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.
"God does not lead the soul by shaming it, just as a good parent would not shame his or her child. It doesn't work anyway. We have all done it at times, and if we were raised in a punitive way our selves, we still tend to think that is the way to motivate people--by shaming them or making them feel guilty." Richard Rohr
Most if not all of the struggles, mental and emotional difficulties, relationship problems that I see in my counseling practice are because of shame. The road back from shame is long and difficult. We must learn to love one another and love never includes shame.
What are the consequences of shame? We stop trusting, we shut down or attack, self protect and are deeply afraid of ever being vulnerable again. We become defensive, vigilant, believing we are flawed and patently unlovable. Shame is like being in a box that we can't see to find our way out of and are too afraid to even try. What can open this box? Only love, unconditional, sacrificial love that breaks through our defenses and says "You are cherished more than you can imagine. You are more important to me than I am to myself." Jesus said: "Love one another as I have loved you."
In reading writings on the state of the American marriage and family it is difficult not to feel discouraged if you believe in the sanctity of marriage, or the sanctity of life, for that matter. Sanctity has to do with something done before and with God. Marriage then becomes something more than a legal act, it becomes a holy union made in the presence of, and under the authority of God. It is not just “you and me” getting together, we are joining together as a witness to God's nature. The love between a woman and a man in marriage is representative of God's love. The love I have and express for my wife, and her love for me, is to be something like the love of God.
Current writings on the state of marriage seem to agree that a focus on individualism or an individual's right to express their unique selves is a major factor in the increasing divorce rate. In other words, our culture is placing a premium on my right for what I need, what I desire, what I want to become; paraphrasing Me and Bobby McGee: “individualism is just another word for what I want to do.” The other person then becomes nothing but a means for meeting my needs and when that no longer happens, I move on. Barbara Whitehead in her book The Divorce Culture refers to this as the “unfettered self”.
This same line of thought and behavior affects the sanctity of life. If life in a womb is not something I desire or is an inconvenience for my current plans, I stop it from becoming a life, I abort it. The right of a woman to determine what she does with her body is an expression of the same cultural impulse of the unfettered self. The individual decides and acts in his or her best interests, the rights and needs of the other takes second place.
I often listen to political conversations from media pundits and their guests. I happened to catch a segment of a conversation on the radio, I think with David Gregory on Meet the Press. He had Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, the past Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, and the current Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell. They were discussing problems with our economy and the associated political environment and potential solutions. One of the conclusions they reached was that the divisive rancor between political parties contributes to an inability to make decisions for the common good. David Gregory asked what can be done and none of these distinguished and brilliant men had an answer; they all agreed they have never seen anything like this in their lifetime. No one will give an inch to work together for the good of all; it is about maintaining, representing and winning a point of view. It is the same cultural impulse of doing what is best for me, for my party, or my position, not what is best for our country.
It is of course nothing new in history that the individual acts in his or her own self interests. What is different is how embedded it is in the laws of the land. We have legislated no fault divorce to make it easy to dissolve unwanted unions and it is legal to abort unwanted pregnancies. We even bail out institutionalized greed, holding no one accountable; doing what is in the best interest of me is both legal and profitable.
So what is an the answer to David Gregory's question? Restoring our culture to an ethic of love is one answer. The ethic of serving or deferring to the other over me is the basic position of love; love is always other directed, not self directed. Our society is losing this ethic, the impulse to serve the other, to sacrifice and dutifully meet the obligations we have in marriage, family, and country. We have lost the primacy of the obligated self developed from the presence of love; and I believe it is destroying our country.