The Importance Of Giving Thanks
Allen V. Harris
The subtitle to the above heading (in my head) is “…when you don’t really wanna give thanks!” Perhaps the most difficult part of gratitude is finding it, enjoying it, and sharing it when you feel least grateful. We all agree that “an attitude of gratitude” is good and worthy and noble and true. But. But sometimes it is completely understandable why someone does not feel like offering thanksgiving, whether it is a health crisis of themselves or a loved one, life circumstances from the loss of a job to the breakup of a relationship, or situations or conditions in the world, such as the deep roots of racism in our society or the pernicious nature of poverty and division around us. Sometimes it is just the whiney, frustrated, tired, fearful inner child that within me that has a really hard time with giving thanks for all that life has allowed me and provided for all of us.
On my iPad at home I have a background home screen that is quite lovely, with pretty flowers and soothing pastel colors, that proclaims in a gentle script, “Be Grateful.” I chose it to remind me daily that sometimes (often… all the time, really) I need to be reminded of all that I have in life and for which I can be grateful. It is really quite lovely. But I’ll be honest here, sometimes when I open my iPad I hear in my head a shaming adult wagging a finger at me, scolding me to “Be Grateful…” (you ungrateful thing!) Not often, but sometimes. At least that’s what I’m going to admit in public.
And, while I’m on a confessional streak here, I am having a very, very, very difficult time emotionally and in general following a national election that did not go the way in which I felt was the right way. Certainly gratitude is one of the most difficult perspectives that I have been able to muster up in the last few weeks. I am fearful of world-views and political perspectives that seem to have brought us to this new world that are antithetical to all for which I have worked in my life and around which my ministry has centered. I worry (to the point of tears) about those who are already marginalized who seemed to take the brunt of the fears and anger of so many (more than I had ever imagined) in our country: women, immigrants, people of color, those who are differently abled, the poor, those who are of the Muslim, Jewish, or other non-Christian faiths, and, of course, those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning. I worry that the difficulties of this nation and world – all very real and very scary – will be heaped on the backs of those who do not deserve the blame and who have the least resources to ward off the attacks. My worry does not lead me to gratitude, but to deep sentiments that are very, very unhealthy.
So, I have pulled back… not just from giving thanks, but from engagement in life. I have been uncertain who to be on social media and how to interact with strangers. Suddenly it feels like every other person I meet may not share my values for the kind of a world for which I have dedicated my life. I know there is a better me ahead, but I have been hard-pressed to identify that “me” and now how to get from this pit to that self-confident, re-empowered individual.
As life would have it, several things have gently but insistently brought me around. One is the shared concern, hopelessness, confusion, and tears of friends. The social justice community of which I have so proudly and gratefully been a part has been in solidarity in our pain. While I hate the phrase “misery loves company,” I do believe that shared honest pain can be healing and helpful. I am deeply grateful for my network of friends and trusted colleagues.
I also had the great fortune to have scheduled in my life the first intensive Pro-Reconciliation/Anti-Racism Training for the Christian Church Capital Area, led by two incredibly gifted and well-grounded leaders, the Rev. Dr. Marcus Leathers and the Rev. Nathan Hill. There was something profoundly gratifying and empowering to be working with other like-minded people of faith trying to confess the sins of racism and white supremacy, to learn about the history of race and racism in our country and church, and to honestly challenge ourselves and one another on how we can transform so that the “Beloved Community” to which Jesus committed his life might become a reality someday, even if not in our day. We did not “solve” any problems, but we had some valuable shared wisdom and skills-building that made me feel a bit more hopeful. I am deeply grateful for the commitments of the Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ) for Pro-Reconciliation and Anti-Racism!
Then that Sunday I was with the good and faithful folks of Garfield Memorial Christian Church in McLean, Virginia. The leadership of the Rev. Joy Majied, especially on that anniversary celebration Sunday, was healing in and of itself. But God spoke to me (and I use that unfamiliar – to me – language quite intentionally) through the ministry of Total Praise Dance Ministry under the leadership of Lauretta Benae Uzzelle. She sang while the dancers moved to the Spirit with two songs: Wade In The Water and Hold On Just A Little While Longer. It was mesmerizing, and I heard God tell me two important messages: “God’s gonna trouble the waters” and “everything’s gonna be all right.” God was still calling me and all my social justice activist friends and colleagues to “trouble the waters” on behalf of those who are being threatened and who are fearful for their lives and livelihoods. God was also the great Shepherd reminding me that there is one in whose heart all of creation rests, who will ensure ultimately that things will turn out for the best. The arc of history is long, as has been said many times, but it does bend towards justice. I am deeply grateful for how God continues to speak to God’s people in the midst of worship.
And this week, I chose to make my pilgrimage home to my biological family a bit of a “tour down memory lane.” I flew into Dallas and spent time in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area visiting beloved friends and colleagues, and going to locations that had been places of growth and transformation in my history. I went to First Presbyterian Church of Grapevine, Texas where, for 3 ½ years, I served for my Field Education Placement location while at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University. That evening I had dinner with the Rev. Eleanor Cozad Cherryholmes, my mentor and the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian. (See my full Facebook post on her below – 1) Then I went to visit with my favorite professor at Brite, the Rev. Dr. J. Cy Rowell, Professor of Christian Education, and toured Brite and the TCU Campus. My concentration in seminary was Christian Education and I was Cy’s Student Assistant. (See my full Facebook post on him below – 2) Finally, I drove through Lubbock, Texas to see Ms. Mary Jane Shannon, my Middle School choir director and a driving force in my life when I was young. (See my full Facebook post on her below – 3) I am deeply grateful for all those in my history who cared enough for me and so many others to invest themselves in nurture, supervision, education, direction, laughter, and love and may I always commit myself to do the same.
So, am I full of gratitude and ready for Thanksgiving later today with my family? Yes. Not completely sure of what the future holds, but knowing that dear friends, a church committed to justice, the power of God’s leading, and the good work of mentors throughout my life, will get me far enough along to finally “feel my groove” and get back to the work of doing my small part to change the world. Yes, it is very important to give thanks. I thank God for you.
1. I want to pull out this photo from the others I posted to lift up and celebrate the importance of this person in my life. The Rev. Eleanor Cozad Cherryholmes was called to be the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Grapevine, Texas in March of 1986, one month after I was called to be Youth Minister (to fulfill my Field Education requirement for Brite Divinity School). The bond between us was instantaneous and strong and the chemistry between us was nothing less than Spirit-led. Eleanor showed me the way to have deep integrity in my professional and personal lives - true integration of mind, body, soul, ethics, justice, Joy, and love... abundant love. She had a most wondrous way of both giving me firm and strong direction as my supervisor (she is Presbyterian, after all!) and letting me be my myself and explore my gifts and graces for ministry as a true colleague in ministry. She worked over the 3 1/2 years I was at the church to help the congregation see me as Assistant To The Pastor with the authority and responsibilities therein. Since I graduated and left that position she has been an unabashed supporter for me - to the point of putting her own career on the line - and a cherished friend. I am so glad to have spent some time with Eleanor, to see how well she is doing, and to meet her new husband, John Wright. Eleanor, thank you for being a huge part of shaping of me for ministry me and enchanting me for life. I love you.
2. So this man, the Rev. Dr. J. Cy Rowell, is a hero to me as well as a cherished mentor and beloved friend. As professor for Christian Education at Brite Divinity School for decades, he helped me and hundreds of other clergy and students understand that our faith is something that is being formed our whole life long, and we should never miss the chance to be intentional about that formation: ours and others. He also had a passion for understanding how sacred space helps (or hinders) our spiritual journeys and architecture belies our theology as much as does our sermons. He also taught me to love his favorite church, Our Lady By The Gas Station in East Jesus, Texas (near Gunnyswamp, TX).
3. I cannot tell you how *ecstatic* I am to be visiting with Mary Jane Shannon, my middle school choir director and my own "Auntie Mame!" What a joy it was to reconnect and share fond memories. This is one amazing and life-changing force in my life!