This past weekend millions ate turkey, traveled hundreds of miles to spend time with their families, and showed up at major retailers as early as 5:00 AM. As Americans did these things men of the cloth, sociologists, and demographers wondered what was on the mind of the average American. Getting the latest, best deal on consumer products certainly got 197 million of us moving through stores, but we ogled and did not buy much. Black Friday sales were only up only .5% as Americans went on their traditional day-after-Thanksgiving shopping spree. We know that Wall Street aficionados were worried about the news of the Dubai debt crisis because it is inexplicable and it seems like a harbinger of future problems.
Against this fluid backdrop of concern and financial worry, many people would ask, “What 's there to be thankful about?” Although I am a minister, I avoid preaching in this column; nonetheless the season and the circumstances beg another question in response to the hypothetical question I just posed, “How many of us really celebrated the holiday in proper fashion?”
Undoubtedly very few people did. Let me explain.
Long before European settlers landed on American shores, Native Americans hosted harvest festivals. What makes our current holiday special is that the Pilgrim colonists (who landed at Plymouth in 1621) and settlers like Captain John Woodlief (who landed at the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia in 1619) gave thanks to the Christian God.
In both cases these weary travelers’ celebrations were heartfelt declarations of their Christian faith. At the core of their ritual was an acknowledgement of the faithfulness of their God. Perhaps the two most important aspects of the day were the spirit of racial reconciliation (between the settlers and the Native Americans) and sincere worship (giving of thanks to God). At Plymouth the cooperation of the Pilgrim governor and King Massasoit of the Native Americans to hold a spiritual, three day long festival was truly remarkable.
Today both aspects of this intrinsically American celebration are still desperately needed - racial reconciliation and worship. The Kennedy-like, “Camelot mist” is fading from the Obama administration. As the mystique of having the first black president is lifting, many Americans seem more skeptical, caustic, and accusatory than ever. The race card is being played by both major political parties and fears of racially based reprisals is a major concern of blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.