My vintage crew in 2007.
Okay, folks: is Charles Manson REALLY getting married?
This is seriously so creepy. Like really, incredibly, utterly disturbing.
Just when you thought someone couldn’t be as deranged as Manson himself, a young woman (with an uncanny resemblance to his followers back in the day) steps forward to marry him. Sheesh.
Funnily enough the issue is not only making huge headlines for its obviously strange nature, it also has people asking about marriage itself. Again.
I even found myself offering the Christian perspective on marriage in a Facebook conversation yesterday. I don’t typically jump into the fray like that (and I confess I was terrified), but this was a friend who does not identify as a Christian, and who was inviting Christians to defend their stance on same-sex marriage–when apparently we’re okay with Charles Manson’s upcoming nuptials. Her question was a natural and good one, I thought.
Now the obvious answer is easy: we’re NOT really okay with the Manson affair! It does not appear to meet the qualifications for a valid sacramental marriage. People who look at the headlines and roll their eyes and say “What a joke!” are right to do so.
Of course Christians not of the Catholic persuasion might have a harder time explaining why exactly Mr. and Mrs. Manson are a problem– or perhaps they don’t think it’s fundamentally a problem–because they belong to a tradition that no longer espouses the historic Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality. They would be in a tough spot defending an opposition to same-sex marriage while simultaneously excusing the Manson marriage. (Although hypothetically speaking, were he not disallowed conjugal visits and were they not certifiably insane, Charles Manson and his girlfriend could potentially marry. But anyway.)
I have always loved how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes marriage. I am admittedly a book nerd. I don’t know if you own or read the Catechism, but even if you’re not Catholic it’s an INCREDIBLE resource for profound spiritual wisdom and truth. It is rich, deep, clear, and makes for a great read on just about any subject. You can find it on Amazon or wherever you buy books, and I’d highly recommend getting yourself a copy!
Anyway, first it says this:
1603 “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.”87 The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity,88 some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”89
And then, this. Isn’t this amazing?
1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.90 Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'”91
What astounds me about the Christian story, about God’s story, is that it all amounts to love. That is the point. That is the end-all, be-all. Life is not primarily about finding happiness or security, living well, avoiding pain and suffering, or self-actualization. Those may be by-products or secondary blessings or good things, but really? It all goes back to love. First, God’s love for us, and then our response of love for him, and finally the result of that, which is our love for other people.
And this is something that American Christians struggle to express to the modern world. We kind of have the reputation for being anti-love. No small number of observers think Christians are judgmental, puritanical, obsessed with sex, exclusive, hate-filled, reactionary, narrow-minded, busybodies, hypocritical, bigots. People assume our primary goal is to somehow achieve political domination through the oppression of marginalized groups, like homosexuals, or the poor, or women vulnerable to abortion. People think we are angry. People think we do not love.
Why is this? Many of these assumptions are unfair, and based upon ignorant stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream media and agenda-driven idealogues. But some of them may be well-deserved, because perhaps Christians have not responded as well as they could have to issues of our modern times. Maybe we have not fought hard enough for justice, or maybe we have forgotten how to be outwardly joyful amidst opposition or difficulty.
Maybe we have not taken the time to know, and then really love, people.
I’ve been thinking a bit about the same-sex marriage debate in particular because of what folks have been saying about these upcoming Manson nuptials. I’ve been wondering about why the Christian message–Jesus’ love for the world–has been eclipsed by a set of moral do’s and don’ts. I’ve been considering how Christians can offer the hope and love of Jesus to a culture increasingly tuning them out, and reducing them to little more than People Who Have Hateful Opinions About ______ People.
And, I have no real answers.
As a Church, the Church Jesus founded to invite human beings into a radical, life-giving friendship with God, we MUST somehow find ways to dialogue and pursue and engage. We must be truthful and faithful to God’s plan for men and women, and encourage men and women that they were created with dignity and out of love. We must live in light of the fact that chastity is a virtue, and a good one, and one that is for ALL people–not just for single men and women or gay men and women or men and women who’ve saved themselves for marriage. We have to tell the whole story.
We have to somehow be willing to sit with the tension of our message being perceived as a paradoxical one.
We have to answer the question that every single person is asking, What is love?
What does love mean, what does love look like, how does love work, what does love cost? Love is not a subjective, fleeting feeling born in the heart–it is instead the highest of virtues, it casts out fear, it tells the truth, it is not selfish. Love is the very nature of God Himself. And we know what love is because He not only told us, but showed us. God-become-man.
Something Catholics say a lot is that love is a YES. I never used to think of it that way but it is absolutely true. Love begins as a yes to God, a response to His invitation into friendship and relationship and life, and of course translates into a yes to loving other people. It will inevitably at one time or another cost, really cost, something–motherhood naturally comes to mind, because it is at once both a “yes” and a sacrifice.
When we adopted my sons, we went from being a family of three to a family of five. As one would expect, we got lot of “Why are you doing that?” and, when I became pregnant four months after my sons joined our family (taking us to a family of six), a lot of “Was this an accident?” And when I answered no, a lot of dumbfounded looks. What struck me most back then (and still does today) is that people were incredulous not so much because of the number of children we had, but simply because we were saying yes. Being open. Allowing love to grow and exponentially multiply, which it always does when a family is graced with new life. Those early years of our marriage with four itty-bitty children were outright hilarious, but they were beautiful too. If I could go back for a time, I would. A three-year-old sister sneaking cookies from the pantry to distribute to two-year-old brothers. Sloppy kisses and chubby hands welcoming a new baby sister. Exhausted parents collapsing onto the couch at the day’s end, laughing at how ridiculously amusing our life was.
But there was love. Always.
Any mother will tell you that true, authentic love doesn’t always look fabulous or feel easy. Jesus’ mother especially. And this is part of why the Christian story of love can be difficult to explain to a culture so driven by consumerism and hedonism–what feels good at any given time. When something loses its usefulness, throw it away. But love in action doesn’t always feel good.
I suspect that the best we can do as Christians is to just keep loving–really, truly loving. First in our devotion to God and then in our homes, with hearts soft and open and saying yes. And then for those outside of our immediate circle, loving them as best we can and gently sharing the TRUTH about what love is, when appropriate. Inviting them in. People can handle the truth. A “yes” to the best things will often mean a “no” to many other things, but the incredible thing is that in living up to our human dignity, we receive life.
I was speaking to a group of moms recently, and part of my response to a difficult question was simply that you will never regret following–or saying yes to–God. Trite, but true.
When people argue about marriage now I always think about this question of love, and about how confused our culture really is. Love is so rarely portrayed on television, in movies or by the media in general. No one knows how to define it, it has been replaced by cheap sentimentalities and sappy platitudes, and has ultimately been isolated from its hard and gritty hands-on nature–the very thing that keeps struggling families together and doesn’t lose hope, and which endures suffering and doesn’t count the cost.
Embodied by Jesus.
Offered and freely given by the Church, through the Sacraments and Her people.
I suspect that Charles Manson and his bride, sadly, know little of the sacramental nature of marriage. This “intimate community of life and love”, where “God himself is the author”, is “not a purely human institution.” We religious folks–and no, not just Catholics, because it was clear at the recent Vatican meeting (with American representatives as varied as Russell Moore and President Henry V. Eyring!) that we’re not the only ones interested in the meaning of marriage–can graciously extend our hearts and our knowledge to others. We can share this love with the world by not only loving but also by making ourselves approachable, available, engaging.
Joy is, ultimately, winsome.
Hope is, ultimately, winsome.
Faith is, ultimately, winsome.
I’ve never seen myself as a culture warrior, but I will gladly speak and stand for love and dignity, the natural rights of every human person. I will do my best to have joy in the small things of my life, like little blonde girlies jumping together on my freshly-made bed, giggling every time they lose their balance and fall. I’m behind on laundry and my brand-new sweatshirt has bleach stains all over it, and my big kids refuse to keep their rooms clean. I’d love the blessing of another baby and yet I’m not pregnant, but I do have myself an Alice who’s just under two years old, and is about the most precious little thing to toddle the planet.
So in all things I have joy, and it’s real, because it comes from God.
Who is love.
And that’s real too.
And we should tell the world about it.