25 + 5 =

On a windy Calgary day on May 14, 1988, I got married. Rae Kenny-Rife to be exact.  If my math is correct (in these matters it’s best to be accurate), that makes 30 years.

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Eyes, the gateway to the soul.
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Rae and I posing in her father’s living room (you’ll just have to forgive the mullet)

30 years.

30.

Years.

It feels strange just reading those words. A guy at my level of A.D.D. seldom manages 30 minutes at anything.

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Rae, 30 years ago today (yummy)

That’s 360 months. 131,400 days. 7, 884, 000 minutes – well, you get the idea.

Marriage has been compared to many things.

The slow, arduous climb up a mountain, increasingly steep, and constantly threatened by dodgy weather.

Cool. Lots to see up here.

Wild, adrenaline-pumping, white water rapids.

YOLO.

A crazy carpet ride down an icy hill. Partners in guts and glory. Fellow felons of fun and frolic, as it were, gathering speed, danger, and panicked screams along the way.

Go for it. Whether by fall, splash, crash or slide, it’ll wrap up all too soon –  sometimes with an uncomfortable bump at the bottom.

Besides, you can cry or laugh alongside someone who also pissed themself on the way down.

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As fashionably 90s as one can be in a kilt.

We love to ask our elders, decades of partnership under their belts, “what’s your secret to success for a long and happy marriage?”

Of course, in the asking, we assume their marriage to be both “successful” and/or “happy,” whatever those ultimately mean.

Therefore, let me humbly suggest we begin with a satisfactory definition of terms. What do we mean by long, happy, and especially, successful? Is it successful only inasmuch as it is long and/or happy? Put another way, can short marriages also be defined as successful if they were happy most of the time? What about those decades-long marriages that, although long, were rarely happy? Are we to view those as successful as well? At the end of the day, is happiness or longevity the litmus test for a successful marriage?

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On our Hawaiian Islands cruise, 2007

I could wax philosophical and ask whether Shakespearean star-struck gooeyness makes for good lovers (if so, hide the kitchen knives!). After all, who doesn’t love a good love story? That impossible pairing of impossible opposites who, against impossible odds, stumble into bliss together.

Nah.

Back to our aging honeymooners instead. Among the most common answers to the question are as follows:

Communication (including sex).

Laughter.

A sense of shared purpose.

Frugality and discipline.

Hard work and sacrifice.

Children.

Not children.

Regular date nights.

Bourbon…the list goes on.

To those staring at 50, 60 years or more, 30 years seems like a drop in the bucket. So what? They felt the same way as I many years ago.

30 years!

That’s a very long time and I’m proud of it. We’re proud of it. And, were someone to ask us our recipe for “success” I’d likely say, “I have absolutely no f**king idea!”

Communication. Let me land there for a minute or two. In any marriage, communication can mean many things. Lack of it might best be described as unseized potential for understanding. Maybe even happiness. Relationship carpe diem, missed.

At other times communication bubbles over like foam on warm beer.

Then, there are those times of steel-blue silence. Arms folded. Back against back. Eyes squinted and distrustful – what Canadian novelist Hugh MacLellan once called “the two solitudes.”

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2016, Caerleon, Wales, UK

Communication. In 2012, following an extended period of marriage difficulties, in what could only be described as a blinding hurricane of sexual renaissance, we were reminded about the powerful communication that can happen in the sheets. You can speak in a thousand different ways, but the robust vulnerability of intense bodily contact places trust at a whole new level.

Oddly, it can also be the best form of deception. Merely sharing orgasm doth not a relationship make. (That said, what a great way to find out!)

No harm, no foul, right?

On its own however, it is insufficient. It pales to the much less glamorous task of authenticity and mutual openness. The gristle gained in the grind.

Sex can iron out wrinkles sufficiently to make relational garments fit better. It can oil the squeaky hinges on the door that opens outward to freedom, inward to contentment. It loosens up tongues, long silent, to reinitiate the project of bridge-building.

It can, in the words of Richard Rohr, take us to the temple gates, but only the vastly superior love of God can open those gates and escort us in. Something much greater than a post-coital daze is necessary to sustain a relationship through the long, rigorously demanding years of life.

And those years are often hurled at us like glass in a hurricane rather than gently lowered down in a tidy basket of fruit, smiles, and puppies.

Laugh I’d say. If you don’t know how, bloody well learn. Few things are as life-giving as gut-busting laughter. This we have done in spades. The girl is a walking party. She attracts mischief and  gloriously infantile guffaws like scuffs on new shoes.

Laughter? Yeah, we’re pretty good at that bit.

30 years.

I wrote this on our 25th. Rae wrote this on our 26th. Now, on our 30th I add another 5. And, if someone felt the urge to ask me how we’ve managed this long – “what’s held it together? What’s the secret? How did you do it?” – I’d be hard-pressed to give a decent answer.

Was it the many times I could have more readily throttled her than cuddled her?

Was it the time we told each other to f**k off while losing control of Scottish teens at a church seaside games night?

Or, the screaming match in a church parking lot when I threw the car keys into traffic?

Was it the years we rarely touched each other?

The first or second time we separated?

Was it the nights, sometimes many, I decided to sleep elsewhere – anywhere else?

Was it those times I was so angry I couldn’t see straight or imagine another minute with her?

When the best remedy I could find was booze?

Or, was the nights, huddled under winter blankets, watching BBC together?

Our shared passion for justice, and distaste for ecclesiastical hypocrisy, and political bullshit (in America, those are the same thing)?

The Nirvana of a Welsh rain pouring restlessly over Tintern Abbey stone?

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Tintern Abbey. No wonder it inspired Wordsworth so much.

Mutual lump-in-throat dry mouth, driving B roads in rural Britain?

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Back roads, by way of example.

Our love for all things ancient and wonderfully impractical?

Those liturgical dates at a Taizé prayer service, an Anglican or Catholic Mass?

Antiquarian bookstores?

Well-honed inside jokes?

Favourite Spotify playlists containing everything from ABBA to Gregorian chant?

Writing dates at oceanview cafés?

The embarrassing hilarity of late middle-age sex?

The shared writing of a symphony, Opus 1 (Calum) and Opus 2 (Graeme)?

Yes. All of it and more. It’s been bliss at times, shit at others.

But, it’s our shit. The shit we know. The shit we’ve weathered together.

30 years and I’m still horrified at the sheer level of commitment required. I still blanche at the profundities of this whole deal – the distance there can be between contentment and chaos. How contentment, however spotty, gives perspective to said chaos.

Mostly, how God has managed to help us smell like roses in a sea of self-inflicted shit.

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1989. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Rae, looking like a 1940s starlet!

If a “successful” marriage, whether long or short, happy or not, is one characterized by awareness of its failures, but possessing a desire to deal with them, we likely fit the bill.

If “happy” simply means more sunlight than shadow, more gratitude than regret, more genuine than shallow, more honest than projected, more lived than protected, we likely fit the bill.

30 years.

25 + 5 = 30.

For me, it equals quiet satisfaction.

Happy Anniversary, babe. Let’s keep adding numbers until we forget we were adding numbers.

 

 

Words – A Good Friday Meditation

The first word: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Father, forgive them

As people, we assign significance to many things, deserving or not. But, if there is anything to which we assign particularly deep significance, it is to the words spoken to us by others we hold dear. A jaunty “good morning” from a work associate could never hold the same weight as if the words are spoken by that special someone whose attentions we’d been trying to attract. The regard we give to words spoken to us is directly proportionate to the one from whom and the context in which they are spoken.

For example, if we’re honest, how many of us would admit to twinges of discouragement, disappointment, or even anger at statements on social media that seem dismissive, flippant or maybe even abusive? They may never have been intended that way. But, devoid of a significant person’s voice and presence, and accompanying body language, we’re left to interpret from one-dimensional communication a multi-dimensional message.

We may read on our Facebook wall: “so, you’re happy with that, then?” Pretty benign really, isn’t it? Or is it? We don’t know. Those same words feel quite different when heard directly from the mouth of our best friend standing in front of us with a quirky grin on his or her face…”so, you’re happy with that, then?” We don’t have to “fill in the blanks.” We “get it.”

The generally agreed upon “7 last words of Jesus” from the cross have the deepest significance when understood in the broader context in which and by whom they were spoken.

To a group of men called out of their settled lives into the nomadic, unsettled life of Rabbinic apprentices, Jesus’ words already had weight. They may not always have understood. But they respected the source and therefore the words. But, remember that, by this point, they were busy licking their emotional wounds from having dismissed, betrayed, denied, disowned and finally abandoned him when he needed them most. They were literally swimming in grief and shame.

Therefore, it was significant that the first words from Jesus’ mouth were not of condemnation as one might reasonably expect. No, they were of forgiveness. They are also of particular importance given the shady circumstances surrounding his death.

Jesus had been handed over to be killed, not as a religious heretic or prophetic martyr, but as a political revolutionary. Jesus’ ignominious death was never really about blasphemy, or heresy as the religious leaders were fond of contending. Those were surface issues that made it easier to get rid of him. They were the straw man that became the elephant in the living room. Since we can’t seem to deal with this guy by theological means, let’s play the political card. Let’s throw him at Caesar and see what happens. Let’s appeal to the mass hysteria induced by authority figures telling people what they should be thinking about something. It was about a threat to power and control. He represented a genuine threat to the religious establishment.

The cross tells us many, many things. It tells us firstly, that Jesus didn’t give up, either on his mission or on the first recipients of that mission. He saw it through to the end. Not just any end, but an ignominious end at the hands of his own people willingly handing him over as nothing more than troublemaker to the Roman powers-that-be. It also tells us that his own people distanced themselves from him spiritually by insisting on crucifixion as the means of his death; a form of torture reserved for enemies of the state, not the nation of Israel.

That’s the context. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Under such shameful circumstances, no other words could possibly hold more powerful meaning.

Before Jesus says, “It is finished” he says, “Father, forgive them.” We are drawn to faith not in the hope of forgiveness but in the reality of forgiveness. We rush into the arms of a God not waiting to forgive, but a God who has already forgiven. The first words from the cross frame all the rest. We do not have to assign any other significance to them because God himself is the one who has answered the cry of Jesus.

Friends, forgiveness isn’t the end game of the cross. It’s the starting point. It isn’t the result. It’s the means of revealing a result. Our journey with God doesn’t come to a point of forgiveness. It begins there. Relationship doesn’t happen once forgiveness is offered. It can happen precisely BECAUSE forgiveness has been offered.

Amen.

Image found here

 

 

 

 

 

Finding my way with words…still

As I’ve shared before, I am one of those who cares deeply for words, big words, little words…words about words. I recently read Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s brilliant tete a tete on language entitled Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. In her book she offers some strategies by which those of us who make this claim can begin to reclaim the power, clarity and beauty of language from the many dangers both immanent and potential that beset it. She encourages us to become caretakers of language. At the top of that list is a simple but obvious one:  become a lover of words.

Check.

Language and all it represents is a gift worth fighting for. God uses it to create and recreate. God, in some mystical sense most of us will never understand, is language; is words – the Word. Hence there exists an inseparability of language from the One whose idea it was to speak all things into existence by means of it. From the first words we read in Genesis, “In the beginning…God created…and it was good” we get a picture of the dominance of speech in the totality of human life. God, as Word, speaks words by which all we are and have come to know now, exists.

Language seems like it’s a God-thing alone in the first broad brush strokes of God’s ex nihilo creative activity. It’s not until another comes, by God’s design and in response to God’s words, that language can be seen as the glue in communication between parties. It now acts as the bedrock of love, community and progress. As language that is beautiful, reliable and truthful disappears, so does the community it was meant to gather and nurture.

We’ve lost our trust in the reliability of language. Words change over time. In many ways this has always been true and, to a large extent, inevitable. The problem is, however, that the purest forms of speech that give voice to our deepest needs, desires and passions have become as distorted and bent as we who use it. Whatever is meant by “the fall” it took language right along with it.

It’s common for any collective to morph according to the will of the alphas in the group. Similarly, the shape and demeanor of our communication will bend to the loudest kid in the room; it will come to serve whatever happens to be the most influential force to which we pay homage.

English is the undisputed language of commerce worldwide. Because English is the language of so much conquest, it is well practiced in the macabre arts of dominance and privilege. The sheer volume of English words coupled with its global dominance make its destruction both troublesome and ominous. Language has, for too long, been lashed to the flagpole of corporate nationalism, the yardarm of the sinking ship of words for their own sake where form is function. This cross-pollination of words has left a confusing moral-linguistic morass. For example, to use the warm-hearted language of family and connectivity in corporate interests or sports gibber-gabber to describe the horrors of war, we are effectively removed from the wider, deeper concerns language begs to convey and possibly amend.

Conversely, since English is also the collected amalgam of the street-speak of vanquished foes and victims of such empire building, it is a language of unparalleled nuance and texture. It needs those who love it for the latter while seeking to undo the damages of the former. It needs caretakers.

For words to do the work for which they were intended and move beyond mere factual transmission at best to manipulation and domination at worst, we must re-tool ourselves to being lovers of community built upon communication with words at the deepest levels. Words are performance art over against utility, a dance instead of marching army or typing pool. Like discovering our enemies have fears and dreams like we do, words can be freed to promote beauty, friendship and good will.

At least I hope so.