Thursday, May 31, 2012

         A Blasphemous Analogy
                       by Jim Rapp 

I heard a caller to the Joy Cardin show
say that he was supporting Walker.

Citing Jesus’ words that He had come,
“not to bring peace but a sword,”
the caller justified Walker’s divisiveness,
and, by implication, made the Governor
an emissary of Christ.

As though the cause
for which the Governor divides
is equal to the eternal weight of
Christ’s redemptive work.

As though the foes
the Governor opposes – union workers –
are the equal of Satan’s kingdom,
against which the Sword of Christ makes war.

As though the sword
the Governor wields – political power –
is the earthly guarantor
of the kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

              A Light Matter
                   by Jim Rapp 

His tendency to turn on lights –
worse yet, to fail to turn them off –
annoys her; perhaps the greatest blight
she cites that she would call a turn-off.

Her failure to close a closet door
amuses him, in light of her annoyance
at lights turned on, or left glowing, con amore,
as reminders of his passing presence.

When he has “passed” there’ll be no lights left on,
and closest doors will stand triumphantly ajar,
both testaments to their years of gentle fun –
evidence that she has won the long “cold war.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Haiku for Memorial Day
                by Jim Rapp

We live as debtors
ever owing, never free –
gratitude our fee

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Silent Majority

Remember the Silent Majority? Maybe not. It was a Nixon Era thing. Well, not wholly so. A little research into the origin of the phrase uncovered a longer and quite interesting history.

It seems that, in the nineteenth Century, the silent majority referred to the dead. Obviously at some point in human history we crossed over from that point where the living population outnumbered all who had previously lived on the planet to the point where those in the grave outnumbered those living on earth. So the silent majority were those whose voices no longer were heard on earth.

But somewhere in the 20th century the term began to refer to those in society who, though alive,  were not a part of the significant “conversations” human beings have; their opinions were unknown or, if expressed, were ignored by those with “louder” voices.

Richard Nixon assumed that there was a silent majority of people who supported the Vietnam  War, and other policies of his administration, but who did not go into the streets to make their positions known. He appealed to that “silent majority” to support him for re-election. Some would say that they did.

It is probably natural for us to believe that there is a silent majority who, if they would only speak up, would support the positions we advocate. Why wouldn’t they? Our ideas are impeccable. Right?

Recently I was at a gathering at which I expressed my respect for the President. I assumed there were others there who would agree with me but only one other person spoke up, declaring, “I can’t believe you said that. He is a Muslim.” My stunned response was, “I don’t think I can convince you otherwise, but he isn’t.” There was a brief pause, a “pin-drop” moment, before the subject was changed and conversation trotted off in another direction.

I left that gathering wondering why the “silent majority” hadn’t spoken up in the President’s defense. I suppose the one who declared the President a Muslim left with the same question. Why didn’t everyone affirm his assessment of the President?

There was a silent majority at that gathering but their silence signified nothing. Well, I could attribute it to a number of things: shock, embarrassment, cowardice, indecision, discretion. But, in the end I know neither what the silent majority believed regarding the President nor why they were unwilling to express their views. I only know what I, and one other man there believed.

I just finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, a trio of books that depicts a totalitarian society in which the masses remain passive as atrocity after atrocity is inflicted upon others of their fellow citizens. Silent, as long as they are able to escape the brutality themselves. Eventually, in Collins’ story, a large enough minority rises up to overthrow one branch of the oppressive regime but it isn’t clear that those who survive the ensuing war face any brighter future – it isn’t clear because too much is left unsaid, buried under cryptic phrases or simply buried inside the minds of weary survivors.

My take-away from The Hunger Games, and the gathering I was at recently, is that silence doesn’t give consent. But neither does it imply dissent. Silence only confuses those who look to the silent majority for affirmation or disapproval.

Politicians are quick to claim that a victory in an election is an indication that the “people – the silent majority” have spoken, and have given them a mandate for their policies. But in our country, where the electoral turnout is frequently well below 50 percent of the eligible voters, even a “landslide” victory doesn’t begin to tap into the wishes of “the people – the silent majority.”

Elections are our way of expanding the silent majority to include the entire voting population. They tell us only which candidate the minority who chose to vote favored, but not which of his or her policies they favor. In most cases the candidates have artfully dodged any opportunities to declare clearly what their policies will entail for fear that the “silent majority” will reject them.

So, despite the noise of campaign rallies, and the blather of daily campaign ads, we march on in silence, knowing neither what the majority of our friends and neighbors believe, nor what those who seek our votes will deliver if we elect them. We are the silent majority.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What To Do In Your Romney Moment

Much is being made of the high school incident in which Mitt Romney led a pack of boys in an assault on another student whose unconventional hairstyle and possible gayness offended them. Mr. Romney claimed (at least initially) to have no direct memory of the incident. I suppose, technically that is possible but if it is true it invites the even more damning suggestion that such incidents have been so common in his life that they have become indistinguishable from one another.

We have all done horrible things in our lifetimes. Horrible, I repeat. I can imagine those who are protesting that they have never been cruel or insensitive. I’ve met people convinced of their life-long innocence, wholly sanctified, with even the root of sin removed.  But if we consider that a single ill-chosen word can wound for a life-time, and recall the words we’ve spoken in anger, or spite, or even sanctimonious righteousness, we need not to have dragged someone to the ground and cut their hair off, to be as guilty as Mr. Romney gingerly admits he is.

It may not be possible to forget having wrestled someone to the ground and demeaning them by disfiguring their hair, but it is certainly possible to wound without even knowing we have wounded. In my long career as a teacher I dealt with literally thousands of students, some very pleasant and hard-working who would elicit only affirmation from me, but others who were difficult and defiant, and I’ve wondered often if the words I spoke to them were healing or if they only opened their wounds further.

We can only pray that our offenses against our fellow beings (human and non-human) will remain hidden to be dealt with only when we stand before a compassionate, all-knowing, but righteous Judge. But it is possible that, like Mr. Romney, we will be confronted with some sin from the past that we had hoped would never be revealed. If that occurs, we will have reached a salvific moment – and opportunity for redemption.

It appears that, for Mr. Romney, the fear of damage to his present ambition outweighed his desire to redeem an awful moment in his past. He chose to fain forgetfulness and fumble his apology. But before we are too condemning of his actions we need to look into our past, perhaps distant or perhaps recent, and choose an incident which, if revealed would put us in an unfavorable light before those we hope to impress. What would our reaction be?

One of my favorite stories from the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) is that of King David who, when confronted by his friend, the prophet Nathan, about his adulterous and murderous affair with Bathsheba, immediately confessed and repented. It is an almost unprecedented event in human history. David was king. He could have killed the messenger. He could have lied and covered up. He could have denied any complicity in the scheme to murder his friend Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. He could have kept the incident from going public – except for whispered rumors that most certainly would have swirled around his reign. He could have mounted a PR campaign to burnish his image as a fair and righteous king. But David had a higher priority, a desire to be “right” in the eyes of his God. His sin remains upon the “books” as one of the most horrific treacheries of all times. Beside it lies the record of his contrition and sorrow for what he had done. And despite his obvious and notorious sins he is revered in Judeo-Christian history as the righteous King through whom the Messiah would come into the world.

Mr. Romney’s actions during his senior year of high school have to weigh on his conscience – we sincerely hope they do; that he does not dismiss them as an innocent harmless prank. He cannot remove that from the record. But he could have laid beside that record a recognition of its awfulness, and a deep and convincing statement of his sorrow for having been involved. I wish he had.

But saying that, I challenge myself. When I am faced with an awful “Romney Moment”, what will my reaction be? Denial? Forgetfulness? Dismissiveness? Or contrition, confession, and sincere apology?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Am Pro-Walker

It might surprise some people to know that I’m not anti-Walker. Governor Scott Walker, and many others whose policies I oppose are human beings and, as such are creations of God no less worthy of concern for their intrinsic worth and wellbeing than am I. So it would be wrong for me to denigrate Scott Walker, the man. I am pro-Scott Walker. I wish him the best which, defined, is a life lived with integrity and compassion for his fellow man.

But I am anti-Walkerism, that combination of attitude and policy that pushes aside consideration of any point of view but his own; that seeks counsel only from the privileged and powerful to the detriment of all others. There are hardly any initiatives that Governor Walker has put forth that I find acceptable. On their face they nearly all work to the benefit of the wealthy supporters who helped him achieve the office of governor and who are working to keep him in that office.

Further, the private statements – previously private but increasingly being made public – of Governor Walker, regarding his willingness to “divide and conquer” those whom he perceives as obstacles to his objectives reveals an approach to politics that I believe is antithetical to good governance. A good politician seeks to unify and lead, not divide and conquer.

Finally it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Governor, even before running for the office he now holds, surrounded himself with people whose scruples are so weak, or non-existent, that they will conspire to deceive the public, use positions of public trust to undermine the very public they are pledged to serve, and even engage in raw graft for personal gain. While no direct links between the illegal activities of the governor’s former aids and the governor himself have been conclusively shown, the mere fact that he sat within feet of those activates and his body was penetrated by the wireless waves of the illegal internet system his associates set up to support his political career at taxpayer expense either indicate complicity or unimaginable blindness.

No, I am pro-Walker. I want the man to be what he claims his parents raised him to be – a good scout. I want him to forsake the deceptions that have served him in his rise to political prominence and promote truth at any cost to his personal advancement. I want him to be a credit to the faith that he claims, to the family that he is head of, and to any organization with which he associates in the future. I want him to reach the end of his life with a conscience clear of deceit, with a record of service to society unsurpassed by any politician.

But I am anti-Walkerism, and as long as he pursues the course of deceptions now becoming public, and the destructive, divisive policies he is currently pursuing, I want him out of office.

I think of another man whose political philosophy was not that different than Governor Walker’s, Chuck Colson. As a close advisor to President Nixon he became embroiled in the Ellsberg break-in (and the Watergate Affair) and ended up imprisoned for his devious life. But he turned his life around and died a few weeks ago a respected man who spent a career helping others who were going down the path he had gone. I wish for Scott Walker that kind of “conversion” and that kind of ending to his life and career.

Friday, May 11, 2012

                Walker’s World
                         by Jim Rapp

Our governor was caught unawares
greeting a donor at a political affair.
The half-mil donor, a quite pretty lass,
was given a kiss and full warm clasp.
A poor lady standing aside,
a bit older with less money besides,
got a handshake and very brief glance,
before the good governor and the billionaire “danced.”

It’s symbolic of where we stand now
In the governor’s eyes; how
pretty rich donors get a kiss and a hug –
the rest get only a shakedown and shrug.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

      America the Exceptional – the City on a Hill
                                          by Jim Rapp 

What if America really were chosen by God above other nations?
What if we were, today, what Israel once thought itself to be?
What if our founders were intent on building a nation
whose laws mirrored those of Jesus’ “kingdom of heaven”?

Then, should we not, as a nation, be poor in spirit?
Wouldn’t our leaders mourn for the ills of the world;
           mourn for our own sinfulness?
Shouldn’t our people be hungering and thirsting for righteousness?
Wouldn’t we be peacemakers, pure in heart, meek in spirit?
Wouldn’t the policy of our nation be to lend to those who ask;
           bless those who curse us;
           turn the other cheek; go the second mile;
           open our hearts to the naked and hungry;
           care about those in prison; bind the wounds of the sick?

Or would we, like Israel of old, grind the face of the poor,
           empower the rich, impoverish the powerless,
           applaud unrighteousness,
           turn our faces from the sick and dying,
           imprison our prophets, crucify those who come
                      in the name of the Lord?

Wouldn’t a truly exceptional America be the salt of the earth,
           the light of the world, a city set upon a hill?

Wouldn’t America be a much sought haven for the “huddled masses,
yearning to be free?”
As a matter of policy, shouldn’t it welcome the “wretched refuse”
of the world’s “teeming shores”; the “homeless”
and the “tempest-tossed”?

 Why does America, the Exceptional, God’s new Israel,
           turn its back on the stranger at its door,
           despise those whom Jesus chose to serve,
           applaud the success of oppressors,
           elevate the arrogant, enable the wealthy,
           excuse iniquity, celebrate celebrity,
and denigrate – throw crumbs to – the poor?

Americans, stand on the rooftops. Cry out to your God.
Tell Him how exceptionally good we are;
           how we thank Him we are not as other nations.
Give God one good reason that He should “bless America.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Miracle That Almost Didn’t Happen
      (A critique of the illiberal spirit)
                           by Jim Rapp

History’s most famous miracle (save one) –
the feeding of five thousand –
might not have happened
if that gathering had occurred
in modern times.

When Jesus told his followers, “You feed the crowd
with what you have,” they replied, “Impossible!”
 “Don’t tax us, Jesus! Everything we have
in Judas’ bag would not begin to meet the need.
Don’t tax us Jesus! We are nearly broke.”

It seems never to have dawned on them
that they should, nonetheless, empty Judas’ bag –
money, by the way, given to support their master –
to feed as many as they could;
to share “their wealth” to feed the poor.

We praise the boy who gave his lunch
as though he knew his gift
would meet the needs of thousands.
Not so! It was instead a child’s
instinctive wish to do what he could do.

The modern cry, “We’re broke!”
“We can’t continue feeding those
who failed to plan for their provision,”
is just an echo of the words
of Jesus’ stingy, faithless followers.

Our “Judas bag” is full and overflowing.
We spend our wealth in restaurants,
on auto dealer’s lots, at water parks,
resorts, and theaters, but clutch it to our side
when asked to feed and house the needy.

“I’m broke. Don’t take my hard earned cash
to feed, and house, and heal the lazy.
I made it on my own and they can too.
I’m broke, I’m broke . . . I made it on my own . . .
I’m broke, I’m broke . . . I made it . . .”

So what if we are broke? We’re not,
but if we were, then all the more
we need to share our final loaves and fishes –
gifts not to feed a hopeless cause –
gifts, instead, to seed a miracle.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

              by Jim Rapp 

When I disparage politicians,
wrapped in flags
and carrying Bibles,
I mean no disrespect
to the flag;
certainly none to the Bible.

The flag, properly used,
symbolizes a people
joined in purpose;
likewise, rightly understood,
the Bible holds inspired Truth,
conveyed through mortal men.

True love for flag
allows it to fly, symbolic,
not of my American-ness,
but of the aspirations of all;
regardless of origin,
ideology or creed.

True Bible lovers –
as true lovers of every sort –
do not denigrate that they love
by making it an apologist
for their idolatrous beliefs
and adulterous deeds.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wisconsin Did It Right

I’m not a native Wisconsinite but I have been a proud Wisconsinite for many years. As a history teacher I both knew and taught the heritage of governmental and political innovation spearheaded by Robert M. Lafollette in the early 20th century. I proudly told of the history of uncorrupted (well, nearly so) administrations over the last century; legislatures, courts, and executives who worked together to create a state, unusually tranquil, prosperous, and progressive.

The last year and a half has witnessed the sudden collapse of all those things: tranquility, prosperity, and progress. Wisconsin is not wholly in control of its fate; its economic, political, and moral climate is, in part, the same as that of the nation as a whole. So it is not surprising that we have suffered the same hardships as the rest of the nation. And it is not surprising that our reaction to them is colored by the same forces that color reactions nationally. Not surprising. But not inevitable either.

Our current Governor did not have to take the course he chose to take which pitted segments of our society against each other in ways, and to an extent, not even dreamed of the day before he took the oath of office. The result has been a year of political turmoil unmatched in the memory of all but those who read history. Wisconsin has lived under a cloud of rancor for the last 17 months that has begun to seem as though it would never lift.

But last night (May 4, 2012) I saw a slight break in the clouds. The sun shone through for just a few moments. I watched the debate between the four (legitimate) Democratic candidates for Governor. It was a stimulating, thoughtful, fact-focused discussion between four people, each of whom passionately wants the opportunity to lead the state out of the mess it is currently in. But their passion and their desire for the job did not draw them into the kinds of throat-slashing rhetoric and tactic we have been observing over the last several months in the Republican Presidential primary debates.

Civility of speech and seriousness of thought characterized all of the candidates. When the debate ended I had formed a clear opinion of the relative strengths of the candidates. Although I’ve selected one for whom to vote I felt that Wisconsin would do well regardless of which candidate prevailed.

We will continue, no doubt, to endure the lies and half-lies of political campaign ads for another month. Sadly, there will be egregious ads run by or for each side. It was only a small break in the clouds I observed last night. But it let me know that there are four people left in Wisconsin politics who have the capability of leading us back to the reputation of tranquility, prosperity, and progress for which our state has been know for most of its existence.

It will take more than four people to restore the kind of civic life most Wisconsinites have enjoyed. It will require that all of us begin to practice the civility that was on display at the debate last night. And it will be greatly enhanced if all of us would focus as consistently as they did in their remarks upon the job to be done, offering clear and achievable solutions to problems. But perhaps the greatest service we can do for our state is to refuse to put in places of power and authority those whose language and agenda are aimed at division, and to remove, through legitimate means, those who are found to be untrue to that which they represented themselves to be when seeking office.

We can’t change the weather, they say. Perhaps not climatologically. But politically we can. And if we value the good things we’ve enjoyed in this previously pleasant state, we’ll work to do so.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Explaining That Latest Post

Yesterday I posted the quickly written poem, Bad and Worse. It was inspired by a contention made by Marilynne Robinson in the chapter “When I Was A Child I Read Books” in her book of the same title.

Twice she asserts, in that chapter, that the struggles (dialectics she calls it in one place) of this world are not between “good” and “bad”, but rather between “bad” and “worse”.

Robinson is not morbid, nor does she fail to see beauty in our world, or goodness in the works of mankind. But she recognizes a dangerous tendency in humanity; the propensity to label that which one prefers or supports (capitalism or socialism for example) as “good” and then to cast the opposite as “bad”.

The first fallacy in this approach is to assume that any human endeavor is even mostly good. It may, as may all other human endeavors, contain some good, perhaps some great good, but an honest appraisal will force one to admit that it contains much that is not good, perhaps some elements that partake of great evil.

The second fallacy (or perhaps we should say “fault”) is that it segregates society into camps working against each other. Just that image alone – “working against each other” – should be enough to reveal the wastefulness of such efforts. It would be akin to nosing two tractors against each other for the purpose of plowing a field. All the energy that could have resulted in a plowed field would be expended in a futile attempt to move the tractors forward.

Undoubtedly the owners of the tractors would have good reason for opposing each other. Each would think his tractor the best for the job of plowing the field. They might even call their own tractor “good” for the job and denigrate the other as worthless when in fact each tractor would have strengths and weaknesses if observed objectively. A careful coordination of the tractors, using their strengths to best advantage and minimizing the effects of their weaknesses, could result in the field being plowed more quickly and efficiently than either tractor alone could accomplish.

Mankind is always pronouncing the miracle cure, the perfect solution; fighting the war to end all wars, building the unsinkable ship, devising the foolproof scheme. But all talk of that sort is blasphemy – it makes of God a liar. Jesus asked the rich young man who came to him and called him “Good Master”, “Why do you call me good. There is none good but God.”

All human endeavors are laced with pride, ambition, greed, and unseemly competitiveness. There is none that is righteous – not one. Every ideology – even every theology – partakes of the curse of man’s fallen nature. It is therefore unwise – even unchristian – to become devotees of any man-made system of thought or organization, political, economic, philosophical, or theological.

Christians should be the world’s most iconoclastic critics of  the systems of this world, not rejecting the good that is in them, but neither bowing down to worship them, lining up to march on their behalf, going to war for them against their competitors.

Christians should be eclectic, choosing the best regardless of where it comes from, exposing and rejecting the bad without qualm or hesitation even if it is espoused by others as “good”.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

         Bad and Worse
                 by Jim Rapp

Marilynne Robinson declares
the dialectic of history is
between bad and worse.

“She is a pessimist,” you cry.
“No, a realist,” I reply.

Or at the very best
I’d say it is between
bad and no better.

Such a view saves us
from the assumption
that it is between
good and bad,
forces us to see
the fallenness
of every human way;
that all have sinned –
do sin – and fall short
of perfection.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

      Alpha and Omega
             by Jim Rapp

In the beginning was the word,
A gift to adam from the Word.
The word was all that adam had,
No alphabet, no tablet, no stylus;
Just the word, spoken once;
Sent to dissipate into the air.

No need for erasers then,
The wind erased each word;
Chased both hate and love
Into oblivion, leaving
Fading human memory
To cherish or to rue
What now our race records
On stone and parchment,
Film and tape and chips.

But In the end again
There’ll be no word;
Just word-shaped voids
Within the air,
Or worn symbols once
Scribed on broken stones
And crumbling scrolls;
Faded faces, with voices
Incomprehensible, stored on
Outdated films and tapes and chips.
All that’s left – uttered once,
In languages since dead,
Will dissipate like ancient words
Spoken into air.

And time will be no more.