Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Farewell to Peace on Earth – Goodwill To Men

It may be time for Christians to give up the celebration of the birth of Christ. Those who claim it is an importation of pagan practices have a good point, and a lot of history behind their assertion. But even if Christmas were wholly of Christian origin it has now been “paganized” beyond redemption.

The photo shown here is not the straw that breaks the camel’s back but it illustrates that its back is broken. Does anyone at the Arizona gun club see the inconsistency of making guns a featured part of the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace? Probably not. We have gone so totally gun crazy in this country that many would probably argue that Jesus could have saved himself (and the two thieves) if there had been a “concealed carry” law in effect in Jerusalem.

It is too late now to cancel Christmas; to abolish it. Like so many other damaging things in our economy and society, we are “hooked” on it and we would bring down our economy if we discontinued it. Our businesses, we’re told, achieve profitability only on the basis of Christmas spending – Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So we have to let it live on along with the sale of alcohol, tobacco, and other products and practices that are killing us but are too valuable to our economy to discontinue. Christians, like everyone else, depend upon the season of all seasons for their livelihood.

But we need to stop fooling ourselves about its meaning. As Christmas is celebrated today it has little to do with God’s plan of salvation. In fact one is hard-pressed to find any indication in the Bible that early Christians even attempted to commemorate the birth of Christ. It was his death and resurrection that became the “good news” they spread across their world. The Gospel writers who tell of his birth do so, not in celebration of a baby in a manger but to validate his miraculous Messiahship. Paul, the great apostle, said, “I determined to know nothing among you, save Christ, and him crucified.”

Our Christmas celebrations, in homes and churches and in our communities are wonderful times to bring people together and share our love, even giving and receiving gifts. But Christians need to recognize that we have lost control of the holiday. It is no longer an essentially religious holiday. It has been “stolen” by the marketers of guns, and electronics, and tinsel, and a million other things.

If we want to put Christ back into our Christmas we must look past the tree, the TV specials, the Big Box stores, to a hill with a cross on it. That is why He came to earth, and the gift He gave on that cross is the only one worth celebrating.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seeking A Mate And Finding One's Self

               by Jim Rapp

Everything after it's own kind,
Each a doubled product of the Father's mind.
And each instructed to leave behind
Multiplied copies for others to find.

But in man's "original" it was not so;
A solitary figure sent to go
Throughout creation, yearning to know
An “other” through which his seed could flow.

Naming, but never claiming, he went,
And at day's end, weary and bent,
He curled himself around himself and sent
His Maker a wordless cry . . . "I am alone, I'm spent!"

And the Maker of all that was good
Saw that his Image would,
If left to himself, self-destruct; he could
Not be left alone. It was not good.
Carefully incising from the original clay,
The Maker fashioned a Self in an opposite way,
And gave to His Image a mate that day;
"Self of my Self," the man said, “Clay of my clay.”

"Go now, be one flesh!" the Maker decreed,
"And reflect, through your seed –
Through your Selves – My Image indeed,
Two Selves in one spirit agreed.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Who Is To Blame Anyhow?

Ancient wisdom tells us that a farmer gets what he sows. The point of that ancient wisdom is that one cannot expect to scatter negative influences in the world and not reap negative actions as a result. And yet we are told, in word and in action, that it can safely be done.

The news today is of a four year-old beaten to death by the boy’s mother’s boyfriend. Just last Friday a crowd of shoppers in a Wal-mart became so threatening that the store’s safety personnel sprayed them with pepper spray. Last year at this time a worker at a Wal-mart was trampled to death as he attempted to control a crowd rushing in to get at the Black Friday bargains. In a city near us a home was broken into by armed people who beat and tied up the home owner and stole his cash and guns. Every day we read or hear on the “News” about adults in responsible positions sexually assaulting children ranging from infants to near adults. Shootings are a regular occurrence in our major cities. The children of our nation are assaulted daily by abortion, pre-natal drug and alcohol poisoning, post-natal neglect and violence, inadequate nutrition and medical care. The youth of the land are exiting our schools before graduation in increasing numbers as high as 41 percent in some large cities.

So who’s to blame for all of this? The security guard who used the pepper spray? The teachers who fail to educate the 41 percent who won’t even attend class? The police, afraid to patrol dangerous neighborhoods adequately? Neighbors who cower in fear in murderous communities filled with guns and drugs?

One thing we know. Our culture is NOT to be blamed.

Some have tried to suggest, over the years, that our culture, fed on violent films, brutal sporting events, sexual innuendo in film and advertising, drugs and alcohol, fascination with the power of guns, might be to blame; that in valuing and vaunting such things we might be “sowing seeds” that create the negative actions we are enduring every day.

But when they make such assertions they are quickly silenced by psychologists and sociologists who counter that there is no correlation between a fascination with violent video games and anti-social behavior; between viewing sexually explicit material and child sexual abuse; between rabid fascination with guns and warfare and violence in our streets and in our homes; between the legal and ready availability of drugs and alcohol and the dysfunction of tens of millions of our citizens; between the fractious rhetoric of our media outlets and political “leaders” and the violence directed toward other leaders and against minorities in our society. No correlation at all.

It is more than a little difficult for the average person to buy those arguments, especially when our ad men are insistent that their product does indeed influence the actions of those it targets, often with the same inducements used in our “entertainment media”. And if the words and images with which we are bombarded every day are inert, incapable of moving us to negative social behavior, why then do we restrict certain elements in our society from viewing them? We know, deep in our gut, what the sociologist and psychologist are unwilling to – or are paid not to – admit. We are what we eat! Or, as the ancient wisdom tells us, “we reap what we sow.”

History tells us that cultures (civilizations Arnold Toynbee called them) ultimately collapse because they are confronted with a challenge they cannot or will not overcome: depleted soil, a dramatic change in the climate, a technologically superior culture, a moral superiority.

Toynbee, writing in the 1950s believed that atomic power was the challenge modern western civilization had to overcome to survive. His intuition may be right but I suspect that our nemesis is much more subtle than the mere existence of a physical force capable of destroying whole cities in an instant. It is a moral rot that eats away the sustaining structures upon which it was built. Glorying in inebriation, violence, lust, insensitivity, immorality, and partisanship, we are shocked – quick to deny – that these things grow a crop of violence, dysfunction, and war.

Do not be deceived, whatever man sows, that is what he will reap.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

When We All Feel Like We Are Losing

One sign that the country may not be falling apart is the fact that both liberals and conservatives think it is, and they think it is falling apart because of the machinations of the other side. Then again, both sides could be right; the nation may be on the brink of collapse and both parties may be to blame.

But I want to believe the first proposition; that things seem bad only to one viewing them through the prism of oppositional politics. I enjoyed an exchange today with my wife’s cousin over just this point. He wrote me that, in his opinion (he views the world through a conservative lens) conservatives lose the ideological battles because they are not as good at framing their position in a way that captures the imagination of the masses. Interesting! Coming, as I do, from a more liberal vantage point I see it just the opposite. So, as I told him, “One of us is wrong and I’m willing to let you be the one.” (That was intended as humor. I hope he read it that way.)

When I’m out and about in my car I have my radio tuned to either Wisconsin Public Radio or National Public Radio. I prefer discussion at a low level of intensity (several notches below hysteria). And I appreciate hosts who allow callers of all persuasions to have their say as long as they stay on topic and refrain from immoderate speech, and who, even when callers fail in those regards, deal with them respectfully. Most of all I want to hear alternative points of view on the issues I’m interested in. Public radio may not be perfect but it makes a calculated effort to hear from all sides.

And still I hear callers saying, more than any other complaint, that NPR and/or WPR are biased. The interesting thing is that liberal callers and conservative callers make the same complaint. I suppose they could all be right, just listening to different programs hosted by different people. But I suspect that I am witnessing a version of the same phenomenon that my wife’s cousin and I illustrated earlier today. We humans want our point of view to prevail so desperately, and we fear its defeat so certainly, that we hear any attack on it multiplied many times over while hearing any defense as weak and underplayed.

We are fortunate to live in a society that allows us all to make our point. Some chose to make theirs in strident terms with little regard for civility or factuality; their heart carries them where they want to go. I tolerate such people because of my liberal tendency to defend everyone’s right to free speech. But my preference is for those who marshal evidence to support their position and are content to offer it in reasoned speech on a conversational level. It seems to me that those who adopt the mode I prefer put themselves at a disadvantage. Our culture is attuned to the “Extreme” these days. But it may be that my “emotional” fellow citizen’s heart is telling him the truth. Or it may be that my “intellectual” fellow citizen’s argument is flawed.

It is only when we allow both citizens to speak that we can give all ideas a chance.  And it just may be that the only time we are winning is when we all feel like we are losing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Blending of Thanksgiving Traditions

The family is aging. Even the grandchildren are aging, and with their greater age comes a maturation of their tastes. Literally! There was a time when we had to have hotdogs available for Thanksgiving dinner so that everyone would have something that they enjoyed eating. Then we moved to pizza – in addition, of course, to the traditional Thanksgiving fare.

For the last several years we’ve fixed a wholly traditional dinner consisting, most years, of ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, Gramma’s special sweet potato hotdish, cranberry sauce sliced into quarter inch discs, a special cranberry salad, vegetables, and muffins. Of course there were pies, usually consumed later in the day.

Not all the grandchildren appreciated the new insistence upon tradition. Some survived the day on blueberry muffins, or perhaps a slice or two of ham. Another might eat only mashed potatoes. But there was always enough of everything that, whatever they chose, they would not need to leave hungry.

But this year I saw a qualitative and a quantitative difference. All the grandchildren in attendance are now fully adult, at least according to the census bureau. I suppose they have something to prove. The meal was serve buffet style so it was easy to observe the number of trips made to replenish the plates. And the traffic was heavy. Some items were more popular than others but most plates were filled with a variety unseen in earlier years. It was a heart-warming scene; atypical, one might say.

Two incidents, though, help preserve some semblance of the past. One grandson, who refused to take any of the mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, and peas), commented to his grandmother that if she had just put out corn he would have eaten it. To her credit she offered to get him a toothpick with which he could spear the pieces of corn in the mix.

The other reminder of the past came when I saw our first great-grandchild sitting looking rather glumly at a plate with only mashed potatoes on it, the only thing, apparently, that the poor child could find worth eating.

We adults insist upon our traditions; why shouldn’t the children do the same?

Friday, November 25, 2011

An Ode to Memory

by Jim Rapp

There is only one road to travel,
The ever-unfolding, well-worn path called "now".

Standing on the high precipice
Of the eternal moment,
The unknown looms ahead,
A wispy, wishful construct, shaped to resemble
Cherished memories from the past.

The once-known, once-held, once-cherished
Lies behind us, muted mounds
Of all we've had, and said, and done.
As now crumbles
Under the weight of our mortality,
We cling to faith for this moment,
Hope for some tomorrow,
And draw comfort
From what used to be.

Memory -
           all that's left of everything.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Recognizing God's Goodness

                                  by Jim Rapp

Oh God, Is time a gift? I know it is the only way
That you could give me life, so when you lay
Upon my feeble frame another hour, I hear you say,
"Child, this is a gift I give to show my love today.
You may grumble at its weight, or use it in some way
That brings a pleasure to another soul today."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Holiday Cup of Warm

by Jim Rapp

Even when we’re miles apart,
our cups are raised in friendship,
and when their nectar touches lip,
it makes, of two, or more, one heart.

So grab a cup of warm and let
us taste the joy of friendship
through every thought-filled sip we sip
and every word we send and get.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who Is My Neighbor?

Recently I wrote a blog piece in response to an e-mail admonition to buy local goods and services at this Christmas season. The primary argument given in favor of that policy was that Christmas was not about building a glittering new city for the Chinese; that Christmas was about US. Naturally I took the position that Christmas, which celebrates the coming of the Savoir of the whole world is not exclusively about US, but about the whole world.

But lately I’ve been seeing an ad on Television promoting a “Small Business Saturday.” The point is that on the Saturday after Thanksgiving everyone should consider shopping at a small business instead of at the mega-stores and businesses. That seems like a very good idea. I’m amazed as I drive around our small city of 60,000 plus residents how many little businesses are tucked into strip malls, along the main roadways, and even in remote neighborhoods. One of my favorites is a dusty old electronics store in the basement of an old church, the upstairs of which has been turned into an antique shop. The elderly couple who own the building and businesses apparently earn enough to support their modest lifestyle but probably little more than that. I enjoy their friendly, laid-back manner, and am grateful when I can buy something from them

So I’m in favor of “Small Business Saturday”. In fact it could be extended to “Small Business Everyday” if the goods and services provided meet the needs of their customers. But the “buy local,” and “buy small business” slogans overlook some very important details that we should not forget.

First, a number of the local businesses are actually national or even international in scope. I know of a small local computer outlet that depends upon Internet sales for a significant portion of its business. A few years ago I needed a special necktie as a drama prop and when I searched for it on the Internet I found it offered by a locally owned men’s clothing store less than a half-dozen miles from me. So “local” today is not what “local” might have been thirty-five years ago before the advent of the computer.

Secondly, small businesses hire, we are told, the majority of the workers in our economy. I have no way to verify that but I’ll accept it as true. But that still leaves millions of our citizens whose livelihood depends upon the success of large – sometimes very large – corporations who either produce or retail items that we need. A large share of the retail and service outlets in our communities are connected to large corporations either as company owned enterprises or locally owned franchises of national chain restaurants, clothing stores, auto service centers, etc. Our parents, siblings, and friends who work at those places depend upon our purchases as much as any other “small business” does.

Finally, our world has become so interconnected, via modern transportation and communication, that it is very difficult to know at times what is local and what is international in scope. When I go on EBay to make a purchase it is as likely to ship from Afghanistan as it is from my neighbor next door. The local farmer, producing corn or soy beans, or some specialty crop like ginseng, may be selling it on a foreign market. The local manufacturing company with 10 employees may be selling the majority of its product abroad.

All of this indicates that, while it is a good thing to buy from local, small businesses, it may be just as beneficial to your “neighbor” – the one right next door or the one working in a Chinese high-rise factory making iPhones – to buy internationally or from a large corporation. We believe in the magic of the market; that free competition of ideas, and products, and services produces a vital economy. Our stores’ shelves, laden with goods produced locally (either a “local factory” a few miles from you, or a “local factory” a-half-a-world away) are proof of that.

I like to support a person I can see face-to-face whom I know is striving to provide for their family and perhaps give employment to others as well. But it also gives me satisfaction to know that my purchase of a shirt made in Taiwan provides employment for my “neighbor” there. I may never see him or her face-to-face but I know that his or her wellbeing is as important to God as mine, or that of any person living near me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Friends of Huguette Clark (1907 – 2011)

                by Jim Rapp

Huguette lived to a ripe old age
but not without some assistance;
an accountant and a lawyer-sage –
advisors twain – whose persistence
kept her breathing well past the age
when most would expire, are insistent
that her will – every notarized page –
is quite legal and clearly consistent,
though she lived well into her dotage.

The doctor, accountant, nurse and her kin,
rewarded already with generous pay,
declare now, “we are all ‘written in’;
with millions to come on will-reading day.”
Some sore heads – who wish they were “in” –
have alerted the media to all of the hay
that Huguette’s “caretakers” soon will begin
receiving, and spending, and stowing away,
giving their service a self-serving spin.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Hymn

              by Jim Rapp

The heavens declare your glory –
The earth is your image displayed –
Together they blazon the story
Of wonders your hands have made.

Riding the rays of the morning –
Descending like dew from above –
Closing the day with the evening –
Enfolding us thus, in your love.

The thunderclaps speak of your power,
The lightning shows us your face,
Flashing its beams through the shower,
Inscribing your name with its trace.

The stars in the depths of the heavens
Are messengers speaking in tongues,
Bringing your word to the millions
In languages never yet sung.

Who can gaze on the marvelous glories
Of all that your hands have wrought,
And not be moved to tell stories
With God-thoughts and mysteries fraught?

The fool denies your existence,
Rejecting all that he sees,
But a child, offering no resistance,
Quickly and humbly believes.

As a child let me stand at the mid-night,
Or at noon under bright blazing sun;
Let me see you, O God, with a child's sight,
And give praise for all you have done.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tom Tom Theology

The idea of “calling” is pretty antiquated these days. But when I was young it was a common idea, not just among religious folks who often viewed their vocation or even their mundane jobs as a “calling” – an assignment, so to speak, from God – but also among people in many secular professions. I remember, most distinctly, my sixth-grade teacher telling our class that she felt teaching was her calling. And if her dedication to the work she did was any indication of the effect such a belief could have upon one who held it, the concept was a useful one. To a person, her students declared her their favorite teacher.

One hears the idea of calling much less today. Our society is more secular in its outlook and even in our churches professionalism has to a large degree replaced the old-fashioned sense of calling. That isn’t all bad. Many of the ministers I knew in my youth struggled to maintain their families, enduring low pay because of their sense that they were fulfilling a calling upon their life. And too many churches were willing to allow them to live in poverty or near poverty knowing that their sense of calling would hold them there. Thankfully, our ministers are generally better paid but partly that is so because churches cannot count on a sense of calling to hold a pastor in a church where pay is inadequate.

We’ve lost something valuable though, with the passing of the concept of calling. It was a strong motivator and a clear guide that is seldom active today, even in the lives of Christians. Ask someone if they feel a sense of calling and they are likely to ask you, “By whom?” The secular mind finds it inconceivable that one would subject oneself to another person’s – especially a Divine person’s – notion of what is good for them, or where they could be most useful to others. John Kennedy may have been the last national figure to be taken seriously when he appealed to the nation’s sense of calling with his challenge to, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” A whole generation of young people accepted his challenge, joining the Peace Corp and launching lives of service that, for the duration of their generation, blessed the world.

It is not always obvious that one is “off the track.” A number of years ago I was driving on a familiar highway and, because it was so familiar, I was not thinking much about where I was or where I was going. I passed the exit I should have taken and, because the scenery surrounding freeways in Illinois is much the same from highway to highway, was a hundred miles off course before I realized my mistake. That would not happen to me today because I’ve adopted the use of a GPS device – a Tom Tom – to guide me to my desired goal, reminding me when and where to turn, and rescuing me when I get off course.

A sense of calling can do for our journey through life what my Tom Tom does for my travels. A sense of calling sets a destination – a goal – for our life. It gives purpose to our planning; do I want to go by the fastest route, the shortest route, the scenic route, or are there specific stops I need to make along the way? A calling helps to answer these questions. Am I still on course to accomplish what I feel I was put on this earth to do? Calling answers the questions.

But all of this begs the question of how one “gets” a calling. As far as I know there is no Dial-A-Calling service one can turn to. The vast majority of those I’ve known who have had a clear sense that they were meant to pursue a certain course in their life derived that “call” from their relationship to God; through reading Scripture, through prayer, through conversation with other believers, through thoughtful observation of the circumstances of their life; their skills and aptitudes, their likes and dislikes, their opportunities. But most of all it included a strong sense that their life could have maximum meaning only if it was directed to the betterment of their world and their fellow travelers in life.

In the end, though, we are responsible for the course we take. Callings, like Tom Toms, do not come preprogrammed. We must consciously plot the course we want to take. And then we must attend to the signals we receive from our “Tom Tom”. If we do so we will end our life having reached the goal we set out for, and having done the things we were put here to do.

Paul, the Apostle, is a good example of one who took his calling seriously, programmed his Tom Tom, and never seemed to have veered off course. Near the end of his life he was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” What more needs to be said?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Go Not, Like The Quarry-slave at Night, Scourged to His Dungeon

Imagine a world without death. In order for such a world to thrive it would also have to be one in which no new life was aborning. No finite world we know of could sustain the creation of new lives unless the death of previous lives would make room for the new. Some believe we are reaching the sustainable limit for our planet. Life as we know it demands death, lives on death.

We live very comfortably with death as long as it doesn’t involve members of our own species. We laden our plates with it three times a day and more. It provides the materials with which we build our houses and clothe ourselves. It provides the motive power for our automobiles and factories. Our houses are warmed by death. And at this season of the year great numbers of men and women get immense enjoyment and recreation by inflicting death on other creatures. To the fisherman and the hunter death is now a “sport” and those who engage in those activities are called “sportsmen.” We even find it acceptable to rain death down on others of our species once we have reduced them in our thinking to the status of enemy. Our race maintains armies of professional, trained, agents of death.

But, paradoxically, when we contemplate our own death, or the death of those whom we value; even the non-human death of pets or species to which we’ve developed a sentimental attachment, it becomes something to be resisted, even eradicated if possible. The literature of mankind is filled with laments over the shortness of man’s lifespan, the inevitability of death, the search for a way to delay or deny it. No novel, or drama, or screen play rivets an audience’s attention more than one in which the protagonists are struggling against a life destroying foe. The heroes of science and medicine are those men and women who have found a cure for a life-threatening disease. Even our wars, characterized as they are by death itself, are fought to preserve the lives of our people. A famine, or earthquake, or tsunami, elicit massive human effort to save the lives of as many survivors as possible.

One could almost make the case that, even in an affluent and relatively secure society such as ours, most of our energies are devoted to the preservation of our lives, even while we are inflicting death upon all the earth around us. Perhaps even more in affluent societies we are concerned to live long because we enjoy the rich benefits of our good life, purchased with the death of our fellow creatures.

But death – even our death – will not be denied. The elite of mankind die in equal proportions to the lowliest. Of all the humans born in any given year nearly 100% will be dead 100 years later, and the few who linger longer are curiosities that are either the envy of those who hope to live so long or are pitiful wards of society, withering slowly in nursing homes and hospitals.

Why is it that we humans, who can countenance death so readily all around us in the vegetable kingdom, and the animal kingdom – even make it our business to foster it in the crops we raise, the resources we harvest, the animals we slaughter for food – find it so abhorrent in the human realm? Obviously it is our life that we cherish. We want to preserve it because we sense that there is nothing left when this life is gone. We see evidence of that with each tree we destroy, each fish we fillet, each animal we slaughter. And we know that a dead human looks little different than a dead chicken, or cow, or even a fallen tree.

It is no wonder then that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, two thousand years ago:

. . . the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration . . in hope that . . . [it] will be liberated from . . . decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves . . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for . . .the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

And what gives creation this hope of deliverance from death and decay? What causes it to struggle to create life though in doing so it is consigning that life it conceives to certain death? The same thing that gives our killer race its hope; the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ironically the One who has saved us from death and given us a hope of everlasting life is the very one that killer-man crucified. And the only cure for man’s murderous instinct is to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the one he killed. In his blood there is remission of sin and his body is the bread of life.

All mankind is invited to the feast provided by Jesus’ death, and those who partake of his death will live forevermore. Man, the carnivore must eat His flesh or die.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Let’s Be Fair With Our Politicians

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have many complaints about our political system and about politicians in particular. I hope, though, that my critique of the system and those who work within it is based on reasonable expectations of what it could and should be and not just an attempt to nitpick.

Much has been made in the last week about the “brain freezes” of both Governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain. Their gaffs were excruciating to watch partly because I know the embarrassment it caused them and those who care about them. It was hard to watch as well because I’ve been there, unable to recall a fact I’d recited a dozen times before, unable to sort out in my mind the difference between Libya and Tunisia. Anyone who has not had those occasions is very fortunate; if they live long enough their day will come.

If those kinds of events occur too often it is probably fair to wonder at the person’s aptitude for the kind of mental activity required in a President. But when they happen during a whirlwind of debates that would try the souls of saints we need to allow for some humanity, even if those experiencing such problems don’t admit to their humanity or imperfection.

In both of the cases cited above, and covered extensively by the press, there were other, more substantive reasons to question the candidate’s bona fides than whether he could count to three or keep two countries separate in his mind. It is when the candidate has gotten over the “brain freeze” and is addressing the issue that we need to judge the worth of their mind.

In these cases, for example, I would judge the candidates wanting in both wisdom and substance based on their answer. Governor Perry’s simplistic pledge to summarily abolish three departments of the Executive Branch upon taking office was reckless braggadocio. Ronald Reagan, and others after him have said they would do the same for at least a couple of departments, Education, and Energy, two cabinet positions created by the Carter Administration. Perry would add Commerce to the list. But he should know that when others took office they found that they needed those departments, indeed found that they could manipulate them to serve their own purposes. Perry would very likely do the same. If he is serious about abolishing them then he needs to tell us who will assume the functions they now perform and why that will be an improvement over the status quo.

Cain, when he sorted out in his mind where Libya was and what had gone on there, had nothing substantive to say on the question he was asked which was, “Do you approve of what President Obama did to aid the rebels in Libya?” His answer was that before he would have taken the actions the President took he would have wanted more information about the rebels and the situation on the ground, as though the President hadn’t sought as much of that information as he could get. When asked if he thought the President hadn’t sought that information, Mr. Cain weakly responded that he didn’t know if he had it or not. But he had been, nonetheless, willing to imply that the decision to assist the rebels was made with less information that he, if he were President, would have demanded or sought. It would have been much more honest to say, “I don’t have the information the President had and without that I’m not able (willing) to say whether he made the right decision or not.”

Politicians (and all public figures) will occasionally fumble an answer or, as in these cases, draw a complete blank. If, when they get past that “freeze” they can show knowledge of the subject under discussion and propose wise and informed actions to be taken, there is no shame in a “brain freeze” now and then. It is what they say when their brain is not “frozen” that indicates their suitability for the office they are seeking to occupy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How To Speak to a Demagogue

I heard Governor Romney, one of the persons seeking to be nominated as the Republican candidate for President of the United States, make the bold statement, “Look, one thing you can know-- and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you'd like me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.”

That is exactly the kind of statement too many citizens allow to go unchallenged. It goes right along with others of its kind like, “If I am elected I will eliminate the Department of Education, Commerce, and uh . . . uh . . . what was that other one.” The Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, by his “brain freeze” as the media is calling it, revealed that the dogmatic position he was laying out was not a deeply felt, sincerely intended policy, but merely a part of his stump speech which he unfortunately couldn’t call to mind under the pressure of a national debate. Representative Michelle Bachmann has repeatedly said that on her first day in office she will repeal “Obamacare.”

But these statements reveal something more serious that a mere attempt on the part of candidates to curry favor with segments of the electorate; they reveal an attitude toward “problem solving” that is unrealistic and dangerous. They look at issues faced by our nation and society as one would look at a crossword puzzle, seeing it as a “problem” that is soluble and that, once solved can be laid aside, never to trouble us again. Unfortunately issues that involve human nature and human aspirations – and in the case of nations, involving the competing aspirations of many nations – are not subject to that kind of solution.

It is small-minded men and women – or devious demagogic ones – who pretend that they can quickly, arbitrarily, and summarily “solve” any problem of significance if elected to the office of President of the United States. First, the Constitution defines the separation of powers in our nation in such a way that there is little that any President can do without consultation with Congress or without the possibility of review and rejection by the Supreme Court. Second, the fluidity of national and international events make it highly unlikely that a successful candidate will find the “problem” he/she declares “soluble” in the same state it was in when the claim was made. Third, human nature is such that any “solution” will be resisted by people in his/her own party and/or in the opposing parties, making it unlikely that he/she will ever get to apply the “solution” in anything like the form promised during the campaign. Finally, any solution applied to a problem will become subject to “erosion” due to public intransigence, corporate and special interest resistance, and criminal neglect of the law. Perfect “solutions” to “problems” are the stuff of which utopias are constructed, and so far all human attempts to create utopias have failed.

It would serve our nation well if those seeking our votes would, rather than offer us firm “solutions” to ever changing problems, speak to us about how they feel about the state of the nation as they see it, and give us an indication of what they would like the situation to be like at the end of their first and second terms of office. In other words they would not be looking at ways to slay the giant in one fell swoop, in a contest that, if they fail would leave the giant the victor and the nation a victim, but rather they would lay out a creative path to a better situation and tell us who they would work with, and how, to get to the place they envision.

I know the problems that lie in the way of such political dialogue. Our media is not attuned to rational discussion. Moderators of our debates are as interested in luring candidates into radical and indefensible positions as are the audiences (and large segments of the electorate) in seeing them embarrassed by their foolishness. Further, crowding eight men and women onto a stage to discuss a range of twenty or more questions in 90 minutes merely invites “sound bite” solutions to problems. Finally, given the choice between watching a football game between two third-tier teams and listening to a rational discussion of issues upon which the nation’s future security and prosperity hinge, most Americans will gladly watch the game.

So, sadly, we will get more of what we already have. In fact I fear that we will get progressively worse than what we already have. It is easy to say that we get what we deserve but that assumes that all citizens prefer the football game to rational discussion of important issues. And that is not true. What is true is that all suffer when we conduct our political affairs in the way we have come to do them.

The least any of us can do is laugh out loud – (or emit a Howard Dean scream) when we hear a politician declare that, “The first thing I will do if I am elected is . . .”

Better yet, we can say, in a letter to the editor, a blog, a conversation with friends, or face-to-face with the candidate if they are the type that actually listens to constituents,  “I’ve heard that claim made many times before. Politicians before you have either promised to fix the problem you cite, or claim to have fixed it, but we are still talking about it. What new ideas do you have that haven’t been tried before? How do you plan, given the limits of your power, to move your ideas ahead?”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Mid-night Callers

You may have heard a knock at your door or your doorbell ringing last night around mid-night. If you answered the knock (or bell) you would have found a perky Democrat with a clipboard in hand, ready to take your signature in favor of recalling Governor Scott walker. That’s right, mid-night. The Democratic party said it was going to start collecting signatures at mid-night. I think their hope was to have the 540,000 signatures they need by 7 a.m. this morning. If that was their goal they probably fell a little short.

The mere mention of the recall effort promises to stir debate, even among friends. Republicans believe it is a waste of tax dollars and undemocratic. After all, they argue, the people elected Gov. Walker and he should get his four years in office to prove that his policies are good for the state. Democrats counter that the Governor deceived the public by concealing his intention to make radical changes in state law, particularly to the bargaining rights of state employees. Therefore, they say, the use of recall is justified.

A little history is helpful at a time like this. Though it may not change any minds about the particular recall of Scott Walker it can at least help us see that, though it has seldom been used successfully, the mechanism of recall is a Wisconsin idea and one that ironically has its roots in the Republican Party.

It was, after all, the Republicans, under “Fighting” Bob LaFollette, who ushered in the Progressive Era in Wisconsin, and consequently, the nation. LaFollette’s lifelong fight for clean and responsive government began in response to an attempt, by a corrupt power broker to bribe him and gain his support. LaFollette and his successors as governor instituted a number of reforms including, Initiative, Referendum, direct election of Senators, income tax, and not the least, Recall. Another irony, in light of today’s political alignments, those progressive reforms were not a response to government dominated by Democrats but as a reform of a corrupt Republican Party of which most of the Progressives were members.

But times have changed and the political struggles in our state have become struggles of Democrats against Republicans and, at this time Republicans can see little good in the Recall procedure their illustrious Bob Lafallette worked so hard to establish. Not that they haven’t used it when it suited their purposes, even in the latest round of legislative recall elections.

But perhaps the greatest irony of Republican opposition to the effort to recall Governor Walker is that the Governor’s most recent elective office, before running for Governor, was achieved because of a recall of the Democratic Milwaukee County Administrator. Walker won the recall election replacing a man who had not yet completed the term to which he had been elected. Now he faces the prospect that he might suffer the same fate.

What all of this seems to prove is that human nature is incapable of applying what it normally would call a righteous standard of conduct if it runs against one’s own interests. In this case it is the Republicans who are willing to throw out the principles that guided their party for years because it is currently inconvenient. I’m convinced, and saddened but the fact that, should the Democrats manage to regain control of state government they will have learned nothing by the travails they have recently undergone and will attempt to do unto their Republican “others” as it was done unto them. The un-golden rule is supreme in American Politics.

Where do I stand on the current recall effort? No one rang my doorbell last night but if they had they would have left with my signature. I believe old Bob Lafallette would sign it too if he were yet living. The arrogance and insensitivity to the needs of the working class that Governor Walker and his allies have shown, the clandestine manner in which they hid their pre-determined intentions from the voters until after the election, the willingness of the Governor to give copious time to a man whom he believed was a wealthy out of state contributor to his campaign while consistently shielding himself from citizens of his own state, puts him and his Republican colleagues in the category of politicians whose behaviors inspired LaFallette to institute this very reform. I agree with the Republicans that a politician who is fairly elected after having clearly let the public know his intentions deserves to serve out a full term. But this Governor fails the test of fairness and frankness. If the people of Wisconsin choose to retain him in office, knowing what his agenda has been and presumably will continue to be, then he is welcome to his final three years. It is too bad we have to go through this but Governor Walker is more to blame than anyone else.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Intelligent, Reasonable, & Honest

I just finished watching the CBS-sponsored debate between eight of the candidates for the Republican nomination for President. The topic was foreign policy and I have to say that the moderators did a good job of keeping the debate on topic and keeping the debaters on schedule. As in all the debates the time was not allotted evenly; Cain, Perry, Gingrich, and Romney got the lion’s share of the time with Bachmann, Santorum, Paul, and Huntsman following in that order. Apparently the almighty media gurus have decided who is worthy and who is not. More likely they think they know from whom they will get the most provocative responses and give the majority of the attention to those candidates.

Having seen these eight candidates in at least four of their debates it is becoming clear to me which one(s) strike me as the most promising. I’m not talking about who is most likely to get the Republican nomination, but who is most promising should they make it all the way to the White House. My criteria for judging the candidates is clearly not that which the moderators use in deciding who will get the largest slice of the air-time-pie. And it is not the same as the people being polled from week to week – billed as “likely Republican primary voters” – who seem to keep Romney and Cain at the top with others bobbing up and down from week to week.

I have three qualifications that are important to me in a candidate, whether he/she be Republican or Democratic. I’m looking for intelligence, reasonableness, and honesty. I need to define each of those a bit.

By intelligence I mean evidence of an ability to see issues in hues other than black and white; ability to understand and articulate the complexities of our modern world and grasp the restraints that any leader will have upon his/her power.

By reasonableness I mean an outlook that recognizes human frailty – one’s own no less than that of others – and therefore refuses to lock oneself into rigid positions on issues that may look entirely different when one is finally in office.

Honesty, as I’m defining it, is not just simply not cheating on one’s wife, or denying things one has obviously said or done, but more than that, representing all facts truthfully to the best of one’s knowledge; telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Further, honesty demands not only that a candidate tell present truth – truth about their current ideas – but truthfully represent what they believe they will be able to – or intend to – attempt to do in the future if they are elected.

Based on those criteria I’ve arrived at an assessment of the eight candidates and only two of them fair very well on the honesty scale. For the record, here is my assessment, on a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the best score:

Candidate       Intelligence   Reasonableness    Honesty  Total

Bachmann                 2                   1                    2             5
Cain                           3                   2                    1             6
Gingrich                    4                   2                    2             8
Huntsman                 5                   5                    5             15
Paul                           3                   2                    5             12
Perry                         2                   1                    1             4
Romney                    5                   3                    2             10
Santorum                  4                   3                    3             10

Of course there will be a Democratic candidate too. We have to assume it will be Barack Obama. But we’ll wait and see. Right now the Republican that looks the best to me is given no chance at all of being nominated. Too bad. We need to run the best candidates that either party can put up.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

After The Order of Melkizedek

Melkizedek is a mysterious character that appears in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible and is represented as the King of Salem (later Jerusalem) and a priest of the God most high. Later Biblical writers took advantage of the mystery surrounding the man to make of him a character “without father or mother, without beginning or end” a symbol to the Jews of their coming messiah and king, and to the Christians, a picture of Jesus, the Christ.

It has struck me recently – I hope not sacrilegiously – that certain e-mails share the qualities of mystery found in Melkizedek. They seem to have no “father or mother” and no “beginning or end.” It is possible to know the last person to send it on and a number of the “fortunate” recipients to whom he/she sent it, but it is impossible to know who “birthed” it and even more impossible to kill it. It is, to paraphrase a Biblical description of its namesake, “an e-mail after the order of Melkizedek.”

Predictably, this little outburst is inspired by the receipt of such an e-mail. There is a particular reason the latest example has “fired me up” more than any others I’ve received in the last month but I confess that I’m also motivated by the need of something to write about and this seems like a worthy subject.

The latest e-mail is an appeal to American exceptionalism, I guess. It asks those reading it to look for ways to “buy American” this Christmas season. A number of very reasonable and admirable suggestions are made all built around the principal of buying things (or services) locally, thus helping people you know who live in your community. My heart warmed at the suggestion that I could help struggling local business persons by purchasing their products or services to give to people on my gift list.

Then I came to the following sentence: “You see, Christmas is no longer about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city. Christmas is now about caring about US.

Ah, that is what Christmas is about; “about caring about US.” And who is US? Well, obviously I’m supposed to notice the subtle juxtaposition of China and US, and think, “China and the U.S.”

Well, we must think about this a bit. What is Christmas about? I have a vague recollection that it is about a Savior born into the world to save US. But the “US” in the story I remember is not the United States of America. I recall that when that baby, born in Bethlehem, became a man he told Nicodemus that “God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only son so the WORLD could be saved through him.”

I don’t know if the originator of that Melkizedek e-mail that has me so stirred up, was a follower of the baby born in Bethlehem – born geographically closer to China than to the U.S. – but the person who passed it on was. It may make economic sense for U.S. citizens to buy all their goods from U.S. producers, although I’m not convinced that it always does. Many Americans earn their living trading with China or retailing goods produced in China. And many of the services provided locally depend upon foreign-made tools, vehicles, produce and manufactured products. Much of the cargo that American truckers haul is either coming from or going to China and other foreign ports. American farmers need foreign customers to whom they can sell their surplus commodities.

So an argument can be made that buying local, and thus inviting our foreign trade partners to retaliate by ceasing to buy our products, may hurt as many American’s income as it helps. But that does not address the important issue the e-mail unthinkingly raised. “What is Christmas about?” If Christmas is about US, then “US” is all the world, all of those whom God loved so much that he sent his Son to save them.

Whether or not to buy a product produced in a foreign country is a personal decision. I would be glad if those making that decision considered all the ramifications of their decision but I’m not sure that I always take the time to do that. However, it was with conscious consideration that the author of that e-mail decided to diminish the importance of Chinese people relative to Americans. And sadly – probably thoughtlessly – he/she drew the hasty and un-Christian conclusion that Christmas is about taking care of US, rather than being concerned about the WORLD.

The letter ended with an appeal for the reader to pass it on to everyone on their mailing list. I know that Melkizedek letters are hard to kill but I’d appeal to anyone receiving such a letter to let it die in their “Deleted” folder.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Are We Here For Anyhow?

Should Christians be the moral policemen of the world? A serious question these days, especially for Christians living in societies like the United States that allow their citizens considerable political influence over the moral character of the society – considerable influence but not exclusive influence, and probably never majority influence.

Christianity in the United States has a long history of political/moral activism beginning in colonial New England in the seventeenth century. In varying degrees, from place to place and era to era, that activism has persisted, right up to the present. The Church, or certain segments of the Church, has spoken out most forcefully on issues like abolition of slavery, prison and mental hospital reform, treatment of native Americans, prohibition of alcohol production and consumption, women’s suffrage, and, in our time, abortion, birth control, stem cell research, sex education in public schools, human cloning, homosexual rights, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, to name only the most prominent issues.

These issues have come to dominate the dialogue between a large part of the Evangelical Church and our society. In many churches and Christian para-church ministries advocacy on these issues has defined the organization. The church or organization is identified as Christian only with qualifiers: pro-life Christian, anti-gay-marriage Christian, Right Wing Christian, etc. Almost never are they cited for their affirmation of orthodox Christian belief, although most of them clearly subscribe, either formally or informally to the great creeds of the Christian church.

There are many places in the world – and many eras in the history of the Church, including the founding era of the first century – in which the kind of advocacy American Christians engage in today is (was) unheard of. That does not say, however, that advocacy in our democratic society is wrong. Only time (and perhaps eternity) will pass judgment on that. But the fact that the Church has functioned through most of its history under more restrictive conditions than it does today, gives us a reason to ask the question with which this essay began; should Christians be the moral policemen of the world?

Many of the issues that have engaged the American Church, past and present are not clearly addressed in Scripture; instead the Church’s position is inferred from a multitude of Biblical passages. Even in the single case of homosexuality, in which the Bible clearly condemns the practice, the New Testament passages used to support the Church’s opposition to that lifestyle are couched as a warning for Christians to forsake and avoid those behaviors, not a call for them to mount a campaign demanding their restriction or eradication from the general society.

Critics of the Church’s militant battle against homosexuality correctly point out that those Scriptures that clearly condemn a homosexual lifestyle equally condemn a number of other “immoralities” that the Church rather easily tolerates despite the fact that we are told that those practicing any of them “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” At the very least, if the Church wishes to be consistent, it should be campaigning as hard against lying, perjury, slander, drunkenness, adultery, and a long list of other sins that will disqualify one for citizenship in the Kingdom of God, as it does against gay marriage or other anti-homosexual practice.

My point is not – I emphasize NOT – that the church should compromise its stance on any moral issue for which it can make a reasonable Scripture-based argument. But neither should it allow its message to the world to be defined by its attempt to legislate its version of morality on any issue or set of issues. The Church has a far more important message that should define it to the world. That is the message that all have sinned – both gay and straight – and come short of the glory of God, and that God, in Jesus Christ, is redeeming sinful men through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Those living a homosexual lifestyle, along with those who are liars, swindlers, troublemakers, drunkards, adulterers, and more, are on a course that will exclude them from the Kingdom of God. They all need – we all need – the same message of salvation through faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. But if the Church is engaged as law-maker-for-the-world, or policeman of the world, it will have little time, or credibility, for the work it was put upon this earth to do.

I don’t believe we should make the New Testament church the template for the 21st Century Church. God is not stuck in that, or any other era, and neither should we be. But there are things we can learn from our 1st century brothers and sisters. One of the most important is that the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ is the raison d'ĂȘtre of the Church in the world.

To paraphrase Jesus’ words, “What will it profit the Church if it controls the whole world but brings no one to faith in me? Or, what would the Church give in exchange for its own soul?”

Friday, November 11, 2011

Moving Mountains and Bearing Fruit Out of Season

There is a mystifying story told of Jesus in which he and his disciples are on a morning journey to Jerusalem, coming from Bethany. When he saw a fig tree with leaves on it he investigated to see if it had any figs, because he was hungry. When he found none – not surprisingly, because it wasn’t the season for figs – he declared that no man would ever eat figs from that tree again. That evening, as he and his disciples were returning to Bethany, his disciples noticed that the tree had withered. When they asked him about it Jesus told them that if they had faith they could say to a mountain, “Be removed and cast into the sea,” and it would happen.

There are several puzzling aspects to the story. First, why did Jesus, who knew the nature of growing things, and often used that knowledge as a tool for teaching truth, expect to find fruit on the tree, out of season? Second, why did the tree deserve to be cursed for not having fruit at a time when, by nature, it should not have had any? Finally, why did Jesus use the tree as an object lesson of the power of faith to do the impossible rather than talk about the sin of fruitlessness?

Commentators of greater intelligence than I have tried to explain these mysteries. I am convinced that there is probably an explanation for each mystery that would satisfy modern western logic if we could only have access to a first century frame of reference. There may be things about fig trees we don’t understand; I’ve heard that some fig trees have residual fruit on them, or develop some late maturing fruit after the regular season of fruit bearing. Perhaps. It may be that the fig tree, and its fruitlessness, was immaterial (or incidental) to the lesson Jesus wanted to teach about the power of faith.

Dorothy Sayers, in The Mind of the Maker, offers a suggestion that is intriguing. She says:

The cursing of the fig tree looks like an outburst of irrational bad temper, “for it was not yet the time of figs”; till some desperate crisis confronts us with the challenge of that acted parable and we know that we must perform impossibilities or perish.

Sayers’ insight speaks to all three of the “mysteries” I’ve posed above.

Let us imagine ourselves to be the fig tree. Jesus comes to us “out of season” and seeks to find fruit on us. We are confronted with the need to supply what he would ask of us. A crisis! We are a mere fig tree trapped in our fig-tree-nature in a season of fruitlessness. Jesus is asking us to do the impossible. If we could speak, we would say, “Come back when I no longer am trapped in this season, and I’ll have fruit for you.” But he would say, “No, I expected fruit now. If I ask you for fruit it is because I know you are capable of providing it, even in this time and place. Because you cannot bear fruit for me when I ask for it, I know you will not bear fruit in the future.”

We protest, as we feel our life draining from us, “But Lord, how could I be expected to do what is against my nature? None of the other fig trees are bearing fruit in this season.” To which he would reply, “If you had faith as small as a mustard seed you would have said, ‘Let there be fruit,’ and it would have appeared.”

That may, or may not, be a correct interpretation of the meaning of the story. It certainly seems to be the case that Jesus’ expectation for the tree was disappointed. And his explanation to the disciples of why the tree was cursed seems to say that greater faith could have accomplished what he sought to have done that day.

If this is the meaning of the story it has sobering implications for all of us. We are all, in a sense, fig trees trying to bear fruit acceptable to God in a hostile – almost impossible – environment. We often long for that time, beyond this life, when fruit bearing will be the natural order of things for us. But could it be that, as re-born sons and daughters of God, we are now expected to bear fruit, even in impossible times and impossible situations? Jesus promise is that, if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, we can do those things that our nature tells us are impossible.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Authors Who Have Influenced Me

Occasionally I look at the list on the right side of this blog, of “Authors Who Have Influenced Me,” and think, “Perhaps I should say something about how they have influenced me.” After nearly ten months of blogging it is time to do that.

However, it isn’t an easy task. First, Some of the writers have contributed in multiple ways to my thinking. Others have influenced me in ways I can neither fully state nor honestly deny. Finally, what comes to mind today as an influence, may not rise to top status on another day. The greatest influences are often the hardest to define simply because they are covert, not attacking our senses frontally where they will arouse our proud resistance, but maneuvering from the flanks or the rear or, most subtly, as “moles” tunneled into the deep recesses of our consciousness, moving us in ways we only later realize were not of our own volition.

So it is with considerable hesitation that I offer the brief statements below, using my words, not theirs, indicating what I believe (today) is a (not “the”) significant influence these authors have brought to bear on my thinking.

  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – prisons, or systems of prisons, cannot hold the human spirit against its will.
  • Apostle Paul – the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation; worth living for and dying for; the totality of the Church’s message to the world.
  • C. S. Lewis – true faith is not a baseless hope; it is built on a solid foundation of reasonable evidence.
  • Dorothy Sayers – the Trinitarian nature of God defines the nature of His creation.
  • Flannery O'Connor – all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien – the simple actions of simple “Hobbits” can change the course of history.
  • Madeline L'Engle – there is no inherent reason we should ever cease to walk on water.
  • Mark Noll – faith does not require us to forsake honest inquiry.
  • Philip Yancey – you don’t have to have definitive answers to life’s tragedies before you learn to trust in God.
  • Robert Alter – the Old Testament is the world’s premiere anthology of ancient literature.
  • Simone Weil – when you have fled to the farthest edge of eternity; when your rebellion has driven you as far from Eden as a human lifetime will allow, you will find that God is there, dying on a cross for you.
  • Unknown Author of Genesis – God is not seeking perfect people to serve him. He will even settle for stumbling obedience. What He seeks is perfect faith.
Tomorrow I would undoubtedly make a different list, or revise the current one. But that is the richness of human intercourse, even when limited to the written page and spanning decades or centuries; its facets are almost infinite and the light they shed upon the path of those so engaged ever changes to meet the needs of their present day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Book I’d Like To Be

I think I’d like to be a book. Not a hardcover book, and certainly not a leather-bound collector’s edition. Just an ordinary paperback would do. The content . . . well, it isn’t all that important really, prose or poetry, serious or humor-filled, practical or theoretical.

The main thing is that I need to be readable, with clear bold type, good durable paper, wide margins, and accessible language, with a table of contents and, depending upon my content, perhaps an index; something one could carry with them to the doctor’s office, or the airport, or even the restroom. But more than anything I want my pages to speak the truth regardless of what my subject is. And as I age I want to be sold at garage sales for twenty-five cents or less, passed along from hand to hand, at little or no cost to the “buyer” until my leaves can no longer hold together.

Every book needs an author, a title, a cover. The book I’d want to be would have as its Author and publisher the One who spoke the worlds into being. The title? He would choose. And the cover would feature His likeness. It would of necessity be my story but written in such a way that it would be His story too. He would be free to feature my faults, my foibles, my failings, and any successes I enjoyed, but they would read in such a way that they would turn attention to Author rather than the subject. The story it would tell would be an old, old one, of a wanderer finding his way back home, of brokenness healed by forgiveness, of willfulness conquered by love.

The book that is me would be a limited edition circulated only to those whom the Author knows would profit by reading it. And when the last reader lays it aside, ragged and dog-eared, it will be put on a shelf with the millions of other books the Author has written.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Seeing The World

                 by Jim Rapp

It doesn't require a visa or passport
To see the world around you.
Today I've watched a sky full of clouds sport,
Filling the heavens from some westward port,
Whirling in forms ever new,
Spreading as though their darkness could thwart
The sunshine and cover the blue.
And well their rowdy cavort,
With the wind at their backs for support,
May give them a "victory" or two,
But the sun is coming with his glorious consorts;
Surrounded indeed by a cloud escort,
Riding the heavens in his chariot of blue.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fathers on the Mind

Several years ago a young friend asked me to help him convert some cassette recordings to CD format. They were recordings of songs his father had written. Each was sung by his father who accompanied himself on a guitar. The title he chose for the completed CD was “Songs My Father Taught Me.” It was a tribute to a father who died before the boy was old enough to know him well.

Today I’ve been reading Dreams of my Father, by Barack Obama, another man seeking to know more about a father who, for the most part, walked out of his life when he was too young to know him well, to reappear when Barack was 10 years old for about a month and then continued written communication off and on until his death when Barack was about twenty-two years old.

Reading Obama’s memoir and thinking about the earlier project for my young friend reminds me of the tremendous influence a father has in the life of his child. It must be significant that God has portrayed himself as Father and us as his children. Jesus’ first recorded words, at the age of twelve years old, speak of his relationship to his Father in heaven. “Didn’t you know that I would be in my father’s house?” he asked his parents. His last words from the cross were prayers to his heavenly Father; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Earthly, inter-human, relationships will all be flawed. Separations will come, some of them untimely, tragically marring memories of those left behind. But God the Father is faithful, promising that no one, nor anything, can separate us from the love of God. No one but we ourselves. God never walks away from us and, if we walk away from Him he is ever looking and longing for our return. No one ever needs to be fatherless.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Daylight SavingTime

In principle I’m in favor of daylight saving time. I’ve always thought it was a good idea and have supported its extension to cover more of the year. (At my age anything that saves a little time appeals to me, though I’ve not yet figured out what I’ll do with all my accumulated saved time.) It seems to me that daylight saving time makes even more sense in winter than in summer.

But I can’t say that I’ve ever mastered the concept fully. I do know the little trick that helps one remember in which direction to move the clock in spring and fall. “Spring forward, fall back.” But beyond that the effect on the relative amount of daylight evening or morning, or the gaining or losing of an hour’s sleep all escape my time/space deficient brain.

There is one nuisance associated with the change that I could do without; the resetting of all the clocks we own. Our multiple VCR/DVD players cry out to be set and that can only be done using the remote controls that came with them. Rounding up the remotes can be a challenge. And figuring out the way each machine’s “menu” works is no less daunting.

Our new van has two clocks to set. Of course the procedure for each is different and the manual describes yet a third method that works on neither of the two actually installed in the van. It is often a month or two before I’ve stumbled upon the correct buttons to push (and/or hold) to get the job done. The clock in Alice’s car has never been set even though the dealership we bought it from made an attempt to do so.

The kitchen is blessed with clocks, four digital and one analog, all requiring different sequences of actions to set them. (Why do most clocks require one to scroll through the entire 24 hour day when a reverse button would have made a simple task of the job?) We have an alarm clock in the bedroom as well as a clock on a heart monitor device that needs to report on my pacemaker weekly. Both of us have watches to set. Mine has both analog and digital features to deal with but the buttons that control the digital features have long since succumbed to corrosion from exposure to body moisture and cease to respond to being pressed. Thank God the computers are smart enough to reset themselves.

As I just intimated, I’ve recently become the proud owner of a pacemaker and it occurs to me that it must have a clock embedded in its chip somewhere so that it can tell the monitor it talks to each week when “events” occurred. I haven’t asked if I need to reset it each spring and fall. It would have been convenient if it had a little digital readout window with the numbers reversed and inverted so I could see them while looking in the mirror. I’ll have to check on that during my next visit to the Heart Failure Clinic.

But overall I’m not opposed to daylight saving time. I’m thankful for the extra hour of sleep I got last night . . . or must I wait until next spring for that? And I’ll be glad that it will be lighter each morning when I rise, unless, of course, it will be light longer in the evening in which case it will be darker in the morning . . . I think. It really doesn’t matter, I’ll be busy for several days resetting the clocks.

All I know is that it is good to be back on good old Central Daylight Time . . . or is that Central Standard Time?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Every Seed Bearing Plant . . . Will Be Yours For Food

I’m generally skeptical about the ability of human beings to truly change their basic nature once it has been set in early childhood. But there are specific examples of those who’ve accomplished 180 degree turns involving areas of basic character and conviction. We celebrate those whose turn was from wrong-headedness to a more sane and productive orientation.

I make no claim to special adaptability or enlightenment but I do want to say that, in some important areas of my life, I’ve made, if not 180 degree turns, at least significant reorientation. One of those areas involves my attitudes toward use of natural resources, particularly carbon resources – coal, petroleum, and natural gas; even biomass.

It is probably too great a theological stretch to claim that the Edenic proclamation that “every seed bearing plant . . . will be yours for food” encompasses the mining and pumping of carbonific deposits from the earth. The human author of those words was merely expressing his  belief that, originally, mankind – and all other animals – were intended to be vegetarian in their diet. But it is nonetheless true that the lion’s share (perhaps we should say “the human share”) of the carbonific deposits we use to fuel our world’s activities derives from the “seed-bearing plants” that lived and died eons ago, mixed in, of course, with billions of tons of animal carcasses whose existence depended, to a large degree, upon the consumption of “seed-bearing plants.”

My point, rather laboriously arrived at, is that the carbon based deposits in the earth can be viewed as “gifts” to us, intended to sustain our lives on earth. Even our use of the word “deposits” implies some conscious placement for some anticipated purpose. The theological conclusion might be that a caring Creator planned the existence of those things for the use of His creation; for the enjoyment of his creatures.

On those rare occasions when, as a child, we siblings were left to shift for ourselves because our parents were off on some errand during meal-time, our mother would often leave a note telling us what was available for us to eat and where to find it. I don’t recall specific admonitions regarding amounts allowable to each of us, or rules for how we should consume the food. And, surprisingly, I don’t recall any insistence upon cleaning up after our meal or restoring the area to its original order. But I have no doubt that there would have been consequences if we had not attended properly to those concerns. The food had been “deposited” for our benefit and there was no prohibition against its consumption as needed. But it was not to be wasted, nor was the kitchen and dining room to be devastated by our use of it.

That simply analogy illustrates mankind’s obligations to its world, its Creator, and its fellow creatures. It is as though God has left a note saying,

“There are leftovers in the frig, and cookies in the pantry. Help yourself but don’t overdo it. Think of the “other kids” and leave some for them. And be sure to leave the place in a good condition when you are done.”

Sadly, our world doesn’t work like a “Leave It To Beaver” household. So we need laws and lawmen to enforce the laws. But the principles underlying our laws should be rather similar to the notes Mom left on the refrigerator door. “Every seed-bearing plant can be food for you.”

It isn’t a dumb idea to find alternatives to the “seed-bearing deposits” buried in the earth. In fact I fervently support the development of those. But, until that day, we need to use our carbon-based resources in ways that show respect to the earth, our fellow creatures, and God, who “deposited” them there for us.