Thanksgiving in Difficult Times
Exodus 3:1-10 (King James Version) Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. 2And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 7And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey . . . 9Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
The Bible is relevant to the lives of those who face oppression. The oppressed can easily relate to the Biblical stories. Members of Canada's sexual minorities understand social, and institutional oppression. There are elements of the Exodus story that just connect with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people.
First, Moses was born to a Jewish family.1 The Egyptians were afraid of the children of Israel. They were scared the Jewish immigrants would join with their enemies, and fight Egypt's armies.2 So the children of Israel were given oppressive work loads.3 Midwives were ordered to kill male Jewish babies.4 But the more the Jewish immigrants were oppressed and persecuted, the more they seemed to multiply.5 The Egyptian king decided drastic action was needed. He ordered all people to kill all male Jewish babies.6
Moses was born during that time. When it became difficult to hide him, he was placed in a tiny basket that was waterproofed, so it was like a mini boat. The little basket boat was placed in the river, close to the bank. The king's daughter came to the river to take a bath. When she discovered the baby, she was moved.7 She essentially adopted Moses. According to the Biblical story, Moses became her son.8
Moses was raised, at least partly, as an Egyptian. He might have felt a little out of place, a little queer, seeing that he was a Jewish man living as an Egyptian. One day, Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Jew. Moses saw red. He killed the Egyptian.9 When his deed became known to the king, the king wanted to kill Moses.10 So Moses fled into the desert. In the wilderness, he ended up working as a shepherd.
Moses was a double abomination to the Egyptians. He was essentially an abomination by birth. In Genesis, we are told that it was an abomination for Egyptians to eat with Hebrews.11 By occupation, Moses was also an abomination. Shepherds were an abomination to Egyptians.12
Some gays, lesbians, and bisexuals can relate to Moses' life and to the plight of the children of Israel. They also live in a society that considers them an abomination. Many sexual minorities know they were born the way they are, so they might feel like they were an abomination from birth. GLBT children have a foreign upbringing – they are raised as straight kids. Fleeing hatred and homophobia, they've moved to larger communities where they can be invisible. To gain some sense of affirmation and community, they've left small towns and suburbs for gay districts in larger cities. The more gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people are oppressed, the more fervent community activists become. Acts of oppression lead to a new generation of queer activists stepping up to the plate. Like the children of Israel, queer individuals grow weary of societal oppression. And, like the Hebrews, they long for the liberty, freedom, and safety others feel.
The world is still recovering from a recession. The economic upheaval of the past couple of years is frightening. Major companies are in trouble. The once mighty General Motors faced bankruptcy. Many people are going into the Thanksgiving season without jobs, or under-employed. Those who are fortunate enough to still have jobs face struggles too. They may find they have to do the work of two or three people, because there is not enough money to hire people to do all of the work that needs to be done.
As a society, we can learn a lot from our sexual minority friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Members of the queer community have a lot of experience living through seasons where there are mixed emotions. Looking at what Thanksgiving means to the queer community can help all people understand how to live with a spirit of Thanksgiving, during very rough times.
Canadian Thanksgiving, Matthew Shepard's murder, and National Coming Out Day fall very close together. National Coming Out Day is October 11.13 National Coming Out Day is the day when gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals celebrate those who have the courage and integrity to live openly as the people they were meant to be. In 1988, Canadian Thanksgiving was Monday, October 12.14 Matthew Shepard died Monday, October 12, 1988.15 Matthew Shepard was badly beaten for being gay. He was tied to a fence, beaten more, and left for dead. While many people were making plans to have quality family time, Matthew Shepard was clinging to life. On Thanksgiving Day, when many of us were eating turkey, Matthew Shepard died. Thanksgiving changed for me, because of Matthew Shepard's murder. In some respects, it is not as celebratory. In other respects, Thanksgiving is much richer and has deeper shades of meaning.
National Coming Out Day combines a celebration of who one is with a recognition of how coming out can damage or break relationships. For some queer people, there is a sense of relief, an emotional and spiritual cleansing, and a sense of joy when they are able to come out. Unfortunately, some members of God's queer tribe have experienced painful rejection when they came out. In many respects, National Coming Out Day remembers the good and the painful parts of coming out.
There are a few things society can learn from the queer community about being thankful during difficult times.
Through the uncertainty of this Thanksgiving, we can take comfort in God. We worship the same God who appeared to Moses. God appeared, because God heard the cry of the children of Israel. God hears our distress too. God cares. God moves. God intervenes. God blesses, and God bless you.
11Genesis 43:32 And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an unto the Egyptians.
12Genesis 46:34 That ye shall say, Thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an unto the Egyptians.
13“National Coming Out Day.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Coming_Out_Day
14“Thanksgiving Day in Canada.” time and date.com. http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/canada/thanksgiving-day
15“Matthew Shepard.” Wikipedia Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Shepard
16Judy Shepard. The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed. (New York: Hudson Street Press, 2009), 263.