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

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.