So one thing I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving.
That I’m not a pilgrim.
I think we can all agree that being a Pilgrim in the early 1600s would have been an absolutely miserable experience. I read an article today from Eric Metaxas in the Wall Street Journal called The Miracle of Squanto’s Path to Plymouth that said that one of the food items at the first Thanksgiving was eel.
I mean, I don’t like Green Bean Casserole any more than the next guy. It usually tastes like it’s been made with bits of Goodyear tires, but at least if you put those crunchy French’s onion things on top, it’s pretty good.
I mean, better than eel.
Hard out here for a Pilgrim
But it got worse than that. The Pilgrims were an incredibly strict religious order, who made the stern sisters at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow look like showgirls in comparison. The Pilgrims had to endure a bitter winter, which caused the death of about half of their population, mainly because it’s not a good idea to go tent camping in New England in winter.
And they had those big silly hats and giant buckles.
There are some who say that we shouldn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving because, they say, the Pilgrims have their roots in religious extremism and genocide. “The pilgrims are the reason we have FOX news and Donald Trump and Justin Bieber.”
But I think we should cut the Pilgrims some slack. They were a mixture of good and bad. Of slimey and sublime.
Are they any different from you or I? Or any of our forefathers? What’s the expression? Thomas Jefferson owned slaves? Our history is a mixed bag. Why does that surprise us. Are the pilgrims any different?
But the Pilgrims have something else in common with us. Are they really that different from the people that are going to gather around your family’s table this Thanksgiving? Are your relatives perfect? Aren’t they people – flawed and yet also worthy of love. I think we all have family members who – if they were not family – we’d never choose to purposely hang out with them. But they are. So we do.
What is your 24-year-old cousin going to do with that theatre degree from UC Irvine? Who knows. You love her anyway.
Your Uncle James believe that fluoridated water is a secret government conspiracy? Why does he believe this? Who knows? Is he a little bit wonky in his politics? Sure. But he’s your uncle.
Or your passive-aggressive Aunt Mary who insists on makes cornbread stuffing. Cornbread stuffing! The worst of all kinds of stuffing. Why can’t she just leave well enough alone and just go with Pepperidge Farms stuffing (Motto: wet celery bread like you know and love). Why? Why? Who knows. You just grin and bear it.
We do this because you have eyes to see past the flaws and foibles to the good underneath. Or, even if there isn’t a ton of good underneath, we know that we should be loving anyway. Not because. But in spite.
I think we instinctively know that we ourselves should be better versions of ourselves by now, but we aren’t, so we extend grace. Perfection is not to be found in this world in mere mortals.
Even Stephen Curry misses occasionally.
Choosing to See With Eyes – and Hearts – Wide Open
So like your cousin who plops down next to you with a Corona to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, only you’re on the West Coast, which means he’s pounding back brewskies at 9am, there are things about the Pilgrims and their behavior that is both unnerving and unsettling.
But they’re part of our family. They’re part of humanity’s story.
And we all have a part in playing to help make our family the best version of itself that it can be. See the flaws. Don’t repeat the flaws or dismiss them or pretend they’re not there.
But Thanksgiving reminds us that – in general – it’s better to fight through conflict than to throw relationships away. It’s better to Mandela than to Stalin. Those aren’t verbs, but should be.
Because if only flawed people were allowed at the table, then we know, we’d be left outside in the cold.
And if God decided only to love or bless people who deserved it, well, we’d be in a world of trouble.
But – and I’m a pastor so I’m contractually obligated to write this here – there’s a place at God’s table for everyone. He’s quick to love, eager to forgive and patient beyond words.
So perhaps this year, we can get beyond our own hubris and our chronological snobbery and get back to the real roots of Thanksgiving: fighting teeming crowds for the chance to purchase drastically discounted electronic devices.