How’s this for one of life’s ironies?

Published 8:12 am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One of Webster’s definitions of irony is “the incongruity between what might be expected and what actually happens.” I don’t think I really understand what that means. It’s sort of crazy when you seek to define a word by the dictionary and can’t even understand the words the dictionary has used.

Lots of times, though, we say something is ironic. It may or may not be, but I want to write about what I am calling a modern day irony. It’s about the institution of marriage, a subject that has gotten all sorts of attention in the last few weeks, particularly since the President expressed his view that, in his opinion, the definition of marriage should be broadened to include a union of two of the same sex.

I’m not going to start there, though. I am going to try and recount, for you, a recent conversation I had with an acquaintance. I say acquaintance rather than friend. We simply don’t see each other enough and the relationship is more acquaintance than friend.

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This fellow is a few years younger than I am, but not by too many years. He’s probably in his mid to late 50s. As we say often, he comes from a good family and is the owner of a successful business. He is not unlike me in that he has lived some wild and hairy years, but, basically, his age has taken care of many of his bad habits. Age will do that.

Naturally, we talked about the good, old days as we remembered them. What was so-and-so doing now? Then he happened to mention that he had been “living with” a woman for eight years. It just came up in the conversation. There was no judgment on my part. It’s not that I didn’t think about it, but I felt no condemnation for the way this fellow lived his life. I am not his judge.

It was he, though, who spoke about it, almost apologetically. He knew that I was a preacher and must have thought that his lifestyle needed some kind of explanation. My only thought was a subconscious one and he answered my thought without my asking.

“I don’t know why we don’t get married,” he said. “We just haven’t gotten around to it.”

“I understand,” I replied. And I do. It’s the new normal. More than two-thirds of married couples, these days, admit to some kind of cohabitation before tying the knot. When this fellow and I were growing up, “living together” was radical and almost nonexistent. Now, it’s commonplace and just about every family endures the challenge of the situation.

“Would I know your friend?” I asked. It was simple curiosity and a normal part of the casual conversation. He told me her name along with her family background. I’ll give a fake name and carry on.

“She’s a Hinton and her parents live on such-and-such road,” he said.

“I know them very well,” I responded. “I’ve known them all my life.” Once again, I thought about her daddy and momma. Good, church-going folks, just like mine. Wonder what they think after eight years?

“What about children?” I continued.

“None for me,” he said, “but she has a daughter by a previous marriage. She doesn’t live with us, though. She lives with a man in Camilla.”

Then I thought to myself, doesn’t anybody get married anymore?

We parted ways, my friend and me. We both had things to do, but I continued to think about him and his situation. A little later, out of the blue, another thought hit me. Maybe it was an inspirational hit from God, like a ton of bricks. It is a weird, modern-day irony. Things that we might have expected as the regular way of living just a few years ago have sort of disappeared. Institutions, like marriage, are undergoing great stress and changes.

Think about it. All around us, there are heterosexual couples, men and women who have chosen not to get married, as the norm used to be. They seem to not even care about it. Marriage is no big deal. Instead, they have chosen to simply live together.

Yet, marriage is all the rage, a craving desire, within another segment of our culture. Men and men, women and women, homosexual couples are fighting like crazy to tie the knot. Dizzy Dean would have said, “Who’da thunk it?”

The moral rules and regulations of history that formed the foundations of cultures are passing away. There is such a push to live in an “anything goes” world that many of our institutions, like marriage or family, are changing beyond recognition. We are free to live anyway we want to. Some see that as good. I am not so sure, although I recognize the freedom that each person can have.

The apostle Paul wrote about changing mores. He had grown up in a culture that had very strict dietary laws. When he became a Christian, it was impressed upon him that he was free to indulge in any diet he wanted. But there were considerations. The claims of freedom to Paul were not always beneficial to Paul. He wrote in First Corinthians 10:23, “Everything is permissible — but not everything is beneficial.”

I think he hit the nail on the head. In our country, one day, we may find that we are free to do anything, but not everything we are free to do is good for us. We should think about that.