The Common Good
June 2004

Mending the Waters

by Ed Spivey Jr. | June 2004

Having recently been diagnosed with a rare and troubling medical condition-

Having recently been diagnosed with a rare and troubling medical condition—late-onset maturity—it has become unavoidable that I begin to take the world and its woes more seriously.

The coming election, the war, and the painful issues that are dividing our nation are no longer things that I can ignore by simply crawling under my desk, despite the fact that, in doing so, I found my guitar capo. (I had dropped it recently while playing a Neil Diamond song for the pleasure of colleagues passing in the hall, even though none of them stopped to listen. One of the sad ironies of middle age is that, after I finally learned how to play the hits of the ’60s, nobody wants me to.)

Don’t get me wrong. I am not one to shun controversy. I have always been a passionate observer of life, but mainly by peeking from behind the door of the janitor’s closet down the hall. Now that the world calls out to me—and a court order says I can’t peek out at people from the janitor’s closet anymore—it’s time for me to enter the fray.

This will not be an easy task for me. Take the war, for example, a controversy that has caused a chasm not seen in this country since Charlton Heston dressed up as Moses and commanded the waters to part. (Actually, at the time he was commanding a neutral blue background to part. Technicians added the real water later, when Mr. Heston was safely out of the studio.) Much of the nation is against the war, and the rest—which is to say, mainly Florida, which gets to vote twice, I think—is for it. What is needed—and this is where I come in—is a voice of reason in this tempest of division. In the crucible of public debate, I will be the pestle. Or maybe it’s the mortar. Whatever.

FORTUNATELY, others have already tried to resolve these conflicts and bring our nation together. Our political leaders have courageously called Americans to join and fight our common enemy, which, apparently, is gay marriage.

And who can blame them? Without question, the sanctity of marriage is central to our way of life. In fact, we like it so much that many American couples—about half—want to do it again. With somebody else. This 50 percent failure rate is a number we’ve all grown comfortable with (it’s an easy fraction to remember). So do we really want an entirely new demographic group to come in and mess that up, and maybe do it better than the rest of us?

Frankly, I don’t much like the sound of "Bobby has two dads." I much prefer the more traditional "Bobby has a mommy and a daddy, whom he sees every other weekend, depending on whether daddy’s new girlfriend is in town."

See, it’s that kind of reasoning that’s most helpful during these difficult times.

And I get that from an experience as a young teenager when my church struggled with a controversy of its own. Back in the late 1960s, members of our Southern Baptist congregation had grown complacent in their faith. There was an evil in our midst, and that evil was, you guessed it...slacks.

That’s right, slacks. But thanks to our pastor, a man ever-watchful for the temptations of the flesh (as well as for choir members who tried to park in his space on Sundays), we stopped Satan and left him quaking in his boots. Or possibly his flip-flops.

It was during Vacation Bible School in the heat of an Indiana summer. Some of the teachers—women who selfishly worked for God’s favor by spending their mornings teaching little kids about Jesus—started wearing slacks. They had already tried to wear shorts because of the heat, but the pastor was quick to point out that the heat of Hell was much hotter, so they’d better wear dresses like the Bible says (or would have, if God hadn’t forgotten to put it in).

The pastor’s ultimatum was questioned by some church members, specifically the women’s husbands who were themselves unable to help out in Bible school because they had to work downtown in air conditioning. They reminded him that these were fine Christian women who should be trusted to know what best to wear. The pastor responded by saying, prayerfully, "Not as long as I’m pastor of this church." Which gave the husbands an idea. For the betterment of the kingdom, the pastor soon resumed his successful house-painting career. (I won’t even mention that the next pastor preached against the sin of pantsuits, because that would weaken an otherwise inspirational story.)

I’ll never forget how that controversy was settled in my old church. It is a reminder of what lay leaders—particularly husbands who appreciate home-cooked meals—can do in a time of crisis. I’m grateful that I was a part of it, at least the part I could see from inside the janitor’s closet.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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