It’s Saturday—the day of waiting, the day of quiet. The day when disciples quaked behind closed doors, and darkness covered the lands, and the Son of God lay in a tomb. The day of aching, grieving, seething pain.
That 24-hour cycle of numbness and fear throbbed through Jesus’ disciples, through the people who were “looking for the kingdom of God,” like Joseph of Arimathea. It was after Jesus was dead that Joseph and Nicodemus finally exposed their allegiances—they took Jesus’s body, wrapped it in a linen shroud, wrapped it in 75 pounds worth of spices. They wrapped his body in their own allegiance and love, telling the world who they followed.
And the women followed and saw—the women who had cared for Jesus, ministered to his traveling troupe—they followed him from road, to cross, to tomb. They didn’t fear the blood or turn away. They didn’t run and hide. They followed and watched, then went to prepare their spices and ointments for His body. But first, on the Sabbath, “they rested according to the commandment.”
How do you rest when your hopes and dreams are lying in a grave?
We live in a culture of pain. So often, our response to the world’s pain and death is either cynicism or despair. Author Leslie Jamison writes in her essay, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” that we live in a post-wounded culture (she limits this to women, but I think it could apply to much of our world):
The post-wounded posture is claustrophobic: jadedness, aching gone implicit, sarcasm quick on the heels of anything that might look like self-pity … Their hurt has a new native language spoken in several dialects: sarcastic, jaded, opaque; cool and clever.
This is a world that has screamed with the pain of genocide, holocaust, terror and war. It’s a world in which 55 million babies have been aborted since Roe v. Wade in 1973. It’s a world of shunning and racism, hate and abuse, violence and fear. We grow accustomed to the stories—we look back on anniversaries and shrug our shoulders: What could we have done differently? Perhaps nothing. We sit in the silence and nurse our aching wounds. We begin to believe the lie: we were made for this bleak, hostile, hurting world. We were made for death and destruction.
But no—“death is an abomination and an obscenity,” says blogger Tony Woodlief. We are right to lament, to protest, to reject the bleak blackness of death:
Death is woven into our flesh, and so is lamentation, though we avoid it with our culture that whistles past the graveyard. Even pagans would believe in a victory over death, but if that victory matters, surely then all the blood of the ages gone stilled and black has been a tragedy—a tragedy stretching from the garden sin to brother killing brother to our own dark-hearted acts, yours and mine. To deny the tragedy is to deny our deep yearning for liberation. To refrain from lamentation is to deny, then, what is in our own hearts.
We speak the language of apathy and acceptance when it comes to death and pain. We try to say this is natural, this is how we were made to be. We were made to end—to stop living, breathing, laughing, crying, hurting, feeling. To simply cease existing. But do we really believe it? In this culture of cutting and crying, self-abuse and scarring, it seems pain is far from natural. It’s far too hard to accept. We try to force our souls into submission, but they cry out. There is too much life in us.
Death isn’t a “natural part of the circle of life.” Death was never natural. The throbbing pain of Saturday isn’t natural. And the only way we can rest in our Saturdays is if we are sure of a victory, a promise, a resurrection to come.
Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the women and disciples—they didn’t know the resurrection would happen. But they believed in Jehovah-jireh: the God who provides. And they trusted in His promises. They knew Hosea 13: “ I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction…” They had heard the words of Isaiah 25: “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.”
Christ swallowed the cup, tasted the bitter dregs of death. He bore Friday so that we wouldn’t have to live in its shadow. He bore Saturday, descending into the depths of darkness and death, so that we wouldn’t have to feel its terror. He rose Sunday, shattering death and decay in that final stroke of victory, so that we could know life in His life.
Now we prepare for the feast, and wait for His return. But sometimes, it feels again as if the earth is breaking with grief. It feels like Saturday, and we see the pain all around us.
After the women saw Jesus placed in the tomb, they “rested according to the commandment.” What commandment can we rest on?
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” - Revelation 21
This is the promise of every Saturday—of every bloody, aching lamentation. This is what we rest on. We have felt the bloody grief of Friday, bear the silent waiting and stillness of Saturday—but Sunday’s coming. This is not the end.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
- T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets
Can you cook the books by using more accurate statistics?
That’s the question hanging over the Obama administration, now that the Census bureau has decided to change the way it assesses the number of Americans without insurance in the middle of the Obamacare rollout.
The basic problem the Census has been struggling with is how, exactly, to define “Americans without insurance.” If you ask your survey respondents “Do you currently have health insurance?” the percentage answering “No” will be a lot lower than the number of people who would say “No” to “Have you been uninsured at any point in the last year?” If you change your question to “Were you uninsured for all of last year?” the “Nos” will plunge accordingly.
The Census’s Continuing Population Survey has struggled for years with the phrasing of this question, and, when compared to other surveys of insurance coverage, has persistently overestimated the number of Americans without insurance. However, its numbers have still been commonly used, since CPS is the only survey that produces state-by-state insurance numbers across the nation.
The Census bureau did the right thing and has been investigating how to improve the accuracy of their numbers. Yuval Levin describes one of the error checks the CPS ran, and the surprising results.
In 2000, for instance, the CPS supplement introduced a simple verification question: If people had answered “no” when presented with a list of possible options for different kinds of insurance coverage on the questionnaire, then the interviewer, rather than just note them as uninsured, would say “So does this mean I should record you as uninsured?” They found that an amazing 8 percent of respondents answered “no,” and only in the wake of this verification question (which, for those who answered in the negative, was followed again by a list of insurance options) reported that they were in fact insured.
The CPS has finally found a new question, that they trust to produce reliable data, but, since they’re switching over just as Obamacare goes into effect, the methodological change may obscure the effects of Obama’s signature legislation. As reported in the New York Times:
In the test last year, the percentage of people without health insurance was 10.6 percent when interviewers used the new questionnaire, compared with 12.5 percent using the old version. Researchers said that they had found a similar pattern in the data for different age, race and ethnic groups.
But Ezra Klein of Vox isn’t worried that the changes in the survey will make it impossible to measure the impact of the Affordable Care Act. According to Klein, the CPS changed their methodology just in time.
Politics aside, there’s a technocratic logic to this timing. The Census Bureau’s change begins with data for 2013 — meaning it starts before Obamacare does. By making the switch in 2013, there’ll be a baseline to compare obamacare to, and that baseline won’t fall apart in year two or three or four.
Unfortunately, a baseline data point is a lot less valuable than a baseline trend. The test for Obamacare isn’t just if it brings the numbers of the uninsured down, but if the new policies cause more people to sign up faster than historical data would predict. The 2013 datapoint may be a baseline measurement of coverage, but it can’t serve as a baseline for the changing trend of coverage.
The ideal solution might have been to run both questions, the old and the new, in parallel on the CPS for a period of five to 10 years. Instead of posing the improved question to all respondents, the Census employees could randomize assignments, so that a third to a half of all those surveyed answered the old, biased question, while the rest answered the new, improved question.
By asking both questions, we would be able to continue to compare the post-Obamacare data to the historical record, since we would still have access to survey data that was wrong in the same way. Meanwhile, we would have the more accurate data as a snapshot of the actual numbers of the uninsured.
It’s not uncommon to run questions in parallel, whether for different subsets of a sample or just by asking all respondents both questions. In a Health and Human Services study that tried to disentangle the effects of different methods, the researchers noted that one of the rival measures of insurance, SIPP (the Survey of Income and Program Participation), altered its methods in 1996 to cross-validate its questions, when it “started asking about coverage during the month of the interview, in addition to asking about coverage during the months prior to the interview.” This kind of continuity could have mitigated the fear that the CPS overhaul was a ploy to cook the books.
Ultimately, the timing of the CPS revisions is unfortunate, and it is probably attributable to Obamacare. But it’s the increased importance of accurate numbers on insurance, rather than any corrupt maneuvering, that caused the change to happen at one of the worst possible times. It would have been a mistake for Obama to delay the change, and sentence us to another decade of bad statistics.