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Monday, November 30, 2015

Do Not Be Afraid

Cheesy Christmas decorations and hallmark cards aside, if the first thing that angels in the bible always say is, "Fear Not!" isn't it likely that biblical angels were fairly frightening?

Do Not Be Afraid by Jeff Carter on

Rainy November Night Lights

I went out last night, after watching The Walking Dead with my family, after finishing my homework, and after a final cup of coffee, to walk around in the near freezing rain. Why? Photography, of course.

Rainy November Night Lights by Jeff Carter on

Rainy November Night Lights by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Poultice of Fig

The king was fatally ill, you dig?
So he prayed a prayer, quick as a jig.
Isaiah the prophet,
announced, “He’s healed, you bet,
but smear him with a poultice of fig.”

2 Kings 20: 1 - 7

Its Name, His Name, Our Name - An Advent Sermon

A few weeks ago, I made a detour from the standard lectionary readings to spend a few weeks preaching from the Confessional passages of Jeremiah. That was a good thing and I was glad to do it, but I was relieved to return to the lectionary texts when that series was done. Jeremiah may be one of my favorites, but he’s better in small doses; he can be a bit overwhelming. So, I was amused when the lectionary texts chosen for this first week of Advent brought be back to the prophet Jeremiah.

“See, days are coming-declares the LORD-when I will fulfill the promise that I made concerning the House of Israel and the House of Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a true branch of David’s line, and he shall do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah shall be delivered and Israel shall dwell secure. And this is what she shall be called: “The LORD is our Vindicator.” (Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16 JPS)

This will be an Advent sermon, yes, leading us to think about the coming of Jesus, preparing our hearts for Christmas, and leading us forward into greater hope for the future, but in order to get there we need to go back to the days of the prophet Jeremiah and the last King of Judah, King Zedekiah. In order to go forward, we need to go backward.

Zedekiah, the third son of the good king, Josiah, was given the name Mattaniah “gift of Yahweh” at birth. His father, the good king, the young king Josiah, was killed on the field of battle against Pharaoh Necho. Necho first appointed Mattaniah’s brother Jehoahaz the puppet king of Judah, but he only ruled for three months before being deposed by Pharaoh Necho, and imprisoned. Jehoahaz was replaced by the other brother, Jehoiakim. But, according to the historians who composed the books of Kings, he also “did what was displeasing to the LORD” and only ruled for 11 unpleasant years. Jehoiakim’s rule was brought to an end by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Jehoiakim died during the Babylonian siege of the city of Jerusalem and his body was thrown outside the walls (Jeremiah 22:19). Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin–but only briefly. After three months and ten days, Jehoiachin, along with 3,000 of the leading citizens and officials of Judah were taken away into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. 

Jehoiachin was succeeded by his uncle, Mattaniah-now renamed Zedekiah by King Nebuchadnezzar.
During his time as king-as puppet king, answerable to Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah was not criticized by the prophet Jeremiah, as his nephew and brothers had been. But this isn’t to say that he was a good king. His new name, Zedekiah, means “My Righteousness is Yahweh;” Zedekiah, however, never quite lived up to the import of that name.

He was a weak king-but this isn’t entirely his fault. His father, Josiah, had attempted to rule between the rock and the hard place between two powerful empires, Egypt and Babylon, and was squashed. His brothers and nephew had flip flopped their allegiances, trying to preserve the little nation of Judah’s independence. But they could not. And when Jehoiachin and the court officials were taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar, 21 year old Zedekiah was left without any experienced political advisors. Jeremiah described those who were left as “bad figs.” (Jeremiah 24)  Zedekiah was never accepted as the legitimate king of Judah; even after he was taken away into captivity, the people still considered Jehoiachin as their rightful king.

Jeremiah repeatedly counseled the desperate king to bite the bullet and to surrender fully and completely to Nebuchadnezzar, to accept the inevitable. But the bad fig advisors in Zedekiah’s court and the people of Judah still insisted on trying to make a go of it. Zedekiah felt unable to accept Jeremiah’s advice, and the bad fig advisors pushed the weak king to try to hold out against the Babylonians, by making an alliance with Egypt again. (Althann 1069) Nebuchadnezzar responded, as you would expect, with force. The Babylonian army came and laid siege to the city again and during those 30 months the city experienced the worst sorts of woes and every desperate depravity. Before the city was captured, Zedekiah and his family attempted to escape, but they were captured and taken to King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah’s sons were executed in front of him and then his eyes were gouged out so that the last thing he ever saw was their gruesome deaths.

The city of Jerusalem was razed to the ground. Solomon’s Temple was plundered and destroyed; its treasures were taken away to Babylon. And the rest of the people of Judah were taken into captivity; only a few–of the poorest people of the land-were left. This is where we must begin when we consider the words of the prophet spoken during the final year of Zedekiah’s troubled kingship.

“See, days are coming-declares the LORD-when I will fulfill the promise that I made concerning the House of Israel and the House of Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a true branch of David’s line, and he shall do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah shall be delivered and Israel shall dwell secure. And this is what she [the city of Jerusalem] shall be called: “The LORD is our Vindicator.” (Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16 JPS)

Ever the ironic prophet, Jeremiah preached imminent doom and destruction during years of prosperity, now the destruction he’d prophesied was near at hand (indeed, the army was camped just outside the walls) and he’s speaking of blessing, of salvation and restoration and security.
In this darkest hour, Jeremiah anticipates the coming of a “true branch” (JPS) a “righteous branch” (NRSV) – “the Righteous Branch” (KJV).  But this is no eschatological, world conquering hero. (Hyatt 988) He is not a military leader to ride into battle against the Babylonians, to fight in armed combat against Israel and Judah’s enemies. This Davidic scion would bring salvation and security through his righteousness. The Hebrew word “Righteous” here is “zedek” and is probably intended as a play on the name of the failure king. King Zedekiah did not live up to the righteous expectations of his name. But the word also implies “rightful” and “lawful” and “legitimate,” another dig at Zedekiah, “whose name suggests legitimacy-but who [was], in fact, a Babylonian vassal” (Brake 776).

The hope that Jeremiah sees in the future for Judah and for Israel is a good and rightful king who is a legitimate descendent of David, and who will rule in justice and righteousness. This would be Judah’s deliverance. This would be Israel’s security.  And it is because of this justice and righteousness that the city of Jerusalem would become known as “the Lord is our Vindicator” (JPS)

Other translations give the city’s name as:
“The LORD is our Righteousness” (KJV, NRSV)
“The LORD gives Justice” (CEV)
“The LORD is our Salvation” (GNT)
“God Has Set Things Right For Us” (The Message)

The city that had become a “horror-an evil-to all the kingdoms of the earth, a disgrace and a proverb, a byword and a curse” (Jeremiah 24: 9 JPS) in its utter destruction at the hands of the Babylonians would in days to come become such a wonderful place that it is called by God’s own name, known as the place of Yahweh’s Righteousness, the place of the LORD’s Saving Justice.  Its name would be “The LORD is our Vindicator.” Its name would be “The LORD is our Salvation,” “the Lord is our Justice,” “our Righteousness.”

I said that before we can go forward, we need to go backward. And here, as we’re just beginning to look forward with longing to the coming of this Righteous Branch, this good and righteous Davidic King who would bring restoration and security to the city of Jerusalem, we need to go backward a little bit further.

The passage chosen for us by those who established the standard lectionary readings (Jeremiah 33: 14-16) actually quotes from an earlier section of Jeremiah with a small, but not insignificant, difference.  In Jeremiah 23: 5 – 6 it says:

“See, a time is coming-declares the LORD-when I will raise up a true branch of David’s line. He shall reign as king and shall prosper, and he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be delivered and Israel shall dwell secure. And this is the name by which he shall be called: “The LORD is our Vindicator.” (Jeremiah 23: 5 – 6 JPS)

Did you note the difference? In 33: 14 – 16 it is the city of Jerusalem that will be known as “The LORD is our Vindicator” or “The LORD is our Righteousness” but in the earlier passage (earlier in the book as well as earlier in the book’s sometimes disordered chronology) it is the righteous king himself who will be known by that divine epithet. The emphasis in this earlier prophecy is on the man; in the latter the emphasis is on the city.  The earlier passage is more “messianic” (though messianism is not really prevalent in the whole of Jeremiah’s writing. Only a few passages in his book could arguably be considered messianic: 23: 5 – 6 / 33: 14 – 16, 30: 8 -9, and 33:17.)[i]

I thought it odd that the lectionary reading for this first Sunday of the Advent season would take the less messianic passage. It seems like a no brainer, to me anyway. If we want to start our thinking towards the coming king of Israel, the messianic king, the prince of peace, the great desire of nations, the righteous branch, the noble son of David that brings Saving Justice to the whole world, why not, when you have the choice between two very similar readings, go with the one that puts clear emphasis on the One whose name is “The LORD is our righteousness”?

But while the Advent season (despite all the indications to the contrary, it is not Christmas season yet…) does prompt us to anticipate the coming of that “Rose e’er blooming”, that “flow’ret bright” (Baker) of Jesse’s lineage – both in his coming as a child in Bethlehem and his glorious eschatological coming, Advent also prompts us to anticipate the coming of that King of Israel’s kingdom, the coming of the New Jerusalem, the coming of heaven to earth.

When the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem, they plundered the Temple of Solomon and carried off its many treasures as the booty and spoils of war. But the Ark of the Covenant was lost. Did it go to Babylon? Was it destroyed during the siege? Was it carried off to Ethiopia? Or Egypt? No one knows. One legend says that the prophet Jeremiah, having been warned of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, snuck the Ark out of the temple and hid it in a cave on Mount Nebo. (2 Maccabees 2: 4 – 10) No one really knows.

But the prophet Jeremiah wouldn’t have been concerned by its absence. He envisioned a time when “men shall no longer speak of the Ark of Covenant of the LORD,” when it would not even come to mind. The people would not “mention it, or miss it, or make another.” It would be a time when Jerusalem became the “throne of the LORD” and all nations would assemble there in the name of the Lord. (Jeremiah 3: 16 – 17 JDS)

The Medieval French Rabbi known as Rashi, commenting on this passage, said it would be a time when the whole assembly was so imbued with the spirit of sanctity and righteousness that God’s presence would rest upon the congregation as if they were themselves the Ark of God’s Covenant. (Rashi)

We are to be this congregation. This is to be our name.

“Sing choirs of New Jerusalem
Your sweetest notes employ;
the paschal victory to hymn
in songs of holy joy!”


In the New Testament John, imprisoned on the island of Patmos, saw a revelatory vision of temple of heaven opened, “and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” (Revelation 11:19 NRSV)

And where is this heaven? Where is this kingdom? Where is this city so righteous that its name, and the name of its king, and the name of its assembled congregation is “The LORD Is our Righteousness”?  Do we anticipate it? Do we desire to see it? Do we long for it?  This advent season is a time to consider the coming kingdom of God.

But not merely to think about it in abstract meditation. We are not merely longing for it with some vague wistful hope. Do we want to, as the slogan says, “Keep Christ in Christmas”? Then let us begin even now during this time of Advent. That Righteous Branch and his Heavenly Kingdom are not far removed from us as they were in Jeremiah’s day. For the Kingdom has come and is among us. I’ve frequently quoted William Booth, the founder and first General of The Salvation Army who said, “Making heaven on earth is our business.” (Booth)

Do we long for that Righteous Branch and the city of God? Then work for justice and righteousness. Put away all violence and warring. Feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned. This is the kingdom of God; this is making heaven on earth. Do we want our name to be “The LORD is our Saving Justice”?  Then do good, and be good. Make peace. Make love. Make joy. And God’s holy presence will dwell upon us, and we will live in peace and security.

“How bright appears the Morning Star,
with mercy beaming from afar;
the host of heaven rejoices.
O Righteous Branch, O Jesse’s Rod,
the Son of Man and Son of God!
We too will lift our voices:
Jesus, Jesus, holy, holy
yet most lowly, come, draw near us;
great Immanuel, come and hear us.


Lord, Make our name, “The LORD is our Righteousness.” Amen.

Althann, Robert. “Zedekiah” The Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. 6. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992.
Baker, Theodore – translation. “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” (German Traditional) 1894.

Booth, William. “Don’t Forget” 1910.

Bracke, John M. “Branch” The Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. 1. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992.

Cambell, Robert. “Sing, Choirs of New Jerusalem”

Hyatt, James Philip. “Jeremiah: Exegesis” The Interpreters Bible Vol. 5. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956.

Mercer, William. “How Bright Appears the Morning Star.” 1859


Wassink, Matthew W. “A Biblical Theology of ‘RighteousBranch’ in Jeremiah 33” 

[i] There is the difficulty, however, that 33:14 – 16 is not included in the LXX Greek translation of Jeremiah. So the question is: “is it more likely that an authentic passage was deleted from the LXX translation or that an un-authentic one was added to the MT?” (Wassink 2) Either way, for the purposes of this sermon we will accept the text as we have it, with both passages.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Advent of the Advent Moon

The waning gibbous moon illuminates the sky in the hours before the season of Advent begins.

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
  These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
  And still their flame is strong.
'Watchman, what of the night?' we cry,
  Heart-sick with hope deferred:
'No speaking signs are in the sky,'
  Is still the watchman's word.

-Christina Rossetti

Advent Moon (November 28, 2015 ) by Jeff Carter on

Xmas Music Mashups

Here are a few Xmas Music Mashups that I'd like to hear:

Every Rose E're Blooming Has its Thorn
Like a Virgin Unspotted
It's Raining Good Christian Men, Rejoice
Master of Puppets in this Hall
Mary Had an Ice, Ice Baby
December, 1963 (Oh Holy Night)
Blue Monday Christmas

Friday, November 27, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Jumping Jehosephat!

Assemble from wherever you’re at,
gather before the Lord and fall flat.
Cease your caterwaul;
The Lord will judge them all
including Jumping Jehosephat!

Joel 3:11-12

Jehosephat is one of the “mighty ones” wakened for judgement – thus a ghost. The phrase “jumping Jehosephat” goes back, at least, to the 1865 novel Paul Peabody by Percy Bolingbroke St. John where it is: "By the shaking, jumping ghost of Jehosaphat!”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

They’ll Know that It’s Christmas by Our Love

It’s not songs about snowfall,
it’s not Christmas parties,
it’s not songs about Santa,
it’s not gifts on the tree,
it’s not reindeer on the roof,
or snowmen come to life

But they’ll know that it’s Christmas
by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know that it’s Christmas by our love.

If we don’t say “Merry Christmas,”
if we don’t have a tree,
if we don’t hang decorations,
if we don’t go caroling,
if we don’t put up Christmas lights
or go on shopping sprees

They’ll still know that it’s Christmas
by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know that it’s Christmas by our love.

To be sung to the tune of “We Are One in the Spirit” by Peter Scholtes, 1966

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Advent Edition

Here, once again, are some free background images for you to download and use as your very own. This post includes 4 photos that we'll be using around here during the Advent season, but you're free to use them where and how you will.

And - by the way - all of the materials in these photos were borrowed from our thrift store.  After I finished photographing them, I returned them all to the shelves, so if you like the material in the pictures, you can come on by and purchase them and support the Salvation Army in Newton, Iowa (Jasper County)

Advent 1 photo Advent 2_zpsv2nkcyb2.jpg

Advent 2 photo Advent 3_zpsy5dkx5pz.jpg

Advent 3 photo Advent 4_zpsocfvuy18.jpg

Advent 4 photo Advent 1_zps2uqcix3p.jpg

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King - a Sermon for November 22, 2015

The Sunday before the beginning of the Advent season is marked, in the Christian liturgical calendar, as “the feast of Christ the King,” or, more fully, the “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” This festal day is a relatively recent addition to the Christian calendar, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  Pope Pius XI established the Christ the King festival in response to the troubling growth in violent nationalism that led to World War One, the splintering of Europe, and increased polarization and divisiveness along arbitrarily drawn boundary lines and between differing cultural groups as a way to draw Christians together in unity under Christ the King.

I stood at one of our Salvation Army red kettles for several hours Friday and Saturday, not ringing a bell (You know that I hate the bells…) but playing my guitar and singing Christmas songs. (Yes. I know this goes against my long standing personal policy of trying to avoid Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, at least. I also sang folk songs, spirituals, hymns, and other bits of musical doggerel to assuage my private misgivings.) And because my mind was already turned toward thinking about this Christ the King Sunday, as I played my guitar and sang, I began to notice how very often Jesus is referred to as King in these songs.

“Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the new born king” – Angels from the Realms of Glory

“…all our costliest treasures bring, Christ, to thee, our heavenly King” – As With Gladness Men of Old

“Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king” – Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

“Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King,” – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

“Peace on the earth, goodwill to me, from heaven’s all gracious king.” – It Came upon a Midnight Clear

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king” – Joy to the World

“Noel, noel, noel, noel, born is the king of Israel”- The First Noel

-and this list could go on and on quite a bit longer…

The world is dark and troubling. We feel it. We know it. Even if every generation before us has felt like they were living in chaotic times of unparalleled danger, we feel it now because we are experiencing it now. News reports of bombs and gunfights, of terrorists, of explosions and wars and conflicts in nation after nation… it crashes over us and we are afraid. We fear the terrorist. We fear the outbreak of another war. We fear the refugees fleeing from terrorism and warfare in their own countries. The waves of horror and despair crash over us again and again.

And if we pull back from global and international conflicts, our own personal lives are filled with conflicts. We struggle with debts, and sickness, with difficult family members and irritating neighbors. We worry about the kids. We wonder if we will still have a job next week.  The waves of anxiety beat, ceaselessly, ruthlessly upon our souls.

Maybe we would share Prince Hamlet’s words, from his famous soliloquy:

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
(Hamlet III.i)

But most of us aren’t like Prince Hamlet, able to take up arms and put an end our troubles. This sea of trouble with wave after wave of distressing calamity feels unopposable. There’s little to nothing most of us can do about disasters on the global and international scene. And, often times, our own personal struggles seem overwhelming. We are unable to deal with them, unable to grasp their complexities, unable to halt their continual crashing against the shoreline of our hearts.

We are not Prince Hamlet, able take up arms to put an end our sea of troubles. We are more like the legendary Anglo-Saxon King of England, King Canute standing at the shoreline demonstrating his inability to control the elements, trying in vain to stop the tide. When King Canute’s courtiers tried to flatter him, he went to the shore to demonstrate his limitations. He stood at the water’s edge and commanded the waves to stop. Yet "continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: 'Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'" He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again "to the honour of God the almighty King". 

Ocean currents raised, Yahweh,
Ocean currents raised their thunderous roar.
Ocean currents raised their pounding waves.
(Psalm 93: 3 Anchor Bible)

The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
the floods have lifted up their voice,
the floods have lifted up their roaring.
(Psalm 93: 3 NRSV)

The ocean sounds, O Lord,
the ocean sounds its thunder,
the ocean sounds its pounding.
(Psalm 93: 3 JPS)

Read it over and over again to emphasize the repetition, the continual influx of the pounding, crashing waves, the relentless roar of the surf. Even the rocks are eventually worn down by the crash of the waves. We are overwhelmed by trouble–political and private, global and personal. The world feels like it is shaking itself apart. Our own lives feel like they are collapsing into piles of smoking rubble around our ears.

Yet Yahweh has become King, Christ is King, crowned and robed in glory and grandeur, robed in strength. The world stands firm, it cannot be shaken (Psalm 93:1). There is comfort here in the face of conflict. There is security in the face of uncertainty. There is joy in the face of grief and despair.

Psalm 93 is the first of a group of eight “enthronement” psalms – psalms which celebrate the fact that “Yahweh is king” or “Yahweh has become king.”   (93 – 100)

Though we don’t know with any degree of certitude when this psalm was written, it has its roots in the creation myths of the ancient near east. The psalmist sees Yahweh ascending to the throne of the universe after defeating the primeval monsters of chaos. He conquered the ancient serpent, the sea-monster, the dragon in creation and established the ordered world and his chosen people. We find fragmentary glimpses of this ancient mythology scattered throughout the scriptures:

You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
(Psalm 74: 13 – 14 NRSV)

You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
 you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
(Psalm 89: 10 NRSV)

Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the Lord!
Awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago!
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon?
(Isaiah 51:9 NRSV)

The people of Israel celebrated the kingship of their God along with his victory over the primordial forces of chaos, his consolidation of power over the world, and his rule and reign from heaven. (Anchor Bible). Over the chaotic waters, over the whole earth, and above the heavens…

And so we are followers of our God and King-King Jesus – who is not just God and king in one small nation, but king over the universe. We are brothers and sisters with people around the world, part of global community. We will choose love over fear when we hear news of conflicts around the world.

"As a member of an international Movement, the Salvationist will not be a narrow nationalist. Because he belongs to God, he is primarily a citizen of the world." (Chosen to be a Soldier - Order and regulations for Salvation Army Soldiers)

We will choose love over hate because this is the eternal and holy decree of our God and King. We will reject fear and chose hope. We will trust because God is King and the earth stands firm forever under his rule.

“The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If Christ is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new light subjected to his dominion, if this power embraces all me, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truth and to doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments of the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.” – Pope Pius XI

The LORD is King
He is robed in grandeur
the LORD is robed with strength.
The world stands firm
it cannot be shaken.

Your throne stands frim from of old,
from eternity you have existed.

The ocean sounds, Oh LORD,
the ocean sounds its thunder,
the ocean sounds its pounding.

Above the thunder of the mighty waters,
more majestic than the breakers of the sea
is the LORD, majestic on high.

Your decrees are indeed enduring,
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, for all times.

(Psalm 93 JPS)

Under the shadow of thy throne
still may we dwell secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone
and our defense is sure.

Isaac Watts – “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Christmas Red Kettle Playlist

I know. I know. In the past I've made a lot of noise about hating Christmas and have objected (strenuously objected) to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  But this year, I have decided to try to relax a little. I'm going to try (TRY) to find the spirit of the season (even if I have to fake it a bit.)

In that course I have started playing Christmas songs, carols, hymns, and etc. at our Salvation Army Red Kettle. Below is my Christmas Red Kettle Playlist (at least my guitar playlist. I have another range of songs I use when I bring my horn). You may notice that are are some not-so Christmas type songs in there as well. Yeah, well... I like variety too.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Good Christian Men, Rejoice
God Rest You Merry Gentlemen
The Coventry Carol
The Holly and the Ivy
The Friendly Beasts
The First Nowell
Joy to the World
What Child Is This?
While Shepherds Watched their Flocks
A Virgin Unspotted
Once in Royal David’s City
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
As with Gladness Men of Old
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Masters in this Hall
I Saw Three Ships
The Snow Lay on the Ground
Baloo, Lammy
Away in the Manger (2 different melodies)
There’s a Song in the Air
It Came upon the Midnight Clear
O Little Town of Bethlehem
We Three Kings of Orient Are
Jingle Bells
Up on the Housetop
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow
Mary Had a Baby
Go Tell it on the Mountain
Hush, My Babe, Lie Still and Slumber
Il Est Né, le Divin Enfant
What is this Perfume so Appealing?
O Holy Night
Ballad of Jesus
March of the Kings
Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabella
Oh How Joyfully
O Come, Little Children
While By My Sheep (Echo Carol)
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Silent Night
Still, Still, Still
When Christmas Morn is Dawning
Fum, Fum, Fum
Cold December Flies Away
La Jornada
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Come, All Ye Faithful
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
I Wonder as I Wander
Wind through the Olive Trees
Star of the East
Christmas Canon
Dona Nobis Pacem
Melchior and Balthazar
Evergreen (by Switchfoot)
All through the Night
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Silver Bells
Winter Wonderland
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Do You Know the Song that the Angels Sang?
Do You Hear what I Hear?
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Christmas in Prison (by John Prine)
I Believe in Father Christmas (by Emmerson, Lake, and Palmer)
O Sacred King (by Matt Redman)
You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch
Christmas All Over Again (by Tom Petty)
Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis (by Tom Waits)
Fairytale of New York (by The Pogues)
The Cry of the Poor
Canticle of the Turning
Jesus Borned in Bethlea
Wasn’t that a Mighty Day?
Lord of the Dance
Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley
Just a Closer Walk with Thee
My Soul Gives Glory (by Michael Joncas)
Shalom Chaverim
We Are One in the Spirit
Peace Like a River
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Blow the Man Down
E-ri-e Canal
Home on the Range
When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Down in the Valley
Shady Grove
Pay Me My Money Down
Gee, But I Want to Go Home
A Bicycle Built for Two
What Shall We Do with  the Drunken Sailor?
Do, Lord
This Train
Rock-a-My Soul
Take this Hammer
Down By the Riverside
When the Saints Go Marching In
Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill
Skip to My Lou
John B.

Also in my playlist are a few songs that I've written myself:

Soon the Lord Will Come
Slap the Heretic
Lord, Set Our Hearts Aright
How Shall I Rise in Brightness?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Yes or No

Answer “yes,” or say “no,” and be done;
give your response plainly or give none.
You’ll only make folks sore
if you say any more-
more than this comes from the evil one.

Matthew 5: 37 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Haiku – November 18, 2015

November rain
smears and blurs the window
everything fades

When It Rains in November

When it rains in November everything gets smeared.

When It Rains in November by Jeff Carter on

Personal Emotion – The Beginning of Sorrows

1. Somebody Was Angry.

He was a shifty man of Egypt, who was a querulous alienator of fathers, and he began his confession, this confrontation, with a projection of himself into the woes of the universe. “Woe to me and my endocrine system,” he said, but all of the injections were disputed. (Injections of hormones are of little value! Mental aberrations make microwave injections ineffective!) Perhaps the prophet felt intense pressure on his pancreas and other glands.

His coworkers beat him because he was a man of contention, stirring up resentment and radioactive contamination in the soul with cobalt bombs. Yet alien historians and biblical scholars still don’t fully understand the plot to kill him.

It is helpful at this point to catalyze the body, and to mark things, to separate the blood, to break down and to destroy all those innocent substitutes that are symbolically covered with disease and dementia. Inject loneliness into their veins.

2. Somebody wanted something.
Have I not set you breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even set you up rising as a potential potentate? What happens in a nuclear explosion? Surely I will deliver you a dazzling, multicolored light, and the moon will become like blood-very smoggy, even the moon is a ghastly red.
It is this religiously and politically enforced isolation that will eventually rehabilitate the world. Take no account of the confused emotional reaction of the people around you. They are suffering mental aberrations and apathy of the lowest order. Social isolation is a dangerous thing, but it must be done; it is for their own good. You must get away from the noise and demands of the sun and moon. Ignore the cries of distress. There will be physical and mental pain-disregard them. There will be dramatic blood pressure shifts, but you can sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice over them and they will be forgotten.

Remember me seven times on the Golden Throne as you trade rationality for vengeance. Your enthusiastic and vigorously violent rebellions, your revolutions to overthrow and build up will not bear legitimate reproach, fear, or grief. Your sleep patterns, attention and logical and verbal reasoning will be broken. You will begin to experience hallucinations and suffer mental breakdowns. Still, you must bring the blood of the innocent to the battlefield.

When I began my work between the two golden angles there was a radiant word for us – joy – sweet, yes, sweeter than the Shekinah glory. But those sweet words turned bitter, and this manifestation of God’s presence on the earth faded–the sun was obscured from my sight for many days. Use a violent catastrophic shaking, and a sizable volume of fear to keep the separation of sadness firmly in place. Use terror for instance, or grief and dejection. Use nuclear tipped missiles launched from anonymous orbital platforms. The cobalt bomb is directly traceable to immigrant endocrine systems.

You must be cold-blooded in order to be rational.
I have become a persona non grata,
but, by far, the most awful earth shock is yet to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Oh Living Flame of Love (A Prayer )

Oh Living Flame of Love,
Consuming Fire,
leave ash and dust behind;
release me as warmth and light,
as love that cannot be destroyed.

Biblical Limericks: My Days Are Few

My days are few, oh God, so desist;
leave me alone, I cannot resist-
I’ll go down to that gloom
which is my aphotic doom;
let me be and I’ll cease to exist.

Job 10: 20 - 22

Through the Wormhole

“The thing’s hollow-it goes on forever-and-oh my God!-it’s full of stars!
Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Through the Wormhole by Jeff Carter on

Monday, November 16, 2015

At the Laundry

Biblical Limericks: Neither Toenails or Mustache

Mephibosheth was just a bit rash,
went into hiding fearing backlash;
while he was withdrawn there
forgot personal care
and trimmed neither toenails or mustache.

2 Samuel 19: 25

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dastardly Deeds at Yoursin Mine (or Yukon Take It with You)

Our kidlings participated in their school play, Dastardly Deeds at Yoursin Mine, this weekend- Emma as Orphan Number 1 and Dune as Pierre Number 1 (one of four french fur trappers, all named Pierre.) It's a melodrama with bad puns and slapstick humor. The audience was encouraged to cheer for the hero, sigh for the lovely maidens and boo and hiss for the villains. Lots of silliness and lots of fun.

Your Daily Apocalypse

This is your daily apocalypse,
the regularly scheduled end of the world
created by the empty hands of men.
A hanging clock,
a ticking judge
writing in blood
drawn from the veins of a missing cloud.

What failsafe? What protection?
Will you attribute all of this to the mind of God as well?

The lights in the sky over the northwest
are part of the program;
there is no need for your consternation.
Pack up your objections and go home;
we’ll call if we need anything from you.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Chymist

I found another drawing of my friend, Dr. P. L. Tarrec, dressed in the traditional garb of Moroccan alchemists.

Tarrec told me that you could always tell when the other alchemists he encountered while living in the city of Fez had assembled during the night to debate their processes by the smell of sulfur. It was there taught the members of the Brotherhood of Games to make black-powder explosives from fermented urine and there that he learned to calculate the dialectical movement of dark stars.  

Biblical Limericks: Interpretation’s Debated

It is not very often stated,
but Psalm number sixteen’s translated
in all manner of ways,
and to our great dismay,
its interpretation’s debated.

Psalm 16 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

After the Storm

A storm blew through our area this afternoon, sudden and violent. Rain and howling wind.  And then, as abruptly as it began, it was over. The light of the setting sun glittered in the lingering rain drops. All was calm again. Well... almost everything.

After the Storm by Jeff Carter on

Replacement Red (Color Squares)

A while back I worked through a photography project - a series of abstract color squares - one for each of the R O Y G B I V as well as B&W.  But I was never quite happy with the photo for Red (even though that was the one that started the project.)  So I've shot a replacement for it. I'll probably shoot a new White as well at some point.

Replacement Red Square by Jeff Carter on

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Contempt

From this word you will not be exempt,
no matter your rank, do not attempt
to remove it by force
or you’ll suffer, of course:
Do not treat prophecies with contempt.

1 Thessalonians 5:20

Monday, November 9, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Idiomatically

Rendered idiomatically
the “heart” comes from the Hebrew “kidney,”
which causes me to think

he’s had too much to drink 
and the psalmist must get up to pee.

Psalm 16: 7

“I bless Yahweh who is my counselor,
even at night my heart (literally “kidney”) instructs me.” 

(New Jerusalem Bible)

The Sign of the Snail and a Forgetful Angel

It was foolish, perhaps-I had been warned- but I insisted upon climbing the Mountains of P’Kaulee for it is only there that the Sign of the Snail could be observed. Ignoring the premonishments, I set out to scale those mystical peaks.

The P’Kaulee Mountains are, as I was once, young, thrust upward in the relatively recent past, well within the boundary of remembered human history. The primitive people who live in their shadow still tell stories of their birth-an event they credit to the capriciousness of their deity. Their young age can be determined by an examination of their still steep slopes and sharp peaks. They have not yet be weathered and beaten down by time or smoothed and blunted by the relentless wearing of wind and rain.  They have not been eroded by the bitterness of reality or succumbed to the irresistible pull of gravity that drags us all earthward eventually.

Local guides assisted me in gathering the necessary provisions and preparing me for my journey, though they refused to lead me all the way to the summit-only as far as the tree line. From there to the peak, I was alone. I had many harrowing adventures during my trek – I could tell you of encounters with wolves and bears, and other creatures more formidable and less earthly, encounters with faceless night-gaunts and hippo-cephalic birds in lofty eyries screeching through moonless nights. I faced privations and dangers of every kind, but endured them all to reach the top of the fabled P’Kaulee Mountains.

And there in the glowing, misted sky, veiled with clouds, I saw it-the Sign of the Snail-a golden spiral above me, moving slowly through the empty space, its slime trail dissolving into fog behind it. I stood, transfixed, and marveled at its beauty, but I did not understand.

Then I turned my face away and prayed, making my confession saying: “I am weak and low, confused. I am alone, unwanted. How can I understand? How can I accept this that is happening?

While I was speaking and praying, confessing and seeking, an angel from the holy hill was dispatched to me in swift flight. She came to me and said to me, “Oh, you… I have come now to give you wisdom and understanding, for you are greatly beloved.”

“Angel of mercy,” I shuddered, “tell me what is happening here.”

But the angel only wept for, though she was kind and gentle, and wished to comfort me, she was a forgetful angel and could remember nothing that would bring me cheer or understanding.

(Forgetful Angel Paul Klee - 1939, pencil)

A Haiku - November 9, 2015

autumnal glow
is golden after noon
but not very warm

The Glow of November

The glow of November is golden, but not very warm.

The Glow of November by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Paul Klee: Forward and Backward to the Center

This is a short essay that I wrote for my ART 101 (Art History ) class at the Des Moines Area Community College


That the Swiss painter Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) isn’t more widely known and immediately recognized is somewhat shocking considering his vast output of creative work: by the time of his death he had created over 10,000 works in various mediums including: oil paint, water-color, pen and ink drawings, lithographic prints, chalk, and etc. (Baker 169) That Klee remains somewhat obscure is also puzzling when one considers his many and varied links to other popular artists within a variety of modern artistic movements of the early 20th century and his anticipation of styles taken up by artists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His work should be known, and loved, and treasured, not only because of his mastery of a diverse range of styles and techniques, but also because of his restless investigation into the human condition and his preservation of a childlike spirit in spite of human depravity and social crises.

Paul Klee was influenced by the artists before him and by those working around him, yet he never became inextricably linked to any particular style or artistic movement. He developed his own artistic language, borrowing and reinterpreting the styles and methods of many others, but always using them to his own design. The influence of artistic movements such as cubism, fauvism, expressionism, futurism, dada, and surrealism is easily seen in Klee’s vast output of work. He is frequently compared with Picasso, Chagall, and Mondrian, among others, but the comparison is always slight because Klee never duplicated anyone else’s stylings. Even the painting of Wassily Kandinsky, with whom he taught at the Bauhaus art school in Germany, and with whom he founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group of artists, was similar but only in some small way; the differences were notable. (Ponente 16)
And if the influences on Klee’s work were many and varied, so too are the artists that his work has influenced in the years since his death and whose styles he anticipated. One can project the shimmering rectangles of color painted by Mark Rothko from Klee’s The Closet (1940, Colored paste on cardboard), and the thick-lined graffiti style figures of Keith Haring from Klee’s Project (1938, Colored paste on burlap). It can be said that, while there was little in Klee that resembled the “action paintings” of artists like Jackson Pollock, Klee’s theories and explorations set the stage for abstract expressionism. (Ponente 109 -110)

Klee’s work is often described as having a “charming innocence and freshness of outlook,” (Waldberg 52), as a “personal, fairy-tale world of fantasy and invention” (Baker 168).  But to say that his art is “childlike” is to ignore the deep maturity of his work, even in his early years. It is true that there is much whimsy and wonder in the work of Paul Klee, but there is also meditation on the fullness of the human condition, and that includes experiences of pain, and depression, and misery. In addition to his childlike playfulness his work demonstrates a “tendency to pessimism and satire” (Grohmann 11). His work is at times playful and sardonic, romantic and bizarre.

In an essay written in 1920 (while he was serving in the German army during World War I), Klee wrote, “Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible” (quoted in Ponente 56). His painting was more than just a replication of shapes and forms and colors from nature on canvas; it was an attempt to see into the deeper realities of the universe.

Omphalo-Centric Lecture (Paste color on silk and burlap)-created in 1939-the year before his death–is a visual description of this artistic quest; looking inward, looking deeper, looking into the mystery at the center of the universe, what lies before and what lies beyond. It is, quite literally, navel-gazing.

The mysterious figure in Klee’s painting stares out at us, as if inviting us to join the artist in this quest to find the center of all things. She (the figure is vaguely feminine in its curves) cups in her hand a glowing navel, radiating with a sort of divine light – a light from which all knowledge spreads.

For Klee, who suffered in the last years of his life from scleroderma (an autoimmune tissue disorder that causes a thickening and hardening of the skin and of blood vessels and internal organs) the Omphalo (Greek for “navel”) was a symbol of life and death. He dealt continually with images of life as well as images of fear and death in his last years-not just his own personal fears and his own imminent death, but those of the world around him as well.

The Mask of Fear (oil on burlap, 1932) is a painting that describes the mental anguish of the artist and of the world. The oval shaped, somewhat African styled mask has large, round eyes with widely dilated pupils-as if starring, transfixed in horror, at something unseen-over a quirky, thin handlebar mustache. Painted on the eve of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, it’s not difficult to guess what horror that might be. The satirical death mask is supported on two sets of human legs-suggesting that this fear of death is corporate, rather than individual. “The Mask of Fear, then, is a mask of anguish covering the face of Europe, whose myth was again collapsing” (Ponente 97).

In 1933 Klee and his wife fled from Germany, back to his native Switzerland, to escape persecution from the Nazi party. Klee, along with many other modern artists in Germany, was labeled a “degenerate” artists by the Nazis, and accused of being a “Jew” and a “foreigner.” (Grohmann 31) But, he said, “It seems to me unworthy to answer back to such crude taunts. Even if it were true that I am a Jew or that I come from Galicia, this would not change by one iota the value of my personality or my achievement” (Letter dated April 6th, 1933-quoted in Grohman 31).

Despite the horrors of war, the death of close friends, and the pain of his illness, Klee did not consider death to be the end. The epithet on his tombstone (which he composed himself) reads:

I cannot be grasped in the here and now
For I live just as well with the dead
as with the unborn
Somewhat closer to the heart of creation than usual
But far from close enough

And his work continued to demonstrate a combination of mature reflections on pain and sadness, as well as the mystery of wonder and joy in the world. Klee returned again and again to the Opmphalo as a sort of reoccurring image of life and wonder in his work.  In 1932, he painted The Fruit (oil on jute), another example of his quest to find the mystic center. In that work, a spiraling cord–an umbilical cord–leads us forward and backward, curving through space and time, to find the intense white light at the center of a dark piece of fruit– the seed, the embryo from which all will grow.

In 1936, he painted the cheerful landscape Southern Gardens (Oil on paper). Klee painted few works that year because of the debilitating pain of his illness, yet despite his sickness, this work is filled with a joyous light and warmth. It depicts a serene Mediterranean landscape–a garden. And, again, in the center of this garden is the Omphalo. The Garden becomes then, not just any garden, but the mythic and mystic Garden of Eden where men and women walked with God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8)-close to the heart of creation.

It is this combination of pessimism and satire with charming innocence and whimsy, of the realities of pain with the joy of existence that draws me into the artwork of Paul Klee and makes me wish that more people were familiar with his work.  “I don’t want to render man as he is” said Klee in one of his lectures, “but as he might be” (January 26, 1924, quoted in Poente 14).  Through the artistic work of Paul Klee it is possible to discover the fullness of the human experience and to search for the greater mysteries-to become more than we are.

Baker, Samm Sinclair, and Natalie Baker. Introduction to Art: A Guide to the Understanding and
Enjoyment of Great Masterpieces. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated. 1971.

Grohmann, Will. Paul Klee: Masters of Art. Trans. Norbert Guterman. New York:
 Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated. 1985.

Ponente, Nello. Klee: Biographical and Critical Study. Trans. James Emmons. Skira.  1960.

Waldberg, Patrick. Surrealism. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. Skira. 1962.

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - Week 46

Here it is again, just for you, or someone like you, a free background image to use in any and all of your home, work, school, church projects. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others you found it here.

 photo Week 46_zpsp7vyjhx6.jpg

No More Poor Sermons about the Poor Widow Woman

This passage is probably familiar to us; we’ve heard it preached in countless sermons, read it in numerous devotionals, and faith-based fundraising appeals. We’ve heard, over and over again, the repeated panegyrics for this poor widow woman who gave and gave and gave some more. The church has venerated her and her sacrificial giving and held her up as an example for us to emulate in our daily lives. Yet, for all its oft repeated familiarity, I have rarely heard the passage preached or taught correctly from its context.

Contrary to much of what we have heard over the years, the import of this passage is not in praise for her sacrificial giving (though that is a laudable virtue for the person of faith and those who deny themselves in order to give sacrificially should be commended) but in a stern condemnation of those religious leaders who value the established power system (and their place within it) over the care and protection of those they have been called to serve.

So this morning, let’s do what has been neglected; let’s begin by looking at the larger context of that poor widow’s story. Jesus is teaching within the temple courts (Mark 12: 35). We spoke a bit during last week’s sermon (Hebrews 9: 11 – 14) about the great importance the Temple in Jerusalem held for the followers of Judaism. The temple was important and because it was so important it was also very divisive.

There were some who believed that the temple was so singular and so holy because it had been built by God with his own two hands.[i] Others, like the Christian martyr, Stephen, flatly rejected this and said that God did not dwell in “a house that human hands have built… ‘What house will you build for me, says the Lord, what place for me to rest?’” (Acts 7: 47 – 50 NJB). The Essenes (who may or may not be responsible for the writings known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, found at Qumran) went so far as to pull themselves away from the rest of Judaism because they believed that the priesthood had become corrupt, and that the Temple had been defiled. They separated themselves away from Jerusalem, and set themselves to living by a high standard of ritual purity while they waited for the One who would set things right.

The temple was the center of Judaism’s ritual, even for those who separated themselves from the rest of their fellow believers. They did so because they believed the temple to be of the highest importance. Jesus arrives in the temple at the end of chapter 11 (11: 27) and he stays there through all of chapter 12, teaching and telling parables, and irritating the elites among the various religious groups. When Jesus and his disciples finally leave the temple, at the beginning of chapter 13, they comment to him, “Master, look at the size of those stones! Look at the size of those buildings!” (13: 1 NJB) at which point Jesus launches into a fierce denunciation of the temple and a prediction of its imminent destruction.

“You see these great buildings? Not a single stone will be left one on another; everything will be pulled down.” (Mark 13:2 NJB)

Now keep in mind that it was the perceived disloyalty against the Temple in Jerusalem that got the prophet Jeremiah in so much trouble. In Jeremiah 26 the prophet preached a sermon on the Temple steps, wherein he prophesied its destruction if the people would not repent. For this the priests and the prophets and all the people grabbed him and said, “You shall die!” (Jeremiah 26: 8).  They brought the prophet of God up on charges of disloyalty before the princes and said, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this house and this city.” (26: 11)

Mark chapter 12 is also full of Jesus’ confrontations with the various Jewish groups; he squares off against the chief priests and scribes and elders (11: 27), the Pharisees and the Herodians (an odd partnership if there ever was one) (12: 13-17), the Sadducees (18 – 27) and the scribes (28 – 44). He speaks roughly to them, chiding them, correcting them – disrespecting them, even… at least, that’s how they certainly perceived his words.

So we find the story of our beloved widow, she of such great generosity and sacrificial giving, within a broader context of condemnation of the religious rulers and of the temple complex. We must read this story, not as a praise of this poor widow woman (though she is to be praised) but as a condemnation of those who would value the power that they wield and the respect they feel they deserve within the religious system over people under their influence.

Our reading this morning begins with Jesus’ ominous words, “Beware of the scribes…” (Mark 12: 38 NJB)

The scribes were those who knew how to read and write – something we sort of take for granted these days, but was a highly prized but not ubiquitous skill in those days.  Intellectuals from the Jerusalem aristocracy and professional scribes, as well as those Pharisees who came from the town ‘bourgeoisie’ would have been able to read, but peasants in the villages didn’t enjoy that same luxury – and women were rarely given the opportunity to learn (Meier “Roots of the Problem” 275). Originally the scribes were those royal officials tasked with recording the events and histories of the royal court but beginning with “Ezra, who established postexilic Judaism upon the Law” (Lohse 115) they eventually they became not only those who could read and write the scriptures, but were charged with preserving tradition as well as interpreting and teaching the scriptures and traditions to others. And because the torah covered every aspect of Jewish life, they decided both theological and legal questions. They had a place of respect among the Jewish community as befitted their lofty calling: they were called, “wise men, teachers of the Law, and masters,” (Lohse 116) as well as Rabbi (teacher).

The professional scribe is praised in the deuterocanonical book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) (39: 1- 11) written about 200 years before the time of Jesus:

“He will grow upright in purpose and learning,
he will ponder the Lord’s hidden mysteries.
He will display the instruction he has received,
taking pride in the Law of the Lord’s covenant.
Many will praise his intelligence
and it will never be forgotten.
His memory will not disappear,
generation after generation his name will live.
Nations will proclaim his wisdom,
the assembly will celebrate his praises.
If he lives long, his name will be more glorious than a thousand others,
and if he dies that will satisfy him just as well.”
(Ecclesiasticus 39: 7 – 11 NJB)

That’s pretty high praise for the office of the scribe, but instead of treating them with the dignified respect, and adulation the scribes seem to have come to expect, Jesus says to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes[ii], who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12: 28 – 40)

Jesus did not give them a deferential greeting; he did not recognize their dignity. Instead he criticized them for valuing their position of prestige in the community and the service of the temple in Jerusalem, at the expense of the poorest in the community.

The Law, which these scribes purported to value, said: “There must, then, be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4 NJB). The torah of God placed firm obligations on them to care for the poor and the helpless, the orphans and the widows.  This was the important thing – to love God and to love others – to love God by loving others.

But these religious leaders had come to value their power, their prestige, their honor, their dignity, their authority over the care of the poor. Instead of caring for the poor, they “devoured widow’s houses” and drove people, like our “poor widow” to give their last two copper pennies to the care and maintenance of the symbol of their religious authority.  She gave, out of her poverty, she gave the last little bit of what she had to maintain their glorious prestige – because they had convinced her that it was her religious obligation to do so. They ignored the law that said, “There should be no poor among you,” and used guilt and religious fear to sustain themselves and the exploitative temple complex at the expense of the poor. They devoured the poor.

While the poor widow who gave her last mite might be laudable for her sacrificial giving, those who maintained a system to exploit her mite are mightily condemned. Woe to those who value the system over the message, and their place within the power structure over justice.

Lohse, Eduard. (Translated by John E. Steely) The New Testament Environment, Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press. 1976.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew Vol.1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, New York, NY, Doubleday, 1991.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew Vol. 3: Companions and Competitors, New York, NY, Doubleday, 2001.

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

"Scribes." Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Web.

[i] If we may take Mekilta Shirata 10. 29 – 42 as helpful even if it was written much later.

[ii] We should keep in mind, however, that the Scribes were not a “homogenous religious group with a united theological agenda,” and that it is unlikely, despite their characterization in the synoptic gospels, that they presented “a united front against Jesus” (Meier “Companions and Competitors” 560).

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Biblical Limericks: Liars

Those who are honest will rise higher,
be praised in song by heaven’s choir-
but there’s nothing but woe
for deceivers, you know,
the Lord hates the lips of a liar.

Proverbs 12:22

A Book of Deeds

This is the Book of Deeds (not words) of 7-Tobit son of 6-Tobiel son of 5-Hannniel son of 4-Aduel son of 3-Gabael son of 2-Raphael son of 1-Raguel-who, though he was no angel, was still a friend of God-from the clan of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali who, in the days of King Shalmaneser V (or maybe Sargon II), was taken captive from Thisbe (not Pyramus-which was on the other side of that crannied wall) which is South (that is, ‘from the right of’) Kedesh-Naphtali in Upper Galilee, and Northwest (that is,‘behind the road of the sun’s far setting’) of Hazor, and North (which is, ‘from the left of’) Phogar where the Aurochs and Unicorns grazed and which is now known as Tel el Farawy.

This Book of Deeds (not merely words) was written in indefinite, indeterminate times, from an undisclosed location: Palestine? The Diaspora? From the shadows of the undamaged Elephantine Temple in Egypt? From the slopes of Elburz, the watch-guard mountains near the Caspian Sea? Who could say? Perhaps it comes from the dreamland realms of unknown Kadath. I, Tobit, begin this tale of adventure, this folkloric fiction of dubious historical accuracy in the first person. If, at some point, I should switch to a Third Person Omniscient Narrator, well….

I have walked the paths of righteousness all my days, performing charitable deeds of kindness for my kindred and my kin, those deported with me to Nineveh in Assyria, the Fish House where wayward anti-prophets are carried by courier fish.

When I was still young and still at home in Israel, my entire tribe deserted the House of David…and Jerusalem, where the Temple of the Dwelling of God on earth had been consecrated, to make blood sacrifices to the golden calves of Jeroboam, to the Heifer of Ba’al, to the Sun, the Moon, and all the Starry Hosts, in Dan and on all the misted mountains of Galilee. Only I alone (and infrequently some members of my family) would walk the paths of righteousness to Jerusalem for the prescribed festivals, and to pay the tithes of cattle, sheep and shearings, of grain and wine, oil and pomegranates, to the Priests, and Levites, and to the Orphans, and Widows, and Converts. 

I did all this according to the Law of Moses (who came down from Mount Horeb with the stone tablets of the law) and the Instruction of Deborah (my buzzing grandmother, who raised me when I was left an orphan). When I became a man, I married a woman-flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and of my own clan. We had a son: Tobiah. What a lucky man I was.

When the exile occurred, I was exiled and taken to the Fish House, home of tyrants and despots, to Nineveh. All my relatives and race ate not heaven’s bread but heathen bread. But I scrupulously avoided it. Let Queen Esther boast about eating the dainties of the King’s cuisine and trying to avoid gentile food; Daniel and Judith and I were careful to keep the observance of kashrut and so, kept our souls.

I remembered God (for remembering is our religious duty) and the Most High-blessed be He-remembered me; he granted me favor and good standing with Shalmaneser V. (Or was it Sargon II?) I was his purveyor, surveyor, buyer, supplier, until the day that he died. I walked the paths and roads to Media which is between Mesopotamia and Kavir-e Nama (The Salt Marshes of Salt) to buy all necessary and many extravagant things for him there in the City of Rhages-where Arphaxad was killed (at least that is what Judith told me…)

While there, I deposited 10 talents of silver with Gabael-the brother (or son-their relationship was odd; I could never understand them) of Gabri.  10 talents of silver may sound like a substantial amount for an average man like myself, and perhaps it was, but remember the 10,000 talents of silver that Hangman Haman offered to Xerxes as a bribe.

But when Shalmaneser V died and his son, Sennacherib (or was it Sargon II? I get all of my anachronisms mixed up.  Maybe it was Enemessarus…) succeeded him the roads and paths to Media were barred-unsafe, with trouble and revolt in Elam and Media. I could not travel there.

During the reign of Shalmeneser V I performed many acts of charity for my brothers and my sisters, giving my food to the hungry and my clothes to the naked-just as the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel instruct. And if I saw one of my people dead and tossed outside the walls of Nineveh, into the garbage dump, I buried them. –Or was it Calah? It wasn’t until later that Sennacherib moved the capital from Calah to Nineveh… Wherever, burying the dead takes precedent over all, over studying the torah, over circumcising your son, over preparing the paschal lamb. Even condemned criminals and enemies killed in battle are to be honored with a rightful burial. Hygiene and charity go hand in hand here. As Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki will one day say, “The kindness that a man shows the dead is the kindness of truth, for the doer has no hope of a reward from the corpse.” 

It was then that one of the men of Nineveh, a stinking, slinking pettifogger, a low man of high rank, went and informed the king about me, that I was burying the dead, giving them reason to be grateful. And the king was wroth with wrath. Secret police and mercenaries were dispatched with warrant for my arrest and or execution-whichever was easier. So I fled from home in fear to hide in forgotten caves. My property was confiscated; nothing was left to me but my wife and son. And them I could not see, or risk their lives as well.

Continued in:
Flightless Birds and Conspiratorial Attacks in the Night
Then I wished to Die

Airline to the Stars

I went out the other night to take photos of the stars - and airplanes, apparently...

Airline to the Stars by Jeff Carter on

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sunset (Light and Shadow)

The sun sets on the good and on the evil,
it rains on everyone
there is light
there is shadow

Sunset (Light and Shadow) by Jeff Carter on

A Limerick for Ben Carson

Ben Carson, the man, is not timid
and his speeches, they are not tumid,
but his biblical creed
is outrageous, indeed,
as are his thoughts on the pyramid.

Ben Carson Defends His Views on Egyptian Pyramids

Biblical Limericks: Beware!

Beware of those leaders who expect
that you always greet them with respect-
they preserve traditions,
but hide their ambitions
while the weak and the poor they neglect.

Mark 12: 38 - 40

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Trees of Fire

I used a simple, homemade bubble-wrap filter and a bit of motion to set an oak tree on fire this afternoon.

Trees of Fire by Jeff Carter on

No Predestination / Threshold of Experience – A Dream

Late last night I awoke from a dream that, in my not fully conscious state, felt philosophically and theologically significant. It seemed important, and worth remembering. Not trusting my awakened mind to remember what my sleeping mind had created, I slipped out from beneath the covers and, in the darkness, found a scrap of paper and a pencil to record something of the dream before it dissipated back into the ethereal void from which it came. Then, having written a brief note to remind myself of the dream, I went back to bed and slept till morning. 

But now, even with the note in front of me, I can remember only a fraction of the dream, and what I can recall does not seem to be the weightiest, profoundest portion of the vision.

What I can remember is of flying to Mongolia to look at horses. I remember there being a moment of instantaneous and tremendous fear as the airplane disappeared around me, along with the other passengers and crew, and I was left hurtling through the air above the mountains and rivers unprotected in the shrieking wind. Then I was in the airport with people staring at me, clucking their tongues and wagging their heads in disapproval; apparently I had urinated in my fear of flying through the air alone and unprotected. My pants were wet and stained. I rushed for a restroom to hide.

The note I left for myself is unhelpful in interpreting this dream or the significance it seemed to have. My handwriting is, even under the best circumstances, both crimped and unruly, my slumbering handwriting is even worse. After a moment of difficulty I was able to decipher my runic scrawl:

 “no predestination 
threshold of experience”

There was something, I think, in the dream of free will and disappearing choices and options, but it has all evaporated with the dawn.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stars and Light Trails (Nov.3, 2015)

Stars and Trails (Nov. 3, 2015 ) by Jeff Carter on 500px.comI went out to photograph the sky tonight. There was a chance that the Northern Lights would be visible even here in Iowa, but I did not see them while I was out. No worries, I saw a few shooting stars and took some decent pictures. A truck drove by as I took this one.

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
reviews: 2
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.33)

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