Modernity is too small

I've been thinking a bit over the past couple of weeks about Michael's talk from Large Group before Thanksgiving. The thing that's stuck with me is the idea that Freud, Marx, and Nietzche broke the back of modernity and that their critiques of modernity can be helpful to our growth in faith. Did I understand what he was saying correctly?

So much of our struggle with faith in modern culture comes as a result of unknowingly or unthinkingly accepting the assumptions of modernity. It's hard for us to fit the Truth of God into the box of modernity, which, because of it's smallness, doesn't have room to contain this Truth. How can you rely on science and observation if you have a unique act of creation at the dawn of time? How can you have an objective observer if our ability to see the world has been corrupted by sin? How can you create a society of good men when the best man history's ever seen was crucified for his goodness? How can you exalt reason when faith requires response before all answers have been given or understood?

As we engage the academy, it's good for us to remember that the box of modernity is too small to contain God's truth, that some of these assumptions are flawed, and that we don't have to defend modernity to defend God's truth. I wonder how our engagement of post-moderns would change if we joined them in their critique of the limits of modernity, loved the Lord our God with all our minds, and spoke up with a little bit of Michael's "irascibility."

Marriage...when are we ready?

In a sense, we'll never be ready to get married. We could always be a little more prepared, a little more mature, a little more stable. Marriage, if and when it comes, always draws our inadequacies to the surface. Marriage...when are we ready? Never.

Haha, clever, funny, but really, marriage...when are we ready? Never.

That question needs to be reshaped. It can carry a lot of weight and come with a lot of baggage. We may want help silencing the voices telling us (wisely or unwisely) to wait before getting married. We may want to make sure we know this person completely before we make this deep commitment to them. We may want assurance that our marriages will be easy or at least lasting. And this question is supposed to help with these wants.

But these wants present a problem for people who are considering marriage. At least, they certainly presented a problem for me. These wants represent our hearts' desires for a formulaic security. And there is no such thing as a formula for security!

Let's look at these three wants.

Silence the voices. I wish there was a formula to silence the voices that tell us to wait, especially when I see people in relationships and I think they're wisely headed toward marriage. But there's no formula to silence the voices telling you to wait. They are there, although they often distract and discourage, because you have loving relationships with people who are imperfect.

You, of course, have to ask "Is there wisdom in their voices to caution?" There may be. There may not be. It's possible that your family just isn't ready for you to grow up. It's also possible that your family sees some real potential for trouble in the relationship (he's already married, he's your brother, he's six years old, he's not a he...) that you don't see. You can silence the voices telling you to wait (or hurry up) only by cutting yourself off from imperfect people. But then you're left alone with yourself and without the wisdom those relationships also provide.

Next, know the person. It is great to know the person you're marrying very well before you get married. Great! Highly desired! Optional, according to the Bible. According to the Bible, your readiness for marriage has more to do with you than with the relationship and more to do with your call than with your readiness (oh, to be writing a book instead of a blog!).

On top of that, there's no way to know this person completely before you marry them (remember that intimacy and commitment are designed to go hand in hand, so there's an intimacy that you won't have until after you've made the commitment). If you are going to marry, you are going to marry a strange person, if not a stranger. You'll discover all sorts of stuff about them after you're married: some of it good, some not. Before you get married, you certainly need to ask "Given what I know about this person, is it wise for us to marry?" And you may need to know more to be confident in the wisdom of the decision, but there's not an absolute amount of knowledge that you need to have. How well did Ruth know Boaz or the Church Christ?

Lastly, ease and longevity. If you get married and your marriage lasts, it will not be easy. I guarantee it. If you want a formula for a challenging marriage, here it is: "Get married." (I'm happily married, by the way, this isn't me venting). Marriage is tough and there's certainly no way to time the start of a marriage to guarantee it's ease or longevity! It's the sin and otherness in a marriage that makes if difficult or makes it fail, not how it starts. We want secure, happy marriages and that's good. But that won't come apart from hard work and God's abundant grace. Instead of asking "When are we ready?" and trusting the timing, we need to ask "Would it be wise for me to marry this person now?" and trust God's grace when married life get's difficult.

Almost every day I uncover a new way that I was not prepared to be married to Amy. I don't think I am unique or that I married poorly. I just think that marriage is a relationship that requires growth and grace. I'm not ready to be Amy's husband. I need help to be her husband, help from her, help from my community, help from God.

If you're considering marriage, especially if you've already got the person picked out, I want to scare and comfort you. Marriage is a huge, life-altering experience. It's a huge commitment and if full of terrifying intimacy. Without God's help, you'd have to be crazy to get married. But God is gracious and compassionate, protecting and rescuing us when we don't deserve it or know we need it.

--- Now, I know I scared out more snakes than I could shoot in this post. This is a very general sweep. Shoot me an e-mail, post a comment or grab me when you see me this week if you want me to clarify something in particular. ---

Story break

So, Senior year was in full swing. I was getting ready to graduate and go off to graduate school in another country. Basketball season was also in full swing and I found myself attracted to a wonderful young lady in our InterVarsity chapter. It was a wonderful time of the year. That's the setting.

Here were the twists in the setting:
1) She was younger and not about to graduate
2) I had three good friends who also had crushes on her
3) I had already experienced the difficulties of a long-distance relationship
4) She and I served in Duke's IV chapter and spent time together often
5) We both were committed to Jesus and wanted to serve him wisely.

You know how the story ends, I think. Amy and I got married this past summer and are happily serving Jesus together. And Amy's not the woman from the story, in case you're wondering. So, how did I get from a crushed out Senior to a man married happily to Amy? That's the story.

March of my Senior year was a hard month. The Blue Devils lost in the tourney and I had to decide whether or not it would be wise to start something romantic with this friend. Every time we spent time together it was wonderful, fun, and life-giving (isn't that a good sign?). I should have been walking on clouds and floating on treetops, but I wasn't. I was sad. Why? It had little to do with the Devils, though I don't want to downplay the impact that NCAA basketball has on relationships. No, my sadness was due to the fact that I was fairly convinced that pursuing something romantic with this friend was unwise, "the right thing at the wrong time" to quote Harris.

I was convinced that pursuing something romantic with my friend was unwise because I knew that the circumstances of the next year would make it almost impossible for us to seriously evaluate the potential of marriage. If that is to be a purpose in romantic dating, then romantic dating wasn't an option for us. In a few weeks, the attraction subsided and in a few months I was happy to see her dating one of my friends.

Flash forward a year and a half and I'm in Blacksburg, Virginia interning with InterVarsity before getting placed at Washington and Lee. I've been spending time getting to know Amy Whitaker. Sparks are flying, snow is falling, and that's the new setting. Amy and I start dating romantically, exclusively, and intensely and six months later are convinced that it would be wise for us to marry. Amy is an amazing woman and I'm so blessed to be her husband!

The main difference between these two stories, the difference that made it seem wise to start dating Amy but not to date my friend from Duke, was that with Amy the timing and situation allowed us to consider marriage. It wasn't easy. We did the long-distance thing for a year after we were engaged and are still recovering from some of the strain that that put on our relationship. It wasn't easy. But it was good.

Now there isn't much of a moral to this story or a formula for healthy, happy relationships contained in here. Just some flesh on ideas. Think about your context. Think about your motivation. Seek wisdom. How to do that will be the subject of the next post.

Teaser --- Andy Stanley's The Best Question Ever
--- What is the wise thing for me to do? ---
--- In light of your past experiences, your present circumstances, and your future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for you to do? ---

Dating...when are we ready? (Pt. 2)

After reading my last post, my wife kindly informed me that I didn't answer the question. I said that I think I answered a quarter of the question, but Amy responded that I answered the part no one cared about. I think, as usual, that she was right.

My thinking was that, in the Christian communities in which we participate, there's some hesitancy to relate to people of the opposie sex as non-romantic, close friends. Some of us are interested in dating partners or marriage prospects, but close friends? Not so much. This tendency makes me sad.

But, on to the next quarter of the question (I'll probably answer a quarter, a quarter, and then the remaining half). When are we ready to date romantically (as opposed to friendly)?

My answer is simple, but maybe unusual. Because I believe that intimacy and commitment are designed to go hand in hand, I believe that it is unwise to date romantically, exclusively and intensely unless you are ready to consider marrying the person you are dating. Is this a familiar or a foreign idea? Let me expand on it.

First, it's important to not kid ourselves about these relationships: they always escalate and grow. Spend every Friday and Saturday night for a month with a person and you already have momentum building commitment and the accompanying expectations. Talk deeply on those dates, hold hands and snuggle a little and you already have momentum building intimacy and the accompanying desires. This is natural and good: romantic, exclusive and intense dating should lead to deeper levels of intimacy and commitment. But know that the trajectory of these relationships is for the deep end of intimacy and commitment, which in the Christian life means marriage. These relationships either lead to marriage or some bent and twisted substitue or, with effort and a little heartache, back to friendship.

Secondly, if these relationships are either headed to marriage or a substitute or back to friendship, it would be wise for us to keep marriage in mind, to be considering marriage as the relationship grows. Considering marriage as the relationship grows is the best protection from the sub-marriage, sub-friendship substitutes.

Thirdly, we need a willingness to consider marrying, not an immediate willingness to marry. Please don't hear me saying "Don't date a person unless you're sure you're going to marry him/her." Dating with intent is a discovery process. What this means is that you're paying attention, watching to see if this person you're growing closer and more committed to is someone you would be wise to marry. If you discover something along the way that would keep you from marrying (she's already married, she's your sister, she's six years old, she's not a she...), the fact that you're considering marriage and not just having a good time should lead you to change the trajectory of the relationship.

So, when are we ready to date with intent? You're ready when you're ready to consider marriage (how to do that is the topic of a future post, of course). To show you what that looks like, I'll tell those stories I promised last time. But it will have to wait for next time. :)

"The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. (Harris)"

Dating...when are we ready?

I have a bookshelf entirely devoted to books I've accumulated over the years that speak to relationships. My favorite thing about the shelf is that Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye spends every day next to Jeramy Clark's I Gave Dating a Chance (okay...this is isn't brain surgeon level material, but still...a whole shelf). Dating is somthing we all think about from time to time, right?

So, here are some of my thoughts on Dating, specifically on the "when are we ready?" aspect of it. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments section. :)

First off, I think we get our best picture of love relationship in the Trinity. In the Trinity, we see a unique unity: a deep intimacy and an inseparability. In our human relationships (including dating) we reflect to varying degrees the relational unity of the Trinity. I think this means that intimacy and inseparability (commitment) go hand and hand. In our relationships, as in the Trinity, the depths of intimacy and inseparability - unity - were never intended to be separated. Does this make sense?

What this practically means for our dating relationships is that a relationship that grows significantly faster in one of these areas (intimacy or commitment) than in the other is bending away from God's design. This is one of the core reasons why God designed sex (a very intimate act) to be reserved for marriage (a very intimate relationship). But this principle goes way beyond sex and marriage.

I had a friend who dated a wonderful young woman and was evaluating whether or not it would be wise for them to marry. This was a highly committed relationship: it would be tough for them to separate. But my friend was really failing to share his emotions and thought processes with his girlfriend, and they both knew it. This was a case where commitment was in danger of running ahead of intimacy. Can you guess what happened in their relationship when their level of intimacy caught up with their level of commitment?

So, thought #1...because our relationships reflect the unity of the Trinity, in our dating relationships we can't find deep intimacy without commitment (or vice versa).

Second thought, connected to the first: I think that there are necessary levels of dating. What's that mean? It's pretty simple. Dating can be considered either "appointments to meet socially" (Clark, p. 16; I would call this "intentional friendship" or "going on dates") or an intentional relationship to consider the possibility of marriage (Harris, p. 55-56; I would call this "courting" or "dating with intentionality").

At the broadest level, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need non-exclusive dates with members of the opposite sex because in Christ we are committed to both men and women. For me to have no relational intimacy with women would rob me of some of what God has for me in the gospel. To be clear, I don't seek wife-like intimacy with every woman, because I've only been united to one woman in that way. I have one wife, but in the community of Jesus, I have many sisters. And though at times I think it might be easier to make all my "appointments to meet socially" with other men, I wrestle against my disbelief in non-romantic friendship with women because that disbelief reflects a deeper disbelief in a reality of the gospel, that God in Christ has really united me to the men and women who are in Christ.

So, we need low-level dates to enjoy the fullness of gospel-relationship. (Do you believe that or do I need to keep building a case?) When are we ready for dates at this level? In one sense, we're ready for these dates as soon as we're in Christ. In another sense, we're always going to be growing in our readiness for these dates as long as God's at work in us to make us more like Christ. We all know it's hard at first and at times to grow and maintain opposite-sex, non-romantic relationships. I recommend that it be done with wisdom, caution, and holy joy.

At another level, as men and women that God may be leading to a married life, dating in our culture can serve the purpose of helping us discern who to marry. Another way to look at it is that as you grow in unity with your brothers or sisters in Christ, some of these relationships may begin to stand out as relationships that may further God's purposes for you if they grow to deeper levels of intimacy and commitment. Can I tell you what that process was like for me and continue this conversation tomorrow?

Apologetic moment

Over the last coupla weeks, I've gotten more questions in the Question Box than can be handled in the AM's we have left this term. So...I'll pop some info on some of them up here for the interested. You can dialogue via comments if you'd like. ;)

This week's Web Question: "Dating? Marriage? When are we ready?"

I'll be posting some thoughts on this, as well as some comments about Prof. Anderson's talk, over the course of this week.

Traveling Team resources

It was great to have the Traveling Team in town this week, challenging us and giving us tools to grow as World Christians.

Check out their resources page if you get a chance: http://www.thetravelingteam.org/2000/resources/index.shtml.

You could also find some great missions material available at:
www.urbana.com
www.blueridgestim.com/resources2.html
http://home.wlu.edu/~sdittman/

Whose mission field?

A large sign near the exit of The Church of the Holy Spirit (an Anglican church in Roanoke, VA), reads "You are now entering your mission field."

This represents a radically different attitude toward missions. Your home, the restaurants you frequent, your workplace, the places where you play - all these locales are your mission field, the place to which God has called you.

Did you catch this in the talk from Sunday night? Scott and Susan are thinking deeply about this idea. Washington and Lee is part of their mission field: Scott is in missions through his service as Registrar/Director of IR and Susan is in missions through her service as Coordinator for Suicide Prevention.

Talk to Scott or Susan for ten minutes and you start to get a feel that they aren't just killing time in Lexington. They have a passion to serve people in St. Vincent, but that passion feeds off of and complements their passion to serve God in Lexington. Here are some thoughts as to how it's possible to desire to serve God both locally and abroad...

Firstly, in listening to Scott and Susan, they have a real awareness of God at work in their day to day context. This means that their desire to serve in St. Vincent isn't from a theology that says "God isn't at work in Lexington." They don't need to go abroad to "find" God. An awareness that God is at work in your day to day context is essential to keeping your passion for local, daily mission alive. Your mission field is also God's mission field.

Secondly, Scott and Susan approach their missions opportunities (both locally and abroad) with a great deal of humility, a right view of themselves. This humility leads to both their understanding that what they're doing in Lexington isn't the only thing God's doing (creating a desire to serve abroad) and their understanding that what God's doing in St. Vincent isn't totally dependent on their involvement (creating a freedom to return to Lexington). Have you seen this at work in them? Reflect on Susan's comments about the spiritual growth in the team and her prayer request that God would allow them to partner with Vincentians on the next trip. Humility, right?

Lastly, Scott and Susan serve a missionary God. Unless you also serve a missionary God, you will always be torn and always be pressured to go and serve in places where it looks like He's dropping the ball. But He never drops the ball. As I said before, your mission field is also God's mission field. Or better yet, God allows you to serve in His field. Whether you're going to St. Vincent with the Dittmans or St. Louis with Urbana, your calling is always to God's field. He's at work before you get there and He'll be at work long after you've left. So, feel free to serve both locally and abroad: it's all His field.