How to survive talking to your relatives at Thanksgiving

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It wasn’t long after the turkey had been sliced and the dressing dished up, after everyone was seated and happy, that someone brought up politics. Here we go, I thought. On the 10-hour car ride over for this annual ritual, we discussed how to avoid such arguments. Apparently others did not have that conversation. To make matters worse, my nephew was wearing a T-shirt that was a clear act of (albeit playful) aggression, waiting to gauge our reaction. I believe this type of provocation happens because we see each other infrequently, we know we have differences, and we’re trying to have real, if unproductive, conversations. 

We decided not to take the bait. The pecan pie was passed, and we survived without incident.

Our family loves one another and would come running in a crisis. But for reasons we will understand only when we get to heaven, God has knit us together as a biological family with a myriad of deep differences. 

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We’re a microcosm of the tribalism pervasive in America. Tribalism causes us to be prize to those who agree with us and despise those who disagree with us. Sectarian tendencies demonize those who see things differently. The result is that we don’t know how to talk anymore.

Into such a setting — with intense religious and social division — Jesus called people to love their enemies. The word enemy means “someone who is out of step with you.” It’s someone who sees things in a different way, walks in a way that may be offensive, or even chooses to harm you.

So what if you’re out of step with someone in your own family? What would Jesus say about this?

First, I believe that he would urge us to stay at the table. Don’t return offense for offense. (Luke 6:28) Ask questions rather than defending your position. Seek understanding. Don’t cut off the relationship over transitory differences. You showed up or even organized the meal, which means that you’re still hungry for some kind of relationship.

Second, I believe he would tell us to not be afraid. (Mark 5:36) I chose to ignore the T-shirt, but you may choose differently. Don’t be afraid to speak. If you must speak, speak with love, from your own experience. Don’t expect to change anyone’s mind in an hour. If you believe in prayer, pray before the meal. There’s wisdom in prayer.

Third, I believe that he would call us to check our tribalism. Everyone matters. God loves the whole world. (John 3:16) Our allegiances to parties and ideas may be important, but none so important as to allow us to debase another human being.

When Jesus talked about heaven, he didn’t talk about streets of gold or harps. He said heaven would be like a big table, where everyone was welcome and had a place. 

Our earthly Thanksgiving tables can be a little slice of heaven or a little slice of hell. We can decide what’s served up.

Brent McDougal  is pastor of Cliff Temple Baptist Church. The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.

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