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Saturday, February 27, 2010
Take a look at the image on the left. What do you see? If you have never seen this illusion before you most likely see an image of a haggard old woman. Look again. Refocus. Can you make out the other image, the one of the pretty young woman? (The young woman's nose and eyelashes appear on the old woman's nose, and the old woman's mouth appears as a choker on the neck of the young woman).  Same lines, same set of black and white spaces, but depending on how you look at it, a different image emerges.

It’s a common situation in marriage as well. A husband and wife will look at the same circumstances and facts yet have two very different pictures of how things are. It’s a natural occurrence that comes about due to many factors, including our personalities, brain wiring, past experiences, etc. As with the picture presented here, once you see it the other way, it becomes easy to see it differently the next time, simply by shifting your focus a bit.  It isn't about right or wrong, but seeing differently.

Today’s Paradigm in Practice is intended to get you to see what your spouse sees – about you.

Each of you is to write down ten things about your self that you think your spouse loves the most. Take some time to do this, and think about it from many angles: personality traits, physical appearance, habits, quirks, beliefs, and talents. Really try to think about what your spouse feels, not how you feel about yourself. It doesn’t matter if you agree with these things or not.

Next each of you will write down ten things about your spouse that you love the most. Again, consider it from different angles, as above, and pick several from each. Take the time you need to consider the question thoroughly.

Now it gets interesting. It’s time to compare notes. Ladies first. She reads off one item from her second list, the one where she describes the things she loves about her husband. He examines his list of things he thinks she loves about him to see if he guessed that one correctly (or nearly so). Next he reads off one item from his list of things he loves about his her, and she looks to see if she has a match. Take turns reading through each of the ten items. Next, read off the remaining items that you thought your spouse admired but that didn’t appear your spouse’s list.

Here are a few questions to prompt your discussion of this exercise:
  1. How accurately were you able to describe the good things your spouse sees in you? Why or why not?
  2. What things were on your list of things you love about your spouse that weren’t on their list of what they think you love? What does this say about how effectively you communicate your admiration to each other?
  3. How quickly do you dismiss and argue against the things your spouse admires about you? Do you accept their admiration and choose to believe in their love, or do you deny it?
  4. Have you been guilty of simply assuming your spouse already knows how you feel about him or her and not making an effort to communicate it?
For the next few weeks (and for the rest of your life) make an extra effort to communicate to your spouse the things you love about them. Think of creative and fun ways you can do this. Be genuine. Be sincere. But most of all, make an effort to be consistent in communicating your love and admiration for your spouse.
Don’t assume that they see what you see.

Thursday, February 25, 2010
My company is pretty aggressive about patenting its inventions and sees intellectual property as a competitive advantage. As the inventor in several of our company’s patents I’ve had a fair amount of exposure to the process. There’s a legal term in the patent process called “reduction to practice.” Basically the idea is that if you don’t eventually do something with the patent, actually make something that proves out the idea, then the patent isn’t really valid. Now that’s not a legal interpretation of the term, but you get the idea.

Most of what I’ve written here leans toward the cerebral. I readily admit that. I’ve mostly posted about the underlying mindset, the reasoning and a little of the theology behind the Bridal Paradigm. I feel pretty strongly that having the right mindset is more than half the battle in the transformation of your marriage. To this point, however, it’s kind of been like having a patent without any reduction to practice. Great ideas, maybe, but do they really work?

All this talk of paradigms and mindsets, as important as these things are, at some point must get reduced to practice. Maybe you’ve read some of what I’ve written, maybe some of it makes sense, at least in theory, but you are left with a nagging question.

“So what do I DO?”

Toward the goal of answering that question, I’ve decided to initiate a regular feature here that I will call “Paradigm in Practice.” The idea is to give you and your spouse some specific and practical suggestions of things you can do to begin or continue your Journey to Surrender. Also in this series will be some specific examples of how the Bridal Paradigm has been worked out in my own marriage, both the good and, yes, even the not so good.

So watch this space in the coming days for the first of the “Paradigm in Practice” series. It should be fun!
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
This is part four in a series. If you are just joining me, you might want to back up to part one to get the full context.

My last post answered the question “Why does the man have to be the leader?” and the corollary “Can’t it be an equal partnership?” My short answers to these two questions are “because God set it up that way,” and “equality is a myth.”

Is it possible for a couple to have a happy and healthy marriage in a shared leadership arrangement? Probably so, but I do not believe it’s the best way or God’s intended design for marriage. Beyond that, however, what troubles me is that those who insist that shared authority is the only “fair” way to run a marriage may have underlying issues. I’ll skip restating my argument against using equality as the measuring stick for marriage and simply state what I see as the possible subtext for those who are reluctant to accept the biblical mandate of a husband’s authority.

When it is the wife who pleads this case (which I think is the more typical scenario), it sends one or more of the following messages to her husband:
  1. I don’t trust you to take care of me or to be attentive to my needs
  2. I want to make sure my voice is heard and that I “win” at least half the time
  3. I’m an adult and can assert my rights whenever I want to – you aren’t my boss
  4. I certainly shouldn’t have to do something if I don’t want to
  5. I am smarter than you are and/or a more capable leader
  6. It’s not fair for you to lead all the time.
  7. I’m not going to be your doormat
Alternatively, a husband too may make a case for shared leadership. In doing so he sends one or more of the following messages to his wife:
  1. I don’t want the responsibility that comes with this authority.
  2. I don’t want to have to take care of you too. (I’m too busy taking care of me.)
  3. You are just gong to complain about and criticize what I do anyway, so there is less grief if I just let you take charge of things
  4. My job ends when I bring home my paycheck.
  5. You aren’t worth the effort and risk it takes for me to lead. (And I’m afraid I can’t do this leadership thing.)
I know that these generalizations might be over-simplified and overstated, but there is a core truth about the messages that are implied when there is resistance to a husband-led marriage. For the wife who resists her husband’s authority it comes across as fear, doubt and disrespect to her husband. For the husband who is reluctant to lead, it comes across as disengagement, laziness or lack of love for his wife.

You see, what most people actually intend by asking for co-leadership is, “Can’t we have an equal power sharing agreement?” But I believe we need to move beyond power sharing and get to power exchange. In a mutually consensual power exchange we see the wife ceding power to her husband’s authority, placing her trust in his sacrificial and unconditional love. She chooses to “arrange herself under” her husband, which is as close a translation as I can make to the Greek word for submit, hupotasso. Likewise, we see the husband “giving over himself” and his rights for the sake of his wife and for the good of the marriage, arranging himself over her in a way that protects, nurtures and cherishes her, not in a way that smothers or limits her.

A surrendered marriage is absolutely a partnership, one in which the man and woman are of equal value but where each has a different role. He loves, leads and serves her. She and loves, honors and surrenders to him. In this paradigm is the potential for lasting intimacy and genuine beauty in every marriage.

Monday, February 22, 2010
It’s a common question when it comes to the discussion about Christian marriage: “Why does the man have to be the leader?”  This is often followed by, “Can’t marriage just be an equal partnership?”

If you missed my post on The Myth of Equality, you’ll already know my answer to the second question. Equality is just the wrong question.

The issue of authority in marriage is a contentious one, full of strong emotion leading sometimes to caustic arguments. But that’s no reason to abandon or avoid it. There are many biblical principles that equally fly in the face of the cultural norm. Face it, much in the kingdom of God is upside down from popular convention.

As a Christian who believes in the Word of God, I can’t avoid the fact that the Ephesians 5 undeniably states that ”the husband is the head of the wife.” Importantly, it goes on to add, “as Christ is the head of the church.” This statement follows Paul’s instruction to wives to submit to their husbands.  Further, and most significantly, when Paul turns to instructing husbands he says nothing about their authority. Instead, he says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” 

Simply put, love and sacrifice are how the husband’s authority is to be walked out. Should any wife have a problem with that kind of authority? The real problem is not with having an authority structure in the home; the real problem is whether or not we have the right authority paradigm: Jesus.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”     Matthew 20:25-28
Let me make a few other brief points concerning authority.

  • We can see in the Trinity how it is possible for authority and equality to coexist. For example, Jesus clearly walked in submission to the Father, even to the point where he said his very food was to do the will of the Father. Yet Jesus is fully God and an equal part of the Trinity. 
  • The authority that is granted to a husband comes from God and not from himself. Only by walking in complete submission to God is it possible for that authority be walked out in accordance with God’s will (as it was with Jesus). It is God who is the source of the very love that a husband is commanded to pour out on his wife.
  • Many attempt to refute a husband’s headship using the fact that at the time of Paul’s writings women were widely seen more as property than persons. In raising this point, they say we should therefore disregard what the Bible says on the topic of authority in marriage. The problem with this argument is that Paul flatly blows open the “women as property” viewpoint when he instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, giving himself completely for her. Clearly Paul didn’t buy into the cultural norm of his day, so it makes no sense to apply that argument against his statements on headship. 
  • It is apparent and logical that any organism or organization functions best with a single head. We’ve all seen how government by committee is ineffective, inefficient and unstable. Someone needs to be in charge, and in the case of marriage, God has placed that responsibility and authority on husbands. 
  • In business, the best leaders are not necessarily the most knowledgeable or the most skilled in every area. The best leaders want people around them who are better than they are and can leverage the skills and talents of those around them to the advantage of the organization. There is no implication in Ephesians 5 that ability has anything to do with authority in marriage.
Let me know what you think.  I'd love you to comment with your thoughts.

Next time: What people really mean when they ask, “Can’t marriage be an equal partnership?”

Thursday, February 18, 2010
If you missed part one of this series on The Audacity of the Bridal Paradigm, you might want to go back and read it now.

Beyond the fact that Ephesians 5 actually has nothing to do with the question of equality, I have several problems with even using equality as the measuring stick for marriage. It’s a benign and lofty goal, one that seems to ensure fairness to all. The problem is that the term is mostly distorted to connote androgyny, the ridiculous notion that there is absolutely no difference between men and women and therefore all roles in the relationship should be completely interchangeable. As much as militant feminism would like to promote this notion, common sense tells you androgyny is a dangerous myth. Ever heard of the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?” It’s common knowledge that men and women are just two different creatures from the same creator (thank you God!).

My other issue with making equality the goal in marriage is that by its very nature it sets up a kind of negative, self-centered, score-keeping competition. It begs questions like, “Am I winning here?” “How much am I getting? Whatever it is, it better be as much as or more than you.” “You got X, so I get Y. It’s only fair.” The problem with such questions and statements is that they actually make no sense when you consider the “profound mystery” that the husband and wife actually one entity.

You see I’m a strong believer in the idea of being “one flesh,” and it’s an integral part of the bridal paradigm. And I don’t think the term just refers to sex, either. It’s a mysterious union that is part physical, part spiritual and part soul. If the two are really one, which is really the ideal goal, it is not possible for one to win and the other to lose. Whenever a wife increases in some aspect of her life, he benefits along with her. Likewise if a husband increases in some area of his life, she does as well. It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s an inextricable link that makes no sense to separate into competitive halves. (Part of this mystery is how the two can be one without losing either person’s individual identity – a topic for another post at some point.)

Now to be perfectly clear, by refuting the notion of equality I am absolutely not talking about equality of human value or the intrinsic worth of a person. In God’s eyes men and women are completely equal in those important relational aspects, and so it should be in our eyes as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how equality does or doesn’t make sense in light of the bridal paradigm and a one-flesh mentality.

Next in Part 3: Why does the man have to be the leader? Can’t we be an equal partnership?
I’m still working on the “Myth of Equality” post, but in the mean time I felt this was relevant to the discussion.

I was responding to an email from a reader the other day when I glanced at the ever-present Google Ads sidebar showing "related" links adjacent to my inbox. What was one of the links shown there, based on the contents of the email exchange about the biblical meaning love and submission as described in Ephesians 5?

“Stepford Wives”

I kid you not.

It’s a very sad statement indeed. I don’t know what algorithm Google uses to derive its linked content, but whatever it is, it can’t be good. Unfortunately, I think this is an all too common misunderstanding of the Bible’s take on marriage. I would venture to say that even some inside the church would use this comparison.

How about you. Do you subscribe to the Ephesians 5 = Stepford Wives equation?
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
RANT WARNING!

I was recently extremely irked by a FoxNews.com story that referenced an article from the Daily Mail (UK) about a pair of Anglican Church leaders (a vicar and a curate, like pastors) who had the audacity to preach what the Bible says about marriage.

Of course the article was typically full of liberal bias and used selective and sensational quotes to make these men sound ridiculous. Although I don't have the benefit of having actually heard what the men said in full context (thought neither did, I suspect, the writer of the article) I can pretty much guess that the paper left out the most important parts. I won’t pretend to defend all that these men profess to believe, not knowing more about those beliefs than I do, but I will respond generally about the issues the story raises.

I am sure that despite my attempts to be concise, it will likely take me a few posts to deal with the topics to my own satisfaction. This is really important stuff.

Let me start with a reminder that I believe, as do the vicar and curate of the story, that the Bible is the benchmark book on marriage (and life for that matter). I believe it’s timeless and true and inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe scripture must be considered in context of the whole Gospel and that real understanding comes by the Holy Spirit, not by cultural or moral relativism. I don’t wish to debate this point, I simply wish to frame my comments with the correct understanding of my own perspective.

What perturbs me most about articles like this, which I suppose at some point will also be written about me and/or this blog, is the way they almost always completely miss the point. They go out of their way to portray the biblical understanding of marriage as archaic and culturally irrelevant by taking things out of context and extrapolating to outrageous conclusions that just don’t agree with what scripture actually says. By skimming the surface they completely miss the underlying gold that lies beneath the surface of a biblical marriage.

It’s fairly easy to take a sentence or two out of Ephesians 5 and then claim that the Bible promotes inequality, denigrates and discriminates against women, and portrays them as inferior to men. For example, “wives should submit to their husbands in everything” or “the husband is head of the wife.” The problem with only quoting these snippets is that the heart of the matter is left out, which completely distorts the picture and prevents any genuine understanding.

Imagine watching a football game (or any other sport) on TV in which the cameras only show one team by electronically erasing any image of the other team. It would be completely nonsensical to watch. Any conclusions you’d draw about the sport would basically be misguided and meaningless. So it is when people use bits of Ephesians 5 without considering it as a whole.

That chapter actually has nothing to do with equality, with who is more or less, or with who is better or more capable. This portion of scripture is describing the differing roles of husband and wife, both of which are equally vital to a successful marriage, both of which are of equal value and worth. The scripture simply accounts for the fact that men and women tend to be wired differently, with differing needs, and points toward ways of interacting that will most meet those needs. Nothing here indicates that either party’s needs are more important that the other’s.

The instruction here for a husbands to first see to his wife’s need for love, the unconditional, sacrificial and selfless kind that Jesus lavishes on us as his bride.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Eph 5:25
He is to cover and protect her, to nurture and encourage her toward the realization of all she was meant to be. The instruction for a wife to respond to her husband’s love by giving him the respect, honor and support he desires most.
“Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Eph 5:33
She is to give him the room and encouragement he needs to lead the marriage and family toward the full attainment of God’s destiny. It’s a beautiful picture of a dynamic love interaction in which both husband and wife are completely satisfied and thoroughly delighted in the relationship.

As I said, there is so much more here than I can possibly address in a single post, so I'll pause here. Next time: The Myth of Equality.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
It's time again for that most important of romantic holidays:  Valentine's Day.  At our house it's considered a major holiday, right up there with Christmas and Easter. 

It's been interesting to follow the comments for and against this holiday filled with roses and candy.  I waded into the discussion a few days ago with a comment to a post and counter-post on two other marriage blogs (yes, sidebar links are still coming soon).  Kathleen at ProjectM argued astutely that society already has an unhealthy focus on "romance" and doesn't need a holiday to reinforce that.  Meg from Opal Elephant countered that love is a good thing, in all its forms, so why not have a day to celebrate it?  I took a shot at bridging these two polar perspectives and I'll re-post my comments here:
Meg and Kathleen, interesting dialog here and on other blogs about the value and importance of Valentine’s Day. I think Kathleen is onto something in the limitations imposed by our use (and over-use) of the singular word “love” to cover what is actually a multi-faceted and complex array of human interactions.

I think you both have valid points, and in truth I think one leads to the other. To me it’s the sacrificial, selfless, unconditional “agape” type of love that puts a marriage on a lasting footing and sustains it for the long haul. When that is solidly in place, it opens a wide pathway to the romantic and erotic feelings-based love (“eros’) that we celebrate so fervently on Valentine’s Day. Feelings can be fleeting and fickle, but as long as you’ve got a solid agape foundation to fall back on, I’m all for enjoying them to the fullest in the passion of the moment!

Yes, I think both kinds of love are important ingredients for a healthy and happy marriage.

(PS also important is the “friendship love” the Greeks called “”phileo,” but that’s probably another post.)
Personally I come down on the side of loving V-day.  I usually take the opportunity to lavish love upon my sweetheart in some creative way, and it's fun to have a holiday for which over-the-top romanticism in encouraged.  (As I write this we are stolen away in a romantic mountain-top little cabin awash in a sea of snow.) Of course this isn't the only day of the year we do loving and romantic things for each other,. but I see little harm in V-day as long as there is a realization that marriages are not built to last the long haul on fleeting goosebumps.

I think some men are intimidated by the daunting expectations of their wives for this day.  Perhpas they feel set up to fail or disappoint.  Is it fear masking itself as disdain that drives many to criticize V-day?  Who knows?  I'm a born romantic and even for me there is a the thought in the back of my mind that I need to outdo whatever I did last year in order to show the strength of my love.  Of course that's silly.  That's not what the day should be about - makes it more about me than her or us.  So I say relax and let go of expectations and just celebrate your love, in whatever form that takes. 

A final comment, and then I'll leave this contentious discussion for another year.  Meg says in her post that she sees the holiday as a time to celebrate love in all its forms and in all your relationships.  My wife, Jenni, mostly shares that perspective.  In addition to sending out cards to family and friends most years, she always wants to make sure we include a family celebration, with special love-gifts for our girls.  That's a perpective I've had to grow into, because I've typically seen V-day as exclusively for lovers. But I see her point.  There's plenty of love to go around, so why not include others in the festivities.

Care to comment for or against this heart-shaped holiday?
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
In recognition of National Marriage Week (didn't know there was such a thing until today) the authors of several of the marriage blogs I follow are making available a free e-book called “Love Everyday – Thoughts on Loving Amidst the Chaos of Life.”

The list of authors is varied and the articles are not written from a pointedly Christian perspective, but I think you'll find a few helpful tidbits among the short and easy-to-read articles.  Heck, it's free, so why not?  If  you'd care to leave a comment about the book, I'd like to hear what you thought of it.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Last night Jenni and I attended one of our church’s men’s meetings (wives invited for this one) to watch a video presentation by Mark Gungor called “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage.”

First of all I have to say that the guy purposefully uses humor to disarm and to approach marriage issues from a light-hearted standpoint (obviously from the title).  Some of it was quite funny.  I will also say that what we saw was only a portion of what was in all a 3-day marriage weekend series. With that said, I’d like to touch on what I felt was the missing ingredient from the teaching last night.

Now there was plenty of truth in what he said. The focus was on the way men’s and women’s brains function differently and he rather humorously conveyed the concept that men think and act compartmentally, while women think and react to things in an interconnected fashion. Though I found his caricatures, especially of women, to be a bit demeaning, I understand that was done for humorous effect. No biggie.  To get the idea, you can watch a part of the brain function bit here on YouTube

However, the final segment was around the fact that women need emotional intimacy in order to feel sexually connected. Men, on the other hand, need sexual intimacy in order to feel emotional connected. I agree that God made men and women that way for a purpose. However, he used this bit of truth to convey the idea that in order to get what you want, you have to give what your spouse wants. “Be nice to the woman and you’ll get sex. Give the man sex and he’ll be nice to you.” It seemed like he was saying that the goal was to manipulate your spouse in order to get what you want.

What was missing from the discussion was this: love. I’m not talking about the goose-bumpy stuff. I’m talking about the sacrificial, whole-hearted, unconditional stuff. When Jenni questioned the notion that I would only be nice to her to get sex, a friend of ours said, “That’s because you want him to be like a woman.” I said to Jenni later, “No, it's because you want me to be like Jesus.” You see, Jesus didn’t love us and lay down his life for us in order to get us to do what he wanted. He did it because he wanted us to be his forever. He did it because of love.  The bridal paradigm isn't about what you get; it's about what you give.  That's the whole idea of a surrendered marriage.

And that was the missing ingredient from last night.

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