Creation Museum Opens!

Animatronic Adam and Eve- Monica Lamm, 2007

An animatronic Adam and Eve (Monica Lenn, 2007)

The Creation Museum

Opening this past Monday in Kentucky, the Creation Museum is a $27 million extravaganza of misinformation. Dinosaurs walk with humans, Noah’s flood gouges out the Grand Canyon, and Earth celebrates its 6000th birthday! And all of the above is demonstrated, not with carbon-dating systems or peer-reviewed scientific papers or any logic at all, but with Universal Studio designed robots!

“Keep God small enough for us to understand him” seems to be the unspoken motivation behind such a glitzy presentation of the book of Genesis. Just look at the representation of Adam and Eve for starters- they are nothing more than a projection of what the owners of the Creation Museum want them to be- they look like us! (“Us” being the primary potential visitors to the Museum: Caucasian, evangelical, middle-class citizens of the United States.) There is not a scintilla of evidence, in Genesis or in paleontology labs anywhere in the world, that our earliest ancestors would have been as tall as us, or that their frontal lobes would have been as fully developed as ours, or that they would be white, or- perhaps most especially- that they would have had their hair fixed. This silly representation is “us” as we want God to have made us!

This whole Creation Museum is but an outward and visible blister, a tiny symptom of a disease which is threatening- I believe- to turn our faith and understanding of God into a static and stagnant set of rules which more and more people will eventually abandon. The anti-scientists (and that’s what they are, despite their hollow protestations to the contrary) believe that God can be fully known, is fully known, through the literal words of the Bible. If it says in Genesis 1 that God made day and night before God made the Sun, then that’s how it is, according to the literalists. Their quest then becomes not a mission to discover anything new about God, but to bend the evidence found by others into their own, small rock- hewn boundaries of knowledge.

If Genesis had been the literal truth about God- all humans ever needed to know about God, about each other, about the world, the universe, tools, agriculture, medicine, and urbanization- then there would have been no need for the prophets, John the Baptist, or even Jesus! All that would have been needed was a panel of “sacred” arbiters combing the words for their legalistic meaning (in Hebrew!), and then getting the people to obey and act on those meanings, backed by a system of police and penalties for any disobedience.

Wait! That’s the system that was in place and that was the system that Jesus turned the tables on! “You’ve heard it said,” Jesus proclaimed, “but I say..” Jesus demonstrated there there were other places to stand when looking at scripture. (Matthew 5) He demonstrated that there were other ways to read and interpret it than the traditional, often static and stagnant ones. Jesus forced people to see God, through his attitudes and his actions, in new and larger and different and better ways. “Fear not” he said, over and over again, and “follow me.”

I’m one who is utterly and completely comfortable following Jesus into the world where new knowledge is unfolding and being revealed all the time. I feel no need whatsoever to build a fortress around any of my knowledge, and I certainly have no desire to build animatronic projections of my limited knowledge about anything in order to make you believe me.

So, no, The Creation Museum is not on my summer itinerary. But if you are up that way, Mammoth Cave is in central Kentucky. It’s the world’s longest cave, and you can see stalactites that are..well, over 6000 years old!

stalactites.jpg mammoth-cave.jpg

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Perspective, Perspective, Perspective: The Pale, Blue Dot

On February 14, 1990, NASA commanded Voyager I, its primary mission completed, to turn its camera around and begin taking pictures of where it had been. From four billion miles away, a unique picture of Earth was captured.

Earth shows up in this photo only as “a pale blue dot,” and that is how the astronomer Carl Sagan spoke of it during a commencement address in 1996, and how the photo remains known. It appears grainy because it is being seen through the rings of Saturn.

One reaction to the photo by many people is the feeling of insignificance that it gives them. The perspective of four billion miles is so very different from the perspective we see the Earth from daily, as we walk, sit, and lie upon it, that it can be jarring, even alarming to confront a more distant and objective perspective. But I think that is a wrong reaction; just as I think it is wrong for us to hold too high an opinion of our significance.

It was not at all difficult before the invention of telescopes to consider ourselves as Masters of the Universe. The first telescopes were put together in the early 1600s. And at that time, the popular belief was that the sky and everything in it rotated around the Earth, and that all of those stars and the moon were pretty much of equal distances from the earth. A literal reading of Genesis was still easy.

In 1610, Galileo began messing with old preconceptions, by publishing a paper on the moons of Jupiter, in which he described a sun-centered solar system. This was regarded as blasphemous by the Church, and Galileo was put under house arrest for the rest of life. (John Paul II, almost 400 years later, apologized for this action.)

The Gemini and Apollo flights, and the Voyager, Hubble, and Cassini telescopes are forcing all of us, including the most stubborn of church members, to adapt to new perspectives about Earth’s place in the universe. It need not be a time of (as my Grandma would call such events) conniption fits. It is simply- for me- a matter of realizing that no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we cannot keep God small. We cannot contain God in a book, a chapel, or even the visible sky. It is up to us to keep up with God, not vice versa.

It is not a reason to feel threatened at all to believe that God is in the dust at the edges of the universe, and also in our hearts. It is not the end of Christendom to believe that there is more to know about God than the Old and New Testaments reveal. No picture of the heavens, no matter how awe-inspiring and curiosity-provoking it may be, is worth a conniption fit.

Here is Carl Sagan himself, reading his essay on “The Pale Blue Dot.” I believe it is among the loveliest of modern prose:

 

I’m thinking also: “..look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near.”(Luke 21:28b)

 

The Battle of Kruger- Beauty and Brutality

This has been viewed over a million times on Youtube, but in case you missed it, it is worth watching. It’s about eight minutes, and thrilling:

And a Texas pasture..

I stood yesterday in a field full of wildflowers- firewheels, coneflowers, verbena, winecups, prickly pear and many others. The sky was not merely blue, it was cerulean, and filled with sun-tinged cumulous clouds and perfect light, the kind that van Gogh, and only van Gogh could capture with his oils. Each flower absorbed and reflected that light. A hundred thousand of them together created a symphony of that light, and my heart danced.

For me, it is easy to be entranced by such a scene and consider that to be the standard of what I deem to be natural and lovely. And while it is beautiful, I must not close my eyes or mind to the grinding brutality of the natural world. Nor must I consider that beauty to be one thing, and that brutality another. They are both part of the same wave of life which washes over our planet continuously. There is a season of lavenders, yellows, reds, and magenta; and there is a season when those colors will become crisp and dry, bend toward the earth, and be absorbed by it again. It is not one or the other; it is both, together, a crescendo and a rest, pianissimo and forte, an endless concert.

In scenes like the ones in the “Battle at Kruger,” we wince and are discomforted by the savagery (our word) and pain (our empathetic response) involved in the life cycles of animals. But we are enabled to be drawn into the beauty of a pride of lions in sated relaxation, watching the tumbling of their cubs, only because of the ten thousand generations of lions before- those which tore through a hundred thousand years of herds and flocks of slower or weaker or smaller mammals and birds. As humans, we watch an incredible scene like the one played out in “Kruger” and project our own human history and our own notions of chaos or contentment onto it, wanting even to interfere with the lions’ hunger-defined onslaught – somehow- so that the buffalo calf might escape. And then we cheer as the buffalo successfully and heroically regroup, and charge the dastardly raiders in the rescue of their young one.

Our own emotions are involved in such a scene, I think, because of the relatedness we feel to all the animals involved. If the lions were sucking little white worms from the edges of the pond, few of us would cringe in horror over the worms’ fate. But we feel the calf’s confusion and wounds; we know something about the nervous system and emotions of a fellow mammal. We admire the courage and selfless, sacrificial willingness of the adult buffalo. We see our own human heroes in their actions.

But it all, all of it, is part of that same symphony of life, wherever it is being heard. The chords struck in South Africa reverberate and blend in the melodies of a Texas prairie. The waves of life peak, wash ashore, and recede in eternal and renewing rhythms. Lions, buffalo, crocodiles; firewheels, verbena, coneflowers, and..us. We reflect the same light as the wildflowers; we live within the same passions as the animals. And our seasons, our melodies, are always renewing, too.

 


 

 

Etty

I met a remarkable person earlier this week. In 1941, Etty Hillesum, then a 27-year-old Jewish woman living in Amsterdam, began to write a journal that I have been reading from all week. The journal covers the period from March, 1941, to October, 1942- not a very long time. But, given the background of Nazi occupation that was happening in Europe at the time, the journal records the spiritual transformation of a self-absorbed intellectual into someone in deep communion with God.

We have records of her writings from the time the Nazi oppression in the Netherlands began to worsen, through her family’s relocation to Westerbork, a holding camp for various “undesirables” being shipped weekly to Auschwitz in Germany. The last record we have of her writing is a postcard she threw from the train which carried her from Westerbork to Auschwitz. It was found by some farmers and mailed. It said, “We have left the camp singing.” Odd words, one might conclude, to have been written by someone who knew full well what that train ride to Auschwitz meant. But they were words written after months of profound and wonderful discoveries about God, even in the midst of circumstances that were destroying the faith of many others.

As she watched the slow destruction of the Jewish ghetto in Amsterdam, she wrote:

“The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days, its white blossoms are floating about in muddy black pools on the low garage roof. But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed, just as profusely and delicately as it ever did. And it spreads its scent round the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You. I bring you not only my tears and my forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring you scented jasmine.. I shall try to make you at home always. Even if I should be locked up in a narrow cell and a cloud should drift past my small barred window, then I shall bring you that cloud, oh God, while there is still the strength in me to do so.”

After several months at Westerbork, where conditions became more and more crowded and more deplorable as more and more Jews were passed through it, Etty wrote these words of almost unimaginable meaning:

“You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue. .At night, when I lie in my bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer.”

Etty, her parents, and a brother and sister died at Auschwitz in November, 1943. The diaries and journals written by Etty before and during her time at Westerbork were not discovered until 1981. They have been published under the title An Interrupted Life-The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. The book has since been translated into 14 languages and deserves to be read by many others for years to come. Others, many others, need to know that, even in the worst of circumstances, it is possible to leave “the camp singing.”
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Here are some other quotations from Etty Hillesum’s journals. They are part of a spiritual feast, served by Etty, and nourishing for generations to come:

“ALAS, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.”

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

“We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.”