There is no more American of holidays than Thanksgiving. We all enjoy it. But have you ever thought about what it really implies? -Two things actually. One, it implies that someone or something other than ourselves is responsible for what we enjoy. Secondly, it implies charity, for thanks is something given. These two implications have traditionally been deeply woven into the fabric of who we are as a nation. But they have been eroding, of late at a greatly accelerated pace, and it is time to reclaim them. The erosion of both implications comes from a single thing – identity politics.
Regardless of how the Trump administration turns out, the election of Trump has already accomplished one very great thing. The bafflement remains prominent in the general media that Evangelicals voted for Trump when Trump is clearly not an Evangelical – and that is the great thing. Evangelicals have risen above identity politics. The supplication in my prayers of thanksgiving this year is that Evangelicals prove to be a harbinger and leader of the end of identity politics.
Argue about Christianity all you want, this nation has always acknowledged the divine. We have always had an understanding of something bigger than and greater than ourselves and further that that something is responsible for whatever good this nation has achieved. Can any idea be more antithetical to the politics of identity? The very concept of the divine puts identity into second place simply because identity is not divine. A big part of why this idea of the divine has made this nation great is the unity it builds. While we may have different identities, if they are in second place to the divine, we can unite under the banner of the divine.
At Thanksgiving, most of us think about giving our thanks to the divine. But we should also think of giving thanks to other people – and not just friends and family. Everybody who sets aside their identity for the sake of the divine or simply the nation is giving us a gift and we need to acknowledge that gift with gratitude – which in turn means we are setting aside our identity. That’s the truly amazing thing about gratitude – when we show it, when we give it, it makes us better people. Isn’t it fascinating that we improve as people not by claiming our identity, but by setting it aside and giving.
Most people, even non-Christians, know I Corinthians 13:13, “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” But most people do not know that the first time that verse was widely translated into English, the King James version of the Bible, it came out a bit differently:
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
It seems that in the English language love and charity are interchangeable. For too long we have thought we cannot love another until we love ourselves. But I see something different here, that we cannot love unless we give. Mustn’t that be true if love and charity are interchangeable? Thus hoarding love, or anything else for that matter, for ourselves (claiming our identity) is not loving at all. The easiest thing there is to give is gratitude. It costs us nothing other than acknowledging that someone else matters.
This Thanksgiving could be the Thanksgiving where we turn a corner – away from identity and back towards charity. The election just past indicates that the nation wants to get past the divisiveness of identity politics. It is true that many remain reluctant to follow the course, but we should be grateful for them as well. The charity we show to those that still hold identity so high can only serve to demonstrate to them that there is more than identity to cling to.
This Thanksgiving let’s really give thanks. I think it will make the dinner table much more enjoyable.