Jesus Now - Ekonomia

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This page is part of the Living with Jesus Now series.


Ekonomia: Households and Intentional Kinship Options

by Peter Lawson

You are welcome to help us discover ways to build Intentional Households that seek to honor Jesus' teaching and program. Hit the edit button and share your wisdom.


I want to avoid using the term "family" since so many of the present forms of the domestic life do not fit its traditional meaning. I prefer to use the Greek word Ekonomia or household to signify the intentional kinship options in contemporary culture. The word ekonomia, from which we derive "economics", implies a financial component to intentional kinship options.

For the puposes of this presentation, I want to limit the discussion to households with at least partially shared finances. There are, of course, deeply felt and powerfully shared relationships which are, in truth, intentional kinships without any shared financial commitments.

How many different forms of households do you know from personal experience?

I know these.

  • Single male or single female living alone with or without pets.
  • Single male or female living in the home of adult children.
  • Man and woman cohabiting.
  • Man and woman cohabiting with children. (Children may be adults.)
  • Man and woman married with children. (Children may be adults.)
  • Woman or man as single parent with children.(Children may be adults.)
  • Single Woman with sperm donated birth child.
  • Two women - in committed relationships either sanctioned by a church, or the state or not sanctioned.
  • Two men - in committed relationships either sanctioned by a church, or the state or not sanctioned.
  • Two women with children - adopted or sperm donored, anonymously or by chosen men.
  • Two men with children - adopted or born to surrogate mother by donation of mixed sperm.
  • One man married to two or more women and their children.
  • Co-housing with several of the above.
  • A commune.
  • And what else?

This wide variety of household types is a product of our urban, industrialized culture which prizes individual fulfillment and accomplishment as the highest personal values. The procreation and nurture of children may be valued as well, but tends to be just another form of self-fulfillment and accomplishment. In agrarian and primitive cultures the work of children is necessary for the economic well being of the household. Not so in the households of developed economies in this century. Today as consumption is the major economic activity of households children may well impede the free consumption of the household's adults.

Most of us are able choose between options open to us, because no matter how deluded we might be, that choice seems to be best for us. So an adult enters into one or another form of household because that sort of arrangement seems to be the best solution to a felt need. Children don't have a choice about the household they are born into and may only get a choice after leaving home.

In this array of intentional kinship groups, can we gain any wisdom from Jesus' program and teaching that will enable us to manage our households and kinship groups to more fully experience the undergirding beauty of life and existence?

Jesus rejected the hierarchical, male-dominated, shame and honor based family structure of his day and called people into a new kind of commensal community in which all members shared their gifts, goods and wisdom for the health of all.

In North American culture the Domination Household prevails.

Characteristics of the Domination Household

  • Goal is ascendancy over other households in a competition for supposedly scarce commodities and social position; largely played out through conspicuous consumption.
  • Struggle for dominance = power and authority over others both within the household and in the wider community
  • Dominance may be enforced with psychological and/or physical violence.
  • There may be negotiated exchange and compromise.
  • A win-lose dynamic prevails.
  • The positive interpersonal function is mirroring the bright side of the others. Otherwise a hostile/defensive mode prevails.
  • Dissimulation and denial are prevalent.
  • Children as objects
  • Possessions
  • Symbols of fulfillment, success, power, or value.

One can assume that the values and patterns of a Domination Household would not be affirmed by the Historical Jesus. He might say,"This is not my household. My household are these who are eating with me now. These are my sisters and my brothers, my mothers and my fathers".

What would a household characterized by Jesus' radical generosity look like, sound like, feel like?

A Generous Household might have these characteristics

  • Goal is to build spaces for the wholesome fulfillment of members' needs.
  • Self-emptying love for the others = generosity is highly valued.
  • Goal is to assist members to achieve highest potential and make healthful contributions to the wider communities.
  • A win-win dynamic prevails.
  • Openness, acceptance, warmth and honesty prevail.
  • Children are valued as contributing members whose wisdom is appreciated
  • teaching and encouraging them to be
  • courageous
  • loving
  • generous
  • creative
  • ethical


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