I am all for gratitude and for living in ways which says Thank you.
And, by now you may be tired of it because I probably say it too much. That reminder to you and to me that Thank you is your first and your best prayer or the quote by Meister Eckhart. If the only prayer you ever say is Thank you it will be enough. And, you may be tired of this because I have said it too often. That gratitude is one of the distinguishing characteristics of people of faith especially in a community and in a culture in which “I deserve it.” lives so close to the surface and comes so easily to our thoughts and our actions.
At its best, gratitude acknowledges the other.
And, acknowledges the more which we know and name as God. And, acknowledges that which is beyond my doing and my deserving. We should say Thank you each day. Multiple times each day. And, I believe the more you can nurture a sense of gratitude in each moment you have the closer you come to God and to each other. Give thanks in all circumstances. The Apostle wrote.
And, I am glad that this week most, if not all, of us will set aside a day or more to spend with family and friends. To share time together. And a meal together. To laugh together. And, maybe cry together. And, in truth, time for more than just a meal.
A time for far flung sisters and brothers to sit and talk.
A time for grandparents read books or to play games with their grandchildren.
A time when family stories are told and retold and remembered again.
And, as a friend said in a meeting we were in together this week Thanksgiving is the one holiday we all can celebrate.
Christians. Jews. Muslims. Sikhs.
Democrats. Republicans. Libertarians. Socialist.
Red state. Blue state. Agnostics. Atheists.
All of us.
In a time when it feels like more is pulling us apart than holding us together, on Thursday most of us will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with someone else around the table and in whatever way we are able say, Thank you.
But, I confess to having mixed feelings about Thanksgiving.
Some of those mixed feelings have to do with the tendency to pile all our thankfulness onto one day. Some of it has to do with thankfulness being connected to far more food than what we need or can eat. And, some of has to do with the language we use to describe how we are thankful and what we are thankful for.
Both in church and in the world around us, we use the word blessing to describe what we are to be grateful for and we are reminded and remind each other to give thanks for the blessings in our lives. Many of those things you mentioned as we began our worship this morning.
Particularly for us here, but also woven through our culture, our theology and our understanding is that blessings come from or have something to do with God.
You may think I am parsing words here or paying attention to something not all that important, but I happen to think words matter and the words we use and the way we use them shapes both perception and reality. For me, the problem with the way we use and understand the word blessing and, by extension, the way we think about talk about this time of year is this. If we believe our lives to be blessed because of the food and family and freedom we have, what about those people who are estranged from their families? What about all those households which do not have enough food? What about those people out of work or working in jobs which they hate or which don’t pay them enough to support their families or work several jobs to support their families, but they never see their children?
Does that mean they are they not blessed?
I think they are sometimes talked about and treated that way.
And, what does that say about their relationship to God and about our relationship to and our understanding of God?
For some time now I have been asking myself this question.
If I don’t like to use the word blessing, what word do I like?
What word would I suggest instead?
I don’t like the word luck or lucky.
I pull back from that even more than I do the word blessing.
I don’t like to think life and universe is defined by luck.
And that eliminates the word fortunate because that word is merely a synonym for luck. So the word/concept I have been playing with this year as I get closer to this Thanksgiving is the word privilege.
I am privileged to have the family I do.
I am privileged to do the work I do.
I am privileged to have enough food to eat.
I am privileged to enjoy the freedoms I do.
I still don’t know whether privilege is a good word to use or not. I am still trying it out. But, for the moment, it does three things for me.
- It leaves room for gratitude.
While I may have worked hard for all these things, it takes more than me to shape a family. More than me to make my work meaningful. More than me to uphold the freedoms I enjoy. I can acknowledge what I have added and be grateful for what others have added.
- Privilege is not a theologically loaded word. At least not in the same way blessing is.
God is not the agent. Either to bless or to withhold blessing.
- Privilege brings with it responsibility.
If I am privileged and you are not, my responsibility is to help remove those barriers and hindrances that limit the potential and possibilities in your life.
I have been and am privileged in many, many ways.
So, as I said…
I may just be parsing words.
Or worrying over something not all that important.
But, it also makes me wonder…
If not this, what do you lie awake in bed at night thinking about?
Prayers and best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving.