The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: December 22, 2018

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: December 22, 2018

It’s the feast before the Feast, on this “Christmastime is here” edition of the Saturday Monks Brunch. Hope many will start the day with us before rushing out to complete their last minute shopping and getting the house ready for the annual family invasion on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Grab a coffee and a place at the table. There’s plenty to chew on here today.

• • •

Keeping “X” in Xmas

How unaware of church history are American evangelicals? Look no further than Xmas.

Griffin Paul Jackson’s article at Christianity Today notes that “Nearly 6 in 10 of those with evangelical beliefs (59%) find the use of “X-mas” instead of Christmas offensive.” This, despite the fact that the “X” in Xmas represents a thoroughly Christian symbol that has been used by believers for centuries. Since the days of Constantine, the Greek letter chi (X), which is the first letter of the Greek word Christos, has been used as a shorthand for Christ. Combined with the second letter (Greek rho, or R), it became a traditional sign of the faith.

In fact, there are even earlier instances — including some in the New Testament itself — where “X” was used as a substitute for writing out the entire title.

Another small instance of Christian silliness destroyed just by a little understanding of our past.

• • •

 “Christmas” and “Nativity”

Here’s another enlightening historical article, also at Christianity Today. In his piece, “Why Putting Christ Back in Christmas Is Not Enough,” W. David O. Taylor traces how our American Christmas tradition has developed from

…four fundamental influences: the legal actions of Puritans in the 17th-century, the domestic celebrations of Queen Victoria, the publication of a Charles Dickens novel, and the work of poets and painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Instead of being shaped by the actual stories of Christmas in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, therefore, our cultural celebration has almost entirely displaced the actual narratives and themes of Christmas. As Taylor says,

Because the story of “Christmas in America” is bound up with fundamental American myths, like baseball and apple pie, the difficult details of the Nativity narratives get swallowed up and repurposed by the nostalgic story of Americans at Christmastime.

What I like most about Taylor’s article is that his suggestions for dealing with this aren’t bluntly separatistic but nuanced and wise. He commends much associated with the “American” Christmas as positive and wholesome. We don’t have to fight against our cultural celebration or try to inject Christ into it. Let it be. And enjoy.

Enjoy it for both personal and missional reasons. Enjoy the twinkling lights that dot your neighborhood. Take pleasure in making the sugar cookies and homemade wreaths. Have a good laugh, or a good cry, by rewatching A Charlie Brown Christmas. Listen to your Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey records.

Enjoy them because the grace and goodness of God are not absent from these things. Enjoy them because we are always, as Augustine might say, citizens of two cities. Enjoy them because they become a way for us to be wholly present to the lives—and longings—of our neighbors.

But he also encourages us not to mistake “Christmas” for “The Feast of the Nativity.” That’s the Christmas that starts on Christmas Day, not the one that ends with gift wrap flying.

• • •

SUBLIME: Song for the Refugee King

Away from the manger they ran for their lives
The crying boy Jesus, a son they must hide
A dream came to Joseph, they fled in the night
And they ran and they ran and they ran

No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Led down into Egypt from Herod to hide
No place for his parents no country or tribe
And they ran and they ran and they ran

Stay near me Lord Jesus when danger is nigh
And keep us from Herods and all of their lies
I love the Lord Jesus, the Refugee King
And we sing and we sing and we sing

Reprised from “Away in A Manger”
by Liz Vice, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, Greg Scheer, Lester Ruth
© 2018

• • •

RIDICULOUS (but fun, and for a good cause!)

The singer and YouTube sensation LadBaby (real name Mark Hoyle) went to #1 on the UK Christmas song singles chart with We Built This City, a cover of the track by Starship. But where the 1980s glam rock band sang of a city built on rock’n’roll, LadBaby’s version imagines one built on pork-stuffed pastry.

All proceeds from the sale of the track are being donated to The Trussell Trust, a foodbank charity.


• • •

Marketing Christmas cheer

An article at BMJ wonders if the messages our Christmas (and other) greeting cards are promoting unhealthy behavior.

Sir Henry Cole is widely credited with “inventing” the first Christmas card in the UK in 1843. [1] His friend John Horsley was the illustrator and each card sold for one shilling in his first card run of approximately 1000 cards.

The first Christmas card was also controversial and unpopular with some people as the illustration depicted a scene showing people drinking, and included a young child being given a glass of wine (figure), but it heralded the beginning of an industry that in 2016 had grown to one billion cards sold in the UK alone annually.

175 years after Sir Henry Cole’s first card, the depiction of alcohol on greeting cards is commonplace, and while they may not depict children drinking, the messages they promote about drinking are still controversial.

…The idea that excess drinking as shown on many greeting cards cards is normal, enjoyable, and to be encouraged is at variance with public health messages. In 2016 new guidance was issued which recommended “that it is best, if you do drink as much as 14 units per week, to spread this evenly over three days or more.”

• • •

Christmas Quotes for Cynics

“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.” (Victor Borge)

“Christmas is a time when everybody wants his past forgotten and his present remembered.” (Phyllis Diller)

“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” (Frank McKinney Hubbard)

“Christmas is a state of mind and that special feeling that only comes with an empty bank account.” (Melanie White)

“That’s the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me.” (Jerry Seinfeld)

“Let’s be naughty and save Santa the trip.” (Gary Allan)

“Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want and their kids pay for it.” (Richard Lamm)

“I love Christmas. I receive a lot of wonderful presents I can’t wait to exchange.” (Henny Youngman)

“I was going to exchange my brother one time after Christmas, but my mom would never tell me where he came from.” (Melanie White)

“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. (Garrison Keillor)

• • •

Top Ten Weird Gifts for Christmas 2018 — for you last minute shoppers!

Check out the link for descriptions, prices, and where you can buy these must-have gifts!

1. Poopsie the Slime-Pooping Unicorn

2. Bob Ross Chia Pet

3. The Yodeling Pickle Christmas Ornament

4. The Llama Duster

5. DishFish Scrubber (4-Pack)

6. Motion sensor toilet bowl light

7. Cat Toilet Brush

8. Dan the Sausage Man’s Favorite Sausage Gift Basket

9. The Star Wars Cookbook

10. Shakespearean Insult Bandages

Get ’em while they last!

• • •

Remembering the Forgotten and Abused

From the NY Times:

When I was 5, my mom asked me if I wanted to help her write holiday cards to people in prison who had been raped behind bars. She didn’t say it like that, of course, because I didn’t know what prison or rape was.

Instead, she told me that there were thousands of ladies and gentlemen who were spending Christmas alone, unable to leave their rooms as they pleased, and that other people had been really mean to them.

I can’t remember which I thought was worse — to be forced to stay in my room or to be mistreated. But either way, I agreed to help my mom.

I am 13 now, and I still write holiday cards to people in prison. It’s really fun to think of nice things to say to people you’ve never met. I always try to imagine what I would want to hear if I was forced to be away from my family and was being treated poorly. I would be terrified, sad and worried that nobody remembered that I existed.

I usually end up writing something simple, like “I care about you,” or “We will not forget you.” And then I make colorful little drawings of flowers or Christmas trees or smiley faces or fruit. I know that those silly drawings make people really happy; there isn’t much color in prison.

The holiday cards make some prisoners smile. Others cry because they didn’t think people on the outside cared about what was happening to them. I know this because Just Detention International, the organization that passes my cards along (and also where my mom works) has showed me many of the responses it gets from the cards it sends around. When I was a little kid, I thought that was so amazing to be able to make grown-ups smile and cry.

…Even for those of us not in prison, it’s been a pretty hard year. Everyone seems angry and afraid. But it’s not all bad. We can still choose to be kind and do something nice for someone else, someone we don’t even know — and we’ll feel better about ourselves as a result.

I write Christmas cards to prisoners. I hope you do something that makes you and another person feel good this holiday season.

• Sofia Robinson

• • •

A Favorite Traditional Christmas Album

My favorite classical singer of all time is Kathleen Battle, and her Christmas album, A Christmas Celebration, is a perennial must-listen for me. As you prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, enjoy these magnificent, inspiring performances.

46 thoughts on “The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: December 22, 2018

  1. Allow me to add Tom Lehrer to your cynical Christmas quotes:

    “On Christmas Day you can’t get sore
    Your fellow man you must adore
    There’s time to rob him all the more
    The other three hundred and sixty-four…”

    Oh, and merry Christmas one and all – or Bouan Noue, as they say in this neck of the woods


  2. It can be so jarring when the decorations come down and the grey and cold weather remain. That’s why I keep my white Christmas lights up inside until Feb and try to keep fresh flowers around too. I think of how the Scandinavians deliberatly foster a sense of coziness during their dark winters.


  3. Exactly! They look down on this in others, then turn around and become triggered themselves! Again, it’s due in large part to the extremist media they’re into.


  4. This group also tends to consume media that specializes in outrage, so yeah, they would be offended and feel attacked easily.


  5. Robert,

    my understanding is that scholars believe that the historical date of the “first evidence” for a Christian celebration – or particular prayer, or whatever – is an indication that that celebration had been going on for some indeterminate amount of time prior to that.

    The celebration of Christmas was more common in the west than the east in those early years, but it didn’t take the east long to catch up…



  6. But Christiane, you seem to be missing my point. Many Catholics sitting in the pews, and mainline Protestants too, are just as ignorant of their heritage as evangelicals — I know this from first hand experience, because I’ve been member of both groups. Knowledge of the details of Church history, even the very salient ones, is sorely lacking in the American Church.


  7. For instance, I would wager that ignorance of the fact that Christmas was not celebrated by the Church until the late third/early fourth century C.E. is pretty much evenly distributed among all different denominational brands of American Christians, not solely among evangelicals.


  8. You are a part of this ‘community’, Susan. You are kept close in my prayers. You are not ‘alone’, no.
    Sending hug.


  9. We need your voice here also, senecagriggs. Tell us what we are misunderstanding. I’m among the worst of the lot for misunderstanding and I know it. So speak. And share. Or how else will we know?


  10. I can agree with you, Robert F, on this.
    We are all of us subject to the sin of pride. We struggle daily with it. And none of us does not daily need the prayer: ‘Jesus Christ, Son, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

    But you sometimes want for the ones who don’t know their heritage to realize that it is theirs also. The fundamentalist Christian who visits the catacombs of ancient Rome is as much a part of the Body of Christ as those who are buried there. That heritage belongs to them also.


  11. Yes, that is a legitimate way of interpreting my comment. I was trying to be understated about it, but that’s the gist of it. Fundamentalists/evangelicals are too easily triggered, to use current Twitter jargon, and as a result are easily offended, and easily trolled.


  12. Hello Susan,
    I realize that I forgot to mention that Christian people get VERY OFFENDED when they see the abuse of others who are vulnerable, and that they will stand up for the oppressed and speak for them in times of need, and work for them to get the help they need to survive. Part of this is simply being ‘humane’ and living honorably; but there is something more for Christian people, as Our Lord Himself spoke and acted against the abuse of people by those at the Temple who took advantage of them. And for us, the lesson of Our Lord’s example is that, in Him, our ‘humanity’ was once again seen upon the Earth unblemished in the Person of Our Lord who was conceived in Mary’s womb and born at Nazareth.

    So if we are calm and at peace personally, that is a sign of strength; but if we see others being abused and tormented, we MUST RESPOND because that is how our kind was supposed to be before the Fall in Eden.
    We are bound to advocate for those who are being victimized, especially for those who have no voice and no power and are at the mercy of the inhumanity of those who persecute them.


  13. ALL Christians in this country need more Church history education, and need to take it more seriously than they do when it occurs, Christiane, not just evangelicals. This is not a problem limited to evangelicals or fundamentalists. Ignorance of history, Church history included, is widespread in American society, and all brands of Christians are guilty of that ignorance. I don’t see that evangelicals should be singled out for that. They should, however, be singled out for being oversensitive to perceived slights and offenses, which is really at the root of their objection to the term X-mas.


  14. If by “prone to being offended” you mean “constantly on the lookout for ways that someone might be slighting them because they’ve been taught to believe that non-Christians are actively hostile toward them” then yes, you may be on to something.

    Evangelical Christians as a whole are sometimes not too different from college kids who want trigger warnings and safe spaces – they have a deep and unrelenting desire to hear someone in authority to tell them that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, and when the secular “authorities” don’t do that they act like their rights are being violated. (The only difference is that having a black-and-white approach to life when you’re in college is a natural stage of intellectual development, whereas spending your whole life in that sort of mindset is not.)


  15. But Robert,
    the Chi Rho sign IS a classic sign . . . from ancient days of the late Roman empire

    the Chi Rho is often found carved on tombs in the Roman catacombs, and is found today on altar cloths with the ‘alpha’ and the ‘omega’ on both sides of the Chi Rho . . .

    then again, the X sign is a crucifixion symbol from ancient days . . . and the united Chi Rho signifies Our Lord overcoming death in His Resurrection . . . . the X by itself is known as the ‘Cross of St. Andrew’ in the UK as St. Andrew was crucified on a cross of that design

    there is so much history, for so MANY centuries, that ‘connect’ today’s Christians to those in the Body of Christ who came before them, even twenty centuries before them and the early ‘Chrismon’ symbols were among those ‘connectors’, filled with meaning especially in those early days when the sign of the Lord had perhaps a greater meaning . . . .

    it wouldn’t HURT fundamentalist Christian people to learn that they ALSO have this inheritance, this bond of faith with those early Christian people and to learn something of the traditions and ways in which the faith of Christ was passed down to us through many centuries when symbolism and art expressed ‘the Story’ to the vast numbers of people who were illiterate in those times, but for whom something like the Chi Rho was a kind of ‘lesson’ in the story of Our Lord’s crucifixion and Resurrection.

    It wouldn’t hurt, no. The old treasures of the faith belong to all in the Body of Christ.


  16. > it is more likely it’s because they are just generally less prone to being offended

    It is not historical ignorance that is the problem; the problem is cultural arrogance.


  17. Love the down-to-earthness of the “We Built This City”! – and now, a “celebrity” family that looks/sounds, well normal. (the musicianship though is quite good! better than average imo)


  18. How I admire the eighth grader, Sofia Robinson, who writes Holiday cards to prisoners. When I was her age, doing such deeds of world-repair, of tikkun olam, was the furthest thing from my mind. She is a true mensch. God bless her.


  19. I understand, CM, but you are not exactly the typical Christian when it comes to absorbing, retaining, and recalling lessons from Sunday School. You are far more educated and knowledgeable, and far more aware of Church history and symbolism, than the average American Christian of any denominatonal brand. The fact that the ChiRho lesson stuck with you is an example of that.


  20. Taylor’s approach to the celebration of Christmas makes sense to me. I try to adopt an attitude of tolerance and acceptance for the ways others celebrate Christmas, and when they celebrate or don’t celebrate it. To me it seems like the true observance of Christmas is by nature a very quiet thing. Just as the first Christmas was lost in anonymity, it is fitting that the liturgical season of Christmas should be overlooked by most of the world, including a significant part of institutional Christianity, just as the first Christmas was overlooked by the wide world and its religious/secular powers, and even hidden from them as it was hidden from Herod.


  21. As a mainline Christian, I was taught the meaning of Christian symbols like the ChiRho. And remember, the article is commenting on a poll done by evangelicals on evangelicals’ response to Xmas.


  22. “If, unlike their evangelical coreligionists, mainline Protestant and Catholic Christians are not offended by the use of the term X-mas in lieu of Christmas, it is more likely it’s because they are just generally less prone to being offended”

    If your modus operandi is the continual policing and improvement of public and private morals, finding offense is a critical job skill.


  23. That is, rank-and-file evangelicals are likely no more ignorant of church history than other American Christians, so the premise of this particular Saturday Brunch item, that evangelicals object to using the term Xmas in greater numbers than other American Christians because of their greater ignorance of Church history, is likely incorrect.


  24. Oh, I agree that the tendency to be offended indicates insecurity, and is a weakness. I was just pointing out that not taking offense at the term X-mas is probably not due to greater historical acumen among rank-and-file mainliners and Catholics — they are just less easily offended.


  25. I wrote to you all today but the internet collapsed and I lost it, such is life. I will reconsider.
    I have almost had enough of trying to corresponding and telephoning with John’s so called relatives today.
    I don’t think he is on their agenda.
    Maybe you are my contact with the Christmas cloud.
    How else do I put it when I feel. I am alone.


  26. CM, Thanks to you and the others who put together the brunch menu, I enjoy it. Thanks to Mike the G Man, Mike Bell and the others who contribute to this site. When I was in rehab for my leg and had limited mobility I found this site to be worthwhile and I looked forward to reading the articles and comments. I am almost back to normal but still check in as it often as it gets me to think of things I would not have thought of, a different perspective. So a big thank you and keep up the good work.

    I have learned some things here that have changed some of my perspectives. I have really appreciated Chaplin Mike’s article, sermons and thoughts on how to help those dealing with the loss of a loved one and getting though hard times. . It has made me more reflective and helped me not feel so tongue tied and inadequate in that area, I greatly appreciate it.

    So no pithy, silly or opinionated comments today and until the New Year from me. I am into the “Christmas ” zone and like it. I am harking the herald and reconciling with God, like he wants all sinners to do. The world may not be at peace but I am really trying to be at peace with God.

    So to all the good people here Merry Christmas. The non “Christmas Zone” John Barry would add, to all the bad people here also Merry Christmas but he is like Mr. Hyde, at times cannot be controlled.

    Merry Christmas, God Bless Us, Merry Christmas , God has Blessed Us.
    Merry Christmas


  27. I would more than happy to receive Dan’s sausage as a gift. I checked out that particular gift basket and it looks delicious.

    As for the other 9 items on the list…I would be polite if I received one of them.


  28. Hello Robert F,

    I’m not sure Christians get ‘offended’ easily, not if they are ‘real’. 🙂

    It’s like that children’s story of the velveteen rabbit and the skin horse:
    “the Velveteen Rabbit asks his friend, the Skin Horse, how one becomes real.

    “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

    “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.

    “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become real…it doesn’t happen all at once. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and your get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

    Robert, I think if a Christian if REAL, they don’t get easily offended, they are not so fragile and temperamental in that way, no. I expect they are calm and serene and at peace in a world where there is already too much anger and shallowness. But I guess it happens in stages, this ‘becoming real’, and an awful lot of love is involved.


  29. Is the historical knowledge of Christianity among American mainline Protestant Christians and Roman Catholics any better than among evangelicals? If, unlike their evangelical coreligionists, mainline Protestant and Catholic Christians are not offended by the use of the term X-mas in lieu of Christmas, it is more likely it’s because they are just generally less prone to being offended than that they have more historical knowledge of the place in early Christian symbolism of the Greek letter chi (x). Americans, whether they are Christian or not, are not very knowledgeable about history.


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