Dec 05 2012
On Saying "Merry Christmas!"...or "Happy Saturday"

(Here's my response to the now-tired "Christmas wars", I wrote for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel a few years back. I post it during the - ahem - "Holiday Season", in case you want to pass it along, or start some discussions with it with those who might object to "Merry Christmas!" Or, you know, school districts who don't want to acknowledge our cultural history. And, by the way...Merry Christmas.)

Happy Wednesday!

No, wait. Check that. You likely know that “Wednesday” really means “Woden’s Day” -- a nod to the Teutonic god.

I, for one, do not worship Woden. I'm not wont to worship Woden, and, well, wouldn't worship Woden. Perhaps you pursue a personal relationship with Woden. But maybe not.

So forgive my insensitivity. Granted, in this culture, the fourth day of the week is, most obviously, “Wednesday” – why, it’s as obvious as, say, December 25th is Christmas – but we shouldn’t simply say things like that out loud because “it’s been that way” for centuries.

It’s time to recognize, and celebrate, our differences. Joining the celebration of religious expression is easy: Simply be offended by everyone else’s religious expression. Celebrate good times, come on.

What’s disturbing: Our own government continues to refer to this day as the Day of Woden, clearly embracing one religious view over others. Even our public schools embrace Woden, throughout school publications and practices. While I’m not steeped in Teutonic lore, I suspect, based on our monthly cafeteria calendars, that Woden remains the Teutonic Lord of pizza square, pear, brownie and choice of milk.

Not to mention these “Saturdays” we keep having! I try to be open-minded about this stuff, but c’mon: “Saturn” is just the Roman equivalent of the Greek god “Cronus”. What did Cronus do? Oh, boy.

“Cronus was the ruling Titan who came to power by castrating his Father Uranus. His wife was Rhea. There offspring were the first of the Olympians. To insure his safety Cronus ate each of the children as they were born..."

That's pretty much not cool. I don’t want to judge, I'd have to walk a mile in his shoes, etc., but -- I don't know, man -- this just seems out of line.

But he gets his own DAY for that. He castrates his dad, eats his kids…and then mall stores honor Cronus with “Saturday Sales Events”? I don’t even want to know what goes down at those things.

So yeah, stop saying “Saturday” around me. New rule: Even if the culture is steeped in it, and even if most even prefer it; even if it might seem to be reasonable to expect I could accommodate it, heck, even if it IS Saturday: don’t say it.

I remember my public high school (!) marching band, performing that song by Chicago: You know what day of the week, in the park, I think it was the fourth of that month named after a militaristic dead white guy. I doubt the whole crowd at the Assumption, Illinois football game was into Cronus. Krokus, yes. Cronus, pretty much no. Couldn't we have found something else to play? Times are changing.

Let’s re-name everything, and pretend our culture appeared out of thin air, thirty seconds ago. Sure, it would be a massive, and massively strange, project. We could make a court case out of it, since the Constitution itself doesn’t afford different protections for expression of mostly-dead religions and expression of religions more widely practiced.

Or, we could just chill, and recognize that, for example, Saturday is Saturday, whether I worship Saturn or not.

And we could even say that December 25th is “Christmas” whether you’re a Christian or not.

Heck, maybe then, with one of the most painfully annoying melody lines ever written, we could even wish you a merry one.

Nov 27 2011
The Penn State Press Release I Wish They'd Write


Penn State Board of Trustees

November, 2011



We are Penn State.  


And Penn State is a university, an institution of education.  This is our identity and mission.  The alarming recent events have revealed we have a created a insular and powerful culture, one parallel to our mission, that has little to do with the real work of Penn State University.  We, the trustees, have an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-calibrate our institutional priorities, given our existing mission statement:


Penn State is a multicampus public research university that educates students from Pennsylvania, the nation and the world, and improves the well being and health of individuals and communities through integrated programs of teaching, research, and service.

Our major college football program has not advanced this mission.  In fact, it has damaged it, and distracted from it.


While are not the only school guilty of over-emphasizing sports, we are not charged with making decisions for all schools.  We are charged with fulfilling the mission of Penn State.  To that end:


-- Our football program will cease operations; to begin again in the spring of 2015 for the 2015 season.

-- Penn State will be no longer be offering athletic scholarships.  Prospective student-athletes will gain entrance to the same admissions process as non-athletes.  Need-based aid will be available to all students.

-- Current athletic scholarships will be honored, but football athletes will be extended a release to transfer to other schools upon request.

-- Penn State will continue to field athletic teams, based largely on an Ivy League model.  

-- We will be severing our athletic ties to the Big Ten conference.


We certainly recognize that specific businesses in our immediate area will be impacted by the loss of traffic on several Saturdays during the year.  While we are saddened by the hardship that may produce, we also recognize our job, given that we are entrusted with the Penn State University, is not to provide football-related income to area businesses.  We are charged with our educational mission, solely.


We recognize that this step away from "big-time" college athletics will alienate some who've aligned themselves with the Penn State "family".  However, we're convinced true Penn State supporters and alumni, those who did not confuse football with our very mission, will stand by us in our re-focused commitment to educational excellence.


While there is certainly much a student may learn from sport, we are convinced it need not be in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry. We realize that students, nationwide, have often come to expect big-time college football as part of a "college experience", but we believe this marketing emphasis has largely been a means of disguising a decline in the overall value and quality of undergraduate education.


At Penn State, we will continue to offer a true college experience, one centered around the very meaning of the word "university":  Together, we will pursue truth, from diversity of both academic discipline and perspective.


As we re-commit ourselves to this purpose, and this purpose singularly, we recognize the idea of the "university", or even the purpose of "education", has largely become incoherent.  Few, including many in the professoriate, can articulate its purpose, and perhaps this very fact has contributed to a stunning "mission drift", yielding a beer-and-circuses "college experience" as a stand-in for the larger, catalyzing mission of education.


Penn State has an excellent academic staff, and excellent students.  We have allowed, but will no longer allow, what should be a mere adjunct to learning - sports - to become a culture with power (financial or emotional) capable of staining our academic standing.  


While this decision will strike many as draconian, the Board of Trustees disagrees. When we indicated serious measures would result, we were not merely hoping for the press firestorm to move on, and then merely insert "better" people into a system that is fundamentally broken.  This decision will enhance, not subtract from, Penn State's reputation for educational quality.  (We note that the University of Chicago, to give a relevant example, hardly suffers an identity crisis without its former membership in the the Big Ten.)


We have been proud of our group identity, but we recognize it was too often founded on producing an entertainment product, not our mission.  We have an opportunity, now, to either continue with the status quo, or change to make Penn State better than ever.


We are Penn State, and we are sorry for the culture we inadvertently created, one which valued the reputation of an athletic program over doing what is just and merciful.  


While we are humbled, we will use this opportunity to learn.  We will cast a vision for course-correction.  We hope this horrific chapter serves as a clarion call to purpose.  We will not let this happen again. 


We are Penn State, and we will not be content to offer cosmetic solutions to systemic problems.  We are changing more than our coach.  


We are changing our culture, and we are changing it immediately.