Dare I blog about this? …after all, people may assume I have certain perspectives on commitment – be it whether I expect it of them (coming to church and giving in the offering plate) or if it is something we all should do (eg. get married). I don’t intend to be over-in-depth about this, but rather convey some thoughts…
I’ve read recently about several celebrities commenting on marriage. George Clooney, a divorcee, has said he’ll never get married again. Shakira – the Colombian pop-singer – is engaged, but prefers the role of ‘eternal girlfriend’ to ‘wife.’ Elton John has chimed in about same-sex marriage and how it’s viewed in the USA and what that means for him and his spouse.
The thing is, our culture is pushing more and more towards individualism to the point of commitment being seen as a hindrance. We are encouraged not to sign contracts with cell phone companies; pre-nuptial arrangements are standard for the excessively rich; and a regular, sustaining, financial gift to a charity (as opposed to an occasional gift) is unusual for most people.
It may well be that marriage is a particular kind of commitment that people have an aversion to these days for reasons like ‘the church is out-dated.’ So, because of scandal in the church, people don’t want to connect with such an institution; or, because of certain church groups’ stance on same-sex unions, some people don’t want to be connected with such ultra-conservatism. For those reasons, I can understand people’s aversion a little bit.
The institution of marriage is different, today, than it was years ago – and not even that many years ago. In North American, western culture, it is acceptable to live with one’s partner without being wed. It was only a few decades ago when that was taboo. Peoples’ views on sexual relationships, and sex in the media, are different today – perhaps influenced by the internet (for good and bad).
As a clergy-person, I have been asked to do baptisms, weddings, and funerals. It’s true that I have not done a lot of any of them; and, of any of them, I have done funerals the most. I think our cultural and societal views of commitment influence peoples’ acceptance or rejection of these rites. There’s a thought that one must dive in, whole-hog, into church life if one is going to consider baptism (for themselves or a child) or wedding in the church; on the other hand, I get the impression that people are more willing to engage the church when it comes to times of loss and death.
I would tell people who are questioning that baptism and wedding ceremonies are not meant as life-long encumbrances to the church, but rather a ‘marker’ for friends and family to celebrate a relationship. That is, a relationship that has begun in new life (baptizing an infant, or welcoming an adult into a church family) or a relationship that is already blossoming (a wedding between two people who love each other). And, without such ceremony or observance, we deny ourselves an opportunity to celebrate life! In baptism and in marriage, we give ourselves an anniversary to celebrate love and relationship.
In terms of committing to financial support, I think people need to inform themselves better of an organization before supporting it. Does it fit with your set of values? And, might there be some incentive to give (for example, many non-profit organizations can issue income tax receipts, as churches do)? Is the organization wise with its use of funds (eg. how much goes into non-direct-work like administration and promotion)? And when we’re willing to commit to giving to an organization – in the sense that that becomes part of one’s household regular budget – we can take some ownership in the successes of the organization, as well: we’ve contributed to making it happen.
In all of this – particularly in the thoughts I’m expressing, here, about marriage commitment – I’d like to add that I’m aware of ‘alternative relationships’ that exist these days. I know that there are such things as “open relationships,” for example. It seems to me still, though, that a sense of rooted-ness comes with being able to have some kind of long-term commitment with another person – however that may be arranged.
I would suggest that we allow ourselves to commit more than we do. It becomes a matter of trust, and faith that we put in our fellow human beings. (And, to be clear, I would hope that the church would open itself better to new expressions of love – that same-sex relationship not be denied, but be supported and welcomed fully in more, even all, denominations. I work towards such full inclusion in the ministry I do in Lutheran circles.)