Monthly Archives: December 2005

Evaluating Courtship

Having surveyed the basic scheme of both courtship and dating, it’s time to evaluate both systems by the light of critical reasoning and personal experience. We start with courtship.

Courtship is in many ways an excellent answer to the romantic malpractice of the culture. It’s no mystery that the world has gone mad in the area of love. All rules are out; no holds are barred; all bets are off when it comes to dating as today’s America does it. Marriage is take-it-or-leave-it, sex is anything but sacred, and divorce is as much an option as communication. To this world, courtship speaks. It puts forth a robust vision of marriage, seeing it, not dating, as the main thing. This is excellent. It necessitates the observance of traditional (biblical) gender roles in which the man leads and the woman follows. This is also excellent. It emphasizes accountability and the involvement of the church. Clearly, this is a good thing. Each of these strengths is hugely significant. These aren’t simply three good things about courtship, these are beautiful shades of a prism. In much of this system, we see God’s design for men and women and their mutual association.

I can validate these aspects of courtship because I have done it. I will go into no more detail than that, because this is not a diary-blog, but let me just say that I look back on my courtship experience as a positive one. It set my sights on marriage, where they should be for adult men and women. It forced me to be a man, to take risks and seek the heart of a woman. It gave me a structure in which there were boundaries and rules and accountability. All this was excellent. I am able to look back on my courtship and say that I was helped to think through marriage, that I got to know the person I courted, and that God was by His grace honored in our conduct. Praise God for raising up this system and the church who taught it to me and then called me to follow it.

So that’s the rosy side. There are drawbacks to courtship, however. One in particular stands out. Courtship is often conducted in lieu of dating. In other words, it replaces dating. As such, it tends to cut out some of the “getting-to-know-you” time of dating. Usually, a man notices a woman, strives to be around in inconspicuous but helpful ways, and then asks her to court. Keep in mind that courting equals consideration of marriage for both parties. In this brief sketch I’ve given, you can probably see the potential unhelpfulness of this scenario. Oftentimes, women are not comfortable jumping into a serious relationship with someone they do not know very well, even someone they may like! I completely understand. It’s a tremendous thing to ask somebody to consider marrying you. It ought to be done with great care and with substantial knowledge of the person with whom you are involved. You can’t simply rush something like this.

Here, then, is the achilles heel of courtship. In its attempt to exalt marriage, it diminishes unpressured interaction. Everything is heightened. The woman is oftentimes afraid, particularly if she isn’t clamoring to get married (read: older). In churches where this takes place, courtship may actually have something of a reverse effect on marriage if it’s not handled carefully. This may happen because women know that courtship is king at their church, that courtship means serious consideration of marriage, and that they are thus not going to court unless they are quite certain of their interest in a man. This disturbing and harmful trend does little to damage the romantic aspirations of the church’s “beautiful people,” or whatever you want to call them, but it does much to hinder those of the men and women who cannot snap their fingers and make a relationship appear. It is these people who stand to suffer the most, because they will not take a risk. They don’t get alot of attention, and so there’s not much opportunity to get to know the opposite sex in a meaningful way (remember, dating is out), and so they simply sit by their lonesome day after day, month after month, year after year, praying for something to happen. Meanwhile, they’re the victim, albeit a willing participant, in a system that is theoretically excellent but practically flawed at a crucial juncture: getting to know people.

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Christian Romance: Courtship or Dating?

I’m currently making an effort at outlining and evaluating the two main systems of Christian romance: courtship and dating. I think I did an okay job on courtship, but have had a bit of a harder time on dating as Christians do it. This seems to be because there is more of a prescribed order to courtship, while dating is more nebulous and free-flowing. Today, we’ll take a bit more time to compare and contrast the two systems. Tomorrow, the evaluation.

Courtship is intentional and focused, with an end in sight. It is designed to allow two people to consider thoughtfully whether they ought to marry one another. Dating has a different purpose. It is designed to help people get to know one another. This can be for marriage, but it need not be. Courtship involves parents, church members, and total strangers (just kidding) in the process, soliciting their feedback on the fitness of each person for marriage and the overall health of the relationship. Dating involves only the couple, though of course others may be asked to participate in group dates or some such thing. If courtship is public, dating is private. Courtship also proceeds according to some kind of predetermined schedule. At certain points, the relationship is either discontinued or ratcheted up, depending on how things are going. This is to prevent hearts from becoming overly emotionally attached and to keep the relationship progressing along. Dating knows no such timetable. It works of its own accord and goes where it will (or won’t). The two systems are thus quite different.

Most evangelicals approach romance through dating. Though at one point the church was quite intentional about marriage, this attitude waned in the twentieth century. The change is quite complex and not easy to trace out, but it seems that generally, church life became less intentional and more remote in the twentieth century. The culture became increasingly hostile to the thought and activity of the church, and the church seemed to respond in one of two ways. One, it withdrew. So went the Fundamentalists and Reformed types. Two, it accomodated. So went many of the mainstream denominations and a considerable number of evangelicals. Sure, many evangelical churches hung on to the gospel, but they began mirroring the culture in many ways, often intentionally, and even sought to do so in an effort to draw back outsiders. When this happened, much of the thoughtfulness that characterized eighteenth and nineteenth century Christianity was lost. A major part of this shift involved a largely empty doctrine of pre-marriage interaction. Where once a robust approach to romance existed, it fell by the wayside, and evangelicals looked increasingly to the culture to shape their romantic interaction. So rose dating in much of evangelicalism. It reigns in the current day.

Others in the Reformed and Fundamentalist camp clung to more involved romantic systems, including forms of courtship that persist in the present. And so evangelicalism finds itself in a familiar place on the issue of dating: divided. Now, the question is this: which system is best? Can the two compromise? We’ll find out–tomorrow.

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The Strange World of Christian Romance, Part 2

I promised an evaluation of courtship yesterday but have decided to hold off on that for a day. Because I first defined courtship, I now want to define the Christian understanding of dating. Please note that this is my own version of dating and that other renditions do exist. What I am about to offer is merely one take on the matter, though it has been developed from conversations with others.

Christian dating may in fact look quite a bit like courtship. There can be intentionality, a focus on marriage, and parental involvement. Perhaps the main difference, however, is that there is no set plan, no one way that the couple will necessarily end up together. The person who signs up for courtship signs up for some sort of prescribed system, much like I outlined yesterday. But Christians who date have not begun to get to know one another by a certain system. Significantly, one need not be heavily considering the other person in order to date them. This is a prerequisite of courtship. The person with whom you are interacting is someone you are considering quite seriously for marriage. Not so with dating. This can be happening, but it need not be. Christians may date simply to get to know one another in a more focused way. In this way, dating can serve as an effective pre-courting option.

I would write more, but I must be off to see my grandparents. Stick with me, and we’ll look into this further.

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The Strange World of Christian Romance

I’m not sure how many non-Christians read this blog, but those who are not familiar with the evangelical subculture of America will find its attempts at romance rather fascinating. In the culture at large, people seem to come together through a variety of means–on-and-off dating, meeting at parties, living together, being part of a group of friends/dating friends, and so on. The evangelical world, or the conservative evangelical world to which I belong, offers two main systems through which romance may be carried out: 1) courtship and 2) dating. I’m going to take a few days and look at the intricacies of each system, giving them an honest and slightly satirical evaluation as I do so.

What is courtship? Ah, the age-old question. Courtship is a relationship conducted with marriage in mind that includes several formalized steps which are designed to allow a couple to consider one another for marriage. It is led by the man and is intended to keep couples accountable, responsible, and centered on whether the other person is marriage-able. The courting couple spends minimal time alone, particularly at night, and strives to get to know one another in group settings. The process is usually kicked off by the man talking to the girl’s parents. If given permission, he then “initiates” with the girl, asking her to begin a formal courtship in which both parties will consider the other for marriage. If she says yes, they’ll likely start hanging out in groups of their friends, spend some time together alone, and with the help of a book, talk through serious issues of life, marriage, theology, and the like together. If all goes well, the man will ask the woman’s father for her hand in marriage. If permission is given, he’ll then ask her himself. The whole process is generally fairly quick, especially relative to secular relationships, with some couples completing the process in under six months.

The courtship model is quite old, and is usually associated with the Victorian era. Of course, it’s often given the stamp of this period and is called “prudish” and “rigid” by its detractors. Certainly it is an old-fashioned model, with a formalized system of interaction, a deference toward parental opinion, and an emphasis on holiness and decorum. Expectations for the relationship are stated up front, and neither party waits for hidden signals from the other to evaluate the relationship. Courtship is an honest process, with the couple sharing thoughts on life, their future plans, and vision for the family. It often involves friends and uses group settings as one of the primary forums for the couple to interact.

As one can see, courtship in many ways flies in the face of modern relational philosophy. Gone are the ill-defined “steps” of the relationship, the hiding of aspirations and opinions, and the physical intimacy that comes so easily and quickly with romance. In fact, many courting couples make it their business not to touch, and certainly not in romantic ways. Present are the role of the family, the involvement of friends, and close adherence to standards of conduct. Courtship is clearly an interesting system, with its own ideosyncracies, strengths, and challenges. Tomorrow I’ll give an honest evaluation of it. Yes, that is a formal initation, or invitation, to you the reader to read on.

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What a Mother Means to a Son: the Orderer

Mothers bring more to their sons than nurture and affection. They also bring order to their son’s lives. Think for a moment about everything that Mom teaches her son to do in an orderly fashion. She washes and folds his laundry, helps him brush his teeth, teaches him to use the bathroom, makes him wash his grubby little hands, disciplines him when he does wrong, regulates his tv watching time, directs his daily napping, makes him healthy lunches, supervises his play time with friends, and so much more. Mothers do alot with their children, but it seems to me that their work of ordering their child’s lives is as significant as any other aspect.

I suspect that we adults are so used to order that we don’t realize how valuable it is for our lives. Sure, we think about it when we do our taxes or hire employees or attempt to organize our files, but otherwise, we give little mind to the extreme ordered-ness of our world. We don’t pick up this trait by accident. It’s developed within us by our parents, and I would argue, especially by our mothers who taught us the basic DNA of the daily life. A sense of order helps greatly in the adult world. We can observe deadlines, work responsibly, conduct relationships well, and concentrate when we need to do so. Those who were brought up in an ordered fashion are better able to observe boundaries of life. We can understand that friendships are to be invested with responsibility and care, that our bodies must be heeded to function well in life, and that the right way to do things does matter, even with something as basic as toaster installation.

The cultural attempt to deconstruct authority that transpired some three decades past had sweeping effects that we can all observe but affected life in more nuanced and hard-to-spot ways as well. The counter-cultural generation, once free-living hippies, now uptight boomers, raised their children with an increased focus on freedom and a decreased focus on order. Order was decried, and personal liberty exalted. Such a shift brought changes at the worldview level as postmodernism crept into the American consciousness but also at the more basic and intimate level of personal development. Children of my generation, I think, are less aware of the order of the world and are at home in disorder and chaos. Lives without schedules, relationships without bounds, philosophies without coherence–such is the stuff of the disordered life. Where can we trace this, at least in part? To the breakdown of Mom’s role as the “orderer.” When a generation of women prize autonomy over instruction, and raise their children from the phone, not the home, their children are affected, and order everywhere suffers. How good it is that there are parents out there who will teach their children of order. How gracious of God to give us this guide in the natural plan for the family, and how needed it is in this world so enamored with chaos.

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What a Mother Means to a Son: the Tender One

Fathers must teach their boys much. Their love must be strong, for example, yet not without tenderness. Though they must exhibit this quality, it is from his mother that a boy must learn gentleness and tenderness. Without such lessons, he will not fulfill well his calling to love his future wife. He will grow up and be strong and responsible, but he will lack the gentle love that a woman must have in a relationship. Contrary to what action films and Hollywood stars teach us, men must be both strong and tender, both courageous and compassionate. How fascinating that the relationship between man and woman brings this out in men. Were the planet to consist simply of men, men probably wouldn’t express much gentleness. With women in the mix, though, we can’t run around like the brash and blunt creatures we really are. We have to develop emotionally, learn to care for others, and live tenderly and kindly. How good of our Creator to push us men out of our insensitive state-of-nature.

Yet though fathers must live tenderly, it will be the mother’s primary responsibility to teach her son to be tender. She does so by nurturing and caring for him from his earliest days. Observe women—even girls—around babies and one can see that females are hard-wired to love with tenderness. Men like to man-handle their sons, to throw them in the air and catch them, to wrestle with them. In all this, they show their strength and assure their boys of both their ability to protect and their ability to rough-house without hurt. Mothers don’t quite show tenderness in this way, do they? Mothers show tenderness by cooing at their boys and fussing over them. As the boy grows, it’s Mom, not Dad, that he seeks when he scrapes his knee. Mom has a special gentleness that alone can soothe the wounded. When he’s picked on at school, it’s Mom’s tender questions that result in his confession of hurt. After he wounds his sibling’s feelings, it’s Mom who will do much of the work of restoring. Dad forgives him, and that’s essential, but he needs the touch of redemption in his brokenness. He finds that in Mom’s tender hug and her reassuring words.

One can see the fruit of tender motherhood in young men. Boys who have had gentle and kind mothers are in no way effeminate or soft, but they are often quick to care. They are the type who ask fellow men how they are and who feel comfortable offering solace and comfort to a hurting brother. In addition, they are the type who least often will hurt a girl by way of insensitivity. They have learned from the hand of gentleness to be gentle. So they are. When with their children, they do not simply correct or direct, but do so with compassion and love. All this is due to Mother’s gentleness, her tenderness, qualities which are embedded in her emotional fabric. Providence has made Mom to be tender, to show her son tenderness, and to give God much glory through the simple teaching of an essential trait.

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What a Mother Means to a Son: the Nurturer (2)

It is very difficult for women to end the nourishing relationship. One can see why when one considers the pattern of care for her boy that begins in the womb and continues for almost two decades of her son’s life. There are points, though, at which Mom must accept a change in the special connection she has with her son. It need not disappear, but it will change when the boy begins to grow. He must then spend time with his father to learn what it is to be a man. Beginning in early childhood, he must spend large amounts of time with Dad. Chopping wood, shooting baskets, going to evening church with Dad—all this must take place in order for the boy to inhabit his masculinity. It will be difficult for her to do so, but Mom must let her son go, to an extent, in order for him to become the man His creator would have him to be.

What a beautiful thing it is to see this happen. I love to see Dads spending special time with their boys. I know how special that is to their sons, though their sons do not yet possess the faculties necessary to communicate just how much Dad means to them. Such sons have been well cared for by Mom, well nourished by her, and now it is time to spend some time with Pop. The boys are delighted to do so. I’ll often be shooting baskets at the gym when a father and sons come in. What ensues is generally comical. The boys, usually quite young, throw the ball everywhere but where it should go. They toss it in the air and look stunned when it comes down and bonks them on the head. They watch wide-eyed as Dad dribbles and shoots the ball with ease. They run and jump and fall and tackle things and express a physical joy known only to the young. It’s a beautiful thing to see, a father and his boy spending time together.

I can see in all of this how it could be especially hard at times to be a Mom. Mom spends so much time with her boy, pumps so much into him, and then must watch as he gradually and necessarily pulls away from her. Yet though her boy grows up and spends more time with Dad, more time with friends, more time with balls and books, she must always know that her son’s personality and character are a direct reflection of her care for him. Like the man who begins and develops a great company and then watches as others take it to prominence, so Mother knows as her son grows into a strong man that it is her care that forged his character. It is her gentle spirit that created his sensitivity. It is her love for reading that fuels his own. It is her funny sense of humor that drives his quirkiness. It is her spiritual concern that deeply affected him. The son will not necessarily say or even know this as he grows. But in his words, his deeds, his very life, he speaks to his mother, and tells her that her nurture of him is appreciated. His life communicates what words do not. Mother, your care was honorable. Know that as the years pass and the boys grow, your nurture was not in vain.

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What a Mother Means to Her Son: the Nurturer (1)

Today we pick back up the series on what the family means to a boy by looking at what a mother means to her son. I’ve already explored in brief what a father means to a boy. Now it’s time to look at what a mother means to her son.

A mother is first of all a nurturer for her son. The nurturing relationship expresses itself in two important ways. First, mother and son are connected physically in a way that father and son are not. The woman’s responsibility to intimately care for her son begins immediately after detection of pregnancy. The father cares for his child—of course he does. But he cannot care for his child the way his wife can. He is physically prevented from doing so. His wife, on the other hand, must care for the child by taking care of her body and eating the right foods. Her strength is her infant’s strength, and so she must nurture her baby immediately. Without this care, the child will not flourish and may not live.

Mother continues her special nurturing relationship with her son following birth. She is tasked by creation to feed her son, a task she alone can do. One cannot fail to see the intimacy this connection brings. The mother is literally giving her body to the child. Far from a mere exercise in feeding, though, mother and child form a deep and lasting bond in her provision of food. The child learns to depend on his mother, to seek her for help, to trust in her to care and love him. Clearly, there is much more involved in physical nurturing than mere transmission of nutrients.

As the child grows and switches to less connected forms of physical nourishment, emotional care only intensifies. The boy becomes more complex emotionally. Mother is responsible for managing these emotions on a daily basis and is in fact specially equipped to read and understand her boy. She feeds his body by providing food, his mind by reading to him, his soul by teaching him truth. When Dad must leave for the day, Mom is there to lead her son through it. She and her boy play together, laugh together, cry together. She disciplines him when he lies, hugs him when he falls, hears him when he talks. The nurturing bond forged in the womb and sustained after birth reaches into early childhood, and full-fledged adolescence, and the teen years. Through it all, Mom and son forge a special relationship that is a delicate balance of trust and concern, reward and discipline, instruction and enjoyment. It is a beautiful thing to see, and it stems from God’s design for the family, an institution of intricacy and beauty no human mind could conceive.

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Cardinal Virtues of American Regions: the Northeast

Today’s blog on the cardinal virtues of American regions concludes with a look at the Northeast. The Northeast values above all honesty. In no other region will you find such a mass of people concerned with expressing themselves truly. Northeasterners are polite, to a point; they are calm, to an extent; and I suppose they are somewhat concerned with coolness, but they are primarily focused on realism. Talk to a Northeasterner, and you’ll generally exactly what they think about whatever it is they discuss. There is little camoflaging of opinion in the Northeast. There’s such a diversity of peoples and opinions that people have no trouble speaking against the status quo–or perhaps, the status quo(s).

Part of this tendency has to stem from the academic tilt of the Northeast. A preponderance of the nation’s finest institutions call the region home. Colleges and universities are notorious for voicing their opinions and for prizing the cutting edge. Because one finds colleges around every bend, an air of forthrightness prevails in the region. The cardinal virtue of the inhabitant: say what you will, and give little mind to what others might say. This tendency has obvious benefits and disadvantages. It’s great to know what people think, particularly as one moves through adulthood and discovers the increasing complexity of communication. Put simply, many people don’t say what they mean and mean what they say. This happens in the Northeast, but the tendency to speak one’s mind makes for a much more candid culture. One knows where one stands with people. There are few games that are played and most social interaction occurs on one plane instead of two (referring to the hidden meanings of many conversations).

However, the candid reflex of the Northeasterner leaves little room for the sanguineness or politeness of other societies. People of this region are more likely to separate into their camps and resolutely stay there, with the possibility of changed mind nil. It’s a good thing, often, not simply to stake one’s ground but to seek to work to understand others. This isn’t overly common in the Northeast. As one from the region, you can trust the honesty of this statement. All that said, the Northeast is an incredible region–did you see that picture above? There’s a certain regional confidence that develops in the nest of such beauty. Can you really fault a Northeasterner for that?

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Cardinal Virtues of American Regions: the West

Today’s post covers the key virtue of the American West: coolness. It’s very interesting to observe people from the West, because they often have a care-free spirit about them. One gets the sense from those from the West that life is a little breezier, a little happier, and certainly a little sunnier. It’s probably all that sun and warm weather that breeds an ingrained happiness. How can one not hit a little higher level of happiness when it’s 80 degrees and gorgeous all the time?

But it’s not simply happiness that I noted as the West’s key trait, it’s coolness. Many of the West Coast strive for an equilibrium that is similar to that of Midwesterners but that is more centered around a cool and fresh appearance. Midwesterners are calm; those of West are calm, but they are not simply even-keeled, they’re easy-breezy. Things won’t simply stabilize, they’ll maximize, and life will be good. In fact, life right now is pretty good, cause my hair looks cool, my clothes are cool, and my demeanor is cool, and I’m not even really trying.

There is much that I enjoy about the cool, cool West. Folks from this region tend to be easygoing, and a bunch of the most fun people I know are from the West. It seems easy to be fun in the West. To think about the difference between fun Northeasterners and fun Californians, the Californians are always going to have less on their mind and be able to strike a relaxed pose midst the tenseness of life (more so than uptight East Coast-ers). There’s an enjoyment of living in the West that is refreshing and rejuvenating. On the other hand, those of the West tend to be slightly less able to focus on the nitty-gritty details of everyday existence. Everything will work out in the end, goes the mantra, and certain important matters can be swept under the rug a bit. But even though it may be slightly challenging to pin a Westerner down and get them to focus in a serious way, they’re definitely the ones to call for rest and rejuvenation. In the West, it’s cool, and that’s no joke, dude.

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