Archive for the 'Marriage' Category

The State of “This Holy Estate”–Part One

We’ve just returned from a week-long trip centered around a family wedding. We hadn’t seen that side of the family for three years, and then mostly at funerals! The night before the wedding my wife and I drove around Tulsa, OK looking for the place we wanted to eat dinner. We struggled because a) we didn’t know what we wanted, and b) we didn’t know the city very well. We wound up in a nondescript, survivable-looking diner. Dianna had an omelet and I had 4-way spaghetti and chili—a Cincinnati staple in Oklahoma! Business was slow, so our waiter had time to talk. As she does with everyone who doesn’t look like an ax-murderer, Dianna immediately began showing “Harold” pictures of our 18-month old grandson. He returned the favor with a picture of his year-old son “Timothy”. Like every father, “Harold” has high hopes for his son. “Harold” referred to Timothy’s mother as his “roommate”.

As we talked, a whole puzzle’s worth of pieces fell into place. A few years ago I realized I was doing far fewer weddings than earlier in my ministry. I knew it wasn’t just because I no longer served Las Vegas First UMC (now closed) where we’d done 100+ weddings a year–down from 1000+ in the ‘50’s! The change reflected the fact that aging congregations like the last two I’d served had fewer marrying-age members. It also reflected the changing state of marriage in our culture.. Compared to a few decades ago, a much smaller proportion of the population is married, first marriages happen at a later age, cohabitation has increased exponentially, both divorce and out-of-wedlock births have become almost routine. One sentence in one of those many articles on “the future of marriage” has stuck with me. It pinpoints my greatest concern about the state of “this holy estate”: “The problem is not divorce but failure of families to form.”

Now I’m not going back to that restaurant to shake my holier-than-thou finger at “Harold” and tell him to either marry his “roommate” or get out because he’s living in sin. If I had the chance, I might eat there more often than is good for me in order to build a relationship. Harold’s an interesting guy. I know there’s more than we discovered in that brief conversation. I’d love to encourage and support him toward realizing his hopes and dreams for his son. “Forming a family” will be crucial to “Timothy”s” future.

We went to the wedding the next night. A new family was formed, the newest in that large, extended family. This tribe is becoming a rarity in our moving-too-fast world. They’re a large, strong, close, upright, fairly religious bunch. If you attack any one of them, the rest will be all over you! They’re also very human, and a product of the times. They’ve experienced the struggles that confront every family, including sickness and death, domestic conflict, divorce, and babies born before their family is fully formed. But even in difficult circumstances they work very hard to provide for the children. Even where the arrangements are anything but traditional, they do their best to form “family” around them.

That’s my concern about the state of “this holy estate”. Too often we’re failing to “form families” effectively. When that happens, everybody suffers. The children who deserve it the least pay the highest price. But ultimately when we allow the next generation to suffer, the consequences ripple through our whole society. We cannot allow this trend to continue unchecked. How can we do a better job of helping families form—strong, healthy, stable, nurturing, life-giving families?

As you might have guessed, I have some ideas. I’ll share from you. Who’s making a difference? What’s actually working? Where does this whole issue of “forming family” fit into the mission of the church and the lifestyle of discipleship?