Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

Thank God for our Heritage

As you know, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving this week. For some it will be a time of great celebration as they gather with family and friends, and feast on Turkey and other traditional fixings.

For others, holidays like this are a time of great consternation and discouragement.

For others still, it’s a day like every other day; no despair, thank God, but no celebration either.

I grant there’s not going to be anything too original in this post, but in the spirit of thanksgiving, there is something I hope you’ll consider.

It used to be that every American knew the story of the Pilgrims who first landed in New England in 1620, and after a brutal winter that took the lives of nearly half of the colony, in the following October (1621), they set aside a day after the harvest was gathered to celebrate God’s blessing and provision in their lives.

Following are the journal entries about the occasion, recorded by Winslow and Bradford, respectively.

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie” (Winslow, p.133).

“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; fFor as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports” (Bradford, p.58).

That celebration took place 396 years from the writing of this article, and Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

While the details of the first American Thanksgiving are interesting, what I’ve shared here has likely added little to your repertoire of historical knowledge. You could have just googled it yourself to learn this information.

What is actually remarkable is the introduction to Mourt’s Relation or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth, the source for the first of the two journal entries above, the one from which Winslow’s narrative is taken.

It reads, in part, as follows:

Courteous Reader, be intreated to make a favorable construction of my forwardness, in publishing the ensuing discourses, the desire of carrying the Gospel of Christ into those foreign parts, amongst those people that as yet have no knowledge, nor taste of God, as also to procure onto themselves and others a quiet and comfortable habitation.

These same pilgrims, who set for us an example of thanksgiving lasting lasting nearly 400 years, endured the hardships of nature—many succumbing to the elements and disease—in order, not only to procure a place where they could worship faithfully, but to further the gospel of Jesus Christ among those tribes of men who had no hope of eternal life.

In other words, our nation’s origin really is Christian; it’s a heritage modern secularists have tried to deny and modern Christians have been afraid to confess.

And because the flame of our nation’s godly heritage is little more than a smoldering ember today, it may seem silly to thank God for it.

But it’s not.

St. Paul, in reflecting on his own and Timothy’s godly heritage, thanked God, rejoiced in the fruit of the gospel, and exhorted Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God that was in him. He wrote,

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:3–7, ESV)

Of course there are differences between America’s heritage and the Apostle’s and Timothy’s heritage, but really that is beside the point.

What is important is what is similar–both share a heritage based on the good news of Jesus Christ.

A heritage like that is something worth thanking God for. It’s worth celebrating and establishing traditions that foster the spirit of thanksgiving beyond the holiday.

And who knows whether God will use such a spirit to fan into flame that smoldering ember of godliness still left in our nation.

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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he’ll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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