is truly a human trait. It often evidences itself as an emotion that bubbles up
from deep within the human spirit. A near traffic accident might cause even the
most calloused of people to utter a brief word of thanks to whatever entity or
what is it that brings out an attitude of thankfulness from the animal class in
the world known within the scientific community as Homo sapiens? Homo sapiens
is Latin for “the wise humans,” or “the clever humans.” Well, I would suggest
that thankfulness is a divine quality that emanates directly from God. He is
the one who made us so that we can experience the full range of senses and
emotions that are intended to round us out as human beings. In fact, a person
who lacks this quality is considered to be seriously deficient in their
character. Typically a person who fails to demonstrate thankfulness is regarded
as self-centered, a bore, and is probably someone who lacks the capacity for
caring and being compassionate.
you are reading this in the paper you are preparing to enjoy the pleasantries
of a sumptuous feast tomorrow, no doubt to be enjoyed with family and close
friends. Many prayers of thanks will be offered over golden roast turkey, mounds
of mashed potatoes, bowls of beans, heapings of stuffing, generous slices of
pumpkin pie with a healthy daub of whipped cream, accompanied by a freshly
brewed cup of coffee. It is factored that you and I will consume roughly 3,500
calories in this one meal on Thanksgiving Day.
were the original pilgrims thankful for way back in 1621? The main emphasis of
thanks on the part of those first settlers on America’s shore was that they had
managed to see some of them through a very cold winter with little in the way
of food and clothing to fight against the oppressive elements. In the spring of
1621, Indians (Native Americans) approached the greatly depleted pilgrims and
offered to show them how to properly plant corn and other successful agricultural
methods. Later in the fall after bringing in an abundant harvest, the pilgrims
invited the Indians to join them in a Harvest Celebration. The food most likely
consisted of deer meat, wild turkey, and a mash of vegetables. Games and feats
of skill were entered into with great relish. Settler children and Indian children
taught each other the games they often played. The feasting and celebrating
continued for many days, and a good time was had by all.
the one overarching thought on the part of the settlers was their attitude of
thanks toward God for seeing them through these early challenging months in the
New World. Many of the pilgrims survived the arduous crossing of the Atlantic
Ocean on the Mayflower, only to succumb to disease or illness in what was one
of the coldest winters on records in 1620 at that time.
addition to being thankful for their lives being spared, they were beginning to
enjoy the reality of being a free people. They worshipped as they chose without
the ever present Church of England spies reporting them to the authorities. This
liberty was intoxicating, and coupled with the drafting of the Mayflower
Compact by Governor William Bradford, this document was the genesis of what was
to become the United States Constitution some 160 years later.
you can see, the pilgrims were thankful for a whole different set of circumstances
than we might be today, although in either case the thanks should be directed
to God. The Bible instructs us to approach God always in an attitude of
thanksgiving. Even in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of 1913, the definition
for Thanksgiving is, “A public acknowledgment
or celebration of divine goodness; also, a day set apart for religious
services, specially to acknowledge the goodness of God, either in any
remarkable deliverance from calamities or danger, or in the ordinary
dispensation of his bounties.” This definition seems to have had the pilgrims in mind.
It was in 1777 that General
George Washington and his army were on the way to Valley Forge. They stopped in
blistering weather in open fields to observe the first Thanksgiving of the newly
established United States of America.
When you gather
around the table consider this poem, Thanksgiving
Observance (unknown author). “Count your blessings instead of your crosses; Count your gains instead
of you losses. Count your joys instead of your woes; Count your friends instead
of your foes. Count your smiles instead of your tears; Count your courage
instead of your fears. Count your full years instead of your lean; Count your
kind deeds instead of your mean. Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself.”
And everyone said – Amen!
other day I was thinking about a special time that occurred in the summer of
1991. For my youngest daughter, Jenny, it became one of those life lessons that
would be character forming.
had just finished a year of study on my doctorate when the family and I flew to
Alaska to spend some time with my brother and his family in Anchorage. We had
lots of things planned during this visit. We spent several days at Denali Park
camping out and hiking through the spectacular terrain around Mount McKinley. But
the trip that capped it all off was a five-day hike on the Resurrection Pass Trail.
brother, John, had been helping with the youth group at his church, and every June
they would take this 39 mile jaunt down the Resurrection Pass Trail North,
camping each night at a predetermined location. During this hike the elevation changed
from 500 to 2600 feet above sea level. Each person packed their own stuff,
which included clothing, bedding and food.
church youth group consisted of about a dozen or so high school kids. My
brother’s son, Josh, was in high school, but his sister, Abi, and my girls,
Laura and Jenny were several years younger. The question was, could our girls
hang with these older kids on a very challenging trek through this rugged wilderness
area. Laura and Abi were twelve with Abi celebrating her 13th
birthday out on the trail. Jenny, on the other hand, was nine. We discussed all
of this with the girls and they said they wanted to go.
day had us all gathering at a remote location where the trail began. There was
nothing else around. After taking pictures of the whole group, we said our
goodbyes to our wives and waved as they drove off. The teens immediately took
off running down the trail. Jenny slipped into her backpack and started walking.
I knew that the two of us would be bringing up the rear, so I was in no hurry. I
noticed that after about 50 yards Jenny had stopped. As I walked up to her she
looked at me with a look of consternation. “Oh Daddy,” said wailed, “this pack
is so heavy!” “Well,” I said, “you’ll get used to it. Let’s go.” I made like I
was going to continue down the trail, but Jenny wasn’t having any of that. “Oh
Daddy, it’s so heavy!” she moaned. “I’d be willing to trade backpacks with you,”
I said, “but yours weighs about 25 pounds and mine weighs about 70.” Tears were
forming in her eyes, so I stopped and said, pointing back to the parking lot, “Your
mother and aunt just drove back to Anchorage going that-a-way. We’re hiking
this-a-way,” pointing toward the mountains in the opposite direction. “When we
get to the end of the trail in five days that’s where your mother and aunt will
be waiting to pick us up.” “But Daddy . . .” she pleaded. I said, “If you like,
we can just sit down here and wait with the hope that someone will come along
and rescue us, or we can hike this trail and catch up with the rest and have a
good time. I’ll let you decide.” And I sat down on the trail to wait. After a
bit she realized I wasn’t kidding, so she mumbled, “Okay,” and started down the
rest of the morning was a constant complaint of the pack being too heavy, and the
trail is rough, etc. We arrived at our first camp in time for lunch. Jenny saw
the kids running around and playing so she dropped her pack and joined in the games.
After lunch we headed out again. The moaning began once again and lasted
throughout the afternoon until we broke for dinner. She played with the kids
again before we hit the sack, only to start the process all over again the next
morning. “Oh Daddy . . .” it began and lasted until our noon break. At that point
she seemed to realize she wasn’t going to die out here, and she decided this
was kind of fun.
we were plodding along we were coming through what is known as “The Devil’s
Pass.” The wind was blowing very hard and it was cold. Then we were pelted with
hail. Since Jenny and I were still pulling up the rear, we decided to sit down
and take cover until the hail stopped. John wandered back down the trail to
check on us, but we were fine and enjoying the whole experience.
special moment was when John baked a birthday cake over an open fire for Abi.
It was something you had to see, but it worked and everyone helped polish it
the final day we stopped for lunch alongside a river with a cascade of
waterfalls creating a pristine setting. But we had about five miles to go to
reach the end, so we stepped out smartly knowing Isaura and Lynne would be
picking us up soon. Jenny took off at a run trying to catch up with her sister
and cousin. She suddenly stopped. I noticed the pack was hanging off her
shoulder. The strap, which attached at the bottom part of the pack, had
detached. I fiddled with it and finally jury-rigged it so Jenny could carry it,
albeit, awkwardly. But she soldiered on without complaint.
trail ended in a series of switch-backs through trees down into a parking lot.
When Jenny saw that parking lot she took off running down the trail. As I
watched her I also saw Lynne and Isaura drive into the parking lot.
Fortunately, Lynne had the presence of mind to grab her camera. She took a
picture of Jenny just as she broke out of the trees racing full tilt toward the
was a wonderful experience for all of us. But what made it so special was the
lesson Jenny learned. Since that day she has never hesitated to tackle
difficult challenges. Today she’s married with two kids, and she is in a
business partnership. And in her spare time she runs half-marathons!
local radio talk show host has been using as one of his promos the line, “Free
Speech Zone? Free Speech Zone? The whole country is a free speech zone!”
though the guy was stating the obvious, it begs the question: Why did he feel
the need to make such a statement?
me to offer some thoughts on this. The United States Constitution establishes
for all Americans rights that are inherent to living in America. The Bill of
Rights were written to insure that we the people would be guaranteed these rights
in the eventuality that someone, or some entity, would come along and attempt
to alter, restrict, or remove this right. The Constitution was officially
ratified in 1787, but it was four years later that the Bill of Rights was ratified
and attached to the Constitution. These rights were hewn out of the life
experiences these Founding Fathers had already lived.
Christopher Columbus opened the way to the New World, those nations which were
historically monarchies jumped on the bandwagon by expanding their reach and
power around the world. The big dogs in this race for power and expansion were
England, France, Spain and Portugal. There were others, but they were
relatively minor, particularly in their influence in the Americas. Spain
gobbled up almost all of South and Central America including a significant
portion of the Western United States. France primarily grabbed Louisiana and
the Mississippi River spreading out through what is “Fly-Over Country” in the
U.S. today, plus a significant portion of Eastern Canada. Portugal was a lesser
player, but they managed to snag a prized section of South America: Brazil, which
is the largest country in South America encompassing the Amazon River.
wound up being the top dog by having control of the Eastern U.S. and the
majority of Canada. Here’s where the trouble began. The monarchy of an English
king ruling over the colonies in the New World by fiat was increasingly onerous
to the colonists. They were treated like second class citizens, and
increasingly taxed without anyone acting as an advocate for them in the halls
of the English Parliament. Thus the phrase many of us learned in school about
our American History, “No Taxation Without Representation!”
remember that the original colonists coming to America in 1607 was to escape
religious persecution and manipulation. England had devolved into a single
religion nation. If you did not openly embrace the Church of England, you were
persecuted, intimidated and generally harassed by the monarchy and the Church. Church
attendance was required. An itinerant English street preacher in the mid-1600s,
John Bunyan, was arrested and imprisoned for many years for preaching the
Gospel. Little wonder that the colonists penned the First Amendment as they
did! No establishment of religion (i.e., a state run religion); and prohibiting
the free exercise thereof (i.e., worship as your conscience dictates).
pesky colonists in America were ignored in their attempts to gain the attention
of the monarchy. The king and the Parliament were content as long as the
supplies of tobacco and cotton kept coming into English ports. This growing
discontent on the part of the colonists ultimately brought about a need to “Put
up, or shut up.”
American Revolution was inevitable due to the English royalty’s disregard for
the plight of their charges in the Americas. It is often believed that all the
colonists were in favor of revolution. This was not the case. It has been
speculated that as much as 1/3 of the colonists were opposed to war with England.
Mostly they were successful businessmen, tradesmen, and farmers who were still
making a profit despite the increasingly oppressive taxation being levied
against them. “Don’t upset the apple cart,” would have been their mantra. Leave
well-enough alone. Or as we hear today, “You go along to get along.”
reason I have taken the time to give you a thumbnail sketch of the historical
events leading to our American Revolution is so that you can once again
appreciate the reason the Founding Fathers made sure we the people would have
rights available to us that were so blatantly ignored previously by high-brow
elites in Europe. This is why the First Amendment is so crucial, and it sets
the stage for the other rights drafted in that 1791 document.
“Congress shall make
no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the
right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a
redress of grievances.”
yes, the First Amendment is crucial to all our freedoms. Never surrender this
right! America is a Free Speech Zone because of the Bill of Rights. And for
that, you should thank God.
up I remember reading about heroes. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln,
Christopher Columbus, Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, Sergeant Audie Murphy,
Sergeant Alvin York, Harriet Tubman, Davy Crockett, Ira Hayes, General Jimmy
Doolittle, and Jackie Robinson, to name a few.
me ask you: Have you heard about any heroes lately? You see, I’m very careful
of who I regard as a hero. There are numerous definitions for hero. However,
the definition I choose to use is, “A hero is a person who performs
extraordinary deeds for the benefit of others.” Now add this as part of the
definition: “a very brave person, one who
has committed a courageous act.”
with those definitions, let me state what I do not think merits hero status.
First: athletes. Particularly, football players. I may get in trouble with my
barbershop pals because we just performed our annual concert in which we sang a
song entitled, Football Hero. But seriously, playing football, even if you’re
the best at what you do, in no way raises you to hero status. It’s a game.
movie stars. John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Stewart are
actors – not heroes. I love these guys as actors! They frequently played the
roles of real-life heroes. And unquestionably they are great actors. But they
are not heroes.
politicians. There is far too much self-aggrandizement, egotism, and personal
advancement in the halls of government at all levels. Some of their adherents
will blindly follow their rise to power believing these elected officials are
above reproach. They may be well-intentioned, but they frequently delve into
sycophantic patterns willingly embracing political and philosophical tenets
that they previously opposed. These politicians may attempt great things, but
they are not heroes.
three categories are not the only groups that I find unsuitable for heroes to
emerge, but it will suffice for this article.
folks that I find to be in the hero category are more likely to be unknown,
rarely becoming a household name. In recent years I would add the name of Todd
Beamer to my list. Couple that with firemen and policemen who charged into
harm’s way knowing the dangers they faced. They went anyway. Hundreds lost
their lives on 9-11.
then, I have been humbled by the courage and commitment of our young men and
women serving in the best military in the world. They are not driven to serve
by political ideology, or religious zeal, like so many of our nation’s enemies
are. They simply love America, and believe she is a nation worth fighting for
up to and including the laying down of their lives if need be.
come in all shapes and sizes, and typically they are self-effacing. They do not
believe they are doing anything extraordinary. They are convinced that anyone
in their shoes would do the same thing. Just listen to the remarks made by the
recipients of the Medal of Honor. There is no attempt to credit themselves for
their recognition. In fact, most would say something like, “The real heroes are the ones who didn’t come home.”
those I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my heroes today wear, or
have worn a uniform: law enforcement, fire, and military. My brother, John,
tops the list. He was a Marine helicopter pilot. He flew the CH46 Sea Knight in
Vietnam in 1967 when Marine 2nd Lieutenant helicopter pilots had a 2
minute life expectancy in a combat zone. Despite that he racked up more than
220 combat missions, earning 11 air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross
(DFC). After completing five years of active duty he remained in the active reserve
for the next 28 years, retiring as a colonel.
my role as a Navy chaplain during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation
Iraqi Freedom, it was my responsibility early on in that war to greet the
planes bringing back our first wounded. Then, for those capable of continued
service, I made arrangements for their reintroduction to their units once they
were cleared. In all that time, not once did I hear a young sailor or Marine
complain about what happened to them. In fact, many of them were anxious to
rejoin their units and reengage in the fight. You won’t ever know their names.
And truth be told, I have forgotten the names of most of them, but their
attitude, their commitment to preserving our freedom, and their willingness to
place on hold their futures so you and I can be secure in our homes is what
makes them heroes to me.
10th is the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, and November
11th is Veterans Day. Take a moment to pray for our troops. And if
you run into someone serving, or having served, just tell them “Thanks.” They
will probably be embarrassed and not know what to say. But they will appreciate
it more than you could possibly know.
see, they are my kind of heroes.