Overcoming Hate with Patience

A version of this sermon was preached by me at Spring Friends Meeting on December 11, 2016.

– Greg

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

– James 5:7-10

After first reading this passage, I was like “Really, be patient for the Lord to come! How can I be patient when the world seems like it is crumbling down all around me? What about the people of color being unjustly gunned down in the streets by the people who are supposed to protect them? What about my Muslim friends who are scared about whether or not they will be able to worship in this country under Trump? What about my undocumented friends who want to stay in this country because they cannot go home or this is only home they have really have known? How can I be patient with all of this going on around me?” After this first reading, this passage seemed to be utterly useless to be preached this Advent season as we are about to have President-elect Trump inaugurated in just over a month.

Ultimately I was drawn back to this passage with the farming metaphor. In the last month I have often been outside pacing my backyard thinking about what is this world coming. As I look around my backyard and the neighbors’ backyard. I see garden beds sitting still and fallow waiting for the Spring crops to be planted, squirrels busily collecting acorns before winter sets in, birds looking for scraps to eat, my compost piles steaming in order to help provide nutrients for our garden next Spring. I realize that even though my lens on the world look pretty bleak, because of recent events, the natural world continues on. New life will spring up in my backyard, no matter who is President. In the same way God will still be with us in the Springtime too, no matter who is the President.

Then on Friday, my friend Mark posted a quote on Facebook from the esteemed Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman: “No prophet ever sees things under the aspect of eternity. It is always partisan theology, always for the moment, always for the concrete community, satisfied to see only a piece of it all and to speak out of that at the risk of contradicting the rest of it.” I thought back to the last part of the passage from James’ epistle: “As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

If we look back on the prophets, we find many examples of prophets standing up for justice in the face of injustice and suffering. For example, Old Testament prophets, Amos and Micah, spoke against corrupt rulers in Israel and Judah, respectively. These rulers took advantage of the downtrodden and the poomicah-6-8r for their own gain. This is not the way of the Lord both prophets argue. Instead, in Micah 6:8, we hear that the Lord requires of us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

For these reasons, I do not see this passage from James as actively promoting passivity as I initially thought. This is definitely not the time for passivity. I know a lot of people are trying to figure out what to do to oppose the draconian proposals that Trump has already offered.  James has a good response for us all. In raising up against the new regime, we need to reflect that our works are not done out of hate for others, including those in power, no matter how evil their deeds may seem, but instead coming from love and rooted in justice.

Let’s remember that the ultimate prophet of Christianity, Jesus said, in Mark 12:30-31, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

My wise friend, Margaret, who pastors New Garden Friends Meeting once remarked that there are actually three commands in this passage. 1. Love God 2. Love your neighbor and 3. Love yourself. Without the third command, you cannot love your neighbor or even love God with your whole self. I have been thinking about the third part. Sometimes loving myself is the toughest command of the three of them. But if we are to ever love God and love our neighbor, we need to possess that love within ourselves before we can give it out to God or others.

For me this means all our neighbors, not the ones we like. It means loving our neighbors who are ok with having Muslims being registered or ok with gay marriages being nullified. Loving our neighbors does not mean agreeing or condoning all their actions. We can love our neighbors while vehemently disagreeing with them. We can still work for justice so that all of our neighbors are treated with dignity because we are all children of God. All of our neighbors have a piece of the Light within them and we should work for a more just world that recognizes that. Hopefully along the way our neighbors will recognize that others they hate do have that same Light within them as they themselves do.

Friends, in this time of Advent, the season when we are awaiting the miracle to happen in a stable in Bethlehem, we need to keep building the Kingdom of God. It may seem dark, but the Light is coming. We need to keep working for justice, working with the oppressed so that we are free. This work would have still needed to be done under Hillary Clinton if she had won the electoral college, as it has been needed to be done under President Obama. Yes, it may be harder now, but I am also sure that we are up to this task.

Just as we try to be patient waiting for the baby Jesus to be born in a manger in the back of an inn in Bethlehem, we need to be patient and continue to work like the prophets did before us, slowly building the Kingdom of God here on Earth, despite all the odds.

Just as the Romans did not have the last word on Jesus, the politicians in Washington will not have the last words, Love will ultimately win and we need to work together to make the Kingdom of God here on Earth a reality, no matter who is in the White House.

Birthday Poem & Queries about Dismantling Oppression

For the third year in a row, I want to share a poem with you all for my birthday.

A Small Needful Fact
Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

For the last several years, I have been working on understanding racism and the ways I benefit and how I uphold structures of oppression, especially racism. This is hard work and I constantly continue to make mistakes.

In this ongoing work, I have learned that while dismantling systems and structures of oppressions, I need to also think about how to create new structures and new systems that work to center the experiences of the oppressed. We, the oppressed and oppressed, need new models of how to be truly free from systemic oppression.

In thinking about this new growth, this poem reminds me that the fruits of our labor may outlive us and continue to subvert the power structures for a long time. As the poem points out, even through the state unjustly took away Eric’s breath, his own handiwork might still be helping others to breathe and thrive to this very day.

As a Christian, that is what encourages me about the Cross, death and the state did not have the final word. Jesus rose again to give freedom to the oppressed.

Here are some queries:

  • How are you working to understand how systemic oppression affects your life?
  • How are you working to be free?
  • Where are you seeing new growth in your daily lives that subverts these oppressed structures?

I am interested in reading your responses. They would be great gifts to me on my birthday.

Becoming Visible: Quaker Outreach at Colleges

Last week I traveled up to Boone, North Carolina to assist the SPICE (Acronym for core Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, & Equality) Quaker student group at Appalachian State University with their table at the Student Involvement Fair. These fairs are quite common at college campuses at the beginning of the school year and each club and/or student group can have a table to introduce fellow students to who they are.

IMG_20160815_145740677As a religious club, the SPICE club was in the same room with all the other religious clubs
on campuses. We were next to the Presbyterian/Episcopal club, and near other denominational campus ministries, like the United Methodist Wesley Foundation and Catholic Campus Ministry They were also at least half a dozen parachurch groups, like Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. There were a lot of variety for students to choose from. I am glad Quakers appear as one of the options.

During the fair the SPICE group had a cardboard display about their group and they had printed stickers with their name on it and wrote on the back their meeting time for the semester. (Their meeting time changes each semester dependinIMG_20160815_150928812 (1)g on the class schedules of the members.) I brought with me a life-size Quaker Man from my meeting, First Friends Meeting of Greensboro, and some chocolates to give out.

Throughout the event, we gave out chocolates and stickers to App students. We asked people if they had heard of Quakers or if they were interested in being involved with a faith community based on simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. By the end of the event, we had a list of 12 student names and contact information and had given out all of the SPICE stickers.

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Joe & Harriet wtih Quaker Man

Now, the SPICE group leadership, made up of Ellen, Harriet, and Joe, are reaching out to these students and planning some great events for this upcoming semester. I am working with them this year to help their efforts to reach out to the larger campus community at Appalachian State and to help plan events

Just imagine if Quakers were on more college campuses, what if we were able to reach a dozen students each year on, say, 25 campuses. What impact would that cause on students’ lives? What impact would that have on the future of the Religious Society of Friends? We have a powerful message to share about a faith centered on peace and community. This message to share that needs to be shared alongside other ministry groups on college campuses. Students are indeed eager to hear it! We need to become visible on these campuses!

As I wrote earlier in the summer, I am currently working on setting up a network of Quaker campus ministries at non-Quaker higher education institutions to support students like Ellen, Harriet, and Joe, in developing Quaker groups on their campuses. These groups help to sustain Quaker students in their faith journey during college. I welcome any support in helping to identify:

  • Quaker students you know at non Quaker institutions
  • Quaker student group at non Quaker institutions
  • Quakers who have a leading to work with college students

If you can help or want to get involved in any way, please fill out this form or contact me at gregwoodsquaker@gmail.com

 

Are Young Adult Friends Ready to Lead?

In March, I gave a talk via Skype to the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends Gathering on the future of Quakers and the need for Young Adult Friends to take leadership.  – Greg

In 1652, a 28 year old uneducated young man climbed Pendle Hill and at the top of that hill he had a vision of a great people gathered. This vision is what brings us together today. George Fox saw that the time was ripe for a major shift in his society and I will argue that we are in a time today where a major shift is needed in our society.

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George Fox preaching (Source)

George Fox and early Friends were a radical band of seekers. They caused a lot of ruckus
and they were unafraid of voicing their convictions and telling others that their beliefs were completely wrong. They had a powerful message for the masses that Christ Jesus came to teach himself. They certainly were not afraid to share that message with anyone. They even had the gall to try to convert the Pope and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Early Quakers had fervor in part because of the political climate that England was in due to an ongoing civil war. Many felt that they were near the end of days and that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. In part, I would argue that we are in a similar time period. Even though I do not think that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent, we are reaching a critical point in history, a time that we need to be on fire again.

More than 350 years after early Quakers began preaching their message, I sense a burning desire among people today to find a community that is uncorrupted by the current corporate church culture. Because of the recent culture wars and the obscene wealth that some churches flaunt around, many people have left the church in disgust and some of them have become refugees within Quakerism, especially liberal Quakerism. But a lot have just left the Church altogether, which is why we have a lot of people, identifying as a “none” and/or Spiritual But Not Religious.

We are seeing an upheaval in society with the Occupy movement a couple years ago and now with Climate activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. These are callings, yearnings for a major shift in society. Most of these movements have offered/are offering temporary community, which only lasts as long as the next victory looks possible. The Indian social activist Arundhati Roy said about 15 years ago, “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Quakerism has a lot to offer these movements, much like what early Quakers were offering in 1650s to the English society. In some ways, what we have to offer will not look much different than what early Friends were offering, yet in other ways they are completely different.

Early Quakers did believe in the sacraments, but not in the outward forms of the sacraments because first they did not believe that Jesus required them in the Bible and second they felt that the practice of outward sacraments over the centuries had made the practices to become empty, devoid of meaning. They wanted to recapture early Christian fervor to revive Christianity from its dull, hierarchical form that it looked like by the 1640s and 50s because the church had become institutional and corrupted. Early Friends wanted to find an uncorrupted faith that was rooted in community.

One of the most radical things that early Friends offer was the idea that an individual could have a direct relationship with God. They were raising up the idea of individualism in a time when people were grouped in the masses. As Quakers, we still believe in direct revelation, but our most radical offering to the wider world is a heartfelt commitment to community in the face of growing individualism. Other churches invite people to the table for outward communion on a weekly or monthly basis. But our inward communion happens whenever two or more are gathered for worship. We are participating in this sacred communion tonight. This communion has the power to sustain people hungry for change longer than any short-term victory could ever provide.

The time right now is ripe for a major shift. Quakers can provide a place to spiritually support this important work and the people involved. Are we willing?

Are we as Young Adult Friends willing to take on leadership for this shift? The shift in the Religious Society of Friends should come from Young Adult Friends. We have been at the forefront of change since the 1650s. As a denomination, we were founded by a young adult, someone younger than I am. Then in the 1860s, not too far from First Friends Meeting, it was young adults within Indiana Yearly Meeting who insisted on gathering outside of the yearly meeting program to sing and offer vocal ministry. This helped to lead Quakerism outside of the Quietism period. It was young adult Friends in Philadelphia who started meeting together in the 1910s- 1920s. This effort helped to lead to the founding of the Friends World Committee on Consultation and the unification efforts to rejoin the Hicksite-Orthodox yearly meetings in the Philadelphia area and other surrounding yearly meetings.

Sometimes I see more young adult Quakers at rallies and at retreats than I do at meeting for worship on Sunday morning. Are we living up to or down to what is expected of us? What are we offering to our meetings? Are we opting in? I don’t think it is easy to be a Young Adult Friend in a lot of Quaker meetings. Some are great, but many are indifferent or even hostile. Older Quakers tend to ask people in their late 20s or early 30s if they still in college. Or else regard us as not willing to stick around, so Friends do not even try to learn the names of young adults who attend their meetings/churches. I have been to some meetings where no one will greet you even if they know you are a newcomer. Sometimes it is not easy, but are we making an effort? What alternatives are there? We could also be starting our own worship groups and inviting people into a deeper communion together. For example, in Greensboro along with others I have started a monthly young adult group where we meet for potluck and worship. Young Adults come from different meetings and even no meeting to meet together for this time of fellowship. Are we willing to step up and lead?

We already have young adult Friends changing the landscape of the Religious Society of Friends and inviting non Quakers in at the same time. I want to highlight the work of a Young Adult Friend Christina Repoley and the founding of Quaker Voluntary Service. (A disclaimer: I am on the board of the organization.) Christina graduated from Guilford and wanted to find a way to serve Quakers. Like other young adult Quakers, she quickly found herself living in Philadelphia and a while she started working for a Quaker organization. But she did not feel supported by Quakers in general.

During her time in Philadelphia, Christina became friends with several young adult Mennonites and they had fond memories of service opportunities from Mennonite Voluntary Service. Christina wondered why is there was nothing like that in Quakerism. This question led to an almost a decade long journey that led Christina to finding people to help her build what is now Quaker Voluntary Service.  Along the way, Christina invited others, including other young adults to join her in her vision. Her vision became a collaborative effort that bought Quakers together from different branches to dream big. Ten years after graduating and feeling unsupported by Quakers, the first cohort of young adults moved into a QVS house in Atlanta, GA.

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2015-2016 QVS Fellows

Now four and half years later, there are about 25 young adults living in houses in four cities. About half are Quakers and the momentum is still growing. QVS is re-engaging young adult Friends into Quakerism and introducing others to Quakerism for the first
time. Local meetings in these four cities are feeling re-energized by these QVS Fellows. All this has happened from a young adult Friend who was frustrated by a lack of support by Quakerism.

What ideas do you have to re-energize the Religious Society of Friends? What ideas can meet the needs of the people who are hungry for something more?

One idea I have is the formation of a nationwide Quaker campus ministry program. Other denominations and faiths have programs to nurture their college students who do not go to their denominational schools, but not the Quakers. There are some local efforts here and there across the country, but they greatly vary in quality and effectiveness. These ministries attract non Quaker students as well. Despite knowing that some of our leaders have come to Quakerism while attending non Quaker institutions, Quakers have made no effort to make a big push to offer a nationwide campus ministry program or much less materials to help Friends thinking about reaching out to college students. I have witnessed that college students are searching for something more meaningful, something more fulfilling than what the regular college experience can offer. Many students realize they have a need for a time for quiet reflection, which Quakerism can offer.

Whatever we do, we need to be mindful that it takes time. I know that I find this frustrating because I am a very impatient person. It is very hard for me to practice patience, but I am trying my best.

Last weekend, my IMG_20160309_165304972.jpgpregnant wife Jenn and I planted seeds for our garden and put them in a window sill, to be planted outside in a couple weeks. The next day during meeting for worship, I realized that when she gives birth in late June, we will hopefully be harvesting some of the produce that came from these seeds we just planted. In both instances, I do not know what the fruits of our/her labor will be exactly, but I do know that we can only hope that with love, patience, and maintenance, we can give both the plants and our baby the best chance to thrive in the outside world.

Whatever we try will not necessary thrive. Within a garden, not everything bears
fruit. One year might be a bumper crop but another year we could have a drought and everything could be lost. Along with all of this is the knowledge that we are not in total control, so faith and hope are important components of gardening and parenting. Faith and hope are also important in ministry and working on finding a way forward. How are we preparing the ground to grow these vital ministries to meet the world’s need? How are we working to support each other?

More importantly, are we Young Adult Friends willing to step up and lead the Religious Society of Friends in a new direction?

 

A Kind of Love That Never Ends

This is the sermon I preached on February 14th at Spring Friends Meeting.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a romantic holiday, which celebrates love. A lot of couples will celebrate today by sharing gifts, eating out at a romantic restaurant, or getting away for the whole weekend. I have a hunch that 1 Corinthians 13 will be read or recited a lot today between couples and in churches around the country in honor of today. You may even see it quoted on church signs or posted on social media today. I am fairly certain that I am not the only person preaching on this chapter today.

I am glad that this chapter will be read a lot today. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful piece of writing. My favorite part of this chapter is verses 4-8: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

These verses are often recited at weddings. It is really beautiful to reflect on what romantic love could be like. If a couple followed these guidelines for love, it would certainly build a great foundation for an long-lasting, romantic relationship.

Yet, people often take this chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth completely out of context. Paul is not talking about romantic love at all in 1 Corinthians 13, not even close. Paul does not care at all about the romantic lives of the Christians in Corinth. He is talking about a greater kind of love.

In Chapter 12 of his letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul is talking about the variety of spiritual gifts that Christians may possess. His overall point for Chapter 13 is about how we can only use our spiritual gifts in the most effective way if it is done with love. The Greek word that Paul uses in this chapter is agape. Paul does not use the Greek word eros, which is translated more as romantic love. Instead, agape translates to mean benevolence and good will. Christians have translated agape to mean God’s unconditional love. For example in the King James Version, agape is translated to English as charity, instead of love, unlike the New Revised Standard Version translation that I just read from.

Even though Paul does not talk about romantic love in this chapter, I still want to talk about this type of love on Valentine’s Day. For me, to only define love in one way, only in the romantic sense, robs us of a deeper love that Paul is talking about. A love that Jesus came to teach us about himself: An unconditional love from God that is given to us just because we exist. No matter who we are or what we have done, God still loves us, each of us.

On Facebook in recent days, I have seen friends my age reminiscing about what Valentine’s Day was like in elementary school. Valentine’s Day back then meant that everyone received a card and some candy. Ideally, back then, no one was singled out to get more cards or candy, nor left out of the exchange at all. For me this example illustrates what I believe God’s love is like. God loves each one of us the same way.

With the knowledge of this love comes responsibilities that we must bear. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is reminding us about these responsibilities that this love entails. We need to treat each other like the children of God we are, reminding ourselves of Jesus’ exhortation to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is not an easy task by far. I often fail to love others, especially the people who I disagree with on matters I hold dear.

This is perhaps a great reminder to have right now. Currently, we are struggling among each other in the yearly meeting and also we are in the midst of yet another bitter Presidential election season. In this time of intense disagreement, let’s keep asking ourselves: How do we seek that of God within everyone we encounter?

At the same time, more is required of us than just passively loving each other despite our differences. It is a good start, but it is not nearly enough. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly implores His followers to show solidarity with the oppressed. We need to take heed of this call to action, especially with the numerous injustices currently happening within our wider community, like mass incarceration, police brutality, eroding of voting rights, mass deportations of undocumented people of color. I could go on listing the social ills affecting our society. Most of these injustices do not directly affect us, as a congregation largely made up of privileged white people. This is precisely why we need to be working in solidarity with those affected by oppression at the same time challenging the status quo.

The scholar and activist Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” We need to be showing up in solidarity with the oppressed to fight for justice, whether that means attending Moral Monday protests, educating others about injustices in our community, or helping people learn their own rights. To take action will look different for each person, but we all need to be doing something.

Whatever we do, we must continue to be mindful that we are affirming the dignity of the oppressed, not using them just to pat ourselves on the back. In the same vein, we need to lovingly challenge people in power, not demonize them. We should not be doing this work if at the end of the day we still feel superior towards the oppressed or smug towards people in power. This work should be done in partnership to achieve liberation for all. The Aboriginal activists group once said: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” God is calling us towards a collective liberation. Are we heeding this call?

On this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember to love each other unconditionally just as God love us and further challenge ourselves by asking: How are we seeking that of God within each person we encounter? How are we showing up for justice in our communities? Where is God calling us to challenge the systems of oppression affecting our neighbors?

Because this kind of love never ends!

God Is With Us, Indeed

During my summer chaplain internship several years ago, I met a patient who had became paralyzed as a young adult. She was a patient at the hospital several times during that summer. Each time I tried to visit she would immediately turned me away.

On my last visit with her, shortly before my internship ended, she asked me to say a prayer for her. Even though it was in the middle of the day, the blinds were shut and the lights were off, so the room was completely dark except for the light coming from the hallway through the open door that I keep ajar so I could see enough to walk to her bedside.

After I prayed, I felt that she wanted me to leave. As I was about to leave the room, she asked in a loud voice: “How do you know that God actually exist?”

I replied: “Because I have felt God’s presence in my life.”

“I think people make God up to just to make people worry less about death. Why am I in all this pain then?” she asked.

“I do not know why this is happening to you, but it is not by God.”

Our conversation continued and I talked about believing in God while having a speech impediment. I explained that my theology doesn’t believe that God caused pain as an act of revenge, but also I don’t know when God does not prevent pain.

I remember feeling that amid all of the pain  and sorrow in the room that I did believed God was with us that day.

Last Sunday at First Friends Meeting, we looked at the passage of Matthew 1:23: “’Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”

During this Advent season, I have been remembering again that God is with us indeed. Even in the midst of all the violence, terrorism, and so much misery happening in the world, God is still with us.

My Complicated Relationship With Thanksgiving

Over the years, Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday, a holiday that has brought my family and friends together. A holiday that includes my favorite food: pumpkin pie. Actually I have two in my kitchen right now waiting to be taken to two Thanksgiving feasts later today.

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With my growing discomfort with the consumerism of Christmas, I have appreciated that Thanksgiving does not mean having to buy/receive presents. Instead, the gift of the holiday today is to be present with each other and to come to the table to share a meal together; a communion with loved ones.

Already today I have enjoyed seeing my family and friends post about what they are thankful for on social media. I have a lot to be thankful in my life at the moment. I have a wonderful wife and a family that I love. I have a great job working within a supportive office and a college full of amazing students. I have a huge network of friends who challenge me to be a better person and a better accomplice in my work.

But…

Thanksgiving as a holiday is very problematic in the first place. The lore associated with this holiday is mostly false. For example, yes there was probably a meal in 1621, but indigenous people had celebrated a harvest feast each autumn long before the European people that we now called Pilgrims arrived.

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Thanksgiving Myth!

The late Michael Dorris, a Modoc author, writes:

A year ago my older son brought home a program printed by his school; on the second page was an illustration of the “First Thanksgiving,” with a caption which read in part: “They served pumpkins and turkeys and corn and squash. The Indians had never seen such a feast!”

On the contrary! The Pilgrims had literally never seen “such a feast,” since all foods mentioned are exclusively indigenous to the Americas and had been provided, or so legend has it, by the local tribe.

The indigenous people that resided in what we now know as Cape Cod, the Wampanoag people, greeted the people despite prior Europeans’ harsh treatment of them. In 1970 remarks prepared by Wamsutta James of the Wampanoag people, these new European arrivals continued that trend:

Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans.

Wamsutta had prepared his remarks for the 350th Anniversary Celebration of the Europeans’ arrival at Plymouth Rock, but the organizers rejected his words. Then, Wamsutta was asked to give a sanitized speech written by the public relations staff of the event. He refused to do so and was uninvited altogether from speaking at the event.

Sadly, the organizers should have faced reality, instead of continuing with the myths of the good Pilgrims. Even 45 years after Wamsutta written these words, we need to still confront the lore and history of the Pilgrims coming to North America and the negative, brutal impact it had on Native Americans:

We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300 years?

(I highly suggest reading Chapter Three “The Truth About the First Thanksgiving” in Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W Loewen as a starting place to explore more about this history and to hear voices of Native Americans.)

For more insight on what has happened since 1621, Sarah Burris of Raw Story has a great article listing five ways that the US has “given thanks” to indigenous people. The five ways she lists are: Stolen Land, Andrew Jackson and his Trail of Tears, Re-Education and Cultural Genocide, Broken Treaties, and Murder.

She ends the article by writing:

What we owe the Native Americans is a more complicated question, but for sure it begins with a greater respect and extends well beyond the limited reparations we’ve given them over the years. Perhaps it begins with the reclaiming of holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving which have done nothing but perpetuate stereotypes and gloss over the history of violence and broken promises.

I would add that we need to deconstruct the whole mythology around the “founding of the New World” and realize the devastating impact of Manifest Destiny has had and continues to have on Native Americans.

In my previous work with the Lakota people living on Pine Ridge Reservation, I have seen up close the harm that Europeans and then our government has done to indigenous people over the last 400 years in North America. At the same time I have witnessed the resiliency of Native Americans to continue fighting for their right to their land and culture.

Today, on this day we call Thanksgiving, we, white European-North Americans, need to recognize this painful history and start supporting indigenous people in their fight to regain land and culture. This is why many people of color call this day Thanks-taking and Thanks-stealing.

I am thankful for this day for the opportunity to celebrate with loved ones and just to be present with them. At the same time, we need to acknowledge our ancestors’ brutal violence towards indigenous people and examine the ways we continue that violence today.

This is why I have a complicated relationship with the day we call Thanksgiving.