A couple of Cushman-Plymouth souvenirs.
My people have been in this land for almost four hundred years. Yes, my ancestors came over on the Mayflower. And after starvation and suffering from exposure and all kinds of suffering, the “Pilgrims” at Plymouth found gratitude beneath their blanket of hardship. What WERE they thinking?!
We should care what they were thinking, because no other migration ever set into motion the wealth of Providential events we have seen on our continent over the centuries. Largely under-utilized before its “discovery” by Columbus, the New World soon provided much of the food, inventions and progress which blessed mankind ever since. We as Americans have lived and celebrated the greatest, most advanced and prosperous nation in human history. So it is easy to forget that it all had a very ugly start.
A full half of the pilgrims died the first year. Those who survived shared homesickness, starvation, exposure to the elements and unbearable grief.
There were no doctors, or stores or letters from home. The Natives watched from the treeline and pitied them. Soon they were bringing them essential help. The first miracle God provided was a Native American in this remote wilderness who spoke English, and who could and would help them get through those first months.
At the first harvest on their primitive plantation, they instinctively threw a festival of sorts, and invited their aboriginal neighbors over for a thanksgiving feast! WHAT were they thinking! They could have been easily massacred right then. But their faith was strong that the worst was behind them, and God was in charge. Strangely, hardship and mortality bring us closer to our Maker. Instead of cursing God for their painful saga, they were singing God's praises. This suggests that a happy, prosperous people (like us) will never grow towards God, but away from Him.
A short while later the pilgrims held their first worship service led by one of their elected shepherds, (and my ancestor) deacon Robert Cushman. Cushman had helped expedite their adventure and originally embarked with them on a separate ship, the “Speedwell” which almost sank, and was forced to turn back. He had just arrived from England with supplies and welcome news from their homes. And he gave them a prepared sermon, recognized as the first (recorded) sermon delivered on American soil, in December of 1621.
It was a warning to avoid self-pity and narcissism, or “self-love” as he called it, and he challenged them to think not of themselves but the ultimate success of the colony. Deacon Cushman commanded them to be heroes, and nothing less. And this is why: Cushman had looked down the road at their home in Europe. A great deal was at stake. He wrote in the dedication of his historic sermon this rationale...
“And if it should please God to punish his people, in the Christian countries of Europe (for their coldness, carnality, wanton abuse of the gospel, contention, etc.,) either by Turkish slavery, or by popish tyranny, which God forbid, yet if the time be come, or shall come (as who knoweth?) when Satan shall be let loose to cast out his floods against them, here is a way opened for such as have wings to fly into this wilderness...” He saw a grand strategy at work, and these pilgrims would serve an essential role... “ so a light may rise up in the dark.”
To Robert Cushman, the world was going to hell in a corrupted European handbasket, and the fate of Christian civilization (and thus mankind) could very well have rested in those hands which cupped this “candle in the wind” in the New World.
Robert Cushman was right about Europe... long before Napoleon and the so-called “Enlightenment” and apostasy became the backbone of European intellect. America did carry the ball for Christ for the next few hundred years... and it all started with great sacrifice and discipline like that in Plymouth.
In hindsight, most of us would agree that it was worth it. We are the most fortunate of peoples to live in a land established by God's hand-picked heroes of Faith. And there is no secret as to how they accomplished this amazing legacy. The slogan “In God We Trust” had deep origins rooted in blood and tears.
The pilgrims were not just a random assortment of boat passengers. Even from the beginning, they were representatives of two very different lots. The leaders and believers in Christ were called “Saints” and the rest of the people, workers and sailors, were “Strangers.” The pilgrims understood that they must partner with and work alongside strangers who did not share their beliefs or value system. They kept their faith and obeyed God and let Him sort things out. That partnership gave birth to the greatest nation on earth.
Today we must remember how and what and WHO got us where we are. Humbly. Gratefully. On this Thanksgiving, as our country slips into cynicism and self-sufficiency, Americans must ask themselves, if they want to enter the next chapter in our history without the guidance and support of a God who has blessed us so greatly... Because without Him we will be no better off than most other countries in the world. And they had a huge head-start on us, but can never match American exceptionalism.
And unlike in Robert Cushman's paradigm, there is no next place to fly.