giving thanks

Thanksgiving and a Theology of Despair

tomertu / Shutterstock.com

tomertu / Shutterstock.com

Are you feeling pressure to be thankful?

We are in the midst of the Thanksgiving season. I’m reminded everywhere I go to “Be thankful!”

Well, call me the Scrooge of Thanksgiving, but I’m just not feeling thankful. The more someone tells me to “Be thankful!” the more I feel a sense of despair.

Be thankful? In the midst of Ferguson, Mo.? Jim Wallis writes that, “Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America.” And what will white America do about it? Nothing new. One side will continue the status quo of racism by denying that it even exists and then they will blame the victims. I firmly stand in the other side that blames America’s deeply embedded structures of racism, economic injustice, and educational inequality. To make matters worse, America is sharply divided over the shooting in Ferguson. Each side of the division blames the other for tragic violence. Sunday’s heated debate on Meet the Press between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson is indicative of the deep racial tensions underlying not only Ferguson, but every city in the United States.

My Facebook news feed and the media are telling me how I’m supposed to feel about Ferguson. Outraged. Hurt. Anxious. Guilt. Anger. Bitter. But certainly not thankful.

Thankful, Indeed

I’ve learned that it’s especially important for those who are always trying to change the world, to remember what they are thankful for in their world as it is!

First I am thankful to God for his or her patience with us. Thankful that despite how much we human beings (perhaps especially we religious believers), so often disappoint, embarrass, and even hurt God with the things we say and do — even in God’s name; that God still continues to love us, forgive us, and call us to act more like God’s children, who should live together like brothers and sisters.

I am thankful to Jesus, who seems to have survived all of us Christians who name his name. Thankful that he is still so popular all over the world, even when Christians are, well, are not so much. But I’m also thankful for when Christians or others actually do the things that Jesus said, love their neighbors and even their enemies, just as he taught us to do, and when we do treat “the least of these” in the same way that we would treat him. I’m always most thankfully surprised by the unexpected and simple acts of love, grace, kindness, welcome, and justice that make people want to believe in and follow Jesus again....

Thanks(giving) Be To God!

"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism.

"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism in Laguna Beach, Calif.

To me, "unexpected" is at the heart of how I understand grace. It is the unearnable gift, the divine reversal and sacred surprise, the still small voice that drowns out the din of the maddening crowd, the little bit extra that my Cajun friends call lagniappe, the very thing we "deserve" the least but get anyway. From God. From the One who created the world and the audacious, indescribably power of love.

Taking a cue from Nell, here are just a few of the unexpected blessings I am grateful for today:

For God's fingerprints that cover every inch of our world, seen and unseen. And for the moments where I can almost make out the holy whirls imprinted in the sky, the ocean, the sunlight, and on the faces and stories of each of us.

For the generosity and selflessness I see so vividly — all around me, all the time — even in these lean, nervous days. I saw it in Zuccotti Park, where strangers prepared and served food to other strangers. I saw it in the sober faces and strong arms of the men who helped 84-year-old Dorli Rainey to safety after she was pepper-sprayed at an Occupy rally in Seattle. I heard it in the prayers lifted at the White House, at North Park University in Chicago, and in the basement of a church in Spanish Harlem where kind, mighty souls formed Human Circles of Protection last week and stood in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable, and the least of those among us. I watched it on display at border crossings, immigration rallies, refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, and at a glass blower's studio in my hometown of Laguna Beach where strangers arrived with shovels and wheelbarrows to help dig out an artist and his artwork from the muddy ravages of a flash flood. I saw it in the fresh coat of paint on the front steps of my elderly parents' home in Connecticut that my cousins had applied for them with great care and kindness when my brother and I couldn't be there to do it.

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