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Happy Thanksgiving, from your friends at Veracity. Wheaton College history professor, Robert Tracy McKenzie, and blogger at “Faith and History,” will get you right about Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Faith and History

Many of you may be headed to the airport or the interstate for holiday travel, and if so, you might want to pass the time by listening to the podcast of a recent interview that I did with Professor Al Zambone of Augustana College.  Zambone maintains a great site called “Historically Thinking” that features conversations with historians on a wide range of topics.  Al and I had a lengthy conversation recently about popular memory of the First Thanksgiving, and you can find it here.

Alternatively, you might be interested in a different podcast on Thanksgiving that I did with my old University of Washington colleague, political scientist Anthony Gill, who moderates a wonderful site titled “Research on Religion.”  You can access that podcast here.

Both individuals are wonderful scholars and you would find much of value on their sites.

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I recently had dinner with some folks from another part of the country, where we talked about the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, soon to be followed by the famed “first ” Thanksgiving dinner in 1621, or thereabouts. Having grown up near Jamestown, Virginia, I am continually astounded when I hear that many Americans are completely ignorant about Jamestown as the first English settlement in the New World (1607), predating Plymouth Rock by thirteen years (1620). Furthermore, the thought that Virginia has had a “leg up” on the New Englanders with a Thanksgiving festival at Berkeley’s Hundred (1619) at least two years before the famous Pilgrim feast, comes as quite a surprise to many.

But while New Englanders and Virginians can have a friendly quarrel over dates, it is probably more disturbing how well-intended Christians have at times variously modified the first Thanksgiving event to fit within a particular historical narrative. But as Wheaton College historian Robert Tracy McKenzie and author of the The First Thanksgiving argues, the tendency to change the story is generally not malicious in motive. Furthermore, many contemporary readings that try to secularize Thanksgiving history can be just as guilty! Rather there is this universal human proclivity to see things in a way we want to see them, which provides an incentive to fudge a bit on the sparse details. However, as believers in a faith where history is vitally important, it is worth it as Christians to try to set the record straight.

In many ways, the story of how we have come to celebrate Thanksgiving is just as amazing as the original event itself.

Over the past few weeks, Professor McKenzie has been blogging a number of posts regarding the theme of Thanksgiving and understandings of its history over time, such as the following one. I hope you enjoy it as you feast on your traditional “turnips and boiled eel” instead of turkey this year…

Faith and History

History is not the past itself, but only that tiny portion of the past that human beings remember.  I’ve shared in a previous post the memorable word picture that C. S. Lewis has given us to illustrate that distinction.  In his essay “Historicism,” Lewis concluded that even a single moment involves more than we could ever document, much less comprehend.  He then went on to define the past in this way:

The past . . . in its reality, was a roaring cataract of billions upon billions of such moments: any one of them too complex to grasp in its entirety, and the aggregate beyond all imagination.  By far the greater part of this teeming reality escaped human consciousness almost as soon as it occurred. . . . At every tick of the clock, in every inhabited part of the world, an unimaginable richness and variety of “history” falls off…

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Oliver Cromwell’s Crisis

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England, and Christian reformer of church and civil governance. A hero of liberty to some. A fanatical tyrant to others.  From an unfinished portrait by Samuel Cooper (credit: Wikipedia)

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England, and Christian reformer of church and civil governance. A godly hero of liberty to some. A fanatical tyrant to others. From an unfinished portrait by Samuel Cooper (credit: Wikipedia)

By the early 17th century, the only type of governance that the English people had known for hundreds of years was the monarchy.  Along with the office of the king in the political realm, for Christians there was a corresponding office of bishop. The term bishop was derived from the Greek word episkopos, as found in Titus 1:7, typically translated today as “overseer.” Just as the king oversaw the worldly affairs of state, the bishop oversaw the spiritual affairs of the church.  King James I of England, who sponsored the famous English Bible translation that bears his name, was famously quoted as saying, “No bishop, no king.”

For James, a king can only rule a people properly with the assistance of bishops who could administer the spiritual life of Christian communities in accordance with the standard set by such a benevolent and divinely appointed king. King James, along with his bishops, saw this governing arrangement as quite efficient. But what happens when the people begin to lose confidence with their leaders? What happens when you can trust neither your bishop nor your king?
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