Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Having" thanksgiving

November 27, 2011

Dear Friends,

The public approach to Thanksgiving evokes the old curmudgeon in me. In my opinion, Hallmark, the media, and all too many pulpits present a concept of thankfulness that is misleading. There is enough value confusion already present in the world without using this holiday to promote more. My old curmudgeon self cannot be thankful for a prescription for thankfulness that affirms the consumer paradigm of our society.

As it is popularly represented, the act of being thankful is a process in which like King Midas we are encouraged to sit down in our counting houses and tally up all that we have, and then celebrate the size of the bottom line. This practice in which “Having” stands as the primary motivation for gratitude leads in my opinion to a serious misunderstanding.

I will grant you that we are encouraged (at least in the Norman Rockwell tradition of thanks-giving) to be thankful for some important things that are intangible—freedom from fear, from want, freedom to worship as we choose, and freedom to say clearly without penalty, the truth we think we know. But this doesn’t solve the problem.

What does thanks-giving mean when there is fear, when there is want and deprivation, and both worship and speaking freely are severely constrained?

Our appreciation of life and our understanding of the privilege and responsibilities that come with relationships are severely eroded if we view gratitude simply as a proper response to possessions, tangible or intangible.

At the family dinner table my friend’s great-granddaughter Gina said, “Grams, I glad (a new word for her).”

“That’s good,” her great-grandmother responded. “What are you glad for?”

The small girl looked puzzled for a moment, and then responded with firm certainty, “I glad. I glad.”

I am committed this year to practicing Gina’s approach to things.

In the event that someone asks me what I am thankful for, I hope to be able to respond like Gina, “I thankful. I thankful.”

In the days to come, I will seek to live (not simply say) “thankful.” I want my lived thanksgiving to resonate from a steady awareness that life itself, each day, is the great gift, and that I must be careful not to confuse its significance with the things that I possess, no matter how valuable they may be.

Seeking with you to measure my days wisely and to live thankful in whatever circumstance of life I may find myself.

See you next week.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pear trees, possibilities and cinnamon jars

November 20, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

I visited my old prairie home this last week. Today’s story (with minor editorial revision) comes from that vanishing world. However, as you will see, it is closely related to the idea of human possibility and the pear tree in the last blog I wrote.

It was a small crockery jar, its edge chipped and its lid lost. A spray of blue flowers and the word cinnamon traced a gentle wandering design over the cracked gray glaze.

The jar’s earliest history can only be guessed. No one now living knows its origin or saw the jar as it must have once sat on a kitchen shelf breathing the fragrance of cinnamon into the scent of her baking bread.

She died young.

After her death, only men came to prepare food in her prairie kitchen. Life and the world around them were harsh and demanding; necessity focused their attention fiercely on survival. Objects that did not contribute directly to survival were laid aside, disregarded and eventually discarded or lost.

Time and people moved on. Then no one at all came to the house. The kitchen was occupied only by a broken chair that had been left behind.

Wind and weather in that world are not kind. Soon holes in the roof let in the rain and snow; windows became empty, shattered glass scattered over warped floor boards. Those few doors that remained hung by broken hinges, swinging helpless in the wind.

New land owners came. Recognizing the inevitable process of decay, they dismantled the old house. The kitchen became anonymous scraps of broken boards, laths and plaster. In time, together with other remnants of the old house they weathered into a gentle mound covered with weeds and grass.

One day her granddaughter, now a mother herself, was walking through the grassland where the family’s old homestead had once stood, and spied a glimpse of blue. Pulling grass and pushing earth aside, she discovered the old cinnamon jar buried at the eroding edge of the mound. She retrieved the jar, carried it home, washed it, and set it on her kitchen shelf.

Then on a hard later day, now a grandmother herself, she in turn faced the necessity of dismantling her kitchen.

When I saw her, she was standing by her kitchen cabinet, silent, holding the jar in her hand.

Carrying a box, her grandson came into the room, and asked with a cheerful grin, “Is that old jar worth saving, Grams? What do you want to do with that?”

It was one of those questions that require a story to answer, or no answer at all.

She turned to me and said, “You’ll keep this, won’t you? Let’s send this home with you to be in your kitchen for a while. Then later you’ll send it on.”

The edge is chipped and the top is gone, but I can still read the word cinnamon surrounded by a wreath of blue flowers on the old gray glaze.

What is an accurate value to assign that cinnamon jar on my house insurance policy?

Most importantly—how do I send on that jar and its story so that the human possibility it images will not be lost?

See you next week.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Possibility responsibility?

Nov. 4, 2011

Good afternoon, friends,

The quasi-commercial paradigm of want and need is severely limited in defining the dimensions of good relationships. In the face of its cultural popularity we are sometimes slow to acknowledge this fact. Nevertheless, relationships that are boundaried solely by the insistence of demand and the brevity of lasting satisfaction cast thin shadows. They leave behind shards of impossible dreams and broken fragments of short-lasting grace.

I’ve been thinking this week of another more deeply rooted dimension of relationship that the culture regards with a derisive contempt. Benjamin Myers captures something of this dimension in “The Calvinist Writes a Love Poem.”

The Calvinist Writes a Love Poem

If, as you stood
outlined in the evening
glow of the Bradford pear,
I believed again
for just a moment in human
possibility, it was only
what I saw in

In response to the "me, me, me" of the cultural chorus, we sometimes say "It's not about me." It is true that relationship, by definition, is not just about me. However, in another paradoxical sense, relationship is profoundly about me. I am wondering these days about the glimpse of human possibility that others in relationship with me see outlined in my life. How does the relationship with me shape their possibility for love? For integrity?

What life-affirming possibility do those in relationship with you glimpse as you share your human journey?

I will be out of town next week, so will see you November 18.


You can find “The Calvinist Writes a Love Poem” in Benjamin Myers Elegy for Trains (Cheyenne, Oklahoma: Village Books Press, 2010), p. 67.