The Cutting Room Floor

For every good movie made, there ends up being a lot of footage that is shot but never used. It falls to the cutting room floor. And sometimes, what gets dropped is an actor’s entire role. Johnny Depp was supposed to be in the movie Platoon, but director Oliver Stone felt that Depp’s role distracted from the storyline; so Depp’s appearance — all of it — fell to the cutting room floor.

The idea of the cutting room floor brings some things to mind. I wonder how many people feel this way in the Church? How often do individuals struggle to find their place in church, and simply stop coming? And do the rest of us notice when they hit the cutting room floor?

And I wonder: what percentage of these people are single? Is it harder for singles to be included and integrated in the life of church?

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon centered around what it means to be single and a follower of Jesus. During my message, I asked all who were present to raise their hands if they are married. In both services, about 75% raised their hands. In many ways, this is positive. Marriage is a gift and an opportunity — and every raised hand represented a person who was learning, daily, what it means to keep a vow with another person.

But there is another aspect to that. If 75% or more of the church is married, then it probably also means that we aren’t doing a very good job of reaching single folks — especially since just over 50% of American adults are married. And when you realize that over 1 in 4 adults (age 18+) has never been married, and that nowhere near 1 in 4 people in my church can say that — it is a startling reminder that most churches have a long way to go in learning how to love, include, and empower single people in our shared journey with Jesus.

In response to this challenge, Carissa Mulder has written a thoughtful article: “The Single Life: Where Do We Go From Here?” While Mulder’s article is targeted toward single women, it has a lot to teach all single folks — and those of us who are married. She challenges single folks to pursue three “goods” — faith, knowledge, and friendship. All three of these are vital aspects of life and, I would argue, what it means to be human — whatever our marital status happens to be.

And in reference to Paul’s advice that a single person can more readily focus on the things of God, Mulder agrees. But she also says that being unmarried can take a person in the opposite direction: where a single person can just as easily focus on her- or himself. In either case, the single person has the opportunity to choose.

And really, isn’t that true for all of us? Ultimately we all face this choice: focus on God and others, or focus on ourselves. And when we choose to focus on God, He calls us to love others, and we find ourselves learning to care for those who are other than us — whether they be single or married, divorced or widowed, young or old, gay or straight. And in the process of focusing on others, I believe that we become more ourselves — that by turning the focus away from ourselves, we become more the person God has always meant for us to be.

Helpful Articles on Marriage & Divorce

As we continue our series at Fern Creek Christian on the Modern Family, we have covered marriage, struggling relationships, and divorce. Up next: The Single Life. In addition to what I have shared so far, you might take a look at one of these articles for more thoughts on marriage and divorce. You’ll find some good insight, and some helpful tools. And if you really like to read, I’ve also included two books at the end you might track down.

  1. 8 Things Healthy Couples Don’t Do — “Relationships run on forgiveness. You can’t have a healthy relationship without abundant forgiveness”
  2. Six Myths about Divorce — “Generalizing all divorce as ‘sin’ simply has no support in holy writ. Never, in any list of sinners (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 21:8) are divorced persons listed.”
  3. And one more article that is really a list: 5 Things No One Tells You about Getting Married. “A few months before our wedding day, my now husband and I met up with our mentors for coffee and a chat. As our discussion came to an end that night, they left us with their final bit of wedding advice: ‘Invest in a King-Sized Bed.'”
  4. The List that Saved My Marriage — There is no one quote to capture the essence of this article. But for anyone struggling with a spouse, this article is a must-read. And I can’t help but think that making a list similar to the one the author of this article makes will change your perspective. Read the article; you’ll see what I mean.
  5. Discovering Beauty in the Ruins — The writer recalls her parents’ divorce, and writes: “I wish our family had been whole. I wish you, Mom, had the kind of husband and companionship I’ve been given. I wish you, Dad, had not needed to reach the depths of deception and brokenness you did to see your need of grace and forgiveness. But we were never promised perfect circumstances. What we were promised is God’s mercy to save.”
  6. My Loveless Marriage — Takes an honest and healthy look at divorce’s consequences. “From 1 Corinthians 13, I discovered love isn’t a feeling but an action. I decided to treat (my husband) with love, even though I didn’t feel like it.”

And let me close with an article that is taken from a book, along with two books I recommend:

  1. You Never Marry the Right Person, by Timothy Keller. Every person who is married — or might get married — should read this article. It is pointedly honest about how the culture has changed our expectations of marriage. As a bonus, Keller links to a insightful column written nearly twenty years ago, as well as “The Hauerwas Principle.” Read it; you’ll see.
  2. Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas. Great subtitle: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”
  3. And finally: As for Me and My House: Crafting a Marriage to Last, by Walter Wangerin. One of our generation’s best writers tackles marriage. Honestly. Personally. And faithfully. Read it and smile. And grow.

Let’s Get Ready to…Wrestle!

I have not been, nor will I ever be, a wrestler. One, I’m not strong enough. And two, I just don’t think I’d look good in a singlet. Not even this Popeye one.

Even so, I think wrestling can teach us something about how we do church — and how we read the Bible.

I wonder how many people go to church, any church, and leave, week-after-week, thinking: That was nice. I learned something. I feel better. Now, what’s for lunch?

When I get up to preach each Sunday, I’d love for everyone who listens to wrestle with Scripture with me, because I believe that wrestling with scripture takes it seriously enough not simply to read it, or listen to it — but be drawn into a deeper conversation with it. We may read a passage from the Bible that we don’t understand, or maybe, if we’re honest, we aren’t even sure we agree with it. The truth is: parts of the Bible inspire us; other parts bore us. Some verses challenge us; others may shock us; and some may even horrify us. Some texts in the Bible make you want to get up and go; others may leave you sitting and scratching your head. But when we engage the Bible, all of the Bible, it draws us in. And when it has us in its grasp, it has a way of not letting us go until we are changed.

Perhaps this is why one of my favorite Bible stories is found in Genesis 32, where Jacob wrestles with God. Jacob is not unscathed by the encounter — his hip is dislocated as he grapples with God. But what I love about the story is that Jacob refuses to let go until he receives a blessing from God.

Give me a wrestling match with God any day, versus a polite sermon where I nod at God, and maybe nod off, as well. If the Bible, or a sermon, or even church itself are going to do their work in my heart, they will help me wrestle with God, myself, and life. And as that happens, I often will find myself changed.

So, if you “go to church” this Sunday (and I hope you will), don’t just go and listen. Go ready to wrestle. For I believe that in the wrestling, the engaging — in the struggle itself — we encounter God. Just leave the singlet at home; unless, of course, you come wearing this one.

Thanks mom (and dad) for 60 years of faithfulness

Later this year, my parents will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. By my count, that’s nearly 22,000 days together. I think they deserve a party. This summer, if all goes well, my parents’ five children and spouses, along with 12 grandchildren (and two spouses), and 5 great-grandkids will converge on St. Louis for a celebration 60 years in the making.

And it might not have happened if it were not for a promise. Back in the fall of 1952, my mom, who lived in western New York, decided to go to college in Illinois, at what is now known as Lincoln Christian University. Her sister — my Aunt Dorothy — decided to go to Eastern Christian Institute, a small school in New Jersey. Mom promised that she would join Aunt Dorothy after a year, if the school in Jersey checked out alright.

Well, Eastern turned out alright, and Aunt Dorothy told mom that. But mom really liked Lincoln, and would have stayed there if not for the promise that she had made to her sister.

So my mom made her way from Illinois to New Jersey (kind of a reverse of the Westward Expansion; Go East, Young Woman!). The school was small — really small, with less than 25 students. Mom and dad got to know each other (how could they not in such a small college?), and they just kind of fell into dating.

As they began to get serious, Aunt Dorothy asked mom what was going on between them. So my mom, apparently unaware that this was the 1950s, went to my dad and asked, “Are we getting married?”

family picture
Mom & Dad (and kids), about 15 years into marriage

“Well, I guess so,” was dad’s reply. And despite his less-than-overwhelming level of confidence, the relationship continued, and grew stronger, and on August 1, 1954 — a day when the temperature would reach 100 degrees — mom and dad gave each other their unconditional vows in a decidedly unairconditioned church in East Orange, New Jersey.

And 60 years later — or, over 500,000 hours, if any one is counting — our family will celebrate the difference a promise makes. A promise made by one sister to another, that led to a meeting between a girl and a boy. But even more — a promise made between two people to love and serve each other, til death do them part.

On Sunday, at Fern Creek Christian, we will talk about that kind of love. And those kinds of promises. And we will honor that kind of faithful love, the kind that is rooted in God himself — the greatest promise keeper of all.