Like many families and friends around the world, my family gathers during religious holidays.
Our family gathered together for a banquet feast Christmas day. Other families came together during the days of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. During November, Muslim families celebrated Eid al-Adha (The Feast of the Sacrifice of Ishmael).
With special rituals, gestures, prayers and food (always food), we re-connect who we are as individuals and families, with whose we are in terms of our faith community's central tenets and the people who share similar beliefs.
When my family gathered together on Christmas day, there were my children, their mom, my partner, and I seated at the table, thankful for the time to enjoy the food and the good company of each other. In the other room, the Christmas tree was lit beautifully, with gifts underneath waiting to be unwrapped. The only ones missing were our rambunctious dogs.
It took us a few years to establish this new tradition of gathering in this re-configured arrangement of being family, but we got there, and have been celebrating the holidays ever since in Carrboro.
Granted, it is not the "typical" American-style of being the nuclear family, but the "American style" family is a rather contemporary human construction that has only existed for the last few decades.
I am reminded of the newness of the American nuclear family every time I peer at one of the many Christmas cards I receive in this season with a pictorial representation of the Holy Family: Mary and Joseph peering down lovingly at the baby Jesus lying in the manger.
But the longer I look deeply at this ubiquitous image, the more I start to smile as I remember how unbiblical this biblical Holy Family is in modern American mythological context.
After all, you have Jesus being born to an unwed, single mother from a different area of Israel (a Nazarean not from Bethlehem) giving birth in a place she knew little about.
To make matters even more surreal, Joseph isn't even the biological father of this baby.
There is no genetic DNA that connects this baby with Joseph's bloodline, since Christian Scriptures pin God as the father of this miracle child. In modern parlance, we could call Joseph Jesus' "step-father."
But remember, Joseph and Mary weren't married before or after the birth. What holds Jesus' family and my family together is one and the same thing: love, expressed in the practice of supporting and caring for one another, against the cultural norms of the day.
Heck, in that regard the Holy Family was not unlike my family, and therefore would likely find no comfort in the upcoming North Carolina vote on amending North Carolina's constitution outlawing their union. Like us, they couldn't join the YMCA of the Triangle under the "family membership plan" because they are not wed, and thus are not a family. As for state and federal taxes, that's a whole other matter. Apparently, God likes to play outside of America's rituals, rules, and laws.
As a Presbyterian pastor, in this Yuletide season I get a chuckle out of people pointing to the "traditional family that has been around since the beginning of time, especially in the Bible," or so say many politicians.
Have they not read Hebrew Scriptures and the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, or Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael (Gen. 16:1-4)? Have they forgotten the story of King David with 11 children by seven wives (1 Chronicles 3)?
Then there are the 700 wives of the legendary King Solomon and three hundred concubines (1 Kings). According to the New Testament, Jesus himself failed to follow through and follow traditional Jewish practices of the day by opting out of wedlock and fatherhood. Instead, he invites others to leave spouses, homes, and careers to follow him for a three-year sojourn.
Come the holiday of Easter, our family will gather again as our place on earth warms up and welcomes the coming of spring. We will gather around another feast, this time with lilies decorating the house. And we will be joined by many other families, of all shapes, sizes, and configurations who dare to live unbiblical biblical lives, reminding us of the fluidity and human inventiveness of what it means to be a "family," woven together by the mystical, wondrous thread of love.