Thanks plus giving

Posted: Nov 27, 2003 12:00 AM

On Thanksgiving two years ago, after an autumn of terrorism and rumors of terrorism, most Americans understood that every day not dated Sept. 11 was a good day. Frustration at work? Dispute at home? Both sad, but not fatal. Many thanked God that we were able to go about our business, although with increased vigilance; that we were able to live our lives, but with increased appreciation of simple pleasures; that we were free to pray and worship, with praise for His everyday, tender mercies.

Now, we see a lot of grumbling against those who protect us against terrorism. Instead of seeing that our military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq have put terrorists on the defensive, we grumble. Instead of thinking that the vigorous work of John Ashcroft and others may have something to do with our safety during the past two years, pundits condemn the Patriot Act. How quickly we forget.

Many Americans also grumble against God and are suckers for anything that tears down the Bible. Exhibit A: "The DaVinci Code," No. 1 on at least four best-seller lists (Publisher's Weekly, USA Today, American Booksellers Association, Barnes & Noble). The novel, given huge publicity by an ABC News special early this month, posits the existence of a 2,000-year-old cover-up of the purported marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The credulity of skeptics is enormous: The conspiracy supposedly has been headed up by French kings, Sandro Botticelli, Leonard da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and others.

Back in the 1600s, Pilgrims and Puritans liked to tell dramatic shipwreck stories concerning thanksgiving and forgetting. One vivid tale described John Avery and Thomas Thacher clinging to a rock when their boat was shipwrecked. With the next wave likely to sweep them away, Avery, according to Thacher, said, "We know not what the pleasure of God is; I fear we have been too unmindful of former deliverances." He then spoke of his faith that God would "bring us safe to heaven, through the all-sufficient satisfaction of Jesus Christ."

Many of us pray for the faith of Avery and also pray that another wave of terrorism will not come to these shores. We should thank God for the protection He has given us, and we should then give to others -- people in Iraq and Afghanistan who want freedom, people here in this blessed country who want to change their lives so as to share in the bounty.

On my University of Texas office door a few years ago sat a cartoon (until someone ripped it away) depicting two Pilgrims sitting across from two Indians. One of the Indians is saying, "Rumor has it you're from the religious right." That cartoon was (might as well acknowledge this) an in-your-face reminder to hostile colleagues who think that Christians who gain a place at a state university should be thankful enough to be silent about God.

The cartoon, though, also reminded me of mutuality: Friendly natives showed needy settlers how to grow food for the body, and Christians offered fresh food for the soul. These days, volunteers at Thanksgiving meals for the homeless often pass out food without really talking with the eaters, but true interaction can often help both sets of individuals: Men and women in the gutter can learn to step heavenward, and the helpers can see with their own eyes how God changes people.

After all, affluent people with changed hearts often remain the same in outward appearance, but it's a pleasure at Christian missions to see men who used to sit in vomit-soaked stupor now dressing cleanly and singing hymns. And that's a reason for deep thanksgiving: All of us were in a stupor at one time, and God has changed the hearts of many of us. May He change many more.