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Thursday, June 30, 2011

This Accursed Melody - Photos part 2

Here's another batch of photos from the movie This Accursed Melody  and bit of music that we didn't use.

Trombone Terror by thatjeffcarter was here

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This Accursed Melody - Photos

The movie that my brother and I made during Music camp last week is in its final stages of editing. We hope to have DVDs available soon, but the work is being delayed a little bit as my brother is out of town to attend a funeral.

While we wait, here are a few stills from the movie.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

This Acursed Melody - Script, Storyboards, and Production Notes

Here is the working copy of our script for This Accursed Melody - more or less complete with final edits and notes to ourselves along with the storyboards drawn by my brother and some of our production notes and schedules. 

Script, Story Boards and Production Notes

This Accursed Melody and Fortuitous Accidents

Good art involves fortuitous accidents - when unplanned and serendipitous events are allowed to intrude upon the work.  My brother and I found many of these happy accidents in the making of our zombie movie last week at camp.

We began filming the title sequence before we left for camp using some woodcuts from Gustav Doré's illustrations for the bible.  And because the pages of the book wouldn't lie flat, our photos had areas of sharp focus and areas that were blurred.  We could have flattened the pages; it wouldn't have taken much work, but we like the effect it created, so we kept it. 

And again with the Doré illustrations, my brother was adjusting the contrast to make the image sharper when he discovered that by greatly increasing the contrast we could introduce a variety of reds and oranges to the pictures.  Again, a happy accident that we liked and we kept.

We found a third fortiutious accident in our music.  I had already put together a track of music for the climactic scenes of the movie - but had no melody for it.  And independently of that, we recorded our "Accursed Melody" - the one the boys would discover in the woods.  It wasn't planned. It wasn't worked out ahead of time... but the two were in the same key and fit nicely together.

And later, when we were ready to place the music into the film, we found that (with only slight edits) it fit perfectly into what we had filmed - timed so that the music fit the action on screen. 

There were other accidents in the process of filming and editing the movie.  Some were not as fortunate as these, but we made of theme what we could. Good art involves fortuitous accidents.

Here is the Theme from This Accursed Melody

This Accursed Melody by thatjeffcarter was here

It features me on the horn and several sounds from The Freesound Project:
Real Virus 12 – E2
Radiator 2r
Accordion Loop 1
Glitch 06
Real Virus 12 – E5
Trip Hop Driver Beat 4

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Northwoods TV 2011 - Friday

The penultimate episode of Northwoods TV for 2011. 

We used a couple of sound effects from the freesound project:

Saturday's episode was the premiere showing of This Accursed Melody, which will be available soon (we hope) on DVD. 

Northwoods TV 2011 - Thursday

The "coming soon" preview within Thrusday's episode of Northwoods TV is a real "coming soon". 
The movie - This Accursed Melody - will be available on DVD's soon.  We're going to do some final tinkering to it and then make copies available to everyone.  Check back for details.

Northwoods TV 2011 - Wednesday

This episode contains some of my favorite bits - a special thanks to my man, Clarence, who was a terrific sport about it all.

Be sure to share the link with your friends.  They'll be jealous that they weren't there and will want to come next year.

If you are not familiar with the animals at Northwoods Camp - the goat's name is "Skittles".

We used some sound effects from the Freesound Project:

Northwoods TV 2011 - Tuesday

Tuesday's episode included the 10 minutes of sunshine we had all week.

Be sure to pass the link to your friends.

We used some sound effects from the freesound project:
Epic Ending
Dropping pans

Northwoods TV 2011 - Monday

I am home again after a week at Music Camp.  I spent a week with the kids, leading a band, helping with theory, and - hopefully - helping them to become better musicians.  That was the goal, and I like to think that we achieved it.  The group of youngsters in my band made some significant progress over the seven days and made me very proud during our final performance.

One of  my other responsibilities at music camp is the production of Northwoods TV - a daily video of camp silliness.  Here is the episode we produced for Monday. 

I would have posted these sooner, but I had little free time.  From early morning to late into the night (and into the next morning) we were busy.  But now that I'm home again, I'll be posting them for you to enjoy.  If you were there and you see yourself in the video, drop me a note. Be sure to pass the link on to your friends, too.

We used some sound effects from the freesound project:
Cow Moo

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day.  If your dad is half as cool as mine, then your dad isn't very cool at all.
But, cool or not, he's been a good father.
Thanks, dad.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Coming Soon - This Accursed Melody

I am leaving tomorrow morning for Music Camp and, as I have for the past couple of years, I will be leading the Northwoods TV production. 

You can see episodes from our previous years here.

This year Northwoods TV will include much of the same silliness and juvenile themes, but there will be more.

This year we will be making a movie entitled This Accursed Melody.

With a script written by thatjeffcarter, filming directed by his youngest brother, Brad, and a cast of thousands, this looks to be THE blockbuster film of the summer. 

...sorry, that should be, "a cast of dozens..."

Like an arrow launched from a bow, and a harsh word quickly spoken, so too, can a melody once played, never be called back.

This accursed melody has been the ruin of my life...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Embracing the Difficulty

Some time ago a friend of mine who was in a bit of a quandary, came to me for advice.  We were in the chapel getting ready for the praise band’s rehearsal and there were a few other people in the chapel also getting ready for practice.  They were tuning guitars and tinkering around on the piano when she asked if I could help her.  She was dealing with a large and difficult issue but because of the others in the room she didn't want to divulge the all the details of her problem.  So instead of asking me what she should do, she asked how she could know what the right thing to do would be.

I liked that distinction.

She didn't want to be told what to do – she wasn't asking for me to be her mother or her father or her boss.  She wanted to know how to choose the right for herself.  She asked how we can compare competing claims for Right: Should she listen to her Friends, or her Parents, or the Bible, or…  She had all these voices, all these choices and she found it difficult to know how she should choose between them.  This was a good question.

I recommend the bible to her – even over parents and friends (that seems like an obvious recommendation from a pastor, eh?).  Her parents are good people, and her friends (at least the ones I know) seem to be fairly well grounded, but still I recommend the bible. As a general rule, I recommend the bible to everyone.

But there's problem there too- because again there are so many competing voices, each one claiming to know how to interpret the bible the right way. And within the bible itself there are different voices. And then bible doesn't even speak to every issue, the bible doesn't describe every possible moral quandary. 

The bible isn't always clear. 

But even still I recommend the bible.

And then a strident voice entered our conversation.  Another friend sitting nearby (though not so nearby that she hadn’t been eavesdropping…) didn't think that my advice was altogether satisfactory, and offered the opinion that best way to know the Right is to be "on your knees seeking God's will."  This friend continued by declaring that the bible "IS EXPLICITLY CLEAR."  I think she actually said it that way – with the capital letters.  The emphasis was clear to me.  I hadn't been firm enough.  I hadn't been fundamental enough.  I hadn't been black and white about the issue of moral certainty.  
Do I believe that the bible is the word of God?  Yes.  Though, I do not believe that he dictated it word for word into the various writers' ears, or that he moved their hands as they held their quills. Do I trust the bible?  Yes – I'd be in the wrong line of work if I didn't.  Do I believe that the bible is clear?  No.  I do not.

It is a collection of writings that span thousands of years, written by men (and quite possibly a few women) who came from differing cultures, in three different languages, in various countries.  And – to make it more difficult – it was written a long, long, long, long time ago.

All of that makes it difficult for us today to interpret it. 

Yet I recommend it anyway because despite all of those things that make it difficult to understand, it still describes a world that we know and understand.  People – despite differences in language and culture – are people.  (You can hum the Depeche Mode song, if you like.) We think and act and feel very much like the people of the Bible, even if our worlds and cultures are so very different.

It may be difficult. It may be hard, sometimes.  But studying the bible – searching it and wrestling it for answers – can only be a positive thing.  

Embrace the difficulty.  It's okay.

"The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted."
– Soren Kierkegaard

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pas de Deux

I don't know what happened, but somehow blogspot swallowed two of my writings, so I am reposting them.

Pas de Deux

We make these practiced poses
and take the ritual steps
beneath the gaze of spectators who’ve come
to be amused and aroused,
entertained by the spilling of blood
            (whether yours or mine – they don’t care).

And so we dance: Step step flourish,
step turn, step turn, flourish.

I will hold as you charge.
I will thrust as you pass,
and I will weep as the crowd
throws their affection


I will flinch as you approach
and be bone crushed into bloodied sand
beneath your crashing hooves and
eviscerated by your gory horns.

Either way, the dance
will end step turn
with death.

A Quantum Leap for Judas: Harmonizing Judas with Dr. Who

I don't know what happened, but somehow blogspot swallowed two of my writings, so I am reposting them.

This short story is a response to a meme established by James McGrath at the Exploring our Matrix blog - who wrote:

"Those who are determined to have the Bible contain no contradictions no matter the cost have devoted countless hours to harmonizing this and similar discrepancies. They seem not to realize that the one convoluted narrative that they piece together from the two is not what either account in the New Testament says. And so what is “inerrant” is their own contrived construction, while the New Testament writings are each on their own left looking inadequate, since they do not give the impression of what the inerrantist thinks “really happened.”"

So the challenge is to to come up with the most creative, outlandish, entertaining or humorous way of harmonizing the differing accounts of Judas' death ( Acts 1:18-19 and Matthew 27:1-10).

This was my science-fiction harmonizing of those stories.

A Quantum Leap for Judas

Judas had already arranged to provide information about Jesus’ whereabouts to the chief priests and they had given him the promised thirty pieces of silver.  He had plans. He had dreams.  One day he’d lead noble and valiant Jewish men in their fight against the imperialist Roman invaders.  But for now he needed a place he could settle, a place he could hide.  Using the silver he’d been paid for his wickedness, Judas bought a field near Jerusalem.  It wasn’t a field fit for farming, the southernmost edge slopped steeply down toward the Kidron valley and the ground was full of sharp grey stones, but it was secluded and shadowed by trees on the opposite cliffs.  He could hide there in the dark.

That fated night came, and so too came the temple guards, who arrested Jesus and took him away for trial. Judas didn’t hang around to watch the proceedings.  He knew the other disciples would want to see him dead – especially Peter.  So he slipped out through the city gates and made his way carefully towards his newly purchased field.

The moon over his head was full and sober, bright with silvery light and heavy with coarse shadows.  Judas walked faster now.  He heard things on the wind. Voices. Voices that seemed to be calling his name.  “Judas”

Running now, Judas fled. And the voices followed after. “Judas”

“No. Leave me alone.” He shrieked and ran still faster.

Other voices spoke but he neither listened to them, nor understood their strange speech. “Doctor, I don’t know what’s happening.  We’ve made contact but there’s some sort of interference. He’s not receiving us.  There’s an unaccounted flux in the tachyon stream.”

Judas rounded a curve in the road and came to the edge of his newly acquired field.  Sweat streamed down his face, through his beard.  He wiped it away with the sleeve of his robe.

“Try once more,” came the incorporeal voice. “Judas Iscariot, can you hear me?”

Judas flinched, and for the first time he noticed a glowing blue mist gathering above his head. “Leave me, unclean spirits!” he screamed and turned to flee into the darkened shadows, but he stumbled over a rock and tumbled down the side of the hill. Sharp stones gashed him, sliced him as he rolled.  Momentarily he was lifted up as he bounced over the stones and then he came down hard on a large rock. It pierced his belly and his intestines trailed out after him as he slid down the bloody gorge.

“Damn,” said the voice in the darkness. “We nearly had him that time.  Oh well, Mr. Wilson, reset the machine and we’ll attempt contact again when the batteries have recharged.”  If Judas had still been alive just then he might have heard the electrical hum and smelled a brief wisp of ozone as the voices faded away.

News of Judas’s death spread quickly through Jerusalem. His body was found by a couple of boys who told their parents.  Soon everyone, it seemed, in Jerusalem called the field Akeldama.


It took nearly twenty-four hours to recharge the batteries that powered Dr. Stamford’s device.  Dr. Ellis Stamford had built a machine capable of localizing and capturing a field of tachyon particles, which were then focused into a beam capable of sending signals faster than light. This would result in a disruption in the electromagnetic field and an outburst of brilliant blue Chernekov radiation.  By fine tuning the tachyon fields, Dr. Stamford had been able to open windows into the distant past. 

He hadn’t yet been able to travel through time, but using his device he could observe events from history.  And in recent months he’d even been able to communicate – though tentatively – with people in the past. 

He and his research assistant, Lee Wilson, had decided not to waste the opportunity.  After all, what better way to announce the success of his years of research and study, than by showing the world the life and times of the man whose very life and death had marked the way time was defined?  With his device, he would show the world the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and, what is more, allow them the opportunity to speak to him and to those who knew him.

The next evening, having verified that the batteries were fully charged and that all the meters were correctly calibrated, Dr. Stamford and his assistant, prepared themselves for their second attempt at contacting Judas Iscariot.

“Think of it, Wilson,” intoned the Dr. “What if we could persuade him to talk to us, to tell us the things he’s learned?”

Wilson didn’t turn his head away from the meters he was calibrating. “Whatever you say, Dr. S., as long as we’re done by 9:30 tonight.  My girlfriend and I are watching a Dr. Who marathon and I don’t want to miss any of it.”

The machine rumbled and hummed as intense amounts of nuclear and electrical energies began flowing through it.  There was sharp crackle and the smell of burning ozone, and in the incandescent blue fog that rose up in front of them they saw Jesus’ disciple, Judas Iscariot leading the temple soldiers to the garden.


“He’ll be just around this grove of trees,” he whispered to the soldiers, who surprised him with how quietly they could move through the darkness.  He hadn’t heard so much as a tinkle or jingle of their armor or a whispered word as they approached Jesus’ favorite part of the garden.

And soon the deed was done.  The soldiers confronted Jesus, Peter hacked the servant’s ear, Jesus restored it and the disciples fled. The guards put Jesus in irons and lead him back through the darkness of the garden and into the city to be handed over to Pilate.

When Judas realized where they were going he was seized with remorse and began yelling at the guards. “No.  Not there!” But they would not be stopped. They shoved him aside and he fell to the ground.  He spat into the dust as they tramped by with their prisoner.

Taking another tack, he raced to the Temple to find the chief priests to whom he’d sold the information of Jesus’ whereabouts.  He would persuade them to stop this madness.

“I’ve sinned.” He said to them. “I’ve betrayed innocent blood.” 

But they were not interested. “What is that to us?”  Judas flung the bag that contained the thirty silver coins into the courts of the temple, and ran out into the night.

Finding a nearby tree, he used his belt to fashion a simple, but effective noose and hung himself.  He never noticed the glowing blue shimmer in the air behind him.

“I don’t get it, Dr. S.” Wilson said as he reviewed the data.  We weren’t able to contact him at all this time. And…” he flung his clipboard onto the desk, “it wasn’t even the same event. It was totally different.”

“One moment, please,” shouted Dr. Stamford as he checked and double checked his equations. 

After several moments he looked up from his notebook.  “We weren’t just looking into the past, my boy. We were looking into a different realm of the multiverse.”  Wilson only stared at him. “Come on, boy. Surely a fan of Dr. Who will understand that.”

“You mean it was a different earth?”

“Right, right, right.  A different earth, with a different Judas, and a different Jesus.  Every time an observation is made into the quantum field, that quantum wave collapses and the universe splits into an infinite number of possible universes.”

“Too weird,” sighed the research assistant. And then after a moment he asked, “So which of those was from our earth? Which way did it happen in our history?” 

“I don’t know,” exclaimed the doctor.  “Let’s check.”  The two of them rummaged through the clutter of papers and notebooks and half empty cups of coffee until they’d both found a copy of the bible.  Their fingers flickered over the thin pages.

“I’ve got it here” shouted Wilson. “It says that Judas bought a field, and then fell and busted himself open, spilling his intestines.”

“No, no, no.” said the Dr. “It says he hung himself in remorse.”

“So which was it?”

Dr. Stamford reached for a data print-out that was just coming from the computer at that moment. He read the information and then said, “If this is right, somehow, it happened both ways.”

“That can’t be right. That’s not possible.”

“No. I wouldn’t think so either, but I think somehow we've crossed the streams. We've corrupted the quantum waves – you mentioned a strange flux in the tachyon fields last night…Somehow, and I don't know how to explain it, but it happened both ways.”

A Question of Creation Stories

People are talking about creation stories recently.   Christianity Today recently devoted an issue to the question of Adam’s historicity – was he the actual-factual human from which everyone everywhere is descended or is his story more folk-tale or mythical in status… In Kentucky, the group Answers in Genesis is moving forward with a project to build a Genesis theme park complete with dinosaurs and a reconstruction of their own version of Noah’s ark.  And, of course, the whole evolution vs. creation debate continues in its well trodden path.

Creation stories are important.  From them we learn, not just about the historical past (perhaps we can’t learn about the historical past from them at all) but we discover things about the nature of the God who created this world and our relationship to that creator.

But I’d like to diverge from the discussion about the creation account(s) in Genesis for a moment to discuss another creation story - an ancient Babylonian story – the Enuma Elish, whose title is derived from its first two words meaning "When on high…" The story was discovered in modern times during the archaeological digs of Ashurbanipal's palace in Nineveh during the later part of the 19th century.  Assyriologist George Smith first published these texts in 1876 as The Chaldean Genesis.  The Enuma Elish is written in nearly 1,100 cuneiform lines on seven clay tablets which date back to the 7th century B.C. though the story itself is much , much older. 

It is sometimes described as the Babylonian or Mesopotamian creation story, though the creation aspect of the story is really rather incidental to the larger theme of the story which is the glorification of the Babylonian god, Marduk.  When Babylon became the capital of Mesopotamia the patron deity of Babylon – Marduk – was elevated to the level of supreme god, and the Enuma Elish was written to explain how this previously relatively minor god came to seize the power and prominence of older gods.  It tells of his birth, his heroic deeds, his creation of the world, and includes a list of his divine 50 names.

This Babylonian story has a number of significant similarities to the biblical creation story (at least the first of the Biblical Creation stories, the one found in chapter one of Genesis).

(see the table below)

 Enuma Elish 
1. Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent and coeternal
1. Divine Spirit creates cosmic matter and exists independent of it.
2.  Primeval Chaos; Tiamat (salt water goddess)enveloped in darkness
2.  the earth is a chaotic waste with darkness hovering over the waters
3.  Light emanates from the gods
3.  light is created
4.  creation of the firmament
4. creation of the firmament
5. creation of dry land
5. creation of dry land
6.  creation of luminaries
6. creation of luminaries
7.  the gods consult before the creation of humans
7.  "let us create man"
8.  the gods rest and celebrate
8.  God rests and sanctifies the 7th day.

Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, p. 129

In fact – there are so many similarities and points of comparison that some scholars have proposed that the biblical creation story found in Genesis 1:1 – 2:4 was written during the Babylonian exile as a response to the polytheistic Enuma Elish.  Others who want to preserve the uniqueness of the Bible have argued that there are no real parallels between Genesis and the Enuma Elish or that the Genesis story was written first and that the Babylonians borrowed from the biblical account. 

Which way did the influence go?  I don't know for certain.  I have my suspicions, but really I don't know.  But what I have found interesting- even more interesting that the similarities between the two stories - are the differences between the two accounts. The God of the biblical account is very different from the gods of the Enuma Elish; the created worlds are very different, and the relationship between the creation and the God of the bible is very, very, very different from the relationship between creation and the gods of the Enuma Elish. 

Let's start at the beginning…

When on high the heaven had not been named,
Firm ground below had not been called by name,
When primordial Apsu [the god of fresh water], their begetter,
And chaos –Tiamat [the goddess of saltwater], she who bore them all,
Their waters mingled as a single body,
No reed hut had sprung forth, no marshland had appeared,
None of the gods had been brought into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies determined—

We have a very similar beginning here… of chaotic waters and nothingness.  The Hebrew Scriptures have a very interesting way of describing this chaos:  it is "tohu wo bohu."  Even the sound of those words has a restless, churning kind of rhythm – like that of crashing waves.  (And note how tohu sounds a bit like tiamat.)  But where the biblical creation story has one all-powerful God who is complete and potent within himself  the Babylonian account has two deities - male and female – whose waters mingle (a biological metaphor, surely) in order to bring forth numerous other gods – and we haven't even gotten to the creation stuff yet.

Apsu – [fresh water] and Tiamat [salt waters] come together to bring forth a second generation of gods, and from them a third, and then a fourth (which includes Anu – the god of heaven), and a fifth (which includes Ea – the magician god of the earth). 

Now the birth of all these younger deities offended the senior deity – Apsu.  He was cranky and angry because these offspring were making too much noise, what with all their dancing and partying, laughing and loud rock and roll music. 

"Their ways are truly loathsome to me.
By day I find no relief, nor repose by night.
I will destroy, I will wreck their ways
that quiet may be restored. Let us have rest!"
As soon as Tiamat heard this,
she was furious and called out to her husband.…

"What? Should we destroy that which we have built?
Their ways indeed are most troublesome, but let us attend kindly!"

Doesn't she just sound like mom encouraging dad to relax? 

Now Ea – the god of the earth – was adept at magic, and hearing of his great-great-grandfather's monstrous plan decided to take matters into his own hands in a sort of preemptive attack.  He cast a spell over Apsu and put him into a deep, deep sleep and as he slept, Ea murdered him.  Ea then set himself up as the chief god. He and his wife took over Apsu's home.

It's at this point that Ea and his wife have a son- Marduk, the god of spring symbolized both by the light of the sun and the lightning in storm and rain.  Marduk was the epitome of perfection – perfect arms, perfect legs, perfect eyes and ears – all four eyes and ears!  He was radiant like the sun (his name means "solar calf").  He was tall and strong and handsome. 

But not everything was pleasant and peaceful.  Some of the gods were less than thrilled with Ea's usurpation of power and position – so they began to whisper into the ear of their mother, Tiamat.  They encouraged her to seek revenge for the murder of her husband, Apsu.  And as she listened she decided that she would take up her slain husband's plan. She would kill her children. 

So she created an army of 11 horrifying monsters:
Sharp of tooth, unsparing of fang,
with venom for blood she has filled their bodies.
Roaring dragons she has clothed with terror,
has crowned them with haloes, making them like gods,
whoever beheld them, terror overcame him,
and that, with their bodies reared up, none might turn them back.
She set up the Viper, the Dragon, the Sphinx, and the monster Lahamu,
the Great-Lion, the Mad-Dog, and the Scorpion-Man,
mighty lion-demons, the Dragon-Fly, the Centaur--
bearing weapons that do not spare, fearless in battle.

And from her children she selected Kingu to be her new husband, and the chief of her monster army.  She commissioned him to kill Ea and any of the gods and goddesses who would side with him.

Now all the gods and goddess were fearful of Tiamat's wrath. They retreated at first sight of her fearsome monster army.   They ran away in fear.  They decided to make Marduk their champion. He was, after all the most magnificent among them.    He agreed to fight for them, but only on the condition that if and when he was victorious they would hail him as their chief. 

Marduk then armed himself with a net, and with powerful winds.  The four directional winds – North, East, South, and West, but also 7 other powerful winds: 

He brought forth Imhullu "the Evil Wind," the Whirl-wind, the Hurricane,
the Fourfold Wind, the Sevenfold Wind, the Cyclone, the Matchless Wind;

Thus armed he rode off to battle in his chariot of clouds.  He rode right past the 11 monsters; right up to Tiamat herself and challenged her to one-on-one combat. Tiamat was enraged and she howled like a demon possessed woman.   The fight was on.  Tiamat opened her mouth as if to swallow Marduk whole, but Marduk quickly ensnared her in his net, and then, using his arsenal of winds, he filled her full of winds, till she could not move.  Then he fired an arrow through her belly, which went right through her bowels and into her womb.  Standing over her, he strangled the final life-breath out of her, and with his mace he crushed her skull.

Thus victorious, Marduk split her body – like a giant shell fish.  One half of her he flung into the air to the heavens above; the other half became the earth below.  Her head became a mountain range, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed from out of her eyes. Her 11 monsters were trapped in his net and placed in the sky as 11 constellations of the zodiac and Kingu, Tiamat's second husband and battle chief, was captured.  All the gods who persuaded Tiamat to seek revenge were rounded up and forced into slavery; forced to build him a permanent home in Babylon.

But upon further reflection he decided that the gods and goddesses who had opposed him were still deities after all, and that they shouldn't be enslaved forever.  He decided that he would create human beings to be slaves to the gods – but to do this he needed blood and bone from which to fashion them.  He approached the assembled deities and asked them who was responsible for Tiamat's wrath and madness. 

Now declare the truth on oath by me!
Who was it that contrived the uprising,
and made Tiamat rebel, and joined battle?
Let him be handed over who contrived the uprising.
His guilt I will make him bear. You shall dwell in peace!"
The … the great gods, replied to him…

"It was Kingu who contrived the uprising,
and made Tiamat rebel, and joined battle."
They bound him, holding him before Ea.
They imposed on him his punishment and severed his blood vessels.
Out of his blood they fashioned mankind.
He imposed on him the service and let free the gods.

So, from the blood of Kingu were men created to be the slaves of the gods – to forever bring them sacrifices of food and drink.  And Marduk and the gods went off to party at his newly constructed home in Babylon.

What a story!  It sounds a lot like some of the Godzilla movies that my son likes so much.

As I said earlier, there are a number of similarities between the Enuma Elish and the Genesis accounts:  we have winds hovering over or pinning down the chaotic waters before being divided to form the sky and the land.  We have the same general outline of created things.  But it's really the differences that I want to explore

First, the Genesis story is a story of an ordered creation.  The chaos of the beginning is forced by the spoken word of God into organized and orderly structures.  The very framework of the story emphasizes this idea with its frequent repetition of the phrases: "And God said 'Let there be…,'"  "And so it was…"  "And God saw that it was good,"  "Evening came and morning came" etc…  The story is also framed in two parts – in the first three days God creates the physical domains of earth and sky and sea.  In the second three days he fills those domains with stars and suns and birds and whales and fish and sea-monsters and cattle and lizards and human beings. 

The Enuma Elish in contrast is anything but organized. The chaos before creation is continued in the lives and struggles of the gods and by extension in the lives of the humans they've created.

 It's not that the God of the bible is rigid and anal-retentive; he's not some legalistic control freak out to stifle everyone's fun.  But rather he has imbued his creation with order because order is a part of his character and because without order there is only chaos and war and death and violence - and who wants to live like that?  In the Babylonian story we see very clearly the ramifications of an un-ordered creation:  perpetual struggle for control and power, infighting and back-biting, and slavery and oppression.

Second, the biblical account gives a very different manner of creation.  The God of the biblical account speaks and there is light and life and fertility and fecundity and beauty.  It is by the power of his spoken creative word that the marvels of the universe come into being.  In stark contrast the Babylonian creation is achieved through death and destruction – through slaughter and war and violence.  And it is this method that I think most of our world has adopted, even many who claim to hold a biblical world view.  Do we have a problem with another country?  Let's attack – break them in half and fling their pieces and parts to the wind. Do we have competition in our business?  Drive the competitors out and create a power monopoly.  Do we want more personal wealth and luxury?  Then create a poor and powerless group to serve us.  Greed is good and power is the measure of everything.  Greatness is determined by strength.

Third, the God of the bible creates the world with worth and dignity.  The earth and sky and sea and all the animals that inhabit them are creatively designed; and declared to be good.  They have intrinsic value and honor because they are created holy and inhabit a holy space.   The earth and all that dwells upon it belongs to God; humans are entrusted as stewards over it.  It belongs to God, not to men for pillage and plunder.  The Babylonian creation, again in contrast, is created in the ashes and wreckage of what came before, and is surely just waiting to be destroyed again in the next outbreak of war between the gods or between men.

Fourth, humans are created by the God of the bible with special place and purpose.  They are created in the image of God.  And note that it's both male and female that are simultaneously created in God's image.  They are equal.   And they are instructed to 'be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, master it.'  Many people  believe the bible to be full of negative "thou shalt not's…" But look at this first commandment given to humans.  It's all positive.  They are given freedom to go! to do well!  to grow! Expand!  Find all the goodness that's been given to you. Explore! Delve! Dive! Learn! Mature!

The Babylonian creation of man is a much sadder affair.  Humans are created from the blood and bone of a slain rebellious god.  With that kind of beginning what can on expect of humans except more of the same… And what is more, humans are a "puppet" creation made explicitly to serve as slaves to the whims of the gods.  And here again, I think it's the Babylonian model that many in our world have adopted.  Businesses 'out-source' jobs to countries where they can get away with paying people pennies a day.  Menial jobs are given to immigrants because we're too good for that kind of work.   The rich and powerful exploit the weak and defenseless.    This is not the example of the biblical creation story.

These creation stories are not 'just' musty old stories. They mean something.  They are not something far-removed in the ancient historical or mythical past.  These creation stories speak about the very conditions of our world today.  What does our creation story say about us?  Do we live and act in a way that matches up to the creation story we claim to believe?  Are our interpersonal relations described by the Biblical story of creation or by the Babylonian?   Do we demonstrate the love for God, for creation, and for each other that is modeled in the biblical creation story? 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Unhappy Cat

A few weeks ago the ladies in my Monday afternoon painting group found a picture that amused them to no end - of a pitiful cat being forced to have a bath.  One of them decided that she wanted to paint it herself.  And then another agreed that it would make a fun painting.  Soon the group had decided that we should all paint the same pitiful bathing cat and that each of us should submit the cat to our local county fair.  That should perplex the judges, I think...

Anyway. Here's my pitiful unhappy cat.

Acrylic on canvas and newpaper.

...and the Glory Cloud Filled the House

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Take and Bake Pizza

Remind me not to order from that place.

(A photoshopped collage from a photograph my son took and a doodle from my notebook.)

Raymond Aco Gullado and his Ten Thousand Knights

Raymond Aco Gullado and his ten thousand knights
determined to conquer the Holy Land
with nothing more than their pilgrim prayers
or, failing that, with sharpened spears and swords.
Setting out astride a tall black steed with crimson livery,
with his monk’s cowled habit swept back by the wind,
he was an apocalyptic Templar followed by
an army of bishops and friars and priests
all singing the thunderous  Dies Irae.

He led an invasion of the sacred groves of Oberon,
burning the ancient oaks and sacking sacred shrines
in his pursuit of holy relics to guide him on his quest.
He sought the grâl, the fleece, and the stone from space,
the lapis ex coelis forever preserved, like the knuckle bones
of St. Anesthesia who performed numerous miracles
for the poor and the blind, preserved and set in purest Lucite.
With these talismans of power he thought he could win.

But bloodied and battered are the few that have returned
and of Raymond there is no word,

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Human Faces of God – Before and After

Before reading Thom Stark’s Human Faces of God I accepted that I was probably not a believer in the inerrancy of the bible.  I was willing to admit that there were mistakes in scientific issues, historical accounts but I was still convinced of the infallibility of the bible in theological and moral and ethical matters.

I probably would have described myself as a “neo-orthodox” in regards to my opinion on the authority and inspiration of the scriptures.

Before reading Human Faces I read the bible with a somewhat confrontational attitude. I read the stories and the letters and lists with the idea that the best way to understand them was to pull them apart, to examine the pieces, to break them open and to see what was hiding inside – because I believed that in the end it would be possible to put them back together again and that once reassembled, the texts would retain their divinely inspired Truth (even if some of the details were found to be in error).

But there too, I was standing at the edge of a precipice.

I would sometimes tell people that I could understand Martin Luther’s impulse to excise certain books from the cannon, and that if I had supreme executive power (derived from a mandate from the masses and not from some farcical aquatic ceremony) I would remove the book of Nahum from the bible.  It seemed to me that Nahum was like a fire burning green and wet wood - producing more smoke than light and obscuring more than he revealed of God.

I kept my scissors put away, however. I was being facetious (mostly). 

It’s funny.  I argued with the scripture. Asked questions that it couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.  I wrestled with it and refused to give up, even after it broke my hip and left me hobbling toward home. But when I started reading Thom Stark’s book, I found myself defending that same book against his arguments which, to be honest, were sometimes my own arguments.  (Perhaps I was arguing with him because I was afraid to be convinced by his answers. Perhaps…)

Stark’s conclusion is that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, while being inspired, suffer “from scientific and historical problems, but also – and much more significantly – from moral, ethical, theological, and ideological problems. (pg. 208)”

The first part of that conclusion seems obvious to me now.  Sometimes I wonder how I could have missed it or how I could have ignored it.  It’s the second part of his conclusion – that there are theological and moral problems in the bible – that has me standing nervously at the edge of that precipice again.

The Bible is a mirror. Stark argues that when we read the scriptures what we see isn’t God, but rather ourselves. And if we’re reading carefully and confrontationally we’ll see the good parts of ourselves and also the ugly and depraved parts of ourselves that we’d just as soon hide from view.

I can accept this.  But it seems to me that this can be true of any text.

Reading John Steinbeck’s explosive novel, The Grapes of Wrath, rocked me to my core and challenged me to be more than I was before.  It still does.  A People’s History of the United States by the historian Howard Zinn forced me to confront history as more than a recitation of dates and events – forced me to see the morals and motivations that underlie the histories we tell (and the stories that we don’t tell).  It was, in part, the lyrics (another kind of text) of U2’s Joshua Tree that began me thinking about what it means to pursue social justice in our world.  

These texts then showed me the good and the bad in myself and in the world around me.  These texts – though not divinely inspired and clearly not inerrant– showed me new and better ways to be.  Is there a difference between the writings of Steinbeck and the writings of Amos? Is there a difference between Zinn’s history and the history recorded by the Chronicler of the bible? Is there a difference between Bono and the Psalmist? 

I hate reducing the argument to such a trivial expression – but I am still wondering: Are the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments words from God (if somewhat corrupted and distorted by human error) or are they merely words about God?

I recognize that I can’t hold a belief in the inerrancy of these words. I’m still wrestling (broken hip and all) with it, trying to learn from it all.

But a recent post concerning the “Insufficiency of Scripture” at the blog – Exploring Our Matrix -  gave me some comfort with these words from 2 John 12:

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

“For those of us who are at times tempted to focus too much attention on the Bible, or to believe that it contains all the answers and solutions to all problems, this verse is a helpful reminder that an author of a letter that is now part of Scripture thought some things were better said face to face – that there were things that could not be accomplished as well or as effectively or simply as joyfully through written words as through personal interaction.”  - James McGrath

When I struggle to understand, or when I struggle to accept, the ugly parts of the scriptures, I trust that it is the relationship that I have with God that will carry me through – even when I doubt and disbelieve. 

I'm glad that I've read Stark's book.  It's challenged me.  It's pushed me.  It is pushing me.This is an issue that I'll continue to consider.

To see my other comments and questions - and the author, Thom Stark's, response (!!) read here.

Prairie Dog

Thursday, June 9, 2011

For Three Crimes and for Four

From Amos chapters 1 and 2 - for this Sunday.

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