It is strange to think Americans have a holiday set aside for gratitude, as if we accidently still believe that saying thank you is so important we need some time off to do it properly. I love it. I love the fact that it is a 4 day holiday for many people, a holiday in which the stressful part happens on the first day, leaving 3 days to just be. The first time my husband and I decided not to do the Thanksgiving Dash, where we tried to see our two families in two different states in five days, we felt like we had discovered the country’s best-kept secret. It was like a Christmas Miracle to spend a day watching parades while we cooked scrumptious food for friends, followed by a 3-day pajama/football/leftover fest. If you have never not travelled, I highly recommend it! For this week set aside to give thanks, I offer a few moments of gratitude….
I’m grateful to know my need. This year has shown me that I am vulnerable, and that I am privileged to live a life in which my vulnerability is not evident to all. But it’s there, and my efforts to conceal it or expose it deeply shape the way I engage with others. In my life I have found that the degree to which I recognize my own vulnerability—confessing it to God and others—is the degree to which I am able to create space for others to recognize their vulnerabilities. When I hold my own desperation loosely, allowing it to shape my identity, I am better able to see and interact with people who struggle with their own insecurities by offering them dignifying compassion and empathetic companionship. I am thankful for an increasing awareness of my need.
I am grateful for the circle of failure I am in. (Let’s be honest, most days I am NOT grateful for failure in myself or others.) I can’t deny that this year I have had to work relentlessly to battle despair, anger and cynicism, and yet I have often fundamentally failed at basic civil relationships. I have been profoundly lonely, alienated from the people I grew up around, from fellow citizens, and from many people who claim the same Christ I love. Being ticked all the time doesn’t work though. I am grateful for a growing awareness that I cannot live reacting with anger and judgment. I am working to find another way to appreciate others, even when they baffle me. I am working to replace judgment with curiosity, cynicism with hope, and apathy with constructive engagement. This work is miraculously beginning to change my instincts: If I believe all people are created in the image of God then I cannot dismiss anyone as ridiculous, bigoted or unworthy. This awareness is forcing me to lean on grace, to rely consistently on a force outside myself to care well for others. It requires me to realize that ‘there but by the grace of God go I’ into grudge-holding and finger-pointing meanness too. I am grateful that I am constantly aware that I have a huge capacity to dismiss and judge others, and that it takes miraculous intervention to live differently.
Finally, I am thankful for discomfort. Protests make me uncomfortable, because I instinctively think there must be another way. A nicer way. A less disruptive way. A more mannerly way. However, immediately questioning the motives or methods of every protest suggests that the status quo is always just. The status quo is not just for all people. I have discovered this year that my discomfort with protest is not about the disruption or the activism; I believe both are necessary when we live in a racial and socioeconomic hierarchy. Our laws and habits and systems are wrong all the time, and we have to work together to improve them. Protesting unjust systems is not bad manners, but an acknowledgement of entrenched injustice and a belief that we the people can form a more perfect union together. My discomfort comes from the binary reaction to such protests. If you support Black Lives Matter then you must loathe police. If you kneel during the anthem then you have no respect for our military. On the other hand, if you are pro law-and-order, you must be a bigot. If you think it is disrespectful to kneel, then you are racist. These reactions enflame our worst projections, and prevent nuanced conversation. They are labels and positions that do not reflect the vast majority of us. They ignore the possibility that we could listen to learn instead of blindly reacting to each other in anger. They destroy the likely reality that most of us can find merit in the perspectives of both sides. I am grateful this year for these lessons, lessons I only learned because so many brave officers, protestors, veterans and players decided to stand or kneel or march or listen or speak up for vulnerable others. I am grateful to realize that each of these issues is not two-sided, but multifaceted and complicated, and require us to all work together. I am thankful my discomfort with our reactions to protests taught me to find another way, to educate myself and others, and to get involved in legally changing unjust laws and practices.
In short, need, failure and discomfort have been my greatest teachers this year, and I am profoundly thankful. These experiences sometimes result in despair, blame and anger, but they are more often leading me to see how I have been part of the problem, and I can work to become a part of a way forward. Perhaps we could all do well to shout fewer positions and instead ask more questions. Maybe we could all do well to point fewer fingers and instead listen to our own unfair and angry inner voices? Might we all do well to examine our need, our failure and our discomfort for the gifts hidden therein?
Happy Turkeys, all! Next week, I will begin writing about Advent, a season of expectancy important to those in the Christian faith.