Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. A day to celebrate eating too much and preparations to spend way too much money the following day…. wait, that can’t be it.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably have at least some familiarity with the “Thanksgiving story…” how the Pilgrims came to a foreign land, not really knowing what they would find then they got there. They left all the comforts of home in pursuit of an elusive dream that we all long for… freedom. Theirs was a freedom to worship as they saw fit. Maybe the freedom you seek take another form, but there it is. And then, late in the year they gathered with family and friends of old as well as new friends met in a “New World” to thank God for the blessings they had received and for the freedom they had found to live and love and worship as they desired.

And so we continue the tradition on the fourth Thursday of every November. Thanksgiving is a day we stop the busyness of life and the hectic schedules to remember how blessed we truly are and how much we have to be thankful for. And there is much to be thankful for.

The mere fact that I live in America, by default, shows how blessed I am. I have heard it said that if you live in the United States, have a roof over your head, and have a car, you are within the top 3% of the wealthiest people on planet Earth. Well, that’s me. A few years ago I took this fact for granted. Today I am more educated. I realize how blessed I really am. And I think differently about these things now as well. Even today, at Thanksgiving dinner, my father prayed over the meal before we began and he thanked God for the blessings we have and asked to bless us more in the upcoming year. It seems it is a cadence and ritual thing to say on Thanksgiving. But I think now that I am already so blessed, I don’t need any more. I really don’t. No, instead I think the time has come to take that blessing given to me and give it away to those who need it more.

And so I count my blessings

– I am thankful that all of my family is in relatively good health. There has been no major catastrophe within our midst, really ever. That is rare, and I am incredibly fortunate for it.

– I have some of the most amaing friends. I realized, especially in recent weeks, how good my friends, especially a select group of them, really are, and I come to the conclusion that I don’t really deserve them but they are mine anyway. It’s hard to believe that I get to belong to a community so close that cares about each other, or that I get to spend so much of my time sharing life with them.

– Along the same lines I am grateful for the community I am a part of in regards to my church. Even more so I am thankful that I get to be a part of group chosen to lead them. When I step back and think about it I can’t understand how it all happened or how I got where I am. I don’t understand how I deserve the honor of serving the community as a whole in the position I have been given. I don’t understand why I get to do the things I do, but I do. I am excited about what the future holds.

– I’m a tech geek, and so this may sound incredible stupid and geeky, but I am thankful for the Internet. Yes, the Internet. And for this reason: I have been connected to so many people across the globe that there is no way I would have met otherwise. There are a few new friendships I have made this past year solely via the Web. Some are only a few states away. Some are on the other side of the country. Others are literally on the other side of the world. It blows my mind how small Earth has gotten and how easy and quickly two people one, three, or a dozen time zones apart can be connected and talk and share life just as if they were in the same room.

– Finally, I am grateful that I get to live where I do and that I am blessed the way I am. I am grateful that I am able to help others, whether through the little girl I sponsor in Central America, through world relief funds, or through programs we are starting up in 2008 to bring hope and life to dying communities (more to come on that in 2008). 🙂 I am convinced now that the American consumerist mindset of “more more more” is a fallacy and actually sucks the life out of you instead of adding to it. I find that I feel most alive when I am doing things for people, and the more “sacrifice” it is to me, the more alive I feel. Jesus’ teachings about giving and sacrifice and finding life when you give your own away resounds in my mind and heart, and I think I finally understand what it means to live.

Looking back, I see a similarity, that all the things I am thankful for are related to relationships to people. “Community” is a topic that has been close to me the past several months. I understand what Acts 2 was talking about:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

Group shotCommunity. It’s what our souls long for. To be wanted and loved. To belong. To fit in. Can you think of anything more terrifying than being alone. Alone by yourself, or even worse, alone while surrounded by others? Community is what dives is and motivates us. When we belong we are free to live and to love and to share and to experience life to the fullest. And so, this year, I am thankful for the community of people I am surrounded with and for the things we are able to do to bring peace and hope to this world when we work together.

What are you thankful for?

Awoken humanity

I am, as you might already be aware, a leader in a youth program in Elizabeth, NJ. We have an interesting setup to our program, as it is not one group in one location, but one group with several locations all throughout the city, and now even the state.

Well, in the group I work with, we want to always be sensitive to the needs of our city. We want to get involved with serving and the helping of the oppressed and needy and downtrodden, no matter if that need is a physical one, emotional, spiritual, or any other kind. We want to be there for those who need us most. As we fully move into the Liberty Center we will be able to do more and more as well as start up new programs and endeavors to attack the roots of the problems… not to just provide for the needy, but to attack the very roots of poverty. Not to just help those who are oppressed, but to assault injustice itself. A big task, yes, but it is what we are called to do.

We are starting small. As I said, we are still in the process of fully moving into our new home and so we are not at our full ability to do what we want, but we can begin the process.

Can driveThis Thanksgiving, as we live in such a blessed society and sit comfortably amidst the top 5% of the wealthiest people on the planet, we want to stress to the youth the importance of giving. Giving of their time, money, talents, and abilities for the betterment of society and those around them. Sacrificial giving.

And so we have teamed up for the upcoming holiday season with the homeless services at St Joseph’s in Elizabeth in order to provide food for the poor in the city so that they might have a decent Thanksgiving. We are going around door to door in our area, collecting non-perishable food items with which we will in turn submit for the feeding of the hungry. It will be glorious.

We began the collection of foods on Saturday. It was a chilly day. We gathered a small group of teenagers from our little community and set out to the streets. We spit into two groups as to cover more ground with more rapid pace. This week we invaded the Jefferson Park areas of Magnolia Ave, Madison Ave, Catherine St, and other surrounding neighborhoods. Next week we shall set out for the Peterstown area, so be ready.

I must admit that the first half of the collection was slightly disheartening. There was not much luck in people answering their doors, or if they did answer to help us. The second half yielded much better results. We ended up collecting three semi-large boxes of canned goods, pastas, cereals, and other such products. We also have a small number of appointments to return this upcoming Saturday for collection as well as individuals who have said they will bring “boxes” of goods to the Liberty throughout the week to donate. This, coupled with our second outing on November 17, I hope, will provide much aide and relief for the overlooked of our society.

I noticed something while walking house to house with the youth in my group. During the first hour spirits were somewhat low as our efforts seemed to be in vain. With each passing rejection or unanswered door, the paced seemed to slow. But at the first donation all that was changed. It was as if a spark was set and ignited a new passion in the teens we were with. And then the second donation came. And the third. Soon they were excitedly running house to house, boldly speaking to the residents where there was once shyness. Waiting with excited anticipation as the home-owners said, “Let me go see what I have in the kitchen.” The second half of our journey sped by with haste whereas the first seemed to drag. And so I began to think:

There’s something about service, about giving of yourself to something bigger, about the simple act of helping others that awakens something within us. Something about service that awakens the fullest extent of our humanity, and I think somehow, as we give ourselves away, we are connected more deeply with those around us and with God himself. It’s as if there is some deeply latent area of our being within that is only roused when we give sacrificially and unselfishly for the betterment of others. It’s as if we were meant for more than just living for ourselves. Perhaps there is something deeply divine about denying yourself and lifting the needs of our fellow human beings above our own. Maybe there’s a truth in the idea that we were made to help bring peace and restoration and hope and justice to a broken and fractured world. Maybe it’s true that, as the Scriptures say, when we give our lives away, we will find true life, that when we help others we will really be living life to it’s fullest potential. We will be experiencing life as it was meant to be lived.

Maybe.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it… Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:6-7, 17-19 NIV)

PS: If you want to help out and live in the Elizabeth area, (non monetary) donations can be brought to the Liberty Center (1121 Elizabeth Ave, Elizabeth, NJ 07201) during business hours or on Friday night between 7pm and 9:30pm. Or you can contact Pastor Harold Boyd at 908-289-6322. If you would like to help out but do not live in the Elizabeth area, contact me via email at whartz at bridgyouth dot com.

Peace be with you.