feast

The Underside of Thanksgiving

Photo via mythja/Shutterstock.com

I love Thanksgiving.

I love the food, the fellowship, the friends and family, the football, and did I mention that I love the food.  Unashamedly it might very well be my favorite holiday.  Yet, despite all my warm feelings about Thanksgiving, I am not blind to its historical shortcomings. 

As Jane Kamensky says, “…holidays say much less about who we really were in some specific Then, than about who we want to be in an ever changing Now.” I think she’s right about this.  In so many cases, our national celebrations and observances are mere expressions of our collective aspirations and not our actuality.  One clear example of this is the history and practice of the Thanksgiving holiday.

As it goes, every year people throughout this nation gather for a commemorative feast of sorts where we give praises to God for the individual and collective blessings bestowed upon us.  This tradition goes back to the 17th century when the New England colonists, also known as pilgrims, celebrated their first harvest in the New World. 

On the surface, this seems harmless enough but a closer reading of history tells a more dubious story. 

A Fast for Families

Miriam Perlacio assembles a prayer quilt in the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall. Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

IT WAS LIKE the end of the movie Lincoln. In an instant, one whole side of the House of Representatives turned, looked up at the five core fasters from the Fast for Families and erupted in overwhelmingly spirited applause. The applause reverberated throughout the chamber for what seemed like an eternity, though it was really only minutes. Ah, but what grand minutes. I wept. My body, standing there in the gallery, could not contain it.

The Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship was launched on Nov. 12 with core fasters abstaining from all food and drinking only water. Based in a tent on the National Mall, only a few hundred yards from the Capitol building, the fast was sponsored by nearly 40 church and labor organizations and garnered support from more than 4,000 solidarity fasters across the U.S. and around the world. Our goal: To move the hearts and compassion of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

In the Capitol building on Dec. 2, during the hour before the startling ovation, Eliseo Medina (the leader of the fast, which had reached the end of its 21st day on that Monday evening), D.J. Yoon (executive director of NAKASEC, a Korean-American advocacy agency), Cristian Avila (from Mi Familia Vota), and I received House member after member who’d come to visit us in the gallery to say “thank you for your sacrifice.” All the faces and names you usually see flashed across the screen commenting on the events of the day on cable television shows—they came to us, standing in the flesh, shaking our hands, grateful and concerned for our health.

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The Miracle of Christmas Bread

THURSDAY NIGHT is baking night at Panadería El Latino on 11th Street. Early Friday morning, the bakers pull their weekend supply of pan dulce from the ovens. Racks and racks of conchas, cuernos, and galletas—in eye-popping yellows and pinks—are set out to cool. The entire street is redolent with yeast, cinnamon, and sugar.

From the outside this bakery looks like any another boarded-up building. “The only indication this isn’t a crack den,” one local points out, “is the overwhelmingly delicious smell of baked goods.” El Latino distributes to corner bodegas across the metro D.C. area. But, if you brave the exterior, you can get three sweet rolls for a buck. Bread of heaven!

Extending our tables to feed the multitudes is a practice Jesus asks us to imitate (Matthew 14:16). When Jesus hosted that feast for “more than 5,000” with “only five loaves and two fish,” it was called a miracle. But the mystery wasn’t in magic math. Rather this is a tale of two parties. In Matthew 14:13-21, the dilemma was that there was too little food and too many people. But in the preceding verses, there was too much food and too little humanity.

Matthew 14:1-12 tells the story of Herod’s birthday party. Here, only the upper 1 percent, the elite and powerful, are gathered in a setting overflowing with the rarest wines, mountains of meat, and the finest breads. But Herodias’ daughter demands a different dish. The main course is served to her on a platter: It is the head of John the Baptist.

These are the two “feedings” that Matthew juxtaposes. In Jesus’ time, the economic 99 percent are abused by a market system controlled by an unaccountable power. The disciples neither understand the enormity of the problem nor the blasphemy inherent in the system.

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'Gothic Piles' No Longer Necessary for Finding Faith

Riverside Church in New York City. RNS file photo

On a Greenwich Village street where male prostitutes seeking customers shout out their dimensions, I walked past an open but empty church on my way to the subway.

In times past, flocking to church on Sunday morning was a beloved family routine, even here in bad old Gotham. Now they’re trying nontraditional worship on Sunday evenings.

It’s a struggle, both here and elsewhere in the 21st-century Christian world. Buildings with “beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God,” as Luke described the temple in ancient Jerusalem, are falling into disuse and disrepair — not because Caesar attacked and took revenge on an alien religion, but because the world changed and gathering weekly in “Gothic piles” no longer seems necessary for finding faith.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Image by K. J. Snoes

The clouds, pregnant with rain. No light
but an inkling of light. If Advent is a time

of waiting, of joyful anticipation, why are we
so often troubled? Consider Mary, the unknown

future she holds. Or Amy, staying the day
with D—, expecting in January, alone and now

spotting with unexpected blood, baby not yet
ready. What was our life before children? Years

of memories now include the children—as if they
already were born, only we could not see them.

Mary was “greatly troubled.” What burden of light
do we bear? Something in us and not us,

in which we see ourselves and those we love,
and something else, beyond all naming?

Philip Metres’ most recent collections of poems are A Concordance of Leaves and abu ghraib arias. He teaches at John Carroll University near Cleveland.

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On Scripture: Whose Banquet Is It Anyway?

The upcoming March on Washington has been on my mind as I reflect upon this week’s Gospel reading from Luke about a banquet. I personally love banquets. You get to adorn yourself with the finest trappings, dance the night away, and if the food is good, that is an added plus! But what I find most frustrating? Knowing a banquet is occurring, and I have not been invited. “Did I do something wrong? Do I not meet a certain standard? Who did get invited?” My wondering is filled with emotion.

What if America was a banquet, and at this banquet the servings were fair wages, just trials, civil rights and liberties, but offered by invitation only? According to those who “March(ed) on Washington,” this was exactly the case. Blacks deserved the same fair treatment as whites, and they were protesting to bring about the necessary changes. Perhaps if everyone took heed of Jesus’ instructions on banquet etiquette, things would be different and better. 

Illuminated

On my knees I beg forgiveness for my greed—
and for starving myself.
By your eyes I see you love this priest,
follow his lyrical fingers in praise of
a small white host he points here,
there.

I—on the other hand—directly deal
with that twisted god over his head.
That god and I promise
never to go hungry again. We promise
to eat lilies and drink summer storms,
feed all evening on maize races and amaranth,
fast only in winter, a diet of light.

Abruptly, the church
shuffles to its feet, illuminated. You reach aloft
for that elevated thin-edged redemption.
I reach, mi amada, for you.

Rose Marie Berger, a Catholic peace activist, is Sojourners magazine’s poetry editor.
 

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#OccupyWallStreet: A Digital Hootenanny

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(+Video may contain coarse language+)
Indie music darling, Jeff Mangum, who rarely plays in public, surprised #OccupyWallStreet protesters in New York City earlier this week with an impromptu concert. A New Jersey singer-songwriter pens two songs for revolutions. And an order of Catholic nuns offer free mp3 downloads of a protest song inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

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