Monday, December 15, 2008

Waste Not Want Not- Please Share

How are you reducing waste this Holiday Season? What did you learn from your parents and grandparents about how to reuse, how to stretch, how to make do? Please leave your ideas in the comments section below.

Waste Not Want Not (December 14, 2009)

Back during the boom times in Silicon Valley, a co-work of my husbands had decided to retire early. He and his wife looked over their finances, and figured that if they were committed to living simply, and if they moved to a less expensive part of the world, they might be able to make it work. We went to visit them a number of times in their new life, and they became sort of role models for us. First of all, they were the most wonderful hosts. Incredibly gracious, amazing cooks. The house was decorated simply with an elegant yet whimsical aesthetic. They had a circle of chairs that included all sizes and shapes, so that a child of any size could find a place in the circle, as could a stuffed doll or friend. They were both writers, so bits of poetry had been pinned to the walls, and hand written lines penned in large letters across doorways. Life for them was reading, writing, friends, and savoring beauty. We’d talk for hours over a cup of coffee or home made scone, and one thing we always talked about was the quest for simple living. It was from these friends that we first heard Ben Franklin’s words:
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without.

These words were so different from everything we were hearing in the land of the inflated tech-bubble. My husband and I spent the 8 hour car ride home repeating it to ourselves like a mantra.

As a child my parents always modeled for me a careful use of resources, but at the time it had just seemed like one of those crazy parent things. Adults would say things like “Waste Not Want Not” but when I was a little girl this phrase was confusing to me. How could not wasting things keep you from not wanting things? I didn’t realize that in the older use of the word “want” it meant to “to be needy or destitute.”

The wisdom of that phrase takes on a whole new layer of meaning as we think about the kinds of ecological issues coming to a head for the generations living today, and the generations to follow. If you have been out shopping this holiday season, it is not hard to see the waste, and to imagine the “want” it could lead to in our eco-system. If we keep clear cutting forests to make paper for catalogues, our children and their children will want. We can’t afford that kind of waste.

Think about your typical exchange of presents. The shiny bleached wrapping paper is ripped off the hermetically plastic shell that protects the un-recyclable personal electronics that have a 6 month obsolescence cycle. You know those “blister packages” that big retailers hang on hooks to make a product look bigger and to make it harder to steal, and consequently impossible to open once you buy them? Often it seems like the package is 8 times larger than the product! Now I find out those blister packs are often made of PVC, the most one of the most toxic plastics. (1) Packaging is the largest part of US solid waste – 32%. As of 2000 just over of third of that was being recycled. When we celebrated holidays in California, where the city gives you a waste can of a fixed size, Some years we can’t even fit all our trash in the can and had to wait a couple weeks before it all could be taken away.

But the products themselves are also wasteful. My first PDA broke after just a year. I went to replace it, and the new model required had all new power configurations, and required a new set of cords to recharge and sync with the computer. My cell phone fell in the sink, and since in the 4 months I had own it my phone had become obsolete, I had to buy a new model and the new model had a new jack, which required a new head set, new outlet charger and new car charger. I have a whole drawer at home of perfectly good cords from electronics I no longer own. Waste is built into this industry.

As part of an environmental leadership class I took few years ago, we met with the green team from a Silicon Valley company. They explained proudly about their composting program in their lunchroom, and green building plans. I took a designer aside and said “wouldn’t the most important thing you could do be to design a product that lasts, that is not disposable?” He looked blankly at me before taking out the prototype of the latest and greatest, showing how one could Google a local pizza place from one’s phone, see a map of the area and then click the icon to call them and order pizza. I had thought the industry was consciously planning obsolescence, but this designer at least felt he was simply responding to the needs of consumers who demand new products that are smaller and faster and look really cool. The industry does not believe there is a market for electronics that last. They don’t understand that some of us are willing to use a product that is a few years old, and would pay a little more for something that would last.

Because the computers and phones and ipods that are designed to be updated every year or so have to go somewhere when we throw them “away.” And where is “away” exactly? When I had the good fortune to hear Sheila Davis, Executive Director of Silicon Valley Toxics, give a lecture about the recyclablitly of computers and other consumer electronics, she explained are created to be disposable, and to toxic to go in landfill. There was not thought put into how the parts would be recycled, so the plastic cases are not made to be opened, and otherwise recycled materials are coated with non-recyclable materials to turn both into trash. It was determined that he process of smashing open the shells with a sledgehammer was to dangerous for Americans, so now “recycled” can mean shipped to china to a village where children walk bare footed over a pile of our electronics pulling out the small bits of copper or other valuable metal while the plastic bodies become part of the landscape. (2) While I have been rolling my eyes at all the adds for luxury products on TV the last few weeks, I was happy to see what I believe is the first recyclable laptop body now coming out from apple. My partner astutely noticed that they make no claims about what’s inside the body. And while I acknowledge there is a long way to go, I am thrilled that someone has taken this first step.

This is just one example of an emergent idea: “extended producer responsibility.” Some manufacturers are taking it on themselves to think about what happens to product and packaging after it leaves the factory, but more and more governments are using this concept in legislation. It is now a state law in California that anyone who sells cell phones ore reusable batteries must take them back. The hope is that if producers realize they are going to be responsible down the line, perhaps in the very design process of a product and the product packaging the producer will be motivated to think about what happens to the product after it leaves the warehouse.

At this time of ecological crisis, we want to believe our grandmother’s wisdom: if we could really “waste not” would the plant be able to sustain a population of this size of 7 generations? As David Imhoff says in his book Paper or Plastic “The proper answer to the paper/plastic conundrum is still “neither.” Eliminate, reduce, refill and recycle as much as possible. ” (3) The emerging Zero Waste is the 21st century version of what our grandmothers new. When Zero Waste guru Gary Liss lectured in Silicon Valley he introduced the concept that all discarded materials are resources. Is it possible? Mother Nature’s model is zero waste; in an undisturbed forest all waste is food. The International Zero Waste movement has taken to saying “zero waste or darn close” and is asking manufacturers all over the world right now to adopt their current goal, which is that no more than %10 of solid waste go to landfill, and no waste is processed in facilities that are hotter than ambient organic temperatures (about 200 degrees) (4) 3 dozen municipalities in the United States have adopted these goals and standards.

When a cherry tree drops its blossoms all over the ground, we don’t think of this as waste, because we know these blossoms will replenish the soil and provide nutrients of the surrounding environment. When the tree finally dies every bit of it will be used in some way by some other creature. William McDonough calls this “Cradle to Cradle” thinking . (5) On the other hand the one-way path of most manufactured things from factory to house to landfill is a cradle to grave thinking. Could we ever be as efficient as the trees in our human manufacturing? To do that we would have to consider this from the very first moment of product design to participate in a cradle to cradle life cycle.

McDonough and Braungart notice that whereas an apple blossom will become part of the earth’s natural process to turn waste into food, A plastic water bottle does not function the same way. They have “conceived as the Earth’s two discrete metabolisms, the biosphere- the cycles of nature – and the technosphere- the cycles of industry.” They postulate that “Synthetic materials, chemicals, metals and durable goods are part of the technical metabolism; they can be designed to circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles, in effect, providing “food” for the technosphere.” Some companies are already working towards this goal. Milliken Collins and Aikman don’t sell carpet, they lease it to customers so that when it wears out, the manufacturer can reuse the material in new carpets. This cradle to cradle thinking also being done in the Biological metabolism. Desightex has created a carpet that is so non-toxic that it can be used as mulch when it is done being a carpet. It turns out the process they have designed is so clean that when they tested the water coming out of the mill they found that it was as clean as the water going in – the manufacturing process itself was filtering the water. Now some carpets contain PVC and heavy metals, which cannot be truly “recycled” and are shredded and blended into what McDonough and Braungart call “Downcycled material” because they are no longer able to be used at their highest use. But a new fiber produced by BASF called Savant is made from an infinitely recyclable nylon fiber that can be “upcycled” instead of “downcycled.”

What does it mean to put something to its highest use? Let’s take the life of a glass jar. The highest and best use for that is as a jar to store stuff. The least wasteful thing we can do with a jar is to re-use it. This is why you always find bulk foods in eco-friendly stores. You don’t need a new glass jar every time you buy maple syrup, the best highest use for a jar is to fill it again and again until it finally breaks. Or return it; the average life of a returnable glass bottle is 5-10 years with 5 fillings per year. (6) The next highest use might be to use the jar or the broken pieces to make something else- like art, or building materials. If there were no other use for a broken jar, then it could be recycled to make new glass jars. Even when it finally has to be recycled it saves ¼ to 1/3 of the energy over making new glass.

Here’s the hopeful part. Ben Franklin’s advice might just be a path through the hard times, both economically and ecologically. A friend of mine quit her jobs a few years back to be a full time mom. She said she found it was almost a full time job making all the food from scratch, buying things on consignment, and using her time to help her live more simply but that by doing so she could make up the full time salary they had lost. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got at least one shelf of books I have not yet read, and several more of favorite books I haven’t read in at least a decade. We’ve got a book swap shelf in the social hall, and a fabulous free library down the street from my house. I think I could read for the rest of my life without ever chopping down another tree for paper pulp. For the past few decades the ecological movement has been one for elite. We’ve all gulped at the prices of the organic foods at the Wegman’s. My hope is that in this economic downturn we will remember that Gramma had it right. You don’t have to buy a Prius to be green. Almost 30% of the total Carbon Output in the life of a car comes from the manufacturing process . (7) Keeping an old car running well is green too. When we can no longer afford the organic tomatoes at he store, it’s time to grow them in our backyard.

“Waste Not” or “Zero Waste” or “Cradle to Cradle” are different ways of thinking about a model for living that ask for a lot of creativity within our waste-filled culture. It’s time for neighbors to teach neighbors about how to can and preserve food, how to sew and alter our own clothes. At a time when so many are worried about money, we can feel proud every time we use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

Perhaps this will be silver lining of this economic downturn. Many common sense ways or reducing waste were practiced by our grandparents or parents during the depression. One of the master knitters I have known said each winter she would unravel old knitting to have a fresh look for the new year, or larger clothes for the kids as they grew. And perhaps the silver lining of under-employment is that if we don’t have to work 60 hours a week, we have time to cook our own food, which is cheaper and uses less packaging than buying prepared foods. We can make some of our own holiday gifts and decorations. My mom, god bless her, tried to address the waste of Christmas wrapping paper; she sewed a set of re-usable gift bags one year when I was little and they have been circulating around our family every since. But we know that it is equally probable that in a time of crisis we will excuse ourselves from our ecological responsibilities as if the economic and the ecological were not one at their core. We are not going to change our culture without an act of shared will, and it is not going to happen over night.

Such a change will effect not only our thinking process, but what we value, and where we find beauty and worth. I went to Re-Craft sale where only vendors who were re-using materials could exhibit their holiday crafts. The creativity displayed there was tremendous; old sweaters felted and made into trendy handbags, a wind chime made from antique spoons rolled flat, old white shirt buttons woven into necklaces. We used to roll our eyes at my dad’s use of Sunday comics to wrap gifts, but viewed through the lens of creative reuse, it is beautiful. I admit I am not ready to be zero waste this holiday season, but I challenge each of us to think about the impact of the gifts we give, the food, the decorations, the things we buy or make. Let’s show our love this season not only for our friends and family, but for our earth, and for all the generations who will follow so that they will never want.

End Notes:
(1) Imhoff, Dania Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World. p. 34
(3) Imhoff, Dania Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World. p. 13
(4) Zero Waste International Alliance
(5) William McDonough and Michael Braungart “The Extravagant Gesture: Nature, Design, and the Transformation of Human Industry” from Sustainable Planet p. 13-32.
(6) Imhoff, Dania Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World. p. 16.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hide and Seek with God (December 7, 2008)

I love a candle light service. I have so many Christmas Eve memories of sitting next to my mother as a child, expectantly holding my candle waiting for that lovely peaceful magic that came when the lights are turned off, and the candles flicker in each person’s hands, and the soprano sings “O Holy night” with the sweetness of milk, and as she finishes the silence is deep and shining. But I also remember the service not too long ago when I was surrounded on all sides by coughers and wigglers, and I couldn’t pay attention to what the minister was saying, and there must have been lights on in the parking lot because it never really got that dark, and the candles never really shone, and if that child in the back would have stopped making those annoying noises for a MINUTE I could have had my magical Christmas eve…

Have you had this experience? I was looking for something “special and amazing and wonderful” just like the children in today’s story, but I failed to find it, and left my search disappointed and disgruntled. The second noble truth in the Buddhist tradition says that suffering is caused by Tanha, often translated as desire. I bet most of us can remember a time when you were a little kid, and DESPERATELY wanted some certain to or gift, and when that is the case not getting the new toy you wanted can ruin your holiday. As an adult our desires and expectations are more subtle, as Anne Sexton illustrates in her poem “The Lost Ingredient”. She writes about stopping at the great salt lake in Utah “to wash away some slight need for Maine’s coast” but
“…Later the funny salt
itched in my pores and stung like bees or sleet.
I rinsed it off in Reno and hurried to steal
a better proof at tables where I always lost.”

So she stops to touch the lake to fill some longing, and when that proves itchy and unsatisfying, she heads instead to the gambling tables in Reno, even though she already knows she will not be filled by what she will find there.
She says that she is
“...waiting for the lost
ingredient, as if salt or money or even lust
would keep us calm and prove us whole at last.”
I think this is what I was doing that Christmas Eve, waiting for the lost ingredient that would keep me calm and prove me whole at last.

There is nothing wrong with our desire for wholeness. It is that desire, that drive that calls us to our spiritual journey. Some might call this a search for God, but I prefer the phrase "Ultimate Concern” used by Harvard Theologian Paul Tillich. He says in his Systematic Theology “Ultimate concern is the abstract translation of the great commandment: ‘The Lord, our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The religious concern is ultimate; it excludes all other concerns from ultimate significance; it makes them preliminary. The ultimate concern is unconditional, independent of any conditions of character, desire or circumstance. The unconditional concern is total; no part of ourselves or of our world is excluded from it…”

My old theology professor, Bob Kimball, used to say that for some people their ultimate concern is synonymous with God, but for others it is Football which is their ultimate concern. If you live out the rest of the week waiting for game day, if your future happiness or sadness turns on how your team performs in a pivotal game, this is your ultimate concern. Tillich understood that for generations we have used the word “God” as a shorthand when what we really mean is “that which is of ultimate concern.”

I believe that what Maryann Moore had in mind when she wrote our children’s story was the search to experience something ultimate, which some people find in the wonder of nature, which others find in community. Not everyone in this room would say they are looking for an experience of God, but I believe we are all looking for an experience of something that is real, that is meaningful, whose value transcends time, which can be felt with one’s whole being. There is a sense that if we could connect with that ultimacy, it would sooth us, calm us, give us rest in a way that “salt or money” cannot. St. Augustine wrote that “the heart is restless until it rests in thee.” Perhaps that is what I was looking for that grumpy Christmas Eve, some rest for my heart.

My own search for meaning, for rest has led me to try meditation. I had never meditated before coming to seminary, but wise people, trustworthy people had suggested that a practice of meditation could lead to self awareness and might be source of the rest I was seeking. Each time I sat in meditation, however, my legs became numb, my skin itched, my mind was restless. The longer I sat the more annoyed, and then angry I became. “I’m not a good meditator” I thought. “I don’t feel the bliss of my true self, I must be doing it wrong. If I was really meditating, I would be feeling bliss, I would feel inspired and uplifted, My heart would be filled with perfect compassion and love for all beings.” Though I had been meditating off an on for several years, I kept signing up for beginning meditation classes, thinking perhaps there was some rudimentary technical information I had missed, or learned incorrectly. Finally I realized where I was going wrong; first was the idea that there was a “wrong” way to meditate, and second was the idea that if I was doing it “right” that it would feel good.

I’m guessing that we all have some preconceived notion of what it would feel like to “Find God” in the cosmic game of Hide and Seek. You notice that in our children’s story, the author describes finding something “special, amazing and wonderful.” But this or any preconception can be a real obstacle in our search. This is one way of interpreting the story in the Hebrew Scriptures when the Prophet Elijah goes to the top of the mountain, possibly the same mountaintop where Moses saw god “face to face.” The scripture says:

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here Elijah?"
-1 Kings 19:11-13

By using the images of fire, wind and earthquakes the author evokes the kind of archetypal symbols that are often associated with the divine. From the religious stories of many traditions and ages we are reminded of other times and places where God has appeared in the transformative power of fire, in the quixotic wind, in the destabilizing force of an earthquake. But in this story God is not where we might expect God to be. The great prophet of Israel goes looking for God and what he finds is “a sound of sheer silence.” Sometimes when we go looking for Ultimacy, for a restful heart, we find silence. We find a big gaping void where our ultimate concern should be. We sit in meditation looking for peace, and find emptiness instead.

There is a name for the moment when our faith is shaken, when we go to the mountain seeking God, and find only silence. When we seek peace in meditation, and feel betrayed when there is no peace to be found. Martin Luther and other Theologians have called this the “dark night of the Soul.” This is the time when you have been searching for heart’s rest, and begin to despair of ever finding it. These theologians say that we have to give up our search as we are used to conducting it, and search in a new way, searching the silence, searching the anger. All life is woven of one cloth, the blissful, the tragic, the mundane, the absurd are bound up together; we will find all of these things on our search for our ultimate concern.

We don’t get to pick and choose which strands we will encounter in our life, and so any structures of meaning we make for ourselves that hold only bliss and peace cannot serve us when we need them most. At times life has shaken all of us like an earthquake shifting, unsettling the foundations upon which we rest, upon which we have built our lives. It is often when your foundations are shaken, the search for something ultimate that can withstand such a quake begins. Religious Educator Jerome Berry man calls this a rupture of our theological circle. This happens when the meaning making you have done in your life no longer fits with your lived experience. For many people the death of a loved one, a betrayal of trust, or an act of violence leads us to question the circle of meaning in which our lives are inscribed. This circle grows and changes throughout our lives, sometimes because we make a conscious choice to go seeking, and sometimes because life happens.

And once that circle is disrupted, when we need a place for the soul to rest and cannot find it, we just want to shout “Ollly Olly Oxen Free” And sometimes that rest will come, in a night sky, in a helping hand, in a warm heart. But the relief will probably not come in the way we want it in the time and place we expect it. This is a hard lesson. I used to talk to my spiritual director about this, when my life seemed empty of the spirit. And she would remind me that there is no place that is separate from God, or as we UUs say, that we are all part of an interconnected web, we could not be separate if we tried. Whatever has ultimate meaning binds us all.

Universalists have always said that salvation is accessible to everyone. I think that for contemporary Universalists it means that no one is ineligible to uncover that which is ultimate, that which gives rest. There is no elect handful of people for who the search is fruitful. I would extend universalism to assert that no part of experience is out of bounds for ultimacy. If something is truly ultimate, it must transcend the bounds of the “good” of the “appropriate” of perfection even. If something can exist only under perfect circumstances, then how can it be of ultimate significance? As Tillich writes “The unconditional concern is total; no part of ourselves or of our world is excluded from it…”

When I am able to exchange my search for a “lost ingredient” with an image of playing Hide and Seek, I remember to be present with whatever I experience in the moment, and let go of my expectations. I have heard several advanced students of Buddhism tell a story like this: after experiencing the bliss of their true nature for the first time, they eagerly tell their teacher expecting praise. Instead the teacher looks disapproving, because the student has become attached to the experience of bliss, and has lost her equanimity. And attachment, even to the bliss of religious experience, leads to suffering.

That Christmas Eve when I could not find what I was seeking, I was so attached to my expectations about Christmas that I never did let in the experience of what it was. At the time it seemed to me a failed worship service, but since then I have come to understand that there are no such thing as a “failures" of spiritual practice or worship, only moments that were not what I expected, not what I hoped for. If our search is really a search, we are looking for something new, looking to be surprised by our world and by ourselves. When we search beyond our expectations, beyond our preconceptions, we increase the odds of experiencing mystery, awe and wonder like children playing a game of hide and seek.

1. For more on this see Huston Smith The World’s Religions p. 99-103.
2. Anne Sexton “The Lost Ingredient” from Selected Poems of Anne Sexton p. 25.
3. Paul Tillich. Systematic Thelogy. v.1 pp. 11-12.
4. Mary Ann Moore “Hide and Seek with God” from Hide and Seek with God p. 4-7.
5. Paul Tillich. Systematic Theology. v.1 pp. 11-12.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gratitude in Hard Times (November 23, 2008)

Do you ever have a day when it is really hard to be thankful? Maybe someone in your family is sick and hurting. Maybe the money you were counting on to get you through your retirement is shrinking. Or maybe you just couldn’t sleep last night and then your waffle was cold, and your sneaker got full of water while you were running for the bus.

Being thankful is a way of saying “yes” to life. This is why it can be so hard to be grateful when life is tough. How can we be thankful when people are losing their jobs, when kids are getting teased by bullies at school, when war is happening right now in far away lands? Maybe that’s how you felt during our reflection when you had a chance to write your thoughts on a card. Maybe you felt like “how can I say yes to life when life keeps saying no?”

The Pilgrims, when they arrived from across the sea, arrived in the fall, too late to plant crops for the coming winter. They hadn’t brought enough food to last, and food was rationed very tightly. It was a tradition in this church back a generation ago to hand out 5 grains of corn to each person in the Thanksgiving service, to remind them of the 5 grains of corn that was all each pilgrim was given to eat each day during that cold hard first winter. In order to remember those harsh times and maintain their gratitude for the plenty they now enjoyed, some New Englanders started the custom of putting five kernels of corn on each plate at their feast.

Gratitude is an important practice in all of the world’s religions. It was an important practice for the first nations people who helped the pilgrims survive in an ecosystem that was strange to them. The Algonkian tribes held six thanksgiving festivals during the year. The beginning of the Algonkian year was marked by the Maple Dance which gave thanks to the Creator for the maple tree and its syrup, whenever the weather was warm enough for the sap to run in the maple trees. Second was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown. Mid-winter was the last ceremony of the old year. When the Indians sat down to the "first Thanksgiving" with the Pilgrims, it was really the fifth thanksgiving of the year for them! (1)

This Algnokin annual cycle of gratitude reminds me that when every season of every year there are things to be grateful for. So even on a bad, grumpy, hard to get up while it was still light out to walk to the bus stop morning, it is still possible to be grateful.

Do you remember a character called “Eeyore” from the stories of Winnie the Pooh? Well one morning he came knocking on Christopher Robin’s door.
"Hallo, Eeyore," said Christopher Robin, as he opened the door and came out. "How are you?"
"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

Eeyore is the king of the Grumpy day gratitude -- hard times gratitude. And Eeyore gratitude is the MOST important, because those are the days when it takes real willpower to let your mind enter a grateful state. On these days you have to start with something basic. Your breath. Breath in. Breath out. Feels pretty good. We are in a warm dry place together this morning. We have time to come to church and sit and think and listen to stories, because we don’t have to work or school 7 days a week. There’s going to be food afterwards- none of us have to go hungry.

On a good day I can also feel grateful for the people that I know who love me and listen to my jokes. I can feel grateful for a certain quality of blue in the sky, and the shape of the endless mountains as I drive down 220. On a really really grateful day I can even be thankful for the hard things of life. For challenges that helped me learn and grow. Even for getting up in the dark to walk to the bus stop.

When you say thank you to your Gramma for the nice Birthday Present, you say it so that she knows you got it, and that you appreciate that she went to the trouble of buying you that toy, or knitting you that sweater. But when you say the Thanksgiving kind of thank you, you are doing a spiritual practice. You are remembering that even when the universe seems to be saying “no” you can still say “yes” to life.

It was traditional in this church to read the “ancient Scripture” at the Thanksgiving service, and so we chose one that reminds us to be thankful for this earth. Some people in our church believe in God, and some do not. But all of us can be grateful for the good gifts our earth provides. “a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, 8:8 a land of wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates, of olive trees and honey, 8:9 a land where you may eat food in plenty and find no lack of anything, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper”

Every day we have food to put on the table, we can be grateful.

Well, what about the people who don’t have food for their table? You might ask. Our Thanksgiving tradition has something to say about that as well. Historians say that The Wampanoag tribe who helped the pilgrims believed it was important to give charity to the helpless and hospitality to anyone who came to them with empty hands. The Wampanoag were actually invited to that Thanksgiving feast for the purpose of negotiating a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the Pilgrims. So the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims were more like neighbors or people doing business than like family, but the Wampanoag guests, maybe out of a sense of charity toward their hosts, ended up bringing most of the food for that first Thanksgiving feast.

When we are grateful, it is easier for us to be generous. When I realize how much I have, it feels good for me to give some of it to someone who is hungry. That’s why our kitchen is full right now of soup and pies and turkey. The soup was made with love for us by the people in this community. The pies and turkeys we brought to share with folks in the Valley who don’t always have enough food to eat, so that they can feast on Thanksgiving. Giving is a way of saying “Thank You” Giving is a way of saying “Yes” to life.

So as you enter this season of Thanksgiving, remember that saying “thank you” is not just something that happens while everyone is seated at the holiday table and waiting to eat. If it helps you to remember, hold those 5 grains of corn in our hands, remember the hard times, and give thanks the simple things we have. Let holding both the hard things and the goodness together in gratitude be a spiritual practice in all the seasons of the year.