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.

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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!

Baggage

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.

Review: Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving

Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving
Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve watched pastors burn out and drop out. While it is a privilege to shepherd God’s people, it is also just plain hard and demanding work. You don’t do pastoral work, you are a pastor. In some sense, you are always on. The project of this book is to explore what is necessary for pastors to burn on, not burn out. And it is pastors in fact who developed the content of this book as part of a Lilly research project in which pastors were gathered in Summits that explored the keys to sustaining pastoral excellence. Out of these summits five key factors emerged:

1. Spiritual formation: resisting the temptation of workaholism by building rituals, maintaining accountability, growing through hardship, and practicing spiritual disciplines.

2. Self-care: resisting the pressures of work and fostering spiritual growth, emotional self-awareness, relational depth (particularly helpful here was identifying who can pastors share with), and intellectual and physical self-care. Self-care, the authors point out can actually be self-denial as one refuses to heed the siren calls of ministry to tend to the self in a way where you are able to bring the best to those you serve.

3. Emotional and cultural intelligence. Does one understand one’s own emotions and is one aware of the emotions others are manifesting? Likewise, they explore how we all work out of a cultural context and a growing awareness of both one’s own cultural identity and the cultural differences we encounter among those we minister is critical to ministry success in a culturally diverse world.

4. Healthy marriage and family life. Normal life stresses marriages. The ministry lifestyle means one may never feel off the clock and spouse and children get the leftovers or are often the dumping ground for pressures of ministry. Sometimes this may lead to conflicting loyalties or even abandonment of one’s family to ministry. There is the question of who ministers to the spouse. There were a number of practical recommendations in this section ranging from setting aside intentional time together and pursuing shared hobbies to annual marriage “check-ups” with a therapist.

5. Leadership and Management. The authors described leadership as “poetry”, that which captures the imaginations and has systems in place to channel the energies of people. Administration is “plumbing”–modeling, shepherding, managing expectations, supervising conflict, and planning.

The book concludes that it isn’t enough to have summits that recognize these themes or even to make resolves to change. Negotiating these changes with spouses and church leadership and finding continuing support from cohort participants is necessary to consolidate these insights. It seems to me that this may be the most critical insight in terms of pastoral transformation in the whole book.

The book includes appendices with various tools, the most helpful of which may be the emotions checklist, which helps one give a name to the emotions one feels (especially helpful for men). I would recommend this book as a resource to pastors, others in ministry, and to church or ministry leadership, who need to understand the stressors and key factors to pastoral success in order to support their pastors.

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Love That Lasts

We celebrated Valentine’s Day over lunch today, since I’ll be working tonight. It included a stop at Half Price Books where my wife found a missing volume for a cook book series she collects. Made her day! (By the way, it is Booklovers Weekend and they are giving 20% discounts on everything if you receive or sign up for their emails).

This was our 36th Valentine’s Day, so I thought I might reflect on how we’ve made it this far in married life and can still say we are in love. Not that every moment has  been lovey-dovey. Ruth Graham, the now deceased wife of Billy Graham was once asked if she’d ever contemplated divorce. Her reply was something to the effect of: divorce never, murder frequently! My wife would probably be justified in similar thoughts! So how did love last for us?

Love image

1. We were blessed with good role models. Our parents on both sides had “until death do you part” marriages. They weren’t perfect and we watched them work, however imperfectly, through the tough spots. Between my siblings and me, we have over 100 years of marriage. Our parents must have done something right. At very least, they demonstrated what could happen when you decided that quitting wasn’t an option.

2. We kiss first thing every morning and try to go to bed every night without unresolved issues between us. The apostle Paul wrote, “be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.” My wife says she is not passive-aggressive, but rather just aggressive! That’s been good for me–in my family we tended to keep things a bit more bottled up and then just exploded. So we do get angry sometimes, and have to work to hear each other out. I’ve spoken the words, “I’m sorry, I was wrong” on many occasions. We try to get to the place where the last thing we do is kiss (and mean it) at night.

3. We’ve sought to guard our hearts in the sense of not giving to another the affections that belong only to our spouse. We’ve seen love grow cold between spouses and also seen affairs spring up when an attraction becomes a flirtation then becomes an infatuation, and finally an affair. Speaking and showing love daily helps stir up the fires. Setting boundaries with the opposite gender and speaking often in positive terms of our spouses with them helps.

4. Looking back at some of the hard places we’ve gone through, I think of hardships as God’s forge that has made our love deeper and more enduring. Cancer, caring for parents and losing them, and our own experience of parenting from those early sleepless nights through the college years called us to listen, to pray, to serve each other, to recognize and put to death our inherent selfishness.

5. Perhaps at the bottom of all, our marriage has lasted by the grace of God. I think again and again as I witness young couples give their marriage vows of what audacious promises we are making to each other! Perhaps being loved by a God that will not let us go and that went to all lengths to woo us challenges us to cry out for and imitate that kind of love for each other. And perhaps because we know the love of such a God, we don’t look for each other to be “god-like” lovers. That relieves a good deal of pressure!

Last night, we heard an artist, Joe Anastasi, who has painted portraits of the homeless in our city (here is a YouTube where he talks about his work). What was amazing in viewing his paints was how he captured something of the depths and dignity and soul of people we often avert our eyes from. I was reminded again how there are depths and wonders in every human life that it takes a lifetime to discover. One of the wonders of marriage for life is that we have the time to truly explore the depths and wonder of another person, to cherish and nourish and celebrate that with each other through the various seasons of life. I’m so glad to be on that journey with the one I love, and for the grace and protection of God who has given us nearly 36 years so far. Happy Valentines Day, my love!

(For more thoughts on this thing called love, see my post from earlier this week, Love Stories.)

Review: Man And Wife

Man And Wife
Man And Wife by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wilkie Collins is known as one of the fathers of the mystery with The Moonstone and The Woman in White, both of which I would recommend. In this work, Collins also shows himself as a master of suspense while engaging in some pointed social commentary as well.

The suspense (and much of the commentary) is built around the Scottish marriage laws of the time, which recognized “irregular marriages” in which men and women, who wittingly or not, represented themselves as married were indeed married under law. The plot develops around Geoffrey Delamayn, who has gotten Anne Winchester “in trouble” and is compelled to meet her and marry her at a Scottish inn. Delamayn conveniently has to return to London because of an ailing father and sends the friend whose life he saved, Arnold Brinkworth, who is engaged to Anne’s best friend Blanche Lundie, to carry a message to this effect, a message which becomes very important and is the object of much scheming subsequently. Arnold arrives to find that to allow Anne to stay at the inn, he must represent himself as her “husband” even though Anne resists this. They stay in separate rooms and he leaves the next morning. This becomes the pretense Delamayn uses to escape his marriage obligation in order to marry a wealthy widow. Unfortunately the contention that Anne and Arnold are “married” only becomes known after Arnold marries. First we are in suspense as to when this will come to light. Second, we are in suspense as to the outcome and whether Blanche’s uncle and guardian, Sir Patrick Lundie, will be able to vindicate Arnold and his marriage to Blanche. And finally, we have the suspense as Delamayn plots against the life of Anne, compelling the help of mysterious Hester Dethridge. All this develops at a leisurely pace over 600 pages in this edition, yet this never seemed dragged out to me–a testimony to Collins art.

The book serves most significantly as social commentary on the state of marriage laws that may both entrap people into unwanted marriages and subject women to the brutality of unloving husbands who can seize property and endanger their lives without legal recourse. Although these laws have been changed in the U.K. as well as the U.S., women still live at the mercy of men in many parts of the world without legal protection of life or property.

Collins also engages in a critique of the culture of athleticism that emphasized the development of body at the expense of the formation of mind or character, represented in the character of Geoffrey Delamayn. Delamayn neglects his education to train for athletic events which both make his reputation and break his health. This doesn’t sound very far from the world of collegiate athletes in big money sports like basketball and football today.

Altogether, I thought this was a great read both at the level of suspense and for the issues it raises that are still with us today.

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