Being Thankful Without Affirming Privilege

“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly” (Isaiah 58:3-8)

When we sit down at the Thanksgiving table this month with our loved ones and consider for what we are thankful, let us be mindful of how we received those things.

In many religions and faiths, it is customary to take time to thank God or some force greater than ourselves for the ways in which we have been blessed. Often around Thanksgiving and November, we embrace the harvest festival spirit of religions past and present to give thanks.

In the text above taken from Isaiah, used often by both Christians and Jews, we find that God is not pleased by the ritual of giving thanks in and of itself. When the ritual is an empty, pious act done in self-interest, God is not pleased.

Because I am white, middle-class, Protestant, and heterosexual, much of what has brought me to the place I stand today is privilege. I must own this. I could sit and give thanks on Thanksgiving to God for bringing me to where I am today. I could claim that God had blessed me with these things because of God’s favor for me, but I would be ignoring the fact that much of what I have comes from privilege. What I have gained, someone else has been denied. To ignore this fact and claim that it has all come from God’s favor in my act of giving thanks is an affront to God.

Instead, how in giving thanks this month can we practice the “fast“ or ritual God chooses ?

“to loose the bonds of injustice,to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,”

Instead of gorging myself with food, might I consider volunteering with a group that helps the food-insecure? As I acknowledge the food that is on the table, I should also acknowledge the role an unfair system has played in bringing me to this place of abundance. Before or after the meal, I could write letters to Congress to confront this system. (Bread for the World, for example, has resources to do this)

Addressing privilege at the Thanksgiving table may seem uncomfortable, but maybe uncomfortable conversations are necessary.

In writing about the passage above, Old Testament Scholars Louis Stulman and Hyun Chul Paul Kim write, “Hope not only confronts and consoles the afflicted; it also afflicts the comfortable… for hope to be more than a word, it must find concrete expression in access, acceptance, economic justice, and hospitality[1]

The start of this conversation I have suggested is meager at best. This is a conversation that must be started though.

What are other ways we might confront our privileges in the process of giving thanks? My reasoning and examples come from my Christian background. What are some examples from other faiths that could add to this discussion?


Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Stulman, Louis, and Hyun Chul Paul Kim. You Are My People: An Introduction to Prophetic Literature. Nashville: Abingdon, 2010. Print.


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