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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Apolitical Army Is a Surrendered Army

Oh! people say, you must be very careful, very judicious.  You must not thrust religion down people’s throats.  Then, I say, you will never get it down.
                                                                             - Catherine Booth, Aggressive Christianity

Though I don’t often make much noise about my rank and title, I am an officer-a Major-in The Salvation Army, that part of the Christian church founded by William and Catherine Booth, with a mission to preach the gospel, and to meet human needs in the name of Jesus Christ without discrimination.

Recently, I have been chastised by some in our leadership for being too political. I have been upbraided for being vocal about my opinions. Apparently some of my comrades “vehemently disagree,” with my “political, social [and] spiritual views,” and they have made their disagreement with me known to the leaders at our territorial headquarters.

In a recent email correspondence I was told:

...officers are expected to remain a-political in their association with the Army, understanding that the freedom to exercise their civil rights and political activities are to be done outside of this association. That was easier to do when we could merely say "don't put up political signs in the front yard of your quarters" or "don't wear your uniform to a political rally". However, in a cyber world, our personal identity and actions aren't easily separated from our ministry standards and undertakings as a Salvation Army officer. The lines are more blurred online and we must be even more prudent if we are going to remain effective in our ministry.

And to this I say: Nonsense!  The Salvation Army has never been a-political.  

From Bramwell (son of the founders, and second General) Booth’s participation with journalist William T. Stead in the Eliza Armstrong case to rescue young girls from prostitution and “white slavery” in 1885 (and The Salvation Army work that continues to oppose human trafficking around the globe), to The Salvation Army’s work to reform and eventually close the notorious French penal colony at “Devil’s Island,” to the Salvation Army doughnut girls of World War I, the Salvation Army has, throughout its entire history, been politically active; aggressively so.

“There is no neutral position in a war,” says James H. Cone, "...preaching of the Word presents a crisis situation" (46) and one must make a stand, choose a side. The Army that is apolitical is an army that is no longer storming the forts of darkness to bring them down. The Apolitical army is a surrendered army.

Now, to give some concession to the officer who has criticized me, I recognize that I do not speak for the entire Salvation Army. I recognize that our international organization is large and varied, that there is a diversity of political opinion. I acknowledge and take seriously my responsibility to make clear what is my opinion and what is official Salvation Army policy. But putting on the uniform does not mean that my personal identity, my convictions, my political, social, and spiritual views will disappear. Nor should they be expected to disappear.

Yet I am told:

“If your witness and ministry is important to you - and even more, of greater importance than other ideologies you have embraced - then I encourage you to make your choices based on these priorities.”

Again, I say: Nonsense!

My witness and ministry are not of greater or lesser importance than the ideologies I’ve embraced. They are not divisible quantities that can be separately compartmentalized.  My witness and ministry and ideology are all part of the unified thing that is me.  If I am a socialist in my political thinking (one of those viewpoints that are so vehemently disliked) that is not separate from my faith; I learned my socialism from the Gospels and the Hebrew Bible prophets.  If I argue for full inclusion of LGBTI individuals in the ranks of The Salvation Army (something not yet done) that is not something separate and apart from my preaching of the gospel of grace; it is precisely because of that gospel of grace.

I have opinions, yes. And strong ones. I will be as careful as I can to portray them as my opinions - and to be clear when my opinions differ from others within The Salvation Army, or when my opinions may be at variance with Salvation Army policy, but I will not be neutral. I will not be apolitical. To be apolitical is to surrender to oppressors, and I refuse to surrender when the victory has already been won.

Cone, James H. Black Theology & Black Power.  San Francisco, California: Harper San Francisco, 1969.

This disclaimer can be found on every post I make here, but I put it here again to be clear:

The views, comments, statements and opinions expressed on this Web site do not necessarily represent the official position of The Salvation Army.

Biblical Limericks: Rebuked Him as Satan

He told them he would be forsaken,
rejected, despised, his life taken.
Simon Peter said, “No!
To this end you can’t go.”
But Jesus rebuked him as Satan.

Mark 8: 31 - 33

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Our National Bird

The Eagle is our national bird,
despite what we have read in God’s word:
scripture says they’re unclean.
What does that even mean?
We shouldn’t eat them? That’s just absurd.

Deuteronomy 14: 11 - 12

Rainy Pines

I took this photo a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Biblical Limericks: John the Baptizer

John the Baptizer’s one to beware;
he goes about in his underwear,
leather belt at his waist,
he never feels disgraced
though his clothes are made of camel hair.

Mark 1: 6

I've been in a mood for camels recently.  

A Step Into the Wind

It's cold out there.  Be brave.

I created this bit of music in Ableton Live (8) using material that I recorded as well as a few sounds from the Freesound Project:

Strange Technic Logo Reveal 
Attack Keys G#2
M30 Sound (16)
Dan River - Water Gurgling Under Path

That Is a Lie, A Dirty, Dirty Lie

It was all a bit of silliness filled with inside jokes and feigned offense.

In the Salvation Army we have a tradition of using lots of alternate tunes for our songs.  Our songbook (not hymnal...) is printed without music - just the lyrics.  And nearly every song is listed with several suggested melodies. Further, there is a metrical index of the songs and tunes to provide a quick reference for all those other melodies.

It's a fun game sometimes.  You can sing Amazing Grace to House of the Rising Sun and the theme from Gilligan's Island (though neither of those tunes is in our tune book...)

Last night a friend posted a list of ten reasons why the congregation might not be singing.  Number six on this list was:

"Montreal Citadel" is a march written by Salvation Army composer, Norman Audoire, to honor the Salvation Army corps in Montreal, and one of the melodies used in the march has become a favorite within the Salvation Army.

It's often used at summer camps to sing a prayer before meals:

Be present at our table, Lord,
be here and everywhere adored;
these mercies bless and grant that we
may strengthened for thy service be.

In response to the list, a friend responded (with feigned offense), "Hey! It's a great tune that we don't hear nearly enough of..."

To which another friend responded (with even greater feigned offense), "THAT IS A LIE! A dirty dirty lie! I REBUKE YOU IN THE NAME OF RAY STEAD-MAN ALLEN!"  (Steadman-Allen is another beloved Salvation Army composer..)

This was a response that I noted could, itself, be sung to "Montreal Citadel."

 Here's the Montreal Citadel  march; the melody referred to here begins at 2:35.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Straining Camels

Down went a camel and tiger-cat,
a hippo, and a vampire bat,
but the filter in place
prevented a disgrace -
so glad I didn’t swallow the gnat!

Matthew 23: 24

I'm on a camel limerick roll today.

Biblical Limericks: Poor Dromedary

American Christians are wary
of those with the gall to raise query,
during talks about wealth,
with respect to the health
of that luckless, poor dromedary.

Matthew 19: 24

Vinegar Ants

What’s that – there on the sidewalk?
Sparkling glass fragments among limp green spears,
a broken jar of pickles smashed upon the concrete.
Dali would be pleased.

            Now shift

Nurses rush in every hour
to observe and record your passive aggressive manipulations:
“See how much I endure! Now give me what I want!”
Security is called.  You’re too much.

            Shift again

This Sunday schizophrenia isn’t worship;
its chatter, its noise.  If you could be silent but a moment
all voices would cease, save the thunder of God,
rolling and booming at the horizon of your soul.

            And again

Step cautious, now to avoid
the vinegar ants swarming toward our feet.
This day’s been weird enough already
without being consumed by them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

In Which Dr. Jim West Reviews My Book

I am still recovering from a cold that laid me low for a couple of days; I feel about 75% better.  I think I'm on the way back up, but I'm exhausted.  Too tired to compose engaging posts of my own for this blog.

But that Zwingli apologist and perpetual snark, Dr. Jim West, has just published in his blog a review of my book: Muted Hosannas. 
I am grateful for his critical reading.

If you haven't already got a copy, why not order one today?  If you have read it, would you be willing to write a review - to either share with me or post in the review section at Amazon ?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Don’t Blame Satan

A misread text will bring in its wake
much trouble, so please, for heaven’s sake,
remember all this when
you read of old Eden:
don’t blame Satan for deeds of the snake.

Genesis 3:1 

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 9

I've been sick for a couple of days, and things have sorta' fallen down around here... but I think that I'm just about well again.  I hope so, anyway.

Here is this week's free background image. It's yours to use where and how you like.  I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

 photo Week9_zps502bc556.jpg

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Biblical Limericks: A Proverb that Will Be Forgotten as We React to ISIL

Even if they’re cruel as the devil
we shouldn’t sink down to their level;
we’ll suffer their attack
and we will not strike back.
Do not say, “I will repay evil.”

Proverbs 20: 22

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Needs a Rewrite

The Bible’s a trustworthy book which
can relieve your capitalist itch,
but it needs a rewrite
to fix it up just right:
he who trades in wine and oil gets rich.

Proverbs 21: 17

No Rules – Just War

Potential 2016 presidential candidate, Ben Carson, would like to throw out the rule-book during war time.  Holding our troops accountable to international law, in his opinion, only serves to limit and weaken our military. 

In a recent interview on FOX News he said:
Our military needs to know that they’re not going be prosecuted when they come back, because somebody has said, ‘You did something that was politically incorrect’ …There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up, we need to mature. If you’re gonna’ have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win. Our life depends on it.

Rules for war – like the Geneva Convention which establish international standards for humanitarian treatment during warfare – are a tacit acknowledgement that war is cruel and nasty and evil, and needs to be limited, constrained. Once the dogs of war are let slip from their leashes, havoc and depravity are inevitable. I would prefer Carson’s one rule for war (“no war”) but if our leaders insist upon having war after war (after war after war…), we need to insist that our military is held accountable to these standards.  We should insist that our troops are prosecuted for war crimes. We should demand that our leaders are prosecuted for violations of human rights.

Doing whatever it takes to win is not the mark of a civilized society, and certainly not a Christian society.  That would be a return to the same sort of barbarism for which we condemn ISIS/ISIL. 

War Against ISIS should Have no Rules

The Modern Viewpoint Was Crude, Indeed

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hideous Love of the Sword

              "Their swelling minds and spirits
made fierce in slaughter are crushed by love of country and ancestral
gods, but they are recalled by their hideous love of the sword..."
Lucan - Pharalia 1. 353 - 355

Sunday, February 15, 2015

More Anomalies A – Z: Ophanim

Ezekiel saw the wheel
way up in the middle of the air

They do not turn aside;
they do not flinch,
alert and ever watchful,
the wheel a’whirlin’
with eyes and eyes
way up in the middle of the air.

Rivulets of fire trail behind
the spirits of many colored splendor.
I see him, I see him there,
the Ancient of Days
in wind and rain
and his wheels of burning fire.

Melete, Mneme, and Aoide

Melete, Mneme, and Aoide were the original three Muses.  Their number later multiplied to nine.

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 8

Here is this week's free-to-you background image.  It's yours to use in your projects at home, at work, at school, at church, or anywhere. Use it where and how you will. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

For those who like to know such things - this image was created by cutting out a couple of small pieces from reproductions of medieval art, and photographing them with a macro lens. The result was then gussied up a bit in photoshop.

 photo Week8_zps2f9aea01.jpg

I Cannot See the Road - New Music

The other day I shared a poem I wrote about a man who came to our office for some help.  I've now put that poem to music.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More Anomalies A - Z: Night

The final sunlit hours were fading
as we made one final dash
from the farm house
under a fusillade of poisoned rays,
the lively light of our bright star
dying from view.

Darkness rose up from the soil, and our souls
like a theological anomaly, a satanic infection,
a pustulant pestilence from beyond the Earth.

The Vicar was dead; they were all dead,
millions and millions in the night.
A silver disk held aloft in the sky
by means of a magnetic flux
like invisible legs, the moon
rose over the low and tired horizon.

We gathered in our toppled churches,
under shattering stained-glass windows
while a Roman solder tossed dice on the stairs.
Outside, night had come; midnight
tumbled the stones and bricks
of our miserable defenses.

Black Theology, Black Power, and My Complicity

I have just begun reading James H. Cone’s book Black Theology and Black Power written in 1969, or 1989, or last week, I can’t tell.[i] When he writes about the “rebellion in the cities” (7), I know that he’s writing about the race riots in New York City, or Philadelphia, or Watts, or Detroit, Chicago during the 1960s, but I read it in terms of Fergusson, Missouri. When Cone writes that “blacks are beaten at will by policemen as a means of protecting the latter’s ego superiority as well as that of the larger white middle class” (25) I know he’s referring to what happened to Michael Brown, and Eric Garner and etc…

To read Cone in 2015 is to know that we are not yet living in a post-racial society. The evil of racism is still a part of us. We may have made some progress towards an equal and egalitarian society (though that may be debated), America is still racist.

It does no good to say that we’re not as racist as we used to be – we fought the Civil War to end slavery[ii], we’ve had Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement, we even have a black president. It does no good because “Racism … biologically is analogous to pregnancy, either she is or she is not, or like the Christian doctrine of sin, one is or is not in sin. There are no meaningful ‘in betweens’ to the fact itself.  And it should be said that racism is so embedded in the heart of American society that few, if any, whites can free themselves from it” (Cone, 23). 

That was a provocative – aggressively so – statement in 1969 and it so it remains in 2015. But Cone doesn’t stop there.  He pushes harder:  “all white men are responsible for white oppression” (24).  All. 

In most branches of the Christian faith there is a doctrine of human depravity – sinfulness; while it takes many forms and expressions, the general sense of the thing is that humans, as a whole, are twisted, bent toward sinful behavior. In my denomination we express it this way: “We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocence, but by their disobedience, they lost their purity and happiness and that, in consequence of their fall, all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.”[iii] 

And we tend to believe that (or some variation thereof) until we’re pressed on those words “all” and “totally” – especially when it comes to the matter of race. Then we back pedal furiously. 

“While it true that some Americans” we say, “perhaps even some of my ancestors,” (see how honest and forthcoming we’re being?) “were slaveholders or members of the KKK, but that was the past and, besides, neither I nor anyone I know, participated in those kinds of things.  I’m only responsible for my own actions.”

But Cone counters that objection saying, “racism is possible because whites are indifferent to suffering and patient with cruelty” (24). 

And I think that for the most part white Christians in America have become less indifferent to people who are suffering – if we have made any progress since 1969 it may be here, but we are still very patient with their suffering. We are, by and large, willing to be patient in the face of the continued presence of racism. We’re willing to excuse and justify white on black violence; we throw up black on black violence as a smokescreen, a dodge so that we can continue being patient with the presence of cruelty and violence. “Look at how far we’ve come,” we might say. “Be patient. Be calm,” we might say. But while we are keeping calm and exercising this patience, institutionalized racism continues to oppress many millions in our country.  We can be patient because we’re not the ones who are hurting.

Cone quotes the German psychiatrist / philosopher, Karl Jaspers:

There exists among men, because they are men, a solidarity through which each shares responsibility for every injustice and every wrong committed in the world, and especially for crimes that are committed in his presence or of which he cannot be ignorant. If I do not do whatever I can to prevent them, I am an accomplice in them. If I have not risked my life in order to prevent the murder of other men, if I have stood silent, I feel guilty in a sense that cannot in any adequate fashion be understood juridically, or politically, or morally … That I am still alive after such things have been done weighs on me as a guilt that cannot be expiated.[iv]

I am reminded of a song by the band Dime Store Prophets  which included the lines:

I’m not myself
till you are you
if I close my eyes
I’m killing you.[v]

[i] Cone, James H.  Black Theology and Black Power New York: Seabury Press. 1969. 
The paperback version of the book that I have is the 20th anniversary edition published in 1989 with a new preface. 
[ii] That’s not really true.  Slavery ended as a consequence of the American Civil War, but the war was not fought with that goal in mind…
[iv] Karl Jaspers La Culpabilité Allemande (German Guilt) 1948.
[v] The song was inspired by words from Martin Luther King Jr's speech "The American Dream" - June 6, 1961:

"All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated. And we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny -- whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Night at the Wax Museum

My son has been involved in his school's theatrical production of A Night at the Wax Museum.  He played John Adams. He's seen here with Anne Boleyn.

I Cannot See the Road

Rain falls on the prison walls
razor wire glistens wet
my sentence served
released, set free
the gate slams shut behind

Lonely thunder overhead
freezing puddles underfoot
the road is long
my jacket’s thin
and I have far to walk

Home and wife are barred to me
she’s gone and changed the locks
the judge has signed
an order to
protect my wife from me

Cold rain becomes snow and ice
no one’s driving in this storm
I can’t go home
and won’t go back
I cannot see the road 

This poem is based on the story told to me by one of our recent clients.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Brass in Pocket

Got brass in pocket
Got bottle, I'm  gonna' use it
Intention, I feel inventive
Gonna make, make you, make you notice...
- Brass in Pocket - The Pretenders

Photograph hanging brass by Jeff Carter on 500px

Photograph Brass Bowl by Jeff Carter on 500px

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Biblical Candy Hearts

Valentine's Day is coming up very soon and, if you're like me you usually wait till the very last minute to get something special for your special person.  This year I wanted to be ahead of the game, and I've made up these biblical candy hearts.  You're welcome to share them with your significant other.

Ecclesiasticus 1:29

Ezekiel 23:21

Genesis 2:23

Genesis 2: 23

Genesis 19:32

Hosea 1:2

Isaiah 1:9b

Proverbs 5:19

A Psalm – A Sigh

I am gas and dust,
filtered starlight
calling out
from silent eons
to deep cavernous abyss.

I am overwhelmed,
forgotten, harassed
with death in my bones.

They ask: Where is your God?
I sigh because I do not know.

The Daktari

My brother, Brad, and I collaborate on a lot of projects.  Recently he asked me for some music to accompany a short little film he'd made while in Africa.  That film has been accepted into the Bare Bones International, Independent Film, Arts & Music festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma - April 10 - 19, 2015.

The Daktari from Brad Carter on Vimeo.

Spinning Colors into Space

It was a simple set up - a glass with colorful, painted stripes, a blue cloth napkin, and a macro lens.

Photograph Striped glass by Jeff Carter on 500px

Photograph striped glass by Jeff Carter on 500px

Photograph Striped Glass by Jeff Carter on 500px

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Did Jesus Make Ad Hominem Attacks?

I made a brief, humorous post a few days ago about “conversations” in social media (facetious quotes, because you know these are actually debates or – more likely - arguments) – sharing a series of Logical Fallacies Bingo cards.  I haven’t revisited the subject on my blog since then, but the topic has been in my mind. 

One of the most common failures in social media debate (or real life arguments, for that matter) is the personal – ad hominem – attack.  “You are an idiot,”  “You’re an ass,”  “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries,” and the like.

Tonight the question struck me: Did Jesus make ad hominem attacks during his interactions? Did he ever attack the person and not the argument?  (For now setting aside the questions of whether or not the authors of the various gospels have accurately recorded historical “conversations”and whether or not they’ve put their own words into Jesus’ mouth…)

Should Jesus calling Herod a “fox” be considered an ad hominem attack? or his repeatedly calling the Pharisees “Hypocrites” or “snakes” and a “brood of vipers”? When he said that his opponents were children of their father, “the devil” – was that an ad hominem attack?  It certainly sounds like one.

Frozen Prairie

A photo taken at the Neil Smith wildlife refuge.

Photograph Frozen Stream by Jeff Carter on 500px

Biblical Haiku: Psalm 144: 4

a breath, a breeze
shadows move on the wall
and nothing more

Monday, February 9, 2015

O Babylon

Now to shrink and to swallow,
to whiten the wind with a blinding flash
of hot white light. But where,
 oh where have you gone?
To a graveyard, a boneyard?

You are courageous as any
of the elite and privileged men
of the Bush administration.

You will live again. Your name still glows,
There is an intelligent plan.

A light in the deserted sky
as the fame of the hero swells;
the flame of a proto-star
is formed from the condensation
of interstellar truths.

Thrice troubled before he dies
but where, oh where have you gone?
Taken to Babylon’s grave.

O Babylon,
you lose the battle and anthrax begins;
the story of your hanging gardens
ends like a forgotten
and fading dream.


Neuroscience After Lunch

I arrived a few minutes early to my Environmental Science class - the classroom also serves as the biology / chemistry / anatomy classroom at the local community college - so I took a few pictures.

Photograph brain by Jeff Carter on 500px

Photograph Brain by Jeff Carter on 500px

My, What a Lovely Singing Voice You Must Have...

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a picture of his daughter singing in the church choir. I fixed it for him.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 7

Here it is. Here it is - this week's free-to-you background image.  There's a new one every week .  You are free to download and to use this image where and how you will.  I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

If you're interested to know - the image is developed from a photograph I took of red glass pitcher - I purposefully used a close up lens and odd lighting to create an abstracted effect.

 photo Week7_zps44fee940.jpg

Saturday, February 7, 2015

O God of Earth and Altar

I've discovered a new hymn (well, new to me...) that I really like: O God of Earth and Altar. And I like it for four reasons:

1)  I really like the words.

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

- the other two verses are pretty swell as well.

2) I like that it was written by G. K. Chesterton

3) I like the tune, or at least one of the tunes to which it can be sung:  a Welsh melody, Llangloffan.

4) And I like that the British heavy metal band, Iron Maiden, used a portion of it in their song, Revelations.

The Eyes of the Madonna and Child

I photographed a reproduction of Carlo Crivelli's painting Madonna and Child using a DIY macro attachment and a multi-faceted filter.

My wife just says it's creepy...

Photograph The Eyes of the Madonna and Child (Crivelli) by Jeff Carter on 500px

Will I Get in Trouble for Having an Opinion?

I don’t know when it happened, but apparently I have become the old respectable guy that the youngsters call at 11:30 to ask troubling questions. When did that happen?  When did I become… respectable? 

And don’t these young pups know that my answers are likely to get them in trouble?

The other night one of my friends, my younger friends, called me up in the middle of the night to ask a number of fearful questions. 

One of the questions was this:  “Will I get in trouble for having an opinion?”

I nearly wept.

How sad, that we have to be afraid of opinions How tragic it is that we should even have to ask the question.  I answered truthfully, “Yes. Probably.” Having an opinion, especially a dissenting opinion is likely to stir up trouble.  But, then again, that’s where a lot of the good work gets done.

I don’t often give advice; I’m not very good at it, and people don’t really like being given advice, so instead I offered up some words of wisdom from Saint Bono. Yes. Have an opinion. God gave you that great thinking organ, and that loving heart that beats within you.  Have an opinion and share it boldly and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Our Prayers

Our prayers are rising smoke and dust;
our prayers are ash and cinder,
but still we pray
for mercy more
and we to love surrender.

Our prayers are silenced by the wind;
our prayers by floods are swallowed,
and still we pray
for mercy more
to rise up and to follow.

Our prayers lay bleeding in the street;
our prayers die without a trace,
Lord, still we pray
for mercy more
to extend your hand of grace.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

DMACC Creative Writing Contest Winners

As you might be aware, I am currently enrolled at the local community college; I'm finishing out some of the gen. ed requirements of a bachelor's degree.  I know. I know.  I tell people that I'm on the 25 year plan - if I am serious about it and work really hard, I can cram all four years of college into twenty five.

Anyhow - the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) holds a creative writing contest among its students every year.  And the results for this year's contest have just been announced.

My poem: At Devils Tower with the Boys has been awarded 1st place in the the poetry section.

I'm fairly excited about that - even if they've misspelled my name on the announcement page....

This Divine Aeneid

I recently finished reading The Aeneid by the Roman poet, Virgil. It’s part of my personal challenge to read (or re-read) some of the classics of western civilization.

As I was reading it I was struck by an idea – a comparison that could be made to some parts of the Bible, but I hesitated to write them up, thinking that perhaps I was reaching.  That I was stretching too far.  But a blog post from that perpetual snark, Dr. Jim West, has convinced me that I was on the right track and that I shouldn’t have succumbed to my self-doubting. 

It occurred to me, as I read Virgil’s epic poem, that a comparison could be made between Aeneus and Abraham.  Both commenced upon long and dangerous journeys in order to find a promised city, Aeneus for the city that would become the great and powerful Rome, Abraham for a heavenly city.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11: 8 – 10)

And, apparently, Martin Luther thought that comparison valid as well.  Tucked in among the very last things he wrote were these lines:
Nobody can understand Vergil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has first been a shepherd or a farmer for five years.  Nobody understands Cicero in his letters unless he has been engaged in public affairs of some consequence for twenty years.Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years. Therefore there is something wonderful, first, about John the Baptist; second, about Christ; third, about the apostles. ‘Lay not your hand on this divine Aeneid, but bow before it, adore its every trace.’ We are beggars. That is true.

We Can Go No Further Tonight

The chemical earthquakes and
apocalyptic, surgical aftershocks
of a dark ride through ignorance
leave fallen limbs – arms and legs -
strewn across the path;
we can go no further tonight.

This house is occupied
by a death cult – smug and gloating.
I’m sure they feel righteous
in their bully behavior;
they have a cause and
a god on their side,
just like the ones
who crucified Christ.

A lion leaps from the dark
as a honky-tonk piano plays
for my missing sister.

When the smoke clears
and the frost ash falls,
will we find help?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Logical Fallacy Bingo

I knew what it would become before I began, but I did it anyway. Earlier this evening I engaged in one of those fruitless, pointless ... "conversations" (to put it kindly)... on the Facebook.  I entered into the ..."conversation"... hoping to help restore a measure of civility, to help guide the discourse into sound arguments instead of attacks on personal character.

But it was a wasted effort, as I knew from the beginning it would be.  I resigned myself from the debate, and conquered the temptation to have the last word.  And I decided that next time I see one of these..."conversations"... I'm going to play logical Fallacy Bingo.

I've made up a few cards. Feel free to play along yourself.

Lights, Reflections, and Shadows

Glassware stacked in a cupboard reduced to an abstraction of lights, reflections and shadows.

Photograph Glassware by Jeff Carter on 500px

Virgil, Salad, Augustine, U2 and National Mottos

This year I have made it a challenge to myself to read (or re-read) some of the classics of western civilization – books like The Iliad and The Odyssey by the Greek poet Homer, and The Aeneid by the Roman, Virgil. 

I recently finished Virgil’s work, but before I move on to something else, I wanted to make note of the fact that Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum “Out of many, one” found on the Seal of the United States
may be attributed to Virgil.

It is found in his poem Moretum – which on the surface reading is about preparing type of cheese spread (sort of like pesto) eaten by the ancient Romans on breads and salads.  (Though the poem is attributed to Virgil, the actual authorship may be up for debate…)

…with his right [hand] he first
The reeking garlic with the pestle breaks,
Then everything he equally doth rub
I' th' mingled juice. His hand in circles move:
Till by degrees they one by one do lose
Their proper powers, and out of many comes
A single color, not entirely green
Because the milky fragments this forbid,
Nor showing white as from the milk because
That color's altered by so many herbs.

Another early use of the phrase, though in a slight variation – ex pluribus unum - can be found in the writings of St. Augustine.  In his Confessions he wrote:

These and similar tokens of friendship, which spring spontaneously from the hearts of those who love and are loved in return—in countenance, tongue, eyes, and a thousand ingratiating gestures--were all so much fuel to melt our souls together, and out of the many made us one. (Book 4, Chapter 8)

And though it’s not Latin, and ‘classic rock’ is hardly ‘classics of western civilization’ – I also include in this little list the song, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, by U2 because it resonates with Virgil’s many colors mixing into one...

I believe in the kingdom come,
Then all the colors will bleed into one,
Bleed into one,
Well, yes, I'm still running.

Having finished The Aeneid, I was planning to continue with Pharsalia by Lucan, and it was going to be a collaborative reading / blog writing with a friend of mine. But something has come up, and that will be put on hold for a while.  I'll do some other reading - but will keep the plan to come back to the classics throughout this year.... 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I can never spell that word correctly: Iceicles, Icesickles, Icecycle, Icicles... (and when I finally stumble upon the correct spelling, it still looks weird to me.)

It’s a Fine Essay, But the Wolves are too Important for Weak Arguments

This is an essay I wrote for my ENG COMP class - in it we were to summarize a writer's argument, respond with our own argument (agree / disagree / both) and use another source -with quotes.  Not a very complicated assignment, but I enjoyed it.


The wild gray wolf is a majestic creature; noble and savage, both feared and revered. But it is also a threatened species, endangered even despite legislation enacted in order to prevent its complete elimination.  The Endangered Species Act of 1973 helped to ensure that population of gray wolves in the United States could rise from a few hundred when the legislation was passed back up to several thousand (though this number is still dangerously low.)  In her op-ed piece in The New York Times, “High Noon for the Gray Wolf”, Lydia Millet encourages President Obama and other law makers to strengthen the laws that protect this endangered species so that it is not lost to us forever.

In making her argument Millet briefly describes the ebb and flow of the Gray Wolf population numbers in response to the enforcement or relaxing of laws that would protect them.  This is a logical, factual type argument, an argument that can be backed up with scientific studies. She also describes the “greatly exaggerated” fear that wolves threaten sheep and cattle – and this too is grounded in factual data and can be verified with statistical analysis.  But at the conclusion of her essay, Millet’s arguments veer toward the vague and nebulous realm of feel-good, warm fuzzies.  She wants her daughter to have a chance to see wolves in the wild.

There’s nothing specifically wrong with an emotional appeal. Emotional appeals have a proper place in intelligent discourse.  But if she wanted to counter the emotional (that is - fear) based argument that wolves are dangerous, Millet would have done better than to resort to an emotional appeal of her own.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I agree with Millet that a “unified wolf-recovery plan for the nation is required,” (Millet “High Noon”), this is an important issue and needs to be addressed with serious discussion and strong legislation,  but basing that necessity on such intangible arguments like “they were here long before we were,” and a slightly non- sequitur reference to environmentalist Aldo Leopold’s transformation in response to the “fierce green fire” in a wolf’s eyes is a weak argument (Millet “High Noon”).  Instead, she could have demonstrated the very vital necessity of preserving wolf populations by describing their role as a “keystone species.”  This would have given her argument a solid grounding in scientific data – measurable, documentable, quantifiable data that cannot be easily dismissed, and would, I think, have provided and even greater emotional appeal to her writing.

Keystone species like the Grey Wolf not only “keep the wilderness wild” as Millet mentions in a brief, almost throwaway phrase (“High Noon”), they actually keep the wilderness living. Like the keystone of an arch, if a keystone species is removed, the entire structure collapses.  The complete elimination of wolves would have catastrophic effects on the entire environment. Millet could have strengthened her essay by describing how the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park has brought a new vitality to the once dying wilderness – biodiversity has increased among numerous species of flora and fauna, ecosystems have stabilized, and animal populations that were once in decline are returning.  Millet’s desire for her young daughter to have a chance to see wolf is a precious thing, not to be dismissed as irrelevant, but if the wolf disappears, her daughter might not have a chance to see many others species as well.  If the wolf disappears, the entire ecosystem with all its varied plant and animal species disappear with it.

In a 2013 TED talk George Monbiot, a writer known for his environmentalism and political work, describes how the reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone National Park had a cascading effect on the larger environment; even though the wolves were small in number, they had a huge effect.  As the wolves hunted deer and elk, the population of those grazing ungulates stabilized – and vegetation began to regrow in areas previously denuded.  As the vegetation – plants and trees once mowed down by uncontrolled deer and elk populations - retuned, so too came back small mammals and birds.  The beaver population of the park began to grow – which in turn brought more otters, muskrats, fish, reptiles, and assorted other animals (Monbiot “For More Wonder” 3:00).

And not only did the reintroduction of wolves into the park affect behavior and populations of animal life, the wolves actually began to change physical geography of the park.
“…here's where it gets really interesting. The wolves changed the behavior of the rivers. They began to meander less. There was less erosion. The channels narrowed. More pools formed, more riffle sections, all of which were great for wildlife habitats. The rivers changed in response to the wolves, and the reason was that the regenerating forests stabilized the banks so that they collapsed less often, so that the rivers became more fixed in their course. Similarly, by driving the deer out of some places and the vegetation recovering on the valley sides, there was less soil erosion, because the vegetation stabilized that as well. So the wolves, small in number, transformed not just the ecosystem of the Yellowstone National Park, this huge area of land, but also its physical geography” (Monbiot “For More Wonder”, 5:41).
 Millet’s essay begins well with a story about a couple of specific wolves, continues with factual data and historical information, but then fizzles out in its conclusion with an easily dismissed emotional appeal.  Even though I agree with Millet, I’m tempted to dismiss her essay as another bit of overly emotional fluff. It’s a fine essay, but the wolves are too important for vague emotional appeals.  Her argument would have been stronger – and had an even more powerful emotional impact – if she’d gone on to describe in demonstrable reasons exactly why it is so important to protect the wolf population in the United States. 

Millet, Lydia. "High Noon for the Gray Wolf." New York Times. New York Times 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

Monbiot, George. “For More Wonder, Rewild the World” TEDGlobal, July 2013.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Warm Home / Cold Night

Photograph Warm Home / Cold Night by Jeff Carter on 500px

What Madness Was This, O Citizens?

What madness was this, O citizens? What this excessive freedom with the sword?
-Lucan, Pharsalia 1. 8 - 9

A Limerick for Sean

Now Sean’s preparing for surgery;
he’s tense and full of anxiety.
I tell him to relax
and then sharpen the axe
they’ll use for his tonsillectomy. 

First Snow of February

We haven't had a lot of snow in central Iowa this winter, not until yesterday.  Now we're covered.  It's nice enough to look at, but it does make for a lot of work.  I'm grateful to my neighbor who loaned me the use of his snow thrower. It saved me about four hours of work and a trip the the chiropractor.

Here are some more photos from this recent snowfall.

Photograph First Snows of February by Jeff Carter on 500px

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What I’m Reading: The Aeneid

The Aeneid by the Roman poet, Virgil, is another of those books – “the classics” – that for a long
time intimidated me.  Their reputation and their antiquity caused me to hesitate whenever I thought about perhaps reading them.  But no more.  This year I have been reading those classics of western civilization.  I started with Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, and now I have finished The Aeneid.

Of the three Virgil’s been my favorite so far.  Mostly because his language is so energetic, so vibrant.

I read The Iliad as translated by Stephen Mitchel and The Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles.  I noted then that the translation of The Odyssey by Fagles seemed less lively, less vigorous than The Iliad as translated by Mitchell, but I also think it was a matter of the story telling itself. The Iliad was very immediate, in the gory visceral present while in The Odyssey much of the action is recounted for us second hand.  We don’t get to experience the siren’s song, or the strange lethargy of the Lotus eaters.  We don’t see Scylla or Charybdis.  Homer has Odysseus tells us about them – and briefly at that.  It breaks the first rule of storytelling: show – don’t tell.

Having read Fagles’ translation of The Aeneid I’m more convinced of that opinion.  Fagles is able to make clear distinction between the poetic stylings of Homer and Virgil.  And Virgil’s poetry is not at all dull or stodgy. Though the story is told as something happening in the distant past, much of the epic poem is written in the present tense: 
“…But all of a sudden, watch,
with a ghastly swoop from the hills the Harpies swarm us -
ruffling, clattering wingbeats – ripping our food to bits,
polluting it all with their foul, corrupting claws,
their obscene shrieks, bursting from the stench.”  (3. 271 -275)
It is immediate.  Visceral.  Effective.

Virgil (at least Virgil as translated by Fagles) also alternates between long complex phrases and short bullet like sentence fragments.  Rhythmic.  Like a heartbeat, racing at times, and calm at others.

Structurally, The Aeneid is the reverse of Homer’s two volumes.  In the Iliad we read about the war for a great city – a war begun because a Trojan (Paris) stole a Greek king’s wife (Helen).  In The Odyssey we read of Ulysses long circuitous journey to get back home after the end of the Trojan War.  Virgil holds up a Roman mirror to Greek Homer’s story.  In the first part of Virgil’s work Aeneus wanders across the Mediterranean Sea (repeatedly blown off course by the vengeful goddess, Juno.)  In the second, we read of a war for a newly founded great city – a war begun because a Trojan (Aeneus) is given a wife (Lavinia) that was assumed to be promised to another. 

There are other similarities as well.  Both Ulysses and Aeneus make a dangerous journey down into the Underworld. And Aeneus, like Achilles, is given a shield made by the god Hephaestus / Vulcan.

There are differences as well; Virgil was no mere imitator of Homer.  One major difference in theme is notable.  In Homer’s work, the Greek heroes are motivated by honor – and by honor besmirched.  Agamemnon launches a thousand ships against Troy when his honor is insulted by Paris (his wife leaving him seems almost secondary…) Achilles sulks in his tent while his compatriots die on the battlefield when his honor is offended.  Ulysses deals harshly with the men who were attempting to woo his wife during his long absence because they did not treat her or his son with the appropriate respect and honor.  But in the Roman Virgil’s epic, it is not honor that motivates his hero.  It is duty. 

Aeneus is described repeatedly as a pious man – which Bernard Knox notes in his introductory comments to this particular volume refers “to devotion and duty to the Divine… but the words pius and pietas have in Latin a wider meaning.  Perhaps the best English equivalent is something like ‘dutiful,’ ‘mindful of one’s duty’ – not only to the gods but also to one’s family and to one’s country. (13)”

This is especially important during Aeneus’ affair with Queen Dido in the city of Carthage.  The two have a passionate relationship, but when he is reminded of his obligations, Aeneus chooses duty over love.

The Aeneid was composed by Virgil (but never fully finished; he died before feeling that it was polished to his satisfaction, and left instructions that it should be destroyed upon his death.  Fortunately for us, this instruction was ignored) as a bit of propaganda.  In the epic poem he describes the legendary journey of Aeneus – who escaped from Troy, wandered across the Mediterranean having strange and dangerous encounters, before settling in Italy and becoming the ancestors of all great Romans.  And Virgil links heroic Aeneus to his patron Caesar Octavius Augustus – the grandnephew and adopted son (and heir) of Julius Caesar.

Virgil seemed quite enamored of Augustus.  During Aeneus’ journey into Hades, he is given a glimpse into the future of Rome.  Virgil writes of his patron:
“Here is the man, he’s here! Time and again
you’ve heard his coming promised – Caesar Augustus!
Son of a god, he will bring back the Age of Gold
to the Latian fields where Saturn once held sway,
expand his empire pas the Garamants and the Indians
to a land beyond the stars, beyond the wheel of the year,
the course of the sun itself, where Atlas bears the skies
and turns on his shoulder the heavens studded with flaming stars.” (6. 913 – 920) 

Was this just flattery for the emperor who was keeping Virgil in work, or was it a sincere expectation of nearly Messianic greatness from Augustus

During this same parade of the future (to Aeneus) greats of Rome, Virgil writes about Julius Caesar as well:
“But you see that pair of spirits? Gleaming in equal armor,
equals now at peace, while darkness pins them down,
but if they should reach the light of life, what war
they’ll rouse between them! Battles, massacres - Caesar,
the bride’s father, marching down from his Alpine ramparts,
Fortress Monaco, Pompey her husband set to oppose him
with the armies of the East.
                                  “No, my sons, never inure
yourselves to civil war, never turn your sturdy power
against your country’s heart.  You, Caesar, you
be first in mercy – you trace your line from Olympus -
born of my blood, throw down your weapons now!” (6.951 – 961)

This refers to the bloody civil war between Julius Caesar and his son-in-law, and friend, General Pompey - which is the subject of the next book I’ll be reading – Pharsalia by Lucan (also sometimes known as Civil War).  You can expect a number of posts on that one; my friend, Joel Watts, and I are going to be collaborating on it for a while.  Joel believes that an appreciation of Lucan will give one a better understanding of the Gospel of Mark.  

It may seem intimidating.  It may appear daunting, but I would encourage you to read the Aeneid.  It is powerful work with action, and adventure, and monsters, and epic battles, and love and loss and tragedy, and hope… With all that, it’s a bit surprising that that Hollywood hasn’t tried to ruin it yet.

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 6

Here is this week's free background image.  It's yours.  Its' free.  I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

 photo Week6_zpsae559890.jpg

Into the White

I ventured out into the white this afternoon for a few photos:

Photograph Stop by Jeff Carter on 500px

Photograph 3 Tracks in the Snow by Jeff Carter on 500px

Charon Speaks to America

The rough clad boatman sighs
and leans upon his pole. He speaks:

“Didn’t the Sibyl warn you;
didn’t she say the gates of Death
swing wide to welcome those who come
but close tight behind, secure
once they are in?

“You must have read the notice
posted there at the entrance
to this place of woe:
‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’

“War is hell – even you acknowledge this -
and the descent into hell is easy. The road is wide,
but to turn and climb back up to peaceful air,
to leave the stygian marshes,
is a struggle, a labor that few can meet.

“Yet you are known for near Herculean feats…”

The boatman sighs again,
then rises from his pole:

“No.  Your coin is paid, your path is set;
proceed onward, downward into the dark.
You’ll not have strength to turn round now,
encumbered as you are with arms and armor.”

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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