When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was my absolute favorite holiday. As much as I could have foregone New England’s setting cold, the months of October and November also ushered in some heart-warming elements: cornucopia, hayrides, fresh cider donuts, hand-selected apples, shot-putting squirrels and their scattered acorn shell casings, random flocks of wild turkeys running across the street, and the smell of slowly-burning wood in the fireplace (to name a few). With all of its busy colors and activities, the autumn scene has a way of driving the mind and body away from the cold and back to the hearth. That sense of gathering around for a shared experience of gratitude and praise for a year of labors and triumphs is a foretaste of heaven.
For many, however, the holidays have a less than celestial appeal. Missing loved ones, traumatic family dynamics, loneliness, and sickness are reminders of the sin-sick world we inhabit.
In that same vein, through the years our country’s celebration of Thanksgiving has increasingly become a topic of tense interest: Are you Team Thanksgiving? Should we turn our focus to the more recently dubbed Indigenous People’s Day? Perhaps you are unaware of the debate altogether. Maybe you’re a newcomer or a “first-genner” like myself, and you feel you don’t even have a dog in the fight, so let’s just eat. May I suggest to you that the fight is one that is critical to us all, especially as believers. Yes, the warm and fuzzy feelings of the holidays are beneficial to everyone; and yes, scripture does admonish us to empathize with and look after those who suffer and are misplaced. But how do we simultaneously “Rejoice with those who rejoice; and weep with those who weep”? (Romans 12:15)
Just sixty miles south of my hometown in Massachusetts, the Mashpee Wampanoag, descendants of the Natives that the Pilgrims encountered 402 years ago in Patuxet (modern-day Plymouth, MA), still reside. As one of just three surviving tribes of the sixty-nine that once comprised the Wampanoag Nation, the painful process of the Mashpee Tribe’s re-acquisition of tribal lands continues.
So why the sociology lesson and how is it even relevant to our Thanksgiving festivities here in Texas? I propose that the relationship between Indigenous tribes and our local communities is not simply relevant to those in Massachusetts, Texas, or the U.S. alone, but to the world.
When God redeemed the world to Himself, He knowingly and purposefully invited His enemies to the proverbial table. Christ washed Judas’ feet and broke bread with him with complete knowledge of Judas’ pending betrayal. Is that not the Master’s course with us all? A bountiful harvest does not come by chance, but by God’s provision and ordination - even in the wake of unsavory relations between the beneficiaries. The Pilgrims and other passengers endured a dreadful and deadly journey, encountered a people and land that were unrecognizable, and prayed and worked for a harvest that was all new to them. The odds were stacked. Despite this, and knowing that bloody and divisive centuries-long conflict would eventually ensue between the Natives and the settlers, God did something other-worldly. He blessed them all… together.
That agape, in all of its intense simplicity, makes me “simultaneously partial” (if that’s even a thing) to both Team Thanksgiving Day and Team Indigenous Peoples Day. In fact, they aren’t separate teams at all, but further evidence of God’s faithfulness to reconcile us all to Himself, despite our earthly complexities.
In my adult experience, Thanksgiving has become a sobering reminder that God has intentionally blessed and lavished His love on me, giving me the very breath in my body, which I at times have used to crucify Him afresh. That’s humbling. So while I haven’t seen any cornucopia here in Houston, wild turkeys aren’t randomly loitering city streets, and cider donuts are… well, I guess I can settle for whatever Trader Joe’s is dishing…
Our annual gathering by the family hearth will be filled with the warm reminder that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)