I have an important question, one that broaches a sensitive topic, and my first instinct is to shy away from it. But I feel it is time to ask.
I want to ask it because you are important to me, and I also want to ask it because I sense others in the family might be asking it as well (though silently and in private, out of respect and deference and maybe more than a little fear of conflict).
We recently gathered again for our once-every-three-years reunion. I have always been amazed at the ability of our extended-extended family to keep these gatherings going over the years and decades. It is a special blessing.
I want to thank you for welcoming us, for spreading love around, for helping me rediscover our heritage. I appreciate all the effort (these things are a lot of work!) that my parents put in to help get us all to one place in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. A beautiful family in a beautiful setting.
It felt good to reconnect. I met and re-met so many of you (and ran out of time to get to all 90 or so people who came!), and introduced my own family to some very important people in my life. It is valuable for our kids to meet you and to see how a large family does things together, as well as to understand where their parents came from, and who they are. A formative, identity-building thing.
My question comes in that context, of a treasured experience, of love and respect for family, and of a sincere desire to preserve it.
My question is this: Is there room in our family for diversity of belief?
I honestly don’t know the answer.
Christianity has been, for many or most of our family, the glue that has helped keep it together all these decades. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandpa’s devotions, lovingly given in his role as both pastor and family member, of my grandmother’s soft words whispered in my ear about pleasing the Lord, of my father’s guitar songs around the campfire, songs that always included generous references to God the Father.
That continued at this reunion. I enjoyed the glowing face of my mother as she led children in “This little gospel light of mine” and “If I were a butterfly, I’d thank the Lord for giving me wings.” These were songs I learned before I knew how to tie my shoes. I feel like they are a part of me, and singing them brings me back to my roots.
Indeed, our family tree has deep roots. At the same time, I can sense it has many new branches. Maybe there are new trees, a whole forest growing up around the original tree.
If Christianity is at the base, can it continue to be the only food to nourish this ever-larger tree, or forest ecosystem?
If there are other views present, and if we need to expand our thinking, will we be able to do so?
The next several posts will continue this open letter.