Monday, April 28, 2008

Econ 002 is still easier.

I just completed my student loan exit counseling session, a required pre-graduation rite of passage for those of us with debt awaiting us.

After learning about the horrors of default and forcibly completing a monthly budget, I was grilled on the gritty details. The quiz involved difficult questions such as:

(6) Federal student loan money should be used for:
A down payment on a stereo system
A trip to California
A new wardrobe
Educational related expenses

Side note: What does this question say if you already go to school in California? Probably "A trip to Pennsylvania."

Upon completion, I was greeted by the pleasant message:

Nice job, you got them all right!

In these uncertain times, it's good to receive some affirmation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Budding Hope

Spring is great.

They're doing it again.

There's a way the light hits the trees in April that you don't see the rest of the year. I can't describe it except to say that the trees seem to resonate. Newly budded leaves rejoice in their first sunlight.

The beginning of spring smacks you in the face if you're trying to be miserable. You realize you're a fool. The entire natural world is singing with delight at new life, and there you are, pretending like life isn't good.

I love whizzing through the streets on my bicycle and catching whiffs of flowers.

And if life isn't good, and you're not pretending? Then spring brings something even more beautiful:

"Come, you hopeless! Find hope, for just as this creation was barren and now bursts forth, so too can your life. Come, see the nature of my abundance!"

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Eric Knight. Maker of good sandwiches.

Where I come from.

I got to see my dad last night.

I had a dream about him for what seems like a couple of hours. It felt soo good to believe like he was around again, like it hadn't been almost five years since he died.

It's hard, having lived so much of my life now without him. I've changed so much since I was 17, he'd hardly know me if we met now. And I begin to forget.

The less of my life he's part of, the more I'm defined independently of him. I lose touch of where I come from and become increasingly defined by where I've been.

I miss my dad.

There is that great hope. In each dream reunion the years without him instantly evaporate for the joy that he is with me now. It is they which seem to be the illusion, the dream which may be forgotten.

Despite waking up, I feel that in this is truth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Christians and Abstinence - How?

James wore footwear generally considered appropriate for a bridegroom.
From what I can tell, he and Kate's honeymoon hasn't stopped yet.

Maddy Kronovet's post today brought up a couple of practical criticisms of abstinence in Christianity that I thought worth addressing.

She begins by saying that those who choose to abstain are, "fighting a losing battle. Biology is hard to beat. We are programmed to want sex.*"

In large part, she's right. I say from experience, it is hard. Very hard. There is good reason that many Christians marry "young."

But this is a battle which need not be losing. In fact, the entire Christian message can be summed up in saying that life is a battle which need not be losing. The victory is for the having, thanks to Jesus's free gift.

Even with free victory, we fail often, especially when measured up to standards that say even a lustful look is adultery. We are hypocrites.

But that's not the point. For the same reason that we ought not condemn others for having sex outside of marriage, we ought not condemn ourselves: Jesus is the only Judge, and as his sacrifice has declared us righteous, we dare not make ourselves a higher authority.

We Christians are often criticized for failing to practice what we preach. The problem is that it is impossible to practice what we preach. Unconditional love, moral perfection - these things are far beyond human capability.

A great misunderstanding of Christianity is that the point is to live a moral life. The real point is that the life God requires is impossible to live, and so Jesus did it for us. We do seek to live morally, not out of obligation, but out of gratitude and because (as I attempted to illustrate with my last post), it is simply better for us. Just as God designed our bodies to function better when drinking water than when drinking gasoline, our souls thrive under a lifestyle of moral nutrition - love and obedience.

To recap: chastity is hard but it's worth it. We mess up, but it's okay because not messing up isn't the point.

I also wanted to address the statistic Maddy brought up, the latest in a long line showing that abstinence pledges don't seem to be all that effective.

I'm not surprised. Christian youth are often told that they shouldn't have sex, but the good reasons why they should wait are seldom explained.

Even if they were, kids are almost as dumb as adults, in general view the present as much more important than the future, and are subject to powerful and new hormonal urges.

So it's no surprise that an emotional commitment made in a peer pressure situation one evening doesn't hold fast when the moon hits their eyes like a big pizza pie. I see little value in these pledges. I do esteem much more highly parental dialogue and example, but even then kids make their own choices. Sin and biology are hard to beat.

Again though, it's not the point. Those who haven't had sex out of marriage aren't better Christians than those who have - we're all equally terrible Christians. The beauty is that once mistakes have been made, Jesus instantly invites us to live as if they hadn't, guilt-free.

*I agree with Maddy that we are programmed to want sex, but we may disagree on who the programmer is. "It is not good that man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18).

Christians and Abstinence - Why?

What you don't see is that Matthew is wearing Chuck Taylors.
So unoriginal.

In Maddy Kronovet's post in The Spin today, entitled "Do I feel like a virgin or a whore tonight?", Ms. Kronovet criticizes students who choose to abstain from sex before marriage, with an emphasis on those who do so for religious reasons.

As is often the case when someone writes about a culture with which he or she is not well acquainted, the post reveals a two-dimensional understanding of why Christians choose abstinence and what it's like for them.

Being a Christian and acquainted with what might loosely (and somewhat incorrectly) be called evangelical culture here at Penn, I thought I would try and explain the basics.

The big myth is that Christians believe that sex is bad and you shouldn't do it. In this myth's narrative, Christians who abstain are blindly following teachings from the Bible which are archaic and counterintuitive.

On the contrary, Christians have a higher view of sex than popular perspectives today do. Christians believe that our bodies are inseparable from our selves, and that the physical union of a man and a woman in sex signifies and accomplishes the complete union of those two people.

This complete union is also known as marriage, after which, as Jesus says, "they are no longer two, but one flesh" (Mark 10:8). Note that I said sex both signifies and accomplishes this union: more than just symbolic, sex actually encompasses the spiritual and physical reality of two people becoming one.

From here, it's not difficult to see from where a belief in abstinence before marriage comes. In fact, in this view pre-marital sex is impossible. All sex is marital.

Jesus goes on to say in that passage, "Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate" (Mark 10:9). That doesn't mean that people can't separate, as many demonstrate with their lifestyles. But in the Biblical view, all of this sexual activity is nothing less than adultery.

Do we Christians look down on the sexually active majority around us? We shouldn't. To the extent that we do, we are sinning just as much as those we would think ourselves better than. The same Jesus that said the above words also said, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). Judging is Jesus's job, and when we do it we are pretending to be him. Unlike him, we're not perfect, and so we are made hypocrites.

That's not to say we are indifferent. Christians wish others would be abstinent as well, not simply because we want to enforce an arbitrary moral code, but because we believe that the Bible's view of sex is so much better (in all senses of the word) than Cosmopolitan's, and we would love for everyone to share.

"Why knock something you haven't tried?" asks Kronovet. I would repeat the same challenge to her. It is countercultural to put off pleasure now for pleasure later, but when the future pleasure promises to be much greater* than the presently available one, abstinence is a proposition which makes good economic sense.

And economic sense is something upon which most students at Penn can agree.

* What do I mean by greater pleasure? By Cosmopolitan's standards, this statement is ridiculous. Cosmo and Western culture at large teach that the utility of sex is in its ability to bring mind-blowing orgasms, and the quality of one's sex life can be measured by the integral of all sexual pleasure over time. In this view, any period of abstinence is a period of no sexual pleasure and thus a decreased quality of sex life over a lifetime. So why wait?

By greater pleasure, I mean that sex in marriage is about more than physical gratification. Christians thank God for mind-blowing orgasms, but they have a lot more to thank him for, too: Having someone to be completely vulnerable - naked - with, requiring trust which is only possible in light of a lifetime commitment. The joyful hope that their union may create new life, and that the same union will provide the environment for that life to thrive. Having a companion with whom to split life's sorrows and amplify life's joys. I could go on.

Much more than antiquated and arbitrary, the Christian view of sex is beautiful enough to marvel at, too complex to be easily dismissed, and ultimately worth waiting for.

**As you can see in the photo above, my good friends Matthew and leighcia recently married. For some of leighcia's thoughts the week leading up to the wedding, see here and here. Matthew's, here and here.