Beyond Sylvan Grove :: An Open Letter To My Family Part II

At this summer’s reunion my aunt brought to life our great-grandmother in a dramatic presentation.

Her name was Julietta, and she was raised in a small town called Sylvan Grove, Kansas. Her life was touched early on by her father’s death and her mother’s illness. She was raised for a time by a local pastor.

I loved hearing about my ancestor, feeling that she was close by. But I had a mixed reaction to the presentation as a whole.

My aunt reminded us that the ONE thing Julietta wanted to pass down to us is faith in Jesus. We heard how she was looking down from heaven and wishing that we all could remain in the joy of that faith. As the representative of the family tree at its head, she wants Jesus known and proclaimed above all. She wants us to know Jesus loves us.

On the face of it, why should anyone find that troubling? The words said by Julietta through my aunt were delivered with love, and were only the expression of well-meaning care for her family. If Jesus means love, if Jesus means family, if Jesus means all that is true, right and holy for us all, then why would anyone want to disagree or go another way?

As a family, we have come a long way from Sylvan Grove.

Steeple And Cross Set Against A Blue Sky

This wooden cross on a simple steeple set against a sunny summer blue sky reminds me of visiting the small country church in Sylvan Grove as a child.

We have spread out from that idyllic place where people were fed and nurtured on the Christian faith and a simple, plain and happy existence, into a changing and diverse world not graspable by anyone in that small town. Our family has members whose experiences and beliefs no longer match up with the worldview put forth out of Sylvan Grove.

New views of the world, new systems of belief, new faiths and non-faiths have entered the family bloodstream. These other viewpoints and beliefs are, in my view, equally legitimate to the one that came from Sylvan Grove.

Sylvan Grove The trouble with these singular narratives is just that: they are singular. They don’t allow for other stories, other explanations of the world, other lenses through which to view reality. Not everyone in our family sees Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Not everyone feels welcomed when they are told they must believe in him. Not everyone wants to base their life on his teachings. This does not make them ignorant or immoral, just human.

I don’t blame my great-grandparents for their worldview from Sylvan Grove. But I do know that as educators, they would have also wished to leave a legacy of expanding knowledge. My great-grandfather, after whom I was named — would he have wanted us to stay frozen in time, stuck in a single place, placed in a box of knowledge and not allowed out? 


The next posts will continue this open letter.


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