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What if Christmas never happened?

His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful by Simon DeweyNate Dreyfus is a nine-year-old boy living in Stillwater, Minnesota.  He recently saw a man get out of his car, take off his jacket, and give it to a man on the street.  Inspired, he enlisted the help of family members and put donation boxes in his neighborhood.  Local media soon became involved.  In total, Nate collected 79 coats and $262 for families in need.  He worked with Project Home, the St. Paul Area Council of Churches' initiative which provides shelter to local homeless families.

If there had been no Christmas, would these families have received the help they need?

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Why Jews wrote some of our most beloved Christmas songs

The 'Christmas Carolers' (Credit:  Mike Renlund via Flickr)What is your favorite Christmas song?  Chances are, it was written by a Jew.

White Christmas, Let It Snow, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Silver Bells, even Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—all had Jewish writers.  Why is this?

There are two reasons, according to music historian Michael Feinstein.  One is that White Christmas, written by Irving Berlin, topped the charts in 1942 and encouraged others to write songs about the holiday.  The other is that most popular Christmas songs are not about Christ.  They celebrate sleigh bells, Santa Claus, and the larger folk American culture.

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What is the right approach to Cuba? Russia? N. Korea?

President Barack Obama announces a shift in policy toward Cuba while delivering an address to the nation from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, December 17, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Doug Mills) Is President Obama's initiative to normalize relations with Cuba "another concession to tyranny"?  Or is it "a dream come true for the 11.2 million Cubans in Cuba"?  Is it "the right thing to do at the right time," or is it "dramatic overreach"?  (For more on this issue, see Nick Pitts's article 'Obama, Castro, and the Pope find peace in Canada'.)

Now that the Russian ruble has lost half its value in the face of international sanctions, is Vladimir Putin destroying his country's economy?  Or is he the solution to his nation's problems, as evidenced by the 81 percent approval rating he recently received from his people?

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Why did JCPenney video go viral?

We wanted to find out if it’s better to give or receive, so we asked a few shoppers to surprise complete strangers with a gift. See what happens when these unsuspecting customers find out they #JustGotJingled. (Credit: JCPenney via Youtube)James Cash Penney went into the retail business as a young man and eventually established a chain of stores bearing his name.  He built 1,400 JCPenney stores before the stock market crash of 1929 left him in financial ruin.  Penney checked himself into a hospital, where he heard the hymn "God Will Take Care of You" being sung in the hospital's chapel and became a born-again Christian.  For the rest of his life, he used his influence to serve Christ by serving others.

Fast forward to November 2011, when JCPenney replaced longtime CEO Mike Ullman with Apple executive Ron Johnson.  Johnson immediately fired many of the company's leaders and tried to promote sweeping culture change for the organization, including a series of ads endorsing homosexuality.  Company stock nosedived.  Johnson was fired after less than two years, and Ullman was asked to step back in.

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New Yorkers are mad at Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift poses for the camera after her performance, singing her new song Out of the Woods from her debut pop album 1989, on Good Morning America in Times Square, New York City, October 30, 2014 (Credit: Taylor Swift via Instagram)Taylor Swift is one of the most popular singers of our day—with everyone but some New Yorkers, as it turns out.  She has recently been named Global Welcome Ambassador for New York City, and released a new single, "Welcome to New York."  But critics complain that the song "celebrates as generic, flat, and lifeless a New York as has ever existed in pop culture."  Others call her a "whitebread out-of-towner" since she only recently moved to the city.

If we're going to connect with our culture, it's important that we listen to our culture.  No one knows this better than Dave Runyon, executive director of an amazing initiative in Denver called CityUnite.  I met Dave when we were together in New York City last October for Movement Day, and spoke recently with him about his work.

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