Fifteen Years of “I do”

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anniversaryWe honor the passing of time by fives and tens.
Milestones. Markers we use to bestow a greater sense of honor and praise.
Fives and tens.

Well now our marriage has one of each.

I love telling people that I’ve been married for “almost 15 years,” and always for the reactions. Wide-eyed looks of shock and disbelief, quick mathematical calculations to determine how old I could have been, “What were you 12 when you got married?”

“No that’s crazy,” I’d reply. “We were 13… but we still had to get our parents permission!”

Sure, we weren’t actually 13 but we were still young. Two kids in their early 20s staring at the unknown hand in hand, “ready for anything.” If only we had known what that really meant.

For us, those markers hold a multitude of stories and experiences that have molded us and shaped us into who we are today: Five adventurous cross-country moves, ministry experiences that went beyond intense, great heartache and loss, new friends and fellow travelers who have revealed new perspectives and ways of seeing and interacting with the world, health scares, the exhilarating birth of our daughter, and the tragic death of dreams we once gripped with a fierce tenacity only to watch evaporate in our hands. We are not the same two naive kids who said, “I do” fifteen years ago–although I still believe they’re lurking in there somewhere cheering us on, “ready for anything.”

“I do.”

Two tiny words which carried us across this threshold of life and thrust us into an adventure neither one of us saw coming. Two tiny words full of promise, overflowing with a commitment to stay faithful and true, to grow together, to challenge one another, to support and encourage one another, to go wherever God may lead us…

Fifteen years ago I didn’t have the slightest inkling of what those two tiny words really meant. Sure I knew that it was a promise, but the depth of that promise, the fullness of that promise? These were words laid out in abstract. Words of a future my imagination was unable to conceive or comprehend.

With each passing year, with each new experience, new milestone, heartache and tragedy, those two tiny words take on a richer meaning out of which a new and more profound vow emerges.

“I do.”

You, Tracy Monts, have been the adventure of a lifetime.
Here’s to fifteen more years of “I do” and beyond.
Happy anniversary.

Twelve Years Ago…

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twelve years ago

Twelve years ago she walked down the aisle. I cried.
Twelve years ago she said, ‘I do.’ I cried.
Twelve years ago tornado sirens rang out in the middle of our wedding ceremony…

I can’t believe we’ve been married for twelve years. I always thought that those people who had been married for a decade or more were old people… and now… here we are… we’re those people. (What happens when we hit 20 or 30 or heaven forbid 50 years?!)

It’s hard to believe it’s been this long but at the same time we’ve lived a lot of life together these past twelve years. Four cross-country moves, pastoring in six different churches from California to Chicago to Central Illinois, heartache and pain, death threats and burnout, side-splitting laughter and smiles that last so long they hurt your cheeks–and you forget what you were even talking about in the first place–long conversations that last deep into the night, sharing our dreams, our hopes, our desires for what it is that God has for us in this life together.

It’s funny, because all of this, this life that we’ve built together, strangely resembles our wedding day. Like when the tornado sirens went off and the two of us looked at Neal wondering what on earth we were going to do? Was he going to keep going? Was he going to stop and direct everyone to take cover? Were we going to finish this thing in the basement? Instead, he pressed on with a steadfast determination as if to say, “Nothing, absolutely nothing will come between you two… certainly not some siren raging on a few hundred yards away!” He set a tone that day in our ceremony, a tone that I think we’ve followed every day since. In the midst of whatever surrounds us, in the midst of whatever looks to consume us or overtake us, nothing, absolutely nothing will come between us.

As Uncle Bob closed out the ceremony he gave us this charge from Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This has been our passage of grace for twelve years, and the grace of God really has been the center of our marriage hasn’t it? I like how Buechner puts it, “The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.'”

I guess I’d never really thought much about how our wedding day has resembled our life together until just recently. And I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I knew then what I know now about everything we’ve faced together, I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t want another person by my side to walk through the perils and joys this life has to offer. Here’s to another 12 years and beyond, if we’re so lucky… Happy anniversary my little pimento loaf.

Regarding Gay Marriage

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Gay Marriage Equality Logo

I have been asked on several occasions about my reaction regarding the Supreme Courts decision on DOMA and the same courts indecision on California’s Proposition 8, a proposition that I was able to vote on and had many conversations about during my time living in San Francisco. I have taken a great deal of time and have had many conversations with LGBT friends, LGBT advocates, pastors, clergy and others to think through the theological, cultural, and social implications. As a result, I have come to a fairly nuanced view of Gay Marriage, a position that I believe warrants further conversation and an open mind for consideration.

The Entanglement of the Church and the State
In the United States there has been a long history of separation between the institutions of Church and government in our country. The debate on ‘how’ and ‘where’ and ‘if’ they should intertwine will undoubtably rage on well into the future. However, the realm of marriage is the one place where, in practice, the line between Church and State are erased and both institutions are joined in tandem to accomplish a single goal: matrimony.

In every other area of life the Church (institutionally speaking) and the State (institutionally speaking) are separate. This was, in my opinion, a beautiful corrective to what the Founding Fathers experienced in England (see: The Church of England). This was meant to not only protect the institution of government, but also to protect the institution of the Church. Neither would intervene in the affairs of the other. Later on down the road this has played out in the non-profit status of the Church (there is a debate in some circles arguing that churches should pay taxes and donations should not be exempt. I would argue that to revoke this status from the Church would actually work to weaken the barrier that is in place that keep the two separate. But that’s another discussion for another time.)

In regards to marriage there is a blending, I believe, that is both unhealthy for the Church and for the State.

What is marriage? First and foremost, marriage is a sacrament. Meaning it is a religious institution. It derives its meaning, it’s purpose, its form, and its function directly from Scripture (specifically Judeo-Christian Scripture). However, in our USAmerican society this has been lost. Marriage is now understood as a right, and along with this right, it brings a bevy of benefits. However, nowhere in Scripture is marriage seen as a right. Marriage is a sacrament. This leaves a very blurred line in our society.

Let me give you an example: Every time I perform a marriage ceremony, I am required to play “agent of the State”. Meaning, my signature (in tandem with the County Clerk’s signature) is required on a legal document to “solemnize” the marriage. I step outside of my role as pastor and into the role of legal officiant for the State. As a result, my signature bestows the rights of marriage to a couple. Nowhere in our society is the separation of church and state more non-existent.

This is the reason why the debate surrounding Gay Marriage is so difficult. There is an entanglement in this realm that should have never come to fruition. Someone fell asleep at the wheel.

Let the State be the State
The issue for the State is one of rights. The Church should not be put into a position of granting civil rights to people. Should we be prophets who speak with prophetic voices into the government, as citizens, by all means! That is our governmentally granted right. But we should not grant rights. As such, we need to step back for a moment and recognize (specifically Christians) that the government is not the Church, the government is not a Christian/religious organization. (If you think otherwise, you might have some serious study ahead of you. This is a fundamental and foundational perspective for my argument.) As a result, we (the Church) should Let the State be the State.

This means, allowing the State to grant civil rights to whomever the State deems appropriate and for whatever purpose it so chooses, and we should recognize we may not always be comfortable with the governments choices/actions*. Government is a temporary reality. Unfortunately, many Christians do not see it this way (as evidenced by a great deal of the doom and gloom responses to the last two Presidential elections.) The Government is not the Church… and the Church is not the Government.

Now, does this mean that the Church should be silent? No. We should be active participants with our voice and our actions in our government. But hear this: The Church should use our voices and our actions for good, not evil. Meaning, we should actually stand up for and with those who are being treated as outcasts and as second-class citizens. This is the same sort of justice that drips from the pages of Scripture.**

Let the Church be the Church
The issue of Gay Marriage should actually be taken out of the realm of civil rights and placed squarely back into the quarters of theology. The entanglement of Church and State has done a great disservice to the Church in this realm. This has actually produced a great schism within the church regarding the question of gay marriage. A discussion of Civil Rights vs Theology has ensnared us and divided us. Neither is completely correct and neither is completely wrong.

We (society as a whole) need to let the Church be the Church. This means allowing every church to come to a position on where it stands theologically. Without the question of Civil Rights and justice, this should allow us the proper space and perspective to talk constructively. And without the question of Civil Rights looming large, society should then step up and respect each Church’s decision. This, however, will never happen as long as a pastor’s signature bestows rights on a couple whether gay or straight.

A Way Forward that Honors the Church + the State
The question then is how do we disentangle the mess we have inherited? I think there is a two-fold solution to this.

  1. Civil Unions for everyone. That’s right, I think whether you are Christian or not, religious or not, everyone should have to apply for a Civil Union license. This allows the government to give or rescind legal rights to couples however it chooses on the basis of equality. This puts everyone in the same boat. Now, to help untangle the mess, there should be an added step to this process: No one gets grandfathered in. Meaning, if you are currently married you need to go and apply for a Civil Union with everyone else. This allows for a clean slate approach. Everyone is on level, equal ground. The second thing this does is puts a bit of revenue into your local economy (a $20 filing fee with the County Clerk could do a lot for your city. Call it a Civil Unions tax if you will.)
  2. Marriages for the religious. To separate Civil Unions and Marriages allows for several beautiful things to happen for the Church. First, it can be treated once again (more so in the Protestant Church) as a sacrament, a special God-ordained moment in the life of the couple. Secondly, this gives the Church the opportunity to elevate the importance and meaning of marriage. It places choice and a stricter vetting process into the hands of the Church… if it so chooses. It is no secret that the divorce rate among those who call themselves Christians is higher than that of non-Christians. We have trounced the meaning of marriage in our own right. Perhaps its time for us to do our part to actually increase the meaning and value of marriage.

This solution is not perfect, I am well aware of that. However, I believe the benefits far outweigh the negatives. I believe it allows us (the Church) a good way forward in recapturing the word marriage from society as nothing more than a civil word and begin its reintroduction as sacrament. As it relates to the question of Gay Marriage, a solution like this allows each individual denomination or church community the opportunity to wrestle with what to do from a theological perspective if a gay couple asks to have their Civil Union solemnized in the eyes of God. It opens up opportunities for grace and love to abound and hard conversations to be had for all involved.

This is an entangled mess, but I do think this is a strong way forward. Simply put: in the question of Gay Marriage, we need to get the Church out of the business of granting rights to citizens of the State.

* I am always uncomfortable with the decisions of war that our government engages in.
** If you need a list of such Scriptures, just ask.

“I Married Up” : Can We Stop With This Backhanded Compliment?

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Married Up

Tracy and I celebrated 11 years of marriage earlier this year (2013). It has been an unbelievable journey marked with highs and lows, challenging moments, beautiful stories, and fun. Lots and lots of fun. I cannot imagine walking through this life and sharing the moments we have shared with anyone else. I am tremendously thankful for my wife. BUT, and let me be really clear here, I did NOT marry up.

I know, I know, how unromantic and even mean spirited of me to say. What a horrible thing to say after a decade-plus-one anniversary. You’re all wondering if I somehow missed the “man memo”, right? The memo that explicitly reads: “To pay the highest compliment to your wife in public, you must say with gusto: ‘I married up!’ This will garner you the love and affection of a blushing bride, and cover a multitude of sins.”

This “compliment” (I married up) comes straight out of the standard-issue husband-manual you receive on your wedding day. It is a required sentiment to describe your wife to others. It’s an updated phrase from the last edition when we used, “my better half” in the same situations. And this phrase is well meaning, but it is anything but a compliment. In fact, I’d argue it’s more of a backhanded compliment.

Let me explain, because you simply have to take the inverse of the phrase to get what I’m saying.
When someone says, “I married up,” what exactly does that say about their spouse?
It sounds like their spouse is better than they are, right? Like the husband is being romantic, discarding his own pride and ego as a means to elevate his wife. And therein lies the compliment. However, there’s a backhanded side to this phrase as well. If you think about the sentiment for just a moment you’d have to then wonder, how did you get someone like that? Did you catch her on a bad day or a bad year? Did she settle? Poor girl. Maybe you simply conned her? She must be pretty gullible, eh? The implications of this phrase don’t speak very highly of your wife, does it? Doesn’t really speak volumes about her judgement of character, does it? But then again, wives are just supposed to be pretty, shiny trophies right? I mean, that’s how we often times treat them, isn’t it?

You may think I’m being ridiculous or that I’m too caught up in my own hyperbole. You may think I’m over thinking this whole thing and trying to make a point where one doesn’t really exist. But I do wonder, and I think we all should wonder, why has it become necessary to degrade ourselves in order to give a proper compliment? Think about it… I’ll wait.

When this becomes our approach, we not only degrade ourselves, but we unintentionally diminish the other person robbing both them and ourselves of our humanity.

So, I did NOT marry up and I hope that Tracy would say the same thing. We both made a wise decision and have worked hard to not only sustain our love but to sacrifice for and submit to one another. My wife is a brilliant and talented woman who tirelessly gives of herself to others. She exemplifies the kingdom of God, challenging and pushing me to be a better version of myself. And she is an amazing mother… an absolutely amazing mother.

Isn’t it more honoring to actually compliment our wives instead of saying, “I married up”? So, men, can we please stop using this phrase and work at using real compliments?