Last summer, the media couldn’t get enough of the word “entanglement” as actors Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith confronted rumors about infidelity in their relationship on an episode of Jada’s Facebook Red Table Talk show. The couple displayed a united front, forgiving the indiscretion and committing to their partnership no matter what happens.
For over two decades, people have been attempting to redefine marriage. And as commendable as pledging a lifelong commitment is, there is no difference between that and how God intended for us to approach our marriages. Marriage simply used to mean a union between one male and one female, but it is increasingly becoming a socially constructed concept with multiple meanings. People with nontraditional views of marriage seem to look down on others as closed-minded or inferior when they don’t waver in their traditional beliefs on marriage. Additionally, the concept of a life partner is gaining traction as though it supersedes marriage. However, if one looks at how God originally designed marriage, there is no need to create a “better” concept of the dyadic relationship. Perfection cannot be improved upon; it can only be tainted.
In Mark 10, Jesus says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Those who take this at face value will automatically see the lifelong commitment implication here. The Biblical version of marriage is not the problem; people have started to consider these sacred words as optional. Marriage is becoming more about how we feel rather than what we do. If we feel okay with our spouse’s actions on a particular day, we are more likely to want to stay married. If we’re going through a season in our relationship where things seem strained, or we feel a disconnect with our spouse, then we look for exit strategies. Soon, a habit that our spouse has had since we’ve known them becomes magnified as well as their other flaws. Or we retroactively recall how we never prayed about this marriage in the first place and begin to convince ourselves that this person was not who God intended for us, forgetting how we’d thanked God for sending us a “soulmate” initially. Suddenly, what was a blessing, turns into the biggest mistake that we’ve ever made in our lives. (At least that’s what we tell ourselves.) It’s not that God’s statutes changed. We’ve changed our minds, and we want to make the Word fit our scenarios.
The Smiths have openly shared how they began to redefine their union during rough patches in their relationship. While some may consider it amazing that this couple has found a way to stay together, others may find the terminology and overall explanation hubristic as it implies that a life partnership somehow transcends God’s plan for marriage. When one enters into a marital relationship with the mentality that there are no exit doors other than death, then the lifetime commitment doesn’t have to be an addendum. It’s built into the fabric of the relationship. When one truly embraces all the components of love as outlined in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, there is grace for flaws. Furthermore, an “entanglement” doesn’t have to be the end of a marriage but could signify the beginning of a new and better one. While marital healing from “entanglements” requires contrition from the entangler and forgiveness from the spouse, couples must learn that infidelity is not the problem in a marriage, only a symptom.
Having a life partnership mentality toward marriage is great, but it should not replace what God has already perfected. Marriage is not a meaningless piece of paper or a man-made control mechanism. It’s a God-ordained institution that pre-dates sin. In its heyday, it was flawless. Now that we are inhabitants of this broken world, it is stained by ideologies and philosophies that attempt to undermine its importance. A life partnership may be a verbal contract between two people, but a marriage is a covenant between the couple and God. When we realize that, we don’t have to find creative ways to ensure that we stay together because we’ve already decided that we would when we began our journey.
Black celebrity marriages are making headlines this week: musical duo Ashford and Simpson’s for its endurance and Will and Jada Smith’s for its possible breakdown. How important are these relationships to the African American community?
Beautiful Songs Emerge from a Beautiful Relationship
When news broke that Nick Ashford, half of the renowned Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson, died of throat cancer Monday at age 70, not only were the songs he wrote with his wife Valerie Simpson legendary, but so was their 38-year marriage.
The duo wrote some of Motown’s biggest hits for artists like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Chaka Khan, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for Ross, “You’re All I Need To Get By” for Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and “I’m Every Woman” for Khan. They also wrote hits for themselves, the best known of which was “Solid As A Rock and, according to the Associated Press (AP), they are credited as co-writers on Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own.”
Ashford and Simpson met in 1964 at Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church, USA Today reported.
“They were always comfortable with each other and they made all of us comfortable, because they were comfortable,” Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire told AP. “The thing is they were married and working together, that was what was special about them. Everybody admired that.”
“Their love gave voice to Tammi Terrel and Marvin Gaye,” wrote Oretha Winston at Elev8. “When I was growing up that’s how I learned about the expression of love and true friendship. It was from listening to those songs.”
The Importantance of the Pinkett-Smiths
Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s marriage was in the news too, but only because of conflicting reports that it is in trouble.
Writer Morris W. O’Kelly waxed eloquent in The Atlanta Post on why Will and Jada’s marriage matters:
For whatever many and unfortunate reasons, marriage within the African-American community is the exception, not the rule. You bet, I’m rooting for Will and Jada. The husband is best known for a music and acting career in no way connected to misogyny, drugs and buffoonery. His millions aren’t tainted with the stain of calling women B****s and men N****s, year after year after year. It is what separates him from the likes of a Jay-Z, who at 41 is still as lyrically irresponsible as he was at 21, disrespecting the whole of Black people for a buck. Mind you, this is after his previous career as a drug dealer. It’s not about the money amassed, it’s about the responsibility accepted (or refused) along the way. Integrity matters. Her name is best known for co-starring in TV shows about African-Americans in college (of all things) and running a nursing staff and a host of movies in between the two. These facts speak to the importance of Will and Jada and their substantive contributions.
From Jane Fonda to Miley Cyrus, the world has always had a love-hate attraction to celebrity children who follow their parents into showbiz. Are they talented in their own right, or just catching a free ride on mom and dad’s famous coattails? And as new celebrity children emerge, critics will inevitably take swipes. The latest target is Willow Smith, Will and Jada Smith’s 9-year-old daughter, whose “Whip My Hair” song and video became a viral sensation late last year. Willow and her Karate Kid brother, Jaden, were the subjects of a series of disparaging tweets from, of all people, Waiting to Exhale novelist Terry McMillan, who seemed to take Will and Jada to task for putting their offspring in the spotlight at such a young age. McMillan tweeted:
“It feels like the Smith children are being pimped and exploited. Or, they’re already hungry for fame. What about 4th grade?”
“The Smith children already act like child stars. There’s an arrogance in their demeanor and behavior. I find it incredibly sad.”
“These kids don’t already know what they “love.” Total bull****. They’re not prodigies. They think Hollywood is real.”
McMillan later apologized, but the damage had already been done. The truth is, both Jaden and Willow come across as precocious kids who emanate the same star quality as their mom and dad, and I’m sure their parents felt they were both ready. Willow, in particular, projects a strong and sassy demeanor, with her shaved head, pierced fingernails, and rhinestones on her lips. She’s different; but is it fair to automatically assume that she’s consumed by celebrity and an arrogant brat?
As McMillan suggests, it is reasonable to assume that a 9-year-old does not yet know what she wants out of life yet, but what would McMillan recommend as an alternative for a talented child in a position like Willow’s? Should she try out for the school play instead of auditioning for daddy’s next movie?
It is far too easy to label young, privileged talent as arrogant and undeserving. But, c’mon, she’s 9 for goodness sakes — too young to fully understand the depth of her privilege! She’s simply fearless, most likely because she has lived a life free of hardship. She sees mommy and daddy working hard doing the things that they love and getting rewarded for it. In her world, hard work equals success.
Willow’s parents have encouraged her to explore her talents and live fearlessly. Is this risky parenting? Are they allowing her to grow up too fast? Perhaps, but Will and Jada’s world is not ours. Having both been young stars themselves, perhaps they understand the dangers of showbiz culture better than most and will protect their children from the snares while empowering them to shine.
The bottom line is, what parent wouldn’t do everything they could to help their child to pursue her dreams? For some, it means weekly trips to the gym for gymnastics training or to the ice rink for figure-skating lessons. For others, it may mean basketball camp or piano lessons. It’s no different with the rich and famous, except they have advantages that most of us do not. It doesn’t always seem fair, and that is why some of us harbor such resentment toward people like the Smiths.
The Smith kids were the beneficiaries of instant fame for doing stuff that some people work a whole career at without any noteworthy results. McMillan suggests only prodigies should be allowed this type of success and notoriety, but I say you can’t blame Willow and Jaden for having been born into a successful showbiz family. Rather than bash them, we should pray that they survive the obstacles of young celebrity without too many scrapes, and that they’ll perhaps one day use their fame to do good in the world, or at least something more productive than criticizing folks on Twitter.
In the neo-beatnik classic Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller extols the virtues of the titular great American music (I’m referring to jazz itself, for those who don’t know what titular means) by saying that it, like life, doesn’t resolve.
I’m curious, then, about what he would feel about the latest Will Smith vehicle, Seven Pounds, for many of its qualities share a commonality with jazz. It’s mysterious, beautiful, enigmatic. And it, too, refuses to resolve. (more…)
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