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Thanks and No Thanks

Albert Camus once wrote that the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself. He has a point. In a day and age where cynicism and insults fly out of the mouths and keyboards of cultural leaders like reactionary cries of a toddler in a toy store, we enter a holiday season full of thanks and no thanks.

There are a lot of reasons to be thankful, particularly in the U.S. Despite being only 4% of the world’s population, we consume resources and material goods in mind boggling numbers. We can connect online across countries, across borders, and across time and space in mind-numbing speed. And the list goes on and on. Many people reading this truly take things, people, and food for granted.

But, there’s a ‘no thanks’ part that is also increasing in our culture.

The word ‘evangelical’ is becoming something people want to say ‘no thanks’ to because it has become virtually meaningless and more associated with fundamentalist voters rather than good news or salt and light. Cultural leadership, formerly occupied by celebrities or Presidents (world leaders) or athletes, is now a wide open and unoccupied space. Our own President has made fun of or called other people names several times in the past few days alone. Violence against women is now a common report in the news with prominent members of Hollywood or the sports world found guilty or as suspects. Even college sports is under investigation by the FBI for corruption.

I want to say a resounding ‘no thanks’ to so much of the cynicism and rhetorical vitriol that runs amuck on social media and in the news cycle. But, for the foreseeable future, all of the ugliness seems here to stay.

 So, in order to truly say ‘thanks’ to what is good, we now have to be even more intentional saying ‘no thanks’ to that which is unloving and unkind. Abraham Lincoln, about a month before he gave the Gettysburg Address, sent a note outlining why Thanksgiving means something. The memo is pasted here:

 

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.

Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

 I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Os Guinness, in the spirit of exercising wisdom, writes, “The story is told of Socrates walking through the market in Athens, with its groaning abundance of options, and saying to himself, "Who would have thought that there could be so many things that I can do without?” And this leads us to simulteanously being grateful and discerning at the same time. We would do well to learn to say thanks and no thanks in effective ways.

 

In Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation we are reminded that in this holiday season, we can seek to give thanks to those who day to day seek “to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

And to the point of Socrates, it may be worth our time to take a walk through the city or to surf through the internet and find all those things we can do without and say ‘no thanks’ so that we can press on toward that which is good, true, and beautiful. It’s ok to say thanks and no thanks today. You are free to say both with care and compassion.

Tags | global | holiday | love | thanks
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About
As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.


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