24 September 2012

The Art of Marriage: In Review

I'm finally writing.  At least at the moment.  Let's not dwell on it, or else I'll get distracted from why I'm writing, and it will be a waste of verbiage.

My beloved husband of almost seventeen years and I just attended a marriage seminar this weekend hosted at our church.  The seminar was called "The Art of Marriage" (AofM) and was produced by Family Life Today (FLT).  I don't have a grudge against FLT.  In fact, Enoch and I are both thankful to God for their ministry, primarily due to a "Weekend to Remember" marriage conference we attended about seven years ago, when our marriage had collapsed and we were in the process of re-building.  I do not have a grudge against my church.  I'm very grateful that marriage is important to the leaders of our church, that they faithfully preach the Word of God and what it teaches concerning marriage.  I'm thankful that a good number of couples from our church attended and we had good times of mingling and interacting.  And I'm very thankful for some dear sisters in Christ who cared for our children so that we could attend AofM.

In a Nutshell
The AofM seminar is a six-session video event, accompanied by a 140-plus paged workbook that allows participants to follow along as they watch.  There are various breaks built into the videos to allow participants to answer questions from the workbook and think about the material being presented.  A live person (an elder at our church) also led some brief group discussion times at the end of each session.  There are also optional activities to do individually outside of the video time, and I'm looking forward to using these in the future to have good intentional discussions with my husband on some of the topics covered. 

The Positives
The workbook and videos were high quality stuff. Not your typical pink, blue, and goldenrod copies of church paper; theses were glossy-paged, fancy-fonted, and as artsy as can be.  The photos were professional, and coincided with the video on every page.  The pages contained quotes from the video, articles and/or stories from the video, and places to answer questions during the video.  The video was also as high-quality as they come.  It was a combination of dramatic vignettes acted by paid professionals, real-life testimonials of bad marriages that were transformed, and instructional and informative contributions by well-respected and well-known Christian men and women, many with PhD's.  It was replete with kinetic text,  references to the workbook to keep us on the right page, and well-designed features (like soft theme music which played while we worked on our workbooks, visible timers to help us know how much time we had left, and a gentle crescendo when that segment ended and a new one began).

The Negatives
You know there had to be some.  I jokingly said to my husband that the 15-minute refreshment breaks with the other participants were "boring" compared to the cutting-edge camera that refuses to stay still or stay focused in the video.  (It's a style preference; I'm not a fan of it.)  It was so well edited that it was itself a work of art. The scripted vignettes, well-acted and professional as they were, were so dramatically and humorously captivating, I forgot we were at a marriage seminar and felt like we were at a movie theater.  It's difficult (for me at least) to transition mentally from "entertain me" to "teach me" to "analyze me" and back and forth.  That might not seem like a big deal, but it's at the heart of the problem, in my view.

There were a number of well-respected Christian men and women who gave their "talks" on the subjects, but it felt, honestly, like a bunch of smart people giving their best advice and opinions and supporting those ideas with Scripture, only some of the time.  In the workbook, verses were quoted and sprinkled generously alongside quotes by all kinds of people.  In general, I don't recall anyone saying anything that was blatantly controversial, but in my opinion there were only a few very deep and profound comments, mainly pertaining to believing that if God could raise a dead to new life, He could restore a dead or dying marriage.  The fact that it was all "layered" together made it difficult to filter the important stuff from the fluff.

For instance, throughout the workbook there were "helpful" tips for addressing the various issues being stressed.  Tips on "receiving your spouse," "twenty-five ways to spiritually lead your family," and "how a satisfying sex life is built," read like modern magazine articles and were mostly absent of actual Biblical content whatsoever.  In fact, I'd venture to guess that the most verses read in some kind of "context" were the ones from Song of Solomon during the "Love Sizzles" segment.  Even then, the verses were used mainly as tantalizing text rather than examined as holy Scripture meant to instruct us about our relationship with God and with one another.

So What?
So what?  Why is it such a big deal that I'm staying up past midnight to write about it? (Especially since I haven't written anything on either of my blogs in over a year.)  Why am I picking on FLT and their excellent resources?  Because this issue is really hitting home for me, I suppose.  And because I think there is a better way.  

I'm not saying "my pastor's better than FLT" like some 6-year-old kid would say to another one about their hero father.  But I am saying that my pastor(s) could have done a seminar and taught what the Scriptures say about love and marriage and sin and conflict-resolution and living with an eternal perspective, and it would have been grounded entirely in the truth of Scripture.  Not only that, but it would have been beneficial for unmarried participants as well as the married ones.  Of course it would have been without the glossy pages and dramatic stories, worldly wisdom, and edgy camera flashes and fades, but they would have had my attention and my full appreciation, for what it's worth.  (And as I'm reading this through, I just want to add that I think that is what our pastors are currently doing this month and next month as they preach and teach on the Biblical roles of men and women, so there!)

Words of Encouragement
So to my pastors and elders, I want to encourage you to preach the Word.  Remember that the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).  It restores the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, is altogether righteous, and is more desirable than any material thing (Psalm 19).  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.  But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene (2 Timothy 2:15-16). If you commit to doing this, people might complain that it's too boring.  They might rather look at glossy photos and read magazine-like tips than listen to the likes of you.  You probably won't become famous or better looking by the world's standards because of it.  But don't be discouraged by that.  Instead, call us out to forsake our lack of appetite for the Word of God.  Challenge us to trust in the sufficiency of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives!

Our population seems to feed on this need for artsy, edgy and dramatic, but has little appetite for understanding the Word of God and looking deeply and intently on what it says and what it means by what it says.  So to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ: laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious(1Peter 2:1-2)!