A Thanksgiving Message from President Michael E. Hill
Dear Chautauqua Family,
I have potlucks on my mind this morning as Peter and I prepare to host loved ones at our table for Thanksgiving. At Chautauqua, we are well familiar with the potluck, and our community throws a lot of them — from neighborhood picnics for residents and students, to monthly sessions through the fall, winter and spring at Hurlbut Church, to intimate gatherings of families and friends on porches or in kitchens, as the seasons permit. The opportunity to gather and enjoy each other’s company is something I think we all treasure a little more after these recent difficult years.
I’ve been thinking about the potluck as a metaphor ever since our friend Eboo Patel proposed it — in place of “melting pot” — as a more apt way of thinking about the American Project, in his Aug. 22 Interfaith Lecture. At a potluck, Eboo asserted, it is assumed that everyone has something to contribute (“What a wonderful assumption about your community: that everyone is a contributor,” he said), and the richness of the offerings is enhanced with every new addition. What each attendee contributes is informed by their culture, their heritage, their family history — and unlike in the melting pot, the flavors and spices of their recipes are not in competition, or mixed beyond recognition. Rather, they can be consumed separately, or combined intentionally.
“A potluck, when it runs right, is a place that facilitates interesting conversation and creative combinations. It’s when someone’s crusty bread recipe from Eastern Europe goes well with someone else’s spicy dip from the Middle East,” Eboo said. “It’s when the story of a spiritual seeker inspires a Shia Muslim to share something of her story. That’s the space and the architecture. (At a potluck), it’s not just the individual dishes, it’s how they mix and recreate (new dishes).”
Today seemed an appropriate day to recall Eboo’s profound message, as many of us look forward to reuniting with loved ones through some combination of food, faith and fellowship. I think the potluck metaphor fits wonderfully with our Chautauqua experiment as well, and so I offer my deepest gratitude to you, my fellow Chautauquans, for all you contribute to our community potluck. And if for any reason your holiday is missing some warmth this year, I hope you find comfort in the embrace of your Chautauqua family.
As we usher in a new holiday season, my best wishes for a very happy and nourishing Thanksgiving to you and yours. As I write this, many of you, like me, are preparing for gatherings with loved ones. This will be yet another celebration clouded by the specter of a persistent pandemic and nearly two years of tumult that has touched nearly every aspect of our lives. These years have reminded us just how fragile life can be and how precious are those we love. I wish you all good health and good cheer as you partake in this beloved ritual of gratitude. May this be a season when we can lay down those things that may separate us and remind us to look for those things that bind us together. And for those who find themselves outside of a warm circle this Thanksgiving, know you are in the thoughts and prayers of your Chautauqua family.
Many of you know that I grew up in the Catholic faith and attended undergrad at a university founded in the Franciscan tradition. My faith, and the lessons of St. Francis in particular, have been among the most meaningful forces that have shaped my life. I love how Catholic scholar Fr. Fausto Gomez described Francis in a 2015 essay: “There is a virtue that describes well his whole life: gratitude. The humble saint of Assisi was a grateful son of God, a brother to all neighbors, and a creature of the universe.”
May this Thanksgiving bring us all reason to likewise be grateful creatures of the universe. Know that you are among the reasons we are able to do so at Chautauqua.
All my best,
Michael E. Hill
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