Ministry runs in my family in the way that military service runs in others. Most of my male relatives have been youth ministers, preachers, or missionaries at some point in their careers. My female relatives have been leaders in the church as well, and these days (I’m happy to say) are earning more formal recognition for their roles. I grew up surrounded by faith leaders, and it left a deep impression on my spirit.
Every other year, one side of my family gathers for a reunion at a sweet little camp in the Montana mountains. My mother and her siblings went to bible camp there as kids, so the place holds an aura of family nostalgia. I have so many memories of sitting around a campfire or in the wooden lodge as the oh-so-familiar melodies of old hymns soar around me – my uncles’ and aunts’ harmonies, my grandparents’ aging but faithful trebling. What can I say, my CofC background has taught me an appreciation for acapella. To this day, I never feel more comforted than when I’m in that circle of my spiritual predecessors, listening to the music of my heritage.
But there’s discomfort there, too. Because as much honor and respect and love as I have for the older generations of my family, I also disagree profoundly with pieces of their theology. And I imagine they’d say the same – I certainly live out my faith in a way that looks very different from what they’d expect (or even prefer).
So what do you do with that? How do you manage authentic, loving relationships while that discord is also in your thoughts? I’d welcome your insights. Personally, I’ve had a range of reactions over a range of situations and maturity levels – from compassionate understanding to shame to anger or scorn. Sometimes, I’ve been embarrassed of my own choices, and afraid of disappointing. At others, I’ve vented my frustration – loudly – to sympathetic ears. But mostly, I’ve been silent.
The silence piece is what I wrestle with the most. I recognize that in many families, religion is a point of division; in mine, it has always been a point of connection, despite our differences. So a large part of my motivation for silence is simply not wanting to rock the boat. I tell myself that I’m choosing love over anger, that I’m showing compassion.
But there’s a little voice in my head that asks if I’m actually being a coward, being inauthentic. This voice was born sometime in college, when I started to realize that my CofC bubble was neither omnipotent nor flawless. It bloomed when I moved away from Abilene and engaged in a much broader world of faith and social justice. It pushes me to embrace advocacy. It points out that as I bring my black fiancé into our almost entirely white family, I should be prepared to challenge the unintentionally ignorant comments that will probably arise. It remarks that as an articulate, confident millennial with some literacy in both progressive and conservative traditions, I’m in a unique place to speak out. To explain how my lifestyle isn’t incongruent with our shared faith.
So currently, here I sit: in the tension between my silence and the little voice, seeking to develop within myself a middle ground. Praying that God will grow me into a person for whom grace, unconditional compassion, and constant advocacy are somehow intertwined rather than at odds.