Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Sleeplessness


A Mid-night Waking
by Jim Rapp 

Hello world! I’m awake.
Tell me what you called me for.
Is it some pill that I forgot to take
or something that I took . . . or
is it just old age that makes
me wake while others snore?

And crazy thoughts they are;
unrelated to the day that’s past;
half dream. Half waking avatars,
pull me, struggling, toward the cast
of a drama I’ll remember as a blur;
I resist, resist, then play along at last.
 

Monday, January 28, 2013

It Is Time To Pull Our Heads Out of the Sand


For the last four years our nation has been dragged through an excruciating debate over health care reform. The passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA), and the beginning of its implementation, only seemed to intensify the antagonism of its opponents. So intense was the rhetoric that Presidential candidate, and former Governor, Mitt Romney, who presided over the implementation of a very successful state-wide plan in Massachusetts, almost identical to the ACA, felt compelled to renounce his own achievement in order to mollify the opponents of the federal plan and win their support in his quest for the presidency.

But now that President Obama has been re-elected, and more to the point, now that Republicans lack the Congressional strength to repeal, or even serious disable it, most states are preparing for the implementation of its most significant provisions starting in 2014.

October 1, 2013 marks the beginning of the enrollment period for those seeking to obtain insurance through the new market places (Exchanges). There are a number of sources of information regarding the coming enrollment period. Additionally there are some excellent tools available for individuals who wish to get a head start on estimating their cost (and eligibility) for health insurance under the new plan. I’ll point out some I have visited and those who wish can go to them by clicking the hyperlinks below and then bookmarking the ones they find useful.

Perhaps the best place to start is with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Health Reforms Source. This excellent website will give one just about everything needed to become informed about the law and its implications for their situation. The Kaiser Foundation offers an independent assessment of the law for those who would rather not get their information directly from the government.

One should not, however, overlook the Federal Government’s own website, Healtcare.gov. Here one can find the text of the actual law. After all the mis-information floated by opportunistic politicians and other interest groups over the last four years, it probably would not hurt if all Americans actually read the law for themselves. But there is much more at this site than just the law itself. Go and see for yourself.

For those who wish a postage stamp sized review of the nation’s healthcare problem and the manner in which the ACA addresses it, the Kaiser Family Foundations, The Uninsured: A Primer is an excellent source of information.

And, for those who are eager to know if they will qualify for a Government subsidy, or what their projected costs of insurance under such a subsidy will be, the UC Berkeley ACA Calculator provides a quick and simple estimate. One caution though. The calculator only provides an estimate of the monthly premium one would pay. It is an estimate based on the best available information at this time. Further, it does not include deductibles and co-pays which will apply and which differ according to the level of coverage one chooses: bronze, silver, gold, or platinum.

At the time of this writing Wisconsin has opted to allow the Federal Government to create the Marketplace (Exchange) which its uninsured citizens will use to purchase their insurance, rather than create one on its own, in cooperation with the federal government. Some other states have vowed to obstruct the implementation of the plan in their jurisdiction. Of course such foot-dragging represented by the Wisconsin approach or, more egregiously by obstructionist states, will only disadvantage their own citizens, primarily the poorest and sickest of their citizens. It is time to lay aside petty political differences and get on with providing all our citizens with the best health care we can afford.

The primary purpose of any government is to provide for its citizens those things they need but cannot provide for themselves. 49 million Americans are without any health care insurance. It is arguable that such insurance is not a “need” and therefore it is not a responsibility of the government to help them get it. But that is an argument that can only be made by those who feel assured that their healthcare insurance is secure or who have the means to pay their own health care costs. I am not among those in that situation and I suspect few who think carefully about the insecurity of our economy can honestly say they are invulnerable to the loss of health care security.

A few decades down the line (long after I am gone) the ACA will be touted as one of the great achievements of our great and (usually) humane society just as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veteran’s Administration Health Care are now. The ACA will undoubtedly be improved upon and expanded to better serve us. But I can only foresee that it will win the hearts and minds of skeptics as they see, in the next few months, those they love and care for, who have struggled without adequate health care, receiving it at long last, at a cost they can afford.

The ACA will not, regrettably, bring healthcare coverage to ALL Americans. In those states who refuse to fully implement the ACA there will be many indigent single people who will neither qualify for coverage under ACA or for Medicaid coverage as provided in those states who fully participate in the plan. So, in states like Wisconsin, and others, there will still be need for charitable providers for those who fail to qualify for benefits under the ACA. The poor we will always have with us, giving us ample opportunity for personal charity. But for millions of Americans who have lived without adequate health care, or have feared they someday might, a new day is dawning. I would hope all Americans would welcome this opportunity to improve the lives of our fellow citizens and the health of our nation.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Consider Sending a Friend A Note Today

Meals On (Digital) Wheels
by Jim Rapp

Notes can serve a thousand masters,
circling the world in digital array.
But this wee note runs faster,
carrying its burden on a cold rainy day.

Dodging puddles and slippery spots,
protecting the bundle it holds in its hands;
speeding through cold, it is nonetheless hot
to deliver its helping of love's warm viands.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Difference Between Being Gay and Being Happy


With the recent election the number of gay, lesbian, or bisexual members of Congress rose to seven, one Senator and six Representatives. “Seven isn’t great,” conceded Denis Dison, a senior strategist with the Victory Fund, which works to elect openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to public office. In other words, he is not happy with less than one percent representation in Congress for openly homosexual people. (There may be – there likely are – closeted homosexuals in addition to those who are known, especially representing certain Republican or Democratic districts where to let their preference be known would be to sign a political death warrant.)

My attitude toward gay members of society has changed a great deal over my lifetime. As a child I was made aware, by my parents, of certain people in our community with whom I should “be careful” not to associate too closely. It was never explicitly stated but my childhood mind assumed they were dangerous in some sort of sexual way. (Perhaps some of them were pedophiles, justifying my parents’ suspicions and fears.)

During my brief (six year) tenure as pastor of a small congregation I began to engage the subject of homosexuality from a different perspective; wrestling with the theological questions about the acceptability of their lifestyle in light of Biblical teaching and the proper response to homosexuals by the church. I read a few books by Christian ethicists, psychologists, and theologians on the subject but didn’t, at that time, arrive at many fixed conclusions.

After resigning as pastor to continue my education the subject was moved to the back burner while I pursued a couple of degrees in history. It wasn’t that the subject never came to mind, but rather that I no longer faced the necessity to think and act regarding homosexuals as a representative of the church of Jesus Christ. My general attitude during this period was that homosexuals should be given respect as fellow human beings, granted “the rights of citizens”, and allowed to earn a living in ways that did not threaten the values of our society.

When I began teaching high school social studies in 1970 the sexual revolution was in full swing in our nation. Undoubtedly the sexual freedoms touted during those decades extended to both homosexual and heterosexual activity but society was still pretending that homosexuality was not “normal” and therefore not worthy of the same attention – and, at that time, the same approval – as heterosexual relationships.

Up until that time I had spent my life growing up in a heterosexual community of Christian believers, attending a Christian Bible College, pastoring a Christian congregation, and buried in my studies leading to a teaching degree. I was aware of homosexual “deviancy” but the only deviancy that I observed close at hand was heterosexual in nature, broken marriages, dysfunctional and abusive home situations, spouse swapping, couples living in common law relationships, or just hooking up for short term heterosexual pleasure. Our entertainment media made it abundantly clear that sex was fun, acceptable, and nearly trouble free. My daily work as a teacher in a public setting and an officer and active member of the teacher’s union brought me in contact with people making no claim to Christian values. I became aware of that many of our teachers, parents, and students were regularly engaging in sexual behaviors that I saw as inconsistent with my Christian values.

During my teaching/union representative years I knew several colleagues, friends, and students whom I suspected were homosexual but in those days none of them dared to declare themselves so. As long as they were willing to remain closeted and as long as they did their job well no questions were asked. It is an irony though that those who appeared to be homosexual would have faced quick and serious repercussions if their sexual behaviors had been as obviously “deviant” as some of their heterosexual colleagues. Such were the biases of that day.

In the years since my retirement the culture has become more open in its attitude toward homosexuals and homosexual lifestyles. As the recent election has shown, it is now possible for a known homosexual woman to be elected to the United States Senate in a state-wide contest in a morally conservative state like Wisconsin. She did so, by the way, with the help of my vote. The question might be raised as to whether such an event is the result of a change in the moral values of the voting population or a recognition by morally conservative people of the state that we elect representatives to serve us, not based on their sexual preferences but on their ability to help solve the many pressing problems that face our nation. Ms Baldwin (the new openly gay Senator from Wisconsin) did not once use her sexual lifestyle or sexual preference as a cause for anyone to vote for her. And her opponent (with one brief possible exception) did not raise the issue of her sexuality. Undoubtedly her known lifestyle caused some to vote for her and others against her but it was not featured as a part of the election rhetoric.

And that brings me back to where I began. Gay members of Congress are counting their numbers, as are African Americans, women, Latinos, and even Asian-Americans. None of those groups are currently represented in the halls of Congress in proportion to their known (or in the case of homosexuals supposed) numbers in the general population. That is, in my opinion, not a problem. We want the best representation of honesty, responsibility, and legislative skill in those positions and if fewer of one or the other “interest group” meets that criteria, or is able to convince the electorate that they meet that criteria, then so be it.

I do not intend to ever vote for a homosexual candidate simply to help them achieve a certain level of representation in Congress. Neither do I intend to vote against a candidate because of their homosexuality. I have too many other criteria that I need to consider. Does that mean that the personal life of a candidate is unimportant to me? No. I will not hesitate to vote against any heterosexual or homosexual candidate (or woman, or Black, or Hispanic, or Asian) who displays in his or her lifestyle a lack of honesty, responsibility or legislative skill needed to serve me adequately. And by the way, I usually tend not to vote for any candidate who seems to be seeking office to push a personal or self-seeking agenda.

Every human being stands responsible to God for their personal life choices, including, if they serve in government, those related to their work. I would be presumptuous if I chose to be their judge in those matters. But I can and should judge those who seek to, and profess to, represent me in the halls of Congress.

My message to the “gay caucus”, and every other minority caucus in Congress is, “So you are gay; then be happy that your fellow citizens have trusted you enough to put you in your elevated place of responsibility. Speak your mind and vote your conscience on every issue before you as the representative of all the people who put you there; red and yellow, black and white, gay, straight, male, female, Jew, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and any other designation you can think of. If you feel the need to form a caucus let it be ‘The People’s Caucus.’”

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Building a Wistful Future


Mirage
by Jim Rapp

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
                                                   Faulkner

From where we are we think we see a future
and looking back there seems to have been a past.
Using scripts from our seeming past,
we labor in a barren present culture,
assembling, in our dreams, tomorrow's cast.

Mirage: a figment of a past reborn.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day & Presidential Inaugural Day


It is just after 5:00 a.m. on this MLK, Jr./Presidential Inauguration Day. I awoke at the prescribed time – my pulmonologist has me getting up at 4:30 a.m. to retrain my sleep habits –  and have spent that last half-hour devising an answer to a pro-gun e-mail that greeted me when I turned on my computer. Among the many fallacious arguments in the e-mail was the following printed on the back of a t-shirt:

If Guns kill people then:

·    Pencils mispel words . . .
·    Cars make people drive drunk . . .
·    Spoons made Rosie O’Donnell fat . . .

 My responses are:

·    The primary purpose of a pencil is Not to mispel words . . .
·    The primary purpose of a car is Not to drive it while drunk . . .
·    The primary purpose of a spoon is Not to make Rosie fat . . .
·    BUT the primary purpose of a gun IS to kill . . . 

Think about this:

·    If pencils could be bought that couldn’t misspell, everyone would want one . . .
·    If cars were made so they would not operate when the driver was drunk, they would still be widely (and wildly) popular . . .
·    If spoons were made that fed people precisely the right amount of food to keep them healthy, people would still eat with spoons . . .
·    However, if guns were made incapable of killing . . . no one would want one.

The biggest fallacy of the pro-gun people is the belief that most of the rest of us want to get rid of all guns. I admit that I am looking forward to living someday in a gun-free society (heaven) but for now I grant that guns have some utility for some people beyond that of murder and mayhem. It seems, though – and the e-mail I got this morning bears this out – that the greatest lovers of guns are also the coarsest and most verbally violent among us. Kind of scary to me.

Well, what a start to the day! I hope you had time to have a few pleasant thoughts before I slapped these in your face. And I hope you continue to have good thoughts despite the fact that this is MLK, Jr. Day, a day celebrating a life brought to an apparent untimely end by a man wielding a high powered rifle. It is also a day in which hundreds of thousands of dollars of U.S. taxpayers money is being expended to assure that the President of the United States does not fall victim, during his inauguration, to assassination by gun. (All of our assassinated Presidents were killed with guns.)

I have frequently prayed, during the last four years, for the protection of our President, from gun-wielding assassins. He faces daily a credible treat given the amount of hate-talk directed at him and the incredible paranoia expressed by those convinced – against all evidence and logic – that he intends to “take away” guns from law-abiding citizens. I will continue to pray for the President’s protection these next four years.

It appalls me when I note that some of the most vituperative language I hear, directed at the President and his administration, comes from people I know to profess Christian faith. Their visceral hatred of this President belies a misunderstanding of what Christ’s Kingdom is all about. Jesus, when asked by Pilate about his intentions to establish a kingdom on earth, replied: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

By the logic of many gun-rights-Christians of our day, those early followers of Jesus should have stocked up on the latest, greatest weapons of their day to protect themselves from the Pilates, and Herods, and Nero’s of their day. Instead they went into their entire world, armed only with their love of Christ, their love of their fellow man, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and two thousand years of brutal, armed opposition has not conquered them.

If we arrive at St. Peter’s Gate
and find it armed with fiery hate,
we’ll know, alas, that hate has won;
that heaven is no safer than “the other one.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Makes a Terrorist Tick?

“I don’t understand why these Islamic terrorist do the things they do.”

The speaker was, I believe, wholly serious. What does make a person so sure of the righteousness of his cause that he can justify an attack on innocent people in order to gain attention for his grievance? My response did not answer his concern directly but instead pointed to the fact that Islam is not the only religious, or philosophical, or political ideology that inspires such actions. Our own nation is peppered with survivalists, para-military, and neo-fascist groups whose behaviors mirror, in many respects the paranoia and radicalism of Islamic terrorists.

Before the horrific attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the failed attempt to target the Capital, an American born terrorism succeeded in blowing the front off the McMurray building in Oklahoma City, killing more than 400 people, many of them children under school age. Radicalism and violence are human traits, not associated exclusively with any particular nationality or race or religion. Human history gives us little reason to believe we can ever obliterate it from the earth.

Does that mean there is nothing we can do to lessen the frequency, and reduce the casualty rate of such tragedies? I don’t think so. My friend rightly pointed out that the only ultimate solution to mass killings and other atrocious violence is a spiritual one. Agreed! If everyone came to believe as I do (and as he does) those things would cease to happen. I’m against them. God is against them. Most of God’s people are against them. In a truly Christian world they would not occur.

But we do not live in anything resembling a Christian world, not even a Christian nation. Only a minority of the earth’s people live in a Christian household. So, what are we to do about the violence around us?

We Americans have a constitutionally formed government by which we can attempt to regulate the actions of our citizens through the enforcement of reasonable laws. But getting reasonable laws requires two things: 1) a willingness to be reasonable and 2) a willingness to relinquish enough personal freedom to allow agreed upon laws to function as they should.

We are in a debate right now over the need to protect ourselves from violence such as we’ve seen played out in theaters and churches and schools over the last few months. Sadly there are those who say they are appalled at the carnage, particularly of children, but who also say there are no “reasonable” limitations on the ownership of high power, rapid fire guns, such as those used in these incidents, that they would support. Most certainly they would not support the banning of such weapons of mass destruction. Beyond that, recent news items have quoted Sheriffs across the country who say that even if reasonable laws are enacted they will not enforce them.

It is beyond frustrating – it engenders a sense of futility – when national leaders (congress members, law enforcement officials, and community leaders) declare that they will not budge on any issue that restricts their freedoms for the safety even of their own children and grandchildren. That is the mentality of a David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians who led his followers to a fiery death because he would not submit to the laws of the land. It is the mentality of a Jim Jones whose whole community committed suicide rather than submit to legitimate authority. And yes, it is the mentality of Islamic terrorists who will sacrifice their lives and the lives and thousands of innocent people rather than work peacefully for the resolution of the problems they are concerned about; rather than give up an iota of their freedom for the common good.

So, what is it that makes a terrorist tick? First it is terror; a terror engendered by fear and ignorance. But it is more than that, it is arrogance; an assurance that the terrorist has all the information he needs to make life and death decisions for himself, his family, his followers, and those who will become his target. And finally it is access; access to followers, finances, opportunity, and instruments of destruction. Laws are limited in controlling the terror that drives demented minds, or the arrogance of sinful hearts, but they can make it harder for terrorists to amass the instruments of destruction needed to pull off the kinds of atrocities we’ve endured this last year. Laws can, and should, determine who can legitimately have and use the weapons of war.

Civil society (civilization) depends upon law and obedience to law in order to exist. It feels, sometimes, like our civilization is crumbling around us and that those we’ve elected to uphold it are letting us down. They speak the language of righteousness (even as servants of the Prince of Peace) and threaten to back up their words with a hail of bullets. Then there will be peace on earth.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shanty-time: The Invitation

by Jim Rapp
 
I do love the early morning;
It is such a quiet time.
And on mornings like this,
when I awake with a clear mind,
I draw all hearts to mine
and look forward to the coming day.

I've got a pot of "warm" simmering;
steaming on the cook stove’s rear plate,
and I've just called across the holler
to let all know my Shanty’s open;
you are welcome – come and sit a spell,
sipping “warm” and sharing food for thought.

Sure hope you have some time to share.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Poem For Everyman


by Jim Rapp


O!

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Wow! It is exhausting, writing serious stuff like that. I hope the reader will excuse the classical references and particularly the uncouth language in line three. I felt it needed to be there to lend realism to the poem. Although I included a veiled Biblical reference in the final line I didn’t intend the poem to have particular religious significance. It is mainly a comic dirge. I expect the ordinary man (or woman) to struggle a bit with it but the literary critics will know immediately what I’m attempting to do, even if their interpretations are all over the map, varying from seeing it as a sexual fantasy to a deep religious meditation. I do, however, reserve the poet’s right to revise if I see, in the future, a way to make it more sophisticated (obscure) without destroying its core element which is truthfulness.