How do you ďliveĒ your thanks?
Thanksgiving Sunday - Year B
October 8, 2006
Let us pray: Take these words O God, and make them yours. Amen.
The tradition, of course, is that Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. A time for us to give thanks for the blessings of sunshine and rain through the growing season, so that a bountiful harvest can be put up in order to get us through the winter. In this day and age of year round supplies of most fresh fruits and vegetables, even here in this place which is at least a dayís drive if not a week from the nearest supplier, one might question whether a harvest festival is even necessary. A big river chocked full of ice notwithstanding, weíve come to expect our grocery stores at all times to be well supplied with garden fresh vegetables and firm and ripe apples, oranges and nowadays, even mangoes,. We are the intelligent species, and a big river with ice floes that prevents a ferry from crossing it, is no big deal for us. We simply fly the goods over the river in order that our needs can be met.
Now donít get me wrong, Iím not advocating a return to the days Iíve only heard of when the price of milk was sky high and hardly a head of fresh lettuce could be found. There is something to be said for human ingenuity that allows us to fulfill our needs regardless of the situation. Living in the north has given me a new perspective on the advice promoted by some of the same people with whom I used to hang, and for whom I still have a great deal of respect. Eat locally grown produce, they said. Their reasons made a great deal of sense, on any number of fronts. Less fossil fuel consumed in trucking the produce all across the continent. Less likelihood of disease being transmitted from one area of the continent to another. Support for small producers, who also happen to be neighbours and who support the local economy. The latest e-coli scare with fresh spinach is a case in point. Why should we, north of 60, not be able to find a bag of spinach because something happened in California? The answer of course is two-fold, our spinach probably comes from California, a fact that seems hard to believe, and our communication system is so effective that a small amount of infected spinach can cause continent wide fear, because everyone has heard about it, and wouldnít be caught dead buying a bag of spinach from California regardless of how likely it was that the spinach was from one of the contaminated fields.
Yes, if I was to completely follow the advice of some of my champions, and eat locally grown produce, I had better get used to moose, caribou, fish and cranberries. Well, almost. We did have a pretty good crop of tomatoes, carrots and potatoes from our garden this year. They might get us into December. Our onion crop was a bit pathetic, but there is local fish in the freezer. Fortunately, I like caribou and moose, even though Iím not about to go out and get my own, and if our local tomatoes, carrots and potatoes are any indication, the wild cranberries, which we didnít find time to pick this year, will surpass anything that you can buy on the grocery store shelves. Thatís perhaps a secondary bonus of eating locally - it all tastes better. It appears that the taste of a product is inversely proportional to the number of kilometres it needs to travel to get to your plate. Forty metres from the garden beats four thousand kilometres on the road any day. So, the need for a harvest festival seems a bit dated in this day and age of planes, trains and automobiles when anything grown somewhere can get anywhere else, in climate controlled trailers and with all the latest techniques of preservation at work. Perhaps we need to modify Thanksgiving so that it is a celebration of our thanks for modern innovation that allows grocery stores to look more or less the same regardless of where they are. Perhaps our love of table displays of beautifully coloured squash, leaves and veggies is simply a hearkening back to a time past. Maybe we should have cornucopias with gasoline, nitrites and refrigerant in them. After all these are the products that allow for the bounty on our plates all year round. Of course, Iím jesting, but only partly. I want to see the beautiful harvest display as much as you do, and I canít imagine that jerry cans would be a suitable replacement for them. In fact, I think the harvest displays are important to us, because while they do not completely represent the way things are, they remind us of something from the past which is worth preserving (pun not intended!).
And of course, thanksgiving, even if it used to be a harvest festival, should be more than that. Yes, we should be giving thanks for modern innovation, even if we also are drawn to question it. The gifts we have from God are much more than the riches of the soil, sunshine and rain which make things grow. All of us have been richly gifted by God in so many ways. I wonder if we take those gifts for granted in much the same way that we seem to take for granted that the produce departments of our grocery stores should be supplied in much the same way all year round. Have we gotten so used to having so much around us, that we come think of it as an expectation instead of a blessing?
We live in a day and age when expectation is very high. People are very clear on their rights. They know what they are entitled to and they are good at demanding their entitlement. There is much to be lauded in this situation. People without much power or influence have found ways to increase their self-respect and be empowered to live out their gifts more fully. The danger of course, lies in forgetting that they are gifts. Contemporary culture puts a lot of emphasis on self-fulfilment. We respect hard work and compensate it well, as we do with intellect and innovation. There are lots of stories of people who had a good idea and with perseverance and persistence turned the good idea into an unimaginable fortune. I heard just yesterday about George Lucas, who created the Star Wars phenomenon. His first movie was first advertised as a kind of ďBĒ movie running against a supposed box office smash. Almost as an afterthought when he was selling the movie, he retained the rights to merchandise Star Wars products. Presumably the people who agreed to that clause in the contract did not see far enough ahead, or did not have the same expectations as Lucas. Well, the rest is history, and Lucas is reported to be worth several billion dollars as a result. Similar stories can be told about people like Bill Gates, and any number of others in the tech world, and practically any other field of endeavour. This is not a knock on people like that. Thatís the way our society is organized. There are those who would question why people need to have that much money. I among that group of people who question the need for someone to be that wealthy. I also know that some of the criticism is misdirected. Bill and Melinda Gates showed their willingness to give back when they recently participated in the World HIV/AIDS conference in Toronto.
I donít know about George Lucasí philanthropic history, nor do I know that information about others among the most wealthy in the world. I donít even know much about the Gates Foundation except for the little bit I heard during the recent conference in Toronto. So, Iím not about to be a critic for something which I know little about. I do have to question, however, how we managed to get into a system where some people can get so wealthy. In a world where we regard everything we have as a gift from God, and a world in which if God shows any partiality at all, it is in favour of the oppressed and marginalized in our society, I wonder how there can be such an imbalance. Of course, it is not just confined to people. The same situations exists among the nations of the earth. Some are rich beyond their wildest dreams, while others can never hope to see beyond the rim of the hole in which they find themselves.
So, on this Thanksgiving, I guess I want to ask myself, the same question which was framed in the title to this reflection. I want to ask myself, in light of an age of expectation, and an age where we, as citizens of North America, or the powerful north, or the one third world, or participants in Western culture, do I live in expectation or with thanks? Do I live with as though Iíve been blessed by God, or with a mind to what I deserve? Do I live thankful of the gifts that God has given me - and it is all a gift, or do I live with a mind to the things Iíve accomplished in my life and with a sense of entitlement?
Iím sure you know what I hope my answer to that question is, and I hope that with Godís help, I can make it clear in my living. Amen.