Saturday, December 26, 2015

To Love (the Snow), Or Not

(A Haiku)
by Jim Rapp

Beauty, God  bestows;
Pretty, the ephemeral,
is the gift of man.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Whose Fault Is It? A Christmas Meditation

by Jim Rapp

If there is no love this Christmas
Whose fault is it?
If there is no joy,
Whose fault is it?
If there is no peace,
Whose fault is it?
                          
The Prince of Peace has said:

“If you keep my commandments,
you will abide in my love;
just as I have kept my Father's commandments
and abide in His love.
These things I have spoken to you
so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be made full.
This is my commandment,
that you love one another,
just as I have loved you.”

"Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you;
not as the world gives
do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled,
nor let it be fearful.”

If there is no love this Christmas
Whose fault is it?
If there is no joy,
Whose fault is it?
If there is no peace,
Whose fault is it?

Love, Joy, & Peace,
Gifts from the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit to all who will
receive them.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

another rejection

(from one poet to another)
by Jim Rapp

“thanks for sending
jim though I think
i’ll pass on this on e”
(sic)

my poem:

“tells much
more than shows,”

it :

“seems to come
out of idea(s),
not the other
wat around
is how it all
more usually
works.” (sic)

uh, thank you.
very helpful.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Thoughts and Prayers

What good is it . . . if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save [anyone]? Suppose [someone] is without clothes and daily food. If one . . . says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and [be] well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

This passage from the Epistle of James (Chapter 2, verses 14-16) came to mind as I read and heard the various politicians offer their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of the shootings in Paris, in Oregon, in Colorado, and most recently, in San Bernardino.

It goes without saying that anyone who has the capacity of thought should in some way project that thought toward the victims of such horrors. And anyone whose faith tradition includes a belief in the efficacy of prayers should certainly be praying for the survivors and loved ones in these tragic times. That is the least that any of us can to do; pause to consider . . . and pray.

But as the quotation that leads this essay reminds us, in slightly different words, talk – even thoughtful talk, even prayerful talk; especially pious talk – is cheap. To tell a needy person, “go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but to do nothing about their needs is to do nothing at all. And to tell the victims of slaughter by military grade weapons, “I’m thing of you; I’m praying for you,” when we have the capacity to do something more meaningful is a mere waste of breath and insensitive to the grief they are enduring.

There are things the politicians can do about gun violence that they refuse to do because they are captives of the NRA. They have sung the NRA’s theme song so long that they have forgotten that it is mere propaganda; they now believe it is Biblical-grade truth. They take their turns at the altars of Fox News berating anyone who would suggest that a person who is on the Homeland Security’s No-Fly list should be denied the right to own a military assault rifle. They will not be satisfied until every citizen in every venue is “packing heat.” Then there will be peace. They are fools – calculating fools – and the majority of the American citizens know that to be true; even the majority of NRA members know that to be true. So why does nothing change?

That brings me to another thing – beyond mere “thoughts and prayers” – that can be done. If the majority of Americans elect not to “pack heat,” and they do; if they know that assault style weapons have no place in civilian life, and they know this; if they know that gun registration is no threat to the freedom of our citizens, and all but the most radicalized know this, then why don’t they add some deeds to their “thoughts and prayers?” Why don’t they throw out – or at least make credible threats to throw out – their Senators and Representatives who have sold their souls to the gun industry and its advocate, the NRA? Why don’t they resign their membership in the NRA and the Republican Party until both organizations come to their senses?


Every sentient citizen of the United States is either thinking of or praying for the victims of violence today. Our TVs command our attention and our sense of decency (or guilt) requires us to pray or at least observe a few seconds of silence. But if we, as a nation, only say to the wounded, the widows and orphans, “Be healed, stay safe, be happy again;” if we do nothing to lessen the likelihood of future tragedies; if instead we allow our nation to become the arsenal of violence, then our words are hollow and our professions of concern are nauseous.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Make Your Molecules Useful – Do Something

by Jim Rapp

The weather did something today; it rained,
a cold rain, driven against the window pain,
driven into fabric, onto pavement, on the tin
roof of the car – speeding increased the din.

All things should do something, they’re put here –
mountains, trees, rivers, sunrises, ants and deer –
to do, be, justify the time and space they occupy,
to live, die, then for future uses, humus supply.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Stalled at the Trailhead

by Jim Rapp

Standing at the entrance to a dark, intriguing wood
whose well-worn path grows ever narrower,
yet bearing testimony to previous adventures –
raising questions of intent, motives and outcome –
one's mind suggests it might be one-way only;
            that no one comes out.

Before embarking, it would be good to see signs
of two-way travel; footprints would be nice
if one could decipher direction but it’s seldom
one can tell. Assorted vehicles left at the trailhead
yield no help; they imply only intention – hope;
            the expectation of a return.

How firm are the bicycles’ tires? How warm
to the touch are the autos’ engines? How long
            have they been waiting?



Friday, December 11, 2015

Ring of Fire

by Jim Rapp

What began an accidental spark
burned brightly among the tinder,
slowly gaining notice of those
who then would feed it with intention.

Soon ardor fought to find a twig or bark
to nosh its flames; sought to hinder
wind or rain or ought else that rose
to damp its blaze through inattention.

And so it long endured, log fed,
hand tended, embers glowing brightly,
providing warmth and light and joys
to those who came within its sphere.

Then, its purpose satisfied, red
embers turned to dark’ning coals, rightly
yielding to the law that alloys
are only for a season here.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The "Big If" Theory

by Jim Rapp
(In the beginning was the Word . . .
through him all things were made.
(Jn 1:1,3)

If all that we call home –
the sod beneath our feet,
the sod within our bones,
the sod that flies beyond
the reach of telescopes,
beyond the reach of
mind or comprehension –
is the dénouement of
one Divine Thought,
one uttered Word,
then we perhaps owe
our existence to just one
among many fleeting  
pregnant thoughts
of a Creator
who must ever be
thinking and making –
worlds without end.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Poet Tasters

by Jim Rapp

The masses like their poetry to rhyme,
to undulate while beating time
with every shift of phrase or line;
an easy ode to quote or mime.

The pros are taken by oblique
ramblings coming from the deep
recesses of the unconscious keep
in which their inky musings steep.

I shoot down the middle mostly,
rhyming when I can do so justly,
not when it trivializes thusly;
plumbing the keep in deep futility.

To each his own they often say,
store shelves are filled that way;
but with poets’ books? Today?
Nor deep nor rhyme nor any form of lay.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Am I My Mother’s Keeper?

(A Haiku Quartet)
by Jim Rapp

Mankind, it appears –
the latest to lift its feet from
the mire that birthed it –

is latest but not
wisest; other brothers live
truer to their roots;

our older brothers,
by instinct sense connected
cords that bind and bless;

by instinct know what
intellect knows not; we are
our mother’s keeper.


Office Updates

by Jim Rapp

My new office is a mess, but not as bad, I suppose
I should confess, as it may look when I’ve composed
its finalness; when it’s endured what I, and time impose.

The office I would own, would gleam in pristine
orderedness, would turn the eye while making green
with envy everyone whose efforts fail to top its scene.

But as I say, this bedraggled room may fare no better
than the way a dozen-past have fared whose latter
end always gravitated to a state of nearly utter clutter!

Still I try, issuing weekly updates, moving this and that
on the sly, so in case my late adjustment isn’t what
I want my “final working place” to be, I can roll it back

.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Waiting For Winter

by Jim Rapp

We have had no snow to speak of,
scarcely enough for a snowball,
no need yet to put on my gloves;
temps still reminiscent of fall.

Joy for those who detest winter
(while choosing to live up north where
snow and cold made this the center
of joy for those whom winter cheers.)

November’s past, December too,
or halfway so, and still no snow;
what’s a winter lover to do;
pack up, and further north to go?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Late Night Thoughts on Peace

by Jim Rapp

Peace is not the cessation of conflict,
but ceasing to be overcome by conflict.

Conflict is not the cessation of peace;
peace ends when one wills not to be at peace.

True peace is a condition of a mind,
unmoved by the conflicts that surround it.

Peacemakers are not conflict deniers;
grudgingly they wage conflict to win peace.

Conflict never ushers in lasting peace,
only weariness of conflict brings peace.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fear Rules

It is a sad day when a widow with small children, fleeing near certain death in a war-torn country, must wait two to three years to gain access to freedom in “America” because some “Americans” fear that she and her children might terrorize some school or theater or shopping mall, but anyone without a previous criminal record can go to their nearest Wal-mart, purchase a gun and armloads of ammo with minimal vetting, and terrorize a school or theater or shopping mall.

It is a sad day when those elected to lead us, and those seeking to lead us, are so fearful of terrorism – or so they say – that they are willing to sacrifice the freedoms that our nation has cherished; that they are willing to shut the door to fully vetted refugees fleeing death and destruction in their homelands.

It is a sad day when religious leaders like Franklin Graham, whose father’s voice one proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ culture-crossing salvation, now leads the pack in calling for an end to the acceptance of Muslim refugees by the United States. One wonders if his Samaritan’s Purse organization only distributes its charity to Christians, turning away Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others who are not Christian.

Christian missionaries often are forbidden to openly advocate their Christian message in non-Christian nations, none more so that in most Muslim dominated lands. At last, God would seem to be bringing that mission field right into our “Christian nation” where there are no restrictions on proselytizing; where the religious “free market” is alive and well; where Christian churches are waiting on nearly every corner to welcome the unbeliever; where hundreds of Christian radio stations and scores of Christian Television outlets are daily reaching out to the non-believer; where hundreds of millions of professing Christians can surround them with the love of Christ and the message of his salvation.

Why aren’t Christian leaders ecstatic over this wonderful development? What aren’t “Christian politicians” calling for an open door policy for non-Christian refugees? Why are so many of these champions of Christianity cowering in fear? Do they doubt that the Gospel of Christ is “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe? Shame on them if they do.

Thank God for those few voices of reason that have begun to be heard: Governor Jay Inslee of the state of Washington; Christianity Today who, once closely allied to Franklin Graham’s father, Billy Graham, is now disavowing his son Franklin and speaking out bravely in article after article; and of course Jim Wallis of Sojourners who regularly features articles that challenge the phobias of our culture.

Yes and thank God for Steven Colbert who saves, until the very end of his monologue, his most deadly thrust for those who claim to represent Christ but do not.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Strangers Be Damned!

(A Haiku Quartet)
by Jim Rapp

Two thousand years past,
the Evangelicals’ Lord –
admonishing them –

declared, “Just as you
show love to the least of these
you show it to me.”*

When we turn away
the needy from our shore we
turn away our God,

Who frequently comes
in a skin that challenges
our brotherliness.
________________
*Matthew 25:34-46

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Who Is My Neighbor?

(65% of white Evangelicals oppose the U.S. decision to allow
Middle Eastern refugees into the county: Pew Research Center
Sept. 2015)

Why do those who make the greatest claims to righteousness;
who profess to protect life and defend the “written Word”;
who trumpet their patriotic love of American exceptionalism;
cringe at the first sight of strangers whom the righteous should love,
deny the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
to widows and orphans who are fleeing their homes in distress,
forget that American exceptionalism includes exceptional
generosity to the world’s “huddled masses, longing to be free,”
callously disregard the Word they profess to love when it imposes
on them a requirement to “love their neighbor as themselves?”

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Ads Must Go On - Dateline, Nov. 13, 2015

by Jim Rapp

The French are bleeding, dying,
as the world is watching
via Dateline’s Special Edition,

The somber men and women trying
to project gravitas, catching
the importance of the situation.

But the ads must keep on flying,
sold in special batching
months before this conflagration

Priced, cued and left lying
until the largest crowd is watching;
gotta beat the competition.

Autos, burgers, French Fries frying,
bring us news of Frenchmen dying;
no horror stops the ads from flying.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fickle Fall

Jim Rapp

Golden glory, hills ablaze,
Skies of azure full amaze,
Leaves to shuffle, rake and burn,
Wieners, smores, each in their turn,
Blustery winds that rain and snow,
Stripping glory as they go,
Leaving barrenness and chill,
Writing WINTER with their quill.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Patience Of God

by Jim Rapp

I’ve wondered why some are given long life,
others short lives; as they say, “short and sweet”.
As one of the fortunate, with a big slice,
I have to ask why I’ve lived on Long Street.

I’m coming to the conclusion lately
that one thing is likely to buy you days.
Those who view life inaccurately
are granted time in which to right their ways.

Which means, of course, that I should stand with awe,
at the precipice of eternity,
Amazed that grace, unhurried, looked and saw
how years could aid an undone one like me!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Leading by Quitting

by Jim Rapp

Governor Walker hears from God,
God instructed him to run for president,
But when he failed to get the nod,
God said that he should set a new precedent.

God spoke to him through the pastor’s sermon
Telling him he should “Lead another way;”
That he ought to  “Lead by quitting” anon;
Urging others to follow his foray.

And so, Speaker Boehner, fresh from
An audience with Pope Francis declared
He would lead by quitting quite soon;
Inspired by his encounter, it appeared.

And today majority leader McCarthy,
The avowed favorite to follow Mr. Boehner,
Withdrew from the Speaker’s race, at least partly,
It seems, to lead by quitting, a la Scott Walker.

Could we hope that this is a trend;
That all our non-leaders would hear from God
A call so clear that, in the end,
They’d lead by quitting, for the common good?  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gun Control

A Tennessee fifth grader shot and killed his third grade neighbor because she would not show him her newborn puppies. He retrieved his father’s shotgun and shot her in the chest from the window of his mobile home, and then threw the gun out the window, leaving it lying beside her dying body.

Stories like this make me sad, of course, but like the President said after the murder of nine Oregon college students this week, we are growing numb to this sort of thing. We’re starting to think like one of the leading Presidential candidates who declared, “Stuff happens.”

But the interesting thing about the Reuters report of the fifth grade shooter that I read online was that about half-way through the article there appeared a video trailer for an upcoming film “The Walking Dead.” The video portrayed ghoulish zombies attacking people and multiple scenes of gunplay with both zombies and humans falling from the tops of tall buildings and other structures. After watching the video trailer I was allowed to return to reading the gory details of the Tennessee murder. I had to wonder if the fifth grade shooter was a fan of such movies.

And he wouldn’t have to go to a theater to see that kind of violence portrayed as “art”. The network TV channels have regular shows that depend upon mayhem to draw in their audience. A recent survey of T.V. violence found that this fall’s network shows depicted more violence than non-network shows. I wonder if the fifth grade shooter was allowed to watch such shows.

I strongly support increased gun control. I do not think we need to restrict gun ownership for those who are willing to abide by reasonable laws regulating the ownership and use of guns (except for particular guns that were not originally intended to be used by civilians).
 
Those reasonable limitations are: 1) registration of all fire arms (just as all automobiles are registered), 2) requirements for safety mechanisms on all fire arms, 3) restrictions on gun ownership by those deemed by law to be a potential harm to themselves or to others, 4) thorough background checks at gun stores, gun shows, on the internet, and in private sales to make sure that guns do not fall into the hands of those society deems unfit for gun ownership. It is hard for me to fathom why a law abiding citizen would object to any of those restrictions, none of which curtail his/her ownership or legitimate use of a gun.

Further I would support the repeal of all concealed carry laws and replacing them with much stricter laws allowing “carry permits” only to those who need them to perform specific law enforcement tasks or those who can show that they face eminent threat to their life and that they are capable of defending themselves without harming innocents in the process. I have yet to hear or read of a mass shooting that was prevented or even brought to an end by any civilian carrying a concealed weapon. If they were present they were hiding under the tables.

But all of that “gun control” will still not stop the wave of murder that numbs our consciences and our consciousness. We need to CONTROL the great love of violence which our society, consumes on a daily basis. And that is a moral problem. Those who produce our media need to be challenged to find ways to truly entertain us without having to depict violence of one human against another. And that is a moral challenge.

I’m not optimistic. The President sees little that he can do, given the strength of the gun lobby, except to “keep talking about it each time it happens.” The Republican candidates shrug and say, “Stuff happens. Get yerself a gun.” So gun regulation, even sensible gun regulation ain't on the horizon. And I’m even less optimistic that our love affair with violence depicted in our theaters and on our TVs will wane. Only when our fear of each other and our hatred of the “stranger in our midst” reaches a level that tears our society apart – on the pattern of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, South Sudan, and other places – will we possibly reach a level of exhaustion capable of bringing us to our senses. But don’t count on it.

Perhaps when Israel seeks peace with the Palestinians. Or maybe when hell freezes over.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Perilous Church

A church is sometimes the most dangerous place for a Christian to be. I’m not thinking of sexual harassment or child abuse, or any of the other aberrations that have blighted the church’s reputation in recent years. Those are horrific sins for which the church must be held accountable. But in reality those sins are only a reflection of the broader society. We read daily reports of the same behaviors in every arena of our society.

No, the dangers I’m thinking of are more lethal than those venial sins that make the headlines and, unless committed against children, are readily forgiven, especially if the perpetrator is a person of “value” in our eyes. Years ago it was thought that a Christian in a bar, or bowling alley, or dance hall was in mortal jeopardy. The only safe place to be was in church, at least three times a week – Sunday mornings and evenings and a mid-week Bible study/prayer meeting – and during special meetings, every evening of the week.

If the picture the Gospels give us of Jesus and his disciples is indicative of their usual habits they were faithful in attendance at synagogue each week, and they made an annual pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. But they nearly always got into some sort of trouble every time they went to one of those “safe houses”. There was nearly always someone there who challenged Jesus or his disciples about the things they were doing or the things they believed.

It was in the “dives” – the bar and bowling alley and dance hall – of that society where Jesus met with the most approval and the least resistance. It was among prostitutes and tax collectors, in other words, the worst of the worst, that Jesus found the faith and acceptance he was looking for. And out of those kinds of people he shaped a following of apostles and disciples who would, in less than 100 years, sweep through the known world with the news that life everlasting was available to those who would put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Sadly, many of the churches of our day have become like the Jewish institutions that opposed Jesus in the first century of the Christian era. They have become encrusted with doctrines, traditions, creeds, and theologies that baffle and repel rather than attract sinners to Jesus. They have become, in our nation, and our time, a tool of the political establishment. Liberals and Conservatives alike invoke the church’s aura through Biblical quotations – often taken  ridiculously out of context – and “code words” meant to say, without saying, I’m your Christian candidate, wink, wink.

So the church – the places of Christian gathering, and the people who gather there – have become a hazard to one’s spiritual wellbeing. Scratch the average evangelical church and it is most likely going to bleed red. Association with an evangelical Christian coffee klatch, men’s or women’s fellowship group, Bible study or prayer group can be downright corrosive as one listens to the political ideas endorsed or excoriated. The very people with whom Jesus spent so much of his time – the poor, the sinners, the sick, the despised – are seen by the majority of modern evangelicals as the moochers and n’er do wells whom Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News “analysts” tell us are the root cause of America’s decline. Attendance at many evangelical churches is more a celebration of conservative Americanism than of Christ; is more a political rally than a gathering of believers of like Christian faith.

But scratch a liberal Christian church and it will likely bleed blue. Attendance at a service or social gathering of a liberal church leaves one gasping for air. Nearly every semblance of Christian faith has been removed, replaced with a bland and vacuous belief in the ultimate goodness of man; that government sponsored programs can fill the moral and spiritual vacuum that their empty “faith” is incapable of filling. They have remembered the first part of Jesus’ words, “Neither do I condemn thee,” but forgotten the last part, “go and sin no more.” Indeed, what is sin? They no longer believe in sin.

So where does a believer go for the comfort, instruction, and spiritual nutrition that the church was (and is) supposed to supply? Even more to the point, where does the sinner (the non-believer) turn to find the un-condemning acceptance that Jesus offered to the sinners of his day?

Fortunately there are some congregations (mere gatherings of hands-full of believers within congregations in some instances) that have kept their clothes unstained by the theological, philosophical, political and cultural contaminants that have rendered much of American Christendom incapable of speaking as ambassadors of Christ. These conclaves of faith are the hope of Christianity, the secret “seed bank” from which, in past and future generations, a new crop of evangelism can emerge.

So while the rotting structures that now claim to be the church, but are not, continue their charade, slowly morphing into the political institutions of which they already are mirror images,  the church will go forth victoriously, peasant led and sinner populated, to fill the world with the good news that God is not dead and his Son still offers eternal life to all who put their trust in him.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Eternal Ways

By Jim Rapp

 (I tell you the truth, he who believes
     has everlasting life. John 6:47) 

He stumbled down a
     fearsome way,
     so hard it cut his feet,
     so steep it took his
     breath away,
     so long and bleak
     it broke his heart
     and made him say,

“I cannot see an end to it;
     no hope that
     I will ever find –
     though I descend
     forever more –
     the unknown Thing
     my aching soul
     is longing for.”

The path down which he trod
     was killing him;
     had killed his spirit miles ago.

“Is this,” he asked, “the road
     they call Mortality?”
     He called it Hell!

But then he met a stranger
     coming to him,
     walking up the very path he trod –
     walking to him on the road
     that he called Hell.

He stopped and gazed at her
     because her visage
     bore the image of a god.

He turned to watch her
     as she passed,
     convinced that none
     who walked the road to Hell
     could be as beautiful as she.

He called to her
     and asked her turn
     and speak to him.

But when she turned,
     the light that he had seen
     upon her face was gone,
     replaced by pain and urgency.

“I cannot look this way for long.”
     she said, “The darkness blinds
     my eyes and breaks my heart.
     But turn, my friend,
     and come with me. The road
     this way is so much brighter.”

Then turning once again
     she went her way.

But in the moment that he turned
     he saw what lit her face with beauty;
     he saw the path they walked upon
     was not two roads but one,
     each way a different destiny.

“Oh, foolish me!” he thought,
     “If I had known
     that I was walking in eternity;
     I had supposed that it was what
     all souls were walking to.”

How changed the path,
     the scene, the hope he felt
     when he, at last, had turned.

He named this new-found way
     the only thing his happy heart
     allowed – he called it Immortality.

And those he met
     seemed now to pause
     and look on him with awe.

He wondered if the beauty
     of the path ahead –
     the hope and joy
     he traveled toward –
     had shown upon his face.

He bid them all to turn
     and walk with him,
     up Heaven’s path – In Eternity.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Inveterate Bloggers

by Jim Rapp

How many solvers
does it take to solve a ill?
Just one if he’s young.

We knew so much then
and gladly shared it with all
who would hear us out.

We’ve grown smarter now;
far smarter; smart enough to
know we know nothing.

But alas, alack,
and lacking sense to keep it
to ourselves, we blog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reaching for Eden

by Jim Rapp

The human spirit
refuses to accede that
evil will prevail.

Souls pressed down to death,
defying scourge and hell, cry,
“My Redeemer lives!

“I know, I know, though
worms consume my flesh, yet I,
in flesh, shall see God.”

Friday, September 11, 2015

Caesar and God

by Jim Rapp

We should not confuse
persecution with a just
judge’s sentencing.

If you must refuse
a civic duty, you must
step aside smiling.

No man is required,
in the U.S., to deny
tenants of his sect.

But if you’ve aspired
to be clerk of court, then why
do you not respect

and uphold the laws
a sworn clerk must apply and
defend in good faith?

To do otherwise
claims for faith a right to stand
in law’s ordained place.
 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The First to Turn

by Jim Rapp

the first reds appear
among the sumachs
warning fall is near,
hot season’s climax

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sol and Luna

by Jim Rapp

Sol rose gently this morning,
emulating a moon-rise;
just as the day was dawning
he arrived in Luna’s guise.

He played a while in branches
pushing bushy leaves aside,
shining in broken tranches
to accommodate my eyes.

Soon he rose above the trees,
still Luna-like, his golden
face obscured by clouds and breeze;
his girth a merchant’s gulden.

The ruse did not long endure;
though her man had work to do
that clouds would not obscure,
old Sol winked, and Luna knew.

Luna knows at night’s command
her paramour, her source, will
flood her with his glory and
the night with light they'll fill.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Figure Twisters

(Alias: Politicians)
by Jim Rapp

Figures only lie because
liars figure ways to make
them resemble truth.

Figure Twisters pause
at nothing; willing to take
north and turn it south,

Willing, for their cause,
to upend the earth to shake
coins from pauper’s mouths.

Figure twisted laws
grease the path the Twisters take;
Hell-bound, going south.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shadows’ Compensation

by Jim Rapp

We’re still waiting for Valhalla (East Ridge) to call,
but while we wait, the plusses and minuses and all,
of Metro Crossing provide us with all we need –
shelter, safety, convenience, even a view. Indeed,
in the last twenty-four I’ve watched two sets of shadows –
evening running east, and morning reaching west –
a parade, venetian-shaded, disafforested, that shows
we’ve reached, if not Nirvana, then perhaps a second best. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Writer’s Psalm

(Ps. 139:23-24 radically paraphrased)
by Jim Rapp

Edit me, O God;
you know my mind.
Proof read me;
reveal my errant thoughts.
Spell-check me;
redline the offensive ways in me.
Make me a book for the ages.
______________
Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV) Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any
offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Let Me Say It – “I’m Old!”

by Jim Rapp

Why do so many resist my exclamations of aging;
try to reassure me that it isn’t happening?
Do they think I would have been happier lying
six feet under next to some unfortunate weakling
who lacked my lucky DNA.

No, my aches and pains, my implants, my pills,
my medical appointments are merely
small inconveniences that buy me hours to fill
with love and lovely thoughts clearly
bought with meds and lucky DNA.

For most of human history –  in most places yet today –
a life this long would be the constant envy
of those who, watching others quickly pass away,
wish for my peace and food and doctor’s savvy;
most of all my lucky DNA.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Creation’s Obeisance

by Jim Rapp

sun-warmed air
rain-drenched soil
nutrient-rich seed
burrowing roots
thirsting stalks
spreading leaves
swelling fruit;
creation’s rush
to obey the
command:
“Be fruitful
multiply
fill the earth.”

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It is Not Easy to Love Poor People

(A Haiku Duet)
by Jim Rapp

Christians – some of us –
are an interesting lot
but a bit confused;

we love the Jesus
who loved the poor but not the
poor whom Jesus loved.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Our Prayer

 by Jim Rapp

Our Father in heaven –

beyond all time
beyond all space
beyond corruption
beyond comprehension 

hollowed –

in our thoughts,
in our speech,
in our deeds,
in our nation,
in our world – 

be your name –

Yahweh
I am that I am
Yeshua 

Your kingdom come –

Your Kingdom,
not the kingdom of our dreams
but the kingdom of your intent;
not a kingdom of brick and steel
but a kingdom in our hearts;
a kingdom hidden in a kingdom,
in the world but not of the world 

Your will be done, as in heaven where there is

no warfare,
no avarice,
no crime,
no violence,
no bloodshed,
no obscenity
no ostentation
no surfeiting
no poverty,
no sickness,
no favorites,
no losers
no dying –

so on earth. 

Give us this day our daily bread –

food for our needs,
no more,
(lest we cease to trust)
no less,
(lest we cease to ask) 

Forgive us our debts –

too numerous to recall
too onerous to name
too heavy to bear
too costly to pay 

As we forgive our debtors –

freely – without reservation
fully – without expectation
forgettingly – without recollection 

Lead us not into temptation –

guide us to a safe place
away from impure thoughts,
ill-considered speech,
meaningless activity,
hurtful deeds 

Deliver us from evil –

Satan’s whispered promptings
the world’s alluring lights
 
our fleshly desires
to please
to be pleased
to possess
 
our fleshly fears
of rejection
of failure
of sickness
of death

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Prayer for the 21st Century Church

by Jim Rapp

It has never been easy to “be the Church”;
to be “His witnesses” in Jerusalem,
Judea, Samaria, and the whole world.

Those earliest followers, caught in the lurch,
preferring to obey God rather than men,
became the first believers to be laurelled.

But not the last; two millennia of blood
has sprinkled the altars of our Most High God;
precious in His sight is ev’ry shining drop.

Oh God, grant that we, like they, should not wince but
stand firm before the threat of the tyrant’s rod
knowing, from a martyr’s blood, you raise a crop.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Forgive him Father

(A Haiku Duet for Charleston, SC)

So many have said
the AME massacre
left them without words.

AME victims
found the needed words to say,
“We will forgive you.”

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hate Crimes and Death Penalties

Governor Niki Haley, of South Carolina has called for Dylann Storm Roof, the 21 year old who shot and killed nine people in the AME church in Charleston, SC to face the death penalty. Whether he is tried under South Carolina law or under Federal law the death penalty is a possibility.

This tragic situation presents us with an opportunity to consider two questions: 1) what is the source of this “evil” that causes a man to kill in cold blood and 2) what is accomplished by formally executing the perpetrator of such a crime?

Several of those who have commented on this and other recent incidents of similar character have identified at least the actions taken by the killers, if not the killers themselves, as “evil.”

Evil is defined rather blandly in the dictionary as “morally objectionable behavior.” Most of us feel it more viscerally than that, as something dark, sinister, threatening and unsettling; something that must be stamped out even at risk of our own well being, like a venomous snake. Shakespeare’s words – put in the mouth of Anthony as he eulogized Caesar, the dead emperor – “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” comes close to expressing both our fear of evil’s lasting power, and our helplessness in the face of it.

But the question we wrestle with is whether men are evil or if they merely become – through mental illness, environmental influences, or demon possession – capable of committing deeds we call evil. Or does Evil exist as a living entity, independent of, but capable of influencing sentient creatures like ourselves? Is it a Devil in our midst or is it merely a description of behavior that goes beyond the pale of human acceptance? Can human beings become “evil” any more than a volcano or a hurricane can become evil?

Regardless of where we come down on the issues discussed above there is still the question of what to do about evil – or Evil, if you please. Insisting on the death penalty for those who commit our idea of the most heinous varieties of evil – murder being the most prevalent example – seems to say “the evil that men do” can indeed be “interred with their bones.” Something in us knows, though, that such is not the case. Executing a twenty-one year-old mass killer neither, erases the pain inflicted by his deeds, ends mass killings, brings back to life those he slaughtered, nor repays him “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” – he does not have enough eyes and teeth. All it seems to do is to wreak some degree of vengeance on the “evil person.” It has not proven to be a deterrent to future evil deeds by other “evil” persons.

I suppose, since I have started this conversation, it is incumbent upon me to take a position. So I will attempt to do that as succinctly as I can. To begin, I do believe in Evil, and not just because it is a “tenant” of my Christian faith – although it is notably not explicit in the Apostle’s Creed. I believe in evil because I see it at work in all living things around me; anomalies exist that are inimical to life itself, and I must conclude that just as there must be an Author of Life and Goodness, so there must be an author of Evil – of death itself. Further, I conclude that, just as humans have no innate goodness in themselves but rather are made right-eous (good) by the inspiration (inbreathing) of God their creator, so the evil that possesses all of us to some degree – some tragically to a degree that drives them beyond the pale of human acceptance – is the result of inspiration (inbreathing) of the Evil One. It is these twin beliefs – that humans can be inspired (breathed into) by both God and Satan – that makes me hesitant to call any man (or creature) evil. If a criminal, hanging on a cross next to our dying Savior could, in an instant, receive forgiveness from Jesus Christ, and the promise of everlasting life, who am I to conclude that any modern murderer might not also be that close to the kingdom of God? And who am I to demand that his life be snuffed out?

So, is the death penalty demanded in cases like the one we are considering here? I believe not. Can the Evil that caused this tragedy be snuffed out by killing the killer? Never. That is beyond human power to accomplish. Are there things we can do to rescue humans from the cycles of poverty, deprivation, ignorance, hatred, violence, etc., that cause them to become tools of Satan? Certainly. We can help to alleviate the social conditions that breed evil AND we can promote the Gospel of Christ which brings men and women into a relationship with God that, rightly understood, forbids such inhumanity of man to man.

There are several reasons I oppose the death penalty: 1) it does not seem to deter evil deeds, 2) it makes killers of us all even as we profess to abhor killing, 3) it assumes in most cases more knowledge of guilt than can ever be proven, 4) it impacts the poor far more negatively than the affluent who can afford the legal assistance that the poor cannot, 5) our legal system is not devised to administer “justice” but rather to award “convictions” and “acquittals” to those who can make the cleverest arguments, 6) it satisfies a base (evil) desire in the human heart for revenge, 7) it takes the one who is executed beyond the hearing of the saving grace of God.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy has pointed out recently, we have not yet devised an acceptable human system of incarceration for those whose crimes require long-term sentences. We need to address that problem so that those who must serve indefinite – or life-time – sentences are neither provided with posh conditions nor deprived of their humanity. It seems too often we make prison life a living death. Many inmates, under those conditions become their own executioners, taking their own lives.

We need to abolish the death penalty. We need to reform our prison systems. We need to convert our penal system into a correctional system. The first is easy, requiring only a change in our laws. The rest requires all the ingenuity available to us. Meanwhile we need to do everything in our power to deprive evil of a place to put down its roots.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wisconsin May Be Near the Bottom – But We Ain’t Broke!

Well, the news is out and it is official now: Wisconsin ranks 35th among the 50 states in the U.S. in job growth for the four years 2011 – 2014 and “dead last,” as some like to say, among its neighboring states of Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. While the nation as a whole added jobs over that four-year period at a rate greater than 9% Wisconsin could not muster even 6%.

What does this tell us? One thing it does not tell us is the whole story. In critiquing the performance of the economy one must be careful not to demand more than a particular region can be expected to deliver. Many factors play into the dynamics of job creation that are beyond the short term power of a government to control or change.

But we were very specifically promised that policies put into effect beginning in 2011 would create the number of jobs, 250,000 to be specific, that would have put Wisconsin at the top of the charts by this time. In reality only a little over half that number have materialized. And while the nation had rebounded above the number employed before the dramatic economic crash of 2007-08, Wisconsin was still struggling at the end of 2014 to get back to the pre-recession level.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider the policies enacted in the last four years. As our legislators struggle to devise a balanced budget, they face a 2 to 3.5 million dollar deficit. Obviously lowering taxes on the wealthy and cutting benefits for the poor have not paved the way to a balanced budget. Still our legislators – at least the majority of them – seem convinced that banging our heads against the wall will eventually achieve the kind of economic breakthrough they have been hoping for.

Sadly, it isn’t the heads of our legislators, our governor, nor the heads of their wealthy political benefactors, that is being used to smash the way to success. It is the heads of state employees whose wages, benefits, and bargaining rights have been stripped from them. It is the heads of welfare recipients whose benefits have been cut back and who, in the next years, will be harassed by the requirement to take a drug test in order to receive those benefits. It is heads of poor Wisconsin residents who are denied Medicaid benefits because of our government’s refusal to participate in “Obamacare.” It is the heads of our low-wage service sector workers who are working at below-poverty-level wages with short hours and no benefits.

There is a simple solution to our budgetary problems in Wisconsin. We need to tax ourselves at whatever level is required to provide the services we want our state to provide. That includes well built and well maintained roads, bridges, ports, etc. It includes a K-12 through college system of education that is fully funded and staffed with qualified, well compensated, college-prepared teachers and professors. It includes affordable healthcare for all our citizens. It includes welfare benefits for those who are unable to earn a living. It includes the establishment of a living wage for all workers, part-time as well as full-time.

Wisconsin is not broke, as we were told when we began this race to the bottom. Much of our choice, scenic land is being gobbled up for use as recreational playgrounds for the wealthy or development of premier residential districts. Our lakes are filled with boats and other recreational apparatuses costing $20,000 up to $100,000 and more. Our highways teem with new vehicles many costing more than a three bedroom home – some of them are three bedroom homes on wheels. Our sports venues are full every time they are open with fans spending hundreds of dollars per visit for admission and food. Our bars and restaurants are crowded from early morning until late at night with young and old enjoying food and drink that they could have for half the price by eating at home.

No, we are not broke. Even the poorest among us are not broke. We can afford the small increase in taxes – it should be proportional to income or wealth – that it would take to put the state on a sound footing. And as those taxes go to work they will generate the kind of growth our leaders have been promising; jobs in numbers that could exceed the national average.

Let’s give it a try! I’m willing to do my part.

Monday, June 15, 2015

So What’s This Animus Against Public Education?


For those of us who grew up poor in the 1940s and 1950s the route to some sort of prosperity and success lay in small brick structures scattered around our communities and in larger complexes of brick structures in a few communities around our state. Of course I’m speaking of our public schools; K-12 schools housed in publicly financed buildings, taught by publicly paid teachers, and larger – and ever-growing – Teacher’s Colleges and Universities supported by a combination of tuition and public financing.

The movement toward public education began almost as soon as our forefathers completed construction of their first homes in the colonies that spread up and down the east coast of what is now the United States of America. In community after community, especially in the more populous northeast, schools were established for a variety of different reasons, some religious, some secular.

As the young nation shook off its colonial status and established itself under the Articles of Confederation it took possession of the Northwest Territory. Two important steps were taken immediately to assure an educated population. As surveyors plotted the land into six-mile-square townships they also subdivided it into mile-wide “squares”. The sixteenth “square”, roughly in the middle of each township was designated as property on which a public school would be built. Provision and encouragement for the establishment of a public university in each territory (soon to be a state) was also a part of the vision of our founders. Embedded in the Northwest Ordinance were the words, "Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. And it was at a school, not a lot different than those constructed on the sixteenth square of most townships throughout the budding Northwest Territory, that my sister, my brothers, my neighbors and I got our start toward a better life than that of our parents and grandparents. Further, it was with great pride that we watched the oldest son go off to a publicly financed university where he would be the first of our family to receive a college diploma from the University of Illinois no less.

But the story of our family is not unique. In the years from the end of World War II until today the vast majority of Americans have received their education in publicly financed institutions. In those schools the nation has brought together the varied ethnicities, economic classes, and culturally diverse populations that make us the rich nation that we are. Without that intermingling – imperfect to say the least, and not without serious problems – it is sobering, even frightening, to imagine the kind of society we might be. One needs only look at other areas of the world where a similar variety of ethnic, religious, regional, racial, and cultural diversity exists in volatile and deadly combination to understand what we could have become; what we yet could become if we allow our varied elements to drift apart into warring camps each raising its flag of religious, racial, ethnic or cultural privilege.

But there is a movement afoot to dismantle our system of public schools. Not just our K-12 public schools but our university system as well. The attack on public education comes in the form of weakening the structures that have built it into the educational model that much of the world turns to for inspiration.

At the K-12 level the primary focus is privatization accomplished through the establishment of for-profit charter schools and publicly funded private, often parochial, schools. If such schools were funded in addition to the adequate funding of fully public schools there might be some basis for justifying the expenditure of public money to “provide competition” for the public schools. But the opposite is happening; every dollar spent to support a private school diminishes the support for public education by the same amount. And instead of providing “academic competition” for public schools these publicly supported private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools; they are not made to “compete” but allowed, in many cases, to operate largely with no accountability for the funds invested in them.

And now, in the current budget being discussed in Madison, the University System is being asked to operate with 250 million fewer dollars than in the previous budget even though the previous budget also had significant reductions in funding. Additionally the Governor and the Legislature has, over the last several years, frozen tuition at state universities, forced university faculty to take unpaid days off, frozen their pay rates and forced then to pay more for their health insurance. And in the latest proposed injury to the system, tenure for university faculty is being eliminated from state law. (For the time being it is still retained by the University Board of Regents but it may only be a matter of time before that is wiped out too. Sixteen of the eighteen-member Board of Regents are appointed by the Governor.)

All of this is in addition to the outrage committed against all state worker’s unions (State Patrol and firemen’s unions excepted) by Act 10 which essentially stripped them of any meaningful bargaining rights. With the public employees unions eviscerated there was no significant force left to oppose the attack on public education outlined above. By gerrymandering legislative districts the Governor’s party has assured itself the dominance needed in the legislature to act with impunity as it dismantles a century of progress in public education. 

"Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

 Could our Governor whose budget writing committee submitted, according to the Washington Post, “a budget proposal that included language that would have changed the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system . . . by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs,” agree with the founders idea of the importance of our publicly supported educational system? He and his legislative comrades would choke on our founding fathers’ words. The governor and his legislative partners are determined to limit, not encourage, the kind of education our founders envisioned; an education that supports the essentials of “religion, morality, and knowledge” and replace it with welding classes to “meet the state’s workforce needs.” How sterile. How shortsighted. How destructive.

Welding classes we will always have with us but religion and morality must be cultivated or they will die out or morph into the deadly forces we see operating today in so many parts of the world. Welding classes will be demanded by our economy but universities exploring knowledge of our world can only survive if we value them enough to invest in them without knowing the economic benefits that will flow from them

We can only hope that future elections will bring to office men and women with clearer vision who understand that our publicly supported schools and universities form the basis of our democratic society. We can only hope that, here in Wisconsin, and around our nation, the people whose children are at risk of losing the right of a good education in a well-funded – publicly funded – school or university will wake up and vote out those who are attacking the very institutions that provide the hope of a better life for the poor and middle class youth of our day. It is such schools that help to assure that we will remain “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice (opportunity) for all.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fronting Lies and Loving Truth

(A Haiku Duet)
by Jim Rapp

A champion lie-
fighter, until he found one
in himself – oh my!

Passionate about
truth until he faced it; now –
now he’s not so sure.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Pursued by a Blind Sleuth

(A Haiku Quintette)
by Jim Rapp

I’m being chased by
algorithms; please help me
escape their clutches.

They read my mind and
tell the marketers what they
can do to catch me.

Don’t imagine that
any human eyes are fixed
on me; no never.

I am chased, sun up
to sundown, by all-knowing
sightless sleuths, sent to

surreptitiously
convey my heart and soul to
the highest bidder.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fool’s Tools

by Jim Rapp

What if I am
            being taken advantage of,
            being used,
            being made a fool,
            being made a tool?

What if I am
            enabling sinners,
            enabling sloth?

What if I am
            betrayed by those I trust?

What if I am
            betraying those who trust in me?

What if I am
            the only one standing?

What if
            the whole world thinks me wrong?

What if
            they are wrong and I am right;
            they are right and I am wrong?

What if
            there is no “right” or “wrong”?

What if “what ifs” are fool’s tools?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

(A Haiku Quartet)
by Jim Rapp

Day to remember;
this, a day of reflection,
re-seeing the past.

Day to consider;
this, a day to meditate;
re-thinking our past.

Day for repentance;
this, a day for humbleness,
reviewing our sins.

Day of gratitude;
this, a day to surrender,
receiving God’s grace.