LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER: ‘The First Thanksgiving,’ painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris. Is this an accurate portrayal of the holiday’s origins? (Image: Wikipedia)
Turkey, honey baked ham, candied yams, collard greens, casseroles, rice and gravy, corn bread, rolls, dressing, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato pie, carrot cake, pound cake, chocolate cake… When I think of Thanksgiving I think of food, family, fellowship, and laughter; but most of all, I think of food. Most of us do. But is that why we celebrate Thanksgiving?
What are we celebrating? What should we be thinking about? As Christians, we are encouraged by our churches to use Thanksgiving to be reflective about the many blessings that God has bestowed upon our families, friends, and loved ones, how God has given us health, favor, grace, mercy, and even performed miracles on our behalf. But shouldn’t we do that all the time? Is this why we celebrate Thanksgiving?
Is Thanksgiving as we know it a myth? Years ago, elementary schools taught that we celebrate Thanksgiving to remember the Pilgrims and the Indians in a time when the Pilgrim travelers were doomed to die as the winter months approached and they did not know how to survive in a new land. We learned how the Indians were hospitable to the strangers and fed them, befriended them, and taught them the way of their land. We learned that the Pilgrims and the Indians ate a large meal in the late 1690s, which has been recorded in history as the first Thanksgiving. Since then, Americans have made it a tradition to take a day around that time of year to remember the sacrifice, the food, and the friendship that got them through. That’s touching, but we know now that the story is largely inaccurate.
Maybe if we consider some of the myths that are associated with Thanksgiving, we can get a better understanding of what this national day can be in our lives.
Myth 1: “The first Thanksgiving” occurred in 1621.
Harvest celebrations were ancient traditions for both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. In fact, the Bible mentions entire festivals around harvest time. Most African cultures also celebrate the harvest. While the “first Thanksgiving” idea is not historically true, it is true that we should use this holiday as a special time for celebrating what God has placed in our lives as we open the season with prayer and praise.
Myth 2: The colonists came seeking freedom of religion in a new land.
Actually, the people who came on the Mayflower were seeking religious freedom only for themselves. They didn’t know or really care to know how the native people worshipped; they showed little concern for the Indians’ freedom of religion. Unfortunately, it’s easy to be selfish about our own rights while overlooking other people’s needs. Today, however, each of us can use this Thanksgiving holiday to thank God that we all have the freedom to worship Him. (This might even be a time to reflect on how religious freedom is still opposed in some countries today.) The bottom line is that today in the United States we do have the freedom to worship God and to give Him thanks for all He is. Use this Thanksgiving to do that!
Myth 3: The Pilgrims invited the Indians to share their food and celebrate the first Thanksgiving.
Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, was concerned that the English colonists might be preparing for war. He led 90 men to investigate the sound of gunfire from the Plymouth colony. When it turned out that the gunshots were from hunters gathering food for the harvest celebration, Massasoit and his men returned with five deer and many turkeys–probably more than the colonists were able to provide!
Perhaps that is why the poor turkey is still the favorite bird of Thanksgiving today. In fact, another myth says that the Pilgrims and Indians feasted on turkey, potatoes, berries, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and popcorn. The menu actually included venison, wild fowl, corn porridge, and mashed pumpkin.
But whether you celebrate with turkey or tofu (pooh!), make sure that this Thanksgiving you celebrate with others. They may be family or friends. You may even organize a group to help serve turkey dinners at a shelter. The food doesn’t matter. (OK, maybe tofu does.) The main thing is to celebrate God and enjoy time with family, friends, and others who are special in your life.
Myth 4: The Pilgrims and Indians became great friends.
Sadly, history proved otherwise, as within a generation the English colonists fought against the Indians to take their land. Today, Native American people often see Thanksgiving as a reminder of the legacy of betrayal and mistreatment their ancestors suffered. That pain is real as is the pain that many people feel today who are rejected or lonely or have found abuse or violence in their lives. Jesus calls on us as Christians to display brotherly love. This Thanksgiving, take time to look around at those who are suffering and to lend a hand where you can. Maybe there is a kid at school who needs a friend, or an older person who needs some help. The pain of that “first Thanksgiving” relationship cannot be changed. But you can use this Thanksgiving to help ease the pain of someone else.
As Christians, we are called to uphold truth, but more importantly, we are called to love humankind. This Thanksgiving, take time to show love to your fellow brothers and sisters by volunteering at a soup kitchen or food pantry. Follow the example of the Native Americans and be generous. This Thanksgiving, above all (tofu aside), make sure you love your neighbors.
E.Y.S., or “Explain Your Singleness,” is a social epidemic that largely plagues Christian singles. However, it most aggressively attacks all singles during the holiday season.
According to my non-scientific opinion, an estimated 99.9%* of single men and women are forced to explain their relationship status to at least one well-meaning family member each year during the holidays. Of this number, 83.6%* of singles are mercilessly interrogated about their love lives during family functions.
E.Y.S. often strikes without warning, and it can present a stressful scenario for unsuspecting singles who only want to enjoy time with loved ones and maybe even collect a couple of “to-go” plates.
If E.Y.S. has plagued your existence every holiday season, you may be pleased to know that there is a solution to the madness: Tell the truth. And, by “Truth” I mean the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yes, that is correct. The symptoms of E.Y.S. can be overcome with retorts encompassing the Truth of Jesus Christ. As they inquire about your relationship status with another individual, use these opportunities to inquire about their relationship status with Jesus. It’s only fair, and it’s a win-win scenario, right?
At best, your entire family gets saved. At worst, no one will care to bother you about your relationship status ever again!
To help you prepare, a few sample questions and responses are provided below:
So, when are you getting married?
Technically, as a Christian, I am already married. Did you know that the institution of marriage is a natural model for the spiritual union between Christ and the Church? All who wish to be part of this union are welcome if they confess and accept Jesus Christ into their hearts as their Lord and Savior. Would you like to say, “I do” to Christ today?
Why are you still single?
Actually, I haven’t been “single” (use air quotes) since I became a Christian. As Christians, we are one body but have many members. Would you like to join us?
Have you tried Christian Mingle?
Why, yes! I do mingle with other Christians. We call it “fellowship.” We come together often to praise and worship God, study His word, pray together, socialize, eat…all of that good stuff. You should join me at our next “mingle.” Would you like to attend this week’s Bible study or worship service?
You’re not getting any younger. Aren’t you ready to settle down?
I know! I age by the day! But I’m grateful that, through Christ, I am renewed and have eternal life. As a believer, I have been born again and, when Christ returns, I will receive an incorruptible body that will never age. I also won’t be prone to sickness, disease or death and I will rule with Christ in His Millennial Kingdom and dwell with God forever. You can, too! Are you ready to repent and settle your faith in Christ?
Aren’t you afraid of dying alone?
I’m not afraid of dying under any circumstance. Absence from the body is to be present with the Lord. Knowing that I will be resurrected to eternal life with Christ is reassurance that death won’t be a permanent state for me as a believer. Are you afraid of dying? You don’t have to be if you give your life to Christ.
This piece was written in jest, but underscores a valid point. “E.Y.S.” unwittingly tempts singles to place more emphasis on finding a mate than nurturing a relationship with Christ. Such pressures prompt discontentment and anxiousness as we focus on more worldly cares than what we already have in Jesus.
As with all believers, Christian singles must be content in whatever state we’re in and be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:11; Matthew 6:31). We are in a blessed position to devote our undivided attention to the things of God (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). When we gain a spouse, our families will be the FIRST to know! But we are already in a fulfilling, committed relationship. So the more one cares to know our relationship status, the more they invite us to share Christ.
Together, we can eradicate E.Y.S.!
An Atlanta-area black megachurch led by the late Bishop Eddie Long has announced it has chosen a new leader, plucked from another black megachurch, as its pastor.
The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, will move to Lithonia, Ga., to assume the position of senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. He will also be shifting from an African Methodist Episcopal congregation to one affiliated with a Baptist network.
“Rev. Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant embodies the rare balance of spiritual gifts and practical educational experiences that connects pastoral leadership and discipleship teaching with prophetic preaching and courageous social action,” New Birth said in a news release on Monday (Nov. 19).
The transition comes months after Long’s first successor resigned after serving for about a year and a half. Bishop Stephen A. Davis said in June that he would return to serving the branch of New Birth in Birmingham, Ala.
Long died in January 2017 at age 63 after fighting health issues for several months. When he became pastor of the church in 1987, it had about 300 members. Its membership reached more than 25,000. When the church announced Davis’ departure in June, the membership had dropped to slightly more than 10,000, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“One of the big difficulty with churches that have had nationally significant pastors is precisely the problem of continuity,” said the Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, professor of African-American studies and sociology at Colby College.
And the issue of succession, no matter the prominence or the size of the church, becomes an “incredibly painful problem” when a pastor dies.
“Even though pastors are professional, it is like losing a family member,” she said, and a successor often winds up preaching with “some kind of enshrined shadow or ghost sitting or standing over the person.”
Bryant started his Baltimore church in 2000 with 43 members and, according to its website, now has more than 10,000. It is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an historic black denomination that celebrated its bicentennial in 2016.
Bishop Frank M. Reid, who is in charge of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s ecumenical affairs, said a shift of a megachurch pastor from an AME-affiliated congregation to New Birth would be a new dynamic that would have to be worked out between the pastor and the leader of the former AME district where the pastor was previously located.
“We would have to ask Jamal, ‘Are you leaving the denomination or are you maintaining your ties with the AME Church or are you turning in your ordination papers?’” Reid said. “But that would be between him and the bishop of the district.”
Gilkes said the AME Church, which includes bishops, is organized differently from Baptist churches, which traditionally recognize only the offices of pastor and deacon. But Long became a bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, a 24-year-old network of churches, in the 1990s.
Both Long and Bryant encountered controversy even as they watched their congregations grow under their leadership.
Long faced suits, settled in 2012, from young men who accused him of using money and gifts to coerce them into sexual relationships. In 2011, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa concluded a three-year probe of six ministries including New Birth and found that Long’s staffers declined to respond to most of their questions, including the amount of the senior pastor’s salary.
Bryant and his ex-wife, Gizelle Bryant, who later became a star in “Real Housewives of the Potomac,” divorced in 2009 after he had an extramarital affair. In 2015, he announced a run for Congress only to end his campaign eight days later.
New Birth said Bryant’s first Sunday as “senior pastor elect” will be Dec. 9.