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.
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