Without any advance planning, this weekend turned out to have a Lost Civilizations theme, which turns out to be a rather gory experience!
On Friday night, we watched the movie APOCALYPTO, which is Mel Gibson’s movie set in the Mayan civilization shortly before the conquistadors arrived. I put this movie on our Netflix queue because my husband and I are planning a trip to Belize this winter, and will be traveling to Tikal, in Guatemala, to see some Mayan ruins. I thought the movie would be a fun springboard to begin our research for the trip.
Let me say this: I hope that our research reveals that Gibson distorted some facts. Certainly we’re aware that he has a taste for blood, at least on film. I was prepared for human sacrifice, but not so much of it. Of course, the cinematography was beautiful: lush jungle vegetation rushing by, exotic cities pulsing with human flesh, tattooed faces leering over primitive weapons.
I was most intrigued by the religious life the movie portrays. There were two types of native people: a hunting tribe, and the more advanced Mayans. A scene showing a storyteller relate the tribe’s creation myth was especially lovely, and it appeared that the God they worshipped was largely benevolent, and “wise to” human insatiability. You had the feeling that this God saw humans in all their defects, and loved them anyway.
When the natives were captured and brought to the Mayan city, we saw a different type of God being worshipped: one who is bloodthirsty and vengeful, punishing the people with corn blight. People attempted to appease this God by sacrificing person after person. The crowd was in a religious ecstasy, and natural phenomena only confirmed their notion of who God was.
What struck me was how each group of people created a God in their own image.
Scripture tells us that it should work in reverse: God created us in God’s image. God first; Imago Dei second. But of course, we can only deduce from the opposite direction, and ascribe to God whatever characteristics are either most prominent or troubling in ourselves. The inherent puzzle of all this intrigued me in a new way.
Also, something I need to ponder more: Blood. Does God like blood? Is it necessary to religion in some way that we moderns find distasteful?
Last week I also heard a lecture by Dr. Brian Blount about Mark’s account of the institution of the last supper. What did the disciples think when they heard Jesus’ words: This is my body, this is my blood.
Obviously, there isn’t time to digest one thing before we’re on to the next. This is why theology is always a work in progress in my life.
On Saturday my husband and I went to the National Mall to spend the day in downtown DC. We saw the World War II Memorial, stopped by the National Book Festival, then headed to the National Museum of Natural History to see an exhibit called Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake. This is an amazing exhibit, and I urge you to plan a trip there before it closes in February of 2011. The exhibit showcases bones found at the rediscovery of the site of Jamestown, which was the first European settlement in America, a site which had been lost to history. Until the 1990s, that is. Excavations of graves has uncovered a lot about the people who lived (most of them briefly!) in Jamestown. There’s even a lab where you can try to solve a case using actual human bones: determining age, gender, nutrition, the kind of work the person did, and how they died. Next we need to go to St. Mary’s City to see the reconstrutions there.
Anthropology is fascinating and makes a wonderful partner to theology. We can only know what it means to be a human when we approach the God who made us.
Blood & Bones. Unexpected clues.