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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Christmas Hype or Turkey?

In case you've missed it, Christians are being persecuted. Oh yeah, I'm serious. Persecuted.

At least, that's what Jerry Falwell would have us believe.

This follows close on the heels of several public voices of the Republican Party announcing that they are highly offended simply by the greeting of "Happy Holidays", rather than "Merry Christmas".

I might take this a bit more seriously as a religious issue if it weren't actually occurring before Thanksgiving - the one holiday in our national history that was specifically created for religious observance. In case you're wondering, this is what Jerry Falwell has to say about Thanksgiving. Health, family, President Bush, America's Founding Fathers, and then God. Nice to know that Rev. Falwell has his priorities right. President Bush doesn't only rank above the Founding Fathers, he actually ranks above God. No wonder he joined the ministry.

And since Rev. Falwell raises the spectre of George Washington - who asked for national pardon for our communal transgressions - and Abe Lincoln - who urged Americans to seek mercy for those in pain and suffering, let us use that as the standard against which the man who raises himself as a leader of a Christian movement. Let's not forget the figure of Ben Franklin, who stood large in both the Continental Congress and in Rev. Falwell's address.


[I believe] That there is one God, who made all things.
That he governs the world by his providence.
That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.
But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.
That the soul is immortal.
And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter.


Is it just me, or is there something missing in the Rev. Falwell's remarks?

And, lest I be a mockery of my own criticism, let me state publically what I am most thankful for:

1) I am thankful for the gift of my faith. I cannot explain where it comes from or why, even when I have tried very hard, it will not disappear. The Bible teaches that even our own faith is a gift of God, and I must admit this seems likely to me. Because of my faith, I am thankful that God exists, even if He is wrapped in mystery and sees fit only to give me the kind of faith with which I must wrestle and strive to make sense.

2) I am thankful for my family and friends. Those who are with me, and those who are not. Living and dead, my family has helped mold me into the person I am today. Through them I have known my greatest joys and most horrible defeats. In other words - they have helped me mark out the boundaries of what it means to be human.

3) I am thankful for my freedom. I have worn a uniform to defend those freedoms and recognize the sacrifices they make on my behalf. I am thankful that the people who came before me guarded it as my heritage and hope that I may do the same. I am thankful that I can openly disagree with the government and tell everyone who will listen where I think we are going wrong.

4) I am thankful for my job. I love the challenge of teaching and the minds that my students trust me with. I pray that I always live up to their expectations to be a guide, and not a dictator, as they learn to examine the world around them.

But there's more to prayer than just being thankful. Mere thankfulness easily descends into bragging about how wonderful your life is. Note the overarching themes of Washington and Lincoln - penitance, forgiveness, transgression. This is what breeds humility - the knowledge that you have, despite your intentions, committed sin, done wrong, hurt innocents. This is what is lacking from our national discourse. It is lacking in the overtly political message Rev. Falwell passes off as his Thanksgiving list - and, so it is from mine as well. So, let me correct that, in the hope that I do not forget that I, too, am full of error and mistake.

1) For my country, I ask forgiveness from the hungry in the world. While we discard more food than most countries consume, hunger remains one of the main reasons for death in the world. I sleep at night despite this fact due to my ability to close my eyes to their suffering. So do we all.

2) I ask forgiveness for our greed. As a country, we have stockpiled capital beyond our ability to count. Yet the vast majority of the world exists without even knowing what a dollar is or how possessing it could change their life forever. We paint over this by convincing ourselves that we are only saving for our own future, but then we selfishly hoarde as much as we can to pass along an estate - and add insult to the injury by attempting to exempt that estate from taxation.

3) I ask forgiveness for our hostility. Though the motives of most people who support military action are well-intentioned, there's a well-worn road to Hades built on that sentiment. We may, indeed, may the world safer after armed conflict, but in the process we kill and injure and maim people who are guilty of nothing more than being in front of a bullet, a missile, or a piece of shrapnel.

4) I ask forgiveness for the ways in which these sins manifest in my own life. I am selfish, I am greedy, and I am a glutton. I am wasteful; taking the gracious gifts of my birthplace as a right and rarely thinking about who is injured so that I may remain safe in my person and possessions. I ask forgiveness from my family and friends, my students, and all of those who, in some measure, rely upon me and I fail to live up to their expectations and needs. It is human to fail, and it is also human to give in to selfishness, greed, and lusts of all sorts. This does not mean that we should not oppose those faults. In fact, it means quite the opposite.

I also pray that this country that I love so much will somehow see where we err and put forth the sustained effort to make amends. When we cannot make amends, I pray that we find the strength of will and resolve to ensure the same mistake is not made repeatedly. I pray, in short, that we continue to strive to live up to the great promises made by our Founding Fathers, that we always find where we fall short, and that we renew our purpose in the responsibility to all members of our society to make this the "Land of Opportunity".

I'll be away for the next few days, enjoying the holidays with friends of the best kind - the ones that are so dear that they become family. For those of you with whom I am unable to share the time, I wish for you lots of happiness, love, and a continued purpose in your life.

Lastly, let me say that I am thankful, specifically, to Micah Sifry for showing me a way to express myself in this medium and to everyone who has stopped by for even an instant. May whatever God you pray to bless you richly and keep you safe.

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