My favorite sermon title ever: “Why Thanksgiving Always Comes Before Christmas.”
Each year this has new meaning for me. One year, it was the poster of things our family was thankful for. One year, it was thankful things on slips of paper in the turkey centerpiece. One year it was the photo of the ultrasound that would be my third child. We are a very small family, so it tends to be a quiet unassuming time.
This year was different, we were filmed. Our every preparation was documented on video, even time lapse photography of the dough rising for the dinner rolls. We didn’t dare make a move in the kitchen without alerting our daughter that we were about to…whatever. Did she want to record it? It’s funny what you do when you know you’ll be on film.
The irony was, all this footage was for juxtaposition. As backdrop to the events of the next morning. Her plan was to set up in the dark and cold on Black Friday morning and record time lapse photos of shoppers entering and leaving the Target against the rise of the sun in a very cold day after Thanksgiving. Her theme: what you miss out on when you hurry to Friday.
Time lapse is a fascinating thing to watch. Hours collapsed into seconds. Days into minutes. Years into hours. A whole lifetime, in a movie seating. The camera doesn’t select the best or the most memorable, it just marches on click-clicking. It records snapshots and compresses them into a living video. What would such a video of my life look like? Non-selective, random, regular recording. Sun rise and sun set. Day in and day out.
The things best recorded and most in focus would be the stopping times. Those moments when I paused long enough to consider, to pray, perhaps to help or to devote or to sit beside. Perhaps I would be recognized by the things repeated, that would be defined in the overlay. Things I did again and again, year after year. I hope thanksgiving would be one of these things.
It seems different every year, but it’s the one thing – perhaps the only thing – that we can agree on in our country; that we stop and give thanks on the 4th Thursday of November each year. But even that I see changing, as Black Friday sales have slipped into Thanksgiving Thursday evening hours. The moments spent with family – are they stolen? reinvented? compressed to make room? For sure, they are ruining the overlay.
Neighbors on our street crack me up. They have inflatables for all seasons: a jack-o-lantern, an Easter bunny, a snow globe snowing on snowmen. Last year there was one turkey; this year there were five. Mom, pop, and the three kids. (Who needs window stickers when you have inflatables?)
I chuckled to see the new additions on Thursday.
Today, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they have a new arrangement. A line of turkeys marching away from the corner. Presumably, away from Thanksgiving. What if, instead of bidding farewell to thanks, we let it lead us through the whole holiday season?
I think that was what Pastor Phil meant by that Sunday sermon. We always have Thanksgiving before Christmas because what a thankful people we are to have a Savior coming into the world yet again. A world grown darker since last year. A world even more self-sufficient. A world wrapped up in itself. Where Black Friday seeps into Thanksgiving Thursday because the stores are “just giving people what they want. More time to spend.”
Perhaps they have miscalculated. There is no such thing as more time. It is measured the same for all of us. There is however, time well spent.
What a documentary film our lives are making, recorded on heaven’s video, as time marches on and we lapse. Then repent. Thanks be to God for His one and only Son, here to set us right once again.
The Loving Story is a documentary focused on Richard and Mildred Loving and the landmark 1967 Loving vs Virginia Supreme Court case that led to legalization of interracial marriage in all states. This was screened for Charlottesville area high school and middle school students as part of the Virginia Film Festival which celebrates its 26th year this weekend.
Of the screening, Festival directors recall, “the students couldn’t believe that a mixed-race couple would be breaking the law.” They invited the lawyer who argued this case before the Supreme Court in 1968 to come talk to the children and also the Loving’s daughter, Peggy, to tell them what her experience was like. “The kids gave them a standing ovation,” the directors wrote. Every time I think about this it brings tears to my eyes.
To kids, history is just an old story. Something that happened once upon a time.When they can see it – see how people were, how people thought, how people acted – and feel it – feel how people were mistreated, neglected, denied, disenfranchised, they’re changed. When they can see how little sense it made “back then” and realize the “back then” was not so long ago, we’ve got their attention. They stand and applaud people who had the courage to change what was wrong, even as they faced incredible hardship and long odds.
This is what the arts do. They help us see the unseen, hear the unheard, and make sense of it all. They give us eyes to see and ears to hear in a new way. A more expansive way. A more inclusive way. This seems a better way. The arts make things approachable and tangible. They allow us to discuss them around a common table.
Too often we find ourselves telling our old stories, expecting the “younger generation” to learn from us. Our old stories are not pristine. In fact, many are tarnished and worn. But we must tell them in a way that opens eyes and ears around a common table because that is how we can find common ground to make new ones.
Our world needs new stories. Stories of loving that may not be lovely. We may need to start with history but if we are to learn from it, we need the arts.