relationships – reason & irrationality, part 2

A late summer morning 30 or so years ago. The events of this past week involving Ray and Janay Rice, shining new focus on domestic violence, bring a long ago moment freshly to mind…

He burst into my office. She trailed behind. Though her head was bowed, I could see her tear-stained face. I stumbled to my feet as he stood before me, shouting, “Father, take back what you said!”

Perhaps it was the automatic interplay of my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems balancing the tension between stress and rest. Perhaps it was that they were long-standing parishioners, a committed couple, doting parents, and ardent supporters of the church and of me. Perhaps it was a combination, for, though uncertain of his reference, I felt composed, believing that whatever it was, we could resolve it.

He slammed his open Bible on my desk. “Take it back!” Ah, I thought I knew. That Sunday before I had preached a sermon based on Ephesians 5.21-33.

He pointed to the page. “Here! See?” Not looking at the text, he recited, “‘Wives, submit to your husbands in everything as unto the Lord. The husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the church.’ You said this wasn’t true! Take it back!”

I hastened to my defense, “That’s not exactly what I said. I can show you my text.”

“Father, don’t toy with me. You have caused discord in my household. My wife,” pointing at her angrily, “for the first time in our marriage dared challenge me on a family matter! She confessed it was because of what you preached!”

I called him by his name; with a voice of familiarity seeking to calm him, to calm us all. Still breathing hard, for a moment he relaxed, lowering his head. I took up his Bible. “Looking at this verse, ‘Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God,’ I said that I believe scripture teaches mutual submission, wife to husband and husband to wife as a sign of their reverence of God…”

But,” he interjected. “Please,” I besought him. Stepping back, he crossed his arms over his chest. “And I said that this verse, ‘This is a great mystery, but I speak of Christ and the church’ tells us that is the true subject of the passage, that the marital relationship is an illustrative analogy, and,” I felt the rush of my words, trying to get it all out, “that I thought the only way to interpret the text as you suggest would be that the husband is Christ and the wife is the church, which they are not.”

You,” he unfurled his arms, “teach falsehood and call yourself a man of God! I was raised to believe that the man is lord of his house, and so I am! We will not stay here where lies are preached as truth!” He marched from my office, directing his wife to follow.

I slumped into my chair, my soul roiling with sadness. Yes, for myself, feeling that I had failed as a minister, fomenting disharmony, however unintentionally, that no amount of my self-justifying belief that I had preached with honest conviction could assuage. I was sad for what felt like a loss of relationship (which, despite subsequent efforts at reconciliation, proved true). I was sad for them, as respectable a couple as I could have imagined (though, in witnessing an aspect of their relationship, one of dominance, dominion, I never had known, I also felt I had seen them again for the first time). I was sad that, in a greater sense, in my judgment then and now, the gospel, the good news of love and liberty, had been employed to promote an unholy servitude; one that she, the wife, believed as much as he, though perhaps less contentedly.

Yet, to this day – and now, again, given events of this past week – I wonder. What happened to that couple, to that family? And if I had known when I stepped into the pulpit that my words would have been so offensive, would I have preached that sermon? Although a question I ask now about a prior time is impossible for me to answer with any assurance, I think…yes.

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4 thoughts on “relationships – reason & irrationality, part 2

  1. Paul,

    I think YES, you would have preached that sermon, in spite of what resulted. Having read your account of this amazing what I would call “confrontation”, I too wonder what happened to this family. Where are they now? Are they still married?

    One of the things that I’ve learned from you is a lesson that this man had not learned, which is when there is a disagreement or misunderstanding, you should stay and have a dialogue and LISTEN. It’s a shame they weren’t able to do that.

    I hope their life hasn’t been as tumultuous as that encounter sounded. You did what you could. I hope that even as you thought about the couple this week with the Rice incident, you were able to find some peace in your soul.

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  2. I’d like to think you were heard in that meeting. The wife heard you and – deep down – treasured your words. She filed them away until she heard reinforcements from someone else – and someone else after that. And then – too many days or years later – she surfaced to live in a new definition of family. I’d like to think the husband was willing to grow into this new definition, but if not, she would make it on her own.
    If your sermon was so powerful as to rile up the husband and to cause the wife to challenge his authority, it was too powerful to die. Oh yes, you were heard.

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    • Thank you, Anne. Reading your words of affirmation – and not simply or only because I felt and feel your support of me, but, truly, more because you articulate (far better than I could or have to date) my hope, my longing for that family, perhaps, truth to tell, more for that wife and mother (whose poignantly pained face I still can see on the walls of my memory) – I became instantly teary, for you touched a tender, very tender place within me. Thank you.

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  3. Thank you, Loretta. I do believe I did, do find peace in my soul. For a time, I lamented that I was not able “to get through to them.” Over time, I, rejecting the innate arrogance in that stance, put that aside. My lament took on more the sense of an abiding lack of mutual healthy fulfillment in that relationship (though I still believed some very deep-seated, powerful needs were being addressed). All that said, I wonder. Where are they? How are they? Are they (as in alive, together, prospering)?

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