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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Third Eye George

The tin-foil hat wearers have got it all wrong. The all seeing eye of the Illuminati is not on the reverse side of the One Dollar bill, within the top of the pyramid. No. No. No. It's right there, within the obverse side of the bill.

Third Eye George by Jeff Carter on

Summer's Fading Glory

This is one of the last of the sunflowers in my backyard garden. The rest have died - either the end of the season, or devoured by the squirrels. This one goes out to a few friends who especially appreciate them, friends I especially appreciate.

Circuit Board

Circuit Board by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Jesus Is a Rude Dinner Guest – Luke 14: 1 - 14

We have been walking and moving this morning, traveling. We are, as we might say in The Salvation Army, ‘on the march,’ and in the scriptural passage that we’re looking at, Jesus also is journeying. And has been for some time. Luke’s gospel describes Jesus as travelling from his base of operations in the Galilean hill country up to Jerusalem over the course of 10 chapters, between Luke 9:51 (“When the days drew near for him to be receive up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (NRSV)) and his arrival in Jerusalem in chapter 19 (somewhere between verses 41 and 45) - over the course of these ten chapters Jesus is involved in preaching and teaching and healing and telling parables.  Some of Jesus’ most memorable stories were told along the road to Jerusalem.

Today we could make that trip in a couple of hours. We could hop in the car in the morning, get on the highway and be in Jerusalem in time for dinner. But Jesus would have been walking. If we were to assume (and we should be careful about our assumptions…) the average human walking speed of about 20 miles per day, this is a trip that would have taken him about 5 days. 

It’s not a terribly long trip (at least for those like Jesus who would have been accustomed to regularly walking such distances). But Luke seems to stretch it out a bit. Jesus must be taking the scenic route – stopping at every little town and village and hamlet and rural parish along the way, stopping to perform another miracle, or to tell another parable.

Actually, our estimate of 5 days might have to be modified. It would be about 5 days if he were walking straight through, but that fails to take into account Sabbath days. If he started mid-week, then Jesus could expect to stop for the Sabbath at least once. And since he seems to have been taking the long roundabout route, it’s likely that he stopped for several Sabbaths along the way. On Sabbath days – the day given to rest and worship – Jewish people were to limit their walking distance to about 2,000 cubits, roughly three-fifths of a mile. 

But this is no bother. He doesn’t exactly seem to be in a hurry. We’re stretching this 5 day walk over 10 chapters; so he has plenty of time to linger. It’s almost as if, like Scheherazade, he wants to delay what he knows must happen to him when he arrives at Jerusalem. And besides, Jesus liked to be in the synagogue on Sabbath days. It was his custom to be there with others of his faith even as he journeyed from place to place, from town to town and village to village, you could always find him in the local synagogue on any given Sabbath. He taught the people there. He met them there, shared with them, and ministered to them. So as he made the long journey from Capernaum – his base of operations in Galilee – to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped for Sabbath rest and joined the worshiping community in the synagogue wherever he was.

Now this particular Sabbath, Jesus is somewhere between Galilee and Jerusalem (Luke isn’t precise with the details) and a member of the Pharisees has invited Jesus to his house for the Sabbath meal. Already, I know, we are preparing ourselves for conflict, for confrontation. We have been conditioned to expect the worst of the scribes and lawyers and Pharisees. They are the perpetual boogeymen of the gospels.

But in historical perspective, the Pharisees were generally well liked and respected by the common people of Israel; “they were close to and revered by the ordinary folk” (Crossan 92). Despite the reputation they have today, the Pharisees were not one dimensional melodrama villains. If they went overboard in their attention to the legal issues of the torah it was because they wanted to be good and to be right with God.

One example, relevant to our discussion of Sabbath observance will suffice: the Pharisees who, in our common estimation, were cold legalists without a heart of warmth and compassion, actually allowed that the joining of the door-posts and lintels of houses was an acceptable way to obviate the injunction against travelling on the Sabbath. Families could join the doorposts of their houses, and then bring their food together to share the Sabbath feast together, without breaking the Law. (Porter 373) If this is cold legalism, let us have more of its kind.

Let’s also remember that this Pharisee has invited Jesus to his house and not assume any malicious intent or nefarious motive. It may be true that “they were watching him closely,” but wouldn’t anyone?  Jesus was an oddity, an unknown quantity, a dark horse rabbi coming up from nowhere, from Nazareth (can anything good come from Nazareth?), untrained, and unschooled, yet commanding great respect, healing and doing great miracles. Of course they were watching him closely.

If it seems that I’m going out of my way here at the beginning to present the Pharisees as the “good guys,” that is because I am. They were not, as I said earlier, one dimensional melodrama villains. They were decent people, for the most part, trying to live godly lives as they understood those terms.

And Jesus is eating the Sabbath meal with them. This is when things take a turn for the confrontational. And, it should be noted, it is not the Pharisees, the good guys, who cause this confrontation. It is Jesus. They’re eating and sharing the Sabbath meal together when, all of a sudden, “in front of him was a man who had dropsy.”

Dropsy is an old fashioned, out-of-date medical term for what we would today call edema, a condition marked by the buildup of watery fluids in the cavities and tissues of the body. The body begins to swell with the buildup of this fluid, and it can cause serious pain. Edema is actually a symptom of several other issues rather than a disease itself.

Jesus sees this swollen man and immediately turns on the lawyers and Pharisees around the table. “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” Jesus starts the fight, fires the first shot, throws the first punch. Jesus is the one who makes a scene, not the Pharisees.

The healing of the man with Dropsy could have waited; there was nothing particularly life threatening about the condition. It wasn’t a life or death, emergency situation. Jesus could have, easily, waited a few hours for the sun to set in the western sky, and then healed the man with no Sabbath day issues whatsoever. And it’s not even clear that there is a Sabbath day violation here. Jesus doesn’t actually do any work. “The matter is simple: no work was performed. If Jesus had had to remove a rock which was crushing a man’s hand, there would have been a legal principal at issue: was the man’s life in danger, or could the work have waited for the sun to set? But the laying on of hands is not work, and no physical action of any kind is reported” (Sanders 266).

Jesus deliberately and purposefully provoked a fight. He made an issue out of a non-issue, and phrased his emphatic question in a provocative way so as to force his audience to make a definitive answer. (Jeremias 103) This, generally, is not the polite behavior of an invited guest. The lawyers and Pharisees sit in a stunned silence. Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, seems to delight in shutting them down. (Luke 13.17) Perhaps we might envision him singing the old Beach Boys song: “Shut it off, shut it off, buddy, now I shut you down” (Wilson).

Jesus asked them a question, again deliberately phrasing his question so as to provoke them: “If one of you has a child,” (or in some manuscripts, “an ass” (and those two are sometimes indistinguishable, aren’t they…)) “or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they are still stunned. It’s a loaded question like, “are you still beating your mother?” The Pharisees and lawyers cannot answer.

Jesus heals the man swollen with excessive fluid and sends him on his way, but Jesus isn’t through with the Pharisees and lawyers around the table. He now tells two parables – first to the guests of this Sabbath meal, and second to the host of the feast – parables that don’t really sound like parables. We are used to thinking of parables as “earthly stories with heavenly meaning,” to use the phrase some of us learned in Sunday school. But the Greek word “parable” like its Hebrew equivalent, “masal” had a wide range of definitions and categories; parables could be: similitudes, allegories, fables, proverbs, riddles, symbols, apologies, arguments, jests, comparisons, or, as in our text this morning, behavioral rules. (Jeremias 20) Jesus gives them parables - rules for ethical behavior - that challenge their perceived roles in the social order within the Kingdom of God.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them this parable (or behavioral rule): “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’ But when you are invited, go and sit at the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher,’ then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Honor was a big deal in that time and place (as it is still today, even if we are not as consciously aware of it as Jesus’ audience was). Honor was, “to some extent, the product of birth, family, and wealth, it was sustained by social recognition. It was not just social status, but also the regard one felt entitled to in virtue of that status. … Much behavior was therefore dictated by the desire to acquire, preserve, or display honor and to avoid its opposite, shame” (Borg 212).

The most important guests, the most dignified, the most honored guests, distinguished by age or social standing (Jeremias 192) would arrive last, making a grand entrance, seen and marveled at by everyone, and taking their assumed position close to the head of the table. The humiliated guest, the one who assumed too much, assumed a seat that wasn’t for him, would be forced to take the lowest seat at the far end of the table, because all the other seats would have been filled by that time.

Jesus instructs his audience to humble themselves before others, and before God, because in the coming kingdom, all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” This has been the central them of Jesus’ gospel, even from the time before he was born. When Mary learned of his conception from the angel Gabriel she sang a radical and revolutionary song of this reversal:

“…he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.” (Luke 2: 52 NRSV)

Then to his host Jesus says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, or your brothers, or your relatives, or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

This is, again, the great reversal, the “messianic inversion,” in the perspective of God’s kingdom, “the despised and the insignificant come first” (Gutiérrez 215).

And this is why I set out at the beginning to emphasize that the Pharisees and lawyers were the good guys, people of respect and honor. The Pharisees really were the good guys, which is why the great reversal is so great, so provocative, so shocking. Traditional cultural expectations are turned upside down (Crossan 93).Those who are honored in this life for their position, their wealth, their good looks, their distinguished family, their education, their job title will be shunted down to the end of the table, or replaced by the crippled, the broken, the blind, the lame and the destitute. Jesus’ parable is intended to be offensive; it is supposed to shock. It is rude and upsetting.

“Those who seek places of honor, those who feel important, those who do everything out of their love of power and positions of honor will not be invited to the banquet of the Kingdom. … They have already received their reward” (Gutiérrez 216).

From table manners and practical wisdom, Jesus has launched into God’s eschatological activity, which is nothing less than the humbling of the proud and the exaltation of the lowly. (Jeremias 193) Jesus has, so to speak, flipped the table, and upset the party to put into practice that gospel message: that God has raised up the lowly.

If that message offends, if that message wounds, if that message disturbs us, perhaps we need to reevaluate which seat we’ve assumed for ourselves at the banquet table.

Borg, Marcus J. Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teaching, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. New York, NY: Haper Collins, 2006. Print.

Crossan, John Dominick. The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2012. Print.

Gutiérrez, Gustavo. Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year. Trans. Colett Joly Dees. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997. Print.

Jeremias, Joachin. The Parables of Jesus 2nd Revised Ed. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972. Print.

Porter, Stanley E. Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament. New York, NY: Brill, 1997. Print.

Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1985. Print.

Wilson, Brian and Roger Christian. “Shut Down.” Surfin’ U.S.A.  Capitol Records. 1963. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Venus and Jupiter

My teenage son and I have been enjoying the new game No Man's Sky in which players are free to explore an open universe of over 18 quintillion planets (1.8 X 1019). It’s pretty amazing. But tonight we left the fictional planets of a digital universe to observe real planets in the physical universe which we inhabit. We went out to observe the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter. 

This stellar event will not occur again until 2065.

There are some who believe that the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter may have been the “star” that the three wise men of Matthew’s gospel observed. 

Stephen King Blows the Death of St. Paul

I've been reading (and re-reading) my way through the works, old and new, of Stephen King. I like his books; I like them not in spite of, but precisely for all the schlock and the horror, for all the vulgarity and mayhem. I like them because they are intelligent books, and filled with deep insight and humor.  And hope. There is a good deal of hope in King's horror.

But occasionally good Mr. King blows it.

This morning I'm careening towards the conclusion of one of my favorites, 'Salem's Lot (1975) and find the following (mis)statement:

"It's as old as Macedonia," Father Callahan said, "Hanging the body of your enemy or betrayer upside down so that his head faces earth instead of heaven. St. Paul was crucified that way, on an X-shaped cross with his legs broken." (332)


According to Christian tradition, St. Paul was tortured and then beheaded. According to the early church historian Eusebius, Paul was killed during the reign of Nero ca. AD 65 - 68. (Eccl. Hist. 2.25.5).  It was St. Peter who, according to tradition, was crucified upside down. And it is St. Andrew who is usually associated with the X-shaped cross.

Sunset Flowers

Sunsetflower by Jeff Carter on

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Biblical Limericks: Not a Quid Pro Quo

If your faith and devotion you’d show
share a meal with the poor folks you know,
the blind and dismembered
but try to remember
charity is not a quid pro quo.

Luke 14: 12 - 14

Indoor Sunflower Arrangement

Indoor Sunflower Arangement by Jeff Carter on

Monday, August 22, 2016

Night Baubles

Bubbles at the Iowa State Fair

Night Bubbles by Jeff Carter on

Biblical Limericks: It Weren’t Homosexuality

What happened in old Sodom city,
to be sure, wasn’t very pretty,
but if women and men
participated then
it weren’t homosexuality.

Genesis 19: 4

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Chaos on the Midway

Someone accidentally kicked my tripod while I was making a long exposure shot of some of the rides on the midway. Just a little nudge. Not enough to break the camera, not even enough to ruin the photo.

Chaos on the Midway by Jeff Carter on

An Observational Lesson at the Iowa State Fair

“Oooh, gross!” said the little girl with a half-eaten Iowa State Fair corn dog in her hand. “Look, Mommy.” She pointed into the boulevard.


“There. That horse just pooped in the street. Gross.”

“Yeah,” said her mother, “animals do that. They leave their mess where ever they are.”

“Gross,” said the little girl again.

“Are you done yet?” Mother asked. “We’re heading over to the midway next.”

“Yippee!” yelped the girl as she tossed the uneaten remains of her corn dog and a mustard smeared napkin to the curb. “Let’s go.” 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

An Underwater Dream

Down to the dark, to the utter dark, where the blind white sea-snakes are…
R. Kipling - "The Deep Sea Cables"

An abstract photo created with a macro attachment, burnt sparklers, a piece of glass, and an old DuPont gelatin filter.

Underwater Dream by Jeff Carter on

A Dream Landscape

And you hunger for the time
time to heal, desire time
and your earth moves beneath
your own dream landscape.

U2 - A Sort of Homecoming

A Dream Landscape by Jeff Carter on

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Once more
dehydrated and mush-eyed
on the ragged edge of cuticles and too much coffee,
following a corrugated cardboard briefcase
for organ transplant,
routine appendectomy and beheading,
it’s four a.m. on the old-time gospel hour.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Conquering Worm

The worm did not get the ones that fled the city in those days before the walls came down and the siege went up. They escaped the worm, but only for a time. The conquering worm gets everyone in the end. 

Those that escaped were the golden ones, the lucky ones. They found that golden hour that photographers love-the hour between too bright (when everything’s flattened and shadowless) and too dark (when everything’s swallowed up in shadow and dark). They were neither blinded by naivety and false optimism nor trapped by blind despair. They saw a way out and they took it.

They fled in cars, on bikes, or on foot. I saw one pimply faced boy, wide eyed in anxious fear, pulling his kid sister in a rusty Red Radio Flyer Wagon. They took to the streets and ran for the hills. The rest of us stayed in the Red Zone City of the worm.

Those that fled were labeled “Traitors!,” “Deserters!,” and “Cowards!” by the priests and politicians of the propaganda machine inside the walls. Even as the grey metal barrier came down around the city news pundits and political commentators were calling them all manner of vulgar epithets. Once those words on the public airwaves would have triggered apoplectic strokes among the guardians of moral virtue and family values, but when applied to the escapees, they became righteous and holy words, inspired by God himself if you believed the likes of Pat Robertson and John Hagee.

Those of us who remained were trapped, prisoners behind an iron wall, dreaming in unwashed beds.

Before the end, before we were eaten, we ate everything we could find: meat from the freezers and milk and eggs from the cooler before the power failed.  We ate canned goods and dry cereals after that.  We picked the backyard gardens clean. Those few weeks were days of easy picking, but they were followed by hard, lean days. 

When we ran out of food, we ate the leaves from the trees. We ate flower tops. We ate grass like cattle. People ate mushrooms without regard for their potential toxicity. Squirrels and field mice and rats disappeared, then so did the pets-dogs and cats were eaten by the desperate. We drained fish tanks and ate betas and goldfish, bite sized morsels that did little to fill our bellies.  We boiled shoe leather and belts. We peeled and ate dry flakes of wallpaper. 

We dug up worms, but as hungry as I was, with every rib showing and skin taunt against my skull, I couldn’t bring myself to eat those vile, corrupting creatures. I knew that they would eat me in the end. I held one wriggling worm between my fingers and said, “You are my father, and my mother and my sister.” The voice that came out of my mouth was mine, but distant and old. I replanted that worm in the soil and laid down in the dust until night fall.

The Creation of Adam

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Liar – Nothing More

I am walking through a dream, a hallway, a conference perhaps. People are moving past me. People I know, people I am acquainted with, colleagues, strangers. I smile, and wave perhaps, but there’s no need for conversation. The burble of conversations all round does not distract me. The flickering florescent lights is weird, but it doesn’t bother me.

To my left, along the wall of the hallway is a row of tables lined with computers – a temporary workstation for those of us attending this event. Walking by, I notice that one terminal has been left open and logged in, passcodes and passwords still available. Conscientious, I stop to log out the terminal, to close it down before mischief can occur, and I notice that it is B. who has left this workstation open and exposed.

B. and I do not have a good history. Workmates and colleagues, perhaps, but not friends. Associates at best. Confrontational at worst – though I have tried, for my part, to diminish that aspect when I can.  And even though we have had quarrels, I do not wish him ill, and would not delight to see him cause calamity.

I close out the program, log out the user. Safe now. Closed. I send B. a friendly message, “You left your terminal open. I closed it for you. J.”

Just then I see B., further down the corridor. He whips around, scans the hallway until he sees me. He glowers. He stalks back through the hall toward me. “What do you think you are doing?” He would be yelling if it weren’t for the others in the hall.

“Helping,” I say. “Nothing more.”

“You are a liar,” he says. “A liar. Nothing more.” And he turns away from me again.

“Hey!” I shout at him, regardless of the others in the hall. He turns back. “Why do you automatically disbelieve me? Why are you so keen to suspect me?”

B. eyes the people who have stopped to stare at us now. He grabs me by the elbow and leads me away from them. In an ill-lit alcove near the restrooms and water-fountain he says, “Because of what you said. It’s famous, don’t you know? You said that your payers don’t mean anything.” B. grins sardonically, all teeth and thin lips.

I am surprised. I do not remember having ever said this. And I tell him so. “I like to think that I know myself. At least a little. And that does not sound like something I would say. I do not remember having said it.” B.’s grin widens as if he’s preparing to devour me. “But,” I continue, “If I did say such a thing, and in a moment of peculiar, confessional honesty said that my prayers mean nothing, you believe – because I was honest then – that I am a liar now?”

B. snaps his mouth closed. His teeth click together. I wonder if he’s bitten his tongue. He shoves me out of his way and storms down the hallways towards the conference room. 

Biblical Limericks: Some Men just Want To Watch the World Burn

I’ve come to set the world on fire;
I wish the flames were burning higher!
I came not to bring peace
but divide, piece by piece.
Doesn’t that excite and inspire?

Luke 12: 49 - 51

Sunflower Squared

Sunflower Squared by Jeff Carter on

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Sunflower Thief

Sunflower Thief by Jeff Carter on
The Sunflower Thief

Biblical Limericks: People’s Court

Have you an adversarial grudge?
Are you prepared to face a stern judge?
Better settle your case;
settle it and embrace,
or to prison you may have to trudge.

Luke 12: 58 - 58

Through Shadow and Fog

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Afternoon Sunflower Delight

I am sitting in the back yard, in a slightly uncomfortable chair, in the shade of a maple tree. The chair might be a bit awkward, but my legs are long and most chairs are ill-fitting. Besides, the book I am reading is entertaining and compelling, and the hum of the bees and the songs of the birds all around is pleasant. It is warm, but not overwhelmingly so; it is a very pleasant and pleasing August afternoon.

The neighbor’s cat (a black tom named Scamper) approaches me. He prowls the neighborhood, roaming through the yards, jumping fences, doing whatever it is that freewill, free-range felines do during the day. He stops by to insist himself against my leg, purring. He flicks his tail to invite me to stroke his back and to rub his head – until he is done. Then he strikes with teeth and claws and an intimidating hiss, but only enough to say, “I’m outa’ here.” He does not draw blood. He leaves the way he came, but he’ll be back again later. When he wants to. Or not.

A little white moth (of what variety I do not know) stumbles around the yard – drunkenly, up, down, forward, side, never in a straight line from anywhere to anywhere. Dip, lift, light, flight, away it goes.

Birds are eating the sunflowers that I planted in my backyard garden. A bright flash of sunlight and shadow dives into the flowers– a goldfinch light enough to lite on the leafy branches pecks with a tiny pointed beak into the dark circle centers of my flowers. Busted seed shells are scattered down below in the dirt. He doesn’t notice me watching him, watching him lean and twist to reach the seeds, then flit and flutter and shake to crack them open. He doesn’t notice me watching the empty seed husks fall. But I see him.

Perhaps if I were a professional farmer, a sunflower farmer, dependent upon a good crop of seeds to sell, I’d be distressed by this thievery. But I’m not so I’m not. I grow these flowers for the challenge and the delight of seeing them grow. And for the delight of watching bees and birds flying in and among them.

The backdoor opens to let the dog out for a bit. She’s an eleven year old Great Dane, once bounding with energy and a sleek black coat, now slow and grey and white in the face. But she still loves to be outside. The seed stealing goldfinch is startled and takes flight, swooping up into the branches of the maple tree above me.

I see great bomber bees, fuzzy yellow zeppelins, bumbling back and forth among the dinner plate blossoms – bomber bees that live not in a hive, but in a hole in the ground (I’ve followed them. It’s a hole in the ground near the air-conditioner unit). I see Yellow Jacket wasps, and Hoverflies – which look like bees but are not, as well as that flashy yellow goldfinch – returned with his slightly duller hued female companion (no less glorious in her muted colors) now that the dog has lay down in a shady corner of the yard, far from the sunflower buffet. 

Shadowed Sunflower by Jeff Carter on
I’ve also seen, to my surprise (and delight) humming birds eating at my sunflowers, ruby throated, green lighting darts darting in to feed on fresh brewed sun tea, sweet tea, sweet sunflower nectar, which must be the ambrosia of Helios himself. There are orange and black butterflies too, floating among the blood-red-soon-to-turn-deep-yellow heads. They are the majestic monarchs of a disappearing kingdom.

I complained last summer of the squirrels who snicked the heads off my sunflowers in order to snack on the seeds, but I wasn’t really upset. This too the way of the world; the squirrels, too, are a delight.

I don’t know if my sunflowers will help preserve the bees and the butterflies. Perhaps their declines are already too far gone. This is the way the world ends - not with a bang, not in fire, not in ice as some folks will say, but in futility -in the buzzless despair of unpollinated futility. The world will be a sorrowful place when the bees and butterflies are gone forever. So I delight in them if and while I can.

The Lonely Man

Lonely Man by Jeff Carter on

Monday, August 8, 2016

To Be Divisive Like Jesus

To be like Jesus!
This hope possesses me,
in every thought and deed
this is my aim, my creed.
To be like Jesus!
This hope possesses me;
his spirit helping me,
like him I’ll be.

(Gowans and Larsson)

I am sometimes accused by a few of my fellow Salvationists (members of The Salvation Army) of being “divisive” and a “troublemaker” -in part because I have argued for a more affirming position towards LGBTQI people. I don’t think it’s true. I really don’t think of myself as a trouble maker or as a rabble rouser. I am not trying to cause division – in fact I have argued (and continue to do so) for unity within The Salvation Army despite our differences.

But if (and that is a big if) my accusers are correct, and I am divisive, I am still far less divisive than Jesus. Perhaps I just need to try harder to be more like Jesus.

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! … Do you think I came to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12: 49 – 53 NIV

Gowans, John and John Larrson. “To Be Like Jesus” The Salvation Army Songbook. The Salvation Army, London. 2015. Print

Busy Bee

Busy Bee by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Heaven Is in the Sharing

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12: 32 – 34 NRSV

The reading for today begins simply enough, “Do not be afraid…” It’s good advice, if easier to say than to do. It’s sometimes said that the phrase “Fear not,” or a similar equivalent, is found 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year. Which sounds nice but isn’t exactly true. Even so – “Do not be afraid…” is good instruction for us, the little flock of Jesus.

Do not fear – even though this life and this world are difficult, troublesome, worrisome, wearisome. It’s easy to worry about finances, security, and peace – easy to be anxious about paying for medication or for the kids to go to college. When we hear the news, it is easy to be distressed about wars and rumors of wars. But still, Jesus tells us, “do not fear…”

Do not fear because it is God’s good pleasure to give us the eternal kingdom of peace and joy. That is what he wants to do. He does not give the kingdom begrudgingly or reluctantly. Our Father wants to give us the peace, and hope, and joy of his kingdom. He delights in the giving. He gives prodigiously - wastefully, wonderfully.

He is not like a stingy employer counting out the pennies to pay his employees, looking for ways to cut costs. He isn’t looking for us to do more and more to earn it. It’s not a matter of being obedient enough, or having right and perfect doctrine. It is our father’s delight, God’s grace, to give. This is his character.

These words come in a chapter full of Jesus’ thoughts on the place of wealth in the world. Earlier in the chapter he told a parable of a wealthy man – who gained even more wealth – who hoarded his resources and his increasing financial empire.  His sin, his error, his foolishness was not in being wealthy, but in refusing to share that great wealth with others. He died, and what could he do with his great wealth then?  Jesus concludes the parable with advice to be “rich toward God.”  (Luke 12: 16 – 21)

Jesus talks about God’s provision for the flowers and the birds, because life is more than food and the body more than clothes. He promises that God will provide.  (Luke 12: 22 – 31) “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. So thank the Lord, Oh thank the Lord for all his love.” (Schwartz)

So “do not fear, little flock,” because God wants to give us the Kingdom, he wants to provide for us, he wants to give to us. And we, in turn, are to sell and to give to others, and we find joy in the giving. Jesus instructs us to store up treasure in heaven, treasure that can’t be stolen or destroyed. This “storing up treasure in heaven” is very similar to the earlier instruction to “be rich in the sight of God.” We are rich when we share, when we give, we are a blessing to others.

There is an old story of a man who had a vision of hell. In this vision he saw hell as a magnificent feast, a luxurious table spread with cooked meats, fine vegetables, rich deserts, the finest wine and the smoothest coffee. And all those souls in hell sat down at the table to eat this glorious spread – only to realize that they had no elbows. They could not bring any of this wonderful food to their mouths and so they were tortured for all eternity by the sight of it.  The man then had a vision of heaven. And in this vision he saw heaven as a magnificent feast, a luxurious table spread with cooked meats, fine vegetables, rich deserts, the finest wine and the smoothest coffee. And all those souls in heaven sat down at the table to eat this glorious spread – only to realize that they had no elbows. They could not bring any of this wonderful food to their mouths, so they fed each other.  They shared with their neighbors and each one enjoyed the feast for all eternity.

Heaven is in the sharing and the serving.

I have quoted the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth before, and I will share this quote again and again. He said, “Making heaven on earth is our business” (Booth). And heaven is made in the sharing. Do not fear – even though we know the world is difficult. In this life we will have trouble (John 16:33) but we should not fear, instead we take joy in sharing with others – just as God, our father, delights in sharing the kingdom with us.

Booth, William. “Don’t Forget” 1910.
Schwartz, Stephen. “All Good Gifts.” Godspell, 1971.

Bright Sunflower Medley

Bright Sunflowe Medly by Jeff Carter on

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Pages from the Journal of Dr. Tarrec

I have been sorting through the large steamer trunk filled with the assorted papers, and writings of my friend, Dr. Tarrec. Amongst his scientific articles, religious tractates, and alchemical studies I found a few pages from his journal. When I asked him about the events recorded in these pages his one good eye bored into me with such ferocity that I thought he would strike me down in a murderous rage. Then, after a silent beat, he casually waved his hand through the air and said, “I do not remember what I remember.”

June 18, 1979
The bells have been rung, a solemn tone to tune our minds for the ceremony. The bell has tolled, the curtain closed. It is time for a séance in the theatre basement. The pentagram is marked on the floor in glow-tape. All is prepared.

June 20, 1979
I set the curtains on fire; burned the playhouse down. Now what? Shall I lay claim to the cold resplendence and silver glory of the moon?

July 3, 1979
There are knife-handed Kobolds tunneling into the basement. I hear them digging, clawing-constantly hamming and drilling their tunnels, shoveling through the rock. I feel their dim vibrations through the floor.

July 7, 1979
The rain (six days now) is tearing down the sky. Many broken limbs are downed in the storm. From the West to the East I travel on bandsaw vibrations. I need more light and less suspense.

July 8, 1979
There are monsters in the ICU, and bodies hidden under a pile of public rubble. There is a lizard on the roof and a man burning in the desert. Fire fell from the sky. I am frightened.

July 18, 1979
I have been entrusted with a secret, a terrible burden. I have been given the chemical formula of the most powerful hallucinogenic substance in the Milky Way. This data must be kept secret at all costs. The Kremlin would do horrific things to me if they knew what I know. They would send Soviet Strontium-90 hammers to beat upon my head, to pound me with a 28.8 year migraine headache. O Lord, my God, is there no help for the wounded son?

July 24, 1979
There is blood issuing from a steam in the Earth-thick, dark blood. There is a man dead in the road. He speaks unscheduled words in the darkness.

July 30, 1979
Headlights are approaching. This is a death car, a phantom coup filled with ghosts in warrior’s garb. This is the traveling of ill-tempered gypsies-tramps and thieves disgruntled from the grave.

August 1, 1979
A peasant woman gave birth today to a monstrosity. The deformed child two heads with empty faces, three legs (two normal, the third hanging like a tail), and three arms (the third growing grotesquely from its back). I was there at the end; I saw these things with my own lonely eyes. This is a dark omen, to be sure, but what it portends I cannot say. 

August 16, 1979
At sunset this evening there was, in the Eastern sky, a bright comet blazing-a right, fearful comet. Its long, broad tail stretched into the third heavens and glowed pale yellow in color. It will cost many a man his life. Even still, we are not abandoned. We are lost, but not alone. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Midnight Black Eyed Susan Explosion

...from the same night I took this photo and this one as well.

Midnight Blackeyed Susan Explosion by Jeff Carter on

On the Leader’s Zephyr Zeppelin

The Urmx-7 technicians were found years later, mummified – desiccated. They must have died instantly, in the flash right at the beginning of the global war, when the first nuclear blasts detonated over Kuala Lumpur, Lahore, and Des Moines. Their bodies weren’t burnt, but baked. And when the Urmx-7 vault was finally excavated, their dried out husks were still there, hunched over their terminals. The Urmx-7 system was still functioning, as if nothing had ever happened, the hexagonal decryption codes and the ENCOM end of line MCP transmitters still broadcasting the Leader’s secret messages to agents around the world.

This is why the orbital nuke platforms continued on path – over the earth, always ready to reign down fire on the surface dwellers. 

The Leader of the Right Government™ ignored his advisors, and fired those who refused to release the nuclear codes. Dressed in a suit of regenerated cellulous, like a rabid fox in rayon, he snipped and yapped at the roadkill remains of the intelligence community. “Just nuke ‘em,” he said. “Nuke ‘em. Why can’t we just nuke ‘em?”

And then …

Aloft in his Zephyr Zeppelin, the Leader stayed above the crisis – through the weeks and months that most of the rest of the world was drinking sulfur water and bleeding in the gutters of the globe. The Urmx-7 flight program kept the Zephyr Zeppelin out of the fallout streams, with stops in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. He kept his flesh fresh with spleenfruit fizzy drinks while we broiled under the sun and sipped at industrial run-off.

I watched the Leader’s Zephyr Zeppelin dock at the top of the Empire State building. He debarked calmly, stalking down the gangplank with his hair whipping in the wind. He was flanked by a new pair of top of the line sternodogs – Andalusian dogs with razor blade eyes. The Leader stepped into the elevator and was whisked away from my sight.

I waited five minutes to be sure that the platform was clear, then… Something tickled at me to wait.

And then I saw him again. The Right Government™'s continuity editors must have been slipping. His distortion clones were here with him. But why? Why were they here instead of leading a Gila monster chase through the blastlands of the glowing southwest? Instead of hiding like a leech at the bottom of swampy basement in Babylon?

This was something new. Something unpredicted. The plan was off. I signaled the abort code to the rest of the team secreted within the lower floors of the Empire State building. And I held my place, held my tongue. If I were caught here, the long fall and the sudden splatter at the bottom would be infinitely preferable to the Leader’s Torture Teams.

The Torture Teams competed on live television using “enhanced euphemisms” to extract confessions and intelligence information from captured subversives and wounded combatants while viewers at home voted for and wagered on their favorites. Dr. Mindy Mengele, the sexy sadist was the crowd favorite. Torquemada the Terrible used a mixture of classical devices (the Heretic’s Fork, the Judas Cradle, etc.…) along with modern chemical pain inducers to distress and harass his ‘contestants.’ 

But I couldn’t linger on the zeppelin platform. I was too exposed, and the wind was picking up. I replaced my only weapon (small blade) within an occult body cavity. If I were caught, there was a chance they’d miss the abdominal vault in the frisking. One could hope, anyway. I snuck on board the Zephyr Zeppelin and hid in its lower decks, in the gear rooms. It would be cold and loud, but better than being hurled from the landing platform, or tortured on live television. If the Zeppelin flew low enough, I could slip down one of the trailing electromagnetic frequency feelers. It was risky, but…

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Do Not Despair, O Little Flock - a New Hymn

I haven't done this in some time, so I feel good about doing it again - writing new words for old hymn tunes. Today I have taken two of the texts from this week's lectionary reading (Ordinary 19 - Luke 12: 32 - 40 & Psalm 33: 12 - 22) and the German hymn tune Kommt Her Zu Mir  to write the following:

You are welcome to it if you like it.

Do not despair, o little flock, 
though the trials of this world rock
your faith and disturb your calm,
for it is your Father’s pleasure
to give to you all the treasure

of his glorious kingdom.

Sell what you have – give to the poor
and store your wealth forever more

where thieves and moths cannot go;
for where you keep your wealth and worth,
whether in heav’n or on the earth,
there your heart will be also.

Kings are not saved by force of arms,
nor warriors from great alarms
by trusting in their own might;
but God’s eye is on those that fear,
on all those who to him draw near
and trust him through death’s dark night.

Be dressed and ready with your light,
for he may come this very night,
then we will open the door.
We set our hope upon the Lord,
who is our help, our shield and sword;
we praise him forever more.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Biblical Limericks: He’s a Cut-Up

Remember: the tyrannical slave
who abuses others like a knave
will get all that he’s earned
when the master’s returned:
he’ll be dissevered with a sharp glaive.

Luke 12: 45 - 46
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