Invisible and Unseen Real
It is perhaps significant that our world, the entire world, is confronted with a silent, invisible enemy that can only be confronted, at this point, by social isolation. My wife Carolyn and I had dinner with friends last night, so we did not isolate; there was one child, and six adults, a total of 7 so we were within the 10 person limit. We mostly practiced social distancing but probably made mistakes, like touching our face, or hugging someone, and if any one of us has the virus we likely infected each other.
Carolyn and I also walked to the grocery store yesterday and practiced social distancing and hand washing when we got home, but again if anyone in that store was infected, it is likely we were exposed or that we have already been exposed. We have both been in the grocery store at times when it was very crowded. The virus is here, and we are exposed, and this makes us all vulnerable.
The irony is that we can only connect with one another in a meaningful way when we are vulnerable and we are more vulnerable right now because of an invisible enemy that can only be defeated with social isolation. When we most need each other we cannot readily turn to each other. Virtual connecting through social media or faces on a screen is not actual, face to face in the same space connecting, no matter how we frame (no pun intended) it.
I am a spiritual person, I believe in an unseen reality best known, I believe through Jesus Christ. There are different expressions of a Christian experience of the unseen real, and they all have their benefits and disadvantages in expressing the truth about God. The primary expression includes a vulnerable Jesus who before He overcomes, He succumbs. Americans seem to like focusing on the overcoming not the succumbing part of the story, but the overcoming does not happen without the succumbing. The resurrection does not happen without the crucifixion. We do not have life unless we lose our life. And what life are we to lose?
With Covid-19, the virus that originated in China, our life as we know it has been overturned, upended and disrupted. You could say it has been lost and lost for an uncertain period as we don’t know when it will end. If we are not infected by the virus, we are affected by the virus. The entire world has succumbed to its effects; the silent, invisible and unseen virus has brought the entire world to its knees. And no one fired a shot.
One of the great creeds of the Christian faith is found in Philippians 2:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Maybe we can view this virus as a prophetic reminder that the Christian path is one of succumbing, being on our knees and becoming “nothing”, or, as in other translations, “he emptied himself”; and so we empty and humble ourselves, even unto death. There is little about us that embraces this, but the invisible and unseen has moved us down a path that can lead to deep connection with a God who loves us. When there is nothing left of us, there is only Him.
Considering Marriage Counseling or Divorce?
When you are considering who to see as a therapist, counselor, or marriage counselor it is one of the most important decisions you can make. There have been many instances where clients have experienced frustration and disappointment with previous counseling experiences. I am often amazed that they are willing to try counseling again. This is especially true with marriage counseling. Please make sure the counselor you choose has the experience, training, and track record that reassures you of a good counseling outcome.
If you are considering divorce and you decide to try marriage counseling before making a final decision there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all some statistics show that only about 10% of divorcing couples seek marriage counseling before ending their marriage. Couples are making one of the most life changing decisions that affects their children and entire families without consulting a professionally trained marital therapist or counselor. We don't hesitate to consult our car mechanic and even pay them hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to keep our car running. I recently had to replace a clutch in my Subaru for $1800 just before Christmas! Merry Christmas to me!
Please consult an experienced and trained marriage counselor or couples therapist before deciding on divorce. One caveat, beware if your counselor recommends divorce, it probably means they do not know what they are doing. Competent therapists and counselors know how to allow their clients to make their own decisions.
I have had two major surgeries in thirteen months, a hip and knee replacement. Both were more involved and challenging than I expected, but in different ways. Sixteen months into this structural makeover has made me aware of a few things but primarily a reminder that we never really know what is going to happen next. And yet the paradox is that we live mostly as if everything will remain the same or at least consistently similar. And most of the time it probably does, until it doesn’t.
This reminds me of a quote by John Muir (naturalist, responsible for the existence of national parks like Yellowstone) who said something like: “When you tug at a single thing in the universe you find it is attached to everything else.” You change the alignment of a body with a new knee and hip and it affects everything else and the consequences are not predictable. You literally are not the same person because you are faced with different challenges, some good, some not so good. The point is you are affected by tugging at a single thing.
I think this is why events like divorce are not good. In my spiritual framework, in Malachi 2:16 a book in the Old Testament, it is said that God hates divorce because it does violence. We often moralize about divorce or same sex marriage which only serves to alienate and separate us into tribal camps, but if we begin to understand that everything is connected, all of us, and that we never really do anything that affects only ourselves, we begin to have wisdom that how we live our lives are not isolated events and these events might do violence to one another. Love one another because everything is connected.
I recently read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden where a beautiful and powerful exegesis of the Cain and Abel story in Genesis 4 is found. East of Eden is based on this pivotal story in the Old Testament and Steinbeck presents a deep and thoughtful presentation of the human condition, specifically as an archetypal story of the human soul. He presents the murder of Abel as an act of rejection, jealousy, revenge, and guilt. “I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now—don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails. It is all there—the start, the beginning. One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides his secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world—and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt. The human is the only guilty animal…Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul—the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”
Steinbeck makes the brilliant point that in the story God did not condemn Cain for his unacceptable offering but simply that God preferred or liked Abel’s offering better. What Cain did not see, did not understand was that God was simply asking for a different offering, make another attempt, “If you do what is right will you not be accepted?” This hurt Cain and he felt rejected, and when we get hurt by rejection we almost always get angry and when we get angry we do violence of some kind, whether emotional or physical, and we feel bad for it, guilty for our actions which traps and ensnares us by a guilt that needs atonement, expiation of our guilt. This is a pattern that gets played out again and again in relationships, with couples, between parents and children, with friends and others that we deem important. It is an old story that resonates with truth; rejection is the hell we all fear. So please, love one another.
Definition of Marriage... “a lifelong monogamous relationship between a man and a women. According to the Bible, God designed marriage to reflect his saving love for us in Christ, to refine our character, to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union.” (The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy and Grace Keller 2011 p. 16.)
Tim and Grace Keller have given us a great gift in framing what marriage means “according to the Bible”, supported by research in the social sciences, and grounded in their experience as a married couple. The phrase “according to the Bible” might immediately set off fire alarms for many Christian and non Christian alike. Some will quickly discount anything said “according to the Bible”; it is unfortunate that many of us find it difficult to maintain an open mind to things we do not understand. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what marriage is and why marriage matters to our human condition.
This definition of marriage, once considered so obvious no one even had to state it,(even though most probably did not reflect on its deeper meaning), is now a provocative statement for many in our polarized society. To define marriage as a “lifelong monogamous relationship” seems out of touch with what really goes on in our culture yet there are deeply profound reasons and affects on our identity and well being. To even consider that “God designed” means that someone other than you has a plan and a purpose for marriage and for your life. This goes right against the current culture impulse that life is about a personal journey of individual discovery and fulfillment and means we have to listen to something other than our own will and desires.
The idea that marriage is “to reflect (God's) saving love for us in Christ” is a statement so full of meaning and import that we skim over it without comprehension, and yet it is a profound spiritual truth that radically changes who we are. It is so important that we take the time to glean what this means because it directly affects every facet of our lives; our health, wealth, and contentment. Any one that desires to experience His saving love needs only enter into relationship with Him.
That marriage affords us the opportunity “to refine our character” may seem quaint and catchy until we reflect on how much living with and loving another human being of the opposite sex demands. We literally cannot stay the same person we were when we got married if we want to stay married. Marriage demands that we grow and change in ways that do not trample on the needs and desires of another human being. Character, in this sense, is a moral condition that includes trustworthiness, loyalty, respect, fairness, caring and responsibility. Any one of these qualities is a treasure to possess as a part of our nature and has obvious ramifications for how others view and respond to us. Of all the character education programs that our institutions provide, marriage is probably the most effective with its intimate connection to our everyday life.
The importance to “create a stable human community for the birth and nurture of children” is well documented by social science research. Most of us are well aware of the disastrous effects of divorce on our children. The operative words here are “stable” and “community”. It means we provide a consistent, secure and safe place for our children to grow and develop in the company of parents who love them and are there for them. This requires of us to put their needs before ours, that we do this together as husband and wife, and in so doing we reflect the sacrificial love of God. The sense of gratification that parents experience from this is rewarding, even overwhelming.
The thought that all this is accomplished “by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union” is difficult to understand. Complementary here means that male and female are different but equally necessary and provides what the other lacks in a way that completes us. That is a mouthful of meaning. In a simple sense it means that we need each other in a similar way the physical world is composed of atoms. You and I and everything else in our physical world is composed of atoms. .The opposing charges of electrons and neutrons serve to attract and hold each other together forming an atom. Opposites attract and complement each other; the very nature and composition of our universe is based on this principle and so is our marital relationship. An enduring whole-life union
is the result of a successful marriage. To have another person who is different and unique commit their life to you is a blessing beyond expression, it is an experience so sublime, full of disappointment and wonder that poets struggle to capture it.
Get Married and Stay Married
Marriage is one of the best economic decisions you can make. “Less marriage means less income and more poverty,” says Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, who has linked as much as half of the income inequality in America to changes in family composition: single-parent families (mostly those with a high-school degree or less) are getting poorer while married couples (with educations and dual incomes) are increasingly well-off. (The Economist, June 2011).
It also pays to stay married. There are numerous reports, studies, and statistics that show the devastating affect divorce has on families and children. The devastation is across every facet of life; physical health, financial wealth, emotional and psychological well being. No part of life is unaffected. Here are some examples:
Studies show that women experiencing divorce face roughly a 30 percent decline in the standard of living they enjoyed while married and men show a 10 percent decline. The consistency of this finding caused one researcher to conclude: “However ‘prepared’ for marital disruption women increasingly may be, they are not prepared in ways sufficient to cushion the economic cost.” 1
Life expectancies for divorced men and women are significantly lower than for married people (who have the longest life expectancies). 3
A recent study found those who were unhappy but stay married were more likely to be happy five years later than those who divorced.4
The health consequences of divorce are so severe that a Yale researcher concluded that “being divorced and a nonsmoker is [only] slightly less dangerous than smoking a pack a day and staying married.” 5
After a diagnosis of cancer, married people are most likely to recover, while the divorced are least likely to recover,6 indicating that the emotional trauma of divorce has a long-term impact on the physical health of the body.
Men and women both suffer a decline in mental health following divorce, but researchers have found that women are more greatly affected.7 Some of the mental health indicators affected by divorce include depression, hostility, self-acceptance, personal growth and positive relations with others.
Need I say more? Get married and stay married!
I am a child of the sixties, which makes me a baby boomer, and ever since my high school and college years there seems to have been a concentrated push in our society for individual freedom. I used to be a devout follower of individual freedom until I realized how personally and socially damaging it is to follow your own way. I hurt myself and I definitely hurt other people. At the time, I never really thought about “following individual freedom'', I was just living like most everyone I knew was living.. Most of us, when we are followers of individual freedom do not think of ourselves as selfish; we are living for a greater cause: “individual freedom”, an American ideal, the right to live our way. We only see our selfishness in the wake of debris we leave behind in the damage we have done in others lives. I think it is a fundamental problem that plaques many of our societal problems today. It certainly is part of the struggle to redefine marriage and undermine its purpose and meaning.
David Blankenhorn in The Future of Marriage frames this struggle as “marriage as an individual matter” vs. “marriage as a social institution”. He describes this fundamental change in how many Americans view the meaning of marriage as the rise in the belief that the couple comes before the vow. This, of course, is individual freedom at its finest; rather than anything being greater than me, or us, such as marriage having a greater purpose and meaning to have and raise children so that our species thrives, is replaced with what ever we decide is meaningful to “us”. This is so sixties bred; and so destructive to our society! Individual freedom lovers rarely consider what is good for the “other”, like children.
Consider what he says: “On their wedding day (if the vow comes first), couples become accountable to an ideal of marriage that is outside of them and bigger than they are.” This is a profoundly important statement and one that is totally lost on followers of individual freedom: “Something is bigger, more important, and outside of me? There is no way I am going to be accountable, allow something to influence and inform me on how to live.” This perspective does not allow the vow, the promise of committed love, safety, protection, and help to one another to influence and shape the relationship. There is nothing for the relationship to hold on to, to count on, to depend on, to turn to; it is whatever seems right, or expedient, or pertinent to the moment or the need. There is no bearing, no guidance, just....whatever!
The thing that followers of this way fail to realize is that not only is this destructive, it is an incredibly lonely place to be. You are on your own making all your own decisions. The wisdom from an institution like marriage that has developed over 5,000 years is unavailable. It is all up to me, or the two of us. All because we want our own way. I don't know about you, but I want others with me along the way. It is fraught with challenges and dangers that we are not prepared to deal with alone. This truly is a madness of our age when we think we know better than something that has stood the test of time.
I recently took my son Seth on a music school audition trip to Nashville. We live in Lexington, Ky so the drive usually takes about 3 ½ hours. Seth is a great kid, he has a kind, gentle heart, just like his mother. I love his mind probably because it reminds me of myself. Seth thinks, really thinks about things. I love that. He and I can have great discussions about life, literature, contemporary events, and of course music. He knows a lot about music; I don't but like most younger people that listen to blues, jazz, and rock he enjoys the music of my era, the sixties and seventies. I do know something about that music so we have a lot to talk about and listen to.
For the round trip to Nashville and back of 7 hours we listened to Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, and Frank Zappa. A lot of Frank Zappa. Most of you have probably never heard of Frank Zappa. I asked an older gentlemen at a convenience store in Bardstown, Ky if he knew that Frank Zappa drank gallons of coffee every day. Frank Zappa was not an illegal substance abuser but he definitely abused caffeine. The guy looked at me with a blank, confused expression. I told him it really didn't matter if he knew who Frank Zappa was but since we were talking about how much coffee we all drink I thought it was relevant. Apparently, he didn't.
Seth and I talked about Frank Zappa's lack of drug abuse. He was unlike probably every other music performer of that era. Drugs and alcohol seem to go with being musicians of the kind of music we both like. Listen to Frank Zappa's music some time; you will have a hard time believing he was not on some illegal substance; some of it is pretty bizarre stuff. And yet Zappa was one of the most talented and innovative musicians of his time.
I love talking with Seth about music, not so much because it's music but because it is his passion. I am so thankful he has passion. I can help nurture this passion he has for performing and becoming a musician. What an honor and a blessing it is for a father to help his son nurture his passion. The operative word here is “his” passion. My passion would have been for Seth to be a great swimmer (he could have been but he hated competitive swimming, told me at 15 he was done). Like all parents, and maybe especially fathers, I had to learn to start following my son in his direction rather than do the directing. Hard lesson for an aggressive ex football player like me. I am used to making things happen. It has been good for me to learn to follow Seth's passion. It has helped me learn to be a better servant and I think a better father. At least that is what Seth told me. “Good trip Dad”, he said, “really good father-son bonding time”. Music to my ears!
I am reading David Blankenhorn's book The Future of Marriage, a self bought Christmas present. It is a timely read in light of California's Proposition 8, that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, constitutional challenge in federal court.
Articles are appearing in the media regarding this, including one by Edwin Meese, President Reagan's former Attorney General, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/opinion/11meese.html and one by Terry Jeffrey, a conservation columnist http://townhall.com/columnists/TerryJeffrey/2010/01/13/do_three_people_have_a_right_to_marry_each_other. Both of these articles support the traditional definition of marriage that Proposition 8 upholds.
The Future of Marriage is a worth reading if you are interested in understanding what in the world all the fuss is about as to why we have to have statewide propositions or constitutional challenges on what marriage is. The fuss is whether we get to define marriage any way we want to, to whatever particular individual preference we have, or whether marriage is a standard greater than our individual preferences that affirms the historical basic organization of society, the family as a mother and a father for every child. As Mr. Blankenhorn eloquently, gently, and completely without gay bashing presents; marriage is between a man and a women because every society in the last five thousand years has figured out it is best for our children to have both a father and a mother. And because it is best for children it is best for that particular culture's ability to survive and thrive.
It is apparent, as Mr. Blankenhorn repeatedly points out, that those of us who are married have done plenty on our own to punch holes in providing children with both a father and a mother in the same home. We really don't need any more help hurting our children by being unable to live together and raise them together. Many heterosexuals live by the premise that my life is my own and I can define it anyway I want and if my partner, spouse, or whom ever I am with, can no longer agree on how to define it together, then we can just move on. It is all about me.
This is an age old battle between self will and a will or purpose that is greater than ourselves. The legal battle over Proposition 8, or the battle that homosexuals are waging for acceptance in society via marriage, or any other battle that pits individuals ability to define standards any way that suits them over and against an external standard that is there because it is the best bet for our "pursuit of (personal and individual) happiness", is really a struggle over what is good for us.
What is good for us is learning to live for someone and something greater and other than ourselves. The most destructive thing we can do to ourselves and to others is to live as if our life is our own. We must learn to balance the freedom of individual choice with what is good for us individually and as a society.