All through this month, we have been talking about things for which we are thankful.
So, on this Thanksgiving Day, what are you thankful for?
Robert Tracy McKenzie, Chair of the History Department at Wheaton College (IL), recently released a book entitled The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History. This is obviously a timely book as we lean into the celebration of Thanksgiving this week. With all the debates about the faith of our country’s founders, McKenzie gets us into a helpful exploration of the motivations and context of the original pilgrims’ journey across the Atlantic.
In telling this story, McKenzie clears up a host of misconceptions about the Plymouth settlers, who certainly did not wear buckled hats or black clothes (those were a 19th-century sartorial invention). He demonstrates that the quest for “religious freedom,” in the modern sense, did not really animate the Pilgrims. Yes, they wanted to find a place where they could worship God according to Scripture and the dictates of conscience. But they had already discovered those conditions in Holland, where a number of English dissenters had gone in the early 1600s.
The most pressing concern that led the Plymouth Separatists to leave Holland was that they found the Netherlands “a hard place to maintain their English identity and an even harder place to make a living.” They did not worry so much about religious persecution (at least not since they left England), but about “spiritual danger and decline.” They worried about the cultural corruption they saw around them in foreign Dutch culture, and struggled to find profitable employment that could nourish their common identity. America seemed to offer both better opportunity and a place to preserve their sense of covenanted community.
McKenzie’s focus here is not so much how America was founded as a refuge for religious freedom. The real lesson has to do with maintaining Christian commitment in the midst of a worldly, permissive culture. “The Pilgrims grappled with fundamental questions still relevant to us today: What is the true cost of discipleship? What must we sacrifice in pursuit of the kingdom?” To what lengths should we go—how far should we go—to maintain a proper separation from the world? The Pilgrims decided they should traverse the dangerous Atlantic to do so, yet they found that the New World had many of the same challenges as the Old, plus some new ones, such as relating to Native American neighbors.
In the midst of talking about Moses’ preparations to meet with God in my message this past weekend, I referenced a quotation from writer Annie Dillard. Her words always strike a chord with me about the tone and serious nature of what we are doing in worship. A number of people asked me for it, so I am sharing it with you all here.
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
– Annie Dillard,Teaching a Stone to Talk, 58.
I re-read Dallas Willard‘s book The Spirit of the Disciplines. It’s a great book on entering into the deep life with God. Willard is never an easy read, but this book is well worth sustained attention.
Willard challenges the typical approach to the spiritual life for most evangelical Christians. Before I jump into some reflections about individual disciplines in the days to come, I thought I’d offer a few key ideas from the book. Read the rest of this entry »
Christianity is mainly wishful thinking…
Dreams are wishful thinking. Children playing at being grown-ups is wishful thinking. Interplanetary travel is wishful thinking.
Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.
Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.
When people critique Christian hope as simply an unattainable dream, we may respond by saying that perhaps another name for our wishful thinking is faith. Further, perhaps faith is a way not of avoiding reality, but of accessing a reality that is not readily apparent to our senses. Even further still, perhaps the reason we dream about such a thing like Christian hope is that the truth has birthed such a dream in us at the first place. Perhaps God, the Creator, has made us with a yearning for something more because that is actually the way things are and fighting against it is more wishful thinking than pursuing it.
[This is a continuation of this week's theme of "Beginning to Live with Hope."]