Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Mary Month of May

It’s May, the most awkward time of year between my husband and myself. May is the month dedicated to Mary. We have very different opinions about Mary. We have very different opinions about many things, but the Mary one tends to get us both riled up.
It’s one thing to talk about how Christians should respect each other’s deeply-held beliefs and meaningful traditions. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy and very good about myself.
It’s another thing for a Baptist to watch her husband marching in a processional to place a wreath of flowers on the head of a graven image of the perpetually virginal Mother of God, crowning her Queen of Heaven. That's where the rubber hits the road, and I start acting like a twit.
"What has our marriage taught you about Christian unity?" I asked Patrick this evening, as we walked down to the cathedral. He was limping a little from this afternoon's Ultimate Frisbee game at the Baptist church.

"I always remember what Pastor Bill told us during premarital counseling," he said. "He told us that 'You both need to be sure of the other's salvation.' That's the absolutely critical point.

"And I have to approach things in a different way. We are in a relationship, not an academic debate. It doesn't mean setting aside the things that matter for the sake of unity. It means not being a jerk about those things."
When Patrick and I were at the point of getting engaged, I realized that I was holding back some of my energy and a lot of my trust against the chance that we would fail each other. So I chose to fully dedicate myself to this endeavor. It was a terrifying moment, when I placed my future in somebody else’s hands. It was a liberating moment, when I stopped being confined to just me and entered into somebody else’s life, and let him take part in mine.
I’m not an expert on Christian ecumenism. That’s too bad, since I’ve taken on a mighty task here: staying true to a faith that matters to me, and sharing the life of another human being whose thoughts and experiences are not identical to mine. Most of the things that I’m learning about being a good partner in this marriage are things that I should have already learned from my friendships with other Christians. I am one person in the Gathered Church. I’m supposed to be able to commit myself to that Church, to stop holding back my trust and my energy, to enter into the freedom that Christ has to offer. Part of that freedom is to not have to fight tooth-and-nail with any adjacent person who disagrees with me.

And it really is a commitment. It's easy to pop in and out of churches until I find a congregation that believes the same things that I do, and then to ignore or argue with everyone else. But I think that being fully engaged with the Church involves developing and sustaining relationships with people who disagree with us on some fundamental issues, and that it involves not living with the mindset that we can divorce ourselves from those people. It means that we are in those relationships for life.
Photo copyright Karen Nelson

So here are some of the things that being a Christian spouse means to me:
It means remembering that at the heart of the disagreement is the fact that both of us are trying desperately to connect with God, and that’s the thing that attracted us to each other in the first place.
It means remembering that the source of the anger is the fact that we are too closely linked to disagree without feeling pain.
It means that we have entered into a life where our primary calling is not to correct each and every one of each other’s doctrinal errors, but to support each other as we try to respond to God's desires for us.

It means finding out what the sensitive spots are and learning how to deal with each of those sensitive spots, and learning new ways of interacting and of listening. It means letting go of our old debate habits and going through life side-by-side instead of head-to-head.
It means listening quietly while the other one makes himself vulnerable and shares what’s in his heart, instead of interjecting with “That sounds fine until you realize that your assumptions about God are based on Aristotelian metaphysics and not on the self-revelation of the Abrahamic god.”
It means asking for a timeout when we feel ourselves getting angry. It means being able to agree that soul competency is a critical doctrinal matter, but that at this very moment we should watch a King of the Hill DVD and eat mint chocolate chip ice cream instead of hashing that matter out.
It means that Patrick will stop teasing about how we should name our first child Annunciata Mariana, and I will start exploring some of the things that the entire Church can learn from Mary.
It means recognizing that, as long as the two of us can climb into bed together every night without going through a checklist of what we agree and disagree about, we ought to able to joyfully live in a multidenominational, self-contradictory, crabby and debative Universal Church.
Photo copyright Karen Nelson


  1. I like the idea of taking a time out when we are getting angry. This has worked so well for me in my marriage and my parenting. It's hard to say things in love when you are angry. We are just too human. Great thoughts.