We should remember those Scriptures before appearing to give thanks during this Thanksgiving Day. We should remember them lest we too easily believe the possible lie we are telling others about ourselves: the lie that conceals our pride for what we have by saying we are thankful for the gifts God has given us.
So what tells us that we are truly thankful to God for what we have? One test can be found in our attitude toward the poor--note that this test is not about how much we have given to the poor because people give for various reasons. Rather, this test can be graded by how we identify with the poor. For when we see a poor person, do we think, 'But for the grace of God go I' or do we look down on that person and think, 'I am thankful that I am not like that poor person because I' ____ and he/she doesn't.
Yes, working hard and following certain rules and principles provide an immediate cause for avoiding poverty. But do we believe that working hard and following certain rules and principles alone guarantees success? If we do, there are plenty of people who could tell us otherwise. Howard Zinn talked about how, despite their hard work, his parents did not escape poverty. He observed that that was the case for others too. In addition, we also have to ask who gives us the energy to work hard and who moves our hearts to follow rules and principles that help us succeed? And let's not forget how the economic class we grew up in gave us privileges and margins of error that others do not have.
In short, how thankful we can be toward God is measured by how much we identify with the poor. The less we identify with them, the more we credit ourselves for what we have and blame them for what they don't have. But the more we can truly identify with the poor, the more we realize that what we have is from God and not ourselves. And thus, instead of feeling proud, we should thank God for what He has graciously given us--realize that grace is unmerited favor. And we should note that the truest compassion for the poor one can have comes from our ability to identify with them. Perhaps, the end of a journal entry by a then 12-year old Rachel Corrie about the homeless can provide a guide (click here for the whole entry).
These are our sisters and brothers. And that is what terrifies us. They are us. And we could as easily be them.
And what is true of how we think as individuals is even more true for how we think collectively. For if we think that we have our success because our nation is God's greatest gift to mankind and that it has, above other nations, followed God's law, then, again, we are not as thankful as we are proud--along with being delusional. Yes, God has blessed this country. But our history of violence and exploitation tells us that God's blessings for us have been unmerited rather than something to be proud of. We can thus realize that God has blessed our country despite its sins and shortcomings rather than because of our imagined merits.
So, if we fall to temptation and think that our nation is better than others and thus think that its riches are due to its characteristics, then we will believe that what we have is because of who we are as a nation. And if we believe that, then we will believe that our nation's prosperity is earned rather than graciously given. And this is an important distinction. For if the riches of our nation are earned, we might rejoice on Thanksgiving Day but we will be offering no thanks to God. Rather, we will be grateful to our nation, rather than to God, for our riches and we will be proud. Yes we are rejoicing and we claim to be giving thanks, but, in reality, our Thanksgiving Day parades and other celebrations are our nation's way of flaunting our superiority and riches. This would make Thanksgiving Day, with its parades and celebrations, our Prosperity Pride Day.
Thanksgiving Day is an odd day for many Americans. That is because many of us show our gratitude to God for what we have by upping our overconsumption. We might pray before our meals, but it is our meals that act as the altar. So we do need to ask ourselves on days like this Thursday the question: Is our Thanksgiving Day feast a way of truly giving thanks to God for His kindness and mercy or are we using it to worship ourselves or our riches? One way of answering the question is to look at how we treat and regard those who have a lot less.