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Monday, May 29, 2017

My Memorial Day

Despite my frequent and repeated criticisms of Memorial Day, I did, in fact spend part of this morning at the cemetery with one of the members of our church, helping him find the headstones of his relations that served in the military. We cleared away the weeds and tall grass and broken branches and twigs and picked up the little bit of litter that was there. I've done this with him for the past several years. My criticism of Memorial Day is not with the dead soldiers, but with the conflation of Nationalism / Patriotism and the Christian faith. My criticism is for those who say war is necessary, not for those who have died in those unnecessary wars.

I know that several of my critics (and I have a few) may not believe that. The nuance is usually lost in the shouting.

I came home from the cemetery and worked in my garden and the yard for a while - pulling weeds, and etc. I few weeks ago I shared a photo of the newly tilled garden plot. The plot now has plants and vegetables of various kinds growing in it, including: mustard greens (which have already graced our dinner table a couple of times), radishes, squash (which, until yesterday I had thought were a failure this year), potatoes, and sunflowers - along with wildflowers of many kinds for the birds and the bees.

One of my neighbors stopped by to help me identify a plant that's growing in the garden. We both agreed that it could be a weed or it could be foxglove. Or not. We're pretty sure of that much.

After lunch I spent some time reading (a book from the library as most of my books are packed away in preparation for our upcoming move) and playing in the yard with the dog and the cat.

So - yeah, we're packing to move and I'm still working in my garden as if that's going to matter. I'm trying to figure out what and how I can transplant to our new place at the end of next month.

This evening I'm going to take the dog for a walk with my wife - we'll talk about the house that we're trying to buy, the jobs that are and are not yet quite lined up, about our daughter who'll be going away to college at the end of the summer, about our son, about this that and the other.

All in all, it's been / will be a pleasant Memorial Day (even if I have been and will be critical of it as a holiday.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Let God Arise – Psalm 68

Psalm 68 is fascinating. I’m dubious of those people who say that they love the psalms because they are soooo comforting or soooo uplifting. I’m never quite sure which psalms those people are reading. The psalms are gritty, earthy, and dark; the psalms, even the ‘nice’ ones are often unpolished and unrefined. But, as I said, Psalm 68 is fascinating to me because it remains almost completely unintelligible.

Now this isn’t something that we’re supposed to say – especially from the pulpit. But if we read Psalm 68 carefully and honestly, without a filter of pious sentimentality, we will have to admit that it is difficult. Go ahead and read it in a couple of different translations and compare them. Most translations present their finished work without any indication of the difficulty, ambiguity, and oddity that rests just beneath the surface of their words.

But Psalm 68, as refined and polished as we might like it to be, resists our attempts to understand it. It is an “anarchic poem” (Dahood 133). It is “textually and exegetically, the most difficult and obscure of all the psalms” (Dahood 133). There is little agreement among scholars about the author, source, date of composition, or purpose of this melody (Poteat 354). Or perhaps of this medley. It is sometimes suggested that Psalm 68 should not be read a single unified work, but as a collection of songs and fragments of songs from various periods and authors arranged for us now as a haphazard hymnal (Taylor 353).

The meter of the stanzas of Psalm 68 shifts almost as frequently as the imagery, which is to say constantly. The psalm is a long sequence of non-sequiturs. Take for example verses 12 – 14: the kings of enemy armies flee from the presence of God, the women at home divide the spoil and booty of war – while they sit in the sheep pen. Then there’s something about doves with wings of silver and pinions of green-gold, and snow falling on Mount Zalmon - which might be something clever about white snow on a black mountain as “Zalmon” means “Dark One.” (Dahood 142).

But what does that mean? What’s going on here?

There are images of God in psalm 68 that will seem cruel and strange in our modern ears. In verses 21 – 22 he is seen smashing the skulls of his enemies, crushing their “hairy crowns.” The people of God are comforted and told that they will bathe their feet in the blood of their enemies and that their dogs will lap up the blood of their foes (23). And yet this violent, vindictive, warrior God is balanced in verse 31 where God is called upon to “scatter the peoples who delight in wars!” (JPS)

Now - as strange as Psalm 68 is (and it must be maintained that it is strange – at least to us so far removed from its composition) we can make some sense of it, at least a little. There are a few themes that reappear again and again amongst its ever shifting panoply of non-sequiturs and mixed metaphors.

The Psalm, over and over again, remembers the dramatic events of the Israelite exodus from slavery in Egypt.  The Egyptians are the stubborn rebels forever entombed in the barren wastelands (6). They are the “Beasts of the Reeds” (30) – think of them as vicious crocodiles lurking in the marshlands of Egypt waiting to snap at the passing Israelites.  And from Egypt (and her southern allies in Ethiopia) will come nobles stretching out their hands full of tribute for God (31).

As unwieldy and foreign as Psalm 68 is to us, we can understand it (somewhat) as a melodic celebration of the way God rescued the people of Israel from the hands and chains of their Egyptian oppressors. It is a jubilant expression of praise for a powerful and frightening God. (A God who is so frightening, by the way, that the sky itself breaks out in nervous sweat at the sight of him (8).)

It is a celebration of a God who is concerned for the poor and the lowly, a God who looks after the prisoners and gives the lonely a home (6), a God who is a father to the orphan and a defender of the widow (5). This is not a God of rich and powerful. This is not the God of the great and mighty. Those were gods of Egypt. The Egyptians were the people with wealth and power and prestige and honor. But the God celebrated in this psalm is not impressed or threatened by the greatness of Egypt or the strength of the Egyptian army or the number of Egyptian chariots. The Rider of the Heavens (32), the Rider of the Clouds (4) celebrated in Psalm 68 concerns himself with the poor and downtrodden; he is the God of losers and rejects, the God of the forgotten and the overlooked. 

Psalm 68 is fascinating - not because it is a polished piece of poetry to be read by the pious and sentimental, but because it is an outrageous, over the top, wild and exuberant expression of praise for a powerful and extravagant God. If Psalm 68 remains somewhat incomprehensible to us, perhaps that should be a reminder to us that the God of our faith is not one to be completely reduced, systematized, pragmatized; the God we follow is shocking, dangerous, untamed. Perhaps we should never become comfortable in our faith.

Let God arise. Let God lead us out of oppression. Let God lead us through deserts and wild places. Let the enemies of God (who may not be our enemies…) flee before him. Let them melt like wax, drift like smoke. Let the kingdoms of the earth bring their praise and their tribute to him. He is awesome in his holy place. He gives strength to his people. He gives victory and valor to his people (Dahood 132). Let God arise, and though we don't completely understand it, let us arise and say, “Blessed be God.”

Dahood, Mitchell. Psalm II 51 – 100.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1968. Print.

Hebrew – English Tanakh. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society. 1999. Print.

Poteat, Edwin McNeil “Psalms: Exposition” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume IV. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1955. Print.

Taylor, William R “Psalms: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume IV. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1955. Print. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Biblical Limericks: Sweaty Sky

To see the Lord is awesome, you bet,
even nature by fear is beset.
The wind stops its bluster,
the heavens get flustered -
the sky sees God and breaks out in sweat.

Psalm 68: 8

Working from Mitchell Dahood's  translation:

The earth quaked and the heavens sprinkled
at the sight of God...

"Just as a person breaks out into a sweat at the sight of an unexpected caller, so the heavens drip with rain when God appears in a theophany " (138)

Dahood, Mitchell. Psalms II 51 - 100: Introduction, Translation, and Notes. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1968. Print.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The First Shall Be Last

Mr. President, please re-read (or read for the first time, perhaps) Luke 13: 22 - 30. You need it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 21 - 2017

Here ya' go - this week's free, background image. It's yours to use at home, at work, at school, at church, wherever you like. I only ask that you share it freely, and that you tell others you found it here.

If you're interested in knowing the details, these irises are growing along the fence between my backyard and my neighbor's yard.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rocket One to Triangulum!

It took thirteen years for Voyager 2 to travel from earth to the outer reaches of our little solar system. We learned about Voyager 2 back in George Hale Jr High. Thirteen years, the entire span of my life. It took what would have been the entirety of my life to that point for that unmanned interstellar record player to travel the smallest fraction of what ROCKET TEAM ONE crossed in six short weeks. But I really don’t mean to disparage that noble craft. It was brave to set out into such huge distances even at such a slow speed. Especially at such slow speed. It was an action of hope to launch that probe into the void.

And Voyager 2 carried Blind Willie Johnson into space. Imagine that: Blind Willie Johnson out among the stars. Blind Willie Johnson, who couldn’t see the stars, was being carried (or at least his music was) into the ethereal silence of interstellar space. Glorious.

The Triangulum Galaxy is approximately 3 Million Light Years from Earth within the constellation Triangulum. It is one of the most distant objects that can be seen from Earth by the naked human eye. It was discovered in the 1600s by an Italian astronomer named Giovanni Battista Hodierna. He described it as “a cloud-like nebulosity near the Triangle on either side.” It’s a pinwheel shaped galaxy, smaller than the Milky Way.

The constellation Triangulum was mentioned in an ancient Babylonian star compendium, the MUL.APIN. The Babylonian astrologers called it the “Plough Star.” They said that the angry goddess Ishtar, spurned in her romantic and sexual advances, went to her father, Anu, to demand that he create a Bull of Heaven (Taurus) to kill the hero Gilgamesh. Anu obliged her vengeful notions and created this bull for her, and it is this bull that pulls the Plough Star across the heavens.

Why did the generals at NASA choose Triangulum as the destination? Why not something closer? Why not another solar system within our own galaxy?

According to some conspiratists on the net, that galaxy was chosen based on designs found in the hieroglyphics on the walls of the great pyramids of Giza. Triangulum – pyramids are made of triangles – the connection is obvious, right? According to these tinfoil-hatters, the central star-shaft of the great pyramid points toward the Triangulum galaxy, and that this was the home of the alien race that visited Egypt in 10,500 BC.

Crazy, right? Those shafts point towards Orion, not Triangulum. The fact that the three major pyramids at Giza replicate the position of the three stars in Orion’s Belt should have been an obvious clue that the shaft is oriented towards Orion, not Triangulum. The Great Pyramid at Giza is interesting – but not for the reasons those nutters suggest.

A similar proposition was made for the arrangement of the megaliths at Stonehenge, but there’s even less support for this crackpot theory. Still another conspiracism suggests that Triangulum was marked in top-secret star charts found in the wreckage of a crashed alien vehicle as a strategic location, both rich in resources and important in controlling interstellar movement.

Perhaps their choice of Triangulum was predicated on the fact that the largest observed black hole is found in the Triangulum galaxy. Discovered in 2007 and known as M33 X-7, this black hole has 15.7 times the mass of our sun. The military value of that black star is incalculable.

So why did they pick Triangulum? Why not something closer? Why not, perhaps, the system of seven planets found orbiting the star Trappist-1, three of which were in that “Goldilocks” habitable zone around that Red Dwarf star having the potential for liquid water – and was only 40 short light years from earth? (And 40 light years is still over 235 trillion miles…) Or any of the other hundreds of exo-planets discovered by long range telescopes? Why did they pick Triangulum as their destination of choice? Who can say? Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time? 

Dark was the night, and cold the ground
on which the Lord was laid;
His sweat like drops of blood ran down;
in agony He prayed.

“Father, remove this bitter cup,
if such Thy sacred will;
if not, content to drink it up
Thy pleasure I fulfill."

Dark and cold is the space through which the Voyager probes and ROCKET TEAM ONE traveled. Why do we venture out into such cold, dark distances? Why do we risk mortal agony and death to travel into the void? Who can say? It just seems like a good idea. We are restless wanderers, always wondering if the next stop will be better than the one before.

And we’re being told (by some of those same egghead scientists who objected to the impossibility of ROCKET TEAM ONE’s trip) that the universe is nothing more than an elaborate hologram projected into sentient consciousness by some unknown agency. If this is true then we are brains in a vat and life is but a dream, a dream within a dream. But maybe that’s why we can travel the 3 Million Light Years to Triangulum in less than six weeks – because those 3 Million Light Years are an illusion. Triangulum is an illusion. Earth is an illusion. There is nothing there. There is nothing here. There is no here nor there. It’s all Dark Energy, and we are left alone in the dark, like blind musicians to sing for hope and comfort against the terror and agony of a cold, lonely night.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Stressed, but not Distressed

I've told family and friends, I've told work mates and employees, I've told FB friends and acquaintances, but I haven't said anything about it here on the blog yet...

So, here's the announcement:

After 18 years as Officers in The Salvation Army, my wife and I are resigning. We remain Majors Carter only until June 25th, after that, it's just plain ol' Jeff and Mikey. Our plan is to stay in here in town for the sake of our children and our sanity. This is a good thing.

Though everything (and I do mean everything) is up in the air right now (find jobs, find a house, find a vehicle, find myself...) we feel at peace with the decision we've made.

We meet with a realtor friend tomorrow to discuss the housing market.

I've applied for work as 1) fork-lift driver 2) art program coordinator, 3) newspaper editor, 4) manufacturing assembler, 5) general laborer, 6) media assistant for the Sac and Fox Tribe of Iowa, and, and, and, and ...

Mikey had a great interview yesterday.

We're desperate, yes, but not frantic. We're stressed, yes, but not distressed. We're happy. The kids are happy. And, the cat and the dog are, for the most part, getting along.

I Remember Iris

I Remember Iris by Jeff Carter on

Monday, May 15, 2017

He Lies – A Limerick for Trump

Trump says, ‘I know how to buy and sell;
when I’m president all will be well.’
But he lies, and he lies,
and he lies, and he lies,
and he lies and he lies…what the hell?!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Goodwill and Truth?

Goodwill and Truth? by Jeff Carter on

Background Images for Everyone - Week 20 - 2017

The week almost slipped past me without my sharing the free background image for this week. Sorry. It's been a little crazy in the Carter house.

Still - the image, as always, is yours to use as your very own. Please share it with others and tell them you found it here.

I like the simplicity of this one. There's really nothing tricky going on here; it is a small, red glass bowl, and blue, cloth napkin. That's it. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Amos Meets with the Director of the Prophets

Amos sat nervously in the waiting area as the Director’s administrative assistant carefully arranged a stack of files and papers. “The Director will be with you soon,” she said without making eye contact. She’d said the same thing ten minutes earlier, and twenty minutes before that.

Soon, as it turned out, was an hour and twenty six minutes later. In that time the administrative assistant watered the few decorative plants placed around the room, answered the phone four or five times, went out for lunch and came back. Amos sat where he was, waiting.

Eventually the Director of the Prophets opened his office door, stuck his head out, and said, “Amos, thanks for waiting. Come on in.” Inside the office the Director pointed Amos toward a purposefully uncomfortable chair and said, “Please have a seat.” Amos sat.

The Director of the Prophets sat behind his immense desk, which was devoid of any sign of work save a few sheets of paper – official reports. The edges of these he tapped on the flat surface of the desk to straighten them, then he shuffled through them, reading a line or two from each, and then tapped the edges even again. Then he laid them down flat on the desk. “Amos, I’m going to say it straight: You’re being reassigned.”

Amos silently acknowledge this; it wasn’t completely unexpected.

“You’ve been preaching in…” here the Director consulted the papers again, “Samaria and…  Bethel. And without much success as far as I can see here. So you’re being reassigned to Hebron, in Judea.”

Amos nodded again, still silent.

“But I warn you,” the Director continued. “If you don’t prove yourself there, there won’t be any more assignments…” he let the vague threat hang there in the silence between them.

“Prove myself?” the prophet Amos finally said. “What do you mean?”

“Well just look at your statistical reports: You’ve made few converts, your warnings are completely ignored, you’ve offended King Jeroboam of Israel, and you’ve been denounced by the head priest, Amaziah. This isn’t spectacular work, Amos. And I think you know that.”

“I’m not sure what more you expect, sir.” Amos said carefully. “I’ve delivered the word I’ve been given. I’ve been faithful. I’ve done my duty.”

The Director swept the reports from his desk and dropped them into one of the drawers. “Listen, Amos, it’s apparent to many of us here that you spend too much time talking about social justice, and economic policy. Perhaps your political opinions are getting in the way of your work…”

Amos began to answer, but the Director cut him off. “In any case, you need to show results in Hebron. You should be more like Jonah. Now there’s a prophet that knows how to get things done.  He converted the whole city of Nineveh in less than 40 days…”

Now it was Amos’ turn to cut the Director off. “Sir, you know that report is mostly fiction, right? That whole whale thing is a joke. He thought you’d get it.”

The director fumed. “I think we’re done here, prophet Amos. Report to Hebron.”

Amos stood. “That’s okay sir. I think I’ll go back to my father’s farm and tend to the sheep and the fig trees,” he said then turned and left the room. He was content.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Full Flower Moon

The full moon in May is sometimes known (in North America) as the Full Flower Moon.  Here it is over the house where I live.

Sparklers in the Kitchen

Sparklers in the Kitchen by Jeff Carter on

Monday, May 8, 2017

Biblical Limericks: Stop the Whispering

Lord, hear how they whisper and mutter;
they call me a lunatic nutter,
so Lord, muzzle their lips
and now cause them to slip
into the silence of death’s gutter.

Psalm 31: 13 - 18

The News Today

The News Today by Jeff Carter on

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Anticipatory Visions of November Violence

I cannot sleep for fear of
Anticipatory visions of November violence;
I see bloody stripes and exploding stars.

I see the arrest record of an entire nation.

Now shoot a man on suspicion.
Now arm the robots.

Little punks get around fast
but now we shoot first
eviscerate the rules of evidence
to hell with jurisprudence.

Society is a conspiracy to plunder.

Clowns on the platform,
neon sparkle distraction
the police state hero will have law and order

the revenge of angels is bloody work

A communion with death,
a Eucharist of death
drink from the chalice of gasoline,
eat the arsenic wafer.

Benevolent imperialism is a velvet-wrapped IED
nostalgia is a rose colored lie

Relax! There is so much to fear.
Relax! Or die. Relax!

Drop bombs down the chimney
to ease the excess of democracy

ask questions later
the line leads nowhere

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hotel Hell's Wallpaper

The rooms at Hotel Hell are nice enough, but that wallpaper... Either it goes, or I do.

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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