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A Blended Family: On The Importance of Difference

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.(Luke 14:26)

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” (Acts 2:3–6)

The Image of the “Traditional” Family

I have been thinking a lot about family lately, what makes family emotionally well and what works against us? As many of you know the news has been focused on issues of family lately.

There’s the whole Josh Duggar situation (the 27th yr old from the Family Values TV show “19 kids and counting”), where he confessed to molesting at least 5 girls when he was between the ages of 14-15. And this is a very bad situation, but what makes it worse, in my opinion, is that he was employed by the conservative Christian lobby group that attacks same-sex couples and their families.

The other big piece of news around family this week was that the country of Ireland just passed a bill making it finally okay for same-sex couples to get marry. There was a lot of celebration around the world with this but not everyone was happy. One Guardian headline read:

“Vatican says Ireland gay marriage vote is ‘defeat for humanity’” (Link)

family-silhouette

Is it really a defeat for humanity? I don’t think so. The problem is not that humanity has been defeated – it hasn’t – it is the rubric or the image we’re using to determine who gets to be in and who is out.

What has passed as the “Family Values” movement, where there is a traditional definition of family that includes certain cultural values, specific gender roles, family structure and beliefs has set up a normative vision of “Family” that shames and excludes those who don’t fit into that particular picture. And it seems to not matter one difference whether any of it actually makes sense given our current society or whether their own house is in order, just so long as we can find a scapegoat to cover up for our own issues.

On the face of it, who doesn’t love the idea of “Family Values.” You’d unlikely find a successful politician who said, “I’m against family values.” No one is against this, but the problem is that “Family Values” as a movement, as a political and religious strategy has become an idol. Because it so tightly controls the image of what family is to the expense of so many.

When I look around this congregation, I see a lot of people who are deeply loving and committed to their families and friends, but also who have less than Norman Rockwell family situations. We all have both family dysfunction and people in our family photos who have been grafted in one way or another. Is there a place for any of this in a faith community?

Not only is this dominating image not rooted in the contrasting and varied types of families and marriages in the bible (many of which we would not like or support today!), but it doesn’t reflect how most of us experience family.

 

Our image of family needs to shift so that it actually connects better to the image given to us from Scripture.

Let’s remember first that Jesus had some very harsh words to say about family.

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

Does this mean that we should literally hate our families? In some cases maybe it does. Some families have been so damaging to us that we need to break away in order to survive. But for most of us what is needed is a healthy kind of “independent togetherness.” Jesus knew how powerful an ideology “Family” could become. How family often has a way of holding people back and keeping one another from ever growing into their full potential. “Independence” is often seen as a threat to “togetherness” and vice versa. Family can become very exclusive and shaming to others who cannot or do not have those same experiences. Jesus also knew how much family can infect our understanding and relationship to God and one another.

Another way to put this is that we have swallowed the pill that what God wants from us in our families and in our churches is “Sameness.” Where everyone falls into a hierarchy, everyone is compliant to their specific roles based on gender, education, class, etc., where doctrine and rules are more important than people and where everything is made to fit within a certain picture of expectation. This is the image and message that I believe Jesus was trying to break with and so this is why he has such strong words for his followers. Jesus is assembling a different kind of picture of

Instead, Jesus assembled a different kind of picture of “family.”

A blended Family

I want you to close your eyes and picture your family. All of it. Everybody. The people you love and the people you would be just fine if you never had to eat one of their casseroles ever again. The people you are closest to and the people who are most distance. The people who have died and the people who are living. The people who are related by blood but don’t seem like it, and the people who are related by friendship but seem like they’re blood relatives. How about those friends who are like brothers and sisters to you? And your real sisters and brothers who know you better than anyone else or those who are like complete strangers?

Who here has a family that fits into the perfectly happy, perfectly ordained, perfectly religious, perfectly faithful, wart-free family? These things might help make us feel superior to others but they don’t reflect our own experiences with reality.

Not one of us here has a “Family Values” family in the way it is advertised on TV. Every single one of our families has issues, great joy and deep pains, broken relationships and reconciled ones. Family we’d die for and people in our family photos we have no idea who they are.

We all have “blended” families.

Every one of us has brothers who we haven’t spoken to in years, parents we have deeply complicated relationships with, aunts and uncles who have hurt us and helped us, grandparents who are sweet and grandparents who are not safe to be around. And we have moms that aren’t our moms, and “brothers from other mothers” and “sisters from…” You know how it goes.

Every single one of us is a part of a blended family and it is beautiful and it is messy and God is there too.

Jesus’ Family

And here’s the kicker, Jesus was from a blended family. His father, Joseph, was his step-dad, his mom was an unwed teenager, his grandparents are nowhere to be found within the stories that survive and his cousin John was born to parents who were old enough to be living in a retirement community. And beyond that, if you read the lineage of Jesus at the beginning of Matthew, as we have done in the past, you learn that Jesus’ great grandparents had among them prostitutes and a woman who was raped by her father-in-law.

God’s own image for family is far more like a blended family than it is like the kind of family pictures of “traditional family” we see depicted. Is it surprising to you that God’s idea of family is much more open and subversive than our own?

Is it surprising to you that God’s idea of family is much more open and subversive than our own?

Consider another image of family from the bible. This is how the very early church is described in Acts 2:

[Read from Acts 2:1–21 NRSV]

This is a description of what is called “Pentecost,” the early beginnings of the church. And it says here that the Spirit shows up as “Divided tongues” or as in a “difference of languages.”

The Spirit doesn’t come in sameness, it comes in difference. It shows up across all barriers and it doesn’t collapse all of this down into a sameness the way our religious and political organizations are constantly trying to do, instead it becomes the very thing that unifies a very diverse group of people.

And isn’t that what makes family “family?”

It’s not that the bloodline is pure, we have seen where that gets us, it is that there is a bond of love and commitment and shared history together that goes far beyond blood which holds us together.

In a similar way, the early church is not founded upon sameness, it is rooted in difference and held together by the Spirit of God.

The Strength in Difference

So what does all of this have to do with what makes Camas Friends strong, unique?

You all are a blended family held together not by blood – though there is some of that too – but by God’s Spirit of difference, commitment, a bond of love and a shared history together.

For one, there are many different families represented here:

  • Some families have been here for decades

  • Others have their extended families that worship here. Some of them have “crossed over” and even married each other over time.

  • One family has biological and adopted children and their involvement exchange students over many years means their family spans many ethnicities and continents as well.

  • Then there are those of you like us me who are transplants from other parts of the country. You have no “family” here of your own.

And this is just a start I’m missing other families and people in the congregation that add to the fact that Camas Friends in a blended family.

There are single people, and single parents, and elderly people who are and who are not grandparents. We have people who are divorced, people who are remarried, people who are widows and widowers, we have people who come with their spouses and people whose spouses are uninterested in coming. We have it all.

Think of the newer people who add to the blending of family.

Another aspect that really makes this community strong as a blended family is that you have just about every age group represented. Do you know how deeply meaningful and important it is that this is a multi-generational community? There are very few places left in our society where the young and old can gather together as a family in the way we experience here.

Everyone one of these examples is a way in which this community mirrors a blended family.

Beyond all of this there are many other ways that the Spirit comes in the form of difference within Camas Friends.

Some of you are politically liberal, some of you are politically conservative, some of you are politically disinterested. The same can be said theologically.

Some of you have fought in wars, some of you were C.O.’s and some of you have protested wars.

Some of you struggle with physical disabilities or mental illness.

Some of you are struggling economically and some of you are economically more secure. We have very different levels and types of education in this room and worlds of experience for almost any question you might have.

Some of you have grown up in this church and some of you are very new to being apart of a Quaker meeting.

There are a number of you here this morning who are surprised you’re evening sitting in a worship service, they’re surprised lightning hasn’t struck, and you think that if others really knew more about you they would be surprised too. A person sitting near you feels the same way about themselves.

If you have been here long enough to hear one another’s stories then you have witnessed God in people who are both very much like you and very much unlike you.

Some of you find it easier to call yourself a Quaker but the whole “Christian” label is more challenging. And some of you consider yourself “Christian” but aren’t quite sure about the “Quaker.”

Some of you have lots of questions about God, and the world, and science, and evil. For some of you this stands in the way of relating to God and for some, you’ve worked it out.

You each have very unique and important relationships to God and not two of them are the same.

Some of you read the bible and pray regularly. Some of you are not even sure if God is there or if God is on your side.

Some of you are deeply committed to Camas Friends and some of you are not yet sure if you have a place here.

And in every single way you are a blended family that is being held together by the Spirit of Love.

Being Written Into the Family Portrait

And here’s the thing: it’s not the fact that you are a blended family that makes you strong out, it is the fact that you embrace that as part of your identity. It is the fact that for Camas Friends “difference is a strength,” “difference is an asset” upon which this church exists.

Difference makes us stronger and more resilient in the same way that cross-pollination can be used to make sturdier plants.

These differences make you a very strong and resilient Quaker meeting but you must continue to work to develop this because there is much in the world and within the “Church” that would like to do away with this kind of perspective.

The more you value that difference, the more you are able to hold these tensions, and learn ways to bring people into this blended family the strong the stronger you will be and the more like the early Church we see in Acts 2 you are.

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The more that you embrace this, the more you will find others who want to be photoshopped into the kind of blended family photo we have here.

People can always find enough food and a space at the table when the family is blended. Blended families that are happy about being blended send the message that you are welcome to be here and you are safe with us. I have rarely ever witnessed a time when there wasn’t enough food or space available when being invited over to a family that operated on this premise.

So be that blended family in the way you honor each person in your midst.

Be that blended family in the way that you make space for those who want to be here regardless of their “language,” their political or theological views.

And don’t be afraid to discuss these differences, to wrestle with them, to confront them, all of this only makes you more sturdy and more and more like the body of Christ you are called to be.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.