November 27, 2006
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank


Dear Marketplace Friend, 

      I hate it when I don't know how to do what everyone else is doing. That's why I don't ski for fun: I blame my orthopedic dysfunctions (mostly true), but a complicating factor is the fact that, even before my accident... I was a lousy skier. Now, I have an excuse.
      Same applies to golf. Never good enough to escape embarrassment, I was voting before I was putting. No early-life sophistication for me; the most unnatural physical function ever conceived by civilized man (the "perfect" golf swing) was never decoded in my sports zone. I run: takes no talent; requires no practice. It can be done alone, or in groups... but, the only "group" that would ever run with me is made up of people who are either equally slow, or so desperate for companionship that they'll slow to my pace for talk-time.
      Once again, I've been reminded that Americans need to find a group training experience to prep them for their annual four-day holiday, held each autumn near the end of November. We're a culture with a cultural blind spot: we join in at Thanksgiving... without any clarity about how to give thanks. What's the problem?
      It's not a big problem, but it is glaring. What is it? For 364 days a year, we're marinated in entitlement... and on our annual "day of gratitude," we don't know how to speak the language. What's missing?
      Tune in on the story from the life of Jesus that captures the essence of the deficiency: "Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'  When he saw them, he said, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him - and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' " (Luke 17:11-18). By Jesus' measure, 1/10 do gratitude well. The nine missed the mark...
      On morning shows, in church-produced "man on the street" video features, around assembled tables of friends and family during the holiday period, the question has been asked and answered: "What are you thankful for?" (bad grammar, but good question). In precise response to the query, the lists are offered: health, family, friends, jobs, blessings (whatever those are defined to be!) are all "safe" answers. What's missing?
      Here's the clever self-test, best applied before carving the bird: it's always to before for. That's not math (that would be "two before four"). Instead, it's effective thanksgiving. How so?
      Which would have been best, back in Jesus' men-on-the-street encounter? The comment by the nine: "I'm grateful for my newfound health. I'm a former leper, you know..." Or, instead, the ecstatic utterance of the Samaritan returnee: "I'm grateful to God - offered to 'Jesus, Master' - for rescuing me from my living death in leprosy." Remember: it's "to before for." Who got it right?
      The man who throws a football alone never hits the spot. The man who throws to another man on the run shows his proficiency by hitting his target at 40 yards. Random spirals don't make one Joe Montana.
      When offering thanks, it must be directed. At Thanksgiving, the intended target is God, and him alone. David knew that, and gave great Thanksgiving instructions 3000 years ago: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his lovingkindness is everlasting, and his faithfulness to all generations." (Psalm 100:4-5)
      Your kids won't hear that in their public school classroom; it won't be the lead story on the network news anytime soon. If our society is to sophisticate itself in giving thanks, it will happen because people who are gratitude geniuses model the behavior that is lacking everywhere else.
      So, to whom are you grateful?... And, for what?

Bob Shank


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