Family, Singleness and Marriage – Finding the bone and flesh that makes you whole

“The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:23-25)

I have heard it said there is one particular spouse for each person, and supposedly each of us is to find that certain and be joined/married only to that person. Well, of course, this raises a whole host of problems from people who’s gender/sexual orientation is not accepted to people who marry/partner several times. I used to believe that there was one specific person for each of us, and then worried that I would not find “the one.” Then I decided that it is more important to be the right person (that is, to be the best person you can be) rather than find the right person. My thinking now is that finding someone to partner with you throughout your life where you are supportive of them and they of you. Each of us needs and desires different things out of life, and successful marriages are not based so much on compatibility as on the desire to form a bond that is intended to last your entire life span. And that is not any easy bond to find, make, or last for 50 years or more.

The Confession uses this verse to affirm that “Scripture places sexual intimacy within God’s good created order.” It goes on to place sexual intimacy within the bonds of marriage. Again, these assumptions, while fine and good for some circumstances, can lead to problems with intolerance, prejudice and judgmental attitudes. If people would only stop a moment and listen to the intent & spirit of these verses instead of getting caught up in the legalistic definitions, I think society would be more at peace.

Listen; two people find each other, and decide that they want to journey through life together, supporting each other and being there for one another. They find a place where they can be together and nurture each other, relying only on each other. They delight both the similarities and differences of one another. Through conversation and physical & emotional intimacy they bring pleasure and joy to one another, and receive pleasure and joy. They come to know each other so well, that nothing has to be hidden from each other, and there is no embarrassment in revealing their deepest secrets to one another. They promise each other this relationship will last their whole lives, and they commit their entire selves to maintaining the beauty and strength of the relationship.

Is this not what we desire for ourselves? Is this not what God desires for creation? Why then do we judge others when they have found this? And why would one prevent people from entering into this type of relationship?

It can be lonely being on your own. Some people can live their lives with having relationships that are less intense than I have described – some by choice and others by circumstances. I hope gentle reader you have found someone to journey through life with, either as daily partners or ongoing friendships. I pray that God blesses and watches over your relationships and the people you relate to. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage: Learning about caring within the circle of “family”

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? “ (James 2: 14-17 )

It seems as if the Confession uses this passage in a very off-handed way; “Although family generally refers to relationships of blood, marriage, or adoption, the Scripture also describes the church as a family. Especially common in the New Testament are the references to Christians as brothers and sisters and as children of God”citing passages from Romans 8:12 to 17 and Galatians 4: 5 to 7 as well as this James 2:15 where is found in the above passage.

But I tell you brothers and sisters, the matching of this passage with this topic is not just a passing coincidence, and for two good reasons.

Number one, it is within family and marriage – and within the circles of friendship that all people, both married and single are in – where we are clothed and feed. Within these circles of caring no one dismisses another with “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed” but works hard without end to insure that each person is well, is warm, protected & sheltered, and is feed.

Number two, it is within these same circles that the young and growing are taught how to and the importance of caring for one another. By example and by direct instruction we teach our children what it means to care, to be diligent in securing the means for everyone to be cared for, and why as Christians we are called to do such deeds.

The body of Christ may also do these things, but it is within families and people who bond together in familial ties who teach and learn the basics of caring for another. Let us not dismiss these verses as simply examples of the practice of calling one another “brother and sister.” Let us be deliberate in treating each other as brothers and sisters – not only in Christ for purpose of theology, but in practice for the purposes of survival!

We have of late turned on each other FAR too much, and tragedy follows each time. Especially in this season, gentle brothers and sister, let us remember what the Christ child calls us to. Selah!

Singleness and Marriage – Both places to do ministry

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-34a )

Just when I think I am past my anti-Paul days, I read something like this! And it just burns me up! It is not only insulting to women – married and unmarried – but it also comes down pretty had on married men. The only option that seems to be the “gold star” choice is being a single male, which is what Paul was. Coincidence? I think not! If God chose to give Adam a “wife”, I venture to see that the Divine does not believe that having a wife will lessen a man’s ability to worship God and carry out God’s mission. And the fact that God named Eve as a “helpmate” seems to indicate that God did NOT want Adam to be a solo act in the Garden of Eden. And Paul’s implication that a woman’s sole focus should only be for the Lord’s concerns is pretty narrow-minded and limiting. And the implication that a married woman would have not time or energy for God’s work is just as bad. This is exactly where and why women have had such a hard time being accepted in leadership and ministry positions.

The Confession in the Commentary section of the article on “Family, Singleness, and Marriage” treads lightly when it says, “While Paul regarded marriage as a positive choice, he preferred voluntary singleness for the sake of unconditional commitment to the Lord.” But marriage does not rule out commitment to God. In fact marriage can enhance that commitment because two are stronger than one, and when one falls the other can help him/her up!

Oh I could go on, gentle reader. But I think you understand what I am saying – if you do, there is no need to say more. And if you don’t – nothing I can say would sway you. But let me say this – while the issues of my doing ministry have been complex, the desire and commitment to go where God leads and fulfill God’s missional purposes have remained strong during my thus-far thirty years of marriage. It is not what is on one’s finger but what is in one’s heart and soul that determine commitment to God.

May you gentle reader stay the course in your Christian journey, and may you find companionship for the journey in what ever form God has for you. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage – Being worthy of the name “parent”

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise–“that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6: 1-4 )

As parents, we want our children to honor us and obey us. But before that expectation can be fulfilled, we need to make sure that we are honorable parents – worthy of being honored – and that the things we ask our children to do will help them and not hurt them. A strong argument is made that some parents are not worthy of the honor and obedience that they demand of their children. Some children rightly ask, “How can I honor and obey a parent or parents who have hurt me, used me, abused me, and generally stomped on my personhood?”

The quick and seemingly easy answer is that by honoring and obeying them – as much as is wise – is not so much for them but for you, that is for the child in this situation. Maybe by honoring them, the rationale goes, you will hold them accountable and they will do better. That is all very well and good, but I would be very disinclined to ask any child, grown or still growing, to place themselves in that precarious a position. The truth of the matter, gentle reader, is that honor and obedience are earned and not an inherited right.

Now we can get creative, and I am going to do just that. What is being asked for in this verse, at its truest foundation is that the institution and role of father and mother is to be honored and obeyed. If one would have a father and/or mother that is injurious, even dangerous to the child, it would not be well for that child to in turn be that type of parent to his/her child. To “honor and obey” such a parent would mean to NOT follow their example but to be such a parent that looks to the welfare and safety of a child.

Albert Barnes says in his discussion of this passage, “because the parent, by his age and experience, is to be presumed to be qualified to direct and guide a child. The love which God has implanted in the heart of a parent for a child secures, in general, the administration of this domestic government in such a way as not to injure the child. A father will not, unless under strong passion or the excitement of intoxication, abuse his authority. He loves the child too much. He desires his welfare; and the placing of the child under the authority of the parent is about the same thing in regard to the welfare of the child, as it would be to endow the child at once with all the wisdom and experience of the parent himself.“ [Emphasis mine]

So we see that for a parent to be honored and obeyed that parent must be worthy of the child’s high regard, and love. Barnes says further, “That is, as far as their commandments agree with those of God, and no further. No parent can have a right to require a child to steal, or lie, or cheat, or assist him in committing murder, or in doing any other wrong thing. No parent has a right to forbid a child to pray, to read the Bible, to worship God, or to make a profession of religion. . . . . and in all cases, God is to be obeyed rather than man. When a parent, however, is opposed to a child; when he expresses an unwillingness that a child should attend a particular church, or make a profession of religion, such opposition should in all cases be a sufficient reason for the child to pause and re-examine the subject. He should pray much, and think much, and inquire much, before, in any case, he acts contrary to the will of a father or mother; and, when he does do it, he should state to them, with great gentleness and kindness, that he believes he ought to love and serve God.” Barnes, bless his late 1800’s perspective, could not imagine the horror and atrocities visited on children by their parents. But unfortunately we, gentle reader, are all too aware of what parents can and will do to their children.

This passage from Ephesians says that if a child honors his/her parent it will go well with them and their life will be long on this earth. But I tell you gentle reader if we as parents are not worthy of the honor and obedience our innocent children bless us with, it will not go well with us on this earth, and in the world to come God will hold us accountable for how we have mistreated the children entrusted to us.

May you who are parents be worthy of honor and obedience; and for those who are not parents, may you watch over all God’s children so that it will be well with them and their lives on this earth filled with joy, laughter, and love. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage – Parenthood, on earth as in heaven

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

I read on someone else’s blog a most beautiful story. It concerned mothers, but I think it would be just as applicable to fathers. The name of the blog is “Morning Story and Dilbert. The author of the blog goes by the name Kenny T. He was a visitor to my blog site, and so I went to visit his, and found there the posting “What is my angel’s name?” The author of the blog, Kenny T did not know the author’s name, and does not say where he found it.

The specific posting is [http://morningstoryanddilbert.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/what-is-my-angels-name ]

I also found it on the internet under the title “A newborn’s conversation with God.”

And I found it as a poem which listed the author as Maria Abdelhamid. That site was http://www.msmusings.com/archive100/103/Poem,%20tell%20me%20my%20angels.htm

I suspect it is one of those internet things where someone gets it from someone’s relative who heard it/read it somewhere. I diligently searched for the author, but had not further luck than anyone who has searched for it. I would love to know who wrote it, and give them the credit.

I wanted to bring this piece to your attention for several reasons. One, it is a beautiful piece that tugs at the heart strings and speaks both to the blessing a Godly parent can be and the honor that is due such parents. Secondly, the author must have had a mother (and probably a father) who raised the author in this way – I would hope as opposed to such an opposite that the author yearned for such a parent. Thirdly and finally, in the hopes that the author knows how it has touched people and is so honored for the gift of inspiration they have started.

It is easy to honor parents that are honor-able; who have been the face of God in our childhood and have modeled their faith in our growing up years. It is harder to honor parents who have shown us the opposite of parenthood, and honoring them has been a Christian discipline instead of a joy.

I do not know what your experience of your parents has been gentle reader. I hope that it was a positive one, and more. If you are a parent, I hope and pray that God has walked, is walking, and will walk with you all the years you are a parent. And that you are honored by your children.

Consider too, that no matter what our earthly parents are like, that God is also our parent, perfect in every way. The poem/story I have sited, but not posted, gives the impression that God will be a “distant” presence in the child’s life. It is the one off-note in the story. Let me assure you gentle reader, God is a close parent for those who seek our Lord. May it be so for you. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage – is this an invitation and place for all kinds of children?

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”   (Mark 10:13-16)

This is one of the times I wish I could just use what I wrote five years ago. Not that I am disinclined to write, but I so liked what I had written Sept 14, 2007. And it is try that I feel like I have written on this passage before (but not like some others – stayed tuned).

Five years ago the title of my reflection on this passage was Who are the Children? The Confession says, “Children are of great importance. Jesus saw them as examples of how to receive the reign of God.” And commentaries on this passage have explored that theme. But in my writing of five years ago, I raised the idea that some of the attributes of children need to be found in adult faith. I said it very well there, so if you want to know what I said, I suggest you turn back the years and go to the posting as I have linked it here.

I have at other times stated that all of us are children to God, and as such this verse can be applied to all of us, not just those under a certain age. In the post “Who are the children?” I address that from a Anabaptist / Mennonite perspective. Again, go read what I said.

But the Confession makes a tight little circle on the issue of marriage and family. People are expected to marry ( male husband and female wife) and within that marriage children are born and raised, and are socialized to grow up in the faith to marry and raise children. Unfortunately, that tight little community does not give/leave much opening for alternate lifestyles and callings. I do not mean in the sense where we choice to or not to; I mean that people who cannot fit in that tight community because of physiology and organically set behaviors are left with no options. And if Jesus said let ALL the children come to me, he did not mean weed out those who will not fit into a prescribed lifestyle when they are grown.

These issues rest heavily in my heart gentle reader. And they are issues Mennonites struggle with from a denominational level on down. But it is not just within the Mennonite denomination, and not just in religious / faith circles either. It is our entire society and our global community. How do we deal with people who chose to live in variance to what we expect and demand? Is there room for them, a place for them, an invitation for them, in the world we have constructed?

May gentle reader feel the warmth and blessing from Christ’s invitation to come to him, and may you promote and support that invitation for everyone. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage – Strict Guidelines

“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. “ (1 Corinthians 6:13b, 18-20 )

The Confession says, “According to Scripture, right sexual union takes place only within the marriage relationship.” This is a guideline that most people throughout the world have lived by for generations and generations. It touches on some of the most sensitive and personal aspect of human life. It goes to the core of who a person is and how they experience their person-hood on all levels and aspects. It places people in categories and places expectations on them that can affect their entire lives. It is also a paradox to the extreme.

If we are owned by God, only God can tell us how we should express our person-hood, and our sexual orientation and identity. No one else has that right. No one has the right, other than God, to say what is immoral and moral. And it is only with the inspiration and wisdom of the Spirit that God’s expectations and instructions can be properly interpreted. WE can know what is right and moral, and wrong and immoral from God. We CAN judge others, but that would be most foolhardy. We can counsel and encourage others to make choices that support health, well-being, and wholeness.

I am sorry Paul, but you extend your reach too far. I am sorry Confession, but you make policy where you should extend grace and understanding.

May you gentle reader tread oh so carefully around and through this issue, remembering that compassion and grace are never the wrong stances to take. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage – Then and Now

“You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 )

Five years ago both Will Fitzgerald and I commented on this passage. Five years may have gone by, but the issues have not changed much. Currently, circa July/August of 2012, not only have social groups, political groups, and religious groups weighed in on the issues of marriage, but also corporation/businesses have also added their thoughts and opinions. Marriage is far from a neutral issue. Much could be said but I doubt it would be fresh and new. Therefore I am inserting links to what both of us wrote for this passage five years ago.

Gay Marriage and Gay Adultery     Five Simple Words; One Complex Issue

Both Will and I put great thought and compassion into what we wrote. I am not sure I could do much better now, and Will’s does not need any improvement either. We both felt then and feel now (at least for me) no different. What the two of us said overlaps slightly, and those points of convergence strengthen both pieces. Let me be very clear; I re-read Will’s posting at the time and I agree wholeheartedly. If any one has comment on what either of us wrote, please feel free to comment. But as Will said, responses that are more vent and steam than thought and articulation of perspective may not remain posted.

May each of us, gentle reader, search our hearts for compassion and understanding on this very sensitive topic. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage – Uniting, Dividing, and Defying

“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 9)

Gently, gently, gently now, let us approach this topic. The Confession of 1995 says, “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” And within that statement lies many injunctions against other types of marriages and marital relationships. It goes beyond many laws of some states, bringing religion into an arena that politics has already made controversial.

One of the continuum is tradition Catholics who would allow divorce once it is provided that while “man” may have united the couple, God was never in favor of the union. And that each man should seek a woman as a spouse (and vice versa) is strongly believed and enforced. Other faith systems find theological homes somewhere between that perspective and the complete opposite that allows multiple partnering and pairing. I do not know if such an opposite has a name, but when personal beliefs are held strongly enough they can rise to the level of a personal faith system.

Now not all Mennonites hold to the very traditional and conservative position set forth by the Confession, and yes, that has caused all the disharmony and turmoil that you can imagine. Especially when ministers/pastors weigh in by officiating at ceremonies that . . . well . . . some say that God never intended! And the diversity of opinions spans from remarriage between divorcees as well as marriages between two women and two men. Yes, there are some Mennonite congregations where divorce and remarriage is still a sensitive issue.

Now, you may wonder where I find myself on that continuum. If that is the case, you will just have to ask me. And I encourage you to do so, because unless I am asked, I will not tell. And if you want to guess, I would enjoy hearing it. However, if you do not feel you need to ask,

I will simply say may God’s peace go with you gentle reader. Selah!

Family, Singleness and Marriage; A place for nurture and a launching point for life

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”   (Genesis 12:1-3 )

The Confession says, “Families of faith are called to be a blessing to all families of the earth.” I take this to mean, and it is safe assuming, that the church family is to be and bring a blessing to everyone in the world. This is a good meaning. But . . . . that is not what first sprung to my mind when I read it.

Before I take you where my thoughts went, let me re-phrase this verse just a little. “”Leave your country, your people and your mother’s household and go to the land I will show you.” There. Now, let us continue.

I had said some time back that from a certain perspective, marriage is an apt metaphor for our relationship to God. The level of intimacy in a marriage relationship can parallel the depth of knowing and being known in our relationship to God. So based on my re-phrasing of verse one, my coming to have a relationship with God is like my leaving behind all that I had known and following where God led. God led me to Goshen College, into marriage, then into the seminary, and now out west. The rest of the verses I do not want to put any claim on. That is not for me to decide. I can well image Abraham being stunned when he thought about the implications of that.

It makes me a little sad to think that the Confession would so constrain the breadth and depth of this verse into the church family being a blessing to others. But if you have not figured out by now that I am not a proponent of everything the Confession says, then I have been more subtle and delicate than I thought.

All of us gentle reader are called out from what seems familiar into the unknown. That our going out can be a blessing to others is made possible only through the Divine work of God, Christ, and the Spirit. May you gentle reader and your families of God and humanity be called by the Divine. Selah!