Magazine article The Christian Century

Blood and Water

Magazine article The Christian Century

Blood and Water

Article excerpt

BLOOD IS THICKER than water." Though I didn't always know precisely what they meant by it, this is a saying I heard from relatives on my mother's side throughout my childhood. My great-grandmother Grammar tended to utter these words when she believed family members needed to close ranks against outsiders, or at least think and behave in a manner worthy of the family name. This maxim always seemed to me to have, a judgmental quality to it. For example, Grammar and her daughters, my great-aunts and grandmother, were notorious for making fun of the looks and character of every woman my poor great-uncle John Bundy tried to go out with. It is all too easy to imagine that this phrase was a major weapon in the arsenal with which they kept him single and at home until the day he died.

It's hard to say precisely what the phrase meant to my manic-depressive great-grandfather. With his expanding lands in western Kentucky, Papa was big on caring with style for his wife and six children, and he provided for a fairly large number of distant cousins as well. Still, his pattern was to go moaning to bed for the entire winter, "groveling in the ashes," as my mother used to say. Then he would leap up with manic energy at the return of spring and resume his farming and his hobby, which was to buy up at rock-bottom prices the farms of his neighbors who were in financial difficulties.

However Papa generally felt about people who were not blood kin, one summer early in the century his own sister Lucy was in trouble due to debts on her farm owed to the bank. As best as I can make out, Papa heartlessly bought that farm fight out from under her--and refused to sell it back to her later, no matter what she offered.

Though families like mine don't feud much in western Kentucky, I can tell you that thick blood is a much stronger medium in which to sustain a grudge than water. There are no longer strong bad feelings between the descendants of great-great Aunt Lucy and those of Papa, but there still isn't much socializing among them either. Even after 80 years, no one is about to forget the original outrage.

Whether or not we grew up hearing this peculiar phrase about blood and water, most of us are convinced of the point. We group ourselves not just into families and neighborhood communities, gender and ethnic identities, political parties and organizations, even congregations and denominations, but also into warring or scornful factions within those groups. Daily we identify ourselves, and teach our children to identify themselves, by making comparisons with those we think we are better than--socially, politically, morally or theologically--or with those who are to be avoided because they have betrayed us. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.