Today I am North Korean

Death is a funny thing.

You hear that 10,000 people die in an earthquake in Turkey. You think, oh, what a pity. It gets some news coverage for a week.

You hear that 8,000 Brazilians die every day from Malaria — often children. You think, gee, that’s too bad. It gets no news coverage.

You hear that 3,000 North Koreans die in a train wreck, and you think. That’s no good. (Along with thinking that their government should keep their infrastructure up to date.)

3,000 some odd Americans die in a terrorist attack on American soil. And three years later, we think about it every single day.

We feel differently about accidental deaths than we do intentional ones. We don’t seem to mind preventable deaths nearly as much as we should.

But I thought, yesterday on hearing the initial death toll (revised downwards, I believe), how much more we value AMERICAN life than we do any other sort. I’m not sure our lives are worth any more than the Brazilians or North Koreans. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re not.

So today, I am North Korean. My heart goes out to the people of North Korea whose friends and family members died due to a combination of back luck and negligence. I am Brazilian. I pray for all those mothers who watch their infants wither and die because they had no mosquito netting, or $10 pills to effect a cure. I am Turkish. I pray for all those whose sisters and husbands were crushed under buildings built quickly and not to code, in order to earn a quick profit.

Lent

Lent: The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday until Easter observed by Christians as a season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter.

[Middle English lenten, lente, spring, Lent, from Old English lencten. See del-1 in Indo-European Roots.]

Lento: [It.] (Mus.) Slow; in slow time; slowly; — rarely written lente.

These two words have had a connection in my head for a long time. In my youth (ah dissolate youth!) I assumed they were linguistically related. Because, you see, they do go together.

Lent is a long, slow time of year. There are two periods of waiting in the Christian calendar. The first is Advent, in anticipation of Christmas. In Advent, there is music and sound and anticipation. We look forward to the birth of our savior, and to Christmas trees and presents and colors and lights. We have shopping and baking and cleaning to do, and cards to write to our loved ones. Christmas comes all too soon (or too long if under the age of 12), and every day of Advent is delightful.

Lent is the second. Advent lasts for 4 Sundays. Lent lasts for 40 days (not counting Sundays). In Lent, we anticipate the betrayal, beating, humiliation and death of our savior — the man whose babyhood we celebrated a few short months ago. We look forward to a quick change of fortunes, to a friendship sold for silver, and to an abandonment of our God in human form by those who loved him most. Where Advent goes by with the snap of a sap-pocket in a cheery pine fire, Lent is like gradual erosion of mountains of dirty snow.

The end of the Lenten story, though, is the one that makes both Christmas and Easter meaningful and worthwhile. After the humiliation, after death, after despair, after the end of hope, Jesus rose up from the dead. I really think that we forget how surprising — how shocking! a conclusion to the story that is. Imagine if JFK had come out of his final repose, cured of his gunshot wound, three days after that day on the grassy knoll? If Martin Luther King JR. had bestirred his cold body after three days in a coffin? If Lincoln, three days after the theater and the botched surgery, rose up to tell us that not only had he given us guidance during the days of his natural life, that now he was immortal and would be with us always. Jesus’ disciples probably hoped that he would be a political leader (see James and John, sons of Zebedee, sucking up to him the week before holy week hoping for what they probably thought would be material power), but his messiah-hood far surpassed just a political solution for Jews under the thumb of the Romans. It was a promise to all humanity that death itself is not final.

Lent anticipates this, but it focuses not on the triumphant celebration over death at Easter — it focuses on the nastiness of getting there. Being raised from the dead didn’t make dying on a cross any more a pleasant experience. Nor did it help as Jesus was paraded and mocked with his crown of thorns. These were very real and very painful experiences, for a man whom we believe to be God. And in Lent, we think about the love it took for him to do that for us.

The music of Lent is slow and mournful. Lento. Contemplative. The 40 days stretch long, cold, and seemingly hopeless across the span of late winter and early spring. They leave a dusty taste in the mouth, with a touch of New England despair that the flowers will never come, and the countryside will never again be green and verdant. But our dispair is misplaced. Spring does come, against all fears. And God does rise up from the dead, against all expectation.

Status Change

I am 25, and have been married (very happily) for four years.

Today, I changed statuses. Two (2) of my dearest friends asked me when we were going to have a baby.

There have been other signs. My brother didn’t check his email, and when informed by my parents that he needed to talk to his sister because she had *news*… he thought it was me. The kids in my Sunday School class keep bugging me to have kids. It’s unanimous. The rest of the world has decided we should procreate.

I guess I should be glad for the four year hiatus. But it’s kind of weird.

And Old Testament/New Testament difference

I have my youth group kids for two seperate types of meetings — I have them for Sunday School and for youth group. In Youth Group, we’re currently going over a passage in Matthew that talks about God recognizing us for what we do for others, not necessarily for what we believe or say. In Sunday School, we’re doing an Old Testament summary — mostly Moses lately.

It’s really a pretty striking difference. In the Old Testament, you have a God who hardens the heart of Pharoah, blasts the people of Egypt with 10 plagues, kills the firstborn sons, threatens to eliminate the people of Israel when they create idols, changes his mind when argued with and generally lacks in warm fuzzies. In the New Testament, we have a God who humbled himself, served those around him with kindness and compassion, only got angry like twice and then usually against the establishment, and finally sacrificed himself on a cross for our sakes.

But Christians believe that the OT God of fury and temper and violence, and the NT God of compassion and sacrifice… they are one and the same. There are some mitigating factors. For example, I pointed out to my kids that even in the Old Testament, God was far more merciful than would be expected, while still practicing justice. For example, he killed the first born sons of Egypt. Well, the Pharoah had previously killed ALL the sons of Israel. So he exacted justice, but justice tempered by mercy. God also kept his word to the people of Israel, even when they broke theirs to him as quickly as humanly possible.

One of the greatest differences I see between OT and NT, however, is the scale on which God deals with people. In the OT he is really dealing with nations on a national basis. While he deals with Moses, he is really judging and interacting with Israel on a national basis. Salvation or damnation doesn’t come according to what one person does, but how the nation as a whole acts in covenant with God. Likewise, in Egypt, God deals with the nation of Egypt harshly, not just with the Pharoah in particular. When Jonah goes to Ninevah, the communal acceptance of God’s message is what saves the entire city-state from destruction. God was not going to spare the ones who followed his word and punish those who didn’t — it was all or nothing. So you have a history of sort of spokesperson individuals (like Moses and Pharoah and Jonah), and nations (like Israel and Egypt and Ninevah). If you personally were too sinful, you would be thrown out of the nation, and not be a part of its covenant with God.

In the New Testament, Jesus seems to redefine God’s relationship to humanity on an individual basis. Jesus no longer says that salvation and favor will be given on a national basis — to the nation of Israel, for instance. He emphasises the need for personal action and also personal judgement. He doesn’t stand and exhort the nation of Israel to follow God’s will. He stands in a crowd of thousands and exhorts each of them to do what is right. He answers individuals questions about what they must do, themselves, to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it is. Can you imagine what would happen if God judged America on a corporate basis? (I think, by the way, that IS the way the real conservatives look at it, and why they are so eager to impose their morality on others.) I much prefer to be held accountable for my own actions, because then at least I have control. This difference between corporate relationship and individual relationship is a key, I think to understanding the change that happened when Jesus came. It’s also a key for understanding WHY it is that for some religious groups that see us as part of their nation — they are so very eager to make us comply with their morality.

But like Paul, I want to preach Christ crucified. I believe in a God who sacrificed himself in order to still practice justice, but not have to punish us. I believe in a God who judges us on how kindly we treat others — who holds us to the standard of doing unto other people as we want to be done to ourselves. I believe in a God who has an individual relationship with every person on the earth — a relationship that make take different shapes or forms depending on our individual relationship and background.

You know it’s cold when…

…they shut down an ice factory because the ice cracks when stored below -15F.
…New Englanders close down schools across the state because diesel fuel is coagulating in buses, causes pickups to be unreliable
…the ocean freezes
…authorities ask people to conserve energy the way they do during summer heat waves
…AAA reports a record number of people calling because their cars won’t start — beating the previous record set earlier this week by over a thousand
…meteorologists say this isn’t the coldest New England has ever gotten, and refer back to the last ice age for correlation

But you know it’s New England when
…everyone who has tickets will still be at this weekend’s Patriot’s game

Contentment is…

I’m sitting at home right now, listening to Kate Rusby. I am wearing my kitty cat pajamas (the non glow-in-the-dark set). I have a peach candle my husband gave me for Christmas burning on my desk. The snowflakes are falling thick and fast outside. I have a cup of coffee in front of me.

The only way it could be better was if my husband was at home to enjoy it with me.

I love being able to telecommute.

2004 Resolutions

Despite my deference to all of you who think that New Years resolutions are dumb, I have a pair. I do think that the new year — buffered as it is by time off — is a good time to consider what you have done with your life, and what you hope to be doing. In general, I’m pleased with my life. I love my husband more and more with each passing day. I actually really like my job (even though I’ll be working today, it’s at least my own call). I feel like I contribute to my world through my work at church. There’s nothing quite like feeling that I actually *do* have an impact on these kids, and that their experience of adolescence is different because I am here. I could be skinnier — but I’m not horribly obese. I have made concrete plans to do stuff I always wanted to do this year.

So my resolutions are small things, but things that have bothered me.

1) I hereby resolve to remember and celebrate the significant days of my friends and family with cards. I like sending cards. I like rubber stamping cards. I like staying in contact with the people I love. I have the organizational capacity to put these things all together. I will send people cards for their birthdays and anniversaries.

2) I hereby resolve to memorize one poem a month. Again, I have the capacity and the ability, I just need the determination and organization. I am planning, this weekend, to find the 12 poems I want to memorize for the year, and print them out, and put them in various places. I love having poetry memorized, and there is no reason I shouldn’t do mor eof it.

I have a vague recollection of a third resolution, but it must not be very important if I can’t remember it. And I don’t want to resolve to do stuff that I don’t find important to me.