Wednesday, January 25, 2017

An Education in Civics

(by David Barton – WallBuilders)

The Inauguration of Donald Trump was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was that six different individuals offered prayers, with four of those prayers ending in Jesus’ name and the other two openly quoting from the Bible. Ministers were once again allowed to pray according to the dictates of their own conscience, as originally intended by the US Constitution.

Another unique feature of his Inauguration was the large number of protesters present. Most were Millennials, and while some focused on single subjects, others were still protesting the general election results. Among the latter group, a common protest sign was, “Trump is not my president.” But that statement says more about our education system than it does about those who held the signs. It affirms the failure of American education in four areas: American history, government, Constitution, and truth.

First, the sign was intended to express their outrage over the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes but lost the presidency—an outcome they believed was unprecedented in the history of American elections. Only it wasn’t. The identical thing has happened in several other presidential elections. Shame on schools for not teaching basic American history and why such outcomes occur.

Second, the message on the sign was rooted in the protestors’ mistaken belief that America is a democracy. But we are not. Those who formed our government hated democracies and wisely protected us from them. For example, James Madison affirmed that “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention [and] incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.”

Founder Fisher Ames warned, “A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction,” and John Adams lamented that democracies “never lasts long.” For thousands of years, democracies have consistently proved to be a source of lurking disaster—an unpredictable form of government where passions and selfishness can prevail over reason and deliberation.

America was therefore established as a constitutional republic—what John Adams described as “a government of laws and not of men.” Shame on schools for not teaching basic American government.

Third, the “Trump is not my president” sign affirmed their unawareness of how presidents are to be elected according to the Constitution—an election process that mirrors our federal bicameral system. For example, Wyoming has half-a-million citizens, but California has 39 million. So, in the US House, Wyoming gets only one Congressman while California gets fifty-three, and California will beat Wyoming on every vote in the House. 

But in the Senate, California gets only two Senators—the same as Wyoming; the representation is solely by state, and every state has equal voting strength with all others. This is a prominent feature in our federal system. A bill is not passed merely by the House, which reflects the popular vote; it also must be passed in the Senate, which reflects the vote by states.

The protesters believe that only the national popular vote matters. But even though Mrs. Clinton garnered the votes of most of the largest cities in America, she did not win the majority of the states, cities, or counties. In fact, Trump won 30 of the 50 states, more than 80% of America’s 3,141 counties, and an equally lop-sided percentage of its 35,000 cities. The protestors were unaware (as are most Americans) that the Constitution establishes an election system that balances diverse measurements.

Finally, the declaration that “Trump is not my president” establishes a personal opinion as the ultimate measure of right and wrong—that truth is whatever I believe or declare it to be. But the problem with this is that there are absolutes. Jump off the Empire State Building and see what happens. On the way down you may personally object to what is happening, or be offended by it, or even vehemently disagree with it, but none of that will change the results. There is no alternate reality - none.

It’s time that Americans demand that their schools once again teach American history (so students know that the popular vote winner does not always win the presidential election), American government (so they know we are a republic and not a democracy), the Constitution (so they understand our bicameral federal and election system), and absolute truth (that personal opinion must submit to truth and reality).

If we don’t make these changes, we will not want to imagine, much less experience, the horrifying results from Abraham Lincoln’s warning that “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

(My thanks to WallBuilders and David Barton for allowing me to publish this article.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: His Letter from Prison

I just finished reading two letters. Both letters were written in April 1963. The first entitled, “A Call for Unity”, was written by eight Alabama clergymen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The second letter was Dr. King’s reply, entitled, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

Allow me to provide the background that warranted the writing of the letters. African Americans were living under some of the most horrendous conditions. Their churches and homes were being firebombed. Jim Crow laws prevented them from sharing with whites in various public settings - their sense of worth was denied.

Civil rights leaders peacefully protested the injustices of segregation. In order to protest, even peacefully, it was necessary to break Alabama’s segregation laws. In responding to this situation, the eight clergymen wrote to Dr. King. Their letter was “an appeal for law and order and common sense.”

They asked for the discontinuation of the protests. They cautioned that the demonstrations were providing opportunities for others to become violent. Hence, in order to avoid possible violence, discontinue the demonstrations; obey the law and resort to dialog with the authorities.

Dr. King’s response from the Birmingham City Jail should be read by everyone interested in civil discourse. The spirit and tone of the letter is a lesson in civility and Christian grace. As he came to the end of the ten-page document (single-space), he said, “If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.”

Other than the tone of the letter, Dr. King’s response was well-reasoned, biblical and sensitive to needs of hurting people. Although he never challenged the good intentions of the clergymen, he clearly challenged their devotion to “order” at the expense of “justice”. In essence, the clergymen were asking that their peace be maintained, as peace was delayed and denied for others.

The clergymen believed Dr. King’s peaceful demonstrations were tantamount to extremism. To this charge, he reminded them that Jesus was an extremist for love. He called for a radical reaction to opposition – “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

As though that were not radical enough, Dr. King went on to cite the Old Testament prophet Amos. He was an extremist for justice when he said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

For Dr. King, the issue was not merely being branded as extremist, “but rather, what kind of extremists we will be.” He went on to ask, “Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, Dr. King contended, “any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” As such, all segregation laws were unjust – they damaged human personality. “Segregation gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

Here we are, almost 44 years since those letters were written and no one cares to know the names of those clergymen. However, Dr. King’s name and contribution are known around the world – as a matter of fact, to be able to honor his birthday with a national holiday speaks volumes.

In an article on the meaning of the holiday, the King Center website states that “the King holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.”

Today we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood King so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.

This year’s celebrations coincide with the ending of two terms of service by the first black president of the United States – what a tribute to Dr. King.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Peace on Earth?

The news headlines preceding Christmas 2016 were frightening – massacre in Germany, major threat averted in Australia, bombing in Syria, Libyan plane hijacked, and the list goes on. None of those events suggest that we are experiencing peace on earth.

Interestingly, the same could be said of the world in which Jesus was born. The philosophical and religious backgrounds of paganism in the first century left a sense of emptiness among many. For instance, belief in the reality of the ancient gods and goddesses of classical mythology resulted in widespread agnosticism.

Many sceptics deduced that the gods were originally men who had distinguished themselves either as warriors or benefactors of mankind, and who after their death were accorded divine honors.

What was aptly termed “the failure of nerve” characterized the moral and religious vacuum that many felt but could not overcome, despite the panaceas offered by a welter of competing teachers, philosophers, priests, astrologers and quacks.

Epictetus, a first century Roman historian and philosopher said of this era: “while the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, for which humanity yearns more than even for outward peace.” As emperor, Caesar Augustus ruled the nations, but could not conquer the human heart.

That was the religious and philosophical world into which Jesus came. That was the world which heard the angels say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14). So unlike today’s understanding of peace, the angels were not referring to the absence of war. They were declaring God's desire for harmonious relationships between men and nations.

Like with the Hebrew word shalom, peace means completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. Shalom comes from the root verb shalom meaning to be complete, perfect and full.

That understanding of peace is so different from those who believe that assuming a posture of strength dissuades potential attacks, consequently leading to peace – the absence of war. But peace is much more than the absence of war.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul linked peace to a person, and not merely to an ideology. He contended, “for He (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility... (Ephesians 2:14).

Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah predicted of the coming Messiah, that He would be sar shalom – Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus, who Christians believe is that Messiah, said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you...” (John 14:27). For this reason, Christians see Christmas as the arrival of the Prince of Peace.

Despite the isolated cases in history of using Christianity to incite and initiate wars, the Christian message is universally known as a message of peace.

Christianity influenced the abolition of slavery and infanticide. In addition, it is because of the Christian ethic that the outrage against euthanasia, sex trafficking and abortion persists.

Because Christians are expected to demonstrate the life of Christ as a lifestyle, we should constantly pursue peace. The biblical teaching is unambiguous, “... as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Christmas provides tremendous opportunities to illustrate this truth.

In 2015, an estimated $373 billion was received for charities from Americans. About $119 billion of that amount went to religious charities – including churches and para church organizations. That is more than what is spent by the federal government on education or human services. Interestingly, most of that money was received within ten weeks before Christmas.

This fact reminds me that every hour, during this month of December, there is a performance of Handel’s Messiah somewhere in the world. Since the musical was premiered on April 13, 1742, the response around the world has been phenomenal.

George Frideric Handel personally conducted more than thirty performances of Messiah. The millions of dollars that Handel’s performances raised for charity led one biographer to note, "Messiah has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan . . . more than any other single musical production in this or any country."

In essence, the proceeds have brought peace to many. It is that message of peace, about the Prince of Peace, that continues to bring wholeness and harmony to billions around the world. For this reason, there is no need for anyone to live in turmoil, knowing that God’s peace is available in the Christ of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

FAKE NEWS OR GOOD NEWS?

When I was a child, anything that was intended to mislead was called a lie – it was not the truth. Some have since described such lies as half-truths, and more recently as fake news.

According to the New York Times, fake news refers to fictitious articles, fabricated with the deliberate motivation to defraud readers. Generally, with the goal of profiting through “clickbait” (Internet content of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page).

PolitiFact described fake news as “fabricated content designed to fool readers and subsequently made viral through the Internet to crowds that increase its dissemination”. While in Germany recently, President Obama referred to fake news as “active misinformation”.

It is so sad when one cannot trust the media, committed to trustworthy communication. It is like we need a campaign for good news. News that is wholesome and reliable.

In a culture plagued with fake news, Good News is always good. That was true for the shepherds in Bethlehem when they were told by an angel “I bring you good news of great joy…” At that period in history, shepherds stood at the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same status as tax collectors and dung sweepers.

In reporting the story of the birth of Jesus, Luke says that the shepherds were “living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8). As second class and untrustworthy Jews, no one expected them to host angelic messengers.

Near-Eastern Studies scholar, the late Dr. Joachim Jeremias, contended that shepherds were despised in everyday life. They were deprived of all civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses. According to Jeremias, “to buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.”

One wonders, why would angels choose shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus? They could have opted for the religious or political elite of the day. It is obvious, even with the announcement of His birth, it would seem that the name of Jesus was never to be associated with snobbery and class prejudice - the good news was for everyone, not merely the elite.

The New Testament was clear in reporting the words of the angel – “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). We are reading this information more than 2,000 years later, and can confirm that the good news of Jesus’ birth continues to have a global audience and impact.

Interestingly, the term “good news,” is a single compound word in Greek. It is the same word from which we get the English word gospel. Hence, the gospel is good news. For New Testament writers, this was more than a play on words. They actually believed, witnessed and passionately taught that the coming of Jesus was good news to the world.

Many of those New Testament eyewitnesses gave their lives in the process of sharing the message of good news to the world. Thankfully, millions have followed them in paying the ultimate price to share with others the message and mission of Jesus. The impact of that sharing is evident, not only in the size of Christian churches, but more so in the influence of Christian values in society.

Even a cursory study of the history of hospitals and health care will recognize the contribution of the Christian message. The same can be said of major universities and education on a whole, especially in the western world.

Despite attempts to deconstruct history by deleting the role of Christianity in many institutions, it is more than apparent that Christianity influenced the abolition of slavery and infanticide. In addition, it is because of the Christian ethic that the outrage against euthanasia and abortion persists.

Sometimes one wonders, where would civilization be today without Christian notions of compassion and forgiveness? In attempting to answer, simply peruse the history of institutions like the Boy Scout movement, YMCA, Credit Union, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and so many others. Serious students of history in civil liberties, medicine, the arts, economics, science and the humanities, often express a sense of awe, because of the influence of Christianity in the birthing of these disciplines.

However, the good news of the birth of Jesus was not only intended to influence horizontal relationships. The birth was primarily intended to bring about vertical relationships with the God of heaven. Jesus Himself said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That fullness of life Jesus promised is both for now and eternity – that is good news.

Interestingly, the good news of Christmas is more than a once a year celebration. It is best reflected in a lifestyle, displayed throughout the year. Agreed, the Christmas season provides additional opportunities to care and share, but it does not stop there. It is a spirit that should influence us throughout the year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Virgin Birth: UNIQUE OR UNUSUAL?

Christianity is not unique in claiming that her founder was born of a virgin. It is believed that some
pagan deities were also born miraculously of virgins, making the birth of Jesus nothing new in the history of world religions.

One Buddhist legend claims that Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha) mother, Maya, dreamt that a white elephant entered her side and that he was born miraculously from her side.

Egyptian mythology contends that the goddess Isis was a virgin when she gave birth to the god Horus. In Tibet, it is believed that goddess Indra’s mother was a virgin. Some allege the same can be said of the Greek god Adonis or of Krishna, a Hindu god.

At least one New Testament scholar shares the view that Luke presented the story of Jesus’ birth in a way that would make sense to a pagan reader. “Luke knew,” this scholar contends, “that his readers were conversant with tales of other divine beings who walked the face of the earth, other heroes and demigods who were born of the union of a mortal with a god.” 

This historical backdrop leaves us with a critical question – does the birth of Jesus differ from other claims of virgin birth? I believe there are at least three reasons why Luke’s story of Jesus’ virgin birth is noticeably different.

Unlike other religions, Luke provided a story that was consistent with history, not legend. A legend is normally viewed as a story that evolved from within a community over a significant period of time. With time, such stories are believed to be factual, even though there is no tangible evidence to support that view.

History on the other hand conveys information that can be verified either through artifacts or credible documentation. In his opening verses, Luke establishes that this was done. (Luke 1:1-4). Like other Greco-Roman historians, Luke refers to the sources that were at his disposal and declares that upon careful examination of those sources, he was convinced that they were reliable.

That was the context in which Luke presented the story of the virgin birth of Jesus. No other religious claim of virgin birth matches Luke’s standard of historiography.

Unlike other religions, the virgin birth of Jesus is consistent with the deity of Jesus. To claim virgin birth is to make claim to an unnatural birth. With Jesus, it was more than just a claim – He lived an unnatural life. It was because of His claim of living unnaturally, He was eventually accused of blasphemy (The act of claiming for oneself the attributes and rights of God).

Interestingly, although it is alleged that the Buddha was born miraculously (of virgin birth), he was known to be “a practical person”. As he sensed his impending death, “he called his disciples and reminded them that everything must die.” So unlike Jesus who said, “Destroy this temple (my body), and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).

Unlike other religions, the virgin birth of Jesus is consistent with Bible prophecy. In every other virgin birth claim that is made, no claim precedes the birth. Claims were often made by followers, following the birth and in an attempt to boost the person born.

Some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah made this prediction of the coming Messiah: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Matthew in his gospel, was convinced that Isaiah was referring to the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:22-23).

Both Old and New Testament texts are clear - the biblical writers were not referring to unusual births like Isaac, Samuel or John the Baptist. There was something unique, not unusual, about the birth of Jesus. Ask Simeon, the priest who was on duty when Joseph and Mary went to dedicate baby Jesus.

In Simeon’s song (Nunc Dimittis), the priest was convinced that the child he was holding was no ordinary baby. In keeping with God’s promise to him that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, Simeon declared, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, You now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation...” (Luke 2:29-30).

As a careful historian, Luke anticipates the skepticism that would arise in telling the story, hence the inclusion of Mary’s question: “how will this be, since I am a virgin?” In addition, he quotes the angel as saying, “for nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:34,37).

To merely see the birth in the context of existing pagan traditions is a disservice to the honor that only Jesus deserves. Amidst the noises during this festive season, please make some time to reexamine what Simeon the priest discovered – “...my eyes have seen Your salvation...”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Is Christmas Christian?

Jesus never celebrated Christmas – neither did any of His disciples. Actually, for more than 300 years after the birth of Jesus, no one celebrated Christmas. The few birthday ceremonies we have recorded in the Bible were celebrated in non-Jewish communities.

Celebrating birthdays was never a Jewish practice. Because of the influence of Judaism on early Christianity, that non-interest became evident. The church even announced that it was sinful to contemplate observing Christ’s birthday “as though He were a King Pharaoh.”

The idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 was first suggested sometime in the year 300. Other dates like January 6, March 25 and May 20 were suggested. May 20 became a favored date since Luke stated in his report – the shepherds who received the announcement of Christ’s birth “were watching their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). It is believed that shepherds guarded their flocks day and night only at lambing time, in the spring.

The early church fathers debated their options and chose December 25 because this date may have had a connection with the pagan celebration of the Dies Solis Invicti (Day of the Invincible Sun). Some believe that the choice of December 25 provided Christians with an alternative festival in place of the one held in honor of the sun-god, who was often identified with Mithras. So, it was not until December 25, 337 AD/CE, Christians officially celebrated the first Christmas.

Some historians contend that in the early 300’s, the cult of Mithraism was a serious threat to Christianity. For a period of time Mithraism was even proclaimed to be the official state religion by Emperor Aurelian (274). It was not until the reign of Emperor Constantine, Christianity began to receive favor from the state.

In 337, Constantine gave December 25 his blessing to observe the birth of Jesus. With time the observance of Christmas eclipsed the pagan festival of honoring the birthday of Mithras.

Initially, the celebration of Christ’s birth was a sacred event. In Christ’s honor, there was Christ’s mass – from which we get the term Christmas - the suffix mas evolves from the Old English word maesse meaning festival, feast day or mass.

By the year AD 360 the church was intentionally celebrating the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. By AD 386, Chrysostom, the great church leader, emphasized, “...without the birth of Christ there is no Baptism, no Passion, no Resurrection, no Ascension and no Pouring out of the Holy Spirit ...’ ”

As the centuries unfolded, the tradition grew to include Epiphany, January 6, when the visit of the Wise men is celebrated – this celebration preceded the celebration of Christmas as we know it. It is on this day that the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas.

At this point in its evolving history, Christmas has adopted many traditions, many of these traditions from non-Christian sources. One tradition that has captured the season is the role of Santa Claus. The term is from the Dutch name 'Sinterklaas' – Saint Nicholas in English.

Saint Nicholas was born on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey sometime about 270 CE. He was the son of wealthy Christian parents who died when he was young - he was raised by an uncle, also called Nicholas, a Catholic Bishop of ancient Lycia. 

Saint Nicholas eventually became a priest during a dangerous time of persecution for Christians - he later became the Bishop of Myra. He was famous for his generous gifts to the poor and was also associated with kindness towards children. The images of Saint Nicholas usually show an old man with long, grey hair and a beard. In Roman Catholic tradition, the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas is December 6th – the day of his death.

In the 16th Century in Europe, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas had become very unpopular. But someone had to deliver gifts to children at Christmas, so in the United Kingdom, he became 'Father Christmas', a character from old children's stories. In France, he was then known as 'Père Nöel'; in Germany, the 'Christ Kind'.

Early in American history, the German image of ‘Christ Kind’ became known as 'Kris Kringle'. Later, Dutch settlers in America took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle became 'Sinterklaas' or as we now say 'Santa Claus'!

In the mix of traditions, it is easy to lose sight of the biblical story of the birth of Jesus Christ. In response, some Christians withdraw from the season. Others become so absorbed with the traditional trimmings, they lose sight of the main story.

For me, I reread the biblical story of Christ’s birth and use the season as an opportunity to recall the uniqueness of His birth, and not merely the traditions that surround the birth.

(This commentary first appeared in December 2014)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

My family observed our first American Thanksgiving in 1991. A few months earlier, we began our studies in a northern suburb of Chicago. We learned rather quickly that in America, Thanksgiving was a time for families to get together.

An American family invited us to join them for that first celebration. For five years, we celebrated with them in St. Louis. The joyous times made the 300-mile journey very tolerable. Now, twenty-five years later, the friendships we maintain are just as meaningful as in those early years.

When our family-group of twenty gather this week, I will be aware that our celebration would not be anything like the first American Thanksgiving. The first observance of Thanksgiving in America was entirely religious in nature and involved no form of feasting. On Wednesday, December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia. The charter of the group required that the day of arrival be observed as a Day of Thanksgiving to God.

The celebration was probably derived from the harvest-home ceremonies originally held in England. Those were days reserved to thank God for plentiful crops and a bountiful harvest. Accordingly, this holiday still takes place late in the Fall Season, after crops have been gathered.

In 1789, following a proclamation issued by President George Washington, America celebrated its first official Day of Thanksgiving to God under its new constitution. That same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church announced that the first Thursday in November would become its regular day for giving thanks, “unless another day be appointed by the civil authorities.”

Yet, despite these early national proclamations, official Thanksgiving observances usually occurred only at the State level. Much of the credit for the adoption of a later annual national Thanksgiving Day may be attributed to Sarah Joseph Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. For 30 years, she promoted the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day, contacting president after president until President Abraham Lincoln responded in 1863 by setting aside the last Thursday of November as a national Day of Thanksgiving.

Over the next seventy-five years, Presidents followed Lincoln’s precedent, annually declaring a national Thanksgiving Day. In 1941, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.

It is believed that the English idea of giving thanks for crops had its genesis among the Jews. In Leviticus 23:15-16, God commanded the Jews to count seven full weeks (49 days), beginning on the second day of Passover. The celebration was known by different names throughout the Bible. Among them were The Feast of Weeks, The Feast of the Fiftieth Day and the Day of Pentecost – from the Greek word pentecostes, meaning fiftieth.

Even with a cursory study of the Jewish, British and American practices of thanksgiving, a few common threads seem obvious. Each celebration was in keeping with harvest festivals and acknowledged God’s faithful provision.

In June Jews celebrate Shavuot – the biblical harvest festival. Normally, they spend hours studying the Torah, chant the Ten Commandments, read from the book of Ruth and decorate their homes and synagogues with roses and spices.

In America, it would seem as though the tradition of thanking God has been replaced by the eating of turkey. Some historians believe when colonists sat down to eat with native Indians, beef and fowl were on the menu. A letter written by pilgrim Edward Winslow confirmed this belief when he mentioned a turkey hunting trip before the meal.

Within modern times, the annual "pardoning" of White House turkeys is an interesting tradition that has captured the imagination of the public. It is often stated that President Lincoln’s 1863 clemency to a turkey was the origin for the pardoning ceremony. It is a rather trivial American tradition that the poultry industry looks forward to.

On a more serious note though, for what will you be giving thanks this week? As the patriarch at our Thanksgiving table, I will encourage my family to reflect on something within the last year. My list would very likely include my faith, health, family, church, career and upcoming retirement from pastoral ministry.

What would your list look like? What about saying thanks to at least five persons who had a positive impact on your life within the last year? Have fun. Happy Thanksgiving!