Despite a mounting body of research showing that high rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births pose serious threats to the well-being of children, mainline Protestantism has had remarkably little to say in recent years about the nature, health and prospects of the family.
My grandfather was the Reverend Calvin Titus Perkins, known as C.T. He was a Southern Baptist evangelist—a traveling preacher in Oklahoma, the former Indian Territory. He arrived in a covered wagon as a very young boy, and the famous Oklahoma dust seems embedded in the black-and-white photos I’ve seen of him. He was a man of passion but also a lover of order, a believer in rules. The bare bones Calvinism that flourished on the frontier offered him not only a faith but a way out of chaos and poverty.
It’s official: our entire household is obsessed with outer space. Our children have a solar system hanging over their beds, our upstairs hallway is graced by images of the Milky Way, and when nighttime falls, glow-in-the-dark planets sing an eventide song of praise to the God who made them all and yet is mindful of one little family staring up in wonder.
Neil Philip’s Illustrated Book of Myths includes a story the Algonquin Indians tell, titled “Glooskap and the Wasis.” Glooskap, the mightiest warrior of all, returns home after a lengthy period of conquests, only to be defeated by the mighty Wasis, a creature on the floor of his home.
Here in America, our family lives present a strange paradox. We often wish that our families would function in an emotionally healthy way and look something like the family on Leave It to Beaver. Yet it’s normal for a family to be dysfunctional and fractured. There’s our ideal of family, and then there’s the reality.
When my son Michael died suddenly at age 38, he left a pregnant wife and an infant. At the funeral I told those who crowded the cemetery that I had been there—when I lost my wife suddenly after a car accident. I said that I knew that as time passes people move on and fade away. I pleaded with family and friends to stay with Michael’s widow and children for years to come.
Screenwriters love structure: it gives them something to focus on as they plow ahead in their storytelling or to retreat to if they get off track. Familiar structures include the road movie (looking for answers), the journey film (home to Ithaca) and the sit-by-the-fireplace flashback (“Let me tell you about Heathcliffe”).
We had a new bunk bed delivered recently, and our sons spent a happy afternoon—albeit a dangerous one—wielding socket wrenches and screwdrivers as we put it together. Buying this bunk bed allowed us finally to move the youngest out of our bed, where he has happily parked for the last three years, to his older brothers’ room.
Last summer I was invited by a hospice chaplain to accompany him on a visit to the family of Maria Durand de Perez, a Mexican woman who had died a few weeks earlier in the border town of San Ysidro, California, at the astonishing age of 111.