Like a Postprandial Sloth

I have to say that I didn’t expect that reaction. Courtship is a hotter/bigger topic these days than I realized.

What I would like to do is throw together a series of brief responses to some of the issues raised in the comments. The results may or may not come together as a coherent post. One can only hope.

What effect does a conversation with a father have on the daughter? There is no one answer — people are different, and every situation is different. If she has been desperately in love with the suitor from afar, the response is joy. If he would be perfect for her, but she is skittish, the reaction is different. In such cases, the parents can help her walk through the skittishness — they see that she likes the suitor fine, but that she is nervous about the whole idea. In other cases, the suitor may have been her Platonic idea of a bore, and so a negative reply comes back to him rather quickly.

At what point should a young man make himself vulnerable by going to the father? He should do so when his interest is becoming obvious to others, and three people on three different occasions have asked him if he has talked to her dad. In other words, he should make himself vulnerable when his public demeanor toward her is making her vulnerable. If he knows his interest, but is not flirting his head off, then he can wait as long as is prudent — till he finishes his junior year, or till he notices other guys noticing and doesn’t want to be left standing at the gate. But if his public behavior toward her is above reproach, he goes to the father when he is ready to see something happen.

One commenter said courtship was akin to Communism: “it only works on paper.” I think it would be better to compare it to wealth acquisition within a free economic system; some people do better than others. Freedom means freedom to fail. There are risks involved, and I am not tagging the young men as the automatic reason for the failures. Sometimes they are, sometimes the father is, sometimes the young woman is. But other times, when everyone involved is walking in wisdom, the thing runs like a Singer sewing machine. This goes back to my earlier point about the tendency to assign a false cause.

A young man gets fired from his job stocking shelves at Safeway, largely for moving like a postprandial sloth in the sunshine, and the conclusion he wants to draw is that “capitalism has failed me.” Well, it might not be the system that needs to get its butt in gear.

That said, the anecdotes of courtship weirdness being described are not instances that make me want to say “impossible!” I know that this kind of thing happens, and I know that in some places it can happen a lot. But people behave foolishly in every system — so what system anticipates that, and accounts for it beforehand? If I could paraphrase Winston here, courtship is the worst system imaginable, except for all the others.

Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Awed

Thomas Umstattd Jr. recently made a splash with his article “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” To be perfectly honest, I thought a number of his points were very good, like frosted flakes in the bowl glinting in the morning light of your quiet breakfast nook. But I also thought, retaining the honesty theme here, that a number of his other points were like mushrooms that somebody stuck in there.

His good points were the kind of points that would be made by sane people anywhere, whatever steps in the mating dance they might want to use. I am a courtship advocate, and yet have often said that the courtship model too frequently means that six idiots are involved instead of two. So my purpose here is not to defend indefensible things, like courtships from Hell, or power-tripping fathers.

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

Nor do I want to be dismissive of some of his other good points — such as courtship ramping up an unnecessary intensity for some folks. Sometimes courtship is treated like a done deal, like a fait accompli. Billy is courting Suzy, let us say, and people bustle up to Billy at say, “Congratulations!” That is like being congratulated that you applied to Harvard, and you haven’t even taken the GREs yet.

Whenever you have a lot of human beings doing something, a good number of them are going to do it with less wisdom than others. The bell curve follows large populations inexorably. So nothing said here should be taken as a dismissal of Umstattd’s right to point out the problem cases. I myself have seen more than a few.

But as someone who helped to put the courtship paradigm on the map, I do think I have a responsibility to respond to some of the mushrooms. The mushrooms in this instance would be those areas where he solves problems that are not necessarily problems, or where he fails to account for other obvious possible explanations for the problems he sees.Courtship3

An example of the first would be his discussion of divorce, and the problem presented by those who thought that courtship was divorce insurance. Why are so many couples who courted now getting divorced? His whole article is directed at solving this problem (along with the problem of people who haven’t been able to get married at all), but he acknowledges that we don’t really know if the divorce rate is a problem.

“Then couples who did get married through courtship started getting divorced. I’m talking the kind of couples who first kissed at their wedding were filing for divorce. The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.  The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.”

His reasons for writing include this high divorce rate, but his evidence for this is anecdotal, which he acknowledges. But he still assumes — in one of his headers — that the courtship divorce rate is in fact high. “Why the Courtship Divorce Rate is So High.”

He calls for research on the courtship divorce rate, knowing that we don’t really have hard numbers to go on. But if this is the case, then why are we calling for solutions?

The Edge of the Sword

“It is a matter on which preachers seldom bestow any thoughtful attention; and yet few things are so important to their real success, as the possession, the culture, the control, of imagination” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 396).

Proclamation

Proclamation and Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005)

I found this book very helpful. Willimon is writing from a different place theologically, but his observations here were very shrewd and biblically grounded. A lot of good food for preachers here.

Surveying the Text: Exodus

Introduction:

The three great themes of Exodus are the deliverance God brings to His people, the giving of the law, and the establishment of the tabernacle. There are other important themes as well, such as the recurring disobedience of the people. Remember as we work through the Bible, each book contributes to the grand theme of all Scripture, which is the redemption of God’s people, accomplished in the context of His reconciliation of all things in Heaven and on earth (Col. 1:20).

The Text:

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:5–7).

Summary of the Text:

What are the dates of the book? The book of Exodus begins with the death of Joseph (c. 1600 B.C.), but most of it centers on Israel’s encampment at the base of Mt. Sinai (c. 1440 B.C).

The first part of Exodus is simply narrative (Ex. 1-20), showing the deliverance from Egypt and culminating in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In chapters 21-24, we find a collection of assorted laws which amplify the Ten Commandments, and then the last part of the book concerns the building of the tabernacle (25-31). Woven throughout the whole thing we find the grumbling and disobedience of Israel.

The Definition of Israel:

This is the book that defines Israel for us. There are three distinctives that set Israel apart from other nations. The first is their national deliverance from the tyranny of Pharaoh. They have a historical foundation as a people together. Second, on the basis of this deliverance, this exodus, God gives them His law as a sign of His grace to them. Note particularly the preamble to the Ten Commandments. God identifies Himself as the one who brought them out of the house of bondage, and so the law represents moral liberty. Third, God establishes His tabernacle in their midst so that His presence might be with them. This means that God delivered them, God instructs them, and God accompanies them.

See Your Neighbor in the Supper

We are here to discern the Lord’s body. We are not here to do metaphysical speculations about what might be happening to the bread and wine on the subatomic level—although we do confess that God ministers to us spiritually with these material elements. We are not here to go spelunking in the deep caverns of our mysterious lusts, although healthy self-examination should be a normal and healthy prelude to our enjoyment of the Supper. We are not here to fight with other Christians who understand this meal differently than we do, although it is important for us to understand it as biblically as we can.

Our central task is to discern the Lord’s body, and to see that this body is seated all around you. This means that the meal is given to us so that we might understand that we are the meal. There is one loaf, and you are that loaf. We partake of the body of Christ which means that we must be the body of Christ. But there is no way for you to be the body of Christ without coming to the conclusion that your neighbor is also part of that body.

You cannot partake of Him without also partaking of him, and him, and her, and them. This is why this meal knits us together. We are eating, drinking, meditating, listening and singing, and we are doing it all in love for God, and in love for one another.

Some of the things we have made the Lord’s Supper into are things which can exclude little children—just like the disciples did when they kept little children away from the Lord. The Lord didn’t like it at all and said that coming to the kingdom involved becoming more like them. It is not like insisting that they become more like us—which is to say, clueless. Children may not be good at metaphysics, or at morbid introspection, but they can see their neighbor as well as you can. So love God, and love your neighbor.

Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Keeping It Grateful

One of the common sins that the people of God in Scripture commit is the sin of forgetting God’s deliverances and mercies. And one of the great reasons for forgetting His mercies is the fact that we continue to enjoy them.

When God delivered His people from Egypt, after they were out of Egypt they didn’t have to deal with it anymore. In the wilderness, this meant that they remembered Egypt falsely, which is to say fondly, and once they were in the land of promise, Egypt became a distant memory—something that ancestors went through in the history books. And when we change the curriculum, we forget all about it.

So ironically, ongoing mercies make us forget the establishment of those mercies. As we are considering the building of a church sanctuary, we want the building to remind us of God’s kindness to us, and not to be a new environment which we can take as our birthright, just the way things are, just the way this congregation rolls.

The key is gratitude, gratitude that is expressed and not just dialed in. We know how to dial it in. We all know, for example, how to say grace at the beginning of meals. That is something we just do, and wouldn’t dream of not doing it. But suppose the head of the home stopped the meal in the middle, and told everybody that the food was really, really good, and why don’t we say grace for a second time? That would seem odd, weird, contrived, and perhaps . . . more grateful. It would highlight how the initial grace we say is sometimes said on cruise control.

When we have our new building, we do not ever want our gratitude for it to go on cruise control. We want to be constantly thankful, and to be fresh in that gratitude. The way to do this is to be a people who are thankful every day for the sun coming up, for the milk in the fridge, for the grass in your lawn, for the forgiveness of sin.

So let the stones cry out.