Jan 8, 2014

The Incubator of Moral Formation

I think I should post something quickly before Mike changes his mind so here we go.

Go here to read a longish post by Campbell Law School prof and friend Kevin Lee titled "Constitutional and Traditional Values: On Same-sex Marriage." Although the article is worth reading for Lee's ultimate conclusions, it is his take on how moral values are formed, and the relationship between moral formation and the family, that I want to highlight.

"Christian values do not arise sui sponte in people. The Christian life is supported by living among Christians and trying to live together in Christian societies." No lone ranger Christians, at least no well-formed lone ranger Christians. One might then think that the Church is the primary incubator of the compleat Christian. One might think thus but Kevin Lee does not: "Before there is Church, however, there is family."

It's not the family simpliciter where fundamental values are caught and taught. Rather it is the family's simultaneous orientation toward the past and the future that enables its members to inculcate a meaningful frame of reference to the world beyond the family. For better or for worse, the past is inescapable in a family. Today's parents are yesterday's children and bring with themselves the weight of practices, hopes, and desires rooted in the experiences of their families.

With respect to the future, Lee observes that "to give oneself for the family, to work for them, to risk it all for them, to give it all for them: these are the acts by which serious men and women are liberated and find ultimate beatitude, raising children and learning the meaning of life through their innocent faces." Having and raising children is a great risk but taking that risk is the primary means by which human beings give evidence of their belief that the world has a future.

That beginning a family entails risk is obvious to all who have done so. Raising children is not a science. It is not even an art. After all, children are, like their parents, ultimately mysterious even to themselves. We can never be certain if, when, and how the specific practices, hopes, and desires will come to fruition. Yet we can take heart that the family's natural orientation to the future can be replicated and extended beyond the little platoon of a particular family. And it is an orientation to the future writ large, and the cooperation first learned in the family, that are the most important markers of society's health in the present.

For earlier thoughts on this and other topics check my personal blog here.


  1. Powerful. And frightening. Can we begin to accept this premise of the integral role of the family in value building without drawing into scrutiny the work/family balance of the average attorney? We practice a profession that demands long hours away from the home. Even when we are home our thoughts are still pulled away by our vocation. What a difficult struggle for the Christian lawyer to balance the importance of his or her presence at home with the demands of the practice of law.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Josh. This is a great topic to explore- you are certainly onto something. It's not limited to those called into law, but I think the work/life/family issue is one of the main concerns of law students I speak with. Anyone have ideas on how to address this with students in order to prepare them for real life? And for those of us older folks who may have already ingrained our bad habits?

  3. I'm very interested to see some dialogue in response to Josh G's comment. I'm not a lawyer, but I am interested in entering the legal profession as a paralegal. I'm currently holding down two jobs and might be adding school on top of that. It often seems that my family has to take second place to these many other demands, and that just doesn't 'feel' right.

  4. One perspective that I think might be helpful on this issue, is to evaluate our obligations in light of the idea of "calling" from God and the obligations that we KNOW must flow from the call.

    For example, if we are called to marriage, then we sacrifice our personal desires to that of the good of our spouse and the family. No compromises. But we are also called to support them and provide, so "quality time" as an end in itself dims in comparison to duties to work and earn and feed.

    So one of the questions I can ask myself is: how much of my work is done in faithfulness to my call as worker and provider, and how much is done as a means to find personal validation in the eyes of the world, or status, or stuff?

    If we make legitimate compromises regarding time and attention for our families based on other high demands for season, it seems legitimate if the demands are from God as proper adjuncts to our calling as lawyers or students, but illegitimate if we are taking on tasks for personal glory, to stroke our egos, or to gain wealth for its own sake.

    It takes some wisdom-- and other virtues, such as humility, among others-- to discern the difference. This is maybe a basic starting place.

  5. An attorney must actively seek to balance work/family from the get-go. Listening to--and implementing--input from one's spouse, extended family, and respected members of one's church are crucial.

  6. Josh, after 6 years in big law, I've yet to see a "formula" that works. Mike's and Prof. Pryor's comments are spot on (of course)--we must constantly subject our motives to the scrutiny of scripture, community, and the Spirit. As for "balance," unfortunately, meeting minimum billable hour requirements (which are often crushing and nearly impossible to meet) is just the beginning. If one is going to "succeed," i.e., make partner, there needs to be a generous dose of community involvement and business development to supplement the billable hours. Though some may do this for ego, it is without question part of the job expectations, and thus, part of "duties to work and earn and feed." At the risk of sounding cynical, I do question whether it's even possible to be both a "Super Dad" and a "Super Lawyer."

    On a related note, I've begun to question the usefulness of the phrase, "work-life balance." Though it's a familiar notion and not altogether unhelpful, it troubles me for several reasons. First, it makes a distinction between "life" and "work," as if life begins after I get home in the evening and ends when I go to the office. That seems to contradict the entire premise of this blog and vocation generally. Second, the phrase suggests an abstract "me" in the center of my "life" and my "work," attempting to "balance" the two. But envisioning my "true self" as some sort of existential fulcrum does not foster integration. Third, there is no "balance" for a disciple of Christ. We are to love God with our whole being (Mk. 12:30.) Peter's nets were full when he left his small business to follow his Lord. (Lk. 5:11.) And Jesus deemed those who looked back and wanted to take care of familial or cultural obligations to be unfit for kingdom service. (Lk. 9:57-62.) Now, am I suggesting that using that phrase or thinking in those terms renders one a pagan? Of course not. But, speaking for myself, rethinking my own use of the phrase has been helpful and surprisingly life-giving. (Rom. 12:2.)

    Well, back to billing...

  7. Powerful thoughts, all. No easy answers here, but hope in abundance!

    Ephesians 5:16-17 comes to mind: Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

    There is so much wisdom to be drawn from this passage but I live to core concept of seeking to understand the will of the Lord. What a wonderful place to start.

  8. Really good stuff. Scott is right about the role of others as a crucial piece of this issue, and I think David is spot on with the suspicion of "balance' as a helpful evaluator. Very helpful comments, David. It's interesting that something so "simple" as how we allocate our minutes should require such wisdom. Its relationship to "the days" and to "the will of the Lord" is a helpful reminder of the centrality of the will of God, and our pursuit and fear of him, which is the root of wisdom, as Josh points out.

    I was reading an old book by EL Mascall last week, and he talked about the difference between knowledge through study only and knowledge through "participation." He uses the example of the knowledge of honesty by a scholar of ethics and the knowledge of honesty by an honest man. Both have knowledge, but the honest man gains additional "knowledge" as part of a life lived honestly in addition to his pursuit of understanding of the idea of honesty.

    As we live as "partakers of the divine nature" more and more, we will be able to live wisely in real love-- to our spouses and children and to our employers and clients. Living wisely and growing in our imitation of Christ is likely the biggest part of that, I suppose.