Friday, May 31, 2013


I saw a line the other day, attached to a link about some abortion doctor that said, "Can't we all finally agree abortion terminates a human life."

I don't want there to be abortions. I don't think they should exist. I grieve the fact we live in a world where women feel so alone and vulnerable and scared.

I'd answer the question with another question, "Can we all finally agree there's no such thing as "A" human life?" There is life. All of us, really every thing in the universe participates in that life. Whether you believe that life is God's life into which all are invited or if that life is the beautiful cosmic mixing of subatomic particles out of which we emerge, we still must admit we're all connected.

Yes, we have individual choices and we make individual decisions, we even have names and faces and DNA that can separate us and tell us apart, but that doesn't mean we're disconnected.

When I die, I'm likely to decompose and the things that defined me then become parts of a tree or a worm or a cloud or a river and likely all four. In one sense I will have ceased to be and in another it's impossible to cease to be. There is just life, just existence.

We can say God created that newly fertilized fetus and it's true and it's not true. A sperm and an egg united to create that baby. Who created those, well they came from a man and a woman, who were created by other cells and other people and if we trace it all the way back, no matter what path we follow, we can get to God, if you believe that, but we get to some force at the beginning. Something.

Yes, God created that baby, but in the same way I created a cherry because I planted the seed that grew into a tree.

The point is not who created life or invited us into life or made us a part of life. The point is not even when life begins or when we join life. The point is that when life exists, it is precious and must be protected. Any life ceasing to be, outside the sort of natural progression of the universe, is a terrible thing.

Life ceasing to be is not simply another word for death, although death certainly qualifies. We're veering more into the philosophical here, but life requires determination, independence - even if it's at the end of a long series of genetic, instinctual responses, life dies a little when it's forcibly kept from doing what it longs to do.

Force. Coercion. They might as well be death. We run from like as if we're scared for our lives.

Of course, we also embrace them as tools of convenience. We use coercion to keep people from being coercive. We use force to keep people from using force.

I don't deny that the natural end of life is freedom and self-determination, I simply argue that just because it's a natural end doesn't make it good. It's not something to be strived for, not something to be sought.

If my aim in life is to ensure the absolute freedom of those around me, even at the expense of my own, ultimately it becomes the virtue by which others expend their free choice. Soon we have a whole society of people, a whole universe working only for the absolutely openness and independence of everyone else and people are truly free.

The system works when we respond in kind. The system also breaks down when we respond in kind. We deny freedom to each other, often for the benefit of our own. As we see such freedom denied, we claim it and define it and defend it. And we lose it.

Life is not a possession. It is not something to be held or created or defined. Life is something we inhabit and we inhabit together.

If we contain our conversations on life to such narrow, artificial definitions, contorting the discussion to play into our own preconceptions, we're really not talking about or dealing with life. We're dealing with a disease, something that's already eaten away at life, creating a lose-lose situation.

We've been handed a messed up world, one in which life is not all it could be, a diseased world. We've somehow decided we're either going to force people to live with the disease or put a band-aid on it, kick the can down the road, and avoid dealing with the disease until later.

To me, that's not a situation where we're choosing for or against life. That's a situation where life has already left the building. Our question then, is simply, how to we breathe life into this disease?


What have you got?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Watching 'Lincoln' on Memorial Day

I sat in a service this Sunday where the opening hymn was "My Country Tis of Thee." A fine hymn, but in worship, I really hope we'd be singing about God. Yes, the fourth verse gives brief lip service to God, but the song is about something else.

I stayed away from Facebook for most of the weekend. I have real trouble forging a path through the inherent tension between my profound admiration for those who would die for a cause and my profound sorrow for those willing to kill for one. It's a trouble not helped by the seeming ease of those around me.

I've written on war and peace and violence before. November 11th was originally Armistice Day, a celebration of the end of war. Over the years it moved to a celebration of those who fight wars and finally to a general celebration of patriotism. It seems like Memorial Day is moving the same direction.

I have known people who died in battle. I have nothing against grieving this loss and celebrating their lives. It is important. A true Memorial Day makes sense. As with Veterans Day, when those who have fought in wars deserve to be remembered and supported through the stress, trauma, and sacrifice of such an ordeal.

However, each year I must pause, I struggle. These days seem to interconnected with a celebration of war and the superiority of our nation. At the very least, there is no appearance of discomfort or ambiguity at what those ideas mean. I've yet to meet a combat veteran who enjoyed celebrating those things; I've met many conflicted by the responses they receive from those on "the outside."

I finally got around to seeing Lincoln last night. Steven Spielberg's masterpiece about the passing of the 13th Amendment. Daniel Day-Lewis truly gives the most remarkable acting performance in the history of film. In the best bio-pics, the actor becomes lost in the character so you forget there's even an actor there at all; with Lincoln, it's is if you never knew. There was not one scene in which I said to myself, "Oh, that's Daniel Day-Lewis." Obviously I never saw or heard Abraham Lincoln, but I might as well have.

The movie is written by the great Tony Kushner, a master of eloquence - and Lincoln's stories and speeches are no exception. There are many times when the audience is roused to emotion on the gravity and importance of the moment. We are lifted on the back of grandiose prose to sail on the best notions of democracy and America.

They left me thinking, "the good is the enemy of the great."

All of our ideals of liberty and freedom are won on the backs of truly horrific pain and death. The opening scene of the film is uncomfortable hand-to-hand combat on a muddy field. It's unfathomable to me that anyone could feel so strongly about anything that they'd be willing to engage in such battle. Spielberg pays lip service to Lincoln's understanding of what he's done, touring battlefields and witnessing the death - yet the movie leaves a clear sense that all of it is worth the higher purpose.

I have a hard time getting excited about ideals being won by the sacrifice of others. Whether it is sending young men and women to war or being willing to kill another. In both instances, we require more from someone else than we do from ourselves. Why is jumping on a live grenade the go-to example of the best in war? It is a clear moment when one man sacrifices more than anyone else.

I thought Lincoln was a beautiful movie. Often these films can be overshadowed by a dominant acting performance, but the rest of the cast is just as strong. They tell a remarkable story about a remarkable man in a remarkable time. There is no doubt about the good present. I just wish they, and the rest of our national culture, would allow for more reflection.

Perhaps Memorial Day isn't the right time for a barbecue and fireworks?

I know we like the certainty of a parade, the same way we enjoy the reverence of a movie like Lincoln. They're helpful ways to deal with difficult realities like war and death, realities like the inequality of the world in which we live. We like having "heroes" among us, to give us confidence that there are better, stronger people out there to do those difficult tasks we could never handle.

Memorial Day has become another part of the patriotic calendar. The one we see played out in the rotating aisle at Wal-Mart - as beach chairs and sunblock give way to costumes and candy, auburn hewed leaves and turkeys, santas and snowmen, roses and hearts, shamrocks, chocolate bunnies, graduation caps, and flag-draped paper plates. We want these notions, these holidays, these events, to become ordinary in their extra-ordinariness.

What struck me uncomfortable about Lincoln, I think, is the same thing that strikes me uncomfortable about civic holidays and celebrations, is the need for an unassailable good.

The problem we have with war and with violence, is that we lack better options for achieving positive ends. Democracy doesn't represent freedom any more than war wins it. The problem is, what freedom we experience, for the most part, comes at the end of a sword or through the legislative process. We recognize the inherent problem with these methods, but lack any framing narrative for something different. Americans once had the same love/hate relationship with war than we now do with government, holding it at arms length with a healthy skepticism. A skepticism earned through the horror of Civil War. It was only after millions lost in two world wars, that things began to change.

I don't think we came around because we decided war was a good thing. We came around because we needed a narrative to justify the loss of so many we loved. We need a Lincoln narrative of universal good to upend the tragedy of Civil War. What could be more good than freedom?

What unsettles me is not that some fight and die in war. It's not the desperate need of those in power to remain there or even the messianic narrative some ascribe to the United States. It's our unwillingness to be wrong.

I have no doubt that those who fought and died, for the most part, did so because they thought it was the best choice they could make in a difficult situation. Being the best choice does not make it necessarily a good choice or a correct choice. We have to be willing to allow for that. In the same way, those who choose non-violence, who speak out against militarism, who are willing to die, but refuse to kill - we know there are problems inherent in that choice as well - may also be making the best choice they could make in a difficult situation. Being the best choice doesn't make it good or right.

There is nothing good about hundreds of thousands dying so millions can be free. We have to move away from using math to make our calculations about life. These people are not numbers, but people - and so are the "enemies" they killed before they died.

Memorial Day is not a happy occasion - neither is the 4th of July for that matter - they're somber events where we can reflect with love on those we've lost, recognize both our mistakes and our successes, and vow to do better in the future.

We cannot hide our unsettledness in celebration. And if we ever cease to be unsettled, we have truly lost.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Individualism and Christian Identity

So, way back a few months ago, there was an article in Relevant Magazine in response to an interview given by the one and only Marcus Mumford, in which he distances himself from the label "Christian" because of the difficult connotations it brings in today's society. He's a big fan of Jesus, but the idea of labeling himself a "Christian" was a bridge too far.

As one who's said the same thing myself from time to time, it's easy to sympathize. It's also easy to be hurt by those, like the author of the article, who imply if not openly state, that such a claim is disloyal or inappropriate for a follower of Christ.

I find myself agreeing with both statements.

I've been mulling this quandary for quite some time now. It's come back to the forefront of my mind in recent weeks with both Fred Phelps and Mark Driscoll making headlines for difficult statements (again). I wrote about the idea of Christian identity earlier this year, name-checking both gentlemen in the process. There's no need to go back there.

I call myself a "follower of Christ" which is essentially what Mumford says in the interview and what the word "Christian" really means anyway. I'm not sure that's the issue. The issue is about disassociating one's self from God's people (Christians), something that's really not OK to do. If God trusts God's people, as cowardly, heretical, and wart-riddled as we are, it doesn't look so good if I can't trust in the same way.

Still, at some point we have to make a judgment as to who is authentically claiming Christ and who isn't. Without a unified body, that is very difficult to do.

We can claim the historic creeds all we want, but there are plenty of Christians who would affirm them and still say all kinds of troublesome rubbish (or write them off entirely because of the compromising influence of Catholicism*).

Martin Luther made the big break, reacting to overreaches by Church leaders. His "sola scriptura" has been turned into a clarion call for individualism. Really, it gets trotted out to allow any person to claim or deny any religious claim based on their understanding of interpretation.

Of course in Luther's time, most people couldn't read, let alone possess a bible. I'm not sure he ever intended for people to "decided for themselves" or ask "what does this scripture mean to me." He just wanted to make sure you didn't need an advanced degree to ask informed questions or participate in accountability.

Most everyone has moderated their position pretty well since then. Protestants, for the most part, recognize the need for authority, while catholics have developed better accountability and openness. I think everyone has sensed a need for at least some chain of authority from scripture to our ethical/theological proclamations.

We're just not in this alone. That becomes no more apparent than when someone spouts off. We decry their claims and denounce them as part of "our faith." In the end, though, without some authoritative body, we lack credibility. Majority doesn't rule when it comes to right and wrong.

What I see from Marcus Mumford (see, it all came back around eventually) is a real and honorable desire to avoid the pitfalls of the past (and present). "Christian" doesn't mean much to people for whom it's just a label. Only those of us who have our identity partially or entirely wrapped up in Christ, really value the label as significant. Mumford is saying that Christ is about more than a label. That's true.

At the same time, we have to recognize that Christ is also more than willing to absorb our failures and prejudices and sins. He's done it before and it hasn't seemed to phase him at all. We can wear the badge "Christian" proudly because it doesn't end with our worst; it promises our best.

Sometimes we react so defensively when people question what it means to be a Christian because we're stuck in our individualism. Who is to say what's wrong with Fred Phelps? Well, he doesn't represent me! Great, but that doesn't mean anything if you both claim to be Christian.

Whether we like it or not, there is an anchor, a root, a tradition, that binds us together. Not just people of faith or people of Christian faith, but all humanity. We do have the individual right and responsibility to figure out what we believe. It just doesn't end there.

*I was going to say "we can deal with that historical anachronism later," but really, it doesn't deserve dealing with, unless you're part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


So, my daughter turned one on Sunday. We had all the neighbors over and we ate in the backyard and watched the kids go nuts. At one point I embarrassed myself by freaking out when someone left our screen door open - I was worried one of our cats would get out. Now our cats are big, they're three years old now, and they have their full complement of defensive weapons; they would be fine outside. I've never let them out. Why? I'm overprotective.

I'm that guy. I'm pretty OCD. I've never lost my keys, never locked myself out of anything. I clean things as soon as they get dirty. I annoy my wife to no end.

So what if the cats would probably have a ball and enjoy life a lot more if they went out once in a while, they might get hurt and I'd rather not risk it. (Besides, we cheaped out and haven't gotten them rabies boosters lately.) Intellectually I know they're going to die at some point and keeping them indoors isn't going to magically make them immortal.

At the party, I explained my latest theory, that if I get all my obsessive over-protectiveness out on the cats, I'll be better able to let my daughter explore and experiment and get hurt. While I'm not proud of either, I'd rather emotionally scar the cats than my daughter.

Everyone was reassuring me that there's nothing wrong with being overprotective. They seemed pretty serious and strenuous about it. I suppose they could be compensating for their own insecurities, but I don't think that's it (or at least all of it). Since then I've been wondering if this is a difference in worldview or am I just strange. Usually I can pick up when I'm doing something, likely because of my faith, that sets me apart from normal society. I was not really aware that this might be one of those things.

It seems natural, for me especially, but for all parents, that we'd want to keep our children from harm. If we do it too much, we stunt their development and deny them some of the joy of life; if we don't do it enough, we alienate and injure our kids. It's a tough decision. Ultimately, though, I know we live in a world of pain and hurt. My daughter will experience that, whether I try to protect her or not.

I've always felt one of my most important parental responsibilities is allowing her to experience life - all of life, the good and the bad. Now, it's also an important responsibility to walk with her through those experiences and help her understand the world. I'm really concerned I'll be overprotective and keep her from something beautiful.

There is a lot of beauty in overcoming pain, perhaps the most beauty. That doesn't mean we seek out suffering. We don't have to; it comes whether we're looking or not. But I think it's important to embrace the pain and hurt in our lives, because grace and love and peace that come on the other side are much more beautiful than avoiding pain in the first place.

I guess, looking at it in words, this idea is pretty out-of-the-ordinary. And it's certainly something I arrive at because of my faith. I can't help, but believe it's true.

So, it may be my fault our cats are skittish and scared. I'm been overprotective. But I can't help but notice, since the weather has been nice and my daughter has been spending more time outside, crawling around on her own, she's less scared. She's more open to people, she doesn't scream when we run the vacuum, she's more likely to climb on things. The more she's allowed to explore the world, the more she benefits.

I sure hope I can handle it when she starts to walk.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Are You Doing With Your Life?

For the past year, we've gotten this question a lot. I left a paying job as a pastor, and our family moved to Middletown, DE, where my wife had been teaching 7th grade English. We're here as "church planters," but there are no short or long term plans to open a church or hold services. There were some especially blank stares following questions at our recent District Assembly (read: big, fancy meeting full of pastors).

As I've tried to explain our life to people, it seems like there are two reactions - utter confusion and wistful longing. These tend (but do not absolutely) break down by age. A lot of it depends on the degree to which one is satisfied with the way things are. The young tend to have a higher proclivity for dissatisfaction, I guess.

Regardless, I'm not sure how well I've done to explain myself, so I've attempted to put in writing at least the barebones of our mission, calling, whatever. So here it is: let me know what you think:

A pastor friend told me of a difficult situation recently. A family in the congregation had moved to a new home in a neighboring town, about twenty minutes away. After some soul searching and prayer, they decided to leave the congregation for one closer to their new home. They were becoming more involved in their new community and felt it important to worship and minister close to home. The family was doing everything right, but something felt wrong to the pastor.

Ideally our faith would be so entwined with the people and the place in which we live that moving, as this family did, would never even cross our minds. The way we do church today has compartmentalized faith into individual or family components, disconnecting it from the larger community, the Church – and much to our detriment.

God calls us to a new allegiance, new priorities, a new way of life; God calls us to a new family. God is the head of this family and those of us who claim Christ are brothers and sisters. Jesus was not joking when he said, “those who do the will of my father are my mother and brothers.”

This is a radical kind of call, one that not only goes against our cultural conditioning, but the common practices of our congregations as well. Nevertheless, this calling to put Christ and his mission first and foremost – above occupation, relatives, comfort, and security – is one we take seriously. God has called us to love one another, not just when it’s convenient and not just with those most easy to love.

Generally, our congregations do life together for worship on Sundays, perhaps once or twice during the week, and through various organized activities. We feel called to do life together in between those times – to live as family. This may mean sharing living space, it may not – but it does mean sharing a neighborhood and a commitment to love and serve the people around us. It means playing games together, eating meals together, doing laundry together, settling arguments together; it means serving together. Worship is not our singing or our praying; it is our living.

Middletown Village is a neighborhood of 800 homes in the southern part of New Castle County, Delaware. It’s a growing area with a diverse range of people and living situations – apartments, townhomes, duplexes and detached dwellings. We envision a family planted in Middletown Village, serving God and working primarily for the good of the neighborhood. We envision a family, not in the sense of blood relation, but united in the name of Jesus Christ and committed to living into his now and coming kingdom of love and peace.

This sounds like a big commitment with a lot of questions about the future. It is. We’re not asking people to sign their lives away sight unseen. We’d just like to foster conversations that will lead to better missional, family living wherever God’s people happen to reside – in your own hometown or here in Delaware, in Middletown Village.

“God’s ultimate desire is to create from all nations a reconciled people living within a renewed creation and enjoying the presence of the Triune God. This biblical vision of ‘community’ is the goal of history.” --Stanley Grenz

*For those more detail oriented persons among us – Joseph Hellerman’s book, When the Church was a Family, provides a thorough theological, historical, and scriptural framework for this perspective on the Church.

We'd love to have a place, a community of hospitality where we can walk with people through transitions in life. To do that, though, we need people committed to providing the foundation of such a community. So we're moving forward on sort of two fronts - being present in our community and our neighborhood, meeting people, building friendships and just trying to contribute positively; we're also praying and looking (probably not as actively) for someone else to catch this vision for this place and commit to partnering with us.

There you have it.  More or less what we're doing with our life.

PS - there's a townhouse for sale just around the corner from us if anyone is interested.

Thursday, May 09, 2013


I received a question about prayer this week. The age-old conundrum - if I pray for something and it doesn't happen do I lack faith? If God is going to do what's best all the time anyway, why pray at all? These seem like the core of our ponderings about prayer. Honestly, I'm hesitant to say anything because prayer is not something I've got figured out very well. What I will say is that I'm not very convinced that prayer has much to do with asking for things. Prayer is more about God shaping us than the other way around.

Questions about faith and answered prayer often operate on the assumption that God just pulls strings in the world - that God would just up and make cancer disappear. Now I don't think we can say God doesn't do that. God does intervene very specifically in the world and God does change God's mind, sometimes based on our input. Like everything else in the world, prayer is more complicated than we want it to be.

I believe God created the world to work a certain way, but God also gave imperfect creatures like us some say in how things work. Another way of saying that is to say God limited God's own options by allowing the creation to make some decisions for itself. That's a pretty awesome gift - and if God were to just intervene every time something went wrong, it would be disrespectful to us and the value God puts on us and the part we play in the world. God doesn't give us power and then take it away every time we use it poorly. God works to restore and resolve things through love and sacrifice, not might and force.

Of course, if God gives us power to determine some things and God respects our choices, that makes prayer almost scary - what if I ask for the wrong thing and mess up the world even more? That, I think, is when God's larger plan becomes evident. Christians, especially in the US, have done a very good job of making our faith individualistic. God is not at work saving individual people, God is at work restoring and perfecting the whole world. While we have individual parts to play and individual relationships with God, they only matter in the context of God's mission to redeem all of creation.

The problems in our world are a result of us ignoring God, not God ignoring us. Jesus said the man born blind was not being punished for sin, but it happened so God may be glorified. Our world is messed up, deep down inside. Our generations of sin have had a negative impact on God's creation and it results in pain and suffering. They're not directly correlated, but they're related. God is not out to punish anyone - judgment comes at the end of time - God is constantly calling and healing and fixing and redeeming.

I do think we should express to God our honest feelings. I was moved by the words of a father whose daughter lay dying. He was a learned man and knew to pray "God, your will be done," so as not to impose on God. His daughter said to him, "Dad, I want to live; and if God can do that, I'm going to ask." It changed his whole perspective.

We know intellectually that we want God calling the shots, not us, but we can still trust God to do what's best, even if we tell God what we want. I suspect many times God's mission will work well in any number of ways - why not let us have a say in the details when possible - we do it with our kids all the time. We don't give them whatever they want all the time, but we do it when it's not going to violate our dreams and desires for their lives.

Expressing our feelings is also important, because it helps to illustrate the distance between the world as it is and the world as it should be - which is also the distance between heaven and earth. Heaven really just means "the place where things are as God wants them to be." In prayer, we can, for a few moments, experience a little bit of heaven. We can mourn the pain and loss of our world, but also affirm our hope of redemption.

That last part is really where I find value in prayer. If we move beyond the idea of prayer as asking and hearing and more a state of focus on God, it becomes a means by which God shapes us into people who look more like Christ. We can say, "God, I'm not very happy with you right now, my friend is dying of cancer," but even our act of prayer shows that we believe God to be listening and caring.

I'm not an intercessor - some people are, they can pray for hours about specific people and requests and be refreshed by the process - I usually fall asleep after 20 seconds. I do find great communion with God in nature - there's something about looking out from a mountain or over an ocean that comforts me. It reminds me that despite the size of the world and its problems, there is a big God out there working for the good of all things.

I also find myself in prayer as I empathize with friends who are hurting - when I think or verbalize my frustration with the world. Most of the Psalms are laments - a naming of the problems around us.

I see prayer much more as being aware of my surroundings and conscious of my actions and thinking about how God's mission and love for the world is present or lacking in a given situation. Saying what we believe to be true both helps us believe it and helps us embody it.

In the end, we have to trust that God is loving and is constantly working for the redemption of the whole world. We have to remember that God's mission is much bigger than our individual life and the relationships around us.

I doubt that's a satisfying answer, but it's what I got. I find my most satisfying prayers are when I pray an historic prayer (something many people have prayed before) or when I'm praying on behalf of a congregation or group of people. In those times I am agreeing together with other people - we are affirming our beliefs and our hurts - and the humility to pray and pray together opens us up to be changed and transformed by God.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Most of the problems Christians have in society over the concept of marriage is due to the fact that what society (in general) calls marriage and what Christians call marriage are two very different things with exactly the same name. I'd suggest almost all of our problems surrounding marriage stem from the pathetic failure of the Church to affirm or delineate this difference, even to its members.

For Christians, yes, marriage is a safeguarding of sex - there's no way to get around it. We believe (even if our forefathers didn't, or at least didn't practice) that sex is best expressed in marriage. Now, I've only had sex with one person, so I'll readily admit my perspective on this is mostly theoretical. At the same time, when I did find that person to whom I'm married, I immediately regretted all of the physical intimacy I shared with other women. I did not regret those actions because they were wrong, per say, but because that intimacy is not something I can ever get back and I long to share all of my intimacy with this person I chose to marry.

Before we walk too far down this road, we must also caution against the overemphasis on virginity as one's primary value. Christians have screwed up here more often than just about anywhere else. We've so overemphasized the importance of abstinence that it's become an impossible dream, leading those who do have sex before marriage to just give up on the idea of chastity altogether since the mystical wall of sin had been broken. It's also caused a ton of hurt and pain for those people who've had no choice in the matter. How is an abuse victim supposed to feel if they're now damaged or broken in some way that others aren't?

So when I say I regret it, I say it not from the sense of guilt, but more as determination for the future, as one of many obstacles to be overcome in marriage. I think (hope) this reverses the stigma, making those intimate experiences we chose for ourselves more difficult than those chosen for us - at least that's the way it should be. And for the record, during most of my teenage years, if I could have figured out how to get myself into situations where sex was possible, I would have done it as often as I could. This is only a principled stand by accident and in retrospect.

All of that to say, sex is more than something physical. It is a sharing of one's self with another in ways that cannot be undone, only overcome. I suspect these effects can be lessened by increasing anonymity and avoiding emotional connections; I'm just not convinced the effects can be avoided entirely. Are we evolutionarily predisposed to multiple partners? Probably. It makes a lot of sense in perpetuating the species. At the same time, there's a lot of things to which we're predisposed that aren't all that great for us (like our insatiable need to consume salt, fat, and sugar).

But, of course, defining Christians marriage as the appropriate venue for sex doesn't make much sense on its own. Christian marriage isn't primarily about sex at all. Marriage, at least in ways it has developed in Christian history, is our attempt to embody the relationship God has for God's creation - that of absolute, self-sacrificial love.

Christian marriage is not about falling in love, it's not about fulfillment, it's not about happiness - although, hopefully, it does involve those things. When Christians get married, it's about finding another person you're reasonably convinced is committed to the marriage not someone who's committed to you. Our emotions and sexual drive often get in the way, which is why Christians submit their marriages to the Church for approval. We're not often (rarely, maybe never) the best ones to understand what's best for us; we rely on others for that input and give up, in some sense, our freedom to those who care about us and the Christian witness our marriage becomes to the world.

I think I lucked into this. I didn't have any of this understanding of marriage when I got married. I loved my (now) wife and I was committed to doing so even if it meant giving up everything that made me happy. That's already a step ahead of most people (most Christians even), but I didn't have any clue what we were doing or why it mattered if other people approved.

I'm married to my wife, but I couldn't really say I'm committed to her as much as I'm committed to marriage. If this relationship is an imaging of the self-giving love of God, it trumps all those times where I don't like my wife very much, when she's selfish or stupid or mean. I'm choosing to love her through those times not because of her, but because of what it says about God and ultimate reality.

I'm far more selfish and stupid than my wife will ever be, yet I'm quite confident she's committed to marriage and not to me - otherwise she would have left a long time ago.

Love is a choice. That's something we forget. Attraction or fondness or whatever we call the emotion that drives two people together (I like LUV!) is not love. You really can't base a marriage on LUV! That's something few people understand - Christians or otherwise - and likely why divorce rates are so high, again among Christians or otherwise.

It doesn't sound exciting or sexy or all that attractive. Marriage really isn't. It's messy and far more complicated than we could ever imagine.

Notice I haven't said anything about who can or should be allowed into a marriage. There's certainly some theological considerations to be made there (and not entirely of the orientation variety), but it's awfully futile to even begin them until we've gotten the first part of this down - and we certainly haven't. Not yet.

So when someone says western society has royally screwed up marriage as an institution, well they're absolutely right and also incredibly wrong. We've made marriage something it was never intended to be. The institution of marriage can and does remain strong for those who take seriously what it is supposed to be. Of course, that is a Christian perspective coming from Christian assumptions. There's no reason for someone whose assumptions differ to agree.

It seems like this dichotomy is behind all our consternation over marriage. Whether it was no-fault divorce in the 60's or gay marriage today, people, especially Christians are uncomfortable with the way marriage is being defined. I'd argue that has more to do with Christians losing a Christian understanding of marriage than it does with government or society losing it's way. You can't legislate love or LUV! You can't force a definition of marriage on anyone. At the same time, our (as in humanity's) track record hasn't been great. Perhaps it's time to understand the institution of marriage a different way?