Thank you all, for everything you bring to our conversation

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My annual Thanksgiving list:

I am thankful for all my readers who get angry at some of the things I say or believe. I often learn more from your arguments than with the letters of praise I receive (both of them). For those of you who think I'll burn for eternity in a lake of fire ... I am not that thankful.

I am thankful for my readers who wish I was a priest. I also want to again assure those who write me and ask me Christian questions that I just write down the answers given to me by priests or ministers. I don't always say this but I always mean it: You should always consult your local priest, minister, or imam for his or her answer to your question, but I'm told that my sources almost always get it right.

I know it's jarring for some readers to see Christian questions answered by a rabbi, but I can assure you I am the most priestly rabbi you'll ever encounter. We religious folk have really only two options in our world: No. 1. We can circle the wagons and only listen to people who believe exactly what we believe. This option is comforting but insulating and corrosive to our spiritual growth. No. 2. All of us can learn from other faiths. This learning, far from eroding our own faith, almost always enhances it, as we see our ancient wisdom in a new light.

The passions of hatred affect all of our communities and it's long past time for us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said that in Matthew 22, and I believe Jesus was right. I pray on this Thanksgiving that all of us might learn this lesson.

I am thankful for atheists, even though I don't always appear to be. I believe that one can find hope and meaning in our broken world without religious faith, just as one can lose hope and meaning from within faith.

However, just as some Christians don't believe I am seeing the full truth without following Jesus, I don't believe that the fullness of the truth of our lives is captured by those who believe that we are only material beings. I believe that we have a soul. I believe that death is not the end of us, and I believe that those who live a righteous life in any faith, or in no faith, will inherit eternal blessedness in heaven.

Let's just agree to disagree until we sort everything out at the pearly gates or in the worm-infested muck, whichever turns out to be true.

I am, of course, thankful for all my readers who have been so generous in their kind words and prayerful blessings. When Fr. Thomas Hartman and I began the God Squad, we had a simple message, "We know enough about how we are different and not enough about how we are all the same." I believed that 25 years ago when we met, and I believe it today. The difference that matters most in our world is not the difference between Jews and Christians and Muslims but the difference between those who believe something hopeful and kind and those who believe nothing hopeful or kind at all.

Also ...

I am thankful for the people who are serving food in soup kitchens in addition to or instead of eating their own lavish Thanksgiving dinners at home. The thankfulness you will receive from those who sleep in the dust is sweeter than your grandma's pecan pie.

I am thankful for those who rescue animals and don't kill them even if nobody comes to their shelters to adopt them. Animals are like God; both love us more than we deserve.

I am thankful for those who do go to the animal shelters to adopt rescued animals. Most don't have a pedigree but they have a muttagree, which is just as beautiful.

I am thankful to our soldiers who are in harm's way. No thanks is great enough to express our gratitude for their service and their sacrifice. Without them, the civilized world would collapse.

I am thankful to doctors and nurses and aides and technicians and researchers and the people who make the green Jell-O that they seem to serve at every meal in hospitals. The work of healing is complex, unending and expensive, but it is also holy work. I believe that one who saves a single life is like one who has saved the entire world. To the healers among us, I say you are blessed for saving many worlds.

I am thankful to the people who climb utility poles in the rain and who crawl through tunnels under the street and who fly into storms to rescue folks stranded by floods. They accept a level of danger in their work that keeps all of us safe. I know they can get cold, but they should be warmed by our thankfulness for their hard and dangerous work.

I am thankful for my brothers and sisters who are clergymen and clergywomen. I know from the inside what you know. I know how blessed we are to be present for people in times of joy and sorrow. I also know the sacrifice of leaving your family at a moment's notice to help bring comfort to another family in distress. I know how you cannot be wise enough or funny enough or profound enough or caring enough for everyone at all times. But I believe you are good enough for God and that, my brothers and sisters, is good enough.

So to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving and God bless us one and all!

Rabbi Marc Gellman answers questions about all religious faiths. Send questions only to The God Squad, c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave. Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or e-mail them to godsquadquestion@aol.com

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