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Family Reunions

Written by Douglas Wilson

On the Wilson side, our extended family has what we call a “quinquennial.” Every five years, members of our clan wend their way to some assigned spot, and we all have a really good time together. My father was one of six boys, and so the number of my cousins on that side is, ahem, significant. So last year at around this time, my wife and I had the pleasure of driving across most of Idaho and most of Utah in order to gather with the family near Zion National Park (located in Washington and Utah).

Now to some this may seem an arbitrary and very weird pilgrimage. Why do we do this? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to stay right where you are, and make friends with the neighbors? I was closer to some friends in the third grade than I am to some of my cousins, and I don’t drive across the country every five years to get together for the old third grade reunion. So what is with this? Why is it valuable? Is it valuable?

It is nice to pick a place that is worth seeing in its own right (like Zion), but that is just killing two birds with one stone. The reunion would still happen (and has happened) in some places that were not worth seeing in their own right at all. The place where we were staying was out in the country, at a high elevation, and the stars there were displayed in such a way that you could knock them down with a stick. But that is not why we were there. One day during the reunion, my wife and I took a quick jaunt to see the Grand Canyon (which neither of us had ever seen), and that was a glorious trip—and I am not talking about the canyon itself (which is beyond description), but rather the hour drive just before it, approaching the north rim. I have not taken in that much natural beauty in one day before, and yet even that was not why we were there. We were there for the uncles, and aunts, and cousins, and second cousins once removed. We were there for all those who were dear to us, and for those who were still connected to us, but whose names we had trouble keeping straight.

                We were there for family. During these times of postmodern fragmentation, and as the idolatrous encouragement of selfish individualism continues apace, those Christians who have family connections ought not to surrender them easily. There have been times in history where family has been an idolatrous competitor to Christ, but we do not really live in such a time. The prophet Malachi taught us that in the time of the Messiah, the hearts of the fathers would be turned to the children, and the hearts of the children would be turned to the fathers. As this happens, it creates a climate in which children find and embrace and obey the first commandment with a promise—honor your father and mother, that your life may be long on the earth. This is a promise from God, and it is a promise from the Decalogue that the apostle Paul saw fit to reapply and reinforce while addressing a bunch of Gentile kids at Ephesus. This is a commandment with a promise . . . a promise for all ages.

                Now it seems to me that in some way, shape or form, this commandment will necessitate family reunions. I recall a number of years ago (at a reunion in Nebraska), when my grandma was still alive, watching her sons honor her. It was remarkable. She was in her eighties, and most of her sons were in their sixties. And all she had to do, sitting there on the porch, was to express a mild wish about something or other, and every son within earshot would scramble to make it happen.

                But there was no real practical way for her sons to honor her without coming to visit her, and there was no real way to do that without coming together. And when they came together, the cousins would come together. And then somebody said, at some point, “what do you say, let’s organize this.” In short, there is no command in the Bible that requires what we call “family reunions.” But I do believe that if we are careful to pursue the commandment with a promise, one of the natural outgrowths of that desire will be a strong sense of family. And a strong sense of family will necessitate family reunions.

                One of the blessings of modern technology is that it is increasingly easy to make this sort of good thing happen. Those who lament how “technology” is driving us apart are blaming the machinery for what we sinful men can choose to do with the machinery. After all, a car can drive down the road in two directions—toward your mom’s house or away from it. A cell phone can be used to isolate a teenager from her family, or be used by a close family to keep in touch all day long. For example, my wife might be shopping in a near-by city, see something one of the kids might need, and give her a call. Email can create impersonal distance for cyber-people living in gnosticville or a husband and wife can email one another mash notes all day. For some people (who travel a lot) airplanes have effectively turned different cities in America into different rooms of a house. I have noticed that I have developed some friendships with people I see only at conferences that are tighter than friendships I have with people in the town where I live. All this means is that technology should be considered as a tool.

                God’s Word gives us the principles. The tools we have at our disposal are methods, and if we use the methods available to us in order to apply God’s principles, the ancient promises still pertain. In many ways, we have great opportunities with some of the methods open to us, and we need to take care that we do not turn these opportunities into excuses. Think for a moment. What tools do we have today to organize a family reunion? Tools we did not have twenty years ago?