Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving apologia of sorts

Ah, Thanksgiving! The day that people in the United States pause to express gratitude. It seems that some people, a small minority, both in the U.S. and abroad, have a problem with this observance. As Christians, it goes without saying that every day ought to be a thanksgiving. We should be thankful everyday to God for everything, even life's seeming setbacks and challenges, as well as to other people. We should, to employ a popular and apt slogan, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Means that serve that end seem to me laudable, not lamentable.

Dedicated days of Thanksgiving, it seems, have been part of the history of these United States since our founding. It was President George Washington who issued the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation on 3 October 1789. But it was not until 1864 that an annual day of national Thanksgiving was proclaimed and instituted by President Abraham Lincoln.

I think it is significant that our national institution of Thanksgiving came during a time of great national strife, our Civil War, or, the War Between the States. A lot can and has been said and written about the results of the outcome of this bloodiest of conflicts in light of our constitutional principles. I certainly have my own views on these matters, but that is not my point today.

These days harmonious convergences between the sacred and the secular are rare enough. Many who decry the increasing godlessness of Western civilization often turn, and, with their very next breath, denounce institutions like Thanksgiving in the United States. Such a dichotomy strikes me as self-evidently incoherent and contradictory.

Is it really so bad to heed St. Paul's exhortation to Christians in ancient Thessaloniki, "In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess 5:18)? Let's not forget what St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans (Rom 13:1-7), which passage, like interpreting the results of the U.S. Civil War vis-à-vis our founding principles, certainly requires some unpacking and explication in light of what the apostle writes elsewhere. I also think that gratitude for what I have inevitably brings to my awareness those who have not and that, in light of my bounty, I am duty-bound to share, to give. Acts of genuine giving, in my view, are acts of justice and gratitude, not necessarily of charity.

So, today as a Christian, as a citizen of the U.S., I have no qualms whatsoever about pausing from the busyness of my day-to-day life and expressing gratitude: "Give thanks to the LORD for he is good. His love is everlasting" (Psalm 107:1). Besides, I think it only human to long for an idyll, at least once in awhile. It is nothing more than our longing for home.

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