Obama failed to give thanks to God in his online Thanksgiving address. He thanked God in his written address. He thanked God last year. He closes speeches, as every president ever has, with “May God bless the United States of America”. None of this matters though to Fox News, who obsessed over his Bush like omission (Bush also failed to mention God in his final Thanksgiving address). The failure was offensive enough that one paper wrote his comments are “just what we would expect from a Marxist or other Socialist” while another wrote: “Unreal that Obama doesn’t mention God in Thanksgiving message. Militant atheist. To whom does he think we are giving thanks?”
All this leaves me wondering why the decibel level is so high on this issue, while there was relative silence over the pepper spray shopping incident, and the other moments of madness that characterized the great war for good deals known as Black Friday. We might be disgusted by these events, but nobody is writing about these events as signs of moral decay or faith erosion in our culture. It appears to me that there are a big group of Christians out there who think the president giving a nod to God in a you tube speech is more important than our collective virtues of contentment and civility.
I’m about to head over the Europe for a week of teaching. I’ll arrive in the town where I’m teaching late on Saturday evening, after the shops are closed, and when I wake on Sunday, I’ll not be able to run down to the grocery store for my favorite chocolates and a bag of oranges because the store will be closed – as it always is on Sundays – as it always has been throughout the industrialized era. Though I’m generalizing, it’s true that my European friends shop less and save more. They talk with friends more and watch TV less. They shoot each other less and divorce each other less. Poor secular Europe? That’s one way of looking at it.
But listen to Jesus: “Every healthy tree bears good fruit – but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17), which seems to be a way of saying that if we’re the real thing, personally or nationally, it will show up more in what we do than what we say. And yet, Obama, not our collective propensity towards greed, violence, or arrogance – is where some of the press points the finger.
We’re having the wrong conversations:
1. I’d rather have a conversation about how I can align my heart and life with the 2nd Adam, who is Christ, than a lengthy debate about how long it took to create the 1st Adam, or when and where he lived.
2. I’d rather have a conversation about how we can, as the people of God, nurture contentment and generosity, than a heated debate about whether more taxation or less will solve our fiscal crisis.
3. I’d rather have a conversation about how to nurture a deeper prayer life, so that Christ becomes, increasingly, an intimate friend with whom I speak regularly, than vilify a president (either this one or the former) for failing to mention him in a talk.
4. I’d rather have a conversation about how to develop habits for reading the Bible regularly, and developing other spiritual disciplines, than one about whether the word “inerrancy” is better than the word “authoritative” as a descriptor of the Bible.
5. I’d rather call people to the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” than draw implications regarding the quaility of their faith based on the political party with which they affiliate. After all, our kingdom is, supposedly, not of this world.
The burning question for the apostle Paul was this: “How can Christ be more fully formed – in both me and others?” Out of such formation a deep love for the poor will grow and find practical expression; so will a care for creation; so will a revulsion for violence, and a desire to protect life in the womb, and strengthen marriages, and pursue simplicity and contentment.
The noise of misguided conversations is deafening these days. My prayer during advent is that in the midst of the noise, I’ll listen, actively, for the voice of Christ, and follow Him.