playmobil-luther-1Playmobil has announced that their toy Martin Luther is the best-selling figure in their history. The figure was produced for the German and Nuremberg tourist boards, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria. The initial production run of 34,000 pieces was gone in less than 72 hours. The company has ordered its factory to produce more units but they won’t be available until the end of April which means that currently the figure is in high demand and short supply. A quick search of eBay found 16 listings; the one closing the soonest (in two days) currently has a high bid of $70.55. However, there are also many listed with a Buy It Now price of $25 to $30.

Playmobil did not expect such success; a spokesperson for the company stated that it is “a big mystery [and] a huge surprise.” Most of the units (about 95%) were sold in Germany. Astid Mühlmann, a governmental official who is helping prepare for the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, suggests that education is the cause of the toy’s popularity. “There’s quite an interest in looking back to our history. Parents want to make sure their children grow up knowing who he is because he had such an impact on how society evolved in Europe. I’m very happy with the news because it shows people are interested in history.”

You can read more about story this in a Newsweek article. By coincidence, I’m posting this on Martin Luther’s feast day on the Episcopal Church calendar.


Biblical inspiration — the belief that the Bible is God-inspired — has caused difficulties for thinking people for many years. The belief itself, that God inspired the words of scripture, is not troublesome; the problems arise when we try to explain the mechanism and meaning of inspiration. Are all the words of the Bible inspired, or only some parts? Did God ‘dictate’ the words to the writers (i.e. ‘verbal inspiration’) or did God simply lead the writers to speak on certain topics or reveal selected truths? These are big questions, and they lead to many more questions. I’ve thought about these issues, and I think all Christians should. Each of us needs to come to an understanding of inspiration which can guide us in applying scripture to our lives. Andrew Wilson, author of If God, Then What?, wrote a column for Christianity Today which offers a way of thinking about inspiration. It isn’t a complete answer to the question, but I believe it gives a valid insight. You can read the column, entitled What Scripture and Jazz Have in Common, on the Christianity Today website.

Marcus_BorgMarcus Borg, liberal theologian and New Testament scholar, died last week (January 21) at age 72. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Borg several years ago and of hearing him speak. He and I disagreed on almost everything but I found him to be a likable and genteel man. Christianity Today posted a death notice which praises Dr. Borg for his willingness to engage in dialogue with those who disagreed with him. The article is entitled Died: Marcus Borg, Liberal Jesus Scholar and Friendly Provocateur, and can be read by clicking on the title. The American Spectator published an article which spends more time dealing with Dr. Borg’s theology. It is authored by Mark Tooley, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. The article, In Memoriam: The Death of Marcus Borg, Christian Panentheist is interesting reading. It also can be read by clicking on the title. The Huffington Post has a death notice with more personal content from friends. It can be read here. These three articles give (at least) three views of Dr. Borg, and together they give us a better understanding of him as a person and of his work. Different authors, different sets of facts, different understandings: all (and more!) are needed to form a complete picture. Just like with the Gospels and the life of Jesus: four gospels give us four different viewpoints, and therefore a fuller picture of Jesus.

I have purchased greeting cards and holy cards from the convent of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor for about thirty years. The cards are created in their scriptorium and are unlike cards from the large companies. The Sisters’ cards feature hand drawings and paintings with texts from the Bible and religious classics. Some of the cards have original photos of the convent land but I prefer the drawings due to the simplicity of line and color which they exhibit. Many of the texts are illuminated. And their prices are very low — most cards are $.50 or less. I especially like their Christmas line which includes postcards as well as greeting cards. Christmas cards are on sale now with many only $.20! This is a great time to purchase cards for 2015. Visit the web site and browse the cards. Your recipients will instantly recognize the difference between these cards and the typical holiday cards. Plus you support the good work of the Sisters.

Christianity Today recently published an opinion piece entitled, “What Forgotten Christmas Tradition Should Churches Revive?” Three people, Patricia Raybon, Larry Eskridge, and Lore Ferguson, shared their candidate traditions, and one of the three struck a chord with me. Lore Ferguson writes about the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas (like in that song kids love to sing every year).

In churches which follow a liturgical calendar, December 25 is only the first day of Christmas. On the church calendar, Christmas is a season. Technically, December 25 is not called “Christmas” (that being the name of the season) but the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Christmas is the period from December 25 through January 5 inclusive; those are the twelve days of Christmas. January 6, the day following the season of Christmas, is Epiphany, the feast which commemorates the visit of the magi, or wise men, to Jesus, and by extension celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles. (You can read my reflection for Epiphany here.) Ms. Ferguson’s recommendation is that we should revive the celebration of Christmas as a season — give it twelve full days. One day isn’t enough for the love expressed in the incarnation or for the joy of receptive hearts. With this I totally agree. Read the rest of this entry »

The exact date of the birth of Jesus is unknown. The Bible gives very little information about the birth, and certainly does not give a date, yet for centuries Christmas has been celebrated on 25 December. How was this date chosen? Every year we hear someone state that the date was taken from pagan holidays, particularly the Roman Saturnalia festival which occurred in late December or the winter solstice celebrations of northern Europeans. The idea is that early Christians co-opted the pagan holidays to ease the transition of the people from pagan religions to Christianity. This theory is very popular and is generally taken as historical fact by people who care about why this date was chosen. However, the theory is almost certainly incorrect. Our celebration of Christmas on 25 December is probably due to a somewhat arcane theology about the passion and death of Jesus. Andrew McGowan, President and Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School, published an article which expounds the reasoning for choosing 25 December. The article, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” originally appeared in Bible Review, December 2002. It is available on the Biblical Archaeology web site as part of the Bible History Daily series. It is an interesting article and worth reading by anyone who is curious as to why this particular date was chosen.