Thursday, April 27, 2017

How “Marriage Minutes” Helped Me Let Go of the Hunger Artist
Allegedly a book review of Gerald Ford's Marriage Minutes
it ended up becoming a celebration of my egalitarian marriage with my husband and about the unexpected the effect that the book has had on my life.

The first time that I ever heard anyone use the term “egalitarian” in a conversation was my husband, just after we'd first started to date. I seemed to prefer the patriarchal approach, even though I grew up in a church that ordained women. My church had more female elders than male ones, but as a daughter of sock hop era parents, I was quite comfortable with patriarchy. 

As a child, I also watched some of those women elders inappropriately reject and strongly criticize pastors in conversations to which I never should have been privy. When the spiritually abusive church that my husband and I would one day join preached that women were meant to be reigned in and ruled over, I was willing to play along. I thought of the errors in judgement made by two women – events that were filtered through my poor understanding as a child. Patriarchy provided a very simple answer to a terribly complex situation.

After a cross-country relocation and after only a few years of marriage, I was a ripe and ready target for the gender agenda. After two years during our four year tenure at that Shepherding Discipleship church, we eventually figured out that the church government ran like a pyramid scheme, and submission to authority was paramount. I remember during my first year there when talking about applying to graduate school that an elder's wife criticized the choice. She extolled the virtues of the “freedom” one has as a wife who knows who she is because her marriage and children define her. (Years later, I think that  *authorShirley Taylor reiterated it better at the Seneca Falls II Conference by saying that the system likes women better “when they stay in their pen.” But look out when they climb out because “the dogs start barking.” ) You're only “free” when you're confined.
Updated version in its second printing
I was encouraged by church leadership to put my desires up on God's altar by sacrificing my abilities to Him out of love for my husband. Serving my husband was paramount, but they couched it in terms of some kind of pre-Raphaelite painting of virtue and the romantic ideal of what a woman should be. 

I hate to admit this also, but I liked the romance of those ideas for a short time. My husband never thought of me in those terms and encouraged me to find my wings and fly, and the flying that I have done has come through his encouragement and the liberty and love that he shares with me.

By the start our fourth year at that church, we saw the real fruit of their teachings – domestic abuse and pornography for which the church leaders blamed wives. The magic cure for that was to become a sex kitten, to love your man with “ooey, gooey love,” or as Shirley once whispered to me, to use “spread your legs theology.” (It took a couple of years, but Shirley finally agreed to let me give her proper public credit for the term.)

Fearing their Faces

Fast forward a dozen years, after I'd become a very outspoken critic of the new variety of patriarchal teachings about women that diminished the significance of the Cross and the Atonement. I wanted avoid the pejorative nature of how the term “feminist” played in certain Christian circles, even though I don't fit anywhere on the continuum and take a conservative approach to Scripture and life. I considered myself a complementarian (the neologism for old fashioned patriarchy) because of emotional blackmail by friends – a claim for which I later repented. Yet increasingly, I saw that the female submission doctrines produced all manner of abuse. Not all who ascribe to approving of only men in Christian ministry hurt their wives, but many translate those ideas into actions that honor no one, certainly not Jesus.

Marriage Minutes

So along comes this Gerald Ford fellow and his book which makes for a nice daily reading about marriage – hence the title – drawn from a newspaper column that he'd written. What I found to be so instructive for me was how Gerald captures many academic concepts and beautiful quotes (always properly credited) in a gentle way that doesn't sound academic. I've found this to be a help to me as I endeavor to change my writing style on this blog, now that so many leaders and VIPs in the Quiverful/Christian Patriarchy Movement have been met with tragic failure. I now focus on how we can all grow beyond such failed ideas to inject new life into the old traditions of men in the name of a long dead excuse for orthodoxy.

Each thoughtful topic usually takes up a page and a half in a trade size paperback, but no topic takes up more space than two pages. The book discusses relevant topics that married couples deal with every day, but the book brings up the underlying principles that they speak to which most people don't think about on a deeper level. When I started reading the book, I made dog-eared folds at the top of the pages that I liked to either read again to encourage myself. I planned on including quotes of them for this long delayed review. In reading the book, I did better to just reserve each topic for a single day so that I could ruminate on it, giving the ideas time to sink in. But early on in the process of reading, I had far too many folds in the book to include in a review!
Though I won't go into great detail about the content, I'll share the chapter titles with you
that all begin with “Think a Few Minutes About”:
  • Anger and Conflict
  • Assertiveness
  • Communication
  • Building a Relationship
  • The Egalitarian Relationship
  • Sexuality
  • Parenting
  • Genuine Living
After the meat of the book, there's also an article at the end that discusses the issue of divorce and remarriage.

Marriage Minutes as a Mirror

In reading the book, I didn't think of issues with my husband who always encourages me to spread my wings and soar, and I could not ask for a better teacher and coach. Surprisingly, I primarily thought of the conflicts that I suffered with my disapproving parents who feared flying and believed that their chief job involved keeping my wings clipped. I just never know how to broach this topic, for my parents provided well for me and the good parenting that I received was excellent. But my mother suffers from complex trauma and fear, and I now see the hard times in our relationship as a story of her own suffering. In Gerald's Minutes, I saw myself and my mother and how fear and self-deprecation tortured the both of us. I also found myself thinking often of how very grateful I am for that young man who told me 30+ years ago that he wanted an egalitarian partner for a mate.

Somewhere along in my journey, I gave up on my concern about whether people thought of me as some foaming at the mouth feminist. Some think of me as a turncoat to women because of too liminal of a stance on gender and faith issues, believing that I sell out to patriarchy. Gerald's book helped me with that element of self-acceptance, and I'm now more comfortable with letting people call me whatever they will. As Pastor Tim Fall recently pointed out, Jesus and John the Baptist suffered similar criticisms which carry some parallels for me concerning this labeling. Jesus was a called a glutton and drunkard, and John was said to have a demon for being too ascetic (Luke 7:31-34). But that's fine if no one wants to claim me as their own. I know to Whom I belong, and He knows my heart.

My foot at age 19
Breaking the Mold

Gerald writes that his book was written for those who don't want to or perhaps can't live in a marriage that
“fits the mold.” Having recently revisited Kafka's short story, A Hunger Artist, I found myself thinking of Gerald's book. The Hunger Artist is a man who doesn't fit into society's mold and so accepts his fate as something of a circus freak through “professional fasting.” He creates a bubble in which he can live a reasonably rewarding and meaningful life, even though his talent is one that only can end in demise. In his dying words, he says that no one should really admire his fasting, and admits that he would have feasted just like everyone else if he only could have found food that he liked. In his story, I see the dynamics of a dysfunctional family.

I remembered having the thought so many times that if my mother had access to Gerald's book and took it to heart, she, my father and I would have lived a much better life. In a “good enough” family, a parent shares worth and love of self and self care with their child. My mother wasn't given enough of that for herself, so she had less that she could share me – though it was never for lack of love or desire. So like Kafka, none of us found the food that satisfied our own emotional needs – or at least I didn't until I married and moved away.

Through a quite insidious way, I think that
Marriage Minutes reinforced the good food that I had to search out on my own as an adult. I wish that my parents could have gleaned the knowledge about self-love that we all need, for it would have spared us all much suffering. And rather late than never, as I'm ever more determined to abandon that Hunger Artist persona, Gerald's wisdom played an unexpected part in my own recent growth and ever ongoing healing. Marriage Minutes has been one of many precious sources of encouragement to love myself which flows over into love and compassion for others.
It is a truly lovely book that I will treasure and continue to revisit. I think that if you're considering view on gender or are thinking about your own marriage, I believe that it will be a fine addition to your library. And it's given me much cause to appreciate anew the love that my husband has for me and how that inspires me to be a better person and a better wife. I am so grateful that he is my safe place from the world and has modeled the love of God for me more than anyone else ever has.

And I'm so glad that Gerald has played a part in my new paradigm shift out of this maladaptive means of coping which I now finally believe and accept in my heart that God never intended for me. Ford is a Minister, and a Marriage Counselor associated with the Houston Center for Christian Counseling, in Sugar Land, Texas. He is also the author of Notes form a Country Parson, a book of insights from almost 50 years in ministry, and he does a bit of blogging now and then. For almost 25 of those years he has been a Counselor, and a Marriage and Family Therapist. He has graduate degrees in both Theology/Pastoral Care, and Psychology.