Friday, September 28, 2012

Alien thoughts

"As diverse as the various local or regional settings of ritual killing might have been, the intricate relationship between killing and order is a particular feature of the world view in ancient Near Eastern communities. Killing, rather than being considered a complete annihilation, served either transformative, reordering, or reintegrative purposes when occurring in a ritually controlled environment, a concept alien to Western thought."—Beate Pongratz-Leisten in Sacred Killing , page 292

<idle musing>
It is hard for us in the Western world to get our minds around ritualized killing. We can handle it in the name of science, though...
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thought for today

So men, in their sins, treat the realities of the spiritual world as if they were not real, but follow the most empty phantoms of this world, as if they were stern realities.
They also act as if self were of supreme importance, and everything else of relatively no importance. Suppose you were to see a man acting this out in common life. He goes round, day after day, assuming that he is the Supreme God, and practically insisting that everybody ought to have a supreme regard to his rights, and comparatively little or no regard for other people's rights. Now, if you were to see a man saying this and acting it out, would you not account him either a blasphemer or insane?—Charles Finney

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


"In the ancient Near East in general, the sacrifice as an offering to otherworldly beings is always part of a complex ritual as a communicative action that also includes greeting, kissing, and clothing the deity, exorcistic rites, and liturgical and performative procedures. It is usually performed in a sacralized space that serves cultic practice dedicated either to the gods or to the ancestors. Rituals such as these must be distinguished from other forms of ritual killing, which pertain to eliminatory rituals designed to dispel evil and generally occur outside the temple."—Beate Pongratz-Leisten in Sacred Killing , page 291

<idle musing>
So, she makes a distinction between "sacrifice" and scapegoat or appeasement offerings. How valid is that distinction, I wonder...
</idle musing>

Thought for today

In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
in spite of his wonders, they did not believe.
So he ended their days in futility
and their years in terror.
Whenever God slew them, they would seek him;
they eagerly turned to him again.
They remembered that God was their Rock,
that God Most High was their Redeemer.
But then they would flatter him with their mouths,
lying to him with their tongues;
their hearts were not loyal to him,
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return. (Psalm 78:32-39 TNIV)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ritual or religious?

"I define rituals as acts that have a social meaning and are designed to communicate with an audience. Such acts are not necessarily related to the supernatural and thus are not necessarily part of religion (for example, Kyriakidis 2007); however, based on accounts provided by the ethnographic record, formal and repeated actions that result in the death of humans and modification of their remains are almost always tied in some way to beliefs in a supernatural world (Ucko 1969: 264ff.). "—Mary Voight in Sacred Killing , page 264

<idle musing>
A very good distinction. Not every ritual act is necessarily a "religious" act...
</idle musing>

Monday, September 24, 2012

Intersection or union?

"In our view ritual and sacrifice are concepts that intersect rather than interbed. Ritual implies repetition, the routinized sequence of actions, patterns that may or may not intersect with concepts of the sacred. The daily setting out of pens and pencils on your desk may be a “ritual”; whether that sequence is determined by ideas about the ineffable is a separate question. The point is that the actions are done again and again, so they may leave certain types of archaeological traces. Structuralists would suggest that these routines/rituals are expressions of core cultural values/issues (usually of a dualistic nature: male/female, us/them, and so on); thus, comparing the organization of these rituals may expose these deeper cultural skeletons. Here we enter the realm of sacrifice and its dual aspects of giving up and giving to, events that may be ritualized by repetitive sequence or events that may happen only once but, in either case, events that are infused with a deeper meaning in relationship to the sacred."—Hesse, Wapnish & Greer in Sacred Killing, page 230

<idle musing>
Our life is full of rituals—big ones, small ones, important ones, trivial ones. They are what give our lives order. As a Christian, our goal should be to live out our lives as a sacrifice—and, as they say here, that isn't necessarily the same thing!
</idle musing>

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Cosmology of sacrifice

"One thing is clear. It is being dead, rather than being killed, that seems to be uppermost in the disposition and meaning of these particular burials. Not only is there no evidence of public display, or even knowledge, of the enactment of sacrifice, but it seems possible that it was indeed carefully hidden, at least at Ur, where the wounds to the head were masked by helmet and headdress and turned to the floor of the tomb. Power may or may not be a consideration, and those sacrificed may or may not be retainers. But that sacrifice is a route to, or expression of, power is a question of function, not meaning. Systems of power can only be constructed on understandings of how the world works, and understandings of how the world works are based in notions of cosmology: where humans fit in a larger scheme that involves a host of supernatural beings, including the dead."—Ann M. Porter in Sacred Killing , page 211

-<idle musing>
I'm still trying to wrap my head around what she is saying here—but it seems pretty profound.
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Once they are dead...

"[it is] clear in all the materials relating to death and the afterlife here, that the dead have continued roles to play long after their demise. The dead establish the position of the living in time and space and their consequent interactions with others, human and otherwise. The dead have otherworldly status, even if they are not quite divine. Certain of them, often ancestors, act as intermediaries between all forms of being. In this framework, it may be the body, therefore, that is of central concern, and so how the body is treated and then disposed of after death is as important as, if not more so than, the moment of death itself.")—Ann M. Porter in Sacred Killing , page 194

<idle musing>
Interesting thought. I have always thought of the moment of killing as being the most important moment in sacrificial systems—and in many it is—but here (Ur) is a case where the way the bodies are handled after death is more for thought. Now I'll have to look at the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament with different eyes and see if it is true there as well at times. I suspect it might be...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thought for today

Be still before the LORD
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes. 
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
  For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.—Psalm 37:7-9 TNIV

<idle musing>
This set of verses jumped out at me this morning. The whole Psalm is great, but these verses were for me today.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why sacrifice works...

"Meaning inheres in why provisions, feasts, and gifts are considered appropriate, in what they are thought to accomplish, in what relationships they establish. Similarly with sacrifice, itself both function and meaning. Sacrifice cements alliances, creates passageways between this world and the next, and is a political tool, but its meaning ultimately lies elsewhere. It is why sacrifice is understood to be the proper way to do these things that is the ultimate object of inquiry."—Ann M. Porter in Sacred Killing , page 193 

<idle musing>
And we don't really know why, do we? "It just works" seems to be the default answer. Is there something inherent in humanity that thinks we need to offer something up? The Christian would answer yes and point to the cross.
</idle musing>

Monday, September 17, 2012

Salvation from what?

"Salvation, to be real and available, must be salvation from sin. Everything else fails. Any system of religion which does not break the power of sin, is a lie. If it does not expel selfishness and lust, and if it does not beget love to God and man, joy, peace, and all the fruits [sic] of the Spirit, it is false and worthless. Any system that fails in this vital respect is a lie—can be of no use—is no better than a curse."—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
How does your religion stack up on that basis? Is your salvation a deliverance from sin? Or is it "bed frame" salvation—great at the beginning as forgiveness (headboard) and a great at the end with the promise of heaven (footboard), but it sags in the middle?
</idle musing>

The leaves they are a turning

This last week, the leaves started to turn down by the lake. I guess that means fall is, it's time to plant a garden :) And that's what I did.

Renee had the kids pull the peas that were done. Then I planted spinach, chard, kale, and beets on Tuesday in a cold frame, and a salad mix on Thursday inside a hoop house. Because the nights are getting colder, Joel and I put the tops on the two hoop houses on Friday night. They are predicting 33 degrees on Monday and Tuesday, so the ends will have to go on soon, too. I guess that means we will have to build doors, doesn't it? It doesn't do much good to have a hoop house if you can't access the produce...

On a related note, I picked a patty pan squash last Monday. I planted them on July first and wasn't sure if we would get any. It was a bit small, but too cute not to pick. Debbie said we should just let it sit on the table as decor :) I ate it the next day; it was sweet and tender. I hope we get more before they give up for the year.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why sacrifice?

"...sacrifice is effected to permeate the borders between the worlds of human and divine, natural and supernatural. Regardless of its immediate purpose, sacrifice is ultimately transformational. Sacrifice may have been a necessary step of display in the ritual of the “royal” funeral to gain community legitimization for inherited power. The display was not only for the living audience, but also the audience of the gods whose sanction was a necessary part of community acceptance of the social order and succession"—Jill A. Weber in Sacred Killing , page 162

<idle musing>
She is talking about the sacrificial killings at the Royal Cemetery of Ur. The king was buried with a lot of his retainers in a complex layout that imitated his everyday floor plan—guards and all.

Not a whole lot has changed in the last 4,000 years, has it? We still try to get to the divine by sacrifice—we call it something else, like self-denial, or the like. But, the bottom line is we are still trying to earn salvation! It won't happen. Now how, no way. We can never earn it. It is a free gift. Accept it, live in it, and rejoice in it.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Taking the short-term view

You have gone on as if the motives to sin were all-persuasive, and as if sin's promises of good were more reliable than God's. When God spread out before you the glories of heaven, made all attractive and delightful in the beauties of holiness, you coolly replied-Earth is far better! Give me earth while I can have it, and heaven only when I can have earth no longer!—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
He's got humanity pegged, doesn't he? Take the short-term view and ignore the long-term cost. We aren't good at looking at the consequences of our actions and decisions; we need the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The life force is what counts...

"Ethnographic and historic examples such as the private farms, temples and public structures in Romano-British England where foundation deposits of animals and infants have been found suggest the release of a life force, anima, or last living breath is important to have value as a sacrifice, rather than the deposit of an already lifeless body (Green 2001). In order to create reciprocal relationships with deities or ancestors, consecrate spaces, or bring about apotropaic effects, the release of the life force or living blood spilled is usually necessary in rituals where human beings or animals are the “gift” or supernatural intermediary."—Sharon Moses in Sacred Killing , page 72

<idle musing>
There is a sermon in there somewhwere...
This book is fascinating. If you are interested in the latest theories about sacrifice, this is "must-have" book.
</idle musing>