Sandra M. Levy-Achtemeier, Ph.D.

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All in the Family:

Published on Thursday, October 24, 2019

All in the Family:

The Joy and Challenge of Life Together in the Ties that Bind


A month or so back, I thought it would be a good idea for David – for us together – to read the saga of King David in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible). That narrative drama runs from I Samuel 16:1 to I Kings 2:1-10. After all, this is the story of David’s namesake and so I thought the two Davids should get acquainted ... or at least my husband, David, should know his Old Testament roots. And what a tale it is – from the prophet Nathan selecting the beautiful young shepherd boy and anointing him as King over Israel, to King David’s later killing of Uriah to marry Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, who he’d already committed adultery with after he spied her bathing on the roof ... to his dozens of concubines and sons who occasionally betrayed him ... to his uniting all of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms ... to his final death. King David lived a long life committing both just, compassionate acts and unjust acts, including murder in one way or another.

A good man, David – revered to this day in Israel – a just man who was also deeply flawed ... something like all of us one way or another in our own lives. Which brings me to another meditation by Martin Copenhaver which caught my eye a week or so back. In a reflection titled “Normal Families,” Copenhaver has the following to say:

The Bible does not hold up an idealized picture of family life. Instead, the Bible depicts families with rival siblings and tension between the generations. There are marriages and betrayals, children who refuse to honor their parents, and parents who hold back blessings from their children. There is love expressed in many of the families of the Bible, but there are also heated arguments and stony silences, slow-boiling resentments and rifts as wide as a canyon. [And sometimes mayhem and even murder.]

So when I hear people refer to biblical family values, I wonder: Are they talking about the rifts and alienation or about the sibling rivalry and bitter resentments?

Now many of you know that David and I have a blended family ... to say the least! Not to go into all that, but for example, a couple of weeks ago, David’s oldest son David Jr. visited us along with David’s grandson, David III. (No wonder grandson is abbreviated “D.” All those “Davids” can be a bit confusing at times!) At the same time, my oldest son Brian and his second wife Michele were here and we all had a wonderful time together, sitting on the deck just visiting and then going out to dinner before young “D” had to return to Fort Lee, the Army post south of Richmond where he’s in training as a Marine. (See second photo below.)

A blended family made up of three generations who all came together by various routes to become one family of love and friendship. None of us perfect to say the least, but oh so human and precious nonetheless.

Reflecting on all of this reminded me of something I wrote in Imagination and the Journey of Faith concerning narrative portrayals of true family life. Some of my favorite novels do “grapple with life’s great religious themes: death and dying, ecstasy and conversion, evil and goodness, forgiveness and redemption.” Good fiction portrays it all in a way that you know the characters and feel like you’ve been there, and the deep meaning conveyed is true indeed. One of the novels I highlighted as touching truly the meaning of family is the one whose cover is depicted in the lead photo, Kent Haruf’s Plainsong (Alfred A.Knopf, 1999). I have the following to say:

[There are some books that stimulate] my imagination to see the world in a deeper, truer light, books within whose world I lose myself – reminding me of some truth about being human, shining some transcendent light onto my everyday world beyond the story, being revelatory in the truest sense of the word. Choices within this enchanted category include Kent Haruf’s Plainsong – a wonderful story of two old bachelor farmers who make room in their enclosed life for an unwed teenage mother, revealing the meaning of human, familial love as well as transcendent, sacrificial love at its deepest core. (p. 81)
We all have had our journeys to where our paths have brought us, bonding with each other in the process. Bonding with friends, bonding with family, making new ties that bind us to each other. As Copenhaver ends his piece, he writes “our families, and the families depicted in the Bible, are far from perfect. They are flawed. Yet it is exactly in those flawed places that the Spirit of God can move and where we can catch a glimpse of grace.”

And to this ending thought, I say “Amen!” So lean across the table at dinner and embrace one another within the family you have made – traditional or otherwise. We are in this together and so I think we should practice kindness. As someone said to me once, “you are as good as you are to the person you live with.”

Let the people say “Amen!” And so shall it be.
Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.>

Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.

I am a clinical psychologist, Episcopal priest and author, and I currently serve as Priest Associate at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Other posts by Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
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