One of my annual traditions over the years here at God Squad Central is to offer up for inclusion with your turkey, stuffing and pie, a list of overlooked blessings. The point of this annual list is that none of us really needs prodding to give thanks for family and food, for friends and food, or for liberty and ... food. I encourage you, dear readers, to add to my list your own list of things and people we too often take for granted. I hope you can squeeze into your Thanksgiving prayer people and things that will not be on any big and obvious list but ought to be in our hearts every day.
This is, of course, a hard Thanksgiving for my list of overlooked blessings. This year I am feeling more anger and sorrow than thanks in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. I even thought of ditching the column and just writing about Paris, but the more I thought and prayed about this horror the more I realized that it was the little things that give me hope in the face of the big things that give me such despair. So here it goes:
I am thankful this Thanksgiving Day for the people who run toward the sounds of gunshots and not away from them. These police and soldiers and EMTs are the first barrier to terror and the first responders to brutality. The fact that this is their job does not lessen my awe at their deep instinctive courage. They keep the dike of civilization from bursting by sticking their lives into the breaches of our broken world.
A day before the massacres, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor to Army Capt. Florent Groberg who pushed a guy with a suicide vest away from his comrades thus saving some of their lives and causing him to almost lose his leg. All he could say in response to this high honor was that the four soldiers who died in that attack were the true heroes. That is true but it is not true enough. Somehow we produce people who stand when the natural instinct is to cower and who fight when the natural instinct is to flee. I am thankful for Groberg and all the first responders to true evil because they give meaning to true courage, and ultimately, courage is the only weapon that can defeat terror.
I am thankful this Thanksgiving Day for flowers and candles left by strangers on the street. We have a natural, I would say spiritual, need to mark places of death. This is why we have gravestones and it is why we have memorials to those who fall in wartime. Some of these monuments to death are grand and imposing, but after a tragedy the messy, simple shrines people construct by leaving candles and bunches of flowers and handwritten notes and stuffed animals move me more than most marble monuments. These populist shrines give people a place to come and feel the solidarity of hope after being broken by the solidarity of terror. They stand together at these places and suddenly they are not alone, and together they can remember that it is much harder to kill our hope than it is to kill us.
I am thankful this Thanksgiving Day for all the Muslims of Paris who loudly condemned the jihadist killers. It does not matter much for non-Muslims to say, as I say often, that the jihadists are perverting true Islam. What matters deeply is for actual Muslims to say that the Islam that created the killers is not the Islam they know. Their speaking out is not just important it is also courageous. They live amongst the terrorists and they will be the first targets of revenge for their courage in reclaiming their religion from those who have shamed it and shamed them. Each and every voice is proof that evil will not win. Religion is both the cause and the cure for terror in our time. The ultimate weapons to defeat them are the voices of other Muslims risking their lives to reclaim their faith.
I am thinking now of Psalm 30:11 (KJV), “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.” I cannot in full faith recite that verse this Thanksgiving Day. I am not that quick in swapping sackcloth for joy. Perhaps next Thanksgiving.
Pray for Paris.