In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called a nation divided by war to join together in a time of corporate thanksgiving and repentance when he proclaimed that Americans “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Lincoln went on to recommend they offer up “the ascriptions justly due” to God “for such singular deliverances and blessings…with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience…and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
And a national Thanksgiving Day was birthed, wherein those having much, little, or in-between, gather around the table with loved ones, friends and maybe even Fido (hopefully underneath), to carry on this great American tradition.
As the old hymn goes, we have much to praise the “God from whom all blessings flow.”
America has problems. Even still, the good in her outweighs the bad - thanks to those who understand from whom their blessings come, and then pay it forward to those in need. A thankful heart is also a giving heart.
Sadly, also among us are those who are frozen in time and fail to see the bountiful blessings flowing all around them.
In an Alternet.com article, “No Thanks to Thanksgiving,” University of Texas Professor Robert Jensen wrote that America should replace Thanksgiving Day with “a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting” because “it is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.”
Those beholden to this kind of thinking will never attain a spirit of thanksgiving until they make the intentional decision to forgive the sins of our fathers, and theirs - by letting go of a past for which they have no ability to effect. Only then will they understand the art of gratefulness the way today’s Native Americans do.
Writing in the Huffington Post on 11/24/10, Tim Giago, founder of the Native American Journalists Foundation, was quoted, “But the day known as Thanksgiving has been accepted as a legal holiday by most Native Americans because the idea of a day to give thanks is such a strong part of their traditions and culture.”
Besides Thanksgiving, Giago says events like a child’s safe return from the wars in “Iraq or Afghanistan is an occasion for a ‘wopilla’ [Thanksgiving] celebration.”
With Native Americans leading the way, it seems people like Jensen could…ahem...cough up a little thankfulness…on this day set aside to do just that.
But some never will. In addition to those stuck in the past, misguided Constitutional revisionists clinging to the misnomer that “the separation of church and state” is in the Constitution, want to cancel national holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The First Amendment’s “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion…” simply stated means the state should stay out of the church’s business. Revisionists fail to include facts like the wording “separation of church and state” actually came from the insights of Roger Williams, not Thomas Jefferson, according to Yale professor Stephen Carter.
So it was completely okay, acceptable even, for President Lincoln to ask Americans to join together in a day to offer up prayers of thanksgiving and repentance for the sins we’ve committed as a nation.
May we do the same this year, as we gather together this blessed Thanksgiving 2013.
‑ Susan Stamper Brown is an opinion page columnist.