The Untold Stories of FamilyFest
Discussing her recent piece of creative nonfiction, “FamilyFest,” for CALYX, Lynne Casteel Harper reflects on the hard-to-tell parts of family life that never get told in the always already beatified atmosphere of the Homecoming worldview, and how that beatific talk about the family permeates life on and offstage:
I actually have some affection for southern gospel music and the groups I’ve come to know over the past few years. I enjoy, in moderation, the tight harmonies and the un-ironic happiness exuded from stage. But when I found myself immersed in this intensive environment for three days, I simply could not ignore the deeply troubling way the event had merged faith with a particular portrayal of family. The fact that only certain versions of family were given the microphone—and only these “family stories” could enjoy public narration—got me thinking about all the audience members whose families did not fit the sanctioned narrative. It got me thinking about my own stories.
The wedding of faith to one kind of family narrative haunted me, particularly as I began to consider my friends [whom I write about in the essay] (“Melody” and “Justin”) whose theology was similar to the theology represented on stage but for whom these idealized notions of family had shattered in the face of hard realities. The sacralizing of a particular narration of family does not just happen on the gospel music stage. My long weekend of immersion in this “Family Fest” family hit this fact home to me.
(BTW it’s worth noting that Harper’s husband, Ryan, is doing perhaps the most extensive scholarly work to date on the Gaithers and Homecoming. While we’re all waiting expectantly for Ryan’s Gaither work to be published, check out his recent essay on Promise Keepers in Religion and Popular Culture).
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