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Monday, February 28, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011


An Oubliette

She wore a smeary lipstick mouth
to the desert sand photo shoot,
dressed like a crow,
or a raven,
in skinny jeans and sunlight,
vulnerable to weakness,
desperate, slowly out of breath.

She went to forget,
like a feather
floating above the sand.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lamantations 5 (JOV - Joel Osteen Version)

All right, hold up your bible and say it like you mean it:

This is my bible.
I am what it says I am.
I have what it says I have.
I can do what it says I can do.
Today I will be taught the word of God.
I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive.
I will never be the same,
never, never, never.
I will never be the same. In Jesus' name.

Lamentations 5 (JOV - Joel Osteen Version)

1 - Remember O LORD, what all has happened to us,
            look and see our glory.
2 - Our inheritance has been given to us;
            we have large homes.
3 - We have become children of God,
            blessed with the riches of the kingdom.
4 - We have pure refreshing bottled water to drink,
            we have money to buy all that we need.
5 - There are none who would pursue us,
            we are comfortable and at rest.
6 - We look to no one to provide
            the bread we need.
7 - Our fathers may have thought negative thoughts
            but we are bold and confident.
8 - We have servants to care for us
            and their hands are busy to serve us.
9 - We get our bread freely
             we have plenty of resources.
10 - Our skin is clear,
            our hair is oiled.
11 - Women think we are handsome,
            young women are smitten.
12 - Presidents and CEOs call for our advice;
            leaders give us respect.
13 - Our young men have no need to toil;
            they are given a huge inheritance.
14 - The elders of the community seek our permission;
            the young men play our praise.
15 -  Joy is the word of our hearts;
            we dance and do not morn.
16 - We wear a crown of victory on our heads,
            wonderful we are.
17 - Because of this, our hearts are full,
            because of this, there is a glimmer in our eyes.
18 - For Lakewood is swelling
            and the seats are always full.
19 - You, O LORD, reign forever
            your throne endures from generation to generation
20 - You always bless us;
            you never forsake us.
21 - Continue to bless us, O LORD, that
           we may always be blessed;
            keep us young and vibrant
22 - because we are your favorites
            and you love us more than any other.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


And she approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him.

Lamentations: An Incomplete Theodicy

Sunday's sermon will come from the book of Lamentations.  I'm not yet sure what I'll be preaching, but I do have this that I wrote some time back.  A Theodicy is an attempt to explain the "problem of evil",  an attempt to answer that question "why?".  This series of poems based on the book of Lamentations is an incomplete theodicy. I believe that all theodicies are incomplete - even biblical ones.

Lamentations: An Incomplete Theodicy

Chapter One

How doth the City Sit Solitary
How doth the city sit solitary that once was full of people.
How she sits alone; widowed
in the stifling heat - like being in a car left in the sun
     in air one hundred and fourteen degrees,
     heat lying upon the skin and filling the lungs like sackcloth and ashes.
She weeps long into the night; her tears carving canyons of grief
     through the dirt and grime of her filthy face
     and there is no one to comfort her.

All my friends have abandoned me and betrayed me.
My lovers are gone, my children - dead.
How doth the city sit solitary that once was full of people.

When the war planes screamed overhead and the bombs fell
and the night was full of fire
(phosphorescent fire fell from the sky and ravaged her bones)
then the adversary spread out his groping hands upon all her pleasant things
copping a feel, plundering, raping, spreading her nakedness for all to see.
Soldiers in their camouflaged fatigues and heavy boots entered her and defiled her.

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by,
flipping past CNN and FOX news for more enjoyable info-tainment?
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto mine.

Chapter Two

The Bombs Exploded
Our enemies, they hiss and gnash their teeth,
for He has flung a dark shadow over the city.
He hurled a dark shadow upon all the population
and has brought their opened mouths down to gravel and dust.

He bent his bow in his anger
and flung a dark enemy over them.

Like a giant magnesium flare over the fairest of cities,
his bow like an enemy - without mercy the Lord has destroyed them,
They hiss and gnash their teeth.

The bombs have exploded, Lord! Lord!
Your tremendous anger flashed dangerous,
blue-white light and dark shadow over the city.

The explosion brought intense glare and heat and horror,
the explosion brought the rumbling sound
of uncontrolled terror to the heights of heaven.

O God, think about this.

A Burning of My Bones
I am the ash-heap of memory,
scraping infected boils with potsherds
and I can believe that this is
the "no-place" utopia of nowhere.

The brutal assault of daily invasion
and routine inhumanity continued
while the evil-doers,
the authors of nowhere and nothing
trampled me underfoot into the ash-heap of history.

Afflicted in every way, pressed down and crushed,
persecuted, struck down, and struck mute,
hemmed in on every side,
Violence and terror on every side!

Great is thy faithfulness,
great is thy faithfulness,
Lord, but
Great is thy terror!
Violence and terror on every side!
I know your hands of peace, your arms of love
but the hands of love sometimes pull down,
uproot and destroy.

I shall not live until I see God
and when I have seen him I shall never die
But why is he perpetuating the horrors
that pummel me, trample me?
I am caught in the snares of the Lord of Terror.

O God, you liar, you deceived me, you enticed me.
O God, you strong-armed bully, you knocked me to the ground
and beat me to a bloody pulp,
O God, you duped me, thrashed me, raped me.

But it becomes a fire in my heart, burning in my bones
and I can't be silent.

Chapter Three

Who beat me senseless?
Who kicked me repeatedly in the head and gut?
Who, with steel-toed boots, kicked me in the rectum till I bled?
Who with razors slashed at my face
     causing these "defensive wounds" on my hands and wrists?
Who tore out my hair - pulling away bloody pieces of scalp?
Who imprisoned me; chained  and shackled me, and threw me in the hole?
Who broke my ribs and punctured my lungs?
Who fed me poison till I puked up blood and bile?
Who duct-taped my mouth when I tried to scream for help?

He did.

And like the battered wife I crawled back to him.
I deserved it. It was my fault.
How can I complain about the punishment of my sins?

Three Days
For three days I was trapped under the rubble
when the walls of my home collapsed
under the enemy's bombardment.
Three days in the dark - I thought I'd gone blind.
Three days without food - without water
I drank my own piss to stay alive.

I cried out but no one could hear
I prayed but he would not hear
or, if he heard, he did not care
or, if he did care... I don't know

For three days I lay trapped beneath the rubble,
concrete shards pinned me to the ground as neatly
as a butterfly on display.  My organs were crushed.
My body was twisted, contorted, my face in the dirt,
my legs splayed out in an unnatural direction.
I thought I was dead - buried,
stones rolled over top of me and sealed in the pit.

I cried out but no one could hear

I prayed but he would not hear
or, if he heard, he did not care
or, if he did care... I don't know

Great is Thy Faithfulness
I am disheartened
my words have come to an end.

I think of my LORD,
let him give this human element
some portion of that balm of Gilead.

I wait for God to speak
I wait quietly to hear what he will say,
to heal is Thy faithfulness.

I fear I'll feel his mercies never again.

Chapter Four

A Fugitive Arrives with the News
(FADE IN FROM STATIC)... those killed in the chaos of the initial bombings were, perhaps, better off than those who survived only to starve to death now that the city has been completely cut off.  No supplies of any kind have entered the city for nearly a month.  Food is gone. Water is scarce and the corpses are everywhere.

There are reports coming in of mothers who have actually eaten their own children. The devastation here is nearly indescribable.  Horror like this is inconceivable and yet... (FADE TO STATIC)

But now the anger of the Lord is satisfied
O God! Please say the fury is spent.
We can't go on like this
our resistance is broken
as is our will.

We are obliterated
O, God, please say "no more."

Chapter Five

In the face of a rocky hill on the western side of the city sits Jeremiah
in the shadowy smoke-darkened twilight.
he has nothing left to say to us; he will speak no more.
He came to us before, but we would not listen.

In the face of a rocky hill beyond the smoldering ruins
we gather for silence;
joy has vanished from our hearts.

Remember Us
We are the orphaned and fatherless;
our mothers are widowed and lost.
We are the children of death,
the progeny of disease.

We are slaves.
We are victims.
We are murdered in the streets.

Our sisters and daughters are raped
Our sons and brothers are sodomized

Our hearts are sick.
Is it enough, O Lord, that you remain the same forever?
Restore us, or have you rejected us?
Remember us.

Remember what has come upon us.
Remember what has come upon us.
Remember what has come upon us.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Acrylic paint on wallpaper

The title comes from the WWI poem by Wilfred Owen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Frilled Lizard

Frill-Necked Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii)

painted (acrylic) and carved on a wood panel.

I started work on this little dragon about 4 years ago, but didn't finish.  I don't remember why I set him aside, but I'm glad I saved him.  I found him buried in a pile of old work and decided to finish bringing him to life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Coming Soon - Northwoods TV 2011

If you've been spending your winter months in some balmy tropical paradise you might not have noticed that this winter has been a long one.  I've had enough wind and snow and ice and freezing rain.  I'm ready for summer.  I'm ready for camp.  I'm ready for music camp and Northwoods TV.

Coming Soon: Northwoods TV 2011

Northwoods TV 20100 Intro Source Material
Pretty voice humming

Starcrash (1979) trailer
Space 1999 trailer
Raiders of the Galaxy
Mindwarp (1981) trailer
Message from Space (1978) trailer
Highlights 1965 NASA
Forbidden Planet trailer
and a couple of VJ Loops

You can also check out previous years Northwoods TV episodes

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Only One Way Out

Sweet the sin, bitter the taste in my mouth.
I see seven towers, but I only see one way out.
You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice.
You know I took the poison, from the poison stream
Then I floated out of here, singing
Ah la la la de day
Ah la la la de day.

-Running to a Stand Still- U2

Friday, February 18, 2011

Destined for More

I Will Seduce You

Because God is beyond our understanding, because we can’t fully know God as he is, because he transcends everything we know or can know (that we describe God as “he” or “him” is itself, evidence of our limitation), we are given a variety of pictures of our relationship with God, Metaphors to help us in our limitation. To illuminate what might otherwise remain a dark and impenetrable cloud of mystery the scriptures provide us with a number of illustrations to describe the way God interacts with us.

One of those metaphors -that of a husband and a wife – is especially illustrated in the life and preaching of the prophet Hosea.

Hosea lived and preached during a time of economic prosperity. King Jeroboam II had enlarged the territories of the northern kingdom – Israel – almost back to the size of the kingdom during the glory days of the illustrious King Solomon.

But it was also a time of turmoil and distress and political danger. During the time that Hosea acted as a prophet there were six kings that followed Jeroboam II - of those kings, four were assassinated and one was captured in battle. There were six kings in 25 years. Now, that might not seem so strange to us; we are used to replacing a president every four years, but in a culture where a king was expected to rule for life and to be succeeded by his son this rapid succession of kings would have seemed like almost perpetual chaos.

Externally, the nation of Israel was threatened on both sides by the two “super-power” nations of that day: Assyria to the North and East and Egypt to the South and West. In order to stave off invasion by these powerful and aggressive nations, the kings of Israel made treaties with one and then the other. Ultimately these efforts were futile. Assyria invaded, the capital city of Samaria was captured, and the people were sent into exile – just as the prophet Hosea warned.

Hosea warned the people of Israel that they would be destroyed as a nation and scattered as a people because of their sins. He warned them that the nation of Israel would cease to be.

God came to the prophet and told him to take a wife. This was not an extraordinary command. It was normal for men to be married. It was an oddity that God came to the prophet Jeremiah and told him not to marry. But even still, Hosea’s command to marry was beyond the norm: he was instructed to marry a “promiscuous woman” or an “adulterous woman.” Some translations are more direct: “Go, marry a whore.”

It’s somewhat unclear whether the woman was promiscuous before their marriage or only after – but either way Hosea knew he was in for a heartbreaking relationship. The command to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him wasn’t just the arbitrary command of a capricious deity or a test to prove Hosea’s faithfulness – the marriage relationship was to be a metaphor – a living picture of God’s relationship with Israel. "Go; take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim.

This marriage between the prophet and the promiscuous woman was to become one of those illustrative metaphors. There are, of course, other ways that our relationship to God is described in the scriptures. Sometimes the relationship is described in terms of a shepherd and his sheep, or a judge and a defendant. Sometimes the relationship is that of a king and a vassal or a master and a slave or a father and a son.

These various examples show us that we are involved in intimate and meaningful relationship with God –not just an abstract contemplation of an unknowable transcendent deity. But one thing to note is that each of these metaphors also describes a relation of un-equals. The shepherd leads the sheep- not the other way round. The judge decides the fate of the defendant. And in culture of Hosea’s day, the husband was the superior to his wife. (Even though we might resist such a relation today, we have to remember to read scripture as the original audience would have read it…)

The prophets were not content to merely make esoteric and intellectual arguments against sin and the breach of covenant. Instead they used vivid imagery that reflected their intense passion. Gomer and Hosea became a living picture of the living God. Their stormy relationship served to illustrate the relationship of the people of Israel to their God. In the real life of a man and a woman and their children the word of Yahweh became human and historical. In the story of Hosea, Gomer, and their children the word of God became incarnate (an idea made even more significant when one realizes that Hosea is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek name, Jesus).

Hosea and Gomer had three children whose lives and names also became part of the description of God’s relation to the people of Israel. The first child was a son. God told Hosea to name him Jezreel – which means, “God sows” – a seemingly pleasant name conjuring up ideas of fruit and grain and harvest and plenty. But God gives a different interpretation for the name. He told Hosea that the name refers back to the Valley of Jezreel and the slaughter which occurred there during the rule of King Jehu.

This would be somewhat akin to a preacher today naming his son “Trail-of-tears” in reference to the forced exodus of Cherokee in 1838 and 1839 from their southeastern homeland to the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma wherein about 4000 died from starvation, disease, and exposure while on the journey westward or in stockades awaiting removal.

The next child was a daughter, and again God gave Hosea the name: Lo-Ruhama – which means “Un-Loved” or more specifically, “Un-Pitied.” This wasn’t just a passive lack of love but an active expulsion from a relation of love.

The third and final child was Lo-Ammi – which means “Not My People” (which might reflect his wife’s promiscuity.) God said, “I am not Yahweh to you,” or as another translation says, “I do not exist for you.”

How terrible! What sad names to give his children. Can you imagine a father giving his children these kind of names today- a son named after a cruel and tragic event in the nations history, a daughter named, “Unloved,” and another son named, “Not Mine”?

But these children weren’t just ordinary children; they were part of that living metaphor. The children – along with Hosea and Gomer – describe God’s relation with the people of Israel. Each of the children’s names describes the deteriorating relation between Israel and her father God.

In the second chapter of Hosea, the prophet gives a message to the people of Israel. But this is not your ordinary dignified Sunday morning kind of sermon. No. It’s more of a rant, a tirade. His speech is not a cool and logical argument or a rational presentation of facts. It is highly charged and emotional and, at times, it is a nearly irrational rant at his wife, Gomer.

Hosea’s begins his diatribe by addressing his children first:

“Say of your brothers, 'My people,'
and of your sisters, 'My loved one.'

“Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband.”
     Hosea 2:1-2

This may or may not be a formal divorce – but the language is certainly that of a legal setting. The New Jerusalem Bible says, “To court! Take your mother to court!” If, in this statement, Hosea hasn’t formally divorced his wife, he has at least made it public knowledge that the marriage is not working.

Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
Otherwise I will strip her naked
and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
turn her into a parched land,
and slay her with thirst.

I will not show my love to her children,
because they are the children of adultery.

Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, 'I will go after my lovers,
who give me my food and my water, my wool and
my linen, my oil and my drink.'

Therefore I will block her path with thorn-bushes;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.

She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
'I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.'

She has not acknowledged that I was the one
who gave her the grain, the new wine, and oil,
who lavished on her the silver and gold--
which they used for Baal.

"Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens,
and my new wine when it is ready.
I will take back my wool and my linen,
intended to cover her nakedness.

So now I will expose her lewdness
before the eyes of her lovers;
no one will take her out of my hands.

I will stop all her celebrations:
her yearly festivals, her New Moons,
her Sabbath days--all her appointed feasts.

I will ruin her vines and her fig trees,
which she said were her pay from her lovers;
I will make them a thicket,
and wild animals will devour them.

I will punish her for the days
she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings
and jewelry, and went after her lovers,
but me she forgot,"

declares the LORD.
     Hosea 2:1-13

Hosea’s rant is a vivid expression of the emotional distress that he is suffering. He has been grievously wounded by his wife and we can hear that pain in this passionate outburst. But this isn’t just Hosea’s speech. At times God’s voice overpowers Hosea’s and we hear the impassioned plea of a wounded God. God is the victim. God suffers. Some theologians speak about the impassability of God – the idea that God doesn’t have changeable emotions - but the prophet Hosea shows us a God that grieves and suffers in his relationships.

Edith Hamilton observed: “When love meets no return the result is suffering and the greater the love the greater the suffering. There can be no greater suffering than to love purely and perfectly one who is bent upon evil and self-destruction. That was what God endured at the hands of men”  1

The metaphoric marriage relationship between Yahweh and his people describes the monotheistic standard that God demanded; for, while a man could have multiple wives, a woman could have only one husband and she belonged exclusively to her husband. Yahweh expected exclusive devotion; worship of other Gods was intolerable. Yahweh is also an avenging husband. And sometimes the punishment seems –to us- exceedingly cruel. And it maybe it was, but that was the price of living in covenantal intimacy with the Living God.

Adultery, in this marital metaphor, describes the idolatry practiced by the Israelites. The wife, Israel, is condemned for her adulterous pursuit of her other lovers, the Baals. In Canaanite mythology, Baal was the god of storms and was thought to be responsible for the life-sustaining rains. Part of the worship of Baal involved the reenactment of Baal’s marriage to his lover, Anat, and included their sexual intercourse. During this cultic reenactment “Canaanite men, from the king on down, had ritual sex with the cultic prostitutes in order to ensure the fertility of the land….Some critics even suggest that Hosea’s wife, Gomer, like other Israelite women (4:14), was a cultic prostitute.”  2

Just as adultery is a violation of the marriage promise between a husband and a wife – idolatry was a violation of the covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites. But Yahweh is not only the wounded and jealous and avenging husband, he is also the devoted and ever-loving husband.

"Therefore I am now going to seduce her,
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her.

There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

"In that day," declares the LORD,
"you will call me 'my husband';
you will no longer call me 'my master.'

I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.

In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field
and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.

"In that day I will respond,"
declares the LORD--
"I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;

and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.

I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one.'
I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people';
and they will say, 'You are my God.’ "
     Hosea 2:14 - 23

After chastising his wife, and threatening her with abuse and shame and even threatening to kill her Hosea/God speaks tenderly to his wife’s heart.

But it was inconceivable that Hosea would reunite with Gomer. According to the standards of the law this relationship could not be restored. The death penalty was demanded for adulterers: “If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.” Deuteronomy 22:22

It was against the law to re-unite with an adulteress: “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Hosea had divorced Gomer, put her away. According to the law, she was now dead to him. There could be nothing more between them.But, because God wasn’t done with his people the relationship would be resurrected. God told him once again. “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the LORD loves the people of Israel.” The relationship that once described death and rejection now become pictures of a resurrected relationship.

And not only is the relationship between Hosea and Gomer restored, the children are as well. They are given new names

Jezreel – formerly a name of blood and slaughter becomes, “I will sow,” a name of harvest and fruitfulness.

Lo-Ruhamah – formerly “Not Pitied” becomes “I will have pity.”

Lo-Ammi – formerly “Not My People” becomes “You will be my people again….”

There is restoration and resurrection – but it comes only after only after the death of the relationship. The same is true of the Israelite people. There would be a restoration and a resurrection – but only after the death of exile.

The book of Hosea is less about Gomer (Israel) than Hosea (God). It is a description firstly of how God interacts with his people – a fact that can easily be lost in such a dangerous metaphor. And it is a dangerous metaphor. It’s easy for us in the 21st century to become titillated or repulsed by sordid details of Gomer and Hosea’s relationship. It’s also easy to be distracted by the violence of this metaphor. Does the abuse that Hosea / God heaps on Gomer / Israel somehow justify marital abuse today? No. I don’t think any of us would argue that. But the violence is there in the story. We can’t get around it. It’s more than a little disturbing to think of God as a “wife-beater” and it should be.

The metaphor isn’t about the sordid details of her adulterous affairs, neither is it about the violence and abuse of an enraged husband. The metaphor is about the restoration and resurrection of fractured and broken relationship.

It’s about the ever-faithful husband that says to his willful and rebellious bride
“I will seduce you.
I will speak intimately with you.
I will restore you in love.”

Edith Hamilton - The Prophets of Israel, 1936
New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 7 pg. 202-3

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reptile Show

The Lizard Men are coming!
Their heralds shout to us
from striped tents at the fair.
Prepare ye the forked tongue way.
Make ready a warm flat stone.
The Lizard Men are coming!
They are coming...

Preaching Mark’s Unsettling Messiah – Book Review

Of the four canonical gospels Mark is probably my favorite 1. I say probably because I find it difficult to choose favorites. If you ask about my favorite food, book, movie, song etc… I will hesitate and hedge my answer because if I have to choose just one as my absolute favorite I’m reluctant to push aside all the others.

But of the gospels, Mark probably is my favorite. I love John’s poetic and philosophic and even mystical approach to the gospel. I love Luke’s investigative reporter style. I love the attention Matthew gives to the prophetic echoes in the gospel. But Mark – Mark confounds me, and that, I think, is why I like it so much.

Mark’s gospel is relatively simple. His vocabulary isn’t overwhelming. His writing style is rather like Ernest Hemmingway’s, filled with lots of short declarative sentences. He went there. He did this. They said something to him. He answered them. They went away… Mark’s gospel is brief, too. You could read it straight through in an hour or two. But for all that brevity and simplicity, Mark’s gospel is confounding too.

As many have pointed out, the ending – the most likely original ending – of Mark’s gospel is (seemingly) incomplete. The women go to the tomb early that Sunday morning, they find it empty, an otherworldly man tells them that Jesus has gone on ahead and that he’ll meet them in Galilee, and then the women go away and say nothing because they were afraid. That is not the ending we expect or want for this gospel story. But that’s what Mark gives us. Confounding.

And all through Mark’s gospel those who we might expect to see and to understand what’s going on are the ones who don’t comprehend at all. Jesus’ family, his hometown, his disciples – they don’t get it. They are blind and dense and thick headed. Confounding.

I’ve just finished reading Preaching Mark’s Unsettling Messiah – a collection of essays and sermons edited by David Fleer and Dave Bland. The essays contained in the first half of the book are “how-to” essays. How do approach scripture as we preach, and more specifically, how do we approach Mark’s gospel. How does the gospel’s prologue set up the rest of the story? What does the abrupt and (seemingly) incomplete ending mean? There are essays by Fred Craddock – whose methods and style have influenced my own style – and Morna Hooker – who has a book that I now want to read, about the endings of Old Testament books and how the endings invite us to continue the story 2… (I know I’m a nerd, always finding new things to learn.). There’s also a really interesting essay that wonders what it would be like if Mark the gospel writer were able to watch Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ.

The second half of the book is a collection of sermons that demonstrate the “how-to” that were described in the first half. Now, I have sometimes been told that I am a good preacher. And even though you know, and I know, that that is just what you’re supposed to say to the preacher as you leave the chapel, I have, on occasion, allowed myself to believe that maybe they meant it.

But when I read some of the sermons contained in this little volume, I realized what a truly good sermon could be. Wow. Mark Frost’s sermon “A Window into the Kingdom” based on Mark 2: 13 – 17 nearly brought me to tears and “Amen” shouting even though I was reading it as I ate dinner in a crowded IHOP. And I'm not nearly that demonstrative.

And I don’t mean "good" just in the sense that it is clever and well written and styled – though it certainly is. I mean it was good in that it is moving. It made me want more, and want to be more. It made be want to be a better person and a better preacher.

Preaching Mark’s Unsettling Messiah
ed. David Fleer, Dave Bland
Chalice Press
St. Louis, Missouri, 2006

1  -Of the non-canonical gospels, my favorite is Pseudo-Matthew for the story of the infant Christ and the dragon.
2  -Endings: Invitations to Discipleship - Morna Hooker, 2003

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Day - bah humbug!

Valentines day is, of course, a phony holiday - perpetuated in order to commercialize and exploit sentimental emotions.  However....

I do love my wife and this is something I wrote for her a while back. 
Happy Valentines Day, I guess..

She is Breath of God

She Turns Him On
Because she is more beautiful than the sun
and excels ever constellation of the stars
I love her more than day or night
and choose her over light.

Because she is worth more than gold
and is more precious than diamonds bright
I treasure her and all
the wealth she brings to life.

For in her there is a spirit that is
Intelligent and holy
Unique and subtle
She is breath of God.

She rises up like the dawn
clothed in splendid rays of light
and with gentle touches she lengthens the day.

In the evening, the moon reflects
not the light of the sun
but her silver light.

For in her is a beauty that is
Natural and pure

She is breath of God.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Fire Burning in My Bones - Not A Good Sermon

"It won't be a good sermon," I warned them before I began.  "A good sermon, preachers are sometimes taught, will have a memorable formula - an alliterated three point outline that will be easily remembered, for example: the Power, the Purpose and the Plan....

Or a good sermon will follow a narrative arc.  People like stories and a good sermon is like a good story.  We have a beginning wherein we meet a compelling character, a middle wherein the protagonist's life is complicated by struggle and then we have a glorious ending that swoops upwards toward victory and confidence and joy.

But what I had to preach today wasn't a "good" sermon. Jeremiah chapter 20 doesn't lend itself to good sermons.

The prophet Jeremiah lived in precarious times.  The once great and powerful Assyrian empire (the constant and foreboding threat found in the prophet Isaiah's writing) had waned and was crumbling.  And with that, the little nation of Judah began to flex its aspirations for independence.  But there was another force on the rise.  The Babylonian empire was becoming more and more powerful.  Some within the nation of Judah recommended that they should ally themselves with the nation of Egypt as a hedge against the waning Assyrians and the waxing Babylonians.  Some said they should keep as they were with their heads down.

But the prophet Jeremiah crossed them all with his message.  It doesn't matter.  None of that will be of any use, because Yahweh God has already decided to bring judgement on this nation for it's idolatry and violence.  The only way out of our predicament, Jeremiah said, is repentance... but I know and God knows that you won't so your doom is imminent.

This was not a message that won him many friends.
But it was the message that he was called to deliver.

Even before he was born, while he was still being knitted together in his mother's womb, before he had any sense of self or identity, God had marked Jeremiah for this role.  And when Jeremiah tried to object, "I'm only a boy, I can't do that."  God refused to hear Jeremiah's demure.  "Don't say, 'I'm only a boy' !"  You'll go where I send you and you'll say what I have for you to say, and I'll be with you. (Jeremiah chapter 1)

He would speak God's message to the people.  He would tell them of the coming wrath of God.  And he did.  And for this he was despised and arrested and beaten and thrown in jail and put in stocks and mocked and abandoned....

Chapter 20 verse 7  - 18 is part of what is sometimes called "the confessions of Jeremiah." These are passages within the book that are not part of God's message to the people, but rather Jeremiah's very personal and very intimate responses to God.  And they are not easy.  They don't make for "good" sermons.

You seduced me, Yahweh, and I was seduced.

Seduced, tricked, persuaded... the many translations use various words to try and capture the slippery meaning of this phrase in Hebrew.  It contains all of those ideas.  But what can we say - that God tricked him, fooled him, duped, - or what may be worse, God seduced him?  And then to put that against the next phrase - You overpowered me, you were the stronger.

Dare we say it?  God raped the prophet's will? 

Jeremiah's bitter complaint is that God not been fair.  God came to him when he was a young and naive and inexperienced boy and -forced- him into this life.  "You came to me when I knew nothing and you told me to be your prophet, but you didn't tell me what it would be like.  You didn't prepare me for this.  You didn't give me a choice..."

And now my life is a joke.  I speak your words and everyone hates me.  My enemies plot against me and those who were my friends avoid me or turn against me. And it's your fault, God.

Jeremiah says that he would, if he could, just quit.  I would leave it all behind. I would not mention your name and I would not speak in your name ever again ...

... except that when I tried to quit it was like a fire in my bones, burning me from the inside.  I could not stay silent.  I was damned by the people if I spoke and I was damned by God if  I was silent.

Then there is a turning point.  And here is where the text follows a nice narrative arc.  We've followed the prophet down into dark despair and now we're ready to hear a word of comfort - a word of the gospel, the good news.  And the prophet says, "But Yahweh is with me like a mighty hero." 

Jeremiah celebrates the presence of God in his life, and the protection and vindication that God brings to his faithful servant.  His enemies will be judged and Jeremiah will be rewarded.  "Sing to Yahweh.  Praise Yahweh.  for he has rescued this needy one from the hand of the oppressor."

And if this were a "good" sermon, this is where it would end.  I could deliver a nice and tidy word from God: when you're facing trouble and dark times, be confident because God will rescue and God will reward the faithful....

But the prophet won't let me end there.  I really wish that he would have stopped there. I could feel comfortable with that sermon.  We go through tough times, despair and loneliness come... but have faith, rescue is around the corner, blah, blah, blah...  But Jeremiah didn't conclude the matter like that.

Instead he turns again sends the whole thing crashing back down into the dark depths of despair - sinking even lower than before. He curses his entire existence from the day he was born to the present moment. And though he doesn't curse his mother or his father or God (for that would have been a capital offense) he comes awfully close. And this, I think, is some of the darkest language in the bible. 

Cursed be the day on which I was born
the day my mother bore me, let it not be blessed.

Cursed be the man who brought the 'good news' to my father...
let him be like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
forced to listen to the screams and cries of the people

why couldn't I have just died in the womb
why couldn't my mother's womb have been my grave?

From the womb on my life has been sorrow and shame.

How do make a "good" sermon from that?  Maybe there is no good sermon here.
But I am glad that this passage - as ugly and as dark as it is - I'm glad,  grateful even, that this passage is included in our scriptures.

I remember being 13 or 14 and we had just moved - again.  I was in a new town with few friends and I felt alone and abandoned.  My parents were busy with the things of the church - and I knew that we were there because they were answering God's call for their lives - but that was no comfort to me. 

I remember being out one autumn afternoon, delivering the papers on my paper route. It was a bright and sunny afternoon.  The sky was bright blue and the air was crisp.  And I stopped in the sidewalk and looked up into the sky and I said, out loud, "God, I believe you're there, but stay the hell out of my life."

I don't know what I expected to happen.  Maybe I thought there would be a flash of lighting or an earthquake or something. But no.  I went on and finished my route and went home and nothing changed.

And that's what comforts me.  Nothing changed. 

God didn't hear that blasphemous boy and deliver a lightning bolt from the sky to smite him.  God didn't throw me out.  He didn't cut me off.  No.  He allowed me to be angry - even allowed me to be angry with God, and he still loved me.

God heard Jeremiah's confession - heard the prophet's bitter complaint, that borderline blasphemy and did not count it as a sin. We can be angry with God and it can be okay.

The other comfort (small comfort) I find in this difficult passage is that the life of faith isn't going to be all wine and roses; the word of God isn't going to always be honey on our lips. 

I know.  That doesn't really sound like comfort, does it?  But it is.  At least to me.   

Because to hear some preachers, you'd think that the life of faith is going to be nothing but sweetness and light.  That if we have been saved and if we have faith then we're going to have long and happy and healthy lives and we're going to be loved and respected and our children will be wonderful. We'll have great jobs and plenty of money, and we'll live our lives in sunshine and bliss.

but you and I know that that's a fairy tale.  It's just not true.  We're not promised a life of easy comfort.  In fact, it seems that most of the biblical examples demonstrate that the life of faith is a life of pressure and danger and struggle.  But there is reward in the struggle and there is victory.

Again, I know that doesn't sound like comfort.  And maybe it's not.
I told you this wasn't a good sermon.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dr. Who

A few days ago my friend Paul suggested that the Dr. Who theme would make for an interesting praise and worship song.  So I sat down with my computer and my keyboard and with my 9 year old son and we hammered out our own musical arrangement of the theme.  We haven't yet added any singable lyrics, but we're working on it.


here is our music with a little video flair. 

this little project used a couple of sounds from the Freesound Project:
Synth Recording
Satellite Dish

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Knock! Knock!

Astro-Zombies Do Not Ask Questions

They are mechanical men in orbit around the sun
with plastic skin and synthetic lungs,
their cellular decomposition reversed pharmaceutically,
their rapid hair loss inhibited by
long term exposure to invisible rays,

Mechanical men, unaffected by preening pop divas
or the harsh wind of violent solar flares,
piloting their silver craft across the silence of space,
readied for action by abacus men
using government issued slide rules.

Astro-Zombies do not ask questions.
Astro-Zombies do not die.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Without Medical Attention

Without medical attention this man might not live through the night...

Anyone want to guess what movie I was watching as I painted this?

Not that the picture has anything to do with the movie that was on at the time....

Monday, February 7, 2011

Against False Prophets

"This is they way to your divine prosperity,"
announces the idiot preacher on the television screen
in his practiced sermon voice.
The self-proclaimed prophet of profit
mops his sweaty face with a monogrammed handkerchief.
Then, without warning,
he begins to speak in tongues - glossolalia on command.
"Sav lasav, sav lasav,
kav lakav, kav lakav,
zeer sham, zeer sham."

He is a filthy feast.
He is a table covered with vomit and bile.

(Isaiah 28:7 - 13)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Overwhelmed with Trouble

When I Remember Reagan

Today, Sunday February 6th, is - or would be - Former President Ronald Wilson Reagan's 100th birthday.
To recognize this (I shy away from "celebrate") here is a painting and a poem - both with the same title.

When I Remember Reagan

When I remember Reagan it’s not with
hushed voice and sober gratitude, though
to be clear, I harbor no animosity towards
his memory; let him sleep in peace if he can.
When I remember Reagan I think of the
evil Soviet empire always lurking around the
corner, ready to launch a surprise nuclear attack.
When I remember Reagan, I remember
(and say this hissing through your teeth)
the Russians!

(click the picture to see it enlarged.)

Nimrod 3

"Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power.


Saturday, February 5, 2011


I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind --of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.

-from "Dagon" by
H.P. Lovecraft

Friday, February 4, 2011

For the Birds...

My brother, Brad, has posted on his blog a video he made recently concerning Birds

I made the music in the video.  Actually, I put it together for a different video that he was working on, but he decided not to use it for that particular project.  I'm glad to see it used in this new one.

As usual, I used a few sounds from the Freesound Project.
Individ track 3-2
Individ track 1 -2
You can listen to and download the song here

There are other birds of mine here and here and here.

Ex Nihilo

and surrounded
at the center of the universe,
positioned along the intersection
of space and time
where all is all.

Now bounded by silence and song
we are transformed
by energy into spirit
and by the spirit into creatures of unimagined glory,
travelling cosmic rays,
faster than light,
into the iris of God.

Let there be light,
and the singularity explodes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You Seduced Me, and I Let Myself Be Seduced

We've recently started preaching from the book of Jeremiah.  This is a poem I wrote some time ago - based, in part, on Jeremiah 20

You Seduced Me, and I Let Myself Be Seduced

I remember an angry and lonely boy
disappointed by his father who was too busy with the
needs of the congregation to understand
his son’s growing disaffection.
He respected his father’s work but hated the God who called him away.

“I believe you exist,” he said to that God, “but stay the hell out of my life.”
And he waited for the sky to fall or lightning to strike,
something to show that God was listening after all.
The boy was confused by God’s continued silence;
surely this blasphemy should have provoked God to notice him.

     Heal me, Go, and I’ll be healed
     save me and I’ll be saved
     crush me and I’ll be crushed
     lift me up and I’ll live
     just do something so I can know.

     Where is the miraculous?
     Where are the ravens to bring me bread?
     Where is the burning bush, the pillar of smoke?
     Where is the angel to stop the lion’s mouth for me?

And now some years later that angry lonely boy
has become a lot like his father, though he’s trying to not be too busy
with the needs of the congregation to notice the
special concerns of his own son.
He’s picked up his father’s work for the Father of us all.

“This life isn’t what I wanted” he sometimes says to God, “it wasn’t my idea.”
He feels surrounded by people who won’t listen;
dropped among jackals, and told to “feed my sheep.”
The word of God is not all honey in the mouth;
maybe this blasphemy will provoke God to notice him.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Unexpected

Tombs of the Blind Dead

“The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.”  — Umberto Eco Foucault's Pendulum

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon – more commonly known as the Knights Templar – are great fun. Their connection to legends and ancient mysteries allow them to be brought into any story. They’re an all purpose sect of villains (or heroes, depending on your viewpoint, but usually villains). Do you need a mysterious and esoteric force? Summon the Templars! It worked for Umberto Eco. It worked for Dan Brown. It worked for Raymond Khoury. It even worked for Sir Walter Scott.

And it worked for Spanish film director Amando de Ossorio.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is a 1971 Spanish Horror film written and directed by Ossorio. (The Spanish title is La Noche del Terror Ciego, which means The Night of the Blind Terror) in which the zombie-like revenants of Templar Knights continue to live by feasting on the blood and flesh of their victims. They are blind as the result of their eyes being pecked out of their corpses by ravens and crows after thier deaths.  These blind revants hunt their victims by sound.

The film (first in a series of four in the Blind Dead series) is slow and creepy. It works by a gradual build up of terror. It creeps up on you, quite literally.  I liked this movie. But what really struck me was the irony.

The first victim of the film is a lone female backpacker who seeks shelter in the ruins of an abandoned village. The blind Knights (looking very much like Peter Jackson’s Ring Wraiths) descend upon her and leave her corpse masticated and bloodless.

After the first Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099 many Christian pilgrims began traveling east to visit the so-called Holy Land. And although the city of Jerusalem was under Christian control, much of the land was not. Bandits and thieves abounded and killed and robbed pilgrims –sometimes by the hundreds- as they made their way towards Jerusalem. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon were created as a monastic order of knights to protect these travelers.

But we rarely think of them in that capacity. They’ve become legendary for their military prowess, their acquisition of great wealth and power, and their connection to ancient and mysterious legends and artifacts like the Holy Grail and the Shroud of Turin – not for their protection of travelers.

And so watching these blind knights devour a helpless traveler affirms that very legend. They sought eternal life through strange blood sacrifices and they are doomed (according to the movie) to just that- an eternity sustained by blood.

The movie is violent and gruesome and does contain a bit of nudity so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also handicapped by a bit of stiff acting and a few “hunh?” moments. But it works well as an atmospheric creepshow.

Strange Note: Some distributors in the U.S. re-cut and released the movie with the title "Revenge from Planet Ape" in an effort to capitalize on the success of the Planet of the Apes (1968). A prologue was added in this cut version to make a dubious connection between the two films. The prologue explained that 3000 years ago a simian civilization of super intelligent apes struggled with man to gain control of the planet. In the end man conquered ape after a brutal battle. Afterwards the men tortured and killed the ape prisoners by piercing their eyes with red hot skewers. One of the prisoners vowed they would return from the dead to avenge man's brutality.
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