Friday, 4 August 2017
I have attended two funerals this week. Going to one funeral is a prompt to sober reflection. Going to two makes you wonder what life is all about. Standing at the back, handing Orders of Service to friends and family as they come through the door, has given me a forceful sense of family. A funeral is perhaps above all a gathering of family in a time of hurt.
I know there is a lot wrong with family. Like fathers, family has taken a beating in the social consciousness that is our public conversation. It has been unplugged from its tradition place in society, thoroughly examined and shown to be faulty, often positively dangerously so. We've done family. We are over family. We'll get along fine without it. We have moved on to a freer, fairer, brighter future.
Standing at the back on those two mornings this week, watching people arrive and gather and listening to the words and memories, I began to wonder if we hadn't missed something. Yes, family has its faults - can have its faults - but family is more than its potential for failure. Family also contains the possibility of success.
Listening to the words and music and watching the faces and interactions of the men, women and children attending these acts of remembrance and committal, I began to wonder if this isn't what we need in our fragmented and divided world. We need a sense of family.
Somewhere (on Twitter, I think. My research indicates that it was originally a tweet by @Grundlistled retweeted by somebody else but I don't know who) I saw a suggestion that the country should be run as a business not as a household. When I read it, I knew there was something wrong at the heart of that idea but I didn't know what it was. Everything about the using of a business model clanged horribly at the back of my brain. "Not like the NHS," some deep part of my mind warned. "The business model is the problem not the answer."
In an attempt to trace the origin of this suggestion in the Twitterverse, I find that the whole conversation seems to have begun in response to some comment about France made by Emmanuel Macron. I also find that "mainstream macroeconomists" "hiss with rage" at the very idea of comparing a national economy to either a business or a household (Hello, @totallyabot1). And I find that, in this conversation, the terms "business", "household" and "family" become interchangeable.
Family and business are not synonyms. One brilliant tweet (which I can't find now, sadly) suggested a father and son exchange at the dinner table along the lines of "Sorry, Billy, we're going to have to close you down, break you up into your constituent parts and sell them off to maximise our profits." With that, the full horror of economic thinking becomes apparent.
I have also been reading this week the novel Commonwealth by Ann Patchett with its brilliant portrayal of dysfunctional families and the possibilty of redemption. Is the very idea of family discredited beyond use? I don't think so. Family still operates whatever we think about it. This week I have seen it: the coming together, the support, the just-being-there. It was real. It was tangible. There is such a thing as good family.
This is the model we need. We need it for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, for our countries and nation states and for our world. It cannot be imposed, it grows. The Commonwealth is a good example (The not-British-anymore Commonwealth of nations). Encouraged and supported by Queen Elizabeth II for over sixty years, it works best as a family. It is not primarily an economic unit. It exists for fellowship, mutual support, friendship and the good of each and all. It is family.
Family is a place to belong and should be a place of safety and we have to be vigilant to protect the sanctuary of family. As a society, we have come a long way in naming and shaming and rooting out abuse from within our families and other institutions. We must keep doing this.
Family is a place for self-expression, of confidence and being who you are. We must continue to learn ways to allow this to happen. Just because there are bad families does not mean family is bad. Bad families show how much good family is needed.
Family is a place of mutual support. Above all it is about being there. Sometimes it takes the form of economic support but that does not make family an economic unit. That does not make family another expression for household. Still less does it make family equivalent to a business. Family is people. It is about people's relationships with one another.
Family is strength, encouragement and comfort. Perhaps above all, family is welcome. That is what I have seen this week standing at the back of the church: family as a place I want to be, a place I might want to call home.
But family is not a place. Family is people.
True, the people are often associated with some particular place and people and place can interact to create a complex we instinctively recognise and respond to. So, perhaps, and this is our last clue: family is not a matter for economics, it is a matter of ecology.
Friday, 7 July 2017
This critique in the New Yorker by James Wood of a book - The Kingdom by Emmanuel Charère - which is itself a critique of the origins of Christianity seems to miss the point that is being missed. Two failures of imagination.
But I may be wrong