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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Oh, God! But Love Is Hard

Election season may be either an unfortunate or perfect time to preach from Paul’s “hymn to Love” (1 Corinthians 13). Perfect because it is timely and appropriate and vital for us to let its message transform us, unfortunate in that I doubt that we (as the larger body of Christians in America) will be willing or able to hear it in these divisive and polarized times. Where Paul would describe for us unfailing, unselfish love, love that trusts, love without rancor, we are daily bombarded on the radio, the television, in the mail and on the internet by messages of sour spite and acrimony. We are told to be fearful. We are urged on in our agitation. We are riled up on all sides and love seems lost.

There is no allowance for dialogue or civil debate; the volume and the hyperbole have been ratcheted up to eleven, the temperature of the rhetoric rheostat is cranked all the way up. Our political opponents are not concerned citizens who care about the country, but are consistently characterized as malicious and intent upon perfidy and evil. Demonization and damnation are the modus operandi of the day. We do not love. Love–real love, the kind described by Paul in today’s reading- in this highly charged and radically polarized election season, is a liability, a hindrance.

We may speak of love for God, and love for country but if we are not patiently, unselfishly loving each other, we do not know anything of real love. We may make a lot of noise about our holy faith, and wave the banner of our rigorously perfected doctrine, but if there is no love, it’s pointless; it’s a victory march around an empty square.[i] Catholic social activist, Dorothy Day is quoted as saying, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love least.”[ii] If we took that as our measure, how much could we say we love God?

This chapter (not really a singable hymn with metered lines and stanzas, but capturing something like a hymn in its beauty) is part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christian community in the city of Corinth. Paul had spent about a year and a half in that city (Acts 18:11), preaching and ministering to the people there. And though we have it described as the “First Epistle to the Corinthians,” it is actually Paul’s second letter to that church; the first has not been preserved for us.[iii]

From this epistle we can gather that the Christian church in Corinth was a fractured church; recoiling from sexual sins, squabbling in court as they sued one another for grievances and divided along party lines. Some of them rallied behind the teaching of Paul, others to the words of Apollos or Peter (1 Corinthians 1:11–12). The body of Christ (to return to Paul’s extended analogy from last week’s reading (1 Corinthians 12:12–31)) was cutting itself into pieces, bleeding and dying.

This chapter, this “hymn to Love” was written, not as an evangelistic tract to draw outsiders into the church or to convince unbelievers of the goodness of God’s love for and in us. Neither was it written to be read, as it often is today, as an all but obligatory part of wedding services (though the apostle did address the sanctity of marriage in his letter to the Corinthians…). This beautiful passage, this powerful text was written to challenge and to correct the dysfunctional behavior of the Christians in Corinth who were failing in nearly every way to live as “God’s holy people” (1 Corinthians 1:2). 

And though the letter was not written specifically or directly to us, we need to read it in the same way today – as a challenge, as a provocation. We should take it as a dare.

What good is it to anyone if I have a mellifluous tongue and can fluently speak in German, and French, and Spanish, Latin and Greek and Hebrew? What good is to you or to me if I can speak in the ethereal tongue of angels if I do not love? What good are political speeches or Sunday sermons or classroom lectures if the people giving them are not filled with love? All our beautiful words, all our polished deliveries, all our media perfected sound bites are nothing more than booming gongs or crashing, clashing cymbals. Mere noise, cacophony – which is, literally, a shitty sound[iv].

What good are the spiritual gifts-prophecy, knowledge, faith, leadership, healing, evangelism, and the like- if I don’t use them in love? They are worse than useless; they become dangerous weapons aimed against my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Who cares if “I dole out all my property and hand over my body in order that I may boast (Orr 289)”? If I don’t have love, this doesn’t benefit me in anyway. It’s a fruitless, useless exercise. It’s hollow piety. It’s glitter and no gold.

We’ve probably heard the cliché: “Love is a verb,” so often that we nod our assent without thinking too much about it. But in the next several statements, Paul describes the dynamic quality of Love with a series of active verbs (Craig 172). Pal describes not what love is but what love does. Many translations may read “Love is patient” but translations like the King James Version provide a better rendering, even with the slightly archaic wording: “Charity suffereth long” (1 Corinthians 13:4 KJV).  The word of God is active and alive (Hebrews 4:12) and so is love. Love is action. Love endures. Love suffers. Love envies not. Love makes no self-aggrandizing boasts.

Love does not keep a storehouse of offense, storing up grievances, hoarding them like some sort of misanthropic miser. Love does not cherish resentment, burning it like fuel to warm a frozen heart. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, squealing with glee when its opponent is caught in some misdeed. There is no room for schadenfreude in love.[v]

Love is extravagant. Love is magnanimous. Love is gratuitous.[vi] “Love is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes” (1 Corinthians 13: 7 NJB).  Oh, that word “always.” It’s a killer. Always! Always ready to make allowances! Always ready to trust! Always ready to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love bears all things, covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Love is always ready to believe the best. Love hopes and keeps right on hoping for the best. We may, on our good days, be willing to make allowance for a friend who annoys, who bothers, who offends. But always? Always ready to believe the best of someone? Oh, God! but love is hard.

And love never comes to an end. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8 KJV). There is no expiration date, no shelf life, no half-life. Love never ends. Love never ends. Love never, never ends. Buildings will crumble, mountains will tumble into the sea. All of the bright shining stars of the universe will eventually burn out but love never fails. All the things that we value, and in which we put our trust will fail, run out, or be brought to an end – everything that is, except love. Perfect love.

This is our challenge. This is the dare. Do we love? It’s easy enough (sometimes) to love kin and kith, to love our family and our friends – though even there is often a challenge as well. The bonds of blood can bind us tight to our family so that we love them with a love that approaches this perfect agape love. Shared experiences and values can foster a sense of love for those of our party, our denomination, our tribe. But do we dare push our love even further?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43–48 NRSV)

The standard of our identification as Christians, the one true test of our religious devotion and the scrupulousness of our faith is not in the use of our spiritual gifts, or the perfection of our doctrine. The flawlessness of our faith is not proven in our strict adherence to a meticulously refined dogma. Our faith is demonstrated by our perfect love for one another.

After washing the feet of his disciples and speaking of his imminent death, Jesus gave his followers a new commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34–35 NRSV)

How will the world recognize us as faithful followers of our Lord and Master? By our demonization of the members of the opposing political party? By our denigration of those who don’t hold to the same interpretation of the scripture? By our hostility? By our combative attitudes?  Is that what he said?

No.  We are to be known-as we are known-by our perfect and perfecting love, by our unselfish, sacrificial love for one another, even for those we may not like very much. This letter may not have been written specifically or directly to us, but we need to read it in the same way today – as a challenge, as a provocation. We need to take it as a dare. We need to let it propel us forward into dangerous new territory.

We need to ask the question: If “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love least,” how much do I love God? Do I love?

Graig, Clarence Tucker. “Exegesis: The First Epistle to the Corinthians” The Interpreter’s Bible Vol. X. Nashville, TN. Abingdon, 1953.

Orr, William F. and James Arthur Walther. I Corinthians: Anchor Bible Vol. 32. Garden City, NY. Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1976.

[i] And, as Leonard Cohen said, “Love is not a victory march.”

[ii] Whether she actually said it / wrote it, I don’t know. I can’t find the quote sourced, but it certainly sounds like something she would have said. 

[iii] In 5:9 Paul refers to his previous letter.

[vi] See the writings of Peruvian liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutiérrez.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pattern Recognition

pattern regognition by Jeff Carter on

Biblical Limericks: Fun House Mirror

I can’t make the world any clearer,
all that I try just makes it queerer;
it’s all imperfection,
distorted reflection
that we see in a fun house mirror.

1 Corinthians 13: 12

Friday, January 29, 2016

We Must Cease To Be What We Are if We Are To Become Ourselves

It was, and I remember this very clearly, a full moon that night. I remember because the Leader of the Right Government™ was giving his weekly compulsory address: “…a glorious page of a story, the likes of which have never been written before. New great victories are expected within a week, miracles or the fault is yours…”

I was following up on reports of U-boats in the waters just off the northern shore, signaling to occulted agents hiding in nearby villages. I hid on the beach, dressed in heavy layers of wool and leaves to disguise my shape, listening to the roar of the waves on the beach echoing the roar of applause for the Leader’s words.  “...I have striven, therefore, from the beginning of everything, to conduct my war wherever possible, offensively…”

‘Easy enough to do,’ I thought, ‘when all wars are offensive.’ The radio commentator said there was a full crowd in Reeps Hall to hear the Leader speak with his dead tongue-there was always a full crowd for the Leader’s compulsory speeches-a full crowd twisting and writhing, enthralled as he droned on and on about “…our moral imperative, the divine duty to destroy those who seek to destroy us.” The crowd rose to their feet, stamping, and cheering, shouting their approval.

And on the beach the waves crashed and crashed and crashed and crashed again. Out there, somewhere, in the dark, a U-boat lurked. Maybe. I was cold and alone, watching for the signal and charting the course of five visible planets through the sky. I marked the path of the wandering stars, but saw no sign of U-boats in the water. Perhaps they were nothing more than false leads and pseudohistory planted by British intelligence officers, deliberate disinformation left by the BBC like a corpse floating in the cold, cold sea.

The Leader continued to harangue the assembled congregation, describing for them a Manichean world in which we are (inevitably, indubitably) the (unquestionable) force of good arrayed against the armies of multiplied darkness. The Leader spoke of fire and laughter, of a black hole of leadership and of magic words: “Assorabrab.”

“…now, people, arise and storms burst forth! Now lightning! Now fire. Now laughter and pain! The dwindling stars of victory burn in our heaven; it is the will of the heroic. It is our destiny. Wars like ours are finally decided with a bold throw of the dice. Let no moment pass without making a pass. Let no moment pass with false passports. We have started this conflagration; we set the world afire in order to prove our greatness…”

I saw incendiary devices fall on the zoo when the city was bombed last week. I watched zebras screaming as they burned to death, trapped under fiery rubble. I watched gorillas wrenching open the twisted bars of their cages to escape. They ran howling, and screaming through the streets indistinguishable from running and screaming citizens.  

Oh God! We must cease to be what we are if we are to become ourselves.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Glass Darkly (Self Portrait)

Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can only know imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known." (1 Corinthians 13:12 - New Jerusalem Bible)

A Glass Darkly (Self Portrait) by Jeff Carter on

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Abstract Landscape

Staring out at the horizon, everything gets a little weird around the edges...

Abstract Landscape by Jeff Carter on

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Return of the Glowing Bubbles

I posted another of these yesterday.

Glowing Bubbles 2 by Jeff Carter on

The Bad Dreams of Australopithecus robustus

All at once I was bounded in a nutshell and everything around me became unreal, subsumed into the dream. I saw the sky tormented with inflamed skulls and flaming jaws, floating above the day care centers of America. Later, during the police investigation of the events that followed, 60-70 lbs. of dentures, molars, bicuspids, and incisors were found in a pit in back of the center, under the playground.

And now we have a second chance to find the radicals, to dig them out of their underground bunkers. This one of the most exciting and most extravagant claims we have ever made. If there are doubts you can ask about us at the now defunct National Geographical Tabloid. They know. At the microscopic level it is contiguous (or perhaps that should be: contagious.)

Zinjanthropus boisei–now-Paranthropus boisoei was nicknamed “the Nutcracker Man,” my dear boy. It’s not a mystery why the Leader speaks of them as he does, when he describes the behavior of liberals, with their horrifying wandering across a deserted urban landscape with little emotion. Like zombies. Like serial-stumblers.

Shut up and the keep secrets that you’ve been given. Tell me, why are you here? Is it to establish human relationships with an adult? With any human adult? The turning tide is rising higher and higher. Modern apes are pulsating, tingling with excitement and horror. Why should they be surprised by Right Government™ bureaucracy? What is necessary is more programs, more reports. Now is the time for even more paperwork and statistical analysis.

We will have a common sense-victory within six months. Or six years. Or 60, small brains and emotional imbalance, notwithstanding. These animals have no idea what damage they are doing. No wonder they are strangers to one another, and a nightmare for so many. Suddenly angry and loud.

Australopithecus robustus is the posterchild of the American Dream of poor children in orphanages. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Glowing Bubbles

I've used this trick before (here and here) but I like to think that my photographic skills have improved in the intervening time. It's oil and water in a glass pan with a glossy colored magazine underneath for color, shot with a macro attachment. Simple, really.

Glowing Bubbles by Jeff Carter on

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Biblical Limericks: Appendectomy

Take Paul’s extended analogy
of the Church-Christ’s mystical body,
he calls us to be one-
but not to be undone
I’d give us an appendectomy.

1 Corinthians 12: 12 - 31

Dr. Tarrec’s Free Weekly Horoscope #33

Aries – Ideas do not disappear from view, even when suffocated. There are fractured minds still sitting at home.

Taurus – Time is against us, always. Fleeing. And the weather will still be bad. Are you ready? Are we? Go without me. No. Wait…

Gemini – The negotiated release of a man from the working-class is smart. Be strong for what comes next.  You are acting without the help or knowledge of anyone else. (But the FBI has been contacted.)

Cancer – The prayer and intercession of Saint Géneviève will not be enough. Consider it a matter of honest elevation, sophisticated motion.

Leo – Power is a myth, a lie that you tell yourself. You won’t be able to hold it. Time is wound tight these days; confess while there is still a chance.

Virgo – The captured service-men are being held, but not for the invasion. Find your way down to Graffiti Street.

Libra – If you will not reexamine your methods then, by all means, continue to beat them about head, but stop asking why they won’t love you.

Scorpio – An improvisational government – everything we have is gone when the signal drops. Exit through the sewer or the gift shop - it amounts to the same.

Sagittarius – Twenty minutes ago, and this is all wrong. Too much stress on your heart. This is another implausible episode in a series of fictions.

Capricorn – There is an agenda, a message, but is only beginning. We have a job to do. Keep focus. Continue counting. Play nice or pretend.

Aquarius – There are sharks on television; have you seen them? Or is there a time delay to Ohio?

Pisces – If you fumble the chairs, if you fumble the spelling of important words, you can expect a visit from the authorities. I need more coffee. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Our Great Dane (Psyche) is an old lady. She enjoys her rest.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Jeff Carter on

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January 19 (Winter in Iowa)

January 19 (Winter in Iowa) by Jeff Carter on

It's snowing again today.

The Leader's Secret Speech

On the evening of January 17th the Leader of the Right Government™ gave a secret address to the high officials of the State Political Militia and Politzie forces. The next day we were at war with our neighbors. Here, for the first time, is a transcript of that secret speech. It is, unfortunately, only a partial transcript. The recording device smuggled into the theatre where the Leader spoke by members of the Knife was disrupted for several minutes of the 28 minute address. Apart from the 3 sentence summary of the speech given by Herman Sisemen, Minister of Right Propaganda for the Right Government™ in a radio broadcast, this transcript is our only documentation of the Leader’s words:

[…] are like fish swimming in dirty water. We are the new barbarians.  […Unintelligible due to the cheering crowd…] We are the searching fire distributed in all directions. We are the enigma and the clue. We are the sign.

Our policy is and always shall be to strike first and to strike hard, with no mercy, sir! […Cheers…] So I … So I ask you, I ask you tonight, what are actions are we taking? What are we doing here? What are we doing to rule the world? What direct motions are being calculated to bring about the collapse of socialist thinking? Are we feeding our bitterness? Are we stoking its fire?

We will have our war.  We will have this war. We will provide whatever instigation is necessary to provoke our enemies. We will create the proper propaganda pretext to support it. This is our fate, fate up against our wills. Cancel it? No. It is the killing time and we will not be denied. The machine gun, caliber .30 M2019A4 is a recoil operated, corn fed thing of beauty, air cooled for maximum refreshment.

You must put away objectivity; it is nothing but an objectionable hindrance. Put away objectivity; push it away! Our shared illusions make us strong. Use them for we live in a dream. And put away all pity. Put it down! Brutality! Strength is our passion and it is our poison. Leap into the darkness. Leap into the abyss with me.

[…] abnormal nervous frenzy […] mother of […] the players. They have been tried and found wanting. The writing is seen on the wall.  This is the feast of Belshazzar! Feast! Eat! Devour! 

It is time to begin repaying fire with fire, and bombs for bombs. Now is the time to put out an eye! The only one speaking of love today is the so-called “Preacher,” a despicable individual, guilty of stirring up agitation and unrest. He and his group of social outsiders are, even now, being rounded up by our Politzie forces. We will hunt him down; we will kill him. Our Sternodogs are on the scent, and they never give up. You can expect to find a corpse in a hearse. Yes? Yes! A corpse! A corpse!

And for this, the world, and the liberal press, and The Hague, they call me an aggressor. They call me a jingoist. They call me “warmonger.” […Boos and hisses…] it?  Why should I deny it? No, in fact, I embrace it. I welcome their epithets. We are not musicians, with soft hands and smart mouths. We are criminals […Cheers…] Right? We are criminals. We are liars! […Cheers…] Yes. I know. We are desperate men. But I know this as well, I know that I am not alone. I know your anger. I know your dreams. I am the amplifier of your will. […Cheers…] am the drum upon which the mallet of fate is beating out a military cadence, a martial tattoo.

[…There is a 3 minute 43 second gap in the recording at this point…]

[…Th]ey say that the devil is loose upon this world. Yes! That is what they say. And […] and what I say is: Call the authorities. Call the authorities if you think that will help. There will be no keeping of secrets on this mountain. We will know what you have done and who you have called. So, yes! The Devil is loose upon the world. And the devil is me […cheers…] I am the […] darkening your door, even if it is a door of redoubtable Pittsburg steel. I am the inside man! And I will give you such a buffeting. Behold! Behold! A stranger is in your midst to destroy you.

And during the few passing moments that we have left, I want to have an off-the-cuff chat between you and me—us. I want to talk right down to you in a language that you can easily understand. Simple, unadorned language, but with vivid words. I do not care one straw for popularity, except that you love me. We have been plagued and cursed, vilified and demonized, but you love me.  If you live-you love me. And if you should die-you will have loved me. You love me because I have led you. I have never, never, not once have I flinched from this heavy responsibility.  And in these few years that we have had together, I have led you to great heights. So do not ask me what I can do for you. The only thing you should fear is me.

Thank you. Good night.  [...] you!


Biblical Limericks: Nehemiah’s Agitation

To Nehemiah’s agitation
the people of his Jewish nation
were committing a sin
participating in
acts of racial miscegenation.

Nehemiah 13: 23 - 27

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Joy of Messianic Wine

While we in The Salvation Army believe in the inspiration of Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and they alone are “the divine rule for Christian faith and practice,” not every story is given equal weight and value in our practice. The story in today’s lectionary text of Jesus at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1 – 11) is one that has the potential to be swept under the rug a little bit within our denomination.

You see, The Salvation Army is a non-sacramental and tee-totaling denomination; we don’t practice communion and we don’t drink alcohol. We don’t believe that the sacrament of communion is wrong–not at all. But, like the Society of Friends (the Quakers), we don’t believe it necessary to our salvation. And neither do we believe that alcohol is evil in and of itself, but so much of our work is with people whose lives have been ruined by an addiction to alcohol that we have chosen to live our lives in solidarity with them by not drinking.

As a young Cadet (seminary student in our idiosyncratic jargon) I delivered a sermon at one of our ARCs (Adult Rehabilitation Centers–drug and alcohol treatment programs) based on this text. At the time I was somewhat fascinated by prestidigitation and, using a bit of misdirection and a drop or two of red food coloring, I – prestochango - ‘changed’ water to wine. The ARC officer laughed and told me that I was “very bold” to preach this passage in a room full of recovering alcoholics.

So when we come to John’s story (and this story is only in John, it is not found in the synoptic gospels[i] ) about Jesus procuring huge quantities of wine for a wedding celebration, a story told with heavy Eucharistic overtones it doesn’t sit very well with our theological practice.

I’ve heard some of my fellow Salvationists insist that the wine that Jesus drank and the wine that he created in this story was not actually fermented wine but only unfermented grape juice. I’m sure they mean well, but those hold this interpretation[ii] are working too hard to find something there that isn’t there. The wine is wine and, as we’ll see, Jesus made a lot of it. Jesus was free with the wine. In fact, one of the accusations made about Jesus by “the Pharisees and lawyers” was that he was too free with the wine:

“…the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:30 – 34 NRSV).

So there was a wedding in Cana, and “the mother of Jesus was there.” (2:1) Curiously, the gospel of John never refers to her by name. She appears only here at the beginning of John’s narrative and at the end of story, at the foot of the cross. In both places Jesus refers to her - maybe somewhat coldly - as “Woman” (John 2:4, 19:26). And Jesus was also invited to this wedding celebration along with his disciples (2:2). 

Jewish weddings were relatively simple affairs, but they were also quite extravagant. After a period of betrothal, when the time was right and all had been prepared, the bride was summoned from her father’s house and publicly escorted by friends of the groom to the groom’s house or tent; she was paraded through the town with shouting and trumpets, with music and laughter. Then under the chuppah, (the wedding tent) blessings were recited by the rabbi (or if the village didn’t have a rabbi, one of the respected elders) and that (largely) was it. Simple. But the celebration that followed - extraordinary, exuberant, extravagant! As many guests were invited as was possible, the entire village, even, (Patai 64-66) to share in the joy of the happy couple.

There was food, and wine, and singing, and wine, and shouting, and wine, and games, and wine, and dancing, and wine… There was a lot of wine. And while the bible may have a mixed message about the consumption of alcohol (in some places wine is condemned as a “mocker” - Proverbs 20:1 - and in others we’re told that wine “gladdens the heart of man” – Psalm 104:15) the scriptures are consistent in their connection between wine and celebration; times of festivity were times of wine. When the wine was gone, joy was gone.

There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
all joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished.
Isaiah 24:11 NRSV

But at some point during this protracted celebration - a Jewish wedding festival could last as long as a week – the host ran out of wine; “…the wine failed” (2:3 ASV). This would be a great embarrassment even today, to run out of food and wine for the guests invited to a modern wedding reception, but even more so there and then in a culture so grounded in the necessity of extravagant hospitality. To run out of wine for your guests, unimaginable horror!

It is at this point that “the mother of Jesus” turned to her son and said, “They have no wine.” (2:3)
How she knew this, we aren’t told. And neither are we told why she came to her son with the problem. But the Roman Catholic Priest and biblical scholar, Raymond E. Brown suggests that the wine supply for wedding feasts was dependent, to some extent, on the gifts of the guests, and it may be that Jesus and his disciples, as poor as they were, had failed in their duty to bring a gift and were (at least partially) responsible for the shortage of wine (Brown 102). If, as is likely, the family was only a poor peasant family, and if Jesus and his disciples, (also poor - without homes, without jobs, without money of their own) came without bringing a gift of wine, a shortage would have been inevitable.

The wine (for whatever reason) had run out, had failed, and the joy of the wedding celebration was, as soon as this sad fact was discovered, going to come to a rather abrupt end. The mother of Jesus in disquietude and kindly sympathy with her friends’ growing embarrassment (Gossip 493) came to her son and told him: “they have no wine,” they have no joy…

But Jesus resists her meddling, her scolding (perhaps) saying: “Woman, what do you want from me? My hour has not come yet,” (2:4 NJB) which could be more dynamically translated as, “what does my business have to do with you? – Mind your own business, woman!” (Le Donne 46). But his resistance is minimal, and even before he has consented to assist, she has already instructed the servants to do whatever he asked.

The young Russian Orthodox novice, Alyosha Karamazov, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, reflects dreamily upon this passage: “….Gladness, the gladness of some poor, very poor, people…Of course they were poor, since they hadn’t wine enough even at a wedding….The historians write that, in those days the people living about the Lake of Genesareth were the poorest that can possibly be imagined…and another great heart, that other great being, His Mother, knew that He had come not only to make His great terrible sacrifice. She knew that His heart was open even to the simple, artless merry-making of some obscure and unlearned people, who had warmly bidden Him to their poor wedding. ‘Mine hour is not yet come,’ He said, with a soft smile (He must have smiled gently to her). And indeed was it to make wine abundant at poor wedding He had come down to earth? And yet He went and did as she asked Him…” (Dostoevsky 336).

His hour has not yet come, the time is not ready, but he consents to begin with this, the first of his seven signs as described in the book of John (2:11). And what an inauspicious beginning to the revelation of his glory this is: Jesus does nothing to draw attention to himself in this miracle (and note that John doesn’t even use that word) – only the servants and his disciples (and possibly his mother) know what has happened (2: 9, 11).

Jesus points the servants to the six stone jars that were nearby, stone jars kept, John explains-probably to a gentile audience unfamiliar with Jewish traditions-for the Jewish rites of purification (2:6) and instructs them to fill these jars, each of which holds 20–30 gallons with water. Jesus tells the servants to fill these jars with water, to fill them up to the brim, and then to take some of the water to the steward of the feast (2: 7 – 8).

Now somewhere between the time that the servants poured water into the jars, ladled out a cupful, and carried it to the steward of the feast something happened. And I can’t be more specific than that, because John isn’t more specific than that. He doesn’t tell us what happened or when.  But when the steward tasted what the servants brought to him, it was wine – and most excellent wine too. The steward remarked to the bridegroom, ‘Usually people serve the good wine first, while everyone’s sober enough to taste it, and then the inferior wine, but you’ve kept the good stuff until now.’ (2:10)

The water in those stone jars, 120 – 150 gallons worth, had become fine luxurious wine but how and when it happened is not made clear. In fact, very few seemed to have noticed. The change from water to wine went all but unnoticed except by the servants who carried the water and by Jesus’ disciples. The change went unnoticed because, in John’s view, that’s not what is important here. The primary emphasis is not on the action of changing water to wine. The emphasis is not on the resulting wine – though it was good and there was a lot of it (Brown 103).

These are part of the sign. And the sign is not the destination. The sign points us toward something greater.

The wine, the extravagant quantity of wine, is a mark of the messianic time, a mark of the wedding feast between God and his people.  In Isaiah 62 the prophet spoke of the vindication and the salvation of God’s people, Zion. This time of blessing would be marked with the eating of food and the drinking of wine (Isaiah 62:4 – 8).  The prophet Jeremiah said something similar in his work:

The shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the flock and the heard;
their life shall become like a watered garden
and they shall never languish again.
(Jeremiah 31:12 NRSV)

The expectation of those heady messianic days seems to be marked in the Jewish imagination by great quantities of wine.  In a non-canonical apocalyptic work from (roughly) the time of Jesus we find the following description of those days:
“…the earth shall yield its fruit ten thousand fold, each vine shall have a thousand branches, each branch a thousand clusters, each cluster a thousand grapes, and each grape 120 gallons of wine.” (2 Baruch 29:5).

The old things were passing away – the water for the Jewish purification rites was being replaced by great quantities of messianic wine.  The changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana isn’t about Jesus and his friends and family drinking a great quantity of wine, but a mark of, a pointer towards the eschatological, end of things marriage of God and his people.  “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19: 9 NRSV).

And we are invited to share in that feast. We are invited to share in that celebration. We are invited to share in the joy of that messianic wine (even us tee-totaling Salvationists.) We are invited to share in the joy of being with God through his son Jesus. The new age is here, the time of the Messiah is now, the new wine of salvation and joy is ours.

“Do you fear Him. He is terrible in his greatness, awful in His sublimity, but infinitely merciful. He has made Himself like unto us from love and rejoices with us. He is changing water into wine that the gladness of the guests may not be cut short. He is expecting new guests, He is calling new ones unceasingly for ever and ever….There they are bringing new wine.” (Dostoevsky 337)

(Let's have some wine!)

Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John (i - xii): Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1966.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. (translated by Constance Garnett). New York, NY: Barnes & Nobel, Inc. 1995.

Gossip Arthur John. “Exposition” The Interpreter’s Bible:  Vol. 8 The Gospel According to John. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1952.

Le Donne, Anthony. Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 2011.

Patai, Raphael. Sex and the Family in the Bible and the Middle East. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company Inc. 1959.

[i] However… Jesus’ teaching about the new wine in old wine skins, in the context of a wedding, near the beginning of his ministry in Mark 2: 19 – 22 may be an echo of John’s story (Brown 105).
[ii] This interpretation isn’t limited to only members of The Salvation Army, and is not held by all members of The Salvation Army.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Updating the Classics…Or Not

A number of years ago I purchased a 3 CD collection of hymns entitled “Rock of Ages: Where Classic Hymns Meet Classic Rock.” I bought it partly because I thought some of the folks at church might like them and partly because the songs were produced, arranged, recorded and mixed by Dez Dickerson – famous guitarist from Prince’s band, The Revolution.

We got it out and played a few songs from it tonight, and I remembered why I haven’t used it much at church programming. Without disrespecting either Dickerson’s faith or his skill as a musician, the collection is uneven and not especially great.

Several of the songs are all but unsingable as arranged – which is problematic as hymns are intended to be congregational, not solos.  “Joyful, Joyful (Ode to Joy)” in this recording is so incredibly, awkwardly slow that is difficult to sing along. 

A number of the hymns are ‘mashed up’ with pop/rocks songs from the 80s: “He’s God the Whole World in His Hands” is mashed with Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” mixed with “Big Country.” U2 makes a couple of appearances: “Holy, Holy, Holy” is played over “With or Without You” and “I’ll Fly Away” over “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” You might think that the hymn “There’s Power in the Blood of Jesus” wouldn’t fit very well with Tears for Fears’ song “Everybody Wants To Rule the World,” … and you’d be right.  “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” played in the style of Twisted Sister may be amusing, but only once or twice…

I like the idea-the continually updating of the traditional aspects of our worship (Ecclesia semper reformanda est – and all that) while retaining the essential message, but sometimes old meets new doesn’t work so well.

But, lest you think I’m unfairly ragging on Dez Dickerson’s work I should offer up two things: 1) my friend Jim really liked the music and thanked us repeatedly for playing a couple of songs from the collection. (He was amused by “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” …) and 2) I had spent an earlier part of the evening writing a limerick version of “the Founder’s Hymn,” so who am I to say anything about the perils of updating the classics?

O boundless Salvation, love’s ocean,
the fullness of mercy’s devotion
the whole world it redeems
how rich, how free it seems
it’s flowing and rolling o’er all men.

And now, hallelujah! all my days
I’ll gladly spend promoting his praise
who opened up for me
love’s ocean, endlessly,
this boundless Salvation does amaze!

At That Precise Moment-An Angel

Do you believe in heaven above?
At that precise moment, as determined by  FOCS 1-the continuous cold caesium fountain atomic clock in Switzerland-with an uncertainty of 1 second in 30 million years, though they were nearly 800 km apart, the suicidal prayers of both Sarah and Tobit were heard in the presence of glory. Sarah in Ecbatana (a city with great walls rising in circles, one within another) and Tobit in the fish city, Nineveh, were heard at the same moment.

Do you believe in love?
And in that very same moment as Sarah and Tobit finished their prayers, just as a preternatural wind blew through an open door allowing a cat to escape, just as the light from a distant lighthouse shined down on a black gospel choir, just as scavenger birds began to feast upon a mountain of garbage, the angel Raphael, one of the seven, was standing in position behind the throne of glory and heard their prayers.

Open fire!
Raphael: The prince of shades and Hades, appointed over Tartarus, responsible for departed souls.
Raphael: He who cures diseases and viruses and corporate malfeasances.
Raphael: Who healed Abraham’s painful circumcision and Jacob’s wounded thigh.
Raphael: Who did bind Azazel both hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness by making a hole in the desert which is in Dudael (the Cauldron of God), and did bind him to the rough and jagged rocks, and covered him forever there with darkness that his face might not see the light until the great day of judgment when he shall be cast into fire.

Don’t know what to do
At that precise moment, precise movement. Motion. When all was quiet and not quite in catacombs and crypts, the angel of healing was sent to them; Raphael was dispatched to heal them both: to Tobit to remove the waxy white scales of his persistent and inexplicable blindness, and to Sarah to divorce her from the demon Asmodeus. At that very moment, as confirmed and verified by the master atomic clock ensemble at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., which provides the time standard for the U.S. Department of Defense, Tobit returned from the courtyard into his house and Sarah came down from the upper room (without having hanged herself in a noose) an archangel of heaven was dispatched for healing and relief.

Send me an angel, right now

Friday, January 15, 2016

Background Images for Everyone - 2015 - The Complete Collection

The title for this post is mostly wrong.  It's no longer 2015. I made these background images - one a week - to use and to share. But had forgotten (until reminded by my friend, AJ) to share the completed collection in one easy .zip file as I have done in previous years. (2012,  2013,  2014)

And this collection isn't quite complete. There are images for 46 'regular' weeks and 4 for the season of Advent. Apparently I missed the last two weeks of the year. Not sure what happened, but ... 50 of 52 isn't so bad, right?

Anyway, the collection is yours if you'd like it. Use the images at home, work, school, church, on the moon, in the sewer, on your cell phone... wherever. I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others you found them here.

The Leader Speaks

In a crowded coliseum, every seat filled and the air drunk with the roar of the intoxicated crowd, the Leader speaks. He speaks at length (going on without a pause or respite for hours. His voice never falters. His salute never droops.) of our heroic history. He waves the blood-stained banner of our glorious future in front of our eyes so that we won’t notice his officers vomiting in the hall. Our present misery is this: that our Napoleonic natures still cannot reach the items on the top shelf.

 “When starting and waging a war it is not right that matters, but victory. The only thing that matters is death-consequences be damned! I have restored order, overcome the chaos. I have united the party, restored the union, and reestablished the happy dreams of our fathers and grandfathers. In my strength, in my power. Do not dwell on cause or consequence. Once you consider that, there is no need for sense or consequence! Only action, violent, forceful action.

“Round up the socialists, the communists, the libtards, the demoncrats, the muslims, and witches for some improvisational groping and casual intimidation! Call the bastards in brassards; we’re getting the band back together.

“One last demand: Blackmail our allies if you must. Bully our weaker neighbors. We do not play well with others. Our entrance into Prague was spoiled by socialists and bankers, by witches and professors. Democracy is a betrayal, an abandonment of power. Power precedes victory.”

I have to leave the speech early. I have nosebleeds at midnight, for which Dr. Morel, the Leader’s own personal physician, is prescribing his own secret blend of Fungi, intestinal bacteria, dextrose, vitamins and hormone tablets. He gives me an injection of Atropa Belladonna and Amphetamines mixed with caffeine, chamomile, cocaine, testosterone, and animal fats. I feel much better.

During the speech, another girl is murdered under the bridge. She could be somebody’s daughter or the whore of Babylon, but we don’t stop to notice.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Biblical Limericks: Bloody Smear

Amaziah’s army was top tier-
killed 10,000 Edomites at Sier,
but that wasn’t enough
so they tossed from a bluff
10,000 more, left a bloody smear.

2 Chronicles 25:12; 2 Kings 14:7

Sarah Prayed for Death

Then, even at the moment I was praying for death, and for death to come soon, Sarah too was praying and praying for death. Sarah, the daughter, the daughter beloved, the only daughter of Raguel, the friend of God,[i] who lived in Ecbatana of Media–in the Zagros mountains, the summer resort of kings, and the original home of the Bride and the Monster-prayed for a swift and not ignoble death of her own.

Sarah, soaked in the horror sweat of fearful dreams, prayed for an end to the insults and shame.

Every day one of her father’s serving girls, the one nasally voice, the one with a bloody mouth and a biting tongue, mocked her with words and with laughter. “Where is your husband?” the serving girl jeered. “Where is your man?” She jested and laughed.  Hee hee hee tee hee! “Oh” she gasped and covered her mouth with a manicured hand. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” She grinned a toothy wide grin at her mistress and said, “He is dead, and dead, and dead again, and twice that, and again once more. Seven times dead. Seven husbands and seven deaths. Seven wedding vows. Seven body bags.” The serving girl sneered at her lady, “It wasn’t the bloodied napkin to show proof of your virginity the house-stewards brought out from the marriage chamber to display before the gathered crowd, was it?  It was the blood soaked sheets of seven dead husbands. Somehow, it just don’t seem fittin’ for a man to spend his weddin’ night in a coffin.”

So Sarah ran away in tears to continue her prayers for death.

It’s true of course; her husbands (all seven) were dead, killed by the worst of the lost. They were murdered by Asmodeus, one of the shd, the shedu, the shedyim, by Asmodeus, one of the few nameless to be given a name (ranked alongside Lilith, Resheph, Azazel, Belial and Mastemah). They were killed by the demon Asmodeus, a Cambion–born of the unhallowed union of incubus and a desperate daughter of Eve, the demon of 72 crossroads, the prince of forgotten lore, full of burning rage and lust and sulfur fire. He killed them, one by one, before they could duly consummate the marriage, or rock the marriage bed.

And this is why Sarah, the bride of death, prayed for death, why she went upstairs in her father’s house with the coiled cord of unbecoming death in her hands. (There is no clear Biblical prohibition against self-slaughter.) But before she tied the noose, Sarah thought of her father and reconsidered.  She prayed with her hands outstretched toward the open window.

“Blessed are you, God of Mercies.
May your name be blessed, blessed again, and blessed once more.
May all your creatures-from flea to frilled lizard, from wasp to whale, from virus to vulture, from house cat to human-praise you forever.

“What further, wretched wounds are written for me?

“And now I have turned my tear-riven face to you,
command that I be released from the earth,
released from the business of living.
Command that I be released and
I shall be released.

“Now is the noisy one set in a state of tears.
Now trusted rosy rosaries are discarded upon the ground
and, wounded as we are, we want to die.

“Master, I am innocent of defilement
and clear of disgrace,
but I am my father’s only begotten daughter;
he has no other heir.
Already my seven are dead,
cold and ashen beneath the serious moonlight.
I could spit in the eyes of fools,
but why should I go on living?

“My circulation and stomach rebel.
The symptoms abate, but the insults and shame do not.

“So let me die,
Lord let me die;
let me…
But if you are not pleased to take my life,
listen instead to their taunting;
really listen…

[i] Not to be confused with Raguel, the Archangel who was condemned by Pope Zachary in AD 754.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Biblical Limericks: An Exegetical Challenge

It’s an exegetical challenge
for Christian teetot’lers to balance
their love of Jesus blessed
who, as a wedding guest,
made wine – one hundred twenty gallons!

John 2: 1 - 11

(and here's another on the same passage)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Biblical Limericks: Not in This Army

Once Jesus made wine for everyone
with a Eucharistic overtone,
but, unfortunately,
in William Booth’s Army
this text can be a forgotten one.

John 2: 1 – 11

(The Salvation Army is an alcohol-abstaining, non-sacramental denomination.)

Dr. Tarrec’s Free Weekly Horoscope #32

My friend, Dr. Tarrec, has been somewhat remiss of late about sending me these "weekly" horoscopes.  All I can say is that they are as accurate as they are timely...


Aries – How much skin can one man lose? How much strength? I have no idea. I’ve lost all my ideas. The decline continues. I’m not sentimental about these things; why should you be?

Taurus – Recounting a series of misremembered dreams in the fading light of winter afternoon will not help-not very much. Call a doctor and a priest, for blood, and bone, and safe travel.

Gemini – The fiery marks (that cannot be seen) cause much pain. Continue the work behind locked doors; follow the directives contained in the secret files. The Brotherhood of Games will not stop. Do not allow the subject to escape.

Cancer – Your brother (acknowledged or not) is waiting in the smoky shadows. It is time for a road trip through the forgotten realms. You will find him, or he will find you-in the dark.

Leo – What cure is available? And is it worse than the disease? What cost? What rumors and doubts lead to your treason? Who is next?  

Virgo – The Red Stars look very different today, standing here without you. Saint Theodosius the Cenobiarch has gone away to live as a hermit. He does not wish to continue the treatments.

Libra – Go home, if you can find it; make a home, if you cannot. Place dragons upon the shelf. If not for protection, than for the amusement of your children.

Scorpio – Broken handcuffs, broken windows, broken promises, unfulfilled potential. Don’t go it alone. There is no guarantee that your plan will succeed, and failure is inevitable if you go without support. Lock the doors before you leave.

Sagittarius – Do you hear the sound of a gunfight in the parking lot? Perhaps it is another case of self-immolation by alcohol ingestion.

Capricorn – What did we expect to happen? Sadness? Summon the tattooed man. He may be able to help. He may be the only one who can. Still…he is not to be trusted.

Aquarius – Strange demons have come to play; they will dance until the music ends. Fix the ending. Quickly.

Pisces – This is not a square. The shape of the universe folds and bends upon itself. This is the topic of bold speculation and frivolous discussion. 

Chains of Fire

Chains and Sparkle by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Biblical Limericks: My Roof’s Broke!

The man of house where Jesus spoke
saw men on his roof a large hole poke-
digging with axe and a pick
to drop the par’lytic-
“Healing’s great,” he said, “but my roof’s broke!”

Mark 2: 1 - 12

The Failure of Messianic Expectations

Expectations are tricky things. They can keep the fires of hope burning within us when all seems lost, or they can come crashing down around us in splinters and shards of disappointment when they’re not met.

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true,
or is it something worse? (Springsteen)

The people of Israel in the first century lived with a deep expectation, or rather, deep expectations, plural. They waited for a hero, a savior, a messiah but there was no one understanding of what this Messiah would be like. Some expected a warrior and a king, noble and powerful to lead them into battle and victory, a mighty man who would throw off the shackles of their foreign oppressors. Others expected a priestly messiah, who would lead the people to righteousness obedience before God and his torah. They lived with expectations drawn from their own deep longings and from the words of the Holy Scriptures. But there wasn’t a single unified expectation about the Messiah; there were many competing, multivalent interpretations. There was a deep sense of anticipation in the people, a longing, a dream of rescue and salvation, of restoration, redemption and succor, even if this longing was expressed in many different expectations.

So we find them at the beginning of this week’s text-the people of Israel filled with expectations and questions. They’ve come out to the wild place to hear the preaching of John and to be baptized by him in the waters of the Jordan.  Is he, could he be the Messiah, the Christ, the one that we’ve been waiting for?

What I find interesting here is that John the Baptizer had very little in common with the generally held expectations of the coming messiah: he was not a mighty warrior, not a prince or a king, and though he came from a priestly family, he’d (seemingly) renounced the priestly call to live the life of a prophetic hermit in the wildness, wearing camel hair and eating locusts and honey. John the Baptizer did not look like the generally conceived picture of the Christ.

Neither did he perform any (recorded) miracles. He did not provide miracle food for crowds of thousands, he did not walk on water (only shoved people under it), he calmed no storms, exorcised no demons, healed no lepers, restored no sight to the blind or voice to the mute. He did not cleanse the lepers or raise the dead. His reputation was based solely on his fiery preaching and his baptismal ministry. “Yet he moved people so mightily they began to suspect he was the messiah” (Robertson 42).

His words, his fire, his energy, his authenticity, his passion drew the people from across the land to the wild lands. They left the comfort of their homes to hear him preach repentance at the edge of the Jordan. And hearing him, their expectations and dreams were fired up again. After desperate years, after others had failed, after hurts and disappointments, the ministry of John at the water’s edge stirred up dying fire of their hopes.  And they questioned in their hearts whether perhaps he were the Christ. Could he be? Should we dare to hope again?

But if the people thought John might be the longed for Messiah, he would disappoint them. He told them directly, without ambiguity or hedging: he was not the one they desired. “I baptize you with water,” he said, “but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  Even as his reputation grew, John was diminishing himself, pushing away the expectations the crowds foisted upon him. “I baptize you with water…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3: 16 – 17 RSV).

John, too, had a set of beliefs about the long expected savior-expectations that he was never quite able to reconcile with the one he believed to be the Messiah. At the end of his life, as he was locked up in Herod’s prison, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20 RSV). 

Expectations are tricky things. 

And Jesus confounds our expectations here as well; he comes into the story and is baptized in the Jordan by John.  Why? Why would he do this?  Baptism, while not a part of the regular practice of mainstream Judaism of that time and place, was not unheard of or uncommon. The Jewish historian Josephus, in his autobiography, wrote, “…but when I was informed that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert and used no other clothing than what grew upon the trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently, both night and day, in order to preserve his chastity… I imitated him in those things and continued with him three years” (Josephus “Life” 2).

And Banus and John were not alone in practicing a form of baptism; other baptismal movements also appeared in the area (Hartman 583). Banus, Josephus’ mentor, used baptism as method to preserve his chastity and self-control; also common during that time was a form of baptism given to gentiles who converted to Judaism (Hartman 583). But John’s message and preaching was of a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3: 3 RSV).

But why would Jesus, sinless Jesus, the Son of God, need to be baptized in a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Mark and Luke do not describe Jesus’ motives. He comes to John and is baptized by him without any word of explanation. Matthew, sensing something of our discomfort, pauses to have John question Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” and for Jesus to respond, “Let it be so now; for thus  it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14 – 15) – but this doesn’t really give much of an explanation.

Our question lingers there in the water with Jesus. Our expectations come up against the person of Jesus and are stymied. They don’t fit. Our expectations don’t fit the fulfillment. Expectations rarely do.

Our expectations are too small or too large; they don’t fit.

When I was younger I expected that I would eventually begin to ‘understand’ things. I’m getting older now and that expectation is starting to feel ill-fitting. Young people often expect that they’ll be famous or that they’ll do something extraordinary, that they’ll change the world. “We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off” (Palahniuk).

People get married expecting that a spouse will make everything better. People start families, have babies because they expect that children will bring happiness and sense of completeness and fulfillment to their lives. There is often bitter disappointment when those expectations are shattered.

Expectations are tricky; they keep the embers of hope glowing within us, keep us longing for a better future. But when our expectations come up against reality they rarely fit. And what will we do?

Like the people of Israel in early years of the first century, going out into the wilderness to hear the preaching of John the Baptizer, our expectations for the messiah are frequently ill-fitted. Jesus confounds us at nearly every turn. He loves those we would despise. He forgives those we’d condemn. He relaxes codes that we would tighten. He tightens rules that we’d relax. He moves when we’d stay and refuses to leave when we’d get up and go.

He is variously described by his followers as a military general, a prince of peaceful non-violence, a capitalist CEO, a socialist liberator, a radical, a conservative, a hippy, a teacher, a hero, a king, a brother, a father, a lover. But when the person of Jesus is approached and considered without the baggage of our anticipations, each of those expectations is found wanting in some way. And the fault is not in Jesus, but in our expectations. 

If John the Baptist was unsure if Jesus was the one he was waiting for, if the people of the first century failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, was the failure in Jesus, or in their expectations? And if Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations, where does the fault lie?

Have we been disappointed with Jesus? Is the disappointment in Jesus or in the failure of our expectations?

Hartman, Lars. “Baptism.” Anchor Bible Dictionary-Volume I. New York, NY: Doubleday. 1992.

Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publication. 1960.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. W.W. Norton. 1996.

Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Word Pictures in the New Testament: Volume II Luke. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press. 1930.

Springsteen, Bruce. “The River” The River. Columbia. 1980.

Revised Standard Version: New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Holographic Fire

Holographic fire burns quietly, silently, at the periphery of your vision, but it burns just the same.

Holographic Fire by Jeff Carter on

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Entering the Pyramids

FIRST: It is imperative that we recognize that earthly pyramids-with their doors flung open and holding fast- were modeled after heavenly patterns and built according to the structures hidden behind our wars. Know that the pyramids will subvert and endanger all your negative symbols. They are tempestuous. Be warned. Be aware.

SECOND: Leave immediately. Recover one action. Temperatures rise.  These are the game instructions as we have received them and as we must play them... So, if everything is ready, let us play. But before we begin, there is something that we must do, or rather, something that is done to us: We experience a crisis when the light is turned on. This is Complicated.

THIRD: We cannot see the intersections of the ruse and the smoke screen; we are unaware of the places where time and space intersect in elaborate deceits. The secret of the universe has not been shared with us. But we are optimistic.  We are ready to Enter the Pyramids.

Enter the Pyramid

Friday, January 8, 2016

January on the Street where I Live

January by Jeff Carter on

Sunset and Death Are Inevitable; Music Is Eternal

He was cold calling homes in Lingonville, the door-to-door champagne salesman. He gave his pitch to bored housemoms and frantic soccerwives with a sense of urgency. He knew the showdown was coming, as inevitably as the setting sun. He slung fermented beverages from house to house in the crepuscular shadows, but the question lingered: would the sun return tomorrow?

Airships overhead-Zephyr Zeppelins- trailed electromagnetic frequency feelers, a sort of listening tentacle capable of monitoring conversations, and phone calls, even whispered in secret chambers behind locked doors. So he kept to his script; “Have you tried the best tasting, and only officially Right Government™ licensed fizzy drink? Made from locally grown spleenfruit and natural sugar…”

He carried with him a personal nuclear device-still protected under the amendments of the Right Government™, and legally purchased, but kept it concealed and locked within a body cavity vault. No sense in alerting the guards. The group was keen to appear reasonable and moderate, to deflect accusations of treason. Say the secret word and win a hundred demerits and a public hanging.

And now he was running, running as well as he could with one leg still numbed from the guard’s neuron disrupter rifle. The blast had, fortunately, missed his head; there’s no recovery from that sort of disruption, but the nervous system in his leg was shot, the muscles unresponsive. He ran as quickly as he could, lurching across schoolyard playgrounds, limping over piles of rubble, sliding pas Right Government™ barriers, running just ahead of the Sternodogs.

He ran, though he knew there was little likelihood of escape. Sternodogs never give up, never drop pursuit once they have your scent. Their bites are poisoned, even a nip will leave one blind; a bite is usually fatal. And if the blue-fire blindness doesn’t get you, the vomiting and aneurisms will.

The inflationary infiltration of the Right Government™ party headquarters in Lingonville had failed. If the agents responsible for placing bombs at the Chanel $4 Television station also failed, all would be lost. There could be no second chances.

Silence the roaring cataracts. The water falls into stillness.

He staggered and fell, woozy from blood loss and exhaustion. The Sternodogs would soon have him. Death and sunset come for everyone. Musicians and instruments can be broken, reeds and fingers snapped, slides and ankles bent, but music is eternal. As the Sternodogs rounded the corner and approached him, drooling thickened, jellied ropes of blue saliva, he began to hum the Irish melody his mother taught him as a child. Sunset and death are inevitable; music is eternal.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Winter like Abstract Expressionism

A little camera shake makes for a nice image.

Winter like Abstract Expressionism by Jeff Carter on

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Biblical Limericks: Messiah?

Though Herod thought him a pariah,
the crowds said, ‘he’s one we admiah…’
all across the nation
they had expectations:
could John the Baptist be Messiah?

Luke 3: 15

(apparently the crowds were from Boston...)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Memorandum of Relations: Guidelines for Cooperation

From: Oberofficer Narren
To be posted immediately and forthwith in all offices and secret headquarters!

All that we do is legal. All that we do is legal, because we say that it is. And holy. All that we do is holy. We protect the law even as we bend it to suit our purpose. Mutinies, like skulls and ribs, are broken with iron. And Iron sharpens Iron, and long knives. There is no tolerance for the opposition of dwarves or worms, no discussion of dissent. Sorrow’s child shall remain silent and unnamed.

IN ATONAL hostility:
Those who are unwilling to salute will be crushed with atonal hostility. Those who are suffering our abuse deserved it, so stop your moaning (or we’ll give you something to moan about.) Bloodlust and Blind Rage have their own momentum, things in motion that tend to stay in furious motion. Put down the Pacifist. Insult him without mercy. Strike her unrelentingly.

Call it a cleansing action. We will admit no personal grievance; we carry no outward grudge. Use ultraviolent light-dark light for dark matter and dark days. This is how we solve for radicals. This is why we are adored.


Dawn broke over the city like an unlucky mirror, sunlight glittering like blood and fire in the shattered windows of bakeries and shoe stores now closed and in rainwater puddles on crumbling concrete sidewalks. “Take the oath!” the ridiculous corporal shouted and punched me in the gut again. “Demonstrate loyalty!” He punched me in the mouth and I felt a tooth splinter into sharp fragments that bloodied my mouth. “Swear on the flag! Swear TO the flag!” He kicked me in the groin with his heavy boot. He kicked me in the anus. He kicked me again, and again, and again he kicked me.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Cool Winter Abstraction

Dandruff can be treated, but not cured. Oh well. If I'm going to have dandruff, I'm going to make something interesting of it.

Winter Abstract by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Horizontal and the Vertical

There is nothing wrong with your television. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are now in control of the transmission. We control the horizontal and the vertical. We don’t know what we’re doing with them, but that’s irrelevant. For the next hour, we will control all that you see and …. what? Uh… never mind. Go about your business. There’s nothing to see here.

New Nightmares and Fresh Fruit

The ATT-771 prowled noiselessly 10 centimeters above the potholed surface of the street, its drivers scanning pedestrians for concealed weapons and or outstanding warrants. I dodged into the alley, scaled a broken fire-escape ladder, and darted across an apartment roof where a Chinese family tended an urban rice patty. They screamed curses and obscenities at me as I ran, at least I assume they obscenities and curses. I still only speak a little Mandarin and that, badly. I didn’t stop to ask for a translation.

An automated tympano-cortical signal alerted me that the radio broadcast had begun. I tuned in to listen. It’s not as I had a choice; attendance to the Leader’s weekly addresses was mandatory, either in person at the Sportplatz or by electronic media. I listened as I continued to run, and leap, and scramble from roof-top to roof-top, avoiding cellular antennas and protectobot security animals.

“My fellow Americans…,” the Leader began; this was how he began each of his weekly addresses. “This is an appeal of the Right Government™ to all true American citizens. Since the Days of Treachery under the previous administration, the Almighty has withdrawn his providential blessing from our once great nation. The removal of his omnipotent hand has led to national collapse, and national collapse has opened the door to communistic madness.”

‘Strange,’ I thought. ‘He sounds…tired. Dull.’ His speech wasn’t his regular firebrand oration.’ He continued-and if his voice was lackluster this afternoon, his rhetoric was not.

“The years of treachery opened a Pandora’s box of communist poison that has weakened and undermined our national vitality, polluted the purity of our essence. We were contaminated and infected by the germ and virus of socialist thought. Nothing during those long, winter years was spared the pernicious, infectious ruination of communist influence. Our families, our culture, our honor, our economy, all spoiled like curdled milk. Withered to the roots.”

Now this was typical Leader speak–his metaphors accumulating like a 15 car pile-up on the freeway.

“Eight years of Marxist, Islamist, Antichristian government all but ruined our America. Nothing works anymore; everything is broken. But now, in these glorious days, the Right Government™ has restored national unity, restored national morale, restored national pride, and restored the national family! The long night of spiritual, political, cultural nihilism is over! And true American citizens have taken up arms to oppose and end the tyranny of Bolshevism…”

It was here that I slipped and fell as I slid down a rusting drain pipe. I fell into an open rubbish bin-one of those locally known as a “Trumpster.” The bags of garbage broke my fall, but I lost radio signal. This lapse would be noted on my automatically and regularly updated police record. An ordinary citizen, a “true American citizen” could, conceivably, explain a dropped signal to the propaganda police and escape with nothing more than a small fine and a few hours of compulsory public Leader veneration. But for someone with a record like mine, failure to give attendance to the Leader’s remarks would be taken as treason and punished with public execution. Oh well. The speech was boring anyway-all the boilerplate topics with none of his usual intensity. I wondered if perhaps he was ill. We could only hope.

I sloughed off the worst of the wet, slobbery rubbish and waved away the buzzing flies. Peeking cautiously over the rim of the Trumpster, I scanned the area for roving ATT-771s and other police vehicles. They’re notoriously silent and can approach without detection if one isn’t constantly aware. But there were none, at least for now. I hadn’t been detected during my incursion into the city.

Chances are, I’ll be one of the disappeared-and soon-like my sister, and my father before her, like thousands of nameless others. But I was safe, for the moment. Undetected. I would have another day of sleep and bad dreams, of shopping for new nightmares and fresh fruit.

Across the street I could see my destination: Finnegan’s Rake-a lawn and garden shop operated by one of ours, one of the Knives. But I couldn’t approach, not directly, not during daylight. I would have to wait until dark. Three hours. That’s not so long, right? Not so long if one isn’t breathing in the smell of rot and corruption and continually brushing flies out of one’s eyelashes.

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