In Search of a Prophetic Thanksgiving

Originally published 11/24/2016


 

I am a holiday ruiner.

Everytime my family and friends get together it comes as no surprise that I spend at least a few minutes brooding over the white supremacist, capitalist, cisheteropatriarchy. However, regardless of how justified I feel in my critique of corporate holidays, there is a special degree of defensiveness that comes when one questions the sanctity of Thanksgiving.

I get it. As many attempt to “make America great again,” we cling as a culture to that which we believe made us great by drawing back on our collective history. It sounds a little something like this:

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Columbus “discovered” the United States. He, along with a group of brave pilgrims, won their independence through the revolutionary war with England as they befriended native peoples and held peace meals together in the spirit of America.

Now, that does sound great to some. It has all the elements of a good story: a noble protagonist, unexpected people working together, and greater freedom. However, as has been true since the foundations of the U.S., we have mastered, adopted, and created a holiday out of revisionist history instead of telling the truth of our nation’s past and present. And our history, riddled with intentionally motivated genocide, land seizure, rape, and dehumanization of Indigenous people isn’t exactly something to perfectly brine a turkey over.

On a day like today, it is easier to be thankful than it is to remember. Our history isn’t neutral and Thanksgiving is a reminder, not of what we have to be thankful for, but of the ways in which our modern tellings of history shelter us from the evil at the foundations of our nation.

This is particularly close to home right now as Indigenous people are being fire hosed and abused as they seek to protect what is left of their land and resources all while many of us gorge on meals in celebration. Unfortunately, thankfulness and feasting without repentance is simply the perpetuation of our revisionist history through blind compliance. This is not the truth of Jesus.

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As a nation, we are not the “good guys” and this celebration of our painful history isn’t spiritual. Jesus would much less likely be at the table where we lack little, but rather with those who are suffering under the oppression of the empire as he always was and is.

So where does this leave us for Thanksgiving? How might we lean into a more prophetic way of being together this holiday?

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, I am aware that this year thankfulness is not straightforward. As we literally come to tables together, we are coming in places of mourning and celebration depending on our vote. With Trump’s misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexism, ableism, and xenophobia on display for the last year and a half, we have good reasons to feel the challenge of gratitude. Some of us are disappointed, frustrated, angry, and scared- we feel far from thankful.

As I have chosen to criticize the election and its disproportionate impact on the marginalized, many Christians (most who voted for Trump)  have offered the same advice for what my posture should be this holiday:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

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I get the intention here, but am guessing that people don’t understand the impact. A simple reading of scripture here suggests that all rejoicing or thankfulness is somehow holy. That, in this case, when political perpetrators of ideological and functional violence triumph over the needs of the marginalized, that we should simultaneously rejoice with the perpetrator of evil and mourn with the downtrodden. This reveals a fundamental issue in our reading of scripture: when it is convenient for us, we read and claim that what one rejoices in is objectively good at any given point. This is simply untrue.

It has always been true, and Thanksgiving is a clear reminder, that rejoicing for one almost always means mourning for another. On this day, commemorating a revisionist history where we fabricate a myth to ensure that we remember the founding of our country as a noble act, we gloss over the true story, one of physical and cultural genocide, disenfranchisement, and dehumanization.

So forgive me for not joining the celebratory parade.

Instead I chose the first step toward repenting of our past and current story that perpetuates the rule of empire at the expense of “the least of these.” Today I chose to mourn.

Mourning isn’t just about feeling bad, it is about positioning our lives, even for a moment, toward rectifying the pain and suffering of the afflicted. So today I will do 3 things to enter into practical mourning instead of simple sadness that centers my feelings over the pain and dehumanization of indigenous people. I will instead act toward a better world that is worthy of giving thanks for.

Self Educate
Much of the continued evil of our country is a result of forgetting how we became who we are. Throughout scripture, God has a long memory for the evils and injustices of nations and calls his people to remember and turn toward justice, regardless of whether they perpetrated the evil themselves. So, as Christians, we must joining God in remembering and in order to remember, we must learn. On Thanksgiving it would be an ironic shame not to center ourselves on the voices of Indigenous peoples. I would much rather mourn that which is true rather than rejoice or be thankful for a lie.

Get Your People
This is where the rubber meets the road, if you consider yourself an ally to the oppressed, but don’t speak up for justice in your own contexts, you might as well hand in your safety pin badge. Allyship never comes without a cost to own our lives and we may be the only people that can draw our closest relationships toward justice.

We are not all agents of profound social change in our day to day lives, but you can help a person in your family be a little bit less racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, or classist. Do it for their one black friend. Do it for their queer co-worker, do it for their neighbors, friends, classmates, partners, and pets. Seriously. Get your people.

Donate to Standing Rock and Boycott Black Friday
May we become a community of people who rightly mourn in order to create social change worth of celebration.

Money talks in a capitalist society that disproportionately marginalizes the poor. On a holiday marked by the passive celebration of the genocide of Indigenous peoples, we spend the next few days feeding the system that motivated it. Our money talks, so, if you choose to spend money at all (I will not be #notonedime), consider donating your resources to provide resources, healthcare, and general costs of living to the Water protectors in North Dakota. And if you must shop, shop businesses owned by people of color or other marginalized communities.

Here is a list of places to specifically boycott based on their continued oppression of marginalized people, investment in the Dakota pipeline, or things that directly benefit president elect Trump.

As we gather around tables today, I invite you to choose prophetic forms of gathering, ones where, instead of focusing on a mythical past, we speak truth and use our money toward a more just life together. Today, I will try not to ruin Thanksgiving, but instead ask “what is one way that I can bring others along into prophetic and productive mourning” because that is where Jesus would be.

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