Another View on Intentionality

“You never climb a mountain on accident: it has to be intentional.”
— Mark Udall

Intentionality in men is a hot topic at the moment, particularly in Christian dating circles but across the board as well. The basic premise is this: men ought to be up front about their intentions when approaching a girl for a dating relationship, and follow that up by treating her in that regard for as long as he is pursuing her. So far, so good. I will never fault a man for telling a woman, “I am attracted to you and I would like to take you out on a date.” (Maybe he should phrase it differently.) Too many men take a cowardly approach, and I’ve never seen cowardice on anyone’s list of attractors.
But I’ve been troubled by this notion for a while. Many of the bloggers advocating intentionality treat it as sweeping remedy for the all the ails of modern dating. This has long struck me as false, but I couldn’t articulate why. This morning I finally figured out how to put it in words. Three things about it bother me: 1) Intentionality is not the same thing as transparency; 2) focusing on it so much can mislead us into thinking that someone who’s not conforming to this model of intentionality is unworthy; and 3) Intentionality in itself is not sufficient, and it’s not what women actually want.
1) The blogosphere is making the suggestion that in order for a man to be intentional, he must lay out all his cards at the outset and be crystal clear every step of the way. I think this is wrong and can be harmful. I’ll allow that I’m unique in a lot of ways, but I’m fairly certain that most men are like me in that I often have doubts, struggles, and uncertainties. I often find myself attracted to more than one woman at once, and also for very different reasons. How much of this should be shared before a first date? On a first date? One of the basic rules of human conversation is that there is a limit to what you should share with a person as you are getting to know them. That is, your sharing should be commensurate with your intimacy. The intentionality advocates need to acknowledge this, since at the moment they are implying the contrary.
2) When we focus so much on a single personality trait, it is easy to cement in our minds what that trait will look like. These pictures are often false. So when we overhype intentionality, for example, we create an image of what it will look like – with no guarantee that it will be accurate – and we encourage the idea that people not conforming to that image are doing something wrong. None of us are starting in the same place, nor do we have the same obstacles to face. What might appear to a glance to be passive man could in reality be someone preparing himself with focus and vigor. It’s important we not assume we can tell the difference from afar.
3) If we understand intentionality correctly – doing things with a purpose in mind – then I think it in itself is a fine trait, but falls short of being what women really want. Women want men who are leaders. Intentionality is a component of leadership, yes. But mistaking it for leadership is like mistaking a roadmap for a car. Leadership is a cluster of traits: integrity, wisdom, patience, humility, and adaptability, among others. If a man is intentional but lacks any of those other traits, tragedy ensues. Ladies, do you want to date a man that is intentional but not patient, or lacks integrity, or is unable to adapt to life’s surprises?
What do you think? A post like this is designed to foster discussion, not to state an inflexible view. I’m really curious about your opinions.

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Apologetic: A letter to atheists

I am glad the world observes us. It has a right to do so. If a man says, “I am God’s,” he sets himself up for public observation. Ye are lights in the world, and what are lights intended for but to be looked at? A city set on a hill cannot be hid.”
– Charles Spurgeon

Dear Atheists,
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I’m friends with many of you on Facebook, and I follow Ricky Gervais and Richard Dawkins on Twitter. (What is it with Ricks?) Many of you seem to talk and think about religion more than I do. I find that bizarre in one sense: Ricky Gervais is fond of using Santa Claus as a stand-in for God, and I doubt he spends much time thinking about Santa. But on the other hand, you live in a world that has a lot of hostility towards your point of view, and so I can see why it’s so often on your mind.
What I’ve been thinking about is how much of a failure I’ve been to you. Christians all around the world – but especially in America – are gaining a reputation for being shrill, bigoted, close-minded, and ignorant people. And I have no doubt that in some ways I’ve encouraged that view in your minds. I am supposed to be shining a light in your life, but instead I am throwing mud in your face. That is such a shameful reflection on my Savior.
(Yes, I know, you don’t believe in Him. That’s not the important part. The important part is I do, and I want my life to point to Him. When my actions are shrill, bigoted, close-minded, and ignorant, I am holding a sign towards something else entirely and implying that’s Jesus.)
I often come across as arrogant, as though what I believe should automatically be what you believe. I often forget just how foolish and idiotic seems from the outside to believe any of this. Perhaps sometimes I am judgmental or shaming. I need to remember that your beliefs come from just as deep a conviction as mine, and it’s quite likely that yours have been more severely tested than my own. Sometimes I am tempted to think that you live your life apart from any ethic or morality, but I only need to briefly read some of your posts to see just how much better you are at conforming your actions to your beliefs than I am to mine.
Before you think I am pandering to you, let me say that I am not about to compromise what I believe. Our worldviews are at odds, and that will lead to conflict. I will not back down in my belief that you are a person with a curable illness and that I know a Great Physician. And I don’t expect you to back down in your belief that this is an utterly laughable notion. But the purpose of writing this is to say that if we are enemies, then my call is to serve you. If you have a need, let me help you meet it. The only condition is that you understand I am motivated to do so because I want to love God more than anything else, and I want to love you as much as I love myself. I couldn’t care less if you think I’m cool, but I can’t abide it if you think I’m not loving. Anything less is a failure.
Spurgeon_caricature
There is one thing you can do for me: if I step out of line, don’t hold back. Let me know. If you see me doing something and think, “That’s not what a Christian’s supposed to do!” Tell me. There are two outcomes: I can show you that your understanding of Christianity was at least partially flawed, or you’ll have helped me improve. In an old sermon by the great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon, he relayed an anecdote from a fellow clergyman, about an atheist who attended his church.

(A)fter having annoyed a church a long time, he was about to leave, and therefore, as a parting jest with the minister, he said, “I have no doubt you will be very glad to know that I am going a hundred miles away?” “No,” said the pastor, “I shall be sorry to lose you.” “How? I never did you any good.” “I don’t know that, for I am sure that never one of my flock put half a foot through the hedge but what you began to yelp at him, and so you have been a famous sheep-dog for me.

I know I’m a hypocrite at times. You’ll be doing a great favor by pointing out when you notice.
Thank you for reading. I hope you can help me walk better.
Steve
P.S. I think I’m done with this letter-writing format. But it has served me well a couple times. All right.

Some Thoughts on Singleness

This post is going to be of a more personal nature, more like a journal entry than a blog post.
All my life, I’ve seen the devastation of failed relationships. (I started an earlier blog post with the line, “I never knew my father…” and I could have just as easily done so here.) My mother divorced and eventually remarried. The same is true of both of my sisters. And I knew a man while I was growing up who was so consistently desperate to be married he never paused to consider whether he was pursuing a good marriage. He’s been miserable ever since.
You can tear down, or you can build up. It’s just so much easier to tear down.
A friend of mine sent an old Onion article to me yesterday. It’s written from the perspective of a woman intent to keep her respective man in the friendzone. It’s hilarious, but also heartbreaking – I’ve been both people in that scenario.
I’m writing about this for two reasons.
1) It’s just weighing on me to think about all the people whose hearts are beginning to look like old stickers: torn off, reapplied, and torn off again. Today has been the most emotionally draining day I’ve had in months, and I think it’s because I’ve been thinking about these things. Heartache can cause damage by proxy, it would seem.
2) This started a conversation yesterday about how to avoid this trap. One friend said being up front with your intentions is the best route. (I have tried writing a full post on intentionality. I just can’t ever seem to agree with what I’ve written down). But it occurs to me why I’m rarely up front, myself: I take a very long time determining if people are worth investing in before I do so. How can I be up front when I don’t know if I even like someone? This applies beyond dating relationships to friendships as well. How can I turn a blind eye to the lessons of my past? At what point is caution harmful, like overdosing on antibiotics?
I’m usually open to advice of all kinds. I like to see what people think. I like to know if how I view something is novel or consistent with prevailing wisdom, or if I have a major blind spot. Advice here is beginning to get confusing, though. I’ve been told that I’m too nice; I’ve been told that I’m too much of a jerk. I’ve been told that it takes a while for my really likable traits to shine through, but I’ve seen some people seem to really like me right away. So I don’t know. But I can tell you this: there may be some hard and fast rules to dating, but none of those apply to personality traits. And all the guidance in the world does me no good at all if it fails to incorporate this simple fact: I’d much rather be single than miserable.

City of Sodom

(If you weren’t already aware, yesterday the Minnesota State Senate voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage. Governor Dayton will, to no one’s surprise, sign the bill today, making Minnesota the 12th state in America to legalize gay marriage.)

To my fellow Christians:
I want you to consider a parable, from Luke 18: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Seeing how many of you reacted yesterday to the legalization of gay marriage saddened and discouraged me. I saw declarations of condemnation and despair. I saw St. Paul and Minneapolis compared to Sodom and Gomorra. Like the Pharisee above, many of you were looking at the perceived sins of another and justifying yourselves.

But we are all sinners. If we have received mercy, why are we so reluctant to extend it?

You who are condemning this development, have you been ministering to the lost – gay or straight? Have you been offering them the hope and grace and mercy of Christ, no matter their sin? Or have you been placing your own hope in this system of politics? Don’t you know that’s idolatry?
Perhaps we are like Sodom. The book of Ezekiel says the sin of Sodom was pride and not providing for the poor and needy despite their abundance. We have an abundance of life in Christ. If we are not offering that life to the needy – all sinners, everywhere – then we, as the Church, deserve the same judgment.
Ezekiel
We need to get back to being the Bride of Christ instead of the City of Sodom. I think the way to do that is this. First, we need to humble ourselves like the tax collector above. Recognize your own sin, your need for mercy and grace. Next, find a way to serve someone. Jesus said to do good to those who harm you and pray for those who persecute you. So find someone to pray for and serve! If you can’t find someone who’s harmed you, all the better. Serve someone anyway. You haven’t even begun to be persecuted yet. Then, after all that, if you are going to trumpet something, trumpet the fact that mercy is available! As John Newton said, “I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”
Don’t forget that none of this is happening apart from the will of God.
In peace and humility,
Steve

When Sorrow Comes

“Jesus build a ship, let us sing a song. Let the spirit on face of the water be the wind in the sail that carries us home.”

  – Ben Kyle

I find it extremely difficult to write when I’m happy. I don’t know if that’s just how writer’s block works, or if I’ve bought into some myth about pain and tragedy being the fountainhead of creativity. Whatever the case, I have been utterly ebullient for the last month, and it has kept me from writing. Why turn my focus and energy inward when there’s this whole world at which I can smile? I feel like I did when I got my first guitar.

I can say this for certain: this too shall pass. The circumstances of life will change. Maybe my social group will splinter. Maybe – God forbid – some controversy will fracture my church. Maybe my gratefulness to be working will subside and I’ll find I hate my job. Perhaps the creeping blackness of depression will find a roadmap back to my heart again. Will I be ebullient, still?

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in You. (Psalm 39:7)

I am called to praise my Maker no matter how I am made, or what purpose You set me to. If I despair losing my blessings, that just reveals I was not grateful for them in the first place. If I am ungrateful, open wide my door! Take my idols away! Do whatever makes me love You more. Give me every confidence that my hope is in You, and not the storehouses of my friends, my health, or my job. Amen.