A Thanksgiving Reflection, Five Days after the Fact

I sense that Thanksgiving is a time of reflection for most people. This is the first Thanksgiving that I’ve paid much attention to Facebook; I loved all the short Thanksgiving posts on Thanksgiving Day and the days leading up to it. For years, I’ve looked forward to the editorials in my hometown newspaper reflecting on the value of Thanksgiving and stepping back a bit to see the world and our lives from the perspective of all the providential blessings we enjoy. I still enjoy reading the Thanksgiving proclamations of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and in the churches I’ve served we’ve established the annual tradition of reading the President’s Thanksgiving proclamation.

And I know that Thanksgiving is also the official beginning of the Christmas shopping frenzy. I don’t like it much and for the most part don’t participate in it, and least not on Black Friday. The whole Black Friday thing has the feel of an artificial construct. Who says that the day after Thanksgiving is the official start of the Christmas shopping season? The retailers and their brilliant marketing folks have decided. And now we have Cyber Monday to add to the list.

Millions of us have been willing participants. I confess complicity. But in our defense, it’s not really a fair fight. The marketers have all the research. They know what pushes our buttons. They know how they can create demand. You’re looking at the ads and see that the item they’re marketing is “limited to warehouse stock,” or “only 3 per store.” And of course, they count on the fact that we’ll come in for the deal, but we won’t stop there. As long as we’re out, we’ll fill up our shopping cart with stuff that isn’t such a good deal. They also have convinced us to buy things we don’t need.

So, back to Thanksgiving, even though it’s 5 days after Thanksgiving. Too much of our thanksgiving is giving thanks for stuff, when all the stuff is part of the problem. Most of us don’t really need more stuff. We don’t need the latest gadget. We don’t need the newest version of the thing we already have. In fact, if anything, instead of giving thanks for our stuff, we ought to repent of the fact that we have too much stuff, that we have an insatiable appetite for stuff, and that we keeping going out and getting more stuff. On Thanksgiving weekend, of all times.

In the Christian traditions that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the appointed gospel reading for the Day of National Thanksgiving is that section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s gospel) where Jesus encourages his followers not to worry about clothing and food. God clothes the flowers and feeds the birds; God will also provide what we need. In that injunction, Jesus encourages us to a faith and trust that gives up anxiety about stuff. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine Jesus saying to us in the wealthy first world to also give up our obsession with stuff.

When Jesus tells us to seek God’s rule and God’s righteousness, I hear an invitation into a way of living in God’s presence that seeks what is good and right and just. Most of us don’t have to be concerned with the basics of survival. And since for most of us the food, drink, clothes, and shelter thing is pretty well covered, we can look beyond ourselves to the larger common good. In the true spirit of thanksgiving, there would be no clutching or hoarding. And I’m hoping we’d think twice about standing in line at 2 in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day to find the bargain for something that only feeds our obsession with stuff. And I’m thinking it would be good for this consumer — who has his own issues with wanting more stuff — to figure out how in these next four weeks of Christmas consumer feeding frenzy, I can more faithfully embody Jesus’ invitation.

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