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For better, for worse

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

Lately I've been thinking a lot about marriage. To be honest, even though I've had two years to come up with something, I've struggled with what to say at Paul and Kaitlin's fast-approaching wedding this weekend. It wasn't until last night that I realized what I wanted to say.

Years ago, in preparation for another wedding, I was struck by a jarring realization: with one exception (Ruth and Boaz), there aren't any good marriages depicted in the Bible. Far from being a fairy tale, the Biblical record of human marriage is decidedly unromantic; there are no couples who live happily ever after.

Earlier this week I stumbled across another vivid reminder of an uncomfortable truth: all marriages are the union of two troubled souls.

As a history buff, this book greatly intrigues me. The title is certainly attention-getting.

Here is how the publisher describes the two troubled souls:

The central characters are an eighteenth-century couple with transatlantic pietist connections. Fogleman depicts Jean François Reynier as smart, competent, charismatic, and a brilliant practitioner of medicine, which made him a popular figure nearly everywhere he went. Associates quickly realized, however, that he was also arrogant, stubborn, prickly, contemptuous, and, well, troublesome. He had an insatiable desire for achieving his interpretation of spiritual perfection, and no qualms about challenging existing political and religious leaders. In fact, his most memorable act was penning and publishing a scathing, widely circulated indictment of the Moravian leadership, theology, and lifestyle that he eventually came to despise. His wife, Maria Barbara Knoll, less cantankerous, constantly struggled between her desire to find a stable religious community and her effort to be a good wife to a quarrelsome and fiercely independent man.

The book’s first section highlights Jean François’s upbringing among French-Swiss Huguenots in Switzerland and his subsequent transatlantic voyages to Pennsylvania and Georgia. Fogleman then briefly explores Maria Barbara’s backstory as a German Lutheran orphan desperately searching for a communitarian ideal among the Moravians, and her marriage to Jean François. The Caribbean takes center stage in the third section, as the Reyniers traveled to Suriname and then St. Thomas to preach, heal, and cultivate a religious community. The book ends with their travels to North America, their increasing conflicts with Moravian communities there, and the growing animosity they developed toward one another. The most fascinating aspect of this story may in fact be their rocky marriage. Almost always on the brink of divorce near the end of their lives, the couple came to establish a kind of truce whereby they were still married but ultimately separated in their activities.

"Good God, what a lot of trouble there is in marriage!"

So declared our namesake, Martin Luther.

I invite you to read more about the messy, marvelous estate of marriage:

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