Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30th in Wisconsin

by Jim Rapp

Time was when Winter was winter
and Summer was summer;
when Spring and Fall would inter-
weave their slimmer
selves between
their larger brothers,
hoping to be seen
as something other;
sisters dressed for a ball –
green for sister Springtime,
reds and golds for sister Fall –
each one, one of a kind.

It appears, this year
all are confused;
each seems to bear
their sibling’s face bemused.
Is it something we have done
that is causing this confusion?
Is there something to be done
to right the situation?
I want my seasons
to arrive and leave on schedule
and not be given silly reasons
to excuse their breaking rules.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Wannabe Writer, Musing without His Muse

June is ending and I’m feeling some pressure to put up one more entry in this blog. There is so much that one could ruminate about. There is always politics. There are crises at home and abroad. There are ethical questions that cry out for answers. And there will never be an end to the theological discussions one could venture into.

I could post a poem but my muse is on vacation. At least that seems to be the case. He – she – I’m not sure of the gender – has been very patient with me over the years. When ideas come for a poem or a blog piece I should jot them down so I can return to them when the time is available. Sadly I seldom do.

But occasionally my muse, patient soul that he/she is, catches me with time on my hands and strength to hold my head up, and delivers an inspiration that results in something written. Then the reader of my blog is subjected to it. That obviously hasn’t happened for some time now.

Now, if my muse were also a masseur or masseuse it might make me more attentive. Or perhaps put me to sleep. But if he/she could relieve the pain in my back it might clear the fog in my brain. I can’t recall when I’ve not had some back discomfort but there are times when it is elevated to the point of distraction and then I become a grouchy old bear. Not pleasant to be around I’m sure. No wonder the muse has chosen this time to desert me.

My problem began when I was in Jr. High School. I was already at my full growth of six feet tall and appeared, I imagine, to be strong and healthy. So, when the need arose to lift a piano from the stage at the end of the gymnasium and lower it to the gym floor I was called upon, along with a number of other tall, strong appearing boys to do the job. I felt the strain in my back immediately but, being young and strong, said nothing and did nothing about it. I had heard the words “I’ll sue you!” shouted during arguments among the neighbors on our block but the thought never occurred to me that my injury would be permanent or that anyone in particular should bear the blame for it.

So my poor muse is stuck with a wannabe writer with occasional intense lower back pain that makes him wannabe babied. It must be difficult to try to inspire such a one. I understand the need to get away. Perhaps he/she has found a more likely subject; more talented and certainly more attentive and efficient. I wouldn’t blame my muse for deserting me.

I have an appointment with a podiatrist in two weeks. (Why a podiatrist I have no idea; it ain’t my foot that’s hurting.) I called a week ago and got on the schedule but the earliest they could see me was July 9th. And they say “Obamacare” may result in delayed treatment? We’ve had it for some time already, folks. But there . . . I’m about to venture into politics and that gives me a pain in the back – the head too. I’ll not go there.

If my muse is reading this I hope he/she sees how dependent I am and will return soon. I promise to start taking notes and to follow up on every good idea he/she gives me.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

So Who Is Spying on Whom These Days?

For some reason, now forgotten, I was listening to a You Tube video of Iz (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow with What a Wonderful World.

For those not familiar with Iz, he was (is) a popular Hawaiian musician who died at the tragically early age of 38 as a result of his extreme obesity.  He weighed nearly 750 pounds at one point in his life.

When the video I was watching ended I closed the window it had been playing in and, behold, in the background a pop-up advertisement was waiting for me urging me to buy an alternate to liposuction. I suppose some quack remedy purveyor has somehow linked the advertisement of their product to any website that features obesity in any way.

A few days ago I did a search for a printer with a particular capability and since have been seeing advertisements for specific models of printers regardless of the website I’m visiting. Someone has garnered the information that I was, in some way, in the market for a printer. I just wish they had gotten the information that I have purchased one and am no longer in the market for their product. Perhaps I should be thankful that they haven’t found a way to gather those facts.

Gail Collins, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist remarks in a recent piece, that “we live in a world where you can e-mail your husband about buying new kitchen curtains and then magically receive an online ad from a drapery company.” That is not farfetched. We are being watched all the time by those who hope to profit at our expense.

The media is all in a lather at this time because it has been revealed (as though it wasn’t already known) that the government has been compiling a giant data base of phone numbers and internet activity, purportedly for the purpose of tracking down terrorists and saving us from violent attacks. Thomas Friedman, also a NYT Op-Ed contributor, in a column today, suggests that we should use caution in judging such surveillance as wholly malevolent. If a deadly attack were to occur, causing disruptions equal to those of 9/11, and the government had not pursued all avenues to prevent it, there would be an equal and opposite uproar. It is a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils – loss of privacy or loss of life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.

Whether we like it or not, we are under constant surveillance. (I learned in Sunday School many years ago, via a children’s song, “There’s An All-Seeing Eye Watching You.”) I have never assumed that my actions could not be subject to government oversight. And, since the age of the internet and ubiquitous wireless telecommunication, I have assumed that anything I say or do via those avenues is likely to be available to those who have an incentive to know it.

Only the very na├»ve can ignore the signs of commercial snooping into our lives. Business enterprises have a present and compelling interest in knowing who we are, where we live, what our interests are, how much disposable income we have, what our tastes are in food, clothing, entertainment, politics, religion, and even sex if they can find out. Google Earth allows anyone in the world who has a computer and online service to examine your house, neighborhood, and any personal belongings that happened to be in view when the satellite snapped the pictures of your property.  We are at far greater danger of invasive snooping from the business world than from government . . . unless . . .

Of course, if we are engaged, knowingly or unknowingly, in activities (or with people who are knowingly or unknowingly engaged in activities) that violate the law or endanger the safety of our communities or our nation, then we invite Big Brother to tap into our network of communication and collect data on us.

Our world is not much different than those that preceded it. It has always been so that those in power – government and the commercial powers (often allied, or at least overlapping in interests) – can and will invade the privacy of those whom they suspect to be endangering the system that protects their existence. Even the ancient kings of Persia employed their satraps (eyes and ears of the King) to inform them of the activities of their subjects. Constitutional guarantees of privacy are useless in deterring such activity. At best they may serve as a defense in litigation, giving some hope that the victim may escape with his/her life and some fragment of his/her wealth. Most certainly they will not escape with their reputation intact.

So what’s to do? First, do well. Make sure that, to the best of your ability, you are living a reputable life that can be honestly defended in case you are caught up in some situation you fell into, either by mistake or by misfortune. It may not save you but at least you can go to your maker with a clear conscience.

And, of course, take as many precautions as you can. Hold personal information as close to your chest as possible.

Especially hold personal opinions to yourself.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Foolish Question

I have spent the last week “enjoying” a very debilitating back ache. It isn’t the first one I’ve endured over the years, but it had been several years since the last one and I had reason to hope, at 77 years old, I had outgrown them. Not so. It lingers on despite Tylenol and muscle relaxants. Many fellow sufferers will relate to the condition: a sudden onset of spasms in the lower back followed after a few days of misery by a migrating band of stiffness and pain that moves from one side of the back to the other and then eventually exits down one leg. I’m waiting for it to make its exit.

The misery of the constant pain triggered some thoughts about a Scripture passage in which we are told that Jesus, as our high priest – our advocate before the Heavenly Father – “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV) The thought ran through my mind that Jesus didn’t live to be a middle aged man; he died at age thirty-three. What could he have known about the muscle spasms and back ache that an old man experiences.

No sooner had I entertained that thought than another hit me. The Cat of Nine Tails! That horrific instrument of torture with which the Romans extracted information or confessions from slaves and prisoners was used on Jesus’ back. A whip with anywhere from 3 to 12 strips  of leather at its end, each with nails, or glass, or broken bone embedded in it so that with every blow to the prisoner’s back great gobs of flesh were torn open. Tradition claims that such a beating was restricted in Jewish practice to 40 lashes, save one, or thirty-nine lashes. There is no guarantee that Jesus’ beating at the hands of Romans was halted at thirty-nine lashes. It may have been more or less. But one thing is certain; every muscle in his back was lacerated to the point that it is no wonder that he could not carry his own cross as the Romans liked to require their victims to do.

There is much about Jesus’ trial, beatings, and crucifixion that we can only appreciate through the lens of our sheltered western Christian culture. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ attempted to show the horror of Jesus ordeal, but even that fell short of the reality. Try as we may, unless we have personally witnessed a similar abuse of one of our fellow men (there are still atrocities as horrific committed in our day) we cannot begin to fathom the price in pure physical suffering that Jesus paid for our “healing.” The prophet Isaiah, writing centuries before the crucifixion of Jesus said of him, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that brings us peace was laid on him, and by his stripes we are healed.” (Paraphrased from the King James.)

Jesus truly “has been tempted (tested) in every way, just as we are . . .” He journeyed to the farthest hill to die with common criminals at such a distance from his Father that he cried out in the agony of desertion, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Had God truly deserted him? Probably not, but when one feels deserted it is nearly the same as actually being so.

Various author’s have tried to depict the temptations Jesus endured while on earth. One of the most moving depictions I have encountered is in the novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis. Kazantzakis portrays Jesus being confronted with temptations that are so base that it offended the sensibilities of many Christians who wanted to think of Jesus as never entertaining any thought of evil. But certainly, if the writer of the Book of Hebrews is right, Jesus was tempted in every way that any human being can be tempted – not necessarily every particular sin, but every temptation to corrupt the good things that God has intended for man to enjoy. And he came away from each temptation without sin.

Kazantzakis’ book portrays the last temptation of Christ as being the temptation to avoid the pain, and disgrace of the cross; to agree with the suggestions of Satan that his Messiahship was all illusory, that he was throwing away the chance for a good life in exchange for a horrible death. There were opportunities for him to reject the cross, even at the last hour. Pilate almost pleaded with Jesus to give him some reason to set him free. But, as another scripture tells us, he endured the cross, despising the shame, because of the joy that he saw beyond the cross; the joy of many who would come to faith in him and in the sacrifice he made for mankind.

I’m still waiting for the pains in my back to subside but while they linger it gives me reason to appreciate the incredibly greater pain that Christ endured for the salvation of all mankind. Did Jesus know what it meant to have a pain like I am enduring? It makes me blush to think I ever asked the question.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The High Price of Aging

   (A Haiku Lament)
by Jim Rapp

Care-free years of rest:
the cost-free port young and old
point their craft toward

Alas, the winds of
fate conspire; set a course not
wholly theirs to chose

Pain: the price they’re asked
to pay for a berth in the
harbor called “Old Age”

Still few captains turn
their ships away from any
haven holding life

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Touched By An Angel In A Shirt Too Small

by Jim Rapp

He had a perpetually un-telling smile,
a shirt buttoned top and bottom,
two buttons each, and all the while
he stood as though accustomed
to the company he sought to join.

An angel unaware?
With belly shining though?
He seemed not at all to care
that no one present knew
he wished, our group to join.

When asked if he had come
to be a part of our three-tabled band
– as if to make himself at home –
he smilingly, unspeakingly, sought a place to land;
not too good, apparently, a clan like ours to join.

Once seated his tongue was freed;
And H, whom rumor has it, had invited him,
became the target of his screed;
poor H could hardly get a sentence in;
our “angel” kept a one-way conversation going.

Though most had finish their eggs or cakes
he caught up soon; “Two eggs over hard, please.”
The whites separated and downed in one take;
the yolks smothered in catsup, each a double squeeze;
two gulps each – they never knew where they were going.

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,” we’re told;
“for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
He may be one – an angel, I mean – but I make bold,
in light of his dress, demeanor, and mysterious smile, to declare,
he’s one of the strangest strangers that heaven has going.