Messing Up

I had it all planned out. With Scripture suggestions from the Season of Creation, I have spent four September Sundays preaching on creation. This would then nicely lead into Thanksgiving (this weekend) at which time we would all give thanks to God with a deeper understanding and a firmer commitment to the healing and restoration of the earth. So now we returned to the regular Lectionary.

And that’s where the “trouble” came in. The readings seem so far removed from the spirit of our Thanksgiving weekend. Rather, today’s Gospel (Mark 10:2-16) is kind of a painful whack around the ears! Commentaries galore cautioned the preacher, such as: “How to preach on Jesus’ words when divorce is so prevalent today?” “Do not use the text as a whip to punish divorced people.”  “These texts have been used to keep victims in abusive marriages, so preacher beware.” These thoughts, and more, probably go through our heads too as we hear Jesus’ words today. In the midst of this world, our world, full of broken relationships, I/we gather courage … and … take time to seek and to find Good News in these words of Jesus on this Thanksgiving weekend.

Divorce. The very mention of the word wrings our hearts and wrenches our stomachs. The breaking up of what God intends to be “one flesh” (as Genesis and Jesus tell us) rips through all of our lives. We have all seen and touched the pain – if not in our own situation, we have seen that pain in loved ones whose lives seem permanently scarred by marriage break-up. The private experience of divorce between two people affects the whole community. Because divorce is more than just a marriage break-up. Divorce is merely the public recognition of a private reality that precedes its necessity. Behind the legal process lies the alienation and separation of a woman and a man. Behind the legal term lies the pain of having lost confidence, dignity and respect.

Often unhealthy behaviours of abuse and betrayal, power and control violate marriage vows long before divorce is pending. Far too many women are uttering MeToo right now when it comes to domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse. Other times a growing apart between spouses creeps in, driven by over-focusing on individual self-fulfillment or just plain boredom. We stop loving, and the “one flesh” is hard to find. Even if we never seek divorce, every marriage risks falling prey to a daily flatness and drudgery… far from the “one flesh”-union that spells fulfillment for each partner. Even when enjoying a healthy, loving marriage chances are very big that we experience the pain of break-up in other ways with those close to us.

Whether we call it divorce or break-up, we are all prone to get burnt in relationships. We invest ourselves in another, giving and receiving closeness and friendship. But even the best of friendships are tainted with the pain of separation and betrayal, rejection and alienation. Husband or wife, parent or child, friend or foe, none of us are safe. Within our parish community, within our own selves and even with God, separation hurts and scars. As today’s account from Genesis (2:18—24) reminds us, it is not good for us to live alone. It is not good for us live cut off from the human community, cut off even from God.

It is that reality, the sin of human alienation, that Jesus addresses here. It is that reality, as much as the law on divorce, that is judged as not part of God’s intent at creation. The Pharisees come to Jesus, wanting to test him. We too are all ears to hear the answer. Like the Pharisees, we get caught in living our religion, and our relationships, as if keeping a balance sheet. If we keep the religious laws, we will earn God’s grace. If we keep the minimum rules of getting along, our marriage will last. Jesus does not buy into that system.

Jesus confronts us with both the sinfulness of all separation and with the glorious grace of God’s reconciliation. Legalizing divorce does not take away its sinful character, nor does it alter God’s original intent of joining man and woman into one flesh. Legalizing divorce does not make any broken relationship right, nor does it take away God’s forgiving and healing action toward us. We suffer from hardness of heart, but God is still the God of forgiving and healing love.

It is not our job to pass judgment on others, nor to bury ourselves in guilt and shame over our sin. It is our job to face our own hardness of heart. We try to be God, in our own life or in someone else’s life – and our heart hardens. We presume, with the Pharisees, that we can earn our way into heaven by keeping religious laws – and our heart cuts itself off from compassion and understanding. We seek only our own gain – and our heart grows cold to the pain we inflict on others. We are obsessed with hiding our woundedness – and our heart buries itself in the illusion of perfection and false humility. We help sustain a culture that promotes individualism and self-gratification – we help grow the collective hardness of heart. We help sustain religious attitudes and practices that exclude the sense of community – we collude with the sin of failing one another when our marriage feels adrift. One’s marriage is such a private affair, we think. Before we know it, our “non-interfering”, and our inability to seek help grows hardness of heart wherever we turn. We may not call every break in relationship a divorce. But every time we find ourselves alone, without support, cut off from our partner, alienated from community, we experience the pain of divorce. That is why it is not good for us to be alone.

Jesus levels the playing field. As men and women we are free to enter relationships. Once committed, we are equally responsible to grow in God’s love toward one another. Jesus urges us to take the sanctity of relationships, especially marriage, very seriously. Creation may be broken and fallen from God’s original intent. Our culture may be adrift in how to support lasting relationships. But these are not reasons for despair, or for ignoring Jesus’ answer. Jesus asks us to be responsible for the quality of every relationship in which we find ourselves. As a community of faith we are called to account for the measure of support we offer one another.

Children know that it is not good to be alone. Children do not hide their need for love. Children are ready to forgive and reconcile, often long before adults are. Children reach out without shame. In the middle of his serious conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus takes the child into his arms. In a society where children had no rights or social status, Jesus models before our eyes God’s kingdom of right relation. No matter how painful the separation, or how big the fight, children continue to reach and ask to be held in loving care. No matter how foolish our questions, how fearful our doubts, how great our shame, God gently reaches out to us and nudges us toward right relation with one another. That loving power of God in and through Jesus is infinitely greater than any of our sinful separations can ever be.

Jesus draws attention to this realization by welcoming children. Following the lead of today’s Gospel, here is a story about children: Jenna had to do a project for science class. She decided to build a model of the world. So she took a rubber ball for her globe carefully cut construction paper in the shape of all the continents, and glued them on to the ball. When she finished, she set the project on the table and went outside to play.

About this time, her little sister Sally came into the room and began to play with the globe. She took Africa and tore it off; she began to chew on China; and she took a crayon and coloured all over Europe. Just then, her older sister Jenna came back in. When Jenna saw what had happened, she screamed at Sally: “Sally, look what you’ve done. You’ve ruined everything. I hate you!” … Well, Sally was utterly crushed. She ran away in tears and hid in the closet. But when Jenna realized what she had done, she found her little sister, threw her arms around her and hugged her close, saying: “Sally, you’ve messed up my world, but I still love you.”

You mess up my world, and you mess up relationships, but I still love you, and I continue to create you in my image, male and female, called into one flesh… – says the Lord our God… What a beautiful message on this weekend after all: Happy Thanksgiving!

Homily preached on Thanksgiving Sunday, October 7, 2018
Genesis 2:18-14, Mark 10:2-16

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Marriage Dreams

A few weeks ago Pope Francis noted that “a vast majority of marriages are null. They say ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they do not know what they are saying because they have a different culture.” Well, below is my son’s reflection on his experience of marriage in the past 7 years. It is not every day that one’s own off-spring reveal gifts inadvertently obtained through genetic transfer. So please allow me a little indulging as I take credit for having transmitted the writing gene to our oldest son David (given my husband Jim’s resistance to writing anything, I’m fairly sure Jim would agree). I was deeply moved when I opened Facebook this morning and found his musings on this July 4, his 7th wedding anniversary.  Below is David’s testimony on his experience of marriage, and I am proud to call him my guest blogger today. I consider my son’s musings a noble testimony to the notion that we live into our commitment to love one another day by day. Sharing his insights and wisdom with my readers is my gift to our son and his beautiful wife Kathryn. Dear David and Kathryn, happy anniversary, may you have many more amazing years of learning and growing and loving together:

As I enjoy this morning’s beautiful sunshine while sipping coffee, eating a quiet breakfast, and listening to the chitter chatter song of the birds, it seems to me a great time to reminisce over what’s taken place during the past 7 years.

On July 4, 2009 a couple of young and foolish kids walked into a church and said some vows to each other, thinking… for a moment… that they knew what they were doing… what they were getting into. I love them both, but what naive young people they were…

As one of those two young kids, I can say I didn’t have a clue what I was truly getting into. The strength of our character that we’d both been raised to live with was going to be truly tested over the next few years. Some unexpected detours, foggy roadways and the occasional wrong turn would challenge us to remain steadfast to what we’d committed to each other that day, regardless of our understanding of that moment, 7 years ago.

Shortly into our marriage, as we both took on new career challenges, one in policing, one helping celebrate weddings, it became increasingly clear that the very nature of our full time work endeavours couldn’t be further apart from one another. One of us helps people celebrate one of the single greatest moments of their lives (even if, like us, they too don’t fully “get” it during that moment) and the other one of us often deals with people at the opposite extreme of their life (not always, but often). This has been a challenge for us more often then I will share here.

Now sitting here today on our anniversary, looking back over the past 7 years and mentally preparing for our first transfer and move through Kathryn’s work, it becomes increasingly obvious that both of our career choices provide a mental balance to each other’s lives in a way we probably don’t fully appreciate. It is far to easy in her line of work to end up being the cynical, harsh, quick to judge type of person that doesn’t appreciate the large, small and seemingly insignificant moments in life that should really bring us a lot of joy. Conversely, living in the non-stop happy world that I enjoy as wedding entertainment director, it is far too easy to forget that where I live and work is far from many people’s reality. In fact, many of them can’t imagine anywhere close to the joy I am so blessed to be able to celebrate with week after week, month after month, year after year.

Through these two interesting worlds that we’ve dedicated our life’s work, I think we keep each other in check. We aren’t letting the environments of our work worlds completely define our views and attitudes toward things, but rather, together, we are able to maintain a healthy outlook on what we have as a couple, what the world is like around us, and what’s out there for our daughters to explore in their own time.

For this, I am thankful that we’ve made these 7 years work and that we didn’t get too bogged down in the discovery of what marriage is all about. While our work worlds have made it a challenge, I’m beginning to see how perfectly they compliment each other. Happy anniversary my dear Kathryn.  Thank you for everything. We got this.
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As if this isn’t enough wisdom from a young couple, this same day Sarah Bessey’s latest reflection arrived in my email — on marriage. Striking how both reflections echo one another – happy reading 🙂

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Back and Forth

“Pendulum: a popular opinion characterized by regular movement from one extreme to another.” This figurative dictionary definition adequately describes what seems to be happening in our society with a number of values considered basic to the well-being of every culture, one of which is marriage. For too long, spouses have suffered in secret because of the taboo that one’s private life was not to be talked about. Many feel deeply relieved that in today’s social climate we can finally admit and openly discuss the abuse, control, and exploitation that can make what should be a life-giving intimate relationship into a living hell.

Despite this healthy step forward, it is one thing to honestly deal with real suffering, and to take responsibility as a community for one another’s well-being; it is another thing to prostitute a person’s most intimate suffering at the hands of a spouse on TV talk-shows. It is one thing to finally publicly acknowledge that life-destroying marital relationships are not made in heaven and ought to be dissolved; it is another thing to opt out of a marriage because “the spark” is gone and personal fulfilment is not experienced. These trends are stark examples of the pendulum, definite movements from one extreme to the other.

Yet, even though a pendulum swings back and forth between extremes, I draw comfort from the fact that, sooner or later, God-given values reassert themselves in refreshing ways. Reading about a book written by two of America’s leading sociologists, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, on the topic of marriage confirms this truth for me. The title itself says a lot — The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially (2001, Broadway Books). In a most “politically incorrect” manner the authors challenge the high number of divorces, wondering how necessary some of them are. Notwithstanding the experience of real suffering in marriage, the authors nevertheless point out that many couples who choose to resist thoughts of divorce can actually grow deeper in their marital commitment in ways that reach far beyond “the spark” or self-centered emotional and mental satisfaction.

This piece of wisdom resonates deeply with my own experience of marriage. Given the differences between Jim and I, we would have parted company years ago if our relationship was based solely on some romantic spark or the illusion of perfect personal fulfillment. I admit, digging for relational gold has at times felt too demanding and almost impossible. Yet, these moments have proven to be times when our vows and commitment have taken over, making the sacrament of marriage truly come alive, spurring us on on to dig ever deeper for that cherished relational gold. Somehow in the midst of times of frustration or distance, we do find the energy to begin again, somehow we find the courage to tap into God’s mercy and forgiveness.

To know that we can make a new start every day has been the greatest encouragement of all. Inviting God’s active presence in our marriage, we can choose to be free from destructive and hurtful actions both past, present and future even while inadvertently our humanity keep sabotaging our best efforts. Acknowledging that our ultimate fulfilment lies in God alone, we become free to free each other from unrealistic, “idolatrous” demands. And it is thus that we strive, so help us God, to grow in grace as we are growing older 🙂

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