What does Thanksgiving Look Like To You? by Kate Kotfila

In his State of the Union speech in January 1941, FDR proposed four fundamental freedoms that all people ought to enjoy: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.


Four Freedoms images © SEPS. Used under permission of Curtis Licensing.

The speech was not particularly noteworthy, and the Four Freedoms did not grab hold of the American consciousness until Norman Rockwell created four iconic images, one of which is the quintessential image of Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Recently I have been giving much thought to Rockwell’s body of work. Back in the day, several members of the Cambridge Church sat as models for Rockwell. Ruth Skellie, “The Marble Shooter” and a pillar of the church, just died at age 90. Elder Paul Adams is rendered among “We the Peoples” in the mosaic that hangs in the United Nations. Rockwell’s America was very ordinary.

Never considered by the art elite as anything more than an illustrator, Rockwell, nevertheless, caught the aspirations of everyday Americans. He painted what regular folk look like when nobody is looking. Or, at least, what we want to believe we look like. Granted, his early illustrations were mostly of white middle class Vermonters, but his vision grew far beyond that.


The Problem We All Live With image used with permission: Image Licensing Worldwide – http://www.imglicensing.com

Rockwell’s 1964 rendering of Ruby Bridges first day of school shows four strong men protecting six-year-old Ruby on her way to learn with white children. This provided the civil rights movement with an image of simple, everyday life – that was so, so wrong. It should not take strong men to escort small black and brown children to school. With the remnants of violence in the background, “The Problem We All Live With” powerfully portrays the distance people of color must walk to find Freedom from Fear.


“dream act”: Maggie Meiners art used with permission – Maggiemeiners.com

Recently I have been introduced to a new artist, Maggie Meiners who, in her project “Revisiting Rockwell,” recontextualizes his work for today’s everyday life. Her image of a little brown girl escorted by four strong Immigration officers is as provocative and painful as its predecessor. Meiners’ Four Freedoms includes a conservative white businessman exercising his freedom to speak in a contentious meeting, a single mother providing protection from fear for her children, a gay couple offering freedom from want, and a diversity of religious expressions as well as people, worshiping freely.


Maggie Meiners art used with permission – Maggiemeiners.com

I am drawn to both sets of images, saddened that those Four Freedoms are still not enjoyed by all and angry that children are still used as political tools. This Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for health, for family and friends, for all the food I want (and far more than I need), for a voice to speak and the freedom to worship the God who calls me to give as I have received. So today I will feast! And tomorrow I will pick up the mantle of my very ordinary, everyday life. I will use the voice God has given to me in church and in my community to speak against those who would deny others basic freedoms. I will share the riches of my life with the homeless couple whose van is parked in the Methodist’s church parking lot, I will stand alongside parents, grandparents and all those who protect children, and I will trust God for the courage and strength to do so.  I am thankful that I am not alone as we share this calling together.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Kate+ Kotfila


Kate Kotfila is pastor at the United Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, NY. An important spiritual discipline for Kate is traveling in places where life is very different than in Cambridge. You can reach her at [email protected]and learn more about the United Presbyterian Church in Cambridge at www.cambridgenyupc.org.

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