Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Day

Instead of over the river and through the wood, it was up in the sky and across the country for my annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to wet and cold California. It is surprising how laden with layers of tradition (like family visits) this quintessentially American holiday has become, long after the Plymouth Pilgrims and their successors set the stage for this defining American observance of origin, family, and nationhood. Somewhere along the way Thanksgiving also became tarnished by a commercial association with Christmas shopping, an assault on the holiday which continues undiminished ever year. Even so, as the crowds of contemporary holiday pilgrims show, the holiday's deeper resonances remain alive and well in our divided land in this troubled time.

One of those traditional associations which still resonate (albeit a lot less strongly than in the past) is the aspiration that this land and nation should be a new "city on a hill," a biblical image famously evoked by John Winthrop in his 1630 address to the Massachusetts colonists, A Model of Christian Charity. Winthrop famously warned his hearers not to deale falsely with our God in this worke wee haue undertaken, and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us. If only his warning were more widely heeded!

In this troubled time in our divided land, when so much of American religion - Christianity in particular - seems to have become about the pursuit of political power, having allied itself with the Republican party instead of the Kingdom of God, we would all do well to recall the positive instructions Winthrop gave his brethren as a prelude to that famous warning: wee must be knitt together, in this worke, as one man. Wee must entertaine each other in brotherly affection. Wee must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities. Wee must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekeness, gentlenes, patience and liberality. Wee must delight in eache other; make other's conditions our oune; rejoice together, mourne together, labour and suffer together, allwayes haueving before our eyes our commission and community in the worke, as members of the same body. Soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace [cf. Ephesians 4:3]. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his oune people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our wayes. Soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome, power, goodness and truthe, than formerly wee haue been acquainted with. ... For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill [cf. Matthew  5:14-16].. The eies of all people are uppon us. Soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this worke wee haue undertaken, and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. Wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of God, and all professors for God's sake. Wee shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into curses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whither wee are a goeing.

(Photo:  Norman Rockwell's famous Thanksgiving image, the third of the Four Freedoms series of oil paintings inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address, identifying freedom of speechfreedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, as World War II international war aims - even before the US had actually entered the conflict.)

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