Gas prices slowly coming back down

I just paid less than $2.50 at the gas pump today, for the first time since Katrina hit.

Gas prices are coming down again

Gas prices have been inching down recently, but today felt like a milestone of sorts.

Dating – is it right for Christians?

Some of my best blog posts seem to start as comments on someone else’s blog. This one was a comment I posted over at The Happy Husband, in his post titled Courtship is now in session. Here’s what I said:

Josh Harris certainly started a whirlwind of discussion with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, didn’t he? I think you’re [The Happy Husband is] perfectly right that much of the heated argument is coming from mutual confusion over definitions, especially about the word dating.

I think to Harris, and many other people, dating means “what the secular world calls dating”; in other words, a euphemism for shallow relationships built around premarital sex. No wonder they’re against it — we all should be! It’s not surprising, then, that they swing around to the other extreme and say, “Christians just plain shouldn’t date; they should find other methods of courting potential spouses”.

There’s also the fact that when people write books on dating, the first audience they think of to address (it seems to me) is high school and junior high students, who are either just going through puberty or only a few short years past it, and still in the middle of an onslaught of hormones. They’re noticing for the first time in their lives that the opposite sex looks really, REALLY good, and trying to figure out what to do about it. But most of them are years away from having the emotional, spiritual, or social maturity for marriage. For that audience, a book that says, “Don’t date, there are better ways of relating to the opposite sex” may be very good advice.

But I think there’s another segment of the Christian population middle ground that these authors are missing: adult Christians. People with the social, emotional, and spiritual maturity necessary to make a good marriage work. And that, I think, is the group of people who are probably saying to Harris and other “Christians shouldn’t date” proponents, “What are you talking about? You’re just plain wrong.” And again, it probably boils down to different definitions.

When I think of dating, I think of spending some time alone with a Christian woman I’m interested in getting to know better. We’d go out to dinner, or on a walk, or ice-skating, or some other activity that allows for plenty of time to talk. And we’d ask questions, find out about each other’s families, each other’s relationship with God, and each other’s interests, dreams, and passions. All the while, the question would be at the back of my mind, “Could she make a good wife for me?” And she’d be thinking the same thing: “Could he make a good husband for me?” If the first date was enough for a clear “No” for either one of us, the right thing to do would be to share that, politely of course, at the end of the date. “Thanks for a fun evening. I probably won’t ask you out again, but I’ll see you around at church.” Or, when I drop her off and say, “Let’s get together again sometime,” she might say, “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll pass. I appreciate the compliment, but I just don’t think it would work.”

(Incidentally, it’s a lot kinder to let someone down, gently but firmly, sooner rather than later. If you’re wanting to avoid hurting their feelings, consider this: they’ll be hurt, at least a little, no matter when you tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks” — but if you tell them as soon as you’re sure, you’re sparing them the pain of having the “What if…?” drag on, and on, and on.)

Christian dating, as I see it, should be all about evaluating the other person as a potential marriage partner. It should only be undertaken by those who are themselves ready for marriage, and it should be undertaken with the greatest of respect for the other person as a fellow child of God. That means, among other things, back off on the physical. Don’t kiss on the first date, or even on the second. Only kiss when you mean something by it, when there’s already some level of emotional commitment and you both know you’re getting serious about each other. Exactly what level of commitment is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, but you should at least have known each other for a while and know what you’re getting into. For myself, I’ve decided that I only want to kiss a woman after I’ve asked her to marry me. I’m not saying that everyone should follow that rule, but you should at least know that you plan to date only this woman for a while. In other words, you should be “going steady” before you kiss. (Now there’s a useful phrase that should be brought back into the language!)

I’ve come to this opinion gradually, though reading books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, Boundaries in Dating by Cloud & Townsend, and A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit. I’ve also had long conversations with other Christian guys, some married and some not, about their dating relationships, mistakes they’d made in the past, and pain they’d suffered. One thing I was surprised to learn is just how much of an emotional bond is established just by kissing. But when I thought about it, I realized that I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The process of becoming one flesh isn’t just about sex and physical intimacy, it’s also about emotional, mental, and spiritual intimacy. They’re all connected. One married friend of mine (male) put it this way: “Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual intimacy in a relationship are like four sliders tied together with a rubber band. If one of them gets too far ahead of the others, the rubber band is stretched. And if it’s stretched too far, it’s in danger of breaking. The thing is, the other sliders have to be pushed, but the physical-intimacy one has a motor driving it forward.”

There are many ways of dealing with that motor that tries to drive physical intimacy forward. Some of them involve putting very careful limits — chaperones and the like — on opportunities for any physical involvement at all. Others involve setting limits for yourself, and then getting good friends to check up on you every once in a while: “How are you doing with your boundaries?” Ultimately, though, the goal is that once you get married, you know your soon-to-be-spouse well enough on all levels — mental, emotional, spiritual, and yes, physical too. The physical should be held back some, but I think it would be a mistake to hold it back all the way down to “No physical intimacy whatsoever,” the way I’ve seen some people suggest. Shalit, in A Return to Modesty, mentions people who don’t even kiss until their wedding day — the kiss at the altar is their first kiss. Shalit makes that sound like an ideal to live up to, but another married friend of mine (actually, the wife of the person I mentioned in the previous paragraph) said, “That sounds like a supremely bad idea to me. Unless you want to wait a few weeks before you have sex, that is.” Expanding on her husband’s analogy of the sliders and rubber band, she explained that holding the physical back so much is going to put a lot of tension on your relationship, and pushing it forward all the way from “no kissing” to “sex is OK” in one day is also far too much change at once, and would put its own kind of stress on the relationship.

So that’s what I think of courtship and dating. Basically, understand that physical intimacy will pretty much drive itself forward, and concentrate on pushing the other three — mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy — forward in your time together. And figure out how you’re going to hold physical intimacy back to a proper pace: slow, but not completely stalled. Talk about your physical boundaries with each other, agree to respect each other and hold each other accountable for them, and then (because you’re both going to be strongly tempted at much the same time, so just holding each other accountable won’t always work) find a few good friends who can help. And then spend lots of time together, and talk a lot. And the last thing, which I haven’t mentioned yet although I really should have said so from the beginning, bathe the whole process in lots of prayer. If you do that, you probably won’t go too far wrong.

Desires of the heart

My friend Andrew writes about the desire to be great — to leave one’s mark on the world, so that one will be remembered, that one’s name will not be forgotten. I know exactly what he’s talking about, although for me it’s slightly different.

When I was in high school, I was on my school’s Science Bowl team. One evening, as we were driving back from the regional competition, my teammates were joking around about what each of us would be famous for later in life: Lars would discover a new element, Eric would find a cure for cancer, and so on. Then someone mentioned me, and said something I’ve never forgotten: “Robin? Robin won’t be famous.” (pause). “But everybody will know him.”

It says something profound about me that that statement made such a mark on my memory. It articulated so well one of my fundamental desires: to be known. Not to be famous — there’s a difference. Famous people get tabloid articles written about them everytime they so much as sneeze. I’ll pass on that one, thanks. But what my Science Bowl teammate said about me sounded like the best of both worlds — if that were true, then I’d avoid all the downsides of being famous, while still getting what I consider to be the only real advantage: to be known. To be recognized. Not to be a nameless face in the crowd. To have others greet you by name and be glad to see you when you visit them, when you go to church, when you meet them by chance in the grocery store.

That desire interacts in some very interesting ways with the other great desire of my heart, to serve. To serve God, and to serve His servants. That’s why I’m heading off to Africa — to put my computer skills to good use in His service, by making my skills available to the other missionaries there. But as I mentioned, one of the things I love to receive is recognition from others. And I certainly get that when I help fix someone’s computer — they remember me years later. I’ve been out of college for over four years now, yet I keep on running into people who remember me rescuing their term paper off a dying floppy disk or some such thing. And I have to admit that it gives me a bit of pleasure to find out that I’ve been remembered for being helpful. As far as ego-boosts go, that’s a pretty healthy one, but nevertheless, am I helping people just so that they’ll remember me? Is that the reward I’m working for? Jesus had a few things to say about that sort of thing, after all.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’m really doing all this just for the praise of others. When I take the time to examine my motives, I find that I really am just wanting to help. It’s nice that people remember me kindly for helping them, but I’d still help them even if they wouldn’t remember me at all. That’s a relief.

But there’s something else, something to which I fall victim much more often. And again, my friend Andrew has it nailed. (Thanks, Andrew!) In the second half of his post, he goes on to talk about how the desire to be great can twist even our desire to serve God into something perverted, a kind of “servanthood contest” where one is trying, not to serve God to the best of one’s ability, but to somehow be a “better” servant than everyone else. Once you actually look at that desire, of course it’s ridiculous. But it got me thinking — the other great desire of my heart, as I mentioned, is service. And I’m heading off — to Africa, no less! — as a missionary. It would be far too easy to get sucked into the “more spiritual than thou” game. Have I ever been tempted to play it?

And suddenly as I phrased the question, I had my answer. Yes, from time to time, I certainly have been. I get tempted to look down on those whose calling is not to the mission field, but to a “comfortable” life in the United States — forgetting, of course, that God has called them to service, too. In fact, some of those very same people, that I’m tempted to look down on, are people whose shoelaces I’m not even worthy to tie. True prayer warriors, whose daily prayers for hundreds and hundreds of missionaries are only known to God — for now. In heaven, though, we’ll find out. We’ll see a saint, covered in the glory so bright it almost hurts our eyes — and when we peer into their face, we’ll recognize that small, unassuming elderly woman who always showed up at the prayer meetings, or the man we only knew as the church janitor. And then we’ll hear about the thousands upon thousands of lives their prayers touched, and we’ll be amazed.

No, there’s nothing inherently special or spiritual about being a missionary. It’s just another way to serve God.

Pork futures look strong in the Senate

Well, the Coburn amendment (to kill a $220 million pork project in Alaska and redirect the money towards hurricane relief in Louisiana) failed by an 82-15 vote (3 not voting). The good guys:

Allard (R-CO), Yea
Allen (R-VA), Yea
Bayh (D-IN), Yea
Burr (R-NC), Yea
Coburn (R-OK), Yea
Conrad (D-ND), Yea
DeMint (R-SC), Yea
DeWine (R-OH), Yea
Feingold (D-WI), Yea
Kyl (R-AZ), Yea
Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
Sessions (R-AL), Yea
Sununu (R-NH), Yea
Vitter (R-LA), Yea

11 R’s, 4 D’s.

Landrieu and Vitter are from Louisiana, so it’s no surprise they voted for it. Their vote can’t be taken one way or the other as to whether they’d be in favor of getting rid of pork or not. So there are only 13 Senators, ten Republicans and 3 Democrats, who can be really counted on to fight against pork-barrel projects in Congress.

Discouraging, but it just means that if you care about pork, you’d better contact your Senators and let them know your disapproval. Tell them, “Unless something drastically changes in the next year or so, you just lost my vote.” Especially if your Senator is one of those running for re-election in 2006 — they’ll be especially attentive to what you say.

Do your part to restore some measure of spending sanity to Congress: contact your Senators today!

Politics test – my results

You are a

Social Moderate
(43% permissive)

and an…

Economic Conservative
(70% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Capitalist

Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

The best movie I never want to see again

I just saw Serenity, the movie based on Joss Whedon’s TV show Firefly. Nearly everyone who’s seen it so far has loved it. My reaction was more complex. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I’d have to say something like “that was the best movie that I never want to see again.”

I think it was the excellent writing and the familiar characters that did it. This was the first movie where I didn’t have that subtle disconnect, the sense that I was watching a movie. Instead, I was caught up in the reality of it — it really felt like I was watching real people deal with a real situation.

And normally, that would be a really good thing in a movie. A REALLY good thing. But… that meant my sense of reality was also engaged at other moments during the movie. Like the scene that’s still haunting me, two hours after the movie’s over. No spoilers here, but if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know which scene I’m talking about. It’s the one where they’re on a planet, and they find a holographic recording of a woman describing something that happened on that planet. I really, really needed my normal “I’m watching a movie, this isn’t real” detachment for that scene. Especially the end of it. And because the writing was so good, the scene just slipped underneath my normal emotional “armor”.

It’s three in the morning right now. Two and a half hours after I walked out of the movie theater. And I’m still desperately looking for distractions, trying to forget what I heard in that one scene. I don’t intend to go to bed anytime soon.

It’s been a very long time since a movie did that to me. On the one hand, that’s some really good writing. On the other hand, I never ever want to see this movie again, and I almost wish I hadn’t seen it in the first place. Not that it was bad — as I said, it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. If it hadn’t been such a good movie, it wouldn’t have left me this profoundly disturbed.

Make of that what you will.