Thursday, November 22, 2012

The First Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims were a hard-working people, but that did not mean that they didn’t rejoice. The Pilgrims were hard workers, but they were not workaholics. Because of their hard work, their rejoicing meant all the more. The less effort we put into our work, the less enjoyment we will get from our celebrating, and the less special it will be. Because the Pilgrims worked hard, they played hard. They feasted for a week, entertaining their 90 Indian guests for three of those days! They feasted like Christians. The Bible gives guidelines for this kind of rejoicing in several places. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29 it gives directions to the Israelites to give a entire tithe of their produce to a feast of celebration, and to buy with it “whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household”. In Deuteronomy 16:13-15 it commands the Israelites to “keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” The Pilgrims reflected this much in their celebration, in the feasting for seven days, in inviting the sojourner (i.e. the Indians), in doing it in praise to God’s goodness, and in being altogether joyful.

We are told that the Pilgrims participated in a couple activities to celebrate, and I can say those that are mentioned are all things that I would enjoy. The first thing was going hunting. The main thing that is mentioned is hunting for waterfowl like ducks and geese, although Bradford adds that they hunted other things as well, like turkeys and deer. The Indians also brought five deer to the celebration that they had hunted. Another activity mentioned is the shooting of guns, most likely in competitions of marksmanship. And besides hunting and shooting, Winslow says that there were other recreations as well, which we can but speculate on. They might have had races, games, singing, and dancing. And then of course there was the feasting. In the several days that they feasted they ate the wild game they had shot, like the ducks, geese, deer, and turkeys; the fish, clams and eels they got from the sea; many vegetables such as squash, beans, onions, Indian corn; and native fruits such as cranberries and grapes. As Winslow wrote to those back in England, “And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

May we recover some of this intense gratefulness and joy this Thanksgiving, never forgetting Who we are thanking. 

-Peter Bringe
 DV

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Pilgrims in 1621: Agriculture

As the American holiday of Thanksgiving is celebrated we often will hear some bit of the story of the Pilgrims and their "First Thanksgiving." Regrettably, their story is often boiled down to the basics and we lose some of its fullness. Here I want to flesh out a small part of the story concerning the Pilgrims' work in agriculture. 

In the spring of 1621 the Pilgrims and the Indian tribes planted and worked in the fields of agriculture. We can see that both the English and the native tribes had skills and abilities the other lacked. We read in William Bradford’s book Of Plymouth Plantation, “Afterwards they...began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it.” Squanto and the Indian tribes had great experience with the land that the English lacked. They had a history of learning from mistakes and finding what worked. They knew the right seeds to plant. Squanto taught the English to fertilize their corn with the fish that would spawn in the river nearby at just the right time. If they didn’t, the nutrients in the land would get used up. Here we can recognize that God provided the Indians with fish that would spawn at just the right time to fertilize the land so they could eat and live. As Matthew 5:45 says, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Here the Pilgrims reaped the benefits of working with the pagan tribes by learning the good things God had given them. This was a very providential blessing as their own seed did not do well, but thanks to this help they had enough food.

But despite God’s blessing on the native tribes, they were not exactly prosperous and thriving. The help was not all one sided, as we can see from an event that happened two months later. It had been a little time since the English had seen Massasoit and so they sent two men along with Squanto to meet with him. This expedition had several objectives. First, to reaffirm peace with Massasoit and to keep a good relationship with him. Second, to exchange for seed for experimentation. The Pilgrims wanted to make sure that had a variety of things planted in case some failed. Third, to find out which tribe it was that they had taken corn from in the winter, so they could pay them back for it. Fourth, to explore the area around them. And fifth, to limit hungry visitors. It is this last objective that shows something about the Indians’ work ethic and food production. What was happening was there were many Indians that were taking advantage of the Pilgrim’s hospitality and staying there eating up their food. The Pilgrims wanted to be hospitable, but did not want to run out of food and so asked Massasoit to limit visitors to the amount they could handle. They were generous with gifts and hospitality, but did not want to become welfare providers, especially when they couldn’t afford it.

As the small expedition went out they could start to see why many Indians preferred to get the food from the English. The Indians, despite having a great abundance of natural resources, still struggled in having a stable food supply and clean habitations. As Edward Winslow (one of the two men on the expedition) says in his book Mourt’s Relation, describing a meager meal they had with Massasoit, “this meal only we had in two nights and a day, and had not one of us bought a partridge we had taken our journey fasting...he was to have us stay with them longer: but we desired to keep the Sabbath at home: and feared we should either be light-headed for want of sleep, for with bad lodging, the savages' barbarous singing (for they use to sing themselves asleep), lice and fleas within doors, and mosquitoes without, we could hardly sleep all the time of our being there; we much fearing that if we should stay any longer, we should not be able to recover home for want of strength.” Also Bradford remarks concerning this lack of prosperity among the Indians, “For the Indians used then to have nothing so much corn as they have since the English have stored them with their hows, and seen [the Englishmen’s] industry in breaking up new grounds therewith.” Also, on their trip some Indians desired that the Englishmen kill some crows, because they had been ruining the corn. There the two Englishmen with their superior weapons killed 80 crows in an afternoon.

We can see that the Indians benefited both from observing the English work ethic, and the technology it produced (such as guns and hows). This work ethic had come from the long history of Christendom where it had been taught that work is worship to God, that work is a blessing, that we are created to work and produce to the glory of God, that our first command from God is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28). Even the monks in the Middle Ages were taught this and spent much of their time in working and agriculture. The Protestant Reformation continued this and expanded it with its teaching of vocation, that the farmer and the pastor are both doing God’s work. The Pilgrims understood the importance of work and produced great things. When my family and I were in Plymouth in 2009 we saw a mill built only fifteen years after the Pilgrims first landed. It was amazingly intricately designed with all sorts of wheels, gears, stones, and levers–and it's still working! We can see that the Christianity of the Pilgrims made them hard-working, productive, and a relatively prosperous society. It was this culture that built America.

-Peter Bringe
 DV

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Complex Design of Food


"As was said earlier, there is order and diversity, and thus beauty, in food that reflects God’s character. One cannot escape this obvious fact when reviewing a farmers’ market display of foods or by studying the details of each food. This detail of order and diversity never ends as we look at the visible, microscopic, molecular, and atomic structure of food. The design of food is undeniably incredible. Beware of people who do not humbly work with food and instead oversimplify it. It is easy to isolate a component of a food and declare that that is all you need, so you should consume it as a supplement and forget the rest of the food. Likewise it is also easy to isolate a component of a food and declare that the component is bad for you, so therefore you should avoid the food source. The different molecules and compounds of food work together in a way that is difficult to measure. The parts that are good by themselves are usually even better combined with other parts, and those that might usually be bad by themselves can interact at low levels with other parts to produce a good effect. Over time many compounds or attributes of foods that were originally considered as detrimental have not been confirmed as such; some were even found to be healthful (e.g. protease inhibitors). We see things dimly and imperfectly, especially when we study God’s creation without acknowledging that He exists and has infinite wisdom and power"
(The Christian Philosophy of Food, p. 69-70).