John Johnson, ELCA Program Director for Domestic Policy

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For my entire career in Washington, D.C., I have claimed Thanksgiving as the holiday that I would stay in Washington, since I fly home to south Georgia for weddings, funerals, births, baptisms, Christmas and pouting parents when they want me to come home.

As the quintessentially American time of celebration, it represents for me many things – not the least of which is that it has been an important part of my journey to adulthood. Thanksgiving, for me, has always been a time of deepening relationships that comes with sharing a holiday meal with friends, and often, strangers.

ThanksgivingUnfortunately, I think all too often assumed in this gathering of friends and family is the notion that we take a moment to actually be thankful … to take stock of what we are blessed with and how fortunate we are for so much abundance in our own lives – even at times when we live in scarcity. For me, Thanksgiving is a reminder that I may not have everything I want, but year after year, I have everything I need. I am also deeply mindful that my good fortune doesn’t belong to everyone.

I remember my first Thanksgiving in Washington, D.C.: I was a very young Hill staffer living paycheck-to-paycheck and shopping for my first Thanksgiving away from home, with a very tight budget. For whatever reason, I can still vividly see myself standing at one of those large freezer cases in the grocery store, pulling one turkey over another, checking the price of each trying to find the one budget-appropriate turkey with my name on it. After some considerable effort, I found, tucked away in the corner of the freezer case, a small turkey with the right price. Fighting back tears of both joy and humility, I took my humble haul to the checkout stand and paid for my bounty.

I remember the friends that joined me in the small apartment I shared with friends that Thanksgiving of 1993. Since then, I always look forward to Thanksgiving with great joy. This year, I join my goddaughter, her dads, and an abundant assortment of friends young and old. And that wonderful moment with the “guest of honor” is brought to the table with “oohs” and “ahhs.”

This warm and anticipated moment of turkey day was captured many years ago by one of my favorite artists, Norman Rockwell. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt outlined his vision of the four freedoms in an address to Congress. Printed in four installments on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post was the renowned “Thanksgiving” painting. It is appropriately titled “Freedom from Want,” one of Roosevelt’s four freedoms, which also include freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from fear.

Facing the storms

Sadly, when we turn on the TV, log onto Facebook or grab a newspaper, we see constant fear, want, probably way too much speech, and a lot of worship in response to it all. There are so many storms around us all over the world. There have been storms in the past, and I fear, sadly, there will be storms in the future.

For me, the only way to not be paralyzed by the shock and desperation is to advocate for those ideals Jesus modeled – feeding, healing, showing compassion, praying, suffering and challenging leaders to make difficult decisions. I have the great privilege to do this by representing the ELCA in advocating to our U.S. government and urging decision-makers to address domestic poverty and hunger and to protect vital social services for the most vulnerable among us.

The work we do in Washington is just one small part of a much larger picture of advocacy in the ELCA. Join us to learn more about how we, as a church, strive for justice and peace throughout the world.

All of us with ELCA Advocacy wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. We look forward to sharing more reflections during the upcoming Advent season. Thank you for being a part of the work of Advocacy.

God’s abundant blessings to you all,

John Johnson