His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “ Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you. ”
He replied, “ Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? ” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “ Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother. ”
Mark 3:31-35 (CEB)
In my upbringing family was everything. The bonds of kinship trumped any other bonds that one could think of, church, marriage, friendships. It was kind of understood that in the end “blood is thicker than water,” meaning that your family would always be there but friendships, marriages, and church relationships could be fleeting. It sounds Utopian right?
In the last six years of ministry I have experienced time and time again how destructive “family” can be. In fact sometimes the bonds of kinship make it even harder to recover from disappointment, anger, and hurt. At other times the issues are not so serious, families “get along,” but with mobility and different life experiences people change and many times they no longer hold the values of the family of origin.
I’ve been blessed in my life with a good family of origin. My parents are wonderful people who raised me and my sister in ways of life and faith. My sister and I have grown closer through the years as we have grown up and continue to make our lives what we want to make them. Thankfully I have been blessed to have left my family of origin and made covenant with Shannon and we now share three children. This “family” is my primary family and is my kinship group. In fact in Genesis 2:24 that tells us that we leave our parents and cling to our spouse and become one with them – that becomes the primary family. This is very radical in a society were kinship to one’s family of origin was highly valued.
All of this does not mean that we seek to live lives isolated from everyone and everything. I think what it means is that we begin to form other attachments to people of our choosing not necessarily family groups. These are normally groups of friends who become family to us.
I am blessed to have such important people in my life (and in the lives of our children). These people are not blood relatives but they might as well be! We have shared life together, we have grown together, and continue to be there for each other through life. In our case these people in our lives are bonded to us through baptism. Our Christian faith connects us to each other and has formed our kinship. I would say that in many important ways our connection to them is even more important than our families of origin. They know us better and have walked with us in our adult lives more so than parents and extended family have. They are in significant ways closer than kin.
I think Jesus was up to something in re-defining what kinship meant in God’s kingdom. The values are not based on some kind of family of origin but on relationships of covenant. People choosing to live the values of the kingdom made them family. Baptism becoming the sign of this covenant of kinship.
Many young people today have found these connections in their life. The church would be wise to become the kind of place where these connections can be made, where baptism truly means being grafted into the community of Christ. We should do this with intentionality, not to get more people (most people look right through that), but to live out God’s vision where the beloved community is not bound by blood kinship, national origin, ethnicity, or language, but bound by our common empowerment to be about God’s kingdom in the world.
I am thankful for my chosen family, they inspire me, strengthen me, and constantly call the best out of me. Most of all when life gets difficult, they remind me of the Good News, of the covenants that I have made, and surround me with love.
I’ve heard it said that “home is where the heart is,” family must be the same . . .