Sunday, January 12, 2014

Owner of a Moronic Heart

My favorite author is British novelist Nick Hornby. He’s not a Christian author, for the record. Actually, between Jo Rowling, Charles Dickens, CS Lewis, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and countless others, I suppose you could be forgiven for considering me a bit of a literary anglophile. I wonder if I would
No idea who this guy is but I want him
to write books so I can read them!
write better books if I were British...

If I had to categorize Mr. Hornby into a genre—and it’s really not fair because it certainly wouldn’t fit all of his novels—I would probably dub him the author of male romantic comedies. I think I love him so much because he captures the sort of guy I am so well—we are worlds away from the cowboy or the hunter or the NRA type, my dears—and his books do tend to have a fair amount of romance, and I’ve found each one delightful.

Incidentally, not only do I love Nick Hornby’s books, I also love his album. A few years ago, he collaborated on an album called Lonely Avenue with my favorite musical artist, Ben Folds (Ben is also very much not a Christian artist; if you are familiar with any Christian artists, however, whose music I would love as much as Ben’s and whose lyrics would connect with me as much but also glorify God too, I will definitely give them a listen!). That’s right. My favorite author and my favorite musician did an album together where the former wrote the lyrics and the latter performed the songs. And I had no idea they were even aware of each other’s existence when the project was announced. For the record, you will never catch me questioning the love of God Almighty! It’s like this
I feel so special!
whole thing was a present just for me!

Enough boasting. Sorry. One of the neat things about Nick Hornby is that the movie adaptations of his work—at least the ones I’ve seen—have been pretty darn good as well. John Cusack moved High Fidelity to Chicago but it worked really, really well, and I would definitely call that a romantic comedy for guys. About a Boy definitely gets my pick for Hugh Grant’s best film, although I don’t know how great an accolade that really is. That book is also being turned into an NBC series that premieres in February, which of course I’m cautiously optimistic about. A movie version of his book A Long Way Down is coming out this year and stars Pierce Brosnan, Aaron Paul, Sam Neill, and Toni Collette (who was also in the About a Boy movie).

But it’s High Fidelity I want to talk about today. The story is about a guy named Rob who attempts to get over his most recent breakup by going through his list of Top 5 All-Time Worst Breakups and getting some sort of closure and maybe sort of try to figure out why he’s so unlucky in love. At one point in the story, Rob is ready to wash his hands of women...but he meets someone who’s ready to wash her hands of men, so they just sort of wash their hands together and find each other. They both think they’re settling, but they’re both convinced that it’s time to settle. There is a line from the movie (and I’m pretty confident it’s in the book too but I don’t have that at hand) (oh and it also shows up in some form or another in the musical adaptation
The musical has a few good songs but also deftly proves
that not everything should be a musical. Or maybe
that not everything should be a musical unless
it has more than just "a few good songs."
of the John Cusack movie, which, yes, exists) in which Rob explains this relationship by saying, “We were frightened of being alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at twenty-six; we were of that disposition.”

That’s one of those lines that’s always connected with me and, as a result, stuck with me. This may be, in part, because I was of that same disposition, and worse. Heck, I was afraid of being alone for the rest of my life at the age of eighteen. You, um, don’t tend to make the best romantic decisions if that’s your mindset. You really, really don’t.

Is it really so unusual, though? I look at the evidence and it seems like many of us sharing this human condition are afraid of being alone. I’m not saying this applies to everyone, but I certainly get the impression that it’s fairly common to experience some degree of fear when it comes to relationships. And that fear encourages bad decisions. And bad decisions, it seems to me, are made a lot.

When I was in high school, I attended two different schools: one was a regular high school and the other was a special school for students who were advanced in math and science. Those are probably my two worst subjects—I’m a writer and an actor, a creative type, and decidedly not a mathematician—but somehow I tested high enough to get in and I made good friends at the math and science school so I stuck it out for three years. This was how Ben and Erin met, through me. Ben was a friend from the math and science school and Erin was a friend both through church and my normal high school. A little crush grew and we doubled up for some dance or other and I have it on good authority from my buddy Ben that some smoochin’ transpired when he drove her home that night. Smooching had been attempted at the end of my date as well, but, um, it didn’t go so well. Call me a late bloomer. Which didn’t help my “certain disposition.”

Yup. Seems about right.
When I reacquired Ben (since he was staying at my house that night) the guy was certainly twitterpated. It’s been a while since I’ve seen The Fox and the Hound but I think I’m using that right. It has nothing to do Twitter, mind you, which didn’t exist yet. I expected to hear more gushing from Erin when I saw her at church that Sunday. Instead, she took me aside in a very somber manner. I don’t know how tempted she was, but it seemed like Erin didn’t want to get all girly and giggly (Ben was doing enough of that himself), at least not yet. Not until she found out what sort of relationship Ben had with God. That’s what she asked me. She wanted to know if Ben was following Christ, and whether I knew.

Ben was Catholic. I knew that. But I actually knew more than that. When we had been getting ready for the dance a couple of days earlier, he had looked up at a poster I had hung up on my wall. It was a cool painting that had been in a magazine for Christian teens my parents subscribed to for me. The poster depicted two paths: one was wide and popular with beautiful scenery and lots of travelers; the other was smaller and more difficult and didn’t have many people traversing it. From our vantage, we could see where each path ended, in hell and in heaven, respectively. Matthew 7:13-14 was written at the bottom. Man, I wish I could find that poster somewhere!

This is the context for most deep theological discussions
of which I am aware.
Anyway, while we were getting ready, Ben looked at the poster and he looked at the verse and he said, “Hold on! That’s not what Jesus meant!”

I pointed out that there was no commentary provided on the poster, that it simply contained the Scripture and an artist’s depiction of the words.

But Ben’s objection to the poster was consistent with other statements he had made. He didn’t believe what Jesus said about the broad and narrow gates and roads. I recounted the conversation to Erin. I think her eyes looked sad. They didn’t have any sort of official relationship at that point, and they never would. Ben no doubt considered himself a Christian, but he didn’t meet Erin’s criteria as a Christ follower to even consider dating. I have never respected her more than I did at that moment.

How much heartache have I both witnessed and experienced throughout the years because of a willingness to look past the standard of a strong faith for the sake of human love?

The conventional verse to support the idea that believers shouldn’t enter into romantic relationships with unbelievers is 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” I have heard different Bible teachers speculate on what sort of relationships might be included in the prohibition and whether it extends to business partnerships, or even talking about ecumenical cooperation across denominational lines. I feel no
Pictured: marriage.
need to get into that, but I cannot even fathom that this verse wouldn’t appropriately apply to romantic relationships. Marriage is the most intimate partnership we can enter into, and I know plenty of guys who would compare it to being yoked.

But honestly? Even if there wasn’t a biblical command that forbade romantic relationships that crossed faith lines, let’s try to apply some common sense. If we are following Jesus as we are called to, He is our life. We literally exist to glorify Him and to build His kingdom. Our relationship with Him is the most important one in our lives. If a believer can connect so deeply with an unbeliever that they pursue a romantic relationship, and perhaps even marry some day...well, how can that be? Oh, I know it happens all the time, but doesn’t it mean something’s wrong?

If God has His rightful place in your life, then how deep of a connection can you have with a partner who cannot even truly comprehend the biggest part of your life? And if it’s not an issue, then what could that mean except that God is not number one in the life of the believer? Either way, it seems horribly problematic to me. Paul foresaw this issue with those who started to follow Christ after already married, and said that the best thing was to simply let your spouse go without a fight if they so desire (1 Cor. 7:15). And what other solution could there be?

Guys, I was horrible at this. My willingness to date someone did not bring their relationship with God into consideration. And even when I got a little older and had matured a little, I made that supreme mistake of requiring a potential date to simply be a "Christian."

I wonder how many guys and gals become “Christians” each year—or at least suddenly become willing to attend church—for the sake of a romantic relationship? And it’s bullcrap.

How much heartache have I both witnessed and experienced throughout the years because of a willingness to look past the standard of a strong faith for the sake of human love?

Of course, even if they absolutely abhor
Downton Abbey, they probably like it
better than Dan Stevens does.
It’s difficult. It really is difficult because our feelings, despite how variable and inconsistent we know them to be, feel so compelling to us in the moment. But we do ourselves no favor to put our feelings above the Lord and what we know to be right.

I know no one who doesn’t have any standards for romantic involvement. Everyone has some standards. Maybe they’re related to what you find physically attractive, maybe more connected to interests or personality or hobbies or interests or whether they’re a fan of Downton Abbey. Maybe none of that means anything to you, but are you willing to date a man? A woman? A transvestite? A goat?


And I am here now and I am imploring you to put “passionate Christ follower” onto that list. Whatever else is on it, do not settle for someone who is not actively, desperately pursuing Jesus Christ with everything they are. There’s a good chance you’ve heard the following advice: Run towards Jesus as fast as you can and then look around to see who’s keeping up. I’m not sure who first said it (probably because I’m working from a paraphrase and so can’t find it online) but it’s golden.

Of course, there’s a caveat. The wise man or woman of God will not consider you if you’re not living for Christ.

And the benefits of waiting for a partner who is a genuine, dedicated Christ follower? They are substantial! No one is perfect, of course, and marriage can be really, really tough. But close your eyes and let me describe to you the man or woman of God. No, wait, don’t do that. This is a blog. You’re reading it. You won’t be able to read it if your eyes are closed! Open up!

Good to have you back. The man or woman of God is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and full of self-control. Of course they won’t display all of these traits perfectly every hour of the day. Neither, ahem, will you. But those are the traits of the Holy Spirit and the believer who surrenders their life to His control will, as He perfects that good work, grow more like Him over time.

And as for the married couple that, together, puts Christ as number one in their lives? The possibilities are exciting! I am a strong believer in the idea that believers were never intended to be left to fend for themselves. I believe God instituted the church, in part, as a means of supports, encouraging, and in accomplishing much more together than anyone ever could on their own.
Pictured: marriage counseling.
Now think of a couple, both equally determined to build the Kingdom of God, to follow Him, and to spread His love everywhere they could. Seriously. I want you to take a moment and dream of that for the moment. Get a dream of what you could do with a godly spouse, whether it’s short term missions to Africa during your vacation or establishing a ministry together to reach out to the homeless in your community. Think of all you could accomplish together. Think of discipling your children and raising a family that loves God and loves others, ministering and reaching out together. It’s exciting!

I think that the seven months that my family spent on the road traveling full time with our drama ministry, Stage Right Ministries, will always be a high point of my life. Even the youngest knew—at least, in the limited way that a two-year-old can—why we were living that way. And we had powerful experiences and were blessed to see God use us in mighty ways! It was an incredible experience and I think it communicated more to our eldest daughter about how to serve and follow God than any amount of family devotions or church children’s programs ever could.

I’m veering off topic here (I’re very surprised) so I’ll reel it back in and wrap things up. You are either married or single right now. I realize that I’ve given you fewer choices than Facebook does but deal with it.

If you are married, you may have married wisely and you may have married foolishly. You may have married foolishly but things have turned out okay. Maybe your partner turned to Christ or maybe they started to take their faith seriously. Hallelujah! You beat the odds in that case. It’s also possible that you married a man or woman of God who completely rejected the faith in later years. Again, I think that’s pretty rare but it happens. Oh, churchgoers lose their faith all the time, but that’s not the topic at hand. What I’m saying is that, if you’re married, you’re in the position that you’re in. My dad is fond of saying that you can marry the wrong person but you can’t be married to the wrong person, and I think he’s right. Your job as a godly spouse is to be the best spouse you can be, to model the faith, and to pray for your partner like crazy. Leave a comment, even an anonymous one, below and I’ll pray for you too (and I bet some of my readers will as well). Beyond that...well, that’s really another issue in and of itself.

If you’re not currently hitched, you’re single. Yeah, you may be dating or engaged or betrothed or divorced or whatever. You may be getting married tomorrow. If you are getting married tomorrow, and your spouse-
One option is to invite Taylor Swift to the wedding
and just wait for her to declare her love for the groom.
to-be is not passionately following Jesus Christ with all that they are, call the wedding off. Yeah, I can’t tell you what to do but I am giving you wise author-to-someone’s-fiancé-or-maybe-fiancée-advice. Better for you to throw away thousands of dollars on a wedding that never happens, shock all your friends, break someone’s heart, and embarrass the crap out of yourself than to go through with the wedding. Because it is sinful. Because you will get hurt. Because your fruitfulness will suffer. And because you can do so much better.

I cannot even count the number of times that I have seen Christian men and women (or boys and girls) get stupid when it comes to matters of the heart. Your heart is an idiot. I could probably count the number of times I’ve done it myself, but I don’t want to because I don’t want to admit how few girlfriends I’ve had in my life. I needed someone to sit down and yell at me and maybe yell at me some more until I got it. I still don’t think I probably would have gotten it.

But I’m here. And I’m yelling. You don’t have to listen, of course, but take it from someone who screwed up plenty and knows all about the consequences: listening would be wise.

Post-script: This post is plenty lengthy so I didn't want to add to it, but I'm also posting a brief excerpt from The Savvy Demon's Guide to Godly Living that ties in to what we're talking about. You can find it right here.

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