By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I Corinthians 5:8 (KJV)
Imagine a world where people are invited to share their differences of opinion, and others do not see these differences as threats to their own existence. Imagine a world where violence is not the answer. Imagine a world where groups of people historically marginalized from the dominate narratives are recognized and appreciated. Imagine a world where a person’s story is not judged but heard.
Thanksgiving is a time for gathering around a common table with family and friends to live in that equitable world of our imagination. It is a time when a spirit of feasting, celebration, and love can create a hospitable space for expressing differences within community. Webster defines feast as “a ritual of divine and social opportunity.” For people of faith this means celebrating the gifts that God has given to all of us. Luke 14:13 counsels that “when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” (RSV).
In the United States, the vision of a holiday of giving thanks, began before and during the historic Thanksgiving feast of 1621, when differences met at a common table. The leadership for this came from the Wampanoag people. They taught the Plymouth colonists strategies for surviving in their new land. The Wampanoag people believed that a negotiated alliance with the Plymouth colonists was wise, so they shared their bounty with the food-insecure Plymouth colonists at an autumn harvest feast. Unfortunately, the Wampanoag people’s spirit of invitation and negotiation proved to be a grave miscalculation.
The successive years of engagements between colonists and indigenous communities, including enslaved African peoples, were marked by the colonial approach of dominance, bitterness, rancor, and violence. Today we are still left with the vestiges of this legacy—which has resulted in structural racism and the persistent, recalcitrant spirit of division, polarization, and hatred.
Thanksgiving is a time to invite our personal and communal truths to join us—in a spirit of love and sincerity—at a common feasting table. This will not be easy! Deep polarizations exist among family and friends and our wider communities. Safety precautions related to COVID-19 make gathering difficult, and health resources are not available for all people. But Bread believes that all of our voices and stories matter today, just as they did in the past. Hope and courage are still needed.
The good news is that Jesus the Christ has shown us the way to do this. The Thanksgiving Day of 1621 is a reminder that we, too, can follow the leadership of the Wampanoag people and extend a spirit of thanksgiving, sharing, and mutual empowerment for and among all.
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.