My annual custom is to give thanks for things and people that are not usually thanked (I am still getting comments on the list that included my thankfulness for squirrels).
On this Thanksgiving I am thankful for ...
Vegetarians at the Thanksgiving table. Let's face it. The traditional Thanksgiving menu with its turkey apex makes vegetarians feel like lepers. However, I am happy to report a growing respect for the needs of vegetarians and vegans. They deserve more choices than just the traditional green bean casserole with mushroom goop and onion stuff on top. As long as they are not screaming "Meat is murder!" and ruining everyone's feast, they do serve a spiritually vital role. They remind us that some animal that felt pain had to die in order for us to have something over which we could pour our gravy. Life includes moral challenges and we can all do better to cause less pain, especially on the holiday when we are supposed to be spiritually sensitive.
And on this Thanksgiving I am thankful for ...
The mountain lion subway near my house. Cities have obviously pushed wild animals back into what precious little wilderness still remains in America. Some wild animals have tried to adapt to life on the fringes of what we arrogantly call civilization. I have seen the pathetic scene of Jaguars in Argentina and bears in upstate New York giving up hunting and foraging in the wild for a life of nightly scrounging through garbage dumps. Near where I live in California, the state is about to spend many millions of dollars to construct a tunnel under the 101 highway just so that mountain lions can safely cross under the highway and enjoy a date night with previously inaccessible mountain lions on the other side of the highway. This cougar causeway will hopefully expand the cougar gene pool and prevent the severe inbreeding that is weakening the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains. I know the government has arguably more important things to do with its limited resources, but still, I am thankful that even in this slightly ridiculous way, we Homo sapiens are able to tangibly atone for our shameless wreaking of the environment.
However, above and beyond all my other objects of sincere thanks, this Thanksgiving I am thankful for ...
Annabelle Renee Pomeroy and her father Pastor Frank Pomeroy. Pastor Pomeroy is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. "Belle" was his 14-year-old daughter who was one of the 26 people murdered in church on that Sunday.
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At a time when he needed to grieve as a parent, Pastor Frank was called upon to heal his wounded flock as their shepherd. I know clergy who have been put in similar positions. They had to put their own needs aside and minister to the needs of their congregants. I am so honored to be counted among the ranks of the clergy. I am so proud of my brothers' and sisters' daily work in service to God and to God's many flocks. Clergy are often maligned simply for not being perfect. The sacrifices clergy folk make are monumental and often unheralded. I believe it is enough that the lost sheep know who brought them home.
At the same time that Pastor Frank was asking why his daughter was murdered in his church, he had to answer that same question from families of 25 other victims. What he said about his murdered daughter was the shortest and most perfect eulogy, "Annabelle was one very beautiful, special child." His answer to the eternal mystery of why the righteous suffer is also the shortest and most perfect theodicy I have ever heard, "I don't understand, but I know my God does."
I am thankful for all clergy who are pure of heart like Frank. I am thankful for all churches that stand defenseless against such random brutality. I am thankful that though her life was tragically cut short, we came to know of Belle, a girl with a pure heart who is with the angels now. We must learn how to live among the devils down here now. We will need extraordinary pastors like Frank Pomeroy to help us find the place with green pastures and still waters where people can pray to God and leave alive.
I ask you to pray for the Pomeroys and for all the victims of all the senseless carnages we have recently had to endure. This Thanksgiving seems less like a blessing and more like a reprieve.
First we must choose life and then we can choose to give thanks.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2017 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.