Friday, July 2, 2010

A Little Closet Cleaning

I don't remember the specific instance when I first met Laurie, but I do remember one detail: she was wearing leopard skin gloves. I remember this because I remember thinking, "This is someone I might actually be able to talk to."  I've always felt like an alien in my own religion and I have found that simpatico souls are a rare oasis in my spiritual walk. Laurie is my friend and has been since I first met her. I was correct with that first instinct.

When I got married, I, in effect, told my best friend that I wanted to share the rest of my life with her. That is not code or artful speaking. I mean that quite literally. "Sharing" is a dirty word in some conservative circles which is one of the many reasons why I feel more comfortable moving in circles more toward the Left. I rotate counterclockwise. I didn't marry to ascend to a position as the Pope of my household. Laurie and I married because, if we didn't, someone else would marry the other and then it wouldn't be appropriate for us to be best friends anymore. I married Laurie because she is my best friend and I want to be with her until one of us dies. And my love for her is the only thing that keeps me from overtly wishing it will be me first so I don't have to ever live without her.

Of course, there are some differences in our marriage from those in some of the others in our immediate peer group. When I came into this family, I gained two step-kids who are, for all intents and purposes, full grown adults. Laurie and I will probably not have children of our own (but if we find ourselves with children someday, we've already picked out the names: Temperance for a girl and Dalton for a boy. The latter pleases Laurie because it's after John Dalton, he of the 19th century atomic theory. I like it because of Dalton Trumbo, of course.)  In other words, I see a lot of young people marrying other young people in order to start families, hopefully gain a new level of financial security, and to be in the married person club. Laurie and I didn't do any of that. Those were not our purposes in marrying one another, although there is nothing scripturally or culturally invalid about our marriage.

So often I hear the church talking about gender roles in marriage and, as you might imagine, they strike me as absurd. First of all, I don't appreciate outsiders telling me how I ought to conduct my marriage relationship. In these esoteric circles I am referred to as an Egalitarian, a term which I like because it reminds me of the Age of Reason. In my marriage as in the rest of my life: liberty, equality, brotherhood. This means I see in the fullness of Christ's teaching, example, and the epistles of the early church that followed His ministry, the clear concept of equality in men, women, all races, ages and classes. It is my belief that the spirit of scripture points directly to this equality in the same way that the Bible doesn't explicitly forbid slavery or polygamy, however any Christian (or even, I may go so far as to argue, any civilized person) must needs find through the fullness of their worldview those practices morally abhorrent. Although, I can even point to a few specific instances where it could be argued it is expressed overtly. I'm hardpressed to think of it getting any clearer than Galatians 3:28:
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Therefore, in our marriage, Laurie and I really are equals. Laurie and I both have a vote. She, in her conscience, has told me that I do hold veto power should it ever come to that, although I, in my conscience, don't think I've ever exercised that. We are two people sharing our lives, loving one another, seeking to lift the other spiritually, physically, and emotionally. 

Yes, scripture says that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. I'll return to this point in a few moments, but first bear in mind that the head and the body are two parts of one body which work together for one another. Kill the head and the body will die, and vice versa.  Another thing I would mention before we move on is that the husband is the head. It doesn't say "he lays down the law and arranges things in such a way that he may become the head." It's not something to do or something to go out and prove, it is what it is.
If we do want to get down to gender roles, yes, practically speaking there are some things one of us does that the other doesn't. I tend to dig any holes that need to be dug, chop up tree limbs when they fall (our olive tree got a little ahead of its capacity in its olive production last year), and I carry the kitty litter and pet food into the house. I think Laurie can testify that the "home things" that she does (making the bed, keeping things tidy, cooking) come more from being unequally yoked in competence in those areas than doing the "women's work." I fold clothes like The Incredible Hulk, therefore Laurie takes that task upon herself. Likewise, I include her in every decision and ask her opinion about the course of our life. I wouldn't even have thought of doing otherwise on my own without the suggestion of religious leaders. It's her life too. I would feel like a jerk if I put my foot down on some life course that made Laurie miserable but which she went with out of marital duty.
Along with that, I think people should do what needs to be done. I think people should do what they are gifted to do and try to do what they love. I think if you're fully capable of doing something that would be helpful to those you love and would also be helpful to you, but you refrain (or are forbidden) on the grounds of your gender, that is madness. I should probably also point out that I am not creating an infinite regress of telling other people how they should be in my post about how I don't appreciate people telling me how I should be. I'm simply talking about how it is in my home and why I like it that way. I am explaining why we are as we are, with the super-objective of expressing how I love and serve my wife. If you want to be patriarchs, go nuts. Personally, I am bound by my conscience to treat other beings with equal respect, compassion and love (ooo, look at me getting all emotionally manipulative!)

So, there are those who take a bit from Ephesians and a bit from Titus and focus their entire ministries on producing volumes on how men and women ought to act in the privacy of their own marriages. Never mind that in the day Scripture was written the economic structure was agrarian economy on the cusp of the early throes of the feudal with an imperialistic monarchy for government. Men didn't go off in the morning to the office or the factory or whatnot. They didn't lose their jobs unless they got leprosy or lost a limb (and while we're talking about economics, I feel the uncontrollable compulsion to at least mention in passing that, in my experience, those who are so worked up over trying to recreate certain aspects of "Bible times" with a myopic eye akin to a Renaissance Fair, are inexplicably much less anxious to return to the Early Church's economy of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." I say this in full knowledge that my Egalitarianism as well as my Socialism will disqualify anything I say to a Christian Patriarch in spite of my arbitrary possession of their preferred gender. I also give out candy on Hallowe'en, read Darwinists with an open mind, and occasionally drink a glass of red wine. Lock up your children; I walk free.)

But don't let's set up camp on negative ground. My purpose here was mainly to expound a bit upon that bit from Ephesians 5: 21 "''...submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" and specifically how I love and serve my wife, hopefully "as Christ loved the church." What do I think this looks like? How does Christ love the church? He love her selflessly and with the ultimate heart of service even to the point of a remarkably gruesome death. 

I want Laurie to be happy and healthy. I want for her to be able to have a heart filled with peace and delight. I want to provide for her and I want her to be able to do what she needs (and wants) to do. I listen to her, walk and talk with her, spend as much time with her as I can. Literally everything I own is hers as well. We share. 

I cannot offer her salvation as Christ does for the church, but I can seek to be consistently preaching the Gospel, to paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, be it with words or actions. And she loves, respects and honors me out of the abundance of her heart, probably because I love her in this manner out of the abundance of mine. In our case I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say, hopefully not sacrificing all modesty in doing so, that she loves me because I first love her. It's real and I don't have to be a dictator or a pope or a patriarch to effect that outcome.

The problem with hierarchies is that there is always a "top" which is an enviable position and, therefore, which inspires envy, discontent by its very existence, and inevitably jockeying for that position. This leads to the addiction to being righter than the next guy and self-aggrandizement. What a stupid way to waste one's life! Rather,
"...Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” (Mt. 20:25-28)

When I embarked on my spiritual walk, it was with a commitment to certain principles coming from a desire for love, compassion and reverence for life.  Albert Schweitzer wrote:
"Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil."
In my marriage, as well as in the rest of my life, I hope to enhance life for my wife, my family, my pets, and, secondarily by virtue of these, myself. I certainly agree with Schweitzer that it is evil to hinder life. What a world it would be if everyone sought to fully commit themselves to Reverence for Life and treat one another with mutual respect, esteem, and equality! In democratic terms, here at the top end of the weekend where we in America celebrate our Independence, surely we are free as long as our freedoms do not infringe upon the civil liberties of others. But to put this hopefully holographic ethic more warmly and more locally, I love my wife. She is my best friend and I want to be with her, relate to her, do whatever I can to make her happy and improve her life. Not only do I feel that she is in all ways my equal, most of the time I am fully convinced that she is in all ways my better.