Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Vulnerability-forgiveness-Lent

Loving our enemies

The perfection of brotherly love lies in the love of one’s enemies –Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot

In college, my Christology professor asked the class, “Do you think you will see Hitler in heaven?”

It was a trick question, but a number of my fellow students fell for it. “No,” they shouted, indignant that he would suggest something so horrific.

“But what if Hitler, at the very end of his life, repented?” the professor asked.

Hmm.

If God is love (1 John 4:8), then God’s mercy is limitless and certainly not constrained by our sense of who is deserving of God’s love and who is not. No matter how heinous someone’s crimes were, there is always the opportunity to repent and receive God’s mercy.Vulnerability-forgiveness-Lent“Who could listen to that wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakable serenity—Father, forgive them—and hesitate to embrace his enemies with overflowing love?” (Mirror of Love by Saint Aelred, abbot.) I think Saint Aelred was onto something when he encouraged his brothers to look at how Jesus forgave those who put him to death.The very night that Jesus was betrayed, he gave thanks—and the next day, he asked God to forgive those who did him harm.

Being grateful and forgiving in the face of betrayal might seem to be the kind of thing only the Son of God could do, but…

Who of us does not want to be forgiven when we betray someone we love? When we make a poor decision that has unintended negative consequences? Who of us wants to be separated from our communities? Unforgiven? Unforgivable?Vulnerability-forgiveness-LentI can tend to be more like Jonah than Jesus—wanting God to carry out his threats of punishment on people who are living in sin. Jonah was angry at God for relenting in his promised punishment of the people of Ninevah.  He felt betrayed by God; he was humiliated and he sulked. But he did not die from any of that.

Vulnerability-forgiveness-Lent
Pamela Holderman

I wonder if Jonah ever came to a place where he gave thanks for God’s mercy. I wonder if he ever came to see his own betraying ways and was grateful that our God is merciful to everyone.

When Jesus was betrayed, it literally cost him his life, which makes my having been betrayed pale in comparison. I survived the times I have been betrayed and maybe even grew from them.

Lent invites me to reflect on my attitudes toward forgiveness.

Thinking of how quickly Jesus was able to let go of being betrayed, of how he could give thanks when he knew he was on his way to the cross, invites me to do the same—to turn around and give thanks and blessing when I have been hurt.

I imagine that Jesus had spent his life being grateful and forgiving—he had been practicing. The invitation to me is to practice letting go of betrayals, hurts and disappointments and readjusting my expectations of myself and others.

 

 

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advent-God-vulnerability

Open to the unexpected

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My father could be quite the bigot. He thought that anyone who was not Polish was somehow less than. My grandparents all came from Poland, and in my dad’s eyes, Poles were a superior race. He could go on and on about the inferiority of other races—Italians, Irish, etc.

But his two closest friends were Irish and Italian. How did he reconcile that?

When he was disparaging people from Ireland and Italy and I would ask about his friends, he would say, “That’s different.”

He felt similarly about people of African descent. But, when he was much friendlier with our new African-American neighbor than he had ever been with our old Polish neighbor, I asked how that made sense to him.

“That’s different,” he said.

My father could differentiate good people from bad—despite race or ethnic heritage. Our old neighbor, the Polish guy, was not a very nice man. He was the kind of person who yelled at kids playing in the field next to his house, the kind of man our mother told us to avoid.

Our new neighbor, the African-American guy, was the opposite.

Skin color and ethnic heritage had nothing to do with it. The same was true for my dad’s close friends. Because he saw them as individuals, their ancestry did not get in the way of their friendships.

Jesus healing the ten lepers and the one foreigner who came back to give thanks reminds me of my dad’s biases.

I can imagine this scenario today with a Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister, Rabbi, Imam or any other religious leader, healing ten people—nine of whom are from their religious tradition and one is a foreigner—an outsider, someone who is seen as other than, perhaps from some demonized group. And only that foreigner, that one who is thought of as less than, comes back to say thanks.

We can get caught up in believing we know how people will act and react based on some preconceived notions. We can rationalize our prejudices and excuse ourselves when we condemn whole groups of people.

During Advent, we reflect on Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist—Biblical characters who could easily be looked down upon and judged as less than because of their life circumstances or ethnic background.

Mary was an unwed, pregnant teen. John the Baptist lived in the desert and proclaimed a radical message. Mary and Joseph were relegated to sleeping among the animals.

Yet, we celebrate John the Baptist for speaking truth to power. But today, people who do the same are likely to be castigated. Pregnant teens, homeless people and refugees are more often thought of as problems to be solved than people we can learn from. We can use the word foreigner as an slur.

Jesus challenges our preconceived notions and invites us to be open to and surprised by the unexpected.

And as my dad’s experiences taught me, moving past biases opens the door to unexpected relationships that make life richer. advent-God-vulnerability

gratitude-thanksgiving

Giving thanks

For seven years, I was the director of an adult literacy program in suburban Philadelphia. Immigrants from many countries filled our English as a Second Language classes, but most of the students in our family literacy program were from South Korea.

As part of this program, we hosted an American Thanksgiving dinner each year. It was a way to introduce immigrants to this cultural holiday and teach them some of our customs, including the foods we traditionally eat on Thanksgiving. Our staff prepared most of the food, but students were given recipes for side dishes and invited to contribute if they wanted.

Invariably, a few of the students would bring dishes from their culture, and we would include the kimchi and rice in our Thanksgiving meal.

Our guests at the literacy council Thanksgiving dinners would gingerly try bites of turkey and cranberry sauce, and I loved watching them register the different tastes and textures. Food is an important part of any culture, and this dinner was a wonderful opportunity for people to try something new.

I wished my parents had attended such a class.

Growing up, we never had turkey for Thanksgiving; apparently turkeys were not available in Poland. We had ham or kielbasa or stuffed cabbage and a duck soup that I fear most Americans would not even try. Mashed potatoes were probably the only thing our Thanksgiving dinners had in common with the rest of America.

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My mother did not care when I came home from school excited about traditional Thanksgiving dinners; she had never cooked a turkey and did not see the need for it.

Being thankful was what the holiday was about to her, and I could see her point. But I always felt a bit odd when kids talked about turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce—and I had nothing to contribute.

I have since come to understand that while we tend to think of one “traditional” American Thanksgiving dinner, the truth is that people in different regions of the country and from different ethnic backgrounds personalize Thanksgiving dinner. A simple Google search of “turkey stuffing” brings up hundreds of different recipes.

Merging cultures is part of the American tradition, and kimchi would have been as foreign to our Thanksgiving dinners growing up as the creamed onions I once had at a friend’s home in suburban Philadelphia or the Southern cornbread stuffing I was served in Virginia.

Recalling all those dinners this Thanksgiving made me think of the ways Americans can segregate ourselves into groups that reinforce our beliefs and allow us to stay in our comfort zones. We can tell ourselves that the Norman Rockwell portrait of a Thanksgiving dinner is the only true portrait, but that is just not true. Our country is made up of people from many different cultures and the blending of those cultures makes our country unique.

Honoring our heritage is important, but moving beyond our comfort zones makes life more interesting. Maybe it is time to try some kimchi.

Serving those who serve

Last February, when a friend started a year-long assignment working with the Marines in Okinawa, Japan, we started talking about my visiting her. In June, I purchased my ticket to fly to Okinawa for Thanksgiving.

I live in an area with a relatively low concentration of military personnel, but once I started thinking of this trip I began to notice people in uniform.

A recent work meeting at a local restaurant started with my colleague whispering something to the server. I didn’t pay too much attention to this exchange until a little later, when a man in uniform came to our table and said, “Thank you, sir.”

My colleague replied, “Thank you for your service.” He had quietly picked up the tab for this serviceman. Tears filled my eyes. My father was a veteran, as is my older brother. I grew up during the Vietnam War, and I knew people who served. Military service can be an emotional subject for me.

A few weeks before my scheduled trip to Okinawa, my friend called and asked if I wanted to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to the Marines on her base. “Heck, yeah,” I replied with unbridled enthusiasm. She signed us up for an afternoon of serving.

Camp Hansen is home to thousands of Marines on Okinawa. My friend’s unit has something to do with artillery, but I was not interested in the details of their work. I only wanted to serve those who are serving. I wanted to say “thank you” as my colleague had done at that restaurant.

The Thanksgiving feast was held at the USO on base, where long tables were set with platters of turkey and a variety of side dishes. Different parts of the States were represented in dishes like green beans with chunks of pork, macaroni and cheese, and Jello salad—plus the usual mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and rolls. A steady stream of Marines came through the line and we exchanged Happy Thanksgiving wishes as we served.

At one point, a young Marine came to our side of the table to serve. He stood beside me, ramrod straight, and dished out turkey to his fellow Marines. During a lull in serving, I tried to engage him in conversation by asking about the basketball game playing on a television across the hall. “I don’t really like basketball, ma’am,” he said.

“What sports do you like?” I asked.

“Football and hockey, ma’am.”

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Buffalo, ma’am.”

“I am from Detroit,” I said. “I think your football team played in Detroit this week because of the snow.”

He said, “Yes, ma’am,” but something had changed. His eyes sparkled and he was smiling; he had softened, as if had stepped out of his formal Marine persona and into his sports-loving self.

With great enthusiasm, he went on to tell me he had watched the game and how his team had painted our field and beat the New York Jets—a double victory in his eyes.

At that moment, I wanted to call his mother and tell her that her son was ok, that he was still watching his beloved sports teams and hoping for winning seasons—that he still loved what he loved.

I don’t expect the Marines I served to remember me, but I will long remember them and this unique opportunity to say “thanks.