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Published: Saturday, 11/17/2001

A new meaning for this Thanksgiving Day


There is something distinctively American about our Thanksgiving holiday and this year, more than we have known for a long time, that distinctiveness is also what causes us to feel a compelling need for it.

There is the need to be able to find reason for Thanksgiving so the forces of uncertainty and chaos if not tamed are at least seen in subjugation to a higher power.

To be able to give thanks connects us to what is eternal.

It soothes. It heals.

It brings order out of the chaos.

It renews our sense of vision, the principles for which we stand, and why sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice for the sake of these principles.

Our Thanksgiving this year will have less to do with thinking about our opulence and more about our ideals.

We might be poorer this year in the things we possess but we might find ourselves richer in regard to our ideals.

It might mean that this year we are more aware of family.

We might be more aware of the support they give us and how precious they are to us.

As conflict continues to rage it might be thoughts of freedom come more to the fore of our mind, knowing that never have we known a day of oppression, a time when we couldn't pretty much speak our mind, vote our conscience, and go, or not go, to church.

It might be on this Thanksgiving we find ourselves grateful for the diversity and dissent we once only tolerated.

In witnessing the suppression of freedom caused by adherence to extremists' ideals that demand rigid conformity, we find ourselves feeling fortunate for the tapestry of lifestyles and breadth of public discourse in America.

This Thanksgiving we might be drawn more toward community.

How selfish we have been, pretty much living our lives to ourselves, when all the while we could have been living in community.

Oh, the blessed joy of gathering with neighbors, friends, and people we don't know and singing, “We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing,” knowing that even as we sing it, we have the Lord's blessing.

In this Thanksgiving we might also pause and think back with a sense of awe and gratitude for the vision yet realism of our forefathers.

The idealism of liberty was born in their sense of human dignity but their system of checks and balances was developed from their understanding of human frailty.

It is encouraging to see that two of the books listed on the New York Times Best Seller List have as their subject leaders of the American Revolution.

I am sure if these revolutionaries could see America now they would probably be stunned by our affluence at home and our leadership in the world. But I think their Thanksgiving prayer would be expressed as words of gratitude for the ways in which the ideals of liberty and justice still flourish.

I think this Thanksgiving can also give us pause to think about our own character, the kind of person we are inside.

Perhaps we are not as tied to our wealth as what we thought we were or were afraid we were.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, when so many things besides the World Trade Center towers tumbled, maybe one thing that didn't fall was what we discovered about ourselves.

We are stronger, more resilient, more compassionate, more idealistic than we realized.

We went deeper into ourselves and came out feeling better about ourselves, yet not arrogantly so, but humbly so, gratefully so.

Thanksgiving is a distinctively American holiday.

It is also, in a country that furiously protects the separation between church and state, the closest the two come to an official, sanctioned, common, recognition of a link between them.

The link, however, is not forged by politics or power.

It is a proclamation that there'll be a day of Thanksgiving, a time in which we give thanks for both the grain of harvest and the seeds of liberty and justice planted in the soil of what it means to be an American.

It is a day of Thanksgiving, uniquely American, in which we pause to recognize how blessed we are.

David W. Andersen is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo. He lives in Holland.

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