Before we get into Thanksgiving things, I want to have a little international relations moment. If you were unaware, the province of Bougainville–a part of Papua New Guinea–is currenly conducting an independence referendum. It is official, if non-binding, and it is highly likely that the results will strongly favor independence. Who knows what that may actually mean, in terms of Papua New Guinea possibly making them stay and that possibly restarting civil war, or a timeline of creating a new country. But I just thought you should know (and you can read a teensy bit more about it here).
I find the American tradition of a presidential turkey pardon for Thanksgiving to be just so odd. It’s also not as old as a tradition as I originally thought: a formal turkey presentation to the president started in the 1940s and the whole pardon idea didn’t really start until Reagan and it wasn’t a fixture until H.W. Bush. But, if you’ll bear with me a sec, I think that while bizarre, a pardon is perfectly in line with the holiday.
If we’re honest, we could all use a pardon or two. Not in an avoiding-execution kind of way or even a religious Jesus-is-merciful way (though also definitely that way) but just in general. We know none of us are perfect. And, when giving thanks for all that we have, I think it’s important to take a moment to pardon the ways in which each of us falls short.
It isn’t difficult for me to take things personally. Not typically in an offended sense but more just imagining that people are putting a lot more antipathy into their (in)actions toward me when, in reality, it’s just busyness or forgetfulness or misunderstanding. I am aware that I do this and it’s something that I’m trying to combat, slowly but surely. I hope. So if I come across as paranoid or overbearing, please consider a pardon. Not everything should be pardoned, and not everything can just be sloughed off. But still.
In the meantime, I turn to what I know to be evidence of people caring about me. Words and time and action and all that I definitely do have. The people whose love and care I don’t have room to doubt. For that, and for the surety that can get me outside of my own insecure mind, I am very grateful. The helpful side effect of this is that I end up thinking more about other people and their actual lives, rather than just being concerned with what they’re thinking about me, which I think is both healthy and productive. Empathy matters but it takes work, you know?
Anyway. I was having a conversation with a family member this past week and I was trying to assure them that the rest of the family did, in fact, love them. Beyond understanding. It’s just that my family is–as we all are–imperfect lovers. There is a baseline of love but the stress of a day or year or life can weigh down on us in ways that make us express that love in different ways–or maybe even not at all, the baseline still existing but being obscured.
Some of you may be familiar with Nadia Bolz-Weber, a pastor and writer. This week, she had this to say about Thanksgiving, family, and belonging: “…unlike your family, your identity in God is simply unaffected by the limitations of human beings’ ability to love each other well.”
I think, in a certain way, that’s what pardoning should be all about. It’s not ignoring misdeeds, letting people go back to doing the same bad things. It’s stripping back all the obscuring stress and actions and words and hurt. Revealing once more the baseline. Showing what’s really underneath: another turkey. Another human being, just like us. Another imperfect lover who might ask for a pardon.
I read Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol for the first time a couple days ago. I don’t know how I managed to get this far in being who I am without having read more than a few excerpts before but here we are. And, for any readers who may be uncertain, it’s pronounced redding jail.
There’s a lot to unpack in that poem and I don’t really want to get too into it here and now but if I may, I would like to draw your attention to one couplet. A theme that is repeated across the work, though Wilde himself wasn’t particularly religious.
But God’s eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.
Whatever laws and punishments, justice and just deserts human society may invent, God will always peel back our layers and love us all the same. It’s good to be grateful for all you have today (and each day) but there’s a couple thoughts on extending mercy and grace–that is the real language behind pardons, after all. If we are to be thankful that we receive mercy then so too should we extend it to others, undeserving as they may be.
To echo St Francis, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.