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November 28, 2019

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As we celebrate the good things in our lives, let us not forget what has been taken from others to create the American narrative.  –photo credit Tim Mossholder
Today is Thanksgiving Day. Earlier this month, in anticipation of the holiday, Fox News spent several days manufacturing outrage about a fictitious progressive WAR ON THANKSGIVING.
By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion. 
On the willows there
    we hung up our harps. 
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 
How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land? 
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither! 
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.
Psalm 137: 1-6
On November 5, Alexandra Emanuelli wrote an article in the Huffington Post that featured suggestions for reducing our carbon footprint while celebrating Thanksgiving. Ms. Emanuelli was very clear that she was offering suggestions about environmental impact — nothing more.

Here is what she wrote: “No one should be discouraged from enjoying the holiday or celebrating with family and friends, but we’re here to provide insight into the ingredients and dishes that have the largest ecological impact. The researchers we interviewed shared suggestions and alternative ingredients that cause less environmental damage.” A quick internet search shows that this was not the first time The Huffington Post has published such a suggestion list — a similar article appeared as early as 2014. Yet Fox has repeatedly exaggerated a simple suggestion list into a full-blown War on Thanksgiving. This is not at all surprising, since it is typical of the way Fox appeals to their viewers — by creating fake situations in order to manufacture controversy. This particular case would be funny if it weren’t in service of a much broader agenda: that of a scorched earth, winner take all need to hold onto power at all costs by a particular segment of the population.
The outrage over the War on Thanksgiving is just one tiny part of a much larger struggle to see who gets to control the narrative of what it means to be a “real American.” That narrative has been almost exclusively controlled by white males since the the first European arrivals on this continent. One of the earliest documented examples of this was in 1550 — when King Charles 1 of Spain called for a debate about the human dignity of the indigenous people of the Americas (Council of Valladolid). Of course, that council took place well before the United States existed. But it was still an argument about who got to control the land and resources of the Americas (a name that was chosen by Europeans, by the way). Needless to say, there were no representatives of the only real Americans (the indigenous peoples of the Americas) present at that council to speak for themselves.
When one asks Native Americans now, many of them will tell you that they refer to Thanksgiving as a day of mourning. For them, the arrival of Europeans in the Americas was the cause of the decimation of their peoples: through disease, war, neglect, and servitude. They mourn for the loss of their people, their cultures, their heritage, and their lands on this day. And they find no small irony in the full-throated racist cries of white Americans now — those who readily attack non-white Americans by telling them to “go back where you came from!” 
As religious folk, our Biblical heritage gives us abundantly clear guideposts on how to respond to the challenge of navigating competing narratives in the struggle for power and dominance. In both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures, God stands with those who are oppressed. Period. Full stop. Psalm 137 is rightly celebrated as a key scriptural witness to the Bible’s preference for liberation, to God’s choice of freeing the captives instead of congratulating their oppressors. The book of Exodus sounds the same note, and is another key text that has offered hope and comfort to those who are under the yoke of domination. For Christians, the incarnation (God choosing to become human and fragile) and Jesus’ self-emptying sacrifice on the cross both demonstrate God’s faithful choice to lift up the oppressed in order to bring about justice. St. Paul’s Christ hymn in Phillipians 2:6-11 expresses this eloquently.
During the impeachment hearings, two of the most powerful testimonies about what it means to be “a real American” came from witnesses who immigrated to the United States and became citizens: Lt. Col Alexander Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill. Both of these career civil servants exhibited humility, courage, professionalism, and a profound sense of self awareness that is too rarely on display in these difficult times. They spoke of an ideal of America where, in the words of Lt. Col. Vindman, “Here, right matters.” However we each choose to spend this particular day in America, may we all remember that the decisions we make reflect on how well we choose to heed the call to live up to that ideal. Lt. Col. Vindman is correct: right does matter. It matters more than power. It matters more than dominance. It matters because centering truth and right action moves us further along the way to a society where the dignity of every human being is respected. Where all may thrive and grow and come into the fullness of their being. And where justice rolls on like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream.
This Thanksgiving, spend some time learning about the experiences of all kinds of real Americans — indigenous Americans, immigrant Americans, Americans who were brought here by force during colonial times and later, Americans who became Americans by the conquest of their lands (the parts of the US Southwest that used to be Mexico). One excellent resource is The New York Times 1619 Project: it tells the deep history of how the enslavement of African peoples shaped every aspect of American culture in ways that too few white Americans are aware of, much less acknowledge.
In the months to come, as we hear the voices of too many white Americans continue to insist on controlling the narrative of what it means to be a “real American,” I invite you to prayerfully read the words of poet David M. Williams (below). Hear what the Spirit is saying to the people. And let the people say, “Amen.”
Ode to a Lady
Spotted in the murky harbor,
our ship Canada-bound
soon to pass,
I glanced
sideways, frowned, and wondered
how she was faring, a clay green torch-bearing
beacon that looked the transcendent
proprietress of an inn
with many rooms.
A ferry steamed toward her, full
of many-colored hats and a few people
waving at our fourteen-deck behemoth.
As we passed, with slightly
stooping shoulders,
she held forth her torch.
Tears welled up as
I recalled a childhood trip, my mother
letting me climb to her crown.
Now leaning over the rail
on the tenth deck of our ship
I heard her whisper how dare they.
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