Monday, February 28, 2011
The evangelism of marriage
Celia has been promoting her Christian faith to Rob, who has avoided wrestling with the beliefs that have recently become more important to her.
Celia dreaded Rob’s arrival home this evening. Their meeting with Paul this morning felt like a bad dream. Paul had continued to push on Rob, trying to find one spark in Rob’s heart and mind to inflame. Rob had been honest and Celia appreciated that, but he had also been stubborn right up to the point that he looked at his watch, exclaimed, “Look at the time!” and hastened to his car and job.
Paul seemed confused by what had happened. Celia regretted inviting him into the equation and apologized to him for doing so. Celia loved talking to Paul about God and theology, and she assumed Rob would find him equally fascinating.
But as she sat on the floor next to her piano bench, emptying out her bag and preparing for tomorrow’s students, she realized that Paul had expected to talk with someone who had questions about Christianity. It hit her hard that Rob did not seem to care about anything having to do with religion. At all.
The discouragement that overtook her at that moment reminded her of the seasons when she had been a teenager, after her father had left, when her mother’s depression ruled the house. The sense that things would never change had been palpable then. And it hadn’t, really – but Celia had grown up and left home.
There was no such out in marriage and Celia was terrified. Her heart and mind, courtesy of her rediscovered faith, were expanding at such a rate that she feared Rob would be left in the dust even if she tried to slow herself down.
At that moment a thought occurred to her. She had expected that Rob could be won to her faith through rational theological argument. Celia realized that her belief came through being in a community of believers of which Paul had become an important member. And through music, of course. Rob had said he did not know any witnesses to the faith, which Paul claimed were key for him. I am Rob’s witness, Celia thought. I am his witness.
She looked up when she heard Rob’s key in the door. Jumping to her feet, she opened the door before he did and met him there.
“Rob,” she said, “I’m sorry about this morning. I should have realized that trying to get you to believe by persuading you with theology was a mistake.” She took his briefcase from him and gestured him over to the sofa after he shut the door behind him. “I am your witness to the faith, Rob,” she said, breathless and excited. “Let me tell you my story.”
How does Rob respond?
Monday, February 21, 2011
Testimonies of faith
Celia thought she was doing Rob and her marriage a favor by arranging to have a conversation with Paul, the seminary intern at her church, about faith.
Rob grabbed a bagel half and was spreading cream cheese on it, trying to put together in his mind a coherent story of his religious upbringing. His grandmother had taken him to Sunday School before she died when he was six. His mother took them to Christmas Eve services “for the music” on occasion, and there had been a meager attempt at youth group to please a girl he liked in high school. Of course, he had attended weddings and a few funerals of old relatives. Paul might be interested in his story—
But Paul seemed to have a different strategy in mind. He leaned in and began, “Rob, the 95 theses of Luther reject indulgences and condemn the practice as contrary to the intention of penance. Thus began, in 1517, the German Reformation”—
Rob smiled politely and turned slightly to Celia, who was watching Paul with her mouth open. Rob found this strangely comforting – at least she was not hanging on his every meaningless word, nor did she seem to think this approach useful.
“Paul”—Celia interrupted gently. “I’m not sure the history is what Rob is interested in.”
“Oh? Sorry. I’m a bit of a history buff.” Paul took a bagel half for himself. “So what aspects of Christianity are you most intrigued by, Rob?”
Grateful that bagels were tough, Rob took a big bite to chew on slowly. He was confused by Celia’s faith but hardly intrigued, and were it not for her he would deal with his confusion by avoiding its source – church services, hymns, Bible verses and that creepy cross with the dead Jesus hanging on it. It was like building a religion around an electric chair as an icon. Or people wearing noose charms on gold chains. Or bejeweled guillotines.
He swallowed. “Honestly – I think it’s all incredibly weird.” This sounded rude and he was about to backtrack, but he decided that anything less than complete honesty would be a waste of everyone’s time. He took another big bite.
Celia looked mortified, but Paul took it in stride. “There is definitely a lot of the Christian story that is fantastically bizarre. I’ve chosen to accept it in faith, based on the testimonies of witnesses.”
“What witneses?” Rob asked.
“My own family’s stories. And the records of those who knew Jesus. And those I’ve met who believe.” He paused. “I’m named after St. Paul, myself.”
“Well, I don’t know any witnesses,” Rob said. “Was there a St. Rob?”
Celia’s look of mortification turned to humiliation. She glanced at Paul, then back to Rob.
What happens next?
Monday, February 14, 2011
A Valentine’s Surprise
Celia’s emerging faith has been a challenge to Rob and the original “rules” of their marriage.
Celia was not sure what she had been thinking when she offered to arrange a series of meetings between herself, Rob, and her “boss,” Paul, the pastoral intern who ran the afterschool program in which she worked. Clearly she had stopped thinking at all when she set up their first theological discussion on the morning of Valentine’s Day. They would gather before Rob went to work in the kitchen of the old parsonage that Paul had repurposed for the afterschool program.
She had spread a red cloth on the table and thrown about a few foil-wrapped chocolate kisses before unpacking bagels, cream cheese and fruit. The coffee was brewing when Rob arrived, looking cold and grumpy to have been routed out of bed early on a great day to stay in bed, to have conversations he was not interested in. Or maybe Celia was just imagining that. Well, she could hope. Her stomach fluttered.
The back door opened and Rob entered. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said, kissing him even though they had already said that at home twenty minutes before. “Thanks for coming.”
“Thanks for having me,” Rob said. “Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like a romantic breakfast for three.” He was smiling and Celia was encouraged that he could tease about it. “I’ll take some of that coffee as soon as possible, please.”
She was pouring Rob’s coffee – black – when Paul entered the house through the front door and thumped across the old wood floors to the back. “Hey, Rob!” Paul said, hearty and engaged as a future pastor ought to be. “Great to see you again.”
Rob responded in kind and again Celia was encouraged. The men sat down as Celia poured coffee for Paul – cream and two sugars – and it occurred to her that she could just stay in the background and let them talk together. She dawdled at the stove before realizing that they weren’t going to start without her, and quickly sat down.
Rob and Paul looked at her expectantly as she did.
“So, I guess you are wondering why I called you both here,” she started, trying to put herself at ease with a joke. Rob and Paul were quiet, waiting for her to continue. “I guess I thought that Paul, since you are a seminary student and obviously know a lot about God and faith, and Rob, since”—she did not know how to proceed but decided on the self-deprecating route—“since your wife is badgering you about such things” – they laughed with her—“you might find something to talk about.”
She made eye contact with Rob, who smirked at her. She was not sure what that meant.
“I’m glad you put this together, Celia,” Paul said. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather talk about.” He unwrapped a chocolate kiss and dropped it in his coffee, while with his next comment Celia almost fell out of her chair.
What does Paul say next?
Friday, February 11, 2011
The Faith Rules in Marriage (Harold’s response)
The ability to share faith experiences is an important aspect of marital relationships--particularly when it is important to one of the spouses. I'm impressed with Celia in this week's episode. Her emotional and spiritual maturity has clearly becoming healthier. Rather than being pulled by emotional disappointment into an "out of control" confrontation with Rob, she recognizes and owns her feelings. In doing so, she is able to sit down with Rob and express what she needs from him. She also displays the maturity to not get drawn into a defensive posture trying to justify and explain her relationship with Paul. Rather, she focuses Rob on the real issue. Kudos to Celia.
Monday, February 07, 2011
The Faith Rules in Marriage
Rob and Celia are having issues about Rob’s disinterest in her faith. Celia accused him of acting bored last Sunday when she had badgered him into attending her church.
“I wasn’t bored,” Rob said. “I was lost, with all the opening and closing of books and standing and sitting and singing and praying”—Rob hated not knowing what he was supposed to do next when everyone around him had learned the choreography, and since Celia as choir director was in the choir loft he was left to figure it out alone. “And I’m never sure what to do at Communion. It changes every week.”
“It doesn’t change every week,” Celia said. “It only changes sometimes on festival days. Usually you just take the bread when the pastor hands it to you and then you dip it”—
“Celia, that’s not my point,” Rob said. “For a long time it seemed like church was just your job and I had as much interest in your job as you had in mine. Now it’s different. You changed the rules.”
Celia paused. “All right. Maybe that’s true,” she said. “I took the choir job not because I particularly cared about church music but because I needed the work. But I’m enjoying my work with the afterschool program so much and that is invigorating my leadership in the music department. I’m learning from Paul about theology and stuff I haven’t ever given much thought, and it’s so exciting to be thinking new things”—
Celia had never mentioned Paul, the pastoral intern she worked with, without her eyes brightening and her voice quickening. It seemed Celia had drawn a line around her life in which her boss fell on the right side while Rob had landed in the wrong.
Rob began to sweat and he stood up. “So what are you saying?” he asked, pacing the floor between the coffee table and the television.
Celia looked confused. “I’m not saying anything”—
“You’re saying you find Paul more interesting than me,” Rob said.
“I didn’t say that,” Celia said. “Rob, please slow down,” and in a moment she had stood up, taken Rob by the hand, and set him down next to her on the sofa. “This isn’t about Paul. It’s about me and stuff I’m learning that I would like to share with you.”
Rob was skeptical that he would be able to keep up with a seminary student when it came to talking about God and theology, and he was not sure he wanted to try. The Bible looked incredibly boring in addition to being strange and confusing. And all that crucifixion stuff was just bizarre, even creepy.
But he could tell Celia was serious, and knew that for the sake of his marriage he at least had to try… something.
“All right,” Rob said.
What happens next?
Friday, February 04, 2011
A Fear of Faith? (Harold’s response)
The single biggest challenge in most marital relationships is the ability to objectively talk about sensitive subjects. It is hard because we struggle to keep our emotions in check. We have a difficult time actually being objective. And, we tend to focus more on getting our way than in actually listening to each other. In other situations we just struggle to find the words to convey how we feel or to explain the process that we're experiencing.
In this week's episode, we see Celia's growing discomfort with what feels like a disconnect in the faith beliefs/experience between her and Rob. She wants faith to be a central part of her husband's life experience--something that they can share. But, grappling with her own feelings and talking with him about this sensitive subject has been difficult.
Rob and Celia are not alone. Couples often struggle to understand the expectations that they have of one another from a spiritual perspective. I often hear women say that they want to see their husbands "be the spiritual head of the home" as they believe scripture commands. But, when you ask them to define exactly what this role entails they struggle. You often hear husbands talk about how their wives need to be submissive to their spiritual authority. But, when questioned this "submissiveness" sounds very close to just letting the husband have the last word in matters of importance.
What does God really desire of us? I believe that it extends far beyond our carnal thoughts about family headship and deference to one partner's preference. I believe that God wants us to wrestle with the differences of opinion. I believe that he wants us to negotiate mutual decisions. I believe that he wants us to share the frustrations and questions with a sense of transparency and vulnerability. Rather than seeing these discussions as something to be feared, I believe that he wants these to be spiritual growth moments that mature us to be more like Him. It's OK to see our faith experiences differently. But, to become what God has for us to be we must be courageous enough to engage the topic earnestly and in a learning posture.
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