Tag Archives: Marriage

The vows we make | A response to Rod Dreher

A Facebook friend and former parishioner shared, at my request, some of what he’s been reading about the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision regarding same-sex marriage.

One of those was Rod Dreher’s June 26 article “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn to Live as Exiles in Our Own Country” in TIME magazine.

Here are my thoughts in response to Dreher’s five main points.

A culturally post-Christian nation

We have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist.

I could not agree more with Dreher on this point.

However, I see this as a good thing. Our dependence is to be on God alone, not on “the fundamental norms [we] have long been able to depend on.”

Orthodox Christians and other social conservatives

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Obergefell decision — and the seriousness of the challenges it presents to orthodox Christians and other social conservatives … LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives.

Dreher suggests an equivalency between orthodox Christians and social conservatives that I believe is false.

Certainly, the Episcopal Church to which I belong has long understood that people of various political persuasions belong together as practicing Christians.

We’ve also seen in recent news regarding the environment encyclicals and statements by both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew — bastions of orthodox Christianity — that could by no means be called “socially conservative” in the sense Dreher uses.

In the second part of this paragraph, Dreher also suggests that “the next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions.”

Here again, as a Christian (and a non-stipendiary ordained deacon) I must say that I read this as a positive development.

It may be good for Christians no longer to belong to institutions that enjoy the benefits of a special status beyond what others receive — that’s what tax exemption is.

Instead of depending on our institutions or on “fundamental norms” that others in American society don’t enjoy, perhaps we should focus on practicing our faith in the middle of lives that are just like everyone else’s.

The institution of marriage

Third, the Court majority wrote that gays and lesbians do not want to change the institution of marriage, but rather want to benefit from it. This is hard to believe, given more recent writing from gay activists like Dan Savage expressing a desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy in all marriages.

Here Dreher makes a non sequitur between those who want to be married and those who “desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy.”

The Obergefell ruling is about those who want to be married.

Those who don’t want to be married (or don’t want to be monogamous) still don’t have to be married (or respect their spouses). The decision doesn’t change that.

The individualism at the heart of American culture

In his final argument, Dreher gets tangled up again.

[T]he Obergefell decision did not come from nowhere. It is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution, which valorized erotic liberty. It has been widely and correctly observed that heterosexuals began to devalue marriage long before same-sex marriage became an issue. The individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture is at the core of Obergefell — and at the core of modern American life.

Dreher correctly draws a line between the Sexual Revolution and the time when “heterosexuals began to devalue marriage.”

But to suggest that Obergefell is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution just doesn’t make any sense, and it’s another non sequitur.

Obergefell is about those who value marriage, those who have waited for years to have their faithfulness legally recognized, not those who “valorize erotic liberty.”

If Christians, for our part, want to combat “the individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture” we ought to encourage everyone to be married or to participate in intentional community.

The Benedict Option

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Dreher concludes his article by describing what he calls “the Benedict Option,” a shorthand reference to Christians retreating from the Roman Empire into monasteries following the example of Benedict of Nursia (d. 547).

He asks the question:

How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions?

And here at the end, you won’t be surprised that we answer the question differently.

In The Episcopal Church we already have a Benedict Option, and it’s called the Book of Common Prayer (or BCP).

The Book of Common Prayer, historically influenced by Benedictine worship, outlines a pattern of daily, weekly, seasonal, and occasional prayer that “builds resilient communities.”

It’s portable and can be carried out of our communities and into our lives in exile. The daily prayers are even available on an iPhone app. Everyone can participate in the Benedict Option.

See my other blog about the Daily Office for reflections about using the prayer book in just this way as I go about my work and ministry.

But here’s my biggest concern with Dreher’s version of the Benedict Option: When conditions are “increasingly hostile,” as he suggests, we ought all the more to open the doors of our resilient communities to all guests.

Benedict himself wrote in his Rule that “all guests are to be welcomed as Christ” (Ch. 53).

The vows we make

I have often taught that the vows a couple makes in the marriage ceremony are very much like the vows made by someone entering a monastic community.

Even though monastics traditionally make vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of life, the essential vow is the first one: to stay put in one community until death.

Benedict has harsh words for monks who continually go from place to place, looking for novelty.

Similarly, a couple being married promises to stay together “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death” (BCP 427). The essential vow is to stay put “until we are parted by death.”

For most heterosexual Christians, the way we experience the spiritual benefit of making and keeping vows is through marriage.

The more of us who can practice this spirituality, making room in our lives for another person and making our homes into “havens of blessing and peace” (BCP 431), the better.

Isn’t it great that, at least in the Obergefell decision, the Supreme Court has expanded the number of people in America who can now make those promises in the context of marriage?

We can’t always count on American society to mirror the best practices of Christianity (and I agree with Dreher that we shouldn’t expect it), but in this case I’m glad to see it.

Deep gloom enshrouds the peoples

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land; *
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise, *
and his glory will appear upon you. (Isaiah 60:1-3; BCP 87)

Yesterday evening, my Twitter feed and then the news filled with images and video of Walter Scott being shot so casually by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager.

Meanwhile, back on NCIS (Tuesday night is NCIS night) the usual storyline unfolds, and Gibbs very casually shoots the arms dealer who has killed a Marine; as often happens on NCIS, the show ends with an emotional appeal for gifts in memory of fallen Marines.

On NCIS: New Orleans, a hostage situation unfolds, met with the entirely understandable armoring of the FBI and a Navy SWAT team.

Through the gloom, the evening starts to feels like the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion — the Roman Empire says  “force wins,” the religious people say “it’s better for one person to die for the country,” the criminal gets taken down, and protests over his death are met with a carefully crafted story and an extra layer of security: “Otherwise, his disciples may go and steal him away” (Matthew 27:62-66).

It’s so hard to proclaim Easter when it’s gloomy like this. It’s so hard not to retreat, not to try to close out the news.

Alienation

But it gets better.

This morning in my Facebook feed, a friend shared a link to a reflection by New Jersey relationship columnist Anthony D’ambrosio on marriage and divorce.

One of the five reasons D’ambrosio cites “why marriage just doesn’t work anymore” is our alienation from each other because of all the devices and screens that surround us (I chuckle as I read in the living room; I can hear my wife tapping away on her laptop in the kitchen).

I can also hear the disciples walking on the Emmaus road shaking their heads in dismay. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We had high hopes.”

Communion

The stranger who joins them, and who accepts their polite invitation to a meal, opens the eyes of their faith in the way he breaks and blesses the bread (Luke 24:13-35).

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 223)

Perhaps simpler gestures of communion will pierce the deep gloom that enshrouds us.

Perhaps seeing each other through the eyes of faith — not as dangerous criminals, not as armed storm troopers, not as self-absorbed people pushing each other away on purpose — perhaps seeing each other is the first step to seeing the Risen Lord.

“Over you the Lord will rise,” says Isaiah, “and his glory will appear upon you.” Perhaps if we make time and space (and a place) to sit with each other, we will have a chance truly to see each other.

Give us eyes to see each other, O Lord, not to look past each other. Give us pause before we alienate one another again. Give us hunger to share a meal with each other, and in our breaking bread together to see you with us.

Begun, continued, and ended

The road to the Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tamalpais

The road to the Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tamalpais

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (BCP 832)

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I had the great honor yesterday to officiate at the wedding of our “emotional daughter” Anna Kurtz to David O’Connor.

They were married in the beautiful Mountain Theatre atop Mt. Tam, an amphitheatre ringed with trees and with stunning views down through the blanket of fog to San Francisco Bay.

The Prayer for Guidance above formed the frame for my brief homily.

Begun

Anna and David have already begun their life together as a couple. Our grandson Alex is one of the fruits of their relationship, and David’s daughters Molly and Maeve fill out their lovely family.

Yesterday they made a new beginning, “[giving] themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings” (BCP 428).

They have already begun well, and they will find every day offers an opportunity to begin again, to recommit themselves to their life together.

Continued

David invited local musician Will Sprott of The Mumlers to sing a few songs for the guests who gathered for yesterday’s ceremony.

When Will sang, “Your friends say I’m a dog,” David’s brothers chuckled, but when the verse continued, “… and I just want to stay here with you,” I could see how Anna and David moved even closer to one another.

Staying put is the countercultural and the spiritual heart of marriage.

Staying with one person, “forsaking all others,” continuing to be faithful, is something that runs counter to the personal freedom that our society really values.

Promising to stay put, and choosing daily to stay with just one person in the face of 5 billion other options, is a strange thing to do.

I have always found it intriguing that the prayers for the couple in the marriage service were written by a monk of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

Monks and nuns make the same basic promise to stay put — it’s often called a vow of stability — and living each day under that promise is a key part of their growth into spiritual maturity.

For most of the rest of us, marriage is the place where that spiritual growth will happen, where dealing with one person every day rubs our rough places smooth and offers us the opportunity to become more mature.

Ended

That maturity is one of the key ends, or goals, of marriage.

In the final blessing over the couple, the priest prays “that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace” (BCP 431).

Beginning with the promise of faithfulness, continuing in the daily discipline of staying put, marriage also builds in the couple (we pray) “such fulfillment of … mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others” (BCP 429).

Along with the building of a home, a haven of blessing and peace where each person can grow and mature, another end of marriage is outward-looking care for others.

Anna and David’s family and friends testify to the love and care they already give so freely, and we pray that what they have begun anew will continue to bear fruit to the end.

This is my commandment

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I officiated at a wedding yesterday evening, where the couple chose John 15:9-12 as the Gospel reading.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus says to his disciples after the Last Supper, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

This morning, with Katherine and Jack still on my mind, I began Morning Prayer and started to read Psalm 119, which is appointed for today. Psalm 119, as you may know, is a sort of acrostic where each section of the psalm begins with a different letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet and where every verse contains a play on the word “commandment.”

I couldn’t help mentally reframing the Psalm in the light of Jesus’ commandment:

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the love of the Lord.

Happy are they who observe his love,
and seek him with all their heart.

Who never do any wrong,
but always walk in his love.

You laid down your love,
that we should fully keep it.

Oh, that my ways were made so direct
that I might keep your love! (Psalm 119:1-5 ed.)

I think this kind of love is what the former Pharisee Paul may have had in his mind as he wrote to the Ephesians.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:4-8)

Through baptism, we share in the life that Christ lives in the world, and it is through us that the good news of the free gift of God’s love is communicated to the world. In marriage, we see the couple’s life together as a sign of Christ’s love, and we pray that their mutual affection will overflow in love and concern for others (BCP 429).

May it be so for all of us.