Thinking Out Loud

March 7, 2019

No Secrets in a Marriage?

Filed under: Christianity, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:00 am

Before I met her, my wife worked as a magician’s assistant. That’s not the set-up for a story, it’s really true.

Shortly after we were married, I asked her about the routine and she mentioned one particular illusion, and I asked her how they did it.

David & Kylie Knight are Christian magicians who would never sue me for using this photo image. Learn more about them here.

She wouldn’t tell me.

The ability to maintain a confidence is a great character trait to possess, but we were married, right? There’s no secrets in a marriage, right? Surely she could tell me, couldn’t she?

But she flatly refused. The more I kept grilling her, the more she stated that she had promised not to reveal the secret to anyone, and it was a promise she intended to keep.

And this was before the internet.

I was angry. I got up and went for a walk in the ravine. (Our apartment overlooked a beautiful river valley, but there was trouble in paradise that day!)

Fast forward 30 years…

…We were talking about magic acts somehow last night, and I asked her if the trick in question was one she would perform back in the day. It was.

So then I asked her how it’s done.

You guessed it; 30 years later we were having the same conversation and she still refused to tell me how the illusion is performed.

“You know that Penn and Teller probably have a video on this?” I reminded her.

But her loyalty to her promise, made back in the 1980s still held for her, and she wasn’t about to break that promise last night.

…I realize there are pastors who are told things in confidence that are told to them in the church office which cannot be shared. But I would think that a good percentage of these pastors use their spouse as a sounding board to either get an additional perspective or decompress from an intense counselling session. I would also equally recognize that it’s more in the DNA of some pastors to simply not burden their spouse with the information that would come with sharing.

I’ve been told things, and on occasion, before the words are out of the person’s mouth, I will say, “I will keep the confidence, but can I share it with my wife?” Most, some of whom know her, will say yes.

And as it turns out they don’t need to worry about information leaks from her, since apparently a secret with her is safe. For life. With everyone.

I still want to know how they do the trick, but more than that, I wish she would just tell me.

Magicians, eh?

I hear we’re having rabbit stew for dinner.

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November 23, 2018

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: The Survivors Speak Out

So again, when I posted a piece on Tuesday about the upcoming documentary film based on the variety of experiences of readers of  I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I had no idea that the film was actually going live online in a matter of minutes. I quickly signed up to watch I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and here we are just a few days later returning to the topic.

What I wrote on Tuesday was about the notion that even though an author changes his or her mind on a previously written book; it doesn’t guarantee that readers will want to travel on that same journey. The line, “I think he’s wrong now;” has, honestly speaking, haunted me all week, and I’ve found myself seeing that person differently all week.

Joshua Harris’ wife: “It was a good book; well, I don’t know if I can say it was good book; it was a well-intentioned book.”

Harris talks about being thrust into the spotlight, and into the pastorate, at a very young age. But at the same time, he got married about a year after the book’s printing, and at a personal level, had moved beyond the tension implicit in being single. For the record, he didn’t kiss his wife before the wedding. The doubts about the book came much later.

Harris: “For a long time I was afraid to re-examine the book I’m best known for.”

I originally thought the book and this subsequent documentary was going to focus on the challenges of adopting the courtship model as opposed to the dating model. But really, much of the documentary is focused on the Purity Movement with programs like True Love Waits.

Christine Gardner: “What I found fascinating was the Evangelical church using sex to sell abstinence.

The film contains many Skype interviews with readers from around the world reflecting how the book helped or hurt them.

Harris: “A desire to make a message as effective as possible could actually mislead people.”

One thing that Joshua Harris notes is the importance that was placed on the book at the time, and the potential influence it would have if the book was given to you by a parent or a pastor. In those situations, there was less likelihood of being able to challenge the premise of the book.

The book also created a number of “weird” situations in churches and communities which were considered normal, and thereby caused any other type of situation to be considered abnormal.

Harris: “In trying to fix the problems of dating with the model of courtship, we created a new set of problems.”

Thomas Umstattd Jr. (to Harris): “The reality is the marriage rate in the church has dropped significantly… We’re just not getting married as a generation… You were not the only person writing on this topic; you weren’t the only person writing popular books on this topic.  I think what happened is, you had the best title.”

Umstattd sees the formulaic approach of the courtship model as being no different than the prosperity gospel.

Activist Elizabeth Esther: “It was held up as, ‘This is the gold standard by which you should live your life.’ It was kind of a money-back guarantee. If you do it this way you will have a marriage that is happy and fulfilling and have mind-blowing sex for the rest of your life…”

Joshua Harris then embarks on a study of how things work now, in the world of dating apps and hookup culture.

Harris: “Neither the strict rules of courtship, or the rejection of rules in Tinder meet the deepest longings of the human heart. Both of these extremes seem to share an exalted view of the role sex should play in our lives.”

Even though it’s a documentary, I run the risk of filling this page with spoilers. (I’d love to see a published transcript.) I wouldn’t want anyone who is interested in this to miss out on watching because I summarized too much here. I’ve hit some highlights from the first 45 minutes of the 75-minute film.

There is archival interview footage interspersed from the Canadian 100 Huntley Street television show. In the last half, Harris goes on to interview author Dale Kuehne, author Debra Hirsch, author Debra Fileta, and author Dannah Gresh. The latter surprised me — I’m familiar with her books — insofar as the great kinship she has with Harris in terms of also re-examining the purity emphasis of her writing and seminars.

Gresh: “We use the word purity as a synonym for virginity. It’s not. Not in the scriptures. I work with girls all the time who are virgins, but they’re very impure.”

The book definitely put a large number of young people into some very awkward situations because of the expectations it raised. As the film asks, what if your views on sex and relationships at the time you were 21 were used to shape an entire generation of Christian kids? Millions of kids? I can’t imagine being thrust into that role.

I’d probably rethink some of it when I was older and had more life experience. And more wisdom. 

Harris: “Coming to a place of seeing dating as healthy was a big step.”


• Your journey to buying the DVD or watching the film for free begins at this website. You’ll be emailed a code which will allow you to view the documentary.

I never discussed the movie production itself. The cinematography, the sound, lighting, scripting, pacing etc. are all first-rate. Producer/Director Jessica Van der Wyngaard is to be congratulated on an excellent project.

November 20, 2018

When a Christian Author Has a Change in Thinking

For over 20 years, I’ve spent a minimum of two days per week in a Christian bookstore which my wife and I own. We’ve seen books come and go for reasons other than the normal life cycle of publishing. We’ve heard of authors having affairs. We’ve learned of writers who have adopted a position on an issue which makes their publishing contract untenable with their publisher. We’ve seen testimony and biography books where it was revealed the story would have been suited to the fiction section.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris is unique. The author asked for the books — there are at least three related titles that I’m aware of — to be withdrawn when the current inventory is exhausted. He feels that the book is not a helpful or healthy approach to boy/girl relationships before marriage and has worked with a documentary filmmaker to give voice to the readers who found taking his approach harmful and counterproductive. That documentary releases online today!

This does not for a moment change the minds of some people. There will be pockets of mostly conservative people throughout North America — the book’s primary audience — who will continue to follow a courtship model for their sons and daughters, which is often associated with the idea of early (young) marriage.

But it’s different when you discover you know one of them.

A longtime friend asked me to order two copies of Harris’ book for him. I know this person well, and while he’s not exactly an ultra conservative, he does take a traditional stand on some things. I asked if he was serious. I thought maybe it was a bit of a joke, or a test to see if I was aware of recent events. I explained that the author had withdrawn the book, though copies are still floating around.

He replied, “I think he’s wrong now.”

Didn’t see that coming, though in hindsight it’s not unthinkable. I just wonder what Joshua Harris would say to that? The idea that he had it right and has now been sucked into some liberal vortex.

In the end, I think both Harris and my friends need to follow their hearts, though it concerns me that some people felt it took their lives in a direction where they waited for their Prince(ss) Charming to come along and then he/she never showed up. It took away the opportunity to be proactive.

But are Millennials proactive? Many have cocooned into an online world where dating apps offer their only hope of making that opposite-sex connection. Should Helicopter Mom and Helicopter Dad be stepping into the situation setting up a courtship scenario with the future in-laws? 

On the other hand, some of the kids my friend works with are not from Christian families. There is value in the group activity situations which avoid the pressure of 1:1 evenings, but it is these very activities that Millennials seem to find uninteresting. To his credit, my friend works in trying to create environments which can involve these very kids, but once they attend, they need to know that it might be on them to take the initiative to connect with that person across the room.

Also, Joshua Harris didn’t know any Millennials when he wrote the book 15 years ago, in 2003. (He was in fact home-schooled and admits to not knowing much outside that milieu.) Some would argue that we need his model more now than ever. But some of the people who were the book’s collateral damage interviewed in the documentary would say we need less of that school of thought.


More info at I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye

November 6, 2018

The Fifth Friday in the Month

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

Just three short months before they asked him to consider being on the short list for appointment as a church deacon, Ray got into a habit of dropping into McGinn’s Wings — affectionately called ‘McGings’ — on the way home from work. Although he had a more liberal attitude toward drinking than some in the church, it wasn’t about the alcohol. On about half of the days he went with a bottled grapefruit drink they served that was non alcoholic. It was more about having a buffer zone between work and home, though during the process his Sunday morning church attendance was starting to wane.

McGinn’s customers tended to walk around more than sit. There were some novelty pool tables, one sized extra long and the other extra square; not to mention some vintage pinball machines, foozball, and a prototype of a Wii-type game that never made it to market. There was also a red-haired woman who said her name was Blaine.

“Isn’t that a man’s name?” Ray asked.

“I’m all girl;” she replied, “Want me to prove it?”

Ray made a fist with his left hand and aimed it toward her. “See that? That’s a wedding ring. Don’t forget that.”

And then, two days later they would repeat the same dialog, almost word-for-word.

Ray’s wife Kallie was aware of all this. What was obvious by the smell of his jacket when he came home after 30 minutes at McGinn’s — a mixture of the hot sauce served with the chicken wings and the smell of beer — was also confirmed by Ray. He made no attempt to hide what he called his “new hobby.”

“What happens,” asked Kallie, “If someone from North Hills Baptist sees you coming out of there?”

Ray didn’t care. The pastor arranged for a joint meeting of the current deacon’s board along with all six people on the short list for serving the following year. Only three of those would be chosen, but they got to see an actual functioning meeting which dealt with a couple of budget issues, a few room rental requests, and the issue of a member who had written a rather strange letter to the editor of the local newspaper which, while it was mostly political, had the potential to do some damage.

Ray enjoyed the meeting and even made what all considered some good suggestions during a time when the prospective members could make comments; but the next morning he called Pastor Clements to ask that his name be removed from the short list and curiously, the pastor didn’t ask for a reason.

Ray made some friends at McGinn’s. He helped one guy move on the condition that it not involve a piano, and another was a mechanic and did some electrical repairs to his passenger side car window for free. They told him that Blaine was harmless, she actually had a different birth name which she hated, and every few years she came up with a new identity that she field-tested on bar patrons. Still, her flirting messed with his head, and she wasn’t the only woman at the bar who enjoyed playing mind games.

But several months down the road, McGinn’s closed. They were facing three civil lawsuits, there was a threat of a sexual harassment charge by a former waitress, some health code issues, and the proprietor was dealing with charges of federal tax evasion; though it must be said that the last item — the tax dispute — got cleared up really quickly when the owner sold the property to a condo developer for what everyone felt was far above market value.

Ray spent a week visiting other bars in town, but found them “shallow” and decided to go back to driving straight home from work. He also resumed a more regular pattern of church attendance.

Ray’s employer had a deal where if there were five Fridays in a month, they got the last one as a day off. So he was enjoying an extra hour’s sleep when Kallie informed him that she needed him to drive Claire Gibbons from her house to a florist shop to order the decorations for the women’s fall banquet.

“Why can’t you do it?” Ray asked.

“I’m on a writing deadline for one of the magazines.”

“The fashion one or the cooking one?”

“The parenting one. And I have some bad news, you have to take my car.”

“I can’t drive your car, my knees start killing me after two minutes in that thing. Did you tell Scott he could take the SUV?”

“No, you did.”

“Your car is too low.

Claire Gibbons was a weird blend of hipster and 1950s Baptist and you never knew which version of her you were getting at any given moment. Her contrasting themes ran through everything from her opinions on church matters to what she wore. Ray thought Kallie should be giving her some of the complimentary copies of the fashion magazine that were delivered each month, because her fashion style could best be described as contradictory.

The route to the florist shop from Claire’s house went by the former home of McGings. The windows were boarded up and there was a large ‘For Sale’ sign in the parking lot, even though the locals knew about the property selling to the condo company.

“Glad to see the end of that place;” Claire said.

Ray gulped. “How’s that?”

“Our Bible study group was praying that place would close.”

Ray took a slow, deep breath and asked, “Is that the group Kallie’s in?”

“No;” Claire offered, “She goes to Tuesday, I lead the one on Thursday.”

Ray kept his eyes on the road.

They were praying against the bar.

They were praying against the place where I spent my time.

A few minutes later the route took them by the home of a longtime member of North Hills Church.

“Look over there;” Claire said with much excitement, “Alan Richards got his car back.”

“I didn’t hear this story,” Ray responded, “What happened?”

“Alan got his license pulled when the eye doctor told him he couldn’t drive anymore until he got glasses, and the frames he wanted took six days to come in. In the meantime, his son borrowed the car and immediately heard and felt something not right. The mechanic found some kind of brake issue that could have been disastrous. I forget what they called it, something about –“

Ray had to slam on his own brakes when a dog ran out from nowhere, retrieved something from the road, and disappeared again.

Claire didn’t finish her sentence and Ray’s mind went back to Alan and his car.

His six day inconvenience prevented him from driving a broken car.

His inconvenience meant he was prevented from something worse.

Buds, Bulbs and Blooms, the florist shop was now in sight. Ray wasn’t sure where the women were getting the money to decorate the church multi-purpose room with expensive flowers, but the $28 they were charging the women for tickets offered a clue.

For her part, Claire noticed a silence had descended inside the car, and felt she should say something or do something, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Ray…” she began. But then she stopped unsure where she was going with this.

She started up again, “…We’ve been praying for you. Kallie told me about…” but then she suddenly seemed distracted as Ray pulled in the lot.

“Yeah;” Ray began, “I don’t know; I guess–“

Claire interrupted, “We’ve been praying since Kallie mentioned the thing about your knees. I really appreciate you doing this even though your son had your SUV. I don’t need a ride back, but you should park and walk around if they’re hurting.”

With that Claire hopped out and shut the car door.

They were praying for me.

They were praying for my healing.

Ray was deciding on where he could walk nearby while Claire was gone and was just getting ready to shut off the engine when he noticed something.

His knees weren’t hurting at all.

July 22, 2016

Paying Someone to Tell My Wife I Love Her

Greeting Card Rack

The Short Version: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a display of blank greeting cards at the local Christian bookstore. Some people love them, but most people would never consider having to write their own thoughts. It occurred to me that at Christmas, Valentines Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries, I have basically been paying strangers to tell my wife I love her.

This doesn’t include cards I’ve sent to our kids, my parents, and others. The costs alone are probably staggering if I add it all up, and eventually the cards are thrown away.

Some Background: For years I’ve known a guy who owns a greeting card store. We were talking a long time ago about the evolution of gift wrapping and he shared this chronology:

  • People would wrap a gift in fancy wrapping paper and then tie it with a ribbon which would form a bow on top.
  • Then people started skipping the ribbon and bow.
  • Next, the gift bag arrived. No wrapping at this stage, you simply toss the gift in the bag and add a bit of tissue paper.
  • Then the gift itself ended. Instead, people purchased gift certificates and gift cards for a store the recipient would like, and placed that in a greeting card.
  • Finally, the gift card was replaced with an electronic substitute, sent by email.

How it Relates to Cards: It got me thinking about the cards themselves. Here’s my conjecture as to a possible sequence:

  • At one time, I’m sure people wrote more letters than we do today. People kept boxes of stationery in their homes and penmanship mattered. Some of these letters might run several pages — admittedly smaller format paper — and were kept and treasured by the ones who received them. Frequent writers dabbled in calligraphy, and people knew how to spell and compose a proper sentence.
  • Wikipedia traces the history of the greeting card — known to the Chinese in the 15th century — to its genesis in the 1850s. The introduction of postage stamps was a key factor.
  • By the late 1990s, the demise of greeting cards was said to be imminent, with the e-card replacing the need to mail a physical product. But when is the last time you got an e-card?
  • At the same time, some people were producing cards on their computers, which allowed them to possibly format a more personal message. This tied in with the scrap-booking trend, where people were making cards from scratch.
  • In 2016, Millennials are less likely to send cards, or even see the importance of them, unless a great aunt happens to send one containing money. Here in Canada, postal rates have skyrocketed over the last few decades. Sadly the tradition of sending thank-you notes (i.e. to the great aunt) has also diminished greatly.

Blank Cards: Again, I can’t overstate what I see as the value in blank cards. The idea of writing something from the heart and not relying on what someone, sitting at a desk at a greeting card company office wrote.

In the Christian field, I continue to be appalled at what is offered by the dominant card company, Dayspring. Their texts seem to me as too flippant, too cute, and usually quite irrelevant. It never ceases to amaze me how they continue to rule this particular market in North American Christian stores.

It also occurs to me that with greeting cards in general, unless you add at least three sentences of your own at the bottom, you are basically outsourcing your expression of love, gratitude or respect.

Admittedly, sometimes it is hard to find the words. Sympathy cards are always needed because you want to do something, but don’t always know what to say. But even there, I think even a half-literate person could take a blank card and write down a memory they have of the person who had died. Imagine yourself asked to say something at a funeral or memorial and commit it to writing; to print

Also, it needs to be said that many today in North America don’t know how to spell or write. Computers and phones are contributing to the de-evolution of the English language. So people avoid the possibility of disaster by letting someone else do the heavy lifting.

Why I Will Continue to Purchase Cards: All this said, I think that the effort of going to a store and selecting a card means something to my wife. The absence of a card would be noted. It’s one of the things we do when we love someone. Sometimes there are flowers, and they don’t last much more than a week, but it reminds her (and me) that I took the time, that I was thinking about her, and that I didn’t mind spending the money to show my love.

Cards and flowers represent terrible financial stewardship. In our economic situation, we can ill-afford to do this. But so is an expensive meal in a nice restaurant, and every once in awhile, you need to do these things. You do it just because.

However, I will continue to try to insert my own thoughts into the card. I really don’t want to outsource my expression of love; I don’t want to pay some stranger to tell my wife I love her.

December 17, 2015

Book Review: Stuff Married Guys Need to Know

Filed under: books, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

As a reviewer who is also involved in the retail side of publishing, I am too aware that books for men can be a tough sell. Generally speaking, it’s not a well performing category, and so when a men’s interest title arrived in a stack of review books, I placed it near the bottom of the pile.

But then I decided to take a second look. Dude’s Guide to Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well (Nelson Books, November 2015) is written by St. Louis pastor Darrin Patrick with substantial contributions from wife and coauthor Amie Patrick. It’s Darrin’s 4th major release and a sequel to Dude’s Guide to Manhood.

The thing that struck me about this book right away was the subject material covered. I dove right in to some sections immediately, and now I have to confess I’m working on a more sequential reading. These are the chapter titles:

  1. Dude's Guide to MarriageListen
  2. Talk
  3. Fight
  4. Grow
  5. Provide
  6. Rest
  7. Serve
  8. Submit
  9. Pursue
  10. Worship

I immediately identified some areas where I have failed as a husband. When we got married, the minister that did our wedding noted that it’s customary to do some marriage counseling with couples but because we both grew up in the church, he felt we “knew all this stuff” and it wasn’t entirely necessary.

Still, I wish he’d bored us to death by repeating some of it anyway. When opportunities later presented themselves to take a marriage retreat weekend, we were usually too busy to take the time, or too poor to pay the cost. A resource like this one would have helped.

This book was well-researched, and Biblical principles were well-integrated. I saw one review that said “The Dude’s Guide to Marriage says nothing new…” but I disagree. I felt this material was fresh and the topical assortment provided much food for thought. I found chapters 5 and 9 the most personally beneficial, but your mileage may vary.

I liked what one reviewer said, “This is not just another ‘marriage book’ to check your box guys… this one pokes you in the eye.” Another wrote, “This may have been the most enjoyable and practical book on marriage that I have ever read.”

I have to admit I skip the individual/group (or in this case couples) discussion questions when reviewing a book, but several readers mentioned these as the high point of each chapter. I went back, and to my surprise the questions were rich in terms of the possibilities for husbands and wives to share their hurts, their blessings and their hearts.

This one is a keeper.


Read reviews of breaking Christian titles at Book Look Bloggers. Click on “Browse Reviews.”

August 20, 2015

Andy Stanley: Love, Sex and Dating

Eschewing the standard Christian Television approach, Andy Stanley and the staff at North Point in Atlanta have been buying time on local NBC stations after Saturday Night Live. The repackaged sermon video is called Your Move, and the website is YourMove.Is

Today, if you have 28.5 minutes; we’re going to watch one of Andy’s most popular messages, which is also a book and a curriculum, The New Rules for Love Sex and Dating. This is the first of several episodes and deals with The “Right Person” Myth.

May 23, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part Two of Two

You need to click back to yesterday for part one, but knowing a few of you won’t, I’ve begun by repeating the introduction. Thanks again to Martin and Nancy for allowing us to run this. To read the whole thing at their blog, Flagrant Regard, or leave them a direct comment, click the title below.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century (2)

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

Nancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favourite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.


We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Adapted from the article of the same name by Nancy Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

So said my girlfriend the other day when we were chatting over lattes. Luke had divorced Laura to be with Michelle who had likewise divorced her husband to be with Luke. They were hopelessly, madly, in love and, barring unforeseen health or employment issues, they were set for life in the happiness department. My friend continued giving her opinion that it was abundantly clear that neither Luke nor Michelle had been happy in their marriages. It didn’t matter that they were in love with their exes at the outset – because life happens, time passes, and looks get lost by the wayside. Things had changed.

There are any number of reasons why marriages fail and people get kicked to the curb but it does always seem to be an outworking of someone in the relationship deciding that they have the right to do what makes them happy.

Sadly, Laura committed suicide some months after her marriage dissolved. Of course, Luke was distraught but never showed regret that he had left the marriage. He always maintained they had grown apart and were floundering in the proverbial loveless marriage. When Luke had serendipitously met Michelle, she was like no one he had ever met before and leaving his marriage was, as he saw it, his only chance – his last chance – at real happiness.

I began to think about the idea of having the ‘right’ to be happy.

We live in a world where our happiness and, conversely, our misfortune is often predicated on circumstances beyond our control. That being the case, it seems that to expect – to have a ‘right’ – to be happy doesn’t seem like something that can or should be depended on; any more than we can expect or depend on perfect weather every Saturday in June so that all brides will be smiling. You pick your date, send out your invites, and take your chances.

I believe we can have ‘rights’ as far as what is legislated and guaranteed by the laws of the society we live in. For example, we have the ‘right’ to basic education because, here in Canada, we are given that privilege through taxation and public policy. That is why it is called ‘public’ education.

I can also understand a ‘right’ as it relates to a contractual obligation. If someone hires me to design a logo for them and I design it and charge them $100, then I have the ‘right’ to expect to be paid $100 for my work.

Back to my friend’s statement – “Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

What my friend was not saying was that, however you need to find happiness, whatever you need to do to be happy, is not to be held up for criticism or judgement beyond a bit of neighborhood gossip – because nobody knows the ‘whole story’.

The American Declaration of Independence laid down at the outset that one of the basic rights of any American citizen is the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. That did not mean that people should be entitled to pursue happiness outside of the law (i.e., through murder, rape, robbery, etc.) – but by lawful means. But this is too broad-based for what my friend meant. My friend is not philosophically deep. She watches The Bachelor and thinks the Tea Party is the party at Witzend in Alice in Wonderland. What she simply and solely mused was that people have the right to be happy when it comes to sex. Her view has been ‘trending’ for some time now and you have to look no further than the plethora of partnering change-ups in Hollywood at large.

There is no room for a counterpoint in today’s society. But, if you could get a word in, the counterpoint would be that, happiness aside, Luke’s leaving Lisa for Michelle was done in direct contravention of their marriage vow. That overarching solemn promise made up of subsets of conditions wherein two people promise that they will never leave each other – no matter what. This promissory social contract is sealed either in a civil ceremony or before God and, in both cases, before witnesses. Happiness is not even figured in to the marriage vow which is one of duty of care for the other – again, no matter what.

Today, our sexual impulses and proclivities have been put on a pedestal of preposterous privilege. And where sexual ‘happiness’ is not the order of the day, heinous acts have occurred. When lack of sexual happiness has been the motive behind murderous and unjust actions, the headlines have still – even in this day and age of post-modernism – spoken loudly and clearly in defense of the innocent. We don’t have to look past Susan Smith and the drowning of her two young sons so that she could pursue a relationship with a local wealthy man to find where the utilitarian doctrine of the ends justifying the means is so egregiously lopsided in favor of the means.

The problem with sex is that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. All our desires make promises – that new car, that new house, that new job, that next You Tube video with over a million views – but none more so than the promise of sex. To be in love involves the irrational yet irresistible conviction that it will last forever and that our beloved will supply us with deep-rooted, passionate, lifelong sexual happiness. Everything is at stake. If we miss the chance to be in love or, as we are speaking of here, to get back in love, life will not have been worth living. Anything in the way has got to go – and fast. So thought Luke and Michelle. So thought Susan Smith.

But, if we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness’ which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we are chasing after the wind because the object of our behavior (erotic passion) is illusory and wishful. In the movie, The Life of David Gale, in a soliloquy on happiness, the main character portrayed by Kevin Spacey warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Not because you get it, but because you’re doomed not to want it once you do. Living by wants will never make you happy.”

As time permits, those experienced at long-term relationships know that erotic passion can sometimes last a good long time but that it will most certainly wane. For those relationships that continue long after erotic passion has waned, it is not because of the promises made at the outset. It is because the two people have found true love and contentment outside of the sex act, and have otherwise strived to make their relationship both mutually beneficial and sustainable.

In a few years, it is likely that Luke will leave Michelle to fulfill another last chance at sexual happiness. Or she him. And, again, my friend will say that she believes they have a right to be happy. That is, if her husband, Chris, doesn’t decide in the meantime that he has a right to be happy with that bubbly new hire in the Corporate Marketing Department. That could change her perspective.

For the here and now, the ‘right to happiness’ is predominantly the dominion of the sexual impulse. But, what if this ‘feel good’ principle creeps into other areas of our lives to the point where every impulse in every person has the ‘right’ to be indulged?

I hear the ticking of the doomsday clock …

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For the original article and other incredible essays and thoughts from C.S. Lewis, you can purchase “God In The Dock” at your local Christian book seller or online via any number of online book retailers.

May 22, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part One of Two

I’ll keep my intro short so you can get right into this. Thanks to Martin and Nancy for allowing me to reproduce this here, but if you want to send them some link love — or not have to wait until tomorrow for part two — click the link in the title below. Comments here are open, but to communicate with the authors directly, use the link below as well.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

C. S. LewisNancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favorite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.  (Click the link above to read today, or wait until tomorrow’s post for part two.)

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Paraphrased by Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“After all,” said my friend Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A, had deserted Mrs. A and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B, who had likewise gotten her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was clearly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with each other. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their former partners. If the newly formed couple continued to be in love and if nothing failed with respect to their health or financial security, they might expect to be very happy.

Mrs. B had adored her husband at the beginning, but then he was severely injured in the war. It was said that he had lost his virility and had also lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B had bargained for.

Poor Mrs. A, too. She had lost her looks was no longer her vivaciousness self. It might have been true what some had said – that she had become worn down by having and raising Mr. A’s children and nursing him through a long illness that overshadowed the early years of their married life. But please don’t think that Mr. A was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a ‘right to happiness’. At first, this sounds to me as odd as a ‘right to good luck’. I believe (whatever any particular brand of moralists have to say) that for the most part our happiness or misery hangs on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to have good weather show up whenever you want to have a picnic.

Now, I get that a ‘right’ is a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in, therefore I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom (that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.”)

I can also understand a ‘right’ as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and as it correlates to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A has a legal right to do so, and we need not bring in talk of ‘happiness’.

But of course that was not what my friend meant. She meant that Mr. A had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is (or would be if she thought it through) a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke.

She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law. I agree with her and I hold this conception to be common knowledge in all civilizations. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged. The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is high-minded in nature. In words that are cherished by all civilized souls (but especially by Americans), it has been laid down that one of the rights of man or woman is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

Just what did the writers of that grandiose declaration mean? We’re quite sure what they did not mean. They did not mean that everyone was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis. They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Yet here is where I disagree with my friend: I don’t think it’s obvious that people have some sort of unlimited “right to happiness”, as she has suggested.

For one thing, I believe that when Clare says “happiness,” she means simply and solely “sexual happiness”, partly because people like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind of happiness. With respect to her political views, Clare, being rather leftist in her approach, would have thought it scandalous if anyone defended the actions of a ruthless financial tycoon on the grounds that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. I also never heard her (a serious non-drinker herself) excuse an alcoholic because he was ‘happy’ when he was drunk.

Clare is, in fact, simply doing what I think the whole western world seems to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a kid, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudishness? Let’s treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be restrained.

For instance, absolute obedience to instinct for self-preservation is considered cowardice. An ever-increasing desire to collect things will have us in the grip of greed. Even sleep, normally a welcomed respite, must be resisted if you’re a officer on guard duty. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that your object is to have “four bare legs in a bed.” It is like having a moral standard where stealing fruit is wrong except if you steal nectarines. And if you protest against this view? You are usually met with rhetoric about the legitimacy, beauty and sanctity of “sex”. You get accused of harboring some Puritanical prejudice against it – that you view sex as something disreputable or shameful. (I vehemently deny being guilty of such a charge: Venus, Aphrodite, Our Lady of Cyprus – I never breathed a word against you!)

If I object to kids stealing nectarines, must I then be thought of as someone who disapproves of nectarines in general? Or even of kids in general? It might be the stealing I disapprove of, you figure?

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” If I may continue with the fruit analogy, robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Likewise, Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being thrust into a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other outcome in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause, and it is this: the nature of a strong erotic passion, which is completely distinct from any heat-of-the-moment, fleeting appetite, makes more towering promises than any other emotion.

No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of our beloved will supply us with not just merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence, all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the mere thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are often found to be quite unfounded. Every experienced adult knows this to be the case with regard to all erotic passions (except the one he/she is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretentiousness of our friends’ romantic liaisons easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last and sometimes don’t. When they do last, it is not because they promised at the outset to make it last. When two people achieve enduring happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” that supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience, but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.

So while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and personal ruin, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory.

Everyone (except Mr. A and Mrs. B) knows that Mr. A, in a year or so, may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as he did for deserting his old one. He will again feel that all is at stake. He will again see himself as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the (current) woman.

Two final points remain:

1. A society in which marital infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Whatever a few songs composed by men and/or satirical offerings might say to the contrary, women are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits; domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man – their beauty – decreases every year after they’ve reached maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality we find in women. In the cut-throat promiscuity war that rages on, women are at a double disadvantage – they play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing lewdness of female provocativeness. These are signs of desperate competition and fill me with pity.

2. Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is claimed chiefly for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter will remain there. Once such a fatal principle is condoned in that department (our sexual natures) it will sooner or later seep through into our whole lives. We therefore advance toward a society where not only each person but every impulse in each person claims no-holds-barred permissions. And at that time, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – don’t even dare add the word “unfortunately” – be swept away.

January 6, 2015

Wise Words for Wedding-ers

Filed under: marriage — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 am

couple2Donna Schultz is a licensed minister in our area who is often called upon to perform weddings. She preached in our church a few weeks ago and shared this, and I asked her for a copy of the text. I’ve taken the liberty of using bullet points so you can get the force of this…

I have couples come to me who want me to marry them and I try to be as polite as possible. When I have these couples come and ask that I perform their marriage ceremony

  • They are so concerned about where they need to stand for the ceremony.
  • They are so concerned about the timing of the music. They want to make sure they walk down the aisle to the appropriate time with the music so they get to the front and…
  • They want to have the right words being sung at the right time.

They are concerned that their apparel is just right. They want to look their absolute best. They are concerned about the fact they have this picture perfect outdoor wedding. Some do not have a church affiliation … hence there is no church building which represents a place of worship and appropriate setting for this sacred ceremony. So they want this beautiful outdoor wedding and they always say to me but if it is forecasting rain we have a backup plan. Really after I have stood in rain for a wedding and I am thinking where is the alternative? They will do everything possible to have this outdoor wedding. I want to say to them:

  • You are so concerned about where you are going to stand for the ceremony, but when you are at home where is your stand going to be for one another?
  • You are so concerned about the right words being said at the right time but in the home, in the marriage, words spoken between you two five years from now are much more important and have a lot more weight than the words spoken in front of me and guests the day of your ceremony.
  • They are so concerned about the right music and getting to the front on the right note and yet the timing of different circumstances that will hit their lives will have a lot more bearing on a marriage than the wedding day.

You and I are the same. We can come here [i.e. to church] and we can say the right thing … but what is in our hearts is much more revealing and has a much more lasting effect on each one of our lives.

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