Archive for June, 2013

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Weddings Then and Now

June 22, 2013

wedding ceremony

Over 35 years, I have officiated at over 370 weddings. During these years of wine and roses, I have witnessed the fading of several long-held traditions. Some of these will seem familiar and others have faded so long you won’t even believe me when I say they were all common. See if you remember any of these seldom practiced traditions:

1. Asking Permission of the Congregation.  It used to be a common thing to ask in a ceremony if anyone “knows of any reason why these two should not be married.” It is not done any longer and there is good reason for this: The Internet and good record-keeping pretty much assures that we aren’t commonly marrying people who are married to other people.  The only two reasons a person could object to a marriage were: Consanguinity (the two of them are first cousins) and Bigamy (they like marriage better than divorce). Looking back on old movies, one would think that people were jumping up claiming that the bride would be better suited marrying a goat than the current groom, but that just wasn’t the case.

2. Blood Tests:  In order to be married in bygone years, the bride and groom had to take a blood test. There was a good reason for this one too, but not one based in good science. The test sought to determine if one or both of them had a sexually transmitted disease – most commonly, syphilis. It was believed back then that syphilis could cause any children born to the couple to become violent adults when they grew. The truth is much more mundane: A woman with an active flare-up of syphilis can cause the child birth defects, but these do not necessarily relate to violence.

3. Church Banns:  As late as the 1980s in the United States you didn’t have to get a marriage certificate before the ceremony. You actually could go to your local church and have a “reading of the banns”. This consisted of the church’s agreement to your wedding, the anouncement of the wedding in two succesive church bulletins and the signing of the church register, which was then copied and sent into the county. Nowadays, the government wants to be in charge of all marriage record-keeping. This is interesting since the government keeps wanting to claim that marriage is a religious ceremony. Not any more.

4. Vows Have Seen Significant Changes. Three decades ago, a friend of mine heard a couple make the following statement in their vows: “We promise to love each other until our love grows cold.” He took back the china setting he bought them and gave them paper plates instead. At the time, we howled and told each other this was outrageous. However, in the intervening years, more concepts have changed in the vows. This is not to say these phrases have disappeared altogether, but I don’t hear them very often.

  • “Obey”…this is not what people have in mind. They don’t consider obedience by either party to be crucial to wedded bliss.
  • “Til death do us part.” Since 35% of their friends have already been divorced, most couple enter into vows with each other with a hope, prayer and a maybe.
  • No more plighting of troths:  The wedding ceremony used to include archaic language such as “Thereto I plight thee my troth…” a phrase that literally means “Here I give you my promise.” The King James English, once seen as a way to make the ceremony seem more solemn, now is just an annoyance for most people.
  • Dad doesn’t give anyone away. This so-common practice is now rejected by 80% of all couples. The bride (rightly so) does not want to be considered as property to be passed on from father to husband.
  • “Take thee his name” – many will not have this in their vows because they do not consider the giving of a name to be crucial to showing others they are wed.

5. Bachelor Party the Night Before: More and more men are asking their friends not to do this (no matter how many movies Hollywood makes to revive the practice). Or if they do it, they are more subdued and actually weeks or months separated from the event. When you are spending this much money on the wedding, you don’t want to be hammered or hung over during the entire thing. Curiously, bachelorette parties are more popular, but I suspect this is a fad.

6. Simple Receptions:  Every couple I know starts out wanting a simple reception. It used to be that a couple had punch and cake and a few songs. Now, the receptions can cost $100,000.

7. Rehearsal Dinner is more informal now. Partly because the receptions now cost so much, the night before has almost faded into the woodwork. There are still couples that host a dinner for their family members, but in my experience, most people do not invite their entire wedding party to a rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal dinner was often the time when family said the most personal things. Now it is just a meal at a nice restaurant.

I believe the reason these things have changed is that society’s view of marriage has been shaken to the core. Every institution in our world is under review and attack; it may be we come out of this with even more meaningful things in our ceremonies. I love the new vows that many people are writing for each other. I am proud of the brave couples who bring themes into their weddings and make a big show of their vows. Perhaps with the ceremony and pomp we were losing the true meanings of the wedding itself. May we find creative ways to say “I am with you and you with me forever.”

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Excerpt: Chapter 11 of “The Spiritwalk”

June 21, 2013

Many of my readers have asked for some glimpses into the book I am currently editing “The Spiritwalk”. I am hoping to have the book ready for publication this fall, but in order to keep my friends happy, here is a portion at the beginning of chapter 11, a chapter titled “The Genesis Effect”.

ray kinsella

Mark watched helplessly as Karin fell off the back of the bleachers. Neither he, his sister or her husband Ray knew a piece of hot dog was lodged in Karin’s throat and would soon kill her; their lack of knowledge more than anything was putting her in greatest danger. At that same moment, a young man the ballplayers would nickname “Moonlight Graham” had a crucial decision to make. He was living his dream of facing big-league pitching, but he also knew he was the only one who had the knowledge to save Karin’s life. He hesitated for a moment and then crossed the base-line. As he went across, his baseball uniform became a suit and tie, his bat transformed into a doctor’s bag and he aged 60 years in a moment.

That’s when Mark had his eyes opened. Until that moment, he had only seen an empty ballfield, a waste of good Iowa cornfield at best, proof of Ray’s slipping sanity at worst. Who builds a baseball diamond and outfield with professional dimensions in the middle of Iowa corn-growing country, especially when he owes money on that property to a group of impatient investors? But now Mark, representative of the investors, could see the ballplayers of baseball’s past throwing, hitting and catching, generally enjoying their game. Here was an all-star lineup for the ages parading their skills where a few moments before Mark had seen only a diamond and grass. What Ray and Annie had done was extend the dimensions of the afterlife into the physical realm and only when Moonlight Graham stepped back into the physical realm did the entire landscape become open to Mark the skeptic.

The movie, “Field of Dreams” is a magical dream based on the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella. Though it doesn’t explain anywhere in the book or the movie how the spirit realm and the physical interact (or why), this story has captured the hearts of millions around the world. Even though Annie’s brother Mark should make more practical sense to all of us who have grown up in this very physical world, in the movie and book we cannot identify with him. He is out of touch with the reality our suspended disbelief is able to apprehend. To our observer minds, there is a blending of the spiritual and physical here in this Iowa baseball diamond. The end of the movie features a famous speech by the writer who is chronicling this amazing baseball game. Terence Mann tells Ray about the inner aspirations of mankind:

 

Ray. People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

 

Terence Mann may be expressing the deepest longing of all our hearts; the desire to know with a certainty there is more to our lives than the mundane functions of the physical. There is no question we love to eat, exercise, touch, be touched, smell the flowers, touch a puppy, swim, jump, caress, hold, listen to symphonies….all of this is the grandeur of the physical. But for all that this realm pleases us, there are those moments when we know they’re not all there is; they’re just not enough.

But since the beginning of the Enlightenment, it seems even Christians have abandoned the spirit realm to the arena of the magical, mythical, theoretical and supernatural. Even the word “supernatural” implies something that is beyond the natural, and therefore something that cannot be discerned or studied with any certainty. As Francis Schaeffer teaches in his book “The God Who Is There”, the Enlightenment authors created a line of demarcation between the spirit realm and the physical. According to Schaeffer, this line was hard and fast; nothing crossed from one side to the other. Therefore, he refers to this as the “Line of Despair.”

Why “despair”? Below the line they placed the physical realm with its functions, sensory data, predictable principles and mankind. Above the line they postulated there could be spirit beings, miracles, transcendent truths, meaning, purpose, absolute laws and all non-physical principles. Because anything below the line cannot touch anything above the line, mankind cannot realize or discern true meaning for life. In essence, each of us a sack of chemicals cut off from transcendent meaning and guidance. God cannot cross that boundary. That’s why Schaeffer called it the “Line of Despair”.

This understanding proclaimed by the Enlightenment can best be expressed by the Romantic poet John Keats. At the end of his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, Keats proclaims,

 

When old age shall this generation waste, 
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

            Keats is studying an old urn dug up in his day and commenting on the various scenes around its circumference. As he sees all of this, he concludes that the only thing any of us can know for sure is the kind of beauty that can be observed and enjoyed through physical senses. That is why he reaches the crescendo of his credo when he says “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” This is a slap in the face of those who look to the Bible, God, the Church or any transcendent truth.

On this point the Christians of the later Enlightenment period stumbled, and we have kept on stumbling in their wake. Instead of challenging the legitimacy of the Line, they accepted it and then tried to make sense of our relationship with God in the light of the Line. One of the Christian writers who made the biggest impact was Soren Kierkegaard, who accepted the validity of this demarcation and said the only way we could experience God was to “take a leap of faith”. This ‘leap of faith’ is not based on anything we can verify or validate and represents an acknowledgment that we can never cross the Line until we stop being a physical being (at death). To Kierkegaard and others who followed him, we do not directly experience God; we can only experience the knowledge of believing in the God who cannot be experienced in this life.

Other Christians would not abandon the upper story above the line, and claimed that God erased the Line for a time when he sent to mankind prophets, the Bible, Jesus and miracles. But once the Bible had been completed, God closed up the line again so we would not be confused. In essence, they arrived at the same point as Kierkegaard and Keats: Mankind cannot experience anything above the line any more, including God.

Hearing this, we sit in our cars driving up Ray Kinsella’s driveway, wondering if there will be anything to see there besides a baseball diamond in a cornfield.

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The Best Thing You Can Do for the World’s Children

June 17, 2013

sponsor a childChristianity Today has published one of the most startling landmark articles in many years. If you read nothing else about helping children this year, this rather lengthy article should be on the top of the list.

Let me summarize this long study. Dr. Bruce Wydick is an Economics professor at the University of San Francisco. In this article, he tells the story of several graduate students who have completed a five-year study looking into the effectiveness of child sponsorship programs in the Developing World. You can read the entire study here.

As I read this, several details stood out strongly:

  • These graduate students sought to study a number of agencies who provide money through sponsors. Only one organization agreed to be studied: Compassion International. That tells me several things. First, they are probably the only organization of this kind that keep their own records and were therefore comfortable with being studied. Second, the other organizations showed antipathy toward the idea of being studied, which means they are more afraid of their funding drying up (if the studies are not favorable) than they are in making sure they are being effective.
  • The study concluded that children who receive sponsorship are up to 80% more likely to go to college and graduate than unsponsored children.
  • Children who are sponsored are shown to have significantly better viewpoints on what they want to do for a living when they grow up. They also show higher levels of contentment in life and less pessimism about the future.
  • Sponsored children have lower rates of suicide, depression and violence done against them.
  • Sponsored children with unsponsored siblings are more than three times more likely to grow up to be the family’s primary bread-winner.

This study has been scrutinized by over a dozen universities since it was produced and each of them has ratified the methodology used. This means that at least as far as Compassion International in concerned, one of the best ways you can change the Developing World is to sponsor a child on a monthly basis. Nothing that we have yet seen even comes close.

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