This morning, I had a phone call with two friends of mine. We met during the summer of 2020 in an online class designed for white people to reckon with the realities of racism in our country both systemic and personal, and we have stayed in touch ever since.
These two friends aren’t like any other friends I have. They aren’t particularly religious, though they are always interested in my perspective as someone who is. They are profoundly political, but not affiliated with a particular party. Our main commonality is a desire to stay involved and invested in this work of antiracism, and a realization that it starts at home: with our individual thoughts and attitudes and willingness to talk about what we’re learning and do something with it.
So far, our conversations have involved a lot of abstract ideas, a lot of big-picture reflections on what we see going on around us, and some laments about it. But not much that’s really practical and immediate. And thus, not a lot that we disagree strongly on.
Today, I think we found a point where we really differ, on the topic of Thanksgiving.
One of my friends steadfastly refuses to celebrate. She has indigenous friends who will be grieving on Thursday, and given both the historic and ongoing oppression of indigenous peoples in America and around the world, doesn’t feel she can in good conscience have a celebratory meal.
I, on the other hand, am celebrating. I mentioned that recently the Evanston Public Library came out with a beautiful land acknowledgement (read more here) that I intend to share at my table. And that I hope to find a way to make this day more about receiving God’s blessings and being thankful for them, than a story about happy pilgrim and native American relationships. But I’m making a turkey, and the sides, and pie, and I’ll eat them with friends and be pretty glad about it.
Still, she challenged me to think about whether this was possible. Can we still celebrate, while people are suffering? Can we sit down to tables that are filled while others go hungry?
The truth is, I don’t know.
I said something about redemption – about the work that God does out of tragedy, taking a thing that seems beyond hope, and offering some grace or healing or wisdom to come out of it. And that maybe we can find some redemption in our current treatment of the Thanksgiving holiday. That it can give us an opportunity to think about what we’re doing to create a land where all can flourish, and all have enough. That we can reckon with our past and imagine a different future and then start working towards it.
I believe firmly in redemption. But I also firmly believe that God is the initiator of it. God desires our help, sure, but we can’t redeem on our own.
So I’m still undecided. Can we celebrate Thanksgiving? I want to try to. To find space at my table for the grief of the day, and for the gift of it. For the people who suffered as this country was founded and grew, and for the lives who have benefited from America’s opportunities and possibilities. For the food that we are blessed to eat, and for the knowledge that the people who grew and gathered it may have a hard time making a living wage.
For both lament and hope.
I think that’s what the gospel calls us to. I think it’s possible, although difficult.
And I just hope that we are setting tables this week, and always, that are big enough to hold space for all of that.