John Bressler-091611Listen to John Bressler read his column.
A priest, who taught at Notre Dame, spoke to me about a textbook he had written which concentrated on the early sociological system around the first century Middle Eastern culture. While the Bible does not use his exact terminology to describe the family unit, most scholars agree that he and his peers are right on target.
To put it in language I can understand, imagine a painting of a mother and father standing at the doorway of their home. The father is facing out towards the community while the mother is facing inwards toward the home. According to author's definitions, the father carries the "honor" of the family while the mother carries the "shame." Before we get upset, let me explain that there is more than one meaning to the word shame. Have you heard the expression, "Have you no shame?" In this context, the word means, modesty and self-control and not the more widely used negative feeling of guilt or impropriety.
The father is the one who represents the family name and how he is recognized in his community: he has integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, dignity, righteousness and above all, never disgraces the name of his family by his actions. The mother is recognized by how the children respect mother and father and behave in public and how she runs her home. It is interesting how the Bible represents children. Except for the rare moments when Jesus used a child as a paradigm of trust and obedience, children were to stay in the background and learn the family traditions. Even those sons who were of adult age were never recognized by their first names but as, "the son of ......." which meant, that the son spoke for the family and as the family expected him to speak and act as the family expected him to act and that was with honor. This is why Exodus 20:12 and Exodus 21:15 and 21:17 as well as several verses in Proverbs spoke specifically about children.
While some may wonder about the somewhat harsh control of the parents and the seemingly distant relationship between parent and child, the fact is that communities were strong and vibrant because of the home environment.
I am not here to criticize today's home, parenting, children or cultural situation by comparing them to the culture of the first century Middle East.
I am more aware of the need for families to grow together as a strong and dependable structure to combat the crisis of our generation, which lives in a world that seems bent on the destruction of the most important element of our society and that is God and Family!
When families are torn apart by natural as well as created catastrophes, where do the remnants go for help? What strengths do they possess to meet a society that seems to care less, believes in everyone for himself and, "Am I my brother's keeper? I don't think so!"
I personally know of many, many families who see other families' tragedy and open their door for one more mouth to feed, one more bed to share, one more opportunity to create and one more chance for that child to have a place to call home.
Can we allow any child of God to walk the streets, sleep on grates, eat out of Dumpsters® or be abused and used by predators or opportunists? Do we let our children be taught by sitcoms, advertisements or examples that applaud undisciplined individualism?
As naive and old-fashioned as it may seem, God and Family have always and will always be the basis and cornerstone of today and tomorrow and will never be replaced by technology, wealth, position or ideology.
How do we do this? To reexamine the old adage, "We do it the hard way." It will take courage, outrage and the intention of hold on to what has and will always be the center of human existence: faith in God, strength in family, honor and shame, and the will to fight for what is right.
Nobody said it would be easy.