Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Cost

Bete: this word comes from the language of the Folopa people of Papua New Guinea.  I have been reading the kids a book written by a Wycliff Bible translator about his time working with the Folopa people to put the words of the scriptures into their language in a relevant and meaningful way.

"It's a word they use and use and use; it never gets tired, never old, never used up.  Like words in any language, it has many moods, nuances, senses, shades of meaning.  At once it embodies the concepts of root, basis, prime beginnings, deep structure, first cause, life, meaning, underlying strength, essence, source.  It is the fundamental verb of 'being' and the most basic metaphor in the entire language"
--Anderson, In Search of the Source

The author speaks of how the Folopa people have no need to get back to the basics because they never left.  The author finds that these people's lives are very closely dependent on the most basic needs of life: food, shelter, family.  This is why "bete" or the deeper meaning: root or source of everything, is so crucial to them.

Because the Folopa people are very interested in the root cause of everything, when a wrong is perpetrated, whether on accident or on purpose, payback must be done.  People will only feel justice is done if an agreement is made, in which something is given in exchange for whatever is lost.  When the Folopa are introduced to the death and resurrection of Christ, this concept of payback is foremost in their minds.  This is, as the author says, "bete at its deepest level": the idea that God made an agreement with His Son, Jesus, that Jesus would become the payback for every wrong done by Man, allowing justice to be done for good.

I remember as a child always being against craft kits.  I wanted to make things from scratch: from things I could find around.  Later, as a teen, I was drawn to activities that taught me to make things from scratch: candles, quilts, paper.  This of course led to an interest in conservation and helping with a school recycling program.  On the Road was one of my favorite books in my late teen years.  I was fascinated with the way Kerouac seemed to have pared his life down to the most basic things in his quest for its meaning.

It wasn't until I was an adult and gave birth to my second child that I began to understand the bete of this quest of mine to do things from the beginning.  I had experienced a hospital birth with my first and this time wanted a birth with a midwife.  I wanted things to be simple: the way God had originally designed them to be.  I wanted to get back to the Garden, back to how everything must have been when Adam and Eve walked and talked with God, without shame, pain or anguish.   I wanted a life free of all the complications we as errant humans have superimposed upon it.  I was searching for payback: justice for all the things that seemed to get in the way of what was real and true.

My second born was a son.  His name is Isaac.  He is named after the Biblical figure whose father, Abraham, was so obedient to God and his covenant with him, that he was willing to sacrifice his own son's life because this is what God has asked of him.  I am not that faithful a person.  There is not one instance in which I would be willing to allow my son to die for anything.  I am a fiercely protective mother, selfish and jealous of this life that God first caused to grow within me.  How much more then, am I mystified when I understand that God made an agreement with his own son, Jesus, to become the sacrifice in the place of Man.

While I was filling the grain bins for my animals a few days ago, I noticed that one plastic bin was upside down and a plastic sled sat upon it.  Silly kids, I thought.  They like to play in the barn and build weird things.  I flipped the container over, intending to fill it with fresh grain and was met with a tragic sight.  Our favorite hen, who had hatched out 7 chicks this year, lay dead with two eggs beside her.  It turns out that our youngest had been playing with her, had trapped her beneath, and had forgotten to get her.  She was devastated.  It was a great loss to our family, too, as this chicken was currently our only layer out of 14 chickens.  It was important to me that the kids understand the significance of this little chicken's life, and also that an accident like this wouldn't happen again.  We decided to have a small funeral for the chicken beneath the willow tree, and thanked God for her life, and all the babies she had raised.  We thanked God that she had produced many eggs, and then we buried her.

When life is lost in a way that seems meaningless, we want to get to the source of it.  We want to give it meaning, and so in a way, our chicken gave my children a valuable lesson she only could give in her accidental death: a lesson in the high value of the life of each creature God has made.  The great bete of Christ's sacrifice for us became even clearer to me.  He cares for us infinitely more than the way we cared for our little lost chicken.  What He did should not be meaningless, but instead more meaningful to us than anything we have ever known in our lives.

The next day was bird processing day at the farm of our friends.  They had raised a heritage, free range turkey for us.  It felt important to me to be a part of processing the bird if I intended to eat it.  I wanted to get to the bete of the food I ate: to understand the true cost of a life given for another life.  I had no idea how it would affect me.

I had seen a butchering of a goose, but this day was somehow different for me.  I watched red pour over the white feathers of the first duck whose life was given and was shocked at the empathy I felt and the sense of deep significance of what this bird was giving, just so that we might enjoy a good meal.  This bird had been raised for many months:  food gathered, shelter given, water freshened.  Now it was giving the greatest thing it could:  its own flesh so that we could have food.

In a society where we are so removed from the cost of essentially everything we have, it is disconcerting to be faced with the actual cost of things: the life of a person for the right to do as we wish with our bodies; the dignity of a factory worker for the affordability of a plastic toy and even a turkey's happy life outdoors in exchange for an inexpensive Thanksgiving meal.

On that day, I was faced with the real cost of my meal.  I decided that there are two things I can do in order to show my thankfulness for the life of this turkey we plan to eat for Christmas:  I can either become a vegetarian and refuse to play a part in ending the life of another, or I can show great thankfulness for the care and love that was taken in raising it by doing my best to prepare it well and allow many people to enjoy it.  I will do the latter, but also, I think that it will be my goal in the future to try to know the person who raised the animal we are to eat, how it was raised, or to have raised it myself, just so that I know that the life of the creature was valued.

This is one small way my everyday life can reflect my gratitude for the larger bete of Christ's sacrifice for me.  There are countless ways we can do this, we need only to look for them and then to carry them out.  I am thankful for the freedom, redemption and friendship He has given me and especially for the way this bete, should I choose to remember it, can guide my actions each day.


  1. Thank you Angie for this wonderful verbal picture of what is at the bete of our farm (if I'm getting the meaning right). Thank you also for the risk you took in participating, especially in something that our society has been so careful to insulate us from. I know that all the love and labor that we put forth for the turkeys is well understood by you, and all in your household. Bless you all.

  2. You made me cry. Thank you, My friend.


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