Review: Resisting the Marriage Plot

Resisting the Marriage Plot (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Dalene Joy Fisher. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: Contrary to prevailing ideas of Christianity being an oppressive force in women’s lives in Victorian literature, looks at four instances in this literature where women resist cultural expectations around marriage due to the liberating and empowering quality of their faith.

It’s fairly common in Victorian literary studies to show the oppression of women in the conventions of marriage. And it was indeed the case that marriage could be oppressive. Under coverture, discussed in this book, a woman’s legal rights were subsumed under her husband and she had no independent legal existence. She had no property rights of her own and so was economically dependent or “covered” by her husband. Even in a beneficent situation, the deprivation of these tokens of personhood, of agency, were a form of oppression. In an abusive situation it could be much worse. And many critics point to ways the church supported this understanding of marriage and the place of women.

Dalene Joy Fisher offers us a counterfactual in this study of four novelists whose characters resist the “marriage plot” in different ways, often at great cost to themselves, but sustained by convictions of their Christian faith that led them not to submit to marriage where this would compromise their human dignity. They are:

Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria in The Wrongs of Woman. Maria marries George Venables, only to discover he is libertine. He even pays a friend to seduce her. She decides to flee with her daughter, an unlawful act, and is confined to an asylum, guarded by Jemima who eventually helps her escape.

Jane Austen, Fanny in Mansfield Park. Fanny is an impoverished girl who is sent to live with her wealthy Aunt and Uncle, who attempt to marry her off to Henry Crawford, an impressive man of questionable morals. She resists the pressure to do so because of her faith and understanding that the power to “transform” him is beyond her. Eventually she marries a clergyman, Edmund, who has counselled and befriended her.

Anne Brontë, Helen in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Helen discovers her husband Arthur is both alcoholic and adulterous and flees with her young son Arthur, living under an assumed name and supporting them by selling paintings. Her faith will not allow her and her son to live in a state of moral degradation, despite society’s expectation. She falls in love with Gilbert Markham but cannot marry. When Arthur suffers what will be a fatal accident, She returns to for one final attempt at his reform, then marries Gilbert after Arthur’s death.

Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth in Ruth. Ruth is a teenage orphan seduced by Henry Bellingham, then abandoned when she becomes pregnant. A reform minded minister takes her in, they label her a “widow,” and under this identity, she becomes a highly respected governess. Later, Bellingham, using the name Donne, shows up and insists she marry him, but she refuses because of her faith. But her true background is discovered, and she has to turn to nursing the most impoverished, gaining a name for herself. Donne falls ill and comes under her care, and, while caring for him, she contracts his disease and dies.

One of the key themes running through these novels is women refusing or leaving unworthy marriages due to their understanding of the Christian faith, that gives them a sense of agency to stand against the pressures to conform to societal norms. It is also the case that they resist the pressure to adopt the approach that a good woman can reform a bad man. They recognize that only God can transform hearts. In two instances, their resistance is rewarded with loving marriages. Two others end sadly, reflecting the consequences of oppressive structures.

The novelists considered were powerful voices. They reveal a more complex narrative of both ways Christianity has been used to oppress and Christian faith as liberative, of characters empowered by their understanding of Christian faithfulness to resist the “marriage plot” when not to so would implicate them in immoral behavior and subject them to abuse. Victorians spoke of marriage as “he for God only, she for God in him.” Fisher shows the power of Christian faith to lead both men and women to say, “they for God only, he and she for God,” a message which seems as needed today as in the Nineteenth century.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Discovering Biblical Equality (Third Edition)

Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural & Practical Perspectives (Third Edition), Editors: Ronald W. Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall, Associate editor: Christa L. McKirland. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A compendium of scholarly essays addressing gender differences in marriage and the church supporting an egalitarian perspective.

One of the divides among evangelical churches is over the question of the roles of women and men in the home and the church. One group would contend that the Bible teaches distinctive roles for women and men, teaching the subordination of women to the headship of men in marriage, and that men alone may lead and teach in the church, except in the case of ministry with women or children. This position has been variously termed traditional, hierarchical or most popularly, complementarian. It is represented by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The other group would maintain that the Bible teaches mutual love and service of husband and wife in marriage and open all roles in ministry to both men and women on the basis of gift rather than gender. This position is most often referred to as biblical equality or egalitarian, and as evangelical feminism by its opponents. This position is most publicly represented by Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) International.

Each has published compendia of scholarly articles serving as resources in support of their respective positions. CBMW’s publication is Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, now in a revised edition. Discovering Biblical Equality represents the scholars who would identify with CBE International, including Mimi Haddad, its president. It is in its third edition, with Cynthia Long Westfall taking the place of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, co-editor of the first two editions and an essay contributor, who passed away in 2018. Christa L. McKirland also joined the editor team as an associate editor and contributes one of the most thought provoking articles on gender essentialism.

The work is set up in four sections. It is not meant to be read straight through necessarily, as I did, but to serve as a reference work. For the sake of brevity, I will summarize the content of each section, highlighting essays that particularly caught my attention.

Looking to Scripture: Essays in this section address questions of exegesis of the relevant passages on gender in marriage and the church. I particularly appreciated Aida Besancon-Spencer’s study of Jesus’s treatment of women in the gospels and his affirmation of women as learners, disciples, and laborers alongside men, while also addressing reasons for the male apostles. Lynn Cohick’s study on Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19 addresses historical and exegetical concerns and supports the idea of mutual love and submission within marriage. Linda L. Belleville’s exceptionally thorough essay on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 discusses the translation of authentein and contends that Paul is addressing a particular occasion in which the Ephesian women were trying to gain advantage over men by teaching in a domineering fashion, and thus that Paul is not prohibiting all teaching but only that striving for the upper hand.

Thinking it Through: Theological and Logical Perspectives: Christa L. McKirland argues against the gender essentialism of Piper and Grudem that roots maleness and femaleness with distinctiveness of roles in being created in the image of God. She argues that dominion and reflection of the divine presence are not gender dependent, and that genderedness connects us not with the image of God but other creatures. Hence, personhood is not essentially male nor female. That doesn’t mean there are no differences, but these are not essential differences. There are interesting questions this essay raises about gender identity, particularly in cases of intersexuality or gender dysphoria that I would like to see developed further. Kevin Giles offers a helpful summary of the theologically questionable use of hierarchical arguments about the subordination of the Son to support the subordination of women, noting that other complementarians have refuted this position. Finally, the essay by the late Rebecca Merrill Groothuis on “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role” shows the logical fallacies in this view, often invoked by complementarians and reminds us of the fine scholar we lost in her.

Addressing The Issues: Interpretive and Cultural Perspectives: Jeffrey Miller offers a helpful, data-based essay on the impact of gender-accurate translation and how our contemporary translations differ in this regard. Heidi R. Unruh and Ronald J. Sider offer a highly relevant essay on gender equality and the sanctity of life, written pre-Dobbs. They argue for a compassionate, pro-life feminism. They argue for a whole of life approach to being pro-life, and argue for how pro-life and pro-choice advocates may work together to seek the flourishing of women.

Living It Out: Practical Applications: I appreciated Mimi Haddad’s essay of how at the church level, people might be helped to understand biblical equality through: speaking biblical truths in understandable language, emphasizing how mutuality improves marriages, connect this message to core Christian beliefs, model the message, and allow simple, safe ways for people to try out their Christian freedom with regard to gender. Kylie Maddox Pidgeon’s essay on “Complementarianism and Domestic Abuse” makes a powerful case that intended or not, complementarianism creates systemic discrimination, and “implicit and explicit biases that disadvantage women.” Alice P. Mathews concludes this section with an essay titled “Toward Reconciliation.” She calls for honest discussions between those holding competing paradigms with both biblical rigor and courtesy, the paradigms must be explained at many levels, and we need to work at embracing each other across the chasm, centering our relations in the gospel.

My sense is that the “sides” of this discussion operate as echo chambers, each amplifying its own voice and muting the others. Certainly with regard to this book, egalitarians could use this work as just such an echo chamber. Yet this work is important, especially for women in contexts where they receive little encouragement for their gifts or support for their personhood in their marriages. I pray for the days when scholars on both “sides” of this discussion engage with each other rather than writing about each other in separate tomes like this one or the CBMW counterpart. I look forward to the days when what scholars of color are saying is heeded in what has been a predominantly white discussion. I look forward to the day when there is one less instance of the “pervasive interpretive pluralism” that evangelicalism’s critics have observed of us. And I hope this work will serve to promote understanding rather than unfruitful argument.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: An Impossible Marriage

An Impossible Marriage, Laurie Krieg and Matt Krieg. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: Matt and Laurie Krieg are in a mixed orientation marriage and narrate both the challenges they have faced and what they have learned about God and love as they remained together.

Matt Krieg is attracted to women. And so is Laurie Krieg. They are married to each other. And it hasn’t been easy. Most would consider it impossible. They should just divorce and marry according to their orientations. At one point, they were very close to doing so.

Why did they marry in the first place? Laurie had been in a relationship with a woman when she met Matt. She broke off with the woman, dated Matt for a year and then broke off the relationship. As a follower of Christ, she was willing to be single, “married to Jesus,” as it were. She was still attracted to women. She was committed to a life of ministry. God told her he wanted her to do so as a married woman. To a man. Then Matt came back into the picture. She was honest about her attractions but also her desire to marry Matt.

It seemed that all would be OK. They even weathered Matt’s revelation of his pornography addiction. Then, the birth of Laurie’s second child triggered memories of child sexual abuse and she couldn’t even stand being in the same room as Matt, let alone being touched by him. Sex was off the table. Most of this book is about how Matt and Laurie worked through this seemingly impossible situation and how God met them. Most of the book goes back and forth between Matt and Laurie, and how each of them were processing the relationship.

It was not all about Laurie. Matt had to face how sex was still an idol in his life, not a gift. He came to terms with the “sex as currency” dysfunction of their marriage (I do the dishes so that you will want to have sex). And he recognized the need for affirmation that sex represented, affirmation he didn’t look to God to receive.

For Laurie, a personal retreat brought her to the brink of leaving, and the realization that to do so for her would be to silence the Holy Spirit’s presence in her life. She did not want that. She chose trusting and following Jesus, and returned home. It was only a beginning. She was still triggered often in his presence. She didn’t want to be together. Then she began to wrestle with the meaning of oneness in marriage as a tangible picture of our oneness with God. She began to take half steps toward Matt. Matt let her set the pace. There were breakthroughs of insight, and a slow steady process of becoming friends, holding hands, and going to war in prayer against the memories of abuse.

It is a powerful story of how God made the impossible possible for this couple. This is not a book meant to be weaponized in the polemics around LGBTQ+ issues. While the authors believe that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, they recognize others differ. The book is really for all married couples (and singles as well, according to the authors). Underlying Jesus teaching about marriage and divorce (Matthew 19:1-12) is the reality that marriage is hard, because it lays bare the hardness of the human heart. All hearts. It might be said that all marriages are “impossible” marriages, yet under God, the impossible is used to form us in understanding the love of God and the oneness with Him into which he invites us.

The element of trauma also makes this an important book for those who have experienced trauma as well as those who love them. Laurie makes the point that her sexual attraction and the abuse in her life are separate, and many who experience sexual abuse are heterosexually oriented. What Matt learns about loving Laurie, and the steps Laurie takes to love Matt while they are still struggling offer an example that might be helpful for others

The authors suggest that marriage involves cultivating seven “gardens”: emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, social, family, and stewardship. Connection in all of these is important and neglecting one area affects the others. The book includes a study guide couples can use, or even couples groups where there is trust. The book underscores the importance of having others with whom we can be vulnerable.

This is a powerful and honest narrative. Despite the unique circumstances of their marriage, I recognized the challenges all of us face in marriage, and the hope offered for those who trust in Christ that what seems impossible for us at times is possible in Christ.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: See-Through Marriage


See-Through Marriage, Ryan and Selena Frederick. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.

Summary: A fulfilling marriage is one that is transparent, about our joys and desires, our past and our failures, where all these things are brought into the light.

This book builds on the idea of 1 John 1:7:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

The authors maintain that in marriage, the most fulfilling marriages are honest marriages, where there are no secrets, where couples learn to bring to each other their joys and sorrows, their sins and failures, their desires and preferences. Part of what makes this scary is that we hide what we think will make the other love us less. Yet the vulnerability that tells the truth offers the chance to be loved even more–loved for who we are. Hiding actually distances us from each other.

They explore the lies we tell each other, the ways we hide, and what real transparency looks like. Transparency involves knowing ourselves–spiritually, psychologically, and physically. Transparency leads us into oneness. They explore the implications of this for our sexuality, for our communication, our friendships, and our experience of Christian community.

They face us with a choice:

   Being completely known and still completely loved is perhaps the greatest human desire. We long for a connection so deep and so unshakable that no matter who we are or what we do, we will still be counted as lovable. The desire drives us all forward, but not always to the same destination. It either will drive you to present a version of yourself that is more readily loved and accepted by others or will drive you into the shadows in hopes of not being exposed for who you truly are (pp. 46-47).

They tell stories of how they and other couples faced this choice and what it looked like to face fear and step into the light of transparency with each other. They offer questions at the end of each chapter for personal reflection or study together.

The patterns of transparency or hiding that couples develop early in their marriages are vital to the health of a marriage. This seems like a book particularly framed for couples in the early years of marriage, though it can be helpful at any point. This is not so much a book for a marriage in trouble, where the help of a counselor may be important, but rather a book that both prevents problems, and paints a vision of what marriage is meant to be.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Forty Years Ago

wedding-pictureForty years ago tomorrow would be June 3, 1978. At 2 pm that afternoon my wife and I exchanged rings and vows and began an amazing journey together. Some would blink and say “How is that possible?” I can’t boast to any great virtue on my part, apart from the fact that I have honored the vows I took that day. Mostly, I attribute it to the grace of God and a forgiving and patient woman.

I know it doesn’t always work out the way it has for us. It certainly doesn’t mean we are different or better people. I think it had a lot to do with where we grew up and the models both of us had in our families. My parents were married nearly sixty-nine years when my mother passed. My father was holding her hand when she breathed her last. My wife’s parents married in their forties, and he passed in his sixties, but they were together until the end. My brother, who is ten years older, and his wife are celebrating fifty years together this year. When I think of the families on my street, I can’t recall hearing of divorces. They fought, and sometimes loud enough that we could hear. They certainly weren’t perfect. But the model was that you worked it out and stayed together.

In the years since, we’ve lived in three different cities, moving as work dictated. We’ve gone through childbirth, getting up in the night for feedings and diaper changes, childhood illnesses and broken bones, teenage and college years. Family vacations and Boy Scout campouts and many trips back to the Canfield Fair. We’ve been in the “sandwich” caring for elderly parents and our own son. We’ve faced loss, bouts with cancer, the death of a close friend. We’ve shared delightful moments of walks in the woods, painting together, cultural events and quiet evenings at home. When we dated, we would sometimes talk for hours over cup after cup of coffee. We still like a good cup of coffee and conversation.

Someone once advised us that it is not love that sustains a marriage, but marriage that sustains love. That seemed baffling to me in our honeymoon days. The longer we’ve gone, the more sense it makes. Remembering the vows we made, and living into them has deepened the passionate love of youth into something deep and enduring. We’ve seen each other at our worst as well as our best, and not walked away. Instead of thinking that the grass might be greener somewhere else, we’ve devoted ourselves to watering and feeding our own lawn, and cultivating our own garden!

I had no clue in 1978 where our journey together would take us. In 2018 I still don’t nor how many years we have to travel together. What I knew then, and know now is who I want to be with on the journey. I consider myself the most blessed man alive. I love you, sweetheart! Happy anniversary!

Review: Two Views on Homosexuality, The Bible and the Church

Two views

Two Views on Homosexuality, The Bible, and the ChurchPreston Sprinkle (ed.), William Loader, Megan K. DeFranza, Wesley Hill, Stephen R. Holmes (contributors). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.

Summary: Four biblical scholars and theologians, two holding a traditional understanding of human sexuality, and two holding an affirming stance, but all taking the biblical testimony about human sexuality seriously, articulate the basis on which they hold their positions, and respond to the statements of the other three in gracious dialogue.

I don’t think anyone will contradict the assertion that recent discussions around sexuality both within the culture and the church have been fraught with bitter rancor and contention. Denominations have fractured and hurtful attacks have been made on those holding either of the two major stances, traditional and affirming. There are books demeaning those holding one or the other of these views while arguing for their own.

If for no other reason then, this book is a welcome alternative. Four scholars argue for variants of one of the two major stances in a dialogue that is unrestrained in the rigor in which one or the other view is held while speaking respectfully of the contributions of others, even those in disagreement. Furthermore, all four care deeply about the biblical witness on these matters, although they part ways in their interpretation of that witness. Strikingly, three of the four, including one of the affirming scholars would contend that the biblical witness precludes same sex unions but reach differing conclusions on how this might be applied in the contemporary context.

The four scholars then in the dialogue and the basic positions they hold are:

  • William Loader, a scholar who has studied sexuality in ancient Judaism and Christianity holds that the Bible prohibits all forms of same sex relations, but that this must be weighed against findings in biology and other fields related to sexuality and gender not available to the biblical writers, and thus he arrives at a position affirming same sex unions.
  • Megan DeFranza is a theologian whose research on intersex persons (those whose physiology is neither clearly male nor female) challenges the assumption that all people are born exclusively male or female. She notes the recognition of eunuchs in scripture as a biblical example contrary to this traditional assumption. She also argues that the prohibition passages have to do with exploitative forms of sexuality related to slavery, trafficking, and power differences and do not focus on loving, monogamous same sex relationships.
  • Wesley Hill, a celibate gay biblical scholar who shares something of his own narrative, contends that the prohibitive passages preclude any same sex relations and argues that these must be understood in the broader context of the Bible’s affirmations about sexuality, marriage, and procreation. Both he and the next scholar draw on Augustinian theology as the best resource for articulating a biblical synthesis on matters of marriage and sexuality. Hill also eloquently argues for the place of “spiritual friendship”–deeply committed, non-sexual friendships between two same sex persons as well as the full welcome of same sex persons committed to the traditional view within families, sharing his own experience of being invited to be the godfather of a couple’s children and thus drawn into that family.
  • Stephen Holmes is a theologian who argues that the prohibitive passages are actually secondary (though important) to the biblical passages teaching about marriage. He also draws on Augustinian theology, despite its acknowledge defects for its formulation of the three-fold goods of marriage: children, faithfulness (a God-graced experience of learning selflessness), and sacrament (revealing the mystery of Christ’s relation to the church). Holmes, while not advocating same sex unions, explores the possibility of some kind of accommodation for same sex couples who come into the church, along the lines of the church’s accommodation for at least some who divorce and remarry, or those made in mission contexts for polygamous unions.

Each of these scholars sets forth his or her own understanding and their reasons for that understanding–rooted significantly in biblical, cultural, and contemporary research as well as pastoral concerns.

The essays underscore several things:

  1. With some exceptions, the question is less what scripture says than what this is taken to mean for the church and how this is appropriated pastorally.
  2. While the tone of these discussions was irenic, the disturbing reality was the support this gives to the “pervasive interpretive pluralism” scholars like Brad Gregory and Christian Smith level against Protestant Christianity. At the same time, these scholars model a serious effort at engagement that looks for common ground, and perhaps in the future, a reconciliation of their differences.
  3. The essays and responses all model pastoral concern and compassion and respect for the dignity and character of LGBT persons as well as the challenge all in the church are faced with by the scriptures calling for integrity in our sexual lives.
  4. Both Hill and Holmes press a corollary of traditional understanding of marriage and sexuality that is neglected in much Protestant discourse, the good of procreation and children.
  5. Loader and DeFranza do raise an important hermeneutic question of how in other areas (for example, our understanding of the cosmos, a heliocentric solar system, the age of the earth) many in the church have accommodated their understanding of scripture to these findings in science. Is there similar warrant in matters of sexuality? Hill and Holmes would argue that there is no basis for such a warrant concerning homosexuality, and arrive at different hermeneutical outcomes.

Preston Sprinkle, editor of this work makes similar observations and also helpfully frames the discussion at the start, and points toward future work to be done. The need for this is clear. Often, the disputes of the church have taken a century or more to resolve. The discussion of justification, grace, faith, and works is five hundred years and running, with significant recent explorations of common ground between Catholic and Protestant. It occurs to me that a resolution will take further work along the lines of what these scholars done.

I also believe the conversation needs to be expanded to listen to scholars and theologians from non-Western backgrounds. While this discussion included a woman and a self-identified gay person, it was a discussion among four white scholars. One of my own concerns in this discussion is the exclusionary and culturally imperialistic consequences of how the church in the West has often deliberated and acted in these matters and sometimes spoken pejoratively of the views of believers from other parts of the global Christian family. Their voices must also be heard and honored.

Review: Katharina & Martin Luther

Katharina and Martin Luther

Katharina & Martin Luther, Michelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: An account of the “most unlikely to succeed” scandalous marriage of Katharina Von Bora and Martin Luther, a runaway nun and former monk who marry out of necessity and principle, and grow into love.

By today’s standards, as well as those of their time, this was a marriage that didn’t hold much promise. A 42 year old former monk and leader of the Reformation marries a 26 year old nun who fled the cloister inspired by Reformation ideals. Friends thought the wife would distract from the important work of church reform. Some predicted that any offspring would be monstrosities. The truth was, Katharina was beyond the usual age for marriage, often in one’s early teens. She had no dowry and no means of support, having fled the cloister where her father had placed her. Luther had actually tried to match her up with other men. At one point, she refused a candidate, saying she’d rather marry Luther (or another man). Meanwhile, Luther had actually had his eye on another nun, who someone else proposed to first. In the end, economic necessity on her part, and principle on his brought them together. Luther was better at writing about marriage and the follies of celibacy than acting on what he wrote. Her proposal probably did as much as anything to decide him. Not a promising beginning!

Michelle DeRusha gives us a narrative of how necessity and principle grew into respect, and eventually deep love. But first she gives us some background in the lives of both, and particular the economic necessities that resulted in the child of a poor but titled noble being consigned to the cloister. We also have the more familiar story of Luther the monk, who undergoes a radical transformation as he teaches the book of Romans and posts debating theses on the evil of indulgences that light the fires of Reformation. These ideas inspire Katharina and a group of others to flee Marienthron convent only to face an uncertain future necessitating for most the finding of a mate, however undesirable.

DeRusha sketches the strong character of Katharina, who quickly whips the Black Cloister into shape, from a somewhat decrepit bachelor pad to a family home where other tenants paid rent–an early source of resentment. Luther’s respect for her abilities (rivaling the woman of Proverbs 31 in her industry) leads to his quickly turning over the household and its finances to her.

But she was no mere domestic hausfrau. She could challenge Luther’s ideas and was a strong enough personality to stand her ground. Other accounts have suggested monumental clashes. This book only hints at these, but does suggest that her strength of character and stubbornness made for a match that Luther came not only to respect but in which he was changed.

DeRusha also shows how this marriage, and Luther’s ideas about marriage changed the institution and regularized it. Prior to their time, many marriages were the equivalent of common law affairs, and often contested when one party claimed vows had been made that were denied by others, or where there were conflicting claims on the same person. Of course, this couple set the precedent for marriage among the clergy. They may not have been the very first, but were clearly the most famous, and set a high standard.

The final chapters touch on both the joys and frailties of family life. Infant and child mortality was rampant and the Luthers lost two of six children including their teen age daughter Magdalena, a heartbreak that drew them closer yet from which they did not recover.  Luther’s death exposed the precarious state of widows, made more difficult by an irregular will, and invasions that brought ruin to lands she held. Katharina’s extant letters are from this time, and basically are “begging” letters.

Perhaps the most profound theme of this book is that despite the circumstances, despite the lack of “romantic” love, and despite the inequities between genders, these two strong individuals grew into a deep love filled with mutual respect. Both had grown up in systems where love often followed rather than preceded vows. No doubt some would find the patriarchy and oppression of women of this time deeply offensive. What is more remarkable is how these principled and strong-to-the-point-of-stubborn people challenged convention to the point where Martin addresses Katharina at one point as “my kind, dear Lord, Catherine Luther, a doctor and preacher in Wittenberg.”

This will be a year of many Luther books, given the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses. This book helps fills a gap in focusing on Katharina and the decisive role she played in Luther’s life, and maybe in at least a small way, pointing to the greater possibilities for women inside and outside of marriage, with effects rippling down to our present day. So much of it came because of a woman who decided that she would not submerge her ideas and personality to the strength of a man, even a great public figure, and in the end both were stronger for it.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Finding Love

Wedding Picture

My wife and I on our wedding day. The minister was Rev. Robert Mulholland. That tux is a real fashion statement, isn’t it! Gotta love the 70’s.

This week, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary. It made me stop and reflect on how friends in Youngstown found love, or love found them, or not. The truth is that while some, like us, have been blessed with marriages that have endured (and I don’t think of myself as particularly deserving but rather gifted with a very patient wife!), it didn’t work out that way for everyone. Some have witnessed the end of marriages in divorce, and perhaps have married again. Some of my classmates have already fulfilled the “til death do we part” portion of their vows and have outlived a spouse, a special form of heartache. Some never married, sometimes because there was something else that was truly a life passion.

I know of people who married their high school sweethearts. It just wasn’t that way with me. The girl I took to my senior prom was one I dated throughout my senior year. We broke up a month after the prom. I did end up marrying a Youngstown girl though. Lots of people went away to college and met people from other cities. I didn’t, which made a lot of things simpler, everything from our idea of what makes good pizza, to a more basic outlook, which we have come to call, “thinking like a Youngstowner.” We also didn’t have to figure out which set of relatives to visit on holidays–we just visited them all!

O.K., so here is the story of how we met. Friday, September 22, 1972 was a very significant day in my life. At noon that day, I went to a meeting of the collegiate ministry that I have worked with throughout my adult life. At 1 pm, I met my future wife. I’m very glad for both of these, but I still think it is a good thing that we don’t know such things ahead of time.

It was the second day of our freshman year at Youngstown State. If you remember Youngstown State back then, it was mostly under construction and there were relatively few places to eat on campus. They only became a state university in 1967. There was a Red Barn restaurant on Lincoln Avenue where I went to eat that day. After getting my food, I spotted the one person I knew in that restaurant, a girl I had met that summer, eating with another girl. That girl is now my wife! It wasn’t love at first sight, but rather the lack of dining options that brought us together. I ate there regularly and so did the two of them. As I got to talking with this girl, I discovered that not only was she attractive, but also interesting, and that we shared common convictions about the important things of life, including our faith. Of course, we guys are slow. About the time she gave up on me being interested in her, I asked her out. That was the way it was done then. These days, she might have asked me! The rest as they say, was history. We dated through college, and waited to get established in jobs to get married.

In the early years, we would go out on September 22 and get a burger to celebrate meeting. Over the years, anniversaries have tended to become the bigger deal. But perhaps this year we need to go get a burger on September 22 to remember that significant day in our lives. Too bad we can’t get one at a Red Barn anymore!

What was your experience of finding love (or not)? How and where did you meet your spouse or significant other?



















What? Thirty-six Years Already? (Anniversary Reflections)

Thirty-six years ago at 2 pm in the afternoon on a clear but cool June day, Marilyn and I exchanged vows and began life together. What do I recall from that day? One thing was that any nerves I had disappeared at the moment I saw Marilyn at the head of the aisle on the arm of her uncle. My heart leaped for joy at the sight of her and the thought that in a few minutes we would be joined in marriage. I remember both of us paying tribute to our parents and thanking them for all they meant in our lives (several couples we saw married before us did this). I don’t think I remember a word of what my beloved pastor Bob Mulholland said except those magical words declaring us husband and wife. And in one of those crazy moments that every wedding has, I remember us going the same way when we tried to kiss, looking like a couple eskimos! You can bet that we had a lot of people saying to us, “you are really going to have to practice that.” Needless to say, we did! Pictures and reception were a blur. Finally, we were on the road to our honeymoon and what I most remember was the clear blue sky, the crisp weather, and this wonderful realization that WE WERE MARRIED!

Wedding Picture

And, blink, it is thirty-six years later! How did this happen? More amazing is the realization of all that has happened over those years. It’s probably a good thing young couples don’t know all that is coming! I think what we’ve found is that God gives grace for each of the changes and new situations we face, and that if we let Him, He uses it all to forge our characters and the tie between us. For us, that includes living in three different cities, raising a son through a broken leg and a few other medical scares along the way, and lots of absolutely delightful family memories we will cherish in our hearts. We cared for aging parents, first Marilyn’s mother, and then my mom and dad to the end of their earthly journeys and faced a scare with cancer together.

Even though we had dated through college before marrying (we met the second day of our freshman year), the journey of marriage seems to be one of continual discovery. Sometimes it can be absolutely frustrating to butt up against the different ways each of us looks at the world or approaches life until you realize that it is that different view of the world that has made life richer, and sometimes has protected you from great harm–usually from yourself. I didn’t realize until more than ten years into our marriage that I had married an artist, not only with paint but with the ways she makes a home a comfortable and safe space. And along the way, learning to embrace and affirm and celebrate the ways she is an artist led to beginning to discover and accept in myself a different set of artistic gifts that I think I had buried in a combination of false ideas of “maleness” and the press of work life.

I had no second thoughts on the day we married and no regrets since. I truly think myself the most blessed man alive to have had such a companion to share the past thirty-six years with. I think one of the reasons they seem to have passed like the blink of an eye is how rich and full and fun they have been–full of family memories, the students, faculty, and friends we’ve known, the places we’ve been, the home we have made together. No marriage is perfect, least of all ours, and yet our story is, I think, one of how good marriage under God’s grace can be. The idea of grace is that of an undeserved, freely given gift. Our marriage has certainly been that to me, and so I’m thrilled both to celebrate this day and thankful to receive as many additional years of this gift as our God chooses to give. And so I will end with the words that we say to each other every day: I love you, Marilyn!


This is from my post on Going Deeper, a blog dedicated to reflections on our church’s weekly messages.

In Rudy’s message on Sunday on The Christian at Home, he spoke about the baggage we bring into our family life. If you will pardon the pun, I think this is a mixed bag! Baggage is what we carry with us when we go someplace, in this case on our life’s journey.

Often we think of baggage in negative terms, the dysfunctions and unhealthy tendencies we bring with us into any situation. You might think of it as that shirt that isn’t really your color, or those jeans that really are ready to be converted into rags or those smelly shoes. But I would hope that most of us also pack some decent looking stuff in our bags when we travel, kind of like the qualities of temperament, the talents, and gifts, and perspectives that make us attractive and interesting to others. As I said, for most of us, our baggage is a mix of good and not so good stuff. And that’s what can make marriage and family life hard–or good!

What makes it hard is when we resent others for a good quality that they have that we feel we lack, or when we criticize the faults of another that we don’t struggle with. I suspect there was some of this kind of history between Cain and Abel that we read about in 1 John 3:11-12. Both our good and our bad baggage can be a source of conflict with others in our family in these kinds of situations. And sometimes it really can get bad! If you are in what seems like an unsolvable conflict, don’t keep fighting. Call “time out” and get some help–a talk with a pastor, or counselor. It is a sign of strength and not weakness when you can admit you need help.

The baggage we bring can be good as well. If you are a husband or wife, there had to be some pretty good things in the baggage of the other–or else you are a lousy chooser!  In some coaching training I had, we learned to make five good comments for every critical comment. It is funny how we tend to get it the other way around. I wonder if in marriage and family life it would make sense to try to affirm five things we appreciate about the other person each day, and apologize for one shortcoming of our own and, on most days, skip the critique all together!

At the same time, we are not always aware of our negative baggage. It is God’s mercy that we have families! Seriously! You remember the first time you tried to go to school with mismatched clothes and mom told you to go back and change? Sometimes, we can really get in trouble when we take our dysfunctions into public. Usually, there is some member in our family, often our spouse if we are married, who is trying to help us see our negative baggage. I don’t always like it, but often times my wife will save me major grief by pointing out something I’m not seeing in a social situation, or warn me against my tendency to “sermonize” when it would be better to keep my mouth shut and listen!

What I think is going on is that God has given us all good baggage that can both complement (and compliment!) the good things of others in our family. Also, if we are willing to face that we have some stuff in our bags that really doesn’t look (or smell) good on us and let others help us see that, we can save ourselves from grief  and make life more pleasant for others. That’s the kind of home I want to live in.