Thursday, November 27, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
‘Santa with a pumpkin, riding a broom’
Several weeks ago, after I noticed the large artificial tree at Wal-Mart and heard carols playing at the mall, I knew that Thanksgiving must be near. As someone said, it will not be long before we see Santa with a pumpkin, riding on a broom. This all has to do with the fact that the celebration of our Lord’s birth, which is a religious matter, has come into an uneasy conjunction with the major household purchasing season, which is, of course, a commercial enterprise.
For me, it is always difficult when religion is co-opted for secular purposes. But we see a lot of this, and have for a good while, both in the areas of mercantile exchange, as well as in politics. It is almost as if the church has forgotten that she has her own message and thinks she must borrow the help of others lest her calls go unheeded. How sad.
Lately I have been remembering a time when Thanksgiving was a holiday, or more properly, a holy day, in its own right. In our family, it was not so much a “go-to-church” occasion, but was one of those religious occasions, like Christmas, where the spiritual significance was primarily expressed in the home. I like such memories, for I am one who thinks that you can be a Christian other places than at church, and even that too much time at church is detrimental to one’s spiritual life in the world. (Don’t push me on that. “Give an inch and people will take a mile,” but I still believe that in most cases once in every seven days is enough!)
The Thanksgivings I recall are those we shared with my Memphis grandparents, who had a large dining table, and who made sure it was filled for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. There was the usual complement of relatives, as well as Dr. and Mrs. Turley Farrar. Zelle (Mrs. Farrar) was a close friend of my aunt Mayrene from their nursing school days—and always three or four sailors from the naval facility at Millington.
The custom of entertaining military personnel had begun during the Second World War when men would be stationed there and unable to obtain furlough home for the holidays. People were encouraged to invite them to share the holiday dinners in their homes, and thousands of Memphians did. I am sure my grandparents were especially interested in this because our very favored cousin Thomas “Fred” Winter was a Navy man stationed overseas.
And so the custom continued long after the World War and Korea had ended. In the 1960s, however, word went out that the authorities at Millington would be sending soldiers to dine with their hosts with no regard as to race or color. This was a new thing, as even though the military was officially desegregated in its official activities, the commanders had tried to accommodate the local segregation practices in non-official matters such as these.
As a result, there was a drastic drop in the number of invitations extended. My grandmother, a Kentuckian of strong Southern proclivities, would have none of this. “Whoever rings our doorbell will be a welcome guest,” she declared. And so rather like the apostles who had a vision that they should dine with Jew or Greek without distinction, I was given a lesson that thankfulness should know no bounds of color or class.
That Thanksgiving and Christmas, and for many that followed, service personnel of every race and color put their feet under my grandmother’s table.
Gratitude knows no boundaries of race or creed. It is a universal human expression, and we ought to be more grateful than we are. Many people’s bank accounts have a few less zeroes after the numbers this holiday, and even more are left wondering how to make ends meet. My grandparents had very little in the way of worldly goods. But they could spread a wonderful Thanksgiving and even though half of us sat on kitchen chairs, there were plenty of spaces around that big table, and all of them were filled.
Better understanding among people begins not with grandiose pronouncements or dramatic public gestures, but with small deeds of practical kindness that nobody else will see; such as remembering that all people can be grateful, and that there is much to be gained when united in those sentiments with “all sorts and conditions of people” for whom holy mother church has always encouraged us to pray.
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