A Psychology of Romance

Genesis 2:20-24 ESV The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. (21) So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. (22) And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (23) Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (24) Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

In Genesis 2, man is missing something. He is missing a fit companion. This is significant on several levels, not least of which that hermit like contemplation of God is not sufficient for human flourishing despite Adam’s unique possession of immediacy with respect to his knowledge of God.

But to the point, this is a passage that gives a mythological explanation of marriage. By mythological, I mean a story that tells a society what they need to know.

What does society need to know about marriage?

  1. It’s a transcendently inspired institution. It is not necessary for our biological functioning, but it enhances, ennobles, and enables our animals selves to build worlds beyond what seems possible.
  2. It hurts. Adam must undergo a loss to get married. This is true of women as well. You cease to be a member of your previous household, your romantic options are limited to one, and your private time is curtailed. Marriage is a wound.
  3. Marriage solves the problem of loneliness. Despite Adam’s marriage story being a story about a wound, Adam finds Eve to be “flesh of my flesh.” She completes him. And the story does say that God “closed up” Adam’s wound.
  4. In the sense above, marriage is like any choice. A choice says, “No.” to millions of other options. But it opens up new possibilities. When you’re married you can build your own household, dynasty, or mini-civilization. You take on the power of God in that you can make children and fill/populate the earth as he did.
  5. You leave your parents’ household with all of their knowledge and can improve upon their errors and learn from the wisdom of another household. In this sense, marriage transmits the glories of civilization in a way that allows for persistent improvement.

All of that appears to be what this passage says…or something like that.

Brief thoughts on Eden

In Genesis 1:1-2, God creates chaos and starts to bring order into the world.

In Genesis 2, the author is retelling the creation story. You can tell because Adam and Eve are made on different days, and Adam precedes the plants and animals. That’s not a contradiction any more than Jesus telling a set of parables about sheep, coins, and prodigal sons is a contradiction.

But anyway, the chaos/order motif is still present in Genesis 2. Man must tend the garden (Genesis 2:15). There is a wall (garden means ‘enclosed region’). The waters, which represented chaos in Genesis 1:1-2 are present but flow out of the garden (I suspect we’re supposed to suppose that that’s how the serpent got in).

Anyway, Eden represents a sort of ideal picture of the correct composition of chaos and order, potentiality and actuality.

It’s important to see Eden as a picture of the promise to God’s people as well, and the Bible gives us that, but in Genesis 2, Eden isn’t that yet. For instance, when Adam is put there there is something “not good” (Gen 2:18).

I think there’s a moral/spiritual application of the Eden story which we often overlook about how we manage our families, property, work space, and so-on. There will be a measure of unrealized potential in any well-ordered space. If you over-order a garden (let’s say by mowing it down) it’s not longer beautiful nor fruitful. But there’s less chaos. If you let a garden overgrow too much, perhaps there will be no safe fruit left.

So there’s a picture of something like, “in the space which God gives you, you’re responsible for ensuring that it is orderly in a fashion that does not destroy it’s potential but brings new potential out of that place.”

Of course, every choice to create order in a room or in your life is saying no to millions of other choices. But each new choice can be made in a way that makes space for new chaos/potential to be discovered. There are Proverbs about this very thing:

Proverbs 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

Proverbs 24:27 Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

Without an ox, there’s no ox cleanup (less chaos), but there is more work.

If you build yourself a house where you can relax and chill before you order your field in a fashion in which working it is convenient, you may not work.

And here are some OT laws about this:

Leviticus 25:1-7 ESV The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, (2) “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. (3) For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, (4) but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (5) You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. (6) The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, (7) and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

 

What is my calling?

Briefly, Jesus outlines the calling for every Christian here:

Mark 12:29-31 ESV Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (30) And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (31) The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This isn’t a very specific answer, but it’s a very significant one.

It’s in response to Jesus being asked what the most important part of the law is. Why would somebody ask that? Because they’re hoping to trip Jesus up or they’re hoping for some sort of permission or endorsement of their current way of life. In the case of the Israelites of Jesus’ day, they were looking for laws connected to overthrowing the Romans or perhaps gaining public honor through religious ritual (Matthew 6:1-18).

But the most important thing, before you start looking to do some “world changing” or “personally enriching task” is to learn to appreciate God and to bring well-being to your neighbor.

From the outside in?

The pattern we typically set for people who wish to be more like Christ is this:

Start from the inside out.

It’s not unreasonable. Jesus says roughly that to the Pharisees:

Matthew 23:25-26 ESV “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (26) You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

And I think the advice in generally sound. But, sometimes people’s desire to be like Jesus is evidence that the Holy Spirit is already working on the inside and they need something to do to actualize the potential God is putting there.

First, a passage from Proverbs:

Proverbs 24:30-31 ESV I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, (31) and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.

What the passage is getting at is that the sluggard won’t even care for his own property. And the problem with the sluggard is a spiritual problem. But it would seem that taking care of the outside, the literal outside of his house (his field), might help his inside. And Proverbs does mention something like that:

Proverbs 24:27 ESV Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

The meaning is very practical, but it may have a spiritual application as well.

If so, for some Christians, especially young men and women, maybe the first steps in discipleship might really be things like:

  1. Clean your apartment.
  2. Clean out your car.
  3. Change your oil.
  4. Get out of debt.
  5. Get to work/class on time.
  6. Groom yourself.

One somebody turns their life into something resembling order, it might be easier to help them overcome something like despair, arrogance, porn, or anxiety.

#Science: The Uses of Garlic

I typically try to relocate based on a particular crime statistics.

But believe me, those can be fudged. If you were a criminal on the census or the wing of the FBI gathering crime stats, you would under report incidents to increase the presence of viable prey.

Now, how is this connected to garlic? I eat a lot of garlic, I season eggs, steak, chicken, steak, eggs, and steak with garlic. But I’ve never seasoned stakes with it. Why? In my experience it hasn’t worked.

And while trolling the health study database, I found this:

Vampires are feared everywhere, but the Balkan region has been especially haunted. Garlic has been regarded as an effective prophylactic against vampires. We wanted to explore this alleged effect experimentally. Owing to the lack of vampires, we used leeches instead. In strictly standardized research surroundings, the leeches were to attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic-smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases (95% confidence interval 50.4% to 80.4%). When they preferred the garlic the leeches used only 14.9 seconds to attach themselves, compared with 44.9 seconds when going to the non-garlic hand (p < 0.05). The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong. The reverse may in fact be true. This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires. Therefore to avoid a Balkan-like development in Norway, restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered.

My life makes so much more sense, now. Nearly every experience of senseless violence of which I’ve been a victim is not senseless, but directly related to being scent-ful.

Stay safe out there, folks.

This Life and the Next

1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; (8) for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Mark 10:29-31 ESV Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, (30) who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (31) But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

The Bible isn’t shy about talking about material, this worldly blessings associated with attaining godliness and wisdom. My problem with the prosperity gospel is not that it tells people that God will bless them materially. It’s that it tells them God will bless them materially through the wrong channels. I’ve spent hours discussing this issue with people who’ve heard the prosperity gospel their whole life. They frequently wonder why Ephesians 2:8-9 isn’t working to make them rich, better at school, fix their car, etc.

But the whole book of Proverbs tells you how to get rich, how to be content when you’re not rich, how to study and learn anything, how to make friends, be a good husband, and so-on. Ephesians 2:8-9 explains how one aspect of our covenant with God, through Christ works. We don’t earn our way into God’s family. We couldn’t, because by sinning in any case, we’ve fundamentally rejected the concept of goodness, which means that no amount of good deeds on our part could allow us in. God has to accept us into his family and offer us forgiveness. He does require works from us, but works as a result of faith or an aspect of true faith, not works as a counter balance to evil we’ve done. Galatians 5:6 says that saving faith is faith working through love.

But all of that is beside the point.

The Bible is clear that there are present and future tense blessings for the Christian before death and before the coming of Christ, but with persecutions.

Jesus lists those blessings fairly thoroughly. Paul is a bit more vague. But even without referencing Jesus’ list, I can think of several “this-worldly” blessings from Christianity:

  1. In Mark 10:45, Jesus says to become a servant of all to achieve greatness. If you start a business with the goal of serving people in the most effective way you can, it’ll likely be more successful than a business whose only goal is making short term financial gains. The principle of being beneficent to those around you instead of arrogant in order to achieve greatness really does have wide reaching implications.
  2. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says to treat others the way you wish you were treated. And while the most immediate application is to other Christians in the church, it is not untrue that this command is very helpful in all contexts. Examples: be the employee you’d want at work, be the boss you’d want, be the spouse you’d want, be the friend you’d want, and so-on. Such a principle enlarges your imagination and helps you make friends. It’s just true.
  3. Christianity defines God the Father in terms of love, justice, and transcendent beauty. For people who struggle to cope with having been raised in a single parent home or with a father who wounded them, this vision of a fundamentally loving presence in, through, above, and at bottom of reality can strengthen young men and women. This idea, from a psychological perspective, places a disciplinary perspective upon all of life’s challenges. People who take that frame of mind, that life’s challenges can perfect them, have a growth mindset.
  4. Christianity provides a sense of meaning, which is one of the core components of happiness.
  5. Christianity resulted in the best civilizations the world has ever seen.

Any others?

#Science: Humor is sexy

The nerds at Live Science found a talk delivered to the APA which discovered the obvious:

Humor increases male attractiveness to women.

But they also found that the effect was not as significant when it came to female attractiveness being bolstered by humor. That’s another instance when Good Charlotte was right.

This provided the most food for thought:

In addition, people who were deemed less funny were also found to be less attractive than their ratings from the researchers.

“If you weren’t funny, you were definitely perceived as being less attractive, so that’s a word of warning,” Doerksen added.

I suspect that there’s a feedback loop here. Handsome men and beautiful women can get away with less funny jokes while still being perceived as funny. And ugly men can more effectively overcome their ugliness with humor than can unattractive women.

As a self-referencing aside, my wife found my sense of humor to be one of her favorite aspects of me when we were getting to know each other and appreciates it to this day. And when I was a barista in my early twenties I got a lot of tips from women in their thirties and forties, comparable to the tips that the prettier lady baristas got from older men trying to impress them.

Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, and Death

A few weeks ago Chester Bennington, the front-man for the genre bending group, Linkin Park died, apparently having committed suicide.

When I was in high school I really loved every song but one on their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora. And in those days of music pirating software like Kazaa and Morpheus, I was able to discover older versions of hits like In The End with significantly superior lyrics that may not have been as interesting to a mass market audience.

The weird thing about Linkin Park is that they were a staple in weight rooms and gaming dens alike. But admitting you liked them in public was like admitting you liked Wrestling, Nickleback, or Dragon Ball Z. But everybody knew that millions of people liked these things, but somehow it was weird to like them in public…even if you knew that all the jacked guys in school listened to them, too.

I did watch wrestling and I know an unusual number of ex-addicts (usually alcohol) who found Dragon Ball Z’s main character Goku to be archetypally important for overcoming their problems. So, yeah, I like Dragon Ball Z, too. And frankly, Linkin Park had enough awesome songs with sci-fi themed music videos to be a legitimately awesome band. Though, you probably only liked them if you programmed computers, played video games, or lifted weights in high school.

Here’s my favorite Linkin Park and Dragon Ball Z music video:

If you want to be less of a goober and weirdo, here’s the version of that song with alternate (superior lyrics). It deals with the struggles of seeking to be an independent thinker:

Lyrics:

It starts with one
And multiplies ’til you can taste the sun
And burned by the sky you try to take it from
But if it falls, there’s no place to run
Crumbling down, it’s so unreal
They’re dealing you in to determine your end
And sending you back again, the places you’ve been
And bending your will ’til it breaks you within
And still they fill their eyes
With the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad with the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve looked down the line
And what’s there is not what ought to be
Held back by the battles they fought for me
Calling me to be part of their property
And now I see that I get no chance
I get no break, fakes and snakes
Quickly lead to mistakes
And as the tightrope within slowly starts to thin
I can only hope that they close their eyes
To the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad to the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

 

The Epistle to James and How to Sort Yourself Out

Sort yourself out

I’ve been doing Sunday school lessons on the book of James for weeks. It’s been challenging and enriching. I’ve also been listening to Jordan Peterson’s lectures for the last year or so. And in them he uses the phrase “sort yourself out” frequently. One morning, I decided I would read the book of James through the lens of “sorting yourself out.” Let’s define sorting yourself out as something like this: looking at the parts of your life that are preventing you from being what you know or at least think you should be and reordering them to pursue that good efficiently. So to sort yourself out might mean to stop buying videogames on steam sales that you’ll never have time to play when you know you need to pay off student loans or buy groceries. Or it might mean to submit your desire to get the last word in a fight for the goal of peaceable relationships.

Dr. Peterson never said this exactly, but he did, roughly speaking say something along those lines. That, I would say, is a good supposition.

 

Here’s what I found:

  1. Own your trials (James 1:2-4 and 1:13-15)
  2. Pray for wisdom before rescue (James 1:5-8 and James 5:13)
    James says to pray in the midst of trials for wisdom. This is powerful because our first instinct is to pray for difficult times to end. And James does endorse this notion at the end of the book. But it seems that prior to praying for God to miracle us out of a rough patch, James says to pray for wisdom. This is connected, I think, to two things. One is that most of us know what will solve our problems because we’ve heard wisdom and we have a conscience. And so, to ask for it from God reorders our minds to make us perceptive to what might already be present in us. But also, we’re asking God to give us genuine insight that we may not currently have to solve the problems that we’re facing. This is directly connected to owning our trials. James also says that if you ask insincerely or with a double mind, you won’t get wisdom. What does this mean? It means that if you ask for help out of your trial without a willingness to perhaps let go of the parts of your life that are causing you problems, you will not benefit from the prayer.
  3. Submit to the highest good you can imagine (James 1:17 and James 4:7)
    Saint Anselm defined God as the being which is the highest being that could be conceived. And so, whatever the highest ideal we have in our minds is, that is, subjectively speaking, our God. And then God is, objectively infinitely more true, good, and beautiful than that. And so James is saying that God is the source of all goodness and to submit yourself to God. Many of us willingly do things in a manner that does not reflect God himself or his goodness and even more so, we do not even do things in a manner that reflects our own highest conception of the good. And James says that we need to get that straight.
  4. Judge yourself, then act (James 1:21-25, James 2:14-26, and James 3:13-18)
    James then tells us that God’s moral law, contained in Scripture, is the standard by which we must judge ourselves just as we judge ourselves in a mirror. This reflection upon Scripture is meant to give us a picture of how shabby we are morally so that we can shave, shower, comb our hair, and straighten out our clothes. It’s not enough to believe that God’s law is good. And it’s actually worse to believe God’s law and use it to simply judge how bad others are. Instead we have to believe God and do what he says is best, and “it will be accounted” as righteousness to us. James also paints a picture of the worst possible version of yourself and the best possible version of yourself in 3:13-18. The idea is to simultaneously give you a future so horrifying that you run from it like hell, literally, and a future so beautiful and enthralling that you seek it like a river of pleasures and heavenly joy (Psalm 36:8 and Psalm 46:4).
  5. Let Jesus define your vision of glory (James 2:1)
    James briefly mentions that Jesus is the Lord of Glory. For Christians and maybe for any non-Christian in Western Civilization, it’s deeply important that we fully imbibe the story of Jesus in its details, broad strokes, and multiple layers of meaning. And James is telling the early Christians that the Christian faith is a faith that doesn’t reject the concept of glory, but a faith that defines glory as “whatever Jesus is.” Learning to see Jesus as the wise Lord with true teachings, the prototype of perfect humanity, an archetypal figure whose journey through chaos can be a picture of our own, the lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the second person of the Godhead, the way the truth and the life, the resurrected master of the cosmos, and so-on goes a long way in our efforts to sort out our lives.
  6. Start with the little things: the tongue (James 3:2)
    James says that getting our lives together requires taking control of what we say. But the claim seems to be but one expression of a deeper Biblical truth, that if we’re faithful in small matters, God will see to it that we have authority in larger ones (Luke 16:10). The idea is that if you can take responsibility for your tongue, then you’ll learn to control the other habits of your body. Similarly, if you can clean your room or your car, then maybe you’ll start having a better picture of how to clean your heart or your relationships at work or in your home.
  7. Let sorrow make you good (James 4:8-9)
    Sometimes, our circumstances cause us deep deep sorrow. James helps us to see the value of sorrow by encouraging it, despite the fact that earlier in the letter he commends joy in the most trying of times. How can both be true? First, many of our sorrows are our own fault. Not all, but many. If we look to them and weep as he suggests, then we may have insight into what we need to do to cleanse our hearts. Cleansing your heart, is a biblical way of saying, “Sort yourself out.” Second, sometimes our joy is false and we can only learn that we should be sad if we draw near to God and discover how tattered we are due to sins to which we’ve made a commitment which rivals our commitment to God.
  8. Virtue outlasts your achievements (James 2:5, James 4:14, and James 1:9-11)
    The highest form of success we can have is to be virtuous when we die. This idea is stoic but it’s also Biblical. Happiness as a state of life includes more than mere virtue, as the Bible speaks of a life with more goods than mere virtue (see Proverbs). But you cannot always control your possessions, family, and local economy, but you can control your actions.
  9. Resist the devil daily (James 4:7)
    Assume that Satan is the god of the earth (2 Corinthians 4:4). This means that our culture, which shapes our desires, is probably filled with bad ideas, bad habits, false knowledge, counterfeit gospels, and fake news. Not only so, but you’re a product of your culture. So, you’re full of those things, too. So to resist the devil is to resist (or re-aim) the darkest parts of yourself toward the good and to resist the temptations of civilization to stifle truth telling, creativity, love, service, or moral purity. And the devil, in the senses above is without and within. Good luck.
  10. Sacrifice your plans to God (James 4:13-15)
    The Bible is pro-planning. But it’s against holding on to plans in an arrogant way. James says to say, “if God wills we will do ‘this or that.’” The idea isn’t to superstitiously say that. In James, the word “say” reflects your intentions. And so what James is getting at is that at any moment, our best plans for the future must be subject to revision based on our understanding of the will of God. The Old Testament sacrifices are a good metaphor for this. You might have a prized lamb and it is the best possible thing your crops produce, but instead of basing your whole life on that, you must be willing, should the need arise, to sacrifice it to God. In doing this you can sort yourself out when it comes to your competent plans for the future and the level of frustration you’re willing to experience if those plans betray you.
  11. Humble yourself if you want honor (James 4:6 and James 4:10)
    Most people want honor, but few even consider that you might receive honor from the highest possible good (God). And yet, this is precisely what James says. And if we make honor itself the highest good, we’ll find ourselves doing things we regret deeply because we’ll do what the world around us tells us to do without reference to conscience, the truth, or our own intuition.[1] But if instead we think in terms of a covenant or contract with God wherein he promises to make those who humble themselves great by his standards, then we’re not constrained by culture except in the sense Paul talks about in Romans when he said to think about “what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).
  12. Learn to save a brother without judging (James 4:11-12 and James 5:19-20)
    James also tells us that our social lives need sorting. And of course, that’s included in he says about the tongue, doing the will of God, planning our future, and judging ourselves. But a large part of it is learning to avoid having a condemnatory attitude toward others. I think that this is done by seeing ourselves as in need of judging first. This is a principle James outlines in chapters one and two. And Jesus certainly says as much in Matthew 7:1-5. But after judging ourselves and seeing the depth of darkness in our own hearts, we are now competent to observe the evil in others. And if we see it we can guard against evil people, which James talks about in James 2:6-7 and James 5:1-6. But we also have the power to gently correct those who are sinning. And I think we can do this by talking about our own struggle with sin and what was necessary to overcome. But we can also do it by warning as sternly or gently as circumstances warrant from the position of loving family rather than condemning judge.

I frequently feel the need to finish a sermon with “so there” or “take that.” Instead I’ll just say, “any thoughts?”

Footnote

[1] An interesting thing that I really need to think about for a long time is the relationship between conscience, the sinful/deceitful heart in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and the usefulness of personal intuition and the contributions of our unique personality to our calling.