Luke 12:51-53: On the Verge of a Paradigm Shift by Elisabeth Schilling

BeachI remember being quite happy when my values about body, faith, and purpose lined up with those of my parents. With the support of my Protestant evangelistic community as well, I was “bold and fearless,” not caring who might judge me or disagree with me because I was not standing on my own. The anxiety of becoming embarrassed or having my world crashing down because of the ideas I expressed did not exist. My beliefs seemed special and right, and I had constant reaffirmation from family and community that they were.

But now I hold perspectives about spirituality and humanity that I can no longer discuss with ease in front of my family–not without my mother crying and feeling as if she did not know or like the person I had become. This may matter to me more than it might to other people since I have, for over a year now, returned to that home to write my dissertation. I am constantly challenged with the task of creating a space where I can honor my desires, needs, and truths. Like Judith Butler says, if I am a person who exists by doing, when I cannot express/speak/give an account of myself, I cannot fully exist. Family is important, but what gets sacrificed by pretending and silence? It is not only the self, but the chance for deeper, more authentic bonds.

In the field of women’s studies, we base our epistemology on difference and situated knowledges, understanding that conflicting and contradictory perspectives do not have to break us, and that we can benefit from attending to them. Cultural, gender, and power dynamics do not dissolve the chance for healing and productive encounters.

So why then, is it so hard to engage in healing and productive encounters of difference within our own families?

I think it might be because coming out with revelatory information threatens to bring on a paradigm shift. If we share with our loved ones something non-normative about ourselves, they have to make room for new reality in their worldviews. Something hated and/or feared will asked to be loved. And loving always changes us.

I find the passage in Luke 12 about Jesus coming to not give peace but division–“Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”– compelling in that it uses the generational relationships between family members to explain the inevitability of ideological divisions. It is possible that truths involved in words like gay, queer, asexual, and gender-queer or in statements like “I-don’t-believe-in-that-religion-anymore/the-same-way-as-you” might not bring immediate peace in a family. Coming out to the ones we love can create division, as can the silences we keep.

The traditional reading that comes to mind for Luke 12, perhaps learned somewhere along the way of my religious teaching, is that the division described is between those who will accept Jesus’ teachings and those who will not, or between Christians and non-Christians. This is a call to put  religious allegiance before family bonds, to be prepared to stay strong despite those you love rejecting you because they do not accept what Jesus preaches. Perhaps the breach will be repaired, perhaps not.

I too see this passage as a description of a harsh reality, but I also see it as a promise. While the message for some would be to accept Jesus/Christianity as salvation, I am influenced by the midrash found in the beginning of Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk, that tells of a Jesus who “tried to give up our fantasies of power and revenge. But we could not hear him. As long as he was here among us, we wanted him to take power, to replace the kingship of the Gentiles with the kingship of Israel. But our ideas of God’s rule were still based on domination and subjugation. Only by bringing these hopes to an end with his death could we be forced to give up these dreams and find a different answer within ourselves, the answer that he had been trying to teach us all along.” (9).  I understand Christianity’s promise as a relational one.  It understands how differing perspectives can create division, but reminds us that it is our responsibility to continually work together to help navigate the evolving world together, assuaging fears and learning about new possibilities for life and identity.  Jesus in the Luke passage seemed to be saying that his immediate world was on the verge of a paradigm shift because of his message and upcoming death. I think that he understood that other paradigm shifts would follow.

Asking acceptance from family can be difficult. The lesson I take from my childhood, but also from feminism, is that participation in community can help us to stand up against norms in the world and in our families. May we all strive to create or find communities that help us to stand up for ourselves.

LaChelle Schilling is a doctoral candidate in the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She is living in Oklahoma raising awareness about asexuality and writing her dissertation entitled “Queering Asexuality: A Discourse of Desire and Intimacy. “

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

19 thoughts on “Luke 12:51-53: On the Verge of a Paradigm Shift by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. Lachelle, I can so well identify with your experience of having to stand up for yourself and to be strong enough to walk your own path, despite of your family’s views and responses. Thanks for sharing this. It encourages me greatly, for my own journey – and for my feminism.


    1. Thank you so much Annalet. That my words can encourage you, especially in your feminism, encourages me. Right now my community is online. I wish, that in church, our families could be taught less oppressive behaviors, perhaps ones based on friendship, and a move toward acceptance and inclusiveness. My hope for future churches, I guess. Because it is the only place I know where families regularly sit and hear a common message, it seems like a good forum. Thank you for your response.


  2. Hi LaChelle, your article brought tears to my eyes. Yes, it is difficult to come out to ones family about believing differently or not believing at all. For so many years, whenever I flew for New York to visit my birth family in South Africa, I always felt like I had to force myself through a ring and leave those parts of myself behind that might upset or challenge the Calvinist beliefs my family held. It was only through my art in which I explore goddess and women’s relationship/reflection in the sacred, that I felt I had the “language” to state my position and even this was not easy. Much judgement was forthcoming. My sisters even removed my artworks of praying female figures from their walls when they realized I was portraying women being mirrored by goddess. It took a long time to come to some understanding with my siblings that I am not lost, that their path of blind faith in a father god, did not hold the same allure for me, that I chose a path of search and inner discovery, that goddess is this planet, our mother. Blessings.


    1. Majak, thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry they removed your work. Maybe I do need another outlet in addition to my scholarly works to share with others and express my beliefs, to take part in the sacred. My spirit and soul do need a renewal. I need to find some healing for the guilt and shame that I have internalized simply for not wanting my desires to be controlled. Creativity is so helpful. Thank you for reminding me of that and creating the possibility by your response. I am so glad you have your art and I am looking forward to seeing it. Thanks for letting us know.


  3. I can relate to a lot of what you are going through with family. I love this: “Something hated and/or feared will asked to be loved. And loving always changes us.” I very much sense right now that I am asking people who are very important to me to love what they hate or fear, and it is causing great division. I wonder if Jesus would have included “husband and wife” in the list in Luke 12. And I can so relate to this: “participation in community can help us to stand up against norms in the world and in our families. May we all strive to create or find communities that help us to stand up for ourselves.” It is so true and essential.


    1. Erica, I think for sure that husband and wife, and then wife and wife, and also husband and husband, and all the other familial relations are there. Thank you for bringing them out to be noticed. That is really cool. I just wonder how the conversation starts for any of them.


  4. Beautiful, articulate and thought-provoking article, Lachelle. My experience (with my family of origin) has been much like Majak’s. When one of my siblings assures me that they are praying for my lost soul, I assure them that my soul may be more closely attuned with the divine than their own. How can anyone know the condition of my soul? Praying for the well-being of another person is fine,but casting judgment is not.

    Creating a safe space when you share a residence with others who are judging you does take its toll. When I was in that situation, I relied on meditation, sage, and lit candles to affirm my sense of safety, many times each day.


    1. Thank you for reading and also for the suggestions on some ways to connect. I am particularly touched by your “many times each day.” Yes, I understand. It makes sense. Thank you!


  5. Lachelle, I too have been alienated from my family because of my beliefs, starting with supporting civil rights and opposing the war in Vietnam, to not being a woman behind a man, and on and on. It is not easy to separate or be separated from family. My father is patriarchal, one of my brothers watches Fox News, and the other is in the Mormon hierarchy. Even when I try “not to say anything to upset them,” I still do. I moved to another country (hee hee).


    1. Thank you so much, Carol. Your entry on childhood history and religion in November touched me greatly, especially when you explained what ideas you had departed from. Your honesty from that entry kind of became a mantra to me, if that makes any sense. Yes, Fox news. And the Trinity Broadcasting System. “I moved to another country.” :)


  6. LaChelle, Almost all of us on this list can probably relate to your post to a certain extent. If we’re of a certain age, as feminists of whatever stripe, we have come out to our families with varying problems. It’s always hard. After years of my mother crying about my changes of consciousness, I can remember when finally all three of my sisters and I had related our new spiritual paths to my Protestant mother (one Native American, one atheist, one Catholic, and me Wiccan). At first my mother was sorrowful and upset. But eventually she said, “Well, if you’re all going to hell, I guess that’s where I want to go, too.” That was the first step on a long path to acceptance. She’s retained her faith, but understands that her daughters believe/experience spirit differently than she does.

    My mother recently moved in with me, so I’m having a mirror-image experience to your moving in with your birth family. The first time she stayed here last spring, it was very difficult. She slept terribly, was depressed, anxious, and agitated, all of which affected me terribly. But this time, I’m performing a short ritual every morning, where I create an invisible shield around me that is impervious to disharmony in my environment (I also wear a piece of sugilite for this purpose), and it has made all the difference. I’m enjoying my mother’s presence, making time for my work and play, not getting agitated and anxious when she does, and just plain realizing where I end and she begins. The strong boundaries I’ve created (and recreate every day) have also had an amazing impact on all of my relationships. I find that I can be more present with others with much less anxiety about how I’m “coming off.” I’m sharing more of my authentic self and enjoying life more. I highly recommend such a practice.


    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am an only child, but I often think about having myself and my cousins come together to speak to our parents. I think it might make more sense in solidarity. :) I love the ideas that you have and YES, I think it is so true about all you say about boundaries and having less anxiety and being more present and enjoying life – it is all tied together. I’m kind of always thinking that I’m 32 and so I should have figured out how to do all of this being me/being bold by now, but I guess it just matters that I finally do it . . .


  7. I am so enjoying all the wonderful voices in this conversation! A meaningful circle of thought, experiences and wisdom.
    Like carol, I moved to a different country (USA). I wrote earlier that I nonetheless felt being pulled through a ring when I visited my birth family in South Africa during my 23 year stay in New York. I felt I had to leave most of who I was behind so as not to upset them with my feminism and my art devoted to the sacred female. Nine years ago I returned to live in South Africa in the house against the Drakensberg where my parents lived and died. I transformed this patriarchal house of my father’s anger and my mother’s sadness into a goddess house filled with color and light and symbols and shrines, and I built a studio in the garden where my father planted vegetables (that were mostly eaten by the monkeys and the porcupines). It has only been now, that I no longer strip myself of myself so as not to upset my siblings, that I have found the self-acceptance and strength to boldly state who I am and where my path has diverged from theirs. I do this in the works I create in my studio. I often wonder how my parents would have responded to the changes I made here, would my father feel relieved that he no longer has to be the boss man, in charge, and would my mother have liked the light and color in the house that was always dark and shrouded with heavy curtains? Would she have found comfort in the female figurines and black Madonnas where I light devotional candles? Would she still be praying for my lost soul, or would she have been able to bless me for my courage?


    1. Thanks for telling that story, Majak. I am also South African and also live with the heritage of a patriarchal religious tradition. For me to hear of your house-shrine at the foot of the Drakensberg is amazing, for I also have a close attachment to the Drakensberg mountains. I have met some interesting eco-feminist artists who live in the shade of the mountains, but have not yet discovered your shrine!


      1. I meant to add that I think that is what I wanted to articulate about the promise of the paradigm shift, that it might bring something needed and positive to everyone’s world. Thank you for helping with that thought.


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