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Monday, December 31, 2012

At the Year's End

At the year's end we think back, reflect. Some of us pray.  Many of us resolve to do better, to be better.  At the year's end...

I created this song in Ableton Live 8 and used a sound from the Freesound Project:

Feel free to download it if you like the song.

A New Year’s Blessing

May God bless us as we wait
with candles and watchnight vigils,
with anxieties and fears, with hopes and plans;
May God bless us as we wait.

There is a season for everything
even this, the end of the world
coming as it does at the end of every year.
The end is nigh; a new heaven and a new earth
waiting in the wings with the New Year.
May God bless us one and all.

May he wipe away our tears,
may their season be passed,
            may they, like the sea they have filled, be no more.

May he say to us who wait,
                “Come, come you who are blessed,
                come into the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”
May he welcome us in this New Year.

New Year 2013

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 2 - 2013

Each week I create a new background image for use in Powerpoint slides (or similar presentation programs) and each week I share them on this blog.  You are free to use them in your own projects at home, work, school, or church.  Use them wherever you like.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Week 2

Also... If you'd like to download all of last year's images in a convenient 131 MB zip file here is the link:
Powerpoint Slides for Everyone 2012

Human and More Than Human

In the year 6 B.C. (or roughly thereabouts) a man was born who was more than a man. Into that humble village of Bethlehem came the one who was the “only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God the same essence [reality], as the Father, through Whom all things came into being, Who for us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human. [i]

This is the crux of Christianity: that the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God would leave His timeless, changeless power and join himself to the human condition.

In the  Salvation Army Doctrines we state that: “We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the divine and human natures are united so that he is truly and properly God and truly and properly man.”

Jesus Christ is fully and completely God.
Jesus Christ is fully and completely man.
Jesus Christ is not two persons but one.

Early Christian art (the first century through the middle or “dark ages”) had a tendency to stress the Divine nature of Jesus; pictures of Jesus demonstrated his God-hood. In these pictures he is the pantokrator – the All Governing God of the world, the ruler who reigns over heaven and earth. In these paintings he is dressed in the royal robes of a king and wears a crown. He was portrayed enthroned on the walls of the churches as the ascended and exalted Lord who brings order to heaven and earth [ii]

This emphasis in artistic expression of the divinity of Jesus corresponded to an emphasis in apologetics of the time. Attacks on the God-nature of Christ came from all sides; from the pagan Roman Empire and from their Jewish brothers. It was unfathomable to them that a divine being would subject himself to such a life as that lived by Jesus of Nazareth, and to such a death as the one suffered by this Jesus. Crucifixion was reserved for the basest of criminals.

Celsus was a 2nd century opponent of Christianity who, like others of his time, refused to accept the idea of a God who would become a man. For Celsus, Jesus was only a man, a poor, wretched, miserable man, who was born in poverty (even claiming that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Mary with a Roman soldier) and who died condemned as a criminal. If, Celsus asks, Jesus was God, why did he allow himself to be crucified? Why did he not destroy his enemies? And even if Christians could answer these questions he went further, “What could be the purpose of such a visit to earth by God? To find out what is taking place among humans? Does he not know everything? Or is it perhaps that He knows but is incapable of doing anything about evil unless he does it in person? [iii]

To the Christian’s Jewish brothers, it was obvious that Christians were guilty of blasphemy. This Jesus that they declared to be God had been crucified – and according to Jewish law, anyone hung on a tree was under God’s curse (Deut 21: 22 – 23). How could Jesus be God? He was, as Peter wrote in his letter, “the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to Him… a precious cornerstone and no one who relies on this will be brought to disgrace. To you believers it brings honor. But for unbeliever, it is rather a stone which the builders rejected that became a cornerstone, a stumbling stone, a rock to trip people up. They stumble over it because they do not believe in the Word… (1 Peter 2: 4 – 8)

For St. Athanasius (295 – 373) the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the God-Man was evident in every part of his life, death, and resurrection. “…even at his death …the whole creation was confessing that he who was known and suffered in the body was not simply a man, but the Son of God and Savior of all. For the sun turned black, and the earth shook, and the mountains rent… and these things showed that Christ who was on the cross was God…” [iv]

By the time of the Renaissance however, the emphasis had changed; artists became focused on the humanity of this God-Man, Jesus – the “humanation” of God. “In the imagery of earlier Christianity, the claims for Christ’s absolute godhood, and for his parity with the Almighty Father, had to be constantly reaffirmed against unbelief – first against Jewish recalcitrance and pagan skepticism, then against the Arian heresy, finally against Islam[v]. Now in the renaissance painters were showing the humanation of God just as preachers were emphasizing the mystery of the incarnation.

In their understanding of theology “humanity was saved redeemed, at least inchoately, at the moment the Godhead assumed human flesh and became one with us.[vi]” And they lovingly portrayed Christ in his human-ness showing him often as the naked infant – demonstrating that Jesus was fully human in all his members.

In one age the deity of Christ is emphasized over his humanity; in another his humanity over his divinity. And yet the mystery is that he is fully both – “perfect both in deity and also in human-ness; this selfsame one is actually God and actually man with a rational soul and a body. His is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned an of the same reality as we are ourselves as far as his human-ness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and on behalf of our salvation, this self-same one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his human-ness. [vii]

This is a mystery. That Jesus
Who being in the form of God (the same essence and reality)
Did not count equality with God something to be grasped or exploited.

But he emptied himself, despoiled himself
Taking the form of a slave

Becoming as human beings are

And being in every way like a human being,
He was humbler yet,
Even to accepting death, death on a cross

And for this God raised him high -highly exalted him in his resurrection, ascension, and glorification -
And gave him the name
Which is above all other name [Yahweh]

So that all beings
In the heavens, on the earth, and in the underworld,
Should bend the knee at the name of Jesus

And that every tongue should acknowledge
Jesus Christ as Lord
To the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2: 6 – 11)

In the year 6 B.C. (or roughly thereabouts) a man was born who was more than a man. Without divesting himself of his God-ness, Jesus put on our flesh. And while it would have been right and fitting for him to come to us in glory and in power, as the pantokrator the Supreme Ruler of All that Exists, for our sake Christ preferred to set aside these “insignia of majesty” and lived for thirty-three years in a life of service and obscurity; veiling his majesty in his suffering and death, until he was raised on high and highly exalted by God.

His death was not an accident any more than his birth was an accident. It was not “plan B.” It was not the last resort. Christ’s death upon the Cross is not a failure which was somehow put right afterwards by his Resurrection.[viii] His death and subsequent resurrection were the purpose for which God made such a mysterious intervention into human affairs; the reason that Jesus set aside the insignia of his majesty to become human like us.

Jesus, for a short time was made lower than the angels so that he could share in our humanity, so that he could be like us in every way, so that he could suffer temptation and death and by doing so he could forever break the power of the one who holds the power of death. He was and is 100% God and 100% man. Truly and properly God and truly and properly man. Very God and Very Man. Light from Light, true God from true God. And that is difficult, if not impossible to understand.

Errors in thinking about Jesus have tended to swing too far toward one of three extremes. 1) that Jesus was just a man and not God or 2) that Jesus was God and was not a man or that 3) Jesus was part God and part man (a sort of human/deity hybrid.)

Each of these errors is the result of attempting to completely define and articulate the incarnation without leaving any questions or ambiguity; to answer without any mystery.
But it is a mystery. That God became man. That he was born as a blood covered screaming baby. That God would suffer skinned knees. It is a mystery that God could be tempted in the desert. It is a mystery that God could die, executed like a common junkyard thief.

Can you imagine the infinite, all powerful God of the universe suffering? Can you imagine the perfectly, righteous holy one of heaven being tempted? Can you imagine the eternally self-existent Lord of space and time dying?

But in the person of Jesus Christ who is truly God and truly man we have an Icon of a suffering, tempted, and crucified God. A God who hurts, and hurts for us. A God who suffers with us, a God who understands our temptations, and who has died so that we may live.

God came to dwell among us so that he might participate willingly in all the things that we try so desperately to avoid. Jesus, the Son of God came to suffer. Jesus came to be tempted. Jesus came to die. So that he could prove his solidarity with us.

Jesus came to show us that God is not far removed from our concerns, and troubles. We worship a God who has been through them with us. We worship a God who has suffered but not been broken. We worship a God who has been tempted but has not sinned. We worship a God who has died, but did not stay dead – who instead rose up from the grave and has guaranteed eternal life to those who call him Lord.

It is this voluntary humiliation of Christ that is the mystery. The world looks at the person of Jesus Christ and rejects him as God because of his humanity, because of his commonness. Common sense would even reject Jesus as God because of his suffering and death.

But, the crucified Christ is the image of the invisible God – and God is not greater than He is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than He is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than He is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than He is in this humanity. [ix]

In his nature God cannot die. God is eternal. God is the I Am That I Am. God IS. But now that God and man are completely and fully united in the person of Jesus Christ – when that man dies it is rightly called the death of God, for he is one person. (Martin Luther). It is by the suffering and death of God that we can be redeemed, and we could not possibly understand this suffering and death of God, if it were not for the incarnation of the Son of God

The crucified Christ is the image of the invisible God, the way by which we can know God. It was through his sufferings that he knows us and is one with us. It was through his death that we may be reunited with God. Jesus, the incarnate God, is our icon of temptation, suffering and death.

Jesus came to willingly participate in all those things that we try to avoid. We don’t want to be tempted because we know that we are likely to fail. But Jesus didn’t . He could have given into Satan’s temptations, the human nature of Jesus could have given in, but he didn’t, and we don’t have to either. We don’t like to suffer because it hurts and we’re afraid that it will break us. Jesus suffered with us and for us, without regard for himself. In fact he was perfected in his role as pioneer of salvation through his sufferings. Suffering isn’t to be feared. It makes us more like Christ. And we know that death, in the end, comes for us all. But we don’t have to be slaves to the fear of death. We rest confident that the power of death has been broken.

Jesus – Very God and Very Man. Two natures human and divine. Truly and properly God and Truly and properly man. He came so that we could know God and so that God could know us.

He is our suffering and death.
He is our resurrection and our life.

Whom have we, Lord, like you –
The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,
The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,
The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.
Blessed is your honor!

It is right that man should acknowledge your divinity,
It is right for heavenly beings to worship your humanity.
The heavenly beings were amazed to see how small you became,
And the earthly ones to see how exalted. [x]

[i] The Constantinopolitan Creed
[ii] (Robert Webber ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 4, Music and the Arts in Christian Worship, Book 2, pg. 489, Star Song Publishing Group, Nashville TN, 1994. )
[iii] Origen, Against Celsus, 4.3
[iv] Athanasius – The Incarnation
[v] Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality Of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, pg. 9, Pantheon Books, New York, 1983.
[vi] pg. 200
[vii] The Definition of Chalcedon
[viii] Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Revised Edition), pg. 81, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood NY, 1998.
[ix] Jürgen Moltmann – The Crucified God 
[x] St. Ephrem the Syrian, The Harp of the Spirit: 18 poems of Saint Ephrem

Friday, December 28, 2012



This is a photo I took of some of my mom's Christmas decorations.  And these are a couple of Christmas carols that I've written:

Bethlehem, You are Small 
Lord of Heaven Come Near

Perhaps they're singing these songs...

What I'm Reading - Books of 2012

This is a more or less complete list of the books I read this year.

The Silver Hand – Stephen Lawhead
The Paradise War – Stephen Lawhead
Shadowheart – Tad Williams
Shadowrise – Tad Williams
Shadowplay – Tad Williams
Shadowmarch – Tad Williams
Dragons of Autumn Twilight – Margaret Weis
A Lion Among Men – Gregory Maguire

Science Fiction
Have Space Suit – Will Travel – Robert Heinlein
Nebula Awards Showcase 2010 – ed. Bill Fawcett
Mostly Harmless – Douglas Adams
Young Zaphod Plays it Safe – Douglas Adams
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish – Douglas Adams
Life, the Universe, and Everything – Douglas Adams
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams        
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Epic – Conor Kostick
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Horror / Graphic Novels
Coldheart Canyon – Clive Barker
The Regulators – Stephen King
The Crossroads – Chris Grabenstein
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer – Lish McBride
Ghost Knight – Cornelia Funke
Batman: The Long Halloween – Joseph Loeb
Just After Sunset – Stephen King
The Walking Dead – Rise of the Governor – Robert Kirkman
Dying to Live – Km Paffenroth
11/22/63 – Stephen King

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
Silence – Endō Shūsaku
Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyesky
The Plague – Albert Camus
The Brothers Karamazov – Fydor Dostoyevsky

Historical / General Fiction
The Heretic’s Daughter – Kathleen Kent
Guns of the South – Harry Turtledove
The Closers – Michael Connelly
The Reluctant Fundamentalist -  Mohshin Hamid
The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

Religious Ficition
Soul Harvest – Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Apollyon – Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
More than a Skeleton – Paul Maier
A Skeleton in God’s Closet – Paul Maier
Mary of Nazareth – Marek Halter

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos – Brian Greene
A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

History / Biography
The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era – Michael Neufeld
Moscow 1941: A City and It’s People at War – Rodric Braithwaite
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America – Erik Larson
Night – Elie Wiessel

Theology / Bible
Introduction to the New Testament – Raymond E. Brown
The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ – Gary Habermas
The Changing Faces of Jesus – Géza Vermès
Ante-Nicean Fathers : Volume 1 ed. Alexander Roberts
Ephesians 1 – 3 – Markus Barth
And I Turned to See the Voice: The Rhetoric of Vision in the New Testament – Edith Humphrey
Beginnings: Keys that Open the Gospels – Morna Hooker
John’s Apologetic Christology: Legimation and Development in Johannine Christology – James F. McGrath

The Imitation of Christ – Thomas à Kempis

Philosophy / Psychology
Green Lantern and Philosophy: No Evil Shall Escape this Book – ed. Jane Dryden
Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight - Travis Langly

True Crime
Preacher’s Girl:  The Life and Crimes of Blanche Taylor Moore – Jim Schutze
Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunannan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History – Maureen Orth
My Life Among the Serial Killers: Inside the Minds of the World’s Most Notorious Murderers – Helen Morrison

Thursday, December 27, 2012


This is where they hung the sky when I was young;
on a hook, draped loose over the yawning void
above Midwestern highways
            cutting through heartland fields
            where farmers till the soil
            and sun-bleached barns
            cave in upon themselves
And I would stare into that sky
with ineffable longing.

I wrote this a few years ago.  The first couple of lines came into my head as I was driving from Ohio to Minnesota.  I had to pull over to the side of the highway so I could write them down before I forgot them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Free Download

For several years I have been creating background images for use at our local church's powerpoint slides.  Last year I started making them available to readers of this blog - a new one each week.

But maybe you aren't interested in scrolling through each individual blog post for the entire year in order to download each one.  Perhaps you'd like a single link to download the entire year's worth of images in one fell swoop.  Well, you're in luck.

Powerpoint Images for Everyone - 2012

It's a 131MB zip file.  But it's yours - for free - if you want it.
You'll get images like these to use in your own projects - at home, work, school, church, or wherever.  Use them as you will.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 1 -2013

I did this all last year, and have decided to continue. Since I'm already creating a new background image for Powerpoint (or similar presentation program) each week, I decided to share them here.  These images are free for you to use at home, work, school, church or wherever.  Use them as you will. I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Week 1

Presentation at the Temple

Holy FamilyThey traveled with care as there may have been brigands and thieves
along those few uphill miles between
the House of Bread and the City of Peace.
Cautiously the Virgin mother and the Silent father
carried their boy to his presentation
to the Lord at the Temple of his presence.

            Did they know they carried in their arms
                        the rising sun; a light of revelation and of glory?

There in the Temple old Simeon, the God-Receiver,
waited for his release on the steps of
the outer courts; watching, he scanned the vacant
faces of the crowd for the One who would bring consolation,
and comfort, comfort for a people who had lived
in darkness, and the shadow as dark as death.

            He recognized the bundle in his arms as
                        the divisive destiny maker, the stumbling stone for many.

Anna, too, the withering widow in the Court of Women,
a prophetess from the tribe of Asher,
praying and fasting for these many years
arriving just at that moment for her daily service
saw the child and heard the old man’s song;
she realized that her deliverance had come.

            Unrestrained she dashed through the Temple courts
                        shouting fearlessly to all who would hear, “Here is your God.”


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas - It's All Fun and Games

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas.  I can finally say it now.  I've been avoiding it - not for reasons of political correctness.  No.  I wanted, this year, to be Liturgically correct.  Advent was Advent.  Christmas is Christmas. And now the time of waiting is over.  It's Christmastime. It's Christmastime!

We're visiting with my family for a few days.  And while we're all together we're playing lots of games.  We spent this afternoon playing Killer Bunnies and the Trip to Jupiter.  We're taking a quick break to eat some dinner and then we'll reset for the Waling Dead board game.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bethlehem, You are Small: A New Advent Carol

Here is a brand new, original Christmas / Advent carol - with words and music by me.   It's based on this week's lectionary reading from Micah 5:2-5a with a little from Matthew's gospel chapter 2.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hurrah for Christmas Present Books

I received a gift card for books for Christmas - best gift ever. And though they won't arrive until after Christmas day, I'm still very excited.

What did I order, I hear you asking...

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol.1  by John P. Meier
The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate by Dale C. Allison
Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authority - by Chris Kieth & Anthony Le Donne
The Burial of Jesus: History and Faith - by James McGrath

You can accuse me of being a nerd.  I don't care.  I've got some great books to read.

Keep the Light

In the deepest parts of frozen winters our ancient ancestors watched as day after day the sun held its place in the sky for shorter and shorter periods.  The days of light and warmth grew shorter while the nights darkness grew longer and longer.  For those living further North, towards the Arctic Circle, the sun gave light for only a few hours each "day".

What we know today what our ancient ancestors could not know –that there is a 23 ½ degree tilt to the axis of our planet – from a line perpendicular to the path of its year-long pilgrimage around the sun – which accounts for this season of darkness.  The night of December 21st- the Winter Solstice - has the longest hours of darkness (for those in the Northern Hemisphere…) The daylight hours of the days following the winter are gradually longer and longer until the Summer Solstice when the daylight hours are at their longest point.

Fearful that darkness and death would rule over the earth, our ancient pagan ancestors built sacred fires on hilltops and in holy shrines for the winter solstice.  Roaring prayers of red and yellow flames begged the gods to bring back the sun.  On the winter solstice, they danced about fires and chanted hymns to the sun's glory; they wanted to awaken the sun, lest they and all creation die in freezing darkness of an endless winter.

It's not certain when, exactly, Christmas began to be celebrated as a holy, or "holiday," though historians suggest that it probably began as a 4th century replacement for Saturnalia – the Roman festival of the Winter Solstice.  From December 17th through the 24th they would hold a festival to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture.  Business, warfare and executions were postponed during this festival; gifts were exchanged; slaves were temporarily set free and seated at the best seats for the festival and served by their masters.  It was a period of goodwill, perfect peace and happiness. 

Another festival was held about this same time for Mithras – the Persian god of Light whose birth was celebrated on December 25th.

The Catholic Church hoped to draw in pagans by subverting their worship of Saturn and Mithras by replacing the pagan festivals with appropriate Christian meaning.  The birth of Christ was pegged at December 25th to replace the pagan Mithras and Saturn.  And while this may seem like a utilitarian or merely pragmatic solution to the church's problem with its pagan neighbors, putting the Christ-Mass or celebration of the birth of the Son of God at the Winter Solstice makes a certain amount of theological sense.

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, the darkness has not overcome it.  ... The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Keep the light!

Jerusalem Gaude / Jerusalem Rejoice

Jerusalem gaude guadio magno,
Jerusalem rejoice, be glad and joyful,
for there shall come unto thee a Savior,  alleluia.

This Gregorian antiphon does not quote any scripture text directly. Instead it echos and rings with allusion to Zechariah 9:9, "Shout for joy, O Daughter of Jerusalem: behold your king will come to you..." and Isaiah 52:9 "Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem." and Zephaniah 3:14 "Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Even So, the Message is not Lost

Straining to hear, listening through the static and the noise...
even so, the message is not lost.

I used Ableton Live and a couple of sounds from the Freesound Project to make this:
The Gates of Heaven
Space Flute
Speak & Say Noise

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

O Shepherd - an Antiphonal Meditation

O Shepherd in the dark,
   long expected shepherd,
can you hear us
from your throne of light,
   you who are enthroned upon the cherubs;
can you hear us?

O Shepherd in the wild,
   shepherd through the desert,
return to us, shine for us
   so we can be saved
so we can follow.

Are you the anticipation
   or the reflection
of all our expectations?
Either way, we follow.

O Shepherd king,
   good shepherd of Israel,
rise and feed your flock.
We’ve had our fill of the bread of tears;
   we’ve had our tears to drink.
Now we crave the bread from your house.

O Shepherd, come to us;
   come to us, O Shepherd.

This poem is intended to be an antiphonal  meditation on Psalm 80: 1- 7 and Micah 5: 2- 5a.  

The question in the middle - "Are you the anticipation / or the reflection / of all our expectations?"  is an expression of my inability to understand - Do texts like Micah 5: 2 -5 anticipate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, or did the gospel writers see in it a reflection of their understanding of Jesus...  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Here Betwixt Ass and Oxen Mild - A French Noel

This was a new carol to me - despite the fact that it is a bit ancient.  It's a 13th century French "Noel" (the information I have says that the tune is Gevaert) translated by Windred Douglas in 1940.

I recorded this in Ableton Live 8 - that's me on the cornet  (still not a french horn.).  I also used a drum beat from the Freesound Project.

You can download it here, if you like

1- Here betwixt ass and oxen mild,
Sleep, sleep, sleep my little child.
Angels from on high
hover in the sky
keeping watch above th'incarnate God of love.

2-Here in the crib, secure from harms,
Sleep, sleep, in your mother's arms.
Angels from on high
hover in the sky
keeping watch above th'incarnate God of love.

3-Here betwixt rose and lily white,
Sleep, sleep, sleep my son tonight.
Angels from on high
hover in the sky
keeping watch above th'incarnate God of love.

4-On this fair night of holy joy,
Sleep, sleep, sleep my little boy.
Angels from on high
hover in the sky
keeping watch above th'incarnate God of love.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 52

All this year I have been creating background images for use in Powerpoint (or similar presentation programs) and I have been making them available to you to freely download.  You are free (and encouraged) to use these images in your own projects-at home, at work, at school, at church - anywhere. I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.



This is the fourth image in this Advent series.  You may also like weeks 1, 2, and 3.

When Hymns are Misheard - Christmas Edition

Haste! Haste to bring him...

When Hymns are Misheard - Christmas Edition

A previously misheard hymn...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Years of Silence

So there are all these years and years of silence between
the time young Jesus taught the learned doctors of theology
in the temple while his parents fretted his absence


the public inauguration of his all too short career
as a rabbi by baptism in the swollen waters of the
Jordan River by his favored cousin, John.

Did the child Messiah spend those so-called
“missing years” sculpting animated pigeons from clay
and travelling through the exotic mountains of Tibet?

Did he experience those years and years of silence
as a painful separation from God?
Was he like the rest of us, waiting and waiting to hear from Him?

The beatified Mother Theresa complained of God’s persistent absence
and St. John of the Cross of the long dark night of the soul.
Even the psalmist after God’s own heart begged God to answer him.


These are Weapons of Mass Destruction

And they're legal. A 9mm Sig Sauer, a 9mm Glock, and an AR-15 type rifle.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Walk in Winter

Let's go for a walk outside tonight.  It's cold so dress in layers: sweaters, coat, gloves, scarf, cap, boots...

Feel free to download the song if you like it.

 I used the following sounds from the Freesound Project:
Swamp Chaos
Winter Wind
Birds and Church Bells
Faked Vinyl
Selv Guitar

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Reason for the Season

Use Reason for the Season

Questing For Faith

Hebrews 11 is often called the "faith" chapter… and you can readily see why; the phrase "by faith" is repeated some twenty times, and the role and necessity of faith is described repeatedly throughout the chapter.  Hebrews 11 is also sometimes described as a 'hall of heroes.'  It enumerates those from the past who lived exemplary lives of faith.

We read about Abel – who offered a better sacrifice than his brother, not because of the contents of the offering, but because of the faith that accompanied it.  We read about Enoch – who, because of his faith, was taken up by God; bypassing the normal death experience that is common to man.  We read about Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Rahab.  The author says that he (or she) doesn't have time to talk about a number of others such as Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets "who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned into strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Women received back their dead, raised to life again.  Others were tortured and refused to be released so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground…."

I'd like to give a couple of quotes from two of my favorite theologians:
"Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of faith is to see what you believe." – St. Augustine. 


"Most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes."  Nightcrawler – from X-men 2

Faith is an awkward thing.  Christians sometimes talk about it as if it were a quantifiable commodity – a consumable, measurable product.   Some segments of Christianity are especially focused on this kind of idea – you can find a lot of them on television, talking about how with faith and with the right amount of faith you can have that new car, you can have that new house, you can be rid of that cancer, or your son will be freed of that drug addiction etc…   This isn't faith… this is a magic wand; and it's not at all what is meant by "By faith" in Hebrews 11.

In the same kind of way, the lives of faith described in Hebrews 11 are difficult and awkward. In this chapter the lives of these various heroes are described – but only the positives, only the good and godly.  And in our imaginations, and in our minds, and in our stories and remembering and in thinking about these men and women we can sometimes forget that in their lives they were not consistent paragons of godliness and virtue; that they stumbled and fell, and crashed and burned, and doubted –that they tried and sometimes failed…. Just like the rest of us.

A few years ago I participated in an on-line discussion about the life of Samson- one of the heroes listed in chapter 11.  Some of the other participants were raving about the need for such a godly sort of man today, someone to lead the people, to take a righteous stand against such things as terrorism, liberalism, abortion, homosexuality, etc… and etc…  And into this I inserted a voice of doubt.  I wondered whether Samson really was such a great guy.  If you go back to the book of Judges and you read his stories, really read them – not just skimming them and remembering the Sunday School lessons we absorbed as children – Samson doesn't come off well… in fact he comes off as a jerk, a womanizer, a selfish, spoiled juvenile delinquent who died in a manner suspiciously similar to today's suicide bombers. 

The other participants in this discussion were horrified (and even angered) that I would suggest that Samson wasn't all that they thought he was.  I was expelled from said discussion and from the group.

My complaints about Samson could be repeated for many of the other heroes described in this chapter: King David lived a murderous life – anyone who opposed or contradicted him ended up dead; Jephthah sacrificed his daughter because of a foolishly made vow; Abraham pimped out his wife on two occasions and abandoned his son Ishmael…. Etc... Etc… etc…

My point isn't so much to drag our heroes of the faith through the mud and slime and shit, but rather to perhaps lower the pedestals they've been placed on.  By focusing narrowly on their glorious exploits and their holy achievements – we've come dangerously close to forgetting that these were ordinary men and women and not gods or angels.  They lived lives of risk – lives of faith – and while they often achieved wonderful things for God, they also sometimes failed….

I think that it's very important to remember that they sometimes failed.  By Faith they lived lives of risk and danger and turmoil… and sometimes they didn't do so well.

We sometimes treat faith like something to be found and captured and contained.  I saw a bumper sticker recently asking "Got Faith?"  Do you have it or not?  I'm sure the driver of that particular car would say that they have faith.  Me – most of the time I feel like the man who came to Jesus with his demon possessed son and said, "I believe. Help my unbelief." 

I have questions.  Always questions.  And like the Hydra of Greek mythology, whenever one question is answered, two more rise up to take its place.  I have questions.  Always questions.  I believe. Help my unbelief.

Questions – for me – are quests… a question is a journey; something to be explored, new terrain to be mapped out, and dark forests in which to occasionally get lost.  Questions are quests –ions… rather than con-quests.   And I think that this fits well with the life of faith described in Hebrews 11 which says, "All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance."  The heroes of chapter 11 struggled, wrestled, and suffered towards the goal of their faith.  They were on a quest – "looking for a country of their own," rather than having made a conquest of their faith. 

As St. Augustine said, "Faith is to believe what you cannot see; the reward of faith is to see what you believe."  These heroes of the faith were rewarded – but not during their lifetimes on this earth.  They were on a quest; a journey.

And here I'd like to quote another of my favorite theologians, Gonzo, who in the Muppet Movie sang an amazing song of faith, "I've never been there, but I know the way.  I'm going to go back there some day."  By faith, we travel towards something we know, something we can't see, something we can't always express with certainty – but always with confidence.

Faith is a challenge.  Faith is a risk.  Faith is never unaccompanied by its constant doppelganger-Doubt.  The life of faith is not the Sunday school lesson of heroes untainted.  The life of faith is an adventure, infinite possibility coupled with hazard and challenge.  "Most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes." But there is more.  Much much more. Infinitely more. 

Our heroes of faith quested for it; went searching for it.  Christians frequently call unbelievers "seekers" with the implication that believers have of course "found it."  Hebrews 11 assures us that all our heroes were seekers constantly moving toward the promise of their faith, never – in this life – realizing it completely.  Mike Yaconelli (founder of The Door Magazine) wrote in his book Dangerous Wonder, "The church should be full of Christians who seek questions rather than answers, mystery instead of solutions, wonder instead of explanations."  We are all seekers, explorers venturing into uncharted territories.

Like our heroes, we will occasionally stumble. We will miss the mark.  We will fail and fall. But all is not lost. By Faith we can stand up and start again. Singer and Songwriter Leonard Cohen's song Hallelujah expresses this "by faith" lesson well:

I did my best.  It wasn't much
I couldn't feel so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

 Another line from that song is equally encouraging, "It doesn't matter which you heard / the holy or the broken hallelujah."  

Even though it all may go wrong, even if we fail and falter and stumble along the way we can "stand before the Lord of Song" and say "Hallelujah"  It doesn't matter if it's a holy or a broken Hallelujah.  The lives of our heroes of the faith illustrate that we'll all be there with our holy and our broken hallelujahs. 

Faith is a journey.  Faith is an adventure.  It's sometimes dangerous.  Sometimes it will be rough.  We may step out and see wonderful extraordinary things in our life.  We may fall short.  We may fail.  But by faith we can say with confidence that our reward is sure. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Our Midst the King of Heaven

Every now and then I get it into my head to try to write a hymn - or at least new words for an old hymn tune.  This time I've written a hymn - based on part of this week's (Advent 3C)  lectionary reading from Zephaniah 3:14 - 20.  It's sung to the hymn tune Beecher by John Zundel.  He wrote this tune as a setting for Charles Wesley's popular hymn Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.

In Our Midst the King of Heaven

Sing aloud, O Zion’s daughter,
Shout for joy, O Israel.
Let us with the temple choir
sing for God, our King is here.
In our midst the King of Heaven
now proclaims that we are free.
And we shout in exultation,
God has turned our shame to praise.

God, with us, is now rejoicing
singing songs of festal joy.
God has loved us and restored us;
he has brought us safely home.
In our midst the King of Heaven
now proclaims that we are free.
And we’ll sing with him forever
Hallelujah and amen.

An Exile’s Psalm

By the Euphrates, by the Tigris, and the Kebar,
by a thousand other rivers and streams we sat
and we wept, our tears mingling with the waters of Babylon.

“Sing!” they shouted, right up in our faces.
“Sing us one of your sorry songs of Zion,”
and they laughed great rolls of heaving laughter. “Sing!”

But how could we…
                        “Sing! Har-har-har”
How could we sing a song of Yahweh
in this god-forsaken place?

If I forget Jerusalem, my home, I hope to lose my right hand
and my tongue should rot to the roof of my mouth
if I forget to remember Jerusalem, my home, and my only joy.

Look at these kids running around, the children of our captors, you see them?
A blessing on anyone who takes them by their fat toddler legs
and swings them over head to smash their heads on the rocks!

This is a poetic paraphrase of that horrid psalm, psalm 137.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Language, God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary

Not long ago I found myself listening to a Catholic radio station.  I'm always keen to listen and to learn about the various aspects of my Christian faith, even to learning from those who come from different traditions.  And though I have a great respect for my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, I have a problem with some of the things they say about Mary - the mother of God. 

The commentators on the radio station spoke repeatedly about Mary as the Mother of Jesus, as the Mother of the Church, as the Mother of us all as The New Eve (The name Eve means “mother of all living”).  But this last description has, I think, gone past the point of veneration of a saint – to the point of giving Mary credit for something that really belongs to God.

Our traditions and culture have for nearly forever stressed God as our Father.  God is described as "He," and "Him."  But this doesn't fully describe God.

In the creation stories we read that God created humans, all humans - both male and female - in the image of God.  That is - both genders genuinely reflect the nature of God.  God is not male. God is not female.  God transcends gender.

But the English language has only has three pronouns - he, she, and it - to describe a singular entity.  The first two do not accurately describe a God who transcends gender, and the gender neutral, it fails to describe the personal nature of God.  A friend of mine once suggested creating a new pronoun by combining the three (He, She, It) as Sh*t.  But, that doesn't work so well, either...

The problem is that language shapes our thoughts.  People who live is desert regions and have never seen snow have no word to express the falling white crystals of water, and are unable to 'think' about snow. And because we have no really accurate pronouns for God we make do with "he" and "his" but these limited words have bent our thoughts in ways that we may not recognize.  Many Christians are hesitant or even reluctant to think about God in female terms (which are neither more nor less accurate than male terms). 

Many others refuse outright to accept God any in feminine description. Yet throughout the bible there are numerous places where God is described in female or feminine terms.  God is both our Father and our Mother.

The patriarchal image of God is so entrenched that we balk at think of God as our Mother, but we still need this "Divine Mother" image and so our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have, I think, projected this Divine Motherhood onto the Blessed Mother Mary. Perhaps it would be best to bring Mary back to the realm of humanity, and to lift God up as our Blessed Mother, the Mother who loves us all.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Year Before I was Born

“A nation, like a person,
has to have an inner drive in order to succeed.”
– Richard Nixon

In the year before I was born
a worn through
and tattered salesman
composed reel-to-reel messages
to Maestro Bernstein
attempting to explain why
he was going to kill
Richard Milhous Nixon.

That everyman, that nobody,
Sam Byck, clung to desperate dreams
of dignity and fragments
of a flat-lined marriage;
broken and jagged around the edges
where human contact
could have, perhaps, smoothed over
the rough and troubled places in his life.

He killed himself
in the Baltimore airport
the year before I was born.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Other Noah

I wrote this short story a few years ago.  It's a sort of sideways bible story - the story of the "other" Noah.

The Other Noah

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - Week 51

Here again is another powerpoint (or similar presentation program) background image - free for you to download and to use in your own personal, school, work, or church programs.  Use them however you like; I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

These images are part of the four week series of Advent images.  Previous ones are here (first week) and here (second week).

December 16hd

December 16

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why an Incarnation? A Fanfare for Humanity

The question is asked: Why an incarnation?  Why did God become enfleshed and dwell among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth?  Why did God, who is perfect and powerful, put aside the trappings of his deity to become weak, and fragile, and even subject to death?  Why an incarnation?

And I must admit that I don’t really know.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
-I Wonder as I Wander - John Jacob Niles-

I admit that I don’t know why God would do such a thing – I mean, I know the answers that I've been taught (He came to save us from our sins, He came to teach us how to live, etc… etc… etc…) but if I am honest with myself and with you, I have to say that I don’t know why.  

I’ve been thinking recently about fanfares – the brass and percussion flourishes played before the entrance of kings or at the commencement of important events.  The word “fanfare” comes from the French word fanfare and from the Spanish fanfaron and has the connotation of a “braggart” or “showing off.”

Fanfares were written and performed to draw attention to the entrance of royalty.  ‘Look! Look over here!  Give your attention to this noble personage!’  Fanfares were for kings and queens and princes and princesses, for conquerors and warriors.  Fanfares were for heroes and victories, for important events and wonderful things.

But in 1942 the American composer, Aaron Copeland, wrote The Fanfare for the Common Man.  This was not a musical flourish to draw attention to the arrival of royalty.  This was not a musical braggadocio for a president or king.  Copeland’s fanfare was a solemn honoring of the dignity and worth of garbage collectors and tailors, of school teachers and retired factory workers, of single mothers and farmers.  The Fanfare for the Common Man is a fanfare for the lowly, the ordinary, the “on’ry”, a fanfare for the 47%. 

And I think that Jesus’ incarnation is like this fanfare for the common man. 

He came to say, ‘Pay attention to these noble beings – humanity. Look at these wonders.  Celebrate their worth.’

He, who was with God and was God, did not consider his equality with God something to be exploited; he who could have come to us with fanfares and flourishes of his own came instead as a weak and fragile, and vulnerable baby.  God incarnate to be a fanfare for us.

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