Much of our public life fails because we haven’t learned how to deal with life in the privacy of our homes. The things that create divides in America are the same things that create divides into our homes. In America, we are torn apart by economics, sexuality, environmental issues, cultural morals and above all else the inability to solve this divide because of poor communications. Don’t these sound like the things that tear apart homes? Aren’t money, sex, our shared environment, family values and our inability to communicate the main problems we face in the lives of our families?
The family is the place where we begin to learn to deal with our public lives. Good families know how to handle differences because while families are communal and connected, the members are different (sometimes drastically different). Good families work through their issues of money, sex, shared environment and values because they want to be a family that works for the common good. But why haven’t we transferred this to our public lives?
Good families aren’t families that don’t hurt each other. Families are going to hurt each other. It’s an impossibility when you share your lives with each other as long as you do. So what do good families do that bad churches and bad politicians don’t?
The theologian Walter Brueggemann says there three primary marks of Christians that everyone can do. These begin in the home:
- They practice hospitality. They are committed to the basic level of human need of one another.
- They practice generosity. They are committed to a culture of grace. They help that person work towards and sustain an abundant life.
- They practice forgiveness. They are committed to a culture where debts are not owed because they know that vengeance brings destruction to the family. Vengeance says, “Your ending matters more to me than my new beginning.” Families aren’t working towards ending. They work towards sustaining.
Good families take these character traits into the struggles that threaten our daily lives. Good Christians take these traits into their churches, their workplaces, their neighborhoods and into government practices. These are the traits of people who work towards the common good.
Wendell Berry once said that if we don’t learn to love our neighbors, we eventually won’t have any. We all know the black sheep of our families. We all know the political and social enemies. If we don’t love them, as Brueggemann talks about, we won’t have any.