Sorry - it's been another long period between blogs. In the meantime, I've been preparing for, and then helping to deliver, the annual mad-house/Summer Playscheme that we refer to round here as the "J-Team". It's been a hoot so far... I'll try to post a picture of me as "Mr Theophilus" the wise, but slightly barmy tramp-cum-prophet-cum-sage character that I'm playing throughout the week.
Anyway - onto other topics. As well as the J-Team, I have the enormous privilege this week of presiding at the marriage of three couples. It has made me think again about that fundamental question...what is marriage actually for?
You don't need me to trot out a load of statistics about the fact that marriage works... there's plenty of evidence around for that assertion... especially as far as the bringing up of children is concerned. But marriage is much more than the bringing up of children... not least for those who don't have, or can't have, children.
The Bible starts, pretty much, with the story of Adam and Eve. In that story, God declares that 'It is not good for the man to be alone' - and so sets about creating Eve to be man's 'helper'. As with all Scripture, the context here is vital. As Mark Greene (of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) has observed, "the context is humankind's crucial role in the stewardship of the entire world and the creation of a community in which human beings can flourish".
The Hebrew word for 'helper' is 'ezer' - and doesn't mean supporter in that English sense of a subservient 'shouter from the sidelines'. It is much closer to the idea of someone who comes alongside another in the active solving of a problem.
The role of union, therefore, is to unite the couple in the God-given task of making the world a better place for human beings to flourish in.
That's a very outward focus - and quite different from the messages we so often here in our romantic-movie-soaked culture - a culture which has elevated 'couple-dom' as the new must-have accessory of life. Our young people have been taught, or have absorbed from Hollywood, the idea that marriage is the answer to all our personal and psychological needs. When I find 'the one', that One will satisfy my every mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual need. The 'One' will love me perfectly, soothe my worries away, heal my every hurt, intoxicate me in abandoned sexual union - always remember my birthday, and put the bins out without being asked.
Is it any wonder that so many marriages struggle when that kind of expectation is laid on couples?
Eve was not created to relieve Adam of his loneliness... he had God for that, who walked and talked with him in the garden. Indeed, as you look at the Bible overall, the emphasis is not on finding a soul-mate, or a substitute mother or father, but it is on community with God's people, and on building a community in which human beings can flourish.
The focus of the Bible's view of marriage is outward, not inward. That is why, at the introduction to the Marriage Services I will conduct this weekend I will read the following words from the Anglican Book of Common Worship: "In marriage husband and wife belong to one another, and they begin a new life together in the community. It is a way of life that all should honour"