Sunday, December 20, 2009

Great Marriages

Karen and I have been married for over 48 years. That is a very long time to live with one person. It has had its ups and downs. Differences! that's what causes couples to fight. It is well known that the main cause of divorce is the inability to deal with differences.

And, there are no greater differences than those of men and women. Just imagine that every marriage is joining two people into holy matrimony who are almost wholly incompatible and who need a miracle to stay together.

It takes a lot of compromise, forgiveness, patience, sacrifice and patience to survive marriage. But here is the good news. Marriage changes from surviving to thriving as we learn how to trust each other. I suppose it is trust that makes the difference. When one partner develops a lack of trust for the other a downward spiral of hurt, anger and bitterness is kicked off that can be hard to heal. If healing fails or isn't attempted, divorce occurs.

I am often amazed when I speak with people who assume that every time a spouse fails to remember an important event, read his/her mind or doesn't speak softly it is taken as an intentional, premeditated hostile take over. These couples are so emotionally enmeshed that despite a legal divorce, they cannot be separated.

Divorce is easy but separation is impossible.

Marriage counseling is often focused on helping the couple realize that they did not marry each other because they were motivated by hate. Nobody on their wedding day thinks their marriage should be painful and destructive. But it doesn't take long for mistrust to develop and the trouble begins.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is Tiger or Elin to Blame?

Iran is building nuclear weapons, North Korea is threatening war, wars are intense in the Middle East and the economy while Obama is trying to give us socialized medicine. But hold the presses! Headline News Now! Tiger and Elin are fussing.

Let's face it. We do not know the truth about the accidental wreck with a Caddie or the intentional wrecks he has had with a lassie. It is all rumor, gossip and hear say. But it is delicious anyway.

I saw Joy Behar on her show and one of her guests was telling everyone how shocked she was that a man with Tiger's integrity would mess around with other women. Joy and the other women said that promiscuous sex was natural, normal and the thing all guys should be doing. If Tiger did not do it with a lot of women he needed a psychological exam.

They are saying, "The norm is promiscuity. Only sick people honor their marriage vows." (Do they still vow to remain true to each other now days?)

But what was Tiger's expectations with Elin? They lived together before marriage so why would he assume it would be different after marriage? Why would a "Piece of paper" really mean anything? When people start off by living together without "benefit of clergy" they are much more likely to have severe conflict in marriage and find themselves unable to resolve those conflicts. Divorce is much more likely for couples who co-habit before marriage.

I don't know why. However, I have counseled many couples who had severe conflict and were able to trace some of it back to pre marital cohabitation. Even when the couple had no high levels of moral qualms about sex outside of marriage the often had an intuitive sense of doing wrong. They often felt angry and guilty and worked it out by punishing their mate. There are other reasons but we know the Stuttgart's but not all the reasons.

Woods plays a game based on acting with integrity. The focus is so much on Honor and being a gentleman that we are expected to add a stroke to the score even when no one but us saw the misplacement of a ball. But here he is, married with two children placing his _____ all over the place with no thought of ethics, honor, standards and being a gentleman? Can it be so clearly differentiated?

Tiger is a smart billionaire who acted very stupidly. He left names and numbers of sexual partners on his telephone. He had sex with all kinds of poor women who needed money. Many years ago I read a short story about "A $100.00 Misunderstanding". It was the story of a young, wealthy man who narcissistic assumed he did not need to pay a prostitute the $100 she charged for sex. Why? No woman would charge such a wonderful man for sex.

Elin grew up in Sweden where the Bible is taught in all the public schools. She must have heard the Ten Commandments. Despite the universality of prohibition against sex outside wedlock she agreed to live with Tiger. He was undoubtedly living then like a rich bachelor. She had to know what he was like. But, she chose to marry a philanderer anyway.

Is anything more destructive to the human spirit, the souls of men and women and the soul of a nation than sex outside of marriage?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slavery Isn't to Blame for Single Parents

Marriage is not easy. It takes a lot of work to keep a marriage going and even more to keep it open, fun and functional.

The payoffs, however, are many and all positive. Divorce and single parenting are devastating to the offspring, the single parent and the community. Married people are happier, live longer and produce more positive and creative outcomes for society.

All groups are experiencing divorce and conflict in marriages but Black Families are really under pressure to split up or never get married in the first place. In fact, the situation has gotten so bad that there were a higher percent of married couples during slavery than today. That is a stunner! Take a look at this data.

Marriage Portrait• In 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “I have a dream,” more than 70% of black families were headed by married
couples. Today, 40 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, married couples head only 46% of black families.

• More alarming, 45% of black men have never married and 42% of black women have never married.
• Married black women declined from 62% to 31% between 1950 and 2002.
• By age 30, only 52% of black women will marry compared to 81% of white women, 77% of Hispanics and Asians.

• Only 6% of black men and 2% of black women marry Whites.
• In 1970, just 33% of black women, age 20-29 were unmarried. By 1992, that number exploded to 70%.

“Black men and women are less likely to be married and more likely to divorce when we do marry.” -The Black Commentator, Margaret Kimberley. Black Families - A Glass Half Empty and Half Full, April 23, 2004

Every church in America needs to urgently promote healthy marriages. But Black Churches must act today! We are losing Black kids and that is tragic.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pelosi and the Pope

The Speaker of the House of Representatives is Nancy Pelosi. Ms. Pelosi is very proud of her Roman Catholic heritage and speaks about it often. In fact, she took the opportunity not long ago to lecture Americans about the fact that the Roman Catholic Church had only recently begun to think abortion was wrong.

Ms. Pelosi has also noted her personal opposition to abortion but, she suggests, is bound to support it because it is in the Constitution of the United States. She, like many of her colleagues, regrets the fact that Roman Catholics must not allow their personal, religious views get in the way of supporting the Constitution.

On her recent trip to Rome and the Vatican, Ms. Pelosi seems to have gotten a personal lecture on Roman Catholic theology from Pope Benedict, a theological expert. According to some reports, he told Ms. Pelosi that under no circumstances was a Roman Catholic politician allowed to promote abortion.

I do not know if Ms. Pelosi, the third person in line for the Presidency after Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden, was able to correct the Pope about the US approach to Catholic theology, but I sure hope so. According to many Catholics, the new Pope is very confused about abortion and actually thinks that babies are alive in the womb.

Way to go Ms. Speaker!

Gary Sweeten

Ministry Cultural Shock

When I joined the staff at College Hill Church it was quite a big transition. We had been on the campus of University of Cincinnati for five years rubbing elbows and having laid back relationships with a bunch of college kids. Not only did we fit in with the hippies and kids we were deeply involved in the house church commune type movement of the Jesus Revolution.

This made our move to College Hill a huge shift in culture. One of the first meetings we attended was at the home of people who headed a group of young couples called Ceiling Seventy for the combined total of the couples' ages. The carpet was thick and lush, the drapes thick velvet and the decor upper class.

On the way home, we drove in silence back to our little house near U.C. Finally Karen broke in and said wanly, "What have we done? We will never fit into this group." We discussed the fact that for five years we had lived in an open house with dozens of students who hung out with us and played with our kids. Now we felt overwhelmed by the upper class homes of our new friends.

We actually did make that transition over time and stayed on the staff for over sixteen years. We learned to fit in and we loved our friends. They treated us like royalty and we learned so much about church life, leadership, ministry and healthy Christianity. I am very glad we did not bail out but the culture shock was very tough to face and overcome.

Married in Ministry is a difficult challenge. Many couples change churches, locations, cultural expectations and job descriptions many times in a career and each leaving and joining is a challenge. What has been your experience?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Change in Focus

Mary and Joseph, an early couple in ministry together

We have changed the focus of this blog to emphasize the lives of Wives and Husbands in Ministry together. I have asked some couples to write me about the insights, struggles and joys of ministry in a church, para-church or mission agency.

Most of the writers will be Women who are married to Ministers, but some are Ordained. We will keep their identities private so their past and present organizations are not embarrassed.

I hope we can get honest, behind the scenes information about the ways couples handle their private and public lives when they must live in "Glass Houses".

I joined the staff of a very large mega-church in Cincinnati after being in business, school teaching and university administration. Karen and I had two children ages five and two when we left the University to enter the nether world of "Clergy Life". The cultural, social, spiritual and relational changes were like moving to Mars.

I am thankful that out church leaders did not expect my wife to be a free but visible member of the staff who would play the piano, teach Sunday school and attend every service. We grew up in rural churches where all those things were silent but strongly expected values and expectations.

But, make no mistake, despite the grace of our Elders, being in the Professional Ministry is living in the public eye. Our kids were known to everybody and some of the parishioners had unrealistic ideas about how perfect we and they should be as "Spiritual role models".

I am an extrovert with an enormous capacity for public interaction. Karen is a quiet, Introverted woman who loves being alone or with a few friends. We are very different and have very different gifts to boot.

Misunderstandings and confusions are common among the church members and that often results in pain for the family members. Some Elders and Lay Leaders have unrealistic expectations from the Ministry Family/Couple and place enormous pressure on the Pastor to get his wife and family "on board".

We hope you will write your comments and let us know what you think. If you are a Couple in Ministry, you may be interested in blogging with us. Send me a sample of your ideas at