There is a great divide in the world between the societies and cultures rooted in Christianity – the so-called Western world – and those rooted in other sources. Usually one learns of that divide through travel and experience. I first experienced it when I visited China some 30 years ago now. Many of the immigration crises Europe is experiencing as Islam invades-by-invitation are teaching of the difference. But it is rare one can see it spelled out in literature.
I have been sitting on this link for a couple of months, seeking the right tone to address it:
But as I dug into the gratitude literature, I found a persistent theme of indebtedness. For many authors, gratitude is not about thanksgiving, but instead about calculating what we owe in return for the things we are given. And I was alarmed to see how this sense of gratitude as debt was leveraged politically to articulate positions that, to me, stand contrary to the aims of a democracy that seeks to ensure that everyone, not just the well off and well connected, is able to live and live well.
In a nutshell, I think the problem with the contemporary literature is how closely it ties gratitude to debt. Recognizing this, my book shifted pretty radically during the literature review stage, because to write an uplifting book I first needed to wrestle with a long history of power and exclusion.
Gratitude operates in a similar way, with similar potentials. When we find ourselves in a position of owing—and people in a democratic society always owe something to other people—we may become vulnerable to control.
I have been seeking the right tone because I just want to shout, “What utter tripe!” Now, I am going to be honest, I have not read that whole article – I just cannot bring myself to do it. I find gratitude so important in my life, so vital to my existence, that to read anything where someone tries dissect it, divert it, or make it somehow less than it truly is would put me in a mood so foul that I would have to isolate myself for several days.
I have been trying to muster the strength to tackle this thing reasonably – to argue with its author. But sometimes arguing is a waste of time. I want to attack this with experience.
Let’s start by the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the church at Thessaloniki:
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. [emphasis added]
Who can argue with a life lived according to such instructions? Honestly! This weekend, those words of Paul’s seem so right to me – more than usual.
You see, I am on vacation with my wife and some friends. Yesterday we were in an automobile accident. We were in a very remote place; there was no cell service. First point of gratitude – no one was hurt – but the vehicle could no longer be driven. It was, by modern standards, a logistical nightmare. I had to send my wife and friends on to the nearest outpost of civilization while I waited for a tow truck – for hours and hours (due to the remoteness.)
Second point of gratitude, I interacted with many, many people yesterday in the course of dealing with this situation. Forest Service personnel that transported and tended to family and friends while I waited, Washington State Troopers that took the accident report and helped me search for the potentially injured deer that was the cause of the accident. A tow truck driver whose son reports for Marine Corps induction in two weeks (HOO-RAH!) and numerous people at the rental car agency. Finally, extended family that drove hundreds of miles out of their way to transport the wife and friends. All of them – to a person – was very good at their job, personable, helpful and understanding. I am deeply and profoundly grateful to each of them.
Finally, today, the day after, is my 23rd wedding anniversary. You have no idea how grateful I am for a woman that could live with me for 23 years. Clearly she is a saint.
There is no way I would have made through the 23 years of marriage, let alone this most stressful weekend, without gratitude. Just no way. The author of that silly piece I started by linking to is right about one thing. Gratitude is immensely powerful. That is a good thing.
As a part of the gratitude I feel for the 23 wonderful years and the stressful last 24 hours, I pray for the soul of anyone that finds gratitude problematic. I add to my gratitude that I live in a culture built on gratitude. I invite all of us to tell God of our gratitude today.
Can I get an “Amen?”