Archive for January 30th, 2009

Jesus and the Radical Fam

Caryn: So this is my attempt to see if we can’t keep the Cult of the Family discussion going—in a fresher, more encouraging and positive way. I am almost loathe to do it, because frankly I’m EXHAUSTED by some of the comments at the original COTF, but it’s such an important topic, I think maybe we can give it a go.

Besides, I didn’t really get a fair shake at “rebuttal” last time since Carla took advantage of my retreat-ed-ness. (We all need to watch our backs when it comes to Carla. She’s a sneaky one.)

But I while I was retreating I heard a couple things that are pertinent to the Cult of the Family discussion. First was this: “The tears of a stranger are just water.” Apparently, it’s an Indian (from India—my generation, at least, didn’t grow up PC enough to automatically assume this) proverb.

When I heard this, I kind of recoiled in horror. It sounds shockingly mean and callous, doesn’t it? But it’s not really meant to be. The intent is to fortify the family. To instruct children and remind adults about whom their love and care and concern should be focused on. It’s essentially a “family first” sort of thing.

And then in another conversation, this interesting bit came up: According to the sort of athiest biologist set, the reason a mother (or father, I suppose) would be inclined to rush into a burning house to save her children has nothing really to do with love or devotion or any sort of morality issues. It’s all about DNA—specifically, to keep her DNA going on this earth. So this essentially implies that a mother’s love and instinct to protect is “survival of the fittest”-driven as opposed to God-given.

These two things threw me for a loop, because essentially both these little tidbits totally contribute to the Cult of the Family, right? And yet—I’m just guessing here—but it seems to me that an old Indian proverb doesn’t come out of “The Church.” Neither, obviously, would an athiest’s view of maternal instinct be attributed to the church (at least not directly). 

So it dawned on me, that the whole Cult of the Family might not stem from the church at all—but stem directly from human nature. I mean, OF COURSE, I love my kids more than yours. OF COURSE, I worry more about my child’s safety than yours. OF COURSE, I’m going to feel worse when my kid is sick or hurt or sad than when yours is. I can’t imagine life without my kids. I can without yours. It’s my human nature. Or maybe even just nature—those mama bears seem to feel this same way.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I started thinking about Jesus—our Main Revolutionary—and about how he was the one who called us to shift our focus from the internal family (all that hating your mother and brother stuff….) onto the external world. He’s the reason why something like “the tears of a stranger are just water” sounds so icky, so off.

Of course, he’s the one whose Father sent him into this world as a sacrifice, to offer us that grace I’m so crazy about, and to have us share that grace with all nations, not just our little fams.

But of course, there’s still the tension: My human nature makes me want to put my kids above everything (I’m not dissing a mother’s intuition here or any of the nature thing: it rightfully makes me want to love, protect, nurture, care, praise, discipline, and hug them like crazy!). But Jesus calls for the radical—he calls for a transformed nature, one that almost always run counter to what the world and our fallen nature tells us.

My point? The church and it’s Cult of the Family really mimicks the world’s view (some called this worldiness in the first round of comments) and doesn’t mimick Jesus.

It’s by following the world in their focus on the family that we make it a cult and that we end up hurting all these other people who don’t fit. The very ones we were meant to reach.

I’m not saying I think Jesus wants us to ditch the fam or stop listening to our God-given instincts (quite the contrary) but he DOES want us to be counter-cultural, radical families, to be Revolutionary Mommies and take a gander at the outside world every now and then.

Okay, I’m pretty sure now that I JUST reiterated exactly what Carla has been saying these last two posts. Sorry about that. Can we just love and support each other a bit now?


Carla: Hmmm. I’m thinking about this. Here’s something I know for sure–the model we have of motherhood, the one so many of us find to be an uncomfortable fit–absolutely came to us from outside of the church. It came from Richard Nixon.

I can’t tell you how much I love this story. It turns out that during the Cold War, Nixon put together this little propaganda movie about America that included a tour of a “typical American home.” The glories of capitalism were symbolized by the washer and dryer–right there in the house!!!–and the fact that in a capitalist society, there was enough money to be made that only one of the adults in the house had to work! See how great America is? See how good capitalism is? See?!?!?!?!?

The stay-at-home mom of the 50s? Political propaganda. 

If you think about how women lived for the vast majority of human history–and how most women in the world live now–it’s pretty clear that all of the family focus we struggle with was a luxury they couldn’t afford. Women worked in the fields with their children strapped to their backs. They woke up before dawn to make food and gather firewood and start their 15-plus-hour work day. If the kids got a little attention in there, great. But the bottom line was survival, not quality family time.

And actually, I think you bring up something else about motherhood that’s relevant here. At least I’m making it relevant. Women–healthy, reasonably functional women–don’t need someone to tell them that their children are precious. We don’t need to be told to take parenting seriously. We don’t need to be reminded of what our job is as mothers. We know. With every cell of our bodies and acre of real estate in our hearts, we know. And whether the instinct to care for our children is because of love or because of the need to keep our gene pool on the planet, we don’t need books and sermons and huge ministry organizations to tell us that we should love our children and make sacrifices for them.

What we need is Christian communities–and I feel like we’re creating one here!– that help us figure out how to live as God’s people in the midst of parenting, in the midst of not parenting, in the midst of disappointment and dashed hopes, in the midst of joy, and in the midst of despair. That’s what we need from our churches and each other.

Caryn: So you’re saying we can blame Darwin, Nixon, and the Church for our problems? That’s a mix you don’t get every day! Okay, so maybe just a bit more of the blame thing—give ourselves a good squeeze—and then maybe we can get back to some positive ways we can take charge and turn this sucker around.