Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Whisper of Demons

The Fool with Two Demons (detail) in a psalter, illuminations by the Master of the Ingeborg Psalter after 1205

The Fool with Two Demons (detail) in a psalter, illuminations by the Master of the Ingeborg Psalter after 1205

There are demons that whisper their words into our stories
And devils dwelling in the details that we created to fill the gaps
Creating conspiracies by blinding us to other possible conclusions
Filling in the places of doubt with stories told in the worst light
Fortifying the bulwarks of certainty by ignoring any contradiction
Allowing us to truthfully tell the lies in the story to others
Infecting them with the virus of paranoia, suspicion and hate
Blasting others in our blundering bluster as the enemies we fear
Naming enemies and traitors and the victims of our wrath
And the first casualty of this whisper is the life of the neighbor
We sacrifice as our enemy on the altar of our unyielding zeal.
There are other demons that whisper their words into our stories
And devils dwelling in the details that we create to fill in the gaps
Of the narratives we craft about ourselves in our world we live in
Highlighting all the failures and flaws and weighing them mercilessly
Using the unreal scales imposed upon us by a Photoshop reality
Allowing us to truthfully tell the lies in our story to ourselves
Tearing down our sense of self by whispering their damning words
Destroying our self image with the skill of a master assassin
Renaming our body and soul as unlovable and unattractive
And the first casualty of this whisper is our own life
Sacrificed upon the altar of an unreachable perfection

The Rains of Fall

autumn by jjuuhhaa at

autumn by jjuuhhaa at

After the long drought of summer turned the fields to faded gold
The rains of fall return to refresh the dried skin of the parched earth
And the tears of the heavens work their healing magic upon the ground
Life briefly returns to the sun baked soils underneath the canopy of color
A flourish of colors adorn the trees and fields as the earth renews its raiment
Greens become mixed with jewels of flowers and the colorful patches of leaves
A season of dirt and dust are washed away by the long awaited water
And the earth emerges from its fall shower renewed and refreshed
Robed in the gold and red of the falling leaves that provide it a covering
As it prepares for the coming chill of the winter that will soon arrive

Deuteronomy 14: Boundary Markers and Celebrations

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Deuteronomy 14

1 You are children of the LORD your God. You must not lacerate yourselves or shave your forelocks for the dead. 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; it is you the LORD has chosen out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

 3 You shall not eat any abhorrent thing. 4 These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, 5 the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain-sheep. 6 Any animal that divides the hoof and has the hoof cleft in two, and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. 7 Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cleft you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you. 8 And the pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. You shall not eat their meat, and you shall not touch their carcasses.

 9 Of all that live in water you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat. 10 And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.

11 You may eat any clean birds. 12 But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, 13 the buzzard, the kite, of any kind; 14 every raven of any kind; 15 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk, of any kind; 16 the little owl and the great owl, the water hen 17 and the desert owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant, 18 the stork, the heron, of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat. 19 And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten. 20 You may eat any clean winged creature.

21 You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to aliens residing in your towns for them to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God.

 You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

                22 Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. 23 In the presence of the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 But if, when the LORD your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the LORD your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, 25 then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the LORD your God will choose; 26 spend the money for whatever you wish– oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your household rejoicing together. 27 As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.

 28 Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; 29 the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.


If we look upon this chapters as merely a set of prohibitions of a couple practices and a lot of animals the people of Israel were not to eat we would miss the point. If we try to come up with rational explanations for why they shouldn’t eat certain things or imagine that the only reason these animals and practices are forbidden is because the Canaanites and other nations around them did it we would also miss the point. For the Israelites these are a part of bearing the identity of being a treasured possession or a people holy to God. As a people who bear the place where God’s name will dwell these practices also become a people whose identity is formed around certain practices that set them apart as holy. Part of being holy for Israel is living out of these practices for no other reason than they have been asked. As the Jewish writer Ruth Sohn can state:

According to Torah, God asks that we abstain from eating certain foods, not because they are unhealthy or intrinsically problematic, but simply as an expression or our devotion…These prohibitions are like the requests of a beloved; we may not understand them, but we are, in essence, asked to follow them purely as an expression of our love. (Thompson, 2014, p. 122f.)
The practices become boundary markers between the people of Israel who are called to be holy in a special way and who are to enjoy a special relationship with the LORD their God and the rest of the people. They are not called to impose these practices on others, in fact even within this section here we see ways in which these allowances can be used for mercy for the outsider, the provision that an animal that has died on its own may be used to feed the aliens residing in their town. It doesn’t mean that these are painless for the people who are living out of them. In a culture where meat was a luxury, as it is in most ancient agrarian communities, the prohibition of certain food sources that may have been readily available would have proved a constant temptation. Yet these eating practices proved to be one of the distinctive marks of Jewish identity for hundreds, even thousands of years. For example much later 2 Maccabees refers to the Jewish struggle against persecution under the Seleucid Empire in the reign of Antiochus IV with a specific reference to diet:

Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh. But he, welcoming death with honor rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, as all ought to have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life. (2 Maccabees 6: 18-20)

These practices of what to eat and what not to eat may seem strange to people who are not Jewish and have been a way in which others sought to get the Jewish people to relax their boundaries, yet for many Jewish people the food rules remain in practice in some form today.

The tithe, which is discussed in the final seven verses of the chapter is also a distinctive practice of the people but it is more about celebration than a burdensome requirement. The practice is in a sense a tax and a way to acknowledge the sovereignty of their God, yet God doesn’t need the grain and the wine and the animals. They are to bring them together and to enjoy together in God’s presence the produce of their flocks and fields. To take the ten percent of an accounting of the field and the firstlings of the flock are to be used to celebrate. Acknowledging the spread out nature of the community there is the provision to be able to convert the produce into money and then come and spend the money for whatever the family wants to use to celebrate. Meat in the ancient world would be eaten primarily at celebration times when a large group is gathered because there is no refrigeration to preserve the meat and so it would be an invitation for a large number of people to gather together around an ox that had been slaughtered. God allows for the people to purchase wine and strong drink as a part of the celebration as well. This is not a burdensome practice but rather a joyous one.

Within the celebration is also the provision for the needs of the unsupported ones of the community. The Levites who have been set aside for the operation of the tabernacle or temple need to be provided for so out of every third year’s tithe they are to be taken care of. Those who are the vulnerable of the community are also to be cared for out of this third year tithe: the resident alien, the orphan and the widow. They are to be the beneficiaries of this practice as well. As the claimed ones of God the people are to be the ones claiming responsibility of caring for those no one claims.

Sounds and Syllables

Creation by Selfish Eden (

Creation by Selfish Eden (

What power lies within the syllables and sounds?
Do they merely describe a reality fully formed?
A mimetic act of the glorification of creation
Reflecting upon a completed picture imperfectly
A flawed simulacrum of what sense can comprehend
Or is there something more in the words?
Do they reflect or recreate?
In these syllables and sounds is there the power of creation?
Do the songs and poetry open up new worlds of possibilities?
Can a statement or the stroke of a pen start a reality?
Can the sounds dance along the chaotic creative waters
Or commands give shape to the formless clay
Or is it something less contained in the words?
Do they reinvent or refract?
And perhaps the answer isn’t in the words at all
For maybe it is the potential of the creation already latent
And words may describe the reality that is already present
Or serve as a key that opens up some preexisting door
Echoing the preordained syllables that resonate among the stars
Copying the creative wisdom that predates the cosmos
And perhaps they are only words and yet, they are words
Resurrecting, retelling, recasting and realizing

Extracting Wisdom


They sat me in a chair today
My wisdom teeth they pulled away
And though my jaw may swollen be
The wisdom it remains with me
For pulling teeth is a painful thing
But extracting wisdom has far more sting
Lying deep within its sheltering host
And to pull it out one creates a ghost
And yet there is another way
To bring wisdom to the light of day
To take the time to lend an ear
As wisdom is shared by mouth to hear
To listen close to stories told
To things once learned, to lessons old
To ask the questions that bring out
The wisdom we cannot live without

Neil White, 2015

Have to have a little fun with the experience.

Banished Monsters

Old Tree Wallpaper by

Old Tree Wallpaper by

Maybe there was once a time when magic ruled the world
When wizards and witches cast their spells upon their watchers
Where dragons flew beyond the mountains and wild children lived in the forest
Giants and trolls and goblins inhabited the wilderness beyond the safety of town
And brace heroes marched out into the wild lands to defend our boundaries
But no longer, the dragons are gone, the giants of old are dead,
and the children of the forest forgotten
Lost to the fog of some long forgotten time
beyond the shade of our parents’ or our parents parents’ memory
The demons that once dwelled in the wilderness now have only our minds to haunt
And the devils live among us wearing our own skins
For in arming ourselves to conquer the dangerous world of monsters
We became that which we sought to banish, the reflection of our nightmares
For where else will the monster roar if not within the heart of man?

Neil White, 2015

 Deuteronomy 13: The Challenge of Exclusivity

Willem de Poorter, 'De afgoderij van konig Solomo'-Solomon's decent into idolatry (between 1630 and 1648)

Willem de Poorter, ‘De afgoderij van konig Solomo’-Solomon’s decent into idolatry (between 1630 and 1648)

Deuteronomy 13

1 If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents, 2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, “Let us follow other gods” (whom you have not known) “and let us serve them,” 3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul. 4 The LORD your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast. 5 But those prophets or those who divine by dreams shall be put to death for having spoken treason against the LORD your God– who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery– to turn you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

 6 If anyone secretly entices you– even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend– saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, 8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. 9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people.10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.11 Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.

12 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the LORD your God is giving you to live in, 13 that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” whom you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation. If the charge is established that such an abhorrent thing has been done among you, 15 you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it– even putting its livestock to the sword.16 All of its spoil you shall gather into its public square; then burn the town and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. It shall remain a perpetual ruin, never to be rebuilt.17 Do not let anything devoted to destruction stick to your hand, so that the LORD may turn from his fierce anger and show you compassion, and in his compassion multiply you, as he swore to your ancestors, 18 if you obey the voice of the LORD your God by keeping all his commandments that I am commanding you today, doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God.


As modern people the language of Deuteronomy, particularly the voices heard in sections like this can be difficult to hear. This does come from a different set of experiences and a very different time and culture and so I’m going to deal first with what it says and then reflect on how we might engage this within our own time, culture and struggles in a modern (or postmodern), secular and pluralistic world. If Deuteronomy reaches its final form in the aftermath of the Babylonian exile, which many scholars believe, as the people are wrestling for answers for how they retain their identity in a foreign land then Deuteronomy provides a voice arguing strongly against accommodation with the surrounding culture and provides a blame on the previous generations’ unfaithfulness to this as the reason for their current desolation. Deuteronomy is not the only voice in this conversation but among the scriptures that make up the Hebrew Bible they form one of the dominant voices.

We often think of decisions in terms of individual choices in a disenchanted world, but that was not the worldview of the people in the ancient world who received the book of Deuteronomy and who passed it on from generation to generation. This was a world in which belief was a communal activity which kept the demonic forces at bay, some of these forces like disease or famine would be looked upon today as a part of the measurable scientific worldview but in ancient times they were either ‘acts of God’ or acts of some other divine or demonic forces. If one person either turns away from or refuses to participate in the communal worship, beliefs and practices then it endangers everyone. As Charles Taylor says about the ancient worldview, “Villagers who hold out, or even denounce the common rites, put the efficacy of those rites in danger, and hence pose a danger to everyone.” (Taylor, 2007, p. 42) In more recent history this may be some of the paranoia behind witch hunts, or why the church as it entered into the crusades or the conquest of the new world often had a ‘convert/be baptized or die’ mentality. It may be alien to our time and as Walter Brueggemann states:

Church readers of this text might conclude that a large measure of accommodation is preferable to even a small amount of brutalizing vigilance. Deuteronomy of course is unpersuaded by such a judgment, unpersuaded but not self-critical about its own urgings. (Brueggemann, 2001, p. 156)

The text begins with prophets or dreamers who lead the people astray both by their words and by the actions that come to pass. No longer is merely the efficacy of a prophecy the measure of a prophet’s truthfulness but also now is introduced the reality that they must also remain faithful to the LORD. This leading astray is treason, and in a world where the religious and political authorities are merged as they are in Moses and the judges that will follow him, betrayal of God is also betrayal of the people. There is an interesting interpretation that the LORD is testing the faithfulness of the people through these false prophets, and throughout the telling of Israel’s story in Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings (commonly known as the Deuteronomic history because these books share a common perspective with Deuteronomy) there are numerous times where military leaders, religious leaders and kings will lead the people into the worship of other gods, which is the ultimate betrayal in Deuteronomy’s perspective. The penalty for this is harsh, it is death. That these decisions of loyalty for the people of Israel are matters of life and death for them as individuals and for them as a nation.

In the ancient world the closest bond is family, and so the second set of instruction in verses 6-11 involve a family member or a friend who tries to introduce unfaithful practices. The two examples that come to mind immediately is Solomon who begins to practice what his foreign wives practice and Ahab and Jezebel in their struggle with the prophet Elijah. Deuteronomy is unyielding even toward these closest of relationships and enhances the closeness by highlighting with terms like ‘the wife of your embrace’ or ‘your most intimate friend.’ In a culture where a husband may have many wives it is highlighted that even the favorite must be shown no accommodation, nor any child or intimate friend. In an uncompromising set of negative commands: do not yield, do not listen, do not pity, do not have compassion and do not shield; the family member is commanded to not only participate with the community in the execution of the offender but to throw the first stone. The peoples’ loyalty to the LORD is to be stronger than their loyalty to blood or companionship.

Finally the situation is discussed where a village or a community turns away from following the LORD to following other gods. The people who lead others astray and those led astray are together to bear the judgment of the broader community.  Yet, with a village or community there is to be a thorough investigation to discover the truth of the charges, but if true the entire village, all of its people, animals and wealth are to be destroyed. On the one hand this seems harsh, especially to the animals who had no choice in the matter but perhaps there is a gracious edge in this. If the spoils of the destruction of the village, both the animals and the wealth, are denied to the ones carrying out the destruction perhaps there is less incentive to make an accusation of unfaithfulness. Especially if they are also unable to rebuild the cities but are expected to leave them as a perpetual ruin. The reality is that if this sentence was ever carried out the city probably did not remain a perpetual ruin, and there are many stories in the book of Joshua and throughout the story of Israel where the people are to consign everything to destruction and hold back taking either the livestock and wealth or the women as a part of their conquest. This will be an ongoing struggle in the story of the people.

As modern people, who can look back upon the Salem witch trials, the Crusades and conquest of the new world, and countless other events where the practice of an exclusivist faith led to a betrayal of the practice of faith that would be consistent with many people’s reading of the person of Jesus, passages like this are difficult to read. We live in a world where faith is an individual decision and we can look upon people of different faiths or no faith and not see them as traitors or uneducated and so this exclusivist world of Deuteronomy seems alien to us, so how do we approach it in our time? Part of the answer for Christians I think does rely on the understanding that not all scripture holds equal weight. Different traditions approach this differently, but as a Lutheran Christian what lifts up Christ becomes central as a revelation of the character of God. For the Jewish people the first five books of the Bible may occupy a central place but for Christians there is the mutual flow of the New Testament interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures but the Hebrew Scriptures also helping us to understand the New Testament. That does not mean we can cast aside the parts or either set of books we disagree with, but it does give us a different set of tools to engage and wrestle with them. As Martin Luther could understand correctly that the first commandment does mean that “We are to fear, love and trust God above all things.” But we no longer live in a society where killing a person because they are of another faith is acceptable. We live in a much more secular world. Yet, I do think the wisdom that is present in texts like this is to highlight the seductiveness of alternate worldviews which encourage us to trust in other gods, which may not have a religious system associated with them in our time. We live in the constant struggle for where our trust and allegiance will lie and the temptation can come from others whose words seem to be trustworthy in other things, or a close friend or family member, or from the community around us. It is perhaps more challenging to live a faithful life in a secular world where the plethora or alternatives are paraded before us in diverse media and the ancient struggle of the people now becomes the internal struggle of the individual to live a faithful life. Yet, we need the communal aspect and I believe this is where the community of faith comes in to help and support us in our struggle to be faithful to the God who calls us.