Giving thanks – for what?

Posted November 23rd, 2015 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Giving thanks – for what?
25 - industrial turkey production (2)

Industrial turkey production

Certainly not for the myth of some turkey dinner shared among Puritans and “friendly natives.” That event never happened, and when the Wampanoag people did help out these poor hungry strangers who had come to their shores, their payback was disease, savage murder, and the destruction of their community – early chapters in a story of early America that IS true, that DID happen, and worse as the later chapters were written.

See, for example, this excellent comparison of historical points of view: Thanksgiving Myth Creates Fairytale of Land Theft, Betrayal, Genocide, by Sarah Sunshine Manning, which appeared on the Indian Country Today Media Network website on Monday of this week.

And I am not thankful for the xenophobia running through the nation these days, the fears of “the Other,” and of “otherness,” upon which we can project fears, guilt, anxieties, fragile identities, and more believing that if we exclude them/it, if we can just keep them out of sight, or if necessary detain, imprison, or even kill them, we will be safe again.

I remember reading long ago that one of the motivations for cutting down the forests of New England, besides the need for wood to burn, was that many Puritans believed the woods were full of evil spirits. The birth of American fears of the boogeyman?

Oil sands processing plant in Alberta. Photo: Margaret Swedish

Oil sands processing plant in Alberta. Photo: Margaret Swedish

I do not give thanks for the fossil fuels keeping my lights and my computer on. I use as little energy as I possibly can where I live and long for the day the light switch and plugs are connected to some source that is not destroying so much of our planet.

I do not give thanks for the affluent lifestyles to which so many cling, because it depends upon so many others being poor and exploited, upon depletion of what are fast becoming scarce resources needed to survive, and that even many affluent progressive people working for many good causes resist this truth.

I do not give thanks for the use of terror to kill people these days, nor for the violence of former colonial powers and current empirical powers (like this one) that helped birth this era, an era in which mass killing, shocking large-scale destruction and other forms of terror against innocents has become a way to fight for – to fight for – what, exactly? Women kept behind 4 walls and veils and ordered to give up their very personhood to the cause of a violent, vengeful version of God?

Video: THIS is new creation – “I won’t give you the gift of hating you.”

I do not give thanks for the violence of terror we have seen in our own country, mass shootings becoming common, guns everywhere, concealed carry that conceals so much more about us than we would like to have revealed. I do not give thanks for the lives lost to this madness, from Sandy Hook to Charleston to the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek and on and on. I do not give thanks for the blind forces or cultural pathologies that mean that even in the wake of violence that has taken more lives than in Paris, we are unable to remove killer-guns from this society.

I am not grateful that so many still think individual gun ownership is written into the Constitution (it is not), but are willing to sacrifice the voting rights of our fellow citizens to shore up the power of corporate profits and white privilege (which is).

On Nov. 10, CommonDreams published an article by John Feffer, written in 2050, that looks back on these years when everything really began to fall apart. I think his historical analysis needs to be read by anyone who still cares, despite all we’ve been through in the Great Unraveling of the first half of this century.

On the Verge of the Great Unraveling – Splinterlands: The view from 2050

Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out something that many have noted over the years. We have been fragmenting at precisely the time when we should be coming together, for the problems that face the planet cannot be solved by millions of individuals or masses of statelets acting alone. And yet how can we expect, with desperate millions on the move, the rise of pandemics, and the deepening of economic inequality globally, that people can unite against common existential threats? Only today can we all see clearly, as I wrote so many years ago, that the rise of the splinterlands has been humanity’s true tragedy. The inability of cultures to compromise within single states, it seems, anticipated our current moment when multiplying nation-states can’t compromise on a single planet to address our global scourges. The glue that once held us together — namely, solidarity across religion, ethnicity, and class — has lost its binding force.

Yes, it really was that bad – or it will be if we don’t get a grip. There is only one way to change this history, and that is by changing its trajectory NOW.

Which brings me to this week of Thanksgiving, the meaning and significance of which needs a complete overturning, like Jesus in the temple with the money-changers, or Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.  We need to decide what we are grateful for in this time of peril and fear. We need to decide what frameworks of meaning can open our hearts in an urgent manner to who we must become in a world of the airliner over Egypt, and Beirut, and Paris, and Mali, and Nigeria and the fear that haunts Europe and the U.S. as we see this age coming to an end, this upheaval of our identities as peoples, cultures, along with the narratives and myths that have held those identities in place.

As Feffer points out, empires and global powers come and go. Historical ages end. The rise of Europe and the West that spilled across the ocean to the Americas is no more permanent than the age of Genghis Khan or the empires of France, Belgium, Great Britain and others, which legacies we are seeing playing out in the chaos and fragmentation of our world today.

And as backdrop to all that – the collapse of ecosystems all around the planet because of the industrial age brought to this suffering Earth by – Europe and the West that spilled across the ocean to create this behemoth of an economic power for which commerce – not freedom, not democracy – is its true energetic force, its supreme raison d’etre, for which it is always willing to sacrifice things like – freedom and democracy.

Okay, after a declaration for this Thanksgiving week that is so stark, grim, and negative (and how else to reflect on all we’ve seen and heard this month of November) for what then in all the world do I give thanks?

Well, for this:

For every single human being willing to be honest about the world, for every human being willing to get out of bed every morning in spite of all this and contribute whatever gifts she or he has toward another way of life, for every small project in every marginal community where new life is springing out of hope and not despair, where neighborhoods and faith groups and dedicated dreamers are not waiting for some great change that will make it okay to be brave or to liberate their most creative gifts so they can offer them to the struggle for life, for every person willing to take that little risk (or big) where they move out of their comfort zones to leap into new creation, for every person with way more than they need willing to down-size, surrender wealth and join the struggle to transform the world toward justice (they exist, they really do, more than we think), for those who commit to lives in solidarity with the poorest of our world, not to offer services but to serve them in their own struggles for liberation and justice, for every person who welcomes the stranger, works to free the oppressed, works to set themselves free from their own internalized oppression given us by this consumer/commercial/selfish economic culture.

And I give thanks for the extended family I will visit this weekend, with growing up kids and three generations sharing a common history and each of us trying to find our way through it with love and tenderness and deep appreciation. And I will give thanks for what is left of the snow-covered countryside from the weekend’s storm and the long twilight as I drive west to my destination, and my 10-yr-old Honda that still gets more than 40 mpg.

And I give thanks for all the people I’ve been meeting in recent months working in the challenging environment of Milwaukee’s inner city, developing community gardens, growing food and raising peach trees, celebrating rituals of struggle and longing and solidarity, working to overcome a multi-generational legacy of racism and poverty with faith and determination and a whole lot of vulnerability.

I give thanks for whoever reads these posts, has ever contributed to make this work possible, and to all the colleagues and friends I have made along the way since starting this work some 8 or 9 years ago now.

Maybe if we can come to gratitude with open hearts, we will come to those qualities that are inseparable from it – like humility, egolessness, deep compassion for one another and the wounded of our world, a true solidarity (because we’re all in this together), and a much better sense of our place within this endangered planet of ours.

I'm doing it for her

I’m doing it for her

Gratitude is not static, not something we hold, not an idea or something we possess. It is an orientation, a way of being in the world. One of the ways we can start is by getting down on our knees, putting our hands on the Earth itself, or the tree out back, or the water in our rivers and lakes or ocean shores, and asking of this planet, which has been so generous with us, to give us the wisdom we need now to write a different future, a different history of the next 35 years of our lives than the one written by Feffer (I won’t be around for all of that, but I can sure help get it started).

And maybe we can look deeply into the eyes of the children in our lives this week and ponder their future – and in those eyes find the courage to do what needs to be done.

Margaret Swedish




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