Category Archives: Culture and Society

How do we interact with our culture and society as followers of Jesus?

The Origins and Ironies of Thanksgiving

Imagine someone from a galaxy far, far away coming to America in late November and thinking we worship the turkey goddess—or the football gods. When strangers do cross our path—that is, refugees or immigrants, international students, the homeless—would we invite them to a Thanksgiving meal and explain its meaning?

For Thanksgiving two years ago, my wife Sue and I invited a family of seven Iraqi refugees to share our Thanksgiving meal. Their big question, as Muslims and newcomers to America, was this: “Is Thanksgiving a Christian holiday?” I answer, “No, it is not uniquely Christian; all grateful hearts may participate.”

However, there’s a rub as we thank God for the grub: Some may not be feeling so thankful this year. To get in the right mood, a gratitude journal helps. This accords with the research of Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons, who conducted a psychological study with three control groups: One group journaled weekly about things they were “grateful” for, one about things that were “hassles,” and a third group about “events” that were unremarkable. After just nine weeks, the gratitude group reported better well-being, better health, and increased optimism than the other two control groups.

For another take, I invite you to consider the origins and ironies of our Thanksgiving holiday. Centuries ago, the Pilgrims faced squalor and hunger in Europe, along with the fear of being assimilated into the Dutch culture of the day. Hence, they came to America, “the land of opportunity,” to build a better life.

Most immigrants at our southern border, as well as those in Spain and North Africa coming from sub-Saharan Africa, and those in Germany fleeing from the Middle East, tell similar stories of hope for opportunity and a better life.  (I personally heard many of those Spanish, North African and German stories in 2016, 2017 and just a few weeks ago.)

But in making this 400-year-old cross-continent parallel, I sloughed over a crucial difference. The Pilgrims of 1620 were met by the local Indians, who moved from hostility to hospitality. During their first New England winter, being short of food to start with, nearly half the immigrants—indeed, 14 of the 18 wives—died!  Nevertheless, they set aside a day of thanksgiving out of human resilience and undaunted hope. Wow! I want that, don’t you? Persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful Indians, those Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest the following summer.

The surviving Pilgrims then declared a three-day feast in November of 1621, to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. We traditionally celebrate this event as the first Thanksgiving in America.  But rival claims for “first Thanksgiving service” are made by Virginians as early as 1619, by the Spanish in Texas as early as 1565, and by French Huguenots in Florida—all before the Pilgrims arrived. Never mind that the Indians had such fall festivals long before. How ironic.

At Thanksgiving in the Gruen household, or in phone calls made that day, I ask, “What are you particularly thankful for this year?” Eight shares later, I conclude we have much to be thankful for—good health, good jobs, good friends, good kids, three wonderful grandkids. I take mental notes, gather pics that fit, and prepare my “dear-all, what-a-wonderful-year-it’s-been, count-your-blessings” annual newsletter. Some of you get that. Many of you do the same thing—focus on the positive, and not just in newsletters.

But for families grieving the loss of a loved one this season or suffering through a bad year, your letter—if you send one at all—will differ. You better acknowledge the giant “turkey” in the room. Don’t let some yahoo like me force you to share one thing you’re grateful this coming Thanksgiving. Don’t dance at the office Christmas party or sing joyous carols all night just to please other people. In acknowledging your grief or apathy, go ahead stuff the turkey and enjoy all the trimmings—it is comfort food, after all—but don’t stuff your feelings.

You can grieve and be grateful. In 1863, amidst our bloody Civil War, President Lincoln saw fit to issue the proclamation creating the day we now celebrate. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation came at a time of spiritual crisis for him personally and for a divided nation. Personally, he’d just buried his 11-year-old son, Willie. “The severest trial of my life,” said Lincoln. Now, as we are again polarized and losing loved ones to health crises and acts of violence, it will help to turn to the first Pilgrims and Lincoln for enduring reasons to be grateful. Our forebears invite you to give thanks in word and deed, in all circumstances—that is, in life and death, in abundance and want, in sickness and health, amidst great adversity and diversity, remembering both wrath and mercy, victors and victims, grieving family and joyful friends alike.

Rev. Dietrich Gruen is Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus and Bethany Presbyterian of Randolph. He is also the Benevolence Coordinator at High Point Church and former member of the Global Missions Team at High Point Church.

Orientations and the Body of Christ (resources)

Any Christian of any orientation who is seeking to be faithful to the Gospel is going to find stiff resistance from the world generally and possibly even from self-identifying as Christians. Living this out faithfully requires more than the solution to a question. There is a deep tension here that must be managed. It is a brokenness that must be carried, a burden that we must bear together. The point where truth and gracious love meet always seems to land within this tension, and that’s how it will remain until that final day.

I have compiled below some of the best and most usable resources I know of that can help you learn about the issues related to faithful Christian belief and practice and alternate sexual orientations. Hopefully this page will grow and be refined over time. Feel free to make suggestions if you know of something helpful I have overlooked or am not aware of.

As a blog of High Point Church, the perspective here is confessional, Biblical Gospel-centered, historically orthodox Christianity. Continue reading Orientations and the Body of Christ (resources)

When your table hosts a divided America

by Dietrich Gruen, Bridge Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus

Engaging controversial issues from the pulpit is difficult for me, but so is the dilemma faced by many at the dinner table, post-election.  Our problem and opportunity are how to talk politics with family and friends who disagree on today’s political flash points.  To help in that regard, I shall share wisdom gleaned from several bloggers, family, and holy scripture.

First, to graciously discuss hot topics, get permission to go deeper.  When friends & family gather at the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas, keep the food hot and the rhetoric cool.  IF more heat than light is being generated, that’s time to back up, read the body language, and get permission to go further.  Once you have permission, agree on rules of engagement.  You could start with these: Continue reading When your table hosts a divided America

May the worst of times bring out our best

by Dietrich Gruen

Bridges out, roads blocked, businesses closed, basements flooded. One death.  Many water rescues by boat, helicopter, and human chains.  Untold storage items, basement appliances and family treasures soaked and lost.  Lakeside decks and docks float away.  Lakes appearing suddenly where there were none the day before.  Hundreds of flooded cars ditched in either underground parking or clogging above-ground streets. Continue reading May the worst of times bring out our best

Escaping Worldliness through the Pursuit of Joy

Throughout Substance as whole, starting in the very first chapter, I wrote that much of the confusion in our thinking comes from the structures of our thought and life and not from the ideas themselves. This is true when we talk about worldliness; it may be even more true when we talk about joy. We don’t really talk about joy, do we? We talk about happiness. Even when we say the word “fulfillment,” we don’t mean the fulfillment of some grand philosophical purpose for our being, we just mean that we feel full inside. We just mean “I’m happy.”

However, happiness is notoriously unpredictable in the human heart. It’s a little like seeing birds in the winter. It is extraordinarily difficult to capture a bunch of songbirds so that you can see them during the winter. But it’s not that hard to put seed in a bird feeder and watch them come. Happiness is the birds. Virtue is the feeder. This is one of the differences between “joy” in its comprehensive definition, and “happiness” as we commonly mean it.

Continue reading Escaping Worldliness through the Pursuit of Joy

Mission of the Month: Luther’s Impact on Missions

By Dietrich Gruen

This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed “95 Theses” to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany to protest the selling of indulgences for the forgiveness of sin. “Selling indulgences” is the widespread practice of doing good works or offering money to avoid punishment for sin. For this protest, Luther was declared a heretic and outlaw by Pope and Emperor alike in 1521. By 1529, his many followers were dubbed “protestants.” I visited Wittenberg last year; now, as the 500th anniversary of that seminal event is upon us, I explore the legacy of Luther on world missions.

95-theses-620x324

Continue reading Mission of the Month: Luther’s Impact on Missions