On this Easter weekend, and with the Passover just a few days behind us, it’s perhaps worth a pause to reflect on the history of those events and their connection to our present-day circumstances. To use meteorological terminology, let’s think of this as a kind of forecast-by-analogy (you can find an exposition here).
U.S. meteorologists find themselves on the ropes these days. They struggle to cope with declining, intermittent funding; satellite programs that are delayed and over-budget, with a threatened loss of continuity in polar- and geo-stationary observations; and computer resources inadequate to meet American needs and expectations for forecast accuracy. They’re facing hiring freezes, furloughs, and travel restrictions. In essence, they’re told they’ll somehow be able to do their jobs better if they do two jobs instead of one at the same time they no longer can collaborate face-to-face with each other at conferences and workshops.
This raises concerns, some captured by recent blogging. Two samples come from Marshall Shepherd, the current president of the American Meteorological Society: both appear on his own blog, still here and thinking; both have been excerpted and re-run on the AMS blog, The Front Page. Here are links to the originals: one on NOAA hiring freezes and travel restrictions and the likely future impact on weather services, and an earlier post on the importance of meetings and conferences to scientific advance.
Some brief bits from the most recent:
This week NOAA, also the parent agency for the National Weather Service (NWS), announced a hiring freeze at a time when its vacancy rate is already around 10%. I understand that this number is near 20% for the Washington DC area NWS Office. At this point, pause and consider public safety. As we enter the severe weather/tornado seasons, the Sequester has forced the hand of our NOAA management and possibly jeopardized the American public’s safety, stifled scientific capacity, obliterated morale within NOAA/NWS, and dampened hopes for the next generation of federal meteorological workforce…
…I am fearful of what is happening in our community with draconian sequester cuts, challenges to travel/science meeting attendance (I spoke on this last week in a blog at the AMS Front Page, http://blog.ametsoc.org/columnists/for-science-and-discovery-videoconferencing-wont-get-it/), and other stresses on science/R&D support within the National Weather Service/NOAA (journal publications, fees, etc). If you couple this with looming concerns about weather satellite gaps, computing capacity to support advanced modeling, and employee morale, we are slipping down a slippery slope of “eroding” the U.S. federal weather enterprise. However, since industry, academia, and federal agencies work closely together, these effects will ripple throughout the broader community…
Let’s be clear. The problems of the weather community form but a microcosm of the world’s woes. War, poverty, and disease ravage country after country. A billion people go to sleep every night hungry. A billion people (overlapping quite a bit with that first crowd) don’t have access to safe drinking water. Forty million people…the number varies according to the definition…are displaced or refugees…forced out of their homes by war, famine, political unrest, and other challenges. Viewed in such terms, U.S. meteorologists might not seem so badly-off.
But the human dilemma is more basic, and more universal. It is a challenge not to the physical body, but to the spirit. It spans the U.S. meteorologists and others here and the starving and displaced millions worldwide. It’s the search for meaning in our lives. Looking for the positive in the midst of the brokenness and dysfunction we see everywhere around us… and if we’re honest, within our own souls. The search for hope in the midst of our most private despair.
Which brings us back to that particular Passover and that first Easter morning 2000 years ago. The people at that place and time found themselves in similar tumult. Poverty was rampant. Israel was oppressed. An Empire centered a thousand miles distant, with values and culture alien to their own, ruled every aspect of their lives. Justice was notably absent. Where there should have been peace, there was only uproar.
Adding to the unsettled nature of life then… a populist, charismatic man with no real education or training was announcing that the kingdom of God had entered the world in a new way. He spoke nothing but peace and love, and was in no way rebellious, but somehow his mere presence was disruptive. He riled people, whether commoner or religious or Roman establishment. Rumor had it from those who seen firsthand that he’d healed some, and seemed to be able to walk on water, and perform other miracles, but it was hard to place much credence in such claims. Such things simply couldn’t happen. The last straw? He claimed to be the son of God. Highly unlikely. The alternative? He had to be sinister, lying, blasphemous…or, best case, deluded. After three years of that nonsense, people had had enough. They executed him in public. His small, ragtag-nothing team of followers scattered. Problem solved.
For three days. Then he rose from the dead.
Three points to ponder:
1. No one saw it coming. People afterward tried to say, you could see the signs ; it was there in the fine print of the ancient writings. But the truth is, there was no prediction. No forecast. Or more accurately, there had been a prediction, but it was a prediction that a military leader would appear, a present-day King David, who would drive the hated Romans out by force. The forecast was more like the weather forecast Jason Samenow labeled “snoquester,” sorta-, kinda correct, than like that spot-on Hurricane Sandy forecast.
2. People have been encouraged ever since. The hope in the world, the sense that good eventually wins out over evil, that’s it’s love, not something less, that makes the world go round… our constant individual efforts to live according to the angels of our better nature… all have a vitality and a force they wouldn’t have otherwise, lacking this event. The last 2000 years have been transformed. History has been rewritten. The 12 followers have become more than two billion who claim the name.
3. If he’d simply triumphed over the leaders of his time, we wouldn’t experience such hope today. Suppose Jesus had not been executed and resurrected. Suppose he and his followers had simply carried the day. We’d label him as one-more-of-those-historical-figures-more-successful-than-we-are-who-have-nothing-to-do-with-us-and-our-lives. He’d be lumped together with kings and the rich and powerful through the ages whose lives and fortunes seem to be so disconnected from our own. We wouldn’t find any hope or solace there.
Instead, he was actually, truly defeated. Captured. Killed. Without rescue.
Defeated? We can relate to that… whether we happen to be among the world’s starving, thirsting displaced millions or whether we’re meteorologists who thought we were working great public benefit… providing for public safety, economic development, and preservation of the environment… services widely appreciated… only to experience public criticism and withdrawal of support. Winning, or escaping by the skin of our teeth? That doesn’t apply to us. But to be defeated, and then to be resurrected? That might fit our situation. That could be the next chapter to our story.
Whatever we’re working through today, let’s remember: It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming.
He is risen.