Who Was St. Patrick?

Who was Saint Patrick, the patron saint of the Irish whose name represents all things green? Because of the holiday—St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated every March 17th—you might think this historical figure was an Irishman who drank green beer. In fact, neither is true. Saint Patrick was actually born in Scotland or Wales to parents who were Romans living as colonial bureaucrats in Britain! Born around 385, Patrick is surely to have drunk beer, or ale as it was called then. People drank a lot of beer back then because it was cleaner than water (that could give you nasty parasites and diseases). But as everybody knows, ale is more of a meal in a glass, and generally much darker than the standard pilsners and lagers from my Germanic ancestors and other Europeans. I don’t think they had green food coloring then; making beer (and rivers) green is an Irish-American invention meant to celebrate ethnicity. Patrick would have grown up with some privilege, as his parents worked for Roman occupiers. However, in his teens, a raiding party (that’s what they did back then) invaded and kidnapped Patrick off to Ireland, where he was made to heard sheep. It was as a slave in Ireland that he encountered God. There is nothing like captivity or other unpleasant circumstances to get you on your knees. He later wrote, “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same…I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.” After about six years...

What is Easter, really?

According to The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Hirsch, Kett & Trefil, 1988), Easter is a holiday that every American needs to know about. Easter is a social construct, too.  That’s right; it is a made-up holiday celebrated differently by diverse people around the world. It’s considered a most holy day, along with Christmas, for Christ-followers, but people make up how they choose to celebrate it. When I first read Berger and Luckmann’s landmark social science book, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, I had a hard time accepting that much of our reality is socially constructed. I am a huge proponent of free will. But as time went on, I realized the theory holds much truth. How we live life—largely what we believe and why we believe it—is passed on to us culturally. That’s right, we make stuff up! We make up our culture, values, customs, ways of life, language, and to a large extent, our thought patterns. For the most part, we accept what we grew up with. We live life through social constructs I contend that the social construction of reality is not a bad thing, and does not make the reality behind a celebration or practice any less true. Easter is not just a holy day, it is a holy season. Coinciding with spring in the northern hemisphere, (where most of our Easter traditions came from), it follows a 40-day period called Lent, which since ancient times has been set aside as a season of penance and reflection, where believers are encouraged to make sacrifices and engage in acts of goodness. In this way, Christians are prepared to remember the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ who was both God and man in one being. Lent culminates in Holy Week, which starts with Palm Sunday (remembering Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem), then continues with Maundy Thursday (remembering the Passover supper Jesus had with his disciples and his washing of their feet), and Good Friday (remembering when Christ was executed), and finally celebrating Easter, when Christ rose from the dead. Lenten and Easter practices seem to be very ancient. In his “History of Lent” (2002), Fr. Saunders cited a letter to the Pope written in A.D. 203 commenting on the differences between how Easter was celebrated in the East and West: “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers.” Many Christian customs were either borrowed from other religions or simply made up. The use of incense, visual depictions (crosses, crucifixes, icons, painting, sculptures), church architecture and many other things were used to help people connect to God. As someone pointed out, the use of “bells” and “smells” helped illiterate congregants throughout history connect with a God who isn’t tangible. Like the rest of the church calendar, dates were set aside to remind Christ-followers of many of the important aspects of the New Testament, which chronicles the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the early church. Other “holy days,” which we have come to call “holidays,” include Advent and Christmas (leading up to and celebrating the birth of Christ), Epiphany (celebrating the incarnation of Christ and the visit by the Magi), and Pentecost (remembering the outpouring of God’s spirit on early believers shortly after Christ’s return to God the Father). A basic tenant of Christianity is that God is made up of three distinct persons, designated Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. These three do not exist or operate in an authoritarian structure, but by relationship and communication. Unlike Christmas,...

Are You a Busyologist?...

We are chronically busy. We are often tired. I choose to be active and tend to over-extend myself. But as I get older, I also give myself permission to take breaks from busyness to rest, restore my soul, and be with friends. That is exactly what I’m going to do next week when my college courses are on spring break. My friend and colleague Amy Roemer sent me this short article that is timely for me. I hope it is timely for you also. Just as I turned off the TV the other night I heard someone introduced as a “busyologist.” What? I listened a moment more and realized he was a physiologist. Still, it caught my imagination. So many of us can be described as busyologists. We do things just to stay busy. We over-commit because we’re afraid of having nothing to do (or for whatever reasons). If we happen to find a free moment, we fill it with Facebook or Pinterest or Angry Birds, or simply searching the web for anything we can think of. I think we take pride in telling others how busy we are. We are busyologists. No one seems to care what you do, as long as you’re busy. “Hi! Haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” “Busy.” “Wow! I’m impressed.” Sounds silly when I put it into print, doesn’t it? Yet it’s so hard to get off the merry-go-round. If I take the time to sit and read for pleasure, I feel like I have to apologize for it. But no, I’m going to say it proudly, “I read a book today, just because I wanted to!” Are you impressed? You know what? It feels good to relax. It energizes you when you slow down...

Holidays

A holiday is a special day set apart to celebrate something. Originally from the words, Holy Day, holidays have their roots in religious celebrations. Today we celebrate holidays that mark national and political days, birthdays, seasons, and remembrances as well as religious traditions. July 4th is a holiday in the United States, a day to remember our declaration of independence from England. It is celebrated with particular foods that usually include backyard grilling, camping, concerts and fireworks. Mostly it involves being with friends and family. Hindus celebrate Holi, a spring festival associated with Krishna where people throw colored talc on each other. Muslims celebrate Ramadan, a month of fasting during the day and feasting at night. Jews commemorate Passover and remember the time when God delivered them from Egypt. Christians mark Christmas and Easter, seasons associated with the arrival and sacrifice of Jesus the Christ. These holidays make us pause to remember and reflect on important things, connect us to God, and restore our souls. We need holidays. We need to remember. Sometimes we need special days to make us cease from our labors and spend time with people. We need holidays to stop and smell the roses. The English talk about “going on holiday,” what Americans would call “going on vacation.” Whatever you call them, we need them. Sundays are holidays we get to celebrate every week! I came to the realization a few years ago that Sundays are a gift. As much as I’d like to believe it, I do not have endless energy. I need days off. I need days to do nothing. If I choose to work on Sundays and other holidays, I am looking a gift horse in the mouth; I’m just being stupid. I have a new philosophy...

Vacation Spending Jun22

Vacation Spending

We tend to spend too much money on vacation. It’s like we cast our logic to the wind. Maybe we’re in the “I deserve it” mode. Then things end up costing more than we thought. Check out this great article by Dave Ramsey so you don’t end up bringing your vacation home with you (in the way of credit card debt)....