November 15, 2011
October 25, 2011
The bride and groom seem very much in love and very well matched for a long and successful marriage. It was, by all accounts, and by my own observation, a successful wedding. I’ve spent a good deal of the past year, and now this whole past week, contemplating what might constitute a successful marriage, and what it means to have forever-love, because, as we all must know by now, successful marriages don’t always follow successful weddings.
The wedding was American traditional, with modified vows chosen and edited by the bride and groom. Near the end of the vows the preacher asked each of them to recite this vow: “I, Gary (Jessica), promise to cherish, honor and love you, Jessica (Gary), now and forever. (I didn’t write it down during the ceremony, but to the best of my recollection it went like that.) The ceremony included an exchange of rings and the preacher talked about how rings symbolize love with no beginning and no end.
Just six months ago I’d gone through a similar ceremony, reciting similar forever-love vows for the second time in my short life. Sitting in the front pew of the church for this ceremony, together with the other seven parents and step parents of the bride and groom (and living in a society where marriages which end in divorce are more common than marriages which last a lifetime) I was struck by the irony of people taking and speaking such vows of forever and undying love when the odds are so stacked against them.
Romantic human love does end. It happens all the time, and the eight “parents” of the bride and groom at this wedding ceremony were living proof of it. Sometimes love dies, or the loved one dies. Sometimes we kill love. Sometimes love comes to a natural, amicable end, and sometimes the end of love is violent, and terrible, and love is supplanted by its close sibling, hate.
I’d been nervous to meet my new bride’s ex-husband, Woody, the real father of the groom. He attended the wedding with his second wife, Sue. (More irony; Sue was my first wife’s name.) Our meeting and our exchanges over the wedding weekend were amicable, however, and all in all the two real mothers, two real fathers, two stepfathers, one stepmother and one step-girlfriend got along pretty well. There was a palpable tension hanging in the air throughout the wedding weekend between exes and new spouses. But the love and good feelings and well wishes, which manifested in good measure, ultimately prevailed. Life and love are not always simple, and neither are they always easy.
I am merely an armchair psychologist and watcher of demographic trends, and I do not profess to be qualified to say why, or even if, marriages “fail” more often now than they once did. I am also not really qualified to say too much about why romantic human love ends. But it seems to me that one reason romantic human love ends sometimes is because we are human.
Being human means we are self-centered. This is practically a tautology. We want what we want and we want it now. It’s hard to honor and cherish another person, even a loved one, when they fail to properly and timely honor and cherish us. Can you believe what she did to me?!! Why I oughta ….
And let’s be honest. We are, none of us, perfect. We make mistakes. We forget. We get focused on our careers and our kids and our hobbies and our friends and our doing-good-to-others and we get too busy to do all the right things love requires to stay strong. Sometimes we get angry and mad and mean and demanding, and we blow it. We sin and we stray and somehow, before we know it, though we once never thought it possible and it’s not what we wanted or intended, love is sick, and love is wounded, and sometimes love dies.
The brother of the groom, Doug, is a Christian believer who once stated to me that “no marriage can succeed without God.” It is an interesting postulation, but, even though I believe in God, I don’t completely agree with that statement. Surely there are some atheists and agnostics and Buddhists out there who have succeeded in their marriages. What I can agree with, though, is that no love can last forever, and consequently no marriage can last, unless the participants emulate the model of love God uses – which includes forgiveness of wrongs, and grace, and wanting what is best for the other. Christians use the Greek word “agape” to describe that kind of love. The agape kind of forgiving love is different than romantic love, which is called “eros” in the Greek.
I also think we soft-sell the word “commitment” in the wedding-vow ceremony. Sometimes when romantic love flags or fails, it simply takes a gut-check kind of commitment to stick it out for better or worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. This is not to say that I believe everyone should stay married no matter what. I don’t believe that. Still, you get the sense that some people are throwing in the towel before they give it their best shot.
But nobody starts out in marriage intending to fail. Nobody says “I do” love you, or vows “I will” love you forever, when all along they really mean “I don’t” and “I won’t.” Well anyway, no decent person does. And yet, despite our best intentions, despite our promises and our vows, romantic love ends, and marriages end.
All the happy wet and tearful eyes at the Gary and Jessica wedding, my own included, were proof enough to me that we all still believe in romantic love. We root for the young lovers who take the forever-love vows. We’ve seen love succeed and we’ve seen marriages succeed, and we know it is possible – if not easy. And we are suckers for new beginnings. This love will last! This marriage will succeed!
But broken vows and ended marriages aside, what is a “successful” marriage? I suppose if we agree to use the phrase “their marriage failed” when speaking of divorce, then a divorce, itself, could be the sole measure of the failure or success of a marriage. I don't think so. I've seen a few marriages that, while they didn’t end in divorce, could never be called “successful” marriages. Conversely, one should ask, must a marriage last forever, or “until death do us part,” in order to be called a success?
My late first wife, Sue, and I were once part of a church planting effort in Clovis, California. A small group of a dozen or so people planted a new Christian church. Over the course of eight or so years that church saw attendance grow to over 100 people, saw a significant number of believers’ baptisms, featured hundreds of meaningful worship services, bible studies, home group meetings, celebration meals and events. Our children were raised in that church. Through that community of believers we all were connected to God and blessed. But then, for reasons hard to understand, the church eventually shriveled and died, and closed its doors forever. Some would say that church was a failure. But I would say that, while it ended, and the ending itself was a form of failure, during the time it was alive that church was a success. And for those of us who were a part of that church (especially those who received salvation and baptism), the good experiences were worth it, and will continue to be a part of who we are forever.
The Gary and Jessica wedding weekend featured a lovely young couple and their lovely siblings, and even a couple of lovely grandchildren, who all exuded a joy and mutual love and caring that usually only come from loving parents and loving homes. Somewhere in their marriages the real parents, and even the step parents, must have done something good – must have had and modeled real love – and these young people were born of that love, and were and are the living proof of it.
It was clear to me that the love between the former marriage partners of the bride and groom was once very real, and while their marriages ended due to human failures common to humans, there still is a remnant bond of love. No, the marriages won’t be resurrected. But on this happy occasion of a new marriage, and of these new pledges of forever-love, there were knowing looks of pride for how their children turned out; there were hugs and handshakes and genuine words of affirmation and well wishes to their children, and to each other, amongst them all.
So it seems to me that when a marriage ends, notwithstanding the human failures to keep the forever-love vows, we ought not always use the phrase “the marriage failed.” It’s too harsh and frankly it is not always true. If something good came from the years of marriage - good love, good experiences, good children, growth, life, living, learning - we simply cannot look at all of that good and call it failure. The good part is success. The love part is success. The love of children who come from a broken, ended marriage, and their love and their children, are all a part of the continuation of the success of love.
And though the marriage has ended, and though lives take irrevocable new courses, people are still connected by unseverable relationships, and forgiveness, redemption, and a form of love more like agape love are still possible. Even though romantic human love sometimes ends, the purer form of love, agape love, never does end. And that, after all, is the true now-and-forever love.
As for Gary and Jessica, they are the new hope for a true now and forever romantic love. As for the rest of us working on a second or third try, well, love is a powerful thing, and hope springs eternal.
September 1, 2011
This is the feeling I get when I am in the mountains. Sunday I hiked to Indian Pools with my brother Jim, his girlfriend, Coreen, and Cheri. A bunch of guys took the soaring dive into the pool. Invigorating! Then, Tuesday morning a group of people hiked with me to the Grouse Creek falls. My long-time friend and mentor, Art Froese, jumped into one of the ice-cold pools at the falls. That sensation of ice-cold water awakens all your senses and sends you momentarily soaring.
This is also what it feels like to be in love. It was a year ago Friday night, here at Huntington Lake, that I proposed marriage to Cheri. She said yes. Falling in love, and being in love is an adventure ride I recommend even more highly than Soarin' Over California. It awakens all your senses and makes you feel truly alive. Soaring. Elated.
May 26, 2011
April 24, 2011
April 17, 2011
March 8, 2011
Scenes with Kelly McGillis aside, my favorite scene in Witness is where Harrison Ford is dressed as an Amish man and is en route, in a caravan of horse-drawn black buggies, through a small Pennsylvania town. But Harrison Ford is not really an Amish man. He is a tough big city cop who is hiding from bad cop-killing cops while he recovers from a bullet wound. A couple of teenage town jerks are harassing the Amish and won't let their buggies pass. One of the jerks rubs his ice-cream cone on the nose of an Amish man, knowing the Amish man won't retaliate. Harrison Ford gets out of his buggy and walks up to the two jerks and tells them they are making a big mistake. One of the jerks then acts like a jerk and mimicks fear before pushing Harrison Ford, whereupon Ford breaks his nose with a single punch to the face. It's a scene that leaves every viewer with a very gratifying sense that the jerk got what he deserved.
Ford's violent act of nose-breaking retribution was witnessed by several townsfolk, and it was what outed him as not being a true Amish. The Amish purport to leave retribution and punishment for criminal wrong-doers to the civil authorities here on Earth, and judgment and punishment for moral wrong-doers to God in the hereafter.
I got to thinking about this retribution thing again Sunday morning sitting in church and listening to a message from Phil and Rici Skei on 'The Power of Reconciliation.' Their primary text was 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, but somehow I got backed up a verse and read this: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2 Cor. 5:10. So, it would appear that maybe we are going to get what we deserve. Bummer.
I have encountered quite a number of morally self-justified people here on Earth who really do hope and pray that evil-doers here on Earth will get what they deserve on Judgment Day. For a number of reasons I don't count myself among them. First, and foremost, I kind of hope I don't get what I deserve on Judgment Day. Somewhere in the Bible I think I read something like, "as you judge others, so shall you be judged." (See, for example, Matthew 7:1-6) So, while it is gratifying to see the other evil-doers get what they deserve, I am kind of thinking it will be best for me if the judging standard on my Judgment Day is set real low; And so I am willing to have the bar set low for other evil-doers too.
The whole idea that I am going to get what I deserve on Judgment Day put me into a bit of a self-pittying funk, but I came out of my self-pittying funk just in time to hear Phil Skei describe something interesting that Jesus did while he was on the cross.
[As a side note, Phil did not make a big deal of Jesus' crucifixion, as many do, and I was glad about that. He correctly pointed out that many thousands of people were crucified on crosses before and after Jesus, and many people have sacrificed their lives for others in myriad other ways.]
The interesting thing that Phil described was that, while hanging on the cross and while yet still being tormented and tortured by his persecutors, while dying at the hands of his persecutors, Jesus prayed to God saying "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34.
He could have seen to it that they got what they deserved. He could have called down the wrath of God on his tormentors, could have parted the Earth and had them swallowed up and buried, never to be seen nor heard from again. But somehow he had compassion for them even at that moment.
Yet we won't even forgive the little wrongs done to us: the neighborhood kids who paint graffiti on our mailbox; the slights of our own sisters and brothers; the hurts and wrongs of spouses, parents and kids; the people who cheat us out of a few bucks. Fill in your own personal situations.
Somewhere in the din I heard Phil say something like "brokenness is a human condition."
The reconciliation of our broken relationship with God is a result of forgiveness. That we might not get what we deserve on Judgment Day is a result of forgiveness. And the healing of broken relationships in our lives here and now could be the result of forgiveness.
Wow. Gimme some of that.
February 27, 2011
I've been enjoying these "springtime" flowers - daffodils and pansies mostly - for the past week. My snap dragons are about to pop. My sweet peas are already two feet up their trellises. This is, what, February still?
February 10, 2011
Somewhere along the road of growing up we all learn behaviors that are less than innocent. I remember telling my teenage girls that they couldn't wear certain revealing clothing in public. They'd leave the house in perfectly acceptable modest clothing, but unbeknownst to me they had the revealing stuff on underneath. As soon as I was out of sight, well, you know how that works. And this very behavior is part of the not-completely-understood powerful attraction between boys and girls. What is the role of women in the world? Why did God wire girls and boys this way?
In thinking about beauty I tend to contrast the typical woman from the typical man. In general I think of women as beautiful and men as, well, rugged. Oh sure, there are some rugged women and some beautiful men. Not that I don't think rugged is beautiful, too. I love the rugged mountains and think of them as some of God's most beautiful creation. Still, I tend to think about women as softer and men as harder -- more hard-edged and hard-headed. That softness that women have translates to a different kind of beauty than mere physical beauty and a different kind of strength than mere physical strength -- sort of like a strength of moral character.
A woman's softness also translates into differences in how women and men relate to each other and to others. And these differences between women and men create a mutual attraction. Like they have something we men lack and which we need, and we have something they need and which they lack. Why is that?
We are not made to be alone. That's why. When God created Adam and Adam was all alone on Earth he was lonesome. Duh! God, Himself, said: "It is not good for a man to be alone." (Gen. 2:18) So God created Eve to be Adam's Earthly companion. According to the creation story in Genesis Eve was created by taking a part of man from the man, and so, for a man to be complete he has to be in relationship with a woman. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife. (Gen. 2:24) Presumably there is a symbiotic sense in which, to be complete a woman must be united with a man.
If you have ever experienced the birth of a child, particularly your own child, then you might have experienced the compelling and profound awe of birth, and the compelling feeling that God really does exist. The birth of a child really is one of God's great miracles. That experience may be the closest we can come in this lifetime to understanding the awesome creative power of God. Something from nothing. Something new and as-yet untainted by any human experience.
One of the questions my friend asked at our recent breakfast is "why does God let sick people suffer before taking them home?" In asking the question, he was expressing some frustration that his wife had to suffer from her illness for as long as she did. I experienced some of the same emotions about my dying wife.
I don't know why, but I still clearly remember a Paul Harvey radio show where Harvey discussed the topic of death and dying. At the end of the show, Harvey said something like this: "If all the fetuses in all the wombs of all the pregnant mothers in the world could get together, and if one of them should then be born, they might all say, 'Poor old Jane has passed away.'"
January 30, 2011
Once upon a time I could
do it well and do it good.
Once upon a time, recall
I could darn-well do it all.
Once upon a time I was
all of that and more.
Once upon a time, you see
"can't" wasn't known to me.
Once upon a time I was
always in the know.
Once upon a time, alas,
was a dang-long time ago.
This is not a fairy-tale
this is but a rhyme,
about the new reality
of youth gave-way to time.
'Twas time I had abundant once,
time's now in short supply.
My youth's already gone, my friend,
and nearly so am I.
The plumbing needed fixing,
and I thought of you again.
All the things you made me learn,
I didn't appreciate you then.
And the things that I can do now,
are many thanks to you.
I thought I should say "thanks, Dad,"
its the least that I could do.
But old age and disease,
were things you couldn't fix.
And communicating thanks, and death,
are things that I can't mix.
You're already gone now,
and Mom is nearly, too.
You're already gone now,
and a thought will have to do.
Well I saw you just the other day,
your laugh was just the same.
Unfortunately for me, Mom,
you didn't know my name.
All the times you wished me well,
and all you did for me,
your love was ever-present,
'til I was fifty-three.
At seventy-nine I thought it was time,
to say "I love you, too."
But though you're still here,
your brain's already gone,
and I don't know what it will mean to you.
For thirty-four years together,
we shared a lot of life.
I your loyal husband,
you my loyal wife.
Loyal we were, and committed,
and with you life was good.
Still I didn't always treat you,
as well as I could, or should.
And now I ought to tell you,
with words and acts and such,
that through it all, above it all,
I loved you very much.
But the cancer didn't know you,
and neither did it spare.
You're already gone now,
and it's too late to care.
When I was young
My girls were too
And they were always there
They're older now
And always gone
It seems they may not care
I had them once
When e're I wished
To mentor, teach or play
I had them then
To admire and love me
And every word I'd say
But time has changed
My little girls
To young adults who know
And time has changed
Me in their eyes
To one washed up and done
I had them then
But this is now
And they're already gone
Your bags are packed and ready,
but you don't want to leave.
A promise has been made though,
and kept it has to be.
This journey's for another,
it isn't what we wanted.
This time away, we hope and pray,
will mend the grieving haunted.
So out the door you're trudging,
and over there you'll go.
Our love you're not besmudging,
time will prove it so.
Now of our love we've written,
this sad and lonesome song.
But with me you can't sing it,
'cause you're already gone.
In my life I'd plenty,
by any measure known.
More food and love and money,
than one man needs alone.
In my life I've wasted,
for belly, gold and heart,
what many wished they'd tasted,
a teeny tiny part.
In my life I've sinned,
constrained by boundaries gray.
Not black and white,
nor wrong nor right,
have guided me my way.
A few who know me judge me,
as wasteful worthless trash.
These assessments bore me
as rubbish and as rash.
Forgiveness, yes, they may not need,
The Bible can be tossed.
Jesus only came to save
the broken and the lost.
And lost I am, and broken,
my sins are more than one.
But Jesus' saving grace I've taken,
my stain's already gone.
January 9, 2011
Somehow this tree makes it through each winter. The mere thought of spending a whole winter here sends chills down my spine and leaves me hanging in suspense.