Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thinking About Family

Well, I spent some time in Springfield Illinois. I was with with family, my extended family or a part of it. Being with family members that you rarely see makes you think and remember.

We have so many models of family. We have the Holy Family which is a blended family, remember, Joseph is the step-father. It is a great model of unconditional love, of “stick-to-it-ness” of the deep love between a mother and her son. We have the Son in that family who is also part of the Triune God. The Trinity teaches us that we are always in relationship. However, for most of us the Holy Family does not reflect our family.

There is the family that permeates Springfield, the Lincoln family. Here is a family touched with depression, with mental illness and hardship. Still, it is a family that made a contribution that is still with us today. Most of us will never make that kind of contribution but some of us can relate to the family dynamics.

The current scenario gives us another family model from Springfield, Barack Obama. Here is a man with a white mother, an African father, and an Indonesian step-father. This is a man who has lived in the Midwest, both coasts and the pacific rim. We have a word for this kind of experience, American.

So I am thinking about my extended family. It is hardly as exotic as the senator’s but still is an American Tapestry. It includes African Americans, Russians, English, Norwegian, German and Italian. Cherokee and Black Foot members. It includes Catholics, protestants, Jehovah Witnesses, Jews, Unitarian Universalists and pagans. It includes folks with two homes who are world travelers and folks in a doublewide.

I am aware there is no mixture of faith, ethnicity, race and/or Social Economic Status that guarantees a healthy family. I also think as a society we have spent way too much time focusing on pathology. Watch television and you come away believing all families are dysfunctional. That is not true. What is true is that all families suffer, it can not be avoided. What they do with that pain is what is important.

I look at my family members and “perspective” is a word that keeps popping up. The younger adults or pseudo-adults are more prone to see crisis and conflict as rejection. They have not learned yet that one of the functions of a family is to learn that we can tolerate a lot, as long as it is not abusive, and still claim one another.

I look at my family and I am aware that I am also part of a much greater family. I have my Catholic-Christian family that spans the world and the ages. I have the saints, I have the Body of Christ. That knowledge helps provide perspective and support.

So, today I am just thinking about family. We certainly recognize a happy family when we see one. We recognize it in other species, we talk about animals that are good parents. We even spend time speculating on the parenting skills of dinosaurs! And then we focus on something else and take family for granted. But not for me, not today. Families provide us with boundaries, points of view and places to belong. So, at least for today, family, thank you.

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