Do you ever hear the debates about how laws here in the United States are understood and applied today, and the debaters argue what the original intention of the framers of the constitution was and how far we have drifted from that? It occurs to me there are lots of areas like that.
I am not from a formal or “high” church tradition, so don’t really pay a lot of attention to the church calendar (or liturgical calendar) that some other churches use. Today is celebrated in many churches as Ash Wednesday, the marker for the beginning of Lent, which is a season to reflect on one’s life prayerfully with repentance and humility to prepare for Easter. For recent days and weeks, New Orleans has made the headlines again with their Mardi Gras celebration, which ended last night on “Fat Tuesday.” Lots of people really enjoy those floats and celebrations. And yet, though I cannot say exactly how it got to be the way it is, the current practice seems to have become, “Lent is coming when we are supposed to deny ourselves, so let’s have one last party bash before it starts.”
Somehow, I doubt that the kind of things that happen with Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans or down in Rio de Janeiro were what church leaders had in mind when they originally created the season of Lent, don’t you? In fact, I wonder what percentage of the people who were involved in Mardi Gras will be as enthusiastically involved in the reflective and repentant tradition of Lent. It is kind of like priorities got all twisted around somehow, it seems to me. But this blog isn’t about Mardi Gras and Lent, it’s about how things so often get twisted around from what was originally intended.
For instance, marriage has gotten twisted around, too. And I don’t mean by the current debates in our culture of what does and does not constitute a legal marriage. Instead, I am referring to husbands and wives who marry, but only to a point. That is, they get married and will stay that way as long as things don’t get too hard. If they get too hard, then they will simply divorce and find somebody else to marry and hope that doesn’t get too hard, too. That is not the same as,
“’till death do you part,” is it? Marriages have wonderful times in them, but sometimes things DO get difficult, and those times require extra hard work and commitment to get through them. That, it seems to me, is part of the original design of marriage, too: for a husband and wife to have a life partner with whom they can face all the trials of life. Sometimes to be able to do so requires serious marriage counseling, and may take years to work through, but marriage is about that kind of partner commitment.
Another way marriage has gotten twisted around has to do with the way couples treat one another. Sadly, some in the Christian tradition, have decided that since Ephesians 5 mentions that the wife is supposed to submit to the husband, then that means the husband can live in the home like a dictator, issuing orders that nobody should question or disobey. Somehow those folks never seem to notice that just a few verses before it says that they are to submit TO ONE ANOTHER, or that what is expected of the husband is that he lay down his life and make his wife the top priority for his protection, support and love. And, in extreme cases, that dictator may even feel justified in using physical force to beat into submission the wife who questions him. In a similar way, sometimes individuals choose to have a twisted sort of partnership, one in which one partner is blamed for everything that goes wrong and considered the cause of all the problems. It is hard to counsel with such individuals, because they are so often unwilling to look at themselves and their own actions or change.
Divorce has also become twisted. The Bible makes clear provision for divorce, even to the point of prescribing the ceremony by which it is to be done. However, it isn’t presented as the solution to the, “we’ve grown apart” syndrome. A couple who has “grown apart” has the choice available to them to “grow back together,” if they are willing to put for the effort. In other words, divorce wasn’t intended merely as a way out for couples who don’t want to work through hard times. It is for those marriages in which something has become so twisted that one partner is being extremely mistreated or abandoned. Perhaps that is why the ceremony has the wife spit in the man’s face! It is her chance to show the man has not lived up to his obligations. And that particular ceremony makes plain that for a marriage to truly work, both parties have to be willing to try, which often is not the case.
I wonder how things would be if couples seeking a divorce (excepting those where one partner’s physical safety is at high risk), would be required by the court to first go through at least a year’s (or maybe two) worth of intensive marriage counseling with no incidents of adultery allowed in that time. And maybe have the counselor sign off that both individuals really were trying to follow the advice provided. Because really, isn’t that more the idea of when divorce should be allowed, only as an extremely last resort, instead of simply a way to get out of the hard things? It’s like we want the Mardi Gras, just don’t make us go through the self-denial and introspection of Lent.
I think there are lots of things that we allow to move far from the original intent. Church buildings that have become so important that its carpet is more protected than the struggling family next door. Or communities of faith that have moved from support and faith groups into cliques of insiders and outsiders. Churches develop a specific perspective, which turns into a denomination and then can become an encumbrance instead of an assisting development.
I wonder if there are things in your life (and mine) in which you have strayed from the original design and intent, things that have led you down paths that are not helpful. Maybe this would be a good day to consider those things, whether it is in the area of personal habits, work ethic, spiritual life or personal relationships. It is a good thing every now and again to double check whether we have allowed our lives to go awry from the things we know to be true and good. But double checking isn’t nearly as important as doing something to make the necessary changes!
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