The story(ies) behind Thanksgiving

The story(ies) behind Thanksgiving
by Melissa Miller

It is a season of Thanksgiving in North America, just past for Canadians, upcoming for those in the States. Given that I have roots in both countries, I celebrate the season over a stretch of two months, mindful of many blessings. Savoring the colored leaves and the migrating geese, I take in the foods of autumn: apple cider, squash soup, pumpkin pie.

thanksgiving 3 (2)

These two figurines are pulled from storage, and keep vigil in a seasonal display. They were a gift from my mother’s creative hands early in my marriage, and have followed me around from house to house, tying me to my roots, as well as the initiators of the first thanksgiving. More recently, they are a disturbing reminder that the holiday celebrated across two countries is a story told with a slant.

From childhood, I learned of the First Nations people who welcomed the European settlers. I learned that the first thanksgiving was a meal shared by indigenous people and the Pilgrims from England. I learned that the settlers were grateful that they had survived the previous months, grateful for the kindness shown by their native neighbors, and grateful for God’s providence. All sounds good, right?

More recently, I have glimpsed what was missing in that version of the first thanksgiving. The story was told and continues to be told from the perspective of my ancestors, the pale-skinned Europeans. Missing from the happy gatherings around heavily laden tables are the laments of the deteriorating relationships between indigenous peoples and settlers. Of the prejudice and violence towards aboriginals that has marked those relationships. Of the struggles of First Nations people today to obtain adequate food, water and shelter in the lands they have inhabited for centuries. Literally, I feast (in a warm and comfortable home, with food, stable relationships, economic security, and the privileges of education) while many of the ancestors of the First Nations people languish.BuffaloShoutSalmonCry

Buffalo Cry, Salmon Shout (Herald Press, 2013) is one resource that sheds light on the hidden stories. Edited by Steve Heinrichs, “…Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry offers up alternative histories, radical theologies, and poetic, life-giving memories that can unsettle our souls and work toward reconciliation.” (As described in the MennoMedia store.)

Our Thanksgiving celebrations will have more integrity if we add more layers to the thanksgiving5stories that are told, if we include more perspectives as we reflect on the season. I think my pilgrims need to have some indigenous peoples join them in the display. For now, I’ll include a stone turtle given to me by a native friend this past summer. She told me it was a sacred item and that I should keep it in a holy place. Its presence helps me to be mindful of the untold stories behind Thanksgiving.

Melissa Miller is a pastor from Winnipeg, Manitoba, longtime columnist for Canadian Mennonite, and secretary of the MennoMedia board.



How will you work at including layers to your Thanksgiving stories? At home? At church?

Updating The Naked Anabaptist: New five-year edition released

October 14, 2015

News release

Updating The Naked Anabaptist
New five-year edition releasedNakedAnabaptist5th

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ontario—Five years ago, Stuart Murray’s book The Naked Anabaptist made waves with its look at the central beliefs of Anabaptism and their relevance for Christians today. Now Herald Press has released a new edition of the book, drawing in stories and perspectives from North America and the global church.

The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith examines seven core convictions of Anabaptism, looking beyond the traditions of Mennonite, Amish, and other historically Anabaptist groups to the development of this Christian tradition rooted in Jesus and his teachings. It shows an alternate, healing path from the temptations of societies mired in materialism, individualism, nationalism, and state violence.

Murray, chair of the Anabaptist Network in the United Kingdom, originally wrote The Naked Anabaptist primarily for a British audience unfamiliar with Anabaptism. “I was very surprised by the interest among North American readers,” he said. “This revised edition is oriented more to North America, with examples of the application of Anabaptist convictions in this context.”

The new edition features an updated resource section on Anabaptism. Murray expands and updates his definition and discussion of Christendom, the historic melding of church and state that 16th-century Anabaptists reacted against as they sought to return to a biblical vision of voluntary belief and church membership.

Like the original edition of The Naked Anabaptist, this revised edition reaches out to seekers and to any Christian hungry for a biblical faith rooted in Jesus. Murray steps away from the ethnic understandings of church that have sometimes become part of historically Anabaptist groups, turning instead to Anabaptist biblical understandings that have sparked interest from the emerging church movement, historic denominations, and new Christian movements.

Stuart 1In The Naked Anabaptist, Murray does not call for shifts in Christian denominational allegiance. Instead he shares the values of authentic discipleship, heartfelt worship, sacrificial service, simple living, and radical peacemaking that he finds in historic Anabaptist beliefs and at the heart of Jesus’ gospel vision.

Murray calls for Anabaptist churches to recover a missionary and evangelistic vision for the future. In societies that are both increasingly secular and multifaith, the Christian challenge is to learn afresh to tell the story of Jesus and his teachings, Murray says. Like the original edition of The Naked Anabaptist, this revised edition helps provide Christians with some of the historic tools for that present-day task.

Murray has a PhD in Anabaptist hermeneutics. He is the founder of Urban Expression, an urban church planting agency with teams across Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Gregory A. Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and author of The Myth of a Christian Nation, writes in the foreword to The Naked Anabaptist, “Murray offers this dialogue not to try to get people to join the Mennonites or any other Anabaptist group but simply because it’s to the advantage of both Anabaptists and the rising tribe of kingdom people to learn from and support one another.”

The Naked Anabaptist is available for $14.99 from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or, as well as bookstores.


Join an active and semi-moderated Facebook Group, The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith.

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C. Henry Smith remains a model for Mennonites, biographer says

NewsPeaceProgressAndTheProfessor release

October 12, 2015

Smith remains a model for Mennonites, biographer says
Herald Press releases new volume in Mennonite history series

BLUFFTON, Ohio, HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.—In the first half of the 20th century, Dr. C. Henry Smith wrote three books that were “the vehicles by which generations of Mennonites learned their history,” says author Perry Bush, a Bluffton University professor of history.

Now, nearly 75 years after the last of Smith’s histories of the Mennonites was published, Bush has written a biography, Peace, Progress, and the Professor: The Mennonite History of C. Henry Smith. Bush notes that Smith was a man who spoke to his times and ours, while modeling the emerging role of Mennonite public intellectual.

Published recently by Herald Press, Peace, Progress, and the Professor tells the story of a self-described “all-around Mennonite” who was raised Amish before becoming one of the first Mennonites to earn a doctorate, early in his 50-year teaching tenure in higher education.

After beginning his career at Goshen College, the native of Metamora, Illinois, spent the last 35 of those years at Bluffton. There, he also became a banker and a prolific public speaker who was a voice for Mennonite unity—and principles—while demonstrating a different way of being a Mennonite in the world, his biographer says.

Perry Bush

Author Perry Bush

Smith felt the Mennonites had “a tremendous tradition,” says Bush, the current successor to Smith’s legacy in the Bluffton history department.

“We have an Anabaptist orientation and an ethic that would be beneficial for others to hear,” Bush continues, paraphrasing his subject. “Let’s be out in the public sphere”—where increasingly, beginning in the mid-’30s, Smith extolled Mennonite values such as peace and justice while discussing public affairs with secular as well as church audiences, and even on regional radio.

Smith’s progressive bent early on convinced him that while Mennonites had much to share with the outside world, they shouldn’t be afraid to borrow from it, either. But he borrowed too uncritically at first, including the widespread racism of the time, although that was “never a major aspect of his thought,” Bush says. And after seeing the extreme anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany while in the neighboring Netherlands for the 1936 World Mennonite Conference Assembly, Smith wrote about its “un-Christian nature,” he adds.

An earlier, “major watershed” for Smith was World War I, when he witnessed persecution of U.S. Mennonites who spoke German and, as pacifists, didn’t buy war bonds, Bush points out. A Democrat who had backed the war, he turned a more critical eye toward acculturation afterward. By the late ’30s, he was writing of the dangers of a totalitarian state and that Franklin Roosevelt was leading the United States into war, leading him to vote for Wendell Wilkie, FDR’s unsuccessful Republican opponent, in the 1940 election.

He always believed, however, that exposure to, and adoption of, Mennonite ideas could help North American society—and that Mennonite unity was a goal worthy of ongoing pursuit.

Smith lived much of his adult life during “contentious times in the church,” Bush says. A hierarchy in the church began enforcing “proper” Mennonite behavior, including dress codes. Resulting arguments about dress, theology, and what it meant to be a Mennonite in the modern world created divisions between traditionalists and progressives, and within district conferences and individual churches, Bush explains.

Smith was a leader of the Mennonite union movement, which sought to heal those divisions in part through biennial All-Mennonite Conventions. In 1925, he chaired and gave the keynote address at the convention in Nappanee, Indiana, where he called for toleration in the church.

He said toleration didn’t mean anyone had “a right to teach and practice what he pleases though it may be destructive of the principles of the church.” But neither is it “a one-sided virtue,” he cautioned. “It involves obligations as well as privileges. It demands that we respect the honest convictions of others even though we do not agree with them.”

Toleration was critical, he said, because, with it, churches could do good work together. “The great need of today among many Mennonites is not so much an absolute unanimity of belief and practice in all details, as a spirit of cooperation in carrying out a great constructive program of church activities which no group by itself is able to achieve.”

And he repeated the “crying need” for Mennonite unity. “What the Mennonite Church needs today above all else is that its broken body should be healed,” Smith asserted 90 years ago. “The beliefs which we have in common are of far more significance than those which separate us.”

Bush observes that with the church divided again, “Smith could have written that speech yesterday,” and calls Smith an important figure who has been neglected, including by Bush himself, despite their having lived and worked in the same place.

That common bond of Bluffton was “part of the attraction” to writing the book, Bush adds, also crediting its completion to support from the C. Henry Smith Trust, which aids projects promoting the Mennonite peace message.

The biography is Bush’s fourth book, joining Rust Belt Resistance: How a Small Community Took on Big Oil and Won (2012), Dancing with the Kobzar: Bluffton College and Mennonite Higher Education (2000), and Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America (1998).

The new book’s release will be celebrated at a banquet on October 17, part of a conference on Mennonite education that Bluffton is hosting October 16–18. Visit for more information on the event.

Peace, Progress, and the Professor is volume 49 in Herald Press’s Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History series, and is available for $39.99 in hardcover and $29.99 paper from Herald Press at MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or, as well as at bookstores.


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