Gratitude, Even for ImperfectionsThanksgiving arrives! I realize my gratitude for many things. Family, friends, home, nation, church, education, even the Chicago Cubs! There were surprisingly lessons of gratitude learned during the COVID Pandemic. One for example was leaning to bake chocolate chip cookies. Had the pandemic not occurred, I would not have become so accomplished. My memory was that these attempts at baking cookies were awesome, (he said in a modest voice). So, early Thanksgiving Morning 2022, I decided to strut my baking skills. Wanting to offer my excellent cookies to friends, Betty and Tony, when we shared dinner together later today, I began with confidence. What could go wrong? It had been nearly a year since I baked my last batch. In the meantime, we had moved to a new condo, a new oven. I had my secret recipe. This should be a “cake walk” – or should I say, “cookie walk.” Alas, it must have been the new oven, or something missed in my recipe, or that we only had mini chocolate chips in the house. Taking the first batch from the oven, they looked unusually “toasted and flat.” At first bite I thought “well, this is better than eating shoe leather.” No prize-winning cookies these. It set me to thinking about my gratitude even for imperfections. Some of life’s best lessons are learned here. What other times was there an occasion to learn? Or did I too quickly turn a disappointment into a source of disgruntlement, a blaming of others, or a grievance, or complaint? Anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote of the dangers of dividing the world into the binary categories of the “pure” and the “polluted.” She traces the meaning of “dirt” and what is considered “filth,” through history and multiple cultures. Douglas identifies rituals used to cleanse or purify defilement, persons or groups seen to be “dirty” or considered an “abomination.” Douglas noted that this effort to identify others as “filthy” often was the precursor, a contributor, to racism and fascism. What lessons can be drawn from the Jewish holocaust? What lessons might there be from the mass murders of LGBTQ persons? What of the hatred and division that is spread across social media in our time? Having grown up in Methodism’s Holiness movement, where part of my education was centered in Wilmore, Kentucky at Asbury College and Seminary, I know well the efforts made to exclude and isolate the “in group” from those things that are seen as impure. These schools have been significant institutions advancing “spiritual holiness,” I sat through scores of college chapel services where the words “Holiness unto the Lord” were boldly inscribed above the chancel. Often preachers would call for purity. In what theologians speak of as sanctification, the desire was to encourage a life of perfection. At base a good thing – but a dangerous instrument as well. (No one mentioned perfect cookies as I recall, but in many other aspects of life and faith there was the assumption of purity and filth.) Some believed purity was found in avoiding certain activities (e.g., dancing, going to movies, drinking alcohol, etc.). Others suggested there was a doctrine of “perfection” and a need to reject any theological perspectives that differed. It is my sense this search for holiness as an end point has done much harm, even caused the splintering of families, marriages, congregations, and denominations. It leads to divisions over who is pure and who is polluted. I do not doubt that some folks lived a “sanctified” way of life. Usually, it was not the teachers or preachers who claimed to be “sanctified” who demonstrated this best. Instead, I think of folks like Ms. Warner, the history teacher, a quite Quaker woman, who practiced her holiness in the loving ways she lived toward others and care for her students. In my reading of Christian scripture, the holiness sketched across those pages and any evidence of holiness discovered in human history is always best seen as a process, a verb, and not an end point. It is an ever-maturing love for God and neighbor, an openness to imperfection – especially one’s own. Good reader, don’t take to much comfort from growing up in other traditions, not burdened with the language or theology of “holiness.” The human story is one where there is a dividing the world up into what is pure and polluted takes many forms — and seems to be a universal trait. This past week former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, as “the most dangerous person in the world.” Really? Not even a thought of Kim Jong-un or Vladimir Putin? Pompeo went on to say that our nation’s schoolteachers are teaching “filth” in their classrooms. Careful there, Mike. Methinks your presidential ambitions have fallen into a toxic hole where a need to divide and harm others clouds the language you use. Is there any acknowledgement of your own failings? You might check out Matthew 7:5 (“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” — NRSV) Our nation, our communities, our institutions are amid an entangled and dangerous struggle. It is often manifest as a desire for purity. The irony, of course, it that speeches against “filth” come from the mouths of persons who have supported bigotry, deceit and even insurrection – or have looked the other way when it took place. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for imperfections – but chose to seek to move past them. This is how one learns – and the second batch of cookies today were better. I look forward to quality of my future chocolate chip cookies! And I am even grateful for the gift of imperfections.