Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Burgers of Thankfulness

My wife and I rode with my parents and my brother for Thanksgiving vacation, because one of our cars was cooked and we didn’t have the money to pay for gas to Atlanta. This meant four hours crammed in a minivan with a fortnight’s supply of cheesy snack crackers, fuzzy heirloom blankets, and songs with too many electronic piano overdubs. My daughter, who is one year old, slept most of the way and looked out the window for the rest. This is a blessing I am determined not to overlook. After a barbeque extravaganza in a house with twenty-three of my amazing and wonderful relatives, in which I imagined my aorta raging like a French lobbyist, we began the pilgrimage home. I was certain that I could implement my strict regimen of penitential celery consumption as soon as we got in the car, but no. It was not to be.

We pulled into the local suburban Mecca beneath the smiling glow of neon signs which cast lard-colored halos around our heads. They offered all the best cures to our dwindling waistlines: Vietnamese bistros, Irish pubs, Mexican haute cuisine, coffee shops, ice cream shops, coffee-flavored ice cream shops. Most places had appetizers which consisted of butter deep-fried in canola oil. To cure our ills, we pulled into a famous high-end burger chain and tumbled in the front door to a Crisco-pasted American dream in simulcast.

Behind the hostesses, whose Aphroditic figures revealed that they had never consumed a smidgen of the restaurant’s hearty offerings, stood an eight-foot-tall plastic Statue of Liberty holding a neon-haloed burger where the torch should have been.

Give me your wired, engorged, befuddled masses yearning to eat the slaughtered cattle of your teeming shore, she proclaimed.

To add to the American trance which salted every onion ring, there were televisions amok. Mostly on the same flashy sound-bite news channel, they encircled the unsuspecting patrons like white collar drug pushers. There was even a television recessed into the floor so as not to take up space while we waited for our table. I recall seeing some children squatting around it like little Neanderthals, soaking up the warm commercials. As we ate, the televisions, in antiphonal unison, heralded the obligatory Thanksgiving tale of people being mangled in the annual midnight shopping rush and camping out for weeks in front of an electronics store, living off dried noodles and a solar-powered cell phone connection.

However, this evening, my church gathered in celebration of being the Beloved of Christ. Folks brought dishes baked with love and we spent time taking communion and sharing in the beauty of what the Lord has been doing in our city and our lives. This body of believers has been around for half a decade or so, and by the grace of the Lamb, she has already endured trials that have – at least in the well-publicized world – brought schism and bitterness to churches long established. I must stress, especially to myself, that it’s not our doing, that it’s certainly not mine. If there is any part for us to play in this, it is honesty. That’s the embarrassing element that has helped the most on our part: that awkward admittance of brokenness. It’s only in the wake of honesty that Thanksgiving can take place. All my blessings are mine, my own, my precious – until I admit that I earned nothing but scorn and shame. But the scorn and shame have been taken away.

Happy Thanksgiving. Don’t watch too much TV.


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