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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Auld Lang Syne

In 1788, 29-year old Scottish poet Robert Burns sat himself down and wrote a poem that he titled 'Auld Lang Syne', which would literally translate today into "old long since", "long long ago", or even "days gone by."

 It was similar in phrasing and verse to a 1711 work by James Watson, and Burns himself stated that his work was based on an older one.

The song that is traditionally sang today as we ring out an old year and ring in a new one, as we will tonight at midnight, is attributed to Burns and includes the spirit of the older Watson work with Burns own work blended into it.

In this spirit of celebrating another 'auld lang syne' we are remembering days or times that have gone before us. People in our lives, events, places that have been important to us. This has been the practice stretching back for a couple of hundred years now.

The Scots celebrated a new year with the song and spread this custom into England, then further on into America and around the world. It became a true New Year's Eve staple when in 1929 band leader Guy Lombardo began to use it in his radio and later his television broadcasts as his signature song to ring in the new year.

In modern times we take the song to be a last look back at what has happened in our lives and in our world over the past year, and then look forward to a new start in a new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 American of the Year: George W. Bush

George W. Bush is winding down the final three weeks of an eventful pair of terms as the President of the United States.

For the past seven of those years, the President has been under as heavy a burden as any American leader before him. That burden of trying to protect and defend America following the attacks of 9/11 has defined his Presidency.

There have been many of his predecessors who have had to guide the nation in a time of war. Some notables include Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman during World War II, and Ronald Reagan in the 'Cold War'.

Lincoln, Truman, and Reagan each had the faith, the strength, the moral courage, and the personal timing to bring these struggles to a successful close for the nation.

Roosevelt, alas, did not live to see the fruits of his difficult labor, but his vision and courage, his willingness to stand up to the evils of Nazism and totalitarianism were vital to our American future, indeed the entire free world's future. Much the same can be said of President George W. Bush these past seven years.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I Told Me So

I hate to write about the same thing so close together, but after writing about the Eagles just a couple of days ago, here we go again. That was the title of my article on Saturday: 'Here We Go Again', relating to the resumption of the Eagles rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale. It was going to be the season finale, because there was only a slim chance that the Birds could slip into the NFL playoffs. A number of different things needed to happen, one in particular being a longshot at best. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to lose at home to the Oakland Raiders. The Bucs would make the playoffs if they won in front of their rabid fans. The Raiders seemingly had nothing to play for in a lost season. It had all the makings of a Bucs blowout, and when Tampa took a 10-point lead into the 4th quarter you expected the Raiders to coast out of 2008 and Tampa fans to celebrate heartily. But...wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, the Raiders did not roll over. They kept coming. They scored the final 17 points of the game. They beat Tampa Bay, and in doing so the Eagles fans watching at home or following the game in the Linc parking lot suddenly saw the door swinging open again. That door had seemingly been slammed shut a week earlier. Last weekend, the Eagles had this same scenario. The teams that they needed to lose did indeed lose, and the Birds went into their game in Washington needing to beat the 'Skins to take control of a playoff slot. They came out listless and lost without even scoring a touchdown, and thus were in this desperate position yesterday. When the Raiders sacked Tampa quarterback Jeff Garcia, the dead-armed maniac who had miraculously led the Birds to the playoffs just two seasons ago, the clock ran out on the Bucs season, and that door again opened for the Birds. Even with that little favor from Oakland, the Eagles still needed another thing to happen. Either the Houston Texans had to upend the Chicago Bears, or the Giants had to beat the Minnesota Vikings. So Eagles fans found themselves in the unusual position of rooting on the G-Men. They would not cooperate. Despite leading most of the game, the Giants lost to the Vikes on a last-second field goal. So the game in Houston was a must-win for the Eagles, and it didn't look good early as the Bears bolted to a 10 point lead. But once again things went the Birds way. Houston rallied and held off Chicago for a 7-point win. Suddenly, the Bucs and the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs thanks to their own inability to win the key game, and the Eagles playoff door was now completely wide open. It was down to a one game pre-playoff with those hated Cowboys. Whomever won the late afternoon game at the Linc would enter the playoffs on a high. The loser would see their season end in disappointing and disheartening fashion. You expected that it would be a great game, with both teams coming out firing with all guns. It didn't happen. The Dallas Cowboys showed up, but that was all they did. The Eagles, led by their fiery, rejuvenated, future Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins and their similarly revived quarterback Donovan McNabb delivered hit after hit, blow after blow, big play after big play. In the first half, McNabb led the Eagles to three touchdowns, sneaking in for one himself and firing a pair of TD passes for the others, and the Eagles opened up a 27-3 halftime lead. In the 2nd half it was the defense turn. Dawkins ripped the ball from two Cowboys carriers, and each time his defensive mates scooped up the fumbles and returned them for touchdowns. What was already a blowout turned into the greatest rout in the history of this legendary rivalry as the Birds finished up a 44-6 victory that put them into the playoffs. Dallas took their high-salaried, big name roster home on what had to be an extremely painful flight home to 'Big D'. No thought was sweeter for Birds fans than to send the Dallas party home in that manner. A couple of months ago when the buzzards began circling this Eagles team for the first time, and their quarterback for what seemed like the umpteenth time, I would frequently defend Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid to friends and family. Only folks with short memories could look past what Reid has done here over the past decade. He has now taken the Birds to the playoffs for the 7th time in 10 seasons that have included five NFC east titles, 4 trips to the NFC Championship game and one Super Bowl visit. There has never been such a sustained period of success in the history of this franchise. To even utter any phrase that would suggest he should be replaced as the head coach is naive at best, and now should be considered downright stupid at worst. As for McNabb, even being a longtime fan, and even believing that his physical skills would likely yield at least a couple of more strong seasons, I thought it might be time to turn the page and start to rebuild under the 'quarterback of the future' in Kevin Kolb. There were fewer low points than the back-to-back embarrassments of the tie in Cincinnati and the humiliating loss to Baltimore, and McNabb looked old and tired in those games. I joined the cause of calling for a change at the position, going back on my earlier defense of the QB. I was wrong, and so was everyone else who called for McNabb's head. The man has done nothing since he has been here, when healthy, but win for a decade. He is by far the greatest quarterback in the history of the Eagles franchise. He clearly is not physically old. He rose from the ashes of the Baltimore benching and proved as much over this last month. No matter what the Eagles do in these upcoming playoffs, both Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb should be back next year, and the year after that, and probably the year after that as well. I was right earlier in the season to defend them. Now after yesterday's historic, unforgettable victory, I can finally say it: I told me so.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

TV Watch: The Journey Home

There is a regular weekly television program on EWTN called 'The Journey Home', and during this program various individuals are highlighted who each have made that 'journey home' to the Catholic Church from some other religious denomination.

The program is inspirational both for Catholics and for those of other Christian faiths, as well as for complete non-Christians.

It is an evangelical program in that the guests speak to their own individual, personal experiences in coming to the Church, or back to the Church after being away.

The regular host is Marcus Grodi, a former Protestant minister who himself returned to the Church a number of years ago. Grodi is the founder and head of the Coming Home Network, which is a group that helps folks on this journey towards a fuller, more complete relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is so very important to remember that Christ Himself founded just one Church, not many. He did not make Peter the head of His Church, and then tell his followers that if something came up while Peter and his successors were spreading and refining the Word, they should take a walk and start their own church.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eagles-Cowboys: Here We Go Again

No matter the circumstances, the playoff implications or the records of the two teams, football games between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys are the epitome of the word 'rivalry'.

In two different eras, the Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett days of the 1970's, and the Troy Aikman-Emmitt Smith- Michael Irvin days of the mid-1990's, the Eagles and their fans had to sit through numerous defeats at the hands of the team from 'Big D'.

The Birds got some revenge during the bluster of the Buddy Ryan era, and even more during their emergence as a perennial contender this past decade. Along the way there have been numerous unforgettable games and moments.

This all started way back on September 30th, 1960, a full year before I was even born. The Cowboys were an expansion team that year, and the Eagles were on their way to winning their last NFL championship to this day.

But on that late September day it didn't matter that Dallas would end up winless, or that the Birds would win a title. The Cowboys fought the Eagles tooth and nail before the Birds finally overcame with a narrow 27-25 victory.

Veteran sports writer Stan Hochman has told the story that the real beginnings of the venom in the rivalry can be traced to the late 1960's and an Eagles running back named Tim Brown.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Birth of Jesus Christ


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.

Now in those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first census and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph

Tonight is one of the most holy nights of the year. As we move from today's Christmas Eve preparations into tomorrow's Christmas Day celebrations, we will be rejoicing in the moment of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Over two millennia ago in a small room in the little town of Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph brought their child, our Saviour, into the world. Over the next three decades or so his life would change all of ours.

So it is not only appropriate, but it should also be obligatory, that we keep those circumstances and that meaning as first and foremost in our hearts and minds these next couple of days.

But the celebration of the Christmas holiday has grown into much more over the years, decades, and centuries. So much is incorporated into our holiday celebrations now: Christmas trees, wreaths, candles, cards, gifts, drinks. Characters such as Santa Clause, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer have grown into beloved symbols of the Christmas season.

It is just as important for Christians to know and accept that we have nothing to fear from these as it is for secularists to understand that Jesus Christ is the true 'reason for the season.' Every reasonable Christian understands that it is not likely that the baby Jesus was actually born on December 25th, and that in fact he almost certainly was not.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Did She Know?

Driving in to work this morning, my wife and I heard the Christmas song "Mary Did You Know?" playing on the radio.

In the version that we heard, Kenny Rogers is asking if she knew that the child she was carrying would do many wondrous things.

He asks if she knows that he will 'one day walk on water', 'save our sons and daughters', 'give sight to a blind man', 'calm a storm with his hand', and 'one day rule the nations' among other miraculous actions.

It is a legitimate question to consider: what did Mary know about her child, and when did she know it?

We know from Matthew's Gospel that Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and given certain information.

First, she was told that her child would be a boy, and that she should name him 'Jesus'. She is told by Gabriel that the child will be 'great' and will be 'called Son of the most High'.

But then Gabriel goes further, saying 'the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.'

What Gabriel is telling Mary is that her child shall be the long awaited Messiah.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pulling Back the Curtain

I've been thinking about it for a couple of years now, but just never had the nerve. Either I was going to be too embarrassed, or I was fearful of exposing my face to someone that I might have to see on a regular basis.

So it was with a little bit of nervousness that this past Saturday I entered the confessional at church and finally pulled back the curtain for a face-to-face confession.

Penance is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, instituted by Jesus Christ Himself "in which forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is granted through the priest's absolution to those who with true sorrow confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same."

We are all sinners, we all commit sins, some of us more frequently and heinously than others. We need to seek forgiveness in order to restore our full relationship with God, and He has provided us the means through the intervention of His Son.

When you enter into the Sacrament of Penance, what is known commonly in the Church as 'confession', the misconception is that you are telling your sins to a man, the priest, and that he forgives you. That is simply not the case.

The power to forgive sins rests with God alone. However, he utlizes his blessed priests to act as ministers or confessors in humanizing the process. It is wholly necessary that we come to confession prepared to honestly evaluate our thoughts and actions, and to confess those that have broken our relationship with the Lord.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

God Doesn't Want You to Go to Church

Well, perhaps I should say that God doesn't only want you to go to church. More importantly, God wants you to want to go to church. Just a moment spent contemplating those two ideas will reveal just how different they are in actuality.

In my occasional series on The Ten Commandments, I have already covered the third: Keep Holy the Sabbath, the Lord's Day. In a seven day week there are 168 hours for us to fill. Assuming that we sleep for approximately 49 of those, or seven hours of sleep per day, that leaves 119 for us to fill.

Say we work at a full-time job, requiring 40 hours there each week, and another hour per day in travel to and from work. That knocks us down to 72 hours for ourselves. Free from the need to sleep, free from the necessity of work, we have approximately 72 hours that are ours to spend as we choose.

Those with children know how much of that time is spent feeding, clothing, teaching, chaufering, entertaining the kiddies.

But even with all that, and knowing that we do not all have small children, we have dozens of hours in each week that go to ourselves. Television, computers, schooling, music, hobbies, working out, visiting friends and relatives, shopping. There are many ways that we fill these hours.

The fact is, God is only asking one hour per week from you. One little, tiny, short hour for you to spend in his house.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Philadelphia, January 1996
The first real snow storm of the year is headed towards the northeastern United States this weekend. It is expected to dump anywhere from six inches up to a foot and a half of the white stuff in the 'I-95' corridor between New York and Boston.

That means it will be sliding hundreds of miles to the north of us here in Philly, so we likely dodge this first blast of winter. Still, temperatures have been slowly and surely dropping, and we have had a lot of rain over the past week or so.

With Christmas now less than a week away, all of these factors start to make one think of the possibility of that old Bing Crosby cliche, a 'White Christmas' just like the ones I used to know.

But how many of us here in Philadelphia actually can remember a single snowy Christmas, let alone a few of them close together which would make it a clear association with the holiday?

The answer is as mixed as the weather this time of year. Personally, I do have a clear recollection of a big snow at some point in my early childhood. I remember folks making a big deal of it, and it being an exciting thing for me as a little tot.

Checking back into the National Weather Service records all the way to 1951, my memory is proven correct. There has only been one major snow storm at Christmas time in that period covering over a half century, the Christmas storm of 1966, when I was five years old.

That Christmas eve it began snowing, and it did not stop until just over a foot of the powder was on the ground by the time us kiddies woke up around 7am. What glory to look out the window upon! But something tells me that the grown-ups weren't as happy as I was.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Office Christmas Party

There are many urban legends out there of the stereotypical office Christmas party.

A wide variety of disasters, pratfalls, guffaws, and otherwise unexplainable romantic interludes fueled by drinking far too much spiked punch, nog, and other holiday adult beverages.

I have witnessed some of these first-hand in both of the professions of my adult lifetime which includes 10 1/2 years in banking and now 18 1/2 years in police work.

Whether its cops or bankers letting their hair down, or lawyers, doctors, office or factory workers, the annual company or departmental Christmas party can become the stuff of legend.

My wife and her fellow employees of the Charles Jacquin Company have their annual bash tonight for which I will be playing the role of her designated driver. This will allow her to let her hair down a little and enjoy a few of those adult beverages without having to worry about drunk driving in the wet weather that has made the Philly roadways especially slick.

I don't know how many others will be as fortunate, or as smart, in finding someone else to hand the car keys to after having a few too many cocktails.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Are Some Parents Thinking?

The ShopRite supermarket in Easton, PA received a simple request. The store provides birthday cakes, as many major chain groceries do now, and the parents of a little 3-year old boy wanted simply to buy a cake and have the tots name put on top.

You know, "Happy Birthday so-and-so." Very simple, right? How much controversy could there be?

There was just one teeny, weeny, little problem for the store employee in the bakery section: the little tots name is Adolf Hitler Campbell.

These parents named their child after one of the worst human beings in the history of the planet. Perhaps the next will be Charles Manson Campbell?

Nope, because they actually already have two other children: 2-year old JoyceLynn Arian Nation Campbell, and 1-year old Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell. I mean, what happened there? Why not go right out and have the guts to call the kid Heinrich Himmler Campbell?

Seriously, some parents should have their heads examined. Parents name their kids for these goofy shock value reasons, never considering that the poor kid has to grow up and live with this name for the rest of their life.

Now, I am all for naming your child after your favorite movie star, music star, politician, baseball player, what have you. But let's be reasonable here, folks. There is a line.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It Must Have Been the Mistletoe

In Scandinavian antiquity it was the custom that if enemies should meet by chance underneath mistletoe, which would be hanging from a tree out in the forest, then they must lay down their weapons in truce until the following day.

The ancient Celtic tribes saw it as a mystical sacred plant with medicinal and spiritual powers.

But it was in Norse mythology that the tradition of kissing beneath mistletoe actually began with the story of Baldur's death and resurrection.

It was said that Baldur's mother, Frigga, made all the plants and animals promise that they would never harm Baldur. However, she somehow neglected to give mistletoe the message.

The scheming god Loki found out, and tricked another god into killing Baldur with a spear whose tip was fashioned from mistletoe. This killing of Baldur is said to have brought winter into the world.

However, Baldur was eventually revived by the gods, and mistletoe was pronounced sacred, with Frigga proclaiming that from now on the plant would signify love. From this story sprang the Norse usage of the plant as an aphrodisiac and a fertility aid.

The tradition evolved over the centuries, and at some point it became customary in Colonial times for young men to kiss young women under the mistletoe, then pluck one of the berries from the plant. When all the berries were gone, the kissing privilege then ceased.

This was the origin of the modern custom of kissing under the mistletoe. That current custom states that if any two people should find themselves underneath mistletoe at any time, that they must kiss in a show of Christmas cheer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness

During this Christmas season we are celebrating the imminent arrival on earth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and his birth to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Over 2,000 years ago that same arrival was anticipated in reality by the man who has become known in some quarters as the 'Precursor', the one who came just before the Christ.

His given name was John, and he has become known to most in the world as 'John the Baptist'. He was born right around the first year A.D., and was a cousin of Jesus Christ, their respective mothers having been first cousins.

John's mother was Elizabeth, and she was married to a priest named Zachary. They were said to be good people, "both just before God" as St. Luke later wrote.

There is a great story about John's birth. Zachary and Elizabeth were elderly and without child, wanted one, and constantly prayed for a child. Zachary even utilized his priestly position for this purpose.

One day an angel appeared to Zachary and told him that they would have a son, that they should name him John, and that the son would be "great before the Lord" as well as a number of other revelations concerning the son. Zachary did not believe, and for his disbelief after praying for this very outcome, he was struck dumb (unable to speak) until the birth of the child.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No Mo Cheeks

Thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies run to the World Series championship this fall, the bar has been measurably raised for all of the other sports franchises in the city. The Flyers have responded on the ice with a tremendous run that has seen the team rise from an embarrassing winless start to the brink of their division lead. The Eagles seemed dead just a couple weeks ago, now they are back in playoff contention having beaten the best team in football.

The 76ers, however, have floundered and fallen into last place. A late-season run to the playoffs just eight months ago was enough to get coach Maurice 'Mo' Cheeks a contract extension, but apparently that extension was not enough to guarantee his job. The team struggled to open this season, floundering around the .500 mark for the first month before their recent bottom-out. Management simply did not like what they were seeing, and the first head to roll in the Philly coaching community was lopped off. The 76ers fired Mo Cheeks, a popular local legend as a player.

That recipe has not seemed to work real well, by the way. Both Bobby Clarke as a GM and Bill Barber as the coach with the Flyers organization were unceremoniously dumped despite their legendary player status. Only Billy Cunningham, who coached Cheeks' 1983 Sixers to the NBA Championship and was a player on the Sixers 1967 NBA title team, has had true, lengthy success here after also having a strong playing career here.

There is something wrong with the mix on the Philadelphia 76ers pro basketball team. I don't know what that might be, but I do know that the local hoops squad has not been a serious NBA title contender for a long time. Even in Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson's best seasons, the Sixers were barely true contenders. The argument can be made that not since Cheeks himself ran down the court and dunked for the clinching moment of that '83 title have the 76ers been a real threat to win it all.

Hopefully GM Ed Stefanski can get a handle on both the coaching situation and the player roster, and move this franchise in a direction that will not only get the fan base excited again, but give them a title contender to root for. I don't know if firing Cheeks was the right move. Frankly, the Sixers are #4 on the list of local sports teams for me. I would like to root for them again, but they just don't interest me. That was not Cheeks fault, I liked the guy and had good feelings of his history with that title team. Stefanski is now on the hot seat to build that excitement-generating contender.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas

The 'Twelve Days of Christmas' is actually that time between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, the period after the holiday itself.

So this is more appropriately your warning of the 'Twelve Days 'Til Christmas'.

This is your fair warning folks. Beginning tomorrow there will be just twelve more days until Christmas.

If you haven't yet decorated, put up your tree, done some shopping, mailed out those cards and gifts then now is the time.

There is not much more to this posting other than its functioning as that warning to you. Also the fact that today has been real busy for me, so I don't have much more time to devote.

It's Friday, so TGIF and get up, out, and get things done this weekend. The time to procrastinate is over. It is the time of doing. It will be fun.

All the stores and malls and shops, and many streets and homes, are fully decorated, playing Christmas music, crowds hectically maneuvering around one another.

Don't think of it as work, Santa. It is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. So get out and enjoy yourself this weekend, but make productive use of your time. Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When 'SNL' Was Funny

A long time ago, in what seems now like it was a galaxy far, far away, the television program 'Saturday Night Live' actually used to be funny.

The NBC late night sketch comedy show was funny, like 'belly-laugh out loud' funny, and it was that way pretty much week-in, week-out.

I am talking here about the first few seasons, representing my high school days of the mid-late 70's, when the show first came on the air.

These were the days of the original troupe, known as the 'Not Ready for Prime Time Players' collectively.

Gilda Radner was doing her Emily Litella character on the news with 'Cheddar Cheese', er, Chevy Chase. Bill Murray was giving her Lisa Loopner character those special 'Christmas noogies'. Garrett Morris was shouting out the 'News for the Hard of Hearing'. John Belushi and Dan Akroyd were the 'Blues Brothers'. Jane Curtin was using new 'Shimmer' as a floor wax and a desert topping.

Why didn't they feature Laraine Newman more? Was she just not funny? Well, at least she got regular turns as the youngest member of the 'Conehead' family.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Washington Rolling Over in His Grave

The Father of our Country, our nation's first President and possibly still it's greatest citizen in history, George Washington, would be proud that the country decided to name a state after him.

That is, until he got wind of what is going on these days in that state. Upon learning of these developments, the great man would be rolling over in his grave.

Washington state has today become one of the worst offenders in the growing attacks on our Judeo-Christian heritage here in America, attacks that have weakened our society and made our very national existence more vulnerable than at any time in its history.

This year the state lurched ever further leftward at the state Capitol building itself. Here a Christmas display was erected, as has been the case for decades. A typical manger display with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. Some of the most appropriate imagery of the Christmas holiday season.

However, right next to it was permitted to be erected a sign on an easel that reads: "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

It was placed there by an atheist organization whose sole mission is to drive religion from public discourse. They couch their 'dis-belief', their lack of faith, in a Constitutional argument, stating that no one has a right to force religion down their throats.

They are absolutely correct in that regard. Perhaps they aren't aware that those of us who count ourselves among the faithful have no desire to do any such thing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Baseball's Stove Heating Up

For baseball fans the winter can be particularly cold, dark, and long. From the end of the final game of the World Series until Spring Training gets going, there are four months without the game that we must endure. For the most hard core of us, the game never really goes away fully, and this week will find our National Pastime once again in the headlines. This is the week that Major League Baseball holds its 'Winter Meetings' at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Front-office executives from each of the MLB teams will be present, along with players, their agents, vendors, job-seekers, fans, and media. There will be numerous presentations, meetings, discussions, and social engagements. The biggest function of the Winter Meetings is always the full opening of the 'Hot Stove League', the name coined for the frenzied discussion of player movement via trades and free agent signings. Since the end of the World Series, which this year has made the off-season much more endurable for we Phillies fans thanks to the still-warm glow of our world championship, players and teams have been prepping for this week. The Phils have a pair of key free agent players, outfielder Pat Burrell and starting pitcher Jamie Moyer. The prevailing wisdom is that Burrell's decade-long career with the Fightin's has come to an end, and that the club will not make a big effort to re-sign the slugging left fielder, at least not unless it becomes a last-choice type scenario. Burrell turned 32 years old during the playoffs in October, and is viewed as a player severely limited defensively, a situation that will only worsen as he moves through his 30's. He will be seeking a multi-year contract for a lot of money, and the Phils just don't see him as a prudent investment. They may be right, depending on his actual price, but it will still be sad to see the Series hero leave town. Moyer is another story. The club wants him back for next season, but again age and cost are two considerations. Moyer turned 46 years old just a few weeks ago, and it is very possible that the Phillies squeezed one final productive turn from the seasoned lefty this past year. There are some huge names available as free agents this year including starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia (pictured), Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett, and a number of intriguing names such as Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, Oliver Perez, Jon Garland, and future Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. At the back of the bullpen, closers Francisco 'KRod' Rodriguez broke the single-season Saves record this year just in time to hit the free agent market. He leads a group of closers that includes all-time Save leader Trevor Hoffman, Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, and Brandon Lyon. Need a hitter? MLB clubs have many here to choose from as well. The two biggest prizes are 1st baseman Mark Teixeira and outfielder Manny Ramirez. Tex is just entering his prime, and is one of the top hitters in the game as well as perhaps the best defensive 1st sacker around. Ramirez is older, but proved last season that he is in great shape and still capable of carrying a team for months at a time. The Phillies found out all about that in the NLCS, when it often seemed like it was their team against Manny alone. The other bats include Burrell, 3rd baseman Casey Blake, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and two of the game's most underrated players in 2nd baseman Orlando Hudson and outfielder Raul Ibanez. The Phillies reportedly have interest in Ibanez, and have also reportedly put a formal offer on the table for Lowe. Whether they will make any deals is questionable. There is much talk that the local nine will be satisfied perhaps with going after a complimentary bat to add outfield depth, and instead will concentrate on signing both Jayson Werth and Ryan Madson to long term deals. They also are rumored to be shopping for one more strong arm to add to what is already one of baseball's best bullpens. Baseball's 'super-agent', Scott Boras, will be highly visible as he and his group represent a number of the top free agents. The dominoes are likely to begin falling with the signing of Sabathia. As soon as this highest rated hurler signs, watch the other deals, both free agent signings and trades, begin to come fast and furious. Of course we could leave the Winter Meetings with just a few signings and deals, but the groundwork will have been laid for others that will come within a week or two, definitely before Christmas. So the next week or so is an important time for baseball teams to improve their rosters. You can catch all of the important Winter Meetings news on ESPN's outstanding program 'Baseball Tonight', which will air special editions from Monday through Thursday at 5pm. The 'Hot Stove' is heating up, warming all baseball fans just as winter's cold begins to set in across the nation.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pearl Harbor Ignited Nation in Faith

I was trying to think of an appropriate way to blend my usual 'Sunday Sermon' article with a remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day.

I could have just went with two separate articles, but there had to be many connections between faith and the events of December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Naval forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

This sneak attack, which directly ushered America into World War II, resulted in President Franklin D. Roosevelt calling that Sunday morning "A date which will live in infamy!"

Hawaii was a U.S. territory at the time, it would not become a full state until 1959, and it was a major American naval outpost in the South Pacific. The United States had never been attacked directly from an outside enemy, considering the Civil War as a purely internal struggle.

So as the 353 Japanese bombers continually descended over Pearl without warning on that peaceful, sunny Sunday morning and began their devastating bombing and strafing runs, the significant American forces stationed there were taken completely by surprise.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Arrogant & Ignorant...and Guilty as Sin

Orenthal James Simpson, the jury in this matter finds you guilty! Guilty, OJ! No smiles for you. No smirks this time. No look of shocked disbelief on your face that you had beaten the system.

Thirteen years ago, former football star and celebrity O.J. Simpson got away with murder. I remember that day well, and listening to the verdict on a car radio while most of America watched it on television.

I couldn't see it on TV because my then-fiancee Debbie and I were driving home from an appointment involving our wedding, which at that point was just four days away.

As the foreperson prepared to read the verdict we pulled over, and somewhere around Cottman Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard, sitting in our car, we heard those incredibly unjust words.

Simpson had beaten the charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a young man named Ron Goldman. He had nearly decapitated the mother of his children, and had gotten away with it thanks to an incredibly inept prosecution and a high-powered, highly competent, and expensive defense team.

Reaction to the verdict once again highlighted the racial disparity of America. Almost to a one, white Americans saw the verdict for the true injustice that it was. A cold-blooded killer with a history of spousal abuse had finally killed the woman, and now a jury had let him off despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

The large majority of black Americans instead cheered the verdict. They did so not as much for any belief in the innocence of O.J. himself, but because, as they saw it, an African-American had beaten a justice system that many of them felt had wrongly convicted innumerable blacks over the course of its history.

A black man had beaten the unjust system was how they saw it, and his own personal actions be damned. Of course that should be an embarrassing position for any black American to take. That is particularly so for any black woman who has ever been the victim of abuse and intimidation from a black man.

In any event, Simpson got away with murder that day. However, a civil jury in a later court action found him appropriately liable for the killings, and choked off his financial resources.

America's Secular Challenge

At Christmastime we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and the majority of Americans will be doing just that.

But there is a relatively small yet growing segment of our population that does not realize, or does not care, that it was the values taught by Him which formed the basis of our very national existence.

These 'secularists', 'humanists', 'atheists' and others want any references to Jesus Christ, God, or anything else religious kept out of the public sphere.

They certainly feel that displays of religion on public property should be considered not only inappropriate, but illegal, even during a specifically religious holiday time such as Christmas or Easter.

They especially and more vociferously fight against such displays or references when it comes to Christian religious holidays, knowing full well that most Americans self-identify as Christians.

They rail against the fact that America itself was founded on Judeo-Christian values, and feel that if they can knock off the big boy they essentially win victory over all organized religion. It is the challenge of normal, everyday, faithful, God-loving Americans to stand up against these groups and individuals.

That is the message of a new book by Herbert London titled "America's Secular Challenge" from Encounter Books.

Friday, December 5, 2008

TV Watch: Faith & Culture

'Faith & Culture' is the 2nd show in recent weeks that I am recommending from the EWTN Catholic network, following my previous recommendation of "Crossing the Goal" (which airs a new episode tonight at 9pm.)

The program generally airs on Wednesday nights at 11pm eastern time, and if that is too late for you or conflicts with your local newscast, it is well worth recording on your DVR or other device to watch at a more convenient time.

'F&C' is hosted by Colleen Carroll Campbell, a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush as well as a noted columnist, author, commentator, and a fellow at the respected Ethics & Public Policy Center.

Campbell is attractive, articulate, bright, and incredibly effusive in the expression of her faith. As she discusses issues, you can both feel and see the sincerity and the excitement for her Catholic Christian faith in her eyes and voice.

The format for 'F&C' is similar to what you may have been exposed to with PBS' 'Charlie Rose', a one-on-one interview program between Campbell and a featured guest. This guest is gleaned from the ranks of politicians, authors, activists, artists and others who discuss with her the most important issues of the day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Santa Beats the Recession

So the American economy has been in a recession since late last year? Now there is a shocker to most people in the country. One thing that we can at least be thankful for this year is that gas prices have dropped by more than half in most areas since their summer peak, just in time for the winter heating season.

So your retirement fund has taken a hit, you are thinking more about running up credit card debt, and you really would like to cut back a bit on your holiday spending. What can you do that will still enable you to feel more like Santa Clause than Ebeneezer Scrooge this Christmas? Plenty.

The first thing that you can do is what might seem like an easy place to cut back, but in fact you should not, and perhaps you should consider expanding. That would be your Christmas card list.

The fact is that Christmas cards have become extremely affordable if you just shop around. You can go lavish and spend $20 or more for a box of 18 cards. But why do that when you can also find nice ones of twice that number for half the price?

You can hand them out at work and school, and even to most of your family members and neighbors. But make sure that you mail a bunch out to those who live far away. A Christmas card is your opportunity, perhaps the only such opportunity that you will have during a year, to let people know that they matter to you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Think Globally, Act Familially

Yesterday I asked the question: "What are you prepared to do?"

Today I will begin with another one: "What are you supposed to do?"

Anyone who read yesterday's post and came away with the impression that "there is no use in caring about the injustice in the world when there is nothing that an individual can do about it" simply missed the point.

There is plenty that you can do about it. You can get active politically in support of folks who are willing to invest American 'blood, sweat, and treasure' in the causes that you feel are important.

This means that you can both vote for these candidates when they become available in elections in which you can participate, and you can write and phone your current elected officials no matter what their track record, letting them know how you feel and what you want them to specifically accomplish.

Heck, if you have the opportunity at all, run for office and become the 'mover and shaker' yourself.

We should always be willing to look both at our own neighborhood and town, but also outside at the region, nation, hemisphere, and world around us for injustice of all types. We should then be willing to get involved in helping to correct those injustices, both as individuals and as a nation.

But while we should place that political pressure on candidates and nations, we need to absolutely ensure that there is one place where we are actually taking action every day: in our homes with our families.

Outside of our relationship with God, there is nothing more important in this life than family. Acting familially means any number of things. First of all, it means actually being there and being involved, and that goes particularly for men.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Are You Prepared to Do?

In the motion picture "The Untouchables", Kevin Costner plays legendary FBI man Elliot Ness. He is trying to break the grip of organized crime on the city of Chicago, and is running into obstacles at every turn when his partner puts things into clear resolve.

Sean Connery's grizzled veteran police character turns to Ness and asks the key question: "What are you prepared to do?"

It is this very response that is the key question that needs to be asked when talking about the big problems in our world today.

There are many well meaning people in America who are concerned about Third World hunger. There are many well meaning people who are concerned about AIDS in Africa.

There are many well meaning people who are concerned about illicit human and drug-trafficking. There are many well meaning people who are concerned about illegal aliens flooding into the United States.

There are many well meaning people who are concerned about ethnic cleansing in various nations. There are many well meaning people who fully understand the danger from and are concerned about the spread of radical Islam.

But most of these people don't have a clue as to what they should do next. Many simply resort to the easiest thing for them individually: they write a check. "Hey, if I mail off $20 to some organization each month, I can feed one child. If everyone did that, we could feed all the children."

Nice sentiment, but is it true? The organization doesn't take your $20 and go shopping for the child whose photo and alleged 'bio' they sent to you. They pool all the money sent by people like you, and put it together in trying to improve conditions in some particular village or country. There are many good people, Christian missionaries and others, out there trying to do this good, necessary work.

Unfortunately as often as the food and medical shipments get through to the village, they are even more frequently intercepted by military regimes in those nations, and sometimes by the governments themselves, and dispersed to a privileged few. That is the reality of what happens to the supplies bought by the check that you write.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Television & the Presidency as a Time Machine

I was sitting at home this past Saturday night, just flicking around the dial, when a newly produced special report on the Fox News Channel titled "Television & the Presidency" caught my eye.

Being a bit of a history buff, especially American history, it was right up my alley: a historical perspective on the role that television has played in Presidential politics.

As I settled in the program moved quickly through Jimmy Carter's lame Presidency in the late 1970's. Those Carter years were fresh in my own experience, since I turned 15 years old right after his election.

Carter was basically the President of my high school years, and it wasn't pretty. The man was supposed to be some kind of genius. At least that was how the press sold him. But he just couldn't seem to solve any of the big problems that came along, from the gas crisis to unemployment to ballooning interest rates to the emergence of radical islam.

Every time a problem raised it's head, Carter talked and talked and got nothing done to solve it. At least that was my perspective as a teenager, but what did I know? And besides, it didn't matter, I didn't have a vote...yet.

In the fall of 1979, among the many other changes happening in my life, I turned 18 years old and had finally reached the age where I could register to vote. My family was historically a Democratic one, and the Party seemed to easily fit the liberal ideals that most appropriately espoused my own philosophy at the time, so I registered Democrat.