By Martin B. Copenhaver
Rebekah called her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother is consoling himself by planning to kill you… Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while—until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him.” – Genesis 27:42-25
In a town called Normal, Illinois, there is a lovely sculpture in a park that features a husband and wife embracing and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, while their young children sit contented on their laps. The sculpture is entitled, “The Normal Family.”
The only trouble with that image of family life is that none of us live in a place that could be described as Normal. That may be why that sculpture is regularly vandalized—the vandals are striking out at an idealized image of the family none of us can live up to. As a mother once told me, “The only thing normal in our family is the knob that says Normal on the clothes dryer.”
In contrast to that sculpture, the Bible does not hold up an idealized picture of family. Instead, the Bible depicts families with rival siblings and tension between the generations. There is marriage and betrayal, children who refuse to honor their parents and parents who hold back a blessing from their children. There is love expressed in many of the families of the Bible, but there are also heated arguments and stony silences, slow-boiling resentments, and rifts as wide as a canyon.
So when I hear reference to biblical family values, I wonder: are they talking about the rifts and alienation or about the sibling rivalry and bitter resentments?
Catholic author Richard Rohr tells a story of Navajo rug weaving. These beautifully handcrafted rugs are perfectly structured, except for a corner on each rug where an obvious flaw can be found. When he asked why flaws were allowed to remain in such otherwise perfect rugs, he was told, “This is where the spirit moves in and out.”
Our families, and the families depicted in the Bible, are far from perfect. They are flawed. Yet it is exactly in those flawed places that the Spirit of God can move and where we can catch a glimpse of grace.
May your Spirit move in and out of the imperfections. Where there are flaws, let there be grace.
Martin B. Copenhaver is president of Andover Newton Theological School, New Centre, MA. A new edition of his book, Living Faith While Holding Doubts has just been published by Pilgrim Press.