Being Thankful, Even When I Don’t Want To Be

This year, thankfulness comes easy for me.  In addition to being blessed with another year with my family, I now have my FaithWorks of Abilene family, as well.  For the past six months, things have been falling in to place in ways they have not for several years.  I feel God blessing my family and me.

And I am grateful.

Yet, for each of the last four Thanksgivings (including today), people I love are enduring their first Thanksgiving with an empty chair at the table.

A number of my friends are still homeless today.  Many of them have been invited to the homes of people throughout town; but many have not.  Hopefully, they will find shelter and a warm meal today.

Many people I know are doing everything they can to celebrate today so that their children or other family members can have at least one day of fun in the midst of a life of chaos.

But I am grateful?  How can I be?  How can I enjoy my time with family today enjoying a wonderful meal in a warm house knowing all those who are suffering today?  How can those friends of mine be grateful today when they are experiencing pain and hurt in terrible, tragic ways?

To be honest, there are days when I do not know if I can be grateful.  There are days that I do not know if I can encourage someone to be grateful.  There are days when I feel guilty for being thankful for what I have while living among those who have not.

How can you be grateful when life is falling apart around you?

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk speaks to this.  As the prophet is lamenting the situation of the nation of Israel, he closes his short book with these lines:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are not sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet will I rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.”

Sometimes, there is absolutely no reason to be thankful.  And that is the time we need to be most thankful.

It is in the midst of chaos that God is present.  He does not always calm the storm or take the pain away, but He walks with us.  The tears may still fall, but God will cry with us.

And I am grateful.

Assimilation, Uniforms, and Other Unnecessary Things

When I worked for the Wegman grocery chain in the Northeast, my store had a dinner celebrating the ethnic diversity of our employees.  And there was a lot of diversity.  We literally had employees whose families were from all over the globe.  It was a great event.  Yet one of my friends and co-workers did not want to attend.

(Why would anyone pass up on an opportunity for free food?)

They did not want to support the dinner because they felt everyone should be assimilating.  This person thought, “Why would we want to celebrate ethnic diversity?  It’s assimilation; we should all be emphasizing the fact that we are American.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to live in America and be an American citizen.  But let’s face it:  unless we are Native American, none of our families are from here originally.  We all have cultural and ethnic heritages that extend back to some other continent.  Additionally, one of the beauties of our country is that people from all other countries can come here, live, work, and be in community with people who are already here.

I hope people never assimilate.  I hope they hold on to their ethnic heritage, their gifts, their talents, their identity.

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One of the earliest controversies in the church was what to do about the Gentiles.  The first Christians were all Jewish by birth and having to include the Gentiles created some discomfort.  One of the biggest issues (speaking of discomfort) was the matter of circumcision.  Jews had to be circumcised; Gentiles did not.  Jewish Christians wanted Gentile Christians to share in the experience.

There was one problem with that, however.  Circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham.  It was a sign that was supposed to be carried on for all generations of Abraham’s descendants.

It was never part of a covenant with Gentiles.

And it was never part of the covenant for Christians.

So the Apostle Paul argued that Gentiles should not be circumcised.  He even lived this example by refusing to have Titus, a Gentile, circumcised even though he did have Timothy, a Jew, circumcised.

Circumcision was a sign of Jewish-ness.  It was not a sign of Gentile-ness or Christian-ness.  So why would we want to force something on a group of people that was not necessary?  Why would we want to try and change their identity?

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One of the local schools wants to institute a uniform policy.  They call it “standardized dress.”  I think standardized dress has as many pitfalls as standardized testing.

There are many reasons for moving to a standardized dress policy.  Some suggest that discipline issues and absenteeism will decrease.  Additionally, many believe it levels the economic playing field for the students.  If rich kids aren’t allowed to wear designer clothing and poor kids don’t come to school in tattered clothing, then all the bullying about what kids are wearing will go away.

However, research does not resoundingly support these claims.  There have been studies that reveal a slight improvement in measurables:  attendance, issues of discipline, and grades.  However, those schools where improvement was seen incorporated entire programs of which uniforms were only one part.  It is impossible to state that it is the uniforms that made the difference.

In unmeasurables, those things that are perception-based such as bullying and classroom distraction, the adults report improvement while the children report no change (and there have been very few studies that actually talk to the students about all of this.)

So the research is not very strong for either side of the uniform issue.  However, my biggest concern regarding standardized dress is that it is a very middle class mindset to think that everyone buying the same thing will eliminate problems.

For a uniform policy to be initiated, there is likely to be a cost up front; especially for families with multiple students at the school.  The uniforms need to be purchased; multiple uniforms need to be purchased.  Families with money will buy enough uniforms to last for an entire week while families without will buy one.  Families with money usually have washing machines and dryers in their homes and have the luxury of deciding to do small loads of wash during the week.  Families living in low-rent housing (or the more than 700 homeless students that live in our city) often only get to do laundry once a week or once every other week.  So the families that can only afford one or two uniforms will be sending their children to school in dirty uniform clothes while waiting for laundry day to come about.

Beyond that, we should be appreciating each person for who they are and teaching them how to appropriately express their individuality.  We should not be trying to make everyone look the same (especially when that “same” we are shooting for is middle class and white).

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Why do we desire everyone to look alike?  Whether the issue is circumcision, assimilation, or school uniforms those who are privileged often assume a posture of wanting everyone to look, sound, and think alike.  But it doesn’t work.

Uniformity does not breed unity.  Uniformity breeds mindlessness.

And while it sounds like a good idea that everyone just forget all their differences and focus on their similarities, in practice it calls people to give up those things that make them individuals.  Jewish Christians wanted to make Gentiles just like them instead of like Jesus.  Those who call for people of different ethnicities to assimilate are calling for them to give up their individual character.  Those who call for uniforms are calling for an end to individuality and a start to, “Look like us, please.”

Let us celebrate those things that make us different.  Let us celebrate those things that bring us together and allow us to share who we are with one another.  Let us stop trying to look alike and start appreciating the beauty that each person brings to this life.

 

 

 

*For some further reading on standardized dress for school, see the following:

Brunsma, D.L. & Rockquemore, K.A. (2003). Statistics, sound bites, and school uniforms: A reply to Bodine. The Journal of Educational Research 97(2), 72-77.

Firmin, M., Smith, S., & Perry, L. (2006). School uniforms: A qualitative analysis of aims and accomplishments at two Christian schools. Journal of Research on Christian Education 15(2), 143-168.

Gentile, E. & Imberman, S.A. (2012). Dressed for success? The effect of school uniforms on student achievement. Journal of Urban Economics 71, 1-17.

They Got What They Deserved

“They got what they deserved.”

“They made their choices.  I feel nothing for them.”

“They don’t deserve my sympathy.”

Statements that are easily made when someone, especially a celebrity, dies from a drug overdose.  Celebrities are easy targets because they often put themselves in the limelight.  This does not excuse people’s behavior when they put them down; it just explains why they are so often the target of derision.

And let’s face it, in our culture today alcoholics and drug addicts are easy targets, too.  After all, their problems are of their own doing, right?  They don’t have enough willpower, so it’s all their fault, isn’t it?

Recently, Fox TV aired an episode of Glee honoring Cory Monteith, a young actor who died of a drug overdose.  Glee is not a show I watch, although I have seen a few episodes.  I did not watch this episode that paid tribute to Monteith.  But many of my friends did.  Maybe you did.  What was your response?

I saw many kind responses.  I saw other sad responses.

I also saw hurtful, insulting, and disparaging responses.  After all, he died of a drug overdose.  It was his own fault, so why feel any remorse?

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One time, Jesus was a dinner guest at the house of someone most likely upper class.  During the dinner, a woman (most definitely NOT upper class) comes in and anoints Jesus’ feet.  The host is appalled (silently) that Jesus would let such a woman touch Him.  After all, doesn’t He know who and what she is?  Her life may be a mess, but after all, it’s her own fault, isn’t it?  Why would the Messiah allow her to even come into His presence?

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When children are sick, communities spring to action.  Volunteers abound willing to help out.  Prayer vigils are conducted.  Fundraisers are organized.  Sometimes, local celebrities or politicians become involved.

In my experience, this is a time when churches truly act like churches should.  There is no shortage of church members willing to cook, clean, babysit, provide transportation, or find other ways to help as much as they possibly can.

When children, or other family members, are sick people spring to action to help.

But what about when the sickness is drug addiction?  Or alcoholism?  Or cutting?  Or an eating disorder?  Or depression?  Are helpers as quick to appear when these are the illnesses?

(Please read the following: No One Brings Dinner When Your Daughter is an Addict )

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There was this time when Jesus was out walking and He came upon a blind man.  Those who knew the man knew that he was born blind, so they asked Jesus who sinned:  the man or his parents?  After all, if someone was sick, there had to be sin involved so that people would know where to assign guilt.  People wanted to know how to assign blame, so the assumption was that for every imperfection some person was guilty of some act.  When the guilt is on a person, there is less need for sympathy or compassion; because after all, it’s their own fault, isn’t it?

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When we are afraid of something, we do everything we can to shield ourselves from it.

We are afraid of addictions and mental illnesses.

We want to assign blame so that we can absolve ourselves from showing sympathy.  We want to say it is all their fault so that we do not have to do anything to help or show compassion.

Because we are afraid.

What might happen if we get involved?  What will we see?  What will we be exposed to?  Won’t we be let down and disappointed time and time again?

How do we comfort parents when the sickness is not physical?  How do we talk about something when we have avoided it for so long and showered guilt and shame on top of the illness?

“Druggies” are still the kind of people we can cast aside with impunity because their problems are all of their own making.

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A lot of people attended my brother’s funeral three years ago.  Many more expressed condolences through social media, cards, gifts, and kind words.

Yet some of those people are the same ones who I have heard saying, “Who cares about that person?  They died because in their addiction because of their own choices.”

So did my brother.  (At least, his addictions contributed in a large way; they were not the only issue he was facing.)  If I hear you casting aside drug addicts and alcoholics so freely, what am I to assume you actually think about my brother?

For that matter, what am I to assume you think about me?  After all, I am an alcoholic.  Many of you may look to my time of sobriety and say that I am an alcoholic no longer.  But I would challenge that.  I am an alcoholic.  I am an alcoholic who chooses to not drink, but I am still an alcoholic.  An addict.  An abuser of substances.

Just like Cory Monteith.  And Whitney Houston.  And a laundry list of other famous (and totally unknown) people.

When you cast them aside, you cast me aside.  When you decide they are not worthy of your compassion or kindness, you decide I am not worthy of your compassion or kindness.

And you tell everyone you know who is hiding their addiction from you that they better keep it hidden.

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One time when Jesus was speaking, He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary, tired, and carrying a heavy burden.  Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

I pray that I do not look down.  I pray that I do not assign blame.  I pray that I do not cast aside.

I pray that I can offer rest.