This is for the one who dreads the magical monotony of the incoming Hallmark holiday movie season.
For the one who grouches about the blatant commercialization of the holidays every time a Black Friday ad comes on, and sometimes even when it doesn’t.
For the one who feels a compelling need to explain that the snippet of praise on the Thanksgiving place card is actually from a psalm where David is asking God to slay his enemies, and would you like to talk about the implications of that over pumpkin pie?
I am right there with you, my friends. Let’s talk.
After the hurricanes and fires and shootings these past few months, I watched a number of people post this quote from beloved children’s TV host Fred Rogers.
Part of me said, “That’s lovely and a very appropriate way to direct children’s attention after a tragedy and also, seriously, Mr. Rogers rocks that sweater.”
Another part of me said, “But…that’s not enough.”
It wasn’t the part of me that scoffs during cheesy lines in movies or expects to be double-crossed in games of Risk or writes satirical song parodies. That’s more surface-level.
It was the deeper part that loves both redeemed villains and fallen heroes and finds it easier to mourn with those who mourn than rejoice with those who rejoice and marks the pages of books with a special symbol for paradoxes.
Yes, there is beauty and strength in stories about people helping each other, and I’m thankful for those who make the right choices in the face of disaster, even at great personal risk.
But I look outside at the world and inside at my own heart and know that selfishness takes the day more often than not, sometimes in terrible ways. There is more destruction than reconciliation. It’s more common for people to reach for bitterness than forgiveness. In the war of the Image against the Fall, when I look around…sin nature seems to be winning.
And Thanksgiving is coming.
Sometimes, at least to me, this time of year can seem overly sentimental. Writing out your blessings seems great for the preschool set, but the appeal can fade along with crafts like candy corn turkeys and construction paper Pilgrim hats.
When I start to think this way, I have to remember:
- Contentment takes courage. So does faith, even the simple faith that I sometimes pretend is inferior because I don’t have it. You know what doesn’t take much risk at all? Snarky comments about the state of society. Witty takedowns and sendups of everything that’s wrong in the world. Stances on issues that make us feel superior to all those people who just don’t understand. As the dour and disapproving Anton Ego in Ratatouille put it, “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.” The truly brave act isn’t cynicism. It’s joy.
- Stories about the Image—the ways in which humans display attributes of God, whether that’s human interest stories of sacrifice or movies about grace in the face of adversity—need to be told. They remind us of what we ought to be, sure. But maybe it’s even better that they remind us of what we sometimes fail to be, because that points us to the one who is perfectly loving and holy and just when we are not.
- Paul wrote Philippians, famous for its references to joy, while he was in prison and wrote it to a church undergoing persecution and opposition. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” wasn’t written first on a rustic pallet wall decoration or a calendar of inspirational kittens, it was a solemn charge to a suffering church, as were many of the promises and exhortations of the New Testament.
So what do we do?
We celebrate Thanksgiving, like the saints have been, officially and unofficially, for centuries.
We collect paradoxes and adjust our expectations toward the already-not-yet reality of our world, both bitter and sweet.
But we don’t get too comfortable, because there’s a better story coming. That’s what we’re living for, and all the blessings we have here are shadows cast from that ultimate reality.
And I’m grateful.