Dating’s Goodbye Kiss: Christianity and Singleness Part 5

16 February 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

It was our first date.

Or so I thought.

She was beautiful. I was foolish. I had just graduated from college, my head still reeling a bit from a girl I really liked but was…inaccessible (not going into that story), not to mention a girl that everyone knew I liked but me. So I was making an effort to get to know Stacy (not her real name…identities have been altered to protect the innocent).

We made plans to go for a walk in the park one cool, summer evening, the perfect, idyllic summer date. The weather was nice. She looked nice. I tried to be nice. We fed the ducks. We walked around. We talked. The evening seemed to be going reasonable well, even by my own standards of romantic ineptitude.

But then she asked the question.

The question.

“Do you see me as a friend?”

Any guy knows that this question is instant death. Worse than death. It is on a kamikaze suicide mission with fifty megatons headed straight for the town of Awkwardville (population: you).

I don’t remember what I said exactly, but I believe my monosyllabic utterances were aimed at communicating that yes she was a friend but maybe things could be more…

Mind you, I’d never heard the lecture before, and maybe you haven’t either. Apparently there are some religious-types who don’t do the whole “dating” thing. Instead they favor this weird other system called “courtship” which centers around group and family activities.

It all sounds very wholesome. But this was the first I was hearing about it, and all I could think of was, “What are you, Amish?”

Needless to say, that date was no walk in the park (ha!).

THE ENDANGERED SPECIES OF CHRISTIAN DATING

What I was attempting to communicate in my last post is that not everyone has the “gift” of singleness. Delaying marriage means more time for singles to live in a world of omnipresent sexuality. Some, as I suggested, react against this sexuality by setting up an idol of morality, trying to “manage” their libido through a careful system of rules and order.

But at the same time, let’s recall my earlier category of the “idolatry of family.” Here’s where it gets…confusing. The uptight, moralistic religious crowd is simultaneously obsessed with the values of purity and family. Which means that marriage and relationships are a dominating goal within the Christian community, yet at the same time the demand for purity results in a whole other system of rituals and to-do lists.

The collision between the idolatry of morals and the idolatry of family is a bizarre form of schizophrenia, one in which many Christian singles find themselves either attracted to or repulsed from.

LIFE ON CAMPUS

Christian colleges are the worst places for this sort of thing. The pressure to find a marriage partner is unbelievable, yet at the same time, the pressure to obey the rules is just as strong. Many colleges even enforce strict policies regarding how dating is to occur (chaperones, policies on P.D.A., etc.) – if at all.

Even when such policies are not in place, interaction across gender lines is an awkward, stilted affair. In the words of one friend, “I’ve known Amish communities that are less uptight.” Every conversation and gesture has to be analyzed for sign that he/she “likes me.” I once had a girl think that I liked her and was pursuing her. Why? I held the door open.

Yet at the same time, there are strict, often unspoken rules associated with the dating scene, and when I had a girl tell me that she had an “emotional breakdown” over the thought of going out with me, I knew I was in over my head (she’s married now, btw; so it really was just me).

All of which only reflects the American tendency toward “hyperspirituality,” where every action in our lives must be fed through a filter and cluttered with a random collection of religious terms and jargon, such that every one of life’s events is viewed in a way disproportionate to its actual significance.

What’s worse, is guys who use spirituality like others use pick-up lines. I don’t know what’s worse, the guy who tells a girl “I’ve been praying, and I think it’s God’s will that we should date,” or the fact that I’ve seen this work. As if God is your wing-man at a singles bar.

WHY I KISSED POORLY WRITTEN DATING BOOKS GOODBYE

Taking center stage in all this weirdness is the whole “dating” versus “courtship” debate. Courtship, as I mentioned, means that you never spend one-on-one time with a member of the opposite sex, lest this lead to sexual impropriety.

This is the stance of Joshua Harris, or at least it was when he wrote Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book which argues for this kind of lifestyle (original title: I Never Had a Prom Date, So Why Should You?). The problem, of course, is that Harris can’t take his own advice. He admits in a follow-up book that he was too emphatic and that there are better ways out there.

The problem is that many Christians have already kissed dating goodbye, leaving the bizarre practice of “courtship” in its abysmal wake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that courtship is bad. But I really don’t see the necessity of yet another rule

HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU

The other, far creepier dimension? “Dating Jesus.” No, seriously. This is a bizarre trend, popular among young, affirmation-hungry single girls, wherein one considers themselves “dating” Jesus (“Why doesn’t He ever call me back?”)

The reasoning for this is taking Paul’s whole “bride of Christ” imagery from Ephesians 5 (a metaphor used for the church, mind you; never individuals) and misapplying it to themselves. Jesus ain’t just my homeboy, He’s my man.

And so one’s “quiet time” is described in terms of a “date” with Jesus. Just me and the Lord. On the one hand, I really can’t fault people for desiring personal connection with God – this is central to my own faith. But it speaks volumes of the lack of maturity that can’t distinguish between human, romantic love (which is, among other things, between equals), and the love that God shows Himself and His creation.   The truth is, He’s just not that into you.  God’s love is overwhelming, but it certainly should not be confused for romance.

There are two things at play here: (1) emotionalism and (2) escapism. Emotionalism is the easy one: today’s young Christians define their faith almost exclusively through private, emotional attachment. Further. Romantic metaphors dominate our worship music to such an extent, that one can hardly blame young Christians for getting confused (e.g., the song “Your love is intimate…” I have an issue with “worship” music that sounds like it belongs at a middle school dance).

Escapism seeks to use God as an excuse for rejecting guys. “The movies? With you? Um…no thanks; I’m dating Jesus.” Or, alternately, “I’ve been praying and Jesus wants us to break up.” Ugh. Not only does it make rejection convenient, it spiritualizes it.

CITY DOGS, COUNTRY DOGS

I could go on. I have more stories than I’d care to share.

But the hyperspirituality that has come to dominate the dating scene isn’t making Jesus look better. It’s just making His followers look worse.

My friend Brian used to talk about the difference between city dogs and country dogs. City dogs, he says, are cooped up inside all day. Bound behind dull walls or – at best – a leash to take a stroll around the block (if that far) with their obese owners. And with a city dog, the second the front door opens, they are off. I remember my sister’s Husky who made a habit of bolting down the street the first chance he’d get. City dogs only seek out freedom to abuse it.

Country dogs are used to the open space of the country. They have neither leash nor fence. And while they have opportunity to roam, they are equally content to lie on the wooden floorboards of their master’s porch, without hint of guile or the need to escape.

The problem with the religiosity and hyperspirituality of evangelicalism is that it naturally breeds “city dogs:” people who live in a strict set of rules and order, but will abandon these boundaries the first chance they get. That’s why “courtship” can just as easily result in unwanted pregnancy – maybe even more easily, as Christians are much less likely to use contraceptives.

Country dogs live in the freedom of the gospel. Strangely, their lack of restrictive rules and moral fences don’t result in the much-dreaded licentiousness that the bully pulpits are constantly warning about.

Maybe it’s time we learn to lighten up. St. Augustine used to use the phrase ordo amoris – that we would attach the appropriate amount of emotion and significance to the events of our lives. Part of maturity means learning what is “appropriate,” something that takes time, takes experience and takes learning. I’m not advocating some sort of laissez-faire, learn-from-your-mistakes kind of philosophy, only that I emphasize our need to learn how to handle the freedom the gospel affords us, without the unnecessary baggage of a moralistic lifestyle.

Tomorrow we touch on this issue and expand on some others as we discuss how churches can learn to be more “single-minded.”

16 February 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.

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