The First Thanksgiving

Yeah, yeah, I know. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a real thing. It’s a legend which encapsulates the gratitude felt by white settlers in a new land, particularly in an age where starting off and settling somewhere new was living off the land and surviving scores of diseases and natural threats. But Americans love nothing if not an origin story, cultural or religious, and so we get these depictions of ‘the First Thanksgiving’ in which people in Puritan garb share food with their Native American neighbours. Often there’s a white dude standing up and talking, because that’s what white dudes do.

There’s no evidence anything like a real ‘First Thanksgiving ‘ took place on the fourth Thursday in November — that’s just when, much later, Thanksgiving was enshrined into American secular religion. (Washing originally instituted the holiday; FDR changed the date to the fourth Thursday.) Which makes me think, whenever I see these depictions of Thanksgiving feasts — WHY PEOPLE ARE EATING OUTSIDE IN NOVEMBER. AREN’T THEY FREEZING?

Classic case. This is NOT November in Massachusetts.




This is looking a bit more chilly with pink-purple skies. But still, dining outside upon the hoarfrost, bringing our only infant who survived the winter without a blanket to cover her head…um??



White beardy guy: “The tribesmen tell me it is unseasonably warm in November: so this is where the term ‘Indian Summer’ came from. I and my colonising impulses are duly chastised.”



It’s so cold they’re not even bothering to sit down, just saying a big thank you outside then moving indoors where the chairs and fire are.



Screw this cold. Let’s get back on the ship. Better to die at sea than face winter in New England. #blizzard #puritanwoes #youregonnaneedmorecloaksthanthat



Tribal leader to colonial leader: ‘I’m sorry, you want us to eat outside in the freezing cold? In addition to teaching you to cultivate food in this land, can we introduce you to the longhouse, the wigwam and basically any other form of shelter in which to eat like civilized people?’



The last three renditions have been in black and white because there’s snow everywhere in late November in Massachusetts.

Snow. Everywhere.






Images of Mary Magdalene in art history

So, all you need to know today is that it’s the feast day for Mary of Magdala AKA Mary Magdalene AKA the first apostle or the ‘apostle to the apostles’ if you’re being picky.

With the demise of The Toast, sadly there is no one regularly providing snarky commentary on artwork. I feel that Mary Mag would have greatly enjoyed such snark, and so as my act of devotion for her feast day, I offer you the following.


This Mary has clearly been up all night looking after some dudebros — I mean disciples — who are upset about Jesus. She’s breaking out one of those squeeze stress-balls that pharmaceutical companies give away.



DOUBLE MARY TIME. Here we’ve got Big Mary (Jesus’ mum) holding little Mary (Magdalene).

Big Mary: ‘How cool is it that we share a name?’

Little Mary: ‘Like, so cool. It’s a name strong ladies have.’

Big Mary: ‘I know, right? I mean NOBODY in the future will ever get us confused, or any of the other Marys.’

Little Mary: ‘Nobody. I think we should both keep wearing red all the time. That’s not confusing.’


This Mary has realistic hair. Ain’t nobody wearing a headscarf without flyaways, I tell you.


This Mary is my spirit animal because of her enviable Resting Bitchface.


According to the title of this painting, here Mary is ‘penitent’. She’s also clutching a skull and rolling her eyes. I leave this to you to decide whether or not that is something a penitent person would do.


This Mary: ‘Jesus Christ! You’re alive!’

Jesus: ‘Can’t touch this.’


This Mary: ‘Sorry dudes fighting about women being priests, I’m just over here, looking fine and praying for you. Peace out.’


This Mary is having a day where staying in pyjamas and pondering the meaning of the universe (also watching Netflix) is all that’s gonna happen.


This Mary: ‘Looketh at my face. Is this the bothered face thou seest before thee?’


This Mary’s so awesome she went and got herself a suit of hair.


This Mary’s hirsute hair suit is better than hers ^^. Damn right.


This Mary moonlights as a vampire hunter.


This Mary was totally just having a topless nap in the forest, again with skulls and books. Nothing to see here.


Alternate alternative Good Friday service thoughts

So this year I’ve been working on putting together the ‘alternative’ Good Friday service at Christ Church. I call it ‘alternative’ rather than ‘all age’ (its official title) because

(1) it draws more from alt worship resources / movements than children’s worship – to which ‘all age’ services unfortunately get simplified and

(2) it does aim to be, as a dear friend honoured me in labelling it, ‘a sort of communal midrash’ on some of the stations of the cross. Christians trying to do midrash is both thoroughly faithful to our Jewish origins and also a little nuts – which is kind of my functional definition of ‘alternative worship.’

But the all-age-ness is there, still. And, as I have been mentioning to many people, I’ve been struck anew with both the gruesomeness of crucifixion and with the problem of how on earth one is supposed to help children engage with such a crazy- scary thing. Can we ethically do so?  Can we do so without crippling them emotionally? Can we do so without rushing through to ‘yay happy Easter Jesus is alive and it’s almost like no-one ever drove nails through his hands & feet!’ and robbing the death of God of its, well, death?

No easy answers to any of these. But as I mull over the four stations we’re moving through in this service – Simon of Cyrene, the weeping women, the soldiers, and the criminals on the other two crosses – it is encouraging to me that the stories can be approached from so many angles. It’s encouraging, as I’ve been planning something that’s fit for adults and children, engaging Christians new and old and disillusioned, to know that these stories are multifaceted, and that to faithfully read them is to expect them to speak differently to you and your community at successive readings.

For sensible reasons like clarity & length of the service, of course, co-ordinators of worship encourage a limited number interpretations on any given day. For us at Christ Church, I think there has been space for at least a few interpretations side by side. But in the mean time, here are few tidbits that didn’t make into the notes I’ve been scribbling for the stations…mostly because I returned to my notes after having prepared them and went, ‘whoa! how did I not see that before?’ (And hey – that phrase might be a good functional definition of the Holy Spirit.)

Simon of Cyrene

Dude had two kids according to Mark’s Gospel – I forgot about them! Were they there (when they crucified my Lord)?

Anybody know without GoogleMaps-ing it where Cyrene is? Anybody? That’s right: in Africa. Present-day Libya. Tradition has it as the ‘Athens of Africa’ due to a philosophic school there linked with one of Socrates’ disciples. Tradition also has it that Simon of Cyrene’s name is only worth including in the text because he went back to Cyrene after Jesus’ resurrection and became one of the first missionaries, and an African one at that.

The weeping women

Early today I posted an excellent video featuring Padraig O’Tuama and he offers an interesting reflection on Jesus & Veronica, slightly conflating her with the weeping women – look out for it.  As my thoughts are all on weeping women these days with a dissertation on women, lament & theology before me, of course I find this ‘station’ fascinating. When Jesus said, ‘Don’t cry for me but for your children,’ was he simply alluding to a so-hot-it-might-catch-fire sort of political situation that would result in the revolts & uprisings in the 1st century CE and the destruction of the temple? Is this prophecy (Hosea 3, I think) box-ticking on the part of the writers/redactors of the text?

Or, like O’Tuama reflects, is Jesus simply calling them out on their wanting to vicariously deal with whatever’s troubling them without really getting at the heart of grief: a world that is badly broken, that is self-destructive, to the point at which its only salvation must subvert that destruction?

The soldiers

For all its cheesiness, the 1953 film ‘The Robe’ is SO worth watching. Marcellus Gallio, played by Richard Burton, is the soldier who happens to win Jesus’ robe at the crucifixion. The guilt and confusion he feels at crucifying an innocent man, then robbing his not-yet-cold body, causes him to rethink his entire life.  This film is always in my head when I think of the crucifixion, probably because it provides some sort of medium for me to interact with the utter brutality of it all. What is worse, I always wonder: to associate with the hired killers, or with those in the Sanhedrin who contrived his death?

The criminals

Ah, this story. How much we rely on it for our ideas about heaven, hell and everything in between. It sure sounds hopeful to hear, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise,’ doesn’t it? I guess what I return to again and again about this story is that this guy who asks Jesus to remember him is completely out of options – and yet he still recognizes something special about Jesus. I’ll assume this criminal was Jewish (likely, as he is in Jerusalem) and assume that Jewish views about the afterlife at this time were, under the influence of Hellenism, only just beginning to develop a concept of ‘heaven’ or ‘paradise.’ With these assumptions in mind, in referring to Jesus’ kingdom, this criminal was really going out on a limb in using Jesus’ own kingdom-language.  Having heard Jesus & his followers speak about ‘the kingdom of God’ would have been the only way he could know to use it. And so, though it cannot possibly save his life, the criminal basically says, ‘Whatever that kingdom thing means; I want to be a part of it. Somehow. Even if I’m dead.’ Am I willing to say that? Are any of us?