Blogging is very much a form of community engagement for me. I look at the last few posts, and there is so much to learn from one another about spirituality, religion, semantics, and how to engage in effective dialogue on the internet. It’s a relief to read thoughtful, mindful comments, and witness the kaleidoscope of human thought and perspective casting colors all over my computer screen.
The backdrop of my blog is colorful now, too. As with my post on salvation, I’ve taken inspiration from Star Foster, who recently gave the Patheos Pagan Portal a facelift. If you’re not already following that blog, you aught’a. There’s some good dialogue going on there, too.
I take inspiration from people I know. It’s something I’ve always done. As a kid, my mom was very mindful of when I was behaving less like me and more like my friends. She would tell people that she knew who I was hanging out with by the way my talking changed. All it would take was one long, holiday break with my relatives in Texas or Tennessee for me to acquire a drawl. I was pliable like that.
Mimicry, for me, was a way of understanding other people. To talk like my friends or relatives was to become a bit like them; to approach an aspect of their personality with more intimacy than was allowed for in normal conversation. It was a way of gaining insight into their lives, and into my own as well. I learned what I was and what I was not by speaking in a voice that didn’t originate in me. It was experiential, interpersonal learning, and I continue to practice it to this day.
Sharing an accent, though, is quite different than assuming another person’s belief system. I might be able to talk like my Texan relatives, but I would have a very hard time believing what they believe about God, the Bible, and my very gay relationship to my very male husband. Sometimes imitation isn’t necessary to know a person; hearing their words is plenty enough.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and family politics are on the brain. We’ll pay a brief, mid-day visit to my grandparents house, hopefully avoiding most of the anticipated drama, before heading to dinner with a predominately queer, eclectically spiritual group of friends, where we will likely spend the rest of the evening waxing philosophic about religion, tradition, and the curious experience of being human. Basically, the stuff we talk about here.
It occurs to me that I share thoughts and ideas on Bishop In The Grove that I’ve never brought up at my larger family gatherings. In a way, as a blogger, I’m shielded by the medium, protected by the space between me and whomever is reading these words. I write, I post, and then I’m free to walk away and go on with my life. I can come back to the conversation whenever I please, and if it ever goes sour I can just shut my computer and wait to deal with it until later.
But at a dining room table, sitting next to the cousins I haven’t spoken to in years, or across from the aunt who is likely to snap at any minute, there is no shielding to be had. There’s no space between my words and their responses, no easy way to shut off the conversation, and no time to wait. The dialogue can not be drafted and re-drafted before it is shared. Real-world relationships are immediate; they happen in real-time.
We experience a unique brand of vulnerability in the presence of our family. These people, who knew us before our ideas took form, before our personalities became more fixed, before we concluded that we were a Witch, or a Druid, or a Christian, or any such other thing that we’ve become, they have the ability to hurt us in ways that no one else can. The wounds afflicted by family can be some of the deepest, and some of the hardest to heal.
But, perhaps the opposite is true, too. Maybe vulnerability is not simply an opening for us to be hurt, but also an opportunity for us to become fully known, and to be deeply loved. Making ourselves vulnerable seems like a necessary risk we take in order to be in true communion with one another, and in the case of our family, where this vulnerability exists by default, perhaps we are presented with an even greater opportunity to experience real, meaningful, human connection.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling these apprehensions about family gatherings, and I’d love to get some of your insights about how you navigate the sometimes treacherous topography of Thanksgiving dinner. Do you see it as a disaster in the making, or a chance for reconnection. What is it about the bonds of family that can inspire so much dread, and also so much comfort?
I look forward to reading of your experiences and insights. Once you’ve written them in the comment field, feel free to share this post on your social network of choice.