Minister. I invite you to this responsive meditation that underscores the message from the parable of the Good Samaritan. We’re all human beings and we’re all in this together.
In this time of Thanklessness,
we are moving toward Thanksgiving Day.
Congregation. We are Americans by birth and by adoption by citizenship and by gift of place
Skip. And, at the same time, we are the people of the Earth, people whose lives are blessed with love and hope.
Congregation. As well as those whose days are shadowed by darkness and despair .
Minister. We are young and old, with a rainbow heritage of black and brown and yellow and red,
Congregation. And white, dominant and lacking in color Skip. Our languages are English, Spanish and Arabic;
Russian, Mandarin and Swahili; Farsi and Sign.
Congregation. We are women and men; boys and girls. Minister. Hearing and deaf; sighted and blind.
Congregation. We are gay and straight and transsexual and those whose sexual identity is a memory
Skip. We are lovers of pets and children and ourselves, and we are humans whose store of love is sometimes not easy to find.
Congregation. We are celebrators and grievers, runners and hikers and complex weavers of life.
Minister. We are artists and poets and writers and dancers, and we are those whose creativity is blocked or exhausted.
Congregation. And, with people north and south, west and east, we are called to gratitude.
Skip. We are challenged to recall reasons to be grateful, because to do otherwise would surrender to life’s pain.
Congregation. We are gardeners and teachers and library keepers, we are parents and children, brothers and sisters,
Minister. Cousins and aunts and uncles too,
We are widows and newlyweds, lovers and alone.
Congregation. We are administrators and comfort providers,
we are creators who love what we do and professionals, caught up in mundane challenges and stresses that inhabit every life.
Skip. We are those for whom productive life is just beginning and those whose memories are mixed up inside.
Congregation. And we, with people around the world, are called to thanksgiving,
Minister. Because gratitude is what we need most this day.
Congregation. We are doves setting forth from humanity’s fragile ark in search of peace.
Skip. We are bears longing to hibernate and make the world go away. Congregation. We are pacifists and soldiers, Democrats and Republicans.
Minister. Theists and pagans, Buddhists and Christians, humanists and atheists
Congregation. And among us some are spiritually confused or wondering Skip. We are gathered in the hope of Thanksgiving.
Minister. We are gathered in the gratitude of Grace.
Minister & Skip. Remember that life holds blessings for each one of us. Congregation. At all times, in all ways,
Minister. May thanksgiving be the language of our days.
A sermon by the Rev. JEFF BRIERE Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church November 20, 2016
Minister. In our communal meditation, the first line is, In this time of Thanklessness. Thanklessness? That stopped me for a moment. Who’s thankless at this time of our national thanksgiving? Who could not be thankful?
Well, I’ll tell you who is not thankful. It’s Jason. His name is Jason, but I really don’t know him. The only way I know his name is because he uses the same barbershop as I do and the barber at the next chair called him by name.
Do you know the culture of the barbershop—how men act in a barber shop, the language they use and all that? They talk in loud voices—louder than necessary to make sure everyone hears them—they complain about the team that lost that week and they praise the coach who won and they tell stories and spout off about what irritates them.
Just the other day, I was sitting in the barber chair, getting my hair cut, when Jason walked through the door. The barber at the next chair greeted him real loud, “Jason! How you doin’?” And Jason grumbles something and sits down in the chair. Looks at the floor. The barber can see something is bugging Jason, so he asks, “Whatsamatta, big guy? Thanksgiving’s here. What are you thankful for?”
Jason. “My minister says I ought ta be more thankful. Well, I ain’t. I ain’t so thankful.
Jeff. I began to listen to what Jason said, because I thought you should hear it. Normally, barbershop conversations are not worth listening to, but something told me this was different.
Jason. “Ever’ year ’bout this time, preachers and pundits, commentators and columnists, politicians and philosophers—anyone whose opinion is published— well, they all write something about Thanksgivin’. And they usually go on and on about how thankful we ought ta be for the little things in life; the overlooked things, like our health, our families, our vocations, our homes and everything else we take for granted.
“Did you know that Cicero thought that gratitude is life’s most important virtue? It was an article in the paper other day. Apparently, Cicero believed that all the other virtues—love, honor, unselfishness, sharing, appreciation, altruism—all come from grateful hearts. The article concluded with a suggestion that we express our gratitude to two other people. Just two.
“I suppose there is some value in it. We’ll read it and be more aware of our blessins’. We’ll read it and we’ll know to re-orient our priorities and go home and be grateful for our spouses and our partners and our parents and our neighbors and our friends and relatives and our leaders and our followers and everyone else in the world. We’ll be glad for all of them.
“And for our material blessings as well. Our homes, our automobiles, our clothes, our garage door openers and our garbage disposals, our leather recliners, our stainless steel grills, our iPads, our laptops, and garden tools and electric pogo sticks.
“And for ‘ever’ day.’ Invariably, somebody will suggest that we be thankful for every day we are alive. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, whatever day. And all that we have, and all that we are, and all that we know. Thanks for all that. And anything we left out. And our health. Thanks for that, too.”
Jeff. At this point, everyone in the barbershop stopped talking. Everyone was focused on Jason. My barber had stopped trimming my beard. Jason was not done, not by a long shot.
Jason. “Somewhere—probably several somewheres—several someones will write articles like that. And someone will read it and say, ‘Oh my. That’s right. I ought ta be more grateful.’
“And that will be it until the middle of next November when a whole new crop of commentators will write the same stuff all over again. And the really old ones will forget they wrote such a thing twenty years ago and re–write it in a more mature style and with more reflection about the ‘meaning of life,’ or some such.
“Well, not me. I ain’t so thankful. At least not all that much. I mean, there ain’t a whole lot to be thankful for, far as I can see.
“F’rinstance, take all those homeless people. You seen ’em. Sittin’ on a plastic bucket on ever’ off-ramp on I-26, holdin’ a sign and beggin’ for help. I ain’t thankful that they ain’t got no home, no place to go, just livin’ outta cardboard shacks over heating vents and scroungin’ whatever they can just to stay alive. No, sir, I ain’t thankful for that. What a mess.
“And the government ain’t doin’ nothin’ about it. Or they ain’t doin’ enough, ’cause it seems like all the time there’s more homeless people than shelters. And to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t want to live in one of those shelters. You ever see one? Oh, my. It’s nasty—you ain’t got no privacy—no. You’re livin’ with a bunch of other people you don’t know.
“All I gotta say is I’m just glad I gotta home. You know what I mean?
Jeff. I must have had a blank look on my face, because he looked at me as if I needed convincing.
Jason. “And all them folks who can’t find work. I ain’t so thankful they out on the streets. They work like hell for years and years and then they’re out on their tails ’cause the big shots in the front office ran the company right in to the ground. No, sir, I ain’t grateful for that. And I am not grateful that some factory goes belly–up ’cause the doo–hickeys they make cost six times as much as the ones made in Albania. I ain’t thankful for that, neither.
“Maybe I ought ta be grateful that all those folks can draw unemployment. All right. I am glad they can have a little money for food and whatnot. I’ll be happy for them for twenty-six weeks. After that, when the benefits run out, I won’t be thankful any more.
“All I gotta say is I’m just glad I can work at something I like to do and get paid for it. I’m just glad I gotta job. You know what I mean?
Jeff. Jason looked around at everyone else.
Jason. “And all the folks who ain’t got health insurance—I ain’t thankful for that mess. Never mind not having a job—I’d rather have a good doctor. All the minimum wage workers, the children and the folks who earn too much for Medicaid but not enough for Obamacare. What they sposed to do? And the governor won’t expand Medicaid. And whuddya suppose it’s gonna be like if those nutcakes repeal Obamacare? Good Lord, what a fiasco!
“I ain’t grateful that everyone can’t have decent medical care. I sure ain’t grateful the pregnant women who need the most attention get the least. And don’t even get me started about prescription drug prices, ’cause I sure as hell ain’t grateful we gotta import our drugs from Canada to save a few bucks.
“I suppose I ought ta be glad that anyone can go to any emergency room and get some treatment. But that drives the ER folks crazy—treatin’ digestive disorders, diabetes and deliverin’ babies. That ain’t their line of work. They’re trained to keep people alive until they can get specialized care. They ain’t supposed to be giving flu shots and teaching people to eat better.
“All I gotta say is I’m just glad I gotta good doctor. You know what I mean?
“And all them soldiers overseas. I ain’t so thankful they’re over there gettin’ their hineys shot up. I mean can you imagine? The dust. The heat. The noise. Nobody speaks English and the enemy don’t wear uniforms. Just like Vietnam. The generals run their war from an air–conditioned office in Florida but the grunts are still catchin’ hell in the field and there ain’t no end in sight. Just like Vietnam.
“Maybe I oughta be grateful ’cause they’re advancing the cause of liberty in some backwater corner of the world. I’ll tell you one thing—the folks in those backwater countries don’t seem all that grateful that we’re over there tearin’ up their country.
“I suppose I ought ta be glad those boys and girls got a lot of firepower and a lot of equipment and some decent support and some good shelter. They got smart phones and e–mail and all that to stay connected to their families, ’cause Lord knows, they’re gonna need it.
“All I gotta say is I’m just glad my son ain’t in the Army. You know what I mean?
Jeff. He paused a moment but no one went back to their magazines or the TV. And then Jason resumed his rant, louder than before.
Jason. “And you wanna know what I really ain’t grateful for? All the people who are alone. I ain’t grateful for their situation, no. ’Cause I’ve been alone before and I know it’s the pits. Just the pits to be alone, and I am sorry for that.
“All I gotta say is I’m just glad I gotta family and some friends. You know what I mean?
Jeff. No one spoke. No one moved. The barber hadn’t clipped a hair on his head since Jason went off. But now he spoke. “Jason,” he said, “Are you listening to yourself? For everything that irritates you, you are thankful that you aren’t suffering from it. In spite of what you say, you are grateful.”
And Jason thought about that for a moment, while everyone in the barber shop waited for him to speak. Only the ceiling fan made any noise. Finally he spoke.
Jason. “Hmph. Despite what I just said, it seems I just might be grateful after all. I am grateful for what shelter I have, the work that challenges and fulfills me, I am thankful for a mouthful of decent teeth and good health care. I’m glad that my son is not in harm’s way and I’m really happy in the company of my wife and my friends.
“Now whatever made me think I wasn’t so grateful?”
Jeff. At this, everyone chuckled and relaxed a bit. Jason is not aware that he has so many opportunities, has been given so much, has so many resources. He is living a life that billions of people would call privileged, and since he is living it from the inside, he is unaware that he has opportunities and resources.
And in that, he is not unlike us. We are living lives that billions of people would call privileged. Billions of people would think we were wealthy beyond measure. Billions of people would dearly love the opportunities we have. Billions of people will never have the resources we do. We are living the Life of Riley.
We have cars, and I’ll bet that 90% of the people in this room have a car younger than five years. We have access to three grades of gasoline at about $2 a gallon or less if we earn fuel points.
We have houses and condos and apartments, and I’ll bet that 90% of the people in this room have central air conditioning, a refrigerator, a dishwasher and a 40-inch flat screen TV.
We have education, and I’ll bet that 90% of the people in this room graduated from college and 70% have advanced degrees.
We have excellent food, and I’ll bet that 90% of the people in this room recently drank orange juice or ate some pineapple. The nearest orange grove is in Florida, about 750 miles away and the nearest pineapple plantation is in Costa Rica, about 3500 miles from here. But we need only drive to Kroger, 4 miles away, to find orange juice or pineapple.
We are living the Life of Riley. But do we know it? Do we acknowledge our good fortune and blessings?
Gratitude is an absolute necessity. It’s as necessary to us as water. It’s an acknowledgment that we are lifted up and glorified in some way. It’s an acknowledgment that we have a connection to someone or to some thing. Gratitude comes from the same root word as grace and when we express gratitude, we receive the grace of being human.
Gratitude contains an element of humility that replaces hubris and restores us to our human potential. In gratitude we acknowledge that there’s something larger than ourselves, that we are not the be–all and the end–all and that we cannot do it all.
Perhaps my account of Jason’s thanklessness was hard for you to hear and digest. Listening to a story of ingratitude is hard, perhaps because we know that all too often we forget to express our gratitude.
Like I did. So I’ll make up for that now.
For the wonderful people who support me,
For the wonderful person who rents my house in Chattanooga, For the engineers and workers who built my car and computer, For the grocers who bring me healthful foods from distant places, For the musicians who overlook my faults
and still let me play in the band,
Actually, for anyone who overlooks my faults,
For these clogs, which are the best thing I ever put on my feet, For my health, such as it is,
For the hungry birds in my backyard,
For my cats, who like to watch the birds,
For American Sign Language, and those who promote it,
For the opportunity to preach here
For the people who clean and iron my shirts,
For my wife and family,
For you and you and you,
For everything I am or have,
Thank you very much. I am so grateful.
And now I want to give you a chance to express your gratitude. If you wish to participate, and I hope you do, please line up this way and that way, and we’ll alternate sides. What we’ll do is express our gratitude. I have an unfinished sentence for you. It reads, “I am thankful for...” Your part in this is to complete that sentence. And if you want, you can replace the word for with the word that. I am thankful for or I am thankful that...
Listen carefully to your friends and colleagues, for this is what stirs them to express their gratitude.