to build as a trade or, at the very least, to make simple repairs “They will learn everything from the construction of a fence to building cabins on the property.” Labeling himself as a people person, Macklem dubs the process of adults mentoring to youth as “life coming full circle,” which has inspired both his emblem and the name for his refuge, The Full Circle Children’s Retreat. “Under the guidance of adult mentors, older youth will mentor to physically challenged children on the Retreat, which Macklem intermittently refers to as “the Farm.” –1–
    Macklem hopes the young volunteers in return will learn to give of themselves, appreciate nature, and realize they are an integral part of the world around them. “However,” he insists, “to make this effort a real success entails a commitment from the community, especially seniors,” who Macklem believes have a great deal to offer youth.
    Of course, Macklem concedes, “Despite all of our hard

  12. Daniel Kiustler

    I just watched a PBS program mainly about Michelangelo but with much reference to the “Spirituality Movement” of the mid-1500s. Sounds like it
    was a very early version of your “Progressive Spirituality Movement”.
    Beware!…Most proponents of this earlier version were killed by the
    “CHURCH” during the inquisition. I’m now reading Spong’s book

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