Friday, January 24, 2014

Believe Me, We Are Awash in Anonymity

“. . . a senior counterterrorism official, who, like half a dozen other top intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic officials interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified discussing delicate national security issues.” (Bolding was in the original article) 

(From Syria Militants Said to Recruit Visiting Americans to Attack U.S., New York Times, Jan. 9, 2013, Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmidt. Subsequently quoted in more than a dozen other online commentaries.)
Seven Haiku For Anonymity
by Jim Rapp

is the refuge of cowards,
puffers, and scammers.

in the hand of a coward
is a back street mugging

in the hand of a puffer
is a poised dagger

in the hand of a scammer
steals a poor man’s wealth

in the hand of the righteous
is a sacred trust

in the cause of good corrupts
the good cause it serves

Transparency is
truth: anonymity is
a veil, shielding lies

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK, Jr. - Haloed Saint or Angel, Flying Too Close To The Ground

A Saint in the Roman Catholic tradition is a member of a rarified clan of mortals who, after death, and after extensive examination, have been determined to have lived in such a way as to give them a righteous standing that few of the rest of us can ever hope to achieve. In the tradition with which I have been associated, we called all the assembled worshipers saints. It is obvious that the two traditions are referring to something different when they designate a saint. 

The Koine Greek word from the New Testament Scriptures that is translated “saint” is hagios. Its literal meaning is “holy”. Thus saints are the holy ones. The Catholic tradition (if I understand it correctly – or completely) takes saint to mean those whose earthly behaviors are exceptionally righteous. Most Protestant traditions, following Luther’s dictum that salvation is by grace, through faith alone, conclude that all believers are made righteous in Christ by belief in him and thus belong to the hagios, saints made holy by imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

I’m thinking, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, of the man that some would designate a saint because of the transforming effects his actions and words have had in our world. But sadly, in the media-saturated world in which we live, it is hard to be a saint in either the Catholic or Protestant sense. Enough has now been revealed, or has been alleged, to cast some shadows upon King’s moral and political stature. Without going into details, it is clear to those who have read serious studies of King’s life that he was initially a reluctant warrior, that his fidelity to his marriage was lacking, and that his inspiration drew upon sources many regard as suspect. So, while we celebrate the consequences of King’s life, many would recoil at the suggestion that he is one of the hagios, one of the saints. 

Thankfully our status as one of the hagios will ultimately be decided by One fully competent to know us. And if the apostle Paul is right our holiness (hagia) will be useless (like filthy rags) as a warrant allowing us to stand before Ultimate Holiness. We all are sinners, all have failed to achieve even the goals we have set for ourselves. Every success has been an imperfect one driving us always to amend, perfect, or supersede it. 

None of us is righteous – no, not one. Publicly, we may occasionally pat ourselves on the back, or allow others to do so, but even then we know our shortcomings. We are, in the words of Willy Nelson’ song, “Angels, flying too close to the ground.” Angels, because we have been made in our creator’s image, but broken by our association with this world (cosmos) which decidedly is not made in God’s image. Certainly, none of us is a haloed saint. 

So when we judge our saints, living or having passed into the mist of myth, we are best served by a realism that neither demonizes nor deifies them. The words Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke rightly inspire us. He was inspired to speak those words. The sacrifices King made for the sake of others demands our gratitude. The courage King showed in the face of constant threats to his life stands as an example to all who would follow him into the hazardous battles for justice. 

When duty called, King stood tall. But duty is not always calling, and it is in those lulls in the action that angels fly too close to the ground. It is our natural response, when coming upon a fallen angel, to let their fallen state blind us to the times when they soared into battle and accomplished feats that will outlive them and the evils against which they fought. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. is not, in my mind, a haloed saint. He is an angel (Greek = angelos – messenger) who, like all the rest of us, sometimes flew too close to the ground. But the message he bore was true and the causes he espoused were righteous and the legacy his actions have created make the world a better place to live. That is not insignificant. Insufficient? Yes, King himself would say so. But it is enough that we should pause today and thank God for the flawed life of Martin Luther King Jr. And we should pray that our flawed lives will likewise leave a legacy of good for those who follow.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Praying for Nero

by Jim Rapp
(1Timothy 2:1,2)

That we may live quiet and peaceful lives.
To that end, we are admonished to pray
for those whose actions drive
us to distraction; those whose ways, 

we fear, will sweep away the good
that good men labored long
to fashion; truths that stood
 against the “lying throng”. 

That our lives may be pacific;
that our hearts may be at peace;
we pray a prayer specific
for the “enemies” that we perceive, 

and in praying thus, we still
our troubled hearts – and a
faith-full heart thus stilled, will
perceive it’s “enemy” another way.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Should I Join Facebook?

(A reply to an e-mail query)
by Jim Rapp

As an “over 70” sort of guy
I’m not up on all the latest fads,
but still, I find a lot of reasons why
I shouldn’t tag them all as bad. 

Because . . . 

The spell-checking wordprocessor’s
saved my butt a million times
with its squiggly red reminders
filling nearly every line.

 And when I’m stuck in no-no land
with a car that doesn’t want to run
it's nice to have a phone at hand
to save me walking in the cold or sun. 

And that GPS is the slickest thing around;
it can navigate at night or under rainy skies,
in heavy traffic and in unknown towns,
reading signs too faded for my failing eyes. 

The best of all the gadgets that I’ve got
Is the “Streamer” that connects my cell-phone
to my hearing aids, though I admit I’ve got
some wondering if I’m talking to my clone. 

However . . . 

Facebook doesn’t appeal to me;
nor does Skype – I’ve tried the latter.
It has nothing to do with technology;
it’s my “face” that makes me shudder. 

Still . . .  

When I think of all the sweat and inefficiency
of my father’s day, or even mine,
I thank the Lord for every modern ingenuity
that eases pain or saves some time.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Poor Rich Man

by Jim Rapp
(Luke 12:13-21; Mark 10:17-22)

The poor will always be with us.
Not because God wills it to be so –
There are, after all, no poor in heaven.
Our Father, who art in heaven . . .
Your will be done . . . on earth,
as it is done in heaven.

God, seeing our world’s wretchedness,
sent His Son into the muck;
born in a stable, raised by the poor,
eating and drinking with outcasts
and sinners, wandering homeless,
dying deserted . . . on a cross.

His Spirit still inhabits the haunts
of the outcast, the downtrodden poor.
You imagine Him standing in awe
before the gleaming shrines we’ve raised,
in ignorance, to bear His name.
But look, he eats and drinks with sinners.

How different the world would look
if no church had ever cast its shadow
over the hovels of the hungry;
if instead, believer’s worshiped,
like their Lord, in homes with the poor,
the hungry, the naked, and the sick.
How different our world would be
if, in imitation of their Lord,
believers refused to be rich
until none they knew were poor –
until the will of God was done
on earth as it is in heaven.

The parable does not condemn
the rich farmer for efficiency,
does not imply that he should
cease to reap abundant harvests;
it only damns the barns he built
to hoard the precious grain.

A poor man said to a rich man,
“. . . sell all your possessions
and give the money to the poor;
then follow me, and you will be rich.”
Unwilling to be wealthy,
the poor man sadly walked away.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Serpent In Eden

    (A Haiku Quartet)
           by Jim Rapp 

He lives in Eden.
At no time, at no place, has
adam had so much.

But there is no joy.
The Serpent won’t let him be
content in Eden.

He only values
Eden looking back, through a
gate of no return.

Adam, forever
scorning Eden, forever
losing paradise.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Jack Frost

by Jim Rapp
It is cold in Wisconsin this week.
The lifted shade reveals that frost
has formed a telltale streak
across the glass – three inch at most.
Jack Frost has been at work,
but Jack has lost his claim to fame;
alas, a feeble pallid smirk
runs artlessly across the thermal pane,
unlike the leafy sunlit marvels
Jack could paint on single panes,
in mansions and in hovels,
in his younger carefree days.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Single Raindrop Threatens Millions

"Massive winter storm threatens up to
100 million in Midwest and Northeast"
 ( headline, Jan 2, 2014)

The Single Raindrop 
by Jim Rapp 

The headline that greeted us this morning
is typical; there is no level of hype so intense,
no adjectival assemblage so suborning
as to make the weather persons wince.
Every weather system crossing west to east
"threatens" millions in its path
with summer floods or wintery sleets
that linger as its aftermath.
The headline could read just as truthfully,
in letters bold enough to make us gasp,