Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 25, 2010

From Western Guilt to Productive Gratitude

We are up in Lynden today, celebrating Thanksgiving with Julie’s family. It feels more like Christmas than Thanksgiving with all the snow that is accumulating.

Often on Thanksgiving I am overwhelmed with how much I have been blessed in comparison to many who live in poverty. It was a couple of summers ago that Julie and I went down to Guatemala to learn from some missionaries who were trying to bring some hope into very hopeless places. One day we were standing above a large dump that served as a residence for over 11000 homeless scavengers. We watched as hundreds of people surrounded the incoming garbage trucks to get a first crack at finding something useful in the garbage. Our guide and mentor Joel said something very profound when we were there. He said, “the only difference between us and them is a birth certificate.”

It is true that the reason I live with wealth instead of poverty has a lot to do with where I was born. I could have been born to homeless parents in Guatemala but instead I was born into a middle class Canadian family. This reality has been opened up to me a lot this year as I have gone through the immigration process to the USA. I recently made the adjustment from being an unemployable visitor, to a legal permanent resident. When I came through the border during the last few months I was always nervous because I had to make sure I could prove I was not living in the country. With my new visa I am welcomed home. It is amazing how much our livelihood is determined by a slip of paper.

At times I feel very guilty for how blessed I am. I honestly do not think it is fair that I have had access to education, hold a job, and belong to two great families. However, I do not find that guilt is the most productive response. I believe that gratitude can be more productive than guilt. When we learn to be thankful and content with what we have it frees us from selfishness. This I think is an important starting point to living an outwardly focused life. A life that is marked with generosity and service towards those in need.

So, what are you thankful for today?

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Responses

  1. great truths to that post. life lessons are wonderful teaching moments.

    • …..OK, we are thankful that both of you are now part of the LC Church. About guilt : maybe it isn’t the best of motivators but perhaps we need to own the guilt for something else besides our birthplace. Just maybe our collective guilt could move us as community of God’s people to share that wealth (not just money) of talent, time skill,etc. with people of need whever they might live.

  2. Good push back Gil. I’ll admit that I was sort of thinking out loud when I wrote this post and didn’t fully develop my ideas. I agree that we need to repent for the ways we contribute to the economic disparity in our world. I guess my experience has been that gratitude is more effective than guilt in actually moving us towards a change of behavior.

    This is somewhat rooted in how I have been shaped by the Heidelberg Catechism in the Reformed Church. There is a three-fold structure to the catechism that moves from Guilt to Grace to Gratitude. It is interesting that the discussion on ethics and mission are placed in the gratitude section not the guilt section. The writers of the catechism recognize that our motivation for right living is found in being grateful for what we have received in Christ. This is probably the subconsious source of my idea in this post.

    It is one thing to feel bad about economic disparity but it is another thing to do something about it. As one of my mentors once said, we can’t simply be “moved,” we have to move. I think gratitude aids us in the process of moving forward in making changes because it gets at the root of the problem – namely greed. Contentment and gratitude place us in a position to give generously.

  3. Hey Gil, I also appreciate how you expand the application beyond just the monetary issue. Generosity is sometimes even harder when it comes to investing our time. It can be easier to write a check then to invest our time and talent into a difficult issue.

  4. And “our” generation not motivated by guilt complexes, in fact we rebel against them. and certainly the generations younger than me are not either. I think God looks at a joyful and giving heart if you were giving money, a check, etc. anyway. I think to myself like this: hey a woman/a mother in Guatemala or Honduras LIVES on $3 per month, the amount she might raise growing the coffee, that I might drink, I pay per DAY!
    People in the dump, are even EATING garbage. My mom used to “mail my leftovers to China” when I was a kid. Good thing she got thru my head there are other people in this world besides me! See song “In my own little world” by Matthew West, go to Youtube.com or just give that CD to a Teenager!
    I was very lucky to grow up eating “hot dogs and mac n’cheese” our budget menu casseroles made the following day. Middle class American, Rich in the World view.

  5. “Middle class American, Rich in the World view.”

    Well said Shannon.


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