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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Patience Used To Be A Virtue in the NFL

Consider the following win-loss records of actual NFL teams over their first three seasons with a new head coach:
● 0-11; 4-9; 5-8
● 1-13; 5-9; 6-8
● 6-10; 7-9; 7-9
● 7- 9; 1-3; 8-8
How long do you think the head coach of these teams would last in today's NFL? I'm not sure if any of them would've lasted beyond two seasons. But now take a look at to whom those records belong:
● 0-11; 4-9; 5-8 (Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys - 2 Super Bowl Championships)
● 1-13; 5-9; 6-8 (Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers - 4 Super Bowl Championships)
● 6-10; 7-9; 7-9 (Bill Belichick, Cleveland Browns - 4 Super Bowl Championships with the New England Patriots)
● 7-9; 1-3; 8-8 (Mike Shanahan, LA Raiders and Denver Broncos - 2 Super Bowl Championships with the Broncos)
I'm not a big fan of Rex Ryan, who was just fired by the Buffalo Bills, but surely two years wasn't long enough for him to turn a Bills' franchise, which hasn't been to the playoffs in 17 years, around. Of course, there's no guarantee that Ryan would've turned the franchise around, but the Bills need to give someone enough time to do so. Imagine if the Cowboys hadn't stuck with Tom Landry, or the Steelers hadn't held on to Chuck Noll. Would they have been as successful? Probably not.

The Cleveland Browns did stick with Belichick for five years, but Belichick's success after leaving Cleveland suggests that firing him was a (huge) mistake. To be fair to the Browns, Belichick had only one winning season during his tenure with them, but compare that to Tom Landry who didn't have a winning season until his 7th year (no, that isn't a misprint). Then, of course, there is Bill Walsh, who was 2-14 and 6-10 in his first two seasons as the 49ers head coach before he won the Super Bowl in his third. And let's not forget that the New York Jets fired Pete Carroll after one season (6-10), and while Carroll has since won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks, the Jets are still looking for their first Super Bowl win since Joe Namath predicted one back in 1968.

Unfortunately, patience no longer appears to be a virtue in the NFL. My sense is that some owners are quick to blame their coaches when they should focus more on the poor draft decisions of their general managers. They remind me of some segments of corporate America that privilege short-term profits over long-term viability, which is generally not conducive to organizational success.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Birth of Jesus According to Matthew

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Geniuses For Jesus (Updated)

A common assumption in some circles is that religion and education/science are incompatible, but as the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould (who was, at most, an agnostic) once remarked (Scientific American, 1992):
To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time. . . science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists... Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism, thus proving that the two great realms of nature’s factuality and the source of human morality do not strongly overlap.  
Gould isn't the final word on the matter, but sociologists of religion have known for some time that there is a positive association between education and religious belief and practice. For whatever reason, however, this knowledge has failed to find itself to the larger population.

My intention in this (updated) post from a couple of years ago, however, isn't to reiterate known facts but to provide a series of brief biographies of "geniuses" who are/were also Christians. Some are scientists (e.g., Steven Barr, Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne), some are philosophers (e.g., René Girard, Alasdair MacIntyre, Gabriel Marcel, Edith Stein, Charles Taylor), some are writers (e.g., Maya Angelou, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Day, Marilynne Robinson, Dorothy Sayers, John Updike), and some are hard to classify (e.g., Jane Addams, Jaques Ellul, C.S. Lewis, John Sexton, J.R.R. Tolkien). Most are Roman Catholics, which is surprising given the disdain that many contemporary intellectuals have for Catholics. And there are some whom I could've included but didn't (e.g., Alastair McGrath, Peter Berger, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Søren Kierkegaard, Cornell West). I also intentionally left professional theologians off the list since they might be seen as "biased." Of course, although this post focuses on Christian intellectuals, one could just as easily write about intellectuals who are affiliated with other faiths (e.g, the Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas), but I'll let someone else take up that task.

Note: The following information was gleaned from numerous sources, such as Wikipedia, news reports, websites about the individuals, etc. They (hopefully) appear in alphabetical order. New entries are Jane Addams and Edith Stein.

Jane Addams (Presbyterian)—Addams is probably best known as the co-founder of Hull House in Chicago, a settlement house that opened its doors to recent immigrants from Europe. She was also a social activist/reformer, social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, leader in women's suffrage, all of which led to her being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. What's left out of many textbooks is that she was also a Christian. Her religious faith was a central motive in co-founding Hull House, and in fact she sought to convert others to Christianity. Addams's personal beliefs were shaped by her wide reading and life experience. By the time she had graduated from Rockford Seminary, she knew the Bible thoroughly. Although she remained a member of a Presbyterian church, Addams regularly attended a Unitarian church in Chicago. She also established a close relationship with members of the established Jewish community, notably with the rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation, Emil G. Hirsch, and several of the congregation's members.

Maya Angelou (Baptist)—Angelou is probably best known for her series of autobiographies, the first of which, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells about her life up to the age of 17. She became a poet and writer after holding a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, prostitute, nightclub performer, and coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was active in the Civil Rights movement and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. From 1982 onward she taught at Wake Forest where she held the lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies. She taught a variety of subjects, including philosophy, ethics, theology, science, theater, and writing. In 1993 she recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" (1993) at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, becoming the first poet to give an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost gave one at President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. Angelou used the same "writing ritual" for many years. She'd wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room, where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards, Roget's Thesaurus, and the Bible. She averaged 10–12 pages of written material a day, which she would edit down to three or four in the evening. Angelou was a member of both Mount Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem (for over 30 years) and Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. Both held services after she passed away in May 2014.

Stephen M. Barr (Roman Catholic)Stephen Barr is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware, and a member of its Bartol Research Institute. He does research in theoretical particle physics and cosmology and in 2011 was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, the world's second largest organization of physicists. Barr obtained his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University in 1978. He went on to do research at the University of Pennsylvania as a post-doctoral fellow (1978–80), the University of Washington as a Research Assistant Professor (1980-85), and Brookhaven National Laboratory as an Associate Scientist (1985-87), before landing at the University of Delaware in 1987. Barr is a Roman Catholic and writes about religion and science. He is the author of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, and he serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of the religious journal, First Things, in which many of his articles have appeared. In 2007, he was awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Benedict XVI, and in 2010 he was elected a member of the Academy of Catholic Theology.

Francis S. Collins (Evangelical)Collins is an American physician/geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is currently the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at Yale in 1974 and then enrolled in medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated in 1977. He became known as a gene hunter when working at the University of Michigan, which led him to be to be appointed the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. Collins's parents were, at best, nominal Christians, and by graduate school he considered himself an atheist. Dealing with his dying parents, however, led him to investigate various faiths, and C.S. Lewis's book, Mere Christianity, played an instrumental role in becoming a Christian. H has written several books on science, medicine, and spirituality, including the bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Dorothy Day (Roman Catholic)Dorothy Day was an American journalist, social activist, who after living something of a bohemian life in New York, converted to Catholicism and helped give birth to the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. Her parents were nominal Christians who rarely attended church, but as a young child she displayed a religious streak, reading the Bible frequently. When she was ten she started to attend an Episcopal church, after her brothers join the church choir. She eventually was baptized and confirmed in that church. She quickly drifted away from the faith, however, and she soon described herself as an anarchist and a socialist. She worked for several Socialist publications and wrote in support of women's rights, free love, and birth control. She had long love affair with Mike Gold, who later became a prominent Communist, and in the early 1920s, after the end of a love affair that resulted in an abortion, she was married in a civil ceremony to Berkeley Tobey. The marriage evidently didn't take because she soon became involved with Forster Batterham, but their relationship became strained when Day became increasingly interested in Roman Catholicism. Soon after the birth of their daughter Tamar Teresa, she had their baby baptized in July 1927, but Batterham refused to attend the ceremony. And after one last fight in late December, Day was baptized into the Catholic Church.

Jaques Ellul (Reformed)Ellul was trained as a sociologist although many consider him a philosopher. He was a professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the faculty of Law and Economic sciences at the University of Bordeaux. He authored 58 books and more than a thousand articles. Many of these focused on the threat to human freedom and religion created by modern technology. Ellul was educated at the universities of Bordeaux and Paris, and during World War II he was a leader in the French resistance. For his efforts to save Jews he was awarded the title, "Righteous among the Nations," by Yad Vashem in 2001. He converted to Christianity when he was about 20. According to Ellul, a few years before, while translating Faust, Ellul knew he was in the presence of a something so astounding and overwhelming that he jumped on a bike and fled, eventually concluding that he had been in the presence of God. This kick started a conversion process that continued over the next few years. Ellul was heavily influenced by the work of three people: Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, and Karl Barth. Marx and Kierkegaard were the only two authors of which he read all of their work, and he considered Barth the greatest theologian of the 20th century. Ellul was active in the worldwide ecumenical movement although he later criticized it for its often uncritical endorsements of leftist positions. He was, however, also critical of those on the right, and he staked out an explicitly anti-political stance as an alternative to both. Ellul is also credited with coining the phrase, "Think globally, act locally."

René Girard (Roman Catholic)Girard was born on December 25, 1923, in Avignon, France. He studied in Paris’s École Nationale des Chartes and specialized in Medieval studies. In 1947, he emigrated to America and earned a doctorate at the University of Indiana. He remained in America and taught at several different institutions, including Indiana University, State University of New York in Buffalo, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Bryn Mawr, and Stanford until his retirement in 1995. During the beginning of his career as lecturer, Girard was assigned to teach courses on European literature. As he read the great European novels in preparation for the course, he became especially engaged with the work of five novelists in particular: Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky and Proust. His first book, Mensonge Romantique et Vérité Romanesque (Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure) (1961), is a literary comment on the works of these great novelists. Until that time, Girard was a self-declared agnostic. As he researched the religious conversions of some of Dostoyevsky’s characters, he converted to Christianity and ever since has been a committed and practicing Roman Catholic. However, his Christian views were not publicly expressed until the publication of Des Choses Cachées Depuis la Fondation du Monde (Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World) (1978), widely considered to be his greatest work. In 2005, Girard was elected to the Académie Française, one of the highest distinctions that French intellectuals can attain.

C. S. Lewis (Anglican)As an undergraduate student at Oxford University Lewis won an unprecedented triple first, that is, the highest honors in three areas of study: Greek and Latin literature in 1920, Philosophy and Ancient History in 1922, and English in 1923. He was then elected a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he worked for nearly thirty years until 1954 when he was awarded the newly founded chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University and elected a fellow of Magdalene College. As a scholar he concentrated on the later Middle Ages, but he is probably best known for his Christian apologetics (e.g., Mere Christianity) and the Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland (Anglican), but he became an atheist at 15, describing himself as being "very angry with God for not existing." He slowly re-embraced Christianity, influenced largely by arguments with his colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien (see below) and the book, The Everlasting Man, by G. K. Chesterton. He first converted to theism in 1929 and then to Christianity in 1931, following a late-night discussion with Tolkien and another friend. He became a member of the Church of England, much to the disappointment of Tolkien, who had hoped he would become a Roman Catholic. Lewis is commemorated on the 22nd of November in the Episcopal Church's church calendar, which marks the day he died in 1963 (the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated). On the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis was honored with a memorial in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Alasdair MacIntyre (Roman Catholic)MacIntyre is a Scottish philosopher known primarily for his moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in history of philosophy and theology. He was educated at Queen Mary College, London, and has Master of Arts degrees from the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford. He began teaching in 1951 in the UK and then moved to the US in 1970. He has taught at numerous universities, including University of Manchester, Oxford, Vanderbilt, and Notre Dame. He was a relatively well-known Marxist philosopher for years until his "conversion" to Aristotelean ethics, which he articulated in his most famous book, After Virtue. Shortly thereafter he converted to Roman Catholicism after he became a fan of Thomas Aquinas. His conversion to Aristotelian ethics and the Roman Catholic Church hasn't led him to completely abandon his Marxist leanings, however. He has, for instance attempted to combine historical insights of Marx with those of Aquinas and Aristotle, and he does nothing to hide his contempt for liberal capitalism, which he believes dominates the world both in the realm of ideas and in its manifestations in political and social institutions. Thus, although he is in many ways a traditional Catholic, his politics often leans to the left.

Gabriel Marcel (Roman Catholic)Gabriel Honoré Marcel was born in Paris in 1889 and is remembered as a philosopher, playwright, music critic, and Christian existentialist. He authored over a dozen books and at least thirty plays, but he is best known for his two-volume work, The Mystery of Being (1951), the 1949–50 Gifford Lectures, one of the most prestigious lecture series in the world. Marcel's mother died when he was young, and he was raised by his aunt and father. His father was an agnostic, and Marcel was an atheist until he covered to Roman Catholicism in 1929. Marcel obtained the agrégation in philosophy in 1910 at the age of 21. During the WWI he worked with the Red Cross to convey news of injured soldiers to their families. He then taught in secondary schools, was a drama critic for various literary journals, and worked as an editor for Plon, a major French Catholic publisher. For many years, he hosted a weekly philosophy discussion group through which he met and influenced important younger French philosophers like Jean Wahl (Jew), Paul Ricoeur (Christian), Emmanuel Levinas (Jew), and Jean-Paul Sartre (Marxist). Evidently, Marcel was disappointed that he was known almost entirely for his philosophical works and not on his plays, which he hoped would appeal to a wide lay audience.

Flannery O'Connor (Roman Catholic)—Flannery O'Connor was an American writer and essayist, who wrote two novels—Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960)—and 32 short stories, some of which are collected in A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). Her posthumously published collection of short stories, The Complete Stories, won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. O'Connor was born in 1925, in Savannah, Georgia, and her writing reflects her Southern roots. In 1945 she graduated with a degree in social sciences from Georgia State College for Women (Georgia College & State University), in an accelerated three-year program. In 1946, she was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa where she got to know a number of important writers and critics who lectured or taught in the program, including Andrew Lytle, who was the editor of the Sewanee Review in which he published several of her short stories. In 1951, she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, the same disease her father died of. She was only expected to live 5 more years but lasted 14, dying at the far too young age of 39. O'Connor was a devout Roman Catholic. She collected books on Catholic theology and gave lectures on faith and literature, sometimes traveling quite distances in spite of her poor health. In 2013 her prayer journal ("A Prayer Journal"), which she kept while in Iowa and was just recently discovered among her papers, was published to rave reviews.

John Polkinghorne (Anglican)The Rev. Dr. John Charlton Polkinghorne is an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest. A prominent and leading voice explaining the relationship between science and religion, he taught mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge from 1958 to 1979. For 25 years, he worked on theories about elementary particles, played a role in the discovery of the quark, and researched the analytic and high-energy properties of Feynman integrals and the foundations of S-Matrix theory (whatever that is). He also spent time at Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, and at CERN in Geneva, and in 1974 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, which is the oldest an probably the most prestigious society for science in the world. In 1979 he resigned his chair in order to study for the priesthood, and in 1982 he was ordained an Anglican priest. He is the author of several book on physics and theology (e.g., Belief in God in an Age of Science), the latter of which tend to focus on the relationship between science and religion. He delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1993-94, he was knighted in 1997, and in 2002 he was awarded the Templeton Prize, which is something of the Nobel Prize for religion; it is awarded to a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension."

Marilynne Robinson (Congregationalist)Marilynne Robinson was born in 1943 and is an American novelist and essayist. She has received several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2012 National Humanities Medal. She was born and grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, and earned her undergraduate degree in 1966 (magna cum laude) at Pembroke College, the former women's college at Brown University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington in 1977. Robinson has written three highly acclaimed novels: Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), Home (2008), and Lila (2014). Housekeeping was a finalist for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (US), Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer, and Home received the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (UK). Lila, which was just released this year, has received excellent review. Home and Lila are companions to Gilead and focus on different aspects of the family of a Congregationalist minister. Robinson grew up in the Presbyterian church but later became a Congregationalist, worshipping and sometimes preaching at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City. Her Congregationalism, and her interest in the Protestant Reformer John Calvin, have influenced her writing. In an interview with the Church Times in 2012, Robinson said: "I think, if people actually read Calvin, rather than read Max Weber, he would be rebranded. He is a very respectable thinker."

Dorothy Sayers (Anglican)Although she was a poet, playwright, essayist, translator (e.g., Dante's, The Divine Comedy), and worked in advertising (she is credited with coining the phrase, "it pays to advertise"), she is best known for her mystery novels featuring the Lord Peter Wimsey, which are still in print and continue to remain popular; in fact, several have been turned into BBC and PBS movies. Sayers also wrote several essays and plays on the Christian faith, including Creed or Chaos? (1940), The Mind of the Maker (1941), and The Man Born to be King (1942). In fact, her religious works presented the orthodox Anglican theological position so well that, in 1943, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered her a Lambeth doctorate in divinity, but she declined. Although not a member of the Inklings, she was good friends with many of them, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. Sayers was born in 1893 at the Head Master's House, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where her father was chaplain and headmaster of the Choir School. When she was six, her father began teaching her Latin, and in 1912 she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where she studied modern languages and medieval literature and finished with first-class honors. At the time women Oxford did not award women degrees, in 1920 when the policy changed, Sayers became one of the first women to receive a degree (Master of Arts) from Oxford.

John Sexton (Roman Catholic)—John Sexton is New York University's (NYU) 15th President. He joined the University's Law School in 1981, was named the Dean of NYU's Law School in 1988, and became NYU's president in 2001. While he was the Law School's Dean (1988-2002), it was named one of the top 5 law schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report, since he has taken over as the school's President, NYU has been named the “number one dream school” four times by The Princeton Review. And in November 2009, Time Magazine named Sexton one of the 10 Best College Presidents. Sexton earned a B.A. in History in 1963 from Fordham College; an M.A. in Comparative Religion in 1965 and a Ph.D. in History of American Religion in 1978 from Fordham University; and a J.D. (magna cum laude) in 1979 from Harvard Law School. Unlike a lot of university presidents, he continues to teach a full course-load, including the exceedingly popular (and hard to get into) class, "Baseball as a Road to God," which was featured on Bill Moyers Journal and was later turned into a book of the same name. The class had its genesis in a crack about baseball that a student made to Sexton several years ago:
I hear you're a big baseball fan. I think the sport is silly and I don't understand why anybody would waste time on it. 
To which Sexton replied,
You are among the unwashed...   
If you will read twelve books that I choose next semester, I will direct you in an independent study at the end of which you will realize that baseball is a road to God.
And the rest, as they say, is history ("Baseball as a Road to God").

Edith Stein (Roman Catholic)—Stein was was a German Jewish philosopher who converted to Roman Catholicism, became a Carmelite nun, and was canonized as a martyr and a saint. In 1916 she received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Freiburg under the direction of the philosopher Edmund Husserl. She also worked with Martin Heidegger editing Husserl's papers for publication. It was her reading of Teresa of Ávila's autobiography in the summer of 1921 that led to her conversion. Baptized on New Year's Day in 1922, she first taught at the Dominican nuns' school in Speyer from 1923 to 1931. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the Institute for Educational Studies at the University of Munster, but antisemitic legislation passed by the Nazi's forced her to resign the post in 1933. In 1933 she entered the Carmelite monastery St. Maria vom Frieden (Our Lady of Peace) in Cologne, taking the name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. There she wrote, Finite and Eternal Being, in which she attempted to combine the philosophies of St. Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and Husserl. In 1938, in order to protect her from the Nazis, the Carmelites transferred Stein and her sister (also a convert) to their monastery in Echt, Netherlands. The Nazis invaded the Netherlands two years later, and in 1942 they arrested Stein and her sister. In August of that year, she died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz. She was beatified as a martyr in 1987 and then canonized in 1998. She is one of Europe's six patron saints, and in 2006 the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (see above) published the book, Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913-1922, in which he contrasted her life with that of Martin Heidegger, a Nazi sympathizer.

Charles Taylor (Roman Catholic)—Taylor is a Canadian philosopher who has been awarded the Kyoto Prize (arts and philosophy category), which is Japan’s highest private award for global achievement, and the Templeton Prize, which is is awarded to a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." He also delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1998-99 (and again in 2008-09), which became the basis of three books: Varieties of Religion Today: William James RevisitedModern Social Imaginaries; and A Secular Age. Many people (e.g., Robert Bellah) believe the latter is already one of the most important books ever written on social and philosophical theory. Taylor earned his undergraduate degree at McGill University (B.A. in History in 1952) and then studied at Oxford, first as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College in 1955 (B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics), and then as a post-graduate (D.Phil. in 1961) where he studied under Isaiah Berlin and G. E. M. Anscombe. He was the founder of the Universities and Left Review (predecessor to the New Left Review) and a vice-president of the New Democratic Party. Perhaps his best known student is Michael Sandel, whose "Justice" series (the Harvard class, the PBS series, and the book) turned Sandel into something of an academic rock star and helped raise Taylor's profile outside of the academy.

J. R. R. Tolkien (Roman Catholic)—John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is best known for his books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but he was also a professor of English Literature at Oxford for a number of years. Tolkien's first job after WWI was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked primarily on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter "W." In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest professor there. In 1925, he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. While at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. As most people know, Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and he played a significant factor in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. Tolkien vocally opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party prior to WWII, and he especially despised Nazi racist and anti-Semitic ideology. He retired in 1953 and lived comfortably because of the sales of his books. He became a cult figure among the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, something with which he wasn't too pleased. He was, after all, a traditional Catholic.

John Updike (Episcopalian)John Updike was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic. He is considered one of the greatest American fiction writers of his generation and is best known for his "Rabbit" novels (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest). He is one of only three authors (Booth Tarkington and William Faulkner were the others) to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction more than once. Updike was also a Christian and theological themes pervaded his books (see e.g., Roger's Version). In fact, at a 2004 talk at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, he told the audience that his Christian faith had “solidified in ways less important to me than when I was 30, when the existential predicament was realer to me than now. … I worked a lot of it through and arrived at a sort of safe harbor in my life... When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays, I begin to hunger for it and need to be there... It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.” Unlike many of his mainline Protestant contemporaries, Updike wasn't afraid to affirm tenets of the Christian faith, such as Christ's bodily resurrection, which many find embarrassing if not downright intellectually irresponsible:

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

-- "Seven Stanzas at Easter," John Updike (1960)

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Magic of Christmas

According to my parents, when I was young on Christmas morning I'd run to the room where our Christmas tree was, and then I'd stop and just stare at the tree and the presents beneath it, taking it all in, wanting Christmas to last year round. My memories of those early Christmases are somewhat vague, but I do remember them as being magical, and I've seen those same feelings of magic in the eyes of my own children and in the children of others.

That's probably why I resist joining the annual chorus of those who deride the commercialization of Christmas. To be sure, the Christmas season does seem to start a little bit earlier every year, and the number of Christmas albums and Hallmark movies are proliferating at an alarming rate, but when I hear one of my favorite Christmas songs, see people putting up their Christmas lights, or when we make our annual trip to cut down the family's Christmas tree, that old magic is rekindled. And I love it. I always will. And I don't think I'm alone.

Moreover, I think most of us don't confuse the commercialized Christmas that we watch on TV, hear on the radio, and see in the stores with the story of the baby in a manger who was visited by shepherds. We know the difference. We can separate the two, just as we can separate visiting a bustling mall from attending a solemn Christmas Eve service.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

15 of the Best Christmas Movies

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles Schultz)

It's been over 50 years since "A Charlie Brown Christmas" first appeared on TV. It's probably the best of the Charlie Brown movies (although "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is almost as good) and is one of the few Christmas movies that refers to the biblical story. After Charlie Brown asks, "Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?", Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"
Then Linus concludes, "... and that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." Yes, that is what Christmas is all about. Note how he lets go of his blanket as he says, "Fear not!" (thanks to the Rev. Walter Taylor for pointing that out).

2. A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott, David Warner, Susannah York, Roger Rees)

There are several great versions of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," but this is my favorite. When George C. Scott's Ebenezer Scrooge yells, "Mr. Cratchit!", there's little doubt that he holds poor Bob in contempt. Plus, Scott is (was) such a great actor. That said, several other versions are worth considering, such as the one starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge ("A Christmas Carol"). When I was kid, I was especially taken with "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." An alternative is listening to Jonathan Winters's reading of Dickens's book, which is also quite good. I can't say that I am too wild about the 2009 Disney version featuring Jim Carrey ("A Christmas Carol"), which I think take too much license with the original story.

3. A Christmas Story (Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon)

Adapted from a memoir by Jean Shepherd (who narrates the film), the movie is primarily about Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a young boy living in Indiana in the 1940s who desperately wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas and tries to convince his parents, teachers, and Santa that it's the perfect gift for him, while they counter that he'll shoot his eye out. In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." It isn't one of my favorites, but I'm clearly in a minority on this, which is why I included it here.

4. Christmas with the Kranks (Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Akroyd)

It's too bad that the movie's producers didn't keep the title of John Grisham's book on which the movie is based: "Skipping Christmas" (see picture at right). I think the movie's title leads people to expect one kind of movie when in fact it's something quite different. It tells the story of a couple (Luther and Nora Krank) who, because their daughter (Blair) is going to be Peru for Christmas, working for the Peace Corps, decide to skip Christmas (i.e., don't buy a Christmas tree, hold their annual Christmas party, decorate their house, etc.), and use the money they save to go on a cruise. Their decision to skip Christmas doesn't sit well their neighbors (especially Dan Akroyd), who pressure them to get into the holiday spirit. A battle, of sorts, plays out between the Kranks and their neighbors. Then Luther and Nora get a call from Blair and learn that she's coming home for Christmas after all, and they now have less than 24 hours to prepare for their annual party. How the neighborhood comes together to pull this off and what Luther does with their cruise tickets speaks volumes about the true meaning of Christmas.

5. Die Hard (Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson)

OK. Not your traditional Christmas movie, but it takes place on Christmas Eve, is a battle between good and evil, and includes some traditional (and not so traditional) Christmas songs. It stars Bruce Willis (when he still had hair) as NY police detective John McClane, who flies to LA to reconcile with his wife. He meets her at her company's Christmas party, but while he's changing clothes in the men's room, the party's taken over by a terrorist group (headed by Hans Gruber -- played by Alan Rickman, who a few years later played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies), which holds them hostage, all except for McClane, who sneaks away before they know he's there. The rest of the movie is the battle between McClane (good) and Gruber (evil) and includes a lot of classic lines ("Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..." -- see picture above).

6. Elf (Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel)

This movie is too fun. Will Ferrell is great as someone (Buddy) who thinks he's one of Santa's elves but is actually a human being who, through a twist of fate, was adopted by an elf (Bob Newhart) when just a baby. Unfortunately, he's not a very good at elf things (e.g., making toys), and once he learns that he's not an elf, he heads to New York where his biological father (James Caan) lives. There he falls in love with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), helps NY recapture the Christmas spirit, and has a heck of a lot of fun along the way (well, most of the time). The movie is also educational. We learn, for instance, that the four main elvish food groups are candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. There's also allusions to other Christmas classics like "Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer" and "Miracle on 34th Street" (see #12 and #13 below).

7. The Family Man (Nicholas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle)

One of my favorites. It's is a cross between "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol." It tells the story of Jack Campbell (JC = Jesus Christ?; his boss/advisor is named Peter), played by Nicholas Cage, who chooses to spend the year after graduating from college in London as an investment banker rather remaining in New York with his girl friend (Tea Leoni). Not surprisingly, the relationship doesn't last, and when the movie begins (13 years later), he's a very successful investment banker who loves money and fine things, but cares little for women or family. However, when he wakes up one Christmas morning, he's living the life he would've lived if he hadn't gone to London. He's married (to Tea Leoni), has two kids, and works as a car tire salesman (for his wife's father - Big Ed). Although he initially despises this life, he eventually comes to love it more than the one in which he drove fast cars, wore designer suits, and had his pick of women. The movie's climax occurs after he wakes up back in his old life, tracks down his old girlfriend, and tries to convince her not to leave New York to take a job in Paris.

8. The Holiday (Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Eli Wallach)

This movie tells the story of two women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) who, suffering from guy-problems, swap homes with each other (they don't know on another -- they "meet" through an on-line home exchange website) where they each meet someone and fall in love. Diaz's character (Amanda) lives in LA, is a producer of movie trailers, and breaks up with her boy friend after she discovers that he's cheated on her. Winslet (Iris) is a journalist working in London, who's in love with someone who wants to keep her around but doesn't want to commit. When she learns that he's engaged to another journalist, she becomes suicidal, but luckily chooses to spend the holidays in LA instead. A side story concerns elderly gentleman (Eli Wallach--the "ugly" from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"), who lives near Amanda and whom Iris befriends. It turns out that Wallach is a widowed and retired screen writer whom the screen writer's guild wants to honor. He doesn't want to attend, but Iris talks him into it. Personally, I think Wallach should have won a best supporting actor for his role. A pleasant surprise about the movie is that shows that Jack Black can actually act. It's too bad he doesn't get more parts like this.

9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff)

One of the best holiday movies ever (the animated version, that is, not the one that Opie Taylor directed several years later). In it the Grinch, a cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small," lives on Mount Crumpit, a steep mountain above Whoville, home of the Whos. His only companion is his faithful dog, Max. Every year from his perch atop Mount Crumpit, the Grinch hears the "clangy" noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Annoyed and unable to understand why the Whos are so happy, he sneaks into town on Christmas Eve and takes all of their Christmas presents, decorations, and food in order to prevent Christmas from coming. However, when Christmas morning arrives, the Whos still celebrate Christmas even though all their presents and decorations have been stolen. Realizing that Christmas is more than gifts and presents, the Grinch's heart grows three times in size, and he returns all the presents and trimmings and joins the Whos for the Christmas feast.

10. It's a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore)

I'm not sure how much I need to say about this movie since it is so well known. Briefly, it stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has repeatedly given up his dreams in order to help the dreams of others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve (because of a financial disaster not of his own doing) brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who has yet to earn his wings (he's an angel second class). However, by showing what the world would have been like if George had never been born, Clarence keeps George from committing suicide (and thereby earning his wings). George sees that his life hasn't been a waste but has in fact touched (and improved) the lives of almost all those around him in Bedford Falls. He is, as his younger brother Harry puts it, "The richest man in town." Although the movie opened to mixed reviews, it has become a perennial Christmas classic that captures the true meaning of Christmas. There is a scene at the railroad station when George Bailey learns that his younger brother is not going to take over the family business so that George can go to college. For about 5 seconds, Stewart says nothing; his (i.e., George's) disappointment and frustration only shows in his facial expressions. It's a wonderful example of why Jimmy Stewart is one of the greatest actors of all time. For more on the movie, see the following post ("It's a Wonderful Life").

11. Love Actually (Numerous)

Love Actually is a 2003 British Christmas-themed romantic comedy explores different aspects of love through several separate stories involving a wide variety of individuals. As the movie progresses, we learn that many of these individuals are linked together. The movie begins five weeks before Christmas and is played out in a weekly countdown to Christmas, followed by an epilogue that takes place a month later. The movie includes a bevy of British stars, including Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alan Rickman. And this year FiveThirtyEight has called it the greatest Christmas movie of all time ("The Definitive Analysis Of ‘Love Actually,’ The Greatest Christmas Movie Of Our Time").

12. Miracle on 34th Street (Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood)

Although the 1994 remake of this movie, starring Sir Richard Attenborough (as Santa Claus), Dylan McDermott, and Elizabeth Perkins, is decent, it doesn't come close to the original with Maureen O'Hara and a very young Natalie Wood. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day and focuses on the impact of the Santa Claus hired to work at the Macy's on 34th St. in NY City, who claims to be the real Santa and acts accordingly. For example, he some times he ignores instructions to steer parents to goods that Macy's sells like the time he directs one shopper to another store for a toy fire engine that Macy's doesn't have in stock. And he tells another mother that Macy's rival Gimbels has better skates for her daughter. The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture but lost to Gentleman's Agreement with Gregory Peck.


13. Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer (Burl Ives)

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for this to come on TV. I only got to see it once a year, and it was a big deal when it came on. Not just for me, but for most of my friends. Now, of course, you can get it (and virtually any other Christmas movie) on DVD or Blue Ray, or download it from iTunes or Amazon, so it (and other Christmas movies) has lost its "specialness." Nevertheless, I still love watching this retelling of the original Robert L. May story ("Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer"), in which Rudolph's rejection by his peers (for his shiny nose) leads him to run away from home with by a similarly-outcast elf (Hermey) whose dreams of becoming a dentist. These two eventually join up with a prospector named Yukon Cornelius, and after a battle with the Abominable Snowman, they return home to the North Pole just in time for Rudolph to lead Santa's sleigh through a terrible snow storm, thus keeping Christmas from being cancelled.

14. The Santa Clause (Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz)

Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a cynical, divorced, advertising executive for a toy company, who accidentally causes a guy dressed like Santa Claus to fall to his death from his roof on Christmas Eve. Scott and his son Charlie (who is spending Christmas Eve with Scott) discover a sleigh with eight reindeer on the roof, and they conclude that the man must have been Santa Claus. They also find a card in the Santa's suit, instructing that if something should happen to him, that whoever finds the clothes, should put them on and get in the sleigh. Charlie convinces Scott to follow these instructions, and the reindeer take Scott to children's houses around the world to finish Santa's deliveries. After fthis, the sleigh takes them to the North Pole where they learn that Scott is the new Santa (because of the clause in the instruction card they found -- that is, the "Santa Clause") and convince his former wife that he's the new Kris Kringle.

15. White Christmas (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen)

What more can you say about this one? It's got Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" (not once, but twice); it has Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen dancing (several times); it has George Clooney's aunt singing and dancing; and it tells a nice, heart-warming story that some may think is a bit corny. But, to paraphrase Kate Winslet's character in The Holiday (see above), sometimes corny is just what the doctor ordered. The song, "Count Your Blessings" (written by Irving Berlin), was nominated for an Oscar (White Christmas won the Oscar 12 years before for the movie, Holiday Inn), but my favorite (aside from White Christmas) is Snow, sung by Crosby, Kaye, Clooney, and Vera-Ellen on the train from Miami to Vermont (pictured above).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It's Bowl Season!


The holiday season means it's also the college bowl season. It all starts today with the Celebration Bowl (NC Central vs. Grambling). It also means that it's time for folks to complain that there are too many bowl games. Maybe there are, and there's no question that the average quality of the games has decreased ("Grading the Many, Many, Many College Bowl Games"). However, I think it's great that there are so many games because unlike most sports where every team, except the champion, that qualifies for the post season loses its final game, in college football there are multiple winners. In fact, this year there will be 41 winners, which means the players and fans of those schools will be able to end of their football season on a high. Here's FiveThirtyEight's rating of all 41 bowl games ("Grading the Many, Many, Many College Bowl Games").

Thursday, December 15, 2016

106 of the Best Holiday Songs


I concede that the continuous playing of Christmas songs can get to be a bit much at times. Nevertheless, I love listening to and singing them. Thus, here is my annual post of some (106 to be exact) of my favorite holiday songs (they hopefully appear in alphabetical order). There's a few new ones from last year, and each song links to iTunes Preview, which contains a link to iTunes, so you can listen to (or at least preview) the songs:
  1. Adestes Fideles - Frank Sinatra
  2. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
  3. Almost There - Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant
  4. Angels We Have Heard on High -- Glee Cast
  5. Auld Lang Syne - Colbie Caillat
  6. Ave Maria - The Carpenters
  7. Away in a Manger/Child in a Manger - Michael W. Smith
  8. Baby, It's Cold Outside - Dean Martin
  9. Believe - Josh Groban
  10. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
  11. Breath of Christmas - Amy Grant
  12. Carol of the Bells - The Carpenters
  13. Carols Sing - Michael W. Smith
  14. Celebrate Me Home - Kenny Loggins
  15. The Chanukah Song - Adam Sandler
  16. Christ is Born - The Carpenters
  17. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
  18. Christmas Can't Be Very Far Away - Amy Grant
  19. Christmas Canon - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  20. Christmas Hymn - Amy Grant
  21. Christmas in Your Arms - Alabama
  22. Christmas in Heaven - Scotty McCreery
  23. Christmas is Coming - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  24. Christmas Island - Jimmy Buffett
  25. The Christmas Shoes - NewSong
  26. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
  27. Christmas Time is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  28. Christmas Waltz - Michael W. Smith
  29. Christmas Was Meant for Children - Sandi Patti
  30. Christmastime - Michael W. Smith
  31. Cold December Night - Michael Bublé
  32. Deck the Rooftop - Glee Cast
  33. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Whitney Houston
  34. Do They Know It's Christmas - Glee Cast
  35. Emmanuel, God With Us - Amy Grant
  36. Extraordinary Merry Christmas - Glee Cast
  37. Feliz Navidad - José Feliciano
  38. The First Noel - Josh Groban & Faith Hill
  39. Frosty the Snowman - Jimmy Durante
  40. Go Tell It On The Mountain - James Taylor
  41. God is With Us - Casting Crowns
  42. Going Home For Christmas - Phil Coulter
  43. Good King Wenceslas - The Piano Guys
  44. Good To Be Bad - Pentatonix
  45. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - Elmo & Patsy
  46. Greensleeves - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  47. Grown Up Christmas List - Amy Grant
  48. Hallelujah - Pentatonix
  49. The Happiest Christmas - Michael W. Smith
  50. Happy Xmas (The War is Over) - John Lennon
  51. Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Diamond Rio
  52. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Vonda Shepard
  53. Hey Santa - Carnie and Wendy Wilson
  54. High Plains (Christmas on the High-Line) - Philip Aaberg
  55. This Holiday Night - Margo Rey
  56. Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  57. I Believe in Father Christmas - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  58. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Casting Crowns
  59. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - John Mellencamp
  60. I Saw Three Ships - Craig Duncan
  61. I Wonder As I Wander - Sandi Patti
  62. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Michael Bublé
  63. In the Bleak Midwinter - Phil Coulter
  64. It Snowed - Meaghan Smith
  65. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
  66. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Frank Sinatra
  67. Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring - Amy Grant
  68. Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
  69. Jingle Bells - Michael Bublé
  70. Joy to the World - Amy Grant
  71. Last Christmas - Glee Cast
  72. Let it Snow - Dean Martin
  73. Linus and Lucy - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  74. Little Alter Boy - The Carpenters
  75. Little Drummer Boy - Bob Seger
  76. Manger 6 - Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio
  77. Mary, Did You Know? - Scotty McCreery
  78. Merry Christmas Baby - Bruce Springsteen
  79. Merry Christmas Darling - The Carpenters
  80. Mister Santa - Amy Grant
  81. Mistletoe and Holly - Frank Sinatra
  82. Nothin' New for New Years - Harry Connick, Jr. & George Jones
  83. The Nutcracker Suite - Various
  84. O Come All Ye Faithful - Pentatonix
  85. Pat-a-pan - Various
  86. Please Come Home For Christmas - The Eagles
  87. River - Joni Mitchell
  88. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Burl Ives
  89. Santa Claus in Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
  90. Santa Baby - Madonna
  91. Skating - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  92. Silent Night - Sarah McLachlan
  93. Sleigh Ride - The Carpenters
  94. Snoopy's Christmas - The Royal Guardsmen
  95. Snow - Bing Crosby, Danny Kay, Peggy Lee, and Trudy Stevens
  96. Song For A Winter's Night - Sarah McLachlan
  97. Sweet Little Jesus Boy - Casting Crowns
  98. Tennessee Christmas - Amy Grant
  99. There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays - Perry Como
  100. This Christmas - Vonda Shepard
  101. To Be Together - Amy Grant
  102. Walkin' Round in Women's Underwear - Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio
  103. What are You Doing New Year's Eve? - Ella Fitzgerald
  104. Where Are You Christmas? - Faith Hill
  105. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
  106. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Thurl Ravenscroft

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas Don't Begin Today

This is what is becoming my annual post to remind readers that the 12 Days of Christmas are not the 12 days leading up to Christmas (December 14th to 25th), but instead are the 12 days after Christmas, either December 25th to January 5th or December 26th to January 6th, depending on what tradition one adheres to. Either way, the 12 days culminate with Epiphany (January 6th), which commemorates when the wise men present gifts to the young Jesus, who may have been as old as two years old at the time (the Bible's unclear how long it takes them to find him). Some households, such as ours, celebrate the 12 days by giving gifts on each of the 12 days, but this is more the exception than the rule.

Of course, when most people think of "The 12 Days of Christmas,"they think of the song. The song's origins are unclear, but one story, which unfortunately has little historical support but is fun to consider, claims that the song originated as a Roman Catholic "Catechism Song" in England during a time when Catholicism was "discouraged" (1558-1829). According to this tradition,
  • The "true love" in the song refers to God, while the "me" refers to those who receive the gifts mentioned in the song from God
  • The "partridge in a pear tree" refers to Jesus Christ whose death on a tree (i.e., the cross) was a gift from God
  • The "two turtle doves" refer to the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God
  • The "three French hens" refer to "faith," "hope" and "love" three gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13)
  • The "four calling birds" refer to the four Gospels, which sing "the song of salvation through Jesus Christ" 
  • The "five golden rings" refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Torah. 
  • The "six geese a-laying" refer to the six days of creation
  • The "seven swans a swimming" refer to the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:8-11) 
  • The "eight maids a milking" refer to the eight beatitudes
  • The "nine ladies dancing" refer to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) 
  • The "ten lords a-leaping" refer to the Ten Commandments
  • The "eleven pipers piping" refer to the eleven faithful disciples
  • The "twelve drummers drumming" refer to the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed
For a more scholarly (but almost certainly less entertaining) take on the song's origins see its Wikipedia article.