23. Giving Thanks and Taking Thanks
I had celebrated Thanksgiving a few times, but never actually in the USA. The first time that I celebrated Thanksgiving was actually a thankful time. We were a bunch of students at a School of Discipleship in Canada. We were mostly young, dumb, single and thought that we owned the world, we were genuinely thankful that God had given us everything.
Sharon and I often personally celebrate Thanksgiving with a burger and Budweiser. Any excuse to thank God is an excuse well used.
Our nightmare Thanksgiving experience was whilst we were in leadership at a ministry training college in Scotland. We were the poor hapless suckers who purchased the food and had the final say over the menus. As a treat for our American students, we decided that we would have a special lunch with an American Thanksgiving slant to it. Bad idea! We mooted the idea to the students, who were immediately excited. Foolishly we asked them if there was any special food that they needed, very quickly we had quite a long list of things that UK supermarkets just didn’t carry. The real problems arose when the students started debating what were the non-negotiable traditions according their personal cultures. Things got quite heated and naturally enough the Scots stoked the fire by presuming that, if the Americans had a Thanksgiving, then they would have a Burns Day. It ended up being a strange, high-pressured day for us, our American students had somehow managed to secure the whole day off for the celebration. I very quickly learnt that Thanksgiving is much more about family tradition, food and football than it is about being thankful for the harvest. Poor God seems to have been stuck in the Thanksgiving backseat along with healthy, unselfish family community and relationships.
I am pleased to say that our early Texan Thanksgiving was a much more pleasurable experience. We were away all morning so missed the stress of cooking. I think that was partly engineered by our cooking host. The church Youth Pastor and his family arrived and we enjoyed a wonderful meal together. And for some bizarre reason and I’m not sure what that reason was, I was the only person who knew how to carve the huge turkey. Speaking of bizarre, the time and place where I taught myself to carve a turkey was at that afore mentioned Scottish American student Thanksgiving. It seemed no-one could carve the turkey there either. Hmmm, what does that say about a nation, when in my experience everyone knows just how the turkey should be cooked and everyone knows just how to eat it, but seemingly no-one has learnt how to serve it? I don’t know, once again I don’t understand.
After the meal, for the sixtieth billionth time in Texas, I played lightsabers. Anyone who has a young son or grew up on Princess Leah and Star Wars knows exactly what a lightsaber is, but for the uninitiated, let’s think of it as a sword thingy. The young lad(79) with whom we were staying, sometimes his wee brother, and I would spend what seemed like hours whacking the proverbial crap out of each other. He was strong and he was quick. Our arms and torsos were covered in bright red painful welts from our pretend battles. Being a quarter of my age he had much more stamina than I and would usually wear me down before he came in for the final game killing blows. My advantages were that I was much bigger and uglier than he was, so intimidation coupled with the fact that I could fight equally with my left and right hands, allowed me to hold my own. I made him suffer, but our suffering didn’t outweigh the joy of whacking the crap out of each other.
Sharon and I also spent some time with his older sister. I have forgotten the ages of these kids, but she was still knee high to a grasshopper. We took her out onto the street, gave her my camera and suggested that she take a photo of God. Most adults would struggle to do such a thing, we seem to have an inherent need to intellectualise everything or at least put such things into some kind of value box that encapsulates our understanding. Whatever, we are just way too clever for this kind of thing, but give this task to a wean and you will see God in places that you never dreamt that he would be. And when we had finished we took these photos of birds, flowers, cats, cactus and so on back into the air-conditioning, buddied them with her favourite song and turned them into a movie. It was so much fun.
Then the kids were sent to bed with a story. The adults all breathed a sigh of peaceful contentedness, subconsciously pre-empting the next conversation. One of the hard things about pastoring is that the lives of the people we pastor are all confidential. So if ever we want to talk about people and situations, we need to talk in the abstract and only then to well-trusted, non-judgemental people. Anything less is usually nothing short of gossip. But here we were, two pastoral couples from opposite sides of the pond, with neither knowing the other’s flock.
A possible example of our conversation could have been something like this: ‘Sigh! Do you have anyone in your congregation, sigh, who just won’t recognise, sigh, that your wife exists? Sigh! And what do you do about it? Sigh!’ And the possible answer could have been something like this: ‘Sigh! Oh yeah, sigh, we do, sigh, we have no idea what to do, sigh, we have one person, sigh, blahdy blah blah, sigh sigh, blahdy blah blah, sigh!’ When pastors who are friends get together we tend to dump on each other and it feels so good. We share wisdom, complain, moan and get excited about things that appear to work. The great bit is that if we did speak out of hurt or get a wee tad judgemental, the other totally understands, has been there and empathises. So we felt safe to speak freely and to let go. I don’t know how to explain it any better, but I think we can all relate to the safety in an equal status and experience-trusted relationship, even though in this case the couple we were with were by far our superiors. I did leave Texas emotionally lighter and a good few kilograms heavier.
Hang around for my next edition to hear about Pakistani terror camps, church and me not being fickle.
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Ta (Kiwi for thank you)