One of the realities with which I've had to come to grips this year is how painful it is to starve to death, especially for children. A child with Kwashiorkor - the protein defficiency from which the child in the above video is suffering - can endure everything from chronic diarrhea to liver disease to an enlarged heart before finally falling into a coma before death. They hurt all the time.
Tomorrow most of us will gather around tables that are loaded down with enough calories to feed an entire orphanage of children living with Kwashiorkor. We will say prayers of thanks that the accidents of our birth didn't land us in Haiti or Ethiopia or the Congo. We will be genuinely grateful that we have enough, that we have our families and friends around us, and that God has blessed us with more than we need. It will be good.
Here's the thing, though: I don't believe that's enough.
We have this strange theology in the American church that pops up here and there and now and again (sorry, PT) that suggests that what faith is about is believing and worshiping correctly. As long as people are really feeling God's presence in worship, as long as we believe that we should be thankful, as long as we say the right prayer and check off the boxes and make sure everyone's in attendance and don't have sex until we get married, then we're doing it right. And it doesn't matter that we accumulate unnecessary stuff and live in extravagant houses and never see people who look different than us.
One of my favorite places in Austin is El Buen Samaritano, a ministry of our local Episcopal Dioceses. El Buen helps immigrants in every way imaginable - with health care, with ESL and other education programs, with childcare, with a food pantry, with nutrition and exercise classes. It's an amazing, hopeful place that helps some of the most neglected, discriminated-against members of our society. El Buen's clients are the working poor, people who get paid minimum wage and who would otherwise never have the chance to get ahead.
El Buen is headed by the Reverend Ed Gomez, a priest who was a successful Houston businessman until God called him to minister to those in need. A couple of years ago, on a tour of El Buen with a group of high school students who were seeing the place for the first time, Rev. Ed said something to our group that stopped me in my tracks. He talked about the contrast in the Biblical stories about the center's namesake, the Good Samaritain, and the lifestyle of compassion that Jesus calls us to in Matthew 25. It's not enough, said Rev. Ed, to think that being a Christian means you can do occasional acts of charity and think you've got your bases covered on that whole "helping the needy" thing. Sending a Christmas basket or working on a Habitat house once a year isn't going to cut it, because that's not what God calls us to. God calls us to a lifestyle of compassion and justice.
Biblical justice is scary. It uproots our comfortable vision of how life should be. It completely dissembles most of our ideas about church and church buildings and church ministries (What would Jesus say about multimillion dollar church budgets when Christians are starving?). It doesn't allow us to rest comfortably, knowing that we believe the right things and have signed off on the right doctrines. The paradox, of course, is that living in such a way seems to set people free, such that they don't feel trapped or burdened by this call. Rev. Ed is one of the most free people I've ever met. But getting there means we have to change, and that isn't easy.
I'm afraid it also means that we - that I - have to rethink Thanksgiving and what it means, especially when we know that there are children like five-year-old, 29-pound Henrius (in the video above) who are dying extraordinarily painful deaths from entirely preventable causes. That is not just, and as long as there are children like Henrius in this world, something in my life has to change. Let's give thanks, and then let's give until we can give no more.