Letter from the Editor: Loving Your People

If the final weeks of the year are filled with anything, it’s family. Which typically means there is also feasting—hello, turkey and sweet potato casserole and cake (or pie, if that’s your bent). But where family and feasting abound, we would be remiss not to give fighting a mention. Families are made up of people who are often pulled thin by the year-end hustle, making them ripe for a squabble.

Family is messy because people are messy. Despite the unrest, we need family because we need relationships to anchor us to people and places that define us and call us to belonging. Many of us would rather be among a people of our own choosing—people who think like we do with shared ideals and beliefs and notions of propriety. Family isn’t like that though. We are born into a people we had no say in choosing. Short of abandoning our family fold, our options are limited. Emotional walls are the solution most of us choose for keeping the more unseemly ones at a distance. Otherwise, family membership isn’t up for editing.

In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the features and support pieces help us think through the way we relate to our people.

Kicking off the discussion is Lyle Enright’s “The Spiritual Topology of Sleep Well Beast,” which looks at the music of The National and how it speaks to the need for grace in our relationships with others:

“Henri Nouwen, in The Life of the Beloved, argued that the chief ailment of the developed world is this sense of purposelessness, emptiness, and alienation. ‘The suffering of which I am most aware on a day-to-day basis,’ he says, ‘is the suffering of the broken heart,’ or, as I believe the same sentiment appears on Sleep Well Beast, ‘the wilderness without the world.’ In such a wilderness, Nouwen longed for communion, for a loving embrace—essentially to have the world back from between our own ears. ‘I have no positions / No point of view or vision,’ Berninger sings on ‘I’ll Still Destroy You,’ eschewing theory once again: ‘I’m just trying to stay in touch with anything I’m still in touch with.’ Throughout the album, the band refuses to pontificate on the nature of broken hearts and instead presents them in all their starkness, living and breathing their ways through a capricious New York winter.

“It’s tempting to see Sleep Well Beast as an exercise in futility, however sophisticated and intelligent its topology. The National is good at being sad, it seems, but why should we join them? I think such an assessment misses what’s really going on here: every song is a crisis, certainly, but one for which the remedy is also clearly in sight: patience, presence, the tenacity—or perhaps luck—in seeking out a time and space to renegotiate those things that time has made a mess of. The real message here, I think, is that if heartbreak is particular to our times and places, to our own networks of relationships, then grace must be as well. We tend to invoke grace broadly in our worship culture, believing that it blankets everything, but grace which does not address itself to particular situations is hardly efficacious.”

Relationships are difficult because of the way they reach so deep into our hearts, right where we are most vulnerable. We were made for these family relationships, which is why the void of their absence can be equally painful. Kendall Vanderslice explores the way that friends become family with her feature titled “Friends-giving Gives Everyone a Seat at the Table“:

“The kinds of celebrations central in both Gilmore Girls and Friends have earned their own name in popular culture today: Friends-giving. Adults across the United States organize and host celebrations complete with roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. For some, this is an alternative when genetic family is unavailable, for others it is an additional celebration, where the spirit of Thanksgiving is spread to other close relationships too. It might sound like a silly tradition to those who regularly spend Thanksgiving with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But for adults who don’t have a family of their own, it’s a trend that provides much-needed communion in the loneliness of the holidays.

“It should be no surprise that around the dinner table we—Lorelai and Rory, Phoebe and Chandler, my roommates and all kinds of friends—find relationships that provide the care we so crave. These friends have discovered the depth of goodness that God designed each meal to provide. At the heart of Christian tradition is the creation of a new family around a meal of bread and wine. This table fellowship should be the hallmark of how we learn to live as the family of God—forsaking the limits of bloodline to be family with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. This doesn’t mean just congenial conversation over coffee and cookies after the service. It means sitting down at a table for the witty banter, the bitter fights, the deep laughter, the tearful confessions.”

Finding a place where we belong is a treasure, whether that’s with blood relatives or those we can be fully at home with—the relationships that can survive bickering and misunderstanding and reality. It’s our closest bonds that allow us to be fully who we are, warts and all. Although we may prefer the more polished versions of ourselves, that’s just a bit of the truth. To be known fully and truly takes the full measure of love. It takes a willingness to embrace another, all in, come what may. And in this world, that’s asking a lot, because we face all manner of brokenness and heartache and troubles. Our families are the ones who have our backs, despite our flaws and despite theirs. This is what K. B. Hoyle writes about in “Walking in Joyce Byers’s Footsteps: Motherhood in a Stranger Things World.” She identifies the discontent many moms experience as they seek support for the very real, very messy process of mothering in a world that’s rarely reflective of the classic Norman Rockwell family:

“[I]n today’s world, where many women struggle to connect modern feminism with what it means to be a Christian—and especially in a world that often seems a lot darker and more broken for women than the burlaps and flowers version we’re given at church—pleasant and comfortable often feels dissonant with reality. For those of us who are mothers, navigating this world to the flourishing and wellbeing of our children often feels a lot more like the Upside Down of Stranger Things. Where women’s ministry events have often left me empty and uninspired, I was captured last summer by a story that laid bare my heart as a mother and provided an unlikely, yet true, example of biblical motherhood.

“Joyce Byers from Stranger Things doesn’t look like a Proverbs 31 Woman, nor is she a picture of what one typically thinks of when one imagines a ‘good Christian woman.’ She’s not ‘soft’ or meek or mild. She doesn’t defer to the authority of the men in her life. She’s a literal mess: divorced, harried, works long hours to support her two latchkey sons, smokes like a chimney, and she’s a fighter. But I would argue that this axe-wielding woman—who clings and testifies to the truth on the behalf of her son when no one else believes her, who strings lights in the darkness to lead her son home, and who knows when to let her son feel actual pain—is a paragon of what biblical motherhood should look like.”

Being real family to each other is costly. Darkness is real, as are mistakes, confusion, distance, stress, and more. If we are to be the sort of people who fight for each other, we will likely need to get our hands dirty and put our hearts on the line. The people closest to us need us to be present, to hope all things for them, and possibly help them find their way by the light of grace and mercy. May your family gatherings be full of light and love in all the right ways.

—Erin Straza

In This Issue

The Spiritual Topology of Sleep Well Beast

The National’s latest, Sleep Well Beast, affirms that if heartbreak is particular to our times and places, to our own networks of relationships, then grace must be as well.

by Lyle Enright

Friends-giving Gives Everyone a Seat at the Table

For adults who don’t have a family of their own, Friends-giving is a trend that provides much-needed communion in the loneliness of the holidays.

by Kendall Vanderslice

Walking in Joyce Byers’s Footsteps: Motherhood in a Stranger Things World

Joyce Byers—an axe-wielding woman who strings lights in the darkness to lead her son home and who knows when to let her son feel actual pain—is a paragon of motherhood.

by K. B. Hoyle

Obama, Cosby, and America’s Black Family

I’ll thank God that President Obama is a faithful leader of his family, in the midst of my concerns about how he would, and did, lead our country.

by Rachael Horner Starke

Cool Takes: In Praise of Family, the Holidays, and Khloe Kardashian

Physical proximity leads to greater compassion. So why do we excuse our families from that equation?

by S.D. Kelly

What To Do When a Family Member Posts Something Stupid on Facebook

“Instead of neat place to spy on people with permission, Facebook has become a place where people go to wear tin foil heads and complain about the government.”

by Brad Williams

Downton Abbey: All In the Family

Even though the characters of Downton Abbey are fictional, they depict very real human emotions, situational responses, and family dynamics.

by Jewel Evans