Thanksgiving

Dear Congress, This Holiday Season, Don’t Make the Poor Poorer

photo   © 2008   Krista , Flickr

photo © 2008 Krista , Flickr

A lot of ink, pixels, and air have been used on the potential effects of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” While many experts say that “cliff” is a misnomer (it’s more of long slope in the wrong direction), there is at least broad agreement that it’s not the right direction for the country’s long-term health.

We’ve heard a lot about the potential effects on Wall Street, our nation’s credit rating, and even the military. But little has been said about the devastating consequences for our nation and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — or for the charities and non-profits that serve them.  

This week, the Circle of Protection, released an open letter to the president and Congress with a simple message: during the holidays, please “advance policies that protect the poor — not ones that make them poorer.”

The Truth About Thanksgiving: Why You Should Celebrate

Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

Engraving made in 1847 after Captain Seth Eastman meeting Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag. Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

"The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history." – James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 92.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, as we take turns around the dinner table sharing why we are thankful, a sense of awkwardness settles in. The awkwardness is not only due to the “forced family fun” of having to quickly think of something profound to be thankful for. (Oh, the pressure!) The growing awkwardness surrounding Thanksgiving stems from the fact that we know that at the table with us are the shadows of victims waiting to be heard.

Humans have an unfortunate characteristic – we don’t want to hear the voice of our victims. We don’t want to see the pain we’ve caused, so we silence the voice of our victims. The anthropologist Rene Girard calls this silencing myth. Myth comes from the Greek worth mythos. The root word, my, means “to close” or “to keep secret.” The American ritual of Thanksgiving has been based on a myth that closes the mouths of Native Americans and keeps their suffering a secret.

My Morning Prayer

Giving word cloud, Genotar / Shutterstock.com

Giving word cloud, Genotar / Shutterstock.com

Dear God,

As my son Zeke says in his daily prayers, so I say in our prayer this morning, "Thank you for all of the good things in the world."

One of those good things happened to me when I stopped by the water company to pay  my bill. I walked into the building and stopped at the receptionist's desk to borrow a pen to write the check. I heard a family behind me and turned a saw a small child leading her mother by the hand, a mother carrying a baby in the cradle of her arm. The child listened to her Mother speak to her in Spanish, then looked at the receptionist and asked in English, "Can you show us where to pay our bill."

Suddenly and surprisingly the child looked up at me and threw her arms around me in a happy hug. "Mr. Barton!" she said. "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Barton!"

The Morning News: Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

Policy-Making Billionaires, Poverty In The Midst Of Plenty: Hunger Persists In The United States; The Religion Of An Increasingly Godless America (OPINION); Evangelicals Flocking Toward Newt Gingrich; Rev. Jackson Calls For New War On Poverty; Improving Social Justice Indicators Will Create A Better U.S. (OPINION); Is The Black Church The Answer To Liberal Prayers?; Catholic Charities' Human Trafficking Program Loses Federal Funds; Air Force Academy Adapts to Pagans, Druids, Witches and Wiccans.

Black Friday: The Anti-Thanksgiving

Today is Black Friday, the unofficial holiday immediately following Thanksgiving. Today, businesses open very early, offering reduced prices on all manner of consumer items. Customers are encouraged to flood the aisles in search of a good deal on all kinds of things - from DVDs to appliances - but, above all, electronics.

Black Friday apparently got its start back in the late Sixties, but it came into increasing prominance in the last decade, as the economy deflated and retailers became ever more desperate to sell their wares. In the past, stores would open around 6:00am; in recent years, however, this has not been considered early enough. The retail industry has been involved in an arms race, vying to see who could open the earliest. This year, a number of big box stores opened at midnight. Walmart, not to be beaten, decided to start their sale prices at 10:00pm on Thanksgiving Day.
 
This new move to open at midnight or earlier on the evening of Thanksgiving has elicited a response from some quarters. Some folks, perceiving that Thanksgiving is under attack by out-of-control consumerism, have started campaigns to resist this trend. Many are aware of the burden that this pseudo-holiday places on low-level workers: If stores open their doors at midnight, workers have to show up much earlier than that, depriving them of sleep, and the chance to enjoy the evening of Thanksgiving with their families. Black Friday, and its recent escalation, is squeezing out one of the few annual sabbaths that the working class could once count on.
 
Yet, even if Black Friday were not so terrible for working families, and even if it did not threaten to steamroll Thanksgiving under the weight of Christmas-season merchandising, I would still be opposed to it. Black Friday is the Anti-Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday is traditionally a time to gather with family and friends and practice gratitude for our blessings. It is a time to cultivate awareness of all the ways in which God provides for us, and to pay special attention to providing hospitality to others who are hurting. Black Friday, on the other hand, is a celebration of greed, unbridled consumerism and disregard for others.
 

Thanksgiving at Occupy Wall Street

If you thought all of the occupiers would go indoors for Thanksgiving, think again. In spite of the recent police raid, hundreds of occupiers, activists, and community members are breaking bread together in Zuccotti Park. 

The OWS Kitchen working group estimates over 3,000 meals will be served with the support of local families, restaurants, and organizations who are opening their kitchens to the movement. 

When I got down to Zuccotti Park around 2:30pm there was a joyful calm in the area—friends and strangers eating together on the now bare marble benches, others walking around offering pecan pie, vegan meal plates, and other holiday snacks to anyone interested, and a small group of folksy looking people singing “This Land is Your Land” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” with guitars and cymbals. 

A nice reclamation of the Thanksgiving meal—less like the oppressive tale of pilgrims and native people we learned about in school; more like Jesus feeding the thousands, the beloved community, etc.

A Prayer For The Christmas Season

Christmas tree detail. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Christmas tree detail. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

I have heard it said that people of Christian faith should be more about Easter and less about Christmas. Easter is a powerful hope but it deals with things beyond this life.  It is a sure and certain hope but one that eludes my imagination, confounds my concrete mind.

The crucifixion is something I can wrap my mind around.  We have only to open our eyes and our hearts to the realities of the world and we recognize the darkness of Good Friday. When the season is upon us I will dwell with great gratitude at the foot of the cross.  

But, Lord God, I want to stay for a while in Christmas where hope is something I can cradle to my chest. I want to dwell here where music sings the promise of love, reminding me of those Mary moments in my life when it seems truth and love are about to burst forth from within and change the world.  

Let me hearken to Mary’s song and hear it as a radical claim awakening me for the sake of revolution, to grab hold of the Kingdom of God already present amongst us. 

Arlo and Alice's Restaurant

For the uninitiated, "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (that's its official name) is a folk classic, an epic musical monologue from Arlo's 1967 album also called "Alice's Restaurant." it tell the mostly-true story of Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25 1965 in Stockbridge, Mass., when then-18-year-old Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, were arrested by  police officer William "Obie" Obanhein for illegally dumping garbage at the town dump that was closed for the holiday. Two days later, they pled guilty in court before a blind judge.

The Feast of Christ the King

Stained glass panel in the transept of St. John Church, Ashfield, NSW.

Stained glass panel in the transept of St. John's Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales. Photo by Toby Hudson via Wylio [ht

Today is the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in our church year.

I always find it a strange feast to celebrate in a democracy, in which the whole point is that we do not have kings, but shared authority vested in the people and temporarily delegated to elected leaders. What does thinking about Jesus as a King mean to folk like us?

This year it is particularly strange, for, with the exception of the marriage of William and Kate, this has been a bad year for kings. Monarchs, tyrants, plutocrats, and autocrats of every stripe have found themselves under assault from a powerful wave of populism, as the citizens of country after country have risen up to hold their leaders accountable for their stewardship of their nations. Throughout the Middle East and in parts of Europe and the United States, the official narrative of power has been held up and judged against another set of ideas, one that speaks of fairness, liberty, and raising up the poor. Ruler after ruler has heard a cry that translates, roughly: “as you did it to the least of us, so shall it be done to you.”

Christ is a different kind of king, and his authority always calls our leaders to account, whatever the form of our government or our political preferences. Christ embodies a form of leadership that is rarely seen in our world. In the ordinary scope of things, our leaders wear nice suits and inhabit the corridors of power and cut deals with the wealthy and the powerful. Christ, however, threw in his lot entirely with those whom the doors of power shut out. He would talk with anyone, eat with everyone, and, in the end, died among the refuse of his people. He was a leader who led from below.

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