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Yes, Charlie Kirk, we can be thankful for an imperfect America this Thanksgiving

We can be both thankful for what America is … and impatiently hopeful for what America could be.

Thanksgiving meals will be different for many people in 2020. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — This week Charlie Kirk, the conservative commentator, riled up the internet when he said on his radio show that the political left hates Thanksgiving. “This isn’t some conspiracy theory,” he said. “The left has done everything in their power to destroy Thanksgiving.”

His evidence? Colin Kaepernick’s “unThanksgiving” celebration last year commemorating a 1969 Native American protest against their treatment, and an article in The Atlantic about restricting our gatherings this year to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Predictably, Kirk capped off his rant with the warning that “they” are coming for Christmas next. … Look out.

Despite what extremists like Kirk would have us believe, it is possible to be both thankful for America and critical of America. It doesn’t destroy Thanksgiving to acknowledge that our country has a little of the good and the bad in it, like all of us: A person can be both a child of God and a sinner. A politician can be right on one thing and wrong on another.


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We can be both thankful for what America is … and impatiently hopeful for what America could be.

It’s my faith that helps me process all this. Some of my favorite theologians taught me early on that we live in the paradox of the “already-but-not-yet” kingdom of God. By that they mean that we can catch glimpses of God’s dream breaking forth in this world even if a lot of the time it feels as if we’re a long way from the fulfillment of that dream. Some days it feels like heaven has come on earth; other days — maybe more of them in 2020 — it feels like hell.

We know that Thanksgiving can hold both the good and the bad because every year we pray in thanks for the family that we have even as we grieve for those who are no longer at our table. In that same way, we can celebrate America’s highest aspirations, such as the words inscribed on the Supreme Court building, “Equal Justice Under the Law,” and still recognize that we have a long way to go to live up to them.

Even as we celebrate the best of America, we can grieve its worst, like the fact that the same forefathers who penned the words “All men are created equal” also owned Black people as property. America is a paradox. It always has been.

So this Thanksgiving, we can be devastated by the 250,000 lives lost during the pandemic, and still find things to be thankful for. We can long for the Thanksgiving parties we usually have — like the one with dozens of people that we do each year in my neighborhood — while sacrificing this one year because love requires distance and a mask in 2020. We can be happy about a post-Trump America and still have some concerns about Biden. We can love the America we have, and still hope for it to be better.

Many of us have a hard time holding the tensions between binaries. Most of the heresies that have divided the church are born of exaggerating one truth at the expense of all else.  So it is with our politics and culture wars: Rarely do we find the equilibrium. But in those tensions is where the real truth often lies.

Because of the pandemic, many of us are already thinking outside the box and trying some new things — sending our favorite dishes to other houses instead of down to the other end of the table, Zooming the usual suspects to the feast instead of gathering in person. Here’s one more thing you can try.

I’ve lived in an intentional faith community called The Simple Way for the past 25 years on Philadelphia’s North side. One of the things we’ve practiced over the years is something we call “Prouds and Sorrys.”  It’s our own version of celebration and confession. We do a round of sharing where each person offers something they are thankful for and something they are grieved by. The implication is also that we all have something worth confessing and something worth celebrating. It’s also implied that when we confess the things we are sorry for, the truth sets us free. 

“Prouds and Sorrys” harks back to an ancient practice called examen, dating back to St. Ignatius in the 1500s, where people were invited to name some of the highs and lows during the day.


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Perhaps it is time do a little examen as a country. 

It is time not just to name the things that we are thankful for and love about America, but we also need to share some of the things we are grieved by and want to see changed. That doesn’t mean we hate America. One might argue, in fact, that those who blindly and uncritically champion America can hold us back from what we might become. 

So this Thanksgiving, let’s all name something we are thankful for. But let’s also name something that we want to see changed. Gratitude helps us recognize that things are not as bad as they could be. It is an invitation to hope — to not just accept the world as it is but to dream of the world as it could be.

(Shane Claiborne is an activist, author and co-director of Red Letter Christians. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)