[Every Thanksgiving, my family marks the day with a tradition we call the “Gratitude Tree.” Each person in our extended family brings an ornament to represent what they are grateful for. Whether you are are 4 or 80, you get to hang it on a Christmas tree and share your reflection. This year I’m celebrating Thanksgiving in Atlanta, so as my family hangs my ornament for me, I will share my reflections here.]
Since last Thanksgiving, I have been increasingly grateful for my academic and faith community at Candler School of Theology. My mom gave us a theme this year, and asked us all to reflect on one moment we can’t forget from the last year.
I remember prayers, laments, and praises. I remember actions, vigils, and protests. I remember discussions, lectures, and chapels.
I remember holding hands in prayer after the Ferguson non-indictment. I remember my classmate hugging her nine year old and crying because she was afraid for him to grow up as a black man in this culture. I remember lying on the ground outside our chapel for a “die-in” as students from across Emory’s campus proclaimed Black Lives Matter, lamenting the violence against black and brown bodies.
I remember tears of joy when a snowstorm, and then cloudy drugs, postponed the execution of Kelly Gissendaner. I remember vigils at the Georgia Capitol and calls to the governor to ask for mercy and true justice. I remember tears of grief as our community mourned the state’s decision to kill Kelly, despite her beautiful example of redemption and despite the damage the death penalty causes to all of us.
I remember students, staff, and faculty signing their name to urge grocery chains to treat the farmworkers who pick our tomatoes with dignity. I remember so much joy and celebration when we learned all of our friends could marry the person they loved. I remember professors giving us space in class to lament and process recent terror attacks and discuss a Christian response of love. I remember each time the news portrayed attitudes of fear, hatred, xenophobia, and hostility, my Facebook page was filled with the voices of my community, calling for peace, non-violence, love, and hospitality in the name of Christ.
This community has been a safe place to learn and process. This community has lifted up diverse voices. This community has challenged my comfort. This community has encouraged me to speak up.
I don’t always know how to speak when our public discourse is so filled with division. The media favors the extremes and we too often feed into that polarizing rhetoric. Too often I remain silent to avoid this.
Yet my silence is a sign of my privilege, because no matter if I speak or not my life stays safe and comfortable. While I am quiet, others are suffering. And I realize I am being transformed by God through this community and this unique academic experience. I’m being shaped to go into the world and proclaim the gospel. So I must speak up to share what I'm learning.
I’m learning from my classmates - different denominations, races, and identities. I’m learning from my church - mostly white folks who are loving their refugee neighbors. I’m learning from my professors - people committed to the church and its ongoing vitality.
So I’m grateful for all the moments that have transformed me this year - the moments that have challenged me, inspired me, and encouraged me and are shaping me to go into the world and proclaim the gospel.
I’m grateful to be surrounded by a community that reveals God to me.
...The God of love, peace, mercy, and justice. The God who calls us to love our neighbor and our enemy. The God who made each of us in God’s divine image. The God who is always on the side of the hurting and the vulnerable. The God who desires flourishing and abundant life for all people.
...The God who dwelt among us as in the person Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Jesus, who taught us not the way of vengeance or violence, but of turning the other cheek and giving up your life for others. Jesus, who ate meals with the marginalized and had no place to lay his head. Jesus, who was born during a genocide, fled as a refugee, and was executed as a criminal by the government. Jesus, who rose again to give hope and new life.
...The God who remains present among us in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who dwells in all of us, who prays for us when we lack works, who comforts in suffering, and who is making all things new.
Mother and Father God, Savior Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer...I pray that You will continue to transform me every day, so I might serve you and live according to your will.
- Sophie Callahan