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Betsy Kneepkens: Family gathering at wedding is an eye-opener

My niece, who lives on the East Coast, got married. Half of my siblings traveled a long distance and decided to make a week of it. I can’t remember when so many of my brothers and sisters spent that much time with each other. 

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

I always marvel at how large families who have shared nearly everything growing up, attend similar schools, eat the same food every day, and play in the same sandbox their whole childhood grow up so different from each other. My family came from all over the globe to attend this event, which does not happen too often. My weekly expectations were minimal. I was hoping for some time to connect and experience a little family unity. 

The Fourth of July has been a time to celebrate the birth of our nation and the sacrifice people gave for our freedom. This day is where we honor the success that our election process has had a peaceful change of power at all government levels, even if we do not always agree with each other. In many countries, the shift from one party to another causes civil unrest, if not deadly riots. U. S. citizens have always been proud of our willingness to accept the handing over of political power to the opposing side after an election. The brilliance of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution is truly remarkable. I hope we can continue to manage that appreciation. 

It seems to me that the Fourth of July has become a day where we acknowledge the signing of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Still, I think we slowly forget the rest of this day’s importance, like peacefulness, civility, and general respect for each other and the common good. Some are discarding even the significance of signing the Declaration of Independence. I speculate that if the Fourth of July did not come with a mid-summer day off, good barbecue food, and fireworks, would the people of the United States even celebrate this holiday? Or are we finding it politically incorrect to point out our remarkable history? 

As Americans, we used to see ourselves as “we the people,” “one nation under God,” and “United.” However, those statements seem to be supercharged with political overtones, which are causing severe division. 

While growing up, politics weren't a big thing in our household. My parents rarely, if ever, spoke about parties, who they voted for, or what legislative bills they supported. I know they voted, but it appeared to be more of their duty as citizens than a proclamation or demand of what they expected from their government. I remember those days fondly, when the most significant division that happened in a community was between rival high school sporting teams. 

As I spent time with my family during the wedding week, I quickly learned that we saw each other’s standpoints very differently. At first, it appeared to be a generational gap between the parents and our children, but that didn’t hold. Next, as I listened to the arguments, I was confident that the division was happening in a way where individuals considered themselves part of the “Democrat club” and others were members of the “Republican club.” Just as I was convinced that was the cause of division, my hypothesis fell apart when the discussion involved human rights matters. Briefly, and I mean briefly, I thought the lines were drawn at President Biden supporters and President Trump supporters. That was wrong, too. 

I was still curious and a bit mystified midway through my trip. While analyzing the nitty-gritty, I thought the passion and the markers were as conservative vs. liberal perspectives. Still, the discontent was still murky and not super reliable. 

Instead of just listening, I began asking questions and developed a new theory. First, I discovered that many of my family members’ arguments lacked logic — I mean academic reason, what you learn in an introductory philosophy class. I know logic has been removed from general education requirements. This week was an example that the absence of basic philosophical skills is already negatively impacting peoples’ ability to form an opinion. 

Next, when asked to bring their argument to an eventual conclusion, they could not or would not. For instance, I said, “if your idea is correct and the world agrees to do as you propose, will society prosper, or will it collapse?” 

I asked a few more questions, but the defining question was, “Do you live for here and now, your earthly existence, or do you live with the end in mind, your heavenly hope?” This last question seemed to be the central divider. The larger fraction of the family was uninterested, unmoved, and dismissive of making decisions based on an eternal reward, hope, or a life lived toward a union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Sometimes, family members refused to include that concept in the discussion. More than one person said, “I don’t even want to go there.” This omission in their argument caught me off guard. Everyone believed in God, but heaven was such a given it wasn’t even a factor in the conversation. 

All my siblings were raised Catholic, and all those married married a Catholic or convert to Catholicism. All but two of my nieces and nephews were baptized. 

Every bit of Catholicism is about salvation. Everything in the Catholic Faith ultimately points to the end, our hopeful union with the Almighty. It became apparent why I struggled to understand their perspective. The two fractions look at life entirely differently. At times, I couldn’t even understand their point, and therefore, the divide was purpose, language, and intent. 

The “here and now” group was, about the immediate, about me, even at the the cost of others. There was a great willingness to tolerate others, “do as you want,” and they seemed to be insistent on me accepting their truth. Loud and clear I heard, “no one has a right to impose anything on their choices.” 

For the “end in mind” group, eternity seemed to be central to their decision making. They do not believe they own truth, and an important factor was they realized they were a piece of a larger puzzle. The “end of mind” used logic, a greater purpose beyond self, and their impact on a more significant whole was fundamental to defining how decisions should be made. 

These two different approaches seem to me to be at the root of what is causing the division in our country. I am confident that one of these two approaches is more right. I figure if the “here and now” group is more right, then they will have enjoyed some pleasure I have not. If the “end in mind” perspective is more right, then the “here and now” group might be risking their heavenly eternity, a risk I am not willing to take. 

This wedding week was a real eye-opener. When I share my perspective on significant issues, many in my family don’t get what I am saying, or they think I am old fashioned or label me as unfeeling or mean. I get it now; they don’t get my intent. The “here and now” group is enjoying their here and now life, and as long as I don’t interfere, they don’t care if I am on board or not. As a Catholic, I believe the division happens in our society because as Catholics we are called to invite others to the heavenly banquet — it is our duty, obligation, and responsibility. As the “here and now” operate as individuals, we are left needing to bring them into community; we can’t leave them alone, it is our baptismal obligation. 

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.