Friday, March 02, 2012

Family Culture

There is a literary technique also used in films, I’ve heard, of telling a story from multiple points of view.  Nifty idea, sounds like fun.  I don’t know if I could do it myself.  This comes up because in any discussion of family culture, there are many characters on the stage.  In my case there are three other major characters – my wife and two oldest sons – plus a host of other greater or lesser voices who have joined us or watched us over the years.

My wife, for example, would not naturally think in terms of creating a family culture, except that I have been using it so long that the category is familiar to her.  Most children, equally naturally, would not think to call it anything other than Having a Childhood, until well after the formal operations stage. (Tangent – and such tangents are part of our family culture, mentally and conversationally holding your place and then resuming the old conversation – I used a Piaget stage because of familiarity and simplicity, but the Michael Commons model is probably better.) Still, they can think in such terms now, because once heard, the phrase family culture suggests its meaning pretty readily.

Here’s the further complication: our family culture has changed over time.  Where we started, in values, intensity, and practice, was somewhat different when the boys were younger.  The culture that formed them is but dimly remembered by them now, while the derivative culture of their teen years – and now even the cu Romanian years looms larger.  It’s only fair.  What I think of as my own childhood is heavily weighted to the later years, which were likely less formative.  It’s the way of the world.

All this to highlight that this is my view of the matter, but other fine minds might organise it differently. Here is what I believe we taught.

To Nurture and Enjoy.  Good motto, bumpersticker version.  That’s us over there, nurturing and enjoying.

Success is defined by God, not the world or current culture.  Yet there are enormous dangers in this idea as it plays out in practice.  We easily deceive ourselves, rationalising our personal desires or our group norms and calling them God’s opinion. We had both positive and negative responses to those worries.  Positive: Seek those who have tried to both contemplate and live a life in Christ.  First, that means the people physically present.  You can’t choose your relatives, but you can choose your friends, and the supporting characters in our drama were folks whose culture aligned with ours in significant ways. Second, the intellectual culture should be largely Christian.  Western Civilization is not a synonym for this, but it leads all others, so we immersed in that, for our own enjoyment and their benefit.  In our case, that was enormous doses of read-aloud fiction well beyond their supposed level of understanding (Tolkein and Lewis every four years); history – stopping at roadside markers and launching into unrequested lectures, medieval events, costumes for any era; embracing liturgical and historical Christian traditions much more than most evangelicals…all of this leading to

Learn everything that crosses your path – and go looking for more.
No need to list these for this audience, just nonstop information download – everything was an educational experience.  Hey kids, did you know that King Oscar II of Sweden…You know the drill. I would note that we consistently played and won all manner of trivial pursuit/college bowl/puzzle-solving/scavenger-hunt activities.  Except that folks like us tend to cluster with others of similar mind, so we didn’t always win. 

(We didn’t lose to strangers very often, though.  There are many stories of victory as part of family culture.)

Competition was only part of the value that said This doesn’t have to be painful.  There might be a way to make it fun. Family devotions might involve food, or noise, or a game. Lots of the Bible can be pretty funny, if you read it right. Let’s go to someone’s house and get them involved. Vaudeville is not yet dead.  Well, okay, it is, but you can still find slapstick.

I left a thread hanging, way back at the beginning, and no longer have a good segue.  But mentally holding your place while you wander around talking about other things, then coming back to that bookmark – yeah, that’s part of our culture, remember?  About those negative responses to the human tendency to rationalise our own desires and group norms and call them God’s will.  Question Assumptions.  Frequent commentary there as well, pointing out other people doing just that -  health and wealth gospel; confusing politics with faith; I-think-God-is-leading-me-to-marry-that-really-hot-girl; funny how poorer people don’t get nominated for church council; the general unreliability of feelings. Actually, questioning assumptions is the nice way to put it.  Having a critical spirit might be more accurate.  That one’s more mine than Tracy’s.  Paul says not to have one of those.  I can’t understand why not.  It’s the only way to learn self-criticism.  Okay, I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s still true.  There are distinctions here, of course.  I am leaving those aside to get across the family culture point.  Sometimes I operated on the right side of those distinctions, sometimes not.

This is only the beginning.  Yet I might not bother with all the rest.  What else is involved in the specifically Christian parts of the culture will be along, however.


Dubbahdee said...

re: the critical spirit.

I suppose that the prohibition really has more to do with the motives behind and the applications of the critical spirit than the criticism itself.

Is the intent to lord it over others and prove yourself superior? Are you criticizing people for things beyond their control for things that are well intended?

We run into this all time where. We are home schoolers that love Harry Potter, actively avoid "Left Behind. I am working with my oldest to help her to understand a more mythical reading of Genesis and how you simply can't discount scientific findings that point to evolutionary development of life. I'm not a tea-party conservative (I prefer coffee -- or beer). Oh yeah, and we drink alcohol openly.

All this to say that we could easily make a critical spirit part of our family culture -- and we DO criticize the thought (or lack of thought) behind some of the positions posited by our other home school friends. But we try to love them for who they are and help our kids to see that many people of different persuasions can love and serve God.

Donna B. said...

re: learn everything that crosses your path

I didn't realize this was a part of my family's culture until my second marriage into a family that didn't value learning simply for the sake of learning. That was an educational experience for both of us.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Tho' it might just be a congenital illness, Donna ...

james said...

That's not a "culture", that's just "the way things are always done" :-)

With a few aspies around we've always tried to go through the exercise of "how come X group thinks Y?" Understanding other points of view, or even the possibility of other points of view, doesn't come automatically.