Saturday, September 29, 2012

What About Divorce?

"It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement; but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication causeth her to commit adultery, and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." 
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:30-31.

Many versions of fundamentalist Christianity seem to teach that if you just follow their formula for the perfect marriage, divorce need never be an issue.  But being a Christian isn't a formula, and one person's actions can't guarantee the response of another person.  Each person has his or her own choices to make, and ultimately, they are that person’s choices alone.  The fact is that even if you do everything you can, to the best of your ability, to make your marriage happy and healthy, it simply won't be everything it should be unless your spouse is doing their best too.  This isn't a perfect world, as the cliche goes.  So, given that sometimes marriages do fail, a burning question for many Christians is, when should divorce be an option? 

Now, I have to confess that I'm taking on this subject from a certain level of personal ignorance.  I have had a pretty happy marriage for almost 25 years now, and I'll freely admit that this is because my spouse and I do our best to put one another first and defer to one another in love, as well as to take responsibility for changes we need to make in our own lives.  So, while I don't think divorce should be considered a too-easy escape just because  "it isn't working out," I'm in no position to judge anyone whose marriage actually isn't working out.  I think it's important that each person follow their own conscience, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, regarding what to do in their own difficult marriages.

Christianity has traditionally taught that divorce for any reason other than adultery is unacceptable. This is based on several passages of teachings by Jesus (including the one quoted above), and one by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, that essentially maintain that marriage is the joining of two people into "one flesh" which should not be separated (though Paul apparently expanded acceptable divorce to situations where a non-Christian spouse abandons his or her Christian spouse).  It must be noted, though, that some Christians sects don't allow divorce for any reason, saying that Christian spouses ought to forgive "seventy times seven" times even in these situations.  And the problem also arises that these two exceptions just don't seem to adequately address some of the other reasons why, many of us feel instinctively, people really ought to be able to end marriage-- such as physical, emotional or financial abuse or neglect.  

I don't think either Jesus or Paul intended the New Covenant kingdom to be merely a stricter version of the Old Covenant, with its laws and regulations.  The New Covenant is supposed to be about a living relationship with God, a leading by the Holy Spirit into a life of love.  I believe Jesus' teachings, and Paul's, should be viewed in those terms.  So there came a time when I had to ask the question: would Jesus-- the Jesus I have come to know-- really tell a spouse who was being used and abused that she/he had to stay in that marriage?  I had to answer, "no."  And this led me to the question I have asked in an earlier blog post:  Is there something we're missing, or misunderstanding, about the "no divorce" texts?  Some assumptions that we're making which they wouldn't have made?  Or vice versa?

So, using a question-and-answer format, I'm going to look at marriage and divorce as it would have been seen in Jesus' day, and Paul's.  

How are marriage and divorce viewed in the Bible? 

Both Old and New Testaments view marriage as a solemn contract, or covenant.  A covenant is a kind of treaty between two parties, characterized by promises that need to be kept.  When a covenant has been violated-- when one of the parties breaks the covenant promises so frequently, callously or heinously that the wronged party must consider it irrevocably broken-- there are ways for the one who has been wronged to end the covenant.  Marriage is no different.  In Jeremiah 3, Israel’s covenant with God is pictured as a marriage contract.  God had kept His covenant promises, but Israel had continually broken them without repentance or any attempt to right the wrongs.  In verse 8 God says, “And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce. . . .”  Divorce, in and of itself, is not inherently evil.  God describes Himself here as the wronged party in a marriage covenant.  The promises of the covenant had been broken beyond repair-- not by God, but by Israel.  God’s divorce of Israel did not break the covenant; it merely acknowledged that the covenant had been broken.  But God nevertheless described Himself as getting a divorce.  Since God would never sin, it could not have been wrong for Him to get a divorce-- because He was not the one who broke the covenant.   Covenant-breaking is a wrong that we must avoid; but when the other party has irretrievably broken the covenant, the wronged party is not obligated to pretend that the covenant is intact.  It is up to the wronged party to decide when enough is enough.  Forgiveness is important, but forgiveness alone will not restore a broken covenant.  The party who broke the covenant must repent and bear the fruit of repentance, showing a real desire to change his or her ways and beginning to honor the covenant again.  Israel refused to do so in Jeremiah 3, and the Bible gives us a picture of God finally deciding that enough was enough, and withdrawing from His covenant with Israel. 

But doesn’t God say, “I hate divorce” in the Book of Malachi?  And didn’t Jesus say, “what God has joined together, let not man separate”?

We will examine more closely what Jesus said shortly, after examining the shared understandings He and His audience would have been working under, that we today may be missing  But here is what Malachi 3:11-16 actually says: 

“Judah hath dealt treacherously. . . and hath married the daughter of a strange god. . . Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; yet she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. . . Therefore take heed your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.  For the Lord, the God of Israel saith that he hateth putting away, for one covereth violence with his garment. . .”

God was angry because in this case, the divorce itself was a breaking of the marriage covenant, because the women who were being divorced had done no wrong.  Instead, it was the men divorcing their wives without cause who were doing wrong, committing treachery against the covenant by marrying other women.  It was the breaking of the covenant that God hated, for He looked at it as tantamount to committing violence and then covering it over. When the marriage covenant has not been broken, then divorce itself breaks the covenant and is therefore wrong.  But in the case where the covenant is already broken, divorce could not be wrong, or God would not have spoken of Himself as initiating a divorce.

But isn’t it true that what’s wrong for the creature is not necessarily wrong for the Creator, because as Creator He has rights and powers over His handiwork that the creatures don’t?

Yes, and that would apply when God is spoken of, or speaks of Himself, in the Bible as Creator or Lord.  But when God speaks of Himself as a husband, He is applying a human metaphor to Himself, and the rules that would apply to humans in that relationship would apply to Himself in the metaphor He uses.  God would not speak of Himself doing something in a metaphorical marriage covenant, that would be wrong in a real marriage covenant.  

So when Jesus taught about the marriage covenant, how did He understand it?

The marriage covenant, as understood in the Bible, included basic promises that the parties had to fulfill.  These are set forth in the Old Testament law, and it was Old Testament law that Jesus referred to when He talked about marriage.  It’s important to understand that Old Testament law, as understood by the rabbis of Jesus’ day (Jesus Himself, of course, also being a rabbi) was of two different kinds.  There were the general laws, such as the Ten Commandments.  These were basic, overarching laws that applied to a variety of specific situations.  These are similar to today’s statutory law, which is made by governments and codified into books of statutes and rules.  But there were also the specific laws, and these were understood very much the way we understand case law today: when a specific case regarding a specific situation, is judged by a court, and the court’s judgment is then applied to similar situations.  

We can see this type of interpretation in Paul’s discussion of the law, “muzzle not the ox” in 1 Corinthians 9:9-14.  Paul understood a specific law about oxen to apply generally to every situation where a worker deserved payment for work done.  Paul, too, was a rabbi, and he demonstrates here the way rabbis understood the specific case laws of the Old Testament-- that whatever principle was set forth in the specific situation detailed in a law, applied generally to other, similar cases.

Turning, then, to the Old Testament marriage laws as Jesus and His original audience would have understood them: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” was statutory-type law.  But a law such as Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was case law.  It referred to a specific situation:  a man who has married a woman and found “some uncleanness [that is, sexual immorality]” in her.  It says that her husband can give her a bill of divorce, and she is then allowed to go and be another man’s wife, but she may not return to her first husband.  This is the law that formed the basis of God’s divorce as described in Jeremiah 3:8.  The principle of this law was that sexual immorality was grounds for divorce, and that there was to be a legal procedure for ending the marriage when the covenant had thus been broken.

Another marriage law in the Old Testament was even more specific:  Exodus 21:8-11.  “If [a maidservant] please not her master who hath betrothed her to himself. . . If he take him another wife: her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish.  And if he does not do these three unto her, then she shall go out free.”  This law referred specifically to one particular case: a man who has married a maidservant and then taken another wife, and has ceased to fulfill his marital obligations of food, clothing and marital love to the first wife.  Jewish rabbis interpreted this as a principle that the obligations of marriage included giving marital love to the married partner, as well as the duty to meet the partner’s physical needs.  As it was understood in Jesus’ day, laws such as this one were not exclusively for maidservants in a particular situation, but for all married people.  To refuse to bring home food, or to prepare meals, or to turn away again and again from any other marital obligation, was to break the covenant.  And this Exodus law clearly gave the right to “go free” from a broken marriage covenant, to wronged wives.   (It’s important to note that a valid divorce, as Jesus and His audience would have understood it, included the right to remarry.  That was just part of what it meant to be divorced). 

So what was going on when Jesus said anyone who got divorced, except for adultery, was himself committing adultery?  Was He annulling the law of Exodus 21:8-11?  

To understand this, we must dig a little deeper into the historical situation in Israel in AD 30, when Jesus was preaching.   David Instone-Brewer, one of today’s foremost scholars on first-century Judaism, summarizes it very well:

[U]ntil about the time of Jesus’ birth . . . both Jewish men and women could divorce partners who broke their marriage obligations, as defined in the Old Testament.  These grounds for divorce (based on Exodus 21:10-11) were in use until about A.D. 70, but by the time that Jesus was preaching, in about A.D. 30, they were being used only rarely.  During Jesus’ lifetime [a] new, groundless divorce gradually grew in popularity, until by about the end of the first century, it had totally replaced divorces based on Old Testament grounds.  This new type of divorce was invented by a rabbi called Hillel, who lived a few decades before Jesus, and was called the “Any Cause” divorce.  The phrase that inspired it is in Deuteronomy 24:1, where a man divorces his wife for [as it read in their text] “a cause of sexual immorality.”  . . . Hillel asked, why did Moses use the phrase, “a cause of sexual immorality,” when he could simply have said “sexual immorality”?  Hillel reasoned that the seemingly superfluous word “cause” must refer to another, different ground for divorce, and since this ground is simply called “a cause,” he concluded that it meant any cause.  

Hillel therefore thought that two types of divorce were taught in Deuteronomy 24:1:  one for sexual immorality (adultery) and one they named “Any Cause.”  The Hillel rabbis . . . concluded that an “Any Cause“ divorce could be carried out only by men . . . and that it could be used for any cause-- such as the wife burning a meal-- so . . . this fault could be such a small thing that it was, in effect, a groundless divorce.

Very soon the “Any Cause” divorce had almost completely replaced the traditional Old Testament types of divorce. . . .

Not everyone accepted this new type of divorce.  The disciples of Shimmai, a rival of Hillel who often disagreed with him, said that Hillel had interpreted the Scriptures wrongly and that the whole phrase, “a cause of sexual immorality,” meant nothing more than the ground of sexual immorality; it did not mean two grounds, “sexual immorality” and “Any Cause.”

David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, IVP Books 2003, pp. 55-57.

This internal conflict in early first-century Judaism was huge, and had been going on for some time by the time Jesus began His public ministry.  Deuteronomy 24:1 and its meaning were what everyone was talking about.  But the other just-cause divorce law of Exodus 21:10-11 was never in dispute, and thus was not a topic of discussion; indeed, it was gradually being forgotten because of the prevalence of the “Any Cause” divorce and the dissent over it between the two rabbinical groups.  When someone spoke against divorce in Jesus’ day, they were assumed to be talking about a Deuteronomy 24:1 “any cause” divorce (just as today, if someone speaks against “drinking,” they are assumed to be speaking of alcoholic beverages, because the drinking of non-alcoholic beverages is not in dispute and is simply assumed to be ok).   Similarly, for anyone hearing or reading about a discussion on divorce in Jesus’ day, the Hillel/Shimmai dispute over Deuteronomy 24:1 would be at the front of their minds.  Exodus 21:8-11 divorces were simply unquestioned and assumed valid.

Jesus often didn't mention matters that were unquestioned and assumed, such as the worship of one God.  There was no need to address understandings that needed no changing.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount  was largely Christ’s correction of certain passages from the Law that were being misinterpreted or misapplied, or where the letter was being focused on to the point of ignoring the spirit of the passage.  Matthew 5:31-32, then, shows Jesus’ correction of  the Hillelite reading of Deuteronomy 24:1.   Jesus was saying that a Deuteronomy 24:1 divorce could only be for sexual immorality (’fornication“ in the KJV, but this was a word referring to all forms of sexual immorality).  A divorce under Deuteronomy 24:1 for “any cause” was not a valid divorce in God’s eyes, and therefore the divorcing person could not marry again without committing adultery. 

Both Matthew and Mark also record a conversation Jesus had with a group of Pharisees about this very issue (Mark 10:2-9, Matthew 19:3-9).   The Gospel of Matthew, with its more in-depth detail of Jesus’ teachings and its emphasis on showing the links between Jesus’ life and teachings and the Old Testament (see Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, Lion Publishing, 1973), mentions the “any cause” divorce by name.  The King James Version translates it as “every cause,” (Matt. 19:3), but the Greek words are “any cause” as used as a legal term to refer to this kind of divorce, which is documented by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-circa 100) in  Antiquities of the Jews 4:253.  The Hillelite explanation of their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 is found in their rabbinic commentary Sifre Deuteronomy 269. 

Matthew 19:3 reads as follows:  “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every [any] cause?”   Jesus responds that God created marriage and that humans should not “put asunder” what God had put together.  But as the passage in Jeremiah 3 shows us, it is the one who breaks the marriage covenant who has “put asunder” the marriage.   Because sexual immorality is a breaking of the covenant, Jesus says in verse 9 that it is a valid reason for divorce, so that a person divorcing for sexual immorality would be able to remarry without adultery.

The Pharisees then asked (Matthew 19:17):  “Why did Moses then command to give her a writing of divorcement and to put her away?”  Jesus answered (verse 8), “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”  “Hardheartedness” was also a word that had particular significance in Jesus’ day.  It meant “stubborn unrepentance,” and was a special word used in the ancient Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, which was not used in ordinary, conversational Greek  The Pharisees would have known, then, that Jesus was quoting the Septuagint-- and probably the one place the word “hardheartedness” appeared in the Septuagint with reference to divorce: the same passage where God speaks of Himself as divorcing Israel.  Jeremiah 4:4, continuing the story of His divorce from chapter 3, warns Judah to “circumcise your hardheartedness” lest God divorce Judah as He had divorced Israel. 

Jesus, in saying “your hardheartedness” to the Pharisees, is not talking about just the Pharisees, but the whole nation, just as He spoke to the whole nation in Jeremiah 3 and 4.  Because of the tendency of God’s people to be stubbornly unrepentant, God permitted divorce for sexual immorality in Deuteronomy 24:1.  The idea is that divorce should be a last resort; even as God divorced Israel only after repeated attempts to restore the covenant.  But when the partner breaking the covenant continues to break it and will not truly repent (which is turning from wrongdoing and changing one’s ways), then the wronged party may declare the marriage to be at an end.  Exodus 21:10-11 and Jeremiah 3-4 show this; and Jesus never said otherwise.   

But what if the wronged spouse still doesn't want to leave?  Didn't Paul say that if we leave a marriage, we must either remain single or be reconciled to our spouse?

Divorce is an option, not a requirement, when the marriage covenant is broken.  And the existence of this option can be very important to the marriage.  One result of understanding marriage as a covenant which can be broken, is that the wronged party has the power to end a broken marriage covenant.  This changes the power dynamics of the marriage.  If your covenant-breaking spouse understands that you have a scriptural right to say “enough is enough,” it may be that this knowledge will be enough for your spouse to begin considering you worthy of respect in the relationship, and to really change his or her ways.  But as long as she/he knows you will stay no matter how much you and the children are suffering, your spouse may not have enough incentive to face his or her own errors and take responsibility for changing them.

But if you do come to the place where you must leave your spouse, it’s important to understand exactly what Paul intended to say, as his original audience would have understood it-- because that was the message that was inspired by God.

Paul’s words on marriage are contained in the seventh chapter of his letter to Corinthians.  The church at Corinth was subject to the laws of ancient Rome-- and Rome’s divorce laws were even easier than the Jewish “Any Cause” divorce.  Rome had what was called “divorce by separation.”  That is, any man or woman who wanted a divorce, for any reason at all, could get legally divorced simply by walking out of the marriage.  Whoever owned the home could simply throw out the non-homeowner, and the non-homeowner could simply take his or her possessions and move out.  They were then free to marry anyone else they wanted.

It is in this context that we must understand Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 7:10-11: “And unto the married I command, yet not I but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.  But if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife.”  Paul is saying that a Christian must not do a divorce-by-separation for any and every reason, because in the eyes of the Lord, a groundless divorce is not a divorce at all.  Therefore, a person who has already had one of these divorces should either remain unmarried, or be reconciled.

But does this mean Paul is opposed to divorces where there are valid grounds, such as adultery, desertion or neglect?  Here is what he says regarding a Christian whose spouse has left them:  “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.  A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace.”  1 Cor. 7:13.  “Under bondage” here is the Greek word “douloo,” meaning “to be enslaved.”  It is the same word used six times in Galatians to speak of being in bondage to rules and regulations, as opposed to being free in Christ (see, for instance, Gal. 5:1).  Paul is saying that having to stay married to someone who has deserted or abandoned us is a form of legalistic bondage, contrary to the freedom of Christ.

But Paul was not saying a person who was divorced for good cause could not remarry.  He uses another word, “deo,” for being “bound” or under obligation to just law, in 1 Cor. 7:26-27 and again in 7:39.  The first says that Paul “supposed” that under the “present distress“ (referring to a period of famine and hardship in Corinth, it was better to remain in one‘s current condition, at least for the time being. “Art thou bound unto a wife?  Seek not to be loosed.”  In verse 39 he uses it regarding widows:  “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth, but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”  Read together, these verses are saying that being “loosed” (as the opposite of “bound”) means being free to remarry.  Paul is not saying there can be no such thing as valid divorce and remarriage, or he would not imply that it is possible, when not under “the present distress” to be “loosed.”  (Note:  Verse 39 was written specifically for widows and should not be construed as a special binding of women only, to be unable to be released from marriage except by the husband’s death-- because this reading would directly contradict verse 13.) 

Again, his original audience, understanding Roman divorce laws as we do not, would have grasped Paul’s meaning without all this explanation.  Just as with the “Any Cause” divorce with the Jews, the “divorce by separation” would have been the default kind of divorce that Paul’s Roman audience would have understood him to be talking about.  But when Paul speaks of desertion by an unbelieving partner, his audience would also have understood Rome’s other law of divorce-for-cause.  As David Instone-Brewer puts it in Divorce and Remarriage in the Church:

[T]hese grounds for divorce [neglecting/refusing to meet the needs for food, clothing or marital love, per Exodus 21:8-11] had . . . spread through the whole known world via the Babylonian and then the Persian empires [influenced by assimilation of the Jews during the captivity in Babylon], to Greek culture and eventually to Roman law.  These three grounds for divorce were written into both Jewish and Greco-Roman marriage documents.  This meant that if you were suffering neglect from your husband or wife, you could present your case in any court-- Roman, rabbinic, Egyptian, or, as far as we know, any of the other provincial legal systems of the first-century civilized world.
David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, IVP Books 2003, p. 99.

Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Cor. 7 speaks specifically in terms of these commonly understood marital obligations, in that he discusses marital love and “due benevolence” in verses 3-5, and the meeting of physical needs (by mentioning that it’s better not to marry during a time of “distress”) in  verses 26-27 and 32-35 (“carefulness” towards “the things of this world” being an inevitable condition of marriage in needing to “please” one’s spouse).  In our own marriage vows today, we usually promise to ‘love, honor and cherish.”  These vows come from Ephesians 5:28-29 (where Paul tells husbands that they must love, nourish and cherish their wives), and reflect the marital obligations shown in 1 Corinthians 7, which ultimately came from Exodus 21:8-11.  To chronically refuse or neglect to meet these obligations has always been considered a breaking of the marriage covenant, which gives grounds for a just-cause divorce.  God is a God of covenant, and it is covenant-breaking which God is against. 

But if all this is true, why have most Christians never heard it before?  How could we all have gotten it so wrong for so long?

The main thing to remember is that after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, Christianity became divorced from its Jewish roots.  Jews blamed Christians for deserting Jerusalem at the time of its destruction.  Christians blamed Jews for the death of Christ rather than recognizing the universal nature of Christ’s death for all sin.  Jews and Christians regarded one another as enemies.  Also, at the same time, the early church (reacting against the decadence of Rome), began to overemphasize celibacy and virginity, which gradually affected its understanding of marriage and remarriage.  The doctrines which arose out of this became the traditional Christian understandings, which continued to be passed down.  Christianity became a Greco-Roman religion, and then a European one, and its access to its own history, including the underpinnings of Jewish rabbinical scholarship, was broken.  In the past 150 years, however, events such as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls have greatly increased our understanding of how the original hearers of these messages would have understood them. 

We can’t know how many misunderstandings might have been avoided had the developing Church truly practiced Jesus’ command to “love our enemies and do good to them.”  We might have been able to help more of the Jews and their scholars survive the Roman destruction, and thus held onto more of the original understandings of first-century Christian teachings.  But we have always had access to Jesus’ teachings that to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves, are the central commands, and let our understanding of these simple truths govern our understandings of all other rules, laws and regulations Christians have imposed on themselves through the ages.  It is not according to love to force a victim of marital abuse, neglect or desertion to stay in marriage covenant that has been irreparably broken and has become nothing more than a prison-- or to force one’s children to stay in a home where they are being harmed. 

God has graciously provided for the victims of broken covenants, that they may be set free and not enslaved or under bondage.   Both Jesus and Paul understood just-cause divorce to be allowed by the Scriptures, and neither Jesus nor Paul ever spoke against just-cause divorce.  If you are in a situation where your marriage covenant is broken and your marriage and family life have become intolerable, God’s merciful provision is for you and your children.

Remember, God’s goal in the New Covenant is to restore marriage to what He intended for it from the beginning.  In order to do that, both parties must have the ability to enforce the marriage covenant and hold the other accountable.  If that fails, just-cause divorce is the last resort-- but if that last resort is needed, it is available to His children. His love and grace are ours always. 


Note: The ideas in this article were not written by a licensed marriage counselor and are not intended to replace licensed, professional counseling.

This topic is discussed in greater detail in David Instone-Brewer‘s 211-page book Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, IVP Books 2003, and in more scholarly detail in his larger work, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Eerdman‘s, 2002.  Also see the website for answers to frequently-asked questions.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why Do People "Drink the Koolaid"?

Over at No Longer Quivering they have been talking about why people-- and particularly why women-- get involved with repressive, spiritually abusive, authoritarian religion.  Why is it, for instance, that so many women are drawn into-- and drag their sometimes reluctant husbands into-- the anti-feminist "back to patriarchy" movement?

The No Longer Quivering blog post asks it this way:

Are they “drinking the Kool-Aid”? Brainwashed? Deceived? Have Quiverfull women been beaten into submission or bullied by fanatical, power-hungry male pastors? To outsiders, fundamentalist women often seem ignorant, ill-informed, illogical – perhaps even dim-witted or crazy.

Sure committed Christian women are choosing for themselves to live submissively and self-sacrificially – they are living martyrs willingly. But why?!

While I was never in Quiverfull, I did get into the shepherding/dominion movement back in my college years, as I have shared earlier on this blog.  No, I wasn't bullied into joining or "beaten into submission."  My initial choice was not made under duress at all, though later, the reasons I stayed certainly included fear of negative consequences (such as being disfellowshipped and having the friends I had made there become my enemies).  But my own reasons for getting into a spiritually abusive Christian movement were like this:

1. It was cool to be part of a group that welcomed me.  I had experienced a lot of rejection from my peers in the school system, and I desperately wanted to fit in somewhere.  The people in this group were so warm and friendly when I went to their meetings, that I could hardly resist the feeling of belonging they gave me.  (I later learned that this is called "love bombing", and I was taught myself to do it to newcomers that came after me, in order to get them to join the movement).

2.  I really wanted to feel I was part of something bigger than myself, a movement that could actually do some good in the world. The fact that the movement was against things in society that had hurt me in the past (such as bullying, ostracism and sexual harassment in my neighborhood and in the public schools, all of which was now labeled “the world”) was its own justification.  Whatever else it was doing, Maranatha Campus Ministries really was sincerely fighting against these damaging elements in the lives of young people, and offering a kind of Christian community that certainly seemed to be a better alternative.

3. The life of "total commitment" was set forth as God’s perfect plan, and if you embraced it, your life would be much better.  God's blessings in the form of health and prosperity were supposed to rain down on those who did His perfect will as described by the group leaders.  God's perfect choice for your marriage partner was supposed to be the result of following the "dating revelation" and having your pastors pray over who you should marry-- and your marriage would be guaranteed to be happy forever after, without danger of divorce.  The uncertainties of life could be replaced by certainty.  The troubles that "worldly" people or Christians with weak faith faced, could be avoided.   Prayer and the Christian life became sort of like a vending machine-- push the right buttons, and the candy you wanted was sure to pop out.

4.   We were told that these teachings and life choices were God's will for our lives, and everyone who really wanted to please God would naturally embrace these ideas. I really did want to please God and follow God’s plan.  I wanted to be one of "God's Green Berets" -- a special spiritual force of His favored soldiers, fighting the devil and setting lost souls free.  I didn't want to be one of the "lukewarm" who never put it all on the line, who never made the grade, who made it into Heaven but just barely, with the smoke of Hell still on their clothes.

5. Having grown up in a dysfunctional home, I thought controlling, authoritarian relationships were normal.  It was what I knew.  As a young college student just out of that home, I felt uncomfortable not having someone to tell me what to do. Being under “a covering of authority” felt safe and secure.

So those were my reasons.  But as far as women and back-to-patriarchy is concerned, I think there's another dynamic to it, aimed specifically at women.  The guaranteed wonderful life (as I described in #3 above) takes a particularly domestic form.  Modern life can be very high-pressure for women, who feel they should try to "have it all" in terms of career, marriage, motherhood, and material goods such as a beautiful home, nice cars and clothes, including being plugged into all the latest technologies and gadgets.   Quiverfull and the patriarchy movement offer a utopian fantasy of domestic tranquility, away from the rat-race of the business world and the traps of materialism, filled with peaceful living, a happy husband, obedient children, and all the time in the world to practice the beautiful arts of homemaking.  No Longer Quivering blogger Broken Daughters describes it very well in her post, The Polished Lives of Others:

I’d have a pantry filled with homemade juices and marmalade and sauces and relishes. I’d have a beautiful, antique and yet modern kitchen. I’d have a great view from my kitchen windows, and I’d wear a beautiful apron. I’d be… hm. One of those fairytale housewives, I guess.

My life would be quiet, relaxed. I’d be busy decorating a beautiful home, not really worrying about money and how to get by. My husband would be thrilled to see my newest crafty decoration idea and I’d have people come over for tea, who would praise my exquisite taste and the heavenly homemade biscuits. . . .

And yes, my kids. How well-behaved they were, and how clean and neat and obedient and whatnot. How tidy their rooms were, how tidy the house was, how lush the gardens! Yes, I was truly the Proverbs 31 woman.

At the end of the day, my tall dark and handsome husband, who made assloads of money doing something real godly, would put his hands on my shoulders and gently kiss my neck and whisper that I was truly the wife of his dreams and no other even came close to me.

Yes, I would enjoy those moments that made me feel so superior to everybody else.

An idyllic vision of life in which you beat everyone else at the competitive game of "who is happiest" and "who has it all together."  And it all happens because of God, who stamped the movement with His endorsement and, even if He doesn't actually love you more than everybody else, at least approves of you more than anyone not in the movement.  That was what Maranatha Campus Ministries offered.  That is what Quiverfull and Biblical Patriarchy offer.

In the end, (as Paul Burleson says so well in a comment on Wade Burleson's blog), it's all about basic human needs:  to be loved, to feel secure, to feel you belong, to feel special.  Spiritually abusive, authoritarian religious groups offer their movements as the surest way to get these needs met.  Ordinary, non-authoritarian Christianity is set forth as an inferior, flawed system that won't meet your needs the way we can.  Ordinary Christianity is only just slightly better than "the world."  But we can offer you the peace, fulfillment and happiness you really want-- if you just do things our way, which is God's way.   Get in on the secret.  Join us.  We guarantee the results-- as long as you're doing everything exactly as we tell you.

It's a heady mix, that Koolaid.  Hard not to drink it, especially if you're in any sort of emotionally vulnerable state, such as alone in a new place, or going through a difficult life transition. The best defense is to learn in advance what the Koolaid looks and smells like.

That's why I'm writing this.  If I can play a part in forewarning-and-forearming anyone being tempted to drink, or if I can help anyone who did drink to forgive themselves, then I become part of the antidote.

And that makes it all worth it.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fear-Based Parenting

Latebloomer at Past Tense Present Progressive is blogging about Reb Bradley's book Child Training Tips.  Calulu at Roadkill on the Information Superhighway is blogging about Michael and Debbi Pearl's To Train Up a Child.  I'd like to chime in today with some thoughts about the method of child rearing which the two books share: they call it "Biblical parenting" or "Bible-based child training," but it bears no resemblance to the way Jesus spoke of or treated children.  Instead, it takes a few proof texts (mostly from Proverbs) and builds an entire harsh, repressive and unjust regime out of them.

This is not something I can remain silent about. It goes directly against "do not provoke/exasperate your children" in Ephesians 6:4.  It convinces parents that, rather than bringing children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they should raise them strictly under law and without grace.  I call it "fear-based parenting," because it appears to be founded on two foundational fears:  1) that your child is evil by nature, and 2) that your child will remain so and be lost for eternity unless you force the child into being good. 

These are the basic messages taught in fear-based parenting: 

1. The parent-child relationship is by nature adversarial.  The child wants all the power in the home, and your job as a parent is to resist the child's attempts to seize it, and to hold all the power yourself.
2. Your child’s most fundamental nature is selfishness and rebellion against authority.
3. A child’s will is inherently deceitful and wicked, and must be subdued/broken by the parent.
4. Spanking (with some sort of "rod") will remove the rebellion from your child’s heart. If the child responds to a spanking with anything other than complete submission, you need to spank longer/harder until the child's will is subdued and broken.
5. To use any other method of discipline than spanking is unbiblical and only encourages your child’s rebellion and selfishness.  To show your child any mercy will only teach your child that he or she can get away with bad behavior.
6. The goal of parenting is complete, cheerful and instant obedience of the child to your will, because this will transfer to complete, cheerful and instant obedience to God’s will.
7. Any act of your child’s that is not completely, cheerfully and instantly obedient is, by definition, rebellion.
8. If you raise your child according to these “biblical principles,” the outcome is certain: your child will become a "godly" adult.  

Now, I am aware that orthodox Protestant doctrine says that humanity is sinful by nature and in need of salvation.  I'm not contesting that;  in fact, I find it comforting whenever I (or my kids) do something I wish I (or they) hadn't done.  No need to get excited or overreact-- it's just human nature.  But I believe this understanding should result in more mercy to my children-- not more harshness and law.  They are not different from me.  It was the kindness of God (Romans 2:4) that brought me to repentance.  So why would my harshness bring them to repentance?

The thing is that these "biblical parenting" ideas focus exclusively on human sinfulness, while ignoring or forgetting other basic, orthodox Protestant teachings:

1. Humanity, though sinful, is also made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and it is in God that we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  Paul said in Romans 2:14-15 that non-Jews who never had the Law still have "the work of the Law written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them."  This influence of God's Spirit towards good in all people is known theologically as "common grace."

2. None of us can save ourselves or anyone else; we are completely dependent on God's grace to bring us to salvation.  Romans 3:23-24. 

Nowhere does the Bible say that the nature of the parent-child relationship is a power struggle.  The opening chapters of the book of Proverbs are about parents lovingly giving their children instruction, not establishing dominance over them.  In any event, the Proverbs are by genre a set of wise sayings about how life generally works; they are neither promises nor commands.  The passages about using "the rod" need to be understood in the literary, historical and cultural contexts in which they were given.  The Parenting Freedom blog has a cultural/language study that makes it plain that what the Proverbs are talking about, and what the "biblical parenting" advocates say they are talking about, are in two different universes!  And in any event, to take a few verses on "the rod" and conclude from them that spanking is the only God-given method of discipline, is to give those verses a scope they were clearly never intended to have.

Nowhere does the Bible say that our goal as parents should be to break our child's will.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not keep them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  If the "biblical parenting" experts were correct, Jesus would have said something more like, "Those children who have been subdued to obedience may come to Me.  All others should be kept away, because their hearts are wicked!"   Children are by nature innocent and trusting, and they are geared to desire adult approval and to want to please their parents.    If you don't believe me, just spend a little non-judgmental time with some young kids!  This is the image of God in their humanity.  It is not negated or driven out by original sin.  To interpret your child's every action as a play for power or as an act of selfishness, is to disregard the image of God and His common grace in your child.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says, "[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  To see another's action through the eyes of love is to see it believing well of that person and hoping for the best in that person.  It is not to view every action with suspicion as motivated by selfishness and power-grabbing.  This goes for our children as much as for anyone else.

Nowhere does the Bible remotely imply that any act of another human being can train someone into complete, cheerful and instant obedience to God.   Titus 2:11-14 states unequivocably that it is the grace of God that teaches us to deny ungodliness and live righteously.  "Biblical parenting" is actually a way to play God, seeking to control the outcomes of our children's lives and eliminate all uncertainty.  But that is not faith-- it is fear.   Hebrews 11:1 says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Emphasis added).  Having a thing and seeing it is certainty.  Hoping for it and believing in it is faith. Faith faces uncertainty and trusts God.  Fear seeks to control outcomes so as to eliminate uncertainty-- not realizing that the elimination of uncertainty also eliminates the need for faith.

Parents, we need to trust God with our children and not live in fear.  Jesus said to do to others as we would have done to us.  This command doesn't disappear just because we're talking about our kids.  Would we want to have our every motive suspect, our every action viewed in the worst light?  Would we want to beg for mercy for something we've done, and to be given no mercy lest we think we've been given a license to get away with it next time?  Would we want to be expected to drop everything, no matter how important to us, at the moment someone over us speaks a command, and be expected to not only show no frustration, but to feel no frustration, even when our dearest desires are denied and thwarted?  Do we want our frustration and lack of cheerfulness, when we show them in spite of ourselves, to then be interpreted and punished as rebellion?

If we would not want these things done to us, we should at the very least not do them to our children. But to truly obey Jesus' words is to go further, and to do to our children what we would want done to us.  To be listened to.  To be treated with understanding and compassion.  To have our motives interpreted with "I believe the best of you."  To be given mercy even when we know we don't deserve it.

I'm not saying we should ignore it when our children do wrong.  I'm not saying we shouldn't discipline our children or give them boundaries.  Boundaries and discipline are good things we give our children-- but when the boundaries become chains, and the discipline becomes harshness and injustice, they are no longer good.

1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

Fear-based parenting is full of punishment.  But love-based parenting is full of faith and trust in God for our children.

Please-- if you can bear it-- read this blog post by one who has suffered under fear-based parenting, and please stand with me against it.  If your church, or anyone else, recommends a fear-based parenting book like To Train Up a Child or Child-Training Tips, please speak out.

Children are hurting.  It needs to stop.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Assumptions Make You-Know-Whats Out of You and Me

I have often had online discussions where Christians have insisted to me that we must receive New Testament teachings about male authority and female submission as universal, timeless commands based on the creation order-- that the only other alternatives are to dismiss them as "only cultural," or to decide that the New Testament teachings of the Bible are no longer authoritative for us today.   

But these three alternatives do not take into account a very real truth:  that it is impossible as a human being to take a position on any topic without doing so as part of a human community, living in a human culture.  Just as a fish, living in the water, might not recognize that there is such a thing as water-- so we live within certain shared cultural assumptions that we take for granted every day, often without even noticing that they are there.

This works fine when we communicate with others who share our cultural background.  We don't need to explain to anyone what we mean by "don't text and drive," for instance.  But what if we said those words to someone who had never seen either a cell phone or a car?

I believe the principles taught by the Scriptures are timeless. But just as occurs today, there were cultural assumptions being made all the time between the original human writers and the original human readers of the texts, who shared understandings that we don't automatically share.  For instance, in the story of the Last Supper in John 13, we read in verse 23, "There was reclining on Jesus' breast one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved."  Looking at this text for its plain face value, we can't avoid the fact that, read through the eyes of our own culture, the clear and obvious meaning of this text is that Jesus and this disciple were lovers.   In our own culture a man would not recline against the chest of another man unless they were! But if we understand the first-century Jewish custom of eating at a low table, reclining on cushions rather than sitting in chairs, and leaning against the person who was next to you at the table, the actual sense of this passage is simply that this disciple was right next to Jesus at the table.   If the shared assumption of that culture is taken into account, there is no hint of anything other than a close Teacher-disciple relationship between the two.

So when we look at teachings in the New Testament that appear to be addressed to us as instructions, the question is not, "Should we dismiss these instructions as only cultural?”  

The question is, “How would these instructions have been understood in their original culture, by their original readers, and how then, should we apply them to ourselves?” 

The reason John makes no attempt to explain why this disciple was reclining against Jesus' chest, or even that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" was actually a reference to John himself, is that both of these ideas were assumed cultural and literary norms, understood between the Apostle and his readers.  Explanations were not necessary.  Today, if I tell a friend who lives across town that I'm coming over to her house, I don't need to mention I'll be driving my car. She and I both already assume this. Someone who lives in a big city, however, who doesn't know how sparse the mass transit in our town is, might think I was taking a bus.   But Paul or John, back in New Testament times, would have thought that unless I specifically mentioned riding a donkey, I would have been walking. 

These kinds of misunderstandings spring from readers in other cultures not understanding what my friend and I take for granted.  So if we don't understand what the New Testament writers and readers took for granted, how can we be sure the plain, face-value reading of a passage to our eyes, is the intended meaning? 

Male authority over the female was taken for granted by Paul and his readers as a pre-existing state of affairs-- but should that assumption be considered part of the timeless, universal truth he was conveying? Or do we, as modern readers, need to take the assumption into account so that we'll understand what Paul's readers would have understood?

If male authority in the culture is taken as pre-existing and assumed, then the different things Paul told men and women make sense in that culture as changes to that state of affairs. Kenneth Bailey says in Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes

"An innovator in any age must deal with tradition. Some things are omitted. Some things are endorsed and left unchanged. Still others are revised through the introduction of new elements." (p. 107) 

In other words, there are three ways an author can deal with traditional understandings of any particular concept:  to endorse, to omit or to revise.  Paul's writings do not show the endorsing of the traditional idea of marriage, as it was understood in that age, by leaving it unchanged. Instead, he takes the traditional view of marriage and omits what would have been the expected, direct instruction regarding husbandly authority -- speaking instead of the husband's role as nurturer and provider for the wife. Then he revises the traditional view of marriage through the introduction of the concepts of mutual submission and husbandly emulation of Christ (not in taking authority over the church, but in laying down His high privilege and giving Himself up for her).

Therefore, we don't have just three choices with regards to New Testament teachings: to accept them as timeless and universal, to dismiss them as only cultural, or to ignore them as not authoritative.  We have a fourth choice-- to embrace the idea that such teachings should first be read in terms of what the original author meant to convey to the original audience in their shared culture, and only then to apply them to our own.

Christians who insist that an egalitarian view of husband-wife relations is “capitulating to modern culture” often don’t realize that by not taking into account what Paul’s original audience would have understood him to be saying, they themselves are reading the text through their own modern culture. And because they themselves don’t come from a cultural assumption of male authority, they see male authority as a correction to our modern culture: an eternal, divine mandate to which we all need to return.

But who is it who is really "capitulating to culture"?  Is it the one who reads the text with a view to unspoken, shared cultural assumptions, both then and now, and takes into account how they might affect the meaning?  Or is it the one who, unconscious of these differences, insists on reading the "plain sense of Scripture" just as it appears to them?

If we are unaware of the assumptions were making, we're doomed to keep making them.  Assuming that Paul knew exactly how we would understand his words today, 2000 years later, half the globe away and in a completely different language, and that therefore what looks like the plain meaning to us is exactly what Paul meant-- that's one of those assumptions that make you-know-whats out of you and me.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Camping Trip that Wasn't

Thursday morning my family and I got up early for our annual camping trip.  This year we had decided on a new place: Rock Creek Campground, near Yachats on the central Oregon coast, purported to have campsites in the deep woods of the Coast Range, with a half-mile trail straight to the beach.

We'd worked hard all week getting ready: pulling the tents, camp stove, folding canvas chairs, cooler, and all the other accouterments out of the shed, shopping for eggs, hot dogs, sandwich fixings and s'mores ingredients, and packing our duffle bags.  I was especially looking forward to strolls along the sand gazing at the ocean waves, songs and stories around the campfire, and looking up at the impossible number of stars in a sky removed from town lights.

But Rock Creek was a disappointment-- campsites either too small or right out in the open, with no sense of seclusion or privacy anywhere.  We headed back a few miles towards Cape Perpetua Campground, which we'd stayed at before, and which had no direct beach access but at least had more private sites.

As soon as we'd chosen a site there, I left my husband and kids to sit and hold it against all comers, and drove the van up to one of the two camp managers' sites, to pay for the space and order firewood.    "Off Duty," proclaimed a sign in the window.  "See Manager in Space 2."

Oh, well.  I got back into the van to turn it around and drive back down to Space 2.

The van wouldn't start.  It choked and gasped for gas, couldn't find any, and gave up.  Over and over again.

But the tank was nearly full.  Something was very wrong.

I got out of the van and rushed back down to the site where my family was waiting.  "The van won't start!"  I told my husband.

"Stay here and keep holding the site!" he told our two teenagers.  We trotted back up to the van.  He tried it.  It still wouldn't start.

We walked down to Space 2 and spoke to the manager that was in.  He suggested the engine might be flooded.  Well, maybe.  By this time it was well after noon.  We walked back up the hill to the van and got out the cooler and a couple of bags, carried it back to our proposed site and made some sandwiches.  "If the engine is flooded, and the van starts after lunch, we can stay," we told the kids.  "If not, we'll have to get it towed."

After lunch it still wouldn't start.  With the kids' help we packed everything back into the back of the van.  No cell phone service was available at the campground, so the managers kindly let us use their phone to contact our insurance company.  Could they locate a mechanic in a nearby coastal town for us?  Could they send a tow truck for the van?

They could.  One would be there in 45 minutes.  But as soon as I'd hung up the phone, my husband pointed out that most tow trucks only carry two passengers.  We'd better call back and make sure they sent a tow truck that could transport the four of us.  I sighed, but he was right.  Back on the phone, I sat on hold once again for the insurance company's emergency road service people.  Yes, they could recall the tow truck they'd sent out and send a bigger one that would seat four passengers.  But this was going to take at least another hour.

By this time it was 3 pm.  We thanked the managers profusely for giving us extended use of their phone when we weren't even going to be paying for a campsite, and walked back up to where the van was.  We found a nearby picnic table to sit at.  I began to read aloud to them (a favorite pastime on camping trips, though the reading matter has changed quite a bit over the years).  I read them The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber.  Then we began on a Jeeves-and-Wooster novel, The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse.   Chipmunks ran by the table.  A brown rabbit hopped out of the bushes a little ways away, and hopped slowly into the next clump of bushes.  The trees rustled, the sun shone, the camp robbers screeched overhead.  In spite of everything we began to enjoy ourselves a little.

After about an hour and half, one of the managers drove up to tell us the insurance company had finally located a tow truck with a large enough cab, but it had been an hour and a half's drive away, in Lincoln City.  It was now almost here but had gotten lost.  We sighed and shrugged, broke out a few snacks, and went on reading.

At ten minutes to five the truck finally arrived.  I needed to use the manager's phone again, this time to call the mechanic whose number we'd been given (hoping like crazy he was an honest man!) to tell him we were coming and ask if he'd keep the shop open till we got there.  He would.  We piled into the tow truck and drove to Waldport, a little town that boasted only one mechanic, but was small enough so that the things we needed-- mechanic, hotel, restaurant-- would all be in walking distance.  The tow truck operator, who was very nice, told us that he knew this mechanic and that he was "a good guy."  Great relief.

The mechanic was a gentle, kindly, weathered man who looked to be in his forties.  He took our key and promised to check out the situation and order parts before he left that night.  Probably the fuel pump.  Yes, probably the fuel pump, we agreed.

I felt very odd and exposed, walking from the mechanic's to the hotel he told us about (roughly a half mile back the way we'd come, right on the main coast highway in downtown Waldport), carrying duffle bags, our small cooler and a bag of reading material.  Families of four did not customarily walk across small towns carrying their luggage down the sidewalks.  Were people staring?  I decided to try not to notice.

The hotel was small but clean, as was the room.  But there were no fans, and only one window would actually open.  The room was marked "No Smoking" but gave forth a definite smell indicating that someone had recently broken that rule.  We opened the bathroom window and went across the street to eat a not-too-bad dinner.  Afterwards we were so tired that we turned out the lights at 10 pm. sharp, and slept until 8 the next morning.

Friday morning, 9:00.  Gotta find breakfast.  Was the place where we'd eaten dinner open for breakfast?  No.  There was a tavern next door that would serve breakfast, but not our kids.  We walked up the street, then back down.  No cafes, no bakeries.  A service man waiting on a customer at a gas station looked up as we walked by.  Did he know where we could eat that was within walking distance?  Only one place, and that was back the way we'd just come, then up another street a good ways.

We walked the good ways.  Breakfast was only mediocre.  The fritters were underdone, as were the eggs.  We ate them anyway.  Then we called the mechanic.  What was the prognosis on the car?

It was indeed the fuel pump.  Yes, he'd been able to get parts that would arrive later today.  He'd have the van ready by mid-afternoon.  Oh, good.  Thank you so much!  We've got to check out of the hotel now and bring the luggage back, ok? Ok.

Another long traipse down the sidewalks laden with duffel bags.  The mechanic's black cocker spaniel greeted us at the door.  The mechanic smiled at us.  He was so sorry he didn't have a vehicle that would have transported us to the hotel and back.  That was all right, we told him.  Was there beach access anywhere within walking distance?

Yes-- down by the marina.  There was a nice beach overlooking the bay.  No ocean waves, but lots of nice sand, shells and gulls.  We loaded the small cooler with drinks, put snacks and binoculars in the book bag, and went down to the beach.  There were a couple of small restaurants there to serve the boat docks.  Hooray, a place to eat lunch later!  We found a pile of rocks and sat down to enjoy the sunshine.  We waded a little, watched the gulls and a couple of cormorants flying around.  Read more Jeeves and Wooster.   Began once again to enjoy ourselves.

Lunch was clam chowder and hot dogs in one of the little cafes.  We were still feeling a little queasy from the mediocre breakfast, though, so we didn't eat much.  As we were finishing, the mechanic called.  The van was fixed.  Hooray!

Back through the streets to the mechanic's.  A fuel pump is an expensive repair.  Oh, well.  "Another day older, and deeper in debt," right?  Heh, heh.  But we have wheels again!  We decided to drive up to Newport and look in shops and galleries along the bay front.  So nice to not be trundling luggage!

Ice cream on the bay front.  As we licked our cones we watched a young man casting crab nets over the fence and scooping in Dungeness crabs,  most of which were undersize or female and had to be tossed back.  Then we walked a little ways and laughed at a large group of sea lions all trying to hang out on a dock that was too small to hold them all.  They barked and showed their teeth at one another, jockying for the best places, now and again shoving one of them over the side back into the water.  "There were ten in the bed, and the little one said, 'Roll over, roll over.' So they all rolled over, and one fell out," I sang to my husband and kids.  They laughed.

At 5 pm we'd had enough walking, having seen hundreds of beautiful and unusual things for sale. We talked about maybe finding some firewood and a day-use beach, and roasting for tonight's dinner the hot dogs that had been meant for Thursday night's campfire, but we were worn out.  So we drove home, ordered some Chinese, and went to bed.

It wasn't exactly the vacation we'd expected.  It certainly wasn't the inexpensive trip we'd budgeted!  But it was an adventure, and a lot of it was pretty fun.  In any case, it's a far more interesting story to tell than an ordinary camping narrative of s'mores and sausages and sleeping bags.   And stories are important.  Family stories like this define us to ourselves, and they give us memories that will last into the next generation.

I sure missed that campfire, though-- and the ocean waves, and the starry skies.

Maybe next year.