Friday, August 12, 2005

Family-Friendly Friday

It was family-friendly in the sense that I spoke to all four members of my immediate family tonight. There weren't even any family emergencies--I just managed to talk to all of them in a row. I spent about two hours on the phone, and by 9:00 my ear was sweatier than I prefer, but it was worth it. I already talk to my parents about once a week, and to my sister almost that often, but my brother and I don't usually talk to each other except when I go down for a visit. Even then, sometimes I don't get to see him; last Thanksgiving he never showed up at all.

Part of it is that he's just 21 and flaky, and part of it is that he more or less thinks of me as a dangerous heretic. Tonight my sister pointed out a plausible third element in his avoidance, which is that I'm one of the first people in his life to seriously challenge his lifelong assumptions. He and I had a couple of long, serious, argument-heavy discussions a couple of years ago (sparked by his discovery that Mr. Thel and I were, you know, living in sin) which led him to abruptly distance himself from me, and Sister speculated that his shock at finding the stark differences between our faith journeys led to a sort of ego-blow to him.

That makes sense to me, and was my own casual assumption about the distance he's maintained since then, though I hadn't put it so succinctly. The three of us all went to Christian schools and attended a thoroughly conservative, borderline fundamentalist congregation in our hometown. I left for college in 1996, and subsequently had my certainties rattled. My sister married and moved away in 2000, which precipitated her own first major exposure to subcultures and assumptions differing from her own. Brother hasn't yet left our hometown, and we surmise that his beliefs haven't had to face any serious challenges yet; my crazy-ass liberal faith may have really been his first inkling that Christianity isn't a homogenous dish.

I wish that had occurred to me, oh, about two years ago. I might have tried to be a little more diplomatic. On the other hand, Brother was all but accusing me of being the Devil's handmaiden, and I stubbornly kept trying to demonstrate that there are more things on heaven and earth than were dreamt of in his philosophies, and even vast chasms of variance among various Christian sects. But he was still in that state of believing that only his particular set of beliefs reflect the True Faith, and all who disagree are deceived. Naturally, my protestations were just more proof of my waywardness.

Anyway, I didn't take his snit all that seriously (though it did make me a little depressed once or twice when it got really obvious), and talking to him tonight made me shrug it aside even more. The sooner he accepts that people he loves may disagree with him, and accepts that he isn't therefore required to cut them out of his life until they repent and agree with him, the happier he'll be. We chatted for twenty minutes tonight, and it was good. He didn't even try to witness to me.

I hear horror stories of people whose family members truly do cut them off because of their religious differences, and I'm eager to avoid exacerbating that possibility between my brother and me. Keeping those lines of communication open, however casually, can only help that goal.