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Thanksgiving Day through the eyes of a Colombian MB

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BeyondBorderswebdinglecropThe MB family of faith includes people from all walks of life, and all corners of the globe, as recognized in the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB). This month’s international columnist, from Colombia, sends a challenge to the Canadian church.—Eds.

My first memories of TV are in black and white. Like many Latin American children, I loved to watch North American programs. I learned very interesting things about North America. There were strange humans, such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and Man from Atlantis. Cartoons showed us mice, birds, cats, and dogs who could speak.

I learned about snow and hot dogs, but also I learned about North American culture: specifically, about a kind of holiday that we don’t have in my country, Colombia. On that holiday, people eat turkey with their family and give thanks for all the things they’ve received.

According to Wikipedia, Thanksgiving Day is “a harvest festival. Traditionally, it is a time to give thanks for the harvest and express gratitude in general. It is a holiday celebrated primarily in Canada and the United States. While perhaps religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.”

As a Christian boy, I could appreciate the Christian background of this holiday in every TV program that showed it. Today, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday. How did that valuable custom lose its meaning and identity? That is a question for the North American historians.

Without content

However, during my time visiting Mennonite Brethren churches in North America several years ago, I found that many things – Christian things – could lose their identity. Like Indiana Jones in search of archaeological treasure, today we need to look for the “lost Mennonite identity.”

I found people with “Mennonite” last names, but without any knowledge about their Christian tradition. MB churches have the Mennonite name in their bulletins but are without any Anabaptist perspective in their worship, preaching, or leadership style. Some “Mennonites” go to war, or do not live their Christian lives like Anabaptists. There are Mennonite churches that don’t support their valuable institutions such as seminaries, universities, mission and social development agencies, historical commissions, press, and so on.

They carry the name without content, very much as the current secular Thanksgiving Day does.
Thanks be to God, there are some exceptions! Many persons and churches appreciate the value of our tradition and are looking for their theological roots. They have learned why the Anabaptist tradition is so important: not just to maintain a culture or history, but for its content.

The issue has to do not just with traditions, but with the theology behind those traditions. Who will be able to share our theological emphases with the body of Christ if we ignore them or if we imitate other parts of the body of Christ? As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:17–18, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

A good custom
One day a year for the purpose of giving thanks to God would be a good custom to establish in Colombia – not for the custom itself, but for the holiday’s content and theological background. A day to remember our commitment with those who live in poverty, a day for renewing our vows of following Jesus in his attitude of giving and blessing the poor, would be very good.

Thanksgiving Day could be a day for saying to the secular world that our lifestyle does not follow the commercial and consumerist culture that surrounds us. It could be a day for saying to ourselves that we live in the name of Jesus, that we look for justice, peace, and equity – first in our global community, but also in our needy world.

It could be a day for remembering some of our emphases as Mennonites, such as the simple lifestyle, as a way of gratitude and self-denial for the purpose of sharing the love of Christ with others. One day like that could be very relevant in our Western culture.

César García was president of the Colombian MB conference from 2003–2007. He and his wife Sandra Baez have two teenaged daughters. After planting the MB church, Torre Fuerte, in Bogota, they moved to Fresno, Cal., where César is taking an MA in theology at MBBS and Sandra an MA in peacemaking and conflict studies at Fresno Pacific University.

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