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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Noctuidae Hypeninae

Noctuidae Hypeninae from jeff carter on Vimeo.

Noctuidae Hypeninae

You whisper into my room
on moon dusted wings,
and drink from the corners of my eyes.

I used two sounds from the Freesound Project:
Real Virus 10 - Resonance - C6
Real Virus 10 - Resonance - C4

The Noctuidae Hypeninae family of moths includes a number of species that live soley on tears.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saturday Night, Jamestown North Dakota

Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison remembered here, tonight,
on the Knights of Columbus stage.  It’s been awhile, but
inebriated seniors belt out fragmentary lyrics.
How much do they remember about teen-agers in love?

I move quickly to stack chairs along the wall
so that grandma won’t break her hip as she sock-hops
with grandpa and those cureless summertime blues.

The band takes requests, but not Little Richard
                        (goodness gracious you can’t be serious!)
instead it’s 1-2-3 o’clock rock, at least until
11:30 when the band says, “we love ya’.  Goodnight.”

It Was the End of the Ice Age

It was the end of the ice age; the glaciers were melting.  In the air, the smell of flowers.  The great woolly mammoths with their thick woolen coats roamed further and further in search of cooler climes and clown fish.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Different Versions of the Same Story - A Review of Chapter Seven of Love Wins

French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his play No Exit that “hell is other people.”  (l'enfer, c'est les autres)  And sometimes I think he was right.  Other people limit my freedoms, and my choices. Other people force themselves upon me with their demands for my attention and my concern.  Other people demand my time and my energy.  They take and take and take.  They drain me. They devour.  They consume me.

But I’m also convinced that heaven is other people.  They share with me.  They give gifts. They tell jokes and make me laugh.  They comfort and console. They help. 

I don’t remember where I read it first (and a brief search of the internets hasn’t helped me to discover the original source…) but there is a story of a man (or a woman) who was given a glimpse of hell.  She (or he) saw people seated at a long table for a feast.  Foods of every variety were laid out for them, roasted meats, hot warm breads with melting butter, succulent fruits, and deserts to die for.  “How is this hell?” he (or she) wondered.  Then she (or he) realized that the people gathered for this feast had no elbows.  They could not, no matter how they bent themselves or twisted or stretched, put that sumptuous food into their mouths.  They were tortured by the unattainable feast in front of them.

This person then saw a corresponding vision of heaven – again there was the gorgeous feast and again, the people had no elbows.  “How is this heaven?” the observer wondered. “This looks a lot like hell.”  But then he (or she) watched as the people gathered for that feast used their elbow-less arms to feed each other.

Heaven is other people.

In chapter seven, the penultimate chapter, of his newest book, Love Wins, Rob Bell reminds us of the story of the prodigal son – or, rather, he reminds us of the stories (plural) within that parable.  There is the story that the younger son believes of himself and his father, and there is the story that the father tells his returning son.  There is the story that the older brother believes and the story that father tries to tell him.   They are different versions of the same story.

Hell is other people.  Heaven is other people.
Hell is a feast without elbows. Heaven is a feast without elbows.
Hell is older brother who won’t join the party.  Heaven is the younger brother who can’t believe he receives a party.

Different versions of the same story and, according to Bell, “Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story. (Love Wins, pg. 170)”

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I took these photos in the woods at Northwoods camp. 

I still maintain that all mushrooms are edible...once.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


(I've removed the image.  Apparently I've maxed out my upload limit...)

Friday, July 22, 2011

We're All Seeking the Same Savior - A Review of Chapter 6 of Love Wins

We're all seeking the same Saviour,
We're all seeking the self-same Lord.
We're all claiming the same cleansing,
We're all finding our peace restored.
General John Gowans

I can understand why this chapter – chapter six of Rob Bell’s Love Wins - might upset some people If someone were to read this chapter without careful attention to what he is actually saying, or if they were reading it with an already prejudiced attitude.  I’m sure that they would find something in it that’s not really there.

That’s what I’ve been discovering as I’ve compared the  hullabaloo about this book with the actual content of the book.  The hullabaloo is about something that’s not really in there -UNIVERSALISM.

It’s sentences like “Jesus is bigger than one religion” (Love Wins pg. 150) that get people all twitchy. 

No one comes to the father except through me… (John 14:6)

I used to think of this as a very exclusionary statement (and that is because that’s how much of the evangelical community teaches it…) but I’m starting to see it in a much broader way.  And I really like the way Bell describes it.  Jesus is as exclusive as himself and as inclusive as containing every single particle of creation... (pg. 155)

If this is Universalism it’s not a wishy-washy, it doesn’t-matter-what-you-believe-so-do-whatever-the-hell-you-want (though, again, that’s how much of the evangelical world teaches it)

No one can enter into the presence of the father, except through the person of Jesus.  But what is the process? What is the form?  Is it a specific prayer?  An altar experience?  Is it a specific creedal statement of faith?  A confession of Jesus as Lord?

But what about Matthew 25- the parable of the sheep and the goats?  There’s no confession of Jesus as Lord in that story. In fact, those that are ushered into the kingdom prepared for them are not even sure they’ve ever met Jesus…

Do you remember the character Emeth from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle?  Emeth (whose name is "truth" in Hebrew) was a devoted follower of the cruel and evil god Tash – but is granted salvation by Aslan who welcomed him with these words:

...all service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. 

Does Aslan (the Christ of the Narnia series) welcome Emeth because he’s a Universalist (in the evangelical disparaging use of the word)?  Because it really doesn’t matter what one believes or because it doesn’t matter what religion on follows?   No. Aslan growled to shake the earth at that suggestion.

Not that he [Tash] and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the service  which thou hast done to him.  For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.  Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he knew it not, and it is I who reward him. (The Last  Battle,  pg. 205)

In a letter to Joan Bennett, written in 1939, Lewis wrote:

I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know Him. For he is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. (Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W H. Lewis  pg.247)

No one comes to the Father except through me.

It is Jesus who is saving the world. There is no other way. He is the door, but that door is open to everyone everywhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This is a False Statement

This is a False Statement from jeff carter on Vimeo.

The rant comes from Rich Wilkerson - Why Do Kids Listen to Rock Music? (1984)
Once again, I have used some sounds from the Freesound Project:

The font I used in the video is May Queen

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where Everything Comes Round Again

Brian McLaren  author of The Secret Message of Jesus : Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything, and A Generous Orthodoxy and, and, and…many other books recently received the following criticism :

Somehow you have fallen in a pernicious anthropocentric gospel that won't prevail. Use your time wisely, read your bible. God's stories will replace your messed up worldview. God loves you with immeasurable love, but he wants to whisper His Absolute Truth through your dusty bible. Read it brother read it.

To which Mclaren responded with his familiar generosity, thanked the critic for his concern and for his prayers.  And then Mclaren wrote the following

It would be interesting to know why you think this is man-centered - I actually see it as God-centered. But because God is not self-centered, when we center on God, God asks us to join God in caring for others. So, the gospel of the kingdom of God teaches us to join God in looking beyond our individual well-being to the good of our neighbor, stranger, and even our enemy.

And I was struck by the idea that God himself is not Theo-centric.  That is, God is not self-centered. God is not a narcissist.  God is looking outward from himself… to us.

So we look towards God and see God looking at us.

We look towards God and see God looking at us looking at God.

We look towards God and see God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at God looking at us looking at…

God is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.Hermes Trismegistus 

If it be true that God is a circle whose
centre is everywhere, the saint goes to
the centre, the poet and artist to the
ring where everything comes round again.
-William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fading Away

The air temperature outside the van hovered around 91 degrees Fahrenheit even though it was nine o’clock in the evening and dark thunderclouds were creeping over the sky.  The highway stretching out in front of us was mostly empty as we drove home last night.  I put a CD in the player - U2 the best of 1980 – 1990 and I began to sing along as I drove.  

This is what I do when I drive. It keeps me awake and makes the drive seem shorter and most of the time it amuses my wife.  She claims that she likes it when I sing.  And most of the time my kids tolerate it.  At least I think they tolerate it; I can’t see them rolling their eyes in the back seat. But last night as we drove home through the heat and insect swarms smashing themselves against the windshield, I could hear my family singing along with me (and Bono). 

I’m not exactly the sentimental type, but I had one of those moments as I heard my kids in the back seat singing “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”  You know those moments, right?  One of those proud and happy father moments, the kind of moment that is impossible to capture or describe.  I won’t say that I was teary-eyed, but it was something like that.

And had that been the end it would have been, as the Passover song says, Dayenu – it would have been enough.  But there was more.

The CD continued to play through Sunday Bloody Sunday and then Bad my kids were less familiar with the lyrics for these songs so they stopped singing, but I continued listening.  And that’s when I heard something I’d never heard before.

I’ve been listening to U2 since I was just a bit older than my daughter is now, for 20 some years now… (I’m old, aren’t I?)  And there, in the car as we drove through the surprising heat of a Minnesota summer evening I heard the song Bad in a way that nearly broke me open.

Bad is the 7th track from U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire.  It is a song about addiction and watching someone who is suffering and wanting to intervene for them.

If you twist and turn away
If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
Let it go

If I could throw this
Lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay
See you walk, walk away
Into the night
And through the rain
Into the half-light
And through the flame

And as the Edge played those guitar arpeggios over and over and over again with the driving shuffle of Larry Mullen junior’s drumming and Adam Clayton’s bass, and as the intensity of the song was building and the highway was rolling away behind us, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t Bono singing.  It was Jesus.

If I could through myself
Set your spirit free
I'd lead your heart away
See you break, break away
Into the light
And to the day

To let it go
And so to fade away

To let it go
And so to fade away

This desperation
In temptation
Let it go

In the car at 65 miles an hour through the heat and fading light with the kids beginning to fall asleep in the back seat and my wife sitting next me I had one of those moments, the kind that mystics through the ages have tried to describe.

I'm wide awake
I'm wide awake
Wide awake
I'm not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Passing through Nature into Eternity - A Review of Chapter Five of Love Wins

All that lives must die
passing through nature into eternity.

Hamlet Act I Scene ii

A few days ago my children and I had a discussion about the differences between the “Disneyfied”  version and the original versions of various fairy tales.  “The original stories,” I told them “are all about death.  All of them.  Cinderella.  Goldilocks. Sleeping  Beauty.  Beauty and the Beast.  They’re all death.”

I may have been exaggerating slightly for comedic effect, but there is a smidge of truth there.  It’s all about death.  And it’s all about life. It’s all about resurrection. These themes are Universal.  They are everywhere.  .  The universe, it seems, is designed to show us this progression from life through death to life. Rob Bell notes this in his newest book, Love Wins

This death-and-life mystery, this mechanism, this process is built into the very fabric of creation.  The cells in our bodies are dying at a rate of millions a second, only to be replaced at a similar rate of millions a second.  Our skin is constantly flaking off and our body is continually replacing the skin cells with new ones; we have entirely new skin every week or so. (Love Wins pg. 131).

The atoms and molecules that form our body were once part of stars.  We live because a star burned out. We live because something has died. 

Hamlet – A man may fish with a worm that hath eat of a king,
            and a cat of the fish that hat fed of that worm.
Claudius – What doest you mean by this?
Hamlet – Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
            progress through the guts of a beggar.
Hamlet Act IV Scene iii

We live because something has died.  The fruits and vegetables we eat to keep us alive and healthy once lived themselves.  The meat we eat once lived.  But now we live because of it.

It’s all about death.  It’s all about life.  It’s all about resurrection.

Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.
C.S. Lewis – The Weight of Glory

A seed has to be buried in the ground – it has to die – before it can grow.

And when it comes to Christianity it’s about Dying to Live.  Bell writes about some of the ways that this is understood in the bible – and there are several different and overlapping ways of understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

“Motivation of fear, motivation of love
one of these is hell, but it gets the job done”

Some are better than others, but no one metaphor can fully encapsulate the cosmic scope of that resurrection life.  And those descriptions that make Christianity merely an eternal fire-insurance policy are especially inadequate.  There is much, much, so much more to it than the avoidance of hell.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Mighty is the All-Mighty? - A Review of Chapter Four of Love Wins

I am at camp again.  It's a wonderful, beautiful place and I enjoy being here with the kids.  We are sleeping in tents, sitting around the campfire, hiking in the woods, shooting arrows at the archery range, climbing on the high ropes, and later in the week going on a white-water rafting trip.  It's pretty exciting.

Well most of it.

I spent the morning at the emergency room with a young man who broke his arm.  I told him that he needs to tell the story that he broke it while wrestling with dinosaurs atop a 100 foot cliff because the fact that he fell off the swings is really rather embarassing.  The four hours we spent waiting (and waiting and waiting) at the ER was not the most exciting part of the week.  But it did allow me some time to read.

And now that I have - at least for the moment - some connection to the internets, I want to continue my reviews of Rob Bell's newest book - Love Wins.

Chapter Four - Does God Get What God Wants ? continues some of the thoughts he began in chapter three.  (You can read some of my thoughts about his thoughts here... In chapter three Bell described some of this thoughts on Hell -  which, contrary to some of the hullabaloo I heard about the book before I read the book, Bell does not deny. 

Can God make a rock so big that even he can't pick it up? 

It's a frivolous kind of question, I know.  But it's a question about the limits of Gods' power.  How powerful is God?  How mighty is the "all-mighty"?  How great is God?  How good is God?

If we believe that God is all-mighty
if we believe that "God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2)
is God able to get what he wants?

How great is God?
Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do,
or kind of great,
medium great,
great most of the time,
but in this,
the fate of billions of people,
not totally great.
Sort of great.
A little great. (Love Wins, pg. 97-98)

Hell is there for those who would refuse and reject the love of God, but is that the end?
Is that all? Or does God’s great (all-mighty) love pursue us even there?

Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love? (pg. 109)

Bell observes that Christian history is full of believers who have affirmed that even death cannot contain God’s boundless love, and that the eternity of the hell of separation from God isn’t necessarily forever. 

Bell doesn’t use the story of Jonah, but in my own thinking and my preaching I’ve found the same thought expressed in that ‘fish-story’.   Think of Jonah, that obstinate anti-prophet , who tried to escape the presence of God – even to the point of being thrown into the bottomless abyss of the raging sea.  Jonah even tried to flee from God by sinking down into the depths of death.  But even there he was pursued by the unrelenting hound of heaven.

There is a hell for those who would reject the love and grace of God.  And If Bell and C.S. Lewis and many, many others are correct, the doors of hell are locked from the inside – and those who suffer in hell suffer because they refuse to submit to God.

But is that the last word. Sorry you’re too late.

If we want isolation, despair and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given power and strength  to make the world  in our own image, God allows us that freedom. … If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love.

If, however, we crave light
we’re drawn to truth,
we’re desperate for grace,
we’ve come to the end of our plots and schemes
and we want someone else’s path
God gives us what we want.

That’s how love works.  It  can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced.
It always leaves room for the other to decide.
God says yes,
we can have what we want,
because love wins. (pg. 117, 119)

If the hound of heaven can follow Jonah into that bottomless pit of death, can’t he do the same for all who would attempt to flee from his presence? 

I think he can.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jonah: The Ironic Anti-Prophet

I like to think of Jonah as the Ironic Anti-Prophet.  He’s not just the “Reluctant Prophet” He’s not just the Unwilling Prophet.  He is the Anti-prophet. And it’s a fitting title, I think, for the hero (anti-hero?) of a story so full of irony.  He’s the anti-prophet because he runs away form his mission.  He’s the anti-prophet because he is constantly shown to be less faithful to God than the gentile characters of the story.

He’s the ironic anti-prophet because he’s the only successful prophet.  All the others were ignored, laughed at, arrested, beaten, or even killed for their prophecy. When they spoke the word of God they were ignored.  But Jonah, the anti-prophet speaks and the people respond.  In his success he is the anti-prophet.

And, what is more, he is the ironic anti-prophet because he thinks of his success as a failure.  When his predicted destruction after 40 days failed to occur he was angry. Jonah is an ironic anti-prophet.

And Jonah is a story, not a history.  It is, in all probability, a fiction.  Sometimes I say this and people get very animated.  Some of them get angry.  “If Jonah is only a story…” they sputter. “If Jonah is merely a fiction…”  But I didn’t say that. Let’s not denigrate stories that way.  Only a story?  Stories are important.  We live on stories.  We tell stories because it’s part of who we are, part of what we are.  Stories shape us and then we tell stories about how stories have changed us, and then stories about those stories about stories.  To say that Jonah is a story isn’t to de-value it, or to diminish its truth.  Even fiction can tell the truth – and sometimes it tells the truth better than non-fiction.

Jonah is a story told to delight us and to make us laugh.  We can laugh at the anti-prophet’s attempts to flee from the omnipresent God.  We can laugh at the series of what seem to be successive practical jokes that Yahweh heaps upon the anti-prophet – the sudden storm, choice of Jonah by lots, the strange fish, the overnight vine and the devouring worm… But even as we’re amused and as we’re laughing at the antics of the anti-prophet we’re being challenged and confronted with very serious questions.  It’s not the Israelite anti-prophet who really hears and obeys the word of Yahweh, it’s the coarse gentile sailors and the wicked Assyrians.  What does this mean?  Those in the story who deserve God’s wrath receive his mercy, and the one who should be in God’s favor is hounded by his fury.  Why?  Even as we laugh at Jonah we are confronted with ourselves and with the presence of God.

These are thought provoking issues and are much more important than making the book of Jonah into a battleground for zoological debate, speculating about the size of fishes and the possibility of survival within the gastric juices of some marine monster.  (DiGangi – pg. 55)  [i]  This is not a story about a whale or a fish (a distinction not made by the ancients). This is story about an obstinate anti-prophet and about the mercy of God. 

The story begins, as so many biblical stories do, with the voice of God.  “The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah son of Amittai…”  Unlike most of the other prophets we’re not given a setting in place and time.  We’re not told when and where or during the reign of which kings.  This is the only completely narrative book among the prophets and it’s set in a sort of timelessness. Think “Once upon a time,” or “Long, long  ago…”[ii]

The Word of Yahweh came to Jonah son of Amittai.  These names are drawn from 2 Kings 14: 25 where the biblical historian records that the prophet Jonah son of Amittai –who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (786 – 756 B.C.) - spoke the good word of Yahweh.  But there is nothing more than the names to connect the Jonah in 2 Kings with our story.  In fact in this story he’s not even called a prophet.  He’s the ‘anti-prophet’, remember.

These proper names are interesting, though.  He is Jonah, the son of Amittai – which taken at the most literal level could be read “Dove son of Truth” or “son of Faithfulness.”  But this is an ironic name.  Jonah is anything but the faithful son of God’s truth. (Trible, pg. 493)  Some commentators have seen in this a picture of Israel and God.  In Hosea 7:11 the nation of Israel is described as a “silly dove” and truth and faithfulness are defining characteristics of God.  In a sense, then, Jonah becomes a symbol for Israel.  Jonah’s actions and fears and anger are those of the people of Israel.  This gives the story a deep level of meaning. This is not merely a story.

Yona or “Dove” is an ironic name for our anti-prophet.  He’s not, after all, much of a dove.  Doves are a symbol for the presence of God’s spirit hovering over the waters as with Noah in the ark and with Jesus at his baptism.  But Jonah flees – or attempts to flee from the presence of God.  Doves are also a symbol of peace, but Jonah is not concerned with peace.  He seems more interested in vengeance.  His name is another irony in this ironic tale.

Another interesting possibility wrapped up in the name of Jonah suggests that the root of his name is the Hebrew word Yanah (very similar to Yona) and means “to oppress, to vex, to hurt, or to harm” This makes Jonah son of Amittai the “oppressor” or even “the Destroyer of Truth.”  Perhaps as a pun we have both meanings here, furthering the ironies of his name. This anti-prophet is not all what we would expect of a prophet.

The word of Yahweh came to Jonah: “Arise! Go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim that their wickedness has forced itself upon me.”  Jonah is given three imperative commands (a fact lost in translations like the NIV and the NRSV which blend them together…) He is to get up.  And he is to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the “great city” as God calls it.  And there he is to cry out, to proclaim that their (unspecified) wickedness has forced itself upon God. Their wickedness is in his face and he cannot ignore it any longer.  Jonah must go to them.

Jonah follows the first of the Divine commands. Arise!  Jonah arose, but instead of going North and East over land to the city of Nineveh, Jonah the anti-prophet flees South and West over the seas to Tarshish.  It remains unclear to us where exactly Tarshish was.  Some propose Sardinia (an island off the coast of Italy), or Carthage in North Africa, or perhaps a city in Spain.  Wherever it may have been, it is clear that it wasn’t Nineveh. Jonah is going as far away as he can in the opposite direction, trying to flee the presence of God.  The prophet Isaiah says that Tarshish was a “distant coast, a distant island,” that had never experienced the glory of Yahweh. (Isaiah 66: 19).  Jonah hears the word of Yahweh, but instead of following he flees.  Jonah attempts to flee not just the command to go to Nineveh, but from the very presence of Yahweh, trying to go to a place at the end of the world where they’d never even heard of the God who created the heavens and seas and the dry ground.

 But notice how the very structure of this verse (Jonah 1:3) highlights another irony here. (Trible, pg. 494) Jonah can't escape.

A. -Jonah arose to flee from Yahweh’s presence, going to Tarshish.
            B. - He went down to Joppa
                        C. - and found a ship
                                    D. - bound for Tarshish
                        C’ - and he paid her fare
 (“her” fare in Hebrew matches the feminine gender for “ship.)
            B’ - and he went down into the ship
A’ - to go with them to Tarshish and to get away from the presence of Yahweh.

Jonah descends and descends, deeper and deeper, first going down to the port city of Joppa, and then going down into the hold of the ship.  This is not the following the command to Arise! He is sinking and he will sink even further.  He wants to flee from the presence of Yahweh, but even in his flight he is surrounded by the presence of the Omnipresent God.

But Yahweh will have Jonah’s obedience.  He hurls a great wind over the sea.  Remember God’s spirit (in Hebrew, the same word as wind) hovering over the waters of creation like a bird (like a dove?) Jonah couldn’t escape on the waters.  The wind blows up a violent storm and the ship itself threatened to break up.  In Hebrew the words even sound like boards cracking from the force of  the wind and water. (Trible, pg. 495)

The sailors aboard the ship are terrified and they each cry out to his own go.  And then, in an unconscious mimicry of Yahweh who hurled the wind upon the seas, the sailors hurl the cargo overboard not just to lighten the ship, but perhaps attempting to appease an angry deity as well. 

But Jonah, our anti-prophet, had gone below deck into the hold of ship and was fast asleep, completely unconcerned for the safety of those who’d unwillingly been caught in the middle of this power struggle between the anti-prophet and his God.  When the ship’s captain discovered Jonah sleeping he, like Yahweh, ordered the anti-prophet to “Arise! and call on your god. Perhaps he will take notice of us and we will not perish.”  God is speaking to Jonah even through these gentile worshippers of foreign gods and idols, but where true prophets would speak the word of God, Jonah, the anti-prophet, remains silent.

The terrified sailors resort to the random casting of lots to determine who brought this calamity upon them and – surprise, surprise! – the lot falls on Jonah.  The narrator doesn’t say that Yahweh directed the outcome of the lot casting.  He doesn’t have to.

The sailors then fire off a round of staccato questions at Jonah:
Who is responsible for this calamity?
(And it should be pointed out that “calamity” here is the same Hebrew word for the “wickedness” of the people of Ninevehra’a) 
            What is your occupation? 
(Can Jonah answer this question without indicting himself?)
            Where do you come from?
            What is your country?
            From what people are you?

Only now, this third time that Jonah is addressed, does he finally speak, only when he was caught and he could flee no further.  “I am a Hebrew and I worship Yahweh, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the land.”

But this is an answer without really answering. He's told the truth, but not the whole truth.  And we know, even if he hasn’t told the sailors, that it was his fault – his wickedness that brought the calamitous storm upon them.  He speaks piously about the creative power of his God, but he doesn’t speak the truth.  He tells the truth, but it is still a lie.

And here, also, the anti-prophet is ironically trapped by his own words, though the translation from Hebrew to English hides it from us.  What he says is “Yahweh, God of heavens, I worship, who made the sea and dry land.”  (Trible pg. 498) He is still surrounded by the presence of God. He cannot escape.

The sailors, even more terrified now, confront Jonah with his guilt – “What have you done to us?” And it’s the narrator –not Jonah himself – who finally makes the admission of guilt.  And the sailors ask him for advice – “What should we do with you?”  But they’re not asking because they want to punish him for his wickedness and for bringing the calamity upon them.  Their only concern is to quiet the seas which were growing rougher and rougher. 

He advises them that if they pick him up and hurl him into the sea (that same word Yahweh used and the sailors used) that the sea will become calm once more.

Now this sounds good, doesn't it?  It sounds as if Jonah is finally admitting his guilt, and that he is, in an effort to save the lives of the sailors, who through no fault of their own have been caught in this struggle, willing to face a noble self-sacrificing death.  But really?  I don’t think so.  He hasn't changed.  This is still the stubborn and obstinate anti-prophet. 

Instead of rising up and calling on his God, instead of obeying and going to Nineveh, Jonah is still trying to flee from God.  If he can’t escape by going across the waters to far distant islands, and if he can’t escape God by sleeping through the storm, he will try to escape God in death.  And even in this, he’s not willing to do the deed himself.  He doesn’t offer to throw himself into the sea.  No. He wants the sailors to bring about his death. 

But the sailors are unwilling to compound the wickedness and they refuse to hurl him overboard. Instead they valiantly attempt to row the boat to shore through the increasingly violent waves and wind.  But it’s of no use.  They cannot make any progress against the storm. 

Thus, doomed and damned if Jonah remains on board and damned and doomed if they throw an innocent man into the waters, the sailors pray to Yahweh. “O Yahweh, do not let us perish for the sake of this man’s life, and do not hold us responsible for causing an innocent man’s death; for you, Yahweh, have acted as you saw fit.”

These rough deckhands, worshippers of  foreign idols, now call upon Yahweh, God of heaven and creator of the sea and dry land, not the sulking Israelite would-be prophet.  Jonah does not speak to God. He does not pray.  He does not cry out.  He still wants to get away from God.

And seeing no other action available to them, the sailors hurl that sulking anti-prophet into the waters and only then does the raging sea grow calm.  The storm disappears as he disappears beneath the waters.  At this the men greatly feared Yahweh and they offered sacrifices and made vows to him.  In the face of the storm they feared and cried out, and threw the cargo overboard as a sacrifice to the angry sea.  Now, in the face of the storm’s dissipation they again fear Yahweh (and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, right?) and they worship him with a sacrifice and vows.  From fear that moved them to desperate prayers to unnamed deities they have become worshippers of the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.  They have neither priest nor prophet to guide their worship, but even so it is authentic and true. 

And what of the ironic anti-prophet Jonah, who sought at every turn to flee from God, even by going down into death?  Can he escape?  Can he evade?  No.  Even in the deep of the abyss, the anti-prophet can not flee from God.  Yahweh provides a great fish to swallow him up.  It is a final irony that even the sea-monster, a symbol of all that is dangerous and evil, becomes a more obedient servant of Yahweh than this ironic anti-prophet Jonah. 

It is an amusing tale, well told, and we can laugh at the exploits of this miserable anti-prophet.  But careful.  The well crafted story pokes through our defenses and cuts us when and where we are least aware.   Laugh, but be aware that we, like Jonah, are pursued in love by that fearful Hound of Heaven.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
                        -from The Hound of Heaven – Francis Thompson

Bullock, C. Hassell, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books,
            Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1986.
DiGangi, Mariano Twelve Prophetic Voices: Major Messages from the Minor Prophets,
            Victor Books, Wheaton, IL 1989.
Trible, Phyllis, The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume VII Jonah Introduction,
            Commentary, and Reflections, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1996.

[i] It seems to me that those who wish to insist on the complete historical fact of the story of Jonah would do best to quit trying to prove that a human could live within the belly of some marine animal, would do best to quit trying to determine which species of whale or shark in the Mediterranean Sea is large enough to swallow a man and to admit with the critics and skeptics that it could not have happened naturally.  This was not a natural happening. It was fish prepared by God and not at all a natural event
[ii] Some have noticed in Jonah a sort of bridge between the pre-Classical non-writing prophets like Elijah and Elisha and the Classical writing prophets like Amos, Hosea, Micah and etc.  Like the pre-Classical prophets, Jonah announces judgment without the possibility of repentance and the story is filled with miraculous events.  But like the Classical prophets he speaks not just to kings and their courts, but to all levels of society.  (Bullock pg. 43)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Drowning Man's Psalm

I was unceremoniously tossed overboard
by rough deckhands with coarse sailors’ curses,
pushed down by strong-willed waves
and I thought, “I will never see home again!”

The waters rose up past my neck, up my nose
(Oh God! I can’t breath!)
Down through abysmal depths
with strands of seaweed strangling me, binding me
dragging me down through Atlantean depths
past the tentacled dreams of vile sea-serpents,
past the roots of mountains,
to the ancient silence of nether-world darkness.

But at the moment the flame of my soul
was flickering away
just before the candle of my life was snuffed out
I remembered you, Yahweh,
and you, far off on the mountain of your glory,
you heard me.

I don’t know about others, I don’t know what
they sacrifice on the empty altars of their lives
but I will give myself to you.
Salvation comes from Yahweh.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This Accursed Melody - the Trailer

This Accursed Melody Trailer from Brad Carter on Vimeo.

Here is the trailer for our film This Accursed Melody.   We - my brother and I - made it at music and now we're just about ready to release it to the world.  We've been looking at various distributors and online download providers, trying to find the best and most affordable way for us to get this out to everyone.   And we think we've found a good way to do it. 

Until then, enjoy the trailer, and tell your friends - please!

We're also considering submitting the film to a couple of film festivals.  Obviously we'd like to enter it at Cannes or Sundance.

But perhaps a more realistically:
Corpsedance International Horror Film Festival (October 21 - 23 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina)

Kids First! Film Festival (even if their website is much too sunshiney...)

Proceeds from the sale of This Accursed Melody  will support The Salvation Army of Fairmont, MN and our World Services, so please - PLEASE - tell your friends, and when the DVDs are ready buy a copy, or buy several copies. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What the Hell? - A review of chapter three of Love Wins

Okay, really?  This is the chapter that got people so fired up?  What the hell, people? 

First off – if anyone is still claiming that Bell has denied the existence of hell, he hasn’t.  So stop saying it. When you repeat it you’re only repeating a baseless slander.

There are individual hells,
and communal, society-wide hells,
and Jesus teach us to take both seriously.

There is hell now,
and there is hell later,
and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. (Love Wins pg. 79)

There is heaven in the here and now (or there can be if we will see it and make it) and there is hell here on earth, and humans are very good at making that.  But beyond the hell we create for ourselves in the here and now with our selfishness and depravity, there is the hell of separation from God in what comes after this life.  And Bell doesn’t deny that either. 

What he does say is that forever may not be forever.

Bell argues (and argues from scripture) that Hell may not be the eternal conscious torment that so many have taught.  Bell argues that the awful fury of God’s righteous wrath isn’t poured out just so that the wicked will spend billions and billions and then billions more years more in sulfurous torment, but is instead meted out for the purpose of reconciliation.


The dominant theme in scripture is restoration to God.  That’s what the book (the collection of books) is about – the way that the ever loving God has set out to restore his lost and broken family. 

It comes up again and again and again.  Sins trodden underfoot, iniquities hurled into the depth of the sea.  God always has an intention.
Bringing people home and rejoicing over them with singing. (Love Wins pg. 87-8)

But before you start shouting UNIVERSALIST and throwing stones at the supposed heretic, you should recognize two things.

ONE - Bell never says (at least not in this chapter, I haven’t read the entire book yet…) that everyone will be saved.  In fact he pointedly acknowledges that that redemption and love that God is so keen to offer to everyone can be refused.

I tell these stories because it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that love, grace, and humanity can be rejected.  From the most subtle rolling of the eyes to the most violent degradation of another human, we are terrifyingly free to do as we please.
God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. (Love Wins pg. 72)

And TWO – If you reject Bell as a vile heretic based on this, you’re also going to have to pin that label on and throw stones at the venerable C.S. Lewis who held a very similar view of hell.  Lewis believed that “humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle (Mere Christianity, pg. 156)” and that it is up to each one to accept or reject that salvation, even from within the torments of hell.   The difference between Lewis and Bell is that Lewis is more pessimistic about the eventual repentance of those in the torments of their own hell.  Bell, “ has more faith in the ability of some to eventually repent, that is the only real difference between them—and it is a belief about people not about God and God’s desires.”

Finally, it is objected that the ultimate loss of single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does.  In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat.  What you call defeat, I call miracle:  for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity.  I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.  I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man “wishes” to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good.  They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved just as the blessed, forever submitted to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free. (The Problem of Pain, pg. 127-8)

This is the “jacked up theology” people have been screaming about?  What the hell?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Here and Now - a Review of Chapter two of Love Wins

Love Wins – Chapter Two – Here and Now

In heaven everything is fine.
In heaven everything is fine.
In heaven everything is fine.
You got your good things,
And I got mine.
- The Lady in the Radiator

This strange song from David Lynch’s 1977 surreal horror movie Eraserhead is one of my favorite little songs – especially as recorded by the Pixies.  And, though I don’t think many of my Christian friends would endorse this movie or this song, I think it accurately describes what many Christians believe about heaven.

The dominant cultural associations and
misunderstandings about heaven has been at work for
so long, it’s almost automatic for many to think of heaven
as ethereal, intangible, esoteric, and immaterial.

Floaty, dreamy, hazy,
Somewhere else.
People in white robes with perfect hair floating by on
clouds, singing in perfect pitch. ( Love Wins pg. 56 -7)

Heaven is – or will be – that perfect place of perfect rest and perfect peace.  Everything is perfect. And everything is wonderful.  And nothing ever happens.

I think that it’s strange that so much of the outcry and outrage surrounding Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins, is about his alleged denial of hell as place of eternal conscious torment.  I haven’t read as far as the chapter on hell yet (It’s the next one) but the chapter on heaven should have provoked some outrage as well, I think.

A lot of what passes for Christian teaching and evangelism is about “going to heaven when we die,” and as Bell points out, the bible says nothing (or very little) about us “going to heaven.”  That’s not what it’s all about. Not at all.

In fact.  It’s just the reverse. Heaven has come to us.

Heaven is in the here and now… or it is if we make it so.  The founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth, once said that “making heaven on earth is our business.”  (You can actually hear him say it here.)  But if that’s the case, why are always talking about going to heaven “some glad morning when this life is over”?

Heaven is the presence of God. Heaven is the presence of Christ and where two or three are gathered in his name, he’s there with them, with us.  This is heaven. When we share the love of God with each other it’s heaven.  When we share the compassion of Christ with the poor it’s heaven.  Heaven here and now.

So why, you will assuredly ask, does it not look very much like heaven?  Why do we still hurt and cry and suffer?  There should be no tears in heaven, right? Doesn’t it say that God will wipe away our tears?

And you’re right. It doesn’t look very much like heaven around here sometimes.  And I think that part of the reason for that is that so many Christians are still thinking of heaven as somewhere else eventually.  They’re still hoping for God to push the EJECT button and for us to be raptured away from this dung heap.  Too many people have a Christianity of escapism. 

But even if we accept the idea of a transformative heaven in the here and now, there is still going to be hurt and tears.  Yep.  And the wonderful thing – WONDERFUL thing  - is that God is here with us to comfort us and to wipe those tears away, each time.

There is more to heaven, of course, especially in the life after this life (which is better than saying life after death…) but if we fail to recognize the heaven that is here and now – if we fail to create heaven on earth in the here and now, how ready will we be for that heaven?

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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