Archives For Thanksgiving

This week White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, before she would agree to evade answer their question, compelled each member of the press corps to cite one reason they were grateful this Thanksgiving holiday. As Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker commented, Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ demand for expressions of gratitude left her feeling not thankful but resentful. She writes:

“My first impulse when someone asks me to share is to not-share. This isn’t because I’m not a sharing person — you can have my cake and eat it, too — but because sharing, like charity, should be voluntary.”

What Kathleen Parker illumines and what Sarah Huckabee Sanders “preached” in the White House briefing room is what the Apostle Paul calls the Law. For St. Paul, the Law names not only the biblical laws given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the Law, which Paul says is inscribed upon every heart and is thus extra-biblical and universal to human experience, is shorthand for an exacting moral standard of human performance.

The Law, as Martin Luther paraphrased Paul from Romans 3, always and only accuses.

Lex semper accusat. That is, the Law can only ever convey to us God’s expectation of perfection (“Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect”) and our privation in fulfilling such righteousness. The Law always and only accuses for the Law has no power in itself to create that which it commands; in fact, as Paul unpacks in Romans 7 (“I do what I do not want to do”), the Law very often elicits in us the opposite of its intent. As my new favorite theologian, Gerhard Forde, puts it in On Being a Theologian of the Cross:

“The Law says, “Thou shalt love!” It is right; it is holy, true, and good.’ Yet, it can’t bring about what it demands. It might impel toward the works of law, the motions of love, but in the end they will become irksome and will too often lead to hate. If we go up to someone on the street, grab them by the lapels, and say, “Look here, you’re supposed to love me!” the person may drudgingly admit that we are right, but it won’t work. The results will likely be jus the opposite from what ‘our’ Law demands. Law is indeed right, but it simply cannot realize what it points to. So it works wrath. It can curse, but it can’t bless. In commanding love, Law can only point helplessly to that which it cannot produce.”

Thus, the wisdom of St. Paul and the Protestant Reformers is that Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ imperative to the press corps (“Be more grateful!”) likely provoked the very opposite of anything resembling gratitude.

Christianity teaches what your heart knows to be true: Command- what Christians call Law- cannot create gratitude. Thankfulness, as Kathleen Parker Christianly pointed out in the Post, cannot be willed from wishing or exerted based on another’s expectation. If the Law only and always accuses, then gratitude can only ever be by grace. Gratitude can only ever be a free response not to an imperative but to an indicative.

Gratitude can only be an effect of the Gospel not Law. In Christian terms, gratitude is the response created within us by the no-strings-attached promise that all our sins have been forgiven because of another. I wonder, though, is it possible that gratitude is only intelligible in Christian terms such as these? We don’t call our sacrament the Eucharist, which means gratitude, for nothing. i wonder if gratitude is only intelligible in the Christian terms we call Gospel? John Tierney says Thanksgiving is the most psychologically correct holiday, but I wonder if its the most Christian holiday; specifically, I wonder if Thanksgiving can only be a Christian holiday.

I mean, if Christians only possess a religious flavor of that which is true already for everyone everywhere (gratitude) then we should sleep in on Sundays and fix brunch and bloody marys.

Apart from the story Christians rehearse every week, in Word and Sacrament, of God’s goodness in spite of human failure, what other story contextualizes Thanksgiving such that gratitude is created not compelled? Does the (false) story of happy natives and pilgrims put enough flesh on Thanksgiving to elicit true gratitude?

Is a Thanksgiving table that is not in some sense an extension of the altar table just a hollow holiday?

Gratitude, don’t forget, requires a corollary awareness of our own fault and finitude such that we’re appreciative of others. Can the story of the pilgrims do the heavy lifting or our sentimentality about family and football? Or does the Gospel alone better tell us about what has been done for us that we could not do for ourselves? Does the Gospel do better at teaching us not to trust in our own ability or merit such that appreciation for another arises freely within us?

Apart from the promise of the Gospel, Americans at Thanksgiving are just like the White House Press Corps this week, being told (by the Law) to be grateful but, as a consequence, feeling the opposite of gratitude.

So, before you carve the turkey, remember that at a holiday table Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave thanks…

Some Turkey Advice

Jason Micheli —  November 13, 2012 — 4 Comments

Thanksgiving is near, that day when Americans, who normally cannot even roast a small hen, celebrate the pilgrims’ dependence on and eventual subjugation of Native Americans by attempting to roast the equivalent of 6-7 hens. Sorry for cynicism but, hey, it’s in the domain name so you knew what you were getting.

I often comment that if I wasn’t a man of the cloth then I’d have become a chef (whilst writing the great American novel). Fairly or not, I’ve developed a reputation as not being a complete disaster in the kitchen and accordingly many of you have asked for turkey recipes.

I’ve smoked and fried turkeys- both good routes- but I think brining followed by high heat roasting is the best way to go. I’ve no idea why so many recipes call for people to roast a ginormous piece of non-fatty meat at a low temperature (350), which is basically no different than making jerky.

Brining locks in the natural moisture while the high heat intensifies flavor. It crisps the skin and drives excess fat and water out of the bird, which bastes as it goes.

Brining

  1. Dissolve 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt/gallon of water in a painter’s bucket. Fill rest of bucket with ice so it remains cold or put in fridge if it’ll fit.
  2. Let brine for 24 hours.
  3. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry inside and out with paper towels.

Roasting

Here’s what you need:

Use a heavy 18-by-20-inch aluminum or stainless-steel roasting pan about 2 inches deep (no deeper or the turkey will steam). Disposable aluminum pans are unsafe for this job.

Use heavy pot holders.

Have ready a V-shape, adjustable rack that fits the pan. The rack will cradle the bird and lift it off the bottom so the underside will brown.

Use an instant-read thermometer; the pop-up kind is unreliable.

Make sure your oven is clean; accumulated debris can cause smoke during high-heat cooking. Here are the steps for roasting:

1. Remove the fresh, not frozen, turkey from the refrigerator two hours before it is to be cooked. Putting a cold bird into a hot oven can only send it into shock.

2. Remove and reserve the giblets and neck from the turkey cavities.

3. Rinse the turkey, inside and out, under cool running water. Without blotting dry, put it breast side up on the V-shape rack, set at the lowest slot, in the roasting pan. Drape a clean tea towel over the bird to keep it from drying while it warms.

4. Put the giblets and neck in a saucepan, add six cups of water or chicken stock, and let simmer an hour or until reduced to four cups.

5. Put oven rack at its lowest level.

6. Heat the oven to 500 degrees half an hour before cooking time. At this temperature, figure on eight minutes of cooking to a pound; an average 14-pounder will be done in about an hour and a half.

7. Remove the towel from the turkey. Do not season, stuff, truss or skewer the bird. But spread the drumsticks as far apart as possible without breaking the skin.

8. Put the turkey in the oven with the drumsticks toward the door. Let it cook undisturbed for 45 minutes. Do not even open the oven door during this time.