The family reunion is something that seems to be slowly fading away and that is a crying shame, if you ask me. Far too few people have any idea of the stock from which they sprang, and in turn they don't know of the strength and weakness, of the glory and tragedy that flows through their veins. I happen to think we are made less when an ignorance of the past holds sway in our lives as individuals and as a society. To my way of thinking we need the strength of the family; and in order for that strength to be passed on, contact needs to be reestablished from time to time. Shared remembrances are treasures of which few know their true value.
Years ago when I was a boy I remember looking forward to the Jenkins family reunion every June. Jenkins was my Granny Tharpe's maiden name, and every June the entire tribe would come together at one of the three Jenkins kid's homes for a covered dish dinner under the trees followed by an afternoon of loud voices, oft told stories and screaming children. It was a wonderful mess, as my Grandpa used to say.
When the reunion was to be held at my Granny's house, the excitement was muted a little by the fact that the adventure of the affair would suffer from familiarity. When it was to be held at Aunt Nellie's, the fun was often dampened by the brooding visage of Uncle Howard. Uncle Howard wasn't a hard man by any means, but to a boy he was a bit too quiet and a bit too dark, and a certain foreboding drifted on the air when he was near. Now admittedly, Uncle Howard's shadow was pierced by the brightness of Aunt Nellie's gold front tooth and her laughing nature, but it remained as a sort of uncomfortable mist that worked its way into a child's mind as the day grew longer.
All of that aside, once every three years we would all climb into whatever flavor station wagon was available and head off to Crestview, Florida to Uncle Shine's and Aunt Addie's house and have ourselves a great time. There was just something about that place that shouted freedom and family and I cannot remember a time when I didn't have a ball there.
Uncle Shine had coon dogs and chickens and all sorts of other things that could keep a young boy's interest through the day, and when interest in such things finally began to wane, Uncle Shine's back yard came complete with a poor man's amusement park.
You see Uncle Shine worked for the phone company and he couldn't resist taking home all of the empty wooden spools he could find. I figure he had in mind grand projects he would do with them, but they mostly just stayed out back next to the pasture fence. It was a tribute to the patience of Aunt Addie that he had such a collection of giant bobbins decorating the backyard.
Well, Aunt Addie's burden was a delight to all of us kids. We would turn those spools up on their sides, climb up on them and walk-roll them all over the yard. We would hold races all morning. We would fall off, bust our rear ends, brush off and have at it again all day long while the old folks sat around and talked of old times, one another and the occasional innocent bystander.
When dinnertime came we would all climb down reluctantly, crestfallen and defeated, knowing we would have to sit still and quiet with the old folks for a while. Our sorrow, however, was short lived for as the wonderful smells reached our nostrils, the grief at leaving our play was replaced with an urgency borne of a ravenous hunger. We would stampede over to the tables and fill our plates with some of the best home cooking that ever came off of a stove and sit in and amongst the grownups and listen. For you see at that time in our history the phrase, "a child is to be seen and not heard," had not been totally expunged from the social lexicon.
It was during this time of listening, the time when family stories were told, embellished a bit and told again that the familial DNA was passed from one generation to another.
It was then that I learned of my family's Native American history. It was then that I learned of the magic my Great Grandpa Jenkins could perform with a hammer, a level, a handsaw and a few sticks of lumber. It was then that I learned of my quiet grandpa's deadly rage when my mother was threatened as a child. It was then when I learned of the abject poverty from which my mother immerged. It was then that I learned of myself. It was then that I learned that I was part of something greater than myself. I was part of the family.
We all need that, I think. We all need to know that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Whether it's a particular branch on the Jenkins family tree or the family of God, the human being needs to have connection; for without such connection, the human fruit withers on the vine.
With the advent of social networking websites, it seems that human connection is rapidly being replaced with the cold keys of the keyboard and the inanimate face of the monitor.
To my way of thinking, there is great danger in this. As family structures teeter under the weight of daily stress, tightly woven familial fiber is needed to hold them together. As the society wavers under the stress of economic, moral and spiritual meltdown, it is the families joined together with shared beliefs, shared struggles and shared histories that will allow the society to stand firm. As the Church of God reels amidst attacks from without and within, as the moral truths of the scriptures are assailed, as the Word of God is parsed to suit our rebellious and sinful ways, as Christ's Holy name is taken from the public arena; it is through the power of Christ, bolstered by the shared strength of the people of God, that the Church will stand.
My challenge to each of you is to let nothing severe your connection with Christ and His people, for nothing is of more importance. For you are part of something greater than yourself. You are part of the family of God, and that family suffers in your absence.