Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Counting Blessings

The New York Times reports:

NZVERE, Zimbabwe — Along a road in Matabeleland, barefoot children stuff their pockets with corn kernels that have blown off a truck as if the brownish bits, good only for animal feed in normal times, were gold coins.
This image has haunted me since I saw it and read its story. It frustrates me that I could not do much. It concerns me that even if I were to buy these children a goat or a share in a cow through Episcopal Relief and Development or Heifer International, the much needed food would not get to the children and their families soon enough or not at all due to Mugabe's mistrust of international aid organizations. This picture has made me count my blessings. And this in turn makes me squirm.

The thought that god has blessed me leaves me ill at ease because (1) at some level, I am saying better them than me, and (2) I am implying that god for some reason has bestowed good things upon me while denying some one else.

During this time - Hanukkah and Christmastime - a lot of us are grateful. For our families, our health, and whatever else we might deem precious. Rightfully so. However, I see a danger in the idea that undergirds these celebrations and some faith traditions in particular. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire. It reiterates the belief that Jews are god's chosen people. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the messiah who was sent for god's new favorites.

This concept of being god's chosen people is not unique to Jews and Christians. Muslims, Mormons, Brahma Kumaris, Rastafarians, Reverend Moon's Unification Church, and many others claim such entitledness. And the discord this idea has fomented along with the suffering and pain it has inflicted is not isolated. Daily bigotry and hatred attest to this. History recites its extreme: crusades, pogroms, internecine conflict, terrorism, and genocide.

There is nothing wrong with being grateful to god. But it might be worth pausing and considering ideas that lurk whenever we consider ourselves blessed.

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