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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Babies Are Growing Up – Christmas Nostalgia

The Christmas tree and boxes of ornaments and decorations came out of the garage today, and into the house.  The Carter family (at least, my small branch of it) spent the afternoon putting up the tree, stringing the lights, and putting up all the various ornaments while Christmas music by Sufjan Stevens played in the background.

But this was something of a bittersweet nostalgia holiday afternoon.  Up went the tree, along with many of those ornaments made by the children when they were younger.  But gone are those darling little ones, easily amused by the colored lights and glittery balls and bells hung on the branches of the indoor tree.  Gone is the “big-bird” ornament – an improvised ornament hung by our daughter when she was very young – it was one of her toys, not really an ornament, but she carried it from her room and hung it on the lowest branch of the tree.  Gone is the sweet little boy who clung to his mother and sucked his thumb as she removed each ornament from the storage boxes. 

Now we have teenagers who endure the “forced family fun” and roll their eyes, who disappear to their rooms as soon as the tree can be satisfactorily described as decorated.  "My babies are growing up,” says my wife and she’s closer to tears than she wants the kids to see.

And though I am reluctant to admit it, the sparkling of the lights that I see is caused by the welling up of tears in my own eyes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Selling Stories with Don Draper (A Strange Dream)

It is not an uncommon thing that I should have strange and vivid dreams, but last night’s dream was among the stranger ones I’ve had:

Don Draper (of AMC’s show Mad Men) and I were in southern California as a small and ill-fated invasion of the United States began.  A couple of hundred poorly equipped soldiers crossed the Mexican border with WWII vintage carbine rifles.  The response from the American military was swift, and soon there was an ugly battle.  Draper and I found shelter in a hidden attic apartment.

But the ground forces were really a diversion.  The real attack came when several thousand rockets were launched at the International Space Station.  Their pink and orange smoke trails lingered long in the pale blue skies.

After the battle was over, Draper and I turned that hidden attic apartment into an office where we began to sell an elaborately exaggerated account of the brief war.  “Facts don’t matter.  Only the story,” Draper told me.

“The sales, you mean,” I replied to him.

“Same difference.”

Friday, November 28, 2014

Call Me a Fugitive

Call me a fugitive wanderer
and fraudulent beggar, if you will;
I don’t mind.

I have slept beneath the stars
with my head upon a stone.
And sleeping, perchance, did I dream?

Aye, a dream I had
and what a dream it was.

I dreamt I saw John Ball
alive and living well, preaching
despite the axes and knives
stabbed into his back by
agents of the John Birch Society.

I saw four horses eating noxious weeds.
I saw the peasant revolt successful.
I saw General Francisco Franco washing cars
in south Detroit.

In my dream I heard muttering mumblers
and murmuring mummers
chanting the socialist manifesto.

I saw a human skull
(it was my own)
in a field of blood.

I saw Red Rock Dam
and I was not afraid.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2014 - Advent Weeks

I usually post these free background images on Sunday afternoons.  But because this week has been more than regular busy, I wasn't able to do it then.  I was going to do it on Monday, but then I was swamped with other things... Tuesday, Wednesday... bah!  Finally, on this Thanksgiving Thursday, I can finally get them posted for you.

And to make up for the fact that I was somewhat delayed (and to ensure that I won't have to worry about it for a few weeks) I am going to share all four weeks of the Advent themed backgrounds here in a single post.  Feel free to use one, or all, or none, or any that you like.

Advent 1 photo Advent1_zps501b868a.jpg

Advent 2 photo Advent2_zpse541de34.jpg

Advent 3 photo Advent3_zps0b9cc887.jpg

Advent 4 photo Advent4_zps44530a72.jpg

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's Not My Intent To Make People Cry, But Sometimes it Happens

It's never my intent to make people cry while I'm playing my guitar and singing at the red kettle for The Salvation Army.  It wasn't my intent, but it happened.

I was playing through some of the songs in my Bob Dylan songbook when she came out of the store pushing a cartload of groceries.  I saw her start to exit the foyer area and then hesitate, then she pulled her cart off to the side and waited.  My attention wasn't really on her, so I didn't see what she was doing until I finished the song.

When I finished the song, I rolled my shoulders and stretched for a bit (it gets to be a long afternoon) and I saw that she was still there, standing next to her cartload of groceries, crying.

I asked if she needed anything.

She said "no," and thanked me for playing.  She said that her husband (now dead) used to play that song for her.

It's not my intent to make people cry with my singing, but sometimes it happens.

Biblical Limericks: Stay Awake

Solomon said, “Sleep and you’ll grow poor;
stay awake and you’ll increase your stores.”
So I took caffeine pills.
Twelve days later I’m still
awake, but I can’t go on much more.

Proverbs 20: 13

Monday, November 24, 2014

No One Could Tell the Difference

We may have our Salvation Army Christmas kettles out already – before thanksgiving – and I may take my guitar out to play instead of ringing a bell for hours on end, but I’m not yet ready to start playing Christmas songs.  Not until after Thanksgiving, at least.  One holiday at a time, please...

Until then I am playing Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Pete Seeger, Mumford and Sons, American folk songs, etc...

Tonight, as I stood at the kettle, playing my guitar and singing in the lobby of the Hy-Vee grocery store, a young man approached me and asked if he could sing along.  Being the personable kind of person that I am, I said, “sure” and started the next song.  And he joined in with me.

But golly and gee, this guy had no sense of pitch or rhythm.  It’s okay, though – I guess – because I was playing Bob Dylan songs at the time, and no one could tell the difference.

If you see me, or any of our volunteers ringing a bell (or playing an instrument) at the kettle stand, please consider donating to The Salvation Army.  Or you can make a donation online via this handy-dandy virtual kettle.  This one is set up for The Salvation Army of Newton (Jasper Country), Iowa, but you can use the site to find the Salvation Army unit nearest to you.

Thank you.

It's Here! #mutedhosannas

My friend, Kevin, has sent me my first copy of my first book Muted Hosannas.  It's true. It's real. And, it's here!

It's a book of my poetry and photography. Paperback. 70 pages.  9" x 12" Full color.

It's available through Amazon. And from Frontier Press (the publisher).

My friend, Joel L. Watts wrote the forward for it.  He has a couple of books that are worth reading as well.

Dr. Tarrec Distrusts Chirurgeons

In going through the steamer trunk of Dr. Tarrec’s writings, I have discovered the following notes scrawled in pencil on the margins of the pages of a medical text book.  Dr. Tarrec does not like hospitals and distrusts “chirurgeons.” 


I am suspicious of the air, especially at night.  What latent qualities and powers is it hiding in that miasma above the city?  The clouds are full of odors and all unwholesome smell is disease. 

Zymotic disease is already fermenting, waiting to coalesce into mucus and tumors, into clotted black blood and rotted teeth.  The patient has a fever that blisters and melts the skin.

The effluviums of madness can survive for up to three weeks outside of a host – in the dust and on the clothing.  It is infectious, not merely hereditary, propagated by touch and through the unresisting air.  And this is part of a nefarious plan by our enemies to increase the reach and scope of their organization.

Cosmic-telluric influence of evil energy currents affect the young most of all.  How can we ward off the foul spirits of bad air?  Their vapors enter the blood and cause thickness and sickness. 

This is the chymico-phsyical paradox:  That hyssop oil can be used as an antiseptic and as an anti-skeptic.  There is nothing in the chemystical tradition - not a single warning - about the pus that forms in the eye socket of lunatics.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

D. Plays His Harmonica

My friend D. is a man of few words – and those are spoken very softly.  He’s not a highly educated man, and has a limited range of skills.  This year he’s been dealing with cancer – and he’s responded very well to the treatments.  Still, for a while this year it was a little scary. 

This morning, before church, he asked if he could play a song on his harmonica before the service.  I had a song prepared, but was glad to put it aside and to allow him the opportunity.

D. had a cassette tape to play as the accompaniment – it was a Carter Family greatest hits album.  We set it up for him with the sound system and pushed play.  And D. played along.  D.’s harmonica, however, was tuned to a different key than the song he was playing.  I don’t think that he knows this.  I suppose it doesn’t matter too much, D. only played two notes, back and forth.  But he played those two notes loud. 

And when the song was finished, he tucked the harmonica into his shirt pocket and sat down in his regular seat.   A couple of people in the congregation applauded and someone encouraged him, “Way to go D.” 

D. may not have great skills, but he does what he can.  It was a good morning.

November Rain Flowers

It's a rainy November afternoon here, even the dried up flowers look great. -I used a Canon Rebel T4i and a Super Takumar 50mm lens.

November Rain Flowers by Jeff Carter on

November Rain Flowers by Jeff Carter on

The Colors between the Fleeting Fragments of Time

I remember a pale pink liquid dripping down the cold tiled walls of my bathroom, a foaming pink fluid that smells like sawdust and grapefruit.  I wipe it away, again and again, but it always returns.

And I can recall the oldest blue formed in the heart of a distant supernova, blue formed in the death of stars and buried deep within the Earth.

I have livid purple bruises under mottled skin; I have ignored the vivid warnings of bright red lipstick. The antenna surgically grafted to my skull allows me to see the colors between the fleeting fragments of time.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Biblical Limericks: Ezekiel

With his bouts of catatonia,
and his bizarre neurasthenia,
though it might cause chagrin,
perhaps he should have been
diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Friday, November 21, 2014

First Copy of Muted Hosannas #mutedhosannas

It's real. It's true.  The first copies of my book, Muted Hosannas are on their way out.  Here's my friend, Kevin Jackson, at Frontier Press holding one of the first copies. If you've already ordered it, you should be receiving it soon. If you haven't yet, why not?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Biblical Limericks: Jeremiah Was Wrong

Jeremiah cursed Jehoiakim,
said, “He’ll have no sons to follow him.”
But the prophet was wrong;
though his rule wasn’t long,
the next king was prince Jehoiachin.

Jeremiah 36:30 / 2 Kings 24: 6, 8

Biblical Limericks: Destroy the Fat Sheep

God, the good shepherd, will find lost sheep;
protect them he will, and also keep
them safe as they eat grass,
but you can bet your ass
the fat sheep he’ll destroy in a heap.

Ezekiel 34: 16

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This Christmas Commercial Is not a Victory of Christmas

It happens every year during the Christmas season; someone trots out the heartwarming story of the time that British and German soldiers during World War One put down their weapons on Christmas Eve and met each other in the no-man’s land between the barbed wire and the trenches to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace together.  It’s not yet Advent.  It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but already the story is “blowing up the internet,” and going viral. First out of the gate this year seems to be the British supermarket, Stainsbury’s.

But I don’t think the story (the true story… it really happened...several times  ) is very heartwarming.  It seems, to me, to be more of a failure than a win.   The sentimentalist voice says, - Look, they laid down their weapons, they traded gifts, they sang carols together.  They played football together.  Awww. Warm fuzzies all around, there's a lump in our throats, and tears welling up in our eyes.

But the very next day they were shooting and shelling each other again.  That needs to be emphasized. 

Yes.  For one brief shining, glorious moment, those soldiers recognized and put into practice the meaning of Christmas.  But  they refused to continue in it.  They knew the right and the good thing to do – but they refused to do it. Forget peace. Pick up the rifle.

The commercial produced by Stainsbury’s swells with a lush arrangement of the hymn “Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms,” and effectively demonstrates that the “everlasting arms” upon which the world continues to lean are not the arms of God, but the fire-arms used to kill the enemy.

This story (and the advertisement that exploits it for Christmas sales) is not a victory of Christmas.

I Have Seen the Future - A Letter from Dr. Tarrec

I have received another letter from my friend, Dr. Tarrec:

Dear Jef, (I do see your point; the second “f” is superfluous.)

I have seen the future and it is a world balanced between trust and paranoid anxiety, a new rationality and heaps of cash thrown carelessly to the munitions makers and arms dealers lined up alongside the parade route.  What makes you think that you’re a real lover?  Have you formally joined a humanist society?  I don’t think so. It’s time for money.  It’s time for free money.  It’s time for increased sales projections during the holiday season.  And time for toxic gas.  Bet you weren’t expecting that…

The cultural sewers are full of explosions and thick viscera.  The Cathedral is closed.  You have lived a long time, and I somewhat longer.  Climb the stairs, if you can.  There are a great many of them.  Speak out.  Don’t let Dobson, Schlafly, Limbaugh, and North do it for you. Our egomania and insensitive temperament are writ large – on a national scale.  The autonomic innervation of the abdominal viscera is lost.  The battle for the mind is over.

Michael Faraday never had a formal education, so what is your excuse?  Have your lungs been ripped out?  Has a tornado blown through the junkyard of your mind? Your polity is disordered chaos.  Your gargoyles are torn loose and dropped to the concrete streets below.  You are only hanging on by your fingertips. 

It should be obvious why we fear the United Nations. The law is clear and precise. Equality is the ideal, but not for everyone – only those we feel worthy to receive it.  And do you really know what’s going on in Washington?  Have you listened to the fair and balanced friends?  They have given us a signal, but have we acknowledged it? 

It doesn’t have to be a perfect world, but it should be one in which America is not under a totalitarian one world state – America should be presiding over that hegemony.  And it should be one in which the ganglion of the lumbar sympathetic trunk are irregularly fused. There is no prosperity here.  This land is burnt over, charred, and exhausted – the fulfillment of profits over prophets. But swear again, and louder, that it’s not your fault.  Always the other guy.  Again and again until someone dies.

With warmest regards for you and yours,
Dr. P. L. Tarrec

Biblical Limericks: Ezekiel Speaks against Pharaoh

Pharaoh, you’re a great crocodile
wallowing in the River Nile,
but I’ll hook through your jaw
and from the water draw
you out because you are so vile.

Ezekiel 29: 3 - 7

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Muted Hosannas has an ISBN #mutedhosannas

It's official.  I have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number).  Muted Hosannas is listed as ISBN: 978-0-9908776-0-8.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sunset (trees / window screen)

Sunset - through some trees and a window screen.

Sunset (trees windowscreen) by Jeff Carter on

Muted Hosannas - Almost (so close!) - Author's Bio #mutedhosannas

My book Muted Hosannas- a collection of poetry and photography - is almost (so close!) available.  There were a couple of issues in securing permissions and approvals from the appropriate commanders - those have been resolved.  The book went to the printer and was nearly finished when some issues were discovered by the folks who monitor the quality control - those have been fixed.  And the book should be finished and ready and available (assuming all continues to go well) by the end of this week.

And, even though it has been somewhat delayed, there's still time for you to buy it as a Christmas gift for everyone that you know.  It will be available directly from the publisher - Frontier Press - and from - as both a physical book and as an eBook.

Meanwhile - check it out! - the author's bio is already up.  Honestly - that was the most difficult piece to write for the book.

November 17

Crystalline sparks swirling
above frozen farmland,
falling from an innocent sky
roiled with heavy grey clouds
and pierced through with golden hour sun.

The wind is cold
but, for this one moment,
blows joy.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Interrogating Matthew

Lieutenant Bartkowski shoved the disheveled man ahead of him into the interrogation room and pulled the heavy door shut as he entered. The metallic clang reverberated coldly against the cinder-block walls.  “You and me, we’re going to sit down and have a little conversation.”  He gestured toward a table and two chairs positioned directly below an overhanging lamp.

“I…I… I’ve got nothing to say,” said Matthew.  His fear-wide eyes were set in deep dark circles. 

“That’s fine. That’s fine,” said the officer.  “We don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.  We can sit here all night. I got nothing else planned for the evening.”  Lieutenant Bartkowski pulled one of the chairs out and sat down, propped his feet up on the table and leaned backwards.  “But…” he said with a calculated heaviness, “you should know that my partner is in the other room with your friend. One of you will tell us what happened. You… Him… It doesn’t matter to me, one way or the other.”

Matthew sat down in the empty chair.  “Do I need a lawyer, or something?”

“Lawyer?” Bartkowski snorted.  “Only need a lawyer if you’ve done somethin’ you shouldn’t have done.  You haven’t done anything stupid, have you, Matthew?”

Matthew shook his head.

“Good.  Like I said.  You can tell me what happened, or your friend can tell my partner.  Doesn’t matter to me.”

“What do you want to know?” asked Matthew. 

Bartkowski put his feet down on the floor and pulled his chair close to the table. He leaned forward and said, “We found the body of your pal, Judas.  He’s dead.”  The officer raised his hand to interrupt Matthew, “No. No. You don’t need to make any denials.  We know you didn’t do it. We’re looking into these things and we think that you know something about it.”

Just then there was a loud hammering on the door.

Bartkowski stood, “I’m going to step outside for a moment to see what my partner wants.  You sit here.  When I come back in, maybe you’ll be ready to tell me what you know.”  The officer pushed his chair away and exited the interrogation room.

Matthew wiped the sweat from his forehead and muttered, “Damn. I knew we should have got our story worked out before we left Jerusalem.”

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2014 - Week 48

Once a week, every week I post these free background pictures for you to have and use as your very own.  Use them in powerpoint slides (or in another presentation program) or use however you like.  If they're useful to you, they're yours.  If they're not useful, but you like them, they're yours.

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

This particular picture was taken at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago; it is a close up of a piece of sculpted stainless steel.

 photo Week48_zpsb26a3175.jpg

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Emma in a Tapestry

We have, just now, returned from the high school where we watched our daughter (and some 37 other kids) performing the play Tapestry by Craig Sodaro.  The play is structured on a sort of Scheherazade sort of story-telling delay.  Our thespian was in the 6th thread of the tapestry, playing the wise village girl that the Queen needs to oversee the realm during her absence.

To Watch the Watchmen

I was surprised when I first learned that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1986 graphic novel Watchmen was going to be adapted to a film version; it didn’t strike me as a very filmable story.  The original material is extraordinary, the only graphic novel to be included on Time Magazine’s list of 100 best novels of the century (Goldstein 1) but I was wary.  “The book is always better,” may not be true in every case, but it’s true often enough to have given me some reservations about the movie. But now, after having seen the film directed by Zach Snyder on the big screen at the movie theater when it was first released in 2009, and several times at home on DVD in the years since, I am still surprised that it was made, and that it is as faithful an adaption as it is, even with its flaws and shortcomings.

This isn’t to say that it is an absolutely or slavishly faithful adaptation.  Adaption means change, of course, and somethings – many things -  had to change in order to translate the Watchmen from two dimension drawings on a nine paneled page into moving images projected onto a screen.  There were the expected compression of events and elimination of material; this is inevitable when a lengthy novel is filmed, unless one is willing to sit through nine hour film.

Though the drawings of the original Watchmen material were only two dimensional, the characters that emerged were surprisingly developed – three dimensional, even.  They may have been super-heroes running around in masks and tights, but they were realistic.  They suffered. They loved. They hurt.  They aged.  They (some of them) died. They were breakable, and broken. Impotent.  From Gibbons’ detailed drawings and Moore’s nuanced writing emerged believable and authentic characters.  Curiously, when this story was translated from its original two-dimensional medium to a motion picture (with at least the illusion of three dimensions) the characters were flattened into two dimensional caricatures.  Cutting material in order to ensure an acceptable running time for the film meant that the Watchmen became the shallow type of comic book characters that the Watchmen graphic novel was designed to challenge.

Gone were the complexities of their relationships.  Gone were some of the relationships all together, as some characters like Captain Metropolis appeared only in flashback sequences of the film or, like Hooded Justice, had their roles reduced to a single line.  Much of the detail of these human interaction came from portions of the graphic novel that were completely excised from the film – the various extra material included at the end of each chapter: the newspaper clippings, police reports, and specifically the excerpts from one of the character’s biographies, Under the Hood.”  The graphic novel dealt with the very human interactions of these superheroes – their sexuality, their doubt, their struggle. The movie lost much of this. While the movie version does a fair job of showing (at least the surface of) these issues, it does not take the time to develop them with any great depth.

“Under the Hood” as well as a comic book within the graphic novel, “Tales of the Black Freighter” were cut from the film, but are now available as an extra DVD, separate from the film version of Watchmen. This misses the point, however.  One of the things that made the graphic novel such a powerful work of literature was the way the story was carried along by two simultaneous, and roughly parallel tracks.  The material in the auto-biographical “Under the Hood” and the pirate themed comic book “Tales from the Black Freighter” (superheroes, being “real” in this alternate world, are less interesting for comic books, thus – pirate stories) is not extra or bonus material to be included in the DVD release, but are integral parts of the narrative development.

Lost also are the repeated motifs and images and the structure of the graphic novel.  Released originally as a 12 part series, and later bound as a 12 chapter novel, Watchmen is structured around the image of a ticking clock, counting down the hours toward the red apocalypse of war between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The film made a brief nod toward this clock image, and created some of the cold war anxiety, but it lost repeated clocks.  The one exception to this might be the smiley face which is found both on The Comedian’s button and on the surface of Mars, in the film as in the book. 

A few of the book’s epigraphs are carried over into the film – most noticeably the titular quote from Juvenal, “Who watches the watchmen” can be seen spray-painted on a wall and the references to the music of Bob Dylan was translated into the film’s music cues – though “Desolation Row” was relegated to the end credits and not worked into the story proper. But the quotes from Nietzsche, Blake, Einstein, Genesis, Job, Jung, Percy Shelly, etc., were dropped from the film. Again, these are not mere extras to be included as bonus material at the end of the film, they are the philosophical underpinnings of the novel; these ideas are interwoven into the story in the graphic novel. Perhaps it is snobbish to say, but the film is less intellectually satisfying than the graphic novel.

The most notable change made in adapting the graphic novel to film is in the story’s conclusion.  (And, here there be spoilers.  Be warned.) Alan Moore’s story is similar to previous works of science fiction, relying on a similar plot device: the arrival of aliens to put a stop to the warring between the nations of Earth.  Theodore Sturgeon used the idea in his 1948 short story “United to Conquer,” as did Kurt Vonnegut in his novel The Sirens of Titan in 1959.  As Moore was writing the story he became aware of the similarities between his Watchmen and an episode of the TV series The Outer Limit entitled “The Architects of Fear.” Moore was encouraged to change is story so as to distinguish it from these earlier works, but would or could not bring himself to do that.

Directing the film adaptation, Zach Snyder made the changes that Moore would not. Snyder dropped the alien threat and transferred those parts of the story to the character Doctor Manhattan.  And it easy to understand why Snyder may have felt compelled to make these changes.  This is easily the most difficult part of the story; it is strange – even for a science fiction graphic novel.  And while purists may have wanted him to adhere to the original material, the film sought a wider audience.  The alien threat was changed to reflect a more natural (though the use of that word is very relative) threat, and one that reflected the post 9-11 fears of the audience. The climactic scenes of the film are reminiscent of those images seen by so many after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York in 2001.

To adapt one work of art into another medium is to make difficult choices.  The choice of what material to include or to exclude in the film version of Watchmen was guided by many factors: the film’s running time, budget, ability to translate visually, and perhaps the perceived ability of the audience to appreciate the ‘weirdness’ of the story.  Snyder had to balance all of these factors against an appreciation of the original material.  The film version of Watchmen that he created is visually appealing (as are all of his films) and is a fair, if bastardized version, of Moore and Gibbons’ original work.

If I were put into his shoes and responsible for making these choices, I’m not sure what I would have done.  There is so much great material in the book; to include it all would necessitate an incredibly long film and would be cost prohibitive to produce.  Additionally, not all of the material would even be translatable to film.  The mediums are just too different.

Alan Moore is somewhat notorious for not appreciating adaptions of his work.  In addition to Watchmen, film versions of his graphic novels From Hell, V for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have been made, much to his displeasure.  And this isn’t just because he’s grumpy or an overprotective crank.  He is reluctant to have his work adapted by Hollywood because he recognizes that the differences between the graphic novel and film mediums are too different to do justice on film to his stories.  Speaking specifically about his Watchmen he said, “There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can't” (Gopalan 1).

While I enjoy watching the film version of Watchmen it is only a thin version of the novel.  What it gains in visual appeal in its terrific costuming, exciting action sequences, and spectacular photography, it loses in complexity, depth, and literary structure.  It is a fine and exciting film – a decent adaption of the original source material.  But it is not a great adaption. It can’t be, the differences between the mediums are just too great. 

Goldstein, Hilary. "Watchmen Distinguished in Time". IGN. October 17, 2005.
Retrieved on November 14, 2014.
Gopalan, Nisha. "Alan Moore Still Knows the Score!" Entertainment Weekly.
Retrieved on November 14, 2014.
Moore, Alan, Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York, NY. DC Comics. 1986.
Watchmen. Dir. Zach Snyder. Warner Brothers. 2009.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Biblical Limericks: Avoid the Limerick

It is a way of speaking so toxic,
crass and overwhelmingly caustic,
that we beg and we plead
that God’s people will heed
our words and avoid the limerick.

Ecclesiasticus 23:12

The Commies are Out to Get Us - David Noebel, Paranoid and Crazy

I’m working on a piece of homework, an assignment for my ENG COMP class.  We’re to write a 700 – 1,000 word Persuasive Essay.  I’ve chosen to argue that “the Bible does allow for a governmental role in caring for the poor.”  In preparation for writing this essay, I’ve been doing a bit of research – in my own collection of books, at the public library and on the internets.

One of the sources that I’ll be quoting – as the voice of the opposition (claiming that the bible does not allow a governmental roll in caring for the poor) – is one David Noebel, former director of Summit Ministries. I decided to do a little investigation into Mr. Noebel and his background, so that I can fairly and accurately present his arguments. In digging through his work I discovered the following gems:  

“…the communists’ ingenuity in placing these records in hundreds of thousands of American homes and in thousands of schools in all 50 states and Canada is frightening.  Since the American family and the American teacher would not knowingly purchase communist recordings designed to produce mentally sick children, the communists stepped back into the woodwork and allowed well-intentioned people to their subversive work for them. Their effectiveness is staggering.  Their influence is terrifying and a picture to behold…”

It would be difficult to describe the Beatles as Communists – difficult with a straight face, anyway. But Noebel also took issue with folk singers like Pete Seger, Woody Guthrie, and Phil Ochs as well. These artists could more accurately be described as communists or socialists.  But that’s part of why I love them.

Marxist Minstrels: The Communist Subversion of American Folk Music

(By the way, he repeatedly mispronounces Phil Ochs name...) 

David Noebel is a sometimes contributor to World Net Daily, and co-wrote the book Mind Siege:The Battle for Truth in the new Millennium (2000) with Tim LaHaye, which is a tiresome screed against the evils of the secular humanists and a woe-is-us bemoaning of the decline of John Birch style Pro-moral True American Christianity...

The material written by Noebel that I will be quoting in my paper is from his book Understanding the Times: The Story of the Biblical Christian, Marxist / Leninist and Secular Humanist Worldviews (1992) and is less obviously paranoid and crazy than the examples I've included here, but are you noticing a theme? I think him crazy, not because he saw communism / socialism on the rise - but because he attributes such evil and malicious intent to socialism and because he believes that his version and interpretation of a "Christian Worldview" is the only true and reasonable Christian worldview.  According to Noebel, any Christian who embraces a worldview anywhere along the spectrum of socialism is not a real, bible loving, pro-moral Christian.

And because he sees evil communist / secular humanist conspiracies everywhere... 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Biblical Limericks: Babies Having Babies

Josiah, the king, started quite young,
was only eight when his rule begun,
and – if you follow it out,
check the text if you doubt -
thirteen when a son from his loins sprung.

2 Kings 22: 1, 1 Chronicles 3: 15, 2 Kings 23:28-36

Biblical Limericks: Zephaniah’s Complaint

Jerusalem’s prophets are reckless,
so irresponsible and feckless;
the priests are all profane,
from justice they abstain.
Jerusalem is far from speckless.

Zephaniah 3: 1 - 4

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Northwest Coast Totem Pole

This example of a Northwest Coast Native American totem pole is on display at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

Photograph Northwest Coast Totem Poles -Field Museum by Jeff Carter on 500px


The streets of the city drenched in a flood
of murdered innocents and their blood
as wicked king gives way to wicked king.

The prophet that was hidden stands to say,
“Keep quiet. Now comes that dreadful day;
later there will be time for your screaming.

“The LORD is bringing his own sacrifice
and guests, as well, to watch the auspice.
Be still; don’t speak. The sacrifice is you.

“Blow the dies irae trumpets of doom
on that woeful day of gloam and gloom;
the LORD’s judgment will the whole earth subdue.”

Biblical Limericks: Apocryphal Fish Stories

Tobias camped along the Tigris,
up from the water leaped a great fish,
an angel said to him,
“Catch that fish; reel it in!
With its offal you can cure illness.”

Tobit 6: 2 - 5

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I’m Reading: Another Gospel – A Confrontation with Liberation Theology

I’ve just finished reading the short little book Another Gospel: A Confrontation with Liberation Theology by Paul C. McGlasson.  It’s a scant 94 pages – which includes the preface and the select bibliography and index.  But I didn’t need to read very much of it before I realized how very flawed it is. McGlason makes it very clear that the argument of his book is that “liberation theology is a lie” (Another Gospel 17). He argues this point with passion and ferocity. But as I said, the argument is very flawed – in several ways.

1)McGlasson is arguing against an unnuanced caricature of Liberation Theology.  He deals only in generalizations and unproven assertions about liberation theology and its adherents.   Very early on in the book he acknowledges that there are varieties and differences among the those who stand under the umbrella term “liberation theology” but he refuses to distinguish among them. They’re all to be condemned.  “Can one cast one’s net so broadly?  Must one not distinguish the various movements, and voices, and assess each case by case?  Perhaps for a time; but now is not that time” (Another Gospel 16).

McGlasson also fails to cite or quote any actual liberation theologian’s writings.  He makes assertions about what “they say” but never – not a once – quotes their words.  As such, anything McGlasson declares that “they say” is an allegation without evidence.He won’t even engage with liberationists’ defense against his claims.  “Liberation theologians will of course deny this [allegation that I’ve just made]; but the rule of faith to determine the truth of their claim is clear and dependable in Holy Scripture” (Another Gospel 26).

2) And he says something like this quite often.  Several times throughout the short little book, McGlasson asserts that “…here Scripture speaks with clarity” (Another Gospel 28). And it’s always –scripture clearly endorses my point of view… But if this argument were actually true, there would be no arguments, there would be no need for this book.  McGlasson fails (or refuses) to accept that the bible is not clear on most issues.  There are disagreements on just about everything. 

3) He has no use for the Wesleyan (or Methodist) Quadrilateral (that is – interpreting through the lens of a) scripture, b) reason, c) tradition and d) experience).   He insists that his interpretation (though I doubt he would recognize it as an interpretation) of scripture is based solely on scripture itself.  Coming from the Reformed tradition, he insists on Sola Scriptura.

Which leads to 4) he accuses liberationists of creating their own version of Jesus (who he asserts is not at all the Jesus of the gospels (Another Gospel25)) but cannot seem to recognize that he does this as well.  We all do it.  It’s impossible to not do it. 

5) His tone is belligerent. He variously describes liberationists as heretical, blasphemous (64), profaners (64), idolaters (63), fascists (80), false prophets and ravenous wolves (80). He even invokes the inevitable Hitler comparison (45). I realize that “tone” is a difficult metric. But McGlasson has no interest in reasoned, polite discourse or dialogue (Another Gospel 17).  He wants a decision and he wants it now! When you’ve already written your opponent off as a diabolical and unredeemable heretic, I guess there’s no reason to be polite or to engage in dialogue.

6) He, without anything in the way of proof or evidence, describes Martin Luther King jr. as a “self-attested Messiah (Another Gospel 46).” In fact, he frequently sneers at MLKjr and the civil rights movement as whole.

7) He blames Barth.  If not on every page, then at least in every chapter, McGlasson lays the blame for the rise and spread of Liberation Theology at the feet of Karl Barth.  I don’t know enough about Barth to evaluate his claim, but the ire he directs toward Barth is unmistakable.

This “Confrontation with Liberation Theology” is just that: Confrontational.  The argument is loud and petulant. It is not civil.  Neither is it particularly well argued. He sets up straw-man generalizations about evil Liberation Theologians and then proceeds to beat them down with a whirlwind of angry rhetoric – but never actually engages with any liberation writings.  

McGlasson, Paul C. Another Gospel: A Confrontation with Liberation Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994.

Never Again and not Just Never Again ... Until the Next Time

Veteran’s / Remembrance / Armistice Day is a difficult day for me.  It’s not difficult in an emotional sense but it’s a difficult day for my conscience.  I feel conflicted.

I am firmly, deeply committed to the idea and practice of non-violence.  I do not believe that military intervention has made the world better or safer.  I do not believe that violence can be used to “solve” problems.  (It may make them go away temporarily, but it does not solve anything…)  I do not want to endorse or support any war of the past, present, or future.

And neither do I want to disrespect those who have served in the armed forces.  My conflict is not with the soldier nor with their desire to serve.

If, on the Veteran’s /Remembrance / Armistice Day we say “Never Again” let’s mean –NEVER- again.  Never again will we send the youth of our nations off to slaughter one another. Never again will we engage in military conflict.  Let’s say “Never again” and mean never – and not just “never again … until the next time.”

You Shall Not Steal – That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

In modern American Christian culture private property is held as a sacred right.  It is inviolable, sacrosanct, holy.  “Thou shalt not steal!” says the bible.  Private property is one of the foundations of the modern capitalistic system, and American Christianity seems almost inextricably intertwined with capitalism.  So much so that I think professor Robert Gnuse’s bookYou Shall Not Steal: Community and Property in the Biblical Tradition will be completely ignored by most and loudly condemned by some.  And this is unfortunate for, if read and appreciated, Gnuse’s book could help us to better understand the biblical values that are actually enshrined in that command against theft.

The command “You shall not steal,” is not primarily a protection of private property, says Gnuse.  The command finds its origin in the pastoral Israelite community whose ethos was grounded in the memory of their liberation from slavery in Egypt by Yahweh, and who valued persons over property.  While some property was privately owned, the important things – things that benefited the whole of the community were held in common, owned by the entire tribe, or by the family. Things like land did not belong to one individual, but were held in trust for the entire community. In this context the command against theft, “You shall not steal,” was a command actually a command against the accumulation of private property by taking what was to be held by the community. 

Gnuse follows the way that this idea was implemented, ignored, reformed and idealized through the long history of the Israelites.  He shows how the communal ethos was lost as they moved into close contact with Canaanite communities – and how their settled, mercantile, polytheistic societies influenced the Israelites.  He describes how the Israelite ethos (of communalism, people > property) was further corrupted during the monarchical period, widening the gap between the rich and the poor - a gap that would not have existed if the Israelite ethos had been maintained.  Gnuse shows how the prophets arose to criticize the people of Israel and Judah for their twin and intertwined sins – 1) the worship of foreign gods and 2) the exploitation of the poor. 

“The legislation of Israel adds a new perspective to the concept of theft.  Laws and moral imperatives about loans, interest, debts, slaves, land, wages, and justice in general indicate that the first concern of Israel was for human need, not ownership.  Laws mandated the relinquishment of wealth by the rich for the sake of the poor.  Laws called for the economic restoration of individuals who had suffered economic reversal.  The ancient Israelite legislator realized what too few of our contemporaries are willing to acknowledge:  if a healthy society prioritizes the economic integrity of its citizens, it will stay a healthy society.  The maintenance of property and possessions must come second to human need” (Gnuse 48).

This is a powerful little book, and I wish it were being read by more people, but it is not a revolutionary attack on capitalism. Neither is it a call for the immediate implementation of a statist socialism. It is a balanced evaluation of the biblical command, and a call for a re-evaluation of our priorities.  Any system that values privately held property over the needs of the people of the community is contrary to the spirit of the law that says, “You shall not steal.”

Gnuse, Robert. You Shall Not Steal: Community and Property in the Biblical Tradition. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985.


Monday, November 10, 2014

A Blessing for the Intersexed

Blessed are those who, through the fortunes of genetics are both – and being both, are accepted as neither – for in Christ there is neither male nor female, and because God created them, male and female he created them, and they were very good.

"Turn the Other Cheek" Is Not a Thing of the Past #notinvisible

The U.S. Army often portrays itself as a band of brothers and sisters, as a community or a family.  This serves to foster the spirit of teamwork and interdependence among its recruits. Many of those interviewed in the documentary The Invisible War, which deals with rape and sexual assault in the military, described that sense of community as one of the primary reasons they wanted to join the military.  That sense of family and community is broken by sexual assault, and often twisted in order to protect either the rapist or the power structure, or both. 

In response to pressure to protect the rights of victims of rape and sexual assault and to create an environment where sexual assault is no longer tolerated or ignored, the Sexual Harassment / Assault Response &Prevention (S.H.A.R.P.) program of the U.S. Army has established the Intervene, Act, and Motivate (I. A.M.) STRONG program to encourage soldiers to prevent sexual assaults before they occur.  As part of this I AM STRONG program, the Army has created a series of brief rap videos emphasizing the values of the I AM STRONG program.

One of the videos includes these lyrics:

Turn the other cheek’s a thing of the past,
up close and real when they try to harass.
Don’t let a bad situation ever go unchecked;
soldiers helpin’ soldiers, that’s a message connect.
I’m strong, worldwide, we defend and protect,
let ‘em know we here; we demand respect.
When they there in the dark and the predator persists,
step up in his face; you can tell him this: 
We stand.  We fight. Intervene. That’s right.
I stand. I fight. I.A.M. Strong.


While I appreciate that the U.S. Army is encouraging a greater sense of interdependence and the responsibility of soldiers to protect one another from sexual assault, I’m concerned that the creators of this video do not understand the biblical instruction to “turn the other cheek” and that they have relegated it to the dustbin of history.

Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” is recorded in both the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew’s Gospel) and in the Sermon on the Plain (in Luke’s).  The creators of this video seem to understand this to be a command to let assaults go unchecked and ignored.  If that were the case, these words of Jesus should rightly be dismissed.  But while interpretations vary greatly as to how followers of Jesus are expected to obey this instruction, it is not an injunction to blindly allow people to be victimized. It is an instruction to not return violence for violence.  And this teaching is still incredibly relevant in the modern world.

Again, I appreciate that the U.S. Army (along with the other branches of the military) are taking steps to protect the rights and dignity of victims of sexual assault, and trying to prevent assaults before they occur by emphasizing that sense of family and community, but they have seriously misunderstood the teaching of Jesus in this case and have misappropriated his words for their own use.

Biblical Limericks: Private Property

Those who defend private property
as a sacred right from divinity,
they do not understand
the biblical command
that calls for a Year of Jubilee.

Leviticus 25

“The ancient Israelite legislator realized what too few of our contemporaries are willing to acknowledge:  If a healthy society prioritizes the economic integrity of its citizens, it will stay a healthy society.  The maintenance of property and possessions must come second to human need. (Gunse 48)”

Gnuse, Robert. You Shall Not Steal: Community and Property in the Biblical Tradition. Maryknoll, NY.
      Orbis Books. 1985.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Buddha Was so Metal!

photos taken at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago.

Biblical Limericks: Go Home and Pluck Your Figs

Said Amaziah to Amos, “You prig!
We don’t want prophecies here. You dig?
You’re noxious in Bethel;
stick around, you’ll catch hell.
Why don’t you go home and pluck your figs?

Amos 7: 10 – 13

While Amos was neglecting his duties as shepherd and fig plucker someone had to fill in for him, of course. Here's a tongue twister for Amos' replacement:

I am not the fig plucker, nor the fig plucker's son, but I will pluck the figs until the fig plucker comes.

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2014 - Week 47

Here it is, my friends, another free background image for you to have and to use as your very own.  Use them in Powerpoint (or another similar presentation program) or don't.  Use them where and how you will; I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

 photo Week47_zpse71c03ef.jpg

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Challenge of Preaching from Amos

Sometimes making the bible relevant and applicable to my congregation is a challenging exercise.  No, sorry.  It’s always a challenge; but sometimes it’s more challenging than others.

This week we’re looking at Amos chapter 5 verses 18 – 24, a passage that includes those wonderful words, “But let justice well up like water /Righteousness like an unfailing stream… (JPS Hebrew- English Tanakh, Amos 5: 24)  But I wonder how I am going to preach from this passage; Amos’ audience was so very different from mine.

Amos speaks as an outsider – that is, as a Judahite addressing the people of the Northern Kingdom, Israel.  He addresses the rich and powerful leaders of the community, those who were responsible for the administration of law and order, those responsible for ensuring justice. I will be speaking to people who have little money and even less political clout. 

His condemnation of Israel is largely that the leaders have failed to protect the poor, and that they have exploited the poor for their own gain.  They have taken bribes, perverted justice, thrown it to the ground; they have taxed and defrauded the poor.  And Amos isn’t gentle about it.  His finger pointing condemnation is sharp.

It would be easy to turn this into a vitriolic condemnation of politicians.  It would be easy to turn this into a hell-fire and brimstone kind of sermon, castigating government officials for every failure of justice, and promising swift and righteous judgment. 

And the congregation might respond with “Amen” and head nodding agreement.  “Yes, let them get what they deserve. Let God judge them. Let God punish them.”  But then we will have become something like Amos’ audience. 

In the first several chapters of his book, Amos condemns those nations and territories surrounding Israel: Damascus, Gaza, Moab, Ammon, Judah…. And I’m sure that the people of Israel who heard him speak responded with “Amen” (or the 8th century BCE equivalent) and head nodding agreement.  “Yes, let them get what they deserve.  Let God judge them.  Let God punish them.” 

But then Amos says to them:

Ah, you who wish
for the day of the Lord!
Why should you want
the day of the Lord?
It shall be darkness not light!
(JPS Hebrew- English Tanakh, Amos 5: 18)

Be careful about calling down the judgment and wrath of the day of the Lord.  When it falls, it falls on everyone.  I’m not yet sure how I’ll preach this one.  I have to invert Amos’ audience and message without becoming too much like one of those he condemned.

JPS Hebrew – English Tanakh. Philadelphia, PA. The Jewish Publication Society. 1999.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Biblical Limericks: Eschatological Expectations

Our enemies will be in distress
on the great day of the LORD, oh yes!
“oh no!” says the prophet,
“that day you will regret
‘cause you fail the poor in your praxis.”

Amos 5: 11 - 18

The Pumpkin Thief

The Pumpkin Thief by Jeff Carter on

A Pastor in the Hallways

I have recently begun going back to school.  I tell people that I’m on the 25 year plan; that if I focus my attention and really knuckle down on the work, I can cram all four years of college into 25.  I have just a few more classes to complete in order to earn my Bachelor’s degree.  And I’m finally getting around to completing them.

One of the classes that am currently taking is an English Composition class – writing. A few of my friends have suggested that I probably could have tested out of it and not had to actually take the class.  I can write and (if I may be allowed a bit of self-promotion) have a book that should be available any day now.

But I wanted to take the class anyway – for a couple of reasons.  1) It has been a while since I was in a classroom as a student.  And while ENG COMP may be an easy class for me, I have a math and a science class to take as well, and those will be more challenging.  I wanted this class to be an easy reintroduction to student life.  2) I know enough about myself to realize that, given the opportunity, I will avoid human interaction.  I’m very much an introverted person.  So taking the class was a purposeful choice to put myself into a situation where I would need to meet and interact with new people.   And 3) I wanted to find new ways to be a pastor to people.  The last two points are related and interconnected.

And some of those things are starting to happen.

In my ENG COMP class last night, we watched the documentary, The Invisible War, about rape and sexual assault in the various branches of the United States military.  It was a powerful film, very moving. Very emotionally draining.  We have an assignment to write in response to the film.  250+ words on the issue.  The standard sort of ENG COMP kind of writing assignment.

But after the movie ended and the class was dismissed, I could see that one of my classmates was still upset.  He’s mentioned several time in class that he spent a number of years in the military. It’s something that he’s quite proud of.  It is a large part of how he identifies himself.  And the film made him very upset.  Angry.  But not angry in a “how dare they say that” sort of way.  He was embarrassed and angry, angry that the institution that helped him to define who he is would allow people to be victimized and assaulted and then treated so shabbily afterwards. 

I was tired after class, tired and emotionally drained.  I was ready to go home and very nearly turned the other direction in the hallway to head out to the parking lot through a different exit.  But I could see that he was hurting, so I hustled down the corridor to catch up to him, and engaged him in conversation for a few moments. 

I let him vent.  And vent he did.  He cursed. He swore. He even growled a little bit. As I said, the film was very powerful.  After he had the chance to verbalize most of what he needed to express, he paused, took a deep breath, and then said, “Now I have to go home and face my family.  I don’t think I can do that.”

“Give them a hug,” I told him.

“I’m not sure I can.”

“You can.  You love them,” I said.  He shrugged and headed out towards his car.  I trekked back the other direction towards mine, and then went home.

I may complain a little bit about the rudimentary level of this class (I know how to use punctuation, I know how to do a research paper, I know how to write a bibliography…) but I’m glad that I’m taking it.  It is good for me to be here.  I haven’t gone out of my way to tell the class that I’m a pastor – but I’m glad to be there as a pastor in the hallways when they need one.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What I’m Reading: Oh, Be Careful Little Ears

I went to the local public library looking for some material for a research project.  While I was perusing the shelves, the little book Oh, Be Careful Little Ears by Kimberly Smith fell out and landed in my hands.  I nearly put it back in its place, but I decided, instead, to read it for a lark.  

It is a very misguided book. Smith attempts to define a Christian theology of music that draws sharp distinction between carnal and non-carnal (spiritual) music and between music techniques that are acceptable and techniques that are not appropriate for Christian music.  And she fails rather miserably.

Her qualifications for “sensual” music are mostly focused on rhythm.  Anything with a “clean” rhythm with accents on beats 1 and 3 are acceptable.  But, accent the 2nd and 4th beats and it’s devil music.  She describes these as “unnatural” rhythms and says they’re to be avoided because they elicit a “sensual” response (by which, I think she really means, but can’t bring herself to say: a “sexual” response….)

It’s a convoluted argument that makes special exceptions for syncopated rhythms in folk music like the German polka, the Polish mazurka (which, by the way, has accents on the 2nd or 3rd beat, but don’t worry, it’s “clean”)and the Spanish flamenco (Smith 44)Yes.  Seriously.  The flamenco is “good” music to Smith and not, in any way, sensual….

If the music causes your body to move in a way that could be construed as sensual or suggestive or, to be more precise, cause you to ‘thrust out’ your head, shoulders, or hips – or even tap your toes – ‘in time’ to an additional, identifiable ‘beat,’ it is appeal to the flesh” (Smith 15).  – the Italics and the quotation marks used for “emphasis” are hers…

Music that leads to dancing is bad – unless it’s dancing in the round, like good folk music, or minuets, or classical ballet (Smith 80).  David’s dancing before the Lord (2 Samuel 6: 12 – 16) was not at all ‘sensuous’ but holy and dignified…   

She also condemns any music with Offbeat accents, “any rhythm that conflicts with the melody” (whatever that means), swing rhythms, unnatural rhythm that has no melody, rhythm melodies that are “based on strong, repetitive unnatural rhythm patterns”, sliding or scooping vocal techniques, breathiness or gravelliness in vocalists, “sensual” vibrato (as opposed to “non-sensual” vibrato?), and dissonance (Smith 124 – 125).

It must be sad to have such a narrow and rigid understanding of the music and of scripture.  I read the book as a lark, for a laugh.  But I feel sorry for Kimberly Smith.  She may be an accomplished pianist and she may have a Masters degree in Biblical studies (as it says in the biographical blurb on the back cover), but she really doesn’t understand music or the bible.

Smith, Kimberly. Oh, Be Careful Little Ears. Enumclaw, WA.  WinePress Publishing. 1997.

A Consistent Song of Faith from an Inconsistent Son of God

I sometimes joke with people by telling them that I am a follower of “the Jewish carpenter who renounced his father’s name to sing the blues out on Highway 61.” Those who know that I’m a minister usually assume that I’m making some sort of oblique reference to Jesus of Nazareth.  Most people think I’m just being weird.  It’s actually a little of both. I think it’s a humorous way to refer to my favorite singer songwriter, Bob Dylan, who was born Robert Zimmerman.  “Zimmerman,” in German, means “Carpenter.” He dropped his father’s name, legally changed his name to Bob Dylan and became modern music’s iconic (and often iconoclastic) figure.

This comparison of Dylan to Jesus is a little hyperbolic, of course.  Though often hailed as prophet, and poet, and musical messiah, Bob Dylan has been only an inconsistent “son of God.”  Born into a Jewish family in Duluth, and raised in the tight knit Jewish community of Hibbing, Minnesota, Dylan grew up with the Hebrew Scriptures, and participated in the traditions of his heritage, but never said much about being a follower of the Jewish faith. In 1979 he famously converted to Christianity and offended many of his fans by turning his “finger pointing” songs on them.  In the years after, however, Dylan has downplayed his conversion to Christianity – though never quite renouncing it.  Careful listeners can still hear in his lyrics the words and themes of the Christian faith.  Bob Dylan, this inconsistent son of God, has consistently, through the years of his career, sung a song of faith, even in the years before he came to the Christian faith.

In 1961 CBS studios released Bob Dylan’s eponymously titled first recording, a collection of mostly traditional and folk songs, with only two original compositions.  It was on his 1962 sophomore album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan that he stepped into the role of singer-songwriter.  And not only that, he embraced the role of political activist and prophet.  In the Hebrew Bible, the prophets developed from a group of mystic seers into moralistic preachers whose function was to critique the kings and leaders of Israel; the prophets were a check against the potential of despotism and tyranny (Fritsch 1096). Dylan took on that role with a number of “finger pointing songs” like “Oxford Town” and “Masters of War”.

In the song “Masters of War” Dylan delivers an acerbic attack on warmongers and war-profiteers.  It is an unflinchingly bitter song, a curse and imprecatory psalm.  “Like Judas of old,” he sings, “you lie and deceive.”  In the final verse of the song he sings:

                And I hope that you die
                And your death will come soon
                I’ll follow your casket
                In the pale afternoon
                And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
                Down to your deathbed
                And I’ll stand over your grave
                ‘TIl I’m sure that you’re dead (Dylan “Masters”)

It might seem that he’s gone too far when Dylan says of these Masters of War that “Even Jesus would never / Forgive what you do,” (Ibid) until it is recalled that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus said, “…alas for that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!” (New Jerusalem Bible, Matthew 26: 24).   This comparison of those who would lead us into war with Judas Iscariot shows up again in Dylan’s 1964 song “With God on our Side” (Dylan “With God”).

By 1965 Dylan had grown tired of the role of prophet and had given up the “finger pointing,” political activist songs that brought him such notoriety. He’d also abandoned the acoustic folk styling of his early work, trading it for an electrified and amplified rock and roll band.  His songs during this period often demonstrated a rapid fire stream of consciousness, a progression of images rather than a sustained narrative.

The title song from Dylan’s 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited begins with an image of his own life and family overlaid with a biblical story:

          God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son,”
          Abe says, “Man you must be puttin’ me on”
          God says “No.” Abe says, “What?”
          God says, “You can do what you want Abe, but
          The next time you see me comin’ you better run.”
          Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
          God says, “Out on Highway 61” (Dylan “Highway”).

The later verses of the song describe a series of fantastic events, culminating in World War III, that all take place along Highway 61.  The lyrics of the first verse refer to the story told in Genesis 22 wherein God instructed Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, to offer his beloved son, Isaac, as a sacrificial offering.  “Abraham” was Bob Dylan’s father’s name, and Highway 61 runs from Duluth, Minnesota (where Dylan grew up) down to New Orleans, Louisiana.  It is something like an autobiographical reference, but stretched by Dylan’s poetic imagination into the mythically surreal.

Bob Dylan has continually reinvented and reinterpreted himself through the years, changing musical styles, altering lyrics and adopting new personas.  In 1967 Dylan released his sixth studio album John Wesley Harding; he dropped the rock sound and returned to his acoustic roots.  In a 1976 interview Dylan described this album as “the first biblical rock album” (Hickey “Interview”).  It is an apt description; most of its songs have at least one reference or allusion to the Bible, many have more. 
In the song “All Along the Watchtower” Dylan sings, “All along the watchtower, princes kept the view”.  At the end of the song those on the watchtower see “Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl” (Dylan “Watchtower”).   These lines are drawn from the book of Isaiah, from a proclamation by the prophet concerning the imminent fall of Babylon:

                                For this is what the Lord has said told me,
                                “Go, post a look-out, let him report what he sees.
                                He will see cavalry, horsemen two by two,
                                men mounted on donkeys, men mounted on camels;
                                let him watch alertly, be very alert indeed!”
                                Then the look-out shouted,
                                “On the watchtower, Lord,
                                I stay all day
                                and at my post
                                I stand all night.
                                Now the cavalry is coming,
                                horsemen two by two.”
                                He shouted again and said,
                                “Babylon has fallen, has fallen…” (New Jerusalem Bible, Isaiah 21: 7 – 9).

The “Joker” in the song is confused and ill at ease by what is going on, but his compatriot, “the Thief” encourages him to be at ease, “No reason to get excited;” life is not a joke.  However, the thief continues, “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late” (Dylan “Watchtower”).  This seems to be an allusion to another biblical warning – this time from the New Testament book Revelation, wherein Jesus says, “Look, I shall come like a thief.  Blessed is anyone who has kept watch, and has kept  his clothes on, so that he does not go out naked and expose his shame” (New Jerusalem Bible, Revelation 16: 15).  Though he had mostly given up the political songs years earlier, in “All Along the Watchtower” Dylan is singing out a warning from the top of the watchtower, a warning, drawn from both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

For each of the examples detailed here another ten or fifteen could be supplied; with 35 studio albums, 11 live albums, innumerable bootleg recordings (not to mention all the films about Dylan, and several more movies in which he starred...), there is too much to cover here.  Bob Dylan has turned to the scriptures of the both the Hebrew and Christian faiths over and over again, drawing up from their deep wells the words and images that fill his songs.  He has used the language and rhetoric of the prophets in both direct “finger pointing” type songs as well more idiosyncratic, poetic ways. He has also used biblical narratives as a way to write about his own personal life, overlaying the stories onto his own life as a way of describing the universal themes in his own voice. 

Both Bob Dylan and the Bible are complex and multifaceted; both resist simplistic interpretations.  Even in the years before his conversion from an apparently non-practicing Jew to ardent evangelical Christian, Dylan was drawing upon the scriptures of not only the Hebrew faith of his heritage, but also the Christian New Testament writings.  Bob Dylan, that inconsistent “son of God” has consistently used scripture in his music to express himself and to defy expectations. 

Works Cited      
Dylan, Bob.  “All along the Watchtower” John Wesley Harding. Columbia Records, 1967.
Dylan, Bob. “Highway 61 Revisited” Highway 61 Revisited. Columbia Records, 1965.
Dylan, Bob. “Masters of War” The Freewheelin Bob Dylan.  Columbia Records, 1962.
Dylan, Bob. “With God on our Side” The Times they Are a Changin’. Columbia Records, 1964.
Fritsch, Charles T. “The Prophetic Literature.” The Interpreter’s One Volume on the Bible Nashville,
        TN. Abingdon Press, 1980.
Hickey, Neil. “TV Guide Interview” TV Guide, September 11, 1976.
New Jerusalem Bible, New York, NY, Doubleday. 1998.
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