Monday, December 26, 2016

Authors Who Have Influenced Me - A Reprise

The essay below is a re-posting of one I first posted back in the dark ages of this blog, actually in the second month of its existence – March 2011. It is always tempting to change something written that long ago but I will resist that urge and leave it exactly as it was then. My guess is that many will not have read it before and that most who did read it have long since forgotten most of what it said. Enjoy!

______________________

It has become common to have a collage of photos playing at a visitation or funeral. I’ve often thought I’d like to assemble such a collage to be used at whatever event is held when I die. (I personally prefer a banquet, though it will be painful not to be able to enjoy it with the other revelers.) But instead of pictures portraying my life’s passages I’d like to display a picture of every person who had a positive influence on my life. It would keep the audience there far too long and the pictures would be mostly meaningless to them. But it would illustrate, better than anything else could, how many persons have contributed to my life and why I became the person I did.

To the right of this blog posting is a list of authors who have influenced me. It is by no means the complete list but those listed have made a significant and lasting impression upon my faith, my conduct, and my creative efforts. The influences exerted are not equal nor do they all work in the same direction. But each was important.

The Apostle Paul and the “Unknown” Author of Genesis are not the only Biblical writers I turn to but they serve, respectively, to reveal ethical and practical understandings of the issues related to daily Christian living, and portray the grand themes of creation, sin, and redemption. Interestingly, in both we see wart-infested humans being patiently tutored by a loving God who plans, against all odds, to bring them to perfection.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn inspires me with the courage he displayed through years of deprivation in the Soviet Gulag, and the massive mental feat he performed in preserving the memory of so many others who suffered with him there. Coming to faith in the midst of his ordeal, he became a prophetic voice that still speaks long after the Gulag has disappeared.

Madeline L’Engle and Dorothy Sayers provide examples of the creative Christian mind in action, describing and displaying the processes and sources from which their work derived. I often feel as though my mind and hand are assisted by these women and others who have inspired me to believe I could profitably put my thoughts in writing.

Mark Noll and Robert Alter give us examples of meticulous craftsmanship. Noll, an Evangelical Christian Historian creates works that are respected by his secular and religious colleagues alike.  Alter, a Jewish Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, has given us several model translations – with commentary – of Old Testament writings. His provocative guidance on the reading and interpretation of ancient Biblical literatures has opened up vistas I had never imagined were there.

Philip Yancey and Simone Weil, very different persons from vastly different backgrounds, nonetheless come together in their understanding of, and empathy for the afflicted in our world. Their writings make me grateful for the grace that has been bestowed upon my life and indignant at the stinginess our rich culture exhibits toward the afflicted in our midst.

Both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien have been instrumental in opening my mind to the power of myth, helping me to see that the best that man can hope to do is produce “myth” which dimly conveys truths too large to be contained in human vessels, too profound to be expressed with human tongues. But they also make clear that through those “myths” God conveys His message of redemption to fallen man.

I share with millions of other Christians a gratitude to Lewis for the marvelous way in which he made sense of difficult and/or disputed Christian doctrines. He, more than any other modern man, has been used by God to convert skeptics, establish doubters, and equip workers to perpetuate the faith.

Come to my final banquet. Enjoy the food and count the photos. Who knows, my kids may be giving away old copies of my favorite authors’ books.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Hope of Christmas - 2016

by Jim Rapp

God loved the cosmos such
that he sent his Son into it,
not to condemn it as much
as to save it, bit by bit.*

Unto you a Savior is born,
a cosmos healer sent,
to bind up what is torn,
to straighten what is bent.

In a tyrant-infested world
the infant took his place,
omnipotence, in weakness furled,
concealed a ruler's mace.

The undiscerning cosmos
trembled only slightly at his coming.
Herod doubting his machismos
aided wise men in their roaming.

Shepherds left their sheep pen,
Simeon's heart was set to racing,
Anna shared her joy with weeping.
Mary? Mary's heart was bracing.

How many millennia will pass;
how long must creation endure –
broken, waiting, groaning 'til at last
a King of Kings appears

to claim his rightful throne?
Omnipotence at last unfurled,
His mace – and His alone –
to rule God's "so loved" world?
_________________
* This is how much God loved the world:
He gave his Son, his one and only Son.

And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed;
by believing in him, anyone can have a whole
and lasting life.

God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son
merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world
how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

(John 3:16, 17 –  The Message)



Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Pence-worth of Advice

(Beware of mirthless demagogues)
by Jim Rapp

Mind, mind the joyless
who, when they are laughing, sting –
humor without joy.

Hear, hear the harshness
of joy-benighted ringing –
clanks on mean alloy.

Fear, fear the coldness
that a pasted smile brings –
no tincture of joy.

Turn, run; the ruthless
serpent's gaze will do you in –
'guiling eyes its ploy.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

If It Were Not True I Would Have Told You

Messiahs promised successful revolution;
making Israel great again; only they could do it.
Such a Messiah would force a solution
to centuries of humiliation and make it fit.

Israel had been losing, and now it would win.
Israel needed only the strong and steady hand
of a wild-eyed Messiah and it would once again
claim the promises, ancient promises, of the land.

Messiah after Messiah said he'd break the yoke of Rome,
reclaim Israel's independence and political power,
establish a long-lost, longed for Jewish home,
a place of peace o're-eaved  by Jacob's bower.

But this new Messiah – this Jesus – had a different plan:
not, I will make this willful people great again,
but, I go to prepare a place, a better place than
you've imagined, a place not marred by sinful hands.

You believe in God, he said, then believe also in me.
I wouldn't tell you this if it weren't true, listen it's all true.
And when I've gone and prepared that place you'll see
me come again; one world destroyed, another made anew.

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

Blessed are the meek:
            for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the poor in spirit:
            for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst
            after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the pure in heart: 
           for they shall see God.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What is Truth? – Part III

The hardest thing a Christian can do (the most gut-wrenching) is to speak out against a position other Christians are advocating in the name truth. Try as one might to be fair with one's Christian brothers or sisters, just raising the possibility that they might be wrong seems to imply that they are flawed in some fundamental way; that they are less "Christian" as a result of the ideas they hold, perhaps even that they are evil.

This dilemma presents a person wanting to uphold truth and oppose false ideas with at least two possible hazards: 1) to choose to do nothing out of deference to the other's professed faith in Christ, thus allowing their false ideas to go unchallenged or 2) to attack the false ideas being presented and risk being seen as a troublemaker out to diminish the validity of the another's Christian profession.

It is not unusual for a Christian to espouse ideas, or behave in ways, that are un-Christ-like. Any honest believer in Christ will recognize that they have been guilty of such behavior on many occasions. Perhaps the most famous Biblical example of such a situation occurred when Peter, resisting Jesus' declaration that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed, took his master aside and told him he must not talk that way. Jesus famously told his loyal follower to "Get behind me, Satan." Being a true and loyal follow of Jesus does not exempt us from holding false notions of what is good and true.

It is a greater error to remain silent in the face of lies or wrong behaviors – whether by Christians or non-Christians – than to disturb the peace of a community by pointing out its errant ways. But speaking up does not come without grave risks to the "prophet" willing to sound the alarm. Sadly, in many instances friendships will be damaged or lost, associations will be terminated or, in rare circumstances the "prophet" may face physical, economic or legal consequences of their actions.

Much of the Christian community has aligned itself with the newly elected and soon to take office Trump administration. In exit polls from the recent election Evangelical believers responded, indicating that, by a four out of five margin, they voted to elect Mr. Trump as our next president. No doubt those followers of Christ who identify as Evangelical Christian supporters of Mr. Trump had a variety of reasons for supporting him. Presumably one out of five Evangelical Christians voted for Mrs. Clinton. Again, Clinton supporters had a variety of reasons for their support of her.

But Mr. Trump's campaign prevailed and that presents a challenge to all followers of Jesus, whether they voted for him or not. As followers of the One who said of Himself, "I am the way, the truth and the life," they must pledge their first loyalty to their Lord and Savior. And in the case of a believer supporting Mr. Trump that brings him or her into immediate conflict with much of what Trump stands for, to say nothing about their obligation to deplore his personal and publicly celebrated immoral lifestyle.

The Christian believer is admonished in scripture:

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Sadly, believers will, too often, be faced in the next four or eight years with words and behaviors that require them to confess that they are hearing and observing - in the words and actions our president – the obverse of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. As followers of Jesus Christ they will have an obligation to stand and speak against anti-Christian policies. They will need to stand and speak for the rights of their neighbors (Christian or non-Christian, Godly or un-Godly, moral or immoral) when their neighbors rights, property, livelihood and freedom are put in jeopardy. They will be watched by those who know they profess to be Christians; watched to see if they are willing to denounce the coarseness and lewdness that their president and those advising him flaunt in their tweets and speeches and lifestyles.

This is not to say that, had Mrs. Clinton won the White House, Christians would have had any different set of obligations. We are people of the truth and regardless of who our national leaders are we have the same obligations to the truth; the same need to fight the lie in whatever form and under whatever name we encounter it. Many who opposed Mrs. Clinton strongly believed that they were saving the nation from a person with a secret and devious agenda to destroy our Christian heritage. If they are right in that assessment (which I do not share) they did what their Christian obligation demanded of them.

But now, we are faced with an incoming administration that may well have just as sinister a secret agenda that must be opposed. But more likely we know already the character and the aims of this president, his family, and those he is drawing around him.

He sins proudly and openly and boastfully. So much so that already the media has become numbed. It has ceased to highlight those aspects of Mr. Trump's character that should most disgust Evangelical believers.

But there are deeper problems with Mr. Trumps professed agenda. It is a narrow, divisive, exclusionary and retaliatory agenda that should alarm all who believe that God loves all peoples, loves the (whole) world so much that he gave his only son to save it. Mr. Trump's agenda promises to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor. Those who supported Mr. Trump either had not read or chose to ignore the words of Jesus' own brother. In his epistle by his own name, James admonishes the believers of his time like this:

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

There is no place in the Christian Gospel for discrimination against or hatred of any race or person or gender. The Gospel, Paul tells us, breaks down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free. In other words it opposes walls and those who follow Christ must oppose them too, in whatever form they are encountered.

So how do Christians navigate so treacherous a terrain as this without injuring their relationships with each other or with their Lord? Of course love is the answer. Jesus, in implying that Peter was a spokesman for Satan, did not reject Peter. He remained one of the three most trusted of Jesus' disciples along with the two "Sons of Thunder", James and John. But neither did he go easy on the lie that Peter was endorsing – the lie that Jesus should not have to go to Jerusalem and die.

So my appeal to Christians is, first be true to the Spirit of Christ which is, above all, the Spirit of Truth. Then be true to the Body of Christ which consists of all those who have truly put their trust in Jesus as the Savior of all mankind. But finally, never allow your love for a fellow member of the Body of Christ to keep you from exposing the lie regardless of who is speaking it or acting it out.

Christians must be the prophetic voices of our culture, voices in the wilderness crying out, "Make a straight path (a true path) for your God." It doesn't require one to stand on a street corner waving a Bible. It only calls for us to speak and act against the lie.


The lie is the only anti-Christ that most of us will ever encounter. The truth defeats the lie but only if it is spoken.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Six People Think I'm Crazy

by Jim Rapp

The problem with writing a blog,
it puts your ignorance on show,
any mental slip is prologue
to dementia, moving slow.

By the time I find my error
it has long ago left my bow,
the blog writer's most feared terror,
an arrow with nowhere to go.

I scramble to make fair amends
but already six sets of eyes
have noted my mental dead ends
and bid my blog eternal goodbye.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

What Is Truth – Part II

Okay, so I got carried away in my previous blog piece. I focused almost exclusively on the spiritual side of the battle for truth. In my opinion the battle for truth is first and foremost a spiritual battle but I know stating it in those terms is off-putting to those who believe they live in a materialistic world in which all things can be certified by the scientific method using the five human senses aided by a competent brain. I am not anti-science nor do I believe we can ignore the signals arriving through our senses. I admit that all of us have to live in a sensual "real world." So how does one distinguish truth from lies while living in such a world?

I should first explain why I put "real world" in quotations. Discovering reality in our world is not a simple case of believing what you see, accepting what you hear, knowing what you've learned. All of our sensory information is subject to disputation by another human being who brings a different perspective to the same set of information. Which of us is right? If 51 percent believe a certain way does that negate the experience and opinion of the remaining 49 percent? What if, next year, the 49 percent convince two of the 51 percent crowd to accept their understanding? Has truth changed?

Well, that depends on how one defines truth. And that gets to the crux of the problem we face as a society right now; is there such a thing as truth, is it the same truth for everyone and if so how do we determine what it is?

Fortunately our world is so constructed that its inhabitants can be wrong much of the time and still achieve the majority of what they set out to accomplish. I say that is fortunate because we so often are operating on false premises or on premises only dimly understood. Sailors setting out for a particular destination believing the earth to be flat arrive at their intended destination to find other sailors who successfully made the same journey under the impression that the earth was a globe. Our physician may cure our cancer by surgery even though radiation or chemotherapy would have done so without carving away part of our body. Our auto mechanic may appear to have gotten our car running by replacing perfectly good fuel injectors when in fact the problem was caused by a malfunctioning fuel pump that, unbeknown to the mechanic, suddenly began to work again just at the time the injectors were replaced.

In each of the instances cited above objective truth played little or no part in accomplishing the desired end. So is truth even necessary? Can't we all just get along believing what we choose to believe, doing what works for us? Many purveyors of information today believe we can and should. They feel no qualms or discomfort in dispensing blatantly untruthful information, even inventing it for distribution. Our entire marketing system (licit and illicit) is predicated on deception to lesser or greater degrees. (Does photo shopping a model's face to remove a blemish count as deception?) And a large part of our society is complicit in proliferating lies. Without even a thought of attempting verification, by routinely using the Forward button on their computer, they mindlessly send error forth on its destructive way every time a captivating story lands in their In Box.

So, what difference does it make anyway? Have we now moved into a post-truth era from which we may never escape? If so – and I fear it may be so – we have returned to the jungle and it is every person for himself. If so it is incumbent upon every individual to become their own fact-checker or suffer the consequences of being duped time and again.

I still believe in TRUTH! When confronted with opposing descriptions of reality I believe one has to be true and the other false. Unless, of course they are both false. They cannot both be true. And to say they are both false implies that there is truth to be known. If truth is not a valid descriptor, neither is false.

That is not to say that, given a different set of circumstances the two claims could not be reversed, the one standing as true in one situation may be false in another. But given the circumstances under which particular truth claims are being considered, one is true, the other is not, or they are both false, leaving us to continue our search for the true. And reasonably intelligent, reasonable people should be able to arrive at a reasoned statement of truth for that time and place. But it takes effort to accomplish that agreement. And the disputants must want to know the truth. It must be more important to them than any personal gain they might achieve by endorsing the lie, more important than their ego, more important, at times, than life itself.

If a person loves truth there are tools available to assist in determining truth in most of life's situations. Here is a sample of truth-determining-techniques I regularly employ. I submit them to you, a truth lover, for your consideration:

·         Life's experiences should have taught us to believe certain things and distrust others. Don't throw away your years of experience because some slick photo shopped picture lures you to a lying website. If you have kept your eyes open while walking through this world you already have an arsenal of defensive weapons with which to ward off a lie.

·         If the thing being claimed isn't consistent with what is normally observable in our world it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. (If your brother who is a public school teacher is not a pedophile and no teacher you personally know is a pedophile why should you be so easily convinced that the public schools are full of pedophiles? If the Congressman who serves your district, and for whom you regularly vote, is not a crook, why assume that the other 434 are crooks?)

·         If other people you know and trust are not buying into the truth being offered, talk to them and discover their reasons for skepticism. Ask them to lead you through the thought process they use in coming to their conclusion. It could be a model you could use in future situations.

·         Demand verifiable specificity. ("Somebody told me," isn't good enough. Anonymous sources and unnamed locations are a tip-off that you are being fed a line. When you read, "An anonymous source close to the situation, speaking off the record because he is not permitted to discuss the situation . . ." a huge siren should sound in your brain follow by a voice that says, "Proceed with great caution and skepticism.)

·         Check the accuracy of the claims. (If  "well known" Doctors, professors, politicians, economist or Institutions are cited or quoted, first verify, using Google or other sources, that they are legitimate persons or entities and then contact them asking if they are being accurately quoted. I've written to scores of "well known" persons over the years and found that most of them will respond, especially to a brief, specific e-mail inquiry, and MOST OF THE TIME they are incensed that their name is being used to dupe others.)

·         Use the legitimate fact checking sources available to us today. Two of the best are the award winning Factcheck.org and Politifact.com. Another, Snopes.com, seeks to verify a broader scope of claims than the former two. All three do a thorough job of presenting the research behind their conclusions. Be prepared to read a bunch. And be prepared to see some of your favorite people with their pants on fire or wearing a long Pinocchio nose.

·         Determine the philosophical, religious or political leanings of the source of a claim. Wikipedia can usually give you a quick understanding of the person's or the organization's point of view. All purveyors of information have a bias and you need to know what their bias is, how strongly it affects their conclusions and how willing they are to bend the truth to support it. Have they been caught with their pants on fire? Do they make an effort to correct errors?

That is only a short list of things one can do to avoid being duped. Whole books have been written on the subject. Check them out at your bookstore or online at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.

I would offer one additional suggestion and then follow that with an urgent plea:

·         If you are a lover of truth determine that you will invest whatever is needed to ascertain and sustain it. In Biblical terms that amounts to "selling all you have" to amass the resources needed to obtain the truth. In practical terms it means taking the time to read and research before deciding those truth claims about which you are doubtful. Such research will give you information with which to defend your position when you have aligned yourself for or against a particular truth claim.

·         Finally, and this is the most important thing I have to say: If you are unwilling to do the work to ascertain the veracity of a truth claim, or the reliability of a source, DO NOT propagate the claim. To do so makes you a servant of the lie whether you feel like a liar or not. The blood of those bloodied by the lie will be just as much on your hands as on the hands of the lie's originator.

My previous blog on What Is Truth suggested that there are spiritual resources available to those who will avail themselves of them. I do not want to suggest that those spiritual sources alone relieves any truth seeker from the responsibility to use all of the other resources available to them nor that those who do not avail themselves of them are incapable of discerning error or fighting to preserve truth. The tools enumerated above – and many more – are readily available to all of us.

All of us, Christian believers, people of other faiths, and people who claim no faith have a vested interest in creating a world in which truth is honored and insisted upon. It is too horrible to contemplate living where truth is no longer valued. That sounds like Hell to me.


We may have passed a divide beyond which humanity cannot turn back, but as long as some of us care about truth we are obligated to fight on truth's behalf until we no longer have strength and breath to do so.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What Is Truth?

The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. (John 18:37)

When one reads the story of Jesus' encounter with Pilate in the Gospel of John it sounds like Pilate gets the last word. In fact he does literally speak the last words of their encounter. And, for the last two thousand years, philosophers and even many theologians have concluded that Pilate's cynical remark left Jesus with no response. Truth, it turns out, is almost impossible to define.

So what is this "truth" that Jesus said he came to bear witness to? Is it a propositional argument that defies anyone to disprove it? It is an observable event or object that all are compelled to agree upon? Pilate, who had built a career demolishing the "truths" with which his opponents sought to overpower him, had a right to be skeptical of all claims to know the truth. Just as history is written by the victors so truth is defined by those in charge, those in control of our minds in any given era of human existence.

The truth that Jesus came to bear witness to cannot be proven or falsified by the rules of evidence employed in this truth-less world we live in. Sin has distorted everything in this world making it impossible to definitively know what is true and what is not. The shadows trick our eyes, the multitude of opinions confuse our ears, the saccharin sweetness of experiences fools our tongues and conflicting opinions leave us groping in intellectual darkness. What is truth? Will we ever know?

The history of humanity is the account of adam limping along, building his world – his cosmos – piecing together observations that seem to him to be true, that seem to bear some fruit but in the end must be discarded when competing truth presents itself. So our race has "progressed" from what we call superstitions to what we call modern science by an uneven path that has never been without its detractors urging us to go another way. What is the true way? What is truth? Can the knowledge and wisdom of the past no longer be trusted? Can we expect the expertise of our time to be valid next month, next year or in the centuries to come? Will we ever know?

If I am not mistaken Jesus only ever asked us to believe one thing – to believe in him. (Not in any scientific or pseudo-scientific theory, not in any particular theology, not in any political ideology, not even in the Bible.) He once said to his Jewish audience – famous for its loyalty to Yahweh – "You believe in God, believe also in me." We have to assume that Jesus would not ask us to believe in anything less than truth. And so the truth that Jesus came to bear witness to was the truth of his father Yahweh's suzerainty over all of his creation and that Jesus Christ, Yahweh's son, came to our earth to supplant the error with which Satan has successfully darkened our minds, replacing it with the truth of God. This he accomplished by his victory over the ultimate lie, death. "Whoever believes in me will not die but have everlasting life." And again, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free."

Our society is greatly disturbed that various individuals, political organizations, Internet media organizations, "legitimate news outlets", and sadly even religious leaders have lost all respect for truthful expression, in some cases even glorying in the proliferation of easily identified lies.

I am greatly disturbed by this. But recalling Pilate's words to Jesus has reminded me that the world has never been, since Eden, a place that one should take at face value.

There are, of course, those whom we trust not to purposely deceive us. Thank God there are such persons. But even they can be wrong. Even they can be duped. Even they can, for a moment, become the "voice of Satan" as Peter was, causing Jesus to rebuke him – "Get behind me Satan."

And there are some reliable rules that allow us to trust our eyes and ears, but we all have been fooled by them enough to know that caution is called for even in the most reliable of situations.

Our brains still have the ability to assemble the information given to us and judge it trustworthy or not, but we have to confess that our "brains" are themselves the product of many inputs, some credible and others less so. We are creatures easily fooled, and not the least often fooled by our own poor judgment.

So what is truth? Can we ever know it? Who can we believe? How can we verify that which comes to us in the guise of truth? These are very challenging questions.

The first two questions are easily answered but less easily realized in our own experience. Jesus is the truth. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He promised that the Holy Spirit would indwell the believer and lead him or her into all truth.

But we live in a sensory world and must judge every purported truth by the five senses God has given us. Or not. He has, after all, offered us a sixth sense, the presence of the Holy Spirit, who can search our hearts, the apostle Paul tells us, then search the mind of God and then guide us in prayers that exceed our normal understanding. Presumably that same process assists us in discerning the truth claims we encounter in this fallen world.

We may never unerringly and invariably discern error? But we can commit ourselves to Jesus, who is the truth. And to the extent that we submit ourselves to his Spirit, we can be led into truth. Ultimately only eternity will reveal how successfully we have attuned our hearts to the Spirit's voice.

But the urgent question for Christians living in a free society, asked to select leaders and policies based on truth claims is, who can we believe on this earth? How can we verify that which comes to us in the guise of truth?

We certainly need to be prepared to admit, too often, that we've been fooled again. The lie came packaged so cleverly. It was delivered by one we trusted explicitly. It came in the guise of a "word from the Lord". It fit so beautifully with our own preconceptions and preferences. And we fell for it. It will happen far too often. But just as we can know the ultimate truth – about Yahweh and his Son, Jesus Christ – we can, by establishing a faith-based relationship with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, sort out the lies of this world.

One of gifts of the Holy Spirit, mentioned by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12, is the "discernment of spirits." It may be the least utilized spiritual gift that God has given to his people. But the Holy Spirit wants a relationship with Jesus' disciples so close and intimate that even the slightest variation from the truth triggers a nudge or a voice that says to their spirit, "That's not true, that is anti-Christ! Get behind me Satan."

I am sorry to say that I despair of finding truth reliably spoken in this world, even in the church that calls itself Christian. Not everything presented to us is a bald-faced lie. But our society has so given itself over to slander, gossip and faux news; has so sharpened its skills at "spinning" a story, photo-shopping an image, inventing "truth", elaborating both truth and error and concocting advantageous myths that I am afraid it can never turn back. The LIE will only grow larger. We are observing that even now in our society.

So what is the conclusion of this matter? Believers, believe little that you hear or read these days. "Do not [automatically] despise prophecies but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil." (I Thessalonians 5:21)

Draw as near to Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit as you can, and listen. Remember Jesus' final words to Pilate, "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." 

Let him who has ears to hear . . . listen.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Slouching to Armageddon?

by Jim Rapp

Slouching, stumbling or
groping; it really mattered
zero to not at all,

for, to the end, more
and more intolerants chattered
Gog and Magog's call.

"Slam the nation's doors,
we will not truck with tattered
strangers  - BUILD THE WALL!"

Emanuel, or
God with us, himself a scattered
one, once spoke for all.

"I stand before your door;
in the person of shattered
humanity, I call."

The walls rose more
precipitous when battered
by the Savior's call.

Stopping their ears – or
closing their hearts – they shuttered
Him outside their wall.

"You're a fool's god! More,
what fool would heed the call you've uttered?
Our god bellows, 'BUILD A WALL!'"

So blow, Trumpet, roar!
Christ, smash their walls and enter,
tattered ones and all.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Getting One's Reputation Back

Raymond J. Donovan was Secretary of Labor during Ronald Reagan's first term in office. Donovan and several of his business associates were caught up in a criminal investigation of their part in an allegedly fraudulent transaction dealing with the building of a new rail line into New York City. During the ensuing trial the men were portrayed in harsh and sinister terms and assumed to be guilty. But when the case went to the jury all defendants were acquitted of all charges. When Donovan emerged from the court room and faced the bank of cameras and reporters he famously asked: "Which office do I go to get my reputation back?"

Our recent election has been a bruising affair. Mr. Trump has left a trail of battered opponents whom he has maligned unmercifully, and usually untruthfully. Hillary Clinton was attacked during the campaign, as she has been over the length of her political career, with accusations, most of which were patently false or, at best, not subject to verification. And even Donald Trump himself had to endure his share of slings and arrows, though in most cases, he invited public scrutiny unfavorable to his own reputation.

So now that the election is over, where do these people – most of them very decent, patriotic, and basically honest people – go to get their reputations back? Will those who started the ruinous rumors publicly admit that they were fabrications, not facts? Will those who mindlessly – or in too many cases maliciously – passed on such garbage now tell or e-mail those they spread the lies to that they were indeed lies? Or does the nation walk away from these whose character has been assaulted as though it doesn't matter at all? When the next election rolls around do we simply pick up where this one left off, manufacturing half-truths and outright, pants-on-fire lies that serve only the purpose of destroying someone's good name?

Most importantly, can truth ever make a comeback in our society that values winning at any cost more than truth? Every person who fashions himself a lover and defender of truth must, at the very least, vow never again to become the hewer of wood and the carrier of water for political assassins.


It has long been prophesied that America will not fall to an external enemy but that it will be destroyed by the evils we allow to exist in ourselves. The rot is almost complete. The timbers are sagging. The structure is groaning under a weight of immoralities, not the least of which are our inability to tell or recognize the truth; our unwillingness to see in our opponent humanity and good will; our maniacal desire to have things go our way regardless of the cost to ourselves or our community.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Am I Being Paranoid?

(Paranoia: A psychological disorder characterized by delusions of persecution or grandeur)

All of my adult life I've struggled to understand the paranoia expressed by conservative Christians toward Democratic candidates, particularly Presidential Candidates. Since the time of Harry Truman I've heard, during every Presidential election, that the Democratic candidate is a very evil person with plans, if elected, to do awful things to Christians. At the least he/she would take away everyone's guns and would very likely shut down all religious broadcasting, round up Christians and herd them off to concentration camps. And when a Democrat won the election I've endure four or eight years being assured that it was only a matter of time before he turned on Christians and swept away their rights to worship as they wished. I wish I had exercised the foresight to keep the hundreds of brochures and e-mails promoting such fears. They could form the basis for a very interesting (and important) study of the conservative Christian psyche.

The interesting thing to me was that nothing I could uncover – beyond the spurious brochures and e-mails – would give a reasonable person cause to believe the accused presidents had such sinister objectives in mind. None of them ever proposed anything remotely resembling the things they were accused of promoting.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump, and as I watch him put together his governing team, I'm experiencing some of the same fears my conservative Christian friends and acquaintances expressed over the years. Am I becoming paranoid?

I've labeled my friends fears "paranoia" because it does not seem to me that there was any rational reason to believe the things they did. Time has proven their fears to be, if not irrational, at the very least, unfounded. No Democratic President ever proposed to do the things they suggested or attempted to do them.

But what about President-elect Trump? Is one paranoid if they believe that he would single out Muslims and other minorities for "special treatment?" He has said that he would. Is it paranoid to hear in his harsh denunciations of those who oppose him a tendency to "get even" when he has the power to do so? Should I fear that, once in office he might decide to do what no other president has ever done and seek to criminalize and imprison his political opponents? He has suggested that he would do so. When he proposes to limit the right of the press to print unfavorable stories about him is that reason for me to believe he might institute a regime of repression of our free press? (Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogen, president of Turkey has recently arrested 200,000 Turkish citizens, closed down 120 news outlets and has complete control over those that remain.) Am I paranoid when I am apprehensive about the repressive people he is putting into places of great power and authority; people whose racist speech is a matter of public record? Is it paranoia that causes me to fear his apparent attempts to override past law and precedent by bringing members of his immediate family into the government?

The President-elect could help to allay some of my apprehension by being more open during this time of transition, allowing the public to know his thinking and his plans. Of course there is some suspicion that he doesn't have clear plans in mind and is struggling to formulate them on the fly. But we have heard little from him personally since his rather amorphous acceptance speech the night of the election.

So I am fearful! I am fearful that Donald Trump will be the president he told us he would be. I don't think I'm being paranoid, I have his word for it. I'm willing to allow his future words and actions to allay my fears. But right now I'm extremely anxious for the future of our democracy and for the safety and freedom of those Americans to whom he has threatened (or promised) to do ill.

Someone recently said that the press failed to take Mr. Trump seriously but did take his statements literally. His followers took him seriously but did not take him literally. I am taking him both seriously and literally. And the rest of America had better do so too.


I'm wearing a safety pin to show my solidarity with all others who are feeling vulnerable in the face of Donald Trump's rise to power.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Winter's Forgiveness


by Jim Rapp

The worst time of the year;
those days between the last leaf-fall
and advent of the winter's snow.

Daylight grows more dear
as shadows race along the wall
mocking things that used to grow.

Hoarfrost imbues the evening air
and we endure the naked fall,
waiting for forgiving snow.

The winds that bring it bear
a pardon, shrouding all
the weeds the warmer seasons grow.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pardon Me, Mr. President, Please Pardon Donald Trump

(Haiku Form)
by Jim Rapp

Mr. Obama,
before you leave office please
pardon Donald Trump.

Who knows the crimes he
has or will commit, so please
pardon the poor schmuck.

How would it look to
have our sitting president
locked away in jail?

Think how relaxed he'll
be knowing his sins have been
pre-forgiven.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Self-Immolation

(Haiku Form)
by Jim Rapp

Does the human race
ever act in its own
knowable interest?

Or does it always
gnaw, in ignorance, the bone
on which it must rest?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Worst Time To Die: Between Good Friday and Easter

by Jim Rapp

Life went on between Friday and Sunday;
some died, sure that all was lost.
Did they go, conceding that death at last
was victor – life the loser?

Of thousands who had started on the Way –
signed on 'spite daunting cost –
some, attending to His death, would miscast
the dying One a poser.

His death, entombed, gave credence to death's sway;
made dying seem less a loss,
and living too, a death too hard to mask,
a loss above all other.*

Did those who died before Easter Sunday
pass believing all was lost?
Were they glad that, in going, they, at last,
could leave behind earth's pother?
_____________________
*If our hope in Christ is for this life alone,
we are to be pitied more than all men.
(I Cor. 15:19 Berean Study Bible)


Thursday, October 27, 2016

The TVA

by Jim Rapp

Len's forty-something steel grey eyes
betrayed little emotion as he watched
the hills surrender to the storm-gorged sky
a sea of soil for thieving rain to snatch.

Frank, the agent from the government,
had left the papers, coded, marked with "X",
for them to sign, even folded the document
and stamped the envelope against neglect.

A sudden gust and gush from heaven, shook the
shanty's roof, increased the torrent racing over
jagged eaves worn thin; a Niagara; an Amazon of
urgent force conveying all before it to the river.

Len's forty-something mind was slow to turn,
and when his forty-something hand clasped
the pencil, he recalled his neighbors' stern
disdain – he'd stand alone if he signed as asked.

But he would sign – if need, alone – mark himself
an innovator, a New Deal pariah, a TVA tinkerer,
a fool for FDR – taking the papers from the shelf,
he'd set in motion defiance of the thieving showers.

At porch's edge he peered, through slack'ning rain,
across the steep ravine, to see old McGreggor waving,
pen and envelope in hand. Not alone, not in vain,
they two, and more, would be the Valley's saving.



Saturday, October 22, 2016

Workmen’s Compensation

(Haiku form)
by Jim Rapp

The powers that be
have decreed new windows and
siding where we live.

First came the window
installers, thirty-hours-a-
week or sometimes less.

It is obvious
that Americans need their
long fishing weekends.

Now come immigrants;
five and a half days a week
sun up to sun down.

Sons of Mexico
out work their American
brothers two to one.

I’d love to know the
pay scale – native born versus
Mexican labor.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Fox Facts

(Haiku Form)
by Jim Rapp

C.S. Lewis once
famously complained of those
who want summaries;

who ask for an ounce-
sized explanation of
a two-ton issue.

Now you’ve got it; Fox
will squeeze a Hillary speech
into a pop out,

no chance, they say, that
they will not be totally
fair – “Fair and Balanced.”

Soon they’ll be tweeting
the SOTU in one
hundred forty bits,

they’re masters of one-
ounce obfuscations of a
complex, two-ton fact.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Getting the Mortal Cart before the Infinite Horse

by Jim Rapp

I hear that God is omniscient,
knows all things, beginning to end –
contains no shadow of beginning or end –
not even a hint of continuum.

What is that apple, adam – nescient –
you're reaching for: ever tugging to bend
the tree to serve your mortal ends and
extricate yourself from earth’s alluvium?

Ever leaning toward some future –
imagining a coming day – 
adam strains to fit infinity into mortality
when God has willed it be the other way.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

A dog goes back to its own vomit” and “A scrubbed-up pig heads for the mud.

An ancient prophet - the apostle Peter - speaks to the American Evangelical church (II Peter 2)

            But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong.
            They give the way of truth a bad name. They’re only out for themselves. They’ll say anything, anything, that sounds good to exploit you. They won’t, of course, get by with it. They’ll come to a bad end, for God has never just stood by and let that kind of thing go on . . .
            . . . God is especially incensed against these “teachers” who live by lust, addicted to a filthy existence. They despise interference from true authority, preferring to indulge in self-rule. Insolent egotists, they don’t hesitate to speak evil against the most splendid of creatures. Even angels, their superiors in every way, wouldn’t think of throwing their weight around like that, trying to slander others before God.
            These people are nothing but brute beasts, born in the wild, predators on the prowl. In the very act of bringing down others with their ignorant blasphemies, they themselves will be brought down, losers in the end. Their evil will boomerang on them. They’re so despicable and addicted to pleasure that they indulge in wild parties, carousing in broad daylight. They’re obsessed with adultery, compulsive in sin, seducing every vulnerable soul they come upon. Their specialty is greed, and they’re experts at it. Dead souls! . . .
          . . . There’s nothing to these people—they’re dried-up fountains, storm-scattered clouds, headed for a black hole in hell. They are loudmouths, full of hot air, but still they’re dangerous. Men and women who have recently escaped from a deviant life are most susceptible to their brand of seduction. They promise these newcomers freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, for if they’re addicted to corruption—and they are—they’re enslaved.
            If they’ve escaped from the slum of sin by experiencing our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ, and then slid back into that same old life again, they’re worse than if they had never left. Better not to have started out on the straight road to God than to start out and then turn back, repudiating the experience and the holy command. They prove the point of the proverbs, “A dog goes back to its own vomit” and “A scrubbed-up pig heads for the mud.”
II Peter 2 – (The Message - excerpted and highlighted by JDR)


Monday, September 19, 2016

Hands in Pockets, Making Fists

by Jim Rapp

The old man announced his retirement today;
said his mind wasn’t sharp like it once was.
It’s true, he struggles in a lot of ways,
but hey, everyone over seventy-five does.

It just hurt to watch him lay it down;
what is one to say at a time like this?
We mostly just stood, milling around,
embarrassed, hands in pockets making fists.

But no one said, “You’re wrong about that.”
No one said, “We all sure wish you’d stay.”
I suppose the thing we really wanted was what
everyone was thinking but no one would say.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Tree With No Worries, But Many Friends

(Haiku form)
by Jim Rapp

The knobby monster
covered root to crown with warts,
size of a man’s gut,

Hosting green clusters
of moss, and golden mushroom twarts,
sized for Fairie boats,

Gives no thought to what
alien organic strains
brought him to this pass,

Thankful – worried not –
willingly sharing his gains
with friends he’s amassed.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Deplorables

(Haiku form)
By Jim Rapp

all deplorable,
not one, not one is righteous,
all sinned and came short

the bloody-eyed mob,
deplorables all, heard his:
“forgive them, Father”

deplorable grace,
unforgivable mercy,
shameful redemption

broke all the rules, stood
justice on end dying for
the deplorables


Monday, September 5, 2016

How Soon We Forget – A Labor Day Lament

by Jim Rapp

Eighty years ago Labor stood tall
aided by New Deal laws that
insisted that laborers rights should
be protected and honored.

A mere seventy-five years later all
those rights crumbled. At
the insistence of the Koch’s hoods,
workers rights were Scott Walkered.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

September

by Jim Rapp

September is April inverted.
A kingdom that dazzled in Springtime,
its members exiled, converted
to lissomely frazzled malingering vines.




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Beer Brats

by Jim Rapp

As a newcomer to Eastridge Estates
he felt obliged to volunteer for something,
so he offered to take Bill S’s place
grilling brats for the monthly Eastridge fling.

Little did he know the brats were required to be
beer brats! His mother would be spinning if,
from her Nazarene grave, it happened that she
could see or know the awful moral cliff

her son had voluntarily fallen from.
No drop of that lethal Devil’s brew
had crossed her threshold; now her son
was popping 16 ouncers  by the twos.

Like Lot of old he’s pitched his tent toward
Sodom, vexed his righteous soul satisfying
ninety year-old’s craving for liquor and lard;
it’s beer-besotted brats that he’s supplying.





Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why I Write this Poem

by Jim Rapp

I’m writing this poem to complete
a chapbook that is one poem short
of the requisite forty half-page sheets,
set arbitrarily as the cohort

easily accommodated by the stapler
I was using at the time I set in stone
the two score pages each poetic sampler
would contain; this the capstone poem.

Ah frivolity, that looks for ways –
mere words – to extend an antiquated
tradition that has long held sway,
though the stapler’s superannuated.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Throne of Grace

(Heb. 14:6)
by Jim Rapp

What is this Throne of Grace
the writer to the Hebrews names?
It would have to be an awful place,
using “awful” with the same

intent that Jacob used when he
encountered Yahweh’s angels
climbing up and down the
ether’s stairways, sending chills

through his being. To think that he,
a thoroughly imperfect man,
running from his sins, could receive
Yahweh's graces, sure and grand!

What is this Throne of Grace
the writer to the Hebrews names?
It is here that sinners coming trace,
sevenfold, the image their sins,

then watch the shadow of a cross
obscure their image traced,
a crimson flood remove the dross,
and know they’re standing
            in an awful place.



Friday, July 29, 2016

Donald and Vladimir

by Jim Rapp

Today Donald Trump is being initiated.
As nominee he gets his first security briefing.
Let’s hope The Donald hasn’t negotiated
a deal allowing Vladimir Putin to be swapping
DNC emails his buddy Assange appropriated
for our deepest secrets; our nuclear encoding.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Waiting for the RLS to Cease


by Jim Rapp

I’m ready to get to sleep
But first I have to convince
These legs that writhe and leap
To calm themselves; evince

Some evidence that the pills
Prescribed to calm synapses
Will un-will the thousand wills
That spoil my precious napses


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Truth Playing Second Fiddle

By Jim Rapp

What makes a normally honest man,
a faith professing, Christ professing, truth defender,
bear false witness, knowing his words can
serve one purpose only, to wound his foe by slander?

It is, without a doubt the spirit of Anti-Christ,
that sets the Truth aside for momentary advantage
or cloaks behaviors dishonoring Jesus Christ
in pious, but self-serving, “Christian” language.

"Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
The spirit of anti-Christ is what we see
when fidelity to Truth yields to other matters.

Anti-Christ is not some beast rising from the sea,
but rather a rebellion in the human breast
that chooses the Lie, the gauzy Lie, hard to see,
to demean another and lay their cause to rest.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Cain and Abel

by Jim Rapp

blue clad men dispatched
black skinned man dispatched
black skinned men dispatched
blue clad men dispatched
we used to say they bleed the same
now we know blood bears their name
their signature, their birthright’s claim
its Cain and Abel at it once again


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nice, France

by Jim Rapp

Forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty
And the toll may well go higher.
Nice becomes the most recent absurdity;
Her dead piled high on freedom’s pyre.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Simple Beauties for Trying Days

by Jim Rapp

It must have been for days like these
            that God made:

            blue, cloud-filled skies,
            fields of goldenrod
            song birds
            newborn babies
            innocent children
            gatherings of friends
            plates laden with food
            lighthearted laughter
            the security of home
            the loyalty of family

It must have been for days like these

            when the spirit of anti-Christ
            is abroad in the land,
            evident even in the
            Body of Christ,
            that He reveals Himself
            in the innocent beauties
            that surround us,
            giving us hope.


America is Reaping the Wirlwind

As many as twenty assault rifle bearing “patriots” marched in the Black Lives Matter parade in Dallas, TX last week, their guns slung over their shoulder or across their back, exercising their Texas right to openly bear any gun they wish. When the shooting broke out, eventually felling twelve Dallas police officers, killing five of them, the police initially confused these “good guys, exercising their 2nd Amendment rights, for the attackers, even arresting two of them (one carrying without a permit, earning himself a misdemeanor). They were, after-all wearing gas masks, camouflage gear, and bullet-proof vests. Why wouldn’t they be suspect in a charged environment like that? It is a tribute to the training of the Dallas police that none of them were shot in the confusion.

And of course all the gun carrying patriots rushed to the aid of the police and helped run down, and gun down, the shooter. Of course they did. That is the theory behind allowing every testosterone-energized male to have a gun in public; so they can take out the shooters. Didn't Donald Trump say that if there had been more gun-totting patrons at the darkened concert theater in Paris the gunmen would have been shot forthwith?

Of course the Dallas’ pseudo-patriots did not run to the aid of the police or other citizens. Of course their "massive show of force" did not stop the carnage. Of course they did not turn their endless firepower on the active shooter. There is no evidence that any of them fired a shot. Why? Because carrying assault weapons and displaying them has nothing to do with the maintenance of a well-ordered militia; nothing to do with maintaining order of any kind. It has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It is a macho thing; an excuse for boys who grew up watching too much of Rambo, or spent their youth playing fantasy games on Xbox, or listened to too many macho country western songs to convince themselves that they would lay down their lives for freedom. Well, they had their chance – these men who sit on the back of their shiny pickup trucks, under a provocative banner challenging the government (I presume) to come and take their guns from them – and they ran away as quickly as those who had no weapons.

We are hell-bent on self-destruction in this land, not just those who are weekly blowing holes in shooting ranges, but every citizen who enables them by electing gutless officials who are afraid to stand up to the NRA; by glorifying violence in our media, our sports, our movies, our literature.

Since 1776 the U.S. have been involved in at least 104 deadly conflicts, according to a list in Wikipedia, a great many of them on our own soil, against those who originally had possession of the land we now call our own. Over the 240 years of our existence a deadly conflict has been begun every 2.3 years. And we call ourselves a “peace-loving” nation? But the loss of life through those conflicts, great and tragic as it is, pales beside the gruesome history of murderous conflict of citizen against citizen. Increasing from a trickle at the nation’s outset, personal violence has now become the norm in many of our urban centers. And the weapon of choice has long been the legally (or illegally) possessed fire arm.

We cannot hide our heads in the sand any longer. We cannot deny the truth about ourselves. We are a violent people and we are reaping the whirlwind.