God among the imperfect: The holy family didn't meet the ideal either

I don’t know what a perfect first-century family looked like, but I’m certain that Joseph and Mary didn’t fit the ideal. Joseph had no money. He had no safe place for his wife to give birth and no plausible explanation for her pregnancy. How scared they must have been. Their family was turned upside down before it even began.

I know about unusual families. I come from one. There is a picture in one of my mother’s photo albums of the day she and my stepfather were married. They are holding hands and looking pleased but also totally overwhelmed. Each had lost a spouse to cancer only 18 months before. Their kids are on either side of them—six teenagers with mouths stuffed full of braces, heads full of regrettable ’80s hair, each one of them with a dead look in his or her eyes. When I look at that picture and see my biological sister, my adopted sister, three step-siblings whom I didn’t know, my stepfather, my mother and me, I don’t see an ideal family. I see something quite unusual.

But in America “unusual” families are everywhere. In increasing numbers, Afri­can Americans marry whites, atheists marry Christians, and men marry men. Demo­crats marry Republicans. Good single friends join forces as part of the “voluntary kin” movement. We have blended families, same-sex families, adoptive families, and single parent families. That list is from a New York Times article, but it could be straight out of my church directory. Many of the families I serve don’t fit the ideal.