FAMILY


Dear kids,

Thank you for slogging through that last letter. I know it wasn’t… the most thrilling thing, but I believe the ideas in it are important to understand.

So, as an institution, what is the societal goal of marriage? What’s it about? What problem does it remedy or prevent?

I think I’ll start at that end.

  • We’ll begin with the fact that men and women are different. I didn’t make it so; nor did any law; nor did any religious teaching. We simply come out of our mother’s that way.
  • Which leads us to another fact for humanity: each of us has a mother. Again, this isn’t culturally dependent or created by legislation or religious affirmation. It’s simply part of what it means to be a human being.
  • And mothers don’t become mothers on their own. Rather some pretty remarkable stuff is done with the differences we’ve already mentioned, and because of this an entirely new and distinct human being comes into existence. This stuff is too crazy to have been made up; and of course no one did make it up.
  • Humanity perpetuates itself as a species in this way- like just about every other species. Life results when you bring together the sexual differences of male and female. Without the union of male and female, there is no new life. Please notice that this isn’t the case because the Bible tells me so. Condom companies have customers among both believers and unbelievers, secular and religious folks.
  • A baby forms over a lengthy and difficult period of time inside a mother’s body. She delivers it painfully and dangerously; and once the child is born her body continues to be the source of intimate sustenance for a long, long time. In contrast men can father child after child and never be aware of it. More than a possibility; it happens all the time. “Who’s the mother?” is an easy question to answer. The same isn’t true of the Father. There is an inequity in nature, here. A vulnerable and important one- as any father of daughters knows. Women get pregnant; men do not.
  • Both men and women continually find others sexually attractive and desire to do that remarkable stuff with new partners.
  • Jealousy is real, powerful and destructive.
  • Children are vulnerable and totally dependent for many, many years. In order for humanity to continue, children must be raised, protected and nurtured. Someone must do this. Someone must be responsible for children.
  • Children are best nurtured in secure (long lasting), responsible families in which the differences of both mother and father are committed to the welfare of the child they created. This isn’t opinion. It is reality as the data exposes it. For example do you know what the number one predictor of whether a child will grow up to a life of crime, poverty and government assistance is? Race? No. Education? No. Growing up in Poverty? No. It’s the presence of a Father in the home. Is it a stretch to say that society has an interest in lowering those who are criminals, poor and dependent on government assistance? This is why the state has an interest in the institution of marriage.
  • The perpetuation of the inheritance of families and societies depend on heirs.
  • Human beings need a personal identity. The formation of this identity begins at birth.

While it doesn’t exhaust it, that’s reality as I see it- unbidden and unchosen. It is part of our humanity, and one can either lament these aspects of our humanity or celebrate them.

This leaves questions- questions of celebration or lamentation; questions of a very practical nature.

Are the differences between Men and Women important and precious? Ought the inequalities of begetting and birthing allow men to do as they please? Who is responsible for the raising of children? Which children? Does a child profit from having both a mother and father in his life?  How are secure and responsible families established, maintained and encouraged? Who will continue in our place after we are gone? Who is this child?

Reality raises all of these questions. Every society has answered them with the institution of marriage, which ties the biological, societal and legal aspects of parentage together. Perhaps some of the questions seem very obvious to you. That’s because you have been formed in a society that still maintains marriage as an institution.

But each of the questions raised can be answered differently or dismissed as unimportant. Ought we to answer them differently? It seems that our society has the distinction of being the first among mankind to ask that question. That is what the debate on Same Sex Marriage is really about.

There’s a common thread that runs through all of these questions- through all of the reality that gives rise to them. Do you see it? It’s the sexual relationships that have the potential to result in children. The state is involved in marriage only because of the very public consequence of these very particular relationships. The institution of marriage is society’s way of ensuring its own continuation through the creation of children (both planned and unplanned) within secure families.

The institution is about kids. It always has been.

I’m sure this brings all sorts of questions to mind. Don’t worry (or worry 🙂 I’m not done.

Love ya,

Dad

Letter I– The Discussion

Letter II– Equality

Letter III– Institutions

Dear Kid’s

Gonna try to keep this as short as possible because… well, it’s sorta boring, but it’s absolutely necessary to understand, if you’re going to think about this issue.

Oh, oh. It does eventually have to do with sex, but….not in this letter.

Just read it. Please.

I want you to understand the nature and place of Institutions in human society. Tommy! Wake up! Esther, will you wake your brother up.

Let me quote from the venerable Wiki:

An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community. Institutions are identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual human lives and intention by enforcing rules that govern cooperative human behavior.

The thing to notice is that 1) an institution governs the behavior of individuals towards a social goal, and in working for that goal 2) it goes beyond individual lives and individual intentions.

So you have the institution and its goals (which are directed to society as a whole), and you have the goals of the individuals who enter into it.

That might seem complicated, but it’s really not. Just fancy talk for things you already know. Think of a University. As an institution its purpose is to provide higher education to persons who will benefit from such an education, and by doing so better the society in which we live by preserving and building on our shared cultural inheritance.

Now that has to sound familiar because it’s precisely why all your friends want to go to college, right? You’ve talked about that very thing at lunch.

Cultural Inheritance. Higher Education. Makes ya want to holler!

I’m just guessing, but I bet there was at least the occasional excitement over potential salaries, winning football seasons; … maybe beer pong. While some people want an education, others want to play ball, march in a band or simply party with college babes; There’s the ‘whole college experience.’ I know people who have gone to specific schools in hopes of finding a specific sort of mate.

Nothing to be ashamed of. That’s just how Institutions work. If you think about the Military, you’ll see the same thing going on. Our Military exists to fight wars, but people enlist all the time with absolutely no intention or interest in fighting a war. Some do, but others need a job, or an education funded; they covet an early retirement or they admire the tradition and perceived pomp and circumstance, etc.

The point is that Institutions exists for a specific social end, but people might legitimately enter into an institution for reasons that have little to do with the Institution’s ends.

Just a couple ‘o three obvious remarks, and I’ll stop.

First, Tommy! Wake up!

Second, because the Institution exists for a specific social goal, those who enter into it are expected to meet the basic requirements of that goal.

And lastly, an institution cannot change those requirements so that they match the individual reasons for which people enter into the institution without jeopardizing the very social mission of the institution- the reason society established it in the first place.

Wild parties happen at UGA, but UGA oughtn’t write wild parties into its mission statement or recruit potential students on the basis of their ability to contribute to the memorability of UGA parties. If it did so, UGA’s Education would suffer, and the same is true for all the other (even laudable) reasons for which people apply to UGA. That’s how an institution dies as an Institution. It is de-institutionalized, which means it ceases to transcend the individual lives and intentions of those who enter into it for a societal good. It becomes simply an opportunity for individual experience.

If the social purpose for which the institution was created is important, then that’s a really big deal. Does higher education matter? Better keep academic entrance requirements up. Does the ability to defend ourselves as a nation matter, then we better keep entrance requirements focused on that end.

Why bring this up? Marriage is an institution. Though people enter into it for many different reasons, it has a social end; and like every institution it can be destroyed by replacing or confusing that end with the myriad of reasons that motivate people to get married. That’s a big deal because its purpose is the most radically foundational of any Institution.

We’ll talk more about that later.

Love you all,

Dad

Letter I– The Discussion

Letter II– Equality

Letter IV– Human Stuff

Dear Kids,

Do you give a damn about equality?

That is the question you are being asked. Simple answer, please. No need for further discussion because surely everyone agrees that there is only one acceptable answer. Well, I guess there is an  alternative- either contempt for or indifference to equality; but seeing how either of these likely implies a white sheet and pointy hat hidden under the bed, I understand the impulse to answer with a hearty ‘heck, yes!’ There is only one answer…. for good people.

Equality is a word that carries all sorts of positive vibes. It’s a good word. A noble word… a powerful word.

For many it summarizes what we as a people are all about. Who could have a problem with equality? How can you have too much equality? What could be more American (or more relevant to our discussion) un-American than ones position on equality?

Well, kids (and hold on to something here) equality is just not a very helpful word- at least not for settling arguments… at least not for settling arguments honestly; and the reason probably isn’t what you think. The concept of equality isn’t helpful because no one really disagrees about it. That isn’t to say that it isn’t an effective tool. It’s incredibly useful for shutting down debate, but only by being very good at muddying the waters.

I’ve been told that Aristotle was the first to summarize the belief that ‘like cases ought to be treated alike’; but I’m sure human beings acted on that common sense principle long before him. There’s also a flip side: unlike cases oughtn’t to be treated alike. Think about it. We don’t have a problem with treating different things ‘unequally.’ When we’re not being all political or wordy, we simply think of this as wisdom of the ‘duh’ sort.

Iron skillet or basketball?

It makes a difference when it comes to the oven or the hoop. Appeals to fairness and equality are really wrong headed; and of course no one would make them. No amount of examining the concept of equality will enable us to determine whether we ought to attempt the baking of cornbread with a rubber sphere.

We come to that conclusion not by examining equality, but by examining iron skillets and bouncy balls.

The same is true in our societal and moral lives. We don’t encourage blind adults to practice dentistry or drive cars. Equality isn’t the issue. The nature of blindness, dentistry and cars are.

Thing to remember: when people argue about Equality, they aren’t really arguing about the principle of Equality at all. Rather they are arguing over the nature of things- whether A is really of like nature to B in terms of the purposes being discussed, and in any instance that may very well be a conversation that needs to happen.

But it is that conversation (and not the one that everyone seems to be having) that ought to take place: what is marriage and do same sex relationships qualify, and if not, ought we to honestly and in the light of day redefine marriage so as to include Same Sex Relationships?

Anyway; don’t be bullied. Don’t be shamed into not thinking. Demand the discussion. Perhaps Same Sex Marriage advocates can carry the argument; our society has been reprehensibly wrong in denying the ‘likeness of same’ before,  but they ought to be required to make an argument. Their position and our society will be the stronger for the honesty and effort.

Just so you won’t forget, here’s the question that I want to discuss further- one more time: There are all sorts of honorable and laudable relationships between human beings, which ought to be classified as marriage?

Love ya,

Dad

Letter I– The Discussion

Letter III– Institutions

Letter IV– Human Stuff

Dear Kids,

Big things are stirring in our world, and I want you to know how my mind works when I think on them. I don’t mean the approaching season premiere of Game of Thrones or Mad Men. (Hurray for both, though) I’m thinking of the current Same Sex Marriage debate. If Facebook is any indication, then your generation ‘Gives a Damn’ as Ms Goldberg says you ought, and she’s right to say so, though wrong to say that only those who agree with her do so.

As long as the discussion is an honest and clear one, then we all know what we’re up to, and can make decisions thoughtfully and out in the open; but if we allow bumper sticker mottoes (from either side) to keep us from actually thinking through the issues, then our actions will be neither thoughtful nor brave; but more importantly they are not likely to be truly helpful or loving, despite our best intentions.

So I’m sincerely grateful for the debate, but I’m very concerned that people are confused over what is being debated. That’s a big deal- both for you and your friends- because each of you is incredibly compassionate and empathetic. I’m very proud of that. I’m sure it’s your mother’s doing. Anyway, I know that you’ve chosen the same sorts of people to be your friends. So when the discussion is couched in terms of equality, hatred or fairness I know where your conscience desires to go; and I’m sure this creates a crisis for you because you know I’m ‘again the Same Sex Marriage business. Of course you know me pretty well, and you know that both you and I want to be found on the side of justice, love and fairness. So I hope it’s obvious that I don’t believe these things are what are being debated.

No one ought to be mistreated.

No one.

So over the next little bit I hope to give you my two cents on what I see to be the central issues. I’ll tackle them one at a time. Try to keep it short. I’m thoughtful like that :-), but before I do, I want you to know that I won’t be discussing (in these posts, anyway) whether I think homosexual behavior is a right or wrong, good or bad for ya. I’m going to leave that alone for two reasons.

First, the current debate is not about whether homosexual relationships are a good or bad thing. People claim otherwise, but it’s not. The debate is whether marriage ought to be redefined so that we can honestly speak of extending it to same sex couples. I would think that one could be all in favor of homosexual relationships and yet be opposed to redefining marriage. Think of a brother and sister who might pool their resources and move in together so as to care for an aging parent (or each other) in a committed way. That would be a good thing, but you could still argue that we shouldn’t extend marriage to include their committed relationship. Maybe you see what I mean.

Second, I want to argue as much as possible in terms that we all have in common. Not everyone shares our Xian vision of reality; and I’m pretty convinced that arguments against homosexual relationships depend on sex having a particular meaning. While I believe everyone in their hearts knows that sex is never just about sex, I recognize that not everyone agrees on what that meaning is.

So …. hope I don’t embarrass you. Would love to hear your thoughts, and am open to the possibility that I am wrong in some way- unlikely as we all know that to be 🙂 My thoughts have been shaped by others, and much of what I’ll share is available in a much more lucid and thorough form elsewhere. If you ask, I’ll point the way.

Next up, let’s talk about that Equality Sign.

All my love,

Dad

Letter II– Equality

Letter III– Institutions

Letter IV– Human Stuff

Dear Rachael, Bekah, Hannah, Omi, Tommy and Esther.

I’m afraid that the last letter took the ‘Christian Thing’ off the table for many people.

Did you spot the repulsive bit?

No?

See it there….where I admitted that being part of Christ’s body includes us in the programs of Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan and the Borg. People are averse to being part of these sorts of things, you know.

Didn’t see where I admitted to such a thing?

Well, you’re right. I’d like to think I didn’t, but some will argue that I did right there– where I warned you that different dogmas create different worlds. I also warned you that these worlds are at war with each other. If one is true then the other is not. I encouraged you to protect the vision of ‘You, the World and Everything’ that comes from looking at reality through the lens of the crucified and risen Jesus.

So there it is- I assumed our worldview to be true, and I (with eyes wide open) recognized that it will dissolve the worlds of those who don’t share in it. In the minds of many I’ve advocated violence. I’ve sought to lift myself and mine up on the necks of everyone else.

You don’t see it? Well, I’d like to say that I don’t either, but…. I’m afraid there is a sense in which I do, at least potentially.

Now I think the people who immediately saw ‘Bluto’ when I wrote ‘Truth’ are wrong, but understandably so. Apart from a ‘Jesus Shaped’ view of the world, history has shown them to be right, but from a ‘Jesus Shaped’ view of the reality, they are living in a dream world- a nightmare, really.

It’s tempting to write about how Postmodernists (that’s what these suspicious folks are called) get it wrong, but the most important thing for you to see is how they get it right.

They get very nervous when people talk about truth- not the ‘that’s good for you, but not for me’ sorta truth. They’re alright with that. They get suspicious of what someone called ‘true truth’- the sort that applies to everyone, whether they like it or not.

Though many in the church simply mock at the charges, it seems to me that Postmodern opposition is a very serious intellectual challenge to our faith. Just between y’all and me, I think they have us by the ‘you know whats,’ but…

…this is the case only because what we present as the ‘Christian Thing’ is really something horribly more familiar. It an Anti-Christian thing.

These critics help us see where we have lost our way, traded in our story for one of the world’s stories, allowed out dogma to become the world’s doctrine… and all without every knowing it.

It seems that we constantly end up with idolatrous visions of ‘You, the World and Everything Else,’ clothed in Christian apparel. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers come true. Be very afraid!

We owe our postmodern friends a big ‘Thank you!’ They simply ask that we put our money where our mouth is and be who our story claims that we are, and when we don’t, they aren’t willing to let us off the hook. They know too much of bloody history to do that.

Let me explain. (more…)

Dear Rachael, Bekah, Hannah, Naomi, Tommy and Esther,

Whew, I’m going to have to find a shorter way of addressing you all. That’s a lot of typing for a ‘hunt and pecker’ like myself (TOMMY! NAOMI! Stop snickering. I know; leave it alone) I’ll try ‘You Young ‘uns’ or something similar in the future. You’ll know whom it’s for.

This past Sunday we brought little Annalise to our God for baptism. I was so thankful that each of you was there. Through Fr. Tom’s voice you heard God’s word to her. In our pastor’s hands you saw Christ take her to himself. Though the splashing of water fell short of the thunderous roar we might have expected from such an event, through it Annalise left one creation and emerged in another.

It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see on the SciFi channel.

Each of you has been spoken to in a similar way. Our king has called each of you by name. By his grace (for it was before you even knew that he existed) he took you from the world into which you were born and placed you into another- a world which is yet to be seen in all of its fullness.

I know that sounds a little over the top. It’s also true that I’m prone to…. extravagances. It must be genetic, because one or two of you have inherited the trait, but in this case I’m just giving the unembellished truth.

I wanted to remind each of you of your own baptisms and the reality each spoke into being. This is just a long way of saying that I wanted to remind you of who you are.

Of course you know that you are you. I realize that, but perhaps you forget that there are many different ways of telling ‘The Story of You.’ If you think about it, y’all will realize that there has never been a just you.

Never.

Every morning you wake up in a bed. There are blankets on top and a whole world outside. Every day you pester your brother or sisters. There is no ‘you’ apart from the world you inhabit, and so ‘the story of you’ ripples out to include everything else- friends, trees, stinky cheese and even school teachers.

It works the other way, too. (more…)