Receiving is Human; Giving is Divine. (Plus: GIANT PILGRIM BELT-BUCKLES!!)

(Here are my notes, delivered Pastor Bob style, from the talk I gave last night at North County San Diego’s 23rd Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service. The money collected at the service was donated to Community Resource Center of Encinitas, CA.)

When I was a kid, I didn’t quite understand exactly how I was supposed to relate to Thanksgiving.

It seemed to me that what was happening was that the Pilgrims were super grateful, and thanking the God they showed up with, for their outstanding …  real estate acquisition.

–I figured that when it got right down to it, they were giving thanks that the Indians had opted not to kill them.

–But to have, instead, brought them corn.

—Cool. I love corn. I had Corn Flakes just this morning.


–I don’t, of course, like corn syrup

–Corn syrup is the Indian’s revenge

Point being: I always identified with the Indians.

Cool-looking clothes

I like wearing cool-looking clothes.

Excellent brown skin

At end of summer I looked awesome in my tan.

Organically related to their environment; in tune with nature.

I totally loved hanging out in the orchard right across the street from my house.

Clearly, the Indians rocked.

Pilgrims, on the other hand, looked to me like maybe the biggest dorks EVER.

Giant hats

An excuse not to go exploring into the thick woods

“Got the big hat. Catches on everything.”

Pantaloons. And white stockings.


Giant shoes.

And, of course, the giant Pilgrim belt buckles.

Why the giant belt buckles?

How did they not look at Indians, and go, “D’oh! We could TIE our pants?”

Belt buckles must have had other purpose

Pull on shoes

Bottle opener

Surveying device

And it’s not like they were making them in their humble log cabins. They must have written home for them

“Please send us salt, dried meat, soap, lard—and could you throw in a few giant belt buckles? Can’t have too many of those.”


Two Indians walking back from first Thanksgiving dinner.

“Those guys eat a lot.”

“And they’re kind of rude. They pick their teeth right at the table.”

“I don’t know if this is going to work out.”

“Maybe we should go get weapons, and come back here.”

“Yeah, it’s not like the men are going to be able to duck from our arrows. Their GIANT BELT BUCKLES will stop them from bending!”

Anyway, even though the original Thanksgiving was a long time ago, and had about it some dynamics which were clearly morally problematic, I do, after all, as an adult, find something there which is very inspirational.

And that is that which compelled the Indians to give. They gave. They responded to that within human nature which knows that it it better to give than to receive.

“Better to give than to receive” is something we hear so often we forget what an extreme concept that is. Because it is AWESOME to receive.

I love receiving.

But receiving is human. Giving is divine.

The Indians acted divinely. They were responding to the great, universal, sacred imperative to give.

I’m thankful today for that imperative.

I give thanks for giving.

Which is to say, I give thanks for love. For what is giving, but love manifested?

Giving is love put into action.

Giving—sacrificing—is how we love.

The people served by Community Resource Center need our love.

Like the Pilgrims:

out of their element

in transition

trying to survive.

They depend upon us.

When the collection plate comes around in just a few moments, reach pretty deep down and give.

My wife Catherine is CRC’s Senior Director of Business Operations. She’s the number two person at the organization. She’s been there over seven years.

I know CRC. I know what they do; I know how they do it.

They do what they’re supposed to do. They are faithful to their mission. They love.

Help them do that.

And with me—with all of us tonight—in so doing be thankful for the divine, ever renewing source of all love, which allows us, through the specific act of giving, to honor it, to know it better, and to become be more like it.


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  • Allie

    Happy Thanksgiving to all y’all! I’m between family gatherings right now.

    My husband really doesn’t like turkey, so last night we went out for Chinese food so he could mentally ready himself for the day. The young man who owns the Chinese restaurant is spending his first Thanksgiving in this country. My husband said he would probably be eating better than we would, but no, he is eating traditional American turkey and dressing. He was very pleased with the idea, and his joy, like a child’s, at the newness of the old holiday, made it brighter in our eyes. I’m very grateful to be here, and very grateful that he’s here too!

  • I love this. Thank you, Allie.

  • Donald Rappe

    I’m grateful that I was awakened from a sound sleep at one this afternoon by a call from my (honorary or latina) granddaughter L. inviting my wife and me to her home this evening for a fiesta meal. We were looking forward to a peaceful meal a casa, but, now this sounds better. We will be surrounded by the ruckus of a fairly large family which has entered into a mutual adoption with us. The giving is two sided and I call it love.

  • Donald Rappe

    Just checking to see if after 30 minutes of work I have been able to change my picture. I have tired of seeing my one and only black eye.

  • You’re beautiful now, Donald, as ever! (And it’s wonderful to hear about your new, unplanned Thanksgiving blessings.)

  • A’isha

    John, I’m so glad you got to talk about pilgrim belt buckles. That’s just too awesome! But my favorite line in this whole post? “Giving is love put into action.” That’s what I’ve been thinking of so much lately as I deliver food to more and more people. I scrounged up a full box of food from the freezer and cupboards last night to take to a family that had absolutely nothing. Nothing. No food for Thanksgiving, let alone the regular days. And as my son carried this box up the steps to their tiny trailer, I thought, “I’m showing my kids the real way to love people.” Because honestly, I love those people. James was his name. His mom is Lydia. And my first thought today as I drove to my parents’ house was “I should drop one of these pies off at their house.” I love those people!

  • sylvia

    Better to give that to receive? Maybe the Wampanoag Nation would still be living in Plymouth if they had just kept to themselves and let winter and the Pilgrim God take care of the rest. (Technically there are still a few diehard Wampnaoag in the area, but the Patuxet part of the tribe are extinct due to White-man diseases.) I’m not a Native American, but like you, I always identified with them over the buckle-heads.

  • Actually John, the first Thanksgiving was a celebratory feast- not to commemorate a bountiful harvest, but the return of a mob of armed colonists (with scalps and severed heads) who systematically slaughtered over 700 peaceful, unarmed, native men, women, and children. There are accounts- from the colonists themselves- of them gleefully kicking the severed heads through the streets. The feast was held amidst the severed heads…on pikes- which they displayed throughout the colony of Plymouth- for decades. Let’s choose to give thanks to God always, instead of observing the commemoration of a massacare. The Thanksgiving holiday is rooted in rape, enslavement, misery, and mass murder. At its very core- it is against the very nature of Christ- rooted in violence, and drenched in the blood of the innocent.

  • Google Manataka American Indian Council or Susan Blake and read “The REAL Story of Thankgiving.” The bloodiest Indian War ever.

  • Indeed Fidel! Im familliar with Susan Blake! So many of us have been brainwashed. Myself included. I’m inquisitive by nature- I did some digging today- compelled to find the true nature of a HUGE American holiday, that I will never celebrate again for the rest of my days. These HEINOUS attrocities- along with the institutionalized miseducation of the young- is absolutely despicable. And the horror of it all is that this nation was established on the bones of these gentle people. They were completely and utterly disposessed. Not to mention that these ‘pilgrims’ (sic) were in a large part responsible for the institution of African enslavement in the colonies. The effects of both are still visible… centuries later.

  • Yes a BIG lie that we were taught in school. The ugly truth needs to be told. However, I do celebrate annually Thanksgiving with my family and friends. We give thanks for our many blessings and share our blessing with each other and with others not so fortunate. I also try to remember to give thanks at least once each day.

  • I will, for every Thanksgiving Fidel, take a pause- and have a moment of silence- and honor those innocent ones, to stand in solidarity with the Native American National Day of Mourning. This evil holiday is one that I want no part of. It just made me feel dirty.

  • Beautiful, A.

  • DR

    I don’t feel like I’ve been brainwashed, simply because I can celebrate Thanksgiving by its current merits while at the same time, understand how gross and evil its origins were. Both can certainly be true at the same time.

  • I am jealous.

    As a former Southwesterner in the Northeast who misses having fun Hispanic neighbors… big Latino families really do throw the best feasts. I’ve been missing tamales at Christmastime for how many years now?

    This year, it was just Bob and me. We had adventures in last-minute grocery shopping, but I got stuff to make a cake I’d been wanting to try. Then we went to my barn job – I’d volunteered to work so as to free up others at the farm to go do their big family things, then we came home and had slow-roasted turkey breast and modest trimmings while watching Punkin’ Chunkin’. Oh, and Arlo Guthrie, of course.

    I don’t even *care* about the history of the holiday, myself. For me, history is sketchy and the past is past. In modern times it’s (at least for me) – gather with people you love, eat good food, be damn grateful for it.

  • Allie

    The real story of Thanksgiving is that every nation on earth celebrates harvest festivals and this is ours. It was celebrated long before white people set foot in North America. That a legend has attached to it does not change its significance as a harvest festival.

  • Diana A.

    That makes sense.

  • Melody

    Actually, I think you mean Rob Bell style. 😛

    All joking aside, this is beautiful. Thanks, John.

  • denver

    Your words on love manifested struck a chord with me and are beautiful.

    But I’m totally sharing the bit about corn syrup being the Indians’ revenge.

  • Christy

    Allie and DR and all,

    Respectfully, I understand your points, however, in support of both Fidel and Brian and to bring the point home: they feel the outrage of these atrocities in a current, palpable way….just as many of us here feel the atrocity of GLBT inequality and abuse in the church and the culture at large much more intensely and personally in a current and palpable way. For someone to say something here about the treatment of the GLBT community that in any way marginalizes or minimizes or rationalizes the pain that has been caused would not be met very kindly. Fidel and Brian are asking for the same kind of empathy and compassion and understanding and attention regarding an issue which gets too little press and should not be forgotten simply because of the passing of time. Forgotten tragedy -particularly genocide – revises history, thus the reason for and the effort exerted to preserve the memory of the holocaust, American slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement. It is no different for what was done to the Native Peoples of this hemisphere. Those who outlived a tragedy carry the burden and the responsibility to tell the story to those who don’t know it and for those who did not survive.

    I hope this is received in the spirit in which it is given. Many blessings to all of you. I am thankful for this community and all it does for the cause of Justice. ~ C

  • A’isha

    I love this, Donald! From someone who claims my adoptive family as my “real” family, I understand. That giving from both sides with never expecting anything in return…that truly is love. I hope your day was wonderful!

  • Allie

    My great-grandmother was a Cherokee from Oklahoma, who married my great-grandfather, a mule skinner. My half-siblings are on the rolls of the Creek tribe. Respectfully, I think I have as much right to be outraged about, say, the Trail of Tears, as anyone. Telling lies in the name of remembering genocide is just as wrong as telling lies in the name of erasing genocide.