November 2023


Happy Thanksgiving

I find that I am thankful for unusual things.  This year I am especially thankful for walls.  I find myself studying the walls of my home, of our church, even the walls that appear in movies.  Why have I developed this unusual focus of deep deep gratitude?  It’s because when I watch the news I see buildings, neighborhoods and whole communities reduced to rubble because of the madness of war.  I find myself wondering if I take too many things for granted in my life.  At this particular Thanksgiving, I feel we must offer fervent prayers of gratitude for living without the fear that we will be blown to smithereens, and we must pray that all of the world might return to an environment surrounded by safety and peace.

Gratitude is not an obligation, it is a desire.  It is a desire to develop a life perspective that is based on expressing our thanks to God for all that we have been given. It is a calling to give thanks even in unsure times.  It is a holy attitude that prompts us to cast our eyes and our hearts on the magnificent gifts that surround us.  It is what e.e. cummings expresses when he declares:  “I thank you God for most this amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”  It is an exuberant delight in the amazing gift of life.

There are so many small things for which we might give thanks:  colors, road trips, good, libraries, conversations, garbage pickup, a good book, waking up, creativity in all its forms, food on the table, a green light, a hot shower, eating dessert first.  There are too many to mention.  Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life, and turns what we have into enough.  Gratitude informs us that life itself is a gift.

I have said many times that one of the things I admire most about Black Mountain United Church of Christ is the “git ‘er done” attitude of our members and your willingness to step up and contribute to our church family.  I love your attitude of doing.  Trying rarely achieves anything significant, because it is half-hearted, and according to John C. Maxwell, we must move into an attitude of doing, an attitude members of Black Mountain display over and over again in our life together.

According to Maxwell, there is enormous magic in the tiny word “do.”  When we tell ourselves, “I’ll do it,” we unleash tremendous power.  That act forges in us a chain of personal responsibility that ups our game:  a desire to excel plus a sense of duty plus complete aliveness plus total dedication to getting done what has to be done.  That equals commitment to an intentional life.

According to Maxwell, there is a difference between an intentional and an unintentional life.

Intentional living always has an idea.
Unintentional living always has an excuse.
Intentional living fixes the situation.
Unintentional living fixes the blame.
Intentional living makes it happen.
Unintentional living wonders what happened.
Intentional living says, “Here’s something I can do.”
Unintentional living says, “Why doesn’t someone else do something?”
Words of unintentional living are:  desire, wish, someday, perhaps, hopefully, passive, somebody should, survival or even silence.
Words of intentional living are:  results, fulfillment, every day, follow through, proactive, habitual, lifestyle, significance.

Intentional living realizes that God is still speaking and that we will be called to contribute in new ways.  Thank you, Black Mountain, for demonstrating over and over again that you are intentional people.  For your intentions, I give great thanks.

American Thanksgiving is when we confront our extremely complicated relationship with our Native American brothers and sisters.  One of the most complicated relationships is with a Native American who was born and raised and lived much of his adult life in Arizona.  That person is Ira Hayes.

Ira Hamiliton Hayes was easily one of the most written about, photographed, venerated, and exploited young Native men in American history.  He received more press than Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Cochise combined.  His image is in one of the most viewed photographed images ever taken:  that of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.  Ira was “the Indian” who fought for America and raised the Stars and Stripes with his brother Marines.

But Ira’s life began to resemble a Shakespearean tragedy.  After being lauded in the most memorable photograph of WW II, newspapers began to hint that, like Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, Ira possessed a fatal flaw that led to his descent from heroic status to degradation and a lonely death in the desert.  He was no longer viewed as a military hero, rather he was viewed as “drunken Ira Hayes.”

The bigger picture is that Ira was a shy young man who joined the Marines to better serve the nation.  He went to war saw the horrors of the battlefield, and found that whiskey removed him from the reality of life.  The poverty of the reservation, both before his military service and after, created psychological and sociological barriers for this war hero.  Ira Hayes was not from a far-off land, rather he was from the Gila River Reservation in Arizona. Ira’s tribal members were peaceful agricultural people who built irrigation systems to water their crops.  His people had syncretized Christianity and their traditional spiritual beliefs into a belief system that emphasized humility, courtesy, and generosity.  Hayes was said to be a thoughtful and modest young man.

Although the reservation was impoverished, children nevertheless played games, learned to read and did their chores.  Children took care of livestock, feeding chickens, horses and cattle.  Often they cared for younger siblings and helped clean and cook for the household.

Until the age of seventeen, Ira worked as a farm laborer picking cotton and harvesting wheat, corn and other essentials.  His mother continued to encourage education among her children and sent Ira to the Phoenix Indian School.  The Phoenix boarding school for Native children had the intent to “Americanize” or assimilate Native peoples.  

At the time Ira became a Marine, the Corps was viewed as somewhat of a secular-sacred calling.  The branch itself was seen in the public eye as an elite force made up of tough guys from the city streets and boys from hardscrabble farms in rural America who could toss hay bales ten feet in the air.  It was also an armed force with a tradition and culture all its own.  Raising the flag Iwo Jima symbolized victory, unity and an indomitable spirit, and Ira Hayes was part of this image.

On the one hand, Ira Hayes  was viewed as the quintessential hero, however, this image leaves out the horrors of war, and few veterans of WW II spoke of what they saw or experienced.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not part of the American vocabulary. Alcoholism had not yet been recognized as a disease.  Ira Hayes was portrayed in Hollywood films, but he was looked upon with pity as just one more inebriated Indian.

And all these years later, we still have a complex and complicated relationship with our Native American brothers and sisters.  We like to idealize the first Thanksgiving meal as something out of the story books of our youth, and when we were young we might have made paper head dresses for Thanksgiving plays. We like to gloss over our responsibility to live in real community.

Even more complex is our relationship with war.  We continue to send off brave men and women to fight battles in foreign lands….young men and women who return with spiritual wounds that defy description.  We still approach our differences with bombs and tanks.  I listened to a woman who had lost twelve members of her family in the recent war in the Middle East.  Her losses included her twin sister and both of her children.  Does it really matter which side she is on?  Our Scripture tells us that we can “with thanksgiving present our requests to God.”  When we bow our heads at our Thanksgiving tables this coming week, may our prayer be for peace:  peace among ourselves; peace among our communities, peace among different cultures, peace among differing opinions, peace among nations, peace in our desert and peace in our valley.


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