The OT lesson for Thanksgiving Day this year is from Deuteronomy 26: 1-11. Before you write this off as another boring, dusty, irrelevant text, take a brief moment to read it here.
In a season where my tradition has alienated almost everyone, I am especially reminded of the biblical mandate for welcoming, caring for, and loving the “aliens” among us. We might be distracted by the seemingly legalistic approach to remembering God’s providence in this text, but if we look at verse 11, we see a beautiful picture of community.
Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
In her commentary on this text, Esther Menn allows us to enter into Israel’s memory and understand the importance of this command. (You can read the entire commentary here. It is very good.)
The memory of being landless and vulnerable, preserved here as well as in the longer liturgical recitation in Deuteronomy 26:5-10, cultivates an ethic of empathy as the basis for including those currently landless and vulnerable. God’s inclusive generosity embraces us all, to be experienced again and again as together we share bread, wine, food, and everything else that supports and enhances life.
Empathy. It’s hard. And it’s messy. And it takes a lot of effort. And we usually don’t get it just right. But here in ancient Israel we see the God of the universe creating space for the most vulnerable people among God’s own, already very vulnerable people.
We cannot practice empathy if we are not willing to remember our own vulnerability. The precariousness of the human condition allows only for the illusion of security, even for the most established and accomplished among us. The school bus accident in Chattanooga, reported by CNN here, is a terrifying reminder that life is so very precious, and yet, so very fragile.
We cannot practice empathy if we are not willing to give up power. This is mostly for my evangelical friends. Our most sincere efforts of inclusion will not have any impact unless we are actually willing to make space for someone else’s story to be true. This might seem like a strange thing to say, but we need to understand that our worldview is not the only one. Our experiences are not the litmus test by which all other experiences are validated.
“I haven’t seen any racism since the election.”
“I have heard black people speak in support of Trump.”
These are examples of writing off other worldviews and experiences because they don’t align with our own. We need to stop doing this if we hope to create a truly inclusive community.
The overwhelming support evangelicals have shown for Trump looks a lot like grasping for more power instead of practicing empathy. The fact that so many evangelicals cannot understand why their support of Trump is so disappointing is strong evidence to this point. If we don’t understand why so many of the most vulnerable people among us are concerned, worried, or scared, then we haven’t created enough space in our worldview to listen. Not really.
And if we can’t listen to everyone, how can we honestly invite everyone to the table? In remembering God’s faithfulness and generosity to us, should we not extend it to each other in the same way?