Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner

Thanks-giving. Yup, on everyone’s minds. I hope. I assume. But boy, oh boy, a lot of us are thinking about how much we don’t have to be thankful for these days. This holiday has always been a confusing one for me. When I was a kid, I actually thought it’d be a good idea to say what we were thankful for – I’ve always been kind of literal that way. Well, that sentiment was met with looks of resistance and sounds of disdain. So never mind, just pass the pumpkin pie. Oh that’s right, I never had pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving because no one else liked it.

But enough of my childhood woes. As I grew, I understood the holiday to be about pilgrims – and some Native Americans somewhere in the background. Thanks, traditional social studies curriculum. One year we made paper pilgrim hats and (cringe) colorful feathered headdresses, and ate turkey and stuffing off of cheap paper plates at school. Thanks classroom mothers (they were only mothers back then). In 5th grade I played the potato in the Thanksgiving Feast, a true honor. My mom fashioned a laundry basket into a paper mache costume. I could not have been less thankful as I recited my fears of being mashed, boiled, or baked.

Thanksgiving kind of fell off my radar as I got older. Family unions weren’t really a thing after a while, and when I was in my twenties in New York City who knows what I did. (Sometimes I am thankful for lost memories). But then, I had two fabulous children and believed it my duty to reenact the dinners I had witnessed on television. You bet there was pumpkin pie, thank you very much.

In our early years our family home was Kosher-vegetarian. So no giant meat item was going to grace our artisan antique table. We had fish. Delicious, stuffed fish. And all sorts of other things. And I don’t think the kids even noticed, or complained. (Though I can’t quite remember that either). I wrote a children’s story when they were in pre-school and read it to their class. It was called Fishy Turkey Day. It was about a family that celebrated Thanksgiving without the traditional bird, and probably contained a few moralistic teachings about gratitude as well. (No, the book is not available on Amazon, but I have a few of the copies I made at Alphagraphics if you’re interested). As a family, we definitely went around the table and expressed our gratitude. And I always cried, thankful that we had arrived at some semblance of a meaningful celebration. Plus I got my pie. Plus I cry at everything.

Then there’s 2020. Well, if we haven’t heard a hundred news reports, podcasts, and interviews on how to contend with the fact that folks can’t have the whole clan (not Klan, although I guess those people celebrate, too) to dinner. I’m over it. Like this is the breaking point of the pandemic for people? Not the overworked hospital workers; furloughed food service employees; Black people suffering at an excess in all ways possible; detained immigrants; unhoused humans; and all those actually mourning dead family? Sure, I am the first to say that all pain is real. We cannot always do what my dad did to us, compare our ills to nuclear war – case closed. (One more childhood woe). But at some point we have to work on the gratitude aspect of this alleged holiday.

Now for a little church. The Bible tells us, in general, that giving thanks to God is a door-opener for God’s riches. So basically, thankfulness equals opportunity for more to be thankful for. Those who consider themselves not religious, perhaps, but spiritual, would probably still agree with this tenet. So the job is to be thankful. And to be actively thankful requires opening our eyes to what we already have. Everything from shelter, to love, to a new car that finally makes its way across the George Washington Bridge (shout out!). In making this effort to be thankful we have to look around, don’t we? So it becomes a kind of eye exam, because as we look for what to be grateful for, we find more stuff to be grateful for. The gifts just start showing up because we are actually seeing them. Now some folks have to work harder than others, to be sure. But most anyone reading this probably doesn’t have to look too, too far into the distance for those gifts to be visible.

I learned a new word this week, Phariaism.* In my devotional, Jesus Calling, it defines it as, “a subtle form of idolatry; worshiping your own good works…” It’s more generally defined as being self-righteous; the Pharisees, and all, not always practicing what they preached. It might be a reach, but is there a way in which we are all worshiping our works around Thanksgiving, and not focusing on the giving-of-thanks part as much? It may be easier for someone like me who has never had a large family, everyone passing the Green Bean Fried Onion casserole from one end of the table to the other. But even if that’s usually your thing, do you have some family, someone to celebrate with this year? Food to eat at the celebration? A roof under which to eat the casserole? Well, then thanks are in order. We can bang pots and pans as long as we like, but if we forget to come inside and be in gratitude for that which surrounds us, I think we will always feel like we are missing out, that the world is against us, and that there’s no reason to push on because we can’t have it our way.

Hebrews 13 reads, “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” This doesn’t actually have the word thankful in it, but sure seems like a good formula for living a grateful life. I’m working on following it. So, thanks for reading my words. And Happy Thanks-giving.

*here’s how you say that word:

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