My thoughts on “Thanksgiving”…the Act vs. the Story

I have always struggled with the traditional story behind Thanksgiving.

Growing up, I lived in a culture that embraced our Native American heritage. My school and community (which shared the name of my father’s family) was made up of almost mostly of people from the Choctaw Apache tribe. I have memories of hosting pow-wows on our baseball field and handing out ice cream to the tourists who donated money to our school.  When our tribe was federally recognized, it was a big deal to get myself (and my 2 sons) their “official” card of membership. All of that to say, I know that most Americans in the 21st century have a melting pot of cultures (including Native American) in their DNA but I was lucky enough to grow up in one that embraced it.

The reason I struggle with Thanksgiving is the same story or rant that most bloggers would tell…that it’s simply not true. You can google, “the real story of Thanksgiving,” and find articles from Rush Limbaugh or Huffpost that explains why the stories that are taught to school age children are completely different than the real history. But I don’t want to go off on that or start a debate on the public school system.

What I want to do is offer a new approach to thinking about Thanksgiving, or at least it’s new to me. A lot of people today have adopted the habit of using social media to say what they are thankful for every day in November, leading up to the actual day of Thanksgiving. While I have never taken part of this, I do like the reasoning behind it. It’s a time when we can stop boasting about whatever things we normally share and stop to thank God for what we’ve been given in spite of ourselves.

So why not use this same idea to teach our children? Rather than masking the true story of Thanksgiving with a fictional account of happy pilgrims or choosing the other extreme & exposing them to the bloody horror behind claiming the “new” land, we can choose to teach them about act of Thanksgiving. A new focus that doesn’t hide what really happened but teaches truth and celebrates a God who still loves us in spite of our sins, our actions, our works and ourselves. When we choose to be thankful for grace, the true story of the pilgrims and Indians becomes one we can learn from. 

Now before we get into the debate of “Why November?”, it’s important to realize that even if we do boycott holidays because we should be thankful in other months than November or celebrate Jesus & giving in other months than December, I will say this….Holidays are what we make of them. Even if we are thankful in other months or celebrate freedom on other days versus July 4th, it is nice that during the month of November, it is hard to escape the idea of thankfulness. If you’re like me, I am usually so self involved that having a whole day muchless a whole month dedicated to the idea helps me to refocus my selfish attitude, especially before the time of giving (not getting) in December. But that’s a completely different post that has yet to be written. 

All in all, I am thankful that God works in spite of my actions. I am thankful for the grace and forgiveness I have received in my life because I have hurt a lot of people and like the pilgrims, have covered up my sin with other stories that reflect the good and not what really happened. I am thankful for love and community that help me understand the true meaning of grace. And I am thankful for unconditional love, that even though I am selfish sometimes, God loves me no matter what.

I often identify with Paul in my own spiritual past & present journey and I thought these two excerpts of scripture best reflected my new attitude of Thanksgiving that I will choose to focus on this November and in years to come.

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NRSV

(Gratitude for Mercy) 12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:9-11 NRSV

9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
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