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Be careful what you're thankful for

I’ve been seeing some Thanksgiving expressions of gratitude to what “our God” has done for us, and I have to say that “our God” talk leaves me a little queasy. You know, that “Our God is a mighty God” stuff and things like it.

It may not be the intention of such writers to suggest that “your God” isn’t much, after the manner of Elijah contending with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. But there is something about the possessive that sounds a little smug, as if to say that God is ours and we’ve got him in our pocket.

Any honest theologian is going to be straight with you that divinity is not to be contained and circumscribed, and that all the tomes of theology are limited and incomplete—that is, failed—attempts to describe the indescribable. So a little more humility would be in order.

It is not as if we particularly merited good fortune. I myself had the unearned benefit of being born male, white, and American; if I have done better than some, I had a head start in this world. So if I am going to express gratitude, it’s not going to be a God-is-on-my-side whoop.

Rather, I think I should be grateful for parents and grandparents who were indulgent of the peculiar child they were saddled with, and did not warp him too much; for teachers who were encouraging to unpromising material; for wife and children who contrive to endure an irritable, cranky personality on the premises; and, perhaps most of all, for luck in having survived for so long stupid and self-destructive actions.

So it’s off to the paragraph factory to prepare the stories you’ll read tomorrow, if you’re not too drunk and logy. And tomorrow, at table with family, I will lift a glass in awareness that the world has many good things for us to enjoy, gifts that we did not earn of our own merit.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:46 PM | | Comments (13)
        

Comments

Typo in last paragraph: "...to prepare he stories ..."

Beautiful post, John.

Grazie.

...and if I may say so without sycophancy, one of those good things would be "You Don't Say"

A number of your recent posts lead me to think it's time they gave you a column instead of a blog. Although I might have to consult a dictionary from time to time...

Mr. McIntyre, many of us are grateful for you and your writing.


Hi John,

Thanks for this sobering, thoughtful, timely piece, filled w/ (IMO) hopefully tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, yet exhibiting, in my view, some very profound wisdom from the grownup "peculiar child" (you Mr. McIntyre), who clearly eclipsed that self-described "unpromising material" label, and is likely, if the truth be known, a lot less "irritable" and "cranky" as he makes himself out to be. Your wife and kids might fight me on that last point. HA!

Yahweh, God Almighty, The Mighty Dollar, Vishnu, Shiva, Allah, The Great Spirit, George Burns (as God)---- whomever one recognizes as their 'Greater Power'---- I totally agree w/ your unspoken implication that the 'concept' of God has myriad manifestations, having different meaning(s) and significance to different folks around the world. "Our God" truly does, as you say, smack of "smugness".

Much of what we can be genuinely be thankful for at Thanksgiving---- good health, a decent job (or any job), a harmonious family life, close friendships, personal passions, abiding faith---can not, realistically, all be attributed solely to the grace of God (however the individual believer conceives that 'God').

We must concede, i believe, that intervention of fate, our daily actions, and decision-making, plus the tenor of our human relationships play a huge role in how we count our worldly blessings on this very special American day of communal celebration.

(I'm a Canuck living in Los Angeles, CA, so I got to celebrate our Canadian Thanksgiving back on Oct.11th, due-north of my old hometown of Toronto. Now I get a double whammy celebration, so to speak, w/ tomorrow's Thanksgiving fest. I am truly blessed.)

John, I hope you and yours have a mellow, and merry Thanksgiving Day tomorrow.

Don't fight over that darn wishbone. HA!

A special thanks, on this pre-Thanksgiving Day, to YOU for your outstanding blog, and your great perspective on life, and the never-boring English language. I'm 'thankful' that I stumbled on your site just a few months back.

ALEX

Hearty applause and thanks from the other coast.

The head start you presumably had in life has more to do with being born in America than the white male part. Had you gotten your start in, for example, Russia or Germany,you doubtless would not be as comfortable as you now are. And you might not have lived nearly as long. As for the Divinity's role in your life, that is altogether between you and Le Bon Dieu. Happy Feast of All Turkeys anyway.

Thanksgiving is the American version of Hogswatch (see Hogfather by Terry Pratchett for details), with turkey instead of pig; on the Discworld (q.v.) they have a much more realistic view of gods. As the sign says:

  Happy Hogswatch All, and may Gods Bless Us, Every One.
  (Atheists may request the vegetarian alternative.)

You might acquire a more acceptable notion of the meaning of the expressions of Thanksgiving gratitude if you viewed them less in terms of possession and triumphalism and more in terms of faith simply stated. Gratitude, as expressed as a Thanksgiving message, is a personal opinion of joy and delight with externals however construed - God, people, family, circumstances or things. It is not possession even when it is couched in the possessive case, i.e., “My God” It is not a “My-Dad-can-beat-up-your-Dad” sort of thing either. It is a self-reflexive expression of faith in the sense that “I find joy and delight in this particular entity over here.” And those expressions should never leave you any more queasy than someone saying “This tastes salty to me,” or “These shoes pinch my toes.” It’s not about you, John. It’s about their reactions to things they delight in or things that give them a sense of joy.

He did say he was a peculiar child.

Slika, perhaps you are unfamiliar with the large body of Christian music that is explicitly in the "my God can beat up your God" possessive, triumphalist mode. I can assure you that Mr. McIntyre is not the only one who is made queasy by that.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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