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Friday, July 30, 2010

Psalm 49 - Listen!

Here is some more of what I've prepared for this Sunday's service. 

The melody and lyrics for this song were written by Stephen J. Pearson at  He's written a song (or two) for each of the 150 Psalms.  This is my arrangement of his work. 

Listen! (Psalm 49)

Listen, all you high and mighty people.
Listen, all you people of the earth.
Now listen!

1. Shall we fear the evil days?
Or those with evil ways?
Or those who trust in wealth? Ah!

2. See the wealthy man who dies.
Seethe foolish, and the wise.
Do they not all see the grave? Ah!

3. Can your wealth stave off the grave?
No! Only God can save!
God's light is our true life:
So listen!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Read This Book: A Thousand Cuts

"It should have been an open and shut case."

But such cases - "open and shut" without question and without doubt - are rare, if not altogether non-existent.  We like facts. -Who-What-Where-When.-  When these questions are are answered we feel secure.  We know what is going on. 

But Truth is often more slippery than Facts.  The question -Why- makes us uneasy.  Digging too deeply into why can cause us to loose our place.

The novel, A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic (Published in Great Britain as Rupture) is a disturbing and difficult book - not because the prose is dense or because the vocabulary is obscure, but because it dares to dig into the why.

Detective Inspector Lucia May - the only female  in her office - is tasked to piece together the various testimonies and eyewitness accounts after Samuel Szajkowski - a recently hired history teacher - walked into a school assembly with a gun and murdered three students and a teacher before turning it upon himself.  It should have been an open and shut case. 


once Detective May is beyond the Facts of the case and looking into the why the Truth of the case becomes increasingly uncomfortable to her.  And what makes the situation even more intolerable for her is that no one, not even her boss, is interested in the Truth.
"Your job is to pick up the pieces.  To tidy them away.  Not to chuck them about the room just because your hormones are bubbling over and you're looking for someone to get mad at."
Lucia folded her arms.  She unfolded them, put her hands on her hips.  She glared at Cole.  Cole glared back.
"So?" he said.
"So? So what?"
"So are you going to rewrite [this report]?  Are you going to do this department, me, and yourself a favor?
It's easier to look at the surface. To call him a monster. To file the paperwork and to move on.

The American title -A Thousand Cuts, refers to a form of torture and execution in ancient China whereby the condemned person was slowly killed by using a knife to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Octopus of Unknowing

When I say "darkness", I mean a privation of knowing, just as whatever you do not know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it with your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed an Octopus of Unknowing.

I drew this in Photoshop.  The
background is, in part, a photo of my garage floor.

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Psalm 49 - Let them Boast. Let Them Parade

Sunday's sermon will be based in Psalm 49 (with words from Luke 12: 13 - 21 and Ecclesiastes 2: 18 - 23 for additional goodness).  Here is the image I made for the powerpoint slides and a poem I wrote.

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

Let Them Boast. Let Them Parade

Oh, how we respect and honor them,
secretly envy and even worship them:
the rich and the powerful,
living in gilded mansions
and self assured security

while we painfully save against rainy days
and the escalating cost of college tuition,
and maybe we fear them, too,
fear the influence and power they wield,
casually buying and selling our lives.

But why? Why should I envy or fear them?
Why give them so much?
Brother, I tell you,
no one can buy back his soul.

In not so many years they’ll trade
that gilded mansion in the here and now
for a mansion of earth in the abyss of forever and on.
Let them boast. Let them parade.
It’s all the same in the end.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Goodnight, Gentlemen (Don't let the vampires get you)

Just a bit of music made from some downloaded samples and a little bit of my own writing.
You can download it here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

High Above it All

We're at camp again - the whole family this time.  It's a weekend thing, an annual Pilgrimage camp for the Salvation Army in the Northern Division. 

During our afternoon free time today we went for a little adventure.

Our first stop was to see the animals: cows, and sheep, and goats, and ponies, and chickens, and ducks, and llamas....  But that was just preliminary to the real fun.

The camp maintains a high ropes course. That is adventure -suspended high above the ground by ropes, and carabiner and trust in your belayer below. We belted into our harnesses, donned snug helmets, and climbed high into the air.


Our son - 9 years old - is a fearless climber.  He first ascended the ropes course three years ago - climbed up the pole and launched himself out on the zipline.  This year he mastered the 'platforms.' He said it would have been easier if his legs had been longer. I was pleasantly surpised that my wife went up. She's not always that brave.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Snakes in Suits

I am in the middle of reading the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work by Paul Babiak, Ph.D. & Robert D Hare, Ph. D.  It was recommended to me by one of my Anonymous friends after I had read Feet of Clay - a study of madmen and gurus.  This all stems from my recent interest in the cult of Scientology. 

Snakes in Suits  is written as a layman's guide to the psychopathic personality - particularly as it relates to the corporate and business world.  It is not a clinical or technical book, but is filled with examples from real life situations and composite hypothetical examples.

First point:  Psychopathy is a personality disorder - not a mental illness. (There is a difference.)  They are not raving lunatics or slobbering catatonics.  For all intents and purposes, they are quite normal.  At least they appear to be. 

The psychopath - male or female - can be charming, persuasive, and quite likable.  But they are predators. They are not charming and friendly because they like other people or care about them in any way.  On the contrary, to the psychopath other people exist only to serve them.  Other people are either pawns to be manipulated, patrons to be exploited or threats to be neutralized.  When charm and persuasion can't get them what they want, the psychopath feels no guilt in using threats, intimidation, or even physical violence. 

They feel no guilt.  They feel no remorse.  They have no empathy. 

As I said, Snakes in Suits is written primarily for the business world and the corporate structure but it does occasionally describe the psychopath in a religious setting.   They are chameleons and can adapt to whatever group they've infiltrated; they can shout "hallelujah" with the faithful just as easily as they can attend a board meeting with the shareholders.  And since the organizational structure of  my own church - The Salvation Army - is a strange blend of both the religious and the business, I began to wonder if there are any snakes in Salvation Army uniforms. *

I doubt it (though I wouldn't be so foolish as to say absolutely not).  I doubt it because The Salvation Army is rather bureaucratic. No. We're heavily bureaucratic.  We have layers upon layers of organizational rules.  We have a thick book of Orders and Regulations to which we're expected to adhere.  And while there are potential rewards for the exploitative psychopathic personality (i.e. power, privilege, and access to money) the obstacles are numerous. 

"We doubt that psychopathic individuals would be very successful in a highly structured bureaucracy for several important reasons. First, psychopaths are generalized rule breakers; rules and regulations mean little to them.  The sheer number of policies, procedures, and laws governing how companies must act, as well as the fact that managers and supervisors are charged with enforcing them, makes them inhospitable to those prone to psychopathic behavior.  They would not last long in a traditional, textbook bureaucracy.  It is unlikely that they would even consider working for one, unless they knew the boss and could get away with getting a paycheck without producing any work." page 95-96

But while the structure and bureaucracy of an organized religion might be a deterrent to a psychopathic personality the world of New Religious Movements is a bountiful hunting ground.  (New Religious Movement is the more neutral term for those groups sometimes refereed to as "cults.") Loosely organized and free to make up the rules as they go along, the psychopathic person can easily charm, manipulate and swindle those who are caught up in their deceptions.

Psychopathic individuals can and will tell extravagant stories - outright lies and even when they are caught in their lies will not stop. They change their stories, adjust the details as needed until they're believed. And they good at it.  They are persuasive story tellers, raconteurs of the highest calibre.  They're willing to say anything without regard for truth or accuracy.

I'm not a psychologist. I cannot make a diagnosis of any kind - but I would suspect, after reading biographies of L. Ron Hubbard and interviews of people who knew him and worked with him, that the founder of the cult (or NRM, if you prefer) of Scientology was psychopathic.  He used people for what they could give him, and when they could no longer give him what he wanted or they opposed him, he threw them away and destroyed them, without remorse.

The Church (cough, cough) of Scientology in Australia recently made the outrageous claim that they're "just like the Salvation Army."   But the history of The Salvation Army isn't filled with reports of abuse and exploitation like Scientology.  Just compare biographies of our founders, look at our organizational structures, and I think you'll be able to see the difference. 

* Since The Salvation Army - like every other human organization - is made up of fallible humans there are of course some "snakes" amongst us, people who act badly, who occasionally lie or cheat or whatever.  It's inevitable. Even in a religious movement.  But here I'm referring specifically to "psychopathic snakes" and to no specific individuals within the leadership whatsoever.  Is that enough of a disclaimer?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What Makes Christian Art "Christian" ?

Here’s my question for today: What is it that makes Christian Art Christian?

Sometime ago I wrote the following poem based on a couple of verses from Psalm 91.

By the Speaking of this Charm

By the creative word
and his song,
by the speaking of this charm,

I will not fear the terrors of the night
or creatures prowling moon lit fog.
I will not shiver at their crossing
nor faint within their shade.

I will not fear the arrows that fly by day
though they, by their thousands,
should blot out the sun
and threaten to pierce and to skewer.

I will not fear the plague of night,
the stalking chemical burns,
and viral blasts that lurk
in dark corners and narrow alleyways.

I will not fear the noonday devil,
the scourge of havoc that
lets slip the dogs of war
for pillage, rape, and carrion feasts.

By the creative word
and by his song,
by the speaking of this charm
I will not fear.
This poem I submitted to A Flame in the Dark - “a website dedicated to horror, thriller, or suspense fiction from a biblical perspective. The stories we publish have a decidedly Christian slant, though we aim for fiction that isn't preachy or message-oriented.”

I thought my poem fit rather well with their mission statement, but this is the email I received from them:

Dear Jeff,
Thank you for your poetry submission to A Flame in the Dark. At this time, we will have to decline publication of your poem, "By the Speaking of this Charm."

Though it is well-written and interesting, we feel the work is at odds, or could be perceived as at odds, with our specific mission to uplift the Name of Christ.

Thank you, and God Bless!
R--- S----
I’m at a loss as to what it is about my poem that is, or could be perceived as, at odds with their "specific mission to uplift the Name of Christ". Is it the word charm? Is it the word rape? Is it not Christian enough? What makes Christian art Christian?

I’m not particularly upset with the editors at A Flame in the Dark. Their magazine is their magazine and they are free to accept or decline as they choose. But I am befuddled by the idea that what I’ve written is, or could be perceived as, at odds with Christianity.

That’s ridiculous.

One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors happens to be on this very topic. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeline L’Engle. I encourage everyone to read it. Especially the good folks at A Flame in the Dark. (Did I say that out loud?)

The Storm Never Arrived

There was thunder yesterday afternoon, a low rumbling of thunder and dark, heavy rain clouds rolling across the sky.  I went outside with my camera and felt a few cool sprinkles of rain on my arms. I took a few photos as I waited for the rain to fall in earnest, but the storm never arrived.  Within half an hour the storm clouds had blown past and the thunder was silent.  I was disappointed.

(Click the photos to see them full sized. Thank you.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Hard Rain After All - The Video

The other day I posted a song I put together using some sound bits and some stuff I wrote. It wasn't anything super special, but I liked it. I liked it well enough that I put together a video to accompany it.

A warning: it's not for the epileptic.

I used bits from the 1932 film Rain, the 1936 educational film Streamlines, the 1950 science fiction film Destination Moon among other bits.  The music was created with Abelton Live 8 and the video with Adobe Premiere Elements.


(Mixed media - acrylic paint, spray paint, collage on paper
This painting goes along with this one. Two on a theme.
Click on the picture to see it full sized. Thank you.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Hard Rain After All

This is something I made.  You can download it here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My God! What Have I Done?

"My God! What Have I Done?"
Mixed Media - Spray paint, acrylic paint, collaged items, on paper.

Lawrence looked up from his desk and saw it. In that one moment of clarity he realized what all of his life had really been about. It wasn't the corner office. It wasn't the Mercedes.  It wasn't the Italian suits. It was this.   And it was evil.

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Army of the Brave - Music Camp

So it's the last full day of music camp here at Northwoods Camp.  We've played and sang our way through a week of rehearsals, and now we're ready for tonight's concert.

Then at the last moment, our fearless band director (who has already promised, "no more new music") brought out a new piece for us to sight-read: Army of the Brave.
Given another week or two to rehearse, I could maybe play it.  But it was fun to try.

I love the notice printed on the music: "This music must only be used in Musical Festivals and other musical services."   and "This music must not be used in ordinary Salvation Meetings."
Keep this one for extraordinary salvation meetings, I guess.

Northwoods TV - Friday - Can we go home yet?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Northwoods TV - Wednesday - 2010

Here's the latest episode of Northwoods TV - Wednesday - 2010.
See anyone you know?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Video from Northwoods TV (Tuesday 2010)

This one band camp...

Yes.  I am a band geek.  I play my horn. I went to band camp as a kid - every summer.  And now I teach at band camp.

In addition to helping with the bands and teaching music theory to the kids I'm responsible for our daily television program.  Here is Monday's episode:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Summer Triangle

The Summer Triangle is an asterism involving an imaginary triangle drawn between the brightest stars of the Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra constellations.




(Mixed Media - acrylic paint, spray paint, oil pastels, paper, cardboard, foil
Click the pictures to see them full sized. Thank you.)

Haskell's Theme - The Lonely Pterodactyl

This is Haskell.  He's a quiet Pterodactyl, introverted.  He just doesn't like idle chit-chat.  He prefers to soar through the coulds over the rugged landscape.  Alone in the wind.

This is Haskell's Theme. 

(The music was created with Ableton Livelite 8.3.  The video with Premiere Elements.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Thurston looked everywhere for his friend, Haskell, but could not find him.  Not at the lake.  Not at the arcade.  Not at the ball field.  In fact, Thurston couldn't find anyone at all.  He was alone in the world.

(Mixed Media - acrylic paint, spray paint, magazine cutouts, pencil - Click the picture to see it full sized. Thank you.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Acrylic on paper

The doctor shuffled into the room
which smelled of desperation and vomit.
He mumbled his courtesies
and feeble excuses.
But what could he do?
What could we expect?
The sickness had come.

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

Monday, July 5, 2010

Don't Panic (It's Just the End of the World)

Most eschatological (a fancy college word for "last things" or "end times") teaching within the American Evangelical church is based on fear.  The End of the World is Coming - we're all going to die - if we're not raptured away in some great "escape clause." Doom. Death. Disease and Destruction. 

I don't buy it.

I remember being a frightened child - haunted by nightmares about volcanoes and the moon falling into the earth.  I remember that every time the moon looked 'weird', i thought for sure that the end was upon us.  I've come to realize that there is a better eschatology than one based on fear.  I'll write more about that in the future.  For now, enjoy the music.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"I am Leaving. I am Leaving..."

I am Leaving. I am Leaving- by jcarter
(mixed media - torn paper scraps, spray paint, acrylic paint, oil pastels on canvas paper)

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains
- from "The Boxer" - by Simon and Garfunkle
(I've removed the image.  Apparently I've maxed out my upload limit...)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

UFO sightings...

(Click the picture to see it full sized.  The music is something i made.  You can download it here.  Thank you.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Feet of Clay - Saints, Sinners and Madmen: A Study of Gurus

He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Red Right Hand”

The Sanskrit word Guru refers to one who brings light out of darkness.  The guru - or teacher - is an illuminator, a light bringer, a guide.  Hopefully.
We know, however, that not all religious leaders are good.  Many gurus have exploited and manipulated their followers for money and for sex, leading them into financial ruin, mental anguish, physical pain, and in too many tragic cases -  even death.
British psychologist, Anthony Storr, wrote about some of the common characteristics of gurus - good and bad - in in his 1996 book, Feet of Clay - Saints, Sinners, and Madmen: A Study of Gurus. 

I found this book at the public library (thank you inter-library loan system!)  and read it because of my recent interest in Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard.  And while LRH and his invention are not mentioned in Storr's book,  there is much that those who are familiar with LRH and Scientology will recognize.

The book is brief - 254 pages and that includes the index.  I wish he had either included more examples or had been more detailed about those figures he did analyse.  But this is a minor complaint (and really, I know I'm just a nerd who always wants to know more...)

The first half of the book is devoted to a brief description of the life and teachings of various gurus - some (in)famous and some obscure, some deadly, and some who were truly beneficial despite their "feet of clay."
Included are Jim Jones and David Koresh - who lead their followers into suicide, the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh - who had a passion for collecting Rolls Royces, (He had ninety-three before his arrest and deportation from the United States and the psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung (who for all their talk of psychiatry as "science" promulgated a secular religion and promised salvation...)

Also included in this section is the guru Jesus. I must admit that I am not always objective (none of us are) and it was a little difficult at first for me to think of Jesus in the same context as Jones, Koresh, Rajneesh and the others.  Though Storr's thesis - that there isn't so much a LINE between the sane and the insane as there is a spectrum or a continuum.  Some who are mentally ill live functional and productive lives.  Some who are thought of as sane are actually very maladjusted.  "We tend to diagnose mental abnormality in the socially incompetent and overlook it or deny it both in the socially dominate and the socially unobtrusive. (page 153)"

Looking at my guru Jesus in the light shone light on others who would take up religious leadership. If the dangerous and crazy gurus like Jones and Koresh are at one end of the spectrum then Jesus is at the other.  I am forced to consider where I am along this continuum.  Am I closer to being a bringer of darkness than an illuminator? 

The second half of the book looks at the larger issues of mental health, sanity and insanity, - and the difficult question of where to draw the line between faith and delusion. This is a topic that concerns me.  Though my interest in Scientology is recent, and will in all probability diminish somewhat over time, I am continually interested in what it means to have faith.

Gurus through the years and around the world share a number of similarities, says Storr.  Often they: 
-are solitary or isolated as children
-are charismatic and charming
-are fluent speakers
-create a mysterious history of travel - usually in central Asia
-are elitist and anti-democratic
-endure a period of mental distress or illness which is followed by a new spiritual insight
-are paranoid and suspicious of others
-develop intricate and wildly eccentric cosmologies

But the most important characteristic of gurus - is their narcissism. 

They are arrogant.  And why shouldn't they be?  They've received a special knowledge (either from God, the universe, or from their own diligent study)  that the rest of us mere mortals could never attain.  They are superior, and they know it.  They will not suffer to be questioned.  They will not tolerate disagreement.  They will not accept correction or suggestions.  Touch not the Lord's anointed!

"Whether a guru has suffered from manic-depressive illness, schizophrenia, or any other form of recognized, diagnosable mental illness is interesting but ultimately not important.  It is not their thought disorders, not their delusional beliefs, not their hallucinatory visions, not their mystical states of ecstasy:  it is their narcissism. (page 210)."

A religious leader (or political leader, or a leader in any field) who will not allow that he or she could be wrong is a danger to him or herself and to any who would unquestioningly follow - but that is the only way that (dangerous) gurus would have them.

A Weeping Psalm and a Weeping Song

This Sunday (nevermind that it's July 4th...) the lectionary brings us to Psalm 30.   Our congregation has taken the Psalms as our focus for the year - so rather than a sermon about patriotism or government or the (supposed) Christian heritage of our nation... we'll be looking at Psalm 30.

The superscription doesn't seem to relate to the rest of the Psalm.  "A Song at the dedication of the house of David."  No one is really sure if that means the Temple (which David didn't build) or if it mean's David's home... or that King David even wrote it.  The Hebrew could also accurately be translated - for David, -of David, or -by David.    But the Psalm itself doesn't mention the Temple, a house of any kind, or any specific event from King David's life.

The superscriptions aren't original to the Psalms themselves, though.  So it might be that this superscription was tagged to the wrong pslam due to inattentiveness or a copyist error.  Either way; it doesn't really matter.

It is a pslam of Thanksgiving - specifically for recovery from a nearly fatal illness.  The last couple of psalms have been dark - melancholic - desperate.  But this one moves us toward the light, toward hope.

Weeping may endure for a night
but joy comes in the morning.
Psalm 30: 5

I want to work in one of my favorite songs - The Weeping Song - by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

"This is a weeping song,
a song in which to weep
while we rock ourselves to sleep
but I won't be weeping long.
No, I won't be weeping long."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Volga Boatman Song (with Insomnia)

Ey, ukhnem!
Ey, ukhnem!

Yeshcho razik, yeshcho da raz!
Ey, ukhnem!
Ey, ukhnem!
Yeshcho razik, yeshcho da raz!

Razovyom mi beryozu,
Razovyom mi kudryavu!
Ai-da, da ai-da,
Ai-da, da ai-da,
Razovyom mi kudryavu.
Mi po berezhku idyom,
Pesnyo solnishku poyom.

Ai-da, da ai-da,
Ai-da, da ai-da,
Pesnyo solnishku poyom.
Ey, Ey, tyani kanat cilney!
Pesnyo solnishku poyom.

Ey, ukhnem!
Ey, ukhnem!
Yeshcho razik, yeshcho da raz!

I love this song.  
I've been to the Volga River - swum in it, even. It's wide and it's cold.

(This is my little arrangement of the classic song - you can download it here.)
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