What’s the true meaning of Presidents’ Day?

15928527814_4a9e476e7b_zHappy Presidents’ Day.  What are we really celebrating today?

Originally, it was George Washington’s Birthday, honoring the Father of Our Country.  Then Abraham Lincoln, another great American, was thrown in.

Once the holiday was moved to Monday, to give federal workers a three-day weekend, Presidents’ Day became completely unmoored from the date of Washington’s birthday.  Now we use the day to celebrate ALL presidents.

We have had some good ones, but not that many.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, were from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, but they were both iconic presidents who had a big impact on American history.  Then there were notable chief executives–Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower–whose legacy is significant, though sometimes still controversial.  (As for Donald Trump, for all the furor of his first few weeks, his presidency is just getting started.)

But here is my question:  Why do we have a federal day-off holiday to honor the Executive Branch?  If we are going to do that, why don’t we have a holiday to honor the Legislative Branch?  And the Judicial Branch?  If the prospect of the latter two seems ridiculous, why isn’t it also ridiculous to have a Presidents’ Day?

I suppose it’s because that office is held by an identifiable individual, unlike our other branches of government.  Perhaps it has something to do with an atavistic reverence for Kings.  But I’m not sure this is healthy in a democratic republic.

But I suspect I’m missing something.  Can someone explain the true meaning of Presidents’ Day and why we need that to be a national holiday?

And yet, this is our national holiday, so let’s observe it in the best way possible.  What thoughts should it call to mind?  What should we be thankful for?  What should we do to keep the holiday?

UPDATE:  My suggestion after the jump.

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The death and new life of “Jane Roe”

Norma_McCorvey_(Jane_Roe),_1989_(cropped)Norma McCorvey, who went by the name of “Jane Roe” in the infamous Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, has died at the age of 69.

After winning the Supreme Court case, McCorvey became active in the pro-abortion movement.  But the kindness of a pro-life demonstrator at an abortion clinic led to her conversion to Christianity.

She then became a pro-life activist, battling the abortions that in another life she made legal.

The Associated Press obituary, excerpted and linked after the jump, has some fascinating details about her life, such as these:  During the Roe v. Wade case, she claimed that she needed an abortion because she was pregnant due to rape, but she later admitted this was a lie.  She was basically used by feminist activists who ran with her case and took it to the Supreme Court.  She became involved in a lesbian relationship, but after she became a Christian, they became celibate.  After her conversion, she was an evangelical, but she later become Roman Catholic.

Her life is a remarkable testimony to the grace of God, who redeems sinners and changes them. [Read more…]

Another Dead Sea Scrolls cave discovered 

640px-QumranArcheologists have discovered a 12th cave that once held Dead Sea scrolls, ancient Biblical and other texts dating from 400 B.C. to 100 A.D.

This cave, though, had been looted and contains no scrolls.  (One wonders, where are they?)  But it does preserve some artifacts from the ancient Jews–whether members of the Essene sect or, as some scholars now think, priests– who kept the library.

 

Photo of Cave 4, where 90% of the scrolls were found, by Effi Schweizer – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3089552

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How “strange” it was that Rome became Christian

Good_shepherd_01_smallThat a religion like Christianity converted Rome and its empire is a “historical anomaly,” a “strange” fact of history.  Classicist and historian Michael Kulikowski tells the tale.

His perspective is secular, his evidence is objective, and he does not consider the truth or the supernatural realities behind what Christians taught.  So what he says and the way he describes the early church are all the more telling for those of us from a Christian persuasion.

 

Photo:  Good Shepherd fresco, Catacomb of Priscilla, Italy, Rome.  Public Domain.

 

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The Marburg Colloquy online

Noack_1869_MR-ReligionsgesprächDid you know that a transcript survives of the Marburg Colloquy (1529), in which Luther and Zwingli debated the presence of Christ in the elements of Holy Communion?  Did you know that it is posted online?

This meeting, attended by virtually all of the major figures of the early Reformation, was an attempt to settle the Reformation’s sacramental teachings once and for all.  Phillip of Hesse organized the event in an attempt to unify the Reformation side in the face of imminent military threat from the Holy Roman Emperor.  But Luther would not water down his teaching for pragmatic reasons. With the Marburg Colloquy, the Lutherans and the Reformed went their separate ways, with most subsequent Protestants following, in effect, a non-sacramental approach to Christianity.

The transcript reads like a play, or a screenplay.  (Suggestion:  Somebody perform this!)  For all of its theological give and take, it has quite a few dramatic moments:  Luther writing “This is my body” in chalk on the table beneath a tablecloth, continually referring to it in the course of Zwingli’s rationalistic arguments.  Luther at more than one point saying, “I’m tired–Phillip [Melanchthon], you take over,” only to erupt at the next thing Zwingli says without letting Phillip get a word in edgewise.  The emotional moments on both sides.  The ending with its pleas for reconciliation and Luther’s devastating “we are not of the same spirit.”

Read the beginning after the jump and go to the link to read it all.  Notice the different approaches not just to the Sacrament but to the Bible and, above all, to Christology. [Read more…]

C. S. Lewis, atheist

C. S. Lewis, one of the foremost Christian apologists, had been for 15 years a convinced and rather militant atheist.  My friend and former colleague Joel Heck has written a splendid study of Lewis’s atheism, published by Concordia Publishing House:   From Atheism to Christianity:  The Story of C. S. Lewis

There are many kinds of atheism, just like there are many kinds of Christianity, and Joel unpacks the influences, books, and ideas that defined Lewis’s particular variety of unbelief.  In tracing Lewis’s life and intellectual development from his school days through the early years of his academic career, the book is a compelling biography.

In his recreation of the intellectual atmosphere of pre-war Oxford, Joel shows the important influence of idealist philosophers, such as F. H. Bradley and Henri Bergson.  Most studies of early modernism focus on materialism and existentialism.  And yet, arguably, the idealists–who said things like “”the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine” (James Jeans)–may have been even more important.  After all, T. S. Eliot, a founder of literary modernism, wrote his dissertation on Bradley.  Certainly the artistic modernists–Yeats and Joyce with their mythmaking; Stravinsky with his neo-primitive music; Picasso’s Cubism, Dalí’s Surrealism, and Kandinsky’s Abstractionism–are hard to reconcile with the definition of Modernism as an “age of reason.”  [Suggestion for graduate students:  Lots of good material for dissertations here!]

Both idealists and materialists could be atheist, and Lewis seems to have vacillated between the two, but idealism best accounted for his personal and aesthetic yearnings.  This new book also describes in detail how and why Lewis gave up his atheism, turning first to belief in a personal though philosophically-abstract deity, and then to the God of Abraham who became incarnate in Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis fans, apologists, intellectual historians, and atheists will all want to read this book.

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