Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Last Day of August

                  by Jim Rapp

Summer is waning but not finished yet,
The roadsides still flower, mostly in gold.
Farmers are hoping, with some luck, to get
One hay crop more, into the hold.

Squirrels are busy but not frantic yet;
Acorns, walnuts, and buckeyes, like gold,
Are stashed in safe places until they can get
Time to store them, shelled, in the hold.

Mornings start cooler but days are hot yet,
Evenings come sooner with sunsets of gold;
Migrating species fish wetlands to get
Fat for the flight; filling their traveling hold.

Summer is waning, but not finished yet;
September’s greens must still turn to gold,
Then October will offer a last chance to get
The bounty of summer stowed in the hold.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Olga Makes a Stellar Decision

                         by Jim Rapp

When Anders left home with his giant guitar;
He told Olga he’d love her from Paris, afar.
She begged him to send her, each evening, a tune
By bouncing it, artfully, off of the moon.
But when she heard he was singing, instead, to the stars,
She decided she’d spend her evenings with Lars.

Monday, August 29, 2011

In Honor Of The Sneeze

                by Jim Rapp

We celebrate hundreds of heroes
And rightly so I guess
Some wise, some brave, some desperados,
more or less.

Anyone can be a hero if they try.
By rescuing a baby
In a basket on a river rushing by,
You could be one – maybe.

Heroes often do the dumbest things,
Like holding back the water
With their finger in a dam to save the king,
His queen, and all his sons and daughters.

We build “halls of fame” to house our idols,
One for every category of renown;
Warriors riding horses, holding gilded bridles,
A lady riding bareback with no gown.

But the hero of heroes, to me
Is the gal who invented the sneeze;
“It’s nothing to sneeze at,” bragged she,
“And inventing it wasn’t exactly a breeze.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Answer Lies in a Good Question

                               by Jim Rapp
A wise teacher used to ask his students many questions,
believing they intuitively knew
the answers.

To teach bare facts without contextualization,
merely built a store of knowledge that he knew
would seldom frame an answer.

But questions asked of one – by one – in consternation
make him call to mind things he learned to do
when last he felt the pincer.

If one would know why he had suffered indigestion,
he need but ask the questions pointing to
the food dispenser.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What’s Good For The Donkey Is Good For The Elephant

Time was when women were not allowed to vote in the United States. Then, time was that women could marry at age 18 without parental consent but men not until age 21. I came to the age of “majority” in that latter period and thus the first election of national scope in which I could vote was 1960. Richard Nixon was seeking to follow Dwight Eisenhower as president. A young Irish Catholic Senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy opposed him.

Since it was my first opportunity to vote I was keenly aware of the campaigns of both candidates. And since my position as pastor of a small Pentecostal/Evangelical church brought me into contact with the community of Evangelical Christians associated with conservative politics I was the recipient of much of the propaganda leveled against John Kennedy’s candidacy. There were many scurrilous and unfounded stories circulated to discourage “Christians” from supporting Kennedy but the primary objection to his candidacy, from the viewpoint of conservative Christians, was the oft asserted claim that he would allow – or perhaps more likely, promote – Catholic influences in government that were a violation of the Constitution’s separation of church and state. The more radical claim was that he would “move the Vatican” into the United States.

So great was the outcry against this alien Catholic candidate that Kennedy was compelled to go before an assemblage of Baptists ministers and disavow any intentions of using his office, if elected President, to support or promote his Catholic faith. As we know, Kennedy did become the nation’s first Catholic President and the dire predictions failed to materialize.

But, forty-eight years later another “minority” candidate sought the office of President, Barack Obama. Mr. Obama again raised the fears of the now enlarged and much better organized Christian Conservative movement. Another barrage of unfounded and incredible claims were marketed against the Obama candidacy: he was Muslim, he was not an American citizen, he was a politically radical socialist-communist. He was politically aligned with former (and present?) terrorists. Beneath the surface, but evident in the choice of language, imagery, and innuendo, was the fact that he was the son of a black alien father. In other words, he was a black man.

But the clincher, for conservative Christians, came when it was revealed that the pastor of the church in which Mr. Obama came to faith in Christ, and which he continued to call his home church; indeed the pastor that had performed the marriage ceremony for Barack and Michelle Obama, had connections to, and an affinity for Liberation Theology. A video of Rev. Wright’s sermon, in which he used the phrase, “God damn America,” went viral on the Internet and candidate Obama was forced to either repudiate his pastor or be associated with the alleged slur against “America”. (Never, mind that the offending phrase was wildly taken out of context and that, in context, it was not any more radical than statements made by other preachers of my acquaintance who regularly cried out against the sins of the nation and called upon God to judge the U. S. for its sins.) The upshot of the whole affair was that candidate Obama was forced to sever a life-long relationship with a man who had been instrumental in bringing him to faith in Jesus Christ.

But now, in 2011-12 the shoe is on the other foot. The Christian Conservative movement is promoting a group of candidates with strong and overt ties to a religious philosophy – the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) – that is at least as alien to the American principal of separation of church and state as that which it alleged for either Kennedy or Obama. Of course, the Christian Conservatives have now abandoned their insistence upon any separation of church and state and argue, consistent with the beliefs of the NAR, that the founding Fathers did not intend to erect any such barrier. So, in their view, they are only promoting a restoration of the intentions of the founders.

The beliefs of the NAR are varied and not consistent across the board but the doctrine that should be of concern to Americans is their belief that Christians of their stripe are commissioned and destined to take over the kingdoms of this world so that they can present them to Christ upon his return to earth. The means to accomplish that goal are both spiritual (removing the spiritual strongholds of Satan in government, culture, and the church), and political (gaining control of government through the election of NAR friendly candidates. Two of the organizers of Rick Perry’s Texas Rally were leaders of the NAR, Lou Engle of The Call, and Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer. A prominent NAR prophet, Thomas Muthee, from Kenya anointed Sarah Palin in 2008, praying that she would be protected from the spirit of witchcraft.

The United States has been committed to the belief that its citizens should be free to believe and worship as they please, free from government interference or coercion. It appears that a new breed of Christian activists, associated with the right wing of the Republican Party. has decided that such toleration violates the plan of God for our nation and they have an obligation to eliminate “spiritual dominions”, speaking to the “spiritual mountains” of the arts and entertainment, business community, family, government, media, religion and education, casting out the demonic spirits that currently control those domains, and taking control of them for the coming Christ. Whether Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, or Michelle Bachman subscribe to the doctrinal precepts of the NAR is unclear. They may just be opportunistic politicians using the NAR organizations and their leaders as a means to gain the votes they can deliver. But in any case, it is time to demand that they declare themselves on the issue of separation of church and state.

The shoe is on the other foot. What was good for Kennedy and Obama should now be good for Perry, Bachmann, and Palin. We need to know what their commitment is to the principles and goals of the NAR, and how their commitment to it would affect their governance if they were elected.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Substance of Things Hoped For

                        by Jim Rapp

The Jonquil’s thrusting leaf
Forced the stone away,
Signaling a million sleeping, captive souls,
That winter’s tyranny, at last,
No longer holds their destiny.

The sun’s ascent – each day higher,
Each day warmer – flooding earth below
With life renewing, life affirming, warmth
Declares to those who entered sleep
With hope of such a rising,

“Death has lost its sting!
The Grave has lost its victory!
The sun and source of life has seized
The frigid keys of Death and Hell,
And set the pris’ners free.”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Time To Hold One’s Breath

                by Jim Rapp

Wiinter – summer’s obverse rival –
Its cold beauty
Tempting and alluring –
Is averse to life,
Inhospitable, and deadly.

Winter’s claim to be eternal,
Defies all refutation.
Having crucified the source of life,
It holds the icy keys of
Death and Hell.

Beneath its sterile blanket
Fallen seeds lie entombed,
Captive in a frozen world,
Lest summer’s sun return
To wake and claim its own.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


                    By Jim Rapp

The beauty of fall is the beauty of amber;
Hard lines of contoured grain reborn –
De-born – as varied shades of gold
Spread over fields that promised,
Only days before, eternal green.

It is a death that is at once a harvest
And a promise; a Eucharist
Of bread and wine
Wrung from the lushness
Of what seemed eternal kingdom.

The bounty of fall’s harvest
Sustains the winter-clad
And fuels a hope
That ice and snow and cruel cold
Cannot eradicate.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

There Must Be More

                by Jim Rapp

Summer seems so permanent –
Not consistent, just permanent,
As though its rounds of ebb & flow
Might never ever end;
Might be the stuff of eternity.

As if it never knew
Of winter, spring, or fall,
Summer draws one day after another
From its deep well and covers them with
The monotony of its eternal life;

Life, blindly drawn from root to stem –
From stem to twig and leaf –
From branch to fruit and fruit to seed,
Bears hope that fallen seed will rise again,
The source of summer’s everlasting life.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Did God Get Rid Of All That Good Stuff?

(Once the magician has pulled the rabbit from the hat, he quickly gets it out of sight. If it were left to hop around the stage, no one would be watching the magician’s next “miracle”.)

Ever wonder what happened to the Garden of Eden with its locked gate, guarded by a flaming Angel? To the ruins of the Tower of Babel? To Noah’s Ark? To Goliath’s spear and sword? To the Ark of the Covenant and its contents? Or did you ever wonder what life was like for all those Bible men and women who suddenly disappear from the Biblical record after Jesus or the Apostles healed them?

If some Christians had the power to accomplish it, the relics of those early days would be gathered into Museums for the curious to look at, or maintained as holy relics to which pilgrims could travel in hopes of having a special encounter with God. And, in our day, anyone healed, delivered, or raised from death to life is, at the least, featured on Television shows; some start ministries, write books, or become traveling experts, lecturing on ways to receive a blessing identical to theirs.

God knew better than to leave the world strewn with artifacts of the ancient Hebrew and Christian religion. Given the choice between an object that can be seen and felt, perhaps held in the hand, and an idea which must be maintained only in thought, mankind consistently chooses that which is tangible. So God, in his wisdom allowed almost all artifacts of ancient Israel and first century Christianity to be irretrievably scattered to the four winds. And he wisely allowed most of those whom he blessed with healing and other miracles to vanish, almost instantly, from the Biblical narrative.

True to form, later generations have tried to retrieve those artifacts, some for the purpose of venerating them (the Shroud of Turin and the “holy places” in Israel).  Some exploit them for profit. Others seek to find and identify them believing their retrieval will add credibility to the claims of the Bible. Millions of dollars and thousands of man hours have been invested in these endeavors though there is not a shred of evidence in Scripture that such activity is pleasing to God or profitable for the faith. In fact, the record of God’s active neglect of “holy sites” and “holy artifacts” cited above, would seem to indicate God has done all that he can do to erase the distraction of such things, desiring instead that his people worship him and him alone. When he wanted an event memorialized, he enfolded it in a sacred and symbolic sacrament like the Passover or the Lord’s Supper. At the very most, he allowed those who wished to remember an encounter with Him to leave a pile of stones or “imprint” the location with a sacred name, i.e. Ebenezer (this far has God helped us).

It is immensely difficult to focus on a pure idea. There are rare individuals who seem capable of doing just that; the Buckminster Fullers and the Einsteins of the world. They need few if any analogies upon which to hang their thoughts. Most of us need an object lesson of some kind to make concrete that which is thinner than air – pure math, pure science, pure philosophy, pure theology. Left to ourselves we gravitate to objects that we can see and hold and even shape to match our concept of the thing we desire to know. The apostle Paul described the process as one of devolution, in which mankind has ultimately reduced his concept of God to the very lowest creatures, and to the “work of his own hand.” One very well-known organization encourages addicts to seek help from a “higher power” in breaking free from their addiction. Sadly many have, for their “higher power”, things as ineffectual as a tree, or an animal, or an object of man’s invention.

The concept of a transcendental, monotheistic, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent deity is too difficult for many to wrap their mind around. Human language struggles to encompass such an idea. When Moses asked Yahweh whom he should tell the Hebrews it was that sent him to them, Yahweh seemed to struggle to describe Himself in terms that humans could understand. “Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you,” he told Moses. Moses must have left saying, “Yeah? Well, okay, I’ll try that.”

The apostle Paul tells us that the heavens and the earth are invested with all the evidence man should require to know that God exists as a transcendent Creator. And further, at the appropriate time in man’s history, God revealed His power, and purpose, and holiness in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said of his relationship with his heavenly Father, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”

So we need no icons, no relics, no sacred places, no artifacts of earlier eras, not even revered Saints, upon which to focus our devotion. We have Jesus, the image of the Father to whom we look, the author and finisher of our faith. Faith placed in anything else, or devotion directed to anything other than God the Father and Jesus Christ, is worse than worthless; it is idolatry and anti-Christ.

Jesus warning about chasing false prophets is an appropriate warning, as well, to not be distracted from the true worship of God by running here and there to see, and touch, and genuflect before some “holy” thing:

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. "So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matt. 24:24-27)

So God has been busy through the centuries, sweeping away the physical evidences of his encounters with mankind so that man will not make of them, gods, to be revered instead of the one true God. But He has not left us without a record of those encounters. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, records the acts of God, for, with, and unto mankind. Some foolishly make the book itself an object of worship but the wise worship the God revealed in its pages.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Bible DOES NOT Have the Answer To Every Question: But God Does

Despite the glib assertion, often heard, that the Bible has the answer to every question, my questions keep accumulating. It has been my experience that reading and contemplating the Bible raises at least as many questions as it answers. But then, perhaps I read it differently than those who say they find an answer to any question they bring to it.

The psalmist, who repeatedly tells us he meditated (day and night) on the Scriptures available to him, must not have found the answers to his questions lying on the surface, easy to find and quick to understand. He found it necessary to meditate on the things he found there. Meditation is a process of asking questions and seeking answers. It can keep you up all night, or at least awake all night. And in the end – the end of our life – we will still have questions unanswered. Thank God! Think how awful it must be for those who, at age 30 or 40, have found the answer to all their questions, but are required to live on another three or four decades with nothing new to learn.

I’m being too facetious, of course. Those who claim such clarity of understanding are not saying  they never have questions, merely that, when they do, they can reliably go to the Bible and find an answer there. And no doubt they do so. Whether the answer they find would be universally acceptable to others with the same question is very doubtful. But if it gives them a sense of clarity in their view of the world, and if they do not later “live to rue their decisions” based on that “clarity,” it is, at the least, harmless for them to make the Bible their sole guide to daily problem solving.

However, it would seem that, if the Bible were meant to give that kind of specific guidance, it would have been structured more in the form of a technical Manual for Living, with a Table of Contents listing chapters that address each area of life. Instead we have a marvelous, almost haphazard, collection of stories, histories, songs, poems, prayers, sermons, prophecies, and theologies that were written over a period of a thousand years or more. Where does one begin to find the answer to the problem facing them today? In some specific verse? Or in a particular story? In a teaching or a prophecy? Or in a grand understanding of all of it together?

I would say, for the ordinary problems of everyday living, God has given us a brain, life experiences, amd the wisdom of others around us to guide and direct us. To look in the Bible for the reason your computer doesn’t work today – ah, yes; some do so, declaring it an “attack” of Satan to be combated by prayers or incantations – is non-sense. It may take a bit of hard searching to find the problem, using less “spiritual” means, but in the end, the result will be more favorable and the “fix” more permanent.

The Psalmist meditated upon the Word of God, delighted in it, and drew solace from it. Taken as a whole (and it should be taken as a whole, both in the breadth of familiarity with all of its “books”, and with the span of one’s life devoted to meditating upon it) the Bible introduces us to dozens of men and women whose stories of success and failure provide grist for the mill of our minds as we wrestle with situations not too different from theirs. It puts us in dozens of situations in which other believers have wrestled with the conduct of their life in treacherous times. It gives us the teachings of those who have knelt closer to the Throne of God’s wisdom than we have. It teaches us that despite the ups and downs of human behavior through the centuries, God has been on a consistent path to redeem sinful mankind.

The Bible doesn’t answer every question I have; neither the little ones about why my car makes that strange noise, nor the big ones about when the supports should be removed to allow a loved one to slip on into eternity. But meditating upon the whole of Scripture can teach me to: “not take thought for tomorrow, whether my car will break down or not, but to trust that God will give me the wisdom to fix it, or find someone to do so, if it should break down.” (That last “quotation” is an example of the synthesis of Biblical truth that can occur as a result of “whole Scripture” meditation.) And the Bible can bring comfort – and wisdom – to those who have the very hard questions to answer about life and death, assuring them that, “to live is Christ, but to die is gain.” Whether we live or die, were are Christ’s. Whichever door we decide to go through we are assured by Jesus’ words, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you. I am with you, even to the end of the age – the end of life.”

God’s faithfulness to us is not determined by the course of action we take in a particular situation. He is committed to us. He has given us free will. He expects us to seek to know his will before we make our choices. But he doesn’t stand back when, in good faith, we make a bad choice. He goes through that door with us too. And if it is, indeed, a bad choice, we will have found the answer to that question. We can move on to prayerfully choose another door, using the wisdom gained through experience and our meditation on the Word of God.

A final word of encouragement from the Epistle of James: “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God. He gives it liberally and doesn’t scold us.” Facing a problem? Need to know which door to go through. Ask God for wisdom, then, if it seems good to you and the Holy Spirit, give it a try. If you’ve listened carefully and acted honestly you’ll  get the right door. You won’t be alone, though, if you fail; others have too. But you’ll not be without Jesus presence either. He promised that.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Knockout Punch

No one wants a fight to go ten rounds with the winner determined based on a judge’s decision. The goal is a knockout, and that as quickly as possible. A knockout is decisive and shows, conclusively which contestant is the better boxer. Well . . . unless the knockout blow was a fluke, or the loser – normally a superior boxer – was under the weather and not up to his usual form. A knockout only determines who won the match, not whose skills in boxing are the greatest.

The knockout mentality pervades our culture, perhaps partly because sport pervades our culture. But for many centuries politicians, theologians, scientists, economists, athletes, businessmen, and lovers have been looking for the knockout punch that will conclusively and permanently make them the winner.

Of course the concept of “knockout” comes from boxing, an ancient sport that perhaps originally was a fight to the death and, even as recently as a century ago, was a bloody, bare-knuckle affair. But, even in its more civil modern form, it still has the unspoken goal of inflicting damage – perhaps even permanent “death” – to a portion of the opponent’s brain, resulting in unconsciousness or immobility for a period long enough for a referee to count to ten. The long-term effects of such damage is tragic and a “Christian society” should be appalled that a “sport” with that kind of brutality as its object is sanctioned by law and enjoyed by millions.

But that is an aside, not an unimportant one, but nonetheless an aside. It is the concept of conclusive proof – the knockout punch – that this essay is intended to address. As pointed out above, even a knockout in boxing can point to something other than an indication of which contestant is the more skilled boxer. And in all the other areas – politicians, theologians, scientists, economists, athletes, businessmen, and lovers – it is equally true that any particular victory over an opponent or competitor is inconclusive as to the ultimate competence of the contestants. That is why baseball seasons stretch over months and involve 162 contests for each team.

But sporting fans are not content to let the record, achieved over a 162 game season, speak for the competence of a team; they want a Champion. And so a special series of “tournaments” has been instituted to declare one team – not necessarily the one with the best record over the 162 game season – “Champion,” based, often on one “knockout punch” delivered in the last inning of the last game of the last series of the post season. The “Champion” may well be a team whose regular season record barely sufficed to get them into the play-off “tournaments,” but if, by some fluke of good fortune, they can strike the mighty blow in the final struggle they are the best!

While it is logically inconsistent to determine a sporting Champion, based on a single win, it becomes ludicrous to do so in other areas. For nearly a century now, a certain segment of the Christian community has been engaged in an effort to deliver a “knockout blow” to atheists and skeptics – and certain “modernist elements” within the Christian community – by discovering ancient Biblical artifacts to prove, conclusively, that the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate in every detail. The belief is that if one could find, and put on display, for example, the Ark of the Covenant with its stone tablets containing the ten commandments, its bowl of manna, still fresh and tasty, and Aaron’s walking stick, still budding and alive, that would irrefutably confirm their version of the Christian religion.

Of course it would only confirm such to those who believed the evidence to be authentic. Such a “discovery” would only initiate a new contest to prove the authenticity of the evidence. And so it would go on into the centuries beyond our reckoning.

In matters of faith, it is faith that matters. And in the Christian religion it is faith in Jesus Christ that matters ultimately; faith that he is the promised Savior, the Divine Son of God; that his death atones for sin and his resurrection guarantees eternal life. No discovery of any artifact changes the equation: faith in Jesus Christ = everlasting life. In fact, the struggle to find and believe in such artifacts can be a distraction, making one a believer in artifacts more than a believer in Christ.

The search for the “knockout artifact,” that will relieve one of the need to have faith, is an un-Christian endeavor. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” More than that, God has so structured the world that it is impossible to live at all without faith in something. If one can put their faith in an artifact, why not simply put it in God, and in his Son, Jesus, the Christ?

Friday, August 19, 2011

What To Do With A Bully

I never knew a bully who could give you a good reason for what he (or she) does. He only knows the power of opposition. And he often carries the day.

Bullying is a hot topic these days. Our schools, the Internet, and our work places are identified as hotbeds of bullying. Psychologists who profess to understand the psyche of a bully, and how to counter him or her, are popular guests on radio and TV talk shows. All the concern being shown seems to have been generated by some well-publicized cases in which teenagers (and occasionally adults too) have lashed out violently against others or have taken their own lives under the stress of bullying.

It is not clear to me, from all I hear and read, that the current phenomenon is unique, or that it is any more prevalent than it has been in previous generations. In my seven decades of life, I’ve been in constant contact with, and sometimes in conflict with one or more bullies. It is never pleasant. It can turn a classroom, a workplace, or a social event into a dysfunctional milieu. Too often the bully goes unchallenged even when all others are intimidated or offended by his or her actions. It is easier to “brush it off” than to confront the bully head to head.

But, as I began by saying, I never knew a bully who could give a good reason for what he (or she) is doing. When asked to defend their actions the response is more bullying, threats, and sometimes actual violence. It would be nice if bullying were illegal and one could “call the cops” when it occurs. Only in extreme and violent situations is that possible.

In a one-on-one situation (a situation in which the victim has no expectation of outside help in dealing with the bully) the only choice is to “out-bully” the bully (some good counseling can teach one how to do that), or to remove oneself from the situation. Anything else will simply allow the bullying to continue unabated.

In a group situation it is possible, sometimes, to organize resistance to the bully. But often the one being victimized is also simultaneously being marginalized by the bully, so the victim has no allies he or she can call upon. That is when the aid of stronger members of the group is needed to take up their case and confront the bully in their stead.

At this time, when the subject of bullying is a matter of public discourse, it can be helpful to tune our antennae to recognize it in places we may not have thought about before. We should be asking:

1) Am I a bully? Occasionally? With certain people? All the time? If you answer, Yes, then force yourself to give a reason for your bullying. If you don’t have a justifiable reason for your actions then stop them. If you have trouble stopping, seek professional help in doing so.

2) Do I enjoy seeing others bullied? If, yes, then ask yourself why that is, and if it speaks well of your character. Does it make you the kind of person you would like others to think of you as being?

3) Do I lend my support to bullies? Do I cheer for bully-athletes? Do I vote for bully-politicians? Do I enjoy bully-commentators on radio or TV? Do I buddy-up to bullies where I work, or in my social groups? Do I allow tough bully-talk to carry more weight with me than reasoned discourse? Bullies can quickly be isolated (perhaps a few “converted”) if they cease to be supported by others.

4) Do I go to the aid of those being bullied? Aiding the weak and the vulnerable does not require one to defend the inadequacies that may make someone a target of bullies. But it says to the bully, “Everyone deserves fair and civil treatment and you are not granting it to this one. I will resist your effort to dehumanize him (or her).”

There is no doubt in my mind that bullying is a serious problem in our society today. It expresses itself in every sphere of our society, our politics, our religion, our entertainment, our economy, our personal relationships. As long as human beings are the degenerate race that we are, it will plague us. We all are bullies in certain circumstances and we need to recognize that fact.

But there are those who make a career of bullying. This essay is an appeal to the rest of us to identify them, isolate them, and make their behaviors unprofitable to them, and onerous to everyone else.

Identify one new bully every day . . . and take some creative action to blunt his or her power.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

       (Last “Lifting of the Meat” Before Lent)
                            by Jim Rapp

Then God said,
"I give you every seed-bearing plant
on the face of the whole earth
 and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.
 They will be yours for food.
 And to all the beasts of the earth
and all the birds of the air
and all the creatures that move on the ground—
everything that has the breath of life in it—
I give every green plant for food."
And it was so. (NIV)

The story of our origins seems to say
we were not always carnivores;
that once, with all our fellow creatures,
we made fruits and vegetables our “daily hay,”

and only lately – in a loosely speaking way –
did we, and many others, toothed and fanged,
choose to flesh our diet out with sarx
‘til then, we’d made the veggie kingdom pay.

There are still gentle creatures with us
not contaminated with our bloody lust;
who thrive, as at the start, on cellulose;
content themselves with “honey and a crust.”

Some walked away, sickened with disgust,
when Jesus offered them, as food, His flesh and blood.
But it had come to this: the carnivore of carnivores
must eat flesh now or die – no choice to make . . . he must.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

       Death of A Caterpillar
                  by Jim Rapp

As though to emphasize the theme
of man’s brutality to man
in poems I was reading,
a caterpillar tumbled
from the tree above my head,
landing on the deck,
embattled by a vicious fly.

A half a dozen sorties later,
when the fly departed,
a wounded caterpillar
writhed in dying pain,
the host, no doubt,
of fly lives yet to be.

It made me wonder,
in all man’s history,
how many butterflies,
that should have beautified
the world, were sacrificed
to host a swarm
of loathsome flies.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Really Great Idea

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has issued an interesting challenge to the business community and to all citizens concerned about the state of the U.S. economy and the dysfunction of government. He has suggested that all political contributions be withheld until politicians begin to do their job.

Further he has called upon legislators to return to Washington, D.C. immediately (not waiting until September) and dedicate themselves to bi-partisan efforts to create jobs in the U.S. economy, laying aside their obstructive, self-serving agendas, designed only to get themselves reelected. He is calling upon them to enter talks without preconditions and collaboratively work to resolve the persistent budgetary impasse that has plagued the government for months.

What a terrific idea! It is doubtful that all contributors will join Schultz in boycotting political contributions, but if enough significant donors do so it could have an impact upon the way politics functions in the United States.

Teachers, parents, and employers have known, forever, how destructive intransigence can be to a common endeavor. The student, child, or employee who stubbornly refuses to cooperate, or does so only on his or her terms, must be persuaded to cooperate or must be removed from the enterprise. Otherwise their attitude will breed dissention and discouragement in the whole group.

And yet the citizens of the United States have looked on helplessly while single Senators have held up the appointment of federal justices, blocked important political appointments, and refused to allow crucial legislation to even be debated, declaring openly and explicitly, their desire to see the present administration fail so they can elect someone of their choosing in the next general election. A small group of Representatives have taken the entire government hostage until it agrees to its agenda. In any normal setting such behavior would be called “bullying” and would be viewed as destructive, if not criminal.

But Schultz’s proposal shows that the electorate is not helpless. It holds power over the resource politicians most understand and desire, money to fund their campaigns for reelection. We can only hope that his call for a boycott of all political giving is heeded and the flow of cash stops immediately. No, we can do more than hope; we can determine to withhold our support if we are cash supporters. But even beyond that we can let our legislators know that we will withhold our vote for any candidate that appears to value anything above the achievement of a cooperative, productive government focused on creating jobs and economic well-being for the people they serve.

We can communicate to our legislators that political compromise and cooperation is not viewed by us as a weakness but as a strength; that solutions incorporating ideas from various places on the political spectrum are most likely to gain the cooperation needed for success, and are most likely to endure when political fortunes turn and new people are in leadership. In other words, we can tell the recalcitrant “children on the playground” that we will no longer tolerate their petulant obstructionism. Either they will play cooperatively, fairly, and productively, or we’ll give them a “timeout”.

There is much more that our politicians need to be “told”, but one lesson at a time. At this moment in time they need to hear that we view them as stubborn and immature children. And to bear that message home to them we need to tell them that their “allowance” is being withheld until they clean up their attitude and begin to play cooperatively. It they don’t, we will take stronger measures in the near future – at the next election.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It’s A Free Country!

How many times have I heard, in a high school classroom, or in the halls between classes, the words, “It’s a free country!”? The implication is, “I can do as I please, it is nobody’s business but mine.” And we are blessed to live in a country where that statement is almost, in every case, true. Almost! But not in every case. When we sense that certain behaviors, even those that, under some circumstances might be harmless, do indeed impinge upon the rights or safety or well-being of others, we restrict or forbid those behaviors. Most of us live out our lives without being seriously constrained by such laws because most of us try to be considerate of the needs and rights of others. The United States is a “free country” but it is also a country governed by law.

The previous blog argued against the attempt by one segment of the Evangelical Christian community, to use law, and their ability to influence the making of law, to grant advantages to their beliefs and practices and to restrict others from following their beliefs and practices. The argument made in that blog begs the question of the appropriate role of a Christian believer in the political system. Does a Christian office holder, for example have an obligation before God to work for the enactment of laws that mandate practices he or she believes are God’s will for all mankind?

In ancient Israel the laws of Moses did just that; laid down a moral code of conduct and prescribed harsh penalties for breaking that code. It appears that Israel, besides not being able to live up to the code, was also reluctant to enforce the penalties prescribed. A few examples of stoning or burning of sinners appear in the record but by time of Jesus, ways had been found around both the proscriptions and the penalties. Jesus himself refused to sanction the stoning of an adulterous woman unless a sinless man could be found to serve as executioner. Without condoning the woman’s sin, he pardoned her and sent her on her way with an admonition to forsake her life of sin.

Where would modern conservative Christian Evangelicals stand on that issue? They advocate for a Constitutional Amendment to ban abortion, and to forbid same sex unions. In the former case they call abortion murder. Do they advocate that teen age girls – or pre-teen in some cases – who seek and obtain an abortion be treated the same as a woman who hires a hit man to kill her husband? Is one murder less heinous than another or is murder, murder? Or would they, when the “murderer” was their daughter or granddaughter, devise some way to evade the penalty as Ancient Israel did? I’m guessing the latter; I’ve heard the question deflected by suggesting that the doctor performing the abortion is more culpable that the girl who hired him to “kill” her baby. That wouldn’t “fly” in a case involving a woman who hired a gunman to kill her husband.

The epidemic of abortion in this country (and around the world) is tragic and sinful. But it will not be solved by passing laws that either have no teeth in them or are voided by loopholes and exceptions to accommodate our squeamishness in enforcing them. The question of homosexual marriage and participation by homosexuals in the military, while not involving issues of life and death, is similar in that the solutions offered must mean something – must be enforceable – if they are to contribute to an orderly functioning society.

The early Christian church, portrayed in the pages of the New Testament, did not have to trouble itself with these things. They were powerless to suggest ways to “outlaw” sin, let alone sit in the counsels that enacted laws. So they concentrated their efforts on bringing sinners (murderers, adulterers, thieves, liars, homosexuals) to faith in Christ, believing that the love of Christ, abiding in their hearts, would turn them from their sins.

But modern western democracy lays a special burden on Christians, requiring them to use their political power, whether that be simply the right to vote, or the opportunity to hold office, in a way that honors God and promotes the morality that He put us here to demonstrate and advocate in favor of. Christians will not agree, either about the things to be proscribed nor the penalties to be imposed upon those who violate the proscriptions. But perhaps their common commitment to righteousness (right acting – right living) can provide a few things we can agree upon.

Can we agree that no law should be passed that cannot or will not be enforced? Such laws obviously do not affect a solution to the problem and they serve to create a cynicism toward law in general that undermines all morality to some degree.

Can we agree that laws passed to regulate morality must deal with moral failures that inflict serious harm on the person committing the immoral act, or others affected by it? Since no amount of adherence to a law can bring a person into a right relationship with God (which is the primary purpose of the Church in the world) we should not assume that any particular law will improve the underlying morality of our world. Only genuine faith in, and faithfulness to, Christ will bring that about. Civil laws should serve the purpose of making our society fair and equitable for all.

Can we agree to avoid advocating laws that undermine the rights of citizens to believe and practice according to the dictates of their own conscience? Rights taken from those with whom we disagree or whose freedoms we wish to restrict are taken from us as well. All political worms eventually turn, and when the laws enacted to harm others are turned on those who enacted them it may be too late to put the Humpty Dumpty together again.

Can we agree that all our citizens are souls for whom Christ died? Laws passed solely for the purpose of restricting the religious rights of others, or to impose our beliefs upon others, serve only to alienate the very people God has put us in the world to witness to. Bad laws enacted by Christians are a “witness”, but not to the love and grace of God in Christ.

Can we agree that Christians should be the champions of the “least among us.”? Jesus was. The apostle James, in his epistle tells us that we should be. He particularly tells us that we should not be seeking advantages for the wealthy who defraud and oppress the poor. Christians should be advocating laws that meet the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, not demeaning them by word or action.

Can we agree that the language of Christian political discourse should be markedly different than that of non-Christians?  That should be true during political campaigns, on the floors of legislatures, and speaking to constituents. Sadly, Christians are often the most bellicose.
In an attempt to sound the most righteous – which they interpret to mean, the most vehemently opposed to sin – they also sound the most heartless.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Pit and the Pendulum

In Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Pit and the Pendulum, a prisoner is placed in a room in which there is a pit in the center. As the walls mechanically contract the prisoner is forced closer and closer to the pit. That powerful image of inevitable doom resembles the situation the conservative Evangelical church has placed itself in today. But strangely it is both the inventor of the contracting chamber as well as the potential victim of it.

A vocal, and politically influential segment of the Evangelical Christian community has bought into the idea that the greatness of the United States is owed to an imagined Christian founding and that its continued greatness requires a return to the Christian principles upon which they imagine it to have been founded, not voluntarily, by convinced believers, but forcibly through legislation, Constitutional Amendments, and gerrymandered court decisions.

In other words they believe they can force all U.S. citizens into a room with ever contracting walls that will ultimately result in putting people into the place they would assign for each of them; Christians (of their stripe) in charge and all others relegated to the pit of subservient second class citizenship.

There are, in my opinion, two flaws in that thinking: 1) the Christian founding that they imagine is a myth and 2) the process they have devised to put everyone under their control can easily, and will almost certainly, draw them into the pit they have designed for their enemies.

The documents the Founders drew up to establish the United States are starkly bare of any reference to the Christian God, and for good reason; they were well aware of the repressive system of state mandated religious affiliation that they had recently escaped. They purposely devised a document that avoided any Divine sanction of, or constraint upon, the government they were establishing. The fact that it was mostly Christian men who created our “Godless” Constitution only argues more strongly that they knew exactly what they were doing when they penned the foundational document in secular terms.

In order to achieve acceptance of the new Constitution, and to allay fears among the citizens that they had not sufficiently constrained the government in matters of, among other things, religious practice, a Bill of Rights (10 amendments) was added. It only emphasized more explicitly, in the First Amendment, the principle of governmental non-interference in matters of religion. Again, these were religious men who penned that amendment and an overtly religious nation that ratified it. They knew what they were saying to the Government. “Keep your hands off of our religion convictions.”

Some point to references to the “Divine” in the Declaration of Independence as “proof” that the nation was founded on Christianity. That overlooks the fact that it was primarily written by the decidedly non-evangelical – some would say, non-Christian – Thomas Jefferson. The fact that he appealed to “Nature’s God” for justification of the colonial revolt, and cited the “Creator” as the source of man’s non-religious rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, and sought the help of “Divine Providence” in achieving the nation’s independence, only shows that he understood the gravity of their enterprise and wanted to marshal every moral argument that could add weight to the colonist’s right to rebel. Further, the fact that he couched his references to the “Divine” in terms acceptable to all religions, avoiding specific Christian terminology, indicates that he sought not to endorse or alienate any particular religion.

So, the Founding Fathers, nearly all of whom were professing Christians of a variety of different traditions, purposely established the nation as religion-neutral, not because they wanted its citizens to be a Godless people, but because they wanted to leave their choice to be Godly, or not, to the conscience of every individual person. The current attempt by conservative Evangelical Christians to “restore the values and principles of the founders” is really doing the opposite, violating them in ways that may ultimately do as much harm to themselves as they wish to do to others.

That brings us to the second and final objection to the policies they are pursuing. It might seem good if one’s own party could find a way to force all others to observe their laws and preferences, or in the case of these conservative Evangelicals, their religious beliefs, squeezing them, law by law, amendment by amendment, and court decision by court decision toward a “pit” of subservient acquiescence to the will of the “majority”. But they well may find themselves, at some point, in a larger room, with contracting walls around them, constructed by those who wish to make them conform to some kind of society that they object to.

Already those forces are at work building such walls, beginning to insist that Evangelicals yield to the “new mores” of our society, hire practicing homosexuals to work in their churches and other institutions, permit abortions in their hospitals, provide benefits to same sex couples. There will be – and already are – new issues to follow.

Perhaps our conservative Christian friends are prepared to do battle over these issues. I believe Christians will have to, but our battle needs to be one to retain the rights given us under our “Godless” Constitution, not to change the very document that would protect us and keep others from imposing their set of beliefs on all others. Christians have a work to do in this world, and that is to be messengers of God’s redemption in Christ, not to be warriors against any particular Godless lifestyle. The Gospel is the only sword that can win that battle. The love of Christ in a believer is the cure for sinful living.

The Founding Fathers built into the Constitution of the United States protections, dear to Evangelical Christians, against incursions upon matters of conscience. But now we have a group of Evangelicals who believe they can safely dismantle, through legislation, Constitutional Amendments, and Judicial reinterpretations, the very protections they will need to rely upon in days to come.

We can’t have it both ways; either we are content to be a nation granting – and guaranteeing – freedom of conscience and religious practice to ALL, or we must accept the fact that someday those who see our belief system as evil will possess the power to force us into subservience or martyrdom.

It is not a bad thing to suffer and die for Christ. Neither is it a bad thing to preserve the freedoms granted to us in this land that allow us – and all those who disagree with us – to live, and practice our respective faiths according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

                  The Political Doll
    (Comes wrapped in a flag – holding a Bible)
                         by Jim Rapp

They have eight faces and eight mouths;
no ears, but who really needs them?
They have eight shiny buttons above their eyebrows,
each answers a question you ask them.

Push a button and see one face light up,
hear one mouth start to answer your question;
push another, and another, ‘til they all light up
and mouth the same answer in tandem.

I wish each doll had some autonomy;
had ears, and its answers made sense to us,
but “selling” these dolls supports the economy;
they all wear the proud sticker, “Made in America”.

You can buy one – or more – of these dolls if you like,
online, or at your annual political convention,
but get your check written before the price hike;
they cost more as they gain more attention.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Some Wisdom For Uncompromising Politicians

       The Danger of "Knowing" The Truth
                               by Jim Rapp

The man most in danger
Is the one who holds a strong opinion.
His positions have no range or
Flexibility, and turn only on the narrow pinion
Of his stale repeated repertoire.

The Scribes and Pharisees were such men
Who would rather keep a cherished lie
Than let a new idea in
For fear that it might force a new perspective
By shining light on all their "righteous" sin.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Civilized Discourse

                        Voice to Voice
                                     By Jim Rapp

I’m not afraid to hear what you have to say,
I need to hear it if I’m to understand you.
Why do you resist my thoughts and turn away?
Do my words have less right than your words do?

Do you really see “evil” in the things I espouse?
Tell me, with specificity, what it is you see,
And why it is so wicked as to arouse
A fear in you; a desire to do away with me?

In a fallen world, fear is the armor every creature wears.
It isn’t the sole reserve of humans;
The fiercest beast is fiercest when he fears,
The meekest hare turns tail in fear and runs.

What is it from which fear runs?
What, that fear fears most?
The unknown, of course, some blinding sun,
Some uncharted, darkly wooded coast.

An eclipse, a strange and sudden sound,
A language never heard before,
A face that’s strangely long, not round,
A moving shadow that you can’t ignore.

But fear can be contained, controlled,
Even abolished, by perception.
Shadows lose their fearsome hold,
When light dispels our apprehension.

So why not let some “light” into our conversation?
Words, speech, explanation, are the lights
That illuminate the path of civil-ization,
Voice to voice, and giving every voice its rights.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Truth About Compromise

Compromise should be as rare as hen’s teeth. After all, if one is right, in possession of the truth, has the law behind him or her, can back up his or her position with Holy Writ, can show that at least fifty percent of the voters support him or her, why should he or she yield to one who can claim none of those things; or to one whose claim to those same things is invalid in one’s own eyes? Neither should such a person compromise nor should any others, looking on, condemn them for not compromising.

Truth, after all, is the solution to every problem; a true assessment of the problem, a true description of what must be done to solve the problem, and a true process toward getting that done. And whoever possesses those truths is morally obliged to defend them and never, never, never sacrifice them on the heathen altar of compromise. Even if such unyielding rectitude leads to severe conflict and loss of wealth or life, it would be better to lose everything than to “lose one’s own soul” by compromising truth.

That is the way of the true believer. And that is the approach being taken by some in our political establishment at the risk of bringing our government to a halt and our economy to ruins. I believe that to be a flawed understanding of truth and one’s obligation to it.

First it is based on some risky and arrogant assumptions about truth: 1) that one can know with certainty that his or her assessment of a situation is accurate and true in every respect; that it could not be improved by input from those who see things differently,  2) that one possesses a comprehensive and flawless understanding of how a bad situation can be made right, and 3) that one’s solution to make it right is the only possible solution, and will not result in any unforeseen consequences.

But even if one had all truth and wisdom needed to solve the problems facing a society, is one obligated to impose their version of truth upon others, against their will, simply because they are “right”? Three heroes of the Jewish faith, Joseph, Esther, and Daniel are instructive in this regard. All three found themselves in compromised circumstances, living in a pagan land, required to assist in the governing of that land and even, presumably, invest their time, talents, and energy to achieve good for those who were their captors and masters. When forced to compromise their allegiance to Yahweh God, they resisted, even to the point of death, but there is little to indicate any other resistance to the political and cultural demands upon them. They were not willing to bring about the destruction of the society in which they lived, or even to sabotage it, out of any desire to remain true to a particular set of convictions. Die for their convictions? Yes. Kill or destroy for them? No.

What we are seeing in our political zealots – many of whom unfortunately frame their zealotry as religious (Christian) conviction – is a stubborn unwillingness to entertain the notion that they could be wrong. Their attitude and behavior tempts one to believe that they would not compromise even if they saw that they were wrong; that they are motivated, not by conviction, but by simple – and evil – determination to have their “party” win at any cost to the nation. I’m trying hard to resist such a conclusion even in the face of their statements baldly stating such as their purpose.

But assuming the best of motivations, and a firm conviction that they are in the right, it still must be asked if they will be seen (or even see themselves) as moral heroes if their intransigence results in irreparable damage to what they love to call, “The greatest nation on earth.” No doubt their expectation is that they will be the ones called upon to rebuild that “greatest nation” according to the impeccable principles they espouse. Past history gives them no reason to assume such. If they cannot compromise when they are supported by laws and constitutions and established institutions of government, where will they find the will to do so in the midst of economic and political anarchy? They will not. The will attempt, instead, to institutionalize their intransigence with rigid laws and constitutional amendments locking the nation into a path that very likely will not be serve it well in years to come.

Truth is always a matter of faith. Even the firmest scientific fact is subject to reevaluation and revision. Facts believed for centuries have ultimately had to be revised or discarded in light of new truth. And those new truths will need to be adjusted in years to come. So why should anyone insist that the squishy truths of economics be exempt from reasonable compromise?

It is time for reasonable men and women to sit down and look for solutions to our nation’s economic woes rather than insist on strategic concessions to a political strategy. And it is time for unreasonable men and women to leave the table.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thoughts While Visiting a Tourist's Attraction

       An Ode to an Old Building

                   by Jim Rapp

The old cathedral stands empty now,
slowly returning to the earth
from which it came.
No congregants draw near to bow,
nor even mourn its dearth;
nor speak its name.

High rafters, crafted artfully and well,
still rise, as once they did o'er grateful heads,
and patiently stand vigil,
waiting for parishioners to swell
the space below and head
toward their sigil.

A practiced choir chatters as it waits to sing,
from high up in the rafters,
a hymn of sacred vows,
but there are none below to sing, except a smattering,
of varied irreligious drifters,
visiting the Cathedral of the Cows.

Monday, August 8, 2011

How Many Christians?

How many Christians fit into a political party? None if it is Democratic. Unlimited if it is Republican.

Governor Rick Perry has staked out, at his prayer and fasting conference in Houston this week, his position as the Christian candidate-wannabe with the most sterling evangelical credentials. If his performance made you think of Pharisees praying on street corners to convince others of their righteousness, it might be because that was the purpose of the event. I do not wish to depreciate Perry’s personal piety nor that of those who attended his rally. But I believe there are more effective ways to influence the moral character of a nation than by issuing public prayers in highly publicized – and politicized – arenas. Being is always superior to claiming to be. If Perry’s prayer had been delivered at the request of his home pastor, at his home church, with no fanfare, no press releases, no photographs, no invitations for the world to attend, it would have been an admirable act of personal piety and corporate worship. As it was delivered, it became a political statement, whether he intended it to or not.

But Perry is not the only one seeking anointed status. The two Mormon candidates have, perhaps the steepest hill to climb, but if one of them should snag the nomination, the high priests of Republican political correctness will provide them with all the cover they need to be featured on slick posters distributed in the parking lots of evangelical churches as the candidate who checked all the right boxes in their surveys. Even Newt Gingrich can wring slightly qualified praise from Richard Land who appears willing to overlook, in a potential Republican nominee, past indiscretions that would get Land himself thrown out of his leadership of the Southern Baptist Conference. In my memory, there has not been a Republican nominee for President of the United States, from Tom Dewey to the present list of wannabes, who was not widely portrayed, in the evangelical community, as the Christian alternative to the spiritually flawed Democratic nominee.

I have never belonged to a political party, nor do I expect to. But I have always been distressed that the community of Christians with which I most closely identify has lent itself and its credibility to one party, and one party alone. Despite numerous disastrous endorsements both at the presidential and local levels, the practice goes on.

And it will go on in the coming months. My mailbox and e-mail in-box will be flooded with praise for candidates with the Republican label and scurrilous accusations of evil and evil intent aimed at their opponents. If those mailings are not distributed directly by Christian organizations they will, at least, be circulated by Christian friends, relatives, and church members.

When will the evangelical Christian community learn that they are being used by a political party and its candidates, for purposes only peripherally related (if at all) to the mission of the Church?

Christians need to be in the world (but not of it) living in a manner that displays the love of Christ in them. That does not, in my opinion, exclude very many occupations; it certainly does not exclude political activity. But those Christians who chose to be politically active have just as much obligation to be servants of the truth as does the average Christian merchant or worker in the community. Politics in the United States has become a no-holds-barred game of character assassination that is inconsistent with the character of Christ. Those who chose to engage in it are placing themselves in a precarious spiritual situation that few can handle without becoming tarnished themselves. Saddest of all is that, when they are tarnished, they often tarnish the name of Christ at the same time.

Do the Christians of this nation need a call to prayer and repentance? Certainly. It should issue from every evangelical (and every other) pulpit every Sunday. It would not be inappropriate for a religious leader, who is widely known and respected, to issue such a call on a national level. But, when it is linked too obviously to political purposes, and when it is linked to the fortunes of one political party, it becomes a call, not for all to repent, but only those not associated with the party issuing the call. It diminishes its witness to the Gospel of Christ. And in case some evangelicals have forgotten, that is the mission of the Church.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Writer's Compensation

                      Writers’ Cramp
                             by Jim Rapp

He feels some guilt for being a writer;
it seems such a useless thing to be,
and more so since he has little expectation –
or worse, even less desire –
that it should be a money-making enterprise.

But he can't do much else these days
for any sustained period of time,
so he may as well be, in his waning years,
what, for much of his life,
he claimed he wanted to be.

It seems to him a writer should be one
who feels no regret for time spent
putting words down on paper;
that he would have a degree, a PhD –
be a “Doctor of Being a Writer" –
and have done it for all of his life.

But, if he could make big money,
hand over fist over hand,
it might quell the pangs of misgiving,
if not in the gut of the writer,
at least in minds of those who consider
his waste of time, "a waste of time."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stock Market Jitters

              The Worried Generation
                                 by Jim Rapp

There are fewer and fewer Depression babies left,
and those left – born later – experienced less,
and thus have fewer memories than the rest.

Another decade or two and all memories will be gone
except for a straggler here and there
muttering of the past glories of trials undergone.

Born in ’36, on the dingy east side of town,
I was too young to know, for many years,
if the neighborhood economy was trending up or down.

Anyone with eyes could clearly see
that it was down, but “trending”?
No, just tending to be, it seemed, what it would always be.

And there was a “spirit” in the air,
a hope-divested scrabble, bespeaking fear,
creating innocents, unconsciously aware,

investing us with anxiety approaching fear –
making heathen of us – shuddering to hear
that a “hidden hand” had made the markets veer.

On a mountain, two thousand depressions ago,
words of promise and faith were spoken
that the “Worried Generation” needs to know:

“Do not tremble at the thought of coming days;
that is what the faithless heathen do.
Your Father is in charge of all your future ways?”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bio- Poetry

       That Explains Three-eighths of Me
                               by Jim Rapp

I grew up thinking only one-eighth of me
was native . . . American.
My father’s father’s mother was a Cherokee.

Too little native blood, it seemed, to qualify
for aid . . . even if we would;
too many threads to trace and verify.

All those years the love of wood and stream,
had haunted, called to me,
the taste of squash and maize and bean,

and a kinship with the fate and fortune –
some would say, the doom –
of a people half-forgot, yet full subsumed,

played beyond the edges of my memory,
seen a while, then not;
darting in and out; coming, going teasingly;

a sense of brotherhood too strong for myth,
too weak, alas, for proof,
and tempting to dismiss.

Then Mother died, and papers left behind
told a tale not even hinted at
when she was still alive;

Child of a red-headed child, the facts lay bare –
fathered, but fatherless,
a bastard baby girl; high cheeks, dark hair.

And sibling memories retained, then told the story
of interracial rape . . . or love,
and teen-age pregnancy,

Explaining Mom’s high cheeks, dark eyes,
and adding one full quarter
to my native tendencies.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mother Tongue

                            by Jim Rapp

Rena used to say, “When I finally could afford
the things I always wanted,
I found I didn’t want them anymore.”

Wisdom! And with it, I am fully in accord;
having won the time I always courted,
I find her less the beauty I adored.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Inferiority - A Complex Subject

                        by Jim Rapp

It is one of those days.
I have no idea what my brain
is going to ask of me
the rest of this day.

I read a little poetry
from a Laureate's anthology –
some of it very good –
and now I'm wondering
if anything I write is really worth
bringing to the light of day.

It would be nice to be a rose.
Roses, I'm supposing, are content
to be as beautiful as they are or aren't
without reference to the beauty
of any rose of their acquaintance.
And I doubt –
when they are past their prime,
fading, wilting,
hanging limply on the stem –
that they have regrets,
or seek the aid of "heeler roses"
in a quest to grasp
another run at beauty.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wandering Aramaeans

          A Christian Ponders Immigration
                                     by Jim Rapp

If anyone should show sympathy to aliens
it should be the sons and daughters of Abraham.
And not just those whose blood is Abrahamian,
but that larger Christo-Abrahamic band.

The story of humanity is written on the trails
that it has traced, first from Eden’s gate,
then progressively o’er hills and vales,
ever  pushed and pulled from fate to fate.

Abraham, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ band;
David, David’s descendants: like shifting desert sand,
running to, or carried from, their motherland;
aliens all, in search of some elusive promised land.

The Christo-Abrahamic brothers of “the Way,”
disciples, apostles, jailed, beaten, sent away,
becoming aliens, as their Lord was heard to say,
“In the world, not of it, and with no plans to stay.”

So why would Christians, Jews, and sons of Islam,
or a thousand other tribes who’ve roamed the earth,
not show hospitality to those upon the lam;
share with aliens their food and water, roof and berth?

“Come to me, you weary ones,” the Savior said –
the One denied a place to lay His head –
“In lieu of land, the kingdom of heaven I give you instead;
in lieu of earth’s treasures, I tell you, “Be comforted.”

Shame on those pilgrims who, finding a place,
sweep the path clean and attempt to erase
their alien roots, pretending to be an indigenous race;
shame, greatest, when intolerance wears a Christian face.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Demise of Democracy

Many today, decry the corruption of our “American Republic” by democracy, or what they call “the mob.” Alas, if they have patience they may live to see that cursed political philosophy (democracy) eradicated in our land. It is not a certain bet, however, that it will be replaced with the republicanism they imagine and long for. Whether any of them would want our government  constituted as a “republic” is an even iffier proposition.

Republicanism looks back, in theory, to the Roman Republic in which a select group of well placed and well healed citizens of Rome were elected by a narrow slice of the citizenry – landholding males primarily – with the votes of the wealthy “weighted” to reflect the relative amount of their wealth. Representatives served for one year in a Senate that was expected to be concerned for the needs of the empire and the people.

Democracy looks back, in theory, to a brief time in Athens, Greece, when the entire citizenry – again limited by gender and birth and property holding – had a vote in the decisions of the city-state. The pool of citizens eligible to vote was very small; did not include women, children, slaves, non-native born, for example. And, originally, they did not vote for people to represent them in any legislature; the entire voting citizenry was the legislature. They voted directly on issues brought before them for a decision. Those who served in the government offices were chosen by lot from those eligible to vote. Their tenure in office was for a limited period of time.

It is well known that some of our founding fathers distrusted democracy, believing that giving the vote to too wide a spectrum of the population would result in political chaos, partisanship, and stalemate. They favored a system where a tiny elite of the propertied, white, Christian males would select from their ranks those who would serve as representatives, and who would, in turn, select those who held offices in the government. The U.S. Electoral College system reflects that philosophy as did the original method of selecting U.S. Senators, whereby they were chosen by state legislatures rather than by direct election as is now done.

The current state of political chaos, partisanship, and stalemate seems to bear out the fears of those founding fathers. Over the centuries the nation has broadened suffrage to include women, non-whites, non-Christians, non-landholders; in fact nearly the entire population over the age of majority. And so, today, the cry to return to the rock-solid republicanism of the Founding Fathers is heard from pulpits, on television, across the internet, and in street corner debates.

The curious thing about these calls for a return to Eden is that many of those who are issuing the call would be disenfranchised themselves if we were to do so. Among those calling for a return to post-colonial republicanism are women, non-Christians, ethnic minorities, and un-propertied working people, all of whom were excluded from the political system at its inception. It is not inconsistent, of course, to call for changes that would strip oneself of political access if one truly believes that their disenfranchisement would result in good for the republic as a whole. But I don’t sense that they believe that. What I sense is that they wish the disenfranchisement of those who vote differently than they do.

Almost all Americans show, by their actions, at the very least, that they value their “voice” in the political arena. The broad access to the vote, to political offices, to advocacy of causes, to free association, that we enjoy in this country is, like it or not, an expression of the Representative (Republican) Democracy that our nation has become. We can change that, if we have the will to do so. I do not sense that most Americans really want it changed except in some way that weakens the power of those whose ideas they oppose.

So what are we to do to reduce the gridlock and political polarization that now seems about to fulfill the fears of the Founding Fathers? It would be marvelous if the action of one person could heal the self-inflicted wounds we’ve accumulated over the centuries; if an Obama, or a Boehner, or a Palin, or any other politician could implement a plan that would cool our fever and cure our disease. But the way to political health is difficult, painful, and complicated. It requires patience, determination, cooperation (compromise), and a willingness to take medicine that no one finds palatable.

We the People still hold the key to some hope. In this Representative Democracy, we still are allowed to vote. If every citizen selected the candidate of their choice, not on the basis of party affiliation, or some burning single issue, but on the basis of that candidate’s ability and willingness to cooperatively work with his fellow office holders toward long-term solutions to difficult problems, we might see, in our lifetime, a gradual improvement in the health of the state. That would require each of us to swallow our partisan pride and our selfish political desires and vote for what is best for all, rather than what is best for ourself at this present moment. It would require all of us to reject candidates who blatantly lie (or tacitly approve lies) about their opponents, who play upon our fears, who promise more than any reasonable person can possibly deliver. It would require us to view opposing ideas as challenges to our present thinking; perhaps ill-conceived, or even foolish, but not as demonic schemes put forward to destroy our way of living.

Benjamin Franklin said of our system of government that it was ours “if you can keep it.” It appears about to slip from our hands and if it does, We, the People will have no one to blame but ourselves. We will have pulled our house down upon ourselves rather than make the compromises necessary to allow our brothers and sisters to live with us, in peace, within its walls.