Tag Archives: relationships

Marriage and Social Justice: Ideas for Churches

Following up on my previous post “Marriage and Social Justice,” what can churches do? While I’m applying for an MS in Marital & Family Therapy, I’m not an expert quite yet. Nevertheless, here are a few preliminary ideas:

Evaluate what you have.
Get the help of those with appropriate training in your church (or bring in experts from outside) to evaluate how your church could improve various structures, programs, etc. to better include people from different kinds of families, as well as to best equip these people to move toward healthy, stable relationships. Be sure to consider lifespan development and what specific age groups, as well as other population groups, may need.

Make marriage a priority in your outreach budget and hiring decisions.
As you reach out into your church’s neighborhood or a low-income neighborhood in your community, consider hiring (alone or with the help of partnering churches) a therapist and/or family life educator to offer services to individuals that otherwise wouldn’t have these resources.

Help families care for their children.
Consider sponsoring a daycare center for low-income families. If subsidized by your church, parents who otherwise would struggle to find affordable childcare will have a quality option—and you have the power to make certain this is a place where children are loved and educated well by intelligent and compassionate caregivers. This helps families (especially single-parent households) economically, but also lets your church be a part of nurturing children whose family life (and world generally) might be pretty unstable.

Be pro-active in caring for teens and young adults.
Consider, especially, the needs of teens and young adults as they try to understand their families of origin and the possibilities for their own relationships. This might include forming a special small group for college students coming from divorced or dysfunctional families or developing new and better ways of talking about sex and relationships with teenagers.

Try to remain flexible and refrain from judgment, even as you advocate against certain behaviors.
Foster an environment of support that challenges people without judging them. This is especially needed for single parents, cohabitating couples, divorced individuals, etc. Do whatever needs to be done to make certain these people are integrated into your church as a whole. For example, consider whether “couples” small groups are really the best way to structure the majority of your adult Bible studies or whether it might be useful to purposely include any cohabitating couples at your church on a marriage retreat (after all, couldn’t their relationship also use some extra investment?). Dealing with the ethics of various situations is always tricky, but whatever you do, be sure you are creating spaces for people to grow in positive directions.

Acknowledge difficult topics.
You may need to offer teaching and resources relating to abuse, rape, infidelity, sexual addiction, and the like. It’s easier to pretend these issues aren’t in our churches, but since they are, to care for people well, we need to help them deal with them spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.

That’s just a start… anyone else have ideas to offer?

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Filed under Marriage, Relationships, Social Justice, Sociology

Marriage and Social Justice

Do you ever read statistics about marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and single parenthood and wonder where these changes are taking place? Sure, we know more and more families in our communities who part ways at some point, but it’s not like a whole third of our kids’ friends were born out of wedlock!

Let me suggest (especially if you’re white or fairly well-off) that you are looking in the wrong neighborhood. There is a ridiculous correlation between race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other such factors and lower rates of stable marriages. Take a break from this blog and catch up with these eighteen quick and easy graphs: http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/pdfs/2008update.pdf. Take special note of the various ways in which race, gender, and the like affect results.

It’s clear that practices relating to marriage are changing. Can you believe the number of cohabitating couples has risen over 68% just from 2000 to 2007? That’s crazy! There are certainly larger cultural issues going on here. However, when we note, in particular, the ways in which white families and black families differ, how can we not see marriage as a social justice issue?

I’m not trying to say single parents can’t be good parents. I’m not saying all marriages are worthy of continuing. And I’m certainly not saying that families or individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds should be shamed. I do think, though, that we need to consider the sociological factors that are leading to these differences and the inequalities represented by those factors. (For example, stress about money can put a strain on any relationship.) We also need to consider the various inequalities—especially for children—that these family outcomes create.

I don’t think we often consider marriage and family issues related to social justice. For one, many would see marital status as better able to be controlled than income or neighborhood—so if you’re a single parent, we think that’s your choice (read: fault) and not our problem. Secondly, I think we who care about social justice often shy away from the topic of marriage, due to Focus on the Family connotations. An obsession with marriage seems likely just to alienate people or to connect us with the reactionary sort of conservatives we wish would stop trying to represent Christianity.

I think we’ve got to stop seeing things this way. There are some very destructive cycles going on in our culture at large, but especially within certain communities. We can’t force anyone to get married, stay married, or certainly to have a good marriage. However, we can start learning about the ways in which social inequalities and marriage and family outcomes are linked in a mutual reinforcing cycle, and we can start using our own skills and resources—individually and as churches—to remedy the situation.

I think we need to better educate and counsel on topics relating to sexuality, marriage, and parenting, especially focusing on the neighborhoods and communities hit hardest by family brokenness. There are many people with no or few models of healthy behaviors and relationships, which I think makes it difficult for them to envision possibilities. I think that with more people to walk alongside them, more information, and professional therapy, teens and young adults from all backgrounds can better heal from their own family pain and move towards happy, committed relationships in adulthood.

We absolutely must have a more pro-active stance.

Specific ideas for churches to come. :o)

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Filed under Marriage, Relationships, Social Justice, Sociology

How’s married life?

I’ve been getting that question a lot lately. “How’s married life?” I’ve gotten it multiple times even today.

Sometimes it’s from a closer friend with genuine excitement for our marriage—typically someone who has watched our relationship grow from the beginning, whether here in California or long-distance. In this case, it’s less about the question, really, and more a continuing celebration of the fact that Jeremiah and I are together. They like us, they like us together, and thus our marriage is generally a fun topic to bring up, especially for our married friends.

Other times, “How’s married life?” is a substitute for “How’s it going?” I usually say “good” or “fine,” as I know they have little interest in details, though this probably makes me appear rather unenthusiastic to some. I often wonder how else they expect someone to respond. What would they actually do with honest answers like “We had a fight last night”? Or “We’re having tons of sex!”? Hence, the question brings me amusement, despite my slight annoyance that my individual well-being seems to have decreased in relevance to the world, at least for a few more months.

Lastly, there are those who are genuinely curious. “How is married life (really)?” This is a mixed group, including everyone from near strangers to bridesmaids, but it is almost exclusively single friends who ask. I like to talk about marriage, so I don’t really mind the question—but it’s not the easiest to answer meaningfully.

From my perspective, early “married life” is going to be quite similar to two things:

First, it is like the engagement period and dating relationship and ordinary friendship that came first. We married each other; we have a history together. Marriage is just a continuation of that past. It doesn’t feel sectioned off in a profound way. We are us, the us we always have been. Married life feels remarkably like the entirety of our relationship, perhaps especially because we tried to make fewer artificial distinctions before our wedding. For example, we started pooling financial resources and making financial decisions together at least three months “early” and established our joint bank accounts about a month or two in advance. While many people wait for months after the wedding to do this—or question whether they want to at all—I would recommend that everyone try to transition into marriage with similar practices.

Secondly, the first few months of married life feel quite similar to having a new roommate—though one you’ve already been friends with for a while. You already know something of each other’s habits. You’ve experienced conflict. You already often cook together, study together, run errands together, etc. When you’re living together full-time there are always new things you must negotiate. How do we do chores? (Er, do we do chores?) What about bedtime routines? Do we need to ask the other person before having someone over? In my experience, learning to live with Jeremiah is remarkably similar to learning to live with my college roommate Kate. There is nothing very interesting to describe, as much of what single people seem to be asking about are things they can already answer simply from living with another person.

With these two items taken care of, there are really only a few questions that seem to lurk below the surface:

“Is it what you expected?”
Yes, actually, it’s almost exactly what I expected. Is that weird?

“Is it what I as a single person expect?”
This obvious depends on the person, so I answer accordingly. While some people do have overly fluffy visions of marriage, on the whole I find that many people are too negative about marriage. Many see marriage as something risky to be put off. Others, trying to inject something positive into a culture of serial relationships, emphasize that marriage is hard—almost to the point that you wonder if marriage is any fun. If your expectation is that marriage sucks the life out of you, then no, it’s not what you expect, or at least it doesn’t need to be.

“Are you happy?”
Yes!

While sometimes I’ve been frustrated to answer the same question so often, the repetition—and especially the additional questions I’m sometimes asked by people in Group 3—has forced me to reflect on marriage in our society. We are certainly in an interesting place, when it comes to how we talk about marriage, how that differs based on context, etc. It leaves me with the sense that even among those with better preparation for marriage itself, few have the knowledge of real-life marriages (and engagements!) that might be a useful point of reference, even for those who never marry.

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5 Ways Facebook Has Improved Dating

A couple of days ago, another blogger discussed the many negatives that come with the intersection of Facebook and the dating scene: overanalyzing your crush’s posts, staying updated on your ex’s dating life, public beginnings and break-ups, having a digital record of relationship blunders, and the possibility of a significant other becoming jealous over posts to your wall from other people. I thought this was a really interesting take on Facebook/dating, as I might not be married right now if it weren’t for Facebook. Given my more positive slant (and also the irrelevance some of these items seem to have for adults—you’re jealous of your girlfriend’s other guy friends because of wall posts? Wow…), I have decided to dedicate a post to the positive impact Facebook had on my dating experience.

1) Solidifying a new friendship.
When Jeremiah and I first met at a Christmas party in 2009, we both were in need of more friends at Fuller. Thus, we friended each other within a couple days. This facilitated no fewer than three important things:

First, when I needed a ride from campus to my apartment complex one evening the next week and had already asked everyone in my phone/online that I actually knew, I (pathetically) used my Facebook status to try to recruit a ride. Jeremiah felt sorry for me and volunteered, which helped me decide he was a halfway decent guy rather than the arrogant pre-academic he appeared to be at the party.

Secondly, as we went on Christmas break, instead of a month of no contact, we continued to communicate through wall posts, article comments, and even chat. What one might learn during the first couple times hanging out with a new friend, I was able to do during our month off, through Facebook. I’m not sure if we had had a month-long gap in communication that we would have actually become friends during the next quarter.

Lastly, when I needed help moving to a new apartment in January and again, pathetically, had to ask for help on Facebook, Jeremiah again volunteered. He ended up being my primary moving buddy, and we ended up hanging out almost every day the next week, cementing him as my new best friend at Fuller.

2) Initiating conversation.
Jeremiah and I both post tons of articles on Facebook, along with our commentaries. When I was first getting to know him, I learned a lot about him just from reading articles he posted on Facebook, as well as looking through photos of his life pre-Fuller. When we hung out in person, sometimes the conversations sparked by Facebook would continue, usually on a deeper level. Also, even as we started hanging out all the time, we continued to chat on Facebook daily–during class, as well as most evenings (sometimes well past our bedtimes–but we won’t disclose any more embarrassingly gushy details!). Thus, while Facebook can’t be a substitute for real-life interaction, it was a positive addition to our growing friendship.

3) Introducing friends & family.
When we first started dating, my friends and family started friending Jeremiah and vice versa. Because we were both living thousands of miles away from home, everyone appreciated being able to get to know each other a bit. Between what we said about each other to our friends and their getting to interact online, see each other’s profiles, etc., a few closer friends actually ended up feeling like they knew us before we met in person. It was really neat to have them involved in our relationship from the beginning like this.

4) Sharing our story.
It was also cool to get to continue to invite people into our story as we moved toward marriage. Through pictures and status updates, people got to watch our relationship grow and even be present at our wedding from a distance. Clearly, it’s not the same as actually being there, but this was still really nice for us, given that we had many friends in California, friends in North Carolina, and family members who couldn’t travel to a Texas wedding.

5) Preserving memories.
Lastly, while I know it’s cheesy, I’ve really enjoyed having a record of our story. Since many of our first interactions were on Facebook, it’s been fun to look back and see posts from before we liked each other or before I had successfully convinced Jeremiah to like me back. Our relationship moved quickly, so it’s sometimes hard to remember the details of the process. For me, this makes it especially nice to have memories preserved through Facebook.

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Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 3)

Yes, I’m finally concluding this series, as promised long ago!

In my first post on engagement I argued that engagement should be seen (generally, but especially among Christians) as a state of being increasing almost married rather than firmly still not married. In my second post on engagement, I argued that engagement’s purpose should not be to plan an elaborate wedding. And now, finally, I will conclude by arguing that engagement’s purpose is also not to act as a marital insurance policy.

If one has decided engagement isn’t for wedding planning, it seems a common view is that engagement is a time to figure out that the relationship is definitely right. I’m not in any way trying to be critical of those who have gone through the painful process of breaking off an engagement, of course, so please don’t misunderstand me. For those that have had good reason to break of engagements, I applaud you for your thoughtfulness and courage.

More generally, however, if we go into engagement thinking this is still a tentative commitment, I think we’re approaching engagement and commitment in the wrong way. If you aren’t sure you want to be married, don’t get engaged. It makes life easier. While most aren’t going into engagement thinking it’s quite the trial-and-error process that cohabitation has become to many, I do think engagement is taken much less seriously than marriage itself and perhaps, without making it the equivalent of marriage already, the seriousness might need to go up a notch for many.

Due to the perception that engagement is somehow quite distinct from marriage, it seems many treat engagement, if not as a trial period beyond dating, some sort of time to guarantee the success of the marriage. The easiest example of this is premarital counseling. Time to do premarital counseling is often cited as a good reason for the length of engagement, as if the counseling will be vastly different before marriage versus after. Personally, I find that hard to believe. You will be the same people with the same issues before and after, so unless you are still thinking that something bad you discover in counseling might make you back out of the marriage, I don’t think creating time for counseling should be a major factor in delaying marriage, either. If you already know you want to marry someone and aren’t treating engagement as the trial period dating should be, I see no reason to not to start counseling ASAP, as well as get married ASAP–with the two possibly overlapping. In fact, it seems it might be more useful to have some sessions before and some sessions after, as you will probably have plenty of adjustment to do post-marriage.

I will admit my thoughts here aren’t as developed as they were for my first two posts… but I felt I should write the third as planned. In all of this, it seems the purpose of engagement is simply to get things together, to begin the transition. So you figure out your housing arrangements and your bank accounts and what, if any, ceremony you’re having, but it doesn’t need to drag out so you can make certain this is right or do something magic now to “prepare” for a good marriage (hopefully you were preparing the whole time you were dating by building a healthy relationship!) or to make the ceremony extravagant. The focus should always be on the fact that you’re becoming more and more married and wanting to make certain you are appropriately transitioning–which in my opinion would include increased emotional attachment and commitment, despite the fact that others won’t “recognize” your commitment until your wedding. One of the most frustrating things about engagement to me is this emphasis, even in jest, on hanging on to being single for a little while longer–and it just seems that’s not the point of the whole thing. I think the more you are able to transition now, the less potentially stressful adjusting you’ll have to do (to not being autonomous, etc.) later. And that, I think, is what the church should be helping engaged couples do: to help them understand and adjust to marriage as smoothly as possible.

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Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

In addition to understanding engagement as a dynamic state of being increasingly “almost married” (notably, lodged between two other dynamic states), I think we would benefit from changing at least two other elements of our view of engagement.

First, I want to contest the common view that the purpose of engagement is to plan a wedding. I think a wedding at its best is a celebration of a good thing in community. However, it seems that both the time and money required to have a wedding–or at least one that that competes with the contents of bridal magazines or our childhood fantasies–delay most marriages.

I find it telling that in a different time and culture engagement and marriage were often done quite differently. My grandparents married in the early 50s, when they were in their 20s. Mimi and Granddad met in June and started a relationship nearly immediately. They soon started talking about marriage, declared their plans more officially in December, and were married in a pastor’s home in February, with only my granddad’s family attending. (Hers lived in Chicago at the time and couldn’t make a trip to Kentucky.

While many people at the time had weddings, they did not. And according to my grandmother, this was not at all uncommon. I suppose we don’t know when most people today would get married without so much hoopla, but I find it telling that a year-long engagement is “standard” primarily because of the time needed to plan a wedding (just Google “engagement length” and check out the forums where women are comparing timelines) and that some people even opt to wait multiple years to marry to gather sufficient funds for the ceremony of their dreams.

When I asked Mimi if she thinks the rising popularity of cohabitation has contributed significantly to the lengthening of engagement, she replies with a hearty yes. People had shorter engagements and simpler ceremonies in the past, she believes, because it was culturally unacceptable to move in together or have sex without a marriage license.

I think it’s legitimate to have opinions about what you want your wedding to be like, and I don’t think it’s bad to spend time and money on some of the elements that are more important to you. However, I find it unfortunate that we put such a focus on weddings that few people feel they can get married without one of sufficient granduer. This not only creates a culture of weddings which marginalizes the have-nots (something we as Christians should avoid), but also encourages people to wait longer to get married for questionable reasons. Is a fancier ceremony really worth delaying your marriage for several more months? For some, perhaps, it is–and it’s not my place to judge them–but I feel shorter engagements would be better for many couples.

Weddings are a cultural practice, so they will undoubtedly be influenced by our cultures. We feel societal pressure to do our weddings in certain ways, and it’s not an evil thing to take part in this part of culture by following many of these norms. But we don’t need to follow every cultural convention, especially as we, as Christians, seek to do life in a way that aligns with kingdom values. And since these values include things such as chastity, commitment, generosity, and giving up status, I see a lot of pros with creating a culture of simpler, sooner weddings.

In my opinion, if you’re committed to each other and want to be married, it makes sense to go ahead and be married–and I believe we as Christians should do a better job supporting that.

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Filed under Engagement, Relationships, Social Justice, Weddings

Re-envisioning Engagement (Part 1)

I will eventually get better at blogging again–I promise!

I’ve never been good at being normal, so it’s probably not a surprise that I’m not a typical bride. What feminist could be? What you may not have realized is that I’m so atypical, I actually hate being engaged. And I appear to be the first woman ever to feel this way. A few Google searches have found very few results with “engagement” and “frustrating,” “hate,” or “sucks” in the same sentence, save a few complaints about military engagement in various locales.

As a teenager I frequently picked out my own birthday presents, which I don’t think is a rarity in and of itself; however, I also frequently talked my mom into letting me receive certain gifts early for one reason or another. Given my history, I openly admit, part of my disdain for engagement is a simple lack of patience. However, I also, over the past several months, have been reflecting on the significance of marriage and how it “ought to be done,” and I think some genuine criticisms can be made of how engagement/marriage work in our society, especially when viewed from a Christian perspective.

First, I would like to point out that engagement is a fairly invisible state outside of the marketplace. While temporary, everyone that is married was once engaged, yet you’d hardly even know it. Engagement seems to be nothing but a special subset of dating, tacked on at the end of the courtship process, and certainly distinct from marriage itself. Perhaps this distinction is less sharp outside of religious circles that ban cohabitation, but within evangelical Christianity, there is a clear divide. For example, churches often feature various activities for married couples, but only a few churches make certain their language is inclusive toward other committed couples. While I could write an additional post or two about the consequences this has on our evangelistic efforts (if a non-Christian couple that lives together isn’t welcome in a couple’s small group, too, what does that say about your church’s hospitality?), I want to focus here on the fact that this excludes Christians who are seriously dating or engaged who may very well be “closer” to marriage than not. And would it be such a bad thing for these couples to also be included in couples’ activities? Biblically, older men and women are instructed to mentor the younger, and many churches still emphasize the value of relationships between older and younger married couples, specifically. I argue that it would be valuable to let those relationships begin developing between couples that are married (be it for a year or for forty) and those that are still on their way, rather than waiting until vows are officially said.

In fact, it seems that Christians that heavily emphasize waiting until marriage to have sex have a tendency to heavily dichotomize engagement and marriage. The online magazine Boundless, written for college students and singles in their 20s puts it as such: “OK, congratulations, you’re engaged. What do you do now? There is really only one concept to keep in mind when it comes to engagement, and it’s quite easy. It’s simple and it should guide you in every decision, thought and act until you are standing before God, the people and the pastor on the big day. Ready? You are not married yet. Now, depending on logistical or other circumstances, cultural backgrounds, length of relationship, things other Christians might have told you, there’s another way to put this: Ready? You are not married yet. Remember that if you get nothing else out of this column.”

I acknowledge this is true, and I’m not arguing to charge Christian sexual ethics. But I do think that this demonstrates the oddity of how we talk about engagement and marriage. We insist that marriage is a good thing and bad-mouth those who are unwilling to formally commit themselves; however, when two people are ready for that commitment, we expect a long waiting period, during which–rather than helping them make mental, emotional, and practical transitions towards marriage–we will emphasize, verbally and non-verbally, that they are not at all married, no matter how married they feel or how married they want to be. To me, rather than putting a not in italics it would be much more useful for us to consider engagement a time of being increasingly almost married.

In this way, I believe, engagement becomes a legitimate state between dating and marriage, rather than simply the end of dating. Engagement is seen as a true between state that begins on the dating end of the spectrum, but quickly moves closer to marriage. Besides these questionable ways of talking about engagement, I think it’s notable that there seem to be many more books about dating or deciding to become engaged or marriage itself than there are books about the engagement process. While relatively short, it is engagement is quite common, making it odd that there is such a silence. To me it sometimes feels the only people in-tune with the existence of engaged people are wedding vendors–and this seems unfortunate. Shouldn’t we as a society, and especially we who are Christians, “see” engaged people and address them at that many diverse places they are at?

… to be continued…

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