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Saturday, November 30, 2013

4th Night of Hanukkah


Mother Mary No Nose



I was having a look at some of the Christmas decorations that will be going up around our church building when I noticed this little nativity set.  It's nothing particularly special or unique.  It's not crafted by a famous name.  It's one of those that you can find for sale almost everywhere.


But I was amused to notice that the Mary figurine in the set has no nose. 


It will be difficult for her to appreciate the traditional French carol Quelle Est Cette Odeur Agréable (What Is This Perfume So Appealing?)


Biblical Limericks: He Sinned More than All those before Him


Omri’s name may have been derived from
“Worships Yahweh” but the man was scum,
at least that’s how First Kings
shows him and his offspring;
he let Israel to evil succumb. 


1 Kings 16: 25 - 26 

Biblical Limericks: A Show of his Brawn


Samson liked to play with prostitutes
and in Gaza he was dissolute;
when his foes discovered
that he was uncovered
they planned to kill him, were resolute.

But before the light of morning’s dawn
Samson got out of bed with a yawn;
he picked up the town gate
as if it had no weight,
and escaped with a show of his brawn.


Judges 16: 1- 4

Friday, November 29, 2013

3rd Night of Hanukkah


Writing about Waiting for the First Sunday of Advent

Week 49 - Advent 1 photo Week49-Advent1_zpsddc965e0.jpgToday I am writing (or trying to write) my sermon for sunday.  I've written a little more than a page and a half.  I'm working with Isaiah 2: 1 - 5 and Matthew 24: 36 - 44. I've already posted a little bit of what I've written today (We Ignore the Prophet) though this poem isn't going to be part of my sermon (at least not as I'm currently writing it.)

This series of background images (Wait, Repent, Rejoice, Doubt) is available for you to download and to use as your very own.

As I'm writing, I remember that I've used this idea "waiting" on the first sunday of Advent in years past.   Here's a short bit from a sermon I wrote a couple of years ago based on Isaiah 64: 1 - 9

The Christmas Creep has infected us, and our symptoms are getting worse every year. The orgy of
consumer driven Black Friday sales begin earlier and earlier each year.  Thanksgiving dinner is barely cleared from the table before we’re off the stores. We’ve hardly finished saying “Thank you, Lord for all that we have been given,” before we’re out the door to buy more stuff.

And there are more reports of violence every year as impatient shoppers trample and shove and shoot and pepper-spay those around them in their maniacal drive to be the first to purchase that oh-so-essential Christmas item.   There is no waiting. There is only pushing and shoving.

There is no waiting.
“What do we want?”
“Christmas!”
“When do we want it?”
“NOW!”

We rush into Christmas without any waiting around for Advent, there’s no time for waiting. This is a holiday frenzy.  There’s Christmas in the waters and we’re like sharks that can’t stop moving or we’ll die. We’re thrashing around for that “Christmas Spirit” of celebration and joy and we must keep moving. We decorate, and we bake, and we shop, and we carol, and we wrap, and we wassail, and we share holiday greetings, and we insist that we are keeping the Christ in Christmas but if there is no waiting, there is no Advent. And if there is no Advent – there can be no (real) Christmas.

We Ignore the Prophet


We ignore the prophet,
close our eyes to his words
and in these latter days
the incessant beating still goes on.

Beating now our plows into swords,
and our swords into bombs.
Beating our pruning hooks into spears,
and our spears into guns.

It shall come to pass
and may it come soon
that the mountain of the LORD
shall be raised up,
sending down a shower of earth
to bury our weapons,
an avalanche to bury those who would fire them.



(Isaiah 2: 1 - 5)

Abstract Christmas Lights

I took this photo of the lights on our Christmas tree last night - shooting backwards through the lens.  No other photoshopping.  No other manipulation.

Abstract Christmas Lights by Jeff Carter

Abstract Christmas Bokeh by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Is This Thing Called Hanukkah?


The Second Night of Hanukkah


Happy Thanksgivikkah







It's Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. - a day set aside since Abraham Lincoln's tenure as president of these United States.  Traditionally celebrated by gathering the family and eating a large meal.  It's one part harvest festival, one part family reunion, and one part nostalgia.

Or, one could argue cynically that it has become about political posturing and the kick off to capitalistic orgy of holiday shopping and aggressive marketing.

It's a day of rest in our house. We relax a bit before continuing back into the annual season of Salvation Army fundraising - the kettles and bell ringers  - and toy and food basket distribution and nursing home and hospital and prison visitations and, and, and...

We don't consume the traditional Thanksgiving meal in our house.  When my wife was pregnant with our daughter she ate some chicken that made her terribly ill.  It wasn't the chicken, mind you... it was the pregnancy - but we have not, since that day, had any poultry prepared in our house.  Chicken Cornish Hen, Duck, Goose, Turkey... they're all verboten.  So we have ersatz thanksgiving meals.  Last year we had steak.  This year we had corned beef and cabbage - and green bean casserole; you cannot escape green bean casserole.

Later tonight we'll set up our Christmas tree and string it up with lights and decorations. And since Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap this year (for the first time in a long time and the last time in a very, very, very long time...) we'll light the first and second candles of our menorah to celebrate the rededication of the Jewish Temple.

I tend to be a little grumpy and cynical about the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I recognize this about myself - and I accept it, but I try to keep it in check - at least a little.  I'm not anti-holidays (that is "holy-days").  So Happy Thanksgivikkah (or Hanugiving, if you prefer) to you and you and you.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Loose and Watery with Visible Blood


Some parts of our scripture provoke only yucks,
stories of diseases run amuck;
Publius’ father
was sick, his death was sure
till Paul cured him of his bloody flux.

Acts 28:8 (King James Version)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Biblical Limericks: 3.14159265358979323….


First Kings measures the value of pi
in the temple’s “molten sea”, but I
am confused; it says three,
and I know this can’t be.
I learned the value in junior high.


1 Kings 7:23 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Which Prophet Was He Quoting?


The critics are often found gloating
over the error in Matthew’s noting
that the prophets sayeth
he’d be from Nazareth;
they ask, “Which prophet was he quoting?”

Matthew 2: 23


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2013 - Weeks 49 - 52 (Advent)

Usually I produce one new background image for use in Powerpoint (or other similar presentation programs). But for the four weeks of Advent I have produced these slides for the series of themes we'll be exploring in our services.  You're welcome to them.  They're still yours if you want them, though they may be less applicable to your services (that is, unless you decide to use these themes as well...)

Week 49 - Advent 1 - "Wait"
Week 49 - Advent 1 photo Week49-Advent1_zpsddc965e0.jpg


























Week 50 - Advent 2 - "Repent"
Week 50 - Advent 2 photo Week50-Advent2_zps032e2ea0.jpg

























Week 51 - Advent 3 - "Rejoice"
Week 51 - Advent 3 photo Week51-Advent3_zpsb98c3beb.jpg

























Week 52 - Advent 4 - "Doubt"
Week 52 - Advent 3 photo Week52-Advent4_zpsbba89666.jpg

Warm Sunlight in the Trees on a Cold Afternoon

This is another photograph of my neighbor's crab apple tree. I took this one this afternoon as the sun was setting. I really like the warmth of the colors in this one, even though it's pretty cold outside.

For those who appreciate the technical details, my camera is a Canon Rebel T4i.  I used a Super-Takumar 50 mm lens. I also used a "cross screen" filter.  That's what creates the starburst effect in the light reflected off the fruits.

This photograph, as well as several of my other photographs (including these other photos of my neighbor's crab apple tree) are available for purchase either as a digital download ($2.99) or as a professional quality 2' X 3' canvas print ($211).  My portion of these sales will be given to The Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa.


Crab Apple Tree in November (4) by Jeff Carter
Crab Apple Tree in November (4) by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

A Collision of Holidays


We have a collision of holidays (that is “holy days”) this week.  On Thursday many Americans will celebrate the national day of Thanksgiving – those that aren’t working at one of those major retail outfits to support our national gross consumerism.  They will sit down to turkey dinners and stuffing and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie as tradition demands to celebrate that national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," inaugurated by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

And by a fluke of the calendar, Thursday also marks the beginning of the Jewish Festival of Lights this year (2013).  Hanukah is the eight day long celebration of the rededication temple in Jerusalem after the victories won by Judas Maccabees and his armies against Antiochus Epiphanes IV. 

Next Sunday we enter officially into the season of Advent – when it begins to become acceptable to sing those Christmas carols.  This is only Advent, however.  Despite the Christmas creep that starts Christmas earlier and earlier each year to support our national gross consumerism, the (Christian) Christmas season (as opposed to the secular / economic season) doesn’t begin until December 25th

So we have Thanksgiving, Hanukah, and Advent in mind – and the lectionary reading for this morning (Luke 23: 33 – 43) brings us back around again to Good Friday.  This is not an accident.  This is not a fluke of the calendar.  This is not the result of poor planning or just a random selection of scripture.  Those who designed the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church chose this reading for this Sunday in order to bring our attention back around to Jesus’ execution and death at the very moment that we are beginning to prepare our hearts and minds (through Advent) to remember his birth.  We do this to remind ourselves of the real reason of the season.

“…Christmas is not really the acme of the liturgical year.  Christmas simply commemorates, not celebrates, the historical birth of Jesus, whenever that might have been. Because of Christmas, the life of Jesus was possible.  Because of Christmas, the Incarnation can be fulfilled at Easter.  Because of Christmas the humanity of Jesus is a fact.  But the birth of Jesus is not the central meaning of the faith.  On the contrary, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus that are the core of Christianity (Chittister, 54-55).”[i]

Christianity existed – flourished even – in the early centuries without Christmas.  The earliest Christians got along just fine without Christmas.  The Apostle Paul doesn’t say anything about the birth of Jesus except that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”[ii] Two of the four Gospels included in our bibles say nothing about his birth.  Because his birth, while it begins his story, and locates it in a specific place and in a particular time, is not the important part of the story.  It’s only the beginning of the story.  But all four gospels, the apostle Paul, and the earliest Christians celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

As we enter into this collision of holidays, as we venture out into the hustle and bustle (and frenzy!) of holiday traditions, and gross consumerism, as we are gathering to remember to give thanks, and as we begin to prepare ourselves through the season of Advent, let’s remember that the sacrificial death and the glorious resurrection is what’s important here. 

Good Friday is more important than Black Friday
“Father forgive them,” is more important than gifts from Father Christmas
“Today, you will be with me in Paradise” is more important than “Away in a Manger.”
This is the reason for the Season.




[i] Chittister, Joan The Liturgical Year, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN, 2009.
[ii] Galatians 4: 4 – 5 New Revised Standard Version

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Singing With My Daughter at the Red Kettle

I spent a couple of hours out at one of our Salvation Army Red Kettle stands this afternoon.  I hate the bells, though, so I don't ring them. Instead I usually take my horn and play Christmas songs - but dang it! it's not even Christmas yet.  So I'm not playing Christmas songs yet - not till after Thanksgiving.

Instead I took my guitar and played from my Beatles and Bob Dylan song books.

My teen-aged daughter came with me (will wonders never cease!) and we had a good time singing through these songs together. She laughed at the irony of singing "You Never Give Me Your Money" at the kettle stand.

If you didn't see us out there at HyVee this afternoon (and I don't imagine that those of you not living in Newton, Iowa would have...) You could still contribute to the Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa.  You can use this handy-dandy online virtual kettle.  No obnoxious bell ringer.  No lousy guitar player.  No muss.  No fuss.   This one is set up to support us here in Newton, but you can use the link to find a kettle in your locality.  Thanks for thinking of the Salvation Army.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Couldn’t They Count?


There seems to be a contradiction
‘tween Matthew, Mark and Luke’s depiction;
were there two men or one
who were plagued by demons?
Which of them wrote a bit of fiction?

Matthew 8: 28 -34 / Mark 5: 1 – 20 / Luke 8: 26 – 39


Spot Bokeh

Bokeh refers to unfocused beauty.  This effect was achieved by shooting a lamp (without focusing) and holding a special effect lens in front of the camera.  This particular lens is made for a different model of camera than I have - so it doesn't exactly fit.  But I held it just in front of the camera at a slight angle to split the light into lots of little sparkles.

I took a similar picture the other night (though without the special effect lens I used in this one).  And also a focused picture of the same lamp - that looks like either a close up of a diamond ring or of a snowflake...

This picture and several other of my photographs are available for purchase either as a digital download ($2.99) or as a professional quality 2' X 3' canvas print ($211).  My portion of these sales will be given to The Salvation Army of Newton Iowa.


Spot Bokeh by Jeff Carter on 500px.com
Spot Bokeh by Jeff Carter

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Biblical Limericks: 4-5-6-7 All Good Cretins Go to Heaven


We know what is said of the Cretans,
mentally undeveloped cretins,
as their own prophet said,
they’re right out of their heads,
they’re liars, and slow-bellied gluttons.

Titus 1:12


I Don’t Hate Christmas. I Don’t Hate Christmas.


It’s that time of year. Maybe you’ve already seen them – those perennial Salvation Army bell ringers ringing their bells in front of local stores.  As a Salvation Army officer myself, I hate putting my bell ringers out before Thanksgiving (and I refuse to have them out past Christmas Eve).  I hate the holiday creep.  I hate seeing Christmas trees for sale in August.  I hate hearing Christmas carols in October.  One stinking holiday at a time please.

But Thanksgiving comes late this year, and the holiday (read: fundraising) season is quite short this year – causing me to me to go against all of my natural inclinations and to put our kettles out a week before Thanksgiving.  If we’re going to raise the money necessary to continue the work of the Salvation Army in Newton, Iowa (and the rest of Jasper County) we need these extra days.  So our bell ringers will begin ringing tomorrow morning.

I took the kettle stands around to the locations around town that have graciously allowed us to occupy their space again this year. It’s not exactly a glamorous job – it’s just schlepping across town with the heavy metal stands and placing them in front of the stores – but in years past it’s been a job that I’ve shared with my son.  A sort of holiday tradition. He rides along with me; we play the radio loud and make the best of it.

But this year I asked him if he wanted to go out with me to drop off the kettle stands and his reply was “I don’t want to start kettles this early.”  It’s exactly what I was thinking myself, but it broke me.   I hate that I have no warm nostalgia for childhood Christmases.  My officer parents were busy and tired (and cranky. They’re wonderful people, but we all know what this season does to us…) I hate that this job ruins Christmas for me.  And now I hate that it’s ruining Christmas for my son.

He did change his mind, and my daughter (who doesn’t usually come along) volunteered to come too (provided that I buy her a cappuccino…).  So we piled the entire family into the vehicle, loaded the stands into the back and then went out schlepping through the icy rain to drop off the kettle stands for our bell ringers who start ringing tomorrow.

It turned out to be a fine and enjoyable evening.  I don’t…hate…Christmas. Not really. But I do hate what it does to us.

So look for the bell ringers.  They’ll be out until December 24th (barring Thanksgiving day and Sundays).  Or, if you’d prefer to donate online you can use this virtual kettle.  This one is set up to support the Salvation Army in Newton, Iowa – but you can use the link to find a Salvation Army unit closer to you, if you like.

Crab Apple Tree in November (2) by Jeff Carter on 500px.com  
Or, if you’d like to purchase gift for friends or family this year – you could purchase one of the photographs I have for sale. They are available as a professional quality 2’ X 3’ canvas print for $211.  My portion of these sales is given to The Salvation Army of Newton Iowa.


Thanks again for considering the Salvation Army during this busy, frantic, hectic, holiday season. 

Take time to be with your family. 

Light in the Stairwell

This is the same hanging lamp as seen in this bokeh effect photo that I posted earlier this morning.

Light in the Stairwell by Jeff Carter

Light in the Stairwell by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Bokeh in the Stairwell

Bokeh is the art of the blur, the wonder of being out of focus.  Bokeh is finding beauty without insisting upon control.  The haze of nostalgia, the warmth of childhood memories.

Bokeh in the Stairwell by Jeff Carter
Bokeh in the Stairwell by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

























This and other of my photographs are available for purchase - either as a digital download ($2.99) or as a professional quality 2' X 3' canvas print ($211). My portion of the proceeds will be given to the Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa. I'd like to think that they'd make great Christmas gifts for your friends and family. Check them out here.

The Sadducees Were the First Rush Fans


We know very little for certain about the Sadducees – one of the three prominent religious groups among the Jewish people at the time of Jesus – and most of what we know about them comes from people who opposed them (so we have to read it with a cautious eye...). 

But the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus tells us that they rejected the concept of fate, opting instead for free-will. “And as for the Sadducees, they exclude fate and say that there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal. But they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and we suffer what is evil as a result of our own folly.”  (Antiquities XIII, 173)

And in the New Testament (Acts 23: 8) we discover the idea that the Sadducees rejected the concept of angels (and presumably demons as well).

Based on that I believe that the Sadducees were, in fact, the first Rush fans.




There are those who think that life is nothing left to chance,
A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.

A planet of playthings,
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive.
"The stars aren't aligned
Or the gods are malign"-
Blame is better to give than receive.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that's clear-
I will choose Free Will.

There are those who think that they were dealt a losing hand,
The cards were stacked against them- they weren't born in lotus-land.

All preordained-
A prisoner in chains-
A victim of venomous fate.
Kicked in the face,
You can't pray for a place
In heaven's unearthly estate.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that's clear-
I will choose Free Will.

Each of us-
A cell of awareness-
Imperfect and incomplete.
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt that's far too fleet.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Disconnect of Psalm 20


I like Psalm 20, but with some reservations. It troubles me. I am troubled by certain parts in each of the two sections, and by some of the implications of the psalm as a whole. 

Psalm 20 is a bipartite psalm, a call and response psalm, a before and after psalm – with the division occurring between verses 5 and 6.  Part 1 (verses 1 – 5) is a song directed toward the king as he prepares to lead the army out into battle.  Part 2 (verses 6 – 9) is an announcement of victory. The psalm was likely written during the time of King Solomon’s temple – though neither the specific King of Judah, nor the enemy he faced in this time of trouble clearly identified. 

All of the “you”s in the first section (“The Lord answer you in the day of trouble...”) are all singular – addressed to the King as the leader and representative of the nation.  He is in trouble, faced with a powerful enemy.  He is preparing for war.   The people are praying for him, and for his victory.  This first section seems to be a sort of prayer song on his behalf.  Imagine it sung by the congregation of the faithful, by the temple choir, or even perhaps by the warriors themselves as the King stands on the balcony above them.

In the second section, the priest (or perhaps a prophet) has received word of the King’s victory and announces it to the congregation “Now I know that Yahweh has given his anointed victory…” (Translator Mitchel Dahood in the Anchor Bible series notes that the verbs in this second section are all (but one) past tense verbs, though most translations use present or future tenses)

In section one of this psalm - verse 3 – there is the suggestion that the king has made a large number of sacrificial offerings as part of his preparation for battle – that he has made these sacrifices in order influence God toward granting him a victory in the battle.  We might, if we’re cynical, see this as a bit of a bribe.

Is this the way that God works?  Offer enough animals on the altar and be assured a victory in battle?  Do the televangelists have it right?  Send in a large enough check and God will give us the desires of our heart?

There was a sense in the ancient world that an individual could influence the gods to action by the sacrifice of animals (or in extreme cases, humans). We tend to dismiss that idea in our modern world – at least in our words.  In our inner, undiagnosed thinking however we still sometimes operate that way.  If I’m a good person, If I attend church services, If I tithe, If I send my check then God will perform XYZ on my behalf.

Verses 7-8 are terrific verses, but they comes with a bit of disconnect. 

Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
    but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
They will collapse and fall,
    but we shall rise and stand upright.

It should be noted that the “take pride” – in the RSV – or “trust” or “boast of” in other translations isn’t actually in the Hebrew text.  These verbs are supplied by the translators to help make sense of the phrases in English.

These verses are among my favorite verses in the entire bible.  I share them frequently. Our strength, our hope for the future, our pride should not be in military might.  Military power does not make a nation good.  Military power does not represent God’s favor. 

And yet there is a disconnect here. These words are coming from the priest (or prophet) who has just announced that the King has won a military victory.  How can we sneer at our enemies for their trust in horses and chariots (the armored vehicles of war in the ancient world) when we’ve just sent our own troops out to battle? Shouldn’t there be at least a little bit of cognitive dissonance as we read these words? It makes me think of a verse from the previous psalm “But who can discern their own errors?” Psalm 19:12a 

Can I mock the enemy for his trust in military power – when I’ve just won a military victory myself?  History is written by the victors who inevitably give credit to God.


Still Life With Glassware

I took this photo last night in our kitchen.  It's a few pieces of glassware back lit by a couple of candles.

Still Life with Glassware by Jeff Carter


Still Life with Glassware by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

























This and other photographs of mine are available for purchase - either as a digital download ($2.99) or as a professional quality 2' X 3' canvas print ($211). My portion of these sales will be given to the Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa.  Thanks.

A Range of Artistic Possibilities

This is another photograph of the crab apple tree in my neighbor's yard. I have  been taking pictures of it all month.  And even though it is the same tree, and I'm using the same camera, each of the pictures is different. I like the range of artistic possibilities that this tree represents.

I did a little more with photoshop on this one than I've done with the others - but even still it wasn't very much.

This and other photographs of mine are available for purchase - either as a digital download ($2.99) or as a professional quality 2' X 3' canvas print ($211). My portion of these sales will be given to the Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa.  Thanks.

Crab Apple Tree in November (4) by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

Obama Removes References to God from Gettysburg Address and the Bible


Conservatives were irked yesterday by President Barack Obama’s reading of the Gettysburg address – omitting the phrase ‘under God.’  The reading was part of a project, directed by noted historian Ken Burns, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the famous speech.

"Lincoln added 'Under God' as he was looking out over battlefield. Why would Obama remove?" Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Twitter. Conservative Christian leader Bryan Fischer added "Obama's omission of 'under God' is more evidence of his anti-Christian bigotry. He honors Islam but disrespects Christianity."



It was explained that readings of the speech were contributed by several different personalities and leaders – and that they were reading from different versions of the speech.  There are at least five different written versions of the speech. President Obama was asked to read an early version of the speech (known as the Nicolay copy - named for Lincoln's personal secretary), which omits the words "under God" and also contains several additional phrases that differ from the version of the speech Lincoln delivered.
But before their ire could die away, conservative Christians were infuriated once again to discover that references to God have been removed from the biblical books of Esther and Song of Songs.

“We just happened to be reading from the book of Esther, taking a break from reading the book of Revelations,” said Conservative spokesperson David Drusba, “and we noticed that all references to God had been removed from the book. Obama just took them out! We were so shocked that we went through some of the other books to see if Obama and expunged God from any of the others.”

“It’s all part of Obama and his Marxist Muslim cronies’ plan to quietly and secretly remove all references to God from our culture,” continued Drusba.  “First they drop a reference to God from the Gettysburg address, then they erase God from some of the books of our Bible, and before you know it there are lesbian Nazi hookers selling drugs to children on every street corner.  They thought we wouldn’t notice, but we did! ”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Crab Apple Tree in November - Another View

Here again is the crab apple tree in my neighbor's yard.  I have taken several pictures of this tree in the past month - and each of them are quite different.


Crab Apple Tree November 2 by Jeff Carter on 500px.com

























Crab Apple Tree November 2 by Jeff Carter

This picture and others are available for purchase - either as a digital download ($2.99) or as a professional quality canvas print ($211).  My portion of the proceeds of these sales goes to the Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa.

Biblical Limericks: No Wonder We’re so Ambivalent about Public Breast Feeding


Did Luke have a literary lapse,
momentarily confused perhaps?
It’s not quite distressing
but he wrote of blessing
both the suckled and unsuckled paps.

Luke 11:27 / 23:29 in the KJV



David Barton Says Don’t Support the Bad Guys


“[O]ne of the things God makes really clear is you're not to be helping the bad guys advance their agenda which is against God.”  So says (cough, cough) historian, David Barton on his Wallbuilders Live broadcast.  On the November 19, 2013 program he and his guest, Chris Walker, discussed a new app designed to let conservatives and Christians (the same thing in Barton’s mind) know which companies and stores support liberal policies so that God-fearing Christian conservatives can “not help the bad guys.”


The app, called 2nd Vote rates companies on five issues: gun rights, abortion, the environment, same-sex marriage, and federal subsidies. According to Barton, shopping at places like Starbucks is something akin to committing treason against God, because Starbucks asks their patrons to leave their guns at home, and because they support spousal benefits for same-sex partners.

I haven’t seen the app.  I don’t care to.  But I do find it curious that it’s these particular five issues that are used as the basis for rating companies and business.  What if the app rated companies on how well they treat their employees or how well they care for the poor- which are things that the bible makes pretty clear that God want us to do...

I would suggest that shopping at Walmart (which carries Barton’s Drive Thru History America )  might be akin to committing treason against God.  If you’re shopping at a company that pays its employees such a pitifully low wage that they can’t get by without food drives and food-stamps (which conservative Christians like Barton want to slash) then, to use Barton’s words, you’re supporting the bad guys.

“Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.  Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.” James 5: 1 - 6






Let it Be: The Gospel According to the Beatles (A Musical Program)


A few years ago I put together a musical revue night at our church based on the music of the Beatles.  Our various musical groups (praise team, vocal ensembles, recorders, and even our puppetry group) each shared their talents in this program.  What follows is my presentation script for the evening.  I wish that we had a recording of the evening and our performers, but alas...

When We Were Fab
It would be impossible to overestimate the impact four lads from Liverpool, England have had on our world and culture.  Collectively John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Star (Richard Starkey) were the musical voice of a generation, yet their music transcends a single generation and is loved by countless millions still today.   My son and daughter sing along to their songs some 40 years after they were recorded. They recorded music together for a short ten years, but still these many years later we’re still listening to them.  Their albums and movies, and CDs and poster and merchandise continue to sell.  It was a rare combination of immense talents – that when combined was even greater than the sum of its individual parts.

I didn’t really grow up with the Beatles.  By the time I was born in 1975 the Beatles – as a musical entity – had already ceased to exist.  I vaguely remember John’s murder in 1980 by John Chapman, but I really don’t know why that event would have lodged itself in my memory.  My parents didn’t really listen to popular music and the Beatles weren’t regularly heard in our house.  I did know some of their songs, but only through the radio or television.  In junior high school I began to hear from my friends about the great music of the Beatles, but still they didn’t connect for me.  But then in high school, under the tutelage of my friend, classmate, and neighbor, David, I really began to plumb the depths of the Beatles catalogue.

David played the Abbey Road album for me and I realized, “I know some of these songs.”  I had sung Octopuses Garden in elementary school music class, without knowing it was the Beatles.  Then he pulled out a vinyl recording of the so-called “White Album” (Officially titled “The Beatles”) and played Revolution #9, that weird mess of noise that can only loosely be considered music.  And then we played it backwards as he told me about the “Paul is Dead” hoax and we listened for that disembodied voice that would supposedly say, “Turn me on, dead man.”  We never found it.

In recent years my appreciation for their music has grown even more.  I’m constantly impressed by their genius – and that’s really the only word for it, despite sounding cliché and overused.  It is an absolute.

And more than the music – I’m impressed by their search for something more.  As I said, I didn’t grow up on the 60s. I never saw a hippy.  (I’ve only ever seen aging hippies, or former hippies.)  So I don’t’ really know what it was like to be alive during those turbulent times when everything seemed to be in the air, in the middle of flux and change, on the brink of riotous turmoil of rock and roll and revolution.  But, really, has there ever been an age that hasn’t felt that upheaval?  Today’s world – though radically different from that of the 60s – is still dealing with the same fundamental human issues, particularly the search for meaning, the search for something more, the search for the transcendental, that which goes beyond our ordinary, everyday sort of life. 

And that’s what I want this evening’s Let it Be: The Gospel According to the Beatles program to be about:  A musical search for transcending truth, for the beautiful, for the pure and holy. 

Before we get too far along, I should make a disclaimer.  The Beatles were not Christians.  To be sure, the Beatles were not Christians, and their lyrics – as skillful and beautiful as they are, are not sacred, inspired texts.  Although essayist Matthew Schneider has said that with the inclusion of printed lyrics on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “the lyrics…acquire[d] the stable, fixed status of sacred text, which [could] now be pored over and studied with the kind of Talmudic intensity that the Beatles knew their fans possessed (Turner, 2).” However, since truth is where you find it, and just as the apostle Paul was able to find a smidgeon of truth in the idolatrous statues of the Greeks at Mars Hill, we can also find dollops of Truth – with a capital T – in the songs of the Beatles.

Also, I should point out that the Beatles – especially John – disliked the tendency of their fans to read into their music all sorts of wild interpretations.  Charles Manson and his “children” n California did that with horrifying results.  John Lennon once received a note from a schoolboy who said that his teachers were using the lyrics of Beatles songs as examples of poetry.  Lennon then composed the nonsensical I am the Walrus with its surreal and repulsive images, “yellow matted custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye,” and said, “Let’s see what the fuckers make of that.”

That said, tonight’s program does not claim to represent the thoughts of the Beatles.  Instead it is largely my own attempt to view the world through a seemingly disparate pair of lenses:  the music of the Beatles and the word of God as found in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  Sounds crazy, right?  It could be, but “let me take you down, ‘cause I’m going down….”

I know. I know. I know.  There was that whole “more popular than Jesus” thing that really irked a lot of people and tended to set John (and the Beatles) against God and religion, but as John attempted to explain later, “I am not anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better.  I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky.  I believe what people call God is something in all of us.  I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed, and Buddha and all the rest said was right, it’s just that that translations have gone wrong.”

I don’t subscribe to his opinion that Jesus, Mohammed, and the Buddha and all other religious teachers had equally true messages (though I believe that some truth can be found in them all); I firmly believe that Jesus is, as he said he was, the only way.  But John’s thought that “what people call God is something in all of us” really registers with me – in much the same way that Paul’s message on the Areopagus did:

“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  Now what you worship as something unknown, I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17: 22 – 23)

There’s something of the religious unknown, the numinous in John’s writing and in the songs of the Beatles, that while they themselves may not have been aware of what it was, we can see and know that they were connecting with the mystery of God.

This will not be a chronological retrospective of their work – beginning with their earliest hits and moving steadily forward through their many recordings.  Instead it will be a thematic progression from darkness to light, for the depths to great heights.  And while this won’t be a chronological journey through their music, it is curious that their earliest gigs were held in a basement club called The Cavern.  It was dark.  It was crowed and it smelled of stale cigarettes and sweat.  This is where we will begin.

The earliest songs of the Beatles were cliché-ridden expressions of puppy love or adolescent macho posturing; lyrically they were mindlessly simple. “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”  Their rhymes tended to be of the moon/June, love/dove variety.  “Love Me Do,” their first single, consisted of 121 words – 22 of which were “love.”  These early songs were all about boy/ girl relationships and the Rock and Roll search for fame and fortune.

But while the lyrics may have been incredibly simplistic or even irrelevant, the music they created was not.  They composed incredible melodies and sang intricate harmonies that musical scholars still study.  Their chord progressions were not the simple I-V-IV patterns of popular music.  As untrained musicians they didn’t know that they were singing Aeolian E Minor or Diatonic G Major chords.  They didn’t know that “A Hard Day’s Night” contained “oscillations between a latent tonic of C and the flat seventh triad of B flat before the answering phrase balanced the modality with descending chromatics (Turner, 3).”  They just knew that they were making good music.  And their millions of screaming fans agreed.

An acoustical engineer once measured the crowd’s volume at a Beatles’ concert in Australia.  He found that the crowd was louder than a jet plane (140 decibels).  The concert crowds were often so loud that the Beatles couldn’t hear themselves play, even through the on-stage monitors.  They had achieved the fame they’d sought.  Everywhere they went they were recognized and adored.  There were women at every show, flinging themselves at the fab four.

And wealth…even despite their manager, Brian Epstein’s, mismanagement, there was an unbelievable amount of money coming in.  They had everything.  Paul could say to John, “Let’s write a swimming pool,” and they would put together a hit song that would bring them enough money to build a new swimming pool.   They had it all.  They had the dream.  George Harrison would later sing in his solo song, When We Were Fab “…we did it aw-aw-aaw-all…Fab!”

But even so, something was missing.  As St. Theresa of Avila said, “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”  What happens when you get everything you ever wanted and you’re still empty?

“Of course at first, we all thought we wanted the fame and that… but very shortly thereafter, we began to think twice…after the initial excitement had worn off, I for one, became depressed.  Is this all we have to look forward to in life?  Being chased around by a crowd of hooting lunatics, from one crappy hotel room to the next? (Herstgaard, 88)”

The fame that they sought had become a threat to their lives.  The screaming fans that greeted them at the airport and chased them to and from their hotel rooms were kept in check by grim police officers.  “On the eve of the group’s first US tour, Life [magazine] reported, ‘A Beatle who ventures out unguarded into the streets runs the very real peril of being dismembered or crushed to death by his fans (Lewis, 85).”

Yer Blues form the so-called “White Album” isn’t usually listed among the most popular of Beatles’ songs.  And it’s easy to see and hear why:  it’s not a pleasant song – lyrically or musically.  Lyrically, it’s dark.  It’s depressing.   It’s suicidal and apocalyptic. Musically it’s abrasive and clumsy.  “The refrain heaves against a crippled rhythm, guitar-bass figure following each vocal declamation, like a dead leg; the beat breaks into freedom for just a few bars, becoming suddenly almost a boogie, a groove – only to stop again with a clumsy edit back to Ringo’s drums.  But the players bash away, Lennon shouts though he is barely heard over the din, and the song drags itself onward.  Even as it fades, it wants to blow the trees over and stop the apocalypse in its tracks, fight thunder with louder thunder (McKinney, 233-234).”

John Lennon wrote this song during the Beatles’ trip to India to study the teachings of their guru, Mahirashi, “up there trying to reach God and feeling suicidal,” he said. 

The blues are an interesting genre of music; they accept and even celebrate misery and calamity.  They are “…seldom convinced things could be any better; whereas John’s blues are not accepting of anything – in fact are outraged that things could have gotten so bad (McKinney, 234).”  Instead of accepting the dark terrors of this world, instead of trying to ignore them by pursuing temporal (and temporary) distractions in wealth and fame and sex and pleasure, Lennon seeks death and annihilation and God.

Perhaps this seems strange: a search for God via the path of self annihilation, yet in the words of another John, “He must increase, I must decrease…” (John 3:30). 

There must be something more.

Yesterday
(Sung in our program by an a cappella men’s trio.)

This song came to Paul McCartney in a dream during January of 1964 but it wasn’t recorded until June of the following year.  He, and the band, held this song back because it didn’t fit the image of themselves that they had crafted up to that point – the image of four irreverent young men, care-free, and light-hearted.  They were pop stars.  Their songs were bubblegum – cotton candy – easily digested. Yesterday was something else.



It came at a different tempo from other Beatles’ songs; there was no rollicking backbeat from the drums, instead there were flutes and cellos.  Yesterday was something new from these lads from Liverpool.  A beam of light is beginning to shine into their cavern.  Yet the light isn’t understood here.  Yesterday is a song of regret and loss, a song with a sense that something important was missed.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overpower it.” John 1:5

Help!
(A slow somber arrangement performed by our praise band.)

Help!  - The title track to their second film and their fifth album was intended to be a serious introspective song, but few heard it as such.  It was just another pop song on the way to the top of the charts, swallowed up in the atmosphere of jollity and mayhem that surrounded the movie it was written for.  No one thought of John as someone suffering from depression and anxiety.  (Turner, 5)



He was overweight, drinking too much, bored with his wife, and their new house, fed up with the absurdities of Beatlemania.  He wrote the song to give expression to the stress he felt coming from their quick rise to success after years of obscurity.  It was a plea for help, but since Lennon’s feelings of insecurity were incongruous with the band’s image of confidence and youthful abandon, Lennon felt that it would be nearly impossible for Beatles’ fans to understand the origin of the song. “I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for ‘Help’,” he said in an interview shortly before his death.

It is difficult to ask for help, to admit vulnerability, to admit weakness, to admit (gasp) defeat.  So many of us live lives of “quiet despair” struggling with addictions and pain and grief – living day after grinding day without every asking for help.  Our culture praises and rewards self-determination and individual achievement.  Those who can ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ are heroes and are admired.  We want our friend and neighbors and family to believe that we have it all under control.  Even if our world is crashing at our feet, we’re reluctant to ask for Help!, and so we remain in the dark.

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death
light has blazed forth.” Isaiah 9:1

Here Comes the Sun King
(A medley of Here Comes the Sun and The Sun King and Good Day Sunshine arranged by Bandmaster Andrew Lovejoy for our brass band.)


“Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say, ‘it’s all right.’”  This is a welcome blessing after a “long, cold, lonely winter,” the winter of our discontent, the long dark night of the soul…and now a light has dawned.  All that we have tried has failed; all that we attempted to do has come to naught and maybe we’re just about to abandon all hope.  Then a light breaks over the horizon.  “Here comes the Sun King” risen with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2).



The Long and Winding Road
(Performed as a vocal solo / acoustic guitar.)

Like the author of Ecclesiastes, we’ve tried it all: Money, fame, sex, philosophy, drugs, alcohol, amusements, everything – all the twists and turns of life and they’re all futile. “Sheer futility, sheer futility; everything is sheer futility.  What profit can we show for all our toil…? A generation comes and a generation goes…the sun rises, the sun sets … and what is at the end of it all? “The long and winding road that leads me to your door.”  The prodigal and wasteful son finds his father waiting at the end of that long and winding road.



Long, Long, Long
(Performed as a vocal solo / acoustic guitar.)

Outwardly the song Long, Long, Long by George Harrison seemed to be a simple love song – but the song is deeper.  The Lover is God. 



The Word
(Performed by our choir group.)

But now we’ve got the message; we’ve seen the light.  We know the word: the word is love.  And when you know something good you want to share it with everyone around.  The Word was the first of the Beatles’ purposefully “evangelistic” songs – songs written to preach a message of peace and love.  In essence, it was the Beatles’ first gospel song.  “This could be a Salvation Army song,” said Paul (Turner, 5).


The word, the logos…In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God and the word was Love. But not merely the romantic / erotic love, but the selfless sacrificial agape love that loves unconditionally.  Love in the universal, spiritual sense rather than the personal erotic sense.  This love isn’t about me feeling good – but rather the love that seeks the greatest good for others.

Here, There, and Everywhere
(Performed by my daughter on the recorder.)



Let It Be
(Performed by vocal solo /piano.)

The Beatles’ penultimate single Let It Be sounded like a valediction at the end of the Beatles’ career.  It emerged from the bitter conflicts and disintegration of the group that they loved so much.  Written by Paul McCartney, it was a word of solace, a word of wisdom, written as much to himself as to the “broken hearted people of the world.”  The simple message was “let it be.”  As with the best of McCartney’s songs, it was probably intended to have many possible interpretations, but it is undeniably a salvation song.  The word is broken, troubled, dark, and cloudy – but there is hope.  There is an answer.  And if this answer is heeded, there will be light and the darkness will roll away.



Billy Preston’s gospel-style organ made the song sound even more like a Christian hymn.  And some of the song’s most ringing phrases can be found in the bible: “times of trouble” – Psalm 10: 1, “the brokenhearted” – Luke 4:18, “and “a light that shines” – John 1:5.

The song’s reference to “Mother Mary” was a reference to Paul’s mother – who he had dreamed of during the collapse of the band.  But Paul was aware of what he later called the “quasi-religious” implications.  This is heightened by the fact that Mary’s words of submission to the angel who informs her that she is about to give birth to the savior of the world, contained the words, “be it unto me according to thy word,” a phrase not too dissimilar to “let it be.”

“I had a lot of bad times in the 60s.  We used to lie in bed and wonder what was going on and feel quite paranoid.  Probably all the drugs.  I had a dream one night about my mother. She died when I was fourteen so I hadn’t really heard from her in quite a while and it was very good.  She gave me some strength”

All You Need Is Love
(Performed by our puppetry group.)

“And now I am going to put before you the best way of all:  Though I command languages both human and angelic – if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.  And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains – if I am without love, I am nothing.  Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and even give up my body to be burned – if I am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

“Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offense or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.  It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

“Love never comes to an end.  But if there are prophecies, they will be done away with; if tongues they will fall silent; and if knowledge, it will be down away with.  For we know only imperfectly, and we prophecy imperfectly, but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will be done away with.  When I was a child I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways.  Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face.  Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.

As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of these is all you need…”  (1 Corinthians 13)



Across the Universe
(Performed by a small ensemble.)

The song Across the Universe began in 1967 as John’s relationship to his first wife, Cynthia Powell, was falling apart.  One night he was in bed listening to her talk, and talk, and talk… Perhaps somewhat cruelly, the opening line of the song popped into his head, “words are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup.”  In a flash of inspiration he got up and rushed to find pen and paper to finish writing the lyrics.  When he finished he went to sleep and forgot them.

This flash of inspiration, I believe, was a God give, a sacred thing.  The 19th century poet Percy Shelley wrote, “A man cannot say, ‘I will write poetry.’  Not even the greatest poet can say it, for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens it to transitory brightness.”  This “inconstant wind” moving through John Lennon was the Holy Spirit, causing him to compose a hymn to an Unknown God (unknown to John, anyway.)

Words are flying out like
endless rain into a paper cup
they slither while they pass
they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
are drifting through my open mind,
possessing and caressing me.


The song begins with a self aware contemplation of life: Words – the interchange of ideas, the communication of thoughts – these things slip away leaving only the underlying experience.  Words – as important and vital as they are – cannot contain or fully express the human experience.  “Pools of sorrow” and “waves of joy” are aqueous primordial emotions.  From the beginnings of the universe when all was dark and formless water, sorrow and joy have washed over us.

The chorus of Across the Universe begins with the Sanskrit phrase “Jai guru deva, om.”  John and the other members of the Beatles were briefly interested in eastern philosophy and Transcendental Meditation.  The use of the Hindi phrase reflects this interest.  And here is where that “Unknown God” creeps in.

A breakdown of the etymology of the phrase is as follows:
Jai means “victory” or “success” or “glory” or “thank you.”
A guru is a “teacher” or a “master.”
A deva is a “God” or “heavenly one.”

The phrase can thus be rendered “Glory to the heavenly teacher,” or “Victory to the divine teacher,” or even “Thank you to the heavenly Lord.” 

I think John, flamed to transitory brightness by the blowing of the Holy Spirit, was saying more than he knew.  He may not have known Jesus as his personal guru but for those of us who do, “Jai guru deva” could be a phrase used in corporate worship right along with “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

The phrase ends with the Hindi word “om.”  Om (also written Aum or Ohm) is considered the most sacred syllable in Hinduism, symbolizing the infinite and the entire universe; the primal sound.  Phonetically and practically Om is quite similar to the Christianamen.”  It is used, like the “amen” to begin or conclude prayers.  “Amen or “let it be” can be considered a type of “om” – a word to connect the worshipper with the will of the infinite, the creator of the universe, the all in all.  When we pray “amen” we are submitting our will and our desire, we are emptying ourselves of all egoism and selfish conceit and submitting to the will and plan of the infinite God of the universe.

In the beginning the world was only chaos - welter and waste – crashing waves and formless water.  But the creator God imposed order on these turbulent waters and brought forth a marvelously complex and intrinsically beautiful world.   For those living in Jesus, the “yes and amen” of God, the “om” of God, the world is not a frenzied welter and waste, but an unshakable kingdom.  There is security and safety and rest in Christ.  “Nothing’s gonna’ change my world.”

The second verse begins a journey.  We begin to leave behind the futile paper cup of words and begin to follow “images of broken light that dance before me like a million eyes.”  It’s a beautiful image of the shifting effulgence of God’s glory, dancing before us, calling us, leading us towards “limitless, undying love which shines around me like a million suns.”  God is love. We follow the sounds of his laughter until we find ourselves in a place where tears are wiped and we live in the glory of God, brighter than a million suns – a place where there is no night.


Jai guru deva, om
Nothing’s gonna’ change my world.

Amen.

“I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.”


Sources

Dwolding, William J. Beatlesongs, Simon and Shuester Inc, New York, NY, 1989.

Hertsgaard, Mark, A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles,
                Delacorte Press, New York, NY, 1995.

Lewis, Lisa A.  The Adoring Audience, Routledge, London, England, 1992.

Matteo, Steve, Let It Be, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., New York, NY, 2004

McKinney, Devin, Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History, Harvard Press,
                Cambridge, MS, 2003.

Mellers, Wilfrid, The Music of the Beatles,  Schirmer Books, New York, NY, 1973.

Turner, Steve, The Gospel According to the Beatles, Westminster John Knox Press,
                Louisville, KY, 2006.

Biblical Limericks: That’s How Mad Cow Disease Got Started, You Know…


Pharaoh once had a dream unbenign,
a dream that sent shivers down his spine.
He saw something vile
come up from the Nile,
those cannibalistic river kine.

Genesis 41: 1 - 4 (KJV)


Kine - is the only plural form in the English language that does not share a single letter with its singular – Cow.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Biblical Limericks: The Daughters of Zion were Dedicated Followers of Fashion


Daughters of Zion in high fashions
dressed in hoods and veils of fine linens;
they were socialite fools
and wore rings, and nose jewels,
mantles, and wimples, and crisping pins.

Isaiah 3: 18 – 22 (King James Version)

Another limerick on this same passage: You Forgot to Mention the Scabs

Biblical Limericks: You Forgot To Mention the Scabs


The Daughters of Zion are haughty;
they are proud and they have been naughty.
God will wound their vain hearts,
expose their lady parts,
and they’ll smell like a porta-potty.

Isaiah 3: 16 - 24



Edit: I forgot to include this song:

It’s Not about Guns, It’s About Power


The issue of gun ownership / gun control is not likely to disappear anytime soon.  We, as a nation, are deeply divided over what it means to own a firearm.  But as I see it, it’s not about guns, it’s about power – and in this country we do not believe letting power go unchecked.

Our system of government has established checks and balances to prevent one person, one party, one branch of the government from becoming too powerful.  There are speed bumps and roadblocks to the passing of legislation – even good legislation.  We do this because we understand the destructive nature of absolute power.  We fear, and rightly so, allowing supreme power to be concentrated in one person’s hands.  A benevolent dictator is good in theory, but… power corrupts. Power destroys.

It’s not about guns. It’s about power or, in this case, firepower.  Guns are powerful tools.  And like all tools they can be used for good and productive purposes, or they can be used for evil destructive ends. And just as we have established means to limit the amount of political power that any one person, party, branch of government has in our country, we must limit the amount of (fire)power that any one person can have – and which persons can have access to that power.  A benevolent dictator is good in theory, but we don’t trust them.  Responsible gun owners are good in theory too, but we shouldn’t allow them unfettered (fire)power without a more responsible system of checks and balances.

Even the 2nd amendment “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” that gun owners and the NRA are quick to quote begins with that phrase “A well regulated…”  Regulation. Control.  It’s written right into their favorite amendment.

Gun regulation, gun control is not un-American. It’s an idea built upon one of the foundational values of our country. It’s not about guns. It’s about (fire)power – and in this country we do not believe in unfettered, unchecked power.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Don’t Meditate Beforehand


In his “Olivet Discourse” (though it’s not described as taking place on the Mount of Olives in the version told by Luke) Jesus gave his followers a description of the signs and the times that would precede the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world (at least as they knew it.)  Embedded in that apocalyptic checklist is an instruction that I have a great deal of difficulty keeping.

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. Luke 21: 10 – 15 (RSV)

As an Introvert I tend to rehearse conversations before they happen.  In my alone time I think about the various ways a future conversation may go.  If I say ‘this’, they may reply with ‘that’, and then I can say … and so on. And even though the conversation may not (usually doesn’t) go the way I’ve projected, having practiced it beforehand allows me to feel less anxious during the actual conversation when it happens.   And yet, here is Jesus telling his followers not to meditate on these conversations in advance.  They are to be in the moment, in the now.


I joke that some of my extroverted friends don’t know what they’re thinking until they say it out loud.  I’m much the opposite.  I like to know what I’m thinking before I start speaking.    I want to speak clearly and concisely, without wasted words. I don’t want to just ramble on until I hit upon a true statement.

I don’t think that’s quite what this instruction is intended to mean. The context of the entire discourse is that we’re not to be afraid of imminent future calamities.  We’re not to be afraid of wars or natural disasters or of being dragged in front of courts and kings.  We don’t have to be anxious.  We don’t have to be nervous.  If we are consistently living in (and living out) the love of God from day to day, then when we are called upon to give testimony to that love we won’t have to scramble for the words to say. We will have already embodied that love.  

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2013 - Week 48

Here we go again - another free background image for you to use. Use it in Powerpoint (or similar presentation programs).  Use it as a desktop image for your computer.  Use it in school reports, church bulletins.  Use it at home, or work or at your lemonade stand. Use it however you like,  I only ask that you share these images freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

For those who may be interested in knowing - the tree in this picture is the apple tree in my neighbor's yard.  (Not the crab apple tree, though...)


Apple Tree November by Jeff Carter on 500px.com


A Blessing for when the World Is Collapsing


When the world around us
is collapsing into the dust
and the moon is falling from the sky,
when warring hearts
and angry minds
lead nations and kings into battle
again and again,

may you not be afraid,
for this is not the end.

When you are harassed
and when you are threatened
be at peace,
for the Lord is with you
and this is not the end.

This is not end
but the beginning,
a new beginning,
another opportunity for us
to bear testimony to love.

When the world is collapsing
and the moon is falling from the sky
may the Lord be near
to give you the words to say;
may you not be afraid,
may you endure
and gain your life in him.

(Luke 21: 5 - 19)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Camera Doesn't Lie, But You Can't Trust It

I am continually struck by how very different photographs of the same subject taken with the same camera can be.  Take for example these three pictures I took of my neighbor's crab apple tree - all three pictures are of the same tree, taken with the same camera, by the same photographer.  But they are significantly different.  The old adage that "the camera never lies" may be true, but I'm not sure you can really trust it.

I have several photographs for sale either as digital downloads ($2.99) or as a professional quality canvas print ($211). My portion of these sales is given to The Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa.







Water Color Crab Apple Photograph photo Watercolorcrabapple_zps8fd04c60.jpg








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