Saturday, August 16, 2014

Courtship Didn't Work For Me, A Straw Man Has Been Thoroughly Hung and Other Sundries

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.   For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” - Galatians 6:1-9

Courtship didn’t work for me.  Based on what I read these days, I still can’t decide if we ever actually engaged in that particular activity...but in any case, it didn’t work.  To be clear, in saying so, I do not intend to communicate in the spirit of a rebel or a legalist.

My family and I always thought we would “court” to get to Christian marriage because we perceived the concept to encompass many sound biblical principles. We found over time how nebulous the convention was to many and how obsolete the term had become, having been applied to such a number of widely varying philosophies.  Because we didn’t find ourselves quite up to snuff in practice or original enough to come up with a good plan on our own we decided to  “be creative” and check the word of God for the principles that could help us in a philosophy of marriage.  We called what we determined as an approach to getting married in a God-glorifying manner “courtship” at times and an “exploration process” at others for the sake of simplicity...and found to our chagrin how little simplicity those terms actually afforded us.

I recently read this article: Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed together with my family and I was disappointed and disturbed to say the least.  Not because I don’t agree with most of what the author said.  It is in fact irrelevant whether I agree with him or not.  I was troubled, rather by the nature of its attitude in the light of its ready peers.  The following is my humble rebuttal.  I write it in the knowledge that it will step on toes.  I can’t apologize for the truth since it does not belong to me, but I submit myself to the righteous Judge of all things to condemn my error.

Regardless of the degree to which our family actually fit the mold of what common consensus calls courtship, we were often classed among the courting “breed”. For a culture that takes pride in being tolerant, I’m convinced I could surprise many with the judgmental, pre-conceived notions that were applied to us by default when people looked in from the outside on our family.  I supposed we gave them some reason to wonder at us.  After all...I was never pursued by a man for fun, romance, or anything else until I was nearly 25 years old.  At that point in my life, my family didn’t socialize in a community with young people my age and I didn’t even know of anyone eligible who lived within two days drive of our farm.

It seems I had God by the tail...outsmarted and thwarted were any of his plans for my life or my marriage.  All because I chose not to date.  Don’t get me wrong.  I wanted to get married...oh yes.  I prayed about it...I even wept about it.  But it seems God withheld my heart’s desire from any case I “missed out” on marriage along with all the fun, happiness and casual all-American relationships that my peers had because I was stubborn.

Our family was stubborn and I chief among them as they will tell you.  Characteristically determined-and-resilient stubborn or just downright-dig-my-heels-in-and-won’t-budge stubborn.  We stubbornly decided to give God the power to arrange my marital fate.  Stubbornly I placed myself under my parents jurisdictional authority and stubbornly I prayed for a spouse in the Lord’s timing.  I admitted that God didn’t owe me anything...not happiness or fun or comfort or social success or friends or a spouse or children.  I submitted myself to him knowing that no matter what I chose to do or which methods or rules or formulas I applied to my life, he was still sovereign and had the power to give or take away as he saw fit.  Job understood this and it should be our attitude as well:
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” - Job 1:20-22
Just as my family suspected, courtship did not provide me with anything...because it didn’t owe me anything, nor was it meant to get me anything...any more than dating was.  The dirty little secret about both of those ideologies is… they don’t work!  Neither will make you happy, fulfill your dreams, make you comfortable, win you everyone’s approval or get you a perfectly suitable spouse who is guaranteed not to fail you, hurt you or divorce you!

Entitlement is a deadly sin that does not become the Christian.  My whole generation and I are beset by this ill which threatens to violently and permanently blind us.  When the Proverbs of Solomon talk about ravens plucking out eyes, these are the object of his warning:
“There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers.“There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth.“There are those—how lofty are their eyes,how high their eyelids lift!” - Proverbs 30:11-13
Don’t listen, gentle reader, when the wisdom of men tells you that you have been cheated all along...that one method or another with a little list of rules on one side or a little list of liberties on the other will waft you right to the altar with a light heart.  The man who encourages a patronizing, barely tolerant or judgmental attitude towards parents has forgotten the admonition to obey parents in the Lord. Honoring parents was not a was a command by Almighty God. When he gave it he identified himself as "the Lord your God." The truth is, we can insert a method, a person or a circumstance and say it failed us, but all are beholden for their effect to the will of God...and God never owed you anything...and you owe him everything.
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. - Galatians 6:3
I did the research.  It didn’t take long.  The thing(s) we call courtship are nowhere in scripture.  Neither is dating.  So like the toothbrush you scrubbed your pearly-whites with this morning and the fork you will use to imbibe comestibles at dinner, the “hello and how are you” employed to greet your neighbor and the blinker on your vehicle to note a courteous lane-change, neither convention for approaching marriage can be rubber-stamp guaranteed.  They don’t have to be and they don’t have to “work”.  I might add that in one sense, many of us should wonder why they are even worth arguing about.

The author of the above article claims to want a few things...and “freedom” was one of them.  “...the glory days when men were free” and “could fall in love and pick their own spouses.”
It is, I admit appealing to a part of feels good to let the imagination run in a world where I get to choose what I like best, free from the extra effort, the debate, the responsibility.  Scripture calls that part of me my flesh.  Have we forgotten that the only freedom that is real exists in Christ?  There is nothing freeing about being bound to our own selfish desires or imprisoned in the narrow confines of human wisdom and our wicked wills.  The gospel freed us from that.  It is incumbent upon us not to bind ourselves again.

Excuse me for wondering why facts like: men sin, methods fail, the wicked appear to advance, the high road is narrow and good marriages are few mean that we can check principles at the door.  Do we really imagine God will give us a pass on not thinking and working because we didn’t get the results we wanted?
But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.Galatians 6:4-5
The truth is, our method does matter.  Scripture is clear on that one.  Our faith must necessarily produce works or it isn’t real faith at all.  The Christian young person has nothing to appeal to but the word of God for a defense for his practice.  In fact, he has less excuse than anyone else if he doesn’t do so.  These are our marching orders:
“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” - 1 Timothy 4:7-12
The Christian young person is a soldier, armed with the Word of God, indwelled by the living Spirit of God and charged with the conquest of Christ’s kingdom on earth.  His actions are not neutral, his principles must be sound.  His testimony and reputation, life and practice, time and talents don’t belong to him.  Christian young people, where God is sovereign there is no room for debate.  You don’t have time to have fun, or pursue your own happiness or take the easy road or build your own don’t own any time at all.  When God claimed ownership over all things and declared you shall not steal, he established his right to order your life after his will.
And then what did we expect? That being a Christian would make a great marriage drop in our laps?  That enjoying the ride or having fun or taking it easy would wipe away the weight of our responsibility to obey the God of the universe?  That believing rightly and obeying rightly and living cleanly would make us perfectly suited to marry someone?  That if we laughed away our convictions or cried away our courage the battle would disappear?  The easing of our  consciences and the perpetuating of our traditions and self-satisfaction can have no place in the Kingdom.  God forbid that it be so!
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. - Galatians 6:7-9
Let us not be oppressed or downtrodden but rather take courage from the gospel and gird ourselves in the knowledge that the results are not up to us.  We don’t have to appeal to our perfect marriages for proof that we have done right.  God is the verifier of a heart that is right before him, zealous to do his will, and hands that work faithfully to build his kingdom.  We are no longer bound to the futility of our own works...we are freed to the works prepared for us before the foundation of the world by the Creator of the universe.  We need no longer dwell in the shadowlands.  Merit is not met when we meet the handsome Christian guy of our dreams, but is rather inescapably linked to the victorious kingdom of Christ.

“Courtship” didn’t work for me.  It never could have produced anything in and of itself.  I recently promised to marry a sinful man who is going to fail me.  In a few short weeks, God willing, I will be an unsuitable and sinful wife.  God is still working his sovereign will in the lives of men, both obedient and disobedient.  Praise be to his name that he is not thwarted, outsmarted or surprised by the fact that we will be covenanting before him in a faith not our own to do works together not our own for a kingdom not made with our hands.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. - 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Friday, May 2, 2014

My Father's World

I asked for this…this little squeeze of my foot in the velvet dark, through the cobwebs of my sleeping senses, Daddy’s whispered birthday greeting to the head of the bed…”Happy birthday! ...are you coming?”  The dark swallows him as if he were never there, but my eyes wince at the faint glow from the opened door.  Great Grandma's bed frame creaks to join the subdued tones of my brother’s voices, the hiss and drip of the coffee maker.  Here I am, shuffling from my door to the coffee pot to the misshapen pile of hunting attire like a deranged moth stumbling between lights.  A nod for good morning, a gulp from my mug between tugs of hat and gloves.  Crumbling sweet granola bars that my brain is too sleepy to register as anything other than sand and a determined advance on the door.  Here we are stepping over the threshold of light and night…

All at once I am swallowing freshness, gasping on a torrent of wakefulness…that clear limpid nighttime wakefulness.  Pianissimo…the night sings with intensity of silence…transparent silence, richly alive.  Blackness shrouds the shadows, banks of clouds make drifting wells of dark over a sable sky streaked with watery flits of starlight.  Everything wants to be listened to at once in the night symphony so at first you can hear nothing.  The night wind aids with a light kiss on my face; a breath of introduction and bold enough, but he is gone as soon as come.  Elusive as always but distinguished now in the pattering jangle of leaves and raspy crowding of grass in his wake.  Other sounds make introductions; the twig on the branch tapping, and the feathery stretch of the waking bird’s wing, the creaking eyelids of the fox…they are the world turning over in the deepness at the end of sleep.

Truck doors screech and groan, boots thump, latches crash and catch.  My ears protest at the first choke of the engine.  It moans and roars to life in a crescendo of grinding metal and settles to a familiar hum.  More of the night rushes by.  The low hills embracing our broad valley fill the horizon blacker than the blackness.  East, then South to trundle across the ever-running river in its sleeping banks, then West again.  A long humpy driveway without lights to herald our invasion and a plunge into the pianissimo of night songs again with the engine's last churn.

The whispered plans for places to sit and watch are drowned in the deafening stillness.  Bows are grasped, bags and pads for seats tossed over shoulders and we walk…treading lightly as boots can over furrows and clods.  For the first time I can make out my feet from the ground...somewhere unseen a breach has been made.  Something is seeping into the depths of night like the incoming tide and we have unwittingly crossed into the gray hour before dawn.  It grazes the tree line as Ben and I press ourselves close to the ground and set our backs to the rigid spines of oak and ash.  Daddy and Sam’s boot thumps are swallowed in it on their way to another blind.

One can be said to peer now, instead of stare at nothing; to peer at the wide bay of meadow just before us, a peninsula of trees hanging just at the edge of the darkness in the east and south, a great expanse of the bean field.  My ears beg my eyes to close so I will listen again…just listen, and I do, long enough to hear pianissimo and then piano grow.  There are birds everywhere…not their songs…just the shuddering staccato of their wings and their good-morning chips.  Somewhere behind me the river gurgles and gulps.  For the first time I look, wondering that I can, and grey billows roll...thick veils of mist rising from the rich wet ground.

One last time I close my eyes and my hair stands on end at a great rushing sigh.  The whole world has held its breath for the gray hour, and having held mine for merely a fraction as long I am yet breathless.  I wonder if the world was even more breathless the first time the sun broke out when God spoke it into being and "the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy”.  From the carpet of grass and twigs at my feet to the clearing sky I turn and while I was listening, the dusky horizon was swept with light, for there it is…the unending silvery moment between night and day.  The mist churns and pours over the edge of it, clasps at the trees' raised arms and rolls away to drift in the low vales and hidden draws.  Full forte of sound and sky sweeps in; and just as casually as he must every morning a cheeky grey sparrow clips the air with his first warble, daring to break the long tremolo of stillness with his sharp shatteringly high whistle of greeting to the light.  

The self-appointed maestro is hereafter out-sung by a thousand treble throats and their echoes.  They are singing ecstatically…singing their Spring Song from a thousand perches.  Gingerly I shift on my own perch, my back nearly as stiff as the tree behind me.  Cheeky and his cousins, fluttering and scolding over our heads, battle for branch-room while I share a rueful smile with Ben.  Whatever anyone says, birds in their little nests do not always agree.  A sleek field mouse scurries from under a log into the deep grass on a morning errand.  My eyelids dip and then roll open again…night-wake is gone and with the new-born morning sleep reaches back to claim me.

There!…that morbid call we are straining for...a tom-turkey’s macabre chortle grates on the breeze and wobbles eerily on the echoes up the ridge.  I'm awake now and Ben grates out a raspy hen’s scrawling yelp from his box call. Once, twice, three times.  Then Ben's whisper is urgent...his hand, silent accompaniment, draws a line to the southern ridge where a small black shape staggers where the rows of soil meet the wood.  Apparently Mr. Tom is on a morning jaunt.  Ben’s call is echoed by Sam’s across the meadow, but Mr. Tom is indifferent and disappears into the brush.

Gobbles jangle at the stillness from another direction, and while we answer in counterfeit harmony, a dip in the field before us gets muddled.  All at once inquisitive heads break the edge of it and a group of clucking hens with their escort of strutting Jakes skitter to the edge of our meadow and mill about.  Its Ben's turn to get breathless now, slate balanced against a log with one hand and gun at ready with the other, he calls and waits.  After the old manner of things, the reasons for which are only known completely by the Creator, those great clumsy birds, contrary to every encouraging factor, favorable wind and advantageous location suddenly turn tail and scamper after the heels of the reticent Tom, until they too are staggering shapes at the wood’s edge.

We look up and around from the spell of the hunt and the morning is in full song…dogs bark with or without reason, other engines roar, the river chuckles on behind and the distant highway whistles with morning traffic.  Day-break has come…commanded and caused to know its place from time's dawn.  As it is promised, it will be so until time ends, and to see it so is a privilege for which we are meant to praise.  We cannot answer any more than Job where the light dwells, or the place of darkness, but we know whose infinite wisdom set both in place.  So we trudge home grateful, we receive the welcome of Mama grateful, we delve into the breakfast eggs grateful, we go about our work grateful and we remember, again and again, what a wonder it is to be and live and work in our Father’s world.