Eat and be satisfied

Eat and be satisfied

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Road to Nowhere: Loss of the Christian Dating Script

I was joking with a friend who recently starting dating about how we should help arranged marriage make a comeback. She felt some anxiety around her dating journey and wondered how she could tell if her relationship was progressing "correctly". Her comment reflected a common anxiety I hear about Christian dating.

One might compare it to making travel plans in a third world country. You're trying to decide how to leave the airport while all kinds of people are trying to get your attention - rickshaw drivers, travel agents, bus people, beggars, taxi drivers. And you have questions in your head like: Am I doing this right? Where should I be going? How do I know if I'm getting there? And most significantly, how do I safely disembark from the vehicle if the need arises?

It is certainly easier to outsource this decision to interested and more experienced parties. And the travel analogy breaks down because marriage has far greater implications than tourism. Spouse selection is one of life's biggest decisions. Marriage is a journey requiring forethought, preparation, and planning. And to further complicate things, marriage is not just a destination but also a starting point. 

Who you marry and your life together has far greater influence on life trajectory than your career choice, which university you attend, or where you live. Physically, marriage often determines whether you have children and the quality of your marriage will definitively impact the kind of upbringing your children will experience. Emotionally, our culture views marriage as the pinnacle of romantic love and personal fulfillment. Spiritually, marriage is, as Tim Keller puts it, "gospel re-enactment" because matrimony reflects the union of Christ and the church. 

That's a lot of expectations to place on marriage. So if there's any area where the church would benefit by offering a script, it would be in the area of spouse selection.

Unfortunately we don't have one.

The most compelling attempt came almost twenty years when Josh Harris introduced modern courtship through his seminal I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I would characterize it as "dating with a purpose". In his book, he argued conventional dating promoted intimacy and emotions over commitment and created an artificial environment to evaluate another person's character.

I remember listening to his cassette tape series (before he wrote the book) and agreeing with him. And I still do. After all, his counsel worked out well for me. I got to know Judy during college through our campus fellowship. We were both upperclassmen living in the same dorm and led dorm bible studies. We had many mutual friends and multiple contexts in which to get to know and observe each other. Before we started dating, I met her dad so it was only mildly awkward to ask her father for his blessing to start a romantic relationship. We had strict physical boundaries. We talked seriously about marriage and wed a year after I graduated from college.

Fast forward a couple years and I began working with youth and college students in the church. I took a group of them to the park and introduced them to modern courtship and its principles.

They stared at me like I was from another planet.

Some of the college students tried the approach. It received mixed results. Harris' teaching generated anxiety and pressure around casual dating. If dating was supposed to lead to marriage and men were supposed to initiate dating, it raised expectation levels to impossible heights. Men not only had to overcome the fear of rejection but also be emotionally, intellectually, and financially prepared to pursue marriage from the get-go. Women had to assess a man's mate potential with little to no information. In addition, involving parents who were not Christians or who didn't have good relationships with their children made that aspect of courtship very challenging. Dating became a hyper-spiritualized activity meant to resemble marriage in all of its seriousness but have none of its benefits.

It's no wonder the book has been so highly criticized - it was treated as a script but was never intended to be one. Critics viewed his principles as some kind of formula for romantic success. They followed them like a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. You take the ingredients, mix them together, throw it in the oven, and the end result is something tasty. But relationships don't work that way. They are messy, unpredictable, and never complete in the way cookies in the oven get golden-brown. The nature of his principles also made them difficult to apply in varied environments. And yet I have yet to hear anyone invalidate the wisdom behind the principles. Many Christians have no purpose for romance outside of self-gratification. There is such thing as emotional promiscuity. Most types of dating are self-centered. The things Harris decried are real.

In the end, Harris' purpose-driven dating book sparked important conversations about how Christians get to marriage. There is no Christian mating formula. There has never been nor can there ever be a truly Christian dating script for two reasons. First, dating isn't in the Bible. It is an embedded part of our culture and due to the confluence of technology, feminism, and birth control, dating is quickly becoming a cultural relic. Second of all, dating is inherently un-script-able. Following a script (i.e. arranged marriage) means removing an individual's decision-making and preferences. Dating is the result of emphasis on individual autonomy and personal desire. We date because we want the ability to choose. Dating is, by nature, improvisational. Each person makes choices that alter the outcome. It is inherently unscripted.

A script tells you where you're going, how to know if you're getting there, and guidance for the journey.  Without a Christian dating script, there is no destination, sense of movement, and outside counsel. I call these missing elements: ethical guidelines (where we're going), progress markers (how do we know we're getting there), and community (our guides).

Loss of ethical guidelines: where are we going?

I'm not wringing my hands over the downward moral spiral of today's culture. Every generation has faced its share of ethical challenges and we are no exception.

The loss of ethical guidelines is not in a reference to sexual immorality or even the struggle to define what is appropriate conduct in a dating relationship. Those concerns are factors, especially the latter but I'm talking about relationship inertia and the absence of a goal in dating. The problem is this: Christian dating does not have a clear, agreed-upon destination in mind.

Our society provides a broad moral goal for child-rearing - helping one's son or daughter become happy and independent - but there's no such common vision in dating/mating. In mainstream culture, couples date out of self-gratification ("it was natural and felt right") but Christian dating often lacks even this specific of an objective.

And if the goal of dating is indeed marriage, as noted above, it's a massive expectation that generates a lot of stress and anxiety. It feels too lofty and inaccessible for most Christians, especially college students and young working professionals, who have been trained to put career and financial stability ahead of marriage and child-bearing.  In order to defuse impending marital doom, Christians will pursue romantic relationships while eschewing the label of "dating" in order to avoid marriage pressure.

Loss of progress markers: how do we know if we're getting there?

For the parent-child bond, we track all kinds of milestones  - when an infant starts crawling, walking, the first day of kindergarten, lost teeth, driver's license, etc. But we don't have anything like that for dating.

Physical intimacy is hardly a barometer of relationship health and/or progress towards marriage. Our casual sex culture aided by technology has ensured that. In Western society, you can sleep with someone without knowing their name. Whereas in the Ancient Near East, it would be normal to hold hands for the first time on one's wedding night. Actually I have no idea what normal physical intimacy looked like for that time period. Maybe they never held hands.

The same goes for emotional intimacy. Telling someone your deepest, darkest secrets might qualify your significant other as a potential life partner but people do that all the time via blogs and social media so that's not worth much either.

Some view living together as a milestone towards marriage but research indicates cohabitation positively correlates with long-term marital stability only when marriage was already the intent BEFORE the couple moved in together. As with travel, one's dating destination and purpose  matter. Otherwise, it's sliding into, not deciding on, marriage.

One advantage of the courtship model was involvement of the couples' families provided a means of community support for the relationship. In the past, meeting a significant other's parents was a marker of how serious a dating relationship had advanced. Indeed, a man's ability to win over his future in-laws was a strong indicator of progress towards marriage. Parental and peer support is important. A village not only raises a child, it raises a family. That's the last point.

Loss of community: who will guide us on the journey?

Regarding community for parents, we have a tons of mom support groups and the public education system provides all kinds of peer support for parents. On the other hand, there are no dating support groups. Our society provides all kinds of resources for the parent-child relationship but none for courtship/mating.

The local church informally performs this vital social function - that of helping men and women meet, date, and marry. The church is the sina qua non for Christian dating principles. One cannot have ethical guidelines and progress markers apart from Christian community. If you're not part of the body of Christ, you have no tangible example of what Christian relationship formation looks like. The church is a community where one can witness couples who are married, couples who are dating and/or on their way to marriage, and all other types of relationships - healthy and otherwise.

This is especially helpful for Asian Americans. We naturally want community support and want to honor our parents. And one's parents are also part of this community, even if they're not Christians. They have been ordained by God as a spiritual authority in one's life. Seeking their involvement in mating is crucial. But as Christians leave the nest to go to school and find work, relationships with mom and dad fade into the background. Peer relationships become more important. But that's not the greatest change.

Technology has replaced community's most important function. Less than a century ago, one's ability to meet new people was limited by geography, language, social class, and economics. Most importantly, who you met was a direct function of the community you lived in - you dated your own people, if you will. With dating apps, every person on the planet with a laptop or smartphone can be "your people". Except "your people" may not share the same ethical guidelines, progress markers, and community as you do. So we have this immense dating marketplace with a dizzying array of options but everyone in it has different destinations, different ways of assessing how they're getting there, and different guides for the journey. And through all of that, we somehow want to end up on the right train with the right person going to the right place. In the past, one's community ("your people") served as a filter for shared ethical guidelines and progress markers. Now, there is no filter and we are way beyond broadband. 

For Christians, it's not at all like being an American visiting Cuba. It's more like being a tropical forest native from Papua New Guinea and visiting Tokyo. We're visitors from an undeveloped country trying to navigate the Japanese high speed rail system. We can be anywhere we want faster than ever before but we're uncertain it's any place we want to go.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

We need multi-class churches more than multi-ethnic ones

Yoga: multi-ethnic but not multi-class
Robert Putnam's Our Kids was a quick but sobering read. His main contention is the growing divide between social class of families - distinguishable not by race but by education. Children coming from high school educated homes (versus college educated homes) are far more likely to be raised by a single parent, fail to attend or graduate from college, be alienated from social institutions like the church, lack formal/informal mentoring, have lower participation rates in extracurricular activities, and spend significantly less time with their parents.

Putnam's narrative form makes the book easier to read than most sociological texts. He tells stories about kids. Each chapter begins with the portrait of two families of the same race but in completely different social classes. He talks about his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio and how black children received opportunities a generation ago that do not exist today. He writes about two Hispanic families in Orange County, California - separated by a couple miles, the educational experiences of the kids could not be more different. One family's kids attend school in fear of their safety. Academics are barely a consideration. The other family's kids feast on a buffet of AP classes and extracurricular activities - the peer pressure of the school pushing towards achievement. Putnam paints similarly contrasting portraits of two black families in Atlanta and two white families in Bend, Oregon.

Putnam describes the divide between high school educated homes and college educated homes as the opportunity gap. This opportunity gap expresses itself in increasing alienation from social support especially with the church. In this interview with Putnam, he says: 
And [the opportunity gap] shows up in the amount of support that kids get from their communities. So that, for example, church attendance is down for all kids in America, that's a more general trend, but it's down much more rapidly for working class kids, so working class kids are quite unlikely to be regular church goers, so the kids are increasingly detached from the support of a religious community, and other communities, too, I'm using that as just one example.
Teaching and modeling healthy marriage is one way to effect change, but it's more than that:
Religious communities are really important. I've written a whole book about how important religious communities are, as a source of social support. I think the fact that working class people and working class kids have fallen away from religious communities is really unfortunate. So, I think there is a major role for churches to play, and not just with respect to family structure and marriage, but also with respect to helping these kids. They are desperately alone, these kids are.
This rings true for me. In my work with Asian Americans recovering from substance abuse, I've befriended a couple men who had no college education and little prospect of attaining one. Their perspective of life is radically different from their college educated peers. After graduating from the eighteen-month residential rehabilitation program our church partners, one of the men asked me to help co-sponsor his overseas wife's visa to come to the United States. Given the financial implications, I asked for time to consider his request. He did not respond well. Angrily, he told me friends don't ask questions and that my reaction confirmed the rumor he had heard about Christians - you can't rely on them when the chips are down.

At first I was incensed because he misunderstood my position. Later I felt saddened because over time he had built up an implicit distrust of institutions. He saw me as one more talking head in a long line of authority figures who have slammed the door in his face.

I wish I could tell you there was a happy ending. The reality is neither I nor my church are well-equipped to bridge the opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots. The question I'm wrestling with is this: 

Are we truly allowing God's kingdom come when we elevate the ideal of the multi-ethnic church where everyone is affluent and educated at the expense of reaching the socially outcast, the poor, and the broken?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why Men Need Friends

I write a lot about marriage because I think it's important. But I often neglect the greater subset of which marriage is contained, that of friendship. I am fortunate to have married my best friend but she cannot be my only friend nor does she even remotely understand significant aspects of who I am (and the same is true of me to her). In Jack Donovan's words, I need a squad that will hold down the perimeter with me. I need a group of brothers who can walk with me and I them as we roll through the bumps of life.

I need male friends. 

I've never been good at being friends. It's difficult for me to keep in touch with others. I'm a here and now person and when I don't see a buddy regularly, it's easy for me to either forget about him or be unwilling to expend the effort to hang out. Even worse, when I do see people regularly, I tend to get bored of them. Judy was concerned when we first got married that I would get bored of her (after seventeen years of marriage, we now we seem to bore each other equally). I was never like my brother - the kind of person who could spend 24/7 with another friend.

Given the above, I have realized the value of abiding friendships. I also realize I have been tremendously blessed to have some seriously awesome guys in my life. They initiate with me. They reciprocate when I initiate. They accept who I am. They listen to me. They get in my face. They call me out on my stuff. They're not afraid to laugh at me and help me not take myself too seriously. They enjoy talking about ideas and challenge me to think. They listen to my struggles and share theirs with me.

I just got back from a backpacking trip with a buddy and it was a blast. We suffered through steep trails, blazing sun, and poison oak everywhere. While wading in the pond of a dried-out waterfall, I felt something sucking on my toe and let out a yelp of fright. It was likely a young trout that was so starved it mistook my toe for a bug. My buddy absolutely cracked up. I hated his guts for laughing at me but it was pretty funny. We talked about life, philosophy, marriage, and leaving a legacy. It was so good and so life-giving.

It takes work to maintain a friendship. I have neither the energy nor desire to nurture many friendships. As I've gotten older, it's increasingly difficult to arrange logistics to meet up with friend groups. Most of my significant conversations occur in a 1on1 context. It's not that they can't happen in a group; it's just that group dynamic is not easy to cultivate and if it's already hard for two people to get together and connect.

As I enter my 40s, I have a renewed appreciation for friendship. I know a lot of middle-aged fathers who are lonely and have few friends. I absolutely get lonely. I often feel no one understands me. I get disconnected from my wife and wander in the desert, thirsty for affirmation and attention. Not only so but I have strong impulses to fight, compete, and argue in ways that my wife is simply not wired for. And I've seen, time and time again, men get beat down, discouraged, lonely, depressed, aimless, just going through the motions because life didn't turn out the way they imagined it and they feel like they are alone trudging the sand.

There was a time when male friendship came easily and naturally. Being single, in school, and involved in extracurriculars such as sports makes it easy. Having fun neighbors and a younger brother close in age makes it easy.  Friends move apart for school and jobs. Getting married makes it harder. As people start to have kids, it gets even more challenging. Interests diverge. Time is scarce. Life is tiring. 

There are many reasons men have trouble making and keeping friends as they get older but it all seems to boils down to one thing: pride. Men are fiercely independent. We only see doctors and therapists if the women in our lives force us to. We loathe being perceived as needy. We believe seeking help is a form of castration. We don't like to initiate with others because it makes us appear needy. We hate being told what to do. We resent having to ask for directions. We want a strong sense of control and autonomy. We value the freedom to do what we want and not to have to rely on anyone. 

It's really hard to ask another dude to hang out. It can feel desperate and weak. It's so much easier just to have it happen organically or spontaneously or whatever it is that makes it looks like we've expended the least possible effort.

It's ironic that, based on my observations, men feel like it's okay to be needy around a woman but not ok to be needy around other men. It really works much better the other way around. We've been conditioned to be vulnerable with our mothers, likely because they've nurtured and cared for us when we were weakest - sick, depressed, etc. On the other hand, our fathers modeled for us how to be stoic, unyielding, aloof, and tough. That stuff needs to be turned around. Vulnerability should characterize all of friendship but particularly the community of men. We can only hold the line if we are brutally honest about our weaknesses. Others cannot strengthen what is neither shared nor acknowledged.

In a real sense, I need the companionship of other men more than I need my wife. I had male friends before I got married and they made a huge impact on my life. Guy friends are what led me to Jesus and what helped me grow in my faith. I am nothing without the influence of male mentors and friends. And I need my brothers now more than ever - there are fewer instructions and guidance for the later years in life and I value the wisdom and insight that only older men can offer. It's not that I don't value my wife - she is irreplaceable - but my wife is one person and my male friends are a community. I need a community more than I need any one person. The apostle Paul acknowledges this when he says it is not good for men and women to be married - we don't need marriage but we do the body of Christ. Marriage re-enacts the gospel through an exclusive covenant, child-bearing, and sex but friendship is the ultimate thing. It is the sina qua non of marriage. It is the thing that marriage is ultimately after - the connection, belonging, and nurture of a community. It takes a village to raise a man. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Dangers of Being a Skinny Fat Asian

You know the type. This large slice of yellow humanity gorges itself on all kinds of cuisine and never seems to gain any weight. The demographic is characterized by slender forearms, chicken legs, and a delicate bone structure. You see them at the supermarket and Starbucks. You won't, however, find them at the gym. How to tell for sure? If it's a female, squeeze her upper arm. If it's a male, poke him in the belly. If either of these areas give like silken tofu, you know what you're dealing with -

A skinny fat Asian.

My first exposure to skinny fat Asians came from an extreme example - a middle-aged Asian American man. On a missions trip, a man, who had absolutely no discernible body fat on any of his limbs, face, or chest, took off his shirt. He looked like a fit male for his age but right there in his midsection angrily protruded a kangaroo pouch. It looked like a four-month baby bump. The bump was normally disguised by baggy clothes and bad posture but there was no mistaking its presence and I could not unsee it.

As I enter middle age, I am mostly grateful for my body type - the slender forearms, chicken legs, and delicate bone structure. But years ago, while juggling fatherhood, seminary, a full-time tech job, and church involvement, my health took a hit. My clothed body didn't look different from years ago and I didn't gain much weight but after taking a body fat composition test, it was clear I did not have the same body I had in high school even though I looked approximately the same.

Skinny fat Asians are more sedentary

Except for health care professionals, pretty much all the employed Asian Americans I know have desk jobs. And most of the Asian kids I know, including my own children, find a sedentary lifestyle of TV, mobile devices, and gaming very attractive. Not moving starts at an early age. A recent study indicates children of Asian immigrants are nearly three as likely to have lower levels of physical activity than US-born white children.

If you're a skinny fat Asian it's likely you spend most, if not all, of your time in the sitting position. If you're studying, you're sitting. If you're working, you're sitting. Even when you're relaxing, you're sitting. Having your neck slightly tilted at an angle for an extended duration is not healthy. Being hunched over staring at a screen for hours on end is not good for your back. Being in one position for long periods of time, compounded over years and years is not good for you.

You can get away with it in your 20s with little adverse effect but once you get into your 30s, things begin to catch up. A couple years ago, I had iliotitial band syndrome pretty bad. The outside of my knees all the way up to hips hurt like crazy when I ran, especially downhill. I had never had trouble running long distances when I was younger and I attribute years of sitting at a desk as causing my weak hip flexors.

Skinny fat Asians may be at greater risk for type 2 diabetes and other diseases

Being skinny fat does not protect you from diabetes and metabolic disease. Body mass index (or BMI - weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) is the standard measurement to determine obesity. A BMI between 25-30 qualifies as overweight. A BMI of 30 or over qualifies as obese. These categories are confusing but the net is that Asian Americans are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes and heart disease at lower BMIs than white people.

This is why there are proposals to have different BMI cut-off standards for each ethnic group - not just for Asians as a whole, but for Asian sub-groups as well*.

It is well-documented Asian Americans are anywhere from 18-60% more likely to have type 2 diabetes than their white counterparts. The greatest factor appears to be a genetic predisposition towards the disease but that does not rule out other factors, such as the above mentioned sedentary lifestyle and nativity/acculturation.

Based on a study of Asian Americans from 1992-1995, the more years a foreign-born Asian spent in the US, the more likely he/she would be overweight and/or obese. Basically, the longer an Asian has been in the United States, the fatter he or she will be.

It gets worse if you're an ABC. If I'm reading the survey correctly, a US-born Asian American is almost twice as likely to be obese as his or her foreign-born counterpart (the ratio is almost the same between men and women). I'm confident that diet and lifestyle are big factors here.

Skinny fat Asians think they may be healthier than they really are

Asian Americans are, based on BMI, skinnier than white people. This is not news to anyone. But exactly what is the difference spelled out in numbers we can visualize?

Data from 2006-2008** indicate a non-Hispanic white adult males have a BMI mean of 27.1 (the survey does not distinguish men from women but it should be pretty close) and assuming an average height of 5'10", the average white man weighs 188 lbs.  With the same BMI mean of 27.1 and assuming an average height of 5'4", the average white woman weighs 158 lbs.

What is it for Asian American men and women? It's a little maddening because the National Health Survey only recently started including Asian Americans because we did not constitute 5% of the US population until ten years ago. And the information they report does not include mean BMI. But using the same data from the diabetes survey above, with a BMI mean of 24.3 and assuming an average height of 5'8" and 5'3" (the current average heights of an adult Chinese national male and female, respectively), the average Asian American man weighs 158 lbs whereas the average Asian American woman weighs 137 lbs.

So Asians are skinnier. As of 2012, only 11% of Asian Americans qualified as obese. This is easy to confirm anecdotally. The problem is it lures us into thinking we're healthy.

Unfortunately, being skinny doesn't mean we're stronger. In fact, evidence shows the contrary. Asian Americans are, pound for pound, weaker than our white counterparts, as measured by body fat percentage. From the Asian American BMI study:
Asians, although mean BMI was lower, had higher percentage body fat and more upper-body subcutaneous fat. In a meta-analysis which included data for three Asian groups, Deurenberg and others found that the percentage body fat was higher than predicted at low BMI levels for Chinese. Body fat was underestimated across all BMI levels for Thais and Indonesians. In a study of women in Hawaii, Novotny and others found that Asian women had a greater percentage of body fat than did White women with the same BMI.
We look skinny but we're actually fat, especially around the mid-section, where it's most dangerous. See, the distribution of fat also matters. The kangaroo pouch is dangerous for non-pregnant humans.

So what do you do if you're a skinny fat Asian? Don't assume you're healthy. Get checked out by your doctor. Sit less. Move more. Eat real food. Guard your sleep. Lift weights - for health and quality of life and not for shame purposes.

*The Asian American BMI study is fascinating. Of the six ethnic Asians groups surveyed (Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Indian), the skinniest group were the Vietnamese - both men and women had the lowest mean BMI. They eat lots of raw, fresh vegetables so there's that. I live near East San Jose and can't remember the last time I saw a fat Vietnamese person. Also not surprisingly, Indian men had the highest mean BMI (they eat tons of fried food) but Japanese and Filipino women tied for highest mean BMI. That may have changed in recent years as this data is from 1992-1995.

** Update: It's actually from 1992-1995. I wanted to use the 2006-2008 data, where the mean white BMI is 28.6 for men but there's no data for Asian Americans - it only tells you the obesity rate not the BMI.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Are Christians Supposed to Judge?

One of the most common complaints I hear from people about Christians is why are we so judgmental when the Bible teaches us not to judge?

The reality is Christians, and all people for that matter, make judgments all the time. We speculate on the validity of Obama's Christian faith. We give our opinions on whether so-and-so is saved. Asian Americans judge people who use the term "Oriental" to describe Asians. We definitely judge non-Asians who ask us: "Where are you REALLY from?" We judge people who listen to country music, don't recycle, or compulsively Instagram pictures of their food.

The idea of Christians making judgments about others highlights an area where teachings of the Bible feel contradictory. In certain passages, God tells us to judge. In other places, He tells us not to.  In almost all of these cases, the scripture passage is being quoted out of context. The Bible does not teach whether we are supposed to judge. That is a given because everyone judges. The question God answers through the Bible is HOW we are supposed to judge. There are at least four principles we apply when judging others:

1) Consistent standard: Matthew 7:1-5 (and its sibling passages in the other gospels) is the most frequently misinterpreted passage in regards to Christians making judgment. In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus says not to judge. However, reading on indicates he meant we apply standards of judgment first to ourselves and then to others.
Matthew 7:1-5 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?   How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Notice it's not wrong to remove the speck from your brother's eye but it is wrong to exercise judgment when your judgment is impaired by a similar issue. You work on your own mess before advising someone on how to clean up theirs. It doesn't have to be the exact same behavior nor do you have to be perfect. For example, if you're morbidly obese and you rebuke someone for being chronically tardy to church events, asking him "Can't you just leave 15 minutes earlier?" is akin to him asking you "Can't you just eat less?" You might first consider the complexity of your own negative habits - it will help you to have empathy and compassion (#4 below) for other person. You could express curiosity about what hinders him from being on-time rather than offering a trite solution.

2) Justice: It feels like it should almost go without saying but our ethical labels should be just. That means we make judgments according to what is true, real, and in proportion to what's most important. This means ethics is a continual, highly subjective process. We may differ in our ethical commitments and yet not all ethical values are the same. Bad ideas have bad consequences and good ideas have good ones. For example, it's hard to argue Hitler's conception of ethics as evidenced through the Holocaust was a good idea. It's not enough to say you believe your ideas and I'll believe mine and we can live together just fine - tolerance is not the highest virtue when it comes to how communities should function (and yes, I am making a judgment here).

Here's another example: When you compare the negative societal consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage with those of abortion and no-fault divorce, I assess an asymmetry in consequences. If life begins at or around conception, then abortion is the taking of a human life. This is far more destructive than the government-recognized union of two men or two women. No-fault divorce is similar. The dissolution of a marriage covenant is far more common and hurtful to spouses and their children than the detrimental effects of same-sex marriage. These implications are not easy to discern but it is vital we evaluate them.
Acts 15:19  "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas persuade the Jerusalem elders to stop judging Gentiles by requiring them to be circumcised and obedient to the Mosaic law. Their logic was based on accuracy - if God gave the Holy Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles by faith then surely circumcision and Mosaic obedience were not the most important. The elders encountered a new situation and based on the reality of the Gentiles' faith, recognized an inconsistency in their ethics and made the appropriate change.

3) In proportion to one's authority: Our judgments are limited to by our authority. A nation's court system has God-given authority to exercise earthly judgment with respect to a country's affairs. That's not a role a common citizen is granted. A parent or a close observer (SuperNanny maybe) has the authority to make judgments on what is best for his/her own children because he/she has been appointed by God as a judge on behalf of the family. Similarly, our judgment is restricted to the communities we have responsibility for. For example, church leaders judge those within the church. Our judgment is also limited to outward behavior because we do not see the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We may speculate what is inside the heart but we cannot fully know it. 

Finally, authority comes from knowledge and our knowledge is limited. We don't have even close to complete information in any given situation. We are often ignorant of a person's context, background, and history. This is why the Bible constantly points to God the Father as the ultimate judge and lawgiver. It all starts and stops with him. He is the final authority, the one who is perfect in knowledge and wisdom. 

James 4:11-12  Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you-- who are you to judge your neighbor?
1 Samuel 16:7  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
1 Corinthians 5:12-13  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
4) Compassion: Since God is the final and ultimate judge and God made himself flesh in Jesus not to condemn but to save us, we are implored to have like compassion on others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. 
Romans 14:4   Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
This chapter in Romans concerns accepting weaker brothers in Christ who have a scandalized conscience from eating food sacrificed to idols. Because we are each accepted in Christ - warts, weakness, and all - we apply the same standard of compassion to other that God applies in Christ towards us. 

The biblical teaching on how Christians should judge challenges me. I am quick to take specks out of people's eyes while a log remains in my own. My critical spirit jumps to conclusions. Although this behavior is endemic in both popular culture and the church, it doesn't excuse me. 

As Christians, we are called to judge by both withholding and exercising judgment in the same manner Christ did - with a consistent standard, with justice, in proportion to one's authority, and with compassion. Jesus often withheld judgment for the sake of love but when he judged, he did it well. May we go and do likewise.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Man Jose everywhere until age 35

Update: the charts ARE working correctly. Imagine the United States is the shape of a rectangle. And all the dots from the article are smeared together by a person who is left-handed and cannot color.

How there can be simultaneously more single men than women and more single women than men in the SAME city

San Jose long ago earned the moniker "Man Jose" because of the imbalanced gender ratio. This is likely due to the prevalence of men in tech-dominated Silicon Valley. Anecdotally, it's always been a running joke there are more single men here than women. 

The news gets worse for the West Coast and now there's data to back this up. According to this article, it should also be "Man Francisco" and "Man Diego". There are roughly 50,000 more single men than single women in San Diego (due to the military presence?) and 20,000 more single men than women in San Francisco (likely a similar tech-effect with San Jose). Note: the unmarried population includes those divorced, widowed, never married, and dating/living together.

The East Coast, on the other hand, favors single men. New York City has an estimated 230,000 more single women than men. That's a large discrepancy, with lots of anecdotal support. The article goes on to calculate the gender ratio, which is more helpful than the absolute numbers. In doing this, smaller metro areas get more attention. 

However, the story gets more interesting when you slice the data by age. I will summarize the article's results with some complex geographical charts I designed myself. Here is the key to reading this: where you see blue, the gender ratio is skewed towards men; where you see pink, the gender ratio is skewed towards women. For ages 18-34, here is what the data look like in the United States:

US Metros with More Single Men or Women Aged 18-34
If all you see above is blue, then you read this chart correctly. Everywhere in the country there are more single men than women in the 18-35 age range. This makes sense considering that men tend to marry later than women. 

For ages 35-44, the data are like this:

US Metros with More Single Men or Women Aged 35-44

The author of the article says the odds begin to favor single men in this demographic. That may be true, especially on the East Coast. Unfortunately, most single men in that range are not interested in women in their same range. They're interested in single women of the 18-34 age range. This is a well-documented phenomenon. If you further sub-divided the 25-34 age range, I suspect you would find more blue in the late 20s and much more pink in the early 30s. Now here's the data for ages 45-64:

US Metros with More Single Men or Women Aged 45-64

Everywhere in the country there are more single women than men in the 45-64 age range. In this age range, it is probably a little early to be widowed. I speculate men in that age range tend to get married at a higher rate than their female cohort. This may also indicate divorced women tend not to remarry (or stay remarried for very long) and divorced men tend to remarry at higher rates (or stay remarried longer). 

This data is not sliced by level of education and race, which would be even more helpful. The education level by age would probably be most helpful. I suspect Asians would hew pretty closely to the white stats. Beginning in 1981, the college gender gap began to skew in favor of women. Almost 60% of college students today are women. In the 18-24 range, I would speculate there's a small but growing education gap between single men and women - as half of that demographic has not yet finished school. I bet you would see the education gap broaden as you moved up the age range, especially in major metro areas such as NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. This education gap would likely fall in the 45-64 range because the effects of the gender education gap have yet to be fully realized. 

As mentioned earlier, my suspicion based on other sources is most single men from 18-45 are interested in the lower half of the female 18-34 age range. That's where mating competition is fiercest and helps explain why there's fewer single women in that age range than men. 

Based on this data, here are my recommendations for single men and women looking to get hitched, customized by age and level of education: 

Men: If you're under 35, it may benefit you to move to a city where there are more women. However, the gender ratio will improve over time, assuming you don't mind dating women around your age or older. If you're over 25, you'll reap greater benefits from moving to a city where the gender ratio is in your favor, again assuming you're open to women your age or older. The net for single guys in the 34-64 range is this: don't discount older women (as in around your age or just a few years younger). In the coming years, I would also encourage dating women who are more educated than you are - it will be the reality due to the gender education gap.

Women: If you're under 25, your mate value as a function of physical appearance is near or at its peak so it would be good to find someone sooner than later. You might also benefit from finding an older man, since it is unlikely most men your age will be interested in settling down. If you're over 25, this is prime territory to get married. You can invest more time in your career and education but it will be tougher not easier to find a mate later on. Again, the converse with men applies, once you're over 35, it's good to be open to either much older men and/or men who are not as educated as you are.