Like Al Mohler before him, Donald Miller occasionally hits upon something that’s actually right – in theory. And then it gets all scrambled up with how he chooses to present it (this criticism is probably said of yours truly on occasion as well…ah, the ephemera of blogging!).
Today’s points start off from a good place, but, as per usual, leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. These are the last three points of Miller’s blog posts, so those of you who are tired of the series – here’s the light at the end of the tunnel!
Surround yourself with good men. Years ago I asked about five guys who didn’t know each other to meet me for breakfast. I hand chose those guys. Each of them were intelligent, driven, successful and emotionally stable. We got together early one morning and I introduced them to each other. Then I did something very strange. I told them we all needed to be friends. I told them the world was in need of good leaders, and good leaders only become good leaders if they affect each other. As odd as it was, that group continued to meet for two years, and now we are all deeply imbedded in each other’s lives.
I swear on my grandfather’s stolen grave that I have transcribed the whole point. That’s it. That’s all he says. All of it.
No information about whether or not what sounds a bit like a cronyish “Old Boys’ Club” has been beneficial. No sharing of testimony of how they go about supporting each other. It comes across much more like bragging: “Check it out. I brought this awesome group of people together, told them to be friends, and lo and behold, THEY ARE! You may pat me on the back now.”
There’s no exposition of why community is important and no reasoning given as to why one would need to surround themselves with good men – which is frustrating, because it’s a point I actually agree with when it’s explained. Having a small, closely knit group of friends can make one’s life better – when God said it’s not good for man to be alone, he didn’t mean just romantic relationships. He meant community – as I’ve already explained, the Triune God, the love between Father, Son, and Spirit is reflected throughout the church communities that we develop here on earth. When we become such close friends with people that we would sacrifice for them, we are reflecting the love of God.
But we’re missing all of that beautiful explanation here, and as a result, Miller’s admonition to have one of these groups of friends seems without cause or reasoning behind it. I can tell that Miller was clearly thinking about accountability and how important it is to have friends outside of your relationship, but none of that gets expressed here.
There’s also, I’d like to note, an implicit assumption that men are natural leaders, which is not the case I have found with the various men I know and know well. There are some men who are natural leaders, just as there as some women who are natural leaders. To presume that men should get together because “good leaders only become good leaders if they affect each other” is to put the emphasis for the group on the man’s ability to lead, not on the humble necessity to have someone who is close enough to you to say, “Whoa there.”
Notice, too, that there is no such parallel advice for women. Apparently women don’t need friends. They just need a man who can forgive them for being slutty.
The next point is related to this first.
Lose your loser friends. This brings me to something hard. If you have some friends who are dragging you down, that is they are knocking down chicks and not applying themselves to a career, it’s time for you to invite them to something better, and then if they don’t want to come, cut them completely out of your life. I’m sorry to say it so bluntly, but it’s time for them to go.
I’m at a loss as to why my “loser friend” not having a career is something that would drag me down. Does it annoy me sometimes to see my friends not achieving their full potential? Yes, yes it does. Is it my responsibility to make sure that they are on the same level as me career-wise? Hell no. Friends are friends because you like them, want to spend time with them, and care about them, not because they are replicas of you.
I see no grace here.
Do friendships sour? Yes – anyone who has lived to graduate from elementary school knows that. Do you sometimes need to “break up” with a friend for your own sanity? Yes, this happens. I've done so myself.
Should you do so for the reasons Miller cites? It is my belief that you should not ditch friends because they lack the same ambition as you or because their personal life isn’t one you approve of.
Then again, I’m a person with tons of friends of varying belief systems, levels of discipline and intelligence, and varying sexual histories. I treasure all of my friendships – I’m a very extroverted person and I often have an intimate circle of five or six “best friends” at once (though I only have one who could truly be called my closest friend). Just because one or two of those friends is making lifestyle choices that differ from those I would make does not mean they are losers.
This is especially relevant if they are not Christians. Why should I expect my atheist friends to hold to the same standards as a Christian? And why would I drop them for behavior that doesn’t affect me in the least? It doesn’t matter one iota to me that my agnostic friend hooks up with boys on the weekend because that’s not my life. And she’s certainly not a loser because of it.
Now, if she were doing it in a way that prevented me from doing what I needed to do – say, we were roommates and she was keeping me awake on weeknights – then I’d have an obligation to talk to her about it. The same would be said if she was doing so in a way that was harming her - say, she told me she was having unprotected sex. But if she is just a friend making different choices, it’s not my business to admonish her for those choices.
And if you’re a close enough friend that you CAN admonish them for their sex life or for lack of a career, would you really want to drop them so quickly and suddenly? That doesn’t seem like the healthiest path for any relationship.
I don’t know.
It could just be that I am the type of person who values my relationships very highly, and people have to do something outrageously awful that affects me directly in order to be dropped from my friend circle. Miller’s flippant advice that characterizes a person’s friend as “losers” and suggests casual dropping them if they don’t kowtow to certain standards smacks of Mean Girl level cattiness, rather than truly seeking redemptive and repaired and authentic relationships.
And with that, we move on to the point that has probably my favorite absurd imagery in the entire blog series, even over and above the sleeping with a hamster bit. It involves a baseball bat.
Develop strength. A woman loves a man who can be tender with her, but believe me, while you’re holding her in your arms and she’s being comforted about her hard day, you’d better have a baseball bat behind your back, ready to obliterate anybody who tries to hurt her. Be tender to her, but be absolutely ferocious with anybody who takes advantage of her. If you aren’t a strong man, practice. Take stands, don’t be a pushover, protect the ones you love, and be willing to make a few enemies.
I’m big on cuddling; it's one of my favorite leisure activities. If a man’s holding a baseball bat behind his back (nice alliteration there, by the way) while he’s trying to cuddle with me, it’s not going to be a very fun cuddling session. While I didn’t have a chance to actually test out such a feat before writing the blog, picturing it seems to be enough – I don’t know how that would be comfortable.
Oh, it’s a metaphor? Okay.
Why does a man need to defend me? And why does it have to be in such violent terms?
We see this link a lot, especially in church discussions of gender roles. Men need to be willing to fight, to be violent in the name of their love, to protect and defend their families.
Not only does this characterize and solidify for men that the only legitimate expression of emotions for them is anger or indignant rage, it characterizes women as weak beings who need to be protected.
One of my favorite movies to come out in the last few years is the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel romantic-comedy-that’s-not-quite-romantic 500 Days of Summer. If you don’t know the plot, it’s about Tom Hansen, who meets a wonderful girl named Summer Finn and gets involved in a relationship with her. He has all these romantic expectations about his love story and how he and the girl will fit together. Summer tells him, openly and honestly at the beginning of the relationship, that she’s not particularly looking for anything serious – she doesn’t really believe in love and she just enjoys spending time with him, but she’s not in love with him. He insists that he can change thisinto his great love story, that he can develop this relationship into that great narrative of a love story he's always wanted.
One of the most potent parts of the film comes when Tom and Summer are out for a drink at a bar. A man – bigger and more successful than Tom (let’s call him "douchebro") – sidles up to the bar, places himself directly between Tom and Summer and begins hitting on her. Tom, thinking that he is Summer’s boyfriend and therefore needs to protect her, calls douchebro out on it, informing him that Summer is actually here with someone – Tom. There’s some shoving, and then Tom gets floored by a right hook, delivered by douchebro.
Flash to: later that same evening in Summer’s apartment, they’re putting ice on Tom’s swelling black eye.
Let’s pause here – for those of you who have seen the movie, you know how Summer reacts. But let’s take a step back. In Don Miller’s telling, this would be the moment Summer falls in love with Tom. This would be the moment that Summer realizes that Tom is THE ONE™ and she will now marry him and have lots and lots of sex and babies. That is Don Miller’s great love story.
How she actually reacts is much more realistic and a far cry from Miller’s love story.
Summer gets mad. As in, really, really angry. She had been doing just fine responding to douchebro on her own. She’s upset that Tom misread the situation so badly as to think violence was a good answer. She’s upset that he saw her as needing a defense. She feels like he treated her as his property to jealously guard and defend. She feels like he didn’t consider her at all and that the violent defense was all about him and his feelings about the situation. They almost break up right then and there.
I have to say: I side with Summer on this one. Do I like a man with a spine who can stand up for himself? Definitely. Do I like a man because he stands up for me? No, not at all. Treating me as though I can’t defend myself – especially if it’s done so in a violent manner – is to put yourself on the fast track to a closed door and a goodbye.
Let me tell you a more personal story (I apologize if I’ve told this story before, but it’s relevant): I’m not a camper. I don’t do rustic very well. It makes me nervous. And being from South Dakota, being out on the water in a boat makes me nervous too – so when the boyfriend (we’ll call him C) and I were in Michigan and we went out on the lake one afternoon, I was both nervous and excited about the adventure. We got out in the middle of the big lake, and C was showing me all these spots that are significant in the area – the three islands around the area, neighboring cabins, etc. We even were delighted to spot the loon (the bird, not a slur) that has been a resident at the lake for years.
And then the boat engine died.
It was a windy day, and the direction we needed to go was into the wind – rowing back to the cabin was not an option. We were stuck in the middle of the lake with no means of getting back. There were some fishermen a little way away, and C called for help, but they didn't hear us, and we were drifting farther away by the minute. We eventually ran ashore on an island, so we tethered the boat, climbed ashore, and I stood there half-heartedly waving my yellow sweatshirt as C yelled to the fishermen for help.
We eventually got the fishing group’s attention and they came and helped us. We puttered back to the cabin, both of us quiet and kind of embarrassed at what had just happened.
I didn’t feel any great swelling of love because C rescued me. I didn’t feel like we’d fallen into our roles as rescuer and rescued and that all was right with the world. In fact, it took me until later that evening to process the event and stop being mad at myself for feeling helpless about everything. I didn’t like being made to feel helpless, even though there was no other solution than to rely on C. I didn’t like being protected – I wanted to be able to stand up for myself, to find a solution, and to solve the problem together, rather than just sitting back and watching him work.
Now, my feelings certainly aren’t universal and there are some women who do feel more affection toward their partner when their partner fights for them. And to some extent, it’s really helpful knowing that you have someone who is standing by your side when you’re fighting something and doing the hard work with you. But that’s what’s missing from a “man protects woman” scenario – it’s not “with” another person, it’s not alongside, it’s not together. It distinctly puts man above the woman in terms of the power structure in the public sphere – the man has to stand up for the woman against all enemies and protect her from harm.
Like Tom in 500 Days of Summer, Miller expects that a woman would be impressed by a display of macho “protection.” Reality, however, often tells a very different story.
So that’s that. Aside from a particularly condescending conclusion that I don’t feel like examining, the conclusions we can draw from Don Miller’s “how to live a great love story” are as follows:
Women: Don’t have sex. Just don’t. If you do, prepare to grovel. Your sexual and physical purity is the most important thing you bring to a relationship. Also, don't be a slutty slut, you whores.
Men: Be good people. You are the leaders and women will look to you to protect and defend their little hearts. It’s okay if you’ve had sex, but you really should learn how to make that sex better, because, after all, sex is always an indicator of quality of relationship. Be prepared to cut off the losers in your life and develop friends who are good leaders and are influential – that might make you look good and desirable, too!
Oh, also: keep a baseball bat handy. You’ll never know when you need to cuddle and fight at the same time.