Before the holiday season passes and the year of 2014 draws to an end, it is important to reflect upon the concept of peace in a turbulent world. The holiday referred to as “Thanksgiving” and the Christmas season usually conjures up images of peace or a world where harmony could prevail over chaos. Humanity is still seeking the way to find peace upon this planet, but maybe we are studying the wrong things. It is possible that as people search for common ground, we look in history for the better examples that have been established. Unfortunately, the study of history focuses entirely too much attention on the differences, disagreements, and disputes that result from the clashes between cultures.
Although the “First Thanksgiving” was not a traditional Pilgrim or Protestant religious “Thanksgiving,” the event took on the characteristics of a regular Indian harvest celebration, and what shows up significantly is that two culturally diverse peoples gathered together in a three day celebration of joy because they shared a common human experience of demonstrating gratitude for a bountiful harvest, and the appreciation of life itself. To the Wampanoag Indians it would have been a natural request to celebrate a bountiful harvest and express gratitude to the Creator, but in a different manner than the Christian community. In effect, it sealed a peace treaty that had been initiated by Massasoit the previous March in 1621.
Unfortunately, this original friendship eroded, and instead of learning from and studying the elements that led to and maintained the peace between these two culturally diverse peoples of the Wampanoag and the English Pilgrims, history makes much more of the one year of conflict that came from King Phillip’s War. Although historical records indicate a period of approximately 40 years of peace between the Europeans and the Wampanoag Confederation before the peaceful relationship eroded, historians do not normally provide a genuine examination of the ways in which people came together, learned to overcome differences, and got along with one another. Such a narrow and pessimistic view of history is destructive in and of itself.
Focusing on the breakdown between peoples without attention given to the healthy elements of relationships is like obsessing on the destructiveness and neglecting the dynamics of goodness and harmony involved in human relationships. While the joint harvest festival provided common ground for the two diverse groups to come together over something as simple as food, it was more than just food that they were sharing. The harvest was the result of the Indians and the Pilgrims working side by side toward a common and vital goal: mutually assured survival. Pilgrim and Wampanoag shared mutual respect, trust, and friendship in this brief moment in time. That they could celebrate the value of life side by side was extremely powerful.
This event held so much hope for the future of the development of the continent, yet the hope dissolved with the men who desired to make it possible. Puritans came upon the foundation that the Separatist Pilgrims had established. Yet these two groups of English Protestant Christians were not the same in qualities of humility and mutual respect. The Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony away from the Plymouth Colony and regarded the Indians as savages, not friends. The Puritans were Protestants who essentially were about reforming the Church of England, but supported much of what the church had done, and followed a pathway to establish a theocracy upon the continent.
The Church of England for all practical purposes was a state-run religious institution in the mold of the absolute monarchy from which it was established and tolerated little dissent or divergence from the correct theological system of belief. Such an attitude of absolutism led to such practices as the Salem witch trials and the destruction of those among them who were “different.” How could one expect such people to treat the native peoples? By this time in human history, the advent of Jesus’ teachings had existed for over 16 centuries – yet the fundamental distortions of what he taught and how he lived his life often clashed with the teachings and manners of the self-proclaimed adherents of Christian values.
It is quite revealing that the story told by Jesus of the Good Samaritan was directly applicable to the events of the initial band of Pilgrims being helped by the Wampanoag peoples, yet it is not something that is genuinely acknowledged – especially in the way the Indian peoples were seen and treated respectively by many in the Puritan settlements. The Indians initially cautious, but eventually overwhelmed the Pilgrims with their hospitality. This was the Wampanoag way. Massasoit essentially took the position of the good and gracious host. To the Wampanoag, who probably understood very little of the Pilgrim religion, it was indeed a harvest festival, but it did demonstrate an innate human capability to extend friendship and it was gratefully received.
What this simple historic event also demonstrates is that such a meeting between the two peoples offered the possibility for establishing peace and harmony at that specific point in history. The very best of both peoples showed up at that moment. It was not a miracle – it was an act of will on the part of both groups of people. The peace arrangement was essentially a declaration or pledge of willingness to help one anotherif threatened by enemies, and it fundamentally meant that each group would be willing to sacrifice life for the sake of such friendship. The Puritans, for the most part, had no such experience with the native population, and their way of practicing the Christian faith cannot easily be defended as the Christian Way.
The story of the man of Nazareth who came to transform millions of lives throughout human history has much to do with a completely different focus entirely. Like the Roman Catholic Church before, the broader Protestant Church went far astray of the ideals the baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. Although a majority of Christians across the planet celebrate the birth of Jesus each December, his life and eventual crucifixion contain more practical examples, both in story and in deed, in the genuine way the two diverse peoples in the Americas could have come together in perpetual peace and harmony. Most of the Native American peoples were quite spiritual and focused on practical application of their ancestral values. The Christians brought an understanding of Jesus.
Yet, knowledge of Jesus and putting into practice his teachings do not nd his example is quite difficult and an incredible challenge for anyone. An expression regarding of the difficulty of such an undertaking is found in the writings of Ohiyes’a, who was born in 1858 into the Santee Sioux tribe of the Sioux or Dakota nation. His English name became Charles Alexander Eastman after he converted to Christianity. He eventually became the first American Indian doctor after graduating from Boston University in 1889. Ohiyes’a also became a well-known Indian author and from his writings can be gleaned a great amount of insight into Sioux culture.
Here is a representation of some of the deeper insight into the way some Indians viewed Christianity. Ohiyes’a wrote:
Strange as it may seem, it is true that in our secret soul we despised the good men who came to convert and enlighten us! To our mind the professionalism
of the pulpit, the paid exhorter, the moneyed church, was an unspiritual and unedifying thing…
More than this, even in those white men who professed religion we found much inconsistency of conduct. They spoke much of spiritual things while seeking
truly the material.
The higher and spiritual life, though first in theory, was clearly secondary, if not entirely neglected, in practice.
It is truly possible that the Christians could have made a greater and more positive impact upon the native peoples had their greater number been able to practice what Jesus taught and practiced in his incredible life. If this would have happened, it is possible that the Native American peoples could have learned much more from the Christians as they migrated into the Americas from the “Old World.” Yet on the other hand, it is possible that the Christians could have learned how to put into practical application those genuine religious values that Jesus considered sacred like loving God and loving one’s neighbor – or one’s enemies. It is more likely that as the two races were meant to connect, they were intended to learn from one another and blend the good aspects of each race and culture into one. Certainly, the practice of such incredible values and noble ideals remains a challenge. The genuine need and the hope to fulfill such values is definitely still a challenge to humanity; yet history reveals sparks of success..