RAMBLER OF THE WEEK
Today, a week before Christmas Day, we celebrate Saint Nicholas of Myra as our Rambler of the Week. This fourth century saint has been venerated for centuries throughout the world for his giving spirit. His care for children and penchant for secret gift giving has brought him great renown.
Somehow, the power of modern culture turned him into something quite different. A human saint was replaced by a jolly old elf. A patron of the poor became a judge of who’s naughty and nice. A church bishop became the CEO of the world’s largest toy factory. A man who walked among his parishioners and served the people in his community became a cosmic delivery man who visits everyone everywhere on one night during the year in his magic sleigh. A saint of the church became an icon of popular culture and a vehicle for commercialism. A story rich in human experience became a modern fairy tale we trot out every year to try and put some magic in our children’s eyes during the season. We have “disney-ized” this saint in a multitude of ways.
Understanding more about the true St. Nicholas may be a way to restore some sense of dignity to Christmas and resolve the “Santa Claus” dilemma for Christian people. To be sure, when you start to read about him, it will become clear that many of the stories are legends arising from a spirit of hagiography. Nevertheless, the stories, exaggerated though they may be, emphasize Christian virtues and are consistent in venerating praiseworthy character qualities. I believe we can read and tell them as vehicles of Christian imagination, while recognizing a kernel of truth and a foothold in history.
Nicholas was from Myra, a province of modern day Turkey. St. Nicholas was a real man, dedicated to following God, who gained a reputation for his generosity and kindness. He lived long ago, in the fourth century, born to wealthy parents who raised him as a devout Christian, but who died in a plague when he was young. Tradition says that he took his inheritance and gave it to the poor to pursue a religious life. He was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man, and was known for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his special concern for those at sea (it is likely his family owned a shipping company).
One story about him involves a poor man who had three daughters. Because the father could not afford to pay a dowry for them to be married, they were in danger of being taken away and made slaves. On three different occasions, it is said that a bag of gold appeared in each one of the daughter’s stockings or shoes which were by the fire to dry. The gold had been tossed in through an open window by a secret benefactor, St. Nicholas. This led to the tradition of hanging stockings by the fire or, in some countries, putting shoes out in which small gifts are placed, such as candies, coins and other treats.
Many other stories are told of St. Nicholas, some obviously myths and legends, but all of which make some point about the kindness, generosity and helpfulness of this man.
Oh yeah, like all of us he could lose his cool too. Legend has it he punched Arius in the face during an argument about the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea. Naughty Arius!
The best overall site that I have found for further information on St. Nicholas is The St. Nicholas Center.
A good example to remember at all times of the year, not just during the Christmas season, we celebrate St. Nicholas today as our Rambler of the Week.
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SORRY, I COULDN’T HELP IT
See more “anti-Christmas cards” at Religion News Service.
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THREE LOCAL STORIES OF INTEREST
From the Indianapolis Star:
An entire Indiana town has no police officers after every single one walked off the job. The officers blame the Bunker Hill Town Council for the situation.
…In their resignation letters, the officers accuse council members of asking them to “do illegal, unethical, and immoral things.” They cited examples like asking police to run background checks on other town councilors to find their criminal history. The officers also claim they were threatened when they said no.
Another issue they brought up in the letter was their safety. The officers say they were all forced to share one set of body armor, putting their lives on the line while they were out making arrests and serving warrants.
…On top of all that, [Town Marshal Michael] Thomison says his resignation was personal. He was diagnosed with cancer last year, but when he was ready to go back to work in May, Thomison says they would only allow him to work part time. He blames the town councilors and plans to file a lawsuit against them. “They came at me and said it is costing the town way too much money because of my insurance and they said we are taking you down to part time,” said Thomison.
Half of Indianapolis’s gay bars have closed since 2015, signaling the changing of generations in the LGBTQ communities.
The Indianapolis Star reports:
Gay bars are up against two major cultural shifts.
“It all changed with smartphones,” [bartender Jack] LaFary said, referring to the widely held theory that mobile dating apps like Grindr, by facilitating meetups online, helped render bars unnecessary. “When I first came out, you went to a gay bar to meet gay people. But the smartphone changed that, and it was an all-of-a-sudden thing. Business just dropped, and it wasn’t a gradual thing. It was, like, boom.”
Part two of the double whammy: A growing tolerance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states and many foreign countries. Ellen DeGeneres just got a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Same-sex couples hold hands on sidewalks, in shopping malls and in bars — and not just in gay bars but in boy-meets-girl bars, too.
There are “as many or more” gay people as there used to be, said Steve Warman, 69, a longtime bartender at Greg’s Our Place, a gay bar on 16th Street, “but they just have many more options than they used to have. When I was young, gay bars were our social outlet. Now you can go anywhere and not feel uncomfortable. Now you can go to a straight bar and be gay and not feel like you’re going to be beat up or thrown out.”
Entrepreneur magazine saw the end of gay bars coming a decade ago. In its September 2007 issue Entrepreneur noted the increased acceptance of gays and predicted of gay bars that by 2017 “the very best of them will endure; the rest won’t.”
Knightstown Indiana is famous for its iconic Hoosier Gym, a tribute to Indiana high school basketball. But lately it has been in the news because of controversy involving a Christmas tree and a cross.
Again, from the Indianapolis Star:
During the holidays, Knightstown, population 2,100, decorates a large evergreen tree in its town square. For many years, the tree was topped with a star. “But the star broke, so someone put up a cross,” said Kevin Richey, a lifelong resident who owns the Hoosiers Home Court Cafe in Knightstown’s downtown district. “That was four or five years ago. Nobody said anything.”
This year, young Joe Tompkins objected. Tompkins caused a firestorm in the small Henry County town this past week by joining forces with the ACLU’s Indiana chapter to file a lawsuit forcing the removal of the cross. Knightstown’s town council ordered the cross removed to avoid a court case it said it couldn’t win.
Some in the town are going to fight to restore it.
But on Thursday evening, as more than 50 people gathered at the town’s Sunset Park Shelter House to see whether the council would vote to permanently remove the cross, council vice president Kevin Knott stood up to deliver a slow and measured speech in the manner of a preacher.
Some attendees held large white, wooden crosses above their heads as Knott spoke: “It’s a humbling experience when you know your community is speaking to you. I hear you loud and clear.”
“I have heard what you all have said and you elected me to represent you,” he said. “I cannot and will not support the resolution.”
Residents erupted in celebration as the council voted to table the motion. Council members said they hope to negotiate with the ACLU to come to another decision.
During the meeting, residents made impassioned statements about preserving the town’s traditions. Some asked what Jesus would do.
“We have the right to stand up for our freedoms,” said Aaron Magee, 27, who has lived in the town his entire life. “This town needs Christ. This country needs Christ.”
Others in Knightstown are taking a different approach. They are raising money to support Tompkins’s family. The family is dealing with serious illness and financial concerns at the same time they are feeling the pressure of criticism and conflict over the cross matter.
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SEND IN THE DRONES…
Amazon made its first customer delivery by drone last week, carrying a package containing popcorn and a Fire TV video-streaming device several miles to a two-story farmhouse near Cambridge, U.K. It took 13 minutes.
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AND THEN THERE’S THIS GUY…
A Maine man named Phelan MoonSong is now the proud carrier of a state-issued driver’s license that shows his bespectacled eyes peering out beneath a pair of pointy goat horns emanating from his forehead.
“My horns have become very important to me, the feel of them on my head,” MoonSong told The Wild Hunt, a website for pagan news and commentary. “They are like a Spiritual Antenna.”
When he wore the horns to the Bangor, Maine, Department of Motor Vehicles, a clerk asked if they were implanted in his head. He said they were not. He told the clerk he was a “Priest of Pan” — a neopagan with an Earth-based spirituality — and they were part of his religiously required garb.
The clerk snapped his picture but told him he needed to send the state various documents showing the horns were religiously required attire.
…MoonSong sent the state documentation from four scholarly tomes on pagan traditions, including one titled “Pagan Religions: A Handbook for Diversity Training.” He also fired off a personal essay about why his horns were important to him, according to the website.
Last month, when he called Maine’s secretary of state’s office, which handles driver’s license photos, he was told his horns would have to go.
MoonSong then appeared at the state’s motor vehicle office — horns firmly in place — and mentioned he was seeking help from Maine’s Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights advocacy group.
His horns were approved and he expects his license soon.
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QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
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DON WE NOW…
The other night, as Gail and I were out Christmas shopping, we noticed and commented about how ugly Christmas sweaters have truly become a thing, pervasive in many stores.
Well, yesterday was National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. In case you missed it, we’ve perused a few of the best ugly sweater websites to bring you samples. It’s still not too late to have that festive gathering featuring tacky holiday attire.
Why be content with asking Baby Jesus into your heart? Carry him with you on your sweater!
If it was Jesus riding the unicorn, I might think we were looking at some bad 1960’s-70’s Sunday School material. But no, it’s cosmic Santa to the rescue.
Why should Christians get to have all the fun? And no, Franklin Graham, this is not persecution.
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Just a Note: There will be no Saturday Ramblings next week. I will be enjoying Christmas Eve with my family and church family.
Until then, this is for all you Christmas over-achievers: