The Desired Family

A couple of days ago my friend Alan posted on hir blog a striking reflection on Luke 8.19-21. The gist of Alan’s argument was that Jesus did not come to protect so-called “traditional” family values, but rather through his ministry created a new sort of family relationship that was not tied to bloodlines and family structures but rather whether one was within the desire (thelema) of God–that Jesus’10447055_657248383161_7838373164928455718_n teaching deconstructs prevalent notions of family that existed in the Greco-Roman world and persist to today. God’s reign does not only bring shalom to heteronormative middle American nuclear families, but to those of us whose families look a little weirder than normal.

The myth of the nuclear family still pervades Western imagination. Even in the gay rights movement what we essentially see is a retrofitting of the nuclear family myth to include same sex parents as opposed to the expected opposite-sex pairing of mom and dad. The same sex parents adopt or have children through surrogacy in order to achieve the required 2.5 broodlings, and perpetuate the familial structure that has been ingrained in the American psyche since the days of I Love Lucy. That’s the kind of family the media feeds us, the kind of family that makes it into a prime time sitcom spot (even though I adore Modern Family).

Many of the arguments for inclusion from the Christian equality activists–bless them!–even seem to focus on including this kind of family, without really considering whether the image of family that their activism endorses is really appropriate for the ones on whose behalf they speak.

But what about those families that aren’t quite as normal looking? What about those families that don’t fit the expectations of popular imagination? What about those families I like to describe as “post-nuclear,” whether by accident or by choice? Childless couples? Single adults? Close more-than-friends, not-quite-couples? Monastic communities? Non-custodial parents? The mentally and physically disabled? Extended relations all gathered under one roof? Celibate LGBTQ couples?

We frequently use the term “family” in a sort of quasi-nostalgic way when we speak of our work “family,” or our college “family”–what we typically mean is our incredibly close friends, but we use an image-caked word to conjure exactly how close they are. We mean people with whom we share life in common. In the economy of thelema that Jesus’ preaching advocates, it seems as though the sex-soaked bonds of genos and patria are being dissolved in favor of a vision of family that rests in shared life in common, where a community can be a locus of soul-making and bestowing blessing upon its individual members–and moreover, a community where we can respond to being desired by God by communally desiring God in return.

I know this is the case for me–my family is queer all on its own, though I’m the only person in it who identifies as queer. I’m a divorced, gay, non-custodial parent who lives 1,200 miles distant from my kid, born the old-fashioned way in my previous mixed-orientation marriage. My experience of what “family” is has been redefined by virtue of accident and geography, and it is decidedly non-traditional–but I’m still my child’s father by blood, her dad by choice, and our relationship is such that it opens deep wells of love within me that I’m never quite sure are there until I hear, see, or touch her. It’s astoundingly difficult and yet this “family arrangement” pulls riches out of my soul I didn’t realize lay buried under my own fears and doubts about whether or not I’m still her dad at the end of the day.

In the household of God it’s as if we are still living under one roof, and in that space I find us both in the divine thelema, living as family together with my blood relatives as well as those brothers and sisters, those with whom I share not blood but an experience of living in the divine desire. Together our love for Christ and belovedness by Christ grafts us into a gene-transcending family tree. And that familial space becomes an environment in which we can indeed grow into the full stature of the maturity of Christ, for whom “family” meant an unwed mom, a foster dad, petulant half-brothers, and a band of friends who loved him in absurd and beautiful ways.

I think in some ways it is a calling to embrace a queer way of doing family, because the witness of a queer family tells the world that shalom is not just for the socially privileged, for the normal, for the regular. The beauty of divine desire is that it embraces the weirdnesses that we all carry with us throughout our life. And my concern in all of this is whether or not our churches will be inclusive enough to recognize the way that divine desire is already knitting people together into divine families, weirdnesses and all. Perhaps one day they will; until then, we’ll keep on being family.

Talk Inclusive To Me, Baby

Let’s talk about inclusivity and the church.

And let’s not talk about how any one people group needs to be included more than any other; we progressive Christians have harped on that long and loud enough. If we truly believe in a God whose charge to us was a ministry of reconciliation, then we cannot get big heads about being inclusive while continuing to excise certain individuals and groups from the table. It’s become vogue to talk about inclusivity, but what does inclusivity really mean? There will always be a group that isn’t getting their fair share of the shalom of God, and our missional obligation is to right this imbalance of embrace in order to ensure that all people are welcome at the banquet table.

See what I said there? All people need to be welcomed at the banquet table of Christ. And the movement of embrace is the most powerful prophetic witness that we have. It is in embrace that evil is disarmed and hearts once opposed to one another are transformed into hearts that love one another. It is in the movement of embrace that God has embraced us in Christ, even in the midst of suffering the worst that humanity has to offer. The movement of embrace says to our oppressors, I forgive you, and to the ones oppressed, please forgive me. It requires humility, and in fact may be humiliating. Actually, it is humiliating, because Christ’s embrace of all humanity came from arms stretched out by an instrument of torture and a whispered and weary “Father, forgive them.”

Embrace welcomes the weeping Peter back into the fold.

Embrace welcomes the thief into paradise.

I would even go so far as to say that embrace can welcome Judas into the kingdom of God.

And Christ-bearing embrace, if we practice it in our lives, can welcome our Peters, our thieves, our Judases into the kingdom of God with us. Embrace can heal the world.

If we practice the movement of embrace, who will we find at the altar rail alongside us? In whom will we find Christ extending a hand, an opportunity to welcome and be welcomed? Do we have the boldness to take Christ’s hand in the other and ask them to dine with us? God help us that we would be so bold as to trust in the ministry of reconciliation which we have been given.