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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