“What is your family famous for?”

The question reverberated like a gong somewhere around my left ventricle.

I hadn’t expected a discussion on family traditions to be so thought provoking.


Tradition is pretty minor in our house for a variety of reasons. The main reason being that we have a nine-month-old. Traditions in our home look more like “bedtime at 7 pm” and “bi-weekly showers for mom” than anything from a Martha Stewart magazine.


Growing up, we had a few traditions, like spending Christmas Eve over at my Great Aunt’s house, or celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving all mashed into one epic “Happy ThanksChristmas” with my Dad’s side of the family. Little day-to-day things were built in as well. My Mom traditionally brought these fantastic no-bake oatmeal cookies to every family picnic or church event. My Nana would ask me “now, where did we park?!?” every time we would leave a store. She still asks me that question whenever we go shopping, twenty years later. These are the things that formed me. The things we Clarkson’s were famous for.


What is your family famous for?”


The question is still gonging against the walls of my soul.


Some traditions, like figuring out where in the world you parked, just happen. Others are built in with great intention – like 7 o’clock bedtime.


The speaker shared about different traditions her family observes while on vacation, on the first day of school and, pertinently, around the holidays. Discussions about everything from Christmas trees to pre-flight rituals; what to do with Santa and how to preserve your children’s memories ebbed and flowed throughout the conversation.


But what is my family going to be famous for?


We have a lot of time to answer this question, the particular branch of the Westra family tree to which I belong. But the question still buzzed unrelentingly around my head like a gnat. Harming nothing, but just annoying enough to fixate on when everything else was still.


The question joined the firestorm of gnats that circle around my head unceasingly. A swarm consisting of stories and stats, numbers and ratings all pertaining to systematic injustice in the world.


30,000 people die each week from lack of access to clean water.

That’s 156,000 people every year.

 Experts say it would cost between 10-30 billion dollars annually to provide clean water for the entire world.

 Analysts have recorded that Americans spend some 450 billion dollars on holiday celebrations and gifts. Every year.


What is your family famous for?


Many conventional brands of sugar, chocolate, coffee, and other luxury food items are farmed, harvested and processed by adults and children held in slavery. They are beaten, abused, kidnapped, forced to work and many not paid at all.


What is your family famous for?


Popular clothing manufacturers and designers such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Limited and Forever 21 have life diminishing policies towards their manufacturers. Your jeans were made by a slave. You own slaves. Yes, you.


The gnats morph into horse flies which then morph into vultures picking away at my very being.


What are you famous for?


The vultures morph into dragons.


I am an oppressor.

The realization cuts through flesh and muscle, bone and marrow, down to the deepest part of my humanity.


What are you famous for?


I want us to be odd. I want us to stand in opposition to the Martha Stewart version of the holiday season so that we might grasp what is truly going on here.


God Godself, putting on human clothes and moving into the neighborhood.


Living and breathing. Laughing and crying. Experiencing the joys of acceptance and the utter despair of rejection.


I want to truly embrace that the holiday season is not about the gifts we receive or even the gifts we give.


That Jesus was so much more than just God’s gift to the world.


Jesus changed everything.


Jesus, in the same moment the King and the herald of the new order for creation. The old has gone and the new has come.


Freedom. Jubilee. The broken pieces of this world put back together.


I hope we will be known for this same thing.


That our traditions would reflect and further the putting back together of the world.


That they would be traditions bent on giving life with abundance to all of humanity.


That we would be marked by simplicity.


That when we do consume we would consume consciously.


That we would free our slaves, and by doing so free ourselves.


Generous. Just. Restorers.


We will be famous for those things. It’s not flashy, but it lasts.


What are you famous for?


  1. Michele on November 18, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I now have gnats thank you. 🙂 But seriously working with the wonderful people we do who have struggled with addictions and many do not feel accepted. I am excited to have some to our home and love on them for thanksgiving. 🙂 Great post!!!

  2. parmanifesto on December 3, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    The family that made Milwaukee famous.

    I’m really glad that you’re in my life. And I’m really glad H&M got a B+ rating from Not For Sale. Because their jeans make me look proportional.

  3. looking back… « crazy little thing called love on December 31, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    […] started rethinking Christmas traditions and as the season grew closer and the tragedies mounted, I found the truth of God in a manger so […]

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