Friday, November 26, 2010

A Thankful Nation?

This editorial resurrects an instructive piece of American history--Connecticut Governor Wilbur Cross' 1936 Thanksgiving Proclamation. Unfortunately, the Time's editors are too quick in their praise of Cross' persuasiveness and in their criticism of today's political orators. They suggest that Cross inspired a common hope in a troubled time, but they offer no evidence that his words in fact had that effect, and they also fail to consider today's very different circumstances. Can you imagine President Obama, whatever his words, evoking a sense of unity? Mr. Obama remains a masterful speaker, but there are simply too many on the Right who view him as a foreign agent and too many on the Left who think him a traitor to their cause.

It is time to stop longing for an inspired political leader who will make us whole again. We are living through a period of significant cultural change, and while there is much good about this change it has also inflicted real harm and many people have a deep sense of loss.  This is a recipe for social struggle and resentment, not harmony. In our diverse circumstances of gain and loss, it is hard to imagine what we might be thankful for as a people, but surely one thing we can give thanks for is the continuing social stability that allows us to debate one another without resorting to violence. Such debate is not the deep sense of peace or solidarity that many of us long for, but it is not nothing. Indeed, this civil peace makes a place for us to pursue our dreams of peace and solidarity (and justice), and because of this we can be grateful for such artful statements as that of Governor Cross, not because they secure the peace, but because they witness to it.  Perhaps it's at a time of social dislocation and incivility that we most need reminding of the nation's gifts, including the founding aspiration that all our lives may be enriched by being members of this union.

Still, for many of us, the gifts of the nation ultimately reside in a greater reality that stands beneath and behind the many, and it is to this One, not ourselves, our party, or the nation, that we owe our ultimate thanks and our final loyalty.  It is this One that finally calls us to keep the Feast.  Many families have their own special and sometime crazy Thanksgiving traditions.  The same is true of the religious traditions, some of which dare to speak about the deep hospitality of a heavenly banquet, and it may just be that while at a Thanksgiving meal we enjoyed (perhaps unaware) a foretaste of that heavenly meal, and in this sense Thanksgiving may take on a deeper, even sacramental meaning.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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