Data-Driven Dating :: The Weekend Reading List


Earlier this week the AIDS Healthcare Foundation created kerfuffle in Los Angeles by taking out billboards that link dating apps Tinder and Grindr to Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Taking aim at the apps themselves, and not the behavior they promote, seems to call people to an all-in or abandon-ship decision.

Few cultural decisions for people of faith are this polar. More often than not we find ourselves the minority navigating a foreign land based on our understanding of Scripture and culture.

Ubiquity of Online Dating

As a category, dating apps are growing rapidly. New offerings include networks just for farmers and gluten-free singles, as well as Netflix tastes and bacon affection (for real… although the later is owned by Oscar Meyer).

“Of 19,000 couples married between 2005 and 2012, more than a third met through an online dating site,” The Financial Times reports about the $2.1 billion industry. Highlights from Pew Research Center study reveal that:

  • Online dating has lost much of its stigma. A majority of Americans now say online dating is a good way to meet people.
  • One-in-five adults ages 25-34 years old have used online dating.
  • 5% of Americans who are in a marriage or committed relationship say they met their significant other online.
Brokenness Online
This rapid growth has not come without problems. The reduction of a human being to data-and-picture has proven to be fertile ground for cultivating a consumeristic view of potential partners.
All the data on race I have is from dating sites, but on these sites black users, especially, there’s a bias against them. Every kind of way you can measure their success on a site — how people rate them, how often they reply to their messages, how many messages they get — that’s all reduced. — Christian Rudder, Founder, OKCupid

This week Salon highlighted three categories most prone to discrimination in online dating; “Fat people are ridiculed all the time. The plight of bald men has been well articulated by the likes of Larry David and Louis CK. And of course, anytime we talk about appearance, race will eventually come into play. Online dating apps provide fertile ground for these kinds of appearance-based biases to take root.”

The Illusion of Companionship
Most dating apps court users with the promise of a better experience and longer-lasting matches. Yet researchers can’t find data to back up these claims. “The ways online dating sites typically implement the services of access, communication, and matching do not always improve romantic outcomes; indeed, they sometimes undermine such outcomes.”

Encountering potential partners via online dating profiles reduces three-dimensional people to two-dimensional displays of information, and these displays fail to capture those experiential aspects of social interaction that are essential to evaluating one’s compatibility with potential partners. — Dr. Eli J. Finkel, Northwestern University

While there are success stories for those who meet online, there is also an abundance of disappointment and pain enhanced by the structure of the apps and the behaviors they encourage.

After managing simultaneous relationships, while fielding new requests off multiple apps, Debbie Weiss confessed:
Eventually I realized this was an addiction. I had fun stories to tell. I looked put together. I was having adventures and figuring out public transit. I was “getting out there,”
But it felt wrong.
I realized that online dating was not going to take the place of a real support network. I was addicted to having someone to talk to in the evenings, even if it was just a prelude to a meet-up that never happened. When someone was texting with me, I felt wanted, and less lonely. — Debbie Weiss

Questions for Community
Perhaps the best questions for Christians in regard to most online dating networks are not “if” but “how.” Singles in faith communities have the opportunity to meet people they never would have been able to meet in generations past. The Christian theology of humanity made in the image of God can spur conversations which uncover more than data can show.

Most compelling, a Christian’s ability to draw their chief happiness, satisfaction, and identity from God can upend marketers’ efforts to try and fulfill that in a potential partner. This shift in worldview heads off the liability that data can’t prevent — trying to draw from a spouse what can only be received from your Creator.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 4-5 (Listen – 7:21)
Ephesians 2 (Listen – 3:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:10) Ephesians 3 (Listen – 2:41)
1 Kings 7 (Listen – 7:47) Ephesians 4 (Listen – 3:58)

The Weekend Reading List

The Efficacy of Prayer :: Throwback Thursday

Ephesians 1.16

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

By C.S. Lewis (1956)

The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers.
If an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine of prayer at all. It would prove something much more like magic—a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.
The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset.

“Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine—something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person.

Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary— not necessarily the most important one— from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.
Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men?

For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.

It is not really strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.

Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. If our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, we had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

— Excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ (wonderful essay) The Efficacy of Prayer.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 3 (Listen – 4:29)
Ephesians 1 (Listen – 3:10)


Where we Focus our Attention

Galatians 6.2
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

One year ago today the first of 11 cases of Ebola was confirmed in the United States. Though nine of the patients would fully recover, media coverage of stateside cases spread at pandemic levels. MediaMatters.org reports that at its peak the six major networks ran over 400 segments on ebola during just one week’s worth of evening news.
Well over 11,000 people lost their lives to ebola last year; deaths in the U.S. represented 0.0002% of the global total.

At some level we comprehend these numbers — and their disproportionate impact on Africans. On another level it’s easy to get discouraged into inaction by their immensity.

At the end of Galatians Paul spurs the church to care for one another and the world. He is not disillusioned to the size of need, but focused on the size of God’s grace expressed through the Body of Christ. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The absurd prioritization of stories which directly impact Americans is a lesson in distraction to anyone trying to live out this type of faith. The gospel’s ability to reorient our attention is critical in a culture where the possibility of water on other planets and a billionaire reality tv show star consume headlines. Especially today.
“There is no side interested in the future of Christians. We are the sacrifice of the war.” — Unnamed Syrian priest in response to the unfolding crisis

Around 220,000 Syrians have already lost their lives. The war has left another 12.8 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid (which is not-yet coming in any meaningful way). Over 4 million refugees have fled the country, at tremendous risk, to seek any form of protection or aid.

Christianity’s care for the refugee and selfless service to the marginalized can fundamentally reorient the national conversation away from partisan blather and into action. This crisis is massive — but where we focus our attention, as a state and an individual, matters.
On Monday the President tweeted a link to ways Americans can get involved in helping refugees around the world. We can add these to UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency, and other international options for action.

The pain of our world is deep — and we await Christ for full relief and the restoration of all that is lost. In the meantime we give ourselves to joining God in the restoration of all things, remembering Paul’s encouragement, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 2 (Listen – 7:45)
Galatians 6 (Listen – 2:18)


Bringing Good News to Life

Galatians 5.13
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom. — Alexis de Tocqueville

True freedom is one of the richest fruits of Christianity. By it those who follow Christ are able to invest their faith into a broken world in profoundly diverse ways — participating in redemption through acts of service and vocation.

But freedom can be misused to allow a life of pride or apathy that disconnects the Christian from the world. In the worst cases the phrase “Christian freedom” is used as a defense against calling these acts what they really are — sin.

Paul explores freedom deeply in his writings. He defines its true acts as the Fruit of the Spirit and gives warning to those living in true freedom; “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

The Greek word for “conceited” can be literally translated, “vain-gloried” and occurs only here in Scripture. The United Bible Society clarifies its meaning:
In its use in secular literature, it is often associated with boastfulness and has the sense of “glorying in vain things” or “seeing value in things not really valuable.”
“Our natural condition is to be ‘glory-empty’, starved for significance, honor, and a sense of worth,” observes Timothy Keller. “This condition is rooted in sin.”

Sin makes us feel both superior (because we are trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are significant) and inferior (because at a deep level we feel guilty and insecure).

In different people these deep currents express themselves in different ways. Some people’s ‘glory-emptiness’ takes the form of bravado and pride; some people’s ‘glory- emptiness’ takes the form of self-deprecation and self-loathing. Most of us are in the middle, wracked by both impulses. — Timothy Keller

Through Christ we inherit freedom from this pomposity and crushing discouragement. This is the good news for us individually. When our freedom bears fruit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control — we become agents of human flourishing.

True freedom reorients our lives around acts of renewal — bringing the gospel to life in ways this world is desperate to experience.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 1 (Listen – 7:52)
Galatians 5 (Listen – 3:22)


The Spirit of Adoption

Galatians 4.5
[Christ redeemed] those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The borrowed use of the word adoption in the context of new technology and puppies has diffused our understanding of an ancient concept once associated with honor and legacy. Adoption for the purpose of redefining family and future was common in ancient Rome; records recovered from the ashes of Pompeii reveal nearly one in every ten city senators grew up in adoptive homes.
In Roman adoption the adoptee legally rescinds their past — canceling debts and expunging records — and receives a future defined by the rights, status, and inheritance of their adoptive family.

Adoption ceremonies in Roman Culture began with the adoptive father paying the price for the adoption. The name of this part of the ceremony, mancipatio, shares a root from which we derive the English word emancipation. Because of the price paid in mancipatio, the past no longer held sway over the adoptee’s future.

The adoption ceremony continued with a legal justification for the transference of fatherhood. This presentation placed the adoptee under the rights and record of the new father — including giving the new child full rights to participate in the inheritance. For most adoptees in Roman culture this was a significant step up — so much so the Romans called this part of the ceremony vindicatio — vindication.
The message of the New Testament announces to Christians the price God paid for our adoption. The Holy Spirit, through Paul’s words in the first part of Romans, lays out the legal argument both for our emancipation as well as our vindication and future.
Because of Christ’s work we can rest in the rights, status, and inheritance of our adoptive family. The Scriptures assure us:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. — Colossians 3.1-3

The modern cultural desire to imbue consumption (of devices, animals, or otherwise) with the deeper meaning of adoption should not only make us leery of ascribing unnecessary value to the temporal, but point us toward the richness of our lives as adopted sons and daughters of the King.

Today’s Reading
2 Samuel 24 (Listen – 4:48)
Galatians 4 (Listen – 4:13)