Monthly Archives: June 2015

Is Gratitude a Scam?

I tend not to reblog others’ posts here, for some reason, but Friend Micah speaks my mind so clearly I felt I had no alternative!

Is Gratitude a Scam? by Micah Bales

Gratitude has always seemed like a scam to me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a heightened awareness of what’s wrong in the world. In the 3rd grade on the school bus, I was reading Newsweek, learning about all of the great challenges facing us. All of the wrongs that needed righted.

In the context of so much evil, feeling grateful made no sense. How could I let myself be satisfied with the unacceptable, grateful for a world in which there is so much brokenness?

Sometimes people told me I should feel grateful. Focus on all the good things you have in your life, they said. But that seemed like a cop out. Sure, there are plenty of things that are wonderful about the world, but those aren’t the things that need my attention, that need fixing.

I even saw the language of gratitude abused. I saw how those in authority could threaten those who weren’t grateful enough for the status quo. Workers who weren’t grateful for starvation wages might get fired. Activists who weren’t grateful for the military industrial complex of our country should love it or leave it.

Despite all the problems I’ve seen with gratitude, I also know that I’m in deep need of it. When I refuse to practice gratitude for all of the beauty and wonder in my life, my heart becomes hardened. Before long, I don’t have eyes to see anything but the darkness. Gratitude is essential for my spiritual health, my sense of groundedness and peace, my relationship with God.

My almost insatiable hunger for a better, truer, more just world is a God-given orientation. I’m stuck with it, and I’m to bless the world with it. But there’s no way I can sustain any kind of Spirit-led witness if I refuse to ground my critique of unjust systems in a deeper awareness of the beauty, love, and power of this life.

Is this a contradiction? How do I hold together both my sense of gratitude and my burning desire for a just and fair world? How can my deep sense of gratitude be the soil in which a prophetic challenge to this world’s darkness takes root?

Despite my concerns, I’m realizing that gratitude is and must be the foundation of all my work for justice. The very fact that I notice that there’s evil in the world, that I find it out of place and disturbing, is a sign of the underlying goodness of God’s creation. Evil is an aberration; goodness is the norm. My grateful awareness of this life that God made and called good is the basis for any challenge I might bring to the brokenness of our fallen existence.

The gratitude is there, waiting for me in the midst of disappointment and wrong. It is nourishment in the wilderness I live in. Just as the Hebrews found manna in the midst of the desert, I am fed by God in the midst of an unjust and unfair society. It is by the strength of this gratitude that I am sustained and empowered to seek a truer, more beautiful world.

I am grateful to God for the presence of his grace and power, inspiring and equipping me to take the next step in faith.

Trust in me?

Trust – it’s a word we’re not used to using in this century. We are taught to distrust politicians, the media, big business, the police, odd emails we receive, each other…

Sometimes this distrust is justified; often it really is not. But what is really problematic is the image we have in our minds of what it might mean to be trustful: gauche, credulous, unworldly, un-streetwise. And of course this extends beyond our dealings with authorities, tradespeople, service providers, to far deeper situations: marriage, parenthood, church – above all our trust in God. Mistrust then becomes a corrosive thing, a poison to all that is good and true in relationship.

The Apostle Paul writes:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12.13-21

Jesus trusted God, even to the Cross and beyond, as we hear in Matthew’s Gospel (27.41-43), “In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.”’

What are we to lose, by trusting those we love? (And remember Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt. 22.39))

Clearly, this does not extend to emails beginning “My dear excellency, concerning your lotery winings”, nor to people who might be following on streets after dark. But to trust those whom we do hold in relationship is to be human. To treat one’s spouse as unfaithful until proved otherwise would be the end of any marriage…

Spiritual masters or guides… warn and caution their pupils against inappropriate teachings and practices; at the same time, the spiritual master leads his or her pupil into the life of prayer by example, heart to heart, seeking always the guidance of the Holy Spirit…

No doubt the ideal picture of a mystic has already been voiced by Jesus of Nazareth in his sermon on the mount. Such a radically virtuous and holy person is true in heart, peace loving, a peacemaker, poor in spirit, willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, loving to God and neighbour. This is the compassionate person, who, when asked for his shirt, offers his cloak also… He or she is childlike, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Emilie Griffin, Wonderful and Dark is the Road

The inability to trust seems to me to be a critical sickness of our time. As a society we are suffering from a known psychological problem: “Being unable to trust can destroy friendships, careers, and marriages, but fortunately, learning to trust again is not impossible…”

John’s Gospel (14.1) records Jesus as saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” How can our hearts have anything but trouble, if we cannot trust? (And trust is a synonym for belief.)

If once we can allow ourselves truly to encounter God, in the silence or in the sacraments, as Paul found on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) everything changes. The living God is light, love, mercy, truth, beyond the possibility of mistrust. All we need to do is come…