General

Thanks, For What?

TurkeySo.

Over the past few days, I’ve been hearing rather a lot about the need to make Thanksgiving a secular holiday, or how it’s possible to make Thanksgiving secular, or how “we eat turkey, but it’s not a religious thing for us.”  Uh, what?  Thanksgiving is a religious holiday?  Since when?  Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday, and this Sunday Advent begins, but Thanksgiving?  As I’ve always understood it, Turkey Day was basically Independence Day’s fat cousin– commemorating an (overrated) historical event.

Newsflash… Abraham Lincoln created Thanksgiving with the celebrated Executive Order in order to raise morale during the dark days of the American Civil War.  And the real “first Thanksgiving” involved rather a lot of murder and grave-robbing, if I’ve finally got the straight dope (finally).  Hmm… not that all religious holidays are lily-white, but this is sounding more and more like July 4th and less like Christmas.

It’s true that “giving thanks” does evoke the image of prayer, but it doesn’t have to.  In fact, it more evokes those sugary drawings we had to make in Kindergarten where everyone wrote “I am thankful for my parents” because they didn’t want to look bad by writing anything else.  In fact, if you round-robin the table and just rattle off things you’re thankful for, it’s more a statement of hard fact, rather than a statement of faith.  “I am thankful for scholarships,” versus, “I will not carve anything except the bird.”  The latter statement is entirely based on faith, as anyone who endures these big family dinners will attest.

Then again, carving someone other than the bird gels perfectly with this not-religious holiday’s history.

Sorry.  Thank the cook.  Thank each other for the lack of murders.  Thank God, if you’re so inclined.  And thanks for reading.

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Thank You, Dr. Luther!

An oft-recreated image.

An oft-recreated image.

I have this picture in my mind of a two panel comic strip with Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in panel one, and at the Diet of Worms in the second one with the caption, “Well, that escalated quickly.”

It’s actually a pretty accurate, if stripped down, version of events… Luther didn’t want to take on the Catholic Church and start a movement when he nailed his ninety-five topics for debate up, but the situation got, shall we say, out of hand.  Nearly 500 years later, here I am in the shaken up, but still quite lively Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

And for once, I don’t feel like giving a complex history lesson, so I’ll discuss what being a Lutheran means to me.  To start with, I’ll restate the first thing I learned in confirmation class ten years ago.  “Justification by grace through faith.”  Justified means “made right,” so we are made right by God’s grace, even though we don’t deserve it.  Being raised Lutheran in a very fire and brimstone part of the country, meant I knew that I was in the hands of a loving God when most of the people around me did not.  It was an odd, sometimes socially awkward arrangement, but it worked out for the best.  I do not fear death as many of the people I grew up with do, am not waiting for God to drop a brick on the spiderweb of my existence (those Puritans!), and I even have a vague sense of what not to do when talking with someone of another faith or religion.

The Lutheran church gave me a community when I didn’t necessarily have one myself.  I didn’t always get along with everybody, but it was a sense of belonging that helped me grow as a person, and as a Christian because my pastor (and dad) saw to it that I had a good religious education and understood the faith I had been brought up in.  And being a PK taught me something about being assertive.  I did my PK duty usually without complaining, but I also learned to put my feet down and point out that I did not need to do every activity and be part of every project.  And in college, I learned to recognize when the community I had first entered wasn’t working out and how to pick a better one.

None of that was especially theological, but it was important.  Like this one.  I have a professor who is not religious because, in his words, the scientist will admit he is wrong when the priest and the rabbi will not.  Now, that is not entirely true.  Some scientists refuse to admit that they are wrong, and plenty of priests, rabbis, and pastors will admit when they, or their establishment, got something wrong.  In the summer of 2009, the ELCA admitted that they were wrong to encourage the LGBTQ community in their midst to stay in the closet… the bishops and pastors in attendance voted to take a more progressive stance.  History was made, and admittedly, it was not universally popular.  About 5000 congregations left the church, and either went Missouri Synod or just became independent.  One of my father’s colleagues was subject to threats of violence and eventually moved house, but not position.  Yet the ELCA has carried on.  I, a bisexual, can be ordained under the 2009 ruling.  It’s something I may someday do, but the time is not yet right.  Some people still grumble, 5 years after the fact, about that historic event, but I know it was the right thing to do.  We all are welcome in God’s house and family, and those of us who are higher up on the Kinsey scale are part of the church on earth as well.  See this video for more details:( http://vimeo.com/109153388).

Historically, we’ve admitted we were wrong, or that the old man himself was wrong about other things, as well.  (Especially his views on women in leadership positions.)  We’ve had 500 years, more or less, to evolve, shake things up, and, even though we know that by our own doings we cannot please God, do our best to anyway.  We will be loved no matter what, but we also should not be complacent in our grace.  It’s affirming, but not all rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and unicorns either.

So I say thank you, Dr. Luther, for nailing up the theses and sticking to them all those years ago!  My life would be much poorer without the Lutheran Church (he would be unhappy that we’ve stuck his name on it, though), and I’m happy to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” once again.  (The music alone is reason to check out Lutheranism… just saying.)

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“Now is the winter of our discontent…”

So begins the dialogue of my favorite Shakespeare play ever… Richard III.  Also probably one of my favorite characters, ever.

The other day I read a Yahoo! article that took on a CSI: Roses tone and  detailed Richard’s death, from the wounds that probably didn’t kill him, to the blow on the back of the head that probably did, to the spiteful dagger through the backside after his death.  Quick, it asserted, but terrifying.  Probably nothing like the ending of Ian McKellan’s movie, where Richard dies smiling.  Cheeky bastard.

But that is Richard, as Shakespeare characterizes him.  Wicked, a wizard with language, blessed with acerbic wit, and full of self-loathing.  There is something about a villain who hates himself that the reader/viewer finds very appealing… it makes him (in this case Richard) seem approachable, especially in comparison to the saintly Henry Tudor.  I admit, I identify to a point with Richard… I have a decent way with words, admittedly though I am not an orator, I can have a biting tongue, and for years I cringed away from my reflection in the mirror.  When my now fiance first told me that he was interested in me romantically, I got off the phone and started, unfortunately, to quote the scene after Richard successfully woos Lady Anne.

“Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot,
Myself to be a marv’lous proper man.
I’ll be at charges for a looking glass
And entertain a score or two of tailors
To study fashions to adorn my body.
Since I am crept in favor with myself.
Shine out fair sun, until I have bought a glass,
That I may see my shadow as a pass.”
And then I fell downstairs.
I took it as an omen that I should not be Richard, and with a lot of unkingly words, picked myself up.  And just as well, for whether one believes the Bard and Saint Sir Thomas More, or not, the last English king to die in battle maintains an evil reputation.  The discovery of his makeshift, undignified grave even showed that he suffered from scoliosis– that part of the play and More’s history not being pure propaganda after all.  Go figure.
Historical debates aside, though, Richard III is still one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, and what a lucky day for historians when he was discovered!  As the morbid poem that immediately popped up on the Internet goes, “Roses are red, smothered nephews are blue. I’d wait 500 years under a car park for you.”  Definitely not Shakespeare, but not bad.
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