I. Here is a thought experiment. Suppose human beings reproduced, not by the sexual reproduction we know, but by mitosis, that is, asexual reproduction through the dividing of the organism exactly into two, as amoebae do. The result is two fully formed organisms with the identical chromosomal makeup. Then those two in turn divide into two, yielding four identical organisms, and so on.
What would that be like? Everybody would be a descendant and an ancestor of identical progeny. We are all siblings. I suppose there could be different ethnicities and races as there are different genus, classes, orders and phyla, but within them all individuals would be identical, that is, they wouldn’t be individuals at all. Come to think of it, those differentiations would not exist either; we would just be an ocean of one human individual. There would be no progeny as we know them.
So, would there be what we humans call families? Doubtful, because a “family” would be numerically huge, making living under one roof an impossibility, which is one definition of family. There would be no gestation period, or infancy, adolescence and growth of any kind–we would all be “born” as full-fledged adults. That’s convenient–no school buses or fitting rooms for trying on clothes. Since the descendants are utterly undifferentiated, it might have the benefit of eliminating conflict. But not all, because even human identical twins get into conflicts. In the controversy over nature vs. nurture, nature’s uniformity is trumped by nurture’s differentiation. Witness this song from the Fantastiks–
Plant a radish, get a radish, not a brussels sprout–there’s never any doubt. While with children, It's bewilderin'. You don't know until the seed is nearly grown Just what you've sown.
Plato’s theory was that in pre-history we were originally single, androgynous creatures that the gods had to cut in half to separate the male and female halves. The result for humans was a built-in longing for one another that cannot be denied.
“Surely you can see that no one who received such an offer to come together and melt together with the one he loves, so that one person emerged from two. Why should this be so? It’s because, as I said, we used to be complete wholes in our original nature, and now ‘love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.”
Out of that love come families–that’s where you and I surfaced on this planet, each one of us the product of two different sets of chromosomes, no one exactly alike, even twins. We surfaced in a family where all the biology happens, not only copulation and birthing, but dying and decaying, eating and drinking, eliminating and sweating, grooming and hygiene, waking and sleeping, all very personal, very intimate things. While nations contend, and cities cope, and corporations reap, it is in families where the body learns our debt to Nature, for better or for worse.
Yes, sometimes for worse. Some of the most basic and truly awful human emotions are wreaked upon each other in families. It’s called growing up. Paul put it simply–when I was a child, I thought as a child. When I became an adult, I thought like an adult.
So the bonds formed at home matter all our life long, right into, especially into the aging process when we prepare to leave them behind. The family you start out with is not, and need not, be the one you end up with–fortunately! Lots of mixing and matching occurs as broken families fold into blended families, and extended family members may come back into the picture. Non-family become members too, as obviously happens in every marriage, but also as orphaned children become grafted by adoption into something wholly other than their family of origin. Read Charles Dickens.
Many people bemoan their families. But let it be known, the only thing worse than having a family is not having one. People yearn for family. They’ll even call church their family! The possibilities for getting a family now have increased. Due to modern science, there can be progeny for infertile couples or gay couples, all without procreation.
So, instead of mitosis, there are progeny, which start life in the home and go on to create homes of their own. The wealth of families is progeny.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in (Robert Frost). But the number of people without homes where they have to take you in have increased astronomically. Until Russia invaded Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Venezuela accounted for 63% of the 25 million refugees in the world, but there are even more displaced persons than that within other countries due to civil unrest and violence. These folks have no home to turn to. Soon it will be climate change. It is dire because families are the most vulnerable unit of society.
Social service agencies will not have the capacity to place and care for such refugees as are now flooding out of Ukraine. What will our role be? Even the strongest of religious congregations can only host a few families at best. But churches are not social service agencies anyway. We are spiritual communities. We offer things like hope, solidarity, and prayer. It’s not much as the world counts things, but it’s what churches were created for. We also are purveyors of a rare commodity–forgiveness, the lack of which busts families up and drives people out into solitary exile. The slight difference between the Greek notion of love and St. Paul’s is that the content of the word “love” in Christianity is forgiveness. Christ suffered and died because some people prefer their hurts and grievances to health. Such people ask, why solve these problems, why dissolve these emotional knots? I’d rather be right and sleep with my hurts. But Christ brings healing to people who say I’d rather be right than make right my relationship with my father, my mother, my sister or brother.
These are just a fraction of the population–the unforgiven and unforgiving number in the hundreds of millions–without a home. In addition, there are 85 million refugees. Do you see what work we have to do? Don’t fret about being a church without a Sunday School. A “family church” doesn’t have to have a Sunday School and be full of families–it has to serve families. Have we got the focus it takes to create such ministries? There are three street ministries locally that I know of in Cambridge, Boston, and Lowell. We could be supporting them financially and in person–attend their services. There is the West Newton Y and Bridge Over Troubled Waters–we can’t do their kind of work but we can partner with them.
On this planet, there are only progeny, and universally they (we) each want to take our place in the sequence of generations called “families”–let’s use our church for the healing of families.