On Thanksgiving

I have to say that Thanksgiving tends to make me queasy. Not in the sense of “I’ve eaten more than my jeans can bear and now expect to spend the day re-experiencing everything that has gone in my mouth,” but in the piety it seems to bring out in so many of us and the folks that it forgets. I am thankful, certainly, for so many things in my life: a home, people close who care about me, the cats who give me such joy, the awareness that I can be happy again in the post-divorce years of my life. There’s a lot to be said for daily contentment.

Maybe the discontent is more in the question of “to whom shall I give thanks?” If you know me, you know that I try to stay close to God, and am open to the variety of ways that people connect with the Divine. So, does God, or the universe, afford me such things? Why me?

I also can’t forget that every other Thanksgiving we are living in the wake of (reveling in? mourning?) an American election season. A biennial event in which poverty rarely gets even a mention. Giving thanks in those years seems especially self-absorbed. Shall I sit at an overflowing table and thank God for all the abundance? Or shall I be honest and offer thanks for the migrants (with and without documented work status) who harvest, the working poor who staff the grocery check stands, the nameless foreign women and children who deaden their fingers with sewing machines and scar their feet plundering landfills? Where do those inexpensive home-décor items originate?

Thanksgiving seems to make us want to share, to feel good about offering our leftovers to some “poor unfortunate,” while forgetting our complicity in his or her misfortune. Counting our blessings seems careless, thoughtless. Like the woman, as it was told to me, thankful that her beach mansion had survived the recent hurricane who was moved to proclaim that prayer worked. How short a line is it from that understanding of prayer and thanksgiving to the idea that God must love me best to bless me so? And must therefore love others less. It’s a problem for me. A theological problem, but also a bit of daily discord.

The gift of Thanksgiving as a national holiday is its reminder that we are not alone.  We may gather with family and friends – at least that’s what we’re told is normal and traditional – but beyond those we see, or those to whom we may offer our leftovers, there is a world full of people whose contributions make our days what they are.  What does it mean to be thankful when I know the cost borne by so many?

You see why this makes me uncomfortable. I wish for you all an equally queasy Thanksgiving.  And I welcome your thoughts.

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About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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