Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks

As someone who worked as a radio copywriter and production director for 20 years, I came to the conclusion that there are 3 categories of motivating emotions: needs, desires and fears. And when you are creating an ad you have to figure out to which kind of emotion are you making an appeal. Is it a physical need, like food or shelter or clothing? Is it a psychological need, like love or a feeling of belonging or having a defined role in a group or society? Is it a fear for your physical well-being or that of your family? Is it a social fear, of embarrassment or exclusion? Or is it a desire? And here there is a huge range of options. People desire or can be made to desire nearly anything. And sadly, most of the desires marketers appeal to are not healthy ones. Many are in fact what the Bible has defined as sins. 

Indeed, the 7 deadly sins are practically a textbook on how to sell products and services. Sloth or laziness is a good thing to appeal to if you are selling a labor saving device. Recently the Pepsi Company has come up with a drink that combines the taste of Mountain Dew and of Doritos chips called Dewitos. That's for folks who apparently can't be bothered to open both a bottle of soda and a bag of chips. Or perhaps this is an appeal to gluttony, which drives our food companies to come up with flavors not found in nature coupled with addictive snacks that fail to fill us up, lest we stop when satisfied. Lust is used to sell a lot of products, including ones that have little to do with sex, like cars and even food. Rage certainly seems to what political ads are targeting, trying to convince voters that the other guy is not merely the wrong choice but is secretly trying to destroy the nation. Greed is a big motivator, stroking our desire to simply acquire more stuff. And envy is another, convincing us that we should be dissatisfied with who we are and what we have and should instead want to be what others are or have what they have.

What is really incongruous is that one of the biggest days for buying stuff comes right after the day on which we are supposed to be thanking God for what we have. In fact for a few years now a lot of retailers have been opening on Thanksgiving Day, encouraging people to go from gratitude to greed in a matter of hours. Or in the case of employees required to work on the holiday, from enjoying their family to resenting their job.

We live in the richest country in the world. The vast majority of us make well above the less than $2 a day that most folks in the Third World must manage on. How often do we stop and thank God for what we have rather than lament that we don't have everything we see offered on TV? How often do we express our gratitude to him for what we are?

Envy in this regard is especially insidious. A lot of products are marketed to us based on the idea that we are inadequate because we do not look like the genetic lottery winners who dominate our entertainment industry. And so we are encouraged to dress like them, drive the cars they do, use the products they endorse and even have ourselves surgically altered to look more like them.

Of all of God's gifts to us, the most basic is ourselves, our bodies and our minds. Like everything else in this world, he gave us a wide variety. But unlike the array of flowers and trees and birds and animals, we don't seem to appreciate the variety of humans God gave us. We act as if we want them all the have the same color skin or body shape or narrow range of facial features. We also prefer a narrow range of personalities. We want everyone to be pleasant and positive and agreeable and funny and no smarter than ourselves. We want a world of clones and Yes-men. And if we don't resemble the majority of those around us, we try to change ourselves rather than appreciate the unique features God has granted us.

One of the things the act of giving thanks can do is make us aware of how we have been graced with God's gifts. Like your brain. Your brain gives you a different point of view than anyone else. You appreciate certain things, notice particular details, have specific insights that no one else does in the same way. Your sense of humor, your way of thinking, your way of doing things, the way you express yourself adds to humanity's perspectives. Thank God for the uniqueness of your brain.

Today most of us have issues with our bodies. A lot of that has to do with the bodies our society presents to us as ideals. And despite the fact that we know that the actors are carefully made up and lighted, and that the models starve themselves and are artificially enhanced, and that the athletes have fitness trainers and performance- and body-enhancing drugs, and that they all were far above average in the first place, we still secretly wish we had their faces and bodies. And, yes, the world treats you differently if you have “good” looks. But people like Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Hawking and John Adams and Dorothy Hodgkin and Linus Pauling and Pope John XXIII and loads of other people that don't look like movie stars have made truly vital contributions to the world. As Shakespeare said, “there's no art to find the mind's construction in the face.” A person's worth has little to do with his looks. Ted Bundy was good-looking; Steve Buscemi is not. Bundy was a serial killer; film star Buscemi returned the firehouse where he formerly was a firefighter to pull several 12 hour shifts sifting the the rubble of the Twin Towers after 9/11. Heroes aren't always handsome. Thank God for the inner beauty he gave you, whatever the world thinks of your body and face.

There are lots of other things for which to give God thanks: friends, family, this church, this community. We thank God for the beauty of where we live, for the flora and fauna that surround us, for the water and the generally good weather.

And one of the best ways to thank God is to take care of the gifts he's given us. We should take care of our brains and not do things that mess them up, be it drugs or riding a two-wheeled vehicle without a helmet. We should feed our brains the best stuff, things that will make us more knowledgeable, wiser and nobler. (Philippians 4:8) We should similarly not do things that will damage our body and feed it enough good things to keep it properly nourished and avoid giving it too much of the salty/sugary/fatty stuff that increases weight and the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's and sleep apnea. (Once a year is OK, I guess.)

Let us also take care of those we love, offering encouragement, empathy, and concrete support. Let us take care of the world he made and pronounced good, using its resources wisely and sparingly and allowing them replenish themselves when they can. Let us use our God-given ingenuity to figure out alternatives to limited non-renewing resources.

Finally let us give God thanks for his love for us, shown so clearly in his giving us his son Jesus, our incarnate, crucified and risen Lord and Savior and in his giving us his Holy Spirit, so that he is always with us and in us and so that we are always connected with God. He is the reason we are here together enjoying fellowship with him and with each other. He gives our lives direction and meaning. He gives confirmation to our instinct that love is our highest value and aspiration. He gives us hope that all that is broken in our lives and our world will be healed and whole in the end.

Thankgiving has only been an official national holiday since 1941. But unofficial and regional days of Thanksgiving go back 300 years, though they were usually daylong fasts and worship services. But rather than confine it to one day a year we should, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Too often we concentrate on what we resent, what we regret, what we want. Making ourselves look for what we have and what we are thankful for keeps us in the right mind to not only survive but to thrive and stay positive. That is God's will for us.

Our God is a gracious and giving God. And the very best way to thank him is to share his gifts, the bounty with which he has showered us, and the good news of his grace with others. In Matthew 10:8, Jesus says to his disciples, “Freely you have received; freely give.” Let us make that our motto from this day on. Because God has been good to us, let us pass it on. “Freely you have received; freely give.”

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