Say it ain’t so, Al and Tipper
Here’s what this post is not about. It is not about politics, global warming, stolen elections or inventing the internet. It is not about you.
Conversation about divorce, with real names attached, easily degrades into arm chair analysis about the particulars, his fault or hers, and what really happened. Al and Tipper Gore’s divorce is about real people, but unless you know a lot more than I know, let’s not analyze the particulars.
Conversation about divorce, any conversation about divorce, is instantly personal. Who among us has not been touched, probably hurt, by divorce? Perhaps our own, but certainly within the circle of close family and friends. It is no secret that Scripture does not view divorce in a positive light. At best divorce is understood to be given by God because of the hardness of our hearts (Mark 10:1-9). Many who read this post, LPC folks and others, know divorce all too well, its pain, but maybe also, the painful grace that it was during a particularly graceless season of life and certainly God’s grace in its aftermath, no matter what its circumstances. But this is not about your divorce or your friend’s divorce, the details and particulars, the justification or not.
This post is about marriage.
The common response to the news earlier this week that Al and Tipper Gore are ending their marriage after forty years was sadness. You read sadness in the columns and blogs and I, for one, felt very sad. I felt as sad as you can feel about something that happens to public figures who you know only by video images and headlines. You know nothing of their lives except that they are human lives and that what happened is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
But as the week wore on and the commentators got beyond initial reaction, the sadness eased and the spin began. John Roberts at NPR saw it all in a positive, happy light: Al and Tipper are clearly thinking not in terms of the years behind but the years ahead. For them, there is still a whole lot of "everything" to come. It may not be the fairy tale, but it is a classically American tale, with its themes of hope and promise and new beginnings.
Over at the Huffington Post, Stephanie Gertler all but gushed about the goodness of it all: Well, for one thing, as we baby boomers get older, 62 can be the new 42 — particularly if you have the cash to support a lifestyle that doesn't take its toll medically or cosmetically. In the case of the well-heeled Al and Tipper, perhaps they feel they still have a chance to re-invent themselves — albeit separately.
To be sure, divorce can (sometimes) lead to new beginnings and (rarely) to a re-invented self. But divorce always, by definition, ends a marriage. And even if it is a marriage that needed to end, there is nothing happy about it. And to think that it is the privilege of those with enough cash to pull it off is obscene.
“Let marriage be held in honor among all,” we say at our wedding services, quoting Hebrews 13:4. The words are not given to embellish a pleasant occasion; they are given as an imperative to the Christian community.
In the Mark 10 passage, Jesus roots his understanding of marriage in creation itself: "At the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." The last words of this saying are also the last words of our wedding services.
Honoring marriage, honoring the intent of creation, means honoring God. How might you and I and our community of faith better honor God by honoring marriage and the intent of creation? We might begin by acknowledging that marriage is both a gracious gift of God and hard work. It was hard work for Al and Tipper and it is hard work for Bill and Becky. We might begin by being honest with each other. We might begin by realizing that good marriages are not just the work of two people, but the work of the whole community.
My guess is that the greatest threat to most LPC marriages is not the other man or the other woman, but the other calendar. The work calendar or the sports calendar or the kids’ activity calendar, maybe even the church calendar, by which we cheat on the time together as a couple calendar. And like Al and Tipper we grow apart.
Who in the faith community do you know well enough or who knows you well enough to ask, “How’s your marriage?” And who would you be willing to tell and who would be willing to tell you, “You need to spend some time with your husband or wife”?
There’s a secret to the best marriages, and it has nothing to do with the “cash to support a lifestyle.” It has to do with allowing an Other into your marriage, a third party. It has to do with allowing the God who gave the gift of marriage to be a part of our marriages. Where is God in your marriage?
Divorce as a tale with themes of hope and promise and new beginnings, of the chance to re-invent self, is mostly a liar’s tale. It just ain’t so. Marriage as the story of a man and a woman leaving father and mother and being united as one flesh is God’s story. It’s a story of danger, risk, peril, adventure and discovery with no guarantees other than the promise of the Other who says to the man and the woman and their marriage, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” (The words are from Joshua 1:5, and are quoted in Hebrews in the next verse after “Let marriage be held in honor by all.”)
See You Sunday