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Family reimagined

Accepting the biblical invitation to open our lives to people on the margins.

Mark Glanville and his brother Luke are on a mission to reimagine kinship and its boundaries. What does that mean? “We think that the Bible is forming God’s people to embrace people on the margins as family.”

“Jesus had a reputation for creating a ‘makeshift’ family with all of the ‘wrong’ people,” Mark says, which “fulfilled what Israel was always supposed to be in the Old Testament.”

“The Old Testament was nourishing the People of God to be a contrastive community shaped by the tenderness of Yahweh, which mirrored to the world God’s heart for vulnerable people.” Thus “biblical kinship – extending family to people who are on the move and need a home – can be seen throughout the Biblical story,” he says.

Originally from Australia, Mark Glanville is an Old Testament scholar, former Christian Reformed Church (CRC) pastor and currently associate professor of pastoral theology at Vancouver’s Regent College. Earlier this year, he published Refuge Reimagined: Biblical Kinship in Global Politics (IVP 2021), which he co-wrote with his brother, a political scientist.

As Chaplain and Refugee Support Mobilizer with the Christian Reformed churches of B.C., I resonate with and am deeply challenged by what Mark says about Jesus’ invitation to become “makeshift family” with those around us, and especially with people who have been displaced. So we sat down (over Zoom) for the following chat.

Dena: Has the CRC made an “idol of biological family,” as someone said to me, in a way that inhibits kinship and hospitality? How can we address and break this idolatry?

Mark: Soften the boundaries of our lives and realize the joy of saying “yes” to Jesus’ invitation. Be confident that as we step into God’s way, exemplified by the life of Jesus, that it’s for our good and for our joy.

This is especially evident when we think of raising our kids. For [my wife] and I here in East Vancouver, we tremble to think that [our 11 and 8-year-old kids] might be brought up in a middle of the road, middle class [upwardly] mobile, or middle class struggling-to-make-it in Vancouver way. Often our lifestyles and work environments are very homogenous. We might have ethnic or cultural diversity, but they’re essentially still the same socioeconomic demographic, the same dreams, the same aspirations, the same struggles. So how can we parent and live as a family in a way that softens those boundaries and opens up our kids’ imaginations to something bigger, fresher, richer, deeper, more like Jesus’ way?

Make sure we’re sharing a table with people who perhaps have different life experiences than us, and not just as a one-off. [Being intentional] about who we are doing birthdays with, Thanksgiving and Christmas – all of those things make family. So that’s for our own personal table at home.

The other thing is worship. Homogenous worship affects our politics. When we start worshiping in diversity as the people of God, reflecting Galatians 3 and Revelations 7 – every tribe and nation – that opens up our imagination for the joy of living into God’s way and expresses the cultural diversity of the world.

For Canadians, who like to pride ourselves on our welcome of refugees, I’ve often wondered if a barrier to real kinship with displaced people is not necessarily negative rhetoric or ideas about them but rather that real kinship can be disruptive to our “safe” and “comfortable” lives. In addition to Jesus’ own life, what passages of Scripture do you think call us into the freedom and freeing disruption and service of Christ – what you call the “routine-piercing of the cross”?

Deuteronomy pictures the people of God in real life, feasting. The feasts were timed according to harvest rhythms –grain, fruit, grapes and olives. In these harvest festivals such as Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles, they’d go to the Sanctuary in Jerusalem and feast before the Lord with the refugee, the fatherless, and the widow. And it’s a great leveler because everyone is there together, feasting on the best. The divine gifts for everyone. And we become family at the feast.

So it’s this integration of life, isn’t it? It’s not about piercing my schedule but reconfiguring my familial commitments – reconfiguring the relationships that give meaning to our lives. It’s not just “helping”; it’s in solidarity, a human connection.

You write that “the challenge before us is a spiritual one. Scripture’s call to enfold the stranger is an invitation into a knowledge of God – a theological process. And it is an invitation to know God – a spiritual process.”

I can see, from reading your book and from knowing you, that you have accepted these invitations and engaged in these processes yourself. What have been some of your greatest joys in doing so?

As people who have been blessed, how can we not extend that blessing? How can we have politics of fear or lives that are exclusive as nuclear family when we know the grace of God for us? I think if we’re not being generous, if we’re not living into this joyful invitation, we don’t know, really, what we’ve been given.

When I’m angry at someone and stewing over it at 3 a.m. – the Holy Spirit pierces that, and I realize it’s not just that I’ve forgotten that God loves them, I’ve forgotten that God loves me. When I know that God loves me, then I know that this other person is beloved of God.

That’s a piece of it – by extending a makeshift family, and welcome and covenant love to newcomers, we’re extending that grace from God, and receiving that grace from God. It’s almost like an enacted, embodied receiving of God’s love.

A table of food
(Tori Lesniara, @capturedbytoriphotography)

And the other side is that when I’m being parochial and bounding my life so that no one who is vulnerable can get in except on my terms, then I’m forgetting that I’m beloved of God and receiving grace every moment. It’s that joyful ecosystem of a life in God’s world that’s God-breathed and God-given.

What are some worship practices that can help sustain and replenish our communities as we seek biblical kinship?

Lament is one. And then celebration with feasting is another.

As Christians in the west, we have impoverished emotions where we can be happy or sad, but [we don’t feel] that deep grief that God has over the broken parts of the creation – including people globally who are on the move, 82 million is the latest statistic, unprecedented in human history – and Christ grieves that deeply. And as Christ followers, we have to notice and have the sensitivity that Christ does – the emotions of Christ.

How? Liturgy is one way: we create and we find ancient and contemporary liturgies that name brokenness and, in worship before the Lord, we grieve that brokenness.

Songs of lament is another way, which can be a real challenge. If you look at the Christian top 40 you probably won’t find a single song of lament. So we need to find them (try Porter’s Gate and Tom Wuest).

It’s not enough just to lament. Because God has given us a good world, and we see beauty and celebration in Christ’s life too. Can we really feast in diversity, a Biblical feast? Can we find two or three days a year, in an annual way as worshiping communities, to gather and feast together in community? How can our leaders foster diversity so that the diversity of our neighbourhoods – including newcomers to Canada – is reflected in our worshiping communities and in our feasting?

I think that the antidote to consumerism is feasting. I think the antidote to homogeneity is feasting in diversity. It’s not a burden, it’s a feast. It’s joyful and celebratory and it’s full of music and art and food and communion.

Authors

  • Dena Nicolai is a student in the Master of Christian Studies Program at Regent College in Vancouver. She lived and worked in Egypt for four years between 2006 and 2011.

  • Dena and Mark live just a few blocks away from each other in Vancouver. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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