Today social media gave me a chance to ‘find’ the six people who would come to a hypothetical Thanksgiving dinner. Since I have some very interesting friends, this gave me a list that would be a wonderful dinner party, but not Thanksgiving dinner. (I am dubious that a platform like Twitter would give me the brightest and the best of my friends anyway!)
Family friendships, and they should exist, are different.
Thanksgiving dinner is a family dinner. Friendship is might, some great writers rank it the greatest of human relationships, but it is not family. Of course, friendship is chosen to some extent and family is not which is why if one is eating dinner merely for the fellowship, then one might prefer choosing amongst friends.*
A difficulty is that so many of my friends, former students, and acquaintances do not like their family. They have little in common. Some come from bad families. Some not only have no desire to eat with family, they should not do so for their own sanity and safety.
This is a brokenness in the world that is real, but not all relationships are broken. Some mothers are excellent, even if they do not share our politics. Many siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents are not perfect, but also nothing like toxic. They may not be our intimate aquaintances any more (though that is a bit sad), but they are family.
Our heritage counts. Just as the guru who wishes us to ignore our bodies is wrong, so anyone who says our family does not matter is missing reality. Our very bones are the product of the family that brought us into the world. Like most Christians, I do not believe hereditary influences are everything, neither do I think it is all our environment. Humans have free will and if we are not self-made, we have some role in the making. Yet our heritage and our surroundings count a lot . . . Family is bone like our bone, flesh like our flesh. Often they have shared a common environment with us at the most formative ages in our lives.
This counts deeply and ideally a family dinner, a great feast, is a chance to see ourselves older (in older relatives), younger (in the kids!), or to see if we have made different choices. We tend to end up with friends who share our common interests and values, but family may not. That is fascinating and should not lead to fights, but to fellowship! We see those who share so much in common with us (right down to genetics!) that made other choices. How did this person choose that faith, politics, lifestyle?
I can listen, learn, love.
Too often consumer culture tells us we can remake ourselves, be anything if we just buy everything needed for the remodel. Family reminds us that we do not make ourselves. Family carries the wonderful duty to love those who were not selected by choice or by merit. Instead, family is where we came from, what we might have been, and where we are going.
If you cannot have a family dinner, all our prayers. There is hope for an adopted family, the family of God. However, those of us who are blessed to have this chance should keep the family feast. No media company put you at the table; love did.
I cannot wait.
*I am weirdly blessed with a fascinating family of good conversationalists, so this is not as true of me. Then again, I have some wonderful friends. . . More dinners!