I am a product of the Midwestern attitude that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” There is some deep, substantial wisdom in this thinking, but also a danger. There are so many nice things to say, and so many nice things to point to and talk about that it feels ungrateful to accentuate the negative. But much that is negative never gets turned to the positive through silence.
Yet, I will follow the edict for today. I will not focus on the iffy origins of the Thanksgiving holiday (subtle, aren’t I?) but instead reflect on those things for which I am truly and honestly grateful.
I am a person of great privilege, blessing, benefit, and comfort, not through any effort or entitlement. Born white, male, straight, lower-middle-class (but middle class, nonetheless, with all the attendant benefits), relatively intelligent, in the United States, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. Yes, I contend with a fairly severe chronic invisible disability, but I am still healthier than the majority of people living on our planet today. I wake up each morning (so far) and I look forward to good books, fulfilling work and ministry, a comfortable living space, more food than I need, an abundance of time wasting gadgets and media, a fantastic wife, great children/grandchildren, and an old, fat cat with whom I compete to see who can feel most superior to the other. My wife pampers and spoils me terribly. I am friends with some wonderful people. I can travel pretty much anywhere I want to, and do pretty much anything I want. It would be absolutely heinous and contemptible for me to complain about much of anything in my life. If anything, I should live with a constant discomfort that I have so much in a world where literal billions have so little.
I am, I must confess, a potatoes man. Stuffing is fine for those who like it, and I am not adverse to stuffing, per se, but given a forced choice, mashed potatoes would win 10-out-of-10 times. This is strange, because I grew up in a Midwestern family where we never had fewer than four stuffing options; one year I remember seven (walnut, oyster, wet, dry, sage, cornbread, chestnut – why I still remember them all, I cannot say. I was about 8 or 9 at the time, and I sampled all of them, liking none of them…). But stuffing at Thanksgiving time has become a metaphor for life: too much of a good thing is never a good thing.
I find that I become very uncomfortable when I take time to count my blessings and give thanks. I have too much. So much that I have no real, God-given right to. Yes, I work hard. Yes, I have put in the time, studied, practiced, improved, put in the hours, fought hard and sacrificed much. So what? There are so many people who work just as hard, if not harder, have sacrificed as much if not more, and have suffered injustices I cannot even imagine, who have so much less.
My wife, Barbara and I are generous people. We support a lot of good causes. But we really do have the luxury of giving from our abundance rather than making painful sacrifices. We live in a pretty sanitized and rarefied realm. We step up, stand with, and speak out on occasion, but at the end of the day we get to go home to safety, comfort and security. I am both grateful for this and a tad embarrassed. There is so much more I could do.
But guilt and shame can be crippling. It isn’t so much that I shouldn’t enjoy the blessings I have, but my desire grows constantly to make sure others have the same opportunity. Equity and justice are incredible “principles” and “values” but if they stay nothing more than abstract concepts they are essentially worthless. I am all for apologies, but I am much more committed to reparations. I am so fortunate to be pastoring in a community of faith that seeks to organize around real and lasting change. Our overarching theme for 2022 is “Mercy and Justice for All,” and every service, study, project, and proposal will have actionable tasks and demands attached. We will strive to be doers of the Word, not hearers/speakers/thinkers/contemplators only.
Privilege can be a tool, not simply a condition. Paul got it right in Corinthians – those who have hold a special responsibility and opportunity to use what they’ve got for the betterment of all, including those who have little. It isn’t about the haves losing what they have; it is about eliminating the category of have-nots. All of us should have; enough, and to spare.
I am thankful, but I am also humbled. I am blessed, but also a bit ashamed. I am so fortunate, but in no way am I special or better than anyone else. I wouldn’t trade my life for any other; I simply and truly wish that everyone had it as good as I do. Happy Thanksgiving!