+ Larry’s List of Dark Corners, Holy Nudges, and Faithful Nonsense +
My long-ago stint in seminary included:
- Barely surviving a semester of Greek.
- Forgetting lines in a dramatic reading of a W.H. Auden piece.
- An esteemed professor, in an aside, declaring I’d be a good preacher.
- Learning that learning was a lifetime endeavor.
- Rediscovering Jesus again. (And again.)
- Meeting beloved friends that are still friends.
- Arriving married, leaving divorced.
The last one is the punchline with a grimace; a shameful, unavoidably obvious truth.
My time at Claremont School of Theology, all in the 1970s, was a transformational journey. I was raised in a loving Christian family. I attended Sunday school since being “knee high to a grasshopper.” Though declaring my plans to become an attorney before high school started, the parallel nudge of ministry shadowed me. Law faded, ministry blossomed. And yet even with all of my background and support, seminary staggered me.
And some of that involved a divorce.
Did I marry too young when saying I do at twenty-two? Too young? Hey, my own mother was days shy of her seventeenth birthday when she rang the wedding bells! Many “young” marriages can survive. Not mine.
Was I was overly influenced by friends getting hitched while still in college? If they were getting married, shouldn’t I? I know of several marriages from back then that have endured (and thrived) until now. Not mine.
Of course, Paul had reservations about marriage in I Corinthians 7:1-4:
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does…
And there’s Jesus’s cautionary words about marriage and divorce in Matthew 5:31-32*:
It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
On the other hand (or verses), Solomon claimed hundreds of wives, concubines, and . . . well, let’s not get into those parts of the Bible.
If one has a strong faith, won’t the marriage be strong and enduring?
Good person = good marriage?
I was married in a church sanctuary by not one, but two clergy. Soon after the nuptials, we plunged into seminary adventures. She was happy, I was happy, everyone was happy. Well, happy for a few years of bliss and ignorance. Our adventure of two becoming one started in the same month the Senate Watergate Committee published its findings. By the first year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, hostility had shoved bliss into a dingy back room. (Do the historical math if you wish to know the dates.) That marriage was like driving through a small town with a lone flashing yellow light on Main Street: blink the eyes and it’s back to the open road. Quick is too long a word to describe my marriage’s length.
How could George and Fran Patten’s sweet, shy kid get a divorce?
How could a “good” Christian man (and minister to boot!) break a vow?
How could I fail? And yet I did.
Oddly, on the outside I looked great. The divorce meant I hardly ate. The divorce prompted a gritty exercise regime. Hey, there are pictures from back then depicting Reverend Stud. Show me a mile to run or a mountain to climb and I’d do it without breaking a sweat.
On the inside, I was a mess.
However, I did some darn good ministry during that time. God never abandoned me. Jesus kept gesturing to follow along the narrow, rocky path. I had friends that loved me, and a family that smiled anytime I arrived at their doorstep. I had just enough courage—sometimes faked—to get to the next day.
Then I met Jeanie.
There she was, in the back row of the small, wood-paneled chapel at the First United Methodist Church of San Leandro. She was a visitor at the church I served. Me, just back from a break, couldn’t help but notice her. It was a small chapel, the site for our early morning “contemporary” service. When noting that I was back from a break, please take it literally! I first saw Jeanie after having been off work for several months. I had severely busted my leg on a church backpack. Oh, how broken I was—in many ways—back then.
Soon I would learn Jeanie was going through a divorce. Soon I would learn she was a Wisconsin-born kid, also born with a call to teach, who wanted to become a professor.
I convinced her to help lead a church backpack for youth. At some point on that trip, after a rainstorm, while water dripped from surrounding trees, I blurted out a marriage proposal. How did those words escape my mouth? What was I thinking! She said . . .
Actually, she said something like, “Not yet.”
Let’s . . . wait. Ah, waiting, one of the essential elements of faith.
Wait I did. (Later, she said she was ready to say “Yes” shortly after my wet, spontaneous proposal.) Summer passed into autumn and, with a tad more foresight, I dared ask again.
Here is the truth of our love. Of our faith. Of our now thirty-five and more years of a married relationship. We have both said vows and broken them. We, like everyone, lug along our dreary failures and wrecked moments. She knows things about me, the worst of me, that no one else knows. Still, she loves me.
We are too introverted. Alone time is important. Together time can mean two people reading good books. A walk in the woods is far better than a noisy, crowded party. Both of us, raised on the so-called Protestant work ethic, too often feel a day has to be “productive.”
We are far from perfect, though Jeanie is a lot closer than me!
As we approached the ceremony of marriage—held in the chapel in Yosemite Valley—a dear friend crafted our rings. See John’s 15th chapter to understand his design of grapevines encircling our fingers. On the inside of our rings, now dulled by years of tender mercies and difficult decisions, was our wedding date and a simple mantra for our marriage: As is.
We joined together as one, daring to risk another vow, welcoming the other into a lifelong relationship, by declaring we would receive the other “as is.”
Like used cars.
Like wounded lovers.
Thanks be to God, I am who I am, with all my faults. She is, who she is, with all her faults. Our love, is as is, and forever.
*While at Willits United Methodist Church in the 1980s, I memorized the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) for an Easter Sunday service. Greeting me at the door after worship, an irked Easter visitor declared I said terrible things about divorce and he’d never again darken the door to my awful church. Well, okay, Jesus’ admonition that divorce “causes her to commit adultery . . .” does seem a fairly harsh statement! I urged the fellow to attend next Sunday’s service when I would try to interpret Jesus’ message. Barely listening, probably thinking Matthew 5’s words were mine, he never returned. Hey, even Jesus needs a little ‘splaining!
Note: I am, with these final essays, bringing my weekly faith musings to a close. For an explanation, see #1: And Yet. One final musing to go (since I decided not to include my thumbs in the count):
- September 3: #8: The Call