on defining a family

by Allison

I posted an article on facebook. (Don’t all the best stories start that way?)

It was a moderately scathing critique of idolatry of the family in American Evangelical Christianity and when I read it I found myself agreeing deep in my bones. What resonated with me most was the author’s unabashed embrace of the messy, grey world of families that is painted in the Bible.

An article that presents a non-mainstream perspective of the Biblical narrative? I mean how could I not share it on my facebook?

Moments later, the response came (you know the one). Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t from my uncle Dave who lives 2,000 miles away. It came from a dear friend with whom I had “playdate” plans the very next morning. For the unfamiliar, a playdate is where moms (or dads) direct their children toward the playroom and then spend the remainder of their time alternating between chatting with each other on the couch and preventing nuclear meltdown in said playroom.

So that wasn’t going to be awkward.

Via the comments on facebook, we agreed to have a friendly discussion about the article and the “Biblical accuracy” of it over tea in the morning.

When the doorbell rang, I actually felt nervous. The arrival of this friend with whom I had standing Thursday playdates for the last 3 years suddenly made my palms a little sweaty. I could tell we were on the cusp of something bigger than us, but I didn’t yet know what. We opened up the conversation and laid ground rules:  The purpose was to understand where the other was coming from. We were to be grace-filled and respectful. If either of us felt like we didn’t want to discuss it anymore, we could call it.

When we were finally ready to discuss specifics, I half expected to hear “*DING* Round one.” In fact, there were countless rounds that day, but not of boxing. There were rounds of words and clarifying questions and civil disagreements.

Where and how do we draw a line between idolatry and high priority? What do we do with examples of sinful marriages and families in the Bible? Why does Dobson talk about the 1950s so much?

There were rounds of interruptions where we had to actually attend to our four small children. You know, feed them and such. There were rounds spent delving deep into theology and culture.

Why can’t I bring myself to befriend my seemingly lovely lesbian neighbors? What if I don’t believe that the government has any more right to define marriage than they do to legislate baptism? What will my children grow up seeing as right?

There were rounds of fact checking and anecdote relaying.

What do the verses around that excerpt say? Do you know what happens in countries where they legalize gay marriage? Have I told you about the woman I met in Sri Lanka who was married at 13?

Around and around we went, pouring our hearts out, desperate for the other to understand and agree, but neither of us made a convert that day. As I observed our dance of interacting with four needy children while seeking to find Jesus in the mess of life, I caught a small glimpse of a deep truth – a deeper truth than any we grappled with that day.

This friend, she is my family. She is the one who will hold my tea while I go intercept our three-year-olds before one of them starts throwing punches. She is the one who will say to me “let’s seek the truth on this” and mean it. She is the one whose home is open to us and who is always welcome in ours. She is the one who lives in community, in relationship, in communion with myself, my boys, our families.

That morning, the image of family as God intended couldn’t have been any clearer.


18 Responses to “on defining a family”

  1. JessieLeigh October 24, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    This post gave me chills… it perfectly describes the tension and, yes, balance I feel as I navigate this world with REAL people with REAL ideas. I’ve struggled so much to explain myself and so much to change my own views to fit but, the reality is… this is what family is. And it’s beautiful in its tension.

    • Allison October 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      Yes. These are not hypothetical, distant ideologies. These are “REAL people with REAL ideas”.

  2. Luke October 24, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Considering I’m a political/economic/theological crazy person, pretty much every relationship I have is heavily dependent on being thoroughly saturated in grace, and most of my conversations probably sound like the one you described here. That being said, the ones who stick around through all of the hard fought battles are just that much more special to me. We put “Family” in such a tiny box, but it is a much bigger notion indeed.

    • Allison October 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

      Sharing your crazy is so important. Glad you are able to find grace and extend it.

  3. the Blah Blah Blahger October 24, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Man, this could have been ugly. But the family part…that’s where you were both open and forgiving and willing to listen and share your hearts. That’s the part that is redeeming, and ultimately beautiful. So glad it didn’t end in tears or frustration!

    • Allison October 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      You and me both, sister. I really wondered that day if this was the begininning of the end, but instead I got to see deep in her heart and re-frame my understanding of family.

  4. Ed October 24, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    So many of us have been there, and I’m grateful you’ve shared this story of working out the details in trenches of life. I used to attend a small group with a really wide range of opinions on theology and politics, and it was so important for me to be slow to speak and fast to listen.

    • Allison October 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Listening was a very key piece of the equation. And I find that for me, it is much easier to listen when I decide ahead of time that I truly want to understand the perspective being presented. If I set out having preemptively dismissed their view as something I already understand fully and disagree with, things go very differently.

  5. Kamille@Redeeming the Table October 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    I think this “She is the one who lives in community, in relationship, in communion with myself, my boys, our families” is so true. It’s so easy for me to stereotype a group and become just like the media; but, my husband is so good about asking, “Kamille, truly, what people do we know like that? The people we know aren’t that one size fits all sticker.” When I put a face to it, it’s like you describe here.

    • Allison November 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

      Yes. It’s all words and sweeping gestures until it’s about your closest friend.

  6. Diana October 27, 2012 at 12:43 am #

    What a lovely picture of grace in action, Allison. Yes, family is bigger than those connected to us through blood or proximity, isn’t it? This is beautifully done, friend. Thank you.

    • Allison November 7, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

      Thank YOU Diana!

  7. Miles O'Neal October 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    I recently heard a wise man say, “Unity is not about agreeing on everything. It’s about relationship.”

    It’s even OK if we don’t understand one another, if we try, and accept, and love.

    Beautiful story and beautifully put.

    • Allison November 7, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

      Thanks, Miles. I am learning to be OK here in this place.

  8. gigi November 3, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Lovely depiction of grace in action and community. Rare. Beautiful. Inspiring. And it leaves me hungry for more in my life.

    • Allison November 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      Rare indeed. So thankful that by God’s grace a beautiful scene played out that day.

  9. jenna November 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    “What if I don’t believe that the government has any more right to define marriage than they do to legislate baptism?”

    Then please return the privileges provided by the government when you have a marriage – lower tax rate, insurance benefits, right to inheritance even in absence of a will, status as next-of-kin in emergencies, on and on and on. Marriage stops being a religious sacrament comparable to baptism the moment you accept any government-ordained benefits.

    • Allison November 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

      Preaching to the choir, sister.

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