Stuck and Unable to Change

“Views change. People change. Experiences require a change of view or conversely, digging one’s heels into the ground, never to move again.”

When I was a teenager, I was a budding pupil in the conservative Christian world of the “purity movement.” I had read the books, said the pledge, and was a card carrying member of the purity ring. I remember going to a Joshua Harris conference, in which he debuted the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” And I did. Not that it mattered much, as I had very few ‘girl skills’ to begin with, and so wasn’t keen on finding a girlfriend. I went through high school and into college never having a romantic experience. After my sophomore year in college, I found myself married, having dated just a few months, and then becoming engaged. I kissed the book “I kissed Dating Goodbye” goodbye. As a Youth Pastor, I harped on what I believed God’s ‘rules’ were for dating. The bible seems to have some pretty good things to say about navigating relationships, and general wisdom about what it means to live ‘holy’ or ‘set apart.’ I counseled many teenagers through difficult relationships that they had, helping a few of them, and messing many of them up, bumbling through what I thought was good wisdom passed to the next generation.

So, this week, as I was browsing through the chronicles of facebook, I came upon a shocking story that I thought was made up, or meant to grab attention from the reader.

Josh Harris Is Kissing ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ Goodbye

Sure grabbed my attention. I started to read, remembering the days when this was a constant message between my ears and between the years of my young teenage pupils that I thought I had some sort of influence over. I remembered the guilt, the pain, the shame that came with the dating world, and how I never felt ‘quite right’ about dating, but also knew that it was a cultural norm, and knew that I wanted to marry the girl who continues to be the girl of my dreams, that I had met at college. As Joshua Harris clearly demonstrates in both his statements regarding the best selling book (written when he was 20), there was misguided ‘wisdom’ given through the memoirs. It’s been a long time since I have read the book, and don’t plan to pick it up again, but as I read through the statements online and the story of Joshua Harris since his big claim to fame, I couldn’t help but wonder how different my world view might be had this book been written by a 40 year old with experiences, study, scripture, and hard knocks of life behind them.

I don’t have a lot more to say about the book or how it influenced my life. I suppose the takeaway and ‘new’ revelation this week is that ‘views change.’ People change. We can change. I’ve changed.

I watched the documentary that Joshua put together while at Theological School up in the Northern State of Canada. It was absolutely fascinating. To hear Joshua talk about the pain that he had potentially caused, the damage that he may have created, and the legalism that may have been contrived from his famed pages was humbling. His apology was sincere. His apology was well founded. And while I never have held Joshua responsible for the ‘purity’ movement, there have been times that I have scoffed at the book, in my adult life because of the rule following nature that became scripture in the lives of adolescent, mid nineties, conervative evangelical teenagers.

Joshua Harris changed. His views changed.

Joshua. Thank you.

You have restored some of my faith in my own ability to change. And that brings me incredible hope.

There are many new found understandings that I have today, that I didn’t have 5, 6 or 10 years ago. There are experiences that have been had, relationships that have been solidified or fractured, and a postscript to my 20’s that has left me with a sense of both bewilderment and wonder. I’m left with the slight hope that I can change. I’m left with the reality that others that went before me have changed. For years, I had been told that training an ‘old dog to do new tricks’ was next to impossible. There were a few times that we didn’t hire someone to a ministry position for fear of ‘age.’  And while I think there is a shred of truth in the ‘old dog’ statement, I also am not giving up hope that I can learn and grow in my beliefs, my values, through my experiences and relationships. I knew alot more when I was 20 (as we all do, to some degree), or at least I was confident that I was right, when in reality, I may or may not have been.

Change is a good thing. I’ve had to come to terms with that the past year. For so long, I have desired change, desired change from the inside out within the churches that I served at. I have desired unity and fought against conformity. I have desired a change from within me, that I wasn’t able to manufacture myself. I always thought of myself as a change agent, when in reality, I was part of a system and organization that is and was completely adverse to change. I thought that I had conditioned myself to enjoy change. I would change my office around from time to time, or I would drive a different way to work. The changes that I desperately wanted to see that were meaningful and mattered never did. Community and authenticity instead of individuality and isolation. Willingness to try new things, even when there was heavy risk involved. Finding a balance between reaching those that weren’t part of the church and keep those that were part of the church ‘happy.’ These are all things that I wanted to be part of changing and so much more. And what I found was an organization that was adverse to these changes, this type of thinking, and ultimately, was adverse to seeing itself as having the ability to change. I guess I could keep going on about that, but there is nothing to be gained by doing so. The church in general has its roots firmly placed in proselytizing people to be converted to the ‘right’ side. The Middle Ages were not a shining moment for the Church. It is worth noting that this horrific period of history is known for the spread of Christianity.

North American church has its historical roots in being an adversary to change in many instances, and so to expect it to be different today would be insanity, doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

While I eventually became disillusioned with the local church (and am still processing all of that) the inability to change, and the adoption of rules, laws, and regulations that were found in scripture but instituted in a heavy handed way, simultaneously, I have discovered a sense of individual growth and change. I am free to explore my beliefs, my values, my conception of God and his people, and to study scripture in a way that doesn’t bring pretext to the text. I am able to challenge long held views that would have not quite literally had me ‘burned at the stake’ in a lifetimes past. There is hope again. There is something new to be learned each and every day, if one is willing to change. If I am willing to see my experiences cumulatively and process the things that have happened to me, because of me, or around me, there is great growth that can happen.

I like to read. It’s always been a great way of learning and growing for me, but these days, I’m not just reading the “Conservative Evangelical Pastor’s Library” anymore. I know, some of you have gasped internally and wondered if I have become wayward.

You might have said, “Oh my Gosh!” (<<Swear word to some>>)

If you did, know that I probably have become wayward, at least by your standards.

But in the end, I suppose that doesn’t really matter. For me to have a faith that is vibrant, growing, responding to God, and finding life in Him, that is the important thing right now. For me to be ‘right’ in the ‘truth’ that I hold fervently to would be arrogant and prideful (of which I am both, naturally, anyway). I remember hearing a phrase often during a season of my life when change was being resisted. The phrase was “You might be right…But you are dead right.” The message in this phrase was that being right was not going to move anything forward. It would have been foolish to try and push any farther. I no longer want to ‘be right.’ I want to live rightly, do right by others, and find right relationship with God. I still have beliefs, convictions, and values. They are different today, then they were 10 years ago. And they are different today, then they will be 10 years from now (or so I hope.)

I wanted to grow up to be like Joshua, when I was 14 years old. And now, I want to grow up to be like Joshua, 20 years later. To have the humility and wherewithal to simply admit where he was wrong and move forward, always learning and growing in the midst of the admission seems like a great mode of operation. It’s inspirational to me. It’s freeing.

So, I’ll take another day of learning, growing, and changing incrementally over time. Thank you, Joshua Harris, to your continued contribution to my own life.