Can We Inherit Scars?

I would love to tell you that I am a regular reader of novels, but it’s not true.  I read lots of nonfiction. And I read one novel a year during beach vacation.  That’s it.

A lot of research goes into what that one novel will be.  This year it was Homegoing by Yall Gyasi.  It’s excellent.

This particular paragraph struck me hard:

“Yaw listened as his best friend told him that he had explained to the girl that you could not inherit a scar.  Now, nearing his fiftieth birthday, Yaw no longer knew if he believed that.”

Can we inherit scars?  I think we can and we do.

Generational Trauma is real. Yaa Gyasi’s story of eight generations of an African/African-American family illustrates that scars can indeed be inherited.

This is also true for “church families.”  I am queasy about calling all congregations “families” and yet church systems and family systems are similar.  The generational trauma/family systems in a congregation are especially pronouced during a pandemic, and we who want The Church to thrive need to consider how most congregations share common themes:

  • There are heroes in the life of each church. Beyond Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, and Jesus there are beloved former pastors and other legendary pillars.
  • There are “identified patients” The “problem pastor” who led the church astray or the elder who kept speaking truths that no one else wanted to here.
  • There are blind spots. The congregants who pride themselves in their beautiful sanctuary or their financial endowment who don’t see that the walls are cracked and the endowment is dwindling fast.)
  • There are levels of distrust.  Some church people don’t trust each other, their pastor, or the denomination.  They don’t even trust God.
  • There is anxiety which leads to a sad survival mode.  Again, they don’t trust God.
  • There is amnesia. We don’t remember why we are the church in the first place.
  • There is mis-remembering.We used to have 300 children in Sunday School” when records show that actually, we never had more than 150 in Sunday School during the most glorious of The Glory Days.
  • There are unhealed wounds.  People are still hurting about everything from not being elected to serve a second term on the Deacons to “that sermon about the gays” to Angela Davis.  ( Look it up, Presbyterians.)
  • There are scars we’ve inherited from generation to generation.

We carry with us scars from the past.  Maybe our church once banished a divorced woman from the communion table.  Maybe we refused to welcome a family who didn’t look like us.  Maybe we shamed someone for having a baby too young or for needing to use the food pantry or for having “problem children” who refused to participate in Confirmation. These are the scars that people carry with them long after they leave the church.

But they don’t have to be scars that we forever pass on to future generations.  There are thousands of congregations who welcome the broken, the poor, the sick, the wounded, the excommunicated without hesitation.  There is redemption in a healthy church.  There is movement from “stuckness” to fresh visions what service in God’s name might look like

This is the time to be the redemptive, fresh People of God.  Thank God for this pandemic, if it indeed stops the cycle of passing on the scars and the dysfunctions we’ve come to normalize.

And thank God for Yaa Gyasi who can tell an amazing story.

Note: My 2019 novel was The Nickel Boys by Whitehead Colson.  My 2018 novel was There, There by Tommy Orange.  My 2017 novel was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. My 2016 novel was The Underground Railroad by Whitehead Colson.  These are all good vacation reads.

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