WHY: The Marriage Metaphor

I enjoy a slightly hipster-esque–Indie–Folksy–Blue Grass band by the name of The Civil Wars. One of the first songs I fell in love with is called Poison and Wine. I love the words, I love the timbre of their voices, I love the way they haunt and redeem my heart with every chord.

Last week was a bit of a rough one emotionally. Not only for me, but also for others that I know and love. Sometimes, there is this illusion that seminary students, counseling students, future pastors and teachers have their “stuff” figured out. But the truth is, we’re actually very messy people.

A few brief examples:

My friend who is “engaged” but is on break.
One that I look up to who is struggling with depression.
There’s another who is struggling with burn out from ministry (already!) and depression.
A new friend who is coming out of depression but has mixed direction on life.
Another who is dealing with childhood abuse.
Everyone who can’t afford their lives.
The one who is so desperate for love they keep going back to the same broken relationship.
My friend who longs to know that God does love him.
The one, surrounded by friends, who still feels alone.

These are the people I do life with, each and every day. It’s exhausting, it’s beautiful, it’s truth. Over the weekend I went out with a couple friends after one of them had moved into a new apartment. I had heard some basic things about his off kilter relationship, but that night I asked a few more questions. I wanted to get to know this man better, and as a friend, part of that required knowing his story, his relationships, his hopes, the things his world revolves around. The story given was not long but it was full of sorrow amidst lingering hopes. When we returned to their house from the restaurant, I stood outside with the roommate I am very close to suddenly found myself overwhelmed by sadness. I burst into tears. My friend wrapped his arms around me while I cried and repeatedly mumbled the same questions.

Why does He let this go on?
When is He coming back?
When will He put things to rights? Bind up our sores, heal our broken bones?

My friend, of course, couldn’t say. These are questions that have plagued human history and Christianity is no exception. The failure of God to come when we expect has always been a mystery in human suffering.

I managed to pull myself together enough to get in my car and make it onto the highway. I pulled the pieces together and placed trembling hands on the steering wheel as I guided the little sedan through late night traffic and construction. It didn’t take long, however, before my lack of control resurfaced. Two exits after my entrance to the highway the same sadness overwhelmed me. I cried the entire way home, a twenty minute drive of blurred lights and stifled sobs.

In the midst of this, as I pounded my steering wheel and demanded to know when He will return, the sounds of The Civil Wars whispered through my stereo. Poison and Wine seems, at first listening, to be a song of dried up hopes and long forgotten love. It is a relationship kept alive only by the power of will, by sheer stubbornness. Or so it seems.

There is a part in the song that suddenly hit home that night on the highway. The music crescendoes and the man sings in a terrifyingly raw tone, “I don’t have a choice, but I still choose you.” They surge into the chorus where their voices mingle together, singing desperately, “Oh, I don’t love you, but I always will!”

It seems so open, so broken, so lost and hopeless.

But I suddenly understood why the Prophets, Israel, the New Testament writers–why even Jesus himself–calls us His wife. The Scriptures have long said we are the promiscuous wife who runs to others, who forgets her first love, who stands on the street corners outside a house of sexual indecency, who lies and scorns the things of her husband. We have always gone running to other things, and God has always stood waiting.

That is only one side of it though.

It’s true, I’m a child of indecency, and I often go after things that lead only to my destruction. It’s true that I pursue other lovers, that I forget the One who redeemed me, who cleaned me, gave me new clothes and took me into his home with nothing to offer him.

But there is another side, the one we face day in and day out. It is the side of sinful reality. The world is broken. Jesus hasn’t yet come back. We speak of progress and the improvement of man, but we have only improved ways of killing each other, ways of keeping the poor underfoot. I railed at God in my car on Sunday night, beating the steering wheel with a tightly closed fist. It isn’t the first time my car or my body has been abused for the frustration of His postponed return. Sunday night won’t be the last time I get angry and tell God He’s wrong for waiting, it won’t be the last time I ask Him to come back right now and save us from all this mess.

But, I realized the marriage metaphor is not only about a wife who has abandoned her master.

It’s about a wife who waits patiently for her husband, trusting that he’ll be true to his word as he always has been.

“I don’t have a choice, but I still choose you,” they sang as I raced down the highway through a construction zone where even the cops themselves drive over the limit. I stood in the city, burning its way to the ground in selfish debt and hopeless sin. I drove on the edge of town to a place where the sin and violence are the stories in the lives of my neighbours.

And I thought, I’ve tried to run from the faith so many times, Abba, but you always hold on to me. I don’t have a choice. I don’t have a way of getting out of what I know to be true. I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to.

But I don’t want to leave.

I don’t have “freedom” to leave. But even if I did, I wouldn’t want to. Even when I don’t love God, I always will. I will always choose Him, even when I think He is dawdling in His return. It’s like a marriage. A covenant. I agreed to stay, and so I will. Just as He has waited and stayed for me, so I will wait on Him.

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Poe: our favourite morbid American poet and a doctrinal summaries paper

”The death of a beautiful woman, is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” [E. A. Poe]

It’s a bit morbid, granted, but I’ve been thinking about this statement a good deal over the week. I have an app on my macbook that gives me quotes from Edgar Allen Poe every time I scroll over the particular desktop where it is located. Some are more amusing than the one above. For instance, I just glanced back and read this one: ”If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” It is so true! Annoyingly true!

But as I said, I’d been thinking about the death of a beautiful woman, and considering why that would be a rather poetic thing to consider. Let’s be honest, Poe was a bizarre individual. He wrote beautiful, imaginative poetry and narratives. Some of them are haunting simply because they are so well described and the reader can easily envision the words he tells. I remember having nightmares in high school about The House of Usher. (There is a reason I don’t watch horror movies.)

But there is more to the quote than Poe’s obsession with analyzing, describing and memorializing death. Think of the classics we read in high school: The Killer Angels, Anthem, Animal Farm, Asher Lev, etc. Granted, not all of those listed have death at the focal point, but there is a sense of darkness in all of them, something that pervades the stories and something that we desperately read over and over and over.

I just finished a paper from my Doctrine I class. It’s a doctrinal summaries paper. [Thrilling title, I know.] In essence, I had to choose six doctrines and give three different perspectives on each. If you know me at all, the three theologians won’t be difficult to guess: Wayne Grudem, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Integrative. I wrote on the Trinity, immanence vs transcendence, general revelation, scriptural authority, the imago dei and the transmission of the sin nature. If you don’t know what all those are, or you simply don’t care, bear with me. I won’t give you the 22 pages I’m handing in on Monday. Promise.

The imago dei (image of God) and the transmission of the sin nature were the two most difficult doctrines for me to work with.  I think it’s because the compassion in me wants to hope for the best, to pray we aren’t as warped and distorted by sin as Paul claims. But I’m a fairly strict Calvinist most days and last night I whispered to my new nephew that he was beautiful, handsome and perfect–except for being totally depraved. He giggled as I nuzzled his cheek and clucked my tongue and my father roared in laughter. Some of us, I muttered, are obsessed with being theologically correct, even with a nephew who can’t hold his head up.

But it’s true, you know. Did you see that man run the red light on your way home from work last night? Did you hear about the dictator killing his own people? They are broken, ruined by the fall. Yet, there isn’t only that. Did you hear about the people who ave money to Blood Water to build wells for people they’ll never even meet? Did you see the way that teenager held the door open for you as you walked out the door with too many things in your hands?

There is this awkward tension between the goodness of humanity, the reasoning, the grace, the mental abilities, the beauty we can create, the impulse to create and hope and dream–coupled with the tendency to fight, to destroy and use our abilities for creating new, more efficient ways of killing each other, for gaining power and ruining the earth. It is not as though every human being is as bad as they possibly could be. Total depravity simply says every aspect of human nature has been compromised.

Coming back to Poe, we must remember that there is, despite the complications, still beauty in the world. Today the earth is bright and flushed with colours because of the thunderstorm last night. The girls I nanny giggled today, making faces, playing peekaboo and when one cried the other hugged her and found a toy to comfort her. “You’re okay, Lil’” she said, “mommy will be home soon. Don’t cry.” There is tenderness among humans that can not be explained except for our high position, bearing the image of an intrinsically good and relational God.

Poe says the death of a beautiful woman is poetic.

I think he could have said the death of anyone with beauty is poetic. There’s something in human nature that recognizes the problem of death. We see that this is not how things were meant to be and it is most clearly reflected by the death of beauty. In a strange way, we see our depravity, our hopeless state when darkness swallows up fleeting glory and beauty. This isn’t how it was meant to be, our soul whispers, and then we put words around the phenomenon to try and understand it.

In the end, Christians have a sense of hope. We look forward to a time when the image will no longer be distorted and we will not give birth to another crooked generation. Instead, the imago dei and humanity will be renewed at the end of days to our former glory. At that point, in our ontological reformation, we will only produce that which is good, holy and pure as we were originally intended to do.

In that day, we will not need death to remind us that something is missing. Because in that day, it will be missing no longer.

WHY: Living Among Refugees

I’ve talked about this briefly in other posts, or perhaps, I’ve only mentioned the bare facts of the case: that I live in a rough(ish) part of town among refugees. I’ve thought about telling you more, for many months in fact. But today, with soft grey skies and the hope of a thunderstorm this afternoon, I thought I would tell you more.

We moved there almost a year ago. Molls and I had been talking about living together for a few months. She wanted a house, a yard, I knew I could never afford that. So we drove around and I let her look at signs, always knowing in my heart that this would never come to be. I simply didn’t have the income. Eventually, when nothing turned up, we  both put the idea on hold. I wasn’t panicked yet. Sure, G and J were moving and I needed a place asap. I didn’t worry though, because my life always turns out to be alright. But I thought that was the end of living with Molls and I started to consider (in thought if not in reality) other options.

So when Molly called on a rainy afternoon that I actually had off of work, I was surprised. I barely asked her how she was doing before she cut me off with “I found where I want to live and I think when you see it, you’ll want to live here too.” She was talking fast, about visiting Baba and children in the courtyard, something about Aurora and a landlord who could hold an apartment for two white girls. I paced and waited for her to come up for air. My mind was whirling. I remember looking at N, the guy I was dating at the time and I could see in his eyes, there would be disapproval. She said, “Colfax and 225, but there are so many kids,” and “you just have to see it.” Before I even knew, there were words coming out, “yeah. when?” We hung up, and N asked what was going on. I told him and when he asked where it was, he muttered in an exasperated tone, “I knew you were going to say that.”

He wasn’t the only one. As soon as the word colfax comes out of my mouth, anyone who has lived in Colorado long enough just looks at me like I’m crazy. Two single, white girls, there?

I understand why they question it. In the summer time, E bought dowel rods because it made Molly feel better about leaving the windows partially open at night. I was dying every time she closed the glass, suffocating with out air conditioning, despite the massive box fan lodged in my window during the day. The heat was brutal. But Molly was worried about someone breaking in so we put rods in the windows. To this day, whenever one of us forgets to lock the door at night, I never tell her in the morning. I almost always leave first, and as far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t need to have extra worry added to her burdens. But it isn’t just the windows and doors. There were five cops at the apartment next door only a couple months ago. Across the breezeway there were cops to settle a domestic dispute. Sometimes–when I get home from a late night out–the parking lot makes me anxious. Once I’m inside the courtyard, I feel safe. But the lot is a different story.

So you see, I understand the concern because I feel it every night, every day.

That isn’t what I thought of when we went to visit. Y took us to an apartment that was being renovated. The twenty year old stove was pulled out from the wall, there was new carpet the colour of watery mud. The white tile was smudged with the dirt of the courtyard, tracked in by workers who we would discover are not always competent. Outside I heard kids screaming and laughing. There were children who shied away from us, but peered in the open door at our backs as we surveyed the first floor home. I think they were curious because we were white. Because we were women without men.

I don’t remember anything Y said. I remember Molly looking dismally at the dead roaches all over the floor, killed by a recent bug bomb. I kid you not, all over the floor. I kicked some of them out of my way as we went down the hall to the bedrooms. Molly would later tell me she feared that was be a turning point for me; that I would say no. I glanced down at them and shrugged. “Those are little ones,” which was true. These are the size of my little toe. The ones back in Costa Rica were the size of my palm. They’d be a nuisance but… the children outside, the dreary rainy day, the cold tile beneath my sandals and the uneven cabinets… it was like coming home.

There were so many languages being yelled in the courtyard that day. There were ethnicities and clothes I didn’t recognize. The parking lot was (and is) a mess of potholes and unevenly parked cars. The bedroom windows looked onto the highway. But the breezeways were open and there were trees in the courtyard. There were children and isolated mothers, wearied men and lost grandparents who hardly survive the transition to this country.

It was home. It was everything I longed for, even when I did not always know it.

I said yes. We signed a lease two weeks later.

It isn’t always easy. Sometimes I stay away until late at night because I can’t deal with being needed as soon as I get home. My little free time is easily sucked away by people who want to talk, who want your help, or who just want to be with you. Molly is much better at it than I am. It’s an annoying drive to school–30 minutes on a good day. The workers are incompetent at fixing most things. I wish I was closer to the mountains that always wait so patiently for me to come and find my rest. Last night I walked into the bathroom at 1230 to find a cockroach on the toilet. I didn’t even apologize as I killed him and wiped the seat clean. The refugees get married too young, they drop out of school, they don’t do homework, they don’t fight for their jobs or their GEDs. I don’t know how to help them. I don’t know how to explain Jesus to them because he is so easily entangled with my western churched perspective. I’ve cried with friends about the frustration, the hopelessness, the incensed anger I have to the societies that drove them here and our failure to make their lives much better than the ones they fled.

But there are these times when I am reminded of why we went there.

A few weeks ago, I climbed the stairs after another long day of classes and work. The sun was shining and I was hot. The children were back in the courtyard, riding second hand bicycles and kicking a half flat soccer ball. There was a little girl spinning in a circle, her skirt twirling around her. She wore a hijab* of brown with faded teal blue swirls that look like sunbursts. Her sweet face was framed by the cloth of her land, her smile was brilliant as she giggled and hopped from one foot to another. The orange of her hijab clashed horribly with the dress she wore but one could hardly notice that for the glow of her eyes in the warm light that covered the rowdy courtyard. She spun again and again to the delight of a younger sibling, wearing her own hijab of flowered print. They were playing with the Nepali girls, battling through cultural and language differences. I walked on the breezeway above their heads, leaning over the railing to watch them with enraptured hope that these children could someday heal the wars of clashing civilizations. Boys hung off the railing, jumping ten feet to the cement below with wild laughter. Women squabbled and laughed and pushed their children in strollers or held babes on their hips. There was a woman in purest white, her hijab edged in bright yellow that glowed like the sun and made me long for summer. She has such dark, smooth skin, she is what the ancients might have called a Nubian beauty.

And that was what I thought of as I walked to my apartment, where I left the door open and dumped my bags, like empty burdens, as I sat on the arm of a stained white chair.

That little girl, spinning in her mismatched clothing, she was beautiful. I don’t know her name, but I want to. The sound of their laughter and shouts rang in the open door, the afternoon breeze drifted lazily through the courtyard, bringing with it the scent of curry and unknown spices.

There is beauty here, and that is why we came. It is not the sort of beauty that America looks for: clean, contrived and subdued. It is the type of beauty that survives, that endures, that stands strong, that remains true. It is the beauty of resilient humanity that remains ever hopeful.

We came for the beauty.

And I, for the first time in at least four or five years, I was gifted a home.

 

___________________
Hijab: muslim head covering for women. Though, this one might technically be more of a chador or at least has some resemblance to being worn with a jilbab. Basically, the Somali hijab covers more than the typical ones I’m used to seeing.

Easter

I didn’t post yesterday because it was a busy day of church with some of our refugee children followed by hiking and an excellent dinner of lamb, potatoes, asparagus and other goodies.

Church was a delightful experience of fellowship, song and communion.

Hiking was a glorious way to celebrate the new life in Jesus.

Dinner was a perfect ending to the exhausting weekend of emotional upheaval.

It was a perfect day for Jesus to come back. It was sunny, warm and the skies were brightest blue. We broke fast, we reveled in the hope of the coming glory, we laughed and sang, we shared our fears and dreams.

And then K had to come back from the mountains to finish mounds of homework. I put off the work that today will catch up and eat me alive. J went back to searching for a job, praying for things to come through, waiting on the Providence. E had hives when he got ready for bed with no explanation as to the cause. My parents fell asleep, praying against garlic and migraines that had stuffed our roasted lamb. It was… interesting.

He’s come back! He’s come back! I wanted to jump up and down and shout it. He’s here! He’s here!

But he isn’t really. Still waiting, still hoping. Like springtime and summer. Half the grass outside has turned a shade of brilliant green and many of the trees are sporting new buds of hopeful life. But the ground is still brown in some places, and the trees are still bare in others.

He’s back! He’s here! He’s alive!

But we’re still waiting for that day, when He really comes back and rescues us from all this toil and muck and sin.

He’s  back! And yet, he’s still to come.

Good Friday

I would love to post something brilliant, deep and full of wisdom for the somber day that we woke to.

Unfortunately, there are no brilliant words of wisdom that come to mind….

The wind howled last night, during my OT Prophets class and she pushed my little Hyundai to and fro on the highway as I made my way across town. It was a long day, an exhausting day. I returned home to children in my apartment learning the story of God who died 2000 years ago. I snuggled under a blanket next to one of them on the couch and stared blankly ahead at the walls of our hallway. I finally made my way to bed, with flannel sheets to keep out the draft of my window beyond which the skies still blew in stormy rage.

It’s like the world knows. Like creation knows. She’s groaning. Waiting, hoping.

And I, with a hot electric pad clutched to my abdomen, I fell asleep to the sound of the wind beating against our home of brick and mortar, the sound of the earth screaming against the injustice of it all.

Today, the wind still blows, warm and dry. What was it like, to stand in the courtyard and listen to the trial? What was it like to watch the procession, the bloodied path to the city’s outskirts where the scapegoat had always been sent to die, bearing the burden of the people’s sins as he wandered into the desert beyond the camp. What was it like?

Tonight, we go to service, and we’ll remember the day that Jesus died. It’s black and dark and somber.

It is, in many ways, the darkest and most beautiful time of the year.

O sacred Head, no wounded
with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, Thine only crown
How pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, has suffered,
T’was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever,
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee. 

WHY: The Hunger Games

[there are spoilers regarding the plot. beware]
[this is also ridiculously long. no apologies.]

I don’t read much teen fiction. To be honest, I don’t lately read much fiction at all. I’m working through an ancient copy of Robin Hood in Old English, but other than that the last novel I read was actually for class–I just turned in the paper yesterday. I wanted to read The Hunger Games because the movie previews looked intriguing and I have this need to read the book before seeing the movie based on it. The timing for such a plan didn’t work out this time as I saw the movie on Spring Break before I was able to access the book. So I did the reverse of my normal and I saw the movie last Tuesday, but finished the book this morning over breakfast.

It was decent. I mean, let’s be honest, I don’t think Suzanne Collins’ strength is in her writing ability… it’s fairly simplistic. What is motivating is her plot line and the dialogue. The characters aren’t poorly developed, but you don’t get to see as much as you might want since it’s written in first person. Collins’ use of present tense was a good one. I’ve done some experimenting with present tense and it’s always fun to write in. I enjoyed reading it because it forces you to be a part of the novel, to experience what is going on just as the characters do. In a sense, it draws you  in and makes the story more real, more tangible, as you fly through the pages of simple writing and intensely fractured view of reality.

There’s been this storm of opinions about The Hunger Games. It’s ranked #5 on the list of banned books for 2010 thanks to violence and sexual content. You know what else made the list that year? Brave New World by Huxley was  #3 while Nickeled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenriech was #8. I’ve read them both. I can’t lie, Huxley’s book was a little disturbing as a sheltered high schooler and I didn’t like it. In college, Ehrenreich’s book changed my life, my view on poverty in America. She might be one of many reasons I live in the inner city on less than $1000 a month.

But the Hunger Games… People are angry about the violence, the situational ethics, the sexual material, the brutish and flawed government presented, as well as a thousand other tiny details. Here’s where I’m going to get myself into trouble and not support my more typical conservative opinion on the media we put in our heads. Usually, I don’t like graphic media. I don’t think that we should overly engage violence in our entertainment, and I’m all about keeping certain aspects of sexuality in the bedroom, between husband and wife. I want to follow the mandate to only focus on that which is good, pure, lovely, righteous. I think that’s why Christians have flipped a lid over The Hunger Games. A game of 24 teenagers thrown into a massive arena and told to kill or be killed while the entire event is nationally televised and the nation is required to tune in? It doesn’t sound like anything pure, lovely, or righteous. But wait before you stone me when I say this:

Kids should read this book. And I mean kids: high schoolers. middle schoolers. the whole lot of them.

Just like I had to read 1984 and Brave New World.

Collins paints a realistic and sobering picture of a dystopia. It’s a world where the districts outside the capital scrape by with very little while those inside the great city wait anxiously for each year’s new edition of The Games. It’s a reality borne of previous war and strife, a rebellion which the Capital put down and constantly reminds the districts of when they reap children (tributes) for their games. I think there are a few major reasons kids should read this, and parents or adults without kids should read it alongside them–not only to help talk through things with their children, but also for their own benefit.

Situational Ethics
It’s true, there are situational ethics in the book/movie which lends itself to a problematic view of absolute moral truth. When you’re thrown into the arena, told to kill or be killed, it doesn’t leave much room for negotiation. There simply isn’t time to consider right and wrong. Not when you are being hunted by a teenager twice your size who’s been training for this event for years (even though that’s technically illegal). It makes sense that parents and others are unnerved by the perverse lack of rules governing the games. In a post-modern world where anything that makes you happy is accepted (so long as it doesn’t infringe on my rights), people want to cling to some absolute, ethical standards.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stand up. Christians themselves accept a certain amount of situational ethics. Do I lie to the Nazis about the Jews hidden in the basement? Or do I tell the truth and get them all killed? Hm. That’s situational. That’s not a clear ethical choice, if you consider that both options are technically “wrong,” or engaging in some amount of “sin.” So you take the least of evils and you lie about the Jews and breathe a sigh of relief when you’ve saved not only your life but those who have been placed in your care.

In the Games, Katniss (the main character) says finally at the end that she doesn’t want any other tributes to die. She, by volunteering to go in her sister’s place, broke the norm of those in her district who consider the Games to be a death sentence. While in the arena, she puts on a good show for the watching world, often struggling not to openly mourn the loss of those around her. In the last few chapters, she mercifully ends Cato’s life as he is slowly being eaten alive by mutated dogs. When the end comes down to her and Peeta, the other tribute from her district, Katniss makes a choice not to kill though he is volunteering to die for her. The pair break free of the situation and the ethics found in the arena as they decide to commit suicide and end the Games without a winner. So, you see, the argument about situational ethics doesn’t hold up. This is one reason kids should read the book: to be reminded that when all the pressure of the world tells you to do something you know is wrong, you don’t have to do it. Some things aren’t worth living for.

Humanity
There are several instances of nudity in the book. These are not perverse, they are carefully crafted. During the week before the Games, Katniss and the other tributes spend time in the Capital, training and interviewing on television. They are scored on their abilities, they are the consideration of gamblers, they vie for sponsors, etc. In all this, Katniss is repeatedly dressed in various costumes, her hair is done, her face disappears under makeup, she is instructed how to act and talk, and somewhere in the mess of costumes and acting, she loses her humanity. It is not as though Katniss herself forgets humanity, but rather she becomes an object to the people around her. Those in the Capital do not see a young woman who provides for her family at home. They see only a subject to be manipulated and wagered on. When they are in the arena, it is sometimes as though the tributes forget themselves and forget that the others around them are also humans. Instead, they are only prey–as Peeta will refer to himself and Katniss when Cato hunts them. They are objects of slaughter by their fellow man, for the entertainment of those who in the Capital, who are entirely devoid of reality.

It’s important to read things like this and be reminded that “they” are always humans too. We’re in the midst of two wars. Our men, our women are still overseas–or have you forgotten? We’re facing another deployment in my family. Maybe this time the military will actually tell us where he is sent. But the thing I come back to, time and again, are the people who are already over “there.” The Afghanis, the Iraqis, and the thousand of others whose lives we are involved in without ever claiming responsibility. They are human too, they have value and worth in the eyes of God. Do we remember that? Or do we simply dehumanize them so they are easier to kill? So that they are simply objects to bet on? It’s easy to do that when there is distance, when we look at them as something to be modified, molded into our cultural likeness. It’s what the people in the Capital do. They hold Katniss and the others at arms length–able to engage them and their stories enough to make the Games interesting and entertaining; always pushing them far enough away so their deaths don’t quite matter. Our children should know better. You don’t do this with other humans, no matter the past rebellions, or the class divisions. Because people do not become animals when you throw them into the arena, no matter how they act. The imago die may be distorted but it is not erased.

Entertainment
The book and movie both acknowledge that the main point of the Hunger Games is to keep the various districts under control. But those in the Capital do not always remember the war in the same way the Districts do. For them, the Hunger Games are cause for celebration. There are parades and parties that last late into the nights. Do you see what is wrong with this? These people are celebrating the entertainment that they find in watching teenagers kill each other. I’ve started to read Amusing Ourselves to Death . It’s a brilliant expose of what is going wrong in America when we only want to be entertained, rather than required to think. The first chapter compares 1984 where we are overcome by something outside of us (i.e.: Big Brother) and A Brave New World where we are overcome by that which is inside us. His argument is that we are being destroyed by the second.

I think that the Hunger Games is a simplistic version of this argument for my generation (or the generation behind me). Collins’ shows how wrong it is to watch people kill each other as though it’s only a show. It’s a startling discourse on our obsession with entertainment without thought. For the educated, it harkens back to the battle of the Minatour when 7 boys and 7 girls were sacrificed for the city of Athens; more historically it is a science fiction version of The Games in ancient Rome when we reveled in the blood of the gladiators and slaves eaten by half starved lions. You see, this isn’t a new thing. It’s just reinvented, cleaned up with more technology and brighter colours (and noticeably less sand). It’s a question for us:

will we become the Capital?
Thirsty for entertainment to the point of throwing children to their deaths for our amusement?

or will we stand and fight when such a time comes?
Will we remember to think for ourselves and remember the value of human life?
Will we stand up to the government, as Christians,

as humans?

 

or crumble into oblivion? stupefied by our own refusal to engage?

Palm Sunday

It’s Holy Week.

Doesn’t look like it in Colorado. After hot days all weekend long and an obscenely dry March, today is cloudy and the grey. The mountains looked like ghosts when I arrived in Littleton, they are barley visible, even from this distance. In Aurora, when I entered the highway rush hour, you couldn’t see the mountains at all. It’s dark and windy, the chill is back and my there is a weight in the air that you can feel, even within the confines of the library that shouldn’t be using electric lights so late in the morning.

Yesterday was brilliant, hot with blazing life across the front range. I wore shorts yesterday, shaved my legs and pulled on a pink tshirt that once belonged to my parents’ ill-wed neighbour. It was warm enough to take children outside to play in the waning light at the evening sunday school I run. We laughed and screamed on slides and monkey bars with toddlers still learning to speak.

Yesterday fell like a proper Palm Sunday though I did not attend a church service.

It was warm and the sun was throwing life towards the earth with careless joy. Trees have started to glow with buds of every colour and the grass has turned green almost overnight. It’s springtime. In Israel, in ancient Palestine, this is the time for lambs, for calves and new life all around. It’s the time when shepherds keep watch over their flocks at night and once heard angels sing of a king born in stubby little Bethlehem.

But we didn’t celebrate Bethlehem yesterday.

Yesterday, my Saviour rode triumphant into the glorious city that had once been Israel’s jewel. Yesterday, the crowds clapped and sang for him, they threw down cloaks and palm branches because a horse bearing such majesty ought to walk on cleaner ground than dusty old Jerusalem’s stones. They whooped and hollered, beads of sweat on wearied faces that yesterday held only smiles as they forgot, momentarily, the travails of life under Roman occupation. And he came in, on that donkey, and the disciples walked alongside him…were they proud to be at his side? Did they think fame and glory would soon follow such an entrance to the city where David and Solomon once ruled?

I’ve been thinking about what it was like, that day in Palestine. What were the Romans thinking? Another grungy zealot, leading people to their deaths in hopeless rebellion against the greatest empire the world had yet seen. Did they think him a madman and laugh? Perhaps, but it was a laughter tinged with anxiety: what might this madmen do? The Zealots were always attacking, ever since Judas Maccabeaus, attacking like ghosts, then melting into the countryside without a trace until the next assault. Would the troublesome Jews rebel? The country was full of madmen, claiming only one God and refusing to light incense of Caesar. Lunatics.

But even lunatics are dangerous.

Did the disciples yet understand what awaited them at the Passover feast? Or did they think like the Romans that this could end with war? I don’t think they expected him to die. He was Messiah, after all! Anointed one! Didn’t the Prophets of old anoint the ones who led them in to battle agains their enemies? What of Saul! Or David! David, of course, to whom God gave peace on all sides. And what of them, the twelve? They would be given places of honour when government was wrenched away from the puppet kings who were not born of the Davidic line. As they walked at the side of the donkey, how odd, a donkey! Not a triumphal creature, but lowly and foolish. As they walked beside the beast that carried their teacher, their master, did they expect a more triumphal entry than this one today? With the palm branches and the cloaks flung down for them to walk on; could there be greater things coming next?

But glory is not always what we expect.

But what, I wonder, did the common folk think? Here was a man front he outlying prospects of Nazareth, a Jew who lived in Gentile Galilee. A carpenter turned Rabbi. His face wasn’t handsome but the hands that held the reigns were strong and firm. His gaze looked sorrowful, despite the fervor around him and the cheering onslaught of the crowd come out to greet him. Do you think they wondered why? To look at the soldiers in their burnished armor, swords at their sides in easy reach, with helmets reflecting the bright springtime sun, to see those marks of domination, oppression and suffering and despite their fear, to cheer boldly for the man on his donkey. This morning, this afternoon, this was a day to mark down in history they must have thought. This was the rescue, so long awaited. See the gates opening to him, see the crowds press in with anxious hope. Feel the temperatures soar with the heat of bodies crushing against each other, hoping for a glance, just one, to see the Messiah who would break all fear and renew all hopes. Look at him! They cried to each other. This ride into Jerusalem it is the marked entrance of a king! This is the way they rode in when they conquered us! The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Seleucids, the Greeks, the Romans! But now comes one of our own, and he will call them to account as Moses did in Egypt. He will establish peace and justice as David did, as Solomon kept. But he will do it better than even they! We will have food to way and clothes to wear. We will have dreams to hope for and no longer regret the world into which we bear our children. This man is hope, this man is justice, he will establish Torah and we will live under the Shadow of Glory as when we made the covenant at Sinai. We are being rescued, they thought, they hoped. And so they shouted, hosanna because no other words could describe the burning in their hearts.

But rescue comes in many ways.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. Bright and warm, with hope for springtime and new beginnings.

Today is grey and cold.

When did the hope die? When did the people run in fear? When did they turn and betray him? How could their hearts so quickly falter? How could they have stopped believing so soon, so easily? Today, with hidden mountains, I can feel the anxiety, and the weighty sorrow of ended dreams. Lent is coming to an end, I thought of this today when I longed so desperately for a warm soy chai after a morning of traffic and errands before work, before school. Last week was Spring Break and for a few fleeting days I felt free, excited for summer, energized and thrilled by creation, beauty and all that is life. But then today came, and the triumph is gone.

Jesus has entered Jerusalem. Passover comes now.

With unsteady hands and tensed shoulders, with furrowed brows and wearied feet, we wait. Will it be the Passover of Moses in a new place, freeing from new oppression? Or will this be another failed Messiah, another judgement against us, another refusal to rescue as we’ve long been waiting for?

Yesterday was triumph.
Today is suspense.