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In which love looks like the pilgrim soul

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Thirteen years ago today, our marriage began. I brought out the big wedding album for the tinies to see us in our wedding finery. Do kids today still have the big official albums? We said our vows long before Pinterest and digital cameras, let alone iPhones with apps. Instead, we have this heavy leather-bound gold-embossed album with nicely staged photos in the stock poses. Here we are lighting a unity candle.  Here we are with our parents. Here we are walking away into a soft-focus background. But you can still see the real us peeking through the tulle and the tuxedo: our enthusiasm, our youth, our joy, our curiosity, our hope. Remember when we were that certain boy and that know-it-all girl?

To celebrate, we went out to the ocean town for supper last night. I shaved my legs, you put on a clean t-shirt, aren’t we getting fancy? We stood on the western shoreline before supper with our arms wrapped around each other, staring into the abyss. Teenagers were just down the shore from us, taking selfies and posing by the water. Thirteen years, we said in a sort of disbelief. I suppose this makes us grown-ups. In some ways, these years have flown by – weren’t we always together? – and in other ways, we see every single day of it, stretched out to the horizon, remember this, remember that, remember the dozens of men and women we have been throughout these years? We’ve gathered shadows and light.

I briefly considered writing an article with thirteen things we have learned in thirteen years of marriage. But who are we kidding? It’s an art, not a science, not the fodder of click-bait on the Internet, not a performance. We’re not reductionists. It’s a mystery, a thin place between the heavens and the earth, made all the better and richer for the secrets we keep for each other and the freedom we enjoy. I could write those damn thirteen-things-we’ve-learned-in-thirteen-years-of-marriage but I’d still be left with an inadequate shrug and the je nais sais quoi that defines all marriages. We’re still that slow dance under-the-stars, finding our steps together, moving further and further out onto the water. Sure, there are practicalities we’ve learned about how we move through life – budgets and bills, babies and basketball practices, sex and laundry, communication and callings. But underneath it all, really, we’re still curious, we’re still saying yes, it’s poetry that makes the prose worth living, and it keeps us a bit wild, hosanna. 

We sat in the cool spring sunset to eat seafood. When you kept refilling my glass, I asked if you were trying to take advantage of me and you waggled your eyebrows at me: “absolutely.” The bottle of Pinot Noir was empty by darkness.

We talked a bit about the years that lay behind us, of course we did, but really we wanted to talk about the years ahead. We talked about our curiosities: what sounds like fun to learn about? If I wanted to follow a rabbit trail of knowledge for a while, where would I begin? I’m curious about seminary, oh, and I think that after this second book is done, I might try to dig out that novel again. You want to geek out about furniture building for a while, oh, and gardening again. You’ve turned into quite the tree hugger. Perhaps you could find a way to use all of your business expertise towards justice and peace-making. I think I’d like to chase a bit of knowledge about the French woman’s aesthetic, quilt-making, fashion, maybe think about a doctoral degree in what? women’s studies? poetry? who knows? oh, and let’s talk again about living abroad. Maybe England? Which part of England? Holidays in France, of course. So much to discuss and dream.

Over these thirteen years, we’ve often felt like we’re running to catch up with the consequences of saying “yes” to God, yes to our best hopes instead of our worst fears. Would we have been so agreeable and fearless if we knew how much courage it would take to abandon our neatly laid out plans for life, let alone how much we would change? I think so. I hope so. Maybe it’s best that we don’t know what waits at the end of the aisle. Let it come, we’ll keep walking together. I like you curious.

We drove home in the moonlight, listening to old songs from back in the 90s when we were dating. I slipped off my shoes and put my feet up on the dash. You kept your hand on my bare thigh, the window was down, we took the the backroads. Your hair is scattered with grey now – it suits you – but that Midwest-boy grin is the same, can’t you drive a bit faster?

Maybe this is the oneness of marriage then: there is no editing for any part of our selves. We bring it all to each other and abide into the end of it all: body soul spirit mind past present future dreams despair curiosities evolutions desire deference silence song weariness wonder.

You’re waking up again, I think. You’re re-imagining life, emerging into yet another new self. I’ve loved every iteration of you. You have always loved those lines from Yeats for us:

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face

I write now and again about what love looks like for us.

Continue Reading · brian, love, love looks like, marriage · 18

In which it snows in the morning

Every day do something that won't compute :: Sarah Bessey

Wake up to a brighter bedroom, the snow has been falling outside all night. Take a lazy look around the room, look at the life it is reflecting back to you: a sturdy homemade bed; tangled and worn white sheets; a man with a beard is sleeping, his hand still resting on your spine; bright yellow baby rainboots tossed in a corner; piles of books. Stretch the length of your life.

The tinies will come clumping down the hall soon, their voices filled with wonder: “Mum! It snowed!” That man you kissed last night will roll out of the bed because Sundays are your day to sleep in, a deal’s a deal, you do Saturdays. But you both know you won’t go back to sleep – you never do. Watch him head upstairs to the ministry of coffee and Bubble Guppies on Netflix.

Get out of the bed and go to the window, look out into the forest. The snow is still falling, thick and lazy, almost predictably. Open the window for a few moments, just to smell it. Crawl back into your bed, pull up the covers, and grab a book. Once a week, you get to read first thing when you wake up and so here is a stack of Wendell Berry and Flannery O’Connor and Luci Shaw, practice the resistance of reading of good books.

When you go upstairs in an hour, make a pot of tea. No solitary mugs will do for a snowy Sunday, get out the big sturdy brown pot and your mother’s discarded delicate white teacups, the ones with blue and silver flowers on the rim. Hug your babies, good morning, good morning, yes, I see you. Listen to the dishwasher chug, everything is brighter and slower when it snows.

Church is cancelled, you’re pretty sure everyone is relieved for a day off anyway, an excuse to stay in their jammies, watch movies, work puzzles, roll in the snow, read novels. The more judicious might catch up on housework, pay the bills online, answer emails: the kindred spirits will make a bit of room for delicious indolence.

Decide to do something real today, then bake a loaf of bread. Yeast, flour, water, salt – simple is good for the soul and the belly. Guide small hands into kneading properly, let everything rise in its time.

Scratch a few lines into a journal. Write a bit but try not get frustrated because you are interrupted seven times in fifteen minutes. Read a psalm. Pray in the shower. Listen as you go through your day. Clean the kitchen. Bath a baby. Make the beds. Use the good dishes for a lunch of plain soup. Scatter children’s books around the house like bait. Put on lipstick. Flirt in the kitchen in quiet saucy voices. Comfort tired children, prescribe naps and quilts with seriousness. Promise a movie later on. Later when the snow settles, you’ll go for a walk in the dim, into the in-between for a conversation with yourself, you’ll be so relieved to be away from them all for a few moments but yearning to return to them all by the end of the block.

Watch the snow fall in the ordinary beauty of a Sabbath spent practicing what makes you feel most fully human.

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, enough, family, gratitude, love, marriage · 15

In which I disagree with Candace Cameron Bure about “biblical marriage”

Candace Cameron Bure recently stirred up a bit of controversy when, in her new book, she wrote about her “submission” to her husband:

“My husband is a natural-born leader. I quickly learned that I had to find a way of honoring his take-charge personality and not get frustrated about his desire to have the final decision on just about everything. I am not a passive person, but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work.” – (excerpted from “Balancing It All”)

Later, because of the resulting pushback to her words, she sought to clarify her position in an interview at HuffPost Live:

“The definition that I’m using with the word submissive is the biblical definition of that….I love that my man is a leader. I want him to lead and be the head of our family. And those major decisions do fall on him. It doesn’t mean I don’t voice my opinion. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. I absolutely do. But it is very difficult to have two heads of authority….When you’re competing with two heads, that can pose a lot of problems or issues.”

I believe that Candace Cameron Bure is wrong here. Of course, even simply scientifically, we know that there are millions of egalitarian marriages that “work” very well. But also, biblically, there are problems with her words.

This method or strategy may well be how her marriage works – and if so, lovely – but it’s not necessarily biblical: in fact. The idea that a Man is the Head of the Home has its roots in secular ancient culture, not in the Word of God or the created order of humanity.

And the idea that, as a wife, I would need to “become passive” or smaller or somehow less in order to make my marriage work is damaging and wrong.

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My marriage has instead brought out the best in me. I am stronger and more courageous. I am bolder. I am more loving. I am more of who I was meant to be because of the way that tall Nebraskan has loved me well. And I believe that I have done the same for him. It’s been fifteen years since we fell in love, thirteen since we were married: our marriage and our family works because we submit to one another. And because we make each other better at being ourselves, in all the fullness and glory and mess and truth.

But don’t get me wrong: I believe in submission.

I just don’t believe that our call to submission in marriage is restricted to me.

I submit to my husband. And he submits to me, too. And together, we submit to Jesus.

Like many Christians down through the centuries, we practice mutual submission. Patriarchy and hierarchy within marriage were consequences of the Fall (see Genesis 3:16).

In the church, people of Candace Cameron Bure’s doctrinal slant tend to point towards a few passages of Scripture (particularly Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18-19, and 1 Peter 3:1-2) as justification for the the idea of a husband as absolute head of the home with his wife in submission to his leadership. She is not alone in adopting this as the standard of “biblical marriage.” (As an aside, I’ve never liked the phrase “biblical” as a descriptor. There are a lot of marriages in the Bible and I wouldn’t necessary identify most of them as the ideal or example to emulate.)

But those passages of Scripture are, in fact, a subversion of  the Greco Roman household codes in effect at the time. The maintaining of total authority in the home was critical to the functioning of a society that relied on the total authority of the government and/or religion. At the time of these writings on marriage, the Greco-Roman Household Codes were part of Pax Romana, the laws keeping the peace of Roman.  Peter and Paul worked within imperfect systems because any outright challenge to the law of the land would bring persecution down upon the Church in great number. In fact, the Apostles “advocated this system, not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about” at the time, according to Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe of the Women’s Bible Commentary.

Paul and Peter used the codes, not because they were perspective or ideal, but because they were familiar and they were showing the church how to move within the world while not being of the world. In fact, incredibly, they placed demands on the assumed power of men by teaching them to be kind to their slaves, to be gentle with their children, to love their wives; they addressed the powerless within a patriarchal society.

There is a redemptive movement happening here in Scripture. “Here is what is, here is what I want for you, move closer to My purposes” and so we find God out ahead of us, always moving us further into his purposes.

(For instance, just because there are references and instructions about how to treat slaves in our Bibles does not meant that slavery is right and good. In fact, it’s precisely because of our great love for Scriture and respect for God’s created order that we know that slavery is evil and wrong, an absolute perversion of our humanity. Yet the writers of Scripture often tried to find a way to subvert the current culture and to move us further ahead on God’s arc of justice even within unjust systems. Eventually the Church moved to the forefront of abolition because we understood this truth: Just because the Bible contained instructions about how to treat slaves in a context and culture where it was acceptable to hold slaves does not mean slavery is a godly practice or part of God’s intended purpose for creation.)

The Greco Roman household codes were an unjust system: these teachings show us how to work within them as people committed to the ways of Jesus.

As I wrote in Jesus Feminist, “life in Christ is not meant to mirror life in a Greco-Roman culture. An ancient Middle Eastern culture is not our standard. We were not meant to adopt the world of Luther’s Reformation or the culture of the Great Awakening or even 1950s America as our standard for righteousness. The culture, past or present, isnt the point: Jesus and His Kingdom come, his will done, right now – that is the point.” (p. 77)

Not only is the idea that wives alone are to submit to their husbands poor exegesis, it is damaging.

It is damaging to the image of God carried in women and in men. A woman who is held back, minimized, or downplayed is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as an image bearer (for instance, take a look at Carolyn Custis James’ excellent discussion about being an “ezer kenegdo” in her book, “Half the Church.”) A man is  most truly “helped” when women are walking in the fullness of her anointing and gifts and intelligence and strength, not when she reduces herself out of a misguided attempt at righteousness. This kind of doctrine has the potential to stifle and suffocate women, even resulting in abuse at times. And it doesn’t do men any favours either, often giving place to pride and individualism.

This is the danger of black and white thinking. We think that we only have two options when it comes to our marriages:

  1. Women submit to men, like in ancient secular patriarchal culture or,
  2. Nobody submits to anyone and we’re out for Number One, like in our modern individualist secular culture.

But instead here is the third way:

 3. Submit to one another, mutually, as in the Kingdom of God.

This is a Kingdom of Love. Anyone who wants to be first must be last, and the greatest is the servant of all, said our Jesus (Mark 10:44). In the upside down Kingdom ushered in by Jesus, the least is the most honoured and the one who gives everything gains it all.

The marriage relationship isn’t exempt from the words of Jesus – and the teachings of the Church – about how we are to interact with one another and love one another.

We are all called to meekness. We are all called to love others. We are all called to bear with one another. We are all called to love, to care for one another, to forgive, to minister, and so on.

When Paul likened marriage to the relationship between Christ and the Church, it was an exhortation to crazy love and sacrificial giving, not power grabbing. Paul’s words remind us that Christ gave himself up for the Church, loved her.

“And so we discover the great paradox hidden within these hotly debated passages of Scripture, tragically misused to subject and berate and hold back, to demand and give place to pride – however benevolent the intention. If wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, and if husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, and if both husbands and wives submit to one another as commanded, we enter a never-ending, life-giving circle of mutual submission and love.” (excerpted from Jesus Feminist)

There is a vast difference between mutual submission to one another out of an overflow of love and having submission demanded of you, one-sided, out of a misguided attempt at biblical marriage.

In a Christian marriage, Christ is meant to be the head of our homes, and within marriage, we are meant to submit to one another - even as Candace Cameron Bure rightly defines it, “so, it is meekness, it is not weakness. It is strength under control, it is bridled strength.”

Yes, yes, it is. For both men and women.

My husband and I submit to one another as we both submit to Christ. We learned that from our Bibles.

Photo courtesy of Tina Francis

Some portions of this post are quoted from my book, Jesus Feminist.

Continue Reading · Jesus Feminist, marriage · 248

In which romance shows up in the interruptions

I think that someday, when I am old, I will be glad that I wrote this down. (These are the days we will have to remember someday.) Isn’t that the way it is with these moments? The small moments, the small decisions, make up a life worth remembering and I want to make more room in my life (and so my writing) to remember them. Even if it’s just for me. Simple stories still matter to me.

The girls were playing dress-up while Joe was downstairs playing Legos after supper. I left Brian to the dishes to pretty up their hair and apply my bright lipstick to their small mouths as a special treat. We sprayed perfume into the air and moved through the mist. They paraded up and down the house, grandly greeting each other turn after turn: “Why hello, Miss Evelynn, pleasure to see you.” They decided to have a ball and so I opened iTunes on the computer. The laptop keys are sticky and there are smears on the screen: family computer, it seems.

Brian and I switched spots and he scooped them up in his arms, a dish towel flung over his shoulder. The girls danced with their dad, and I cleaned the kitchen, humming along, watching them all. The girls drifted off to another game and we settled back to our work, we always do. There’s a lot to do: a lot of work, a lot of bills, a lot of commitments, go go go.

On these nights, romance smells like butter and garlic, dish soap and clean skin. On a whim, I turned on Andrew Peterson’s song “Dancing in the Minefields” and, without words, we turned to each other, held on and danced. Romance shows up in the interruptions.

Even when we are tired or we aren’t speaking the same language or we are out of step, we still know enough to turn towards each other when the music starts.

Evelynn came barrelling in to the room (she barrels into every room) and charged at us: me too! me too! me too! We picked her up and we danced, and Anne wormed her way in, then Joe wandered upstairs and we were dancing like a messy rugby scrum, shuffling and swaying and out of step, five people crammed into one embrace.

I laid my head on his chest like I haven’t done in a while, he kissed my hair, I knew he was smiling, and Evelynn laid her face right next to mine, nose to nose. Anne was hanging on to me at the south, Joe to the north.

I make a lot of mistakes in this marriage, I’m sure he’d say the same, but we always find our way back to this. I found myself singing along: at the end of all my fear, to the end of all my days, when I forget my name, remind me. 

Continue Reading · brian, family, love, love looks like, marriage · 28