Friday, July 24, 2009

one more thing...

I wanted to read the closing story from The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce last week, but simply ran out of time. The authors recount the true story of a wedding reception of thirty-somethings. Both bride and groom and the best man all came from broken homes. Therefore, an honest skepticism of marriage is understandable…and deep. But then came this poignant toast given by the best man, which I found so revealing:

“To many here today it feels strange to find that one of us is getting married. It’s strange because we’re a generation of cynical children when it comes to marriage. We came of age during a time when divorce became an acceptable alternative. Ultimately this is good. But the effect on us is one of caution, of skepticism. Who needs marriage? It’s an outdated institution. Why be burdened? But while we were uttering these cynicisms, we were privately nurturing the hope that we could rediscover and experience the romantic and very profound magic that we had heard existed in a far-off time—to see marriage through innocent eyes. But we didn’t realize it’s not about innocence. It’s about realism, about seeing what’s really there and not deluding ourselves with false expectations. Ironically, the wonderful thing about growing up in the Age of Divorce is that we have learned so much. It’s been very painful but we learned. So we look for signals. When one of our friends tells us he’s getting married, we look for signals to assess his chances. Well, I got a signal this morning. As the bride stepped out of the door, I caught my breath. I felt a lump in my throat and I leaned against the car for support. I was stunned. She was so beautiful. But it wasn’t just physical beauty. As Elizabeth walked behind Michael, he turned slowly and took her hand. I felt that calm electricity that happens when it’s right—the thing, whatever it is, that doesn’t happen unless it’s basically right. And I paused to appreciate the knowledge that our cynical generation has gained. And I choked back a tear. We’re okay, Michael and Elizabeth. Speak the truth to each other and be happy.”

There are three things that will endure—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love. ~Paul the apostle

Monday, July 20, 2009

love faithfulness

No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century. ~Mark Twain

This weekend’s message really should have been a “two-parter”. It’s impossible to talk about the seventh commandment on adultery without talking about marriage and then, of course, sexuality, divorce and subsequent remarriage issues. It’s a big topic. So many moral quandaries, so little time.

One of the more fascinating books that’s come out in the last few years on the subject of divorce is The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. It follows a twenty-five year study on the effects of divorce on children. Judith Wallerstein tracked the lives of one hundred kids whose parents divorced in the 1970’s. The stats are one thing, but her interviews and stories are a total sucker-punch.

Predictably, Unexpected Legacy triggered powerful responses from readers. The family-centered-evangelical folks slam people with it. Parents who have suffered through divorced feel guilty. Adult children of divorced families naturally get defensive. And, of course, stats don’t tell individual stories, just averages. But the reality is, God knew what He was doing with He invented the family system. In the long shadow of the Fall, though, all bets are off the table in terms of tenure.

If anything, it should give us pause in how quickly we rush into matrimonial nirvana.

My own experience after presiding over fifty weddings (it’s been over one hundred now…and I quit performing them years ago!) way back in the ‘90’s was depressing: in one year, I ran into so many couples I had married who were divorced that I was stunned. I went back and checked my records and discovered the success rate of those who had gone through premarital classes was off-the-chart; conversely, those who skipped the classes had an abysmal rate. I became less sympathetic to excuses regarding situations and schedules and made a personal commitment to no longer marry anyone who refused to go through our premarriage program. If you’re in too big of a rush to get counseling, you’re in too big of a rush. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

Let’s be honest: none of us went to the altar with divorce on our minds. We were all brain-dead and starry-eyed, clueless that anything could change. When we said “til’ death do us part”, divorce was a remote problem for other people who were not in love like us.

God designed marriage to be the most intimate friendship imaginable. When Jesus speaks of a man cleaving (or uniting) to his wife, it’s based on the same Greek word used for glue. It is the bringing together of two substances to make a new one. Jesus is saying that we need to enter this covenant with a measure of awe, a reverent fear and responsibility to God. The reason why we get married with clergy represented is because we are testifying before God and asking Him to join us together. The heavyweight words that He speaks are, “If I join you together, then don’t you dare let any mere mortal tear you asunder!” That word asunder (or separate) in the Greek means to place space or room between two people. Marriage is a picture of two people being in the same emotional space. I learned early on that security for my wife Anita meant being included in my emotional world and me in hers. She wasn’t necessarily looking for someone to fix her problems; she wanted someone who would emotionally befriend her.

It’s not easy. But not impossible. Frankly, I don’t know how people who are not God-lovers make it work. And even when they do, in my opinion they’re missing the real thing: the highest reason for marriage is to bring God glory by giving an expression of His love and faithfulness to us.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. (Ephesians 5:31–32 NLT)

Monday, July 13, 2009

signs & wonders

According to one version I heard yesterday, someone ran their Tacoma into the Vineyard sign (which is no mean feat…) and then walked away from it apparently unhurt. Not sure what’s what yet. Don’t know how their vehicle made out, but from the looks of the sign, the Tacoma won.

This weekend in our Summer of Love series we covered the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder”. I briefly touched on the tension between Christian pacificism (Walter Wink’s “third way”) and “just war” theories. John Howard Yoder is probably the best to read on the former, and Augustine as an early proponent of the latter. C. S. Lewis’ “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” essay from The Weight of Glory is a quick, head-tilting read as well. Regardless of your slant, an introspective “heart-check” is critical to understand why one leans either way, to make sure we aren’t driven by fear, or self-preservation, or self-righteousness or vengeance.

For followers of Jesus, ultimately our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God before any nationalistic adherence. If there is an example that a government can actually champion as morally right for the safety and justice of its people, we should approach it extremely humbly. Jesus can never be aligned to a country or a cause—that’s what the freedom fighters of the first century, the Zealots, wanted of Him. But they missed the Big Picture: He is the Cause, the cure for a very sick human condition. In our current context, despite being Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, or whatever, we are all messed up with a one-way ticket to Gehenna unless intercepted by the grace and love of God. My politics will not save me. I desperately need Jesus.

The New Testament implies that in this age of grace, the business of war is associated with human governments, not the Kingdom of God. When Jesus was being interrogated by the Roman government, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would be fighting for me...”. The Kingdom cannot be fought for on a flesh-and-blood level. The case for pacifism can best be made here: any persecution for the Kingdom’s sake is met with a martyr’s mindset.

At the same time, Paul seems to say we have a responsibility with human governments in a fallen world. He writes:

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Romans 13:1–7 (TNIV)

The degree of involvement is what’s argued. The pacifist asks: should I even pay a portion of taxes that support a military?

Paul’s passage is tough to swallow for a guy like me, a product of the sixties. I was a vociferous anti-Nixon protestor, complete with black armbands and all. It seemed unconscionable to me that you could send an eighteen-year-old to Vietnam but he couldn’t vote until he was twenty-one. The Twenty-Sixth amendment finally rectified that in 1971. One study put the average soldier in the Vietnam war at nineteen-years-old as opposed to WWII where the average was twenty-six. But this is where this all gets tricky: despite what I would consider a strong “justice”-streak in me, I had other demons I was wrestling with, and by age twenty I was introduced to Christians who began to shake not so much my world view but the secret places of my heart. It is one thing to argue politics or even morality, but another thing when a seven-million watt searchlight exposes your soul. I was undone.

All this rambling simply means that at times I don’t trust my own heart in how I settle some of the peripheral theological issues (one might argue what is considered peripheral). It’s not always as black-and-white from text-to-text as I’d hope. And sometimes we have to admit that we’re looking through a glass darkly.

One thing I know for sure: Jesus changes everything. And I’m still working that out.