You may remember on Sunday I was in deep thought as I looked out my front window. I was think about Thanksgiving, about the past, present and future. So today I thought I’d give you a little message with a Thanksgiving theme. Of course I will scatter in some photos. Some of these photos are recent and some are from the past. I even have some photos of my buddy Bert when he was just a wee little pup and of course some of me and my Golden Gal Pal Belle. (Oh and F&E just a warning Allred might show up in a photo.)
Brain science has now discovered what The White Queen in “Alice in Wonderland” always knew: "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards."
The most recent research in cognitive science, which is a fancy name for the science of “how the brain works,” reveals that remembering the past and visualizing the future use the same neural mechanisms. Memory and prophesy are flip sides of the same mental coin. Memory works forward, and the very skills that enable you to remember your past enable you to envision your future. To walk down memory lane is, at the same time, to follow the yellow brick road into your dream future.
In Roman mythology there was a god known as “Janus.” Janus was believed to be the god who was a guiding force for individuals at fresh starts, at new beginnings, and at all times of transition. Janus was always depicted as having two faces — one face looking backwards into the past, the other face turned towards the future. Hence the hinge month of “January.”
For Christians to be “two-faced” was to be a prophet, except a prophet was seen in threefold scenarios, not two. A prophet was supposed to have three faces: a face oriented toward past, the present and the future, simultaneously. A prophet doesn't foresee the future. A prophet sees the past, present and future at once and as one. For Christians this ability to bring together the past, present and future is best represented not by Janus, but by Jesus.
It’s Thanksgiving in the United States. Our annual Thanksgiving holiday may be our most prophetic of all holidays. On one hand, Thanksgiving is all about family, friends and tradition. Even though we are now a “fast-food” nation and a “take-out” culture, Thanksgiving is the one day when we remember old recipes, when we literally and intentionally “taste” our past and let the food tell the story of our families and the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
Why do we do this? Why do we make such a huge investment in this short weekend holiday by traveling far and near to be with family and friends? Because we want to recall, remember, rekindle and rebuild family relationships. Thanksgiving is the time when we look around the table and give thanks for our roots and our reasons for being together.
More and more the big “draw” of the family get-together has a different motivation. Over the last twenty years “Black Friday” has grown from being a fun day of sales to being a seismic event that determines the end-of-the-year economic health of major corporations. So crucial are the sales numbers racked up on this coming weekend that stores have now slid down the slippery slope from “Black Friday” to “Grey Thursday.” After years of consciously trying not to “intrude” on the sacred “family holiday” of Thanksgiving, retailers have now decided that “Black Friday” can legitimately begin before the turkey gets cold on Thanksgiving Thursday. The “gathering together” for a bit of family time at Thanksgiving has now become a “staging time” for an assault into the shopping malls and big box outlets offering outrageous deals…if you get there first.
So what is Thanksgiving about in 2014? It’s now 393 years after that “first Thanksgiving” harvest celebration shared by the Native Americans and the new settlers in Plymouth. So what are we looking back at, and what are we looking forward to? If remembering and imagining are part of the same mental process, is Thanksgiving a time to look back at family, friends and traditions and looking around the table at ones we love? Or is Thanksgiving a time when we take a deep breath of the past so we can and plunge into a future of consumerism, obsessed with grabbing great deals for the upcoming Christmas extravaganza?
In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul writes to the Ephesian community but he makes his words applicable to all who might receive it. It begins with a profound expression of thanksgiving — and as with our twenty-first century thanksgiving moment, it’s a two-faced, Janus type thanksgiving.
Paul’s thanks are not directed backwards to the past and then forward toward the future. Paul’s thanksgiving prayer is directed outward and upward. It’s directed “outward” to the community of disciples, to those whose faith has led them to have a “spirit of wisdom” and a “heart enlightened.” Paul declares that the faithful know the “hope to which he has called you” and so may revel in and reveal the “riches of his glorious inheritance” — that is, a new life “among the saints.” His thankfulness is for the faith of those who confess a commitment to Christ and live life based upon that commitment.
But then Paul follows up that outward thanksgiving with an upward expression of thankfulness and praise. Paul’s “thanksgiving” is upwardly founded and outwardly grounded. His outward gratitude could not be complete without his gratitude for the upward divine grace that made such faith possible. Paul’s ultimate thankfulness is directed “upward,” “heavenward,” toward the power, majesty, and beauty of God. Paul’s upward thankfulness is for the revolutionary “change-up” that took place when Christ was raised from the dead and redemption became a reality for all.
What are we really thankful for this Thanksgiving? Are you thankful that you get a four-day weekend off from school or work? Are you thankful that you have a warm home and a lovely meal to sit down to and enjoy with friends and family? Thanksgiving is a strangely laser-focused yet loosey-goosey holiday. It’s defined with laser-like focus: a time to “give thanks.” But WHAT we give thanks for is left up to us.
When family members and friends work hard all day to create a wonderful environment — great food, warm place to gather — that is something to be thankful for. But the real “thankfulness” that Thanksgiving should bring out in each of us is not a thankfulness for “things.” Thanksgiving is not about where we are, what we are eating, or what our shopping strategy is for Friday. Thanksgiving must be rooted in a thankfulness for the greatest relationship we have been given, a relationship with the risen, regnant and returning Christ who calls the faithful to a “glorious hope” and an illustrious “inheritance.”
Admit it. Every family gathering includes some we cannot wait to “embrace,” and some for whom we have to “brace.” Those whom we cannot wait to “embrace” are those whose lives intentionally include and envelope others.
The grandmother who always remembers to send a Birthday, Halloween, Valentine, and, even though you are not Irish, a St. Patrick’s Day card and a little note meant just for you.
The distant cousin or friend who checks in on Facebook, knows what days are special to you, and lets you know they know it.
The little brother or sister who waits for your text every day, and you wait for his or her reply. Those are the ones who at Thanksgiving are easy to “embrace.”
The “brace for” family members are not so easy. Every family has those who are part of the family tree, but do not fit into the family plan. But they are still family. We welcome them with grace and hospitality because they are family, but also because, as people of faith, we know our “family” goes way beyond our genes and geography, I know my MOM’s does. Our “family” will always be who and where we make it.
It was probably goose or wild duck, not turkey, that was the centerpiece of that First Thanksgiving. There would have been fish present in the form of eels and various shellfish like lobster, clams and mussels. Probably no salmon, just like no sweet potatoes or cranberries at that first Thanksgiving (which I think is a shame), although many people have made smoked salmon and salmon dip a feature of Thanksgiving appetizers today.
You know what? Salmon are either the most brilliant or the stupidest creatures on earth. Salmon babies, known as “fry,” hatch out in beautiful flowing fresh streams of water. They have plenty to eat and a safe place to live. Then they leave. They travel downstream to escape this nice, safe habitat, so that they might merge into larger streams, rushing mighty rivers, and ultimately into the vast ocean.
Fresh-water born salmon migrate to the salt-water environment of the ocean, a journey that requires them to navigate hundreds of miles and requires them to completely change their bodies. Fresh water salmon fry become salt water salmon. For a while.
And then they “come home.” After spending years being salt water creatures they finally and fully feel the pull of home. They MUST go back. They journey through the ocean, go back into the fresh water rivers, navigate through locks and dams and bears and eagles and eager fishermen, and finally — a few of them — make it back to their family table, to the place they were born and nurtured.
The simple salmon “embraces” every part of its family heritage, at a huge, indeed at an ultimate, cost. When we intentionally gather together and regroup our families, it can also be costly. It costs us our independence. It costs us our self-made identities. It costs us our personal power and preferred placement.
We become salmon. We join together and become greater together, individuals with a new and vital future found in company with others. Why? Because we return to our roots even as we are looking towards the future. Because we dare to look both backwards and forwards at the same time.
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
What “works” follow us into eternity? Not the works of our hands, as in our mansions, our Mercedes, our monies, but the works of our hearts, our deeds of love, beauty, truth and goodness. This is that for which we give thanks to God this Thanksgiving. You know what giving God thanks will get you? It gets you Grace. And you know where Grace leads you? It leads you to JOY, overwhelming joy.Blessings,