At my mother’s family reunion every summer there’s a tradition called “circle time,” where everybody pulls their lawn chairs into a circle and each family gives their news from the past year. Then there are emails and letter read from those who can’t attend, new genealogy is shared, pictures passed around. I love it and look forward to it each year. (Many of the family in-laws hate it and, curiously, decide to take a walk around the lake about the time the chairs are being dragged into a circle...) Whatever...there’s room for everybody in this big extended family.
At the end of circle time, we count how many have attended, a hat is passed for contributions toward the next year, and we stand and hold hands and sing “Blest be the Tie that Binds.”
And that circle, created when we stand and face each other holding hands, it’s a ritual for us that reminds us how we are connected to one another. In a circle, you see everyone face to face. It’s hard to turn your back on someone when you’re standing in a circle. It’s a moment, once a year, for the family to express to each and all of its members that each on is valued, cared for, a part of the whole. “We see you and love you ” just as you are standing in this circle ~ we are bound together.
OK. It’s a little hokey, I know. But it’s a tradition that’s been passed down for generations and it means family to us. So much so that the some of the next generation have wanted to include a circle and this hymn in their wedding services. So, I figure, we must be doing something right.
Families. They can be both a blessing and curse. Siblings and cousins are the people who have known us our whole lives. They often have the most significant impact on who we are, our “forever friends,” as my mother used to say, and my siblings and I would roll our eyes. And yet, I often tell my daughters to get to know their cousins, even though they live at a distance and are somewhat older than they. “When Dad and I are gone, your cousins will be your family—they’ll be there for you.”
We often think of the church as a family. Perhaps that’s because Jesus called God, “Abba,” “Papa,” “Daddy,” Such an intimate name for God, the Father.
Jesus must have known that there are no perfect people and there are no perfect families. Families are messy and imperfect. Families have ups and downs, they have their struggles and their "moments," and they sometimes--well, pretty often-- disagree. That is to say, conflict is a normal part of family living. And a church family is just the same. As 7-year-old Nancy wrote in the book Children’s letters to God: Dear God, I bet it’s very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.
In Matthew 16, we learn that Jesus knew that about families and about being a community of faith. That simply being a member of such a family means being engaged in the tension that living together with all our differences creates. But it’s a funny thing about families. Although this is the part of being a member of a family that might be the toughest…it is also the part that has the greatest potential to make us learn and grow. The dynamics in one’s family make the biggest impact on our social and emotional growth, and the same is true with church families.
Jesus says when a conflict arises, deal with it directly, face to face. First one-on-one, then with a few others, finally as a body. Like standing in a circle, don’t turn away, but speak directly to one another, staying connected and widening the circle if need be.
Because the invitation to church is an invitation to come as you are, in other words, to be real—to be authentic. And that implies that there we, the members of this body, will bump up against each other, we’ll disagree and there will be conflicts. And, yet, there are few places...a family, the church...where you we are bound together by ties of love, and faith and tradition, throughout generations...and, essentially, loved through and despite our differences.
Our monthly Breakfast Church ends in a circle standing hand in hand, when we offer prayers and sing together before ending our worship. For me, this is the church...a circle of souls, hand-in-hand, facing the challenges and opportunities that come our way among authentic, imperfect and faithful people, working together despite all their differences to follow God’s call. Caring for one another even when they disagree, and growing together in Christ. Blest be these ties that bind.