You aren’t that person… and you don’t want to be

Ever feel like you want to be someone else?

Sometimes I wish I was extraverted. Our world is an energetic and social one, and those with the most social energy often have advantages. They tend to have more charisma, tend to get noticed more, and can seem more likable.

But I’ll be honest: when I think about it… I really like who I am.

Being more introverted and cognizant, I catch stuff a lot of people don’t. I’ll pick up more deeply on patterns or the emotions of others. I’ll see details that often go missed. My love for silence and solitude can offer advantages as well: a knack for self-reflection and emotional maturity; a deep inner world that can be fertile for thorough thought and clarity.

I’ve realized these are a few of my favourite things about myself, and they are things I likely wouldn’t have if I was this other outgoing type. So while “the grass can seem greener” sometimes, I don’t actually want to be like those other people. I want to be me.

Now this is not to say that “introverts are deep, extroverts are shallow” – far from it. It’s just to say that in our uniquenesses we have advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses that we should own instead of beat ourselves up for. This is also not to say that I should never be working on my “other parts”. The outgoing types may need to work a bit harder to ensure they practice solitude; the silent types will need to ensure they’re challenging themselves socially. This is an important part of maturity.

We are who we are

We are who we are for a reason. Take that in for a second.

Being created means being designed with purpose. First, practically: the world wouldn’t be what it needs to be or have what it needs to have if all of us were one type of person.

Who would the strong, silent observers be? If we were all warrior-kings, who would the priestly-advisers be? Who would be our reflective types, writers, and poets? Think about how much beauty and insight would be lost to our world!

We all at times wish parts of ourselves were different. We wish we were smarter, bigger, faster, stronger, more attractive… the list could go on. But what if you, the very way that you are, even the seemingly not so great parts, had a role to play in something bigger? What if there are parts of you that you just need to own, and even learn to like? What if they are designed for God-given purpose, even if they seem pointless or detrimental?

Who’s to say the beauty that could come of them?

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Why Entitlement Sucks

“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Everyone knows how sucky it feels to be humbled. It almost always begins with entitlement: You think you deserve something, but then it slips from your grasp, or someone else takes it from you. Then, what some would call an ancient “ticker” in your mind goes off. You just dropped in some kind of status, and resultingly, so did your serotonin.

Bitter defeat. Ripped off. Then someone rubs it in: “Sucks to suckkkkkk!!!”

The ideas of status and dominance or competence hierarchies have been floating around in my head for a little while, thanks in no small part to Jordan B. Peterson’s constantly referring to them. While I don’t necessarily like the idea that my happiness is tied to a subconscious status tracker hard-wired into my system, it sure seems like it’s just a part of us.

But if it’s a part of us, there must be something inherently good (or redeemable) about it.

Consider the fact that “status” and this tracker seems to have a lot to do with self-perception and not mere circumstance. That’s why the same social situations can devastate some but not even scathe others (though this could depend on your current serotonin level, too). It’s also why an insult from someone you don’t know or care about usually matters less than one from a close friend or respected mentor.

If our perception matters, then we can have some control over this subconscious and hard-wired system in our brains. And that’s huge.

It means I can affect my own health and happiness as I shift my cognitive paradigms. I can reframe and see myself or my life circumstances differently. Thus, indirectly, I can influence my own serotonin and experience of happiness.

Obviously, there are limitations. Some changes might require so much of an overhaul that you’d be lying to yourself if you embraced them. But perhaps, at the very least, it might make circumstances more manageable and more easily overcome.

Worldview matters

I actually think this is one of the great powers of the Christian message. Even a murderer can be forgiven by God when God himself is taking care of the legal debts we owe Him. Instead of suppressing the memory of a committed evil, instead of justifying it by lies, instead of being crippled by the weight of such guilt, we can own our guilt, grieve our innocence, and accept that God loves and forgives even the murderous. What could be a devastating status loss can be buffered, and a meaningful, redemptive way forward can be found. 

So what does this have to do with humbling ourselves? Let’s see that quote again:

“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 

In a way, Jesus is speaking about entitlement. What happens when you’re entitled? If you get what you expect from entitlement, it might feel good, but it won’t feel as good as it could because you just think you deserve it. The “victory” is just normal. And when you “lose”, it feels all the worse. And if we take the rest of what Jesus says seriously, do we really ever deserve the good things we enjoy in this life?

But what happens when you have the reverse mindset? When you know you’ll be fine win or lose? What if we “expect” that we don’t deserve positions of status or various privileges, given that we’re broken and even evil? What happens when we are blessed with what we see as undeserved gifts?

Perhaps our true security and “status” that ensures decent serotonin or the like is more to do with how we understand ourselves and our place in this world. When we understand that life is a beautiful gift, undeserved and even ill-deserved, we’ll be happy for every bit we can get. When we are reminded that God is our creator who loves us and will see us through suffering, we are kept from devaluing ourselves as if we’re nobodies. It’s only in this balance that we find true and life-giving humility. This is the psychological power of the Christian Gospel. We are exalted when we find our humility. Happiness is a matter of reframing. Lose your entitlement, know your true place, and all of life is a joy giving gift.

When the People Who Are Right Act Wrong

We all know them – or have been them ourselves.

Connor and Khabib act like idiots even if they’re some of the world’s best and most disciplined UFC fighters.

Someone from our school of thought misreads the room, steps on some toes, and makes anyone who sides with them look like a jerk too.

Sometimes the people who are right in truth are wrong in action; which makes their position look wrong. And that makes it hard for those of us who agree with them. Cringe. 

Same goes for the reverse. Think of those people you respect in life because of their sincerity or integrity (or coolness). Chances are, you’re much more likely to respect their views, just like you respect their person. Right or wrong. 

But, and this is important: Misbehaviour does not falsify someone’s perspective. Nor does charisma make someone correct. 

So what’s the call?

It’s simple, and yet so difficult at times: reject the behaviour (maybe: call it out) and acknowledge common ground. And do so respectfully.  

Sacrificing truth at the altar of “virtue”

I see it again and again. Early in my University years it was Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists with their wit (and British accents) somehow popularizing terrible and weak arguments against Christianity. And they won many. Everyone loves Obama and wishes he was still president, not because they know a thing about his economics or policies, but because he was way classier than the guy who’s in office now!

Now to be sure, no one likes when the jerk is right, so it all makes sense. Why would I expect people to listen to me if I have no integrity? If I’m obnoxious or abrasive? If I never listen? 

Yet ask also: if “virtue” is tied to a lie, is it virtue at all? Of course not. 

We cannot sacrifice truth, not even on the altar of so-called morality.

And perhaps most important: an intellectual (or otherwise) opponent is still a human. So while there should probably be consequences for poor behaviour, a person should still be respected and not in any way dehumanized. Unlike the usual evisceration that happens on social media. 

This’ll take practice. It’s hard to resist the knee-jerk comeback. It takes energy to show empathy and to actually think. It’s much easier to make fun of someone or just be nasty to them.

Grace leads to grace

Stephen Covey makes it an essential habit: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. James commands Christians: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Even in someone’s misbehaviour, I think these rules apply. Respect the person, reject bad behaviour, hear their ideas. 

And we may be surprised: showing respect often yields respect. It could perhaps change a mind.

This was behind Jesus’ words: “love your enemies.” What’s the hope? That you would be enemies no more; that eventually you and they would come to a place of respect because of your common humanity and pursuit of truth; that you would acknowledge that before God you both fall short. That you can both be wrong. But that you are both valuable even if you are wrong, and so you must seek to understand one another.

Being correct is not enough; nor is simply being respectful or kind. Both truth and virtue must be held in tension, pursued with equal rigour. Only then are we treating a person as they should be treated.

Keep thinking friends. But keep respecting, too.

Should people be fired for things they said 10 years ago?

Not long ago James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, was fired by Disney after a blogger exposed tweets that Gunn made in the last 10 years. The resulting backlash from fans and cast has led to speculations of his (unlikely) rehiring.

Initially, I was upset. Not for what the man tweeted (though they were sad attempts at humour, I think), but for the fact that a movie I was very much looking forward to was not going to have it’s mastermind anymore. I soon learned that he was actually a significant part of the creative direction, alongside Kevin Feige, as to the next 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Cue the nerdiest tears I have ever cried.

I’m a big Marvel fan, so that was a huge disappointment. I was disappointed not only by the potential impact this could have on my beloved movie franchise, but also in the fact that a man was being fired for tweets that he made years ago. And this is considering that Disney apparently knew about these tweets when they hired Gunn. It’s understandable that Disney would make the firing once there was some public heat over the tweets, but I still couldn’t help but wonder: how should we approach this? Where do we draw the line? Can internet posts I made as a joke or in a moment of flippancy really come back to haunt me? Should they? Should I be fired for it? Should I be judged eternally (figuratively or literally) on some careless words I’ve said? Even if it was a joke?

After all, even good people say dumb things or make jokes in bad taste. Furthermore, what is today’s hilarious is tomorrow’s bad taste. Or with how some people think nowadays, today’s funny is tomorrow’s racist, bigoted, etc. What’s more, there’s a lot of subjectivity when it comes to humour. Just because you happen to be offended, doesn’t mean Joe Blow next to you is. But an important question still remains: should we punish people years later for legitimate mistakes or foolish remarks they’ve made?

Words cut… so be careful

On the other hand, we can’t underestimate the power of words. The tongue is a small organ but a powerful weapon. Words cut, and can be used for great evil. And we should never be careless with them, considering the great power they have (and especially when they are spoken by those with influence). I believe God will judge us for our carelessness (Matt. 12:36). 

Nonetheless, all things considered, I think we are all failures here, and in many areas of life. Therefore, I think there needs to be some caution exercised when we demand ramifications of peoples’ past.

Let’s be honest: if we held everyone up to the standard that James Gunn was being held up to, there would be few of us left to direct Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3. I’ve sure made some careless Facebook posts in the past, and while some consider me a pretty stand up guy relatively speaking, Disney would have probably fired me too.

And whether or not you’ve made social media posts that could get you fired, consider your own thought life or the things you’ve said behind closed doors. Are you so innocent? I think you’d admit with me that you aren’t.

We’re just not that great as a species. We all need the forgiveness and grace of others.

Grace understands that we’re all ill-deserved of the goodness of this life and the privileges it offers us. Like directing a dope movie series.

Our social media age is full of those who eviscerate everyone for anything that smells immoral (note: immoral by their specifications). Such people perhaps do not understand grace. They do not understand what it means to be human, and treat anyone even with a few immoral tweets like a leper to be cast out (another note: that wasn’t necessarily the goal of the blogger who highlighted Gunn’s old tweets).

So let’s try and find some balance. Let’s hold people to high standards, especially those who are role models, for sure. But let’s show them the same grace we’d expect ourselves to be shown. Let’s treat each other like humans. 

I respected Disney’s decision to fire James Gunn, as disappointed as the nerd in me was. I’m still kinda holding on to hope that they’ll bring him back. What Gunn said was not OK, but I hope we can take steps toward a healthier, grace-based approach to these sorts of things.

 

What do you think?

Should we even date?

Promise not to judge me?

I used to have pretty strict views on dating.

But give me a break: I was in leadership of a Christian student ministry and felt like I had to play the big bro. I wanted to protect the girls and make sure the guys were acting honourably. Good things, right?

Add to that one case of a dude wheeling a few girls who eventually got hurt, and you can understand why I took a skeptical and conservative approach to the whole dating thing.

Suffice it to say, those views changed after I got hurt by them.

Basically, I used to think that you had to be super serious before you made any kind of move. You better know your intentions and be clear about them. And in the Christian subculture where romance is inevitably tied to impending nuptials, this can lead to either hasty confusion or paralysis. Things happen too quickly or not at all.

This uptightness doesn’t work, however. Relationships are messy, after all. Am I really going to know what I want early on?

Combine that with the fact that the non-Christian world takes dating so flippantly. Casual sex, Netflix & chill… these are par for the course, and really not options for the Christian who is in search of a monogamous long term partnership. Hearts are not to be played with, nor should dating be treated with frivolity.

So… Should we?

So I understood when a friend asked me recently, amidst my dating blog posts: Should people (perhaps Christians in particular) even date at all? Is it the best way of doing things?

Perhaps we can’t know if it’s the best way or not. But I think we can assess whether the concept is helpful or unhelpful.

Christian psychologists and psychotherapists Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out in their book “Boundaries in Dating” that it is not the general concept of dating that is flawed, but rather our poor use of the concept. Being human, we take what could be a helpful process of discernment and screw it up royally.

Here are some things they like about dating: 

Dating lets someone learn what he or she likes in the opposite sex.
For me, this is perhaps the biggest benefit. In looking for a spouse, I’m not just looking for a good person who shares my deepest values (though those are top of the list). I’m looking for a friend who I just plain enjoy.

But it actually took a healthy (or at least improving) dating process for me to even realize how important that kind of friendship was to me. Without having gone through a thoughtful process here, I think I’d be missing out on some important information regarding mate selection.   

Dating gives people a context to meet and spend time with a wide variety of people. They can find out what they like, what they need, and what is good for them.
This is one of the tougher parts for some Christians (like the old me) to accept. “Dating multiple people??? Gross!!” some will say. But hold up – when we say “dating” we need to define our terms since the word can be used in different ways.

Here, we mean a casual “getting to know people” kind of dating. Taking someone out for a coffee, no strings attached. Going for a walk. You’re not yet in a more committed or intentional phase that you would label “in a relationship”. Here, commitment is low and discernment is high, and you can learn about yourself and what you want in a partner.

This variety of experience has a few benefits. For one, it helps you keep from committing all at once to one person. I’ve found it can keep me from becoming infatuated too much with one person when I am intentionally taking it slow and exploring my options.

Second, as Cloud & Townsend say, it helps you find out what you like, need, and what is good for you. Some people get lucky with the first person they are in a relationship with. But it can often happen that that first person is not a great fit at all, so it is best to move on.

Dating gives a context to learn sexual self-control and other delays of gratification.
You might find this one interesting. Some Christians argue against dating because they think it will lead to premature sexual intimacy. But two mature people who share the value of chastity (or other physical boundaries) can still get to know one another without succumbing to temptation. In fact, Cloud & Townsend argue, this context provides the opportunity for growth in self-control.

Does the risk mean we take away the method? Only if there’s a better way, since risk is inherent to any method, and no method means we never accomplish our goal. In this case: no dating may mean no marriage.

Sometimes in the church people are told to stay far away from temptation, and that is a good, biblical thing. Yet, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, some people make rules that miss the point and do more harm than good.

We could throw the baby out with the bathwater and say “don’t date at all”. Don’t ask someone out to coffee, because you could lead them on and hurt them. Don’t spend any time 1 on 1 because that could lead to early physical intimacy.

But these rules assume two people can’t take responsibility for themselves or their actions, or that they can’t practice any self-control. It also assumes that they can’t employ precautions, like spending 1 on 1 time in public places. Sure, it’s wise at times to put up healthy boundaries, even in some cases extreme ones. But building the walls too close means you’re going to get paralyzed.

Instead, perhaps two mature people can practice delaying gratification as they go through the hard work of getting to know each other and discerning. With the help of family and friends and mentors, they can go through a healthy process that gives context to practicing self-control and helps inform them thoroughly regarding one of the most important decisions they’ll ever make.

Keep calm and date on

So what about the original case that had led me to my old views? Once more, I think it is how we date that is the issue. Take it seriously. Learn to know when a relationship has run its course. If you aren’t feeling it, end it. Don’t let things run on. Hold back on promises and commitments until you know you want to move forward – and then do so deliberately.

So I say go ahead and date, wherever you’re coming from. But be intentional and keep a close watch on yourself. Hearts are not to be played with. And while you’re at it, have some friends and others who can be giving you some input in the process. Sometimes it’s your own heart that can play with you.

 

 

3 Hard but Helpful Questions to Ask About Your Relationship

So you’re dating. Great. All those feels, am I right?

Seriously though. Those feels. They make you crazy. Like actually: neurochemistry goes wack for a while when you’re with a new person. For over a year sometimes.

There are probably a million questions you should ask (if you’re a perfectionist) to really get to know someone and figure out if they’re for you. If you’re wise, at least some of those should be hard questions about the quality of the relationship.

Here are 3 to ask yourself. They might sound simple at first, but try and let them sink in, and be very honest with the answers.

1) Do you like your significant other?

I’m sure you feel like you love them, but do you like them? I mean, do you genuinely enjoy them like a friend and like someone you just plain like to have around? Do they make everything in life better, or would you kinda rather they stay home sometimes?

Someone shared recently that they were dating someone who was great on paper, but after a little while they realized that they never wanted to be around this person alone. In fact, they dreaded it.

Is that you? Are you eager for a date to finish? Are you sometimes wishing you could have some other company with you so that things would be more “fun”?

Consider that a lot of marriage will be just the two of you. How much would marriage suck if you didn’t really enjoy the plain old company of your partner?

2) Do you find yourself embarrassed by them?

Are you proud to show them off to your friends (I’m not talking physically)? Do you genuinely like the idea of being seen by their side? Or do you cringe when they open their mouths when you’re with company?

This is going to be a lot of your life. People will see you with this person. It will be awkward for you, not to mention mentally and emotionally stressful, if you generally don’t feel happy that people think of them when they think of you.

Furthermore, consider that “birds of a similar feather fly together”. If your friends don’t get along with them or seem out of place, or vice-versa with their friends, that may be a clue that the two of you will want to hang out with different people. That’s no fun. You may end up with entirely different friend groups and will find yourselves apart during times when best friends should be together. Food for thought.

3) Do you make the 5:1 ratio?

Researcher John Gottman has shown that a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions is a minimum requirement for a successful marriage. If you’re lower than that, you’re in trouble.

Some of this ratio is likely within your control, but you might also think back to question #1. If you don’t like and respect your partner, it’s going to be a lot harder for the two of you to have the positive interactions you’ll need for emotional and relational health.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for such marriages – I’m a firm believer there is (see the Gottman Institute article for some help). But if you’re dating, it may be unwise to knowingly jump (or slip!) into a marriage with a bad outlook. Even if your current partner is the one for you, it would be better to start off on the right foot.

Gary Thomas writes that “…people marry people they don’t like all the time” (The Sacred Search, emphasis mine). Why might this be? Perhaps some are insecure about breaking up. Others might not want to make a scene. This is especially true the more attached you are or the further along you are in the relationship.

Don’t let that be you, friends. Take heart, get help, and act; you’ll be fine. In fact, you (and they) will be better off going through a tough break up now than a divorce (or contemptuous marriage) down the line.

I’ve been there. It took me way too long to end a relationship that should have finished much earlier. I’m thankful I made the call I did, for both my sake and hers. And I’ll end there: consider that your partner may even have the harder time being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like or respect them for who they are. Ending things may be as much a favour to them as it is the right choice for yourself.

Keep thinking friends. Even if you’re completely crazy for someone!

2 Marriage Truths That Don’t Apply to Dating

Marriage. Some love it, some hate it. I’m convinced it’s incredibly underrated, and I think statistics would agree with me.

But all the best things can go awfully wrong. Shawn Smith understands this, and I’ve reviewed his book which tries to help men date well to marry well.

Some well-intended folks have tried to do the same. However, some things are helpful to know for marriage that don’t exactly apply in the dating phase.

I’m assuming that others have faced similar confusion, perhaps without knowing it. It might be our own fault for applying these truths to dating when they were meant for marriage. Give these two truths thought, but remember not to apply them directly to your dating situation:

1) Marriage is about commitment.

Amen! But the point of dating is to figure out *if* you’re going to commit to someone. I know there’s a phase before engagement where you have a certain degree of exclusivity. But this commitment is not the same as marital commitment.

So if you’re dating and things aren’t going so well, take heart. You’re not committed yet, and you are totally free to feel like this relationship isn’t for you. In fact, if you feel that way, I wouldn’t hesitate. Pray, think, get wisdom, and act. You may save yourself and your boyfriend/girlfriend considerable heartbreak.

2) Marriage is for your holiness, not your happiness.

If you’re not a Christian, you could replace “holiness” with some kind of personal growth and maturity, though admittedly that’s underplaying how significant holiness is to the Christian. But nonetheless, it’s a beautiful fact that marriage matures and enhances us as human beings.

However, to the dating individual, this phrase can be misleading. A good marriage should lead to happiness if there is quality intimacy and commitment. But, sure, when two people are married and the going gets tough, they need to hear that relationships are hard and that it’s not all about them and how they feel. Every marriage will prove difficult, and the difficult times should bring you closer.

But when you’re dating and things are constantly hard, the dating person should stop and think: “why is this so hard? Should it be? What might this be suggesting?” It’s possible that the difficulty you are facing is totally normal or at least nothing unusual. But it’s also possible that such a difficulty might mean you need to rethink the relationship. Again, this is the time to have your eyes wide open and ask the hard questions about a relationship that could lead to marriage… but perhaps shouldn’t.

 

I say these things because of the very unique stage that dating is. You’re usually infatuated, at least for the first 12-18 months, which means your neurochemistry is completely whack and you’re blind to flaws of your significant other and your relationship with them. That’s why the above truths that are so helpful to marriage aren’t always helpful when you’re trying to figure out if the two of you are marriage material.

So time to rethink. Yes, marriage is about commitment. Yes, my marriage will not always be a happy one. But what do these hard times mean? Is there something I’m missing? Who can help me keep things clear?

Keep thinking. Scary though it might be!

Book Review: Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a [bleep]

The title was censored, but Mark Manson’s writing isn’t. He’s hilariously raw and random, assuming you’re able to laugh at his somewhat-regularly inappropriate brand of humour. If so, you’ll find his honesty is refreshing. I found myself physically feeling better while reading the book. He incites a kind of freedom in his realness.

Manson is real in every sense of the word. He’s honest and clear about where he’s at and where he’s been. He seems to hit the nail on the head when it comes to some major issues of our day in Western culture. We aren’t raw enough. We avoid suffering when we should lean into it. We try and do everything and be everything when we would be much happier living simple lives focused on the important things, giving less you-know-whats to the unimportant things.

The title of the book is actually ironic. It’s not that we care too much about everything. It’s that we care too much about the wrong things. And we only have so many cares to give.

Manson’s arguments are mostly philosophical and anecdotal, which is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a weakness because there’s not necessarily research behind it all. But it’s a strength because you journey with him, laugh with him, fear with him, cry with him and celebrate with him. This is one of those books that you just feel so good about every time you read it, and you’ll be bittersweet about finishing.

Many of the points you’ll absorb from this book will feel like the classic “I always knew this but you put it into words for me” scenario. It just feels right. However, much of it is ancient truth made contemporary. It’s not really new stuff, which is probably just as well.

Christians have actually been saying many of these things for a long time. The need for values based on correct principles? Exchanging idols of success, sex or approval for true, ultimate or eternal values? Embracing suffering and learning through it? All classic biblical themes, even though one might argue that Manson is missing a very necessary foundation that the bible has: there is no God, seemingly, in any of his [bleep]-giving, and therefore no ultimate basis for why certain [bleep]s matter more than others. Nor, in fact, is there any basis to really think anything is worth caring about at all.

I also think some of his points miss the mark. One of his arguments is that we are always a little bit wrong. That’s true enough, I think, as is the principle that follows: over time, society learns more and more. We’re all just figuring it out. But he draws a hugely generalized implication: we must always therefore be uncertain (note the irony: he is quite certain of uncertainty). This goes too far and too broad. I understand the need for an intellectual humility that is open to change – it’s a principle I live by – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can hold on to as convictions, even if we are open to challenges. Manson himself would probably agree with me, but I think he needed more clarity and nuance here. The last thing we need is a generation of people unwilling to hold to convictions. I think that’s exactly what has led to our generation even needing a book like this.

There is however still great value in Manson’s contemporary edition of ancient wisdom. It’s relevant and accessible but also timeless. Its well-written and weighty, and yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. And for me, as a Christian, it’s very interesting to hear a secular voice speak up about these things. My fellow Christians would do well to read and understand voices like Mark Manson’s in order to understand where our culture is at, how it is changing, and how we can interact with that change.

Furthermore, Manson is an example of how religion, and Christianity in particular, can go bad or at least be misunderstood or misapplied. Much of his childhood difficulties and the [bleep]s that he was giving sound like they come from a legalistic background. Sounds like Mark didn’t grow up at a gospel-centered church.

I sincerely hope that in time Mark Manson begins to see that his experiences are actually inherently valuable because they’re part of a designed world and an Authored story. I hope he sees that his insights have been available for thousands of years in the inexhaustible wisdom of the Bible. I hope he understands that the heart-change that he is pursuing is catalyzed and consummated in relationship with the one true God and the good news He gives.

Keep thinking.

Why following Jesus means I can’t sell out to any one political party

conclusion-of-the-contract-3100579_1920As someone who likes to think critically (or at least likes to think that he thinks critically), I sometimes find myself in the middle of things politically. I have more conservative views, to be sure, but I also see some bad arguments or straw-men from those on the conservative side.

I’m also surprised by the amount of Christians who lean quite liberal, and would even say Jesus would be a socialist.

I disagree with them. But I also can’t say Jesus would be a fan of every form of conservatism either.

I like to think Jesus wouldn’t really align with any political party, or that at least he would never make a political agenda his own. That’s probably only half true given that one day Jesus will lead a political regime in a new earth. But let’s say that no political system on earth currently will ever be something Jesus would give himself 100% to. They’re never adequate from a biblical standpoint, and even the most Christian political systems will have errors and be imperfect because they’re human and don’t have Jesus as King.

Jesus was actually confronted by politics in his time on earth. Here’s one example: 

“Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” a religious leader asked him. There was a catch: answer yes, and you’re a sellout, according to Jewish culture at the time, which was oppressed by harsh Roman rule. Answer no, and you’re speaking against the ruling regime. 

There wasn’t exactly a free speech law back then, so speak against Caesar and you could very well die for it. Either way, it looks like Jesus is stuck and is going to be in trouble with someone. But he takes a third alternative:

“Whose image is on the coin?” he asks. The clear answer was that Caesar’s face was on the coin. “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” So, give the taxes to Caesar. But don’t sell your soul to him.

It appears Jesus was referring back to the book of Genesis’ teaching that indeed humans are image-bearers of God. We are, therefore, God’s. So give the earthly money to Caesar, sure. But Caesar is not your god.

Politics, political parties or ideologies – none of these things are God. Therefore none of them are ultimate. None of them deserve our total buy-in. In fact, they deserve our skepticism, almost always.

Christians should therefore be the first people to listen to an argument from someone on the other side of the political arena. If politics are secondary, they must be put in their place. It doesn’t mean they aren’t important or that a Christian shouldn’t take seriously his or her civic duties to be informed and vote. But it does mean we don’t sell out to any one side or position. Instead, we should take the third alternative that Jesus does. God over government, but government respected appropriately.

In Western democracy, I think this means Christians should be the first to listen to disagreeing viewpoints. We should always be thinking: what might we be missing? Where could I be wrong?

Some of my conservative friends might be shocked to hear me saying these things, but I’m captive to Jesus’ words here. And we lose something if we completely shut down the voices of those who disagree with us, even if we are overall correct in disagreeing with them. After all, there’s almost always a baby in the bathwater.

Yes: even in the crazy leftist ideologies circulating there may be small, but important, babies. I’ll leave you to find and save them. 

Keep thinking.

Book Review: Shawn Smith’s Tactical Guide to Women

tactical guideBecause they’ve been so relevant to me in recent years, I’ve been fascinated by psychology and romance. I’ve tended to read Christian experts on the subjects, since I do have particular convictions surrounding romance in particular. I heard a great podcast from a trusted source a while back on Shawn Smith’s book “The Tactical Guide to Women”, so I decided to see what some reliable secular voices are saying on the subject.

Facetious though the book’s title is, Smith has some really great stuff to say here. Being a clinical psychologist who’s counseled many men and women through dating, marriage, and divorce, he offers a seasoned but down to earth perspective on how to find a good woman. He holds a high view of marriage and understands as a man of science the evidence there is for the power of a good marriage. He argues that for every example of a bad marriage put forth as reason not to get married, there are scores of successful marriages that are making society (and the couple themselves) better. I appreciate his input and his putting to rest some of the myths of marriage, though that’s not his main point in the book.

First and foremost, this book is for men. It’s for men serious about finding a good mate. Smith talks like a man to men, and I appreciate his tone. No nonsense, to the point, balanced, and very honest. His experience and academic insight dispel not only marriage myths but myths about masculinity also. Here’s one to take home: women like men who, well, act like men. While some people in our society today think masculinity is toxic, Smith encourages us that most women think the opposite. Those are the women you should be going for. I couldn’t agree more.

The book is structured logically, moving from figuring yourself out (this will help you filter out incompatible women), figuring out the key things to look for (looking for the right women) and caps with an extended look at major risk management.

Even coming from a Christian perspective, I can get on board with a lot of Shawn Smith’s well-reasoned and academically backed views. Some of his advice around divorce – while I have zero intention of ever considering it – can be taken and appreciated. After all, even Christian marriages aren’t free from the risks of divorce. Furthermore, he even makes a case for waiting for sex (while he doesn’t think you should wait for marriage).

However, I do have a problem with some of the things Shawn says, though I wouldn’t put him down for saying it. Coming from a secular perspective, of course he’s going to suggest certain things, or take certain stances on divorce or sexuality. But even more, there’s a certain heart missing here in the discussion around marriage. For Smith, it’s not something sacred, and therefore it lacks a certain beauty. This is to be expected in secular thought – marriage, as appreciated it can be, is nothing more than a human institution. Helpful, but not heavenly. And with that, divorce is not as awful as we should consider it. Funny how that works.

I’m encouraged and better equipped for the dating and courtship process thanks to Shawn Smith’s work. I’m very grateful for it. But I’m even more thankful that God is behind marriage and gives it to us as something sacred and beautiful. I’m also thankful I’ll have his help as I make decisions, search for a wife, and ultimately work hard at the commitment I will make. I’m thankful it’s about a whole lot more than risk management.