Back in the mid-1950s, Dwight Crandell was assigned to prepare a geologic map of the Puget Sound lowlands southeast of Seattle. The region is characterized by broad, level river valleys separated by forested ridges. Conventional wisdom interpreted these valleys as glacial in origin, deposited during colder periods from glaciers that had since retreated to the heights of Mount Rainier. What Crandell began to find, though, was a different story, one that was much more violent and disturbing.

Gratitude is a primary theme in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul repeatedly encourages the little church there to express thanksgiving, and he’s clear in his example: “In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Paul certainly had a clear idea that gratitude was important, but he’s not alone in this assessment. In 54 BC, the Roman orator and author Cicero said: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged us to “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Meister Eckhart, the 13th century theologian and mystic, famously said, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.

The men stacked rocks to make a crude rectangular windbreak, and then turned their longboat upside down on top to create a roof for their shelter. This shelter became home for the men of the Greely Expedition during the winter of 1883-84. Lieutenant Adolphus W. Greely and his 24 men had abandoned their camp on the shore of Lady Franklin Bay, on the north-eastern coast of Ellesmere Island, and traveled by boat and ice floe to Cape Sabine, where they hoped to find a cache of supplies. Tragically, they only found a few weeks of food, and a note detailing the failed attempts to reach them. One by one, the members of the expedition succumbed to the elements and their own hunger, leaving only seven of the original team to be rescued the following spring. They had been trapped in the Arctic for three and a half years.

Words can be tricky things. Over the past few weeks—months, really—it’s become increasingly clear to me that our words don’t always mean what we want them to mean. When I was doing carpentry work, I put things together with wood and glue and nails, and there was an appropriate way to do each project—the appropriate wood, the appropriate fastener, and so on. Plywood worked well in some settings, solid wood in others. Framing nails were needed for one job, and finish brads for another. Sometimes we’d try to get by with material or fasteners that weren’t quite right, and the results were usually less than the best, and we’d have to go back and do it right.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to share this week. When I was in Atlanta for an Urban Ministries class last January, our conversations were understandably laced with the language of racial injustice. We had the opportunity to visit Martin Luther King Jr’s old church, and the National Historic Park associated with his civil rights work. In Atlanta; with its history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and red-lining policies that prevented black Americans from purchasing homes; racism inevitably falls along certain lines. The city of Atlanta, along with many regions of the American South, has engaged in a centuries-long struggle to become what Martin Luther King Jr envisioned as “The Beloved Community,” in which—as he famously stated in his “I Have A Dream” speech—people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”