Thanksgiving in Troubling Times

From both personal conversations and following numerous online conversations, I sense there are many who are deeply troubled by our recent elections–many by the tenor of these elections, some by the outcome, and still others by violent protests by some, and verbal, and sometimes physical attacks on people of color, immigrants, LGBT persons, and those who voted for the President-elect.

As one who ordinarily (sometimes to the annoyance of some family members!) enjoys political conversation, I sense this is a Thanksgiving where it would be well to leave this at the door. I’m just not sure what can be added to the interminable conversation of this past year except to give people indigestion. I’m not proposing Thanksgiving escapism, or dismissing the importance of the continuing concerns people have. It is simply that “to everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) and this is a season for thanksgiving, first of all to the host or whoever has provided the food and space to enjoy a meal together, and for the others gathered around. Anything else is just bad manners.

Beyond this, a few thoughts:

  • Take a social media and news media break. Anything really important will still be around on Monday, and you might have a better sense of proportion to engage it. And as compelling as your insights are to you, it probably has been said.
  • If you are hosting a gathering, you might find some humorous ways to let people know this is a “no politics zone.” Like signs, or the threat that there are no seconds on Mom’s famous recipe stuffing for anyone who talks politics.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not bring your cell phone to the dinner table! Put it on mute and check it only when you are not with real, physical people.
  • Focus on the real people in your life this weekend and the ties that bind you together. True, you may not agree on everything, and sometimes you annoy the heck out of each other. As a mental exercise, try to think of something about that person for which you can give thanks. Try real hard. Working those thankfulness muscles will put you in better condition to do the same for those out there we have to share the same country with.
  • Take time to savor the meal. Silently give thanks for each dish and verbally praise the one who made it. We rush through most dinners. This is one to savor, to enjoy good conversation as we move from appetizers to salads to main courses to desserts. Think of the time it takes to prepare this meal. It shouldn’t be all done in an hour.

It seems to me that it is actually quite a good thing that we have a day dedicated to giving thanks. From the Christian scriptures, the Apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV). Reflecting on, as some families do around the table, what each person is thankful for from the past year is a good exercise. Some have taken it further and come up with a “Thirty Days of Thankfulness” challenge. It may be that it is good to end the day thinking of at least one thing we may give thanks for in each day.

Underlying this is an assumption about the way the world is. Thankfulness assumes that no matter how bad things may seem, goodness wins out in the end. Actually even our complaints about what we think is wrong assumes that there is something that is better, some way that things ought to be. As the old proverb goes, “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Perhaps that could be a good accompaniment to “thanks-sharing” around the table, a beautiful way to begin or end a special meal.

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