family reflections: unity in diversity

(picture from a Thanksgiving card I found)

Here is the caption:

“It was Thanksgiving, so no one brought up why Aunt Ruth has a “sleepover” friend named Rhonda, or cousin Bill’s pending trial, or why Grandpa Willard is one the computer well past midnight every night (with the door locked), or little Stephen’s fondness for Broadway show tunes, or his sister Aunette’s 32-year old boyfriend, or Uncle Hank’s almost unhealthy fascination with high heels, or just what in the world that awful scratching noise is up in Grandma Geraldin and Grandpa Burt’s attic…..”

Every family looks “normal” in pictures, but there is always a caption right?

This past weekend I spent the thanksgiving holiday back home with my family.  It has been a number of years since I have had the blessing of doing this and I enjoyed every moment.

I realize how blessed I am to have a loving, supportive family.  I also realize for many people out there, that is not the reality.  Close to 70% of my students at church come from broken homes.  To these students, being part of the “family of God” already has prepackaged negative connotations.  It is hard for them to imagine what a healthy family looks like.  I chose to not use the word “normal” because I no longer think anyone of us can describe the characteristics or attributes of that term.  What is normal for you may be different for me.  No longer does “normal” imply 2 parents (man and wife) first marriage, 2.5 children, stay a home mom, etc….

However, within the diversity of what a family looks like “healthy” is something we all long for and desire.  I believe that is God’s dream as well…for “healthy” families who are committed to each other and united in love.

I love my family.  They know me more deeply and intimately than anyone else.  They understand my complexity and quarks, and tolerate me anyways!

My family  has walked with and beside me during my darkness and difficult moments.  My family is thoughtful, caring, generous with what they have (including their time), genuinely enjoy spending time together.

There are members of my family who disagree with me in general on a lot of things, and specifically in areas of politics, social issues, and some theological ideas.  We have discussions, debates, and may even flat-out disagree or argue on matters that seem very important to us as individuals.

Yet..we come to the table (literally and symbolically and love is there.  I was reminded of that this Thanksgiving as we sat around our table, disagreements aside as we piled on the turkey and trimmings.

Despite our differences, there is acceptance, embrace, warmth, and collective memories when we gather around the table.

As we approach the beginning of Advent this year, I am also reminded of the unity we have when we gather in the presence of Christ, for at t the table of  our Lord the same can happen.

Christ’s sacrifice for all made it possible. His continued presence affirms and enables that.

Yet, it has become striking to me how, so often, the family of God does not function or act like a healthy family.

It does look like so many broken and dysfunctional families out there and I think we would all agree that is not the ideal, desire, or dream.

Understandably, we argue and may disagree over different viewpoints of theology, politics, or various social agendas.

Unfortunately, within at the least the Protestant segment of Christianity,  churches split all the time over particular theological interpretations, political disagreements, the role of women in ministry, the place of homosexuals in church, etc.. etc… etc… (the list really does go on and on and on…..)

Individuals churches and church boards divide over finances, carpet color, budge cuts, vision, mission, the church van, what time to have services, whether or not to have service on Christmas….(how sad and ironic is that one?)

Honestly, any and every thing can, and has, been a reason for people to leave their churches, abandon the Church, or for churches to split and (within our the Protestant heritage), form newer denominations.

In today’s Christianity, factions exist but not family.

Family can and will disagree and often argue over things, but at the end of the day you are still a family.  You are committed to each other and have each others’ back.  In a family one would do anything for your sister, brother, mother, father, niece nephew, cousin, and (sometimes) distant relative like that crazy uncle or aunt everyone seems to have.

Why do we do this?

Because you are all related. Blood unifies, bonds, and holds you together no matter what, through thick and thin.  They say “blood is thicker than water”.  And family blood should be thicker than any differences.

How much more should the blood of Christ unify Christians?

I am constantly amazed at how petty issues distract and divide us from what should bring us together.

Why can churches of different denominations partner together?  Why such a divide between Catholics and Protestants?  Do we not name the same Christ?

Yes, I realize there are differences.  I have studied the history of them at length.  But at the end of the day, Jesus’ life, ministry, resurrection, and hope of redemption should be what we are all known for.

Can we come together at Christ’s table and celebrate the reality of his presence?   Can we allow doctrine such as The Apostle’s Creed to unite us, and not some narrow particular viewpoints to intentionally separate.  Why be known so much for our distinctives (which ultimately lead to exclusivity and division), when God’s hope for the world is for his children to be known in unifying love and person of Christ.

I have many differences from people at my church.  Some of cultural, some are probably more age-related than anything else.  There are lifestyle disagreements, political differences, and I would imagine theological variances. but as at sat there at our Thanksgiving Eve service I looked around and what I saw was family.  I view each member of my church and youth group as family.  We are all imperfect, flawed, and have quarks.  Be we can and should accept and love one another as God loves his children and Christ his church.

Besides my personal family, I am grateful and thankful for my church family for teaching me the value and beauty of unity in spite of differences.

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