Archives For Christian Marriage

joshua-hanks-682729-unsplashWhen you come into a marriage with poverty and a broken heritage:

How do you move from the economic class of renter to “Home Owner”, without selling your own soul, selling out your own goals or killing that marriage?

When your support pillars are war ruins, broken hearts, lives and relationships:

How do you bring a shattered past to support the present?

When no gifts are left to you:

How do you say thank you for good gifts when they come?

When a parent abdicates responsibility, antagonizes the wounds, and  then a sibling speaks in half-truths, and falsely accuses, in order to hide the embarrassment of wrong doing:

How do you forgive?

How do you defend?

When the hand-downs  and opinions are always accusations, cruel measurements, and covert put downs:

How do you understand yourself and your own worth?

How do you breathe?

When the hands that were designated to be helpers don’t help:

How do you ask for help?

When people are moulded by manipulation and won by charm and false appearances:

How do you bless and not fall to the temptation to impress?

When you forgive and are not forgiven:

How do you engage or disengage properly when others refuse to do the same?

Perhaps a good place to begin is here:

                1. Talk with the Lord, humbly.
                2. Learn carefully & honestly.
                3. Care carefully & courageously.
                4. Put into service the paradoxes of thanksgiving and of forgiveness.
                5. Be brave; Hold on to God, and never let go. 

Don’t let that shattered heritage take root. Don’t bring the echoes of resentment into your marriage. Reject the cycle of abuse. Reuse the useful things you have. I.e.: take stock, then do what you can with what you’ve got.

Aim to bless rather than impress[i].

Talk with the Lord. He is a working God, active caring and in pursuit of the broken.

Listen carefully because the ‘insight into divine matters is like a seed that needs to grow into a mature plant…Mature knowledge does not come quickly or easy…it takes time to penetrate profound matters and make them our own’[ii]

As Pinnock states,

Trust and ‘humility must be the order of the day’[iii]

Learn carefully because ‘God’s leading is experienced as His Spirit fosters movement towards the truth, despite our mistakes and errors…we must be both hopeful and sober about the possibilities’[iv]

Care carefully because you are carefully cared for far beyond the extreme void, that makes you torn and breathless. Look at the blessings that do exist and count them, no matter how small, each one has significance.

There is no emptiness to His care. Give him permission to move you from an intensive care unit to a tender care one.

Put into service the paradoxes of thanksgiving and of forgiveness; losing in order to win[v], where the world measures success by appearance. Your success is measured by God in the victory and bravery of His Son, who is and was and is to come. Maintain boundaries and remember that forgiveness does not mean returning to a place of ignorance.

Be brave because beauty and light is found beyond the seemingly unbreakable walls of fear and dark loathing.

Weeping may tarry for the night,  but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5

Extreme anxiety has no future home in a broken heart[vi] touched by God. For the humble and broken are closer to the heart of God than they realise (Psalm 34:18).


References:
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[i] Mt.5:38, ESV “Forgive and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you”
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[ii] Pinnock, C. 1996, Flame of Love InterVarsity Press p.219
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[iii] Ibid, p.219
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[iv] Ibid, p.219
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[v] Matthew 16:25, ESV
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[vi] Matthew 6:25, ESV
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.Photo by Joshua Hanks on Unsplash
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©Rod Lampard, 2014

johnabigailPart of the beauty of the ‘Letters of John and Abigail Adams’ is that every sentence suggests careful consideration.

There are sentences for example, where John cautions Abigail against openly sharing his letters for fear of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. They reveal a husband and wife, both loving parents who are also very much the exemplary, one for the other, each for God.

‘Their mutual respect and adoration served as evidence that even in an age when women were unable to vote, there were nonetheless marriages in which wives and husbands were true intellectual and emotional equals.’ (History.com)

I picked this book up out of curiosity about its historical and theological significance. As I continue to casually read through them, I am more and more convinced about the gravity of their contents, context and the important message they carry to the world, not just Americans.

Part of a letter written to John in May, 1775, from Abigail, further clarifies my point :

‘The Lord will not cast off his people; neither will He forsake his inheritance. Great events are most certainly in the womb of futurity; and, if the present chastisements which we experience have a proper influence upon our conduct, the event will certainly be in our favour’[i].

The Adams family epistles have contemporary relevance. The most pertinent of which is that they challenge Christians to steer clear of anti-intellectualism. They encourage Christians to engage; to understand current events in light of the biblical texts, and move away from disengaging in informed debate, dismissing it as uninteresting, convoluted and/or unnecessary.

Here are a people on the cusp of necessary conflict; a people not yet prepared for what they hope to avoid; a people who understand the danger of the mob; a people who acknowledge that they bear the burden of responsibilityand are God’s participants in necessary decisions that will require courage, faith, hope, prudence, calm justice and fierce mercy.

The same people who, under God, will stare down the supposed divine right of a king, and challenge his exercise of freedom without restraint.

The same people who will instead assert that under God all are created equal, and that authentic freedom can only come with the caveat of authentic responsibility.

One example is that both John and Abigail looked unfavourably on slavery, made clear by Abigail’s rebuke: ‘I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me— to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this subject.[ii]

Both husband and wife lived out their faith – not in a cloister, reserved pew or in pious appearances.

A constant in the letters are references to biblical texts. Used comfortably, they form an important part of the extraordinary exchange. It might not be so wrong to suggest that these letters read like small sermons, shared between a loving, overburdened husband, and his equally loving and overburdened bride.

Unfortunately, the letters are not without theological issues.

Gaps exist. Such as Abigail’s allusion to a form, of what Shirley Guthrie called, the ‘common heresy’ of Pelagianism (Christian Doctrine, 1994:127) – an ancient misinterpretation of God’s salvation, grace and the role of the responsive sinner.

‘God helps them that help themselves, as King Richard says; and if we can obtain the Divine aid by our own virtue, fortitude, and perseverance, we may be sure of relief.[iii]

In addition, I’m uncertain as to whether or not the countless references to ‘Providence’ are in fact veiled 18th Century Congregationalist references to the Holy Spirit. The context implies they are.

‘I pray for you all, and hope to be prayed for. Certainly there is a Providence; certainly we must depend upon Providence, or we fail; certainly the sincere prayers of good men avail much. But resignation is our duty in all events.[iv]

Nevertheless, reformed theology appears to dominate the politics, parenting philosophy, orthodoxy and sociology. Prayer and references to God’s care, wisdom, provision and guidance are ever-present.

This is not something that is the result of a cultural Christian appendage. To begin with Abigail Adams is openly critical of appearance only faith.

‘General John Burgoyne practices deceit on God himself, by assuming the appearance of great attention to religious worship, when every action of his life is totally abhorrent to all ideas of true religion, virtue, or common honesty.[v]

John affirms this in a similar way stating that:

 ‘The man who violates [destroys] private faith, cancels solemn obligations, whom neither honor nor conscience holds, shall never be knowingly trusted by me. Had I known, when I first voted for a Director of a Hospital, what I heard afterwards, when I was down, I would not have voted as I did. Open, barefaced immorality ought not to be so countenanced.[vi]

The Adams family epistles are unique in that they present an organic living relationship between husband and wife, grounded in God’s freedom. What has caught me by surprise is that God is not reduced to second place. Alongside great concerns, God is still in the forefront of their thoughts, and as a result a good deal of theology permeates the wisdom that informs their actions, wit and dialogue .

One thing grasps me as I read through these letters. That is the relevance they hand out to a contemporary audience still concerned with the matters of God, love, liberty and the caveat of responsibility.

Braintree, 19 August, 1774:

Did ever any kingdom or state regain its liberty, when once it was invaded, without bloodshed? I cannot think of it without horror.
Yet we are told that all the misfortunes of Sparta were occasioned by their too great solicitude for present tranquillity, and, from an excessive love of peace, they neglected the means of making it sure and lasting.[vii]
– Abigail Adams.

History forgotten is history repeated.


References: (Not otherwise linked)

[i] Adams, J & Adams, A. 2012. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Kindle Ed). Start Publishing LLC, 7th May , 1775

[ii] Ibid, 24th September , 1774

[iii] Ibid, 16th September , 1775 & John Adam’s agrees with this. See letter 62. 1st October, 1775

[iv] Ibid, John Adams, 8th May , 1775

[v] Ibid, Letter 55. 25th July, 1775

[vi] Ibid, Letter 72. 23rd October, 1775

[vii] Ibid, Letter 13. 19th August, 1774

Image: Abigail and John Adams (Source)

Homeschool Dad 1A homeschooling dad finds himself on a journey of challenges and contradictions.

His first thought is to mingle, learn and explore the various ways one does this delicate, surreal task.

Overwhelmed with information, he emerges from a blitz on ebooks and Pinterest perfect ideas into a continuous fog of do-it-yourself blogs.

He finds himself confronted. Not by this, the curriculum, organisational needs, kids, latency, scheduling, or the plethora of home education options, but rather by the simple fact that he is a dad in a world of mums.

His second thought is to run. Run far, run fast and hope no one noticed the awkwardness of his presence.

Awkward, fumbling and trying to avoid the “creepy” tag his blubbering momentum might reflect, our homeschooling dad defiantly storms ‘once more unto the breach.’ {Such is the enormity of the task – it requires citing a Shakespearian King} [i]

This is the road he must take; a road lined on one side by homeschooling professionals. The other, picketed by suspicion, criticism and at times disapproving silence.

Fighting off the temptation to label this an emasculation of his manhood, he is wise enough not to be drawn into the broad and bloodless conflict; the scramble for ground in the battle between traditional gender roles, and those fixated on gender politics, who parade an aggressive overemphasis on egalitarianism.

Recalling the burden of responsibility in the embrace of the extraordinary, he reaches a resolve and chooses to press on.

It is at this particular junction that the homeschooling dad finds a pioneering collaborator in the words of L’Arche co-founder, Jean Vanier:

‘Constancy of place seems to me imperative if we are to be Christians who don’t abandon one another in the name of greater goods’ [ii]

That is the reason for this season.

As far as ministry goes homeschooling wasn’t my first choice. That said it’s also not the only choice available. By doing this I get to empower and encourage my wife. As she sets out to achieve her own educational goals. The added bonus is that after 17 years of my own hard work and study, I get to participate and be present for the journey my kids take in their own education.

I call that a win, win.


Sources:

[i] Shakespeare, Henry V Act III.I

[ii] Hauerwas, S. & Vanier, J. 2008, ‘Living gently in a violent world: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness’ Intervarsity Press, p.47

(Originally posted 14th November, 2014)

I am in agreement with Karl Barth when he aBarthsserts that we need to maintain a distinction between male and female.

He is right to state that this imperative is because there is a structural and functional order to the ‘I & thou encounter’ (1951:131 & 150; see also Buber).

Barth writes: ‘man in himself was a question without an answer and the woman only the answer to his question’ (1951:168); ‘the root of togetherness is man with woman, woman with man.

This encounter reflects our humanity i.e.: ‘Humanity which is not fellow-humanity is inhumanity; for ‘the root of this inhumanity is the ideal of masculinity free from woman and femininity free from man’ (1951:117 & 166).

In other words man is man in his relationship to woman, as woman is woman in her relationship to man (1951:163). The two cannot exist in total isolation of the other[i]. Barth is right to argue that humanity is, ‘in light of the command of God’ (1951:130) female and male; fully male or fully female (1951:140 & 149).

Outside medically rare and exceptional cases, never both at the same time. The alternative conclusions lead to the non-Biblical notion that God is bisexual and all humans that transcend their sex become gods (1951:156-157).

Barth raises a potentially liberating challenge to the ideology behind conclusions that presuppose a ‘’feminine side’’ to men and a masculine side to women. What must be made clear is that the impetus for the latter is rooted in a higher plane of individualism. One that holds up the idea that each person needs to “get in touch with” themselves to be more complete as humans, hence the ‘’born this way – stay this way” absolutism, advocated implicitly within certain ‘’lifestyle’’ paradigms.

Whilst this has been the trend in most Western Societies, we can still avoid the politics of displacement and resentment that develops through a confusion of roles, and the victim politics that follows. Yes, we should be who God created us to be, but that is either fully male or fully female, which is properly grounded on God’s ‘commanded orientation’ (Barth 1951:167), not a rejection of it.

Along with Barth (1951:161), Indian author Vishal Mangalwadi points out that the idea of the feminine in the masculine has its origin in Hinduism. For instance he writes:

‘Historically Hindu philosophy has promoted homosexuality and become foundational to the contemporary interest in Tantric or ‘’sacred sex’’ because it teaches that each one of us is god, infinite and complete. Consequently, the assumption is that I don’t need a wife because the feminine is already within me (Shakti) it just needs help to be awakened.’ (Mangalwadi 2011, p.295)[iii]

Barth rejects this, labelling homosexuality and its ideological elements a ‘malady on society’ (1951:166). Even though there may be conflict (polarity 1951:163[ii]) between male and female there is no crisis between what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Therefore, as a man, I can let go of any notion and social expectation that might demand I ‘’get in touch with’’ the feminine within myself.

There are indeed absolutes and these need to be acknowledged for true freedom to be understood.

Barth rightly points out that ‘men should rejoice in being male, likewise women in being female, rather than be ashamed of it; or promote an idolatry of self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency ’ (Barth, 1951:149 & 166).

At this point it is helpful to introduce John Howard Yoder’s concept of ‘subordinate reciprocity’, understood as ‘haustafeln’ (house-tables Yoder, 1972:163).

Subordinate reciprocity asserts that the ‘subordinate person becomes a free agent when that person voluntarily accedes to their role in the power of Christ instead of doing it either fatalistically or resentfully’ (Yoder, 1973:191).It is therefore right to suggest, as Yoder does, that ‘subordinate reciprocity’ (Yoder, 1972) aligns with the axiom ‘to be a teacher is to be a learner’ (Kierkegaard XIII: 461). (I believe Barth would agree based on his comments about the ‘reciprocity of the sexes’ 1951:164)

Subordinate reciprocity is a New Testament ethic that empowers men to ‘confirm the order in which woman in her place is not simply subordinate to him, but stands at his side’ (1951:181). As Barth writes

‘…there is no simple equality… Man does not enjoy any privilege or advantage over woman…Man cannot become her Lord…Man is not the Christ of woman. This would be misunderstanding the Divine order, creating disorder and abuse. Woman is right to protest this if the context so demands it…The man is strong as he is vigilant for the interests of both sexes. This is what is intended and tenable in the otherwise rather doubtful idea of chivalry. To the man who is strong in this sense there corresponds, when woman is obedient, the woman who is mature…the tyrannical man is always disobedient in relation to this order’ (1951:170-180)

In his essay, Perichoretic Possibilities in Barth’s Doctrine of Male and Female, Alexander McKelway provides an analogy of perichoresis (participation with God). McKelway imagines it as a ballet between a man and woman (the “grand pas de deux” McKelway, 1986:242).

While I take issue with some of McKelway’s conclusions about Barth, his analogy is helpful. The perichoresis that humanity is invited into is similar to the reciprocity in a waltz where the male ‘takes the lead, initiates and inspires their common being and action’ (Barth, 1954).

We do well to hold this in critique of the increasing influence of “cultural and ideological straightjackets” that are bound by an excessive egalitarianism, blurring gender distinctions (gender neutrality[1]) in the name of equality. The dangers appear very real as lobbyists appeal to a vile post-modern inverted idea of tolerance and its inevitable by-product ‘unchecked individualism’ (Le Buryns 2009:72).

The conclusion for a man who acknowledges and rejoices in his being as man, is that when he loves a woman and woman loves in return, despite the polar opposites, he doesn’t just say to her, “I need you”, but can confidently and more importantly ask her:

“Will you share your life with me, as in Christ, I am willing to share mine?”.

Final thoughts:

When attempting to provide sharp relief of Karl Barth’s theology of fellowship between God, man and woman, there is always a risk of oversimplifying his intended meaning. I am in agreement with Timothy Gorringe on this; therefore I have attempted to briefly unpack Barth’s thought in full awareness of that caveat. I realise the length of this article will also limit its readership.

However, my intention here was to at the very least introduce the relevance, if not communicate the balance, clarity and insight Barth was developing in his theology regarding such important matters. They are words with poignancy and precision. Calm words of warning for an age going full throttle in opposite directions with little concern for the consequences, or those who try to raise awareness about them.

Finally, perhaps a good, albeit simple example of subordinate reciprocity lies hidden within the narrative presented by Miranda Divine here:

‘Prince Philip managed to remain his own man, respectful but not emasculated, as he accompanied Queen Elizabeth on every royal tour’ (M.Divine, 2012)
Queen and Prince Phillip3 collage

Source: The Daily Telegraph. Miranda Divine, 2012. The marriage that made the monarchy.


Bibliography

Buber, M 1970 I and Thou (trans. Kaufmann) Kindle for PC ed. Charles Scribner’s and Sons

Barth, K. 1951 Church Dogmatics III.IV The doctrine of creation Hendrickson Publishers

Kierkegaard, S. 1997 the Essential Kierkegaard Princeton University Press U.S.A

Le Buryns, C. 2009, Re-placing stewardship? Towards an ethics of responsible care Source:

Religion & Theology, 16 no 1-2 2009, p 67-76. Publication Type: Article Peer reviewed.

Database: ATLA Religion Database sourced 27th May 2012

Mangalwadi, V 2011 The Book that made your world: How the Bible created the soul of western civilization

McKelway, Alexander J. 1986 Perichoretic Possibilities in Barth’s Doctrine of Male and Female The Princeton Seminary Bulletin sourced from http://journals.ptsem.edu/id/PSB1986073/dmd008

Selvaggio, A. 2011, 7 Toxic ideas polluting your mind P & R Publishing Company Phillipsburg, N.J, U.S.A

Yoder, J.H 1974 the Politics of Jesus Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids M.I, U.S.A

Related Reading:

Gender and Theology series: Karl Barth on man and woman – Kevin Davis


[i] Contrary to what radical feminist Mary Daly might argue; see Elshtain’s Public Man, Private Woman, 1981

[ii] ‘Man is unsettled by woman and woman by man’ (1951:167)

[iii] Or as Barth puts it ‘Self-glorification’ (1951:167)

©RL2013