coming to America – why the Pilgrims?

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It is a sentimental argument, but not a reasonable one, to promote the ‘religious freedom’ cause. They had this already in Leiden, Holland. Evangelism is also a noble cause, but one that cannot be substantiated.

Both Morton and Winslow make reference to another motive – the colonial emphasis, ‘plant the English flag on foreign soil’ cry – but again it does not stand up under inquiry. When promoting the colony to investors it was important argues Tracy McKenzie, to “soft peddle their [previous] civil disobedience” and to “defend the colony against arguments that they ignored English law”. But patriotism did not give wind to the sails of the Mayflower.

At first glance, the two more accurate reasons sound less than religious. (1) Leiden was a difficult place to maintain their English identity; specifically customs and language; (2) Leiden was a difficult place to maintain economic survival. The very survival of their community and their church depended on relocation; so it can be truly said that they fled to the New World for religious reasons – but not for religious freedom and not for mission.

But they also had a fear of losing their spiritual identity – not from persecution, but from the deteriorating secular culture. Comments from the original sources are interesting. Bradford spoke of “the great licentiousness of youth in that country.” He lamented the “evil examples” and “manifold temptations of the place”. Morton says that Dutch parents permitted too much freedom and this made it uncomfortable for the Separatist parents to provide correction without reproof from their Dutch hosts. These arguments sound like familiar current day rhetoric announced from some conservative Christian pulpits.

Today many argue that while the Dutch society has lost all boundaries, the Dutch churches still maintain rigid standards. But the Pilgrims from England believed the churches in Holland were lax in discipline, ineffective in influence, and soft when it came to observing the Sabbath. Pastor Robinson complained, after ten years in Leiden, that his people had not been able to reform the Dutch profanity of Sabbath keeping. The Pilgrims feared “their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted.

It seems that America could provide an opportunity to live without the fear of moral decline – while insuring the maintenance of values held dear: religious freedom and English custom.
So I ask three simple questions then: (1) What kind of determination and courage must be involved in the ‘trade – off’ of these noble concepts for the disease and death to come? (2) Where in the world today could Pilgrims flee to restart a society more likely to guarantee high moral living, genuine faith, and pure Christianity? (3) Is such a dream realistic, or even loyal to the Biblical instruction? Just asking.

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No one can argue that American Thanksgiving is a complex weave of spiritual, historical and cultural elements resulting in a national identity with profound significance.
I have developed my insights based on information in the book THE FIRST THANKSGIVING by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Inter Varsity Press Academic, 2013.

Part #2 – One Mention in History

Thanksgiving ppt pic

Part #2 – One Mention in History

It is amazing that only 115 words support the historical event that has mushroomed into a treasured and monolithic celebration known as ‘American Thanksgiving’. It was Edward Winslow, Governor Bradford’s younger assistant, who wrote a November 1621 ‘fund-raising’ letter to the supporting merchants back in London, England. Emphasizing the Plymouth colony’s success and prosperity over stress and death, he wrote three sentences.

Edward_Winslow

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.

 My observations:

  1. Lock onto these words: special manner rejoicing; after we had gather the fruit of our labors; Indians amongst us; bestowed … This was a gathering out of the ordinary. It was communal, it crossed cultures, it recognized harvesting the efforts of farming and hunting, and it affirms gift giving.
  2. Note what is missing: worship, prayer, thanking God, turkey, date of the feast,

It seems to me that historical guessing, informed conjecture, plus nostalgic and creative story-telling have filled in the unknown blanks over the centuries. As McKenzie points out, the Massasoit could have been invited guests or obnoxious neighbors who come knocking when they smelled the barbecue (or heard the noise of a Pilgrim party). There is of course nothing wrong with a celebration that evolves. But like Christmas, a lot gets fabricated and then a label of authenticity is stamped on the final product.

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No one can argue that American Thanksgiving is a complex weave of spiritual, historical and cultural elements resulting in a national identity with profound significance.

These insights are based on the book THE FIRST THANKSGIVING by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Inter Varsity Press Academic, 2013.

The truth about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving ppt pic

No one can argue that American Thanksgiving is a complex weave of spiritual, historical and cultural elements resulting in a national identity with profound significance.

These insights are based on the book THE FIRST THANKSGIVING  by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Inter Varsity Press Academic, 2013.

Part #1

Ours is a “present tense society” … important to be inspired by true facts of past … “historical ignorance leaves us vulnerable” … “we have chosen the Pilgrims as our honorary ancestors” (American and Christian).

  • Pilgrim/Mayflower/Plymouth thanksgiving tradition was notFirst Thanksgiving” … More accurate label is “First American Protestant Thanksgiving North of Virginia and South of Maine”
  • Algonquin Indians participated in regular ceremonies linked to the crop cycle
  • Spanish held a Thanksgiving mass in St. Augustine Florida in 1565 (only two of the Pilgrims were even born)
  • Spanish held a Thanksgiving with Manso Indians near El Paso in 1598
  • French Huguenots celebrated Thanksgiving in 1564 near Jacksonville Florida
  • English colonialists on Maine coast in 1607 and in Virginia in 1610 & 1619

My observations: We as Christians must get history right. Accurate, reliable history is integral to the Christian faith. American Christians make a ‘big deal’ about the roots of this holiday, so it is essential to set the record straight and draw helpful insights with appropriate lessons. Those will come in subsequent posts.