I am all for giving thanks.
For food enough.
For a home.
For so much more.
But I am aware that is the easy part.
The first step.
My heart tells me that a life of gratitude is about more than that.
More than about things.
More than about what I have.
I am still learning about what it means to live a life of gratitude.
In all the moments I have.
Those ordinary, everyday ones which, those who know, tell us are so important.
Spaghetti and warm bread.
Soup and sandwich.
Chicken and baked potatoes.
And then there are those special meals together.
It is the special ones
The celebratory dinners
Which I have been thinking about for the last couple of weeks.
Yesterday, the local food pantry hosted their annual Stuff the Bus event.
They park a school bus in front of the local grocery store and encourage/challenge the community to stuff the bus with food which will then be distributed over the next several weeks to individuals and families facing food insecurity. In this season of celebration and giving it is a wonderful challenge and opportunity
. In addition to the Stuff the Bus event, a couple weeks ago food pantries in communities across our country prepared special meals and distributed turkeys and the needed trimmings for Thanksgiving dinner to more neighbors than I would like to imagine or count. Along with the meals and the food, I am sure there were conversations and laughter and tears as we looked one another in the eye and, maybe, for a split second, saw each other for who we are. My thanks and respect to all who had some part in making all that happen.
And, it makes a difference.
But, as is so often the case for me, all of this made me stop and think.
What would it like…
What must it be like…
To only have enough food to have only one special dinner each year.
What happens on those other days.
The ones that mean as much, if not more to me, than Thanksgiving.
What about the birthdays which are coming up?
Or, the graduations which are around the corner?
And, the anniversary which remind us that our love has sustained us through another year?
What about those days?
And, being one who not just asks the questions, but also imagines the What if’s...
What if we ask the people who turn to our food pantries for help what other day during the year they would like to have a special meal?
What if we asked them what they would like to have and to help them plan the menu?
What if the food pantry leaders and volunteers asked me if I would financially support a special meal (or two?) for one of those families?
What if I was asked to help in some way? Bake bread? Bake a cake? Make a casserole?
It is not just about food, is it?
Food insecurity takes its toll on relationships, on learning, on family stability, on health and so much more.
What if those of us who have what we need and often more than what we need stepped up to do just a bit more?
Its about more than a meal.
It is about who we are.
And, who they are.
And, about they type of community in which we would like to live.
Today, is the Second Sunday in Advent.
First, (so you don’t think I am some type of a Thanksgiving Scrooge)…
I hope you have a safe place to be.
And food enough on your table.
And whether you are alone or are gathering with family and friends, that love touches, if not fills, your life. And with all that, you find your own way to say Thank you.
And, while all that is true for me, I have to admit I am always a bit unsettled by Thanksgiving.
For two reasons…
First, maybe it is just the hype which leads up to it, but sometimes it seems we pour all of our thankfulness into one day. Here and done. Feast then famine. Thankfulness then back to normal which is more about what is mine and what I deserve rather than a deep and abiding sense of gratitude. If we celebrate Thanksgiving correctly we are good for another year.
Second, we make Thanksgiving and giving thanks about the blessings in our lives. And, by blessings we mean things. If we have a lot of things we are blessed. Food. Home. Family. Friends. Bank account. Options. Opportunities. If we have good china and an over abundance of food, we are blessed. If we have a home and family we are blessed. And because of that we should give thanks. Gratitude becomes something of a requirement. If all that is true, then the more you have the more grateful you are? And, the less you have the less grateful you are? I am not sure that is how it works. Or, is supposed to work. I am not wise enough to know, but my sense is that a gratitude which transforms and sustains our lives is rooted in something deeper and more important, and that the way we position and celebrate Thanksgiving distracts us from that more important search.
But, maybe I have it all wrong.
23 in all.
Sleeping on couches.
And in corners.
And on blow up mattresses in the basement.
Each taking turns in the kitchen.
Preparing the food.
Washing the dishes.
Preparing more food.
Washing more dishes.
There was laughter.
And a feast spread out on the table.
But, the best part of Thanksgiving
Was playing in the leaves.
Donated by the backyard maple tree.
Carpeting the ground.
Raked into a pile.
Tossed into the air.
Laid down in
While small hands buried me in the smell of fall.
We pretended while we played.
We were leaf monsters.
Or whatever else a young mind could see in that pile of leaves.
Maybe the next time we play.
It will be in the snow.
Or in the sand.
Or in a fort constructed out of blankets and pillows.
But I know this.
We will let our imaginations run wild.
Loose upon the world.
Changing leaves to the ocean.
And today into some promised tomorrow.
Too often busyness shrinks my world.
And, the blinders I wear limit my ability to see to that which is only directly in front of me.
Today I take a deep breath.
And slow down.
Even stop for a moment.
Long enough to push back the blinders I wear in order to see that the circle around my life is so much larger and more diverse and richer than I often take time to notice and acknowledge.
You are in that circle.
I am grateful beyond words.
Threads link my life to so many.
I am who I am today because of all of you.
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.