We have a problem, church. We have a problem.* There are those in our midst who are just too damn thankful.
Yes, I said it: yous all just too damn thankful!
And it doesn’t do us no good - there’s hunger and war and incest under pews of this here church and yous all praising Jesus, bringing your hallelujahs and then pleading moremoremore to the Lord without yous thinking!
Without thinking! And I have to say that the last I looked up at my heavenly God, he clearly stated to me that I had a brain in my head that in fact he expected me to use it.
But yous all too busy sharing the thanks to the good good Lord for harvest and knee surgeries that went well and the man who got kicked out of your kid’s Boy Scouts - because that man, well, that man he had them shifty eyes that went everywhere and nowhere alls at once.
People. We must repent of being thankful. Yes we must. Now I knows that some of yous all is shaking in those pews back there near the exit because of what I’m sayin’. But hear me out: we need to repent of being too thankful. In fact, my dear church, I think that we need to stop being so thank you Jesus about dentists being open on days that our teeth need fixing and babies that are being made** and instead? Instead take the time to bend some knees here at the front - yup, I said it. At the front here where the Good Lord himself lays favour - take off our ‘thankful armour’ - because it IS an armour if you let it be - and here, be honest.
Share some of the real stuff without pretendin’ that life - that just being alive - don’t sometimes hurt. Oh, don’t you all worry back there - yous all in the back row over there, looking down at me right now as I was the devil himself. Don’t worry, don’t worry: the thankfulness will come again, it’ll come again. It always does. But for now, I welcome you: No. In fact, - Jesus himself welcomes you. Go ahead. Paint these red carpeted holy-house floors of the church with the griefs of your parents wrongdoings, your laments, those kids you carried for a bit but never did get born with air in their lungs, oh, the health that never came, and the teeth that are still rotten in your mouth without the good Lord healing them despite you pleading with him to do so. And most of all, cry out that bothersome ache in your heart. Them pains deep you’s belly there just because yous alive in the first place. And just don’t understand what the heck for.
And then, my friends - my dear dear co-workers for the good of all the earth - we can get up. Yes let’s help each other up and let us lean on each other then - and when we are once again all standing, let us wipe off each other’s tears with our own two hands, yes, let us turn to each other and wipe away the tears from faces that are not even our own.
Because that, folks, is church. Not this ‘thank you Jesus no complaining about anything as if The Holy Lord himself can’t handle a bit of your grumblin’!***
Yes. Yes. And then. Oh and then! Once we have risen up from our knees and taken the tears of our neighbours into account - yes then. Then! Then we will get to the work of thanking the good Lord somethin’ proper. For he is good. He is good! Oh yes. Oh yes. I can feel it in my bones today, people! Do you know it? Do you know it? He is good. He is good! He is indeed good! Ha ha!
Can I get an Amen?
I do not like it. I do not like being told to what to do. I will be the first to admit this: I do not like being told to be thankful. It sits heavy on me, an obligation. It feels too much like being reprimanded.
Further, I do not like the disrespect of it, both to myself as an adult and to God - as a Being who is surely able to handle some humans’ pithy and (if not annoying) grumbling. Truly, if I dare say - he seems to me to be less concerned about the quota of thankfulness than the church currently is.**** And if evidence of this is required, see those forty chapters in the good book of Exodus, where this same God puts up with a certain caravan of Israelite fools wandering around in the desert sand, grumbling - yes grumbling - about their freedom. (The same freedom he won them, by the way). And them - these boobs that they are - begging - begging - their tongue-tied Moses-leader to please take them back to “the good ol’ days’, to the time when they were still slave (slaves!) reduced in spirit and heavy under the yoke of their Egyptian overlords. Whipped and forced to make bricks from straw. You know - those good ol’ days.
(Or further back - a Moses-man who sees the Lord himself in a bush-on-fire-and-yet-not-on-fire and still finds reason not to do what God - that is, the bush - is asking him to do! In fact, Moses complains! He suggests to this ALMIGHTY GOD - that same one hiding in a bush - that He ought not to use him, that perhaps He could find someone else? And yes, while the author of the book does seem to indicate that God is a little put-off by Moses’ refusal,***** this God then takes pity and helps Moses out! He gives him Aaron - one to act as a mouthpiece. And if this weren’t enough, God then gives Moses a stick. A stick! He gives him a magic stick. One with which to do tricks - to help his Mosesman - him of an ill-tied mouth - prove to Pharaoh once and for all that this God of fools is kind of a big deal. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried).
Yes. Yes, I think God can handle a bit of our grumbling. After all, not only did he give Aaron to Moses, he remains with his wandering-in-the-desert-fools for forty long years. He hears their cries of complaint and blesses them with quails at their feet, ‘what-is-it’ food from the heavens (from the heavens!) and water from a rock to quench it all down. He is abundant!
Yes, I think this God of the Heavenlies can handle a bit of our grumbling. It’s almost as if he has a plan and is bound to do it, regardless of whether we are presenting gifts of praise or not.
Don’t you see? God doesn’t seem to care. Okay, perhaps that is the incorrect term. Yes, he does mention countless times in his particular Holy Look-Look book that we *ought* to be thankful, that thankfulness even is a virtue. And there are warnings (oh so many warnings!) of end times where gratefulness will be increasingly absent from the earth.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy…” (Insert preferred version of 2 Timothy here).
But he doesn’t make it a rule. And therein lies the difference: he asks for it, but does not demand it.***** If you are reading a Bible and in between the ten commandments of loving God, loving your neighbours as yourself and there is a part about ‘be thankful dammit!’….you are reading the wrong version.
I know that this will come as a shock to many of you; the church in the present has a nasty habit of reduction - of reducing the grand and world-altering schemes of God into tasty behavioural morsels: one of the most common being be good (re: thankful) and thou shalt be accepted.*****
Please hear this. There is nowhere in the Bible where God declares thankfulness as a way into his kingdom. (It might get you into certain religious circles. But those are an entirely different thing). Rather, he asks for the humility to acknowledge a need of him. That is it. So yes, you could argue that in that request of his, there is a bottom layer of thankfulness, that to believe in the need of a saviour one must be presently thankful that there indeed is one. And indeed, I would agree.
But this! This grand message of mercy, love and acceptance of a God-who-is-towards-us cannot be reduced to a minor part in the current ‘war on grumbling’, a thick and rebuking hand across the cheek if one should happen to disagree with the weather, the state of traffic or heaven forbid - the way one’s life took a wrong turn at one point or another.
I have watched it, you see. I have watched as this church-approved ‘gratitude attitude’ has grown. And further, the expectation of obedience to it. Indeed, it has gained latitude, increasing in space between the pews of the building. It has spilled outside its walls. And while being thankful is certainly not a sin, and now a scientifically proven benefit to our mental health, in this cut-and-paste thou-shalt-do-it form, it is simplistic. And further, in such simplicity, it is dangerous.
What began as a perhaps well-intended desire to entice others to be thankful has turned ugly. In its present-day form it has become rigid, formulaic - an intricate-handshake needed to gain acceptance, to be deemed ‘good enough’ to be considered a part of the people of faith.
For when this ‘gratitude bubble’ - for it is a bubble - pushes out - does not allow the easy entrance of - the ‘undesirables’: those too wearied by the hardship of life to be presently thankful about really anything, those who feet hurt by their wandering in the desert - those who, burdened by the same ongoingness of poverty, those people. On some days such people will find the need to say a complaint or two about the weather. Or the frustration of their car not starting. Again. Or that another year has passed and there still is not enough money to buy warm winter boots. And that is okay.
If there is not easy entrance, if there is not grace able to be extended to those of poor health who in the present form are not able to be outright thankful for the circumstances that they find themselves in - well. Well then. Then one has to wonder whether this ‘gratitude attitude’ is gathering the people of faith or just the people of privilege.
So in that, let us be thankful together. Let us indeed be grateful for the good things that we have, the people in our lives, the cats and dogs at our feet. For the bread at the table. Yes, let us - if we have it - be grateful for health and sunshine. But let us not force the act of being thankful onto those not ready or readily able to voice it. For heaven’s sake, let’s not falsely claim that God demands it, needs it, or will change his will according to it. Or - my god - call it a ‘war on grumbling’. No. Let’s not make it a means of ‘staying’ in the kingdom, a stamp of approval for those able to keep the rules, to be obedient to what the church demands, especially if it seems in contrast to what God himself is willing to accept.
He is after all - I may remind - a God who hears complaints and in turn, provides water from rocks, food-stuffs from the heavens and even a magic stick to carry when the task at hand seems too daunting. He is, truly, first and foremost a God of compassion. And power. And (in response to knowing such a God) therein lies the beginning of gratitude.
(Postnote) Here’s the deal. Sometimes things do suck. Today, the weather sucks. It really does; there is not much positive to mention about it: the wind is high and the rain has turned to snow. And this, it would be acceptable - nay tolerable - if such a dropping from the sky were in season. But it is not. It is only mid-November, and this body is already winter-cold.
There. I said it; I am cold. I am cold and I do not like it. And it is okay for me to say this and yet remain thankful for other things of today: the fact that I have a car, money to buy a Starbuck’s coffee. Oh, and the winter coat that I am wearing. It is okay to do both. It is okay for me to share the things that bother me. And having done that, move on.
*we have a problem, church: well, we actually have a few. But let’s just focus on this one for today.
**dentists being open on days that our teeth need fixing: yes, it is great that your dentist just happened to be open on a Saturday and yes it is also wonderful that he just happened to have a nine o’clock appointment on that particular morning so that you could go in and get your achy tooth looked at. That is great. It really is, and maybe evidence of our Good God at work. But as I sat in my seat that Sunday morning awhile back, listening to this woman exclaim with Great Thankfulness that her dentist could fit her in, I had a little trouble, you see. I had a little trouble because well, it seemed silly. Oh, not the toothache itself - I’ve had one of those and they are not for the faint of heart. No. What I was squirmy about was that no one was saying it. That her ‘praise’ was like whiteout on the more obvious thing: what about the rotting tooth in the first place?
And as for being thankful for babies being made, well - that is all great and all - I mean, life is pretty darn neat but really? They had sex, people. That’s it. They had sex.
***The Holy Lord himself can’t handle a bit of your grumblin: I seem to recall a certain relatively famous man who in the midst of being busy about proclaiming the goodness of Jesus coming back from the dead also mentioning that he had a thorn in his side. The exact nature of this “thorn” is not mentioned, but nevertheless, the irritation is: it is mentioned, dare I say it? Complained about. And then not mentioned again.
Oh, and another man - likewise relatively famous - spending the night in a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives, abandoned by his compatriots and him complaining to the point of blood tears - not wanting to do what he knew lay before him. All of these are complaints. They are not gratitude. They are honest feedback about the shitty circumstances they find themselves in. Aimed directly at the Complaint Department in the sky.
****he seems less concerned about it than the church currently is: frankly, he seems a lot less concerned (than the church) about most things, if you ask me.
*****but does not demand it: some in the back pew might split hairs with me over this. So to clarify: yes, he does ‘give a directive to do so’ (read Thessalonians if you wish). But he does not equate it with holiness. Or demand a thankfulness in lieu of authenticity. He seems to think that we can handle doing both.
*****be good and thou shalt be accepted: funny enough, God did not expect his beloved Israelites to be perfect. He knew that they could not be. It’s kinda the same with us. Consider this your ticket to choose thankfulness. But also express sorrow, if need be. Unlike what many involved in the “war on grumbling’ will have you believe, this ticket is perforated. It has two sides. You can complain AND be thankful at the same time. It is not an either/or equation.
*****Put off by Moses’ refusal: in fact later we read that this kind Benevolent God of our’s intends to kill his appointed Mosesman at one point, and this man is saved only by a bit of foreskin being cut off while he slept and then it dropped rather unceremoniously at his feet. By his own mother no less. But who am I to say that the Bible is an odd book of books? Read it for yourself in Exodus 4: 24, 25.