Raise a Toast to Thanksgiving

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5

We lived in the village of Ellicottville, New York for a number of years,  tucked away in a small corner upstate which is famous for snow accumulations. This week, a ginormous blizzard “of long duration” is destined to hit, leaving some 4 feet of fresh snow.  We’re used to that beginning around Thanksgiving, being snuggled away with a cozy wood fire blazing, watching out the windows as big flakes poured forth from the sky. It was the best time for that holiday, or at least the best time to be home for it. Sadly, some years, we celebrated by ourselves – the roads were impassable for traveling family. But thankful for their presence whenever they could make the snowy trek.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for the year. It expresses my gratefulness to God for all his many good gifts. Even in the years snow blocked us from the rest of civilization, we gave thanks “in all circumstances”.  Thanksgiving is a bittersweet time for me. I love the family-oriented togetherness that culminates at a well-appointed common table. A time of renewal; a time we express love and receive it. But it’s distressing to see the creeping commercialization of Christmas overtake it. Even as the turkey dishes are being cleared, the god of Mammon is seducing us back into the malls, as if Thanksgiving were some annoying interruption to the all-important “ca-ching”. And Americans are more than eager to resume their acquiring, having paused a whole day out of the year to be thankful.

For me, every single day is one for which I feel grateful – and indebted – to a loving God full of grace. For my loving, caring family. For physical well-being. For the protection of a warm house, and food on the table. Its also a day I give back to those not as fortunate in those regards. Like our former housekeeper, Maria. We have committed to “pay forward” many of our blessings onto her struggling family.

For me, commercialization has hollowed-out much of the true joy of Christmas and turned it into a frenzied credit card free-for-all. I look forward to the season of Advent and the Nativity with mixed emotions, seeing so much having been captured by secular culture. There’s not much buying and selling involved in Thanksgiving – a turkey dinner, some seasonal decorations, maybe a vase of flowers. It’s not sexy for marketers. Stores are already fully stocked with Christmas wares. Materialists don’t know how to molest Thanksgiving. They keep pecking away at it, reminding us in football commercials that Black Friday is really the holiday you should pay attention to.

But there is one special day I can raise a toast to the Giver of the feast with my wonderful family to say “I am truly grateful to God for the blessings he’s bestowed”. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Joint.

“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”, sang Merle Haggard back in the hippie days. Today in Oklahoma, a person can get a medical marijuana license following “a documented in-person medical evaluation”. Times have changed. In the anti-drug propaganda 1967 episode of Dragnet,The Big High”, Detective Joe Friday hears reports of marijuana smoking in a white suburban home. The husband in a normal-looking, well-bred family declares, “In a couple of years, things may change when all the kids grow up and start wearing ties and go into to the polls”.  Prohibition-oriented evangelicals fighting the cultural “war on drugs” have opposed legalizing weed since forever. Perennial culture soldier Franklin Graham has drawn his line in the sand, warning Christians not to allow dragging the U.S. “into the drug pit”.

Overwhelmingly, evangelicals take communion with unfermented grape juice, as opposed to a thimble-full of wine. They maintain weed use is almost always sinful, analogizing it to alcohol. I have known many evangelicals priding themselves on life-long tea-totallers. There is apparent ambivalence in the Bible, where it often speaks of wine as a divine blessing, which for example “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15). Jesus himself “brought” some 1,000 bottles of the best wine to a wedding feast in Cana (John 2). Perhaps that’s why the brick wall against pot is eroding, with only 40 per cent of white evangelicals now saying using is a sin or prohibited by the Bible. (Although pot is never mentioned in the Bible). And recent archeology has found that cannabis was used in early Jewish temple worship.

“I do not believe that the Bible teaches teetotalism”, Billy Graham once pronounced. And some 77 percent of evangelicals do not view drinking alcohol as morally wrong where used in moderation. And for morally-proper purposes. For example, St. Paul himself advises Timothy to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Tim 5:23). It would be a far stretch to say its biblically appropriate to use alcohol or psychotropic drugs recreationally with the intent to get high. But many users take marijuana for medicinal purposes. Disclaimer: I’ve taken edibles twice for painful osteoarthritis. I found those small (legal) doses to be medically helpful to this elderly man.

Many evangelical leaders like Mike Huckabee fixate on the dangers inherent in “reefer madness”, pointing out that states where marijuana is legal have seen an increase in traffic accidents involving drivers testing positive for THC. “Legalization of marijuana doesn’t come without a cost”. Although “increased marijuana use itself is likely not the sole cause of the increases seen.” Bingers gonna binge, and there is evidence indicating excessive alcohol consumption is often also involved. The risk from driving under the influence “of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone.”

Vehicles, like many everyday items – chainsaws, hairdryers, propane space heaters or even Tylenol – can kill when used against instructions. (Let’s not talk about guns!)  But the potential for improper use does not ban their use. In fact, laws exist to minimize their inherent risks – for example, showing an adult ID when buying the sorts of spray paints used by adolescent taggers. The same for cigarettes. A highway safety engineer brings an important perspective: “First, convince everyone that driving under the influence of marijuana is not okay,” he says. “Then, enact laws and sanctions penalizing those who ignore the message. Finally, make sure you have the resources (i.e., staffing and training) to enforce these laws and sanctions.”

Years ago, I knew a newly-Christian couple who thanked Jesus when they lit up together. Based on the spiritual guardrails of sound judgment and discretion I see in the Scriptures, I don’t see why not. In everything give thanks. Praise the Lord and pass the joint.