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.
What does the Christian life consist of? What does God expect from us?
Here’s Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.”
Sure, that isn’t an exact quotation, but it sums up — again, according to Matthew — what Jesus says to his followers when he instructs them about how they should live after he has departed from this earth.
Let me address the “or else” part first. That usually attracts the greatest attention.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus seems a little infatuated with judgment and retribution. At the conclusion of each of the four parables he tells within Matthew 24:45-25:46, the section that comes just before the plot to seize and kill him springs into action, certain characters don’t fare so well. They are cast out to where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” locked out of a banquet by the guy who presumably invited them in the first place, tossed into “outer darkness,” or punished in “eternal fire.” Along with the book of Revelation, Matthew’s Gospel has generated a large share of distress through the centuries.
Are these promises about judgment authentic warnings spoken by an uncomfortably stern Jesus, or are they brutal revenge fantasies put into his mouth by ancient Christian communities that had lost the ability to trust their own members or to put up with differing opinions and practices? We may never know.
This new hymn is inspired by the crisis in Central America that has caused over 70,000 children to take the dangerous journey to the United States in recent months. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has led many mission trips to Honduras for the past sixteen years. The brother of a child that Carolyn sponsored in Honduras was recently killed there.
The hymn’s reference to “On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather” is from a news report ("Boy's Death Draws Attention Immigration Perils") of a body of a dead child found with his brother’s phone number on his belt.
“As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!” comes from the news reports of Americans yelling at the detained children on buses in Murrieta, California. Jim Wallis of Sojourners reflects on this incident in his powerful online essay “The Moral Failure of Immigration Reform: Are We Really Afraid Of Children?" Biblical references in the hymn are Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 19:14-16.
When you truly experience the love of God, there is nothing you won’t do for God. When you are truly thankful for salvation, no place is off limits to share the gospel. When you read Matthew 25, you are willing to dwell in any environment to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Our compassion compels us to love without conditions and work beyond the hours of Sunday morning.
We see the necessities of the people, so we respond with passion and purpose. However, we often push ourselves beyond measure and forget to allow God to nurture and nourish our own souls, so that we are able to pour out into others.
In the age of the internet, we have access to a vast quantity of information beyond our dreams even twenty years ago. Most of the time, I use this power to look at LOLCats and Buzzfeed articles like "11 Signs You Might be Dating a Pirate."
But as a Christian who feels the weight of caring for the people Jesus called "the least of these," I feel a responsibility to be educated about the plight of the billions of people who live on less than $2 per day around the world (and here in the US, as recently evidenced by the cuts to food stamp programs).
Caring for the poor directly in our neighborhoods is essential to the mission of the local church, and universally, it is the Church’s responsibility to care for the poor in every corner of the planet.
Jim Wallis talks about the #FaithfulFilibuster outside the Capitol Building and offers a reading of his conversion text, Matthew 25.
On our way over to the Capitol, I re-read the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. I was struck by the phrase of those building the tall tower "we'll become famous." That sounded a lot like lawmakers and politicians in Washington — it seems that they all want to become famous. In the story, the people were confounded by speaking different languages and their words went past each other. The words of the politicians and pundits are going past each other and their words are not really meant to be understood. They're not meant to find solutions or common ground. These are words that are meant to fight. To win. To defeat. Even, it seems, to foster hate.
The words we're hearing are of politics and punditry, meant to divide and not to unite. The words coming from the top have consequences for those at the bottom. And like Babel, these words are just babble.
We're hearing lots of babble at the Capitol, but across the street, we're trying to hear the word of God — what God says about the people, families, and children who will suffer the most because of Washington's babble. These words aren't just directed to churches and charities about what we should do with the poor. They're about the obligations of kings, rulers, and government to protect the poor.
Thursday marked the tenth day of the government shutdown and the second of the #FaithfulFilibuster — A Vigil for the Poor. People of faith, both across the street from the Capitol Building and across the world on social media, are reading through the more than 2,000 Bible verses that deal with poverty and justice as a witness for those the shutdown is affecting the most.
The rain didn't deter the prayers, as leaders from Sojourners, Bread for the World, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Salvation Army, and more gathered once again to call on Congress to end the shutdown and stop hurting the poor.
They are asking people of faith to reach out to Congressional leadership. Join along with them to Tweet at those members of Congress with your message to them and hashtag #FaithfulFilibuster.