You don’t get to pick your relatives. It’s a fact of life. This means that some will be more like us than different, and vice versa. This is why the holidays can be so stressful for us. We’ve all got that uncle who doesn’t have a filter, that aunt who doesn’t know when enough is enough, that nephew who screams their head off when they don’t get their way, and that grandparent who lives on a different planet. Well, maybe not those exactly, but you know what I mean. Yet still they are family. When one of them is hurting we long to be with them, to be a comfort to them, and we love them. We may want to kick out that one who grates on our last nerve, but we don’t. Why? Because they are family and that’s not what you do to family. You stay together and you love one another, you fight and you make up, you slam doors and you throw fits, but you don’t separate. Family is not something that we should ever give up on.
I recognize that some reading this may read that and that hasn’t been their experience. Maybe you were cast out of your family. Maybe you turned your back on them. Maybe love was conditional as long as you didn’t get “out of line”. Families are complicated, and none of them are perfect. That’s not an excuse as much as it is a truth. It’s not how it should be, and I believe that what I’ve written above is how it should be. Yet we all know that things don’t work the way that we believe they should.
In families when big decisions need to be made, the family should gather and wrestle together with what to do. Recently my United Methodist family got together in what we call a “General Conference”. This was a special family meeting that was to focus on whether or not we would welcome some of our brothers and sisters into the family as full members. This family meeting was as I expected it to be. It was messy. One side of the family came with a plan, and the other came with another. It started out with tension, and ended with yelling, crying, and hurt feelings. One side of the family kind of got what they wanted, and another was left with provisional membership in the family. They could come and visit, but they aren’t allowed a bedroom at home. This isn’t new information, and it’s not a new decision. It’s the same decision the family has been making since 1972. Yet that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
I’m proud of my Methodist family, and also a bit ashamed. I’m proud because we could have divorced over this, but we didn’t. I’m proud that we are talking about how we include these family members. I’m ashamed because we chose not to include them fully. I’m ashamed that my United Methodist family still fights over whether or not to include these people who are clearly members of the family. I’m sad because there are members of the family who feel threatened if they welcome these children of our heavenly Father. I’m sad that there seems to be no welcome to compatible solutions whereby we can all stay family if we recognize everyone as equal members in the family. I’m determined to stay in this family. We are diverse, though not as diverse as I’d like us to be. We can be ugly, and our meetings can get messy and hurtful, but I refuse to believe that is the defining characteristic of our family. We are people who hold together holiness and justice, who hold together our heads and our hearts, who seek to do no harm (though often harm comes despite our intention), and who truly do love God. I have hope for this family because I know God, and I believe that the Holy Spirit isn’t done with us yet.
Family is hard, messy, difficult, and so much more. I can’t imagine life among another family, and so I will continue to love my brothers and sisters. Those who are welcomed into the house and have their own rooms, and those who are welcome to visit but aren’t treated as I think they should be. I would give them my room if I could. Instead I’ll just give them my voice. In my Father’s house there are many rooms, and I won’t stop until everyone can settle into their place in my Father’s house.