Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

Showing posts with label #Time. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Time. Show all posts

26 March 2018

Holy Week: When Jesus died.

Our yearly remembrance of Jesus’s death.

Sunday is Palm Sunday, the start of what we Christians call Holy Week, or Great Week, Passion Week, and various other titles. It remembers the week Jesus died.

It took place 9–17 Nisan 3793 in the Hebrew calendar; and in the Julian calendar that’d be 29 March to 4 April in the year 33.


The Holy Week schedule.

And the week had started so well….

Of course Jesus rose on Sunday the 5th, the day Christians now designate as Easter.

21 July 2017

Mary the Magdalene, apostle to the apostles.

The myths (and sexism) behind the first person to see our risen Lord.

22 July is the feast day of Mary the Magdalene, whom we also call Mary of Magdala. She’s the woman who shows up in all the resurrection stories, ’cause she’s the very first person Jesus appeared to after he was raised from the dead.

John 20.10-18 KWL
10 Then the students went away again, to their people,
11 and Mary stood outside the tomb, mourning.
As she mourned, she then bent down into the tomb, 12 and saw two angels in white,
one sitting at the head, one at the feet, where Jesus’s body was placed.
13 They told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn?”
She told them this: “They took my Master away, and I don’t know where they put him.”
14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing—and didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 Jesus told her, “Ma’am, why do you mourn? Whom are you looking for?”
Figuring he was the groundskeeper, she told him, “Master, if you took him away,
tell me where you put him, and I’ll take him away.”
16 Jesus told her, “Mary.”
She turned and told him, “Rabbani!” (i.e. “teacher”).
17 Jesus told her, “Don’t clutch me. I’ve not gone up to my Father yet.
Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and yours; to my God and yours.’ ”
18 Mary the Magdalene came and told the students she’d seen the Master,
and he’d said these things to her.

Two of Jesus’s students, Simon Peter and John, had checked out the tomb, saw nothing, and left. Jn 20.3-10 But Mary stuck around and had a Jesus-sighting. And he sent her to his students and family: “Go to my brothers and tell them…” Jn 20.17 which she did. Jn 20.18 They should’ve known Mary’s character enough to accept her testimony.

Should’ve; didn’t. Because nobody expected Jesus to rise from the dead before the End Times. The 11 apostles wouldn’t believe the women saw Jesus, Lk 24.11 and Thomas wouldn’t even believe the other 10 after they saw Jesus themselves. Jn 20.24-25 So if you think the problem was sexism, there might’ve been a little bit of that in there. More so it was just how unbelievable the idea was.

Every so often, I hear a Christian preacher say it was totally sexism. Often they’ll do it in a way which exposes their own sexism. I’ve heard preachers claim in Jesus’s day, women’s testimony was inadmissible because women get hysterical, irrational, and are inherently untrustworthy. (God help those preachers’ wives and daughters.)

It’s bunk, because these preachers don’t know the Law. In patriarchal societies, women are subject to their patriarch—their husband or father or male relative who’s in charge of them. This man was granted the right to overturn or nullify his women’s vows. Nu 30 But this made it impossible for women to testify in court. Not because women aren’t trustworthy, but because their men could cancel out their testimony.

I’m not sure whether Paul had that idea in mind when he and Sosthenes listed 500-plus folks who saw the resurrected Jesus, 1Co 15.3-8 and didn’t include the women. Mt 28.9-10 We figure this list was originally composed and recited in the middle east, where Judeans had an issue with women’s testimony. Corinthians didn’t, so there was no reason to still skip the women.

Judean courts aside, Mary was as reputable as any student, and the students should’ve believed her, if anyone. Still, this isn’t the only time Mary’s been misinterpreted due to sexism.

10 April 2017

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

And how Christians observe it. Or don’t. Or do, but medieval-style.

“Why don’t we celebrate Passover?” asked one of my students, when I once taught on the topic.

“We do,” I said. “Christians call it Pascha or Pascua or Páques. But in languages with a lot of German words mixed in, we call it Easter. And obviously we do it way different than you see in the bible.”

So different, English-speaking people routinely assume Easter and Passover are two entirely different holidays. I can’t argue with that assumption. Christians don’t bother to purge our homes of yeast or leavening. Don’t cook lamb; nor do we practice the modern Jewish custom of not having lamb, and emphasizing it ’cause there’s currently no temple to sacrifice a lamb in. Don’t put out the seder plate, don’t tell the Exodus story, don’t have the kids ask the Four Questions, don’t hide the afikomen and have the kids search for it. Although both holidays have eggs, and we do have the kids look for eggs.

Well, some Christians observe Passover as a separate holiday. Some of us do it Hebrew-style, as spelled out in the scriptures, in Exodus and Deuteronomy. More often it’s observed as practiced by Jews today.

The Messianic Jewish movement wants to emphasize the Jewish origins of Christianity. As they should. But many Messianic Jews aren’t all that solid on their history, and wind up teaching medieval rabbinic Judaism instead of the stuff Jesus and his first-century followers actually experienced. So when they observe Passover, their haggadah—the order of service—is nearly always adapted from Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Which means it dates from the 10th century. Not the first.

Yes, some of its customs are in the Mishna, so they do date back to the first century. Still, these weren’t standard practices; not even in the 10th century. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas every which way, Jews then and now got to choose their own customs. Hence families have unique traditions, and various synagogues emphasize various things. Medieval Jewish communities in eastern Europe, north Africa, Spain, and the middle east, all individually came up with their own haggadahs. (As did the Samaritans.)

The point of the haggadah is to teach the Exodus story to the children. But remember, Jesus’s students weren’t children. Teenagers certainly, but still legal adults who knew the Exodus story. If they hadn’t heard it at home, Jesus would’ve taught it to them personally. So, just as some families don’t tell the nativity story every Christmas after the kids get older, don’t be surprised if Jesus skipped the haggadah’s customary Four Questions (why matzot, why bitter herbs, why roasted meat, and why the food gets dipped twice) as redundant.

Christians don’t always realize this. So whenever they attend a Passover seder, or ritual dinner, and hear whatever haggadah the leader came up with, they routinely think it’s so profound how Jesus “practiced” and “brought such meaning and fulfillment” to these customs. Even though it’s highly unlikely he practiced any of these customs. It’s pure coincidence his ministry “fulfilled” them. But y’know, not every Christian believes in coincidence.

17 March 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Popularly known as a day for fans of the Irish to get sloppy drunk, it honors Ireland’s patron saint.

Pádraig of Ireland, whom we know as St. Patrick or St. Paddy, is celebrated on the date of his death in 17 March 493.

In the United States, Irish Americans—and pretty much everyone else, ’cause the more the merrier—tend to treat the day as a celebration of Irish culture. Thing is, Americans know little to nothing about actual Irish culture. (We barely know the accents.) What we do know is Guinness, though we’ll settle for anything alcoholic, including beer filled with green food coloring. Me, I used to love McDonald’s “shamrock shakes,” though I had one more recently and found it way too sweet for my liking. (It’s because they add sugary mint syrup to their already-sugary vanilla shakes.) I much prefer adding vanilla and mint to a Starbucks Frappuccino.

Most American customs consist of drinking, eating stereotypical Irish food, parades in which the religious participants express varying degrees of outrage at all the irreligious participants, and all sorts of Irish distortions, some of ’em unknowingly offensive. Americans of British descent used to treat Americans of Irish descent like crap, bringing over their prejudices from the old country. Some of it is actually still around. I have a few Irish ancestors myself, although way more of ’em are German, so I’ve not experienced that prejudice firsthand. But I have witnessed it.

Oh, and wearing green. Most Americans have no clue what green means; custom’s to wear green lest someone pinch you. Actually it comes from the political struggle between the predominantly Protestant monarchists, and the predominantly Catholic socialists. Much like Americans use red and blue, the Irish use green and orange to signify party affiliation. So when we Americans wear green, we’re unwittingly making a political statement to the Irish in favor of socialism and Catholicism. Now, I have no affiliations in Irish politics, though as an American I’m certainly no monarchist. Christians have no business backing any kingdom but Jesus’s. But if I gotta pick a color I’m going with Protestant orange. And risk getting pinched over it—and, to the Irish, various assumptions made about my politics. Still, I prefer an informed choice over unthinkingly following the crowd.

If you’re Catholic, six years out of seven St. Patrick’s Day regularly consists of begging your local bishop for a day off from Lent. ’Cause you’re not supposed to party on a fast day. Just gotta hope your bishop hasn’t had it up to here with all the Catholics-in-name-only who’re gonna do take the day off regardless, and misbehave.

In any event, for Americans our holidays aren’t really about serious remembrance, but having a good time. Which really annoys our veterans every Veterans Day. Now imagine how Patrick feels, with people celebrating his day by puking into moonroofs.

27 February 2017

Shrovetide, Lenten fasting, and naysayers.

Getting ready for Lent… assuming you do Lent.

LENT /lɛnt/ n. A time before Easter for Christians to fast, abstain, and practice self-control. Usually 40 days, like Christ in the wilderness, starting Ash Wednesday.
[Lenten /'lɛnt.(ə)n/ adj.]
SHROVETIDE /'ʃroʊv.taɪd/ n. The Sunday to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, when Christians customarily confess sins (or “shrive”) before Lent.
[Shrove /ʃroʊv/ vt., shrive /ʃraɪv/ v.]

I didn’t grow up with Lent. I grew up Fundamentalist, and Fundies consider Lent a Catholic thing and dead religion. And popular culture’s irreligious shrovetide activities seem to confirm all their suspicions.

In the United States we’ve got Mardi Gras. The term is French for “gross Tuesday,” a translation I like way better than the usual “fat Tuesday,” because while there’s a lot of awesome jazz, there’s also a lot of shameful behavior going on in these festivals. I’ve been to the New Orleans festival once, as a kid. All I remember were floats, beads, and coins which annoyingly wouldn’t work in vending machines. I vaguely remember drunken revelers, but Mom definitely remembers that part of it, and found it so horrifying she sought us refuge in a church building.

In other parts of the world they celebrate Carnaval, Latin for—I kid you not—“flesh party.” The general idea of these parties is you indulge your flesh and get all your vices out of your system. ’Cause during Lent you’re meant to practice self-control… so do your drinking and fighting and fornicating now, while you still can. As if we weren’t supposed to put away that stuff once we started following Jesus. Ga 5.16

See, this behavior is what makes me suspect these festivals were never created by true Christians. More like lapsed Catholics who wanted to have some ironic fun at the expense of the devout. ’Cause you notice who actually goes to these functions: Pagans and irreligious Christians. The devout stay home… unless they’re actually trying to evangelize the revelers, as my brother tried to do one year. (Hey, Jesus loves ’em too.)

Enough about what they’re up to. My point is Fundies, and other Christians who really don’t wanna practice any more self-control than they already do (assuming they practice any at all), use the revelry as their excuse to abstain from abstaining. You think I didn’t catch their underlying bad attitudes? “Look at those people. They sin their brains out, then go to confession. As if that wipes their slate clean.” And yeah, if you’re a bad Catholic that’s how you think: Sin Tuesday, repent Wednesday; cheap grace cures all. But that’s like assuming every drunken Christmas party is a Protestant thing, or shopping mall riots are how we thank God for his blessings every Thanksgiving.

Don’t confuse the secular madness with any actual religious observance. Got that?

…No? You don’t believe me and you’re gonna skip Lent regardless? Well, there’s no convincing some people.

I’ll just say this and be done with it: Most Fundies forego Lent not because it’s Catholic. They’ve no problem with plenty of other customs which originated among the Catholics. Like hymns, sermons, and nativity crêches. It’s because when it comes to fasting, they deprive themselves nothing, then use the excuse, “It’s not explicitly in the bible, so I needn’t do it.” Thus they justify their lives of excess. They presume they’re righteous because they trust God, not tradition; that their doctrines are orthodox. But in truth they sin just as much as any Mardi Gras reveler—just in quieter ways. And rant over.

Okay, let’s set aside the smokescreens and distractions and ask the question: Should we practice Lent? And if so, how?

06 January 2017

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

The holiday which grew into Christmas.

Epiphany (in some churches it’s called Theophany) falls on 6 January. Well, unless your church still follows the Julian calendar, in which case it’s gonna wind up on 19 January. It comes right after the last day of Christmas. In fact Christmas is celebrated on 25 December because of Epiphany.

See, Epiphany celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world. True, the Christmas stories figure that was with the angels and sheep-herders, and maybe with the magi. But technically he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry, at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son.

John 1.29-34 KWL
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him.
He said, “Look: God’s ram, taking up the world’s sin! 30 This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first over me. Jn 1.15
31 And I hadn’t seen him! But I came baptizing in water so he’d be revealed to Israel.”
32 John testified, saying this: “I’ve seen the Spirit,
descending like a pigeon from the sky, and staying on him.
33 And I hadn’t seen him, but he who sent me to baptize in water
yes, him—told me, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and stay on,
that’s who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
34 And I’ve seen. I testify: This is God’s son.”

The third-century Christians began to celebrate Jesus’s baptism in January. Why January? Historians’ best guess is the early churches divided up the gospels into a year’s worth of readings, and if you start with Mark, you get to the baptism story in the second week of the year. So it wasn’t ’cause anybody knew the date of the baptism; it’s just the date they read the baptism story.

Since Jesus was also sorta revealed as God incarnate at his annunciation, Epiphany celebrations began to include his birth stories. Till the early Christians realized the birth needed its own celebration. Thus the 12 days before Epiphany became the separate celebration of Christmas. Yep, that’s how it happened; Christians didn’t take over any pagan winter solstice festivals, and claim Jesus was born around the time the days began to grow longer. We still don’t know when he was born. Doesn’t matter, though. All we needed was a day—or 12—to celebrate. And for the longest time, Epiphany also lasted several days: Usually eight.

And Epiphany marks the end of Christmastime. Bummer.

26 December 2016

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

The second day of Christmas honors the first martyr.

St. Stephen’s Day falls on 26 December, the second day of Christmas. Not that we know Stephen died on this day; it’s just where western tradition happened to put it. In eastern churches it’s tomorrow, 27 December. (And if they’re still using the old Julian calendar, it’s 9 January to us.) In some countries it’s an official holiday.

You may remember Stéfanos/“Stephen” from Acts 6-7. Yep, he’s that St. Stephen.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, tithes weren’t money, but food. Every year you were to take 10 percent of your firstfruits and celebrate with it; Dt 14.22-27 every third year you were to give it to the needy. Dt 14.28-29 Apparently the church took on the duty of distributing tithes to the needy, but they were accused of favoring Aramaic-speaking Christians over Greek-speaking ones. Ac 6.1 So the Twelve had the church elect seven Greek-speakers to take over the job. Ac 6.2-3 Stephen was first in the list, and Luke, the author of Acts, pointedly called him full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Ac 6.5 full of God’s grace and power. Ac 6.8 In other words, a standout.

At this point in history, the church still only consisted of Jews. Christianity was still considered a Jewish religion—with the obvious difference that Christians believed Jesus is Messiah, and their fellow Jews believed Messiah hadn’t yet come. Otherwise Christians still went to temple and synagogue. And it was in synagogue where Stephen got into trouble: The people of his synagogue dragged him before the Judean Senate, accusing him of slandering Moses, the temple, and God. Custom made slandering Moses and the temple serious, but slandering God could get you the death penalty. So Stephen was brought before the Senate to defend himself.

Unlike Jesus, who totally admitted he’s Messiah, Stephen defended himself. His defense was a bible lesson: He retold the history of Israel, up to the construction of the temple. Ac 7.2-47 Then he pointed out God doesn’t live in a building, of all things. Ac 7.48-50 And by the way: They’re a bunch of Law-breakers who killed Christ. Ac 7.51-53

More than one person has pointed out it’s almost like Stephen was trying to get himself killed. Me, I figure he was young and overzealous and naïve, and had adopted the American myth—centuries before we Americans had adopted it—that if you’re on God’s side, no harm can ever befall you. That you can bad-mouth your foes, and God’s hedge of protection will defend you when they turn round and punch you in the head. That you can leap from tall buildings, and the angels will catch you. You know, like Satan tried to tempt Jesus with. Mt 4.5-7

Well, that’s not at all how things turned out.

06 December 2016

St. Nicholas’s Day. (Yep, it’s this early in the month.)

Remembering the actual guy whom Santa Claus is based upon.

Whenever kids ask me whether Santa Claus is real, I’ll point out he is based on an actual guy. That’d be Nikólaos of Myra, whose feast day is today, 6 December, in honor of his death on this date in the year 343.

Here’s the problem: There are a whole lot of myths mixed up with Nicholas’s life. And I’m not just talking about the Santa Claus stories, whether they come from Clement Moore’s poem, L. Frank Baum’s children’s books, the Rankin-Bass animated specials, or the various movies which play with the Santa story. Christians have been making up stories about Nicholas forever.

That’s why it gets a little frustrating when people ask about the facts behind St. Nicholas: We’re not sure we do have facts behind St. Nicholas. All we do know with any certainty is he was the bishop of Myra. The other stories: We honestly have no idea what parts of them are true, and what parts are exaggerations—or full-on fabrications. It could be all fiction.

But I’ll share what we’ve got, and you can take it from there.

Round the year 270, Nikólaos was born in Patara, in the Roman province of Lykia. That’s just outside present-day Gelemis, Turkey. No, he wasn’t Turkish; the Turks didn’t move in till the Middle Ages. He was Anatolean Greek. Hence the Greek name, which means “people’s victory,” same as Nicodemus.

Nicholas’s parents were Christian. When they died, he was raised by his uncle, the town bishop, who had the same name as he, Nikólaos. Seems his uncle groomed him to go into the family business: Nicholas was trained to be a reader, the person who reads the bible during worship services. Later he became a presbyter, an elder—or, as they were considered in the Orthodox tradition, a priest.

Tradition has it that Nicholas’s parents were wealthy, and he was very generous with his inheritance, regularly giving it to the needy. Probably the most popular St. Nicholas story tells of a man who couldn’t afford to marry off his daughters. Apparently they needed a large dowry in order to attract decent husbands. (Though you gotta wonder just how decent such husbands would be… but I digress.) Mysteriously, three bags of gold appeared just in time to pay for each daughter’s dowry. Of course their anonymous benefactor was Nicholas.

Depending on who’s telling the story, these weren’t bags of gold, but gold balls—and this is where the three-ball symbol on pawnshops supposedly comes from. Or the gold appeared in the daughter’s stockings as they dried over the fireplace (even though stockings weren’t invented yet) and this is where the custom of gifts in Christmas stockings supposedly comes from. Or Nicholas threw the gold down the chimney, and this is where that story comes from.

Of course, people are gonna try to connect Nicholas myths with Santa myths, so as to explain how on earth these two guys are the same person. So there’s the strong likelihood none of these stories are true. Nicholas had a reputation as a gift-giver. The rest is probably rubbish.

24 November 2016

Thanksgiving Day.

If your country doesn’t have a national day of thanksgiving, that’s a bummer. But you can still give thanks any time.

In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday.

Who are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.

—77th Congress, 6 October 1941
House Joint Resolution 41

The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday. But left undefined, ’cause our Constitution won’t permit Congress to pick a national religion, nor define religious practice. Article 6; Amendment 1 Not that Congress doesn’t bend that rule on occasion. Making “In God We Trust” our national motto, fr’instance.

Though our government is secular, the nation sure isn’t. Four out of five of us Americans call ourselves Christian. I know; we sure don’t act it. (Look at our crime rate. Look at the people we elect.) Regardless, a supermajority of us claim allegiance to Jesus, which is why we can bend the Constitution so often and get away with it. Our presidents do as well; our first president was the guy who first implemented a national Thanksgiving Day.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

—President George Washington, 3 October 1789

Yeah, Americans point to other functions as our “first Thanksgiving.” Usually a harvest celebration by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. Although technically the first Christian thanksgiving day on the continent was held by the Spanish in Florida in 1565—followed by another in Texas in 1598, and another by the Virginia colonists as early as 1607.

Over time, colonial custom created a regular Thanksgiving Day, held in the fall. Sometimes governments declared a Thanksgiving Day, like the Continental Congress declaring one for 18 December 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga. But Washington’s declaration in 1789 didn’t fix the day nationally (and he didn’t declare another till 1795). States set their own days: In 1816, New Hampshire picked 14 November, and Massachusetts picked 28 November.

It wasn’t till 1863 when it did become regular:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

—President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863

Lincoln and his successors declared Thanksgiving every year thereafter.

15 May 2016

Pentecost.

The eighth Sunday after Easter, when the Holy Spirit started the church.

I’m a Pentecostal… and weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never notice when Pentecost comes round. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little.

Anyway, Pentecost is the last day of Eastertime, the day we Christians remember the start of the Christian church—the day the Holy Spirit gave power to Jesus’s followers. Like so.

Acts 2.1-4 KWL
1 When the 50th day after Passover drew near, all were together in one place.
2 Suddenly a roar came from heaven, like a mighty wind sounds,
and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 Tongues, like fire, were seen distributed to them,
and sat on each one of them, 4 and all were filled with the Holy Spirit.
They began to speak in other tongues,
in whatever way the Spirit gave them the ability.
4 The Jews who inhabited Jerusalem at the time
were devout men from every nation under heaven.
5 When this sound came forth, the masses gathered, and were confused:
Each one of them was hearing their own dialect spoken to them.
6 They were astounded, and wondered aloud, “Look, aren’t all these speakers Galileans?
8 How is each of us hearing our own native dialect?
9 People from Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Israel, eastern Turkey,
10 western Turkey, Egypt, the Cyrenian part of Libya, visitors from Rome,
11 Jews and Jewish converts, Cretans and Arabs
—we hear them speaking of God’s might in our own languages!”
12 All were astounded and stunned. Some asked one another, “What caused this?”
13 Others said, joking, “They’ve been drinking port.”

Lots of Christians call this story the “first Pentecost.” It wasn’t. Pentecost comes from the Greek pentikostí iméra/“50th day.” It’s the Greek term for the Hebrew festival of Shavuót/“Weeks,” the first crop of the wheat harvest. Ex 34.22 From the first day the Hebrews began to harvest wheat, the LORD ordered Moses to have ’em count off seven weeks, or 49 days. Dt 16.9-12 On the last day they were to sacrifice some of the grain to God, and take a day off in celebration. Nu 28.26 Somehow, the first day of the wheat harvest became formally shifted to the first day after Passover, meaning Weeks is the 50th day after Passover—6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar. (In ours, 14 May 2016.)

All male Jews were instructed to go to temple on Pentecost. Dt 16.16 Meaning Jerusalem was full of devout Jews at the time, bringing the LORD their grain offerings—and suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew, spoken as if to them personally. That got their attention.

27 March 2016

Easter.

Or “Resurrection Sunday,” for those who are paranoid about what “Easter” might mean.

On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed only two days before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected.

He died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew Pesákh/“Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha; in Danish Påske, Dutch Pasen, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk.

But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur. In German this becomes Ostern; in English Easter.

Because of the pagan origins of the word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” (Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians.)

Easter is our most important holiday. Christmas tends to get the world’s focus (and certainly that of the merchants), but it’s only because Christmas doesn’t stretch their beliefs too far. Everybody agrees Jesus was born. We only differ on details.

But Easter is about how Jesus was raised, and that’s a sticking point for a whole lot of pagans. They don’t buy it. They don’t even like it: When they die, they wanna go to heaven and stay there. Resurrection? Coming back? In a body? No no no.

We’ll even find Christians who agree with them: They’ll claim Jesus didn’t literally return from death, but exists in some super-spiritual ghostly form. Which returned to heaven, and that’s where we’ll go too. No resurrection; not necessary. Yes, it’s a heretic idea, but a popular one.

So to pagans, Easter’s a myth. It’s a nice story about how we Christians think Jesus came back from the dead, but it comes from ancient times, back when people believed anyone could come back from the dead if they knew the right magic spell. Really it’s just a metaphor for spring, new life, rebirth; just like eggs and baby chicks and bunnies. They’ll celebrate that. With chocolate, fancy hats, brunch, and maybe an egg hunt.

But to us Christians, Easter’s no myth. It’s history.

25 December 2015

Twelve days of Christmas.

How we do Christmas… and how we oughta do Christmas.

Today’s the first day of Christmas. Happy Christmas!

Sunday the 27th will be the third day of Christmas, and at church I expect to still wish people a happy Christmas… and I also expect them to look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.” Ah, the song.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Three french hens
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds
Three french hens
Two turtledoves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Thus far into the song, that’s 20 birds. There will be plenty more, what with the swans a-swimming and geese a-laying. Dude was weird for birds. But I digress.

There are 12 days of Christmas, but in our culture we celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and we’re done. Two days of Christmas. And some of us cannot abide any more than that. When I remind people there are 12 days of Christmas, their look is not that of surprise, recognition, or pleasure. It’s tightly controlled rage. Who the [expletive noun] added 11 more days to this [expletive adjective] holiday? They want it done already.

I understand that. Whenever the focus gets off Christ, and gets onto all the traditions we’re forced to practice this time of year, Christmas sucks. You know the routine: Irritating customs, fake sentimentality, forced interaction with awful people, reciprocal gift-giving, bad music, bad pageantry, tasteless ornaments, and of course the new political custom of being a dick to people who only wish us “Happy Holidays” instead of the mandatory “Merry Christmas.” I don’t blame people for hating that stuff. Really, Christians should hate it. It’s works of the flesh, y’know.

Christmas, the feast of Christ Jesus’s nativity (from whence we get foreign names for Christmas like Navidad and Noël and Natale) begins 25 December and ends 5 January. What are we to do those other 11 days?

24 October 2015

Happy Halloween. Bought your candy yet?

It’s Happy Halloween, not “Happy holidays.” Wait… wrong holiday.


A perfect opportunity to show Christlike generosity—and give the best candy ever. But too many of us make a serious point of being grouchy, fear-addled spoilsports.
(Image swiped from a mommy blog.)

For more than a decade I’ve ranted about the ridiculous Evangelical practice of shunning Halloween. I call it ridiculous ’cause it really is: It’s a fear-based, irrational, misinformed, slander-filled rejection of a holiday… which turns out to actually be a legitimate part of the Christian calendar.

No I’m not kidding. It’s our holiday. We invented Halloween. No it sure doesn’t look like Christians’ original intent, but that’s ’cause we let the pagans take it over and transform it from a fun time for children, to an inappropriate adult bacchanal, or a celebration of creepy horror movie themes.

Then there are the Pagans with a capital P—religious Pagans, as opposed to irreligious pagans. I call ’em neo-Pagans because their religions date from the 1960s. Yeah, that recently. They revived ancient religions, which is why that “neo-” bit goes before Pagan; but they greatly adapted those religions for present-day sensibilities. Ancient Pagans often had a lot of racial and sexual boundaries as part of their identity; modern Pagans decidedly got rid of the racism and sexism.

Anyway, neo-Pagans claim Halloween was originally Pagan, and Christians stole it from ’em in a futile attempt to Christianize it. This is utter rubbish. Yet because some of them call themselves “witches,” and because kids dress as totally unrelated witches on Halloween (whether the Harry Potter sort or the Macbeth sort), they insist it’s their holiday, not ours. And despite the total lack of historical evidence, a lot of gullible reporters swallow these claims whole, and repeat them every year. They’ve been doing it for so long, people actually try to debunk me, by quoting 10-year-old newsblog articles. Which were poorly researched and incorrect then, and just as wrong now.

Nature religions don’t even celebrate Halloween anyway. They celebrate autumn. The vernal equinox, the end of summer, the beginning of winter, the turn of the seasons—which took place a full month ago, back on 22 September. They celebrate the equinox-related harvest festivals, which in Irish would be Samhain /'saʊ.ən/, a contraction of sam fuin/“summer’s end.” Totally unrelated to Halloween. They just happen to exist within the same 45-day period.