Turning Toward Truth: Forging a new understanding of Thanksgiving

IMG_6992Turning Toward Truth
An interfaith service speaking truth to the history of colonization and thanksgiving.

Sunday November 22, 2015
Temple Beth El, Augusta, ME
Capital Area Multi-faith Association


Light of Healing Rev. Scott Dow, Retired Baptist Minister
As we begin this service of thanksgiving, we light a Candle for Healing. When we turn toward truth and acknowledge injustice, we join together in a journey of healing. Let us enter into this holy hour with hearts wide-open and curious minds. May we listen with compassion and respond with kindness. May our relationships with all of humanity be made stronger in this circle of faith, hope and love.

Light the Top Candle

Come let us join together in our opening hymn. Please rise in body or spirit for “Come, Ye, Thankful People, Come”

Opening Song “Come, ye thankful People, Come”

The Light of Safety  Rev. Jane MacIntyre, South Parish Congregational Church (UCC)  

Thanksgiving is a much-loved national holiday.  Most of us look forward to gathering around the table with loved ones on Thursday, feasting, enjoying one another’s company and maybe reflecting on those things for which we are particularly thankful this year.  And it is good for us, body and soul, to reflect with gratitude on our blessings and to have joy in celebrating with our loved ones.  For those of us who regularly attend religious services, gratitude and awareness of our blessings is the likely focus of those services this week.

As we started to prepare this multi-faith service, we realized that we could simply gather today to share traditional Thanksgiving prayers, songs and messages from our various traditions; that would have been a nice, safe thing to do.  Another possibility was to do something which would challenge us, both as planners and as worshippers, since we became painfully aware that there is a stark contrast in feelings about the Thanksgiving holiday between the descendants of those earliest participants.

Can we move toward something for which we can all be thankful, native people and immigrants alike? Can we dare to hope that we can stand together and learn from our past in order to forge a future built on new ground?

We are people of good will; we know we will inadvertently make mistakes along the way for which we ask forgiveness, but we want to attempt this journey of transformation and healing.

There is much talk these days about creating safe spaces emotionally and intellectually – safe spaces for learning, safe spaces for discussing social justice issues, safe spaces for worship.  As people of faith, we trust in the safety of being held in God’s love, and we know that safety and comfort are not the same thing.

Trusting that with God we are safe and loved no matter what, is something which enables us to lower our defenses, to address challenging, discomforting issues, and to understand them through the unfailing truth of God’s perspective.

As we light this first candle, representing the light of safe space, may we also know that safe space spiritually is also fearless, open and humble space.

{Light the Candle of Safety}


Our father/mother God, We bring our whole selves to this place of worship, with love and with boldness to receive what you may show us today.  We come with hope and with openness of heart, trusting in you, and willing to be transformed by your Spirit.  We hold both joy and pain in our hearts as we contemplate the history and the continuing reality of our Thanksgiving celebration for everyone involved.  Be our guide and companion as we worship together today.

The Light of Truth      Pastor Maggie Edmondson, Friends Meeting House, Winthrop

For those of us who are part of the dominant culture, inheritors of the benefits of colonization, Thanksgiving is filled with images of peace and brotherhood, as pilgrims and native peoples sat down to eat together.

It’s a cherished and hopeful story of the beginnings of our American nation. We have felt connected to those beginnings as we’ve re-enacted that time of Thanksgiving with feasts in our homes and communities, and added to our feelings about the celebration is the joy for many of us of having our families gathered together.  We cling to such times of joy and tradition amid a world that often feels out of control and filled with so much pain and violence.

However, the cultural stories to which we are willing to devote ourselves need to be based in truth and a broader truth than simply our own cultural perspective.  As people of faith, we are called into a brotherhood and sisterhood of all people, not just us our own families or ethnic groups.

For our Native American brothers and sisters, this is a time of mourning, marking as it does, the beginning of the destruction of the majority of their people and of their ways of life.  As people of faith we are also called not to turn away from that which disturbs our comfort but to open ourselves to that which love requires of us.

Maybe we have never thought about the contrast in meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration to varying segments of our population. It certainly wasn’t on my radar till lately.  Maybe we feel that what happened is in the past; that we’ve moved on.  Maybe we are unaware that the discrimination and destruction is not all in the long-ago past. The reason to look at this “other” side of Thanksgiving is not so that we can indulge in self-directed blame and guilt or to diminish the joy of our family celebrations.  Those do no-one any good.  What is asked of us is to acknowledge the contrast, and to prayerfully discern how we might be part of the healing of this division in our people.  We cannot simply move forward without that healing and reconciliation taking place.

So let’s just briefly look at some of the history of why this time is one of mourning rather than of celebration for native peoples.

The arrival of European settlers brought devastation to the native communities.  Diseases spread, killing up to 90% of the native population.  Native Americans were forced off their land and into reservations.  Countless people were killed.  Treaties were made and broken.  Blatant genocidal tactics were used – such as the Spencer Phipps Proclamation of 1755 which placed a bounty on the scalps of Wabenaki men, women and children.  Hunting Indians was a lucrative business – the average bounty for a scalp, or a red skin, was the equivalent of a teacher’s annual wages at that time.  Usually these scalps were burned once collected, but some remained on display in museums as short a time ago as the 1980s. In 1990, the federal government passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which mandated the return of Indian remains and sacred artifacts.

Native children were taken from their families as short a time ago as the 1960s, placed in white foster homes to separate them and integrate them into the dominant culture.  Through the work of the Maine Truth and Reconciliation commission these past two years we’ve heard the stories of abuse and persecution which often accompanied those placements.  Some native children were taken and put in boarding schools where they similarly suffered abuse and attempts to take away their identity.  Native peoples were forbidden to speak their language or practice their religion.

Despite the claims of this new country of America to be founded on the principles of religious freedom, it was illegal for Native Americans to practice their own religion and spirituality, until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978.  And just this year we have witnessed the struggles with the state of Maine around the Penobscot ancestral fishing rights and the tribe’s sovereign authority.

Those who raise their voices to tell the less heroic aspects of our national story are often not well-received and are considered unpatriotic.  And yet, if we have a concern for truth, and for all people, we know there are lessons to be learned from both our good and our wrongdoing; that if we wish to live up to what we claim in our pledge of allegiance, “to be one nation under God” then we have to look honestly at ourselves, to learn lessons from what we have done in the past and commit ourselves to being in right relationship with one another and with God in the present and in the future.

{Light the Candle of Truth}

Prayer: Great Spirit, in whom we all live and move and have our being, We know truth as an essential element of your nature. Open our hearts and minds and help us to ground the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives and the life of our nation, in a fuller understanding of truth, however difficult it may be to acknowledge.

Reading: Colonizers’ Legacy  by  Penthea Burns, Co-Director, Maine Wabanaki R.E.A.C.H.

I am the colonizer’s legacy

Ready now to be my human self

And ask for forgiveness –

Forgiveness that grows from

Shared understanding

Undressed rationale

Owned acts


I have lived for generations

Failing to recognize myself

Plodding on with this burden in my heart

Daring not to touch or feel its depths


My white skin bought me the

Safety and privilege denied to you

But at the end of time –

What would that be worth?


I stand here today in love and true faith

Naked and afraid and open to the truth

With knowing and understanding as my prayer

To heal the hearts that suffer

To create peace by changing


With eyes wide open

My reflection is clear

I can see who I am and

Remember my history of devastating glory

My days past of simple joys


The colonizer’s legacy is

Taking, denying, consuming

Loss, knowing, disconnection

Inherited by Wabanaki children and families

Their eyes look upon me still

Their voices wait to speak

And their children long to understand


There are stories to be told and heard

Of the victims and the victors

Of quiet acts of courage

To be held in the daylight of our loving hearts

To raise up truth and justice

The Light of Knowledge   Father Frank Morin, ST. Michaels Parish, Catholic

Papel Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian Monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagen” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.

The Discovery Doctrine is a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions. The doctrine was Chief Justice John Marshall’s explanation of the way in which colonial powers laid claim to newly discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Under it, title to newly discovered lands lay with the governments whose subjects discovered new territory. The doctrine has been  primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.

John Marshall who is most credited with describing the doctrine, did not voice wholehearted support of the doctrine even while using it to justify decisions. He pointed to the doctrine as simple fact, looking at the possession-takings which had been supported by it as things which had occurred and had to be recognized. The supposedly inferior character of native cultures was a reason for the doctrine having been used but wether or not that was justified was not relevant for Marshall.

The Doctrine governs United States Indian law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.

{Light the Candle of Knowledge}


Following the lead of the pontiffs before him, Pope Francis apologized to the people of Bolivia for crimes against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America, and repeated calls for economic justice for the world’s poor.

“I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed agains the native people of America in the name of God, “Francis said. “Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the church ‘kennel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.”

The Light of Silence    Deacon Jennifer Lewis, St. Andrews, Episcopal, Readfield

Silence may be either positive or negative.  When we are silent in the face of oppression and injustice we become part of that oppression and injustice.  And silence may also be indifference.  Silence holds no magic in itself.  It may just be empty space.  But when we enter it consciously, with the intention of being in communion with one another and with God, it becomes a place of prayer which may be beyond words.  It may be a place where we hear or sense divine guidance, and it may be a place where changes start to happen.  I invite you, if you will, to enter this time of silence, taking with you the knowledge, and the feelings connected with what you have just heard, and to simply sit prayerfully with them, allowing the Spirit’s work within you and among us.

{Light the Candle of Silence}


Light of the world, we join our hearts together now in silent waiting, to feel your Spirit move among us and to guide us.  We confess that at times we have perpetuated injustice through our silence, we have avoided that which discomforts us, or have been silent simply through thoughtlessness or lack of knowledge.

We are thankful for the gift of prayer; for times in which to pause and seek your guidance; for times of silent communion with you and with one another.  May we yield ourselves to your Spirit of Love and of Truth and allow that Spirit to fill and inform all we do.  Help us to still our minds now and simply be receptive to your Spirit.


Musical Interlude

Light of the Humanity   Rabbi Erica Ash, Temple Beth El, Augusta

Jewish tradition teaches that God created one person so that no human could claim that he or she was better than anyone else. If we all come from a common ancestor, then we are all equal. Unfortunately, history shows us that this is not the case. We do put ourselves over our brothers and sisters. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We miss the mark.

It is powerful to be able to look at our wrongdoings. For, only when we look at where we are, can we begin to move to where we would like to be. While we humans are flawed, we also possess the ability to change. And that is a great gift.

The Hebrew word for repentance, teshuvah, literally means to turn. We have the ability, every day, to turn ourselves towards the right path. One small turn can, over the course of a lifetime, mean a great change. We have the ability to acknowledge what we have heard here today, to take it into our hearts, and to chart a new path together. We have the ability to make things better.

Being a person of faith does not mean always being right. We know, that we often error. But, it does mean not giving up hope; not being stuck in hopelessness. One of the greatest actions we can take is to acknowledge where we have missed the mark, and to take responsibility to create the world in which we want to live. To look at the truth and to move forward, together.

The rabbi’s teach that a person should have two sayings, one in each pocket, the first should read “I am but dust and ashes” and the second “For my sake the world was created.” They teach that we should take these out when we need to read them. When we feel high and mighty we should remember we are from the earth and to the earth we shall return. When we despair, we should remember that the world was created for the sake of humanity.

May we move forward together, acknowledging that we are but dust and ashes and giving thanks for our ability to live up to our highest selves and to be the people for whom the world was created.

{Light the Candle of Humanity}

Prayer: Oh God, we give thanks for the human family, with all its shortcoming and all its beauty. We hope that our examination and acknowledgment of our faults may cause us to live as our best selves. We pray that we may be moved by this time of reflection, and that we may begin to create the world in which we want to live.

The Light of Hope  Lorna Doone, Peaceful Heart Sangha, Tich Nhat Han (Buddhism)

Today we’ve reminded ourselves that we are safe to be fearless in seeking truth and knowledge which are vital to being in right relationship with one another and with God, and we have also reminded ourselves that we all share one human story – one filled with both acts of inhumanity and with acts of generosity and love.

We come to this American celebration of Thanksgiving with renewed dedication to truth and to right relationship with native peoples.  We know there is much further to go, but we start the journey together with hope.

A series of native American prophecies, now referred to as the Seven Fires Prophecies, describe seven eras or epochs through which native peoples were going to have to live. Each era, or epoch, was called a Fire. The seventh fire of these prophecies talks about a time when the world is be-fouled, when the rivers and the waters run bitter with disrespect and the fish become too poisoned to be fit to eat.

Penobscot woman, Maria Girouard, in her talk at an event last November at USM suggested that we had now reached that time.  “So, what’s next?” she asked.  “What’s next?” A period of great hope is prophesied next.

If we choose the right road, the road of spirituality rather than the road of materialism, then the seventh fire will light the eighth and final fire, an eternal fire of peace.

Some of the native ancestors call it the great healing.

“Many” Maria said “believe we are entering the time of the great healing now. But the great healing is not a spectator sport.  It’s a critical call to action. All peoples, of all races and religions must come together and work for the good of all.  And in order for any change or healing to take place the truth must be told, and received by compassionate ears.”

She continued: “The old traditions say that this new time, this move toward a more harmonious world will begin in the East and will sweep across Turtle Island (a native American name for the north American continent) like the dawn of a new day.  So, here we are, perfectly positioned in Wabanaki land where the light from a new day first touches Turtle Island.”

If we cherish the traditional image of Thanksgiving, where colonizers and native peoples joined together in peace and brotherhood, let’s cause that to be a reality in our own day and age.

As Maria said “Thank you for being here to participate in this time of hope.  The ancestors have been expecting us.

{Light the Candle of Hope}

Prayer:  Let us give thanks for hope. We give thanks for the hope that each new day can mean an end to injustice and oppression, and the healing of its effects; that we are always capable of turning toward truth, and opening our hearts to one another.  We know that these are what enable us to break the cycles of the past and move forward in faith and with hope.

Reading: Reparations by  Penthea Burns, Co-director, Maine-Wabanki R.E.A.C.H.

I rose before the dawn

This morning

I sat alone

And turned on no lamp

Comforted by the dark

I sought to understand



And all of history


I know what we’ve done


I acknowledge

The taking

Your land

Your ancestors’ lives

Your children

Your language and prayers

We took the untakeable

To feed a hunger

That was only in our minds


I acknowledge

The lies

Doctrines and destinies

Spencer Phipps

And old westerns

My history books

Executive decrees

Unsigned court orders

I don’t even know

How many treaties we broke


I acknowledge

The terror…

The overwhelming use of force

Mass numbers

Burning churches

Trails and trails of tears

In a darkened cellar

One small child stands alone

Perfect and beautiful

Exposed and vulnerable

Taken and severed

From what she needs to be whole

To belong

To be home

To know her people

So that she may know herself


I acknowledge

The silence…

Invisibility and denial

My privilege

Which allows me

To hide from harm

To protect my interests

While you are exposed

To risk

We have never recognized

Nor measured our debt

So we awaken now

To do that accounting


I acknowledge

That hope…

Depends on our people

Finding our shared humanity

Standing for what is good in our world

And in ourselves

Hope depends on our people…

Repairing the takings with generosity

And justice

Making amends for the lies

With a truthful look at history

At ourselves

Restoring those terrorized

With healing and compassion

Compensation for our silence

By listening and bearing witness

And speaking out

Silent no more

Hope depends on…

Knowing that we do not own

That we have no authority from God

Except a mandate to love one another

To love this land that we call home

To live in peace together


I know what we’ve done

I have heard your stories

Witnessed your tears

Been amazed by your resilience –

That you are still here


While our collective acts

Are written on my heart

Our crimes need not define us

For I know, too, what is possible

When we choose justice and compassion

When we choose to acknowledge

And repair

To stand in solidarity


This is the time

This is the hour

Shall we fulfill our mandate

And remember who we are?


Light of Action      Rev. Carie Johnsen, Unitarian Universalist Community Church, Augusta

In October I attended the Parliament of World Religions. I had the opportunity to meet and visit with Steven Newcomb from the Shawnee and Lanape tribes. He is also the founder of the Indian Law Institute. It is his research and scholarship that informs the movement to expunge the United States judicial system of the Doctrine of Discovery. I asked him what is needed from the faith communities in this work. He responded, “The churches need to put as much time, energy and resources into restoring indigenous culture as they have in destroying it.” He added, “And the churches need to stop telling our children their tribal traditions and religious practices are wrong. Our children our killing themselves at a rate seven times higher than in non-native communities.”

I stand before you today to ask you to join us, the capitol area religious leaders, in this work of truth, restoration and healing. Our work is not to look back with blame. Our work is not to cling to guilt. Our work is not to cast more judgment and shame. Our work is to look forward into the future and decide what we can do to be part of building a world where peace, harmony, and celebration of diversity leads us on.

Each of us can take one step forward. For some of us in the room, arriving today and listening with open heart and curious mind is courageous. We are grateful you are here. For some of us, writing letters or calling upon legislative leaders is a new road. We are grateful for your prophetic voice. For some of us the road will be education and awareness, a waking up to new perspectives to guide our actions. We are grateful for your inquiring minds. For some of us examining our own use of indigenous traditions, rituals and practices through the lens of dominate culture, white privilege and cultural appropriation will be a painful process. We are grateful for your willingness to put the oppressed communities before your own needs.

Each of us will decide what action we can and are willing to take to restore indigenous culture. I encourage you to begin this journey with the Culture Cards your received at the door and the Thanksgiving Prayer in your program. Use these at your thanksgiving table this year. Begin a conversation in your home with friends and family. I invite you visit the Maine-Wabanaki REACH table following the service to hear about Ally training workshops. There you will find additional resources to guide you in your work to be part of a world where peace, harmony, and celebration of diversity leads us on.

{Light the Candle of Action}

Prayer: Spirit of Life, Love and all that is Holy, we stand at a crossroads. With the wisdom of love lighting our way, we acknowledge wrong doing. With courageous love lighting our way, we commit to rising boldly with hearts and minds and voices to rebuild that, which has been torn asunder. With just love lighting our way, we commit to a world where healing and reparations create a new story with new endings to lead the way. May we, the hands and eyes and ears and hearts of God, bring the healing balm of God’s love to all people, in all places, now and forever more. Amen.

 The Light Within       Rev. Al Boyce, Volunteers of America

We light one final candle this morning. It is the light that shines within each of you. It is the light you carry with you into the world. May you find the courage, compassion, and love to share it generously with those you meet along the way. Truth, restoration and Healing is our work. It is your work. It is my work. May your light shine brightly and illuminate the way that others might see and be inspired to embark on a journey of their own.

{Light the FINAL Candle}

Let us join together in our closing hymn “Guide My Feet” Please rise in body or spirit.

Closing Song   “Guide My Feet”