For all you sports people, you know that we’re in between two major sporting events right now: The Australian Open and The Super Bowl. Both sports are complex- rich with strategy and tactical possibilities. To fully appreciate them you have to know their rules. And it can take years to learn and understand all of the rules. I am a die-hard tennis fan and I still have to explain to my own wife why tennis players get 15 points instead of 1, and as a European I’m meek to admit I still don’t fully understand American football. But what I do understand is that in the world of sports, rules are important. They’re important because they establish what is fair and when everybody knows the rules there is equal opportunity for all athletes to adjust their strategy, and win. But also, rules protect and promote the unique beauty of the sport- just as spelling and grammar rules protect and promote a language.
Try to tell a hardcore tennis fan that if a ball only catches a small part of the line it should be called out. Or try to crash a Superbowl party and tell the football fanatical attendees that fumbles aren’t fouls- a ball should count as a touchdown as long as the player that tries to catch it manages to grip it at all. Likely, these fans would be offended. Because you would be insulting the history, tradition, and sacred culture of their beloved sport- disrespecting the athletes and fans that carry its torch and cherish it.
Sports without clear rules are merely leisure activities.
Without a publicly accepted framework, Sunday’s Superbowl wouldn’t have its massive audience. I doubt that over 100 million Americans would watch 22 big guys randomly elbow jabbing each other for a ball for 3 hours if it were merely a recreational activity- a game all about a healthy dose of cardio and love for catching and throwing.
When I view marriage today I see an unraveling framework. Marriage has just as many definitions as there are couples in love. For many of my friends and acquaintances, I observe that they don’t care about marriage at all. I listen to my unmarried friends, who dismiss marriage as ‘just a piece of paper’ in the context of their own relationships, yet advocate ferociously for the right of same sex couples to marry. It’s difficult to square. Marriage is becoming a totally private matter for which people are making up their own rules. It is becoming purely recreational.
The other week I met a guy at my local watering hole and we started talking. He has been married for almost 10 years, which positively surprised me since we live in a fairly poor neighborhood with a lot of broken homes. I thought, Nice- a marriage fan, feeling the same way I feel when I meet a tennis enthusiast. We talked about our families back and forth for a while when he suddenly said “You know, a marriage always go up and down but sometimes all you need is a girlfriend to spice things up”. He then began to express how he and his wife separate sex from the love they have and that they sometimes are open with each other about having affairs on the side. The spell was broken. It was like finding out that he played tennis with 5 serves and 4 balls at the same time. To me, that is not tennis. This man criminally disrespected the rules of the sport.
In networks that strongly guard marriage as an institution of profound importance, indeed as a sacrament, there are priests and guardians acting as umpires to make sure that people know and embrace the rules, often before they ever start playing. There are communities full of linesmen, quick to declare faults if we recklessly play outside the court. Today, with marriage turning into a recreational activity, where anyone can make up their own rules, we are losing fans by the minute.
Every member of the winning team for this years Super Bowl will go home with a very special ring- a symbol of their virtues and ability to play by the rules to their fullest potential. You can’t buy the honor in a Super Bowl ring, you have to earn it through your actions.
So it should be for every man or woman’s wedding ring.
If we want marriage to flourish again we need to treat it like a formal sport- with clear rules, guarded by dedicated stewards.