Thanksgiving in Light of the Election
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By John Michael Talbot
Troubadour for the Lord
We come into Thanksgiving this year at a time when we in the US have just elected a largely Democratic government to lead us. This happened on the state level with governors, and on the national level with Congress. It is a radical shift.
We have much to be thankful for. But we are also in a time of great change in our government during a time of war. These times can be challenging, and even dangerous if we get it wrong. This year I believe it is especially true.
This new direction is both good and bad relative to the Catholic Christian perspective. With pro-life issues this is an apparent setback. With the call for peace in Iraq this could be a step in the right direction.
For years I have said that until we become more pro-life through love, joy, and peace in our attitudes, we will not convert anyone to the pro-life movement externally. Argument rarely works. Love always works, even though we may not see it immediately. Also, until we become more pro-life with the issues of truly Christ-like peace and justice between conception and death, we will not convert anyone to pro-life positions on contraception, abortion, or euthanasia. Real success in these areas cannot happen through Congressional legislation and Supreme Court decisions alone. It must happen in the mysterious places of the human heart and soul. It is spread through personal relationships of Christ-like love, understanding, and compassion. A changed way of life is its strongest external force, and its real spiritual heart is contemplation and prayer.
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Regarding the War in Iraq: the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the popes, have stated clearly that the war in Iraq does not meet the standards of the traditional Just War. Sadly, very few wars do, but we frail and fallen humans fight anyway. We recognize the complexity of the issues of terrorism and the phenomenal rise of a particular brand of Islam that is fundamentalist and fanatical in tone, though this war is not a war between mainstream Islam and Christianity. It is a war on terrorism.
As I see it, the Bush administration has tried to be proactive in meeting the challenges of terrorism. That is right if done rightly. His administration has tried a two-fold approach. The first is military force, and the second is humanitarian and civil aid. President Bush told us to be patient, and that this war would take many, many years. Traditionally, patience is not a strong suit of the American temperament. We want to see results from our efforts and sacrifices very quickly. It will not happen in this case.
Ultimately, I must agree with the Church on the issue of the War in Iraq. It still does not meet the minimum standards of the traditional Just War. Our borders were invaded on 9/11 and before, but our response was disproportionate to the harm caused to us. It is difficult when fighting a seemingly invisible enemy. But our disproportionate traditional military actions have not worked. We must go deeper to end this war.
Essentially, this war is a war of ideas, and can only be won with better ideas. It is also a war of cultures, and can only be won by a better harmony of culture.
On the religious ideology level: basic Islam calls for following the one God via daily sacrifice that is "doable." For instance, five times of prayer a day is a sacrifice, but it can be done by everyone. It is not so saintly that it is beyond our reach. This is very attractive to the prospective convert, and, of itself, is a good thing. In the USA we are a people who believe in God, and many of us attend a place of worship. But we are really not good at organized religion anymore. Part of this is because we have seen so much hypocrisy in organized religion. Some of it is because we are just rebellious. Historically, Americans do not respond well to authority. Religious authority is no exception. It is fine until we are asked to change the way we live personally. Then we rebel, and often rebel strongly. We could learn a thing or two from the "submission" of Islam. With all its faults, it has mobilized the entire Arab world to try to make a godlier world.
On the cultural level: We have been called the "culture of death" by Pope John Paul II. This death is not merely with abortion. It is also in the very way we live. With the present US population of 300 million, we comprise slightly less than 5% of the world's population. Yet research shows that we consume 25% of the world's energy, emit 21% of the world's CO2, eat 40% of the world's food, and perform an estimated 86% of the world's financial transactions each year. Sadly, US-owned corporations and their products account for 80% of the world's pollution and waste. We have the biggest footprint on the planet for having a mere 5% of the population. Death culture? Yes.
Pope John Paul II also told us that when the few have the much, the more we get, the more we want-- and the more essentially unsatisfied we become. That is an apt description of American consumerism if ever there was one. Inevitably, the many who have the little will rise up against the few who have the much to get at least what they need. War is often the result. Many around the world envy our material attainments and our civil freedoms, but they believe that the day in and day out life of the American is godless and evil. They call us "the Great Satan." Even according to our own clergy and religious leaders, this is a title not entirely undeserved.
So what "ideas" can we use to respond to the terrorist threat? How about really becoming more like Jesus? He is viewed as a great and blessed prophet to many religions, including Islam. How do we do this? How about actually living the eight Beatitudes, the Love Chapter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, or the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians?
If we truly began to grasp the meaning of what it is to be "Christian," or "like Christ," we would shake the world, and in a good way! A revolution of Love would spread across the planet like a healing fire, and across the oceans like a life-giving tsunami! For the authentic follower of Jesus, this is done by really giving witness to Jesus, not through religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, but through a radicalism (or rootedness) that is willing to truly live the way that Jesus lived. Jesus changed the world with only 12 apostles. Are there twelve who will respond, or 120, 12,000, or 12 million? What would happen if we would all dare to do this? We would change the world, and for the better.
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Out of the two issues of pro-life and peace, pro-life is most important in the long term, even though it will probably not be the one to receive immediate action. Over 3,500 lives are ended through abortion in the US every day. Certainly this outweighs the deaths in Iraq, even though we have yet to see the real number of Iraqi dead. Unfortunately, the recent elections will probably not work in favor of the pro-life cause.
Regarding the War in Iraq; hopefully we will see tangible steps to end the war. There is already talk of it. But this will have to be done in a careful way in order to avoid a blood bath filling the void of our presence in helping keep civil order after the fall of Sadaam Hussein. But it will happen. We can applaud this as Catholic Christians.
But with both issues, we will all have to rise above politics to give witness to Jesus Christ through a life that is genuinely like His even in our own day and time. We choose love over hate, forgiveness over judgment, justice over vengeance, and peace over war. This has to be seen in the little things of life "before we are given the great," to quote Jesus. We should be the life givers and peacemakers of the world through our simple presence in it. This is the New Evangelization called forth by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
So I give thanks this Thanksgiving. I do it in hopes that we can bring peace and life into our war torn world and our western "culture of death." If we do this we can change the world with ideas too good to resist, and a simple and uncluttered lifestyle that brings life to the poorest of the poor and diffuses all hostility and war with God's love. As Pope Paul VI said, "Peace is possible, therefore it is a duty."
John Michael is the founder of the Catholic Association of Musicians, a ministerial and support organization for Catholic musicians, stressing spirituality, artistry and economy. Among his numerous awards are a Dove Award, the President's Merit Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and Humanitarian of the Year award from Mercy Corps International. He has been honored to perform for Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II. He has produced 49 albums, authored 19 books and is an acclaimed lecturer, teacher and retreat master.
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