A couple years ago, I wrote a post about how we need to match gratitude with lament. That the two are necessary practices in a broken world. In that post, I called for “angst-giving,” but I didn’t really do it in a way that disses the Thanksgiving holiday.
In this little article, I hope to correct that. I’m not saying that gratitude isn’t a necessity for faithful living in a world dominated by the Powers. I AM, however, of the opinion that Thanksgiving is a tool of those Powers, rather than a way of faithfully resisting. Allow me to explain.
Thanksgiving Day conjures up a happy myth about pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down and sharing a roast turkey and a veritable cornucopia of tasty treats. It is a story of survival. The starving Europeans settled in an inhospitable land, and, on the bring of starvation, found hospitality from locals. Through honest work and tenacity, the colonists survived and were able to build a great nation, occupying this great Free Land that is a beacon of light to a dark world.
It is a day where we honor our founding priciples of sharing, kinship, and hard work. It is a day when we give thanks for our blessings. The blessings granted to us by our benevolent God who has decided to lay upon our strong backs the mantle of abundance and affluence. These things, we all know, must not be taken lightly. We must receive them with gratitude. And, in times like these we must express our gratitude by sharing with those less fortunate. After all, we are beacons of light.
Or, stripped of all of the propaganda and hypocrisy, we can tell the story this way:
Pilgrims came to this nation looking for a place filled with opportunities. Some came for religious freedom. Some came to start over. But all came with the hopes of prosperity. Upon arriving, the pilgrims found an abandoned village which soon became their own settlement. It was hard work building a new life. But their Protestant work ethic wasn’t enough to carry them through. Thankfully, they made friends with a local who already spoke English (Squanto) because he had learned the language while serving as a slave to colonists elsewhere. Squanto helped these pilgrims survive.
As time passed, the settlers formed an uneasy peace with the Wampanoag nearbye. At that time, the Wampanoag numbered at least 12,000–and were probably even more numerous in earlier days. But in the years that followed, they were almost wiped out. They, like many other peoples, suffered the genocide of white Christians who longed to fulfill their Manifest Destiny. As their numbers increased, the Native population decreased. Our “blessings” came at great price for those who previously dwelt these lands.
In the words of the American folk classic:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
I’m not sure that everyone in the USA can sing these words with joy in their hearts. It isn’t just leftist rhetoric to say that our abundant blessings have grown up from stolen lands that were harvested, in large part, by stolen labor.
“Gracious Gifts of the Most High God”
The Thanksgiving holiday was instituted in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was in the midst of a war and the holiday was an attempt at bringing some sense of unity in the midst of conflict.
According to Lincoln:
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
This, it seems to me, is one of the great myths that is perpetuated on Thanksgiving Day. When we believe that our abundance comes from the will of God, rather than through our own sins, we (in some way at least) sanction our abundance. Now, that isn’t to say that we can be thankful for the stuff we have. It is to say, however, that if we are going to give thanks, it must be balanced by our giving of angst. We must lament and repent for the ways in which our affluence has come unjustly.
But Thanksgiving is hardly, if ever, seen as a day for lament. Unless, of course you are some sort of extremist or one of those “ungrateful” Native Americans who haven’t “let it go.” As an aside: Why is it that we say that African Americans and Native Americans should simply “let it go” when God encouraged the Israelites to remember the injustices done to them? Why, when talking about Scripture do we assume that the various empires “have it coming” when judgment falls for how they treated the Jews, but when it comes to the USA…
Thanksgiving Day is a day when we’re supposed to give thanks for affluence and abundance. It is a day so tied into the practice of our American Civil Religion that it is usually an unquestioned good. It is a day when we give religious sanction for Empire.
Perhaps Thanksgiving should not be for us a day where we thank God for all of our abundant stuff, but a day where we see our society without illusions. It should be a day where we look into the naked face of Empire, lament the sins of this nation in which we reside as we honestly thank God for those things that are truly blessings from God.
It is interesting that, in the New Testament, blessing is hardly ever tied to material wealth. In fact, it is quite the oppositve. It is the poor who are called blessed.
It is also interesting that, likewise, gratitude isn’t tied to material possessions either. We are told to be grateful and joyful because of things like suffering and persecution and salvation and whatnot. Yet, we’ve let our own assumptions about blessings spill into our spiritual lives and, because of this, we thank God for all the stuff we have (regardless of how we got it) as we actively try to avoid those situations and conditions under which the New Testament authors would actually call us blessed.
And so, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to practice Angst-giving. Not as an expression of ungratitude. Rather, give thanks to God for those things that are blessings. And repent and lament those things that flow from injustice.