Friday, June 13, 2014

A Nerdy Lutheran's Guide to Dating

I wrote the article below for the winter issue of Higher Things magazine. It was a joy to write a short piece on dating and relationships for one of my favorite Lutheran periodicals. Also, here is the Issues Etc. radio interview I did based off of this article.
There I was. Surrounded by water. The gunwales of that tiny rowboat felt like a prison wall, the oar locks were my shackles, and there was more than 200 yards of pure, mountain fresh Oregon lake water between me and freedom. I was trapped, like Admiral Ackbar. And all I could do was gaze at the glimmer of the bobbers upon the water, waiting for a bite and waiting for the awkward conversation to end.

But thankfully, I wasn’t alone. My father was in that boat with me. And as it turned out, he didn’t bring me out in the middle of that lake to be my prison warden, but because he cared. He cared enough to brave an awkward conversation with his adolescent son about dating, marriage, and sex. And so that’s what we did, or rather, he did. Honestly, I don’t remember talking all that much; my job was to listen.
Whether it was this maritime pre-pre-marital counseling session or during one of those embarrassing moments while watching a movie where my parents would pause the VCR and explain that what this man and woman were doing wasn’t good because they weren’t married – they taught me the importance of the 6th commandment. As Luther explains:
We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.
Come to think of it, most of what I know about dating, marriage, and sex – especially the good and God-pleasing, Biblical things about these gifts of God – I learned from my parents. You see, that’s what dating, marriage, and sex are: gifts from God. When they’re abused, we turn God’s gifts into idols. But when they’re used in their proper context, and for the purposes God gave them, these are great joys God’s children receive from our loving, gracious heavenly Father.
Now, when it comes to dating, marriage, and sex I can’t give you a top ten tips on how to have a super-awesome dating life like Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or Han Solo and Princess Leia. And I can’t guarantee a dramatic romance like the Doctor and Rose, Peeta and Katniss, or Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
In fact, I had to laugh at myself a little bit when I was preparing to write this article on dating and relationships. What could a guy who’s been married eight and half years with two children possibly have to say to you, the Lutheran youth of today? And then it came to me. I’ll pass along some of what I’ve learned from my parents, as well as a few of my nerdy friends.
So, consider this a brief bit of advice on how to think and dare to be Lutheran when it comes to dating and relationships.
Like Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, my parents taught me that good relationships are built upon even better friendships. It’s also good to get to know each other’s families. Let your parents meet the person and get to know them. Your parents typically have excellent radar readings on people’s character.
Like Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, my parents taught me about fidelity to one another, which grew out of Christ’s faithfulness to them. Of course, this applies whether you’re dating or married. Remember, “I’m a married spud!”
My parents also taught me to avoid the drama, unlike Edward and Bella (sorry Twilight fans). Drama may sell movie tickets, but it’s deadly for relationships. It’s tempting to be a gossip girl…or boy. We all break the 8thcommandment. Thankfully, we have a perfect bridegroom in Christ who always speaks the best of us before our heavenly Father.
Like Mario and Princess Peach, my parents taught me how to live in humility and tireless, sacrificial love – the kind of love that goes to the ends of the earth or into Bowser’s castle to rescue you. Now, none of us can claim perfection here either. Our old sinful nature holds on to our precious sin like Gollum and the Ring of Power. Thankfully it’s not your love that sustains your love for others, whether in relationships or in the Christian Church. We love because Christ first loved us in his death and resurrection. We put others’ concerns and needs before our own because Christ did this for us on the cross.
And like Samwise and Rosie, my parents taught me the joy of contentment, especially in the gifts of God’s creation, such as dating, marriage, and sex. What could we possibly say that would express our thankfulness to God for these gifts? Amen. Gift received. We thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

So, parents, don’t be afraid to talk with your children about dating, marriage, and sex. Yes, it’ll be a little awkward. And whether or not they admit it at the time, your children want and need to hear about it all from you first. It may look like they’re just gazing off into the grainy floor boards of a poorly built watercraft, but they’re listening. I know I was.
And Lutheran youth, yes, I know it’ll feel simply dreadful, and you’ll want to run off to a galaxy far, far away or hop in the TARDIS and head anywhere in time but that moment. But your parents love you and want what’s best for you in your relationships now and when you’re married. That’s why God gave them to teach you to take you to Church, pray the Catechism with you, and instruct you in the ways you should go.
Trust me, it’s not a trap.

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