Author Archives: Bill

11.25.2021 – Thanksgiving Day

In this past Friday’s post I suggested Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation and Edward Winslow’s letter from Plymouth Plantation (December 1621) as critical to our understanding of the nation’s Thanksgiving Day traditions.  Enjoy the read.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Continue reading

11.19.2021 – Don’t Rain on My Thanksgiving Day Parade

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
                make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
                tell of all his wondrous works! Psalm 105:1–2 (ESV)

Both we and our fathers have sinned;
                we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness. Psalm 106:6 (ESV)

Becky and I are heading out of town next week to spend Thanksgiving with our son and his family. I will be too busy with LEGOS to write a new Observations post, so I think I will do what I have done frequently in the past. I will post Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation which established our fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day tradition. That or Edward Winslow’s description of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621. Maybe both.

I am a traditionalist and find these traditional sources for the history of the holiday to be not only personally satisfying, but historically most honest. The holiday is rooted in the reality of what happened in 1621 and 1863. I am also aware of the minority – or now majority – reports that will be posted by the revisionists rightly decrying the oppression of indigenous peoples from Plymouth on and the still-unfulfilled promises of our founding.

What shall it be? A traditional Thanksgiving or the revisionist version? Is it possible to give thanks, to enjoy family, and to celebrate our history without a cloud of oppression and injustice casting its cold shadows on our feast day? Must it rain on our Thanksgiving Day parade?

The Psalms help us.

Psalm 105 is among the many thanksgiving psalms, and, at 45 verses, longer than most. Beginning with a call to give thanks, the Psalm goes on to retell the story of God’s faithfulness to his people from the call of Abraham to the exodus from Egypt. “Oh give thanks to the Lord!” We need not claim to be a chosen nation to give thanks to God for his mighty deeds in human history.

Psalm 106 also opens with thanksgiving:

Praise the LORD!
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD,
or declare all his praise?

The psalm continues with a blessing to those who observe justice and do righteousness. Biblical thanksgiving may require of us more than just eating a big meal.

Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!

The verse that startles me every time I read Psalm 106 is verse 6: Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.

The next 41 verses tell the story of the unfaithfulness of God’s own people. We and our fathers have sinned.

O that all of us from MAGA right to woke left would have the courage to confess what the psalmist confesses. Traditionalist or revisionist, we have sinned. We have committed iniquity and have done wickedness.

Together we must sing with great thanks of purple mountain majesty and then beseech God with lament and sorrow to mend our every flaw:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

Plymouth’s pilgrims were not the least bit interested in preserving the norms of the dominant culture. Traditionalists should not make them partisans in our culture wars. The revisionists, on the other hand, seem to find joy in casting their critical-of-all things-American gloom on our celebration of Thanksgiving Day. They should not be invited to the family dinner unless they promise to behave.

What, then, shall we do with Psalm 106:6? If we might manage to get traditionalists and revisionists at the same table, how do we, all of us, acknowledge our sins and our fathers’ sins?  And how shall we get about the business of observing justice and doing righteousness?

In fact, we need a National Day of Lamentation and Repentance in addition to the National Day of Thanksgiving. Like Psalm 106, the day could begin with thanks and then, sadly, recall the stories of our unfaithfulness to the God who sheds his grace on us, our betrayal of the “patriot dream that sees beyond the years the alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.” It seems likely that neither the MAGA right nor the woke left would support such an idea, however; the one unable to see any wrong, the other incapable of admitting any good.

This coming Thursday I plan on remembering the harvests of 1621 and 1863 as we give thanks to God for his bounty and his love. The nation cannot afford not to have a Day of Thanksgiving.

Maybe Black Friday should be a day to lament and repent.

It is more than a set-aside day or two, however. The Psalms remind us we must hear the call to observe justice and do righteousness at all times.

11.12.2021 – No Thanks to a Brave New World

Until recently, I did not know there is such a thing as an anarchist anthropologist. David Graeber, who died a little over a year ago, was perhaps the best known of those in the fellowship of anarchist anthropologists. Now posthumously, Graeber with co-author David Wengrow, an archaeologist, have just published a book that has attracted the attention of reviewers and columnists. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, a 700-page tome, is apparently as ambitious as its title suggests.

Drawing from research and insights gathered by archaeologists and anthropologists anarchist and otherwise, the authors argue that things did not have to turn out the way they have. We could have been much happier than we are.

The New York Times recently published an essay adapted from the book. The headline tells the story: “Ancient History Shows How We Can Create a More Equal World.” In the essay Graeber and Wengrow argue that the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was mistaken when he contended that humans are born inherently noble and good only to be corrupted by inherently unjust and inequitable social systems and institutions. Oh, they agree with Rousseau about our inherent goodness, they just don’t think systems and institutions have to be unjust and inequitable. Noble savages can be noble city dwellers. They insist that we have created just and equitable systems and institutions suited to our just and egalitarian natures before and that we can do it again. Continue reading

11.05.2021 – The Hellish Hills of Indiana

The word “flat” as a descriptor for Indiana is understandable, but not altogether accurate. Compared to Colorado with its Rockies, the Sierra Nevada of California, or the Cascades of Oregon and Washington, the terrain in Indiana is pretty flat. As we are settling into our second year in Indiana, however, we are enjoying the little bit of un-flatness of at least our corner of the state. Geologists tell us the glaciers that carved the Great Lakes extended into northern Indiana and as they receded they left the terminal and lateral moraines which became the hills around us. They are not high hills, certainly not mountains, but rolling hills and hundreds of small lakes, great in their own way.

More flat than hilly, our neighborhood still has a bit of rise and fall in the landscape. You notice it when you are out walking or, especially, when you are running. You push a little harder on the small hills and run just a tiny bit faster on the slight downhills.

There is a hill – if you can call a few yards of upward slope a hill – on my morning running route. I’d be embarrassed to point it out to my jogging friends in California or Oregon, but I notice it as I am trotting along. Just a little hill that requires a little extra push. I make it to the top every time. Continue reading

10.29.2021 – The Semi-Pelagianism of Chutes and Ladders

Is that the best post title ever or what? Semi-Pelagianism is a soteriological heresy and I am not sure the children’s board game Chutes and Ladders is primarily concerned with instruction in soteriology, but still it makes for the best post title of all time.

As our children grew older, we (Becky) decided to save some of their toys and games for that someday when we might have grandchildren around the house. Well, that someday has arrived and what a good decision it was to hang on to some of those games and toys. Old Legos are better than new Legos, and there is something about a vintage doll that makes her all the more precious. The boards on old board games are sturdier and the spinners on the dials are still spinning well after all these years.

Among the games we saved is Chutes and Ladders. Continue reading