Ethnography: Understanding your Family Fabric

If Love is the connections and worth that make us (it and is) then what we love today, what we’ve loved in the past, what we aspire to love in the future, and all that has loved us along the way connects into a fabric of identity.  A swirling gyre of interconnections which is bringing us into being.  There is no object that is YOU which exists outside its relationships.  You are who you are in the context of the loves you’ve known and are knowing.  We cannot say this with a greater level of seriousness.  This is why the New Testament, in announcing the inauguration of God’s New Creation, draws all our attention on LOVE as the fabric of existence.  Because Love is the plane on which our souls, bodies, hearts and minds connect with the objects of their affections.  It’s how we find each other and are found.  It is the heart of the search for Us.  And our first sense of this network, this blanket of relations which stretches across time and space was our family. 

Family. We all have one. Adopted, only-child, parent grandparent, estranged son, regardless of how we feel about it how much time we spend with them, holiday traditions or Thanksgivings alone, our families are part of the rich relationship network that is making us who we are. No one right answer for everyone.  Family’s are often the venue for our most traumatic moments of isolation and abuse as well as some of our most ecstatic experiences of joy and connection. 

As I discussed on this week's WordCAST, it's all connected. How we understand ourselves, the identity we have and create and the way we imagine love and its worth is all connected to our initial experiences (or lack thereof) in our families. Family is powerful because how we perceive it creates a frame. And that frame then tints everything which fills it.

Building a Family Ethnography

An ethnography is a means to represent graphically and in writing the culture of a group.

So what to do about it? This week I introduced the idea of an Family Ethnography.  This tool allows you to examine the generational map of your family fabric, and then explore how each person represents ideas, themes, understandings and experiences of LOVE that may have had an effect on how you see what love is worth.  

Step 1 - Draw out your family tree

Best to do it with at least two generations.  Grandmas, Grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, etc.  For some this may be a large map.  For others it may include people you know almost nothing about.  That's all fine.  Our goal is to simply visually draw out what we know about our family's experience of LOVE and to see how that might have affected us.  Leave lots of space between the characters because we'll be making quite a few notes.

Step 2 - List Out Their LOVES

Using the six Love words as a guideline, try to examine how each person in your family tree experienced Love.  For each person, for example:

  1. GRACE: Did they exhibit or have experience of unearned, sacrificial favor? Is that how they saw God? Did they relate to Jesus through His perfect love? Did they experience that kind of love from someone else?
  2. EMPATHY: How did they deal with difference? Were they able to put themselves in other people's shoes? Were they judgmental? Is there a history of racism, sexism or other major ego operations that you see?
  3. NEIGHBORS: How did they relate to people close by? Did they have friendships? How were their relationships at work or with peers? Were they isolated? Peacemakers? Conflict-creators?
  4. FAMILY: What was their relationship like with parents, siblings and children? What role did they see themselves having in your family dynamic?
  5. ALTARS: Where did they find worth? In the approval of others? In having the right answer? Were there signs of known addictions: alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, food, work, etc.?
  6. EROS: How did they define their sexuality? Did they express open affection for their spouse? Was there a history of sexual brokenness, pornography or affairs? Broken marriages or relationships?

Step 3 - Look for Themes

Do you see trends through your family tree? Are their ALTARS that re-occur? Is there a particular brand of EMPATHY that seems to show up again and again? How did characters react to each other? Did broken relationships multiply or did someone stop the trend? There is much here to learn and explore.  Remember that we are not here to judge, measure or evaluate.  Nothing you are seeing determines your future. But everything you are seeing had effect.  Remember as well that we are not objective rememberers of these characters, so our perceptions are also have effect as well.  The only goal is to open our hearts to the Spirit's illumination and see if there are answers to the question - How did I learn love? And what did I learn? You may find that in the margins there are "family figures" that had as much to do with your story as the genetically linked ones.  These all matter as well.

As you make progress with your ethnography, share it with 1 or 2 close characters.  They will notice different things than you and it can be another opportunity to be gracious to your own history as well as be open to ways to grow from it.