Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to Have a Terrible Marriage

The Barna Research Group recently released new marriage and divorce statistics. I was particularly intrigued by one of George Barna’s summary observations: “There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage. Interviews with young adults suggest that they want their initial marriage to last, but are not particularly optimistic about that possibility” (3/31/08).

I have written essays and preached sermons on how to have a good marriage that lasts. Herewith, my top recommendations for having a bad marriage that fails. Keep in mind that the apostle Paul, too, used sarcasm on a few occasions for effect (see I Corinthians 4:8-10).

1. Be sure to keep score. Don’t ever get more than a few favors or expressions of appreciation ahead of your spouse. They MUST reciprocate! Otherwise they could get …the upper hand. Of course, there’s a chance they could respond in kind and you would end up serving each other in love, but you can’t know that for sure, and why take the risk?! Better to keep things on a transactional level. Put the transactions on a spreadsheet and wave it wildly during arguments to show how much your account is in the red. That’s not only effective, it’s charming.

2. Keep secrets and lie. Start with little white lies just to warm up. Their content isn’t significant at this point; the point is to get used to doing it. Then when you no longer feel a pang of conscience, graduate to bigger deceits. Hide certain spending habits. Develop good alibis. Always remember this: your spouse wants to hold you back, keep you chained down, and limit your freedom and fun. That’s why she married you! Who could blame you for evading direct and truthful answers? You’re an adult, not a child! Trust is such an important factor in a good marriage that this alone could torpedo the whole thing. Way to go!

3. Talk about your marriage frustrations with someone of the opposite sex. Preferably someone younger and attractive. This one’s effectiveness has a way of creeping up on you. It meanders along harmfully, not affecting your marriage negatively until… whoosh -- you’ve got a crush on them! At this point be careful not to end the relationship – that would be prudent! Now that your spouse is looking even less desirable in comparison, you must push ahead and get more intimate with this new confidant. Pretty soon your mate will have grounds for divorce and you’ll be free. Custody battles and piles of legal fees are quite the adventure too.

4. Think of marriage as relational leisure, not work. You work hard at your profession, why should you have to work at your marriage? Marital happiness is over-rated. Watching lots of TV and not talking, now that’s fulfilling! Listen, if you really wanted to be a soul mate and not a roommate, you would have meant those vows when you recited them.

5. Believe that the problem is your spouse. You’ve got some annoying habits, but he’s got character issues. You mean well, but he doesn’t. He needs to make changes, but you don’t. Stick to this one and don’t budge. The important thing is to avoid personal responsibility.

There are many more ways to have a terrible marriage, of course, but these five will get the job done pretty well. And if all else fails, try lots of sarcasm. It’s ugly and off-putting, which is the point.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Weekend in Augusta

I spent last weekend in Augusta, Georgia at the Master’s golf tournament, the grateful beneficiary of a good friend’s generosity. We both checked this off our “Bucket List.” Unfortunately, now we’re hooked. Following are a few of my observations.

* The columnist George Will once said that professional sports serve the common good by showing us excellence. I have watched professional golfers on television, but seeing them play in person, displaying their skill and capability against a very challenging course, is awesome. The winner, Trevor Immelman, was a scratch golfer in South Africa by age twelve and has spent the subsequent sixteen years dedicating himself to being a world class player. It shows, and that is inspiring. I may not ever be world-class at anything, but watching these men play made me want to pursue excellence in other areas of my life. That’s a great feeling.

* When I used to watch the Masters on television, I would roll my eyes at the almost religious vocabulary the commentators used to describe Augusta National Country Club: “sacred,” “hallowed,” etc. I can understand it a little better now. The grounds are spectacularly well kept, beautiful, majestic, and laden with history. Moreover, the tournament is run with extraordinary precision, with an army of workers taking care of every last detail to ensure that “spectator guests” and “player guests” have a superb experience. I was expecting to be gouged at the concession stands, just like at other professional sporting events. But Augusta National sold all food and drink items for $2.50 or less each. The message I inferred was, “We know you paid an arm and a leg for your tickets; we’re not going to take advantage of you.” It was a nice touch of southern hospitality.

* People crowded into the merchandise stores and bought large numbers of trademarked Masters golf shirts, balls, hats, umbrellas, etc. The man in line in front of me paid for his purchase by counting out twenty $100 bills. I guess he got his economic stimulus check before I did.

* Just outside the main gates, a church occupied a former shopping center. These folks decided the best ministry they could offer to Masters patrons was to station two people with billboards on the corner with the message, “The Bible says you will go to hell unless you repent” and condemning “homosexuals,” “porn freaks” and “Mormons,” among others. The two men preached with similar charm to the crowds streaming by. It was like something out of a television sitcom, the worst kind of caricature. I walked up to one of the men and said, “I’m a Christian minister, and what you’re doing isn’t working.” He proceeded to bellow to the crowd, “Here’s a Christian minister who says God’s word isn’t true, who has a religion but has not been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, who is errant and vile,” etc. I was so intrigued by this that I made a point of looking up the word “vile,” which means “morally despicable or abhorrent, contemptible.” Yep, that’s the word that comes to mind.

Imagine the difference if this church had situated a group of folks outside each entrance handing out chapstick and saying, “It’s a beautiful day. Have a great experience. We know you’re away from home. Let us know if we can help you in any way. Jesus loves you and so do we.”

Clearly, I’ve got work to do in Augusta and will need to make this an annual mission trip. With plenty of chapstick.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hedgehogs and Heroism

I like to check at the beginning and end of the day to see if anything dramatic or important has happened in the world. The site has a feature called “Latest News” which spotlights featured items and provides a sort of “first look” before one searches for specific areas of news. Following are some of the items featured over a two-day period this week:

* “Hedgehog used in non-lethal assault.”
* “ ‘Crazy,’ diaper-clad monkey chases man” [video]
* “Trooper tapes wild-turkey brawl” [video]
* “Navy Seal paid ultimate price for buddies”
* “Newlyweds Tasered, jailed on wedding night” [video]
* “Police chase ends, goat in custody” [video]

I’m hoping that one of these items caught your eye.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor joined the Navy and several years later completed his Seal training in March 2005. In April 2006 his unit was deployed to Iraq’s troubled and violent western provincial capital of Ramadi. His Delta Platoon was involved in attacks on 75 percent of its missions in a highly contested part of Ramadi called the Ma’laab district. During one firefight, Monsoor ran into the street with another Seal, shot covering fire and dragged a wounded comrade to safety while enemy bullets kicked up concrete at their feet. In September, the unit was part of a major clearing and isolating operation to root out enemy fighters holding parts of Ramadi, the Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. Monsoor was in a sniper position on a rooftop with two other Seals when the enemy lobbed a grenade into his location, hitting him in the chest. Monsoor was in a position to escape, but instead yelled ‘grenade” and smothered it with his body, absorbing the explosive impact. This probably saved the lives of his two Seal buddies as well as three Iraqi soldiers who were there. President Bush presented Monsoor’s parents with a posthumous Medal of Honor for their son this week, only the fourth awarded since 2001.

Back to the juxtaposition of these news items. In the midst of numerous admittedly titillating and often funny “news” items, which call out to us like cotton candy at a carnival and which, when consumed in great quantities, ironically leave us emptier, there is a magnificent and beautiful story which invites us to pause, wonder, admire, and be filled. The question is, what do you do with this fact of life?

What is the percentage of your time that you spend marveling at the magnificent and heroic versus snickering at the silly and titillating? How would you break down your television watching, your web surfing, your magazine reading, along these two poles? Listen, we all need some diversion and entertainment. Enjoy it. But my question is, what are you feeding yourself on a daily and weekly basis? Will your viewing and reading diet help you build strong spiritual and moral character, or make you flabby and weak?

Jesus taught his followers not to give dogs what is sacred or throw pearls before swine, lest they “trample them under foot and turn and maul you” (Matthew 7:6). What gets the “pearl” of your time and attention? May we focus more on heroism and less on hedgehogs.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


* “I told my parents I was becoming a vegan because I couldn’t bear animals’ suffering. But actually it was just to hide my eating disorder from them.”

* “The stoplight is there because someone ran the stop sign, killing my dad’s best friend on my dad’s 18th birthday while my dad was driving. He never talks about it but I know he doesn’t forgive himself, and I just want to tell him, ‘It’s NOT your fault, you were just a teenager, younger than I am now, and no matter what, I will always love you, Dad!’”

* “Your parents wanted to take you off life support. I wouldn’t let them. You got better… then you divorced me.”

Four years ago a man named Frank Warren started a community art project called Post-Secret – people anonymously sent in postcards bearing secrets. The rules were simple: The secrets had to be true and never before shared with anyone. Tens of thousands of people worldwide responded, and Warren has used many of them in four books and on his website. He has used some of the proceeds to support a national suicide-prevention hotline. (Sue Nowicki, Houston Chronicle, 3/22/08).

The Rev. Debra Brady of First United Methodist Church decided to address the issue of secrets after reading a book and visiting Warren’s website. “I could see how so many people are longing for a community in which they can feel safe being their authentic selves.” She used the theme of secrets during the season of Lent, and invited the congregation to write cards with secrets “or other things they would like to offer God this season.” More than forty cards went up on the walls of the sanctuary. On Palm Sunday they were taken down and put at the foot of the cross until Easter, where they were transformed in the theme of Christ’s death and resurrection – putting aside old thoughts and habits and putting on the new, forgiven life.

“Secrets are the things we think we have to hide, when it’s the opposite – if we can get it out, God can deal with it,” Brady observes. “People feel very isolated in their sufferings – ‘I’m the only one who has doubts; I’m the only one feeling suicidal; I’m the only one stuck in a bad marriage; I’m the only one who feels lonely.’ But the Christian community has practices and theology which addresses peoples’ yearning to be authentic, to be who they are and to work with others. It’s really easy in church to play holier than thou or to put on a façade. The path of discipleship is coming as we are to God, not having to pretend. If things need to change, it’s God who does that; it’s God who does the transformation.”

* “I have always felt inferior to almost everyone in almost all things.”

* “I will be so humiliated if anyone finds out I’m going bankrupt. I act like I have it all together, but I’m so over my head. I feel like an irresponsible cheat and a loser. I hate it. What would people say or think about me if they found out? I don’t want to know.”

We are living in authentic Christian community when we do not look down on people for their failings and shortcomings, but come alongside them with support and encouragement, trusting and rejoicing in the God who leads us on a journey of transformation.