The Hopeful Spirit of Dar Williams
“The Christians and the Pagans” by Dar Williams is one of my very favorite songs. The hopeful lyrics and heartwarming melody tell of a young woman and her friend who, in need of a place to stay after having Solstice, drop in on her Christian uncle and his family on Christmas Eve. The uncle has some apprehension to the visit—his family’s celebration of Christmas has been interrupted by the arrival of two pagans—but as they are family, he welcomes them into his home. They share a table and a festive meal.
There are some awkward moments, as when the son asks his aunt if she’s a witch and later tells his parents he wants to be a pagan, but the worst that happens over the course of the evening is a little burnt pumpkin pie. The moments of grace they share and the insights into one another they receive more than make up for it.
More and more, being a family means welcoming and loving and sharing with people who are very unlike us. This was my experience as a child, the son of a Catholic and a Buddhist, and I see it becoming more common: mixed religion couples, children falling away from the faith of their parents, expectations shattered by unexpected revelations and choices.
Dar Williams sees this alterity in the family as a chance and a cause for learning, not an occasion for brokenness and separation and never speaking. I agree. A family is a complementary unit, a unity of difference. Even where members of a family share the same faith or the same basic worldview, each member embodies these shared understandings and experiences differently. The magic is in the learning.
My heart breaks when I hear of parents and children disowning one another on grounds of politics, religion, or life choices. I believe in truth, but not, as a rule, in destroying a family over disagreements about it.