Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Has The Word "Pray" Lost Its Meaning?

The Infant Samuel at Prayer
Joshua Reynolds [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It should be one of the most powerful words in the English Language. And yet, following the San Bernardino shootings the word “Pray,” was reduced to being the subject of political debate. And while I cannot tell what goes on in the heart of another person, I find myself wondering what happens after someone says, "We pray for..." Do we say we will pray because we plan to do so or is it just a meaningless word used to comfort others or more importantly, ourselves? And when we pray do we do so with the expectation that something will happen?

In prayer we discover the will of the Almighty, bringing ourselves in line with what He desires. There we see what He will do and what He wants us to do about any given situation. As a result prayer is about action powered by God Himself for those who reach out to Him by faith. It is something awesome, powerful and beautiful with a proven track record. But if we are to see any results we must be earnest and fervent when we say we will pray.

Believers cannot allow the word “pray” to become nothing more than a political slogan used in time of tragedy. We must also make sure the word "pray" is more than something we are programmed to say as good church people. Prayer is a powerful tool, a dynamic part of a relationship with God. Let's make sure we do not lose sight of what it means to pray.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Is Closing Borders to Refugees the Christian Way?

By Korstellan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
In 250 AD the world faced what we now believe was a Smallpox epidemic. Called the Plague of Cyprian, at its height the pandemic would claim the lives of five thousand Roman citizens per day. Those who could would flee the city in order to avoid death. One group stayed behind, risking their lives to take care of the sick. Their motive in the face of such a lethal situation was simple: love and compassion for their fellow man.

Compelled by love Christians fed those who were too weak to lift their own spoons. They risked their lives in order to comfort those who were suffering. History records their deeds, noting that they did not subject those in their care to a religious test. They took care of everyone, believer and pagan. With faith in God the Christians followed their convictions, loving their neighbors instead of choosing to run.

Today we are being asked to run instead of loving our neighbors. In the face of (a very real) terrorist threat the governors in over half of the United States are saying no to Syrian refugees. But if we are a nation based upon Christian ideals we should be willing to take risks, acting out of the same compassion shown by Christians many times before.

Is the danger real? Yes, just as it was for those who stayed to help during The Plague of Cyprian. But a great nation (and even more so those who put their faith in Christ) should show courage, standing up to lend a helping hand even if it means taking some risks.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Repost: My Review of Flight of the Earls

Having set out on a journey of change in my life, I opened a book for the first time in months. At one time I was an avid reader, but lately…well…I will spare you the excuses. After being called out by my son for no longer showing a dedication to the written word, I decided to keep a promise I made to myself back in 2013.

Michael K. Reynolds’ book Flight of the Earls left me wanting to know more about the Hanley family. The book also left me wanting more information about life in the mid 1800’s and about the struggles faced by immigrants to the U. S. as they worked to become a part of their new nation. I promised myself I would read the rest of the Heirs of Ireland series. So far the book two has delivered, reaching the bar set by the first book. I will write a review once I have finished reading. Until then, here is a repost of my 2013 review of Flight of the Earls.

What I Am Reading: Flight of the Earls

There are three ways for a book to hold my attention. The first is to deliver characters in whom I want to invest my time. If I care about the people in the book I want to find out what happens in the end. In his first novel Michael K. Reynolds delivers characters who held my attention from start to finish.

Part one of the Heirs of Ireland series, Flight of the Earls takes us back to 1846. Ireland is in the second year of a famine which would last until 1849, during which the nation would see crop failures caused by a Phytophthora infestation. Once thought to be a form of mold the recently reclassified organism is, under the right conditions, capable of destroying an entire field of potatoes or tomatoes in a matter of days. Its assault on Irish potato crops caused a million people to die of starvation. Another million would migrate to America in hopes of finding work. Reynolds introduces us to the Hanley family just as they begin to suffer the effects of the Great Potato Famine.

The blight has just started to affect the Hanley fields, yet another burden weighing on the family. The decision is made to send daughter Clare and son Seamus to follow their older sister’s path to America. The plan was for the two to send money home to keep the family afloat until the end of the famine. Through their eyes we experience the difficult journey made by many past immigrants. We see a side of immigration which is rarely ever spoken of, obstacles and plot twists which beg us to ask if the journey was worth the effort. From the potato fields of Ireland to the streets of New York Mr. Reynolds weaves a story that is as compelling as the characters he uses to take us back in history.

As the first of a series this book leaves me wanting more but I must wait until July for book two. I suspect the continuation of the story will be well worth the wait. If you love learning about the past or if you just love a good story you will find Flight of the Earls well worth your time.

For more on Flight of the Earls and the Heirs of Ireland series see michaelkreynolds.com. Follow Michael K. Reynolds on twitter: @M_K_Reynolds.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Looking Through the Eyes of Others and Not Liking What I See

By Michaelsaludo ({Michaelsaludo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It all started with an innocent question from my younger son who wanted to know why he had to read every night if he never saw me reading. I was once an avid reader. Now I mostly read magazines, a fact for which my son called me out. What am I doing with my time? According to my older son I watch too much television. He sort of alluded to this one time when he was shocked to find the TV turned off.

Then there are my neighbors. More than one of them has spoken of not seeing me much lately. It's not like I've been out on the town. I am a home body, not really prone to enjoying the night life. But I do enjoy the outdoors which at one time made me a common sight in the neighborhood. And yet I find myself sitting and watching the world of scripted, and unscripted but partially staged, entertainment. In the process I think I have lost sight of what it really means to live.

These are just two of many areas where I am not being true to who I want to be. I won't bore you with the details of why I am where I am. Just know that this is not where I plan to stay. I caught a glimpse of myself through the eyes of my family, friends and neighbors. I didn't like what I saw. It's time to make some changes.

You can follow my changes here and on twitter. What life changes are you making? Let me know and we can encourage each other.

Monday, September 7, 2015

When Is The Right Bed Time?

Is the discipline of a child's bed time slowly going away? It would seem that way based on the questions I face most nights. Often, as I turn out the lights, my son asks why he must go to bed "early" when his friends all get to stay up. This is my second go-round with this type of questioning, having dealt with it with my older son when he was still in elementary school. Then, as now, I wonder if as a parent I have become too old fashioned or are other parents just being troublemakers by letting their kids stay up?

Public Domain Picture
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I remember having a bed time routine as a child. My routine started in the bathtub where I was allowed to play for a few minutes before having to soap up. I had two rubber sharks, each about six inches long. And while the theme from the movie "Jaws" was known for scaring people out of the water, I found it to be a soothing alternative to the quiet sound of being alone in a bathroom.

After my bath, and my half-hearted attempt to clean the tub, came time to get dressed and brush my teeth. Once my parents were satisfied that I had in fact applied enough fluoride, we would move to my room and to my favorite part of the night: story time. Even after I had grown too old to be read to I enjoyed using that time to read to myself or to imagine my own stories and adventures. What I did not enjoy was that moment when it came time to turn out the lights.

I admit there is a part of me that sympathizes with my son. His complaints bring back memories of that time when I thought "bed time" a dirty word. Now the kid who used to chafe under what I saw as unfair restrictions is the one in charge of enforcement. This task would be much easier if all those other parents would fall in line by putting their kids to bed on time. But even as I tuck him in I find myself wondering if his friends really are staying up late or is he exaggerating as I did as a child, telling my parents how my friends got to stay up. Good thing they never asked for names.

Could it be true that the other children get to stay up late? Are we moving towards a time when children no longer have a set time to go to bed? If you are a parent, do you still attempt to get your children in bed on time?

Monday, June 29, 2015

When Same-Sex Marriage Came to Town

{In light of last Fridays Supreme Court marriage ruling, I thought I would repost what I Originally posted in 2013 on Fire and Hammer}

We made history! That is my home county made history when our Registrar of Wills started handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of the states marriage laws. In doing so Montgomery County became the first in Pennsylvania to issue these licenses. Of course a court challenge was filed with the state hoping a judge will order the county to stop until a decision is made about the constitutionality of the law. {After I wrote this, the states ban on gay marriage was overturned.} What does this mean for the ministry of Christ in our area?

Up to this point I have not personally met a married same-sex couple. I have come across openly gay people, including the two mommies who brought their child to an event at the neighborhood elementary school. I also once watched a sister in Christ navigate a gay parent's arrival at a birthday party. While this mom made her preference evident, we all followed our host's lead treating the visitor like any other parent. I know these are the first of many times when I will have to respond to an openly gay person. With the recent actions of our registrar (and with the more recent court decision) I will eventually (now) have to decide how to respond when a same-sex couple wants to show me their wedding pictures.

There are churches that stand in support of same-sex marriage but most denominations still define marriage as the union between a man and a woman. The argument for or against same-sex marriage will continue but the bottom line is the church is above all called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to preach redemption and to deliver the message that Christ died for everyone. Are we ready to live out our faith even if doing so means loving the gay couple next door?

I believe it necessary to express a Biblical view of the meaning behind marriage. As our neighbors work to redefine the institution, each of us must pray for wisdom in how we should respond. Some believers are called to take a public stand for the true definition of marriage. All Christians will be called to share the faith. And while what has happened in my county {my country} may not have reached where you are today, most likely it is on the way. Pray that you and your church will be ready to continue in ministry; ready for that day when same-sex marriage comes to town.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

God's Got Your Back

Daniel 1:9-16

On my old blog I wrote a lot about life as a codependent. Having a parent suffer with the disease of alcoholism had the effect of creating in me a very negative world view. The numerous arguments of my youth left me feeling that I always had to prove myself: that no one would ever believe me even if I were clearly telling the truth. The idea that I had someone in my corner was foreign to me. The instability of my home left me believing I had to fight the world on my own.

I bet Daniel felt like he had something to prove as the stability and freedom of his home were stolen from him. One day he woke up a citizen of Israel, only to find himself a captive of Babylon the next day. His new neighbors worked hard to replace his culture with theirs; to change him into a solid citizen of the kingdom. Daniel had already lost his home. Now he had to fight to maintain his identity and his faith in the face of a nation in which neither were tolerated.

On the issue of diet Daniel refused to give in, as many of those who were with him had already done. But how could he convince his captors not to force him to compromise? He could have argued his point, creating an antagonistic atmosphere. He could have insulted his "hosts'" food and culture. He could have tried to out talk his immediate supervisor, showing how wise he was when it comes to matters of diet. There are a number of things Daniel could have done in order to hold on to his diet and culture, but in the long run all he had to do was trust in God.

God worked to open doors for Daniel, beginning with having Daniel find favor with his immediate overseer. Because of their relationship, Daniel was able to ask not to have to defile himself with the king's food. He did not have to beg nor argue. He did not have to insult nor did he have to try to out maneuver. He simply asked and because of the groundwork laid by God his request was considered.

As followers of Jesus we do not need to trick or cajole others. We have nothing to prove and do not have to fear what will happen if our words are not received. When we trust in the Lord and follow his will, he will open the door to our success. And when the enemy comes to stand against us, true followers can rest knowing God has our backs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Are Jesus' Followers Ready for the Caitlyns of the World?

And so on June 1st the world was introduced to Caitlyn. After tweeting an upcoming magazine cover featuring her picture, Caitlyn saw her account break records as she received over a million followers faster than anyone before. It seems she has a lot of support for making such a brave step while remaining in the public eye. Clearly the world was ready to receive the former men's decathlon gold medalist. But if you are a follower of Christ are you ready to minister to the transgendered?

How will you respond the day someone walks into church and declares they use to be a different gender? Will you try to ignore them? Will you try to drag them into an argument about morality? Will you reach out to that friend or family member who tells you they are struggling with their gender identity? How will you respond when that person you are trying to witness to tells you they are different from how they were born? I think our response should be to love the person and share the Gospel, no different than we would with anyone else.

As followers of Christ we live in a world that is filled with ideas with which we cannot agree. But we do not fight against flesh and blood, no matter what the person may have done in their flesh. An external change does not change the fact that your neighbor has a soul and a need for Jesus Christ. Our duty as believers remains the same. We are to lovingly help people see the person of Jesus, living the witness that will draw them to Him.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Would You Have Laughed at Jesus?

Mark 5:35-43

Through your tears you see only the deceased. You cry with and for the family, wondering how it could be that a life of promise is cut off at the age of twelve. The pain of the loss is such that you do not notice when Jesus arrives. You do however hear his voice as he declares that, "The damsel is not dead but asleep." Most in the room laugh, asking how he could be so insensitive. Eventually Jesus runs off all who do not believe. Would you have been one of those who laughed or would you by faith be able to remain in the room to witness a miracle as it happens?

Proverbs 3:5

As I walk the path of the Christian faith I find quite often I see things different from how God sees them. Where I see a dead end with no possible outlet, God sees opportunity. At times His directions seem way off target, even laughable. Of course He probably gets a good laugh out of my thoughts and ideas as well. One of us is always correct. Will my faith lead me to follow him when my own understanding says otherwise?

Real Christian faith is demonstrated when we follow God even when our "wisdom" says to do otherwise. It is easy to have faith in the areas where we agree with God. What does your faith look like in the areas where you see things different from how God sees them?

Monday, April 6, 2015

In Two Places

I have a question for other parents: how do you manage to be in two places at once? You see my family has reached a stage where I need to learn how to pull off the impossible. Until now I had managed to avoid the need. But with two boys, both of whom are now active in sports, we have reached a point where their seasons will overlap.

Soon I will have to choose one over the other. I will be forced to miss one game while attending another. One of my children will have to live with not seeing me in the stands because I chose to go watch his sibling. Which one will it be? Who will be left saying, "Daddy you missed it," after making the play of their life? If only I could be in two places. Then I could avoid yet another difficult parenting decision.

Perhaps the most difficult part of all of this is the fact that if I have done my job well, this will bother me more than it will bother my children. Yes one will be disappointed, but if I have built a proper foundation both of my children will handle this well now and in the future. If I have in the past shown them my love, they will both take a part of me with them to their games. And so it is possible to be in two places at one time. To do so I need only make sure that more often than not I am there for my sons at the right times.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Strength of Conviction

Daniel 1:1-8

If theres one thing I can't resist it's a good meal. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Sunday dinner, even fellowship meal at church: I always look forward to food and good company. Just don't expect a lot of conversation as I will be kind of busy. (Just kidding, the conversation often is as good as the food.) And so I can't imagine the strength of conviction it took for Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to resist eating the king's food while living in the castle.

At the time King Nebuchadnezzar was one of the great kings, having conquered a number of nations and lands. With the wealth he had at his disposal I am sure he acquired the best of everything, including the best chefs. His kitchen likely turned out five star quality foods. If it were a restaurant today, reservations would have to be made several months in advance and you had better have a thick wallet or at least a high limit on your gold card. But this was not a restaurant and only those who were invited could eat at the king's table. Even the leftovers were reserved for a select few.

Having certain captives dine on the king's dime was a way of integrating or converting those captives to the ways of the Babylonians. A lot of work likely went into teaching and feeding the captives with the expectation that they might one day serve as good subjects to the king. As a result dinner must have been nothing short of mouth watering. And yet Daniel was not interested.

The Bible does not detail why Daniel refused to eat, other than he felt it would defile him. It could be that the types of food or how it was prepared would have violated Jewish dietary customs. A more likely explanation is that the food from the king's kitchen had been offered up to the king's gods, much like how Christians say grace before a meal. Knowing this Daniel could not, in good conscience, eat nor could his three friends. Whatever the reason, Daniel would rather have eaten pulse than have stood before God as one who had been defiled.

Turning down this food could not have been a spur of the moment decision anymore than one could successfully start a diet on the morning of Thanksgiving. The strength of conviction shown by Daniel had to come from time spent growing in God. As Christians we cannot wait until we are tempted to decide what we stand for. Only when we make time to allow ourselves to be crafted in prayer and in Bible reading will we be able to make the right choice when tempted by the delicacies this world has to offer.

Is the strength of your conviction such that you can say no when saying yes looks/feels so good?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2015 Super Bowl

The first Sunday in February is always bitter sweet. In many ways Super Bowl Sunday has become a national holiday. Time for the biggest game of the season and yet with all the excitement, we face the end of the season. After picking the conference championships correctly my two year playoff record sits at 14-7. I am hoping for one more correct pick to finish the year.

New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
6:30pm on NBC

At times it seemed as if this season would be overshadowed by negatives. Even after the conference championships we find the league dealing with another issue in Deflategate. The league has announced special security changes for the footballs being used in tonight’s game. The NFL likely hoped to end the season with fans talking about the game. I think the play on the field will produce a classic, one we will talk about for years to come.

There are a number of good story lines in this game. The Patriots are trying to win their first Super Bowl in ten years. The Seahawks are trying to repeat in an era where just getting back to the big game is difficult. Standing in their way is the last team to repeat. We have Russell Wilson looking for his second ring and the opportunity to put to rest the idea that he is only a game manager. Then we have the Legion of Boom with the opportunity to face an all time great in the championship game for the second year in a row.

The Seahawks have had a very uneven playoff run, playing just well enough to win. They need to do more this weekend, stringing together four good quarters and not just one. I think they will be able to do so on offense, successfully moving the ball. I also expect the Patriots to move the ball. We could well see both teams score in the thirties. In the end I think it will come down to who can make the big stop when needed in the fourth quarter or perhaps even in overtime. That will be the Seahawks, pulling out the win in a game that will go down to the wire.

I think the Seahawks repeat as champions. What do you think?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2015 NFL Conference Championships

Last week I was wrong on both AFC games, going .500 for an overall record of 12-7. With three games left it’s time to talk about who I think will make the trip to Arizona.

Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks
3:05pm on Fox

Like last week the main focus in this game has to be Aaron Rodgers’ health. The Seahawks will make him move around, testing that leg. Can the Packers’ offensive line keep Rodgers clean in the pocket? I think this will be a close game but I am not sure Rodgers will be able to carry his team this time. In the end the defending champions bring just a little bit more to the table with a decent offense and one of the best defenses. The Seahawks go to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.

Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots
6:40pm on CBS

I did not think the Colts had enough parts in place to make it this far. I was wrong, making it hard to pick against them in this conference championship. But with Tom Brady stepping across the other sideline and with Bill Belichick holding a clipboard, I think the Colts’ run will come to an end. With home field advantage and experience on their side the Pats are the obvious pick. I also think the Patriots have more championship caliber parts in place. This will be good experience for a young Colts team but in the end the Patriots return to the Super Bowl.

What do you think?

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 NFL Divisional Playoffs

I picked three out of four last week bringing my record to 10-5. While I did well picking who would win, my prediction of having four very competitive games fell way short. No such predictions this week as I fear we may be in for two maybe three clunkers. This weekend will serve as a sort of weeding out setting up two good matchups during the conference finals. But before we get ahead of ourselves, here is who I think will win this weekend.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
Saturday 4:35pm on NBC

I have heard analyst after analyst say the Ravens are the one team the Patriots do not want to see. I have to agree. This might be the best matchup of the weekend. The question is, which Joe Flacco will show up? If the one who showed up in Pittsburg last week makes the trip to Foxborough, the Ravens will control from start to finish. True it is hard to count the Patriots out in any post season but I think the Ravens are ready. The Ravens will pressure Brady, helping to protect a vulnerable secondary. I did not pick the Ravens last week but I do think they will move forward to the AFC championship.

Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks
Saturday 8:15pm on Fox

Cam Newton has endured quite a bit so far this season in getting the Panthers to this point. He may endure more in this one game than he has in the seventeen previous. The Seahawks defense is healthy, which they were not when the two teams met earlier. On offense, the Seahawks will not turn the ball over like the Cardinals. The Panthers will have their opportunities to score but there is just not enough on the table for them to beat the Seahawks. The defending champs move on in a game that might be over by halftime.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers
Sunday 1:05pm on Fox

There was a lot of talk about last week’s pass interference that wasn’t. The officiating in that game was uneven, making a great argument for keeping teams of referees together to work the playoffs. But now it is time to move on and the Cowboys will try to do just that. With their running game the Cowboys are geared for the cold of Lambeau Field. However after last week there are questions about the offensive line. Expect the Packers to take advantage of lessons learned. An even bigger question is the health of Aaron Rodgers. The answer to this question will have a lot to do with who wins the game. If Aaron cannot go, this game will be close with the visiting team very likely to walk away with the victory. The Packers seem confident Rodgers will play. If he does he will be a nightmare for the Cowboys’ secondary. Even in the cold the Packers will pass the ball and will move on to face Seattle in the NFC championship.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos
Sunday 4:40pm on CBS

Last week I said Andrew Luck would carry the Colts to victory. This week Luck will not be enough. The Broncos have worked on their running game this season and I think that will be the difference against the Colts. With the running game working and with Manning behind center the Colts will have a long day on defense. Meanwhile the Broncos defense will do just enough. The Colts will move on to face the Ravens.

I am not sure if the games, other than the Ravens/Patriots will be competitive but you never know what might happen on the field.

What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Leaky Roof and God's View of His Children

It was not what I wanted to come home to: Not one but two leaks! And as it turns out with some leaks water is not visible until damage has already been done, as evidence by the buckling ceiling in one room. Meanwhile, the leak where I could see water was causing a wall to crumble before my eyes. For the record, praising the Lord is not an easy task when it is raining inside the house. With a major repair looming over the horizon I began to pray, trying my best not to give in to the temptation to shake my fist up at heaven. That's when God showed me something far beyond my current problems.

Where I could only see water, God revealed a fresh start. Where I saw a problem, God revealed potential. Above all, where I could only see crumbling drywall God revealed the finished product of a total renovation: one that was overdue even before the rain came in. It is in the vision of this finished product that I saw how God sees his children.

When God looks at his children he sees the finished product. Yes, He knows we each fall way short of the mark. He is familiar with our struggles and knows we often do just the opposite of what he requires. He also knows that when he made us his temple he took the deed to a handy man's special. With all this he sees the end product and is able to rejoice.

As I said amen I found I had two reasons to praise God (one for each leak). Through God's eyes I saw both the work He will do on my house and the work he will do on my character. In both cases the end product is filled with promise. It took a leaky roof for me to better understand what God is doing. With eyes wide open I am excited about the future.

Are you a fixer upper who is excited about the work God is doing in your life?

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 NFL Wild Card Weekend

It’s that time again. The NFL’s second season starts this weekend with the Wild Card playoffs. With off field incidents holding so much of the spotlight during the regular season I am glad we enter the post season able to enjoy some good on field matchups. Here are the teams I think will move on to the divisional playoff round.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers
Saturday 4:30pm on ESPN

It’s hard to overlook the fact that the Panthers enter this weekend with a losing record. However, at least for this wild card game we must do just that. The Panthers have played their best football of the season at just the right time. Meanwhile major injuries are catching up to the Cardinals. The matchup at QB with a third stringer starting for the Cardinals vs. Cam Newton will be the key to who wins this game. Newton’s accident seems to have served as a wakeup call. I expect him to outplay his counterpart. I also expect Carolina to successfully run the football. The Panthers at home present too big a hurdle for the Cardinals to overcome. The Panthers will move on showing they belong, despite my objections to having a team with a losing record in the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburg Steelers
Saturday 8:15pm on NBC

With two division rivals who split their season series, this just might be the best game of the weekend. Le’Veon Bell is out. If he were 100% and available the Steelers would be an easy pick. Still, with more falling on the arm of the QB I expect Roethlisberger to get his team into the end zone, leading to a Pittsburg win.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts
Sunday 1:05pm on CBS

Let me say upfront that the Bengals are the more balanced of these two teams. However going to Indianapolis I am not sure if this balance will do any good. A lot will rest on Andrew Luck’s shoulders and I think he will successfully carry the load. This game has the potential to get out of hand by the fourth quarter. The Bengals will keep it close until then but I expect them to wear down in the face of the Colts passing game. Andrew Luck will lead the Colts to the next round.

Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys
Sunday 4:40pm on Fox

It’s unusual to say Dallas did everything right in December. I expect them to continue to show up this weekend. Having Ndamukong Suh (available after having his suspension reduced) will help the Lions but this will not be enough against Dallas’ offensive line. DeMarco Murray is key to keeping Matthew Stafford on the sideline. With less pressure on the arm of Tony Romo, the QB is in position to have a good game. I think Dallas has too much for the Lions to overcome. Dallas will move forward giving Romo his second playoff win.

Last year I was 7-4 with my playoff picks. I look forward to moving into double digits in wins with this weekend’s games. I know the odds are against it but I think these matchups lend themselves to a home sweep.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year’s Day: One of the Planet’s Oldest Holidays

 By User: Ranveig [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
{Originally Posted at Fire and Hammer blog}

As a child I enjoyed a New Year’s Eve tradition involving Duck Soup. No not that kind of soup, I ended every year watching the 1933 movie staring the Marx Brothers. Back then WGN television out of Chicago broadcasted the movie as a part of its regular New Year’s Eve schedule. I watched this and a number of other old classics, taking a break as the clock approached 11pm. With New York in a different time zone, the ball at Times Square would drop marking the start of the New Year an hour before we celebrated in the Chicago area. To be honest after watching the festivities in New York our local celebration always seemed a bit anticlimactic.

According to Timessquarenyc.org one million people visit Times Square on December 31st. Billions more watch around the world as the descent of a Waterford Crystal ball marks both the end and a new beginning. In just over a century the Times Square celebration has become the evening’s star attraction but celebrating the start of a New Year dates back to a time long before Peter Minuite traded $24 worth of beads for Manhattan Island.

Babylonian Akitu Celebrations
Akitu (or Barley) was a Babylonian religious festival celebrated during the vernal equinox in the month of Nisannu (Nisan on the Jewish calendar; March/April on today’s calendar). The date marked the start of the New Year as well as the beginning of the growing season and the sowing of barley. Just over a week long, the celebration included a number of rituals mostly geared towards honoring the Babylonian gods. During the festival a sitting king would do penitence for his sins. If needed the country would crown a new king to start the year. Similar festivals were celebrated by other cultures, usually with heavy religious significance.

New Year’s on a Solar Calendar

Where most cultures used calendars based on a lunar year, Rome moved to a solar year sometime around 45BC.  Both calendars were designed to track growing seasons, however lunar calendars did not accurately reflect the realities of earth’s 365 day year. As a result governments randomly added and removed months in order to bring their lunar calendars back in sync with nature. In instating what would be known as the Julian calendar Julius Caesar established a calendar that was a close reflection of the growing seasons. He also established January 1st as the start of the year.

January was chosen as the first month of the year in order to honor the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings. Janus was said to have two faces, one looking forward and one looking back making the New Year’s celebration a perfect reflection of the nature of this Roman deity. But while the Julian calendar gave a new anchor for the timing of the New Year’s celebration, it was also off by eleven minutes per year. By the 1500’s the calendar was a full ten days off from the natural growing seasons.

In response the Catholic Church, under direction by Pope Gregory XIII, set out to establish a new and more accurate calendar. Initially the church looked for other days on which to start the year for the new Gregorian Calendar. Eventually church leaders settled for continuing the practice of celebrating January 1st. Using the system common in southern Europe in which December 25th was counted as day 1, January 1st fell exactly eight days from the celebrated birth date for Jesus. By Jewish tradition this eighth day would have been when Jesus was circumcised. Thus the church had a built in explanation as to why it continued celebrating the start of the year on a date once used to honor a pagan god.

New Year’s Celebration Comes to New York

By linking the New Year’s celebration with the circumcision of Christ, Christians around the world had reason to celebrate. In New York during the 1800’s this celebration took place outside Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church. Each year large crowds gathered in anticipation of hearing the church bells ring in the New Year. This tradition continued until 1904 when Alfred Ochs, owner of the New York Times, chose New Year’s Eve as the day to celebrate the newspaper’s move into its new home on a triangular shaped plot of land where Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street meet.

Ochs’ celebration was an all day event, with a festival leading up to fireworks at midnight. The crowds returned on New Year’s Eve the next year to once again see fireworks. From there the celebration at Times Square was established. Eventually a ban on the use of fireworks during the celebration forced Ochs to come up with something new leading to the lowering of a large ball, a custom that continues today. The New York Times is no longer headquartered at One Times Square but the annual New Year’s celebration continues.

What is your New Year’s Tradition?

Whether you watched the ball drop or spent the evening watching old movies I wish you a Happy New Year as we celebrate one of our planet’s oldest holidays. May your 2015 be blessed.

For more on the history of New Years see: History.com

For information on “Duck Soup” by the Marxs Bros. see imdb.com.