Mike Cope's blog

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Rubel Shelly and I have been the editors of Wineskins Magazine from its beginning. The first issue was in May of 1992. It's been a labor of love -- with lots of devoted readers, lots of angry critics, lots of great articles . . . and little money! So now, we're moving toward New Wineskins being an online (at least mostly online) journal. Here's my new editorial: Five young adults stood on a stage in Arkansas. Two of them were making promises so outrageous, so unbelievable, but all five were too young to know any better. My brother, the best man, was 17. Diane's oldest sister, the maid of honor, was 19. We were both 21. The preacher was the mature one. He was all of 22. We repeated those familiar vows: I will honor and cherish thee from this day forth, For better or for worse, For richer, for poorer, In sickness and in health, Until death do us part. No one stopped us from saying those wild, blind words of promise. I think now it's a conspiracy. Every married couple out there knows enough that they could warn young people about those vows. But we've all agreed not to say anything! Now, in the year that we celebrated our 25th anniversary, we are so thankful for those promises. Little did we know twenty-five years ago how many challenges would be before us. We didn't know how many years of exhaustion there would be with a mentally-handicapped, physically-challenged daughter who seldom slept. We couldn't foresee (thankfully!) the months and even years of grief after her death when, often alone in our sadness, we couldn't find each other. But the vows were the glue. The vows meant that the word "divorce" could not be in our vocabulary. Now . . . well, now we have the marriage we always hoped for. Not that everything's smooth, of course. Not long ago I told Diane I thought I was going to be deaf someday because I'm always having to ask my students to repeat what they've said in class. She said, "That's all right." I asked, "You mean, you'll still love me anyway?" She replied, "No. What I mean is that's all right because there isn't a lot of difference between being deaf and not listening in the first place." (I had to restrain myself from saying, "I'm sorry. What did you say?") For our 25th anniversary, we played two songs with our sons and our friends listening. One was Steven Curtis Chapman's "I Will Be Here." The other is Terry Clark's "I Just Want to Be Mad." Both seemed to fit! It's so hard for those of us who are ministers to know what to say about divorce. We hurt for people sitting in the assembly who have been in failed marriages, and we don't want to beat them down. And yet I often find that these brothers and sisters, knowing full well the pain of divorce, are the ones most eager for me to speak directly and forcefully about it. One friend from my college days recently sent me a note that included these words: "Any time you get the chance to talk to people who are struggling in their marriage, do your best to convince them that divorce is not the answer. In fact, it brings up a whole new set of problems." I think we are often making two mistakes on this subject: (1) we're too easy on divorce; and (2) we're too hard on divorced people. Let's not back off what we teach about marriage and divorce. God intends for our vows to be kept! "Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate," Jesus says. We need to teach and model Christian ways that make marital longevity possible: forgiveness, community (the support and encouragement of fellow believers), submission, compassion, integrity, peace-making – and more forgiveness. We also need to let our younger members hear testimonies from some who have experienced the jars and clashes of close relationship but who have continued to love one another. They need to hear words like these from Walter Wangerin as he wrote about his sometimes troubled marriage: And the thing that neither one of us would even contemplate was divorce. We were stuck with each other. let the world call that imprisonment; but I say it gave us the time, and God the opportunity, to make a better thing between us. If we could have escaped, we would have. Because we couldn't we were forced to choose the harder, better road. (from As For Me and My House) But as we continue to be "hard" on divorce, let's not be hard on divorced people. We all come to the table of Jesus in need of mercy and grace. None of us has earned a right to be there. We're there because Jesus welcomes us–failures and all. Divorced people aren't second class citizens. They don't need an asterisk by their name in the church directory. They need to be received in love and called, along with all the rest of us, to the upside-down world of the kingdom of God.

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