By Rob Furlong
For thousands of years the family unit has been understood as the foundation stone of society, a place where children are raised to take their place in society as mature, responsible adults and where healthy relationships with others are nurtured and encouraged. Often described as the "nuclear family" it was generally regarded as consisting of Dad, Mum and the children. Author Dale Kuehne describes this model for the family as inhabiting what he calls "tWorld" and it was essentially built around relationships of obligation.
In tWorld an individual was born with several obligations: first to family, then to one's neighbourhood and finally, to the nation. These relationships of obligation gave an individual both security and fulfilment. An individual's identity and happiness in life was found through the successful carrying out of your responsibilities to those around you. For example, you cared for, respected and loved your parents and other relatives because they were a part of the family you were born into. You took your place as a responsible, contributing member of society because that was what good citizens did. In return, you enjoyed the benefits of love, acceptance and security that came from being a part of a cohesive family unit and community. Individuals found their personal fulfilment through the successful carrying out of their obligations in these relationships. In contrast to iWorld, the idea that an individual found happiness through the free exercise of their own personal choice was totally foreign! In fact, as Kuehne points out, the only area that the inhabitants of tWorld could exercise personal choice was in the area of friendships – there was freedom to find happiness in the choice of who your friends in life would be. The old saying, "You can choose your friends but you cannot choose your relatives" comes to mind!
This does not mean that tWorld was perfect. Far too many people found themselves in relationships of obligation that were suppressive and extremely harmful to their development. Because of the stigma associated with divorce that has prevailed in society many people remained in marriages that were loveless, ultimately doing enormous damage to themselves, their wider family and especially their children. In particularly tragic circumstance many women remained in physically and emotionally abusive situations because of a sense of "obligation."
But tWorld is a good description of the world that we once inhabited because it describes the traditional view of the family unit that has been so prevalent and which we are very familiar with. If you want a picture to illustrate this type of family then think of the Brady Bunch: Mum, Dad and the kids all working together as a cohesive unit, the parents dispensing their wise advice when required and everyone seemingly able to work out their relationship differences with humour and grace. Of course, given the darker side of tWorld previously described above, many of us would feel that a picture of the Addams Family would be a more accurate depiction of the family unit!
It is clear to most of us however that we no longer inhabit tWorld but iWorld, a world where the rights and choices of the individual have trumped obligation and the number one goal in life is to achieve personal happiness through the free exercise of those rights and choices.
When I reflect on tWorld what captures my attention is the way in which the Apostle Paul addressed that situation. Writing to a tWorld audience in Colosse, Paul told the followers of Jesus there that they were to live out their faith in their family units by exemplifying sacrificial love, mutual respect and fairness toward each other. (Colossians 3:18-4:1). This was a radical idea because the tWorld that Paul and his readers lived in was one where the man had total power and women and children were regarded as second class citizens.
To such a world Paul says to followers of Jesus; 'Live differently! Let your faith show up in that most testing of environments, the family unit and show the world the difference that Jesus makes to all of our relationships.' It was a call to the people of tWorld to live contrary to their culture a call that is equally valid to the members of today's iWorld. The question is, "How can we do that?" Let's explore that next month!