"A Dearth of Thankfulness"
Anyone who has a love of walking on ocean beaches knows the thrill of discovering both the new and the long buried. One can find the odd shell that bears the unique marks of former inhabitants life, and scattered on the shoreline is always the littered glass that has become as semi precious as it has been created semi translucent by the incessant rolling and beating of the waves against sand and stone. Storms provide the would be littoral archaeologist with a potentially remarkable variety of novel or lost things to explore. Anyone who combed the beaches after super storm "Sandy" moved through the area, or even saw pictures of the coasts after the historic tides receded would notice a plethora of once submerged float some and jet some the ocean left behind. All of this was either treasure or just trash.
In a similar fashion super storm "Sandy" uncovered social lessons that litter the shorelines of our country's social expressive media. Heroic stories abound of those who sacrificially went out of the way for others, even as the media cameras tended to look the other way. The corollary is also sadly true, there is plenty of press recording the tremendous decline in altruism that has become the hallmark of the last generations of humanity in the West. From the pelting of power line repair personnel to looting and pirating in the cities and suburbs these headlines tend to blaze in our memories.
When confronted with such historic and tremendous loss of life, over 110 and counting, not to mention estimated economic liabilities of between $30 billion to $50 billion with untold impact of economic recovery, most people's thoughts turn, oddly to thanksgiving. A common comment is “I could have it worse, just look at what so and so is going through.” It seems to be common to not really think about being and, therefore, living in thankfulness, true appreciation for the relationships and material comforts of life, until one is presented with the tragedy of loss, and then thankfulness emerges as a contrasting emotion to the fragile nature of life. Our forbearers lived constantly on this cutting edge of life’s tragic nature and thereby seemed to be able to witness a greater sense of marvel and thankfulness then contemporary populations.
Today one’s microcosm is controlled as in no other time. Too hot, turn up the air conditioner. Too cold, turn on the heat. Want to live within an environment that does not fluctuate by more than a couple of degrees? Not a problem. One need but move from an environmentally controlled house to a similarly controlled car, and finally into a controlled store. Don’t like a neighbor anymore? “Unfriend” them in a click. Can’t stand what those Republicans/Democrats/Whatevers are saying? Turn the channel, pull up another website, or take them off of your “tweet” list. One does not need to be inconvenienced by anything, so that when one is, one is traumatized by it. Perhaps this is why super storm “Sandy” gave so many pause to think and feel again: it blew in unscripted and uncontrolled, it made us reconsider the priorities in our lives. On the beaches of personal and social realities, “Sandy” exposed in each one of us the need to be thankful.
The dearth of thankfulness that plagues the West has become catastrophic. Consumer capitalism has fed and grown on the insatiable appetite that lurks deep in the human soul. Think about the advertising that has become so popular in every area of our lives. Things no longer fill a purpose or are a tool for living, but have taken on existential priorities in their own right, consuming becoming an end in and of itself. Be an individual, buy our new sneaker, that, by the way, was mass produced in the millions, and you will, no pun intended, stand out in the crowd. Just don’t think too long about it or you might have to buy our newest model as well, for it makes more of a statement than last year’s. The goal is to keep the hunger going. The hunger for convenience, the hunger for the novel, the hunger for extra ordinary, the hunger for acceptance, the ultimate hunger for love and relevance, an appetite that can only be filled through a life of thankfulness, and ultimately expressed to the Author of all life who wills to fill the hunger, to quench the thirst that is everlasting in the human soul.
Perhaps this is why it is so necessary for evil to co-opt the vitality of Christianity, for in it the hunger of the world is satisfied so that the hunger of the world’s inhabitants might find their filling. Perhaps this is why Hitler found it necessary to usurp the power of Christian truth and symbols to pull its power behind him and propel him to even greater heights of relevance and control, even as today’s consumerism has co-opted the Christian faith in the West to propel personalities who sell the next best book, sermon, or music title, leaving the true Church shriveled and depleted by its association. A hungry heart is, above all else, a heart open to manipulation and exploitation.
When one is thankful, one is content, both in season and out. When one is thankful, the hunger is gone. When one is thankful, one recognizes not only the giftedness of life, but one is also humbled by the thought that this giftedness is not earned by either piety or works, but can be both taken away or diminished through a lack of either. This is indeed one of the conundrums of faith, God makes His rain to fall on both the good and the evil, but the good are able to use it through the thankfulness of faith where all the evil can do is mourn its falling on them. Indeed, this is the gift of a life in thankfulness, not in contrast to the “even worse,” but in an acknowledgement that God has blessed one and even in the valley of the shadow of death, God will walk with us in care, protection, and power. When one is thankful, one is taken out the market of looking to fill “wants.” One need not consume what is already supplied, as enough becomes the perpetual feast. Thankfulness moderates and completes.
The challenge is for one to transform thankfulness from a season or a holiday to a life discipline. More on this in next weeks post entitled “Thankfulness the Mark of a Disciplined Life.”