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Saturday, October 31, 2015

#Halloween 2015

My children (who helped me stage this photo) are creepy.

Halloween 2015 by Jeff Carter on

A Limerick for the Reformers: Jean Calvin

And now let us Jean Calvin discuss,
who was not one you would call a puss-
he used a heavy hand;
he denounced, condemned, and
burned at the stake Michael Servetus. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Limerick for the Reformers: John Knox

Reformer John Knox of Queen Mary
was distrustful, guarded and chary-
for women shouldn’t rule;
it is unnatural.
This “Monstrous Regiment” is scary!

Ground Cherry Jam

I'm not much help in the kitchen. I don't do a lot of the cooking. I can, and I will, but my wife is much better at it, so usually she cooks. But the other night I made a special exception; I wanted to try to make jelly-or more accurately, jam from the Ground Cherries that my friend Garden Jim gave me from the garden that I've helped him with over the past couple of seasons.

This was my first attempt at making jelly, or jam (jelly being made from the fruit juice, jam being made from crushed fruit) and I think that it turned out pretty well. It tastes very good. Come on by the house if you'd like to try some-apparently I made a lot.

Here is my ground cherry jam spread over toast.  Did you know that Ground Cherries (along with tomatoes) are part of the deadly nightshade family?  For true!

A Limerick for the Reformers: John Wycliffe

Do you smell what I smell? Take a sniffe.
There’s something smoky; I get a whiffe
of roasted heretic,
sizzling anti-cleric:
it’s the burning bones of John Wycliffe.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Limerick for the Reformers: Martin Luther

For Martin Luther let’s raise a glass
who, though he was a bit of an ass,
who let his insults spew,
and vilified the Jew,
helped bring the Reformation to pass.

Field of Crosses

Field of Crosses by Jeff Carter on

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Limerick for the Reformers: Never Heard of ‘im

Someone has sent a comment to me,
writing that, “I think you will agree
that it’s a waste of time,
all this nonsense and rhyme,
when no one’s even heard of Zwingli.”

A Limerick for the Reformers: Zwingli

What Swiss reformer to us brings glee,
who stirs up our glad hearts to sing, “Whee,”
on Eucharist’s moral
with Luther he’d quarrel,
why, none other than Huldrych Zwingli

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October in the Rain

"...what do I care?"

October in the Rain by Jeff Carter on

Then I Wished to Die

The waxy white scales of my blindness persisted and remained unexplained, the questions unanswered. The only explanation given was the bird droppings, sparrows they told me, but were they charmed to act thusly against me? Were they a curse or a spell against me by some jealous enemy? There are ways to charm the birds of the air as well as the beasts of the field. The necessary elements are easily found and the words of the spell are common enough and simply spoken.  These questions remained unanswered as my eyes remained sightless.

During the whole time of my blindness I was supported by family – first by my nephew, Ahiqar, until he moved away to Elymais (where they spoke an unknown and forgotten language), and then by my wife, Hannah. She made a living for us both, though by the wisdom of that “all-virtuous” ben Sira, there is wrath and impudence, and even great disgrace when a woman supports her husband. She made a living for us with her woman’s work, with her weavings.  She delivered what she made to her employers, but what designs did they employ her to weave? This was another lingering question. What patterns did they commission her to create? What shapes? For curses and hexes may be drawn as well as spoken, and what can be drawn with pen and ink on paper, or with salt on the floor, or paint (and blood) on the wall, can also be written in the weaving of a cloth, a binding magic that is strong and difficult to break. Blind as I was, I could not warn her of these things.

Now it happened on the SEVENTH day of the SEVENTH month- Dystrus, of the Macedonian calendar – she delivered the woven web of her work to her employers; they paid her in full and, as a bonus, gave her a goat for the hearth and the meal.

When she brought it into the house where I was, it began to bleat, loudly and incessantly, and to bounce around the room, knocking into pots and walls, and chairs. Suddenly the room was overwarm. I felt faint. I stumbled and fell to the floor. I KNEW that the goat was no gift, but a satanic operative sent to mock and torment me. A familiar spirit, the goat of AZAZEL, sent back to from the desert with the stink of sin on its horns. In its loud bleating I heard it speak cruel and nasty things. It tapped out blasphemies in code on the floor with its cloven hooves.

“Where did this beast come from?” I shouted. “Return it at once. Return it. Three times I say, Return, lest we be tainted with its evil, defiled by its presence and pestilence. It is stolen, isn’t it? Taken from its rightful place. Return it. Return it, for we have not right to what is not ours.”

“It is not stolen,” she shouted. “Not stolen, but given to me as payment for the cloth that I weave.” But I did not believe her. I was blind and could not see, and I did not believe her. I was ashamed and red in the face, too weak to repel and too blind to resist.

Hannah reared and roared, “What good is your goodness? And what reward do you have for your reputation? Can we eat it? Can we eat the food you’ve given to others? But we can eat this goat.”

And then I wished to die, to be released from the earth and to return to the dust.

October Fields (2)

This is another photo of the fields of central Iowa in October.

October Fields by Jeff Carter on

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mausoleum (Not so Fast)

The German word "schnell" means rapidly or quickly, but I don't think this one is going anywhere quickly.

Mausoleum (Not so Fast) by Jeff Carter on

Jacob Left Beer-Sheva

Jacob left Beer-Sheva and set out for Haran. Long he wandered on the way, through forested hills and swamps, over desert dunes and coastal plains. For a time he followed the erratic path of a whiskered cat that seemed to know the way. That feline led him to the city of Ulthar, where “no man may kill a cat,” but then deserted him to wander again on his own. After a time Jacob came to a certain place [coordinates redacted-National Security] and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set and it was very dark. There was no moon. Jacob lit a fire to warm his body.

Taking one of the rounded stones he found there (a philosopher’s stone, as it turns out, though he did not recognize it as such…) he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And all through that moonless night he had a chemystical dream. He saw a sloped ramp stairway from the earth into the heavens, from the ground into space. He counted the steps-there were 15,000 arranged in 15 plateaus of 1,000 stairs, for the 15 steps in the Temple of Jerusalem between the ante-court of Israel and the Women’s court, and also for the 15 Psalms of Degrees. (Never mind that neither had the Temple of Jerusalem been built nor the Psalms of Degrees been composed when the peripatetic, fugitive twin set his head upon that alchemical stone. If dreams pay no heed to chronology, then neither shall we.) The ladder rose up into that moonless sky, up to stark mountain heights, and there to the dream palaces of Castle Kadath in the cold wastes.

The wing footed messenger angels of God traversed the 15,000 steps, up and down, down and up, from heaven to earth and back again, with top secret communiques for undercover field agents in every nation-the watchers, who are the eyes of God. The messenger angels carried eyes-only, encoded documents up and down, through time and space. He saw comet angels with million mile tales burning without oxygen in the terrifying expanse of noiseless space, streaking towards nameless places on the far side of the galaxy where The Name is known by other Names.

Suddenly the LORD, [by whatever name] was standing on it, on him, with one foot in the clouds and one foot on his head. And standing there with one foot on this earth and one foot in the Magellanic Clouds, HaShem spoke. 

What does the high king of heaven, Lord of time and space say to the vagabond thief, the grifter on the lam, the estranged brother who enraged his family and then fled? What does the ruler of infinite worlds say to a sleeping hooligan with his head upon a strange stone on a moonless night? What reason for their meeting? Why, what other reason than divine dictate? No other reason is needed, and none other will be given. Suddenly the Lord the LORD was there, standing there on the clouds, on the ramp, on Jacob’s head, saying, “I am the LORD [by this name or another], the god of your father, father Abraham, and the god of laughing Isaac. I will give you and yours the land upon which you are lying.

“You are like the dust-blowing and drifting on the aimless wind, blown here and there by fickle desires, and like the dust I shall make you and all yours with you. You will spread out to the WEST where the Great Sea rumbles and roars, to the EAST over rivers and into the dawn. You will spread out to the NORTH, through enemy lands and grasping hands to frozen mountains and beyond, to the SOUTH around the horn and back again.

“And as you go I will protect you from enemies of every kind, from monstrous beasts with fangs and claws, and innumerable, sightless eyes, and from human agents and regents wishing to exploit the strength of your hands and the sweat of your brow, and these are ten times worse than fangs, and claws, and cataract clouded eyes. I will not leave you until I have done everything I have promised; after that, you’re on your own.”

When fearless Jacob, who feared neither god nor man, awoke from this dream he was terrified, as any would be. He awoke sweating and cold. The campfire had burned out long before. “Surely,” he said, “this is the dreaming palace of the house of God, and I have been hanging around heaven’s gate.” He built a sacred pillar with his makeshift pillow as the crowning capstone. And over this stele he poured spikenard oil. He called the place “Beth-el” but the locals still referred to it as “Luz.”

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 44

Here is another of the weekly, free background images for you to download and to use as your very own. Use it at home, at work, at school, at church. Use it on your laptop, tablet, smartphone.  Print it out and fold it into paper airplanes, or print it out over and over again and use it as wallpaper for your kitchen.

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

For those who like to know such details, this photograph is of the lichen growing on one of the tombstones at the Catholic cemetery here in Newton, Iowa.

 photo Week 44_zps8pyvfd6t.jpg

Over-Persuaded and Overwhelmed by the Word

In the past several weeks we have been working our way through the ‘confessional’ passages within the book of Jeremiah. These passages rarely become sermon material. Some of the confessions are not even included in the lectionary readings, some are shortened to exclude some of the more difficult material. The confessions, as we have seen, are progressively dark, increasingly angry, filled with hurt and betrayal and despair. In these intimate passages Jeremiah pours out his frustration and rage, the bitterness he felt for his enemies and the bitterness he felt for God. Yes. Even for God.

During the rule of five successive kings, Jeremiah doggedly proclaimed the message that God had put into his mouth when he was young. He endured the scorn and mockery of his brothers, of his kinsmen, and the powerful elite among the courts of power. He was whipped and beaten, arrested, locked in stocks and thrown into prison. His writings were burned. (Jeremiah 36) He was cut off from his community. His message was ignored. His warnings were mocked. He made few converts and achieved little that looked like success.

He felt that his life was wasted. He was a failure. And, reflecting back upon his life, he began to wonder how things could have gone so wrong. It all went back to the very beginning. He thought back to when he was a young man, to when God first called him to be a prophet.

…the word of Yahweh came to me:
Before I formed you in the belly I knew you
and before you came forth from the womb I declared you holy,
a prophet to the nations I made you.
But I said, ‘Ah, Lord Yahweh, Look, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’
And Yahweh said to me: Do not say ‘I am only a boy.’
For on all that I send you you shall go
and all that I command you you shall speak.
You must not be afraid because of them
for I am with you to rescue you…
(Jeremiah 1: 4 – 7 Anchor Bible)

And what could the boy do? The man, Israel-who was Jacob-may have wrestled the angel-that was God-through the long hours of the night, wrestled him to a draw at dawn (Genesis 32), wrestled with God and overcome, but the boy, Jeremiah, was young, inexperienced, was weak. How could he resist? How could he fight back against the Almighty? Young Jeremiah offered up a small measure of resistance saying in a weak and trembling voice, “I am only a boy…” but Yahweh thundered back at him, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy.’” Jeremiah’s protestation was ignored; his dissent was shunted aside.

The LORD put out his hand and “hit upon” Jeremiah’s mouth (Jeremiah 1: 9 Anchor Bible), struck him with the words that he would be compelled to speak, the words that he would be forced to say. “Look,” said God, “I have put my words in your mouth.”

What could the young prophet say? His demur was brushed aside. His objection was ignored and the word of God was put into his mouth. Should we, perhaps say that they were shoved down his throat? Maybe that seems like too much. Maybe…

But hear what the prophet said in his confession – in his complaint – to God:

The New English Translation (NET) says, “LORD, you coerced me into being a prophet…” but that translation, while accurate (as far as it goes) seems a little weak. And the American Standard Version (ASV) seems even weaker: “thou has persuaded me…” These translations seem unwilling to approach the unmistakable implications of Jeremiah's words. Other translations are more direct saying, “You deceived me…” (NIV, ESV, KJV) And this is somewhat better – or should we say somewhat worse? How can we say that God ‘deceived’ Jeremiah? How could we say that God made Jeremiah his dupe? God is not a human that he should lie (Numbers 23:19)… right? How could Jeremiah say that he was deceived by God? [i]

But other translations go a bit further. Two Hebrew words come into play in this question. The first is pth, which in some parts of the bible has a distinct sexual implication – as in “to seduce” a virgin in Exodus 22: 16. The second is hzq “to be [physically] strong” (Lundbom 854) – and which, in some verses, means “to rape”- Deuteronomy 22:25, and 2 Samuel 13:11, 14. The combination of these two words in Jeremiah’s complaint leads some to believe that, as horrifying as it may sound, the prophet is actually accusing Yahweh God of raping his will. But few published translations are willing to go this far. The farthest they seem to be willing to is to say “You enticed me,” (JPS) or “You seduced me,” (Anchor Bible, NJB).

But even if we are unwilling to go so far toward blasphemy as to accuse God of this violence, Jeremiah’s complaint is certainly unnerving.

“You enticed me, Yahweh, and I was enticed
you laid hold of me, and you overcome.”
(Jeremiah 20: 7a Anchor Bible)

“You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.”
(Jeremiah 20:7a NJB)

Does it still seem too much to say that the word of God was shoved down Jeremiah’s throat? Maybe not…

Jeremiah has already, in one of the earlier confessional passages, accused God of being dangerously deceptive, like a “deceptive stream, waters that are not sure…” (Jeremiah 15: 18b Anchor Bible). He has also suggested that the LORD has acted as a source of terror (Jeremiah 17:17). But the prophet ratchets up the hyperbole in this complaint. Here God is not merely difficult to comprehend and dangerous in potential; God-in this complaint-is actively and purposefully deceptive (if not physically overpowering) to the prophet.

Jeremiah complains that he has been (if not outright raped, then) “over-persuaded” by God. (S.R. Driver quoted in Lundbom 855) God laid hold of him when he was a young boy (in the womb even) and overpowered him. They wrestled and God won. How could it be otherwise?

A lion has roared,
who can but fear?
My Lord God has spoken,
who can but prophesy?
(Amos 3:8 JPS)

The Word of the Lord came to him, and the word of God was put into his mouth, and now by words he lives and dies. He speaks, he cries out, he proclaims (20:8). And for his speaking, he is mocked. He is held in “constant disgrace and contempt” (20: 8 JPS). Everyone jeers at him.

If the prophet, in his wearied exasperation, says to himself, “I will not mention Him, No more will I speak in his name,” (20:9 JPS) he discovers that the word is a burning, raging fire in his heart, a conflagration contained deep within his bones. The overcoming word that cannot be resisted when it calls can neither be contained in silence within the called. It burns, it blisters Jeremiah from within, until he speaks again. He must. The prophet is helpless; he cannot hold it in. (20: 9).

And then, when he speaks again, his is met with more than mockery. He hears them whispering all around him. “Terror on every side!” All his supposed friends inform against him. They denounce him (and are eager to do so). They charge him with treason because he speaks and speaks so incessantly. They cannot wait to see him stumble. They cannot wait to see him fall. They want for him to fail because when he does, they will have their revenge on him.

This is what happens to the faithful prophet of God. And this is why the prophet is angry. He is disillusioned. He does not feel the “Joy of the Lord.” He does not find fulfillment and contentment in his prophetic work. The oracle of the Lord is a burden to the prophet (Jeremiah 23: 33).[ii] It is a weight that hangs upon his tired soul. It is this blistering anger that pushes the prophet towards, but never quite across, the line of blasphemy.

Yet, here the prophet makes an abrupt shift in his confession. The complaint is over; the lament is ended. And the prophet begins a psalm of confidence:

“But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior;
therefore my persecutors shall stumble;
they shall not prevail and shall not succeed.
They shall be utterly shamed
with a humiliation for all time,
which shall not be forgotten.

O LORD of Hosts, You who test the righteous,
who examine the heart and the mind,
let me see Your retribution upon them,
For I lay my case before You.”
(Jeremiah 20: 11 – 12 JPS)

Here is the confident prophet that we would expect. Here is the bold man of God that we would envision. Here is the prophet trusting that God, the mighty warrior, will faithfully keep his promise to be with, and to protect the prophet, “Have no fear of them, For I am with you to deliver you.” (1: 8 JPS) Here is the undaunted prophet who calls upon others to join with him in this brave psalm:

“Sing unto the LORD,
Praise the LORD,
for he has rescued the needy
form the hands of the evildoers!”
(Jeremiah 20: 13 JPS)

And if this were a contemporary, American, Christian writing, this is probably where the writing would end.  This is the happy ending. It is something like what Alexander Dumas says in The Count of Monte Cristo. "Happiness is like those enchanted palaces we read of in our childhood where fierce fiery dragons defend the entrance and approach; and monsters of all shapes and sizes requiring to be overcome ere victory is ours” (Dumas 28). Jeremiah has gone through his trouble, has fought his way past the dragons at the gate of happiness, has suffered at the hands of his enemies, and suffered even at the hands of his god, but in the end he has endured and triumphed. The prophet smiles, the scene ends, the lights dim and the curtain closes.  The End.

We like–we want-the happy ending, the tidy resolution of conflict, with the good and the faithful receiving their right and proper reward, and the wicked receiving their just and well deserved punishment.

But this is not where the confession ends.

It is true that the book of Jeremiah betrays the hand of an editor who has combined the various bits and pieces of the prophet’s writing without a constant regard for chronology. And it is true that the three sections of this confession were likely composed at various times, in response to unrelated events and only placed in arrangement that we now have by a later editor. And that editor has not allowed us to close Jeremiah’s final confession with the comfort of a happy ending.

This is not the way we’d do it today. We’d draw a straight line through Jeremiah’s sufferings, piling them upon his shoulders until he couldn’t take anymore, turning down the lights until all was dark – then come triumphantly into the final act with the blazing light of God and an unambiguous victory. Instead, the finale of the last of Jeremiah’s confessions lurches violently away from the confident psalm back into another bitter complaint, even darker than what preceded. The whole thing crashes back down into the depths of despair-sinking even lower than he was before, if that were possible. “[A]ncient Hebrew composition tolerates-and may even prefer-beginnings and endings in dissonance, and centers containing hope, faith, and thanksgiving” (Lundbom 852). 

Jeremiah, who has already come close to speaking blasphemies, now comes close to doing so again. By the commands of the torah, as angry and bitter as he is, he cannot curse his mother or father (to do so would violate the fifth commandment…[iii]) instead he curses the day that his mother gave birth to him and curses the man who brought the good news to this father. And these curses are among the harshest in the entirety of scripture.

Jeremiah’s misery is complete, his depression is an abyss without bottom. I don’t think that the prophet Jeremiah would have joined with us to sing the familiar hymn by John H. Sammis (1846 – 1919) “Trust and Obey”[iv]:

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of his word
What a glory he sheds on our way;
While we do his good will,
He abides with us still
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Trust and obey to be happy? When was Jeremiah ever happy? Only the one time that we know of from his writings, just after the “book of the law” was discovered during the temple renovations during the reign of King Josiah. (Jeremiah 15:17) 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)” But after that? Jeremiah had no glory shed on his way, not during his lifetime, anyway. There was only dogged duty and the darkness of depression for the prophet.

Why ever did I come out of the womb
to see toil and sorrow
and end my days in shame?
(Jeremiah 20: 18 NJB)

If his book were submitted to Christian publishers today I’m quite certain that Jeremiah would receive a rejection letter saying something along the lines of: “While the reviewing council appreciates that doubt and the working out of one’s faith is a natural occurrence, we feel that-by and large-this was not resolved in the manuscript, leaving the readers with a hopeless tenor. The writings overall were dark and somber, and without the context of faith and resolution, the members of the reviewing council felt this could be detrimental to others' faith.”

There is no happy ending in Jeremiah’s work. He preached his message for 40 years but few listened and even fewer responded. He was arrested, beaten, and ridiculed repeatedly. By all objective standards, we’d have to say that he was a failure.

So what is the lesson here? What should we take away from all of this? I don’t think I could tell you.
I know what benefits I have received from reading and studying this passage – but I don’t think I could describe them as tangible or as a practical 12 steps plan, and certainly as nothing as simple as an alliterative three point sermon…

Is there joy in following Jesus? Is there pleasure in the service of God? For some, sometimes. Yes. I’m sure that there must be. Is there struggle and disappointment and bitter grief? For most everyone, yes, at some point there will be. Will we feel disillusioned and abandoned? Maybe. Even abandoned by God? Maybe yes. Will we succeed? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Can we be angry with God? If Jeremiah is to be any example to us, yes. Can we be fiercely angry with God? Yes. Absolutely. Can we wrestle with doubt and depression? Without a doubt. Can we give expression to those doubts and depressed feelings? Yes, we can, and we probably should or we risk them burning us up from the inside.

I don’t know how the prophet did it-and though I find myself doing it, I don’t know how I do it- we can hold to that confident psalm in the middle of this confession. We can, though I don’t understand it, sing praise to God because he rescues the poor and the needy.

 I’ve preached from this passage before. It wasn’t a good sermon then, and I’m not convinced that it’s been a good sermon this time either. The passage is too overloaded with complex and out of control emotions for me to get a handle on it in a sermon. The prophet is over-persuaded and overwhelmed by the word and we are as well. But the prophet endured, struggled through and we will as well. We will speak the things that we know, speak the word that has come to us. We will be over-persuaded and overwhelmed, but we will go on.

Dumas, Alexander, The Count of Monte Cristo, 1844 

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.

New Jerusalem Bible. New York, NY. Doubleday. 1999.

Sammis, John H. “Trust and Obey” The Salvation Army Songbook, The Salvation Army, London.

[i] Should we also include here Jeremiah complaint in 4:10 “Ah, Lord Yahweh, how sadly you deceived this people and Jerusalem…”?
[ii] The Hebrew word “oracle” (maśśâ) also means “burden.”
[iii] Fifth in Jewish and Protestant counting, fourth in the Roman Catholic rendering.
[iv] Ignoring the fact that he probably wouldn’t have sung about Jesus anyway…

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Grasshopper at the End of Autumn

A grasshopper at the end of autumn - its jumping days are numbered...

A Grasshopper at the End of Autumn by Jeff Carter on

Friday, October 23, 2015

Two Fields

Two fields in the rain and fog of October in Iowa.  While I was there, I also wrote this short poem.

Two Fields by Jeff Carter on

A Haiku – October 23, 2015

the golden fire
of red orange falling leaves
the glow of death

Dr. Tarrec’s Free Weekly Horoscope #31

Aries – The alchemical dragon will utter incomprehensible words, for he has been gifted with a human head. Caustic potash and bicarbonate of potassium will be delivered to your door sometime this week. You will have to sign for them.

Taurus – Four golden stars (one dark) are searching for you. They just want to help. But do not expect an apology, explicit or implicit. The older sister is in the upstairs window.  

Gemini – In the past you were not inclined to believe in the power of transmutation, so the dubious reports coming out of Ulaanbaatar (the capital city of Mongolia) are unlikely to provoke you to action. It is possible that surgery could prove effective. Charlatans will form an invisible society.

Cancer – Send for the nurse when you are suffering great grief. The stench of Sulphur and hot fire will follow. The Brotherhood of Games will be there to assist you in your recovery – but they will expect you to pay a great price. They may also dispense illegal medication.

Leo –  The Necromancer (you remember him…) opens the graveyard and disturbs the universe with a handful of earth and goofer dust. Thunder and lightning and snakeskin for a gruesome birth and the doctor is dead. You must choose of the 900 theses to follow.

Virgo – If you cling to these ideas you will encounter open hostility. Prepare for either incarceration or incineration. Expect a plague of rats, an infestation of rodents.

Libra – Unalterable science is not science. 100 dead flies (Sarcophagus ruficornis) will signify a declaration of war, maledictions spoken in the dark.

Scorpio – Saturn was killed in a duel. You must climb the mountains of Mercury to find the strange and precious triangles. Be skeptical of good wine and better days.

Sagittarius – The Shortening of the Way is found – three times – in the ancient texts, but you have only recently become aware of it.

Capricorn – A serpent and a siren, wet sand and slaughter houses. Should there be an arrest? That is is for a judge to decide. Just make sure it isn’t you.

Aquarius – The devil has power to assume a pleasing shape and a well cut uniform. Watch for manicured nails and clean clipped hair. He is a master of mnemotechnic technologies, but not of psychotherapeutic work.

Pisces – Do you desire to establish an infallible dogma? This is your first mistake. Do you follow strange noises into the jungle? That is your second.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dr. Tarrec Introduces Me to Jumjuma

Friendly readers of this blog will know of my stubborn fondness for my peculiar friend, Dr. P. L. Tarrec. I find him fascinating in a scientific, anthropological, sort of way. He is an expert in Eastern European history and an authority on the occult and…other things which are left unspoken. I publish his weekly horoscopes even if they appear somewhat less frequently than their title would imply, and despite the fact that they are infrequently anything like accurate. His alchemical interpretation of The Apocalypse of John, of which I have read only a portion, is scintillating and I am anxious for him to finish writing it.

But, to this point, I have kept many things about my friend Dr. Tarrec and his work secret. And this is by his request. His research often takes him into dangerous places and he has, over the long years (centuries, he assures me) of his investigations, made numerous enemies – including operatives of various espionage groups (some operating without official sanction) in Washington, Beijing, Moscow, and Islamabad-as well as members of  that mysterious cult known as The Brotherhood of Games. I share Dr. Tarrec’s writings with the public only reservedly and with his careful permission.

It was some months ago that Dr. Tarrec introduced me to another shocking revelation of his work. At that time he swore me to secrecy and I accepted without hesitation. I understand and appreciate the need for discretion. Dr. Tarrec now assures me that it is possible to speak of these things, even necessary.

Dr. Tarrec led me to his laboratory (blindfolded, as always), guiding me carefully down steep stairs and through echoing, drafty, stone hallways. “What I am about to show you, my boy,” he said to me, “or rather, who I am about to show you, is a person of great mystery to me, even after all the years that I have known him. He is…” and here Dr. Tarrec halted both his speech and his steps. He laid a hand on my shoulder before continuing, “he is quite singular. Prepare yourself.”

But even with his warning, I was quite unprepared. Nothing could have prepared me for the revelation Dr. Tarrec made to me. When he removed the blindfold from my eyes I saw his laboratory, as I’ve often seen it, but now there was melon sized mound on the work table, covered with a crimson colored piece of heavy velvet.

And I heard a muffled voice shouting, “Hear me, great demons of hell!” Dr. Tarrec saw my expression of wonder and fear and with a comforting motion of his hands assured me that all was well.

“Hush, you miscreant,” he said to the unseen owner of the voice.

“Come to me, you 6,000 terrors of hell! Come to my aid, you nameless monsters of the lower depths!” came the voice again.

“I said be quiet!” Dr. Tarrec said again, somewhat agitatedly. “We have a guest, and I will insist that you treat him with respect. He is my friend.”

Then Dr. Tarrec turned to me and said, “Jefrey, my boy, may I introduce you to Jumjuma.” And with that he flicked the velvet cloth away from the table revealing a tangle of electrical cables and medical tubing filled with oozing fluids connected to a human head. There on the table grinning and winking was a Living, Speaking, DECAPTITATED HEAD!

(Sorry. My prose went a little Lovecraftian there for a moment.)

Jumjuma turned (but how I do not know, he –it- had neither the sternocleidomastoid or trapezius muscles…) to look at me, then grinned a most wicked grin and said with a sly Groucho Marx impersonation, “You’ll pardon me if I don’t get up.”

It was then that I fainted.

Solar Nimbus

The sky exploded a little bit this afternoon. Did you notice?

Solar Nimbus by Jeff Carter on

I found this little detail hidden away inside the photograph - it's pretty cool on its own.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Grooves and Lights

We're setting up today for a "pumpkin party" at the church. It's pumpkin everything around here: pumpkin ring toss, pin-the-grin-on-the-jack-o-lantern, pumpkin bread, pumpkin crafts, pumpkin seeds... Everything is pumpkin - except my station for the evening. I'll be taking Christmas portraits of everyone.  Sure. It makes sense... sorta'.

Anyway, as I was getting the backdrop and props set up and my lights in place, and laying out the ugly Christmas sweaters, I took a few test photos to make sure everything is ready. Then I took a few more experimental photos like this one. It has nothing to do with pumpkins or Christmas portraits, but I like it.

Grooves and Lights by Jeff Carter on

How to Destroy a Prophet Part II

We have heard it was said, “you will not harbor hatred for your brother,” but this does not apply for he is no brother of ours, and “you will not exact vengeance, or bear a grudge of any kind against the children of your people,” but he is not of our people. He has been banished from us. He has been stripped of uniform and rank. He has been removed from the rolls and his words cut from the scrolls. Send him out into the cold; let him suffer the wind.

As Moses’ own tribe rose up against him, so did we rise up against him.
And as Moses was cast into the water, so did we throw him into a pit.

By the decree of angels, and by the command of holy men we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn him, with the consent of God, Blessed Be He, and with the consent of all the Holy Congregation, in front of these holy Orders and Regulations, with the excommunication which Joshua banned Jericho, with the curse with which Elisha cursed the boys, and with all the curses which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day. Cursed be he by night. Cursed be he when he comes in and when he goes out. The LORD will not spare him; the anger and wrath of the LORD will not depart from him. And his name will be blotted out from under heaven. We here do order that no one should communicate with him orally or in writing, show him any favor, or stay with him under the same roof, or read anything composed by him. Now and forever. Amen.

Let our respectable resentment be expressed with perfect freedom and we will stand aghast if the prophet, this holy man of God, should express his own imprecations. This is unbecoming. This is unacceptable behavior.

(Based on Jeremiah 18:18, Leviticus 19: 18, the Peskita de-Rav Kahana Midrash comparing Moses and Jeremiah, and the banishment of Baruch Spinoza. Part I is here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

American House Spider

I stepped out the front door this morning and nearly walked face first into this beauty - an American House Spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum). They're not especially dangerous to humans (though they may startle you quite a bit if you walk face first into them...)Actually they're really rather beneficial as they eat other pests like mosquitoes and roaches.

American House Spider by Jeff Carter on

Biblical Limericks: A Transgendered Apostle

A question infrequently tendered:
How is the name “Junia(s)” rendered?
Chrysostom says female,
while Luther says male-
When was the apostle transgendered?

Romans 16:7 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Why Curse Him?

Jeremiah, I understand why
the sound of your curses fills the sky,
but tell me why you damn
the comradely old man
with news of your birth; why should he die?

Jeremiah 20: 15 - 17

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Haiku – October 17

a favored sweater
with small unravelings
autumn days are brief

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 43

Here it is, just for you (or someone very like you):this week's free background image. It's yours, if you want it. I only ask that you share it freely with others and that you tell them you found it here.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

October Rushing

October is here and nearly gone. It comes so quick that it's all a blur.

October Rushing by Jeff Carter on

Thursday, October 15, 2015

How to Destroy a Prophet

They met in the shadows as they always do, in the hidden chambers of forgotten caves. They whispered the secret words of greeting appropriate to their clandestine concave, secret words carefully guarded from public exposure. And, having acknowledged one another in the manner prescribed by the honorable elders, they pulled back the hoods of their heavy, woolen cloaks. But even uncovered, their faces were still obscured by the shadows of the underground Star Chamber. Secret tribunals and shadow governments can always be found under the same stones. Then they said, “Come! let us device a plot against him, and come! let us strike at him with our tongue, wound him with our words. We will use slander and libel against him, and then we shall no longer have to endure with him; we will not have to listen to all his wasted words. 

“We will utilize public humiliation and oft repeated, malicious lies; we will isolate him from resources and from his comrades. Let us threaten him with termination for even minor faults. Let us set impossible goals so that we may mock his inevitable failure. If he should approach something like success, we will sabotage his work. And if he should (though we trust he will not) find victory in some small thing, we will be there to claim the credit and the reward for ourselves.”

This is how you destroy a prophet; this is how you break his spirit.

Dig a pit for him to fall into. Let it be a slime filled pit from which he cannot escape, with mud and mire for his feet. Ready a stone to roll down and crush him. Destruction will fall upon him. Fleeing the terror on every side, he will fall into the pit; even if he could climb up, he would be caught in our hidden snares. We’ve spread our nets to capture him. Like an ox to the slaughter, like a deer in the noose, or a bright little bird darting into the snare, he is waiting (without knowing) the arrow that will pierce his heart.

 This is how you break a prophet; this is how you destroy his spirit.

(Jeremiah 18: 18)

Flightless Birds and Conspiratorial Attacks in the Night

“Let the dead bury the dead,” they say and I agree. I have shoveled enough for two lifetimes. Let the dead pick up shovel and spade. When hell is full the dead will dig the graves, but until then… I buried one more of the dead; I buried him deep. Obsessed as we were with germs and disease, paranoia, I wore a level III hazmat suit and a mask for protection against both ritual and bacteriological defilement.

And then, when the work was done, the dirt replaced, I sat to rest-for it was hot and I was worn. I tried to rest, but as they say, and again I agree, “there is no rest for the weary.” I sat in the courtyard, now cemetery, with my back against the wall. I removed my gas mask to sleep with my back against the wall and my face uncovered. It was very warm. The sun slowly set through the heat and the dust of the afternoon; the shadow of the wall grew long across the ground.

I slept, but I did not rest. All the while, above me on the wall, perched a flock of flightless birds. How could a flock of flightless birds come to be perched high atop a ten foot wall? Yes. Ask the question. It is one of the many questions that remain unanswered, and largely unasked. The Median media is silent and there are few who will listen to angels in disguise or to men of disrepute.

Their warm droppings fell into my eyes as I slept, into my uncovered eyes. I was not aware of the birds, did not hear their chirping chatter, did not smell their dripping feces. Their droppings contained no smelly protein sulfides and there is no fermentation in the birds’ guts. Coprophagia is rare among birds (unlike mammals including dogs and some humans) so there is little reason for these particular bird droppings to have had a foul odor. Yet I wonder: these droppings were unusual in every other regard-so why did they have no odor, no alerting scent? Another unasked and unanswered question that will only be ignored and forgotten.

The white droppings of this flightless flock of birds perched upon my wall were rich in fertilizing nitrogen, but my eyes are not fields and there will be no harvest. If that were all I may have retained my vision, but there was something worse: Microplasma Fravishivirus is what they call it-or, rather, what they don’t call it, because they will neither confirm nor deny anything that is developed in their pharmaceutical kingdom of darkness. This virus does not exist, except in isolated outbreaks, purposefully unleashed and carefully contained to limit the exposure. They would not want to initiate the eschaton too soon. They are careful and meticulous about these things.

And what is even more: as I slept they (either the birds or their trainers, I do not know, for the fowlers are just as foul as their noxious plague-work) sprayed me with an odorless chemical solvent known as Spectrazinomaldehyde-a toxic brew of Diazinon, Benzene, and other complex Carbon chains. When the vomiting and vertigo passed and my blood pressure stabilized, when the anxiety receded and my body temperature leveled out, I was left with a burning film in my eyes and white, waxy scales encrusted my eye sockets. I was blind.

My wife found me screaming and crawling in the dirt, and vomit, and enuresis. She rushed me to the hospital where I was treated by a team of doctors and specialists who, in the end, could do (or would do) me no good. Yes, they applied ointments and salves and they dutifully dusted my lemon soured eyes with sweet, pink powders and, for a moment, I thought I saw a flicker of light. But there was nothing but darkness.

All my life on paths of quiet patience…
I eat my food in sorrow and in silence.
I wash.
I remember the prophets.
I remember all your songs.

THE PATIENT presented Monday, May 16, 2016 (the day after Pentecost) with sudden, acute loss of vison. Opacification of the normally translucent structures of the eyes caused by contamination of unknown foreign substance. Has he no fear? Is he not hunted and haunted and hated? The REPORTS of flies and plagues and biohazard may be unwarranted, but we remain skeptical of his claims. Flightless birds and conspiratorial attacks in the night... Soon he will be raving about river monster and demonic attacks. This is all too much. Let his property be seized as payment, and banish the patient.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


The leaves, thorns, and berries of a Hawthorn tree in Nebraska.

Hawthorn by Jeff Carter on

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Biblical Limericks: My Behemoth

Who is it that can make the sea wroth?
And who comes up from the bubbling froth?
You follow where he goes
and try to pierce his nose,
but you’ll never catch my Behemoth!

Job 40: 24 

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 42

Wow how the year zips by. Here is this week's free background image for you to use (should you want to...) It's yours. It's free. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others you found it here.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

October Fields

Driving home after a long weekend away, I saw this gravel road. I left the highway and took a few photos. This photo was taken with a selective focus lens.

October Fields (Iowa) by Jeff Carter on

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Biblical Limericks : The Prophet's Rejection Letter

Jeremiah, your writing, I fear 
is just too dark to be published here,
in depression drifting,
your words aren't uplifting,
and what's with the "uncircumcised ear"?

Jeremiah 6:10

I Could Fill the Silence of a Thousand Years

I could fill the silence of a thousand years
with the hymns and anthems of
false guilt and recriminations,
songs of accusation
and betrayal.

I’d scream down the sun, set fire to the soil,
a scorched earth ruination
for missing gods and absent boys,
for leaving and taking,

Give feast to crows and ravens of varied kind;
let coyotes eat what’s left
of broken bones and my failed flesh.
Leave me nothing.

Pray, friends, if you will, but I’ve forgotten how.
The wind has ceased its blowing;
the spirit, it no longer breathes.
Their laughter is stolen;
her love is gone.

While written in first person, this is not me, but a good friend of mine. If prayer is something you do, pray for him.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Like Scarecrows

The idols of nations I’ll dispatch.
They can’t even speak; they are no match-
so do not be harried,
they have to be carried
like scarecrows in a cucumber patch.

Jeremiah 10: 5


On the right it's a crumpled piece of cellophane, on the left-the broken shards of glass that have appeared in this photo and this one.

Ice (abstract) by Jeff Carter on

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

New Header (Crystal Glitch)

There's a new header on the 'ole blog.  It's a glitched up version of this photo:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bear Splash

Last week, while in Rapid City, South Dakota for some meetings, my wife and I had some free time to spend with some friends of ours. So we went to the Bear Country USA - a drive through zoo. My wife and I had been there, but our friends had not, and we all enjoyed it. We were not able to answer the age old question, "does a bear poop in the woods?" but we did watch one leave a trail of urine down the road.

Biblical Limericks: Jeremiah Takes it all Back

Remember, God, how I prayed for them,
I stood before you, spoke good of them?
Well, alas and alack!
now I take it all back:
to death them and their children condemn!

Jeremiah 18: 20 – 21

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rain of Fire

It will occasionally rain fire in South Dakota...

Rain of Fire by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 41

Here it is again, just for you, the free, weekly background image. Seriously: free.  Download it and use it as your very own. Use it at home, work, school, church, on the space station, in the port-a-john, wherever... I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

For those who like to know-the image is 1)fog on the Black Hills of South Dakota and 2) the brake light of the mini-van that carried me out there last week.

 photo Week 41_zpsgc16rtr2.jpg

A Blessing for the Pool of Israel

When your heart is distressed,
when your work is fruitless,
when you are exhausted,
May you dive into the pool.

Blessed is the Lord-
the hope of all our expectations,
the gathering of all our dreams.

When enemies pursue and mockers gloat,
when you are abused and abandoned,
May you dive into the pool.

Blessed is the Lord-
our sweet relief,
our health and salvation.

When you are scorned and shunned,
May you dive down deep into the pool.

Blessed is the Lord-
the source and spring
of ever-flowing living water
and streams of mercy
without ceasing,
who says, “Come and drink.

Anyone who is thirsty,
Everyone who is weak,
Come, dive into the Pool or Israel
and from your heart
shall flow streams of living water.”


(Jeremiah 17: 13 – 18, Psalm 25, John 7: 38 – 39)

To Dive into the Pool of Israel

The book of Jeremiah (where we’ve been the past couple of weeks, and will be for a few more) is difficult to read from start to finish, beginning to end, because the various parts and sections of the book are not arranged in a strictly chronological order. It begins with Jeremiah’s call to ministry in chapter one and ends with his flight to Egypt in chapters 42 – 43 (though it continues on for several more chapters…) after his message has been thoroughly rejected by the kingdom of Judah. But the sermons and speeches and (most importantly for our consideration these weeks) the confessions between the first and last chapters, delivered at various times and places during his 40 years as a prophet, have been collected and arranged and rearranged in this final form that we have today without a consistent regard for historical chronology. “Attention…is paid to chronology but only in a limited sort of way” (Lundbom 86). They are sometimes out of order, mixed, and repeated or interrupted (as in last week’s reading where Jeremiah’s confession was interrupted by a judgement against the nation of Judah).

Taking a cue from that somewhat disjointed arrangement, we’re going to, for the purposes of this sermon, proceed backwards through the confession in Jeremiah 17: 13 – 18. [i] I hope that this will prove more help than distraction. Reading the confession in this reverse order forces me, however, to begin with the material that I like least in this passage: the imprecatory prayer of Jeremiah against his enemies:

“Let my persecutors be confounded, not me,
let them, not me, be terrified.
On them bring the day of disaster,
destroy them, destroy them twice over“(Jeremiah 17:18-New Jerusalem Bible).

This is an example of an imprecatory prayer–a curse, if you will–on those who have been pursing and persecuting the prophet. It is a wish and a prayer for trouble or disaster to fall upon them–and soon! (Stuart 1218)

I recognize that I have, in the past, been somewhat critical (okay, yes…very critical) of the imprecatory prayers of the bible; they are not my favorite. If I were given the authority to remove portions of the bible, I would be tempted to take my scissors to them. I do not like them very much at all and I freely admit that this may say more about me than it does about the imprecatory passages themselves.

But I’m not alone in this uneasiness: many people of faith are uncomfortable with these passages. We’ve come to believe that if our faith causes us to hate than perhaps we’re doing it wrong. We’ve taken to heart the instruction of Jesus in the New Testament that we should love our enemies and that we should pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44 / Luke 6:28) and those instructions were further elaborated by the Apostle Paul, “Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them” (Romans 12:14–NJB). And the imprecatory prayers and psalms rub like coarse grit sandpaper against these instructions to love and bless. Imprecatory prayers call down death and destruction upon the supplicator’s enemies. Jeremiah called upon Yahweh God to “destroy them, destroy them twice over” to “Bring on them the day of evil and a double breaking, break them!” (Jeremiah 17: 18-Anchor Bible) [ii]

How should we read Jeremiah’s prayer (curse...) against his persecutors in light of these instructions that we should love and bless our enemies? It is important that we remember that Jeremiah had been hurt, had been abused–emotionally and physically by these enemies (many of whom had been members of his family and friends of the prophet). He was cut from his community, isolated and shunned, rejected by his people. His message was mocked; his warnings were ignored. His work was fruitless. He was despised by the leadership of the country. And all of this hurt. The prophet was deeply wounded both in body and in soul.

And the prophet gives vent to his wounded emotions in an outrageous, violent outburst: “Bring on them the day of disaster, and shatter them with double destruction!” (JPS) Jeremiah, the prophet- called by God, empowered to minister and to prophecy in his name, was-after all- a human being. He hurt. He suffered. He bruised. He bled. He wept and he cried. And Jeremiah, the fully human prophet, lashed out in his pain and his desperation, calling upon God to bring down the fullness of curses of the day of disaster on them, indeed he asked for a double fullness of that disaster to break upon his enemies.

Perhaps we are shocked to find this sort of violence in our holy scripture. It is somewhat unsettling. Refined religious folk don’t react this way. Right? Holy people don’t get angry. Right?  Holy people don’t have emotional outbursts like this. We expect our prophets to clear headed, our leaders to be calm (even under stress) and our spiritual heroes to be perfect (just as God is perfect–Matthew 5:48) without fail and without falter.

They are not allowed to be…human.

We don’t want to see them in their weakness. We insist that the faithful be successful and heroic. We don’t want to hear about their distress. We want power and dynamic victory after dynamic victory! And if we can’t have that we expect nothing less than quiet and patient endurance of suffering, fully trusting that God will soon move in a mighty way to bring restoration and vindication and reward.

But to demand this of our prophets and leaders and spiritual heroes (and of ourselves and fellow believers) may be setting up an impossible, not to mention-unhealthy-standard. The prophets and psalmists of our scriptures–like us today–were subject to hurts and pains and griefs. And we–like the prophets and psalmists before us-need to give expression to those painful emotions. We should not dare to dismiss or discredit the emotions of the prophet and the psalmists, just as we should not dismiss or discredit our own emotions. To stifle them is dangerous; to repress this is unhealthy.

But what should we do with the imprecatory passages of the bible in light of the other biblical injunctions against cursing and against violence and hatred? This is a question that may not ever have a full and final answer, but perhaps asking ‘what should we do with the imprecatory passages?’ is the wrong question.

Perhaps we should do nothing with them but read them and accept them for what they are: the unfiltered, immediate response of wounded people who were broken and desperate; read them as ragged cries of grief and not as sage reflections of holy wisdom. Listen to the cry of the poor and the distressed. Hear it. Feel it. Just as God does. And when necessary give expression to your own hurt. To deny our own wounded humanity (and that of others) is to lie, is to say that abuse and injustice will be allowed to go unchecked. We need to speak out-even if it is only to wail in grief and pain.

But Jeremiah’s cry of distress isn’t only against his human oppressors. Moving back a verse we find the prophet saying:

“Do not be a terror to me,
you, my refuge in time of disaster” (Jeremiah 17:17-NJB).

Jeremiah, who has, in previous confessions, suggested that God is something like unreliable and deceptive waters (Jeremiah 15: 18) now pleads with God to not be yet another source of terror and disaster; he has enough to deal with as it is. I don’t need another threat. I can’t take anymore. The prophet needs Yahweh God to be a refuge in time of disaster, not another danger to endure.

In verse sixteen, the prophet reminds God this was all his idea after all; Jeremiah never really wanted to be a prophet in the first place:

“As for me, I did not insist on shepherding after you,
and the day of desperation I have not desired.” (Jeremiah 17:16-The Anchor Bible)

That he follows obediently, and preaches the message that God has given to him and that he endures the hurt and abuse and scorn that is heaped upon is a demonstration of his faithfulness to God and to his word. And the prophet asks God to remember this. He could not endure, he could not persist if he thought that God was against him as well. Who could stand against that? Jeremiah knew that he could not continue, could not go on in the face of continual rejection and failure and slander and ridicule if he did not have a place of refuge to hide during his days of personal disaster.

And Jeremiah seems to have plenty of them. I mentioned last week that there is only one place in the 52 chapters of his work, only one point in the 40 years of his prophetic ministry, where Jeremiah described anything like joy in his work (Jeremiah 15: 16). And even that joy was somewhat muted. The rest of his work was an exhausting 40 years long challenge that often left him broken and feeling defeated. His enemies mocked him and his apparent failure saying:

“Where is the prediction of the LORD?
Let it come to pass!” (Jeremiah 17:15–JPS)

“Where is Yahweh’s word? Let it come true then!” (NJB)

They mocked his lack of results. They derided his inability to prove his message. Show us the statistics. Show us the proof. Give us some evidence. But he had none–only the word of his message and the depth of his faith.

“All my work is for the Master,” wrote the sixth general of The Salvation Army, Albert Orsborn.
“He is all my heart’s desire;
O that he may count me faithful
In the day that tries by fire!” (Orsborn)

All my work may be for the Master, but it would be nice to have some tangible reward, some evidence of success, some measurement of achievement. Jeremiah gave his speeches and his warnings, preached his sermons, delivered his addresses but few took him seriously. They taunted him: “Where is the word of Yahweh? Let it come!” (Jeremiah 17:15-Anchor Bible) I think Jeremiah would have been as keen as (if not more so) his taunters to see the word of Yahweh proven true (even if he never desired to preach it, or wanted to see the day of disaster come); he wanted to have some vindication and validation of his life’s work.

Can we wonder that the prophet felt broken and abused by everyone–even (almost) by God? Are we still surprised by his angry outbursts and by his desire to see his detractors get some of the pain that he’d received for so long? Jeremiah was a wounded man, Jeremiah was a broken man. I’m sure that there will be some who’ll object to my description of the prophet of God as a broken man. ‘He was strong and firm in his faith,’ they’ll say. ‘He was faithful and true. How could you describe him as broken?

I say it because Jeremiah said it of himself:

“Heal me, Yahweh, and I shall be healed,
save me and I shall be saved,
for you are my praise” (Jeremiah 17:14–NJB)

He was a man in need of healing, in desperate need of salvation. He was a broken man, even if he was the prophet of God–maybe especially because he was the prophet of God. We make the prophet into a plaster saint of little value if we fail to recognize how broken he was. And the same is true of any of our heroes of the faith.

I especially like the JPS translation of this verse:

“Heal me, O LORD, and let me be healed;
Save me, and let me be saved;
for You are my glory” (Jeremiah 17:14–JPS).

Let me be saved. The prophet is begging: please, Lord! Let me be healed. Let me have some relief. My wound is incurable, refusing to be healed; Lord, heal me and let me be healed. Please. My suffering is continual; Lord, save me and let me be saved (Jeremiah 15:18). 

Why do we insist on seeing our prophets and spiritual leaders as unwavering paragons of triumphant, victorious faith? Are we afraid to see them in weakness? Are we unwilling to accept them as failures? Why can we accept the apostle Paul’s boasting: “…and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions, and distress for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 9:12–NJB) but we’re unable to accept Jeremiah’s desperation: “Heal me, and let me be healed. Save me, and let me be saved!”

If Jeremiah has been faithful in his work, in spite of cruelty and abuse and without any appreciable results, there have been many who were less than faithful to God. The worship of Yahweh had been, during the reign of King Josiah, restored somewhat. The idols and shrines of the polytheistic cults had been torn down and destroyed, their priests had been killed. But after Josiah’s untimely death, his religious reforms were halted and undone. The worship of Molech, Ba'al, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Asherah, etc. returned.

Jeremiah says that those who have abandoned the God of Israel, Yahweh, would be “written in the earth” (Jeremiah 17:13b-Anchor Bible[iii]). They will be “written in dust” (NIV), “registered in the underworld” (NJB). The first human, Adam, was formed from the dust, the adamah, but there was no life in that dust man-not until God breathed life into him and he became a living being. The human was taken from dust, and dust they were and to dust those who abandoned Yahweh would return (Genesis 3: 19). They were doomed men, doomed to death and to dust because they had forsaken the Spring of Living Water. They had abandoned the source of their life.

“Yahweh, hope of Israel, all who abandon you will be put to shame” (Jeremiah 17: 13a-NJB).

The hope of Israel, Jeremiah’s hope, was Yahweh. People (not even friends and family members) could not be trusted, religious leaders could not be trusted, princes and kings could not be trusted (Jeremiah 17: 5). Only God could preserve the prophet. Only God could save and heal him. Only God could protect the country, preserve and restore it. Only Yahweh God-the hope of Israel, the pool, the source, the life, the Spring of Living Water.

It has been pointed out by those who know the Hebrew language better than I[iv] that the phrase “the Hope of Israel” can also be translated as “the Pool of Israel” (Lundbom 797). The Hebrew word miqwēh has the double meaning of both “hope” and “pool of water” that “reinforce[s] the image of Yahweh as [the] ‘fountain of living water’”(Lundbom 797)[v]. The word has the sense of something waited for, expected-something abiding. The word carries the idea of things gathered together–like the chaotic waters of creation gathered together (Genesis 1:10) into deep pools.

Yahweh is the expectation of Israel, the hope of the prophet, the deep cool waters of the pool of Israel, the spring of living waters. Yahweh God is the “fount of every blessing” with “streams of mercy never ceasing” (Robinson). He is the hope of our patient enduring and waiting, the hope of our sweet relief, the cool blessing of our lives. When accusers make demands that we cannot meet, we have the Pool of Israel. When our work is marked by failure and few successes, we still have the abiding, gathering Hope of Israel. When we feel beaten down, even to death, we have the ever-flowing Spring of Living Water to heal us and we shall be healed; the Hope of Israel to save us and we shall be saved.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to [the Hope of Israel]!
Let anyone who believes in the [Pool of Israel] come and drink!
As scripture says, ‘From his heart shall flow streams of living water.’ (John 7:37-38-with interpolations)

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.

New Jerusalem Bible. New York, NY. Doubleday. 1999.

Orsborn, Albert. “All My Work Is for the Master” The Salvation Army Songbook,
The Salvation Army, London.

Robinson, Robert. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” The Salvation Army Songbook,
The Salvation Army, London.

Stuart, Douglas. “Curse” Pages 1218 – 1219 in Vol. 1 of Anchor Bible Dictionary. Ed. David Noel
Freedman. New York. Doubleday. 1992.

[i] (It should also perhaps be noted that division of the various parts of Jeremiah’s writing is not an exact science. There are various opinions about where this confession begins and ends. Some commentators include verse 12. Some start with verse 14. Some believe that the confession continues through verse 20.) Choices have to be made and I have chosen this material for this sermon.
[ii] Lest we think that violent imprecations are only found in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible, here are a few (but not all) from the New Testament / Christian Bible: Matthew 23: 13 – 36, Matthew 26: 23 – 24, 1 Corinthians 16: 22, Galatians 1: 8 – 9, Galatians 5: 12, 2 Timothy 4: 14, Revelation 6: 10, Revelation 22: 18 – 19.

[iii] I like Lundbom’s suggestion (794-798) that this confession should be read as a three way conversation between Jeremiah, Yahweh and the mockers in Israel, and that this verse is to be understood as Yahweh’s voice. If I were reading the confession the ‘right way round,’ I would have followed that interpretation.

[iv] I often tell people that I’m a bilingual illiterate-I can’t read in two languages.

[v] It also means “yarn” (1 Kings 10:28, 2 Chronicles 1:16) – go figure…
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