That’s Not Why (Or: The Problems With A Consequentialist View of Sin)

I hate-read (well, not “hate-read” exactly, more like “irritate-read”) a couple of Christian blogs, and in the comments section of a post to do with protecting children from being exposed to things they weren’t ready for, a commenter insisted on the importance of exalting the beauty of marriage and urging children to “save themselves for their future spouse.” It got me thinking. Weird, I know.

I have a problem with people focusing “purity” talk on weird stuff like giving your virginity to your husband just like I have a problem with people saying that lying and slander and gossip are wrong because they’re hurtful. Generally speaking, I have a problem with the implication that not trusting God is wrong because it makes our lives harder when we don’t, because I have a problem with consequentialism.

Consequentialism is the notion that the consequences of an action are the best way to know if the action itself is right or wrong. In other words, if something is harmful, to ourselves or others, it must be bad, and if something is helpful, it must be good.

Consequentialism pervades our culture — “they’re consenting adults” and “I’m not hurting anybody” and “my body, my choice” all point to a conviction that acts are as morally right or wrong as their impact on others. And don’t get me wrong, it’s is useful and indeed vital for a society because it shapes our laws and determines how we punish crime, but it’s a rotten foundation for understanding sin and holiness because it puts the purpose for doing right and avoiding wrong in the wrong spot.

The why of obedience isn’t “because it’s bad for you” or “because it’s bad for other people.” Not ultimately. Don’t get me wrong, here. God’s commands are good (duh), and obedience is for our good (duh). But our ultimate good is not the same as our short-term happiness or blessing. In God’s providence, even our sin is for our good; even our suffering is for our good. Sometimes God graciously defers consequences for sin, for his own good purposes. And you know what? Some people have sex (even lots of it!) outside of marriage and don’t get an STI or a baby in the bargain, and feel no guilt or shame or remorse for their actions. Some people get drunk regularly with no long-term health effects. Some people live genuinely happy lives while making choices Christians would all recognize as sinful. And guess what else? Many Christians are “virgins,” but consumed with lustful fantasies, or addicted to erotic novels or pornography, or simply eaten up with pride over their superior purity. Many Christians have never taken so much as a sip of alcohol, but have a disordered relationship with food, or are addicted to smoking, or look down their noses with disdain at those who enjoy a glass of wine now and again. In this fallen world, actions and consequences are simply not that mechanistic.

If we spend all of our time telling those we teach to obey because they’ll be blessed if they do and avoid sin because they’ll be sorry if they don’t, what happens when the uncomfortable realities of life in a fallen world strike? What happens when the girl you dragged up on stage at your youth event to do the duct tape analogy has sex for the first time and doesn’t feel like de-stickied duct tape at all? What happens when the kid who grew up being warned about inevitable spiritual depression if he stopped going to church stops going to church and is perfectly content with his decision to have brunch instead? I’m convinced that this kind of teaching is a big reason that so many kids leave youth group and the church about the same time. Consequentialist theology leaves them vulnerable to every message about following their hearts. It has the ability to make sin seem not all that bad, actually, as long as it’s not hurting anyone!

So you shouldn’t dress modestly to keep men from lusting after you or assaulting you. You shouldn’t avoid pornography because it’s addictive. You shouldn’t shun drunkenness because cirrhosis is deadly. And on the positive side, don’t read your Bible because it makes you happy, don’t go to church because you get blessed when you’re there, and don’t confess sin because your conscience feels better when you do.

So why do Christians obey God? Why do they seek to kill their sin and live a godly life? Because our sins are paid for, every last one of them. Because we are learning to see our sin more clearly as the years pass, and cling to Jesus in the midst of our failures. Because our King lived perfectly on our behalf. Because we have no fear that our sin will separate us from God ever again. Because we know that our very good deeds themselves come from the Holy Spirit in us, not our own efforts. Because, in short, we are free from condemnation and guilt, from slavery to the law, from the pressure to perform. We can live in that freedom, obeying sometimes, sinning often, failing regularly, confident that no one can snatch us from the hand of our Savior.

That is good news.

Believe that, friends. Don’t settle for the message of consequentialism, and don’t put your hope in the fear of consequences to keep you from sinning. Trust in a God who perfectly holds you and keeps you faithful by his power.

How To Be Awesome, 3.2

Read on to discover how Anonymous Married Dude thinks men should pursue (some interesting stuff here for you fellas who’ve been turned down already!) and how ladies should respond.

How did you decide to ask girls out? Did you just see her and do that cartoon aaa-OOO-gah thing and go, “I need to ask her out like whoa”? Or was there more to it than that?

I didn’t have an MO. It depended on the situation. In one case, before coming to Sojourn, I liked a girl in my CG. I thought things could get weird in that situation, so I asked my CG leaders about it before pursuing the girl. In two other cases during my time at seminary, I became interested in and attracted to girls, and then after being around them in social situations a few times, I told them that I would like to get to know them better. That meant asking them out for a one-on-one event.

What’s the lamest response you’ve ever gotten from a girl you asked out? Best?

I haven’t got any “lame” responses from girls. I’ve had some painful and uncomfortable situations, but I know it’s tough for girls to reject a guy, so I don’t fault them for those painful times. Sometimes things in life just hurt.

What was your typical first-date strategy?

I’ve only dated two girls, and one of them is now my wife. Like I said above, I didn’t have an MO, I was just winging it.

What should a guy’s strategy be on the first date?

Talk! Don’t hog the time to sell yourself, but don’t be a bump on the log. Ask questions and be honest.

Awesomest DTR?

My awesomest DTR was with the woman who is now my wife. After we had hung out several times alone, I told her I wanted us to date exclusively with the intention of figuring out if we wanted to marry each other. Then I asked her if I could hold her hand. [Laura’s note: awwwww!]

What do you think you did well when it comes to starting the relationship you’re in right now? What do you wish you’d done differently?

I was intentional and honest from the beginning about where I hoped the relationship would go. I hope it’s not arrogant or naive to say that I don’t wish I had done something differently at the beginning.

Advice to guys for getting over it when a girl turns him down or dumps him?

If a girl turns you down, either move on graciously or continue to pursue in a non-creepy way. In most cases, if a girl turns you down, she’s not going to start liking you at some point in the future, so move on. If you insist on continuing to try to win her over, don’t be a creep. Don’t tell her it’s God’s will for her to be with you, because your conviction is really just a feeling. Don’t ask her out every week. Take advantage of opportunities in group social settings to get to know her and talk to her about things other than your interest in her (she won’t forget that you told her you liked her).

Other general advice for dudes? [Laura’s note: brace yourselves, because this is AWESOME.]

Realize that the dating arena is just as tough for girls as it is for you.

Don’t play games with girls.

With few exceptions, the lag time between your awareness of your own interest in or attraction to a girl, and the time you tell her about that interest should be as short as possible.

Take advantage of your singleness. The “gift of singleness” isn’t a curse that God imposes on you for life. It’s God’s good gift just like the gift of marriage. God’s good gifts have great blessings and they will also test you to make you more like Jesus. If you are single the question is, “Do I desire Jesus more than I desire a wife?” And as a married man, the question is still, “Do I desire Jesus more than I desire my wife?”

Advice for the ladies on how not to be unkind or otherwise awful when saying no thanks? Other general advice for ladies?

Be direct and to the point. “I’m not interested,” or “No, thanks,” will suffice. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m confused, maybe things could work out, if…” You don’t owe that detail to the guy. If you’re interested say, “Yes,” and if you aren’t or don’t know, say, “No, thanks.” I know that might seem abrupt and terse, but like I said above, some things just hurt. There’s no way around hurting a guy when you’re not interested. If you say things you think aren’t “hurtful,” you are giving him false hope, which hurts him.

Ladies, as Christian sisters, you owe a guy kindness and truth. You don’t owe him an explanation of your feelings, or the reasons why you’re not interested or attracted to him.

How To Be Awesome, 3.1

In this week’s installment, Anonymous Married Dude reflects on how he went from single to married and gives some amazingly good advice to unmarried Dudes everywhere. Read on and enjoy.

So, tell me about yourself, vaguely.

I was raised in a Christian home, but I was not born again until my adult years. I came to seminary single, and did not marry until after graduation. I was single until my 30s.

Current relationship status?

Married.

Dude, what’s UP with the Christian dating scene? Seriously. Diagnose.

I can’t speak much to our particular church’s dating scene, because my wife didn’t attend there until we became engaged. I can speak a little about the seminary dating scene, and yes, it’s a little weird. It seems to be one of two extremes. On one extreme is the hyper manly dude who vomits professions of undying love and concrete plans on a girl at the first meeting. He thinks it’s godly and manly to gush forth the plan of God for both their lives – of course, God neglected to tell the girl the plan. If the girl isn’t interested, then he thinks God calls him to be annoying until the girl gives in (this can happen, but it isn’t the norm).

The other extreme is the guy who thinks he has to be best friends with a girl before he can even ask her for coffee, as though, if it’s “God’s will” for them to be together, then that means he doesn’t have to stick his neck out.

What did you learn growing up about this nightmare that is Christian dating? Any particular influences? How have your views changed over time?

I learned that guys have to be honest, open, and intentional pursuers of woman. Pursuing a woman in this way makes good things happen during dating and it leads to the ability to look back on dating with no regrets.

The main ways my views have changed are in the area of “the gift of singleness.” It is not a special curse. It is not a gift in the sense that God gives you special powers to not want sex or not want to be married. It is a gift in the sense that every area and season of your life is a good thing that God can use for his glory. All good gifts are from God.

How many girls do you think you’ve asked out in your life? Estimate.

Four.

Do you think guys can be something besides the stereotypical alpha male, and still be successful?

Guys don’t have to be a stereotypical alpha male, but they do have to man up. They have to risk something in pursuing a woman. Risking and pursuing means something different for every couple. But at some level, be it public embarrassment or merely private “rejection,” a guy needs to risk rejection and pursue a woman. I think ladies are gracious in this area. Most of them appreciate how hard it can be for guys to make a move. A guy may just stumble into a marriage without pursuing the lady, but I think in hindsight, both of them will regret the absence of risk and pursuit.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the dating arena?

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome in dating was putting too much of my heart into a hoped for relationship before the lady was interested. In other words, I dreamed up big plans before a girl even liked me. I made big plans before I told them of my interest, and even after they turned me down, I kept hoping for something that was never to be.

What was your biggest advantage in this area?

The dating arena is now in my rear-view mirror, but by God’s grace, I can look back and say that I didn’t play games with the ladies I pursued as a Christian, and I was honest with them about my intentions.

Tune in on Monday when Anonymous Married Dude tells us about the DTR he had with his wife and gives a bunch more stellar advice to men and women alike.

How To Be Awesome, 2.2

In today’s installment, Anonymous Engaged Dude talks basketball, football, the DTR, and strategy.

When you were still single, how did you decide to ask a girl out? Did you just see her and do that cartoon aaa-OOO-gah thing and go, “I need to ask her out like whoa”? Or is there more to it than that?

It really was different, person to person. Usually, I pursued girls that I had gotten to know over time. A few times though, my careful game plans were scrapped in favor of an audible: BLITZ!

What’s the lamest response you’ve ever gotten from a girl you asked out?

“I’m not over a previous relationship.” If basketball has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with a rebound. Just take it to the basket!

Typical first-date strategy?

Food + outing with lots of conversation. Keep it fun, playful, and not too romantic.

Awesomest DTR? (Yes, I am aware that “awesomest” is not a word.)

The awesomest, of course, would be the one that led me to now. We met on a blind date, so we were doing the whole get to know you thing. But around date/hang-out three or four, things really started to click. We really liked each other! But, we had thought we should take twice as long to define things. I met her at a coffee shop and said something to the effect of, “I know we said we would take longer to define this, but we’re pretty much already dating.” So we just made it official.

What do you think you did well when it comes to starting the relationship you’re in right now? What do you wish you’d done differently? Tell a little of the story, if you like.

I asked my fiancée this question, as I felt her response would be the most accurate. In terms of what I did well, she appreciated my directness and sincerity. She felt safe with me and knew that I wasn’t just playing games. Regarding what should have been done differently, in the moment, things felt like they were moving a bit too fast — she doesn’t mind that now, though. However, we definitely took physical affection too fast. I held her hand before we had clearly defined things and we kissed way too soon. If I could do things over, I wouldn’t have kissed her until after engagement.

I’m thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness, not to mention her grace and forgiveness.

Advice for dudes when a girl turns him down or breaks up with him? Besides journaling and destroying a pint of rocky road while watching Fatal Attraction, obvi. Other general advice for dudes?

Seek out your bros.

God made us for community, and one of the reasons break-ups hurt is because of that separation from community. I advise both not taking things too seriously and seriously seeking the Lord. Remind yourself of who you are. You’re going to need brothers to preach the Gospel to you. Seek them out! But in terms of being turned down for a date or second date, just brush it off and move on!

Advice for the ladies on how not to be a b-word when saying no thanks? Other general advice for ladies?

The easiest way not to be a b-word is… not to be a b-word. Seriously. Just be respectful and honest. You don’t need to over-share or give a long detailed argument as to why you shouldn’t go out.

However, I would encourage sisters to give a brother a chance. Is he really so unpleasant that you wouldn’t eat a free meal with him? If so, don’t go out with him! If not, give it a shot. A mentor of mine once gave his rubric for dating: 1) Does he love Jesus? 2) Do you think he’s hot [Laura’s note: or at least not not-hot]? If yes to both, go for it.

Biggest mistake you think people make in this area?

I think guys and girls are looking for more perfection in a potential mate than they would care to admit. You’re not going to find a perfect person, so stop trying.

Any final thoughts?

You’re going to marry a sinner/saint/sufferer. Don’t be afraid of hard conversations or difficult situations. Men: there are too many awesome godly women out there who are waiting to be pursued by a noble man. What are you waiting for? Women: he’s a sinner, and the only perfect leader is Christ. Give him a chance, but don’t forget, you’re under the authority of Christ, not a boyfriend.

How To Be Awesome 2.1

In these two installments, we’ll hear from Anonymous Engaged Dude who is psyched to be just weeks away from his wedding to a fantastic godly woman. Anonymous Engaged Dude has some great words of encouragement for ladies and gents alike. Read on:

So, tell me about yourself. VAGUELY.

I am a twentysomething dude who loves Jesus. Is that sufficient?

Current relationship status?

ENGAGED!!! Believe me, this is totes crazy.

So, Engaged Dude, what is UP with the Christian dating scene?

Wow. Where to begin? Ultimately, the problem is that I don’t think we’re applying the Gospel to this area. In singles, this can result in panic or fear (“Why am I not married?”). In marrieds, this can result in insensitive advice (“Just trust in the Lord”), or dismissing singles as being a lower class of Christian. Single people can live in the confidence that in Christ they are fully complete, fully fulfilled. The desires they have for marriage are good, designed by God! But unless they find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, they won’t be able to find lasting blessing in a spouse.

This failure to apply the Gospel has resulted in several things. I think it results in men failing to love their sisters by pursuing them nobly and maturely. I think it results in an exaltation of “beauty” and “charm” over the fear of the Lord. I think it results in both legalism and license.

What did you learn growing up about this nightmare that is Christian dating? Any particular influences? How have your views changed over time?

I Kissed Dating Goodbye was a HUGE influence on me. A lasting effect of that was that I when I eventually gave dating a side-hug hello, I tended to make first/second dates a little too weirdly spiritual, a little too stressful. I feel like over time, my view on dating simplified. This isn’t to say that I devalued it, but that I rather revalued it for what it was.

How many girls do you think you’ve asked out in your life? Estimate, maybe not counting elementary school.

Somewhere around a dozen? That’s not counting college formals, though.

Speaking of smooth, do you think guys can be non-alpha-males and still be successful?

Each person’s personality is different. I think it’s crucial to be yourself, and for a lot of reasons at that. I think all women want to be praised and prized, but ultimately, you have to have substance to back the swagga. Guys should be charming, fun, and witty, but it needs to be genuine.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the dating arena?

Without a doubt, the biggest obstacle was my own ego and self-centeredness. I definitely struggled with worrying too much while being too early on in relationships. I over-invested a lot of worry and such. If I could go back and do it again, I would be less concerned about whether or not “things were going to work” and would just let them happen.

What’s your biggest advantage in this area?

Dogged determination? Yeah, I think the only thing that truly gave me a boost in finding my soon-to-be wife was that I knew that as a man, it was my job to pursue a wife, not just gripe and moan about it.

Come back tomorrow for part two, when Anonymous Engaged Dude will deploy even more sage counsel and rapier-like wit in his exploration of these dark and poorly-charted waters.

How to Be Awesome Interview 1.2

Read and learn as Anonymous Dude lets us in on the mysteries of a guy’s dating decision-making process, and throws down some advice for his bros.

How do you decide to ask a girl out? Do you just see her and do that cartoon Aaa-OOO-gah thing and go, “I need to ask her out like whoa”? Or is there more to it than that? Many girls think it’s “like whoa” and that’s it.

That’s probably 90% of it at first. I asked my girlfriend out two days after meeting her. We had only had a couple conversations, but I heard great things about her from friends I trusted, and she is ridiculously good looking, so I was thinking, “I need to ask this girl out before someone else does!”

The problem is, most guys want to know everything about a girl before asking her out. So they will facebook stalk her (which I think can be a good thing in a very limited way), hang around her in social situations, and basically do everything but ask her on a date.

What’s the lamest response you’ve ever gotten from a girl you asked out? Best?

“No.” That was lame.

Best? Probably from my girlfriend (yeah, I know, cheesy, sorry). I almost apologetically said, “This might be out of the blue, but can I take you out?” She smiled and said that would be great. That’s been the best so far.

Typical first-date strategy?

Ask her lots of general get-to-know-you-but-not-creep-you-out questions. Pay for everything. Tell bad jokes (i.e. cheesy, not offensive). Open doors. Chew with my mouth closed. Shower that day.

Toughest DTR? Awesomest DTR? (Yes, I am aware that “awesomest” is not a word.)

Toughest? Over the phone. That was dumb. Awesomest? Again, with my girlfriend. I told her after a few dates, “So, I just want to be clear, and I’m guessing you aren’t hanging out with other dudes like this, because I’m not hanging out with other girls like this?” She said, “Well, not on the same days.” Fortunately she was joking.

What do you think you did well when it comes to starting the relationship you’re in right now? What do you wish you’d done differently?

I was clear, very direct, and to the point, but not too weird and creepy. I think. I brought up early on what I wanted the relationship to look like. Basically, that it was for the purpose of moving toward making a decision about marriage. I also around that time clarified what was going to happen, and more importantly, not happen, physically in our relationship. That helped her a ton, because she didn’t have to wonder where things were going and what that would look like.

Although I’m happy with how things have gone and the pace it is going now, I wish I had slowed that down a bit early on. Not necessarily those conversations, but just overall time spent in the first month. We spent a lot of time together, which was great, but I think it might have been more wise to stretch that out a bit over time.

Advice for getting over it when a girl turns you down or dumps your sorry behind? Besides journaling and destroying a pint of rocky road while watching Fatal Attraction, obvi. Other general advice for dudes?

Beer. Go drink some good beer with some good friends that will speak truth to you in love.

Ask those dudes, honestly, if there is any major character or life issues you should work on, perhaps relating to why you got shot down. I’ve done this with some dudes that know me well and has been helpful in opening up honest conversation. That, and just talk with the Lord about it. Are you ticked off, confused, scared, whatever? Tell him about it. Ask him to change you and help you grow.

Then, good grief, man up and get over it. I get it. Your feelings are hurt. Your heart hurts. Ok. How would your WWII veteran grandpa handle this? Yeah, you’re right, he wouldn’t be pouting like a baby. Neither should you.

Advice for the ladies on how not to be a b-word when saying no thanks? Other general advice for ladies?

Affirm him for asking. Say you are flattered. Clearly state you would just like to be friends. Thank him. Shut up.

Biggest mistake you think people make in this area?

Dating in general? Not to over-spiritualize it, but they don’t focus on the gospel. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. It is a gospel image, just like we are images of God. Dating should take its shape from that as well. The gospel frees us to be selfless, not selfish. When a dude really believes the gospel, he will sacrifice for others. He will put the risk on himself and not the girl. He can handle rejection. He will ask himself, “How can I serve this person,” not, “How can they serve me?” I could go on and on. But I really think taking the gospel out of the center of dating just wrecks everything.

That was so awesome I want everyone to read it again.

Dating in general? Not to over-spiritualize it, but they don’t focus on the gospel. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. It is a gospel image, just like we are images of God. Dating should take its shape from that as well. The gospel frees us to be selfless, not selfish. When a dude really believes the gospel, he will sacrifice for others. He will put the risk on himself and not the girl. He can handle rejection. He will ask himself, “How can I serve this person,” not, “How can they serve me?” I could go on and on. But I really think taking the gospel out of the center of dating just wrecks everything.

Any final thoughts?

Dudes: get a real job, get in community, start serving in your church, and start asking godly women out. Stop making excuses and just start asking them out. If you do that in a clear, respectful way, you will gain a reputation of a legit dude. Trust me.

Ladies: give a guy a shot, at least once, if he asks you out. You don’t have to marry him. Don’t settle for passive, confusing guys. Tell them to grow up. Don’t read Jane Austen for your dream man. Read Cormac McCarthy and wake up about real life. Then read about Jesus and look for a dude that wants to be like him.

How To Be Awesome Interview 1.1

Today, our intrepid Anonymous Dude guides us through his murky past and shakes his head in dismay about the State of Things. Read and enjoy!

So, tell me about yourself. VAGUELY.

I am a man. A real man.

Current relationship status?

Going steady with a wonderful, godly woman.

Dude, what is UP with the Christian dating scene? Seriously. Diagnose.

Whenever you append “Christian” to anything, it’s guaranteed to make that thing a weird disaster. Christian music, Christian fiction, Christian movies. Same thing with Christian dating.

But, seriously, the problem is the men. You could have a ton of godly women, but if there are nothing but knucklehead guys, then all you have are a bunch of godly women with horror stories. Too many Christian men are passive, scared, confused, risk-averse, selfish, self-focused, etc. We are all like that, but too many men are not killing those sins.

What did you learn growing up about this nightmare that is Christian dating? Any particular influences? How have your views changed over time?

I was terrified of girls through middle school and high school and into early college years. Never went on a date. I danced with a girl at a middle school dance. Horrible.

I grew up in the church but received little to no instruction about dating other than: don’t have sex, don’t think about sex, and good heavens don’t talk about sex. Other than that, I knew I should marry a Christian, because it would ruin my life if I didn’t. But, how to do that? No clue.

In college I relied on women for emotional connection instead of the dudes in my life. So, in a sense, I emotionally dated them. This led to a bunch of friendships that are mostly non-existent now, and some ending poorly.

I started dating after college and swung on the pendulum from essentially having no direction or clear intentions, to at times being super rigid and calculated in pursuing women. Yikes. I’ve been at both ends and neither worked well.

Biggest influences have been numerous books, particularly a book edited by Alex Chediak (five views on dating, or something like that). [Laura’s note: the book our anonymous friend is referring to, the Google tells me, is actually called 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life and it’s available here.] And a series of articles by Scott Croft on biblical dating.

How many girls do you think you’ve asked out in your life? Estimate, maybe not counting elementary school. Unless you were like the smoothest third grader ever.

Around 17. In third grade I was too busy playing video games. Unfortunately the same was true in college.

Speaking of smooth, how do you feel about this “alpha”/pickup artist stuff? I assume you’re favorable since you’re so alpha, but do you think guys can be non-alphas and still be successful?

Sure. My go-to pickup line was, “Hey, I’ve had fun hanging out, can I take you on a date?” Women don’t want BS pickup lines. They want direct, clear intentions. Simple. If a woman doesn’t want that, well, she needs to grow up and get a clue, and you don’t want to date her anyway.

I think a more reserved dude could go that route without freaking out too much about it. Just keep it simple.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in this dumb dating arena? It would be super-cool if it was an ACTUAL obstacle (climbing wall, one of those rope things where you have to swing from one to the next, etc.), but, like psychological or emotional, whichever one of those makes you feel more manly.

Selfishness. Primarily in the sense of thinking of myself before others, particularly women. So, I would avoid all potential risk on my end, for example.

What’s your biggest advantage in this area? You don’t have to be humble, it’s fine.

Besides my good looks and big muscles? Awkwardness. I’m cool with it and embrace it. Life is going to be weird and awkward and strange, get used to it. At least with dating. Facing it head on by embracing it and acknowledging it can actually be a very freeing thing in the context of dating.

Come back tomorrow for part two of this series, in which Anonymous Dude puts on his superhero cape and gives advice to both ladies and gents.

How To Be Awesome

OK, people, I am super excited about this. In the last few weeks I’ve talked with a couple of my guy friends — the ones who’ve rocked it out in the dating arena — about doing a series of interviews with me about their successes and… um… not-so-successes, what worked and what didn’t, how they managed disappointments, etc. and they agreed to do it! Man oh man. They’ll be anonymous, although those of you who know them well may recognize some of the details of a few of the stories.

I’m hoping that these will be useful to both men and women, because they’re going to be super-practical and wonky and nuts-and-boltsy. Guys, be on the lookout for advice, because there will be plenty, and ladies, let this be an encouragement to you too! These fellas have lots of experience with sisters who’ve responded well and not-so-well to them, so keep your eyes peeled for advice in your direction too.

Tune in Monday for the first installment. Pumped!

In which I attempt to encourage dudes. Here we go.

By far the most common objection to what I’ve said to men in the Details series goes something like this: “It’s all well and good for you to say men should initiate, but that means that they’re taking on the majority of the risk. I’ve been turned down, and it sucks, and now I find myself gun-shy and unwilling to take on the chance of more disappointment.”

I guess there are a couple ways for me to approach this. I don’t have the spiritual gift of mercy and I’m not terribly sympathetic as a human being so my knee-jerk response to this sort of reply is typically something along the lines of, “Oh, just grow up.” But I know that’s not actually helpful, much as some men (and women) need to hear it. So. Read on.

First, I do want men to remember that, as I said in another “Details” post, attraction is a complicated thing. When a gal says, “No thanks,” to a man’s request for a date, it’s a bummer for him, but men need to stop seeing it as a personal rejection. It’s not. It’s just that, for whatever reasons from legit to ridiculous, she’s not feeling it. And — here’s the kicker — she’s not under any obligation to explain or justify those reasons to the guy who asks her out. In fact, I generally have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for things like that.

I think a huge part of the problem is waiting too long and investing too much emotionally in the potential date. If you find a girl interesting, ask her out, soon after the interest develops. Don’t wait until you’re into “hurt and disappointment” territory if she turns you down. It’s not that big a risk — or it shouldn’t be unless you’ve spent weeks mentally composing a speech about how much you like her or whatever. And nine times out of ten, it’s not really “about you” at all, it’s something intangible. And please know that I’m working just as hard to encourage women to take a chance and say yes (it’s a risk for us too!) to good guys.

My second thought is, well, is there a common theme emerging as far as the reasons you’re getting a “no thanks”? Among my friends, probably the most common reason for saying no is too much intensity rather than just, “Would you go on a date with me?” I’m not saying guys need to change who they are, but it’s wise to be willing to work on your approach if that’s causing problems. I mean, you know the old definition of “crazy,” right?

So, are you coming on too strong? Only asking out the hottest girls in your circle? Overlooking the solid female friend right in front of you? Do you get stage fright and just need to practice a thousand times? Are you investing your heart in a girl pre-asking-out, and just feeling the pressure? Are you one of those guys who asks out girls he’s never spoken to before? All of those things are pretty quick fixes. Ask a girl out if you’ve talked to her a few times (great opportunity to work on your conversation skills) and find her interesting. Don’t wait weeks or months, don’t invest too much, just keep it light and casual.

And since this is always the elephant in the room in conversations like this, I’ll touch on the whole “looks” thing. Just the other day I read an article about online dating site profiles and the fact that the more polarizing a person’s looks were, the more likely that person would be to have others contact them. In other words, the more classically pretty/handsome people were getting contacted far less often than the ones who some people thought were not just less-attractive, but actually ugly. And in my own experience I can tell you that the men of my acquaintance who’ve had the most success in the dating world are not necessarily my best-looking guy friends. The three or four of them who have just rocked it out in the last couple of years aren’t the face-melting hotties, they’re just the ones who’ve been persistent in the face of a lot of “no thanks”es from girls, even stuck it out through a series of girls going on three or four dates with them and then calling it quits — and they’re the ones married, or engaged, or in serious relationships. Their attitude was that they just had to do what the Lord called and equipped them to do, which was to be initiators, and leave the results to Him without worrying about women’s responses, trusting that He uses means to accomplish his purposes.

From my own experience, I know that, because I’m not a five-eight, 110-lb blonde volleyball player or a Megan Fox lookalike or whatever, there’s going to be a narrower range of men who find me attractive. That is totally fine — I’ve gone out with guys who thought I was perfect looking and had no interest in the skinny blonde type, much to my surprise. And I have some really gorgeous friends, so I know from their experiences that being the prettiest girl in the room isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. The less conventionally-attractive you are, the more specific your dating pool is going to be, sure. But haven’t you seen some weird-looking married people? Don’t all sorts make it down the aisle? Tall, short, fat, thin, gorgeous, ugly, and everyone in between? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: attraction is complicated. And that can work for you as well as against you. Play up your quirks. Roll with them. And at the same time, work on your character. Whatever you look like, strive to be the godliest, most contented, most gentlemanly, most confident Whatever Type You Are that you can possibly be. (I’m going to throw in a pitch for The Art of Manliness here. Seriously, guys. Check it out. Taking their advice is going to put you way ahead of many, many dudes in the 20-35 age bracket.)

Third, and just getting really practical here, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea for guys to have a quick definition of “date” to throw out to girls who might think “date” means “OH MY GOODNESS HE LOVES ME.” You might say something like, “Hey, I’ve been wondering if you’d go on a date with me sometime. And I’m using the old-fashioned definition of the word ‘date,’ as in, I find you interesting and I’d like to get to know you better. Casual. What do you think?”

Overall, what I want to say to the men reading this is, be encouraged. Hurt and disappointment? It’s part of life. You can’t insulate yourself from it. It’s going to happen whether you ask interesting girls out or not, so if you want to be married, why not take the bull by the horns?

Some Thoughts and Questions on the Lord’s Supper, Ordination, and the Sacraments of the Church

A few days ago, I posted the following thought on Facebook: “You know what I miss about Sojourn when I’m away? Communion every week. I’d love to know why churches only do it once a month or even quarterly (!!!) — there has to be SOME rationale, right? Thoughts? Did I just sleep through that part of my church history classes?”

Twenty-five comments later (I only wish my blog posts could get so much traction!), the thing that stuck out the most to me wasn’t the reason for the infrequency of communion in some churches. It was a totally different — yet not completely unrelated — theological point. A friend from college mentioned Methodist circuit riders, who were often lay ministers and who, therefore, weren’t allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper, leading to the practice of monthly or quarterly communion. Another friend mentioned that his church couldn’t share the Meal on the rare occasions that their ordained teaching elder is out of town.

My immediate question was why? Why does a meal ordained by Jesus himself also need an ordained pastor/elder to make it legitimate? And then that question made me chuckle a bit as I reflected on the fact that, though some churches who partake only quarterly began doing so at least in part to avoid a Romanist ritualism, almost nothing, in my mind, is more Roman than requiring the presence of an ordained minister to “perform” the sacraments.

Now, for heaven’s sake don’t hear me accusing my dear Methodist or Presbyterian brethren of quasi-Popery! It just got me wondering. My own church doesn’t allow, for example, community groups to celebrate the Lord’s supper in their small weeknight gatherings. Many, many faithful, gospel-teaching churches would, I’m sure, have similar proscriptions. My question is: why? Do we have any indication that, in the apostolic church, someone “official” was required to be present at Christian gatherings to administer the sacraments? Isn’t the very name — the authority and command — of Jesus what makes them valid in the first place?

These questions aren’t merely rhetorical; I would genuinely love to hear the thoughts of those who are committed to these sorts of positions. Why should a group of covenanted believers be prevented from baptizing a new convert or celebrating the Lord’s supper as part of a celebratory meal without the presence of an ordained minister? Why does ordination matter, anyway? What purpose does it serve, and what justification does it have historically?

Details, Part Five: In Which Agony Aunt Laura Troubleshoots Your Dating Fails

“Dear Agony Aunt Laura,” you say, “I screwed it up. A totally good dude asked me out and instead of saying yes, I let out this huge spiel about why I couldn’t go out with him, but I was just nervous and I didn’t really mean it and he’s really cute and now I’ve RUINED MY CHANCES FOREVER and I’m probably going to DIE ALONE and be found three weeks later half eaten by Alsatians. What do I do?” Or, “I’ve liked this girl for months but I didn’t know what to say and now I do, but we’ve hung out in groups so much that I know she’s put me in The Friend Zone, and now I don’t want to ask her out for fear of causing awkwardness. Little help?”

Well, I’ve got a twofer for you today, friends; a little advice for the ladies and the fellas. Guys, you first:

1. Waited too long and now you’re friends and don’t want to make things weird? Lame. Carpe diem, bro. Adults can be friends with people they asked out or went on two dates with. Asking a girl on a date is not a proposal. It’s not even saying, “I could marry this girl.” It’s starting an investigation. Like I said: is she interesting? Ask her out. If she says no, that’s fine. Just go back to being friends. (Ladies, this goes for you too; if a guy friend asks you out and you know his character and find him interesting, go out with, him for crying out loud!) The boundary between “friendship” and “romance” is porous. Don’t get so freaked out about the difference between girls-who-are-friends and potential girlfriends. Pick up the phone and make the call. Do it.

2. Flirted, charmed, complimented, sent long emails, texted with her until the wee hours, unburdened your heart to her, hung out with her in datelike situations, basically treated her like a girlfriend without actually asking her out? Brace yourself for some tough love, guys: You’re a jerk and you need to repent. OK, you might not be a jerk, but still. Repent. Because those actions say, “I want to win your heart,” but refusing to actually ask her out says, “I don’t actually care enough about you to think about how my choices influence you, and I’m cool with lying to myself about your level of heart involvement so I can keep getting my emotional needs met (but only on my terms).”

If you’re doing this (or some degree of this) right now? Then, hombre, you need to open a new tab and start composing this girl an email. I’m serious. Vamos. That email will differ depending on your situation. Do you actually like her and have just been a total bonehead about it? Tell her you’re sorry and want to start over by asking her on a proper date. Have you just been using her as a romantic placeholder until a hotter girl comes along? Apologize for your actions and assure her that you’ll be changing the way you behave towards her. And then cut that out. Next time you want a girl to act like your girlfriend, make sure she’s your girlfriend first.

3. General screwups merit an email, too, albeit a much shorter and less-serious one. Got all marriage-y/relationship-y on the first couple of dates? Keep the tone light, and tell her that you’re out of practice on this whole dating thing, you got carried away, and you’d like to assure her that 100% of the conversation on the next date will be about movies, food, travel, or music. Name-dropped all your semi-famous grad school profs — by their first names (or just generally came off insufferable)? Apologize for being a clod and ask for a do-over. Keep it to the point. No rambling, no excuses.

4. Listened to your bonehead roommates and waited too long to call after a date? Relax. Call her, apologize for the delay, don’t make any excuses, and then ask her on date two. (But, guys, don’t be shocked if she tells you she’s gonna pass. Many, many women have had a really painful, heartbreaking experience of being strung along at one time or another, so if she says no, it’s probably not personal, it’s just, you know, once bitten twice shy.)

Now ladies:

1. Wigged out when he asked you out? The only mature choices: cut your losses or ask for a Mulligan. Seriously. Call him up, quick, apologize profusely for being a stammering boob, explain that you didn’t say what you meant, and tell him that you should have said yes, of course. And laugh! Laugh at yourself! It’s funny! You’re ridiculous! You’ll tell this story someday and crack up about it anyway — why not start now?

2. Came across as high-maintenance, catty, ice-princessy, whatever? Email time. Short and to the point: “Hey, I really did have a good time last night and I realized after I got home that I acted ______________ when I really didn’t feel that way at all. Sorry about that! Chalk it up to first date nerves. Do-over?”

3. Worried that you’re leading him on if you’re not super into him at first? Please. Don’t worry about this until… like… date five. Besides, you’re not leading him on unless you’re acting like you like him when you don’t. Being open-minded and willing for your attraction to grow is just smart. As long as you’re having fun and are still interested in finding out more, keep going out with him. On the other hand, if your interest isn’t growing, don’t be afraid to call it quits. It feels fantastic to have a good guy interested in you, I know. It’s a little addictive. But if you know for a fact that you’re not into him after, say, date four, do the kind thing and move on (and go ahead and enjoy the fact that a good guy liked you enough to ask you out, girl).

4. Responded favorably to a dude who did what I mentioned in the guys’ #2 above? Ooh, child. Toughie. Been there. A man who does this is either not ready for a relationship or not a good guy. Email time: redefine the terms of your friendship (as in, back to “friends” rather than “OH GOD I LOVE him and I THINK he likes me but I just don’t KNOW ohtheAGONY”), emphasizing that you’re not going to act like his girlfriend any more without actually being his girlfriend. It’s not an easy step, but it’s so necessary. Again, short and to the point is best. Try to keep it to a paragraph so you don’t accidentally end up confessing your undying love to him. (What? Like that’s never happened to anyone else?)

Everybody:

Dating is awesome. Not only is it the best way to find a mate, it also gives you tons of life experience — getting along with lots of kinds of people, figuring out the opposite sex, being a good conversationalist, dealing with screwups and successes gracefully. It’s a grownup thing to do. So do it more, OK?

Fellas, I have a serious, legit challenge for you. Ask a girl out in the next week. In fact, make it a contest: challenge your roommates or work friends or the dudes in your small group to man up and ask a real live flesh and blood woman, someone you know and see in person, on a date. Whoever doesn’t, gets… I dunno, dogpiled or sucker-punched or whatever it is men do to people who lose these challenges. Or set yourself a challenge to ask one person out a week until someone says yes. I bet it won’t take nearly as long as you think. Y’all are awesome (seriously: I know some of you reading this are off-the-charts solid dudes) and you can totally kill it.

Ladies, I have a challenge for you too. Make it a policy to say yes to good guys. You need a better reason to say no than, “He’s only a barista” or “I don’t want to date guys who look like me” or “He’s five years younger/older than I am.” I’m talking about serious stuff, like “He dumped my best friend last week after dating her for six months,” or “He hasn’t had or looked for a job in five years” or “I find him absolutely, utterly unattractive both physically and personally.” Say yes. Really. Let that be your default answer, even if he’s not exactly your type, even if he’s “only” a barista/UPS box-slinger/T.A./waiter/still in school. You want the men around you to act like men? Then you act like a woman. Respond. Go on, what’s it going to hurt?

All right. I am tapped out on this topic for the time being. So go forth, y’all.

Details, Part Four

Fellas, here you go:

1. Plan. Ask for her input on your ideas, but you should generally make the plans. Obviously this isn’t a hard and fast rule — if you’re meeting for lunch because you both work downtown, or if you’re working around some schedule conflicts, you’ll need to be more collaborative, but if it’s a dinner date and you’re picking her up, just make the plans. If she’s weird about it, chill. Remember last time I told the ladies to cut you some slack about potential mom/sister/ex-related baggage? Do the same with her. She might have experience with a tyrant or a sissy. Give her grace.

2. Be a gentleman — open doors, let her order first, chew with your mouth closed, pick up the tab, use your basic kindergarten manners, tip well, walk her to her car or her door. All that stuff is part of what makes a date different than “hanging out.”

3. Come prepared to ask questions about her — see #2 in the last installment. I think what frequently happens on dates is that women, who are often naturally better connectors, end up asking all the questions, and men end up giving all the responses. That’s not a good dynamic. See it as an opportunity to develop into a better conversationalist. You’re interested in her, right? Act interested! (This holds true pre-date as well. Your mantra should be I’m Interested: Act Interested.)

4. Just like I told the women that they’re not running an audition for their own Mr. Darcy, remember that you’re not running an audition for your own Megan Fox 2.0: Christian Edition. Put down the pen and back away from the checklist, fellas. She is a person, and your sister. She’s not a fantasy-fulfillment device, she’s not your mother/nursemaid/housekeeper, and her purpose in life doesn’t have one darn thing to do with your needs or desires — not on a first date, that’s for sure. Please treat her accordingly.

5. After the date, if you had a good time, don’t be That Guy and wait four days to call. Tell your bonehead roommates to shove it if they suggest anything like “making her wait.” Passive-aggressiveness is a great plan only if you want to die alone. Shoot her a text, let her know you had fun, and ask if you can call her again in the next couple of days. If she says yes, you’re golden; start planning date two. If it turns out she’s a psycho hose-beast, call her and thank her for her time, letting her know (briefly and simply, again) that you don’t see this going anywhere. Continue to be polite and kind to her when you run into her again. Again, I strongly recommend going on two or three dates before you pull that trigger, barring mega red flags.

Next up: a little troubleshooting.

Details, Part Three

It’s a little crazy to think about this, but so many people in my age range just don’t know what to DO on a date or after it. So first, a little help for the ladies. Overarching theme: just be a normal, nice, friendly person.

1. Encourage his planning. If he asks for suggestions, give them, but let him make the plans. If he’s being weird about it and hemming and hawing about things, say, “I’d love to do x, y, or z, but you decide. I’m happy with any of those.” Some guys have baggage-y mom/sister/ex experiences that mean they’re afraid to make a decision lest they end up with a moody, silent woman in their car or across the table from them.

2. Have a mental list of five or ten questions you want to ask him. Favorites lists are good here — what are your top five favorite books? movies? albums? tv shows? places you’ve been? places you’d like to go? experiences you’ve had? shows you’ve been to? And then, of course, you can follow that up with a “why?” Normal conversational questions are great too and super-revealing — family, upbringing, job, college, stuff like that.

3. Again, laugh at his jokes. Smile a lot. Be interested. Ask follow-up questions. Be open. Think about your body language and your face. Relax. Even if you aren’t crazy about the guy — and this is crucial — be willing to be persuaded.

4. If he asks you out again and you’re keen (or can see potential), go out with him again. If you’re not, stick with the simple answer from date one, but with a VERY little elaboration: “Thanks, I had a nice time (unless that’s a lie), but I don’t see anything happening between us.” I recommend two or three dates (real dates, not “we were at the same movie night”) minimum unless a huge red flag came up on the first date.

5. Forget what Clueless taught you about boy time and variations thereof. Forget what Seventeen Magazine taught you about how to tell if he’s a keeper. Forget what that well-intentioned lady in your church told you about never dating a guy who doesn’t open all your doors. Cut him some slack. You’re not running an audition for the role of your own personal Mr. Darcy. Cut yourself some slack too. Just take the whole thing down ten or twelve notches in your brain. If you find yourself playing the “what if” game, just answer the question. What if he never calls again? Then he was a jerk and you’re well rid of him. What if he doesn’t like me? Then you pull up your big girl panties and move on, chalking it up to experience. What if I don’t like him? Then you let him down easy and he chalks it up to experience.

Details, Part Two

So in Part One I gave a little advice to the ladies. Now, guys. Like I said, I’ve been on the receiving end of some seriously ridiculous and seriously great efforts in this area. The successful and encouraging efforts have had a few things in common. With that in mind:

1. Treat your female friends as sisters. Some dudes have a needlessly hard time figuring out what that means, but it’s actually really simple: you do not make out with your sister, but you do treat her with respect and kindness. Have a few common-sense boundaries, but don’t go overboard with a list of hyper-obsessive rules. For example: if you’re driving home and you see a friend walking home in the rain, DO pick her up and drive her wherever she’s going. That’s good manners. On the other hand, DON’T pour on the flirtation and charm with your female friends, or try to fulfill all your relational needs through them. That’s weird. You can be friends with women, but only if you actually treat them like friends and not like a mommy-girlfriend-nursemaid hybrid.

2. If you like a girl, ask her on a date, playa. Go on. You don’t need much more info to decide do this beyond, “Is she interesting?” If the answer to that question is, “Yes!” ask her out. Either talk in person the next time you know you’re going to see her, or call her up. Have a SHORT intro and execution ready, something like, “Hey. How’s it going? Great, thanks. So the reason I called is that I wanted to ask you a question. I’d like to know if you’d go on a date with me.” And then shut up (harder than you might think) and wait for her response. You don’t need to tell her all the reasons you’re asking her out. Irrelevant.

3. Have a plan for an affirmative answer. No, a plan besides going into the kitchen and high-fiving all your roommates. Like, be ready with a couple of suggestions for free afternoons or evenings. Dinner is traditional but coffee is more low-key, especially if you don’t know her well or haven’t known her long. A weeknight is better for a first date because there’s less pressure (and a time limit). Don’t do something upscale or expensive but go beyond fast food or counter service unless it’s a really unique or interesting place. Don’t go to the place all your friends go unless you are a HUGE fan of awkwardness. Map the date out in your mind but don’t get bogged down with some grand scheme. It’s just a date.

4. Have a plan for a negative answer, too. She said no thanks? Keep it cheerful, thank her for her time, and let her go. For the love of your manly dignity, don’t ask her to tell you why. Be an adult. Don’t sulk. The next time you see her, treat her like that conversation never happened. And remember, attraction is a complicated thing, bro, so I want you to read me loud and clear here: it is not personal, it is not a “rejection,” and you are not thirteen. Get over it and move on to the next girl.

5. Extend grace. If you read my last post, you’ll know that guys do not have the corner or the market when it comes to screwups in the dating world. If she gives you a big long speech or blames Jesus or lists 800 reasons why you’re such a good guy but she still can’t date you, please, just let it go. Don’t let it make you bitter. Remember that we’re human too.

Details

In reading a few things on The Internets recently, it has occurred to me that many 20- and 30-somethings just actually don’t have the skills to ask out or be asked out. I, in my 12 years as an unmarried adult, have been on the receiving end of seriously great and seriously awful efforts in the dating arena, and have responded both well and poorly to those efforts, so I want to just throw my experience and advice out there. Hope it’s helpful.

Part one is for ladies.

Gals, it’s a risk for a guy to ask you out. Recognize that. Men are screwups and klutzes just like we are, and we need to give them a break. So, with that in mind:

1. Encourage your guy friends. Be nice to them. Ask them questions about themselves and their lives. Be an interested, interesting conversationalist.

2. If you like a guy, be extra encouraging to him. Smile a lot. Laugh at his jokes. Don’t suppress your natural feminine responsiveness. Dare I say it? Flirt. Not in a shameless or provocative way, but in a responsive, open, charming way.

3. If a guy asks you on a date, say yes, unless there is a glaring (and I mean glaring) red flag. I’ve turned down guys I had absolutely zero attraction for, both personally and physically, or whose request for a date sounded more like a marriage proposal because that level of intensity is not something I want to encourage. Overall, I’ve probably said no to three or four guys in my life, counting junior high and high school. If he’s a nice guy, a Christian, and you think he’s interesting, say yes. On a really practical level, say something like, “Sure, sounds great. What did you have in mind?”

4. If you have to say no, keep it simple. Don’t patronize him with a line about how great it is that he was brave enough to speak up (done that). Don’t make up some nonsense about how you’re “not really into a relationship right now” (done that too). And for the love of everything good and holy, don’t feed him that awful nonsense about how you just don’t think it’s God’s will. God is not your scapegoat, girl. Be kind but not long-winded. Cook up a brief response, practice it in the mirror, and stick with it. He’s a grownup. Treat him like one. My canned response is, “Thanks so much for asking, but no thank you. I appreciate the thought!”