Thursday, February 02, 2017

A Pause for Poetry

I've recently been enjoying again the poems of Lizette Woodworth Reese. The poems below include some that I haven't shared in my earlier posts about her.

              The Plowman

The delicate gray trees stand up
    There by the old fenced ways;
One or two are crimson-tipped,
    And soon will start to blaze.

The plowman follows, as of yore,
   Along the furrows cold,
Homeric shape against the boughs;
   Sharp is the air with mold.

The sweating horses heave and strain;
   The crows with thick, high note
Break black across the windless land,
   Fade off and are remote.

Oh, new days, yet long known and old!
   Lo, as we look about,
This immemorial act of faith,
   That takes the heart from doubt!

Kingdoms decay and creeds are not,
   Yet still the plowman goes
Down the spring fields, so he may make
   Ready for him that sows.

               In Winter

I dig amongst the roots of life,
And hear the rushing of the sap
That soon in silken white will wrap
The sagged pear bough. I hear the strife

Of change with change: of riot that goes
Rebellious; last, of law and pain;
Each battling to restore the lane
Its lost, hereditary rose.

The dwindled hearth, and the spent mould
A double flowering will yield;--
New loveliness for house, for field,
And with it the ghost of the old. 

                         (In Autumn)

So sharp a tooth has gnawed their gold,
Eaten it in holes from foot to crown,
The wayside bough hangs a dulled brown,
And the stooped garden's looks are cold.

Is the old robbery not done?
Must they who live by what is fair,
Go hungry for it, and go bare
Down a pale, disillusioned sun?

As in a glass, we see and learn
Darkly. No tooth, in bough and mould
Can gnaw their secret, other gold;
Something escapes, that will return.

For what is fair is permanent,
And nought can rob us of our right.
Shall we not watch the road blow white,
And the blue hyacinth choke in scent?


Battles nor songs can from oblivion save,
   But Fame upon a white deed loves to build;
From out that cup of water Sidney gave,
   Not one drop has been spilled.


Whether we climb, whether we plod,
   Space for one task the scant years lend--
To choose some path that leads to God,
   And keep it to the end.


I climb that was a clod;
   I run whose steps were slow;
I reap the very wheat of God
   That once had none to sow.

Is Joy a lamp outblown?
   Truth out of grasping set?
But nay, for Laughter is mine own;
   I knock and answer get.

Nor is the last word said;
   Nor is the battle done;
Somewhat of glory and of dread
   Remains for set of sun.

For I have scattered seed
   Shall ripen at the end;
Old Age holds more than I shall need,
   Death more than I can spend.

Today, as it happens, is Candlemas. So I will post a poem I posted before by Reese for Candlemas.

     A Song for Candlemas

There’s never a rose upon the bush,
And never a bud on any tree;
In wood and field nor hint nor sign
Of one green thing for you or me.
Come in, come in, sweet love of mine,
And let the bitter weather be!

Coated with ice the garden wall;
The river reeds are stark and still;
The wind goes plunging to the sea,
And last week’s flakes the hollows fill.
Come in, come in, sweet love, to me,
And let the year blow as it will!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Losing even when we win

Now that Donald Trump is President, it's inevitable that we never-Trumpers (among which I am proud to identify myself) will be jeeringly asked by Trumpites to comment on every small thing Trump does that is right, or at least not wrong. The Mexico City policy, a pons asinorum of Republican Presidenthood for years, being just one.

That last sentence is all that you will see from me about that particular thing in this post, because my larger point concerns the fixation on "particular things" in policy without seeing the bigger picture.

I never opposed Trump for purely consequential reasons. I opposed him for reasons of principle. I won't endorse or vote for a man who is morally unfit for office, as he was and remains. If he now listens to some good advisers and does some things that support policy positions I also support, that doesn't change his moral unfitness. His fundamental character hasn't changed, as witness his childishly egocentric Twitter obsessions. This should go without saying. He's a disgrace and a loose cannon. As I have said to various friends, the Trump presidency is like having a nasty four-year-old as king. What you hope for, sadly, is that his regents and advisers will have enough control over him to a) prevent him from doing anything really disastrous, policy-wise and b) induce him to do some good things, policy-wise. Even if these hopes are realized, that doesn't change the fact that he's a nasty four-year-old. And absent a miracle of evident repentance and maturing, no, I won't be voting for him in four years. This is a matter of principle and the fitness of the individual for office.

Meanwhile, we are already seeing, again and again, the corruption of good people while attempting to defend his silliness, with Kellyanne Conway being a perfect case.

But here's another--a situation in which goodness loses no matter what happens. Trump went out and shot off his mouth to the effect that he (of course he said "we") has in hand a healthcare plan that will cover everybody and have lower deductibles. This is absolute baloney. There is no plan that will do that, and certainly the Republicans have no such plan.

Once he did that, he created a situation in which something will be lost no matter what happens. On the one hand, if he were to try to stick to what he said, he would refuse to sign Obamacare repeal if it didn't include a replacement that covers everybody and offers lower deductibles, and maybe free ponies too. That would obviously be pretty disastrous, at least if you think Obamacare should be repealed and that there are no free ponies. On the other hand, what looks like it's going to happen instead is that everybody is going to pretend that Trump never shot off his mouth and instead Trump is actually going to cooperate with Congress in repealing Obamacare, which will in fact not mean coverage for everybody or lower deductibles, much less free ponies. 

From a policy perspective, this is the outcome I favor (especially if they do enough deregulation at the same time so as not to collapse the insurance market by merely withdrawing the mandate on consumers while keeping mandates on the insurers), but what has been lost is truth. Representative Tom Price (proposed HHS secretary) and other Republicans are having to keep on talking about wide "access" to healthcare coverage rather than universal coverage. This was a possibility that anyone could have foreseen when Trump made his silly and ignorant remarks about "our plan"--namely, that he was just blathering as usual and that Republicans would then have to pretend that he was saying the same thing they are saying.

But shouldn't those of us who care about truth in discourse be sad about this? I certainly am. And there's something else I'm sad about: People who say that it doesn't matter that Trump said all that nonsense about how "we have a plan" to cover everybody when it was obvious that this was a falsehood. Well, yes, it matters. It matters for two reasons: First, it matters because it created embarrassment (at a minimum) for Congressmen who are trying to do something (from our perspective) good in policy--namely, repeal Obamacare. The President is supposed to work with his own party's Congressmen rather than creating uncertainty and chaos. But second, and perhaps more important, it matters because words have meaning and because Trump lied again, thereby making it difficult for good Congressmen to avoid lying themselves. After all, we don't expect them to tell the media, "Yeah, President Trump is an idiot. Of course we don't have a plan to cover everybody. Neither does he. But we think we have a good plan anyway, and we're virtually certain that he will sign it despite what he said. He's a pain, and of course he wasn't talking about what we're talking about, but we believe our plan will pass." Now, maybe they can get out of actually lying. I'm not saying that Rep. Price actually lied. He was asked about his goals and his policy proposals at the hearing and could answer truthfully about those. But the temptation is undeniably there--at least to make it sound like they and the President are on the same page, rather than his being a loose cannon whom they have to hope to control.

This kind of thing is going to go on for the next four years. It's inevitable with a President this ignorant, uncontrolled, inclined to over-promising, and loudmouthed. And what we who have and who value principle must not say is, "It doesn't matter."

But that's what I'm starting to hear, even from smart people: It's a moot point. It doesn't matter what he says; it only matters what he does.

Thus the concept of the importance of truth is further degraded, as is the dignity of the presidential office. The President becomes a policy puppet who lies over and over again and whose lies we brush off or laugh at as long as he doesn't actually prevent decent policy and/or even signs decent policy.

Yet it is in this context that we never-Trumpers are being jeeringly asked to admit that we were wrong.

No, we weren't wrong. We were right. Especially, we were right about the corruption of the right. We've seen it again and again in the campaign, most notably of course concerning Trump's wicked treatment of women and the excuses made and still being made. But we're still seeing it now. Every time he says some nonsense and a conservative says, "It doesn't really matter," that's another instance. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Come unto me, and I will give you rest

I've often thought that there is a bit of a puzzle in Jesus' promise of rest to those who come to him:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matt. 11:28-30

But in numerous other places Jesus tells his followers that they will have tribulations and troubles in this world, that they will suffer, that they will be persecuted. (John 16:33; John 16:2; Matt. 5:11-12) And a central Christian teaching is that if we suffer with Christ we shall reign with Christ. (2 Tim. 2:12)

We have all known people who never seem to get much rest, people who are grievously wearied by the chances and changes of this mortal life. Perhaps a mother has a child with an illness that requires constant monitoring. Perhaps a husband has a wife with dementia who needs constant care. Perhaps a person suffers from a painful illness and gets little sleep.

And we all have our own times in life when we don't feel at all rested, when we feel bone-tired and don't see the end of some tunnel or other. It might be a tunnel of overwork, of some grief that seems to have no end in sight, of an uncongenial work situation, of a physical ailment. Even if we tell ourselves that things could be a lot worse, we still may wonder where the rest is.

It's easy enough to say that Jesus was promising his followers spiritual rest, but what exactly does that mean? Is it, perhaps, a promise only for the afterlife, or does it have an application in this life?

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but I don't have answers to all of these questions. I do have, however, a thought that came to me today when part of the "come unto me" verse was read at the "comfortable words" in the liturgy: I often find that the thought of good people, specific good people, is a kind of mental resting place and refreshment. There are such people in the world. Think of someone you know who is a light for others--someone loving, honest, loyal, and just plain good.

As Christians we are committed to the view that all of that goodness comes from God. We give thanks to God for his great glory, but it's sometimes a little hard to grasp that glory, for the Father dwells in light unapproachable. Hence the Son came, incarnate, to reveal the Father. So to begin with, the very thought of Jesus is a rest for the soul, a rest for the mind. Here is a sinless One who will never fail us, never turn out to be wicked, who has shown his love for us in giving his life. Here at last is someone we can count on.

But even Our Lord is somewhat removed from our daily life, if only because we never knew him personally. And say what one will, a theanthropic, sinless person never seems quite as graspable as a sinful, but good, non-theanthropic person. I believe the current jargon term is "relatable." But here, too, God caters to our weakness, for He gives us the Communion of Saints, which takes us back to those people whom you know and justifiably trust. Those people are prisms reflecting the immortal light of God. Resting in the thought of a lovable man of good character or a crusty saint who has fought the good fight, you are in fact thanking God (indirectly) for His great glory.

So while I don't know all the things that Jesus had in mind when he said, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest," I do know that there is one thing that can give the Christian spiritual rest: Contemplating the goodness of God as reflected in the saints, and not only the officially canonized ones, either. If you are a Christian, you are part of their company, the "blessed company of all faithful people," and you can humbly enjoy the thought that there is goodness in this world, amidst all the sadness, pain, restlessness, fatigue, faithlessness, and evil. Remembering that gives one a small, temporary window into the God's-eye view. For God knows, and we can know, too, that the game is worth the candle, and that all the evil in the world will ultimately be entirely swamped by the goodness and joy of the redeemed.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A few random comments about vegetarianism

I actually don't think vegetarianism is important. In fact, I think so-called factory farming is more important for human well-being than vegetarianism is for human ethics. I realize that this may be a surprising position to some. Also, I can have respect for Christians who believe that animals are always or routinely, much less legally, treated unethically in so-called "factory farming" (though I'm pretty certain they are wrong about that given the heavy regulation of the food-farming industry) if those Christians place a much higher priority on the truly civilization-urgent issues of our time, such as abortion and the homosexual-transgender agenda. What I have really no patience for are "millennial ethics priorities" that leave the marriage and/or abortion issues largely untouched and un-thought-through while spending oodles of time agonizing over and evangelizing for vegetarianism. (In passing, I've been influenced quite a bit by the work of Wesley J. Smith on these issues, but his blog posts are now difficult to search, so I'll just link this book, which I don't happen to own, that has a chapter or two on the subject.)

A few other thoughts I've written to various people lately that I thought I might as well throw into a blog post, which will be rather disorganized. This next comment is addressed to what strikes me as the incredibly silly, shallow argument that likens animal-product consumption to eating the brains of puppies deliberately bred in a horribly painful way to make them tasty. (Yes, there really is such an "argument" out there.) Or, in general, the "argument" that implies that we eat meat and/or animal products only out of lazy hedonism.
I want also to say quite openly that I would actually oppose even the voluntary cessation of all that is called "factory farming," because I consider the efficient production of large quantities of meat, dairy, eggs, etc., to be quite important to human nutrition given the population of both the developed world and the world as a whole. Animal products are not a luxury eaten by hedonistic, morally oblivious gluttons. They are an important part of a natural, omnivorous human diet that efficiently delivers necessary nutrients in a form likely actually to be eaten by large numbers of human beings. It is therefore important for them to be produced in such a quantity that these products are readily available and affordable.
A few more words about that: The idea that there is something low and unworthy about eating food that tastes good has a certain almost unhealthy asceticism about it, as though morally perfect beings would get all their nutrition in some tasteless, unenjoyable fashion or would eat only out of duty. The good taste of animal products, and their high concentrations of important nutrients such as protein, iron, and the essential B12 (which, no, is not found in seaweed!) come together to make it relatively easy for an omnivore to eat a diet containing enough of these nutrients. That's actually important to human flourishing. If you have to get absolutely essential nutrients by taking supplements (and vegans, especially, do have to obtain supplements or specially fortified food for their B12), then your diet is insufficiently nutritious and varied. You can do that if you choose, but there is no moral requirement for people in general to do that, and indeed it is unlikely that mankind as a whole is going to get the diet it needs in that way.

Another point: It really is difficult to have passion for everything at once, and especially for issues at different ends of the political spectrum. I don't want to say it's impossible, and I know a few exceptions, but by and large, the "millennial ethics" I discussed above are a natural result of the deliberate intention to focus on some issues (poverty, vegetarianism) as some kind of "corrective" to the "religious right." There are only so many hours in a day, and you only have so much capital to spend trying to convince your friends of things and intensely discussing things. If you're spending that capital evangelizing for vegetarianism or writing about it, I'm just going to say that it's plausible that you are spending a lot less time doing other things in the broadly political realm. So to some extent, yes, there is a zero-sum game going on, and there's a reason why one too often finds that the most passionate vegetarian Christians are wishy-washy (at least) on, say, the wrongness of homosexuality and the evil of homosexual "marriage." There was a great blog post by someone-or-other several years ago about this kind of thing: The blogger was told that it's possible to be "pro-life and" and then decided that practically speaking on the progressive Christian side it wasn't working out that way. If I ever find the link again I'll post it.

There is something quasi-religious about vegetarianism and even more about veganism. The old monks would fast for a fast day and feast for a feast day. Human beings find it satisfying to order their lives in an intentional way that feels significant on the intimate level of eating, sleeping, etc. Christianity, however, does not give detailed rules for these things, so we tend to invent them for ourselves as a practical matter. There's nothing wrong with that, but in my opinion it would be a more healthy Christianity to refrain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of Christ's crucifixion or to fast and pray than to refrain from eating meat on all days in honor of animals. It would be better to satisfy one's desire for detailed, religious order by praying the canonical hours than to examine the food one eats at every meal to try to assure oneself that the animals that produced it had a happy life (by anthropomorphic standards of "happy") and died a peaceful death.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

I Can't Even Walk

I just learned of this gospel music standard. I love it. It's a new fave. So much so that I'm going to embed about four or five versions.

Never, ever, ever feel ashamed of telling God that you need him. Never feel that that is selfish, that seeking a relationship with God out of need for Him is insufficiently "pure" in motive. What do we have to give to God but our need of Him, our emptiness, our littleness?

Here is Gordon Mote with a version that has a lot of soul.

Here is a nice version (if you don't mind Jessy Dixon's riffs) in which he's joined by the incomparable Guy Penrod. And Bill Gaither gets everyone singing.

This is another Gaither group one (allegedly), that has no video, though it sounds live. Nice, soft sound. I love the soloist's southern accent (black southern?) you can cut with a knife, but I don't know who he is.

But I think my favorite I've found so far is this short cut with Gordon Mote, not quite so soulful as in the first link, joined by Alabama. Understated and lovely.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


A blessed feast of St. John the Evangelist to any readers I happen to have. That's today, which happens to be the third day of Christmas. And here's a really cute way to tie the feast day to the topic of this post: It is only in St. John's Gospel that we find the story of the wedding at Cana! So I managed to find an excuse for putting up this post on this particular day. Rim shot!

In real fact, the topic is on my mind because of a debate on Facebook. (What else, right?)

The approximate question at issue was whether or not Christians in the (approximately, evangelical Protestant) church make an "idol" of marriage. Plus assorted other questions such as whether an emphasis upon marriage and questions to young people such as a parents' asking a young man, "When are you going to get married?" understandably make the recipient of the question feel like he is insufficiently valued as an individual.

Now, I don't go to a lot of Protestant evangelical churches, because I'm a member of a continuing Anglican church. So one could argue that I lack information. That is perhaps true, but I do keep in touch with the evangelical scene through a host of friends, through activities like concerts, and through the Internet. And I just don't see this "idolatry" of marriage. On the contrary, I see too many evangelical and other Christian young people not taking an intentional stance toward marriage, not openly talking about their desire for it, not treating it as a normal part of life, and in particular (and in this last point I'm thinking chiefly of young men) not pursuing it actively. Not asking girls out, not getting on a dating site (if your local region is really that devoid of local talent or if you've been having difficulties finding someone), not asking yourself if your standards of physical beauty are artificial and unrealistic. I see late marriage becoming a norm without any excuses given. Very late marriage among the heathens makes a certain amount of perverse sense, because the heathen aren't waiting for marriage for sex (of some kind or another) and often don't value forming families and having babies. Or they consider waiting and then undergoing elaborate fertility treatments to be normal. But for Christians, a failure of intentionality about marriage is not terribly defensible. Even an open, "Gee, I'd like to find a girlfriend and get married, but the economy stinks, and I don't have a job. What should I do?" would be better than the sort of taboo that seems to surround talk of marriage. And in Christian circles there is the additional oddity of what I might call "millenial prudery." Some millenial Christians may tell you that the F-bomb is just another word, but try telling the guys that they might want to get married for reasons of chastity and you've apparently said something dirty and unspiritual.

So I admit to just not seeing this "marriage idolatry" that I'm hearing about.

But here are some further questions: Given that Christians are supposed to find their all in all in Jesus Christ, do we need to be teaching more young people that "Jesus is enough" and doing more to affirm the value of the single individual? Is there a real danger that the kinds of things I said in the last paragraph will a) teach people (if they listen to them) to be too "earthly minded" or b) wrongly encourage people to place their true worth in whether or not they are married?

To answer this, let me first say that I think the Catholics are right to have a separate value for celibacy (and even virginity) that is its "own thing," separate from the value for marriage. This seems to me to be clear-thinking and robust. Like extreme poverty, singleness may be a special, difficult, and powerful way of testifying to and serving the kingdom of God. So by no means am I saying that anyone who doesn't get married, or even (more radically) anyone who deliberately chooses not to get married, is doing something immoral. St. Paul makes it very clear that some people legitimately remain single for reasons of being wholly devoted to serving the Lord. He even hints that this is in some sense the better way. Hence the Catholic idea of monks, priests, and nuns who embrace celibacy deliberately.

But that sort of singleness should be highly intentional as well. Choosing singleness as a stony but valuable way of serving the kingdom of God doesn't look like this:  "Well, all the godly women I happen to meet these days aren't very attractive, and all the highly attractive women I meet aren't godly, so I guess I'll just go on my way for the time being, continuing not dating anyone and being single."

Moreover, the people who are truly called to singleness, in the sense of being especially suited for it, are and should be in the minority in the human race generally. God has set up marriage as the glorious way by which mankind is formed into families, by which children are born and nurtured and the human race continued, and by which society is created. Not to mention God's having created sex and intending its satisfaction in marriage. When marriage becomes the minority outcome in the church and in the world, we have a problem. And the problem in Western society generally is the falling-off of marriage for pagan and perverse reasons, so it is all the more important that the Church not fall into the ways of the world by ceasing to value marriage. The married state should be considered the norm. The state of lifelong or even long-term celibacy while young, embraced intentionally for God, should be the exception, though a valuable one.

But what about people who just aren't finding that marriage is "happening" for them, despite legitimate efforts? What about young men who keep getting turned down for dates, or who have had their hearts broken? What about young women whom no one asks out? What about people who are unattractive? What about a person who has some disability (e.g., alcoholism) that he needs to get taken care of before he is a legitimate candidate for marriage himself? Is it not cruel to assert that marriage is a norm and to promote it? Might it not hurt those people's feelings and make them feel un-valued?

One harsh but true fact is just this: Any recognition of normativity is (probably) accidentally going to hurt some people who are unable, through no fault of their own, to achieve the norm. If a society rightly values babies, infertile people are probably going to feel bad. If a society rightly values having a job and not living off of your parents, a disabled person who cannot get a job, or a man who is unemployed for some other reason that he can't help, is going to feel bad. And if a society or even a sub-society like the church values marriage, unmarried people may feel bad. That is a price we pay for having norms at all. It comes with the territory, and it's a bad idea to ditch the norms just to make sure nobody feels bad. For one thing, such feelings are actually helpful for distinguishing between those who are willfully avoiding the good thing for no good reason and those who truly can't help their situation. A culture or sub-culture that highly values children puts pressure on couples not to get married with the deliberate intention of never having children, for no particular reason, just because they don't want to. A culture's high value on work and self-support can help to put pressure on the man who is "failing to launch" and not really trying to be employed, living on his parents for no good reason. Putting a high value on marriage can motivate young people to seek marriage actively, which they (especially young men) should do if they are not specially called to singleness, rather than sitting around passively and then saying that it just didn't happen. In other words, social norms rightly create social guilt in those who willfully flout them. The sadness experienced by those who don't willfully flout them and are debarred through no fault of their own can then be dealt with separately, but in a culture that is trying to denormalize a particular valuable and normal thing, the higher priority should be hanging onto the norms. In short, hard cases make bad law.

Note, too, that you can't really decide whether or not an emphasis on some good thing is too much or exaggerated unless you have some idea of how valuable that thing actually is. Hence, the question of whether or not an emphasis by some group or individual on marriage is excessive is intimately bound up with the question of how much importance should be placed on marriage. The two questions can't be separated. It would be tacky for your uncle to say, "Hey, when are you going to get that plastic surgery to get your nose made perfectly straight?" That's because having a perfectly straight nose is not really very important, especially if one's nose is not visibly deformed. An uncle who said that would be weird. But an uncle who asks a 25-year-old nephew who shows no signs of doing so and doesn't seem to be debarred from marriage in any way, "Hey, when are you going to get married?" is reflecting the legitimate priorities of mankind throughout all of human history.

But okay, then, how should we help those who genuinely are single through no fault of their own, who are saddened by it, and who don't want to be made to feel that they lack value?

It seems to me that the first step is acknowledging that their sadness is legitimate and understandable--a real grief, in fact. I think Christians, and Western society generally, do fairly well at this for infertility. There's plenty of talk about the deep grief of infertility. But there is less talk about the deep sadness of singleness. One is forced to conclude that such grief is viewed as "drama queen" territory, as over-the-top, etc. But as one insightful Facebook friend pointed out, the two are bound up together. If grief over infertility is legitimate, it seems like grief over singleness must also be legitimate, since getting married is (morally) a prerequisite to having children. And as I pointed out in this post, if a man is planning to get married and wants to have children, then his future wife's biological clock is his own biological clock, even if he doesn't yet know who she is. There are still some men who, like Jim Elliot whom I quoted in that post, realize that and are pained by it as they continue to be unmarried. Certainly most women cannot avoid thinking about it.

The second step, in a Christian context, is promulgating a deep theology of suffering. If someone does not seem called to singleness by temperament or special task but nonetheless is single for some reason beyond his control, then he is suffering a sadness and a privation and has to learn the hard lesson of offering that pain up to Christ and living with loss. In the total set of lessons to be learned as part of a theology of suffering, the lesson that "Jesus is enough" is indeed one, but the phrase sounds like a cliche and hence is not wisely put front and center. Would you say to a man who had lost a limb, or a child, "Jesus is enough?" Probably not. In the course of his grief for his limb or his child, he does need to wrestle with and grasp the truth that we are ultimately made for God and seek union with God as our highest end. But the very profundity of that truth is degraded by applying it like a bandaid. Normally the man would walk through life with all of his limbs, with his wife, and with his children and would find union with God in part by way of these human goods, not by being deprived of them. When one of these normal human goods is either taken from a man or not vouchsafed to him in a timely way, finding more perfect union with God through the way of suffering and negation is extremely tough, and holding a Bible study in which we gather the single people and say earnestly to them, "You need to find your value in Jesus because he's enough, not in marriage" probably doesn't make much more sense as either a pastoral strategy or a theological approach than doing something similar with the infertile couples or the severely disabled.

Ironically, those most likely to be "helped" by being told that Jesus alone is enough are those who don't actually admit the strong normativity of marriage and who prefer (for whatever reason) to take no steps to that end themselves. They are likely to be soothed by being told that it's all those others promoting marriage who are wrong and idolatrous, tactless and hurtful, and that the young people are pursuing a higher and more spiritual way by letting the matter slide and getting on with single life while, at most, vaguely "waiting for the right person to come along." (Again, to be clear, as a complementarian I place more of an onus on males to be pursuing than on females, though there are also steps that females can take to show interest, etc., in a ladylike fashion.) The person who is really in most need of pastoral assistance because he (or she) is genuinely grieved by the single state may (I would guess) find the "Jesus is enough" pep talk cold comfort indeed.

Third, I think we should suggest to people in that situation that they be open, as befits a given context, about their desire to be married. No, I'm not recommending going on your Facebook status all the time and loudly bewailing your single state to all the world. But here are some recommendations: When there are people in your life who do reflect that legitimate priority on marriage (see the uncle example above) and who are close enough to you that they have a legitimate interest in knowing, be willing to communicate with them. If you're dating someone or even "sort of" dating someone, don't treat this as some dark secret. (The strange taboos of different generations are something of a mystery.) Tell your uncle, "Well, there is a young lady I'm getting to know and praying about. We'll see if anything comes of it." More painfully and vulnerably, if someone is "on your case" about not getting married and this is painful because there is some problem that has beset your efforts, instead of getting mad at this person who doesn't know the circumstances and developing a theory that "the church is idolatrous about marriage," be willing to sketch those circumstances for him: "Uncle Paul, I would really like to be married and have tried dating, but unfortunately the girls are not interested in me, and I'm not getting anywhere." If a hearty and tactless Uncle Paul then responds, "Nonsense! Why would any girl not want to date a handsome fellow like you?" then that really is Uncle Paul's problem. But if Uncle Paul is a reasonable, sensible, and minimally sensitive man, he'll express sympathy and offer to pray with you for God's will in the on-going situation. On the other hand, if you think that God is calling you to some difficult and dangerous path where you can't take a family, so you are intentionally remaining single, you can explain that as well. If you think none of this is Uncle Paul's business, fine and dandy. Maybe it isn't. But in that case be prepared to have Uncle Paul lack understanding of your situation, which probably has nothing to do with idolatry.

This recommendation of openness between the generations also helps (I'll admit) to "smoke out" those who just want to be left alone and who aren't actually seeking a spouse and having no luck. After all, if what you could in honesty tell Uncle Paul isn't that the girls are turning you down or that the guys aren't asking you out or even that you're recovering from a broken heart but rather something vague like "I guess I just haven't run into the right one yet" or "It just isn't the right time yet" or other anodyne and uninformative phrases, Uncle Paul may correctly conclude that you and he have quite different ideas about the value of marriage itself.

Again, let me emphasize that these thoughts arise not out of a lack of empathy for the unwillingly single but precisely from empathy with them. We live in a dysfunctional society, and nowhere more so than in the area of sex. The less marriage is considered a norm, the more situations we will have where people are discontentedly or unwillingly single, because it takes two suitable people, together, to get married! If there are fewer chaste, marriage-minded young women, the chaste, marriage-minded young men will have fewer options. If there are fewer chaste, marriage-minded young men, the chaste, marriage-minded young women will have fewer options. Hence the most practical way to help the unwillingly single is to promote both chastity and marriage-mindedness among the members of the opposite sex who are in contact with the unwillingly single. And the most spiritual way to help the unwillingly single is to admit their sadness, admit the problems of our Western society, admit their sense that the fallenness of the world is, one way or another, hitting them, and help them to find the help of God to comfort and sustain them along their way.

May God be with us all, the married and the unmarried, strengthen us, and bring us at last to his heavenly kingdom.

Related post here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hidden in Plain View is up for pre-order

I'm very excited to announce that Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts is available for pre-order from DeWard Publishing.

This is pre-order only. Actual release date is set for (good Lord willin' and the crik don't rise) March 1, 2017.

There is a free shipping option enabled on all pre-orders of this book, though it is not the default. Be sure to change the shipping at checkout from "priority" to "free shipping."

There were a couple of days during which the book was up for pre-order but free shipping was not yet enabled as an option. If you saw the book advertised on Facebook in the last two days and paid shipping on a pre-order, feel free to request a refund of that shipping payment using the "contact" form on the web site.

It's great to see the book coming closer to being released. I ask my Christian readers to pray that God will use it for his glory.