Christmas invites reflection on the birth of Christ and its effect on the entire world, in spite of the fact that school systems ridiculously and profanely cast it as a celebration of the winter solstice, or something or another. “Winter Holidays” I believe they call it. What a drab title, especially when compared to what we all know it really is.
For me, the most reflective and introspective holiday is Thanksgiving. This holiday reminds me of people who have helped me along the journey of life and to whom I owe gratitude.
All of us are shaped and influenced by others. Doubtless, our first shapers and influencers, for good or ill, are our parents. Regarding the ill, it is appalling that so many parents ignore the responsibility of guarding their children from outside influences. In the recent past, negative influences on children and teens were all outside the home. Today, negative influences are inside the home, inside locked bedrooms, or held secretly in the palms of children’s hands. I refer of course to televisions, computers and phones.
I’m thankful that even before negative influences came smack into the home, my parents showed concern and exercised caution about where we went, with whom we went, and what (rare) movies we attended. My parents were never overbearing, but they certainly viewed it as their responsibility and joy to shape and influence their children and their children’s values as they saw fit. I’m thankful for them.
Surprisingly enough, I’m thankful for annoying pundits. Pundits, of course, are the social / political / cultural critics — such as columnists — who offer their unsolicited observations to the public, normally through newspapers, magazines or television commentary.
The word “pundit” has become a put-down term for opinion-givers. The idea behind this pejorative expression is that pundits are to be contrasted to practitioners. Practitioners are doers; pundits are mere critics of what the doers do. On television they are called “talking heads.” Whatever we call them, these self-appointed critics have always helped me to understand the issues of the day and to interpret current events, setting them in historical perspective.
Pundits are no smarter than the rest of us, though possibly more interested in cultural trends and the slow but steady sweep of history. As a youth I was absolutely fascinated by columnist William F. Buckley, who I read faithfully. A conservative before conservatism was cool (or organized), Buckley challenged every idea of FDR’s New Deal, JFK’s New Frontier and LBJ’s War on Poverty.
Bothered not at all by the sniffy complaints of his former Yale classmates, the vitriol of Democrats, or the timid reservations of fellow Republicans, Buckley predicted liberalism’s consequences that are now apparent: a huge federal government, socialized medicine and diminished individual liberty. A devout Catholic, Buckley would be incensed by the current Pope’s retreat from the cultural war. He is only one example of several pundits, left and right, who are responsible for the intellectual and political awakening of youths from the ’60s, ’70 and ’80s.
Pundits, even when they make me mad, make me think. I do place them on my Thanksgiving list.
I’m also thankful for preachers. Talk about a group that gets a bum rap. Count the number of fallen preachers the media have paraded before us and stand the number beside the number of faithful ones. Which is the far higher number?
I’m thankful for preachers because they have so often set my path aright. Good preachers understand sin and preach against it. They comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.
Of the 10 preacher-pastors in my life, three have been in Cobb County: the Rev. Nelson Price, formerly of Roswell Street Baptist Church, the Rev. Mike Stephens of Burnt Hickory Baptist and the Rev. Terry Nelson of Keystone Baptist. I’m thankful for these gifted men not only because of their eloquence or leadership abilities, but because week after week, year after year, they minister.
I can’t write off all fallen preachers, however. Seems to me, they need Christian grace as much as anyone. This summer, my wife and I visited one in Louisiana. He had been too great a blessing for me not to try to meet him and thank him. He won my wife’s favor when he told her she must be my daughter. He was gracious and humble. When he sat down to play and sing, my heart was flooded with thanksgiving for him and for every other shaper and influencer of my life.
Roger Hines is a retired high school teacher.