“For it is easier to kill the Light within oneself than to scatter the Darkness around.”

Combine a weekend visit from the boyfriend, a VNV Nation concert, and a nine-page exegesis paper, and you’ve got a recipe for an exhausted me — physically, emotionally, and mentally. Things are good, though. I’m reasonably satisfied with the paper, the concert was fun and energetic and fantastic, and the time with Brad was . . . really, really nice. Just one of those weekends when everything is lovely, and we can simply be with each other. He’s so good to me; I’m so lucky to have him.

I do, occasionally, wonder if my happiness causes bad things to happen, like the Virgin in Night Watch. My last two visits to Israel were in the summers of 2000 and 2006 — right when the al-Aqsa Intifada and the Israel-Lebanon conflict sprung up. One of my nicest weekend vacations with Brad took place literally right as Katrina was hitting New Orleans. And now, as we ate our last meal together before his plane left, we saw the news about Virginia Tech on the deli TV. It’s a horribly solipsistic view, of course.

It just . . . feels like this Easter has been a season of death. Thank God, nobody close to me has passed away, but so many people seem to be dealing with loss. And ultimately, there is no good answer to that loss. Today’s Dinosaur Comics is, as usual, funny, but it makes a really good point: relationships are not a capitalistic venture. It doesn’t matter if things “happen for a reason,” or “all work out eventually”; what matters is what we’re feeling, there and then. And that’s what humanity is, I suppose. We can’t cut ourselves off from those emotions, but we seek to transcend them.

In Thursday’s Feminist Theology group discussion, we talked about forms of violence in the world that we feel personally called to combat. I related a story from the previous week. I’d spent a while, one evening, reading about the AIDS epidemic in Zambia: almost a tenth of the population consists of AIDS orphans, 1% of the population dies every year from AIDS alone, and two thirds of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Still shivering from those statistics, I went into work the next day, and listened to one of my coworkers — a former accountant — rail against people who tried to limit the amount of money people could earn. “Capitalism is what made us the greatest country in the world,” he said, “and there is nothing wrong with making a million dollars a year.” I listened to him, and I thought: how dare we call ourselves “great” when we withhold resources from countries like Zambia? And how dare we consider million-dollar salaries “moral” when the wasteful wealth they propagate leaves the world’s poor dying by the roadside?

Well, after I talked about this, Professor Farley made a really helpful comment. Though sympathetic to my frustration, she commented that we can’t let the violence all around us overwhelm us. And it’s true. The world is such an enormous place, filled with so many people and events, that the evil and suffering can seem insurmountable — but so can the good, if we consider it instead. The gunman in Virginia Tech used his life to cause death and pain to dozens of people, but when faced with problems like that of the AIDS epidemic, the dedication of even one person’s life can give life and hope to hundreds or thousands. That’s what I’m trying to remember.

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Intent, Impact, and Forgiveness

For all that non-profit canvassing groups may knock on your door at dinnertime, they often do an excellent job teaching leadership skills. One of the conflict resolution techniques that we taught most often was called “intent versus impact.” It’s a two-sided lesson; we need to recognize that actions that impact us negatively may not have been intended to harm, but we also need to recognize that our own actions can harm, no matter how good our intent. Really, it’s just another version of the Seven Habits rule of “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

I can do intent versus impact. I can recognize that, no matter how I would’ve taken a given action, or how someone should have taken it, all that matters is whether my action actually does hurt its recipient. It may be hard sometimes, of course, but I can do it. Likewise, I can recognize that even if I’m hurt by someone else’s action, they probably didn’t intend any wrong. These are habits, actions that can be repeated intentionally until they become almost reflexive.

What’s hard is forgiveness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, this past Holy Week. I know I haven’t posted much, but it’s not because there’s been nothing happening; quite the opposite. I spent hours in church each day from Wednesday to Sunday, in some of the most powerful and moving church services I’ve experienced. One of the themes that kept coming back to me, in different guises, was that of forgiveness. I’m reminded of a remark I heard in a sermon a few months ago, reflecting on Christ’s “new commandment” of John 13:34: just as Christ has loved us, we also should love one another.

That commandment, the speaker reminded us, is not the golden rule. The golden rule is certainly good advice for going through life; after all, we don’t want bad things to happen to us, so we shouldn’t make bad things happen to other people. But our own love, even our self-love, is limited, in both quantity and perspective. I wouldn’t ask another person to die for me; why, then, would I ever die for another person? I might desire certain objects or patterns of behavior, but that doesn’t mean I should propagate them if they’re offensive to their recipient. No, Christ’s new commandment changes the measuring stick completely. Our love for others is not measured by their love for us, but by Christ’s love for us, and that’s a love and a forgiveness that defies human limitations.

This ties into one of the biggest themes emphasized by Holy Week: our own culpability in Christ’s suffering. As one of the Good Friday hymns concludes, “I crucified Him.” My own unfaithfulness to God, along with the faithlessness of all humanity, was why Jesus died. His death wasn’t necessary, easy, or morally imperative; without humanity, Christ wouldn’t have suffered at all. Christ chose to die so I’d be able to learn how to love him, and that gift is one of the most powerful messages at all.

Forgiveness, you see, is a gift. It’s a gift that God gave me, a gift that God gives me each week through the sacraments and through the Spirit. That’s why I can give it away to other people; they don’t deserve it, but neither did I. Forgiveness isn’t about justifying what other people did, or making their reactions understandable. It’s certainly not about being recompensed or revenged for their wrong, tit for tat. It just . . . is. It’s the statement of “yes, you did hurt me, but I choose to forgive you; I choose to move past it and invest my love into this relationship anyway.”

Forgiveness is hard. I don’t understand it. But I’m trying, with slow and fumbling movements, to learn.

Seder Accomplished

Well, after several years of doing this on my own, I think I’m getting the hang of Passover. This year was the most painless yet; between portioning out tasks to guests and roommate, trimming down the menu to the basics, and knowing what to do when, almost everything went smoothly.

For most things, I stuck to the faithful recipes that I grew up with: haroseth with apples, walnuts, and dates; hazereth with beets and just a bit of grated horseradish. I was raised on gefilte fish Passovers, but I’ve discovered that baked white fish is much more universally popular, so I made some broiled fish with olive oil and a light sprinkling of spices. I’ll have to remember the broiling trick for the future; all I had to do was prepare the fish ahead of time on its pan, cover it in the fridge, and stick it under the broiler when the main meal began. By the time we’d eaten the eggs and the matzo ball soup, it was perfectly cooked.

Sadly, I couldn’t say the same for the soup. Last year, I remembered a friend recommending a particular online recipe for vegan matzo balls. One of my roommates is celebrating an Eastern Orthodox Lent (no meat, milk, dairy, eggs, olive oil, or alcohol), so I wanted to make sure that everything except the actual fish and meat courses were okay for her to eat, and I decided I’d use it as an opportunity to try out the recipe. I made vegetable broth according to the recipe, and that should’ve been my first warning sign; it came out bland, flat, and disproportionately parsnip-sweet. After I added a liberal blend of herbs and spices and boiled it down, it ended up tasting quite nice, but at that point, I couldn’t really credit the original recipe for it. The matzo balls, on the other hand, tasted fine, but half of them crumbled apart in the course of cooking. It may have been my own fault; I made my own matzo meal from matzot, instead of buying the finer-textured preground stuff, and I might have had the water at too high of a boil. However, I’ve never had trouble making matzo balls before, so in future, I think I’ll just stick with what I know and give the vegans something else to eat.

At any rate. The main course was simple but tasty: roasted vegetables and potatoes, prepared by my roommate; a basic chopped salad, prepared by a friend; and beef tzimmes with sweet potatoes, prepared by me. I used a recipe I found online that originated from Faye Levy, my favorite Jewish cookbook writer, though I substituted sweet potato for the butternut squash because that’s what the supermarket had. The result was, if I do say so, one of the best stews I’ve ever made, and a universal success; the beef practically melted in the mouth, melding with the sweet potatoes and prunes to provide a rich, savory sweetness. I made the stew yesterday, so all I had to do today was reheat it, and I think that the overnight rest helped it develop and harmonize its flavors even further. Definitely a recipe I’ll make again, if I ever feel like something slightly gluttonous but honest.

At any rate, all the logistics worked perfectly: everything was cooked and of the appropriate temperature when I needed it, and there was just a little left over from every dish, which is exactly what I aim for. Even the haggadah went well, despite the fact that I had to patch it together today from online sources, as my own copies are at my parents’ house. I pieced one together that included everything but the long rabbinic excursuses that I’m used to skipping anyway, and checked out two official Haggadot from the library so I’d have the Hebrew version to reference. Everyone seemed to really appreciate the ritual and readings, both enjoying themselves and learning from it. And that’s what this is all about.

Blessed are You, Lord, Who sanctifies Israel and the appointed times.