Forgive me, I’m pulling double duty on this blog because my sermon for this week is on family and the advent season. But I logged on today and saw all of the pictures of Lauren’s family and listened to the stories my roommates told about their family thanksgivings: What they ate, what games they played, what uncle/grandmother/aunt made an inflammatory political/religious statement that got cousin x/mom/brother going off on a tirade. And I thought about how important family was in this advent season and how important understanding those relationships are for understanding intentional living.
Stay with me. Even in this time of the “it’s all about family” Lifetime Movie Network Christmas specials, I will resist and avoid as much as possible the sort of sentimental family-oriented gunk that clogs up a lot of Church Christmas literature and worship. A caveat and a confession: First a caveat, I love my family and, like a lot of people, think they’re the best and greatest family in the world. I also humbly confess that I’ve been known to watch a sappy Christmas Special, or 10. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find one I haven’t seen. I just think that anyone who spent the last week with their family, no matter how well-adjusted, knows that the picture perfect end to a Christmas special isn’t how family really works. Think: the whole family huddled together in one group hug, every problem solved, no ambiguous questions, while little Timmy tells big sister Tammy, “You’ll always be my best friend!”
We all know family is more complicated than that.
Growing up, my mom had a pillow her sister cross-stitched for her. On it, it said, “Sisters are Friends God chooses for you.” For my sister and I that was probably true . . 40% of the time. Especially during our teenage years. It often felt like, “Sisters are people God forces you to live with even though they steal your clothes and drop the blow dryer so it breaks and tell mom when you sneak in past curfew,” and that was on a good day. Sisters are friends God chooses for you, but sisters (and family) are also the people who know how to push your buttons, how to scare you to death with their choices, and, worst of all, how to hurt you irreparably.
But there is some truth to that pillow. Because the thing about family is that it comes with this built-in commitment. Your family is your family. You don’t have to like each other, but you’re still family. Even estranged family members are still family members. And that’s a beautiful albeit scary thing. It’s a way for us to see a glimpse, even if it’s just a warped and twisted sliver of a glimpse, of God’s commitment to us.
Intentional community is trying to tap into that kind of commitment. The kind that says, “my intention here is not politesse. My intention is not to have a Lifetime Movie Network group-hug ending. If that happens, that’s a beautiful by-product of what we’re trying to accomplish. My real intention is to commit to living together with you. To admitting I am human and allowing you to be so as well. My intention is to learn how to be in relationship with you, because I don’t have any other choice.”
Our real intention, our real, idealistic, pie-in-the-sky intention, is to show even the tiniest glimmer of the kind of reconciliation and love that God has promised to us. And I think I prefer that to group hugs, anyway.