google analytics

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books I Read This Year (2016)

I set a goal for myself to read 100 books a year. Some years I make that goal. Some years I do not. This year I did, though I didn't intend to set out to read the entire Stephen King canon. What can I say? Things happen. (And I didn't quite read everything he's published... )

American Folk Songs for Christmas – Ruth Crawford Seeger
Treasury of Christmas Music – William L. Reed
The International Book of Christmas Carols – Walter Ehret
The Return of the Star of Bethlehem – Kenneth Boa
Towards a Church of the Poor – Julio de Santa Anna
Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year – Gustavo Gutiérrez
Nosferatu: An Opera Libretto – Dana Gioia
The Night Church – Whitley Strieber
God Eating: A Study in Christianity and Cannibalism – J.T. Lloyd
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas  - Troy Little
Bible Stories for Adults – James K. Morrow
Swell Foop – Piers Anthony
Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs – Erik Didriksen
Emma – Howard Zinn
The Children of Men – P.D. James
The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells
The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson
Stephen King: The First Decade – Joseph Reino
Sphere – Michael Chrichton
Chomsky on Anarchism – Noam Chomsky
The Complete Fiction – H.P. Lovecraft
The Wolf’s Hour – Robert McCammon
Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas – Mari Sandoz
Selected Stories: Family Matters – Symphony Space
The Best American Travel Writing -  Bill Bryson
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – William Steig
Resurrection – Leo Tolstoy
House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski
Many Waters – Madeline L’Engle
A Swiftly Tilting Planet – Madeline L’Engle
Wind in the Door – Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
Chairman Mao Meets the Apostle Paul: Christianity, Communism and the Hope of China – Khiok-Khng Yeo
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Pontypool Changes Everything – Tony Burgess
The Oath – Frank Peretti
Will & Kate – Dawn Volz
Bob Dylan and Philosphy: It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Thinking – Peter J. Vernezze, Carl J. Porter, James S. Spiegel
Dr. Faustus – Christopher Marlow
Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life – Herman Melville
The Producers – Mel Brooks
Leaving Iowa – Tim Clue
The Orthodox Heretic – Peter Rollins
Wool – Hugh Howely
Joe Hill: The IWW & the Making of a Revolutionary Working Class Counterculture – Franklin Rosemont
Praying with John of the Cross – Wayne Simsic
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Ian Fleming
Life and Fate – Vasily Grossman
Lost Horizons – James Hilton
How to Pray when You’re Pissed at God: Or Anyone Else for that Matter – Ian Punnett
The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and Tales – Vic Crume
The Shroud Codex  - Jerome R. Corsi
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse – John Joseph Adams
Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler
Prophet – Frank Peretti
Countdown to Sunday: A Daily Guide for Those Who Dare To Preach – Chris Erdman
Hitler: 1936 – 1945 Nemesis – Ian Kershaw
Hitler: 1889 – 1936 Hubris – Ian Kershaw

Stephen King -
The Gunsligner
The Drawing of the Three
The Waste Lands
Wizard and Glass
Wolves of the Calla
Song of Susanna
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
The Tommyknockers
Skeleton Crew
Doctor Sleep
The Shining
The Dead Zone
Four Past Midnight
Rose Madder
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Mr. Mercedes
The Dark Half
Dream Catcher
‘Salem’s Lot
From a Buick 8
The Regulators
Hearts in Atlantis
Gerald’s Game
Everything’s Eventual
Blockade Billy
The Eyes of the Dragon
Black House
The Talisman
The Long Walk
The Running Man
Lisey’s Story
Under the Dome
Different Seasons
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
The Stand
11 / 22 / 63

Friday, December 30, 2016

Welcome Rufus

We have a new friend in the Carter house; his name is Rufus. Rufus T. Firefly. What's the "T" stand for? The. ("Rufus" is Latin for "red haired.")

He came to us from the Jasper County Animal Rescue League. We've already discovered that he recognizes himself in the mirror  - and likes to look at himself. And that he enjoys moving the furniture. He puts his shoulder under the arm of the couch and then lifts and walks around moving the couch.

Welcome Rufus. I think you'll fit in here.

Christmas Candlelight

Christmas Candlelight by Jeff Carter on

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Background Images for Everyone - 2017

I had, for several years, been creating and sharing background images for you (or someone like you) to download and use as your (or like your) very own. Then, during 2016, I sorta' fell out of the habit, I guess. I just sorta' forgot, I guess. I dunno.


I am going to try to be more diligent about it again this year (2017). And to that, here is the first for a new year. Happy New Year and what not. Use these background images in your projects at home, work, school, church, or where-ever. I only ask two things: 1) that you share them freely with others and 2) that you tell others that you found the images here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

El Caganer - My Favorite Character in the Nativity Set

It's still Christmas - and don't you forget it.  Christmas until Epiphany (at least.  Some hold out till the Feast of the Presentation...) And since it's still Christmas I'm going to tell you about my favorite character in the nativity scene. (I’ve written about him before. This post is an update of that previous writing.)

So what if he's not mentioned in the nativity stories (either Matthew or Luke).  Most of the characters we put into our nativity scenes weren't in the nativity stories. (If you want your nativity set to be biblically accurate, follow these instructions: )

My favorite nativity character is El Caganer. El Caganer comes to us from Catalan and its neighboring areas, and he's been around since the 17th or 18th century.  His name literally means: "the shitter.”

And already I've offended someone, I'm sure. Yes: He's irreverent. And that is a good thing.

El Caganer reminds us of a couple of things. First – that our God is one that pulls the proud and mighty down from their thrones (Luke 1: 52 – 53). Kings are used to being treated with reverence. Kings don't have shit all over them them  El Caganer is often portrayed in contemporary works as celebrities and political figures. In this way El Caganer is a leveler, humbling the proud and the lofty.

El Caganer also reminds us that we have a different kind of king, one who's come to lift us up from the dunghill, one who gets down off his high horse and gets dirt on his hands.

Hail Trump!

Have you seen the new GOP proclamation concerning President Elect Trump?

Since providence, which has ordered all things of our life and is very much interested in our life, has ordered things in sending Trump, whom she filled with virtue for the benefit of men, sending him as a Savior both for us and for those after us, him who would end war and order all things, and since The Donald by his appearance surpassed the hopes of all those who received the good tidings, not only those who were benefactors before him, but even the hope among those who will be left afterward, and the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of the good tidings through him…

(based on the Prirene Calendar Inscription ca. 9BC)

Picture from here

the GOPs recent "New King" message 

Blasphemy and The Donald - (mis)appropriating the biblical language of worship of God for Trump

Hail Trump as the restoration of our hope. Our Savior. Our King...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Magi and the Dinosaur (Matthew 2 Re-imagined)

Melchior wanted to leave the beast at home, but Gaspar insisted. "What little boy doesn't love dinosaurs?" he said...

(You may also be amused by Luke 2 re-imagined)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Biblical Limericks: This Is Why the Christmas Story Needs an Oxford Comma

The shepherds said, “Now let us go see
what the angels said to you and me.
We will look for that sign
in a stable for kine:
a manger with room enough to sleep three.”

Luke 2: 16

All Hail to You , O Blessed Morn!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Fog

It was foggy today - this Christmas Eve day. But fog and ice can be very nice.

Christmas Eve Fog by Jeff Carter on

Friday, December 23, 2016

It's a Hoyt Axton Christmas!

It's Christmas. And that means it's time for some Hoyt Axton. "Who's Hoyt Axton?"you say? He's the author of that great Christmas song, "Joy to the World."

Joy to the world now, all the boys and girls now.
joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me...

and star of my favorite Christmas movie, Gremlins.

Have a Happy Hoyt Axton Christmas, everybody!

Downtown Winter Wonderland

Downtown Winter Wonderland by Jeff Carter on

Cast-a-Down the Proud

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.

Luke 1: 46 – 55

God today hath raised up the poor and cast a-down the proud.

From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne.

He feeds the hungry as his own, the rich depart in poverty.

He has sent the rich away empty,
but he has been merciful to us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Holiday Tree Doesn’t Matter

It is one of those urban legends of the internet age, a fake news outrage that will not go away; the story has circulated for years. It’s not true, of course, but that doesn’t inhibit the story’s circulation: President Barack Obama has not ordered that the traditional White House Christmas Tree be referred to as a “holiday tree.” It is not true this year. It was not true last year or the year before or the year before that.

I can imagine that next year we will have memes floating around on the Facebook and the Twitter about the fact (ha!) that we can have Christmas trees at the White House again now that Donald Trump is president. It still won’t be true, but … (sigh) … whatever.

But I’d like you to imagine something with me, just for a moment. Imagine an even grimmer scenario. Imagine that President Obama had announced that there would be no White House Christmas Tree at all – not merely that the tree would be referred to as a “holiday tree,” but that there would be no decorated evergreen tree with lights, and tinsel, and baubles at the White House at all. Can you imagine the outrage and fury of those who believe that there is, in fact (there isn’t), a war on Christmas?

If the legends are true (and they probably are not) it wasn’t until Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) that the evergreen tree was connected with Christian celebration of Jesus’ nativity. So for some twelve hundred years Christians were perfectly able to celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth without a holiday tree.* Ϫ

But who cares? The tree is not the important part. Call it a Christmas tree, an Xmas tree, a Holiday tree, or a Tannenbaum (which means generically “fir tree” (and I notice that no one freaks out at the carolers singing oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum, wie treu sind deine Blätter…)) or don’t have one at all. It doesn’t really matter.

*Yes, twelve hundred, not fifteen hundred. Christians didn’t even celebrate Christmas until around the year 300…  

Ϫ And why not call it a holiday tree?  If we’re putting them up as early as Thanksgiving (as many people do) and leaving them up until New Year’s Day or Epiphany - the tree is part of the decorations for several holidays. And the word “holiday” itself means “Holy Day” for crying out loud. If Christmas Day isn’t a holiday holy-day, I don’t know what is…

Holiday Trees by Jeff Carter on

Dinosaur Dreams

Dinosaur Dreams by Jeff Carter on

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Planet Christmas

In recent weeks I have shared some of the photographic results of my scientific research into the structures of Christmas at the subatomic level. Today I share with you something from the opposite side of the scope - instead of a high powered electron microscope, today I've been using a tightly focused telescope and have discovered a strange exoplanet within the Omega Nebula (in the constellation Sagittarius) at a distance of about 4,890 light years from planet Earth.

I give you: Planet Christmas - a minor planet (class B) with unique glitter rings.

Planet Christmas by Jeff Carter on

Sometimes... Sometimes...

It’s not a bad gig: I take my tuba to the entryway of the local Hy-vee grocery store and play Christmas psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – as well as wassailing song, winter songs, and goofy songs from beloved animated specials as part of the fundraising for the Salvation Army here in Newton / Jasper county, Iowa. It's warm (well, warm-ish. At least until the door mechanism gets busted and the door sticks in the open position...)

I play my horn because 1) I get tired of the bell very quickly and 2) it’s an easy way to interact with people without having to be extremely interactive. (I’m an introverted person and by this point in the holiday season, a season that lasts from Thanksgiving till New Year’s Eve, I’m pretty well exhausted and don’t have the energy for a lot of human interaction.  Playing the Christmas songs for folks is easier than talking – and it seems to be appreciated. Little kids especially love seeing the tuba and hearing the music.

But sometimes … sometimes…

This afternoon a gentleman stopped to listen as I played. I finished one song, and took a moment to acknowledge him and to empty the water that condensed inside the horn. He asked how long I’d been playing and how long I’ve lived here. Then his eyebrows darted down and he asked in a heavy voice, “When’s the end times coming?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I’ve got no word on that…” I quietly started looking for another song to play.

“Things are getting bad,” he said, “the blacks and the drugs.” Then he left.

I played Go Tell It on the Mountain.

Sometime later an elderly woman sat down on the bench beside me. She was accompanied by her adult son. “What song’s he playing?” She asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said, then turned my music stand around (while I was playing!) so he could read the title: “A Virgin Unspotted,” he read to her. “I don’t know that one.”

Another guy asked if I could play Foggy Mountain Breakdown. “Not without my banjo,” I said. I don’t have a banjo…

It’s not a bad gig, but sometimes… sometimes…

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas at the Subatomic Level II

It is still a bit early to celebrate Christmas - but I have been continuing my research into the structure of Christmas at the subatomic level. I've been using a high powered electron microscope, sending an accelerated beam of electrons across the surface of a bit of glitter scraped from a Christmas ornament that one of my kids made in kindergarten.

As you can see, again, Christmas is weird down at the subatomic level.

Christmas at the Subatomic Level II by Jeff Carter on

I’m Dreaming of Red Kettles – What a Wonderful World

I’m tired of Christmas (and it’s not even Christmas yet). I’m tired of the red kettles. I’m not resting at night because even then I’m still out with my kettle.

Saturday night I dreamt that I was playing my guitar at a red kettle just inside the doors of the mall. I was playing what sounded like a Huey Lewis and the News cover version of Joey Ramone’s version of What a Wonderful World…

As people walked past and dropped in their donations, I considered whether or not it would be too cold to have church services on Sunday morning… A real concern in central Iowa winters when the temperatures drop below zero and the roads get icy. Our mostly older congregation has a difficult time with those kind of days. And I don't want them to get sick or hurt.

But my song and my deliberations were interrupted. Suddenly a torrent of some foul, blue-green, antiseptic fluid began gushing from my nose, spraying down my shirt, and all over my guitar.  That's when I woke up.

What a wonderful world…

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Donald Trump Rewrites Shakespeare

Biblical Limericks: Tiglath-Pileser the Barber

King Ahaz, you must watch and beware:
Assyria’s king soon will be there -
that crazy hell raiser
will come with his razor
to shave off your beard and pubic hair.

Isaiah 7: 20

Guardian of the Christmas Tree

Guardian of the Christmas Tree by Jeff Carter on

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Photo of My Father

My friend, Scott , shared this photo of him (on the left) and my father (on the right) playing thier horns at the Salvation Army red kettles in Evansville, Indiana. I must say, this is a great photo of my dad. Probably the best one ever.

Winter Storm

Winter Storm by Jeff Carter on

Shake Your Money Maker

This is, by no means, an official Salvation Army red kettle slogan - but I think it's funny. It's funny, but not as good as a previous one that I shared.

If you would like to contribute to the fundraising efforts of the Salvation Army in Newton / Jasper County, Iowa you can use this convenient link to my on-line kettle.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Choose One – You Can’t Do Both

“Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” (James 3:11 KJV)

This morning, when I checked the Facebook machine, I was chagrined to see that an acquaintance of mine had made two successive posts about post-election responses of some people. The first wasn’t too terrible, I suppose. It was a call of unity, of sorts.

“Come on people....STOP with the political rhetoric. It's over. Some of you OLD believers are causing NEW believers to question their faith. Be part of the CHRISTIAN PRAYING SOLUTION instead of posting propaganda to start trouble.
Nuff Said~”

I don’t totally agree with it. I don’t think we who are disappointed by the election results have the obligation to stifle our discontent. But I do appreciate the call to stop posting just to “start trouble.” I could have accepted this one, and still kept a favorable opinion of the friend who shared it. Except that it was followed by another post – a mean spirited meme:

You can either make a call for Christian unity in spite of disagreement and difference of opinion (a fine and noble call, one grounded in love and community and respect)  - OR – you can laugh and gloat about the feelings of hurt and disappointment of others (using a phrase descriptive of anal rape…)

BUT you really cannot do both.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Magi Follow the Star (Not the Shepherds)

It's the magi - those Persian astrologers - that followed the star, not the shepherds.

Magi by Jeff Carter on

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Shepherds Can’t Follow the Star

I know that I can be critical (maybe overly so) of the songs and carols played during the extended Advent / Christmas season. I usually refuse to sing “Away in the manger” because of line “no crying he makes” is absolutely ridiculous. I realize  that my (overly) critical spirit is probably due, in part, to my general dislike of the Christmas season - still, there are aspects of the holiday I do like, and there are songs and carols I like despite their accuracy problems.

Take for instance the Christmas Spiritual, Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow. It’s difficult to find any information about the history of this particular song. One book I have says that “practically nothing is known of the source of this spiritual” (Evans 327).  Another points back, without further detail to the 1909 book, Religious Folk Songs of the Negro as Sung on the Plantations. Online sources say that it likely originated with the slaves on plantations on the islands off the coast of Georgia and North Carolina.

There's a star in the East on Christmas morn,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow
It'll lead to the place where the Savior's born,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow

Leave your sheep and leave your lambs
Rise up, shepherd, and follow
Leave your ewes and leave your rams
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
Follow, follow
Rise up, shepherd, and follow
Follow the star of Bethlehem
Rise up, shepherd, and follow

If you take good heed of the angel's words
Rise up, shepherd, and follow
You'll forget your flocks, you'll forget your herds
Rise up, shepherd, and follow

Encouraging the shepherd to “rise up and follow” the star conflates the two separate, and very distinct infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew. In Luke the shepherds are visited by an angel and given instructions to go to nearby Bethlehem. In Matthew, it is the Magi who follow the star (and later instructions from an angel seen in a dream). In neither one do shepherds follow “the star of Bethlehem.”

Still, angels are frequently equated with stars in the scriptures of the Hebrew and Christian bibles (see Job 38:7 and Revelation 12:4 for example.) So… we could say that the shepherds followed a star to Bethlehem. But that would be just convenient retconning to make the song fit the stories.

Despite all that, I still like the song.

Evans, George K. The International Book of Christmas Carols. Brattleboro, Vermont: The Stephen Greene Press. 1963. Print.

Fenner, Thomas P. Religious Folk Songs of the Negro as Sung on the Plantations. Hampton, Virginia: Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. 1909. Print. 

Country Christmas

I shot this with a lens that I've partially disassembled.  There were cranberries in the stack as well - on the left, but they were cropped out. I ate them, along with the orange and the pomegranate after the photo was done. The little red balls are Styrofoam, and are now rolling all over the floor. They're a pain to clean up...

Country Christmas by Jeff Carter on

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Saint Pilate Flips through 150 Television Channels

he thumbs the remote past talking heads
                overpaid pundits
                power grasping opportunists
                political sycophants

Saint Pilate scrolls through his Twitter feed
                fake news satire
                baseless accusations
                counterfactual journalism
                conspiratorial ravings
                anti-intellectual cynicism
                propaganda (and he knows propaganda when he sees it)

“What is truth?” he sighs.

Red and Gold

Red and Gold by Jeff Carter on

Monday, December 12, 2016

Going to Yahweh for Coffee

The gas station / convenience store across the street from our building has come under new owners. Formerly a Kum & Go Station, it is now a Yes Way station.

But I have already - by accident - referred to it twice as the "Yahweh station." So I am now going to purposefully refer to it as such.

And since Yahweh has sent me some coupons to celebrate the grand re-opening, I am going to Yahweh for some coffee.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gaudete - A Sermon for the Third Week of Advent 2016

The third Sunday of Advent is named Gaudete Sunday – “Gaudete” is the Latin word “Rejoice.” Today is a day for rejoicing. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” (Philippians 4: 4 – 6).

Today we rejoice. And this is different somewhat than happiness and good cheer. We hear a lot of songs during these extended weeks of Advent/Christmas about being happiness and good cheer and being merry and bright. But Joy is different. Joy is bigger, deeper, and less dependent upon external circumstances.

Today we rejoice – even if we don’t feel happy and gay and merry and bright. Today we rejoice, even if we don’t have the “Christmas spirit” and our hearts aren’t full of good cheer.  As Pope Francis said in his Gaudete Sunday Sermon last year, “We cannot let ourselves be taken in by weariness; sadness in any form is not allowed, even though we have reasons (for sadness), with many concerns and the many forms of violence which hurt our humanity, the coming of the Lord, however, must fill our hearts with joy.” (Francis)

Even though we may have reason to feel anxious  - world events seem as close as ever to explosive calamity – even though we may have reasons to feel worry – friends and family members in the hospital – even though we may have reasons to fear, we will choose to rejoice today. We will be joyful (if not happy and cheerful) because we know that the Lord is near.

Many biblical scholars believe that the book of Isaiah was not written by one single prophet, but that it is a composite work composed of the words of the prophet along with his students and followers who came later. They believe that our text for this morning (Isaiah 35) and the previous chapter (34) were probably written by two different authors, at different times, but that they have been purposefully arranged this way, next to each other, to heighten the dramatic contrast between them. (Kilpatrick 358) So, even though our text for this morning is a reading from chapter 35, it is good to begin by taking a brief look at chapter 34.

Chapter 34 is filled with doom and destructive gloom, with the stench of rotting corpses. There are mountains flowing with blood and the stars have all disappeared. It is the day of vengeance, burning pitch and billowing smoke. There are dangerous and wild animals in that desert, monsters and desert demons, snakes and buzzards. The land is full of thorns and thistles. And there is no kingdom there.

It is bleak. It is dark. The burning land of despair. It is the wastelands. It is apocalyptically dark, the end of the world as we know it.  It is the place of fear.

But then we turn to chapter 35 and the arid desert now blooms with new and glorious life. The wilderness rejoices and blossoms like a crocus. The Israelite people, living in Babylonian exile, looked back across the burning sand of the Syrian Desert that separated them from their homeland and saw, not the trackless wastes of apocalyptic ash of ruin and decay, but joyful hope.

“At the heart of their dream of a Messiah and his Kingdom has been the vision of the homeland and the return of the exile. Greater than the passion for vengeance on their foes, deeper than the exultation of victory has been the comfort of God’s promise that for them there would come at last a glad homecoming, the great ingathering of the ransomed and the redeemed” (Kilpatrick 358 – 359). They saw a highway leading through the desert of their despair, and they called it The Sacred Way – the road of the redeemed. And they saw themselves - the ransomed of the LORD – returning home, coming back to Zion with shouts, and being crowned with joy everlasting.  Their external circumstances didn’t speak to joy. They were captive. They were prisoners. They were exiles in a foreign and hostile land. Broken. Destroyed. But they saw a vision of joy.

Today, was we wait and anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus, in his coming as an infant in Bethlehem – which we will celebrate in not too many days, in his glorious coming with his peaceable Kingdom, and in his everyday coming into the now-present of our lives we are standing at the in-between point – between chapters 34 and 35. We are standing between the apocalyptic ash of the burning desert and the lush blooming of crocuses and roses, between streams of burning pitch and streams of water in the desert. We are standing between the long dark nights of cold winter and the increasing light and warmth of spring renewed. We are standing between weak-kneed fear and “Be strong; fear not.” We are standing between despair and joy. Which way will we turn?

Which way will we turn? Back toward the world as it is with chaos and danger around every corner? Or will we turn toward the dawning light of hope and the joy of his coming? Toward the promise of restoration and fulfillment and the blossoming of beautiful life?

Gaudete. Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice for the Lord is near.

Kilpatrick, G.G.D. “Isaiah: Exposition” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume V. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1956. Print.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Oh Christmas Trees - Volume IV - Free Christmas Music

It's exciting news, if you're into this sort of thing - if you like Christmas music. I and several friends have put together another collection of eclectic Christmas music: traditional, original, electric, acoustic, ironic, and devotional. And it's free.

I have two songs in this year's collection: A Lullaby for the Holy Innocents and Slap the Heretic (a new recording of a song I've shared in this blog before.)

Download it for your own, and pass it along to a friend as well. (And you can still get last year's collection as well, if you like.)

For my part I used a few sounds from the Freesound Project:

Bells in Cyprus
Spanish Party Noisemaker
Crowd Cheer
Chimes D#4
Chimes G#3
Chimes A#3

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Stars of Bethlehem

It was me and Sam that night, just hanging out, listening to some tunes, drinkin' some wine I swiped from the house, and lighting off the fireworks Sam’s older brother, Benjamin, picked up at that fireworks shop just across the border in Perea. You can get everything there: Star of Davids, Roman Candles, Fire and Brimstones, Gomorrah Rockets, everything. Anyway, we were just lighting off some of the Gomorrah Rockets, watching them explode in the sky in a shower of golden sparks and laughing at the night.

Old Man Mordechai came out and yelled at us. “Heathen children!” he shouted as he shook his tiny fists. Sam just tossed a couple of Babylon Smoke Bombs at him – and you know those things smoke forever. Mordechai slammed his door shut, but kept shouting at us. Sam and I just laughed.

“Totally righteous!” Sam shouted as another round of Gomorrah rockets lit up the night sky.

That’s when the old dudes showed up. Two of them were dressed in long belted tunics and wore strange pointed caps. The third had yellow skin and folded eyes and a long, long white mustache. He didn’t say much but when he did it was all garbled – thick with a weird accent that I couldn’t recognize. The other two, the dudes wearing the pointy caps, did most of the conversing.

“Greetings, young ones” said the taller of the men in those caps. “I am Qosem Qesamim and my confederate is Menahes.” The two of them bowed low, their funny hats almost touched the ground. “We are magi, that is, astrologers from the court of King Prarates the Fourth, scholars and learned men trained in esoteric arts and occultic practices. And this,” he gestured to the wizened old man with the strange eyes, “is the renowned Doctor Zhou, one of our fellow scholars from further east, from the land of the rising sun, a servant of the Emperor Cheng.”

“We saw your colored lights and were drawn to them. They are fascinating, almost hypnotizing. We thought they were what we have been seeking, but now we see that our colleague, Doctor Zhou, was correct. They are what he calls ‘yanhou’ and not the star that we seek.” 

The old guy with the weird eyes laughed, his mustache bobbing back and forth. “Fire woks,” he said with his weird accent.

“We’ve come so very far,” said Qosem. “We are being guided by a light, by a star – just as Aeneas was guided to that place where the city of Rome should be founded. We’ve traveled over fields, through fountains, across moors and mountains…following a great and wonderful star, not to find a city. No. Nothing so ordinary as that. The star that we follow is the natal star of a newborn king.”

“A king?” Sam and I said together.

“Do you mean King Herod?” I asked.

“No, dear boy. Though we did stop at his palace to inquire about the birthplace of this king. We would have followed the star, but … it disappeared.” The old guy blushed. He was embarrassed to have lost his star. “Herod’s scribes said that we should travel to a place called Bethlehem. But we are lost without the star.”

“Bethlehem? That’s not far from here. Just a few miles,” I said. “We can take you there.”

Sam elbowed me in the ribs. “Dude! Are you nuts? We can’t go wandering off with these freaks!” I pushed him away with my elbow.

“We can take you to Bethlehem,” I repeated, “for a price. It’s no problem.” Then I turned to Sam, and said, “It’s no problem. I told my mom that I’d be at your place. And you told your mom that you’re at mine. So we can lead these guys down to Bethlehem and come back in the morning with a few coins in our purse.”

Turns out those funny hats are Phrygean Caps - a sort of uniform of their order. They told us all about them as we traveled south along the road to Bethlehem. Menahes and Qosem Qesamim were from Persia. Doctor Zhou was from much further away, but they all met up on the road, following a strange light in the sky.

“It’s a star,” said Menahes. “We saw its rising!”

“It is a strange star…” Qosem Qesamim interrupted. His tone suggested that this was a frequent argument between the two of them.

“Yes. A very strange star,” agreed Menahes, not seeing the trap to which he was being led. “This star differs from the other stars in the heavens, differs in nature, in orbit, in light, in position. It is not what you would call a fixed star, but a movable star, able to rise, and to descend, and to turn in any direction.”

“Indeed, such a variable star,” Qosem said drolly, “one wonders how you can name it a star at all…”

“No. No star,” Zhou interjected. “What star moves across sky? No star. It is hui hsing. It is kommet.” He balled up his fist and swung it through the air, making a whooshing noise to illustrate the comet’s flight through the heavens. “It guide. We follow.”

“I think they’re both wrong,” Qosem told me, whispering behind his hand. “It’s a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Venus – all regal signs, I assure you. This is a very rare occurrence,” he said. “Very rare.”

Just then the three of them gasped and pointed. There, on the other side of the next hill, a strange brilliant light began to glow.  “Brothers, look how the sky is burning,” Qosem said to the others.

“The Star! The Star! Shining in the night!” shouted Menahes.  

Something in their excitement, in their joyful, eagerness to find the source of this light – and the newly born king to which they believed it was guiding them – caught fire within in Sam and me. Before we knew it, we were running ahead of the three magi, racing up the hill on our young, strong legs and leaving the old men to choke on our dust. We laughed as we ran towards the crest of the hill but stopped suddenly at the top. It was no star that we saw.

“What is it?” huffed the breathless Qosem as the three scholars joined us, panting for air at the top of the hill. Then they saw it for themselves.

The glowing light was not coming from the sky above us, but from down in the next valley. The strange light was radiating from a glowing baby. Yeah. A glowing, baby boy, wrapped up in diaper cloths – and he was walking back and forth along the road on his fat baby legs, and he was carrying a golden cross above his head.

Sam called out, “Hey! Hey you!” and started running down the hill towards that bizarre baby. I was freaked out and tried to grab Sam, to stop him. But he pulled away from me, and ran down the hill, ignoring my shouts, and the calls of the old dudes. Before Sam reached the bottom of the hill, though, the cross carrying child was gone. Lights out, gone.

Doctor Zhou was the first to speak, but I couldn’t understand a word of what he whispered. Qosem must have understood him though. “Indeed. This is most strange.” 

As the lingering glow of the cross porting boy slowly faded, we made our way down the hill, catching up with Sam, who still stood staring off after the boy, looking for him, though he was really and truly gone. The dark had returned, with only the pin prick light of the normal night sky stars.

“This is very strange,” Qosem repeated.

“We go. We go on,” Doctor Zhou pointed toward Bethlehem, which wasn’t far off now.
Bethlehem is a little burg, a nowhere sheep town that would have been forgotten if it hadn’t been the birthplace of King David. “What are you expecting to find there? What is this star, or planetary convergence, or comet hsing thing supposed to show you?” I asked as we walked.

“Our hero,” Menahes explained, “a prophet of yours, in fact, Balaam, long ago spoke a prophecy…”

“He’s no prophet of ours,” Sam interrupted. “He was a wicked man with a wicked eye.”

“Truly?” quizzed Menahes. “We understood that your people revered him as one of the seven gentile prophets. We will have to reconsider his role. But his prophecy stands. ‘Word of Balaam, word of the man whose eye is true…'” Sam growled a little at this, but Menahes continued. “'What I see is not yet, what I behold will not be soon: A star rises from Jacob…’  And it is a star, just as the prophecy said.”

And then it was a three way argument again: Star! Comet! Planetary Alignment!

Bethlehem may be hicksburg, but they do have a decent well just outside of town, deep with clear cold water. I led our bickering party to the well for a drink. Walking six miles is thirsty work; walking while debating must make one parched. But Qosem, Menahes and Doctor Zhou didn’t break from their argument even for a drink.

I shrugged my shoulders and leaned over the stone lip of the well to draw up the bucket. That’s when I was blinded by the light. A brilliant, white light reflecting on the surface of the water in the well. It must have been the light the magi were seeking. I screamed in pain and fell backward. “The star! The star!” I shouted as I pointed blindly into the sky. “It’s up there.”

“Where?” asked Menahes. “We do not see it. Where?”

“I saw it. I saw it reflected in the well.”

“Dude, there’s nothing up there,” Sam said to me.

“It’s true.” Qosem confirmed. “There is no light in the sky now except those that are usual. Our mysterious light is gone.”

“Look in the well!” I screamed.

The others crowded around the well, peering into its waters.  And then they saw it too – the star, or whatever it was, the light glimmering, glistening on the surface of the water- a reflection. But in the sky above the well, there was nothing. Nothing but the ordinary stars you see every night.

“I have maintained that the light we saw is a star, a strange variable star,” said Menahes. “But this is beyond my comprehension. A star that appears only as a watery reflection?”

We stood there, staring silently at the star in the well, at the empty sky, and back at the light in the well.

“Could the star have fallen?” Sam piped up.

“Could the star have fallen into the well?” Menahes repeated the question with wonder. Thinking. Puzzling.

“Not star.” Doctor Zhou said sullenly.

We were still staring at the star that was and wasn’t there in the well, when two strangers ran past us carrying some exotic form of torch. The redheaded woman called after her partner, who ran faster ahead of her swinging his flameless torch into the sky. “Mulder… Mulder, stop. You’re chasing aliens that aren’t there.”

He stopped and turned to her, his face twisted with passion and desire and desperation. “I saw them, Scully,” he said to her. “You saw them. Multicolored lights dancing above the mountain that can’t be explained away as atmospheric phenomenon or geological anomaly. There’s no scientific, credible explanation at all except …”

“Except what, Mulder? UFOs? Extraterrestrial visitors from billions of miles away with nothing better to do than to buzz the sky over some obscure Judean village?  What are we doing out here, Mulder?”

The man named Mulder slowly relaxed. He was disappointed, but seemed resigned to it, familiar with the weight of it on his shoulders. “When you say it like that… Maybe you’re right, Scully. Let’s go home. The two of them extinguished their curious lamps and walked away.

“This night is most strange,” Qosem said. “Most strange with so many unexplained lights.”

Just then the light reappeared over the city of Bethlehem, and the light of its beams isolated an individual house. It was indistinguishable from the other homes and houses around it, built in the same manner, of the same material, neither larger nor smaller than the others around it. An ordinary house in every way – except for the light that the star (or whatever it was) cast upon it.

“There! There!” Shouted Doctor Zhou. And suddenly he and Menahes were running towards the house. Leaving Sam and I, and their friend Qosem Qesamim standing with us. 

“Thank you, boys, for leading us here. But now it seems our ‘star’ has returned, and is directing us to the end of our journey.”  He fumbled in a purse tied around his waist and brought out a handful of coins for each of us. “Here. Take this with our thanks.” And then he turned and ran after his colleagues.

Sam and I pocketed the coins he gave us and turned back toward Jerusalem with enough money to buy a basket full of Gomorrah rockets next time Benjamin went across the border to Perea.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fremen from the East

Government by Root and Branch - Sermon for Advent 2, 2016

Isaiah 11: 1 – 10
Psalm 72

We are accustomed to hearing these words from the prophet Isaiah during the Advent / Christmas season. We read them through the sparkled vision of misty, sentimental eyes. We hear them through the warmth of nostalgia and the hope for a glorious future. And this is not necessarily wrong.

We understand the prophet’s words as a messianic prophecy, a description of the coming Jesus Christ, and of his eternal kingdom.  And this is good. And this is true. But this is not all. There is something “lost from the original if we limit the application of this oracle to Jesus Christ. It was realized in him, but it is meant to be realized in all who govern” (Kilpatrick 248).It is good to see the picture of Jesus, our Messiah in this passage, but if we neglect and ignore the meaning for the now-present situation in favor of the ideal, future vision then have missed something important.

Like Psalm 72, Isaiah 11 is intended as a description of an ideal and messianic king, but also as the proper terms to describe the rule and kingship of someone who has just ascended to the throne of Israel and been (symbolically) adopted as “Son of God.” (Scott 247)  It is one part propaganda and one part religious tract. It is hyperbole and challenge. It is a royal, enthronement passage of the then current king as well as (but not primarily) a description of the ideal, and future kingdom.

We should be careful when transposing a text written thousands of years ago in a theocratic monarchy into our current pluralistic, democratic republic. The cultures are very different.  But the texts stand: they are both promises for the rule of the king of those years long ago and for governing officials today. They are the vision of the ideal king that we long for and hope for, but also the standards we should expect from our government officials – especially those who claim to be faithful believers of God’s word.

Both passages (Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11) could be boiled down to a simple platform – to a slogan worthy of any political campaign: “No hurt, no harm will be done...” (Isaiah 11: 9).  The king / governing officials are to lead with integrity, fairness, to uphold justice, to be upright, and constant. They are to have compassion on the poor and the meek, and to save the needy from death. They are to redeem the people from violence and oppression. They are not to give bribes to the rich and the powerful, but to give justice to the poor and the humble.

“The ultimate goal of the struggle against poverty is the elimination of all forms of oppression: racial, social, economic, political, cultural, sexist and so on. Though this may sound utopian,” (and Isaiah’s description of the ox and the lion eating together and infants safely playing with snakes is very return-to-Eden-Utopian), “it is, nevertheless, the goal of those who strive for a more just, participatory, and sustainable society” (Santa Ana 84).

During this season of Advent, as we wait and prepare for the coming of our ideal and perfect King and of his glorious Kingdom we consider these words from the psalmist and the prophet. And as we have a new President-Elect, waiting to take office in about a month, we consider how these passages apply to our world today. Our new president will appoint advisors and cabinet members to help him govern, and we will pray for him and for them.  But we will also hold them accountable to these words.

They are the hope and the challenge of every king and governing official, the dream and the warning. They are the standard and the expectation. There are praises for the king and government that strives for this idealized, utopian peaceable kingdom; there is blessing because they fill the world with the glory of God. But there is warning as well. Woe to the government that ignores these words. And woe to the church that fails to hold government accountable to these expectations.

Kilpatrick, G.G.D. “Isaiah: Exposition” The Interpreter’s Bible: Volume V. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1956. Print.

Santa Ana, Julio De. Towards a Church of the Poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1979. Print.

Scott, R.B.Y. “Isaiah: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume V. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1956. Print.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bell Yeah!

The other day I shared a Salvation Army Red Kettle "Fighting Hell" poster that some described as "edgy."  I thought it fit very well with the Salvation Army's "Storm the Forts of Darkness" kind of theology and practice.

Since then, someone has shared with me a photo of stickers that were given to donors at Salvation Army red kettles - in the Kansas City area.

If you'd like to contribute to the Salvation Army of Newton / Jasper County, Iowa you can do so with this link (or use the link to find the Salvation Army unit nearest to you.)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Magi from the East

It's much too early to celebrate thier arrival to visit the newly born King of the Jews; we won't do that until Friday, January 6, 2017. But, perhaps, we can suggest that the magi have started on their long trek over field and fountain, moor and mountain...

Magi from the East by Jeff Carter on

Fighting Hell

If you would like to donate to the Salvation Army of Newton / Jasper County, Iowa you can do so via this link. You can also use the link to find and donate to the Salvation Army unit nearest you.

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

Related Posts with Thumbnails