“So, you know how we’re part Irish? So because Jesus married one of his disciples and escaped to Ireland and had a secret family there, we are probably related to Jesus!”
The two 14-year-old boys blinked hard, processing what their 8-year-old cousin just said, then burst out laughing.
“Uh, no, Abby,” I started, only to be interrupted by the two loons interrupting each other with “The secret life of Jesus – revealed!” “Wait, which disciple did Jesus marry?”
Abby was yelling back “THE GIRL DISCIPLE!… he did SO go to Ireland!” as my Mum shooed the teens away and curled my now pouting and offended niece in for a cuddle.
“But I learned it at church,” she said, confused and cranky, “and we are from Ireland in our family tree…”
Sometimes working out what to say is like trying to grab bouncing Skittles – there’s too many options and something’s going to get missed. Then when faith and the religious teachings and beliefs of others come into it? Carnage like playing Marco Polo in a minefield is one potential outcome, with “Married Irish Jesus” thankfully at the less lethal end of the scale.
My family tends to run on the unspoken “You’re weird to believe/do that, but I love you anyway, mostly” approach when it comes to belief, morals and whatever that manifests as in the everyday habits and hussle of life. One of my grandmothers has Buddha statues in her garden, rosary beads on the wall, and attends Mass at home via tv. She also lights candles in her lounge room then asks Mary McKillop (a Catholic-almost-(still-in-the-process-of-cannonisation)-saint) to help the Blues win in the huge State of Origin (Rugby) games each year. It’s all faith to her.
I’m the first LDS convert in my family, which mostly was greeted by my family with a shrug and “You were weird already… have you baked anything today?” My brother thinks I’m crazy to support my son’s wish to serve a mission. He thinks I’m bizarre to be willing to send Hatro away for 2 years because of how much I’ll miss him, because his family is everything to my brother, not for any other reason. He attends no church, and is one of the kindest, gentlest, most loving people I’ve ever met simply because that is who he chooses to be. He wants to be a good person, and he is. That’s not faith to him, but his life.
I have two great-aunts from separate family lines who are both Roman Catholic nuns – for over 60 years serving wherever they find themselves. My Mum nearly joined a motorcycle church once (refused to when she learned a rule was “no fraternisation with Mormons”), lives according to WWJD, is simply “a Christian”, and last week cheerfully stole my latest four Ensign magazines when I was visiting. Loved ones have spiritual tattoos (mandalas, symbols, dragons, Buddha, scriptures), and send happy vibes, zen hugs, money, prayers, books, fastings and swear words. It’s all faith to them, and it launches gloriously from their lives, their actions, their words and their belief and support in me and those they turn their attentions and efforts to. It’s all life, faith, and love to them.
Except, and always, in family, friends and being alive, some people are just easier to accept, understand, or just try to tolerate. I have family members who don’t believe in God “because if there is a God God’s a JERK and watch out because you’re gonna learn that too”. There are multiple disciples of one more drink for the road again, a couple who are devout believers in the Church of What’s In It For Me, and the odd few who believes themselves already deified (desperately seeking believers)… It’s what they live, it’s what they do, it’s what they each believe.
The 11th article of faith explains:
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Sometimes, that means you sit there questioning people’s decision making, and scrambling how to best explain to your niece that, well, um…no. I didn’t tell her she was wrong, but what she was told was wrong. I told her that Jesus died for everyone, that He really did die, and – well, I didn’t get to the resurrection part because she was adamant that Jesus really did marry “Mary? No, that’s his Mum… Marie? No I think it was a Mary…” and Mum changed the topic to pizza and that was it. I’m still working out if I did the best I could in that situation, if I made a good decision; she’s not my daughter; her Mum gets to choose where she goes to church; it confused and upset her for her adored big cousins, an aunt and Nan to tell her it was wrong when she KNEW she learned it at church…
I don’t know what the right answer is. I’m thinking there isn’t a right answer, only a loving response. It’s filed under that family motto of “You’re weird but I love you anyway”, and cross-referenced with “What I’m going to tell you when you’re 16”. For now I’m bite my tongue. I’ll do what I can to light the way, to send good books, to be a good aunty. I’m trying to remember to add her to my prayers that she’ll find truth. If she asks me questions, I’ll answer. If she does or doesn’t, I’ll love her anyway. Family, life, faith, they’re all complicated simplicity like that.
And I’ll testify that “Did you know Jesus married one of his disciples and escaped to Ireland…” is a guaranteed conversation starter with 14-year-old boys.
How do you deal with differences in faith, belief and actions within your family? Within your life circles? How do you show respect, tolerance and love?