Eat the Turkey, not each other: How to survive Thanksgiving dinner

Eat The Turkey

There’s more to look forward to this Thanksgiving than a second slice of pecan pie when you’re [finally] alone in the kitchen.

For starters, every road in Texas is offic

ially a speed trap for the next week, and the Highway Patrol intends to feast.

And then there’s this: you’re getting ready for hours of extroverted time with people who believe differently, vote differently, function differently, parent differently, eat differently, relax differently, entertain differently, pray differently, and expect differently than you do. Let’s face it, we like our routines, and Thanksgiving is nothing if not unusual. It’s not that we don’t love these people, we’re just not used to interacting with them. And most aren’t used to dealing with conflict daily. Which means Thursday is as ripe for anxiety as it is for giving thanks.

From my experience with FaithWalking, here’s how to eat the turkey and not each other.

Remember that anxiety is contagious, but you don’t have to pass it on. Everyone at table Thursday is connected, and each person’s anxiety can and will ripple throughout the room. For instance, if the turkey isn’t done on time the host may visibly or emotionally vibrate with anxiety. You have a choice to conduct that energy, or to soak it up and allow it to stop with you. Easier perhaps when its a turkey than when dad flips out over your election vote, but the principle is the same. Choose to absorb, not conduct, the anxiety in the room. And pay attention to your own anxiety (clinched fists, tightened back, drooping posture, etc…) so that you can be its master and not the other way around.

Also by Marty: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Evangelical Left

Be gracious with people’s blind spots. Old roles and patterns of behavior may be on full display, as family reunions have a tendency to call out the best and worst of ourselves. And much that you will see and experience will be blind to those who are saying and doing it. The image to the right explains this well. When your awareness of someone’s behavior exceeds their awareness of their own behavior, you have a lot of power! Use it well. Yes, you can predict who will explode and leave the table (like always). No, your parents still don’t want your financial advice no matter how brilliant. This is not the time to bring up personality traits, point out glaring weaknesses, or say anything that includes “you always!” or “you never!” Yes, you can see it as plain as day, but if they haven’t been transformed in the last 30 years, don’t expect it to happen today. If you’re really itching to make a point, read more here first.

Brave New Films

Say what is so for you, but take a learning posture. In other words, be civil. I love the definition of civility from Tomas Spath, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” Speak the truth, tell your story and don’t let anyone run all over you. The Jesus ethic does not demand you loose arguments. Honesty is essential. But so is granting others the same amount of respect you desire. Don’t in any way hide your beliefs, but at the same time stay engaged with those you disagree with. Taking a learning, rather than a “teaching” posture, can often diffuse the anxiety and shows respect for those around the table, even if you experience them as “enemies.” (Remember what Jesus had to say about enemies?)

If insults start to fly, just take it. Of course you’re right, you’re absolutely right! Doesn’t matter what you’re right about (ObamaCare, Benghazi, the ridiculousness of a Red Dawn remake) just shut up and take it anyway. Why? Because your relationship with these crazy people is more important than being right. Trust me on this one, it doesn’t matter who wins the argument, you’re family. You can’t control what anyone else will say or do, but you can control your own actions and anxiety. We are, after all, people who claim not only to “believe in” Jesus, but people who actually believe him when he lays out for us a strategy of non-retribution for the healing of both the human heart and the world community. So if you’re insulted, don’t insult in return.

Finally, Apologize and forgive. Whether you’ve been the one who pushed too far or they were, Jesus tells us in Matthew it’s our responsibility to initiate reconciliation. Cool off first, eat some pie, watch the second half, whatever. But say the words. Make it right. There’s a reason we leave dessert for last, it covers a multitude of sins.

And, if by chance you learn something important about conflict, come back here Friday and let us all know what it is! Thanks.

Marty Troyer grew up in a very non-anxious home and will be eating his Thanksgiving Feast with his amazing church, Houston Mennonite Church, where he pastors. Follow Marty on Twitter and Facebook.

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About the Author

Marty TroyerMarty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount. You can join them anytime in Spring Branch or visit them online.View all posts by Marty Troyer →

  • 22044

    Happy Thanksgiving to all who write, read, and comment on the posts here at RLC. :)

  • Juniper (anon. nm d’luv2knoYa)

    Sisters and Brothers,

    My dad who is a federal congressman always has viewed me as not good enough. It certainly doesn’t help that I am a non-violent Christian whose considering taking a seemingly “lesser” roll as a deacon in the United Methodist Church. He thinks there aren’t enough seminary scholarships for deacons. He’s increasingly become negative about everything to everyone. Yet, I remember happy times with him and times when I have respected him. I miss those times.

    I often produce a lot of anxiety around him. My refusal to buy from sweatshops, my refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to any flag, my fasting, my anti-consumerism, my bandanna (which he calls a bonnet)… it is all embarrassing to him to have to explain to someone else. He was talking to his cousin during thanksgiving and told him in front of me that I wanted Hitler to take over America in WWII. “You went through the museum [in D.C.] you know that’s what would’ve happened, right?” he said to me. I glared at him. “What?” he retorted. His cousin, a little embarrassed by being caught in our exchange, had an expression of fear. Later that afternoon this cousin (who is a wonderful man) mentioned how he was going to wait in line for Black Friday to get a bicycle from Wal-Mart for the lion’s club to give to a child in poverty for Christmas. Dad laid into me about how “the poor” benefit from consumerism and how it’s the only way they can afford it. I was militant at best. With the sermon on the mount as a swift sword I cut right through his arguments. His response though was to point out my lack of citations about Marshallese Tyson employees having to wear diapers to work and his lack of response to my “Jesus stuff,” as he calls it, simply referred to other preachers who either don’t think what I think or are really good at conflict resolution.

    In any case I failed. I’m still bitter about the whole thing and when I confessed this to my grandparents I began weeping, I’m just sick of being in such a bind with no option between ridicule and prophecy. My grandparents gently told me the great things they see me doing and how important I am to them. I felt grace that day and peace. Confession is powerful but this confession will take time to culminate. After all, the same sermon on the mount I used as a weapon says I’ve murdered my dad by being mad at him. I need your prayers, support and advice. For the beauty of the earth, for the sake of my mother, sister and family! I don’t know how to reconcile with him. Consider all the malice he’s stored up as a politician for at least the past 25 years and before that in high school. He needs the grace of God and it would be presumptuous to think that I can offer that alone. That would be bad ecclesiology. The entire Church is the vehicle of grace in the world today. May we all work together to offer my dad, and the world, the cross of Christ, that they may see the great salvation of Jesus!

    Grace and Peace,
    Juniper (anonymous name — saint celebrated by Common Prayer on my birthday) I’d love to know ya!

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