Floating Bridges and Movable Blessings

I’ve always had a fascination with bridges.

One of my favorites is the rainbow bridge that connects Niagara Falls, NY to Ontario, Canada. I came across it while driving from CA to MA early June 2004. Niagara Falls is an incredible place. I went on a gorgeous day and with tourist like myself, running around everywhere, it made for a very exciting time. (I looked out across the loud, rushing water in search of Bruce, from Bruce Almighty aboard the Maid of the Mist, but without luck of a sighting).

I was in awe at the size of the Rainbow Bridge when I first saw it. I’m not sure what fascinated me more about the bridge. Was it the height of it? The structure of the huge steal beams, holding it up? The magnitude of its size stretched out over the intensely thrashing waters below? Maybe the fact that it looks as if the bridge is coming right out of the hillside both in Ontario and in Niagara Falls. I don’t know.
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In Honor(?) of St. Valentine's Day

Most men (and women!) think that Valentine’s Day is about celebrating the love they share.

That is, however, an unfortunate delusion. Valentine’s Day is about love and romance in the same way that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about molecular biology (namely, not at all).

Fundamentally, Valentine’s Day thrives upon a single motivation: masculine competition.

From the time most men can walk, the women in our lives have been preparing us for when we draw paychecks by putting us in Valentine’s Parties and creating competitions to see who could collect the most Valentine cards(I always did fairly well in these competitions—they were, unfortunately, no predictor of future success with women).

From the beginning, Valentine’s Day is not about romance—rather, it’s about out-doing everyone else in the class with the best baked goods and the coolest Valentine’s Cards.

Once we grow up, nothing changes for the men. The gifts become more expensive and the expectations more intense, but it’s the same game that we played in kindergarten: outdo every other male within shouting distance.

In other words, Valentine’s Day is simply a ploy by women to get what they really want from men—chocolates, flowers and shiny stones that cost too much—at least once a year.

This is all tongue in cheek. Women aren’t really that mercenary about Valentine’s Day. At least not that they would admit.

But there is something about the cultural expectations surrounding the day that inevitably cheapens the professions of love that occur. I know I’m dense about these matters, but I cannot for the life of me understand why otherwise sensible women insist upon acknowledging a day fabricated entirely by marketers from the greeting card, flower, and chocolate industries. At some point, the romantic ceases to become so when its expressions are swallowed up and sanitized by corporate America.

But Valentine’s Day will go on. And if I have learned anything, it is that women understand this complaint 364 days out of the year. It is the 365th day that they go mad (and men go with them).

Unfortunately, that 365th day just happened to be yesterday. I hope you had a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Exit question: Why? Why?


*Note: This post was originally supposed to run yesterday, but I decided not to critique the day after it had gone past, so that when it comes again next year, everyone will have forgotten what I said and can blissfully return to their marketing-driven celebrations of America's second most expensive national holiday.

Commonality and Community

My pastor is preaching a series on the book of Acts. I’ve heard a lot of sermons on Acts and read through the book of Acts more than most other books in the Bible, but as always, Sam manages to put a revolutionary spin on the book that makes this time different from most others.

What struck me most, and what I’ve been thinking about the most, was the discussion of the early church’s practice of sharing things in common:
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
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Humpty Dumpty and Counting Crows

     Even as a child, I didn't believed we had the whole story about what happened up on that wall before Humpty-Dumpty had his famous fall! All we know is that a poor guy sat on the wall and that he had a great fall. We don't even know if anyone pushed him. We know that after he fell, all the kings' horses and all the kings' men couldn't put him back together again. (Of course, I have always wondered what anyone expected of the horses to begin with!) 

      The group Counting Crows once sang about how Humpty-Dumpty was beyond help no matter what we do but I don't buy that. (Anyway, I don't have much patience with a group that can sing about Albert Einstein and Humpty-Dumpty in the same song!) So, I have consulted children, the real authorities about Humpty-Dumpty. 

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Tags | Belief

(Re-)Envisioning Marriage: Matrimony as a Starting Point for Romance

I have sometimes been accused of focusing too heavily on marriage, and not paying enough attention to those who aren’t married. 

After all, the majority of young people are in dating relationships, and the number of single people is on the rise.  The single folks often complain that they have been viewed as second class citizens of the evangelical Church, a complaint not without some merit.  As for most high schoolers and college students who are dating, I have been told that I shouldn’t talk to them about marriage much because they’re not thinking about it yet.

The concern is legitimate.  After all, there are questions that are unique to both groups (questions which I have opinions about, but haven’t gotten around to sharing yet!).  But there is a single principle to which I adhere which prompts me to focus (first) on marriage.  Here it is:

Our vision of marriage determines how we will lead our romantic lives, whether we are single, dating, married, divorced, etc.

Is it controversial?  Yes.  Is it true?  I think so. 

Fundamentally, the idea hangs on the notion that we have been created to be married.  To defend this claim, I could point to the Garden of Eden.  Or I could point to G.K. Chesterton’s humorous take on the issue in his novel Manalive.  I’ll choose the latter. 

(The scene:  Michael is proposing to Rosamund.   And, action!)

"My darling, what else is there to do?" reasoned the Irishman. "What other occupation is there for an active man on this earth, except to marry you? What's the alternative to marriage, barring sleep? It's not liberty, Rosamund. Unless you marry God, as our nuns do in Ireland, you must marry Man--that is Me. The only third thing is to marry yourself--yourself, yourself, yourself--the only companion that is never satisfied--and never satisfactory." 

As Professor Leon Kass has put it, “To be married or not to be married:  that is the question.  Absent a positive answer to this first question, in favor of marrying, all the other questions of real courtship pass away, as one opts instead for chance encounters, hooking up, and shorter or longer relationships."

That is, when we don’t answer Kass’s question first, we lose our romantic bearings. 

If you are in a relationship, it’s hard to know what you are moving toward, and hence how you should move there, if you don't understand marriage.  If you’re single, living a flourishing, intentional life depends upon acknowledging, understanding, and embracing your single state.  Try doing that if you don't think hard about what marriage is, what it entails, why it's awesome, and why it might not be for you (right now, at least).

However, here’s the problem:  culturally, almost no one has a robust, deep, and compelling vision for marriage, including the evangelical Christian church. 

Outside the church, this is pretty obvious.  Hook-ups, relationships, perpetual singleness and cohabitation dominate.  Marriage is for those too boring to keep up with the scene.  

Within the church, the claim is less obvious.  But I would point to two pieces of evidence:  First, the ‘second-class’ status that many single people report is an indication that Christians misunderstand the nature of marriage.  A robust view of marriage doesn’t denigrate singleness—it elevates it, seeing it as either a necessary and enormously beneficial pre-requisite for a healthy marriage or a life-long covenant to serve the Church.   The fact that single people feel like second-class citizens of the Church is an indication that our churches don’t understand and appreciate the role of singleness within the economy of romance—which means they probably don’t understand the other aspects of romance (marriage!) as well as they claim.

Second, as in the secular world, most ‘relationships’ on Christian colleges are more like mini-marriages that drag out two, three, and sometimes four years before culminating in marriage, just as they do in secular contexts.  While there are some good reasons for this (economics), this is partly due to an anemic view of marriage that takes its cues more from the divorce culture that surrounds the Church than from Scripture or tradition.

Getting our understanding of marriage right is the first step toward leading healthy, flourishing romantic lives.  It’s not easy, but the sooner we know where we are headed—or what we are giving up—the sooner we can know how we’re going to get there.

Exit question:  what does it say about our relationship to God that we have been created to be married?

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What a privilege to premiere PURPLE STATE OF MIND at Davidson College—our dear old alma mater. We screened our film in the same room that John and I took freshman Humanities classes. Hance Auditorium sits atop the Chambers Building, in the geographic (and educational) center of the campus. It has a massive domed ceiling, perfect for bouncing ideas off each other.

Twenty-five years ago, we were reading Plato, Aristotle, Homer and Herodotus together. Brilliant Davidson profs pushed us to consider the similarities between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the flood account in the biblical book of Genesis. I remember my shock upon hearing how four authors/sources, J, E, D, and P were fused together to craft the Pentateuch. By the time we arrived at the objections to religion posed by Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, and Hegel, all the decorum of academia had been removed. All subjects, faiths, and intellectual systems were up for inspection. Davidson College profs insisted we kick the tires and look under the hood of over philosophy and religion known to humanity. It was exhausting and invigorating, an education that continues to drive me!

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I Can't Stand Christians Who Think Science Is the Enemy

In the interest of full disclosure--and at the risk of shameless self-promotion--you need to know that the title of this blog is also the title of a chapter in the new book, I'm Fine With God...It's Christians I Can't Stand, which I co-wrote with my intrepid writing partner, Bruce Bickel. In this candid dialog about the Christian community, we focus on well-meaning but misguided believers who take some parts of the Bible to ridiculous extremes while ignoring other parts.

There is perhaps no section of the Bible that has been exploited to "ridiculous extremes" than the first two chapters of Genesis. I present as Exhibit A the current efforts of Answers in Genesis to "defeat the enemy" of evolution in Great Britain, the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham, is a Kentucky-based organization whose mission it is to interpret the "evidence" of science so that it matches the biblical account of creation. For the folks at Answers in Genesis, this means interpreting scientific evidence to fit within the framework of the "young earth creation" model, which holds that God created the universe in six literal days a few thousand years ago.

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Fatal Attraction

A few years ago, one of the respected elders of our church asked me to see a movie called, Fatal Attraction. I was surprised. It was an "R" rated movie with strong sexual content. However, he told me that it was spiritually important for me to go. 

      Trish and I went to see it together. For the first few minutes, we asked ourselves why this spiritual man thought we should see such a movie. Then the film turned dark. Titillation turned to horror as a weekend affair turned into something that was not a causal thing at all. Before it was all over, blood, death and destruction had invaded the peaceful home life of an accidental adulterer. 

      Some Christians might disagree with the elder's ideas on what is spiritually important. Nonetheless, I believe he did the right thing. Since watching that movie, I have faced some temptations. Perhaps, even had I not seen the horror of Fatal Attraction, I would have had the good sense to resist them, but I'm not sure. Oh, I realize that every affair does not end in murder or the kind of outrageous horror depicted in that movie. However, the movie is right to emphasize that we pay a price every time we cross a sexual boundary. Sexual sin is something we usually commit in private but its affects are almost always public. 

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Misconceiving Marriage: The End, the Beginning, and Why we 'Get Hitched'

Marriage:  It’s Only Going to Get Worse.

How is that for a headline?  Nothing like some cheery news for people contemplating tying  the knot these days. 

Getting married?  Welcome to hell.  You’re in love now?  Just wait—in five years, you’ll be as attracted to your spouse as you are to toothaches.

It reminds me of the (rather terrible) Adam Sandler film The Wedding Singer.  At one point when he is cynical and jaded, Sandler leads a wedding reception crowd in a rousing version of Love Stinks!   Humorous, yes.  Accurate?  No.

There are lots of reasons to not get married.

Word of Promise 5

I have a Vietnamese friend who converted to Christianity as a young adult. She talks about when she was a young girl in her native village; she was frightened of the crucifix outside the church in her little town. It seemed terrible to her that the people who went into that building could have done such a terrible thing to the poor man. For years, she refused to watch the Jesus movie because, as she put it, "I don't like horror flicks!"
            That statement amazed me – to think that someone could view the crucifixion as a horror movie was beyond me. Then it struck me – why wouldn't I view the crucifixion as a horror movie? After all, the story of the crucifixion is horrible and gory beyond description. What is really strange are the sweet songs we sing about the crucifixion. It's sort of like playing a score from Mozart to scenes from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
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