The United States of America is – like every person we meet and any nation we study – beautiful and broken. Her history is filled with saints and sinners, imperial oppression and unprecedented liberty. As we gather around tables and express our gratitude to God and each other, here are some paradoxical facts that are part of our historical tapestry:
- The First Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth with genuinely cordial relations with the local tribes. The Pilgrims owed their survival to Squanto and others that helped them gather, harvest, and hunt well.
- Just before the Pilgrims came ashore (1620), the colony of Virginia began importing African slaves for work in the tobacco fields (1619), inaugurating a history that only a Civil War and later Civil Rights Movement would change.
- Maryland and Pennsylvania were colonial havens for Roman Catholics and Quakers respectively, and both colonies promoted freedom of religion.
- Meanwhile in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, religious dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were exiled or punished severely into the 1690s.
- The Methodists prohibited members from owning slaves as of 1757; alas, a century later this dynamic tradition was divided in to Northern and Southern branches…as were almost all denominations.
- Ellis Island processed millions of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though many faced prejudices and obstacles assimilating into a very White and Protestant America, within a few generations, most of their descendants were celebrating the opportunities the New World had to offer.
- At the same time immigrants were gazing happily at the Statue of Liberty upon their arrival in the USA, millions of Native Americans and African Americans faced continued oppression, prejudice, and legal barriers to full inclusion into American society.
The USA continues as an experiment in virtue-based liberty, with a history of hospitality and generosity as well as nativism and xenophobia. As we rightly give thanks, let’s rededicate ourselves to building a land of access, equity, and opportunity for all.
Thanksgiving is the purest, least commercial
holiday on the USA calendar (though the encroachment of retail sales to
Thursday is disturbing). It reflects four universal human experiences:
First, gratitude for a harvest that sustains life for another year.
Second, the centrality of shared meals: whether fancy or simple, there
is something special about the table with family and friends. Third, a
hospitable welcome for people of all cultures. From Squanto to an
exchange student, mutual love and respect grows around the table. And
fourth, our need to thank the Almighty and celebrate the bounty provided
for our flourishing.
year, A.D. 2019, the Thanksgiving Table takes on new significance for
our nation and our world. What if millions of homes open their hearts
and tables for peaceful celebration and conversation of topics other
than impeachment and elections? What if around the Table, conversations
were more personal, more encouraging, and focused on making
neighborhoods stronger, with more opportunities for the marginalized?
if Thanksgiving history is shared, with the miracle of the Plymouth
settlers meeting an indigenous friend who spoke their language and
respected their God (and helped them survive)? What if we cry and laugh
over what really matters?
year, let’s host tables of inclusion and joy, lingering over delicious
food (football can wait), and grateful for the warmth of faith, hope,
and love? Political problems, football games, and great retail sales are
ephemeral. But the people we love and the new friends we make are
I am very concerned with the triumph of emotivism in academic/intellectual circles. Critical thinking is not confined to a culture, gender or race. Critical thinking needs new attention so our dialogues move us toward truth, and, where possible, principled compromise on policies. Please friends, let’s be unafraid listen with humility and observe with objectivity.
In our polarized world, there two things that offer hope:
- shared encounters in community worship; and
- shared engagement in God’s work that renews our communities. God’s presence expands our hearts in holy love and practical work expresses our unity in service.
For centuries, human beings have sought meaning. In our century, we are debating the meaning of being human. Grateful for the Biblical story that offers identity and hope, humility and purpose.
Lord, please heal us.
Heal our hearts: touch our deepest wounds as use us as emissaries of compassion.
Heal our heads: liberate our minds from captivity to crowds and release fresh thinking.
Heal our hands: deliver us from selfish motives and methods and unleash innovation and integrity for the common good.
Lord, heal our land, one prayer, one kind word, one sacrificial act at a time.
A few weeks ago, we said farewell to my father at the age of 89. His life was marked by love of family, deep integrity, intellectual curiosity and hopefulness. His passing was a bit sudden, but the entire family was able to celebrate a life well-lived. We shared laughter and tears and saw some family members we have not seen for many years.
Just a few days ago, tragedy struck our family as our newborn granddaughter, Nora Jo, only lived a few hours after her birth. Complications during delivery led to this unexpected and heartbreaking moment. We are grateful for the prayers of thousands and the strong faith of Michael and Aubren as they walk through this valley.
Thanksgiving takes on a new depth this year as we absorb this moment and remain faithful in faith, hope and love. The resurrection hope of the Christian faith is a sustaining grace.
As in Habakkuk 3:17-19, we remain hopeful even as we are healing in our hearts. These moments pull back the veil just a bit and we receive foretastes of eternity, whether in privation or prosperity. The prophet lives during a time of great political and spiritual turmoil and the Lord revealed his sovereignty over all events and nations. The job of the righteous in such times is remaining faithful under trials, watchful in prayer and worshipful in all circumstances. Here are the prophet’s closing words, apropos for our world:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, not fruit be on the vines,
The produce of the olive [crop] fail and fields yield no food,
The flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s
He makes be tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: on my stringed instruments.
As we remember the Pilgrims, feast with family and reach out to the hurting, may we renew our devotion to the Lord, the One with us in all circumstances.