Saturday, October 11, 2008

There’s a family in our town

The family that I’m talking about lives just on the other side of the street. There’s a mom and dad and eight kids - six teens, a twelve year old and a nine year old. It’s a pretty conservative family. They go to the Bible Church. The parents have been married for 30 years. The parents seldom drink alcohol. None of the kids nor the parents smoke or gamble or any of that stuff. The kids are involved in hockey and basketball, and baseball and soccer. Music lessons are on the calender for all the kids. Both mom and dad work and in fact they make a pretty good living. The kids are all really nice and have a good reputation in the community. They all do well in school and the teachers have never had any complaints. All but one go to Church and on Sunday afternoon they generally do activities as a family; going to the park or a movie or whatever. For the most part, members of this family get along pretty good. For the last couple years however there’s been some ripples of discontent.

One of the kids, Ryan is his name, doesn’t like and is becoming increasingly irritated by some of the rules. Actually it’s not so much the rules as the habits or the traditions of the family that Ryan doesn’t like. By all standards Ryan is a good kid. He’s 16, drives the car, takes swimming lessons and is a starter on the highschool football team as a running back. He does well in school and is never overtly disrespectful to his parents, at least not until lately.

You see, Ryan is the only atheist in the family. While the rest of the family has known about Ryan’s beliefs since he told them three years ago, they’ve never made a big deal out of it. From their own experience growing up, mom and dad know that the worst thing they could do is push. The parents have made a conscious decision to allow Ryan to “find his own way.” In fact, the whole family has always maintained a live and let live attitude toward pretty much everyone. That’s changing. Ryan told the family about a year ago that he didn’t want them praying at meal time anymore. He said that it made him uncomfortable. There was a family meeting and the result was, meal time praying stayed. He didn’t have to take part but he couldn’t interrupt or put on a big pout either. Actually, the idea of interrupting had never occurred to Ryan. He was, after all, a good kid. He just thought it purely stupid to be thanking the equivalent of an invisible tea pot for anything. And, if truth be known, he did pout that other people didn't think like he did.

To be fair, there were a few snide comments from one of his sisters from time to time, but the rest of the family tried to “get along” with the increasingly obstinate boy. Then, late this spring, Ryan said that spontaneous comments like, “Thank you Lord for such a beautiful day,” or “Thank you Father for the safe trip home,” were really starting to get on his nerves.

“So what do you want us to do, Ryan,” asked his mother, “stop all references to God?”

To her surprise Ryan said back, “Ya! That’s exactly what I want.”

From that point on things got a little tense around the house. Till then everyone had felt a close bond with Ryan. After all, he was family. Now, two of Ryan’s siblings were openly hostile toward him. And while mom and dad tried to keep the peace it was evident that a compromise had to be made or a serious split was a real possibility. Nevertheless, the summer went smoothly. The family had an awesome trip to the Canadian Rockies. They went hiking and white water rafting and they absolutely loved soaking in the Hot Springs in Fairmont B.C. Ryan seemed to love the trip, and everyone got along really well. On the way home however Ryan delivered this ultimatum to his family.

“When we get home, I don’t want any more praying at the table when I’m around. I don’t want any more Bible reading in my presence. I don’t want any more “Praise god,” or any other crap like that being said while I’m in the house. If you want to fill your minds with superstitious nonsense that’s up to you but I don’t want to have to be exposed to it any more. Is that understood?”

Silence. After another couple kilometres dad pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road. Turning in his seat he said, with obvious frustration, “What have you got going on in that head of yours, boy? And just who do you think you are? This is our family, he said indicating with his hand that he meant everyone. Not your family. We make decisions as a group in this house and you do not dictate to the rest of us how we’re going to live. Do you understand?”

Ryan didn’t say anything. He just glared at dad.

“I love you Ryan. We all do. Now, you’re entitled to your thoughts and opinions, but so are we. I get it that you don’t agree with us on everything but I really don’t get it as to why, for you to be happy, you need us to quit doing what we consider very important. What in the world is going on?”

One of Ryan’s sisters began to say something about spoiled and selfish, but mom shut that down real quick.

Ryan began to get tears in his eyes and blurted out, “I don’t feel like I fit. I feel like you guys don’t even want me in this family. All of you have turned against me and you make me feel like a freak. Sometimes I think I should just run away, but I’m not going to. This is my family and it’s my house and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

“Take what?” dad asked incredulously. “What more do you expect us to do to make you feel welcome? You have the car whenever you want. We feed you. We give you all the clothes that you want. We’ve put you into any sports that you wanted to join. Not only don’t we force you to go to Church, for over two years we haven’t even asked if you want to come. We’ve withheld absolutely nothing from you. What can’t you take anymore?”

The rest of the kids also wanted to know how he was being cheated. A couple pointed out that he was getting more than they ever got when they were his age.

“Don’t you get it,” Ryan screamed. “I can’t stand your religion. I just can’t stand hearing about god this and god that and I want you to quit. It’s driving me crazy!”

Finally, Ryan’s oldest brother spoke up. “So you, Ryan, feel that you should be able to dictate to the rest of us how to live. One person telling the other 90% how they should and can live seems fair to you? Is that what you’re saying?” Without waiting for an answer he continued. “You’re saying that because you don’t like religion, none of the rest of us should be able to talk about what’s most important in our lives? Is that what you’re suggesting? Are you saying that because you don’t find God relevant in your life He can’t be relevant in mine either? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No. I’m just saying that I don’t want to hear about it, or see it, or be exposed to it in any way, shape or form.”

“Well, excuse me,” mother chimed in. “This may come as a surprise to you but you are just one member of a ten person family and you simply do not dictate the rules around here. No one is forcing you to believe what we believe. We tried that when you first told us about your atheism and you were right, trying to change your mind is not fair to you, nor could our family survive if we kept going down that road. However, short of us all splitting up and moving to different homes, we are going to have to find some way of living together. Ryan, you are our son. We love you. Your brothers and sisters love you. You have everything, literally everything that they have. You lack nothing. You are an equal partner in this family but you are no MORE than an equal partner. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with what we believe but for you to think that you can dictate to us how we are to live, right in our own home, well, I’m sorry. That just ain’t going to happen. Stanley, get back on the road. We’re going home.

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