“What Makes Things Holy?” or “Damn It!”

Today begins the long week of the church year that we call Holy Week.

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Our Easter Vigil fire at my faith community…a fire of sacred flame used for lighting candles for a profane/sacred people.

It’s the culmination of this walk toward Jerusalem that we take with Jesus every year…and every year it’s called Holy Week.

Even when some years the week seems holier than others.

I remember my first Holy Week as a pastor.  I spent most of every morning that first year coming early to the church to pray at the altar, with my prayer beads, being faithful to the hours as best I could.

This year, though, I spent this morning coming early to the crib of my son, with cheerios in hand, being faithful with breakfast as best I could.

And now, having been up for just as long but involved more in holy play than holy prayer, I’m reflecting on the difference.

Sure, I’ll keep the hours as best I can today, being mindful of Terce, Sext and None (though I’m a bit behind on Terce already), but I’ll do my best.

In college I took a course where we read a book called Holy Things by Gordon Lathrop, a premier Lutheran theologian, pastor, and scholar. I took exception to the title back then. Newly out of my atheist phase, “things” weren’t holy…only God was holy.

I was an idiot.

Now I see that things are, indeed, holy.  Bread, wine, water, yes…all of this.

And time mindfully spent.  And icons mindfully written.  Sermons, songs, prayers, hands, beads, stained glass, more prayers…mindfully said or not.

Holy does not mean “magical,” by the way.  That’s nonsense.  I don’t have time for nonsense…there are holy things to attend to.

No.  Holy means “set apart,” or better in the Latin, sacrum.  Sacred.

It’s funny, in my tradition we set things apart all the time.   But I meet so many with my college mindset who think nothing is holy; nothing is sacred.

And yet these are the people who I so often hear willing to damn people and things: that divorcee is in the wrong; that homosexual is an abomination; that movie, the song, that video is a disgrace to God.

So willing to damn things…so unwilling to lift things up as holy because it all seems so much hocus pocus.

That, actually, is most of us much of the time, I think.  As if our damning isn’t just as much the hocus pocus of personal opinion, prejudice, and the trappings of self-righteousness.

What makes a thing holy?  I’d say it’s purpose seen in light of the Divine.  The purpose of our time spent together, the bread, the wine, the water, the beads, the hands laid on to heal…

What makes a thing profane?  I’d say it’s probably us.  We so often take the place of God, damning people, places, and things in righteous indignation.

Progressive Christians do this, too.  You don’t get off the hook…no one does.  The sacred/profane line is thin.  So thin, in fact, that some might say it is imaginary…

But today, on this Holy Monday whose purpose it is to further our walk to Jerusalem as we lean toward Maundy Thursday, hear that time is set apart today for you to reflect on God’s work in your life, God’s purpose for your sacred existence, for the sacred existence of your neighbor, and this world.

And that purpose is not to damn you or any of it…

So spend a little less time doing that, and a little more time honoring things as sacred.

That, at least, is what I’m meditating on these hours.

The Seasons of the Church Year Aren’t Just for Decoration, Folks…

 

So, funny enough, liturgical-calendarone of the things that I think makes the most sense about the way the church does things has to do with the liturgical season.

The liturgical calendar.

I’ve written about this before, but we’re at the tail-end of our Catechumenate class here at my faith community, and it’s come up again as we discuss the church year.

See, when I was an atheist, the only thing that kept me in the pew was practicing this greater current that we call “the liturgical calendar”; this greater movement that connected all of life together.

Which makes me wonder why all corners of the Christian church don’t follow the church calendar.

Because even though I couldn’t believe, I could sense, I knew, that whether or not there was a God, there was definitely life.  And that life had seasons.  Not just the outside world, not just flowers and hibernating bears and all that stuff, but my life had seasons.

Has seasons.

In fact, in the winters of my life, the ability to practice the season of the church was one of the most important things in the world to me.

Even as someone who had broken up with Jesus as his boyfriend.

And there’s some good wisdom to the church year.  Like, for instance, that Lent is 40 days long, but Easter is 50 days long.  If that is not an implicit message that your life will laugh more than it cries, I don’t know what is.

Or how that season that we call “Ordinary Time,” the time in the church year of spiritual growth, takes up almost fifty percent of the calendar.  Take a look at your life.  About half of your life will be spent learning and growing.

Lord, that’s deep wisdom.

And see, the church year helps us to practice these seasons in our lives.  It gives us rhythm.

I like to talk about it as breath.  The seasons of the church year help me to breathe.  If you think yoga is good for your breath, dive deeply into the church calendar as a practice…

Because there are times in my life where I wait, and will have to wait: for diagnosis, for biopsy results, for birth, for a death.  Advent helps me wait.

There are times in my life where I’ll need to do some adjustment, some realignment: after a disgrace, after a significant relationship break, in a season of vocational or personal drought.  Lent helps me to do the introspective work necessary to live well.

There are times in my life of “Ah-ha” and “feeling most alive”: having a breakthrough, gaining insight, feeling zealousness over a cause.  Epiphany and Pentecost teach me to be on the look out for these moments and not pass them by.

And there are times in my life for rejoicing, for birth and re-birth: in reconciliation, after a literal birth, on holidays, after an illness has passed, “sittin’ on the dock of the bay.”  Christmas and Easter help me to celebrate well.

And the three days of that time we call “The Triduum,” Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil…well…that’s a whole life-span in one fell swoop.  A life of serving, of dying, and of rising.  And when it’s honored it is the most important gift of the church year.

It is Christ’s body emblazoned on a calendar.  And it helps me see my body and my calendar and how they mix.

There is just such wisdom to the church year.  It’s like a Mr. Miyagi for your soul: you “wax on” and “wax off” and think you’re not doing anything but refurbishing a car…and then, boom, you’re forced to wait or repent or celebrate or learn or grow.

And, as T.S. Elliot says, it’s like you “know the place for the first time”…and yet, you’ve been there before.  It’s that familiar/foreign experience that this journey with God always puts upon us when practiced well.

A lot of churches are getting away from the liturgical calendar.  And they do so at the expense of the Christians they serve.  It has deep roots, even deeper than the church itself.  The roots of marking time and specific periods goes all the way back to when our ancient mothers and fathers figured out that a dead seed will live again if planted, watered, tended, and nurtured.

And that the thing that grew from that would be good for you.

A friend of mine talked about going to a church on Easter Sunday one day.  They had all the attraction details down: welcoming people, if you signed up on a bulletin board as a first time visitor Krispy Kreme donuts would be delivered to your house the next week, the music was loud, the pastor had an engaging sermon.

But they didn’t talk about the resurrection.  They just talked about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that was abstracted not only from Easter as a celebration day, but from the whole history of Christianity.

He said he left feeling…empty.

He had come for food, for deep roots, for a personal relationship in some ways, but also an historical relationship that lifted up so much more than just he and Jesus one-on-one time.

But he didn’t find it there because, Lord, if all we’re offering is shallow theology and Krispy Kreme donuts…well…skip the church service and just go to the coffee shop.

And many people, now, do.

And I think it’s probably because we haven’t really done a good job rooting them in this practice, this deeper rhythm.

Look, Christianity is nothing without Jesus.  But Jesus, and a personal relationship with Jesus, is not all there is to Christianity, either.  And the deeper undercurrent that speaks truth about the heartbeat of life, all life, that is made plain by the church calendar can and should be lifted up.

And it’s not just about changing church parament colors.  It is about living differently in different seasons of life.  It is about Ecclesiastes 3, and asking “what time is it?” for our lives personally and communally.

But instead we lift up an empty Jesus devoid of rootedness with my life, with the rhythms of life, a Jesus who is no more connected to the current of life than a Krispy Kreme donut.

And, let’s be honest, I love Krispy Kreme donuts.

But they don’t really feed me.

“Ash Kicking” or “Why I Don’t Think Ash Wednesday is a Good Day for Peddling Religious Goods”

I know this post might not be popular with many of my colleagues, but it is timely…so I’m going to put it out there.  ashes

I get why pastors and church people stand by the bus stop and the train stop and on busy thoroughfares for Ash Wednesday.  We “get out of the church and into the world” by doing this, right?  We “take the ministry to the streets.”

I get the rationale; I get it.  And I get that it probably can be pretty powerful for the ashers, and possibly the ashees, too.

But here’s my concern, specifically with Ash Wednesday: I fear it is cheap.

Yes, cheap.

Ash Wednesday is a day of solemnity when we hear the prophet Joel encourage people to “return to the Lord.”  The liturgy involves a movement from the Kryie (Lord, have mercy) to hearing Joel’s encouragement to Matthew’s prayerful penitent beat his chest, and then we take last year’s Hosanna’s, burn them as a sign that we’ve burned so much of our praise in pursuit of the dust of this world, and mark ourselves again as dust.

It is a movement of stark realism.  It is a movement, like a carefully put together album, that leads you from the realization of mortality to a hopeful life despite the fact that you are dust.

Beautiful stardust…but dust nonetheless.

But more than anything, it is a movement.  And it takes a bit of time.  Not much time, but some time.  Mortality does not sink in so quickly (without sudden tragedy, of course).  And we should allow the time.  Not much time, but time nonetheless.  As the beginning of Lent, a season of intentionality, it seems odd to me that we would start out with such slack intentionality…

It is much more than a simple smudge at the bus stop.  Sure, there are many who will also offer prayer in that time.  Sure, there are many who will also offer information about how the individual seeking to be “ashed” (or get the “ash kicking” as I like to say) can hook up with a faith community.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it.

I’m just saying why I’m not going to…and I want to ask the question publicly.

Because despite the prayer and the information on faith communities, I don’t think Ash Wednesday is the day to do it.

We don’t see people out on Easter passing out lilies.  Actually, that makes a ton more sense to me…

I don’t want Ash Wednesday…I don’t want my mortality…to be a gimmick.  And I worry that the church can turn it into that.

And there’s something important about having Ash Wednesday with other people of faith, all together, in one place.  There’s something important about me, the individual hearing “Memento, homo, quod pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris” but then also having all of us, communally, hear it.

It’s not just about me; it’s about us.  All of us.  We are all stardust…and our systems of power and “isms” and phobias have reinforced it.

And there is something powerful about having a train full of cross-smudged commuters.  I won’t deny that.  But what does it mean that they got it running for the 8:05am?

Have an early morning Ash Wednesday service.  Or a noon one, where people can do it at lunch hour.  Or, have a full one at the bus stop, 20 minutes long.  Or point people toward a service that happens right as work gets out downtown.  I think these are good options.  But not as they’re running by…

Because I want to know: what do we think we’re saying when we’re offering a reminder of mortality on the fly?

What We Lose When We Exorcise Mystery from Religion

So, this Sunday falls directly on Candlemas, and for dorks like me that’s a bit of a big deal.index

For those of you not in the “know,” Candlemas is that time in the church year (for some of us) where we haul out all the candles in the church (or at least a representative sampling) and bless them.  My colleague calls it a “hinge day,” marking the midpoint between the Winter’s Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

So we haul out the candles and we bless them to acknowledge the Christ as being the “light of the world.”  And I’ve never met anyone who didn’t sit in solemn silence in the presence of a candle illuminating a darkened room.  There’s something deeply True about doing that.

It’s kind of like how many of us will burn greens right after Christmas, pray late into the night on the Winter’s Solstice, and bless houses at Epiphany.

All of these rites, these rituals, help us to breathe deeply  with history, with the Earth’s movement, and with the mystery that connects us to one another and to the Divine.  It’s why I bow toward the cross as it comes into my midst: I want to honor in my body the mystery of salvation.

But a lot of places don’t do this.  Won’t do this.  Indeed, a lot of places think these acts are superfluous at best and superstitious at worst.

I don’t bless candles because I think they must be blessed.  I bless them because, in doing so, I acknowledge that light will overcome darkness. Always. And that deserves blessing.

I don’t pray late into the night on the Winter’s Solstice because I think that evil resides in the shadows and I must pray it away.  No. I know evil resides in the shadows.  Hence why we don’t tell our secrets…many times they’re too full of evil, guilt, or shame to expose to the light.  So I pray late into the night to acknowledge that, from that point on, it will get lighter and lighter each day as we lean toward Spring.

And then, perhaps, I can allow a little light to shine more and more on my secrets.

And all of these practices help to connect me with a mystery of life and salvation greater than myself.  It’s kind of like our big harvest festival, Thanksgiving.  Ever since our forbears figured out that a dead seed will spring from the Earth, a mix between careful tending and damn luck, they’ve acknowledged that to live, and to breathe, and to eat is a gift.

All of it, gift.

And part of living into that gift is acknowledging that there are moments in life that are just bigger than us…and that should be ritualized. Communally ritualized.

But so much of modern faith is all brain or all heart and no mystery (unless we’re expected to believe that Jonah mysteriously wasn’t dissolved by stomach acid).

We just feel it’s true.  We assent to mental tenets (or reject them).

And yet, deep love is neither mental nor emotional.  It doesn’t make sense to the brain, and is often too fleeting with the heart.

No. Deep love is a mix of the head and the heart and the guts and…and that’s where I find true faith to reside, too.

Timothy Keller and Christopher Hitchens attempt to rationalize everything (they are in good company).  They are the different sides of the same coin. Not everything has an answer.

Likewise, the absolute emotionalism of charismatic and ecstatic communities miss the mark, too, I think.  Things aren’t true because they move our emotions; emotions are fleeting.  “Mystery” doesn’t mean believing just anything.

No. Things are true because they connect us deeply in the past and far into the future.

Hence why myth is True in a deeper sense then pure history.  Hence why rituals are True in a sense deeper than mindless monotony.

A belief system (and, remember, even atheism is a belief system) that attempts to exorcise mystery by finding a formula for everything and explaining everything or, conversely, by necessitating a constant emotional response is a faith that has lost something.

I think it’s lost depth.  My atheism was shallow.  As was my previous faith.  And while I don’t claim that I’ve reached some sort of amazing depth in my faith life now, it’s certainly more connected then anything I’ve practiced before.

Rituals don’t “save” me.

No.

I don’t do them to earn anything.  Rather, they do exactly what “religion” claims to do: they reconnect me.  Re-ligio comes from the same root as “ligament.”  It  reconnects us.

Because we have a way of disconnecting from life.  But, too often, even religion fails to live up to it’s name these days.

So, this Sunday, haul out some candles.  Give thanks for the light.

“Power Sucks” or “Sing the Magnificat Carefully”

So, I’m going to try my best not to join the chorus Phenom-Power-631of people lamenting Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers and Beth Moore and the like.  Well, at least not too much.

Needless to say I think they’re all full of it; I don’t think I need to point out to you why that is in any great detail.

But too many in the church are calling them “false prophets” and other such crazy names.  Frankly, I think that’s giving them too much credit.  We shouldn’t call them prophets at all because their message isn’t, in the least, prophetic.  They’re just people trying to make a buck, I think.

No really, I think that’s all they are.  They’re great showmen.  They’re good speakers (not great speakers, mind you).  And they’re good at organizing other people around them.  Natural leaders.

But they’re not prophets.

To be a prophet, to speak prophetically in the historical sense, was to speak truth with some boldness.  It was to speak in such a way that the very powers and systems of the world were shaken, afraid of your message.  This is why Paul speaks of teaching and preaching, “boldly.”  He does so in such a way that the very powers were afraid.

Hence why he ended up in jail so often.  Prophets usually ended up dead because of their message.

I’m pretty certain Olsteen, Meyers, Moore, Dollar, Jakes, and basically the personalities of channels 460-480 on my cable package will end up in jail.

For tax fraud.

Not for speaking too boldly against the powers of this world.

See, their message is one of power: God wants you to be powerful.

Powerful bank accounts.  Powerful influence.  Prestige.  Powerful enough to look at a house and “claim it” before you can afford it (aka “The Joel Osteen Story” coming to a Lifetime time-slot near you).

Powerful enough to actually believe that Living Proof Ministries would be an attractive name for a company that publishes “educational material” written by someone with no scholarly training in Biblical history or interpretation (that’s Beth Moore’s ministry outfit, in case you were wondering).

I need the living proof that she’s qualified to write material…

Here’s where the cognitive dissonance comes for this Christian: Jesus, in his life, in his birth, in his death, in his interactions, was not powerful by any worldly definition of power.

In fact, the song we’ll be singing in my faith community on Sunday, The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56), talks about how God throws down the mighty from their thrones, fills up the hungry but sends the rich away empty, scatters the proud, and causes all sorts of ruckus for those who play by the power rules of the world.

Look, Jesus was a homeless man, born to an unwed mother.  He had no job, lived off of the kindness of others, and died when he was a young man in the most horrible way possible.

By all accounts, Jesus was a failure.

And apparently Meyers’ and Olsteen’s and Jakes’ message to Jesus would be, “God’s got a blessing just waiting for you!  Just wait and see!  God doesn’t put up with people who are down on themselves, who don’t think they can. You are powerful in God!”

To which Jesus replies, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Power sucks.  It sucks the life out of us.  It sucks the message out of the church.  It just plain sucks.

Look, I’m not down on wealth or self-esteem.  God hasn’t made you to be a Debbie Downer (though God did make Rachel Dratch for that role).  Nor has God made you to be scraping by economically (though, I think there is such a thing as having too much).

I’m just down on wealth and self-esteem being pandered around as the central message of the church in this nation’s biggest churches.  And especially at this time of year, when laser-light Christmas pageants are being planned, and live camels are being rented, and all sorts of nonsense is costing people millions of dollars and hundreds of hours because they think God desires “bigger and better!”…

I have to imagine Jesus is in the back row, quietly lighting a candle, looking up at the stage and saying, “Father forgive them…for they know not what they do.”

Oh, and Father, forgive me, too.  This reluctant Christian is often just a little too proud in his thoughts.

So scatter my ego as well.

Then perhaps I, too, can sing The Magnificat with Mary this Advent.  Carefully.

Really Re-Claim Advent. We Need It.

I love Christmas.7772528906_b6961079fb_z

Secular Christmas, religious Christmas, Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, Christmas eggnog, Christmas candles, Christmas lights.

I am the quintessential consumer of Christmas crap that every marketer dreams of and every minimalist fears.

Because at Christmas it should be classy…but the definition of classy has permeable boundaries.

And I listen to Christmas music early in the season.  Mostly because I think it reminds me of Christmases when I was a kid, which were always full of magic and mystery and all sorts of greatness.

And perennial calls for stopping “wars on Christmas” or yelling for “no Christmas music until Advent is over” is all a bunch of nonsense from people who love to control things and who have an inordinate amount of time to obsess over nothingness.

But one thing is true: Christmas is for children.  And I’m not just talking about secular Christmas with the fat elf and the flying Rangifer tarandus.  

Religious Christmas is for children, too, in many ways.  You may not want to hear that, but it’s true. The myths that have grown themselves around the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke (often conflated awkwardly with the first two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew) have created a narrative that theologically resonates, but realistically falls flat.

Angels, traveling Magi, virgin births…it’s all hard to swallow as reality, even for the faithful. It’s a story for children’s books.

And I’d advocate that you need not swallow it all to be Christian.  In fact, it sounds like so much myth mostly because it was written to evoke that kind of thought in the reader and that kind of hope in the reader’s heart.  You, too, are supposed to see that something unusual, epic, of mythical proportions is taking place in the person of Jesus.

Yes, you too.

But we’ve taken the mythical narrative and have tried to pass it off as history, and it all makes for people creating wars on Christmas (real and imaginary), and people rejecting theological truths because they don’t line-up with historical reality, and…

Well, here we are.

But see, this is the thing: the mythical nature of Christmastide is, and should be, balanced by the stark reality of Advent.

If only we could really re-claim Advent.

And I’m not talking about the Advent calendar with nice little doors that have chocolate inside until you get to Christmas eve.

That’s not real Advent.  That’s commercial Advent.

And I’m not talking about just banning Christmas hymns or music in deference to Advent music.  That’s like only focusing on one tire on a car, when the whole thing is broken.  It won’t do what you want it to.

No, we need to reclaim the totality of Advent because Advent is for adults.

Advent is for adults who wait for births, or for diagnoses, or for the death of a loved one, or for a new job, or for any job, or for that pink slip they know is coming, or for relief from pain, or for visitors to arrive and cheer up a lonely existence, or…

Or anything that we wait for that causes anxiety.

Because Advent is all about receiving the uncomfortable news that God is on the scene, is going to show up, is going to shake up your world in some way.  And that news when coupled with the “Fear not!” of the angel message is what balances out this season.

Your life is going to be shaken.  But fear not!

Jesus, we need to hear that again.  And I mean that phrase in every way it can be taken.

Because all the ridiculous anxiety around this time of year just points to the unrest that we have, the imbalance that we feel, when we focus so closely on one part of a larger issue.

The church needs to reclaim Advent because society, humanity, lives in Advent quite a bit of the time.  It’s one of the shortest seasons in the church year, but one of the longest seasons of our lives: the season of waiting.

And we need to practice waiting well.  Advent can do that, for the secular and the religious alike.

And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because most of the Christian world just skips right over it in deference to “defending Christmas” or focusing on music rather than meaning, or just abandoning it all together because, who cares?

Who cares?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself many times while waiting  as both ends of the wick burn, as patience runs thin, as the meagerness of my existence comes colliding with the immensity of the existing world and I feel like a measly piece of nothingness against it all.

And I don’t have time for nothingness.

Who cares?

Advent’s answer to that question is, “Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.  Wait for the Lord; be strong take heart.”

I don’t like answers.  I like questions.  But when all I have are questions, Advent’s response is balm for a weary soul.

“Obscenity” or “On Why I Discourage People from Writing Their Own Marriage Vows”

I do a lot of weddings. I have a young community that I serve; it comes with the territory.writing-wedding-vows

And marriage is certainly on the radar these days in the States as more and more parts of the Union have legalized the union of same-sex couples.

I support same-sex marriage.  I should just say that off the bat.  I support it because, despite what you might hear out there, the Bible doesn’t have a thing to say about marriage.  It has many things to say.  And many of those things run contrary to modern notions of marriage.

What I don’t support, though, is for couples to write their own vows.  Sometimes I allow it…with conditions.  But, by and large, I don’t support it.  I’ll just come out of the proverbial closet on this: I’m against crappy vows.

If you want me to use my special designation by the State to do marriages, I’m going to force you to do pre-marital counseling with me.  Each session focuses on a different aspect of life together (and life, in general): family, finances, friends, and intimacy.

(If you want to keep going with “f” words it become obscene).

Another “f” word, faith, is woven through all of those.  Faith as trust: trust in the Divine and one another.

The very first session, though, is where we plan out the ceremony itself.  We spend a little while talking about order and structure, and then we look at words.  I think words are important (as you may know from previous posts).

I think words are so important, in fact, that I don’t continue with my string of “f” words when describing the different pre-marital counseling sessions…even though it would fulfill my great delight in alliteration.  The “f” word we commonly associate with intimacy is anything but intimate.  And although it’s a curse word that spices up language (and I’ve been known to curse), let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t feel particularly intimate with the “f” word in a way that is lasting.

If we did, we wouldn’t use it so liberally.  It is an obscene word that we use to indicate that something is just that: obscene.

“Love” is by far a scarier word to say.   And intimacy is not obscene, it’s scary.

So, because words are important, I always take the couple through the various words that I can/will use in the service: the declaration of intention, the prayer of the day, the blessings.

And then we get to the vows. And at this point I usually say something like this, “Now, I’m going to give you some options for vows and I want us to talk about them.  I want you to use one of these options. If you want to write your own vows, that’s a possibility…but I need to see them before hand.  And we need to talk about them.”

In all honesty, most couples aren’t interested in writing their own vows.  They’d rather have someone write something for them on a day when they’re already more visible than they’d like to be.

But every so often a couple will want to write their own…and that’s when I do my damnedest to try to talk them out of it.

See, this is the thing: in marriage, you can’t just promise whatever you might want.  And because love is scary, we often don’t know exactly what we want…and so we just go with what we know.

And so much of what we know is just sentimental generalist crap.

A vow is something very specific.  I had one of my best couples consider writing their own vows because, as the future bride put it, they wanted to “publicly express their love for one another.”**   Of course they do.  But that’s what the marriage ceremony is in and of itself.

A vow is not an expression of love, and yet so many labor under the delusion that it is.

A vow is a sacred promise, a statement that you say in front of people who, if they are at their best, will hold you accountable to them.  A vow is you saying, “Hey everyone listen up! I’m going to pledge some very specific things to this person across from me, and I want you to hear them and hold me accountable to them.”

Expressions of love are not vows.  Expressions of love are emotionally based.  Vows are not emotionally based, no matter what popular culture tries to tell you.

Vows don’t come from your heart, nor do they come from your head.  Vows come from that place that exists somewhere between rationality and emotionality, because you keep them even when it doesn’t make sense, and even when you don’t feel like it.

So many couples want to write their vows in secret, apart from one another, and then surprise the other with them.  Such surprises are best left for other points in the service, or other times in the whole event of the marriage day.  If you write your vows in secret, how are you to ensure that you’re vowing the same things to one another?

One of you cannot vow to be with the other to the bitter end, while the other only mention staying together in sunny times.  That happens, you know.  I’ve heard self-stylized vows that had very little to say about “the worst that is to come.”

And that’s when the vow is so important!

In a day and age of choice, which is what we are in, I’m sorry…I’m not willing to provide you with this particular choice.  You cannot choose what you vow to one another in marriage; marriage cannot mean whatever you want it to mean.

And I know that may seem to trample on individuality, but I’m trying my hardest to impart one thing and one thing only on you two: this is important.  You will make of your journey together what you will, but I want to hear how you’re going to make the journey, and I’d prefer you use ancient words that people have leaned on throughout all of time.

Because for as much as this is about you and your love, it’s also about all of us who witness it.  Because you invited us to be there.  So I’m going to try to hold you accountable to these things to the best of my ability.

And I’m not one who believes a couple should “stay together at all costs.”  Sometimes an amicable divorce is healthier than an acrimonious marriage.  But, at the very least, can we not look at the vows you made and figure out where things went wrong?  Let’s not pretend that people divorce over irreconcilable differences.

We divorce because vows are difficult to keep and we have trouble living together in covenants.

And so, instead of vows, too often we just have statements of love and intention because other people are really really difficult to live with.

No one marries intending not to stay together; I know what you intend.  I want to know what you vow.  I want to know what you promise from that place between your head and heart, that place of deep yearning that leads people to come together in marriage in the first place.

I don’t think marriage is under threat because people of the same sex want to marry.  Any two people can make a vow; gender doesn’t have much to do with it.  Marriage is under threat because people, of any sex, want to marry on their own terms.

And so much of the church is missing the boat here, I think.  We shouldn’t stand against same sex marriage, we should stand against shoddy vows and a society unwilling to comment on them in a meaningful (read: not judgmental) way when they fall apart.

I think the Bible has many things to say about marriage, most of them absolutely foreign to our modern ears and notions about the institution.  The question for the church isn’t, “What does the Bible say about marriage?” It is rather, “What does our faith say about marriage?”

And our faith, the Christian faith, says vows and covenants are important.  This thread flows through both testaments.

I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, we’ve been silent on the vows…but have a heck of a lot to say about who should marry.

And to not see the difference?  That’s just obscene.

**The couple eventually decided to have some statements of love that they had written to one another read before the vows themselves.  This is a great option, I think.