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31 March 2019 | Vicar Writes

Households

By Terry Wong

One threat to family today may be due to the demise of the household (Greek - oikos).

These two realities, though connected, are not the same. The household is a social form, a locus where people commune with each other. One can be a part of a biological family (by birth) without being part of the household (by choice). And even if you are a single adult, you can be a part of a household with your aging parents, siblings or friends.

We may have homes but people may not really live in them. Parents are off to work for most part of the day and for some, evenings too. Children are off to school. In the evening, some dine outside or Deliveroo food in. Even if together, eyes may be on screens.

For Aristotle, the household is a family understood as a community of daily life. Not long ago, the home was the context for daily lives. Breakfast was shared together, even if conversation was brief and quick. Chores and responsibilities were shared. The Singer sewing machine rumbled as clothes were repaired. In the kitchen, if a chicken was being chopped, loud, irregular thuds were produced. If shallots were being diced, you would hear instead a quieter, hynoptic drumming. And there was always a cadence that rung from the sharpening of knives.

Today, these activities are “out-sourced internally” through our domestic helpers. We sleep, work, eat, stare at screens and sleep again.

The household is more than just a place of work. Lounge times, board-game times, meal times and even bedtimes are moments for mutual presence. Done enough and regularly, they form tradition and provide a template for one’s wider life. This household prepares a person to live in the state (civic life), as Aristotle has pointed out.

If we are to renew family life, we need to start with the household. It is a sacred sanctuary of shared work, life and belonging. I am aware that some homes are places of tension. If at all possible and with God's help, may we do our best to turn it into sanctuaries for life and living. At least we owe our children that.

Now, something needs to be said about the other households in life, notably, the local church. She is more than a place of worship. The Bible talks about it again and again. And I try to repeat these ideas as well in the way I pastor and lead the Cathedral as her Vicar.

We are a family, a community, a household.

She needs to be a happy household of trust, safety, love and friendship, where visions and dreams are shared. I sometimes meet Christians who are either "mercenaric" or "consumeric" in the way they look at the local church. If the former, they see the church as a place to get things done, for money raised to be given away, simply just a vehicle for missions and so on. For the consumers, they ask constantly what the church is doing to help them to grow, better sermons, better this and that. Indeed in Singapore, we have the phenomena of Christians floating from church to church for they have never grasped the true calling of a church as oikos. It is sad when you think about it.

Why can’t we just be friends — eating, laughing and praying together?

If one loses both natural and spiritual households, what a deep loss that is. Both are gifts from God. If you are reading this, it is still not too late. Change your attitude and get both you and your households in order. You will be enriched beyond measure and live life without regrets.