thanksgiving

We are two weeks away from Thanksgiving, the holiday where we give thanks, feed people and perhaps, snooze in front of a broadcast football game.

However, how much do we know about this holiday? And for those of us who claim to follow Christ, are we really being thankful in a way that serves others?

Thanksgiving is a secular holiday. It is one that we have celebrated as a nation since the inception of the country. Growing up in school I was taught that the pilgrims and Indians sat down together at a long table and feasted together at a peaceful and benevolent table.

The pilgrims were those who traveled from England to find a new home because the mean old King of England wouldn’t let them practice their Christianity the way they wanted. We were taught that the Indians were the less civilized human species who didn’t wear enough clothes, but plenty of feathers.

Since my elementary days I have come to understand Thanksgiving, pilgrims and Indians in a very different way.

The day we often sit and give thanks around a table with a turkey and corn and mashed potatoes is as far from the first Thanksgiving as the Rolling Stones are from the Vienna Boys Choir.

The beautiful native peoples who inhabited this land before the Puritan Pilgrims arrived were quite content in their way of life.

They grew plenty of corn before the English showed up. They had beautiful and functional clothes and hides that kept them dry and warm through the winters despite what my 5th grade teacher said.

What we often forget about the history of Thanksgiving is the destruction and disease. The

Pilgrims so strongly believed they had to leave England because it no longer suited their religious and social needs, that they traveled to New England. They no thought for the native peoples except perhaps that they would be able to ‘better’ them or ‘teach them some things.’

“From 1492 to 1650 contagions claimed as many as nine native lives out of ten. (Vowell, “The Wordy Shipmates”, Ch 1)”

Up to 90% of the natives were killed by germs. When King James heard about the plague, he praised God for wiping out the ‘savages.’

This disregard for human life in is one we’d like to believe we have evolved beyond. However, we continue to place different values on human life based on criminal history, education, background, race, sexual orientation, heritage and even language or stature.

As we continue to live through a global pandemic, we are forcing our healthcare system to make decisions about the rationing of care – placing a value on human life based on age, health, predictions of future health.

We have disregarded the warnings that our health care workers are overworked, tired, and making life and death decisions because we are more worried about ‘doing what we want’, instead of what we ‘ought to do.’

When the Pilgrims settled in New England, they wiped out the now infamous native tribe which

Squanto was a part of. After returning from a trip to England to learn English and be hired as an interpreter and guide, Squanto found his whole native tribe, the Patuxet, dead from smallpox.

While we have yet to wipe out an entire group of people from this pandemic, we continue to make decisions that impact all of the people around us.

Do we regard the life of those around us as less important the very life we are living?

Are we so wrapped up with our desires and insistence on our own way of life, that we have forgotten the words of the apostle Paul when he writes to the church in Philipi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, NIV translation).

These words were written to remind the church in Philipi because their infighting was similar to the disciples who would argue about who would sit at the right hand of Jesus – futile.

For the whole nature of Christ is to regard others as the beloved children of God exactly as they are – to treat them with the same love and respect that we also desire.

When we come to this time of Thanksgiving, we often simplify the day to a meal and speaking words of gratitude before we feast on turkey and yams.

My hope this year would be that we examine the ways we are treating others and consider them just as sacred as we ourselves are.

And that we find ways to continue to love and serve one another that honor the love Christ gives us, that in doing so, we give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Rev. Lisa Petty is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Montrose.

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