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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How to Write Unafraid

I've been in a bit of a back and forth with a couple of friends, and we're asking, [tweetherder text="What would you write if you wrote unafraid? #WriteUnafraid"]"what would you write if you wrote unafraid?”[/tweetherder] Perhaps a more universal way of stating the proposition (so it applies not only to writers) is this: [tweetherder text="What would you say if you could cut the crap? #WriteUnafraid"]what would you say if you could cut the crap?[/tweetherder] It’s crass; I know. But it’s the sort of question that begs honesty--maybe too much honesty. I've been considering the question, really pondering it. I’ve been asking whether I hold back too much, or whether I write what I think folks would rather hear, or whether I’m namby-pamby with my words. If there’s anything I’d rather not be, it’s namby-pamby, so last night I wrote out my truth and posted it on my Facebook page.

My two cents went something like this:

If I were unafraid, I'd write that I'm weary of circumnavigating the revolving door of issues fed to us by the twenty-four hour news cycle. The tyranny of the urgent strikes lightning quick, sparks a flash fire of concern that sweeps across every social channel--CNN, Fox News, Facebook, Twitter. I’m a consumer (and sometimes a producer) in those cultural channels, so I react, spend my social capital on the tragedy du jour, the politics of the day, or the fad of the season. Sometimes I give the appearance of caring without caring much at all. Refugees, minority rights, genocide, terrorism, conservative/liberal politics--they're all subject to my whimsical feigned furiousness. Facebook posts, tweets, perhaps an article or two—I might spin yarns about my concern for the martyred, malnourished, or mistreated though I am functionally ignorant of the circumstances. Hoping to be first out of the blocks, I go to where the people are and shout, "here I am; listen to my opinion," or "check out how informed I am.”

Truth is, I too often care more about the appearance of concern than I do the condition of my capacity to give love or otherwise accept it. Too often my reactions to the news of the day are simply that—reactions. Too often I don’t approach the pressing social issues of our generation with the sobriety of spirit born only in quiet prayer and mediation. And so, I find myself bouncing from one issue to the next, never making an impact in any of them, notwithstanding the occasional fifty spot I might funnel through a donation website.

I'm a tennis ball Christian. Watch me bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce. Watch me entertain, or hope to entertain.

If I were writing unafraid, I'd ask the church this: are we still enough to notice where the Spirit blows? Are we stopping long enough to examine our motives—especially as it relates to social justice issues—to reflect on the whether we're living from the deep well of love or the shallow well of the cool? I'd ask whether we know our neighbors, whether we care to know our new neighbors.

And to those who are living it out good-and-proper, who are paving the way of social concern and justice with genuine spiritual love? I'd beg them to keep showing us how its done. Keep working from the well of contemplation and teach us how to love well, without return. Teach us the Godward path.

And after all of that what would I write? I think I'd write that I want a bowl of Lucky Charms, and I'd call it a night.