Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holding Out or Holding On

Something incredibly bizarre happened last weekend, something I've never experienced and was certainly not prepared for.
My baby sister got married. 
Have you ever read the book Pride & Prejudice? Or seen the A&E film (the one with Colin *sigh* Firth). There's a moment in the story when Kitty Bennet, Elizabeth's younger sister **SPOILER ALERT** returns home after eloping with the notorious Mr. Wickham (not to be confused with my good friend Phil). The scandal and subsequent embarassment of the elopment is forgotten when Mrs Bennett realizes that she has, finally, gotten one of her daughters married off. The self-satisfied Kitty returns home and snubs her elder sisters, stating that she deserves a place of greater honor because she has at least got herself a husband.

Well, that was not what my weekend was like! Though the past few months may have been more sprinkled with well-intentioned words of encouragement, concern for my well-being, unsolicited advice, and the notorious set-up offer than usual; the whole experience was surprisingly painless.

It did, however bring up my usual musings on the cultural role of marriage within a modern American Christian context.

Biblically, I get it. I don't know about your church, but, in my world, we like to talk about marriage. We start in grade school and never really stop. I happen to think that's a good thing. So yes, biblically, I get it. What I do not get is this sense of impending doom one experiences as thirty approaches more quickly than a suitable mate. I don't get why I hear the phrase, "You're such a nice girl, why aren't you married?" so often, as if there is some kind of causal relationship between being "nice" and getting married. Don't mean girls get married too?

What confuses me even more is that Paul says in 1 Cor 7:7-8 that he wished all people were given the gift of staying single. Being called to remain unmarried is a gift from God! Yet if I were to say that I felt called to keep my heart, head, and hands (what's the 4th H?) completely devoted to the Lord, I know that many would feel sad for me. Shouldn't that rather be a cause for joy?

Now I understand that those who have joyful, godly, fulfilling marriages (and many who don't) simply wish that joy upon me. I am grateful for that, I am intensely blessed by that. To be honest, not many are called to remain single; I really do believe that marriage is a marvelous gift from God, a foundational and sacred practice in the church, and it should be honored.

More importantly, I think it is the foundational organizational unit of the church. Many of the criteria for leaders mentioned in the pastoral epistles has to do with the health of one's family unit. Much of the bible in general is devoted to instruction on the family. The same is true of many more tribally structured cultures. As we've "developed" into more complex nations with complex hierarchal structures of business and government, this unit has be come less and less significant, I think.

Nevertheless, I happen to believe that as a society and as a church, the family is the fascia that holds together every distinct piece of who we are as a body of people.

So don't think I'm trying to upend the marriage basket. I just don't understand exactly why it is so tragic that God would call someone not to be part of it. I really thing that it has less to do with the social or spiritual importance of family and more to do with the fact that marriage is the norm. Atypical or abnormal occurences are often viewed as wrong or sad.

That's all well and good, but when we put something that is socially important into our unofficial practical "theology," things that WE make important get mixed up with the things God says are important and that is never healthy. We have to be careful not to put cultural norms or "the way we do things" on the same level as spiritual truths. Its tantamount to make gods of ourselves (or gods of our "normal" way of doing things). That, friends, is called idolatry in the "Insider" lingo.
But we are not all the same, children. Our lack of sameness does not invalidate our value, so don't you fret...

And Mazel Tov, Emmie Grace!

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