On “Virginity,” Women, and Worth

Let me tell you a story, and a couple of brief anecdotes.

A girl I went to summer camp with as a teenager was from a pretty observant Christian family — mostly Catholic but not exclusively so. She’d been raised to value virginity, and was very proud of the fact that she was a virgin despite the pressure she felt from her circle of rich, popular, athletic friends. And she used to regale us with stories of how she would lie to her parents and tell them she was going to a friend’s to study, and instead go to her boyfriend’s house and spend all day skinny dipping with him… etc. She also had strong views about the circumstances around re-pledging one’s virginity — apparently you could have intercourse exactly once and then repent, and God would accept you as a virgin again, but after that, if you had intercourse again, it “counted;” you were officially defiled at that point, and probably shouldn’t wear white at your wedding.

I have friends who are virgins by some variation of the technical definition, but who’ve fooled around with dozens of people, who’ve struggled with pornography addictions, or whose sexual fantasies dominated their thoughts. I also have friends who aren’t virgins by any of the most common understandings of the term, because they were raped or molested or sexually abused.

And speaking of how we define virginity, I read a news story a few weeks ago about Quebec barring doctors from performing “virginity checks” on girls as part of their annual physicals. It struck me, once again, how much our culture’s language of sexuality aims its force at women — a “prude” is usually a woman, but so is a “slut.” Physiologically, too, we too often attach the concept of virginity to intact hymens — body parts men don’t even possess!

Christians have an obligation to be more biblical than that, to refuse to put an unfair burden on women (who are substantially more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than men) or on men (who are much more likely to feel cultural pressure to be sexually active and to use pornography than women are) in the way we talk about God’s purposes for human sexuality.

I think it’s long past time we quit talking about the ideal for Christians’ sexuality in terms of “virginity.” What, honestly, does the word “virgin” mean if it can be applied to a person like my summer-camp friend above and a person who’s never been so much as kissed, but not to a person who has been sexually victimized? What purpose does it serve to hold up virginity as the standard, if not to confuse the “experienced,” alienate the abused, and stir up pride in the hearts of the “inexperienced”?

To those who might object that “virginity” is just shorthand for “sexual purity,” is there any real sense in which a pornography addict is sexually pure simply because he or she hasn’t had intercourse? Is there any sense in which a sexually victimized person is not sexually pure simply because sex acts have been forced on him or her? It’s ludicrous to think that God’s design for human sexuality can be summed up with a word that frankly isn’t used all that frequently in Scripture.

So once again I’m going to propose that we speak of chastity rather than virginity or even sexual purity. Virginity is a state of being, but chastity is a choice, an ongoing, daily decision to live one’s life in a way that embraces God’s design for sex and sexuality. Virginity, for most people — those who marry as well as many who don’t — is temporary. Chastity is a permanent lifestyle that continues into marriage, because it encompasses all godly expressions of sexuality. It’s just as accurate to speak of a chaste single person, a chaste husband or wife, a chaste person separated from his spouse, a chaste divorced woman, a chaste widow or widower.

Chastity is about a life, a choice, a path of dedication. Right now, as a woman who is not married, chastity is a way for me to witness to the ultimacy of Christ, over and above romantic or sexual love. My life, by God’s grace, can become a picture of the future God has for all his people. If the Lord purposes marriage for me, that path of chastity simply continues as my life becomes a picture of the church’s love for Christ.

Our bodies matter to God, it’s true. He made them, down to the minutest detail. But for those of us who have been made new in Christ, what we do with all of our lives in these bodies matters, not just a few parts. Let’s stop categorizing one another based on what we have done, or what has been done to us, with just a few of those parts, and begin to encourage each other to walk now in a way that honors God.

Deep Wounds and Hello Kitty Bandaids

Hello Kitty bandaids work better than normal ones; this is scientific fact, indisputable. Ask my nieces. Given the choice between a plain beige bandaid and a Hello Kitty one, they will choose the Hello Kitty one 100 times out of 100. They’re medical miracles. They dry up tears, stop pain, and return a three-year-old to normal play mode as quick as a wink.

They also don’t work on a deep wound.

Everyone knows this when it comes to physical injuries. Your child slices her arm open, and you’re rushing for the car keys, not the bandaids, Hello Kitty or otherwise. Worse, your child is diagnosed with some chronic disease or illness, and you know that no amount of licenced products are going to help.

But reveal a struggle with depression, or anxiety, or panic attacks, or dark, spiraling despair, and suddenly the same people who would advise a 911 call and some prompt medical attention, or long-term medical treatment, are handing out bandaid answers like you just skinned your knee.

Today I read of a husband’s agony as he watched his wife struggle with post-partum depression. The comments section was character bandaids galore: make sure she’s getting enough B vitamins! one commenter insisted. Don’t forget to make confession of sin part of your daily life, said another. No, no, don’t use the Hulk bandaids, no one likes those. Have these bandaids instead!

All I can say to that is… don’t.

Just… don’t do that.

Friends, sin is not always, or predictably, the cause of suffering. Jesus rebuked the pharisees for thinking that a man’s blindness resulted from his sin or that of his parents. Suffering does not always seem to have a purpose; sometimes it doesn’t seem to have a cause, or a reason, or an origin. It’s not always taken away when we pray (2 Cor 12), or even when we treat it medically (Luke 8).

But for the Christian, suffering is always part of the hard providence of God, never escaping his notice or care, never catching him off guard. Satan himself must seek God’s permission to trouble us, and his power is always limited — how much more must the suffering we experience be controlled and limited by a loving and watchful Father!

True suffering defies and confounds tidy, pat answers. If the tools with which we approach it don’t go beyond a range of bandaids with superheros and cartoon characters splashed across them, we will have no comfort to offer those who desperately need it.

“You’re What the French Call ‘Les Incompetents.'”

You disagree with the Affordable Care Act? Terrific. It is the constitutional right of every American, and therefore every Congressman, to oppose and work to overturn laws they find unjust or immoral or unwise. But trying to overturn or defund an existing law by tacking a rider onto a spending bill without which the entire government will shut down is like a toddler holding his breath so mommy will let him watch another hour of TV.

Government shutdown isn’t just some abstract thing. It means servicemen and women might not get their paychecks. It means regions that depend on tourism to their national parks are losing that revenue. It means federally-funded research hospitals have to stop doing their research. It means “essential workers” still have to go to work even though they aren’t getting paid. Oh, except for congressmen — their paychecks are written into permanent law and not dependent on the stopgap spending bills they’ve been passing for the last two years because they can’t seem to pass an actual budget. No WIC during the shutdown — sorry moms and kids! No federal civil trials — sorry, citizens’ right to a speedy trial! No DHS immigration checks — sorry, business owners who want to verify citizenship of prospective employees! Oh, and sorry, taxpayers; it’s going to cost you way more money to fix this than if the government hadn’t shut down, because once this debacle is over, we not only have to pay all the back paychecks that would have been paid anyway (ahem, that is, if Congress feels like doing that), we also have to find a way to fund the fines for contract delays and other administrative fees that are inevitable after a circumstance like this.

This should not be happening. So what do we do about it?

I heard two suggestions today that I really like. The first is that, if congress allows a government shutdown, their pay is immediately suspended for the duration of the shutdown, and they face serious fines if the shutdown continues past a certain date. The second is that, after a certain date, states may call emergency elections for all seats in the House, Senate, or both, depending on who’s dragging their heels. How much do you want to bet they would try harder for a solution if they know THEIR paychecks were on the line, not just the paychecks of 800,000 hard-working Americans?

Dear Congressmen: The functioning of the agencies and arms United States of America is not a bargaining chip. When it comes to laws, you are free to disagree, negotiate, bargain, play “Let’s Make A Deal” into the wee hours of the morning. But I did not send you to Washington to let the government shut down. Thanks.

“Women Aren’t as Visual as Men” and Other Dangerous Lies

I read yet another article today in which a mother of boys reminds young women to be cautious about the pictures they post of themselves on facebook. It was all fair enough, though made slightly ironic by the photographs of her sons doing muscle-man poses in their swim trunks that were scattered throughout the article. But post Twerk-Gate, I’m not surprised by the content: the message that girls need to be counter-culturally modest gets recirculated around the Christian blogosphere every time a celebrity strips off in public or there’s a new case of teenage boys being arrested for passing around naked pictures of their girlfriends. You could practically write a Post-Scandal Mad Lib template: something about degradation, something about self-respect, something about how far our society has fallen, and a whooooole bunch about modesty, but only, or at least primarily, in the context of preventing lust among men and boys.

It’s all well-intentioned and mostly not terrible, but when it comes to modesty… you already know how I feel about that. (If you’re too lazy to click on those links, here’s a tip: in the Bible, modesty isn’t exclusively or even mostly about not looking “sexy.” It’s not mostly about covering up. It’s not even mostly directed at women, or in reference to men.)

But you might not know how I feel about the underlying assumption of a lot of these appeals, namely that men are always and forever, world without end, stimulated visually, and women just… aren’t; that there is a direct line between scantily clad women and men’s sexual sin, so please please ladies, if you love your brothers, cover up — I know you don’t understand because you’re not wired that way, but we are, so please please please…

So are you ready for this? That stuff is just not true. Men and women are different; that’s awesome, hooray. And I think mothers and fathers need to encourage their daughters (and sons!) to dress and comport themselves with modesty and dignity… but y’all, come on: we can’t just look at men, extrapolate from their experiences and preferences, and then assume women are the opposite. It’s lazy. It’s ridiculous. Women are women, humans made in God’s image in their own right, not just un-men. People will often cite these mysterious “studies” in which it is “proven” that women are more into words and men are more into pictures. But let me tell you why I have a problem with that.

First, I’m not sure you can deduce biological causality about men’s wiring from actions and characteristics that could just as easily be attributed to cultural expectations about how men act and what they like. A boy who’s grown up in our porn-saturated, women-as-props-in-male-fantasies society is not exactly a good control subject for an experiment designed to reveal pure biology. Second, just anecdotally, I don’t know one (straight) woman who isn’t physically attracted to the hotness of “hot” guy, whatever her definition of “hot” is. No, not every woman finds shirtless Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love attractive, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t visually stimulated for goodness’ sake. I also don’t know any men who don’t care about personality or character when choosing a potential spouse. And regarding that last point, I think it’s terribly insulting to men to imply that they’re basically just big hairy bundles of id, derping along until they find themselves in proximity to a hot, immodestly-dressed woman, whereupon they can do nothing but fall immediately into sexual sin.

Third, I think this set of lies is particularly dangerous because of where it leads. A couple of anecdotes:

A popular marriage book (which I won’t name here lest I get some of its terrifying supporters in the comments) describes in graphic detail the supposedly-true story of a young man, filled with lust at the sight of the snug-skirted young woman standing in front of him in church; the book’s author blames the young woman’s immodesty for causing his problem, implying that the young man’s lust was a purely biological response for which he couldn’t possibly be held responsible. If you can’t see the danger of blaming women for the sexual sin of men, maybe you need to read about the judge who last week sentenced a 49-year-old man convicted of raping his 14-year-old student to just 30 days in prison, claiming the victim’s maturity and apparent sexual control over the relationship as mitigating factors in the perpetrator’s guilt, despite the fact that, in the state of Montana, a 14-year-old cannot legally give consent, and the fact that the girl went on to commit suicide.

In addition to that issue, there’s also the fact that pornography use among women has skyrocketed in the last few years; among older teens and women in their early 20s, rates are rapidly approaching those of men of the same age. When we constantly beat the drum of Men Being Visual And Women Being Emotional, we are driving women who struggle in this area into seclusion and shame; when we offer resources to conquer porn addictions primarily in the context of men’s accountability groups, or hasten to add, “We know this won’t apply to most of you ladies” when teaching about pornography, or in any other way make sexual sin a male or female thing, we are heaping condemnation on these sisters, who now have to deal with feeling like freaks because they’re struggling with something that “isn’t really a woman problem.”

When the sum of our exhortation to women regarding sexual sin is to tell them to avoid Fifty Shades of Grey and make sure they don’t show any cleavage, we’re doing a disservice to them. When we treat men like out-of-control sex maniacs, we’re doing a disservice to them. When we talk about any sin as though it’s the exclusive territory of one group or another in the church, or rely on stereotypes and hackneyed statistics, we do a disservice to everyone in the church. Let’s seek a better path.

Bragging and Complaining

I said the other day to a friend that it seems like we often don’t know how to rejoice, we only know how to brag, and we don’t know how to mourn, we only know how to complain. And we don’t know how to respond to rejoicing or mourning — we respond to them like they’re bragging or complaining.

Just stuff I’ve been thinking about.

Big Scary Topic: Feminism, Part One

This first post is pretty timely, it seems. You see, prizewinning and bestselling British author Hilary Mantel recently gave a talk entitled “Royal Bodies” for the London Review of Books’ winter lecture series. It’s one of the more fascinating things I’ve ever read on famous women and their bodies and how we view them, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. It’s also turning out to be the talk that launched a thousand rhetorical ships: of course every British paper had an opinion, most of them pretty well to be expected (The Daily Mail’s coverage could be summarized, as usual, as WE ARE HORRIFIED BY WHAT WE ASSUME WAS SAID); even the Prime Minster waded into the fray, missing the point rather spectacularly. Twitter has been ablaze with the question of was-it-ironic-or-wasn’t-it (hint: yes), and NPR highlighted the controversy during their main news broadcasts today.

All that to say, a lot of people are thinking about big issues right now — women and how freely we comment on their looks, fame and beauty and objectification and otherness and what exactly these bodies of ours mean. Those are important topics, and I guess I’m about to tackle some of them.

But I think I need to issue a few denials before I forge ahead, and maybe a couple of affirmations. So here goes.

I believe men and women are different, and that any effort to flatten out gender distinctions is going to end in… absurdity. But I also believe that there are any number of ways to act and be feminine or masculine, not just one (more on this later).

I’m no Marxist; I think it takes a lot of blindly clinging to one’s assumptions in the face of evidence to the contrary to look at human history and deduce that hierarchy is the problem that must be overcome in order for people to thrive. Some hierarchies are awesome and some of them are terrible, but the existence of abusive, exploitative power structures doesn’t invalidate the hierarchy as A Thing. And honestly, does anyone over the age of 35 who has ever read a history book still believe that a human society completely without hierarchy is even possible on any kind of scale or for any length of time? So no, I’m not going to be arguing that women need to rise up and overthrow some mythological worldwide Illuminati patriarchy so that society can progress toward its next evolutionary incarnation.

I don’t believe that “society” as some abstract entity has an agenda to “keep women in their place.” I don’t think that what this country needs, necessarily, is more women in ________ industry or field. I do think that looking at a circumstance — say, the fact that women are underrepresented in the sciences — and failing (or refusing) to consider that the reasons for that circumstance might be incredibly complex and even, perhaps, tied to the innate strengths and weaknesses of the genders, is just head-smackingly stupid. I think it’s lazy-minded, thoughtless, callous, and just plain rude, on the other hand, to dismiss all such disparities as merely representative of gender differences rather than societally-influenced.

I don’t think “feminism” as a worldview has any real solutions to the problems of society. But I think traditionalism, for most of us in the Evangelical camp, poses a far greater danger. It’s a prettier poison for many of us, and a subtler one. We need to be able to hear past the talking points and bumper-sticker slogans and strawmen of the feminist vs. traditionalist shouting match and get down to what the Bible actually teaches about women and their value, about objectification, about bodies. And I am convinced that we’ll have an easier time locating Biblical Christianity in the syncretistic miasma of modern traditionalist religion if we spend some time looking at feminism’s critiques of traditionalism.

So there you have it, I suppose: a bit of an introduction to the Big Scary Topic of feminism.

In the coming weeks or however long I feel like writing about this because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want, GOSH, I’ll be looking at such topics as Plato, Augustine, and the body; big ugly traditionalism and its little ugly cronies; objectification and othering; and, Lord willing, really scary topics like sexual identity, orientation, and even (gulp) rape and sexual abuse — and how feminism and Christianity intersect at those points. Fasten your seatbelts.

Reasons/Excuses/Fear

So. I started and stopped and started and stopped writing a series last year about feminism and the church and Christians and how we’ve historically been so opposed to the negatives of feminism (and caricatures of feminism) that we’ve thrown out the stuff we could really stand to learn from feminists and ignored the beliefs we share with them. I would read something exciting, get pumped to write the series, do some research, and then freak out because… well, for the following reasons in no particular order.

  1. The Internet is not known for its ability to understand subtle, nuanced arguments; trolls are no fun to deal with.
  2. I don’t want people to think I’m some lefty wacko, or that my views on this subject mean I’ve abandoned historic Christian teaching on God’s will for human sexuality and gender.
  3. (REALTALK:) I don’t want dudes to read this and say, “Ew, I don’t want to marry some man-hating feminazi.”
  4. Not a lot of people want to read about things like sexual abuse, objectification, the male gaze, and other five-dollar terminology that tends to populate the syllabi of Women’s Studies classes at universities across the country… no matter how much I absolutely believe they need to believe rightly about those things.
  5. It’s easier to write about Downton Abbey and the Bible study Methods class I’m teaching and the fun stuff I do on a Friday night (HA!) than about deep, complex issues.

Are those reasons? Are they excuses? Are they nothing but manifestations of my own fear of man? Am I basically permanently walling myself off from marriage by writing about feminism? (No, seriously, am I?)

Anyway, I feel really strongly about this stuff, and I think I’m going to go for it. So I guess the alternate title of this post could be “In Which Laura Psychs Herself Up.”

Believe It or Not, the Opposite of “Inerrancy” Isn’t Always “Errancy.”

The other day, a guy I run across in the blog-world was talking about how he sometimes gets fired up by what he termed the “Three E’s” — Errancy, Egalitarianism, and Evolution. These were my next thoughts:

hghiludfjkdfjsfhf iouwfhj oijoijdwwa

Coherent, eh? The implication is, of course, that anyone who doesn’t affirm inerrancy is an “errantist,” believing that the Scriptures are actually full of error. Yargh. I have a pretty big problem with that view (not to mention the attitude behind it), and I’ll tell you why.

*rolls up sleeves*

Preliminary data: inerrancy, which is the doctrine that the Scriptures are without error in everything they affirm, has been a pretty major battle ground over the last few decades and has been settled, one way or another, to the point that affirmation of inerrancy tends to be one of the identifying characteristics of Evangelicals. Inerrantists (I think rightly) believe that the absolute truthfulness of Scripture is an extremely important issue, and not one to be given up or compromised, so they use terms like “non-negotiable” and “essential” to describe the doctrine. Got all that? OK.

It’s true that the most vocal opponents of the concept of inerrancy have been people whose commitment to a modernist, materialist worldview precludes belief in any sort of divine character to Scripture. To them, it’s not divine, not authoritative, not inspired except in the way that, say, Shakespeare or Ovid were “inspired.” But this whole debate is quite new, and there are entire great big groups of Christians who just didn’t get involved at all — people like confessional Lutherans, Anglicans, and other folks on the higher-church end of the spectrum. They never absorbed the language of “without error in its original manuscripts” and the like. And that’s where the problems start to arise.

Some inerrantists steadfastly refuse to differentiate between people whose ultimate desire is to undermine the authority or divine character of Scripture and people who, say, don’t feel comfortable with the sometimes sterile-sounding language of inerrancy. Some use the term itself as a sort of shibboleth of orthodoxy, badgering people to sign on the proverbial dotted line of inerrancy (“No, just tell me. Are you? It’s not a hard question. Just answer.”). Some point to it as the test of, if not orthodoxy per se, then at least membership in the Evangelical community.

But there are a great many Christians who have never had this conversation, and who simply believe that the Bible is true. There are many who belong to denominations and traditions where the truthfulness of Scripture is taken as an article of faith, confessionally, rather than as a matter to be handled with lengthy treatises on exactly which documents can be given which terminology. Many more, while submitting to the authority, truthfulness, and sufficiency of Scripture, simply find themselves uncomfortable with a doctrine they see as a Procrustean bed, as restrictive rather than expansive. I don’t necessarily agree with all these objections, but I understand them. I recognize that my conscience cannot dictate the consciences of other believers, and I also recognize that, though some believers, just by personality, take great comfort and find great freedom in meticulously-delineated doctrines, others do not. Being Type A is not a prerequisite for membership in the family of God.

And this is why it’s important to ask questions rather than make assumptions, especially about our brothers and sisters in Christ. When someone asks, “Are you an inerrantist?” or “Are you a Calvinist?” or “Are you a creationist?” or whatever, the best response, in my estimation, is, “Well, what do you mean by that?” And on the other side, if someone says, “Oh, I could never be an XYZ,” I reckon it’s pretty important to find out what they mean by XYZ and how it affects the rest of their doctrine. And ask positive questions, too: stuff like “So, what do you believe about the Bible?”

Between brothers and sisters, questions like this should be conversation-starters, not conversation-enders. We cannot use these catch-phrases as code words for who’s “in” and who’s “out.” That kind of spiritual arrogance is exactly what got this guy a starring role as a baddy in one of Jesus’ parables.

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.

Over It.

A blog I frequent has stoked rather fiery conversation in the comments section of an article that mentions, among other things, how unfair — not to mention impractical — it is for Christians to make “must be a virgin” a non-negotiable for dating. Common sense, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought! But apparently not. A slightly shocking number of young men have come along and protested that it’s perfectly all right to do so, and one of the most common themes in their comments is a sort of wounded, “Well, I stayed a virgin, so the least she can do is stay one, too!”

I’ve made several comments along the lines of, “Yes, it’s a fine desire to have, but it’s not ok to make it a demand; you’ll never have a sinless spouse and you’re not sinless either; there’s a big difference between someone who doesn’t value chastity and someone who does but who has messed up in the past; you’re potentially missing out on strong, committed believers with a biblical view of sexuality because you refuse to release them from their pasts, etc.”

But I can understand the sort of visceral, instinctive response of “I worked hard to keep myself from this particular sin and I’m going to go into a marriage without that baggage, thanks.” The difference is, I got over it in high school. In fact, I vividly remember getting over it. I was at camp the summer between junior and senior year, and at campfire one night I was sitting with a counselor who I’m now totally unashamed to say I had a massive crush on (it’s fine, he was like two years older than me, tops). Whoever was giving the little campfire devotional was talking about how important it was to remain committed to God’s standards, and he gave a few stats about teens and sexual activity, one of which had to do with how few young men graduate high school having had zero sex partners. I remember being seriously distressed by it and leaning over to Cute Counselor and saying something about how surprising it was but how I was sure it didn’t apply to him. He replied, to my continued shock, that, actually, it did.

I remember how much it screwed up my worldview. I remember thinking, But he’s such a good guy, and such a committed Christian! How could he have that in his past? And then, Could I ever marry a guy who wasn’t a virgin? And then, Do I even have the right to demand that? And then, I’ve been forgiven so much — how could I rule out someone who’s just been forgiven of different things than I have?

Let’s leave aside the practical considerations — the fact that the vast majority of adult men are not virgins, so making that a demand unacceptably narrows the dating pool. Let’s even leave aside the semantics — that “virginity” has such a range of meanings as to make it a very unhelpful metric of chastity. Let’s remember this:

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

So he said, “Teacher, say it.”

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

And this:

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldwas brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

You Know What I Wish?

I wish that churches would have parties instead of “outreach events.”

I wish that unbelievers could walk into a church’s football party or Christmas open house or Trunk-or-Treat or summer BBQ and not have to be nervous that they’d have to stop talking to their friends, set down their refreshments, and go into the sanctuary and listen to a “message.”

I wish that every event didn’t have to be baptized or Jesus-ified to be considered church-appropriate.

And I wish that those changes would result from a deep conviction that the proclamation of the Gospel is a task for every Christian, not just for church leadership and pastors; that alienating unbelievers with uncomfortable bait-and-switch drive-by evangelism does more harm than good; and that loving our neighbors actually involves developing a relationship with them, not just programming three worship songs and a twenty-minute devotional in the middle of a Harvest Party.

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?

I Can’t Believe I’m Writing About Tebow

Although it’s not Tebow per se, just the tendency of Christians to latch on to ANYTHING that links our faith or values with success. Tebow, yes, but also any public figure who claims the name of Christ. Archaeological findings. Christian music that gets secular accolades. Family-friendly movies. TV shows that use God’s name as a blessing rather than a curse word. Books where the main characters don’t sleep together (but, interestingly, not books where the hero lays down his life for his friends). If it’s successful and seems to line up with our faith or values, we are ALL OVER THAT. And if anybody dares to criticize or question, they get piled on, post haste.

I have seen people, when questioned about the wisdom of letting teenage girls read a book about a young woman whose identity is so wrapped up in a potentially-dangerous man’s opinion of her, act like the foundations of Christian morality are being attacked. I have deleted hundreds of emails forwarded by well-intentioned brothers and sisters claiming that some massive atheist movement is trying to get Touched By An Angel or Seventh Heaven taken off the air, as though those shows’ insipid pseudo-gospel is the key to the salvation of thousands of pagan cable subscribers, or trying to persuade me to boycott this or that book whose author is supposedly a Satanist or Wiccan or whatever (never mind the fact that these things could be debunked with one thirty-second Snopes search). I have watched, incredulous, when a comments section explodes with vitriol below an article that dares to question the artistic merit of Fireproof or the Left Behind movies.

When the so-called “James Ossuary” was discovered several years ago, I remember some Christians acting completely triumphant, as though this archaeological find was the key to people finally recognizing the truth of Christianity. And then when the thing was proven to be a phoney a few months later, those same Christians were crushed. When George W. talked about Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worshipping the same God, many of the Christians who had voted for him because of his faith rushed to make excuses or to agree.

What’s the problem here?

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a Christian (we’ll call him “A” just for the heck of it) who feels guilty because he’s never led a single coworker to Christ. The last time A got a guilty conscience, he invited all of them to screenings of Fireproof, but no one came. He feels pretty shaky about his ability to convince people that the Scriptures are true, because it seems like every time there’s another archaeological finding in the newspaper, three months later it’s proven to be a fake. A’s really worried that the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket, because it seems like atheism is getting more and more popular, immorality is rampant, and his email inbox is full of forwards from friends about the dangers of certain video games, movies, and books. He feels unsettled, always searching for the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to proving that Christianity is true.

Whenever A encounters people who have criticisms of Tim Tebow or Stephen Baldwin or other Christian celebrities, or who roll their eyes about Fireproof or Courageous, he’s frustrated and wonders why people are so nit-picky — I mean, so what if Tebow’s not the best quarterback in the world! At least he’s a Christian! And so what if Courageousisn’t Oscar material! It’s got a great message! Isn’t that what really matters? A really wants his brothers and sisters in Christ to be unashamed of the Gospel, but it seems like “Christian” behavior gets a lot of flak and he wonders where to draw the line. “Tebowing” in the hallways of a public school might not seem all that effective, but surely it must be good if it’s pointing to Jesus!

He just doesn’t know what to do with Christians who disagree with him about that kind of stuff, so he often finds himself in confrontations — even sometimes ending friendships with people he once loved and respected, so he feels increasingly alone in the world. In fact, A recently found out that a friend changed his views on what he thinks is an important issue, and A was incredibly grieved and hurt, and finds himself struggling to relate to his former friend. Sure, it’s not like his former friend renounced Christ, but how can he fellowship with someone with such different views on such an important issue?

Now, imagine a Christian (“B”) who is bold but thoughtful in the way he shares his faith with his coworkers. He has spiritual conversations with them but is never pushy, and has brought a few friends to church and had the chance to share the Gospel with some others. Whenever archaeological findings seem to support the biblical account, B smiles to himself and thanks God, but doesn’t worry if those findings are overturned, because he knows that God’s truth will ultimately be revealed, just maybe not on his timetable. He doesn’t get too caught up in the latest popular book or movie, Christian or not — he sees popular culture of all kinds as something to be discerning about, not something to either accept thoughtlessly or reject thoughtlessly. He watches good movies and listens to good music when they tell the truth about God’s world whether they have a Christian label or not, and he prays and hopes that more Christian artists will make great art, not just “Christian” art.

When a public figure professes Christ, B prays for that person’s faith and testimony, but doesn’t freak out when people criticize, because he knows that Christianity doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t Christians. He doesn’t get too concerned about books, movies, shows, or music that are supposedly going to “destroy young people” or whatever, because he remembers that God’s people have managed to survive Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Nero, to say nothing of Dungeons & Dragons and Twilight. B exercises discernment — and teaches those he mentors to do the same — about the latest craze, receiving the good with gratitude to God, and rejecting the wicked or worthless.

B recognizes that believers can differ on matters of conscience and still fellowship with one another — he has different personal convictions than some of his friends but wouldn’t dream of trying to impose his conscience on his friends. When he finds out that brothers and sisters disagree with his views on pop culture or politics or other issues of conscience, he humbles himself and is willing to be proven wrong, especially when the disagreement is with someone he trusts and knows to be a solid, mature believer. When he found out that a friend changed his views on an important but non-salvation-related issue, B was curious, but assumed that, since his friend was a believer and therefore had the Holy Spirit, he’d thought the issue through and prayed about it before changing his mind. B and his friend had a few conversations about it, and although B stuck with his own views, he was convinced that his friend had made the change with a good conscience before God and happily continued hanging out with him. On the other hand, a friend of B’s read a book espousing a dangerous, anti-gospel doctrine, and B knew this wasn’t just a “conscience issue.” So he talked through the book’s issues carefully with his friend, and they read it together, with B prayerfully helping his friend see the errors the author was promoting, without breaking fellowship.

What’s the difference between these two hypothetical Christians? Theology.

More about this tomorrow. Meanwhile… which Christian would you rather be like?

So Much “Christian” Art Sucks. That Is Not OK

Just a couple of thoughts.

With apologies to Tolstoy: All good art is alike; each bad work of art is bad in its own way.

Good art says something true about the world in a way that causes that truth to become real to us by the work’s beauty or skillfulness. It doesn’t have to be big truth; “afternoon sunlight strikes a bowl of fruit in such a way” is as true, logically, as “Christ’s resurrection is the ground of the Christian’s hope,” or “two and two are four.”  “Flowers are beautiful” and “death comes for every man” are equally true. “All is not as it seems” and “these colors look striking together”? Also both true (or at least potentially, in that last case).

In that way, all good art is good inasmuch as its beauty or skillfulness or execution says something true (which is not the same as “real;” not even a little).

Bad art, though, and particularly bad “Christian” art, can fail in a hundred points. It can be vapid. It can be unskillful. It can be sentimental. It can be a bludgeon. It can be propaganda. It can say something false about the world — that the world is all sweetness and light, or that evil is an illusion. Or something false about the Gospel or about God — that the good news of Jesus is mostly about us or our comfort or eventual escape, or that God is something that He’s not. It can be moralistic. It can be pandering.

That’s not OK, even if the focus of the work is something Gospel-related.