Justice and Mercy in the Disposable Marriage Era

1. This is the scripture du jour: "what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." It's been the scripture of the decade, perhaps of the millennia, and it's made its way into our collective consciousness. Thousands of bloggers cite it each week. Preachers spur you to action with it. I saw it on a tattoo a month ago, with a minor artistic variation on theme--act justli, love merci, and walk humbli. (It was, I think, the tattoed's attempt to embody the text, to say "justice, mercy, and humility start with I," a statement which my inner grammarian rejects.)

Justice and mercy--they're the darlings of our moment. (Humility seems to get the short shrift.)

But consider this: there is justice; there is mercy; then there is only the mere idea of justice and mercy.

2. I'm on the precipice of my fortieth year (a vertigo-inducing precipice to be sure) and so, I've now lived through a trend or two. Among them are these: the plastic and pink 80s; the grunge era; the back to the Back To The Land Movement; the sustainable everything decade; the new social justice movement; and the era of gnarly, unkempt beards (there are, of course, hundreds more, and some of these certainly intersect). In this--the year I cross the threshold of middle age--I feel as though I'm living through a new trend: the Disposable Marriage Era (let's call it the DME).

(2a. That is not to say that there aren't some very good reasons for couples to call it quits (and I know, I know--this is such an un-Christian statement). I've seen marriages in which the men abused the women (run, run, run, I've said). I've seen marriages in which the women abused the men (run, run, run, I've said). Cheaters have done what cheaters do, and how can any man tolerate that sort of pain? You may have lived through this sort of situation, and of course, this is not what I'm invoking when I write of the DME. There are reasons to head for the hills, to leave a marriage behind. Even the scriptures seem to indicate as much.)

3. The confluence of the Justice movement and the DME are a curious thing. After all, what could be more just than honoring your spouse? What could be more merciful that practicing forgiveness and walking into the light of the vows you made all those years ago? (Walking into vows is a continual, sometimes harder-than-hell practice.) What could be more humble that being splayed at the feet of your bonded lover? And yet, why do the marriages of the modern faith-bearers (sometimes justice seekers) fall to the firing squad of the DME?

4. I've heard it over and over again--I deserve to be happy or We're both such different people now or I just need to be who I am. I've heard it out of one side of folks' mouths, while out of the other I've heard these things--Buy fair trade fabric or Engage racial reconciliation or Love the orphan.

Happiness--as if that's the highest ideal.

Change--as if our vows don't follow us.

Self-actualization--as if we don't lay some of that aside at the marriage altar.

5. So many of us work, work, work to reconcile the land, the races, society to the orphan, and these are good, noble, virtuous things. These things embody acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly. But what could it look like if we treated marriage as a justice issue? How might we embody marital reconciliation even as we work to reconcile the land, the races, society to the orphan?

What if we asked the same questions of our marriages we ask in the pursuit of justice and mercy:

Am I (are we) versatile? 

Is our marital course sustainable?

Are we creating something lasting, something with longevity, perhaps something permanent and beautiful?

This, I think, might be the way to draw us from the DME and into something with sticking power. It might turn our mass-produced and plastic vows into something more elemental, more life-giving, more human.



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Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison (Part II)

Last night I shared a living room with good folks who are doing the very best they know how in light of the trials of this-here present life. They are biblically literate, strong-hearted believers who have found themselves in various and sundry disadvantageous positions. I suppose that no one (no not one, no not one) was promised an easy go of it, and I suppose it's the difficult go that proves one's true mettle. All mettles aside, though, I woke up last night with Mozart's Kyrie running amok in my noggin. It sounded something like this:

Thinking this kind of circadian-musical interruption to be some sort of a sign, I mustered some prayers for the friends who shared my living room (both last night and in nights gone by). In the event that you suppose me some kind of spiritual giant, think again. My prayers at this hour tend to be little more than a short series of "have mercies" stemming from some well-buried Catholic-Anglican roots.

Though the names and situations of last night's prayer were different than those previously prayed, I was reminded this morning of a piece I wrote in August of 2011. I'm re-posting it here today in the event that one of you might need something along these lines.


Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison

Titus Lee came quietly, squeaking out a mere monosyllabic cry before being passed to his mother’s chest. His eyes are like unrefined coal, blue-black with flecks of brown around the edges. He has dark wisps of hair, olive skin, and delicate fingers. He is the fullest of all potentials.

Lord Have Mercy.

Jimmy called last week. He’d been caught in a series of affairs, he said. It had started with a colleague, moved to an internet lover, rose to a crescendo with a Craigslist posting. Jimmy called less to tell me that he was sorry and more to tell me that I might be hearing some things around town. And by the way, could I help him a little here and there with the legalities of the situation, he asked. There are always legalities.

Christ Have Mercy.

This morning I woke to the sound of the pounding iron fist. Flashes of lightening popped like exploding halogen bulbs and the walls of our tiny apartment shook. The rains have come after too many months without. Two miles away the community farm is coming back to life, and the farmhands are exhaling a collective sigh of relief. The corn and tomatoes have long since withered, but the fall crops are singing praise and promise. He makes all things new.

Lord Have Mercy.

*Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Cynicism, (g)ods, and Crescent Slivers

If you were made of yarn, if your character was represented by different colors--red being love, green being envy, and so on and so forth--and if a loose thread of chartreuse cynicism hung off the end of your big toe and a passer-by yanked, would you completely unravel? If you were to separate your lower case (g)ods from the things that will forever remain, if you were to collect them into two separate piles and set a match to those which will eventually burn anyway, would you have anything left to show?

If profiles were made of faith, hope, and love, if virtues could cast shadows against walls, would you be the tallest man on earth, or would you cast little more than a crescent's sliver?

These are the things I'm asking myself these days. These are the things that make me grateful for a a wide-berthed mercy.

The Goodness of God (A Song)

I was called a man of faith not too long ago, and it seemed ironic to me in the moment. Lately, faith is hard. When I was a child, I recited my mass responses in a sing-song manner--"I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." In those days, it seemed little more than a repetitive practice perpetuated by the Sisters of Mercy, nuns who struck the fear of Christ in the fourth-grade hearts of the non-participating. Some might say this kind of rote memorization is little more than manipulative programming; others might say it is training up a child in the way he should go. I'm not sure about either of those sentiments, but I have come to find the words of Psalm 27 in the granaries of my memory lately, and they have been a comfort.

It's been a long five months. We've been through the ups and downs of raising a sick child and there are days when I go back to the Psalms to remind myself of the goodness of God. It is a constant effort to recall the truth, to speak it to myself even when the easiest notions of God trend more toward agnosticism or deism. It's a constant effort to remember the power of the Gospel--that Christ is all-sufficient.

I've written this piece as a reminder. It's simple, much the way my faith feels these days.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MyQnIfyzYY&w=420&h=315]

*Amber is sharing a brief Titus update at her site for those of you who are following along.

Sometimes the Night Was Beautiful

For those of you who read regularly, you know it's been a bit quieter around here. I scratched some words I rather enjoyed and shared them at The High Calling and Tweetspeak, but otherwise, I've been keeping to myself a bit more these days. There are reasons for this. I could write a good many things today about life, death, religion, and America. But I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to share another's words with you. This pretty much sums it up.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2KOCgC8DnU]

I hope you live in peace and mercy today. I hope you'll cast some prayers about, but if you can't do that, I hope you'll sing.