Thursday, November 19, 2009


I really, really don’t like it when the Church celebrates secular holidays. I suppose it’s okay to mention them in passing, but I really don’t see what the Church is doing celebrating civic holidays as if they had much of anything to do with God or creation or salvation history or any of those things. I was even in a Church recently (a liturgical setting, believe it or not), that sang some strange hymn about concrete and steel to celebrate Labor Day.

Hallmark holidays are even worse. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are just distractions. Give the mothers a flower and the dads some kind of cigar substitute like a pen or a book, but don’t build the whole gathering around it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to celebrate them with your families. But they are big distractions in churches. And the music played and sung in them is usually pure crap.

I think I’ve made my opinion about the place of Independence Day pretty clear.

I still don’t know about Thanksgiving. Even though its origins had religious overtones, it’s little more than civic in our culture today. And even though the pilgrims were probably pretty thankful for those natives they ran across, the sentiment didn’t last too long, did it?

That reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite TV shows, FOX’s King of the Hill.

Bobby Hill: You mean Indians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving?

John Redcorn: We did. Once.

Southern Baptists are big on Thanksgiving. They like it because it gives them a chance to eat themselves silly and not feel bad about it. Actually two chances, the actual Thanksgiving meal and the church dinner and pie fellowship. Being people that keep a covered dish on their person at all times,

Thanksgiving resonates deep in their souls. And their tummies. Of course I’m exaggerating, but not that much.

Thankfulness is something we really need to work on. I’m convinced in a lot of places, Thanksgiving is more about celebrating our own ability to hoard. Seriously. We feel like we’re entitled to all the good stuff of life and we get really pissed when that’s not laid right at our feet. Don’t look at me that way. You know you do. I do too.

I remember how mad I was when I finished my master’s degree and was still stuck working at Outback Steakhouse. Like someone should have popped out of thin air and served me a job on a platter. It finally hit me that I still had it way better than I deserved.

The holiday doesn’t usually have anything to do with thankfulness before God.

But Thanksgiving comes at a good time thankfulness. We’re closing out the church year and getting ready to begin Advent. Seems to me like thanksgiving is a good way to finish things out. But in the Church, giving thanks for the symbolic harvest we enjoy should always be done in light of God’s mercy and faithfulness in Christ.

The really good thanksgiving hymns help us to do this. They don’t get bogged down in warm fuzziness.

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, Now Thank We All Our God, We Gather Together, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness.

I guess that’s where I am on Thanksgiving celebrations in church. If we’re not careful, they become just another sappy, sentimental civic celebration that dilutes our real celebrations and gives us the chance to pig out. But if they do Thanksgiving right and put us in the right perspective, I’m okay with it. At least for now.


Beth said...

Great post J. I have been meditating on this very thing all week because I am preaching this Sunday on “Finding Thanksgiving”.

When my boss asked me to preach a thanksgiving (little t) message I winced a bit. Like you, these are not my favorite topics.Thanksgiving sermons rank right up there with the Fourth of July as sappy and sentimental with little to do with our walk with Christ.

And while I always love the opportunity to preach, I have no desire to give people a pep talk that allows them to adjust their attitudes just enough to glide into the holidays feeling better about their lives. I agree with you that much of Thanksgiving is about us. Our giving thanks is reduced to spending a few minutes once a year comparing ourselves to others - and the rest of the world - and thanking God for favoring us. I can’t imagine that the Father approves.

But I quickly realized what an opportunity I have to bring peoples focus back to some fundamental truths right before Advent. This year, our church is joining others through Advent Conspiracy to celebrate our story in a radical and counter-cultural way; worship fully, spend less, give more and love all. I am convinced that we need a huge shift in our perspective to be able do these things and it starts with coming to God in a humility that is expressed in true, God-focused,thanksgiving.

E. A. Harvey said...

I find it ironic (and disheartening and pathetic) that we follow up our day of thanks with "Black Friday"-- a day of mad shoppers waking up at 3 am, standing in line for hours, only to push, shove, knock down and trample their fellow shoppers to save a few bucks on something they really don't need in the first place. If someone tells me how thankful they are and then engages in that activity, I have to wonder if the exercise in thankfulness is penetrating their heart at all. Thanksgiving should be an every day thing--the holiday itself is just about eating, football, and prepping to boost the retail sector of the economy.

I will say, though, living in a farming community, Thanksgiving is seasonally still tied to harvest, and it always does seem like a time to celebrate when harvest is finished (although this year has been tricky for corn farmers with abnormally late moisture). So in that sense, I do think it's appropriate for a church body to celebrate and have fellowship around something so important to the community.

Kurt Willems said...

I have to say that I fully agree with you on this post. I hate when the church celebrates civic and secular holidays. I am not that worried about causual mention, but do we really have to show a video for memorial day weekend of soldiers, flags and the cross? Do we really have to remeber the holiday celebrating a good meal that a select few white folk had with native americans? The reality is that we should, if anything, remeber the extreme injustice our country was founded on so we quit repeating the mistakes. But now i have digressed... Thanks for your thoughts here. PS - You mentioned your views on Independence Day... have you blogged about them? I did on my site if your interested. you can find it on "popular posts" although you may have already read that :-) -- KURT

jaigner said...

I'm right with you, Kurt. Check out my blogs in the July - September range. Thanks.