News, views, notes, and quotes

26 November 2015  •  No. 47

¶ Processional.Break the Bread of Belonging (welcome the stranger in the land),” by Gary Rand.

¶ Invocation.Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

¶ Call to worship. “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” —G.K. Chesterton

¶ Hymn of praise.  “Thanksgiving Song,” by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

¶ The first known thanksgiving festival in North America was celebrated by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and the people he called “Tejas” (members of the Hasinai group of Caddo-speaking Native Americans) on 23 May 1541 in Palo Duro Canyon, south of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle.

¶ Who were the Pilgrims?
        • Of the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower, which established the Plymouth Colony on the coast of what is now Massachusetts (making land on 21 November 1620), only 35 were members of Pastor John Robinson’s Separatist congregation (Pilgrims) seeking religious freedom in the “New World.” The other 67 were adventurers, economic refugees from Britain’s overcrowding, and what we today might call venture capitalists, seeking profit from a new source of raw materials.
        •From an economic standpoint, the Mayflower’s purpose was to turn a profit for investors in the London Company that financed the venture.
        •The term “Pilgrim” was not used to identify the early English settlers until 1840. They used the word “Saints” for themselves and designated their fellow passengers as “Strangers.”
        • It took 66 days to travel the 2750 miles (an average speed of two miles per hour) to the “New World” coast, arriving 9 November 1620 just north of Cape Cod. The ship’s original destination was the Hudson River’s mouth in what is now the New York City harbor, but storms blew them off course.

Left: “Madonna of the Harvest,” ©John August Swanson 

       • The event now commemorated in the United States at the end of November each year is more properly described as a harvest festival (of which there are many in the world). The original festival was probably held in early October 1621 and was celebrated by the 53 immigrants who survived that first harsh winter, along with Wampanoag Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men.
        •The Wampanoag were not invited in advance to the first “thanksgiving” feast. The English settlers had just harvested their first crops and celebrated by firing their guns. Wampanoag Chief Massasoit’s men heard the gunfire and, thinking the settlers were being attacked, ventured into the village. Then the settlers invited them to join the feast. Realizing there was not enough food, Massasoit’s men went hunting and brought back deer.

¶ Oh, Come Let’s NOT Adore Him. “Don’t give me the innocent stuff, they [relatives of ISIS combatants] are not innocent. This is a war and you can’t worry about blood on your hands no matter whose it is. If you are wondering ‘what would Jesus do?’ I suggest you wonder ‘what would Joshua do?’” —recent letter to the editor in the “Asheville Citizen-Times”

¶ Intercession. “Oh, if answers to our global wounds could be gathered like wild flowers in the spring, brought home, placed in a vase of water blessing us with the simplicity of their beauty and shared with others, what would our world be then? I can only try to be one of those stems, sharing the best I can be, if only for a moment.  —Chaplain Susan Turley, in a Facebook post

Right: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth," painting by Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914).

¶ Words of assurance. “If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.” —Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), German theologian and mystic

¶ Fun facts about Thanksgiving.
        •Benjamin Franklin felt the eagle a “bad moral character” and thus wanted the turkey, a “much more respectable bird,” to be the national bird of the United States.
        •Thomas Jefferson thought the concept of Thanksgiving was "the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard."
        •Some historians—and many Virginians—say the first Thanksgiving took place on the James River southeast of Richmond. On December 4, 1619, a year before the Mayflower left port, the settlers at today’s Berkeley Plantation gave thanks for their safe landing by order of the colony’s investors, who demanded the date be kept perpetually “as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
        •Last year emergency calls to the “turkey hotline” (800-288-8372, in case you need it) jumped 165%. Must be all those culinary-challenged Millennials and their post-modern prejudice against actual recipes, such that they are now “carried about with every wind of [comestible] doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14 KJV).
        •Why is it called a turkey? Back in the day, the Europeans took a liking to the guinea fowls imported to the continent. Since the birds were imported by Turkish merchants, the English called them turkeys. Later, when the Spaniards came to America, they found a bird that tasted like those guinea fowls. When they were sent to Europe, the English called these birds "turkeys" as well.
        •Fossil evidence shows that turkeys roamed the Americas 10 million years ago.
        •President Abraham Lincoln first ordered, on 28 November 1861, the closing of federal government offices to close for a local day of thanksgiving. Two years later, on 3 October 1863, he issued a formal proclamation setting the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. However, it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress made the holiday official.
        •Our Canadian friends celebrate Thanksgiving Day (Jour de l'action de grâce) on the second Monday of each October. (And, yes, the Canadian Football League plays—not one game, but a doubleheader—on Thanksgiving Day, though they have funny rules.)
        •TV dinners have Thanksgiving to thank. In 1953, someone at the Swanson company misjudged the number of frozen turkeys it would sell that Thanksgiving—by 26 tons! Some industrious soul came up with a brilliant plan: Why not slice up the meat and repackage with some trimmings on the side? Thus, the first TV dinner was born!
        •More alcohol is sold on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. The Friday after Thanksgiving is the year’s busiest shopping day and the busiest day for plumbers.
        •The first dish I learned to cook (if opening cans, mixing them in a dish and heating can be considered cooking) was green bean casserole, a Thanksgiving table tradition (except at our house). Its inventor, Campbell Soup Company employee Dorcas Reilly, was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame following her 1955 tour de force.
        •Some 43 million US citizens will take to the road this Thanksgiving weekend.
        •Confused about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? (It’s highly unlikely you’ve ever eaten a yam, which can grow to five feet in length; and they’re not commercially produced here). Here’s a helpful article explaining the difference.
        •Shopping has always been the twinkle in the eye of Thanksgiving promoters. In 1939, 1940 and 1941, President Roosevelt set the Thanksgiving observance a week early, as a way to spur economic growth and extend the Christmas shopping season.
        •The last time Hannukkah and Thanksgiving coincided was in 1888. It won’t happen again for 70,000 years.
        •The transliterated Greek word for “thanksgiving” is “eucharistia.”

¶ “Pilgrims owe their lives to patron saint Squanto” (Tisquantum), who taught the early English settlers to grow food, build houses from native materials, and mediated relations with Native people in the region.

¶ Text often quoted by the English settlers. “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” —Psalm 2:8

Right: The wooden bust of Native American Squanto at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth. Photo by Christine Hochkeppel, Cape Cod Times.

¶ A Cherokee friend once commented to me, “When Columbus stumbled upon this hemisphere, he thought it was India, and we’ve been “Indians” ever since. Good thing he didn’t think he’d landed in Turkey.”

¶ Overshadowed in the consumptive habits that now characterize our Thanksgiving holiday is the virtue of the family gatherings. The sustaining power of those memories are celebrated in “Wanting Memories,” by Ysaye M. Barnwell, performed here by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

¶ Of course, the ache from the absence of family now passed, or living far away, is also part of the day, as Ray Davies’ captures in “Thanksgiving Day.”

¶ Traditional American values.  “President Obama stated that to ‘close the doors in their [the refugees’] face would undermine our American values.’ Although I welcome refugees escaping religious persecution, we should not be compromising America’s security for the sake of ‘values.’” —recent letter to the editor in the “Asheville Citizen-Times”

¶ Few have heard of King Philip’s War, the bloodiest—in terms of the percentage of population killed—in our history. In World War II the US lost just under 1% of its adult male population; in the Civil War, the figure was 4-5%. In King Philip’s War (also called the First Indian War), 8% of the English colonists died and, far more profoundly, the Native population of southern New England sustained a loss of 60-80%, counting those who died in battle, illness, or from forced migration. King Philip was the adopted English name of the Wampanoag Nation Chief Metacomet. —Nationiel Philbrick, “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War”

¶ Consider participating in StoryCorps’ The Great Thanksgiving Listen” (see this 1:10 minute video), collecting audio recordings of your elders, plus a follow up video, “Interview Tips With Steve Inskeep,” host of NPR Morning Edition.

¶ My friend Sharon Buttry, one of the most effective community organizers and interfaith activists I know, is preparing to cook Thanksgiving dinner using her newly-installed wood stove. Read her “Grandma’s Stove” reflection in ReadTheSpirit (a great source on the web for interfaith news, insight and inspiration).

¶ The “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving video (8:35 minutes) is a tradition in some households.

¶ Baby Blues cartoon.  Wanda, in distress: “I can’t do it again, Darryl!” who then responds, “Yes you can! You have to!”
        “But it’s so much work!” she says. “I’ll help,” he offers.
        “Couldn’t we just order pizza for Thanksgiving?”
        “Wanda, if we give up, the turkeys win!”

¶ Pastor John Robinson’s farewell sermon to that part of his migrating Separatist congregation (aka the Pilgrims) when they disembarked are these memorable lines which we can and should cherish:
        “If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. Whatever part of His will our God has revealed to Calvin, they (Lutherans) will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.”

¶ Helpful hints.Five Things to Do When an Anti-Muslim Hate Rally Comes to Town,” Jordan Denari, Sojourners.

Right: Design by Ken Sehested, using a background photo by Marc Mullinax.

¶ Preach it. “If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.” —Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), German theologian and mystic

¶ Call to the table. “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without a journey is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.” —Mark Nepo

¶ Lectionary for Sunday next. “Zechariah’s question to the angel—‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years?’—is pretty much the same as Mary’s question—‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ Both are skeptical. Both raise the question of biological impossibility. Yet Mary immediately launches into her song of praise, while Zechariah goes dumb, unable to speak.” —read Ken Sehested’s “Same question, different outcomes: A meditation on Zechariah

 Just for fun from Ellen DeGeneres, “Ellen’s Got Your Thanksgiving Seating Arrangement(5:35 minutes).

¶ Benediction. “Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies / are not starving someplace, they are starving / somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils. / But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants…. / We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, / but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have / the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless / furnace of this world. To make injustice the only / measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.—Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense

¶ Recessional. Natalie Cole, “Be Thankful.”

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Left: Art ©Julie Lonneman

Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

•“All the day long,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 25

•“Boundary to Benedictus,” a poem about the Luke 1 story about Zechariah

•“Same question, different outcomes: A meditation on Zechariah

•“Venite Adoremus (Come and Adore),” an Advent poem

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