Monday, October 31, 2011

Thoughts About A Misty Monday Morning

by Jim Rapp

What would ever make
one insensitive
to a fog enshrouded,
dawning day like this?

She would have to lose
awareness of the smells
that hang upon the heavy air;
that bear the essence of grass,
and tree, and bush.
And she would have to lose
the sense her skin can feel
as dewdrops form upon her cheeks.

He would have to turn
deaf ears to the call of bird,
or sound of trickling water,
or the gentle creak of swings
moving in the breeze.

Blind, they'd need to be,
to the elven shapes,
formed by fog and early light;
the frosted, muted shapes
that, in full light, will be
the ordinary things of daily life.

They would have to sear
their tongues;
to dull the taste
of morning freshness --
the taste of life --
in the air they breath.

Oh, sister, brother, friend,
may all Monday mornings
bring our praise to Him
who formed the earth,
and set it in a sphere of time,
dividing that in sevens,
and filling each with evidence
of His great power --
of His great love --
that covers earth
and fills the heavens.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Lament for Atheists

         by Jim Rapp

How sad when great minds –
Images of the Omniscient One –
Stumble at the thought of God.

I search their words and hope to find,
A tiny flash of faith among
The gloom they spread abroad.

Made with His features fine,
Their minds with His sinews strung,
Yet shrouded, they are, by dark doubt’s hood.

Atheist! Even in negation they find
That the name they’ve unwittingly flung
At the world contains His Name, dimly understood.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Don’t Lie To Me While I’m Eating!

As I write this I’m enjoying a couple of slices of toasted, sprouted seven-grain bread spread with peanut butter blended with agave nectar. All very good. Not any better than milled seven-grain bread spread with peanut butter blended with clover honey. Perhaps not even as pleasing to my taste as the latter, but a satisfying lunch nonetheless.

But my enjoyment of a tasty and textured lunch is marred by resentment over the claims made for two of the ingredients. I read (and hear) that sprouted grain bread is healthier that the milled flour varieties upon which most of the human race has feasted since the first grandmother found a way to make it. And likewise I’m told that Agave Nectar, made from the fluids of the agave cactus plant of the American Southwest, is a superior and more healthful form of sugar than is honey, maple syrup, and certainly more so than cane or beet sugar. White sugar is as “black” as evil itself! And Karo Syrup? It is far beyond the pale.

I’m willing to concede that the claims for these two products could be true, but if they are it should be possible to get confirmation of that fact from some source other than the purveyors of the products. Alas, in the case of agave nectar is seems that sugar is sugar, some being sucrose, some fructose, and some even high fructose, but agave has no special properties to set it above its competitors, unless, of course, you take the word of those selling or promoting it. Sprouted grain bread is a bit harder to evaluate. The only folks who have done any “analysis” of its properties are apparently those producing it. It seems they feel the heat produced in the milling process has a detrimental effect upon the milled grain. They avoid that by using sprouted grain although, as best I can understand the process, they too do some “milling” but undoubtedly not in the harmful way their competitors do.

I am admittedly ignorant of the finer points of good nutrition so no one should make a decision to use or cease using anything because I favor or discourage its use. But, in my ignorance, I’m persuaded that, in the field of nutrition, there are three classes of people, liars, blind devotees, and serious practitioners. Those who invent the “stories” used to sell sprouted grain bread and agave nectar – and a thousand other “healthful” foods and supplements are, I’ve reluctantly concluded, in the class of liars. Those who promote the use of such products as a part of the healthful regimen they are selling, fall either in the class of liars or blind devotees. Some are in both classes. I believe there is a class of serious scientists who attempt to assess the true properties and values of the things we put in our stomachs. Sadly, a Google search doesn’t bring their research to the front of the queue. One has to page through hundreds of pages of “ads” produced by the liars and blind devotees before getting to the nearest thing to truth we can find. And when one does dig deeply enough to find the results of their research it is presented in terms the ignorant can only dimly comprehend.

If ever I am found lying dead on the floor, bearing no signs of violence due to a fall or an attack by an intruder, list my cause of death as “choking”. If you look around carefully you will likely find a food container with a fictional account of the superior quality and unquestioned health benefits of the particular food lodged in my throat. The food, though in no way superior, or more healthful than the other foods to which its purveyors wish to compare it, nonetheless proved lethal when eaten while reading the lies used to promote it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mom’s (Gramma’s) Wedding Ring

        (A Nazarene Woman’s Dilemma)
                               by Jim Rapp

December twenty-four, nineteen twenty-five –
Wedding day in Fairfield, Illinois.
Rena Faye Kennerly and Glenn (None) Rapp
Became Husband and wife, a ruby ring as token.

A ruby, set in gold, with gentle fire alive,
Came to rest in darkness, unemployed
For sixty-seven years, hid under wrap,
But symbol nonetheless of vows they’d spoken.

Two commitments – one to faith, one to love – vied
For loyalty and both she honored as she tried
To keep her pledge that no jeweled beauty wrapped
Around her finger would confirm the vows she’d spoken.

So in its little box, a gem meant to be alive
With light, in darkness waited, undeployed,
Until it came to you, Michelle, to be unwrapped –
To tell of loves, though faithful years, unbroken.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Obscene Faith

In the religious tradition in which I grew up one of the “Cardinal Doctrines” was a belief that Divine healing was provided for believers through the suffering and death of Christ. A passage of Scripture from Isaiah 53 was cited as the anchor for the doctrine, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.” (KJV as I recall it.)

Isaiah 53 is a marvelous foretelling of the sufferings and death of Christ. If ever I need a boost to my faith that is the passage to which I turn. Written seven hundred years before the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, it pictures those events so specifically that it requires willful disbelief to dismiss them. Even if the first century participants in Jesus trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection had determined to mimic the prophet’s words they could never have done so to the extent that the actual events did.

But saying that Isaiah 53 is a true prophecy – a true foreshadowing – of the life and death of Christ is not the same as saying that the prophet’s words, “by his stripes we are healed,” guarantee healing for all believers on the same basis as his death and resurrection guarantee salvation to those who believe in him. I have been witness to scores of “Divine Healing Meetings” and heard multiple scores of testimony in which the witnesses claimed to have been healed through faith and prayer. I do not choose to rebut anyone’s claim to have been healed; they know their own body and the experience they had. But I am not able to personally attest to any healings I witnessed or experienced that would qualify as “miraculous” in the technical theological sense of that word. (As opposed to the very casual meaning given to it today.) I saw no blind person’s sight restored, no atrophied limbs made whole, no leprosy instantly cured, no speechless person given speech, no dead raised to life.

What I do know is that many of those who professed to have been healed later suffered from the same maladies of which they claimed to have been healed; poor eyesight, poor hearing, arthritis pain, etc. And further most of those who made claims to Divine healing have since died.

So, what am I getting at? I am not denying that God can or does heal in response to believer’s prayers, sometimes even miraculously. Scriptures other that Isaiah 53 instruct the church to pray for the sick and promise that healing will result. So I believe, whether I can document it or not, that God can heal and does heal in response to prayer. I pray often for my own healing and the healing of others. But it is also evident that he does not ALWAYS do so. One needs only to scan the daily obituaries to know that young and old, believers and non-believers die daily, some of old age but perhaps as many others of disease and accident. God heals according to His will, for His purposes, and for His glory. But, in the end, he chooses to allow all to die, some sooner and more tragically than others.

We struggle, as a society, and as a confident scientific culture, to forestall death through every means available to us. Ninety year olds receive expensive treatments, transplants, and implants so that they can live to be ninety-one. We fight, in our legislatures, courts, and hospital corridors to continue artificially supporting bodies from which the spirit has already departed, or is eagerly waiting to leave. We have brought our economy to the brink of disaster by our insistence that every disease can be cured or controlled. (One could also argue that we allow the economic interests of our medical practitioners, drug manufacturers, and medical suppliers to drive our lust for health and longevity beyond what is reasonable.)

Christians have often led the way in insisting that no effort or expense be spared to preserve the life, even of the obviously terminally ill. In doing so, they are not being God-like. Indeed, it could be argued that such insistence is God-defying; fighting against the mechanisms God has put into our beings to assure that we all will die.

We are blessed in our day to have the means to care well, and lovingly, for those who are nearing the end of life, whether they are old or are dying “prematurely” as the result of disease or accident. Few today, need to suffer excruciating pain in their last days, thanks to the drugs and therapies available. But our society needs to ask – Christians in our society need to ask – if it is humane to hold the dying back when there is no human possibility of keeping them alive, only allowing them to continue their suffering. Some seem to have reached the conclusion that to release a dying person is equivalent to euthanasia. Of course it is not the same thing; no one’s death should be accelerated under the assumption that they cannot revive or survive. But there has to be a point at which we admit that death is the inevitable end of all humans.

I would argue that my “old-time religionists” missed the point of Divine healing. It was not provided in God’s economy so that we could escape the consequences of our humanity. It is, at the least, a grace of God, granted for a while to some, but not all. It is more often an act of God to demonstrate His power and glory. But to insist upon it, on our terms, and to use every means at our disposal to “get a human miracle” is to deny the great truth of the Christian faith – that life everlasting is the Gift of God in Christ Jesus.

It is the work of the Church of Jesus Christ, not to extend life on earth indefinitely but to give hope to the dying that there is life beyond this world that they can attain through faith in Christ. As the apostle Paul said to the church of his day, “Comfort one another with these words.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Humane Than God

I suppose there is no reason to expect God to be “humane”. He is, after all, not human. And that seems to be a major requirement of a humane being.

The dictionary gives two definitions of the word:

1.     compassionate: showing the better aspects of the human character, especially kindness and compassion

2.     involving minimal pain: done without inflicting any more pain than is necessary

We have a growing problem in our society occasioned by our ever broadening search for eternal youth, or failing that, eternal earthly life experienced in an ever-aging, ever more decrepit body. Science, which includes, of course, our medical professions, has been on a “humane” search to find cures for all that ails us. Though it may not always achieve the goal of delivering its “cures” without inflicting pain, we like to believe that those administering drugs and treatments have as their intent to cause as little harm to us as possible.

While man desperately searches for ways to lengthen life God has declared, according to our ancient Scriptures, that it is his intent to bring the life of every person to an end. “It is every man’s appointment, eventually, to die.” After a generation of people who lived, according to the record, anywhere from a half to a whole millennium, had proven that long life did not equal “good living”, God declared that he would not allow his breath (spirit – ruach in Hebrew) to abide in man forever, that, indeed, he would limit his life to 120 years. The psalmist further reduced the span of man’s life to three score and ten. Alas, I’m there . . . and beyond.

So, is God less “humane” than humans? Does he take some sadistic delight in “finishing us off?” Or does he know that earthly life, corrupted by sin and disease, and subject to aging, is not the “be all” of man’s purpose. Not that God is opposed to everlasting life; He promises it to all who put their faith in His Son. But He appears not to be as interested in maintaining our earthly existence as most human are. It is probably understandable that mortals would value mortal existence more than would an Immortal.

But all of this brings us back to man’s dilemma; how much effort, ingenuity, and resource should man be putting into the enterprise of living long on this earth when it has been made perfectly clear that God has provided an eternal existence for all who will avail themselves of it? In our modern Western societies we have adopted the practice of giving life-extending services and care to everyone; it is considered inhumane – perhaps even immoral – not to do so. But if our greed for life bankrupts us as a society, there will be even less care for our ailing bodies and we will be faced with the decision to ration an even more scarce resource. How then will we decide to portion out life? Who will get the life-saving or life-extending care and who will be denied? These are questions that a relatively affluent society answers by saying, “Humanity demands that we give it to all.” But when exigencies declare, “There is not enough to go around,” how will “humanity” answer?

I believe there is a Christian answer to those questions. Jesus said that we should not be concerned for the future because the future will take care of itself. He said, rather humorously, that we should not borrow trouble from tomorrow because the evils of the day we are in are sufficient without adding tomorrow’s woes to them. I believe that translates into a Christian ethic that says we should be living as healthful and humane a life as we can each day. We have no guarantee of the next day but if it is given to us we should take it with gratitude and live it as healthfully and humanely as we can. If the day comes that we are sick or injured we should avail ourselves of the help that can be provided reasonably and affordably. And when it becomes evident that efforts to save our lives or extend them can be gained only at extraordinary costs to our fellow humans, we should commit ourselves to God who can grant us healing and life if that is His will, but who will receive us into everlasting life when this life is over.

It must be puzzling to non-Christians when their Christian friends profess to believe the Gospel – the good news that Jesus Christ who died for the sins of mankind, was buried but rose again guaranteeing his promise of life everlasting – nonetheless struggle as hard as any non-believer to defeat death in this life. Such an unseemly struggle denies the power of Jesus' Resurrection.

O Death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory? Death is swallowed up in victory! No believer in Jesus Christ needs to struggle against death; Jesus did that for us so we do not have to do it.

I believe an affluent and humane society – which we hope to be – should provide health care to all its citizens equitably but that does not mean that we should guarantee any citizen dramatic, expensive remedies that statistically offer little hope of meaningful life. Whatever level of health care our society can afford it should be the right of every citizen to access that.  But God himself does not guarantee unending mortality. Humans cannot do so either and should not be attempting to do so.

Man may imagine that he is being God-like in his “humane” attempt to cure all disease and deny every death but that is not God’s way. Remember, He said, “My breath will not always remain in man.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Power of Religion in U.S. Political Life or Vice Versa

I’ve just finished my first Kindle book. I did not read it on a Kindle but rather on a Kindle app downloaded to my laptop. So I still have made no final judgment on the efficiency and/or desirability of reading on an actual hand-held e-reader. Reading an extensive, 500 plus page book on a computer screen had both positive and negative aspects. The primary positive was the ability to size the font to assist my failing vision. The primary negative was the clumsiness of navigating to various points in the book. Perhaps there are “tricks” that I have not yet bothered to discover.

But the book I read made any discomforts of reading it thoroughly worth the effort. I was reading, Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present, Second Edition, edited by Mark A. Noll and Luke E. Harlow and published by Oxford Press in 2007.

The book consists of twenty-four extensive essays by a range of scholars, mostly American but with a handful of non-American opinions included, that trace the twisted, tangled, but always lively history of religious influence on the political structure of the nation. The consensus of the authors seems to be that, at any given time there was sufficient religious support for both sides in our traditionally two-partied political system and that seldom did religious denominations or movements divide neatly between the two existing parties. Rather divisions within the ranks of every denomination, caused by ethnicity or locality or other factors, resulted in both parties garnering support from within their ranks.

Another point of consensus is that politics has been at least as formative an influence upon religion as has been the reverse. Some authors would say that it has transformed strongly held convictions as in the case where many Southern Baptists (and not a few northern as well) who once were stout advocates of separation of church and state now hope to shape the state in particularly Christian ways through manipulation of legislation and the courts. Likewise many theologically liberal Christians, descendents of Puritans who very much wanted the nation to be shaped by Christian principals, now speak strongly for separation of Church and State.

A point made explicitly in one of the late essays but illustrated adequately throughout is that religious coalitions, while giving their support to particular political parties nearly always did so in order to voice opposition to some aspect of government operation or some societal ill that they perceived. Only rarely did they coalesce for the purpose of supporting governmental or societal status quo. Shifts in support for one party or another were as likely as not to have occurred because their arch-enemy was supporting the other party. For example, many northern Protestants switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in the years prior to the Civil War because the newly arriving Irish Catholics had given their support to the Democratic Party.

But a point that George Marsden makes in the final essay of the book is, I think very instructive for our time, when large claims are being made for the righteousness of one party over another. (Both sides make those claims based on different criteria of “righteousness”.) Marsden says,

Both party coalitions welcome minority blocs with explicit religious visions, but both demand in return that these visions be compromised in support of essentially secular larger political agendas. Truly prophetic religious voices may exercise real influence on the political system; yet the irony is that those who gain power are likely to be corrupted by the realities of party politics as usual. (The emphasis is mine.)

I would second Marsden’s caution with the reminder, stated above, that politics in our society seems to have superior influential power; superior to the religious convictions of those who attempt to control the political agenda of a particular party and of the nation as a whole. The religious organization soon looks like a political machine and not much like a servant of God.

It has long been obvious to me that the Republican Party has not exerted much energy in promoting the “social agenda” of the Conservative Christian blocks once they have gotten in office. Neither, on the other hand, has the Democratic Party satisfied the liberal social agenda of the Blacks and others who voted for them in the belief that they would right the wrongs they see in society.

Christians will never control the political agenda of the nation, mainly because they do not agree among themselves what that should entail. But also, we need to realize that, despite some rosy projections by pollsters that show a huge percentage of American who claim to be Evangelical or fundamentalist, the percentage of those who actually hold to Biblical convictions with a strength great enough to affect their daily living (and their voting) is small.

Out greatest contributions to the moral character of our nation are still the life we live and those we personally influence to live Christ-committed lives.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Lament At the End of the Day

                   by Jim Rapp

A busy day is like a band of thieves;
It robs us of our hours
And often leaves
Us struggling, with weakened powers,
To achieve,
In moments, what should be given hours.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On Poems and Potatoes

(Second thoughts of a Word-smith)
                by Jim Rapp

When all is said and done
the world will have too many poems;
too few potatoes.

Potatoes are not invariably better
than poems –
not intrinsically so.

Speech is one of the gifts
that lifts humanity
above its non-verbal cousins.

“Words, well spoken
are (potatoes) of gold
in pitchers of silver.”

Balance is the golden mean;
“A time to plant potatoes –
a time to write poems.”

But words can be a lazy man’s refuge,
a fearful man’s excuse,
a deceitful man’s tools.

When used to mask inaction,
they make the claim that
what is spoken has been done.

 “Talk is cheap” . . . until the creditor –
hand extended –
stands at the door.

When all is said and done
poetry, not written,
will lie more lightly on the scale

than all the needful chores,
not done, left to weigh upon
our children’s hours.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Curse of the “Forward” Button

I’m beginning to believe that the most pernicious invention of the last thirty years is the “Forward” button on an e-mail word processor.

In the last two days I’ve received e-mails that were obviously “Forwarded” without any effort having been made by the “Forwarder” to check the validity of the information they contained. Predictably they were filled with lies and mis-representations, and sadly, they had been “Forwarded” by people who profess to be followers of the One who said, “I am . . . the Truth . . .” Each e-mail included an encouragement for the recipient to pass it on to everyone on their mailing list.

It is obvious that those who created the lying e-mails or sent on such items have either not read the sobering warning in Scripture that we shall all someday give account for every “idle word”, or if they have read it they either do not believe it or hope they’ll somehow escape the consequences of their carelessness.

I read, just today, a reprint of an article by the late theologian, John Stott in Christianity Today. Stott’s piece presented four ways Christians can influence the world: 1) through the power of prayer,  2) through the power of truth, 3) through the power of example, and 4) through the power of group solidarity. Anyone wishing to benefit from Stott’s wisdom and insight can click on the link above. I want to think for a moment about his suggestion that the power of truth can influence the world.

I’ve just read a harrowing historical account of the manner in which Methodism was torn apart during the years before, during, and after the Civil War, by the animosities generated over political issues, particularly abolitionism. A movement that was born with an understanding that it was, as its Bishop, Francis Asbury, said, “a kingdom, not of this world” was ultimately brought to murderous conflict, lynching members of its own clergy, because it was taken over, both in the north and the south, by political causes.

Almost all the e-mails I receive via the “Forward” button represent attempts by Evangelical Christians to influence the politics of our nation by spreading malicious (and false) rumors about politicians they oppose. Those creating the e-mail messages, and those “Forwarding” them must feel that they have some sort of moral obligation to “cleanse the nation” by their activism. But if the “weapons” they choose to fight with are not the weapons of righteousness, those very weapons will finally, as Jesus warned Peter, be used against them. Those who live by the sword, eventually die by the sword. The horrors visited upon the evangelicals of the 19th century are proof of that.

John Stott is right. Through insistence upon “truth” we can influence our world. We may not see that influence evidenced in the next election but we are part of a kingdom that isn’t in a hurry.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What I’d Like For Christmas

I don’t own a Kindle or a Nook or any of the other hand-held reading devices but I’ve lately become aware of one feature of such devices that is very attractive to me. My eyesight is not, to say the least, nearly as good as it once was. Those devices give one the ability to resize the font on the screen obviating the need to hold a magnifying glass over the book one is reading.

Alice asked, today, what I would like for Christmas. (We still buy Christmas presents for each other though, after fifty-four years of marriage neither of us really has any need of anything beyond food and occasional replacement of clothing.) I was tempted to say, “A Kindle.” But I restrained myself. I’m trying out a version of the Kindle that operates on my laptop. If it passes muster, I might heed Alice’s parting admonition that I “give some thought to it.”

Much of the joy of reading a good book is in the sharing of it either by reading it with others who agree to get a copy and progress together through it, or by handing off the book to someone else to read after you are through with it. Kindles (and their kin) do not allow one to “pass on” a good book to a friend. The books you download are not sharable unless you want to pass your Reader around among your friends. A real disappointment. I’ll have to “give some thought to that” before I decide if I want a Kindle for Christmas.

It is possible that the technology of the actual hand-held readers is different (better than) that of the downloaded software version I’m using on my computer. I would hope so. I’m bright enough (some would perhaps dispute that) to work around the anomalies I find as I’m reading along; things like hyphenation appearing in the middle of a line rather than at the end, or a page number displaced, appearing in the middle of the text, or the first letter of a title transplanted to the end of it. But bright as I am I still find those things a bit annoying when I’ve paid out good money for the “book” I’m reading. That is one of the things I’m “giving some thought to” as I think about what I want for Christmas.

I do admit to a number of typos and spelling errors and even some inanities in the poetry books I self-published. Undoubtedly those who read this blog could point to anomalies aplenty in the pieces that appear here. So perhaps a little humble understanding is in order. Still, I’d expect that those who produce books for e-publication would insist that the format displayed on an e-reader be equal to that in a printed version.

In my more magnanimous moments I concede that things have always been thus: reality has fallen short of the promise. We are still waiting, despite the recent claims of Dyson, for the invention of a vacuum cleaner that can disengage and lift a tread from the carpet. And I am old enough to remember that the most important thing one carried in their Model-T Ford was a length of bailing wire.

Most technologies pass from the scene before they have been perfected. It is the way of all human artifacts. And it is the way of all humans too. The reality of our lives always falls short of the promise; we “pass from the scene” still unperfected.

It is all so humbling to consider. And those are some of the things I’m “giving thought to” as I decide what I’d like for Christmas.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Corpus Christi

I’m glad it is not my place to determine who/what constitutes the Body of Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me has everlasting life.” That seems to indicate that those who place their faith in Christ become a part of the corpus Christi, the body of Christ. Paul, the apostle seems to modify that somewhat by indicating that those whose habitual behavior violates a standard of holiness “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” It seems we are intended to live within that tension between grace-based-on-faith and works-demonstrating-faith. It keeps us in a state of uncertainty about our own performance while nonetheless confident that “he is able to keep that which we have committed unto Him against that day.” None of us measures up to the standard of righteousness our fellow human beings wish to require of us, certainly not that which we require of ourselves.

These thoughts occur to me often when I consider those I know who profess to be believers in Jesus Christ but whose behaviors are, in my opinion, an embarrassment to the kingdom of God. I know, though, that every family has to accept the “embarrassment” occasioned by certain of its members. Certainly the corpus Christi is not an exception.

But we also have the statement of Jesus that “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’,” will be admitted to the eternal kingdom. There are forms of godliness that claim to be “Christian” but fall short of being so. And there are individuals who, though pretending to be (or even believing themselves to be) Christian, are not. How are we to judge such things?

Jesus told a parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds). After the farmer planted his wheat, an enemy sowed weed seed in his field. When the wheat and weeds sprouted it was not easy to remove the weeds without damaging the wheat, so he instructed his workers to let them grow together until the harvest. Then the wheat would be gathered into the barn and the weeds bundled for burning. How hard it must have been for the keepers of those fields to wait for the day when the wheat and weeds would be separated.

Much of the behavior I see in professing Christians looks more to me like weeds than wheat. I wish those behaviors did not exist, and wish even more that those displaying such behaviors did not make claims to be Christian. But I must wait – impatiently – until the harvest, and allow God to sort out the wheat from the weeds. And I need to pray that He will find me to be real wheat.

In the meantime I have to decide what to do about the weeds around me. I’d like to believe they could be turned to wheat – an unlikely thing in the plant kingdom but not impossible in the kingdom of God. And so I’m on the lookout for weed-like behaviors. When I see them in that which claims to be the corpus Christi, or in myself, I call it out for what it is. When I see what appears to me to be genuine weed, parading among, and claiming to be the wheat, I point it out. When I see wheat behaving like weeds, I say so.

Much of the purpose of this blog is to call for wheat to be wheat; to grow, even though surrounded by weeds and their anti-Christian influence, into a wholesome harvest that will make Him who planted them pleased with what they have become.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Out of the Body and Out of This World

Ken Ham, David Barton, and James Dobson were all seriously injured when the small plane in which they were surveying Ham’s reconstructed Ark crashed into the Ark, destroying it. While the doctors struggled to save their lives they were all transported to the Pearly Gate, where they each sought admission to heaven. The screener politely asked them to be seated until it was determined if they were going to stay or if this were only an out-of-body visitation. Meanwhile they would be interrogated, one by one.

First, Ken Ham was asked why he should be allowed to enter the Realm of Truth and Light.

“Because,” he said, “I was a defender of the Bible. I insisted that every word was literally a word from God, accurate scientifically, historically, theologically, and in every other way. I even built a replica of Noah’s Ark to prove that it could hold all the creatures on earth at the time of the flood. Sadly that has just been destroyed but I believe the building of that alone should give me access to the Realm of Truth and Light.”

“Not ‘that alone’,” replied the screener. “The only thing that qualifies you to enter the Realm of Truth and Light is faith in Jesus Christ. That and that alone!”

“Ah yes,” Ken Ham replied, “and I believe that too.”

“Because your faith in Christ is added to your faith in all your theories,” the screener said, “you’ll not be admitted now. You must return to your wounded body and resume your life and work. But before you leave here I want to show you the result of your work so far.”

The screener opened a book revealing a blank page.

“What is this?” Ken asked.

“This is the complete record of all the souls your theories have put on the road to heaven.” the screener said. “You see, nowhere were you taught that believing the Bible is the criterion for salvation. The greatest evangelistic expansion of the Church was accomplished by men who led people to faith in Christ before the Bible, as you know it, was even in existence. When I see you next time, Mr. Ham, I want this page to be full of the names of those you’ve introduced to Christ and Christ alone as savior of their soul.”

The screener turned to David Barton, asking him why he should be allowed to enter the Realm of Truth and Light.

“Because,” Mr. Barton said, “I have written numerous books and given thousands of speeches proving that the founding fathers of the United States of America were Godly men who created a Christian nation. I have almost single-handedly kept America from slipping away from God into apostasy. Nearly half of the candidates for President of the United States (those that are Republicans) swear by the accuracy of my histories.”

“Yes,” the screener said, “we are aware of your writings and your speeches. We are also aware, here in the Realm of Truth and Light, of the facts which you conveniently omitted in making your case for the Christian nature of the founding fathers and the nation they built.”

“But every word I quoted was actually spoken or written by the founders,” Barton protested.

“David,” the screener chided, “You don’t take me for a fool do you?”

“No.” David said, meekly.

“You too, must return to your broken body and continue your work. So far your praise of the founding fathers and the nation they built has not resulted in a single soul coming to the Realm of Truth and Light. When we see you here next time we want to know that you have lifted up the One who said, ‘If I [not any nation or kingdom or system of government] am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.’ And you might consider revision of your ‘histories’ to make them accurate historically.”

The screener turned to Dr. Dobson. “Why sir,” he asked, “should you be allowed to enter the Realm of Truth and Light?”

“Oh,” Doctor Dobson replied, “I have devoted hundreds of hours of broadcast time to defending the American family against the onslaught of liberal forces who were attempting to destroy it. I’ve built a network of political connections that have helped to elect Godly men to public office. I’ve fought against abortion, and gay rights, and homosexual marriage, and a host of other evils that are destroying the American way of life.”

“Come here, Dr. Dobson,” the screener said. “I want you to see the list of those who’ve come to the Realm of Truth and Light because of the message you have preached all these years.” He fanned through a thick book of empty pages. “If I were to show you the book listing those who were driven away from the Truth because of your angry, condemning message, you would be surprised and appalled.”

“I thought I was serving Christ by all that I did,” Dobson protested.

The screener replied, “Christ Jesus himself said, ‘The son of man came not to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved.’” The screener closed the empty book. Handing it to Dr. Dobson, he said, “When you return this book should be full. With the resources you have at your disposal, millions upon millions should be able to hear that God loves them so much, regardless of the kind or magnitude of their sins, that He sent his Son to die for them. That, Mr. Dobson, is the Gospel the world needs to hear.

All three men survived their surgeries, though each with a certain amount of disability to show for the ordeal they had been through. And each wrote a book about his “out-of-body” experience in heaven and the wonderful reception he had received while there. Ken Ham rebuilt the Ark, grander and sturdier than before. Barton has served as Secretary of Education under three consecutive Republican presidents. Dobson now resides in Washington, D.C. where he heads a successful think tank – consisting of Ham, Barton, and Dobson – working on amendments to all the state constitutions banning abortion, stripping homosexuals of all civil rights, and mandating that schools adopt textbooks written by Ham, Barton and Dobson.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Longing of A Human Heart

                    by Jim Rapp

Good things always have a sad ending.
It's inevitable I think
Since everything we touch is tending
Toward decay,
A simple blink
And something precious,
Like a vapor, fades away.
I'd like to think that there are ways
To keep the gladness of our days,
To forestall the evening sun,
Or to call again the face of one
Who's long been gone away.
I want to think that there are things
That do not flee
But come again on golden wings
So we can see
Their beauty,
Feel their warmth,
Know their joy,
And once again, enfolded be;
Enfolded in their goodness
Everlastingly.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Septet of Meditations VII

                 The Prodigal Father
                                  by Jim Rapp

No day passed that the father did not look;
did not grieve and wonder where his son
was sleeping; wonder when the wealth he took
would fail, and he would see him coming home.

No parable more clearly shows
the love of God for wayward souls;
nor offers clearer hope to those
who, spent, have nowhere else to go.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Septet of Meditations VI

                Vain Imaginings
                            by Jim Rapp

To imagine what was never known;
to find some new thing under the sun;
to be original, and to have it shown
that God is not the sole creative one.

So the “image” imagines its creative flair,
as though the dream becomes the dreamer.
Alas, poor creature, wearing outsized airs,
resembles more the great blasphemer.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Septet of Meditations V

                   Shadows
                        by Jim Rapp

Shadows are immaterial things,
not even “things” I guess –
one blink and they take wings;
as objects, they are less than less.

But they define a world that’s real,
sketching shapes we come to know;
etching precious face and form that we’ll
remember when the shadows cease to grow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Septet of Meditations IV

                  Broken
                     by Jim Rapp

Kneeling down, her life in shambles,
having only one thing left intact,
she broke it, poured it out – a gamble,
knowing not how he would act.

She crushed it as a symbol of his dying –
a symbol of her dying too –
shattered sinner, tired of trying,
tired of ruing what she could not do.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Septet of Meditations III

                Fear Not
                    by Jim Rapp

It is easy enough for angels to say,
“Fear Not!” I understand that they
have powers at their beck
to keep the chill of fear in check.

But often when it grips me, near-full,
I send to heaven an anguished earful;
coming - broken, shaken, tearful -
praying, “Save me, Father, I am fearful.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Septet of Meditations II

           Defining Light
                   by Jim Rapp

Wave, or particle, or emanation,
light evades the simple explanations
of our dimly lit imagination,
defying, in its flight, examination.

Seeking to show and not be seen,
acting on objects, standing between
the seer and the seen: not “light,” it seems,
but “illuminor” of every scene.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Septet of Meditations I

     Hope For Tomorrow
                   by Jim Rapp

Darkness, lacking motive power,
abides the night as guest of Him
who planned and set the hour
for light to fade and let it in.

But also lacking staying power,
darkness flees in naked fright
when dawns the morning hour,
freeing every captive of the night.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rest In God's Grace - Work In His World

Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8 & 9 NIV)

James, the brother of Jesus, writing to Jewish believers, said, “But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:18 NIV)

Who is right here? I’ve often wondered if James ever read the words of Paul, or Paul the words of James. If they had met face to face and this question of faith versus works had come up in their conversation would they have been at odds with each other. Perhaps. But it isn’t inevitable. When they penned their strong opinions on the subject they were talking to different audiences about different things.

Paul was combating a group of Jewish Christians (characterized by theologians as “Judaizers”) who insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity must be circumcised like Jews, and follow a number of the Jewish ritual laws. These acts were known as “righteous works” meaning that their performance helped to work out one’s salvation. They might be compared to ordinances in the church today such as water baptism, the marriage ceremony, and communion, all of which are considered “meritorious,” doing some work of grace within the life of those who perform or submit to them. When Paul declares that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of works, the “works” he was referring to were those rituals the Jewish believers insisted upon.

James, on the other hand, is confronting a situation in which believers were neglecting the obligation to do good for their fellow man by saying that their faith was all they needed to please God. James showed the foolishness of such a belief by imagining a situation in which a hungry naked man is patted on the back by a “believer” who blesses him in God’s name and tells him to be warm and fed, but gives him no food or clothes. No, James concludes, you say you have faith. I want to see it expressed in some action. If there are no works, James argues, there is very likely no faith either. He rather humorously challenges them to “show him” their faith without deeds.

I think Paul and James would embrace and agree that both are right; we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, but one cannot truly have faith in Jesus Christ if he or she does not live as Jesus commands us to live. Deeds do not always indicate faith (especially faith in Christ) but faith that is not expressed in some action or deed is not possible to discern. Deeds are the proof of faith.

You may say to the firemen ten stories down, holding the net for you to jump into, “I have complete faith that you will catch me and keep me safe.” But if you will not commit yourself to their care by jumping, you have demonstrated that you don’t really have faith in them.

You may say to the leader of your brigade, “I am your man; I believe in your leadership.” But until you move forward into the enemy fire at his command, your faith in him is only a statement, not a reality.

Paul was teaching his Gentile disciples that they could rest in the assurance that all God required of them for salvation was trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. James was teaching his Jewish disciples that trust in Jesus was proven by ones willingness to do what he asked them to do.

So, rest in God’s grace, but show your faith in Him by doing the works in His world He has commanded you to do.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Sunday Morning Note to My Evangelical Family

Evangelicals have believed, from their beginning, that the sole criterion for “admission to heaven” is faith in Jesus Christ (Jesus the Messiah). There are many varieties of theological explanation of what that means and how much any mere human’s will and effort have to do with it. But it is, in its general form, a solidly Biblical theology, based primarily on Jesus’ own teachings: “Whoever believes in me will have everlasting life.”

But is it too much to say that one’s eternal destiny will be decided by the way one has treated the poor and helpless in our world? Jesus said, after all, that caring for the uncared-for – or not doing so – was the equivalent of caring for – or not caring for – him. And it is just possible that “believing in Jesus” means believing he meant what he said and attempting to do what his words reveal to be his will. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” That is a sobering thought; one that Timothy Keller addresses in his recent book Generous Justice.

(Don’t read Keller’s book if you happen to believe that Jesus really meant what he said; Keller will convince you that there are ways you can feed, cloth, heal the poor, and visit the persecuted in jail. He will leave you free to continue your unconcerned ways, but not without some fear of the spiritual consequence of doing so. Not without considerable guilt as you compare your own good life to that of the disadvantaged around you.)

Those who read my blog – it is possible that one or two friends do so – know that am hardest on those with whom I am most closely aligned theologically. I hope I am as hard on myself as I have been on my friends. The claim of Evangelical Christians to be believers in, and followers of Jesus, either has substantive meaning or we are as hypocritical as the Pharisee’s of Jesus day.

Keller insists, and I concur, that our faith in Jesus should be demonstrated in our actions and attitudes toward, and interactions with, those whom Jesus identified as the target of his ministry. Neither Keller nor anyone else is perfect in their fulfillment of Jesus’ wish that his followers feed the poor, cloth the naked, heal the sick, and visit the imprisoned. But Keller would have us be increasingly aware of their existence, first of all, but also their plight, and the ways that we can be of help to them.

It has always distressed me – as long as I have been politically aware – that the particular theological family with which I am associated (some call it “fundamentalist,” I prefer “Evangelical,” and believe it more accurately expresses my theological understandings)  has aligned itself with political forces that, in general, work to increase the power of the wealthy and decrease that of the poor, opposing such things as minimum wage laws, rights of workers to organize unions, government aid to the indigent and unemployed, social security, Medicare and Medicaid. (Many of them, now recipients of those programs, some wholly dependent upon them, conveniently forget that they voted for candidates who either opposed the adoption of those programs or pledged, if elected, to abolish them.)

And that is merely the short list of programs that those with whom I’ve worshipped over the last 75 years have fought against, labeled “communist,” and characterized as un-Christian and un-American. Granted, some in that theological tradition – but far from the majority – have devoted great energy and considerable wealth to meeting the material needs of the vulnerable around them. But sadly, in my experience, even most of them have opposed government assistance at tax-payer expense, imagining, one has to assume, that the sack of groceries they donated would somehow miraculously feed their family, pay the rent, cloth their kids, buy their medicines, until they found work.

The last thirty years has been the era of the Evangelical in American politics. It is my opinion that non-Evangelical politicians – avowing Evangelical sentiments, if not faith – have promised Evangelicals far more than they have ever delivered to them. Bluntly, they have used them for their own political gain. The result has been a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor and a hardening, among Evangelicals, of the resistance to government programs that feed, cloth, house, educate, and protect the poor. Evangelical leaders who have taken up the cause of the poor are marginalized within the Evangelical community, even labeled heretical because they “eat with publicans and sinners.” Rick Warren is an example of a man who is now the target of viscous attacks by fellow Evangelicals because of his willingness to reach out to the oppressed, even attempting to build bridges – if one can believe his audacity – to Muslims.

Early in the life of Evangelicalism in the United States much of the work to improve the plight of the poor, the imprisoned, the mentally ill, the immigrant, the working class, slaves and, after the Civil War, freedmen, was carried on by Evangelicals. Such work was seen as an extension of the Gospel message. But in the early to mid 20th century Evangelicals became wary of such a “social Gospel” and withdrew from such causes, stigmatizing them rather than helping them. And late in the 20th Century most Evangelicals – if the polling numbers are accurate – have concluded that their interests are best served by getting the government “out of people’s lives” and allowing the private sector, churches, and private charity to care for the needs of the poor.

Thank God for all the millions of dollars Christians and non-Christians contribute to charitable institutions, and thank God for the work they do. It is obvious, though, that only a tiny fraction of citizens contribute significantly to those causes – only a tiny fraction of Evangelical citizens as well. And thus, the needs we see around us in the United States, to say nothing of the rest of the world, are overwhelming.

I’m not into saying what Jesus would say or do if he were here today. But I can say that I’d be so proud of my theological family – the Evangelical world – if their attitude toward fulfilling Jesus’ expressed desire that the needy be served by us, extended to a willingness to support government programs that assist the poor among us; to be taxed so that our combined contributions could meet the needs of everyone. It would look something like a secular version of the model of charity in the earliest Christian community spoken of in the Book of Acts.

If we Evangelicals want the world to see Jesus in us, we need to think carefully about the public policies we support and oppose. If it looks like our allegiances to the interests of the rich and powerful are stronger than those to the poor and homeless it might just be concluded that we don’t look very Christian. Jesus said, “In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me.” He didn’t specify “how” we should do it. But good public policy is one efficient and fair way to spread the benefits of our society to all its Citizens. And a "cheerful giver" will hardly miss the few dollars a year it takes to do the job that way.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Tale of Ten Hermits

Ten hermits lived in Hermit’s Hollow. Six were Norwegian; the original immigrants to the hollow. Three were Finns; later immigrants, tolerated but grudgingly, due to their unusual affinity to liberal ideas. One was a Swede who stumbled into the hollow unbidden but, nonetheless, was allowed to stay.

They loved their secluded home, surrounded on all sides by high bluffs that protected their privacy. Centuries before, an earthquake had dammed up the stream that flowed into the Hollow, creating a large lake just beyond the northern bluff. The lake’s outlet released enough of its water to supply the Hollow, making it fertile and green. A wonderful place to live.

The hermits were not of one mind but they had worked out a system of “government” that suited the majority of them. They elected a leader every four years. Additionally they had an ad hoc “parliament” that decided issues based on majority vote. Well, almost. No issue could come before them unless six members of the “parliament’ agreed. So, on any issue of major importance they needed the agreement of at least six of their members. The Norwegians generally stuck together, meaning that the Finns seldom won; the Swede, never.

Norwegians nearly always won the elections. Rarely, due to some division among the Norwegians, a Finn would be elected leader, but his liberal tendencies were kept well in check by the “six vote rule.” The loyalty of the Swede was considered doubtful; it was often noted that he was an "alien." He was allowed to vote in the “parliament,” but no one imagined a Swede could be the leader.

However, one year, just as they were preparing to elect their leader for the next four years, an emergency arose that changed everything. The Swede noticed that the flow of water in the stream was increasing and went to the top of the bluff to look for the reason. What he discovered was alarming. The natural dam that the earthquake had created, centuries before, was sagging badly, allowing more and more water to flow out into the Hollow. A sudden storm with heavy rain could cause a break in the dam and send all the water from the lake coursing into Hermit’s Hollow.

Of course the problem of what to do about the dam became an issue in the election of a new leader. The Swede shocked everyone by saying that, since he discovered the problem with the dam, he should be elected and given a chance to fix it. He said he had a plan. Under normal circumstances, he would have had no chance to be elected, but because the Norwegians were so divided over what to do about the impending flood, some of them voted – mostly out of spite – for the Swede and, to the surprise of everyone, he was elected.

At first, everyone agreed that they should forget their grudges over the contentious election long enough to do something about the dam. For a month or two they worked together to implement the Swede’s idea to shore up the sagging dam and save the Hollow from a flood. Some progress was made, but before they could complete the reinforcements and assure the future of their idyllic little Hollow, their natural tendency to bicker reasserted itself. Besides, the Norwegians were becoming increasingly agitated at the idea of being led by a Swede, of all things. All six of the Norwegians declared that the emergency with the dam was “made up” by the Swede just to get him elected. They declared they would do no more work on the dam; their goal was to make sure that Swede never got elected again.

The poor Swede was sure that his plan would save the Hollow but he needed help from the Norwegians to get the job done. Some of the Finns were persuaded, in their heart of hearts, that the Swede’s concerns were real, albeit his solution was too conservative for their tastes. And they faced a lot of pressure from the Norwegians who threatened that, if they went along with the Swede in any way, they’d never, ever be elected leader.

As the hermits bickered, the flow of the stream increased. On certain days the Finns, fearing that the Swede’s assessment of the damage might be accurate, went quietly up the bluff to help their leader, who faithfully, day after day, worked away to reinforce the dam and save the Hollow. But in a day or two Norwegians would discover what they were up to and renew the threats to ban them forever from leadership.

So, on most days, the Swede worked alone. Often, at the end of a day of hard work, discouraged because all his efforts had not really made the Hollow secure, he would beg his fellow hermits, for the sake of their homeland, to join him in reinforcing the dam. The Norwegians shrugged and reminded him that he would need at least six votes to get his plan enacted. And they saw to it that the six votes were never there. And besides, they said, the Swede had been trying his plan, which they derisively called “Swede’s Folly,” for months and it obviously wasn’t doing any good. Why should they invest the efforts of the whole community when the facts showed that his plan was a failure?

The fate of the hollow is uncertain, as is the political future of the Swede. It seems most likely that he’ll lose his leadership position. Although none of the Norwegians have a plan to repair the dam they believe that the solution is to stop the water from coming into the lake and so they’ve instituted days of prayer, beseeching the heavens for a seven-year drought. Only time will tell if the gods will honor their prayers and save their Hollow. The Finns, fearing to be associated too closely with “Swede’s Folly,” and thus ruin their chances to ever be “leader,” have proposed a more radical solution. They want to blow the dam to smithereens so the water can be shared, rather than hoarding it worthlessly in a giant lake.

It is most likely that the Swede will go on working, as long as he is “leader,” to save his obnoxious fellow hermits. Eventually the dam will give way and wash them all into the next hollow downstream, knocking their heads against every rock along the way. That will have the happy dual benefit of proving “Swede’s Folly” a failure, and implementing the Finn’s wish to share the water with those further downstream.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sam, The Resale Man

Sam ran a thriving neighborhood business. His goal was to have, in his little store, anything the neighbors might need on the spur of the moment, simple tools, household cleaning supplies, fresh local fruit and vegetables, locally produced baked goods . . . you get the idea. His sales seldom exceeded $10 to any one customer but it added up each day to a handsome bundle that he took to the bank.

One day an official looking car drove up to the curb at his store and two well-dressed men got out. They entered the store and identified themselves as food inspectors. However they focused their attention on his fresh produce, particularly the tomatoes, taking samples with them for analysis. After they left Sam quickly removed the rest of the tomatoes, taking them to a kitchen to be washed and returned.

Most of Sam’s suppliers were conscientious growers he had dealt with for years who sold, not only to him, but to other stores in town. They were careful in their production and harvesting procedures, knowing that the future of their business depended upon the product they sold. But Sam had a farmer friend who had offered to get him tomatoes at half the price he’d been paying the other suppliers. Half the price meant 25% more profit so he took the offer, no questions asked. Now he wished he’d asked some questions.

It turned out that Sam’s tomatoes, which, by the way had been shipped in from who-knows-where by the farmer, had sickened a number of people in town, with serious consequences for three, resulting in death for one. Sam’s store was closed down and an investigation resulted in criminal charges against him and his farmer friend. Sam got by easy with two years of prison time.

But it was time well spent. Sam made a major change in his life, shortly after arriving in prison, making a commitment of his life to God and reforming the way he thought and operated. He left prison a changed man and began to rebuild his life. His dream was to redeem himself in the community and regain his right to run his little store. Eventually he achieved that goal, and to this day, he has the confidence and friendship of his neighbors.

Sam is a member in good standing of a local church, serves occasionally on its board, works with a scouting program, teaches adult Bible classes, and is a leader of the men’s group. No one in town ever recalls that Sam was, at one time, careless in the product he passed on to the community.

Like most of the people Sam now knows he holds very conservative religious and political views and links his love of God to his love of country. He believes that his country has an exceptional place in God’s plan for the world and that it must be held true to the principles upon which he believes it was founded. He worries, as do his friends, that liberal politicians, from the local school board right on up to the President of the United States are out to destroy the essential morality of the country. Most of them are, he believes, socialists, which is almost the same as communist.

Sam is on Facebook, and Twitter, and of course receives tons of e-mail. Some of it makes him mad, stories about the politicians he distrusts, stories revealing their lack of morals, their dis-loyalty to the country, awful unpatriotic things that they have said and done. Some of the e-mails make him laugh, funny jokes (sometimes a little raw) that put those politicians in a ridiculous or compromised light. Once in a while his mind says to him, “Can this be true?” But he doesn’t have the time to check the validity of the slanders, and they are just too good to not pass on – especially the jokes – so he does, to a long list of folks he knows in his new-found family of Christian friends and acquaintances. Even if the stories are somewhat tainted, they get the main message through that these guys are not good for the country.

And in his circle Sam is a respected man, a man of God, Bible scholar, teacher, leader of boys, and a good father too. And most of all he is a successful small businessman. Every morning, six days a week, he opens his little store with great satisfaction and turns the “Closed” sign around to read “Open”. On the side that faces him Sam had written a reminder to himself, the first day he reopened his cherished store. He never wanted to repeat his error and lose his way again.

The message read: IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE SOURCE, AND CAN’T BE SURE OF THE QUALITY, DON’T PASS IT ON! SOMEONE’S LIFE MAY BE AT STAKE.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Here’s To Your Health

When mumps hit our family it hit us hard. Fortunately it was a “rolling hit”. It would have been worse if we had all come down at the same time. But except for Dad, who must have carried some immunity over from his childhood, all four kids and Mom were down over a three or four week period. I don’t recall any particular treatment except to stay in bed as much as possible and wait for the symptoms to subside. I remember craving (and consuming) mayonnaise sandwiches.

We did have medical care, though, even in the midst of the Depression. Not universal health care; certainly not government sponsored health care. We had, instead, home visits from Dr. Pugh, the local mayor and one of several local doctors. I don’t think he charged us anything for his services, and if he left any medications I don’t recall taking them, but I recall that he left a small stack of pennies each for the two youngest of us siblings. My parents would prefer to have paid their own way but the family budget barely covered food, clothing, and housing. They gratefully accepted the charity of the good doctor.

Dr. Pugh was later to receive national notoriety for his combined gambling, philandering, political, and medical careers. Walter Winchell, the national gossip/news commentator honored him with an attack, mis-pronouncing Pugh as “Pug” rather than “Pew”. It is possible that Winchell’s “endorsement” was a boon to the good doctor; he easily won re-election as mayor and was never bothered by local officials regarding his gambling exploits.

I thought of my childhood “healthcare system” today after a nurse described for me the plight of poor people in our city who line up each evening at a Free Clinic to receive whatever medical care (and drugs) are provided by the volunteers (nurses and doctors) who staff the clinic. It reminded me that we have not progressed very far toward providing easily obtained healthcare for our poor and indigent citizens in the seventy years since Dr. Pugh visited our home.

She told of a working man with severe heart problems who had lost access to Wisconsin’s Badger Care coverage because his dependent daughter had reached the age of nineteen and the family no longer qualified for coverage. Except for the charity of Sacred Heart Hospital and the volunteers at the Free Clinic he, and presumably scores more in our community, have no help for their problems. It isn’t clear that he, or the others, can piece together the drugs and treatments needed to maintain their health. And it isn’t known how many others have concluded that it makes no sense to even try to seek such help.

We’ve had a two-year long battle in this country over a newly enacted health care program that those in opposition (very likely without remotely understanding it) characterize as “Obamacare,” spoken with as much vituperation as they can express. Just this month news is out that health insurance premiums have risen over 10% in the last year, allowing Insurance companies to insure their profits before the new law goes fully into effect, and making healthcare insurance unaffordable to thousands who had been barely holding on to their coverage. And still there are those who support repeal of the meager plan recently enacted.

History judges every generation, and this generation should stand or fall before that judge, not by the success of our sports teams, the number of SUV’s, boats, campers, and RVs in our driveways, the number of restaurant meals, and the class of restaurant, we’ve enjoyed, the dollars spent on our children’s weddings, the millions we’ve spent on political campaigns, or even the magnificence of the churches, stadiums, and high-rises we’ve built, but rather on how we provided for the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

It is hard to know in advance the fate of “Obamacare.” It is not the plan that the President initially wanted. Those who wished to keep the status quo fought to gut it of much that would have made it a better plan. It never sought to be “universal” as many believed it should have been. But it promises to expand the number of people who can access healthcare without subjecting themselves to the humiliation of beggary. It deserves a chance to prove its worth.

By labeling the new healthcare program “Obamacare” those who oppose it (and oppose the President) hope to stigmatize both the President and the plan. We can only hope that, fifty years from now, it will be a source of pride to the President’s descendents that their father’s name is associated with a successful effort to improve the health of the nation.

It is understandable that some would oppose the new healthcare law. We will never agree completely on anything. It is conceivable that there is a better solution to our inadequate healthcare situation. But those attacking the President’s plan have offered no substantive alternative beyond: 1) insisting that tort reform would reduce unwarranted medical lawsuits and dramatically lower doctor’s fees for service, and 2) suggesting that the free market should continue to determine who will get coverage and at what price. That is a description of the broken system we have. Those who oppose the new law need to show us a better way, or get out of the way, and give “Obamacare” a chance to succeed.

Better yet, those who defend the status quo, and oppose “Obamacare” should volunteer one evening a week at their local Free Medical Clinic or, if their community doesn’t have a free clinic, they should start one. Or perhaps they could pay the premiums for a family healthcare policy for someone they know who can’t afford it. If enough people did these things it wouldn’t be long before there was a groundswell of support for universal healthcare coverage in our country.

Here’s to your health!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Dilemma

I’m facing a serious dilemma. It reminds me of Joe Butler’s plight so many years ago. Joe lived in a tiny rural town on the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin. The town was too small to support two churches but it had two anyway, and two taverns too. But most unusual, it also had two auto mechanics, each with his own shop. Joe knew both men well, grew up with them since childhood.

Randy Hooper was the brightest kid in school, knew what x+anything was, forward and backward. His teacher said he should go to college and become a math teacher or a scientist. But Randy saw things differently. He thought there was no life like the small town life. He married June Breighner and started a business to support his family; he became an auto mechanic though his only training was gained in keeping his 1948 Chevy running. He read a lot of Whitney Auto catalogues. And he kept good books. In fact he became the treasurer for the town, for his church, the competing church, and bookkeeper for both taverns. He was a good man.

Dan Raatner, on the other hand, had barely made it through school. His family was dysfunctional but that designation hadn’t yet been created so most people just said his dad was a no good drunk. Dan admired his dad. He had been an auto service man in Detroit in better years and Dan learned everything there was to know about cars from his father. And everything there was to know about drink as well. He became a champion drunk . . . and an excellent mechanic, when sober.

But back to Joe Butler’s plight, and eventually to my dilemma. Joe’s jalopy failed him just when he needed it most. His oldest daughter was graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee on Friday and Joe knew the old car wouldn’t make it half-way there in the condition it was in. He knew Dan Raatner could have it going in half a day if he could catch him sober and keep him that way until the job was done. Randy Hooper, on the other hand, was a good friend, a fellow church board member, sober as a judge seven days a week, and a solid family man. He knew the folks at church would think him backslidden if he gave the repair job to an infidel like Dan but he was pretty sure that he would barely get to the next town if Randy fixed his car.

Poor Joe. He yielded to the pressure of public opinion, and the urging of his wife, and drove the car to Randy’s shop on Monday morning. Randy assured him it would be done in time for him to leave for Milwaukee on Friday. Every day Joe stopped by to check on progress. Parts were strewn from wall to wall and Randy, conscientious man that he was, was reading Whitney’s Catalog, searching for the best solution. Friday came and still the car lay in parts around the shop. Randy assured his friend that he would work all night if needed so that Joe would have his car early Saturday morning. And he did.

At six a.m. Joe pulled out with barely time enough to reach the school and see his daughter graduate. At 10 a.m. he sat beside the road waiting for a tow truck to haul his buggy back home. His daughter would send him pictures of the graduation, he was sure.

I think of Joe’s story every time I come to vote. It seems I’m often faced with choosing between incompetence, ignorance, or heartlessness, parading under the banner of morality, and what I consider competence, sensitivity, and intelligence in candidates my friends believe to be the devil incarnate. I feel like I’m being told I should choose to support a lousy mechanic because he is a good Christian man, and reject an excellent mechanic because he has some “un-Christian” characteristics.

I guess the thing I have to ask myself is how important it is for me to get to the graduation ceremony.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Weighty Words

by Jim Rapp
“Weigh your words!” the adage goes;
but how to weigh them, no one knows.
Moses’ words, carved in stone,
weighed less than did the stone alone;

weighty words with meaning fraught,
that signaled how men ought
to serve both God and man,
weighed no more on stone than in his hand.

Fill one page with words of sober weight.
Another fill with entertaining freight.
No difference the scale detects;
heavy words, and light, create the same effect.

Today, in “clouds,” our words we store
but add nor take away no atom more
nor less than occupied the space before;
flipping bits to one, that, one time, zeros wore.

But there is a scale within the heart of man
that registers the weight of words, and can
report the burden laid or lifted by their weight,
in shoulders slumped - or joy reflected on the face.

“Weigh your words,” the wise adjure.
Each word will circle back to where
its maker freighted it with good or ill,
bearing curse or blessing, undiminished still.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One Christian’s View of Taxes

Before saying that I don’t mind paying taxes I should point out that I, like everyone else I know, would be entirely happy to live in a world where no taxes were needed or assessed to anyone. But, having said that, I repeat, I don’t mind paying taxes.

I should say, further, that I don’t want them to be excessive, or capriciously assessed, or used in wasteful or corrupt ways. I don’t mind paying taxes that are legitimately needed to support the genuine functions of government. I don’t mind that I have paid a higher rate of taxes than some others who are less well off than I, and I think it entirely fair that those better off than I pay a higher rate of taxation than I do. In general the better off a citizen is the greater the share of government services he/she benefits from.

Taxes are perhaps as old as government itself. When mankind began to organize itself into polities for purposes of economy, protection, production, worship, etc., it began to tax itself to support the organizations needed for those functions to be effective. Sometimes the “tax” was levied in quantities of precious metals, sometimes in commodities, sometimes in conscripted labor. The ancient Hebrews needed ten percent of each citizen’s yearly profits to operate their religious/political functions. After they instituted a monarchy the tax for the temple continued and more taxes were added to support the monarch and his functionaries. It has been no different anywhere else since, except that the level of taxation and the efficiency of the governments it has bought have varied widely from place to place.

The United States of America was born, in part, as a tax revolt. One aspect of the American Revolution was a protest against “taxation without representation.” Undoubtedly, for some, it was simply a revolt against taxation of any kind or any amount. There is a frame of mind that seems to believe that: 1) society can exist without the assistance or constraints of government, or 2) that the level of government that is needed can exist without taxing anyone at all, or 3) that any taxes needed should come from anyone but oneself. All of those assumptions are the product of ignorance or wishful thinking. We are a large, diverse, and complex nation and to believe that it can function peacefully, fairly, and effectively with minimal government is as ridiculous as believing that the universe popped into being of its own accord and owes nothing to a superintending deity who sustains its every breath and movement. Christians scoff at such arrogant ignorance and rightly so.

So, I don’t mind paying taxes to support a large government – a multi-layered government – as long as I feel it is purposed to protect our interests, promote our wellbeing, and regulate our social, economic, and political intercourse. I don’t object to programs that redistribute wealth as long as they are fairly organized and administered. As a Christian I believe I have an obligation to my less fortunate fellow beings and I feel good that my tax dollars go, in part, to meet some of their needs. As a Christian I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to contribute what they can to the common good. Likewise it is the right of every citizen to expect that they will be rewarded for their contributions should they be in need of government assistance at some point in their life.

Christians believe that mankind is made in the image of God and that every human being is therefore precious in His eyes, a son or daughter to be cherished and brought into knowing and loving relationship to their heavenly Father. They are taught, by their Scriptures, that human governments are instituted by God for the good of society and that they should submit themselves to their authority and pray for their leaders so they can live a peaceful and prosperous life on earth. Good government can promote a peaceful and productive society in which people of all faiths can practice their religion unharmed.

Christians have benefited from such a government in the United States, seeing their numbers (and the numbers of their various denominations) increase almost exponentially over the history of our nation. It is therefore baffling to me that a significant segment of the Christian community has been in the vanguard of anti-government, anti-taxation agitation. I think I know the hope that drives such anger and resistance; a hope that if they can shape the government to favor their particular sect they will be able to create a theocracy that will resemble the Biblical Millennium of Peace. That is a dream that has no basis in Biblical prophecy and no chance of human fulfillment. Such a kingdom can only be the work of Messiah himself when he returns . Our job as human beings, and Christians in particular, is to use the resources given us as mortal beings to shape the best, and fairest world we can while waiting for God, in his own time to bring in perfection.

So, I don’t mind paying taxes to a secular government for the purpose of making life as pleasant and prosperous for all citizens as it possible can. We can – and will – quibble over what is right and fair for government to be doing, but if we want it to work well, it needs the willing support of those who will benefit from its services. In my opinion it ought to have the generous and “cheerful” support, to use a Biblical phrase, of those who bear the name of the one who has given them the undeserved hope of everlasting life. To whom much has been given, much is expected.