If you read this just before or after Thanksgiving Day, Wendy and I will be safe in the warm arms of children and grandchildren in not so warm Minnesota. Like many of us, we will eat more than we should, tell stories of Thanksgivings past and nap through the last football game.
Thankfulness is probably central to my inner life. After eight decades on this earth, I am blessed with good health, a loving family, precious friends, more stuff than I need and a grace-filled satisfaction as to the way I have spent most of my years. There have been serious stumbles along the way. I may have hurt some people, and have occasionally ended up on the wrong side of a few critical issues.
I was reared by parents who embodied an ethic I have tried to emulate. My conservative church helped nurture me in adopting a lifestyle that helped take my blessings and use them as vehicles to become blessings to a few others. That is what I believe to be the central role of personal blessings.
I am thankful for my community and for my nation. With all its warts, I remain a dedicated American patriot. And that commitment is why I must stay active in my role as one who holds a mirror to what this great and mostly good nation seems to be all about.
Those in the religiously aware community where I live, and in the larger world of faith, tell me that all of these blessing come from God. At one level that is true. All things are derived from some power beyond ourselves. But I also find serious problems in thinking that we are particularly loved by the deity. When I take a hard look, it is obvious that most of what we call blessings have arrived as accidents of birth. Perhaps the best descriptive word for the genesis of our blessings is ³luck.² The Protestant Reformation called these gifts, acts of grace‹the unmerited favor of God. I agree if that means it is not some deserving nobility on our part that got us the goodies, but just the fact that we were born at the right time, in the right place, with the right genes, supplied by the right parents. None of these things are ours because we are so good or so worthy.
Western colonialism, in which we stole the land and the resources from people who already lived there, is hardly an excuse to believe in our nobility, or to hold that God just loves us more than others, or sheds his grace on us. So thankfulness needs to be sprinkled with a hearty dose of humility.
In addition, I have a difficult time believing that somehow I am specially chosen to be so richly blessed while so many others in this world are chosen to experience what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes described life in a time of war as being ³solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.²
Nor can I easily assume that it has been my hard work that has gained these blessings. While I have and still do live a disciplined life, my journey has been far easier than most of those who have ever lived or who are alive today. I think of the hundreds of millions slaving away in field and factory, in underground mines and in sweatshops with low wages or no wages at all. I have only been hungry by dint of my own very occasional decision to fast. When I say, ³I¹m starved² it only means dinner may be a couple hours later than usual. Night after night I look at the images of starving children, people whose lives have been shattered by an earthquake or a tsunami, and so many others in the world who have no hope of anything ever changing for the better.
I probably will not allow myself to be distracted by all this realism on Thanksgiving Day. But I will wake up on Friday well aware that I have been blessed with an extraordinary supply of good luck.