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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Presents

Did you get a Wii for Christmas? Or a new computer? Maybe a cashmere sweater. These are all nice, but there are other Christmas presents. These can give even more pleasure and it won't fade with the fad. Here are several we enjoyed this year~

Pictures from family and friends. I love Christmas cards and the annual correspondence. My best friend from childhood had her entire family together for Thanksgiving and sent a marvelous group picture with a brief profile of each person and what their lives are about, from her 6-year-old grandson to her 97-year-old mother. My mother's best friend's daughter (got that?) sent a picture of herself with her seven grandchildren, ranging in age from about 9 to 22. My own cousin, from whom I rarely get mail, sent a splendid Christmas card with an American flag hanging next to a front-door wreath. Good year for that remembrance. How special are these?!

Worship. Churches always look lovely and services are always beautiful. But special touches can stand out. By dint of totally accidental circumstances, I happened to hear two renditions of one of my favorite anthems, Biebl's "Ave Maria", one by an all male choir, similar to the well-known Chanticleer version, and the other with mixed voices, the solo coming from a sweet lilting soprano. Close your eyes and float up on its theme to the peak of the high Gothic ceiling. No tangible object can ever yield such a lift.

Hints of peace – or at least of what is possible when peace happens. Gaza is full of violence yet again, but the West Bank, where Bethlehem is located, was calm for Christmas. Tourists flocked to the town, by some estimates four times as many as last year, lifting the spirits of the locals and filling their pockets with badly needed revenues. Prime Minister Abbas participated in one of the services. A new website – note for next year –, streamed Midnight Mass live from the Church of the Nativity. Does this warm your heart?

Precursors of economic recovery. Gas is cheaper and mortgage rates are lower. These may be mundane, but they're not trivial nor out of place. Economic hardship strains everyone and can make the season burdensome instead of light-hearted. So we are grateful for the 60% plunge in the retail price of regular gasoline since mid-July, with about one-fifth of this in just the last four weeks. Then too, back in the summer, we talked here about how important it would be if mortgage rates could come down. Finally, after the government bailers-out began the "toxic asset" buying of mortgage-related bonds they originally promised, mortgage rates themselves dropped sharply. This can help many current borrowers soon as they are able to refinance; applications to do so have skyrocketed. While other government stimulus programs will help eventually, these factors lift great weights from consumers' shoulders right away. These are great Christmas presents, I'd say.

And the New Year promises to start off with a bang, even in the face of the continuing economic adversity. January 20 will, of course, bring the Inauguration of the first African-American President. And February 12 carries double significance. It will be the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln and also the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. More, The Origin of Species was published in 1859, so this coming year will mark the 150th anniversary of the whole story of evolution. We'll hear lots more about all of these presents yet to come!

We'll close with one note on the Inauguration. Billy Graham is a great religious leader in this country; perhaps we can call him God's spokesman to the American public and to American government officials. I've occasionally wondered what would happen when he would become too elderly and infirm to continue this work, as he has, God bless him. But it seems now that there is someone for the role, Rick Warren. We do not all agree with Rev. Warren's interpretations of all lessons of Scripture. But nearly everyone agrees that the most thoughtful discussion during the entire Election season occurred in his church. I am personally thankful that a religious figure has emerged, one our new President has confidence in, who can provide pastoral care for the nation. It suggests strongly to me that God is watching out for us and continues to give to American society the same kinds of presents that I believe we just got for Christmas. And they mean a whole lot more than a new Xbox game or Neiman-Marcus gift card!

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!


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