I have marriage on the brain this week. This weekend Lisa and I will lead our annual marriage retreat at the Eagle’s Nest Bed & Breakfast in beautiful Big Bear, California. In fact, as soon as I post this blog we will start the over-2-hour trek from the San Fernando Valley up through the San Bernadino Mountains.
In a way, focussing on marriage is an appropriate way to read the second half of Taylor and Smith. It takes a mere 3.24 pounds for Smith to propose and prove his thesis that it has taken about 500 years for humanity to travel from a paradigm where it was impossible to make sense of life without referring to God to our current imaginary where it is virtually impossible to make sense of life with God. Smith offers us a written explanation of Taylor with a literal short glossary of Taylor’s big concepts at the end. One of my favorite dates with Lisa is when we go to a restaurant and order beer and wings. For me, reading Taylor is like eating spicy chicken wings and reading Smith is like drinking a nice smooth local IPA. Taylor makes my brain hurt, but I found I could not put him down. Like a perfect plate of wings, Taylor “hurts so good” and it makes me feel alive in ways that only a perfect plethora of hot peppers can. Smith is the perfect dining companion who knows how to not only douse the flames but also offer a way to continue the beautiful culinary torture.
One of mine and Lisa’s favorite recording artists is folk singer Ray LaMontagne. I was reminded of the time we went to see him tour his Supernova album. Taylor describes the Nova effect as a compilation of “third ways” for belief and meaning. LaMontagne’s album is full of references to an America gone by. He refers to small towns, life as a teen and even drive-in theaters. This nostalgia for the past is also discussed by Taylor and Smith. Repeatedly, like the grief experienced by a folk singer who can’t return to his youth, Taylor tells us there is no going back.
The concept of the Nova effect informs my research on bivocational pastors in America. It seems to me the American ideal of a one income family has become obsolete. I know historically pastors have usually been called to live simply on a humble income. However, across this country I do not know of any pastor who survives on one family income. Married pastors have their spouse contribute to their family income and many pastors supplement their income with second jobs outside of their church. In the Vineyard USA alone, approximately 50% of our 611 churches are pastored by bivocational pastors. Like the nostalgic dream of seeing a movie at a drive-in with your friends, pastoring a church and meeting all your financial obligations while your spouse stays home is of a bygone era.
One of my favorite married couples are some friends we’ve had for over 20 years. In fact, I grew up with the husband. They are our age and have been married for about the same amount of time. Like going from Secular1 to Secular2 to Secular3, marriages go through stages. Our dear friends give me hope because they, and their marriage have been transformed. As I prepare for this weekend’s marriage retreat I am reminded of all the couples in the past 10 years that have attended the retreat but who are now divorced. Marriage is difficult! Given the current cross-pressures and immanent frames and living in our current Secular3-wannabe-nouveau-deistic-time, it can be difficult to find alternatives to tough times in a relationship. My favorite thing about our friends is that their marriage has survived his 2-year extramarrital affair. With Jesus, friends, and about a quarter of a million dollars in therapy, their marriage is amazing now! They found transformation.
Taylor talks about Mother Theresa and Saint Francis, as people who found transformation. He really focusses on novelists, but I find it fascinating that Mark Noll relies on the historical Christian Creeds as part of his proof to call us to study and Taylor uses the Saints to call us to transformation. Taylor states that Saint Francis was transformed by God’s love. This is not a bad way to be known and remembered. I found myself this week praying for the couples who are coming to the retreat that they too, like Saint Francis, would be transformed by love. My friends rose above, our current Secular3 constructs, they didn’t go back, but allowed themselves and their marriage to be transformed by love.
One of my favorite parts of our marriage retreat is the playlist I create each year to accompany each couple throughout the weekend. This year, I mixed it up (pun intended) and each couple submitted two songs; one song from the first dance at their wedding and one current favorite. The poets, for Taylor help us create, reconvert, and imagine a life free from the immanent frame. Music does that for me. Lisa and I shared our first dance to a song called I Will Be Here by Steven Curtis Chapman. This song has served as a reminder, a prophecy, and a catalyst for imagining life with my wife.
I will be here and you can cry on my shoulder,
When the mirror tells us we’re older,
I will hold you and
I will be here to watch you grow in beauty
And tell you all the things you are to me
I will be here
Like marriage, friendship with Jesus means converting, reconverting, and repeating. Taylor reminds us that conversion is not just a given anymore. Actually, Taylor proves that as Christians living in the Western world today, we find ourselves in need for reconversion out of the constraints of secular constructs. Getting away with my wife for a three day weekend will hopefully do just that. #pray4snow