Today I contemplate the Greek word charis. It is often translated as grace. But it is better translated as gift. It is the word from which charismatics take their name. They claim empowerment through gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are to be used to benefit the community of disciples. Even when they are not the same, all gifts are for all.
Gratitude Good and Bad.
I was taught to be polite when receiving a gift. Reminders were often given. The adults declared, “Something is wrong with kids today” is we failed to say, “Thank you.” Oddly enough, while I was taught to express gratitude, I was also taught never to expect it to be expressed to me. Why? “You do good just to do good,” my father says. It takes some thought to understand why something could be wrong for me but not other people. I think about it still.
Gratitude is the response to receiving some gift. At least, that is what we hear. People are going to express gratitude this week. Many people will give heartfelt thanks for blessings received. Other folks will be roped into saying some words about some things for which they are grateful. Some of these performers will lie. Whatever the case, everyone wants that ritual quickly completed. There are tables full of gifts to enjoy.
Gift With Strings Attached
Gratitude is a word with an awful origin. Our western concept of gratitude has its’ roots in a social relationship known as “quid pro quo.” A patron provided the gift. The plebian, the servant, and the slave offered praise for the gift. Patrons need praise. They must have monuments and memorials to themselves. Later the peasants and the serfs praised the Lords of the Manor for the gift of serving them. It was “this for that.” Do free people owe gratitude to anyone?
We are on the precipice of another holiday. A holiday that was once so inoffensive to me. Now the legacy of colonialism calls it into question. Do I now say farewell to the pilgrims like I once did Columbus? I ask, “what happened to the gift-giving Wampanoags? If we tell the full story, it ruins dinner. Perhaps, it should spoil some of it at least. The myth is about values I share. The story fails to live up to the myth. We should ask why the myth is important? Could that common celebration be about values we are eager to ignore?
My father and the charismatics are on to something. If I do good or have the power to do good, should I expect anything in return for doing it? What are free and equal relationships supposed to be anyway? It is can not value other people only for the gifts they give us or may give us in the future. We can value other people just for being. They are the sign of grace and the gift. And for this commonwealth I am grateful.