At the end of Mark 3, Jesus dramatically redefines family: People who follow Jesus become sisters and brothers, and the relationships we have with Jesus (our older Brother) and with each other take precedence over all other relationships.
How often, though, don’t we focus on our own little biological families to the detriment of sisters and brothers in Christ? What would happen if we begin redefining family as Jesus does, sharing our lives not only with blood relatives, but increasingly deeply with our sisters and brothers in Christ, too?
A few weeks ago we talked about this at Telkwa CRC’s Monday morning Mark Bible study, and these reflections by Curt Gesch stem from that conversation.
A typical family. Let’s call the parents Bob and Alice. They have several children, but we’re going to talk about a daughter named Kim.
Kim is a handful. Bob and Alice noticed that she was getting picked on in school. They met with the teacher, who hinted that maybe things weren’t exactly as Kim told her parents. In grade 3, Kim was disciplined, and it turned out that Kim was the one doing the persecuting of fellow students. Kim, in short, demonstrated that she was able to manipulate her parents and teachers.
When Kim got a bit older she began to travel a path that – though perhaps familiar – was no less painful for her parents. She skipped school, dabbled with alcohol and tobacco and, Bob and Alice suspected, with marijuana.
Bob and Alice tried everything from Dobson to counselling to tough love. Nothing seemed to work, and Kim’s life was developing in a dangerous way.
Meanwhile, people in Bob’s and Alice’s church talked very little about Kim. When Kim lost her driver’s license, people whispered about things, but nothing was done “out loud.” Bob and Alice didn’t say much when Kim didn’t show up in church; they said even less when Kim disappeared. Some people (and all the younger people on Facebook) knew that Kim had moved into an apartment in a nearby city with her boyfriend.
There was a time when church members would have made it clear that they thought something was wrong with Bob’s and Alice’s parenting. There was a time when Kim may even have been cornered by the elders and given a talking to.
There was a time when other Bobs and Alices would have tried to use the same child-rearing practices they had experienced.
This Bob and Alice, however, belong to a church that doesn’t send the disciplinary police after children and teens. This Bob and Alice tried special programs, esteem-building activities, Christian counselling, medical and educational initiatives and programs.
This Bob and Alice cannot complain that they have been condemned “out loud” for presumed errors in child-rearing. Yet what appears to be missing from our Bob and Alice is a community willing to do or say something. Perhaps the “failure” (insofar as is humanly discernable) in Kim’s upbringing rises from the failure of church people to see their community as something larger than the nuclear family.
Bob and Alice could not do much more except for one thing: They could have accepted help from church members who were not related to them.
Kim could have had a mentor, a big brother or sister, an honorary uncle or aunt. She could have had an adult sponsor, a god-parent. She could have benefitted from a home that acted as refuge from confusion and confrontation; a short-term “cooling off” home.
If there is “failure” in Kim’s life (and it not sure that we can know for certain what went wrong and what is on its way towards adjustment and “success”), it is a failure of her family and church to understand that community is not biologically determined. The nuclear family (related by fostering, adoption, or biology) is not what Jesus emphasized. He spoke of having “mothers and brothers” (and didn’t mention Joseph at all, which makes me rather sad) based upon shared conformity to the heavenly Father’s will.
Kim needs a bigger family. Bob and Alice need to accept that there are absolutely no parents who are able to raise a child alone.
Jesus Christ brought a kingdom. He also brought a new idea of family, based upon common humanity and a spiritual relationship. Biology is not destiny. Freud and Darwin were wrong.
© Copyright 2010 by Curt Gesch. Used with permission.
“Community is not biologically determined.” I love that statement. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a true Christian community–a third of the houses on my block were owned by members of my church. We had community not simply in spirit, but in presence; not just on Sunday, but all the time. I would love to raise my own kids in such an environment.
This is a tricky topic. In our culture, parenting is quite political, and unsolicited parenting “help” often falls upon (at the very least) deaf ears or (at the worst) hostile ears. It is never easy to see a family member go through this kind of scenario – and often there is huge amounts of shame from the parents and an insecurity about how to help from the rest of the community.
I do, however, believe that you are bang on with the redefinition of family. Of course, this philosophy has ramifications for family of origin type holidays (ie: not attending a family Christmas dinner and instead having those in the church that don’t have family for Christmas).
Thanks for the food for thought…
Thank you, Andy and Carla, for the comments! I agree, Carla, that unsolicited advice can easily become worse than simply saying nothing. Hopefully we can develop friendships/community in which we respect each other, in which the advice comes from someone who’s more than a casual acquaintance, but rather someone we know well and love (and who knows and loves us lots, too).