Family in the Rough

Today is family day in our neck of the woods. Family is variously received by folk, some having memories warm and inviting; others knowing little but rejection, suffering and such. My experience of family is rich, and for that I am grateful, but also mindful that finding a way to navigate hard experiences of family must be a lifetime task for those whose experiences have been so different from mine.

Beyond our positive and negative experiences of family, we have all seen different configurations of them – a point I remembered this weekend. Saturday afternoon we took some friends who were visiting out to St. Jacobs, and as we are wont to do, took them to the local Mennonite Visitor’s Centre. For those not in the know, the area in which I live is rich in Mennonite history, dating from the 1783 when these peaceable folk left territories south in order to escape what they feared might become warring expectations.

The Visitor’s Centre has a very well done short video introducing folk to Old Order Mennonites. There is a piece in the film pointing to the addition of Granny Suites on many Old Order homes, and an accompanying comment that children grow up with family all about them – including of course their grandparents. Often aunts and uncles would not be so very far away. The extended family was and is extensive and near. My children had a significantly different experience of family. Most of their family was and is some 4000 km west of where we live. Their experience of family has been radically different from mine, and mine from my Mother’s, for instance, who used to speak of her Grandmother living in their house. I used to see my Grandparents once a month or so, while my children saw theirs far less frequently, although their maternal grandparents most often spend a few weeks in our town in the fall and/or winter. So many families; so many configurations.

The Bible uses language of family to describe those who share in beliefs. Some theologians I deeply admire express reserve about the family motif in the bible, given the negative experiences some have had. They suggest that it is time to explore some new metaphors, or resurrect old and lost images. An important one discussed is that of friend. Christians assert that God in Christ calls us friends. Another popular motif is servant/slave: God has redeemed us from slavery to sin, death and the devil, not so that we might be footloose and fancy free, but that we might be bound to Love. So many metaphors; so many possibilities.

It seems that families, like metaphors, are diverse and wonderfully made. Let me invite you, on this family day, to think about who your family is and why God has put these people in your life and you in theirs. Think too about the gifts of friends and co-workers, and the different ways in which they, too, can be family for you.

8 thoughts on “Family in the Rough

  1. shoreacres says:

    What is “family day”? Is it a state holiday, or associated with the church? Or your seminary? It’s interesting that a day has been set aside to consider all the things you mention — useful, too.

    I was intrigued by theologians wanting to substitute something else for the family, because some have had bad family experiences. It doesn’t make much sense to me.There are divorces — should we abandon marriage? There are children who disappoint their parents. Should we break the parent/child bond, as some of our politicians suggest, and let the state raise children? And so on.

    Imperfection isn’t sufficient reason to abandon something so primal as family. I agree that new forms of family are coming into being, but it seems to me that “family” still is the norm against which all these new forms are being judged.

    As for friendships — after what Facebook has done to the concept of “friends,” I’m not sure that’s the best answer, either!

    On another topic entirely: I saw a Mennonite barn raising when I was in Kansas last fall. I was so surprised when I saw the barn, and couldn’t figure out for a time what was happening. Then I realized it was being built by traditional methods, and a little snooping revealed a thriving Mennonite community. I didn’t have a clue they were there.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Family day… some of our holidays are national (Canada Day, Christmas, etc) and some are provincial, with different provinces choosing days that may or may not coincide with others. Sometimes these share names, sometimes not. So, for instance, yesterday was Family Day in Ontario, Nova Scotia Heritage Day in NS, and Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, while it was Family Day in BC last week. February holidays are invented, and wisely so I think, to give a little respite in the midst of winter.

      As for the family, the theologians I have read aren’t suggesting we jettison the family in either theology or society, but suggesting that it gets an inordinate amount of attention in church life. They may or may not be correct. I have never really tripped over the metaphor in my church, but then again I have had a great experience of family.

      As for the Mennonites, I was interested to read an article in the museum outlining that many young Mennonites are moving farther north since land in our area is now selling around 20,000 per acre and they can get land in Sudbury area for under 2000 per acre. It was once thought the soil (in the Canadian Shield) was not very good, but they have found places with 3 to 4 feet of topsoil. They are learning how to adopt to longer summer days and colder winter nights. They are an amazing people in both their traditional and modern guises.

  2. family can sometimes be friends who take one to a Mennonite centre!

  3. LC Mueller says:

    Thankful for my Kitchener/Waterloo family: Allen and Gwenanne, who also took me to the Mennonite centre as well as other beautiful places last fall. It seems like yesterday.

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