Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This Thanksgiving Day...

Thanksgiving Day is a favorite holiday for many people.

I suspect a big reason is the simplicity of Thanksgiving.

Yes, the consumer orgy called "Black Friday" is spreading into Tuesday and Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, and even into Thanksgiving Day itself. (Which really is obscene, if you think about it for a minute: the one day set aside to give thanks for what we already have, we go out and buy more of what we don't have?! Ugh.)

But for most of us, Thanksgiving Day remains, for the most part, a day for the simple joy of getting together with family or friends for a meal.

Even if your way of observing the day involves stress - travel, complicated recipes, or customs you've added or inherited - chances are the day itself is one of simple pleasures: cooking, eating, relaxing, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade and/or football, catching up.

This Thanksgiving Day, I hope you'll stop at some point and do what the day calls us to do: give thanks. (It might help to recall that "thanksgiving" is a compound word. We "give" "thanks.")

When we "give" something, it implies a giver, and a receiver. There is a transaction going on: someone is giving something, and someone is receiving something.

The transaction might between you and another person (such as your spouse, or your child, or your parent, or your friend) or it might be between you and a whole group of people (such as your church, or the men and women of the armed forces who are observing Thanksgiving far away from home, or teachers), or it may be between you and God.

Thinking about thanks-giving as a transaction helps us to make an important distinction I've written about many times before: the difference between "feeling grateful" and "giving thanks."

The classic biblical teaching on this distinction is in the gospel of Luke, in which ten men are healed of leprosy. In this story, Jesus tells the ten lepers to present themselves to the religious authorities, and as they went on their way, they were made clean. All ten were probably grateful. But only one of them gave thanks.

Giving thanks means moving from an ethereal, vague feeling or emotion within us to a tangible, visible, concrete action.

The leper who gave thanks stopped doing what he was doing, went out of his way, made an effort.   So the elements of giving thanks that make thanksgiving different than mere gratitude are:

1)      Stopping what you are doing 
2)      Going out of your way/inconveniencing yourself temporarily 
3)      Taking some concrete, tangible, visible (or at least audible) action.   

Stopping what you are doing means pausing amid the activity of Thanksgiving Day. It means deliberately stopping what you are doing for the purpose of giving thanks.

Going out of your way or inconveniencing yourself means getting everyone's attention by tapping on a glass, or pulling someone aside so you can have a moment alone. It means sitting down with pen and paper, or finding a quiet moment for a phone call.

Taking some concrete, tangible, visible (or at least audible) action means offering a few words - they do not need to be eloquent, only heart-felt - prior to eating your feast. It means putting both your hands on someone's shoulders, waiting for eye contact, and saying, "I appreciate you so much and I hardly ever say so, but thank you."

It means supporting our veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury by supporting organizations such as Operation VetsHaven, and in so doing go beyond "thank you for your service" to getting veterans Individual Counseling, Legal advice, Financial Advice, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Career Development services.

It means writing a note to a teacher who had a big impact on you, or who is having one on your child. 

So: have a happy Thanksgiving. AND make someone else's happy, by giving thanks. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Your talent is God's gift to you; what you do with that talent is your gift to God."

A poster prominently displayed in a Sunday School classroom said,

"Your talent is God's gift to you; what you do with that talent is your gift to God."

In the Gospel we'll hear on Sunday, Jesus tells the story of a man who, before going on a journey, summons three servants and entrusts them with different amounts of money, measured in "talents" (from which we get our modern day word and understanding of talent).

They're not given the same number of talents: God gives each of us different gifts. We are always so tempted to compare ourselves with other people: who's got what, who's better at this and who's better at that.

But we are only asked to make full use of what we have been given.

We all have talents. Some people are very gifted at music; others at sports; some have a very high IQ, others are good listeners. But there is no one, absolutely no one, who can say they have been gifted with nothing.

The question is not, "do I have gifts?" the question is, "what am I doing with the gifts I have been given? Am I using them, or burying them?"

(If you don't know what your gifts are, then your first priority is to find out, or be reminded. The first step in doing that is to ask yourself, "what am I good at, passionate about, and comes naturally to me?--what makes me feel most fully alive?" The second step is to ask a few others (and I'd be happy to be one of those others) those same questions, until you get clarity.)

Two of the men in the story invest, or take risks with what they have been given. They are rewarded. But the third man safeguards (buries) the money. He is punished.

What a fascinating couple of points Jesus is making, and which we'll explore further on Sunday:

One, those who take risks by investing their gifts find themselves even more enriched. 

Two, the one who is cautious with what he's been entrusted with did not lose it, he did not do anything at all with it. If he had tried and failed, he would have been met with compassion and forgiveness.

Folks, it's a scary, but also liberating thought: it is not just those who do evil deeds who lose out, but those who have no positive good works to show for what they've been entrusted with. We are not punished for failure. We are punished for playing it safe. A dull, lifeless routine is more offensive to God than a lively albeit sinful one. At least with the lively sinful life, God's got something to work with and redeem!  

Friday, November 7, 2014

"Give me Gratitude or Give me Debt"

Each week, I usually share, with my congregation and on this blog, some of my own thoughts. This week, I'm doing something different, which is sharing a link to one of the most humorous, thought-provoking, and -- I think -- important blog essays I have read. 

It's the season of pledge campaigns and giving...thanks-giving. I can't think of a better way to say what needs to be said. So do yourself a favor and read that blog post. 

And enjoy wearing your new "perspecticles" !