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Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

A little dreamy ode to the simple life, here’s my song for week 33 of #songaweek2016. With Nathan Bloom on harmonica. Would’ve loved to add more instruments and fill it out a bit, but it was an extra busy week with a real live gig and kids going back to school. (That toddly baby in the picture is now a tall, soccer-playing fourth grader!)

There would be raspberries in our little yard
the sun would shine all the time
except when the rain came to help our garden grow
then we’d be snug inside

could every day be like a holiday?
could this be happily? (ever after)

We’d keep some chickens in a little coop
we’d thank them for the eggs
maybe a baby, maybe two
toddling on wobbly legs

some nights there might be tears on our pillows
some dreams just won’t come true
but all these broken parts of our hearts
make spaces for the light and air and rivers to flow through

out on our front porch we’d pass the evening hours
watching the branches sway
We’d smile at neighbors and strangers passing by
until we call it a day

 

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A long time ago in Copenhagan, I walked out on my husband.

We were young, and hadn’t been married more than a couple years. We were traveling with his best friend, and I don’t need to bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I was insecure, he was insensitive, and I felt angry and desperate. So I said some things I don’t remember in our little hotel room and stalked out, not sure where I was going or if I would come back.

I made it to the lobby, where I sat with a book and waited while I imagined him imagining the worst.

The next thing I can remember is the three of us – Nathan, Chris and me – happily sharing a pizza at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant walking distance from our hotel.

That wasn’t the first or the last huge fight we had, but it’s one of few moments that stands out for both of us as larger than life, a bold dot on our timeline where everything could have gone very differently.

Marriage is one of the absolute most difficult endeavors any soul can undertake. Parenting is another, and it compounds every stress fracture in a marriage. Somehow, through grit and grace and multiple layers of privilege and support (I connect with so much of what Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote about her own privilege in this post), Nathan and I have arrived at yet another yearly celebration of our wedding, now eighteen years ago.

It takes two to keep a relationship alive, two people who choose one another over and over again, and I am grateful that through a constellation of factors much larger than my wisdom, I ended up with Nathan, who continues to choose me, just as I continue choosing him.

Here’s my song for week 17 of #songaweek2016:

Now that we’re eighteen I guess we’re old enough to vote

But I don’t need a secret ballot, I want the whole world to know

I choose you

I choose you

Each moment and always

election year or not I choose you

There’s always been other fish in the sea, sometimes they catch my attention

but you are the only one I want to cast my lot with

I choose you

I choose you

Each moment and always

election year or not I choose you

Let’s be president of one another’s hearts

Let’s take precedent over all others

there must be fifty ways we could split apart

but only one life we can share

So let’s go four more years and then forty times forevermore

So many miles we’ve gone together and the road goes ever on

I choose you

I choose you

Each moment and always

election year or not I choose you

 

 

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My man and I have been through a lot together. Including a hands-off, touch-less pre-marital relationship.

Sixteen years later, we’re still living with the consequences of our choices.

Oh yes. I know, that sort of talk usually refers to the choice of “too much, too soon,” and I don’t disagree that we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. But for some of us, more needs to be said about the dangers of overly-prohibitive romances.

Nathan and I fell in love over our guitars. My first memory of him is a long-haired, earring-bedecked, goatee-trimmed Minnesota boy lazily strumming a guitar, sitting at the church missions fair behind his booth about his recent travels in Romania. I was hooked. He doesn’t remember much about the first time he met me, but he says he fell hard for me when I pulled out my guitar and sang a song I had recently written.

The summer of ’96 was one long conversation, deep into the night, punctuated with music and, I assume, eating and sleeping too.

But not touching. We had both been in previous relationships with a strong core of making out, and, doing our best to protect ourselves and one another from the dangers of sexual sin, about which we had heard plenty throughout our years in church youth groups, we agreed to a hands-off policy.

No, really. Hands-off. In premarital counseling with our pastor, when the subject of sex came up and he somehow discovered that we didn’t even hold hands, he looked concerned. He said something about light switches and wedding nights, akin to the idea of 0-60 in 10 seconds flat, and that maybe this wasn’t the healthiest way to go about building a marriage.

Considering his advice, we agreed to hold hands before our wedding.

The big day came, and soon enough, that first kiss. Of which I remember hardly anything. Shy and public are good descriptors. Hundreds of people observed this model couple’s first kiss, and I’m sad to say that we heard from more than one family afterwards, how our kissing decision was held up as a standard for their own children.

Listen, kids. Life is a struggle. We try things and fail, then try again, and sometimes we succeed. But always we grow, if we are willing to. That includes the decision my love and I made about touching each other. We have grown. But because we chose not to touch before our wedding, even while building profoundly deep emotional and cerebral bonds, we’ve had a little trouble connecting our sex life with the rest of our relationship.

The first few months, we were the stereotypical 1950’s newlyweds, exploring and enjoying sex like hungry adolescents. But if sex has been forbidden for most of your life, especially if you are a girl and are told you are responsible for protecting boys from temptation, then you can’t just jump right into it one day and feel that everything is good now. A subtle sense of self-loathing built up in me, which I began to vent by verbally abusing my husband, along with petty arguments, dramatic cry-fests over small disagreements, all of which seemed to come from a basic feeling that I was not lovable.

I wonder if a woman who has been told that sex makes her dirty, premarital sex makes her “damaged goods,” feels some sense of that consequence even after she has supposedly done everything right, secured the marriage license and kept all the rules.

And maybe it isn’t any easier for those couples who did kiss or – gasp – go further before their wedding, but felt compelled to hide this part of their relationship from that same church-induced sense of shame.

(And I am only beginning to listen to – and still far from truly understanding – the pain and shame heaped on anyone identifying beyond assumed heterosexual norms who grew up in church youth groups like mine.)

“It is not good for the [hu]man to be alone.” That’s fundamentally what sex is about – companionship, partnership, intimacy. As we parent our children, as we encourage the young ones – and really, everyone – in our midst, we must give one another space and grace to fail and grow in our reaching out for companionship, partnership, intimacy.

Go on. Kiss him. I’m talking to you, woman married twenty years who still habitually fends off the “temptation” to touch your husband.

A rough draft of this post has been in my drafts folder for nearly two months. Thanks to TC Larson for posting on this topic today and inspiring me to do the same.

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Minnesota motorcycle season started shockingly early in 2012. So after a couple years of borrowing or renting motorcycles for the occasional day trip with my Boomer biker parents, Nathan and I decided that 2012 was the year to buy one for ourselves. In March – yes, March! – on a sunny, warm spring day, we brought home a 2002 Yamaha Virago 250. Black, shiny, classic.

And we rode. Friday night dates, weekend rambles, and one four-day getaway to the North Shore, just the two of us, the road, the green earth, the wide living sky, the water and the trees, the friendly towns and quaint cafes.

There are many drug-free ways to free the mind, to unwind the soul and dip in a refreshing stream of ideas and impressions. But I have found nothing that compares to riding on the back of a motorcycle behind my best beloved, my denim-clad knees cutting into the clean wind, my booted feet resting solidly on the pegs. Riding with Nathan is a delightful blend of solitude and togetherness.

This year, we followed a dream that led us west, away from free and easy childcare (namely, our parents), towards climbing mountain roads – and therefore, away from child-free rides on a low-powered motorcycle, towards Nathan riding solo or with one of the kids on the bigger dual-purpose bike he recently bought.

DSC_0036

So this week we pulled the Virago out of the garage to take some photos and make a Craigslist ad. Together we shined it up with soft cloths, and I said I felt sad. But as we talked and remembered that we had only bought the bike last year, I was comforted to realize how well we spent that time. We packed a lot of memories into that riding season, and I know we won’t sell them with the motorcycle.

In the future, only a few years from now when the kids are a little older, the two of us will probably ride regularly together again. And then, if we are still living in Colorado, our Friday night rides will be more majestic and adventurous than back roads through farm fields and prairie.

But whatever the future holds, farewell to the Virago means farewell to a chapter in our lives. A profoundly good and well-lived chapter, one I will read again from time to time in my memories, the photos we took, even the songs and poems I wrote in that larger-than-life, incredibly long Minnesota motorcycling season of 2012.

I posted a rough recording of one of those songs here. And below, a poem. (Instructional moment for non-bikers: in rude and sexist biker lingo, riding on the back of a motorcycle is called “riding bitch.”)

Riding Bitch, Refined

7/12/12 Julia Tindall Bloom

Viewed from the back of a bike

The world is poetry

Cows are bovine mother figures

The road is a ribbon

Every sparrow is joy embodied.

The retiree on his riding lawnmower

Is turning over Keats or Kerouac in his fertile mind

And the biker with whom we just traded the low sign

Is rolling through The Moldau in his memory

Because nothing else would do

As a soundtrack for this movie.

Note: I think I always associate Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau with the road (even though it’s about a river) because my dad played it in our car’s cassette player when I was young and we were traveling. Here’s a link.

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It’s April in Minnesota and our green breathing earth is covered with snow. But I still believe . . .

Lyrics:

Everywhere we look it seems that
Everyone has better things
to say to one another than the things we tell each other
Everything feels old and faded
Like those jeans that were your favorite
The ones with patches like the patches we’ve made for each other

but then we go

Out on the road
with the wind in our clothes
the sky overhead
and the green breathing earth
all around us

Every time it rains I tell myself
That somewhere something’s growing
And when I step outside tomorrow the world will be so clean
Every day you look at me like
Everything is new and though
I can’t believe, I still believe, I hold you in my arms

and then we go

Out on the road
with the wind in our clothes
the sky overhead
and the green breathing earth
all around us

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And if you catch your heart’s desire,

What then?

It isn’t the chase that tires

And confounds you,

That saps your strength

Hour by relentless hour.

It is the captive embrace

In which you guard your prize

While you wonder, what next?

With your desire breathing in your arms

Begging for a drink from your well.

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My marriage is a living violation of the separation of church and state.

On May 2, 1998, a pastor pronounced my marriage to be legitimate based on  “the authority vested in me as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the laws of the state of Minnesota.”

How did we get here? Is there any other legal ceremony that is routinely performed as a church service?

In his book Beyond “I Do:” What Christians Believe About Marriage, Douglas J. Brouwer gives us a little history lesson:

It might surprise you to know that, in the beginning, the church took relatively little interest in marriage. Early in church history, celibacy was considered to be the preferred state. It was practically sacred. The Apostle Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 7:1.

And marriage? Well, at the beginning it was all but ignored. As one writer puts it, “When asked, some priests might come by and say a blessing as a favor, just as they’d say a blessing over a child’s first haircut.” But that was about it.

Roman law spelled out most of the requirements for marriage, and, following the words of Jesus, most early Christians were content to “render unto Caesar” in matters pertaining to marriage.

Another seemingly small but critically important characteristic of marriage in the early days of the church is that marriage was typically announced rather than pronounced . . . Early on, couples – or rather, families – would simply announce that there was going to be a marriage, and the church took little notice.

At the beginning the church didn’t pronounce a couple to be married. Church ceremonies to mark the beginning of a marriage were largely unknown . . .

Centuries rolled by with virtually no change to this arrangement. But then something began to happen. Historians don’t agree on all of the details, but what seems clear is that power became an issue. Slowly and unevenly, the church began to exert its control over Europe’s social and political life, and this included the writing of laws pertaining to marriage, family, and sex. In 774, for example, the pope gave Charlemagne, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a set of writings that defined marriage and condemned all deviations from it.

But it wasn’t until 1215, nearly twelve hundred years after Pentecost, that the Roman Catholic Church formally decreed marriage to be a sacrament – the least important one, to be sure, but a sacrament nonetheless. Equally important, the church established a systematic canon law for marriage – with a system of ecclesiastical courts to enforce it. These actions, it’s important to see, profoundly shaped our understanding and practice of marriage until the last century.

I’m not sure why Brouwer stops at “the last century.” It seems that these actions continue to profoundly shape our understanding and practice of marriage. In my state of Minnesota, we will soon be voting on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, although it is already illegal for same-sex couples to marry in Minnesota. Many people – both for and against this amendment – seem to have no problem viewing the legal entity of marriage as the terrain of both the church and the state.

But the state does not – or should not – legislate marriage in order to define proper sexual ethics. The state legislates marriage because it is a legally binding contract between people. For various reasons, often including a sexual relationship but not always, two people decide to share their lives, including their physical property and whatever children they may produce – or adopt, or care for – together. Just as there are laws pertaining to individuals and laws pertaining to business corporations, marriage laws are (or should be) formulated to legislate the domestic partnership that two (or maybe more!) people set up together.

I anticipate some protests – “You’re making room for polygamy!” “Domestic partnerships are fine, but keep marriage sacred!” And I’ll respond momentarily.

The state sets up laws to protect people and their property from harm. These laws are supposed to be agreed upon outside the realm of religious beliefs, but within the realm of generally-accepted societal mores. And what chafes many conservatives is that our society decided, a while ago now, that homosexual behavior between consenting adults is generally acceptable. So, although it is currently not the case in most of our states, laws pertaining to marriage should not take sexual behavior into account; since our society has generally agreed that consensual sexual behavior between of-age adults, aside from any harm inflicted on people or their property, is not a legal issue.

Okay, to protest number one: polygamy. Currently, polygamy is illegal. To be honest, I’m not really sure it should be (in light of the previous paragraph). My brilliant husband dealt with this argument in this blog post on his Release of Marriage Act blog, so I will refer you there and not restate everything. In summary, the state should be legislating harmful and abusive behavior, in addition to legislating the ins and outs of shared domestic life. If children are being abused or women (or men) are being forced into relationships they do not want, then there are other laws already on the books to protect them. The state does not need to define how many people, or what gender or ethnicity of people, can enter into domestic partnerships.

(I say this through gritted teeth because as a feminist I am no fan of polygamy. I think of children being brought up in such a household, and I cringe. It’s powerfully difficult to reassess everything you were taught was normal from your earliest years. Many women in fundamentalist Mormon multiple marriages would never look at their marriage as being “forced” on them, would be grateful for the secure home their husband has made for his wives and children – and yet, I may look at those women and grieve for the potential in each of them that will never be realized. If these sentiments sound a little familiar, they are. Don’t think I can’t sympathize with the feelings of someone who opposes children being brought up by a same-sex couple simply because I don’t oppose the same particular issue. People living in a free and democratic nation must be willing to compromise.)

On to the second protest – domestic partnerships are all well and good, but let’s keep marriage sacred. I agree with this. Whatever is “sacred” about marriage should be preserved in its proper place – the religious sphere. Individual churches and denominations should have the freedom to decide how they dispense their sacraments, conduct their ceremonies, label their orthodox worshipers and heretics. As long as they do not violate the laws of the land. This basically means, please don’t burn your heretics at the stake. Please do not abuse children. Oh, I know it can and does get much more complicated than this, but as complicated and polarized as it has become, we do still have a legal system in this nation that works fairly well when compared with the world at large.

So, if we are really down to simple semantics and some of our religious citizens are deeply offended by the state calling something beyond a one-man one-woman domestic partnership “marriage,” there is at least one solution. Let’s take “marriage” away from the state and give it to church people. I’m not sure it was theirs to start with (see the Brouwer quote above), but that’s okay. Some churches will gladly perform marriages for same-sex couples. Others will not. (Again I refer you to my husband’s writings and ideas at his Release of Marriage Act blog – start here for his main idea.)

But our government has a duty to provide civil rights to all of its citizens, so for those people who want to share a house, a family, and/or their lives together, let the government make just laws that consider everyone equally. Let it not establish separate “classes” of domestic partnerships, the highest class being called marriage, based upon gender or sexual orientation.

There’s plenty to think and talk about. Feel free to go at it (respectfully please!) in the comments.

*Update – I heard this OnBeing podcast with Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn after publishing this blog post, and I highly recommend it for further thought on this topic.

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