Friday, April 29, 2011

The Neighborhood's Going Green

On the way home from work I got these shots of places you've all seen before - Timber Hill, the abandoned shack, and the Amish dairy farm across the road - only now they're sporting Spring greenery.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dogwood and van Gogh

The soft light after this morning's storm really brought out Nature's colors, and especially the colors of this pink Dogwood in the front yard.

There's something almost oriental about Dogwoods, and especially the Japanese look as portrayed in Europe by Art Nouveau and Post-Impressionism, when Japanese art made a huge impression in the salons of Paris and London. Since it bloomed this Spring this tree has somehow reminded me of Vincent van Gogh's Almond Blossoms.

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Star

The Star, #17 in the Tarot major trumps sequence, represents intuition, inspiration, insight, the creative spark, optimism, and hope. It's a very forward-looking card. I stuck fairly close to the traditional symbolism, although rather than having the central figure pouring water from a ewer into a body of water by starlight I had her sitting down reading and, with that look off into the distance, seeking inspiration.

The music for this one jumped up and shouted at me in its obviousness - Jiminy Cricket (actually singer Cliff Edwards) singing "When You Wish Upon a Star" from the Disney classic Pinocchio. Hmmmm... I wonder if ol' Walt was into the Tarot?

Artwork, photo, & text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Moves On Apace

You've seen this scene before here. But the last time I shot this the conditions were a lot different. Big difference, huh?

Vivaldi's "Spring" movement from his The Four Seasons suite gets overplayed this time of year, don't you think? So I went with Mendelssohn's "Spring Song" from his Songs Without Words.

Photo © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Moon

The Moon, #18 in the Tarot major trumps sequence, is about growth and learning as a result of adversity. The traditional meaning of this card deals more with the "lunacy" aspect of the Moon - fantasy, illusion, deception. I've never liked that interpretation and decided to go with my gut in reaction to the symbol itself. I've always seen the Moon card as somehow depressing or expressing depression, and thinking about the card in my usual Jungian perspective I came to realize that the times we're the saddest, when nothing seems to be going right and we can't see a way out, are the times when we experience the most growth and increase in psychic strength.

The perfect song for this card is Paul McCartney's "Blackbird", most definitely a song about triumphing over adversity. McCartney himself said that he wrote the song while thinking about the civil rights struggles in the US, and thinking that the time was right to eliminate racial barriers.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Photo, artwork, & text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sight & Sound - Appalachian Spring

Spring moves along here in the Cumberland Valley, part of the Great Appalachian Valley. The top photo is of Timber Hill, where I live; the bottom photo is of Apple blossoms in back of the house.

And of course the perfect music for this is Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, here performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Copland himself. Enjoy!

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Are Only Christians Moral?

It's a common accusation by the Christian Right that non-Christians have no sense of morality because morality doesn't exist outside the Bible. All the leaders - the Wildmons, the Dobsons, Pat Robertson, Charles Colson, Bryan Fischer, Cindy Porter, Matt Barber, and especially David Barton - have made this claim in writing and in public speeches and interviews. All of these people are followers of Christian Reconstructionism - and in some cases Seven Mountains Dominionism, the more radical wing of Christian Reconstructionism - an ideology which teaches that evangelical Christianity needs to gain control of government in order to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth.

Obviously not all Christians believe this; but even more interesting, not even all evangelicals believe that there is no morality outside the Bible. The late Michael Spencer, a Southern Baptist pastor and educator who created the blog (which is now carried on by like-minded "post-evangelicals" since Spencer's death from brain cancer a year ago), often made the point that evangelical Christianity had no exclusive claim on morality. Most notably, he made the point in the comment thread to his interview with former evangelical and self-described "spiritual nontheist" Dr. Valerie Tarico on July 31. 2009. Here is the dialog with commenter Matt and Michael (iMonk):
Matt says:

I think much of this discussion on both sides focuses on questions of morality. I also think this largely misses the point of what Christianity is really about. Dr. G.E. Veith expressed a great idea (that I need to read more about) that discussions of morality belong in the left-hand kingdom (society and government, in Lutheran parlance) and not in the right-hand kingdom (the church, broadly speaking). I agree with Dr. Tarico that children are born with an innate sense of fairness and morality, but every child begins to violate this “natural law” almost from day one. Christians are in this dilemma every bit as much as any other human. I’m not about to get into the comparative morality of various religions and non-religions because I think that sin (in the Christian language) is universal among humans.

Where we may have common ground is in restoring a common sense of “public virtue” that is largely free of God-talk. There are certain basic public morals that allow us to live together peaceably in a diverse society, and I truly believe that people of all belief systems can live together in harmony by upholding these common values. In my upbringing, the Boy Scouts did a very good job of discussing civic virtues (citizenship, tolerance, care for the environment) in a way that did not depend on religious doctrine or exclude people over religion.

iMonk says:

I agree, and would put the blame for shifting the discussion to morality firmly at the feet of Christians, who have spent centuries saying that no one but themselves could be truly moral. Of course, the Gospel refutes that completely. As a Christian, it is completely a non-issue whether Dr. Tarico is more or less moral than I am. In fact, should it be the case that I am proven to be immoral, it affects absolutely nothing about the Gospel. The issue for the Christian is 1) Is there a God and 2) What do we know about such a God and 3) What is our human connection to/relation to this God? Non-Theists see these questions as anthropology. We see these questions as presuppositional and beyond essential. The issue of morality meets both of us later in our conversation, and if the Christian knows the Gospel, he/she will never engage in a “Who is more moral?” debate. We must, however, talk about the comparative origin and implications of morality. As Ravi says, some people love their neighbor, and some people eat their neighbor. Do you have a preference?
I especially found this statement - "...[I] would put the blame for shifting the discussion to morality firmly at the feet of Christians, who have spent centuries saying that no one but themselves could be truly moral. Of course, the Gospel refutes that completely." - to be fascinating; I left a comment asking Michael if he could show me where this refutation was, and he sent me a private email instructing me to make a study of Paul's letter to the Romans.

How right he was. Paul very succinctly makes the point that morality exists outside the Scriptures and the community of believers. The second chapter is especially on point; in Romans 2:6 - 16:
He will render to each one according to his works:
to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
For God shows no partiality.

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
And in Romans 2:26 - 29
So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.
But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul very succinctly points out that those outside the Jewish community were capable of being as righteous as practicing Jews. God is not partial, he doesn't take nationality or ethnicity into consideration, doesn't read what books they live by; he judges only by what is in each person's heart and how that person acts on what's in that heart.

Later in the letter Paul talks about the things he sees as manifestations of the righteousness of the believer, first in Romans 12:9 - 21...
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.
To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
... and in Romans 13:8 - 10:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Well, in Paul's world those virtues existed outside the Jewish and Christians communities. Compare Paul's virtues above with the classical Roman virtues:
Auctoritas — "Spiritual Authority" — The sense of one's social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria.
Comitas — "Humour" — Ease of manner, courtesy, openness, and friendliness.
Constantia — "Perseverance" — Military stamina, mental and physical endurance.
Clementia — "Mercy" — Mildness and gentleness.
Dignitas — "Dignity" — A sense of self-worth, personal pride.
Disciplina — "Discipline" — Military oath under Roman protective law & citizenship.
Firmitas — "Tenacity" — Strength of mind, the ability to stick to one's purpose.
Frugalitas — "Frugality" — Economy and simplicity of style, without being miserly.
Gravitas — "Gravity" — A sense of the importance of the matter at hand, responsibility and earnestness.
Honestas — "Respectability" — The image that one presents as a respectable member of society.
Humanitas — "Humanity" — Refinement, civilization, learning, and being cultured.
Industria — "Industriousness" — Hard work.
Iustitia — "Justice" — Sense of moral worth to an action.
Pietas — "Dutifulness" — More than religious piety; a respect for the natural order socially, politically, and religiously. Includes the ideas of patriotism and devotion to others.
Prudentia — "Prudence" — Foresight, wisdom, and personal discretion.
Salubritas — "Wholesomeness" — Health and cleanliness.
Severitas — "Sternness" — Gravity, self-control.
Veritas — "Truthfulness" — Honesty in dealing with others.
Virtus - "Manliness" - Valor, excellence, courage, character, and worth. Vir meaning "man".
And the classical Greek virtues:
temperance: σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē)
prudence: φρόνησις (phronēsis)
fortitude: ανδρεία (andreia)
justice: δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē)
They're not word-for-word matches, but they all hold in common the respect for their fellow humans, which Paul calls "love". All define a way to help diverse personalities live together in harmony, or at least with the least interpersonal friction possible. Obviously this sense of morality existed outside the nascent Christian community.

Commenter Matt made a statement that struck a strong chord with me:
Where we may have common ground is in restoring a common sense of “public virtue” that is largely free of God-talk. There are certain basic public morals that allow us to live together peaceably in a diverse society, and I truly believe that people of all belief systems can live together in harmony by upholding these common values.
He then brought up the subject of the Boy Scouts as an example of non-theological morality, and I, being a former Boy Scout myself, thought of the Scout Law:
A Scout is Trustworthy.
A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.
A Scout is Loyal.
A Scout is true to his family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and nation.
A Scout is Helpful.
A Scout cares about other people. He willingly volunteers to help others without expecting payment or reward.
A Scout is Friendly.
A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.
A Scout is Courteous.
A Scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along.
A Scout is Kind.
A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.
A Scout is Obedient.
A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobeying them.
A Scout is Cheerful.
A Scout looks for the bright side of life. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries to make others happy.
A Scout is Thrifty.
A Scout works to pay his own way and to help others. He saves for the future. He protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property.
A Scout is Brave.
A Scout can face danger although he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.
A Scout is Clean.
A Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean. He chooses the company of those who live by high standards. He helps keep his home and community clean.
A Scout is Reverent.
A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.
This is the perfect example of a code of "civic virtue" based on values common to all theologies and philosophies without being attached to any one in particular. It was conceived of by Robert Baden-Powell, a British man of no particular religious creed who was influenced by the writings of Rudyard Kipling, which were based as much on Indian Hindu and Muslim folktales and religious sagas as on the British Colonial Code. Scout law is followed by Scouts all over the world, of many cultures and religions, with no objection from themselves, their parents, or their religious leaders (the various international iterations of Scout Law can be found here). In fact, many evangelicals are Boy Scouts, and yet none have objected to this secular moral code.

Obviously Paul's statement that righteousness exists outside of the Scriptures and the community of believers receives collaboration both in the classical world and in the contemporary one. David Barton hasn't a leg to stand on.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, April 15, 2011

Playing Again

I took a self-portrait and went to town in Photoshop and the Exposure 2 film emulation plug-in. I was going for an old-timey look, and I have four shots for your delectation. Top left: Calotype with sepia. Top right: Daguerreotype sepia. Bottom left: Daguerreotype with warm brown application. Bottom right: Daguerreotype with faded color applied. Click on each photo to view it in full size.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I finally got a day off that coincided with perfect Spring weather. So what better way to celebrate than to go out and catch some signs of the oncoming season. What I couldn't capture for you were the sounds - a Brown Thrasher going through his repertoire of bird calls (as a cousin to the Mockingbird, the Thrasher is a mimic), several Towhees calling back and forth, and the sounds of Cardinals, Robins, a couple of Phoebes, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Carolina Wrens, White-throated Sparrows, Tufted Titmice, the sound of Woodpeckers drumming (Woodpeckers not only peck to find food, they use their bills to drum on trees to attract mates)... Yeah, it's pretty noisy outdoors these days.

I saw lots of birds but photos were hard to get. I certainly saw plenty, including a big old tom Turkey (wild variety) who ran across the drive as I was walking down to the road. But as usual lately, the birds have been avoiding my camera. What I did get, though, were shots that show the slow onset of color in the countryside. Along the Dykeman Walking Trail...

On one of the duck ponds there I got this male Mallard paddling around. Not exactly an oncoming Spring shot, but it came out well and the colors are certainly Springlike.

As I was approaching home I got this shot of Timber Hill, where we live, with the first colors of Spring appearing.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scenes from the Macro-World - Morning Flowers

Mama Gaia is putting on her Spring finery here in the Great Appalachian Valley. I took these shots yesterday morning walking to work. Top to bottom: a large patch of Corn Speedwell; Heal-All; and an unknown purple flower.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Double Duty

It's interesting how things work out. Today I had already planned to post about the Sun card, #19 in the Tarot major trumps. Oddly enough, it turns out that this week's Theme Thursday theme is "Face", and my Sun card has a nice, sunny medieval face on him. So today you get two for one!

The Sun is all about pride in accomplishment, the joy of victory or success, optimism, a "sunny" disposition... you get the picture. This has been the meaning of the card since people have been chronicling the Tarot, so I decided to go back to the oracle's past and depict it with a fairly typical medieval sun-with-a-face symbol. Heh, heh! I even have one of these as a wall hanging, a faux patina-ed bronze sun face that I bought at an art festival years ago.

And this is how you get a post on both faces and the Tarot in one neat package!

There's not one piece of music that covers both themes here, so you also get two videos this time. For the Sun theme of joy and triumph, the perfect pick for me is Van Halen's "Jump"; here's the original music video from Eddie and the boys.

For the "Face" theme, I thought I'd include the perfect Beatles song, "I've Just Seen a Face", this version from my favorite Beatles music movie, Across the Universe. This is the scene when Jude first meets Lucy. Enjoy!

Photo, artwork, & text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


In the traditional Tarot deck this card is called "Judgment" and pictures the Archangel Gabriel up in the clouds blowing his trumpet, and below on the Earth the dead are rising from their graves. In the Tarot sequence this card stands for leaving the old life behind, shedding old habits and old mistakes that hold us back, retard our growth, like a snake shedding its skin. So you can see why I picked this image. I didn't want to use the old religion-specific title, though; being based on Jungian archetypes and theory, I didn't want to tie the card to a specific culture. I chose "Independence" to refer to the state described by the symbolism.

I decided that Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", all about triumphing over the past and moving forward, was perfect for this card. And especially this version from the Playing for Change people, incorporating musicians from all over the world as well as contributions from Bob's son Stephen and old footage of Bob Marley himself performing this song. It's a great tribute to a great man and an appropriate reflection on the meaning of the card. Enjoy!

Artwork, photo, and text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, April 01, 2011

The World

I did a post about this card a couple of years ago as part of the Theme Thursday meme, but because I'm starting an actual series on my home made deck I decided it was worth doing an entirely new post.

Speaking of order... The Major Trump cards of the Tarot are traditionally numbered 1 (The Magician) through 21 (The World), with The Fool, the traveler on the path, as 0. But Micheline Stuart, one of Gurdjieff's students, proposed a reversal of that order in her book The Tarot Path to Self-Development; she shows how the flow of the symbolism actually starts with The World as birth through to The Magician as the end result, a fully developed being. That argument made a lot of sense to me, and I've followed that ordering ever since I first read the book back in the 1980s.

With that caveat attended to, onward!

The World is all about birth; the traditional versions of this card involve very womb-like symbolism. My own version incorporates my memory of the Apollo 8 Earthrise photos as fitting into that symbolism set, showing Earth emerging from behind the Moon in a very dramatic way. To quote my earlier post on this card:
I also added the Apollo 8 Earthrise shot to my symbolism because to me this emphasized even more the notion of beginnings and birth. For the first time in our history, humanity was able to view the Earth from an entirely new perspective; we had literally gotten outside ourselves and were able to see us from a distance. And what we learned was that as beautiful as our Earth was living in the midst of it, it was just as beautiful seen from a distance - a jewel suspended in the black of space.

In any event, The World card is all about beginnings, birth, and even rebirth (although that notion of rebirth is more rightly the territory of #13 Death - which in my deck is renamed Rebirth). It's about starting up, or getting things started. It's also about getting back to basics - the nature motif is also very strong in all versions of the card, and the female figure in the traditional decks has often been interpreted as Mother Nature. And that makes sense, too; we always start with what Mama Gaiea gave us, and we build on that.
The music I chose for this card fits well with that symbolism, too. Although the song "Morning Has Broken" is most associated with Cat Stevens these days, after his making a hit of it in 1971 on his Teaser and the Firecat album, the song is actually a hymn in many Christian denominations. The words are a poem written by Eleanor Farjeon in 1922, and they were set to a traditional Scottish hymn originally used as a Christmas carol. The words are certainly in sync with the symbolism of The World card.

Photo, artwork, and text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger