The Gratitudes


In the days after Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem, scribes and priests drilled Him, coaxing Him to speak heresy. On their turf what mattered was power and influence, and these things derived from words, not deeds. Fed up with their moral politicking, Jesus proclaimed the greatest commandment of all. He said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

In our time, many of those with power and influence still play games with words. I’ve compared how the jargonese that NGOs speak sets them apart from world of everyday people. Others have noted that the word “democracy” never escapes the lips of “aid” moguls, and I’ve illustrated the crazy upside-down funding funnel that pervades international aid. These are signs that while the hearts of many are in the right place, the system has no mechanism (or intention?) to transfer power into the hands of the people. Aid flows, but power remains behind.

Again in the temple, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts. They devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers: they will receive greater condemnation.”

Today’s “scribes” still monopolize the podiums at conferences as they promote smart plans to develop the world. But “aid” in the sense of sharing the wealth will not bring about a brighter world. We must change ourselves. Start imagining a world where local communities – for better or worse – decide their own fate and live with the consequences. Smart aid means to give away real power. And like Jesus taught that you must love your enemies to free the world from hate and revenge, we must re-imagine aid as form a power submissive to the will of peoples everywhere.

My roadmap for this transformation are the Daily Gratitudes:If the Beatitudes are about the roles we play in the Kingdom of God, the Gratitudes are mindsets that help us recognize it.

1 Blessed be Suffering. It alone yields empathy.

Though it is natural for us to work to end our own suffering, not all suffering is bad. Every healer, teacher, or leader suffers for something important. This is the straightest path to wisdom. Jesus warned his followers that the righteous path will be lonely and painful, but it will be worth it. Suffering that one chooses in pursuit of something meaningful for others is a blessed thing.

When I was much younger, at my confirmation ceremony, I prayed to God that I might know suffering. We were coached to ask for wisdom or courage or many other things, but I couldn’t imagine actually attaining any of these gifts without embracing the inevitable part of the path to wisdom. I’d lived a charmed life up to age 17 and have lived an easy, comfortable life ever since, full of unexpected bounty. So even if I learned a lot without having to suffer, it was my willingness to suffer the consequencies in pursuit of wisdom that enabled me to see things whole. Approaching life with an open hand to counter every closed fist is the Gratitude for Suffering.

2 Blessed Be Inspiration.

It brings us the power to inspire others.

3 Blessed Be Failure.

Wisdom is a necessity, and you can’t get it without much failure. Try to appreciate the daily miracles along the way, the humor, and the surprises.

4 Blessed are those who think of others.

These are the ones who bring us all together.

5 Blessed Be Injustice Everywhere.

Another one that deserves an explanation. I derive this from Martin Luther King Jr’s quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And just as in Jesus’ day when no one could imagine a person could survive by turning the other cheek, so much that it took a dramatic sacrifice to convince them, we cannot truly bring justice to the dark corners of the world unless injustice is more evenly distributed around the world.

In practice, there are places with firm justice for all and other places on the wrong side of the tracks with no justice. Injustice for all will unblind the rich and bind us together in common purpose. I knew a preacher who was fond of saying his purpose was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It is in that spirit that I say, Blessed be Injustice Everywhere: Justice cannot spread without discomforting a great many apathetic people.

6 Blessed Be Doubt.

Ask Questions and embrace the uncertainty of how you will ever transform the world, so long as you remain steadfast in the why. And if you doubt the why, then return to the “Blessed Be Inspiration” part.

7 Blessed Be Divergent Thinking.

We must both live in the world that is and in the alternate universe that we will leave behind.

Try starting small. Each day this week, post three daily gratitudes to your facebook friends. Pick things that have helped shape you into the person you are proud to tell others about. Tweet one daily #gratitude to the world and imagine how building up others around you can make you become something you never imagined. To find yourself you must first loose yourself. You must experiment with temporary loss of control of your basic wants and needs.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the Buddhist monks in Chiang Mai who must wake up before the sun each morning and beg for food, blissfully unaware of whether someone will fill their bowl or will they fast for the day. Many find their true selves in the bottom of the empty bowl. We need to foster more good works that give power away. Aid cannot remain in control if it wants to find its soul.

The words of the Poet Hafiz capture the limitless power of selfless, devoted, love:

Even after all this time,

the sun never says to the Earth

“You owe me.”

Look what happens with a love like that,

it lights the whole sky.

The Beatitudes (in case you forgot them):

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  2. Blessed are those that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
  3. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  4. Blessed are they which do hunger for righteousness: for they shall be filled.
  5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
  6. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
  8. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  9. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Passion Week 2012 Outline:

  1. Empire – and the hierarchy of aid power
  2. The Gratitudes – a blueprint for social prosperity
  3. Jesus prays alone – Begging Monks – The clarity of powerlessness
  4. Only the servant to all can end poverty
  5. Abandoning partners organizations on a quest for “Impact
  6. Faith in institutions and Jesus on Trial
  7. The trial of Jesus and Kenyans’ faith in the ICC to bring us Justice because their own leaders cannot.
  8. The beauty of failure, and the tombs of international development
  9. Resurrection – and the God Mechanism
  10. The giving tree and the story of Jesus

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