It was, I thought, the most important news of the week, which made me wonder why everyone wasn’t talking about it. On Wednesday, June 29, all South Koreans woke up a year or two younger than they had been the night before. What had happened was the government decided to eliminate a special way Koreans had of calculating their age. Under the traditional scheme, everyone was reckoned one year old when born, and on January 1 everyone became one year older. This way of reckoning age can no longer be used on official documents: like most everyone else in the world, South Koreans will now, officially, be born with the age of zero and gain a year not on January 1 but on their natal anniversary.
So I ran the numbers. Had my age been calculated in the traditional Korean way, on the morning of June 29 I would have gone from 69 to 67 years old. Not bad. And if, contrary to fact, I had been reckoned 67 in those South Korean terms, I would have awakened at age 65. Not bad at all.
At seminary I learned a wee bit about lunar calendars, which are based on the moon not the sun. The Jewish calendar, for instance, is lunar. I remember my liturgics professor paraphrasing something that a Jewish scholar or scribe or government official would be able to say. The problem with lunar calendars is that the lunar month is just 28½ days long. So year after year, the months come earlier vis-a-vis the sun. Over time, a month that used to be part of spring turns into a winter month. This is not tolerable! So what this designated scholar or scribe or governmental fellow was able to say was something like: “The crops have not yet come up and the days are too short and therefore I declare an intercalendary month.”
That strikes me as real political power: To declare an extra month!
Imagine it’s getting close to Halloween, and you contemplate the chores that need to be done before Thanksgiving and Christmas, and you look at the economy and not enough widgets are in stock, and you think of all your unfinished projects of the year—and therefore you just declare it: an intercalendary month! Between Oct 31 and Nov 1, we’ll have an extra four weeks, just to catch up. Hey, I’m on board. President Biden, Pope Francis, whoever—if you can pull it off, you can count on my support.
Seriously, how old are we? The now-abandoned Korean system recognized that our life has gone on for about a year before we are born; there is some part of our life that’s already there before we first breathe oxygen. And there are other complications. The philosopher (and Italian scholar, a fluent writer) Robert Pogue Harrison has a little book, Juvenescence, which explores how none of us is any single age. Our biological age is not our psychological age, nor is it our social age. Everyone is young in some ways, old in others. And this is true of cultures, cities, artifacts, everything. Harrison’s judgment is that we are getting younger in many ways, and that is not an unmixed blessing. In any event, mere chronology is just part of the picture.
How old is the risen Christ? Two thousand years? Thirty-three? A child? A sage? I suppose all those answers are true. And I suspect that somewhere in all this is a way to think through the relation of time and eternity.
Even if I just keep thinking about being a year or two younger.
Out & About. Saturday/Sunday, July 15/16, I am to preach at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City: Saturday at 5:30 p.m., and Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m.
This fall the “Good Books & Good Talk” seminars will be meeting at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. There will be three meetings, each on a Sunday at 5 p.m.: September 10, October 8, and November 26. People are welcome to come to any seminar that interests them; they are welcome to speak if they have read the book! For September 10, the book is Christopher Beha’s The Index of Self-Destructive Acts, the latest novel from the (now) editor of Harper’s who gave us What Happened to Sophie Wilder, which I know many of my readers have read. These seminars are unscripted conversations; I pose an opening question (there will be no lecture!) and participants try to think together about what the book means. The general theme of all the seminars is theological anthropology: How should we think about human life in light of Christian faith?