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.

A holy time of year

This morning, in the midst of my routine and sleepwalking life, was a truly unexpected moment. I was travelling my morning commute (the sans husband one, sadly). I was passing the Wyoming graveyard, which is large and low, and sometimes misty in the mornings. This morning it was pale in filtered morning sunlight, with iced-over snow between marble tombstones. I was passing between it’s high stone walls and a strip of houses backed between graveyard and gray cliff this morning, when I saw low movement. I braked, so as not to hit whatever it was. And there, 7 miles from the center of Boston, in the quiet urban landscape between rowhomes and tombstones, walked a red fox. His tail was bushy. He looked energetic and cheerful, crossing in front of me. Against the paleness of the morning, he was brightly and vividly red.

How does this fox come to find a home in the midst of thick habitations? Does he make his living on pets incautiously let outdoors? Is he on some journey, headed towards less and less hospitable lands? Why was I given to see him in this time between Solstice and Christmas?

There are rational answers for all, but I do not feel the siren call of rationality. To the opposite, right now I yearn for mystery and nature, the unknown and unknowable, for purpose and intent in the universe without my necessarily needing to know what that purpose is.

And today, this morning, I saw a red fox in the Wyoming graveyard, beshrouded in snow.

On how I affect others

Apologies ahead of time if this sounds conceited, self-centered etc. It is a self-realization, but a a self-realization about something that’s good about me, which I don’t feel nearly as comfortable talking about as my many flaws.

For those of you who know me in real life (and perhaps it even comes through on LJ), I’m a happy person. I tend to be cheerful, and I tend to enjoy my life. Not that I don’t complain as much as anyone, but all in all, I have always been on the positive edge of the emotional scale.

There are times, frequent times, where I hit my zone. It’s not that I’m necessarily ebullient — although I’m that often enough too — but that I am in my own skin and quietly joyous. I may be thinking about something else… the autumn colors, the coffee I’m about to buy, how much I like Garrison Keillor, how that was a pleasing church service, but I seem to radiate something.

Yesterday, after church, I was thinking about all those things, and I was obviously in my zone. I was whistling the PHC theme song “Oh hear that old piano, from down the avenue…” as I walked through the rain to Starbucks to get coffee. And I stopped a man dead in his tracks. He said, “You must be in a good mood.” (I get this a lot. In addition to questions — often vaguely suspicious — about why I smile so much.) As usually happens in these situations, I hadn’t really been thinking about my mood, but I realized he was right. I smiled, and I told him that it was a beautiful world. He sort of nodded his head, surprised, and agreed. I was even happier then when I realized I was happy, and sort of bounced through the store. He couldn’t take his eyes off me. He waved a shell-shocked goodbye as I left.

This particular phenomenon has happened to me more than once (and often in Starbucks — one barista actually bought me a bouquet of flowers after a day like this). And you know, I’m cute but not that cute. I don’t think it’s about how I look. And yesterday I realized what it was. A joyous person is incredibly attractive. When I am happy, and in my zone, I really *see* people. I don’t look past them and I don’t look at them, I see them. I look them straight in the eyes. My head is up, and I’m engaged with the world around me. There is music in my head and in my heart, and I can’t not smile. And I think that all of those are so unusual, they really attract attention. When I’m in that state, drivers in other cars smile back at me.

When I was 16, I remember being miserable at school and hiding in a corner, hoping someone would care enough to come find me and dissuade me from my misery. You’ll be shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that never worked. But when I am joyous, and don’t actually *need* anyone to do anything for my contentment, I attract people like flies to honey.

So what’s my take-away from this? I’m not sure. I know that when you are blue and would like to attract people, it is almost impossible to radiate contentment. I don’t think it can be faked. But maybe it can be emulated when I’m not in the mood… instead of hanging my head (which is natural and pervasive), force myself to look up, and meet other people’s eyes. Smile reflexively. Try to actually see people. Joy begets joy, while isolation and misery drive away others.

Faith in God

I had an “ah ha” moment recently. For anyone who is actively involved in the life of a church, there is tons to worry about. We worry about the budget for the fiscal year. (Like all not-for-profits, churches have been enormously hit by the collision of rising needs, and dropping contributions from families who have lost jobs. Unlike many not-for-profits, an alarming number of our members have fled the incredibly expensive metropolis to live in less expensive places, or to chase jobs elsewhere.) And then there are the larger problems of a conscientious Christian. The “bright” movement (a movement of atheists) claims by contrast that Christians are either dull or not so smart — or maybe both. And the extremist hateful Christians that seem to get all the press do nothing to dissuade anyone from this view. Our world is secularizing. Across oceans, rabid and destructive types of religions are rising like bread left too near the oven — getting sour and overflowing the bowl, while losing the qualities that make bread sustaining.

We look at our youth group. We lose them at about 16. They fade away… can’t be coerced or coaxed into something as uncool as church.

And as a Christian, I get this sort of desperate energy. I have to do something. I have to be a youth leader. I have to be an apologist (in the very oldest sense of the word) to help my faith make sense to a world that thinks it understands it, and doesn’t. I have to frenetically work to preserve the church.

And here comes my “ah ha”.

Secretly, in a part of my mind, I had the thought that I need to frenetically work to preserve God. What a 20th century, faithless American thought that is. If I really believe what I think I believe, that at least I can stop worrying about. If my faith is in a God who exists seperate of me and my beliefs — of a God so powerful that he created the universe and so loving that he sustains it — then there is no way the current waning of compassionate religiousity is a threat to God. Now, it may be a threat to many other things — the institutions of the church, the country (I do NOT want a theocracy to take root in America, because I sincerely doubt it will have room for me!), civil discourse, the needy… these are all things that I should work for. But if my faith is sincere, I do not need to fret about the possibility of God disappearing from my life, and from this world. And if I really believe what I think I believe, I can also have confidence that God will be present in the world as well — calling people to compassion and kindness, as well as to confidence in him. We humans are not in this alone.

And you know, that’s a tremendous relief to me. It is not a call not to work, but it is a call to work for what I believe in context of working in cooperation with my God, instead of somehow working to preserve him.