June 10, 2009

Thought for 06.10.09

Anyone who thinks the family is the cornerstone of society must have a very strange notion of civilization. I make this observation after some years of watching families attempt to organize weddings and funerals.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

27 comments:

Br. Karekin, BSG said...

OMG... this made me laugh SO hard!!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

"Organize" may be er...um...a "relative" term (no pun intended.)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Pity the poor clergy in the midst of the family disorganization. My former rector had his pat answer down to a few words when the families began,"We want this in the wedding service, or we want that in the funeral service." He said, "You can have any service you want, as long as it's in the prayer book."

Марко Фризия said...

I also wonder what specific configuration of a family is the so-called cornerstone of civiliation. We hear so much these days about the Biblical worldview and fidelity to Scripture. Does this mean that a man can choose to imitate someone (a man the Bible describes as "wise") like Solomon and have numerous wives plus concubines? Can you imagine planning a wedding with more than one bride (and more than one bride's mother)? In Scripture I sometimes get the idea that a woman, especially in the Torah and OT narratives, was something like her husband's property and not an equal partner in a mutual-sacramental union. And I gather that God's People were prohibited from marrying outside of their tribe or race (interracial marriage was prohibited by law in some U.S. states until the 1967 case of Loving V. Virginia which overturned the 1883 ruling of Pace V. Alabama). A mixed-race couple was not legally considered "a family" not only in Nazi Germany, but not in the entire U.S.A. until 1967. The concept and definition of family seems to be something that is evolving (in modern times from Loving V. Virginia in 1967 to same-sex marriage now in the USA). That said, I have a feeling that weddings and funerals can be messy and chaotic when arrangements are made by any configuration of family: heterosexual, mixed-race, same-sex, etc. I thank God for my husband and our adopted son. We are a same-sex, interfaith couple. All three of us come from very different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, languages, and religions. Sometimes we even use a fourth language to communicate. And we have made up more than one neologism a long the way. It's a mess at times, but I love it and wouldn't have it any other way. We are a family following something like the Trinitarian model described by Athanasius. I believe this model is the cornerstone for ecclesial relationality and mutuality (and applies to all families): "And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal and co-equal." Nous sommes une famille! Ние сме семейство! We are a family! Мы одна семья!

Two Auntees said...

I couldn't agree more. There is always drama at weddings and funerals.

Erika Baker said...

That's an interesting question!
What else could it be - groups of purely self referential friends who do not have to go to the trouble of getting on with those they disagree with?
Colleagues who have no real ties with each other and are only present as long as the jobs are?

Where can disagreement and civility be learned if not within the family?

Is the fact that we get it wrong as often as we get it right evidence that the family isn't the cornerstone of society?

Or is the fact that there is so much fragmentation and dissatisfaction in society because there are so many fragmented families that no longer teach the children the give and take of living together maybe even evidence that we are losing the family structures that have formed the cornerstone of a stable society?

Anonymous said...

One wedding too many this June, Fr. Haller?

Marshall said...

You know, Erika, I wonder if it's all this focus on nuclear family as the common connotation of the word "family". Before the great mobility that began in the latter half of the last century, people were around much larger understandings of "family," large enough that in many cases they could seem almost coterminous with "society." There is a small town, once a coal mining center, where I could go, name my grandparents and their families, and identify second cousins, with perhaps a generation or so of removal. When my mother was a child, "family" was spread out over blocks, and learning that one had to deal with "family," whether on good terms or not, was basic.

With all this focus on nuclear family (and usually of only one formation of nuclear family), we don't have the impetus - we don't have the social requirement - to learn to deal with those with whom we differ. I don't normally read The Living Church, except the three times a year they send it to all clergy. However, in the newest edition there is an interesting article about college folks who are so used to having fully independent choice of association. The author of the article suggests that they even experience a person too interested in them to be prying.

Margaret Thatcher once said, "And you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." I have tagged this as my personal locus for the end of Western civilization; abd I'm sure she meant by that nuclear families. If there's no person one has to be attentive to regardless of our initial emotions, then there's no way even families can hold together those individuals.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks for all the comments! I do think Erika and Marshall are on to something: in one sense the idolatry of the nuclear family may be part of the problem.

Anonymous, it's not the wedding this time around, but the on-again/off-again funeral! The big Nigerian wedding looks like it's going to be a relatively painless affair... so far!

David |Dah • veed| said...

Perhaps modern society has no cornerstone! That is a very archaic form of building an entirely masonry structure. The "cornerstones" of masonry structures built today are fake, purely for a ceremonial purpose.

Modern buildings have no true cornerstone. But the one thing that does remain, is that they must all be built upon a sure foundation.

fatherjones.com said...

I think that civilization -- the citification if you will -- of human society is actually somewhat harmful to societies more closely rooted in family, clan, tribe and ethnic identity. Of course, society is more than civilization -- there being uncivilized societies, pre-agrarian societies, etc., which are not necessarily 'civilized' in the classic sense. But while the recent idolization of a kind of 'nuclear family' has certainly happened, I don't think that we are either served by saying that the rapid decline of stable family relationships with two parents (etc.) has been fruitful either. Frankly, while I've seen my share of weirdness at weddings and funerals orchestrated by traditional families, I still would have gladly preferred to have been raised by two happily married partners, which I wasn't. I think the case for gay marriage, in fact, is predicated around the conviction that happily married partnership is both possible, and in many cases, better for the partners and for those around them. (i.e. society)

Kevin M said...

The idea that "family" is the cornerstone of civilization does get me laughing, considering how uncivilized some of those stones are.

Btw, if you REALLY want to know what traditional biblical marriage is, look no further than America's best Christian, Betty Bowers

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

I'm grateful that my wry and somewhat tongue in cheek thought has given birth to some really thoughtful thoughts. Thanks Dahveed and Greg, and all whose minds were set on this topic by my irascible twitter...

MarkBrunson said...

Of course family is the cornerstone of civilization! Were it not for the families we grew up in, it may have been a long time before we figured out how not to treat one another. Nothing else would've propelled us out so quickly to seek to form groups of like-minded people as friends so that we might actually accomplish something worthwhile rather than going in circles with a group of people all opposed to one another's goals.

Family drives us to create civilization so we have someplace to retreat from family!

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Good one, Mark.

plsdeacon said...

Phil Snyder's theory or Relativity: "There is something to be said about relatives. It has to be said because speaking it in public would be unseemly."

YBIC,
Phil Snyder
My 'Slant' on Things

Anonymous said...

Tobias--

I come from a close-knit, loving family, strongly committed to one another. I am unaware of any drama whatsoever at any of our weddings, funerals, or reunions. It just doesn't happen.

I don't know of the exact significance that families with such solid interconnectedness play in society at large, but I for one would not trade places with anyone whose family is fragmented or fragmenting. Furthermore, I wish them all the reconciliation and redemption of the grace of Christ for their individual situations.

I know you made the comment "tongue in cheek," but I still have to wonder at the experience you have had in your parish. Even outside of my family, even in the most fragmented of situations, the weddings and funerals I have attended have been rather civil affairs.

The only "drama" in my own wedding came when at the last moment the priest arbitrarily wished to ax one of the hymns (The God of Abraham Praise) though we had assiduously abided by the--fairly strict--guidelines he had laid down. (Perhaps, at times it is not the families which cause the problem!)

The peace of God,

--Peshat

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Phil. Peshat, you (and I) have been fairly lucky, it seems, in our own families. But over the years of parish ministry I've seen more than my share of families that entered into open warfare under the pressure of weddings and/or funerals.

I certainly think many families are stable and contribute to society through that stability --- as noted above, such "families" can be of many different sorts, including religious communities, particularly those of the Benedictine variety who consciously model their structure on the paternal/fraternal structure.

Also, in light of your experience of other weddings and funerals, I think the issue isn't the wedding or funeral ceremony at which the difficulties arise; most of the drama happens in the planning stages, behind the scenes, I think, and by the time of the ceremony the rest of the gathering may not be aware of the turmoil that preceded it. Clergy, unfortunately, get to be part of those phases of the campaign. This may be why there is a tendency, at funerals, to urge the singing of "The Strife if O'er" -- I suppose it would be a bit much to sing at weddings; where, in any case, "We've Only Just Begun" might be more in keeping with reality ;-)

Grandmère Mimi said...

This may be why there is a tendency, at funerals, to urge the singing of "The Strife if O'er" -- I suppose it would be a bit much to sing at weddings; where, in any case, "We've Only Just Begun" might be more in keeping with reality ;-)

Thanks for my first belly laugh of the day, Tobias, which feat automatically bumps you up to my "Brick of the Day".

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

So true!

And so sad.

plsdeacon said...

Actually, I love my family. It is where I learned to live inspite of and because of warts. Was my family dysfunctional growing up? Absolutely! But it was my family. Is my family now dysfunctional? Yes! But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

You cannot choose your family. You can choose your friends. You can choose your spouse. You can even choose your congregation (well most of us can). But you cannot choose your family. There is a lot to be said for living with and loving people that drive you nuts! There is a lot to be said for not shrinking from the responsiblity to love those who wound you and hurt you. That is really great training for ministry in the world.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

MarkBrunson said...

Phil Snyder, I think that's a great point; in all seriousness, people think that love is something you feel when, in fact, it's something you will. That, too, is what families teach. Certainly, we don't always feel affection for even the closest family members, but, unless deeply dysfunctional, we do will to love them.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Board of the Church of Sweden proposing o n e Marriage Rite ("Vigsel") for all:

http://www.thelocal.se/20044/20090613/

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I have to tell you I got a huge "spew the Diet Moutain Dew on the computer" laugh about "We've only just begun." That song was played ad nauseum in the 70's at practically every wedding I'd attended, and the potential for the "retch factor" to come into play was great.

I remember thinking MANY times, "You don't know the HALF for what was just beginning, judging from what I'm seeing PRIOR to the wedding!"

Brad said...

Who yo' babby daddy?

David |Dah • veed| said...

I see that the progressive blogs have acquired a new troll! This Brad has been adding stupid things, which he obviously never proofreads, all over the place.

Brad said...

From all the heads they've fallen on and crushed, families must be the cornerstone of society.