“I'm starting to get the creeps every time I see the word ‘family.’ I say we get rid of it.”
Via Jesus Politics, I came across this comment in a post at StreetProphets.com a while back. Being pro-family isn’t necessarily bad, right? The idea that keeping families together and supporting children is the reason I have a job right now. But I wonder if we as Christians have used the idea of family as sort of an exclusive tribalism. I don’t mean this in the sense of my last post, where those who are not in a couple or traditional family don’t fit well in the church/society, but rather that we have elevated our idea of family at the expense of other issues.
Recently I’ve been reading Shane Claiborne and Anne Lamott. A theme in both of their books that I’ve read centers on family—but a different and broader sense of family. Both mention Jesus’ (and Gandhi’s) teachings—that to be saved means to see everyone on earth as family. Claiborne, in The Irresistible Revolution, talks about a “vision of family that is larger than biology or nationalism” (163). Evangelicals like to use the term “born again.” What a great way to think about being born into a global family! Claiborne asks what it means to be born again into a family where our brothers and sisters are starving to death. In the “dysfunctional family of Yahweh,” what does it mean for churches to spend insane amounts of money on maintaining/building church buildings when our family members are going without? A good biological father would never let his children starve while he fancies up his house. Allowing people to go hungry, without decent housing, or without healthcare would be difficult if we thought of them as family.
In Scripture, the ever-subversive Jesus doesn’t really come across as pro-traditional family. He offers a new way to think about family, one that transcends geographical and biological lines. Wasn’t it he who said that he’s come to turn people against their fathers and mothers? Didn’t he say, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37)? Jesus asked who were his mother and brother, then he answered his own question: “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50). And in Matthew 19, that big stumbling block of a chapter, Jesus says, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
Claiborne is careful to point out that Jesus’ intention is not diminishing love for our biological families, but rather extending love for those who are not biologically related to us. He is stretching our usual idea of family. Claiborne notes:
“Biological family is too small of a vision. Patriotism is far too myopic. A love for our own relatives and a love for the people of our own country are not bad things, but our love does not stop at the border. We now have a family that is much broader than biology, that runs much deeper than nationalism. Jesus is telling us that we have family in
How hard would it be to invade the country and homes of our family members? Writing off a death or injury as “collateral damage” would be difficult if we considered Iraqis or any other group to be our sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, or our children.
And I’m really trying to remind myself of this broader idea of family, not only those that I think are exclusive or who are overlooking “family members.” President Bush, as much as I disagree with him, is supposed to be my brother. Anne Lamott says it better in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:
I know that Bush is family, and that I am supposed to love him, but I hate this—he is a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansman, or Osama bin Laden. Maybe I can’t exactly forgive him right now, in the sense of canceling my resentment and judgment. But maybe I can simply acknowledge what is true, spiritually—that he gets to come to the table and eat, too; that I would not let him starve. In heaven, I may have to sit next to him, and in heaven, I know, I will love him. On earth, however, when I consider that he is my brother, and I am to live him, I’m reminded of the old Woody Allen line that someday the lion shall lie down with the lamb, but the lamb is not going to get any sleep. So I will pray to stop hating him, and that he will not kill so many people, today (144).