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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lights in the Sky

In the Bleak Midwinter

Click to see the picture enlarged
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

In the Bleak Midwinter is one my favorite Christmas carols. The lyrics were originally written by English poet Christina Rossetti and later set to music by a number of composers, including a setting by Gustav Holst.

I think of the fourth verse as I look at this picture.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

God is Cold

click the picture to see it enlarged
God is Cold

like the air when there is only white
and the narrowing perspective lines
of the highway’s surface blur into space,

when ice encrusted branches -
frozen in an empty twilight grasp – lean
over lonely fence posts,

and the weight of that slate-grey sky
lays upon heaps of snow
blown into alien landscapes by the wind.

God is cold but is not cruel,
there is beauty in his frost.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Friendly Beasts

I made this track to accompany myself on guitar - for an ecumenical thanksgiving service last night.
You can download it here.

Sounds from the Freesound Project:
Berber Farmyard
Tubular System E5
Jingle Bells One Shot

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Too Solid Flesh

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!

(Hamlet -Act I, Scene ii)

Psalm 122 - Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

According to the Torah - the Jewish law delivered by God through his servant Moses to the Jewish people - the men of Israel were required to make a pilgrimage for three annual festivals.

Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
Deuteronomy 16:16-17 (NIV)

These three festivals celebrated and actualized the three great salvation events in Israel’s history – the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, and the Entrance into the Promised Land. 

Three times a year, every year, the men of Israel were required by the law to make a journey from their homes to the place of God’s choosing in order to make a sacrifice and to participate in worship led by the priests.  They were obligated to leave their homes and to make the difficult and, often times, dangerous journey to the festival celebration.

Before the construction of the Temple in the city of Jerusalem by King Solomon the pilgrims may have traveled to the city of Gibeon where the Ark of the Covenant was sometimes kept.  Gibeon was the “great high place” for worship and sacrifice before the construction of the temple.  This is where King Solomon offered his sacrifices and where God appeared to him in a dream to offer him anything he desired. (1 Kings 3:4 – 15)

But when Solomon built the Temple in the city of Jerusalem and consolidated the political and religious centers of the nation Jerusalem became – not just the capital city – Zion, the mountain of God, the city of God, the very dwelling place of the Living God. 

God shines from Zion, the perfection of beauty.
Psalm 50:2 (GW)
It was the holy city, a light to the nations, and the center of the world. The temple on Mt. Zion was the epitome of the concept of “sacred space.”  It was the place where earth and heaven met, the place where the human and the divine could intersect, none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28: 11 – 18).  As the intersection of the cosmic and the earthly, the temple was a picture of the universe in miniature, incorporating heaven, land, and sea within its walls.  There the Israelite worshipper would sing, “The Lord built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever.” (Psalm 78:69) In his temple everything says “Glory!” (Psalm 29:9)

And three times a year for the three annual festivals required by the law, the men of Israel would travel to Jerusalem with their offerings.  This would not have been a simple trip. It would not have been a matter of throwing an overnight bag in the car and driving a few hours.  To make the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem (and it was always up to Jerusalem) the Jewish man would have to leave his home and fields or flocks or business for days or even weeks, would have to travel across unpaved roads.  There was the danger of wild animals and predatory thieves and bandits.  He couldn’t expect to stay in a comfortable hotel along the way.  He might have been welcomed to spend the night with a hospitable home along the way, but if not he would have to rough it. 

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a difficult expedition, not taken lightly.  I can imagine that there may have been, at times, grumbling and complaining about these annual festivals, grumbling about the expense of it, about the lost time at work or in the fields, grumbling at the danger and difficulty, grumbling at the overcrowded streets and lack of rooms, and the heat and the stink and the, and the, and the …

But not the psalmist.  No.  The psalmist rejoiced when those around him said, “Let us go up to the House of Yahweh.”  It’s that time again. 

“I rejoiced among those who said to me,
we will enter the House of Yahweh.”
Psalm 122: 1 – Anchor Bible

 I’m one who grumbles at holidays. I know. I know; I’m a terrible person. You’ve heard me say “I don’t like Christmas,” and I probably seem like a bit of cantankerous old scrooge, but I am truly fascinated by the Psalmists attitude here. He rejoiced at this celebration.  He celebrated the obligation to visit the holy city. His enthusiasm stirs something in my three sizes too small heart.  I can hear the delight in his words, and I want to know something of that feeling.

I rejoiced among those who said to me,
‘we will go up to the house of Yahweh!’
My feet were standing
within the gates of Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, which was built as his city,
which was compacted by him alone.

122: 1 -3 Anchor Bible
More than the capital city, Jerusalem was the place for the Psalmist to come together with his brothers and friends and with all the members of this faith to worship their God together and to celebrate the salvation of God together.  There was a unity in this city. It was a “compacted” city or “seamless.” Everything was in its right place, not a stone or brick left out.  The walls around the city were firmly built.  The towers were strong.  The Temple The city was well built because it had been built by God himself.

Obviously were not just talking about bricks and mortar here.  There’s something more than just the physical city.  There is an expectation about this city, a hope.

This city, this idealized Jerusalem, built by God and closely compacted by him alone, is the place where tribes of Israel go up, the place where they all came together in unity.  Together they were the city, closely compacted by God. This was where God dwelt, in the praise of his people

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
Psalm 22:3 (KJV)

Jerusalem.  Jerusalem. The city of God.  The city of peace.  In Hebrew the name itself means “foundation of peace.” It is the ideal city of peace between men and peace between men and God.  It is the place where relations are restored and wounds are healed.  It is the place where divisions are put away and the people of God are united in praise and worship and love.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.
Psalm 122:6 (NASB)

There is a beautiful rhythm and rhyme in these verses that is lost when translated from the Hebrew.  The words: pray (shaal) peace (shalom), Jerusalem (Yerushalayim), and prosperity (shalavah) ring together in a pleasing assonance that we just don’t hear in the English translation.    It’s a unity of sound that verbally echoes the compacted and well built unity of the city itself.

We are to pray for peace and prosperity for the people of this ideal city – but what is peace, and what defines prosperity, and who are the people of this city?

Shalom is more than the absence of war, though that definitely is within its definition.  Shalom is not the absence of conflict.  Conflict is inevitable, but combat is a choice.  If we choose to fight then we are choosing against peace because war divides us. War separates us into opposing armies, us verses them.  War destroys the unity and wholeness that defines true peace.  Shalom is an undivided wholeness, unbroken and undivided.  Shalom is unity.

War destroys our unity and destroys our prosperity.  It consumes our resources – the money, food, and materials that could be used to heal and feed and save are foolishly squandered in destruction. The Hebrew word for prosperity (shalavah) also includes the sense of leisure and quiet.  To have prosperity in this sense is to be relaxed, quiet because all is well.  But War destroys this prosperity. We cannot relax during wartime. No. We have to keep up our guard, forever on the watchful, forever vigilant. There is no calm, only fear.  There is no prosperity, only the destruction of resources and security.

May they pray for your peace, Jerusalem,
may they prosper who love you.
Let there be peace within your walls
prosperity within your citadels.
For the sake of my brothers and friends
I firmly say, ‘Peace be within you.’
Psalm 122: 6 – 8

I like that particular translation, “I firmly say, ‘Peace be within you.’”  Firmly.   Sometimes non-violent, pacifist, peaceniks are derided as being soft or weak.  But I am convinced that choosing peace – choosing non-violence – choosing love over hate is the more difficult choice.

It is easy to curse or to swing a fist, or to fire a gun.  What strength does it take to wage war – particularly today when so much of it can be done by pressing a button from a distance?  That is easy.  Peace is hard because Peace is the deliberate adjustment of my life to the will of God. (Anonymous)  Peace is hard because it doesn’t come naturally. 

Peace is hard because it doesn’t come at all unless we ask for it.  The “Pray” in that verse “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” really is just that – ask. Ask for peace.  It’s not a formal word. It’s not a ritualized word.  It’s not a fancy word. Ask.  Ask for peace. Ask for security. Ask for it.

But lest we mistakenly think that being a nonviolent, peace-loving, pacifist means being soft and passive the last verse of this morning’s psalm says, “For the sake of the House of Yahweh, I will seek your good.”   I will do what is good. I will do what is best.  I will do.   This is an active non-violent peace making.  If you want peace, work for justice.” (Pope Paul VI) Making peace is hard work, harder than fighting a war – but the rewards are incomparable.  The rewards of peace are security and wholeness, unity and leisure.  The rewards (such as they are) of war are division, destruction and poverty – poverty of material goods and a crushing poverty of spirit.

So I will do what is good.  For the sake of that beautiful city – the holy city – the place where God dwells, I will seek peace. I will pray for peace and I will work for justice and equity and equality.  I will do what I can to make sure that people are fed and clothed.  I will work to comfort the broken hearted and to bind up the broken.  For the sake of that unity among God’s people I will love the unloved.  And, what is more, for the sake of that house of God that is the unity and praise of his people, I will love even my enemies.  

This is not easy. True pilgrimages aren’t.  They are long and dangerous and difficult. But we rejoice to make that journey.  Let us go up to the house of Yahweh!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winter Stars

It's Winter After All

Snow on the ground.
Temperature 19 degrees F.
Wife digging out the Christmas decorations.
Salvation Army Bell Ringers at the grocery store.
It's winter after all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meditation in a Glass of Water

There may or may not be truth in the popular idea that we need to drink at least 8 glasses of water every day (see article here)  but perhaps one good medititation in a glass of water would do us some good.

You can download the meditation here.

I used the following sounds from the Freesound Project:
Pouring Water
Gloom spring
Abandoned coil
Simple drone
CO2 Gas Bubbles
The Cloud in A
Solo Study 2a
I also used my own voice in a small way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Actual Conversation


and we're Christian too...

Woman 1 - "I got a phone call the other day, and I don't know what they heck they were saying. They were speaking in Spanish or something. So I told them "I don't speak your language. I speak English." And then I hung up."

Woman 2 - "What did they want? Was it a telemarketer or something?"

Woman 1 - "Well I don't know, that's the point, I couldn't understand what they were saying."

Woman 2 - "I don't know why they just can't speak English, they're in America after all."

Me - "Actually, the United States of America doesn't have an official language..."

Woman 1 (interupting me) - "I know. We're not even Christian any more!"

Me - ?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Rather Like It.

This is a little piece of nothing much - a few photos of concrete walls and cloudy skies run through the digital blender.

But I rather like it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

On Stephen King and Whistling and Writing

I should not read Stephen King.  Not when I'm attempting to write. 

I bought his newest collection of stories, Full Dark, No Stars, the other day and I've already read it through. If nothing else, Stephen King knows how to tell a story.  I am pulled so easily, (so willingly?) into his tales.

And I am envious of the -apparent- ease with which he does this to me. He makes it look so easy, like whistling.  You know how to whistle don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow and out comes the story. After I've read just a few pages of his books, I want to burn everything I've ever written. 

And I know, of course, that even for the master of the popular novel writing is not simply a matter of whistling down the words, but involves hard work - maybe not the manual labor of blue collars and calloused hands - but real work none the less.  The ease is only apparent. Because he is good at what he does, he makes it look easy.

I've been asked several times in the past 11 days what my NaNoWriMo novel is about.  And my answer so far as been, "about 18, 5000 words..." (or whatever my current word count happened to be at the time.)  I've not even told my wife.  I'm afraid that if I do I'll loose the story, that I'll have "wasted" my words explaining the story instead of using them to tell the story. 

So, if you've been one to ask me about my story and I've dismissed your question with a bit of a joke, I apologize.  It's not you. Its' me.   

Now I'm going to quit wasting my time and my words in writing about writing and I'm going to go back to writing ...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Scientific Discovery

Here's another new song I've put together. You might like it.

You can download it here.
Once again I used a number of sounds from The Freesound Project:
I also used some of Zepho's 100 Ambient Tones at the Internet Archive
#35 – Bizarro Bleep
#38 – Long Time Coming
#74 – Generator Reunion

And even further I used some sounds from SampleSwap and Loopmasters

And, just as a reminder, I am still seeking some sponsors to bail me out of jail as a fundraiser for the March of Dimes Foundation.  Those contributing $50 or more will have a song crafted especially for them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Few Things Melancholy

A few things melancholy
On smiling and sadness: twelve theses

<--Solitary Androids
Winter Wind -->

More melancholy

Monday, November 8, 2010

Update, Photo, and Plea

I am once again participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November - that works out to about 1,667 words each day. So far I'm pretty well on target.  I did fall a little behind on Saturday when I spent the day writing Sunday's sermon and attending a wedding in the Twin Cities.  You can see my current word count in the NaNoWriMo widget in the top right corner.

The photo above is probably one of the last autumn tree photos I'll be posting this year.  We've had some incredibly nice weather the past couple of days, but I'm sure that it can't last.

I'm still looking for sponsors to "bail me out of jail" - as a fundraiser for the March of Dimes foundation.  I know that for most of us the money tree has already been picked over, but if you can help it is appreciated. As an incentive, I'm offering to craft a song for anyone who can donate $50 or more.  Details are here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thank You

I would like to thank all of you who stop by this little corner of the interweb.

If you like what you see/hear/read here, you're invited to leave a comment. The same holds true if you are disgusted by what you see/hear/read here; leave a comment. I can handle it.

Also, I'm still trying to raise some money for the March of Dimes Foundation. I have a special gift for those who can help.

Thank you.

Together, we all win.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I'm Going to Jail

I need your help, but I hesitate to ask. 

I know that money is tight for everyone these days, and I know that in not-too-very-long I'll be hitting you up again to help raise money for our annual Salvation Army Red Kettle / Bell Ringing / Christmas fundraising,


on November 17th  I'm going to jail to help raise money for the March of Dimes Foundation- (Jail in this particular case being at the local Pizza Ranch...)

The March of Dimes Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health of babies.  You probably knew that already.  But did you also know that it was founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938 as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to defeat Polio? Since then their mission has been expanded to preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality and funds research in biochemistry, microbiology, developmental biology, genetics, pediatrics, and many other fields.

If you can help me in helping the March of Dimes, I'd really appreciate it.
You can pledge online -  or call or email me about a donation.

As a special thank you gift - I am offering to create a piece of music for anyone who donates $50 dollars or more.   That's right.  You will have an original piece of music created just for you.  You can brag about it and play it for all your friends.

Here are some examples of my recent music. 

So... help keep babies healthy, get special music and ... maybe help again in a few weeks when I'm asking for money at Christmas for the Salvation Army.

Summer Fields are Gone Now

(Click the picture to see it enlarged.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Driving to Minot

(Click the picture to see it enlarged. Thank you)

Dead Trees

Monday, November 1, 2010

Beyond the Cliche (This is What I'll Do)

I'll be blunt. 
I’m going to just come right out and say it:

I hate Jesus Junk.

You heard me. I hate Jesus Junk. I hate that key chain flash light with a bible verse printed on the side, and the Jesus fish shaped eraser, and I hate “TestaMints,” All those cheap plastic novelties made in China with a scripture verse stamped on the side, I hate them all.

I hate them because they trivialize our faith. I hate them because they add nothing of value. Is anyone’s spiritual life honestly enhanced by a plastic ruler that says “faith is the measure of our lives”? No. Not really. We are not benefited in any way by this crap. Rather, all this Jesus Junk actually works against our faith, diminishing it instead of ennobling it.

I recently read an article about how even Christian book stores have a problem with shoplifting. And do you know, or want to guess what the most commonly stolen item is? Those stupid WWJD bracelets. Eight million of those things sold (and or stolen) and apparently the message is not being communicated.

In a recent review of our church activities it was suggested to us that one way we could further the ministry of our congregation would be to print up “Jesus is the Bread of Life” stickers to affix to the loaves of bread that we give away in the mornings. I am appalled that such a suggestion would even be made. Seriously? What truth would we be communicating with such a sticker? Would we really want to reduce the very real and very significant truth of that statement to something that people will be discarding without a second thought?

I completely understand, and even sympathize with the Jewish tradition of not writing out the Lord’s name, and even not writing out the word God. They hold God’s name in such esteem that they won’t even write out the word G-D for fear that the paper it was written on would be thrown away or littered on the ground. They are unwilling to disgrace God’s name in that way. And I wish that Christians would maybe lean a little from that example. I wish that we’d quit slapping Jesus’ name on every little piece of junk. It must embarrass him.

I worry that we too often reduce our faith to the level of kitsch and that we reduce the eternal truth of scripture to meaningless clichés. Instead of this book being a book of depth and challenge we plunder it for a verse (often ripped out of context) to print on the side of a pencil or a balloon or a bottle of bubbles. If the medium is the message what are we saying? That the message of this book is ephemeral and made as cheaply as possible? That it is something to be bought cheap and casually discarded when no longer wanted?

I want the foundational message on which I am attempting to live my life to be a bit more substantive. I would like to believe (and I would like others to believe) that our faith is something more than a collection of trite, feel-good, clichés.

And so with that rant behind me I come now to Psalm 145.

Psalm 145 is one of 7 acrostic psalms – psalms that are written so that each verse begins with the next letter of the alphabet. In Hebrew that would be Aleph, Bet, Gimmel and so on through the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

You might point out that Psalm 145 has only 21 verses. It is one letter short. One commentary I read suggested that is a letter short so that we might pay more attention to the content of the psalm than to the form, another suggested that a perfect acrostic psalm would be fit for the Church Victorious in heaven, but for those of us in the Church Militant here on earth, still in need of perfection, incomplete acrostics are good enough.

It’s more likely that the missing verse is due to a copyist error somewhere along the line, but for whatever reason, the verse between 13 and 14 – the verse that would begin with the Hebrew letter Nun has been lost from our earliest copies of the Psalms. It is restored to us in later copies and later translations of the bible – and so some of your bibles might have it with a footnote.

Psalm 145 is attributed to David but makes no reference to any specific event or situation in David’s life.

It’s not one of my all time favorite psalms – but it’s not at all my least favorite (that place is held by another acrostic psalm: 119). Some Rabbis so valued this psalm, held it in such high estimation “that they assert, if a man with sincerity of heart repeat it three times a day he should infallibly (!) enjoy the blessings of the world to come.” (Adam Clarke)

I don’t know about infallibly but what I do appreciate about Psalm 145 is the challenge that presents to us. Can we – can you, can I – take the words of scripture and make them our own without reducing them to the level of kitsch and cliché? The challenge is to make it connect to our minds and our hearts so that it becomes an authentic part of our lives and not just another throwaway piece of Jesus junk.

The author of Psalm 145 (be it King David or someone else who’s writing was attributed to David) didn’t settle for a string of cliché’s but instead worked deliberately and intentionally, choosing the right words to express his praise rather than settling for the almost right word, or the good enough word. He used the acrostic form to focus his creativity; its strictures forced him to think carefully about each line before he put pen to paper. He would not be content with mediocre praise, would not compose a song to be forgotten and discarded.

The challenge for us is to do the same. Can we describe our faith, can we give voice to our praise without relying on “Jesus Junk” or is our expression of faith merely a collection of religious clichés?

Here, then, is my attempt to read Psalm 145 in such a way:

This is What I’ll Do (Psalm 145)

And now it is this that I’ll do
      or rather, what I’ll attempt:
      to fill the spaces in between with praise,
blessing your name to everlasting eternity,
     day after day blessing your name
     from here to infinity,
chasing your greatness across shoreless oceans
     into unfathomable depths for
     you are more worthy than I could know.

Day following day, one generation to the next
     will take up this course and follow
      as we describe your mighty acts and
examine the splendor where you reside,
     the glory in which your presence hides,
     as we meditate on the melody of your name,
filling our minds with the amplitude of your identity
     until our mouths fall open and we
     proclaim your awesome power.

God! what we remember,
     your generosity, your justice
     and God! what we often forget,
how you are so slow to rise in anger,
     that you are filled with compassion
     and ever-faithful love, enfolding us
indeed, embracing your prickly creatures
     and all our thorny attempts
     to push you away.

Just let us speak and we’ll thank you,
     all your creatures and children,
      the devoted denizens of your
kingdom shall speak of your glory
     in whatever words we have
     to whoever will listen.
Listen! Our God has done great things
     hear me, you daughters of Adam
     and all you fleshy sons of Eve.

Moving through the folds of space and time
      this kingdom of aeons
     will last through immeasurable time
opening the way for those who have fallen
     for those who are bent over and broken
     to be lifted up, restored,
providing us the very things we need
     at the very time we need them,
     as we watch and as we pray.

Quench our hungering and thirsting
      with the opening of your hand,
      satisfy our needs with your
righteousness and your compassion,
      with the loving kindness
      that defines your eternal character;
stay close to us when we call,
     our little voices are so weak,
     we are so very small.

Trembling in our human frailty
     we cry out to the one who can save
     and you hear us; you hear our call.
Universal love for those who fear you,
     for those who love you,
     but destruction for the wicked.
Vast, unending praise is yours, O Lord
     from my mouth
    into the ever-expanding recess of time.

Aeolian Drift - and - Another Published Piece of Writing

This little piece features both the aeolian mode and an aeolian harp
as well as the following sounds from the Freesound Project:

A minor Aeolian
D Phase Drone
Gliss Up-Down

You can download the Aeolian Drift here.

And you may also be interested to know that
My poem She Remembers and She Despairs  is now available in Hungur Magazine  Issue 11 which you can order here.  (Scroll down a bit - the various magazines available are in alphabetical order...)

Hungur Magazine is a biannual print magazine of vampire themed stories and poetry.  My work considers the legend of Lilith.
Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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