This morning as I write, a couple I married and their two children are living in a rental home outside San Francisco while wildfires consume their neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Friends and colleagues are in the middle of rebuilding or restoring homes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean or grieving the loss of lives. A college student requests prayers for a friend shot by a sniper in Las Vegas. No surprise that the news of heartache and loss is so much more riveting when they are experienced by people we know and care about. It is as one might expect it to be. But I am always wary of letting myself off the hook, giving myself permission to take my eye off the news that has persisted so long it is no longer news. Fifteen million refugees permanently displaced from their homes and 38 million internally displaced within their own countries. Soldiers deployed far from home while new and old sabers are being rattled by politicians far from the front lines. One out of nine human beings on the planet chronically undernourished.
I hold myself accountable to care about such things because Scripture tells me that I am created to be more than a human being who lives in a house on a street in a western suburb with a small circle of family, friends, and parishioners. I am more than a Minnesotan and more than a citizen of the United States. I am, should Scripture be true, a part of a community that finds shared identity in a Creator who defined ‘neighbor’ with the broadest brush strokes and who described sacrificial love and humility as the centerpiece of relationships. Despite my incredibly creative and compelling reasons to let myself off the hook for caring beyond my closest circles, Scripture calls me out and challenges me to push the envelope rather than seal it shut.
So, how will I give thanks this Thanksgiving knowing all the struggles that are going on in our own homes and around the world? In 1621, 53 Pilgrims and 90 native Americans shared a feast of thanks after the first Pilgrim harvest. In 1620, over 100 Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth after fleeing religious persecution and less than half had survived their first brutal winter. Thanks for the harvest likely came amid the remembrance of all the hardship they had and would endure. President Lincoln in 1863 (just months after nearly 50,000 were killed or wounded at Gettysburg) called for a national day of Thanksgiving with these words:
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father… I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
So, how do we give thanks? Thanks is more than a word offered, it is a life given, a life shared. We give thanks by breaking bread with loved ones and strangers. We are honest about the challenges and the losses we have endured and we resist the temptation to bemoan and lick our wounds. Instead, we commit to prayer and action that turns the tide against anxiety, greed and irresponsibility and says “Here we are, Lord, send us.” A spirit of gratitude for God’s good gifts and a commitment to be light and salt in shadowy times keeps anxiety from becoming a parasite on our souls. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “We urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Thanks be to God!