FAMILY / COMMUNITY
Isn’t it interesting how much talk about community and family there is at present? I thought I ought to get in on the act and give my two pennies worth. It’s an important subject. One that I think is somewhat misunderstood and often misused. It is interesting to note that lots of the politicians are jumping on the family values, the “back to basics” bandwagon, giving us various versions, and being careful of the slippage - or is it sleaze?
And what do you mean by “family”? The tragedy of the UK is that these values have come to mean “nuclear family”, which being interpreted equals Dad, Mum, 2.4 kids and a family car, living in their own castle (house). This, we are strongly led to believe, is “normal family life”. Sadly, many Christians have adopted this version of family, and seek to make it sacrosanct. Worse is to come. We are now on the pathway, and unfortunately, many are already there, to be part of the “micro family.” Again, this is being interpreted as equalling one parent and, usually, one child. Is this the next pathway to normality?
The great tragedy of the nonsense of the micro and nuclear family syndrome is that even those that follow Jesus proclaim this as normal. Recently, I heard it pushed forward as a sign of maturity. “Leave your father and mother. Cut all ties. Then you will be grown-up”. Sounds a bit like, “Taste the forbidden fruit and you will be just like God, having the knowledge of good and evil.” Recently, having spoken at a meeting, a gentleman shared with me that, as part of some training course he recently attended, he had been taught that “divorce is a sign of growing maturity!!!”
Sadly. As followers of Jesus, we are very often unable to see clearly through our cultural mist. We fail to know that what we have inculcated is neither from the Bible or Jesus, but simply secular philosophy that is permeating our culture, and it is imbibed by us with our mother’s milk.
So, we hear people say things like, “An English man’s home is his castle”. People say it as if they were quoting scripture, along with such things as, “leaving your parents is a sign of maturity”. Hey! These are not the words of Jesus!
There are many right signals to healthy development, such as good attitudes. The fruit of the Spirit is a good starter too, along with loyalty and faithfulness. Sure, the Bible tells us that people leave home to cleave to a wife or a husband. In such a circumstance the Bible surely says to “leave home”, but it does not say, “discard.” I know too that it says, “children obey your parents”, and having left the childhood state “obey” definitely needs to be replaced by “respect.”
Now, I do not want to be all negative, for, if there is a wrong way to do life, it presupposes that the right way may also be available. However, if we are to reach it amid our British culture, we will need to press hard to get there.
I believe in extended families. There. I have put my cards on the table right at the start. This is a hard one to argue in “Nuclear Family Britain”. Even the architects, planners and city designers conspired in the 60’s and 70’s to make it hard. They pulled down the pre-war and wartime slums, and rightly so, but then they built tower blocks, dispersing the old communities/extended families to the four winds. Better housing was needed for some, but at what cost? Perhaps it was the cost of destroying extended family/community that was socially just too expensive. More than we could afford.
I lived in the late 1960’s in the North of England, in a place called Grangetown. It was a small town on the edge of Middlesbrough. I was there to see the last stage of the local slum clearance. The planners were in the throes of demolishing the last of the back-to-back, one toilet for four houses streets, at the bottom of town. They were moving people into the up-market council estates in lower and upper Eston. I was granted one of these houses, and very nice it was too. It had modern amenities like central heating. I thought it was well done. Imagine then my surprise when I watched the protests of the tenants of lower Grangetown. They protested long and hard. They tried to resist the demolition. They petitioned the council. They refused to move. They got in the way of the bulldozers. They argued with the workmen sent to do the job. They clung for as long as possible to their back-to-back shared loos. As far as I can remember, Aunt Ethel took the “Custer’s last stand” posture. I looked on with amazement. Why? The houses had had it. Upper Eston was so much better.
Well, so they were. But then, I didn’t understand what was really going on. Now I see it better. It wasn’t just the destruction of bad housing. Yes! That really needed to go. However, it was also the destruction of the community and the displacement of extended families. Aunts and Uncles, Grandfathers and Grandmothers, cousins and even those that were twice removed, family adoptees who had earned the title of honorary aunt or uncle, and sometimes even honorary gran or grandad, and on occasions a secondary mom or dad were all to be separated in different estates. In badly housed Grangetown they all lived within hailing distance. They were all there to help, to advise. To lend a hand, to babysit, to arbitrate on discipline, to be a second opinion on important events and even to council and correction. Yes! They would also take part in the squabble and arguments of course – but that is all part of life. However, to leave, to demonstrate maturity, to become a micro or nuclear family – perish the thought. That idea never entered their heads. That would have been disloyal or unfaithful, and who in their right mind would ever want to do such a terrible thing.
Who would want to diminish community, or dismantle extended family by such foolish action? Well, the planners did. They probably only saw the bad housing and did not think through all the social implications. They failed to see great communities and/or extended families. The bulldozers and diggers, ball and chain cranes and demolition teams moved in, and the bad housing was suddenly there no more. Now, we could all get on and do life in our “graffiti-ised” tower blocks and our sensible nuclear/micro family’s boxes. We have come of age, become mature and grown-up. How sad! How untrue! How lonely!
We need to reverse the trend. Hard but necessary. It will probably be uphill. We will need to fight the mindset that has pervaded the culture. We will need to push towards housing that accommodates more than 2.5 children. We need to change the crazy thinking that creates such unrestrained loneliness in people. We need to affect that change in the planners, the politicians, the children, the social services, the church, as well as in you and I, in families and singles.
We need to re-sell such things as loyalty, stability, faithfulness, being there for each other, and other outmoded things like that. That does mean no arguments, no squabbling, or disagreements. It should mean that we produce community and extended family for the long haul. It does not mean that nobody goes away, moves house, or goes international. That’s silly! What it does mean, is that there is always that sense of community, real family and extended family belonging.
Community and extended family are important, for it is there we get our functions sorted, corrections stated, and where we activate our usefulness. We improve our skills, both relational and otherwise. We are wisely connected to the wider world, not drifting independent islands in a sea of independent micro nonsense. In a community extended home, we have personhood, we are needed, valued, wanted, and we belong.
So, how do we start? Well, there are lots of ways really. Buy a larger house for starters! “Oh! That is economically impossible”, I hear you say. “I cannot afford a bigger mortgage”. Yes! I know that. But what if you shared the mortgage and shared the running costs. What then? Would that be so damaging? So awful? “But it wouldn’t be just mine, would it?” you say again. No! That could be the first problem. However, if you did it, then you could take in one of those students that just moved into your area or one of the new followers of Christ that doesn’t have anywhere to live. You could even help homeless immigrants. You could foster. You could adopt. The opportunities and the needs are almost endless.
Forty-five years ago, many of the new churches started in house groups. Often the need caused them to move into extended homes. Sadly, many who pioneered that way have now reversed the trend and have gone back to the “castle”, “siege” mentality. “I need my privacy”, we cry. Do we? Why? As Christine Nobel said, “The problem with the English castle and its privacy is that it is often in that privacy that many things happen that should not happen.” We can see that is true in our child abuse statistics. We can see it in the figures on the English and Welsh child protection Register, some 90,000 at the time of writing. We can see it in the battered women’s hostels and the sad need of an oversubscribed, yet necessary Child Line.
Maybe extending the family could bring greater community protection. Protection being also on the lips of Politicians these days. The so-called, “maturing process” of the nuclear and micro family certainly has not worked. It is time for followers of Jesus to extend their family and help recreate community!
(Usually, these Biblical references to family are used in the sense of extended family or household. Here are some of those references. Genesis 18:19. Exodus 12:4. Leviticus 25:41. Numbers 3:22. 1 Chronicles 4:27. Judges 6:15. Judges 9:2. Judges 18:19. Amos 3:1. Acts 10:7. Acts 16:15. Acts 16:31. Ephesians 3:15.
Originally published May 1997
At Pioneers City Zone Event.
Slightly adjusted for the now