Learning to give thanks can be a slippery slope
Written by Farley Maxwell
Once, as a pastor, I blessed a pig. Actually, it was more of a squirming piglet. The children of the church school had raised enough money to send a high quality pig as breeding stock to a third world country through Heifer Project International. The "blessing" was a symbolic send-off.
A photo of the piglet blessing appeared in the local newspaper and I got some crank phone calls. Some of the callers raised good questions, but I didn't tell them so. Once you start blessing pigs, it's a slippery slope. Once you start to slide, soon—like St. Francis—you can find yourself blessing almost anything.
In my eyes, it was not really a pig blessing. I honored the child-ren's purpose, their work and vision. I was lifting up before God and the congregation the generosity of their hearts.
Now as a confessed pig blesser, I am in Nepal, where I work as a missionary with the Global Ministries of the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In Nepal during the fall harvest festivals, the people feel blessed. The monsoons are over and the rice harvest beings. It is a happy time of family reunions, gift giving and feasting. Urban neighborhood and rural village groups erect tall bamboo swings on which children fly skyward. The Nepali people share a rich mixture of religious traditions, with a strong Hindu core. They acknowledge with thanks a wide variety of divine sources.
Then comes the blessing. As the festival days proceed, cows, dogs and crows are blessed. The cows and dogs have garlands of marigolds draped around their necks. The crows get special food offerings left near safe perches. No dodging trucks to eat road kill on that day! Burros and water buffaloes are blessed as thanks for their labor. In recent years, working machines also have been included. My landlord blesses the motorcycle on which he rides to work every day. Taxi and freight truck drivers drape their machines with rope length garlands of marigolds.
Imagine, blessing crows, motorcycles and freight trucks. Where does it stop? Wasn't that just the kind of thing that those crank callers in Portland, Ore., were trying to warn me about? In America, we have our share of evil practices and dangerous cults. To my eyes, some of the particular traditions of Nepal seem strange.
But it is not for a foreign guest to tell Nepalis how to be thankful. I need to see through the rites. I need to join them in honoring the thankfulness of their hearts. God has prepared a table for 22 million Nepali brothers and sisters and they have invited me. May our cups of blessing overflow.
Before moving to Nepal, the Rev. Farley Maxwell served as pastor of First Congregational UCC in Vancouver, Wash.