Messing with time

I wasn’t going to write about the Daylight Saving Time change this month—I’ve said all that I need to say about it in the past. But Julie at cookiecrumbstoliveby has written an excellent post which inspires me to share something that happened yesterday in Bible class. Be sure to read Julie’s post. And if you want to know what I have said in the past about Daylight Saving Time, I know WordPress will provide links at the bottom of this post.

Our class has been working through the book of Isaiah the past few weeks—sometimes one chapter a week, sometimes two, occasionally three. This month we hit the historical chapters in the middle of the book. So yesterday we were studying Isaiah 38, in which Hezekiah is sick and is told that he will die of his illness. He turns his face to the wall and prays, and God hears the king’s prayer and responds with grace, granting him fifteen more years to live and to rule God’s people. As a sign that God will keep this promise, he has the shadow on the stairs of the Temple move backwards, indicating that the sun has shifted miraculously in the sky.

Not one of us could resist linking that miracle to Daylight Saving Time.

We had other important themes to discuss, including the Old Testament view of Death and Sheol, which is much darker than the New Testament’s promise of Paradise, and including the entire idea of prayer. God announces Hezekiah’s death, then appears to change his mind because of the king’s prayer. Does a completely wise and all-knowing God change his mind because of our prayers? Isn’t God unchanging? C.S. Lewis was quoted as saying that, through prayer, God invites us to become his partners, just as he invites farmers to be his partners in providing daily bread through their planting and harvesting. We talked about the love of God, that he is always with us and always wants to hear from us. Thinking how often we ignore his gracious presence and don’t say a word to him, we wandered into considering the times that we are with people we love and we act as if they aren’t there. For many of us, the issue was driving. If we are focused on driving, we might not be ready to carry on a conversation in the car, even if the other person in the car is a husband or wife or son or daughter. (When I pick up my daughter from her fast food job at the mall, she has a lot to say, and sometimes I’m not so ready to listen—I’m driving, and especially if it’s dark and raining, I need to focus on my driving.) But God is never so busy running the universe that he cannot listen to our prayers. And Isaiah 38 shows that he is able to “change his mind”—which is not really a change in the Lord who is the same yesterday and today and forever, but which is a living part of the relationship he has with us, in which he delights to receive our prayers and to respond to them as a loving Father.

Even when we have the temerity to mess with time, which is God’s invention. J.

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Time to change time

Daylight Saving Time was never a good idea. It has become increasingly irrelevant. Yet, for no good reason, most citizens of the United States of America will change their clocks this weekend, losing an hour of sleep, delaying sunset by an hour but also delaying sunrise by that very same hour.

For most of human history, people awoke at sunrise and went to bed at sunset. Candles and lanterns provided some illumination after dark, and there have always been people whose careers or preferences caused them to work late into the night and sleep past sunrise. For the most part, though, people have found it easiest and most natural to conform their schedules to the created patterns of day and night.

Ancient civilizations divided daytime and nighttime into twelve hours each. Away from the equator, daytime hours were longer and nighttime hours were shorter in the summer; daytime hours were shorter and nighttime hours were longer in the winter. About one thousand years ago, new technology produced clocks that could measure hours and minutes and seconds, keeping them the same length day or night. With this innovation, sunrise could be described as happening at a particular time, such as 5 a.m. in the summer, 6 a.m. at the equinoxes, and 7 a.m. in the winter. Still, noon was understood to be the time when the sun was most directly overhead, and midnight really was the middle of the night, happening precisely halfway between sunset and sunrise.

Rapid travel, particularly that of trains, brought another innovation. Travelers complained about having to change their watches at every new city, so the world’s governments agreed to divide the planet into twenty-four time zones. Now people can travel from city to city and expect the time to remain the same, except when they cross a time zone line. At that point, they suddenly gain or lose an entire hour. In most places, noon no longer happens when the sun has reached the meridian of the sky and midnight no longer happens in the middle of the night.

By this time, efficient electric lights had replaced candles and lanterns. People found it easy to work or play late into the night. Rising with the sun became exceptional behavior rather than common. Given this change in habits, various governments experimented with changing the time once again. Pretending that they were “saving” daylight with the change, governments were merely tampering with time, making some locations experience midday and midnight up to two hours from the actual middle of the day or of the night.

Such tampering might have been justifiable in the twentieth century, but twenty-first century technology has made Daylight Saving Time pointless. Indeed, the next big change in our relationship with time could restore what was lost by previous changes. Thanks to the Internet, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and other inventions, the world could easily function with 1,440 time zones. Each of them would see noon and midnight occur within one minute of the actual midpoint of the day and of the night. A single world-wide time could be used to schedule all events of greater than local interest. (Why not Greenwich time, also known as Coordinated Universal Time (UCT)?)  Instead of promising that a television show would be broadcast at eight o’clock Eastern Time, seven o’clock Central Time, and so forth, the broadcast could be announced to take place at two o’clock UCT, and everyone would be able to convert that time into local time.

In fact, each home and business could have a timepiece in every room that shows both local time and UCT. Travelers with a GPS device would always be able to access both UCT and local time. For most people, the adjustment to a more natural flow of time would require no more than a month or two. Once this adjustment was made, time would remain stable and predictable in every place. No longer would we have to face two weekends a year in which our sense of time is wrenched and scrambled.

There is no reason to have the sun directly overhead at 1:30 in the afternoon or to have midnight closer to sunset than to sunrise. People who want to sleep late will sleep late no matter what the time is called; people that want to stay awake late into the night will stay awake no matter what the time is called. No daylight has ever been saved by Daylight Saving Time. Because it is possible, even easy, to return to a natural flow of time, it is time to do so for the common benefit of people everywhere. J.

Stretch Summer, Shrink Winter

In 2017, the United States government is going to try a new plan in order to extend the summer and shorten the winter.

After August 31, 2017, the calendar will revert to August 1, 2017, and the entire month of August will take place a second time. To balance this extension of summer, the month of February 2018 will be canceled, with calendars for 2018 skipping from January 31 to March 1.

The reason for this change is obvious. More energy is consumed during the winter than during the summer, due to the need to heat buildings during winter and to provide light during the longer nights of winter. By adding one month to the summer and shortening the winter accordingly, the U.S. government hopes to accomplish a five percent improvement in energy usage. Furthermore, shortening winter by one month should increase public safety, with four fewer weeks of ice and snow and other winter weather.

Schools that begin their academic year in August will have two openings a month apart, with a brief vacation at the beginning of the second August. Schools that begin their academic year in September will not be affected. Since there are no major national or religious holidays in August, most other schedules will not have to be adjusted, although citizens with birthdays in August will need to decide whether they want to celebrate during the earlier month or during the later month, or perhaps celebrate both birthdays during the same year. Plans are still being made to reschedule Groundhog Day, Valentines Day, and Presidents’ Day in January 2018.

Opponents of this plan have indicated that the year will be two or three days longer with an extra August and no February. Advocates of the plan respond that, since the extra days will happen each year during the summer, probably no one will particularly mind.

Expect to see advertising of this plan in the coming months, with the motto “Stretch Summer, Shrink Winter” employed to help people remember when to adjust their calendars to conform to the government’s conception of time. J.

 

Saving Private Daylight

A few days ago I noticed Mrs. Dim at work in her garage. She was undertaking an odd carpentry project. She had ten six-foot 2×4 boards. One by one, she sawed six inches off the right end of each board as it lay on the sawhorses, and immediately she glued the six-inch piece of wood to the left end of the same board.

I usually don’t like to talk to Mrs. Dim while she is working on a project. In fact, I usually don’t like to talk to Mrs. Dim at all. Curiosity got the best of me, though, and I went out to ask her what she was doing. With a look on her face and a tone in her voice that communicated, “Isn’t it obvious?” she answered my question with these words, “I’m saving wood.”

I didn’t ask any more questions. I didn’t want to know any more answers. As Americans prepare to change their clocks again this weekend, observing a tradition we call “Daylight Saving Time,” I wonder how much daylight will be saved this year. I also wonder what other silly things Americans might to just because our government tells us we should do them.

The last few days the sun has already been in the sky when my alarm woke me. It was easier to get out of bed and start the day in daylight. Next week it will be dark when my alarm wakes me.

In some parts of the country the sun will not reach high noon until 1:30 in the afternoon.

The cats will not understand why the family bed times and meal times have suddenly changed. It will take them a week or two to adjust to the new schedule. In fact, it will take all of us a week or two to adjust to the new schedule. Then, in November, we can adjust our schedules again.

At least the government has put the change of clocks in the first half of March. When I was younger, we changed our clocks on the first weekend of April. Often that first day of Daylight Saving Time was Easter Sunday. Getting up early for the sunrise service was made even harder with one less hour to the night.

Daylight saving time was first instituted during the Great War, also known as World War I. This clearly shows the connection between the practice of Daylight Saving Time and governments generally doing foolish and harmful things. Congress ended Daylight Saving Time after the end of the war, only to have it reinstated during World War II. Again, the practice was suspended after the war, only to reappear once again in the 1960s, when Americans were doing a lot of other strange things. In the 1970s and 1980s Americans tried to save daylight all year long, but the country chose to waste daylight during the winter beginning in 1986, shortening the wasteful period by five weeks in 2007.

I do not feel as if I have been wasting daylight since last November. How changing my clock this weekend will save any daylight is beyond my comprehension. I will do it, of course, because my employers do it and my neighbors do it and the television stations do it. Even the church does it. A few people will forget, though, and will show up during the closing hymn. At least the service they miss won’t be the Easter service.

When, oh when, will madness end? J.