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Relationships are in the air…

As I look out the window of my Seattle office this morning, the sun is shining, there is not a cloud in the sky and I’m beginning to see buds on the trees and shrubs around the neighborhood. It’s an indication that spring is not too far away.

Of course when the trees begin to blossom, something else begins to blossom in the college students I work with: hormones. With Valentine’s Day approaching this coming Monday and the season of twitterpation among us, we are set to kick-off a new series about dating and romance at the Inn.

There is no doubt that it is, in fact, hormones that seem to influence most of the early decisions about dating and romance. I’m confident to say that it is by design. Attraction and excitement is important in a dating relationship, especially in the early going. A first date that feels like someone’s cross to carry should likely be their last date with that person.

What does the Bible say about this subject? Not much. The Bible is primarily a book about God’s rescue mission to the world. As such, it is not a manual on how to date well in 21st Century America. The Bible does, however, communicate to us some values of God’s heart and Kingdom that folks should keep in mind as they approach the dynamic experience of simply getting to know someone else. Exploring a handful of these values is really the goal of the next four talks at the Inn.

Our starting point is to understand that dating is primarily about discovery. It is about the discovery of God, and God’s image and likeness in another person. It is about the discovery of God’s grace and redemptive work in another person. It is about the discovery of God’s presence in us as individuals. Dating is not merely spouse tryouts, rather it begins with a process of discovering who God is by seeing God’s image in ourselves and others.

Dating is an unavoidably risky. If one is to do dating well, it will at some point require honesty about one’s story and personality that may not necessarily be favorable or exciting. We necessarily risk being rejected and judged. No doubt this can be a painful process. But anytime we are going to share ourselves we open ourselves to that risk. Dating is no different.

However,  we need to resist being reckless. Someone who follows Jesus, I believe, can take a risk without being reckless. Keeping our friends close helps us avoid being reckless. Establishing healthy expectations helps us avoid being reckless. Embracing ourselves as God’s children, not being a slave to what others may think of us helps us avoid being reckless.

Dating is risky, but it should not be reckless. We get reckless when we leave our community out of it. We get reckless when dating and relationship becomes a secret. We get reckless when we try to control someone. We get reckless when we reduce someone to merely a body or specific part of the body.

My hope over the next four weeks at the Inn is that we can set some folks up to take a risk in dating without being reckless with someone else’s heart, or their own heart for that matter. I hope we can capture a vision for how we can practice the lost art of commitment as good daters during spring quarter.

Written by Ryan C, UMin Director

What about Kissing during dating? Is it okay to passionately kiss someone you’re dating?

If we were living during the time of the early church, we would see a lot more kissing go on. It was part of the standard greeting between people that were in community. I think it is appropriate to express physical affection while you are dating. The physical aspect of attraction is one part of attraction alongside emotion, spiritual and intellectual. I certinaly don’t hear any kissing embargo in the Bible.

That said, kissing or any of the physical aspects of relatoinship need to line up with the emotional, intellectual and spritual aspects as well. Not that these four components will always be totally equal, but they need to be close. For example, if you are making out with someone but cannot have any sort of intelligent conversation where one person is actually listening and interested in the other, then back off the physical.

One popular conservative critique of kissing is that it works much like a gateway drug. That is to say, it’s called first base for a reason and it’s never the goal to stay at first base. However, I tend to think that we are capable of being able to exercise self disipline in this manner, but we do so understanding that self-discipline is difficult. We are animals, yes, but we’re people capable of moving beyond mere instinct.

Ultimately, I think I would encourage young couples to talk more about what they expect physically including naming the boundaries that each wants to honor in a dating relationship. If you talk about your physicaI relationship with other people, but not with the person you’re dating, perhaps an indication that things are off emotionally and/or otherwise. I think talking more about expectations in the phyiscal aspect of relationship allows for a freedom that’s appropriate proactively, instead of getting carried away in any given moment on the couch.

So, go ahead and kiss, show affection to this person that you are getting know on several different levels, but be okay with the single in the courting stage of a relationship, instead of swinging for the fences. And be sure that physical aspect of your relationship is one that you are dialoguing about and that is going at an equal pace with the rest of your relationship.

How can I stop looking at porn? Sex is tough but porn can be harder to get away from. Any advice?

Response to texted question on dating from May 12.

Tough one. If I had a nice tidy answer to this one, I’d be a millionaire.

In terms of the questions that were texted to us in our series at the INN, it seems that no one was seeking to justify porn as a good thing or even neutral. There seems to be a common understanding of the twistedness of porn (btw…that’s what the Greek word means, “twisted”), at least by the folks that attend the INN. Given that, let me see if I might offer some life-giving advice.

First, to the degree that it is possible, I encourage you to take captive the thought by the power that is found simply in the name of Jesus. Per a book by Neil Anderson, The Bondage Breaker, I would encourage you to call upon the power of the resurrection when you discover the overwhelming desire toward porn, masturbation and premarital sex by simply saying a prayer that may sound like, “In the name of Jesus, I take captive that thought.” If we desire to overcome a draw toward porn and the like, I believe we must believe that God is with us and wants to be with us and has the power to help us in that struggle.

Second, and similar, remembering that you are forgiven and that this sin (or any other) does not have to define you. The grace of God does. God gets the final and decisive word on our identity and that is a word of grace, mercy and love. Too often, I see people get bogged down in the shame of the struggle of pornography and it paralyzes them in their ability to interact in other relationships, in ministry, in faith and simply life in general. Don’t let the enemy have this victory. We don’t surrender to our sickness, we celebrate our healer.

Now, I know that those first two may sound kind of trite, but, because this is such a complex issue, it is a place to start that opens us to the reality of God’s grace in our lives.

Third, bring it into the light. Confess to a community. The more we can keep this from being our dirty little secret, the better the opportunity to experience Christ’s power in the struggle. The longer this stays in the dark, the more potential there is for one to be convinced that this is not a problem. I’m very confident in saying that when you confess with a person or group that you trust, that loves you, you will most likely hear, “you are not alone.” Allow your community to support you. This brings honesty to the equation: to yourself and to your community. Most likely, your community will be blessed (and perhaps relieved) by that honesty.

Fourth, create a plan. Often going “cold turkey” from porn doesn’t work. One strategy is that you seek to corral it and put boundaries around it. I might sound like a bit of a heretic here, but I’m confident of what I’m pointing to. Here is what I’m getting at: If you are looking at porn every day and seeking to stop, why don’t you pick one day in the next week that you don’t look at porn. Then maybe the next week do two days. You get the direction I’m headed. The idea is to eliminate it completely from your life. Here’s the catch: I think this plan only works if you are sharing this with community. People need to support you and hold you accountable in it. Make a pact with your small group. Agree to call each other when you are tempted. Commit to praying for each other as you engage the struggle.

Finally, take extreme measures. Get a filter on your computer (see for resources) or eliminate it all together. Jesus exaggerates this point in the Sermon on the Mount when he asks listeners to consider their right hand. “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.” (Mt. 5:30) Whatever it is that is leading us away from Christ, we should seek to purge and remove. This is at the heart of Christian spirituality, dying to ourselves and seeking union with the living, loving, gracious God that is eager to be with us in Jesus Christ.

How do you renew purity and become right with God after giving your virginity away?

Great question. Because we live in such a sexually-charged culture, there is this perception that one is permanently marked as “impure” after having sex for the first time. While the dynamics may be different it seems that as a culture we have not come much further than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Victorian Classic, The Scarlet Letter. Particularly within the church, we are even further behind in how we talk about sex and purity. I hope this can change.

Becoming right with God is an endless and exhausting endeavor. In fact, I’ve never met anyone that can get right with God whether they have had sex or not. It’s a bit bewildering why our churches don’t make a bigger deal about lying, cheating, stealing or stewarding our money, but churchgoers often hop on this bandwagon of ultra-condemnation io someone who has sex before they are married. The reality is that sin makes it impossible to be right with God, regardless of what the sin is. On our own we cannot become pure or get right with God. That’s the bad news. The Good News is that the story of the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is a story about a God that welcomes his children back over and over again. We discover a God that gets down on his knees and washes the feet of the ones he loves. We do not make ourselves right with God; it is Jesus, his life, sacrifice and glorious resurrection that make us right with God. Our job is to trust and believe that such love is genuinely for us. Even those of us that have made mistakes sexually.

God is dying (and in fact has died!) to free you of the guilt and shame that so often comes along with such sin. The church is in need of repenting for perpetuating such guilt and shame. When we believe that we are loved, forgiven and purified by a God who seeks relationship with us, we begin to change. Our decision to follow Christ might be a one-time deal, but the whole idea of transformation and purification is an ongoing process. Scripture tells us of a woman caught in adultery that Jesus does not condemn. He does however encourage her to start anew and sin no more. In the story you get the idea that Jesus’ great hope for this woman is that she would never find herself in that position again — a position driven by guilt, judgment and condemnation.

In Christ we are a new creation, only by the work that Jesus has accomplished. Our job is to simply believe that it is a love for us that we are to share with others. That is what purifies us.

If I’ve had anal sex, am I still a virgin? How far can I go and still call myself a virgin?

Response to texted question on dating from May 12
What is virginity? How far can I go and still remain as one that can honestly say, “I’m a virgin.” This is a popular concern among students who are seeking to be faithful to their Christian beliefs.

The easy answer to this question is simply that a virgin in one who has never had sexual intercourse. But I would argue sex is sex: oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation, and the like. We’ve made this question incredibly difficult. Thus, I think the best way to respond to this question is to take a page from Jesus’ playbook and change the question.

I really do believe that in asking a question about virginity or any manifestation of the question, “how far is too far,” misses the point. In asking the question, we articulate a solid value, but are addressing it the wrong way. Embedded in this question is a value on purity or, dare I say, righteousness, to which followers of Jesus are undoubtedly called in Holy Scripture.
Instead of asking the question that is essentially, “How far can I go and still be righteous, pure, or in God’s will?” we need to reframe the question to be, “How, as a sheep gone astray, can I get close to the shepherd?”

In the pasture of our lives, we too often walk around near the fence trying to find a distance from the Good Shepherd, but still be in the green pastures. I get that we are curious about what is on the other side of the fence. I, likewise, wonder why it is that we are not more curious about the Good Shepherd that is standing there watching us and bidding us come. Why are we more curious about the other side of the boundary than we are with the God of the Universe? I think what the Shepherd has for us is far spectacular relative to the other side of the fence.

Pursuing union with God and the faith of Jesus is the point of living out the Christian faith. Frankly, we should be less concerned about discovering virginity boundaries, and be more resolved to pursue union with Christ. I’m convinced that when one commits to that pursuit, purity is sure to follow.

What would you say are qualifications for dating? Surely not all dating is good…

Response to texted question on dating from May 12
I would agree, not all dating is good. But I very much believe that dating, even dating that doesn’t end in marriage can be good.

More than anything else, I think the primary qualification for dating is probably simple fascination. What do you do when you meet someone that captures your attention and grabs your interest? Personally, I think there needs to be little more than that to go on a date with someone. A date does not necessarily mean dating, but it is the important first step in understanding that dating is primarily about discovery. It is a partial process in discovering the image of God in someone else and image of God in ourselves. I would encourage someone who is fascinated with another person to pursue them instead of merely fantasizing about them. Go ask them out and pursue them for the purposes of getting to know them. In the process you may get to know more about yourself. This is a lot less selfish than going home and making them the object of your lust while you fantasize.

This may sound like really good news to the “serial first dater.” While the approach to dating should be fun and exciting, IT CAN NOT BE RECKLESS. You should not be reckless with your own heart or the heart of someone else. There is a risk in dating and romance and it needs to be approached with an eye on the feelings of the other, not merely one’s own desires or lusts.
One of the ways that we can accomplish this attentiveness to others feelings is to stay present. Women can get ahead of themselves by thinking about the colors of the wedding on the first day. Men often wonder what she looks like naked. If we can stay in the moment of remembering that this is about getting to know somebody as they are right now, rather than what they might be (or what I want them to be) later, we have a much better shot at staying present.

Like the question stated, not all dating is good. If someone knows that a relationship is going nowhere, they should probably not initiate it any further than it needs to go. If you find out there is a deal breaker (i.e. you are a Christian and the other person is a non-Christian), don’t linger in romance any longer. Too often, people approach relationships with someone they come to adore thinking that they can change them. If you find yourself in a relationship thinking that someone needs to change in order for the relationship to continue, you should excuse yourself from that relationship.

While the Bible is silent on dating we can take some cues in our dating behavior by listening to the story of a relational God who has given us the example of considering others first and departing from our own selfish desires; that is, laying down our lives for others. While the primary way that we can know the love of God is through a relationship with Jesus Christ, there are many ways that relationship can play out. Prayer, meditation, the study of scripture, community, to name a few and to demonstrate that the relationship is complex and dating is initiating and exploring the first aspects of the complexities of relationship. Also, we have to push being unselfish, loving others before we love ourselves.

Ultimately, we cannot look for dating to be what completes us or gives us a sense of wholeness. The journey of the Christian faith is seeking unity with Christ. Let’s seek to allow even our romantic impulses to guide us in seeking a deeper intimacy in relationship with Jesus. RC