Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Welcoming Strangers

The Desert Retreat House
-around the hearth-

Yesterday I happened to catch a picture in a newspaper ad for a local supermarket. It's depiction of the "First Thanksgiving," was such a grievous distortion of history that it made me sit up and take notice.

In the picture round-faced, pot-bellied pilgrims were gathered around a festive table laden with the rich abundance of the earth. Men, women, and children with cheery faces, all decked out in their pilgrim attire.

At the table a few somber-faced native people also sat. They looked like they were the invited guests of the jolly pilgrims. Some of the native "Indians" were carrying baskets of bread and corn, giving the appearance that they were waiters and servants at the feast.

How nice of those generous pilgrims to invite the poor Indians to share in their Thanksgiving banquet.

However, looking at the historical record, the "real" first Thanksgiving would have been anything but what was depicted in that supermarket ad.  There would have been no feast were it not for the unheralded generosity of the native people. There would have been no food. In fact, there would have been no pilgrims- they would have all died off.

When those first pilgrim people arrived from the shores of England to make a new life for themselves in the strange new land that they would call "New England," they had no clue as to how difficult, even treacherous, their new life would be. 

Those first pilgrims had never before experienced the harsh winters of a New England coast.  They didn't know how to build proper shelter. The seeds they brought with them wouldn't grow in their new environment, and on top of all that, all sorts of new diseases attacked their bodies for which they had no cures. 

In essence, in that first year on the shores of their new land, The pilgrims were cold, hungry, starving to death, sick and dying from diseases and plagues. Their numbers were dwindling and the prospects for their survival were very dim. 

The native tribe of the Wampanoag peoples observed the plight of the White settlers -those uninvited strangers who had come to live among them, and they took pity on them. 

The native peoples taught the White settlers how to hunt. They shared their food and gave them seeds for the crops that would grow in this land. They showed them how to build safe shelters that would protect them from the elements. They gave them medicines that would cure their sicknesses.  

It is no exaggeration to say that without the kindness of those native American peoples, those pilgrims could not have survived. The picture I saw yesterday of that first Thanksgiving had it all wrong. It was the "Indians" that were doing the inviting, sharing their abundance, welcoming uninvited strangers to their native land.

In a few days, like most Americans in this country, I will gather together with my own clan, and celebrate my thankfulness - grateful for the abundance bestowed upon "me and mine." 

However, I also want to recall the "real" picture of the First Thanksgiving, and remember that Thanksgiving is not only about "me and mine." After all, it was originally a feast of "welcoming strangers," extending kindness to those outside the tribe and showing mercy for those who need more help making their way in the wilderness of life.  

A Gospel passage comes to mind. It seems perfect for this time of year:

I was hungry, and you gave me food.
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

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