Oh God! How Does an Apostate Deal With Prayer at the Family Thanksgiving Dinner?

There are those of us who no longer consider ourselves part of the religious community we were raised in but will be hosting family affairs this Thanksgiving where most attendees still, to some degree, consider themselves committed Christians.  Should we concede to the expectations of our family and guests or stick to our convictions as a matter of principle and avoid the traditional prayer?

I am perhaps the only member of my family that has openly professed that the religion I’ve been exposed to all of my life no longer holds any relevance for me.  Yes, I am an apostate but I have no regrets.  None at least until it comes to having family over to my house for Thanksgiving.  It has not been possible for me to get everyone to sit down and eat without some member of the family expecting a prayer be said before the meal is consumed.

I don’t want to be insensitive to people’s needs to fulfill certain rituals and have on past occasions put something together myself that didn’t require invoking a blessing from the God of Abraham or Jesus.  I just find it more difficult each year to be part of something that now seems so artificial and cultish.  So how to deal with offering up a Thanksgiving supplication this week to spiritual figures who are not real for me as I host family members who devoutly believe that “God is in control”?

I could delegate that responsibility to one of those family members who feel the need to pray.  In fact, on at least two other occasions I have done that very thing, giving that honor to my older brother who late in life seems to have developed an evangelical fervor that I haven’t seen since just before being kicked out of seminary for disobedience (he was caught smoking cigarettes).  But the last time he was here in 2008 he was so disappointed in the outcome of the elections that he managed to slip something of a mild curse into his prayer that was aimed at the new President-elect.

I suppose his Republican leanings along with my solid support for Obama created a rift between us and as a result we haven’t seen or heard much from him and his wife until recently, when, to my surprise and delight, he accepted the invitation I extended to him in an e-mail.  This Thanksgiving dinner therefore is being seen as an attempt to mend fences, so it seems the least I can do since Obama will be in the White House for another 4 years is to allow the traditional prayer a role in our family holiday get-together.

I could once again delegate this role to my older brother and risk another swipe at the man who grates at him.  Or there is always my sister-in-law whose Calvinistic upbringing remains in tact. (She once confided in me that great wealth is a blessing from God)  But then I have always felt that delegating this tradition was something of a cop-out since my wife and I are after all the hosts.   The curse of this holiday convention confronts me and I feel like Tevye with his hand stretched to heaven shouting out “TRADITION!” … but more as a curse than an affirmation.

Perhaps the cure for what ails me lies somewhere in my brothers words in his response to my invitation

“I was almost afraid Politics was going to set us apart this year but you know that would never fly with me.  So, let’s do as the Holiday suggest and Give Thanks for all the many Blessings throughout the year and catch up on all our Family’s well being. Amen”

This isn’t a church-sanctioned holiday so I could be forgiven for giving thanks without thanking someone who remains invisible in form and circumstance.   There are indeed things to be thankful for.  Compared to many in this country and around the world, my worst day doesn’t compare to the victims of Hurricane Sandy or those who have had to flee their homes to avoid becoming “collateral damage” from the deadly artillery and air assaults of despots, religious fanatics and military hawks in places like Syria, Gaza, Afghanistan and Tel Aviv.

Yet somehow pointing this out in a Thanksgiving day prayer often unsettles those who don’t want to be reminded that while they enjoy a warm, comforting day with friends, family and food, there are those who will have little of this, not only now but for weeks, months and years to come.  I suspect too that my conservative relatives don’t want to feel guilty because the free-market system that has served their needs adequately has not been so kind to others.  But then such concerns often get easily dismissed because it is only from a lazy mentality that such people find themselves wanting.  To them greed and abuse within financial institutions have had little to do with how people find themselves jobless and homeless.

I could include a sort of “fair and balanced” offering for those billionaires that have recently suffered losses in this down market.  I understand that both the world’s number one and number two richest people – Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim and Microsoft owner Bill Gates, recently lost about 2% of their total net worth.  Slim is worth $70.6 billion and Gates has to make due with $60.4 billion.  But this of course would be pretentious of me and would only re-ignite certain animosities that I and my brother are trying to get past.

So, with all that to consider, here’s what I have come up with that I think will appease the sensibilities of each and everyone at our table this Thursday.  If not, then there is the knowing that an ideal world is a fantasy and that those who think otherwise are only doomed for disappointment everywhere they look for it.

We give thanks today for the fact that we still have the means to nourish our bodies and soul, unlike millions in this country and around the world who have lost their homes, their health and their lives from economic and political crises or extreme natural disasters.  Let us find solace in the knowledge that true blessings are not found through our ability to possess and consume manufactured goods but that they derive from loving, and sharing that love and our resources as best we can when the needs arise.  This gift of life should be spent with family and good friends, laughing and loving, working and playing and enduring the grief and hard times that are an inexorable part of all of our lives, from the cradle to grave.  Amen

That’s a gratuitous Amen, but hey!  It’s my contribution to the reconciliation efforts in play here.

Is it God that allows some to be more blessed than others or is it a matter of one’s birth right and birthplace?

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16 responses to “Oh God! How Does an Apostate Deal With Prayer at the Family Thanksgiving Dinner?

  1. I think your ‘prayer’ is a very nice compromise. Possibly, the amen will give it sufficient religious flavor for those who require that sort of thing. Although, I’m guessing one or more of your relatives will need to more pointedly thank the supernatural Almighty. The “God is in control” ideation does so much harm, but I suppose it offers comfort (or an excuse) to some.

    • Thanks Arlene. Yes I think the “Amen” will diminish any doubts that I was being totally secular with my prayer. Believers do like to deceive themselves often. :-)

  2. I too like your compromise….very elegant…..I have a hard time thanking a deity for all the food that I had to buy……and then cook…..people that eat with me and mine know how I feel and if they are offended they can damn well stay home and do their own cooking…..that may sound cruel….but it is my house….my rules…..

    • Your comments are similar to a Simpson Thanksgiving cartoon seen here where Bart is praying over the meal with Mr. Burns, saying “God we paid for all of this ourselves so thanks for nothing” I was going to include it in my post but thought it reflected too much the ideas of Tea Party types rather than people like myself who simply don’t recognize God as the giver of “blessings”

  3. Your “prayer” is lovely. I will be spending my Thanksgiving at a large Mormon family gathering. I know that I will survive whatever prayer I hear. I can offer up my own silently. And then I will gluttonously eat their food. It should be interesting and fun!

    • In the end a prayer is just words that can only be offensive or taken to heart as each person allows. An expression of thanks for what we have however should be appreciated in light of what other people are deprived of, not from God, but from the attitudes, beliefs and policies of other people.

      Enjoy your meal Jean. I have met many a Mormon here in Texas and I find them much more accommodating that any southern Baptist. I’m sure there will be no shortage of delicious food and desserts either.

  4. Great post. Thoughtful and considerate. I imagine many families will be experiencing something similar this year as religious and political tensions flare up.

    You ought to throw into that Thanksgiving speech a warm thought for those folks wishing to secede.

    • “You ought to throw into that Thanksgiving speech a warm thought for those folks wishing to secede.”

      I do kind of have a warm thought for them Adam but it’s in relationship to a location rather than a feeling. ;-)

  5. It’s possible to just be grateful without giving credit to a god. Another option would be to simply share something you ate thankful for! For example: “I am so grateful to have a President who does not make me cringe every time he steps up to a microphone!” That should go over really well!

  6. “I am so grateful to have a President who does not make me cringe every time he steps up to a microphone!” That should go over really well!”

    You would think that they would at least not begrudge me that since the entire state of Texas still has all of its GOP delegates along with putting Ted Cruz, the right-wing extremist TeaParty Senator in place of Kay Bailey-Hutchison who retired this year.

    Happy Thanksgiving Kathleen :-)

    • Maybe you should move to Arizona! We actually have a Democratic majority in Washington next year for the first time in a long while! (Of course, we also have Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaieo and Jeff Flake! )

  7. I think you have said it quite nicely, maintained your integrity, and responded to the real seriousness of our largess in the face of such need and want in the world. As I grouse about the lack of the “right” ham today, I remembered that so many would give so much to just have a slice. Sigh….

    • I think we’re all guilty of over-indulging ourselves sometimes Sherry. It’s a part of what we become living in such a materialistic, consumer-oriented society. I suspect that those cultures that struggle to find enough food and clean drinking water found themselves under similar conditions that they too would be facing serious diabetic issues from obesity and spending large parts if their incomes on pharmaceuticals to cure what ever ails them.

  8. My only problem with traditional Thanksgiving meals is that somehow the food that fits into my devout Pastafarian beliefs never makes it onto the table. Oh well, I know his noodly appendages will touch us all anyways. Ramen.

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