Middle child of six siblings, this third Peacock often got lost in the crowd.
Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Our six birthdays, from the oldest to the youngest, spanned just nine years. No wonder my mom could barely keep us straight.
Maureen. Tim. Joani. Bernie. Clare. Joseph. She would rattle through our names till she found the one that fit.
It’s me, mom. It’s Joani. Remember me?
And with six kids in the suburbs, it was no wonder that my mom made use of all the help that she could get. My Grandma Cady, my mom’s mom, would cook, make lunches, and help get us off to school. My dad was a doctor, a surgeon, so we could afford to hire help. Cornelia cleaned, Cora did the ironing, and Sonny, Cornelia’s brother did all the heavy lifting.
Outwardly, we all appeared neat and tidy, organized and orderly. But that was so not the case. My mom’s bipolar disorder, along with my dad’s addiction to work, wreaked havoc on our home.
But we six kids, whether because of our circumstances – or in spite of them — compounded the chaos tenfold.
There was a lot of yelling, screaming and name calling. Middle child, I learned to keep my head down. Middle child, a translator at the bargaining table, I tried to keep the peace.
As much, as any little kid could.
And there was more than just a little competition. Who has to do the dishes. Who gets to sit up front in the car. Who gets first crack at the Oreos – when my mom got home from the store.
Our birth order was also our pecking order — but often in reverse. My grade school idea of fairness was quite literal. I remember sneaking down the stairs, on Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to bed, and counting the packages under the tree. Invariably, Baby Brother Joseph always got the most.
Joseph, was the most beloved, it seemed. Too little for household chores. Too adorable to be held accountable. He could always hide behind my mother’s skirts.
Or so it seemed to me.
Who wouldn’t want to murder their little brother? Or throw him into a pit? Or sell him off for twenty pieces of silver?
This is the story of Joseph. Not my baby brother Joseph. But Joseph of Genesis. Joseph, one of the great novellas of Hebrew Scripture. Joseph, the youngest and most favored son of Jacob. The one who got the awesome coat. Baby brother Joseph, who did not endear himself to his siblings.
An angst filled family story of biblical proportions.
Joseph was seventeen years of – shepherding the flock with his brothers. Joseph, the apple of Jacob’s eye, put his brothers in a bad light. He ratted them out for some unnamed offense. And Jacob rewards him for betraying his brothers — with that amazing technicolor dream coat. The child of his old age, he loved Joseph best of all.
His brothers hated him for it. They could not even spare him a peaceable word.
Jacob sends Joseph out to find where his brothers are keeping the sheep. Before the distance is closed between them, the siblings conspire to do their little brother in.
Here comes the dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into a pit.
We’ll tell dad a wild animal devoured him.
No, the eldest counters. Let’s just steal his coat, go with the pit and not kill him.
It being a waterless pit, this was Joseph’s brothers’ singular kindness.
Callously, they sit down to eat – while up comes a wandering band of Ishmaelites – nomads and merchants on their way to Egypt.
This inspires in Judah, another of the brothers, a very profitable idea.
Let’s sell him to the highest bidder!
So, they pull him out of the pit and hand him over for twenty pieces of silver.
Joseph, the youngest, the interpreter of dreams, quite ironically is put in the middle. His protective father behind him – ahead, his brothers plotting his demise.
They could all use a little family therapy, don’t you think?
So, could we all.
Our families of origin. Our communities of choice. Our workplaces. Our psychic spaces. Our social circles and political cul-de-sacs. We all tend to hang out with our own tribe. The folks who look like us and think like us and agree with us.
All could use a little family therapy.
Yahweh does not rescue Joseph from the pit – at least not in the swoop down from heaven – Deus ex machina — way. Instead, God, quite providentially, leaves his children –- including us — to our own devices. The devices, God has equipped us with. By our wits, by our skills, by our gifts — to work out this family squabble on our own.
To literally appeal to our better angels.
Three weeks ago, July 21st, the Washington Post reporter, Colby Itkowitz wrote:
On a Wednesday evening, Donna Murphy joined about 30 people in a nondescript basement…for a Better Angels’ “skills workshop” to learn the fundamentals of how to have difficult conversations, to bring Democrats and Republicans together for a three day Better Angels dialogue.
Better Angels began as a civics experiment in rural southwest Ohio several weeks after the election. With the emotions of the campaign still raw, a room of 21 strangers, ten who voted for Trump and 11 who voted for Clinton spent an entire weekend together talking.
They listened. They debated. They vented. There were tense moments and emotional ones.
After 13 hours of discussion, the participants did not change their views but left with a softened view of the other side.
Better Angels went on a thirteen-city summer tour to promote this red-blue dialogue – to facilitate conversations across a deep political divide.
The program is the brainchild of David Blankenhorn, a Republican, and onetime opponent of same sex marriage – who later changed his position after a friendship with a gay man changed his mind.
The group takes its name from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, will swell the chorus of our Union, when again touched, as surely, they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
“One consistent message we’re getting is, there are strong disagreements, but we’re not as far apart as we thought we are. There is passion and disagreement…but the main takeaway is that this is good, this kind of talking with — rather than at or about – our political opponents is good for us and good for our country.”
Some of these groups have decided to meet on a monthly basis. Some not. But meeting even once like this could be a really good idea, don’t you think?
A really good idea, we could put into practice here in Alexandria.
On behalf of Emmanuel, I have sent Mr. Blankenhorn an initial inquiry of how, as a parish, we might sponsor a Better Angels training weekend in our own backyard.
Just a possibility that could come to pass early next year.
A way to equip ourselves, as sisters and brothers, to speak and to listen to one another in love.
Let’s think about it. Talk about it. Pray about it.
The third Peacock, in me, wants to believe that we can work towards healing our tribal divides.
This middle child wants to believe that we can work towards putting aside our self-righteous needs always to be right.
Dear God, please, help us to both temper and to tame
the destructive side of our, all too human, sibling rivalries.