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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Perfect Love

I love the quiet little hymn tune Repton.  It’s not used nearly enough. So I've written a short little hymn (based on the passage I'll be preaching from come Sunday – Mark 12: 28 – 34) to fit that melody.

Perfect Love

Oh hear, O Is-ra-el,
the Lord, the Lord our God, is one,
and we must love with all our heart
and all our soul, and all
our- mind and- all our strength- - - -;
for this is perfect love.

If we would love- our- neighbor
as we dearly love ourselves,
then we would find that we are not
far from the kingdom
of- - God and- that we have- - - -
loved with a perfect love.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 45

I have been producing a new powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image each week - images that I am sharing with you.  You are free to download these images and to use them in your own school, work, church, or personal projects.  You can uses them however you like.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Dark Lords' Triumvirate

First order of business... we cancel Christmas!

When the Son of the Unclean Meets the Son of David Meets the Son of Honor

(Mark 10:46 - 52) 

Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem. He is going up (and it’s always up to Jerusalem) to the city where he will be handed over, going up to the city where he will be arrested; going up to the city where he will die. Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, going up to the place where he will be lifted up.  He’s told his disciples about this. Three times, he’s told them what is going to happen when they get there. But they aren't there yet.  They are on the way to Jerusalem.  And on the way Jesus, along with his disciples and a crowd of his followers, passes through the ancient city of Jericho. 

We might want to remember that Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Yeshua or Joshua.  This is an incredibly potent combination for our imaginations– Joshua passing through the city of Jericho.  Our memories should be ringing with echoes from the Old Testament.  Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin’ down.  Joshua led the people of Israel out of the wilderness and into the land of Promise and Rest. But just as soon as our memories begin ringing with New Testament harmonies of that Old Testament story, Mark tells us that Jesus and his entourage were leaving the city.  They didn’t linger there.  The battle wasn't going to be fought outside the city of Jericho this time.  This time the battle was going to be fought (and won) outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem so Jesus leaves Jericho without lingering and continues on his way.

But as they were leaving that ancient fortified city (with its walls still intact this time) they passed by a blind man named Bartimaeus, sitting by the roadside begging.  And this is where Mark lingers.  Mark lingers to tell us that this blind beggar-man is named Bartimaeus – that is, ‘the Son of Timaeus’. 

It is parenthetical comments like this, scattered throughout Mark’s gospel, that cause some NT scholars to believe that Mark was writing to a Gentile audience that would have needed to have certain Jewish customs and Aramaic words explained.  Jesus and his earliest followers were Aramaic speaking Jews, but those reading Mark’s gospel some 40-50 years later were not. They lived in a different place, in different conditions, and spoke a different language.  And Mark wants to make sure that his audience recognizes the name Bartimaeus as an Aramaic / Greek hybrid name.  The first part “Bar” is the Aramaic prefix meaning “Son of” and the second part “Timaeus” is a Greek name.  Thus, the man sitting alongside the road outside the city of Jericho was “the son of Timaeus.” 

But we can probe that name a little further. 

There are two different ways we can interpret the name Timaeus.  The blind beggar-man sitting alongside the road outside the city of Jericho is either Bartimaeus- “the Son of Honor” or he is Bartimaeus- “the Son of the Unclean.”  The difference comes down to which Aramaic word lies behind the Aramaic/ Greek hybrid construction – Bar-Timaeus.  It is either the Aramaic word imē or mā. The first means honor. The second means unclean or abominable.  [i]  If the name is meant to be an interpretive clue, we have two very different ways to understand the story.  

So, let’s rewind the story just a bit and start again.

Jesus, along with his disciples and followers, is on his way up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival and, as he’s already warned his disciples, to be arrested and killed.  On the way they pass through the ancient fortified city of Jericho.  But they don't linger there.  Jesus and his followers leave Jericho, continuing on their way to Jerusalem, and as they leave they pass a blind beggar-man sitting along the road.  He is Bartimaeus, “the Son of the Unclean.”

He hadn’t always been that pitiful blind beggar.  He had been a part of normal, healthy society.  He’d had an occupation.  Perhaps he was a craftsman, or a farmer.  Perhaps he'd been a scholar- a scribe before going blind.  But something happened to him and he lost his sight.  Perhaps he was kicked by an animal.  Perhaps he'd contracted a fever.  Perhaps, like the apocryphal Jewish hero Tobit, he was blinded by bird droppings that fell in his eyes as he slept.  We don't know how Bartimaeus lost his sight.  But it was gone and so was his honor.

To be sick, to be physically disabled, to be crippled, in the ancient world was a sign, to many, of God’s displeasure.  Just as health and prosperity were indications of God’s favor, sickness and poverty were often considered to be signs of God’s displeasure with an individual.  Barren women were ashamed.  Lepers were expelled from the community.  To be sick or disfigured or deformed was considered by many to be cursed by God.

It’s somewhat different today.  Those with physical handicaps of one kind or another can still be productive members of society.  Blind people can work in many fields – but in the first century, to be blind was to be totally dependent upon someone else.  The blind were unable to work, unable to support themselves or their family.  And those who had no one to care and provide for them were, as Bartimaeus, reduced to begging at the side of the road.

Now he’d picked a good spot.  If one has to beg, then the pilgrim’s path toward Jerusalem for Passover was the right place to be, but to be a beggar was to be a “son of the unclean.”  There was no honor in it.  There was only shame.

But when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was coming by he began to shout.  He must have heard others speaking about this Jesus, talking about his mighty acts of power.  And Bartimaeus began to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”  This is the only place where Mark uses that particular name for Jesus – and is the only healing story where the healed individual is named.  The names are important here.

The “Son of the Unclean” called out to the passing “Son of David,” pleading for him to stop and to have mercy.  But the crowd tried to silence him.  The crowd tried to perform an anti-miracle- they tried to turn him into a mute.[ii]  But he wouldn't be silenced.  He called out even louder, “Son of David” have mercy on this “son of the unclean.”
And Jesus stopped.  He called for Bartimaeus to be brought to him, and he asked the blind man the same question he asked James and John in the previous story, “What would you have me do for you?”  Bartimaues, this “Son of the Unclean” gave a very different answer than the “sons of Thunder.”  They wanted power and position.  They wanted prestige and honor.  Blind Bartimaeus wanted to see again.
And, where Jesus was unable to give James and John what they wanted, he grants Bartimaeus’ request. “Go,” he said, “Your faith has healed you.” And immediately Bartimaeus’ sight was restored.  He could see again. 
This blind man begging at the side of the road outside of Jericho was no longer Bartimaeus the “Son of the Unclean.” He was Bartimaeus “the Son of Honor.”  Even in his blindness he saw more than the crowd of Jesus’ followers.  And because of this vision he was honored.   Jesus broke ranks with the crowd.  He left behind their prejudice and scorn, and transformed the “Son of the Unclean” into the “Son of Honor.”
We might also see in Bartimaeus a foreshadowing of Jesus’ final days.  Just as illness and physical defects were considered to be a curse from God (or at least an indication of God’s displeasure) a person put death on the cross was understood to have been cursed by God.  It was an honor-less death, an abominable death.  A victim of Crucifixion was a “son of the unclean,” but Jesus, the “Son of David” has already been chosen and marked by God as his “Beloved” son – a “Son of Honor.”  His shameful and unclean death will be undone by his glorious resurrection.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Remember - Pat Robertson Already Knows Who Will Win the Election

We're in the final days of this seemingly endless presidential campaign.  There are only a few days left before Americans will cast their votes to decide which of the candidates will be our next president.  And it's a good thing, too.  If I have to watch any more election commercials I might start to miss commercials for feminine hygiene products.

But,as exasperating the campaigns have become,  let's not forget that everyone's favorite media mogul and televangelist,  Pat Robertson, already knows who is going to be the winner. He's known for months because God told him.

"I think he showed me about the next president," Robertson said way back in January, "but I'm not supposed to talk about it."

Some of us might still be wondering and praying about the upcoming election.  But Pat Robertson's already got the inside scoop.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Son of Timaeus, the Son of Timaeus

In preparing my sermon for this upcoming Sunday (from Mark 10:46 – 52) I have been thinking about that name: Bartimaeus.

In the story as told in Mark's gospel, Jesus –on his way to Jerusalem- is leaving the city of Jericho when he is accosted by the blind beggar, Bartimaeus.  And Mark goes out of his way to identify Bartimaeus as the “son of Timaeus.” That is, he is "Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus." This may be, as many scholars propose, evidence that Mark was writing to a gentile audience that would not have understood Jesus’ native language, Aramaic. In Aramaic the prefix “Bar" means “son of “(in the same way that “ben” means “son of” in Hebrew). 

But probing a little further, I wanted to know what the name Timaeus means(which is a Greek name, by the way…). 

If you search online, as I did, you'll discover two different interpretations of the name.  Some claim that it means “honor,” others that it means “poverty” or “unclean.”  So Bar-Timaeus would mean either “Son of Honor” or “Son of the Unclean.”

The difference comes down to which Aramaic word lies behind the Greek/Aramaic hybrid construction – Bar-Timaeus.  It is either the Aramaic word imē or mā. The first means honor. The second means unclean or abominable.  [i]  If the name is meant to be an interpretive clue, we have two very different ways to understand the story.

If Bartimaeus is the “Son of Honor” we may have an ironic interpretation.  Despite his blindness – a condition that reduced him in social status to a condition of pitiful beggary – Bartimaeus is indeed (because of his faith? Because of his spiritual vision?) the “Son of Honor.”

If Bartimaeus is the “Son of the Unclean” this may be in keeping with the general attitude towards those with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses.   If this is the case, then we may understand this story as a radical act of transformative (and healing) power in which the “Son of David” breaks rank with the crowd in order to meet with the “Son of the Unclean.”

The Ideal King and the Transformative Power of the Gospel

I wrote this sermon four years ago.  I still stand by it.


The Ideal King and the Transformative Power of the Gospel
(Psalm 72)

My choice of text and topic this week was serendipitously appropriate; providentially guided, even.  I was, in my own little way and short-sightedness, working through the relatively simple idea of taking the weeks in January to explore the chapters of the Bible associated with Epiphany – mostly as a way to reconnect with the meaning and importance of the Christmas celebration and the Christmas event without the extraneous distractions of holiday shopping, illuminated reindeer, and the rest of the assorted tinsel and trimmings.

I chose Psalm 72 for today because I’d decided to expand the celebration of Epiphany through the whole of January.  So I consulted a lectionary for the “traditional” verses for Epiphany sermons and, instead of using them all in one sermon I spread them out through the month.   I used the first – Matthew 2 – in the first week, set the second – Isaiah 60 – for the second week and the third – Psalm 72- for the third week and etc…  But the moving of the Spirit guides us even when we’re not aware and surprises us with her provision.
What I discovered as I read Psalm 72 and prepared my notes is that while the Psalm (like all parts of the bible) had an original historical context and intent, it also has a special and continued relevance for us today; especially in light of tomorrow’s celebration of the life and martyrdom of Martin Luther King Jr. and Tuesday’s inauguration of our new president.

The depth of my admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. and the historic magnitude of Tuesday’s inauguration weighed on me as I deliberated on how to prepare this sermon.  I felt the weight of gravitas hanging over me- I felt the need to fit my words to the solemn magnitude of current events, because, as so many have already said, these are important and consequential times.  I wanted the few things I have to say this morning to fit the scale of importance, to sound in the right key.  I want my few fragile thoughts to transcend my own transience and to give expression to both the anxiety for the future that permeates our country, and the tremendous hope for the future that I feel.

And so this morning I turn our attention toward Psalm 72 – a psalm that was either written by or for King Solomon – the Hebrew preposition is a bit ambiguous and has caused a fair bit of debate… but either way – written by King Solomon or written for King Solomon, Psalm 72 is a prayer that the newly crowned king (whoever he was) would be a king after God’s own heart, an ideal king.  Psalm 72 is a prayer that the new king would rule in the justice and righteousness of God for the benefit of God’s people.

Psalm 72 is a prayer that the rule of the newly crowned king would bring peace and prosperity to the land and security to the borders.  Psalm 72 is a prayer that the justice and righteousness of God would be exemplified by the new king.  And maybe you begin to see why it is appropriate for this morning as we anticipate the inauguration of President Barack Obama. 

God, endow the King with your own fair judgment,
the son of the king with your own saving justice,
that he may rule your people with justice
and your poor with fair judgment.

Mountains and hills, bring peace to the people!
With justice he will judge the poor of the people;
he will save the children of the needy
and crush their oppressors.
What makes a good King?  What exemplifies an honorable leader?  What qualities make a good president?  Will historians and theologians and blue-collar workers look back at the two terms of President George W. Bush with laude and admiration?  Will in future tests and trials President Barack Obama prove his rhetoric?  What makes a good president?  Does a reduction of taxes make a good president?  Does a decrease in the national debt (or an increase in the surplus) make a good president?  How about a decrease in the unemployment rate?  Does winning a war make a good president?  Does avoiding a war make a good president?  What makes a good president? How will we judge the success or failure of our presidents?  What criteria should we use?
We who trust and believe the words of the Bible, the chapters and verses of the Old and New Testaments, find in them the law of Love that defines our lives and our actions.  In the word of God we find the standards that govern our thoughts and behaviors.  And in Psalm 72 we find a timeless standard for our leaders.  Though it was written thousands of years ago to describe the governance of a monarch, it is still applicable and relevant to our representative democratic republic. 

He rescues anyone needy who calls to him,
and the poor who has no one to help.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the needy from death.

From oppression and violence he redeems their lives,
their blood is precious in his sight.

The good king – the ideal king will be one who protects and defends the poor.  The good president – the ideal president will be one who provides for the needy and rescues the oppressed.  This is the standard by which we should evaluate our president.  This is the standard to which we should hold our president.

Our country is nervous right now.  Anxiety hangs like a specter; the pallor of despair.  Thousands have lost their jobs.  Savings are wiped out.  Families have lost their homes. The economy has taken a severe blow.  And people are nervous, and justifiably so.  The collapse of our banks and financial institutions, the bail out of major industries, the rising national debt, the threat of a looming economic depression.  People are anxious, nervous, angry even, and with cause. 
The decisions made in the weeks and months and years ahead are going to have an enormous effect on us all – but, as always, it will be the poorest who feel the effects; the unemployed, the homeless, the disabled, the immigrant. But the King – or President – as God’s agent for our good, is charged with protecting and defending and providing for the poor. 
It’s the unavoidable conclusion of even a cursory reading of Psalm 72.  Over and over in subtle and in explicit phrases the prayer is that the King will provide righteous justice with an emphasis on the poor and oppressed.  And it’s not Psalm 72 alone that instructs the leaders of government to care for the poor – it is the constantly repeated refrain of the totality of the bible.  It is the second most prominent theme of the bible (after idolatry).

Proverbs 14:31 – To oppress the weak insults the Creator
                                    kindness to the needy honors the Creator.

Proverbs 19: 17 – Whoever is kind to the poor is lending to Yahweh
                                    who will repay him the kindness done.

Also in the book of Proverbs, King Lemuel is instructed to: Make your views heard, pronounce an upright verdict; defend the cause of the poor and wretched. Proverbs 31:9
Yet it is sometimes objected that the bible says nothing about the government’s responsibility to the poor; that the scriptures instruct individuals to take care of the poor, and that the government should stay out of the charity business.  Many of the commentaries that I consulted in preparation for this sermon didn’t even mention the King’s responsibility for the poor in Psalm 72, or if they did it was as an afterthought.
And it is true that we are each one of us responsible for the welfare and well-being of our neighbors.  I am my brothers’ keeper and I am my sisters’ keeper.  But the prayer of the Psalmist will not let us escape the conclusion that the King – or the President – is charged with the responsibility to protect and defend and to provide for the poorest of the people because they are God’s people. 

Too often our government has been the protector of the rich and powerful instead of being protectors and servants of the poor and needy.  Too often laws have been passed that favor the wealthy and leave those who are already struggling to struggle on in desperation.  The incredible gap that separates the wealthiest 2% from the poor majority is staggering.  And it is reprehensible.  And the good president, the ideal president will not allow the poor to suffer.

Psalm 72 lays this concern of the ideal king out in positive statements: “he will defend the poor,” and “he will save the children of the needy.”  Yet sometimes we need to hear it expressed in the negative as well.  The prophet Isaiah spoke to the leaders and officials of the government of his day and said:
Woe to those who enact unjust decrees,
who compose oppressive legislation
to deny justice to the weak
and to cheat the humblest of my people of fair judgment,
to make widows their prey
and to rob the orphan.

Isaiah 10: 1 -2
The king is appointed by God to execute justice and righteousness (1 Kings 10:19).  The President, as leader of our country, is God’s agent for our good (Romans 13:4). And as such is charged with the responsibility to govern with justice and righteousness, and to defend and care for the poorest of God’s people.

And I think that our new President understands this.  He has spoken often about his faith and how his faith in God has influenced his career in politics.  Barack Obama has frequently spoken about how the message of the bible – the good news of the Kingdom of God.... – has informed his politics.  In an address at  Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia, one year ago (January 20, 2008) he said:

I am talking about an empathy deficit. I’m talking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brothers’ keeper. We are our sisters’ keeper; that in the words of Dr. King we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.....
We have an empathy deficit when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame - schools in the forgotten corridors of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education.

We have a deficit when CEO’s are making more in 10 minutes than some workers make in 10 months; when families lose their homes so that lenders make a profit; when mothers can’t afford a doctor when their children get sick.

And we have a deficit when it takes a breach in our levees to reveal a breach in our compassion, when it takes a storm to reveal the hungry that God calls us to feed, the sick that he calls us to care for, the least of these the commands us to treat as our own.....
So we have a deficit to close.  We have walls – barriers to justice and equality – that must come down.
I believe that Barack Obama understands the charge that will be laid upon him as president.  I believe that he understands the responsibility that he has to be the servant of the poor and needy and not the servant of the wealthy and powerful.  I believe that he will work to be God’s agent for the good of our country.

But, let me be clear. 
If I have hope, it is not because of the speeches and promises of our politicians; we know what those are worth...  If I believe that the future can be good, it is not because of campaign slogans and pep rallies.  Nor is my hope in America herself. And here I would challenge our incoming president.  During the campaign, Barack Obama, while appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman, said, “This country is still the last best hope on earth. (April 9, 2007)  ”
The United States of America is not a special holy messianic force in the world.    There is nothing especially meritorious about The United States.  It is, like all other countries of the world, human.  The United States has done some exceptional things, some beautiful things, some bold and righteous things.  But at the same time The United States of America has done some terrible, blasphemous, hideously evil things.  The United States of America is not immune to criticism.
The hope that I have – and I do have hope for the future – is not in President Obama and his administration.  My hope is not in America itself. My hope is in something bigger than a president who will serve this country for four or eight years. My hope is bigger than this country, this relatively young country…  The hope that I have is in something larger.  I have hope because I know that the word of God is a powerful force for change, and for goodness and righteousness.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and martyrdom we honor tomorrow, put his hope – not in government officials or the laws that they would pass – though he struggled tirelessly to influence the leaders of government and to challenge the injustice of the laws that enforced segregation and racism.  King’s hope was not that the government would make people good, but that good people could change the government, and that the government could embody the justice of God.
Martin Luther repudiated the idea that public virtue was impossible.  He demonstrated with his life and with his death that public virtue was – and is – a possibility because of the good news of the gospel.   In his sermon “The Answer to a Perplexing Problem” King said, “Both man and God, made one in a marvelous unity of purpose through an overflowing love as the free gift of himself on the part of God and by perfect obedience and receptivity on the part of man, can transform the old into the new and drive out the deadly cancer of sin.”
I believe with the psalmist who composed Psalm 72, and with Martin Luther King Jr., and with Barack Obama that the good news of the gospel can be exemplified in the leadership of the king or the president. I believe that the good news of the gospel – if applied – can transform our individual lives and that it can transform our country.

It will not do to object that the bible says that “the poor will always be with you,” it will not do to sit idly by waiting for Christ to part the clouds and to push a heavenly reset button to make everything right.  It is our responsibility as Christians to put our faith into action and to embody that faith in our action. 

That’s the example that God has given us; He embodied himself so that he could transform us.  God, in the person of Jesus Christ became as we are, so that we might become as he is. We are transformed by the gospel and we continue that transformation by being a living witness to the Kingdom of God in this world, a light in the darkness.

Martin Luther King Jr. was radically transformed by the power of that gospel – and his life became the gospel.  We remember and honor and celebrate the power of that transformation.  The world is a better place because of the transformation that the gospel worked in his life.

There are too many – desperately too many – Christians who believe that the world is a sinking ship. There are too many Christians who believe that the world is dying; Christians who believe that there is nothing that can be done or should be done to redeem this world.

I thank God that Martin Luther King Jr. was not one of those Christians. I thank God that he recognized that the power that had transformed his life, could – and would – transform the world around him as well.  I thank God that King put the gospel into action.
Imagine for one moment, if you will, that Martin Luther King Jr. had believed that there was no point in trying to change the world, that there was no sense in trying to help the poor because “they’re always going to be with us” anyway.  Imagine the world where King didn’t believe in the transformative power of the gospel.

But he did.  And I thank God that he did.  I thank God that King put the gospel into action.

That’s what the good king does.  That’s what the ideal king of Psalm 72 does.  He governs the country by putting into action the justice and righteousness of God.  He governs by protecting and defending the poor, by providing for the orphans and the widows and the immigrants.  He governs by making peace.  He governs in truth and justice and righteousness.

This is not an easy call. This is not a responsibility entrusted to us all. This is a responsibility given to the one appointed by God for this time to lead our country.  President Barack Obama will face enormous difficulties and tremendous pressure.  He will be faced with obstacles and fierce enemies.  But he has said that he intends to govern by the light of the gospel that has been revealed to him.

It will be upon us as the people of God to pray – with the psalmist of Psalm 72 – for our leader.  It will be upon us to hold him, and all our government officials to the standard that is described there.  It will be upon us to hold Obama and his cabinet and his administration and congress and the courts and our state and local government officials to the standards of God’s justice, to hold them to the standards of God’s righteousness, and to hold them to God’s special concern for the poorest, and the needy among us.
What will the next years bring?  Peace and Prosperity?  Fear and Anxiety?  I cannot say.  But I have hope that we can embody the kingdom of God, and that if we will do that, the world will be a better place for it. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Clown Prince

Donald Trump Takes Hostage - Makes Ransom Demands

Donald Trump Takes Hostage - Makes Ransom Demand

Breaking News

News agencies are reporting that American businessman and television personality, Donald Trump, has taken a female hostage (known only as Charity) in New York, and is holding her for ransom.

In a statement released today Trump has "demanded" that President Barack Obama release his college records and passport applications.  Trump has announced that he will release his hostage only when his demands are met.  His ultimatum includes a deadline.  '"One caveat --- the records must be given by October 31st at 5pm in the afternoon..."or I start tossing out bodies.'

Authorities believe that Trump is acting out of anger and are taking his threats very seriously.

Be Careful Darkness - a film with some of my music

I contribute frequently to the Freesound Project.  Many of the sounds that I record for use in my music, I make available there. And every so often other artists make use of them.  That's exactly why I (and other Freesound Project users) put them there.

Recently, one of my sounds was used in the short film, Be Careful Darkness.  

Be Careful Darkness from Ramón Durman on Vimeo.

(My sound is the long cello chords....) What do you think?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Make Me a Werewolf, Strong and Bold

“Hail, hail, hail, great Wolf Spirit, hail
A boon I ask thee, mighty shade,
Within this circle I have made.
Make me a werewolf, strong and bold,
The terror alike of young and old.”

Werewolves have never held quite the same fascination for me as vampires or zombies have, but they're monsters and that's okay with me.

I made this collage / painting/ drawing some years back.  The transforming series of faces on the left came from an illustration of foetal development.

It's the 1,000th Post Clip Show

This is my 1,000th post here at the Thatjeffcarter Was Here blog.  It's time for the dreaded clip-show. Nobody really likes clipshows... but they're cheap to produce and are a quick fix when the writers are on strike. Here are a few of my favorite posts:

I'm a pastor (and an artist),so I preach.  These are a few of my favorite sermons that I've posted.  It's not that I think they're world changing sermons that will forever be immortalized in homiletics textbooks for future seminarians to study.  I just like them.
Jesus Loves the Little Children...Doesn't He?
With Wild Abandon
He was Cut and Not Cut Where it Mattered, But it Didn't Matter
The Introvert and the Leper
The Burden of Nahum
Beyond the Valley of Dry Bones
A Fire Burning in My Bones - Not A Good Sermon

I'm an artist (and a pastor), so I paint.  Not as much as I'd like to.... but I keep my brushes ready.
Cognitive Dissonance 
Cats After Dark
Silver and Gold in the Morning
Self Portrait
In the Kitchen
Valley of Bones

I also try my hand at writing poetry.  Admittedly, my poems tend toward the weird.  But I've had a few of them published and I happen to like them.

The Second Coming of Jonathan Edwards Bickle
Rock and Roll Apocalypse (Tom Waits Style)
Ezekiel 23 (A Limerick)
Sweet Dolorous Jane
No More Christmas
Holiday Haiku (these were written by my son)
Pas de Deux
Lamentations: An Incomplete Theodicy

I make a lot of music too.  And much of what I create I've made available online.  You can download these songs.
No Time for Treatment
Artifacts One and Two
Ase! Oh, Ase! Where Have You Gone?
Don't You Tell Me What to Do (featuring Captain Jean Luc Picard)
Before the Foundation of the World
The Secret Place of Thunder
Mark 1: 35

This Accursed Melody / The Stones Cry Out
I frequently collaborate with my youngest brother, Brad.  We've made a movie together - This Accursed Melody  and we are currently working on an Arabic language television program -The Stones Cry Out

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone
Each week I create a new Powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image - and I give them  away.  You are free to download and use any of these images in any of your projects - at home, work, school, or church.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Book Reviews
I like to read.  I never go anywhere without a book or two.  Today I went to get my haircut and to the DMV - both great places to read. I often share here on my blog about the books I've been reading.

The Changing Faces of Jesus - by Geza Vermes (in five parts)
The Human Faces of God - by Thom Stark
The Only True God - by James McGrath
Valley of the Dead - by Kim Paffenroth
Love Wins -by Rob Bell

This has been the 1,000th post. Perhaps we'll see 1,000 more.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 44

I'm producing these images - a new one each week - and I'm giving them away.  They are free to you to use as you like.  Use them at school, at work, at church, at home.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

No One Wants a Repeat of what Happened Last Time

Crazy fool! What was he thinking?
                Sitting there beside the city walls
Bar-Timaeus, shut up! Keep quiet!
You know that shouting isn't allowed here.
No one wants a repeat of what happened last time!

(Mark 10:46 – 52)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

God,Please Just Let the World End...

Word is beginning to spread across the internets that crazed-eyed, financially troubled actor, Nicolas Cage, is in talks to star in an upcoming reboot of the dispensationalist end-times fantasy Left Behind.

God, please, please, just let the world end...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do You Believe in Time Travel?

My son made this lego version of "Frank" for me- the 6' tall, apocalyptic rabbit from the 2001 movie Donnie Darko.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Gaslight and Shadow

Take my knotted stomach and these frayed nerves,
it all makes a sort of sideways sense
in a world where this never happened
and we never met,
it’s willing suspension of disbelief
and high tension wires,
it’s a dangling life in gaslight and shadow.

These flashes of merriment

signify something, I'm certain of that.
Maybe not here and maybe not today,
but it all means something,
even when the curtain has closed.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Indepently Wealthy Jesus had No Need to Depend Upon the Generosity of Others

It has sometimes been suggested that Jesus was poor, that he lived as an itinerant preacher and that he was supported financially by women of means who donated money to his cause and allowed him and his followers to stay at their homes as they traveled. This, of course, is an ideologically driven fabrication created by liberals, and nothing less.  Jesus, who famously said, "I swear - by my life and my love of it - that I will never live my life for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,"* would never have accepted this sort of charity. And, as we will see, had no need to accept this sort of charity. Jesus was an independently wealthy businessman and financed his career as an evangelist with his strategic investments.

After his father died, Jesus took control of  the carpentry business that Joseph had built up in Nazareth. He immediately replaced the staff of highly-skilled craftsmen with cheap Samaritan labor (non-union, of course). This allowed Jesus to dramatically increase the profit margin. Then he bought out his brothers shares in the business and sold it to a Lebanese woodworking company which immediately closed the workshop and moved the production overseas.

Jesus invested the money he received from the sale in a number of commodities and stocks through a Roman investment company. This allowed him exploit a number of tax-shelters and loopholes in the tax-code.  Judas Iscariot, described in the gospel of John as holding "the common purse" (John 13:29) was actually Jesus' accountant and often advised Jesus in ways to maximize the returns on his various investments.

This is a far cry from the picture of Jesus as a homeless wandering preacher dependent upon the generosity of others.  Instead, Jesus provides the model for the independent and motivated businessman who has no need to ask others to care for him, and should not be expected to care for others.

* This quote actually comes from Ayn Rand's character John Galt in the novel Atlas Shrugged. Should I say for clarity that this blog post is satire? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You Can Support the The Stones Cry Out Project

I have shared on this blog about a project that I've been involved with- the, The Stones Cry Out- television program.  My brother and sister-in-law have been in Israel for the past several months filming  the first three of thirteen episodes. I've helped with some of the writing, and I'm producing the music for the project.

BTS Ep1 from Brad Carter on Vimeo.

If you'd like to support this project you can check out the project's Facebook page.  You could also check out my music at Bandcamp.  Half of all the proceeds will go to JEO (Jerusalem Evangelical Outreach) Video Projects, and the other half will go to The Salvation Army in Newton, Iowa (where I'm currently serving.)

The music is inexpensive - many of them are 'name your own price' (which means you could put in $0.00) and, I think, interesting.  And in downloading it you get to support two great groups - and get some great music.

The Prophet Habakkuk

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It's not Enough to be Seen in Photos Appearing to Serve...

It may be that Republican Vice-President Candidate Paul Ryan really does believe in the gospel’s call to self sacrificing service of others.  I do not mean to assert that he is uncaring or that he is not a real Christian.  But …
The intersection of this week’s lectionary reading (Mark 10: 35 – 45) and the recent flurry of internet outrage over photos and video of Ryan’s pretense at service provides an interesting point for discussion.

In the reading for this Sunday, Jesus’ disciples are once again demonstrating their inability to comprehend the meaning of it all.  He’s just told them (for the third time) about his upcoming betrayal, arrest, condemnation, rejection, torture, death, and resurrection (Mark 10: 32 – 34) when the Zebedee boys, those “sons of Thunder” James and John, approach Jesus to make a request.  “Rabbi” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  - Phew! At least they're not asking for much… Jesus, however, is no dolt. He knows better than to issue blank checks. He asks the boys to clarify what it is that they really want.

And it’s not much... They want, only, to have the top two seats of prestige and power and authority when Jesus comes into his victorious glory.  They have ambition. They are motivated. They want to rule and to lead.  (This is a point of connection to Paul Ryan’s recent photo-op fail.  He wants to lead.  He wants to rule.  He wants the number two seat…)

Jesus questions whether or not they really know what they're asking for, and whether or not they're really willing to accept the cost that comes with that request.  They assure him that they do and that they are – and Jesus, surprisingly, accepts them at their word, but tells them that those positions are not his to give.

When the other 10 disciples get wind of this private conversation, they are indignant with the Thunder Brothers.  But Jesus sets them down and tells them:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants over them.  But is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. And whoever wishes to first among you must be slaves to all…”

A real Christian leader will serve, not merely be seen appearing as if to serve.

One Hundred Versions of Me

When I awoke I knew instantly that it had happened.  During the night, while I slept, I was taken from my bed by alien beings from a distant world, and, using their advanced technologies, they cloned me.  They copied my genetic code, replicated my DNA code. Not just once. Or twice. As I slept they repeated the procedure again and again until there were 99 identical copies of me.

In the morning, when I awoke, I knew instantly that there were 100 me’s awakening.  100 indistinguishable versions of myself. And only in that one fleetingly momentary instant we were one.  In every second that advanced after that moment the uncountable multitude of molecules that composed our very existences veered off in countless different directions, creating 100 different and differing individuals.

I awoke and I knew instantly that it had happened.  I pulled the covers back and sat up in bed.  My feet were cold so I pulled on my slippers and made my way to the kitchen where I started a pot of coffee.  As the machine steamed and gurgled and dribbled out the hot, dark, caffeinated brew I wondered if it were true.

I woke up with a headache.  One of those headaches that begin right behind my eye and grow all day long. 

I woke up thinking about the bizarre dream I'd had.  I turned to my right so I could tell my wife about it.  “Which one am I married to?” she asked.  “ I'm the real thing, baby.”  I joked.  But she didn't laugh.  “How do I know? Prove it,” she said and when she went into the bathroom for her morning shower she locked the door behind her.

I woke up knowing about them.  All of them.  And I knew that that they all knew about me too.  Each and everyone of them knew everything about me. And I knew, without any hesitation, that they had to die. 

I awoke and I knew instantly that it had happened.  I pulled the covers back and sat up in bed.  My feet were cold so I pulled on my slippers and made my way to the kitchen where I started a pot of coffee.  As the machine steamed and gurgled and dribbled out the hot, dark, caffeinated brew I tried to dismiss it all as a bad dream, as the random electrical firing of my cranial synapses and nothing more.  But even the hot cup of coffee couldn't sooth my doubts.

I woke up knowing what happened.  I slapped at the alarm-clock’s snooze button and went back to sleep for another fifteen minutes.

I woke up knowing that I was free, free of him and his doctrinal hang-ups.  He believed all that rubbish about God and sin and death and hell and whatever.  But waking up different I could finally leave all that behind me.  The woman in the bed beside me was his wife, not mine.  The children in the rooms across the hall were his little brats.  I dressed and left the house and never thought of them again.

I woke up knowing what happened and understanding the meaning of it all.  It was all so simple.  I leaped from the bed, startling a cat that was sleeping on my feet and that I didn't realize that I owned.  I put on my bathrobe over my pajamas and ran outside to share this revelation with my neighbors.  I never saw the garbage truck that hit me.

I woke up knowing that I’d forgotten something. Something very important. But I could not remember what it was.  All day I wondered.  I looked at my daily calendar for some clue – but there was nothing but the ordinary daily events of my life.  The vague memory of something vital hovered just beyond my cognitive ability to reach, tormenting me with its intangible presence. 

I woke up knowing all about the others.  But I knew also knew that there was absolutely nothing I could do about them. They were there. I was here.  I dressed and went on my life.

I awoke and I knew instantly that it had happened.  I pulled the covers back and sat up in bed.  My feet were cold so I pulled on my slippers and made my way to the kitchen where I started a pot of coffee.  As the machine steamed and gurgled and dribbled out the hot, dark, caffeinated brew I wondered if I could contact them.  What could we do as a team? What kind of collaborative projects could we accomplish? If two heads are better than one, then how great would one hundred be?  Together we could be unstoppable.

I woke up sweating. My chest hurt.  I couldn't breathe.  I… I… I…

I awoke and I knew instantly that it had happened.  I pulled the covers back and sat up in bed.  I yawned.  My feet were cold so I pulled on my slippers and made my way to the bathroom to relieve myself.  Later.  I would think about all those others later.

One Hundred
I awoke alone.  I'd always been alone and would always be alone.  I knew about the others but how did I know about them?  My perceptions – the things I see and hear and smell and taste – are only projections anyway.  My experiences are manipulated by the engineers who've placed my brain in this vat.  Why should I believe that the other ninety-nine me’s are any more real than anything else in this manufactured reality?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 43 - Citron

I had a friend make a request for this week's Powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image - so, Dutton, this one is for you.  Dutton asked specifically for the color citron.

You are free to use these images in your own personal, work, school, or church projects.  Use them however you wish.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Dark, Dark Place - And I'm There Playing the Trombone

I frequently mention the Freesound Project on this blog.  I use its massive resource all the time in my music and video work.   I also frequently mention the Dares that members of the Freesound Project share.  We challenge each other to create new and exciting music or sounds with certain limitations or on a particular theme.  This month's dare, quite naturally, was to create a spooky, scary type of song or sound.

My submission to the dare was a song entitled Under the Shadow.

My friend and fellow Freesounder, AlienXXX, has shared a soundscape that he made for an earlier challenge- A Dark, Dark Place - in which he included a recording I made of me playing the trombone.  He's tweaked the sound a bit - so it may not sound much like the trombones you're familiar with... but I like it just the same

Here is my trombone recording singled out, just in case you were curious:


If I remember rightly - I made the original sketch for this painting as I was watching the movie The Ladykillers - the original 1955 version with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

What I'm Reading - Intersections: Post-Critical Studies in Preaching

I try to read a couple of books each year about the art and science of preaching and/or writing.  I’m not content with what I already know.  And I’m not content with my abilities as they are now. I want to be and do better.  So I study and I practice.  I've only just started reading Intersections: Post-Critical Studies in Preaching[i] - I’ve only read the first two (of the seven) essays – but already I'm quite impressed, and thinking ways to improve my own preaching. 

The first essay, by Thomas G. Long, is entitled The Preacher and the Beast: From Apocalyptic Text to Sermon. If ever there was a title designed to catch my eye, this would be it.  (Feel free to call me a nerd.  Many have already.) But while it might appear obscure and irrelevant to most, what Long says about preaching from apocalyptic texts can (and should) be applied to preaching from any scripture text.

I often find myself quite bored while listening to other preachers.  And not just bored, but irritated too.  I usually dislike listening to other preachers because too often it’s not really preaching –it's merely motivational speaking dressed up and churchified with a few (out of context) scripture verses.[ii] I hate it when I hear sermons that jump immediately from a reading of, say: David and Goliath to asking “what are the Goliaths in your life?”  I hate that.  Hate it. HATE IT.

“…the preacher assumes that something about this text will prove to have contemporary relevance.” [iii]

My high school English and Journalism teacher, Mr. Howard Spanogle, taught us that we should to ask three questions about a text – whether it be a poem, a novel, a song, or a newspaper article.  These three questions have stuck with me and I continue to use them as I prepare sermons.

1) What does it say? 
2) What does it mean?
3) What does it mean to me?

Those preachers who ask “What are the Goliaths in your life?” seem to have the idea that questions 2 and 3 are one and the same.  But they’re not. 

The stories and teachings contained in the Bible are very old. They originated in another part of the world, in different languages, in different cultures, in a very different time.  And we cannot properly address a text’s meaning until we have probed its historical setting – the author, the audience, the culture, the values, the history, etc…  If one skips question 2 “What does it mean?” and proceeds directly to question 3 “What does it mean to me?” then one has untethered the text from its historical setting and is free to arbitrarily create any meaning at all for the text.  This is how heresies and cults are started.  This is how books like Chicken Soup for the Soul get written!

And this is where I must admit some of my own homiletic failure.  In my irritation with preachers who sound like motivational speakers, I sometimes swing the pendulum too far in the other direction and spend my pulpit time explaining language and custom and culture and historical setting –without ever adequately addressing question #3 “What does it mean to me?”

Preachers must, somehow, face the question of how to transfer the text’s meaning from one historical setting (the text’s) to another (the contemporary congregation).[iv]

Long suggests that best way to approach a biblical text for preaching is to view it as “performative language.”[v] That is, to understand that the text is not merely communicating information but challenging us to do something with that information, and that the meaning of the text is at the intersection of this information and action.

The example that he provides is the sentence: “The door is wide open.”  The information communicated in this sentence seems pretty clear.  But to understand the meaning of this sentence I need to, in a sense, read your mind and understand what you want me to do with this information. 
“If we are, at the time, strolling through the neighborhood and you are pointing at the house of neighbor who is away on vacation, you are trying to convey puzzlement, suspicion, even alarm at the fact that the neighbors’ door is wide open.  Moreover, you are trying to arouse that same reaction in me.  But if we are sitting in your office and I have just launched into a juicy and confidential tale, your telling me that the door is wide open is your way of urging me to either lower my voice or to get up and close the door in order to ensure privacy.  In short, when you say ‘the door is wide open,’ you are not merely transmitting information about a door; you are trying to do something with that information.”[vi]

Long’s essay applies this homiletic ideal to the difficulties faced in preaching from apocalyptic texts, but I hope to better apply it to all my preaching. I want to more consistently move from merely communicating information to bringing a sound scriptural challenge.  Imagine my horror when I realize that I need some of the motivational speaker’s toolbox! 

But at the same time I want to challenge my fellow preachers (especially those who are in reality merely chicken soup for the soul styled motivational speakers) to recognize the second of those three interpretive questions.  “What does it mean?”  Needs to be asked (and answered as much as possible) before moving on to “What does it mean to me?”


I wrote this post last night.  This morning I sat through a sermon that began with a reading from 1 Samuel 17... David and Goliath.   I groaned.  Out loud.  The preacher didn't jump immediately to "what are the goliaths in your life?"  but instead played hopscotch through the bible landing on all the verses about the "anointing of God"   And then came to the question "What is the anointing of God in your life?"  I groaned again.

[i] Eslinger, Richard L. Intersections: Post-Critical Studies in Preaching William Be Eerdmans Publishing Company,
                Grand Rapids MI, 1994.
[ii] I wish these preachers would just get into their vans and get back down by the river, where they belong!
[iii] Page 3
[iv] Page 5
[v] Page 6
[vi] Page 7

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Under the Shadow - Freesound Project Dare 16

I make frequent use of the many sounds available at the Freesound Project.  But not only is it an enormous resource, it is also a community of musicians, producers and audio-crafters.  We sometimes challenge each other to various "Dares" to see what we can create from a limited selection of sounds.   This month's dare is to create a spooky, scary, Halloween type sound/soundscape.

And this is my submission- Under the Shadow

I used the following sounds from The Freesound Project :
Ambient Beat - I modified this sound and resubmitted it as this sound
heavily processed human speech
Bowed Cello
And I recorded these sounds myself:
Shadow 1
Shadow 2
Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
reviews: 2
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.33)

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