A hard look at love and marriage

Marriage is an act of defiance against consumer culture.

So argues Kurt Armstrong in his first book, Why Love Will Always Be a Poor Investment. Yes, it's another book on Christian marriage. And no, it's probably not something Focus on the Family would publish.

Armstrong, a Winnipeg husband, father of two and book reviews coordinator for ChristianWeek, recently released his 118-page collection of essays on marriage, sex, faithfulness and love.

In his introduction Armstrong promises “a book of passionate arguments and honest, true stories in defense of covenantal love." He started the book several years ago as he watched the marriages of some of his friends disintegrate. He decided to cast his ballot in defense of marriage–that age-old institution whose success rate in the west seems to have hit an all-time low.

A Christian defense of marriage isn't new. What makes this one interesting is Armstrong's fierce conviction that the love story fed to us by consumer culture and the Christian narrative of love are fundamentally incompatible. In fact, they need a divorce.

“We're fed these things," Armstrong explained in an interview with ChristianWeek. “The dominant metaphor in our culture is an economic one. On the news they talk about the economic cost of, say, an earthquake in Haiti. This is a very important way for us to evaluate what's going on. But if those are the metaphors that dominate, then what does that do with love and relationships? Then we start seeing relationships as a commodity and love as a very finite object of value that you must be a good steward of. You don't want to be too risky.

“That's anti-love. Love isn't something to hoard for yourself. Love is a gift to be given away. Love is fundamentally sacrificial."

If this still sounds like standard Christian fare, skip ahead to the fifth chapter. Here Armstrong discusses his desire to offer his own son a different sexual education than the haphazard, red-faced one Armstrong himself received.

“I don't know how to not pass on shame," says Armstrong. “Because I still live with an awful lot of shame about my own sexuality and my own maleness... I don't blame my parents for this, but in the circles I grew up in [talking about sexuality] was pretty taboo. There was a bit of discussion about staying pure before marriage, we watched some Josh McDowell movies in youth group–stuff that reinforces the sense of shame, the sense that any trace of sexuality before marriage was bad. But we're sexual beings, so what are we going to do?"

Armstrong's final word on marriage is that it's darn hard. But it's also worth it. “I think we're all fairly messed up," he says. “And one of the ways to become whole is through community. And a marriage is a microcosm of community. In healthy ways and in physical ways and in messed up ways you become healed and become yourself in communion with others."

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