Monday, November 24, 2008

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Each of us will be grateful this Thanksgiving in differing ways,
Gathered in our separate families,
Each with our own distinct recipes, customs and traditions;
For some will have pies of mince,
And others of pumpkin or apple;
And some will dine early
And some sit down late to the meal,
Passing on the wisdom of the elders
As to the question of whether the stuffing
Should have raisins or currants,
And whether to add sage to the gravy.
For such differences of opinion,
Make us truly appreciative,
Realizing that as there is no one right way
To celebrate the gifts of life,
So there is no wrong way
To share in love or friendship.
But amid our diversity,
Let us also be united
In our gratitude
For a world in which there are many faiths,
A nation in which there is freedom of worship,
A community in which people of many backgrounds
Can gather in mutual care and respect.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving Then and Now

In 1789, George Washington proclaimed the First Thanksgiving. Designating the 26th of November as a day for national devotions, he acknowledged “the many and signal favors of Almighty God,” and gave special thanks for “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”

From the beginning, Americans have been a religious people, but also a nation where freedom of worship prevails. Our is not a Christian nation, but a land of many creeds, where from revolutionary days, Catholics, Jews, varieties of Protestants as well as atheists and freethinkers have managed to co-exist in tolerable harmony.

In his proclamation, Washington used diverse language in naming the divine. He called upon “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations,” and also on “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that shall be.” Typically, he avoided specifically Christian terminology like Savior, Redeemer or Christ. In his own way, he was searching for an inclusive religious vocabulary that would embrace all citizens while excluding none.

Religion, the Founders believed, should be a force that brings people together, rather than dividing them across sectarian lines. And perhaps we’re making progress in that regard. In the recent election, a major of Catholics and even Evangelicals told pollsters that neither abortion nor gay marriage should be at the top of the religious agenda. Poverty, peace, concern for the environment and building a just economy were equally important values to be considered.

Can we put the culture wars behind us? Can people of faith begin to cooperate—whatever name they give to God—to provide healthcare for the sick, housing for the homeless, education for the young and a green future for the planet? Can religion become, as the Founders intended, a force that unites people and helps them find common ground, rather than a polarizing us?

That would truly be reason for Thanksgiving.