Liturgy for A Political Divide…

I just returned from the Face 2 Face component of my online seminary program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Part of the program entails travelling to the seminary campus in Portland, for a more traditional classroom setting. This occurs each semester, and allows us to come together with the members of our cohort, meet the professor and online coordinator, and other members of the seminary community. Face 2 Face is always the highlight of each semester. The document below, was written for a class I am taking: Christian Ministry for Reconciliation. The class is about the process of reconciliation; whether it be in a marriage, racial divides, societal issues, gender issues, or whatever division needing reconciliation. The document below was drafted by myself and two classmates for an assignment which required us to draft a liturgy for a public worship service. My group had to choose the issue needing reconciliation, and then create the liturgy. Our group chose the issue of reconciliation between political parties after a national election. My group was compiled of three men. Two of us came from denominational traditions which had little experience designing liturgy, and one member from a tradition which frequently does use liturgy. Derek, designed the liturgy, while John wrote the statement from the winning party, and I wrote the statement from the losing party. While I didn’t vote for the candidate which lost the recent presidential election, I found it quite helpful to have to put myself in the place of the opposing side. In fact, I think it very helpful in working towards political unity, at least a functional unity with a commitment to choose active engagement with the other side in order to come to practical consensus leading to effective governance, in order to be forced to consider the other side’s position and “place”. In other words, to put myself in the shoes of the other guy/gal. Actually, in the reconciliation of a marriage, one of the important parts in the process is to understand how our choices, actions, and beliefs affect the other person. 

We could see this being used in a Washington Prayer Breakfast, or similar worship service attended by members of both parties:

( I should note that the “enemy” which is part of the scripture passage in Lamentations, is not the other political party! The “Enemy” is rather the Enemy of our souls, who thrives on dissension and divided communities.)

Opening Scripture

Matthew 5:24 ESV

Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Call and Response

LEADER: Lord, we come together, but we stand divided

RESPONSE: This is why we weep and our eyes overflow with tears.
we find no comfort and no one restores our spirit.
Our nation is destitute because the enemy has prevailed.
(Lam. 1:16)

 

LEADER: Lord, our hearts share the interest of our people, but we have failed to deliver them their hope

RESPONSE: This is why we weep and our eyes overflow with tears.
we find no comfort and no one restores our spirit.
Our nation is destitute because the enemy has prevailed.
(Lam. 1:16)

LEADER: Lord, we have not become all things to all people, willing to see both sides of every issue as equal and relevant.

RESPONSE: This is why we weep and our eyes overflow with tears.
we find no comfort and no one restores our spirit.
Our nation is destitute because the enemy has prevailed.
(Lam. 1:16)

 

ALL: Reconcile us, we pray.

 

 

 

The Confession of the elected Party

With sincere humility we confess that the outcome of this election in no way confers moral or divine superiority to our party. We recognize that no one group or party can represent every issue, or understand the needs and concerns of every person. In light of this we commit to the following:

1)      To walk in humility, honesty, integrity and respect for every person regardless of their stance on any particular issue or affiliation with any particular party

2)      To seek the good of all people and groups regardless of their race, gender, age, culture, or personal conviction.

3)      When the inevitable change of power comes about, to seek the good of the nation as a whole and work with those duly elected in a spirit of peace and reconciliation

 

Confession of the defeated Party

We acknowledge the recent political election has resulted in our electoral loss.

We acknowledge that our country is currently divided along disparate lines.

We acknowledge the need for greater statesmanship and a commitment to governance.

We realize the necessity of listening to each other and refrain from the temptation to believe political power will ultimately answer all the issues we face as a country.

We realize the need to live in respect for each other, and hold our views and interests in humility.

We realize our country is in tumultuous change, and in need of compassion, and justice for all.

We commit ourselves to courageously voice our principles and to listen to those which disagree with us.

We commit ourselves to maintain an open mind, and open heart to those with differing opinions.

We commit ourselves to stay engaged in ongoing conversations and to work to unity in addressing the issues our country faces.

ALL:

May the Lord give us strength; may the Lord bless us with peace.  Amen

Psalms 29:11

Empty Calories…

Have you ever been really hungry? So hungry that you really aren’t hungry anymore, or that you don’t realize just how much your body needs food?
A few years ago, I went through an extended period where my economic situation was pretty bleak. I didn’t have a car, so my only transportation was either a bike, or my feet. I had a job, but the number of hours I was scheduled per week varied greatly, and my checks could be quite small at times. I received my paycheck every two weeks, and usually my money would run out before my next check. Sometimes several days before. As a consequence, I got pretty hungry by the time I received my check, and could buy food. On the day I was to receive my check, I would ride my bike the 4 and a half miles to my job, pick up my check, then ride back to a Walmart to get my check cashed. In the Walmart was a Subway. I always looked forward to that first meal… On the ride back from receiving my check, I don’t remember being particularly hungry, yet the anticipation of Subway made the trip seem particularly long. As soon as I walked through the doors of the restaurant, the aroma of freshly baked bread would instantly remind me of my own hunger. I usually ordered the same sandwich:
A footlong, ham and provolone, with lettuce, tomato, spinach, pickles, jalapeno, and mayo…
That was the best sandwich in the world, man…
In fact, now that my financial situation has improved, I still love going to Subway in celebration of those hard days, and how the food I received there nourished my body, quenched my appetite, and revived my soul. I could have purchased other food from other restaurants, or from Walmart, that would have been temporarily just as filling, but I knew that not only would the Subway sub quell the hunger pangs, it would also provide better nourishment that my body needed. Since I could add on veggies, if I chose, the sub was a better choice than other options which would provide me with empty-calorie choices which would leave me hungry again sooner, and wouldn’t contain the nourishment my body desperately needed.
Living by the beach, I have come to know something about empty-calorie living, and the temptation of chasing things that might quench our appetite for a time, yet leave our minds, souls, and bodies malnourished and crying for more…
More…
…empty-calorie food…
…empty-calorie beverages…
…empty-calorie touch…
…empty-calorie sex…
…empty-calorie relationships…
…empty-calorie sunsets…
…empty-calorie experiences…
Even empty-calorie religion…
It is easy to make the world a commodity that we consume as a self-medicant, through which we attempt to deny and run away from the brokenness, loneliness, and pain within. However, the medication we use does not aid in our healing, it instead masks the need for nourishment our souls need, and denies the need for transformation. Empty-calorie living denies the beauty of all we see around us… even the beauty of ourselves… it instead leaves us in the tyranny of our appetites.
Now… this thought begs the question: Are all empty-calorie activities bad, or wrong? Aren’t they ok in moderation?
Those are questions probably every kid raised in the church or an authoritarian household has asked at some time in their life. And I can’t really answer them for you or even for me sometimes. And it isn’t even the activity itself that designates whether it is empty of nutritional value or not. It is the manner in which we relate to it. This is what I know about me: It’s like the old Lays potato chip marketing line from a few years back: “Lays… You can’t eat just one.” While sitting down with a bowl of potato chips, I know that if I don’t self-edit my appetite, I will soon have the whole bag next to me, and; especially if I am watching TV; the bag will eventually be gone, and I will be looking for another bag. That is the design of empty-calorie foods… THEY TASTE GOOD! That is what is so surprising about the demise of the Twinkie! But the design of empty-calorie food is such that they draw you in to eating more of them, yet they have a negligible nutritional value, and a steady diet of them leads to ill-health.
I know how the faith tradition I grew up in would answer the questions above…
The faith tradition I grew up in used the term “self-denial” to describe a manner of living which fought against empty-calorie living. I confess that I misunderstood the concept, or the way that it was taught was confusing, or… something. Anyway, I am finally beginning to understand it better now. I used to think self-denial meant that there were certain things we stayed away from either completely or for certain periods of time:
…alcohol…
…sex…
…food…
…dancing…
…movies…
…television…
…fun…
Ok… maybe that was just my perception, but it WAS my perception. I am finding in the scripture, a more holistic approach to living and a better understanding of “self-denial.”
In the book of John, chapter 6, the story is told of Jesus’ feeding a large crowd when resources were scarce, and the location was isolated. Matthew writes that when Jesus found out about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, at the hands of Herod; he retreated with his disciples to “a lonely place” (Matt. 14:13). Mark writes that the retreat to “a lonely place” was made after the disciples returned from a preaching/evangelizing tour, and the purpose was for them to decompress and “rest awhile”. (Mark 6:30-32) They travelled across the sea in a boat, and a large crowd kept sight of the craft all the while skirting the shoreline quickly enough to meet Jesus and his party on the other shore. So the scene is of a large crowd of diverse people in the wilderness with negligible provision for self-maintenance.
Jesus puts a frame around the dilemma when he questions the apostle Phillip:
“How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?”
Phillip’s response typifies my own response many times when in a similar situation:
“Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little!”
When seeing great need, it is easy to become overwhelmed with my inability to meet either my own need, or that of another. Peter’s brother Andrew at least scours the crowd to find resources of some type, and he approaches Jesus with a possibility: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” Even while he is enterprising enough to at least look for an answer for the problem, he perceives his efforts and the found provision from his search, to be inadequate for the need. So Jesus instructs the people to sit down, and is doing so they…
…end their searching
…give themselves over to the provision of Jesus
…stop striving
…stop arguing
…stop grabbing
…they wait
And…
…the little boy gives
…Jesus receives
…Jesus prays, asks and receives God’s blessing
… He breaks and gives
…the people receive
…they break and give.
…they receive nourishment from God’s provision
…and give from their brokenness which has been blessed by God
…for the nourishment of their neighbor.
Twelve baskets were left after all the people were filled, satisfied, and nourished. This is a picture of the economy of God.
I mentioned earlier that my understanding of “self-denial” is undergoing a change. Honestly, I don’t completely see the picture God is trying to trace for me about how this concept works; but I am beginning to understand that “self-denial” is less about what activities we DON’T undertake, but more about the practices we DO! It has to do with what we receive from God. God’s provision is tricky, and frequently in packages we don’t expect. Sometimes God’s provision comes in a miraculous bounty meant for both our nourishment, and that we might be a conduit of nourishment for others. Other times God’s provision comes in brokenness, and the manner in which we receive it allows us to still be a means of nourishment for the souls of others. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.
I must confess, though, that being open to love people in their brokenness can hurt. It is a strong temptation to become so engaged with the hurt of another, especially when they are self-medicating, that you can become sucked into looking for nourishment from empty calories as well. Love invites another into healthy love which brings nourishment to the soul, yet is willing to accept the rejection of your invitation. That is hard. Yet it is what Jesus practiced all the time. Jesus accepted the pain of loving people that were so enmeshed with their empty-calorie life that they walked away from the full-grain, Bread of Life which was packed with life nourishing qualities they needed to be fully-functioning human beings; in search of a white-bread life stripped of all nutritional value. It is important, as disciples of Jesus, that when we are “fishing for people” we not become entangled in our own nets… While the Bread of God must be received and consumed for our own nutritional needs, it also is broken and shared. Yet it must not be hoarded. It can be easy to hoard our brokenness, rather than allow it to change us into giving people. God’s provision is always generative for the one who receives it, and then shares it.

The Passing of an Era…

In the past several years, I have made it a habit to find a second place to spend several hours a week. A second place is somewhere other than where I live. I used to choose a coffee shop primarily, but since moving to Florida, I found a bar/restaurant as my hang-out. There are different reasons why I might like one spot over another:

 

Design/decor…

 

Proximity to my home…

 

Quality of the product they sell…

 

Attitude of staff towards those who want to hang out…

 

Usually, however, the spot I choose has more to do with the staff, and people who also hang out there.  I have found it enjoyable to kibbitz with staff, and to find conversations which serendipitously happen. I am often amazed at the stories of people that I learn just by being a fixture in a place. Friendships happen, and life is shared. I love the process until the process ends, because a place closes. That is what has happened to my most recent second place.

I don’t remember the first time I stepped into The Sloppy Pelican, but I remember that every time I went in, the staff was friendly and seemed to get along with each other. That is a key to a great second place: the people who work there enjoy each other. I love a group of employees who have a great work ethic, and a playful attitude with each other and customers. I will definitely miss my friends at The Pelican. I came to know and care for them.

I knew some of their stories…

I knew the spouses or boyfriends of them…

I knew if their relationships were healthy or dysfunctional…

I knew of their second jobs…

I knew of their kids…

I knew a little of their dreams and how they spent their free time…

I prayed with them…

I pray for them…

We came to love each other… all over a beer or two.

I also got to know some of the musicians who came to share their talents there. I even came to know a few of their fans and wives and children and fathers and friends and business associates, and became friends with them as well.

It was quite lovely…

Actually, it wasn’t that different from being in church, as far as the social aspects were concerned. I was frequently surprised how often conversations turned to God, or faith, or past experiences in church. The conversations scattered between positive experiences with the above, or hurtful ones.

Honestly….

… I kinda felt like Jesus…

…with Zacchias…

…or Matthew…

…or Mary Magdalene…

I only hope I did Him justice. I know I didn’t do it perfectly by any means, but often I realized the presence of God’s Spirit speaking eloquently through me. Not something I would expect, nor was raised to expect, when my tongue was slightly thick after a beer… or two. Love seems to seep into places we least expect it to be…

… all over a beer or two…

But the affect wasn’t one sided. These folks’ lives spoke to me, as well. I marvel at the hard work of Alejandro, removing trash, lugging food, cleaning the floor, replenishing the liquor cabinet, and doing just whatever needed to be done; then working a day job mowing lawns Monday through Friday. He always has a smile and warm greeting: a GREAT attitude. One evening, Alex told me of his 4-year-old daughter and her fresh diagnosis of leukemia. His day-job gives him benefits, so her medical care is covered by insurance, yet he continued to work at Sloppy for extra money. Actually, he didn’t receive an hourly wage there. He worked only for a share of the tips given by customers. His life gave me a different perspective on the importance of giving a tip after a meal.

I was amazed in the way the staff dealt with customers, and their savvy in knowing when someone was being deliberately unkind and/or belligerent, or just allowing the alcohol speak, with no mean intention. They also had each other’s back, while continuing to do the job.

I pray each of my friends will be guided by the kindness of God towards ever-greater health and loves. Hopefully, our paths will cross again…

Deep Sex II…

I was seated in the living room of a single man who had opened his home to a diverse group of people attending the same church in urban Kansas City. The occasion was a community dinner where small groups would come together and get to know others within the congregation. The church is unique. While it is far from conservative, it isn’t quite liberal either, especially in the theology of its leadership. Instead, I would describe it as being somewhat experimental in it approach to developing ways to follow Jesus and teach scripture which are respectful to church history, yet open to newer metaphors.

The group of people I was with was an eclectic mix of young, older, single, married, straight, and gay. We had finished eating and were beginning to share about our lives in a deeper way. Just two days before, the woman to which I was married at the time and I had finished the paperwork to begin the legal process of divorce. Not only was I feeling very melancholy about this fact, I was also quite reticent to go into life as a single man. I told the story about how I had recently visited a church by myself, and aside from the traditional greeters just inside the front doors, nobody had spoken to me. I explained to the group that it felt as if people were a little intimidated by me, as if they were extending their arms, palms outward, to ward me off. After I finished my statement, a younger man in his mid-thirties, boldly spoke: “That’s what it feels like to walk into a church as a gay man…” He then began to tell his story about trying to find a church that would embrace him as he was. He spoke about knowing about his homosexuality from his earliest remembrances. I responded of knowing my own heterosexuality from my earliest remembrances. We both spoke, and we both listened. I was struck by how similar we were rather than how different.

Does it really matter with whom we have sex?

I believe it does… but probably not for the reason you might be thinking.

Image

Recently, I was given the gracious invitation by my niece to take family pictures of her family. I agreed to do it, with great joy. Her family, with husband (my sister’s son) and three kids; my sister and husband; and myself met at a local tourist location with many backdrop options. After shooting about 180 pictures or so, we came to my house for them to see my home. In the corner of the living room, I have placed the mirror and collection of frames shown above. Each of the frames has a story linked uniquely to my heritage:

The gold oval frame originally contained my grandparent’s wedding picture, although the image and bubbled glass protecting it were broken in my mother’s move just after Dad was killed in a traffic accident.

The frame just beneath the gold frame was given to my father, along with a hand-painted landscape, by an artist he met in a church in which he held revival decades ago. Although the picture is long gone, I still have the frame.

Beneath the two previous frames is one made with barn siding taken from a home site in Southwestern Kansas upon which my dad’s family lived during his childhood.

This collection of articles, although not originally intended as such, is a spiritual metaphor to me. As we were sitting around talking, and looking at the images I had just taken of the family, I haphazardly looked into the mirror behind the frames, and noticed the reflection of London, the eldest daughter of my nephew and niece, framed by the successive frames. I immediately stopped, retrieved my camera, and took two shots of London’s reflection in the mirror. We then eventually said our good nights and they went home.

 

The next morning, as I was getting ready for work, I couldn’t get the image off my mind. Slowly, it dawned on me the symbolic impact of London’s image which could be seen through the tunnel of frames resting on the mirror. I began to remember the familial significance of each frame. It was as if this girl’s story, and image, were being framed by the stories of the familial and cultural heritage of those who came before her.

The gold oval frame symbolizes the long tradition of intact families. My grandparents (my father’s parents in this case) were married for over 60 years, even though my grandfather was 11 years older than my grandmother. In the long line of marriages within at least of 100 years of direct lineage, of which I am aware; London’s direct family tree (at least on her father’s side. I don’t know about her mother’s side) contains no divorces. The result is an expectation that marriage is for life, and couples have worked out their differences and stayed together.

The middle frame symbolizes the impact of the larger community of Christian believers throughout the centuries. My father’s family expressed openness and generosity to, as well as respect for, other expressions of the Christian faith than that to which they held. My mother also was open to growth in other expressions of the faith. Other faith traditions were treated with respect, with a careful understanding and communication to their children as to why they remained Christian.

The frame closest to the mirror symbolizes survival in hard times. Both my parents’ families lived through the Great Depression. They were poor. In fact, for the most part, we remained poor economically. We learned how to make do with few resources. Such difficulties help people rely heavily upon both each other, and to the provision of God, even when it is meager.

Most importantly, the mirror itself symbolizes God, and that we each bear God’s image. Each of us is a reflection of some aspect of the infinite Creator.

Ultimately, it is to this image that the search for Deep Sex is intended to take us. The journey to this image can be difficult, and takes a lifetime to clarify. In some families, the framework obstructs our capability to see the image. For all of us, the culture within which we live can also provide obstructions, or even worse, alternate images of ourselves that we are encouraged to emulate. Many times we can be our own worst enemies in acknowledging, embracing, and then living into the image of God in us. However, even in our brokenness, we reflect a God who can innervate us with God’s presence so that our entire experience is redeemed to benefit the community around us. Deep Sex is the expression of our deepest selves in love to God and others.

For instance, although I am the first person on my father’s side of my family to be divorced; God has redeemed the experience. I am learning more about myself, and life in general. I don’t recommend divorce… Divorce sucks… yet, as Jesus mentioned, Moses permitted the practice due to “the hardness of your hearts.” From my perspective, this isn’t just necessary because our hearts are hard in the midst of a bad marriage; so hard in fact, that forgiveness may be considered to be completely unreasonable by one or both partners; but divorce can be valuable because the pain and disappointment are so sharp as to pierce the callouses of our heart and allow us to be teachable once again. That is if we choose growth instead of bitterness. It is certainly possible to allow the pain to deepen the callouses of our heart, but this time the callouses cover a layer of pus which develops when we allow bitterness to guide our experience. We then are entrenched in our personal, relational dysfunction in ways that make personal vulnerability unlikely. Sadly, vulnerability is a necessary quality of love.

In warfare, I have heard it said that we are always preparing to fight the last war. Relationships can be like that, I think. It is easy to learn the lessons from the prior relationship, yet be unable to adapt to a new story. That is why I have come to find that the best way for me to be open to the possibility of a new love, is to learn all I can about how to live in healthier ways myself. Honestly, that isn’t an easy task. In so doing, however, I open myself to God  to allow God to bring my own “Shadow” to light. It is difficult to know what “healthy” even looks like for me, if I don’t realize my dysfunction. I hate to see it… but I need to see it. Acknowledging my Shadow opens me to the grace of God. In this process, celibacy is invaluable. It is really easy for me to become obsessed with the fantasy which is at the beginning of a new relationship, and doing so can short-circuit the process of deep growth. But the fantasy feels so good! It is  easy to overlook aspects of the relationship which really don’t work for us, because being close to someone feels comforting. Besides…

We wanna get laid…

But, what happens after the physical release? Are we really stronger and wiser? Or are we chasing a ghost of the dream when we fell in love for the first time?

Bridges Intact…

There is a bridge not far from my house. It is one of those bridges they have down here that part in the middle and both sides raise to allow a sail boat or other large boat go from one part of the inner-coastal water to another. It is interesting to watch the huge pieces of steel roadway raise slowly and part in the middle until it is all clear and then begin to lower until they once again meet in the middle to allow traffic to cross. The sides of these bridges are not connected. They are designed to have a minute separation, in order to allow large obstacles to pass through, yet not destroy the bridge’s capability to connect one side of the land to the other. Although they appear seamless, the connectedness is really due to the structure which supports them and the integrity of the material of which the sides are made.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The other night, I was returning a couple of movies to the Red Box at a nearby 7-11. I waited for a guy standing in front of the machine to make his selections. He took awhile, and since it stresses me out a little when someone is waiting impatiently to the side of the machine for me, I decided to wait in my pick-up while he finished. As it became apparent he was finishing, I got out of my truck to make my own selections. At about the same time, a car pulled up right next to the box, and an attractive 40-something woman got out of the back seat, and approached the box before me. She turned her head slightly, and noticed me waiting.

“Oh, I’m sorry… were you waiting?” She said brightly.

“Go right ahead.” I replied. (Did I mention she was attractive?)

“If it helps, I know exactly what I want, so it shouldn’t take long.” She was friendly. VERY friendly, and we kept on talking for a couple of moments about the movie she was getting. I had already seen it, (Descendants, btw…) and I recommended it strongly. But she kept on talking. It was kind of nice, actually. I had noticed a man sitting in the front seat, and when the conversation continued… at her urging, I might add… he rolled the windows of the car down. Internally, I wondered what was behind the gesture. What was his motive? Did he want to hear the conversation? She asked me if I lived in the area, and when I said, “yes”, she responded that they did as well. Now… maybe she was just really friendly, and I am just overly sensitive, but the conversation and the man’s actions just felt… weird… like he was jealous or something. Suddenly, he turned in his seat towards the back seat, and I noticed the cutest little girl of about 3 sitting in her car seat. He said something to her and she responded.

Aloud I said, “What a CUTIE PIE!” ( Does anyone really say that word anymore?)

The mother (at least I assumed she was the mother. The girl certainly resembled her) thanked me. I then approached the open passenger side window and spoke to the man, “You have your hands full there, Dad. She is SO cute! You better carry a baseball bat for all the boys…. and swing for their knees!” Both parents laughed, and whatever tension I felt, subsided.

While it is true that my imagination could have been running away with me… I wonder… I have learned to trust my intuition, and I felt really awkward in the conversation with the woman and the man’s action and countenance in response to it.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 Last Sunday, I attended another church which my family has recently been attending. I went primarily because their are single people my age, and the church I currently attend has single people who are significantly younger than I. While I am not an age snob, I realize that if I am ever going to find a serious romantic relationship that works, I need to be around women my own age. I was early for the service, and my family hadn’t arrived yet, so I hung out in the yard outside the church. As I sat in an iron swinging love-seat, I saw a thirty-something couple talking to another thirty-something woman. The woman who seemed to be with the guy had auburn hair and was very attractive. The other woman was blond, and also very attractive. I always find the interaction between women to be quite interesting. Auburn-hair was quiet, and seemed to be outside the conversation, and was instead watching the interaction between Blond and Husband/Boyfriend. Blond spoke in a very animated fashion. She would touch Husband/Boyfriend’s arm every so often. She laughed a little too energetically when he said something funny. To my eyes, she seemed to be flirting. Auburn-hair looked.her.up.and.down… She would only laugh slightly at Husband/Boyfriend’s words. She could see how Blond was reacting, and was not comfortable with it. All the while, Husband/Boyfriend seemed to be clueless to these signs by Blond, or was enjoying how engaged she was with him. Eventually, the pastor came over to the group, and began to talk with the three. This conversation was fairly short, and Auburn-hair and Husband/Boyfriend eventually left. I found myself wondering about the pre-story and post-story. 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

I have been privileged to live in an intact family for my childhood and until I left for college. My father was killed in an accident when I was in college, so I was unable to see my parents’ marriage age as they did. Both my brother and sister have strong marriages. So I am the lone divorce in the family. I must say, I am looking for how marriage works. It would be easy to say, “Just stay together…” , but it isn’t always that simplistic. I am trying to learn from my past, as it comes to hoping, and searching for a long term relationship, if God blesses me that way.  I believe in marriage. I really do, although to people already embroiled in the steady, monotonous tasks of daily life,  romance and staying in love may seem to require too much energy. It is easy to allow the monotony to siphon away the value of just being together. Many times, it is the things two people DON’T say that can build the wall that can slowly grow between them.

I remember a conversation between four of the members of my seminary cohort while I was in Portland. There were three guys, two of us divorced, and one young woman. We heard of her struggle to find an identity separate from wife, mother, daughter, pastor’s wife, etc. I asked if she thought her seminary studies were part of her attempt to explore this identity. She responded that maybe it was, and she was tenaciously holding on to her educational program, because she was learning so much about not only God and the church, but also about herself. I mentioned that she was incredibly intelligent and talented. With eyes looking straight through me, she said, “That’s the first time anyone has ever told me that…”

I am positive her youth pastor husband knew these things, but I suspect he thought she already knew it, so didn’t think he needed to mention it. She didn’t know it. She needed to hear it. He needed to say it….

Disconnection…

which threatens to widen.

After this interaction, my friend Darrell, began to tell us something he had just read by Richard Rohr.  Darrell took a napkin and drew a picture which resembles the motion of the draw bridge near me. Rohr suggests that when a man and woman marry, they continue in parallel lines for awhile, as it relates to educational, vocational, and financial growth. Both usually have similar options in these areas, so the perceived “value” of each person within the culture remains in a similar trajectory. When a child is born, however,  the woman’s trajectory begins to go downward, while the man’s continues to climb.  Opportunities for personal growth occur more frequently for the man. Even when a woman continues to pursue her career, many of the cultural cues to her are that she bears greater responsibility for the children. Many women also feel this strong pull even without any shame-filled messages from culture.

Now… a quick word for the increased activity of father’s in their young children’s lives. I notice more men out with their kids. It seems that younger couples are doing a better job of sharing responsibilities which children bring.  I would be interested to see these marriages in 15-20 years, and see if their relationship as a couple is enhanced by this shared commitment.

Rohr’s theory is that eventually, as the children begin to leave home, the trajectories begin to reverse. The woman begins to go upward, as she has more time to develop her skills and talents; while the man’s begins downward as his career path peeks, and then begins to descend. The key point in the marriage, is when the trajectories get close, and the question becomes, “Will we reconnect, or get lost in an attempt to redefine the rest of their lives. Will they address the issue collectively, or independently? His theory is that if they do this together, the marriage will last and deepen. If they do it independently, the marriage is headed for trouble.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

However, there is a time and place for healthy separation. Each person needs to remember their personal responsibility to work through their own feelings. We can’t expect another person to know that we need encouragement. It is easy for blame to creep into everyday hassles. I have lived that. I know that DOESN’T work. Now I want to learn what does.

Separate yet connected…

Like the bridge…

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I wrote in previous posts on this blog, (Symmetry and Redemption) that I would be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage would be redeemed to me when I moved to Florida near my family of origin. I also suspected there would be depths of redemption of which I could not know. This is one of them, I think. My brother’s and sister’s marriages are very different. They have each lived VERY different lives. Collectively, they have marriages which have lasted almost three-quarters of a century. I need to learn from them. I need the redemption of hope.

I’m sure that if I were to ask Bill and Margaret, and Dan and Connie, they would say that the ultimate, saving foundation of their respective marriages is a living faith in God.

Active, mutual forgiveness and grace…

Daily renewal of love…

Laying aside perceived rights, yet identifying conflicting priorities…

Open intimacy and desire…

Treating each other with respect…

These are gifts from God which keep love close, and warm.

I just need to keep my eyes, and ears open….

Connected…

When we moved from Delaware back to Kansas City, we left a large number of our belongings in a storage shed in the backyard of some Delaware friends. It took us longer than we originally anticipated to retrieve them, so they baked and froze in the shed through at least a couple of different seasons. When we finally returned with a truck, moved them back to KC, and began to unpack; Greta found a candle which was in a box, surrounded by several hard objects. The Delaware summer heat melted the candle so it formed to the space in which it was packed. Greta loved that candle. She thought it symbolic of the difficulties our family had lived through, and, although the candle was misshapen, it still worked! She wrote a well-crafted blog about the candle, and still has it to this day, I believe. Unfortunately, the “wick” of our family: our marriage; eventually broke. Although our family is just as misshapen… even more so… the light of our marriage went out.

For me, now the candle has a different message: God molds into the crevices of our lives and brings continued connectedness in spite of our collective brokenness.  Although we don’t speak or see each other very often… we each have different lives… God continues to connect us through our shared love for our children: Baird and Hannah. In fact, the candle has continued to spread. Scott, Greta’s new husband, is a caring, able step-father to my kids. I am grateful for that! Baird’s girlfriend, Ryann, is also a new addition since we found that candle, and the wax of God’s love, and ours’, surrounds her. As it does Mark, Hannah’s new boyfriend. Mark treats Hannah with gentle care and respect. I appreciate that!

While I am constantly confronted with the destructiveness to families while they divorce, from deep animosities going both ways; I am struck by the faithfulness of God through our divorce; to both Greta and me. However, the better I get to know God, the less surprised I am.

God fills every valley,

and

lowers every mountain.

Even in divorce…

She…

She

I am convinced that God IS both

male and female…

father and mother…

sister and brother…

bride and bridegroom…

I will confess to you that throughout my life, there has
been an inward search…

outwardly also, when young…

and now again, while older…

for a perfect woman.
Maybe not perfect for someone else,

but perfect for me…

One who would love my strengths,

celebrate them, while also,

telling me,

showing me,

helping me

dig them from the depths of Imago Dei which I keep deeply buried within my own shame.

A woman who could reach within the defensiveness of my

embarrassment and resistance

to touch the pain connected to my weakness. To caress it with

the kindness,

the gentleness,

the sweetness,

of grace.

A woman of beauty whose sensuality flows from mountains of passion which teem with

life-giving and affirming

abundance.

Who is unafraid to lay bare

before me,

beside me,

beneath me.

A woman of intelligence, without the need to degrade my own;
not threatened by my masculinity,

yet smiles

when I express my own feminine side.

Yes, the woman in my dreams…

in my heart…

for which my soul longs…

and my eyes search…

I am finding…

Is God…

Yet…

I still long to be held…

to be hugged…

for a smile…

for the music of laughter…

as a foretaste…

of Home.