A Celebratory Dance of Gratitude

I cannot remember being this concerned about my nation and its immediate future. An American political party, which began with the election of Abraham Lincoln and stood for staunch anti-communism, a robust international American leadership, a commitment to democratic values–freedom of speech, freedom of the press, open participation in self-government, free trade, and above all, a thoughtful, resolute politics characterized by civility and dignity, has been silenced. The reason, even as the Republican President acts in ways that utterly contradict traditional Republican values, is that the entire apparatus of American government is moving away from the political mainstream, where it has been for decades. Clearly vulnerable now and in the days ahead are – reproductive freedom and a woman’s right to choose whether or when to give birth; relationships with traditional international allies with whom the United States shares common democratic values and with whom our nation created and has maintained the international order since 1945; accessibility to the ballot box, particularly for racial minorities, as added restrictions on registering and voting pile up; environmental regulations that are actually in the process of successfully lowering carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and combatting life threatening global warming. Meanwhile the President continues to behave in ways that are bizarre, impetuous and unconscionable. Just last week distinguished reporter, Bob Woodward, published a new book, Fear, that documents the way the President manipulates and exacerbates fear of the other, the stranger, in ways that are dangerous, and this was followed by the anonymous essay in the New York Times by a high administration official describing ways a group of dissenters is working to protect the nation from its own President.

I don’t know when I’ve been more concerned for my nation. But in the midst of my malaise two things occurred to refocus my attention from the dreary immediate to the long-term, and in the process have given me reason for hope.

First, I’ve been revisiting the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis in preparation for co-teaching an Adult Education course with good friend and distinguished Hebrew Scripture scholar, United Seminary, Dayton, Ohio, Professor Tom Dozeman. Tom reminded me that the Creation stories in Genesis were written to give encouragement and hope to the exiled Jewish/Jerusalem community in Babylon in the 6th century B.C.E. The exiles found themselves in a strange and foreign place with their very identity as God’s people called into question, facing the daily challenges of an alien culture and values. Allowing that to sink in and ferment a bit I began to see the experience of exile as an immediate current reality. And the ancient words of scripture, “In the beginning, when God created…” slowly began to put things back into perspective along with the Genesis writer’s insistence that the creation is good…”And God saw what God had made and it was good”…five times, punctuated by a sixth as God looked at newly created humankind – “it was very good!” It is, finally and ultimately, God’s world and no matter what is happening around us, that doesn’t change, not in times of persecution and exile, not in a Holocaust, not now. God is God.

That was a welcome biblical/theological context for perspective and new hopefulness. The second thing that happened was a long-awaited trip to Alaska. Ever since I saw a movie about glaciers calving and whales breaching in elementary school I have wanted actually to witness it. So, many decades later, we signed on, along with a daughter and son-in-law, to a week-long National Geographic Lindblad expedition to Southeast Alaska called Alaska’s Inside Passage. The enormity of what we were seeing, the sheer vastness of millions upon millions of acres of untouched, pristine wilderness, the tall green Western Hemlocks and Sitka Spruces as far as the eye could see on both sides of the bays we were sailing, was balm for my soul. Glaciers finally, calving, ice sheering off and crashing into the surf with a prehistoric rumble, blue icebergs floating beside us, exceeding my childhood visions. On the final day we were visited by humpback whales. We had seen a few spouting in the distance and showing a fleeting sight of flukes disappearing into the water. These whales, six of them, came close. Expedition leaders explained that they were hunting together and that each had a role to play. One whale blew a “Bubble Net” around a school of herring. Another whale emitted an underwater “scream” which terrified the herring and forced them together and upward. Then the whales emerged, all six, huge mouths agape at 90 degrees, taking in 17,000 gallons of water, great tongues squeezing the water out and the herring against their baleen and swallowing. Six times it happened as we watched. Finally, one whale breached, emerging entirely out of the water and crashing back down, then another and another, breaching, crashing, a celebratory dance of gratitude for generous food. One whale extended tail and flukes high out of the water and waved, five times. “Awe” barely describes what we felt. There were tears, many tears at what we were so very privileged to witness.

I could not help but remember the doxological litany of Genesis: God saw what God had made and it was good. It was very good.

John M. Buchanan


  1. Barbara FOUNTAIN says:

    A beautiful description of your wonderful experience.
    God is good.

  2. Sandy Mathias says:

    Thank you. Your messages always appear when we seem to need it most!

  3. I admit that I saw your headline and thought “Gratitude? Now?” But of course, now I can say yes to gratitude again. So, since dancing is now beyond my knees, here’s my written dance of gratitude! Tra-la, tra-la — ta da! Gratitude is found!

  4. Pastor, thank you for your words which always inspire me, ground me and give me hope. I long for your entries. This one landed in a great place in my heart. So glad you were able to see God’s creation in Alaska and bask in His beauty. So grateful to be touched by your wisdom. Be well!

  5. Thankyou for “taking us” to SE Alaska with you. It is one of the places that Bob and I feel
    at home…especially Sitka. What a treat you had with the humpbacks.
    It is our hope that the many thoughtful tributes to the life of John McCain have illuminated
    for our country that working together can rise above politics.
    Shirley Martz

    Sent from my iPad 🌵😊

  6. Beverly Schmidt says:

    Our 3 daughters and their husbands are traveling in Alaska and sending pictures back to us. They are seeing all the wildlife, hiking a glacier, and resting as the sun sets so beautifully. I feel their joy and am relieved they can have a perfect experience in the midst of our nation’s sorrow and unease.

  7. Clara Morgan says:

    It is always so good to read a message from you!

    On Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 6:14 AM Hold to the Good wrote:

    > John M. Buchanan posted: “I cannot remember being this concerned about my > nation and its immediate future. An American political party, which began > with the election of Abraham Lincoln and stood for staunch anti-communism, > a robust international American leadership, a commitment t” >

  8. Thanks for your meaningful and beautiful words of hope!

  9. Perspective much appreciated. Thank you John.

  10. Thank you for again lifting my spirits. And thank you for putting our current governmental crisis. and the accompanying world-wide soap opera, in perspective against the wonderful, timeless universe that God has created.

    “Our little systems have their day;
    They have their day and cease to be:
    They are but broken lights of thee,
    And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

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