A year ago I was sitting at the table in between the first round of food and pie while family had drifted to various places, some watching football; others planning the next day at the mall. I sat across from my cousin and his eight year old son as he asked me what I was up to. At the time I was interning for International Justice Mission (IJM) and learned that telling people about what I did generally received a “Huh? Well good for you," response and a quick escape. Instead of answering, I showed him IJM's new awareness video. It happened to be about little boys in Africa living as slaves on Lake Volta. The irony was not lost on him or me as his little son played near by and we soon dove into what some would say is too weighty or depressing a topic for a holiday. But I think it's quite the opposite, and I think the first Thanksgiving points to why.
There’s a good chance you know the popular version of the first Thanksgiving story. You may have even donned some type of feather construction paper hat and sang some silly songs at a school play a time or two. We all know the story: the Pilgrims arrive, longing for a better life, while the Indians simply wanted the life they already had. We recall cartoon drawings of the first, overflowing harvest and a man named Squanto who bridged the divide between the English men and the local Indians. Story goes that the Pilgrims were so grateful for the bounty that they wanted to share it with the Indians and invited them to come to the table together and give thanks for their many blessings.
However we know that the first Thanksgiving was not the joyous, calm, unity evoking scenario or setting we see displayed by first graders at the school play. There more than likely was deep seated hatred, wrongs committed, lines crossed, confusion present and a longing for the way things used to be. Despite this, a table was set, food was shared, and there was a time of thanks.
And isn't that what justice is all about? A coming together to usher in right where wrong lives? To level the playing field, to give voice to those who have been oppressed and to live out the values that God so desires for His people and this world. Doing justice can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Even just those descriptive phrases can leave a person frozen in fear and ultimately doing nothing. What if we can learn the basics of doing justice from the first Thanksgiving? So when wrongs have been committed, lines have been crossed and land has even been stolen, perhaps the first step towards restoration is to set a table. No, sharing a meal is not going to end slavery, or any other injustice, but don't we just need a place to start? How often do we learn about injustices issues and think that there's nothing we can possibly do to address the complexities of the issue? But what if we all could set the table for a conversation? Maybe this Thanksgiving while your family and friends are gathered you can start the conversation, you can set the table for justice.
This Thanksgiving let's do justice with honor and dignity. Maybe that looks like shaking the hand of someone on the street and asking them to lunch to hear their story. Maybe it is being intentional with the people who surround your family’s table and using that time to highlight issues of injustice around the world. Perhaps it is inviting someone from your church who doesn't have a place to call home over for Thanksgiving and setting the table as big and beautiful as ever. Maybe this Thanksgiving your family can write personal cards to girls in your local human trafficking shelter.
Who can you give a seat at the table to this Thanksgiving? How can you set the table for a conversation about justice?
-Kelsie Doan recently completed an internship at International Justice Mission in Washington, D.C., and is currently pursuing a MA in Intercultural Studies and Children at Risk at Fuller Theological Seminary in Arizona