Friday, January 1, 2010

Year of the Tiger

On this first day of January 1, in true Japanese fashion I am wishing you each one a Happy New Year! 明けまして、おめでとう御座います。(If you don’t have Japanese fonts loaded on your computer, you may not be able to see the Japanese words in the previous sentence.)

According to the Oriental zodiac of East Asia, today is the beginning of the Year of the Tiger. Traditionally, the new year does not begin until late January or February; this year the “Chinese New Year” begins on February 14. But for a long time now, Japan has celebrated January 1 as New Year’s Day, while retaining many of the ancient traditions.

This is “my” year, for I was born in the Year of the Tiger. It’s common in Japan to find out how old people are by asking what their zodiac sign is. (There is a sign for each of twelve years, not for months within the year.) It is fairly easy to guess what year a person was born in if you know their sign. (I hope no one mistakenly thinks I will be 84, although I would be happy to pass for 60!)

While not hesitating to celebrate the new year, whether in the West or in the East, I do have a bit of a problem with emphasizing a circular way or thinking rather than a linear one. Years ago, a Japanese friend pointed out that from Christianity’s linear viewpoint there is no qualitative difference between January 1 and any other day of the year. The Christian (as well as the Jewish or Muslim) worldview is based on history rather than nature.

Thus, it is more significant that today is the beginning of the year 2010 than it is January 1; the year is based on historical progression, the date on the revolution of the earth around the sun. The latter is sometimes linked to “the myth of eternal return” (Eliade), which I see as being at odds with the Judeo-Christian worldview. For that reason, I have some problem with the “church year” emphasis, as to some extent it is based on the concept of circularity rather than linearity.

To remember the significant events in the life of Christ each year is good, of course. But do we really need to wait all during Advent to celebrate the coming of Christ if we know he was born over 2,000 years ago? And do we need to be sorrowful through Lent if we know that Jesus has already been resurrected and we are living in the joy of new life?

I think there is significant meaning in the old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” That is true every day, not just on New Year’s Day. Each day we are challenged to move forward, not in a circle. So, thinking about the path that you are travelling into the future, I pray that each of you will be blessed with health and happiness in the coming year. And may you find strength for the journey and joy in the struggle for peace and justice in each of the 365 days—and the 1,000 days—that lie ahead.


  1. One of my Thinking Friends (and faithful reader of this blog) made the following comments about what I wrote about the "church year":

    "In living out the Lectionary year I was never asked to 'wait' for Jesus during Advent but rather to be intentional at that time of year in watching and looking for God in everyone and everything I encountered. It is about my growth and discipline to bring into being (to conceive, incarnate, gestate, labor and deliver) that awareness; truly an attribute of Christlikeness. Lent was the same for me, once again a chance to be intentional in putting to death some bad habit, understanding my place in relationship to God and bringing to life or resurrecting some saving characteristic or spiritual gift of Christ. In both cases it is an opportunity to become more Christlike while others are doing the same so we can support and encourage one another. It is interesting to note that modern psychology says in order to incorporate a new habit in ones entire life we should force ourselves to practice that habit for six weeks, which is the approximate length of Lent's forty days. I assume it takes a nation forty years to incorporate a habit or form a character."

  2. Happy New Year, everyone!

    I believe in spiral time. The spiral is the shape of our DNA. Also the shape of a perfect football pass. And a confession that the turnings of the seasons are changing for me, and for our larger community and world, too.

    And now I know I have something else in common with Leroy. While I will not have to worry exactly about "passing" for 60 this year, I will apparently have a special relationship with the Year of the Tiger. Perhaps if Leroy had just warned MU in time, they would have put off for one more day that little game with Navy! And did I mention that there is something of a spiral shape in a Cyclone? Go ISU!

  3. I cannot think of a more socially constructed "reality" than linear time. One philosopher whose book I read recently noted that the Western concept of time and progress is an entirely socially constructed product of the Enlightenment, and, as such, is a prison. We (Westerners) are a product of that "linear" heritage, so, of course, you Leroy and the rest of us Westerners would prefer it, defend it, find value in it, though such preference does not make it correct, right, or better in any way. We cannot speak from a place of objective detachment on the issue of linear time. There is no importance to linear time other than the importance we give it.

    The cycle of the seasons (or months), rather than linearity, seems more effective in telling us something of importance, whether such telling relates to the time for growing crops and for harvesting, or to remembering some event important to the community (such as the Advent season you reference). Circularity connects the past to the present and to the future. We speak of birth cycles, life cycles, weather cycles, and astronomical rotations and revolutions. Circularity is found in all of nature, that goodness of God's creation. In a linear worldview, looking forward, by definition, means not looking back (and in order to look back back, we must, if only momentarily, stop looking forward). In a worldview that connects all things in the circle of life, looking forward necessarily requires us to circle back and to look at that which came before. We can look back as the back is our forward and the forward is our back.

    It is in this season (or month) and because of this season (or month) that I am reminded of other similar seasons or months of the past, and know, generally, what I can expect for the same season or month in the future. There is a rhythm and comfort in the seasons and there is a remembering and a connection to God's creation and to the past, present and future that is vital to us as individuals and as a people (again, as an example, thinking of Advent and the upcoming Easter season for Christians).

    In fact, linearity seems to trivialize our history as something of the past, somehow unconnected with the things of today. Far too often I've heard people claim from a linear perspective, when responding to claims of injustice,"that was then, this is now," even though the crimes of the "then" are found in the "now." As I recall, someone famous said something (in quite circular fashion) about histories that we are doomed to repeat.

    I hope everyone is enjoying this Winter season, is finding contentment living fully in the moment of this season, is remembering those special moments of seasons past, and is anticipating with joy and hope the possibilities of seasons to come.

  4. I think CT makes several fine points, not least is the recognition of the constructedness of the linear appreciation of time. I wonder, though, what motivates that social construction? I cannot help but think that eschatalogical thinking of late 1st century Jews who felt marginalized by Hellenism and Roman occupation satisfied a needed theodicy: God will someday make all things new: "do not remember the former things, etc." On the other hand, as one scholar's work points out, "newness" in Hebrew thought is not unrelated to "renewal;" a "new moon," is but the "renewal" of a cycle. The notions of "new" (linearity) and "renewal" (cicularity) are not unrelated necessarily.

    Perhaps CD's notion of a spiral is helpful, too, if I could explicate the metaphor in my own way. In a spiral there is both forward motion (in the metaphors he's used) and cyclical motion. If there is ever such a thing as progress, it only comes through cycles endlessly turning back on themselves thus creating an advancing movement. Concepts of learning and teaching benefit especially from processes of spiraling. Constant review is the basis for both aquiring new information by deeping one's understanding and appreciation of what has been learned once before.

    There is no question that there are genuine "teloi" (ends) in our lives toward which we rightly press. On the other hand, the advance, progression, growth and maturity toward those teloi are only grasped as we continually circle back appreciating the experiences, knowledge, relationships, ideas we have already folded into and constantly fold into our journeys.

    This applies to everything but Chiefs football, in which case I adopt the Daoist principal of "wu wei:" action without assertion.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  5. A very simple analogy of both linear and circular reality can be seen with the discovery of the wheel being the most efficient means of terrestrial movement either forwards or backwards (generally in a linear direction not in a circular direction).

  6. I am reminded that the time mentioned concerns the chronos (whether it is linear, circular, or spiral). Having said this I am try to look at time in a different fashion, the kairos of time(the exact time right at this moment, the opportune time, living in the moment), or as Paul states, "Anyone in Christ - New Creation".
    Kairos then can be applied to any construction of what society deems as plausible, but with kairos the past and the future coincide with each other and defines the past and the future.

  7. Happy new year! Greetings from Indonesia. A friend of mine, an American missionary in Bandung (West Java), told me that Christian practice wearing a circle golden ring for married couple is wrong. According to linear worldview, we should wear a golden pin rather than a golden ring. What do you think?

    God bless us.