Otherness and Sacrifice

Opposites are designed to attract; many can attest to the powerful pull of the other’s appeal that initially drew him/her into the marital relationship.

But chemistry alone cannot sustain the covenant. In truth, the precise differences that intrigued us in the other also expose, provoke and annoy us. Mike Mason writes: “It is a shock for a couple to discover how quickly romantic love is exhausted, how little they really know and understand one another, how deeply estranged it is possible to become from the person you thought you were closest to…”

Gender duality, that quality of ‘otherness’ essential to marriage, requires more than physical and emotional desire to create a whole marriage.

Marriage requires a willingness to value the other because (s)he is worthy of it. The late great pope, John Paul II wrote exquisitely on the need for marital love to possess a backbone of sacrificial love. He understood well the power of both sensuality and sentimentality in human relating. And he knew that unless these powerful human drives were subordinated to a higher love accorded the spouse then the marriage would be doomed.

He writes in Love and Responsibility: “Marriage is put to the test when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker…nothing then remains but the value of the person. Then the inner truth about the love of those concerned comes to light. If their love is a true gift of the self, it will not only survive in these dry times but will grow deeper and sink deeper roots.”

My generation was the first to discard our marriages when they did not work for us any more. We had plenty of time and money to explore rarified expressions of sensuality and romance. Our films and music and therapies catered to our consumerism but rarely encouraged any notion of sacrifice.

We refused the one true thing: valuing people more than the sensual and sentimental ‘rush’ they provide us. In contrast to our consumer-driven approach to marriage, in which the main reason to remain together seems to be what one is still ‘getting’, cultivating the discipline of giving is paramount.

I am challenged and humbled by my parents’ marriage. Just shy of 60 years together, the two 80-‘somethings’ quietly manifest a quality of love that shames me in its beauty. Sentimentality and sensuality have evolved into sacrifice. My mother serves my father, the weaker, tirelessly. He gives her what he can, out of a love and gratitude too deep for words. Their offering to each other is gold for all who know them.

I write this entry in their home, the home of my youth. I have the privilege to witness the otherwise unseen gestures of service, one to another.

And I know that beneath all my brokenness and selfishness rests a foundation laid for me through the sacrificial love of my parents for each other.

My parents’ marriage is a living witness of what Mason describes as “the single most wholehearted step most people will ever take towards a fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.”

Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote Yes on Proposition 8.

“Father, we ask for the grace to give more than we get in our marriages, to cultivate a heart of sacrifice for the other. Subordinate our consumer-driven quest for heightened sensuality or emotions. Temper our love for the other with the sacrifice that manifests the truth of our love for him or her. Manifest to others Your sacrificial love through our marriages.”

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Otherness and Holiness

Gender difference is marriage; its essence is male and female together.

Without the tension of otherness, there is not wholeness, no dance between similarity and difference. The duality between male and female draws one out beyond the limits of ‘sameness’; out of our depth, we are drawn from self-centeredness into the possibility of genuine self-giving. In losing ourselves to love this other, we find a whole.

God created marriage as a metaphor: as we have seen, gender duality reveals Himself, His image on the earth.

Humanity as male and female also conveys a glimpse of God’s holiness. He employs marriage—the encounter between two distinct parts–as a metaphor for how He encounters us as ‘Other.’ God is holy, meaning He is ‘other’ than us. He created us in His image but He stands over and beyond us as the Creator of that image. In our human duality as male and female, we represent Him in part.

But He does not allow us to reduce Him to that earthly image. He is God—as transcendent and beyond comprehension as He has revealed Himself to us in Christ.

Gender duality is one way He has made Himself known to us. He teaches us of holiness through the glorious mystery of man for woman, woman for man.

Mike Mason writes: “Both marriage and faith in God deal in the most direct way imaginable with the phenomenon of otherness in our lives. Both God and spouse encounter us as one who is like us, resembling us in image, but not us.”

God the uncreated made us in His image, not the other way around. Perhaps that is why authentic faith is so costly. Mason continues: “…God is not an idol, a human invention, not an extension or projection of ourselves. True religion begins with a profound acquiescence to the truth: there is one God, and I am not He!”

Marriage is but a pale image of the awesome otherness between the Creator and the created. Marital partners are both created flawed beings. Nevertheless, their union is the image God has chosen to teach humanity about holiness in human relating.

As we uphold and honor the good of ‘the other’, we manifest a glimpse of the ‘Other.’ We grow in holiness through God’s command to treat this other as a gift distinct from ourselves, created only in His image, not one that always seems right to us.
Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Father, forgive us for the way we have tried to conform You to the image that seems right to us. And forgive us for the way we have tried to conform the other gender to our own image of them. As You are holy, make us holy in faith and marriage.”

Otherness and Intimacy

To honor marriage is to honor the distinctions of male and female, and how the two combine to form a whole. The one discovers its need in relation to the other—‘I do not possess what the other offers’, and one’s unique gift—‘I possess something the other needs.’

Gender complementarity is crucial to a marriage being able to ease the aloneness of both parties. It is precisely the other’s difference that satisfies the ache of the solitary heart. The mystery of the other draws one out of familiarity and into another reality. Gender differences provoke exploration and yield the rich discovery that the other rounds one out. At physical and psychological levels, one finds grounding and a covering that composes a whole.

Karl Barth writes: “Were Eve only like him, his mirror image, a numerical multiplication, she would not confront him as another…as such, the aloneness of neither would be eased.”

Frustrating at times? Of course. In the face of the ‘foreigner’, we are tempted to judge the other as less than human, our own familiar ways of knowing and being as superior. But gratefully, God did not create the other in our image but in His own.

Mike Mason writes: “Marriage seems to specialize at times in radically deemphasizing the similarities between partners and wildly exaggerating the points of difference. But that is so that a couple may come to know one another at the deepest level—‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.’

Becoming one flesh is a journey of discovery. We discover a beauty and wisdom and strength unknown to us; in that difference, the other has unique power to fortify and to console us. (S)he encounters us as the other, imparting to us what we may never have experienced but what we need.

Mason refers to marriage in a term used for the trinity—a hypostatic union, meaning that distinct properties (male and female) combine to form one new identity. He says: “Marriage is not about sameness but about oneness, which is less characterized by similarities than by difference…That oneness is not a skill to be mastered but a phenomenon to be marveled at with increasing humility and gratitude.”

To honor marriage, we must reclaim the inner meaning of God’s image: man for woman, woman for man. Together, the two create a whole that satisfies the aloneness of each. Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Thank You God for Your design. You said that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18), and You made a way for the gap to be closed. Give us grace to behold and to honor the other’s difference. Ease our aloneness through him or her.”

Complementarity and Gender Clarity

Wholeness in marriage requires two distinct parts, or complements. Maleness and femaleness define marriage; the two together create its essence.

That is more than a practical means to procreation. Before babies, the duality of male and female creates the basis for authentic awareness of who one is as ‘the other’.

Adam and Eve are alike in that both bear the Creator’s image. She was taken from his side and then returns to him, bearing her humanity in distinction from his own. Her very difference from him has power to mirror back who he is as male. In his reflection, she too becomes aware of her difference.

There can be no maleness without femaleness, and vice-versa. Gender would be stripped of its meaning without the reality of gender difference. We simply would have no awareness of our own essence as male or female without the dance of difference we experience in relation to the opposite gender.

That awareness operates on two levels. The first is realizing what we are not. Image-bearing is humbling. And it reveals a mystery: the elusive and yet profound aspects of the other that we cannot fully understand because we do not possess those aspects in full.

We can only marvel at the difference. And recognize our need for the other. His/her awesome and at times perplexing otherness draws us into wholeness.

Similarly, as we reflect upon the difference, we become aware of the unique and essential gift that our own gender difference imparts to the whole. The presence of the other helps us to know what this gift is. On emotional, spiritual and physical levels, we become aware of our own essence as male or female.

May we recognize its essence and its import to rounding out the whole of God’s image. With increasing clarity and confidence, may we realize the good gift of our own gender to the other. And continue before both God and our fellow humanity to humbly recognize our need for the opposite gender.

Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo: “One learns so much from the constant comparing of the masculine figure from the feminine, which are always and in everything so totally different. It may be supremely difficult, but what would art and life be without them?”

Let us honor gender difference and the valuable role it plays in clarifying self-awareness and self-giving. Marriage requires gender difference. It is its very essence.
Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“God humble us and grant us confidence to be good gifts for the opposite gender.”

Marriage is Male and Female

Gender matters in marriage. As we saw yesterday, the distinctly masculine and feminine dimensions of marriage reveal something about God to us, His very image revealed on the earth.

Let us explore this further. Marriage involves the joining together of two distinctive parts: male and female. Wholeness requires ‘otherness. The oneness of body, soul, and spirit that marriage embodies requires essential maleness and femaleness. There is no one-flesh union apart from the two genders becoming one.

Marriage is not just about friendship and intimacy. It is about the sexual merger of maleness and femaleness. Or according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, a sexual re-merger. My favorite author on the topic of homosexuality, Robert Gagnon, writes:

“The creation story in Gen. 2:18-24 illustrates this point beautifully. An original binary, or sexually undifferentiated, adam is split down the side to form two sexually differentiated persons. Marriage is pictured as the reunion of the two other halves, man and woman.

This is not an optional or minor feature of the story. Since the only difference created by the splitting is the creation of two distinct sexes, the only way to reconstitute the whole, on the level of sexual intimacy, is to bring together the split parts. A same-sex erotic relationship can never constitute a marriage because it will always lack the requisite sexual counterparts, or complements.”

Marriage is exclusively the domain of two becoming one. At core and in essence, that involves the joining of male and female. The comprehensive sharing of life in marriage is founded on bodily union. And that union, as we have seen, is made possible only by the sexual complementarity of man and woman.

I will explore that theme of wholeness in two halves further. Suffice to say, ‘gay’ marriage is a contradiction in terms. To seek to become one with the same gender undercuts the Creator’s unwavering intention for marriage. That involves ‘otherness’–male and female.

A wise-man said: “The corruption of society begins by a failure to call things by their proper names.” ‘Gay marriage’ is a fundamental contradiction in terms. To validate a misnomer is to contribute to the corruption of California.
Vote YES on 8. Honor Marriage for the Good of All.

“Help us see things as they are, O God. Raise up the foundational truth of how You see marriage. Open our eyes to the good of man for woman, woman for man.”