Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Marriage as Discipleship

My friend Lee points us to a piece http://thinkingreed.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/traditional-marriage-hasnt-existed-for-a-long-time/noting how marriage is no longer traditional. The observations are true that marriage has changed a great deal in our time, moving away from a focus on alliances and property and begetting to love and partnership. But romantic notions too will not do. This wedding frenzy of modern American life is not consonant with relating the married estate to the gospel life of discipleship as I understand it, and so, I continue to raise the question of what marriage means as disciples of Christ. As a minority sort and condition, I have more freedom to do just that.

From here, it often seems like defense of marriage looks an awful lot like an unwillingness to examine how much Christians do not have a singular theology of marriage, and so, we're quick to resort to simplistic reaffirmations (of ourselves). A quick perusal of scripture, history, theology, and liturgies bears this out. And any who tell you otherwise have not wrestled with the fragments adequately. So the question for me is this, how will we arrange the fragments into a response to Jesus Christ? In vows? In rites? In ascetical or moral theologies or ethics? In the particularity of real human lives (no two marriages are alike)?

For me, marriage is about discipleship, about growing together in being for others in response to Christ. That will look different in each case even as all cases share similarities. In this regard, I do not see the monastic life and married life as unrelated, nor do I accept Manichaean tendencies in the tradition that would break eros and agape completely sometimes doing so by making of monastic life something superior (as if celibates are not sexual) rather than a particular way of discipling fallen connectivity. Both are oriented to bridle and disciple our fallen connectivity (sexuality) for others over the long haul. Nor do I accept the romantic lauds of marriage that somehow make of it in itself our sanctification if not salvation. Such is romanticism pushing into our ascetical theologies in an unwarranted way. On the level of systematics, we would call that eschatological collapse. Marriage is wrought with tensions of the incomplete and contingent. Rowan Willliams reminds us of this in The Body's Graces by observing that such notions do not bear out in examination of real marriages, where blessed and approved relationships harbor abuse and the like all too often. Such romantic, self-justifying notions are just too easy. In our own time, marriage itself has become something of an idol just as in the days of the Reformers was monastic life. And it is used to make oneself feel superior (justified) to the minority sort. That this seems to go unnoticed except by those of minority affectional orientation puzzles this Christian. That this subtle salvation by marriage trajectory flies in the face of God's unearned love in Christ astonishes and horrifies. It leaves no room for others to receive themselves from God as good and as also fallen in their connectivity. It has a program for you too... No receiving God's gospel first and having patience to see how that might work out or not in receiving a self for others.

Marriage is about disicpleship not some sense of feeling oneself glorious and superior for being made a majority sort (some sort of heterosexual theology of glory thinly disguised by a too quick and self-justifying read of nature without Hooker's and even Aquinas' recognition that minority possibilities are likely in creation and human life and need be accounted for within the same required virtues or rather gifts of the Spirit--as in, does this have any chance of showing any? Hooker does this by relating the minority sort to the usual cases as his reform of natural law by common law sensibilities. But moreso, all cases for Christians must be related first to Christ.

The Norm for us, and Marriage properly conceived, is not heterosexuality nor homosexuality, but Jesus Christ and his relationship to us in Holy Baptism. All others at best are derivative, pointing us to Him (that fruits of the Spirit thing again). Just as Bl. Julian makes of maternity something first reflective of Christ's own for and to us. And it is this directionality that leaves us wiggle room for rethinking several things.

Within discipleship, it is possible to have variety. I say this because there is more than one relationship of Christ to us, than Ephesians on Marriage or Luke on Mothering. John's Friendship is one, and one with which many same-sex partnerships resonate precisely because some of the other notions suggest domination and too easy pigeonholing of men and women without care for their particularity. And hence, why some of us continue to raise questions both about Christian conceptions of marriage and whether or not a third estate is not called for the same-sex affectioned. Or if not, marriage needs further rethinking. After all, same-sex partnerships bear many similarities to both married and monastic life. So much of traditional marriage rites have little to say about marriage as discipleship and I want little part in them. It very well could be that we are being given a gift in our time because of having to wrestle with the existence of same-sex affectioned persons to really rethink our rites to discipleship.

As I wrote in comment to Lee's post:

I think companionate is a key term here and maintains a central component of traditional notions of marriage that cannot help but be concerned with matters of estate, namely board and bed. To be a companion is one who shares bread together, and be extension, all that this requires as responsibles–work, home, hearth, children if so blessed, parents to attend in later years, etc. It does not allow you to fly the coop of responsibility as too much of romantic notions tends to do.

In companionship love unbridled and undisciplined and otherwise disposed not to care but for self (lust) needs takes shape as for others, firstly within the realm of hearth and home, but not without being so in the rest of life at work, extended family, etc. Romantic notions of marriage at play in our culture are a problem for me as Christian because what I am looking for, what I would discern as a mark of a healthy marriage, is are you overtime both growing in for others? And sometimes that starts with accepting that the beard shavings will never be wiped out of the sink!

What I would ask you, whether monastic or married, single or partnered is this, Are you growing in being for others in response to Jesus Christ? This question of the Incarnation, both in the Crib and on the Cross, is what makes or breaks our notions, ideologies, and prejudices all around.

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