As our nation emerges from perhaps the most bewildering and exhausting election we have ever endured, one thing has become abundantly clear: we are an angry and divided people. The toxic ethos of this election is much more than a referendum on the culture of politics; it is an echo of culture at large.
I firmly believe that politics is not the instigator of society as much as the fruit of society. That is, our politicians are not telling us what to be as much as they are telling us who we already are. And if this is who we are, then I think the vast majority of us are left wondering, what have we become? Even more so, is there a way to undo what we have become? Is there any way out of this downward cultural spiral into the abyss of our own animosity?
My suggestion is that we all pay special attention to this week’s cherished tradition of giving thanks. If ever our country needed to pause and celebrate Thanksgiving, it is now. And we need this holiday, not just as a daylong respite from the madness, but more so as a protest against the madness.
Giving thanks is much more than a feel-good sentiment; it is an antidote to the malice that has consumed our land. Let me be clear, it is not a patronizing calling, which asks us to ignore the very real problems in our lives and world around us. Instead, it is a call to stand in defiance of such things. It is a valiant disposition that refuses to surrender to any and all troubling circumstances.
The Bible is written from the perspective of the enslaved, exiled, marginalized and persecuted. Therefore, one might expect it to be an incredibly bitter and angry book, and yet the opposite is true. Over and over again the Bible commends, even demands, thanksgiving. This is not because the writers are naïve to circumstances, but precisely because they are keenly aware of circumstances. Biblically speaking, thanksgiving is a deadly weapon in the battle against the cynicism and hatred in our hearts and the world around us.
Consider, for example, the audacity of that first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims shared with the Native Americans. Circumstantially speaking, there was no reason to feast. From the Pilgrim perspective, they were dealing with the deaths of half their population. From the Native American perspective, they were dealing with the bewildering arrival of foreigners in their land. Even still, these two weary communities came together for the cause of thanksgiving.
This is no anomaly of history. Every culture throughout the centuries has relied upon the unique power of thankfulness as a way of perseverance, and we would do well to heed this ancient wisdom in our day.
And yet the challenge of thanksgiving is its elusive nature. We can force a smile and pleasantries, but we cannot manufacture true thanksgiving. But we can fight to cultivate it, and the fight takes place in the arena of perspective. As a Christian, I believe that everything we enjoy is born of grace. Everything from the momentary breath in my lungs to the eternal salvation of my soul is an undeserved gift from my Creator, and this perspective is devastating to my proclivity toward bitterness. Perhaps you don’t share this worldview that demands such extreme thankfulness, but at the very least, you can admit that your blessings far exceed your troubles.
This is the perspective our culture is desperate for. We don’t need more partisan hot takes. We don’t need more sarcastic memes. We don’t need more comment section debates. We don’t need more “cry-ins” from millennials or “suck it up” from boomers. We need to give thanks. We desperately need to cultivate the redemptive power of Thanksgiving.
So let us gather with family and friends, let us enact our beloved traditions, let us laugh and feast, and let us remember just how blessed we truly are.
The Rev. Robert Cunningham is senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on November 23, 2016.