Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

My friend Mike over at Catholic Anarchy wrote an impressive post about the practice of Thanksgiving. One particular interesting passage:

Pro-life Christians who choose to be thoughtful about such things should be deeply troubled by the reality of Thanksgiving. Indeed, it is perhaps the holi-day par excellence of the culture of death. Of course, the best option for Christians would be simply not celebrating Thanksgiving at all. After all, Christians have their own thanksgiving, only we use its Greek name, eucharist. It is a celebration of liberation and resurrection, not invasion and extermination. It is a celebration that embodies new familial relationships not based on blood or nationality but our common life in Christ. It is a celebration whose purpose is not to say “thank you for all the stuff we have when others are not so fortunate,” but rather “thank you for inviting all of us to this table.” And of course, the one we thank is the Author of Life, the One who is not to be replaced by sentimentalism or the idols of state, of “freedom,” of “choice” and the like. No wonder Jesus made the eucharist a vegetarian feast, a true foretaste of the banquet of the Kingdom of God.

Of course, for most of us, myself included, not celebrating Thanksgiving is simply not realistic. With a one-year old child and having just moved back to the u.s. from Canada after over three years away from family and friends, I am not about to be so politically smug that I would simply refuse to participate in my own family’s traditions. On the other hand, I’m not sure that Thanksgiving can truly ever be redeemed unless it includes attention to the reality behind it, perhaps through the observance of a National Day of Atonement. A “let’s just look at the bright side” approach to Thanksgiving, an approach historically-conscious liberal american Christians tend to choose, simply will not cut it.

If anything, I am suggesting that Christians should bear the above realities in mind during this holi-day, and should, in some significant and deliberate way, make their celebration of american Thanksgiving different somehow this year, and every year. Christians, if they are to celebrate this dangerous holi-day, should in doing so make clear that they are citizens of a different empire, the Empire of God, and that this empire has its own story that exposes the lies of the earthly kingdoms’ mythologies, especially those of the united states of america. Exposing the lies of the american myth of Thanksgiving, in one way or another, must be a part of any serious pro-life celebration of the holi-day. Anything less would mean participation in an ideological cover-up which silences the historical and present-day victims of american empire. As “resident aliens” within the american empire, any eucharist that the People of God celebrates should look very different from the eucharist of the empire.

Read the whole entry here.

Then of course, we have the following day, Black Friday, when we celebrate the triumph of consumer gods. Buy, buy, buy. The juxtaposition is fascinating. Thanksgiving deals with the oppression of the native peoples and now we continue to buy our goods, many of which are made in third world sweatshops, just so we can continue to thank God for the blessings we have received... at an incredibly low price.

If Mike calls for subversion of Thanksgiving, this holiday season let us subvert the shopping season that is set upon us by the corporate shills. Don't buy stuff. Follow Jesus. Remember the poor, the outcast, the lowly... the ones God remembers. If you need some help see the ELCA Good Gifts catalog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quck and Easy Dying

I think it is safe to say that we hear often the desire for a quick and easy death. Someone slips away in the midst of sleep, and sure enough folks when recounting the death will remark, "That's how I'd like to go." No anguish. No suffering. No burden to anyone else. And I understand that.

However, I have been struck several times while praying the Great Litany, that we pray for the Lord to deliver us from "an unprepared and evil death." And today, I read in my appointed readings from For All the Saints a letter from John Huss to his friends in Bohemia while he awaits his own death. He writes,
I am writing you once more, gracious and faithful friends in God, to show my gratitude for as long as I can, even taking pleasure in being able to converse with you by letter. I say to you that the Lord knows why He postpones my death as well as that of my dear brother, Master Jerome, of whom I have hopes that he will holily, without guilt, and that he conducts himself and suffers more bravely than I, a fainthearted sinner. The Lord God granted us a long time that we may better recollect our sins and forthrightly to regret them. He has granted us time so that the long-drawn-out and great testing may divest us of great sins and bring us consolation. He has granted us time to remember our King, the merciful Lord God Jesus' terrible disgrace, and to meditate on his cruel death and, for that reason, to suffer more gladly.
He also goes on to mention the sufferings of saints and martyrs and how it would seem strange for himself not to suffer in the face of his "brave stand against wickedness."

At the heart of the matter is the reality that death is something for which we must be prepared. For even in death are we called to witness to our God, the Lord over life and death. To acknowledge the coming of death allows us to be prepared so that we need not slink away, but face it head on in the sure and certain hope of resurrection. We may also reconcile with those with whom we are estranged.

This is not to suggest that all those who desire a quick death are unfaithful cowards. But it would be, I think, wise to return to the language and practices that prepare us for death. Whether we are the dying, or the ones who remain after a loved one remains. This return is not just a "better make sure Aunt Suzie knows Jesus before she slips away," but an encompassing set of practices where we remember the dead who have gone before us, a more open and conscious use of the commendation of the dying throughout the process. Even praying Compline on a regular basis where the line between physical sleep and death is blurred. We really do not need to fear death, nor suffering. No one likes to see a loved one suffer. But can we see Christ present there in the one suffering? Can we reach out to that one who bears witness to Christ's suffering to us and care for him as if he or she were indeed Christ?