(c) 2012, Davd
As i drove past Mac’s Farm, i saw the sign, leaning against a big round hay bale, “Give Thanks.” Totally conventional in the week running-up to Thanksgiving Day, but somehow, it didn’t seem to me like it was as apt, as valuable as Mac usually is.
Mac’s sign faced an important highway, with hundreds, probably a few thousand cars and trucks going by it every day. For instance, when i drove by and saw that sign, i couldn’t look closely enough to see if it was on an old tarp, a bedsheet or a sheet of plywood—because the traffic needed my attention. Mac had a guaranteed, large readership, and the great majority of those readers were people he didn’t know.
That sign was Mac’s preaching for the week—at least, he’s never preached in his church, that i know of. He plays the organ and does it well, he makes announcements and visits people with problems and the shut-ins—in Orthodox terms, he’s a deacon but not a priest.
Thanksgiving Day is a political holiday, more than a religious one. I’m sure it enjoys much more support than it meets opposition among Christians and their churches, and i am not trying to oppose the holiday nor the idea that we should stop and think of what merits our gratitude. If Mac had put up a sign asking “What Are You Most Thankful For This Year?” i would have thought those words, a good message to the passing motorists.
What bothered me about the words “Give Thanks” was that they read as a command, not a statement nor a question. As a Deacon, as a farmer with occasional hired help, Mac is sometimes entitled and called to give orders—but not to large numbers of passing motorists.
Some of those driving by might be going to or from a hospital with serious health worries, or to see someone who might be dying. Some might be going to or from a murder trial; there was one in the local news that week. To be told to “Give Thanks,” relative to what they were thinking about as they passed, could be inappropriate or even cruel—not for everyone, perhaps not for the great majority, but when we preach, we should aim to serve all who hear—or read.
“What Are You Most Thankful For This Year?” is a question that a troubled person can read and accept. It might take his mind off the present pain and back to some good things that have happened since last Christmas. And if someone is really “down”, he—or she—can simply answer, “Nothing.” The question doesn’t demand the impossible. The command might, from some people who are really hurting.
But maybe there’s something even better to say, if you put up a Thanksgiving sign; i’ll leave it up to you to assess: What if Mac had written “This Year I’m Thankful For a Fine Crop [of whatever came in best].” Or for a new member in his church, or the improvements to the Community Hall—I don’t read his mind (and consider it forbidden [as sorcery] to try.) Telling all who pass what you are most thankful for, is a way to spread the spirit of the holiday and show some of those who hear or read, a cause for thanksgiving they may also have, and not noticed.
These are not boom times, and there are good reasons to expect less rather than more in the coming years, from Government and from “the economy”. Workers are suffering pay-cutbacks, lower pensions, and even a pay freeze is a decline in “purchasing power” when prices are rising—as they are at the fuel pump and the grocery checkout. Governments are cutting spending and raising taxes. It will not be fun, having to live on less if we live by money—but Jesus did say, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Maybe if we notice that what we and our neighbours are thankful for, is more-and-more local and personal and friend-to-friend, and less-and-less bureaucratic and financial—maybe that is one good way to redirect our thinking toward what He had in mind all along.
This year, i’m thankful for a fine crop of cucumbers and tomatoes—garden scale, not farm scale—and how well some of the ash and maple and oak trees in my eco-forest are doing, and the addition of a few really good apple varieties to the orchard, and the prospect of a Men’s Support Group starting in the area. Sure, there are things i am not thankful for, things i wish had gone better and people who disappointed me. Those things are problems to solve or lessons to learn—when this holiday’s past.
So my advice, to you who spread a Thanksgiving Day message, is to encourage others to see what can be cause for thanksgiving in a time when Worldly distractions are losing their luster and their size. Do it with your own example, or a question, as suits you best.
Let’s not forget our brothers born, and formed in friendship. I pray for you men who read this, that you have Brothers to be thankful for this autumn, and more of them next year.