I thank God that I have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, freedoms that cannot be disentangled from one another. I can say things that some may hate to hear or read. I can speak my mind without fear of legal repercussions. I can worship how, where, and what I may.
I worry that some may wish to limit my freedom of religion by pushing religion into the sphere of the merely private. I worry that others may wish to limit my freedom of speech by attacking the speech of those with whom they disagree, shouting them down in one way or another. I pray that we will avoid both temptations.
I'm grateful for the decency of my neighbors. I live in a neighborhood that has, within close proximity, the old and the young, the single and the married, the rich and the not-so-rich, Anglos and people of color, speakers of various languages. I am lucky to live in the kind of neighborhood that is rapidly disappearing (if it was ever common) as people cluster together economically and racially. There are many differences between the people in my neighborhood, but they have in common that they are good people.
No list of my blessings would be complete without mentioning good friends. I am not a particularly demonstrative person, but I have come to realize recently how many people I love as friends and who love me. Though I am not good at showing it, I'm grateful for their love. It deepens the quality of my life.
There are things in the past that I would not repeat again if there were any way at all to avoid them. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the things I've learned from the difficulties through which Janice and I have passed as well as for what I've learned from my mistakes. These things have made us stronger.
More important, our difficulties have made me more sympathetic to others. Having been in need, how can I deny the need of others? Having been in debilitating pain, how can I not overlook what may look like failures of those who are in debilitating, though perhaps unseen, pain? Having thought myself lost, how can I not extend my hand to those who think themselves lost? Having wept over sin, how can I not honor the tears of those who weep?
When I've had difficulties in my adult life, scripture has been a constant source of assurance and mental and spiritual rest. It has not disengaged me from life. Instead, the scriptures have shown me another way to be engaged in the world. They have sometimes brought me up short and made me reconsider what I am doing and how I see the world. They have always offered an alternative way of being in the world. I've not always lived up to the alternative they offer, but I'm grateful that they continue to challenge me.
I'm thankful that as a teenager I was blessed with an unbidden spiritual experience that changed my life. When leaders fail or I cannot make ideas cohere, when my trust in God falters, that experience remains a touchstone. It reminds me that I have been called and that I am obligated to answer that call with my life.
Finally, I'm grateful for the atoning sacrifice wrought by Jesus Christ. I am grateful that the Word became flesh, affected, passive, human flesh. I am overjoyed by the message that God himself showed us what it means to be a human being made in his image by living amongst us and, finally, by suffering and dying for us.
To be in the image of God is not to be removed from worldly cares. It is not to place oneself in a spiritual ivory tower or to seemingly separate oneself from the body. Instead it is to be inspirited flesh (Rom. 8:1-9). It is to become a child of God (Rom. 8:15-17). It is to suffer with him (Rom. 8:17). I'm grateful that by his life and sacrifice he teaches me—commands me, pleads with me—to do these things.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.