I'm sitting here in the seminary library and everyone is finishing up their classes before going home for Thanksgiving. We have no classes next week so that everyone (faculty and students alike) have time to take care of personal business and travel to be with family. That's really nice, but it has me questioning the whole idea of Thanksgiving in the first place. For those of you who don't the history of this American holiday, the "first thanksgiving" occurred in 1621 between the Puritan pilgrims and the Native Americans of the area, although they weren't eating turkey and pumpkin pie. That particular event was not repeated, but then around the time of the American Revolution a yearly day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress. Then some states began adopting Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a day of thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November and each president since then has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939, and this was approved by Congress in 1941. For more information, I recommend the History Channels page at www.historychannel.com/thanksgiving.
Setting aside the notion of "separation of church and state" and looking at all of this history around the holiday, I find it particularly interesting that it was seen as primarily a religious holiday, and yet I don't think we often take that seriously today. I don't know any churches that have services on Thanksgiving Day, although I will admit that many families pray before dinner on Thanksgiving that may never pray before any other meals during the year. Still, I wonder if people really think about how much they have to be thankful for. How do most people celebrate this holiday? By eating. We don't just cook some traditional food - we make a LARGE meal and generally eat ourselves to sleep! In a world where there are so many people who don't have homes (tsunami, hurricane and earthquake victims come to mind as well as refugees from various area of violence), never mind food to cook and eat in that home, do we really appreciate how much we have? We live in the richest country in the world, and yet there are people in our own country, state and city who are homeless. There are people in all of our communities who can't afford to feed their families. Don't kid yourself - most of these people are NOT lazy, clueless people who don't have jobs or know what they need to do. Many of them are working, but work in jobs that don't pay enough for them to pay the essential bills, like rent/mortgage, electricity, and some mode of transportation to get to and from that job. If you don't believe me, I recommend the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich which gives an indepth look at our country's working poor. People who work in many "blue collar" jobs are barely making ends meet - and I'm not talking about New Orleans. It's everywhere.
So, when we celebrate Thanksgiving, this national holiday to thank God, what are we really thankful for? Are we just thankful that our country has enough money that we can be in a war in several countries at once? Are we thankful that we can afford to not see the homeless people because the police make them leave public areas? Are we thankful that we can have a huge meal that will lead to leftovers for two weeks, but never really think about those that aren't even getting a turkey sandwich? I encourage everyone to REALLY think about what they are thankful for and what it is that God is asking of those who believe in Jesus the Christ. Does God want us to just say "thank you" like a kindergarten child is taught to do, or are we called to do more than that? I think most Christians know that we are called to do more, yet that won't stop us from sitting in front of our dining tables next Thursday, eating until we're so full we have to unbutton our pants, and then we fall asleep in front of some football game on TV.
I personally am tired of being a hypocrite. I'm not going to have the big traditional dinner. If I cook a turkey, it will be to share with a lot of people I am not related to and I will make a point of being thankful that I was able to simply go to the grocery store and buy that turkey when so many others don't have that opportunity. I won't just make myself feel better by throwing a couple of cans into a food drive. I choose to educate myself about the underlying causes of poverty and hunger and work to change some of those things. If you want to educate yourself as well, check out www.bread.org and particularly pay attention to the ONE campaign. It's easy to understand and they are not asking for your money - just your time and a little effort to read your email. Until next time...