Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Love Like Family

I was listening to Scott Daniels' recent sermon from Romans 12. The version of scripture he used translated one line as "love like family." That really struck a chord with me. It seems like we have a wholesome image of family in our minds, even though most people don't have the most functional or idealistic relationship to their own family.

When we think about the "love like family" line (as a way Christians should treat each other, by the way), we tend to go towards one idealistic extreme - a sort of utopia, where stress and anger and dissent are absent, replaced with nothing but warm fuzzies and lots of affection. That's not how real families function, though, is it - people who have actual family relationships understand that things aren't always easy or rosy or particularly fun. We commit to them precisely because there's something about family that means something to us. Even when you don't have any real relationship with your relatives, we tend to form families anyway - people we treat the same way, people we're committed to despite whatever roadblocks or disagreements might arise. While those are powerful and meaningful, they're not perfect either.

As I was thinking about this analogy of "loving like family," I'm wondering if the idealistic extreme that comes to mind oughtn't (that's a real word, I promise) be more like Game of Thrones. I'll admit some bias here - my wife decided to start watching the show very recently, so I've seen something like 40 episodes is three weeks - it's on my mind a bit." The show is full of regal families, reminiscent of the nobility of European past - people whose family name means something - something valuable that they're trying to protect.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we should be callously marrying off children to fulfill social or economic purposes, and, obviously, secretly plotting to kill each other whilst publicly displaying loyalty and honor seems a far cry from anything remotely Christian, I wonder if the concept of family that underlies the dysfunction isn't a more apt analogy for what Paul's trying to convey.

There is a duty present that overwrites any personal emotion; a communal consideration that outweighs individual preference. This is important. I don't want you to hate your fellow Christians - far from it - but I think Paul's calling us to respond to them with the same kind of Christ-like selfless love, even if you do.

We're certainly not going to feel ecstatic love for one another all the time - real relationships exist within the entire gamut of emotions - and we obviously disagree about all sorts of things. Love like family should trump all of that, though. In Game of Thrones, everything is a means to an end (the characters for whom it's not almost always find themselves unceremoniously dead) and if you've read just about anything I've written, you know I don't look kindly on that way of viewing the world. This is why it's an extreme - it's one thing to sublimate your own happiness for the greater good; it's quite another to force those whom you purport to love to do the same (often against their will).

Our preferred extreme isn't any better, though. Envisioning a world in which everyone loves each other so much there's never any conflict denies people their humanity in the same way. It respects no individuality or choice - it's also only imaginable in a world where our preferences are everyone else's. We've essentially composed our ideal in our image and just image everyone else in total agreement. That's as arrogant and selfish as anything done on TV.

As with most things we'd prefer to be black and white, we have to find our way in the murky middle. Obviously either extreme is problematic, neither one is "right" or desirable or something to aim for - one of them, however, is others focused. If we see family as the move towards kumbaya serenity, any disruption is going to feel personal - we're all supposed to be happy; why am I not happy? If we see it as duty, as an obligation we have to others above and beyond our own happiness, disruptions become externally focused - why is she not happy; how can I make his life better?

I suppose the gospel answer to all of this is that we find whatever "fulfillment" we need by not seeking it. We are satisfied by forgetting satisfaction. The real ideal is, in fact, an oxymoron. There's no guarantee we will be rewarded for loving others above ourselves, but there's some beauty in the logic of everyone doing it; it just seems like that would create the kind of family that both reflects reality AND our desires.

We all fall short of that, of course, but in doing so, let's remember that "loving like family" is most certainly not about our happiness -
and let's try real hard not to chop off anybody's head.

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