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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 6

Here is this week's powerpoint (or similar presentation program) image.  I'm trying to make one a week to share.  I'm using them in our church services, but you could use them for homework assignments, business presentations, desktop backgrounds, or whatever.

I only ask that you share them freely.  And that you let others know that you found them here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

I Will Not Stumble Again...

A few days ago I posted a poem I wrote based on Psalm 62- I Will Not Stumble (Not Greatly)
This is music to go along with it.

Feel free to download this and to share it with a friend.  You can also check out some more of my music here.

I used a few sounds from the Freesound Project

Rhythm maker 16
Rhythm maker 31
Dynag3 stretched
The Yeti 01 
The Yeti 48
The Yeti 51
Stumble synth 1
Stumble synth 2 
Stumble synth 3 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beowulf Hesitates

At the ocean’s edge
where cold grey waves
break upon sharp black stones
the knör ship waits to take us home.
We leave Hrothgar’s bloodied hall
having done our doom upon
the beast and his mother.

Our shields are cracked
our spears are splintered
and some of us
have felt death’s embrace
but Heorot
and all Hrothgar’s realm is saved.

But before we sail for Geatland
where we will enjoy the acclaim
our deeds have earned,
 a thought occurs
and I hesitate to board the ship,
And it is this:

The monster has been slain,
for his cruelty and his wrath
but I am like that son of Cain.
And man, each man, every man
must die. I am not immune.
The wyrms of death will come for me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Music for the Stars

Sometimes I record a sound or a bit of a melody thinking that I'll use it in a song...and sometimes I don't use it.
Recently I recorded this little synthesizer noodle:

But I didn't use it.  So I shared it with the Freesound Project.

And now, someone has discovered it there and used it in one of their projects.   Bryant O'Hara has put together a space exploration themed song using (among other things) my stumbling synth.

Listen  to Sed veni, spiritus, Martia, nam Stellae.   ("We come, spirit of Mars, for the stars")

What I'm Reading - The Only True God

The first Christians were Jews.  This point is often forgotten.  They did not consider themselves to be converts to a new, different religion.  It was, for them, a realization of truths already affirmed in their faith – that God was saving his people Israel, through his chosen and anointed servant, Jesus.

These Jewish Christians still believed in and worshipped only one god – the Only True God.  This is the idea that set Jews (and early Christians, not yet understood as a separate group) apart from the rest of the world in the first century – their monotheism. 

It wasn’t until much later that Christians developed the doctrine of the Trinity to more fully express their understanding of the nature of God (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit).  But the idea that Jesus could be described as the Son of God – that Jesus could be described as “the Word” who was with God in the beginning and who was, himself, God was not a new concept within that Jewish monotheism.

In his book, The Only true God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, James McGrath succinctly describes how both Judaism and Christianity diverged from this common doctrine.

But this task isn’t as straightforward as you might think.  It would be relatively simple if there had been a uniform and monolithic understanding of what it meant to be monotheist (a term that was not used until recently). But there wasn’t.  Within Judaism during the centuries that led up to the time of Jesus and the first century after there were differing ideas of how to express this worship of only one God.  Was it appropriate to worship the one true God in temples devoted to other pagan gods?  Could one pray to the one true God using a different name? 

And what of God’s appointed agents… sometimes described as bearing God’s name, and entrusted with God’s authority and power?  Were they worshipped as God, as part of God or kept separate? 

And how did a Christian understanding of monotheism differ from a Jewish one - if it was different...?

This short book isn’t a defense or apologetic for Monotheism (either Jewish or Christian) but is rather a history of the doctrine, tracking the multiple currents within the two diverging faiths. And though it’s a short book (104 pages without endnotes (Endnotes! I hate endnotes! I always loose my place flipping back and forth to read them.))  it’s not a simple book.  McGrath holds a dialogue with both ancient and contemporary authors.  Sometimes I felt like I was watching a roundtable discussion between theologians, most of whom were unfamiliar to me.

But, that’s not to say that I haven’t come away from the book having learned nothing.  I was especially interested in the very Jewish way that McGrath approached monotheism within the gospel of John.  (So much so that I’ve already placed my order on-line for another of McGrath’s books - John's Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology (though I managed to find a used copy for much MUCH less than the $132 new price!)).  What does it mean –from a Jewish (Christian) viewpoint – when John says that Jesus was accused of blasphemy for making himself God when he was “a mere man” (John 10:33)?  What does it mean when Jesus utters the words “when you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am…” – using absolutely the unutterable name of the Only True God for himself?   I am intrigued by his answer and I want to read more.

The chapters on Monotheism in the letters attributed to Paul, and win the book of Revelation were also informative and engaging.  But I found myself at the book’s end, wondering why there weren’t chapters on the monotheism in the synoptic gospels, and the other epistles...  I always want to read more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mysterious Bird

I have missed painting. I haven't held my brushes since before Christmas, but today I got back to them.  I paint on Monday afternoons with a group of old ladies.  They mostly paint lighthouses and birds and tell me that my stuff is 'weird.'  Every so often I paint a bird just to keep them happy.

I finished this piece today.  I had started it back in November, but had to set it aside.  I had painted the background and put in the collage materials at the lower left corner.  (It's a couple of illustrations from an old Maytag repair catalog.) It was easy to set aside as  I really didn't have any idea of how I wanted to fill the space.  But, flipping through my sketch book I found a drawing of a bird that I thought I could translate to paint.  And so...

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week Five

One of the things I'm going to attempt to do this year (don't think of it as a New Year's Resolution.... those never work) is to create a usable powerpoint (or similar presentations program) background for each week of the year.  I'll be using them for our church services, but they could also be used for homework assignments, business presentations, desktop wallpapers or whatnot... Feel free to download them for your own projects, whatever they might be.

I only ask that you share them freely and that you let others know that you found them here.

Here is the image for this week:

And here is a link to the previous four images.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Long Goodbye

I've been reading a lot of Raymond Chandler's work recently.  Forget the upscale, literary detective with his locked-room puzzles.  Forget Agatha Christie and her implausible multiple murders.  Give me Phillip Marlowe and a femme-fatale  and a Long Goodbye.

I used, as I usually do, a sound (only one this time) from the Freesound Project:
D Minor Dorian

I also used a muted trumpet sample from AfroDJMac.

You might also like my previous noir song - This Can't Be Real

The purchase of either of songs supports two great causes - 1) The Salvation Army in Fairmont, MN and 2) my brother who is a missionary in Spain.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Will Make You Fishers of Men - Not Your Mother's Sunday School Chorus

I will make you fishers of men,
fishers of men,
fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men if you follow me.
If you follow me,
if you follow me.
I will make you fishers of men if you follow me.

Can I tell you something?  I hate children’s Sunday school songs.   I hate them.  I hate them all.  Even when I was a kid I hated them (but I couldn’t not sing them; my mother was the Sunday school teacher!)

This one I hated especially.  1) because we always had to do a cute little fishing motion with it – casting out our line from an imaginary rod and reel when, even then, I knew that 2) the disciples Jesus was calling in that story were fishing with large round nets.  And I hated it because 3) I don’t really like fishing.  I can appreciate it a bit more now, but as a boy I didn’t like it at all.  So, I had no real interest in being a “fisher of men.”

And the worst part about this cutesy Sunday school song is that totally misrepresents the meaning of Jesus’ call in Mark 1:14 - 20 “Come after me, and I shall make you become fishers of men.” 

Like every other Sunday school lesson for children – from Noah and the ark to Daniel and the Lion’s Den – this portion of the gospel account is horribly mutated from a startling and powerful story into a cute and neat and tidy story appropriate for tow-headed children drinking Kool-aid and eating cookies in the nursery.  We teach the kids that these stories are cute and safe and then we wonder why they reject these stories when they grow up and discover that they have no relevance to the world around them.

The image of fishing for humans doesn’t occur very often in the bible.  But in every instance where it does appear it is in the context of God’s judgment.  Consider these verses from the Old Testament:

Jeremiah 16:16 (NIV)
16 "But now I will send for many fishermen," declares the LORD, "and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks.
Ezekiel 12:13 (NIV)
13 I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare; I will bring him to Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans, but he will not see it, and there he will die.
Ezekiel 29:4 (NIV)
4 But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales.
Amos 4:2 (NIV)
2 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: "The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.
Habakkuk 1:14-17 (NIV)
14 You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?

And it’s the same in the New Testament.  Look at the parable of the dragnet:

Matthew 13:47-50 (NIV)
47 "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.
48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.
49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous
50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
If we look at other writings from that era we find the same equation of fishers of men with the judgment of God. In the Dead Sea Scrolls we read “And thou has set me in a place of exile among many fishers that stretch out a net upon the face of the waters and [among] hunters [sent] against the sons of perversity.”  1QH 5:7 – 8

And if we cast our nets even further and look at the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas we find another parable:

“And he said ‘The Man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish.  Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish.  He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without regret.” Gospel of Thomas, Logion 8

This call to be “fishers of men” was no cutesy kids’ chorus.  This was a call for the disciples of Jesus to become bearers of an urgent eschatological warning.  The Kingdom of God was breaking into the world and his followers were to confront people with its proclamation.  Repentance and belief would bring salvation, rejection and unbelief would bring judgment.  The people of God were being rescued - fished out - from the waters - which all through the scriptures are equated with the enemy of God, the underworld, sin and death.  

This is not what my mother taught us in Sunday school, but it probably should have been.

I Will Not Stumble (Not Greatly)

Only for God will I be silent
only for God,
from him my triumph,
I will not stumble
   (not greatly.)

While they bluster about
with noisy lies,
indulging in gossip like a drunk
lurching like a sagging fence

God alone is my castle
God alone.
I will not stumble
   (not greatly.)

You low men, you common thieves,
are only a breath. Gasp! and you’re gone,
and you well born and white collared are only a lie
weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Only for God will I be silent.
I will not stumble
   (not greatly.)

(based on Psalm 62)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week Four

One of the things I'm going to attempt to do this year is to create a usable powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background for each week of the year.  I'll be using them for our church services, but they could also be used for homework assignments, business presentations, desktop wallpapers, or whatever... Feel free to download them for your own projects whatever they may be.

I only ask that you share them freely and that you let others know that you found them here.

Here is the image for this week:

And here is a link to the previous images

We Listen, We Escape

I awoke angry, with a furious headache. The family cat had been playing under the bed, unconcerned that he was disturbing the rest of us.  I chased him from the room and collapsed back into bed, but could not return to sleep.  My headache only grew worse; by mid-morning it was something of a migraine.

This was my day but it got better ...

To create this short song I used the following sounds from the Freesound project:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Four is the Number

The folks at Faturenet Recordings have just released their latest compilation: Project 4.

All of the eleven songs on this album were created using the same four sound samples. But each one is markedly different from the others.  What would you make from these sounds?

I'm pleased to say that the song I submitted, She Dared Me to Love Her, is track #11.  It's a free-download. "If you are going to download one release this year, make sure it's this one!"

And if you're still in the mood to download music, won't you check out some of my other music.

These songs are a dollar each, but the money goes to 1) The Salvation Army of Fairmont, Minnesota and 2) my brother who is a missionary in Spain.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Thatjeffcarter Was Here is Now at Bandcamp

I usually go to bandcamp in the summer, but now I've established a presence at the online Bandcamp.

There you can download (for the measly price One Dollar per song) some of my music.
The proceeds will be split between 1) The Salvation Army in Fairmont, Minnesota and 2)my brother who is a missionary in Spain.

Please, if you've got a moment, and if you like music, and if you like helping other people, take a moment to listen to some of my songs.  Maybe you'll find one you like.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Watch the Flock of Holy Birds

Watch the flock of holy birds
that flies over this troubled landscape
as the light
   (but little heat in these winter days)
struggles against encroaching dusk and gloam.

We pronounce a blessing upon each and all,
our personal liturgy, a familial litany.

The night is not to be feared.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Island of Misfit Sounds - A Freesound Project Dare

The challenge was to take the leftover sounds from Christmas - the sounds from the cardboard, wrapping paper, glass bottles, and etc... - to create a new and (hopefully) interesting song.

We were required to use at least 10 of the sounds specifically recorded for this dare.  And the song had to be 2 - 4 minutes long.

Here is the song I created: The Island of Misfit Sounds

If you like it, you should feel free to download it and to share it with friends.

I used the following sounds from the Freesound Project:

What I'm Reading: Valley of the Dead

"Through me the way into the suffering city,
   Through me the way to the eternal pain,
   Through me the way that runs among the lost.

Justice urged on my high artificer;
   My maker was divine authority,
   The highest wisdom, and the primal love.

Before me nothing but eternal things were made,
   And I endure eternally.
   Abandon every hope, ye who enter here."[i]

The poet, Dante read these words above the gate to hell - wherein he would observe the most ghastly scenes of sin and vice and human depravity.   But how did he come to such a place? What did he see in his life to inspire such horrific descriptions? 

Kim Paffenroth, a professor of Religious Studies and author of several horror novels, has in his novel –Valley of the Dead: The Truth behind Dante’s Inferno - supposed it to be “a massive, horrifying outbreak of cannibalism… Dante had witnessed what I previously thought was a deadly plague only in our modern world – zombies, ghouls, the undead, the living dead.” (pg.10 -11) [ii]

This outbreak of flesh eating monsters flung the traveling poet headlong into a valley filled with the most sordid and vile examples of human depravity imaginable.  But as in the best zombie stories, the evil isn’t so much in the reanimated corpses but in the living.  The dead are, of course, dangerous.  They are the threat that sends Dante and his companions fleeing, but it is the sin and wickedness of those still alive that raise Dante’s revulsion. 

The monsters, the shuffling and moaning corpses are, for all the danger they pose, to be pitied.  They have become creatures without will, without choice, driven by base and uncontrollable desire. 

At one point in the novel Dante and his three companions are asked by a lecherous man why they think the creatures have come.  “Tell me, in your tidy universe of a just, loving God, who made these abominations, these creatures of evil, malice, and destruction?”

One answers, “God made them so that we may overcome them and grow stronger.”  Another says, “They make no difference to us, since this life is unimportant… We care only for the soul and eternal life.”  Dante answers the man’s question saying, “They are just people left to their own sinful ways…They are what we have made of ourselves.”  And the other in his group, the only woman among them, answers, “They are here for us to pity.” (pg. 122 – 123)

Pity.  And Mercy.  Even in this hell on earth there is mercy for these creatures.  It is the living who seem to be beyond pity (though hopefully not beyond mercy.)  The dead may be forgiven their destructiveness for they do not choose it, can not resist it, and do not enjoy it.  The living encountered in this valley of the dead, are truly wicked.  They are greedy and gluttonous.  They are lustful. They are full of malice and anger and blasphemy. They are the truly monstrous.

And like C.S. Lewis’s gates of hell –locked from the inside- the people of this valley refuse to leave. They are so consumed by their selfishness that they will not leave their sin to flee neither the plague of walking dead nor the invading army that is destroying and slaughtering everything and everyone in its path. 

It’s been several years since I struggled through Dante’s Inferno. And, truth be told, I didn’t actually finish it.  I’ve wanted to read it through, but haven’t yet.  But this lack of familiarity with the Inferno wasn’t a handicap to reading Valley of the Dead.   There were several references that I recognized (the wolf upon the road, the river crossing, the fortune teller with an undead creature whose head had been turned backwards on its body, the frozen lake at the center…) and I can only assume that there were just as many that went over my head. But the novel is written clearly enough that even those without any knowledge of Dante’s writing could understand and appreciate the story.

The Zombie genre has a bad reputation (even worse that that of science-fiction or fantasy), some of which may be deserved. Many zombie movies seem to be merely an excuse to fling copious amounts of blood and gore upon the screen. Zombie novels seem to be the new fad in horror writing – a quick way for publishers to make a buck (in the same way that pulp crime novels, science-fiction novels, and romance novels have been for years). But good writing transcends the stereotypes and clichés of the genre to honestly describe the human condition.  Though there is plenty of gore and violence in Valley of the Dead (what would a zombie novel be without them?), the thoughtful reader will recognize that there is something more within these pages.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
   But of the good to treat, which there I found,
   Speak will I of the other things I saw there.[iii]


And writing about the living dead gives me opportunity to link back to my zombie film : This Accursed Melody.

[i]    Dante – Inferno - Canto III. 1 - 9
[ii]   Paffenroth, Kim, Valley of the Dead: The Truth Behind Dante’s Inferno, Permutated Press, 2010
[iii]  Dante – Inferno  - Canto I. 7 - 9

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Go, Go, Godzilla

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound
he pulls the spitting high tension wires down...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone -

One of the things I'm going to attempt to do this year is to create a usable powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background for each week of the year.  I'll be using them for our church services, but they could also be used for homework, school projects, business presentations, or whatever...  Feel free to download them for your projects.

I only ask that you share them freely and that you let others know that you found them here.

The first two backgrounds were cool colors, so I decided to go with a bright red this time.  The image was made from two photos - 1 of a circus train car and 2 of a concrete wall.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fast, Fast, Fast

This is an entry in another remix contest. I enjoyed rearranging the musical parts and adding some new material to the song Fast by Lee Harris.  It's a fun little song.

Fast-Lee Harris (Thatjeffcarter was here Remix) by thatjeffcarter was here

Fast, fast, fast, keep running baby... 

In addition to the musical stems provided for the contest I used a couple of sounds from the Freesound Project.

Noisy Digital Octaver
Sonar Sound 

You can watch the video for the original version here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Star of Glory

It may seem strange to discuss the birth of Jesus and the journey of the wise men in January, after we have already celebrated Christmas. Some of you may have already taken down the tree, and packed away the decorations. You may have already packed away the manger scenes. But in many churches January 6th is celebrated as the Epiphany – the “manifestation” or the “showing forth” of Jesus in fulfillment of the prophecies of his birth. The birth of Christ is celebrated at this time along with the adoration of the magi and thus the manifestation of God’s Glory to the Gentiles.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ”In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:

" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
Matthew 2:1-12

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

These gentile magi – wise men - were probably Persian astrologers, priests of Zoroastrianism looking for the birth of the coming redeemer of the world, the Sosiosh of their religion, whom they had identified as the King of the Jews.

These Persian astrologers had anticipated the coming of a great leader, from the land of Israel. And this was a common expectation of the time. The Jewish historian, Josephus, as well the Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus describe the whole of the east as living in great expectation of one who would come from Judea “to attain universal empire” and to “possess the dominion”.

They came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is he that was born King of the Jews? We have seen his star.” Theses gentile astrologers may have been aware of the prophecy of the messiah’s birth by yet another gentile, Balaam, who said:

I see him - but not in the present.
I perceive him – but not close at hand:
a star is emerging from Jacob,
a scepter is rising from Israel
Numbers 24:17

But this also accords with the Persian idea of a fravashi – that is the stellar counterpart to a great man. When a new great leader was born on earth, a new brilliant star would appear in the heavens. The magi had observed and followed the star that betokened the birth of the great leader from Judea, the one who would attain a universal kingdom – the king of the Jews.

There has been through the centuries much speculation about the nature of this “star.” The Greek word aster is commonly translated in the New Testament as star, but is used frequently in other Greek writings to describe other shining object, which is helpful because the star that the magi followed didn’t act very much like a normal star. It moved across the sky – like you would expect, but then it disappeared from their sight, so that the magi had to stop and ask for directions in Jerusalem, and it also stopped over a particular place. Natural stars don’t behave like this.

Nearly every kind of cosmic phenomenon has been suggested to explain the nature of this star; everything from meteors, meteor showers, and comets to eclipses of the sun or moon, supernovas, and bolides (super large meteors that can generate as much light as the full moon).

Stellar conjunctions, and planetary conjunctions, have also been proposed as the explanation for the star. In the 17th century German astronomer, Johannes Kepler observed the triple conjunction of the planets: Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Working backwards he calculated mathematically that the same kind of triple conjunction of these planets would have occurred in the year 7 B.C. which would have been about the right time for the birth of Christ, but there is some question as to how this conjunction of planets would have guided the wise men to Bethlehem, and how it would halt over the place where the child was.

Other less scientific explanations have been proposed through the years. Some Eastern Orthodox traditions describe the star as a specially created planet (like the specially ordained fish that swallowed Jonah) that was put into place by God bearing a picture (an icon) of Mary and Jesus, or of Jesus holding a cross.

Gregory of Tours in the 6th century AD said that the star was an angel that tumbled out of heaven and landed in a well in Bethlehem. He further said that the angel was still there and could be observed by passers-by.

More recently, author Barry H. Downing in the book entitled The Bible and Flying Saucers explained the star as a “space vehicle answering the description of modern UFOs” with a “star-like beacon” to lead the wise men, sent by beings from another world to “deliberately draw attention to the birth of Christ” But as much as I’ve always liked the X-Files, I don’t find this to be a very plausible or compelling explanation.

Instead I’d like us to search the scriptures to see if we can’t find a more biblical explanation. And to start, I’d like for us to look back to the book of Exodus.

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22)

This pillar of cloud by day, and pillar of fire by night guided the Israelites as they left the slavery of Egypt. They followed it out of Egypt and to Mt. Sinai where it settled over the mountain. It was the Glory of God and to the people it looked like a devouring fire on the mountain-top. (Ex. 24:17) Later, after they had constructed the tabernacle, the Glory of God, this fiery presence of God, filled the tent. (40:34 – 35)

The Glory cloud / fire, the Glory of God, is also called the Shekinah. This is the transliteration of a Hebrew word not found in the Bible but used in many Jewish writings to speak of God’s presence. The term means, “that which dwells.” It is often used in combination with Glory to speak of the presence of God’s Shekinah Glory.

It was this same cloud by day, fire by night that the Israelites followed to the land of Canaan. Whenever the Glory cloud rose from the tabernacle, the Israelites broke camp and followed. When the Glory cloud halted, there the Israelites pitched camp. (Numbers 9: 17 – 23)

When Solomon built his temple in Jerusalem we are told that, “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the Glory of YHWH filled the temple The priests could not enter because the Glory of YHWH filled the temple. When all the Israelites saw the fire come down and the Glory of YHWH resting on the Temple, they bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the earth, worshipping and praising YWHW with ‘For he is good, for his faithful love lasts forever!’
(2 Chron. 7:1 – 3)

The Shekinah Glory – the fiery cloud – was the visible symbol of God’s presence among the people. It was this fiery presence that Moses observed in the burning bush. When the Israelites fled from Egypt they followed this pillar of fire during the night. When they camped in the wilderness, the fire hovered over the tabernacle at the center of the camp. The people camped around the tabernacle and dwelt in the light of God’s presence. When the Glory cloud moved, the people followed the brilliance of his presence. When they finally settled in the Promised Land God’s Glory resided with them at the temple.

The fiery cloud guided them towards safety out of Egypt and through the wilderness into the Promised Land. The Shekinah cloud also protected the Israelites from their enemies. When the armies of the Pharaoh pursued them to the Sea of Reeds, the Glory cloud moved from their front and took position behind them. It came between the army of the Egyptians and the Israelites (Ex. 14: 19 – 24)


But because of their sin and disobedience and their rejection of the covenant God had made with them, that cloud of fire, the Glory of God was removed from amongst them.

The prophet Ezekiel observed as the Glory of YHWH came out over the temple threshold and rose from the center of the city and halted over the mountain to the east of the city. (Ezekiel 11:22-23) The Glory of God was abandoning the city. The city of Jerusalem had been polluted by the crimes and sins of the people and so God was removing His presence from among them. It came out of the temple, over the city, to the Mount of Olives, and hovered there, as if loath to completely abandon the city.

A Midrash ascribed to the 3rd century AD. Rabbi Johanan expresses this as follows: “For three and a half years the Presence [Shekinah] tarried on the Mount of Olives, proclaiming thrice daily, ‘Return wayward sons’ (Jer. 3:22). When it saw they would not repent, it flew away, saying ‘I will go back to my [heavenly] place till they realize their guilt; in their distress they will seek me and beg for my favor’” (Hos. 5:15)

And that was it. The Glory of God was removed and the city along with the temple was destroyed, and the people were sent into exile. That was the last time in the pages of the Old Testament that the Glory of God – that Shekinah cloud of fire was observed. God removed His presence from amongst the people.

Now God did promise that the Glory would return. When the exiles returned from Babylon and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem Zerubbabel was promised that the temple would one day the Temple would be filled with Glory, “A little while now, and I shall shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I shall shake all the nations, and the treasures of the nations shall flow in, and I shall fill this Temple with Glory.” (Haggai 2:6 – 7)

Meanwhile, the Shekinah presence of God was removed from the people. But not everything was lost. All was not in despair for Ezekiel had received a vision of the return of the Glory of God. “… and I saw the Glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his Glory.” Ezekiel 43:2.

I propose that the star that lead the magi was not a UFO, or a comet or even a spectacular planetary conjunction, but that it was the Glory of God- the Shekinah presence that lead the magi.

Ezekiel said, “…and I saw the Glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his Glory.”
 Ezekiel 43:2.

During the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east…

Isaiah prophesied

“Arise, shine out, for your light has come

and the Glory of YHWH has risen on you.
Look! though night still covers the earth
and darkness the peoples,
on you YHWH is rising
and over you his Glory can be seen.

The nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning brightness."
(Isa. 60: 1 – 3)

Where is the one born king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising.

This star and its fiery light guided the magi from their home in the East to Israel to find the newborn King who would attain a universal kingdom. They followed the star in the same way the Israelites followed the pillar of fire by night.

The star that the magi followed led them to another star – the bright morning star Jesus Christ - 2 Peter 1:19 Rev. 22:16.

And just as the Israelites were protected from their enemies by the presence of God, the wise men too were protected from the evil of King Herod, being warned in a dream not to return the same way they had come.

This unearthly light – the Shekinah presence – had retuned from its heavenly place as the star to guide the magi to the infant Jesus Christ whose name was Immanuel “God with us”(Isa. 7:14)– the incarnation of God’s Glory. It was this epiphany, or manifestation of God’s Glory to mankind that we celebrate today.

God sent his Glory again, his Shekinah Glory in the person of Jesus to dwell among us. Just as the Glory cloud inhabited the camp with the Israelites in the wilderness and the city of Jerusalem at the temple – Jesus inhabited the camp with us. He “tabernacled” here among us and we saw his Glory, the Glory that he has from the Father as the only son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Jesus, our Emmanuel brings us into the presence of God, into the Glory of the Father. “Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among them; they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them.” Rev. 21:3

O star of wonder star of night,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light.

--John H. Hopkins jr.

The star – the Glory of God – led the wise men to Jesus, the incarnate Glory of God; the bright morning star. Jesus as the star, as the Glory of God guides us to the presence of the Father. We must do as the magi did, we must follow the star.

As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold,
as with joy they hailed its light
leading onward, beaming bright;
so most gracious Lord may we
ever more be lead to thee.

--William Chatterton Dix

The 'am'haretz and Me

In an earlier post I commented about the presence of the ‘am’haretz  in novel Mary of NazarethThey were the poor and illiterate peasant people of Israel.  The phrase means “the people of the land.”

In the earliest parts of the old testament the phrase was sometimes used to indicate the Canaanite people; they were “the people of the land,” i.e. the original inhabitants of the Promised Land.  Later the phrase came to mean “landed people” – as in those who had money and property. They were princes and members of the prince’s entourage. They were priests, eunuchs, and servants of the king. Even the king himself was occasionally included in this group.

But after the Babylonian exile, the phrase underwent a radical reversal in its meaning. Instead of indicating those who owned land and property, it referred to those who were left in the land – those who had not been taken away into exile, and then eventually, as a derogatory slur, those who were dirt.

They were despised.  They were considered poor, and illiterate, and boorish.  They were uneducated and stupid, and because they could not read to study the torah, they were held in contempt for their inability to abide by the Law of Moses.

Our Rabbis taught: Let a man always sell all he has and marry the daughter of a scholar.  If he does not find the daughter of a scholar, let him marry the daughter of one of the great men of the generation. If he does not find the daughter of one of the great men of the generation, let him marry the daughter of the head of the synagogues.  If he does not find the daughter of the head of the synagogues, let him marry the daughter of a charity treasurer.  If he does not find the daughter of a charity treasurer, let him marry the daughter of an elementary school teacher, but let him not marry the daughter of an 'am'haretz, because they are detestable and their wives are vermin, and of their daughters is is said, "Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast"  [1]
The Pharisees particularly viewed the ‘am’haretz with disdain. To the Pharisees they were an untouchable caste within Jewish society. They were subhuman.  They were outcasts and “sinners” because they could not read and study the torah.  Recall Jesus’ many interactions with both the “sinners” and with the Pharisees.  Jesus provoked the ire of the Pharisees because he was willing to associate with these poor, uneducated “people of the land.” He associated with "sinners."

Now it would be easy to castigate the Pharisees for their prejudice. But I have to admit that I am something of a Pharisee myself in this regard. Not to the point where I would describe someone as a “sinner” merely because they are poor or uneducated, but I do find myself, at times, cringing away from those who might be considered the ‘am’haretz of my time and place – the redneck… the “poor white trash.”

I have laughed at photos at People of Walmart.  I have been quick to judge. I have sometimes allowed myself to believe that I am more important to God than others merely because I have some ability to read and study and understand the scriptures.  May God forgive me.

[1] Pesachim 49b -

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pat Robertson Isn't Supposed to Talk About That

...but he will anyway.

I made this with Pat's sound clip, some drums, and a couple of sounds from the Freesound Project:

A 2012 Goal - Powerpoint Slides For Everyone

I'm going to try something this year.  I want to make one decent powerpoint (or whatever presentation program you might use) background image for every week of the year.  I will be using them in our worship services, but they could also be used in any sort of presentation for work or school or ... well whatever you might like.

My only request is that you share them and that you let folks know where you found it.

Here are the first two for the year.

January 1

January 8

What I’m Reading: Mary of Nazareth

Mary of Nazareth - a novel - by Marek Halter, 2008.

I didn’t actually read this one.  I listened to it on CDs as I drove to and from my parent’s house for a few days of vacation after Christmas.  I picked it out from the library as something to listen to – mostly as a concession to my wife.  I thought it would be something she’d enjoy.

I was wrong.  It bored her.

But I was interested. At least a little.

For me, it was a mixed bag. There were some things that I really liked about this novel by Marek Halter, but there were also several that I didn’t. 

One thing I didn’t like – and this really has nothing to do with the book itself: I did not care for the reader for the audio-book.  The voices that she gave to many of the characters reminded me too often of the kids on the old Superbook cartoon. I nearly turned it off a number of times.  But I persisted.

What I liked – really liked – about this book was the way that Halter grounded the story in the political and economic desperation of the time.  It’s very easy to read and re-read the stories of the bible and to become so familiar with them that we forget the background.  The people of Israel during the time of Mary of Nazareth were, for the most part, poor.  They were oppressed.  They were hungry. They were tired. They were desperate.  They lived in fear – fear of the Roman soldiers, fear of the mercenaries hired by the wicked king Herod.

Halter brings to life their anger and frustration and their paranoia and distrust.  The Jewish people were divided into numerous groups – Pharisees, Sadducees, ascetic Essenes, revolutionary Zealots – each with a dream and a plan to change the world. But instead of coming together and uniting against their common foe, these groups distrusted and even despised each other.

Halter also emphasizes in his novel the ‘am ha’aretz – “the people of the land.”  These were poor, illiterate, unrefined peasants of Israel.  The Pharisees despised them because they were illiterate and thus unable to study and adhere to the torah.  They were, as the poor are everywhere, cursed and maligned. 

And these are the people among whom Halter’s Mary lives.  She is one of them.  This is a Mary who could sing of God turning away the rich and filling the hungry with good things. 

I also like that Halter has allowed me to shift my thinking by a little bit concerning Barabbas.  In the past I have been quite content to accept the picture of Barabbas as thief, as a murder, as a violent revolutionary.  (And no doubt, he was those things.)

But I have allowed the contrast between Barabbas (whose full name according to some early Greek sources was Jesus Barabbas) to be that of polar opposites:  Pilate offers to release either the very evil and murderous Barabbas (booo!) or the quite obviously innocent Jesus of Nazareth (hurray!).  I have, in my mind, allowed it to be a contrast between the totally reprehensible and the totally wonderful, between pure evil and pure good.

And, I think, I missed the point. 

If we understand Barabbas (Jesus Barabbas) to be a revolutionary leader – committed to setting the people of Israel free from their foreign oppressors, as one who stole from the rich and powerful to feed and free the poor and lowly – he almost becomes heroic.  He is Robin Hood and George Wallace fighting for “our freedom!” Why would the people at Pilate’s courtyard clamor for Barabbas’ release? Because he was fighting for them. 

And thus the choice between Jesus Barabbas (Jesus Son of the Father) – the bandit and Jesus Barabbas (Jesus Son of the Father) - the Messiah isn’t a choice between pure evil and pure good, but rather a choice between good and better.  The difference between them is the difference between man’s attempt to impose Righteousness on the world by force (Might makes Right!) and God’s creation of Righteousness within his people.

I have more respect and sympathy for Barabbas after this novel (though no more support or admiration for his banditry.)

But wait… Barabbas?  In a novel about Mary?
Yep. Barabbas. This is something that I didn’t like so much about the novel. 

It is, quite obviously, a novel.  A fictionalization. It is a romance in the classical definition of the word.  It is a story of adventure and passion (though not much “romantic love” though there does seem to be some romance between Mary and Barabbas).  Halter’s novel puts Mary of Nazareth at the center of intrigues and adventures and tales of daring do. In this novel she meets nearly everyone from the New Testament before her son is even conceived.

It’s forgivable, I suppose.  It is a novel, and novelists are free to craft a story however they please – but I found it increasingly implausible that Mary could be at the center of so much. She’s on one hand joining Barabbas in a midnight raid on a Roman fort, and then studying the Greek language and philosophy with Mary Magdalene.  Then she’s with the Essenes studying medicine with Joseph of Arimathea.

It seemed to me that the Mary of this story would hardly need her miraculous son. In fact, the whole novel seemed to supplant the son with his mother – even the title Mary of Nazareth seems to put Mary into a messianic role.  That she conceives the infant messiah by a divine overshadowing doesn’t come as a shock or surprise to her. She asked for it. 

She isn’t quite the Mary, Queen of Heaven as in some of the more extreme Roman Catholic teachings, but neither is she the humble handmaiden of God.

And this is where I thought my book ended…

Halter brings his story of Mary of Nazareth to a conclusion with her arrival with Joseph in Bethlehem for the census.  But that isn’t the end of the book.  As a sort of epilogue he has tagged on a contemporary account of his return to Warsaw, Poland –the city of his birth – and how he was given a copy of an ancient document which is, purportedly, a Gospel of Mary.  This gospel then continues the story (switching to a 1st person voice for the first time in the book) as Mary tells of the ministry of her son… but still it seems more about the mother than the son.

It was a strange break in the narrative.  I’m not sure why Halter did this.  Perhaps he worried that the book was getting too long and wanted a way to short cut to the end.  This was the weakest part of the book and I really didn’t like it.  It felt like a cheat. 

Especially as it denies the central point of the faith based on Mary's son- his resurrection.  Mary is, in this novel, part of a plot to fake Jesus' death on the cross and then to secret away his body from the tomb.  

Overall I wasn’t terribly impressed by the book.  It wasn’t terrible, and it did have some fine parts. I’m grateful that I’ve read (listened to) it.  I’m glad to have had the chance to re-think some things.  But it wasn’t a great book.  And not one I’m likely to recommend.

Mary of Nazareth by Marek Halter, 2008

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Now and Again (I Forget Where I Am)

I made this track in Ableton Live 8 (lite) with a sound from the Freesound Project (and several other samples and midi files.)

Now and Again (I Forget Where I Am) by thatjeffcarter was here

This song is available for download.

 I was also, at the beginning of the project, going to include this sound:

And that was the inspiration for the title.  But in the end (after much dithering - it in...take it out...) I took it out.  Perhaps I'll use it another time, or now that it's available to anyone and everyone  at the Freesound Project, perhaps someone else will use it in one of their projects.

Here is the sample I DID use:  Space Tigers Moog Photosynth:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Starry Night in Madison Wisconsin

This Starry Night Christmas pageant was held at The Salvation Army in Madison, Wisconsin.  My parents are the corps officers there. My youngest brother filmed it for them.

The music is my song - The Gift of Myrrh.

First Approach

First Approach by thatjeffcarter was here

I made this track for the Myloops Winter Trance Production Contest 

In addition to the samples provided (from the "Dream Walker" pack) I used a few sounds from the Freesound Project

Deep Beat
Phased Ax Sweep

If you like it, feel free to download and share it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

December Biblio-blog Carnival

It's that time again.

It's time for the monthly Biblio-blog Carnival: a round up of some of the great material posted to the interwebs in the field Christianity, the bible, and religion in general.

This month's collection (gathered through the month of December) is hosted at Dr. Jim's Thinking Shop. And it is huge.  There's a lot to read here.

And, if I can point it out while retaining some small measure of humility, there are a couple of links to some of my material.

Check it out. It's a Carnival, Jim, but not as we know it.
Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
reviews: 2
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.33)

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