I know… Thanksgiving is already over – technically speaking.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember learning about Thanksgiving in school; you know, the Pilgrims and the “Indians” all gathered round the table. We traced our little hands to make turkeys. Remember? (Just as a reality check, the first national day of Thanksgiving didn’t occur until 1863, under the presidency of Lincoln. Even after that, it was hit or miss. It wasn’t until FDR signed a joint resolution passed by Congress that Thanksgiving became a National Holiday.)
It’s important to give thanks and count our blessings; but I also think it’s important to have a clear theological perspective. I’m always troubled by those people who, when interviewed after a deadly disaster, give thanks to God for saving them (often adding that God must have a special plan for their life). That will segue into the next interview with someone who lost a loved one in the same disaster. Are we implying God did not want to save them or ran out of plans for them?
Here’s what concerns me most: When all the blessings in our lives become personalized as something God expressly chose for US, it can become an excuse for not doing more to address the suffering and injustice of others.
I’m not sure there has ever been a Thanksgiving when I have thought about this more than this year. I have followed the news reports about the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest over the Dakota pipeline which will run beneath Lake Oahe and could potentially leak and contaminate the Missouri River. There’s a lot of history behind this protest; 150 years worth of treaties the government has initiated and subsequently violated. I guess the Native tribes long ago missed their window of opportunity to build a wall to keep us from crossing into their territory.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend a Spanish immersion school here in the Midwest. The native speakers were all bi-lingual young people who were first generation Americans. I remember one young woman’s shocking story. Her parents had legally entered the country on a Visa with hopes of immigrating. They didn’t understand the legal process; but they gave all of their savings to an attorney to file the necessary paperwork. The attorney kept their money but never filed any paperwork. They wound up penniless with an expired Visa. Since then I’ve learned of many similar stories and experiences.
I believe God blesses us and saves us. John’s gospel tells us that God so loved the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16-17). And I also believe that God can bring good out of even the worst of circumstances (Romans 8:28). But I also want to remember that some of my “blessings” of status are the unhealthy by-products of injustice and, while I may not be able to address all those injustices, I can – at the very least – acknowledge them for what they are.