Married for over 30 years, John Drane and Olive M. Drane trace the changing forms of family life and then present a practical theology of family where children can be nurtured, their parents sustained and old people valued and respected.
John Drane taught practical theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland for five years. He is also an Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, and a Fellow of St John's College, Durham. He is the author of a number of books including the partner volume to this book, Introducing the New Testament.
Olive M. Fleming Drane is the author of Clowns, Storytellers, Disciples (BRF and Augsburg Fortress 2004) and co-author (with John Drane) of Family Fortunes: faith-full caring for today's families (DLT 2003). She is adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, California.
The family is variously regarded as a key building block of society, or as an institution long past its sell-by date. It is certainly not what it was. Families come in all shapes and sizes, with very different combinations of adults and children living in relationship. How can we make sense of this in the context of spiritually caring for one another? And how in the todays world can we use the inherited insights of the Christian tradition without seeking to turn the clock back?
This ground-breaking book starts where todays families find themselves , their everyday struggles, as well as their opportunities. In the process of identifying creative possibilities for nurturing faith, several key issues are unpacked, including how to use the Bible, parenting, nurturing faith, helping those locked into abusive relationships, and the value of the wisdom of older people.
- Catholic Ireland.net
- Chapter 1 - Family history
Images of the ideal family
The cheerfu supper done, wi serious face,
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
The sire turns oer, wi patriarchal grace,
The big ha-Bible, ance his fathers pride.
He wales a portion with judicious care,
And Let us worship God! he says, with solemn air.
That was how Scottish poet Robert Burns depicted the perfect family of the eighteenth century in his poem The Cotters Saturday Night. But the time and place could be anywhere in the western world during the last two hundred years or so. In so far as there is a widely held concept of the ideal family, then this image captures its spirit pretty well. It begins with a graphic description of a man returning to his cottage after a hard weeks work, to be welcomed by his eager children and greeted by the smile of his wife who has made their simple home warm and welcoming for his arrival. This family enjoys open and generous relationships, in a social context where everyone knows their place and stays within prescribed boundaries. Children and parents gather round the fire for a cosy Saturday night in the security of a home dutifully preserved by the mother as a shelter from the harsher world outside, in which not only the father but also their elder daughter has worked all week. Burnss language evokes a vivid image of the fathers physical and emotional renewal in the company of those whom he loves and provides for, while the mother (who is only mentioned briefly in any detail) takes pride in the fact that her working daughter has brought home a young man with whom she is clearly in love, happy in the knowledge that this developing relationship will secure the family for the next generation. As sure as night follows day, the daughter will marry, leave paid employment and create a new home for her own husband and, in due course, their children. But the high point of this particular poem is the way the family derives its identity from the values that are reflected in the fathers habit of reading the Bible and leading his family in worship. A later line in the poem describes him in transcendent language as The Saint, the Father, and the Husband. . .. He might be a nobody in terms of the way prosperity is understood by the world outside, but the spiritual qualities that he and his family enjoy within the privacy of their own home are of such magnitude that The Cottage leaves the Palace far behind. . . .
This is not a distinctively Scottish understanding of family life. Similar images prevail in the writings of the nineteenth-century English novelist Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol is one of his best-loved novels, and a key reason for its popularity is the contrast between the miserable loneliness that characterized the home life of Scrooge and the warm relationships enjoyed by his humble employee Bob Cratchit. Like the hero of Bumss poem, this marginalized man is transformed by being with his family, and reveals a more profoundly human - and spiritual side to his personality than the one he displays in the world of everyday work. After a hard days labour in an office from which all vestiges of humanitarian spirit have been systematically eliminated, the warm fireside and the open generosity of wife and children are just what Cratchit needs to recharge his batteries before returning once more to the drudgery which is Scrooges place of business. He may be poor, but he is a good provider within his means, and in his home he takes on an almost saintly identity. As in Bumss poem, each member of this family knows their place, and thrives on both the security and the responsibility that brings them. Bob provides an income, while his wife supplies comfort and affirmation, and the children live in happy dependence on their parents, blissfully unaware of the harsh realities which their father faces every day. Meanwhile, the innocent vulnerability of the entire family is embodied in the character of Tiny Tim, the handicapped child whose plight eventually melts even Scrooges hard heart. North American culture offers corresponding images of traditional family life. Laura Ingalls Wilder was brought up in a covered wagon among the early pioneers of the American west and later recorded her story in a series of Little House books. Her vivid memories of family life in those days was subsequently taken to every comer of the world through the long-running TV series Little House on the Prairie. The Waltons has enjoyed similar success, and again is based on the childhood memories of its creator, Earl Hamner, and the struggles of a rural Virginia family in the early twentieth century. None of these images bears any resemblance at all to the way most families actually live today, but that in no way diminishes their continued popularity. Out of curiosity, we put Laura Ingalls Wilder in an Internet search engine, and it came up with almost 60,000 websites (1)! Though The Simpsons is a more accurate portrayal of contemporary families, the amazing resilience of these images from an earlier period can only be explained by assuming that such lifestyles still evoke a strong sense of admiration, coupled with a nostalgic feeling that, if only we could somehow manage to live that way, things would be much easier in todays world (2).
Christians and the family
We could never turn the clock back and return to the values of these earlier generations, but this sort of romantic idealism about family life is still deeply embedded in the thinking of many people. Christians seem particularly prone to such wishful thinking, and have often exalted the virtues of this style of family to the point where it has been given an almost sacred status, as the Christian family. When Christian pressure groups call for a return to family values, this is invariably what they have in mind. Yet the perpetuation of this image as being the Christian family raises at least as many questions as it claims to solve. For one thing, it does not even begin to connect with reality for most people. With the exception of communities such as the Amish, who have taken a conscious decision to distance themselves from everything that characterizes contemporary life, no one can live this way in todays world, Christians included. But for most, the suggestion that family life could or should be like this is just incredible, and when Christians attempt to recreate the images and social structures of yesteryear they mostly succeed only in adding to the guilt that already oppresses the lives of so many within the church - not to mention the fact that, as often as not, their own children see no relevance in that kind of faith, and give it up as soon as they have the opportunity to do so. People outside the church are mystified by such attempts to turn the clock back, and the irrelevance of doing so merely reinforces their image of Christians as being hopelessly out of touch with changing social realities.
These practical questions are increasingly urgent in todays world, for they reflect the contradictions with which many Christians struggle every day of their lives. Even as we have written these few paragraphs, we have more than once asked ourselves whether we have created a caricature here. Alarmingly, a visit to our local Christian bookstore assures us that we have not, because all the books on Christian family life perpetuate this very image, and a fair number of them do so in an even more conservative form than we have described. The insistence that this understanding of family is the only authentically Christian model, and the apparent refusal of many Christians to engage with the reality of families in todays world (let alone to reflect theologically on them) raises some urgent questions that go well beyond relational pragmatism. For a start, we need to ask whether there is in fact such a thing as a Christian family at all. If we take the Bible as a starting point, then it certainly provides no blueprint for any such social entity. Paradoxically, there is not one single Bible family that corresponds to this so called traditional image. The fact of the matter is that the notion of family means different things to different people at different times and places - and it always has. Though it is probably correct to claim that the family provides one of the significant building blocks of society in all cultures, those blocks have never all been the same shape as one another, and throughout history Christians have followed the norms and conventions of the cultures in which they lived by accepting, supporting, and perpetuating many different models of family. That is why we believe it is misleading and unhelpful to talk of the Christian family, as if that was something qualitatively different from other families. It is more accurate to say that there are families, some of which are Christian. But the challenges that Christians face in the home and in wider relationships are exactly the same as those with which other people struggle. This is why - as we shall also argue - the recognition of many different forms of family and the creation of safe spaces for families in all their diversity will not only reflect the values of the Christian message, but also have the potential to fulfil the missionary calling of the church by sharing the good news in relevant ways with those who are as yet not Christian.
Family in context
What then is a family? A major research industry has grown up around that question, with scholars from many disciplines addressing it from their own perspectives: sociologists, anthropologists, economists, psychoanalysts, politicians, historians, and lawyers, as well as leaders within different faith communities (3). Our primary focus here is on pastoral and practical theology, and though we have drawn extensively on the researches of many others, we will review their findings here only as they impinge on the churchs pastoral role. Indeed, so much has been written about it that a book of this size could never explore all the nuances of the question, let alone consider every possible answer to it. It is, however, important that we set our understanding of the family, and of the churchs responsibilities for ministering with families, within a wider perspective. A quick backward glance at our own history, tracing the origins of some current assumptions and expectations, will provide a useful entry point into the contemporary debate. One of our favourite Chinese proverbs observes that Those who do not know the village they have come from will never find the village they are looking for. To see clearly who we might yet become we need to own who we are, and be aware of some of the factors that have made us this way. Nowhere is this more strikingly true than in the family.
People are made to live in community, and interpersonal relationships are a fundamental part of being human. But from the very dawn of time, the relationships that characterize what we choose to call the family have always been regarded as distinctive and special. Two unique characteristics identify a set of relationships as occurring within a family: the significance of the gender roles occupied by male and female, and the corresponding differentiation between parents and children. The practical outcomes of the power dynamic implied in these two sets of relationships might vary in different circumstances, but they constitute the fundamental defining elements of those forms of relationship that have always been identified as family. All other distinctive aspects of family life arise out of or are related to these two. In her definitive book, The Family in Question, Diana Gittins lists four basic features of the family: common residence, economic co-operation, reproduction, and sexuality (4). These characteristics in turn imply further elements that all generally impinge on the concept of family, such as the nature of the power relationships between women and men, adults and children; the responsibility for domestic labour; parenting roles and sibling relationships; along with understandings of kinship, marriage, and so on that are held in the wider community - though even some of these supposedly foundational characteristics of a family are being questioned and redefined today, certainly in practice if not always in terms of social norms expressed through the legislative process.
Not all families will necessarily display all these characteristics, especially not today when the whole notion of what constitutes a family is in a state of much upheaval and redefinition, and when several of these constituent elements are themselves undergoing radical transformation. Nevertheless, this kind of list still provides a useful starting point, and while none of these elements on their own will point conclusively to a set of relationships that necessarily constitute a family, the criteria proposed by Gittins serve to give some shape to the debate, and to provide some way of distinguishing family relationships from other forms of human interaction.
Once Gittins moves beyond interpersonal relationships as such, every other characteristic of a family is connected to economic needs. As far back as it is possible to look historically, the economic purposes of a family have always been primary, and the most noteworthy changes in patterns of family life have all had their origins in the economic opportunities open to families, and the alterations in working patterns that have resulted.
Contemporary definitions tend to project a more romanticized and sentimental image, in which the emphasis is on relationships between individual members of a family group, but economic circumstances have always been more influential than any other single factor in determining the character of family life. The nature of work has always provided the frame of reference which defined the possible ways in which family members would be able to express and develop their personal relationships, and in this respect todays families are no different from the generations which preceded them. Changing work patterns are still one of the most significant influences of all on the shape of family life.
From generation to generation: the pre-modern family
Like other social institutions, the family remained virtually unchanged for centuries until relatively recent times (5). Long after the emergence of the great civilizations of the ancient world, the underlying family pattern differed surprisingly little from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our earliest ancestors. Family life was dominated by non-relational matters such as economic survival and employment, while also functioning as the agent of socialization and education. Families were groups in which people could survive, through which they could find useful things to occupy their time, and within which they learned how to live with other people. Different family members naturally adopted different roles: in particular, the role of adult men and women tended to be defined by reference to their sexuality (procreation being vital to survival), and to what was practical, which almost amounted to the same thing. Both men and women died at what would nowadays be regarded as a young age, and for women that meant they were either pregnant or nursing children for most of their adult life. It would, however, be a mistake to describe womens role in ancient families as purely domestic. More accurately, there was no differentiation between domestic work and work that was economically productive, because in a pre-industrial age the home was central to economic prosperity, and everyone who lived there had a part to play, if only because their survival depended on their willingness to work together. It would be anachronistic to claim that the ancient family operated on a basis of the recognized equality of all its members, but it is nevertheless true that everyones role - though different - was of equal value. Because they did not bear children, men had greater mobility, which meant they were the ones who operated in the public sphere outside the home, whereas women were more restricted in their options through their physical connection with birthing and nurturing children. This was almost certainly a purely pragmatic arrangement: despite fanciful claims to the contrary, there is no evidence of a widespread matriarchal culture in ancient times (6). Everyone was involved in the economic life of the family. In this primitive, or pre-modern period, the family was quite literally a building block of the community.
This was the pattern of early Bible families, where the household typically consisted of several generations living together. They included not only the head of the family and his sexual partner(s) and offspring, but also servants and their relatives, as well as widows, orphans, stateless persons and others who contributed to the economic wellbeing of the whole, in exchange for which they enjoyed the safety and security of the family unit. Over time - and this transition can be traced in the Bible itself the nature of family relationships changed, largely as a result of economic pressures. Once family units were able to amass economic surpluses, opportunities for trade with other families also developed. Relationships outside the home gradually assumed greater importance than internal family structures, and the base of social organization became increasingly separated from the household, a trend which accelerated with the emergence of formal political structures. Because of their freedom to operate independently of children, and also their generally greater physical strength, men tended to be the ones who dealt with things in the public sphere outside the family, where matters of property, production, trade, and politics became dominant. In due course, such concerns came to be regarded as an exclusively male domain through the development of a patriarchal outlook which confined women to the private sphere of the home, and indeed classified them (and children) as part of the goods with which a man could barter in the wider world of commerce. Womens contribution to the life and economy of the family remained significant and indispensable, but when compared with more primitive family structures their role was gradually diminished and squeezed into a much narrower definition of what it meant to be a woman. Of course, none of this happened overnight, and such changes as there were took place almost imperceptibly over many generations, with a gradual evolution from ancient times through to the feudal system of the Middle Ages. The driving force behind this development, though, was fluctuating patterns of work. The same thing is still true today, and the changing nature of work is one of the major forces that continues to impact and shape the family unit in the twenty-first century.
The development of the family as we know it today has been influenced above all by that cluster of events that can be referred to as the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution which emerged from it. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the first tentative voyages of European explorers coincided with an expansion of knowledge about astronomy, philosophy, medicine, science, and technology so great that, as western thinkers of the time compared their understanding of things with the previous knowledge of all the great civilizations of the ancient and medieval world, it seemed as if a new light was shining right across the world. The magnitude of the new discoveries made everything that had gone before look like mere superstition, mythology, and intellectual darkness - hence the use of the term Enlightenment to describe this period. Though the worldview of the Enlightenment (modernity) has been seriously eroded by the rise of so-called post-modern thinking and culture, its way of looking at things - especially its rationalist-materialist-reductionist philosophy - continues to have a profound impact on todays people, and it is impossible to understand what is going on in the contemporary family without taking some account of this. Indeed, almost all the turmoils which we can see in the family today have their origins in this period of western history.
1. The Waltons is similarly well served, with its own website dedicated to the global community that strives to maintain family values as exemplified by the TV series, The Waltons. http//:www.thewaltons.com
2. The Simpsons are actually not so very different. Though Homer and Marge Simpson display their affection in very different ways from Charles and Caroline Ingalls, they still exemplify traditional values like loyalty, mutual support, and truthfulness. See William Irwin, Mark T. Conard and Aeon J. Skoble (eds.), The Simpsons and Philosophy (Chicago: Open Court, 2001); and, for a religious perspective, Mark I. Pinsky, The Gospel According to the Simpsons (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001). On portrayals of the family in literature through the ages, see Nicholas Tavuchis and William J. Goode, The Family Through Literature (New York: McGraw Hill, 1975).
3.. See, for example, Bert N. Adams, The Family: a Sociological Interpretation (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1975); Graham Allan, Family Life (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985); Mary Farmer, The Family (London: Longmans, 1970); Diana Gittins, The Family in Question, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1993); B. Gottlieb, The Family in the Western World (New York: OUP, 1993); c.c. Harris, The Family: an Introduction (London: Allen & Unwin, 1969); Barrie Thorne and Marilyn Yaloms (eds.), Rethinking the Family (London: Longman, 1982); Adrian Wilson, Family (London: Tavistock, 1985); Robert F. Winch, The Modern Family (New York: Rinehart & Winston, 1971). On the family in different cultures, see Ruth Nanda Anshen, The Family: its Function and Destiny (New York: Harper & Row, 1959). And from a Christian perspective, Herbert A. Anderson, Don S. Browning, Ian S. Evison and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (eds.), The Family Handbook (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998); Jack O. Balswick and Judith K. Balswick, The Family (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991). Stephen C. Barton (ed.), The Family in Theological Perspective (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996); Rodney Clapp, Families at the Crossroads (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993); Rosemary Radford Ruether, Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family (London: SCM Press, 2001).
4. The Family in Question, 60-72.
5. On the history of the family in different cultures, the most comprehensive work is still Willystine Goodsell, A History of Marriage and the Family (New York: Macmillan, 1934); see also James Casey, The History of the Family (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989). James Wallace Milden, The Family in Past Time (New York: Garland, 1977), provides invaluable bibliographical guidance covering many historical periods.
6. This claim is generally made on the basis of mythology and implied oral traditions, e.g. by Robert Graves, The White Goddess (London: Peter Smith, 1983). But this is discounted by serious scholars: d. Joan Bamberger, The Myth of Matriarchy: Why men rule in primitive society, in Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (eds.), Woman, Culture, and Society (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1974), 263-80; Robert Brown, Human Universals (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991).