For Children, There’s No Such Thing as a “Good Divorce”

God has called Linda and I to try to save marriages. For us, this is a high calling, and we love doing it.
A central part of the pain of divorce is how the children do. Note this: it is a myth that children of divorce will be OK. For husbands or wives who bought into this myth I would refer them to Judith Wallerstein’s The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study.
I just purchased Elizabeth Marquardt’s Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. From
“Is there really such a thing as a good divorce ? Determined to uncover the truth, Elizabeth Marquardt herself a child of divorce conducted, with Professor Norval Glenn, a pioneering national study of children of divorce, surveying 1,500 young adults from both divorced and intact families between 2001 and 2003. In Between Two Worlds, she weaves the findings of that study together with powerful, unsentimental stories of the childhoods of young people from divorced families.
The hard truth, she says, is that while divorce is sometimes necessary, even amicable divorces sow lasting inner conflict in the lives of children. When a family breaks in two, children who stay in touch with both parents must travel between two worlds, trying alone to reconcile their parents often strikingly different beliefs, values, and ways of living. Authoritative, beautifully written, and alive with the voices of men and women whose lives were changed by divorce, Marquardt s book is essential reading for anyone who grew up between two worlds.”
Divorce generates a sense of “homelessness” in a child, which has a destructive impact on them. “There is the lingering question that divorce injects into the consciousness of the surviving progeny: “Who am I now that the two people who together made up my origin have gone their separate ways?”” (“The Baggage Adult Children of Divorce Carry”)
Browning and Marquardt write: “Marquardt has studied children of divorce whose experience was almost entirely ignored as the no-fault divorce revolution took hold. In the three decades during which a high divorce rate has come to be seen by many as an unavoidable fact of contemporary society, legal theorists have continued to overlook and deny the injustice forced on these children. They are required to divide their time and affections between two homes or to lose contact with their mother or father, too often in the name of the happiness of their parents. While some divorces are necessary, the fact that the majority of divorces end low-conflict marriages reinforces this question as one of social justice.” (Don Browning and Elizabeth Marquardt, “What About the Children?,” in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals, Kindle Locations 933-937)
If a child of divorce can come to realize that they are not, ultimately, their biological parents’ child but a child of God, they can come to forgive their parents for the failure of divorce. Nonetheless, the brutality of divorce upon them gives heavy burdens they should have never had to carry in this life.

This Sunday at Redeemer: Romans 8:31-37

Sunrise over Lake Erie

I’m preaching this Sunday at Redeemer on Romans 8:31-37. This is another message in the multi-year series The Christology of Paul.”
This beautiful text reads:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The President Is Mistaken on His Use of the Golden Rule

Clay pots
President Obama, in stating his support for same-sex marriage, made this exasperating theological statement re. the Golden Rule:
“[Y]ou know… we [the First Lady and I] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”
Thankfully, Francis Beckwith corrects President Obama here (Beckwith is Prof of Philosophy and Judisprudence at Baylor University. Beckwith writes:
“[President Obama’s] appeal to Christ’s Golden Rule, however appropriate, audacious, and praiseworthy, does not succeed in justifying his change of mind. The Golden Rule – “do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7:12) – is not a quid pro quofor preference satisfaction reciprocity. Otherwise, it would mean that if one were a masochist, for example, then one should inflict pain on others.
When Christ offered the Golden Rule as part of his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7:27), he knew his listeners would understand it the same way they understood the other parts of that homily, including this question: “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” (Mt. 7:9a).
If the Golden Rule were just about a mutual self-interest pact to protect everyone’s preferences, then a good response to Christ’s question would have been, “But Jesus, what if my son did ask for a stone because he preferred to eat the stone rather than the bread?”
This would be a foolish question because the Golden Rule is not about merely protecting your neighbor’s preferences, but rather, advancing your neighbor’s good. The president, ironically, must rely on this latter, and ancient, understanding in order to make sense of the appeal he makes to his responsibilities as a “dad” and “husband.” For the received meanings of these terms are embedded in an inherited moral tradition that he did not invent, but now rejects.”
See Beckwith’s entire article for more clarification.

Treating the Beast of Addiction

Tangled vines and branches near my house.

A few Sundays ago at Redeemer I asked people who believe they have been freed from an addiction to share, in a sentence. About 20 shared, and a typical sentence was this: “I was addicted to prescription drugs, but have been free from them for 5 years.” As many heard these words of testimony there was much applause directed to God.
Addiction is, as one drug addict once told me, “a beast.” The addict is “attached” to a substance, or a behavior, that will not take its claws out of them (the French word for “addiction” is attache). I have met addicts who said they were set free only to see them return to their addiction. I’ve also seen people pray to be released from addiction who either have not been or not yet been. And, over the years, I have met many who were once addicted, turned to God for help, and were declawed and set free. I personally know many of these people. Therefore, I find their testimonies credible.
Clinical psychiatrist Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, writes of the place of faith in God in the battle against addiction. He says:
“For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will. The human spirit must flow with the Holy Spirit. Personal power must be aligned with the power of grace. How does this happen? It is surely impossible by autonomous willpower alone; the addicted systems of the brain are too numerousn and overwhelming.”
May’s book remains beautiful and important to me in the struggle with addictive bondage, both my own and others. I mostly attribute any person’s freedom from addiction to the grace of God. I’ve seen the “12 Steps” work, accompanied by the grace of God. But I have rarely seen pure clinical treatments to be of much help.
If someone who is an addict comes to me for help, I’ll do any or all of three things: 1) Pray for God to graciously free them (because, again, I have seen this happen). My counsel here includes leading them into the presence of God where spiritual formation takes place. This is about a lifestyle. 2) Refer them to a counseling clinic, like this one (because I’ve seen God work here, too). 3) Refer them to the University of Michigan Addiction Treatment Services (U-Michigan Medical Center is one of our nation’s great hospitals).
Regarding #3, how effective is this? Nora Volkow is the neuroscientist in charge of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She’s interviewed here – “A General in the Drug War.”Here’s her take on the effectiveness of a purely scientific, clinical approach to treating one kind of addiction – to prescription drugs.

  • Addictions all “boil down to the same thing” – dopamine.
  • “All addictive substances send dopamine levels surging in the small central zone of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is thought to be the main reward center. Amphetamines induce cells to release it directly; cocaine blocks its reuptake; alcohol and narcotics like morphine, heroin and many prescription pain relievers suppress nerve cells that inhibit its release. Addicts and first-time users alike get the high that correlates with the dopamine wave. Only a minority of novices, however, will develop the compulsion to keep taking the drug at great personal cost, a behavior that defines addiction.”
  • “Addiction requires two things. First is a genetic vulnerability, whose variables may include the quantity of dopamine receptors in the brain: Too few receptors and taking the drug is not particularly memorable, too many and it is actually unpleasant. Second, repeated assaults to the spectrum of circuits regulated by dopamine, involving motivation, expectation, memory and learning, among many others, appear to fundamentally alter the brain’s workings.” Addiction causes changes in brain function.
  • “The overall success rate for curing drug addiction with medications, therapy or both is not high (about half of treated individuals return to active substance use within a year).”
  • Success in treating addiction is partly dependent on the social environment of the addict.
  • The pace of addiction research is accelerating.
  • Prescription drugs “are lifesaving yet every bit as dangerous as banned substances. “The challenges we face are much more complex,” Dr. Volkow said, “because we need to address the needs of patients in pain, while protecting those at risk for substance use disorders.””

Breaking Free From the Ladder of Success

Monroe County

I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. So far this is a good read for me, especially since I estimate that I am now in the second half of my life. Here’s how I figure this. Last Wednesday I turned 63. If I live to 125 then I am now officially in the second half of my life.
I want to make this second half of life count more than the first half. To do that I need to be free from the cultural values of the “American Dream.” Rohr puts it this way.
“Our institutions and our expectations, including our churches, are almost entirely configured to encourage, support, reward, and validate the tasks of the first half of life. Shocking and disappointing, but I think it is true. We are more struggling to survive than to thrive, more just “getting through” or trying to get to the top than finding out what is really at the top or was already at the bottom.” (K270)
I’ve met a lot of “second half” people who have not matured beyond the “first half.” Some try to cling to the first half by spending their resources on their fading physical appearance. Years ago I met such a man. Linda, I, and our boys had gone for a weekend getaway at a motel in the north suburbs of Detroit. Dan and I went into the sauna. This older man began talking with us. He started to share his life story. He was a rich man who had spent his life accumulating wealth but in the process lost his wife and children in a bitter divorce. I remember his words that day. “I gave her a million dollars in the settlement”….  “My plan was to eventually retire and spend the rest of my life with her”… “I miss my children” (he said this to Dan)… and when he left us he spoke words of wisdom which he had failed to follow. Looking at me he said, “Enjoy your family.” Which was exactly what I was doing.
Thomas Merton once wrote that “we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” (Ib.)
In this half of my life I will pray more, take more time alone with God, read Scripture more, invest more in people, and be free from the ladder of success.