Irony and paradox fill our news sources this Thanksgiving week. Our TVs, computer screens, newspapers, and many of our personal conversations are consumed with elements of it. In Ferguson, MO, individual violence and anarchy have begotten mass violence and anarchy, and whether intentional or not, the town has become a chief exporter of it. We are seeing businesses burned, roads and bridges shut down, innocent people injured, and property vandalized. Fear mongers are grabbing the spotlight everywhere, and inflaming anger to the point of uncontrollable rage—all done in the interest of one group of people acquiring something they claim not to have from another group who, at least according to them, has it. The paradox is that the very effort that they declare to be designed to eliminate the alleged problem seems only to expand and exacerbate it. Employing violence, bias, envy, fear, and hatred in order to eliminate violence, bias, envy, fear, and hatred reminds me of a ‘3 Stooges’ episode I saw once. The guys were on a lake in a fishing boat, and consistent with their incompatibility with peace and harmony, the boat sprung a leak. As more and more water began to come in, Moe and Larry could be seen on one end of the boat bailing as fast as they could, but losing the battle against the water rising at their feet. The camera then pans around to reveal Curly at the other end frantically drilling holes in the bottom of their boat—in order to let the water out. Even as a kid, it was humorous ridicule at its finest to see these grown men, whose problem was a hole in their boat, thinking that they could fix it by drilling more holes in the boat.
The irony confronting us this week is that a holiday that ought to be characterized by a national outpouring of praise to God for His gracious provision has been kidnapped and replaced instead by a cacophony of enraged voices arrogantly demanding more, and more, and more. The pervasive paradox staining this piece of American tapestry in 2014 is that even though ‘our boat’ is sinking and we can clearly see that our efforts at a solution have not and cannot possibly work, our current leadership applauds Curly’s ingenuity and suggests that we join him in drilling more holes.
Every November we have a national call for thanksgiving, but thanksgiving is not accomplished by means of a proclamation, regardless of which politician, parliament, or potentate delivers it. It is accomplished by the application of an attitude. Jesus points our minds toward the underpinnings of that kind of attitude in a way that isn’t all that obvious on the surface.
“Therefore I say to you,” He declares, “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?” Luke 12:22-28 (NKJV).
No question that Jesus is messing with some of our basic attitudes here. When you suggest giving up something as natural to us as concern for our physical and material welfare, there is bound to be serious conflict with our familiar patterns of thinking. After all, these are not light, frivolous issues. They are fundamental and vital, and some degree of anxiety regarding them could not feel more natural. Not surprisingly, Jesus demonstrates his customary disregard for the proclivities of our fallen nature and His refusal to accommodate them. Quite the contrary. He proceeds to introduce a perspective that is inherently unnatural, and in doing so, manages to screw up our comfortable little world again—often a primary step on the way toward genuine improvement.
Jesus confronts at least two uncomfortable (for us) realities in this brief discussion. He declares our efforts and anxieties about life and our basic provisions to be unnecessary on the one hand, and ineffective on the other. Those realities argue for a significant adjustment to some foundational perspectives and the attitudes that attend them, an adjustment that will directly affect our approach to thanksgiving.
Among the casualties in His simple discussion is the sense that anxious concerns about our welfare are actually fruitful and effective. Jesus delivers a lethal blow to that idea with two questions. First, a setup question,
“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Then the knockout punch, delivered with a hint of sarcasm. He says, (paraphrasing) “If you can’t do a simple thing like that, why do you worry about the rest of it?”
There’s a basis here for an attitude adjustment that could do much to resolve our thanksgiving paradox. Recognizing that our provision is ultimately in God’s hands shifts our attention and our dependence toward Him, and moves us toward a positive response to His directions about our behavior. Now here’s a shocker. We discover that He already knows what we need and loves us enough to provide it. That simple shift tends to highlight our recognition of what He has graciously provided. Praise and gratitude naturally follow, along with a heightened level of care in handling what we have been given. Focusing attention and dependence on others instead, and declaring that we have a right to what they have, places our welfare in the hands of those who are as powerless as we are to even control themselves. Our frustrated desires turn to exhibitions of anger and displace praise and gratitude. Adopting a perspective on life that dismantles the very underpinnings of praise and gratitude, at the same time, dismantles any real solution to the anger, bias, envy, greed, and fear that plague us this Thanksgiving. We might as well jump in the sinking boat with the ‘Stooges’ and . . . ‘drill, Baby, drill’.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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