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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Out of Her Eyes Came All Things Insecure

Out of her eyes came all things insecure. 
"Do you love me?"
      she would have asked
but she had no mouth.

Mixed media on paper - spray paint, acrylic paint, glossy magazine advertisement.
(Click on the image to see it full sized.  Thank you.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Never Made it Past the First Round

I never liked spelling bees. I'm a terrible speller and I thank God daily for the inventors of Spell Check.  As a child, I never made it past the first round of any spelling bee.  My teachers told me that if I didn't know how to spell a word I should look it up in the dictionary so that I could learn the correct spelling...


how can I find it the dictionary if I can't spell it?

Here I am in our recent production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as Leaf Coneybear.  I apologize for the poor quality (of the recording and my singing.)

I'm Not That Smart

I'm Not That Smart (Reprise)

We're Just Like the Salvation Army...

The Church (cough! cough!) of Scientology has been in trouble recently.  Reports of their slave-labor, forced-abortions, abusive-leadership, tax-dodging, criminal activities have been popping up everywhere.
And now, in an attempt to counter all that bad press, they are attempting to hide behind the good name of legitimate-honest-to-God church and charitable organization:  The Salvation Army.

Australian independent senator, Nick Xenophon has proposed some legislation that would require religious groups to prove what public benefit they they provide before being able to claim tax-exemption.  Scientologists - fearful of loosing their tax exempt status in Australia - now claim that they are just like the Salvation Army.

I realise, of course, that I'm biased here.  I am, after all, an officer in The Salvation Army.  But this claim is outrageous. 

Our services are provided (for the most part) free of charge.  Not so in the Church of Scientology where members can expect to pay thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to receive services from the Church and to reach higher levels.  Our drug and alcohol recovery programs have a demonstrable record of success - not so with Scientology's Narconon (Not to be confused with Narcotics Anonymous!).  The Salvation Army has always been open and forthright about it's financial records.  We keep ourselves accountable to the public whose donations fund our work. Not so with the secretive Scientologists

"Like the Salvation Army?"  I don't think so....

Well, except for maybe one thing.  Within the Church (cough! cough!) of Scientology there is group known as the "Sea Org"  who wear uniforms similar to ours. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Haskell - the lonely Pterodactyl

Haskell was a quiet pterodactyl, rarely speaking in public, making few friends.  He stuttered when he spoke and the others laughed at him.

But when he soared into the the open skies he could forget all of that as a warm updraft carried him out over the ocean.

(click the image to see it full sized.  thank you.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pain Forces Us to Hope. Silence Forces Us to Listen.

We live in a wonderful time for reading the Bible. There has never been a time when the word of God was so freely and so widely available to those wishing to read it, especially those readers who read and speak English. There are so many English translations and paraphrases of the bible, that one can easily be confused by their multitude.

There is that old standard the KJV – the King James Version. There is the RSV – the Revised Standard Version. There is the NJB – the New Jerusalem Bible, the Living Bible, the New King James Version, the Living Translation, Young’s Literal Translation, The Message Bible, the New American Standard, the New Century Version, and the list goes on and on.

And what this plethora of English translations and paraphrases can hide is that translation is difficult work. We take it for granted that we can read the Bible in English, but the process of translating it from Hebrew, and Aramaic, and Greek is tricky and, even risky. It’s not a matter of simple substitution. It’s not a simple one for one exchange of words. Languages are slippery entities, twisting and changing in surprising ways, evolving over time. Languages are shaped by culture, and history, and geography. And languages in turn shape cultures, change history and can even affect geographical borders as drawn on maps.

When a thought is formed it is formed and framed by language. When that thought is translated into another language it can easily be warped into something else. We know the phrase “lost in translation,” but rarely do we think about this as we read the Bible. We trust that the translators haven’t lost anything. Or maybe we just assume that they haven’t.

I don’t speak Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic. I know a few words here and there, but I can’t read it. I can’t read the scriptures for myself. I have to read them through the translators. And, I have to trust that the translators who worked on these various versions did their job correctly and that they did their job well.

There are differences between the various translations, of course. That is readily apparent. Some are easier to read. Some are more archaic. Some are written specifically with younger readers in mind. These differences represent the various choices that the translators made when crafting their English translation. They made choices with each and every word they put on the page. They chose this word over that. They chose to use a long sentence here instead of two short ones. They made choices.

And sometimes those choices can dramatically altar the translation.  I want you to hang on to that thought as we begin to work through Psalm 77.

In our congregation this year we have been focusing our Sunday morning worship on the Psalms. We’ve used the Psalms found in the standard lectionary as our guide. Now, I don’t know who chose the particular psalms that are included or why they put them in this particular order. Perhaps it’s just me and my already melancholic nature, but I am curious as to why last week we looked at Psalms 42 – 43 (read together as one psalm, as they should be) which was a lonely cry of distress and now this week we have Psalm 77 which is, again, a cry of distress and despair from another lonely psalmist.

Perhaps our impression that the Psalms are “so comforting” and “so uplifting” is not altogether accurate. Perhaps the Psalms are just as much discomforting as they are comforting. What we have in Psalm 77 is the desperate cry of a desperate psalmist. His psalm is part lament, part hymn of praise, and part outpouring of doubt and fear.

I cry to God in distress
I cry to God and he hears me. (77: 1 New Jerusalem Bible)

He is worn out with misery. He has been sleepless for nights without end – and this, he says, is because of the hand of God.

…all night I tirelessly stretched out my hands,
my heart refused to be consoled, …
You have kept me from closing my eyes;
I was too distraught to speak… (vs. 2, 4)

In our service this sunday we sang in the song “He Leadeth me” by Joseph Gilmore,the words:

Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine,
nor ever murmur or repine,
content, whatever lot I see,
since ‘tis my God that leadeth me.

Our psalmist certainly had a different attitude than Mr. Gilmore. Our psalmist is murmuring. He’s complaining. He is not content, and he will not be comforted. If he’s singing, it’s not “Blessed Assurance,” and if there’s a melody in his heart it’s not ringing “with heaven’s harmony.” This is a psalm of doubt. This is a psalm of unanswered questions.

Is the Lord’s rejection final?
Will he never show favor again?
Is his faithful love gone forever?
Has his Word come to an end for all time?
Does God forget to show mercy?
In anger does he shut off his tenderness? (vs. 7 – 9)

And then this is where the translation gets tricky. Consider the ways that verse 10 is variously translated:

vs 10 – NIV – Then I thought, “To this I will appeal; the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

NKJV – And I said, “This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

Which seems to mean that after all my despair, after all my struggle I will, in the end call to mind the years when God’s strong right hand rescued and saved us. And that does make a certain amount of sense in the context of the rest of the psalm. But when compared to numerous other translations, the NIV and the NKJV seem to be dodging the more difficult issue.

New Century Version – Then I say, “This is what makes me sad; for years the power of God Most High was with us.”

This, I think, is getting closer. For years and years God was with us, but now…. He seems absent and this makes me sad.

Now try this one:

NAS (New American Standard) - Then I said, "It is my grief - that the right hand of the Most High has changed."

NJB (New Jerusalem Bible) – And I said, “This is what wounds me, the right hand of the Most High has lost its strength.” 1

Can you begin to see why translators working with more than one possible and plausible translation would choose one over the other? It’s dangerous and discomforting to think that God has changed. It rubs against those very confident statements in the Bible that God does not change. It seems to create a contradiction. And rather than face that apparent contradiction, some translators have chosen another set of words.

We sang the song “Forever” with the lines “Forever God is faithful. Forever God is strong,” 2 but the psalmist who wrote psalm 77 doesn’t seem to believe that – or at least he’s so stricken with despair that he questions whether or not God is always faithful and strong.

“Has God abandoned us?” He wonders. “Will he never again show us favor?”

The psalmist knows, of course, that God has done many marvelous things in the past. He meditates on God’s interventions in Israel’s history, remembering Yahweh’s great deeds and reflecting on the wonders that he performed in the past.But those things are in the past. And this is what wounds him to his spirit, that it seems that God is no longer intervening for his people. And he cannot resolve this crisis. He cannot resolve it and he will not be comforted.

Instead he recounts how God lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. With his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, he parted the waters of the Reed Sea so the children of Israel could escape their Egyptian slave-masters.

When the waters saw you, God,
when the waters saw you they writhed in anguish,
the very depths shook with fear
the clouds pelted down water,
the sky thundered,
your arrows shot back and forth.
The rolling of your thunders was heard,
your lightning flashes lit up the world,
the earth shuddered and shook.
Your way led over the sea,
your path over the countless waters,
and none could trace your footsteps. (vs. 16 – 19 New Jerusalem Bible)

Even then we couldn’t see him. Even then we could not see God. We could see the lightning. We could hear the thunder. We could feel the wind and the pelting rain on our skin. But even in storm we could not see God or trace his footsteps.

Is it wrong to question God like this? Is it a sign of disbelief or faithlessness? Is it blasphemy? Is it permissible to challenge God like this?

I think of Agnes.

When Agnes was a little girl she believed in God with a fierce intensity, she burned with belief. And she knew with an undeniable certainty that she would give her life in service to God. She wanted to “love Jesus as he has never been loved before.” Her faith was such that she wrote in her journal that “my soul at present is in perfect peace and joy.” She left home and became a missionary.

And then God left her.

At least that’s how it felt to her. God’s all pervading presence seemed to disappear from her life. All that had been joy and peace and light was now emptiness, despair and darkness. She tried to pray. “I utter the words of community prayers – and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give. But my prayer of union is not there any longer. I no longer pray.”

Agnes continued to serve despite this inner darkness; for nearly fifty years she brought the love of Christ to those who knew no love. But inside she longed to hear from God.

This was the secret desperation of Agnes, better known to the world as Mother Teresa. 3

I watched a movie with my wife the other night. In it one of the characters said that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who are running towards pleasure and those who are running away from pain. The movie concluded with this thought: “Pleasure can make us forget [the pain and desperation of our lives] but pain forces us to hope.”  4

I am convinced that God is good, even when there is no evidence. I am convinced that God loves me even when I can’t hear him say it. And I am convinced that he is here, even if I can’t feel his presence.

Pain forces us to hope.

It’s not a great answer. But sometimes there’s no answer but silence. Perhaps there are times – even lengthy periods, years and years – when God says nothing at all. But pain forces us to hope and silence forces us to listen.

1 Or the Anchor Bible’s translation which even assigns the pronouns differently: “Has his kindness ceased forever, have visions from him come to an end? / Have the inmost parts of God dried up, or his bosom shrunk in anger? / Perhaps his sickness is this: the right had of the Most High has withered.” 77: 8 - 10
2 Forever - Words and Music by Chris Tomlin
3 Mother Teresa’s story found in Faith and Doubt  by John Ortberg, Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI, 2008. page 106 – 7
4 Tenderness 2009 directed by Josh Polson

Saturday, June 26, 2010



It's not often that such an appellation is given to a religious movement, but the editors at Cracked magazine have done just that.  And as a member of said "Badass!" organization,  I am quite pleased to share it with you. 

Though, if I may say so, I think we should have beat out the Mounties.  I mean, Dudley Do-Right?  Come on....

(I am quite aware that a good number of my uniformed comrades will cluck their tongues and wag their heads at the use of such vulgarity.  Get over it.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Surpised by the presence of God - More Theology with Tom Waits

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the Truth Voice 2010 conference in Ohio at the invitation of my good friend Virgil V.  The title of my presentation was Tom Waits: Singing for the Least of These.  I thought it went over fairly well - no one threw anything at me, no one got up from their seats and ran for the door even though I subjected them to my own singing of a couple of Tom's songs. 

Later Virgil told me that one attendee had complained to him about my talk on the ground that he he didn't believe Waits to be a Christian, so what relevance did all of that have to us anyway?  Either he missed the point or I wasn't as clear as I though I had been - or both.  Oh well.

In recent years I have begun to be surprised by the presence of God in unlikely places.  (Hence the title on my blog: Looking for God Everywhere...)  And I have been enjoying the surprise.  He's there, all around, waving at us, grinning and smirking at his own cleverness.  "Ha!" he laughs. "You found me." 

And despite my complainer's complaints (who, by the way, never complained to me directly....) I'm not the only one who has been amused by the surprising presence of God in the music and lyrics of Tom Waits.   Benjamin Myers - an Australian scholar teaching systematic theology - wrote a blog not quite 3 years ago on the same theme:  Tom Waits: theologian of the dysangelion .

I hadn't read his blog before putting my presentation together - but it is interesting to see where we overlapped.  I am encouraged.  At least I know that I'm not out in left field by myself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Photoshopped Thunderstorm

Sunday's sermon will be drawn from Psalm 77 which includes these lines:

When the waters saw you, O God,
When the waters saw you, they trembled,
      even the depths shook with fear.
The massed clouds streamed with water,
      the heaven echoed your voice,
      and your arrows shot back and forth.
Your pealing thunder was in the dome of heaven,
      your lightning bolts lit up the world,
      the nether world quaked and shook.
Upon the sea was your passage,
      your train upon the cosmic waters
      and so your heels were not seen.

(Psalm 77: 17 - 20 - Anchor Bible, Vol 17 - Mitchell Dahood)

This is the image that will be used in the powerpoint slide. The lightning bolts were drawn - not copied from a photo - using a set of customized brushes.

(click the image to see it full sized. thank you.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's Time to Put on Makeup...

It's time to put on makeup.
 It's time to dress up right
It's time to raise the curtain on the Muppet Show tonight.

Last night was the opening night - not for the Muppet Show (though I always think of the singing monsters as I'm changing and putting on my makeup) but for our production of the musical - The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  (Music and Lyrics by William Finn)

I enjoy the theatre. I like to be on stage.  So a few weeks ago I auditioned for a role in the Spelling Bee, and now here I am as one of the actors in our community theatre production.

In the show I play one Leaf Coneybear, the ADHD son of a homeschooling hippie family who is only in the bee by a fluke.  He came in third in his local bee, but the winner had to go to her bat mitzvah and the runner up had to attend the bat mitzvah - so Leaf was up for the county finals.

The show is about the kids in the bee - but like all good stories, there's more going on.  It's also about their families and their parents and their struggle to be kids in the high pressure world of competitive spelling.

One girl  has a mother who is in an ashram in India for a 9 month spiritual retreat, and a father who can't (or won't) leave work to watch his daughter compete in the bee.  Her mother sings, "and I swear it's true" her father sings, "maybe it's true... I love you."  Ouch.
Another speller - the youngest speller at the bee - has two fathers who pressure her to win at any cost.  "We hate losers, that's why we discipline. God hates losers, because losers do not know how to win..."  When she blows a simple word she sings "If you don't love me America, I understand why. You hate losers. So do I.  I'm a looser.  So good-bye...."    Ouch.
Leaf is in the spelling bee despite the fact that his parents and siblings (Marigold, Brooke, Pinecone, Raisin, Landscape, and Paul) think of him as a "dumb kid" and laugh at his aspirations to compete in the bee.  Ouch.
But lest you get the wrong idea, the show is a comedy.  It is filled with laughs and good fun. Part of the fun comes from the audience participation.  The show is written to include volunteer spellers from the audience.  Tonight our mayor was called up.  He misspelled the word CONCINNITY.
Last night was opening night - and despite a few  problems with the microphones, it went really well.  Tonight the microphone issues were resolved, and we had another good show.  Yeah. We have shows tomorrow through Saturday.  If you're in the area, come on by and see it.

---- Bytheway:

OMPHALOSKEPSIS is one of the words to be spelled during the show.  It means Navel Gazing

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Solitary Man...

When I was younger I had difficulty making friends.

No. That’s not quite true. I made friends, but only hesitantly. The combination of my parents’ frequent transfer from city to new city and my own introverted personality kept me from diving into new friendships. I don’t think I was reclusive, but for the most part I was content to not interact with the other kids.


I read books. I took walks by myself. I listened to music. Solitary activities for a solitary young man. I remember going to the Salvation Army’s camp in Indiana, Camp Elm and during the afternoon free-times when the other kids were swimming in the pool or buying candy at the sweet-shop, I would sometimes go off into the woods to a spot I thought of as my own. I sat there and thought about life and God and man … - well, I thought about those things as much as any 9 year old can.

But it was in those solitary pursuits I figured out who I am. I didn’t know the Neil Diamond song, but if I had I might have sung:

I'll be what I am
A solitary man…

But at the same time, I knew that I was lonely.

I was able to be alone with myself, and alone with God, but I felt something was missing. Not just friends. I had friends. I had may friends (few close friends, though). I had many acquaintances in places all across the mid-west. I could go hundreds of miles in any direction and be able to find someone that I knew. But I still lacked something.

Community – I later realized that that missing piece was a place in a close fellowship of people, intimately bound to each other by a shared belief and a common purpose and mission. And that is what led me to becoming an officer in this Salvation Army.

If you’d asked me when I was 9 if I wanted to be a Salvation Army officer, if you’d asked me when I was 15, if you’d asked me when I was 18 if I wanted to be an officer I would have told you flat out – no. This Salvation Army is what bounced me around from place to place, uprooting me each and every time I took the risk of making friends. But I come to recognize the community of fellowship that we in the Salvation Army share.

The author of our psalm for today (Psalms 42 & 43, which should be read together as one psalm) certainly knew the blessings of community. He knew the beauty and splendor of sharing worship with his brothers. He had experienced that sublime sense of God’s presence as he worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem.

It’s quite likely that he had been a leader in that worship, one of the musicians who lead the crowds in the sacred songs and daily prayers. He had stood shoulder to shoulder with the throngs, his voice blending with theirs, his prayers going up with theirs in the smoke of the their burnt offerings on the altar. He’d shouted for joy with them. He had worshipped with them and in worshipping with them he had experienced the very real presence of God.

We believe in one God, who is infinite and perfect in every regard. We believe that there is only one God and yet we believe that that one God is in community – a triune God, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This one God has never been alone. This God is in community. This God is in fellowship. And we have been created in his image, male and female, we are created in God’s image and we have deep within us this need for community.

But now the author of this psalm is cut off from that community. It’s not clear what has happened – some scholars speculate that it was an illness, other that he has been taken captive and forcibly removed from Jerusalem. But, whatever the reason, he has been separated from the community of worship, and in his mind – at his very essence, he feels separated from the presence of God.

His isolation is a desperate solitude. His soul is dying of thirst and he longs for the time when he will once again drink in deeply the presence of God.

As a deer yearns for running streams,
so I yearn for you, my God.
I thirst for God, the living God;
when shall I go to see the face of God?

Psychologists studying the nature and effects of attachment – human relationships- have pointed out what may seem very obvious: “The relationships that mater most to us are characteristically to particular people whom we love – husband or wife, parents, children dearest friend… These specific relationships which we experience as unique and irreplaceable seem to embody most crucially the meaning of our lives.” (Peter Marris, “Attachment and Society” in The Place of Attachment in Human Behavior, 1982.)

Our relationships are the structure, the supporting pillars of “meaning” in our lives. Think about the recently bereaved who feel that life is “meaningless.” The meaning of our lives and even our self identity is tied up, to some degree, in the way we relate to the people in our lives. If the important people in our lives are taken away, by death, or divorce, or relocation, or what have you, we will have to re-define who we are.

For the psalmist and others living in under the first covenant – the Old Testament, God’s presence was thought to be localized in the Temple in Jerusalem. They knew that God couldn’t be contained in any one building or in any one place, but still they believed that the Temple was THE place of God. God was present there as he was nowhere else on the face of the earth. His shekinah glory – the glory cloud of his presence had been visible when Solomon dedicated the Temple. His voice could be heard there. That is where he lived. The Temple was his house. Mount Zion was his home.

But our psalmist isn’t there. He is, against his will, very far away from there. He can’t see the glory cloud. He can’t sing the sacred songs with the joyful throngs. He can’t pray the daily prayers in the courts of the temple. He has lost the sense of God’s presence. He has lost his work. He has lost his community. He has lost a sense of himself.

And added to this are the insults and taunts of “the enemy,” who surround him with jeers and catcalls. ‘Where is your God, now?” Do we wonder that he is downcast?

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God
for I will yet praise him,
my savior and my God.

He sits upon the lonely stone crags of Mount Hermon, watching the water cascade down the rocks. He hears the thunder and roar of the rushing water as it flows down into the Jordan River. And he feels dead inside.

There is wordplay we miss in translation. When the psalmist says:

Therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan,
the heights of Hermon, from Mt. Mizar… (verse 6)

he’s not simply giving geographical names. A very literal translation of this verse may sound strange in our ears:

I remember you
from the land of descent and of nets,
from the mountains at the rim.
(Mitchel Dahood, Psalms 1 – 50, The Anchor Bible Vol. 16)

This is a poetic name for the nether world, the underworld. In his desperation, the psalmist imagines himself in the depths of Sheol – the grave – at the farthest possible remove from God. The crashing chaotic waters have swept over him, have crashed down upon him and death – poetically if not literally – has swallowed him up.

He is not happy. He is very far from happy.

Why do we come to church week after week and pretend to be happy when we’re not? We smile and sing – but sometimes we’re just pretending. The psalmist makes no pretence of happiness. He is broken and dying in his spirit and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. He admits to his depression. He gives it voice.

And by admitting it and giving it voice he makes a prayer. It’s not really a prayer asking God for anything. It doesn’t even sound (to me) like a prayer that expects an answer. He has been waiting and waiting and desperately waiting for God but there has been no response and now he prays this prayer of desperate loneliness. He prays, not to influence God in heaven, but rather to change something in himself. He prays in order to produce a right state within.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God
for I will yet praise him,
my savior and my God.

Three times he comes back to this refrain. He prays a confidence that I’m not sure he feels – but he prays. He wrestles. He challenges. He prays. And he trusts that God will eventually and somehow answer. The psalmist trusts that God will send his light and his truth – his shekinah presence to guide him back.

Send forth your light and truth
let them guide me
let them bring me to your holy mountain
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy, and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

And whether this is a physical return to the temple in Jerusalem or it is a more inward, spiritual return to a sense of God’s transcendent presence – either way the psalmist will experience the joy of worshipping in God’s presence.

One of my favorite authors – Marva Dawn – knows a good deal about isolation and loneliness. In her life she has dealt with debilitating illness and loss of her husband. She could have succumbed to the despair that filled her life. She could have given up. But, like the psalmist, she continued to pray a confidence that she didn’t feel, in order to find that sense of God’s presence. Her book My Soul Waits: Solace for the Lonely in the Psalms is a challenging and comforting book.

“Worship is not simply a panacea of happy songs to cure forever our being downcast. It will not bring an end to our loneliness unless it truly offers us the way to meet a triple need – our longing for closer communion with God, for deeper fellowship with His people, and for the opportunity to use our gifts to express praise. This is why we can continue to hop in disturbing times: for surely we will yet praise him. We will know him as our personal Savior and God as we join together with other believers in the assembly of light and faithful love.” (Marva Dawn, My Soul Waits: Solace for the Lonely in the Psalms, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1998. Page 204-5)

To worship together as we do is to experience a piece of heaven. General William Booth – founder of The Salvation Army once said that “making heaven on earth is our business.” One of the ways that we do that is in our communal worship. Wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name – God is there. God is present here. This humble chapel becomes the very throne room of heaven.

But sometimes it’s difficult to feel that. Sometimes we are removed – or we feel removed – from God’s presence. Depression, whether caused by chemical imbalance, stress, the burdens of overwhelming life can make us feel like our soul is slowly dying of thirst. But we can pray like the psalmist.

And maybe there won’t be an answer right away. Maybe God won’t shift the mountains and smite our enemies with thunderbolts. But in prayer we can begin to change ourselves from the inside until we are able to see and sense God’s light and truth leading us ever into his presence.

And what am I to do

Just tell me what am I supposed to say
I can't change the world
But I can change the world in me
If I rejoice

I don't know what to change
U2 - "Rejoice"

100 Posts and A Link to My Writing

This is my 100th thatjeffcarter was here blog post.

And this is a link to my newest published poem:  MKULTRA Subproject 4 at Everyday Weirdness.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for commenting.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Published Again

I'd started to get a little discouraged about my writing recently - or more precisely... I was discouraged that none of my writings were being accepted by the editors of the various magazines and online journals to which I'd been submitting.

Sure, other parts of my life were going really well (or at least not falling completely apart) but I think of my self as a writer (among other things) so when my writing wasn't going well, I didn't feel well. 

But validation comes...

In the in-box today was a note from the editor of the online publication Everyday Weirdness.  You might recognize that name.  I've sold several to them.

My poem - MKULTRA Subproject 4 - will be available Sunday, June 20th.

Everyday Weirdness is updated daily.  You'll want to be sure to check it out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Burn Down This Statue and in Three Days I will Raise it Up Again...

I posted the other day about the blazing destruction of the Touchdown Jesus in Ohio.

My precocious eleven year old daughter commented today that it "would be very ironic if they rebuilt it after three days." 

She's pretty sharp.

But it doesn't look like the statue has been resurrected.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Touchdown Jesus Burns to the Ground

A couple of weeks ago my family and I were on vacation in Ohio (you're jealous, I know).  As we drove to our destination we passed what is quite possibly the largest and ugliest piece of Christian kitsch I have ever seen - the Touch Down Jesus.

The Touch Down Jesus (officially named the King of Kings statue) was a 62-foot tall statue of Jesus on the east side of Interstate 75 at the Solid Rock Church, a 4000+ member Christian megachurch near Monroe, Ohio.  It cost $250,000 to build.

In addition to "Touchdown Jesus" the King of Kings statue was known by a number of other nicknames includeing:  "Super Jesus," "Big Butter Jesus,"  "MC 62 Foot Jesus" (a reference to the musician MC 900 ft. Jesus). 
This thing was hideous.

The operative word there being WAS.

The body of the statue was made of styrofoam and covered by a thin skin of fiberglass around a metal frame.
I realize that there is no accounting for taste.  What I like in art is not appreciated by all.  The beauty I see is not always apprecited by others.  But shouldn't there be some sort of standard?  Especially for religious art?  It bothers me to see the majesty and glory of God in Christ Jesus reduced to this kind of flea-market kitsch

It may be that I share this opinion with the Divine (who at some point gave a command about graven images...)

On June 14th the statue was apparently struck by lightning and was almost completely burned away.  Only the metal frame remained after the blaze.

The good folks at Solid Rock Church probably feel grief at its loss.  I can't say that I do. 


(click on the pictures to see them full sized.  they're worth a full sized chuckle.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Kraken Sleepeth

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

-Alfred Tennyson

(click the image to see it full sized.  thank you.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

An Animated Wind Farm

I spent most of the afternoon driving through the rain.  I passed many of these.

I drew the pieces in Photoshop and used Premiere Elements to animate it.

(this is dedicated to the public domain.  feel free to do with it what you will.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010


(Click the image to see it full sized. Thank you.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


(Click the image to see it full sized.)


Conquest!  Or something like it.  They charge up the mountain in their heavy metal armor in the heat of the sun, their horses' hooves throwing up dry red dust.  What is at the summit?  Who is the enemy to be conquered? 

I'm sure they don't know.

I am not particularly happy with the photographed version of this painting.  The colors didn't come out quite right. Sorry about that.

(You can click on the image to see it full sized. Thank you.  That is all.)

Conquest! Or Something Like It
Mixed Media (spray paint, acrylic paint, oil pastels, with collaged elements on paper)
13" x 9"

Monday, June 7, 2010

That clean white beginning. The canvas is empty.  Waiting. What does it want to be?  A portrait? A landscape? Abstract? Pop?  Does it want linear forms or organic masses?  Color?

Rather than get hung up at this point before I've even begun, I usually just dive into painting.  This day I started with the spray paints.  I've been enjoying them.  I covered the pristine surface with black and blue.  No form.  No shape.  Just a haze of color still waiting for a subject.

As I waited for the paint to dry (something I'm not very good at) I flipped through a small pile of magazines for an idea.  And I found an article in National Geographic about Penguins. My wife really likes Penguins, so I decided that today's painting  would be a penguin just for her.

I used my sketch book to practice drawing the little guy before I put him into the painting, but even so, you can see some of my extraneous lines. 

Next I used some torn pieces of cardboard to make the ice-flow.  I sprayed around the ragged edges of the cardboard.  It might look as if the penguin was lost at this point.  But never fear.

I continued working with acrylic paints to refine and define my ice and to bring back the penguin.

At the end of it all it looked like this:

(you can click on the images to see them full sized.  thank you. that is all.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Crazy Explosive Sunday and Paintings Too!

It was a weird and wild Sunday.  Short attention span theater in circus town. 

Don't get me wrong.  I like our people.  We have  a great congregation.  But... well it's not easy.  To begin, we have several toddlers.  We want very much to have an inclusive multi-generational  worship service.  This is intentional.  We don't want the kids relegated to some second class jr. church where they watch veggie tales.  (This, in fact, was actually a good thing today.  One of the kids interrupted the sermon to shout out the point to which I was leading... clever kid) 

But having kids in the service presents its own challenges.  They're distracted. They're bouncing all over the place (which is cute during the songs... not so cute during the sermon).  One little guy kept trying to pull himself up with my microphone stand. 

Later during the sermon we had an explosive event.  One of our members uses an oxygen tank. About three quarters of the way through my sermon she needed to change tanks.  This usually isn't a big deal.  But something went weird and the air wasn't flowing through the hose and she couldn't breathe.  I realized that the attention of everyone in the room was on the tank exchange and not on me or the sermon.  So I waited.  It was still stuck and they asked me to help. 

I didn't do much better.  Though I got the air hose fixed up, there was a brief moment when large quantities of air were escaping - hissing violently into the chapel. (That might have been perfect had this been Pentecost Sunday.)

That done, I took her back to her care facility. She was fine.  The tanks were fine.  The church was fine.  Everything is just a little weird. 

To recuperate I spent the afternoon painting.  The results are below.  I don't usually paint pure abstractions, but it was an unusual day.  These are mixed-media on paper (spray paint, acrylic paint, and collage)

(as always, you can click on the images to see them full sized.  thank you.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

...and Judas went out and hanged himself.

When he found that Jesus had been condemned, then Judas, his betrayer, was filled with remorse, and took the thirty silver pieces back to the chief priests and elders saying, 'I have sinnned.  I have betrayed innocent blood.'  They replied, 'What is that to us?  That is your concern.'  And flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off, and went and hanged himself.
(Matthew 27:3 - 5  - New Jerusalem Bible)

(as always... click the images to see them full size.  thank you. that is all.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Painting - Poison Control

I spent the morning reading and writing for Sunday's sermon, but it wasn't going well.  I'm really struggling recently to get my thoughts together in decent form for a sermon.  ((other's tell me that the sermons have been fine, it's just my own critical voice getting in the way.))  I was feeling a little disgusted about it so I decided to do something else this afternoon. 

I painted. 

I gathered my supplies together and was ready to begin when I thought, "It's a really great day outside.  Why should I paint in the basement (which is where I usually work)? I'm going outside."

I covered the patio table with a drop cloth and laid everything out: Brushes, Spray Paint, Water, Stencils, Sandpaper, Canvas, Acrylic Paint, ....

Using acrylic paint I laid down a quick cover of blues and reds and allowed them to mix in some areas....  Next I sprayed a layer of red spray paint across the top.  Some of this was quickly blotted away using the table covering.

This leaves areas where the underlying layers can still show throw.  This is a technique I use frequently.

Now, being really clever, I used the milk crate which I'd used to haul everything outside as a stencil.  Spraying with blue and white spray paint I created this cubed effect.

I worked with the acrylic paints again to give random details to the painting.  I repainted some of the cubes, and added reds and oranges to the top. 

I continued this way for awhile, alternating between the spray paints and the acrylic paints, adding details, blending colors, shading, and building up layers of color.

Now I was ready to use my stencils. I've used these stencils in a number of paintings already.  That's the great thing about stencils: you can use and reuse and re-reuse them in different ways.  You can see that I used the poison stencil twice in this painting.  I reversed it the second time so that the canisters and boxes weren't all going in the same direction.

You might also notice my coffee mug in this photo.  It's very important to keep your coffee mug and your rinse water separate.  You don't want to confuse those two.

We're nearing the end here.  I continued building up the colors and layers... but I wasn't happy with how "busy" her face was.  So I fixed it.

Another couple of passes with the spray paint and milk crate stencil and  the painting is just about done.

Here is the final work:

Poison Control - 14" x 11" -mixed media 2010

(a detail)

(as always, click on any of the pictures to see them full sized. thank you.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Straining for Wit and Wisdom

There are some weeks when I sit down to write a sermon and everything goes well.  The words come out in a smooth and steady stream.  The images are clear, the ideas distinct.  I feel good in those weeks as I step up to the pulpit to share.

There are other weeks, however, when this is not the way. 

I struggle to compose my own thoughts. I strain for wit and wisdom. And I feel unworthy to assume my place at the pulpit. 

I know that there's no expectation that I'm going to deliver the THE sermon that will forever alter the course of human history.  I know that I'm not likely to share anything that hasn't been said somewhere else by someone else.  I think that I'm a good preacher and I don't worry about being a GREAT preacher, but in these weeks (and this is one of them) I would like the confidence of knowing that what I'm saying - as clumsy and poor as it may be- is helpful (or at least not harmful) to someone.  Is that too much?

This weeks sermon will come from Psalm 146, a great psalm.  It's one of the hallel psalms - a praise psalm.  Psalm 146 is one that is recited daily by Jewish worshippers - even today. 

The theme of 146 is trust.  Who do we trust?  Do we trust princes, and leaders, and politicians? Will they solve our problems?  Do we trust pastors, and preachers, and teachers?  Will they fix everything up just right? Do we trust Joe-six-pack with his homespun, working class, common sense? 

Or do we trust God, "who keeps truth forever"? 

Also in this psalm is an emphasis on social justice.  The praise sounded in this psalm would make Glenn Beck very uncomfortable.   The God praised in this psalm is one who is concerned for the oppressed,  for the hungry, for the incarcerated, and for the (gasp) immigrant. 

I will continue to wrestle with this text, and with my own unwieldy thoughts, and God-willing, it will all come together before Sunday morning.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

All the King's Men - One of My Favorites.

I've recently finished re-reading one of my favorite novels - All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. 

I first read this book as part of a high school English class. I still have the copy I bought for that class, complete with all of my underlinings, notes to myself, comments, and questions. 

Though I know it cannot happen, every time I read it I hope it will end differently.  But this will never be.  Jack will do as Jack has done.  He will love and loose and live.  Willie Stark will strive and strive and strive and fall.  Adam will keep his high ideals, but only by destroying them in one final desperate act.  Anne will live to regret.  Sadie will never really be loved.  Sugarboy will st-st-stu-stutter and idolize the great speaker.  Judge Irwin will hide the truth and his shame.  The Scholarly Attorney will let his goodness dribble away. 

There is always something.  And the past never goes away.
Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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