Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving, Without the Glitter

What does Thanksgiving mean to you?


Pumpkin Pie?


Black Friday?

The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special that comes on ABC at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Central Standard Time?  What?  You don't have it marked on your calendar!   Go do it right now!  I'll wait.

It was my pleasure and privilege to celebrate Thanksgiving several weeks early this year.  It reminded me that Americans have not cornered the market on Thankfulness.  Giving Thanks did not originate with a bunch of guys that wore funny hats and ate wild turkey.  No, Thanks-Giving is as old as the Mercies of God and as universal as His Faithfulness.

A Cornucopia of Blessings

 In the tribal villages, Thanksgiving is a season.  It's the end-of-harvest celebration.  It's a time to visit and a time host.  A time to give and a time to receive.  A time to praise and a time to feast.

 Each church takes a weekend to host their own Thanksgiving service.  Other villages around the area are invited.  A favorite question to pose to the guests is, "How did you get here?"  It is, I suspect an interesting story, how each group arrives.  I was asking the same question myself?  Most of the villages are off the main road, back in the mountains.  During the rainy season, some roads are accessible only by motorcycle or by foot.  Some of the guests may have hitched rides in the back of pickup trucks, traveling hours around winding curves and across deeply rutted tracks.   Even though there were scores of guests, I didn't see hardly any vehicles. 

Our group arrived in Bro. Paul's trusty 4x4.  A gift from a sponsoring church in America, this truck has been a true workhorse.  It travels thousands of miles every year across a country that by all accounts has more traffic fatalities than just about any other.  If I was to start making a gratitude list, Bro. Paul's driving would be near the top.  I told him that it didn't feel too foreign to have him drive on the "wrong" side of the road.  He really didn't spend much time on that side anyways.  Half the time he was on the right side of the road, passing the tuk-tuks and bicycles, the pedestrians and motorcycles and the slower moving trucks with passengers crammed in the open bed.  As we wound around and around the narrow mountain roads, the lively conversation in the cab would be punctuated with rhythmic honking.  Like a ship in the fog, he was letting oncoming traffic know where we were at so as to avoid a collision.

This picture was taken from the truck. The hillside plunges straight down so steeply that you can't even see it from the picture. Nonetheless, it is covered with tea bushes. There is no wasted space.

Thanksgiving in America reminds me of a hothouse poinsettia, covered in glitter.  Showy, traditional, at times, inauthentic.  Forgetting it's true origins it has become a parody of it's self.  (You can tell how much I like glitter covered poinsettias!)  But in that truck, as the hillsides fell steeply away on one side and rose sharply on the other, brilliant flashes of red caught my eye.

"Is that...?  Is it really...?  A poinsettia!  There are poinsettias growing wild on the side of the road!"

I fell in love with poinsettias in that moment.  It was so refreshing to see them as God meant them to be, clinging to the side of a mountain in a jungley rain forest.  Bringing glory and praise to their Creator who had planted them in that specific spot.

And so it is with the tribal celebrations.  This is the true origin and meaning of our American Thanksgiving.  An agrarian society, dependent upon God's provision for their sustenance, giving praise and thanks to their Creator for providing the year's harvest, inviting their friends to share in the bounty.

There are songs and personal testimonies.

  Preaching and exhortation.

 More songs.

 Giving gifts of food and receiving gifts of hand crafted hats and scarves.

 More songs.

 In all, the meal is important but not necessarily the centerpiece of the day.  I know the ladies worked long and hard to make the special pork balls and other traditional foods, and the food is duly appreciated by all!  But it makes me ashamed to see what an idol American feasts can be.  And don't even get me started on Black Friday! 

It's not that I'm down on American traditions.  Not at all.  I am looking forward to celebrating with my family this week, and yes that includes football, turkey and pumpkin pie.  But it is good to be reminded that true thankfulness is bigger than a meal.  It's larger than a hectic weekend.  It goes beyond our brief American history.  It's what God's people have been called to live, every day.  And they do, all around the world in all sorts of conditions.  And it's beautiful!

Praise ye the LORD:  Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.

An angelic hostess.  I thought this a good place for a picture of Miss Susan ;-)

Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him all ye stars of light...

Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons and all deeps:

Fire and hail; snow and vapor; stormy wind fulfilling his word;

Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars...

Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:

Both young men and maidens;

old men and children:

Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven...

Praise ye the LORD!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  May it last all year long.  I, for once, am going shopping on Black Friday for a poinsettia, preferably without the glitter!