Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Hebron Crossroads 7-20-03
By Jeff Gill

Sherman and Evelyn Clay will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend (and my own parents just had their 45th as it happens). Many if not most of the Clay and Ours families (plus various Slaters, Jones, and others) will join in the festivities, which they’re generously sharing with Hebron Christian’s congregation as they and any others who wish will renew wedding vows at the close of the 10:30 service.

What makes a long lasting marriage? Even those celebrating will quickly concede that good health and some luck play a part, but beyond that, answers vary.

One factor that is very unfashionable to credit is perseverance. Go ahead, look it up. You don’t see that word very often in an age of high mobility, frequent moves, regular career changes, and disposable clothes.

Perseverance is persisting, “keeping on keepin’ on,” staying the course. While there’s not a natural market for perseverance these days, the general lack of this quality keeps some interested. A book on this subject by Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor, is called somewhat lengthily “A Long Obedience In The Same Direction” and has never gone out of print in the quarter century since I first read it.

Peterson offers, on one level, a study of the “Songs of Ascents” from Psalms 120 to 134, and talks about pilgrimage. On another level he’s inviting us to reflect on the necessity of perseverance and persistence in most of life, where the dishes always need washing, the trash always has to be taken out, and the next meal is always coming soon.

Just as reaching the beauty of your anticipated destination requires so many everyday, simple activities (like putting one foot in front of the other, and washing your feet at the end of a dusty day), the truest love may be expressed in taking out the trash reliably, pulling weeds consistently, coming back home at the end of the day reliably.

In marriage, we’re conditioned to think in terms of true love as being thunderbolty, suddenly “knowing” the one you’re “meant” to be with, of fate and kismet and first sight kind of stuff. It’s not “romantic” to talk of endurance and consistency and faithfulness.

But the 40 and 45 and even amazing 50th anniversary celebrators, like Evelyn and Sherm, invite us to think about the epic quality of romance symbolized by hanging in there, working through challenges, maintaining a relationship through changes and setbacks and the sheer passage of years.

If Ulysses is epochal for staying in focus on just getting home over decades in “The Odyssey,” why isn’t it just as epic to then stay with Penelope on the island of Ithaca for decades ever after? As Tolstoy says in opening one of his epics, “All happy families are happy the same way; every unhappy family is unhappy differently”. . .and we all know whose story is more intriguing to tell.

So let’s set some time aside for the simple unvarnished tale of faithfulness and perseverance, and share a toast and eat some cake in honor of the Clay’s and the Gill’s and all the couples who took luck as they found it and made persistence their virtue and are celebrating a round number’s worth of anniversaries. Long may they wave!

I had the pleasure of directing the Clay’s van, for once not delivering a stromboli to my house from Clay’s Cafe, into one of the ad hoc parking zones established by Dawes Arboretum for last weekend’s “Picnic With the Pops.” Somehow I keep ending up in an orange vest these days. . .

The weather couldn’t have been better and the venue is working out well, with the necessary qualifier that Dawes is temporarily looking more like a logging camp than an arboretum, due to the red oak blight that they’re fighting. Add to that the limb drops and tree falls from the recent windstorms we’ve had, and the axe, chain saw, and stump grinder have all been hard at work.

Once the Columbus Symphony Orchestra swung into action, all was beauty again. Their annual appearance is a great new Lakewood area tradition that deserves our support, with just a ten dollar ticket: parking and the view are all free! Bring your own picnic basket or sack o’ food, a blanket or lawn chair, and your weekend is complete.

Wonder if we can get ‘em back for a fall concert. . .

Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and married for a mere 18 years to the lovely Joyce Meredith; if you have tales of marital bliss or family adventures to share, e-mail or call 928-4066.