The following ran on Nov. 22, 2011, on the Dallas Morning News Texas Faith blog. William Lawrence, dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology, provided expertise for this story.
December 9, 2011
By William McKenzie
It's a holiday that many people often say is their favorite one. No gifts to buy. No parties to attend. Just families and friends sharing a meal around the table.
But why should we be thankful?
The nation faces a massive debt. Washington is polarized. We're at war to keep terrorists from striking us. Poverty rates are alarming. The gap between rich and the middle class is widening. And that's before you even get off the front page.
So, why should we be thankful? And what should we be thankful for, either personally or at the larger national/global level?...
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
The New England roots of our national day of Thanksgiving are not some annual holiday with big feasting in gratitude for a bountiful harvest. Rather, the origins of the holiday rest in periodic practices whereby the early colonists decided for some reason to pause and give thanks. They summoned one another to celebrate days of thanksgiving from time to time for specific events that they saw as signs of hope or deliverance.
No doubt some of these thanksgiving occasions involved dining together. Other activities involved prayers or just resting from labor. Our national folklore about a meal with the local natives is almost surely derived from facts about an actual event. But the idea of a Thanksgiving Day should not be limited to that.
However, there is a larger point to be noticed. Let's start by acknowledging that it is selfish and narcissistic to limit the spirit of thanksgiving to happiness over the good things that we have personally received in life.
Those early colonists gave thanks as much for their hope as for their success. To have survived in a harsh and unfamiliar climate, to have failed in early efforts to cultivate crops with which nobody among the colonists was acquainted, to have endured the deaths of significant numbers of the colonists, and to have faced the uncertain prospects about the colony's future did not deprive them of hope. So they gave thanks not only for the good things that they had received but also for promises in which they still trusted and for hopes that they still cherished.
We should not be indifferent this Thanksgiving Day to the sufferings of those without health care, the hardships of the unemployed, the anxieties of any whose loved ones are at war, or the immigrants facing the ire of short-sighted politicians. Yet, the real tradition of this holiday is to recognize that hard times do not deprive us of the freedom to give thanks as long as we believe that this is a land of promise for all persons and as long as we cling to hope for ourselves as well as for our neighbors.