Complaint Department That Way –> (200 miles). A Brief Meditation on our Tendency to Complain

It is amazing how easily and quickly we complain. Although I think this tendency is probably ingrained in the fallen version of our human nature, I think in modern times we have become the biggest complainers of all.

This is largely because we have come to expect that everything is supposed to be peachy and work instantly. And if it does not we are not only indignant, some of us even talk of lawsuits. Let the slightest thing go wrong, and we are so easily sullen and resentful, “How dare I have to suffer inconvenience, or wait, or that something is not in immediate supply.” Our high expectations easily breed resentment and anger.

I suppose in some ways it is just silly, but the more embarrassing and even dark aspect of it is when we compare the trivial things we have to suffer in the modern West, to the real suffering of others. While I vent over the fact that I had to reboot my stupid computer (again!), there is a very poor woman in a war-torn region wondering which end of the potato she and her children will have for lunch, and which end for dinner, and that is all they have. I wince and in my pathetic lack of patience and cry out, “Lord make me more grateful and generous!”

St. Paul, in yesterday’s (Sunday) epistle links gratitude and joy: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks (1 Thess 5:16). Paul said something similar is Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:4-7)

It’s just so important to cultivate a deep gratitude to God for all that we have. We are so very blessed. It is just downright silly and embarrassing how quickly we complain. And because we are ungrateful, our hearts lose their joy, we become negative, sullen, bored and just plain irritating. Would that we would cultivate gratitude more, we might be a more joyful culture, appreciative of live.

When I, like most children, would complain my father would often say to me, “Listen, you’re just spoiled. You better thank your lucky stars you weren’t born a hundred years ago. In the old days things were tough all over!” And frankly, they were tough, (and still are in many parts of the world). Before 1900, the things we take wholly for granted, and would not dream of living without, were all but unknown: hot and cold running water, indoor toilets, electricity, air conditioning, cars, spacious homes, lots of privacy, telephones, T.Vs, radios, and every form of electronic gadgetry.

We are blessed beyond measure. Again, as my father often said, “We don’t know how good we have it.”

In recent years the Lord has really put it on my heart to be more grateful. I spend a greater part of my personal prayer just resting in gratitude for God’s graces, and the endless blessings he bestows. Such a prayer discipline not only gives me greater joy, but has also helped me to be more generous and concerned for the poor. God has been so good to me and I have much for which to be grateful.

Somehow I am sure my earthly father, now deceased, would be pleased to hear this. One of his life-lessons has really struck home with me. 21st century America has its annoyances, but they are nothing like what our ancestors endured, neither are they close to the burdens others in this world currently endure. For all our blessings, we ought to give thanks, sing praise, and share generously with those who have real burdens, things really worth complaining about.

This video is a wonderfully funny video by a comedian who laughs with us at our tendency to complain about the littlest things in the presence of miracles. You may have seen the video (it has 8 million hits) but I have taken it here and edited out a few (mild) profanities. I hope you’ll have time to watch this brief video, it’s a real hoot, with a powerful message, as a mirror, of sorts, is held up before us.

On The Grace of Gratitude – A Thanksgiving Meditation

One of the dangers in presenting New Testament moral teaching is that the preacher or teacher risks reducing the Gospel to a moralism. In other words the moral truth that is proclaimed is reduced merely to another rule that I am supposed to keep out of my own flesh power. This is an incorrect notion since, for a Christian, the moral life is not achieved, it is received. The moral life is not an imposition, it is a gift from God.

In the Gospel chosen for the American Holiday of Thanksgiving we have the familiar story of the ten lepers who are healed by Jesus and only one returns to thank Him. This fact of the ingratitude of the other nine prompts an irritable response by Jesus who more than suggests that they should also have returned to give thanks. Now if we just read this Gospel on the surface we can come away merely with a moralism that we should do a better job about being thankful to God and others. Well, OK. But simply having another rule or being reminded of a rule that already exists isn’t really the Gospel, it’s just a rule or an ethic of polite society.

Where the Gospel, the Transformative Good News exists, is to receive from God a deeply grateful heart so that we do not merely say thank you, but we are actually and deeply moved with gratitude. We are not merely being polite or justly rendering a debt of obligation to say “thanks”  we actually ARE grateful from the heart. True gratitude is a grace, or gift from God which proceeds from a humble and transformed heart. In such a case we do not render thanks merely because it is polite or expected, but because it naturally flows from a profound experience of gratitude. This is the Gospel, not a moralism, but a truth of a transformed heart.

Thus, an anointing to seek from God is a powerful transformation of our intellect and heart wherein we become deeply aware of the remarkable gift that everything we have really is. As this awareness deepens so does our gratitude and joy at the “magnificent munificence” of our God. Everything, literally everything, is a gift from God.

Permit a few thoughts on the basis for a deepening  awareness of gratitude. Ultimately gratitude is a grace, but having a deeper awareness of the intellectual basis for it can help to  open us more fully to this gift.

1. We are contingent beings who depend on God for our very existence. He holds together every fiber of our being: every cell, every part of a cell, every molecule, every part of a molecule, every atom, every part of an atom. God facilitates every function of our body: every beat of our heart, every organ and movement of our body. God sustains every intricate detail of this world in which we live: the perfectly designed orbit of this planet so that we do not cook or freeze, the magnetic shield around the planet that protects us from harmful aspects of solar radiation, every intricate visible and hidden process of this earth, solar system, galaxy and universe. All of this, and us, are contingent and thus sustained by God and provided for by Him. The depth, height, length and width of what God does is simply astonishing. And he does it all free of charge. As we ponder such goodness and providence we are helped to be more grateful. All is gift.

2. Every good thing you or I do is a gift from God. St. Paul says, What have you that you have not received. And if you have received, why do you glory as though you had achieved? (1 Cor 4:7). Elsewhere he writes, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:8-10). Hence even our good works are not our gift to God, they are His gift to us. And on judgment day we cannot say to God, "Look what I have done, you owe me heaven." All we can say on that day is “Thank You!”  All is gift!

3. Gifts in strange packages – There are some gifts of God that do not seem like gifts. There are sudden losses, tragedies, natural disasters and the like. In such moments we can feel forsaken by God, and gratitude is the last thing on our mind. But here too, Scripture bids us to look again: And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28). We don’t always know how, but even in difficult moments God is making a way unto something good, something better. He is paving a path to glory, perhaps through the cross, but unto glory. For now we may have questions but Jesus has said to us: But I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. On that day you will have no more questions to ask me. (Jn 16:22-23). Yes, even in our difficulties we are more than conquerors (Rm 8:37) because the Lord can write straight with crooked lines, and make a way out of no way. All is gift!

4. Yes, all is gift. Absolutely everything is gift. Even our failures, if we are in Christ and learn from them and they teach us humility. For what shall we give thanks? Everything! All is gift!

5. There is an old saying: Justice is when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. grace is when you get what you don’t deserve. I like you get asked a dozen times a day, “How are you doing?” I have trained myself to often answer, “More blessed than I deserve.” Yes, All is gift.

6. Finally, the work  “Thanks” in English is unfortunately abstract. But in the Latin and the Romance Languages, the word for “thanks”  is far more tied to the fact of grace and gift. In Latin one says thank you as gratias ago tibi, or simply, gratias.  Now gratias is translated as “thanks” But it is really the same word as “grace” and “gift” which in Latin is rendered  gratia. Hence when one receives a gift they thus exclaim: “Grace!” or “Gifts!”  It is the same with Spanish: Gracias and Italian: ‘Grazie. French has a slightly different approach but no less abstract when it says Thank you as Merci which is rooted in the Latin merces, meaning something that has been paid for or given freely. So all these languages vividly record the giftedness that underlies everything for which we are grateful. The English word “thanks” does not quite make the connections. About the closest we get are the words, gratitude and grateful. And again all these words (gratias, gracias, grazie, merci, gratitude) teach us that all is gift!

To be grateful is ultimately a gift to be be received from God. We ought ot humbly ask for it. We can dispose our self to it by reflecting on things like that above but ultimately gratitude comes from a humble, contrite and transformed heart. Saying thank you is not a moralism. True gratitude is a grace, a gift that comes from a heart deeply moved, astonished and aware of the fact that all is gift.

Food’s Beauty

corn-on-the-cob-lgThis weekend I attended Peter Kreeft’s talk in Alexandria, VA entitled “The Power of Beauty in the Sacred Arts”, sponsored by the Foundation for Sacred Arts. Dr. Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and the King’s College and is a prolific writer. The talk was brilliant, and while I’m sure I could blog about more profound things, today I choose food in the hopes that we might think more profoundly about food.

One of the questions asked during the Q&A session had to do with whether or not there was beauty in “fast food”. Dr. Kreeft’s answer was that, it being fast food, it is likely that even if beauty were present we would not stop to contemplate it. (typical Kreeft witticism)

For me, it’s not so much that the food is “fast” but that it’s so processed. One could say we process the hell out of our foods, but I would actually say that we process the Heaven out of our foods. There is something spectacular about the plants, animals, and grains that God has placed on earth to nourish our bodies.

Today (shortly before lunch) I was contemplating the beauty of food. What came to mind as particularly beauitful foods were corn on the cob, a fresh raspberry, and the avocado: the straight plump rows of yellow kernels; the fuzzy red seed pockets; and the bumpy black skin protecting the creamy green fruit. With such beauty, I wonder why our society adulterates it so often and to such a degree.

Now I can’t say all of this without acknowledging that there are people in the world who are not blessed with access to fresh food, or food at all. So my prayer today is that we who have access to fresh food take the time to contemplate its beauty, thank God for the gift our food, and continue to share our food and argicultural technology with the poor and the hungry.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. Matthew 25:35

Why Are You Worrying? Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?

We often think that worry and anxiety just happen to us. But the fact is that they result from our thoughts. Thoughts are the source of our worry. If we tend to think negatively, or to catastrophize or to focus on negative things we will grow anxious and sometimes angry. But the Bible says we ought to “dedicate ourselves to thankfulness.” (Colossians 3:21). In other words count your blessings and have an attitude of gratitude. We ought to discipline our minds every day and spend some time thanking God for what went right. As Phillipians 4:8 puts it: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

What you feed grows. Focus on negative things and sure enough anxiety and anger increase and our sense of the negative grows. Focus on positive things and blessings and guess what, we are less anxious overall and our sense of well being grows.

Try it out for 30 Days. Let me know how it goes. The video below features a classic Spiritual: Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?  It list the many people God saved of old and then asks, “And why not every man?”  That’s right even you and me. It will be alright.  God may not come when you want him but He’s always right on time.