KOH2RVA: Day 105

The world did not end yesterday.

Walter R. T. Witschey was right: the Maya calendar simply rolled over from one cycle to the next, as smoothly as the odometer on your car.  According to that calendar, yesterday was 13.0.0.0.0 and today is 13.0.0.0.1.

According to the Gregorian calendar today is December 22, 2012, and according to the Christian calendar tomorrow is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, which means that—since the world didn’t end—I need to get busy writing a sermon.

But before I do, let me tell you what happened yesterday, on Day 104 of KOH2RVA (speaking of calendars): our year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

I went to jail.

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I told you I was going, and I told you I was going to tell a story.  I did.  I was escorted through a set of iron bars and down a long hallway past the high-security lockdown and the dining hall, up a flight of iron steps and in through another set of iron bars to a room where I found about fifty men in brown jump suits waiting patiently for my arrival.  As I walked in they rose to their feet applauding and, honestly, I looked around to see who they were clapping for.  They didn’t know me.  I hadn’t even been introduced.  Apparently they are so glad to see anybody from the outside that they will clap even for a Baptist preacher.

Father Pruitt, the chaplain, gave a long speech about what a sacrifice I was making, how I was taking time out of my extremely busy schedule to be with them, and how grateful they should be, and then I got to tell my story.

I decided to tell the one about the time my brothers and I accidentally burned down the house while making a volcano in the back yard, but I did say at one point, “Friends, please don’t try this at home and especially don’t try it at the Richmond Jail.”

Let the record show.

It was a funny story and they seemed to enjoy it and at the end I said, “My brothers and I have never told my parents what really happened, and if you don’t tell them they will never know.  So, raise your right hands and repeat after me: I promise…never to tell…Dr. Somerville’s parents…who burned down the house!”

They laughed out loud.

It did feel as if heaven came a little closer to earth yesterday afternoon, in an iron-barred room at the Richmond Jail where inmates became—for a little while—children again, listening to a story.  In that moment I was glad that the world hadn’t come to an end.  I even began to feel hopeful that it might become a better place,

One loving act at a time.

KOH2RVA: Day 104

lit matchWell, according to some people, this is the day the world is supposed to end. I’ve got it on my calendar that way: “End of the world—not sure of exact time.” But because I’m not sure of the exact time I’m planning to go on with the other things that are on my (not the Maya) calendar.

For example:

At 1:00 this afternoon I’m supposed to tell a story to the inmates at the Richmond Jail. Chaplain Alonzo Pruitt says one of the greatest problems at the jail is boredom. “These people are here 168 hours a week,” he says. “Any relief they can get is appreciated.” So, I’ve offered to tell them a story, but which one should I tell?

  • I have a story about the time my brothers and I accidentally burned down our house when we tried to build a volcano in the back yard, but I’m not sure that’s a good one to tell people who are in jail.
  • And then there’s the time we gave the family cat an almost-complete ovariohysterectomy on the dining room table while my parents were out for the evening, but again, it might give the inmates ideas.
  • I have that story about the time I set the outhouse on fire while my brother Ed was in it, but I’m not sure it sets the right kind of moral example.

I’ll have to sort all that out before I go down there this afternoon, but I’m still hoping to go. I look forward to that opportunity to visit with those who are there, to brighten their day, to see if I can bring a little of the Kingdom of Heaven to one of the darkest corners of Richmond, Virginia.

What are you going to do today to bring the KOH2RVA?

Will the World End on December 21, 2012?

No.  Not according to Walter R. T. Witschey.

Dr. Witschey wrote to me after my recent sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 in which I mentioned that some people think the world is going to end on December 21, 2012, because that’s what the Maya calendar “suggests.”  It was in that part of the sermon where I was talking about the Day of the Lord coming suddenly, like a thief in the night.

“That’s how it will be,” Paul says.  “That’s how it will happen.  But the only people it will catch off guard are those who are not expecting it.  They will be drunk, and snoring, and sleeping it off when the thief crawls through the window, but you will be wide-awake, sober as a schoolmarm, sitting on the front porch with your suitcases packed.  So, why should you worry about ‘when,’ and ‘where,’ and ‘how’ the End will come?  You’re ready!  You belong to the day, you belong to the light!  You don’t have to worry about a thief in the night!”  And so, Paul says, stay ready.  “Be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  In other words, you who are Christian can protect yourselves against the anxiety of the end-times by clothing yourselves with great faith, great love, and great hope.  Those places where you are most vulnerable to attack—your heart, mind, and soul—will be shielded by that impenetrable armor.  “For God has not destined us for wrath,” Paul says, “but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And then I said:

That’s a good thing to remember, isn’t it, when Harold Camping tells us that the Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011, or the Maya calendar suggests the world will end on December 21, 2012?  What Paul is trying to tell us is that end-time prophecy is for others, not for us.  Its purpose, as Dr. Philpen has so clearly stated, is to warn those who are not ready, so that they might “get right with God now.”

And that’s where Dr. Witschey corrected me, ever so gently.  He wrote:

Dr. Somerville,

It was a pleasure to hear your sermon this morning, via Channel 8 in Farmville, VA.

There were a couple mentions of the Maya calendar, and the special calendar date in December 2012. The calendar has interested me greatly since I was ten years old.

All that you said was true, and offered with a smile…yet there is an important nuance here: although some writers claim, “the Maya calendar foretells the end of the world,” the truth, I believe, is that the Maya calendar and inscriptions, and those who make scholarly study of them, make no such claim or forecast.  Such claims (mostly in popular and self-serving forums) are based on an observation of a special date in the Maya count of days.

We write the Maya count-of-days, the ‘Long Count,’ as a five place base-20 numeral such as 12.19.18.16.1 for November 20, 2011 in the Gregorian calendar.  That calendar will, in just over a year, increment to 13.0.0.0.0 on December 21, or 23, or other nearby date (depending on how you match our two calendars.)  Neither the ancient hieroglyphic inscriptions, nor the modern Maya, nor any Maya archaeologists of standing, claim that this is the day the world ends.   Rather, the appropriate claim is that, just like Y2K in our calendar, or 100,000 miles on a car odometer, the next day is just the next day, and the beginning of a new calendar cycle. In the Maya calendar we will write it as 13.0.0.0.1 (and most likely will not need to postpone any of our appointments.)

Having picked that small nit, may I say your central message, “Be Prepared,” came through loud and clear.

With esteem, admiration, and thanks,

Walter

Walter R. T. Witschey
Maya Archaeologist
Professor of Anthropology and Science Education, Longwood University
Director Emeritus, Science Museum of Virginia

Thank you, Dr. Witschey.  I hope that millions of people around the world (and not only the seven who read my blog) will stand corrected.

Looking forward to 13.0.0.0.1!

Jim

Falling

Picture a world where, at birth, you are hurled off a cliff—a really, really high cliff, so that it takes a lifetime to reach the bottom.  You would “grow up” on the way down (if you can imagine such a thing) moving through the stages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. 

Because you had always been falling you wouldn’t be afraid of it.  After those first few terrifying moments you would get used to it, and then began to enjoy it: that wonderful feeling of weightlessness, the wind in your hair, the ability to swoop and dive.  Everybody else in this world would be falling with you, so you wouldn’t be alone.  You might even join hands with someone else and choose to fall together for days, for years, or even for the rest of your life. 

Some people would find that if they flapped their arms really hard they could slow their descent slightly (the same people you see running on the treadmill at Gold’s Gym).  Others would get bored and go into a nose dive to speed things up (the same people who live so carelessly and recklessly now).  But the one thing everybody would know is that there was no way to stop falling altogether or to start falling up instead of down.  Eventually everybody—everybody—would hit bottom.

And everybody would know it.

Which is different from our world, where people often seem surprised by their own mortality, by the very idea that they could get sick and die.  “Why?” they ask.  “Why me?”  If we lived in that other world I might say (while falling beside them), “Well, just look around you.  Everybody is falling.  Everybody is going to hit bottom eventually.”  But in this world they know that some people hit bottom sooner than others, and it doesn’t seem fair, and they want to know why. 

“I don’t know why,” I say at last.  “And you’re right…it doesn’t seem fair.  But back to my original point: everybody is falling, and everybody is going to hit bottom eventually.” 

And while it seems odd to say so, there is some comfort in that, isn’t there?  We are not alone in our mortality.  Everybody else is doing it with us.  It makes you want to join hands with those others, and pull them in close, and then do everything you can—together—to enjoy the ride: that wonderful feeling of weightlessness, the wind in your hair, the ability to swoop and dive…