Thanksgiving as a Cross-Cultural Shared Meal

In undergrad, I typically posted a semester summary following each semester. Well grad school is different, and I’ve already learned a lot at this point. So here’s my semester summary.

More than my ligaments and tendons have been stretched this semester. I have had some dislocations and subluxations, but thankfully they have occurred in multiple joints. I say thankfully because if I injured the same joint repeatedly, that might make me consider another surgery. Since I’ve had fairly common injuries for my condition about once per injured joint this semester, I’m happy to announce that–unless something goes horribly wrong in the next month–I will NOT be having surgery over Christmas break.  And so I proclaim,

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

Psalm 147:1

Overall, I have done much better than I expected, health-wise. I have been able to attend all but one of my three-hour lectures. I have also been able to divide my time between my part-time job and my internship–both at different nonprofit ministries. This is how I have been stretched.

Both ministries I have worked with this semester offer services to adults with low socioeconomic status. I have been exposed to the complexities of life below the poverty line in the United States. I’ve also had the privilege to get to know the individuals to whom we offer services.

My favorite memory of this semester occurred while I was sitting in my car by myself. I was parked in front of the ministry where I intern, which is just a block away from where I work. Context: This is not the nicest neighborhood. As I was waiting for my supervisor to arrive, I watched two men walk by on opposite sides of the road. It turned out that I knew both of them; each was from one of the nonprofits I work with.

A year ago, if I had been parked in this neighborhood by myself and I watched two men walk by, I would not have been tempted to wave them down and yell out their names. But I know their names. I know them. I know that one likes to listen to Mariah Carey, and the other one likes anything chocolate. I know some of the health challenges of each. I know the source of community for each.

People who I previously would have avoided are now people whom I love in Christ dearly.  I’ve also grown in my understanding of God’s character, in relation to the oppressed: The LORD has loved them all along.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

Psalm 147:2

At times, empathy for those whom I know in poverty has been overwhelming. The suffering that others endure makes me angry for their sake.

Perhaps the situation that caused me the most distress this semester was witnessing others’ suffering that resulted from poor decisions. I questioned how God could allow people to make poor decisions that drastically affect their lives and the lives of others. In response, He showed me the emptiness and brokenness they experienced that led to the decision to seek fulfillment apart from Him.

Whether we seek fulfillment in Him or not, God still cares. Whether self-inflicting wounds or not, the LORD heals.

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

Another common attitude I’ve observed is the desire to be known through altering one’s identity. Succumbing to the expectations of others or of oneself suggests the need to be seen and understood.

I’ve started reading the book God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker. At the beginning of this book, Walker explains that human beings are worth more than the sum of our parts. While we might view ourselves, or others might view us, in a critical light that exposes our imperfections, the LORD knows who we truly are and does not compartmentalize our imperfections; if the LORD knows the name of each star He created, He must know us and value us fully, completely, and perfectly.

He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.

Psalm 147:4

A number of the adults I have had the privilege of working with have tested at a level that identifies them as functionally illiterate. This makes filling out job applications, filling out medical paperwork, and participating in elections extremely difficult and, undoubtedly, discouraging. Part of my job requires providing guidance and encouragement to adults who have higher literacy scores and are preparing to take the GED test. For many of them, I know that this process of preparation is frustrating. Learning disabilities provide obstacles to understanding or retaining material. Yet with diligence, these students persist.

When I can’t understand why the LORD would inhibit someone’s ability to comprehend through learning disabilities, He is able to understand our needs better than we can.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

Psalm 147:5

As I’ve studied Social Work Policy this semester, I’ve realized that, in many cases, an outside source of authority is the root of oppression that groups experience. I am angry that much oppression that is experienced today is the result of past oppression; poverty is a cycle that cannot easily be broken. I imagine that those who are caught in the cycle of poverty at times feel hopeless in the effort to break the cycle.

Those who are oppressed by authoritative individuals, institutions, or even ideologies experience humility, with which our Savior is very familiar. Due to Jesus’ experience with unfair trials, the LORD knows the pain of unjust government decisions more than anyone else; therefore, the LORD will take action to restore the oppressed and remind them of their innate dignity.

The Lord lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

Psalm 147:6

Listed in brackets are fairly common characteristics I have observed in the people I have encountered in the past few months. These are the promises my God offers those who accept His free gift of grace. I am praying that, if these people have not already, they would receive Jesus’ gift of salvation and partake of these blessings:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

[those who are depressed because of the hopelessness they feel when their Social Security benefits aren’t enough]

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn,

[those who have become disabled and mourn their able-bodied past]

for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek,

[those who have experienced so much trauma that they refuse to speak to new people]

for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

[those with food insecurity who declare the LORD’s praises amidst their suffering]

for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful,

[those who reconcile their relationships with their abusive parents upon being released from jail]

for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart,

[those with intellectual disabilities who bring joy to everyone they encounter]

for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,

[those who are grandparents raising their grandchildren, in order to keep peace with their children]

for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

[those whose family members will not speak with them because they do not want to hear the gospel declared]

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3-10

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul instructs believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” While it is difficult to be thankful for the extent of suffering I have witnessed in the lives of others, I am thankful for the hope that is offered to the oppressed through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
    make melody to our God on the lyre!

Psalm 147:7

This past Sunday, I heard a sermon that included a refresher on the history of Thanksgiving. This was the first occasion that I realized that Thanksgiving was a meal shared by the oppressed and the oppressors; each year, we celebrate an event of unity between different races, religions, ways of life.
Takeaway: Get to know those who feel oppressed by society. (Side note: You don’t get to determine whether someone has or has not experienced oppression.) Listen to their stories. Share a meal! Individuals with different backgrounds than you have a lot to bring to the table.