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A Simple Thanksgiving

(In his sermon at Christ United this past week, the Rev. Chris Dowd referenced the Thanksgiving proclamation delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It prompted me to reprint my Thanksgiving column from 2016, which I think you will find to still be relevant.)

Though there were precedents dating all the way back to George Washington, Thanksgiving as a federal holiday was inaugurated by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He began his proclamation with these remarkable words:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

A casual perusal of the historical context of that proclamation is rather stunning. The Civil War was raging, and only a few weeks later Lincoln would deliver his immortal Gettysburg Address at the battlefield/cemetery which had seen combined casualties in excess of 50,000. When the Appomattox surrender documents were finally signed on April 9, 1865, over 600,000 Americans had lost their lives, by far the costliest war in American history. American soil was littered with graves, and American farms, villages, and cities were populated by a million orphans and widows. And yet Lincoln spoke of blessings and bounties and the “ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

I’ve had many thoughts about what to say on this Thanksgiving Day, a day in which America seems to be especially divided and rancorous over our current political and policy debates. I have settled on just one. If we Americans continue to define ourselves primarily as political creatures, it is difficult to be optimistic in the short term. But if we define ourselves first as neighbors and lovers of freedom, as respecters of others with whom we disagree, as eternal optimists who share the American vision, as the inheritors of a resilient ancestry that pulled America back together after the Civil War, as those who, in spite of differences, have fallen in love with the “amber waves of grain” and “purple mountain majesties,” we will begin rebuilding. We will not wait on our leaders. We will begin today as we sit around the table, put aside our politics, and give thanks “for the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

Rev. Don Underwood