In my house, we have a great tradition on Thanksgiving: We go around the table, and each person in my family explains what they're most thankful for. It's always meaningful and often hilarious (when the second of my three younger sisters was about 5, for example, she responded, "I am thankful for my lips"). That's what Thanksgiving is about: sharing time with family and giving thanks to God for all of our blessings.
This year, it's difficult to feel especially thankful. Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi; the war in Iraq continues; the threat of terrorism remains real. But perhaps that's the challenge of Thanksgiving -- remembering, even in the face of tragedy and hardship, that there is so much to be grateful for.
So here is what I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving: I am thankful to God that I live in a country of patriots with true American values. And I am thankful that God continues to guard us. I have faith that He will continue to guard and keep us as long as we strive to bring Godliness to our own lives and to the lives of others.
That cosmic mission -- to spread American values across the globe in order to protect American values at home -- is difficult, rife with pain and sacrifice. At the same time that we thank God for his beneficence, we must thank those fighting every day to secure the blessings God has granted us. To that end, I spoke last week with Charlie Daniels, the founder of the fantastic Charlie Daniels Band. Daniels is heading up Operation Heartstrings, a "plea to corporate America to help the dedicated men and women serving in the Armed Forces overseas … by providing instruments, albums, DVDs, CD and DVD players," according to Daniels' website. (You can learn more about Operation Heartstrings and give at starsforstripes.com.)
Daniels is a uniquely American figure -- his America is the America for which I am thankful. Daniels, whose new album, "Songs from the Longleaf Pines," is an uplifting mix of country, bluegrass, gospel and psalm-reading, described his vision of patriotism thus: "This country was founded on a Judeo-Christian principle -- it makes no difference what the ACLU says about it. Why would we deny our Judeo-Christian heritage? Why, after 200 years of prosperity and blessing, would we turn our back on the Almighty? Patriotism is about doing what's best for the country -- and the best thing for this country is to get back to God again. That's what's going to have to happen in this country if we're going to stay who we are and keep our place in the world."
For this uncompromising vision of America, Daniels has taken a huge amount of flak. But he doesn't back down in the face of adversity. "If I'm the last man standing, and I believe in something, I'm going to say what I want. I get criticism for the way I feel -- some people in the press don't like it, but too darn bad. I can't live with lying," he told me. "You should stick by your own guns." Backbone. That's what America is all about. Standing alone is not a crime, as long as you're standing on the side of the right.
This is a kind of muscular Americanism the moral relativist left cannot stand, and Daniels knows it. But he isn't going to worry about being called a hick or a rube. "The people who think like that are ignorant," Daniels explained. "I'm a redneck, and I'm proud of it. I like guns, hunting, fishing, football, NASCAR, riding horses. I don't care a thing about sophistication. I'm totally politically incorrect and I don't care who knows it … And I think Americans, as they get older, come around to this way of thinking. People get out in the world, have to get a job, and they find out that the problems people are dealing with are everyday problems … When you're young, and the world's not affecting you, it's very easy to be liberal in thought. When it all falls on your shoulders, your thought turns around. And that's purely American."
Some surely believe that Daniels' America is passe, a relic of the past. Some surely believe that Daniels' music, religious and authentically American, reflects an unwashed backwardness. I believe that Daniels' America is alive and thriving. And, like Daniels, I thank God -- and the men and women standing in harm's way -- that it is.