I grew up in the 1970’s and was a devotee of R&B music or what was once referred to as Soul Music. At that time music was (like most everything else) very segregated racially. Yes, there were many R&B artists who did crossover and have great success and recognition on what would be called the “Pop” charts. Motown artists like The Supremes, Jackson 5, Four Tops, Temptations as well as non-Motown artists like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Otis Redding and others were part of the soundtrack of America in the 60’s and 70’s. However, this paralleled a stable of artists and a generation of music never appreciated by the wider musical audience. This music serves as a personal treasure trove of great memories for me, even though it remains widely unknown.
In this era one of the big musical events was the release of an Album. An R&B artist as most artists would have 1 or 2 hit songs sold as singles (or for those of my vintage a 45). These records would cost around .99 cents. They would leverage the popularity of those singles by adding them to a compilation of 6-8 other filler songs called an Album. Because people loved that artists hits they were willing to pay another $2.00- $5.00 dollars to get more of their music. Just thinking about some of these songs heard by few but cherished by those of us who remember them makes me feel 15 years old again.
The other day I received yet another phone call from someone I know whose marriage is on life support. Sadly, as a Pastor it is a very common occurrence. This conversation reminded me of one of the hundreds of songs buried on one of the albums I am talking about. It was a song hidden on an album by a group called the Chi-Lites titled “Marriage License”. The song is about 50 years old (man that is amazing) but I can remember the lyrics to this day:
I wish that a marriage license
Was just like a drivers license
That expired every two years
With an option to hold
Just in case our love will grow cold
The lyrics are (at least to me) very depressing. However, as I have watched marriage after marriage after marriage fail the idea of a marriage license, that was just like a driver’s license is not such a bad idea. The idea of a marriage license or at least the process of getting one being more difficult to get is an idea I can get behind. In order to buy a firearm in my state of Connecticut you have to take a class, have a clean record and pass a test. I was in the financial service industry for 25 years. In order to get an Insurance license you had to take classes, qualify legally, abide by a stringent set of laws, pass a test to get it and do continuing education to keep it. To get a driver’s license you have to take a written test to show that you know the laws of the road and a driving test to show that you are able to follow them. All of these tests have at least a small level of difficulty and in some cases a high level. However, to get a marriage license you basically just need a blood test and a pulse.
Recently, not too long after that phone call I mentioned I had a vision that I believe was from the Lord. I was sitting at a desk in a park with a line of couples waiting to step forward to speak to me. These were all couples that I knew that during my life time got married. On my desk was a pile of papers a good 2 feet high and to the right of this stack were 3 stamps. One said “approved,” one said “rejected” and the other said “approved with reservations”. My assignment was to approve their marriage license application. I was assigned to approve or decline their application based on what I know now about them in particular and marriage in general. There were some that were stamped approved more stamped decline and a few that were stamp approved with reservations. Before you judge me too harshly for judging so harshly, full disclosure, one of the couples was me and my wife Laurie coming to the desk at age 21 when we got married. We have now been married for 43 years and have been blessed to have a very happy and successful union. But I stamped our application approved with reservations. We were so young, naive, and immature based on what I know now it would have been pastoral malpractice to give us a blanket approval. In retrospect it is a miracle we did make it.
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who [a]made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6 (NKJV)
When all is said and done, I do wish it were a little more difficult to get a marriage license. Sadly, as I filter through my memory and think of the couples I’ve known I see a lot of pain, anguish, broken relationships and heartache. Marriage has the great potential for creating emotional health and human flourishing. I believe that there is no force more powerful on earth then one man and one woman committed to God in a Christ honoring marriage. Sadly, it also has the highest potential for human misery and pain. I can’t help but wonder if a marriage license was just a little more difficult to get and required continuing education to keep would we see less failure and more success?
The Chi-Lites were on to something. Edwin Louis Cole once said, “Marriage is the closest thing toHeaven or the closest thing to Hell a believer will ever have to face in this life.” My experience has been that truer words were never spoken. Something so powerful probably should require a little more than a pulse and a blood test.