Anthrocide is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Archive for July, 2008

Can Any Good Thing Come from Arkansas?

Fourth of July weekend Rebecca and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary (actually July 7th). While, for our 25th we went on a cruise, as my son Scott put it, we have become totally Mid-Westernized: we went to Arkansas.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas to be exact. For the uninitiated it is home to The Great Passion Play which is a depiction of the final days of the life of Christ.

It is performed in an amphitheater whose “stage” covers close to two acres, part of which is on a hillside opposite the audience. There are several sections of the stage area and speakers have the dialog emanate from the area where the action is focused. Across the hillside is the tomb of Lazarus, Gethsemane, Golgotha, the mount of ascension, and the garden tomb. At the bottom of the hill—the main stage—there is a wide street running in front of the Praetorium, the Temple, the upper room, and various other building facades. This outdoor setting enables realism that an indoor stage could not pull off. For example, in a couple of time-of-Christ street scenes two boys run a flock of over a dozen sheep across the stage. Another time a Roman official rode in on a chariot. Very cool.

But more about the play later. The grounds on which the play is performed have several other items of interest. First, they provide a “holy land tour.” They have set up various venues showing what life would have been like in both Old and New Testament times including a full-size replica of the Tabernacle and various scenes from the life of Jesus. I sort of half expected it to be rather cheesy, but for the most part it was both realistic and informative. They had people in costume portraying various Bible characters who described the various points of interest. One oddity was that the very nice woman portraying Mary Magdalene had a pronounced Arkansas drawl, rendering “the time of the Passover” as “the tahm of the Pace-over.” Definitely worth seeing. Next, there is a “Bible Museum” for which I again had low expectations. To my surprise there were some incredible treasures in there: A genuine Gutenberg Bible (not the very first one, but one from his actual press), a copy of a King James Bible from the first printing of 150, copies of original Tyndale and Wycliffe Bibles, a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and on and on. I’m thinking, “In Arkansas?” I finally asked how historic documents worth hundreds of thousands of dollars ended up there. The tour guide said the people who established the Passion Play and all the rest were well-off, a lot of the books came from a specific donor, and a lot of the money came from none other than Henry Ford. We also toured their “Sacred Arts Center” on the grounds, a gallery of mostly contemporary Christian paintings and sculpture, many of which were quite fascinating.

When it came time for The Great Passion Play itself, 8:30 p.m., the sky was threatening. An hour into the play lightning began flashing all around. We were on metal baseball-stadium-style seats; not the best for a lightening storm. We had rain ponchos (still around from our last trip to NYR) but they wouldn’t be much use against lightning. At 10 p.m. the play had progressed to the crucifixion scene and, amid the lightning and thunder, it began to rain. Becki and I had spotted an apparatus with wires that looked like what they would use to do the ascension but could not imagine any actor being foolish enough to use it during such a storm. As “Jesus” spoke his final words, “It is finished,” from the cross, the downpour came in buckets. They had special lighting and sound effects to mark the moment of Jesus’ death but they were totally upstaged by the real thing happening then and there. At that moment the lights all came on and an announcer said the performance had been canceled and to please exit. Even covered by the ponchos we got soaked, literally wading to the car. We later got rain-checks for our tickets good for any time in the next two years. We are told the resurrection and ascension scenes we missed are quite spectacular so we definitely plan to go back, maybe this fall.

Our hotel room was very large and quite nice including a heart-shaped Jacuzzi tub. It had an attached German-Czech restaurant with excellent sauerbraten. The next day we poked around in some antique stores and wandered through the “historic downtown” which is where all the hippies from the 70’s ended-up. There are row upon row of little eclectic shops many of which sold tie-dyed items and incense. There were also a ton of bikers in town and many hotel marquees claimed “bikers welcome”; one even said “bikers only.” I wore my Mizzou cap the entire time, daring anyone to comment and ready with my comeback: “I have only two words for you… Cotton – Bowl.” The only person who took the bait was a woman in the Sacred Arts Center who, it turns out, was a closet Nebraska fan. No matter, I rubbed her nose in Mizzou’s shellacking of Big Red too! (Graciously, of course.) However, there were a couple of guys around town wearing Oklahoma Sooner caps whom I, ahem, sort of avoided.

On the way home we stopped at the historic home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series books. I found it odd that throughout the homes, the museum, and the tour itself not one mention was made that the books had been made into a long-running TV series. Not a single picture of Melissa Gilbert, Michael Landon, nothing. The only reference at all was a DVD or two of some episodes in the souvenir store.

Not Cozumel or Jamaica perhaps but we enjoyed our little anniversary trip immensely. But then, with such a marvelous wife, how could I not?

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