Thursday, September 07, 2006

Greeting Card Theology

I spent a small portion of my Labor Day weekend doing something I can't stand - searching for a greeting card. I've never timed myself but innocent trips to the corner drugstore to pick up a card for a friend or family member have turned into what seemed like card-hunting marathons, with me in search of just the right message. I've spent so long in the card aisle on some occasions that I felt like a loiterer.

The reasons for my protracted perusal are due to consideration of style and substance. My maternal grandmother, with whom I spent a good portion of my childhood, was an avid poet. She couldn't stand what she called "sing-song" poetry, the kind with a cadence that sounds more like a nursery rhyme or limerick. I think I inherited her disdain for such verse. Consequently, I search hard for the few cards that don't contain it.

My bigger beef with so much of what is offered by way of greeting card fare is with the messages themselves, at least in the case of those cards intended to convey a serious thought. (Finding humorous cards is much easier though I must confess those that evoke the greatest laughter from me would be inappropriate to give to anyone except a few of my closest friends.) So many of the messages are so saccharine-sweet and syrupy that there ought to be legislation requiring stores to provide barf bags in the card aisle. Cards related to marriage (for newlyweds, anniversaries, Mother's and Father's Day from a spouse) are some of the worst offenders. Countless times I've stood in a store, reading a card and thinking to myself, "I can't give this to my wife. She'll see right through it!"

Many times I've felt guilty, wondering if something was wrong with me because my feelings don't match the ebullient expressions of bliss printed in practically every card. If this is normative of the marital experience, then perhaps I (and, let me be quick to add, my wife) married the wrong person. I felt a wave of relief when, a few days ago, I mentioned my thoughts on this topic to a friend in a solid marriage of 45 years who said that when looking for a card for her dearly loved husband, even she occasionally wonders why there is such a disparity between her experience and the sentiments expressed in most cards. Her conclusion, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that the thoughts conveyed in most marriage-related cards are unrealistic.

I expect such froth from secular card manufacturers but what I find so tragic is that cards produced by Christian companies contain just as many romanticized notions of marital love. Usually, the only difference is that they throw in references to "prayer," "God," and sometimes, "Jesus." If anyone is to offer a realistic rendering of marriage it should be those who claim to believe and build their lives on God's special revelation but sadly, this is rarely the case, at least from my limited experience. When it comes to marriage, Christian cards are strong on the doctrine of creation, affirming that the institution is God's plan. They are woefully lacking, however, in acknowledging the fall and its obliteration of Edenic relationships. Consequently, the Lord's redemptive purpose in the lives of sinful yet redeemed men and women is rarely mentioned.

Last weekend, while in search of a card for friends recently married, I read numerous cards assuring the newly married couple that the sender was praying for a life of "happiness and blessing" for them as though there were no higher purpose for their union. I've not yet seen a card that said something like "Praying that you will be receptive to the ways the Lord will use you to perfect holiness in each other's lives" or "Praying that you will endure in fidelity to Christ and each other through the joys and trials you will share." These are the kinds of prayers marriages need. I know that when newlyweds are ripping envelopes open and collecting checks, they may not be all that attentive to what's printed in a card anyway, but with all the myths surrounding marriage, shouldn't we look for every opportunity to keep a true vision before each other's eyes? In doing so, we contend against lies and misconceptions that lead to much unnecessary disappointment and disillusionment.

The Christian greeting card industry would do well to imitate the kind of authenticity expressed in the lyrics of a Sara Groves tune called "Roll to the Middle," a beautiful expression of marital love and commitment even on the heels of heated argument. Here are the words:

We just had a World War III here in our kitchen
We both thought the meanest things
And then we both said them
We shot at each other till we lost ammunition

This is how I know our love
This is when I feel it’s power
Here in the absence of it
This is my darkest hour
When both of us are hunkered down
And waiting for the truce

All the complicated wars
They end pretty simple
Here when the lights go down
We roll to the middle

No matter how my pride resists
No matter how this wall feels true
No matter how I can'’t be sure
That you're gonna roll in too
No matter what, no matter what
I'm going to reach for you
I think I'm going to send a "Get Well Soon" card to some Christian card companies.


Ted said...

When I'm feeling well, I like to print my own with photos I took myself. I think it makes it more personal.

blakeyblog said...

Keith, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on card-searching. I've had that experience too. Thanks for pointing out that the need for authenticity. I appreciate your blog even though I don't comment often. God bless!