Archive for February, 2011

And the winner is…

A week ago, we posted the rules of our SBLGNT giveaway, and an enthusiastic handful of folks participated.  Well, we have used a random number generator to determine who deserves our prize (assigning numbers based on comment order), and the answer was…

Number 3!

That is to say, Christian of Homebrewed Theology!

Christian, you should have received an email regarding shipment in your Yahoo! account.  Let us know if you had any trouble receiving it.

To everyone else, thanks for participating!  We hope you’ll continue to read our blog, even when we’re not giving out prizes. And who knows… maybe we’ll be giving out more in the future!  :-)


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Either they don’t really feel ready for commitment or they feel they need more time or money to pull off a nice wedding or they feel they need more money to start their married life “right” or they want to wait until a date that all of their family and friends can be there.

This is how I explained why Mildred and Maurice might be delaying marriage in my previous post, Loving Cohabiters.  In this post, I’d like to address some of these issues, as well as other questions that might come up regarding my approach to addressing cohabitation from a Christian perspective.

What if Mildred and Maurice really want those twelve extra months?
I would start by asking why.  There might be some more practical reasons that need to be addressed… or it might be that they really aren’t certain they want to make that commitment to each other yet.

What if they aren’t certain they want to make that commitment to each other yet?
Well, I think it’s important to know how close they are to being able to.  It’s one thing to need a couple months to mentally adjust to something so big.  It’s another thing entirely to be truly ambivalent about it.

What if they are very ambivalent about commitment?
I would say that it’s very odd, then, for them to be engaged and rather inappropriate for them to be living together.  If they have an interest in adapting their relationship to Christian teaching on sex (which they may or may not), the pacing of the various elements of their relationship (physical, emotional, commitment level, etc.) should be reevaluated.  Either they should back down the intimacy to match where they feel their commitment can be, or they need to work through the issues they might have with commitment in order to be able to move their relationship forward.

People often become sexually involved very early in a relationship, making the “back down” option appropriate for many who are not as serious.  But for Maurice and Mildred, I think their true problem is more likely that they have absorbed a lot of fear of commitment from our individualistic culture.  This is likely to be an issue even among Christians who are not sexually involved, as well.  If they truly aren’t ready to commit, they shouldn’t… but I would suspect Maurice and Mildred are actually in a good place to make this kind of decision, just a little slow with their pacing based on cultural norms and their personal anxieties.

What if they just need a bit more time to mentally adjust?
As long as they are rapidly moving towards a psychological place in which they can make that commitment, I think this is normal and deserves some grace.  They should not be encouraged to rush into marriage if they have not fully processed what this means, of course, but I think that with the right counsel and support, certain fears might be eased and they might find peace about making that last step sooner than they expect.  (I think anticipating having twelve months to adjust to the idea is part of what makes it take longer for some people!)

What if that’s not the problem?  They really are almost-married in terms of their commitment, already.  The commitment itself doesn’t scare them, and they feel more and more permanently united every day.
Then I think it’s usually a more practical concern which has delayed the wedding.

What if it’s about saving up for a wedding?  Or having time to plan?
The brief answer: Christians should be encouraging a culture of simpler weddings, as well as helping the very poor afford to have at least a few special things for their ceremony.  Or one should have a party a bit later down the road—to celebrate a one-year anniversary, perhaps.  It is very sad, I think, that the money or time needed for a “nice” wedding keeps people from being able to marry as early as they would otherwise prefer.

What if it’s about saving up or gaining stability, generally?
The brief answer: Total financial stability is overrated.  Yes, money issues can hurt marriages, but going through tough times together can also bond people.  Mildred and Maurice have already pooled their resources by living together, so there’s no reason not to extend their sharing, anyway.  Having the ideal job or being able to buy a house are not requirements for marriage.  In fact, there is no reason why one shouldn’t go ahead and get married even if one’s a student.

A student?  What if parents are helping with school?  Surely, they can’t get married until they graduate!

It is a strange sense of priorities that drives a parent to threaten to withdraw financial support for one’s studies on the basis of one’s marital status.  It makes no logical sense why one should have to be completely self-supporting to be married.  If one is lucky enough to have parents paying tuition and one wants to get married senior year of college or during grad school, I don’t think parents should stop helping, assuming everyone is responsible and productive, no one is a “leech,” etc.  This support is as appropriate as for a non-leech single student of the same age.

Christian parents should have the extra motivation of being able to know they’re also supporting Christian ideals relating to marriage.  In our culture, the necessity of higher education should not mandate decade-long chaste dating relationships nor a rejection of Christian ideas about sex.  Of course, many Christian parents will not be convinced of this, and I don’t know if anything can be done if one has non-Christian parents… but at least over time, perhaps we can change the norms surrounding this so they everyone receives the support they need to succeed in life.

What if it’s about trying to allow certain people to be at the wedding?
This is really the hardest question for me to answer.  I feel I cannot really fault someone for trying to include special family members or friends, especially if these people might be offended to not be there on “the” day.  However, I do think that unless there are extenuating circumstances (such as someone overseas with the military), most people are fine if they make travel plans three months or so in advance.  At the very least, then, perhaps those twelve months could be reduced to three.  And ideally, Christian relatives and friends would show their support for the couple beginning their marriage whether or not they could be there, planning to celebrate together at a later date.

My advice here would be to Mildred and Maurice to begin with life as a married couple as soon as possible, even if they want to hold a special ceremony and/or party with others at a later date.  It would be interesting, actually, for liturgies to be written for this particular purpose—celebrating a marriage which has already started but is inviting those dear to celebrate with and support them.

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Today is the last day to enter to win a free copy of the SBLGNT! Remember, to be eligible to win you must comment on the original post found here.

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Last summer I wrote a paper on gay marriage and church/state relations for an ethics class.  I’m not sure the paper was any good (though I did get an A), so at least for now, I will refrain from posting it.  What I would like to post about is a semi-related topic which I pondered off/on while doing my research for the paper: cohabitation.

First I should clarify that I have pretty darn traditional views about sex.  And yet, I find myself very unsatisfied with the way Christians deal with cohabitation, particularly among those who are quite committed to each other—possibly engaged or even eligible for “common law marriage” in some states.

Here’s the way that conversation typically goes, in my experience: Mildred and Maurice are both twenty-seven.  They have been living together for a couple of years and dating for three.  About six months ago, Mildred and Maurice finally decided it was time to take the next step in their relationship by getting engaged.  They plan to get married in another twelve months or so, though they are just getting started planning their wedding.  One day, their friend Jean-Claude makes them curious about Jesus and they decided to start going to church with him, the first time either has attended a religious service in some time.  After attending several weeks, however, they realize the people at this church are nothing like their more liberal Christian friends from work.  These evangelicals seem surprised and upset that they are living together, and in fact, some have even insinuated that they should find separate apartments until their wedding.  Wondering if this church is for them after all, they ask their friend Jean-Claude for his thoughts on the matter.

The standard response would be for Jean-Claude to tell Maurice and Mildred to stop living together.  What if Maurice wants to stop living together but Mildred doesn’t want to?  Then they might even be advised to break up—after all, isn’t Mildred showing she doesn’t care about Jesus?  If Maurice wants to do what’s right in God’s eyes, he obviously needs to be rid of her…  right?

I’ve come to think this is the entirely wrong approach, partly based on my paper on gay marriage.  Among the many arguments I gave for why Christians (even if they don’t condone homosexuality) might support (or at least not oppose) gay marriage, I argued that the state is not what defines the true meaning of marriage for Christians.  This got me to thinking about what did make marriage valid, and I came to see the most important components as commitment, sex, and public recognition.

I decided, even, that public recognition does not demand a church wedding or a legal marriage certificate, though those tend to be meaningful (and of practical use) in our society.  The most important thing to me is simply a promise to each other.  That promise should be sealed with the togetherness of sex and made known to the wider community.  Of course, there could be exceptions to either of those like being unable to have sex due to a physical disability or being unable to make one’s marriage public because of significant threats of danger that would ensue (perhaps because one of you is being hunted by aliens and they will come after your spouse if they find out you got married—I really don’t know).  I’m not off to invalidate anyone’s relationship, just saying that generally, these three things go well together and that under typical circumstances, I think they are all essential elements.

In my mind, then, what Mildred and Maurice need is to rethink where they are in their relationship and where they want to be.  Since physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, and level of commitment are meant to track throughout a relationship, they should examine where they are on each of these.  If they are finding their level of commitment and/or emotional intimacy is lagging behind their marriage-level sexual involvement, perhaps they should reconsider their situation.  But if they really feel just-about-married anyway—only lacking that final ounce of commitment and public recognition of their relationship’s permanence—I think the only logical thing to encourage is that they stop being “almost married” and simply be “married.”

Of course, this brings us to what might be keeping them from marrying earlier to begin with.  Either they don’t really feel ready for commitment or they feel they need more time or money to pull off a nice wedding or they feel they need more money to start their married life “right” or they want to wait until a date that all of their family and friends can be there.  Responses to these issues will have to wait for a second post.

For the present, I will stop with this: In a hyper-individualistic culture that is often afraid of lifelong commitment, whenever the church encounters a couple that is “almost married,” I think our call is to help them grow into their marriage, not pull them apart.  Maurice and Mildred have been living intertwined lives for some time now and probably feel somewhat married already.  The answer to the current disconnect between their sex lives/living situation and their technical (and psychological) marital status is not to slap them on the hand for their connection and increasing commitment, but rather to celebrate their relationship and support them as they make that last step together, a step that, in my mind, need not wait twelve months.

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Spirit and Scripture

Daniel Kirk’s recent blog post on the Bereans from Acts happened to touch on a subject I have been researching lately. All through the New Testament we see echoes, allusions, and quotations of the Old Testament, and I have oft heard speakers who are trying to make a point about the canon say that the Old Testament was the Bible of the church. However, when we actually begin to read the early church documents we encounter a surprising ambivalence to finding everything in the Old Testament.

The quotation that follows is from Ignatius’ Letter to the Philadelphians and arises in the context of a dispute over the proper order of the church and congregational life. Several challenge Ignatius, and he responds in this manner:

I trust [as to you] in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall free you from every bond. And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient6 Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved. But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith7 which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified. (Ign. Phld. 8)

What strikes me about this passage is that Ignatius applies the designator “It is written” to revelation he personally received from the Holy Spirit as described in the chapter before this. His command that all obey the Bishop is supposedly from the Holy Spirit, but the members of the congregation can’t find any justification in the Old Testament for an episcopal structure and consequently reject it. It is interesting to me that within 80 years of the cross there is already this conflict of Spirit and Scripture– or dare I say, of Tradition and Sola Scriptura.

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Well, the moment you have all been waiting for has now arrived. Ashleigh and I are giving away our extra copy of the all-new SBL Greek New Testament. See what all the fuss is about and check out that interesting apparatus! The giveaway rules are quite simple: 1. Share this post on either Facebook or Twitter 2. Post a comment indicating that you want the book (one comment only please) 3. In one week’s time, we will use a random number generator to decide who the winner is based on their comment number. If someone comments twice, only the first entry will count. If the number of a duplicate entry or pingback comes up, we will simple find a new random number. 4. We will announce the winner here on the blog and the winner should send a message via email or twitter. 5. We’ll ship it via USPS or UPS to you within the week. 6. The giveaway is limited to residents of the US and Canada. That’s it. Ask any questions you might have via Twitter.

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Fair is fair

Having recently complained at length about the absolute lack of clarity in an article in Mark and Method edited by Anderson and Moore, it is only fair that coming upon an article that is exceptional I should likewise run to the blog to talk about it. Directly following the aforementioned article on Deconstruction is an article on Feminist Criticism. I will freely admit that my encounters with Feminist theology in the past have left an unsavory taste in my mouth, and frankly I was expecting to feel guilty and chastised through the whole reading of the text. (I am in fact an egalitarian, so I can’t read a scathing rebuke of interpretive patriarchy without feeling at least a tinge of guilt for my former complementary ways.)

What I discovered in Anderson’s article on Feminist Criticism was a well-structured easy-to-follow introduction to both the driving forces and approaches of Feminist Criticism. Anderson is unbelievably thorough for the amount of space she is given, and there is a notable lack of anger or bitterness. Instead, there is the polite and measured “this is how it has been and this is how it should be.” Make no mistake, she pulls no punches, but she makes her points without denigration or uncharitable language.

I found myself challenged and drawn by the alternate reading of the story of John’s beheading. The image provided by that telling of the story is of Herod’s young daughter dancing an innocent dance and Herod responding not out of lasciviousness but out of genuine parental love. It is artfully juxtaposed with male images of the daughter in paint and word. She is portrayed as reveling in the gore dripping from John’s head and as having an unrequited love for John which culminates in the final possession of his lips as they reside on her platter. Anderson’s probing of what this says about male interpreters and readers is gentle but firm, and now I ask myself, “What was it about that dance?” I highly recommend the article which can be read, as mentioned earlier, in  Mark and Method, which I must say with the one exception has been quite stellar.

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