You’ve got to read Mollie Hemingway’s column on gratitude in Christianity Today. Excerpts:
Appearing on Conan O’Brien’s show last year, comedian Louis C. K. lamented how frustrated people get when cell phones and cross-country flights are slow or faulty. “Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy,” he said. When people complain that their flight boarded 20 minutes late or that they had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes before takeoff, he asks a few additional questions.
“Oh really, what happened next? Did you fly through the air, incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight?”
The appearance hit a nerve—with over a million YouTube views and counting—because it’s true: Whether it’s our impatience with technology or, more likely, with family members and friends, our complaints reflect how much we take for granted.
We know that God has given us our bodies and souls, reason and senses, material possessions, and relationships. Yet with all that God richly provides us daily, many of us struggle to be grateful. . . .
The Roman philosopher Cicero was on to something when he said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” It’s also the basic Christian attitude. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
That might seem a challenge during a season of economic trouble and political unrest. But consider German pastor Martin Rinckart, who served a town that became a refuge for political and military fugitives during the Thirty Years War. The situation in Eilenburg was bad even before the Black Plague arrived in 1637. One pastor fled. Rinckart buried another two on the same day. The only pastor remaining, he conducted funeral services for as many as 50 people a day and 4,480 within one year.
Yet Rinckart is best known for writing, in the midst of the war, the great hymn that triumphantly proclaims this:
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices
Who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
Do you see why gratitude is the “parent of all virtues”? Take a virtue and show its connection to gratitude.
Why do most people like white meat better than dark meat? Isn’t the latter juicier and much more flavorful?
Do you have dishes that have been passed down in your family from time immemorial? That you must have, even though no one particularly likes them?
I just learned that someone else shares my taste for what a recipe I describe as “white on white on white on white.” And calls it the same thing! Do any of the rest of you? Do you know what it is?
Use this space to rhapsodize about your favorite Thanksgiving foods.
The day before Thanksgiving is NOT the busiest travel day of the year. That would be any Friday in June, July, or August.
Eating Turkey does NOT make you sleepy. It does have some of that chemical Tryptophan that is a sedative, but not in sufficient quantity to have an effect. Overeating, though, especially with so many carbohydrates that characterize a Thanksgiving feast, does make you sleepy.
The day after Thanksgiving is NOT the busiest shopping day of the year. That would be the Saturday before Christmas.
The claim that the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving is a myth is itself a myth. Yes, one can quibble about the menu, but the Pilgrims did hold a great feast to give thanks for their survival through their first winter and their first harvest in the New World. Also, it is true that the Indian, Squanto, who helped them survive in this new environment was a Christian who knew English because he had lived for awhile in London.
G. K. Chesterton writes about ordinary life in a way that always makes me grateful for it. He also writes about gratitude. Here is some of what he said on the subject:
I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. –Gilbert K. Chesterton
There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person. –G. K. Chesterton
The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them. –Gilbert K. Chesterton
When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. –G. K. Chesterton
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. –G. K. Chesterton
When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs? ~G.K. Chesterton
In arguments about worship, both sides often cast the issues in terms of “formal styles” vs. “emotional styles.” That has always seemed a false dichotomy. To me, our formal, liturgical Lutheran services are very emotionally moving. Besides, the opposite of “formal” is “informal,” and the opposite of “emotional” is “unemotional.” And “informal” worship styles happen to leave me cold; that is, it leaves me “unemotional.” I realize that other people react differently.
The point is, form and feeling can actually support each other. That is practically a literary principle. A sonnet is among the most emotional of poems, and yet its form is among the strictest. This is even evident in the Bible.
Justin Taylor pointed me to these observations about the Book of Lamentations from John Piper:
First, Lamentations is a deeply emotional book. Jeremiah writes about what means most to him, and he writes in agony. He feels all the upheaval of Jerusalem in ruins. There is weeping (1:2), desolation (1:4), mockery (1:7), groaning (1:8), hunger (1:11), grief (2:11), and the horrid loss of compassion as mothers boil their own children to eat them (2:20; 4:10). If there ever was intensity and fervor in the expression of passion from the heart, this is it.
The second observation, then, comes as a surprise: This seems to be the most formally crafted book in the Old Testament. Of the five chapters, chapters 1, 2, and 4 are each divided into twenty-two stanzas (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), and each stanza begins with a different letter of the alphabet. They are three acrostics.
Chapter 3 is even more tightly structured. Again there are twenty-two stanzas, but now each stanza has exactly three lines. The three lines in each stanza begin with the same letter, and each of the twenty-two stanzas begins with a different letter in alphabetical order.
This is the only chapter that is not an acrostic. But it still has twenty-two lines in conformity with the acrostic pattern of chapters 1-4. Now what do these two observations imply? First, they imply that genuine, heartfelt expression of our deepest emotions does not require spontaneity. Just think of all the mental work involved in finding all the right words to construct four alphabetical acrostics!
What constraint, what limitation, what submission to form! Yet what passion and power and heart! There is no necessary contradiction between form and fire.