Arranged marriages are common in some cultures. And why not? We adults know what is best for our children. We tell ourselves we are only being responsible when arranging their life. The practice is highlighted in books and movies. Perhaps the best known, or perhaps most entertaining, is “Fiddler on the Roof.” After all, traditions were established in the best interest of all people. American Christian culture rises above others – arranging a sacred marriage of children to Jesus at a very early age.
In my particular culture, that is to say – in the view of my parents, my brothers and I were betrothed to Jesus at about eight years old. There were appropriate rituals of preparation. We had to attend classes in the church basement for a while. These classes were taught by an Elder of the Church. I suppose the title of Elder is supposed to suggest wisdom or something like that. This points out another erroneous Church Tradition – old means wise. But back to the betrothal.
After learning some of the mythology of our betrothed, we were assigned a date of matrimony. The ‘sacrament’ of baptism was intended to immerse us in the vows of sacred harmony. It would be much later before I realized the consequences of those vows. After the immersion everyone went to the church basement for cake and ice cream – the best part of the whole affair.
The marriage to Jesus turned out to be one of domination and subordination. There was no physical battering, just a heavy load of mental abuse. My master never talked to me directly; he always seemed to use the Elders to deliver instructions. The message route was not reserved for the Elders, just about anyone who had an opinion was permitted to express their desire for my behavior. I asked why the Master did not talk to me directly and was told, “Read James 1:5-6, then you will know.” I tried that – and I thought I established a connection. The Elders told me I heard wrong – that perhaps I misinterpreted the truth. So I was in a real pickle – I doubted the Elders and I doubted what I had perceived to be truth. James 1:6 is correct – I was like “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
My marriage was not a happy experience. There were times of joy, the honeymoon in particular. That was a time of ice cream and cake and acceptance by the congregation of those who had gone before me. I like acceptance – it feels good to be accepted by others, to be a part of something. The National Geographic Channel had a show on the Gangs of Los Angeles – a common theme in the joining of the Gang was the feeling of acceptance. Doe this example correlate?
The culture of American Christianity is confusing. Contradictions abound. The cultural deal is simple: Join a church by marrying Jesus. Get an education so you can get a job. Make money. Find an earthly spouse. Propagate the species. Buy things for nutrition, safety, and comfort. Give money to the Church. Become an Elder – then sanction the next marriage. But the devil really is in the details.
I married Jesus out of a sense of cultural duty, out of obligation to tradition. I went to a secular school, where I was taught to have an open mind – to think for myself – to doubt when the facts presented were not coherent. I got a job, married an earthly spouse, propagated the species, made money, bought things, and thought about giving money to the Church.
Life forced doubt; and doubt was defined as a bad thing. The Elders professed scientists to be wrong, intentionally casting doubt to subvert the truth. The scientists said, no way – we are merely learning the truth of God’s universe. We are seeking to better understand our God by examining his methods of creation. The Elders said, “bah – humbug.” For what it is worth, I leaned toward the scientists.
Jesus and I filed for a formal separation. He was tired of me and I was tired of him. We had what seemed to be irreconcilable differences. Formal separation is a very painful experience – it is adverse to all cultural teachings. I was no longer accepted at the church. People who had been my friends no longer called. I was not invited for cake and ice cream. The church basement was out of bounds.
My wanderings took me into the desert of uncertainty. Frequent mirages led me further astray. Truth seemed evasive – as if it did not want to be found. I could hear the sirens of the Church beckoning me to come back, to rejoin the fellowship, to be a part of the Gang. The desert seemed unforgiving and the sirens of the false serenity of ignorance were ever inviting. “Do as we say,” the Elders proclaimed, “and you will have everlasting life in the bosom of the Jesus that only we know to be true.” Yikes – I forged deeper into the desert of despair.
Direction was finally offered when I reflected on the words of the scientists – “…we are merely learning the truth of God’s universe. We are seeking to better understand our God by examining his methods of creation.” I returned to a secular education to learn about the true methods of creation. The secular perspective is one without bias. Cohesive facts are the only accepted form of faith – faith that there is order and purpose in God’s universe. The faith of the scientist is simple: “There is truth. We accept that we have not yet found all truths – but we have faith that there is order and purpose in God’s Universe. The excitement of God is that he created an orderly universe – then he gave us, humans, the capacity to question, to learn, to understand, and sometimes to know.”
The desert was fading behind me. As I approached the lush forested hills at the base of a single large mountain before me I could see several paths – each was marked with a sign “The Only True Path To The Summit.” It was apparent that my journey was not yet finished. There were to be more trials. Some of the paths were worn bare by those who went before me, some were nearly hidden by the forest.
I have taken the ‘path less traveled by.’ It struck me that the worn path of life was the result of those before me returning from a path that did not lead to the truth. The path less traveled by is less distinct. There are thorn bushes and thickets of briers – but as I continued to search the path always seemed to open before me. There have been times when I thought I was looking at the summit, only to realize that it was a ‘false summit.’ A false summit is a pinnacle of predetermined life achievement, a moment when we reach a predefined goal, only to find there is a further journey ahead of us.
James 1: 5-6 has been proven true to this wanderer. If we do not understand the wind we are destined to be “driven and tossed by the wind.” If we are not willing to learn about the methods of creation, the purpose of the wind, we are destined to be lost at sea. Today I stand at the pinnacle of a false summit, my journey not yet complete. I look back across the desert and see the people in the church basement, holding on to their life boats, praying for the wind to stop blowing.
Perhaps one day I can completely reconcile my differences with Jesus. Perhaps I had no differences. Perhaps I was listening to the wrong siren. It seems it was not the scientists who cast doubt into my life, but rather the Elders of the church. Perhaps Jesus has not forsaken me, perhaps we were never separated. Is it possible that Jesus is guiding me through the thickets of life, granting me the energy to continue the ardent journey?
I have faith today that there is purpose, and the purpose can be found. I have faith today that there is truth, and truth can be found. Perhaps I did honor the dictate of James, perhaps I asked for wisdom and was sent on a life journey. Perhaps the image of Jesus presented by the Elders was wrong.
I have found many false summits, I have thought I found wisdom – only to be humbled by another mountain to climb. I have not yet been to the mountain top. Moses did not reach the land of milk and honey – and perhaps I shall not – but the journey is worthwhile and rewarding in itself. My image of my marriage to Jesus is changing every day.
James 1:4 speaks to me today: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Fiddler on the Roof: Tradition.