What time is it?

In a story about how the rotation of the earth has slowed 2/1000 of a second over the last century, science writer Ivan Amato explains how dependent our technology is on extremely accurate time-keeping.  For example, if the clocks in your GPS device and the satellite it connects to are out of synch by as little as 1/1000 of a second, your location would be thrown  off by hundreds of miles. [Read more...]

Happy New Year!

January is named after the Roman deity Janus, the god of thresholds.   He had two faces, one that looked back and one that looked forward.  So that’s what we do on New Year’s.  We look back on the year that has passed and we look forward to the year ahead.

Whether your 2011 was a year of trials or thanksgivings or both and whatever 2012 will hold for you, I hope that you will know the promise of Psalm 31:15:  “My times are in your hand.”

The weekly holidays

What I don’t understand is why the militant secularists are expending so much energy to remove Christmas from the cultural calendar while ignoring Christianity’s more immediate influence on the patterns of everyday life:  the weekly calendar.

Government workers, students in public schools, and many other employees get Sunday off.   That is a direct influence of the Christian religion.  Observance of the “Lord’s Day” used to manifest itself in all kinds of so-called “blue laws” mandating the closing of businesses on Sundays, and though those have mostly faded away, Sunday is still a day off for lots of people, including federal workers!  In fact, Saturday has also become a day off for lots of people, including public school children and public employees.  That recognizes the Jewish sabbath.  You will notice that the Muslim holy day of Thursday is not similarly set apart.  Christianity and Judaism have a privileged place in Western civilization, as evidenced by our observance of their two weekly holy days.  If it’s bad to establish one religion, it’s surely even worse to establish two.

Or three.  The names of the days of the week are also religiously-laden.  In addition to days honoring the Sun (Sunday) and the Moon (Monday), we have days specifically named after Teutonic deities (Tiews’ Day, Woden’s Day, Thor’s Day, Freya’s Day), plus the Greco-Roman proto-god Saturn.

If secularists object to Christ’s name being in Christmas, shouldn’t they object to Thor’s name being in Thursday?  I suppose the difference is that lots of people still believe in Christ, who has pretty much displaced Thor worship.  But still, the secularists believe in one no more than the other.  And, I am told, there are certain pagans who are trying to bring back the old deities.

I hope I am not giving the secularist activists–or Christian activists worried about idolatry when they make weekly schedules–any ideas!  If we start to see lawsuits trying to keep schoolchildren and federal workers from getting to stay home on the weekends, blame me.

But my point is that religion and culture are intertwined to the point that it is very difficult to unravel them.  As has been said, the root of “culture” is “cult.”  Not in the sense of a splinter religious group, but in the sense of “worship.”

Living in two times

The post about “Happy New Year,” referring to the beginning of Advent and asking about why the last days of the church year aren’t really noted, made me realize that the church year is not supposed to cover everything.  Christians are under two calendars, just as they live their lives in two times.  There is the secular calendar, the time of the world, that progresses from season to season, along with its distinct cultural and national holidays, such as in the USA Independence Day and Thanksgiving.   And then there is the liturgical calendar, commemorating the life of Christ and of the Church.  The church calendar is superimposed on the secular calendar.  Christians participate in them both, just as they participate in both of God’s Kingdoms, His hidden rule over all of the created secular order and His revealed spiritual rule in Christ as manifested in the Church.

We shouldn’t follow the church calendar alone, rejecting the secular calendar,  with its pagan nomenclature from Roman and Germanic deities (January from the two-faced god Janus; Wodin’s day, Thors’ day, Freya’s day), since we must live out our faith in this world.  Nor should we follow the secular calendar alone, since Christ became incarnate in time.  Sometimes the two time sequences counter each other, such as one of the most joyous days of the church year–Christmas– comes at the gloomiest point of winter.  Sometimes they complement each other, as when the other most joyous day of the church year–Easter–comes at one of the most joyous times of the secular calendar, the season of Spring.  And sometimes the church calendar crosses over into the cultural calendar, as Christmas does, just as Christianity has influenced the cultures in which it finds itself, and as Christ did when He became incarnate in human history.

So Christians can celebrate the new church year, beginning with Advent, which–as my pastor explained today–seamlessly follows the end of Pentecost, which also looks forward to Christ’s return.  The church year is cyclical.  It doesn’t count the number of years from Christ’s life, but rather keeps re-enacting them.  Ironically, the secular calendar does count the number of years from the time of Christ, as the years forge linearly ahead.  So Christians can also celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day when the secular calendar turns over.  Christians live in two times, just as they live in two kingdoms.

The invention of the weekend

Monica Hesse on the invention of the weekend:

Before weekends could be long, they first had to be weekends.

For most of the 19th century and part of the 20th, there were none — there were simply weeks that ended. The working class had Sundays off only. Because of this, many of them would spend the Lord’s day carousing, then call in sick on Mondays. This practice was observed with enough regularity that it was called “Keeping Saint Mondays.” Religious groups hated it, and so did bosses, writes University of Pennsylvania professor Witold Rybczynski in his leisure-time history, “Waiting for the Weekend.” Various special interest groups put their heads together to come up with a solution: Saturdays. Give the people Saturday afternoon off so they have less reason to be plastered Monday morning.

The term “weekend” first shows up in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1879; it wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Saturday-Sunday dynamic duo really became codified in the United States. Shorter hours were seen as a “remedy” for unemployment, Rybczynski writes. “Each person would work less, but more people would have jobs.”

via Giving Thanks — for Long Weekends – The Washington Post.

I think this is a little oversimplified.  Certainly the Biblical sabbath was the source of the practice of a day of rest, a dramatic example of the influence of Christianity on the civilization as a whole.  This account does explain adding Saturday, which, however, was the Jewish day of rest, not to mention Christian Adventist groups.  I wonder if the climate of immigration in the 19th century–all those Jewish immigrants who would not work on Saturday–contributed to the additional day off.

Nevermind that the commandment says “six days shall you labor,” as well as underscoring the one day thou shalt not.  I suppose Saturdays became the day people labored for themselves–fixing things around the house, tinkering with this and that, running errands, “getting things done”–as opposed for laboring for someone else for pay.  That doubtless helped carve out space for the individual and the home.

One day is like a thousand years

I’ve been on the road, and the church I attended Sunday had as part of its Scripture reading this text: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

I had always thought of the last part of the verse as a good description of what it must be for God to be outside of time. But this time the first part hit me: “One day is as a thousand years.” God, in His eternity, lavishes attention on every moment. Just think how much is going on in a day. Not just in your life–maybe it seems like not much has happened on some days–but in all of the lives of millions of people, all of whom have their own stories. God lingers. This is how He can attend to the prayers of everyone, every one of whom He loves. Throw in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. And galaxies and nebula.

That one day is like a thousand years to God expresses the minuteness of His care and attention. For each of us and all of us, He has all the time in the world.


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