I often marvel at the apparent idiocy of extreme sports. Normal, somewhat sensible sports like skiing or skateboarding or diving are transformed into death-defying high risk endeavors by people who seek thrills and the challenge to do the impossible. Athletes and lunatics attempt to make difficult sports even harder, and often achieve absolutely amazing results.
I wonder what might happen were we to apply the same mentality to the Christian life? As we prepare this week for Thanksgiving, I wonder what might happen if we could move from a passive sense of gratitude to an active determination to give the whole world a reason to be grateful? Watch the following video. It represents for me where the church is today. It is all about being nice, polite, and correct.
This comes from theworkofthepeople.com and is one of many excellent videos that challenge us to reflect on what we really believe and how we want to live our faith. It is a modern-day (well, from the 1950s… not sure how modern-day…) parable of our churches. Places where people want to be happy, glad, polite, and comfortable. Places where we give thanks for being filled with good food, covered by good shelter, surrounded by loving people. Could we wish for more?
Well, yes. As the people of God we could wish that this were not a reality for the minority of the human family. We could wish that all people could be filled. We could wish that all people be housed. We could wish that all people be clothed. We could wish that all people received health care. We could wish that others might know the same sense of security and comfort that we know.
It is easy to be thankful for what we have. It is much more difficult to share what we have with those who have less. It is wonderful to feel gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy. It is more difficult to give others a reason to feel gratitude. The purpose of blessing, according to both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, is to share the blessing with others. It is fascinating to note that the origin of the term “gratitude” comes from the concept of “gratus” — which we translate as “thanksgiving,” but which originally meant, “to do that which is pleasing.” Gratitude was not originally a feeling, but an action. It was not a way of being appreciative, but a way of showing appreciation by caring for others. Thanksgiving should not motivate us to stuff our own faces, but to stuff the faces (and the hearts) of those who have so very little to be thankful for.
Moving beyond the holiday, is there a way to become a church of radical thanksgiving? Is it possible that we live in such a sense of blessedness that we could orient our entire ministry to sharing our wealth and good luck with those who have less? Would there ever be a way that we might dedicate ourselves to the simple goal of doing all in our power to give others something to be thankful for?
Oh, I know, many individual congregations do this. But what if we made it a denominational priority? Talk about rethinking church! Church that isn’t about us. Church that isn’t obsessive compulsive about getting more members. Church that cares more about the poor and marginalized than the middle class. Oh, man, a different kind of church altogether. But, this is a bit extreme. Most United Methodists have no real interest in an extreme church. We are thankful for the church we have. But the questions still haunts — could we wish for more?