Families and How to Survive Them


Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida








The Glass Castle has it all… But ultimately, I think it is a story about redemption.

The Glass Castle, which is based on a true story, was written by Jeannette Walls, one of the central characters, and her family. The movie opens with Jeanette, living a glamourous life in New York, is riding home in a cab, when she sees her parents dumpster diving. She had been her alcoholic father’s confidante, victim, supporter and opponent. You could say their relationship was complicated.

The ‘glass castle’ is the house that her father has fantasized about building. Not just fantasized, made detailed plans for over the years. But of course, the plan never comes to fruition. It remains a pipe dream that goes up in the smoke of his inability to hold a job, his alcoholism and his unconventional views on just about anything. He is a likeable and hateable character. One that is often the life of the party, but also one that you would never want to be dependent on.

The mother is an artist… a painter… and in her focus on her unsuccessful art, she too neglects the children. The family moves around a lot, often stealing away in the middle of the night to avoid eviction. Rex, the father, has an amazing ability to treat much of this like an adventure, one that the children believe in for a long time… until it’s been three days without food for them and he comes home drunk, having spent the money he was supposed to use to buy food. It is at that moment that Jeanette decides that she and the other children will have to leave in order to be free.

Liberation, freedom, redemption.

Redemption in the Biblical sense is about freeing a slave. And for Christians, the freedom we experience in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and in following him is the ultimate liberation, redemption and freedom. Through my eyes, Jeannette’s life mirrors Jesus’ life death and resurrection. How so you say? Her early life is challenging, and yet joyful. Her parents, and especially her father gift Jeanette with imagination, playfulness and resourcefulness. But ultimately, those things couldn’t compensate for hunger, alcoholism and abuse.

Just as Jesus turned his face towards Jerusalem, knowing what would ultimately face him, Jeannette turned her face to the future, knowing that in order to live, she must break away from her parents’ life and lifestyle. She had to experience death, the death of her belief in her father, in order to live. And then, with hard work over years, she experiences resurrection in her vocation as a writer. And not just for herself, but she helped each one of her siblings move on from their circumstances.

As it was read earlier in John 8, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 30 million views. (www.brenebrown.com)

She takes that saying one step further, she says, “The truth will set you free, but first it’s going to hurt like hell.” And isn’t that true, it hurts to face hard truths about ourselves, those we love and the organizations or communities in which we find ourselves?

James Baldwin says, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” But in facing them, they can be transformed, indeed resurrected.

Just as Jesus in resurrected form was different from before, our lives, once we die to what was, become something new. Jeanette had to face the truth of her circumstances, in order not to be enslaved by them.

The Rev. Laurie Brock writes this in her blog, Dirty Sexy Ministry:

“The Bible tells stories. Inspiring, authentic, and uplifting stories.Unexpected, surprising, and startling stories. Messy, ugly, and tragic stories. Holy Scriptures are accounts and memories of our ancestors of faith. They are narratives, history, songs, prophecy, letters, and gospels, telling the rich, varied, and messy stories of humanity’s relationship with God. The unvarnished truth of courage and cowardice, love and hate, faith and doubt, and good and evil embodied in the ancestors of our faith, are honest and authentic. This authenticity reminds us we are far from perfect, capable of great evil, and still loved by God in this dichotomy of extremes. We are the same ones who are part of God’s good creation and the ones who turn away from this holy goodness as stiff-necked people.

This journey of interim ministry is also a journey of life, death and resurrection. When I arrived in January of 2016, you had been experiencing conflict, angry interactions, and bad behaviour. And you weren’t really convinced that a period of Interim Ministry would be helpful. But you welcomed me… perhaps with some trepidation… and we began to get to know each other. In the Listening Circles, people were given the opportunity to tell the truth, even if it felt risky,These were some of the things that you said were signs that you were not healthy:

  1. Gossip
  2. Negativity
  3. New ideas go nowhere
  4. Financial difficulties
  5. Not connecting with community
  6. Governance and committee structure

You had to face the truth… and it was hard… and I am sure it felt risky… But at the end of those listening circles, these were the things you said: You were

1. Hopeful and apprehensive
2. Want to be loving communities that share God’s love
3. Willingness to let go of the past
4. Want to let go of negativity

We had faced the truth… we set our faces towards Jerusalem. Where we find the death of our former selves and former ways of being.

Paul wrote in Romans 8, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Well, maybe not so much patience. 😉 In some ways it would be great to wave a magic wand and have everything magically changed, we all know that isn’t the way life works. We are labouring… we are steadily working on the goals of the interim ministry. And just in case you have forgotten what those are…

1. Understanding our history and dynamics
2. Governance
3. Expectations of Ministry Personnel and conflict
4. Living out our faith

Every time I feel as if we are not making progress, I just look at the chart I created to keep track of what we are doing. We are not fully resurrected, but there are lots of signs of new life! One of the things I appreciate most about you folks in your flexibility.
You are willing to try things… I hope that continues into your future and you haven’t just been waiting me out!

We, like the Galatians, are called to freedom. But not the freedom of self-indulgence; the freedom to follow Jesus, loving our neighbour as ourselves.

At the end of the movie Jeanette goes to her dying father, who is squatting in an abandoned building in New York, despite hating everything about the way he lives, she couldn’t let him die without seeing him one more time. She finds he has saved everything that she has had published, from the 9th grade onwards. He says, “I never did build you that glass castle.” After a long pause Jeanette answers, “No, but we sure did have fun talking about it.”

It was at that moment, that she realizes that her father, though he failed her in many ways, also nurtured her imagination, her resilience and her resourcefulness. He had redeemed himself. And she was set free; free to become who she really was, without it being a total rejection of who her father was. She was free to love him and yet not be bound by him.

Just as we, by doing the hard work of looking at ourselves and following Jesus on a road that is sometimes difficult, we are nurturing our imagination, our resilience and our resourcefulness. Appreciating the past, but not held captive by it. We are set free to live out our new life. We are free to love. Free to spread joy. Free to love our neighbour.

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus. Amen.

Catherine MacDonald 2017 – Elmsdale Pastoral Charge – Reel Theology

Galatians 5: 1, 13, 14, Romans 8: 18, 22, 23, John 8: 31, 34-36


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