People’s faith commitments can never be completely separated from their experience of family life. Our character, perspectives and world-view are hugely affected by the beliefs which surround us as we grow up.
For some, the experience moulds them and provides an enduring framework to understand the meaning and purpose of life. For others, it creates a counter-reaction and defines what they want to reject. Many others lie somewhere between these poles; they hold to aspects of their parent’s worldview and reject others.
In my case, I grew up in a very Christian household. My Dad was a vicar of large church in Croydon and my Mum led the music and a host of other activities. Growing up in that context affected every aspect of my life.
Later, my Dad later went into senior roles in the Church of England (see his wikipedia page for more) and my Mum became licenced as a lay minister. Now in their 80s, they both continue to be very active in their local church.
And, it was not just my parent’s generation. My Dad’s parents had been missionaries in South India for 40 years and only returned home to London in the mid-1970s (my grandad was a contemporary and friend of fellow missionary and theologian Lesslie Newbigin).
On the other side, my Mum’s parents were heavily involved in their church in Deptford, south London and my grandad played the organ in different churches for over 65 years.
So this Christian ‘heritage’ has undoubtedly influenced myself and my two older brothers. Today, both my brothers are vicars in the Church of England and run lively and vibrant churches (see here and here). Like my Dad, they are also both published authors.
So actually, I am the only one in the family who is not a C of E minister. Plus, I now go to a Baptist Church. This is what rebellion looks like in my family…rock and roll.
Programmed to believe?
I have often thought of how much my background this has influenced what I believe. Am I only a Christian because of my upbringing? Was I programmed or conditioned to think the way I do?
In superficial moments, I have envied people who have had dramatic conversions from staunchly atheist backgrounds because they can be sure of the independence of their beliefs.
Integrity and rigour
But actually, I am profoundly glad for the faith in which I was brought up. I am grateful to my parents for the integrity they showed me and the rigour of thinking they encouraged.
I was not ‘programmed’ but I was encouraged to follow Jesus and use Christianity as a framework to work out what was true. I had my time wandering away and I had to come to accept and understand this truth for myself (for more see here).
In the years since, I have had to test it and commit to it with big decisions. And this has enriched my life more than I can express. There is nothing I wish for my own children more than that they find this path too.
Form over function
The activist and writer George Monbiot wrote:
“I was brought up with the classic middle-class Anglican stance, which effectively means plenty of form, and very little function, and just a semblance of belief…its a very easy ethos to shed because it isn’t really an ethos at all…what counts is what church do, much more than what they profess.”
I have sympathy with Monbiot’s point; a religion which is simply form and no function is dry as dust and deserves to die.
Authentic faith should always be dynamic and transformative. It should be full of ethos – shaping the way we think and the way we act. It has the power to re-orientate, repair and restore us so that we can help transform the world around us. As I wrote recently, faith is always personal but never private.
An online discussion…
These were some of the themes that my brothers and I talked about this week on an online discussion titled Family, faith and friction. We are all very different characters and certainly don’t all believe the same things, but we discuss the way our common faith has shaped us and led us into the jobs we do…