A few days from now, many of us will be gathering for our annual Thanksgiving dinners, either with family members, friends, or both. The day will be filled with food (“turkey and all the trimmings,” as it’s often described), festive parades with colorful floats, and traditional football games. But most important are the folks we’ll spend the day with.
And that can be a good thing – or a bad thing. I grew up watching idyllic families on TV shows like “Father Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriett,” “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Donna Reed Show.” These made for enjoyable viewing, but perpetuated the myth that everybody in a family gets along and they always love being with one another.
In our real world, complex conflicts aren’t easily resolved during a 30-minute time slot. If we’re looking for a TV counterpart, many homes are more like the classic show of the ‘70s, “All in the Family.” In it the curmudgeonly patriarch Archie Bunker regularly cast insults at the son-in-law he affectionately called “Meathead.” If nothing else, this comedy debunked the notion of families being continual lovefests.
Years ago, I saw a cartoon about a conference being held for non-dysfunctional families. No one showed up. We’re all broken people; even in the best of families, sometimes it’s a struggle to cope with each other. When someone asks, “Why can’t we all just get along,” it can be hard to offer a good answer.
I know nothing about his family, but poet Robert Frost observed that a family “is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Except too often it seems even this sentiment has faded. I recently talked with a friend who has little contact with his children, even though he and their mother divorced years ago.
With the mobility of many Americans, families find themselves stretched across thousands of miles. I had aunts, uncles and cousins in California, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. A true family reunion never amounted to more than wishful thinking. And even if that had been possible, some members would have been welcomed more than others.
In the place of the traditional family, transplants from one region to another often find a substitute. It’s often called “community,” whether that means a church, a neighborhood, a workplace, the local bar, or some other social entity. But as with families, hopes for happily-ever-after are fleeting even in the most carefully crafted communities. It was theologian and author Henri Nouwen who stated that a community is “a place where the person you least want to live with always lives.”
This reminds me of Jesus Christ and the rag-tag bunch He selected to be His disciples. They consisted of smelly fishermen, a despised tax collector, a rebel against the established government, and others who seemed like misfits at times. We don’t have a lot of details about some of them, but we know Peter was an impetuous sort. James and John were known as the “sons of thunder,” indicating they were known for periodic emotional outbursts.
There was Thomas, who seemed to question and doubt just about everything. And of course, the scheming Judas Iscariot, who was as loyal as a rattlesnake. One of the things I appreciate about the TV series, “The Chosen,” which soon will be unveiling its fourth season, is its imaginative yet plausible take on what these disciples might have been like. Much of it is conjecture, based on details found in the Gospels, but we do know the disciples argued, felt jealousy toward one another, and weren’t above self-promotion.
It's amazing how God used this unlikely gang of men to launch a spiritual movement that continues to move full speed ahead 2,000 years later. This is proof in itself of the truth of the Christian faith, grounded in the great assurance that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Scriptures teach us much about how we can “just get along,” whether in a biological family, workplace team, or a community of people sharing the same mission and values. Jesus said we’re to “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). He wasn’t speaking of a sappy, fickle emotion, but a willful, sometimes sacrificial decision of both mind and heart.
In a family or community, desires and goals are often in opposition. These can escalate into serious conflicts, or we can follow the admonition of Philippians 2:3-4, ”Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Strife within a family or community can result from judgmental attitudes toward others. Jesus warned against this, saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
The Scriptures have much more to say about relationships, but suffice it to say, if we rely on what God teaches in His Word, empowered by His Spirit that indwells us, our holiday gatherings can serve as proof that indeed, our Father knows best.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is email@example.com.