I have trouble with the word "blessed." It sounds as if we are special and that some divine blesser has singled us out to be the honored recipients of luxurious things. We are blessed because we are good. But as I look at our history, it is a mixed bag.
We Europeans began our lives here by engaging in genocide, as we killed off the people who for centuries had occupied this land. The surviving remnant was driven to reservations, our version of apartheid.
Slaves had already been imported by 1776, and the slave trade was not abolished until 1808. Nevertheless that institution continued under other names and forms until a hundred years after the Civil War. Racism is still alive in this country, although largely hidden.
We fought terrible wars in Vietnam and Iraq without justification and at the cost of lives and culture for ourselves as well as for the nations we invaded — wars we didn’t even win.
But nobility is also woven into our history. We designed a Constitution which has become the standard for democratic government around the world. We have restricted the exploitation of children as laborers, and offered free public education to every child. We have provided Social Security and Medicare for our older citizens. We have guaranteed the rights of labor, a minimum wage and unemployment insurance.
Beyond our shores following a devastating world war, we helped rebuild Europe, including the nations of our former enemies. We send billions of dollars around the world each year to alleviate human suffering.
If to be blessed is to have the resources to make the world a better more humane place, we are indeed a blessed nation. How we use that blessing today may be our greatest opportunity. Here are a few things I believe a blessed, thankful people can do, which may mark the United States as being number one in the way we use our blessings.
– We can be number one in saving the planet by cutting in half the CO2 from carbon-based energy sources, which we have been pumping into the atmosphere. This would entail modest changes in our lifestyles, allowing us to live healthier lives less dependent on energy. We can be number one in designing and implementing less polluting energy systems through the inventive use of use of renewable resources.
– We can be number one in our commitment to public transportation with rapid rail, comfortable buses, streets designed for bicycles and new ways to share private cars.
– We can be number one in learning to enjoy locally grown organic foods.
– We can be number one by solving the problems created by our persistent economic inequality.
– We can be number one in providing the best affordable medical care for our entire population.
– We can be number one by seeing that every willing young person can receive a college education or other level of education that suits their needs and abilities, regardless of their financial resources.
– We can be number one in using our magnificent economic resources to cure the major diseases that plague the rest of the world.
– We can be number one in the use of a powerful military establishment ready to be deployed anywhere in the world where there are earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters.
– We can be number one by showing the rest of the world a less belligerent, violence-prone foreign policy, replacing it with resources to solve the real problems of hunger and poverty.
Thanksgiving Day is more than the occasion for a lavish meal — which I enjoy each year. It gives us the opportunity to take a hard look at what this land and its people have given us, and to think about how we can use these things that came to us as a gift from history. To these valiant men and women who came before us, we owe a remarkable debt of gratitude, realizing that they too had warts.
This land and its magnificent resources came to us as gifts we did not earn, but which simply fell into our laps. Hear these words from the book of Deuteronomy:
“When you come into a land with houses filled with fine things which you did not fill, hewn cisterns which you did not hew, olive groves which you did not plant — and when you have eaten and are filled, do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
The great resources that made our prosperity possible were all here when we arrived. Why are we blessed? Perhaps the only justification is that we have these resources to be a blessing.