Who is your family?

“Family” will be the topic of the worship service led by our confirmation class in May. What comes to your mind when you think about family? The class has discovered great variety among their families; among these 10 students they have same-gender parents, divorced parents, heterosexual parents, step-parents, step-siblings, half-siblings, families formed through adoption, family members who are transgender or gender non-conforming, and families filled with friends, pets, and neighbors who enrich their lives.

There is no such thing as a “simple” family.

In preparation for our conversations, I have enjoyed reading a variety of books about families. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung describes the author’s experience of being an adopted Korean child raised by white parents. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love centers on author Dani Shapiro’s shock at discovering that her recently deceased father had no biological connection to her. A simple DNA test uncovered both secrets and a biological family that threw her understanding of herself into turmoil. Nishta J. Mehra explores definitions of “family” in her book Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion as she describes the many ways her family, with same-sex parents and an adopted child of a different race, challenges our society’s “norm” of white, straight, biological families.

              Families come in every shape and size and can be created in many ways.

The confirmation class has looked at biblical families like Abraham and Sarah’s, which is large, sprawling, and filled with such complex connections that a written family tree is the only way to sort out who is who and how each person is related to the other. I was reminded of this when I visited a parishioner who introduced her guest as her third cousin; they cheerfully outlined their family history that reached back through a complicated mix of grandparents, cousins, and marriages.

The class read about dysfunctional families; the first book of the Bible contains both the murderous Cain and Joseph’s treacherous brothers who abused and rejected him. The lack of caring and compassion is breath-taking. (Ultimately there is healing and forgiveness, but it’s a long time coming). When our family of origin fails us, it can be wise to create a chosen family who will offer the love and support we deserve. Often the strongest family systems are created by choice or circumstance; we can be inspired by the biblical examples of Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David, or Jesus and his disciples.

Who is family to you? How do you stay in touch with those who love and support you?  In our busy lives, we often need to be intentional about making time to talk, visit, and catch up with one another.

Big or small, biological or chosen – family is a gift. How will you tell your family how much they mean to you today?

*If you’d like to read about some families in the Bible:

  • Cain and Abel: Genesis 4
  • Abraham and Sarah: Genesis 17
  • Joseph and his brothers: Genesis 37 and 45
  • Ruth and Naomi: Ruth 1
  • Jonathan and David: 1 Samuel 20
  • Jesus and his disciples: Matthew 4