EYE SURGERY — Improved Vision and Attitude Adjustment

by Kevin

I was amazed to feel as good as I did 24 hours after my epiretinal membrane peel eye surgery. Minutes after taking this photo I removed the bandage. At first my vision was blurry, but three days after surgery I could see better than I did the day before surgery, and my eyesight will improve in coming weeks and months.

I was amazed to feel as good as I did 24 hours after my epiretinal membrane peel eye surgery. Minutes after taking this photo I removed the bandage. At first my vision was blurry, but three days after surgery I could see better than I did the day before surgery, and my eyesight will improve in coming weeks and months.

Life is a school and daily events are lessons in how to live better. Some weeks serve up whole courses, employing some rather unique instructional approaches. Then there are those days when you get sent to the principal’s office. That was the case with my eye surgery last Friday. On Tuesday I visited retina specialist Dr. Roy Brod in Lancaster, PA, to evaluate the status of my macular pucker — extra epiretinal membrane tissue growing over my right retina and progressively obscuring the vision in that eye. He had told me three years ago that we would need to wait for the right time to do surgery — when the unwanted tissue was massive enough to remove, but before it was too well established.
 
Seven Tactics for Successful Surgery, Improved Vision, and Attitude Adjustment:
 
1. Motivation: Last Tuesday Dr. Brod finally said, “It’s time.” He had a cancellation in his Friday surgery schedule. We’d have to hustle through some preliminary lab tests and forms, but I could have the slot if I wanted it. I said “yes,” and three years of hypothetical dread of eye surgery became suddenly sharp and clear.
 
I said “yes,” because my vision was getting so bad that It was affecting my ability to work, make art, drive, negotiate stairs, and engage in daily activities. I may be 65, but I don’t feel finished yet. I’m not done working or making art or doing all sorts of normal activities. I cherish my vision as much as everyone else does, and that is sufficient motivation to sign up for surgery. But now I had to figure out how to survive the actual dreaded cut and peel procedure, especially since I would be awake for it. How was I going to hold still and be a good patient? Hell! How was I going to avoid bolting and running screaming out of the operating room?
 
Nobody can abide the thought of sharp objects near or in their eyes, and I am no exception. It seems to be a primal fear, like falling or being eaten by wild animals. I suppose humans have been accidentally poked in the eye by sharp sticks throughout our history, and that collective memory grosses us out — every one of us.
 
We have even turned this ancient fear into a childhood chant. When we want someone to make an excellent promise we require them to repeat: “Cross my heart and hope to die! Stick a needle in my eye!” The threat of a sharp object in the eye is sufficient to enforce any difficult commitment. But I had signed on for the dreaded poke deliberately and voluntarily, and I knew I was going to need more than just the motivation of better vision to get me through it.
 
2. Trust and Confidence: It was clear to me from the start, that you have to trust the guy with the sharp stick or there’s no hope. The “eye principal,” Dr. Roy Brod, is the best of the best in his field. Everyone says so. Along with a few bona fide saints, he is one of the most respected individuals I have ever encountered in any field. And he’s an incredibly nice guy. He’s just so amazingly kind to everyone. You can’t help wishing he lived next door. He’s a prince of a man who inspires confidence and trust with every look and word. And his touch is almost magical. When he gently places a hand on your shoulder or brow, you feel instantly comforted and strangely at peace. This quality is essential in someone you are going to trust with sharp objects close to and in your eyes, believe me.
 
3. Great Drugs: Nevertheless, I strongly recommend that you make damn sure there is a wonderful anesthesiologist with miraculous drugs at hand, whenever you go into surgery. They hooked me up to an IV and pumped God knows what into me throughout the procedure — a sedative? — a mood elevator? I don’t know… but whatever it was it worked. AND they totally knocked me out for the two minutes it took them to administer shots directly into my eye, so I was not awake for that choice moment, thank goodness! The rest of the time I felt so calm that I had NO trouble holding still, and I was basically just fascinated by the whole process, including the visuals, like a good movie playing right inside my retina.

I’m so grateful for those great drugs, because I was awake and could see the entire procedure. I was watching the needle-fine instrument when its tiny jaws opened and grabbed the largest piece of my extra epiretinal membrane tissue to peel and pull it away and out of my eye. I was quite calm and intrigued, and my only thought was, “There goes my problem!” When Dr. Brod administered iodine drops I was mesmerized by the beautiful swirling magenta patterns in my field of vision. And when it was all over I realized that it had been a walk in the park.

4. Support of Friends: Oh sure… It’s a picnic when it’s all over, but what about the suspense beforehand? How do you deal with the adrenalin surges every time you realize, “Oh my God! I’m having eye surgery in two days!” How do you cope with the terror associated with eye torture when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep? I decided to tell people about my surgery, not because I needed the world to know, but because I wanted as much moral support from the positive thoughts, prayers and hopes of friends and loved ones as I could get. And it worked! I could really feel it powerfully. It helped so clearly that the day before my surgery, even without any drugs, I was already flying. My profound thanks to everyone who said a prayer or sent me a positive thought.

5. Attitude Positioning: The day before surgery I decided that this procedure was a cosmetic luxury afforded only to the rich (people with some means, Medicare and supplemental insurance like me) who happen to be living in modern times. As such, it seemed to me that it was like going to the spa for a professional massage, shampoo, haircut and facial. I adopted that attitude. I was there to be pampered, and I remained in that frame of mind throughout. When Dr. Brod entered the operating room I was blindfolded, but I raised my hand and said, “Thank you for coming to my party!” He laughed and said, “Yes! Let’s have a great party!” I really like Dr. Brod so much. He is so generous with everyone. That helped with my “spa pampering” attitude positioning. Dr. Brod was my personal masseur and spa master who was there to spoil me and make me feel special and wonderful.

6. Surrender: From that attitudinal perspective it was easy to lie back and relax. Living in the woods, I have noticed that when the animals are dying or in dire situations, they surrender and become still and quiet. They let go. I thought often in the few days prior to my surgery about specific animals I have witnessed in these kinds of situations and how deeply instructive their behavior was. I decided to imagine that my circumstances were much more dire than eye surgery — What if I were scheduled to be unfairly executed in the morning? What attitude would I want to adopt in that case? I thought of other dire cirumstances. When I returned to the reality of eye surgery, it did not seem so difficult or frightening after all.

This is my 4 x 7 ft oil on canvas, "Poseidon's Prophecy," in progress. I'm looking forward to getting back to work on it with improved vision.

This is my 4 x 7 ft oil on canvas, “Poseidon’s Prophecy,” in progress. I’m looking forward to getting back to work on it with improved vision.

7. Divine Intervention: But I still had one ace up my sleeve, and the day of the surgery was the time to play it. Much of the time before, during and after the procedure, I managed to chant to the Divine Beloved, and to think of five very saintly individuals I have been so fortunate to meet or know in my lifetime. I called upon them to stand with me. This was very calming, reassuring and helpful. I was especially aware of one of them holding my right hand where the IV was inserted. Whenever I was tempted to feel afraid or stressed, I focused on The Infinite Beloved in the forms of these five saints, and  was at peace instantly. The stress left my body and I became pyscially relaxed and still.

My brother, Dr. Chris Miller, picked me up after the surgery. Dr. Brod called him to say that the procedure had gone extremely well and that I had been a perfect patient — didn’t move a muscle. Chris was very kind to me and allowed me to rest quietly in his beautiful garden or sleep in his recliner. He made us a fantastic lunch — grilled vegetable and fried egg sandwhiches on whole grain toast. Yum!

Then Chris took me back as Dr. Brod had requested for a post-op evaluation six hours after the surgery. The doctor was so excited when he analyzed the results of his own work that he was almost jumping up and down. He said, “Just for the fun of it, let’s take some more images. I won’t charge you for them. It would just be so interesting to compare the images immediately before and after surgery.” He was so pleased with the pictures that he said he might write a paper about my case.

I described my visual experience of the procedure and he was fascinated and delighted. When it was time for me to leave, Dr. Brod admonished me not to do any strenuous activity or lift anything heavier than 25 lbs, and to leave the bandage on overnight, before starting to administer drops four times daily. I asked if I could pick berries, because it is high berry season in the woods. He said “yes.”

We have a bumper crop of berries on our 12 acres this year, and I was relieved when Dr. Brod agreed to allow me to pick them. I wore big sun glasses to protect my eye from thorny berry branches and glaring sun, as I picked a half-gallon of ripe berries two days after eye surgery.

We have a bumper crop of berries on our 12 acres this year, and I was relieved when Dr. Brod agreed to allow me to pick them. I wore big sun glasses to protect my eye from thorny berry branches and glaring sun, as I picked a half-gallon of ripe berries two days after eye surgery.

I have not had one minute of discomfort through this entire experience. The doctor wrote me a prescription for a heavy duty pain killer and said that I would very likely have to use it to get through the pain that would eventually come. But there has been no pain whatsoever. Well… okay… I did have a few moments of rather exquisite pain yesterday when I was picking berries two days after the surgery. I unknowingly stepped on the home of a colony of ground-dwelling bees. They swarmed and five of them stung me on my right arm within five seconds. Now THAT hurt! It hurt infinitely more than anything I experienced during eye surgery.

The bee strings made me realize that sometimes the pain we think we feel is imaginary. We feel it whether it really is painful or not, just because we perceive the circumstances to be hurtful — like a needle in the eye — because of how awful it looks or seems. When I analyzed the actual pain of the bee strings, as opposed to the perceived pain, that wasn’t as bad as I had thought either. In fact it was entirely gone within minutes, and a few hours later there was no sign of the very understandable assault by the poor bees against whom I had trespassed.

Today, just three days after my epiretinal membrane peel eye surgery, I can already see much better than I did the day before the procedure. And Dr. Brod has assured me that my vision will continue to improve for several weeks and months. I am excited to discover how much of my original visual acuity might return and to experience what that will mean when I am working, making art, driving and just living daily life. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity, and aware that not so many decades ago it would not have been possible. I would have gone nearly blind in my right eye and coped as best I could with one remaining eye.

A close-up view of this summer's berries.

A close-up view of this summer’s berries.

Life is a school, and I learned some important lessons in this Course on Vision: I learned that it isn’t just Dr. Brod’s incredibly steady hands that make his practice so successful, but also his obvious joy and pleasure in his chosen vocation. That intrinsic love of his work inspires confidence in his patients and insures positive outcomes. I also learned that there are at least seven tactics that patients can adopt to help doctors perform successful surgeries, but more importantly, those same tactics can be applied for a more rewarding life in general. Well… okay… when it comes to #3, “Great Drugs,” at least in my case, this is primarily about my ongoing efforts to moderate my morning tea and evening cocktail intake… and come to think of it, that really is quite important. So all seven of these principles apply to life in general, for me anyway.

Another week… another course in the School of Life… another step closer to clear vision. By the way, in case you were wondering, attendance is compulsory in the lessons and courses offered by the School of Life, until graduation, when we shall see all things clearly. Until then our job is to be attentive students. Don’t be afraid to challenge the authorities and ask really hard questions. When the opportunity presents itself, be generous and offer to help others with their studies, especially if they are struggling or fear they may even be failing. Finally, the wise student will pause regularly to express private inner gratitude for the invaluable and rare opportunity to learn and progress in this School of Life.

 

HEALTHCARE.GOV WORKS!… Warning: May Cause Ruminations on Mortality

by Kevin

When I succeeded in securing health insurance on line at  healthcare.gov, the thought fluttered through my mind that now, with REAL health insurance, I would live forever in good health.

When I succeeded in securing health insurance on line at healthcare.gov, the thought fluttered through my mind that now, with REAL health insurance, I would live forever in good health.

Virtually all the news commentators throughout the known media universe have been screaming for months about how the Affordable Care Act enrollment website, healthcare.gov, has not been working perfectly. As a 64-year-old man with an analog brain, who NEVER manages to get electronic technology to work the first time, I was not surprised or alarmed that the website wasn’t working well in October.

Even though I am one of the millions of Americans whose health insurance companies deliberately downgraded our insurance to junk status so that it would be cancelled for not meeting ACA standards (scroll down several posts to read the whole story,) I figured I had until January 1 to secure REAL insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and if the website did not work for me, then enrollment by phone or an actual person-to-person interview would certainly do the trick. What was all the fuss about anyway? Smells like sour grapes to me.

The administration said that most of the website glitches would be resolved by the end of November, so I waited until the day before Thanksgiving to make my first attempt at starting to secure REAL health insurance on line. After only three hours I had managed to create my profile and my account, provide my financial information, and study the details of some of my early leading candidates for health insurance. No problems whatsoever. I was impressed. And, by the way, if an old technophobe like me can do this without any difficulty, then the website is extremely user friendly, and most people will succeed in a fraction of the time I invested.

The day after Thanksgiving, while others were shoving and punching each other to gain an advantage in the Black Friday super-consumer frenzy, I quietly resumed my online health insurance quest and was once again very pleased with the experience. I spent a grand total of about seven hours on healthcare.gov, mainly reading about the scores of possible insurance programs I could consider. During that time I probably logged on and off about seven times without any difficulty.

Between sessions I made two calls to the Affordable Care Act phone line: 1 800-318-2596, to ask some basic questions. They were very helpful. I also called several insurance providers to clarify their options and make sure my local doctor and hospitals accepted their coverage. I ended up getting in my car and driving to my doctor’s office to talk face-to-face with his receptionist. I really like Dr. Carl Brango, and I wanted to be extra sure that the plans I was considering were okay with him.

I was sorry to see that dental and eye care insurance did not seem to be offered by any of the plans, but finally, I made my choice, triple checked it, and clicked on “ENROLL.” A message immediately flashed on my screen – something like, “Are you aware that you are eligible to select very similar group plans that are more affordable?” Well… no… I had missed that part of the information, because I had just assumed that the more expensive policies would be more comprehensive. Not so. I voided my first choice and did more research, discovering a very similar plan for $110 less per month than the one I had originally selected, offered by the very same company! But the best news of all is that after many years of paying over $550 per month for fake health insurance that could be cancelled or changed at the whim of the insurance company, as it was recently, I will now have much better health insurance for half that price.

Icing on the cake: After I made my final health insurance selection, healthcare.gov delighted me with an option to buy affordable dental insurance as well. I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t been to a dentist in years, despite some pretty serious dental problems. Now for less than $23/ month, I will be able to see a dentist as often as I wish.

I clicked “CONFIRM” to activate all my choices and received congratulations from healthcare.gov, telling me that I had successfully enrolled in health insurance and dental insurance that would begin January first. Ironically, on January 15th I will begin researching my healthcare options all over again, because I will be eligible for Medicare starting March first, since I will turn 65 in March, and they recommend beginning the process of applying, choosing a plan and securing supplemental insurance, six weeks before the program starts.

I don’t mind. I am just so relieved to have REAL health insurance after decades of paying high prices for fake insurance in the individual market. I will no longer have to lie about my family health history or hide my own pre-existing conditions from my health insurance provider. I won’t have to go to free clinics or university health studies or pay for secret medical services out of my own pocket to prevent my health insurance provider from finding out about a condition and potentially canceling or changing my policy. I will have REAL health insurance that I can use without fear of cancellation or policy change for two months through the Affordable Care Act. Thank you President Obama! And then I will be covered by Medicare for the rest of my life. Thank you President Johnson!

When the congratulatory statement from healthcare.gov appeared on my screen, I was elated, and for just a brief instant I felt the invincibility of youth again. I sensed just a hint of a taste from the Fountain of Youth. The thought fluttered through my mind that now with REAL health insurance I would live forever in good health. After all… that is certainly what REAL health insurance would do for us, right? It would insure that we’d live from now on in a state of perfect health. Alas, the fantasy lasted only an instant before reality closed in around me again – mortality.

An old monk once told me, “The body has to find some excuse to go.” And besides, the science of medicine may be doing some wonderful things, but it is still in its infancy. Too often today’s cures are as lethal as our diseases. Sadly, health insurance does not insure our health yet. But at least it may finally begin to insure that we can all get the basic healthcare we deserve as a human right, when we are physically ill or injured. This tremendous benefit has been a long time coming. From my point of view it was well worth the short wait while a few website bugs were resolved. Check it out… healthcare.gov works!

 

“SAVING THE WORLD” — Confessions of a Reluctant Climate Change “Activist”

by Kevin 

"Utopia," 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

“Utopia,” 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

When people ask me what I am doing these days, I say as casually as possible, “Oh… I’m saving the world.” It’s meant to be a joke, of course… as if I could save an anthill!… But at heart it’s also a serious response to the question. I know I’m tilting at windmills (or perhaps oil rigs,) but I don’t think I have a choice. It feels like a moral duty to do anything I can to call attention to our potential mass extinction due to climate change, work with others to invent and push solutions for avoiding apocalypse, and then pray for a miracle. I just have to.

We do still have the actual wherewithal to save ourselves if we can find the courage. In other words, we have already developed the clean renewable energy technologies that can wean us off of carbon-based energy and give fossil fuel companies another way to get rich. All we need is the social and political will to implement these solutions and changes. If we human beings want to think of ourselves as a life form with “higher intelligence,” then let us prove that we can hold in our minds at the same time, the scientifically proven threat of apocalypse due to climate change, AND the vision of utopia built on our existing skills, technologies and creativity. This is very hard, but we can and must do it. The cognitive dissonance brought on by holding two powerful and opposite ideas in our heads at once will sometimes make us laugh and then suddenly weep and wail. That is natural and necessary. In order to fix this disaster, we must be willing to face and feel “eco-anxiety.”

"Global Warming Apocalypse," 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

“Global Warming Apocalypse,” 2013 digital illustration by Kevin

On April 19, 2013, exactly one year after Rolling Stone published Bill McKibben’s climate change bomb that went viral, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Anna Fahey spoke at the Whidbey Institute Climate Conference and offered a roadmap for future hope and action. See http://insidepassages.com/2013/05/03/tappimg-into-dark-optimism-whidbey-institute-climate-conference/  Anna said, “Dark Optimism” is our capacity to face dark truths, while believing unwaveringly in our human potential, and I think we can harness that.” This is required reading for anyone who is concerned about Global Climate Change, especially if it overwhelms you and makes you feel powerless. Ms. Fahey points out that research shows that 10 – 20% of the population can sway the direction of history. This is truly possible. It is happening with marriage equality. Robert and I never expected to see legalized same sex marriage in our lifetime. It can happen for the survival of all life, too.

"Captain Agape," 4 x 6 ft actylic on canvas, by Kevin, in progress

“Captain Agape,” 4 x 6 ft acrylic on canvas, by Kevin, in progress

Robert and I live deep enough in the woods that we seldom hear anything but the wind, weather, and calls of the birds and other animals, including our own five dogs and a dozen parrots and cockateils. The 100 big koi in our half-acre pond only make noise when they breach the surface of the pure spring water and slap it with their tails – magnificent entertainment viewed from our deck on Buddha Hill. Even better with a glass of wine.

We love it here, more with every day of the past seven years. We feel so grateful and fortunate to have this golden time living in peace and love, surrounded by Nature. It is tempting to withdraw completely from the world into meditation, art and gardening. What could be better? But I can’t quite let myself do that… not yet at least. There may come a time when the tipping point has been so completely passed and the chain reaction toward devastation and mass extinction is so clearly underway, that I will feel justified in retiring to the woods to make my final peace with Spirit and prepare for the end. Just lately I have begun to suspect that such a time may be closer at hand than any of us had thought, because of the tragic news that the vast frozen arctic methane beds are releasing their store of gas that is 20 times stronger than CO2 in its greenhouse warming effect.

I am so grateful to Paul for his wonderful post, just prior to this one, entitled “What’s Important in the News?” in which he elucidated five worthy subjects in the following order:

  1. The Survival of the Earth
  2. Equality vs Inequality
  3. Help Those in Need
  4. Do No Harm
  5. Freedom (to Act Responsibly)

I especially appreciate the fact that Paul placed the Earth and survival of all life at the top of his list of priorities, where it belongs. After all, if we do not arrest climate change and prevent a catastrophic chain reaction from rapidly degrading the climate and our home environment, there will be a mass extinction event. If that happens we will not have the luxury of addressing any of the other long-term issues confronting humanity and the world. We will be done for a long time, until evolution brings us back again in a few million years. There is one final shred of hope, if all else fails – perhaps geo-engineers can succeed in the highest stakes science experiment in history, using the Earth as their test tube while all of life hangs in the balance. It would be so much better to reverse course now!

Using his paintings as illustrations, Kevin discusses Global Climate Change with a group of participants in "Healing Earth Pain Through the Arts" at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, April 20, 2013

Using his paintings as illustrations, Kevin discusses Global Climate Change with a group of participants in “Healing Earth Pain Through the Arts” at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, April 20, 2013

The upshot of all this for me personally, is that I accept speaking, facilitation, and performance gigs from groups that ask me to bring my large climate change paintings and talk about their apocalyptic and utopian themes, in combination with facilitating an ideation session, or presenting concerts with poets, musicians, performance artists and others. When I have complained to Paul that I would much rather stay home to make art and tend my garden, he generously says that he is glad I am willing to go out into the world and make these statements. When I ask, “Why me?” he points out that perhaps it is my karma. Maybe it is time to pay the world back for the money I made serving corporate America and Fortune 500 companies for nearly a quarter century, lending my art and facilitation skills to their efforts to invent new products and strategies. Paul is right, although sometimes continuing public involvement feels more like atonement for sins than fulfillment of karma. But that may be a distinction without a difference.

The other night I dreamt I was a student at university awaiting the results of my final project. I thought I had submitted a symphony, but when the pretty young professor returned my manuscript, I saw that it was a 50-page photo essay. It began with the words, “I have the right to be a nice guy. A rock in the stream has the right to enjoy the water passing over it…” Then there was a series of beautiful photos of a colorful rock just under the rushing stream water. The words of the essay melted into the colors of the rock and disappeared altogether. It became a wordless essay, but none of the meaning was lost.

I was sweeping the sidewalk when Professor Pretty surprised me by saying, “The judges have awarded your final project an ‘E’ – the highest evaluation given to any project in the last 50 years. You must prepare yourself for a strong reaction from the media and the public when we release this news.” I realized that to avoid the crowd, I could wade into the river, but there were already people standing waist deep in the water, waiting for me. So I waded past them into deeper water and allowed the river to wash me downstream, where I was once again alone in Nature. I was happy and everything was fine.

I don’t like having to bother people with bad news. I have the right to be a nice guy… So I spend as much time as the world will allow, enjoying life as a hermit artist in the woods, where words dissolve into colors, but the meaning remains evident. I would much rather sweep my walkway than face a crowd or the media. But I’ve learned that if I am willing to wade into the deep water, the river will wash me downstream and everything will be fine.

"Celebration of Life," 11" x 14" acrylic on canvas by Kevin, 2007

“Celebration of Life,” 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas by Kevin, 2007

I shall willingly produce the next event at Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg on June 12, 2013, 6:30 to 8:30, starting with “Theatre of the Arts,” then expert panelists will present, and finally I will facilitate audience interaction/ Q&A with the panel. Everything will be fine. I will do it for my unborn great-niece Samantha, who is expected to arrive into this world at any minute. I gave her the painting above, entitled “A Celebration of Life,” at her baby shower recently, hoping that she will live and thrive to enjoy the painting and her life.

I am an old man now – older than my 64 years. I have lived a long, fulfilling life. I have known true and enduring love, enjoyed fascinating adventures into the history of human art and thought and culture, created a significant body of art, communed with Spirit, and spent a very peaceful time in Nature. I am satisfied. But what can we say to the children and the grandchildren now? They will soon begin to ask us “Why did you not take care of the Earth? Did you forget that this planet is our home and we cannot live without it? What did you do to save our home after you set it on fire? What are you doing now?”  I wade into the deep water of the river because I want to be able to say to the children, “I am sorry that we were so greedy and careless and damaged your home. I am doing what I can to save it.”

 

“HEALING EARTH PAIN THROUGH THE ARTS” – an interactive creativity workshop

Earth Day Weekend, Saturday, April 20, 2013 – 10 am to 12:30 in the sanctuary (Coffee downstairs at 9:30 am)

 Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, 328 W. Orange St. Lancaster, PA 17603 (This event is sponsored by HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity — See our Facebook page)

FREE – Bring an object of nature (leaf, feather, bone, flower, etc.) to use during the event.

Miller The Flood finished full canvas March 10 2013 photos 006[1]

“The Flood,” Kevin L. Miller, 52” x 52” oil on canvas will be shown for the first time in public

  •  Jerry Lee Miller will emcee and speak.
  • Kevin Miller will show “The Flood” and 8 to 12 other large works of art. There will be a discussion about healing and transformation through creative action and the arts.
  • Streetbeets will perform, including Paul Montigny, Tom Tucker, Kati “Kanga” Gruber, and Jerry Lee Miller.
  • Christi Hoover Seidel will read her poetry.
  • Kesse Humphreys will offer a performance art piece.
  • There will be opportunities for silent reflection, singing, moving, writing, and group participation and discussion.

Miller The Flood finished photos March 8 2013 022 check cropped

Detail from the lower left corner of “The Flood,” Kevin L. Miller, oil on canvas, 2013

Some of the topics covered in the workshop may include:

Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math

  • 2 degrees Celsius is the maximum warming the Earth can sustain. We’re nearly halfway there including inertial rise.
  • 565 Gigatons of CO2 release is the maximum the Earth can handle from 2012 to 2050.  We will reach that level in 15 years by 2028 at our current rates of carbon extraction and use.
  • 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 are in the process of being released from proven oil, gas, and coal reserves that fossil fuel companies and fuel-rich countries have already promised to develop.

Allen Miller Deep Woods 3x4ft March 12 2011 IMGP3146

“Deep Woods” Kevin Miller & Robert Allen, 3 x 4 ft acrylic on canvas (signed “Allen Miller”) 

How Will Climate Change Affect Planet Earth? (from the World Bank’s Potsdam Report on Climate Change — “Turn Down the Heat”) 

  • CO2 Increase:  Current CO2 levels are higher than at any time in the past 15 million years and rising rapidly. 
  • Global Warming: At a time when the Earth should naturally be cooling, it is warming faster than at any time since the last ice age. 
  • Ocean Acidification: As CO2 dissolves in the oceans, acidification adversely affects marine life and coral reefs.
  • Sea Levels Rise: Even if warming is below 2 degrees C, sea levels will rise 1.5 – 4 meters by 2300 causing coastal inundation and loss around the world. 
  • Wetter Atmosphere: Earth’s atmosphere is holding much more moisture now, causing more severe storms. 
  • Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Super-storms: Extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy are becoming more common. 
  • Fire Transforms the Ecosystem: We have already seen massive fires in the U.S. Southwest. In Amazonia, forest fires could double by 2050 with current warming trends. 
  • Sudden Changes: Antarctic ice sheet disintegration would lead to rapid sea level rise. Rapid Amazon forest dieback would lead to drastic wider ecosystem damage. 
  • Cascade Effects: Key failures would lead to disastrous regional events.

Miller Woodland Spirits 4x4ft Sept 9 2010 IMGP2225

“Woodland Spirits,” Kevin L. Miller, acrylic on canvas, 2010 

How Will Climate Change Affect People and Animals? (from the World Bank’s Potsdam Report on Climate Change — “Turn Down the Heat”) 

  • Extreme Heat: There is a ten-fold increase in areas with extreme heat since the 1950s. The 2010 Russian heat wave left 55,000 dead, 25% crop failure, and a hundred million acres burned. 
  • Risks to Human Support Systems: The Potsdam Report “identifies a number of extremely severe risks for vital human support systems,” including water scarcity, flooding, drought, wildfires, transformed ecosystems, forest dieback, and “large-scale loss of biodiversity.” 
  • Adverse Health Effects: Extreme weather events will cause injuries and deaths. Epidemic diseases and allergies are expected, as well as respiratory, heart and blood disorders caused by heat-amplified smog levels.

2OL The Corn is Dead... Whats Next ART

“The Corn Is Dead… What’s Next?” Kevin’s digital illustration for TwoOldLiberals.com

How Will Climate Change Affect Our Food Production and Supply? 

  • Agricultural Food Security Disruption: As temperatures approach and surpass 2 degrees C, food security will be undermined by extreme heat, drought, floods, invading insects, diseases and sea-level rise in low-lying delta areas (Bangladesh, Egypt, Vietnam, Africa, etc.) Agricultural disruption will lead to nutritional deficits. 
  • US Agricultural Disruption: The 2012 US drought has already caused widespread crop failure throughout the Midwest.

HIVE photo Eco Anxiety poster

“Eco-Anxiety” rapid image poster by Kevin L. Miller for HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity 

How Will Climate Change Affect Our Psychological and Spiritual Health? 

Most of us experience some or all of these Seven Stages of “Eco-Anxiety” in our efforts to cope with Earth Pain. They occur in no particular order and are often repeated: 

  • Denial: Many people experience at least some period of denial, even if it is only a failure to hear current realities. 
  • Fear: You are not paranoid. Climate change is happening, and it is truly frightening. You are not imagining it. How can we face our fears and move on constructively? 
  • Depression: It would be unnatural NOT to experience some despondency after realizing that the Earth and all life are in serious peril. How can we continually process our depression and remain productive? 
  • Guilt: We are all complicit in the human activities that  have caused climate change, and many of us feel guilt. How can we forgive ourselves and save the world? 
  • Anger: What could be more natural than feeling rage when we truly realize that all life on Earth could end? How can we harness our anger for constructive action? 
  • Grief: Periods of weeping and wailing on the floor or on our knees may be appropriate and necessary. How can we transform our grief into creative action? 
  • Action: We can transform the six states above into joy, hope and fulfillment when we take creative action on behalf of the Earth based on our ability, interest, and willingness.

Miller Global Warming Apocalypse March 2012 color art final

“Global Warming Apocalypse,” digital art by Kevin L. Miller, 2013 

Four Questions That Help Us Move Toward Creative Action 

  1. What CAN I do? – We can all list a lot of things that might be possible for us to do to arrest and reverse climate change and to raise awareness about it. 
  2. How the HELL should I know? – If we are to approach this monumental task with some degree of good humor and humility, it would be advisable to start by admitting that we don’t know what to do. We are making it up as we go along. 
  3. What am I WILLING to do? – There may be many things that we could do, but we will be most effective pursuing those things that we are so willing to do that we actually feel real motivation and passion to act. 
  4. What am I QUALIFIED to do? – On the short list of things that we can do and are willing to do, which ones are we most qualified to do? Do we have some training or background in certain kinds of skills that could be useful in helping to save the world? Can you build an electric car? Are you a good letter-writer? Are you an experienced public speaker? Do you know how to plant trees?

2OL Utopia with Stinky and Squeak March 2013

“Stinky and Squeak in Utopia,” digital art by Kevin L. Miller, 2013

Uniting People of Diverse Perspectives for Creative Solutions and Action 

Earth’s climate is warming rapidly and approaching the point of no return. Now is the time for people of diverse perspectives from every point on the political, socio-economic, and religious-cultural spectrums to unite for the purpose of innovation and action on creative solutions to preserve Earth as a habitable planet for future generations. In order to do this, we will all need to be willing to venture outside of our comfort zones to work with people we do not usually associate with, and to tolerate and even respect their points of view. 

Pope Francis expressed it eloquently during his inauguration homily on March 19, 2013, when he talked about the true meaning of the Christian vocation: 

“… It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the world… It means protecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live…” 

“Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!” 

Jerry Lee Miller and the other artists and I hope you can join us for “Healing Earth Pain Through the Arts” on April 20, 2013, 10 am to 12:30 (9:30 for coffee) at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, 328 W. Orange St., Lancaster, PA 17603. Yours, – Kevin

Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry — 1st Letter from Kevin

Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry,

I have voted for both of you collectively three times for the Presidency, and I thank you for your steadfast service to our country in a time of peril. I also attended the Feb 17, 2013 “Forward on Climate” Washington D.C. rally with 40,000 concerned citizens, sponsored by the Sierra Club and 350.org, to ask you not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. The world is now in a state of severe climate change crisis caused by human activity. We need your leadership to preserve the Earth as a habitable home for future generations of all life.

Some have said that Canada will exploit the double-carbon, bitumen-saturated tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.” That may be true, but is it moral and ethical for the U.S. to be complicit in this tar sands crime against the Earth and future generations? Famed NASA climatologist James Hansen has said, “If Canada proceeds and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” When he was asked to articulate three reasons why you, Mr. President, should reject the tar sands Keystone XL Pipeline, he replied, “Our children, our grandchildren; the other species on the planet; and Creation.”

Scientists all over the world and your own supporters are asking you to do everything in your power to stop the KXL Pipeline. Read the Potsdam Report commissioned by the World Bank. Time Magazine on March 3, 2013 said, “There are many climate problems a President can’t solve, but Keystone XL isn’t one of them. It’s a choice between Big Oil and a more sustainable planet.” As 350.org founder Bill McKibben says, authorizing the KXL would be like approving an 800,000 barrel/day fuse to one of the planet’s biggest carbon bombs. Please come down on the right side of history and stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.

2OL The Corn is Dead... Whats Next ART

Here’s my own art for one of my many blog articles about what is happening to the Earth, “The Corn Is Dead… What’s Next?” – July 23, 2012 at http://TwoOldLiberals.com . Read it at http://TwoOldLiberals.WordPress.com/2012/07/23/the-corn-is-dead-whats-next-4/

Your supporter and deeply concerned citizen,
Kevin
co-founder, “HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity,” Lancaster, PA. See our FaceBook page.

 

CREATIVE RECYCLING: Make Art and Buildings with Junk

 

by Kevin

Robert and I are always on the lookout for junk and used stuff that we can repurpose to make art or to continue constructing our home and barn art gallery and other buildings here in the woods where we live. We just finished the polished stone wall, pictured above in the living room of the cottage we are building in the woods beyond the dead-end of our dirt road. This rock wall took us a little over a month of evenings and Sundays to build, and it is a solid example of a junk project.

All the double-pane, argon-filled windows in the living room are also salvage. The knotty pine wall and ceiling planking was purchased in an Amish “mud sale” auction. And the black walnut floor was a fallen tree processed by an old order local Mennonite lumber man.

Ten years ago from our moving car, we spied some jagged chunks of the beautiful polished stone sticking up out of the dumpster of a countertop business near where we used to live. We didn’t know quite what we would do with it, but we knew we had to have it. The manager of the place said we could take scrap out of their dumpster in exchange for bringing an occasional case of beer for the people who worked in the countertop business. We were enthusiastic dumpster divers for beautiful chunks of polished stone for several years, and ended up moving our heavy treasure to the woods when we sold our big house in the suburbs and moved here.

Using salvaged materials to make art and buildings requires an eye for beauty and value obscured by a layer of mud or rust, and a willingness to engage in creative problem solving while working through each customized project.

We still did not know what we were going to do with the polished stone. Eventually we purchased three acres adjacent to our original woods where we lived in an old trailerhouse. The new land included a small half-constructed hunting cabin that we decided to finish and turn into a cottage for ourselves. Then it hit us – the polished stone would make a beautiful accent wall in our new home. Six weeks ago we significantly strengthened the foundation supports under the living room to carry several tons of additional weight. We hauled truckloads of the stone to the cottage and lived with the rock puzzle pieces spread out all over the floor for a month while we constructed the wall.

First we had to cover the surface with concrete blue board secured to the studs with long screws every six inches. We found industrial strength mastic, especially formulated for heavy rock walls, and buttered the back of each rock as we installed it, with shim and occasional support screws in between. It took both of us to lift some of the larger 1.5”-thick stones into their places. When the entire puzzle was finally solved, Robert grouted the whole wall in one afternoon and washed it about 20 times.

We love our humble little cottage in the woods even more than we enjoyed our big fancy house in the suburbs. Yes, we are still sleeping in a corner in the unfinished kitchen and cooking with an electric skillet and a 50-cent garage sale microwave, but we have never eaten or slept better. Next summer maybe we will use some of our salvaged lumber to build a bedroom or two.

The hunting cabin itself was a piece of junk when we bought it. Friends strongly advised us to tear it down and start over. The previous owners were chain smokers with five indoor pit bulls and Rottweilers. They left mountains of the worst kinds of garbage and trash all over the property. The cabin itself smelled so foul that the only way we could plan and take measurements was to run in holding our breath and look around for 60 seconds before bolting out again to gasp for air. We had to leave the building open to the elements for over six months before we could bear to spend time inside and begin the massive cleaning chore.

So, we understood why people felt we should tear down the place and start over, but we could also see very clearly that the basic construction was strong and sound, and we knew that if we could purge and clean it, the skeleton would be a good beginning upon which to construct a new home for ourselves. Four years later it is becoming a real jewel, and the memory of the stinking junk heap it used to be has faded from our minds. Now we see only what it is today and what it will become tomorrow. We are using mostly salvage windows, doors, lumber and stone to build the house, and we do all the labor ourselves, so our costs are very low.  It’s a house made of junk, and we are very proud and happy to live in it.

If your couch and chairs and rugs are starting to look a little ratty, paint them! Robert’s painted furniture is very popular. Be sure to use water-base acrylic paints, because they remain rubbery and flexible and do not get brittle when dry.

All you need to become a “creative recycler” is an eye for interesting used materials that might be good for some future purpose. You have to believe that junk can be cleaned and repurposed to make something interesting and beautiful. The “outside settin’ sofa” and 3 straight back chairs and rug above were ready for the junk heap. So Robert painted them in his inimitable style with acrylic paints, and now they have a new life. It helps if you are willing to be a bit of a pack rat and store junk for a while until the right opportunity comes along to give it a new incarnation. We collect and store lots of junk. Two days ago we brought home a big truck and trailer load of used lumber from a country dwelling that was being demolished.

Flea markets and garage sales are great places to find valuable junk. I made the “Jeweled Christmas Tree” above almost entirely from junk jewelry and beads and fake pearls that I found at such places over a period of years. The finished junk jewelry mosaic is one of the most popular art projects I have ever completed. Everyone seems to want this pile of junk!

Another building on our 12 woodland acres that looked like it might not be long for this world was our 150-year old barn. The front wall had collapsed outward substantially, because the former owner cannibalized the major support rafter that held the building together, to use for other purposes. The first time we walked into the collapsing barn, Robert fell through the floor and into the lower level which was full of flood debris and disgusting trash. It turned out that all the full timber floor joists had been turned to powder by termites. The floor was nothing but dust! What a mess!

A lot of people might have left the old barn to fall down, but we discovered that the old oak frame had hardened to the consistency of steel and was extremely strong. So we decided to save the structure and turn it into our Barn Art Gallery. We constructed an entirely new load bearing front wall inside the original collapsing wall. We took out the floor and built a new one. Multiple rafters now hold the building securely together. We covered the interior walls with a puzzle of irregular shapes of salvage plywood that we bought from an Amish farmer after he removed a thousand nails from the 40 pieces. We constructed dormers and installed salvage windows. Today it is a beautiful and peaceful refuge beside our stream and pond, decorated with junk furniture and carpets that people were planning to throw away. Eventually we hope to expand the gallery to show more art.

We often get criticized for buying water and sodas in plastic bottles, but I have saved every single container for seven years, and I am starting to make art out of all of them. We personally drank all the water and soda out of the plastic containers that make up the somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Rose Window” above. It looks beautiful when the sun shines through it. I am still constructing a water bottle chandelier. Each of the 220 bottles glows with a tiny white LED light stuffed inside. I’ll add another 100 water bottles and hang the chandelier from the vaulted ceiling over our kitchen. I am also planning to make tall glowing cone-shaped trees of plastic bottles as outdoor sculptures.

Randy, our little pug puppy, fell asleep on the edge of his water bowl, slipped in and drowned. But Robert brought him back to life with five minutes of vigorous mouth to snout CPR. My 16″ x 20″ junkart construction, “Randy Valentine,” commemorates the joyous resurrection of our puppy. Randy is healthy and normal today.

“Randy Valentine,” above, is a small prototype for larger junkart pieces to come. Our pug Randy is immortalized as he looked when he was a puppy. Here he is made out of shredded junk mail paper mache with real painted egg shells for eyes. He is nestled in a yellow styrene chicken tray adorned with hearts cut out of used red plastic picnic plates and surrounded by flowers made of water bottles. I bought the glitter and beads and tiny plastic animals for pennies at our local dollar store before it closed.  The chickens are made of eggs shells.

Why make art and buildings with junk? We all know how important it is to recycle. The earth is smothering in our junk – especially the carbon emissions and greenhouse gas junk we are spewing into the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels. If we want to leave a place where our children and grandchildren can live in the future, it is important to stop dumping our junk into the vital waters, soils and atmosphere of our home planet. It is time to buy and use less stuff, and begin finding new uses for our old junk that will otherwise end up in the landfill. It is certainly important to collect our plastic, glass and paper and turn it over to recycling systems that can convert those forms of junk into reusable pellets to make new stuff. With a little bit of creative thought and a new mindset that looks for ways to repurpose our junk, we can also eliminate the middle man and give our junk a whole new life on our own! And it’s loads of fun!

WHY MAKE ART?

by Kevin

Kevin stands in front of his “Earth Rose Window,” made of plastic bottles, displayed in the center city art gallery that will close in several weeks.

Robert and I have decided to close our 2,000 square foot art gallery in center city in a few weeks and move all of our art back to our Barn Art Gallery and studios deep in the woods. We’ve had a good run at the city gallery for the last 18 months, and enjoyed every minute of it, even though we only sold a few paintings. Before that we exhibited 65 big canvases at the new library when it opened two years ago, and they bought six of them to start their permanent collection. That was exhilarating! We also had a good time producing a two-man show for a gallery in a nearby city three years ago, and a local restaurant exhibit last spring led to the sale of two of Robert’s big paintings.

We’ve worked very hard, primarily for visibility, because in recent years there hasn’t been much disposable income that the public was willing to invest in art. We hosted popular open mic music and poetry nights monthly in our center city gallery, often attracting as many as 50 people. But poets and musicians are notoriously poverty-stricken in America, and, of course, they couldn’t buy any art no matter how much they might appreciate it.

We were content to open the art gallery for visibility, but recently we have found ourselves in such a time and money crunch that we have not made any art for months. Our “day jobs” and the upkeep of our 12 wooded acres and many animals and buildings are more than a full time life for both of us, especially when we are devoting evenings and weekends to making art as well. Running the center city art gallery, which initially promoted our art, became counterproductive as it worked to stop our art production. On top of that, the formerly vibrant city art scene seems to have stalled along with the U.S. economy. Local art galleries report that the spring and fall ArtWalks this year were very poorly attended.

“Multiple Personality Disorder,” 33″ x 42″ acrylic on canvas, by Kevin

So… It’s time to retreat to the woods and make art again. YAY! That should be a cause for celebration, right? But I have recently found myself whining about an artistic identity crisis. I’m beginning to come out of that now, but for weeks I’ve been struggling with the question “If art is made in the woods and nobody sees it, does it have a purpose?” (That question is the sequel to “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?)

This soul-searching has been useful in forcing me to decide whether or not communication and social response are an essential part of making art. My decision is “not,” although an occasional reaction beyond apathy would be nice. While art can be very useful, enlightening and helpful to society in all kinds of ways, and it is good if an artist’s work makes her or him feel a sense of connection and purpose in society, such functions are not essential to the intrinsic value of art as a vocation for the artist. The minimum requirement for being an artist is making art. Sharing it is optional.

The urge to create art is as fundamental for an artist as the urge to eat or have sex or pray. And when an artist does not create, there are eventually negative effects just as there are for any individual who abstains from eating or having sex for too long, and for some of us when we don’t meditate or pray. Art is the vehicle through which the artist is integrated with the material, psychological and spiritual world. Without making art, the artist is “disintegrated” and alienated from the world. Artists intensely desire union with all that is. Our love affairs and efforts to merge with the world lead us into creative processes that make us pregnant with the art to which we ultimately give birth.

“Something Was Happening in the Sky,” 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas, by Kevin

The fundamental function of integration that art fulfills for the artist physically, psychologically and spiritually is not dependent upon society. It does not require that anybody beyond the artist sees or responds to the art. While such responses are usually desired by artists as gratifying, challenging or stimulating experiences, and certainly necessary to art commerce, they must not to be confused with the artist’s internal process of integration through art with physical, psychological and spiritual reality.

In fact, societal reactions to art can significantly warp the integration process and even impede it. Artists who become very successful in selling one particular style or subject matter in their art, often find themselves enslaved to that success and unable to evolve and move beyond it to new forms and subjects. Artists who are rejected or fail to sell their work to an indifferent public, wonder unnecessarily what is wrong with their art and think of themselves as failures, rather than focusing on the successful integration their art has afforded them into their private physical, psychological and spiritual realities.

Art is not a talk show or a political debate or a marketplace. It is a private and personal practice like sex and dietary habits and meditation. Many artists choose not to show their work to anyone at all, or they show it to only a few trusted loved ones, because they know that this very private soul expression and exploration is fragile and can be damaged by public response which is often ignorant and cruel. If an artist has a strong ego and can withstand the rigors of public reaction and enjoy the resulting dialogue then s/he may choose to go beyond creation and into communication of art.

“I Miss Smokin’ SOooo Much!” digital print by Kevin

Commercialization or monetization of art — the attempt to promote and sell it — is a third and entirely separate category beyond private creation and communication of art. My hat is off to any artist who is so brave and bold as to proclaim that s/he will make a living by selling art. In this day and age in America that is a very hard path to follow. I do not recommend it, and while I have sold a fair amount of my art, I have steadfastly refused to require it to support me, preferring instead to raise money for food and rent by working in other jobs. I have never wanted my art to be influenced and changed by the marketplace. I like yellow and purple and bright colors. I don’t want to leave blazing hues, nudes or controversial subjects out of my art just because I know that they don’t sell as well as more neutral tones, hidden human forms and safe subject matter. I cannot allow my art to be dictated by lowest common denominators, because then it wouldn’t be my art.

Recently I spoke with a young sculptor who is supporting himself by selling his large metal sculptures. He has sold his work so successfully that he had to cancel a one-man show because all of his inventory sold out before the show opened! I asked him what his secret was. He replied, “I decided to ask what people really want and give them that.” So, of course, I asked him what people really want. He said, “Sunflowers and dandelions.”

Understandably, this young sculptor may have abandoned his own vision and personal expression in favor of making sunflowers and dandelions so that he can eat and pay rent. Now, I have nothing at all against sunflowers and dandelions. Van Gogh’s sunflowers are utterly sublime, as are the tall wonders themselves that grow in nature and provide us with beauty and delicious seeds. And I find dandelions magical and beautiful. It is more than possible to make authentic art with sunflowers and dandelions as subjects. But I’m guessing the real subjects for this young sculptor were groceries and rent, and his motivation was money – not personal integration or expression.

Some artists have been lucky enough to be born into flourishing societies that appreciate art and culture and have the luxury of supporting those pursuits during a time of economic prosperity. In such happy circumstances it is certainly possible for artists of all stripes to support themselves with their true vocation, while expressing their visions authentically and not merely shaping them to societal tastes. In many parts of America today, at a time when 23% of U.S. children are growing up in poverty and too many people are unemployed and hungry, buying authentic art is not a public priority. How could it be? Artists are therefore faced with a choice – We must tailor our art to the tastes of the wealthy or support ourselves with a “day job” and do our art as and when we can.

Many friends and acquaintances have said to me over the years, “Follow your dream! You are an artist. Quit that day job and do what you love. Become your true self!” I completely agree that I have to make art or I will sink into despair and dysfunction. Art is like food, water and oxygen to me. It grounds me in my own physical, psychological and spiritual being. When I don’t make art I become disenchanted and unbalanced. But I like to eat, too, and at least in the winter it’s nice to have a roof over one’s head. I’m not willing to stop making the authentic art that may disturb some people in favor of sunflowers and dandelions that might please the public but leave me gasping for air. So I’ll keep my “day job” for now, thank you, and pray that Social Security is still there in a few years.

Meanwhile, I’ve changed my mind about public response to art. In the past I’ve always said that both praise and condemnation were fine with me, and the only response I could not tolerate was apathy. Well… that declaration has now been tested and found false. Outside of a handful of very close and supportive friends, by far the most common response I get to my art these days is indifference. Often it seems that people don’t see it at all and I wonder if it has become invisible. For a while I was very bothered by this, but suddenly I find myself at peace. I don’t have to worry about whether or not my art elicits a satisfying scolding or gratifying congratulations. I now have the extreme luxury and pleasure of making art privately, in the peaceful solitude of the woods. This is a wonderful gift!

“Apple Man,” 3 ft x 4 ft oil on canvas by Kevin

I seem to have to remind myself every now and then to enjoy art as a solitary vocation, whether or not there is any public response. About 30 years ago I dreamt about a wondrous baseball tree and awoke with the following poem fully formed in my mind. I read it frequently when I find myself forgetting that art is a very private matter:

THE BASEBALL TREE

by Kevin

Have you ever seen a baseball tree

all covered with ripe juicy baseballs?

          Some of them are so ready

          they burst at the seams

          and ooze red through the stitches.

 

Those are the good ones to eat.

White and plump outside – bulging leather cheeks.

          Tear the stitches loose;

          catch the running juice;

          and feast on red flesh,

 

quivering and flashing in the moonlight

like a rare sea creature emerging from the shell.

          Ripe baseballs are very sweet

          like the reddest cactus pears

          of a Santa Catalina summer.

 

One warm night I found an excellent baseball tree

resplendent with painfully ripe, sweet fruit,

          splitting and spilling in the moonlight –

          glistening red flesh

          weeping to be eaten.

 

Overjoyed, I gathered many prize baseballs

as offerings for my beloved brothers,

          to show them loving respect

          and share the secret pleasures

          of my moonlit baseball tree.

 

But they would not eat my ready gift.

They looked strange and afraid and amused.

          They had not heard

          that baseballs are delicious

          as well as practical.

 

I myself ate several, to show them

baseballs are cactus-sweet and harmless.

          My brothers turned away

          shaking their heads

          with concern and disgust.

 

But in truth, I am sadly pleased

to go to my secret baseball tree alone

          on warm summer nights –

          sweet moonlit nights –

          and eat peacefully.

Being and Consciousness

by Kevin

Paul’s recent essay, “The Nature of Consciousness, or Your Tooth Has Already Been Pulled,” is brilliant, mysterious and fascinating. For many years I have felt that there is no topic more interesting than this one, and Paul has elucidated it beautifully. Consciousness, it seems to me, is at the root of “being,” but exactly what it is seems to be an ever evolving revelation. And the more one knows, the less one knows… or to put it another way, each flash of understanding about consciousness seems to light up vistas of inquiry, mystery and questions. Are there three levels of human consciousness as some people say — superconsciousness, consciousness and sub-consciousness? If so, what exactly defines those states? What is unconsciousness, and does it mean that we do not exist when we are in that state of being? What is “elevated” consciousness, and how can we get there?

What is the nature of the consciousness of animals? Surely they are conscious, but who among us can say that we can see clearly through the eyes of our beloved animal friends and know for sure what the reality of their being is like? What about trees and other plants? Do they have some kind of consciousness? There are empirical studies that produce convincing data showing how plants respond to music, pleasant talking, violence, unpleasant noise, and even prayer. What does this mean? Are they conscious on some level? Does the mineral world have some form of consciousness that we cannot begin to imagine? Do the rocks and boulders and mountains dream for thousands or millions of years? Is the planet itself a living organism with some kind of consciousness that we cannot fathom? After all, we call the Earth our “Mother.”

Robert and I live with lots of animals here at the dead end of a dirt road, deep in the woods. I am constantly aware of their consciousness as we interact with them, and frustrated by the distinctions and barriers between our various kinds of consciousness, being, and communication methods. I often feel that they know things I don’t know, and wish I could “talk” with them and understand more about the world. Many times both Robert and I have felt that the scores of large colorful koi in our half-acre pond, each one with its own name and “personality,” were trying to tell us something. Sometimes when they see us by the pond, they begin to perform elaborately beautiful aquatic dances, tracing patterns in the surface of the pond water, as if they were trying to spell it out for us. Some of them leap repeatedly out of the water or scuttle across its surface like Flipper used to do on TV back in the 60s. I’d give a lot to trade my consciousness with that of one of our koi for just a few minutes and find out what it is to be koi.

I suspect that all living species may experience this same interspecies consciousness veil among our various groups. I’m thinking here not only of communication, but something greater — a sense of what it is like to BE the other — an understanding of each other’s consciousness. Living with lots of species, we frequently see interactions among them. While many of these interspecies scenes are violent and predatory, some of them are playful, and a few suggest a tangible sense of wonder between members of very different species. Two of our last eight dogs have been so fascinated by fish and frogs and anything that lives in the water, that they were happy to crouch by the shore and stare into that other watery world for an hour at a time.

Recently our white Cairn Terrier, Scrappy, experienced a week of interaction with a large bass in our pond. Every evening when we walked the dogs down to the pond, the bass came right up to the shore at the surface. Scrappy would run to the water’s edge and crouch nose to nose with the bass, each animal staring into the other’s eyes. If one of them moved along the shore, the other one followed, back and forth. They were clearly fascinated by one another, and I by them. The scene was such a poignant demonstration of the division among the species, each one living in its own world with its own form of consciousness, isolated from the other in its own way of being, wondering about the other.

Leaving aside the mineral kingdom and the rest of the animal kingdom for the moment, there is more than enough mystery on the unexplored frontiers of human consciousness to keep us occupied for eternity. Today I had the pleasure of watching a series of very interesting documentaries on the Science Channel (an all too rare TV experience) about the nature of consciousness as revealed in autistic savants and brain trauma savants. Some of these half-hour documentaries were about people who were born with brain anomalies. Others were portraits of people who had experienced strokes or accidents that left them with changed brains. What they all had in common were strikingly brilliant capabilities that we would normally expect from people we label “geniuses,” but these people were very impaired in other ways.

The stories of accident victims who immediately became excellent artists or musicians virtually overnight suggest particularly compelling implications. After surviving serious head trauma, one man who had never sat at a keyboard before suddenly became an amazingly proficient pianist, even though he could not read or write music. Another head trauma victim has become famous for his beautiful, prolific artwork, and yet another for his fine sculptures. These people did not exhibit such capabilities before their brains were altered. What does this say about consciousness? Doesn’t it suggest that the consciousness of a musician, an artist and a sculptor lay dormant within them before their accidents? Does it also suggest that perhaps we all possess magnificent genius and proficiencies in areas that we think are completely beyond our understanding?

I suspect that we are all much more than we know. There may be a sleeping genius within each of us. The stories of the trauma survivor savants suggest that our “consciousness” is only the tip of the iceberg and that we live in a constant state of self-imposed limitations.

As Paul suggests, memory seems to have a lot to do with our perception that we are conscious. Are we less conscious as we age and become forgetful? What if we could remember all the way back to our birth… and before that? What would our consciousness be like then? It seems likely to me that each of us has forgotten many orders of magnitude more than we remember. Is it possible that in some altered state of consciousness – some other state of being – we could access all of those memories? Is our forgetfulness and our limited consciousness itself just a temporary condition? How can we recover?

Perhaps the most controversial question about consciousness concerns whether or not it is necessarily tied to the body and the brain at all. There are metaphysicians and scientific researchers who claim that some practitioners of eastern meditation techniques are capable of entering into deep trance-like states of bliss during which their hearts eventually stop beating, their blood stops flowing, they stop breathing, and they appear to be dead. Even if they remain in this “living death state” for an hour, they come out of their meditations not only quite alive, but refreshed, rejuvenated and enlightened.

These reports may be very difficult for westerners to believe, but even the occidental mind knows that when we sit very still and enter into a state of deep contemplation or prayer or simple rest, our breathing and metabolic processes slow down dramatically, whereas our state of consciousness expands and our feeling of wellbeing improves. There is much more to learn and demonstrate about this phenomenon, but it clearly suggests that consciousness may not necessarily be entirely dependent upon the physical body or even linked to it at all in certain states of life and death. We are on the threshold of real empirical evidence that our “Being” does not depend on life or death, but is much more a matter of our “Consciousness.”

THE CORN IS DEAD… WHAT’S NEXT?

By Kevin

 

My octogenarian aunt and uncle and their two adult daughters visited my extended family last week for three days. They were so excited to see green trees and fields of living crops in our state. They reported that back in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois, all the corn and soybeans and other crops are dead and the vegetation is brown. On July 19, 2012, Reuters confirmed this report:

The most expansive U.S. drought in more than a half century intensified this week and stretched further into major farm areas of the western Midwest where crops had largely been shielded from the harsh conditions that decimated yields further east.

The moderate drought in parts of eastern Nebraska, northern Illinois and much of the top corn and soybean state Iowa was downgraded to a severe drought in the past week, climate experts said Thursday, and forecasts showed little relief in sight.

Prices of both corn and soybeans soared to all-time highs on Thursday, with corn climbing more than 50 percent in the past four weeks alone due to the worsening drought, squeezing ethanol and livestock producer margins and chilling export demand.”

We ate lots of sweet corn on the cob during the family visit. When my relatives left, my friend Jerry directed me to Bill McKibben’s July 19, 2012 article in “Rolling Stone” entitled, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” with warnings that it put him on the floor! McKibben’s article is based on three crucial numbers:

  1. 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees F.) is agreed upon by leading scientists and listed in paragraph 1 of the Copenhagen Climate Accord of 2009, as the absolute maximum we can allow the planet to warm without utterly disastrous consequences. As McKibben writes in his article, “The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius – it’s become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees.” He also reports that many scientists and nations feel that 2 degrees C is far too high. The planet has already warmed .8 degree C and there is another .8 degree C of warming built into the system through inertia, even if we were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases now. So… we are already ¾ of the way to the 2 degree C maximum, and massive damage has already been sustained.
  2. 565 Gigatons of carbon dioxide can be released by mid-century without destroying the planet. At current emission rates, we will emit that amount in 16 years, by 2028.
  3. 2,795 Gigatons of potential carbon dioxide emissions are currently held in the proven coal and oil reserves of fossil fuel companies and countries that behave like them. That represents at least five times more carbon dioxide than we can safely emit without destroying the planet as a life-sustaining habitat. Fossil fuel companies and nations are planning to burn all that carbon, and they have based their shareholder profit forecasts and national economies on this $27 trillion worth of carbon. We are in very big trouble.

About 12 years ago I heard a brief report on NPR about how the polar ice caps were melting and I suddenly understood for the first time that all life on earth is in peril. I fell into a year-long, low-grade depression about this tragedy and felt constantly nauseated. But I recovered to create a “survival strategy” for Robert and me, which involved selling our big 5-bedroom/ 3 bathroom house on 1.1 acres in the suburbs of a major U.S. city, and moving to our current humble digs on 12 acres deep in the woods at the end of a dead-end dirt road, where no cell phones ring and we must have satellite dishes to receive TV and Internet service. We’ve been here, living intimately with nature in our woods, by our half-acre pond and our little stream for six years, loving it more and more as every month passes. It is an abundant green paradise where pure drinkable spring water flows out of the hillsides, and wildlife abounds. It’s Heaven! Or, at least, I often tell Robert that if Heaven turns out to be anything like our woodland retreat, I won’t be a bit disappointed.

When I read Bill McKibben’s article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in “Rolling Stone” a few days ago that low-grade depression and nausea returned. I couldn’t read it all at once. I had to take it in two sittings, because the implications are so devastating. Climate degradation is moving much more quickly than I thought, caused by human behavior and specifically caused by the greed of fossil fuel companies – the most profitable businesses in human history. I had selfishly hoped that at age 63 I might be old enough that I would not see the worst effects of Global Climate Change. McKibben dashed those hopes. He reports that without a miracle, we will pass beyond the maximum threshold of safe emission levels in about 16 years, as I approach my 80th birthday. My maternal grandmother lived to 103 with all her marbles, and virtually all my relatives live well into their 80s or beyond. My parents are now in their late 80s. Conclusion: Robert and I must revise and accelerate our survival strategies for living to the end of the world. We have a whole lot to learn and much work to do, if we plan to live 20 more years.

I was shocked to learn that we have already warmed the planet .8 degrees C and that same amount (.8 degrees C) of additional warming is built into the system even if we stop burning carbon today. I guess I was still in some partial state of denial, despite all the dramatic climate developments recently:

  • We had no winter this past year where we live. For the first time our pond did not freeze over and our big koi did not bury themselves in the mud and sleep through cold weather.
  • 260 homes and cabins and over 100 out buildings were destroyed in the Colorado fires.
  • In June 3,215 high temperature records were broken after the warmest May in U.S. history. This was the warmest spring ever recorded in the U.S.
  • For the 327th consecutive month global temperatures surpassed 20th Century averages.
  • The world’s oceans are now 30% more acidic than ever before.
  • The air over the oceans is 5% wetter, causing massive storms and floods. Think Katrina.
  • Climatologists report a dramatic increase in the likelihood of severe heat and drought, and we are experiencing the beginning of those conditions now, even before August.
  • Arctic sea ice is at the lowest levels ever recorded. And what are we doing about it?…
  • Fossil fuel companies are taking advantage of receding ice masses to explore for more and bigger oil reserves. The tragedy is compounding itself: Ice loss = more oil = more greenhouse gas emissions = more ice loss.

I have rather sadly worked as a creativity consultant to Fortune 500 companies for 22 years. One thing I know about them is that they only speak one language — the language of MONEY. Nothing else gets through. All things are viewed and judged through a cost-benefit analysis lens relative to the bottom line — profit. If it doesn’t enhance profits, walk away, fight it, condemn it, deny it, and discredit it if you have to. The fossil fuel industry has done a good job of discrediting climate change science in an effort to protect profits and forfeit the planet in the process. Can anybody explain to me how that is good for the bottom line? Extinction is not good for business!… They need living customers, right?

Two-thirds of the electorate in my state does not “believe” in climate change. All the major academies of science around the world and 98% of climatologists are shouting that climate change is real and caused by human activity. But two-thirds of my state does not “believe” in climate change. To me that’s like saying they don’t believe in the Pythagorean Theorem! It’s science, for God’s sake! It’s not a matter of belief. It’s a matter of fact, like the earth being round and progressing around the sun every 365 days. What in the name of Heaven is wrong with people?! This is mass suicide, and it is becoming more and more evident. Look around!

A second chunk of very thick ice, twice the size of Manhattan, broke off of Greenland the other day and floated away. Just like the first time this happened, I heard one 30-second news story about it and nothing more. The first chunk that Greenland lost several years ago was four times the size of Manhattan. When I mentioned it just in passing during a lunch chat with a corporate client, he shouted, “Oh quick! Somebody call Al Gore!” Al Gore already knew about it, I’m sure, and I would have strongly preferred discussing it with him.

Okay… so the language of corporate America is MONEY. What will it take to persuade the fossil fuel companies to leave the carbon in the earth? Isn’t it worth any price to save the planet itself and as many life forms as possible that have not already gone extinct? I’ll give them ALL of my paltry little bank account if that will do the trick. If it’s Money that talks, let’s talk to them in the language of Money. Let’s lavish Money on them when they switch from fossil fuel development to clean energy, and then let’s slap severe economic penalties on them when they extract fossil fuels from the ground. Let’s make clean energy appealing and profitable any way we can. Let’s make fossil fuel extraction painful and costly.

But we will have to do our part too. We all have to be ready to give up our gas guzzling cars if we succeed in persuading the fossil fuel companies to switch to clean energy. I’m ready to turn my four-wheel-drive SUV into a storage shed and buy a mule to carry me up and down the steep hills on our land. But if you have more money than I do, you might be able to afford an electric car powered by your solar array. I saw a TV documentary about some guy who made a steam-powered truck. Horses, bicycles, hot air balloons, and our own two legs provide fine transportation options. We just can’t burn fossil fuels anymore.

I suspect that real change has to begin in our own minds and hearts. It has to happen very quickly and achieve critical mass virtually overnight if the human race is to tip the balance away from mass suicide and toward hope and life. As Bill McKibben wryly observes:

Most of us are fundamentally ambivalent about going green: We like cheap flights to warm places, and we’re certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

Our way of life is going to have to change radically if we are to survive. I’m willing to grow my own food and learn how to can and preserve it. I’d live without electricity, and communications and entertainment, if I had to. After all, those things are very recent developments anyway. My father had no electricity or indoor plumbing in his early childhood home, and they certainly could never have imagined carrying phones in their pockets, or communicating with any corner of the globe in a flash via Internet, or watching hundreds of channels of images and sounds on a box called a TV in every room of the house. Those are all very recent innovations. We can break those habits and do without those luxuries. But we don’t have to if we follow Germany’s example and convert to solar and wind and geothermal power. We can still enjoy some luxuries if we use forms of energy that will not poison the planet. But here’s the crux of the fossil fuel problem as Bill McKibben defines it very succinctly in his recent “Rolling Stone” article:

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

How can we stop this lemming-like mass suicide? How can we combat the overwhelming allure of massive profits for the fossil fuel industry and/or make it even more profitable for them to switch to clean energy? How can we overcome our own profound attachments to modern conveniences and return to living closer to nature? Or how can we power our beloved luxuries with clean energy? How can we stop Global Climate Change?

Will all the major coastal cities of the world have to be flooded and evacuated before we come to our senses? Will millions upon millions have to die before we stop poisoning the planet? Do we have to pray for another massive meteor, like the one that killed all the dinosaurs, to hit the earth, wipe out most life on the planet and surround it with a cooling dust cloud for a very, very long time? That would save the planet as a place where evolution could resume and populate this paradise with another intelligent race, granted yet another chance to develop and finally another challenge to live through its own technological adolescence – a test we are failing miserably and spectacularly.

According to Bill McKibben, it looks like I may live to find out what will happen, even though I already think of myself as an old man at 63. Global Climate Change is progressing very rapidly. Look around. It’s obvious. Planet Earth and all life forms upon it are in peril. It’s time to pray for miracles and use any and every talent and strength we may individually and collectively possess to turn the rudder on the ship of humanity away from the insanity of mass suicide and toward a vast ocean of hope for survival, because we believe that life has value beyond our comprehension, and we want to save this precious living planetary organism from becoming a lifeless desert for the remainder of its existence.

The immediate task in front of us may seem overwhelming and hopeless. But we cannot afford the luxury of despair, depression and self-pity. We have urgent work to do to save the Earth, if not for ourselves, then for all the innocent children, animals and plants that do not deserve to die of heat prostration, thirst, hunger and extreme climate disasters. We have to buck up and do whatever we can. And we need to be smart, quick and creative about it. Bill McKibben concludes his “Rolling Stone” article with a moral challenge:

The three numbers I’ve described are daunting – they may define an essentially impossible future. But at least they provide intellectual clarity about the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. We know how much we can burn, and we know who’s planning to burn more. Climate change operates on a geological scale and time frame, but it’s not an impersonal force of nature; the more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell.

You want a big number? In the course of this month, a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts. Just like us, our crops are adapted to the Holocene, the 11,000-year period of climatic stability we’re now leaving… in the dust.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719#ixzz21StVZEer

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From Bill McKibben’s website:

 

Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Time Magazine called him ‘the planet’s best green journalist’ and the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was ‘probably the country’s most important environmentalist.’

MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO MAD

by Kevin

Money Screws Up Everything!

Sometimes I just hate money. It screws up everything. Any first grader can see that I was born to be an artist. So, of course, I’ve spent the last 22 years as a business consultant to Fortune 500 companies. It was my own fault that I didn’t make any art during most of those years, but I forgive myself. I’m not the only one who would say that if it were not for having to make money, they would be doing something else. People should do what they were born to do, shouldn’t they? Yes… but money screws up everything. For decades some of my more idealistic friends have been urging, “Give up that job! Follow your dream! You are an artist!” Well… I AM an artist, and I AM following my dream, but I don’t want to starve in the gutter. So I have worked full time at my job and then performed a second full time vocation “following my dream” as an artist.

Even pleasure is evaluated according to how much money you pay for the experience. If you go on an expensive cruise or spend time at a fancy resort, everyone assumes you had a wonderful time. If you stay at home and sit in your backyard garden, the same people feel sorry for you. Frankly, I’ve had some truly lousy times on cruises and at fancy resorts, and some of my best times in my own garden, so the price tag on a vacation is a false indicator of its value. Money does not equal fun.

Money madness takes on much more serious forms as well. To get a lot of money, or only what they perceive to be a lot of money, some people are willing to steal, murder, betray loved ones, enslave each other, demean and prostitute themselves and others, and do all manner of illegal, immoral, cruel, awful things. Money basically brings the worst out in people. Why does everyone love it so?

Money is making a mess of our society right now. The Occupy Movement has famously pointed out that the richest 1% of U.S. people holds more wealth than the other 99%. They are doing their best to hold onto more power than the lower 99% too. In fact they are attempting to destroy the middle class. Scranton, PA is broke and the mayor has announced that they are now going to pay their fire fighters and police force minimum wage! Hard working teachers, civil servants and salt-of-the-earth blue collar union members are under attack. As median household wealth drops, people are afraid that others are getting more than they do, and they resent their friends and neighbors having a retirement plan or health insurance or a decent hourly wage. Money envy yields dangerous results.

Meanwhile, the apparent Republican nominee for the presidency may be worth about a quarter billion dollars. Nobody knows, because a great deal of his wealth is hidden in offshore accounts all over the world. Like all his wealthy friends, Mitt pays less than 15% taxes on his income while you and I pay over 30%. I don’t begrudge him his wealth, unless it was ill-gotten, but I do think he should pay his fair share of taxes – as much as you and I pay. President Obama has generously proposed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income up to $250,000. Even billionaires would get that much of a tax cut, and then the rest of their temporary Bush income tax break would be rolled back to pre-Bush levels. But Romney and the Republicans want the fat cat tax breaks to become permanent. Discrepancies in fairness, like this one, around money and taxes make everyone mad, including me. Money is power, and those who have it often prove capable of stacking the cards in their favor for getting even more.

There’s No Money in Heaven

I certainly hope there is no money in Heaven. One of the things I look forward to enthusiastically about graduating from this mudball and moving on to the next realm is getting rid of money! I cannot imagine money being part of Heaven, can you? Of course not. Money is “the root of all evil.” There couldn’t possibly be any money in Heaven. We won’t need to eat or worry about shelter, since we will be angels, sleeping on clouds or something. We won’t have to buy cars, since we will be able to fly, right? In Paradise we won’t need any possessions other than our harps and white robes, which I assume will be issued at the Pearly Gates. We won’t have to go shopping. We won’t need money! YAY!

It’s kind of amazing, actually, that more people have not tried to come up with alternatives to money here on earth, since it is such a total pain in the ass. Barter is probably the most common effort to get around money, but it isn’t very precise, and someone is always feeling cheated, as in “I think my assistance building your barn was worth more than this one old goat you gave me!” Communes have been an interesting effort to get away from money in my lifetime. Supposedly everyone works as hard as they can for the good of the community without receiving any money to show for it. But then somebody is always slipping into lazy freeloading, and that causes resentment. Besides, most people do want to have a few possessions of their own and a little bit of privacy.

In our society the conservatives loudly proclaim the supremacy of unregulated capitalism – not what I expect to find in Heaven. Even in the material world, capitalism is beginning to look a little shaky. The unfettered economy of extraction, exploitation and abuse of resources, nature and people is ruining societies and our environment. It is increasingly clear that the powerful wealthy elite 1% is succeeding in redistributing wealth from the middle and lower classes to the extremely wealthy. The Republicans are very open about wanting to shred any semblance of a security net, and get rid of all social programs – eventually even Medicare and Social Security – leaving the poor to die in the streets and the remnants of the middle class increasingly desperate and impoverished. So much for our national Christian values of feeding the poor and clothing the naked. They even seem to want to deprive all but the wealthiest families of educational opportunities, to make sure that they keep control of all the money and power. They certainly don’t want another president like Obama, because he believes in fair taxation, equal opportunity in education and work, and fair pay for work done.

It’s a battle royale on planet earth right now over money, whether you want to talk about the Arabian oil fields, or the European Union, or extreme Third World poverty, or the increasing polarization of the U.S. classes. So I guess we’ll have to wait for our halos, wings and harps before we can look forward to living without money. Capitalism will catapult us into Heaven more quickly, however.

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

Here on earth we are caught in a veritable rat race for money, money, money! My 87-year-old dad points out that back in the 50s, when I was a kid, a good middle class life meant a small modest home with one car in the driveway, a washing machine, and a black and white TV set with three channels… maybe a radio and a stereo, too, if you could afford them. That was a good life. Now we think we are utterly deprived if we can’t have a gigantic house and a big garden shed full of lawn equipment, one car for each family member of driving age, plus some additional recreational vehicles, unlimited high speed Internet access, cable TV with hundreds of channels in almost every room, endless travel and entertainment, huge closets full of clothing, phones in every pocket, college educations for everyone, major retirement savings and more insurance than you can shake a stick at.

 Insurance… now there’s a money pit! I pay for auto insurance for three cars, home and fire insurance for two properties, phone line repair insurance, $500/month for my own health insurance and $1,000/year for professional liability insurance because I’m an independent contractor and an artist with a display room downtown, $2,250/year for disability insurance, lots of life insurance, and I probably have insurance for my insurance! I feel guilty because I don’t have dental insurance and long term care insurance. I know I’m irresponsible for not having those, but I just cannot afford anymore damn insurance! Give me a break! That’s another good thing about going to Heaven… You don’t have to buy insurance in Heaven. You’re already dead!

Money may make the world go ’round, but it makes my head spin! I hate the way people respect you more if you make a lot of money and suspect you of being subversive if you choose not to make as much money as you could, or not to display ostentatiously how much money you make. And if you ever sell your big house, pay off all your debts and radically downsize, you will find out that people resent you for dropping out of the money rat race. “How dare you reject the game! You can’t do that!”

Living With Less

Oh yes we can… we CAN live with less… a whole LOT less. It was a very short time ago that people lived with less than we can now imagine. When my father was a boy, his home had no electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. They weren’t terribly poor. Those things just hadn’t reached many of the rural areas yet. They worked the farm, milked the cows and tilled the fields by the rhythms of the rising and setting sun, the weather and the seasons. They lived close to the land and their animals. Forget the 50s with the one car, TV set, and washing machine. In my father’s youth there was virtually no technology except for a few gasoline engines and 19th Century mechanical devices. At that time he could not have imagined our smart cell phones, iPads and computers facilitating instant and constant communications and business dealings; our global jet travel; our video-game-like drone warfare; and all of our gadgetry, amenities and luxuries. A light bulb and an indoor toilet and plumbing were life-changing luxuries to him.

It is time to live more simply again. Our extraction and pollution economies and technologies are raping the planet and killing it as a livable home for plants, animals and humans. We are starting to see that all around us now. We had no winter this year. Colorado has burnt up. Thousands of heat records were shattered by the end of June. Millions of households had to survive temperatures over 100 degrees with very high humidity without any electricity for air conditioning for a week. What will August be like? We have to reverse Global Climate Change if we want to survive. We have to change how we live and be willing to live with much less. We have to become friends with the Earth and the plants and animals again. Their fate will be ours.

You Can’t Take It With You

Money is not the key. You can’t take it with you. It won’t offer you permanent happiness. Money applied intelligently might be able to improve conditions for all life on earth and for the environment, but so far we are applying it to commit suicide. So it’s not working. Money is not working for us.

But enough of this frivolity. Let’s get serious. I have bad news: We are all going to die. If we are lucky, we will get old first, and then die. I have made a personal study of the aging process. Growing old is about giving up things bit by bit until we finally have nothing and then we let go of the body. At that point we will leave the material world of money, utterly penniless, whether we had billions when we died or nothing at all. Death is the great equalizer. It enforces the ultimate equitable wealth distribution. You may have gotten the impression that s/he who dies with the most money and toys wins. But it ain’t true. Only the intangibles that have fed and defined our souls stay with us. Money, or “mammon,” will mean nothing to us at the moment of our graduation to the next realm.

I’ve never been a Bible thumper, but the words of Christ say it best. There is so much unchristian Christianity going around these days. So, don’t take my word for it… Listen to the source:

Matthew 6:19-33

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.