I’ve been thinking about this blog post for some time. Marriage. Dean and I are well into our 32nd year of being exclusively committed to one another, have zero regrets about our decision to marry and hope to be blessed with many more years together. It would seem likely that if one has been successfully married for this length of time, the best thing to write about would be how it has been possible, especially when living in a country where over 50% of all marriages end in divorce and many single adults are simply choosing to partner up without it. I could say a few things about that but will have to save that for another time because what I really want to share with you about the topic has little to do with it.
I’m writing today because after reading the book Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert, I have been able to put together some very interesting pieces of another issue that I have and will likely wrestle with for the rest of my life; my faith. I discovered that no matter what one’s religion, or lack thereof, marriage is a big deal. If it becomes bothersome to a religion’s followers it is just a matter of time when the avoidance of it will rattle cages and break open boxes in the life and culture of everyone in one’s circle of influence. Add to that the layers of legal ramifications of not marrying and the issue becomes even more complex. I honestly had no idea just how complex until I read this book.
I learned so much about life itself through Elizabeth and Philipe’s journey but one part in particular was especially meaningful to me. It was her take on marriage in western civilization and specifically the history of marriage in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. Not representing any particular Christian denomination or bent, she was able to look at the topic from the entirety of the Bible without any obligation to obey what she saw there. In her study she simply researched the origins of marriage in the Western civilization.
Here is what she said that first blew me away, but in the end made me realize that THIS was the faith message I had been hearing all of my life from my own personal interactions with God. This perspective was also something I could never begin to allow myself to articulate because my own religious boxes would not be able to contain it.
“Even when marriage has been defined as a union between a man and just one woman, its purposes were not always what we might assume today. In the early years of Western civilization, men and women married each other mostly for the purpose of physical safety. In the time before organized states, the wild B.C. days of the Fertile Crescent, the fundamental working unit of society was the family. From the family came all your basic social welfare needs–not just companionship and procreation, but also food, housing, education, religious guidance, medical care, and, perhaps most importantly, defense.”
“Those extended families grew into tribes, and those tribes became kingdoms, and those kingdoms emerged into dynasties, and those dynasties fought each other in savage wars of conquest and genocide. The early Hebrews emerged from exactly this system, which is why the Old Testament is such a family-centric, stranger-abhoring, genealogical extravaganza–rife with tales of patriarchs, matriarchs, brothers, sisters, heirs, and other miscellaneous kin. …the driving narrative always concerns the progress and tribulations of the bloodline, and marriage was central to the perpetuation of that story.”
“But the New Testament–which is to say, the arrival of Jesus Christ–invalidated all those old families loyalties to a degree that was truly socially revolutionary. Instead of perpetuating the tribal notion of “the chosen people against the world,” Jesus (who was an unmarried man, in marked contrast to the great patriarchal heroes of the Old Testament) taught that we were all chosen people, that we are all brothers and sisters united within one human family. …You cannot embrace a stranger as your brother, after all, unless you are ready to renounce your real biological brother, thus capsizing an ancient code that binds you in sacred obligation to your blood relatives while putting you in auto-opposition to the unclean outsider. But that sort of fierce clan loyalty was exactly what Christianity sought to overturn. As Jesus taught “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:26
As a highly sensitive person and one who genuinely doesn’t want to hate anyone, those words have driven me crazy for much of my life. It wasn’t that Jesus seemed to encourage us to actually hate our parents and siblings because I didn’t take that literally anyway. It was that I did know that with almost 100% certainty that sincere faith in God can take one away from one’s tribe of origin and when it does, the sparks will fly.
I have also heard the above text quoted as evidence that when one is joining with another tribe, their family’s resistance is proof that they are in fact following Jesus the Christ. The real one. I’ve heard this from:
- Catholics who became Lutheran
- Jews who became Christians
- Lutherans who became Catholic
- Lutherans who became Baptist
- Mormons who became Baptist
- Baptist who became Mormons
Get the picture? We all want to KEEP OUR TRIBES TOGETHER and marriage is one of the most important institutions within our religious persuasions that will accomplish that. It is why my grandmother’s first question was “Is he Catholic?”. We, of course were Lutheran so that would be the worst possible thing we could do to our family were we to marry a Catholic. Dean and I were both rebels leaving the Lutheran faith of our family because we had became Evangelicals in high school. Oddly enough, we were equally committed to perpetuating our new tribe in the very way our grandparents had hoped we would theirs.
As time has gone by for us, we have realized that though we continue to share a deep faith in God together, we had already bought into the concept presented here in Elizabeth Gilbert’s little book about marriage. We both believe that Jesus did come on the scene with the very message she discusses here. Jesus was in fact single. He’s recorded as having loved, visited and healed all kinds of people who were outside of his Jewish faith. He declared to the ancients that faith was not necessarily something you were born into. His actions recorded throughout the Bible make it really clear that if one wants a God oriented life, it is right there for the asking no matter what your tribe. AND THAT was so revolutionary that they crucified him for it.