From the entrance to the exit
Is longer than it looks from where we stand
I want to say I’m sorry for stuff I haven’t done yet
Things will shortly get completely out of hand
I can feel it in the rotten air tonight
In the tips of my fingers
In the skin on my face
In the weak last gasp of the evening’s dying light
In the way those eyes I’ve always loved illuminate this place
Like a trashcan fire in a prison cell
Like the searchlights in the parking lots of hell
I will walk down to the end with you
If you will come all the way down with me
~ The Mountain Goats, “Old College Try”
So, as of a few days ago, my wife and I have now been married for a year and an half. We were able to spend the day together yesterday and last night we re-stated our vows, and re-prayed the prayers in the Anglican marriage liturgy (one of the advantages of being a theology geek is that I just happen to have an Anglican Book of Alternative Services, so we can actually do this sort of thing — and we try to do it once a month). We are also expecting a child this January. Crazy times.
Anyway, all of this has got me thinking, once again, about what it means to love my wife (and now my soon to be family!), especially in light of other loves and other commitments — notably my so-called commitment to love and journey into solidarity with the poor and the abandoned.
It has not always been easy to negotiate these two great loves of my life. Sometimes, especially after things in our ‘community house’ fell apart, I found myself thinking about Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7.32-35, and thinking that it would be easier to follow through on convictions I claim to hold, if I was unattached. ‘When I was single,’ I thought, ‘it was easy for me to invite anybody home to sleep on my couch. Now, I can’t do that. I need to think of what makes my wife feel unsafe, and I need to respect when she wants us to take time and space away from the brokenness in which we are already well immersed.’ So, there has been some give and take.
However, as I was rethinking all of these things the other day, I had a bit of a breakthrough. You see, these changes I was making with my wife — especially as they related to what I understood of the Christian call to seek out the lost and the hurting — were things that risked developing into resentments. I was on the verge of thinking about them as ‘sacrifices’ or ‘compromises’ (actually, every now and again, I did think of them that way).
However, I now see all of this in a new light. Now I understand that these are the bare basics of what it means to love a person. These things are not difficult ‘sacrifices’, nor are they ‘compromises’ of my Christian vocation; rather, they are the fulfillment thereof. Here was the thought that brought about this breakthrough: if I cannot delight in performing these simple daily acts of love for my wife, then the chances are that all my other more public and more ‘radical’ acts of love — inviting homeless people to stay at my place, giving the clothes off of my back to a naked woman, jumping into knife fights, etc. — are just total poser bullshit. I mean, if I can’t give my life (or even little bits of it) to my wife, then the chances are that I’m just doing all those other things to increase my own brand-status as some sort of ‘radical’ Christian or something pathetic like that.
This reminds me of a few words attributed to Hauerwas:
You always marry the wrong person… love does not create marriage; rather marriage provides a good training ground to teach us what love involves.
I think that the first part of this quote highlights the fact that we are marrying another person, not simply acquiring a commodity that we can slot into our lives and use as another means of affirming ourselves-as-we-are. Other people as people, well, they see our flaws and need us to change, and they’ve also got their own flaws and let us down. So it goes (the other day I was thinking that both the things that we adore and the things that we hate in others, are never as significant as we imagine them to be before we get to know them). Of course, the second part is simply another way of saying what I have been trying to express earlier in this post. Marriage teaches us what love involves, not only with our partner, but with everybody else in our lives.
This, by the way, is why I love “Old College Try” by The Mountain Goats. It’s a song about two broken people who love each other, but who know that they are going to hurt each other. Yet, when all is said and done, they continue to choose each other. That, I think, is a wonderful picture of what Christian love is. Because the truth is that we’re all pretty horribly messed-up, it’s just that God responds to this by saying, ‘fuck that shit, I’m with you till the end.’
And so, Melanie, I love you dearly, and am excited to learn how to love you dearly. I can’t wait to ‘walk down to the end with you’. This promises to be the most wild, and fucked-up, and breath-takingly wonderful adventure of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.