Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Haiku for February 29
             by Jim Rapp

Leap year, leap day, both
clever ways in which to say,
“Ooops! We’re off one day.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

      Anti-Christs
         by Jim Rapp

 Arrogance declares,
“I AM your man, vote for me.”
Believe it not, friend;

He is sold for gold;
the highest bidder gets him.
You are not that rich!

When you hear him say,
“I AM this; I AM That,” run
for all you are worth;

A lightning bolt may
flash from heaven at his lie;
stay a safe distance.

Only one “I AM”
is worthy of your trust – and
His “I AMs” are true;

All other claimants
are no less than anti-Christ;
braggards, full of lust.

The great I AM comes,
meek and riding on an ass,
not braying loudly

As an elephant
or ass is wont to do – both
creatures “hatched in hell.”

Bow to none who boast,
“I AM,” but stand with all who
bow before I AM.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sheep Rustlers

This essay is about jobs, but you’ll have to read a little way into it before you are convinced of that.

I grew up hearing a lot about sheep stealing. No, I’m not the son of a shepherd. I grew up instead attending a small fundamentalist, Pentecostal church. Much emphasis should be put on the fact that it was small. (Perhaps most emphasis should be on the fact that those who shared Sundays – and other special events – with me made a lasting and mostly beneficial effect upon my life and my Christian faith.)

It was the smallness of our flock, I believe, that made the leaders of my church particularly sensitive to “sheep stealing”, otherwise more properly known as proselytizing, or enticing members of one church to switch and attend another. I don’t know how cognizant those who were incensed by the practice were of the fact that almost everyone in our church had come there from a church of another denomination. The number of actual non-Christians brought into the church was quite small. Even those who were previously “un-churched” before joining our little band often had roots in some Christian denomination that they had forsaken through neglect or an active pursuit of a life style incompatible with that particular church.

I suspect, though my empirical experience comes from being a part of a small church, the practice is just as onerous to leaders of large churches. No one likes to see the size of their group diminished, and no one enjoys having members leave because they have “seen the light” in another place.

Despite almost universal disapproval of sheep stealing it is nonetheless universally practiced, either actively, by those who entice members of other churches to move their allegiance to theirs, or passively, by making no effort to “return” sheep who have wandered into the fold of a more charismatic preacher, or more dynamic congregation, from other places. In “Free America” it is both unlikely and nearly impossible to tell a parishioner that they should/must attend a particular church or affiliate with a particular denomination. As a consequence we see mega-churches springing up in relatively rural areas as well as in centers of population. But surprisingly, statistics indicated that there has been no increase in the percentage of the population that identifies as Christian. Some studies show a decline in the actual numbers who regularly attend church and identify as Christian believers.

So what we have is a shifting of the Christian population from one set of churches to another – little or no increase in the number of people professing Christianity.

I assume the Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker is familiar with the phenomenon just described. He grew up in a Baptist pastor’s home and claims to have been imbued with his father’s values. Of course I don’t know if Governor Walker’s father was a proselyter or if he was one who deplored the practice, or both. It is possible to both deplore it and practice it.

But it is obvious that the Governor has adapted the practice to his quest for “new” jobs in Wisconsin’s economy. After campaigning on the boast that his austerity measures would make Wisconsin more attractive to business interests and thus bring 250,000 new jobs in the next four years, he has been anxious to show that his plan is working. Within the last six months he has announced the decision of two small manufacturing companies to move their operations to Wisconsin. In the first instance a company located in South Beloit, IL. announced it would move to a location  a few miles north in Beloit, WI. Just this week the governor is touting the decision of another company to move its operation from Willard, MI (in the northern peninsula) 25 miles south to Pestigo, Wisconsin.

So in the first instance, jobs are stolen from Illinois and brought to Wisconsin, with very likely little actual creation of jobs at all, just workers who previously drove from Wisconsin to Illinois trading places with workers driving now from Illinois to Wisconsin. And in the Michigan/Wisconsin example the same thing is likely occurring since the distance the plant moved was 23.3 miles.

This is not job creation – it is old-fashioned sheep stealing – and it does little if anything to improve the economy. The creation of real jobs requires an increase in consumption. That requires that people be employed. Yet this governor, and his fellow Republicans around the country have resisted temporary, government-led stimulus programs that would put money in the pockets of low and middle class people who desperately need it and who will spend it, thus creating a need for more workers and more factory capacity.

So, while employment in Wisconsin shrivels (six straight months of job loss in the state) the governor spends his time – and we have to assume, State resources – stealing sheep from neighboring states. I don’t know what his daddy would say about that but I’ve never believed it deserved the name of "economic growth" any more than sheep stealing represents "building the Kingdom of God."

We all need to get real!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

One Nation (Lying) Under God

The Supreme Court is hearing a case on lying. The issue is about “free speech.” Does one have the right to lie?

The particular case has arisen because of a law passed some years ago making it a Federal crime to claim a military award falsely. The idea behind the law was that claiming to have served with valor in the military and claiming to have been awarded a Medal of Honor diminishes the medal and the honor for all those who earned it through real service and true valor.

My guess is that the Court will strike down the law saying that the Constitution protects even lying speech. Perhaps that is a compromise we must make in order to protect what most of us consider valid speech. But such a decision will grate on the sensibilities of those who feel a strong bond with military veterans to say nothing of those who value truth in general.

We have reached the sad place in our culture where a lie is no big deal any longer. One goes to buy a used car expecting to have it misrepresented. We shrug at TV commercials that promise more than any reasonable person can believe will be fulfilled. Our politicians openly and flagrantly say one thing at one time and another on a different occasion. Their attack ads use half-truths and outright lies to destroy the character of their opponent. Their accomplishments are embellished to portray them as something they are not, nor ever have been. Governments – our own included – lie with impunity and then hide behind national  security to keep us from knowing they have lied. Legislatures work in secret, signing pledges not to reveal to those who elected them the true motives behind their legislation.

So what is the big deal about claiming to have served in some war and having been awarded the Medal of Honor? Can legislators condemn such practices with a straight face when  they daily seek to hide their special ear-marks and other perks by burying them in a bill that has nothing to do with the issue they are promoting? Can a Supreme Court that resists making its deliberations public really be appalled enough at such a petty lie that it would declare it punishable by law?

Like so many other “sins” in our society, we are now addicted to the lie – our system runs on it. We would bankrupt the nation if we demanded truthfulness and punished lies. It isn’t the way it should be, but it is the way it is. And that won’t change when the Supreme Court delivers its verdict that a lie is “protect speech” under the Constitution of the nation that prides itself in being “under God.” Indeed we are. . . far, far, under God.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

   The Dubious Joys of Aging
                 by Jim Rapp

Who said there is no joy in aging?
I bravely say that every year
I live, I’m still engaging
in some joys that I count dear.

Oh, the aches bring little joy,
and loading pills is quite a bother,
but that does not annoy
enough to make me wish for other.

Yes, doctors are another thing,
now that you make me think of it;
it seems I always have a string
of dates I have to try to fit

within that busy schedule
of the joys that I’m engaging in.
Ah, aging is the special jewel
all young folks hope to win.

Tell not that they do not know;
that joys of youth are fleeting;
that youthful joys are loathe to go
into the days of aging.

The joys of aging are a special breed;
part hope, part grit, part memory.
They ride upon a swift old steed,
flying past, almost devoid of sensory.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Biases: Christian Ethics Today, An Aid In Examining Them

The most recent issue of Christian Ethics Today arrived in the mail on Saturday and I’ve been enjoying its articles. The Journal describes itself in the following manner:

Christian Ethics Today was born in the mind and heart of Foy Valentine in 1995, as an integral part of his dream for a Center for Christian Ethics. In his words, the purpose of the Journal was “to inform, inspire, and unify a lively company of individuals and organizations interested in working for personal morality and public righteousness.”

When the Center was transferred to Baylor University in June 2000, the disbanding Board voted to continue the publication of Christian Ethics Today, appointing a new editor and a new Board. The Journal will continue to be published four times annually.

CET is sent without charge to anyone requesting it “as money and energy permit” but, of course money is the biggest issue. Where there is money, energy can be purchased. CET is a rare Christian voice that can barely be heard in the mix of well-financed Conservative Christian and non-Christian media, Internet, Television, and radio outlets.

The List of “Purposes” given by CET illustrates the point of view one will find in its pages:

·         Maintain an independent prophetic voice for Christian and social ethics
·         Interpret and apply Christian experience, biblical truth, theological insights, historical understanding, and current research to contemporary moral issues
·         Support Christian ecumenism by seeking contributors and readers from various denominations and churches
·         Work from the deep, broad center of the Christian Church
·         Address readers at the personal and emotional as well as the intellectual level by including in the Journal narratives, poetry, and cartoons as well as essays
·         Strengthen and support the cause of Christian Ethics. 

Reading this and previous issues of the Journal has made me aware of how weak the voice of moderation is in our present culture. Both Left and Right have powerful economic and political partners who fuel (with cash) their ability to get a message out. More centrist liberals and conservatives struggle to be heard. The Republican Party has all but banished is moderate voices; the Democratic Party tolerates those voices within their ranks but often goes on with an agenda that seems to take them for granted while catering to more strident voices. 

All of us have biases. The important thing is to recognize – or, as they say “own” – them and allow them to motivate us to search for greater truth and clarity in those areas where our biases are most dominant (or dangerous). 

CET is not a neutral voice, perhaps not even an unbiased voice, but it offers perspectives not often being heard in the Christian community because of the cacophony of political, moral, and ethical debate that dominates our print media, Internet culture, and airwaves. 

Partisans on either side of the political divide will not likely be pleased with much of what they find in a journal like CET. And even those with minds more ready to receive new ideas will find themselves squirming at times, even rejecting the perspectives presented. It is a sad fact that the extremes in political ideology have moved so far to the right and left that those in the center are demonized by both ends of the spectrum; accused by the right of being socialist, by the left of fascism. Nonetheless, CET is a voice, somewhere in that vast middle, that must not be allowed to go silent in this critical time in our history.
Christians are not responsible for this world; at least no more responsible than non-Christians. We are responsible for how we live within it and what we do with our own opportunities to make it a better place for human beings to live. We fulfill our responsibilities first by purging our minds, as best we can with the help of God, of bias and selfishness. CET provides some assistance to those interested in accomplishing that. Check it out. Their website is: http://www.christianethicstoday.com

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Governor’s News Letter

The Governor’s e-newsletter arrived today. I’m not sure if they are intended to be weekly missiles, or if they’ll continue after the recall election if he retains his office, but it is something to look forward to regularly now.

The most interesting feature of each letter occurs at the end when he answers a question submitted by one of the recipients of his e-news letter. Here is the exchange from the most recent letter:

Just Ask the Governor: Part V

Each e-update I will answer a question submitted by a recipient of the previous e-update or from someone who contacts my office directly. 

Question: Why did you choose to greet President Obama?

Answer: This week President Obama visited Wisconsin for the first time in about a year. The White House reached out to my office earlier this week and invited me to welcome the President to Wisconsin. 

I have the utmost respect for the Office of the President of the United States. 

I’ve used these opportunities to greet the President to share a few small pieces of Wisconsin sports with him. The last time President Obama came to Wisconsin I gave him a Packers jersey, this time I gave him his own Brewers jersey that had “Obama 1” printed on it.

I was also pleased that the President highlighted two companies we worked with during the past year to create jobs in Wisconsin.  I worked closely with the City of Wausau to bring Collaborative Consulting to our state.  The President also mentioned Diamond Precision Products, another company our administration worked with to help them grow in our state.

Four things popped out at me immediately upon reading the Q&A:

1.     The governor was careful to point out that he went because he was requested to do so by the White House. He has “the utmost respect for the Office of the President of the United States.” I wonder if he would have required an invitation if the President in question had been one more to his liking.

2.     The governor was careful not to say that he had any respect for the person presently holding the Office of the President of the United States. In fact there was no indication at all that he does.

3.     The governor indicated that he “uses these opportunities” to give the President some small items commemorating the Wisconsin sports scene. No attempt made to connect with the President to exchange ideas or coordinate efforts for the mutual benefit of the nation and state.

4.     The governor was eager to point out that he, too, had been involved with two of the companies the President cited in his remarks at the Master Lock Company. He fails to even mention the name of the union shop company whose recent return of jobs to the U.S. plant was the reason for President Obama’s visit.

Sadly, the Governor’s performance highlights the extent to which partisan politics has eaten the heart out of our civil life. Politicians grudgingly grant the meagerest of attention to those of the other party and attempt to turn every event into an opportunity to “score points” for the next election. (The officially stated purpose of Mr. Walker’s party - to assure that President Obama is a one-term President - makes it very uncomfortable for the governor to even be seen with him.)

I would have been so glad to have seen those two men engage, even for a very few minutes, in genuine and serious dialogue on some matter that matters, rather than simply meet for a quick handshake and handoff of sportswear. And even more, it would have warmed my heart to hear them both find some sincere compliment that they could pay to each other.

Instead, the one honored, with his words, “The office of the President of the United States,” while the other honored, by an invitation, “The Governor of the State of Wisconsin.” As though neither of them had a name. What a waste of words and paper.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Taking a Break From Winter

    A Poor Soil’s Gold
           (a haiku)
          by Jim Rapp

Dandelions cling
to life in sandy soil; their
gold, its only wealth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

      Luna, It’s Time We Talked

Luna, I wish I could talk to you.
How many languages do you know?
Each month you hover over – listen to –
Six billion joys or sorrows where you go.

And even more, for you must surely know
the coo or cry a hundred billion sentient creatures make
while burrowing beneath your moonlit scenes of snow
or basking under balmy warmth provided for their sakes.

Do you and Sol discuss our world?
He sees one side of us while you,
Borrowing his light, slowly twirl,
Lighting and surveying every view.

You’ve been earth’s chaperone since long
before a human eye looked heavenward
or human mind devised a song
to sing in praise of golden light outpoured.

You saw an earth our Maker said was good,
and, through millennia, you’ve watched
its goodnesses attacked as man stood,
triumphal over every hill and fruitful swatch.

You know the arguments we cycle through;
some assuming you and Sol are pleased
by progressive things you see us humans do;
some assured you see an earth, abused, diseased.

It would be nice to know what you two know.
But you may be as ignorant as we –
as “in the dark” as we – despite the show
of knowing brightness that each day and night we see.

Still, I’d like to talk to you, my Luna-friend.
Old Sol is far too hot – too hard to comprehend.
But you might find a way to set my heart at ease;
just tell me; what’s the plan to cure our earth’s disease.

Monday, February 13, 2012

On The Light Side

We are so used to “laugh tracks” that we hardly recognize real humor when it presents itself to our senses unaided and unsuggested. And, indeed, humor is conveyed to us through all our senses. When is the last time you were truly tickled? Or when was the last time a friend fooled you with a taste, an odor, or an optical illusion?

C.S. Lewis expressed the opinion that joy would be the serious business of heaven. If you don’t like a party, don’t plan on going there; it will be joy forevermore.

I am convinced that many of the stories told in the Bible elicited much laughter as they were repeated. The telling of the escapade of the seven sons of Sceva who attempted to drive out demons from a man saying, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches,” undoubtedly ended in laughter when the story teller concluded with the words of the demons – “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” – and told of the men running away from their encounter, naked and wounded.

Christians are serious people; they see the world as it really is and grieve over much of what they see. But we must also be bearers of the joy we’ve found in our relationship with God.  Like the angels at that first enunciation, we must continually say to our world, “I bring you great joy which shall be to all people.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Big Black Spider

 This is about a big black spider and I’ll get to that in a little while but allow me to ramble a bit first.

My chronic health situation (heart failure) requires me to observe certain routines every day. Others with similar situations will understand. My routine, morning and evening includes taking and recording my blood pressure. The instructions that came with the device I use to measure my pressure instructs that I need to be quiet for fifteen minutes prior to beginning the series of three readings from which it calculates an average. Since I’m supposed to be virtually immobile during that fifteen minutes I don’t even “stress myself” by holding a book and turning its pages. Instead, I think.

This morning I was thinking about the statement that the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, made while speaking to the “red meat” convention held this week in Washington D.C., called CPAC. It is an annual affair that seems to occur more often than that, at which speakers vie with one another to say the most outlandish thing they can imagine about “liberals”, and at which candidates for public office – presidential candidates this year – try to convince the crowd that they are more conservative than any of their competitors and, if elected, would, on their first day in office, dismantle all the liberal programs put in place since Herbert Hoover. McConnell, in his speech, accused the Democrats of coercing agreement to their policies by turning their “liberal thugs” loose on those who oppose them. Most commentators assume he was speaking about Senator Charles E. Shumer and others.

Of course Sen. McConnell is entitled to think of liberals in that way. It would be surprising if there were not some thugs who wear the “Liberal” tag, although most of the thugs I’ve known are very closed minded and self-centered: not at all liberal. He would need to explain that a bit to make it convincing to me.

I want to believe that those who think differently than I do are honest people with good intentions who just need a little more light to make them see clearly. I want them to think the same of me. Then we can spend our time trying to enlighten each other. But when people make incendiary remarks like Sen. McConnell’s – and his was not the only, perhaps not the most egregious, one made at the CPAC meeting – I have a hard time thinking of them as “honest people with good intentions who just need a little more light to make them see clearly.” I’m tempted to think that they, themselves, are “thuggish”; having run out of logic, they turn to invective.

Those were my thoughts as I waited for my heart rate to slow and blood pressure to stabilize so I could measure it for the morning. But in the midst of that reverie I spotted a large black spider sitting on the carpet a few feet from me. He/she was of the black hairy type, about 5/8ths to 3/4s of an inch in diameter, sitting very quietly, twitching ever so slightly as he/she waited for a victim to pounce upon.

I knew what I had to do; I must first of all, remain calm until I got my blood pressure taken. Then I would need to get a couple of Kleenexes and quickly grab the spider, squashing it before its long and poisonous fangs injected me with lethal poison. All the while, as I waited for the torturously slow blood pressure monitor to work through its three cycles – each separated by a minute of “rest” – I worried that the spider would escape behind some things in the corner. I scolded myself for not removing them days ago. I would not feel secure knowing that he/she was still on the prowl.

Finally the blood pressure monitor stopped – Sys=98, Dia=67, HR=58 – not bad for a man under that much stress from watching that devil-spider. I disengaged myself from the monitor and cuff and gathered my weapons. I slowly approached the spider so my movement wouldn’t alert him/her and spoil my attack. My hands were inches from that venomous thug when I noticed that it wasn’t a spider at all. Instead it was the crumpled foil wrapper from a Hershey’s Kiss that I had thrown at the waste basket last night but missed.

As I discarded the “big black spider” – that venomous thug, bent on injecting me with its paralyzing drug, and then slowly sucking the life-fluids from my body – I thought of Senator McConnell and his fear of liberal thugs. Is it possible he might fear them less if he would take the time to get a little closer to them? But then again, some people are just as blind at close range.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mission Accomplished

A year ago, when I started The Cottage on the Moor blog I made a commitment to myself that I would attempt to post something new every day for one year. I’ve exceeded that goal a little bit and I may continue posting something nearly every day. But I’m going to allow myself to be silent on those days when I’m struggling too hard to find something to say, or those days when my aging body and brain are crying for some rest.

So if you look, and don’t find anything new for a particular day, don’t write me off as dead. Just check back later that day or the next day. Of course you can feel free to browse through the archives too.

I would not have met my goal without my poetry, both items from the past and new pieces from time to time. And the inspiration to try some Haiku has provided me with a quick way to express an idea that I didn’t have time to develop fully. It, and other brief forms of poetry, are wonderful ways for one to force oneself to condense thoughts that otherwise tend to wander, graze, and become bloated.

The blog has given me the occasion to share parts of my life that I had never committed to writing before. I hope those will be of interest to my children and, of course, others too. It is my hope that I’ll be able to expand upon that aspect of my writing.

Another area of passion with me is, of course, my faith walk. As an Evangelical Christian (though one that is constantly embarrassed by others who claim the title) theology and Bible study have always been important to me. I hope the attempts to elucidate various Bible passages and stories have been helpful to those who’ve read them. Writing them has been helpful to me. I’ll plan to continue along that line too. Mostly I’m hopeful that my work in these areas is an honor to, and a faithful representation of my Jesus Christ whom I serve.

Anyone who is regular reader of my blog knows that I am a follower of the political scene. I doubt that I would be so much involved were it not for the fact that a large part of the Evangelical Church has become attached at the hip to conservative politics; more specifically, to the Republican Party. I am aware that I harp on the sins of Republicans and their Evangelical hip-mates more than I do the Democrats. But much of that is due to the attempt on the part of those people to claim a corner on righteousness and demonize those to their left, as Senator Mitch McConnell did today at the CPAC meeting in Washington, calling the Democrats in Congress “liberal thugs.” As long as those who claim to be my brothers and sisters in faith continue to speak with that kind of vituperation, I’ll be pointing it out, declaring it unChrist-like, and condemning it.

Finally, in all of my writing I find myself working often in a “prophetic” mode. Not the kind of prophecy that peers into the future and predicts calamity but the kind of prophet – the kind most prevalent in the pages of Scripture – who peers into the present behaviors of mankind (and the Church in particular) and attempts to speak for God regarding them. I am not alone. There are many fine “prophetic” voices in our society and not all of them are coming from a Christian tradition. But to the extent that they decry inequity and call for repentance they are in the tradition of prophets that I would be glad to be associated with. Count on that theme continuing.

So, it has been a year of pleasure most of the time. There are many times, however, when I’ve dreaded to post a piece for fear that I was wrong on the facts, muddled in my logic, motivated by self-interest, or that I would appear unfairly partisan. I guess I’ll take my chances and hope that any who think I’m out of line will challenge me. I don’t enter into dialogue within the blog, but I welcome comments, and will post all that are respectful of the people and ideas they speak to. I also, often respond directly to the person commenting.

This is not “good-bye” but there may be a day or so, now and then, when you’ll not find the coffee as fresh as you are used to finding it. Sorry, but as I get older, the “price” of coffee keeps going up.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Known by the company they keep

I used to think that Super Pacs, with their unlimited resources provided by anonymous donors, spewing out tens of millions of dollars worth of lying ads were unconstitutional. But I was wrong. The Supreme Court (the five Conservative members of the Court, at any rate), in the Citizens United case ruled that corporations, unions, and other aggregates of people have “personhood,” and thus their rights of free speech are protected under the Constitution of the United States; that they cannot be restricted in their ability to collect or spend money advocating for or opposing any policy or person. (Interestingly, I am restricted to a donation of no more than $2500 per year to a candidate of my choice. Even if I had that kind of money to give, my “voice” is choked down to that level unless I want to channel it through a Super Pac over which I have little or no control.)

In a dissenting opinion Justice Stevens, an appointee to the court in 1972 by the Republican President, Gerald Ford, wrote, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation." Stevens went on to write, "It will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process." We are finding out a little about that in Wisconsin as we suffer through multiple ads each evening paid for by the Koch Brother’s Super Pac.

But Justice Stevens was speaking for the minority. It is the majority that decides Constitutionality. So I was obviously wrong in what I “used to think.”

I had hoped that such corrosive organizations were – or would be made – illegal. I once heard that our current President had, when he was a U.S. Senator, proposed a law banning such organizations and their practices. But again I was wrong. Other Senators – wannabee beneficiaries of the Pacs – had refused – and still refuse – to support such restrictions.

I had believed that the practices of these Pacs were immoral at worst, tawdry at their best, but I saw the major candidates in the recent primary and caucus contests – all men touting their strong Evangelical (well, Mormon-Evangelical in one case) convictions – embracing their Super Pacs, and their Evangelical supporters flocking to their sides with no visible discomfort or detectable sense of shame. (I guess Iowa hog farmers, South Carolina chicken farmers, and Florida gator hunters are used to mucking around in hip boots.) I read of the leaders of major Evangelical/Political organizations convening to debate the advisability of supporting a non-Christian, but I heard not of word of condemnation of the unChristian tone of the Pacs’ lying ads. I must be wrong again. A hundred and fifty Evangelical/Tea Party ministers can’t be wrong.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. We know now that Corporations, Unions, and large aggregations of individuals, are persons. Therefore we can judge the quality of these Super Pacs – these persons – by the company they keep: Supreme Court majorities, Senate majorities, and Evangelical majorities.

With company like that surrounding and endorsing them I fully expect to see these persons in Heaven some day. They will join the angelic choir singing en masse, “Our kingdom come, our will be done, in Heaven as it was on earth.”

Weep for the Evangelical Church. It is selling its soul to the kingdom of this world for a paltry two hundred million dollars, the modern spiritual equivalent of thirty pieces of silver. What will a church give in exchange for its soul?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Flip by any Other Name

So, Is a “Flip” a “Flop”?

Politicians – and those who pay attention to them – are quick to accuse opponents of “flipping” or “flip-flopping” (a much messier thing that mere “flipping”) when they change their position on a issue.

“Flip” and “flop” are not nice sounding names so it is easy to demonize them. Likewise it is fashionable to demonize those accused of being “flippers”, “floppers”, and “flip-floppers”. Consequently, the usual reaction of a politician accused of such awful behavior is to deny that it occurred. Well, first one may simply “flip” quietly, in the privacy of their own psyche, and hope that no one has noticed. But inevitably someone will have noticed and then it is considered best to simply say that no “flip” has occurred, that the previous position was not clearly understood by opponents.

For me the issue isn’t whether a person has changed their opinion but why they changed it and whether they openly own up to the change, rather than attempting to deny having done so or pretend that the change is not a change at all. The one thing that can be said of the Obama team is that they openly announced their most recent “flip” and gave their rationale for it. We can take it or leave it, but at least they are not insulting our intelligence by claiming they have made no change.

There are many issues upon which I have “flipped” over the years; some on which I am currently “flopping”, not knowing what my ultimate position will be. Such behaviors can either show strength of character, when one is forsaking a wrong-headed position for a more sensible one, or it can show weakness if one changes merely to gain some unfair advantage or please some crowd. Of course the rightness or wrongness of such “flip-flopping” is often in the eye of the beholder.

The reason I’m “flipping” these things in my mind is because the President’s re-election team has “flipped” their position regarding the use of Super Pacs in elections. (See yesterday’s blog.)

The change doesn’t portend much good for the electorate in the coming year. One can hope that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Super Pacs will give honest employment to a large number of people. If my calculations are correct the $200,000,000 the Democrats and Republicans are expected to spend this year would give nearly 2,700 people a year’s employment at an annual salary of $75,000 each. (Alternately – and more in line with our current wage structure – it could provide one CEO a salary of $100,000,000 (with options in the event that the side he is working for wins) and 6,200 other people a minimum wage job for a year.)

But, alas, the production of Super Pac ads rarely qualifies as “honest employment.”

I want to say to the President, and the others who benefit from all that spending, “A plague on all your houses.” And yet, I don’t want the person who becomes our next president to have a “plague” upon his house. I live in that house too.

My ideal President is a person who “flips”, and sometimes even “flops” for a while – deciding whether to “flip”, or not – but does so on important issues, based on solid information, because to not “flip” would be to continue down a path that is detrimental to the wellbeing of our nation. He or she would quickly and honestly own the change in course and explain it to the rest of us.

In my memory I cannot think of many (any?) politicians or Presidents who have had the courage and moral integrity to do that. Instead they tell us that their recent “flip” was not a “flip” at all, and hope that we are dumb enough, or loyal enough, or corrupt enough to believe and defend them.

So, to answer my original question: a “flip” is not a “flop” if it is an honest acknowledgement that the pre-flip position was wrong or unproductive, and that the post-flip position is defensible on both practical and moral/ethical grounds. But it is still a “flip”. Don't try to hide it.

To quote a very wise old man I once knew, “A “flip” by any other name is a “flop.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This Forces Me To Look Deep Inside

The President has been laying low for some time, allowing the Republican candidates to have the stage. For that reason I’ve spent a number of my blogs on critiques of those candidates and the positions they have taken. I haven’t been terribly kind to them because I think they have not been very consistent or logical in their attacks on each other or in the proposals they have offered.

But today the President jumped into the fray with both feet reversing his long-held position in opposition to Super Pacs with their massive fund-raising capabilities. His opposition dates back to his days in the Senate when he was unable to get a bill passed that would have limited the influence of such groups and required that they reveal the sources of their income.

After the Supreme Court declared the Super Pacs to be citizens with full rights to express themselves through unlimited giving, the President harshly criticized that decision and predicted a situation pretty much like the one we are now in. Witness the vicious Pac attacks made by Romney’s and Gingrich’s Pacs, in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida.

So, after consistent and persistent criticism of the Pac system, the President’s campaign announced today that they would endorse a Pac of their own to begin raising funds to combat those of the other side. Immediately the Media and other critics called that decision a “flip-flop” and unprincipled. My purpose in this blog is to try to analyze those criticisms.

First it is obvious that the new Obama position is inconsistent with his stated position on campaign financing. Secondly, it runs counter to principles he has espoused of clean and open campaigns. It is unknown how the Pac supporting him will operate but at least, depending upon how his Pac is operated, it has the potential of violating his long-stated principles of clean campaigning.

So the President’s dilemma is: When you have tried to change the rules under which all parties must play in a way that you believe would improve the process of electing our leaders, but have been unable to get cooperation in doing so, should you play by the rules you would like to have in place, even though that would put you at an enormous disadvantage, or do you yield and play by the rules the others are playing by. I guess it depends upon whether you want to have a chance to win or if you just want to make a point. I believe the President wants to be a serious contender for a second term.

It is important to note that, though I find the Pac system very flawed and repulsive, no less authority than the United States Supreme Court has said that it is legal and, I presume, not immoral. Therefore anyone who chooses to go that route has the blessing of the highest Court in the land. Justices Thomas, Roberts, and the other three who supported the Citizens decision should be standing on the steps of the Supreme Court applauding the President for coming around to their position.

If those now criticizing the President for changing his position believe it would be wrong for him to endorse a Super Pac which assists Democrats, they should be equally incensed that the Republican Candidates are doing so. If they believe that such Pacs are “fair game,” and good for their side, they should not object to the President’s team using them.

I believe it was a sad day when the Senate passed up the opportunity to adopt Senator Obama’s campaign reform law. It was an even sadder day when the Supreme Court opened the doors to unlimited campaign financing under the claim of “free speech.”

It is also sad that the President, or anyone else who wishes to have any chance against candidates like Romney or Gingrich, both of whom have shown that they will spend as much as they can get their hands on, and run ads as vicious as any ever seen in U.S. politics, must play by rules he wishes could have been different.

But the President’s decision to change course is not illegal. Depending upon how his campaign operates, it does not have to be unethical or immoral. President Obama is a pragmatist, as are most of us in our daily lives. If something isn’t working, we try something that seems like it might. He could see that allowing Republicans to raise and spend unlimited cash while holding back his Democratic colleagues from doing so was to doom the Party to defeat.

I heard a prediction by a political pundit tonight on the evening news that by the end of 2012 we will have massive electoral fraud cases in the courts and perhaps be ready once again to consider electoral reform. If reform is the result we can perhaps say that it was worth the trauma. But if fraud, and more fraud is all we get I fear for the nation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Missing Winter In Wisconsin

Winter has had a hard time coming in Wisconsin this year. It isn’t too late for it to bury us or send our temperatures plummeting but things aren’t looking good.

One of the attractions of moving from Central Illinois to, first Minneapolis, and then Western Wisconsin was the winters. Though I do nothing with snow but shovel (or blow) it, I nonetheless love it and never seem to get enough.

This poem, written by my mother in the early 1970s, indicates that she too found some charm in a good winter storm – unless it began to get out of hand. The poem also reveals what I now know, that Illinois, and other central states, can have some pretty impressive storms.

Many of Mom’s best poems were written to serve as sample poems in contests that she sponsored. She would create a model and others would submit their best poem of that style. Then Mom would judge them and announce the winners. The one printed below was one she submitted in another poet's contest and was awarded 1st Prize.

      WINTER'S DEBUT
         (Scallop Pattern)
By Rena Faye (Kennerly) Rapp

I view
The swirling leaves,
And hear the wolf–wind blow;
The birds, foreseeing snow,
Take to the eves
On cue.

I close
The shutters tight,
And pile the firewood high;
The dog, the cat, and I,
Mark time tonight,
And doze,

Until
A sudden blast
Rattles a window pane;
I bolt upright again,
To sit aghast –
Stock–still!
________________
Awarded 1st prize in Scallop Contest.  Published in Tejas, January 1970.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Haiku for a Frosty Morning
               by Jim Rapp

on foggy frosty
mornings when the wind is low
dead twigs even glow

Sunday, February 5, 2012

         WEATHERWISE
         (Carry Over Rhyme)
by Rena Faye (Kennerly) Rapp

Raging winds like demons howl­ing,
Yowling, moaning through the night,
Piling snowdrifts onto highways,
Byways blocked ere morning's light.

Cattle huddled all together,
Weather–wise these critters be,
Seeking warmth from one another,
Brothers they and brotherly.

Would that we could band together,
Weather all the storms of life,
As the cattle in the blizzard,
Wizard–wise and without strife.

______________
Specimen poem published in Tejas, October 1967.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Barrack Obama, Presidential Theologian

I just finished reading the President’s address at the annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast, February 2, 2012 at the Washington Hilton. I have not made it a practice to read those addresses over the years. I wish I had done so. If they are still available it might be instructive to go back and read them.

In a book, recently released by Christianity Today, Faith and the American Presidency, edited by Mark Galli, three past presidents were cited as being very theological in their understanding of their role and mission in office, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. Others are cited as being religiously motivated in some of their decisions but those three thought of themselves (came to think of himself, in Lincoln’case) as participants in a plan devised by God. Mark Noll, in his book, America’s God, argues that Lincoln was able to articulate a theology of the Civil War in his Second Inaugural Address, that the Christian theologians of his time – co-opted as they were by their allegiance to the political parties of that day – were unable to understand or declare.

There has been no shortage of religious talk surrounding our politics in recent years or in the current year for that matter. But most of it is an attempt to claim God’s approval for a particular party, candidate, or policy option. In other words, it is an attempt to position God on “our side.”

President Obama’s speech broke with that theological approach and articulated what I believe is a valuable understanding, not just of the responsibility of the President, but of all Christians living in a pluralistic society who wish to faithfully fulfill the obligations of their faith. His approach asks us to position ourselves on “God’s side.”

He quotes C.S. Lewis, “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.” In other words, God is neither Democratic or Republican, but all Democrats and Republicans would do well to be God-fearing, God-serving men and women.

Obama continued:

Living in a pluralistic society means that our personal religious beliefs alone can’t dictate our response to every challenge we face. But in my moments of prayer, I’m reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems, in keeping us going when we suffer setbacks, and opening our minds and our hearts to the needs of others.

The President reminds us that, “As a loving husband, or a supportive parent, or a good neighbor, or a helpful colleague – in each of these roles, we help bring His kingdom to Earth.” “We are imperfect vessels” he confesses, “who benefit from turning to our Creator . . . avoiding phony religiosity.”

With many examples, the President pressed home the theologically sound teaching that our faith is born out in our deeds, that in fact the only work of God’s kingdom that most of us will ever do is that which we do in the course of our everyday lives.

Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great – when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.

In this cynical time it is easy to dismiss political figures as insincere in their religious expressions. Sometimes it is just “phony religiosity” and that is proven by the shabby lives those politicians live. But this President has not given us any reason to believe that the theology he propounds is not the one by which he lives. His words ring true and seem to be an expression of his own experience. The nation, and particularly that part of the population that professes to share his Christian faith, would do well to listen to him, and to follow his example of serving God through serving his fellow man. Jesus did say, “As you have done it unto the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me.”

Check it out. Here is a link to the speech. There is much more to it than I have quoted.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Talk, The Bane of the Politician

I read today an anthropologist’s opinion that the human race has only been capable of speech for the last 500 thousand years and that a modern politician speaks more words in one week than the whole human race spoke in the first 499 thousand years. Well . . . the first part of that sentence is true – or at least it is true that I read that. But the last part of the sentence is a bit of an exaggeration.

But only a small one, relatively speaking. It is true that a modern politician in the United States is required to be talking almost non-stop during his waking hours from the day he declares his intention to run for office until the day he wins the election or is eliminated from the race. Gone is the day when a politician sits on his front porch in Ohio and waits for reporters to come and interview him there. And gone is the day when Abraham Lincoln could be elected without leaving Springfield, Illinois to travel all over the country giving speeches.

Of course the result of our present insistence that our politicians speak and debate and appear as guests on talk shows is that they often say too much. I’m not implying that they are giving us too much information useful in deciding whether they are worthy of our vote. We get very little of that except by inference. What we are getting is an odd mixture of canned campaign jargon and inadvertent faux pas. It is the latter that has served to winnow the field of Republican contenders this political season. When their gaffs reach a certain critical mass they begin to fade away.

Currently in the news is the statement by Governor Romney that he “isn’t worried about the very poor”. “Heartless!” cries the media and his opponents, both Republican and Democratic. How could he say that? What kind of monster must he be? Well, in actuality he did say it, but he said much more, and that “much more” explains, to any fair-minded person what he meant. He believes the very poor are being adequately served by our government programs (and he went on to say that if those programs need some fixing that can be done) but his concern is that the needs of the middle class are not being addressed.

I won’t argue the merits of his case here but only point out that he is being unfairly and inaccurately quoted with no regard for his true stated meaning.

Our politicians need to take care with what they say and how they say it. But our modern world puts any public figure in an almost impossible situation with cameras and reporters on their case 24 hours a day. If they speak they are pilloried for what they say. If they don’t speak they are criticized for not being “transparent.” It is hard to imagine the pressure they are under.

We need to grant them – and they need to take – time to read, and listen, and reflect. I can’t imagine that any of the current Republican candidates has done anything but eat, sleep, travel, and speak for the last six months. It shows in the string of gaffs they have made. We deserve better from them than we are getting. So far, for all the words spoken, we know very little about how any of these men would work to solve the pressing problems of our day. The glib statements repeated hour after hour are worse that useless as indicators of real policy. They are “red meat” thrown out to feed the appetites of constituencies the politicians think they are appealing to.

Perhaps we need to give each candidate two or three hours of prime time to explain his vision for our country and his plans to achieve that vision. Then those video programs could be made available for replay on the Internet for those who wish to review them. And then we should forbid them to speak to us again until the election is over.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What To Do When They Hand You A Half-baked Cookie

I’d like to say that life, in retirement, has been a bowl of cherries, but the fact is that it is just life in a different, and no less challenging, mode. (I’m pretty convinced that life in the hereafter will, likewise, be so. Would we want it any different?)

The little poem I “penned” yesterday, and posted this morning, grew out of frustration I experienced while trying to format poetry for publication in an e-book format (Kindle, in this case). After searching the web for a solution to the frustrations I experienced, I discovered that I was not alone. There is some comfort in knowing that, but it is cold comfort to say the least.

Poetry often requires special formatting that serves to separate ideas or convey meaning by the placement of the words, the number of lines, syllables, etc. The software that converts one’s work to e-format routinely removes the blank line between stanzas, and often refuses to align the text as the poet wishes it to be aligned. Further, the e-readers (Kindle and Nook and others) allow users to enlarge text to suit their tastes or needs and that, if increased too much, can make nonsense out of formatting.

What I’m saying is that the makers of e-readers have produced a product that is only half-baked. Therefore not many poets have availed themselves of the opportunity to offer their poems in those formats.

As my hastily written poem expressed, this is not a new phenomenon. Henry Ford’s Model T was famously ridiculed as the “tin lizzy”, and every owner knew to keep a pair of wire cutters and some bailing wire in the car for periodic repairs. But long before Ford, inventors were in a hurry to get their ideas to market, leaving the consumer to finish the job of inventing their invention. Perhaps it is inevitable that it should be so; after all, there is hardly anything made that cannot be improved upon by the art and ingenuity of succeeding generations.

So I’ll soon be launching my solution to the “half-baked” e-book formatting of poetry. It too will be a partial solution – I don’t know how to beat the problem of users enlarging the font so much that it destroys the character of the lines. But I do have a solution to the disappearing blank line between the stanza. Let me illustrate, reprinting the poem from yesterday’s blog with the innovative system I’ve devised; putting a period (.) in the otherwise blank line to force the software to recognize it and leave it alone:

                   The Uninvented
                     by Jim Rapp
.
Who said things were supposed to work right?
What on earth would make them say that?
It's a wonder someone hasn't punched out their lights;
at least given them a lip that is fat.
.
The old Model T was an early example
of products put on the market “as is” –
not fully invented – with room quite ample
for some “third-party-add-on” biz.
.
These days most things are sold, “do-it-yourself” –
Software, hardware, and wear, under and outer –
buy it, then fix it, from things bought “off the shelf”;
It’s an ancient tradition, so don’t be a pouter.
.
It works for now. And, perhaps it will irritate someone enough that they will find a way to complete the Kindle/Nook revolution. I’m waiting. But I’m not very confident that even that cookie will come out fully baked. Meanwhile, if you don’t like the way I’ve done it, my books are available in the old fashioned format – printed on paper and bound between covers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

                   The Uninvented
                            by Jim Rapp

Who said things were supposed to work right?
What on earth would make them say that?
It's a wonder someone hasn't punched out their lights;
at least given them a lip that is fat.

The old Model T was an early example
of products put on the market “as is” –
not fully invented – with room quite ample
for some “third-party-add-on” biz.

These days most things are sold, “do-it-yourself" -
Software, hardware, and wear, under and outer -
buy it, then fix it, from things bought “off the shelf”;
It’s an ancient tradition, so don’t be a pouter.