Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Making sense of mixing: the things we missed out on

My worldview has been constantly changed and challenged since I was 15. As a young person you often allow people to have an impact on your life when they really aren't entitled to. And by people, I don't really mean actual people, just their ideas and thoughts.

My friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing how the church and Christian life has gone wrong for us. In church, and Bible College, we were taught that it is "never about you". If you want to use the analogy of Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as His betrothed, surely we are getting something wrong here.  As I have written about before, marriage is two equal parts. And as the saying goes, if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Surely this applies to church too. After all, if worship is how we connect with God, if God doesn't need our worship (but delights in it), if we are not giving with a generous spirit, surely that is leading to an unequal and unfulfilled relationship? Of course, in marriage you have to do things to make your spouse's life better (Stephen takes out the bins for me, even though he hates it).

I question whether Christianity is really about church though. I know a lot of passionate Christians who have great difficulty with church life. I am one of them. I have written in the past about my struggles with modern day Christianity. I know that I'm not alone - in fact I just read a really lovely open letter here about it.

There is one thing which my little circle seems a bit hung up on - in what is possibly a good way - the I Kissed Dating Goodbye saga.  Or *grumble voice* Joshua Harris. If you haven't read this book you can find some pretty good outlines on the web. If you can't be bothered, here are some of the trivial and not so trivial aspects of the book:

-dating (in the American sense of the word) doesn't permit people to be themselves as they are too eager to please the other person
-get to know the opposite gender in group settings 
-courtship - that is relationships with the goal of marriage should be the only romantic relationships you should look at entering into
-dating other people means you give part of your heart to them, and you only have what's left for your future spouse
-purity at all costs. Also a long tale about some racy newlyweds who didn't kiss before their wedding day and are so pent up with passion they have to hold hands when seated behind each other in the car

A lot of this stuff probably makes some sense to some people. I didn't take this on board initially, but found when I got to Bible College that a lot of people (including possible boyfriends potential husbands) really valued this kind of information. In fact, I have met many a couple who take taken some of these ideas - Josh himself would be loathed to call them rules - and put them into practice.

My very quick Google search today on the book title led me to a whole string of issues people had with the book, including a generation of Christian men and women who, in their own words, are dumb-daters, or stunted in their relationship development. I don't think that was what the book was really meant to be about. While Josh probably had best intentions at heart, this marry-a-best-friend-after-group-bowling-dates wave swept through the Gen Ys right when they didn't need it.

Why does this book resonate with us so much when obviously it has the potential to do so much damage?

1. Every man and woman's battle was discussed - somewhat.
I remember our YITS community talking often about the Every Young Man's Battle book (they also had one for young women which I did own, and then - thankfully - lost). Again, similar in the way that it sets up thinking around purity, but actually covers gender issues appropriately. The main focus is on sex, lust and impurity, and what we can do to avoid it (yes, even sex, except in marriage). With some kind of acknowledgement that staying pure is hard without actually spelling it out, this book confirmed what we always knew - it is an on going battle.

Of course, like the Battle books, it has the potential to wound and shame people from both sides of the fence. And that's where the troubles seemed to begin.

2. It talked about some familiar landscapes like youth groups.
As Aussies we don't date the same way Americans do - from what I can gather anyway. In our land, you're either together or you're not. The not part is where the difficulties lie. While the book promotes a lot of group dating settings and warns against isolated 1-on-1 time with your love interest, it makes for a much more complicated social scene.

I found in my time at college and in the big wide world, often Christian guys are so happy to seek knowledge from anyone one else apart from the lady he is interested in. I think book is part of that issue. If you read some of the links I've referred to, you'll know why this is a problem.

3. We all like a reward for our hard labour. And it pooh-poohs those who don't get a reward.
Marriage is rightfully put on a pedestal in this book. It makes it okay for young Christians to start talking about - and soon - get married. Why? Because marriage is the reward and/or outcome of dating.

The book also tells Tales of Woe about people who couldn't get married and about failed relationships. Heartbreak hurts, I'm not going to even joke about that. We don't need heartbreak to know we are on to a good thing (though many older and wiser people will tell you otherwise). But a hurting heart doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find someone. It is good to find a book which will acknowledge that heartache is painful, but to what cost to the reader? Of course, there will be similar tales of virginity - if you grew up around the same time as me, you may know the concept of a sticky soul (which gets unsticky)or the unsurprising unwrapped/rewrapped Christmas present. It is easy to forget that Josh write this at the ripe old age of 21. Keep that in your heads. Please.

4. Lust is only lust.
To my 15 year old self, I got this bit the best. Of course a crush is just a crush, it doesn't mean anything right?

Although Josh will tell you otherwise, it is okay to be interested in someone without even thinking about marrying them. Why? Because I was 15, I was highly unlikely to actually marry someone I met at that age. But also, how do you distinguish a crush from the real deal? Don't read this book. Listen to your heart and perhaps a trusted friend. And pray about it. A lot.

How do I feel about this book?

It really isn't the book's fault, or even the author's.
I think the problem is twofold:
1. Using this book as an example.
Yes, it was a best seller. It contains a lot of ideas youth groups were promoting all the time. But it's not a dating (sorry, courtship) manual, and it is simply the thoughts of an idealistic young man who saw what worked in his community.

Within my world, one of my friends loved it, a couple I knew got married because of it, but for the most part it caused men and women to find parts in it which meant something to them and apply it as a hard and fast rule. There's one book that's good for, it's called The Bible.

2. Not thinking for yourself.
I was a teenager when I read this, and highly impressionable. Luckily my Mum saw the stupidity of the content and has referred to it over the years. Other people did not come out of this so unscathed. This book should not have been marketed to teenagers. Not only did this put lots of grand ideas in my head about marriage (thoughts which I hadn't really considered before), I felt as if I was a bad person for kissing before I was married, having dated someone for a month and generally having a lot of really great friendships with guys. There is another book too called "I Gave Dating a Chance", which basically lists all the awesome things the author's ex girlfriends did for him, including making soup. If I was any of those girls I would still probably be mortified.

I digress!
Thinking for yourself is truly a lifelong process - even after seven years of living by myself, I still check in with my Mum to see if she thinks I'm "sick enough" for a day off. I had a few trusted friends I could have spoken to, but again this book showed that being impure in any sense is wrong. And I was never really the type to share with my gal pals about such things.

Had I read this in my first year at College, or even in the lead up to my wedding, I probably would have gleaned some small bits of information and moved on. Incorrect marketing was my downfall.

By all means, read this book. It is challenging and interesting. You'll cringe at some of the stories - just wait for the too-tight-t-shirt date (as a wearer of tight t-shirts myself I probably would have told that guy to keep on driving, someone else could take me our for ice cream - but in terms of thinking about relationships, it is a different and new concept to what we Christians would call "the world's idea of dating". The poor world. It cops a lot of flak from us.