Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Revolutionary Thanksgiving Reflection

I am very thankful.  I received tenure this year and we bought our first house.  Much more importantly, I’m thankful for my amazing wife and two beautiful, healthy children.  They are God’s most wonderful gift to me.  I appreciate the opportunity that Thanksgiving gives for me to take stock of the many blessings in my life.  I’m keenly aware that I do not merit any of these good things on my own, and that they are all God’s gracious gifts to me.   I’m glad that we, as a country, can pause for at least one day a year to thank God, too (followed by a wild outburst of excessive materialism and consumerism—but that’s a topic for another blog and another day).

I’m not so happy, however, with the romanticized historical narrative which often accompanies the celebration of Thanksgiving in America.  It goes something like this:   “The pilgrim’s came to America in search of religious freedom and established a unique colony of heaven.   These momentous beginnings were commemorated with a happy, happy meal with the Native Americans, and for the next three hundred years America was a godly ‘city on a hill’ and a ‘Christian nation.’  Until the 1960’s happened—oh how we need to get back to the way the United States was in the 1950’s.”

As an Asian-Latino American I am turned off by this romanticized—and historically inaccurate--view of Thanksgiving.   How can I celebrate an event which led to the dispossession and decimation of more than 10 million Native Americans? How can I say that the United States was a godly “city on a hill” when it enslaved millions of African Americans for 250 years, seized half of Mexico in what Abraham Lincoln called an unjust war, and justified western colonial expansion by saying that it was God’s will and “manifest destiny.”  My Asian American side is quite perturbed by the traditional Thanksgiving narrative as well.  From 1882-1943 the United States banned the immigration of Chinese laborers as part of the Chinese Exclusion Act.  After the Chinese were banned, Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans were all cut off from immigrating to the United States as well.   Italians, Poles, and other Eastern and Southern Europeans were not spared either.  African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians were all subsequently segregated in housing, education, and employment until well within my parents’ lifetime as well.   The 1950’s were not a good time for my Asian and Latino ancestors in America, and I would never want to return to it. 

I’ve noticed that I’m not alone .  In fact, a know that thousands of people (if you’re reading this blog it’s likely that you’re one of them) have the same ambivalent feelings towards the Thanksgiving holiday.  Some even call it “Thanks-taking,” and others celebrate “Anti-thanksgiving.”   

So what is a revolutionary to do?  I think we should disassociate this great opportunity to thank God for what we have from the inaccurate historical narrative that often accompanies Thanksgiving.   We can still give thanks without endorsing the historical inaccuracy.  As Paul tells us:  “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  And, as Jesus’ revolutionary younger brother James said: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). 

And so, for all the ways that God has loved us and been good to us this past year,  LET’S GIVE THANKS.


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