There are some things that carry so much baggage that they are close to irredeemable.
Sometimes it is through changes in meanings of words or negative associations that have grown around ideas through misuse or abuse.
“Crusade” might officially mean an energetic push for something but the baggage around it has meant it is really negative and even vicious.
Similarly, we are probably getting to very close in time where the church will need to stop using some words that have been very important.
Both evangelism and mission have unfortunately picked up so much baggage that it may not be worth trying to resurrect the words – though we have to try and hold on to the concept that stands behind them.
Similarly we can get to the same point with passages from the Bible.
Sometimes the cultural background or misuse of passages – or a combination – leaves us in the position that trying to work with and apply them leads us away from engaging with the presence and grace of God rather than towards.
If we haven’t yet got to the point with today’s passage, then we are incredibly close.
We can do all sorts of hard exegetical Biblical work on Ephesians 5, and in the end we are going to still be left in a position like grabbing at that green slime you can buy from a toy store. The harder you squeeze, the more it slips through your fingerWe don’t want to hold on to the idea of Slaves being obedient to their masters. In fact we boycott companies that still use practices that even allow for slavery.
We don’t (I hope) want to hold on to the idea that children just need to obey parents; we know that the scope for abuse is simply too huge.(A good and easy novel to read here is Morris Gleitzman’s book called “Grace”)
So, here’s the awkward one then.
If there are 3 specific relational instructions in Ephesians 5-6 and we would (I think) be ready to discard #2 and #3 as time-and culture-bound Where does that leave us with #1?
Sure – the passage talks about being “subject to one another” and places the image of submission to God, and loving as Christ loved the church, but the reality is that for all the hard Biblical work that can go into it it is still almost inevitably going to lead to a hierarchical model in relationships. And if it does that, I believe it is un-Christlike.
The words of Scripture may not necessarily lead us to an experience of Godliness.
But, if we hold a value here at Kippax (as we do) that affirms the primacy of relationships in the way that we experience God how is it that we demonstrate that primacy in marriage and partnered relationships.
When I spoke with our UnitingCare Kippax staff this week- who are far more qualified and insightful than I am in this area – they kept coming back to the same thing.
It’s not rocket science. It comes back to equality, mutual respect, commitment.
But what does that look like?
When Australian couples were asked recently what was the best thing about their relationship, they gave a great list of things as recorded by Relationships Australia in Nov 2006 – “Relationship Indicators”
Companionship, love, support, communication, trust, compatibility, intimacy,
each other’s company, been together for so long, mutual understanding, able to share, affection, humour, honesty.
For those of you in partnered relationships now –
I wonder what you would name as the best about the relationship.
But the reality is that while in almost all relationships there is a “best thing”and there are a great many “good things”there are also some key stress points and difficulties.
Again, when Australian couples were asked about the issues that negatively impact
they outlined some really important matters:
Lack of time together, lack of understanding of other’s views, lack of communication,
Financial difficulties, Bringing up children, Illness or disability, not resolving conflict
recent accident or trauma.
Do they ring true?? Again, not rocket science is it?
So, where do we go from the fact that there are strengths and there are stresses?
We could, you know, take a pathological view of marriage – that there is an illness asking to be healed.
But if we believe in the primacy of relationships and we take a strengths or assets based approach to our ministry and service then that invites us to see how the strengths of the relationships can be enhanced.
We know the reality is that it will not work in all circumstances – and marriage and relationship breakdowns have been one of the most painful elements of human existence for thousands of years.
But the learnings are that things can be done, and that ever relationship can be made stronger.
Again, let’s go back to the responses of Australian couples:
Try to communicate well, spend time together, participate in activities together,
be understanding, look after other person, do nice things for the other,
try and get issues out in the open, travel together, spend time together without kids, support the other, compromise, listen to them, Enjoy full family time together,
try not to argue, Be romantic, respect them, give them space
How do they sound
Do you know what I notice?
Every single thing listed as trying to strengthen a relationship is “other focussed”
They are not “this is what I want done for me”; it is “this is what I would do for the other”.
What is it that our UCK staff said in their wisdom and experience?
Equality, mutual respect, commitment.
Some may say that that is what Ephesians is trying to say about being subject to one another, and submission. Maybe it is But probably in ways and using phrases that don’t quite ring true these days.
Today we have some packs which have been made available for us, with some of the wisdom from Relationships Australia. Packs with a whole pile of suggestions and thoughts on issues from communication, to conflict, to making changes, and blended families
Feel free to take one for your household if you would like.
Each sheet can be downloaded from http://www.relationships.com.au/advice
And they are offered as a gift in the interest of us all developing, strengthening and growing in love.