In the latest video blog from For the Life of the World, Evan Koons offers Christmas greetings and a few timely reminders with his usual dose of humor.

“He made himself nothing to be with us.”

Indeed, by entering the Earth in human form, nay, in infant human form, born to the house of a carpenter, Jesus provides a striking example of the order of Christian service — of the truth and the life, yes, but also of the way. (more…)

As the most widely observed cultural holiday in the world, Christmas is a time of produces many things — joy, happiness, gratitude, reverence. And numbers. Lots of peculiar, often large, numbers. Here are a few to contemplate this season:

christmasnumbers$35.03 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on real Christmas trees in 2013.

$81.30 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on fake Christmas trees in 2013.

33,000,000 – Number of real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. each year.

9,500,000 – Number of fake Christmas trees sold each year.

7 – Average growing time in years for a Christmas tree.

350 million – Number of Christmas trees currently growing on Christmas tree farms.

319 million – Current population of the United State.

$27.21 — The energy costs of lighting a six-foot Christmas tree, lit 12 hours a day for 40 days, decorated with various light types.

$1,000,000,000 – Estimated value of U.S. imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and September 2014.

$24,000,000,000 – Estimated retail sales by the nation’s department stores (including leased departments) in December 2013. This represents an estimated 40.9 percent jump from the previous month when retail sales were estimated at 17.3 billion.

800,000 – Number of new employees hired to compensate for the holiday rush in 2013.

37.5% — Estimated percentage of charitable giving that occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

$781 – Average amount people in the U.S. estimated they’ll spent in on Christmas presents in 2014.

108,000,000 — Average number of homes Santa Claus has to visit on December 25 (assuming there is at least one “nice” child in each).

1964 tvI heard Fr. Robert Sirico say once that most of us now carry more technology in our pockets than it took to put a man on the moon in 1969. If you remember that, you’ll also remember when a radio was a substantial piece of furniture and having a color television made you a very popular kid in the neighborhood.

In the 1964 Sears Christmas catalog (if you don’t know what that is, ask your mother. Or your grandmother.), you could get a really swanky television console for $750. For that price today, you can head to your favorite electronics store and pick up six 24-inch flat screen televisions – one for every room in the house. AEI’s Mark J. Perry has a little fun comparing the Christmas of 1964 to 2014’s holiday, at least in terms in what the average family can get for their money. He adjusts for inflation for those console tvs:

The original prices are listed ($750 for the Sears Silvertone entertainment center and $800 for the more expensive one), and those prices are also shown converted to today’s 2014 dollars using the BLS Inflation Calculator: $5,700 for the basic 21-inch color TV model and $6,100 for the more expensive model.

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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 22, 2014
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Christians around world under siege
Steve Huntley, Chicago Sun-Times

During this season of joyous religious celebrations and especially the holiday cheer enjoyed with family and friends during Christmas time, we should not forget that in too many corners of the world Christianity is under siege with Christians abused, brutalized and murdered.

How Should Christians Think about Free Markets and Consumerism?
Andrew Spencer, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Critics of the free-market approach sometimes confuse a free-market economic system with consumerism. Consumerism is an attitude that values owning and using stuff.

How crony capitalism is undermining US entrepreneurship and economic growth
James Pethokoukis , AEI Ideas

Fewer startups means less competitive intensity in the economy. And a crony capitalist relationship between business and government could mean fewer startups.

Prudence > Courage
Matthew Lee Anderson, Comment

There may be many ways to do wrong in this world, but there are also many paths to the right; those governed by prudence are willing to at least admit the possibility.

At RealClearReligion, Rev. Robert A. Sirico offers an analysis of President Obama’s move to thaw relations with Cuba, a diplomatic opening that was supported by the Vatican. Citing Pope Francis’ appeals for “an economy of inclusion,” Rev. Sirico asks: “What, indeed, could be more inclusive than trade and travel?” More:

Free trade is not the solution to all economic, social and political problems. Nor does anyone expect it to be. That said, on my visits to Cuba and China, I have yet to meet anyone who thought restricting trade or travel helped, all of which will have to be negotiated once relations are normalized. Mutatis mutandis, those unfortunate to have to live under oppressive regimes are among the first to long for U.S. companies to setting up shop in their countries, gain new markets for their own products and will increase contact and opportunity for themselves. To have more exchanges with Americans at every level, whether it is through tourism, educational, trade or technological exchange, is what many Cubans want.

The open question is to see whether the Castro regime — which, after all, remains ideologically Marxist and viciously persecutes anyone who steps out of line — will use this thawing as a way of moving Cuba away from 50 years of one party rule and a top-down approach to the economy, and towards wider freedoms. Their track-record, to date, would not inspire confidence.

Read “The End of Cuba’s Double Despotism” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico at RealClearReligion.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 19, 2014
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noun_6905_ccJames K. A. Smith reviews Cass Sunstein’s Valuing Life over at the Comment magazine site. It’s a worthwhile read for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it should move Sunstein’s latest up in the queue.

It seems self-evident that everyone should favor “good” regulation, but the trick is getting some consensus on what defines “good” vs. “bad” regulation. A “people” or “person” centered regulation is a good starting place, perhaps. Or as Smith puts it nicely: “Regulation is made for people, not people for regulation.” Maybe what we need is a personalist revolution in regulation, to say nothing of governance more broadly. A political economy for the people? Yes!

I would insist on some clarifications, though, and note that regulators are often the ones most inclined to get that formula mixed up. Who, after all, will regulate the regulators? (I think the rapper Juvenile asked something like that.) So one distinction I would insist on is that the rule of law is not reducible to or coterminous with the minutiae of regulation. In fact, the latter can often conflict with, rather than support, the former.
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George-Clooney-recalls-post-Golden-Globes-prank-on-Tina-Fey-and-Amy-PoehlerThis is a sentence I never could have predicted I’ve ever write: George Clooney has offered a wiser assessment of a political problem than many of my fellow conservatives.

A group of cyber-terrorist behind a recent high-profile hacking incident of Sony Pictures have threatened a 9/11 type attack on movie theaters that screen the upcoming film, ‘The Interview.’ In response, many of the country’s largest movie chains (AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Cineplex) issued a statement saying the film would not be played in their venues. A few days later Sony Pictures said the movie would not be released at all. Currently, the studio has no plans to even release the film on DVD or video-on-demand.

The reaction by most conservatives and libertarians has been that the threat should lead everyone to watch the movie (assuming it’s ever released). A representative example is Rebecca Cusey’s article at The Federalist, “Here’s Why Every Freedom-Loving American Must See ‘The Interview’.” As the sub-hed says, “What do a free people do when a thug says they can’t watch a terrible movie? Damn well watch ‘The Interview.’”

Well, no. That’s just silly. Freedom-lovers don’t have an obligation to watch some lame raunchy comedy simply because it was threated by terrorists associated with North Korea. Besides, watching the movie would have no real impact on anything (other than Sony Pictures bank account).

Even Cusey’s alternative option (“Maybe send the price of a movie ticket to an organization that helps Korean refugees or American troops.”) does nothing but make people feel good for having “done something” when they actually haven’t done anything to change the problem. We often mock this sort of ineffectual activism when it comes from the left (Tweet this hashtag to save the world!)—and rightly so. We should instead focus on seeking solutions that will actually fix the problem.
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satanist-holidayTopping the list of hot trends in 2014 were “Victimism” (i.e., posturing as a victim for political advantage and media attention) and “Annoy-Thy-Neighbor” activism. There were many groups that combined both to great effect, so it would be difficult to choose the best representative case. But the lamest example of the year is much easier to find: it’s by Jex Blackmore and the Michigan Satanists.

Unfortunately, that’s not the name of a band trying to hard to be clever. Blackmore is a real person (I think, but who knows nowadays) and a member of the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple. As is typical of most modern-day “Satanists” they don’t really believe in Satan at all. On their Facebook page they explain, “As Satanists, we believe that elevating revolt against arbitrary authority and defiance in the face of oppression is the highest of callings. We stand in solidarity with groups who are subject to institutionalized forms of discrimination and state oppression.”

In other words, they’re the typical lefty Social Justice Warriors—only more clueless and annoying. Secular Satanists think they’re being edgy and ironic and sticking it to Christians, while everyone else considers them as cringe-worthy in their lack of self-awareness. Seriously, is there anything sadder than a secular Satanist? They’re so pathetic you want to give them a hug and offer them some hot cocoa. You want to tell them that if they’d just stop drawing pentagrams and scribbling “I  Richard Dawkins” in their notebooks and go out into the Real World they too could make friends .

Instead, they try to hide their loneliness by doing stuff like erecting a “Satanic holiday display” at the Michigan statehouse:
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Over at the Calvinist International I’ve posted the text of a Christmas meditation from Abraham Kuyper, made possible by the work of Jim DeJong and the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. It’s a rich devotional reflection inspired by the text of Luke 2:8, “And there were shepherds in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flock at night.”

Using the pastoral trope, Kuyper enjoins his readers to:

Think only about your own situation. Think about your shepherding. Think about the flock entrusted to you. Think about your own responsibility to keep watch over that flock at night. What does your conscience say to you about that? The year is coming to a close. Days are flying by. Give an account of yourself; hold a reckoning of your own soul. Brothers and sisters, what, I ask what, have you done with your flock? What have you done with those about whom the Lord said to you, “I entrust these to you!”

Each one of us has been entrusted with the care of something. That’s the basic stewardship reality taught in Scripture. And the waiting of the shepherds, like the Advent waiting of Zechariah, was done in faithful commitment to their stewardship responsibility, whether in the field or the temple. So too must our waiting be a faithful waiting.

Or as John Milton put it in Sonnet 19, alluding to the parable of the workers in the vineyard, “They also serve who only stand and waite.” Let us wait in ready anticipation of the Jesus. Of him Kuyper confesses: “The Shepherd of all shepherds is the Lord, the great Shepherd of our souls.”

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass GoodShepherd Portrait

Koehler Urges Higher Gas PricesU.S. households are projected to save an estimated average $550 on gasoline in 2015. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short Term Energy Outlook, “The average household will spend about $1,962 on gasoline in 2015, the first time that average will have fallen below $2,000 in five years.” Readers as well may assume the likelihood that falling fuel prices will exert some type of downward pressure on food and other commodity prices, which will be cheaper to bring to market.

By any realistic measure, this is great news for the United States in general and for the struggling lower middle class and poverty-stricken specifically. To those for whom reality is somewhat more elusive, however, it’s a travesty. Unfortunately, some of these individuals are advocating against the use of fossil fuels at cross purposes with their religious vocations. For example, nine bishops representing The Latin American Bishops Conference, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences and the French and Brazilian bishop’s conferences called for ceasing the use of fossil fuels: “We express an answer to what is considered God’s appeal to take action on the urgent and damaging situation of global climate warming.” (more…)