The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield, Free for CAPC Members
Butterfield isn’t proposing hospitality without personal boundaries, but hospitality that is open to having those boundaries widened for the sake of the gospel.
I have a new appreciation for theater snacks that can be eaten quietly. The silence that characterizes John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is loud, deeply unsettling, persistent, and far more noticeable than one might expect. Even in moments without much apparent danger, the complete lack of sound is a constant reminder that something isn’t right—especially with your neighbor crunching loudly in your ear.
The film centers on one gripping premise: a family is living in a post-apocalyptic world, and for reasons that are not readily apparent, must remain perfectly silent at all times. They’ve learned how to navigate their new reality by making sand-lined walking paths, communicating with sign language, and using a system of lights to warn each other of danger.
As the movie creeps along, we slowly learn more about this family’s world, the barbaric creatures they’re hiding from, as well as each member’s personal tragedies and hardships. The mother (Emily Blunt) is pregnant, and each member is working together to figure out how to prepare for a newborn in these less-than-ideal conditions.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. We all know the reality their unsettling environment makes shockingly clear: families are noisy. In fact, noise is a surprisingly fitting way to describe the inherent chaos of living with a group of people—children screaming, people talking over each other, arguments escalating. A Quiet Place provides two even more piercing reminders of the unique noise families bring—the screams of childbirth and the cries of a newborn. In this new world, the Abbott family has none of the modern means of subduing these noises, like epidurals or soundproof walls. Their vulnerability has nothing to cover itself. They are fully exposed.
Vulnerability among individuals is one of A Quiet Place’s primary themes. The family’s newfound challenges—birth and a newborn—are particularly poignant representations of this interpersonal exposure, but there are plenty of others. In one scene, the decision by the couple’s youngest child (Cade Woodward) to sneak a toy rocket ship out of a store puts the family in grave danger when the trinket makes a blaring noise in the middle of a silent forest. In addition, their daughter is deaf and the family is constantly aware of the unique trauma she faces in a world where the recognition of noise is their greatest defense tactic. In the scene closest to the kind of idyllic family time the Abbotts are likely to get, the children are playing a game of Monopoly (with soft game pieces) when a lantern is hit and falls over, causing a loud noise and a small fire. Even game night is dangerous.Instead of viewing each other as only possessing weaknesses to be overcome, the Abbott family reminds us that our weaknesses can make each other stronger, and the strength of community is only possible because of its vulnerability.
At the same time, this family experiences unique protections because of their relationships—over and over again the the mother and father discuss how they are going to protect their children, and even the youngest members of the family display sacrifice and courage to care for those around them. Within this protective shield, they experience small moments of reprieve from the harshness of their world—the parents dance to the music of shared earbuds and the children find creative ways to play together. One subplot revolves around the father’s persistent attempts at making a hearing aid that will restore his daughter’s hearing.
In this way, seeing A Quiet Place made me itch to write about the fragile nature of family. As the film emphasizes, being part of a family makes you uniquely vulnerable in certain ways and uniquely protected in others. But that itch was quickly met with an equal sense of unease. Too often in our desire to elevate families and the uniquely beautiful ways they sanctify us, we end up communicating the idea that that marriage and parenting are the only ways to learn about real love and sacrifice. We can easily make comments that are good-intentioned and contain some truth, but wound single and childless people. “Nothing is as sanctifying as marriage.” “I didn’t understand God’s love until I had children.” “I had no idea what true sacrifice was until I got married.”
There are certainly unique ways that marriage and parenting teach you these lessons, but the idea that you’ll never quite understand true love or sacrifice without those gifts is both false and deeply hurtful to many. We worship a savior who came to earth, identifying with our experiences and facing our temptations (Hebrews 4:15), as a single man. We believe that Jesus was the only truly whole human to ever live, and he experienced that wholeness without marriage—but not without needing other humans. He took on our human needs for food and water and our physical weaknesses, and he had the same need for human community that we were created with, from even before sin entered the world (Genesis 2:18). Scripture teaches us that singleness (just like marriage) is a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7) that allows for unique ministry opportunities (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).
Fortunately, for Christians, any lesson about “family” doesn’t merely extend to biological families. Over and over again throughout Scripture, we are told that a central part of our new identity in Christ is the church. The church is the family we have been adopted into (1 John 3:1-2), the household we are a part of (Ephesians 2:19-22), and the community that spans the globe yet trumps every other earthly loyalty. And if our community isn’t bestowing upon us the same level of vulnerabilities and protections as a biological family would, we aren’t fully grasping how serious this new identification is. While (most) nuclear families will necessitate this vulnerability and (many) will provide the corresponding joys, experiencing that same level of community with fellow believers requires participation. And while our nuclear families and our church family will have differences, we don’t have nearly a radical enough understanding of what it means to be part of a new spiritual family if we scoff at the similarities.
In A Quiet Place, each member of the Abbott family introduces unique risks to those around them, but each also introduces unique gifts that keep each other alive—in fact, some of their weaknesses (the daughter’s unusable hearing aides in particular) become unlikely means of protecting the family as a whole. Instead of viewing each other as only possessing weaknesses to be overcome, the Abbott family reminds us that our weaknesses can make each other stronger, and the strength of community is only possible because of its vulnerability. When we focus on this truth solely in the context of marriage and children, we lose sight of what is just so attractive and unique about the church—that regardless of our marital status or children, we are part of a family.
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