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Attitude of Thanksgiving and Joy

The title of this inspiration comes from an unlikely source.  It is a quotation from former President, Jimmy Carter, in an editorial on his Christian beliefs.  I know something about the faith of this Georgia Baptist.  I know he has been a man of faith for a long time.  I respect him for his life and witness.  It is probably fair to say President Carter is a much-beloved man---more so since he was president than any time during or before his presidency. 
   
I voted for Carter in his election.  For many critics, his single-term presidency (1977-1981).  I remember the 1976 election and his close win over Gerald Ford.  I vividly remember his second day in office he pardoned all Vietnam draft dodgers.  I thought it was a savvy move, but obviously it was and, probably, still is controversial.  I saw is as an example of his capacity to forgive.  All of us who lived through the 60s know what a chaotic, crazy time it was.  And Vietnam was the epitome of that chaos.  Carter attempted to be a healing agent for the country.
   
Economically, it was a time of struggle.  There was high inflation, high unemployment and growth that slowed to a trickle.  As most of us know, economics make or break presidencies.  It doubtlessly sealed the deal for Carter’s defeat at the hands of Reagan in the 1980 election.  Reagan was the dominant figure in the 80s and Carter retreated into an amazing work that led to significant fame.  For example, at the turn of this millennium he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work of his Carter Center.  I have imminent respect for this man of faith.
   
And so it was I found the recent Op-Ed in the New York Times.  The writer, Nicholas Kristof, entitles his Op-Ed piece, “President Carter, Am I a Christian?”  I was drawn to read it because I suspected I would know how Carter would deal with provocative questions.  The real question Kristof posed was what I call “the Easter Question.”  That question asks whether one needs to believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian.  To this end Kristof began the query by pushing Carter on whether he believes in the literal reading of the Christian Bible?  Carter is clear he feels like the Bible is inspired and admits there are discrepancies within it.  This is what I would have expected President Carter to say.
   
An example Carter gives comes with his statement, “I accept the overall message of the Bible as true…”  Some would label this an avoidance of Kristof’s question, but I see Carter’s response to be valid and insightful.  In effect, he is saying he does believe the Resurrection to be “true,” as he affirms the miracles of the New Testament.  Carter details his answer in a winsome fashion.  He says, “My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof.”  Carter takes a stand, but does not insist that his faith is the same thing as a proof.  In fact, I am confident he would say he could not prove it.  The resurrection is what I call a “faith statement.”
   
To Kristof’s question about whether he (Kristof) is a Christian if he does not believe in the resurrection, Carter is very pastoral in his answer.  He simply explains, “I do not judge whether someone else is a Christian.”  Perhaps Kristof was hoping for a yes-no answer; Carter re-frames his answer by focusing on himself.  I am sure Carter is comfortable letting God decide such questions.  Maybe they are real questions God will decide and maybe they are only our questions, which are not really God’s questions.  I appreciate Carter’s wisdom.
   
Kristof continues his probing questions.  Another angle he pursues with Carter is whether Carter thinks good people, who are not Christian---people like Gandhi and others--- are doomed to hell because they are not believers.  Again, I loved Carter’s gentle answer to this pesky question.  He says, “I do not feel qualified to make a judgment. I am inclined to give him (or others) the benefit of any doubt.”  This satisfies me.
   
And it was in Kristof’s ending question about prayer that I most resonated with Carter.  Of course, Carter believes in and practices prayer.  But then he added the sentence I most admire.  He states, “My general attitude is of thanksgiving and joy.”  This is a perspective I would want for myself and could wish for everyone else---friend and foe alike.  This shows Jimmy Carter at his very best.  His general attitude is thanksgiving and joy.  As I hear that, I realize I tend to substitute “gratitude” for “thanksgiving,” but to the same end.
   
Carter did not say it, but I do think he meant that being a Christian and practicing prayer, etc. has brought him to this attitude as a way for him to live.  And it is a powerful way to live.  Just think: if you could wake up every day and be thankful.  And can you and I maintain that attitude of gratitude throughout our day.  Of course, not everything will go our way.  There will be bumps and we will be bruised.  An attitude of thanksgiving can be maintained, even if some things don’t go my way. 
   
I am sure Carter was not thankful he lost the presidency to Reagan, but this did not eradicate his attitude of thanksgiving.  It did not ruin his life.  He chose thanksgiving instead of bitterness.  He never would have won the Nobel Prize if he had chosen to be bitter!  Instead he chose to be better.  And this choice opened the road of joy for him to tread.
   
To be joyful is not the same thing as being happy.  Happiness is fleeting; joy abounds and we can abide in joy, even when things again don’t always go our way.  This Jimmy Carter teaches me.  Each new day I have a choice.  Jesus modeled this way and Carter is on the way. 

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