I had to create an entire post to have even the slightest chance of having someone at the New York Times read what I had…
Welcome to Saint Patrick’s Day! May your shamrock not fall in your green beer, and if it does, drink it! Even if this day isn’t what we might have thought it was, it is our excuse to wear green and party, even if none of this makes historical sense.
I don’t want to ruin it for you, for in these dismal political times we need excuses to party, but even so, the legends of the day need some deconstructing.
Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish; perhaps he was English. He was sent back into what we now call Ireland (he had been a pig herder there in his youth) by Pope Celestine in 428. His role? To combat the ideas of Pelagius. Pelagius was Irish. According to Rome, he lost the theological argument with Augustine and was declared a heretic in 415. Augustine taught all are fallen and in need of unearned grace; Pelagius thought people could be good by their own will. Pope Celestine had earlier sent Palladius to root out the heresy. But Palladius tried to convert the few Christians there to Rome, whereas Patrick sought to convert the pagan Celtics to Christianity.
Patrick never chased the snakes out of Ireland; there were none. He probably didn’t live to be 111, nor kill some 800 Druids, as were said. He may have never mentioned shamrocks. Blue was the color used to celebrate him, not green.
I bring you these disconcerting facts, not to discourage you or make you drink blue beer, but to note how stories shift and traditions evolve as we do too.
Nor is March 17th reserved for Saint Patrick alone. He shares the honor with National Quilting Day, National Submarine Day, and National Corned Beef and Cabbage Day. It follows the famous Ides of March, which could mean, “Watch out, Trump.” (Excuse me; I meant “Watch out, Caesar.”) And the Ides of March follows both Everything You Think is Wrong Day on the 15th and Everything You Think is Right on the 16th, both days to get you thinking. Speaking of thinking, we shouldn’t leave science and math out of this, and we don’t, for not only is the 14th National Popcorn Day, but Pi day. (This doesn’t mean you eat pie on the 14th, the 3-14 has to do with a long number that even the experts can’t resolve.)
What’s the point of all these special days? Why even have special days? March is already National Celery Month. What more do you want than a crispy, juicy, tasty aphrodisiac? The first day of such an auspicious month is marked by National Pig Day, coinciding this year with the Chinese New Year. Accident? I think not.
I’ll get to the more important days of March after I share with you other treasures you didn’t know you could be celebrating. The 1st is also World Compliment Day, which is immediately followed by Old Stuff Day (when you acknowledge and throw out worn-out clothes and ideas), Caretaker Appreciation Day, and I Want You to be Happy Day (which doubles up with What if Your Pets had Thumbs Day).
All is not a joke; there are practical days. March 4th is Holy Experiment Day when we’re asked to deliberately pray and see how well it works. March 31st is World Backup Day (so we don’t lose our precious works, as I did – a year’s worth). Freedom of Information Day was yesterday. Did you know it?
(Fortunately, National Spring Forward Day was last Sunday. They mess with our minds and circadian rhythms twice a year. I’m glad it’s past. No one coming in late to the service with a surprised and embarrassed look on their face.)
There are also some purely fun days we can enjoy observing too. The 23rd is National Puppy Day, the 19th is Let’s Laugh Day, and the 22nd is officially National Goof-Off Day. The Klamath UUs celebrate “Whatever Day.” What’s ours?
I’m not sure how to celebrate the 11th, for it is both Worship of Tools Day and Napping Day. Perhaps I could cozy up with my maddox. Fortunately, it is also Johnny Appleseed Day, one of my American idols. John Chapman did a lot to spread apples along with a loving gospel. So, apple pie and cider are in order!
There are some miscellaneous days too. On Multiple Personality Day, we’re encouraged to talk to ourselves. The 8th is Be Nasty Day, but I don’t know if that means being mean or sexy. The 10th is Middle Name Pride Day. There are national lobster days and a National Baked Scallops Day. There’s even a wild card of the lot. March 26th is Make your Own Holiday Day.
(I regret to inform you that National Kissing Day isn’t till July 6th. Perhaps you could fix this lag by using the 26th’s Make your Own Holiday wisely and liberally.)
If we venture out past our culture, we find other religions have occasion to party. The Zoroastrians celebrate the divine spark in everyone. On the 21st they celebrate the New Year (though they have two dates of which year it is, 1389 or 3757). The Eastern Orthodox church has Cheesefare Sunday (also known as Forgiveness Sunday) where cheese is enjoyed for the last time before a month of vegetarian eating. Hola Mohallah is when the Sikhs celebrate their guru who had them prepare for military combat. The Hindus celebrate Holi on the 21st, throwing bright colors on each other, signifying various things, but also that everyone is the Divine One no matter their color. Shivaratri, celebrating Shiva, the oldest religious figure in the human pantheon, was on the 5th.
Returning to our own culture and zeroing in on two days I do honor, we remember all month it is Women’s History Month and the U.N. has declared March 8th as International Women’s Day. However, because it was founded in 1911 in the socialist movement, our president may try to undermine it – and women – stay tuned. (He may also resent Jimmy Carter for having helped forward Women’s Month; finally declared in 1987.)
March 31st will also be the International Day of Transgender Visibility. Given the recent trans woman murdered after being forcibly returned by Trump’s cruel immigration stance, we would do well to honor and protect our trans persons.
It is because of Women’s History Month that I discovered Ida B. Wells, an African American woman who documented lynching in post-Civil War America and helped found the NAACP. Fredrick Douglas valued her contributions, but she was dismissed by W.E.B. DuBois and Booker Washington as too liberal to lead suffrage movement activities. The NY Times of that era called her, “a slanderous and nasty-nasty-minded Mulatress.” (I don’t know if that was in conjunction with the 8th’s Be Nasty Day.)
The Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 20th. I looked up the meaning but found it far less interesting than my introduction to Purim by my rabbi friend Aryeh as that time when people party hearty and get a bit loose.
Our own Christian heritage celebrated Mardi Gras recently on Tuesday the 5th and then is supposed to go into a month of denial and restraint on the next day – Ash Wednesday. That’s when we Catholics used to go to church to get a smudge of grey ashes placed on our forehead in the shape of a cross – reminding us we might have to suffer, and our bodies are dust destined to return to the dust.
I’ll bet some of you are wondering when I’ll get to the most important day of March, the 20th. Do you know what it is? Yes, Extraterrestrial Abduction Day! Whether you celebrate this day publically, or hide out, is up to you. I joke. Atheist Day (also known as Saint Stupid’s Day) will be on, of course, April 1st.
Finally, I gladly share with you my favorite of them all: March 6th was Day of the Dude, celebrating the ease and sloth of Mr. Lebowski. But don’t call him that.
This romp through the serious and silly days of March reminds us of our larger wholeness. There’s pie and pi, cheese and scallops, popcorn and cider. There’s drinking too much and passing out beads in hopeful anticipation at Mardi Gras. There are humans we want to remember and honor, significant ones and overlooked ones. There’s being happy and being nasty. There’s sacrifice and indulgence. There’re women gradually getting the respect and power they deserve. The serious and the frivolous mark our calendars, giving us occasion to do both. Oh, the things we humans do!
I bring you this foray into the varied occasions we mark to remind us of our larger interests even as the political, social, and environmental situation around us grows ever tenser and more dangerous. I like to rail against such trends, but the woes and needs of the world are not to be always laid on you from this pulpit. We need also to relax, to enjoy corned beef and cabbage, downed with a frosty beer. We need distractions and parties sometimes. It isn’t so bad to enjoy our lives while we have them.
Our situation is analogous to Henry David Thoreau’s when he wrote his 1849 classic, “Civil Disobedience.” He railed against a minority in his government starting a war on Mexico. He railed against slavery. He called for disobeying unjust laws. “Why does it [the government] not cherish its wise minority?” he asked. “Why does it always crucify Christ . . . and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels? . . . Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” But he was only in jail for the night, and he added a line that we should add to the daunting obligation we also try to carry: “I came into this world,” he said, “not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.”
We must live our lives amid forces beyond us we can only barely change. He wanted us to be whole citizens, not just by voting. “All voting is a sort of gaming,” he said. “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it… it is only expressing . . . feebly your desire that it should prevail.” “Cast your whole vote,” he implored, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” Be full-fledged citizens. But don’t forget to live in life, be it good or bad.
So, while I’m usually doing my preacherly duty to call you to your higher selves, to a bold citizenry, I also remind us to not only be a Sisyphus or a Christ. There will come times of trial and sacrifice, but let there also be times of frivolity, lightness, of playful companionability. Take a nap. Do something different. Roll out of your rut to get a slightly higher view. . . .
Well, all this was written before my bike crash about a week ago. I felt dissatisfied with my sermon. Too trite. So what if there’s a Cabbage Day and a Submarine Day? All these do is remind us of how varied our human interests are. It’s okay to have niche interests and hobbies along with the more serious intent, like Women’s Day. And all these various made-up days of March dance around a day that marks actual time – equinox. We’re almost exactly between winter and summer solstice, halfway to the longest day. The moons and seasons of our lives are rolling on no matter how we celebrate them or not.
My bike accident shook me into renewed gratitude and purpose. I don’t remember what happened then or most of that Friday. I was concussed unconscious for hours. I awoke to confusion. They asked me if I knew who the president was. “Don’t ask me that,” I complained, “I’m already suffering enough here.” Stitched lip, stretched muscles, bruised back and legs, pain all over, and an inability to simply walk reminded me of how lucky I am to be alive at all, able to do so many things. Minor pains remind me of major ones missed. Best, none of the symptoms of brain damage showed up past the initial day of forgetting.
I hurt like heck, but I knew I was grateful for friends who drove me home from the hospital, my son who tended me at home, and all the various personnel of the ambulance and hospital. I thanked God I could still think enough to complete this sermon for you and get to work on my long-contemplated but incomplete book. I keep thinking I have an idea that fits our time, that truly could help humanity sway the vast momentum of religion, culture, politics, and technology towards a world-affirming, life-promoting, human-enhancing practical vision. My crash hurt and scared me just enough to say, “Get on with it!”
Perhaps my wake-up crash helps remind us of all the precarious and temporary reality of our lives. Sure, we can drink green beer, eat apple pie, appreciate our tools, and take some naps. We can be inspired by Johnny Appleseed and Ida B. Wells. But notice how relentlessly time moves on. What is important for you to remember or do in this precious and precarious time? I’m not here to tell you what that is; I’m here to ask you to ask and answer that for yourself.
Of the many things to interest us, what are those that matter most? What larger life would you live? Who would you tell your love, worry, or hope to? What do you want to get done? What do you want to enjoy? Perhaps something came to you while listening to this. Take it seriously and gladly.
Politically, culturally, and environmentally, it has been a hard winter. But the world turns and tilts, and the sun warms us with our fair share of light. Amid the tedious and trite are our simple days and splendid ways. Live into both as best you can.
Reverend Byron Bradley Carrier
UUs of Grants Pass, Oregon, March 17th, 2019.