Lent 07: Day 34 – Memories, History, and Family Generations

Today was a special day. I had a photography assignment covering the family reunion of large African-American clan, which by any measure are a group of blessed and special people. This assemblage of men, women, and children trace their heritage back to one pair of grandparents. Everyone in the room was either a descendant, married to a descendant, or the finance or escort of a descendant. About seventy-five people attended the festivities, held in a large church complex in Washington, D.C., less than eight blocks from the White House.

This impressive family makes it a point to get together on a regular basis for reunions. The specifics of this gathering were about celebrating the 75th birthday of one of the daughters of that original couple. Also present were her four sisters and one brother.

As I listened to the various presentations, remembrances, and anecdotes, I was reminded of something I had read early in my Christian journey in a book by Catherine Marshall, Something More. In a chapter titled “The Law of Generations,” she discussed the descendants of Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher, philosopher, and president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). She talked about how God blesses the descendants of faithful believers and how two people can can start a tsunami of righteous and goodness spreading across history. Yesterday, I saw something similar in the family I was photographing.

Spreading out from this couple, now with the Lord, is a similar generational legacy, but one that stared with all of the disadvantages faced by African-American families in the first half of the 20th century. That makes their hard won success, family strength, moral and ethical certitude, and Christian commitment all the more noteworthy. God has blessed the generations of those two righteous believers and they are doing everything in their power to continue the heritage. It was hard for me to get an accurate count (my focus was the photography) but there were more than five ministers, and numerous deacons and elders within that assembled family.

Over the years I have heard many criticisms of African-American Christian Churches and ministers, many from my African-American Christian brothers. It is said that they tend to go soft on sin and focus on success and blessings; they are heavy on hallelujahs and weak on repentance. That was not the case yesterday where demands for righteousness flowed like water from a fountain and the call to continued repentance was loud and clear. Yes they thanked God for their blessings, but they were grounded in the love and humility of their grandparents, who stood against sin and for righteousness in themselves and their family.

Many of the anecdotes shared noted the extensive love and graciousness always evident to those who joined the family by marriage; how they felt loved and welcomed, but at the same time knew that in this family you stood righteously for the Lord. Men loved, respected, and did not stray from their wives. They took care of their children first and foremost and worked hard to be good providers, often sacrificing (agape) their own desires for the wellbeing of their family.

It was an honor to be at their gathering and I enjoyed the work immensely. I thank God for the opportunity to experience such a blessing, to see such love and commitment, and to know a side of African-American family life that I had never been exposed to before this moment. I pray God reproduces the best aspects of this family in a thousand times a thousand African-American families across the United States.

In closing, I offer my prayers to theirs, in the hope that God continues to bless this family and that they will continue to strive to be the people God has called them to be.

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