Saturday, August 27, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love… and Divorce

My wife and I went to see Crazy, Stupid, Love last weekend; a rom-com starring Steve Carell as “Cal,” Ryan Gosling as “Jacob,” Julianne Moore as “Emily,” and Emma Stone as “Hannah.”  The story centers around the troubled marriage of Cal and Emily, high school sweethearts whose relationship has seemingly run out of gas, to which the audience is made aware of to early on.   At a dinner scene, Emily dramatically chooses something not on the menu – divorce.  Cal takes the news very hard  yet lethargically accepts.  He’s the classic middle-aged man who has sort of stopped trying – with his wardrobe, with his physique, and in his relationships.  Thankfully the one thing he does have going for him is his strong relationship with his kids, the father-son relationship with “Robbie” being highlighted.  Hearing the news of the coming divorce unexpectedly, Robbie is shocked and upset; he admires his father, especially what his father had taught him about love.
I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for those who haven’t seen it.  It was a decent movie over-all. Steve Carell plays a great dorky-middle aged guy (see 40-year old virgin and Dinner for Smucks for more instances),  Ryan Gosling is hot (according to my wife), and I liked Julianne Moore and Emma Stone. Besides an awkward “sexting” incident, (which as potential future parent of a daughter found troubling and an unnecessary “stamp of approval” of the practice),it was a funny, feel-good, and romantic story.
This movie got me thinking about divorce and the perceptions of such within Christianity.  Growing up a conservative Baptist, divorce was a four-letter word.  As I’ve moved into liberal Protestantism, there seems to be a more an attitude of indifference towards divorce (in fairness I’m fairly new, maybe I’m missing something).  I find myself looking for something in the middle between condemnation and apathy. 
The “Christian” response to this question would be to “see what the Bible says;” if only it was that simple.  Yes, in the Bible, there is much said in a negative manner about divorce, even by Jesus; but this is where it’s important to remember the Bible was written low ago in a culture far different from our own. When a woman (or more likely a teenage girl) married a man, she was forfeiting her relationship with her family in order to be assimilated into his. If a man divorced his wife, he left her without any family or even any social support system.  The family in this time was self-sufficient –they were their own creator and supplier of the needs for daily living.  Divorcing a woman left her destitute, with only two real options to provide for herself – begging (if she was old) or prostitution (if she was younger).  No wonder Jesus spoke so vehemently about divorce!
So I still find myself confused, and perhaps this is where I need to remember  there are not any easy answers when it comes to life (and only the foolish think there are).  In the movie, Cal had obviously quit trying; can one really blame Emily for wanting to move on?  Yet this resolution has unintended consequences as Robbie is extremely disillusioned (his father’s failure at love casts a dark shadow on his own future ability). Divorce is hard on kids – flat out hard (check out The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce), but again condemning everything or looking the other way is no “solution” anyway. And that’s assuming a solution is always possible.
Is there a solution to a husband that has quit trying and is unwilling to ever try again?  Is there a solution to an abusive spouse? Is there a solution to a loveless marriage? Is there a solution to infidelity?  If only “staying together for the kids” was as easy as it’s made out to be in Couples Retreat (and even there it’s hardly painted as a success).  Is there an easy answer when two folks get married far too early and far too young?  My wife and I will readily admit we got married WAY to young (me 21, she 20), but it was what you did in the culture we grew up in.  We are very glad we are together, but it has been WORK, with many ups and downs along the way (I love you btw!).  Unfortunately we know others who haven’t been as fortunate as us, who married too young and who weren’t able to make it when one didn’t want to try anymore.  If there is one takeaway from Crazy, Stupid¸Love, it is that love takes work, and when you stop trying, you stop loving.
So again, back to the church, I’m still looking for something in between condemnation and apathy.  Perhaps a strong support system for those within committed relationships (I’ll open the door wider, after all I’m a liberal) but also for those on the other side who simply couldn’t make it work.  And for the latter, this is where the church must not cast out judgment but rather focus on bringing healing to the hearts of the parties involved – especially the children. 
Once a friend commented to my wife that Satan, “roars around like a lion,” trying to destroy marriages. Do I believe in devilish figure with a pitchfork sabotaging relationships? Not really. But I do believe there are many things within our culture that can destroy relationships?  Yes, wholeheartedly. For those of us in relationships, we would be fools if we don’t take those things seriously.  
I’m not sure I’ve really come to any conclusions about divorce, but I don’t really think conclusions can be drawn.   Love is a beautiful, wonderful thing that is sustained by effort; I pray the church will be there to help love flourish, and be there to help pick up the pieces when things go array. 


  1. Impressive, knowing the “culture” you grew up in, which was very similar to the one I grew up in (just several years before you!) I find it refreshing to see you come into your own thoughts on such matters. I agree there are many subjects dealing with life that have no clear cut answers. I understand people’s desire to turn to the Bible or other Spiritual writings to try and find an answer, but as you allude to, many “answers” are within us. Each “answer” can be as unique as the individual asking the question, or seeking the serenity.

    There are those who will simply state “That is what God said, so that is the way it is!”, but how do they really know what “God says?” The Bible, as we have it in America (and how many different versions?), is a translation of an ancient writing, and were subject to the interpretation of the person doing the translation. (Not to start a storm of controversy around the validity of the Bible, that’s not the point…) You point out that when Christ was here on Earth, and when his disciples were spreading the word after he was gone, the culture of the land was very different then the world we currently live in.

    The “act” of marriage, being as you described it back then, was radically different than what marriage is in today’s society. Today, in many cases, marriage is more of a financial or business arrangement with pre-nups and separation of individual finances. Marriage can also be “for love” as long as there are no “bumps” in the road, however as soon as a rough patch needs to be faced the “love” turns to selfishness and the couple turn against one another, seeking only what they want from the situation rather than looking out for each other and supporting one another through the tough time, which would build strength and trust in the relationship.

    I guess the question I would raise would be; should two people stay in a relationship where they are miserable? Do people really believe that “staying together for the kids” is better for the kids? I have known several people whose parents did just that, and the kids were absolutely miserable. I have also know several people whose parents divorced, and the kids have had very nourishing relationships with both parents (and have had the opportunity to have some great relationships with “Step” parents as well…) I know many “children of divorce” have a rough life and have a hard time with many life issues due to the fact their family has split apart. This leads us to ask another question dealing with the time we live in today…What is a family?

    My personal immediate family consists of myself and my wife, children from my previous marriage and our pets! The relationships we have all had with one another have been very loving and strong. Now this does not mean no one has never been upset with anyone else in the family unit, that would be a lie, or that having a “blended” family hasn’t presented some unique issues in itself. (i.e. dealing with my ex-spouse or their current spouse etc.) What is important is what do you with your interpersonal communications within your family unit, regardless of the “make up” of the family.

    What if this is exactly the experience God intended us to have, so we could learn the spiritual lessons we needed to learn? I don’t pretend to have that answer for anyone, but so far the journey through this life has been what it is…mine, and it has lead me to a relationship with my family and my “God” which is highly personal and not dictated by any other human.

    Thanks for raising this question.

  2. You raise some very fascinating points about divorce, especially as viewed from a conservative Christian standpoint. Growing up in much the same setting as you, I found myself questioning many of the viewpoints that I had held for many years, especially when I went to college. One of the was the topic of divorce. For years, my parents had been debating whether or not they should get one. They decided not to on the basis of morality, and 'for the children.' It all comes down to if you take the Bible literally or take it as a guidepost for your life.

    You point out today that because we are not living in Biblical times, perhaps divorce should not be put in the same view as it was before. But there are those that would argue with you, that this is impossible. As a conservative Christian, a person is forced to view things as either moral or immoral. Divorce is not moral, and should not be viewed as okay. When you marry, you marry for life. However, it is difficult to completely follow this especially since there are easier ways out. No longer does a woman suffer if she divorces her husband. She has career options. People are given permission by today's society to change and grow apart. Now more than ever, we are allowed to make that compromise.

  3. I don't understand why you all keep talking about the Bible and how it can be a "guide post" and yet say that all of it is out-dated and subject to each individuals interpretation. JUST GIVE IT UP step over to the bookshelf, grab your bible and THROW IT AWAY!!!! Why pretend to care anything for it? You could all save yourselves so much time not having to sit around and tear it apart and then agree to disagree. You stand in the lukewarm area "So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth." Be hot or cold but do not pretend to be both as He will spit you out of his mouth! Please listen to me, there is no other way to live your life than through reading God's word and walking with Him. Listen to me, it may be easy to discredit God's word by saying it is out-dated, and therefore expunging yourself of the condemnation that you deserve! God himself said that His word is not dead or dying away. "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Please turn to God and His word as the only way to live! There are dyer consequences if you do not!