Monday, May 27, 2013

A Day When Stones Cry Out


(A Haiku Trio)
by Jim Rapp

Ancient man piled rocks –
monuments of remembrance.
We should do no less –

metaphorically we –
raising edifices for
sacrifices past –

know when we are mute
those “stones” will nonetheless cry
out that someone cared.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

So Who’s to Blame For All This Prosperity?

The New York times is reporting good news; both California and Wisconsin (and a handful of other states) are expecting budget surpluses in their next biennial budgets. So we have to ask, who is to blame, or in this case, who is to credit for the good fortune?

The interesting irony – perhaps a paradox – is that California has a Democratic governor and a legislature with 2/3 Democratic majorities while Wisconsin has a Republican governor and both of its legislative chambers solidly in Republican hands. Hmmmm! That complicates analysis.

If the dire reports following the Great Recession were accurate, and there is little doubt that they were, both states faced serious fiscal problems, California facing what appeared to be catastrophic problems. Both states responded by cutting programs, cutting the pay and benefits of state employees, and attempting to spur economic growth through encouraging business development. I suppose you could say it has worked in both cases; Wisconsin is expecting to see a 500 million dollar surplus over the next two years, California a 1.2 billion (or some say 4.4 billion) dollar surplus.

It will be tricky for the two sides (Democrats and Republicans) to claim the credit for the good fortune in the states they control without having, logically, to give credit in the states their opponents control. Of course logic isn’t necessarily the gold standard in politics so they will find a way to dance around their inconsistencies, giving credit to their side while denying it to the other.

There are explanations being given as to why this bonanza has suddenly appeared. It would seem that a revival of consumer spending with the consequent reappearance of some new jobs might be a logical (there we go again) explanation. Some economists give credit to a one time boost in taxes paid by wealthy investors who took advantage of opportunities to increase their wealth at the end of last year by some reshuffling of their assets.

The good governors of both California and Wisconsin would like to claim the credit for the surplus, I’m sure, but it is doubtful that anything done at their behest really had the effect of improving the economy. Both implemented severe cuts to programs that typically spur the economy. So any increase in economic activity is occurring despite their wrong-headed approach. We’ll not hear any such admissions from them or their trumpeters.

The real question is what to do with the surplus. And that is also the question that divides Republicans and Democrats. Republicans argue that the surplus should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of reduced tax rates. Well, they do have a few things upon which they would spend some of the bonanza, but the primary cry is for tax rate reduction. Democrats, on the other hand, are divided between those who would like to restore cuts made to social service programs and those who call for the establishment of a “rainy day fund” in case the sudden upturn in good fortune is ephemeral. Undoubtedly the solution to this stalemate will play out differently in Wisconsin and California simply because of the political realities of the day.

I’m for establishing “rainy day funds”, at least for the short term. Twice in my lifetime Wisconsin governors (both Republican) have insisted on giving back surpluses to the taxpayers in the form of rebate checks. They were wonderful to receive. Each amounted to about $300 per taxpayer on average. But the money was soon spent and the state discovered within a year or two that it was running a deficit again. A little caution and a willingness to “wait and see” could have saved the day and distributed the pain more evenly over time.

There is little hope that our politicians will apply either history or logic to our current crisis of surplus. They will be driven by politics as always. Expect a wee reduction in the tax rate (more at the higher income brackets than at the lower) in the next couple of years and then more reductions in government services when it is discovered a couple of years further down the line that we had squandered an opportunity when we had it.

Oh, it might be wise to establish a “rainy day fund” of your own, just in case. That is if your budget projections are as rosy as those in Wisconsin and California. Unfortunately, retirees’ personal budgets aren’t showing any signs of surplus just yet. State retirement checks in Wisconsin, which has, by the way, the most fiscally sound system in the nation, have been reduced again this year by an average of nine percent; nearly twenty-five percent over the last five years. It must be much the same for others whose private retirement savings were nearly wiped out by the Great Recession. We are all waiting for the rain to end and the sun to shine.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Some Rules For Dealing With The Aged From One Old Enough To Know

by Jim Rapp
When you stop to visit with an old person
ask them where they are going;
you will need to remind them
when your conversation is ended.
 
Don’t put out food for stray puppies
and don’t start correspondences
with retirees. Once fed, they’ll never
cease to come back for more.
 
Speak loudly to old people on principle;
if they are hard of hearing they’ll appreciate
your consideration. If not they’ll shout back
loudly enough for you to hear them.
 
When greeting an old friend always
state your name. It will save your friend
the embarrassment of not remembering you,
and you the chagrin of having been forgotten.
 
It isn’t safe to follow closely,
old folks climbing stairs;
besides their tendency to slowness,
they’re prone to put on airs.
 
When you’ve invited your aged father
to eat out with you, and he is fumbling
for his wallet – have patience;
eventually he’ll find it.
 
When you see an old lady having trouble
getting across a busy street,
don’t just sit there racing your engine;
honking loudly will inspire her to run faster.
 
If an old geezer has trouble understanding you, write it out.
If that doesn’t work draw pictures, use sign language.
As a last resort take him home with you and watch TV;
the evening news may have a missing person’s report.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To Dream The Possible Dream

by Jim Rapp

The old man, napping, half-dreaming,
waking for each call to duty,
never can connect the broken themes
and thus renew their faded beauty.

Why can’t he return to the dream;
to restart it just where it ended?
When wakened abruptly mid-stream,
he left his joy there, suspended.

There is not much difference, it seems
when wide-awake dreams are upended.
The colors we use to repaint the scene
are never as bright as remembered.

Oh to dream the possible dream
with hues of the rainbow blending;
a dream that only begins a scene
in a drama that keeps on not ending.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Five Generations

by Jim Rapp

Plowing was to start today
but now it’s snowing.
What’s to do that’s “billable”?

Three generations stay
– a council of the knowing –
and ring the kitchen table.
_______________

The youngest rises, impatient,
with coffee cup in hand,
and to the kitchen window goes.

Beyond the fence an ancient
leafless – nearly barkless – giant stands
futile guard against the blowing snow.
______________

Four generations plowed around her,
three have shared her shade,
two have roosted in her heavy limbs,

sometimes hiding from the work to do,
hidden in shadows that she made,
indulging boyhood’s secret dreams.
______________

“Time to take her down.”
the son remarks. “Long past time;
her wood can heat the kitchen.”

Missing granddad’s frown,
he adds, “I think today is fine;
I got a scratch that needs some itchin’.”
______________
 
Granddad has not forgot the day
he watched his father slip a spade
into the ground,

pry the stubborn sod away,
slip a sapling in the space he’d made,
and press the earth back down.
_____________

Both have passed from infant impotence
to aged uselessness; tree and man de-leafed;
no longer sought nor asked for their concurrence.

Dad, observing Granddad’s countenance,
understood the pain his frown insheafed,
understood as well his son’s impatience.
____________

“Lots of memories . . .” he said,
for granddad’s benefit, “lots of broken bones
and birds’ nests found; and shaded afternoons.”

“Time to take her down. Three years now she’s dead,”
– the son had missed his father’s tone –
“Two hours cutting and we’ll have a warmer room.”
_____________

Young Twig, entered, groggy still from sleep,
wandered to his father’s side and took his hand,
rubbing, with his other hand his drowsy eyes.

“Oh look!” he cried and pointed to the tree.
“Great Gramps is playing in the snow; see him stand
and lift his hands to catch the snowflakes flying by.”
_____________

Running to Great Gramps’ side, and climbing up
he wriggled on his lap and snuggled in his arms,
and looking up he drew the old man’s smile.

The young man shrugged, smiled, drained his coffee cup,
announcing, as he donned a coat and started for the barn,
"Worth more holding Twig, I guess, than lying in a pile."

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Miracle of Motherhood in a Dry Land

by Jim Rapp

Motherhood has always been endangered;
fraught by war, crime, disease, childbirth,
domestic violence; its offspring badgered
daily too; swallowed by the thirsty earth.

Often thrust by force upon unwilling hosts,
it weaves its web around their thoughts
securing hope that when they count the cost
they’ll deem it worthy, though it’s fraught.

And when it’s won consent it labors on,
in squalid slums, in war torn streets;
against disease, neglect, fatigue, it labors on;
no battle ever won, nor ever does it cry defeat.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In Honor of Mother

(Note: At the time this was written and posted no burial site had been found for Tamerlane Tzarnaev. He has now been buried in an Islamic cemetery in Virginia but the county officials in the county where the cemetery is located are looking into ways to have his body removed.)

Paul Keane was raised by a mother who, at least in one regard, attempted to instill her standard of righteousness (right behavior) in her son. Paul credits his mother with teaching him to “love thine enemy.”

Paul does not name the source of his mother’s insistence that even one’s enemy is deserving of love. Her admonition sounds very close to statements from the Christian Scriptures; particularly the teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul.

Mr. Keane has offered a gravesite for the burial of the Boston bombing suspect, Tamelane Tzarnaev. Public resistance has so far made it impossible to find a place in the United States where his body can be buried. There is an unused grave next to the one in which Mr. Keane’s mother is buried. He is offering that burial site on the one condition that its use be considered an act in honor of his mother’s memory. At present it seems unlikely that his offer will be received. Less charitable citizens are objecting to Tzarnaev’s burial anywhere in the United States.

Mr. Keane has received hateful letters and even veiled threats of violence against him but insists that in allowing the burial next to his mother he would only be living up to the principle she taught him. When someone suggested that having Tzarnaev buried on his mother’s plot might result in vandalism to her grave and marker. Mr. Keane responded, “I don’t think that would bother her at all. She was not a materialist.”

So far nearly 200 offers of burial plots have been proffered but none have been accepted because of objections by the officials in charge of the cemeteries where they exist.

When Jesus, the Messiah, was crucified he died between two “malefactors”. It isn’t entirely clear what their crime was, some say thievery, others murder, but for that time they were the worst of the worst. God, the Father did not insist that his Son be given any special consideration, though we are told he could have employed ten thousand angels to rescue his Son if he had wished. Instead the Son of God died a criminal’s death between two admitted criminals. One of the malefactors expressed his faith in Jesus’ coming Kingdom and was promised a place in it: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

God did not have to choose crucifixion as the means by which His Son would redeem the world. Many other forms of death would do. I’ve wondered though if God chose that mode of death – that day and that place – because he knew that on that day a pariah of a man would be dying there and that His Son could offer him eternal life.

Most Muslims see all Americans as Christians. From a truly Christian point of view our nation is about as far from “Christian” as any society on earth. We know that only a fraction of Americans are devout followers of Christ. But in the minds of Muslims in many lands, the actions taken by any American is representative of what Christianity is all about. Certainly the hate-filled, eye-for-an-eye denial of a decent burial for one of their faith can only reinforce stereotypes that are harmful to our nation and to the Christian faith.

Mr. Keane has taken a step toward “loving his enemy.” Tzarnaev’s body is incapable of receiving any love but those who care about him and are desirous of giving him a proper burial, according to their customs, are not beyond the power of love. If America wishes to be seen as a beacon of goodness in the world it could do well to follow Mr. Keane’s mother’s advice and show some love – or at the very least, respect – toward its enemy.

When King David heard that the bodies of his enemy, King Saul, and that of his son, Jonathan, were being displayed and held up to scorn he sent men to retrieve them and give them a proper burial. That act helped establish him as a fair minded man in the eyes of those he hoped to have as his subjects. Not a bad strategy.

I applaud Paul Keane for his offer, made nearly on the eve of Mother’s Day. What a gift it would be to his mother’s memory to have her remains lying next to one who could have benefited by her advice.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The “Y” Word and its Bully Buddies

by Jim Rapp

You are late again . . .
You always tick me off
You didn’t use your brain
You should have thought of that

Let us ban the “Y” word
from its favored place in line –
send it packing with its buddies
“Didn’t”, “Should”, and “Always”

Bullies all they are
pushing, pounding, pelting
contrasting You’s deficiencies
with their all-sufficient “I”

We could almost do without them
if they didn’t serve so well
when rearranged within the in line
to say, “I love you, always!”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Daddy Was a Democrat

by Jim Rapp

They say you can’t teach
new tricks to old dogs
but I have proof of otherwise.
My Pa, who countenanced
the slaughter of the hogs,
stood in line for a New Deal prize,
leaned on a shovel for the WPA,
and voted faithfully for FDR,
(supported Truman too) –
after living to enjoy his
“Old Age Pension” and his
Medicare – in his waning years
was seduced by
Nixon’s anti-Commie talk
and Reagan’s patriotic,
anti-government, bluster.
He would have cheered
the NRArrogance displayed
this week in Houston.

Dad? He was a gentle soul.
Ya gotta love him – I sure do.
One hundred per American!
A Christian too – a real one!
He lived a good life,
raised a good family –
with the aid of
New Deal reforms –
but died a Republican.

Sometimes things like that happen.
Sometimes old dogs . . .
Well, it’s sad, isn’t it?

Woof! Woof!
Sit! Heel! Shake hands!
Roll over! Play dead!
Woof! Woof!

Monday, May 6, 2013

What’s a Good Christian Nation To Do?

America has a body to bury and no one wants it buried in their “back yard.” That is a problem, not because bodies decay and cause a stink, but because refusal to bury the body of one whom we abhor says something important about the soul of America.

Anyone who has read my blog regularly would know that I don’t subscribe to the myth (as I see it) that the United States of America was created as a Christian nation. Granted that nearly all of the founding fathers professed some form of Christian belief and that a good number of them were devout in their practice of their religion, but when they gathered to “form a more perfect union” than that which had been formed under the Articles of Confederation, they purposely created a secular state. The document with which they constituted the new nation (The United States Constitution) is antiseptic in its God-excluding language. Those founders did not exclude God from their personal lives nor from the life of the nation. Indeed they expressed the need of a religious population in order for their secular government to succeed. But the government itself was not a Christian institution and was strictly forbidden to become the advocate, defender, or supporter of any religion. No one was to be forbidden participation in the government based on his (or her) religion or lack of religion.

But there is a myth abroad, supported by prominent protestant theologians and authors, claiming that we are now, and have been since the inception, a Christian nation. It seems, if we can believe the chatter on the conservative Christian networks, and much of the conservative non-religious media, that a large number of Americans, perhaps a majority, believe our nation is specially favored by God, is in fact a Christian nation. So, for the sake of argument here, lets assume that is the case. What, then, does a Christian nation look like and how does it conduct itself toward its enemies, particularly toward its dead enemies?

The relatives of a young man, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are seeking a place to bury his body. Mr. Tsarnaev has become a pariah in our society because of his alleged participation in the bombing at the Boston Marathon that resulted in three deaths and two hundred injuries, some of them very grave. Additionally he is accused of gunning down one police officer who later died and seriously wounding another who has survived. In the mind of many Americans, and apparently a majority of Massachusetts residents, he is undeserving of a formal burial in this country or in their state.

It is ironic, I believe, that Massachusetts is the very heart of our reputed Christian nation. It was in Massachusetts that the Pilgrims landed and the Puritans established their “city on a hill” that was intended to instruct the rest of the world in righteousness.

So it might be useful to ask ourselves, “What would our Pilgrim Fathers Do?” Sadly, our history reveals that they exhibited very little tolerance for aberrant beliefs or behaviors, sending Roger Williams (the founder of Rhode Island) and Anne Hutchinson packing when their doctrines did not line up with those of the Winthrops and the Mathers. And their record in dealing with accused “witches” left something to be desired as well.

So it might be more useful to ask ourselves, “What would our Pilgrim Fathers have done if they had been following the precepts of the one they professed to be serving, Jesus of Nazareth?” And of course that boils down pretty quickly to the question, now usually asked with a smirk, “What would Jesus Do?” But smirk or no smirk it is exactly the question a Christian Nation should be asking. And more specifically, it is the question that any person who professes to be a Christian should be asking.

The answer is not hard to find. Here are a few of Jesus’ statements that give us direction in cases like that involving Mr. Tsarnaev’s burial:

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” 

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . . ” 

“. . . if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” 

Granted that none of these statements address specifically the treatment of a dead enemy’s body but it should be clear to any who wish to emulate their professed Lord and Master what he would say.

The man proclaimed to be the greatest theologian of the Christian church also had something to say on the subject that is relevant. Hear these words from the Apostle Paul: 

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” 

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So, what is a good Christian Nation to do when its enemy’s family (many of whom are citizens of the nation) requests the right to give their deceased a decent burial under the terms of their religious understanding and practice?

Well, I leave it to you. It seems we could respond in Christian charity. But then we could suspend our Christian nation status just long enough to do unto our enemy what we would never want our enemy to do unto us.
 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Body You Have Prepared For Me

by Jim Rapp

A shapeless
reckless
demon blizzard
seeking form
racing
headlong
‘cross the plain
drawn
or driven
from
some former
hapless home

Invades
enfolds
assumes
usurps
the form
of house
or tree
or trike
or tyke
or garbage can

Settles in
and calls
his friends
the seven winds
each stronger
than the last
to come
to share a shape
with him
to build a home
to be
a little while
embodied
 
Until
the sun
returns
reveals his ruse
dispels his grip
disshapes the form
he’s in
and sends him
dripping
trickling
running
rushing
tumbling
roaring
on his frantic
way again.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Monogamy

by Jim Rapp

rushing
from the north
hoary snow
flies
to the faithful
outstretched arms
of the
old pine tree
assured
through
many winters
past
she
is welcome there

her
full embrace
will last a day
perhaps
a day
a night
and then
another day
before
her ardor
quickly
melts away

but
ever green
he’ll stand
and dream
through
June
July
through
summer’s time
through
Autumn’s clime
as
other winds
wooing
and
enticing him
blow
through his
waiting
boughs

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May I Snow Today?

by Jim Rapp

      (A haiku)

Snow, gracing a day
in May, incites some to play;
some to go away.