Sunday, April 29, 2012

      Two Haiku
       by Jim Rapp

A Haiku for Sadness

Heart attacks are not
organ failures; they are blows
from an outside foe.

A Haiku Definition of Sin

Sin: a collision
of God’s will and man’s in which
God’s will is trammeled.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

  by Jim Rapp 

Poor if – always leaning into the wind.
If only I had made a different choice back when . . .
If I’d have been gifted with more skills, then . . .
If I’d avoided my besetting sins . . .
If I were not so tall and thin . . .
If I were more tall and thin . . .
If,if,if- marching, head-down when
Heads up is the way to win;
If, with head tossed back, and breasting wind,
Can defeat the ifs that try to hedge it in.

Monday, April 23, 2012

An Open Letter – Thoughts Upon Hearing of Chuck Colson’s Death

The death of Chuck Colson on April 21, 2012 elicited a letter and a reminiscence from a relative who had known Colson at some distance. The following is my response to that letter.

I remember when Colson became a believer – after he was indicted, if I recall, but before he was convicted in the Ellsberg case, I had great doubts about the sincerity of his faith but when he turned his efforts to improving the conditions of prisoners and bringing the message of Christ to them that is what convinced me that he was for real. I fully expected him to do as some of the other Watergate conspirators (particularly John Dean) ended up doing, becoming “color commentators” for network news outlets.

In a recent blog entry (Friday, April 13th) I used the example of Colson’s conversion and the subsequent doubt about the genuineness of his conversion (along with comparisons of the conversions of the Apostle Paul and C.S. Lewis) to raise the question of why it is so hard for right-leaning evangelical Christians and Tea-Partyers to accept Obama’s long-standing confession of faith in Christ. The response I get from the conservatives I talk to is, “well, he is just faking it,” or “but he believes in Jeremiah Wright’s Liberation Theology,” or “but he is a socialist.” And I say, so . . .? When Newt Gingrich’s confession of faith (or Rick Perry’s for that matter, or in Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s) is taken as valid, and when Obama clearly centers his faith on Jesus Christ and his atoning work at Calvary (which he explicitly testifies to) why does it matter if he does lean toward a particular political interpretation of the will of God in our world? (I don’t think one can clearly link him, through any of his writings, to Wright’s theology, but for the sake of argument let it be the case that he is a raving Liberation Theologian.) Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker subscribe to political interpretations of the will of God that scare the pants off of me but I still can see enough orthodox Christian belief in them to not question their faith in Christ. I just think their politics is crazy and I’m chagrinned that they conflate that nonsense with Christianity.

Colson was able to bring his natural politician propensities into the accepting cocoon of a Conservative Evangelical political world and so, thankfully, was eventually recognized as the sincere servant of Christ that he had become. And not only by conservatives but also (although often somewhat grudgingly) from liberals as well. Poor Jimmy Carter did not fare so well. His politics is despised by conservatives and his faith depreciated (or at best nervously tolerated) by liberals. I think I may be one of the remaining ten people who admire the man.

As one who also admires Barack Obama but who admittedly does not know his deepest thoughts or his standing before God, I pray for his success in the things he hopes to do for our nation. But my constant and most sincere prayer is that the drumbeat of rejection and criticism coming at him and his wife from evangelical Christians will not result in a loss of faith on his part. I want him and his family to come out of his presidency intact, with the marriage sound and the children unscarred by the war they’ve been through.

Barack Obama came to Christianity out of atheism (not Islam) of his own accord, first prodded by the urging, and later inspired by the “witness,” of those he worked with on the streets of Chicago. He found a home in the congregation of Jeremiah Wright’s church. The conservative Christian outcry against Wright’s infamous sermon – which I may be the only person in the country to have listened to in its entirety, and which expressed sentiments about the nation’s sins and consequent judgment under God that would have elicited loud “Amens” in most of the conservative churches I’ve been a member of – caused Obama to commit his most heinous sin, in my view, by throwing his pastor of 20 years under the bus. 

Wouldn’t it be a shame if, after encountering the mistrust and venomous rhetoric of that part of  the larger body of Christ that disagrees with him politically, Mr. Obama concluded that the Church was not the warm accepting community of the redeemed he thought he had entered, and decided to distance himself from it?

It seems that I remember Jesus pronouncing a woe upon those who cause another to stumble, said that it would be better for them if a mill stone had been tied to them and that they had been cast into the sea. And wasn’t it the Apostle Paul who warned the Galatian Christians that, by their carnivorous bickering, they were devouring each other? There must be some lesson in those warnings for the 21st century Church of Christ.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What To Believe

We’re always tinkering with education. If some standardized test reveals that more than fifty percent of 8th graders are unable to certify the color of Grant’s horse, then we need a revision of the K-12 history curriculum.

It must be that in the 1960s someone discovered that high school students displayed a deficit of knowledge about geology. I suppose some were confusing opals with diamonds or some such thing. Whatever the cause, I arrived in my undergraduate program just in time to be forced into taking a state-required geology course in order to teach high school history. It turned out not to be uninteresting, though I’d be hard-pressed to show that it made me a better prepared teacher of history.

One of the projects I undertook as a part of the course was a rock collection. I created a shadowbox-like container with perhaps 64 to 100 compartments into which I eventually put a sample of as many different kinds of rock as I could find, collected during delightful expeditions to various moraines in northwestern Wisconsin.

The process was simple though laborious. When I found a rock that fit the description of a category we had studied I put it into one of the cubicles and labeled it appropriately. If I found a rock for which I had no category I saved it to be identified and classified later. In the end I had a canonical collection of rocks, neatly organized, identified, and stored under a bed to collect dust until I could bring myself to discard it.

I thought of that rock collection today, and more particularly the process by which I created it, as I was reading an argument for the validity of the canon of Scripture that makes up the Bible accepted and used by the majority of Christians today.

Ross Douthat, author of Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heritics, cites a statement by another New Testament scholar, Bruce Metzger: 

Bruce Metzger . . . answered the eternal question “Who chose the Gospels?” by suggesting that they effectively chose themselves. “Neither individuals nor councils created the canon,” Metzger concluded, “Instead they came to recognize and acknowledge the self-authenticating quality of these writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church.”

“Compared to the alternatives,” Douthat continues, “ they were more credible as eyewitness testimony, more persuasive as religious apologia, and simply more interesting as narratives than any of the competition.”

How like my rock collection. I put quartz in the quartz bin because it presented itself to me as quartz and would have been out of place in any other bin. Likewise, basalt could not logically or accurately be classified as quartz. Each rock was what it was and could not be made to be anything other. In the end I had pretty good confidence in the validity of my collection because I had made no forced classifications. I could have returned to it over the years if I had wished to do so, and used it as a guide for the identification of others rocks I had found.

I do return to that “collection” – that canon of memorial stones – the founding fathers of our faith assembled. They put it together by sorting through the alternatives and selecting only those that presented themselves as a true revelation of the works and purposes of God. So, with confidence, I compare my faith to its record to know what is true and what is not.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Wonder of A Book

He looked to be in his late thirties or early forties. She was a young teenager. Obviously father and daughter, they sat together in the airport terminal, sharing a book between them.

When I first noticed them, Father was reading quietly and daughter was leaning close to him listening. They smiled often and exchanged glances from time to time. I was too far away to identify the book’s title. It is immaterial; whatever its content, it provided a context for their mutual love, and for their mutual love of the book they were sharing. That much was obvious.

After a while the daughter reached out, took the book from her father’s hand and continued, now  reading to him. The ritual of smiles and glances continued as she read. Eventually a marker was placed in the book, the book closed, and the two sat quietly together observing the activity in the room, waiting for their flight to be called.

That is all I know about them. You know as much now as I. A forgettable scene.

And still, I’ve revisited it a dozen times I’m sure, in the years since. It falls into the category of events that our mind delights to recall, interpreting and reinterpreting time after time. What adventure were they on together? Were there other members of the family and were they equally as solicitous of each other? What has become of them since? And most haunting of all, what was in that book that they so enjoyed sharing? Questions to which I will never know the answer.

Few pleasures exceed the sharing of a good book. Among my fond childhood memories are those evenings when our mother would read to the family from Dr. Doolittle, or one of the Sugar Creek Gang books, or Cheaper By The Dozen, or Tom Sawyer, or Little Women. My favorite teacher became so, I’m sure, in large part because of the wonderful books she read to us, a chapter a day. I still remember, with joy, reading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and his trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to my son (and others who would listen).

Books are meant, I’m convinced, to be shared. Best if they are shared orally, but in some way shared; passed from lip to ear, or hand to hand; handed from generation to generation; laughed over, debated, fought for, given as gifts and treasured for the memories of friendship shared as much as (or more than) their actual content.

These are thoughts I’ve had today while reading a provocative Kindle book and wondering how to share it. The rules have changed with the advent of electronic books, making it more difficult to share them. That must change. How, I’m not sure, but that it must change is sure. Books are to be shared. It has always been a challenge since the first “book” was scratched in the mud, or incised on a brick and baked in an oven, or chiseled on stone, or laboriously inscribed on animal skins or carved on a walking stick or painted on the wall of a cave or carved in the stone of a prison cell.

The impulse to write is the impulse to share. Somehow the reader knows that and becomes an accomplice of the writer, wishing to share as well. Mankind has overcome the obstacles to sharing in many ways. The greatest aid to sharing was, of course, the printing press which provided inexpensive books to be produced and passed from hand to hand. With the advent of the electronic book it seems we have, at least in the area of shared experience, taken several steps backward, almost to Ashurbanipal’s library of clay tablets. Filled with marvelous stories, they were nonetheless almost impossible to share, good only for storing.

I’m approaching 50 books “stored” on my Kindle. I can “loan” each of them – one time only and for a limited 14 days. That is too cumbersome and too limited. Books are for sharing. I’d love to sit with each of those with whom I wish to share a book, reading, smiling, debating. But that is not going to happen. So short of that I want to hand them off freely as I would a dog-eared paperback. In this Kindle/Nook age, someone please think of a way to make that possible.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How I Sooth My Illiberal Soul

My greatest fear is that someone will think me liberal. Or worse yet, a Liberal. Liberalism has suffered lately at the hands of those whose hatred of it is largely, I’m convinced, a reaction to their fears of what a truly liberal world would take from them – would require of them. So Liberals – and some liberals (small “l”) – have taken to calling themselves Progressives. There are not the same thing.

A great number of those who now decry Progressivism (it didn’t take long for them to discern that “Progressives” were merely “Liberals” in sheep’s clothing) are themselves progressive in many aspects of their lives. They want the latest and best medical treatment. They like to drive the most modern cars. They carry the latest smart phone. They line up to see the most recent Broadway hit, or box office sensation. Those who can afford it trick out their homes with elevators to raise their cars from one level to the next, with wireless transmission of sound and video, and with the most sophisticated computer equipment. The latest surveillance equipment protects them from intrusion. I could go on but I think the point is made. They are not anti-progressive or anti-liberal when it comes to supplying their own needs or satisfying their wishes.

So what is it about Liberalism (or Progressivism) that they don’t like? Mostly it is the fear that they will be required to support programs that aid the poor at government expense or, more specifically at taxpayer expense. They are willing, they assure us, to liberally support the same people whom the government now supports, willingly, if the government would just let them keep control of “their own money.” Private charity, they argue, is better at meeting the needs of the needy than big government with its overly generous handouts.

Now I’ve never figured out why, if I were down and out, I’d rather have my neighbor – whomever that might be if I were homeless – give me a free meal than have the government do so. To a homeless man, a meal is a meal is a meal. But the argument is that private charity is not as corrosive of human initiative as is government charity. Private charity is more discriminating, we’re told, giving aid only to the deserving, only that which is needed, and only until the person can get back on their feet.

Fair enough if that worked. As an aside I’ll just say that we had almost two centuries in which such charity was given a chance to eliminate poverty through the promotion of responsible living. Finally, in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, we began to understand that the problem was larger than the capacity of faith-based and other private charity could accommodate. Further we realized that those approaches, while commendable and necessary, often failed to reach certain segments of the population that the philanthropic organization deemed unworthy or simply could not see on their radar screen – blacks, migrant workers, mentally ill or those addicted to substance abuse.

So, if private charity is able to weed out the ne'er-do-wells, in ways that government programs are not designed to do, that means that those deemed “unworthy” of aid would go without. According to the theory, they would then take a bath and get in the employment line where those who refused them a free meal would now gladly hire them to watch their children or clean their house or tend their lawn or work in their factory. And of course they will pay them adequate wages so that they can support their families. Not, of course in the same style as their “liberal” benefactors wish to live; that style of living is reserved for the truly industrious. Problems solved.

I hope I’m making it clear that the problems of the unemployed, the unemployable, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the displaced, and the innocent dependents of those just named, are complex and usually beyond the ability of ordinary people, no matter how generous or well intentioned, to either understand or remedy. Even if every dollar taken from unwilling taxpayers to be used by the government for social welfare purposes were willing turned to the same purpose through individual charity or faith-based charity, or other private charity, it would not eliminate the problems of poverty in our land. But of course, only a fraction of the amount now extracted from taxpayers would actually find its way to charitable work. Human nature is what it is, taxation or no taxation.

I am not as liberal as my Christian faith should require me to be. I do not stop to give a dollar to every person standing on the street corner with a cardboard sign. I do not always buy the Veteran’s plastic flower. I do not put money in the Salvation Army kettle each time I pass it. And I routinely throw away solicitations that come daily in the mail from varied charities. And the reason I am so parsimonious is not because the government is taxing me to death. It is primarily because I cannot distinguish between those who are truly in need and those who are making a business of being in need.

But I do consider myself liberal in this sense; I gladly allow the government to tax me for the purpose of assisting those who meet the criteria for assistance that have been developed to determine who should and should not qualify for aid. It sooths my guilty conscience a little bit, each time I drive by the “homeless man” with the cardboard sign, to know I’ve already given at the “government office,” and that if he is truly in need, and willing to present himself at the correct office, some of my dollars are waiting there for him.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Two Children Die In Oklahoma Tornado
                   (A Haiku Trio)
                           by Jim Rapp 

storms have two faces
with one they charm storm chasers
one frightens children

storms have two faces
with one they choose survivors
one seeks those to take

storms have two faces
the cruelest face is turned
on the helpless young

Friday, April 13, 2012

How Long On Probation?

After his profession of faith in Christ in the late 1970s, former council to President Richard Nixon, and co-conspirator in the Watergate affair, Chuck Colson, went through a period in which the validity of his conversion was questioned. Over the years he thoroughly dispelled those doubts by his words, his deeds, and his associations. No one I know of today (except perhaps the extremist separatist groups that consider Billy Graham a sell-out and servant of the Devil) doubts that Colson is a true believer.

In the first century of the Christian Era, Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as Paul, the apostle, suddenly turned from vicious opposition to the Christian faith to ardent proponent of it. Naturally those who had been the target of his harassments and imprisonments were fearful and skeptical of his new persona. Over the years he dispelled their doubts and fears by his words, his deeds, and his associations. No one today would advance an opinion that Paul was anything but a sincere Christian; a true martyr in both the ancient and modern sense of the word.

In the early 20th century a young C.S. Lewis, watching his mother die pre-maturely, and enduring life with a difficult father, concluded that Christianity was not believable. He became an avowed atheist. However, in his early professional life he encountered friends and ideas that challenged his assumptions. Eventually he reasoned his way back to a place from which he could make the final leap of faith and become, not only a believer in Christ, but arguably the 20th century’s most influential apologist for the faith. Any doubts held by those who knew him at the time of his conversion, were dispelled by his words, his deeds, and his associations. And no one today doubts the orthodoxy of Lewis’ beliefs.

It is natural that one who has professed opposition to any idea only to turn and become its proponent would have to “prove himself.” But what must one do to prove himself, and how long must one continue to be suspect? That obviously depends upon what they choose to say and do, and with whom they choose to associate.

By his own testimony President Obama has been a Christian believer for more than a quarter of a century. In that time he maintained a consistent witness to his Christian faith in books he has written, in his association with a body of Christian believers, and the work he has done in aid of the poor and disadvantaged. His life has had at least as much of a Christian panache as that of the other candidates running against him; in many regards he has been even more authentic – he is moderate in speech, consistent in the positions he takes, faithful in his family life, and modest in his life-style.

But he has these things against him: 1) his name sounds foreign, even Muslim, 2) his father was from a Muslim country though he himself was an atheist, 3) his mother professed no particular faith and lived an unconventional life, 4) he is mulatto.

And most important of all, he is NOT a Republican. If he were Republican everything mentioned about him in the previous paragraph could be forgiven. His faith would be touted to highest heaven, the feature of Christian Talk radio, and the subject of a dozen monographs. He would be lauded from Evangelical pulpits and feted at conservative Christian gatherings. (Witness the unquestioned popularity of Nimrata Randhawa [Nikki Haley], a former Sikh, now an Evangelical [Republican] Christian politician and governor of South Carolina, touted as a possible VP candidate.)

On the contrary, President Obama is portrayed as Muslim, un-American, socialist, traitorous, treacherous, and hypocritical, none of which is true. He is portrayed in Internet and e-mail venues in crude and cruel caricatures as illegitimate and less than human. And much of this at the hands of those whom he should be able to count as brother and sister in his faith. Even a Federal Judge felt justified in circulating such garbage to his friends, not, mind you, because of his racism, but for the more “honorable” reason that he intensely dislikes the President’s politics.

An Evangelical Christian put the issue starkly to a group I was a part of this week. Decrying the fact that Rick Santorum had suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination for President, the lady lamented, “Now that Santorum is out of the race we are left with a Muslim and a Mormon to choose from.

I wanted to suggest that there was no need for Evangelicals to despair. Both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were continuing in the race and both profess to be Christian, Gingrich even winning the majority of the white evangelical vote in South Carolina. I chose not to say that. But what we really are left with is a Christian (President Obama) to whom other unprincipled Christians refuse to give credit for his faith, and a Mormon (former governor, Mitt Romney), neither of whose religion, according to the U.S. Constitution, disqualifies him to be president.

I can say that I’m glad my reception in heaven will not be determined by those who confidently dismiss the faith of one who, for twenty-five years – longer than required of Chuck Colson, the Apostle Paul, or C.S. Lewis – has testified to his Christian commitment through word, and deed, and association.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Spat (An argument between me)
                       by Jim Rapp 

Why would we expect to find intelligent life
in the far reaches of the universe
when it has been so difficult
to discover in the crannies and the hollows
of our earth?

“Shame, shame!” you cry, “You’re heart is rife
with cynicism; you shape your verse
in bitterness; your words insult
the human race, no less the one who
gave you birth.”

I’m sorry. I meant my words to cause no strife.
Self-depreciation was my aim at first,
But now you’ve got me mad; your assault
has changed my mood to testiness,
from mirth,

and, by your protest, proven that, in part I’m right;
there is indeed intelligence on earth –
it overflows my mental vault –
but search in vain – you’ll never find it
           lodged in yours.

Hruumph! Your gramma wears army boots!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jacob and Esau
     by Jim Rapp

Did you ever have a fight with yourself? 

Your first idea seems so reasonable
           or witty
           or wise
           or otherwise. 

But then your brain posed an alternative;
a rebuttal no less.

The urge is to smother the newcomer
before anyone knows it was born;
to kill Jacob and let Esau live –
Esau have I loved; Jacob have I hated.

Monday, April 9, 2012

An Unholy War, Waged by Unholy Warriors

According to a report Monday, in the New York Times, Karl Rove’s superPAC is preparing to give former Governor Mitt Romney “cover” during the next few months while he rebuilds his coffers for the contest against President Obama in the fall. They will run 200 million dollars worth of negative ads smearing the President while Mr. Romney courts the wealthy in multi-thousand dollar per plate fund-raising banquets. I can hardly wait until the superPAC ads begin.

Meanwhile, another report in the Monday edition of the Times indicates that Mr. Romney is temporarily suspending his negative ads against Mr. Santorum in the Pennsylvania primary while Mr. Santorum’s daughter, Bella, is in the hospital. The ads started to run this morning but then his campaign thought better of it and suspended them until Bella is released, which could occur as early as this evening.

Are we to believe that Mr. Romney pulled the negative ads because he believed running them would affect the health of a pre-teen child in the hospital? Hardly. I doubt that she would be watching them on TV. It is all about perception. It is about presenting a winning image to the voters. This primary campaign has highlighted the fact that ALL of the candidates in the recent primaries will do – or cease to do – anything if they think it will enhance their image before the voters.

In the interim, while Mr. Santorum’s daughter is in the hospital, the Romney campaign will substitute for the negative ads they would like to run, others presenting Mr. Romney as a conservative candidate. In other words they will spin their wheels for a while, running positive ads. Imagine that. What a waste of money! I didn’t say “truthful ads”. Just non-attack ads – for a day or two.

The candidates should be running ads, all the time, so truthful, so positive, so informative that no change of circumstance in their lives, in the lives of their opponents, or in the course of events surrounding the election would require a “change of tone.”

If Mr. Romney were completely suspending his campaigning out of consideration that his opponent will be sidelined for a while, attending to the health of his child, that would be a magnanimous gesture. But to simply change to “rubber bullets,” and keep firing away, reveals the hypocrisy of his actions.

I can only hope that those such as Mr. Rove with his superPAC, and Mr. Romney with his chameleon ads, will go down in blazing defeat this fall, and that all they will have accomplished by the hundreds of millions of dollars they, and they fellow PAC operators, have spent will be to have given a boost to the advertizing industry.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

While the “First Pope” Hid
             by Jim Rapp

While the “first Pope” hid
in fear of his life,
a “mere woman” –
a former prostitute –
ran from the empty tomb
declaring, “He is Risen!”
Sing the Last Verse Now
          by Jim Rapp

It was all darkness as the Tenebrae service ended.
What do we do now? – The minister just left,
taking with him the last flickering vestige of light.

The service should not have ended here . . .
there is more to come, and all who sat in the darkness
knew that it was so . . . so why end it here.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
“Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?”
“Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?”

There is another verse to be sung:
“Were you there when He rose up from the grave?”
Come back and sing that verse . . .

Don’t leave us in the dark with no explanation,
no instructions, no benediction, no hope.
Tell us Easter is coming –
promise us that Easter will come.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

This Takes A Little Explaining. But . . . It Helps Explain Why Taxes Have Gotten Such a Bad Name.

Hang in there with me and you will see the deviousness of human character.

A retired friend just returned from three months in Florida’s warmth carrying a brochure from a tax preparation company offering to assist low income (or NO income) people in filing for “Earned Income” tax refunds of up to $4,000. The brochure promised “Same Day” payment of the refund.

The friend appeared incensed that one could get an “Earned Income” refund if they had earned no income. His outrage is understandable. And it is also doubtful that they could – even in Florida.

Upon reflection I think this may be the explanation:

1.        The offer is bogus. Most people who respond will be told that, regrettably, they don’t qualify for the unbelievable $4,000 refund but since they are already there in the tax preparer’s office they can take advantage of other services he offers and file for a much smaller refund. And they can receive their refund on the same day. 

2.        The offer of “Same Day” refunds is available as advertized, but only if the customer signs over their refund to the tax preparation company, in which case the company will give them the amount of their refund immediately, deducting, of course, a commission (say, 25% or more) for their services. 

3.        The result is that the taxpayer (alias, Sucker) that thought he would get something for nothing ends up giving up something for nothing in return. 

The moral I would take away from this story is that if it looks like a REALLY GOOD DEAL it probably is. But not for you, Sucker! For the guy in the shabby office on Franklin Street who ran off the brochure at Zip Print Store next door. 

And if you are really unlucky he will screw up your tax return and you’ll have to hire H&R Block, two doors further down the street, to get you out of the mess.

One final observation. This appears to be a case of corporate (or at least business) welfare at work. Money allocated to aid the working poor finds its way into the pockets of opportunists who seize every dollar of government aid that they can, even if they have to rip it away from some poor schmuck for whom it was intended. There aughta be a law to close that loophole.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Primary Objection

This weekend the Eau Claire Leader Telegram featured a neatly columned comparison of the Republican Candidate’s positions on several issues of current interest, at least to the media. As a good citizen, I think I’m supposed to read the report and compare the candidates to each other before voting today.

I have two general problems with giving up my time to read that page of opinions (the politicians call them “positions”).

1) Often the “issues” are framed in a manner that allows the candidate to say no more than a sound-bite in response. For example: Question: How would you balance the budget? Answer: By cutting out wasteful spending from a bloated budget designed to sustain a wasteful Federal bureaucracy led by the “worst President in the history of the nation”.

2) The candidates’ responses seldom represent their real beliefs regarding the issues; a fact made obvious when one compares the positions they have taken on the issues in the past, revealed both in their words and their deeds, with what they say they believe now.

Honesty requires me to reveal that, even if all the candidates answered fully and informatively and if their answers reflected their real beliefs I would not be casting my vote for any of the current Republican primary candidates. I have fundamental differences of opinion with all of them on many issues. But I would not, in that case, be baffled at the amount of support that the candidates receive from people who otherwise claim to value truthfulness. And if honest and truthful candidates win over my opposition I can accept them as legitimate representatives of the will of the people, the majority of whom do support them.

But my primary objection to the current slate of Republican primary candidates (the pun is intended since this will post on primary day in Wisconsin) is the unprincipled practice employed by all of them.  Rather than attempt to persuade the voters of the wisdom of their position, they try to portray their closest rival in the darkest, most sinister light imaginable. Their cynicism is on daily display in the their stump speeches but is epitomized in the ubiquitous attack ads they run (or allow to be run on their behalf).

I’ll not single out any particular candidate or the ads they are sponsoring through their shadowy SuperPacs, or running out of their campaign offices. Readers can fill in the blank from their own knowledge, gleaned from multiple ads running during the evening news. But the pattern is consistent and consistently makes one want to barf. A string of accusations of mis-conduct, or inconsistent behaviors, or anti-American, anti-Christian, immoral behaviors is alleged to represent the record of the candidate being attacked. Often the candidate whose organization is sponsoring the ad is heard to say, “I’m (fill-in-the-blank), and I approve this ad.

Well, I don’t! I approve of truthful information but not even all “truthful information” is relevant to whether one is a “good” or “bad” candidate for a particular office. And truth, in the hands of ad men and politician ceases to be truth as soon as they touch it. By parsing, combining, distorting, rearranging statements made by their opponents, these deceivers turn truth into a lie. Though the sounds were admittedly uttered, they were never intended to convey the meaning that is being put on them in the lying ads.

It makes me want to scream out the words of the ancient prophet, “There are none righteous. No, not one!” How long can a people survive as a free society when they allow themselves to be led by lies?

Today, in Wisconsin’s primary election, hundreds of thousands of votes will be cast for blatant liars, and a good portion of those votes – perhaps a majority – will come from people who claim to be advocates for truth. Many profess to be followers of the One who said of himself, “I am the Truth”. It is inconceivable to me that one who loves truth and claims to serve Truth can vote for a man who devises (or consents to) ads that blatantly lie, and who has the gall to say, “I approve this ad (this set of lies).”

That is my primary objection to what is happening today.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Confessions of an Unregenerate Liberal

I admit to being a political animal. I am the son of political animals. I grew up in a pack of them. I further admit to a bias; my sympathies lie with the poor, the disadvantaged, and the working people. I am not blind to the faults of those whose causes I support. I don’t admire their moral failings or endorse them. I just recognize that their faults are the same as those of the privileged. They are, I’m ashamed to admit, the same as my own; we all want to live well and in seeking to do so we often live very poorly.

Our society is enamored with the rich, the powerful, the successful – so enamored that we cut them “space” denied to their poorer brothers and sisters.

The rich can pour multi-millions of their dollars into a gamble to buy an election and consequently they are elevated to the status of community leaders – opinion shapers. Our courts grant them influence based on their ability to spend money, call their corporate entities “persons”, and grant them an unlimited voice in determining the future of our nation. But the poor are criticized for spending a dollar on a lottery ticket. Their voice is stifled by restrictions on their right to vote; numerous obstacles are placed in their path to the ballot box, not the least the requirement to produce “proof” that they even exist. (Who doubts that Donald Trump exists? Will anyone ask to see his driver’s license? Mitt Romney’s? Scott Walkers? If so, only for show and as a formality. But I must produce “proof” under threat of being escorted from the polling place.)

The wealthy flaunt their adulteries, addictions, and immoralities; turn them into sit-coms, reality TV, and blockbuster movies; parlay them into political careers. And we hail them as artists, athletes, and celebrities. The poor we throw in jail. If you are willing to “grind the face of the poor” in your climb to success you are given a TV show of your own. If your philandering or embezzling gets you thrown out of your job, one of our ubiquitous Cable Channels will take you on as a resident expert, or give you your own reality show. The powerful begrudge – and if they can – deny the poor access to remedies for their addictions, afflictions, and immoralities, calling those remedies “socialist welfare” too expensive for our nation to afford.

A serial adulterer who is wealthy and powerful can win majority support from white Evangelical “Christians” in South Carolina as a candidate for President of the United States. One has to ask what opinion those same South Carolina “Christians” would have of their poor black or hispanic neighbor whose sins were the same.

And that brings me to the saddest aspect of this spectacle; that the poor and oppressed themselves have been duped into “sitting in the stands” cheering for those whose exorbitant salaries are robbing them and their children of the necessities of life. The poor are so enamored of the wealthy that they believe and parrot the “lies” told to maintain the status quo.

But, it has always been so, in all places and all times. And the pressed down are saved from total extinction only because a few among them are enlightened enough to understand what is happening to them, and because others – sometimes from the ranks of the privileged – are willing take up their cause.

The greatest story of human history is the story of one whose privileges exempted him from the need to help the needy but who, none the less, invested himself in their cause, even giving up his life in the process.

I cannot claim to be anything other than one of those in need of help. But I can, in gratitude for the help given me, add my voice to those other voices who long ago lifted a peon of praise to him “who comes in the name of the Lord” – the one who  said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

You see, God is no respecter of persons. He sees the rich as no more valuable than the poor; only more capable of “taking care of themselves” in material matters. And so, when he sent his Son into this world, it was to those incapable of “taking care of themselves” that he sent him. In the words of the old Woody Guthrie union-organizing song, “Whose Side Are You On?”