My college chaplain, who was a moral giant, once wrote a column for the newspaper about Thanksgiving. I have always admired it. In it he observed the obscenity of celebrating a feat of thankfulness in a world where people were starving for the lack of the very thing for which we were giving thanks. I thought he made a lot of moral sense. Not everyone took to his prophetic words happily. I remember one student, amidst with tears, complaining that he had ruined Thanksgiving that year.
Contrast that with a high school student from a family of some means I once took along to work in a New York City soup kitchen as a youth group experience. She participated in the endeavor, but seemed uncomfortable. I thought she might be learning something important. I was wrong. After we got home, I asked the group what they had learned. Her lesson? Be thankful for all that you have because not everyone has as much. As my college chaplain knew, she is not so far off from all of us if the truth be told.
There may be a middle way that neither succumbs to the obscenity and still enhances the thankfulness.
It seems to me the truth behind Thanksgiving is to take gratitude as a motive to do something, not merely to feel lucky. The basic goods for which I am thankful are surely denied to many others. Being thankful cannot be the end of it. Thankfulness has got to be the motive to do something about the disparity. Thankfulness does not rejoice in inequity; it does something about it. Thankfulness does not celebrate having as opposed to not; it shares. Thankfulness does not boast in what it enjoys to the exclusion of others; it lifts the others up. Thankfulness does not end with the recognition of providence; it seeks to be an instrument of it.
That seems to me to be true of all the things I give thanks for at this season of the year. I am well aware of how much I have been entrusted with. I am grateful for that. My gratitude, though, is not the end. It is the motive to act. It is a reason to put what I have to work.
That’s why Love Must Act exists. I have been blessed by a wonderful education. I had parents who made sure I had what I needed to succeed in school. I was privileged to attend an excellent college, a top-ranked law school, and an academically rigorous seminary. All that puts me way ahead of so many. To leave it at that, though, strikes me as missing the whole point of what I learned. The point is to see that others have the same opportunities, not to pat myself on the back at how blessed I am. It is not only love that must act. It is thankfulness as well.
Bishop Stacy Sauls