Happy Thanksgiving! Since declared by President Abraham Lincoln as a national holiday, this one day has held a unique place in American culture. Unlike other days that celebrate momentous events in American history, this day is a day to show our gratitude to God for all the kindnesses he has shown. It is a religious holiday in every sense, and yet this holy time is not linked to any singular tradition.
While Jews, Christians and Moslems, Buddhists, Shintos, pagans and atheists can all indulge in the day’s traditions of turkey, cranberry sauce, candied yams and pumpkin pie, they can remain absolutely true to the limitations and demands of their cultures.
Myth links the day to the arrival of the pilgrim fathers at Plymouth, and their successful establishment of the first surviving colony of European immigrants on our American shores. The reality is that the vast majority of those early migrants perished in the harsh weather that followed their arrival because of their inadequate preparation. One of their few successes was the establishment of a charter even before they embarked on the Mayflower. Early on they recognized that their future success would be founded in the establishment of a system of laws and limitations through which their community would survive and its members freed. When mutually decided laws apply, the communities that established them are freed. This was no new concept. The pilgrims modeled themselves on the Israelites. The original Israelite slaves became a community fully freed with the revelation of laws at Sinai. Similarly, when the United States became a nation released from British tyranny, a system of laws became an important step for them. When their first system, the Articles of Confederation , failed; a constitutional convention was declared. The resulting Constitution has been the law of the land since 1789. Amended as needed to meet the needs of an ever evolving country, that document has served its people well, and become a model by which other nations have created their fundamentaldocuments.
Last week, as the country prepared for Thanksgiving, it focused on events in Fergusson. With the announcement of the grand jury decision, the unfortunate killing of Michael Brown became an excuse for hooliganism. Hooligans, many of whom came from other locations, wrecked havoc on the community, destroyed private property, vandalized store after store, and brought massive economic harm on the neighborhood. Many suggest that the vast attention brought by Attorney General Holder, President Obama, Reverend Al Sharpton and most of the media fomented these reprehensible activities. Pleas for peace and quiet by Brown’s father were ignored. Actions of rioters mocked the legal system. Did the outcome of the grand jury assigned to Police Officer Wilson’s case make a difference?. Recently, across this land there have been massive riots on receiving both good and bad news. When local sports teams have been victorious, there have been riots. Riots also followed defeats. If such is the reaction to relatively trivial events, should less have been expected after a controversial one? There is no indication that there would have been a difference in Fergusson, or in numerous other acts of civil disobedience across the country, had Wilson been indicted instead of exculpated.
Our pilgrim fathers, our patriotic fathers from the Continental Congress, our Father in Heaven all provided systems of law and order by which to conduct our lives. Thanksgiving is as good of a time as any to remember.