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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When God Closes a Door and Other Odds and Ends

*Sometimes when God closes a door - he stands there grumbling about the kids trying to heat the whole outdoors...

*I've decided to adopt Jeremiah 17:5a as my life verse: "trust no one."

*In a recent lesson on Loneliness among Leaders -based on the life of David - we were told that we each need someone in our lives who can be  1)an Abiathar - who can come work alongside us 2) a  Jonathan - who can be our intimate and trusted friend 3) a Nathan - who can keep us accountable and honest and 4) a Solomon - to whom we can pass on a legacy.

Great, I think, but all I've got are a bunch of Shimeis - cursing and throwing stones.

Evening and Nighttime Photography in South Dakota

I am currently in Keystone, South Dakota. I'm here for meetings. This is a great place - but ... meetings.... blah.

We drove up (my wife and I) with some good friends of ours. It's surprising how riding with good people can make a 10 hour drive seem so much shorter. The first photo is of the South Dakota sun setting through storm clouds. My friend, John, didn't want to stop (again) so I could get out and take pictures (again), so I stuck my head out of the moving van to take this one.

The second photo below is of the Ponderosa Pine trees growing on the granite rocks behind our hotel. I went out for a walk around the grounds after we got here late Monday night, set up my tripod and took a few photos.

South Dakota Sunset (Storm) by Jeff Carter on

Black Hills at Night by Jeff Carter on

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 40

I usually post these free background images on Sunday afternoons. I was busy. And then I was travelling. But here it is-late Tuesday evening, a bit later than usual, but it is yours if you want it. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

 photo Week 31_zpslgbx7ovm.jpg

Monday, September 28, 2015

Self Portrait with Stripes

Is is an accurate picture of me? Yes. Does it tell the truth?  Maybe not so much...

Self Portrait in Stripes by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Can Iron Break Iron from the North and Bronze?

I have, for the past couple of years, been preaching from the texts of the standard lectionary. However, after last week’s reading from Jeremiah 11, I’ve decided to take a break from the lectionary, at least for a few weeks, to focus on the “confessional” passages within the book of Jeremiah.

So for the next couple of weeks we’ll be immersing ourselves in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, in the world of 7th century BCE, a time of political and religious turmoil. It will be helpful for us to have some understanding of the situation: The Assyrian Empire had been the dominant force in the area for many years. It ruled with an iron fist, conquering territories and nations. But now the Assyrian Empire was beginning to crumble, weakening from the inside. And the leadership of the kingdom of Judah tried to take advantage of that decline. A nationalistic, pro-independence movement gathered strength in the courts of the kingdom of Judah. During the rule of Josiah, this growing nationalism was expressed in a state theology, the worship of Yahweh.

In the 18th year of King Josiah’s reign (622 BCE) – when he was 26 – the king ordered that the temple in Jerusalem be renovated. And it was during the restoration work that Hilkiah, the priest, found “the book of the law” and brought it to the king’s attention (2 Kings 22:8 – 10 / 2 Chronicles 34: 14 – 18).

We don’t know specifically what this “book of the law” was. Some have suggested that it was the Torah, the Pentateuch – that is, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Others suggest that it was just the single book of Deuteronomy. It seems likely to many biblical scholars that the “book of the law” was an early version of part the book Deuteronomy, which would eventually be completed during the years of Babylonian exile, along with the rest of the Torah. Others of a more suspicious nature suggest that the ‘discovery’ of this book was a convenient way for Josiah’s administration to introduce their political and religious reforms (and in that time and place, the two were nearly indistinguishable) in a way that validated them in the minds of the people.

Whatever this “book of the law” was, it certainly motivated King Josiah to a vigorous religious reform program in his kingdom (and even a bit outside of his own borders). The altars of Ba’al were torn down, incense altars were smashed, Asherah poles (sacred trees or poles set up near Canaanite religious sites, dedicated to the worship of the fertility goddess, Asherah , the consort of Ba’al (or sometimes, Yahweh...)) were pulled down. Idols were shattered, ground them to powder. His agents toppled the high places dedicated to the child sacrifices for Molech, and destroyed the places of worship of Ashtoreth and Chemosh that had been built by King Solomon. The priests who served at these religious sites were killed and their bones were burned in those places in order to defile and desecrate them. (2 Kings 23: 1 – 24 / 2 Chronicles 34: 1 – 33. Chronicles describes Josiah’s purification program as beginning before the discovery of the book of the law, but continuing and increasing afterwards…)

While we have no specific archaeological evidence of King Josiah reforms, seals and seal impressions found from that period show a transition from pictures relating to the astral cult - stars and the moon -  to names and dates – which may be evidence of Josiah’s reform away from polytheism to monotheism (Finklestein 288).

A side note here: If we are honest with ourselves and our reading of these passages we might have to admit that this religious / political reform program sounds very much like that of ISIS / ISIL. If we condemn the radical Islamic sect of our time, we may have to be willing to condemn Josiah and his administration. If we justify Josiah and his violent reformation, we may have to reconsider our denunciations of the violence perpetrated by ISIS.

Jeremiah was a young man when he was first called to prophecy, indeed he first objected, “I am only a boy,” (Jeremiah 1: 6) – though the Hebrew word “boy” here is somewhat more fluid than the English word. It can mean a young man of marriageable age, or old enough to serve as a soldier. Solomon referred to himself with the same word after he became king and was married (1 Kings 3:7). Jeremiah was probably about 13 years old when he was called to be the prophet of Yahweh (Lundbom 233).

The young prophet would then have been about 17 years old when “the book of the law” was discovered in the Temple and King Josiah launched his religious and political reforms. And while Josiah and his administration and the rest of the country celebrated the discovery of this book with an elaborate Passover festival, young Jeremiah found that he could not join with the rest of the revelers.

“Your words were found and I ate them,” said the prophet, referring (probably) to the discovery of the “book of the law.” “I ate them and your word was to me for joy.” I imagine that Jeremiah felt energized and lifted up by the discovery. The words of that book seemed to confirm his calling to “uproot and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow, and to build up and to plant… “(Jeremiah 1:10) but even with that joy, he knew he couldn’t join in with Josiah and the other celebrants. Even though Josiah’s reforms and Jeremiah’s message overlapped somewhat, Jeremiah could not join in country’s enthusiastic celebrations.

“I sat not in the happy crowd and acted jolly
because of your hand, all alone I sat
for with indignation you filled me.” (Jeremiah 15:17 – Anchor Bible)

“I have not sat in the company of revelers
and made merry!
I have sat lonely because of Your hand upon me,
for You have filled me with gloom.”  (JPS)

And Jeremiah’s reluctance to join the celebration seems, in historical hindsight, a wise and cautious approach. Josiah’s religious and political reforms were enthusiastic and vigorously violent, but they were short lived. In the year 609 BCE, 13 years after the discovery of the “book of the law” during the Temple renovations, King Josiah went out to the battlefield at Megiddo to confront the army of Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, who was rising as a potential power against Assyria. And there, in a confrontation that historians and biblical scholars don’t fully understand, Josiah was killed, shot by Pharaoh Necho’s archers.

2 Chronicles tells us that: “Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah which all the singers, male and female, recited in their laments, as is done to this day; they became customary in Israel and were incorporated into the laments” (2 Chronicles 35: 25 – JPS).

Josiah was succeeded by his son Jehoaz, who was immediately deposed and exiled by Egypt and replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. The political and religious reforms that Josiah launched were undone. The idols returned; the high places were rebuilt. Josiah’s work was overturned, and the prophet Jeremiah, who continued to speak his message in the name of Yahweh, became a persona non grata within the kingdom of Judah.

He begins this confessional passage with a pronunciation of woe for himself and his mother: “Woe to me, my mother, because you have bore me, a man of contention and a man of dispute for the whole earth “(15: 10 – Anchor Bible). Perhaps the prophet felt the weight of proverbial judgment weighing on him. “A shifty man stirs up strife, And a querulous one alienates his friends” (Proverbs 16:28 JPS). And he certainly felt alienated. He was aloof. He was cut off. His friends and family plotted to kill him. His co-workers among the priesthood beat him and had him arrested. He was a “man of contention,” causing trouble and stirring up resentment. He was a “man of sorrows.” Jeremiah complains that he is cut off from everyone.

It is helpful at this point to remember that Judaism marks things as holy by separating them; to be holy is to be different, to be separated from others. The Sabbath day is marked as a holy day by separating it from the rest of the week (Gerwitz). And in this same way Jeremiah was separated from the rest of the people.

“Yahweh said;
Have I not set you free for good?” (Jeremiah 15: 11 – Anchor Bible)

“Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose.” (NIV)

Jeremiah had been set apart– yes – cut off from the rest of the community. He had a work to do. He had a holy mission to accomplish. But this prophetic mission set him against the rest of the world, made him a man of contention. He was alone. Always alone. And though it can be helpful and restorative to be alone for a period of time, to get away from the noise and demands of social interaction, prolonged social isolation is a dangerous thing –physically and mentally. “Chronically lonely people have higher blood pressure, are more vulnerable to infection, and are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Loneliness also interferes with a whole range of everyday functioning, such as sleep patterns, attention and logical and verbal reasoning” (Bond). Prisoners held in prolonged isolation begin to experience hallucinations and suffer mental breakdowns.

­­It is this isolated Jeremiah who calls upon God to remember and to take account of him and his suffering. There’s no one else he can turn to.

“You, you know, Yahweh,
remember me and take account of me
and take vengeance for me on my pursuers.
Do not, in your slowness to anger, take me away.
Know that on your account I bear reproach.” (Jeremiah 15: 15 – Anchor Bible)

“Why has my pain become continual
and my blow desperate,
refusing to be healed?” (Jeremiah 15:18a – Anchor Bible)

Jeremiah may have begun his work in joy, saying: “Your words were found and I ate them, and your word was to me for joy,”– the words of God were sweet, yes sweeter than honey (Psalm 119: 103), but those sweet words soon turned bitter in his belly (Revelation 10: 9 – 10).

Jeremiah’s book is the longest book of the prophets, indeed, the longest book in the Bible (if we’re keeping the separation of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles into two volumes each). It is 21,835 words (Lundbom 57). Jeremiah was a prophet for 40 long years, during the reign of five successive kings – and yet, this is the only time, the only point in the entire book, that Jeremiah speaks of having any joy in his service. And even here, that joy is muted by the “indignation,” and “bitterness (LXX)” that fills his soul because of the heavy hand of God that presses down on him. In the Salvation Army we like to sing, “Joy! Joy! Joy! There is joy in the Salvation Army!” (Pearson) Perhaps Jeremiah would be like those irreverent ones among us who follow that line with “Try and find it…” because it just doesn’t seem to be there for him.

All his work, all his teaching, all his prophecy was done without a sense of accomplishment, without a sense of joy. There was no sense of fulfillment. No joy. He made few converts. He preached repentance but saw little. He argued for change, but saw none. If we were judging the prophet by quantifiable, identifiable, statistical measurements, we would have to say that he was, from start to finish, a failure.  

I recently had a meeting with our Divisional Commander (something like a bishop in other denominations), and it wasn’t exactly a pleasant meeting. Accusations were made. It was hostile. It was confrontational, painful. In the course of that meeting the DC asked if I could identify any high points of my 17 years as an officer in The Salvation Army, if I could point to anything like a success in my work. Like Jeremiah, I had to confess that there have been very few. It has been, for me, a long painful time, and there are few ‘successes’ that I can identify to justify my work. I sometimes (often times) feel like I understand that man of contention.

If I may interrupt the prophet’s confession to make one of my own: it is disappointing and frustrating to preach and not see the church grow. It is tiring to plan programs and events, and not have much of anything to show on the statistical reports. And it is distressing, painful to have one’s commitment and effort questioned because of one line of statistics. Whatever accomplishments I’ve had are reduced to a single line on the monthly reports and they disappear. My faith and my commitment to the Army are questioned because of this failure. I feel beaten down.

I’ve never doubted my calling to be an officer in The Salvation Army (though I’ve had plenty of others who have doubted it for me…) but like the prophet, I sometimes distrust God because of it. Jeremiah said to God:

“Will you really be for me a deceptive stream,
waters that are not sure?” (Jeremiah 15: 18b – Anchor Bible)

Jeremiah compares God to either a mirage in the desert (waters that disappear when you need them most) or a dry desert riverbed, one of the wadis of the Palestinian landscape that flow with cool, refreshing water one day and are dust dry the next. Jeremiah, pushed to the edge by his isolation, by his suffering, by his failure begins to wonder if God can actually be trusted. “God is good,” the preacher says, and the people respond “all the time!” But Jeremiah isn’t convinced.

Jeremiah’s confession here, begins in a joyful recollection but moves toward bitter complaint. But as we begin now to track Yahweh’s response to the prophet that emotional movement is reversed. God begins his response to the discouraged prophet with a strongly worded (angry, even…) rebuke, but moves into assurance and a reaffirmation of his promises to Jeremiah.

“Assuredly, thus says the LORD:
If you turn back, I shall take you back” (Jeremiah 15: 19 – JPS)

The message that Jeremiah preached to Judah is now turned back upon him: You need to repent.  You need to turn back. Biblical scholars are divided as to what it was that Jeremiah needed to repent of, but the suggestion that “they, they will return to you, but you, you will not turn to them…” (Jeremiah 19 – Anchor Bible) is taken by some to suggest that perhaps Jeremiah had gone soft – had softened his message and acquiesced to the people (Lundbom 750).

The suggestion is that after years and years of fruitless teaching and strongly worded messages, and after his prolonged isolation from the rest of the community, Jeremiah had tried to find his way back into acceptance among the people by softening the edges of his message. That he had “turned to them…”

Other interpreters suggest that Jeremiah needed to repent for suggesting that God could not be trusted, calling him “deceptive waters” was a cheap shot, and that the prophet should have known better. Whatever it was, Yahweh bluntly tells Jeremiah that he needs to stop, to turn and start again.

“If you turn back, I shall take you back
And you shall stand before Me;
If you produce what is noble
Out of the worthless,
You shall be My spokesman.” (Jeremiah 15: 19 – JPS)
If the prophet wanted comfort, if the prophet wanted affirmation for work well done – he found none. Only rebuke. If the prophet wanted warm-fuzzies and a sense of fulfillment, he got none. He received his own message turned against him. But God moves quickly from this cold rebuke to assurance and reaffirmation of the promises that he gave to the prophet at the beginning of his call:

“I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
but will not overcome you,
for I am with you,
to save and rescue you,
                -oracle of Yahweh -
Yes I will rescue you from the hand of evildoers
and I will redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” (Jeremiah 15: 20 – 21 – Anchor Bible)

Earlier in this confessional passage there is an obscure and difficult to translate line that, in one rendering says, “Can iron break iron from the north and bronze?”  (Jeremiah 15: 12) It seems to be a rhetorical question addressed to the distressed prophet: Can iron-clad enemies break an even stronger iron and bronze Jeremiah?” (Lundbom 734).

But the question isn’t answered by Yahweh; it’s left to the prophet to find the answer.

Will you be beaten down by their repeated blows? Will you be broken? Will you fall? Or will you find the strength that God has given you? Will you be a fortified wall of bronze, not overcome by those enemies throwing themselves against you?

So you, gird up your loins,
Arise and speak to them
all that I command you.
Do not break down before them,
lest I break you before them.
I make you this day
a fortified city,
and an iron pillar,
and bronze walls,
against the whole land …
they will attack you,
but they shall not overcome you;
For I am with you – declares the LORD -
to save you.” (Jeremiah 1: 17 – 19 – JPS)

Bond, Michael. How Extreme Isolation Warps the Mind. BBC website. 2014 

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts Simon and Schuster. 2001.

Gerwitz, Matthew D. Simple in Definition;Complex in Action. 2013. 

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

Lundbom, Jack R. Jeremiah 1 – 20: Anchor Bible Vol. 21A. New York, NY. Doubleday. 1999.

Person, William James. “Joy in the Salvation ArmyThe Salvation Army Songbook, The Salvation Army, London.

And I’m a long, long way from your Hill of Calvary
And I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be
If there is a light you can’t always see
And there is a world we can’t always be
If there is a kiss I stole from your mouth
And there is a light, don’t let it go out.
“A Song for Someone” – U2

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Moment of Creation

I was there. I photographed it for you.

The Moment of Creation by Jeff Carter on

Friday, September 25, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Not You Too, God…

You, Yahweh, have made me the bearer
of bad news to those who’re in error.
They hate and despise me,
so now, please, don’t you be
another source of shock and terror.

Jeremiah 17:17 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Homecoming Parade

I'll admit it: I've never understood "Home Coming"events (and I've never really cared for parades).  But I liked seeing my son play in the high school marching band.

Dr. Tarrec’s Free Weekly Horoscope # 30

Aries – Now, in a remote location, the dawn is breaking and angels are urging us on, saying, “Up! Up! Take your life and be off! Or be swept away! Give up money. Give up the dreams. Up!” But this house is majestic.

Taurus – All the people interviewed by our agents witnessed the thunder and lightning (or something like them). The blood on the mountain and the blare of the horn overwhelmed them. They crumpled.

Gemini – She is upset. She telephones at 4 in the morning. Beat him with bread sticks. Death or Diarrhea are the only acceptable excuses at this point.

Cancer – This is how you should deal with the police when it is an inside job – go on the run. Contact those who do not belong. Contact the mechanic, the fixer. The nations hereabout will hide – even from you. Do you understand? Go north and forget this ever happened.

Leo – 26,000 men, fighting men and sweethearts. 700 wicked men in an hour. This is all nonsense, of course. Nothing is what it looks like. Everything is mixed, and everything is weirder – much stranger – than you believe. The one you respected before is slowly turning into a caricature, a crank. What can be done? The spite and the hate and the fear is growing. The good man is disappearing.

Virgo – Pronounce the name, the secret name, the name known only to the Brotherhood of Games, and your only friend in the world will show up at your doorstep. He is on his way. Call him. Like a Faustian nightmare, he’s on his way. His name is hidden in the code. Blow the trumpet at the appointed hour and the white void will be opened to you.

Libra – You are better off where you are, despite the crying babies. The siege of your city cannot go on indefinitely. Siege engines rust and walls collapse. Soldiers starve; they will cry as loud as those unsettled infants.

Scorpio –   There were extensive mutations among the people (whoever they were). What green was over their heads? What happened to our friends? There may have been a plan at one point in time, but Father never revealed it. Not to me. Perhaps it was ‘Flee to Mexico.’ Perhaps it was ‘Run to Canada!’ I do not know. I’m not myself and I don’t remember all that it is that I do not know.

Sagittarius – Next you will be asked, “What did you see in the palace?” and you will answer, “I have seen everything there is to see in the palace. There is nothing in the store rooms that I did not see.” If you do not respond in this way, the guards will know you are a fraud. Identity theft is a felony, even in this state.

Capricorn – Your ancestors went down to Egypt in a little rowboat. A long time gone. Where are you now? Gone? Lost? Afraid? Did you and your lovely wife disappear into the river?

Aquarius – Accursed is the one who steals a dream. Accursed is the one who brings the news of my birth. Haven’t you read what was written? We’ve heard from the liars on the left and the liars on the right. We’ve heard the thundering voices of those who sit above us, making allegations and demands without reason and hearing no response.

Pisces – Let me go with you into the wilderness. Let me walk with you through the forest. Somewhere beyond the mountain, over the border, over the wall is a land flowing with milk and honey. Drive me to the station. I must go. Go now. Let me go with you. You can go with me. We can be grifters and drifters. We work when we are together, even if one of us is a stubborn ass. 

Biblical Limericks: The Death of Josiah

Said the Seer Huldah to Josiah:
“You, my young king, are a good guy-ah,
for the Book of the Law
has taught you fear and awe -
Yahweh says: In peace will you die-ah.”

However, our young king Josiah
went to the battlefield to die-ah.
The archers of Pharaoh
shot him with an arrow
and he was mourned by Jeremiah.

2 Kings 22: 11 – 20 / 23: 29
2 Chronicles 34: 22 – 28 / 35: 20 – 25

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pumpkin Everything

It's that time of year again, when everything turns pumpkin. I like autumn. But the pumpkin saturation I could live without.

Pumpkin Everything by Jeff Carter on

Biblical Limericks: Yahweh Responds to Jeremiah’s Complaint

Thus says Yahweh: I know that you’re spent
but if you will shut up and repent
I will let you return,
but to them you can’t turn;
let your speech to truth, not trash, be bent.

Jeremiah 15: 19

In response to Jeremiah’s complaints in 15: 10 and 15: 18.

Indigo Glass (Color Squares)

Here is the last of the 9 color squares I've been working on (one for each of the R O Y G B I V along with B & W)  Though, now that I look back through them, I may redo the red and the white ones. I'm just not quite satisfied with them as part of the rest of the series.

Indigo glass (Color Squares) by Jeff Carter on

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Woe to Me and My Mother

Oh mother! Why did you give me birth,
a man of dispute to the whole earth?
I don’t lend or borrow,
but to my great sorrow
they will curse me for all that they’re worth.

Jeremiah 15: 10

Monday, September 21, 2015

Planting a Tree at the End of the World

It’s an apocryphal story (one that doesn’t go back any further than the middle of the 20th century) that Martin Luther, when asked what he would do if he knew the world were to end the next day, responded by saying that he would plant a tree. It’s nothing more than a pious legend, but I thought about that story this afternoon.

I received news today that the world is ending for a very good friend of mine. His life, his career,his hope, all of it is collapsing. And there’s little that he can do about it. And there’s even less that I can do about it for him. I have no influence over anything. I can’t fix the broken things. I can’t restore the dying things. And he lives too far away for me to hop in the car and go over to visit - even if I did make the drive, the best that I could do would be to sit in stupid silence for him.

My schedule for today included helping another friend of mine, one who lives here in town, “Garden Jim.” He needed help transplanting a magnolia tree. I changed out of my Salvation Army uniform and drove over to his place to meet him. Together we loaded the tree, along with shovels and gallons of water into the back of the pickup truck, and moved the tree to its new spot, right near Jim’s garden.

We dug a new hole for it, put it in place, poured water over the roots, replaced the dirt, poured more water into the soil around the tree, tamped down the dirt, and poured more water over it all.

I don’t know if the tree will survive the transplant, but as it was going to be cut down anyway, if it doesn’t survive nothing will have been lost. But I’m really hoping that it does. I’m planting a tree at the end of the world for a friend of mine and hoping for the best.

Biblical Limericks: A Deceptive Stream

God! Yahweh, you make me want to scream.
I am wounded for preaching your theme;
I’m led to the slaughter.
Like uncertain water,
you are, to me, a deceptive stream.

Jeremiah 15: 18

Dragon Scales

Dragon Scales by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 39

Here it is again, that regular feature of this blog, the weekly free background image. It's yours if you want it. Use it where and how you will; I only ask that you 1) share it freely and 2) that you tell others you found it here.

The photo is of one of the hanging lamps in our little chapel, viewed from below.

 photo Week 39_zpswiz2ojx2.jpg

The Prophet is Unloved (Cheer Up! There’s Worse To Come)

Home is where you’re safe, right? Home is where you’re welcome, yes? When you’re troubled, when you’re low, you can go to your family for strength, for comfort, for help, right? If you’re not a prophet, perhaps. Jesus said, “A prophet is despised only in his own country, among his own relatives and in his own house.” (Mark 6:4) Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, one of the priests living at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin during the days of King Josiah, King Jehoiakim and King Zedekiah, was threatened by many enemies during his life: he was beaten and put into stocks by priest Pashhur, son of the high priest (20: 1-4), imprisoned by King Zedekiah (37:18, 28:28), threatened with death (38:4), and thrown into a cistern (38:6), but perhaps the most hurtful of the abuse he suffered came from those closest to him. Jeremiah was not loved and welcomed in his hometown; the people of his home town, and members of his own family even, plotted to kill him.

“You must not prophesy anymore,” they said. “You must not prophesy in the name of the LORD or you will die by our hand!” (11: 21)

This violent antipathy for the prophet seems to have surprised Jeremiah. Perhaps we would say that he was foolish and naïve. Perhaps he really should have realized that his vigorous defense of the religious reforms initiated by King Josiah, even after King Josiah’s untimely death on the battlefield against Pharaoh Necho II – even after those reforms had been halted and undone by Josiah’s successor, would stir up fierce animosity among the many of the religious leaders, especially among those religious leaders whose work was threatened by Josiah’s reforms. Perhaps Jeremiah should have realized that even the priestly members of his family would see him as an enemy. And yet, Jeremiah doesn’t seem to have anticipated the hatred that came from his own country, among his own relatives and from his own house.

The LORD informed me, and I knew -
Then you let me see their deeds.
For I was like a docile lamb
led to the slaughter;
I did not realize
that it was against me
they fashioned their plots:
“Let us destroy the tree with its [sap],
Let us cut him off from the land of the living.
That his name be remembered no more!”
(11: 18 – 19 JPS)

God had warned Jeremiah, told him about the evil in the hearts of his family, and Jeremiah knew it. He knew it, but couldn’t believe it, couldn’t bring himself to accept the truth of it. These were his own, his friends and family. He’d played in the streets with them, he’d gone to school with them. He’d studied side by side with them. He trusted them. He loved them. And even though God had informed Jeremiah, it wasn’t until an unnamed confidant of Jeremiah showed him proof, provided evidence of their treachery, that he was finally able to admit to himself that the men of Anathoth (including members of his own family) were trying to have him killed.

He trusted them, even as they were planning his death, He trusted them. And why shouldn’t he have trusted them? They were family. They were friends. They were, ostensibly, ‘on the same team,’ working together to minister to the people in the name of their God. They wore the same uniform, offered the same prayers, offered the same sacrifices… But these men of Anathoth (11: 21), his brothers, members of his own house (12: 6) were scheming to destroy him. And Jeremiah is ashamed of his own trusting naïveté.

I have
been naïve;
I’ve been callow.

I trusted those who planned my destruction;
those who were my comrades and my brothers.

If family
and friends fail,
who is

(The Prophet's Lament)

This is the way of it – life is hard and we are hurt and abused by many, but it is the ones closest to us who hurt us the worst. Our wickedest wounds come from those we trust. Jesus’s family thought he was crazy – when they heard of the crowds that were following him and the things he was saying, they set out to take charge of him, to seize him and drag him home saying, “he is out of his mind.” (Mark 3: 21) His followers betrayed and abandoned him and left him to die alone. And Jesus warned his disciples that those who followed him would find that their enemies would be the members of their own households (Matthew 10:36).

This abuse comes in many forms both direct and indirect. There are the obvious examples of yelling and hitting, cruel words and physical blows. These kinds of hurts are immediate and evident. But there are many subtle forms of aggression that can be easily overlooked (or easily hidden) in what should otherwise be a close-knit relation: spreading gossip, ignoring phone calls or emails, showing up late for meetings, sabotaging projects, giving the silent treatment, disguising criticism as compliments, etc.

These forms of abuse are easily masked behind smiles and compliments, and can be difficult to describe or pinpoint, but they are real. The wounds of passive-aggressive behavior may be hidden, but they hurt as much as a physical blow. This abuse can come from relatives and co-workers and leaders and bosses, from trusted friends, from those in our church. From people we trust. 

There is nothing particularly friendly about “friendly fire.” Soldiers expect to be shot at by the enemy, but when the shells are coming from our own lines, from our friends, we are disheartened. We hesitate to try again. We lose confidence in our leaders. We lose confidence in ourselves. We are demoralized (U.S.Congress Office of Technology Assessment 2).

And the prophet Jeremiah was demoralized as well. The realization that his own house, his own family, his brothers and co-ministers were out to destroy him caused him to question all that he once believed to be true. Suddenly the goodly order of the universe and providential care of God seemed not so manifest. 

“You will win, O LORD, if I make a claim against you,” said the prophet. You are God, and I’m only a pitiful man – what could I say? How could I challenge you or your word or your world? “Yet I shall present charges against you,” he continued (12: 1a). The disillusioned prophet, shattered by the attacks he’d suffered at the hands of those who were closest to him, now dared to question the goodness and graciousness of the God who’d called him to service.

“Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why are the workers of treachery at ease?
You have planted them, and they have taken root,
they spread, even bear fruit.
You are present in their mouths,
but far from their thoughts.” (12: 1b – 2)

The prophet begins to doubt the goodness of God. The abuse that Jeremiah has suffered is God’s fault. The wicked prosper – because God allows it. The workers of treachery have lives of ease – because God allows them to live at ease. For crying out loud! He planted them where they are – he put them into those positions of authority from which they abused the prophet. But they hid their abuse well. They spoke of God fluently and frequently, but he was far from their thoughts.

O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain—
Hamlet I – V – 106 - 108

But why? Why? Why would God allow this? Why would God allow these men to abuse his faithful prophet? This is what Jeremiah could not understand. And I would like to be able to tell you that eventually he came to understand at some point, that the clouds lifted and the sun came out, that the mysteries were revealed. I would like to say that there was peace and comfort for the mistreated prophet. But there wasn’t. Not really. The five ‘confessional’ passages of Jeremiah’s book (11: 18 – 12: 6/ 15: 10 – 21 / 17: 12 – 18 / 18: 18 – 23 / 20: 7 – 18) are increasingly dark. His life and sufferings are unrelieved. There is little in the way of divine comfort. There is no guiding hand of God, no miracle. No ravens feed him in the wilderness (1 Kings 17: 2 – 6). No angels bring him a meal of bread and water to fortify him for his journey (1 Kings 19: 4 – 8). No angel shuts the lion’s mouth (Daniel 6:22). Jeremiah is alone, abandoned to suffer abuse from those he trusted.

Yet in all of this, Jeremiah persisted in preaching the message he’d been given, and persisted in bringing his complaints to God. He persisted in proclaiming the prophetic message even when there was no change, even when there was no repentance, even when there was no increase in the weekly attendance statistics He spoke the words he was given. And he persisted in bringing his despair, his frustration, his anger directly to God.

In all of this, however, He never sought vengeance for himself. The prophet was content that God, the Righteous Judge, would decide and give acceptable recompense for what he’d endured.

“O LORD of Hosts, O just Judge,
who test the thoughts and the mind,
let me see Your retribution upon them,
for I lay my case before you.” (11: 20)

He calls upon God to ‘butcher’ or to ‘slaughter’ his abusers (12: 3). And this sounds at least as violent as the plot of those who wanted to see Jeremiah dead – (I know I’ve frequently admitted my own discomfort with the imprecatory parts of the bible) - But in this response (as dark as it may be) he has NOT denied the abuse or the hurt that he’s suffered (because denial of abuse can lead to self-destructive attitudes and behavior) and he has NOT sought personal vengeance (to do so leads to hatred and to violence). Instead he has allowed the Just Judge to work out the appropriate response.

In this case it is God assurance to Jeremiah that those who have conspired to have him killed will themselves be cut off from the land of the living and that their children and descendants would be wiped out, that their name would not be passed down.What they wanted for Jeremiah would be turned around upon them. (There were, however, 183 of the “sons of Anathoth” who returned from the exile – (Ezra 2:23). Perhaps there were some in Anathoth who repented and were given mercy and we can filter those imprecatory prayers through grace…)

I know that as a minister of the gospel I am expected to bring “good news” – the joy of salvation in Jesus Christ – but sometimes that good news is “Cheer up! There’s worse to come…” and I say that with as much wry, black humor as I can manage.

Jeremiah, the faithful prophet, was abused throughout his career as a prophet. He made few converts, his statistics were abysmal. He was abused by his enemies and (what is worse) by his own friends and family. He was beaten. He was arrested. He was jailed. He was cut off from his community. And through it all he persisted. He persisted through the abuse, and through God’s persistent silence.

Jesus endured much the same. His family thought he was crazy, and rejected his message. His friends betrayed him and left him alone in his darkest hour. And Jesus said that his followers could expect the same as well.

But “do not be afraid of them [who conspire to abuse you]. Everything now covered up will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.  Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of human beings, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10: 26 - 32


U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, Who Goes There? Friend or Foe OTA-ICS-537 (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, June 1993) 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

If You Hate

If I have a least favorite psalm, then it may be Psalm 137.  If I have a second least favorite it may be Psalm 139 – not the whole thing, mind you, just verses 19 – 22.

If only, God, you would kill the wicked!
Men of violence, keep away from me!
those who speak blasphemously about you,
and take no account of your thoughts.
Yahweh, do I not hate those who hate you,
and loathe those who defy you?
My hate for them has no limits,
I regard them as my own enemies.
(Psalm 139: 19 – 22 New Jerusalem Bible)

I was at a fundraising event tonight for a local crisis pregnancy center. They’re a great organization and I’m glad to partner with them to help people of our community. But the speaker at tonight’s event was (at least based on his speech) less of a pro-life advocate than an anti-abortion activist.

The main thrust of his speech, based on Psalm 139, was “I hate abortionists,” which he expanded to include anyone who supports or endorses or doesn’t speak out against abortion, including any and all democrats.  He hates them.  “I know,” he admitted at one point in his speech, “that Jesus said we’re supposed to love and pray for our enemies, but I can’t. I won’t.”

Regardless of your stance towards the abortion issue, this kind of hatred is caustic and dangerous.

Perhaps you’ve seen this meme (or a variation of same) floating around the interwebs:  “If you hate anyone because of your faith, you’re doing it wrong.” Perhaps someone should tell King David (though I really doubt that this psalm should be ascribed to the poet-king.)

I will admit that I’m not quite sure what to do with these verses of Psalm 139. As a Christian, I interpret the bible through Jesus who said:

“You have heard how it was said, You will love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you will be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and wicked alike. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the tax collectors do as much? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Do not even the gentiles do as much? You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5: 43- 48)

To be perfect is to love – as God has loved.  And God loves even his enemies.

The Prophet’s Lament

I have
been naïve;
I’ve been callow.

I trusted those who planned my destruction;
those who were my comrades and my brothers.

If family
and friends fail,
who is

(A double Tetractys based on Jeremiah 11: 18 - 20.)

Biblical Limericks: Immediate Redress

Righteous Yahweh, oh why do you bless
those who are continu’lly faithless?
You plant them, they take root,
they grow and e’en bear fruit;
Lord, this needs immediate redress.

Jeremiah 12: 1 - 3

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Haiku – September 17, 2015 (Thunder)

thunder that woke me
still echoes in my head
though the rain has ceased

Biblical Limericks: The Men of Anathoth

I was like a trusting, slaughtered lamb,
misled by those with an evil plan.
“Let’s destroy him,’ they said.
“Let’s make sure that he’s dead.”
Yahweh, let your vengeance on them slam.

Jeremiah 11: 18 - 20

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Letter from Dr. Tarrec Regarding the Pentagon

I received a brief letter from my strange friend, Dr. P. L. Tarrec, today.

Jefrey, my favorite pupil,

I received your latest communication with great joy. You make an old man happy when you write. I commend you on your continued interest in my work.  Your questions about and suggestions for my research are quite astute for one so young.

However, when you ask if the symbolic use of the pentagon by the Illuminate, the Satanists, and the U.S. Army betrays something more than mere coincidence, you have gone very far astray. Such a comparison, my boy, is an insult to the Satanists. 


Monday, September 14, 2015

Luminous Spider Webs

If you look in the right shadowy corners you can sometimes find a luminous spider web...

Glowing Spider Webs by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Background Images - 2015 - Week 38

Here it is again, another of the weekly, free background images you can get here.  It's yours to use as you will.  Use it at home, at work, at school, at church, wherever. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

 photo Week 38_zpsfbd7xstr.jpg

Thirteen Is the Magic Number (He Is not a Dangerous Man)

1 He knows that there are exactly thirteen stairs down to the lower level of the house. Six- then the landing (where he takes 3 small steps to turn around) then seven more down to the bottom. He can walk them in the dark. He has, in fact, done so. He’s taught himself to walk them with his eyes closed. And every time he takes those thirteen stairs (with his eyes closed) he thinks about the number thirteen.  Thirteen is the magic number.

2 Thirteen assassinations.  Count them up: 1) Jesus of Nazareth 2) Óscar Arnulfo Romero 3) Jesse James 4) Abraham Lincoln 5)REDACTED- 6) Gaius Julius Caesar 7) Huey “Kingfish” Long 8) John F. Kennedy 9)REDACTED- 10) Robert Kennedy 11) The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. 12) Malcolm X and 13) Ernesto “Che” Guevara. 

3 He is not a dangerous man. You must keep repeating that. Say it over and over again, a mantra of goodwill. He is not a dangerous man. He is not a danger to himself or to others – no matter what they are saying of him. The official story is a lie. The party line is silence. And… who was that? Who is that following him? I’ve seen people sneaking around, following him (always thirteen paces behind him).

4 One thousand points of light, right? But you’re taking it all out of context. Don’t change the subject. He was the director of the C-freaking-IA for crying out loud. I couldn’t draw the power lines any straighter if I had ruler. Don’t change the subject. He is not a dangerous man.

5 He hides downstairs, where it is cool and dark. Quiet. There are people outside. There are people in the office, in the street, on the sidewalk. There are people everywhere – even when the phone does not ring. And he rather not talk to them. Mostly he wishes he could, but the silence both wounds and comforts him and he does not understand that duality.

6 So he hides downstairs, reading books, where it is cool and dark. Quiet. He reads tales told by idiots and histories that could not have been. All the while, he is listening for the whispers. And then, when he hears them, he runs. He runs out into the streets.

7 Thirteen ghosts (of thirteen victims). Thirteen films. Thirteen Email addresses. Thirteen passwords that he’s forgotten.

8 Keep calm and evacuate the building in an order fashion. Out the back door, into the alleyway where… no- no. Not the alley. To the streets, quickly. But he is not a dangerous man. The sunlight is too bright, hurts his eyes. And eyes are everywhere. Is that the phone ringing? He must get off the streets – into a place of refuge, solace. The public library. He remembers the card catalogue as a holy object, a sacred stone. Outside is the sound of car crashes and police sirens. Inside, all is calm. He sits in the back where he can see and not be seen.

9 He is not confused. And he is not dangerous, goddammit. He is not a dangerous man. Across the street is the criminal courts building. He watches a line of unmarked surveillance vans pull up and park. They are listening for him, but the library is quiet. He finds the nearest exit and is gone before they notice.

10 Out the door, around the back, into the park. He is not, I repeat, not a dangerous man. They want to make him into something he is not, change him, break him, control him. They want a vegetative state. They want obsequious mind control. He darts behind the bushes, down into the ravine. His house is invaded, the library surrounded. There is only one place he can go – way down in the belly of a wheel within a wheel way up in the middle of the air. Run to the rock. Run to the river. Run to the sea.

11 Thirteen coded messages. Thirteen aluminum prophets. And they worked great miracles, even to calling down fire from heaven upon him while people watched. Always watching. That’s why he hides. He knows the number of the Death card in the Tarot deck.

12 He is not a dangerous man. The questions he asks are difficult, yes, but not dangerous… If he provokes it is not to dissent. If he dissents it is not to disdain. He is not a danger to be feared or a threat to be neutralized. This is the last paragraph, the final message.  Bad luck wind blows at his back, but even if it seems that he brings trouble, he is not dangerous.  Maybe someone will eventually believe it. He is not dangerous.  

Biblical Limericks: John the Sectarian

I hate to be so contrarian,
but what did you expect, Darian?
with polemic attack
going forward and back,
John’s gospel is quite sectarian.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dealing with Disagreement within the Ranks: Attacking (and Becoming) the Enemy

The Salvation Army, like every other denomination, has a set of doctrinal statements that defines our expression of the Christian faith. However, like every other denomination, we have within us a spectrum of ways in which those statements are interpreted. We have our share of disagreements. And this causes friction.

I have, in recent weeks, been thinking a lot about how to handle these disagreements within the ranks of the church, and I’ve been writing a series of short blog posts on the topic.  And while I’ve been writing them with my experiences in my own denomination in mind, I hope that the posts will be helpful to the broader Christian community as well. 

One of my more vocal critics has commented, “Jeff – you appear to consider the biblical methods that only appeal to you, while deliberately ignoring the more forceful methods the scriptures teach.”

He then listed for my edification: Romans 16: 17 – 18, 2 John 1: 10 – 11, and Matthew 7: 15 – 19.

It has not been my intent to “cherry pick” only the verses that appeal to me, or to paint myself as some sort of saint. In fact, I’ve tried to allow that these biblical methods apply to us all, even if it could be demonstrated that I am wrong. But, in an effort to ameliorate my critic’s accusation, let me treat another biblical approach to dealing with disagreement – one that he brought up for me in 2 John 10 -11 – and more broadly in all three of the Epistles of John.

These epistles, written by the unidentified “presbyter,” were written to address the encroaching of what the author felt to be a damnable heresy into the Johannine community of Christians – 1 John being addressed to the house churches of a large, metropolitan area (perhaps Ephesus, as in tradition) to reinforce their loyalty to the doctrine that they have received, 2 John to the members of the provincial community nearby, in order to warn them of dangerous missionaries with false ideas, and 3 John written to other nearby house churches, within the city, to elicit their hospitality and support for the presbyter’s emissaries. (Brown 99)

The thing about these heretical missionaries is that they came from within the Johannine Christian community, “they have gone out from among us.” (1 John 2: 19) They were not outsiders coming in with what the presbyter saw as a dangerous message, but insiders who had gone wrong. “The adversaries were not detectably outsiders to the Johannine community, but the offspring of Johannine thought itself, justifying their positions by the Johannine Gospel and its implications” (Brown 107).

To understand the presbyter’s hostility towards this group we need to go a little further back in history. In the years prior to the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, it would have been possible (and more accurate) to speak of Judaisms (plural) rather than Judasim (singular). There were numerous competing groups of religious Jews, each claiming to be an authentic expression of the Jewish faith. The more well-known of these were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots – but there were other various shades along the spectrum of the faith. We should also include in this listing the nascent Christian community – who did not yet consider themselves to be a separate faith, apart from Judaism. Until its destruction, the Christians still worshipped at the Temple, and they gathered with their Jewish coreligionists in the synagogues.

After the failed rebellion, most of these groups disappeared, and Judaism came to be defined largely by what was left of the Pharisee branch. And, in that precarious world struggling to preserve a Jewish identity, the theological disagreements between “the Jews” and the Christians became more apparent and more divisive. There was less tolerance for diversity under the Jewish umbrella.  Whereas before the rebellion there might have been a forbearance for other groups, afterwards there was a perceived need for unity.  And the Christians were eventually expelled from the synagogues. 

It was during this time that the “18 Blessings” of Jewish prayer were formulated by the rabbis.  The 12th of these blessings is known as the “Blessing on the Heretics” (blessing here being a euphemism for curse). Though the identity of the heretics in question is debated, it is thought by many to be reference to Christians: “For the apostates let there be no hope. And let the arrogant government be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the noẓerim (possibly Nazarenes – i.e. “Christians”) and the minim (“heretics”) be destroyed in a moment. And let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed together with the righteous. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant"

The Gospel of John seems to have been composed in the wake of this expulsion. You can easily see the vitriol and antagonism heaped upon “the Jews” in that gospel. They are children of their father, the Devil (John 8:44). This schism seems to have created a starkly dualistic mindset in the Johannine Christian community. Everything was understood in this binary, us-vs- them attitude. They are children of darkness, we are children of light. We have truth, they have only falsehood. We are from above, they are from below. We are children of God, they are children of the Devil. They hate us. They kill us!

The split was acrimonious and the hostility dangerously hateful. 

By the time we come to the Epistles of John, the threat is no longer an external one (Them! “the Jews!) but comes from within. Proponents of diverging interpretations of their text – the Gospel of John – began taking sides against one another. And that starkly, dualistic, us-vs. them attitude, refined during the community’s conflicts in the Jewish synagogue, turned inward. The presbyter, the author of the Epistles of John (who was, most likely, not the same as the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel) turned that invective inward.

“As understandable as this sense is, this dualistic articulation is dangerous, and in fact it encouraged Christians of later centuries to see a dualistic division of humankind into believers (Christians) and non-believers, into an ‘us’ who are saved and a ‘them’ who are not. Inevitably such a dualistic outlook will shift over into divisions within the ‘us’ and the cannons that once pointed outwards to protect the fortress of truth will be spun around to point inwards against those betraying the faith from within” (Brown 134 – 135).

Thus the presbyter can refer to those preaching a different interpretation of their shared gospel as “Antichrists” (1 John 2: 18 – 23, 4: 3, 2 John 7) as “deceivers” (2 John 7) trying to lead you astray (1 John 2: 26, 3: 7) as belonging to the devil (1 John 3: 8 – 10), as false prophets (1 John 4: 1) and etc. This is sourly ironic language in letters that repeatedly insist on the need to “love one another.”

This seems to be the method of dealing with disagreement preferred by my critic. He has on several occasions questioned my salvation, and called me a “false officer.” In one spectacularly over-the-top outburst of vitriol he wrote the following – and although he didn’t call me out by name, I’m quite sure that he had me (among others) in mind.

False teachers! Wolves and serpents among the flocks of God's people! Devils dressed in robes of priestly garb; falsifiers! Disgusting! Repulsive! Uncircumcised wretches of erupting evil! Dissenters and liars filled with hell and heresies of old! Darkness has consumed them! Satan has enchanted them with all the pleasantries of the world and like worms they burrow themselves deep into the mission field where the weak are led astray by their winds of wandering illusions of relativism and subjectivism.

You are children of the harlot riding the beast - indulging yourselves in all the fanciful pleasantries of worldliness. I am sickened to my soul by your words and driven to righteous indignation by all your divisive chatter and scheming! The Lord is coming with His sword of righteousness to lay low His enemies which dare to insult Him with their insolence, ignorance and rebellion against His Holy Word. (1)

My critic seems to have mastered the Presbyter’s invective – surpassed him, even. But this approach to dealing with disagreements is dangerous. While it may (potentially) be effective in preserving truth (or one interpretation of truth), this approach effectively turns us into the enemy that we hate. The Presbyter failed to see that by insisting that “if anyone comes to you bringing a different doctrine, you must not receive him into your house or even given him a greeting,” (2 John 10) he was acting in exactly the same manner as “the Jews” who had expelled the Christians from the synagogue.  In attacking the enemy, he became the enemy.

“Those who believe that God has given His people the biblical books as a guide should recognize that part of the guidance is to learn from the dangers attested in them as well as from their great insight” (Brown 135). This forceful method of dealing with disagreement may be effective in putting disagreements to a quick and decisive end, but at what cost?

 - I highly recommend this book:
Brown, Raymond E. The Community of the Beloved Disciple: the Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times. New York. Paulist Press, 1979.

(1) This is part of a much longer post that was shared on Facebook on August 18. I was later expelled from the group where it was posted, and unfortunately do not have a screen shot to display.

The Silent Steed of Death and Hades

I saw the Pale Horse, the rotted flesh, green horse,
the pustulent steed of Death and Hades,
and they were ordained with authority
over a portion of the earth,
given a position of command
to say “come,” –and you come,
to say “go,” –you salute! and go.
They were given authority to kill the spirit
by sword, by famine, by plague.

And silence is just another word for pestilence;
let it incubate for weeks,
let it smolder beneath the surface
of your broken skin, for weeks,

Ask your questions –you’ll get no response.
Seek understanding –you’ll get none.

When the outbreak comes,
who will be afflicted?
The ones left silenced in the field.
I am livid, corpse-like
signifying death.
The beasts have devoured me.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

(Not So) Biblical Limericks: #KenHam Is No Scientist

Ken Ham cannot make a good defense
of the name “scientists.” It’s pretense;
he’s e’en now concluded
new data’s excluded.
True science changes with the ev’dence.

News reports are coming in that a human species has been found – Homo naledi – in an African cave.

But new evidence changes nothing for Ken Ham and his young earth creationist ilk. “…we can say with confidence that this discovery changes nothing about our understanding of human history.”

The Amazing Juggler Performs, but Does He Enjoy It?

I am currently enrolled as a student at the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).  This semester I am taking an art appreciation class. The following was written as an assignment for that class. We were required to visit the Des Moines Art Center (either in person, or by way of the internet), to view the works on display and to write about one of them.

I don’t know if “The Amazing Juggler” (oil on canvas, 64 3/4” x 39 5/8”) by the Japanese born, American artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi, was specifically intended by the artist to be understood as a self-portrait, but the painting can certainly be read as such. Painted in 1952, a year before his death, it is a haunting and melancholic dream of his life and career as an artist in America.

Featuring a cast of circus performers-two acrobats and the eponymous juggler-in an uncertain and ambiguously defined space, “The Amazing Juggler” continues Kuniyoshi’s lifelong use of circus and carnival themes. One of the acrobats tumbles through the background, moving horizontally through the upper third. Is this clown tumbling into or out of the frame? In the lower right, another female performer rests in the curved trunk of an elephant. But it is the juggler who holds central position in the painting. He is deftly juggling four balls while riding a bicycle. Above them all are the poles and cables of the circus tent–or are they the steel frames of modern city skyscrapers? Everything is motion; the acrobat is cavorting, the elephant rider is rocked, the juggler cycles towards the viewer. Even the foreground and background are in motion, merging in uncertain space. The red performance floor pushes backward, vertically, into what is either the sky or the circus tent.

Most of the work is defined by the shapes of the performers–but the space they perform in is defined and broken by lines. The horizon is uneven. What may be read as the floor also becomes the vertical line of the circus tent post. The sky above is divided the painting’s strongest lines–dark and rigid–but even so, they give no clear definition of the space.

Kuniyoshi has painted this picture with rough strokes and dry scumbled paint. In many places, pencil lines show through the paint. The effect is to create soft focus haze that emphasizes the dream-like qualities of the painting. Even the garish colors–bright red, pink, magenta, turquoise, and orange–are softened. What could easily become a nightmare is subtly subdued.

The Juggler occupies the same space as the vertical dividing line with a performer on either side. But Kuniyoshi has kept this from becoming a static arrangement by arranging the two other performers on a diagonal line. The Juggler himself seems instable, almost ready to fall off the bicycle, but is held balanced against that strong vertical line. The balance is precarious, however; the chaotic motion of the performers comes dangerously close to a crash. Perhaps that is the thrill of their performance.

In contrast to the other two performers in this painting, the Juggler is wearing a mask. And his mask, in contrast to the rest of the painting, filled with bright, brash color, is sober in black and white and with its long nose resembles the medico della peste (“plague doctor”) masks of Venetian carnivals, a memento mori symbol of death. The mask displays a rictus that may be a smile–but only ambiguously so. Is it pleasure? Is it pain? Is it something of both?

Born in Japan in 1889, Yasuo Kuniyoshi came to America, alone, in 1906. He lived in the United States of America the rest of his life, but was prohibited by law from ever becoming an American citizen. Even after living in this country for decades, and having become a respected member of the artistic community, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Kuniyoshi’s status went from “resident alien” to “enemy alien” (Wang 3).

Kuniyoshi, like many other immigrants at the time, was placed under house arrest and interrogated by
the FBI. His camera was confiscated (a hardship since he worked as a photographer as well as a painter). Yet, unlike many other Japanese Americans at the time, Kuniyoshi avoided the internment camps. He was spared this indignity because he had a few, well connected friends who vouched for him, and because he willingly (if not pleasurably) contributed to the production of war-time propaganda (Wang 5 – 6). A photograph in Time magazine shows him working on a hateful painting of a characterized Japanese General Hideki Tojo. (Time, 20 April, 1942.)

If understood as a self-portrait, “The Amazing Juggler” shows us a Yasuo Kuniyoshi, who is a precariously balanced performer, skillfully performing his tricks-but aware that stability is precarious. His place in society is held only through dexterous manipulation, keeping all the props aloft and in motion, a balancing act that threatens to veer off course and come crashing down. He hides behind a mask that seems to say “I am smiling, see how much fun we’re having,” but that smile is dubious and there a foreboding of death. It is the American dream-almost a nightmare. The Amazing Juggler performs, but does he enjoy it?

Wang, Shi Pu. Becoming American? The Art and Identity Crisis of Yasuo Kuniyoshi. University of Hawai’i Press. 2011.

Biblical Limericks: My Prayers

I’m filled with love when Yahweh gives ear
to my prayers, when the Lord bends down near;
when my prayers go ignored
that’s when Death’s cold cord
snares and holds me and I’m filled with fear.

Psalm 116: 1 - 3

Wizard (Call Up the Spirits of the Dead)

An illustration for another of my Anomalies 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Red Horse with its Blood Red Rider Is our Favorite

In the most imminent of all our futures there will be another horse, a blood red horse, a horse of fire, a horse of flame. And so it comes and so it goes – responding to the thundersome voice calling, “Come!” And this bloody horse, a beast of power, along with its blood red rider is our most favorite of the Apocalyptic horses. We love this horse and call it forth often. “Come and see,” the militant horse.

Hail, hail, Red Rider – come swing your sword.
Hail, blood red Rider, the Pentagon has not been exercised;
Come, red horse, come, you have power here.
Come, loud sounding, stamping hooves,
take peace and bring us war;
bring tanks and armored chariots from the mountains of brass.

We love this horse and call it forth often. Come and see!

The White Horse Rider Rides to Conquest and to Conquer
The Black Horse
The Pale Green Horse

The Topology of the World - New Music

Dr. Tarrec, trying to explain the topology of the world...

I used one sound from the Freesound Project for this track:

The White Horse Rider Rides to Conquest and to Conquer

The White Horse and its uniformed rider came when they were called – obedient servants obey the thunderful voice of their master. I heard the voice of that strange creature, him of the multivalent faces, the honorable Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, Illinois, call the rider forth, “Come.” And the White Horse rider came – 23,000 strong.

And I saw the White Horse (working for the White House) trampling down the protesters in Grant Park. I saw him knock Phil Ochs to the ground, smash his guitar. I saw him beating journalists. This is how the future is shaped and elections are decided. This is how wars are won.

The Rider on the White Horse carried no sword but a bow – Chemical Mace sprayed at a distance to blind and to incapacitate the people. The Rider of that White horse was given a riot protection helmet as a crown – the polycarbonate visor of the victor. He rode out to conquer and bent on conquest – to take control of the party and steal the nation.

I saw the White Horse Rider in Chicago again eighty two years earlier throwing bombs in Haymarket Square. In New York, Seattle, Ferguson -the White Horse Rider rides to conquest and to conquer.

The Red Horse
The Black Horse
The Pale Green Horse

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Biblical Limerick: Preach the Jubilee.

If you get your eschatology
from angry loudmouths like John Hagee,
I’ll bet that you’re living
in fear, with misgiving
toward those who preach the Jubilee.

Hero or Villain?

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) is terrible and evil because of the way they have been destroying sacred monuments and holy sites.

King Josiah is a hero of the faith because of the way he pulled down and destroyed the high places and altars in Israel.  – “Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin--even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also.” 2 Kings 23: 15

ISIS or ISIL is disgusting and vile because they behead Christians.

The prophet Elijah is a hero of the faith because he hunted down and killed the priests of Ba’al.  “Then Elijah said, “Capture the prophets of Baal! Don’t let any of them run away!” The people captured all the prophets. Then Elijah led them down to the Kishon Valley, where he killed them.” 1 Kings 18: 40.

What is the standard of our outrage? 

Hillary at Uncle Nancy's

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stopped into Uncle Nancy's Coffeehouse and Eatery in Newton, Iowa this afternoon. She spoke briefly, making her goals known: protecting the Affordable Care Act, continuing to work with other leaders around the planet to reduce the effects of global warming, increasing the quality and accessibility of education, protecting voting rights, a reform of the immigration process (for both legal and illegal entrants), etc...

She also took time to answer several questions. The microphone didn't get to me, but if it had I was prepared to ask what she would do to reduce America's support to Israel as long as Israel continues to occupy and harass the people of Palestine.

One the way out, she did pause, briefly, for a few photographs, but her staff was hurrying her toward the door.

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 37

Here it is again - your free, weekly background image. It's yours if you will 1) share it freely and 2) tell others that you found it here. Use it where and how you will.

 photo Week -_zpsgm75phtq.jpg

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Where Were You when Wormwood Fell?

We were in the backyard, sipping coffee and listening to the crickets and the thrum of I-80, me reading another Stephen King novel and you working one of those sudoku puzzles, when great Wormwood fell. The third angel – third in a week, you said quietly – slipped gracefully through the third heaven with a silver trumpet in his hand. And he blew that accursed horn so loud it shook the whole heartland. 18-wheelers on the long haul shuddered and screamed, skidding to a halt, burnt rubber tracks and tire shreds flying out in smoke behind them. Cars and minivans veered for the shoulders, dived into the ditches, their radiators steaming, engines ticking and little kids screaming in the back seat, crying with red eyes and snot bubbles under their noses.

We watched with slow wonder as that great star began its descent, falling from orbit, its signal lights twinkling normally at first, as if nothing was wrong, five-by-five on orbital path. Then suddenly faster and faster as it plummeted, plunged to the earth, down into the sea, somewhere in the North Pacific. A spray of mist came over us there in the yard, more than four thousand miles away. And that fine spray of mist was bitter – not the shock of ocean salt water, mind you, but bitter.

It was the bitterness of acrimony, the bitterness of despair. It was the bitterness of petty officials who get their way, not because they’re right, but because of an abstract authority, acting in spite and venom. It was the bitterness of stifled dreams. Of every whispered threat. Of anxious worries. The bitterness of wrongs left un-repented and unforgiven. A third of the waters of the Earth turned bitter like wormwood oil, and many people died because of its poison.
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Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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