One of the joys of living in Winnipeg is watching my daughters raise their own kids. It's payback time! It has been observed that it takes children longer to learn how to say “thank you” than many other social skills. And in our 21st-century Canadian culture, it has become a difficult task. For this reason I have found myself thinking about the Army's eighth doctrine and its contribution to gratitude: “We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.”

If parents have always had a hard time teaching children to say “thanks,” there are factors making that task much harder today. We express gratitude most often in response to a gift. And yet the very notion of a gift is at risk in our culture. In his book What Money Can't Buy, American author Michael Sandel has observed that almost everything is up for sale. From naming rights of football stadiums to standing in line in amusement parks, from paying children to read books to offering a womb to give birth to a child, we live at a time when virtually all goods and services can be bought and sold. In his words, we have “drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” His concern, and I share it, is that “some things in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities.” One of the things lost in a market society is the notion of gift, and with it the loss of gratitude.

Salvation Army core convictions cut across the grain of a consumer society. At the heart of a Salvationist's life is a conviction about grace. God's grace. This eighth doctrine places grace as the bedrock for all of our convictions about Christian salvation. It springs from the Apostle Paul's argument, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8 NRSV). Christian salvation is huge, immense. It includes a new relationship with God through the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. We are saved: that is, we are justified, reconciled, redeemed, forgiven, adopted and more. It also includes the empowerment to live out this new relationship: eternal life, regeneration, new birth and participation in the divine nature. Because all of this is completely undeserved, it is a gift received by faith. It's no accident that the Apostle Paul breaks out with gratitude in one of his letters: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NRSV).

When I look back on my youth, I am conscious of the gifts I received within The Salvation Army. People gave up a week's vacation to instruct me at music camps. Some cared enough about the next generation to give leadership in our congregation, and others risked their own reputations to publish my writing. I have received many gifts within this expression of faith.

I have also been privileged to grow up in Canada. It has a flawed history, but this nation has gifted me with privileges unmatched in other parts of the world. Last summer, my wife, Cathie, and I travelled to Celtic lands on the other side of the Atlantic. We joined Americans on a ship that took us to the beaches of Normandy during the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The Americans went to Omaha Beach; the 15 Canadians went to Juno Beach. We walked quietly in the light rain among the headstones of the well-kept Canadian cemetery. Stories were shared and tears flowed. We went down to the beach, and I stood there imagining what it must have been like for soldiers on both sides of the conflict to face the horrors of that moment.

Hours later, our ship turned around in the River Orne and proceeded back to the English Channel. As we got to Pegasus Bridge, we noticed a large crowd gathering. They knew our ship was comprised of Canadians and Americans, so they came to the river to express gratitude. Above the applause, one woman's voice could be heard: “Thank you, Canada!” I was deeply humbled and deeply grateful.

Martin Luther spoke of worship as the 10th leper returning to give thanks (see Luke 17:11-19). Worship that cultivates gratitude is deeply needed in our day.

Major Ray Harris is a retired Salvation Army officer. He lives in Winnipeg where he awaits Groundhog Day's verdict on winter.

Convictions Matter, Major Ray Harris' book, is available at, 416-422-6100, For the e-book, visit

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