It’s Thanksgiving week, which means families and friends will gather around a dinner table to experience the familiar chest-tightening tension of hoping certain topics remain avoided for discussion. At least, this is what happens in A Thanksgiving Miracle, one of the better SNL skits the last decade.
One inflammatory opinion gets tossed to the other side of the table and before a reasonable response is given time to form, another grenade is lobbed from the adjacent corner. The contrasting viewpoints suck the air out of the room, but the reason for the title of the skit is soon revealed when a savvy child steps over to the radio and blasts Adele causing the group to break out in harmony together, bonded by a song about heartbreak and relational debris. Perhaps, it takes a child’s eyes to see how only weakness is powerful enough to tear down the walls that divide us.
What is it about gathering around a table with people who have different views than us that creates such inner instability? Why do we feel a need to put on armor or dig a trench when an opinion is raised we disagree with or find offensive? Maybe we’re afraid of being wrong, exposed, or found out. Maybe that article we read or video we watched that convinced us about the right opinion to hold isn’t even sturdy enough to handle the scrutiny of our delirious uncle.
Nick Cave, the author of the title track for the famous mob-show on Netflix, “Peaky Blinders,” has a newsletter he started which answers questions from fans, but perhaps is moreso his effort of making sense of the world in light of the grief the comes from being human. Cave is familiar with grief as one has undergone the indescribable pain of losing not one but two children. In a more recent response to the question of whether or not someone should speak up or hold their tongue, he writes about good faith conversations:
“A good faith conversation begins with curiosity. It looks for common ground while making room for disagreement. It should be primarily about exchange of thoughts and information rather than instruction, and it affords us, among other things, the great privilege of being wrong; we feel supported in our unknowing and, in the sincere spirit of inquiry, free to move around the sometimes treacherous waters of ideas. A good faith conversation strengthens our better ideas and challenges, and hopefully corrects, our low-quality or unsound ideas.”
We are prone to unsound ideas because we can never see the whole picture on any topic. By recognizing we all start from the same foggy position of not having everything figured out about anything (see 1 Corinthians 13:12), we can begin to build something with the people we talk with, and bypass the common conversational cancers of seeking to win, inform, or instruct.
Conversations aren’t math problems. The purpose of a discussion is not to bring our previously discovered right answers to the table and then prove our work in front of others. When we make this mistake, and we all do, we buy into a lie as old as time that we can garner admiration (and even love) by how correct we are – but in reality, we only feed a dynamic of superiority that always breeds disconnection and distance.
At the end of the day, what we want is to be wanted at the table with no one to impress and nothing to prove. There is an obscure story in the Old Testament that shows us how. In 2 Samuel 9, King David is looking for descendents of Saul, the former king, who had previously made assassinating King David his full time job. Viewers of any big name dramas involving a throne would expect ill will in David’s hunt for a rival challenger to the crown.
Only one descendent is found. His name is really hard to pronounce (Mephibosheth), and he’s a crippled man who is unable to make a living for himself. He is summoned to the palace, and as he is placed before the king, he trembles in fear as one found to be on the wrong side of history.
But instead of receiving the guillotine, he is shown supernatural kindness. The king restores to him the fortune that would have been his, had his grandfather Saul not perished, and he even receives a nameplated seat at the king’s table for the rest of his life!
What does this have to do with Thanksgiving turbulence, Adele, and good faith conversations? Everything. In the New Testament, King David is shown to be a small picture of what King Jesus is like ahead of time. This means our place in the story is not the one who wears the crown but is instead the crippled man who is an enemy of the throne. We are uncertain of our lot in life and afraid of the King whose allegiance we betray. But the former enemy of the king, whose physical incapabilities resemble our human incapability of knowing all things and justifying ourselves, is brought into the dining room of royalty to eat with and enjoy the company of the king for the remainder of his days.
God’s kindness is extended to the treasonous. He prepares a table before the presence of his enemies and makes them family. He bleeds and even dies for traitors so that their invitation to the table is irrevocable and everlasting.
Jesus was nailed to a tree naked and exposed, absorbing our great fears of being the same. The need to self protect has been dismantled and replaced by the unshakeable safety that there is now nothing to prove, things are settled. Heaven’s heart broke when God himself was crucified, but it became a song that unites enemies of every stripe. We can even take a deep breath and be proven wrong at the dinner table, then go throw more stuffing on our plates. Happy Thanksgiving!