30 Questions for (Engaged) Couples, pt 2

My spiritual mother has a pretty expansive questionnaire which she created when she led a Chicago church.  My questions aren’t as good, but they reflect some of the common questions I bring up with couples in our church.  I need to keep a running list since I don’t keep notes on such meetings.

Some of these feel immediately appropriate for personal reflection; all of them assume that a couple will discuss them at some point.  Of course, the inability to talk through questions like these are always clinically interesting to me.  With some revision, all of these questions can be asked at different points in the future of a marriage.

This is the second part of the list.  I’ll frame these as if I’m not in the room with the pair.  What would you add?  Here goes:

  1. When we’re at our best together, what are we doing, what aren’t we doing?
  2. How would I capture my spouse-to-be in a word, phrase, paragraph, and page?
  3. How much time we spend talking in a week?
  4. When I close my eyes, what’s the future I imagine with you?
  5. How will we spend our time together?
  6. What does an expanded family look like for us?
  7. What are the changes, transitions, and decisions in front of us for the rest of our lives?
  8. What will I shine at in this relationship, and what will I inevitably fail at?
  9. What will my spouse-to-be shine at in this relationship, and what will s/he inevitably fail at?
  10. How has my loved one shown me grace in the past?
  11. What is the significance of the party (i.e., wedding) we’re planning?
  12. Who are some of my dead relatives I wish my loved one could have met?
  13. What do I mean by the vows I’ll take?
  14. Where can we put our joint energies and our best collected efforts as a couple?
  15. How will this marriage make me, change me, challenge me, and better me?

30 Questions For (Engaged) Couples, pt 1

My spiritual mother has a pretty expansive questionnaire which she created when she led a Chicago church.  My questions aren’t as good, but they reflect some of the common questions I bring up with couples in our church.  I need to keep a running list since I don’t keep notes on such meetings.

Some of these feel immediately appropriate for personal reflection; all of them assume that a couple will discuss them at some point.  Of course, the inability to talk through questions like these are always clinically interesting to me.  With some revision, all of these questions can be asked at different points in the future of a marriage.

This is part one of my list.  I’ll frame these as if I’m not in the room with the pair.  Here goes:

  1. Who are the characters included in our story?
  2. How did God bring us here, to this point?
  3. Where have we celebrated so far, and where have we struggled?
  4. Why do we want to get married?
  5. What do my friends say about my intended?
  6. How will my family interact with this person over the next forty years?
  7. Can we talk about our credit reports?
  8. What do I simply adore about this relationship?
  9. When I’m stressed, how does it impact my partner?
  10. How would I like my partner to describe me to someone else?
  11. What about my background haven’t I shared with you yet?
  12. Can you tell me what’s bothering you in ways that I can understand?
  13. How can I best explain my sexual history and how I’ve been created, shaped, formed, and active sexually?
  14. What don’t you want me to know about you when it comes to sexual intimacy?
  15. How do I think a pastor or a counselor can enrich our relationship?

To My Brother on His Wedding Day

I said this to my older brother this evening.

Mark, we never talked about our visions for marriage, for wives, for children.

I’m not sure why.

But I have a bundle of hopes and wishes and dreams for you today.

As I welcome you and your bride into this strange and stunning marital world,

As I extend my hand and pull you in along with the hands of all these loved ones today,

As I wrap my arm around yours and hold you in congratulations and compliments,

As I squeeze and tell you that I love you inside the echoes of all these other expressions of love,

I want to tell you what my dreams are for you, for Keisha, for your children, and for your future.

I want to tell you what I didn’t when we were boys, when traveled around the country singing.

I want to tell you what I didn’t on Normal, on 103rd Street, over Auntie Pat’s and Uncle Tim’s and everywhere in between.

I want to say what I didn’t when I became Dawn’s husband.

I want to say what I see, when I look at your future.

I want to welcome you to marriage, to being Keisha’s husband.

I welcome you to not knowing exactly what you’ve signed up for, to not fully knowing what you were saying moments ago when you spoke those lovely vows, to a world where being a husband means putting someone else first, all the time, and hoping that it means you will be first place again, to a world where you are becoming more like God because you are graciously and regularly putting another first.

I welcome you to finding out that being a husband means that everything changes even when your address doesn’t, to an arena when you’ll answer questions differently because you’ll always, now, have a wife who trusts you and hopes for you and gives to you and builds you and who expects that you are able to do the same for her.

I welcome you to the solidness of that simple precious circle on what was, this morning, a lonely finger, to an experience when women will want you more now than they did before (and they did before), to a world where words become symbols with the power to alter your family and your future, where compliments erase criticisms, and where the consistent practice of humility will make you a better man even when it feels defeating.

I welcome you to what will sometimes feel like unending fights with no real point behind them, to a swirl of upset with no real beginning, but I also see, in that same world, unending kisses and streams of happiness and contentment when conflicts are resolved and God meets you in the midst of joyous and sexy reconciliation.

I welcome you to the security of lifelong love and commitment and forgiveness, while running or walking or stumbling up cultural hills which tell you to leave your wife, to forget your vows, or, worse, to act as if those vows having no weight.

My dream for you is that you will always be an example in how you husband your wife and father your children.

My dream for you is that you will navigate with honor and power and grace the roads of being a father to all of these children, that you will know the boundaries but not respect them, that you will be wise in dealing with a biological father who may, at times, act sinfully, and that you will have a long and wide embrace of four children unless, of course, more come along!

My dream for you is that you will never lose strength and when you do, because you will, that you will the tap the greatest strength in the greatest and only God.

My dream is that you and Keisha will experience daily joy even while experiencing the bland parts of life, that boredom will be a minister to you and that it, like excitement, will teach you that life is about moments of boredom as much as it is about excitement.

My dream is that you will always be convinced that God loves you without condition and that you learn, daily, how to love just like that.

My dream is that you will not shudder under the heaviness of responsibility but that you will arise and arrive at that burden and that you will excel and flourish and flower.

Finally, my dream is that the Lord will bless and keep you, that the Lord’s face will shine upon you and be gracious to you, that the Lord will lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.  Amen.

The Big Deal About Weddings, pt. 3 of 2

I didn’t intend a third post in last week’s two-part rambling about marriage.  But I was over at Cathleen Falsani’s blog and read the transcript from Bishop Chartres’s homily at the royal wedding.  I’ve linked to the Bishop of London’s sermon here.  But it is below for your thoughtful reflection and meditation.  It’s a great message, isn’t it?

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,

Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practise and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.

I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today, will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life. And I pray that God will bless you in the way of life that you have chosen, that way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Big Deal About Weddings, pt. 2

As I said yesterday, I’ve been working with engaged couples from my church.  It’s a part of my job.  It’s a good part really.  I think it’s one of the best ways I can talk to people about themselves and during a time when they are in meaningful life time but while they aren’t exactly in a crisis.

I mentioned Kate Shrout’s article at the Religious Dispatches.  If you haven’t read it, take a look.  In the last section she deals with the myth of feminine upward mobility.  One of the reasons I love scholars is that they are often good writers.  They find ways to express stuff about life and people and the things people do.  Dr. Shrout wrote about the myth, and that’s what I want to park on in this post.

The myth of feminine upward mobility has to do with achieving princesshood by being given the right things.  As she explains, while invoking the example of Cinderella, it is

It is a myth of feminine upward mobility, facilitated through consumption, enacted by women especially on the wedding day. It is about rite of passage—how girls become women—and I, for one, would argue the transition is brought about less by Prince Charming than it is by the Fairy Godmother, the kindly feminine personification of the marketplace. You become a woman by becoming visibly beautiful, and you become beautiful by getting the right stuff.

A couple key points about this myth.

  1. Women move upward by being given something by someone else.  Shrout’s preference is to point to the Godmother rather than the Prince.  Whichever you choose, the myth of mobility seems tied to someone outside of our sisters.  As true as this is, especially around the subject of weddings, I’m frustrated that the one special day is the one time many women will feel esteemed and valued.  It’s sad that females cannot look forward to a life of recognition, appreciation, and esteem, and that those three get crammed into one day.  That one day carries so much significance.  If it doesn’t happen, if it doesn’t happen in a timely manner, the meaning tied to it is lost.
  2. Myth has its problems.  Some myths are real, and as I think of this one, I’m frustrated by a dozen instances in recent memory where I’ve heard of women being told in one way or another, “You aren’t beautiful unless you do this.”  Or, “You haven’t achieved until you’ve accomplished that.”  Shrout says that this myth is about women “getting the right stuff.”  I hope you think that this myth, as realistic as it may be, is equally unacceptable for the women in your life.
  3. Women need men to recognize all kinds of beauty.  My wife will tell you–I will tell you–that I am “eye conscious.”  Dawn says that all men are eye conscious.  But she’ll say I’m really eye conscious.  I’d never heard that until she told me.  In other words, men (including me) like beautiful things.  I appreciate beauty.  As a man, a part of my life task is to recognize beauty in women, in all forms, and not just physical beauty.  I think a lot of men doing that will create a world where women begin to see themselves as beautiful and not necessarily beautiful because of some thing they’ve done, some thing they’ve gotten.
  4. Faith communities can be gift givers.  I’d love to see communities of faith, or positive communities in general, being the voices which give to the women around us, so that their inherent beauty is pointed out, while they are receiving gifts from others in a safe way.  I’d love to imagine a church or a temple or a youth group as the place where little sisters growing up will hear that they are beloved because they are and not simply because of something they can do for someone else.  I think words like celibacy and singleness come up when a faith community is giving.  I think we draw out a person’s creativity and honor a person’s sexuality when a community is giving.

The Big Deal About Weddings, pt. 1 of 2

I have not followed the events leading up to the only wedding happening in London this week.  But I am struck by how exalted Prince William and Princess Kate’s relationship and ceremony have become.  Over the last month, I’ve changed the radio station in my car, turned the channel on the television, and scrolled down my computer screen as the news has reported, promoted, and surveyed the events leading up Friday’s wedding.

I must say that I hadn’t considered blogging about the big deal around this wedding before reading Katy Shrout’s article over at Religious Dispatches.  Dr. Shrout poses several good why questions in her essay.  She surveys a quick history of the last century and a half of white weddings and discusses how we’ve come to stuff our faces with multi-layered cakes and how brides came to love things like tiaras and creampuff dresses.  More pointedly though, she deals with the myth of feminine upward mobility, which I’ll come back to tomorrow.

To be clear, I am happy for the couple.  I think the decision to marry is a serious and joyful one.  I’m happy they’ve chosen to wed.  I’m happy.  And I’m not sure that my happiness extends to the press coverage of their engagement and all the snapshots and videos and commentary promised to trail from their marriage service.  The press has dealt with the superficial and chosen to stay above the water of what marriage really is, what marriage really takes.  They haven’t hinted at the harder choices ahead, the significant losses to come–and aren’t all of them significant, even the little ones like leaving an apartment you liked for a bigger one or buying a different brand of toothpaste because that’s what she likes or because that’s what was on sale?  The press hasn’t mentioned the highs and lows of the couple’s life together.  I’m not surprised.  I’m not that naive.

I haven’t seen two straight weeks this year without talking personally to at least one couple looking toward “the altar,” readying themselves for marriage.  I’ve spent the same months walking with a husband and wife through the dark nights of marital trouble.  It’s been a weird and somehow normal existence.  Looking ahead with some and looking backward with others.

After our Easter service I met one of the engaged couples for the fourth and final session before their day, and we talked about their ceremony.  We’ll meet once, at least once, months after the wedding, but that was the last time we would meet to discuss their decision to marry and what comes because of it.  We’ve spent hours talking about communication, grace and personality, family history seen through the lens of genograms.  We’ve talked about the massive role that Jesus has in their relationship and how their relationship is “sacramental,” though I didn’t put it exactly in that word.

As a pastor, I hope that the royal couple, the one in the UK–has gotten counsel, that they’ve explored to their best efforts the mystical and material union that is marriage.  I presume they have.  They are, after all, royal.  They have advisors, including all those priests at the amazing cathedral that is the Abbey.  They are making a decision with international implications, just like the couple in my church frankly, though our couples in Chicago aren’t getting press coverage.  I hope they are making a big deal about their marriage and not just their ceremony.