Monday, January 28, 2013

The Scarlet D

Liz and I noticed something unique at our wedding: Neither our parents nor grandparents experienced divorce. The Scarlet D did not sully our family tree. In a day and age when half of marriages dissolve, I counted this observation a good omen.

Divorce was not an option for me and Liz. Not in the genes. Not in the bylaws. Not in the fine print. Never.

Up until our wedding day, people tried to dissuade us. They spoke as if marriage was the most grueling commitment they ever made. "Are you sure?" they asked. "Are you ready?" they wondered. We were. So we marched up the aisle: Liz in her bare feet and I in rented dress shoes from Male Fashions.

And I can happily (ever after) say, we've kept true to our promises. Before God, family, and friends, I am for her, she is for me. Till death do we part.

Not all stories end so happily, though. Last week my brother and his wife told their kids they were getting a divorce. Today I received an email from a man in my church who has finally tired of reconciliation. He used the D-word. And every week I scan the legal page in the paper like a gossip glutton, trying to find names I recognize on the marriage dissolution list.

The casualties of divorce abound:
Grandmothers and grandfathers
Aunts and uncles
Minors and children
Christmas traditions
Family vacations
Broken Husbands
Battered Wives

The excuses never run dry:

We've fallen out of love.
We've grown apart.
We're just not happy.
She hurts me.
He's abusive.
We considered staying together for the kids, but we think we make joint custody work.
She cheated.
He's never around.
And so on and so forth.

Perhaps to Enlightened (and dissatisfied) Americans, Jesus' marriage ethic seems archaic. Except for the reason of unfaithfulness, Jesus said, divorce is not an option (Matthew 5:31-32). The allowance for divorce in Jesus' day was predicated on Moses' teaching in Deuteronomy 24. God provided a loophole to protect women from being cast aside like soiled underwear. In another setting, Jesus clarified the divorce clause came because of the hardness of human hearts (Matthew 19:1-9).

Some Rabbis in Jesus' day tried to stretch the "unfaithfulness" exception to include burning toast and folding laundry the wrong way. Their excuses sound like ours. They, too, missed the point.

The exception emphasizes the rule: Marriage is sacred, God-ordained. We should fight for it.

Reflections on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (3rd in the series of 6 antitheses)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why Hooters is Bad for the Heart: a cautionary tale

Scotty B.'s dad took us to Hooters during our freshman year of high school. He touted their wings: "Best in the Business." I'm pretty sure something else lured him to the restaurant--something, as advertised, "unrefined." When he ordered a salad, my suspicions were confirmed.
Scotty B.'s dad was something short of a serial husband. He married and divorced three women, doing his part to hijack matrimony statistics for Americans and Christians alike. Statistics, however, are always abstractions. His pattern of infidelity went beyond numbers: It became the curriculum for his sons and surrogates. He indoctrinated us on a steady diet of immoral movies (e.g., The Graduate) and compromising slogans (e.g., "Just because you've ordered, doesn't mean you can't look at the menu.")

The problem is when you rethink your dinner choice long enough, you begin to second guess. Steak sounds better than pork. Soup sounds better than salad. Blonde sound better than brunette; Mrs. Robinson, than Mrs. B.

There is a price to endless comparison. Before too long, the waitress returns to the table and you've severed ties with your Chicken Parmesan and spouse. The book of Proverbs says something about the wandering eye and straying feet. Run away from the adulteress! Close the menu and cross the street! In Solomon's world, the father teaches the son these lessons. Our actual fathers tend to be less educated.

Case and point: Hooters is off-limits for godly men. Anyone who takes Jesus' teachings seriously should make their wings at home or order Careside To Go from Applebees. Then again, Jesus makes it clear that adultery is a matter of the heart, not physical address. "Looking with the intent to lust," he warns, "is promiscuous" (Matthew 5:28).

Second guessing is for board games and baseball pitches, not holy matrimony. Going to Hooters to "look at the menu"; giving attractive women the double-take; searching the Internet for images that would make a mother blush; these are out of bounds. Sinful. Hellish.

Don't let your eyes or hands turn another person into a piece of meat. People are not consumable goods; they do not exist for our sexual gratification.

Reflections on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (2nd in the series of 6 antitheses)

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Damned Fool!" and other Naughty Words

I once told my sister to go to Hell. We were on vacation in Florida. She was being a ten-year old girl--obnoxious and presumptuous. I was being her older brother--impatient and annoyed. She made me mad; I cursed.

I should have told her to go to the beach, but I said Hell. I was sorry. Sometimes I wonder if my imprecation caused my sister to fall from grace. Words have power. They are, James wrote, set on fire by the power of Hell (3:6).

Perhaps James knew this first hand. We know he thought Jesus a lunatic. When the crowds accused his older brother of being in league with Satan, James stood outside the door calling Jesus insane.  "Come home, you fool. You're making us all look bad" (Mark 3:20-35). When Jesus refused, James may have added, "Go hang on a tree." Eventually He did (Gal. 3:13).

Jesus, too, knew the power of words: that they spill from our heart (Matthew 12:34). He warned we must give account for every careless word we utter (Matt. 10:36). Yeses and Nos matter (Matthew 5:33-37). And whoever calls his brother Fool damns himself (Matthew 5:22-26).

After his conversion, James echoed His brother's teaching: Words matter. Listening trumps speaking (James 1:19-21). Cursing, moaning, fussing and clawing only fuels our fights and add to our fury (James 4:1-3). Treatment for an angry soul is silence. Or, if not silence, pause, restraint, and a run to the border for a Chili Cheese Burrito.

On the positive end, words have the power to elevate, encourage, and speak life into defeated souls. Phrases like "Well done"; "I love you, man"; and "I'm really proud of you," stick with people. And whenever we proclaim, "Jesus is Lord," we reshape the world.

The power of life and death rolls off the tongue. No wonder Jesus asked us to take words seriously. No wonder James repeated the meme.