Radical Gratitude

Bill Maher recently interviewed Gloria Steinem. I don’t watch Bill Maher, but I saw a headline that peaked my interest about a statement Gloria Steinem made as to why young feminists are supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. She said young women are thinking, “Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.” The implication being that young feminists just want to be “Where The Boys Are” as one song famously put it.

This fascinated me for a number of reasons, but while watching the interview, I came across something even more intriguing. Bill Maher asks Ms. Steinem if young women are complacent about Roe v. Wade–if they don’t appreciate it as much as the older generation. And Ms. Steinem replies with this, “Gratitude never radicalized anybody.” She explains that she never said thank you for the right to vote, but rather it was her anger about what was happening to her that drove her action. She says that nowadays young women are “mad as hell” about college debt and earning less than men over their lifetime, in contrast, their mere gratitude over so-called abortion rights doesn’t fuel any action. First off, I don’t agree with any of the causes Ms. Steinem is advocating. But I want to understand what she thinks is the motivating factor for change.

Steinem believes anger is the fuel of progress. It’s only when we’re fed up that we’ll start to initiate change. This is a righteous anger to her, a matter of injustice being corrected. So she believes abortion is a right and worked to get it because of what she saw as injustice. Now in reality that’s a perversion of justice. Killing babies isn’t justice for anybody. But putting aside her amorality, you can get your head around the principle. Injustice ought to drive us to action. I do not agree with her on what constitutes injustice and what is worth being angry over. But nevertheless, I get it.

But does it follow that righteous indignation over injustice is the only way to transformation? Does it follow that gratitude is impotent? That is never radicalized anybody?

The Gospel of Christ, the knowledge of him and receiving of his grace is the true transformation. It is the only way to change inside or outside. And gratitude is a potent byproduct of that.

Romans tells us that the world has two big problems, it doesn’t honor God as God and it won’t give thanks to him. Gratitude is a big deal. And not as some manufactured “to do” for people who are trying to be saved. It’s also not some payback, like you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours system that Christians have going with God. We do owe him thanks. But no one wants thanks that aren’t true overflow. What we owe him can’t be given as payback. It’s got to be a real heartfelt response.

Begrudging thanks or thanks that are duty go against the spirit of gratitude, which is a spirit of overflow, of gladness, of simple gratefulness. There’s an element of spontaneity in them, of something that can’t be suppressed, it bubbles up and can’t be kept down.

That’s what thankful people are like. And what a radical thing they are in our day. Grateful people are transformed and transformative. When gratitude wells up, it kills entitlement. The spring of gratitude turns victims into whole, full people.

I’ve never seen a truly grateful person be divisive or argumentative. A heart is not made to harbor gratitude alongside sin, which is what makes it so powerful, so radical. And it’s presence can change a whole room.

So you want to see change? You want real injustice to end? You want to be radical? Ask God to open your eyes too all you have to be grateful for. And if your a Christian and belong to Christ–God has given you his Son and along with him all things. I’m pretty sure that’s enough to keep gratitude overflowing into eternity.