Let’s Not Be Thankful

December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving is over.  Thus we can begin another year of wanton greed.

I kid, I kid…sort of.  But now that it’s over, I want to talk about how more than ever it seems, our tradition of Thanksgiving, and giving thanks in general, is tainted by our never before so high awareness of the checkered history of the holiday and our history.  Some bloggers like Eugene Cho, who I greatly respect, call Thanksgiving a commemoration of genocide.

While you may think that’s flippant or overkill, maybe it isn’t.  Here’s what I mean.

God had nothing to do with this

Early in America, people had this idea of “Manifest Destiny.”  That meant that God was on the side of America, so people could do whatever it took to conquer the continent.  Most of Europe had similar ideas in carving up Africa, India, and Indo-China.

If you believe that God really led the Israelites to conquer the “innocent” people of Canaan, maybe this sounds logical.  But most of us have enough compassion and logic to think that God didn’t really tell the whites to kill Indians and enslave blacks. 

Did it all work out for the best in the end?  Depends on who you ask, I guess.  I’m glad that America exists, despite it’s past.  But our existence hinges on a lot of actions that God probably didn’t like too well.  Those of us who feel “blessed” probably in some distant way, are blessed by the sins of our ancestors.

So the question is, when we thank God for all we have, are we implicating God in our sins?  Do we have what we have because God really orchestrated a chain of events, including genocide and slavery, so you can live a comfy 21st century life?  Or is it the result of a chain of human sins, and God’s saying, “Don’t give me credit for that!” 

God only has so many blessings

Most of you who read this blog are probably in the habit of thanking God for what you have.  Heck, even football players point at the sky when they make a touchdown.

But touchdowns (or “goals” for the Brits and Aussies) are made because some other hapless fool messed up or Jesus doesn’t love him as much.  Someone can’t be “blessed” by God unless someone else is “cursed” by being a loser.

Kenneth Copeland, "blessing" fetishizer, charlatan

Let’s say that God really has blessed all of us as Westerners.  Is blessing in life the same way?  As a middle class white male, I’m used to being told that everything I have is because it was taken from someone else. (Not that this is totally true.  My ancestors came to America as indebted prisoners, somewhat slaves themselves.)  But is blessing a zero sum gain?  Is every blessing I have balanced by some curse on someone else?  Are there only so many blessings to go around, and the rich get richer while the poor get poorer? 

If that’s the case, God kind of screwed up on that one.  Big time.

What if we’re not blessed?

What if America isn’t a blessed land?  What if we are the cursed ones?  It’s entirely possible.

As we’ve gained more and more, we’ve grown less happy, I think.  We take more prescription medications than anyone else.  We have high rates of crime, depression, and stupidity.  We’re all killing ourselves by eating junk and watching garbage on TV. 

But worst of all, we’ve grown far away from God.

But go to a place where the people have “nothing” (as only a stupid American could so blindly put it), and the people are joyful, and most of all, thankful.  They love God.  Then I think of Jesus who seemed to favor the poor while saying the rich and “blessed” would be last in the Kingdom.

It wouldn’t be the first time that God has let a “cursed” nation get rich and then use them to judge the guys God loves.  Kind of makes you wonder what a “blessing” is, huh?

Why do I have all this stuff?

I can’t deny it.  I have a lot that others don’t.  Maybe some small part is because of my ancestors’ misdeeds.  I probably had some ancestor who screwed some other poor chap over, and now I have a bigger television. 

I can’t rewrite history, nor can I pay for it.  In some ways, I don’t think I should have to.  Did you know Germany just finished paying war reparations for World War I?  I guess now they can finally start chipping away at that whole Hitler fiasco.  Is that justified?  You decide.  The point is the cost of our ancestors’ sins is enormous, more than you or I can afford.

I don’t know how God doles out the blessings.  But I feel blessed.  I can’t rewrite the history that led to my life.  I can only be a good steward of what I have, for whatever reason I have it.

And I have to believe that I am dead last in the Kingdom.  If God sends me to hell, just for being a rich white American Christian slob, I really have nothing to say about it, do I?

Well what do you think?  Is America a blessed or a cursed land?  Should we be paying reparations?  How old do the wrongs have to be before we call it even?  Does a blessing from God mean a curse on another person?

25 responses to Let’s Not Be Thankful

  1. Hi Again Matt,

    Heavy stuff here.

    You raise the question about America being blessed and if the blessing of one person (or nation) must of necessity mean the cursing of another.

    Does this confuse the manifest, national, destiny of ancient Israel with that of modern countries?

    Since God’s blessing on Abraham also involved Abraham’s descendants does that mean a present-day blessing must be rooted in something someone else in the past did? Or is grace and blessing dispensed on an individual basis?

    My grandfather caught fish in Florida’s Silver Spring, now protected as an environmental treasure, by sinking kegs of gunpowder or sticks of dynamite in the spring and collecting the fish that floated to the surface after the blast.

    He considered that practice a matter of economic necessity and being a pious man, he thanked God for the catch. Food on the table.

    Good for him.

    He did what was prudent in his generation…

    As you and I do in ours.

    The idea of blaming ancestors for present troubles, shows a twisted sense of responsibility. My ancestors came to Oglethorpe’s Georgia as indentured servants (white slaves). Big deal. That is history; what I live now is life.

    The fault is not in our stars, or our ancestors, that we are underlings. I suspect today God deals with us on an individual basis. Sure there’s that “sins of the fathers” thing and the new church fad of blaming my troubles on “generational curse”–get real! When I hit my thumb with a hammer, it ain’t because Granddaddy was a carpenter.

    I don’t know about inherited blessings–all my folks was dirt farmers and all I got from them was dirt.

    Does Jesus save collectively? The sins of the whole world? or individually, Just as I am?

    And, if I read contemporary histories, biographies and diaries correctly Indians killed more Indians than Pilgrims did.

    Anyhow, I’m not contributing much to your posting here. I am impressed by one idea though–Somebody out there has got MY blessing. God has short-changed me in life and I want mine.

    Phooy.

    However, when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” I think He was issuing a disclaimer.

    Thanks, Matt, for the mental stimulation.

    John

  2. I think God blesses in different ways. Not experiencing certain types of suffering is a blessing because you have been spared from pain and can use the additional resources (monetary or otherwise) to bless others. However, experiencing certain types of suffering is a blessing as well because you have (hopefully) been brought to understand your standing before a sovereign God and have experienced his love and power in your weakness. I have been on both sides of this coin.

    If we truly believe that “All things work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” then everything the Christian experiences will produce some sort of net gain, even if it isn’t obvious or immediate. The affluent American has never been thrown in prison for his beliefs, but I bet the poor Christian Chinese man in his prison cell has experienced God in ways that we can’t even imagine. Both have something to be thankful for, and both have one thing in common: Christ, who gives us the victory over this body of sin and death.
    Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Our Worst Enemy

  3. First of all, you waited all the way until December to stop being Thankful? I think most started after dinner on Thanksgiving. I jest of course…mostly.

    Anyway, we do pay reparations to the Native Americans in the form of tax relief, reservation sovereignty, etc. Not that this is an answer for what other people’s ancestors did (mine were not here yet). Mine also, to the best of my knowledge, never owned slaves.

    Nevertheless, we can be blessed by God and we can be thankful for him. I don’t understand the trinity, but I believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one in three. I don’t understand how blessings work, and your post just made me really wonder about it all, but I do believe it happens. I’ve got too much to be grateful for to not believe that God blesses me.

  4. Honestly I think you are digging a little deep on this one Matt. It is good to think about all of this for sure, but why not just spend the Thanksgiving holiday being thankful?

    We give things to our kids, sometimes because they deserve them sometimes just because, sometimes it is just to see the look on their face when they get it. Maybe God does the same thing?

    Sometimes we don’t give things to them, and while they might not understand it we mean it for their good (or we give them things they would rather not have for the same reasons).

    And on the origins of the holiday… (I am not American so I had to look it up) Even if it is a celebration of genocide (which I am not sure it actually is) and not a harvest festival Wikipedia seems to think it is, we all celebrate holidays whose meanings change over time. We are about to celebrate Christmas on the 25th even though not many people still believe Jesus was actually born on the 25th of December, and a lot of Christmas traditions aren’t even Christian.

    In South Africa we are about to have a holiday (16th of December). This holiday actually has its roots in a battle between settlers and the indigenous people. But today we (the whole country) still celebrate this day, not for it’s historical reasons, but rather as a monument to Reconciliation despite the historical reasons.

    So eat turkey and pumpkin pie, and be thankful to God for what you have because “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”

  5. Matt, Thanksgiving has been part of our nation since the second year of the pilgrims arrival. President George Washington declared the fourth Thursday in November as a day of special thanksgiving for all the blessing bestowed on us. President Lincoln did the same thing.

    Yes, we committed genocide, but I will also say that neither you, nor me, nor anyone alive today! had anything to do with that. I don’t care if we are God’s special nation or not. We are who we are, and I would be no other place. I am thankful to God, it is a solemn remembrance of all that God has done for us.

  6. In the words of Peter Parker’s grandpa “With great power, comes great responsibility.” My heart has been ripped out of my chest in a million different ways since I got sucked into social media and blogs. I am so much more aware of what other are going through. Being a parent has stretched the way I think about all children. I can’t look at my two daughters and not be grateful that I don’t have to worry about them being forced into a life of child prostitution because they had to walk a mile to gather water for the family. I can’t deny that many mothers’ are worrying about that now.

    All this to say that I am extremely blessed, even by American standards. And that comes with a responsibility to care for the widows and orphans of our world. I’m still learning what that means, but I am learning, and that’s what matters.

  7. A lot interesting thoughts this morning, Matt.

    First a few Bible thoughts.

    - The sins of the fathers are visited on 3 or 4 generations. Exodus 20:5
    - Blessing, however; lasts a little longer. Exodus 20:5
    - There was prayer for forgiveness of the sins of Israel’s ancestors: Psalm 79:8 Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.

    What we owe as a country, or a people probably cannot ever be paid. Therefore; we need Jesus – all of us.

    How it is that Christians only think that things going their way, and stuff that makes their life easy are the only blessings is not the Gospel.

    Is it a blessing to have a job? Sure, I guess if it i not in the porno industry. What about folks that don’t have to work (under retirement age), should they get job because a job is blessing? I think they should. It builds character.

    Is America a blessed or a cursed land?
    If every good gift comes from God, I would say it is. The definition of good gift is really what is in question. Is it good to give a 5-year-old a new Lexus for Christmas or wait until they are 24? Can we curse ourselves by doing evil as a culture, I think so.

    Does a blessing from God mean a curse on another person?
    Romans 8:28 God works all things for the good of those that love him. Those that do not know Him are already cursed. For those that do, God can untangle sin after sin to advance his Kingdom.

    In the end, it’s time to grow up. I have been at conferences where everyone participated in asking forgiveness for sins perpetrated against the slaves and Indians here in the US. It was a group of individuals asking in a corporate setting.

    You can’t un-ring the bell of sin. That’s half the Gospel right there.

    If we can’t repent and move on, then God is not able to save us.
    David recently posted..Unto Us – The Truth About Christmas

  8. Heavy, heavy thoughts today. I cannot answer your questions, but I can express an opinion or two. First, I think that we owe only that which we have committed against another; which is to say that for me to pay reparations for my ancestors’ offenses is nonsense.

    Second, a “blessing” for one does not imply or require a curse on another. God’s riches are manifold and infinite. His blessing is for all who will receive. Clearly we’re not talking “stuff” here.
    vanilla recently posted..And Now Its December

  9. I think the idea of me being blessed meaning that someone else is cursed comes from a lack of understanding/belief that God is omnipotent – that He’s limited in some way.

    Shaun Groves talks on his blog about the juxtaposition he feels when returning from a 3rd-world country where he’s seen abject economic poverty on a scale that most of us can’t even really imagine in the midst of great spiritual prosperity. Then he comes back to the economic prosperity of America where there is so much spiritual poverty.

    Poverty and prosperity, curse and blessing…I think it depends on your state of mind and your amount of gratitude. The football player who didn’t win his game could recognize the blessing of being physically able to play. It’s also about recognizing needs around you (and within you) that may or may not be economic.

    The Gospel according to VeggieTales says that “a thankful heart is a happy heart.”
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

  10. You hit on some good stuff here and needs to definitely be discussed.
    I think like most Americans in the sense that I move past what happened last week and am only concerned about the right now. So really, I do not think a lot of people even consider the foundation of America and the brutality shown to the original natives of this great land.

    What I see is that when we try and measure what we have today because of what man has done it will always come up short. For me, I try and look at what God has done for my family, friends, and even myself.
    Kyle Reed recently posted..What Is One Thing

  11. Wow Matt! I guess fa-la-la-la-la isn’t in order here…

    That’s a lot of guilt for any person to carry around, but then again, we don’t have to if we’re born again. Remember that whole ‘East from the West’ thing God promises?

    As for being blessed, a lot of atrocities have taken place throughout history in God’s name. That doesn’t mean the acts were actually of God though. Being thankful for living in a country where religious freedom is protected as a fundamental right of all citizens is a true blessing. However, James tells us to rejoice and be thankful for trials in our lives because a person of real faith will learn to persevere and rely on God.

    I don’t think he would consider the local grocery store being out of Capt’n Crunch with Crunchberries a real trial though. We are beyond spoiled in the country…
    Tony C recently posted..Blue 16! Blue 16! Hut- hut- hut

  12. I have to agree by asking, Who says a big screen TV, a car, and more than sufficient daily calories are a blessing? Who defines that?

    And who says that a stick to ply with, and a hut, and no electricity is a curse? Who defines that?

    The people with stuff look at the people without stuff and say, “I must be blessed.”

    The people without stuff look at the people with stuff and say, “I must be cursed, or at least not blessed as much.”

    Really?

    I think if my heart is able to give thanks, whether I have stuff or don’t have stuff, then I am blessed.

    And give me a break, but I think God looks at my heart, and whether I’m thankful or not, and whether I’m willing to share with others or not…

    And not at whether I feel really bad because my ancestors did something bad that I had nothing to do with. I do believe in confessing the sins of our fathers and asking God to forgive those acts, because it’s very biblical, but I DON’T believe in the very popular act of doing penance from now on for the things they did, by running around with my tail between my legs and apologizing to everyone who is living on earth today.

    We need to move on, and LOVE PEOPLE TODAY THAT ARE IN FRONT OF MY FACE. TODAY.
    kelybreez recently posted..staying young

  13. Hi Matt,

    As I did other chores, I thought about your post and my earlier comment. I want to pursue this a bit more…

    The base question you ask is whether God is infinite or not.

    If He is limited in the amount of blessing He can give, then if money is not in my pocket, it’s in somebody else’s pocket.

    If, however, He is infinite and has infinite unlimited resources, then He can give out blessings to me like a Sugar Daddy–without taking a single one away from anybody else.

    Throughout history one people has replaced another. Civilizations rise or fall constantly. And this does not seem to necessarily be because God has it in for one nation or another. Sometimes He spares one “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” and sometimes He uses one people to erase another… Yet at the end of days people from every tongue and tribe and nation will rejoice in His presence–without complaint.

    I wonder if as Americans we sometime assume we have cornered the market on God. Some political movements which claim to be Christian seem to claim just that. Yet, from the word GO the Faith thrived under a despot, Nero. And should another despot destroy democracy, God knows His own and the Faith will continue to thrive under the rule of… You name it–North Korea, Cuba, China, Iran, Luxembourg?

    The world, and the Kingdom of God, can muddle through and manage to get along without us.

    Therefore, is it right to be thankful for blessings gleaned from genocide? Sure. Why not? The thing is we need to be thankful with apprehension. We are not immune to any fate which has befallen any other people.

    And we should be thankful because our blessings are just that– blessings. The blessing of the Lord maketh rich and all thy labor addeth nothing to it.

    Anyhow, I wanted to comment a second time because you have given me so much to think about.

    Thanks.

    John

  14. I read Cho’s post along with all the comments. It makes me sad that we need to look for injustice, and start with crazy statements about changing Thanksgiving Day – and mass apologies and the handing out of money. He obviously did not read the proclamations from Washington or Lincoln. They are two separate issues; giving thanks, and the treatment of American Indians.

    We need to be thankful for what we have. That’s the thanksgiving part. Maybe we need to shut off the football game and pray, I don’t know.

    The past treatment of any people, from the Indians to Abu Ghraib is terrible. Have we dealt with it well? Probably not. Should we pour money into people’s lives ad nuseum? NO! I believe that the US government has done a lot in my life time. We are not going to fix this anymore then we can fix the Holocaust.

    I guess what really gets me is that somehow he thinks that money or benefits will correct the wrong. That’s like saying the church should only feed the poor. That is not the Gospel.

    In Cho’s view, somehow the US should become the church? I don’t get it. Atrocities are just that, atrocities. You can’t fix them – especially with money. But I guess that is the capitalist’s salvation.
    David recently posted..Dont You Just Hate Insincere Thanksgivings

  15. //If you believe that God really led the Israelites to conquer the “innocent” people of Canaan, maybe this sounds logical. But most of us have enough compassion and logic to think that God didn’t really tell the whites to kill Indians and enslave blacks. //

    Interesting in your former statement. I’ve been reading and rethinking that maybe God didn’t really tell them to “cleanse” the land of Canaan.

    I would say we are just a rich country. Some people take that to mean we’re blessed and God really loves us. But then does that mean God doesn’t bless 3rd world countries and doesn’t love them? I doubt it.

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com
    Jonathan Chang recently posted..240 The Fire breaks

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