Benjamin Franklin despised the bald eagle as a thief and a consumer of carrion. In contrast, he saw the wild turkey as stealthy and resourceful, and advocated for it to be our national bird. What if his opinion had carried the day? Would we admonish dreamers today to “soar with the turkeys” and refer dismissively to “losers” saying, “What an eagle!”
On Thanksgiving Day we celebrate a longstanding national holiday of gratitude for God’s blessings, and thankfulness for the history and best traditions of our nation. Turkey is the most common centerpiece at our Thanksgiving tables. We eagerly await Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends, and here at First Baptist Church, the traditional pre-Thanksgiving luncheon which unites our various worshiping groups for shared table fellowship. A time of joy, yes?
But what about the turkey? Though domestic turkeys are sentient beings, and their wild ancestors were and are sophisticated residents of their woodland habitats, we don’t ascribe to them dread at the approach of Thanksgiving and advance awareness of their fate. But what if the turkeys did know what was coming down at the turkey farm? Would they celebrate Thanksgiving as a beloved cultural tradition?
More realistically, how do our homeless and transient neighbors feel as “the holidays” approach? What about elderly members of this congregation who may have no surviving family – at least in the immediate community — or who are unable to come and go to gather with others? Will we see, really see, their perspective? What might we do?
One of the defining characteristics of our Lord was his ability to “come out of himself” and inhabit the point of view of others, whether Pharisees — who broke his heart because they were seeking so strenuously for righteousness, but in a misguided fashion, or lepers, tax collectors in the employ of the hated Romans, women caught up in sex trafficking, zealots devoted to the overthrow of Roman authority. This ability is rooted in the original fact that
though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant…
(Philippians 2: 6–7)
This does not mean that he affirmed, for instance, the adulterer or the would-be violent revolutionary. But he could and did imaginatively and empathetically inhabit the point of view of the other. And he actively and lovingly sought the well being of the other. And what about us? We live in a drastically polarized society, in which we feel that our political or ideological or religious opposite is not simply wrong, but willfully and intentionally wrong. That is, our opponents don’t simply hold mistaken opinions, they hold those opinions in bad faith.
Sadly, many people live in “echo chambers,” with their own chosen dialogue partners, sources of news and ranges of “facts.” In this situation, we are in a unique position as members of the Body of Christ, and in particular this part of the Body of Christ called First Baptist Church, Portland. We know people here who are manifestly sincere and committed followers of Jesus, seeking his will in their lives and in the community, but who think very differently than we do. We must acknowledge that they don’t hold their convictions, no matter how much they may differ from ours, in bad faith. So do we dare indwell their point of view, even for a moment?
For example, does the progressive Christian who celebrates the diversity in our changing culture as a sign of God’s inbreaking Kingdom, dare to inhabit for a while the anxiety of the conservative who fears the loss of national consensus and historic core values of our culture? Does the conservative Christian who sees biblical principles at the root of our national story dare to inhabit for a moment the yearning of the progressive brother or sister who wishes to welcome the stranger and learn from the devotee of a different faith? I could multiply examples, but you get my drift.
As we come together to give thanks to God this November, will we listen appreciatively and patiently to one another, and even — if just for a moment — take the turkey’s point of view?
—Dr. David L. Wheeler
Illustration: “Turkey” by Benjamin West (American, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 1738–1820 London) via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0 1.0.