By Jeff Niemitz
It is easy for us to look at the state of society particularly in the US and state categorically that we are more concerned about the individual’s personal liberties then the common good whether in local community or globally as climate change will require. We see the Great Recession of 2008 as being caused by greed on Wall Street and climate change caused by developed countries that use more fossil fuel than is necessary for a reasonably comfortable lifestyle. Clearly this has not always been the state of affairs. When the country or the world was in chaos (e.g., The Great Depression and World War II, respectively) many made sacrifices for the betterment of others whether it was to provide for the welfare of the unemployed or to procure freedom for those oppressed by the Axis powers in Europe or the Pacific. What has changed? Orr states in Down to the Wire that we have lost our ability to be grateful and he wonders why. “Maybe we should not be grateful” (p. 148), he says and make a case for ingratitude. In his discussion on gratitude or the lack of it that follows, Orr begins to make the case for ingratitude using Scripture, Shakespeare, and Hobbes as examples suggesting that English weather and the media among other things have fomented our ungrateful nature despite being the wealthiest country on the planet ever. Furthermore it appears we are too busy to think about being grateful for our place in life. Technology has made us so myopic about the REAL real world that we have become self-absorbed, cocooned, and entitled with no real sense of community.
What then follows is a cogent paraphrasing of David Steindl-Rast’s ideas on gratitude from his book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. I found myself agreeing with this line of reasoning but for different reasons than I think Orr intended. There is more to gratitude than the notion of Thanksgiving or even the paying forward of that gift to others. Saying “thank you” because of one’s gratitude is still a human-to-human exercise. If we depend on that exercise in whatever form for our gratitude we will never be truly grateful nor content and is not that what we lack and yearn for, contentment. To be truly grateful requires an absolute understand of grace and mercy for our own identity and that of our planet. Grace is getting what we do not deserve and mercy is not getting what we do deserve. In order to be truly grateful we can get neither from human interaction but rather from a loving God. While in the beginning of the same chapter Orr is generally caustic toward organized religion in the US, and in particular fundamental Christians and their behavior from the political Right, his arguments regarding gratitude generally profess biblically-based principles. I could reel off many verses that speak to what a Christian’s behavior should be regarding others and the planet, Orr has quoted (and misused) some that would apply. The bottom line for me is that our human nature will not allow us solve our problems not matter how many technological fixes we devise; Modernism got us in this mess in the first place. To put it succinctly, only by truly following God’s greatest commandments to the best of our ability, will we be able to have the will to think of others before ourselves and move forward on a problem that will affect us all. Otherwise that grace and mercy that we so take for granted will soon disappear.