Pass the gravy, the biscuits and the awkward conversations. They’re coming to a dinner table near you this Thanksgiving.

But they don’t have to. Rather than make your point, I encourage you to leave a message instead.

To be fair, life during the global pandemic caused by COVID- 19 has gotten awkward. We’re now entering the COVID years, a twilight zone where we are still trying to convince people to get vaccinated, to wear a mask and to practice social distancing.

Persons continue to argue about a fictitious learning environment that teaches children Critical Race Theory while remaining silent on the reality of school shootings.

We are also watching a remedial lesson on the problems with the American justice system. The checks aren’t balancing.

Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of murdering two people and wounding another, got to pick his jury.

Attorney Kevin Gough, who is representing William Bryan in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, said aloud, “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here.” He argued that African American pastors are intimidating to the jury after noticing Al Sharpton sitting with Arbery’s grieving mother, Wanda Cooper Jones.

But African American pastors have no history of forming mobs, of attacking members of a jury or innocent until proven guilty members of a court proceeding. African American pastors haven’t lynched anybody. African American pastors are also not on trial.

Instead, both cases involve European Americans with guns in hand, purportedly running to save the city or chasing after a jogger to protect their neighborhood.

These men say they felt threatened, but only they are alive to tell the story. Always the hero and never the villain, this testimony is suspicious. It is well past time to challenge the message that it is sending.

With many of America’s institutions on trial, there is much for older and younger generations to pass judgement on. But while we are making our point yet again and hoping to convert our least favorite relative, consider leaving a message instead.

I travel the same route in my neighborhood every day. There’s a house at the corner of a long stretch of road, and they leave a message in the yard each week for the passersby, the jogger and the driver to read.

A sign in a flower bed offering a word of encouragement to passersby.

(Photo: Starlette Thomas)

I only noticed it a couple of months ago, and now I look for them. They are quotes and little notes of hope that end with, “We’ve got this.”

I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear it.

So used to pushing through and so often invited to comment on the hard parts of life and the hardheartedness in our world, it is good to be able to look and see a message like: “Remember to live while you’re busy surviving. We’ve got this.”

With so many people quitting, leaving jobs and careers for good reason, I had not considered how much things were changing.

I was no longer seeing familiar faces and, with a plethora of businesses closing due to economic hardship, I was losing familiar spaces.

They left a message on the door: “Going out of business.” I was grieving rhythms, routines and buildings hollowed out and turned dark.

My neighbor’s message reminded me to feel that loss but also to keep going.

Messages of death and losses of all sorts are all around us. That’s probably why I jumped at the opportunity to attend a retreat in Gulf Shores, Alabama, recently.

Sponsored by the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and led by Terri Byrd and Lucas Dorion, participants were invited to morning yoga, afternoon walks, crafts and writing prompts with a view of the beach.

But Byrd also had a message for us every day during the worship service. The theme was “Breathe,” but her words also gave me a second wind.

Two women praying together with their hands on each other's shoulders.

Linda Fuller-Degelmann (right) and Starlette Thomas. (Photo: Autumn Lockett)

Linda Fuller-Degelmann, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity and a former member of Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, was also present and we made the connection over dinner one evening.

In 2019, I was given a pastoral study grant from the Louisville Institute and the Lilly Endowment to study life on this farm and the fear of authentic Christian community.

I learned of Koinonia Farm after finding a DVD in an office storage space. I was inspired by the story of Clarence Jordan, and by his conviction and his teachings.

I traveled to the farm on the 75th anniversary of its founding, walked the grounds, went to the shed where Jordan took his last breath, stuffed pecans in my pocket and walked away with the message.

More than 50 years ago, Clarence and Florence, Millard and Linda, left a message about the inconsistencies of an Americanized Christianity that practices segregation.

But they didn’t shout across a dinner table; instead, they sat at a desegregated one and left a message.

Editor’s note: The article has been updated to correct a reference to Linda Fuller-Degelmann who was a “former member,” not a “founding member,” of Koinonia Farm.

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