Tuesday, March 27, 2018

C & E Non-Christians

Regular churchgoers know who they are…those people who only darken the door of the church twice a year, and because they do, it means that you have to get there that much earlier in order to get your regular seat, and not get stuck out in the extra seats that were hastily set up in the narthex (that’s churchese for “lobby”) to handle the overflow crowd…even though you’re one of the regulars.

These are “C&E Christians.” The derisive term we use to describe those people who seem to only show up at church on Christmas and Easter.

But I’m not here to talk about C&E Christians today. I’m here to talk about C&E non-Christians.

What are they? They’re people who celebrate Christmas and Easter without being Christian, indeed without being religious at all. People who celebrate them both as purely secular holidays.

Did your brain just explode at the thought of that? It happened to the brain of one of my wife’s friends. This woman, when she found out that there were people out there who celebrate Christmas purely for the tree and the gifts, and Easter purely for the candy, nearly had a stroke. She was raised in a good Catholic family, and of course they were religious holidays…or holy days. Of course Jesus was the reason behind both of them. How could you possibly celebrate them as purely secular holidays? It made absolutely no sense!

Well…if you know a little history, it makes all the sense in the world. Let’s start with Christmas.

I’ve mentioned this here before [1][2], but it bears repeating, despite what many Christians say, and want to think, Jesus isn’t the reason for the season. The season existed long before he did, and before Christianity arrived in many places. The Roman Saturnalia, Northern European Yule, and general European solstice festivals had many of the trappings that we now associate with Christmas. Then when the Church decided to put the Feast of the Nativity right smack in the middle of all this, they all got celebrated together, as one thing. And, as I’ve said so many times before, it’s like choosing to get married on July 4th. It may be your special day as a couple, but it was everyone else’s day for fireworks and cookouts first; and you can’t really complain that everyone’s not giving you the attention that you think you deserve when that day rolls around every year.

So what about Easter? This one’s a little trickier, but let me start by asking where you think the bunnies and the eggs come from in the first place? From the European fertility celebration of goddess Oester (from which we get estrogen). You know, bunnies…and eggs…fertility…get it? English and German are two of the very few languages in which the name Feast of the Resurrection is a variant of Oester, and as a result, this leads many English-speaking agnostics and atheists to believe that the Christian celebration is a total steal of the old fertility festival. Nope…all we stole was the name, because the two celebrations occurred at the same time. In Latinate languages, the name of the Feast of the Resurrection is some variant on Pascha, which itself is very similar to Passover. And if you know the Easter story, you know that the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday all took place during Passover; so it makes perfect sense.

And where did all the candy come from in the first place? As a great way to celebrate the end of Lent!

So celebrating Easter merely for the chocolate bunnies and eggs? Well…I suppose that devotees of Oester might have a problem with you making light of their religion. On the other hand, since it was a fertility festival, they might just have a better way of celebrating it than with chocolate.

So now that you know about the celebrations that were already in place, these people who celebrate Christmas and Easter as purely secular holidays…the C&E non-Christians…shouldn’t seem so strange after all.

Now go have some chocolate!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations. That seven-year period after which whatever crime you committed no longer matters, and after which you can’t be prosecuted for it.

I’m sure the lawyers among me will find fault with my off-the-cuff definition, but it’s good enough for my purposes here.

I’m personally familiar with the statute of limitations because I have experience with it through an old girlfriend. She was unhappy with certain aspects of my past, and had a problem dealing with them. The solution she came up with was to invoke the statute of limitations. This meant that seven years after the events that bothered her, it would be as if they’d never happened, and I’d be kosher.

Well, OK. It sounded a bit like Jacob working seven years to get Rachel (and then getting Leah instead), but fine. And since I’d already had two years under my belt since the last of those events, the next five would be a piece of cake.

And at the end of those seven years, while my past may not have been an issue anymore, neither was our future, since our relationship was on its last legs anyway.

But I’m glad that she introduced me to personal applications of the statute of limitations because I have another reason for thinking about it today. It was seven years ago that an organization that I “gave the best years of my life” to decided to give me the boot.

I knew that in time I’d stop feeling bitter about what had happened to me, I knew that the inverse square law would have its way with me, and I wouldn’t really care about it anymore, except maybe as a historical footnote to my life. And, in fact, I was surprised at how quickly the inverse square law did have its way with me, once I no longer had any reason to deal with the institution. Informally, as I established a new, and better life, somewhere else, I stopped caring long before the statute of limitations hit; but despite that, the seven-year mark is still worth noting. It’s worth noting as being the official point at which I’m able to say that I don’t really care about the place, except for what amusing stories I can tell about my time there. At seven years I can and should let go.

Yes…at seven years, if you haven’t done it yet, you need to let go. You need to make space in your head for something else, rather than letting whatever bad thing happened to you then continue to consume you. If, at seven years, you’re still bent out of shape about it, then you’re letting it win by continuing to have control over you.

If the previously mentioned inverse square law has done its work, then the new good stuff has gently pushed that bad thing out anyway. But some people insist on holding onto that bad thing for dear life, not ever wanting to forget how they were wronged…and not giving anything better a chance to take its place.

But seriously…at seven years, if it hasn’t already been gently pushed out, you need to be intentional about putting it aside…just as my old girlfriend was willing to be intentional about putting aside the things she didn’t like from my past.

The point of the statute of limitations has arrived for me, and I’ve long since let go of what happened to me. I’m hoping that others, who found themselves in a similar situation, will be able to do the same.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The State of Marriage: Part 2

There’s a perception out there that the institution of marriage is in pretty poor shape these days, and probably has been since the liberalization of divorce laws back in the 60s and 70s. That definitely seems to be the perception of Chris Jones, who, as I mentioned last week, had a few things to say about my post Parting with “Til Death do Us Part” from February 14th.

He ended his response to my post with the following statement:

The last thing we need now is any further damage to the institution of marriage.

So before I go on, I want to talk a little about the autism explosion of the 1980s and 90s.

In a 2015 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air about his book NeuroTribes, author Steve Silberman talked about how the expansion, in the 1980s, of the medical definition of autism to match Dr Hans Asperger’s original work in Austria and not the later work of Leo Kanner in America (who never credited Asperger), led to more frequent diagnoses of it…enabling more families to get the services they deserved. But he also mentioned that because this change wasn’t explained to the public, it led to the perception that there was an “autism explosion”, leading people to look for “causes”, which, in turn, led to the bad science of the “vaccine connection.”

Basically, there were always more autistic people, and now we were counting them correctly.

What does this have to do with the state of marriage today? In her book Marriage: A History…, author Stephanie Coontz mentions how the liberalization of divorce laws in the 60s and 70s led to a drop in the number of murders. Hmm…seems like some people took that thing about “til death do us part” a little too seriously. It seems that back then, one of the only ways out of a bad marriage…and there were many of them…was for one person to kill the other.

So what’s going on here? It seems that the same thing happened with marriage that happened with autism. Marriage didn’t suddenly find itself in trouble after the liberalization of divorce laws, instead, the liberalization of divorce laws recognized that marriage had always “been in trouble”, and that there had always been people trapped in bad marriages, in unfulfilling marriages, in loveless marriages, in cruel marriages, and in virtual prisons of marriages, because our definition was marriage was wrong…or at least antiquated. We were still defining it as something to be endured for the sake of the institution, rather than something to enjoyed by both parties.

As I write this, I’m currently reading the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and she starts by telling how she started to become physically ill at the idea of remaining in her current marriage, and the expectations that the institution placed on her. And as I read that, I wondered how anyone could say, “Suck it up, sweetheart, you signed up for life!” for the sake of the institution. There are no alliances at stake here, just the lives of two people, who would be made miserable if they were forced to live up to the vow of “til death do us part.”

In any event, my point is that the institution of marriage is not in any kind of trouble at all. People still think that getting married is a good idea. We’re just finally recognizing that we’ve been forcing people to remain in the rotting shells of dead marriages, and giving them a merciful way out…that doesn’t involve either homicide or suicide. We’ve started putting the people before the institution.

And that seems like a pretty good thing to me!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The State of Marriage: Part 1

A few weeks ago, when I posted Parting With “Til Death Do Us Part, I got an interesting response from Chris Jones that I wanted to reply to immediately, but thought that since others might have the same issues, it might better be done here, in the same venue where I brought up the issue in the first place.

He writes:

Why do we still say [“til death do us part”]?

Because it’s important to have a right understanding of what marriage essentially is, and a right intention to be faithful not only to one’s spouse, but also to that essential nature of marriage -- even though we know that it is all too possible that the marriage will fail, and the vow will be broken. If the marriage does fail, then that is what it is: a failure. The vow has been broken. But that does not mean that there was something wrong with the vow. It means that one or both of the spouses were unable to keep the vow. A vow is a statement of the intent of the heart, not an enforceable contract. To dilute the vows because some will not be able to keep them is to cheapen the institution of marriage itself and to rob it of its meaning and power.

Of course, there is a difference here between civil marriage and Christian marriage. No one, I think, expects marriage as defined by the State to be a permanent bond. I don’t know that a civil marriage ceremony even includes “til death do us part.” But marriage as defined by Christ is different. The vow “til death do us part” is entirely consistent with His words “let no man put asunder.”

The last thing we need now is any further damage to the institution of marriage.

Now, rather than reinventing the wheel, and taking up precious space in the process, I’m going to refer you to a from four years ago, called Life in an Institution. That post also references a sermon of mine from 12 years ago titled (with apologies to CS Lewis) The Great Divorce. Read those first, and then I’ll continue.

OK, so in his first paragraph, Chris says that a vow is a statement of the intent of the heart, and not an enforceable contract. I don’t know…an awful lot of people seem to take it as being an enforceable contract. I guess I’d feel a little better, Yoda notwithstanding, if we could have the vows say that we will try to do X, Y, and Z; knowing that sometimes it’s just not realistically possible. I guess I’m looking for vows that are realistic, and not idealistic.

In his second paragraph, Chris states that there’s a difference between a civil marriage and a Christian marriage.  I would also assume that there are differences between those and Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim marriages, as well as the marriages of other religions and cultures. Using Christian marriage as the de facto standard seems a little disingenuous.

But then he says something that I’d never even considered when he said that he didn’t know if a civil marriage even included those words “til death do us part.”

Whoa! What a concept! I’ve been to many weddings over the past 42 years, and only one of them was a civil ceremony. And quite frankly, I don’t remember what their vows were. However, I took the time to do a little research, and there’s a wide variety of civil vows out there. Some avoid the issue altogether, and others say something along the lines of “now and forevermore.”

So it seems that this “death do us part” thing is pretty ingrained in our culture.

Finally, I want to address what Chris has to say about not needing any more damage to the institution of marriage; but since I’ve run out of room here, that will just have to wait until next week.