Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grateful: Pre-Thanksgiving Thoughts

Somewhere in-between the cynicism of fatalists and the Pollyanna sentiments of too many greeting cards is the sentiment of gratefulness. Let's strip away the cliches of "an attitude of gratitude" and the moronic, "it's all good" and choose to be grateful for the abundance of blessings that most of us take for granted.

Before sharing these simple sentences, it is wise to affirm that all of us have pain and unanswered questions. Whether we are poor or rich, an outsider or insider, a minority or majority member, we all "walk with a limp." (This is a reference to the Israelite patriarch Jacob, who had a dramatic encounter with God, received great blessings and a name change to Israel...and came away with a disability.) Death, disease, distress and disaster seem ever-present, impacting us directly as victims or indirectly as caregivers, donors or neighbors.

As a Christian, I believe that our world is simultaneously full of dignity and depravity. We live longing for completeness and enduring unspeakable agonies. We see the glory of God is the macro- and micro-cosmos and the effects of the cosmic tear in unexplainable events. We see humankind capable of creating sublime beauty and sulfuric evils. We long for justice, love, beauty and spiritual connection and often find cruelty, hatred, scarred landscapes and narcissism run amok. I also believe that in the person of Jesus we see the better world to come. In Jesus' life we hear words of grace and see works of goodness that bring the future into the present. In Jesus' death he identifies with our deserved and undeserved suffering, offering forgiveness and experiencing the alienation of unanswered questions. All my "Whys?" to God are collected in his piercing Aramaic exclamation of, "Lama?" In Jesus' resurrection I see a portent of my future: body and spirit renewed, with continuity and contrast with the present cosmos and my community.

Whether my readers share all these sentiments or not, here is why I am grateful:
  • I took a shower today. A third of our world could not.
  • I ate well today. Millions hope for such abundance.
  • My wife and children are happy, healthy and they love me. My parents and in-laws love and care about us. (I am the richest person in the world)
  • I get to spend most of my time doing what I love.
  • I get to meet interesting people from around the world. They hear and see with different ears and eyes and it helps me expand my horizons.
  • I am in the company of good books, while many wait to open their first Bible.
  • This past weekend I went to Belize to serve and now I write these words from the USA. Millions will never leave their ghettos or hamlets.
  • I have choices - almost too many - about everything from breakfast cereal to soap, while millions hope to eat well and bathe this week.
  • I can go to the YMCA and improve my health.
  • I live in a country where we can argue about our deepest differences in politics and religion and still be neighbors.
  • I voted two weeks ago and I am pleased with some results and displeased with others. I greeted the poll workers, thanked them for their hard work and commented that it is a privilege to vote without fear. Democrat, Green Party, Independent or Republican - we get to participate.
  • In the past few days I had the joy of helping several people. To be a part of someone's blessing is the greatest blessing of all.

My list keeps growing as I write. Some are simple things, like a shower. Others are more esoteric, like the company of books. I challenge all of us to write our own "grateful list" and allow our hearts to swell with humble thanks.

I will enjoy a feast next week in the company of my family. But the feast has started today as I ponder my place in life and recognize God's blessings and the wonderful people who enrich my life.

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