Friday, February 29, 2008

leap day

Today is Leap Day, the extra day that we tack on to February every four years to keep the calendar in time with the seasons. We do this because the Earth does not orbit the sun in a nice round 365 days, but rather in 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds.

Ancient peoples based their calendars on many things, from the movements of the stars to the activities of plants and animals. The Greek poet Hesiod told farmers to begin the harvest when the constellation Pleiades was rising and to begin plowing when it was setting, and to sharpen their farming tools when snails began climbing up plants. Most early calendars were based on the stages of the moon, with lunar months of about 29 days each. But the problem with the lunar calendar is that it's about 11 days short of the actual year, so instead of having to add a leap day every few years, you have to add a leap month. The Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to develop a calendar with 12 months and 365 days. When Julius Caesar rose to power, the Romans were using a calendar that was so faulty they often had to add an extra 80 days to the year. In 46 B.C., after his affair with Cleopatra, Caesar chose to adopt the superior Egyptian calendar, and this became known as the Julian calendar. In the first version of the Julian calendar, February had 29 days most years and 30 days in leap years. Caesar named the month of July after himself, so when Augustus came to power, he decided he needed a month too. He named August after himself, but he had to steal a day from February in order to make August as long as July.

The Julian calendar worked well for a while, but in the 13 century, a sick old friar named Roger Bacon sent a letter to the Pope. He had calculated the actual length of the solar year as slightly less than 365.25 days, and he pointed out that the Julian calendar was adding one leap day too many for every 125 years. The result was that Christians were celebrating holy days on the wrong dates. Bacon wrote, "The calendar is intolerable to all wisdom, the horror of astronomy, and a laughing-stock from a mathematician's point of view." Bacon was eventually imprisoned for implying that the pope had been fallible, and his writings were censored. It wasn't until 1582 that Pope Gregory XIII hired a group of Jesuits to fix the calendar, and they came up with the complicated system of omitting the leap day at the beginning of each century, except for those centuries divisible by 400. When Pope Gregory made the change, the calendar was about 10 days off, so Gregory deleted 10 days from the year. People went to sleep on Thursday, Oct. 4 and woke up on Friday, Oct. 15.

At first, the Gregorian calendar was only accepted in Catholic countries, and even there people were uncomfortable about losing 10 days of their lives. It led to protests and financial uncertainty, since people weren't sure how to calculate interest or taxes or rent for a 21-day month. Protestant countries didn't adopt the new calendar until much later, and this meant that for a long time, if you crossed the border of certain European countries, you had to set your clock back or forward by at least 10 days. When Great Britain finally accepted the Gregorian calendar in 1751, 11 days had to be deleted from the year. The change led to antipapal riots, because people believed the pope had shortened their lives. Mobs gathered in the streets, chanting, "Give us back our 11 days!" When the British colonies in America made the change the following year, Ben Franklin wrote in an editorial, "Be not astonished, nor look with scorn, dear reader, at ... the loss of so much time. ... What an indulgence is here, for those who love their pillow, to lie down in peace on the second [day] of this month and not awake till the morning of the fourteenth."

The Gregorian calendar has since been accepted everywhere as the standard. It is so accurate that we will have to wait until the year 4909 before our dates become out of step with the Earth's orbit by a full day.

appreciatively copied from Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac.

Friday, February 22, 2008

as uu goes...

Just our ancestors led, from Town Meeting to U.S. constitution, our UU movement may again be blazing a trail. The Rev. William Sinkford was the first black president of our UUA; Senator Barack Obama may become the first black (/multiracial) president of our USA. Maybe if the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman goes on to win the next UUA election, then Senator Hillary Clinton can follow in 2016. (Or, Governor Bill Richardson could follow the Rev. Peter Morales)

I am still afraid of what the swiftboaters will do against Obama in a general election, and I fear how the white supremacists will act out, once he's sworn in, *and* I am still hopeful about the possibility of an Obama presidency.

It will not automatically heal our country's racial divisions; it may make some worse, and hide others (by allowing some to declare racism dead); and it would still be a good and important step toward Beloved Community.

Whatever happens, these are important opportunities for us to discuss racism and oppression in contemporary culture. May we live up to the opportunity, and continue to lead as we always have.

Friday, February 15, 2008

living his faith

"I have been challenged in recent weeks at Church, as it seems some of the Sunday Service topics, and some words said therein, have been antithetical to my very Being and Soul. Twice recently I was tempted (and actually came quite close on one occasion) to simply walk out of the service. But, our faith teaches me tolerance, and that even vastly points of view (if presented respectfully) have their place. Thus I have had the opportunity to grow from my remaining. I have stayed and tried to learn perhaps not from the topic or words, but from my reactions to them. Our wonderful faith has guided me and provides that extra insulation I need at times when I find it cold and perhaps even need to brave the wind chill of intolerance. I feel blessed by our faith that has taught me much. Just don’t be surprised if I seem to be wearing mittens now and then. And if you need to borrow a scarf yourself, I’ll be happy to offer you mine."
--UUCGT Trustee Jeff Hawkins, adapted. Jeff is a Druid, and a true UU.

(Is it too defensive to note that he was speaking about services presented by people other than me? I do know that I need to take responsibility for mentoring our presenters, and worship coordinators, to present living worship *every* week...)

Friday, February 08, 2008

mentoring mentors

Mainline Protestantism--including Fundamentalism, and including UUism--is failing; attendance is declining and the members'average age is increasing. Stefan Jonasson, our UUA's consultant on large church dynamics, blames it on a failure of leadership. Besides improving organizational structures--role clarity is essential--Stefan teaches that we leaders need to lead. We must articulate a grand vision and high expectations, and mentor leaders (lay and profesional) into living out that vision. People are starving for meaning in their lives; they want to do real work and take on real challenges. Churches who are growing have high expectations for their members.

Many of us are uncomfortable with authority--that of others, or our own. For UUism to survive, for our saving message to reach the millions who need it, for my own spiritual growth, I hereby challenge myself to grow into this kind of leadership.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I am an ambivalent football fan. On the one hand, I love to see the leadership, the determination, the teamwork and sheer human drama of sport; on the other, it is plainly a modern version of gladiators, where underprivileged men trade their bodies for the possibility of fame and fortune. That said, I thought Super Bowl XLII was tremendous, filled with great play and great stories.

Some watch for the commercials--I was tickled as giant balloons of Baby Stewie and Underdog vied for the giant balloon softdrink bottle, only to lose it to a giant balloon Charlie Brown. I was pleased in the moment (thinking "Charlie deserves to finally win one"), but soon came to disagree. Charlie Brown is the quintessential lovable loser. I chose to believe that balloon Charlie soon realized that he lacked the ability to open the balloon soft drink, and so was thwarted again.

And thus is balance restored: the New York football Giants as victors, and Charlie Brown as our surrogate loser.