The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang challenged my ideas of the role of family in Chinese culture…and what it should be in Western culture. He tells a beautiful creation story:
“God took a handful of mud, molded it into human shape and breathed into nostrils a breath, and there was Adam. But Adam began to crack and fall to pieces, and so He took some water, and with the water He molded the clay, and this water which entered into Adam’s being was called Eve, and only in having Eve in his being was Adam’s life complete. At least that seems to me to be the symbolic significance of marriage. Woman is water and man is clay, and water permeates and molds the clay, and the clay holds the water and gives it substance, in which water moves and lives and has its full being” (The Importance of Living, LinYutang, p. 181).
Literally every class I’m taking this semester (with the exception of Russian) incorporated the Biblical creation story and the intellectual shift during the Enlightenment from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe, but this Chinese story is my favorite non-Biblical story of creation. Honor of the family structure as the core of Confucian principles and the backbone of society makes so much sense with a foundation like this. All pride, achievement, respect, really anything we seek to achieve individually in the Western world is only appropriate in the context of family and…it just makes sense.
On a global/social scale the nucleus of the family maintains social order and keeps each citizen acutely aware of their integral role in society, just like their essential role in a family, but how has this structure held up so long in Chinese culture? Is it as prevalent in practice as in classic ideology?
> How important are relationships in life?
> Are people all meant to pass in and out of each other’s lives? Are a select few meant to stick it out forever?
It is said that the philosopher Chuangtse, when his wife died, was found singing and beating a drum – he needed no sorrow for loss because she had come from the earth and returned to the earth joining in the eternal procession of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. In following Daoism, the present holds all importance and time is only relative to the process of change.
This concept seems to be very popular in America, and Sarah Wilson’s reaction to this “popular” form of Eastern thought is priceless
“In recent times, the Buddhist fervour that’s hit yoga schools and water cooler talk has put the pressure on me to “let go” and “live in the now”. All good stuff, but ONLY once you’ve seen what’s down there. Otherwise, isn’t it like popping a valium and saying life is great? Isn’t it like viewing life from a cinema pew?”
I take a different route from her in posing a solution, per say. I know my spiritual and ethical background says that life is ALL about relationship – with Jesus Christ my savior, with the body of Christ (as in my community) and each person that enters another’s life is significant. Oh, and marriage as a divine sanction and all that jazz, but that’s a topic for later. So I can dig around in the origins of Christianity and find the ideal familial relationship – the tribes of Israel as they (ideally) completely depended upon one another, held each other accountable to stay true to their covenants with God, and take corporate punishment or blessing for their dis/obedience to God.
In the book of Joshua, the Israelites defeat the city of Jericho and one man, Achan takes spoils of war directly against God’s commandment and hides them in his tent. The whole story (Joshua 7:1-26) sheds a bit of light on details, but in retribution he, his entire family and all their possessions are brutally destroyed. The contrast to the mercy of the new covenant in Christ is huge, but I have to wonder, what happened to these crazy tight family relationships and societal bonds? Not just in “modern society” or “in America,” but where does Christianity today stand on sustained relationships?
In my church, relationship with Jesus is of utmost importance (as I fully agree with) but the purpose of spreading the gospel and multiplying believers supersedes sustained relationship – and not just in college groups (where that’s completely natural), but in following Matthew 19:29
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (NIV)
It often takes a direct correlation to day-to-day life for some things to make sense in understanding, not just knowledge and this is one area where I’m seeking understanding. I’ve heard this in the context of separating from non-believing family members to follow Jesus, but what about people who leave their faith communities and are sent out as missionaries? What’s the Christian role of sustained relationship in their lives?
What about non-stationary people who experience a natural flux of relationship, maybe even travel and share the gospel, but primarily through work? So many questions. So many possible answers. If any of this strikes your interest, let me know what you think.