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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Looking for Joy and Peace at Christmas


Looking For Joy and Peace at Christmas



Christmas is a time of light – my wife appreciates driving through the various neighborhoods of our community and seeing the Christmas lights and decorations that people have put in their yards and on their houses. These lights bring her a special Christmas joy.

Christmas is a time of joy – “Joy to the world” we sing in Isaac Watts’ great hymn. “Joy to the world the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.”  (1)

Christmas is a time of laughter and a time for families.

Christmas is a time of joy and peace.

And yet, like Bono and the other members of the band U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…

“I believe in the kingdom come, when all the colors will bleed into one… but yes I’m still running… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  (2)

What it is that I’m looking for this Christmas?

I’m looking for joy and peace. Isn’t that what Christmas is about?

The announcement made to the shepherds on that Judean hillside declared, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  (3)

Peace. We celebrate this season as the birthday of the Prince of Peace. And yet. We really haven’t seen a whole lot of peace in our time.

Just a few days ago on December 10, 2009, President Barak Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo Norway. And yet this award seems very ironic to me as it is given to the commander-in-chief of the largest standing army in the world – an army that is currently engaged in not one, but two wars.

In his 36-minute acceptance speech, President Obama recognized this irony and discussed the tensions between war and peace and the idea of a "just war."

… perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.


… we are at war, and I’m responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.


…I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.


We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.


I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.


But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.


…So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such. (4)

I am not ashamed to say that I cast my vote in the last election for Obama. I was (and continue to be) excited by the ‘hope’ and ‘change’ that his campaign promised. And I believe that he has been and will continue to be a good president for our country.

And yet, I don’t’ think that I’ve found what I’m looking for…Because – despite the hope and change that marked his campaign - his leadership in this respect has been more of the same hopelessness.

Obama quoted one of his heroes (and mine) in his speech – the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”

The history of the world has been marked by violent conflict from Cain and Able continuously through this morning’s newspaper. We fight. We fight. We hurt, and maim, and bomb, and kill, and destroy. Our human ingenuity and creativity and imagination have been harnessed to these ends and we have developed innumerable ways to hurt each other and kill each other – faster, and from further away, and in greater numbers.

But none of these weapons has ever made peace. There is no such thing as “peace through superior firepower.” Peace at the edge of the sword is not peace. Peace down the barrel of an M-16 is not peace.

President Obama says that he “face[s] the world as it is” with an acknowledgement that “Evil does exist in the world.” He is no hippy-dippy-utopian who believes that humans are basically good and that we can all learn to get along, holding hands as we sit around the campfire… He says that his use of force and violence and warfare can be justified as a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

And In one sense, I can and do agree with him there. Humanity is fallen. Humanity is broken. Our every imagination is bent towards evil. And if that were the final word on the subject, then President Obama’s justification would be valid.

But there is another word. There is something more than the imperfection of man; there is something that transcends the limit of human reason.

And that’s what we’re celebrating at Christmas.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining (5) . People lived in darkness and under the constant menace of the shadow of death. Warriors in heavy boots and blood smeared armor enforced a peace at the edge of a sword. The world was weary and burdened and oppressed.

But that choir of angels came bursting through the fabric of space and time to announce to the humble shepherds that Peace had come; they heralded the birth of the Messiah, the one Isaiah said would break that yoke of oppression, would consign the soldiers uniforms to the fire, who would snap the spear and shatter the bow. The one who would make wars cease to the ends of the earth. (6)

For unto us a child is born
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders
and he will be called
Wonderful
Counselor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father

Prince of Peace.  (7)

The weary world rejoices at this angelic announcement. Governments, Kings and Princes, and Commanders-in-Chief quake because it means that the old ways can no longer be tolerated. The birth of this child, this son is the thrill of Hope and Change that no elected official can create. This is the breaking of a new and glorious morning –the dawning of a great light over the land of darkness.

Truly his taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave he is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

This is something more than the imperfection of man and the limit of reason. This is the eternal God stepping into human history. As the prophet Isaiah said, “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

We cannot make peace with our armies. We never have. We never will.

We make peace by realizing that Christ was born, not just to save us from our personal and individual sins, but also to restore a fallen humanity to its intended glory. There is no glory in war. There is no honor or valor in tragedy that war promises and that war inevitably delivers. There is no glory in human slaughter.

We make peace by realizing that law of love and that gospel of peace. Peace between God and man and Peace between men.

We make peace by refusing to accept any longer the claim that war is regrettably necessary. We make peace by refusing to participate in a perpetual cycle of violence that never solves the problems facing our world, by refusing to participate in a cycle of violence that fosters more violence and creates more problems and more hatred.

We make peace when we truly honor the birth of that child, the son that was given to us. We make peace when we celebrate Christmas – not as an orgy of consumerism, or as a warm fuzzy feel good season – but as the birth of the Son of God and we Hail him as the heaven born Prince of Peace (8), and when we honor him by living lives of peace.


1  Joy to the World – Words by Isaac Watts, Music by George F. Handel

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For Words by Bono, Music by U2
3  Luke 2: 14
4  President Barak Obama’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech -     http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/12/10/obama.transcript/index.html
O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel) Words by Placide Cappeau, Music by Adolph Adam,
      Translated by John S. Dwight
6  Psalm 46:9
7  Isaiah 9: 2 -7
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Words by Charles Wesley, Music by Felix Mendelssohn

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bing Crosby, Are You Listening to Me?

"Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby are you listening to me?"
                                 -The Pet Shop Boys Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas


Pet Shop Boys - Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas

How come our local radio stations don't play the good Christmas music?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sold Another Poem

I just checked my email and discovered a nice little letter waiting for me.  The editors at http://www.everydayweirdness.com/ have chosen my poem "Cold War Spies and Templar Treasures" for online publication tomorrow, December 10, 2009. 

This will be my fourth poem published by the fine folks at Everydayweirdness.
The previous three were :
"Gregor Samsa Slept Here"
"Vinegar Ants"
and
"Memorandum"

As the name of the site implies, they tend toward the weird, the strange, the dark and supernatural. 

This newest poem Cold War Spies and Templar Treasures has some similarities with the novel that I've just completed.  I hope to spend some time during January editing the novel, and if I can get it to a place where I feel happy with it, I'll try to get it published as well.

Here's hoping.


Snow Day


Because I was slated to host a live radio broadcast from our building this morning, I was up at the ungodly hour of 5AM.  It wouldn't take very much to convince me that God is sleeping (like the rest of us should be) at 5AM.  It's a mornful, despicable hour.  It was still dark and the wind was howling outside.  We were knee deep in a blizzard.  And I do mean knee deep.  The snow drift in the driveway was up to my knees, and higher in some places.  There was no way I was going to get the van down the driveway to the roads (which hadn't been plowed yet, either).

So I called the radio station to tell them that I would not be able to make it to the program.  Neither could they, as it turned out.  And then I went back to bed for a while.  Nice.

Later in the afternoon I went out with the snowblower to clear off the driveway.  That John Deere snowblower in the garage is a beast - the snow beast, I call it - but it cleared the driveway without a problem.  It threw the snow into the air, where the still blowing winds carried it into the neighbor's driveway. The kids and the dogs played in the yard, tromping around in the snow.  Emma and Dune dug out a snow-fort in the backyard where the drifts are at least 5 feet high.

Mikey spent the afternoon baking: cookies, chex-mix, etc...  She wouldn't let me eat too many of the cookies.  They're for the volunteers who wil help with the food and toy distribution.   I did sneak a few of them when she wasn't looking.  Good cookies.

If you have to have a snow day, that's the way to do it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A new blog for thatjeffcarter


All right.



So thatjeffcarter, during the one of the craziest times in his annual calander decided to attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge (http://www.nanowrimo.org ) - to write a 50,000 word novel during the 30 days of November.



He's been writing things for most of his life - sermons for the sunday service, essays, rants, screeds, poems, screenplays, flash-fiction, short stories, stage-plays, etc... but he'd never attempted to write a novel.



So he gave it a shot.



He hammered out an average of 1,667 words every day (well, late into the night and early morning, really) and by November 30th he had a novel all ready to be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.



He knows that it's not a great novel. But it is a completed novel. And that's something he's pretty proud of right now.



The novel (Desolation -by Jeff Carter) has been put away for the time being. Thatjeffcarter will probably pull it out from the drawer where it is currently hiding, some time in January to see if he can edit into something better.



In other writing news,



In October thatjeffcarter submitted a few poems to a magazine for consideration. Just the other day he received thier reply. It was a "No." But it was a very kind "No" The editors liked the poems very much, but they just weren't right for the publication at this time.



And just to keep the writing going, he's started drafting a "creature story" which is sure to include all sorts of gruesome gore.





He's not been painting much - not since October - but several of his paintings have been put on display at the hospital. Yes. In this little town we look at fine art as we're wheeled into the Emergency Room.





And now thatjeffcarter is tired of writing about himself in the third person. So he'll stop here. But before he goes, he'll leave a small excerpt from his novel:





In the murky distance of his unconsciousness he could hear a wheezing calliope playing a frantic Slavic sounding waltz in a minor key. Then the darkness was illuminated. Light bulbs, wired between angled wooden posts, flickered on and off and on again around the red and yellow striped canvas panels of an enormous circus tent, large enough, it seemed, to contain the entire world. He could see the pale and vague faces of a vast audience seated in stacked rows around the perimeter of the tent. Their dark hollowed eyes were set deep into their white faces. They stared into the center of the tent without emotion.



Circus performers in flamboyant costumes, all glittery sequins and floating feathers and riotous Technicolor patterns, filed in from the edges of the tent. They arranged themselves in two rows in front of the audience before making a slow deliberate bow. The audience responded with a smatter of disinterested applause and whispers. When the performers had righted themselves, they were joined in the ring by a company of white and blue suited sailors. The mixed group paired off into couples and began dancing to the waltz; the bell-bottomed sailors with the acrobats and clowns and circus freaks. They whirled each other around beneath the lights of the center ring. Clouds of sawdust flew up from their footwork. Around and around they spun, lurching to the odd metered rhythms played by the wheezing pipe organ.



As Snodgrass watched them he became aware of a voice or voices, many voices chanting."Comme nous voyons, comme nous voyons que l'homme ou la femme, sans la graine à la fois, ne peut générer, ne peut générer, de la même manière que notre homme, Sol, Sol et sa femme, Sol et sa femme, Luna, ne peut concevoir."



The dancing trapeze artists, sword swallowers, lion tamers and their mustachioed sailor dance partners reached the end of the waltz and bowed to their partners and then, lifting their clasped hands into the air, they bowed once more to the audience. This time there was no applause from the crowd. The dancers then exited the ring into the dark shadowy regions at the edge of the tent. The waltz music faded away as they exited, but the chanting continued and grew louder even; it’s pulsing rhythms more insistent. Sol, Sol et sa femme, Sol et sa femme, Luna, ne peut concevoir.”


Black and red robed persons began filling into the ring. Their faces were hidden beneath the deep cowls of their robes. After a slow counterclockwise parade three times around the circle they knelt down on their knees, their faces in the sawdust and dirt and their arms stretched out in front of them. They ceased their chanting. The tent was filled with a threatening and stifling silence, a cancerous silence. The pale faces of the audience withered and faded away like wisps of vapor or smoke. Snodgrass was left alone as an observer of the mysterious rite being performed beneath the big top.



Then from the top of the tent, from the sudden blackness and black pall of nothing at all, descended a grotesque statue; a foul idol carved from finely grained grey and black basalt volcanic rock. It figured a hairy priapismic satyr with one hand aloft in a blessing gesture, and the other fondling his beastly genitalia. The heathen idol, suspended by creaking and groaning cables, settled slowly to the sawdust covered ground in front of the robed supplicants, who bowed and prayed to this, their pagan god, now lit with garish neon lights, red, green, and purple.



The idol’s stone mouth opened with a harsh stone on stone grinding noise and from the inky black depths of its cavernous maw came a gurgling voice that echoed inside the tent and inside his reeling mind, “YOU BELONG TO ME!”








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