“The scriptures say, ‘Give thanks in all things.’ It does not say, ‘Give thanks for all things,” the Reverend Johnny Skinner of the Mount Zion Baptist Church regularly reminds me. I often need that reminder. Here is what I tend to do. A friend walks up and asks, “How’s it going?” and I reply, “Extremely well – but that doesn’t keep me from having a bad attitude about it.”
Caught in between gratitude and ingratitude it is nice to have a middle way. We can be grateful in all circumstances without being grateful for all circumstances. I write these words after surfing the news on-line and seeing videos of the police turning fire hoses on Native Americans at Standing Rock in subzero temperatures. I watch a white nationalist gathering celebrating the election of our new American president with Nazi salutes. I see smoke rise from the forests ignited by unknown arsonists.
If only all of my concerns were so high minded and public spirited. On the level of personal peevishness the web advertisements remind me that at middle age I can no longer eat whatever I want with impunity. Images of the foods available to me inspire me to recite the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.”
Native Americans look on the Thanksgiving holiday from a different point of view. The tribes of New England have declared it a National Day of Mourning and a West Coast tribe has given it the name Un-Thanksgiving Day. It is a time to remember land grabs, broken treaties, forcible internment, death marches, genocide, rape and mass murder. This day of mourning is not only for events of the distant past but also for a pipeline in the Dakotas that has been diverted from white communities and is now intended for Native land.
I appreciate that there are many different reasons why some of us may be inclined to un-thankful on Thanksgiving. Perhaps, you are dreading the family reunion where you are afraid Election 2016 might come up. Maybe you are grieving because you’ve lost a loved one and there will be an empty place at the table. You may be mourning because your family of origin does not welcome your partner, wife or husband to the family table. You may be angry because “history is written by the winners” and the story of your people does not command attention like the holiday sales and popular myths.
No one has a right to be more ungrateful on Thanksgiving Day than Native Americans. However, even in the midst of many justified resentments the Shawnee leader Tecumseh advised us, “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
While we may be justified in finding fault with the world let’s also take time to find fault with ourselves. If we can’t summon unconditional gratitude we can at least make the best of a bad holiday. In the midst of a National Day of Mourning, we can be grateful for friends, family (biological or acquired), food and fellowship. We can give thanks for the sun, the fall colors and the blue green mountains. We can be thankful in all things without being grateful for everything. Happy Thanksgiving.
(This holiday message was prepared for the newsletter of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church by the Rev. Chris Buice.)