|Anno Domini: We gather together|
|November 27, 2013 Jerry Purvis|
Well, it’s Thanksgiving time. And with it starts “the holidays,” that season of food and festivities stretching to New Year’s. A good friend wisely called it “the fat season.” It’s time for cookies, turkeys, fudge, green bean casserole and lots of stuffing, both of the bird and of ourselves.
Another note of interest, this year marks the 40th anniversary of a classic cartoon – “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” In the opening sequence, Charlie Brown, ever the optimist, plans to kick that football to the moon. After all, the Thanksgiving Day football game is a tradition.
And like clockwork, Lucy pulls the football away and Charlie ends up on his back once again. In classic Peanuts irony, Lucy said “Isn’t it peculiar, Charlie Brown, how some traditions just slowly fade away.”
Sadly, that’s happened to Thanksgiving for many Americans. It’s morphed into a caricature, a long weekend for overindulging, overspending and watching a mediocre football game. And most schools no longer teach about our founding. Instead, we get what the late author Charles Colson called “a half-baked version of Thanksgiving lore, complete with glazed facts, mashed multiculturalism and a generous helping of censorship.”
So it’s no wonder that knowledge of our history, and the reasons behind it, is in short supply. Our children never learned it.
William Bradford, first governor of the Plimouth Colony, wrote an extensive history of the Pilgrims’ lives and times in his journal “Of Plimouth Plantation.” In it, he wrote their motivation for sailing west was “a great hope … for advancing the kingdom of Christ.”
The Pilgrims landed near what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in November 1620. Bradford’s wife was the first to die, after falling off the back of the Mayflower. A line from the Old Testament book of Exodus described them well: They were strangers in a strange land.
Bradford wrote of their arrival in his journal as they “fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over this fast and furious ocean.”
During their first winter in the wilderness, the Pilgrims lost 46 of the original 102 in their company. The captain of the Mayflower, realizing that if he left, the Pilgrims were goners, remained offshore for the winter, offering shelter for the women and children.
When spring returned, the captain made a plea for the Pilgrims to return with him to England. And despite their losses, not a single person made the trip back. They were on a mission, even if it meant dying in the wilderness.
So with help from a native named Squanto who spoke English (a miraculous story in its own right), those remaining brought in an abundant harvest for 1621. During that year, they also hammered out a treaty with Chief Massasoit and the neighboring Wampanoag tribe that would last for almost 40 years, until the chief’s death.
That autumn brought the Pilgrims’ first celebration of thanksgiving. Massasoit brought 90 members of this tribe and the feast lasted for three days. And most importantly during that event, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for preserving them in a new land where they were free to worship as they wanted, based on self-government.
More than a hundred years later, William Penn offered a great explanation of self-government when he wrote that man, because of his nature, will either be governed by God or ruled by tyrants. That truth is still evident today.
The spiritual heritage of a resilient people giving thanks has been an important bulwark throughout the history of America. In that sense, Thanksgiving should be more than just a holiday. It should be a way of life – just as it was for the Pilgrims.
The first formal Thanksgiving proclamation came in 1789. George Washington was more than our first President. He was a student of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures, like William Bradford before him. In his proclamation, Washington wrote it is “the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor …”
Thanksgiving was proclaimed in the nation again in 1863, in the depths of the Civil War. That was a particularly ghastly year for America. Confederate General Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania, which eventually led to the Battle of Gettysburg. Some 40,000 Americans, from both sides, died in that campaign.
President Abraham Lincoln wrote that he declared a national day of thanksgiving because the nation had “forgotten God.”
Faith can be such a misplaced thing. As our nation grew and became more prosperous, people began putting their faith in money, or government, or their own sense of superior intelligence. I’ve known a few of those over the years.
I still think it’s better to put our faith in something more permanent, more everlasting, than Dow Jones. One of the hallmarks of a great nation has always been the ability of its people to give thanks for blessings bestowed.
It’s a real tragedy to see so many in our government and our post-modern society trying to drive this knowledge of our founding out of remembrance. In doing so, they’re trying to drive righteousness from the land. But I’m also thankful for those of us who are refusing to go along with the program.
Thanks for reading – and have a blessed Thanksgiving.