Thanksgiving Thoughts

Vertical and Horizontal Thanksgiving

A day to be grateful to all who bless our lives and for every way in which they have done so? If Thanksgiving Day were only that, it would be an important secular holiday. But what if it’s more?

(If you’re certain it should not be more or unwilling to consider that it might be, please just accept my earnest wishes for your happy Thanksgiving. You may not wish to read the rest of this.)

looking at stars

What if Thanksgiving is also a day to be grateful for everyone who blesses my life – that is, grateful to a higher power of some sort, who has caused my life to intersect with these people and their many generous acts and quiet virtues? What if today is for thanking a deity who put me in a place and time in which I have food to eat and work to do, some freedom to enjoy as I’m doing it, some faithful friends around me, and a comfortable place to lay my head?

What if this is a day to invite humility, gratitude’s plain and less socially acceptable sister virtue, to our happy feast?

What if Thanksgiving is inherently a religious holiday?

Tokens of Thanks

One of my first conscious acts on this Thanksgiving morning was to pull a folder from my file cabinet and thumb through it. It’s a file I started years ago. It’s full of thank-you notes people have sent me. (And yes, thanking me is the reverse of this day’s proper theme, but it leads there in its way.)

Many of them are from my years as an LDS (Mormon) bishop in American Fork, Utah, or from my time in a similar role in Ithaca, New York. This is not because bishops are the least bit more wonderful than anyone else, but because a pastor’s relationship with his or her congregation naturally includes being conspicuously involved in the difficulties of their lives, in both public and private ways — and because we get a lot of credit for splendid things done by others.

Some of my favorite expressions are not written at all. One man with whom I worked, as he endured severe, long-term trials, gave me a four-pound specimen from his petrified wood collection, because he wanted to give something but couldn’t think of anything else he had to give. Another gave me a wool hat which an Afghan tribal leader (I say warlord, to impress people) gave him as token of thanks for service to him and his people.

Thankful Reflections on an Interesting Year

Today is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays – and perhaps you’ll forgive me if I parse that word as holy day. If we raise our aim above the purely horizontal, thanksgiving – or gratitude, if you please – is one of the highest acts of worship.

Usually on this holy day, I think of the big stuff, from infinite grace born of God to the spilled blood of patriots and the wrenching sacrifices of their loved ones. All of that is still there, still here, still the object of daily gratitude. But as this holy day has approached, I have reflected on smaller, more personal things. I hope this doesn’t sound too self-serving. In any case it has been an interesting year – and I know it’s not quite over yet.

What Mormons Mean: Translating General Conference (into English)

Every church or religion has its own vocabulary, which can easily make its meetings seem strange to outsiders. The Mormons are no exception.

Oh, boy, are we not an exception. We even think friendship is a verb; the ripples from this barbarous pebble are conspicuous at times. It’s a good thing the Lord is merciful. He gives us excellent, beautiful languages, and we insist on . . . But I digress.

A year or two ago, as I watched the first minutes of a Mormon general conference broadcast, I was struck by how many terms one would have to understand in the way Mormons do, in order to get just ten or fifteen minutes into a two-hour meeting. So this week I went back and watched the first 15 minutes of two previous conferences, making a list as I did so.

Here are some words and phrases you might have wanted to know, if you had been watching with me. The vocabulary will be approximately the same tomorrow, if you watch the first general session of the October 2014 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The definitions are brief, though the temptation is to be expansive.

What Mormons Mean: “The Church Is True”

If you spend any time in church-related settings with Mormons — members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — it won’t be long before you hear phrases like this:

  • “I know the Church is true”
  • “the only true church”
  • “the only true and living Church on the face of the earth”

That last one is scripture for us.

What do we mean when we say our Church is true? What don’t we mean? Should you be offended, if you’re not a Mormon?