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The Technology of Time & Liturgy [ebook]


[Article below is an excerpt from the free ebook From Pews to Podcasts: What Technology Wants for the Church, by Adam Graber.]

Both Christmas and Easter are part of what many Christians call the “Church year.” These holidays hark back to a time when people structured their lives according to a “liturgy.” . . .

For Christians throughout history, this liturgical Church calendar wasn’t simply a set of dates to remind them of Christ’s life. The year-long liturgy was part of a bigger, more cosmic drama.

The whole earth, Christians believed, was caught between Heaven and Hell. Our world was ground zero in the showdown between these two opposing forces. By observing this Church calendar, Christians aligned their hearts and their world with Heaven. Earth hung in the balance, and by aligning their lives with the liturgical calendar, Christians helped tip the scales in God’s favor. The faithful who participated in this liturgy were aligning themselves with God, preparing themselves for his salvation.

Getting the date of Easter right was a crucial detail in this battle. If they observed the wrong date, humans would throw earth out of sync with heaven. Getting Easter wrong meant that the faithful would be tipping the scales in the wrong direction: The destiny of earth and of their own souls literally hung in the balance.

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Then, starting in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, some of the greatest philosophical minds contributed their own research to the problem. Roger Bacon, “by all accounts the greatest experimental scientist of the Middle Ages,” was among those who wrote and recommended changes to the date of Easter. But to make their case, Bacon and others had to develop new ways of keeping time.

A lot of the groundwork had already been laid. By Bacon’s day, the astrolabe and the rectangulus were helping astronomers to more accurately calculate movements of the planets. These devices used precision engineering to construct a mechanical version of the heavens, a “solar system.”

Using instruments like these, Bacon determined that the church’s Julian calendar was out of sync by four days. Hell was winning. . . . He proposed adjusting the calendar. But the authorities refused to shift gears . . . . It would be another 300 years before Pope Gregory XIII finally capitulated and embraced a new calendar system.

. . .

But the newly minted technologies had not yet run their course. Mechanical innovations like those Roger Bacon used had already . . . given birth to another machine: the clock. And with it came a new sense of time. However, with the clock, the church’s attitude was not so enthusiastic.

For them the mechanical clock was too uniform. It distributed equal portions of time to each segment of the day. Every hour had as much time as the next. This uniformity conflicted with the natural ebb and flow of daylight from season to season—a rhythm that clocks found much harder to duplicate. For the church, having equal hours created new problems.

It was a problem for the very same reason that the wrong date of Easter was a problem. The mechanical clock put humanity’s rhythms out of sync with heaven’s ebb and flow. By observing the natural rhythms of day and night, the faithful believed they could tip the scales rightly.

. . .

Of course, the church’s mixed reception didn’t much harm the clock’s expansion. Today, the clock determines work schedules, salaries, school bells, deadlines, computer code, music tempo, and more. Today, the clock distributes minutes and seconds to timestamps and alarm clocks, to heartbeats, hand grenades, Olympic records, and efficiency standards.

We organize our jobs and our relationships, arrange our vacation days and our radio singles around the clock. We even rock around the clock. In the late 19th century, a management guru named Frederick Taylor attempted to mechanize the whole workplace and the people inside it, timing each activity and assigning a certain amount of time to each motion. In response, the workers went on strike, leading to a Congressional investigation and a subsequent ban of Taylor’s methods, but his methods have lived on in practices like the modern assembly line, the military, and business management principles. Perhaps the church’s liturgical time had some value to it after all.

Today, the thought that a cosmic battle between heaven and hell might be unfolding inside our day-planners seems absurd—even if coordinating busy schedules does feel like hell at times. While liturgy may seem foreign or antiquated to some Christians, its goal is something much more familiar: Christlikeness.

Being Christ-like is a hot topic for Christians, as evidenced by everything from Sunday sermons to New York Times bestsellers to the long-standing spiritual disciplines. Most Christians today no longer see the earth as hanging in the cosmic balance, but being like Jesus is still a real goal. This was and still is the purpose of the Church year. In our technological age, is it possible to return to living lives shaped by Jesus?

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Taken from the book From Pews to Podcasts by Adam Graber. Copyright © 2014 by Adam Graber. Used by permission of Adam Graber.



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