Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service

The young boy sat nervously in the back row of the basement tabernacle. (Churches were often called "tabernacles" in that day.) It was New Year’s Eve and the faithful few were gathering for an annual event to celebrate, not so much the ending of one year and the beginning of another as to anticipate the ending of an era and the beginning of another. "The Lord may come before this service is over," the preacher shouted. "He may come before 1946 has ended."

Wow! At only ten years old, the boy had a lot of living still to do. He planned to replace Stan Musial as the star of the St. Louis Cardinals. There were a couple of pretty girls that he was interested in. Perhaps one of them would consent to marry a man who would be on the road half the time during the baseball season. It was not exactly good news that "the Lord may come before this service is over."

But more than that, he knew that the coming of the Lord ushered in that fearful event, the "Great White Throne Judgment." Arrayed on one side of the Judge would be the sheep, those having done all the good works required to hear the reassuring words, "Well done faithful servant. Enter in to the joy of your Lord." On the other side would be the goats, those who refused to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. The boy knew that he would stand with the goats and hear the dreadful words, "Depart from me ye wicked into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels." He could not recall a time when he was not a "believer"; from his earliest years he had memorized Scripture, attended church, read his Bible (irregularly), prayed (irregularly), and sometimes talked to his friends about "religion". And he never doubted that Jesus was the Son of God sent to be our Savior. He had recently, in the previous few months, made a special commitment to serve Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

But . . . but he had entertained every evil thought that ten year olds are prone to entertain. He had said some words that ten year olds should not have been saying. He had often been disobedient both at home and at school. He had sometimes, in a fit of anger, wished his brothers or his father dead because of the things they had done to him. And, worst of all, he had entertained some very romantic (ten year old’s) thoughts about those two girls he admired. He had no more chance of standing with the sheep than he had of going to see a St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball game.

So the "Watch Night Service" held only terror for the young man. His only hope was that mid-night would pass and he would find himself breathing the fresh air of a year he never expected to see, 1947.

The sermon invariably began at 11 p.m., giving the preacher ample time to enumerate the reasons why the congregated saints might not walk out through the church doors that night. He was also charged with responsibility for allowing a few minutes just before mid-night so the gathered could all be on their knees praying for God to bless the new year that, odds were, would not come into being. And just as routinely, the preacher lost track of time and preached until he noticed the faithful nervously checking their watches. He would attempt to put on the brakes but preachers in those day used the brakes so seldom that they often failed when an attempt was made to apply them. So the saints invariably skidded into the new year, falling on their knees at five or ten past mid-night, thanking God for the newly arrived year. None thanked God with more sincerity than the young man on the back row. He now had 365 new days in which to be the kind of boy that would, next December 31st, stand with the sheep.

Sixty-seven years have been added to the young man’s total. He has been invited to a watch night party with some fellow believers this year. Those who make it to mid-night will "pray the new year in" if they manage to break away from their scrabble and domino games in time. There is little talk, and apparently little expectation that "the Lord might come before this party breaks up at mid-night." The "young man", like Luther before him, has learned some things about grace; learned that we gain our position to the right or left of the Judge not because of our works but by grace, through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

So the ending of one year, and the start of another no longer holds terror for the old man. But he wonders how much we have lost because we cease to daily anticipate that second advent of the Lord. Without that constant reminder that our Lord may come today, to judge the "quick and the dead," we may find it easy to neglect the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the visiting of the sick and those in prison. The Judge has told us that, as we do those things for the least of those around us we are doing them for Him.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Spread the Joy!


by Jim Rapp

Merry Christmas!
It rolls from my lips
as easily as
God bless you.

I’m not surprised,
not even offended,
when merchants mute
their “holiday” greetings.

They are for-profit
enterprises; they must
please everyone,
offend no one.

We like it that way;
we all are for-profit
enterprisers; we all
earn our bread that way.

So get off the backs
of the money makers,
let them say it
anyway they wish.

They are not celebrating
the birth of a Savior,
they believe their
profits will save them.

But we who know
the blessed One
who came to bring
us everlasting treasure,

Say, “Merry Christmas!”
We have no axe to grind,
no buck to make, just joy
to share with one and all.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And They Say The Taxes Are Eating Us Alive!


by Jim Rapp 

I just finish roughing out
my 2013 federal taxes.
For my wife and I, about –
after Turbo Tax axes,
through credits and deductions,
an impressive chunk of change –
the cost, upon careful calculation,
of a cup each of Caribou per day.
Where, such a bargain,
but in the U.S.A.?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Death of Sweet Intercourse

NOTE: Since posting this comment last night I've come across an interesting and provocative piece in the New York Times. Written by Sherry Turkle, and entitled "The Documented Life", it reinforces the intended message of the blog piece below, that we are sacrificing our sacred gift of conversation on the altar of rapidly and incessantly changing technologies.

I haven’t gotten connected to social media, don’t own a smart phone, watch little T.V., and talk to fewer people on a daily basis than I used to. Perhaps that is the definition of retirement, or old age, especially old age for people of my generation, born before the beginning of WWII.

In my case it is largely a matter of choice.

In 1980 I bought my first personal computer, a Radio Shack Model III with a whopping 4 k of internal memory which I promptly upgraded to its maximum of 16 k. Before I quit using it I bought a third-party add-on board (actually two or three boards) that increased its memory to around 50 mb. For the most part, if you wanted any programming, you did it yourself in Basic Language. From there I moved to a Tandy 2000 IBM compatible machine, and then through a long progression of upgrades, some self-assembled, some put together by local computer shops, and finally ending up – at present – with three Dell computers in the house, one desk type tower and two laptops.

I tell all of this to say that I’m not averse to technology. I’m still looking forward to improved equipment and software that will meet my needs better than what I currently have. Particularly I would love to get rid of the “wires” that hang from every desk (my Radio Shack Model III had one wire, the power cord), all necessary to connect and power the computers, modems, routers, speakers, monitors, keyboards, mouses (or is that mice?), scanners, printers, and much else.

But I’ve outgrown the need to have the latest, greatest gadget just because it has become popular or comes in a newer neater color or shape. I’m at the stage in life that I want the things I spend my money for to provide a needed service.

And so I come to the subject of this blog entry: the Internet, and particularly e-mail. Anyone reading my Blog – at the present moment, or on a regular basis – has a clear example of the content of my e-mail messages. When I converted from letters written for distribution through “snail mail” to communication via e-mail, I brought over the same habits of layout and sentence structure I was taught were appropriate for personal or business communication. More importantly, for personal letters, I bought over the concept of conversation.

It was a bit disconcerting when I began to get “letters” from friends that did not follow those conventions; notes dashed off in all caps or with no caps, poor grammar, and spelling worse than mine. It was easy to rationalize that even in the era of “snail mail” there had been poorly written letters, so the phenomenon I was witnessing was nothing new.

Perhaps so. But now I’m receiving dozens of e-mail “communications” per week that consist only of a link to some Internet site, introduced by a few words from some anonymous person touting the link to be of great interest to me, or tremendously funny, deeply patriotic, or revelatory of some scheme by the current President to take away our freedoms. Invariably I’m encouraged to pass these messages on to all my friends so the laughter, or beauty, or patriotic ardor, religious sentiment, or news of conspiracy, can be shared by the millions.

What is invariably missing from those e-mails is conversation, discourse, or what an older generation called intercourse before that word came only to denote sexual intimacy. Never is there a word in these e-mails of personal greeting, a statement about the state of mind or health or well-being of the person sending the e-mail to me. Never is there a question about my state of mind, or health, or well-being.

Sometimes the list of recipients of the e-mail is visible. Squinting to scan the list and locate my name, I realize that the chance of the sender having thought of me for even a second of time was about one in thirty-five. This is neither conversation, discourse, nor intercourse. I am hard pressed to know exactly what it is. I know that it neither reflects well upon the sender or his opinion of those to whom he sends such trivia.

And now I’m being urged to move on up a little higher to the worlds of Facebook and Twitter; to converse in acronyms, photos, and brief statements bearing little context in which to judge their full meaning. It is an invitation to disaster for friendships. The correspondents must either restrict their communications to trivia or risk misunderstandings that are hard to remedy.

I have friends who say they never read their e-mail. A few have Facebook accounts, mainly for the purpose of seeing what others are saying about themselves. One has to wonder where conversations occur now. Those fortunate enough to meet with friends and relatives often may be able to converse if the TV, smart phones, and gaming devices are turned off long enough to allow that to happen. But those separated by the miles are often as isolated from each other as were their ancestors in the day when postal service was slow and uncertain.

Our forefathers used to speak of “sweet intercourse”, meaning the precious time spent exchanging joys and sorrows, successes and failures, ideas great and small, either face to face or in long and detailed letters. We cherish those collections of letters, from Harry Truman to his “Dear Bess”, from Jefferson to John Adams and vice versa, from C.S. Lewis to an American lady he never met but with whom he faithfully corresponded, carefully responding to all her questions regarding life and theology, the letters of Paul, and Peter, and John, and Jude to the early Christian churches. Are we leaving anything of comparable value to those who follow us? I fear we are merely re-Tweeting trivia and trash, Forwarding foolishness and malicious factoids.

I am no Luddite. I value the technological innovations that made my life and work more interesting and productive, from that Radio Shack Model III computer to the marvelous Kindle that allows me to carry a thousand books in my hand at one time, more easily than I once carried one. I may someday own a smart phone if I see that it meets needs that current technologies do not. I may someday open a Facebook account if I sense that it enhances the sweet intercourse I cherish with those I know and love. I may even learn to Tweet someday.

All of these, and more to come, are an inevitable consequence of our free market system. We cannot stop them from coming. But we can decide when and how they should impact our lives. And we can determine that they will not interrupt the indispensable flow of serious discourse between us and others we know and value.

Speech, later enhanced by writing, is arguably the greatest gift possessed by humankind. Speech allows us to communicate in the present; writing allows us to learn from the past and communicate with the future. But in the here and now – which is really all we finite creatures have – writing gives us the opportunity for sweet intercourse with all those people in our e-mail address books. Let’s not waste that valuable opportunity by sending on meaningless Forwards, re-Tweets, and trivial Facebook entries.

Talk to someone on that smart phone, making their day; sit down and write someone a long and interesting letter that they will save and cherish for years to come.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent of the Promised Drone

by Jim Rapp

The prophet has spoken . . .

I heard just yesterday that drones
will soon deliver my Amazon
purchases – as soon as they have honed
the system. With all glitches gone,

at the FAA’s approved hour,
the skies will be lighted by a million,
or a million to the hundredth candle power,
as mini semis, an Amazon battalion,

with no human hand to steer,
no human eye to see,
will descend and drop their gear
precisely where it’s meant to be.

The prophecy is fulfilled . . .

Today I watched a “drone” in action,
pushing down our street a laden dolly,
piled high with boxes, often losing traction
on the icy sidewalk – losing boxes – what folly!

It was an auxiliary UPS delivery man.
On foot! Delivering,– as postmen did of yore –
packages disgorged from a fleeing van
to be hand-delivered, from the dolly, door to door.

I wanted so to roll my window down –
human kindness alone deterred me –
and ask if he was the Promised Drone;
the Amazon Messiah that we seek.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Your Youness

by Jim Rapp

It is your Youness that we seek in you,
not things that wear away with age,
but the things we see you do
and say when you engage
 
on friendship’s turf
with those you love;
the tiny little kerfs
you cut in hearts of
 
unsuspecting passersby,
made hard by daily living,
re-shaped by coming eye to eye
with goodness bent on unremitting giving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bucking the Lord’s Day

by Jim Rapp

Pews ordinarily full
have scattered empty spaces,
showing the Lord lacks the pull
of bucks at fifty paces.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Fall Guy

by Jim Rapp

I left the oak leaves lying on the porch so long
the first snowfall cemented them to the decking.
I should claim I waited, fair Autumn to prolong.
Alas, the truth is I was procrastinating.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hating What God Hates

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

It would be good if the world were as nice a place as some would like us to pretend that it is; free of evil people, free of evil itself. It would be nice if the bad things that people do to each other were not the result of a nature that tends toward self-interest, self-aggrandizement and self-gratification. It would be wonderful if we all were basically good people who need only a small amount of occasional redirection to keep us on the path of humanity and civility.

The truth is, we have all sinned and have all fallen far short of the glory that our Creator envisioned for us when he put our race upon this earth. Regardless of whether our race was once pure and then became impure or if it has always been impure, it is nonetheless impure now. And it is the stated goal of our Creator to make us pure (holy) as he is pure. But it hasn’t happened yet in my case and does not seem to have happened to anyone else – save Jesus Christ – who has occupied this human frame to which we are all confined.

So let’s face it. We are all doing things – either in thought, word, or deed – that God hates. Not because He hates us but because He hates the effects our sins are having upon our natural world (a cherished part of his creation). He hates the effect of our sins upon the societies in which we live. He hates the consequences of our sins upon the people living in those societies.  God loved our world (cosmos) so much that He sent his one and only Son to die here as a perfect human sacrifice so that no one need perish but that all, through faith in God’s Son, could have everlasting life.

My prayer: Father God, thank you for Jesus the Christ (the Messiah), whom you sent to die in my stead for my sinfulness. I receive the grace and forgiveness purchased for me by his sacrifice. May I, day by day – and each day more than the last – put away from me those things that you hate, pride, and malice, and cunning, and selfishness, and deceit. May I hate them when I see them in my thoughts and behavior just as much as I hate them in the behavior of others. Teach me to hate the things you hate.

Note: this meditation was inspired in part by, and follows the format of, Joshua DuBois' excellent new book, The President's Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama. I recommend it highly. It is beautifully and non-politically written.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Son-time on a Rainy Day: Nov. 6, 2013

by Jim Rapp

Rain is such a blessing,
even snow if it comes.
Bringing two blessings I’m guessing;
A son and perhaps a grandson.

How old was I when, at last
I had a two-car attached garage?
At forty-six and aging fast
he’s still chasing that mirage.

But for now he’ll work in mine
on this cold and rainy day,
and, aging fast, we'll all cherish the time;
make every precious minute pay.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Leaving Good Enough Alone, Especially if it Isn't Yours


Grieving the Uses of BG
by Jim Rapp

BG has spoken – spoken well – spoken truth.
His cords once strong and filled with youth –
ringing unafraid, undefiled, and couth –
now frail with age can barely move.

But electronics serve to prop an old man up,
keep him speaking long beyond his years;
speaking long since his words, now served up
in fragments, bring spirit-meaning to our ears.

BG no longer hears the call of God anew
but those who need his name are not averse
to keeping the ruse alive, whatever they must do;
ghost write a book, create a film, or worse

insinuate their will and plans into his will,
speak “in his name” and make the claim,
though voice and body fails, he’s speaking still.
But not, alas, with prophet voice of BG fame.

Oh lord, preserve your servant’s legacy;
preserve the decades spent in service willingly
against the thieves who, stealing stealthily,
would leave only badly muddled memories.

Don’t Mess with my Words:
Still Thinking of What They Are Doing To BG
by Jim Rapp 

I don’t care what your motive is.

You may wish I had said something
      I purposely chose not to say,
or regret that I said something
      you wish I hadn’t said.
You may be embarrassed
      at my uncouth words,
distressed at my punctuation,
tempted to enhance my legacy
      by “cleaning up” my work.

You may simply want to erase
      all memory of me.
(Good luck. That’s been tried before.)

If the Author of my words,
      the One in whom I live
      and breathe
      and have my being,
      deems them worthy of     
      continuation all you do
      will only cause them to
      live longer.

But just leave them lie, please.

I’ll stand before the Great Judge
      and give account
      for every word spoken
      or written –
even every thought.

I don’t need you tampering with them
      in the interim.

So when I am gone,
      keep your hands off my words.
Let them speak to you
      from where they lie,
or not speak to you at all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Who Does It Best?

The news is out this week that Toyota has fallen from its pinnacle of perfection in the eyes of those who test automobile safety. Seems theirs, and several other leading brands, failed to adequately meet a crucial – and common – test criteria, a partial head-on crash with another car or with a barrier. It was big news for one cycle of the evening news but is no longer a big deal. The Foxes are not yipping about it, demanding the resignation of the corporate executives.

Tylenol is quietly being returned to the shelves, even promoting itself again after a long hiatus caused by contaminated product nearly two years ago. NBC runs the new Tylenol ads but never mentions the corporate failure that caused the company to withhold its product from most pharmacies' shelves for so long. It is no big deal.

Apple released its new I-phone a year or so ago (now old already because a “new improved model is available) with faulty maps on its built in mapping software; a huge error on the part of its software-making partner. It was noted at the time that Apple had some egg on its face but Fox and NBC execs continued to buy I-phones and not once called for the firing of Apple’s CEO. It was treated as an opportunity to tweak a corporate giant – and corporate sponsor – gently and humorously.

What has gone wrong with our Media? Have they gone soft on public safety issues that affect the pocketbooks of millions of Americans and endanger the lives of millions more? Or is it favoritism toward this or that corporate sponsor that keeps the news muted, restricted to a mere nod before the story is shuffled to the bottom of the stack?

Ah no. They have saved their ire for the flaws in the government’s roll-out of “Obamacare”. They receive no advertising dollars from the government so they risk no loss of revenue – could conceivably even reap a lot of revenue if they can keep the story “hot” for several weeks – so they pour forth their astonishment, dismay, and contempt on those who are attempting to enroll millions of previously uninsured Americans in an affordable (with subsidies) health insurance program.

“How could you have not tested the program sooner?” “Who should be fired?” “Did the President know about the flaws in the system?” All good questions, questions that need to be asked, I suppose. And since it is a “government program” – we forget that it was private contractors that designed the flawed software that is causing all the problems, and it is private insurance companies that are frothing at the mouth awaiting the chance to charge higher premiums to those who do get the registration system to work – it is fair game to pile on, running critiques for news cycle after news cycle.

To hear the Foxes yipping, and the NBC peacocks squawking, you would think every insurance policy in the U.S. was in danger. Not so. Over eighty percent of U. S. citizens receive their health insurance from their employer or through a government run or supervised program like Medicare, Medicaid, or Veteran’s benefits. Most people on those programs are pleased with their benefits and with the smooth manner in which they are delivered. For all its clumsiness, even the Medicare Part D drug plan designed by the G.W. Bush administration – which by the way looks a lot like “Obamacare” – is clunking along, making billions of dollars for private enterprise, drug producers and pharmacies, and the News Anchors and Talking Heads never even take notice of it’s cumbersome design anymore.

So why all the surprise that there are some glitches in the design and roll-out of a program attempting to help millions of Americans improve their lives? Hey, it is private – for profit –corporations who designed – or mis-designed – the system. The same kind of private enterprise that makes Toyota’s that won’t pass safety tests. The same kind of private enterprise that takes two years or more to get its product back on the shelves after an embarrassing and hazardous contamination issue. The same kind of private enterprise that issues its latest and greatest I-phone with maps installed that get you nowhere, then corrects the problem by creating a newer, greater version to sell to you at full price. This clumsy roll-out of the Affordable Care Act wasn’t a government failure – it is a massive private enterprise failure on the part of those corporate software giants to provide to the government a workable product for the price initially quoted!

But we know why the media is expressing such angst. It has an easy target and an audience willing to join it in beating up on government bureaucrats. It is an old game like “Smack the Gopher” that Mitch McConnell loves so much. There is little to lose and much to be gained – from their profit driven perspective – by frothing over a “failed” government roll-out. But there is much to be lost if their daily ravings discourage those who desperately need insurance coverage from even attempting to get it. How much more good could our media accomplish by spending their time explaining the actual glitches and giving their viewers information about how to get around those glitches and get signed up for the affordable insurance the program is there to deliver?

Sadly our media are not about doing good. They are about doing whatever gives them a rating advantage over their competitor and thus increase their revenue stream. They regularly produce flawed data – especially at times of great crisis like the Boston bombing – even as they pose as judge and jury over the initiation of “Obamacare.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Inbreathed


(A Haiku)
by Jim Rapp

true inspiration
weaves words the author dare not
claim to be his own

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's Time to Write that Letter Today


Extending Love
by Jim Rapp

A thousand words
from friend to friend
are just a way
that friends extend
the saying of
what three will do -
each word conveying,
"I love you."

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Cold Assize

by Jim Rapp

Autumn air
awaits the day’s arising,
taunting as Geos tries to rouse
her stiff arthritic bones.
Even fiery Sol, with aching groans,
awakes with tentative apprizing.

Geos, scrounging,
seeks for something warm
to wrap her aged, shivering body in;
brews some “warm” and slowly takes it in,
and gazing through the haze sees
Autumn charm.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

When Compromise Makes Sense - And When It Doesn’t

There are two boys and two candy bars, a Babe Ruth and a Snickers bar. Both boys want the Babe Ruth candy bar and are about to come to blows over the issue when Mom steps in and works out a compromise allowing both boys to have half a Babe Ruth and half a Snickers bar. A perfect compromise! Well, nothing is perfect in these situations Neither boy got all that he wanted but both got some of what they wanted.

A terrorist is holding 20 hostages, demanding that 20 of his jihadist buddies who are rotting in Guantanamo be released in exchange for the 20 hostages. He has explosives attached to each of the hostages and will detonate them if any attempt is made to rescue them. Is there a “Mom” who can step into this situation and “split the difference”? Hardly. And pity the poor President who has to make the decision to either risk the lives of innocent hostages or turn loose on the world 20 dangerous jihadists.

The Congress of the United States has passed a health reform law, the President signed it, the Supreme Court upheld nearly every aspect of it, and the American people re-elected the President whose name has become synonymous with the law. But now a small group of radicals has taken the law hostage and is holding a gun to its head, saying, we will shoot if the President doesn’t agree to eviscerate the health reform law.

Of course the “gun” they are holding to the head of the “hostage health reform law” is really two guns, a government shutdown and a default on the nation’s debt.

When asked by the media, many Americans seem to be saying, “Why don’t the two sides just split the difference. They should quit acting like children fighting over a candy bar, split the difference and get on with things.” But what are the consequences of forcing a president to either scrap or delay a major piece of legislation in order to keep the “hostage holders” from pulling the trigger? How many more “hostage” situations will we have to deal with in the future. Will the other side (the Democrats in this situation) be forgiving when it is their turn to play “jihadist”? Not very likely.

There are compromises in which splitting the difference makes sense, no one is hurt very badly. But dismantling a law in the process of being implemented will have long and lasting implications for millions of Americans. This is not a situation in which compromise will improve the outcome. The Tea Party Republicans, and Speaker Boehner who is enabling them either through cowardice or conviction need to pass the budget bills needed to keep our government functioning and paying its bills. That is their job. We pay them $175,000 per year, plus benefits and retirement, to do that job. It is not their job to repeal laws at the point of a “gun.”

There will be time enough, at some point in the future, when Republicans hold the balance of power, to revisit the health reform act. And when that day comes Republicans had better hope that Democrats have forgotten the terrorist tactics used against them in the fall of 2013.

This dysfunction has been a long time coming. It began with Ronald Reagan’s depreciatory comments about government and has grown to the point that nearly a quarter of the electorate has decided that they can do without the government – until it is shut down. Then those who have trashed the government suddenly want to re-fund it piecemeal to make themselves look good to certain constituencies that they have hurt by their intransigence. It is impossible to know where are current crisis will end – or how. If we make it through without triggering another “Great Recession” or worse, we need to do a few urgent things as quickly as we can:

1.         Pass meaningful and effective campaign spending laws getting big money out of politics

2.         Pass laws requiring that Congressional Districts be drawn by impartial panels rather than state legislatures

3.         Pass effective laws guaranteeing the right of every citizen to uninhibited access to the ballot box

4.         Reform the rules under which the Senate and the House operate so that decisions are made by majority vote in all but very exceptional cases; ratification of treaties, etc.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Leaving Home

by Jim Rapp


The Leaves are falling,
tint-edged by Frost and Sun;
Mother Earth is calling
so their journey has begun.

The Air, too still today to tug them
from the Skeletons they leave,
calls on Gravity to pry away their stems
and guide them downward into growing sheaves

where they will lie in wait for Wind
to come and carry them away;
to blend them, where he sends,
with leaves that fell another place.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mikhail Kalashnikov, How Do I Love Thee?

by Jim Rapp

Love is measured by constancy,
excusing a multitude of sins,
finding reasons to insistently
forgive the sinner time and time again.

The trail of betrayals is never so long –
we’ve lost sight of its beginning –
that it stills the fawning suitor’s song,
so the lover, unfettered, goes on sinning.

In Tucson, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Columbine,
Chicago, Sandy Hook, Ft. Hood, D.C.,
Oak Creek; a persistent, bloody line
stretches on as far as human eye can see.

And still the frightened lift their lover’s song,
still, and still again, forgive their lover’s sins,
quick to blame their lover’s many wrongs
on any cause, or anyone, or anything but him.

How do I love thee, Kalashnikov? Let me count.
Can hate, or wounds, or weekly mayhem,
pooling blood, shattered lives, or any amount
of heinous sins you’ve sinned, my ardor stem?

No. None! It is a lover’s rights that are at stake.
When public parks, shopping malls, and gated lawns
are changed to killing fields, with brother-blood you slake
your thirst: an AK-47 thrills until the ammo’s gone.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Standing Watch: Questions for an Ancient Tree in a Chicago Park

by Jim Rapp

Yellow tape defines a space;
anchored to a pole that holds,
suspended overhead,
a backboard and a hoop;
wrapped around a tree
whose ancient girth
seems capable of
enfolding eight of the slender,
blue-clad men standing watch
over the bloody scene of
thirteen attempted murders.
Young men they,
trained and badged to watch,
born more than a century
after the wizened tree
began its watch over –
who remembers what;
a farm yard, a city lawn,
and now at last, a battlefield,
parading as a children’s
playground?

Does it grieve –
this perennial giant –
remembering other days
when carefree hearts
enjoyed its shade,
raced to climb its heights,
freely shared its joys,
or does it merely
bear mute witness to
a city’s daily slaughter;
just so much more
of what it’s leaves have
had to cover – every fall –
a century’s worth of falling;
watching reds, yellows,
browns – the precious gold
of every Autumn –
covered with the pallid,
white of every Winter,
rise again in virulent passion
every new Summer?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Bible, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights

Funerals are wonderful events, family events. People come from the far flung regions to honor the memory of the deceased. Songs are sung, stories are told, photos are dragged out and pinned on boards for everyone to see and snicker at – or wonder at. The church ladies prepare a wonderful feast – a predictable feast – of potato chips, pickles, olives, sandwiches, pasta salads, potato salads, and many, many fluffy, creamy salads. Of course coffee, koolaid, and water to drink.

But the best part, for those who hope for life everlasting, is the knowledge that another believer (the beloved deceased) has made it beyond the reach of politics. Yes, unbelievable as it may sound, there will be no politicians in heaven. No elections. No campaign advertisements. No blaring billboards. Any who wish to enter that realm must surrender their party membership cards (and their guns) at the gate.

I know, I know; there was a brief outbreak of political competition in heaven a few thousand eons ago but that has been settled once and for all. Heaven is a place of harmony, and that makes it totally incompatible with politics.

Why all these unusual musings? I’ll explain, since you asked.

Driving home from a funeral today we saw a large billboard, festooned in red, white and blue, bearing the following message: 

The Bible                                The Source
The Constitution                   of our
The Bill of Rights                  Strength 

The words in the left hand column were emblazoned over the image of a man’s bent arm and bulging muscles. The background of the right column was, if I recall correctly, an American flag.

So what’s not to like in that? Aren’t the Bible, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights the source of America’s strength? Depends, sort of. Again, allow me to explain.

The Bible, first of all has no authority in the governance of our nation beyond the influence it exerts on those who know its content, believe in its precepts, and put them to work in their own lives. No American can use the Bible in any court of law to claim any right or protection not also incorporated into the laws of our land through state and national constitutions, and state and national statutes. And no one can be prosecuted for a violation of any Biblical injunction unless that Biblical prohibition was also made illegal by state or national legislation. In fact millions of Americans would be in very bad straits if the Bible were being used as a binding prescriptive guide to morality and legality.

The Bible is intended to serve as a revelation of God through the last 4,000 years. It was never intended to serve as the legal and moral authority of any nation (including Israel – parts of the Old Testament provided the Law which was supposed to be enforced but was more often ignored than obeyed – other parts, of course, came into being long after Israel ceased to be a state). Those who have tried to make it so serve, our Puritan forefathers for example, have created atrocities not unlike those that Americans decry in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

And what of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? First it should be said that the Bill of Rights, being the first ten amendments to the Constitution are now really a part of the Constitution. That may be a minor point but the insistence of some upon separating the two documents either reveals ignorance of the status of the first 10 amendments, or ignorance of the history of their origins. The original Constitution of the United States of America lacked, in the view of many early founders, guarantees to protect citizens from potential abuses imposed by their own government. They insisted that a Bill of Rights be made a part of the Constitution and threatened to oppose ratification of the Constitution if there was none forthcoming. So ten amendments were drawn up to satisfy the concerns of those who feared that the new government would be as repressive as Great Britain had been.

The patriotic billboard I saw today may well be right in claiming that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the strength of our nation. Time will tell. But if that is the case then why have we amended the Constitution twenty-seven times? And why, even now, are there suggestions of amending it again to ban gay marriage, to ban abortions, to force the federal government to balance the budget, to give the President a line item veto, to make English the official language of the nation, to declare the United States to be a Christian nation, and any number of other things our hapless politicians can dream up? And what of the frequent suggestion – usually from highly patriotic organizations – that we need a new constitutional convention to reshape the current constitution or replace it?

Our poor Constitution is a battered, patchwork document, constantly under attack by the same people who want us to believe that it is “The Strength of our Nation.” Every patch sewn onto the original document was resisted almost as vigorously as it was advocated and won its place in that “hallowed” document only because at least fifty-one percent of the citizens in three-quarters of the states voted for it. And even today, in many of our “Red States” you can hear the rumbling speech of John C. Calhoun arguing for nullification and secession.

So what is the strength of our nation? Wow! It is harder to name that strength than it is to deny what others believe to be our strength. As a Christian believer I have very high regard for the Bible. As an American I have high regard for the Constitution. But I cannot believe that those two documents are the strength of a nation that neither knows their content or lives by their precepts. How many Christians are truly Bible literate, could name the ten commandments, or the beatitudes, could, more to the point, honestly claim to have shaped their lives around them? How many Americans could name the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, and more to the point could tell you the content and purpose of the Articles in the original document?

Since the Bible is ignored by the vast majority of Americans, and the Constitution is either unknown or seen to be in need of much amending, those cannot be our strength. Our strengths – if we have namable strengths – must be a vestigial tendency toward brotherliness (I would call it a residual of that perfect state in which God once placed mankind), coupled with a fear of the sword. The relative prosperity which our nation has enjoyed since its founding has made it possible for those frail protections to preserve us and has kept the wolves of our darker nature at bay.  But I fear that they are growing more numerous, more bold, and more ferocious.

The dear deceased – at the funeral I just left, in case you have forgotten – is beyond all of that. Heaven may not be at all what we have imagined it to be, but it must be a place without politics or it won’t be heaven at all.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Christians and the World Wide Gossip (Liars) Network

I woke up this morning to find the story, reproduced below, in my e-mail inbox, just another of the many “Forwards” I receive from friends who obviously think the things they send on are: 1) true, 2) meaningful, 3) urgent, 4) revealing, 5) humorous, 6) shocking, 7) heart wrenching, 8) morally uplifting, 9) morally reprehensible or 10) some combination of the above.

The e-mail in which this “clipping” was reproduced had the subject line: “Well written police report,” subtly suggesting that the police wrote the report in a manner that exonerated the Marines from any violence they did to the “assailant” while leaving the perceptive reader to draw the conclusion that they had beaten him to a pulp.
 

 
There are several problems with the purported “news story” reprinted above. The Snopes website presents a summary of the truth and fiction in the Internet/E-mail pass-along. Readers will find their  investigation instructive. They point out that the story has a basis in fact but that successive “reporters” of the incident have taken great liberties in embroidering the event with details that are totally false, even to the point, in one instance, of removing the story from its original context in Augusta, Georgia to Australia. Snopes has been able to identify three separate versions of the story.                     .

The original newspaper report gives a rather full report of the incident and includes a photo of the robber/assailant. The report of the Assailant’s trial and sentencing appeared in the August (GA) Chronicle, Tuesday, October 4, 2011.

However there are problems with the e-mail story, that Snopes does not clearly address. The name of the real robber/assailant was Tracy Attaway, a 39 year old ex-felon, not Tyrone Jackson. Tracy Attaway was from Waynesboro, Georgia, not Augusta, Georgia. The misplacement of the felon’s home address in the e-mail versions may just be a case of sloppy story telling. But the changing of his name has to be deliberate. The photo in the original story reveals that Attaway was a black man. However his name, Tracy, would not immediately identify him as a black person to most readers. Tyrone, however, is a name often associated with a black person, as is the surname, Jackson. So the author of the e-mail would appear to be signaling the reader that the assailant is a black criminal.

What would the author of the fictitious news account hope to accomplish by identifying the race of the perpetrator of this crime? It is impossible to know for sure. It is impossible, in most cases, to trace the origins, or definitively name the motive behind these e-mail fictions.

It is not, however, difficult to trace the origin of the “Forward” that brings it into one’s e-mail mailbox. Nearly all that arrive in my mailbox come from professing Christians. Since I am a professing Christian most of my correspondents are as well. So what am I to think of these messages from my Christian friends: some declared to be urgent revelations of impending evil, some testimonials to marvels, miracles, and triumphs over evil, some appeals for action, some advising steps to be taken to avoid disasters – but all based on fabricated stories or half-truths, and all circulated by people professing to be servants of truth.

Most Christians accept the Bible as an authoritative guide to Christian living so I am going to turn to it in making my case that Christians have no business dealing in falsehoods via these e-mail fairytales.
 
In Proverbs 6:16-19 we read a brutally direct statement of seven things the Lord (God) hates.
 
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
 
Note that five of the seven things that are detestable to God are directly applicable to the creation of, or the passing on of, Internet gossip (lies):

1.         a lying tongue – things conveyed via e-mail are the equivalent of words spoken
2.         a heart that devises wicked schemes – shame on any Christian who invents these stories
3.         feet that are quick to rush into evil – or hands quick to hit the “Forward” button
4.         a false witness who pours out lies – passes on lies learned from others
5.         a person who stirs up conflict in the community – the primary goal of most e-mail stories

It is not hard to ascertain the truth or falseness of most of the information being circulated on the Internet and/or through e-mails. If a Christian feels strongly about an issue and wishes to circulate information about it he has a moral obligation to check the facts before circulating them. If he lacks the tools, or knowledge, or will to do that basic bit of research then he should refrain from circulating the information.

Was it Jesus who said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no?” Ah yes, in Matthew 5:37. And James the brother of Jesus repeated that admonition:
 
But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. (James 5:12)
 
There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of people who will support the World Wide Gossip (Liars) Network without the aid of Christians. Evil will not cease to exist just because Christians no longer choose to be a party to it. But the testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ will be more believable when Christians begin to be known as truth-tellers rather than gossip spreaders.

If the "Forward" button on your computer causes you to sin, smash your computer. It is better to arrive in heaven without a computer than to land in hell with your "Forward" button intact.

 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sharing A Treat

by Jim Rapp

Dividing something, half and half
doubles the sweetness of the treat,
cuts cost and calories in half,
and charms an hour spent, complete.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Unseen Angels

by Jim Rapp
A Presence Revealed by Passing Through
a Prism
(Look, I am with you always. - Jesus)

Eldila inform us of your presence Lord,
coming, as they do, in rainbow radiance,
splashing colors on ceiling, walls and floor,
urging us to offer You our affiance.

Offer it to you, we do, our unseen Lord.
You ever seek a prism that reveals
to our unseeing eyes the flaming sword
our unseen Lord, in service to us, wields.
_________________
Eldila (singular Eldil) In C.S. Lewis’
Out of the Silent Planet

My wife and I call the rainbow splashes from a crystal hanging in our eastern window Eldila. They serve as reminders of God’s presence.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wave Goodbye To The Bad Guys


Be A Part Of The Wave
of Indignation
against do-nothing politicians
 
Sign up! (Register to vote.)
Get out! (Go to the polls and vote.)
Vote out! (Ideologues, Intransigents, and Idiots.)
Vote in! (Collaborators, Compromisers, and  Cooperators.)
 
Even if "your guy or gal" is an old-timer, skilled at "bringing home the bacon" to his/her district, he/she is a traitor to effective government if he/she cannot be a constructive, cooperative, and collaborative participant even with (especially with) those of the opposition party. Throw the bums out whether they are Democrats or Republicans.
 
We need a functioning government, and we need it Now!
 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why Are We Dragging Our Feet On The Affordable Care Act?

An editorial in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram today seems to be decrying the high taxes Wisconsin residents pay and blaming it on high Medicaid costs, primarily to care for the medical needs of the poor, the disabled, and elderly (in nursing homes). No doubt much of the tax burden Wisconsin residents bear is related to those costs the author cites. But in the end he offers no solutions, only the implied suggestion that we are impoverished in our state because of these mounting costs. He cites an income tax rate in Wisconsin of 11.8% or $4,999 per person, 17th highest in the nation and 4% above the national average.

Those are scary statistics for anyone who doesn’t take them apart a little bit. First, though the tax rate is 11.8% few people ever pay that amount. I think my rate would be under 5% after I’ve taken legitimate deductions. And I doubt that the figure of $4,999 per person comes from dividing the actual income tax revenue in one year by the number of Wisconsin residents. More likely it is also a hypothetical figure base on the assumption that everyone pays that 11.8% rate.

There are many ways to make ourselves look poor. It is interesting that we try very hard to impress the world of our success, by wearing the latest fashions, having the latest gadgets, living in the finest neighborhoods in the most beautiful houses, driving luxurious autos, vacationing in the most popular places, eating at the most popular restaurants, but when it comes to paying taxes we are broke, we can’t afford to pay an nickel more, a 1% increase would drive us to the poor house. Significantly, a great number of those who decry our high taxes, both rich and poor, pay no income taxes at all.

I see evidence of great wealth in this country. Just this week I toured the Big Rig display at the Chippewa Valley Technical College and saw extremely expensive rigs that were decked out for no purpose except for show. You can see the same thing at tractor pulls and, of course as you drive down the highway passing and being passed by heavy duty pickup trucks towing expensive boats and other recreational equipment. The fact that you must stand in line at any good restaurant to get a seat during noon hour or supper indicates that our citizens have money to spend. Our stadiums are filled each week with patrons paying hundreds of dollars for seats, and exorbitant prices for food and liquor. We aren't as hard up as we seem to think we are.

But we do have poverty. We just don't see it. It is hidden in the rundown areas of our town and countrysides. You can find it at the free clinic in Eau Claire any time you wish to visit it. You can find it in the emergency rooms of our hospitals. You can find it at the food kitchens and the used clothing stores (although some of them have priced themselves out of the "poor" market too). The poor are often walking or riding our city buses or struggling to keep rattletrap vehicles running. The poor send their children to school to get one good meal a day on free or subsidized lunch programs.

Why are they poor? Admittedly many are poor because of low education, drug and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional and abusive backgrounds. But there are others who are working one or two jobs to keep their families fed but still hardly break the $20,000 per year barrier. Try to prosper on that. Try to buy decent health insurance on that. Impossible.

So are there solutions? I don't know about solutions but there are things we could do that too many in our society are unwilling to do, are actually fighting against doing. Our Governor's decision to snub "Obamacare" is just one of the ways we are voting to keep our local (state) costs higher than they need to be. His, and his legislative partners' blind and stubborn resistance to anything tainted with "Obamaism" makes it impossible to move beyond the disastrous scenario I've painted above.

What we have needed for many years is what some call a "single payer" health system. Every person over 65 in this country already has that in Medicare and most of them would kill to keep it. Veterans all over our country have access to a medical system that is wholly government run and they, too, would kill to keep it. Both systems deliver health care at costs dramatically lower than the private system all other citizens have - if they can afford to have anything at all.

In our present political climate we will never have a single payer plan for all Americans. Its opponents have successfully poisoned that well beyond the point of recovery. But we can get behind the Affordable Care Act and make it work for all of us. It is a crime that we are not doing so.

With only a couple of months left until citizens can begin signing up for low cost health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, newspapers like the Leader Telegram need to be running public service pieces informing people about the plan and how they can get signed up for the services available to them. But it seems that they are cowed by the pressure of the conservative right, or perhaps are in agreement with it, and won't even explain to the American public a law passed by its national legislature intended to benefit all citizens. Shame on the media for its poor record in this regard.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rich Little Poor Kids

We were poorer than I knew as a child. Part of the reason for that ignorance was that we lived in a poor neighborhood where all the other families were poor. My father pieced our house together using scrap lumber salvaged from the railroad box car repair shop, hauling the varying sized pieces of lumber home on his two-wheeled push cart, dumping it out for the three boys to sort, remove the nails, and pile in neat stacks. The house came together over a period of years, primarily in two 12 ft. by 36 ft. sections, not unlike the smaller mobile homes of our day. Eventually the two halves were brought together forming a six-room house consisting of three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and kitchen, each roughly 12 ft. by 12 ft. The final touch was a basement, laboriously dug by hand after the upper structure was in place. The persistent wetness of the heavy clay soil around the house rendered the basement too damp for habitation but not unsuitable for storing things that would gradually succumb to the humid environment and the concomitant mold and mildew.

It was only when I began to attend Jr. High School, and then later High School that I became aware of our poverty. Up until that time those who attended our neighborhood school were in the same economic class as our family. We dressed alike, lived in cobbled together houses or houses that the years had rendered obsolete in style and run down in appearance, walked to school or rode bicycles pieced together from the parts of several discarded bikes, rode in family cars that were a decade or more behind the times. Most of our families had been on welfare; some still were. Our fathers had worked for the WPA. Nearly everyone raised a garden so we ate regular meals but they were short on animal protein, long on beans and cornbread. We were poor but we hardly knew it.

But we were rich, too. The neighborhood in which I grew up was on the edge of town. That meant that fields that were less than a block from our house were “owned” by us. In winter when snow covered the bent over corn stalks, left from the previous year’s crop, we could hunt rabbits  that had burrowed into those corn stalk tents, or build snow forts and wage massive day-long battles. In springtime we could fly our kites over the fields without fear of entangling the strings in electrical wires. Before the crops were put in and after they were harvested in the fall, we tramped out base paths for a ball diamond and played from morning to night.

A quarter of a mile to the west, along the railroad track a small stream provided hours of wet fun, catching crawdads, seining small fish, building dams to divert the stream, and exploring the hobo camps along the stream and the railroad tracks.

The street on which we lived was not, for many years, paved with anything; every rainstorm turned it into a mire of slippery clay. Unwary drivers who attempted to turn the corner north of our house would invariably be knocking on our door seeking the assistance of my Dad and his three strong boys to push them out of the ditch. I don’t recall us every refusing to pull on our boots and assist the unfortunate (or repeatedly foolish) driver.

But the unpaved street provided the perfect venue for our weekly “Road Bowl” football games. At first our “football” consisted of an old bicycle tire, folded back and forth into as small a bundle as we could achieve and then tied with bailing twine. Of course it was a very unsuitable “ball”, dangerous to catch, even more dangerous if it found you looking the other way and hit you in the head. We were delighted when our oldest brother, who had just begun to work at part-time jobs, purchased a genuine football. Playing with a real ball sacrificed some of the grit and glory of the Road Bowl games, but it probably also accounts for the fact that all of us survived into adulthood.

Perhaps the greatest goods our poor neighborhood bestowed upon us was darkness and night-time stillness. Not only had paved roads not arrived in our area of town, neither had public lighting. But we had lights by the thousands. Fireflies filled our summer evenings and filled the fruit jars in which we held them captive until the following morning. Even more, the night sky, undimmed by earthly lights, shown down on our part of town with a brightness not even imagined in the “richer” parts of town, totally unknown in most places today. I recall evenings spent lying in a wheelbarrow, with my feet resting on the handles of the barrow, gazing at the glory above me. The singing of insects seemed to be an appropriate accompaniment to the majesty of the skies. And though an occasional train rumbled and tooted its way past our neighborhood, or an automobile broke the silence, much of the evening was quiet enough to hear the cornstalks snapping as they grew on hot summer nights. There were mosquitoes but you could hear them coming and be prepared to eradicate them.

It is hard to decide if we were poor little rich kids or rich little poor kids. I think I like the latter. There is no doubt in my mind that growing up poor has imprinted itself upon my adult life in ways that have kept me from achieving all that I might have done. But likewise, the poverty of my early life has enriched just about everything I’ve done since, either by making me grateful for the good things I now enjoy or by giving me insights and empathy for those who live in poverty today.

I don’t want to romanticize poverty. Not all poverty is as benign as that in which I grew up. Much of the poverty in the world today resists all attempts at eradicating or ameliorating it. Too many children, raised in the poverty of our large cities, in our rusted out mining towns, or our perpetually poor rural areas, both north and south, live in fear of their lives and wonder where their next meal will come from or where they will spend the next night. There are no Sunday “Road Bowl” games to enjoy, no fire fly filled fields to roam over, no beautiful night sky visible to them.  They are poor little poor kids.

There is little that the average American can do to assist those enduring such poverty. We know they exist but we lack access to them, expertise in providing for them what they need, and resources adequate to the task of lifting them from poverty. Long ago, in the late 1930s and 1940s, our nation made a decision that we had an obligation to provide paths to success for all of our citizens. An array of government programs were initiated to meet those needs. While they were not perfect, and while they did not eradicate all inequality and poverty, they nonetheless lifted millions of our nation’s poor through good employment opportunities, granting employees the right to form unions and bargain for their rights, improving wages by regularly increasing the minimum wage employers are required to pay, and by providing educational opportunities on a scale never before known in human history.

Sadly, a large portion of our population has lost faith in these government programs that have helped so many. Without offering anything in their place other than the cruelly inadequate suggestion that “anybody can succeed who gets a job and stays with it,” they attempt to dismantle the “safety nets” that have served us so well for the last three-quarters of a century. They obstruct our President’s attempts to provide basic healthcare to all our citizens, rich or poor. They draw their purses to their breasts and say, “No new taxes!” In fact they insist on reducing taxes and thus reducing the aid available for the poor.

It is important for those who still remember the poverty they endured to have empathy for those still living in such conditions. It is important for those who never experienced poverty to find it within themselves to help their fellow human beings. We can’t light the night skies for those living in the poverty of our large cities, and we have poisoned the habitat of the firefly in many of our rural communities, but we must not extinguish the only hope that those living in poverty have, the hope that their fellow human beings will not forget that they exist; will not callously refuse the aid they so desperately need, aid that can best be provided by the tried and true programs instituted in the New Deal and the years that have followed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lash Yourself To the Mast - Political Promise Keepers

One sure way to end up in some place you didn’t intend to go to is to chain yourself to the mast. Once you’ve set the rudder, lock it in position – you know your calculations are right – and chain yourself to the mast so you will never be tempted to change course regardless of the amount of evidence presented to show that you are not on course to your desired destination.

We’ve all seen this scenario played out at one time or another. A father destroys his family by bull-headedly insisting on a course of action that bankrupts them. Parents who will refuse life-saving medical treatment and watch a child die because they are convinced that their faith is sufficient to save the child in the end. A businessman is so certain of the rightness of his business plan that he will not change anything even as he watches the enterprise go up in smoke. The prophet knows that he has heard from God and leads his flock of true believers to a hilltop to await the fulfillment of his prophecy, made in ignorance (or defiance) of the very source he claims as his authority.

And now, we are very close to running the affairs of our nation – we are actually attempting to run the affairs of many of our states, Wisconsin included – with the leaders lashed to the mast.

Just before the 2012 elections 95% of all Republican members of Congress, and all but one of the Republican candidates for President had signed Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”. The pledged committed those who signed it to never vote for a tax increase of any kind. So the Republican Party had essentially lashed itself to the masthead saying, “It matters not what the facts may show at some point in the future, regarding the wisdom or the need for a tax increase, I will watch the ship go down before I will vote for one.”

Who is Grover Norquist, you ask? It is enough to say that he has never held an elective office, nor even an appointed office. But he has always been close to the centers of Conservative power in Washington and now wields tremendous power and influence over governmental policy by virtue of all the Republican leaders he has lashed to his Anti-tax Pledge. If any dare to disentangle themselves and disavow his policies they will be targeted for defeat in their next election and Norquist can pull the strings to be sure that happens, directing massive amounts of money to be spent in negative advertising  portraying the renegade official as a traitor to the cause of ever lower taxes.

And now we hear that the Koch Brothers have learned to play the game. In recent articles the Wisconsin Capital Times and The New Yorker described a No Climate Tax Pledge sponsored by the Koch Brother’s Americans for Prosperity Political Action Committee. The 411 signers of the pledge are lashing themselves to the Koch Brother’s mast, agreeing that they will never support any climate protection legislation, the cost of which is not offset by tax cuts elsewhere in the budget, effectively saying that they will never vote for any climate protection legislation.

Governor Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, along with Senator Ron Johnson, and three members of the Wisconsin House of Representative delegation, four members of the Wisconsin Senate and four members of the Wisconsin Assembly, have signed the pledge. All are Republicans. The entire leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives (all Republicans) and one fourth of the Republican members of the U.S. Senate are signers of the pledge.

Again we have to ask, “Who are the Koch brothers?” They are billionaire businessmen, head of the world’s second largest corporation by some estimates. But neither of them has ever held a public office or stood for election to one. Still they command enough loyalty that our political leaders – the Republican ones, at least – will lash themselves to the mast at their command, saying in essence, “It doesn’t matter what evidence is presented now or in the future that might make it wise to enact protections for the environment, even if it resulted in a tax increase. I will not change my mind. I’ve signed the pledge. My hands are tied.”

There are those who would like us to believe that we live in a democracy in which those elected to serve the nation make their decisions based on the will of those who elected them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, we do hold elections. We get to choose those who will go to Washington, D.C., or Madison, WI and sit in the halls of the legislature or the White House or the Governor’s mansion.

But a significant number of those elected have pledged, even before they are elected, to represent, not the will of those who sent them, but the narrow agenda of Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers.

We can legitimately debate the best course for our nation regarding taxation, which is what Norquist and the Koch brothers are interested in keeping low, but we are a nation of fools if we allow three men to determine that course for us without the consent of the majority of the nation’s citizens.

And we are fools, times seven, if we continue to elect those who, even before they take office have lashed themselves to any preconceived notion of what the future will require of them.

Governor Walker and the Republican members of the Wisconsin Legislature who have signed both pledges are not OUR representatives. They have made a compact with the devil; they have sold their soul to those who can bring in, or contribute, the millions of dollars that will allow them to defeat anyone who opposes them.

They are Promise Keepers but the promises they are keeping are not the ones they made to those who elected them.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Holding Jesus At Arm’s Length

I’ve been reading correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. I’m not sure why letters are so interesting to me. Well, perhaps I do know why they are. Part of the reason may be that my siblings and I were taught very strictly not to read the mail of others; not even a post card. Prohibitions of that kind usually serve only to increase curiosity. But the greater reason that correspondences are interesting is that they often catch the writers expressing their honest opinions assuming, as they have a right to do, that what they write will not be divulged to others – in their lifetime at least.

So it is with Adams and Jefferson. Adams appears much more willing to open up with his friend, Jefferson, from the very start of their correspondence. Jefferson, initially, was holding back some if my reading of the sense of his letters is correct. Both men were eager, in their old age (they were writing in the last decade and a half of their lives, from 1812 forward) to cement their place in the history of the founding of the United States. Adams apparently felt that the way to do that was to explain himself; Jefferson, to keep his counsel. But gradually Adams drew Jefferson out into a more frank and open discussion.

The particular letters I’m reading is a collection of exchanges, primarily on the subject of religion and its effect upon the ethical, moral, and political behaviors of mankind. Both men believed that all of the major religions of the world, “Christianism” not excepted, were badly corrupted, no longer representing the pure, simple, and useful teachings of their founders. Pertaining to Christianity, both Adams and Jefferson were anti-Papist (anti-Catholic) but concluded that Protestantism, in all its varied forms, was little behind the Catholics in the corruptions added to the pure religion of Jesus.

And they did profess a belief in the “pure religion of Jesus,” uncorrupted by accretions which they claimed occurred long after Jesus was on earth.

Adams argued that none of the Gospels or the Epistles or the Revelation were products of the first century a.d. and consequently they represented a badly flawed record of the true life and teaching of Jesus.

Jefferson strenuously resisted any suggestion of the supernatural in the life of Jesus. He believed, as many before him and many after him have believed, that by eliminating those elements of the Gospels that offend the intellect of modern man, a picture of the “real Jesus” would appear. In pursuit of that goal he had literally cut from the Gospel’s all the elements that he considered fanciful and untrue, leaving him with a pasted up Gospel of fewer than 50 pages.

There is so much to appreciate in John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They are two among the many who put their lives on the line in order to establish the nation we now live in. Curiously, they differed with each other about many of the basic concepts that should underlie our nation but they were able, in the early years of their friendship, and again in the last decade of their lives, to put aside those differences in pursuit of “a more perfect union.” Sadly, many who followed them – even in our day – lack the wisdom, or unselfishness to do the same.

But Adams and Jefferson (and others of the “founding fathers”) varied greatly in the wisdom they applied to those areas of their lives not associated with the Revolution or the establishment of the nation. Their opinions on religion are just one example. Both Jefferson and Adam held opinions on science and medicine that would be laughable if proposed today. And likewise their opinions on religion reveal, in some cases, excusable ignorance of facts. They show, as well, prejudices that would ignite a fire storm of criticism in today’s world. But mostly their correspondence reveals a na├»ve belief that they could emasculate the “book” that purports to be the revelation of God in Jesus and still be Christians.

Both men were jealous of their reputations as “founders” of the nation. Both men had some reason to believe that they were living in the shadow of George Washington, and that others like James Madison, and James Monroe were competitors in the race to be remembered as most influential in those early formative years of the nation.

Jefferson had the misfortune to be off in France, serving as an Ambassador, when the Constitution was being written and ratified. Though he was known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, that document, for all the glory that it has retained over the years, had – and still has – no legal standing. No one can claim, in court – even before the Supreme Court – that any of their rights, granted under the Declaration of Independence, were violated. We have no rights granted by the Declaration of Independence. So Jefferson’s brilliant efforts in writing that document were ultimately overshadowed by the founding document of the nation, The Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

Adams too suffered a misfortune, becoming the first President to serve only one term, thanks to Jefferson who defeated him in his bid for a second term in a campaign that would rival the last two that we have seen in our day for the calumny practiced.

So both men were working hard in their last years to set the record straight and show that they were on a par with Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and Monroe. And in that struggle it was as essential then, as it is now, to appear to be Christian. Thus, though neither man could honestly profess to believe the Biblical record of Jesus’ life, they clung to a Jesus of their own making. Or more accurately, they held the orthodox Jesus at arm’s length, unwilling to be contaminated by what they saw as intellectually unworthy claims about his divinity and his miracle-laden journey on earth, still needing him, though, as a part of the resume that would gain them access to the Patriot’s Hall of Fame.

There is a great desire on the part of conservative Christians (who are, in our day, predominantly Republican in their politics) to make of our founding fathers orthodox Christian men. Some were. But most were not, and there is good reason (good evidence) to show that none of the major players held orthodox Christian beliefs, especially if orthodoxy is to be defined in terms acceptable to current Evangelical Christians. Still nearly all of them, as far as I know, believed in a Supreme Being, the creator of heaven and earth. They were, and both Jefferson and Adams called themselves, Deists. But they also coveted the designation “Christian.” It was as important to their electability and their later reputation as it is for politicians today to be known as Christian.

But our founders purposely wrote into the Constitution a clause protecting the right of any citizen to seek public office regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. In Article VI, Paragraph 3 they declared:

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Bolding added to identify the pertinent section.)
 
It is impossible to know whether a candidate for public office is a Christian, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or Atheist. They may make profession of such beliefs but be as Adams and Jefferson were, holding their religion with great reservations, or as may have been the case with others, simply not believing it at all.

So, my point, long in arriving, is that we need to select our public servants on their merits as best we can know them and let them be free to exercise their belief, if they have one, sincerely without prejudicing their “right” to serve their community or nation. We should not force anyone to endorse a belief, or appear to endorse one, with which their conscience is at odds; they should not have to hold Jesus, or any other religious leader, at arm’s length.