Understanding the Pilgrims’ Plight

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Understanding the Pilgrims’ Plight

As conditions worsen, Americans will find it easier to empathize with America’s early settlers.

Identifying with the past is a challenge for those consumed by the present.

That’s why today is so special and important. Thanksgiving is a window into the past, giving those with willing hearts and interested minds a glimpse into the stirring history of the United States. Thanksgiving is an opportunity for Americans to measure their advancement, ponder the future, and express gratitude for the sacrifice, resilience and hard work of their forefathers.

After arriving cold, fearful and uninformed at Cape Cod in the fall of 1620, America’s early settlers had endured 11 grueling months of hunger, disease and death, frigid weather and internal bickering by the time of the first Thanksgiving.

Although the first year was a remarkable year of achievement and accomplishment, it was defined by adversity, uncertainty and fear. Beyond the trials and tribulations borne out of freezing temperatures, disease and periodic internal disputes, there were the shadows lurking in the forests—staring holes in their backs as they worked during the first few months—that infused the pilgrims with a constant sense of danger.

Strangely, perhaps, American find themselves besieged by similar conditions today.

Three hundred and eighty-seven years have passed since the pilgrims sat down for the first Thanksgiving meal. Clearly, America has had some dramatic accomplishments during those years. Most Americans today will not spend Thanksgiving around a campfire, carving meat from a spit and eating it with their bare hands. Most of us will celebrate this day in a centrally heated home, at a table laden with foods and beverages of every color, taste and smell, with a flat screen blaring in the living room, an iPod pumping out tunes in the kitchen and the cell phone ringing. In some ways, the differences between the first Thanksgiving and the one we’re observing today couldn’t be more stark.

In other ways, however, conditions are more similar than many of us probably want to admit!

Think on this.

Isn’t America and many of its people, like the pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving, coming off a year of intense trial and tribulation, one defined by fear, instability and uncertainty? Browse the papers, watch the news, talk to friends—a sense of danger looms over the United States, and even the world.

Many Americans are now being forced to confront this reality, and they’re stressed and alarmed. More and more they’re becoming fearful, even panicky. Not about frigid temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns making it hard to grow food, or dwindling food supplies or being attacked by the natives. These days it’s their rising credit-card debt, the plummeting value of their house, their sinking 401(k)s, the possibility of losing their job and the tanking American economy that are weighing Americans down with uncertainty.

The causes differ, but the emotions of fear and anxiety, and the sense of danger are the same.

Americans are increasingly feeling the severity of their nation’s catastrophic state. List the ailment, we’ve got it: massive job layoffs, plummeting stocks and retirement accounts, soaring health-care costs, sinking home values, unprecedented foreclosure rates, bank collapses, corporate failures, massive government bailouts, political bickering and turmoil, and the list goes on and on. In the first 10 months of this year, 1.2 million jobs were eliminated in America—more than half of those in the last three months. In October, America’s unemployment rate spiked to 6.5 percent, the highest it’s been in 14 years. And that’s merely the beginning, say analysts. The recession is in its infancy, and with more layoffs expected, the unemployment rate is likely to exceed 10 percent.

“It started with real estate then spread to Wall Street,” reportedabc News recently. “Now as the U.S. economy lurches into what appears to be a long recession, just about every American worker is at risk of being fired (emphasis mine throughout). The domino effect is toppling industry after industry, creating a vicious cycle of weakening demand, layoffs and less consumer spending.

Meanwhile, the nation is still suffering the effects of the banking and housing crises. Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (fdic) this week added 54 more banks to its “problem list,” putting the total number of banks on the list at 171, a 50 percent increase over the second quarter. The picture is just as glum in America’s housing market. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times ran a story detailing the growing number of delinquencies among prime borrowers. Foreclosure rates are breaking records across America and will likely rise further.

Americans enter this Thanksgiving with the stock market in dire straits. Last year, the Dow closed the day before Thanksgiving at 12,799. Yesterday it closed at 8,727. That’s cause for deep anxiety and stress for the millions of employees and soon-to-be retirees with retirement funds comprised of stock.

These conditions are walloping American food banks. “We have seen a 100 percent increase in demand in the last year … and food donations have dropped precipitously,” says Dana Wilkie of the Community Food Bank in Fresno, California. In Illinois, demand for food is up 50 percent in the counties served by the Peoria Area Food Bank. With increased numbers of people relying on food banks for their Thanksgiving meal this year, cash-strapped food banks across the nation handed out frozen chickens instead of more expensive turkeys. The U.S. government’s food-stamp program tells the same story. Yesterday, the Washington Times reported that “fueled by rising unemployment and food prices, the number of Americans on food stamps is poised to exceed 30 million for the first time this month.”

Talk about fearful times! Not just for America, but for the world. Analysts at Stratfor, a widely-respected, well-informed intelligence organization not prone to exaggeration, wrote last week that “the world, at least by our reckoning, is now officially in recession.”

“The bottom line,” Stratfor explained, “is that the global economy is in a situation where countries are going to start cracking.” Iceland has already collapsed, multiple other countries are tottering. Who will be next?

Sure, in many ways America has advanced dramatically since the early days of the pilgrims. But where have our gadgets, our impressive developments, our educational and political achievements, and our sophisticated lifestyles gotten us? Conditions in America today are as fierce, uncertain and dangerous—and as perilous and life-threatening—as they were 387 years ago, when the pilgrims observed the first Thanksgiving!

But how has America gotten into this perilous state?

Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president, was the man responsible for establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Consider what he said in his Proclamation for a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer on March 30, 1863:

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

Abraham Lincoln saw and deeply valued God’s central role in American greatness!

Lincoln knew that national success, and peace and prosperity, were a function of God’s will. The pilgrims believed the same. So did many of America’s Founding Fathers, including George Washington. All of these people considered Thanksgiving to be much more than an opportunity to eat, drink and be merry: They saw it as a selfless opportunity to express deep, sincere gratitude to God for the manifold blessings He had bestowed upon them! Thanksgiving for these people was an opportunity to revitalize their devotion to God.

It’s terribly difficult for Americans today to identify with such a humble, God-centric and selfless mindset. Despite the warnings of Jesus Christ Himself, Americans have allowed their lives to be dominated by materialism and vanity, and their hearts to be “overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and [the] cares of this life.” Drunk on selfishness and materialism, most Americans lack true piety and humility, and are thankless for bounty in their lives.

“When God lavished on our peoples such wealth and power and economic possession as no peoples have ever before enjoyed,” wrote Herbert Armstrong in The United States and Britain in Prophecy, “did we appreciate what we had or feel the commensurate sense of responsibility for its wise and proper use? We did not! We didn’t even recognize how great was our blessing ….”

If, on this Thanksgiving Day, you find yourself wanting to truly identify with the pilgrims and America’s forefathers, take the words of Mr. Armstrong and Abraham Lincoln to heart. Buck the national trend; put down that third plate of food, step away from the television, go to a private room, kneel down on your knees—and thank God for the blessings He’s bestowed upon your life and on this spectacular nation.