Sunday, April 29, 2012

Home and Household: Thoughts on Pre-Marital Counseling

I will be conducting my first marriage service on the 30th of June and have, as a result, been conducting my first pre-martial counselling sessions. I've found it helpful (and fun) to put together, and I think (hope!) the couple has as well. As every minister's pre-marital counseling is a work in progress, I wanted to put out the outline of the course and get feedback from anyone who was interested in commenting.

The sessions have revolved around the distinction between "Home" and "Household."

"Home" references the relationship side of the equation. "Home is where the heart is," after all. These are many of the soft skills of being together, of living as adults together, of figuring out how to love one another even when you're tired and cranky.

"Household," on the other hand, references all the business-like decisions that have to be made to keep the organization of a home running smoothly. Chores. Money. Meetings. You name it.

Not making this distinction can cause a lot of problems. It's amazing how quickly something like neglecting to take out the trash (a household issue) can turn into an emotional and hurtful fight (a home issue around communication). If we can manage the household well, it takes a lot of pressure off the home life of a couple. And if a couple develops skills in mending their relationship and keeping it passionate and engaging in the first place, all the better.

So, the list of things covered in this first go at pre-marital counseling looked something like this (though not in this order):
  1. What is Marriage, Really?
    1. The biblical portraits of marriage in Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians
    2. An introduction to the home/household distinction
  1. Home - Communication basics, drawing from Crucial Conversations
  2. Household - Household basics - who's responsible for what?
  3. Home - Love Languages, drawing from The Five Love Languages
  4. Household - Money - a la Dave Ramsey
  5. Home - Holding one another accountable, drawing from Crucial Confrontations
  6. Household - Moving Forward Together as a Partnership in the Gospel, drawing from The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family

What do you think? Is there anything missing? What other skills might you cover?

*Picture by Kriss Szkurlatowski

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Retelling Genesis 1-3

I wondered recently if one could retell the story of Genesis 1-3 compellingly and Christianly by beginning with "Once upon a time." This was the result.

Once upon a time, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the whole earth was full of chaos and terror. But, God put his hand to the plow and began to shape it. He took it in his hands like a potter grabs the lump of clay, and he moulded it. Over the course of time, God brought something good out of the chaos, opening up the world into higher and higher levels of order and peace, until one day, he brought out, from the dust of the ground as it were, the first man and the first woman.

He put them in a tilled and kept place, an oasis of peace and harmony in the midst of the chaotic world. It was a time of innocence. A time of peace. God gave them a task: keep the Garden. Expand it. Bring order and peace to the whole chaotic and terror-filled world. And, he said, don't eat of the tree in the center of the Garden, the tree that will let you know the difference between good and evil. You're not ready for that yet. You'll have time to learn that later.

But, just like all of us, Adam and Eve were curious. It didn't help that one of the creatures from outside the Garden had slithered in and was intent on bringing inside the outer chaos, of disrupting the human being's work before it could even begin. The serpent suggested that God was withholding the difference between right and wrong unfairly, that of course the humans were ready for it right now. The woman ate first. The man ate after her. And God, walking through the Garden that evening, seeing that the disorder from outside the Garden had already taken root in the ones who were to spread his order and peace to the whole chaotic world, saw that things would not work out the way he'd planned.

So, he told them what this new disorder meant: things were broken. The relationship between the man and the woman was broken. The relationship between the humans and the earth was broken. Most wretched of all, the relationship between the humans and God was broken. Sin, disorder, had crept in. Nothing could be the same.

The humans had been ashamed, noticing for the first time that they were naked. But, God would not let them stay naked. He gave them their first set of clothes, a perpetual sign that order must cover chaos, that the work of setting things right has to start with the humans themselves. And he gave them a promise that one day one of the first woman's children would stand up to the serpent. But this time, the human would win. By winning, that human being would give the world a fresh start.

Christians say we know that human's name: Jesus of Nazareth. But what happened between the promise to the first humans and the birth of Jesus is a whole ream of other stories, stories of faithfulness and rebellion, stories of order and chaos, stories of peace and war. Those stories we will have to save for later.

**Picture by kay82

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Portable Narrative (Baptismal Covenant, part 4)

Q.1 Celebrant  Do you believe in God the Father?
People   I believe in God, the Father almighty,
  creator of heaven and earth.

Q.2 Celebrant  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People   I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
    He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
      and born of the Virgin Mary.
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried.
    He descended to the dead.
    On the third day he rose again.
    He ascended into heaven,
      and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 304

(The belated fourth installment in the Baptismal Covenant series)

So far in this series, I have framed covenant in biblical terms together with the way the Prayer Book talks about covenant. The takeaway is that nothing that the Baptismal Covenant asks of its people is anything other than can be "proved" (in that old Anglican sense) from Holy Scripture. This is important. The BC formulates a path of discipleship rooted in Scripture.

The first two questions of the Covenant are the first two articles of the Apostles' Creed. As one of my undergraduate teachers used to say that the creed is a "portable narrative." It hits the highlights of the Gospel story from beginning to end. I would add that the creed, when memorized, creates a set of useful "places" to go in the mind. They are nooks and crannies in which you can put other memories, other thoughts about God, self, and other. Memorizing this is not an end in itself. It is something that creates the ability to learn and retain more than one would otherwise be able to capture and keep.

Why put the creed first in the Baptismal Covenant? Because it provides the narrative context for everything that follows. In effect, the creed stands at the head of the Baptismal Covenant as both context and legitimation. The way of life that we request of our baptizands is sufficiently weird that we have to justify in advance why this kind of life means something. Our answer: this crazy way of life means something only because of the story told in the creed.

What about people who struggle with believing the creed? There is a certain amount of "as if" here. If you don't believe the creed but still act according to the rest of the Covenant, you are acting as though you believe it. If you're okay living with that kind of ambiguity, that's up to you; however I have a hard time imagining taking the rest of the BC seriously without some kind of grounding in these basic statements of Christian belief.

The basic elements of the portable narrative revolve around the three persons of the Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father stands at the head of the creed as almighty creator of heaven and earth, already the Father because of his everlasting relationship with the Son. The Son has a very earthly life: conceived, born, suffered, crucified, died, buried, descended to the dead, rose, ascended, coming again. The creed is clear about the continuity of Jesus' earthly life and his resurrected, ascended, and reigning life. Without this continuity, without the Jesus who died and yet reigns and is coming again, everything else that is to follow (including the third article of the creed) makes little sense.

This portable narrative stands at the head as context and legitimation for the way of life to follow, a life just weird enough to need that context and justification. The next instalment in this series will begin to look at the life of the baptized as the life of the Spirit.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Holy Saturday

It's Holy Saturday. The church sits empty - desolate. Not even the sign of Christ's presence remains. It is empty, because we remember Christ's death. There was a time when the Son was not, but it was not before the Incarnation. It was the time of Christ's hollowness, the time of Christ's descent into Hell. For this one day, we remember the day not in which God in his humanity died, but the day in which God stayed dead. We hold our breath. We wait.

It is hard to hold one's breath, but this is the first year where I have felt it. I feel the waiting all around me. The world is about to burst forth into new day . . . but not yet. This is the time of Christ's hollowness. This is the time of Christ's harrowing. This is the time of Christ's eternal sleep.

Tomorrow will be the time of Hell's hollowness, of Hell's harrowing, of Hell's eternal sleep, doomed as it is to spit forth the saints of old and to have the human race in its grip no longer. The gates of Hell are torn down. There is nothing to keep us there save our own hollowness, our own harrowing, or own eternal sleep.

Oh, that Christ would burst forth from the grave! Oh, that Christ would finish his work and not be absent from us any longer. Oh, that Christ would make himself known again, to send forth his disciples into the nations, to heal the world and bring people to his love and knowledge.

Oh, that it might be. Maranatha! Come, Holy Spirit, come! Fill our hollowness. Negate our harrowing. Wake us from our sleep.