Thanksgiving Empathy


Romans 12:9-21

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drinkIn doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 


I feel grateful to have had a very wonderful Thanksgiving Day this year. As a child, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It even beat Christmas. However, as I got older and began to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving than what is taught is most schools, my appreciation of the holiday has become conflicted. To be sure, as a saved person, I love and desire a national day set aside to thank God. However, Thanksgiving as holiday is about a lot more than Americans pausing to thank God. It’s also about football, Black Friday shopping, traveling, overeating, and family gatherings. Regardless of what one may think of these things, no one can deny the historical tradition of a friendly gathering between Christian Pilgrims and Native Americans as the original Thanksgiving. This quaint historical narrative is at the core of our cultural whitewashing  of the brutal genocide deliberately enacted on a group of people for our own material gain.
Even if you view the American Indian as a barbarian heathen, Romans 12 calls our treatment of them then and now into question. The relationship between the United States of America and the Native American tribes is not only filled with many wars but also many broken peace treaties, land grabs, mass murders, and illegal imprisonment often committed by the US. Sadly, the recent Dakota pipeline debacle shows that as a country we still don’t treat the Native American tribes with respect and integrity. Is giving our supposed enemies casino’s and barren land with no access to real education, citizenship, or financial stability really Christian? After 400 years of warfare and manifest destiny ideology, I don’t think there is a quick or easy fix to the current status of Native Americans. Nevertheless, I am certain that no longer whitewashing their painful history of devastating loss with lighthearted stories of Pilgrims and Indians living in mutual harmony would be a great start. In addition to being thankful this holiday season, maybe we also could work to be more intentionally aware of the real history attached to this holiday.  For example, we could find ways to give thanks without perpetuating a myth that ignores and revises a very painful period of devastation and loss for Native Americans. Maybe next Thanksgiving, in addition to continuing our various family traditions, we can add a new one: we can pause and ask what can be done to allow Native Americans to fully participate and share in the benefits of American society.
Cecil Lettsome

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