Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful and Free

I am both thankful and free. These two words have so many different meanings to so many different people. We can be thankful for anything ranging from glad to be out from under tyrannical government control, to thankful we don't have to spend Thanksgiving with Cousin Eddie who drives us nuts. We can be free from institutional control on the outside, and be free from institutional control still on the inside.

As a dear Canadian-born friend of mine pointed out, Americans are relentlessly patriotic. Holidays such as Memorial day, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are heavily promoted, especially by religious conservatives, those in or related to those in the armed services, and ahem, those whose homeschool product catalogues land in our mailboxes each year around this time. It's as though being Christian and being free is defined entirely by our cultural religious heritage.

Everyone knows that our Thanksgiving holiday is based on the memories of long-ago Pilgrims from Holland and England who fled their oppressive government to worship in freedom. They were willing to travel, leave their homeland and many family and friends, endure starvation and sickness, and go to a place they knew nothing about, in order to obtain the freedom to worship as they felt was right.

I look around me today and see most of the people I know making plans for Thanksgiving in traditional ways. This is a happy and fulfilling occasion for some. However, I know a number of people who complain, gripe and get nervous and tense when Thanksgiving approaches. They roll their eyes at the number of people expected to come over, worry about their husband and their mother getting into a spat, wonder if Cousin Eddie is going to show up drunk again, fret that the bathroom isn't clean enough for Grandma's white-glove inspection.

I had one friend sigh and say, "here it comes." She was going to drive to a relative's house for Thanksgiving, and admitted she didn't like the people who were going to be there. Another friend wondered if her mom would notice the tension between her and her husband. A third said that if her mother in law didn't think her house was clean enough, she could just go stay in a motel.

We invited friends over who had to decline because they were due at Grandma's house. Their kids said, "I don't want to go. Can't we go to THEIR house instead?" In years past, I've invited friends over for Thanksgiving who I could tell were tempted by my invitation, but they were going to go to their Mom's house to sit and try for several hours to get along with their nitpicky sisters and their boorish-joke-telling brothers-in-law without losing their cool.

For people whose holiday was founded on religious, spiritual and cultural freedom, so many of us Americans sure are die-hard traditionalists. For years, Thanksgiving meant making that green bean casserole (blech) with mushroom soup, watching no one eat it, and stick it in the fridge to finally feed to the dog. It meant going to relative's houses because it was expected. It meant turkey and dressing because that's just what you have for Thanksgiving. It meant taking home gobs of leftover pie that no one ate because no one is crazy about it, to appease the relatives so I wouldn't hurt their feelings. It meant eating more than I was hungry for, so whoever cooked wouldn't get their feelings hurt. Of course, there were hours of football to be watched all day (I can't stand football), and of course, it was ALWAYS raining and cold on Thanksgiving, and no one was really interested in talking, so I had no alternatives but to sit there.

As Americans, we've been heavily conditioned with the Norman Rockwell-styled images of Thanksgiving and how things are 'supposed' to look. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on everyone, perhaps especially those whose relatives treat them like crap or who have no family to get together with. I am thankful that this year, God is working to set me free from another set of 'shoulds' about how I've been conditioned Thanksgiving should look, that just don't apply in my life.

Certainly there is a time to endure food and relatives you're not crazy about. There is also a time to say "enough already! let's make some changes!" when the relentless marching of the years going by means that you feel emptier and more annoyed as each holiday is done mostly for the sake of tradition and appeasing others' feelings.

This year, due to several circumstances, we stayed home - just our immediate family. Our friends all had family obligations - I truly hope they all are enjoying themselves. We didn't have turkey - we had chicken, and a host of finger foods that we like. No yucky green bean casserole, giblet gravy or giant pecan pies showed up on the table, because no one likes it. Even if it is in the Tradition Rule Book that you're supposed to have all these things on Thanksgiving. We're free to follow the Rule Book if we like it, or toss it if we don't.

We didn't read the Bible or any Christian American Heritage books. These days I find that I just don't care any more about re-reading and trying to re-create what our early forefathers did. Just because they were 'founding fathers' of freedom, doesn't mean my freedom will look like theirs. So instead, we watched movies, played music and went walking.

As Christians we are actually free not to even celebrate this holiday, if we don't feel it in our heart to do so. The same goes for Christmas, the roots of which are actually pagan. I'm not making an argument for Christmas being wrong, just a choice rather than a rule or obligation.

To all who read this, I hope you are having, or had, a happy Thanksgiving, however that looked for you. If it wasn't a happy Thanksgiving, I ask you to consider, as I did - is it partly a problem of further renewing of the mind that has yet to take place? What does freedom mean to you?

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. - Galatians 5:1