So, here in troubled Nepal not only do I have to not grizzle about cold food or dark rooms, but I have to mine the narrow winding pathways of happenstance to find specific, often fleeting positive events, for myself or others for which I am exhorted to give grateful thanks and unending praise.
So I can sit in the slightly sunnier corner, unwashed haired, surrounded by coughing spluttering children, drinking tepid tea from the thermos, and ‘be thankful’ but I have to do a few theological and causational gymnastics to come up with an honest grateful sentence.
Bloodyminded stubbornness comes in handy.
Dammit, I will be thankful there was no milk today, because I didn’t have the hot water for tea anyway, neither was there any water in the tank to wash a single dirty mug, so really I’ve just been saved substantial trouble!!
Dammit, I will rejoice with gladness that the laundry took three days to dry, because if it had been ready earlier, it would have been worn to school the day they did Jackson Pollock imitations and got all painted in at class, and then I’d only have to wash it and dry it all over again.
Dammit, I will leap for joy, because as I wiped up the milk that boiled over AGAIN, on the erratic oil stove I found the matches and half a candle underneath it. Hallelujah.
I’m not interested in the kind of thankfulness that runs along the tortured lines of ‘ all those people are freezing/starving/hungry’ but I’m really pleased and thankful that I’m not. I can’t bear it. It’s like the abhorrent prayer, ‘thank God I am not a woman.’ Thanks God that you gave double hunger to those people when I have none, and double blankets to me when they have none. Score!!
It smacks of disability ‘inspiration porn’, thanks God I’m not like that little girl with only one leg/ boy with wheelchair/lady with walking cane/ man with prosthetic limb. Maybe that’s not even really thankfulness, maybe its just smugness.
Can I be thankful that I have food and non-leaky shelter and a warm doona and thick socks and a torch that is rechargeable, when millions here don’t? (is it worse to have all that and NOT be thankful?) Or is it only ok to be thankful if I feel with equal fervour the stark injustice of the situation, and act with my life to fix the imbalance. Because of course, just as the bible says to be thankful, it says that if I have two coats, I am to give one away.
Give thanks in all circumstances. Hmmmmm.
What if there’s inherent evil in the circumstance, that perversely results in goodies for me but insufficiency for someone else? Thanks God that a bunch of entrepreneurial opportunists with fuzzy ethics wrangled the broken system of border security and imported black market fuel and are selling it at 400% profit so the rich locals and bedeshis can buy it, and catch taxis, but the trucks taking blankets to remote areas are still stranded. Thanks God, its been great.
There are three million Nepali children at risk of dying this winter, through hunger cold or illness, because of the fuel embargo. That is a fact. And I cannot be thankful for any aspect of it, not even that my own children are not part of the three million. The UNM hospital in Tansen has only two weeks worth of diesel left. After that the incubators in the neonatal ward won’t work. My quadruplets spent 10 weeks in incubators the best neonatal unit in the southern hemisphere and yet my daughter died. Here’s Chris with another daughter, born 2.2lb. She was too little to maintain her body temp, suck or even keep her eyes open. There’s no guarantee those babies will live. It’s not thankfulness that comes to mind, is it?
The key of course, is to be thankful IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. Is that the loophole I’m looking for?
Of course, it would all be easier, if, like Nick Cave, we didn’t believe in an interventionist God. Then we wouldn’t be able to pin him down on the tricky ones. He’d be safely aloof, real enough to offer theoretical oversight, but not hands-on enough to ever warrant a performance review.
But of course, I do believe in an interventionist God. Philippians 2 is my favourite.
God came, he stood down, he crossed the security tape line, he asked us backstage, he walked in my shoes, he carried my (heavy) load, he took off his mic and mingled with the crowd, he didn’t do a PR visit with the paparazzi watching; he snuck in unceremoniously at night, he gave up his citizenship to a really safe place and took on the citizenship of a place with few civil rights, during a time of global unrest.
What I love about Christmas is, when no one else can manage to shut up, how a child acts so radically that he confronts us on every level, but he does so without speaking. He doesn’t speak, but there IS a message!!
It’s about 14 year olds who are pregnant, it’s about middle eastern refugees, it’s about marriage and doing the right thing rather than looking like you’re doing the right thing. It’s about journeys. It’s about a girl’s faithfulness despite insufficient data. It’s about parental love, and dispensing with the the parental illusion that any of us have a clue what we are doing with our children, but beginning with boldness and a fierce love anyway.
It’s about cold babies and health care equality.
It’s about smelly shepherds and God’s ‘stuff you’ to a stratified society. ‘Its my birthday party and I’ll invite who I want to.’
It’s about how God doesn’t give a stuff about the authorities on earth, how he will quietly, using people and their passions, and involving animals, children and dirt, power cuts and political upheaval, bring in the wave of a new kingdom.
It’s about funky astrologers and God’s ’stuff you’ to us telling him how and when and on what terms he can communicate to anyone he wants to. Bring on the stars and the dreams and the visions!
So I’m thankful for the message within the madness.
When life is crazy and dysfunctional, it’s an almighty reminder that life IS crazy and dysfunctional. What business did we ever have constructing a comfortable life that allows us to be fooled into believing otherwise? (bad hair is the least of our worries)
And God entered our chaos, and both joined in, and redeemed it. Like a brilliant social worker, he doesn’t make us miserable about where we are, but neither does he let us stay there.
Thanks God for the gift and the tool and the strategy of bloodyminded stubbornness. Today, it is my weapon of choice.
Thankyou for ashy tasting food, and cold tea.
Thankyou for friends with hair as unwashed as mine.
Thankyou for snivelling children.
Thankyou for the space left when the the water tank, the fridge and the gas bottle are woefully empty.
Thankyou for the quiet when the phones are flat and the wifi off.
Thankyou for the fuel, the dodgy, impure, blood-on-its-hands, exorbitant fuel.
Thankyou for the message, in so many ways, and incorporating so many senses, that we are all totally stuffed.
Because it is precisely into this state that you came.
Thankyou Jesus for coming. I get the feeling you are here to stay.
Would you like some cold tea?