The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are.” – Luke 18:11
Without speaking for anyone else, but only out of notion, I suspect most of us out here on the plains are grateful. We summon this message each year, as the calendar draws to a close and pause to take stock of what is meaningful in our lives, the good and the bad, in hopes that the good is winning.
Each year at Thanksgiving we say this even in the wake of more disaster, natural and man-made, as we said the year before that, and here we are again, praying for victims ‒ of murderous rampage, of war and famine, of great storms, of poverty and greed, of intolerance and neglect.
Once more we endure the brutality of man, the primal combat and corruption that corrode our moral fiber. Avarice and mania have laid waste to the Washington agenda and to our fundamental government. And then Ferguson, and Charleston and on to Paris, Dallas, Orlando and other hellish landscapes, reminding us that murder and fear continue on a massive scale. Yes, we are still here but I wonder if many of us know why. To what purpose do we go on? How many know, or care? That we are thankful at all is a wonder.
And yet there are little clues, nuggets of faith.
We can no longer give thanks that we don’t really know what terrorists are, or what war is like, or that fear and ignorance are for other people in other places. But we can still hope that our nation emerges from tragedy and grief with greater awareness of the dark that threatens our society.
WE GIVE thanks in perilous economic times that our community remains financially stable, if not exactly strong. That sirens in our town are still a major event because they may involve someone we know, and because they are so rare.
That we can go to work safely, on foot, or on bicycles if we like, and that when we do drive, we don’t fight fumes and long lines of stalled commuters. When we get there, parking is free.
That we have so many goodies − by way of television and computers and libraries − of the cities, but few of the baddies, by way of porn or hustlers or muggers, or criminal gangs.
That we can care about what happens to the elders next door, and practice private charities, especially this season and generally year ‘round.
That we are reasonably well-housed, and that we are wellfed and well-clothed, without going deeper into debt than we have been.
That we no longer worry so much about getting bigger and richer, having seen what an obsession with bigness and richness has done to other people and communities.
That we know our service station manager and our grocer, our school teachers, and our newspaper editor, and our city councilmen and councilwomen, and our police chief, and we don’t hesitate to talk it over with them when things seem out of hand, and that we extend a hand or pat a shoulder when things seem to be going well, and thanks to them.
That we want churches to be strong, that we still believe the Commandments and the Constitution.
That we have a wonderful college, its promise for the next generation, and that we remain committed and determined to help it in every way.
That our community is brimming with people who believe no day is dismal, and a dull sky is as plausible as any other, and who embrace each morning with the brightness and suddenness of a hyacinth, as though spring were here, even in February.
That the footings of our community, of settlers with abiding faith and a love of man, remain strong and inspire us yet.
WHILE WE are grateful, we must resist the temptation to give thanks that we are not as others.
That we do not pull into a little Midwest cocoon, trying to preserve what is best and trying to ignore the continuing horrors of poverty and racial hatred and religious bigotry.
That we confront political and business corruption, rather than ignore it, because it really is our concern.
IN THIS community we may give thanks for what we have and for what we may be or would like to be, and then let’s add another prayer:
Of thanks that we know life is not going so well for many of the world’s billions; that we realize how we are diminished when bombs and guns go off in Paris or Orlando and about Damascus or Baghdad, or places otherwise of innocence and decency; that we fear for all refugees of war and despotism; that we can still help when storms rage with murderous fury over our neighbors, or when a great city goes to the wall, or when children starve in the sub-Sahara, or villages are drowned in Asia; and a prayer of thanks that we know we are not truly alone out here on a Kansas island.
WE GIVE thanks that we can still care, and not only for those around us. And that we strive not to be as the Pharisees. Gratitude becomes us. Gratitude rooted in smugness does not. We can truly be grateful if we realize that.