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Why Thanksgiving should give way to lament and healing

Gratitude is good. But Thanksgiving is an issue. We could consider a space for lament and healing. Mark Charles, co-author of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery, shares a history of the Thanksgiving holiday and how we can instead make room for lament that offers healing.

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Episode Notes

Mark Charles, co-author of Unsettling TruthsMark Charles is a speaker, writer, and consultant. The son of an American woman (of Dutch heritage) and a Navajo man, Mark teaches the complexities of American history regarding race, culture, and Christendom in order to help forge a path of healing and conciliation for the nation. He is the co-author of the book, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery–he wrote that with Soong-Chan Rah, and Mark authors the blog Reflections from the Hogan.


United Methodist Resources

United Methodist pastor, Rev. Larry Jent, produced this excellent documentary on the Native American experience following the arrival of the Mayflower. hosts a resource page with information about Native Peoples in the UMC.

The Native American Comprehensive Plan serves as the United Methodist entity that resources, strengthens, and advocates for the local church in Native American communities/contexts for all generations. 

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This episode posted on November 16, 2022.

Episode transcript

[Ryan Dunn]

This is the Compass podcast, where we awaken our senses to the Divine disruptions in the everyday.

My name is Ryan Dunn. And in this episode I thought we were disrupting a narrative. I had planned that we would deal with the traditional or stereotypical  narrative of Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. Why? Well, in the hopes and expectation that we can inflict less harm and practice more compassion… in this case in particular regards to the native or indigenous peoples of the Americas.

We’ll do some of that. But really, when I thought I’d be able to come on here and try to present some ideas on cultural awareness and Native American heritage… Holy Spirit revealed that I had a lot to learn about lament and humility and the healing process.

That’s a lot. And so this is a longer episode. Because I had a lot to learn and because, as we’ll see, healing is a process. So let’s talk healing, history, Thanksgiving, gratitude and lament…

Did you know that in the US November is Native American Heritage Month? Congress ultimately chose November as the month to honor Native Americans since the month concludes some traditional harvest seasons and generally is a time of celebration and giving thanks. The month gives us an opportunity to become more educated about Native Americans, to celebrate Native culture and achievements, and to increase our knowledge of unique challenges faced and better understand how historical trauma—such as colonization and genocide—has impacted Native peoples.

In this context especially, the Thanksgiving narrative is harmful because it is a story set amidst colonialism that led to persecution and genocide of Native peoples. 

So this episode of Compass is going to offer some perspectives on the roots of the holiday through Native accounts. Offer some reponses to the holiday… and then we’re going to sit with Mark Charles, who provides for us his own first-hand wrestlings with Thanksgiving… and with revisionist history … and he challenges us to explore the practice of Lament … and he also provides a practice rooted in Navajo tradition that keeps him grounded in gratitude.

We’ll learn quite a bit more about Mark Charles, but just to provide some quick facts: Mark is a is a speaker, writer, and consultant. The son of an American woman (of Dutch heritage) and a Navajo man, Mark teaches the complexities of American history regarding race, culture, and Christendom in order to help forge a path of healing and conciliation for the nation. He is the co-author of the book, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery–he wrote that with Soong-Chan Rah, and Mark authors the blog Reflections from the Hogan.

The word “conciliaton” and Mark’s use of it is worth noting. Generally, we might approach topics like cultural awareness and colonial history and throw around the term reconciliation. Mark removes the “re-” because we’re not moving back to some point in the past. We have not all been conciled to one another yet. So let’s start with conciliation.

We’ve thrown around the word “reconciliation” with Brian Tillman, who has visited us on this podcast. We’ve heard his voice several times. He challenged us with an idea from Malcom X: In order for a wound to heal, we first must remove the knife. We can’t fully heal a wound until we remove the source of harm. That’s the question I think God has been stirring up and the idea that’s been sitting with me in terms of Thanksgiving and our national story line: what can we do about it in order to remove the knife?

Let me note this: Gratitude is good. According to Psychology Today, it improves physical health… people who are mindful of gratitude report fewer aches and pains and express that they feel healthier than other people. Grateful people sleep better. Other people are drawn to grateful people… Gratitude reduces materialism in our lives… since we’re more prone to be content with what we already have. Is it ironic, though, that the day most attached with gratitude: Thanksgiving Day… that’s a day all about gluttony and over-consumption, isn’t it? And then the day after it is like the most materialistic day of the year, right? When fights break out over TVs and such.

ANYWAYS… gratitude is good. There is no denying that. We should give thanks and appreciate things… often.

So having a day that calls us into practices of appreciation and gratitude is a good thing, right? Thanksgiving Day is a day to celebrate, right? Welllll…

[Video/news clips:]

That’s the impression of Thanksgiving for many of us. But the experience of the holiday and especially the story behind it are quite harmful for many. And we’re going to explore those experiences and stories in this episode of Compass… Beginning with a historical look at the genesis of the holiday.

[1970’s music] In order to understand this, I’m going to take us back to 1970… yeah, you thought I was going to say 1620, didn’t you. We’ll get there. But 1970 puts a focusing lens on the problematic nature of this whole thing….

Consider this suppressed speech from Frank James also known as Wamsutta, Frank was a Wampanoag leader–a descendent of the native Americans who took part in the first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth plantation… the one we often remember as a time of peace and celebration amongst Pilgrims from England and Native Americans… He was invited to a 350 year anniversary event… he would have said these things::

I speak to you as a man -- a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction ("You must succeed - your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!"). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases.

He continues…

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection.

It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans.

Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry. Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

… he continues later…

And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the "savage" and convert him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.

There’s more… but I’ll abbreviate for time. You can read the full transcript on the show page: 

Frank James was not allowed to deliver that speech.

The organizers of the Thanksgiving commemoration event at Plymouth deemed the Wampanoag leader’s speech too inflammatory. So they gave him another speech to read… which he refused to do. Instead, in 1970, he organized the First National Day of Mourning… which took place on the day that many remembered as the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower landing in America. (And it’s still observed today.)

The problem with Thanksgiving is summed up well by a plaque placed on Cole’s Hill: which overlooks Plymouth Rock, the supposed landing site of the Pilgrims and the romanticized setting of the first Thanksgiving dinner in America. The plaque reads, in part:

“Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.”

Now, There’s really more to Thanksgiving and its history than many of us have been taught. Mark Charles will provide much more of that history.

Much of our early education paints the Pilgrims into heroes… especially in terms of them surviving on the frontier and forging a new life in a wild place. What we miss is that they settled in an already civilized place… they learned how to survive from the native population… and within a generation they fought, exterminated and/or subjugated that population. That’s a tough story to celebrate. So it’s helpful to consider what the day means for Native Americans.

We already know Frank James’ perspective. Jacqueline Keeler wrote a widely circulated editorial about how she, a member of the Dineh Nation and Yankton Dakota Sioux, treats the holiday. For one, Keeler views herself as “a very select group of survivors.” The fact that natives managed to survive mass murder, forced relocation, theft of land, and other injustices “with our ability to share and to give intact” gives Keeler hope that healing is possible.

Award-winning author Sherman Alexie, Jr., who is Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, also celebrates the contributions the Wampanoag people made to the Pilgrims. Asked in a Sadie Magazine interview if he celebrates the holiday, Alexie answered with humor:: "We live up to the spirit of Thanksgiving cuz we invite all of our most desperately lonely white [friends] to come eat with us. We always end up with the recently broken up, the recently divorced, the brokenhearted. From the very beginning, Indians have been taking care of brokenhearted white people. We just extend that tradition."

Some Indigenous peoples don’t recognize it because they give thanks year-round.

I still keep coming back to the question of removing the knife. How do we discontinue the harm? And this is where I want to drop into the conversation with Mark Charles. I was interested in talking with Mark because the materials he’s presented online are challenging…They humble me… And there’s a sense of hope and expectation in them as well.

And Mark was upfront about his journey to being “done” with Thanksgiving and why he thinks that if I’m going to be a person of compassion and healing then I should skip it too. And sometimes we need to be challenged upfront like that…

Mark wasn’t shy about challenging me. When I asked a question with the subtext that was kind of like… “Alright Mark, help me feel better about this…” Mark was like “Nope.” Because to cut the process and go right to the feel good stuff means I would skip over all the things God was revealing and teaching through the whole healing process. And that includes the important steps around self-reflection and evaluation.

Alright so let’s meet Mark Charles…

[Mark Charles]

Well, yeah, Ryan. Hello, my name is Mark Charles, and please allow me to introduce myself. So Mark Charles, In our Navajo culture, when we introduce ourselves, we always give our four clans where makes millennials a people. And our identity comes from our mother's mother. My mother's mother is American of Dutch heritage, and that's why I say que Lucy translated. That means I'm from the wooden shoe people. My second clan, my father's mother is to, which is the waters that flow together. My third clan, my mother's father is also que, and my fourth clan, my father's father, is to Chiney, and that's the bitter water clan. It's one of the original clans of our Navajo people. I also want to acknowledge I moved from the Navajo Nation to what's now called Washington dc. I've been living here with my family for about seven years, and where I'm living now are the traditional lands of the Pisca Way. So I wanna honor the Pisca Way as the host people of the land where I'm living. I wanna thank the Pisca way for their stewardship of these lands, and I wanted to state how humbled I am that I'm living on these lands today.

Ryan Dunn

Well, we began this conversation with the idea that we were gonna talk about Thanksgiving and we're gonna dive certainly far past <laugh> Thanksgiving into a, I hope, a richer cultural appreciation. And in beginning with that land acknowledgement, you've already started to bring us there, but to step back into where we began with Thanksgiving, can you share a little bit about what Thanksgiving has or has not meant according to your cultural experience?

Mark Charles

Well, so I grew up largely a ye evangelical. I was raised in the Christian form church. My grandparents on my father's side, my Navajo side were both boarding school survivors and they worked as translators for the missionaries in the southwest with the Christian form church. So they were converted to Christianity, but the Christianity that they were given was incredibly colonial and it was basically a force assimilation. The goal of the boarding schools run by both the churches in the state was to kill the Indian to save the man. And so my grandparents were told that their culture, their language, their understanding of the sacred were evil and they had to give up that understanding and embrace a Western understanding and language and culture, and that was how they could earn the love of God. And so because of that, they did not teach the language or the culture to my father.

And so he didn't know it well enough to teach it to me. And so I've been spending probably the last 20 to 25 years of my life decolonizing my faith. And part of that journey has been to really look closely at not only what are some of the holidays that we celebrate as a church, but what are some of the holidays that we celebrate as a nation. So I'm the co-author of a book is called Unsettling Truths, The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of The Doctrine of Discovery. And that book goes into in depth how the church got from the teachings of Jesus who said things like Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you to a doctrine, a little doctrine that said, you can kill people who don't look like, act like, sound like are worship like you do. And so this book traces that journey and then it looks at how that doctrine, the doctrine of discovery gets embedded into the foundations of the nation and is used not only throughout our history, but even today, to keep people of color, primarily African Americans and Native Americans, as well as women oppressed and subjugated.

And so that obviously we don't have time in this podcast to go through all that history. I just will reference that to your listeners. They can purchase a signed copy of the book on my website, which is wireless But yeah, so there's that whole journey. But in the midst of that, the midst of learning about the doctrine of discovery and understanding how the church has prostituted itself out to the empire and basically written Christ out of their own ecclesiastical history I've begun looking also at aspects of American history as well as specifically Thanksgiving. And if you go to my blog, which is called Reflections from the Hogan, or my blog articles on my website, which is wireless, you'll notice I started blogging about 15 years ago and you'll notice a progression as I've kind of wrestled with the history of Thanksgiving and what does it mean to be Native American and celebrating this event.

And a few years ago, about three or four years ago, I wrote a blog post where basically I said, I'm done. Thanksgiving is not a holiday I or I think any American or Christian should have any desire to redeem. When you understand the history of Thanksgiving in our nation, it is one of the most repulsive holidays in the American mythology. So the first Thanksgiving, right, it goes back to November of 1621 celebrated at Plymouth, Massachusetts at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. And this is where we have these great pictures of this proverbial potluck between native peoples and pilgrims and sharing a Turkey. Well, there's a reason they were celebrating this holiday, this first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock because in 1616 to 1619, there was what was known throughout the eastern shorebird, especially the northeast, what was called the great dying on the Mayflower 400.

In their 400 years of Wampanoag history, they wrote this, the most alarming period is known as the great dying between 16, 16 and 1619 where a mysterious disease ravaged the region where the wano lived. As their lands were explored in greater numbers, entire villages were lost and only a fraction of the survived. So literally explorers would go in and they would find native villages that had been inhabited, completely deserted and empty with dead bodies strewn all about because this great dying, this plague like disease that was brought by the European settlers came in and just RAVs the native population. It it lasted for three years and it was incredibly striking. Then in 1620, King James, King of England, this is the same King James who authorized the version of the Bible. He wrote the charter of New England, and in his charter, this is what he wrote, James, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith and to all whom these presents shall come greetings.

Whereas upon the humble petition of divers of our well disposed subjects that intended to make several plantations in the parts of America between the degree of 34 and 45, within these late years, they're half by God's visitation reigned a wonderful plague together with many horrible slaughterers and murderers committed against the savages and British people there here to for inhibiting in a manner to the utter destruction, devastation, and depopulation of the whole territory. So that there is not left for many leagues together in a manner any that do claim or challenge any kind of interest they're in, nor any other superior Lord, our sovereignty make claim here onto whereby we in our judgment are persuaded and satisfied that the appointed time has come in which Almighty God and his great goodness and bounty towards us and our people have thought fit and determine that those large and goodly territories, deserted as it were by their natural inhabitants, should be possessed and enjoyed by such of our subjects and people as here to for have and hereafter show by his mercy in favor and by his powerful army, be directed and conducted tother.

So King James, they came into these lands which were devastated by this great dying. They found thousands of dead native peoples wano people, and instead of having compassion, instead of wanting to help, instead of doing anything humane, they gave thanks to God and they praised God that all of these people had died and now the land was empty and they could go in and claim it. And this is why the first Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock was one of the villages that had been wiped out by this disease. Okay? So that's the history. That's how Thanksgiving got started. Now, let's fast forward about 225 years into the 1860s because it was Abraham Lincoln who actually brought Thanksgiving into the modern era with his Thanksgiving day proclamations in 1863 and in 1864. Now, the challenge with the United States of America is we've never lost a war as a nation that matters.

We've never been occupied by a foreign nation. We've never lost large tracts of land, we've never been disarmed, we've never had a regime change. And the victors right, the history right, the victors right. If you win a war, you have the right to write about the war. And so when we look back at our Ameri at our history as a nation, it was constructed. It was written by Americans who won all their wars. We've never, as a nation lost a war that matters. So because of that, most of our history is almost pure mythology. Let's just imagine for a moment, let's just imagine that Nazi Germany win to World War ii. Just pretend, okay, How would historians, how would the Nazi historians have recorded the legacy of Adolph Hitler? Well, she'd be their greatest theater ever, right? Yeah. They brought them from global obscurity to the global prominence.

How would the Nazi historians had recorded the Holocaust? Well, we have Holocaust deniers today. Imagine if they lost the war or they won the war, right? What Holocaust? There was no Holocaust. The victor's right to history. And this is incredibly dangerous. And so because of this, we actually don't have a clue who Abraham Lincoln is. We don't have a clue who he is. So in 1858, when Abraham Lincoln stepped onto the national stage, he was already known. It was already known. So the debate of the day, right? In 1857, we had the Dred Scott decision. The Dred Scott decision stated that our foundation, our constitution, our declar independence were not intended for people of color. They were not intended to give rights or to protect the interests of black people or other people of color, enslaved peoples. They had concluded that in 1857, so just like Roe versus Wade is the debate of these midterm elections in 2022, Dred Scott was the debate of the elections in 1858.

And so in that election, Abraham Lincoln was asked specifically, does the declaration of intents apply to the black race? And his response was, I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say that all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity. Now you could interpret that one of two ways. So we have to add a bit of context to that statement in the debates prior to this one, this was in October 15. This question came up in the debates in September and in August, Abraham Lincoln was introducing himself to the nation and it was known that he was against chattel slavery, but people wanted to know where did he stand on the humanity of black people? And he said, this is in September of 1858.

"I will say then that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together in terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they send out so as they cannot live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior. And I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. So Abraham Lincoln is incredibly clear when he says they did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellectual, moral development or social capacity." He wasn't saying some men are tolerance, some men are shorter, some men have this and some men have that.

He's saying some men are superior and some men are inferior, and that division is caused by race. So he's very, very clear. He also gets asked, does the Declaration of Independence or does the Constitution apply to black people? Should they be made citizens of the country? And he said, Well, Judge Douglas has said to you, he has never been able to give an answer to the question whether or not I am in favor of Negro citizenship. So far as I know, the judge never asked me that question before. He shall have no occasion to ever ask it again before I will tell him, frankly, I am not in favor of Negro citizenship. It's my opinion that the different states have the power to make a Negro citizen under the Constitution of the US if they chose, if the state of Illinois had that power, I should be opposed to the exercise of it. He had no interest in allowing black people to become citizens.

So we have to, Abraham Lincoln is clearly stating he is in favor of the Dred Scott decision and he is a blatant, unapologetic self proclaimed white supremacists. So this is not surprising, right? When the capstone of his legacy on race, at least with African Americans, the 13th Amendment doesn't actually abolish slavery, <affirmative>, neither slavery nor involuntary service teams except as a punishment for crime where the party has been duly convicted, still exist, <affirmative>, he didn't abolish slavery, he redefined and codified it and Constitu protected it under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system, the same criminal justice system that today has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world and incarcerates people of color at three to five times the rate it incarcerates white people. This was Abraham Lincoln's vision. This was his dream. Now. So that just helps us understand who he was as a man and how he felt about race and especially about white supremacy where he was a blatant white supremacist.

Now in 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed two bills. He signed the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act. The Homestead Act allocated the land and the resources to complete or to the Homestead Act allocated 160 acres to any settle settler family who was willing to go west and homestead. For five years, the Pacific Railway Act allocated the land in the resources to complete the trans country railway. This was in the spring and summer of 1862. Now in 1864, Abraham Lincoln in his State of the Union address this is what he said, 1.5 million acres were entered under the Homestead law and the great enterprise of connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific State spot railway and telegraph lines has been entered upon with a vigor that gives assurance of success. So what happened in those two years that made Abraham Lincoln so certain that he was going to, we were gonna complete manifest destiny?

What happened in those two and a half years? Well, if we go back and look at that history, in 1862, we had the Dakota War of 1862, which resulted in the hang of the Dakota 38 and the forced removal of the Dakota and the Winnebago from Minnesota. Also, in January of 1863, we had the Bear River massacre, which was the deadliest massacre, a native peoples, the Shoshone Nation in northern Utah and southern Idaho. In 1863, we have the institution of the Long Walk, which was the forced removal of the Navajo and the Maslo Apache from the southwest 10,000 of my Navajo people were rounded up and brought down to Bus Redondo, which by was called a reservation, but by every definition it was a death camp. A quarter of our people died while imprisoned in that camp. And then in 1864 after the Sand Creek massacre of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe in eastern Colorado, right?

So those four massacres happened in those two years between 1862 and 1864. And if you look on a map and you look at the primary routes of the trans railway, there were three routes. There was a central route that had reached Omaha, Nebraska had to go through Colorado, Wyoming southern Utah our northern Utah, and then came out, went through Nevada and came out near San Francisco. There was a northern route that that started in Duluth, Minnesota and went through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and came out near Seattle. And there was a southern route that went through the territory of New Mexico, the territory of Arizona, and came out near Los Angeles. So after the removal of the Dakota, the Winnebago in Minnesota after the Bay River massacre in northern Utah and southern Idaho after the Sand Creek massacre in eastern Colorado. And after the Long Walk in the four corners region of the southwest, you can see Abraham Lincoln was literally ethnically cleansing the primary routes of the transplant for railway. Not only was he a blatant self-proclaimed unapologetic white supremacists, but he was one of the most genocidal presidents in our nation's history. I can only imagine how many native lives were saved because this man was assassinated in 1865.

So in 1863, Abraham Lincoln wanted to unify the country and he wanted brought Thanksgiving in as a national holiday. He brought it into the modern era. Now, Abraham Lincoln was willing to do a lot to unify the country. In fact, if you go to the Lincoln Memorial, and you won't go into the museum at the base memorial, there's a quote about how much Abraham Lincoln loves this nation, wants to unify the country. And the quote says, My primary object in the struggle is not to save or destroy slavery, it's to preserve the union. And if I could save the union without freeing a single slave, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. And if I could save it by freeing someone and leaving others alone, I would also do that. There's a quote hanging the Lincoln Memorial that literally says, According to Abraham Lincoln, black lives don't matter.

He could give a crap about the black life as long as he was able to unify and preserve the union. So in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1863, what Abraham Lincoln said is that needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle or the ship. The acts has enlarged the borders of our settlements. He's talking about westward expansion here and the mind as well of iron and coal and of the precious metals have yielded even more abundantly than here to, for they gave the mining rights to the railroad companies to financially incentivize them to complete the trans rail faster. So the mining industry was rapidly expanding as we were moving further and further west population has stead increased, not withstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield and the country rejoicing and the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human council, council have devised nor had any moral hand to work these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God. So in the midst of committing genocide against native peoples, Abraham Lincoln stops and proclaims a national day of Thanksgiving to give thanks to God for the fruits of the genocide he is actively committing.

This holiday is disgusting. We should in no way shape our form, celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. It is a monument to the heresy of Christian empire and to the genocide of the United States of America enacted by the United States of America. And no right minded person should celebrate this holiday.

[Ryan Dunn]

So let's pivot then from the holiday of Thanksgiving to maybe think about practices of gratitude. Thanksgiving doesn't work, doesn't mean what we think it means, but gratitude is still a calling set before all of us. Are there some practices from Navajo tradition that inspire a sense of gratitude or even beyond Navajo tradition? How do you inspire a gratitude in your own life? Mark?

[Mark Charles]

So first of all, I would say two things. You're doing exactly what most Americans and what the church wants to do, which is you're pivoting immediately from, Okay, we can't do this, so let's find another way to do it, right? You're not stopping and pausing and acknowledging the atrocities that you've been celebrating for your entire life. You're not allowing that to deepen in your soul. You're not allowing yourself to understand the horrific injustices that were enacted by your nation on your behalf. And that's incredibly dangerous because that's gonna lead you to just try to replace something and not acknowledge what you're standing on and what your country did for you. So I would tell the nation we have to go, especially the church, we have to go into a space of lament. Now, it's no mistake that my co-author of the book I wrote on Selling Truth, my co-author in the book, Saint Jean Raw, his pre private prior book was called Prophetic Lament where he lays out in that book, I highly recommend it written by or published by Ivy Press, I think it was in 2018.

But in this book, he lays out how anemic the American church is at the practice of lament. Lament is a spiritual discipline. Lament is not repentance, lament's not even asking for forgiveness. Lament is sitting in the brokenness, Lament is sitting in the brokenness and allowing the brokenness of what you're in and what you've created to deepen in your own soul so that you'll actually have the courage and the commitment to truly turn away from it. And so I am convinced that especially the church needs to go into a space of lament soon. John refers to lament as he says, it's like going to a funeral dirge, right? You don't go there to raise a body from the dead. You don't go there to. You go there to say goodbye, you go there to mourn, you go there to weep.

I point out to people, it's almost impossible to lament when you believe in the myth of your own exceptionalism. This is why the church pivots so quickly from thanksgiving to something else. In our book, we highlight that American exceptionalism is the coping mechanism of a nation that's in deep denial of its genocidal past as well as its current racist and sexist realities. So the church tells itself we're exceptional and exceptional doesn't just mean better. Exceptional means we have a special relationship with God. We have a land covenant with God of Abraham. We are living on our promised lands, and this justifies our history of enslavement and genocide.

And so part of the call of our book is to go into, I would call it a season of lament when the people of God lament God always shows up, doesn't come quickly. In fact, stays, allows the people of God to stay in limit longer than they're comfortable with. But God always shows up. And when God shows up, usually a path out or a solution is presented that no one ever imagined before. The challenge with the American churches is because it never stays in lament for very long, there's a whole side of God's character the church has never interacted with. It does not know the God of lament, and therefore it never really repents of its brokenness.

And so I would caution the church to pivot so quickly from, okay, Thanksgiving's that. So how else can we do this and still feel good about ourselves? Now, one of the practices that I actually have been instituted in my life from my Navajo people is one of our traditions is we wake up in the morning and we run towards the east, and then we greet the morning sunrise with our prayers. And in my book on settling truths, I actually write about this in the forward of the book are in the introduction of the book, and I talk about the experience of watching the sunrise. I've been doing this fairly regularly for, I lived on the reservation for 11 years. I did it several times a week, almost every day when I was living on the reservation. When we moved to DC it was harder to find a place to watch the sunrise in the midst of this concrete jungle. And so for the first five years, I didn't do it as consistently, but about a year and a half ago, I realized almost two years ago now I have to reinitiate this back into my life. And so I force myself to find a place I drive about 20 minutes away and I sit along the Potomac River and I watch the sun come up as often as I can, maybe two or three times a week, sometimes maybe once or twice other weeks.

And I'm in a posture prayer. Now, it's one thing to see the sunrise when you have an early flight or you wake up on an Easter morning, right? It's beautiful. It catches your breath and it, it's very meaningful thing. But it's something entirely different when you rise morning after morning, week after week, month after month, year after year, and eventually decade after decade. And when you do that, you begin to notice things right? As the seasons come and go, as the birds migrate north and south, as the animals come and go, as the seasons change, you begin to notice these patterns. And the longer that you do this, the more you begin to recognize that you're not in control. And so much of Western culture is about maintaining control. This is why we have insurance for everything. This is why we we're hypervigilant. We have a linear perception of time. A linear time perception gives you the illusion that you're in control. So much about Western culture is how do we maintain control? This is why people get freaked out about the weather. It's one of the things we can't control at the moment. So it terrifies people.

When you watch the sunrise morning after morning, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, you recognize you don't control this process. You can participate in it, you can be a part of it, you can enjoy it, you can see it, but you can't control it. You can't make it rise any faster or any slower. It happens whether you're there or not. It even happens whether the clouds lie to see it or not. It's happening. And you learn after a while how to be more at peace as you live into this reality of acknowledging you're not in control.

And once you begin to do that, an incredibly deep sense of gratitude and thanksgiving deeper than anything I've ever met any other Christian understands, but a very, very deep understanding of gratitude begins to emerge. A gratitude that emerges only when you're able to acknowledge you're not in control. And Western Christianity doesn't know this because it's doing everything it can to maintain control. This is why missionaries only go on the mission field when they're fully funded and even then they have evacuation insurance. This is why we have these massive denomination, which are about protecting our, mitigating our list risk and protecting our liability. The church, the institution of the church can't actually lose its life. The whole of the denomination or the institution is to preserve life, to keep it going, not to lose life. Yet Christ called us to lay down our lives, to lose our life for his sake and the gospels. But the church can't do that because it serves the institution that is all about perpetuating its life. And so the church doesn't understand this type of gratitude that comes from a deep acknowledgement that says we're not in control. And I found that that spiritual discipline, whenever things feel out of line in my life, I feel anxious. I feel uptight. I feel worried about things. It usually means I have not been doing well in my discipline to watch the sunrise and to remind myself that creator is the one in control, not me. And that comes from doing this practice that my Navajo people have been doing for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years.

But that doesn't come tomorrow. You're not gonna get that by watching one sunrise tomorrow, <laugh>, I actually live stream the sunrise on my YouTube and face YouTube channel and Facebook page because I'm doing this to disciple, to mentor our nation into this discipline. If you go to my YouTube channel, Wireless Hogan, on my Facebook page, Mark Charles wireless Hogan, you'll see I have hundreds probably of videos of watching the sun come up and inviting people to join me for several moments of silence, followed by some prayers of Thanksgiving, and then a few very broad petitions as we look at needs around the globe.

[Ryan Dunn]

Again, if you’re listening to this during November of 2022, you can get free shipping when you buy a signed copy of Unsettling Truths… co-authored by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah. You can find all that at

So what can we do about the holiday?

I go back to the question of the knife. What does it look like to try to remove the knife… or the source of harm… in this scenario?

I’m not going to step over anything that Mark said.

As I did my own reflecting, I did so walking in the woods… In a place that at different times could have been walked by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, & Yuchi.

As my breathing rate increased, my breath became a prayer.

Over and over again I fell into a rhythm of breathing in Christ and breathing out “mercy”... Christ, mercy… Christ, mercy…

I think on one level it was a plea for myself…

But on a second level it was an invitation… one to be working on extending mercy this season. 

So I’m looking for ways to do that.

I will add that there is a National Day of Mourning observance on the fourth Thursday of November at noon eastern time. The 2022 observance will be broadcast live on Facebook. There’s a link on the web site.

I’m not sure that watching that is a form of mercy, by any means.

But it is a way to begin to hear that invitation to extend mercy and how to act on it.

If you want to know more about the Compass podcast, check out That’s part of the website for the United Methodist Church who graciously resources this podcast.

A couple other episodes that might interest you include:

Healing our divides with Amy Julia Becker from December of 2021

OR, Wrestling with the tough sayings of Jesus with Amy-Jill Levine from September 2021.

While you’re checking out those episodes, hit the like or follow or subscribe button. Thanks much!

We’ll have another fresh disruption for your day-to-day in two weeks.

In the meantime, peace.

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