Interfaith Thanksgiving: Chief of Chaplains provides words of grace

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SOUTHWEST ASIA — On Nov. 28, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the government closed in a proclamation stating: “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

Chaplain (Capt.) Emmanuel Enoh, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Catholic chaplain, recited these words by the former president to kick off the Thanksgiving interfaith service at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 22, 2017.

“The very first amendment [in the Bill of Rights] is that every American has the right to freely exercise their faith,” said Maj. Gen. Dondi Costin, Air Force Chief of Chaplains. “From the [beginning] our founding fathers understood that part of being American is allowing everybody to live in the way that their God would have them to live.”

Costin, who visited Southwest Asia over the Thanksgiving holiday, provided the Thanksgiving message during the service which represented multiple Christian denominations and highlighted the spiritual commonalities among multiple faiths, including Islamic thanksgiving traditions.

“The season from Thanksgiving to the end of the year is a highlight for many faiths and is a time to think about who we are and to think about whom God is and how we relate to him,” Costin said. “But we begin certainly with this season of Thanksgiving knowing that what we have is not due to our own merit, not due to our own works but due to God’s goodness in our lives.”

Senior Airman Rashard Ibrahim, 386th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, echoed Costin’s sentiments in his statements about his Islamic faith and traditions.

“In Islam, we are not only asked to thank Allah, but we are also told to thank our children, our spouse, our friends, our neighbors and all those who do good [should] be thanked,” Ibrahim said. “Those who do not thank people, do not thank Allah. One attribute of Allah is gratitude and he said ‘people who are faithful to me are grateful and I will give you more.”

The service included a multi-denominational choir and scripture readings by Capt. Stacy Gault, 386th AEW public affairs officer, and Capt. Tyler Hanrion, 386th AEW flight safety officer, emphasizing the importance of the type of gratitude spoken about in Ibrahim’s speech.

“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me,” Gault read from Deuteronomy 8: 16 to 18. “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”

Costin says that when it comes to spiritual fitness, research has demonstrated clearly that people who are involved in faith communities tend to do better in relationships, have a better general well-being and tend to live healthier lives. He said the question then becomes, what can the chaplain corps do for those who don’t practice a religion?

The goal of the chaplain corps for those who don’t observe a religion is to take principles from various religions and belief systems and apply these concepts to the spiritual fitness of these individuals.

“The beauty of America is that we have freedom of religion, and specifically we have the free exercise of religion, for an interfaith service what we get to see is that mosaic that is America and part of that mosaic really involves faith and religion,” said Costin. “The common theme among all persons of faith is a sense that there is someone or something bigger than ourselves – such as who we owe an allegiance or who we can learn from – to whom we can worship and to whom we can help other people learn their place in this world.”