The term "family values" has been disastrously devalued in recent years. Somehow it has come to mean opposition to change, strident anger about LGBTQ people and positions in the so-called culture wars that advocate rolling back time to some imagined period of Utopia, which, it turns out, was Utopia only for a few.
The Rev. Erin Wathen, senior pastor of St. Andrew Christian Church in suburban Olathe, Kan., wants to change all that. In her new book, More Than Words: 10 Values for the Modern Family, she writes with wit and conviction, finally concluding that "Maybe the most radically transformative thing we can do for the world is to raise compassionate, peace-loving children."
Wathen is critical of "people on the more progressive end of the theological and social spectrum" for hurrying "to point out what is wrong with another system of belief without providing an alternative."
The alternative, she argues, is to grasp and advocate these values: Compassion, abundance, Sabbath, nonviolence, joy, justice, community, forgiveness, equality and authenticity.
If that sounds like a recipe for a stodgy book of rules and advice, it might well be that in the hands of a different writer. But Wathen is a great storyteller who is modest, self-critical, funny and insightful.
She tells revealing stories about her shortcomings as a mother, wife and pastor, but always with a cogent point. Why else would she describe her children building a town of Legos that included a liquor store?
Her admonition to avoid the widespread practice of focusing on what we don't have or need more of is particularly convicting for those of us with basements, garages and attics full of stuff we should have recycled years ago. And yet, she writes, "No matter how many times we repeat the mantra at home -- we have enough -- it will not truly sink in unless it is reinforced by the village."
Wathen writes with an acute sense of perspective. An example about her move from Arizona to the Kansas City area:
"If my voluntary relocation -- with relative mastery of the native language, an education, ready transportation, a credit card and friends and family a day's drive away -- was wreaking spiritual havoc on me, what must it be like for these weary ones (refugees), who have suffered unspeakable violence, have had loved ones wrenched from them, and got out alive, but with only the clothes on their backs? It was unthinkable."
This is the sort of book that families in congregations would do well to read together, and it helps that Wathen has offered a few discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
Wathen is a progressive voice in Protestant Christianity, but not a know-it-all voice of condemnation. Which is what makes this book so engaging.
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JUST WHO ARE THE SIKHS?
Sikhs in the U.S. are launching an advertising campaign to explain their religion in light of the continued hate crimes against them that began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by people who thought they were Muslims. In many ways, Sikh values are in harmony with foundational American political values. Let's hope some of the Know-Nothings who target Sikhs can learn something about this religion with roots in Hinduism and in India.