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?

Being in Love

Thurman said in one of books, probably The Inward Journey, that we don’t love in general.  We love in particular.  We love the particular.

We love people and things.  We love God.  We love hobbies, ourselves.  But we love specifically, adding discrimination to an otherwise grand concept.  Love is not a concept and it can’t be done without a grounding in reality.

When we first meet the loves in our lives, we try to shape them by our dreams.  All those things we thought living in love would be like crash into the unsuspecting object of our devotion.  They meet the way our families meet our first girlfriends, with eyes raised, everyone in the room wondering how long this phase will last.

Soon those two parties–the new love and the context of life–get together and ruffle each other until one begins to change.  They effect each other.  Sometimes we change our lives in submission because the object of love is better.  Sometimes we decide that the object of our affections and desires is unworthy, and we move on.  But when loved ones, their particular selves, stay with us, everyone changes.  Because we cannot be in love, live in love, stay in love (and here I don’t mean anything about the fanciful notions of being “in love” as much as I mean the straight and unstraight line that is a life of disciplined, passionate, contemplative, committed love)–we cannot stay in that love without changing.

I am no specialist on love, though I used to say that I fell in love everyone few months when I was growing up.  I started writing poetry in high school because I was in love.  And I did so many other things I’ll kept between me and special people in my life.  I am no specialist, no expert.  But I am trying to become a specialist.

I am trying to train myself in what loving well is.  I want to love well, love strongly, love hard.  And the implicit commitment it takes to want that, to desire that, and to pursue that desire is often unsettling.  I come to see what the desire means, along with what walking toward that desire requires.  It takes detailed effort to love.  Oh, we’d like to believe we love everybody.  I think the Savior said words that make us think we can do that.  But loving everybody is a perplexing impossibility.

Loving the people we know is hard enough and something we fail at so regularly that the Savior would blush at our insistent foolishness to misquote and misunderstand him when it came to behavior.  Thurman turned it correctly: Loving well is loving in particular.

It is loving the cracked skin and blemishes that won’t go away even though they may be covered.  Loving strongly is knowing the sheer vulnerability of your loved one and using that weakness to give them hope and inspiration and faith in humanity because you don’t do with your power what others untrained in such artistry would do.  Loving hard is the consistent exercise of staying with all those promises by the grace and help of every gift God gives.

I think doing this love, being in this love is one of life’s most consistent challenges.  And mostly because nothing really trains us toward it.  We are instructed and taught to dispense with things.  And that won’t help us become lovers.  Recycling and reusing are better words for love because love uses the raw materials of our particular lives, our real special selves, and does not force us to become something else, all while that love motivates (moves and pushes) us to become better.  Living that way is hard and usually so rewarding.

Across From Me

There’s something enlivening about seeing a couple, in church after morning worship, both wearing that familiar, revealing grin that says so much, walking up to me, to make an introduction and to talk about premarital work, and then ending the evening looking across the table at the one lady who pulls my lips apart in the same grin after years of being anything but a newlywed.  With city views behind her, in an elegant restaurant, oddly called the Boarding House, we talk and look together at more of the future, speak of the many pieces that make our life right now, eat a fine meal, and share dessert.The Boarding House

The Thing About Weddings

I told a friend today that weddings are the perfect pastoral occasion.  When I lead a couple in their wedding celebration, I am participating in their story.  Sometimes I tell them this.  I say that I’m glad, honored to be a part of their narrative, to be a character in their tale.

Last Sunday I led Kynshasa and Ellen in their vows.  Their wedding was in a place on Cermak, on the second floor of a brick-walled converted loft space.  Everything was fun.  Just the right balance of casual and expectation.  When I arrived, I had to jab Kynshasa for setting up a microphone.  I teased him and managed the tie under his neck.  I greeted people I knew and people I didn’t.  I hugged Ellen and asked if she needed anything.  I told people to sit down and rest because the wedding would take a while.  I was reminded why I love to be a pastor in such situations.

I love to interact with people’s families.  I enjoy being able to say things, hopefully decorated with humor, to people who I’ll never meet on a Sunday morning.  The music entertains me.  Following people around as they awkwardly reintroduce themselves to old friends amuses me.

The ceremony itself is a treat.  I feel like a pro.  Thaddeus says that my old man comes out.  I poke fun at people.  I stray from the order of things.  It’s a picture of the Christian life.  Everybody has a perception of how things should be, an expectation that this is done and that isn’t.  In the actual experience, very little is orderly.

After the ceremony, I get a kick out of listening to people say something nice about the ceremony, especially when they don’t really know how to compliment a pastor.  It comes through because they make their compliment sound like a cross between what they’d say to an actor in a play and what they might say in a confessional.

At each moment in a wedding, I’m thinking to myself how the wedding is only a slice of what’s real.  But it is really a slice of what is real.  It isn’t everything, but it is usually true.  There are people present who love the idea that the couple is finally doing this.  Aunties are crying because they never thought little junior would settle down.  There may be an ex somewhere in the crowd sizing up the scene and asking why they weren’t in the outfit on the stage.  If there isn’t a drunk, something is wrong.  People are late.  Nothing goes according to the bride’s plan, and she hardly cares anyway.

All of that is real; all of it is an expression of those families crashing together.  You can’t coat it brown sugar.  You can’t change it.  It’s there.  And I get to sit right in it and point people to the source of love, the start of grace in the context of a marriage.  I get to tell bright smiling brides and sweaty or cool grooms that what they have is an opportunity to love another on God’s behalf.  I get to say that all the good that they feel for one another is a glimpse of all that God feels about them.  I get to say that the lasting love they have for each other grasps for the unconditional love of God.  I say other things.  I tell them that life will suck, that they will suck, that marriage, if it’s anything , is a community of forgiveness.

I don’t change the wedding message much.  That sermon is hardly spiced with fresh jokes.  I’ve done more than twenty in the last four years alone.  And I’ll probably stay as close as I can to the themes above, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep enjoying every moment of each ceremony.

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.

Memorable Moments

After seeing and hearing a spectacular performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, me and Dawn spent dinner last weekend, in part, going over memorable moments from the previous year.  There were several we discussed; others went without our mentioning.

The space to do so, the room to remember, was an authentic tool for our marriage.  It has been a way that we’ve made sense of things over the years, particularly when celebrating our anniversary.

Talking about things that happened and people who happened has been for us a way of putting and holding together this grace-filled experience called marriage.  There are surely other times when we do what we did, remembering.  We recall what’s happened during the turn from one year to another.  I usually fall into a similar mental exercise around my birthday.

But anchoring memory and marriage have been helpful to me as a husband.  It trains me to see and attend to Dawn, to things which impact her, and to people and events that relate to us.  And it was wonderful rehearsing such times and figures from our story after having seen what must be described as musical movements by this country’s talented artists.