I’m already seeing them. The status posts and blogs for “what I am thankful for at Thanksgiving.” It seem that lots of these have to do with food, friends, family, and freedom. In truth, I experience many of these blessings as well and am thankful for these. But it seems that we are in the midst of a season of heaviness in our land and to write of thanksgiving without acknowledging these realities feels insular and trite to me. How is it possible to engage in thanksgiving in a time of lament?
Indeed there is much to lament:
- Whatever we think of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, we lament that one family faces Thanksgiving without a son and another with a promising career shattered because of a tragic encounter.
- We lament a community torn by a hundred year history of racial conflict that is a microcosm for our nation’s continuing struggle with and accommodation to racial divides.
- We lament for the people of West Africa whose families and societies have been decimated by a lethal virus.
- We lament the continuing clash between Islam and the West represented most recently in the atrocities of ISIS, but also at times in Western policies extending back to World War I and before that are more concerned with self-interest (or even payback) than the flourishing of the people from whom ISIS recruits.
- We lament the breakdown in society from neighborhoods where one’s children could play and roam safely and one’s doors could be left unlocked to cities with security systems, GPS tracking of our children, surveillance cameras everywhere, and a proliferation of guns and the need to protect ourselves.
I could go on but the question remains, is thanksgiving even possible in such lamentable times? Or are our thanksgiving rituals simply temporary ventures in escapism?
For me it begins with the idea that there is One who hears laments and who will one day “wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4). I hang on to the hope that my laments are not simply futile exercises that reach no further than the ceiling or simply an emotional release. I believe in One who heard the cries of Israel in bondage and who sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-8). It also is striking to me that while my hope is in the One who hears and acts, I see that this One acts through his people. For me this is where thanksgiving begins:
- I’m thankful for all the leaders both black and white, many who never make the news, who are pursuing the hard work of justice and reconciliation, believing that the status quo is not the best we can do in our cities, states and nation.
- I’m thankful for the courageous doctors and aid workers from Doctors without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse and other agencies who have risked their lives to bring comfort, care, and where possible, healing in West Africa.
- While I am thankful for those in our own military services who put themselves in harm’s way to restrain the evil of groups like ISIS, I am also thankful for the peacemakers in places like the Palestinian territories and for every instance where someone, often in a persecuted minority, chooses to return love for hatred.
- I’m thankful for those who engage in the hard work of “re-neighboring”, who move into blighted communities and rehabilitate homes and form neighborhood associations and block watches believing it possible to restore the fabric of community in a place.
Most of us are not on the front lines of such efforts. Most of these efforts are far removed from our thanksgiving tables. But I know how conversations can go at these gatherings and how easily we may degenerate into conversations that blame this or that group, find fault with this or that party or organization, or even demonize this or that group of people. Why not agree to leave this to our prayerful laments where God can be the judge of these things? Rather, if we say anything about these matters on this day of Thanksgiving, might it be better to give thanks for those acting with grace and courage and humility on the front lines of these great challenges? Might it be better this day to light the candle of thanksgiving for them rather than curse the darkness?