Thursday, November 27, 2014


Today is American Thanksgiving, the day Americans set aside to mythologize their history, put up with family, and train for Christmas shopping all under the guise of a day of thanks.

Being thankful and expressing that thanks is a wonderful thing. Having a day set aside to offer thanks is also a lovely idea. It's very easy to lose the spirit of the holiday. But it's just as easy to get caught up in "Christmas comes earlier and earlier! We're losing Thanksgiving!" or "WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE GIVING THANKS!!"

In many churches on Sunday, I'm sure there were sermons preached of the story where Jesus heals ten lepers and one comes back to thank him. Jesus says, "Were there not ten cleansed?" and we are always told that the point of the story is to remember to be grateful for the things God did for you. And of course we should be. That's a good lesson, and there's nothing wrong with that. But something else Jesus said leapt out at me recently.

Jesus told us to love our enemies and do good for those who hate us. He told us to love people and treat them well, even (or especially?) if they use us, rob us and treat us like garbage. Why? Because that's what God does. Then he says, "For He is kind to the unthankful and evil." (Luke 6:35) If we are to be like God, it's worth remembering that God is kind to the unthankful.

What people tend to neglect in the leper story is that it's not about, or at least not JUST about, being thankful. What Jesus asks is not "where are the other nine guys?" What he actually asks is, "Was the only one to come back and thank me this foreigner?" The story was one of many where Jesus points to the faith and good nature of a Gentile that puts that of the Jews to shame. But does Jesus say something like, "Cursed be those who do not return to give thanks!" No. Like his father, he is kind to the unthankful.

Today and in this season, many Americans and many Christians will get so caught up in their own frustrations at others' perceived unthankfulness. Honestly, if I never hear another flaky Christian use the phrase "attitude of gratitude" it will be too soon. There's a danger in fostering a smugness about it. That tradition of going around the table and saying what you're thankful for really becomes a ploy to see who can play "holier than thou" since everyone is being judged on what they say and how thankful they sound. "What, you're not thankful for your family??" Maybe some are thankful and can't put it into words when they are on the spot. Or maybe they really do feel unthankful. Is that right? Maybe not. But instead of creating a passive-aggressive hostility where people feel the need to put on appearances, just be kind to the unthankful, as God is.

Yes, the idea of Black Friday and constant commercialism is frustrating. But instead of troubling our heads about "why can't these people be happy with what they have?" let's think kind things toward them. Instead of thinking ourselves superior with how we keep the spirit of thanksgiving, let's be in the spirit of God and be kind. It's weird that over time the notion of communal thanksgiving has so often become about individual thankfulness and at times about a kind of judgmental pride.

Kindness is beyond "niceness". "Kind" is from the same roots as "kin" or "kindred". To be kind means to treat someone like family, as one of your own because you are of the same sort. A day of national thanksgiving then is about how all Americans should be grateful for the things they have that bind them and the God that looks out for them. Jesus says that those who love their enemies will be sons of the Most High. God's kindness toward the unthankful means he extends blessings to those who were not his sons as if they were. I'm certainly not saying that we don't need Jesus because we're all God's children or any sort of empty "brotherhood of man" philosophy. But God extends the same goodness he gives his children to those who are not, that they might want to come and be adopted or return to the father they abandoned. And we should have the same attitude. It's easy to talk about an "attitude of gratitude", but beyond that I'd love to see people have an attitude of family toward those we might think don't deserve it. We should not harp on things like, "After all that I do for you, this is the thanks I get?!" For who are we? Are we not dust, but for the grace of God?

On this day of all days, I'd rather not think about the thankful. I want to extend grace to the unthankful and have the mind of Christ. What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving day? I am thankful that my God, the only God, gives rain on the just and the unjust.

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