Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When is a Lie a Lie?

Politicfact.com, the fact checking organization most cited as reliable in ascertaining the truthfulness of politician’s statements, has a rating system that covers the spectrum of truth, designating those items it surveys as True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants On Fire.

Those categories are useful only because the accompanying articles spell out the details of the charges and statements made, and parses them with an eye to ferreting out the truth and error in them.

It might be analogous to sorting through bags of potatoes classifying them: All Good, Mostly Good, Half Good, Mostly Bad, All Bad, No Longer Resembles Potatoes. If one must have potatoes, and there are no bags ranked “All Good,” such a system of classification allows one to choose the level of rottenness they are willing to tolerate. But no one should fool themselves into believing any of the bags offered is “All Good.”

Likewise any statement by a politician that must be ranked anything but “True” is in fact “False”. To be fair, it should be pointed out that there are many reasons why a politician (or anyone else) would make an untrue statement. Sometimes they simply have a slip of the tongue. Or, they may have gotten poor information from advisors or other sources. Or they may be drawing a wrong conclusion from the facts as they perceive them. They may, in the heat of the battle, speak rashly and say things they would not say in a calmer moment. All of these sources of truth-shading are excusable as a price we pay for having fully human politicians.

But they are excusable only if politicians are quick to admit their errors, and willing to amend their statements to agree with the facts. If they deny that their statement is untrue, or refuse to amend it (or refuse to make amends for the damage it caused) that is inexcusable.

But by far the most sinister attack on the truth is the “planned lie;” the commercial or the repeated stump-speech line calculated to give mis-information parading as Truth. This little Blog outburst is being prompted by Politifact’s investigation of Governor Scott Walker’s ubiquitous TV ad declaring that he “eliminated a 3.6 billion deficit and did so without raising taxes.” The Politifact conclusion is that the statement is Half-true.

Which, of course, means it is half false as well. Further they conclude that the Governor can make his claim only because he used accounting procedures he criticized predecessors for using and pledged that he would not use himself.

Sorting the truth from the untruth is a bit complex and the perniciousness of such ads lies in the fact that most people won’t take the time, even with a resource like Politifact.com, to understand where the deception lies. Some want the ad to be true and therefore resist any attempt to correct the errors in it.

But whose responsibility is it to stand for truth in political advertising? I contend that the responsibility rests solely and squarely on the shoulders of the person or persons who create and benefit from the ad or who make the deceptive statement. In this case it would be Governor Walker himself. He knows that he is shading the truth, telling us that the bag has good potatoes in it but neglecting to say that it has an equal number of rotten ones; pretending that the bag he is selling us is “All Good” when in fact it is a mix of good and bad that is unworthy of any candidate who promotes himself as a morally upright person.

Governor Walker claims to be living by the principles taught him by his parents. That may be true. If so, I regret that he had such parents, and offer him my sympathies for having to endure such a benighted upbringing. But I suspect his parents – his father was a Baptist minister – upheld a standard of truth that the Governor has forsaken. He also is very proud of his achievement of Eagle Scout status. That honor, too, should beckon him back to a standard of full truthfulness even when it seems expedient to shade the facts for his political advantage.

But if the Governor – or other politicians in this coming season of half-truths – is unwilling to square with the citizens he represents, then those who know he is shading the truth (lying) need to speak out and make it known.

Monday, January 30, 2012

   Missing Gail’s Column
               A Haiku
               by Jim Rapp

Gail Collins is gone –
Book signings no doubt – a pol
strapped a-top her car.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

           The Inter-knit
       (A Modern Blessing)
              by Jim Rapp

They loved no less in an earlier day
whose love, expressed, suffered delay
of weeks, or months, or even years;
penned, and stamped, and sealed with tears.

But they loved no more, I'd say,
than the licit lovers of our day,
who, by phone, and swift Internet,
are quickly and digitally inter-knit.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

        A Question As Old As Government Itself
                                      by Jim Rapp

 In one year the President earns four hundred thousand –
times four, that comes to one point six mil.
In two terms, that’s three thousand, two hundred grand;
a prize worthy of brigands and pirates – but still,

as the millions in ads, add up to a billion,
you have to be asking yourself,
“Will the shadowy guys who are spending gazillions
be repaid in equally generous political pelf?”

Friday, January 27, 2012

       A Haiku for Kylie
              by Jim Rapp

Kylie came – conquered –
filling the room with laughter –
leaving it more bright.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

   A Haiku for Winter
           by Jim Rapp

warm days – little snow,
winter’s fan – despite the cold –
longs for blizzards bold

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

      An Ode To A Beautiful Wood
                       by Jim Rapp

Where I live a woodland path goes by
and I have often walked down it to spy
the wonders buried deep within the breast
of woods I guard the entrance to, lest
some rude soul should stumble in and desecrate
the beauty that I've found beyond her "gate";
someone who'd care not for her sacredness;
who does not know her blessedness.

I've learned to know her secret places,
all her shades and moods and faces;
I've seen her weep on stormy days
and heard her laugh when sunshine plays
upon her lap in piles and piles of golden leis.
I've heard her sing her songs in ways
that break the heart of all who hear;
of all who hold this woodland sister dear.

I never visit her but that my heart is filled
with longing to remain until all sound is stilled,
and I can hear the beat of her dear heart,
and feel a oneness with her, part for part.
I never leave but that I long, before I start to go,
to lay some token on her earthen floor to show –
or hang some words in space for wind to blow –
to tell her I have passed that way – so she will know.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So What’s A Poor, Meek Guy or Gal to Do?

I hate being “poor in spirit”; even more being “meek”. I was at a Bible Study just last night and chipped in my pious remarks on those subjects. When you are sitting around a circle with people who are poor in spirit and meek it seems like the thing to do – the way to be. But the next day, when you run into the brashness of the world we live in, it becomes obvious that such characteristics put you at a great disadvantage. Everyone else who has refused to sign the “poor in spirit/meekness pledge” is free to say and do whatever pleases them or works to their advantage, and there you stand, tongue-tied. I hate it! The only “earth” the meek inherit is the dirt. (Someone else said that – it isn’t original with me.)

We are in for a long spell of brashness over the next year (and probably beyond). Those seeking public office are seldom meek and poor in spirit. And those who will buy the television time to promote them – or destroy the reputation of their opponent – will not use truth when a lie will serve better. It will be tempting to join the brash because it will appear that they are winning. And they may actually win. So what is one who hopes to keep the “poor in spirit/meekness pledge” to do?

Three thousand years ago an ancient Hebrew faced the same dilemma and he wrote a powerful poem (Psalm) about it: Psalm 73. The version printed below is taken from John Peterson’s The Message. It offers no immediate hope that the arrogant and loud and brash will fail, but to the man and woman of faith it offers ultimate hope. Listen:

1-5 No doubt about it! God is good— good to good people, good to the good-hearted.
But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people at the top, envying the wicked who have it made, who have nothing to worry about, not a care in the whole wide world.

6-10 Pretentious with arrogance, they wear the latest fashions in violence, pampered and overfed, decked out in silk bows of silliness. They jeer, using words to kill; they bully their way with words. They're full of hot air, loudmouths disturbing the peace. People actually listen to them—can you believe it?  Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.

11-14 What's going on here? Is God out to lunch? Nobody's tending the store. The wicked get by with everything; they have it made, piling up riches. I've been stupid to play by the rules; what has it gotten me? A long run of bad luck, that's what— a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.

15-20 If I'd have given in and talked like this, I would have betrayed your dear children. Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache . . . until I entered the sanctuary of God. Then I saw the whole picture: the slippery road you've put them on, with a final crash in a ditch of delusions. In the blink of an eye, disaster! A blind curve in the dark, and—nightmare! We wake up and rub our eyes....Nothing. There's nothing to them. And there never was.

21-24 When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. I'm still in your presence, but you've taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me.

25-28 You're all I want in heaven! You're all I want on earth! When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful. Look! Those who left you are falling apart! Deserters, they'll never be heard from again. But I'm in the very presence of God— oh, how refreshing it is!

I've made Lord God my home. God, I'm telling the world what you do!

I still hate seeing the brash win out over the meek and poor in spirit. And it hurts even more when they do so with the assistance of those who claim to love and serve the One who taught his followers to be meek and poor in spirit. But I’m hanging on to the hope of that Psalm and to the hope expressed by Martin Luther King, Jr –  

“Carlyle was right: "No lie can live forever." . . .William Cullen Bryant was right: "Truth pressed to earth will rise again." . . . James Russell Lowell was right: "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future.” 

Join me in taking the “poor in spirit/meekness pledge.” I won’t keep it perfectly and you probably won’t either but just having it tucked in our pocket or purse will help us do better than those who believe the loud, the angry, the arrogant, and the brash will inherit the earth.

Monday, January 23, 2012

           The Gift of Time
                by Jim Rapp

We often say, “I’ll give you time –
an added hour.”
as though we could give time.

I gladly take a gift of time –
an unexpected treasure –
as though I could now make it mine.

But neither can one give to me,
Nor I receive, time in larger chunks
than the moment I now have.

So may I wisely use each moment,
wasting none upon that which
counts for nothing.

May I greet each dawning moment
as a treasure to be shared
with one – with those – I love.

Various are the ways
to share a moment;
In thought – in word – in deed.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Newt-ering of Righteousness

As I write this on Saturday evening, January 21, 2012, the early returns from South Carolina’s Republican primary election indicate that Newt Gingrich has won a victory over Mitt Romney and the other two contenders, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. As one who finds all four of the candidates unqualified I should probably refrain either from gloating over, or bemoaning, the result. But I think the behavior of those voters in South Carolina who self-identify as “Evangelical Christians” needs to be noted and questioned.

My long-time conviction is that a Christian (of any stripe) should be free to vote as they wish. That, thankfully, is the case in our land. But that does not mean that I consider the actions of all Christians in the voting booth to have equal moral standing. We are free, both under United States law, and under the Law of God to be wrong, and to act, based on wrong – even sinful – motivations. The exit polling from South Carolina is reported to be showing that Gingrich’s victory is powered, to a large degree, by Evangelical Christians, more than half of whom voted for him. That is their “right”, but they are wrong.

Evangelical Christians are singled out – and single themselves out – during elections because of their professed desire to elect men or women of higher moral character than that which they perceive to have been the case with past presidents or with the current president, Barack Obama. In the past that desire has prompted them to oppose Catholics (John Kennedy and John Kerry), and in this election, Mormons (Mitt Romney and John Huntsman), all of whom are assumed to be of lower moral character by default since they are not “born again Christians”. Interestingly, Evangelicals, this time around have thrown their weight behind two Catholic candidates, Rick Santorum, a life-time Catholic, and Newt Gingrich, a late-comer to the Catholic faith, joining the church only after his marriage to his third wife and long-time mistress, Calistra who is a life-time Catholic.

If you find these voters behaviors a bit incredible – or maybe repulsive – join me at vomitorium. I do not wish to imply that it is wrong in any way for an Evangelical Christian to support a person of another religion or even another branch of the Christian religion. I believe that there are good, moral people in all of the world’s major religions who would strive with all their might to serve all the people of this nation if they were elected its president.

(Evangelicals have long believed that the majority of their non-believing neighbors and fellow citizens are “good moral people”, but have insisted that being a “good moral person” falls short of being one redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The issue with Evangelicals has never been that non-believers couldn’t make good teachers, businesspersons, doctors, mechanics, politicians, but rather that they were not true followers of Christ.)

The thing that troubles me about the apparent result in the South Carolina election is that Evangelicals seem to have preferred a serial adulterer to any of the three other candidates, all of whom, as far as we know, have been faithful to one wife all their life. I know that Mr. Gingrich has “been to God” for forgiveness (and I believe that anyone who sincerely goes to God for forgiveness, receives it). But Mr. Gingrich’s conversion came too conveniently, just in time for this election, and his conversion to Catholicism conveniently allows him to continue his adulterous relationship with the woman who was his mistress while he was still married to his second wife, who had been his mistress while he was married to his first wife. (Pardon me. I need another trip to the vomitorium. Come along if you need to.)

The history of our country is littered with flawed men who served as President. Many of them were unfaithful to their spouses but it would be hard to name more than one or two others whose record of unfaithfulness was as despicable – to use a word Mr. Gingrich seems to like – as that of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

I can only conclude that those Evangelicals who voted for Mr. Gingrich have priorities other than moral uprightness when selecting their leaders. That is their privilege as Americans. Other things being nearly equal, it should not be their choice as followers of Christ.

In the end, next November, all Americans will be called upon to choose between two flawed men. (We have all sinned and fall short of what God intends us to be.) It may be that the most flawed man, in a moral sense, will make the best leader for our country at this time. But if that were the case, those voting for him, who call themselves Evangelical, should leave the voting booth in sack cloth and ashes, weeping for the awful choice they had to make.

I believe that there are other reasons besides his marital infidelity that disqualify Newt Gingrich for the Presidency, but for Evangelicals who profess to be lover’s and defenders of righteousness and followers of Jesus Christ, that infidelity alone should have caused them to turn to any of the other candidates, be they Mormon (Mitt Romney), Catholic (Rick Santorum), or Lutheran-turned-Baptist (Ron Paul).

Sadly, other priorities trumped righteousness in South Carolina today.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

        A Haiku for Newt
              by Jim Rapp

Do ethics matter?
Yes they do since we are one
being through and through.

Friday, January 20, 2012

      Defining A True Friendship
                   by Jim Rapp

A true friendship is one whose love
Sees friendship’s faults, but rises above,
Circling there with full intent
To pour down blessings without stint.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Who Is In Control of the Dials? You are.

We are in for some unpleasant times over the next six months. I got my first sample of it this morning, listening to the Joy Cardin show on WPR. The “Big Question” being debated this morning was whether Governor Walker and other Republicans being targeted for recall should be removed from office. Her guests, one representing the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, and the other the Republican Party, illustrated well what is wrong with political dialogue in the state and nation.

I would have to give the Republican Party representative more credit for civility only because the language he used was less demeaning than that of his counterpart and, while not perfect in this respect, he sometimes allowed his opponent to speak without interrupting him. (That may be creditable to the fact that he, unlike his Democratic opponent who was joining the conversation by phone, was sitting in the studio with the host of the show and thus perhaps found it harder to resist her appeals for the guests to allow each other to speak.) My biggest frustration with the Republican representative was his gross misrepresentations – probably not “lies” as his Democratic opponent wanted to call them but evasions, dodges, and diversions. He was especially adept at avoiding the direct questions from Joy Cardin or her call-in audience, simply reverting, time and again, to the “canned” responses we will suffer through during the wrenching months ahead.

The Democratic Party representative had to be an embarrassment to his mother if she was listening; unable to allow his opponent to finish a sentence without interruption, quick to label statements as “lies”, full of meaningless vituperation for the Governor, and even for his fellow guest, and not alert enough to pick up on errors of fact or inconsistencies in his opponent’s statements – insistent, in fact, upon being rude and depreciative rather than engaging in real dialogue. One can only hope that the Democrats find a candidate capable of debating and chewing gum at the same time. In other words, one who can listen to his opponent’s statements and arguments and tailor his responses to what has been asserted. (Listening to political debates is much like watching a loosing football team whose coach keeps reading the prescribed play book of the week even though every play he runs ends in disaster.)

I suppose Joy Cardin – and other talk show hosts – would find it impossible to fill their guest spots if they insisted that all guests be in the studio. There is no guarantee that such a practice would result in more civility but it might help a little. But there are two things they could do that would improve the quality of their programs. First, they could learn to run a show and chew gum at the same time. By that I mean, they could listen to the answers their guests are giving to their questions or the questions of their callers and prod them to answer the question rather than dodge issues by making pre-canned speeches. Second, since most of their guests are speaking via phones they could use the dials in front of them to enforce a “no interruption” rule by simply dialing down one guest while the other is speaking.

That last suggestion is a very powerful one. I know. I used it just this morning to “dial down” the entire show before it was ended. After becoming aware that I would hear nothing new if I continued to listen to the show, and realizing that I had heard nothing trustworthy or important to that point, I decided that enough was enough. We are in for some unpleasant times in the next six months, my friends. Keep your hands on the dials – or the “remote”.

Here is a baker’s dozen of characteristics I want to see in any public servant: Let’s insist that they be smart, sincere, sensitive, sensible, self-less, scrupulously honest, sympathetic, self-secure, short-winded, sober, soft-spoken, stable, steadfast. If they have those characteristics we can probably put up with a few human foibles.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Look Both Ways Before You Walk
                       by Jim Rapp

Some say
We should not be looking back,
But they,
Poor souls, must lack
The memories fey –
So numerous that I could near lose track –
Of days
I’ve spent basking, ah, without alack,
In the golden rays
The sun has cast upon my track.

Some say
That we should not project
Upon some future day
The objects
Of our dreams, for, they say,
We have no reason to suspect
Those days
And dreams will ever intersect.
But dreams, well dreamed, may
Mark the path our feet will trek.

And so I'll walk a while,
While looking back,
And then perhaps another mile
Along some future track.
I'll see, each way, some golden smiles,
And I will feel, upon my face and back,
The warmth of friendship’s blessings, mild,
And bring me home a gold-filled sack.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ignorance Is So Hard To Bear, So Read The Old Books

Who has not heard (or read) the following piece of wisdom:

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool; avoid him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student; teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep; wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man; follow him.
                                                                                Ancient Persian proverb

Have you ever wondered who is being talked about in those lines? Let see if we can sort that out.

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool; avoid him.

Perhaps this refers to seventy-five percent of those who write letters to the editor, or who presume to maintain blogs. (Oops!) It certainly describes ninety percent, or more, of radio and TV talk show hosts, special correspondents for network and cable “News”, and one hundred percent of those currently seeking the nomination for the Presidency on the Republican ticket. It is also an apt description of those who mindlessly pass on Internet slander without bothering to determine the validity of what they send on. And sadly it encompasses those who claim to speak for God without bothering to consult Him, either by reading the written record He has given us, or by attempting any form of personal communication with Him. And, lastly, it includes those who can weave a history of our nation, either without any reference to the voluminous records that refute their simplistic scenarios, or by cherry-picking those parts of the record that support the version they wish were true.

He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student; teach him.

Unfortunately this aphorism does not describe the majority of the students attending our educational institutions (K-12 through Graduate programs). Far too many come from environments that imbue them with a sense that they know, when in reality they are wallowing in moral and philosophical ignorance. Nor does it include a large portion of those put in our schools to teach them. As far as knowledge of the truth goes – we’re not talking, here, about repairing cars, but about creating a sane society – many of them could have skipped their education altogether. They know no more now than when they started. At least this assessment is true of the majority of people most of the time. But we hear talk of “teachable moments” and it is in those rare moments, when ignorant ignorance stands face to face with  undeniable reality, that we can hope to teach one who, perhaps for only a fleeting second, sees that he knows not. I know that is a bleak assessment of the potential salutary effects of education, but we may as well be honest with ourselves. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the percentage of our society that knows not and knows that it knows not but it is exceedingly small.

He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep; wake him.

There is a competing aphorism that states, “Let a sleeping dog lie.” Most people look fairly benign when they are sleeping but only a percentage of them are pleasant when awakened. How is one to know? How often has a sleeper wakened, seen the light, and started a crusade to flood the world with that “light”? And what percentage of the time has it been truly light? No, I favor allowing “dogs” to wake on their own, and even then we need to be wary until we know if they are house trained or feral.

He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man; follow him.

This aphorism, being fourth in the list of four, must be the one we are looking for, the pièce de résistance. It goes without saying that we should follow those who know and who know that they know. In fact that is easier said than done. It requires enough wisdom on our part to discern that he who claims to know (and know that he knows) does in reality know. Or, to put it another way, before I can follow him who knows and knows that he knows I must know, and know that I know, that he knows and knows that he knows. Yikes!

Well, so much for Persians and their proverbs. Perhaps they know – and know that they know – but I’m not sure.

I’m going to fall back on the much simpler advice of my old “friend” C. S. Lewis, who said, “Read the old books.” I presume he meant those old books that have remained available in print for scores, or scores of scores, of years. That doesn’t mean that all of the old books are worth reading but if someone cared enough to keep them in print they just might have been written by someone who knew, and knew that he knew.

And, of course, it doesn’t mean that there is no value in new books, but we may not know for sure about that until they are old.

Monday, January 16, 2012

January Thoughts of Dandelions

I saw the pretty girls, in their spring dresses at the church, one Sunday morning long ago. They were making huge bouquets of Dandelions. It makes one know that even such a pesky "weed" as that can fill a child's eye with beauty and inspire in them a wish to share that beauty with someone they love.

              Golden Blossoms
                  by Jim Rapp

I found a little golden flower
That claimed she was a weed;
Born to grace a field for one brief hour;
Born from humble peasant seed.

But I picked her blossom anyway
To show my mother love.
She said my gift had made her day;
That blooms like that are from above.

Dandelions, some have said,
Are blossoms, peasant-made.
But I will choose their goldenness ahead
Of other fronds that fill the glade.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

           Blessed Is He Who Mourns
                             by Jim Rapp

The thing you see behind his smile
Is not a sadness resident within his eyes,
But rather gravity that's waiting while
The time of mirth is passing by;

A gravity that bides and knows its time;
A golden heaviness that's heaven born.
With joy and mirth it coexists, and stands in line,
Awaiting patiently, the time to mourn.

For mourning is a Godly thing,
And brings us comfort in the end –
Forbids us not, to joy and sing,
But bids us, to the mourner, comfort lend;

To weep with those whose bitter tears
Are being "bottled" by our God;
To ache, and grieve, and share the fears
Of those who tremble under sin's harsh rod.

But when the mourning time has come;
When mirth is pushed aside,
When life is hard and sometimes wearisome;
Even then will joy abide.

There is both "weight" and "lightness" in his eyes;
I know – I've seen them both in him.
When one would seem to take control, the other then replies;
And balance is maintained in what he sees and does.

I love the gravity I see in him,
That weighs both joy and sadness,
And knows there is a work for each to do;
That each can bring him gladness.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

           The Power of A Single Smile
                               by Jim Rapp

A young friend spotted me today;
She knocked on the window of my van.
We waved but couldn't even say,
“Hello!” I had to drive away,
And she ran off another way,
Among the sea of cars, but as she went her way
She left a smile that even now can
Warm my heart; it helped to make my day.

Friday, January 13, 2012

             by Jim Rapp

Confused, is what I am,
So help me if you can.
If you could just elucidate,
With luck, I might relate.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

          On Blaming the Weather Man
                              by Jim Rapp

I see the weather man is wrong again,
Tempting me to emphasize his sin –
The way he's always missed the mark – and then
I think that my successes too are very thin;
It's rare indeed that I am wholly right, and when
I am, it is more a function of God's grace than
Anything I've done by my determined plan.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

          How Mad Are You, God?
                        by Jim Rapp
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.(Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV)

The prophet said six things You hate,
indeed seven turn Your stomach.

Haughty eyes
a proud gaze that holds
all “lesser souls” in low esteem;
declares those “left out in the cold”
to be the ones the gods have deemed
worthy only to be told
self-serving lies of vaunted schemes
the “great ones” mold.

A lying tongue
a tongue that serves
the Everlasting Lie;
that swerves
from left to right
and tells, with verve.
both day and night,
whatever outright serves
an evil cause – or even might,
an evil cause, sub serve.

Hands that shed innocent blood
hands need not wield the blade
nor clutch the trigger;
they need only lade
the laws, and make it bigger
crime to wear a shade
of skin not theirs – or speak a tongue that triggers
fear in them,  or make
a vow unto a god who figures
low to them, or take
a course of commerce that displeases
them – it justifies their hate;
makes it no crime to kill a worthless “nigger”.

A heart that devises wicked schemes –
it is the heart God speaks about;
out of wicked hearts all evil streams;
a product of, no doubt,
a mix of man’s and Satan’s schemes;
devised in Hell – concerned about
hellish human selfishness – their themes
invariable defend the strong redoubts
of rich and powerful, and screens
widows, orphans, and the strangers, out.

Feet that are quick to rush into evil
that thrill to stand in the halls of fame,
that blush not to walk in the ways of shame,
that itch to climb the ladders of success,
and run to claim the prize of selfishness;
that stand in line for a political “plum,”
and dutifully march to the oppressor’s drum;
that hound the stranger from their shore,
that callously grind the face of the poor,
that delight in the sound of lynch-mob’s roar
and dance in the light of martyr’s pyre.

A false witness who pours out lies –
claiming to know what never was,
to have seen what never happened,
to have heard words never spoken.
to have been party to imagined events;
inventing what needs to be said
to destroy the good name
of the living and dead;
derailing the good, enabling evils,
by pouring out lies
in service of men and of devils.

A person who stirs up conflict in the community
envy or jealousy, their common motive,
lies, slander, whispers, innuendo, their accepted method,
anonymity, their preferred mode,
power, the inevitable leitmotif.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Does Everything Have To Be So Serious?
                               by Jim Rapp

I want to write a silly poem;
it’s in my heart to do so,
but when I start, my thoughts, they roam,
and soon I feel my “silly” go.
I sometimes say a silly thing
to strangers in a store,
that sends them on, a-wondering
what I had come there for.

I saw the cart boy just today
walking out to do his chore,
rounding up the wayward strays
to steer them back into the store.

I wanted so to tease him just a little bit:
“Does your boss know that you’re out here,
and would he have a fit?”
Alas, I didn’t – I may have missed a chance to cheer,

or missed a chance to have him
judge me “just a little queer”.
Alas, the “humor-ops” are slim
and purchased very dear.

Monday, January 9, 2012

There Are Men - And Women - Like That

The world has lost a critic; Christopher Hitchens is dead.

I don’t know if Hitchens wanted to be loved but I loved him anyway, in a strange sort of way. I heard in his “voice” – or thought I heard at least – a cry for the world to be different than it is. I want that too. Hitchens may have discovered by now, that the God he dismissed as a figment of some men’s minds, does too.

Hitchens believed he knew the source of evil in the world. Its epicenter, he declared, was the heart of the world’s religions. Hypocrisy, deception, intolerance, brutality, repression, were cloaked in a false piety, he argued, while a scattering of “good works” were touted by religionists as evidence that religion was a positive good in the world.

He was not alone in those views; skeptics of lesser stature have pointed to a range of inconsistencies practiced by people of faith, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew. Comedians, philosophers, the literati, even theologians, find, in religion, a convenient target toward which they can aim their darts.

And of course they are right – all manner of evil is perpetrated by men and women professing faith, sanctioned and abetted by institutions of religion. It is enough to make a committed sinner blush. But sadly, those religious sinners don’t blush; they arrogantly pursue their repulsive ways.

But the fact that religious people sin – sin grievously – does not negate the truth of the religion they profess to revere. Truth of the sort that religions claim to have found will stand or fall before a judge greater than any earthly judge, atheistic, agnostic, or believing.

The sinfulness of religious folk – and non-religious too – in fact validates the truths most religions teach: the Christian religion holds, after all, that “There are none righteous; no, not one.” Indeed, all have sinned and come short of the glory God intended for mankind. The goal of all but the most perverse religions is to lead people out of sinfulness and into right(eous) living.

I don’t know the sins peculiar to a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew – or an atheist for that matter. I have to believe they look a lot like those to which Christians fall prey – sins attributable to willfulness.

Hitchens did not believe in the existence of God but he strongly believed in the existence of evil, and if his protestations were sincere, he wished it to be eradicated by the removal of its imagined source, hypocritical religion. His prescription was not that religions would reform their behavior but that they would simply “go out of business.” But that would not remove evil from the world; it would only remove one “front organization” of evil, leaving it to express itself openly and freely or to seek another “cover”, perhaps atheistic humanism, under which it could, and most certainly would, perpetrate crimes no less horrific than those he decried and blamed on religion.

Ironically, those who detest the hypocrisy of Christianity – or Islam, or Jainism, or any other religion – who argue that if there were a God, he would not allow the world to go on as it does – would not choose to live in the kind of world required to have no evil, a world in which God stepped in to stop every evil deed; a world in which their sins were nipped in the bud; a world without free will.

We all know hypocrites and find them hard to tolerate. I’ve know cynical, unbelieving pastors, grasping – even licentious – deacons, charlatan evangelists, opportunistic and bullying church leaders. I’ve know their counterparts – their near-exact replicas – in the non-religious sectors of the world as well.

There are men – and women – like that.

But there are men and women – both religious and not – who, most of the time, are sincere, honest, generous, and fair. And this is what the Christopher Hitchenses of the world cannot understand; those people, as much as – indeed, more than – the hypocrites, are representative of the religion or philosophy they hold; they are the ones by which its “truths” should be judged. They are the “salt of the earth”, the “lights of the world.” They are bastions of righteousness that allow our otherwise twisted world to function at some level of sanity and civility.

Hitchens wished to abolish Christianity – and all other religions. His critique of the effect of religion on the world was accurate, but incomplete. The evil of which he died – throat cancer –  could not be blamed on religion. But he died in another way, long before throat cancer took him away, when he chose to blame religion for the incivility of man to man, failing to see in his own behavior that non-religion could be just as intolerant, uncivil, and destructive as religion. The evil in mankind comes from a source deeper and more universal than any religion or philosophy. It is embedded in man’s nature and only a rebirth – the acquiring of a new nature – can cure what is wrong with him.

Hitchens was a great preacher – a prophet, one could say – crying out against the sins of religionists just as truthfully as any Old Testament prophet. I found myself often saying, “Amen!” as he “preached.” But his aim was too narrow, focused only on religious sinners. He should have included his own sin; his anger, his resentments, his intolerance, his antagonisms, his combativeness, within the scope of his critique.

We all have sinned and fail to achieve the glory God has in mind for us. There are men – and women – like that. God be merciful to us sinners, one and all.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

          How Long?
           by Jim Rapp

How long, O Lord,
have You been saving us?

Since Eden’s splendor
was effaced?
Since Your likeness
was defaced
and adam’s sons
began to trace
a trail of blood
in every place
their wayward
footsteps paced?

How long, O Lord,
have you been saving us?

Since the Spirit placed You
in the Virgin’s womb?
Since, in Bethlehem,
You came and found no room?
Since You walked in our
bedeviled sanatorium?
Since, our disease,
in death You’ve borne?
Since You rose
victorious from the tomb?
Since ascending
to Your Father’s home?

How long, O Lord,
have You been saving us?
Since before
the worlds were formed,
You saw –
You were forewarned –
that we would stand,
this day, forlorn,
helplessly and
hopelessly sin-torn;
in need of grace
to be re-born.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

           The News Crew Takes the Weekend Off
                                 by Jim Rapp

It is interesting how the urgency that attends
Weekdays dissipates on weekends.
My e-mail In-box, flooded five days running,
Hardly gets a note on Saturday or Sunday morning.
Those with points to make, or things to sell,
Must take the week-end off as well.
More amazing, MSNBC, and FOX, and NPR,
Hot all week with urgency, calmly close their doors.
Is the world less troubled on these weekend days?
Are fewer bombs exploding; fewer speeches made?
Or could it be that weekday “news” is somewhat hyped,
And weekends – sports obsessed – not so highly stereotyped?

Friday, January 6, 2012

        A Day For Truth-telling
                   by Jim Rapp

For the secret power of lawlessness
is already at work; but the one who
now holds it back will continue to do so
till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thess. 2:7 NIV)

He said, she said, they all said;
and yet none of them agree;
each accuses each to get ahead,
and truth is the casualty.

My friend is confused.
“Someone is lying,” he tells me.
Ah, my friend, bemused;
Doth anyone tell the truth to thee?

Recall the lie that started it all;
it was a political revolution –
an election: “Take, eat – nothing will befall,
and you will have a revelation.”

That lie, repeated in a thousand forms
and magnified ten thousand, thousand fold,
forms the basis of our moral norm;
ends justify the means to grasp and hold.

“But he who restrains will restrain
until he is taken away;”
Truth-tellers arise, with “Truth” your refrain –
Arise! Speak! This is our day!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Let’s See If We Can Figure This Out

The 2012 Iowa Caucuses are over now. Democrats and Republicans gathered in various places around the State last night to cast ballots for Presidential candidates. With no contest being waged on the Democratic side the media gave very little attention to those caucuses but it is probably safe to say that President Obama won handily. If the news reports are correct the Obama reelection team nonetheless spent a great deal of money setting up a caucus apparatus in preparation for the general election in the fall.

Apparently 122,000 Republicans gathered (out of approximately 700,000 registered Republicans in the state) and split their vote between Romney (24%), Santorum (24%), Ron Paul (22%) with the rest trailing far behind. Romney was declared the eight vote winner with Santorum coming in at second place.

Just to keep things easier to understand let us say that Romney received 30,000 votes or 4.3% of all registered Republicans in Iowa. That translates into 1.4 % of all registered Iowa voters, Democratic, Republican, and Independent. Since Iowa represents about 1% of the nation’s registered voters, we can say that those who voted for Romney represent about .014% of the US voting population. If they all clustered in one place they might be visible from a commercial jet flying overhead – if they all waved their hands.

More important than the actual outcome of the caucuses is the amount of money spent. No one really knows how much has been poured into the campaigns of the eight (now seven, since Herman Cain dropped out) candidates, out of their own funds and by special interest groups on their behalf. Estimates range upward from 10 million dollars. Mr. Romney and his allies are estimated to have spent at least 3.2 million dollars.  Using the 10 million dollar figure, that amounts to $82 per Republican caucus attendee. Mr. Romney’s 3.2 million dollars bought him 30,000 votes at a little over a hundred dollars per vote.  All of that to gain a chance to compete for a job that pays $400,000 per year? On a purely economic basis it seems a little like buying wooden nickels – what you get is unique but it cost you more to get it than it is worth.

Another interesting fact is that, other than the media attention that the caucuses generate, and the impetus they give (or deny) a candidate’s campaign, they amount to nothing. The vote does not elect anyone to any office or commit anyone to any particular action. The caucus-goers simply bundle up their left-over cookies, wash the coffee pots, and go home to wait for the spring thaw.

So why have the candidates invested all this energy and all these resources in an attempt to buy these “wooden nickels”? Why have special interest groups poured millions of dollars into these contests? Why has ever major media outlet – and even Donald Trump – tried to sponsor a debate in which the Iowa candidates would participate? And why have the pollsters spent thousands of dollars determining and re-determining who the “front-runner” was? A lucky Powerball winner will get a greater return on his or her buck than any candidate will realize out of the Iowa caucuses.

Or will they? The reason for this unseemly scramble for votes is not too hard to discern. Those emptying their pockets in favor of one candidate or another believe they are buying something other than “wooden nickels”; they are buying an opportunity to bring more into their coffers than they are pouring out. Put bluntly, they are “buying” future access to, and future favors from, those to whom they are donating millions of dollars.

Iowa’s spectacle will pale in the months to come as a flood of dollars wash across our nation (and perhaps around the globe) in an attempt to buy our government. And regardless of who the top bidder is, the influence of those dollars will outweigh any commitment the winners might have made to decency, sanity, and good government during the campaign. The Parties – owned by those who bought them – will demand lock-step loyalty from their members and we will have “politics as usual”.

And what is “politics as usual”? Wisconsin and the nation’s Capitol give us a picture of the two alternatives that “politics as usual” have to offer. If, as in Wisconsin, one party achieves “total victory”, controlling all branches of government, even if by barely squeaking out a majority, they take the opportunity to impose their most cherished “reforms” upon us, claiming to have a “mandate” to do so. Years-worth of consensus governance can be washed away in a few days, leaving citizens confused, angry, and disenfranchised. The voice of 49% of the citizens is negated by that of the victorious 51%.

On the other hand, if neither party achieves a clear governing majority, as is the case in the U.S. government, absolute stalemate occurs, with both sides unwilling to work with the other to achieve reasonable compromise, believing the day will come when they can achieve a majority great enough to allow them to shove their agenda down the throats of their opponents.

It is a pretty nasty (excuse the oxymoron) picture. What it proves is that our Democracy has failed, not because the demos (the people) are unwilling to compromise (or have their representatives do so) – the majority seem to favor more cooperation between the parties – but because the demagogues have sold the nation’s very soul (its republican-democratic institutions) to the highest bidders.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

        Light Lovers
          by Jim Rapp

when Sol will not shine
golden Luna is saddened
and takes it on herself
to make him shine again

so into gloomy clime,
where light once gladdened,
she lures Sol himself
to be her golden swain

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

                         If and But
       (A Meditation on the “Arab Spring”)
                        by Jim Rapp

If you buy a man his freedom
with your blood,
he will be free for a day;
but if he buys it with his own,
he will never be un-free again.

If American dollars could buy freedom,
let our dollars flow to Tahrir Square.
If American guns could achieve it,
let them fire without ceasing.
If American blood could grow
a crop of freedom, let it be sown
in every non-free land.

But Egyptian blood alone can buy
Egyptian freedom,
only Iraqi blood, Iraqi freedom,
only Syrian blood, Syrian freedom.
The tyranny of brother over brother,
brother over sister, will be broken
when brothers and sisters refuse
to be slaves to their brother.

Present horrors pay the price
of future freedom.
Tyrants rage and youthful blood is flowing.
History will redeem the blood of martyrs;
under the weight of their bloody tyranny,
tyrants will be crushed.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Unpardonable Sin
    (Weighed in the balance
     and found “won’t-ing”)
        by Jim Rapp

What is this
“Sin against the Holy Spirit”;
this sin, because of which,
a man or woman
will not – cannot –
receive forgiveness?

It comes down to this,
you will or you won’t.

If you will, you will be saved;
no power in heaven, or on earth,
can separate you from God’s love.

If you won’t, no power,
in heaven or on earth,
can save you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

     A Gift for The New Year
                by Jim Rapp

How will this new year be different
than all other years of our lives,
making it the “best year”
we’ve ever survived?
Who, and what,
will make it different,
and why?

We could lay it all on You, God.
Yes, You, the Maker of Years,
Determiner of Fates,
Creator of Causes and Effects.
You – anchored in eternity –
have the power to release . . .
the power to stay.

Our feeble hand barely clings to time –
indeed, fails to cling to it –
slipping and sliding from year to year.
We could blame it all on You,
forgetting the gift you’ve
given all your creatures – will.