Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied . . . Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. (Luke 6.21-25)We are just a few days away from a time spent in America around a table with good food, friends, family, celebration, and thankfulness. When I was a child, I was often accused of thinking about things too hard. “Lighten up, Herbie,” they’d say. “It’s just about having some fun.” And although I agree that I usually am looking at things way too seriously, I can’t seem to shake my thoughts about Thanksgiving this year. I want to say from the very beginning that I am in NO WAY saying anything negative about Thanksgiving, nor am I against celebrating this day to the fullest! What I’m suggesting is a more “holistic” Kingdom way through which a follower of Jesus might approach this day and the history it represents.
Let me explain. Recently, I heard a joke told by Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University. And although Hauerwas used the joke in relation to patriotism and the followers of Jesus, I believe it is also relevant to our subject this week.
The story is told of a day when Tonto and the Lone Ranger find themselves hopelessly surrounded by hundreds of aggressive Indians. Looking down at his trusty, silver six-shooter, and knowing it was not going to be enough, the Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “What do we do now, Tonto?” Tonto calmly looked at the Lone Ranger and said, “What do you mean ‘we’, white man.”
In a sense, this is where I am too this year with Thanksgiving. Everywhere in America, I hear the rhetoric that surrounds this time of year where “we” as Americans celebrate how our Christian, European, pilgrim, immigrant forefathers were befriended by natives and taught how to survive. It’s a time where “we” celebrate with family and friends. And I want to just pause and sincerely ask the question, as a Jesus follower, “What do you mean ‘we’?”
Yes, I’m a white male, living in America, of European descent, but is this the only lens through which I, as a follower of Jesus and one who claim’s Christ’s Kingdom, can see? Is this the only lens through which Jesus calls me to see this holiday and its history?
You see, in the United States, the American Thanksgiving holiday tradition is very loosely traced by most to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in Massachusetts. In the 1620s and 1630s, pilgrims and puritans from England carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. What strikes me is how religious these immigrants were. This year, it is even more striking to me as my attention has recently been drawn to the deep contradiction between religiously worshiping Jesus and ethically following Jesus. (You’ll have to pardon me, I just finished The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer again.) You see, the “Christian” newcomers to this land, as religious as they were, were not as committed to what it meant to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus found in His landmark sermon on the mount. History is typically told from the perspective of the victors, the ones who have taken over a new territory. Rarely is history seen through the glasses of those who were defeated, those who had their homes taken away. I recently asked one of my American Indian friends what Thanksgiving means to them from their perspective. What I heard was a rich history of indigenous people who lived here long before this land was called America. I heard the story of how the Wampanoag, who had already experienced raids and slavery at the hands of Christian Europeans, nevertheless, embraced their “enemies” and taught these foreigners the skills necessary to grow their own food and survive. Whether intentionally or not, the reward they received for this was to suffer from diseases they had never known and against which their bodies had no immunity, ultimately suffering hunger and death themselves. Yes, this day stands for the survival of white immigrants as a result of the grace given them by this native tribe. But the celebration also lives within a story told upon the backdrop, sadly, of treachery, racism, and violence against millions of indigenous people that was justified then, and continues to be justified today, by Christian rhetoric.
Today, for some, this holiday is not simply a time to remember the survival of Christian pilgrims, it is also a story that includes small pox blankets, “civilizing” schools, and broken treaties. Although there are those who will endeavor to downplay and even deny these story details, they are bound together with our Thanksgiving celebration no matter how we try to reinterpret the day’s meaning and baptize it with Christian language and metaphors.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but this year, I’m choosing for my Thanksgiving celebration to also include Repentancegiving,, and some Confessiongiving. I want to experience more than simply gratitude, I want to be reminded of how easy it is for religion to be used for agendas other than those of the nonviolent Christ. At the very least, I’m choosing this year to embrace the complexity and contradictions of this day, honestly. Rather than giving in to myth and legend, I want this day to be a time, yes, spent with family and friends in laughter, celebration, and thankfulness. But I want this day to also be a reminder to continually analyze the water in which we are all swimming. I want this to be a day when I remember those who are not on the winning side of how life on earth is currently orchestrated. I want to see their stories through their eyes. And to stand in solidarity with them. This year, I want to be part of the cure, rather than the disease. Till the only world that remains, is a world where love reigns.
1.This week, I want you to make a list of ten things for which you are thankful.
2.I want you to then, alongside each of those ten, consider those around the globe at whose expense those blessings might have come and take a moment to look at life through their eyes. Spend some thoughtful time in prayer over what this might mean and what Jesus, your mentor, would have his disciple (you) think, feel, and do as a result.
3.Share what you discover with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. And to all those who hunger and thirst for justice, you will be filled. The Kingdom Jesus has come to establish here on planet earth is slanted in your favor.
We’ll begin next week on a special four-part series on the birth of Jesus, which sparked what I consider to be the most beautiful revolution in all of human history—The Kingdom!
I love you guys,
I’ll see you next week.