Church as (dysfunctional?) family

This allegorical blog post is written as a response to the latest Roman Catholic – Evangelical dialogue meeting here in Saskatoon. The meeting was about the nature of the Church.

I am growing up as a part of a dysfunctional family. My grandparents stayed put in their house far away from any society to speak of and over the years failed miserably in communication with my father. They lead a very somber and devout Christian life, in almost perfect witness to the world they were surrounded by defending the belief and values of our family to the point of death even. But, as one of the results of their devotion, they forgot to talk with my father in a way he could understand. My dad, (I guess I should say ‘my father’ because he prefers that) got somewhat disoriented by the lack of communication and the old language and ways that his parents still used. He grew tired of always having to consider his grandparents (and their friends) wishes and impositions to his ways of doing a thing that was more in tune with current society. They were not that relevant anymore, he thought! They didn’t know the appropriate way to respond to a hurting world. After much deliberation, and many warnings from his parents he decided to set himself apart from certain long-held beliefs of his parents.

In the long and tedious studies that ensued he encountered a woman (my mom) who was very structured and seemed interested in what he was discovering. She aided him in shaping and understanding a faith that could be pragmatically brought to the masses in structured forms and with governance. They both loved to study. It is pretty sad because in their study and pursuit of wisdom they forgot to just be with Wisdom.

Eventually, they got married and they grew even more alienated from my grandparents. My grandparents were scandalized by some of the new definitions that my dad discovered about the faith but most of all they were increasingly worried about the importance dad seem to give to himself. Dad wanted the place of honor when the family gathered for supper or counsel. My grandparents gave this to him in the hope that he would lead the family well and into the future. But trouble around the table continued and deepened as dad’s (oops, my fathers) studies continued. Soon enough they were not on speaking terms anymore (really they didnt even speak the same language any longer) and soon after this dad said that his parents (my grandparents) were not welcome at “his” table anymore! (I always wondered how he reached the conclusion that it was his table and not the whole families) and in response, my grandparents said that he and my mom was not welcome to their table (wherever they got that other table from, I don’t know?).

In the chaos that ensued many embarrassing events took place. Everything from lawsuits to outright fistfights and turf wars over property. It got pretty ugly and other families and tribes took notice. Our family reputation took a big hit.

Being a child of a dysfunctional family like this I was prone to protest and rebellion. All of my life I have had this tension within myself, without really knowing why. I have a sense that I could learn a lot from my grandparents but there is no real way of getting a hold of them anymore (they actually seem to have reached a point where they don’t care about anyone else than themselves and their friends). I have a sense that I am a child of parents who now try to mediate between all the factions that have ensued between all their kids (and the grandkids). They seem to have realized some of their mistakes and are trying to backtrack a bit and host family reunions. Some people never show up of course but my grandparents and my parents are on speaking terms again. I think they are planning a meal together soon. Even though it is a very long process to determine what exactly should be on the menu and how it should be served… My grandparents seem to be fine with not knowing what exactly is being served while my parents are pretty serious about nailing the menu down (maybe a result of their rigorous study?).

What I’m slowly realizing is that I can’t understand who I am without looking back on my family history. I can’t move forward without reconciling some of my family histories. For me to move on, to forgive and to ask forgiveness, I need to know what it is I need to ask forgiveness for and what to forgive. 

In the moment of protest, when I swore myself off from all the things (good and bad) that my parents stood for I didn’t realize this. At that time I thought I could invent my own, practice of the faith, build my own table and take my own counsel. That I could just “move on”. It just seems like the more I nurture those inclinations, the further me and my siblings (and our children) are sliding apart. I am realizing that I have to view myself as a part of my family even though I don’t like everything about it.

With that in mind, I recently tried to phone my grandparents in the hope that they could provide some answers in how to mend some of the relationships but all I got was and answering machine: “We are right, you are wrong. Return to our way of doing things and all will be well.” It seemed like a pretty straight forward answer but how do I do that when they don’t even want to spend some time with me (not to mention eat with me and my younger family). I wish that they would let people belong so that they might believe rather than the reverse. To me, they sound grumpy and that they never got over the breach with my parents. Maybe it is unwise to ask counsel from someone who can not even reconcile things with their own children..? I eventually phoned my parents to see if they had any insight into the matter of reconciliation and even though they were very helpful and keen to talk and meet I got the impression that when push comes to shove, I will have to accept their view of what the family should believe if I want to eat at the family table. They don’t really want (or need) my input. 

You see, the sad thing is that our family believe basically the same thing when it comes to the important stuff. We believe that God is Trinity (even though me and my siblings sometimes mix up how that belief came to be), that Jesus is both God and man, that salvation is found in Christ, that Scriptures is the true Word of God and so on. The trouble begins when we get technical and scholastic in how exactly we interpret these essentials. We have talked forever about how Scriptures relates to tradition and in doing so failed to observe the miracles that are continuing to happen in the family. We have talked about what the nature of the family is (not one single time since the great breach has this discussion had all the family members represented… It’s going to be pretty hard to agree upon the nature of the family if only say 67% of the family gets a say in the matter…)

We more or less agree upon these important things but we continue to sweat the smaller stuff like how to dress, talk and sing in the “right” way. I believe that if we took the time to go to the bottom of what we believe and if we track the issues through all the hurt, pain, and history we would discover that our dysfunction and division as a family is  based on our refusal to truly know the one another. It’s because we don’t want to know the one another that we do not want to eat together any longer (da..!).

With that being said I still hope for a true family reunion sometime in the future. Lots of good things are going on as we wait and tarry. However, like any true reunion it needs to contain a real family meal. Otherwise, it is just talking and socializing and that kind of thing is offered by many other families.DSC_0501.

(If you have not guessed it already, in this allegory the Canonical Orthodox Church is symbolized by the grandparents. The Roman Catholic Church are the parents. I am writing as a part of the protestant Church and the grand chldren are the evangelical church. The wife that my father married is the state.)