What the first Thanksgiving can teach a divided America

In November 1621, the American holiday we now know as Thanksgiving began with an unprecedented cornucopia of food and fellowship marked by genuine . . . thanksgiving. And for good reason.

About 102 Pilgrims had endured a 66-day voyage from England across the Atlantic to Massachusetts aboard the Mayflower the year before. They were guided by a God-given appetite for unhindered religious freedom.

Roughly half the Pilgrims had died of disease and malnutrition by the time the survivors sat down for the meal to give thanksgiving with Native Americans. The gathering was more than unlikely. It was a genuine miracle – a miracle that Americans would benefit to remember on Thanksgiving this year and beyond.

America’s current course – marked by division, hatred and selfishness – is completely out of alignment with the brick and mortar set by the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Today we need a modern miracle – a miracle that requires the seemingly contradictory component of human intentionality.

The unlikely unity between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims seems sadly bizarre to so many of us today. But if we are willing, there are lessons here for us.

The Native Americans and Pilgrims had their share of huge challenges to overcome. But overcome them they did – setting an example for Americans today.

If these two groups were able to sit down together at a table – despite differences in language, culture, beliefs, appearance and even basic tastes in food – then we can certainly do the same today with friends and family, and with those who may have different beliefs than we do.

The unlikely unity between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims seems sadly bizarre to so many of us today. But if we are willing, there are lessons here for us.

The quest for freedom and fellowship is part of human DNA. A re-embracing of this truth with a commitment to celebrating it could be the very thing that truly makes America stronger together and great.

This Thanksgiving, we have a chance to resurrect the spirit of the first celebration, not just during the meal, but far beyond. The meal can be the symbolic launching pad for a perpetual repeat of the miracle that took place almost 400 years ago.

What if we did more on this Thanksgiving than merely thank God for the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberries? What if we made this Thanksgiving a national reset and returned to the spirit of the first feast?

What if we each looked for ways to get America back on track, to restore her to her long-lost luster that emulated thankfulness, generosity and diversity? Why, we’d have the kind of America that each of us, deep down, truly longs for. In the end, it’s also the only America that really works.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” says Proverbs 13:12. Regardless of your belief in the Bible, a soul would be hard-pressed to prove that our nation is whole and healthy. The hope for American unity, which is deferred at this juncture, has indeed weakened our national heart.

Each of us longs for the miraculous in the everyday grind of life. It’s time to bring the miraculous back as America’s new normal. If that seems puzzling, think more deeply and the fog will lift.

This Thanksgiving is our chance. It’s America’s chance to rediscover that strength is possible through diversity – if we each come to the table with a trait that seems so foreign to America these days, but is far from impossible to muster.

This was the trait that brought people of different ethnicities and backgrounds together for an unforgettable meal that did far more than fill bellies. It forged the fabric that became America.

The trait is humility, and it’s what brings people together. It’s the essential ingredient that makes unity possible. If you don’t believe this, you just may be among the many who think Thanksgiving is simply about eating until we have to unbuckle our belts. 

What can you do to make the spirit of Thanksgiving a growing trait of your life every day of the year? You can start by considering this coming Thanksgiving as the re-launch of you. You can begin to look for common ground between you and others, rather than the differences

Look for things you can compliment rather than criticize. Recognize that there is a God-given reason why each of us has two ears and one mouth – to listen, at a heart level, twice as much as we speak.

Will listening make our differences go away? Of course not – but you just may find that all of life will begin to be more harmonious and enjoyable.

An attitude of gratitude, and some humility, goes a long, long way to making all of life much, much better. If you begin to incorporate these simple things into your life, this Thanksgiving will be the start of the miracle you've been searching for.

Red, yellow, black, brown and white, we are all precious in God’s sight. This Thanksgiving is a chance for each of us to be part of a fresh miracle – one that our nation needs, big time, and which each of us can fire up the spark. We really can sit down at a table, together – this Thanksgiving and beyond – if only we are humble enough to do so.

Michael Anthony is the author of the book “A Call For Courage,” (to be published in December) host of the “Godfactor” radio program and lead pastor of Grace Fellowship in York, Pa.