January 2006 – Seems it’s always easier for me to reflect on the past than to project into the future. Look backward, not forward. As I grow older, the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons give me more reason for serious reflection. Tragedy and crisis run rampant around the globe, from our own Mississippi Gulf Coast hurricanes to the war in Iraq, the AIDS epidemic in Africa and hunger all over Third World countries. It makes me wonder why God pours out blessings on me, my family and our AFA ministry. It also makes me aware that I need to cultivate the proverbial attitude of gratitude.
My colleague Marvin Sanders says Thanksgiving must be the most frustrating day of the year for atheists. What to do? What to say? And, who to thank – your parents? If so, for what? For bringing you into a world of meaningless existence?
Gratitude has always been a part of American culture but its importance has waned. We have become a man-centered society in many respects, often forgetting that all good and perfect gifts come down from the Father above.
Still, we do have a heritage of gratitude. In fact, the first president to proclaim a specific day for the purpose of giving thanks to the Lord was George Washington. It was the first official presidential proclamation issued in U. S. history. His proclamation included:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions...to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us – and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789. George Washington.
The original draft of President Washington’s proclamation was lost for 130 years, probably misplaced or mixed in with some private papers when the U.S. capital moved from New York to Washington, D.C. That original manuscript was placed in the National Archives in 1921 after Dr. J. C. Fitzpatrick, assistant chief of the manuscripts division of the Library of Congress, found it at a New York auction. Dr. Fitzpatrick purchased the document for $300 for the Library of Congress.
This Godly heritage from the days of our Founding Fathers is a national treasure that we need to guard carefully. I plan to do my part by practicing an attitude of gratitude to Almighty God.