Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving’s a time for thanks—what are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving will be celebrated soon. This started me thinking about local faith community practices at this time of year. Last week, I noted Thanksgiving Blessing, a huge effort by the faith community and the Food Bank of Alaska. It takes many people to make this event a success and I’m thankful for those in our community who lead or participate in these efforts.

The story of the Pilgrims offers a teachable moment.

It’s a familiar story: After a harrowing transatlantic voyage and a disastrous winter, the surviving Pilgrims were grateful for the bounty offered by their first harvest and Native American neighbors.

Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, the story of the Pilgrims links it to American faith traditions. Few of us have ever suffered the privations they endured. It is a proper time to truly give thanks, and to teach others the spirit of the day. Some faith communities show their thanks by emulating that early Thanksgiving by incorporating those around them in that practice of celebrating and sharing.

The Pilgrims fled Europe because they were restricted in free practice of their religion, and sought to return to worshiping as they believed the early church did. I’m thankful for the four freedoms President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated in 1941 that symbolize what our country represents to the world: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. These were artistically and forcefully expressed by illustrator Norman Rockwell in four paintings, used as covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

Many people in the world do not have these freedoms as we celebrate Thanksgiving. According to Freedom House’s 2016 assessment of liberty, “Of the 195 countries assessed, 86 (44 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 50 (26 percent) Not Free.”

Few non-Catholic churches in Anchorage seem to be offering Thanksgiving services this year (Most Catholic churches do offer Thanksgiving Mass. Check your local schedule for times.). I would guess it’s probably due to preoccupation by families with dinner, football, etc., but many people of faith have found value in using this day to take time to be truly thankful for the gifts God has placed in their lives. And a few churches are offering Thanksgiving dinners prior to Thanksgiving, but just a few.

Clear Water Church, First Baptist Church and Skilled Missions Alaska are embarking on an innovative approach this year. They will be ministering to displaced families with relatives in Providence Alaska Medical Center. They will accomplish this by providing a Thanksgiving meal and fellowship at the Walter J. and Ermalee Hickel House.

For those unfamiliar with Hickel House, it offers an affordable, comfortable “home away from home” for outpatients and their families receiving medical attention at Providence. I think this is an exciting opportunity to show some true Thanksgiving spirit. (If you’d like to participate, call Clear Water member Brian Whitson at 268-8659.)

Joy Christian Center is holding a Thanksgiving service at 7 p.m. followed by a pie social on Thanksgiving Day. It’s located at 4335 Laurel St. A few local churches are offering Thanksgiving services during the week, but I was unable to locate others offering services on Thanksgiving Day through an internet search.

Bean’s Café and Brother Francis Shelter will serve Thanksgiving dinners Thursday. The Downtown Soup Kitchen is closed on Thanksgiving Day. Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission serves Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday because People Mover doesn’t run buses on Thanksgiving.

Bean’s, Brother Francis, and the Rescue Mission would sincerely appreciate donations of items such as turkeys, canned vegetables, mashed potatoes, hams and yams to support these special events.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this coming week, take time to consider things you are truly thankful for. The “Four Freedoms” are a good place to start. Whether or not you are a person of faith, Thanksgiving is an ideal time to pause and reflect on those things for which we are truly thankful.

Merton lecture series was well-attended

The recent Caroline Penniman Wohlforth Lecture Series held at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Nov. 4-6 was well-attended and introduced participants to the prayer and meditative concepts of Thomas Merton. Many people are seeking deeper spiritual relevance and time for reflection in their daily lives.

The Rev. Hugh Grant from Washington state delved into the life of celebrated Trappist monk Thomas Merton in a Friday evening talk to a capacity audience. The lecture, captured by church staff on video, can be viewed at St. Mary’s website. Grant summarized Merton’s life, writings, brief time in Alaska and his relevancy to our everyday lives.

Saturday’s lecture was a time of reflection, training in centering prayer, personal meditation, and practical instruction about how to slow down to perceive God’s speaking to us. Sunday’s lecture focused on observations about what nature can tell us, especially about ourselves.

Coming just days before the election, the lectures offered insights about how to deal with stress and contentious issues. Merton, writing about the spiritual life, said “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”

A key lecture topic was contemplation and centering prayer. Merton, writing on the subject, said, “Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart – it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God.”

This lecture series was a gift to the community, and a good number of people took advantage of the opportunity. Thank you, St. Mary’s, and the Wohlforth Lecture Series.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.

Thanksgiving Blessing almost here

Thanksgiving Blessing is an annual event to give families a turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal, especially for those who otherwise might not have the means to do so. It is sponsored by the Food Bank of Alaska and a number of local food pantries.  I mention it in this week’s Church Visits C\column in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Distribution in the Valley will be on Saturday, November 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the following locations, and is zip-code dependent.

Faith Bible Fellowship, 14159 West Hollywood Road, Big Lake (Mile 2.5 Big Lake Road)
907-892-8545
Available to residents in zip code: 99652, 99624, 99623 (near Big Lake), 99694
Fellowship Lutheran Church Mile 1.1 Petersville Road, Trapper Creek 907-355-1410 (LouAnne)
Available to residents in zip code: 99683
Wasilla Bible Church, 1651 West Nicola Avenue, Wasilla 907-376-2176
Available to residents in zip codes: 99623 (near Wasilla), 99629, 99654, 99687
Real Life Church, 10697 East Palmer Wasilla Highway, Palmer (Mile 2 Palmer-Wasilla Highway) 907-745-5673
Available to residents in zip codes: 99645, 99674
Upper Susitna Senior Center, 16463 E. Helena Street, Talkeetna (Mile 98.5 Parks Highway)
907-355-1410 (LouAnne)
Available to residents in zip codes: 99676, 99667
Willow United Methodist Church, Mile 67.5 Parks Highway, Willow 907-414-7555
Available to residents in zip code: 99688, 99694
Distribution in Anchorage will be on Monday, November from 12 – 4 p.m. at the following locations, and is zip-code dependent.
Crosspoint Church (Dimond and Minnesota, in the Burlington Coat Factory mall): 99507, 99511, 99515,99516, 99518, 99522, 99523, 99540, 99587
New Season Christian Center at Spenard Recreation Center (2020 W 48th): 99502, 99517, 99519
Central Lutheran Church (Cordova and 15th): 99501, 99503, 99510,99512, 99513, 99520, 99524
St. Patrick’s Church (2111 Muldoon Road): 99504, 99509, 99521
Joy Lutheran Church (1011 E Eagle River Loop Road): 99505, 99506, 99567, 99577
12-8 p.m. only for this location:
Mt. View Community Center (315 N Price, off of Mt. View Drive): 99508, 99514

Anchorage Thanksgiving is cornucopia of community effort

This coming Thursday, Thanksgiving will be celebrated across the U.S. Our community goes out of its way to ensure everyone has a place at the table for a hearty and filling Thanksgiving meal. One way this is accomplished is through the local Thanksgiving Blessing, coordinated by the Food Bank of Alaska with the support of the local faith and nonprofit community. Over 8,000 families will be served in this year’s Thanksgiving Blessing in Anchorage, with an additional 2,000 in the Valley.

Thanksgiving meals, including turkey and all the fixings, will be distributed Monday, at six Anchorage locations. From 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. families in need can go to the following locations (based on zip codes; visit foodbankofalaska.org or call 211 for more information):

Crosspoint Church at the Burlington Coat Factory mall on Dimond Boulevard
New Season Christian Center at Spenard Recreation Center, 2020 West 48th Ave.
Central Lutheran Church, Cordova Street and 15th Avenue
St. Patrick’s Church, 2111 Muldoon Road
Joy Lutheran Church, 10111 E. Eagle River Loop Road
From noon to 8 p.m., Mountain View Community Center, 315 N. Price, off of Mountain View Drive

Mike Miller, executive director of Food Bank of Alaska, underscored the broad base of support, saying, “Each one of these partners is partnering with many other community organizations and churches to make this happen with money, commodities and volunteers. The entire Southcentral Alaska area pulls together to make this happen.”

This is in significant contrast to the manufactured buying frenzy that begins that day, and the next, Black Friday, with families plunging further into debt to supply gifts their kids and families do not really need, financed by firms all too ready to help satisfy consumers with credit, layaways and high-priced merchandise.

Local examples of stores bucking the trend to open on Thanksgiving are: Babies R Us, Cabela’s, Costco, Game Stop, H&M, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Nordstrom, Pier 1 Imports, Petco, REI, Sam’s Club, Staples and TrueValue. Additionally, REI has courageously decided employees and family life are more important than opening on Black Friday. According to SHRM.org, a professional human resources organization, “most businesses (76 percent) plan to be closed on the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 27.”

Some organizations suggest Black Friday and Cyber Monday lessen charitable giving at this time of year. A national effort, Giving Tuesday (givingtuesday.org), has arisen to counter these big consumer spending days with charitable giving on Dec. 1. It’s been building steam, now claiming a 470 percent increase in online donations since 2012, and counts more than 30,000 partners in 68 countries. Clearly an effort like this cannot hope to cultivate  the level of awareness among consumers generated by the  advertising efforts of ravenous retailers.

The evening before Thanksgiving, the Interfaith Council of Anchorage will hold its annual Thanksgiving Gathering at First Congregational Church at 7 p.m., featuring music and reflections from Anchorage’s many faith traditions followed by a reception with light snacks.

Muldoon Community Assembly (mcaonline.org) is the only church I located offering family and friends dinner and a wide variety of activities throughout the day on Thanksgiving Day. Activities start with karaoke at 11 a.m., and dinner is served at noon. This reflects the true spirit of early Thanksgivings celebrated by the pilgrims.

When I caught up with senior pastor, the Rev. Kent Redfearn, I discovered it goes deeper than that. He grew up in Barrow, where he learned the importance of feasts, recalling several times a year the whole village stopped and had a feast. Moving to Anchorage for ninth grade, he noted a lack of feasting. Everyone seemed to be isolated in their homes for holidays like Thanksgiving. Redfearn related that the Bible notes seven feasts, and joined this to the Inupiat feast concept. He further noted the New Testament contains accounts of Jesus performing miracles at feasts, where everyone was included.

“The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray starts with ‘our,’ not ‘I,’” Redfearn said. “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit was the first community, and the essence of faith is to live that type of community. The theology of ‘at table’ is powerful. In Psalm 23, it says ‘Thou preparest a table before me.’” Muldoon Community Assembly is to be commended for its inclusiveness and community sharing. Wouldn’t it be great to see a few more churches following its fine example?

According to  Lisa Sauder, executive director of Bean’s Cafe, donations have been down substantially, despite an ongoing need for gloves, hats, hand-warmers, and socks due to the cold temperatures. Coffee, tea and toilet paper are especially needed. They’ve started offering hot oatmeal in the mornings when normally a cold breakfast is served. Additionally, an afternoon snack of soup for core intake is being offered. They expect to serve up to 1,200 meals starting at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Over 80 people have been sheltering overnight at Bean’s, where 400 meals are served for breakfast. Bean’s posts critical needs on facebook.com/beanscafe on Thursdays.

“We couldn’t keep our doors open without the support of the community,” says Lisa. “If you’re unable to drop off donated items directly at Bean’s, they can also be dropped off at Tastee Freez (at Jewel Lake and Raspberry roads) or SoYo Yogurt Shoppe on Huffman Road. You can also donate funds online.”

The Downtown Soup Kitchen serves lunches Monday through Friday. “This year DSK is very thankful that we can provide a cold weather shelter for homeless women starting Nov. 30,” Sherrie Laurie, executive director, says “It has been a long process to get the permitting to do this but we are finally ready to open and provide a warm, safe shelter for these women.”

Other religious organizations also provide meals and shelter for those needing assistance: Brother Francis Shelter, Gospel Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army. Your financial help is critical at this time as well.

I’m pleased with the strides the Anchorage faith and nonprofit community has taken to provide assistance to all over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Thoughts on Black Friday creep, Thanksgiving and a Christian ethic – 11/23/14

This year will see a growing rush by retailers to advance the sales and eventual profits of Black Friday by what is termed “Black Friday creep,” opening stores on Thanksgiving Day itself. A list of retailers opening on Thanksgiving was published this week by Huffington Post(tinyurl.com/mwpkk7s). It included Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, Macy’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Target, Staples, Best Buy, Sports Authority, Toys R Us, Office Max/Office Depot and Radio Shack. This comes on top of retailers featuring online and in-store pre-Black Friday sales in order to get consumers to buy yet earlier this year.

The Huffington Post article also listed retailers that will honor family and Thanksgiving by not opening on Thanksgiving, headed up by Costco and Sam’s.

Why is this information in a religion column? Thanksgiving has been under attack by retailers for years and remains a significant issue. Not long ago, almost every store, gas station and restaurant was closed for Thanksgiving. But the retail sector has taken aim at Thanksgiving with a vengeance.

Thanksgiving started as a harvest celebration among the Pilgrims and the local Native Americans in the Plymouth Colony. Robert Tracy McKenzie, professor and chair of the History Department at Wheaton College and author of  the wonderful book “The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History,” notes the key reasons pushing the Pilgrims to our shores:

“In contrast, the Pilgrims’ struggle … speaks to us where we live. Their hardships in Holland were so … ordinary. They worried about their children’s future. They feared the effects of a corrupt and permissive culture. They had a hard time making ends meet. They wondered how they would provide for themselves in old age. (Can you relate to any of their worries?) And in contrast to their success in escaping persecution, they found the cares of the world much more difficult to evade.”

Their initial escape from England didn’t solve their needs, so they migrated to the New World. Life in the New World was hard but they found time to celebrate a successful year and give thanks to God. A coming battle for them would be with wealth and abundance.

One key factor weighing against people of faith is consumerism. Consumerism appears to be destroying our national holiday celebration of Thanksgiving and has successfully destroyed the true spirit of Christmas. Advent season 2014 begins Sunday, Nov. 30. A period of religious observance by many faiths, Advent is a period of reflection and realization of the events leading up to the birth of the Messiah. Unfortunately for many, the focus of the holiday season is on “us,” rather than the true object of our affection, Jesus. As Rev. Bob Mather of Baxter Road Bible Church reflects, “It’s not your birthday; it’s Jesus’.” The church devotes 100 percent of its income during December toward local nonprofits that help the homeless, the destitute, the hungry and the afflicted. Mather says the church is helped, not hurt, by this yearly initiative.

Local nonprofit organizations such as Bean’s Café, the Brother Francis Shelter, the Downtown Soup Kitchen, the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services of Alaska and the Food Bank of Alaska are examples of great local organizations that depend on your support now when their need is greatest. Too many resources are unfortunately diverted to personal consumerism.

The Thanksgiving Blessing project has been ongoing for some years. Last year, this wonderful community project provided groceries to more than 10,000 people. The Food Bank of Alaska coordinates this project through six sites. They need your help. Call them directly or get detailed information online at tinyurl.com/mqt4bvv.

Another “Beer and Hymns”’ fundraiser is scheduled for Nov. 30, 6 p.m. at O’Brady’s. Contrary to a recent blast from a local Pentecostal pulpit calling this a “beer bash,” this is a genuine celebration of community building and a locking of arms to address community needs, a true religious experience. Generally, more than $5,000 is contributed in two hours each time this wonderful celebration of hymnody, good food and great conversation is held. Local Lutherans, spearheaded by Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, make this a beautiful and worthwhile event.

Many local churches will have Thanksgiving-focused services tomorrow, Sunday. A number of them will also offer Thanksgiving dinners after the service, the afternoon or the evening. This is a wonderful way to reflect on the joys of Thanksgiving. I’ve been invited to one such church dinner. Often these same churches collect funds to help the local food distribution agencies with procuring adequate supplies to make it through the holiday season.

I recall trying to make a Thanksgiving restaurant reservation years ago. One well-known local restaurant told me this was a time for their workers to enjoy the company of family and friends. I got it with that phone discussion as I’d not previously focused on the issue. The retailers of America are focused on competition and profits at the expense of their employees who must work Thanksgiving to support the advertising-whipped fervor for Black Friday creep and Black Friday sales. American families are imperiled. These types of events tear at the fragile fabric of family instead of strengthening it. I believe if enough consumers refused to give in to the lure of the retailers’ siren calls, they would get the message.

In closing, it’s not often I hear pastors addressing this issue from the pulpit. Part of it is because many of their members own, manage, work in or direct the activities of these retailers. In essence, the pastors should be educating their members to the dangers of consumerism. 1 John 2:15 says: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Scripture is replete with such warnings. The Pilgrims believed strongly in scripture, and let it be their guide. Let’s rediscover the joy of family, friends, food, celebrating our abundance, and stopping to give thanks for what we have, and enjoy Thanksgiving to the fullest. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith. You can find his blog at churchvisits.com.

Bean’s Cafe – Helping in Love By Serving Thanksgiving Meals

Thanksgiving Day, Bean’s Cafe will continue to serve meals with love and warm attitudes to demonstrate to the less fortunate that they are loved by the Anchorage community.

Lisa Sauder, Bean’s Executive Director offered some insight on the extent of their meal activities on Thanksgiving. They plan to serve approximately 1,200 meals. Because they are excellent financial stewards of community donations, and other financial resources, they are able to provide dinners where the average meal cost, for food alone, averages under $3.00.

Ms. Sauder further noted “We are so grateful for the amazing support we receive each year for Thanksgiving and the Holidays. We see such an increase in giving this time of year. It really helps so much.”

“Bean’s meal is served at noon”, she said, “and Brother Francis Shelter will serve dinner on Thanksgiving for those clients who are residing there. We are helping them with their dinner by donating the vegetables to be served. Providence provides all other food for the meal.”

From my volunteer work at Bean’s, I know Bean’s clients enjoy a tasty, well-prepared lunch, made and served with love by volunteers. I can attest to the rewards of volunteerism at Bean’s. They are especially grateful for monetary assistance during the winter months, as that is when their client load, and expenses, are at their highest. Rather than giving expensive gifts to each other during this time of consumer extravagance, I urge you to consider Bean’s and Brother Francis Shelter during this critical time of year.

Thanksgiving Blessing Tomorrow

I was unaware of Thanksgiving Blessing Project commencing tomorrow until I saw a flier in one of the schools where I substitute-teach. Doing a little checking I found out it’s a huge effort on the part of the Food Bank and a number of local organizations. The Food Bank was kind enough to answer some questions about this incredible community effort. Their response is printed below after the list of distribution sites and related zipcodes. From 3-8 p.m. tomorrow families can receive a turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal by going to one of the seven (7) sites listed below. Recipients are asked to bring proof of address with them.

Crosspoint Church
Dimond and Minnesota, in the Burlington Coat Factory Mall
Zipcodes: 99507, 99511, 99515, 99516, 99518, 99522, 99523, 99540, 99587

Faith Christian Community
4240 Wisconsin in Spenard
Zipcodes: 99502, 99517, 99519

Central Lutheran Church
Cordova and 15th
Zipcodes: 99501 addresses WEST of Gambell, 99503, 99510, 99512, 99513, 99520,99524

St. Patrick’s Church
2111 Muldoon Road
Zipcodes: 99504, 99509, 99521

Alaska Native Cultural Charter School
550 Bragaw Street
Zipcodes: 99501 addresses EAST of Gambell, 99508 addresses SOUTH of Glenn Hwy

Mt. View Community Center
315 N. Price, off of Mt. View Drive
Zipcodes: 99508 addresses NORTH of Glenn Hwy

Joy Lutheran Church
10111 E. Eagle River Loop Road
Zipcodes: 99505, 99506, 99567, 99577

Karla Jutzi of the Food Bank kindly answered some key questions I posed. A flier covering many more details of the Thanksgiving Blessing Project is also attached.

CV: Church Visits
CJ: Carla Jutzi

CV: How long has Thanksgiving Blessing been in operation and who funds it?
CJ: Thanksgiving Blessing began in Anchorage in 2004 and in the Valley in 2010 as community-wide collaborations to be more effective and efficient in distributing food to those who might otherwise go without a Thanksgiving dinner. It is funded by donations of food and financial gifts that members of all the involved congregations and agencies give or raise and by Food Bank of Alaska, which furnishes the turkeys and produce. Food Bank of Alaska supports its part with a combination of government and private grants and donations from businesses and individuals.

CV: What are the qualifications to receive the food?
CJ: There are no qualifications except need identified by clients themselves. Recipients are asked to go to the site serving their zip code to facilitate planning and are asked to bring proof of address.

CV: How were pickup sites selected?
CJ: A committee of involved congregations and agencies (LSSA, Catholic Social Services, Love, Inc.) makes decisions about how Thanksgiving Blessing is organized and run. Food Bank of Alaska facilitates this planning process.

CV: What does a typical recipient/family receive?
CJ: Families have the chance to “shop,” so they can select what they want and will use and are not required to take a prepackaged box. Available are a turkey for every household with a roasting pan, canned vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, gravy mix, a bag of potatoes, a bag of apples, dinner rolls, pies, and butter or margarine. The amount depends on family size.

CV: What is the average cost per distribution?
CJ: We are estimating the average cost per household this year at $45.

CV: How do you ensure recipients do not collect from multiple organizations doing such distributions, i.e. churches, non-profits, etc.?
CJ: Minimizing this is one of the reasons the coordinated, community-wide distribution began. Blessing sites register families when they arrive and ask families to go only to the site serving their zip code and to bring proof of address with them.

CV: How is the local community involved in preparing and distributing this?
CJ: Leaders of the local faith community do the planning, solicit donations of food and funds, and solicit and deploy an army of volunteers who do set up and distribution. Food Bank of Alaska facilitates planning, does bulk food purchases based on site orders, receives and processes donations for the event and individual sites, prepares materials and coordinates media outreach, and warehouses and distributes purchased food. Alaska 211 handles information and referral.

The Thanksgiving Blessing Project is a wonderful holiday project involving our local community. Last year Thanksgiving Blessing provided meals for 7,479 Anchorage families. I believe this project would be significantly helped by your online contribution in any amount towww.foodbankofalaska.org, or mail your gift to Food Bank of Alaska, 2121 Spar Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501.

I believe a hearty thank you is owed to all those in our community who care that everyone in our community has a meal on our national holiday Thanksgiving. My thanks is extended to all those involved in this worthy cause.

Thanksgiving Sermons – Will Preachers Upset or Avoid?

Thanksgiving sermons are interesting. The Sunday before Thanksgiving is an ideal time for preachers to remind parishioners about the dangers of Christians shopping on our national holiday, a day for family and friends to give thanks. Our consumer-driven economy is an antithesis to the vision Christ painted over 2,000 years ago. In that spirit, true Christians would not “shop ‘til they drop” at this time of year because “It’s not your birthday…” as Pastor Bob Mather noted in his Advent thought last year. (Click HERE and HERE) (Hyplerlinks unavailable at the moment)

However, the merchants of America keep pushing forward the dates of the Christmas selling season. First it was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Now the big sell has intruded into the hours of Thanksgiving itself. Thanksgiving was symbolic of family and friends meeting once a year to break bread together, and give thanks for what we have.

The Bible is chock full of counsel to Christians against accumulation, consumerism, and love for the things of the world. When I grew up, and as recent as a few years ago in Texas, if you needed a last minute item at Safeway on Thanksgiving Day, it was closed. It is rapidly becoming business as usual. You might say, what about the Jews, Muslims, Buddists, etc? Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. It’s a national holiday, advocated by presidents and signed into law, to set aside and recognize a day of thanks.

Matt Walsh, a Huffington Post blogger posted his thoughts on this issue November 20 entitled “If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem”. I am shocked by the number of commentators who were vehemently opposed to his thoughts and supported treating Thanksgiving like any other day.

I’m curious how many Alaskan pastors will actually tell it like it is, this Sunday before Thanksgiving, in a sermon denouncing the spirit of acquisition and consumerism. Their parishioners might not be happy with such a sermon, but it is the right spirit of religion. I do note that while many churches do not celebrate Thanksgiving as a religious holiday, they do use it as a springboard to extend help to those less fortunate in our community. They do this by having Thanksgiving dinners where all are invited, giving generously to food banks for distribution, and volunteer to work in the many non-profits who actually feed the less fortunate, and give money to support these causes. One such cause is the Thanksgiving Blessing which I’ll be writing about tomorrow.

Finally I applaud those merchants who are courageously standing firm and not opening on Thanksgiving Day to honor our country’s national holiday. This Huffington Post article honors those merchants “Costco, Nordstrom Refuse To Ruin Thanksgiving”.

The Sad Reality of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber-Monday

Thanksgiving for many has sadly degenerated into an orgy of eating, drinking, entertainment and frivolity. Often there is little reference to being thankful for anything. Even the poor in our community are treated to Thanksgiving baskets with turkeys, and makings for a feast, instead of essentials for daily nourishment which many need more than the feast makings.

Thanksgiving is now followed by Black Friday, and Cyber-Monday which promote orgies of unchecked buying and consumption. In fact, for weeks now we’ve been deluged with radio, print, TV, and internet campaigns to BUY, BUY, BUY. This is the time of year people go deeply into debt to sustain these orgies of buying in our conspicuous consumption society.

Yesterday, in a Christian Post article entitled New Poverty Figures Raise Questions on Role of Church, Christians, Pastor Phillip Meek of Savannah, TN is cited by article author Paul Stanley as saying the church has failed it’s Biblical-injuncted role in caring for widows and the poor.

Meek says the issue of poverty in America is not so much an issue of starvation, but rather a motivation to improve a family’s ability to provide for themselves.

The article quotes some interesting statistics.

For example, nearly two-thirds of “poor” households have cable or satellite TV and at least one DVD player. More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, and over one-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.

More interesting is that 96 percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year and 83 percent of those poor families had enough to eat during the year. Others are asking if what the government is doing in terms of entitlement programs is in reality giving people little to no motivation to improve their lifestyle.

“The mindset of a poor person today is different than it was a few decades ago. Some people are not motivated to improve their situation and are only looking for a handout. Many are trying to find a job but struggle in an area like ours that has little to no new employment opportunities. Still the church and those who subscribe to Jesus Christ are tasked with the responsibility to help others.” Meek says.

He also sees “giving” as a major problem within the church.

“If Christians gave anywhere close to the 10 percent asked of them by God, not only would the church have ample resources, but in my opinion we would have enough to go around to help those who are really needy.”

“Because the church has not done what it is supposed to do, the government has taken over and as we all know, government has to have total control of anything they have their hands in,” explained Meek. “The government never looks for way to cut back and ask individual to shoulder more of that responsibility.

In addition, Meek says his church is trying to become more of a community-based church and with God’s help they will break the status quo.

“We have spent so much time fighting against one another that we have not done all we are asked to do by God to help our fellow man. There has been too much division between churches and that’s what we are trying to change in our community,” Meeks said.

“I believe in James 1:27 when he tells us ‘to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.'”

Churches could do more to fight the materialism that seems to be the sin of the age. The stark reality is that many church members also own the businesses that are promoting such behavior. As we prepare to enter this Advent season, my wish for the Anchorage church community is for it to courageously fight materialism, and help the poor among us to break away from the dependency fostered by government and non-profit programs so rampant today.

Thanksgiving Thought to Ponder – Walter Brueggemann

Respected theologian Walter Brueggemann has penned this thoughtful observation about Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving is a contradiction of the values of a market economy that imagines we are self-made and can be self-sufficient. When we give thanks, we commit an act of defiance against the seductions of our society. . . We may sing all kinds of patriotic songs and feast to satiation on Thanksgiving Day. Beyond all of that is our acknowledgement that life is a gift that evokes response. We are never self-starters. The drive for self-sufficiency is an unnecessary and futile idolatry.”

Words for Thanksgiving by Pastor Tom Letts

Tom Letts, Sr. Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, graciously shares his thoughts about Thanksgiving. Trinity is also one of the few Anchorage churches offering a Thanksgiving Eve service, followed by a pie social where 1/2 of the pies are given to organizations servings those in need. More information HERE.

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Stewart Center was the biggest, strongest guy on our freshman football team. One day I made the mistake of attempting a solo tackle on him in practice. Details remain fuzzy decades later but people tell me I had the wind knocked out of me. I do remember my mouth opening and closing, but no relief of air, just need, fear, pain. All I could see, feel, was my need for air. Nothing else, I was blind to everything but that one need.

We were created, not simply to inhale, but to exhale as well. We only inhale, we die. Such a simple and basic truth it seems silly to mention it. We go through our days with no thought to our next breath. Yet, if we take just a moment it becomes obvious that there is no absolute promise for air to return to our lungs after this next exhale (that became utterly clear to me on the practice field many years ago).

Ok, easy. But try this, “We were created, not simply to receive all good gifts from God, but to offer them back as well.” We only receive, we die. Like having the wind knocked out of us, self-ish-ness crushes our capacity to see anything but our most immediate ‘need.’

Why is this so hard for us? Why so afraid to simply, freely offer everything back to God, to needy others, just give it away. Lets look at breathing again for a clue. We don’t worry about breathing because we simply trust that the next breath will come, we have a lifetime of experience to ‘prove’ it. So, experience teaches us to trust. There you go, if we practice giving like we ‘practice’ breathing, we’ll learn to trust the Giver. Jesus said it in Luke, chapter 6, “Give, even to those who have no means of returning the favor. Then you will be like your Father in heaven who lavishes sun and rain on the good and bad alike.” [my paraphrase] Wow, God’s own eyes.

We are being offered the very character of God and settle for trinkets; our most immediate needs ‘filled’ we are blind to everything else. The Thanksgiving holiday is placed at the cusp of the Christian season of Advent for a reason. Our fore-bearers in faith saw the direct correlation between returning all we receive in gratitude and having eyes to see God (even God lying in a manger).

Can’t see my point? Selfishness creates blindness, all it sees is its most immediate ‘need.’ Offering back to God (in large part by giving to those with less) creates a clarity of vision. Father David Steindl-Rast puts it this way, ‘Thanksgiving, where it is genuine, does not look primarily at the gift and express appreciation…it looks through the gift to the giver and expresses trust.’ When I look through all gifts, into the face of the Giver, I regain true sight. I trust. I give. I receive. I see the Giver. I trust. I give… Easy. Like your next breath.

I pray the gift of returning thanks, by giving, creates in you the eyes to see The Gift this Advent.