This coming Thursday, as you probably know, is Thanksgiving Day. The day in which our entire nation sets aside time in our complicated lives to give thanks to God for all our blessings. Thanksgiving Day has been a national holiday since 1863, when Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, wrote a proclamation declaring a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” to be the last Thursday in November. We were supposed to be thankful when brother was fighting brother, north was destroying south, race was fighting against race over the cruel and immoral practice of slavery but, despite it all …Be Thankful!! What sort of “Beneficent Father” would one thank for all that?
Now today, after 150 years, most of us associate Thanksgiving with the stories we were told as children about happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down peacefully to a big feast to celebrate together. And perhaps that did happen – once, but it didn’t stay that way!
Let’s take a few minutes to learn the true reality about the history of Thanksgiving. It is not really a pretty story at all.
In the early 1600s, religious fanatics called Puritan were seeking freedom from oppressive rule of the King of England and the Church of England. They began immigrating (yes, IMMIGRATING—sound familiar?) from England to this new unexplored world of North America. They were arriving by boatloads to what is now Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Maine, after hearing about the riches and “free land” in the “new world”.
Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be public domain, theirs for the taking. Joined by other British and Dutch settlers, they seized land, capturing young native Americans who had lived in those villages for centuries, taking them for slaves and killing the rest.
In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival, which was their type of Thanksgiving celebration for good harvest and peaceful times. In the predawn hours these sleeping Indian natives were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse teepee were burned alive.
The next day the governor of the then Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered, and this land was now theirs;
- this was our FIRST Thanksgiving!
Cheered by their “victory”, the growing number of immigrant colonists and the few natives who became their allies in order to stay alive, attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with as many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England to be sold in Europe (long before slaves from Africa were brought here). Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.
Following an especially successful raid in 1638 against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the severed heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls! Even the friendly Wampanoag tribe did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where it remained on display for 24 years.
The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. Finally, in 1789 George Washington suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre. This was the celebration tradition that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national holiday – while we were brutalizing each other in the Civil War and on the same day as he sent soldiers to massacre the starving Sioux in Minnesota!
The Puritan pilgrims were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for their unorthodox beliefs. They saw themselves as the “Chosen Elect” mentioned in the book of Revelation. They believed in the imminent occurrence of Armageddon and hoped to establish the “Kingdom of God” foretold in the book of Revelation here in the new world. So they came to America by the thousands, with every intention of taking the land away from its native people to build their prophesied “Holy Kingdom.”
Sound like the peaceful, happy festival you heard about in school?
- No, it sounds more like what is happening today in Africa where a group of Fanatics called Boka Harom are kidnapping young girls for slave brides and destroying villages in the name of God.
No, it sounds like what is happening in Syria and Iraq where a group called ISIS is slaughtering people by the thousands and publicly beheading westerners to incite war and hatred and violence.
And it sounds a bit like here in the US, as people from Central America struggle to come here as immigrants to escape persecution and violence and to try and make a new life for themselves, and some of us are telling them they are not welcome, we have no place for them – they are not “real Americans”!
Killing, destroying, and hating in the name of God is not new and still goes on! There are still groups in the Middle East and in this country who think they are God’s ‘chosen people’ and kill and maim in the name of God, and then go have a ‘feast of thanksgiving’ for all their blessings!
- What is wrong with this picture?
What do we honestly have to be proud of and thankful for with a history like that? What can we do to make this right?
Well, the truth my friends is, we can do almost nothing. It is history – it is sadly a real part of human behavior, and this sort of history is universal and has gone on for thousands of years. We in the USA are no better or worse, no more civilized or saintly than any other people, old or new, and that is the way it is. Evil and cruelty are as much a part of God’s world as Goodness and Justice, and all you and I can do is try to stand for Goodness and Justice as best we can every day of our lives until we actually get to the Kingdom of Heaven!
So, should we be thankful for Thanksgiving?
In light of all that is sad and shameful in our past and in our lives today, should we thank God? How should we deal with this annual day of gathering with friends and loved ones to feat and celebrate our blessings?
Well, let’s consider this moment. . . this day. It is really all we have, you know.
You and I can’t change what people did in the 1600s in Massachusetts. We can’t change what happened in the Inquisition or the Holocaust, or what some of our ancestors did to native Americans. We can’t stop radical religious fanatics in Syria from wreaking havoc and pestilence on the entire Middle East . . . nor can we even get our own government to quit bombing them!
We have just this moment, just today, just now. We have only our own lives and those of the people around us that we can do something about. And oh my, there are problems for sure right here and now!
- • Some of us don’t have jobs, it is cold, and some of us don’t know for sure where we are going to sleep tonight;
• Some of us are fearing legal and police persecution for things that we feel are unfair or that we didn’t do.
• Some of us are experiencing physical pain and grave illness;
• Some of us are dealing with emotional sadness and pain from loss of loved ones, or separation from family.
Then, can we be thankful?
But I want to suggest to you that here, right now – in this moment– at In The Garden we have many things we can be grateful for:
- • This space is warm, clean, and reliable—we can be here every week—and even on weekdays upstairs,
• Over the past 7 years we have formed a community of people who know and care about each other; you are
• Today, and every Sunday, we have a good meal—prepared by people who come from all over Columbus , a
diversity of faith communities and organizations, to bring this food to you, because they care about you.
Today it is Jodi Overfield and a lot of good people from Pickerington
• I hope you are thankful, as I am, for the Core Team of Trinity church, who help make ITG possible: Carrie,
Chise, Lori, Paula and John and Lexi, Andrea and Olivia, David, Kim, Kathi, Jean, Karen (whoever else is there today]
• The Ohio State University Muslim Student Association who fast for one day in order to provide sack lunches
• The love and concern for each other we feel as a part of the community.
So now think for a minute about right now what you are thankful for? And as you eat your dinner today, perhaps tell each other about the good things in your life, your blessings, the people who have meant the most to you . . .
and know that in this moment, right now . .
- we ARE blessed,
we ARE loved by God,
We have each other, and we do have much to be thankful for.
Let us pray…. (sung)
Bless this house, O Lord we pray,
Make it safe by night and day . . .
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out . . .
Bless the roof and chimneys tall,
Let thy peace lie overall . . .
Bless this door that it may prove,
To joy and love . . .
Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s Heavenly light,
Bless the hearth, ablazing there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer!
Bless the people here within,
Keep them pure and free from sin . . .
Bless us all that we may be,
Fit O Lord to dwell with thee . . .
Bless us all that one day we may dwell,
O Lord! With Thee!
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 23 November 2014