ThanksDiwali: Thanksgiving Meets the Indian Festival of Lights

Religion in America is changing.

This week I was at the KICMA (Knoxville Interdenominational Christian Ministerial Alliance) Thanksgiving Service when the minister began his sermon, “Get out your Bibles and turn to Matthew 14” and people got out their cell phones to look up the verse.

Religion was not like that when I was a kid.

The minister was up to date with those changes because at some point in his sermon he said, “Now I want you to scroll down to the end of the chapter.”

So religion in America is changing and we are changing with it. Traditionally the Unitarian church has been a very intellectual church. We have a tendency to stay in our heads. Well this morning we are also going to be in touch with out bodies.

In other words I am going periodically interrupt this sermon in order to teach you some Bollywood dance moves. So here are the first two moves.

(Teach the dance steps: Hands up push and heart beat moves)

The world is changing in so many ways and we are too. A week ago my family had a family reunion via video chat on the phone. My daughter Sally was in France. My son Christopher and granddaughter Wren were in Colorado. My wife was here in Knoxville. I was standing on the platform of the metro in Washington DC but we were having a family reunion on the phone.

Technology has made the world smaller and so the world’s holidays are growing closer together. This Sunday the American tradition of thanksgiving is merging with the festival of Diwali and so we might call it ThanksDiwali.

In India this mixing of two or more religious and spiritual traditions is not new. The philosophical word for it is syncretism. Syncretism is the amalgamation of different religious traditions and schools of thought into one, combining two or more traditions into a new tradition. So in the spirit of syncretism we are celebrating Thanksdiwali. And what better way to do that than by learning another dance move.

(Teach the dance step -Twisting the Lightbulb/Petting the dog)

When I was in my young adult atheist phase denouncing religion as the opiate of the people as Marx did and dismissing it as an illusion as Freud did, I was approached by a Hindu friend who said, “Chris, are you a Christian?” When I hesitated to answer the question he continued, “The way I see it,” he said, “I am a little bit Hindu, a little bit Buddist, a little bit Christian, a little bit Jewish, a little bit Taoist…” I could continue but you get the point. And since that conversation I’ve changed the way I think about myself. I see myself as little bit of everything I love.

As the world grows smaller, and technology connects us more and more, we get the opportunity to gain wisdom from all the great world’s religions. You can find the scriptures for all the great world religions on your phone. So we are in a position to contemplate the difference but also to see the similarities. I am reminded of the fact that an Anglican bishop speaking about Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatest Christian of the 20th Century was a Hindu.” That’s how small the world is getting. We can see the virtues practiced by people of all faiths.


A few years back Nathan Paki started our congregation’s tradition of celebrating Diwali with our friends in the Hindu community, shortly thereafter I noticed our friends from the Hindu community showing up for our Christmas Eve service. The world is getting smaller and we are beginning to participate in more and more holidays.

And there is no better way to participate than by learning another dance move.

(Teach the dance move Cover eyes/uncover eyes)

When my son was going to college at MTSU we would got out to dinner at an Indian restaurant where there was an endless loop of Bollywood videos playing and so it made sense that over a period of time we might begin to cut our food and eat to the beat of the music. The music is so catchy it is hard not get caught up in it.

It was easy to internalize the music as we were internalizing the food.

Now the fact that young people and college students are catching on to Bollywood doesn’t really surprise us too much. The young are naturally in tune with the fact that we are living in a global society. However, you may not know this but there are some volunteers who are going into nursing homes to teach simple Bollywood dance moves for seniors. And let me tell you it is a beautiful thing to behold; to see that we are never too old to dance; never to old to move.

And so this morning, in this intergenerational service, where we have young and old together, it is good for us to move together. I am going to teach you yet another dance move.

(Teach the dance move: Point upwards and move shoulders)

Now it almost time to dance. The song we are going to dance to is by a group called Dehli2Dublin, which is to say, they are an amalgamation of Irish and Indian music, a joining of musical traditions for the East and West, and that seems very appropriate on this new syncretic holiday of ThanksDiwali. Fortunately, in our day and age we can learn a few simple Indian dance moves by scrolling on our phone.

So here is our last dance move

(Teach the Lotus)

The lotus is a symbol of enlightenment, peace, compassion and love.

So now that you know these dance moves let’s practice them with some music. Because religion is not just about preaching, it’s about practice.

Joseph Campbell tells a story of a group of scholars who visited a Shinto temple and at the end of the visit they said to the priest, “We have seen many of your temples and witnessed many of your ceremonies but we still don’t understand your religion? What is your theology? What is your ideology?” And the priest replied, “I don’t think we have a theology. I don’t think we have an ideology…we dance.”

And so do we. So let’s close this Thanksdiwali celebration with a dance.

(To witness the congregation dance click on this link

(The Rev. Chris Buice preached this sermon at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday November 25, 2108)