The First Thanksgiving by Robert Tracy McKenzie corrects a lot of the errors and myths that surround that original celebration by the Pilgrims in 1620.
In telling us the real story, McKenzie points us to more fruitful lessons we might learn than the warm feeling we get when we think about those independent-minded Pilgrims seeking new lands and freedom, and thanking God for helping them on the way. For example:
The Pilgrims traveled from England to Holland to find religious freedom and found plenty–maybe too much. They probably traveled next to North America not so much for religious freedom but to escape the influences of the hyper-free Dutch culture which they felt could corrupt their youth and diminish their church body. “As a father,” writes McKenzie, “I am especially touched that so many of their sacrifices were with the welfare of their children and their children’s children in mind. They left all that was familiar to them and risked everything they had ‘in order to preserve to their children a life of the soul’ ” (p. 187).
About Resilience and Hope
Fourteen of eighteen wives died during their first winter in Massachusetts. “That the Pilgrims could celebrate at all in this setting was a testimony both to human resilience and to heavenly hope” (p. 132).
About Our Country
They very self-consciously thought of themselves as Pilgrims, as people on a journey that would not be complete until they joined God in heaven. “If knowing we are pilgrims means
that our true citizenship is in heaven, it also means that we are ‘strangers’ and ‘aliens’ here on earth–yes, even in the United States–and this means, in turn, that we should expect the values of our host country to differ from those of our homeland” (p. 195).
“If we are serious about engaging in moral reflection [about what the Pilgrims can teach us], we must at least be willing to let them challenge us, to ask us hard questions about our ways of thinking and being. And when they do so, when they ask us why we venerate unfettered individualism above all else, what will we say? What scriptural principle will we cite in justification? ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30)? ‘He who is called while free is Christ’s slave’ (1 Corinthians 7:22)?” (p. 192).
For reasons we didn’t expect or perhaps would rather not remember, the Pilgrims have more to offer us than we thought.
Next: The First Thanksgiving 3: How the Story Was Misremembered