SHE DIED ANYWAY. Decay in the marrow. Radiation robbed her radiance. Fragile peals of thunder protected summer showers that watered her flowers. If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. Life submits to death.
My parents, Moose and Sylvia, made an odd couple, like an elephant and a tickbird. He was Oscar. She was Felix. He was Wall Street Journal, she was Better Homes and Gardens. He got expelled from college. She dropped out of high school. Syl deferred to Moose on money, retirement, banking. As head of the household he never made a decision without consulting her. A wise decision from which our entire family benefited.
Fifty plus fifty equals 100 percent. Yet unconditional love can’t be tallied with an adding machine. Love is trust mind body heart soul companionship complementarity and respect. Now matter how fast your fingers jab at the adding machine there is no bottom line because the checkbook is always balanced.
The ancient Greeks hammered out a three-tiered code to understand the birds and the bees. Eros, Philios, Agape. Eros is love at first sight, a crush, physical attraction, puppy love. Infatuation must pass the litmus test of Philios, the love between friends.
I remember two lessons that I learned from my high school social studies teacher. First, never admit guilt if you’re arrested. (Helped me out of a jam.) Next, you have to marry your best friend. Top tier of the foundation of love as understood by the Greeks is called Agape, unconditional love between the spouses and their children, a gathering of friends.
That, dear people, is the basis of family. Dare I invoke the rock star Meatloaf? I do. “I would do anything for love.”
‘FAMILY IS FAMILY!’
But the times they are a’ changin’. This year certain top-tiered black-robes legislating from the bench altered the definition of family for good or ill forever. Fair and balanced. We report, you decide. Our fearless leader in the Vatican jumped on the bandwagon. “Family is family!” he exclaimed from the logia. “Who am I to judge?” Put Francis behind a microphone and he makes headlines. His handlers are powerless to stop him from going off script.
But we’re comparing apples to oranges. Christian marriage is the true sacrament of the gospel. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church. Jesus regarded marriage so highly that he elevated it to the dignity of a sacrament. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. A fresh pink bundle of joy and many more.
Francis says that Catholics don’t have to “breed like rabbits,” but what does a celibate man know about conjugal love? Quite a lot, actually. For the celibate priest unconditional love for the church comes with the territory of becoming in persona Christi. In truth we lead by example, a witness to the waiting world. Simple but not easy. Always a work in progress. Keep moving.
This comes from the Book of Genesis which is the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning. Like outer space love is open borders. A love shack without walls. Skyrockets in flight. The launch pad to the moon into deep space to boldly go where angels fear to tread.
Saint Paul utilized the philosophy of the Greeks in describing Christian love to the pagans he converted. Take his epistle to the Ephesians. Wives, be submissive to your husbands.
WHAT?! Submissiveness to husbands? Is this the same Paul who wrote love is patient kind unselfish un-snobbish never rude boastful arrogant devoid of self-righteousness pompous bluster squeegees in the sink salt on the counter and dirty socks on the floor?
Yup, that’s Paul, the one and only. Allow me to edify.
Trust me, I know from Paul. We have a very strong bond. Basically Paul is my older brother. We share Philios, are friends who spend time with each other and we can be ourselves though he does most of the talking for he is quite loquacious. He wrote half of the New Testament; how could he not be? I defer to Paul.
By contrast, Agape between spouses is butterflies in the belly when you hear his car pull into the driveway. Goosebumps when she walks through the front door. To look into the eyes of the one you love is to hold conversations without saying a word. Cor ad cor loquitur. Heart speaks to heart. You have to have it in your bones. Dig deep; it’s there. Inexhaustible. Bottomless mine.
Love never fails Paul wrote to the Corinthian church whose members practiced wanton lust until he taught them real love that transcends the physical and attains the spiritual akin to kissing God.
The fact is—hold onto your bibles—that Paul didn’t write Ephesians. His piece de resistance was crafted by disciples more than two generations after his death. This was a common practice in the apostolic age, to write a corporate letter constructed around the ideas of the leader of the community. Paul was not a misogynist, was not the man you think he was at home.
Study the scriptures and you will see that women held prominent roles in the Pauline church. Women, he says, struggled beside me in the gospel. Phoebe was his deaconess. Priscilla and Paul owned a business together. Lydia the matriarch crafted and sold dresses, ribbons, and embroideries to support the mission. Paul was not a misogynist. He was a ladies’s man.
And he was a marketing genius. His stock in trade: eternal life. As with Steve Jobs the gentiles didn’t know what they wanted until Paul presented it to them. Here’s the crux of the matter: The Apostle constructed a Rogerian argument directed to the Ephesians to gain their confidence by appealing to them in their own language. Then having drawn them to himself he shifted the paradigm to Christian marriage founded on equality and mutual respect of the spouses.
So when Paul via his ghostwriters writes “Wives, be submissive to your husbands,” he isn’t speaking to us today so much as he was to the families he converted in Ephesus. Like E.F. Houghton: when Paul spoke people listened.
RED BULL COCKTAIL
Christian leaders defended women from brutish husbands who hazed their children and bullied their wives. Big shot Bubbas ruled the roost until Paul drew them from their man-caves and administered an evangelical smackdown. He told his friend Timothy, “Some of these men make captives of women oppressing them with disordered demands and desires borne from patriarchal egos and too much Red Bull and vodka.”
In olden days the family was patriarchal because men were larger and stronger and protected their families. Real Christian men put their families first. The Copernican shift that resulted from the gospel demands mutual submission between the wife and her husband modeled on the love that Christ, the Great Lover, has for his church. This enabled Paul to write Husbands love your wives and your children as Christ loves his church for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAMS, CARPENTERS!
For Moose and Syl years of toil yielded to prosperity. In the autumn of the 80s they broke ground on their dream house. ‘We’re movin’ on up to the east side.’ Midway through construction she received her death sentence. “Stop building the house,” she said. “Why? What for?” Moose asked. “Because I’m not going to live to see it.” “Nonsense. Don’t talk like that.”
His heels dug in. He would do anything for love but that. Raise high the roof beams carpenters! He paid the masons overtime to complete the house before she died.
Alas, she never lived to plan a housewarming party. Instead the new house became a museum filled with her artifacts. Cold year round desolate empty, angry, frustrating, and echoes of a soul who never walked the hallways. I disliked living there intensely. Ran away to college. Her last words to me: “Don’t do anything stupid.” You can imagine how that went.
As a young man Moose worked as a bricklayer. He choose the bricks for the façade and Syl arranged them. The night before she died he visited her on the cancer ward to show her the samples. He told me, “That was the last decision we made together.” Agape love means spousal equality and submission till death do us part.
Sylvia was vain and concerned about her appearance. She insisted on a closed-casket funeral. Moose wouldn’t abide by that either. For to him his wife of just three weeks shy of 20 years was as beautiful in death as she was in life.
LET IT BLEED
That is my love story. The outcome, of course, was inevitable. She died anyway. No more butterflies from the driveway. No more goosebumps through the front door. Life yields to death and eventually you submit to the truth. Some days are better than others.
Why the long sob story? Because the preacher must dip his pen into the blood of his heart in order to open the minds and unlock the hearts of his spiritual family.
How much more, I tell you, does the unconditional love that the priest holds for his church in imitation of Christ set an example for divine love matrimonialized? Sacramental bloodletting but what else are you gonna do? Christ shed his blood on the cross. The priest does too. Let it grown, let it bleed.
Is there a happy ending? No, because the love between Christ and his church is the never-ending story. No fairy tale happily ever after, no “you complete me you had me at hello.” The gospel is the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning.
Husbands love your wives and avoid bitterness toward them. God has called you to peace. For do you know O wife know that you will save your husband and you O husband do you not know that you will save your wife?
Husbands, is there anything you wouldn’t do for your wives? Wives is there anything you wouldn’t do for your husbands? I would do anything for love. How about you?