Be a Bright Spot During a Dark Time This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving3

This year will mark the fact that I have had the opportunity to live through 56 Thanksgivings. I was born on a Sunday, November 24th, 1963, two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Thanksgiving occurred on November 28th that year, the same as this year. It was a time, not unlike today, filled with political uncertainty. My mother told me I was the only child born that evening. Nurses and doctors were still in shock at the Kennedy assassination, but my birth was a bright spot during a dark time. I have always loved that story.

Presidents and Congresses from the beginning of our republic have designated days of thanksgiving and fasting. The Thanksgiving we celebrate annually in November was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941. It is rooted in a 1621 event where Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgivings.

Rather than allowing fear and trepidation to dictate our state of mind here on the cusp of 2020, we should look at the great hope our country provides to the world. This Thanksgiving we need a more civil, honest discourse among ourselves, as families, friends and as countrymen. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was no stranger to political conflict in his day.  King reminded us, “Hate is always tragic. It is as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. It distorts the personality and scars the soul.” Hate breeds more hate, but love conquers all.

Rock singer Bono said in a Rolling Stone interview: “I don’t fear politicians or presidents. They should be afraid. They’ll be accountable for what happened on their watch.” Bono added, “It’s an amazing thing to think that ours is the first generation in history that really can end extreme poverty, the kind that means a child dies for lack of food in its belly. This should be seen as the most incredible, historic opportunity but instead, it’s become a millstone around our necks. We let our own pathetic excuses about how it’s ‘difficult’ justify our own inaction. Be honest. We have the science, the technology, and the wealth. What we don’t have is the will, and that’s not a reason that history will accept.”

Poor and starving people are not particularly appealing news stories, but fighting poverty is and should be a moral imperative for citizens in our cities, state, and nation. Teachers are often on the frontlines fighting battles with children who go to bed hungry and wake up starving. Theological apathy, just like political apathy, is not an acceptable excuse. Yes, “the poor will always be with us.” However, Jesus, in his first sermon said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

This Thanksgiving we should be thankful for both the small and large blessing in our lives. And just as in years past, we should seek with grateful hearts the political, moral, and intellectual blessings that make self-government possible. However, we must recognize what is truly essential: faith, family, and friends. Embrace others. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. If you want to touch the heart of God, take an interest in the things that interest God. Let God love others through you.

Every great nation should include the recognition that every child is created in the image of God, and that fact means we will use our resources to meet the most basic needs of all citizens, especially the vulnerable. Think of those less fortunate this year before your Thanksgiving prayers, remind yourself of those in poverty whose plates are often empty. We are incapable of breaking the cycle of poverty without all of us working together to address poverty and hunger.

We must endeavor to understand our nation’s place in the world. And while some Americans may believe we have lost some of our luster, the truth is that we are still the greatest beacon of freedom on the planet. We do not get our rights from the government but from God.  The government exists to protect our rights.  I would remind people, don’t fear the politicians. Hold them accountable.

Our nation is an exporter of dreams, and we must cast a vision of an exceptional America to the world. Do we have problems as a nation? Yes, we do. So does every civilization that has ever flourished. This Thanksgiving let us count our blessings, and be truly grateful for an opportunity to be alive at such a time as this and call ourselves Americans. The most important thing you can do is be a bright spot this Thanksgiving for someone going through a dark time.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

 

No Lie Can Live Forever

mlk

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech to those assembled at the conclusion of the march from Selma to Montgomery.   He told the audience “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” Then he added, “no lie can live forever.”  King also reminded the crowd: “because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The driving force of Martin Luther King’s philosophy was the certain idea that Jesus is the truth. He believed that and he spoke of it in most of his public speeches.  King wasn’t a politician arousing a crowd with inferences to God, he was a minister evoking Christ to connect to issues facing the world.  Whether or not you agree with his worldview, he was who he was—a believer in Jesus Christ.

Like Dr. King, I don’t pretend to be anything I am not.  I have lived a full life and made mistakes.  I am comforted by my own faith in Christ.  I see the moral and earthly struggles faced by others and understand but by the Grace of God, there goes I.  It shows up in my work as executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  It shows up in my drive to make our organization the best association for educators in Tennessee. I have compassion for our members and the difficult job they do, and have the empathy that educators need.  But it is a two-way street.  So many teachers and administrators call and encourage me.  They appreciate our work for them and they share their success stories in education.  It cannot help but inspire me, as well as others.  Educators see miracles every single day.

Too many in our state and nation believe the lie that public education is failing.  Do we have failures?  Yes, there are things that go wrong every single day.  But looking at the big picture, the arc of the universe, as King may say, it is a beautiful success story.  Children are dropped off at a school, unable to read and write, growing up in some of the worst conditions possible.  They come from crime riddled neighborhoods, drug infested homes, often being raised by single parents and some, with no parents.  Many have no responsible adults in the picture.  Food and shelter are uncertain.  Yet teachers, some who may be unconnected themselves, make an impact that helps that child survive for a day, a week, a month and then a year.  Somehow, those children grow up.  Then the miracle they see is that the child becomes a productive citizen capable of thinking for themselves.  They didn’t become a statistic.  They didn’t die.

We all get angry.  Even God repeatedly describes himself in Scripture as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  However, too often anger produces in us, “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” It also produces “enmity, strife . . . fits of anger [i.e. tantrums], rivalries, dissensions, [and] divisions.” We must balance that personally and professionally.  We must avoid the negative.  There is no perfect anger.  We should allow mercy to triumph over judgment for others, and we must remain committed to love.

When I deal with angry teachers I am reminded frequently of another lie, that anger solves problems.   We see that manifested when administrators are angry at teachers or vice-versa.  We see it on full display from teacher unions.  They really believe dissension and division resolves issues; it doesn’t. That is why we see hostility, anger, slander and gossip on frequent display from them.  I have been subjected to regular attacks personally, often based on little or no truth by paid union stalkers.  Because of my faith, I am able to persevere.  I get to witness the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.  Truth will eventually prevail.   It is a beautiful reminder that no lie can live forever.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.