Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Favorite Party Game Ever

We have been playing a particular game every Christmas for a few years. I don't know where it came from really. I think a few of us just made it up one year. But it's a great party game that doesn't come in a box, doesn't require a board or a drawing pad or even keeping score, and is for any number of players. We just call it the Name Game. The rules are very simple. Here they are:

1. Any number of players sit in a circle (or just around the room).
2. Pick one player to keep time.
3. Pick one player to look up challenges.
4. The timekeeper starts by naming a famous person, literary character, sports figure, or animated character. They must yell out the first and last name. Single-name celebrities, such as Eminem, are not allowed. Cartoon characters, such as Mister Magoo, count as a legitimate name if that is how they are recognized and listed in Wikipedia.
5. The player to the timekeeper's left must now state another name whose first name begins with the letter of the last name that was previously played. So, for example, if the timekeeper says Alec Baldwin, then the player to his left must think of a famous individual whose first name begins with a B. So let's say he says Ben Casey (fictional character). The next player must then think of someone whose first name begins with C, and so on.
6. Each person in turn has 60 seconds to think of a name. (You can trim it to 30 seconds for a more challenging game.)
7. If the player in turn says a name where the first and last names begin with the same letter, the next person in line must also think of a name where the first and last names begin with that same letter. However, having done so, the next person in line must only think of a name where the first name begins with that letter. Anyone, however, can use a double letter name whenever they wish. For example, if it's my turn and I say the name Amy Adams, then the next person in turn has 60 seconds to come up with a name such as, say, Adam Ant. The person in turn after him needs only to come up with a celebrity whose first name begins with A.
8. If a player in his turn can't think of a name in the allotted time, it's a strike. Three strikes and you're out of the game.
9. The winner is the one who is left after all other players have had three strikes.
10. Legitimate names: If a person says the name of someone that no one else is familiar with, any player may challenge. The timer is stopped and the challenged player must describe the person he named (job, character portrayed, etc.). The player designated to look up challenges must look up the name in Wikipedia. If it is listed in Wikipedia, it's a legitimate name and it counts. However, it must be the same person the player described. If it is not listed, or if the description does not match, it's a strike. Play continues with the next player in turn having to think up a name that begins with the same letter.
11. When a name has been given, it cannot be given again by any player.

The game is pretty easy when it begins, but as it progresses, it gets very difficult. It's also great fun!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Proof that Jesus was a White Man

FOX News is often lambasted by the left-leaning media for being too conservative, especially on religious and social issues. Host Megyn Kelly has recently been ridiculed by the left for her comments that Jesus was a white man, just like Santa Claus and that both men are actual historical figures. Well, the New York Times and the other liberal media outlets can now eat crow, because archaeologists in Israel have just released a find of historic proportions. And it proves beyond any doubt that Jesus was, indeed, white.

The dig was part of an international effort taking place at Nebi Samwil, a biblical town near where Jesus lived in Galilee. The archaeologists, headed by Dr. Benjamin Naphtali, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Jerusalem, unearthed an ancient piece of furniture, a heavy cabinet with embedded compartments, like drawers. These compartments contained mostly debris (broken pieces of pottery, rocks, and soil). But nestled in the corner of one of the compartments was a fairly-well-preserved ancient photographic image of Jesus as a young boy.

How do we know it is Jesus? Because on the reverse side of the photograph is scribbled some words written in Aramaic. Translated, it says "Jesus - My son who came from God, Age 10, Mary." The photo, although it came from a world where everything was tinted with sepia, clearly shows the young Jesus as a white boy. According to Naphtali, he seems to be clutching a book. "Judging from its size and cover, it's probably his New Testament," Naphtali said. If so, it shows that Jesus was already biblically literate even before he taught the rabbis in the synagogue at age 12.

The photo was actually found in February of this year, but the scientists wanted to keep the news of this great find a secret until it could be verified as authentic. Researchers at the Pascagoula Nuclear Laboratory in Pascagoula, Tenn. ran the photo through myriad tests to make sure its age was authentically first century AD. They also authenticated the type of pigments used in the photographic plates of that day. "It definitely is the real deal," said one of the researchers. Using the latest C-14 and even C-15 dating techniques, they dated the photo back to June 14, in the year 6 AD. That, indeed, would put Jesus' age in the photo at 9 or 10, depending on what season he was actually born in.

I have included a copy of the photo showing the young boy Jesus with his bible, and on the back, the Aramaic scribbling. So this should settle the debate once and for all. Jesus was definitely white. Maybe not Nordic white, but definitely an Italian sort of white. Take that, left-wing media and those who would wage a war on Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ten Christmas Myths and Facts Revealed

Christmas has more traditions associated with it than any other holiday by far. Some of those traditions and beliefs are based on historical occurrences. Others, however, are based on myth. Here's a rundown, separating fact from fiction:

1. December 25 is Jesus' birthday. - MYTH - Nobody is certain when Jesus was born. They are not even very sure of the year, let alone the date. Besides, they didn't even use our modern calendar in those days. Based purely on biblical passages, however, most scholars set the year of his birth at 4 BCE, which is the year that Herod died. Also, since shepherds didn't watch their flocks by night except during the spring, if the account in Luke is to be believed, Jesus must have been born sometime in the spring.

2. Baby Jesus was visited by 3 wise men from the East - MYTH - The bible doesn't say how many wise men there were, nor does it say they visited him while he was a baby in the crib. Herod ordered the death of all children under the age of two, according to the bible, so that means Jesus could have been a toddler by the time the Magi came.

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. - MYTH - Jesus was from Nazareth. Every passage in the bible that refers to where Jesus was from says that it is Nazareth except for the two birth narratives. Matthew and Luke (or the writers of their gospels) were compelled to find ways of placing Jesus' birth in Bethlehem in order to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament, which claimed that the Messiah would be from the City of David.

4. The wise men followed a star in the east to the place where Jesus was born. - MYTH - First of all, according to the birth narrative in Matthew, a star was placed in the east to guide the magi. But the magi came FROM the East, so wouldn't they have to follow a star in the West? Even so, unbeknownst to the astrologers of the day, stars are sun-sized objects that are great distances from the earth. There is no way that one of them could have been low enough in the atmosphere for anyone to follow.

5. Jesus was born into a poor family. - FACT - It is most likely that Joseph and Mary were peasants. They lived in Nazareth, a very small, lowly, unimportant town in a backwater part of Galilee. It is highly likely that they were poor.

6. There was a real St. Nicholas at one time. - FACT - Nicholas was born in Turkey. He was very pious and often made presents for the children in his village. He was later named the patron saint of children, as well as sailors and voyagers.

7. The celebration of Christmas has always been associated with Christ and Christians. - MYTH - Although the holiday we now call Christmas was made up by the early Church in order to commemorate the birth of Christ, it was purposely associated with a pagan celebration. It was hoped that Christmas would eventually become more popular as Christianity grew and the pagan festival of Saturnalia would diminish. That's what happened. But not everybody was on board. The celebration of Christmas in colonial America was banned by law, as it was thought to maintain too much of its pagan heritage.

8. Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas is antagonistic to its meaning. - MYTH - The X looks like the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter of Christ in Greek. The origin of Xmas was never meant as a slight to Christmas.

9. It is not proper nor appropriate for atheists or agnostics to celebrate Christmas. - MYTH - Since Christmas was celebrated as a pagan festival long before it was celebrated as a Christian one, and since even after Saturnalia became co-opted by the Catholic Church, Christmas has always had a secular side. There is no religious significance to Christmas trees, holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, or candy canes, despite attempts to make stuff up about them. The modern version of Santa Claus is nothing at all like his real-life persona of St. Nicholas. Sleighs, Christmas cards, and presents bear no resemblance to what the Catholic Church had in mind when it invented the holiday. When evangelicals say we need to put the Christ back into Christmas, it means they don't know the history of the holiday. Christ was not always solidly involved. So regardless of your religion, or lack thereof, Christmas in today's America is for everyone to enjoy.

10. More money is spent on material items during the month prior to Christmas than any other month of the year. - FACT - Retailers generally make as much as 30 percent of their annual revenue during the holidays.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Thanks to Christians, Christianity is Dying

Christianity is slowly dying. That's good news. The world doesn't need to be run by believers in the supernatural. But part of the reason it is dying is thanks to a subset of Christians. Call them evangelicals, fundamentalists, right-wing conservative zealots, bible thumpers, or anything else you like, they are the reason that young people are leaving the Christian faith in droves.

Evangelicals are mostly YECs, Young-Earth Creationists who believe that the bible is literally true, that the world is only 6,000 years old, that God created two actual people called Adam and Eve who had a conversation with a talking snake and sent the world into sinful chaos. These two people somehow populated the entire earth only to have God destroy everyone a few hundred years later, so that it could then be repopulated by the Noah family after they built a big enough boat out of wood to house at least two of every kind of animal in the world.

One can see how ridiculous this story is and how difficult it would be for a person with critical thinking skills to accept it as literally true. It is obviously allegorical. The scientific method has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the world is 4.5 billion years old and that life on it evolved. But so strong is their delusion that conservative Christians can't handle the cognitive dissonance that would result from considering the true version of history that they basically isolate their brains from reality, compartmentalizing their bible babble from the part of their brains that get them through a day in the real world.

Fortunately, the younger Christians are beginning to realize that it's all a big hoax perpetuated by their delusional elders. They are leaving the church in search of something else that provides them with equal comfort in life but without all the crazy mumbojumbo. And, it is also unfortunate for the more moderate or liberal Christian churches that do believe in God and in Jesus as God's risen son, but who interpret the bible in a more reasonable manner that doesn't lock them into literalism. Those in the more liberal churches might still harbor their delusions, but they are a more benign breed of delusions. But since the conservative Christians' children associate the term "Christian" with their wack-a-do evangelical group, when they leave the fold they stay far away from other, more moderate, groups who still use the term Christian. Thus all Christian denominations are harmed by the weirdos in the fundamentalist sector. I guess in that respect Christianity is much like today's Republican Party; the nutjobs on the right are harming the brand of the entire GOP party and they don't seem to care, since they are the ones who are right. I guess that's why the tea party Republicans are pretty much all evangelical Christians, too.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

My Favorite Christmas songs for 2013

A couple of years ago I posted an entry that included all my favorite Christmas Songs for 2011. Most of the ones I liked then I still like this year, but there are a few changes. So I have decided once again to list my favorites, for this year, and include links for you to listen. In reverse order, they are...

10. Winter Light

Winter Light, sung by Linda Ronstadt, is not strictly a Christmas song but it does evoke a melancholy feeling of winter. This was the theme song for the hauntingly beautiful children's movie, Secret Garden.


9. Song for a Winter's Night

Also not technically a Christmas song (but then neither are Jingle Bells, Let it Snow, and Winter Wonderland) this song gets played more around the holidays because it is a winter song and evokes a melancholy feeling. I actually prefer Sarah McLachlan's version, but two other of her songs are featured in this so I've included the original Gordon Lightfoot version.


8. Skaters' Waltz

Composed in 1882 by Émile Waldteufel, the Skaters' Waltz was inspired by a rink of skaters in Paris. It, also, is not a Christmas song, but it certainly evokes the holiday spirit.


7. The Christmas Song

Subtitled, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, this song is another classic from Mel Torme that many people have recorded and performed since. Its name says Christmas, and it certainly evokes the feeling.

6. Promises to Keep

By the Trans Siberian Orchestra this song really hits you over the head with its haunting, melancholy holiday tune. It's beautiful.


5. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

This song was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for the movie, "Meet Me in St. Louis" in 1944. It was first performed by Judy Garland who sang the worst rendition of all time. I'm partial to this Sarah McLachlan version.


4. All Through the Night

This song was turned into a Christmas song by Olivia Newton-John. It's a lovely melody that deserves to be performed at Christmas.

3. Christmas Canon

This is another one by the Trans Siberian Orchestra. It takes Pachelbel's Canon in D and puts Christmas lyrics to it but beautifully maintains the contrapuntal style that makes it a canon.


2. Ding Dong Merrily on High

Blackmore's Night takes this traditional Christmas hymn and turns it into a contrapuntal masterpiece. Just beautiful.


1. Christmas Time is Here

Performed by Vince Guraldi for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in 1965, both his instrumental version and several vocal versions have gone on to become classic at Christmas. I'm very partial to Sarah McLachlan's version.