Being “Family”

Alex, a UCC Minister (and onetime fellow student at Andover Newton Theological School), recently gave voice in his blog to some really excellent and cogent thoughts on the nature and ramifications of seeing our congregation(s) as “family.”  (That blog entry, entitled “The trouble with Being a ‘Church Family’ can be found here.)

And he is absolutely right: conceiving of our church as a family can exclude or intimidate many who are looking for (and need) acceptance and affirmation.  Acceptance into membership within a family can be difficult, it usually takes a long period of courtship or else birth (into the family) to achieve it.  Churches are no different, as we all know.  So, if Church is a family, says Alex, then it is a very different kind of family, one that is not insular, one that is not a closed system.

Now, I do envision church as a family, but a very different sort of family.  I see my congregation as being one local expression of the “Family of God” – which is a very large family, indeed!  …A family consisting of all of God’s people, and even of all creatures in God’s Creation- past, present and future.

In that light, the challenge in being a member of a “Church Family” is to recognize that anyone who walks through the door already is part of our family.  So, the challenge is not for the newcomer or outsider, but for us: one of how we are to affirm and embrace everyone as family from the moment we first encounter them. We certainly don’t want to overwhelm people the moment they walk through our doors, but we also don’t want to raise barriers that would frustrate them in their search for fellowship, or healing, or nourishment of their faith.

Ultimately, we are constantly always involved with one sort of family or another, usually more than one.  A Church can be one of those families.  As such, it is best to remember that in a healthy family, each member is celebrated and supported for who they are, not condemned for who they are not.  God loves each of us without exception or limitation;  and so we are called to love everyone else in turn, and without exception or limitation.

In the end, Alex and I both agree: we are all part of the same family, but it is a very different sort of family: one without boundaries or barriers to membership within it.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

You Sheep Scattering GLORY SEEKER!

Slapping a label on someone is a defense mechanism, it distances “the other” from us: making them seem to be “less than” in our minds. Labels can make others seem inconsequential or less than human, and so easier to dismiss, or ignore, or exclude, or oppress – or hate.

Labels hurt.

RPW2011_003
Lost in My Life (Price Tags)
by Rachel Perry Welty (2009) from the permanent collection of the Decordova Museum in Lincoln, MA

Not that this isn’t uncommon; but I’ve recently encountered quite a string of people who, being frustrated with my (admittedly) Progressive views, labeled me with various terms, including: “Anti-Jew”, “Palestinian Lover”, “Left Winger”, “Commie Extremist” (really?), and (my favorite) “sheep scattering GLORY SEEKER!”  (A close relative of this is the tendency some have to use phrases that reveal the unspoken labels they’ve applied to you.  Some of the most galling of these – for me – are when such phrases are used in a patronizing way, such as: “Your heart’s in a good place.”)

These attempts to make me into something other than I am got me to thinking: I was slapped with a label; then condemned or belittled for being (in their eyes) that label.  But, they know almost nothing about me beyond their label. So, they are condemning a label, not me – a phantom that has no reality.  There is no reason why I should accept such labels – or any label – as reflecting the “real me”; and in fact they say more about the person who bestowed the label upon me than they do about who I am (or who you are).

We all have a tendency to label people and things – it’s a perfectly natural thing to do. In fact, we are far more likely to do it to someone we don’t know than with someone who is close to us – and I’ll tell you my theory as to why…

Continue reading “You Sheep Scattering GLORY SEEKER!”