Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
I have referred to Thanksgiving as the forgotten season, and I don’t think that is an exaggeration.
Even the greeting card folks who have become the arbitrators of which events we celebrate as a culture, pay little attention to Thanksgiving greeting cards. It seems there is a bigger section for congratulations on having your cat neutered than the Thanksgiving card section. And the cat neutering card is available all year long.
The idea of Thanksgiving is celebrated in many cultures. In the U.S. Thanksgiving commemorates the celebration of the Pilgrims in 1621 after their first harvest in Plymouth. It is important that we understand the circumstance: It was after the first year when almost half of their friends and family had died in a lonely land thousands of miles from home.
These were not just “the glass is half full people.” They had an understanding of something the apostle Paul had written years before to the churches of Thessalonica, in which he reminds them in verse 18 to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (New International Version).
I understand there is a problem because there may be no politically correct way to thank God without the risk of offending someone. But I would suggest it goes beyond the cultural confusion we have created.
I would submit to you as a reason why Thanksgiving is slipping out of our national discussion is simply that thanks is outside of us, because it is ultimately not about us.
Consider for a moment the third word that most infants can clearly communicate: The first is “da-da” then “ma-ma” (not necessarily in that order) and the third is often “mine.”
Who teaches their child to say “mine”? Most likely nobody does and yet it is an early concept in the human response and vocabulary. The giving of thanks, on the other hand, apparently has to be taught, a lesson that often appears irritating to the pupil and the teacher frequently meets resistance.
For example, the mom might encourage, “Now what do we say,” to which the child thinks and sometimes says, “I don’t like that kind of candy,” or “What am I supposed to do with this thing?”
Perhaps we can say then the giving of thanks is not necessarily one of those things we are prewired for, but I don’t think we can assume it does not have value. I did a quick search and in the NIV Bible there are 34 references, and in the King James Version there are 35 that contain the words “give thanks.” So even though it appears not to be a natural response, it is at the very core of our relationship with people and by extension our relationship with God.
Let me give you one more view in wrapping up the idea of giving thanks since I believe there is another danger in not being thankful: It is the sense of entitlement.
There is an old story about a man who noticed an elderly and obviously poor women selling pretzels from a cart on his way to work. The pretzels were twenty five cents and while he never bought one, he regularly placed the money on her cart and went on his way without a word between them.
One morning after leaving his quarter in the usual place, the woman called out to him. He turned, perhaps expecting thanks for his acts of kindness. He was surprised when she called out, “The cost has gone up. They are now fifty cents.”
This sense of entitlement becomes an over arching principal in a culture where we “deserve” everything, where we are “owed” everything and we have a “right” to everything. With that world view it becomes difficult to be thankful for anything. A holiday for the celebration of thanks can become irrelevant. It is never too late.
Bill Upton is pastor of Tooele’s First Assembly of God Church.