Family Differences

Commentary by Ben Bowen King

"In My Mother’s House”
by Kate Campbell
from Sing Me Out

That Kate Campbell really knows how to take on life’s two major authority figures: Mom and “The Church.” And what’s so amazing is she does it in a totally disarming way in a three-minute song called “In My Mother’s House.”

Recent polls show that fewer than 50 percent of children remain in their parents’ denomination. Kate was raised in the Southern Baptist church in Mississippi, where her Dad was a minister. As a singer/songwriter Kate headed out on a more liberal spiritual path.

Her catalogue of 12 CDs is peppered with quirky songs about religion, interpersonal relationships and the fight for racial equality. Apparently Kate’s mother is on the other side of the generation gap when it comes to much of the subject matter in her daughter’s songs:

                        When I go home for the holidays
                        There’s so much to talk about
                         And sometimes we disagree
                         On politics and theology
                         In my mother’s house

So what’s a child to do? What’s a parent to do?

It’s no secret some parents become upset when kids strike out on a different spiritual path. And the reasons for discord often have more to do with parents’ feelings of embarrassment than worries about their children’s spiritual well-being. If we’re honest, we’d have to confess a lot of these emotions come from the fact that our churches are, among other things, social entities.

In many churches there’s an undeniable status in being one of those “Norman Rockwell families” that can fill an entire pew with three or four generations. The unsaid message is: “The (fill in  a name) family really must be doing something right when it comes to spirituality.” 

What folks don’t remember when they compare modern families to the idealized folks in Rockwell’s paintings is that those paintings reflect a way of life from another era. The people in Rockwell’s paintings would have been getting their spiritual diet from just one source— the pulpit.
Nowadays people have a much broader spectrum of religious wisdom literally at their fingertips. So chances are good a person will run across a religious idea or path they didn’t learn about in their parents’ church. But different spiritual paths don’t have to be a parent/child deal-breaker.  Kate sums up the situation:

             I am a prodigal daughter
             But in my wandering I have found
            There is a wideness in mercy
             And there’ll always be a place for me
            In my mother’s house


For Parents: If you and your offspring are on different spiritual paths, take a second to make a list. In one column write down what you believe.  In the other list put what your child believes.

Now imagine the proverbial death-bed scene. Which one of those theological questions really matters? Where does pride fit into all of this? As a parent, when do we let get go of the idea that we inherently “know what’s best.”

For Children: At what point do we “give it a break” and move past our teen campaigns of establishing unique identities? We often become so intent on becoming an adult and establishing our own personalities that we lose sight of what the whole “adult” thing is about. In other words, when do we “act like an adult,”  treat our parents as fellow grown-ups and look for a middle ground?   


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