so this piece has been making the rounds, and a few thoughts:

1. I think pieces like this are especially tricksy (and distasteful) because of how the writer goes about the topic – she wants to come across all neutral, like “oh, i’m just a ‘therapist’ sharing the results of my ‘open-ended survey’..“.

2. Yes, you can spin a long emotional story and sprinkle nuance all about, but at the day’s end Priya’s story is this: YAY I FEEL ALIVE when I do what pleases and excites me even if it would really hurt people that I love, i.e. my wonderful hardworking attentive husband + our two kids (who, btw, I really love!!)!!! And you know that the author has woven some good charms when you read my summary, and think: “Yes, but Joseph, you see…

3. Let me give some examples. Here’s a normative statement: “One of the most uncomfortable truths about an affair is that what for Partner A may be an agonizing betrayal may be transformative for Partner B. Extramarital adventures are painful and destabilizing, but they can also be liberating and empowering“.

And let’s be doubly triply clear – this is not a woman in an abusive relationship, or one where affection is scarce and the love colder than tofu that you left in the freezer by mistake. So what exactly is she being ‘liberated’ from or ’empowered’ to do? Again, the author’s word choice is telling. Elsewhere, she describes the fling as a ‘quest for the unexplored self‘, which borrows from the legends of valiant knights on lengthy errands, or some long and arduous but noble endeavor, but really Priya is just having sex with a truck driver in his truck while keeping her family in the dark. It’s quite incredible how a few emotive words can dress up simple selfishness.

4. ‘Cheating is rediscovering a new you more than it is rejecting your partner!’

That’s certainly illuminating in some ways, and the piece does flesh out how cheating is more than our stock understanding of fleeing from marital unhappiness. But consider the author’s words again:

“Expansive?!,” I can hear some people exclaiming. “Self-discovery?! Cheating is cheating, whatever fancy New Age labels you want to put on it. It’s cruel, it’s selfish, it’s dishonest, and it’s abusive.”…And yet I often find myself asking jilted lovers to consider a question that seems ludicrous to them: What if the affair had nothing to do with you?”

Now this is a super good misdirection. Even if I take her hypothesis – that the affair was not Priya’s rejection of her partner – does that really make Priya’s actions not:

– cruel

– selfish

– dishonest

??? No. It doesn’t. Again, Priya just wants to have high-school sex with a truck driver, and yes the author does a good job of tying bow ties on her liaison to make it look prettier, but I really dislike people who garnish selfishness, who rationalise it and call it by different names to make it more palatable, more acceptable, more ‘adventurous’, more noble.

I’m almost done here. The author speaks of how Priya discovers an ‘intoxicating new self‘, as if the affair was not a betrayal but merely Priya picking out a new perfume in Sephora. And I do sympathize / empathize with those who struggle with awful and difficult marriages (less so with Priya, whose situation is just boredom and selfishness indulged). My issue is with the author, and with those who would repackage toxic self-absorption and call it liberation. “To be happy and free, cast off all restraints in unleashed selfism!

No, selfishness is not something that we should bask in and give full rein to. It is not freedom, it is not emancipation. I do have an agenda as I write this, and I will make it perfectly clear – selfishness is something that we need to be rescued from and saved out of, and not for mere ‘unselfishness’ or self-denial, but for love – which is to value and to esteem things, and people, so much that we would be able to break out of the destructive self-obsession that leads us to where Priya is, a ‘walking contradiction’, ‘heavy with guilt’. We know this – as Lewis wrote, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay“.

If all we do is for us alone, we are desperately lonely, and if we try to mix others in for purely selfish reasons, everything is instrumental and rings hollow. Even the lonest of Lone Rangers needs a Tonto.

[A postscript that I would like to add is this: ‘selfishness’ is not something reserved for the person who cheats. Every selfish strain imaginable is in me too, and I would hate it if the counsel I received was that selfishness is O K, that I’m really just on a quest, and that I’m finding liberation. I do hope to receive compassion and understanding in my struggles, but not a sugar coat. Friends level with friends. Love cannot be separated from truth.]


I will glory in my Redeemer

Whose priceless blood has ransomed me

Mine was the sin that drove the bitter nails

And hung Him on that judgment tree

I – me!!

I will glory – I will bring all of my praise and my honor, I will exult and boast gladly in, I will rejoice and be found satisfied in

in my Redeemer – who reclaimed me, who repossessed me, who came to me and took me as His own child

whose priceless blood – here is the best man that ever was, the kindest and most perfect man, an innocent man, who meekly paid my blood-debt with his own

has ransomed me – here i am, captive and in the clutches of what i cannot shake, and i tear at myself and wrestle with thoughts within me that do not leave. i am chained when i would be free. but when He calls me, i go gladly to Him. can it be that i am free? but by grace, i am a free slave. where every passion once possessed me, i am now wholly a slave to righteousness. where every desire held sway over me, i am now beholden to good, i am free from my self, i am a bondservant to all men. i have no longings for another.. i am satisfied in Him alone.

And when He calls me

It will be paradise

His face forever to behold

Lord, my words are words, are words, are words, are at their very best only good ideas and helpful thoughts. But our souls need more than a good idea. Your Word is not a mere idea – it is alive, and it is the sort of good news that seizes you by the collar and shakes you up and comforts you all at the same time.

My words can only bring knowledge and information. Your Word brings life, and life abundant. So help me Lord – let it not be my words that go forth alone, but Your Word that goes forth, and heals, and restores, and challenges, and saves.


The Church and the World

A fantastic interview.. some excerpts:

1. On the Church and the wider community

There’s a place in Calvin’s Institutes where he says, “You may not think you owe your neighbour anything, but because of the image of God in your neighbour, you do… He even goes so far, I think, to say, “Don’t look at your neighbour and say, ‘What does my neighbour deserve from me?’ Say, ‘What does God deserve from me?’ and then when you see the image of God in him there he is.”

Are we shaping people with the virtues or the character necessary to reach out and serve people across racial lines and political lines and things like that? We are a long way from where we should be.”

2. On forgiveness
“Three sociologists who wrote a little book called Amish Grace said the problem is that forgiveness is an act of self-renunciation. Our culture now teaches nothing but self-assertion, that you must never roll over, you must always demand your rights, you must always assert yourself…

The reason the Amish could do it, and the reason why the African American church could do it in Charleston, was because those were formative countercultures where people hear every week about a man who died for his enemies.”

They go on to talk about churches that offer a ‘consumer experience’ instead of emphasizing much-needed confession, contrition and de-centering, and how churches should encourage their members to ‘give themselves over to rhythms, practices, and accountability that lead to their flourishing and excellence’.

To de-center and to reach across divisions and to forgive.. Lord, help Your church.

The Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress

I went to the theatre with Joanne last night to catch a re-do of Dick Lee’s 2009 musical about the Empress Dowager Cixi, who is famous for accelerating the modernization of China as the Qing dynasty came to an end, and who was known as the ‘Dragon Lady’ for the violent and iron-fisted nature of her imperial exploits, which were themselves a whirl of rumor and truth. What we do know is that she was thoroughly vilified by both the local and the foreign press, who delighted in their portrait of her as a cruel and callous ruler.

The best song in the musical is a stirring picture of the inner thoughts of the dowager (and you can listen to it here!!, and after humming it to myself I hopped online and found the lyrics. The first two verses:

Nobody knows me
Nothing before the day that I came
Like others who lived and prayed for the same
They don’t even know my family name
Nobody knows
Nobody sees me
Blessed me with luck, the rules of their art
I’ve been all they hoped each day from the start
But no one has seen the dreams in my heart
Nobody knows. Nobody knows.

Then the chorus arrives in a plaintive cry:

This is my only chance; love, open my heart
Years of broken dreams, all in the past
This is my only chance; love, make me a part
Of someone who knows me

And I know I say this all the time, but I couldn’t help but think of Keller’s constant refrain – that to be loved but not known is comforting, but ultimately superficial; and to be fully known, but not loved, is our greatest nightmare and deepest fear.

That was the cry that I heard as I thought on her song – nobody knows me. I was a nobody, and now I’ve done it all, seized all the power, captured the throne… but no one sees who I am, sees the dreams in my heart. And my only chance – my one remaining hope – is for a love that will open my heart and know me and see me for who I am and accept meLove, make me a part of someone who knows me. Not my dynastic ambition, or my unwavering grip on power – this ‘love’ that I am yearning for, that will embrace me as I am, is the only thing that will undo years of broken dreams and solitude.

And I’m not saying at all that the dowager, trapped in the finery and fanfare of the palace, was longing for God, or that Dick Lee was hinting at some God-shaped hole in our heart. But this is how Keller’s refrain ends:

But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

There is a line in the book of Acts, Chapter 11, where Barnabas (a disciple) heads down to the Gentile (non-Jew) church in Antioch and tells them to “remain faithful to the Lord (Jesus) with steadfast purpose“. And we know, whoever we are, that the church and the Christians that make up the church have not lived up to this call. We are often unfaithful, and waver instead of holding fast, and struggle painfully to find a purpose that will last. But I thank God that the Bible is not about us – it is about Jesus.

And Jesus was utterly purposeful in his 33 years on Earth, and steadfastly bore the cross up to Calvary, and His faithfulness meant an obedience that brought him to death, even death on a cross. Whoever you may be – this is a love that calls out to me and “makes me a part of someone who knows me“. And if you are a Christian who is unfaithful and not steadfast and wracked with a sense of purposelessness – hear this – that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame. The ‘joy set before Him‘ – That’s you 🙂 When I fear my faith will fade, I can joyfully and wholly join the author of Hebrews and fix my eyes on Jesus who authors and makes perfect my faith. He remains faithful to us with steadfast purpose 🙂