Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is a discipline. It doesn’t come naturally. We have to teach our children to say thank you in acknowledgment of the contributions of others. Even then, a verbal acknowledgment is no guarantee of heartfelt thanks. And this is not an issue only for the young among us. In a culture that drives us to always amass more, to upgrade to the latest model, to keep up with the Joneses, being thankful can be a challenge. After all, if our eyes are always on the lookout for the next “big thing,” they aren’t focused on the many blessings that we already have.

The above observations are put on vivid display by one of the great ironies of our culture: Thanksgiving Day, a day set aside for remembering and giving thanks for our blessings, is followed closely by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both of which are days set aside for insatiable consumption. No sooner have we heard the call to count our blessings than we hear the call to take advantage of “great deals” to amass more. It seems that our culture believes that giving thanks and wanting more go hand in hand, but can this really be the case? Can we really focus on both at once?

I suspect that we can’t. Giving thanks is a matter of remembrance and gratitude, while consumption is so often a matter of forgetfulness and discontent. Yet we allow days of consumption to invade our day of thanks, driving us away from the very purpose of Thanksgiving!

Am I arguing that we boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday? No. I’m just pointing out one glaring irony that is probably representative of many more of the same in our lives. The point is not that we fool ourselves on Thanksgiving Day, though many of us certainly do. The point is that we fool ourselves about thanksgiving all of the time. Thanksgiving is a discipline, and perhaps especially so in our North American context.

So this Thanksgiving, let’s practice a discipline that we should adopt all year round. Let’s enter into the discipline of giving thanks. Let’s take a moment to refocus our eyes toward the blessings that we enjoy. Let’s notice our material blessings. Let’s notice the relationships that we treasure dearly. Let’s take note of the spiritual treasures that we possess in Jesus Christ. Let’s take a moment to see, to truly see, and then offer thanks – first to our good God and then to the people who are such blessings in our lives.

The Messiah Complex

As the presidential election approaches, I can’t help but think that we citizens of the United States of America have something of a messiah complex. By this I don’t mean that we view our own country as a savior, though that is sometimes true. Rather, I mean that we the people tend to go looking for messiahs to save us. Most often these messianic hopes are attached to politicians. I remember well the hype that surrounded then Senator Obama in the 2008 election. Obama’s supporters had so much faith in what he would accomplish that John Stewart compared him to Jesus on the Daily Show. Isn’t that an interesting comparison? What kind of society fosters such a state-of-affairs? How can we even begin to compare a politician to Jesus Christ?

We can make such an absurd comparison because we place great faith in our political leaders. This is certainly true in the 2016 presidential race. We have one candidate who promises to “make America great again” and another who calls us to be “stronger together” with promises to carry forward the legacy of the current administration. Regardless of what you think of either candidate, just listen to the fervor of their supporters. Surely this candidate will bring about the change our country so drastically needs! Surely this candidate can act as an American savior!

To Christians this phenomenon should be utter nonsense. You see, we already know the Savior. He conquered death around 2000 years ago, and he has now taken his ascendant place at the right hand of God the Father. No other savior is needed, which makes this American messiah complex especially troubling for Christians.

At least it should. But how many times have we found ourselves entering the political fray just like everyone else? How many times have we been guilty of pledging our allegiance to a party or placing our faith in a candidate? How many times have our peers known more about our politics than about our faith? How many times have we been Americans before Christians? This is a sad state-of-affairs.

“But what is the alternative?” some may ask. Simply put, we place Jesus first. If we did this, we would see very quickly that Jesus is not beholden to either political party, and indeed that he calls both democrats and republicans on the carpet. For instance, Jesus would chastise many democrats for their support of abortion. And he would in the same breath rebuke many republicans for their neglect of the poor. When it comes down to it, Jesus would condemn both parties for their disagreements with the kingdom of God. Then he would call them to repentance. A similar argument can be made for presidential candidates, perhaps especially in this election.

Our allegiance to this Jesus means that we cannot pledge allegiance to a political party and that we cannot place our faith in a political candidate. Can we support them? Sure. But there is a world of difference between support and allegiance, and there is a world of difference between support and faith. In the end, our political choices are choices for the present age. As those called to look to the good of our cities, we must interact with the political machine. At the same time, doing so often means little more than making the best choices that we can with the fallen alternatives before us as we pray for God’s will to be done. (More positively, we can also seek to affect our laws and policies for the better, but that is a different discussion.)

While we Christians must live in the present age, we belong to and wait for the age to come. This is the age of Christ, when everything that disagrees with God’s kingdom will be brought into line, when every knee will bow and tongue confess the Lordship of Jesus, when there will be no more mourning or crying or death or pain. Because we belong to the coming age, we must always hold the present age before us at arm’s length. Our challenge is to be in but not of the world.

In a presidential election, this means that we make the best choices we can with the fallen alternatives that we have. It also means that we refuse to enter the frenzy that names candidates as messiahs and parties as the kingdom. We Christians are reserved for a higher kingdom, and Jesus, the King of that kingdom, requires all our allegiance and faith. Let’s be careful in coming days to remember where our loyalties lie.