Starving, Going to War, and Giving Thanks

The images that come to mind with Thanksgiving are typically related to food: turkey, gravy, stuffing, a slice of pumpkin or apple pie. Family may also come to mind, along with the occasional Pilgrim. We don’t usually think of bloodshed, cannons, civil war, and patriotism. Yet these were the circumstances under which Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

As with other holidays, memory is vital—in order to properly celebrate, we must remember the reason for our celebration. Our national holiday of Thanksgiving has two origins. The first is with the Puritans, who came to the New World to escape the confines of the Church of England and consequent persecution from James I. Their Thanksgiving was not, as public schools teach, to thank the Native Americans for their help. They were thanking God, and invited the Native Americans to join in their celebration.

Growing up, I sat down with my family every Thanksgiving morning to read portions of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, a book which recounts the details of the Puritans’ first few harvests. They were difficult years—almost half the colonists died within the first winter. Their first hard-earned harvest, with which they celebrated the first “Thanksgiving,” was not enough to last the winter for those who had worked all year to grow the food, as well as the hoard of new-comers who had just landed from England with almost no supplies. Yet, true to their Puritan principles, they continued to praise and worship God for his blessings.

Due to reading that book every year, I know that Thanksgiving, like many American holidays, is centered around God. While I associate it with strong religious ties, I don’t automatically think of it as also having strong patriotic ties. However, the original purpose of Thanksgiving was for both religion and patriotism to be combined. This is where Abraham Lincoln comes in.

On October 3, 1863—in the middle of the American Civil War—Lincoln issued a proclamation, instituting a national day of thanksgiving to God. The proclamation itself is not long, but like his famous address at Gettysburg, it is powerful. Within the short text, Lincoln rightfully acknowledges the blessings of God, even in the midst of the devastation caused by the Civil War:

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gift of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

Even when the fate of the United States was uncertain, Lincoln wanted to recognize God for his blessings and mercy upon our country. At heart, Thanksgiving is a holiday deeply rooted in the Christian heritage of those who have relied on God to pull them through—the starving Puritans, and the torn armies of the Civil War.

Recently, a professor of mine offered some profound advice: it is crucial for us to not pass straight from Halloween to Christmas, but to fully immerse ourselves in the celebration of the harvest. If we skim over Thanksgiving in our hurry to get to Christmas, we completely miss a season in which we can be grateful for the Lord’s provision and blessings.

We are facing different challenges in the twenty-first century than the Puritans faced in the seventeenth century or the Union in the nineteenth, but God is still good, and He is still with us. If American Christians could thank God through starvation, sickness, war, and slavery, we can certainly thank him through our own grief and struggles. While feasting is an appropriate—and self-gratifying—activity for the holiday, Thanksgiving is not just about sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes. It is about giving thanks to our Creator, who in his rich mercy, has granted us the privilege of living in a country that allows us the opportunity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This Millennial Isn’t Leaving the Church

I, a millennial, am not leaving the church. Recently there has been a small flashflood of articles unearthing possible reasons and remedies for the ongoing exodus of millennials from the Christian church. I read them as a stranger to the departing crowd.

Rachel Held Evans suggested toning down the trendiness and giving a listening ear to the thoughts and passions of a millennial near you. We are actually thinking about the creeds, science and faith, sexuality, and holiness, but we wonder over them in questions, not “predetermined answers.” Her last word is to “encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.”

 Brett McCracken rebutted, asking millennials to give a listening ear to age and wisdom. Millennials are highly sensitive to nearby flaky self-images and the nearest one is our own. ‘Tis our season to scrabble through liminal self-perceptions toward a strongly rooted identity. So, the church should take a cue from the millennial and become as sensitive to their potential fakeness as they are to hers. McCracken thinks “that the answer is decidedly not to sit the Millennial down and have him or her dictate exactly what they think the church should be. But this is what Evans suggests.”

Not quite. Evans got timid with her final plea and left it vague. McCracken is being unfair, inserting this scenario when nothing in Evans’ statement gestures to it. Picture this specimen Millennial in a coffee shop with this specimen church-goer/deacon/die-hard. Never mind who asked whom.

There should be mutual listening. If either person actually thought they were coming to give a monologue, they could have found a pulpit or a stage. This is a conversation. Each speaker shuts up every few sentences. Granted, when people are ignored outright, intervention is advisable. But opening the dialogue by staking out one party’s right to be heard over another doesn’t allow for much traction down the road. If we all concede that good listening is lacking but key and then promise to stop tuning out our counselors’ or therapists’ practical tips to improve active listening, real conversations are just around the corner.

Where Evans and McCracken solidly agree, I ask for a significant nuance. In McCracken’s words, “Christianity has become too obsessed with how it is perceived.” I could easily interpret that two different ways: either he means ‘obsessed with first impressions’ or ‘obsessed with the self-image.’ If the latter, then of course we are obsessed with how we are perceived. Christianity nurtures concern for self-image. What begins as a shallow itch for approval is just the shadow of our deep human longing to be seen. We are created: we are created beautiful as well as functional: we are art. As art invites an audience, so we long to be displayed to each other. For Christ to completely restore us to what makes us truly human, we may only expect Him to increase our hunger for more and more attention.

But if in fact we are obsessed with making first impressions, no wonder we are frustrated. First impressions are one or a series of quick insights about a person based on visual (or other sensory) impressions. I don’t say judgments because the word connotes a distasteful opinion that we’ll probably end up dismissing as incorrect. Perceptions could be entirely correct. They just aren’t going to be deep. What we need in addition to first impressions is a certain space to be seen, where those impressions will purposefully become contemplation.

There’s no way to be a functioning human for long in a gallery space. We’re best displayed elsewhere in the space of shared experiences, alongside creations like ourselves. There, seeing and being seen are real possibilities.

Maybe we look to family, friends and professional circles or artistic communities for shared experiences. Yet, in proportion to human history, these are young, recent communities. Additionally, they may be more transient than permanent. They are less-than-guaranteed spaces for shared experience. The church is human history’s longest living community. It offers an extensive architecture of shared experiences (cf. its calendar, reformations and revivals, plus contributions to art). It is a certain space to be seen.

And so I remain a millennial church-goer. While my voice matters, I don’t stay on the condition that I am heard. Although my elders’ wisdom is a far better gift, I’ll persist to give as well as receive. Many, many concerns prick me every time I go to worship—I notice her lack of good discourse on human sexuality, feel her tight rein on artistic honesty, and wonder when her missionaries will feel called to America.  These concerns are powerful enough to activate me toward change and confrontation within the church, but will never rise to become conditions for remaining in the church. I pray to love the church as I hope to be loved: unconditionally. And similarly, I affirm that both the church and millennials have responsibility toward each other—to heed or challenge concerns, not as terms and conditions, but as doorways to unconditional love.

Government Shutdowns: Moments of Insanity?

We should stop criticizing government shutdowns and start thinking about what the shutdowns tell us.

Our government inflicts us with pain all the time.  The recent government shutdown is the most accessible example of such pain.  This kind of discomfort is so repulsive because it happens without our consent, which leads us to mistrust the responsiveness of our American government.  And for good reason:

In a shutdown, well over 800,000 non-essential federal employees don’t know when they’ll receive their next paycheck.  In turn, the rest of us are left to deal with life under a temporarily incompetent, unresponsive federal government.  A lot of uncomfortable stuff happens and the government doesn’t seem to care.

We think situations like these shouldn’t happen in America.  If a government is by the people and for the people, as Lincoln pointed out, the people should never be angry about what the government does.  It should people-please; yet the vast majority of people aren’t pleased with government shutdowns.

Why do shutdowns like this happen in America?

A shutdown happens when Congress cannot agree on a budget before the start of the new fiscal year.    The Constitution and the law do not punish the government if it inconveniences the people with a shutdown.   Instead, Congressmen, as essential employees, still get paid.  And they are still given the responsibility to pass the budget.

The idea is, in a representative government, the representatives do not need legal punishment.  The ballot box is the Congressional cattle-prod.  All Congressmen, unless considering retirement, want to keep their jobs: they either enjoy the distinction that comes with it or want to continue their good influence in Congress.  Sure, legislators must respond well to organized interests who have lots of money, but at the end of the day, the right votes, not the right number of dollars, keeps someone in office.  The one sure way to keep their jobs is to pay attention to the input, opinions, and demands of their constituents.  A representative who does not have one eye in Washington and the other in his district is sure to jeopardize his seat.  So, they need no legal repercussions; we as voters also serve as the punishers.

This accountability mechanism, termed the ‘electoral incentive,’ means that if the representative does stuff in office that his voters disapprove of, it will show in the next election — with his unemployment.  With this in mind, the budget deadlock we just witnessed shows that some Congressmen held to the deep-seated conviction that a shutdown is better than its alternative (in this case, ObamaCare fully-funded), risking their seats in the process.

Does a shutdown like the one we just experienced successfully prevent its alternative?

Americans surely don’t think so: they tend to blame those on the other side for the pain they feel.  They ignore the risky signaling that’s taking place, and consider partisan actions that eventually force a shutdown rash, imprudent, and hopeless.

Americans in general agree that Congress was most to blame during the shutdown, which lessens Congress’ power to be successful.  Shutdown polls declare that the people blamed Republicans rather than Democrats and President Obama.  But notice that the polls tend to lump President Obama and Democrats into one category, which does not account for the consistently higher approval ratings of the President with respect to Congress.  In the end, Congress, not the president, will seem even more blameworthy.

With success falling out of sight, what were Republicans in Congress thinking by forcing a shutdown?  What response were they trying to invoke?

All government shutdowns anticipate pain and anger, but they communicate gravity. A shutdown communicates that the alternative is a more painful than itself. If we feel pains, we should assume something significant is happening.

Even further, In light of the fact that the Republican Party forced a similar government shutdown in 1995, when conditions were better, and had to deal with heavy repercussions, it is safe to assume that Republicans are definitely risking similarly punishing outcomes.  They have communicated a grave issue indeed.

Perhaps the gravity of the situation ran deeper than funding or defunding ObamaCare.  Perhaps they feared that such a law will instill dangerous ideas about the nature and purpose of health insurance.  Or, beyond health insurance, they feared that the law will feed the growing appetite for entitlements and instantaneous gratification that threatens the generous and selfless side of today’s America.

Must we merely complain about our pain?  No.  We should listen to the problem the pain communicates.  Look beyond the discomfort to its source; then consider why the cause is weighty enough to inflict the pain you feel.

In American government, pain is not weakness leaving the body.  The pain leaving the legislative body (and coming down to us) signals graver, more threatening, weaknesses in ourselves and our nation.

Weekly Roundup

Apparently, pornography is the new normal. Iceland brought the idea to our attention earlier this year, but now the UK is forcing us all to ask questions about liberty, personal freedom, and harmful dispositions of the soul.

Fred Sanders argues at Christianity Today that anyone who suggests that the Trinity has a lot to do with gender probably doesn’t understand either too well. Actually, he’s a lot more charitable than that, but no one is surprised.

Speaking of the Trinity, this video by The Lutheran Satire is brilliant.  You should watch it now.  Go ahead, we’ll wait.

Brett McCracken has a new book out, called Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty. We’ll be reviewing the book pretty soon, but in the mean time, you can read a sample chapter here; he’s even got a way for you to get his first book for free.

Poetry can be beautiful, but it can also be scathing. There’s even a poet you can hire on Craigslist to write poems about you. See one such experience here.

Matthew Tuininga thinks that America’s abortion laws are quickly becoming more liberal.  And that’s a good thing!

It’s a strange new world we live in when Russian leader Vladimir Putin is calling on the US and Europe to unite to end anti-Christian persecution.  More than that, he thinks the Russian church and state must unite to show moral leadership in the face of a secularizing West.  Is this good for Russia, or just a sad commentary on the state of the US and Europe?

At last, that fateful moment in world history has arrived.  Meet the Twelfth Doctor!

Weekly Roundup

This week’s noteworthies are fairly self-explanatory, so they are presented without comment. 

Move over New Atheists, there’s a New Theist in town.

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The 4th of July: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.

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Egypt’s Pope hails protesters taking back ‘stolen revolution.’

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RAND PAUL: Celebrating American independence while abetting tyranny.

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What J.R.R. Tolkien said to the Nazis when they asked if he was Jewish.

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Your Boss Owes You a Paycheck, not Fulfillment.

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If only Kermit Gosnell had worn pink sneakers like Wendy Davis.

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Nearly 1,200 People Have Starved to Death in NHS Hospitals.

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Beliefs Are Not Set in Stone, Except for When They’re on Tablets (Rachel Held Evans, Same-Sex Marriage, and When Not to Rethink Your Theology).

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21 Jokes Only Nerds Will Understand (Or people with questionable senses of humor).

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UPDATE:  American Evangelist Arrested in London for Preaching Homosexuality is a Sin.

Patriotism and the Olympics

We’ve covered patriotism a few times here, but recently I considered it in light of Independence Day. The issue rarely comes up, and my conclusion was rather concise: it was good to be patriotic, but not the greatest good, and you should read Brett McCracken’s thoughts on this. But now the issue stares me square in the face, as our nation sends the best our athletes to compete with other nations’ respective bests. The events function as a sort of strutting about, seeking to prove we are the best at some particular sport or another, but without the casualty of war. Our dominance can be in gold medals, rather than empty bullet shells. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. Continue reading Patriotism and the Olympics

Malaysia, Myanmar, and Hillary Clinton

EO has been quiet lately, but our editors surely haven’t.  Here’s one of my latest, from the New Ledger:

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in Australia this week, speaking on social justice, democracy, and his own legal woes.  He has also addressed the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician, declaring that her release will mean nothing until she is permitted to take her place as the elected leader of Myanmar.  Anwar has used Suu Kyi’s release to attract attention to his own political problems, arguing that Australia ought to speak out in the face of atrocities in both Myanmar and Malaysia:

“But I think they’re ill-advised if they proceed in this way…. I’m not suggesting that [the Australian government] should interfere, but they should express their views, they should promote civil society, as a vibrant democracy they’ve a duty…. But I think the issue of democracy, human rights, rule of law, they’re not something that you can just ignore. But I’m of course appreciative of the fact that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd took time, and we had very, very useful discussions, some issues affecting both countries, and of course my personal predicament. But I always make it a point that they should extend the issue, the issue of freedom, human rights. It goes beyond Anwar’s personal case.”

The problem here is that “Anwar’s personal case” is very different from Suu Kyi’s, and Malaysia’s political landscape has little in common with Myanmar’s.

Read the rest here.

And from the Daily Caller:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton neatly sidestepped a messy diplomatic tangle Tuesday when she canceled her plans to meet with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.  Only time will tell whether her last-minute schedule change adequately conveyed her apparent reluctance to add status to a controversial figure, but one thing is certain — Anwar’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and ties to dangerous terrorist finance groups mean he deserves none of the status a visit would have afforded him.

Though Anwar has spent the past decade gathering respect in Washington, his ties to terrorist finance groups like the Muslim Brotherhood clearly falsify his claims to represent the sort of moderate Islam the United States has so eagerly courted.  Al Gore’s defenses notwithstanding, Anwar is exactly the sort of Islamist radical in moderate’s clothing the U.S. must denounce.

Far from being the Malaysian “Voice of Democracy” his website touts, Anwar is in fact the co-founder of, and a trustee at, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an American front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The IIIT has a long history of proven and alleged terrorist finance ties.  Just two years ago, for example, Temple University refused funding from the IIIT, citing serious concerns about the organization’s terror-financing connections.

In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood named the IIIT in a list of 29 likeminded “organizations of our friends” that aimed to destroy America and turn it into a Muslim nation.

In 2003, U.S. prosecutors submitted evidence that the IIIT had a hand in funding Sami al-Arian, the convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad fundraiser.  The same document also stated that “IIIT president Taha Jaber al-Alwani once signed a copy of a fatwa declaring that jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine.”

And the United States isn’t the only nation that has noted the Virginia-based IIIT’s problematic ties; in 2007, Malaysian Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar alleged that the organization had indirectly endorsed Islamic polygamy by removing from new translations of the Quran some widely accepted notes on the supremacy of monogamous marriages.

Anwar has done little to disguise his association with the IIIT, even tweeting recently that he was visiting the organization during a trip to the United States.  Despite these and other problematic ties, Anwar continues to be a well-loved figure in Washington circles — a fact that Clinton did not hesitate to point out during her tour of Malaysia.

This is surprising, given President Obama’s praise for Anwar’s political enemies at the ASEAN summit in New York last week.  Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement of Prime Minister Najib’s call for a Global Movement of Moderates should leave no room for Anwar’s brand of Islamist extremism, but that hasn’t kept U.S. officials from voicing their support of Anwar’s cause.

Read the rest here.

Photo credit Image and Commonwealth Office