In the beginning, there was the god of fresh water, Apsu, and the goddess of salt water, Tiamet. Apsu and Tiamet mingled their waters and other gods were born. These younger gods were loud and full of life. Their noise angered Apsu. To get some peace and quiet, Apsu threatened to destroy his children and their children. Before he could, however, his great-great-grandson Ea murdered Apsu. But Ea spared Tiamet, who had not supported her husband’s plan to kill their children.
Tiamet did not repay Ea’s mercy. Spurred on by another god, Kingu, Tiamet became angry about Ea’s murder of her husband, Apsu. Tiamet took Kingu as her second husband. With Kingu, Tiamet gave birth to eleven kinds of monsters to help her take revenge on Ea. But in battle, the god Marduk, son of Ea, rose to the challenge and killed the mother goddess Tiamet, cutting her in half.
With one-half of Tiamet, Marduk created the heavens. With the other half, he created the earth. To other gods, he gave power over heavens, air, and water. Marduk then set the planets and time itself into motion.
Marduk took the gods allied with Tiamet captive and made them servants of the victors. The menial tasks given these captive gods caused them to beg Marduk for relief. To free these prisoners from their labors, Marduk executed Tiamet’s second husband, the ringleader Kingu. From Kingu’s blood, Marduk created humankind to take over the work of the defeated army of the gods and to feed the host of divinities.
Our record of the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian story of creation, dates to the 7th century BCE. It may have been composed almost 4,000 years ago, making it one of the earliest, if not the earliest, surviving creation stories.
How different it is from the familiar Genesis creation stories. In Genesis, God creates order from chaos. In the Enuma Elish, the gods seem to create their own chaos. In Genesis, as the culmination of his creation, God designates humankind to be stewards over all other living things. In the Babylonian story, humankind is created as an afterthought and then to be slaves of the gods.
There is such power in stories. Our stories define us. We wrestle with our stories for meaning about ourselves and our world. From Genesis, we know that creation is good. Everything God made is very good. From Genesis, we form our relationship with creation, with the inanimate objects and creatures with which we share this planet. As stewards, we rightly challenge how we treat our earth and its organisms. Being created in the image of God, we properly question how we treat one another.
Would we do any of this if the Babylonian creation story were our story? How might we look at the world and our fellow beings if we believed ourselves created by Marduk from Kingu’s blood? How would we see one another if we understood we are not created in God’s image, that our only purpose was to feed the gods? How would we look upon the earth if we saw it as half of a murdered mother goddess’s body instead of the creation of a single, loving God?
How do we get along? How do we maintain identity? Through stories. For this reason, each church service we read from the Old and New Testaments, especially books by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. The stories of the life of Christ and of his apostles form for us a distinctive religion and common culture. As Episcopalians, these stories serve as the glue that binds us, that makes us who we are. Without these stories, we lose this connection with one another. We lose our reason for being together.
We can see the power of stories by looking to our country. Our national stories define what America is; they hold us together as a people. For this reason, the debates, the fights, over these national stories have always been fierce. Many suffer pain and disruption when these stories change.
The central event, the central story, in American history is the Civil War, its prelude, and its aftermath. Decades after Appomattox, the story of the Confederacy was rewritten. That rewriting caused great pain. Over the last few years, that story has been rewritten again, also causing great pain and disruption. But our stories need to be reexamined and even rewritten to reflect our changing values and identity. We see similar examples with Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day.
We change. Our stories must change with us. If they don’t, our stories will cease to be about us. They won’t define us.
A great danger we face in this nation is that the dominant stories about “us” include only some of us. We are losing stories that used to, but no longer, unite us as a nation. Instead of gaining new unifying stories, we are being bombarded with more and more stories that incite some of us to unite against others of us. Our national stories are becoming ones encouraging one part of us to fight the other part of us. No wonder we are on edge.
As Christians, as Episcopalians, we have the power and the duty to make new stories that heal, not hurt, stories that unite, not tear us apart. That may seem like a steep challenge, an unrealistic goal, but I think not. I think we are doing it already.
When our nave was vandalized, I had a troubling concern. I wasn’t horribly upset about it. I did not like what happened, but it was almost as though the people expressing sympathy to me cared more about the damage than I did. Why?
For a while, I chalked it down to my previous experience with loss at this church. Perhaps because I had witnessed greater loss, I was putting the vandalism in perspective. I was at St. Andrew’s the day it burned. I drove here but then circled around the block, staring dumbfounded out the window at the smoking timbers before heading home in a daze. Maybe having seen worse, I could be tougher than others in this congregation.
I think the truth lies elsewhere. Any answer that requires me to be the tough guy is pretty flawed. When St. Andrew’s church burned to the ground, I had been a parishioner here only for a couple of years. It was a different time and place back then. It seemed harder to get to know people if you were new. On that day in February 1996 when the church buildings lay in ashes, I did not know if the church—the people—would rebound. A good many never came back. They left St. Andrew’s. The church had a long period of crisis. But, thank God, new members came. We were blessed with two excellent interim rectors. A new spirit of growth, a new feeling of solidarity, emerged. That spirit and feeling not only have continued but have grown. St. Andrew’s became both inclusive and close-knit. The story of St. Andrew’s changed. This new story defined us, who we had become.
What shaped my reaction to the vandalism—or my lack of reaction to the vandalism—was not callousness. What shaped my reaction was this community of St. Andrew’s. When a group is threatened, the members sacrifice willingly because their sacrifice is not a sacrifice. We need connection, so we give it. More people run to the danger than from it. We give care and are provided with care. And we benefit from these connections. In war and natural disasters, mental health issues actually decline. People feel better because they become more involved with their communities. Shockingly, people become happy in these crises because everyone loves one another and will help each other. If you were alive on 9/11, recall how united we were as a nation on 9/12, 9/13, and 9/14. There were no Republicans. There were no Democrats. All Americans were your brothers and sisters. It was a horrible, but wonderful time.
When I heard of the vandalism, I knew how this community, my brothers and sisters, would react. I knew they would support me; I knew we would support each other. I knew we would do whatever was needed and more. It was never a question of whether the church would fall apart. It is only a question of how far this church can grow because of this crime against it.
I would never wish for damage to this church, but I will never want to lose our scars from that damage. I want to hold on to those scars for I don’t want to lose the unity and love we shared that evening at compline and experienced again the following Sunday morning. We can’t have that joy without the suffering, just like we can’t have Easter without Good Friday, resurrection without death. The scars bless us with the chance to go outside of ourselves, to share who we are and what we believe with the world—literally with the world. What would we give for that gift? What should we give for that gift?
How this church responded to its members and to the world changed the story of St. Andrew’s. The story of the recovery from the fire was about us, how we transformed and became a better us. The story of the response to the vandalism is also about us, but it also is about the greater “us,” the us that is more than just St. Andrew’s. Ours is not a Babylonian story of anger and thirst for revenge. Here is a story of loss, but loss with forgiveness. Here is a story in which the focus and concern are not on the damage suffered but rather on the health and soul of the person or persons who caused the harm. Here is a story that invites us, both St. Andrew’s and the rest of the world, to a greater understanding—a better living—of the story of Christ. It is a story we need to tell and keep telling.
Like the eleven disciples on the mount in Galilee, God calls each of us to go and make disciples of all nations. We don’t have to preach. We just have to share stories, the stories that describe the world as it should be, as our faith tells us it is: a world God created, a world in which everything he made is very good. We are a Resurrection church. Creation is not a one-time event. Things that are old are being made new again. God creates and recreates again and again.
So go. Tell your stories. Make connections. Form relationships. Create disciples. As St. Paul states, “Put things in order.”