Last week, I was at an event, and the speaker naturally turned towards Thanksgiving. He mentioned that at times like this, war, poverty, climate in crisis, political shenanigans, and all the rest, it can be challenging to find something to be thankful for. However, he said there is always something to be thankful for, and sometimes, we must look hard to find just what that is.
This should be no surprise to anyone, especially those expecting guests; Thursday is Thanksgiving. If you are expecting guests, today would be a good day to move your frozen turkey to the refrigerator to start to thaw. It seems odd that we only have one official day of the year that we set aside to be thankful when we should be thankful every day.
After many years of research, I recently discovered that my 10th great-grandfather, Richard Warren, was a passenger on the Mayflower and came to Plymouth in 1620. I am unsure of his motivation for coming here; was it religious, political, or economic? Whatever it was, he was in search of something better.
We know there were varied reasons why the Pilgrims came to what they called the “New World.” History paints a picture of uber-religious folks escaping the clutches of an evil King whose desire was to force them to conform to a specific practice of religion. Although this sounds wonderful, we know it is not 100% accurate.
Most of the group we call Pilgrims had not been in England in almost a generation. They had gone to Holland many years earlier to pursue their ideal of religious freedom. Yes, there was a growing intolerance to what the English government called the “dissenters,” but they were free to worship how they saw fit.
The decision to leave Holland for something better was less about religion than culture. They felt their children were losing what it meant to be English. This happens with immigrants in the second generation; they begin to assimilate into the culture around them. So, they desired an English colony where they would be free to do what they wished.
We have touched on this idea of religious freedom already. You were free to worship as long as that worship conformed to what the colony’s leaders desired. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the minister who founded this congregation came to Hull after being expelled from Plymouth for not conforming to the religious practices that had been established.
Some came for economic reasons and saw the ability to make a better life for themselves and their families in the new world. The reasons for leaving the comfort of one’s home and everything they knew were as varied as there were people.
After saying all of this, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to romanticize or make excuses for the next several hundred years of human rights violations toward the native population that these Pilgrims found here when they arrived. In the past, we have acknowledged that this land that our church is on was the ancestral land of the Wampanoag tribe and that we have much to repent from.
History is not pretty; history can be ugly, and sometimes we want to turn our backs on it, but we cannot. We acknowledge past wrongs and strive not to make the same mistakes again, although it seems we so often do.
But today, on this Thanksgiving Sunday, I would like us to look at this yearly remembrance of that first Thanksgiving from another perspective and see what we can learn from it. When we strip it all away, Thanksgiving is about the native population of a place welcoming and assisting immigrants. They did not ask questions; they did not seek papers; they welcomed them. The Indians saw people in need, and they helped them. Were they suspicious? I am almost certain they were. Were they cautious? Again, I am almost certain they were. But they saw a need and were moved with compassion to help. America, this place we call our home, was founded upon the principle of helping those in need.
We know from history that those who came on the Mayflower would have almost certainly died, and many of them did, without the assistance of the Indians. My ancestor lived until 1628, no doubt, because of the generosity of the Indians during that first winter and subsequent winters and summers. Yes, they were on their land and came without invitation, but none of that mattered. People were in need, and they helped.
But Thanksgiving has become much more than a commemoration of the kindness of one person to another, although that is important. Thanksgiving is about the abundance of the harvest and all that the earth has to offer. On Thanksgiving Sundays of old, people would bring baskets of food to church, and they would be blessed. People would give thanks to God for the abundance of what the earth had produced. Even in bad times, people would bring what they had to be blessed. Our modern world has become so out of touch with food production that we forget those who produce it when we should remember to be grateful to them.
On any given day, we can go to a supermarket and purchase what we need and want. We can get fruits and vegetables from around the globe at any time of the year. But do we remember those who helped produce that food, many immigrants who have come here, like the pilgrims, to find a better way of life for themselves and their families?
Thanksgiving also reminds us of our responsibility to care for this earth over which we have been given stewardship. We read in Genesis that after creation, God gave humanity “dominion” over creation. Far too many have interpreted that word to mean “do what we want” rather than the intended interpretation of “caring for creation, all of it.” We have used and abused our planet, and now we are seeing the result of that abuse—rising temperatures, changing weather patterns, and all the rest.
In our opening prayer, we prayed, giving thanks for nature’s constancy and providence that “year by year supplies our need.” Although we abuse and misuse this place, it provides what we need. But for how much longer?
But back to the speaker, I heard a few weeks ago. Our challenge is to find something to be thankful for each day. Again, I know this can be a challenge. When I was working in addiction recovery, one of the themes was the idea of thankfulness. We need to start small. Maybe today, we are grateful that we have a place to worship. Perhaps we are grateful that we had a place to lay our head last night. Maybe we are grateful because we opened our eyes this morning and have one more day. The idea is to find something to be grateful for every day, and the challenge is tomorrow; we have to be grateful for something new.
So here is my challenge for you. Starting tomorrow, I want you to find something to be grateful for, and I want you to write it down. For the next 365 days, I want you to do the same thing, except you can only be thankful for something one time, no cheating.
I have mentioned before what Gandhi said about changing the world. Gandhi said that if we want to see more peace in the world, we have to be more peaceful. If we want the world to be more loving, we have to be more loving. In other words, change begins with us. If we want the world to be more thankful, we must become more thankful. Reminding ourselves each day what we have to be thankful for is the start, and before we know it, we won’t have to look very hard to find those things to be thankful for.