When we move beyond our aspirational tales about fictive kinship and we-are-family, we gain the space to examine exactly what solidarity means.” —One of us“
When kinship hasn’t also meant solidarity, I’ve felt such a sense of betrayal. It just feels wrong when people I know I have a deep, existential relationship with use their energy to work against my thriving.
The culture of “unfollow, unfriend, and block” tells me that I should demonstrate self-respect by cutting people off. I see that as a possible emergency solution, but not a routine one.
If “we’re one,” cutting others off is like performing a live dissection and more torture than healing. I haven’t learned how to do it well. And I’m not sure that I wish to. I do think we should learn to close relational chapters well, but I don’t think that means carving others out of my life.
So what are my options? (Continuing mistreatment isn’t in the budget.)
I’ve been re-reading the gospel accounts of Jesus; after all, if anyone could speak to inner circle folks becoming life- and joy-threatening liabilities, he’d be the one.
In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8, Jesus has just called his named disciples and is teaching the public. He has already stressed the Sabbath police, attracted regional crowds, and taught the parable of the sower—which is a parable about being generally accessible yet only selectively received.
Matthew and Luke are vague about Jesus’s family’s intentions, but Mark explicitly says that they’ve come to “take charge of him.” They’ve come to do an intervention, and someone tells him they’ve arrived.
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers,” he replies, a little more brusque than a Jamaican parent would have allowed. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
Given the care with which Jesus engages his mother in his last life chapter, it makes no sense to see this saying as a cold block. It makes a lot more sense to see Jesus destabilizing the sacred definitions of kinship: divesting himself of his relatives so that he can re-invest in them in a new way.
Jesus lays down his parent and siblings so that he can form new kinship relationships that respect what he’s committed to. That new family system includes everyone aligned with his lifework, including his parents and siblings once they can gather themselves and drop the belief that he’s a walking demon-vessel.
It’s not much to ask, really, that your kin stop viewing you through the lens of their suspicion that you’re carrying water for Satan. It’s hard to do a road-trip (and life is one big road trip) with a suspicion that big in the middle seat.
How I’ve heard this saying taught is as permission to dissect a family into believer and unbeliever; into trustworthy and dangerous-and-waiting-to-draw-you-into-moral-deception.
I don’t see it that way. I see it as encouraging me, us, to reconsider the logic of our relationships, to value our deepest callings and integrity enough to invite those we love to participate with us, to accept their limitations enough to leave them in their lane if that’s what they prefer, and to revise the way we engage them, but not abandon them entirely. After all, our families, our kin, aren’t the only people we serve.
I draw comfort from our glimpses of Jesus’s parent close by at the end of his life, and of his relative James giving his energy to the early church.
We don’t know how long it took them to go from “He is out of his mind” to full-bodied commitment. But they made that journey. And only because Jesus was willing to allow the original relationships to dissolve so that new relationships could form.
I’m learning from the Master.