Thursday, August 1, 2019

Life Lessons With Josh Harris

About 20 years ago, I attempted -- with about a million other single teens and young adults, through many documented failures -- to find a Christian soulmate by following the strict formula outlined in Joshua Harris' 1997 bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Like the author of this ill-fated book, I also held strong ideas about God, religion, and relationships when I was 20. Unlike Josh, I didn't write a cult classic that influenced two generations of young Christians. Thank God.

Maybe I didn't officially publish my stupid, untried opinions on life at age 20, but I sure did run my mouth about them.

And for that, mea maxima culpa in excelsis. (That's, like, all the Catholic street Latin that I know -- sacred liturgy with a side of Christmas carol -- crammed together into an apology. I hope it is a salve both to those who want to know that I'm sorry for speaking out of ignorance and also to those who would feel validated by a grating public example of my self-realized ignorance.)

While Joshua Harris' marriage method worked for some, many others experienced disappointment, marginalization, and even abuse as unintended side effects of the purity culture movementThe National Review describes his approach as a prosperity gospel for sex. Josh himself has apologized extensively for years, founded a support group for survivors on his website, and is currently going through a divorce and questioning his faith.

Given all of that, it seems that Josh and I have at least one more thing in common than just unfortunate relationship experiences sourced from the advice of his book: the Lord teaches us both through immersive experiential lessons in empathy.

(I'll pause here to clarify: no, I'm not going through a divorce or leaving the Church.)

But many of the hardline beliefs I held at age 20 -- poverty is the result of laziness, NFP is a super-effective form of birth control, the public behavior of young children is a direct reflection of the effort put forth by their parents -- have only softened through personal experiences of poverty, unplanned pregnancy, and public humiliation by my children.

And it's not like the untried stupid opinions stopped when I was 21. Even recently, I've deleted past blog posts that I once preached strongly and now renounce: victim-blaming those affected by domestic abuse, undermining President Obama's healthcare initiatives, sharing exaggerated statements against President Trump, presuming women who choose abortion don't seriously and conscientiously consider their available options, insisting that the best way to pursue a Catholic marriage vocation is to just marry someone who presents themselves as a good Catholic... I have said and shared some stupid stuff, and I am sorry.

In a 2017 TED talk, Josh talks about the difficulty of owning up to dumb things we've said or done in the past: "A lot of times I just want to run away from the whole process. And the reason I don't is because I believe that this is a pathway of growth for me, that I'm going to learn things in facing up to what I got wrong that I won't be able to learn any other way."

Unfortunately, apologies don't clear Internet archives or heal all of those affected or turn back time for a do-over. If only I could have learned my truisms through listening better to the true experiences of others. If only I had been slower to speak. 

Just as an aside, Ben Shapiro -- with whom I disagree more often than I agree -- has earned my respect through his willingness to publicly acknowledge past stupidity.

Alas. As it stands, me and Josh Harris -- and anyone else who sometimes runs their mouth ahead of their soul and wants to jump on this bandwagon -- are committed to change.

What does that look like?

It means choosing not to just "find someone on the Internet that agrees with you," an attractive option that Josh described while discerning the negative effects of I Kissed Dating Goodbye: "It would have been so easy to just write the critics off as haters… and then find people who liked my book and hide behind them… No matter who you are or what you think, you can find someone on the Internet that agrees with you." 


["No matter who you are or what you think, you can find someone on the Internet that agrees with you." - Josh Harris]

It means honest, respectful, vulnerable dialogue with those around us, especially those with whom we disagree. If we're talking with friends, it makes it harder to just write them off as angry trolls behind a computer screen. "I want connection and relationships and dialogue with real people," Josh explains in a recent Instagram post about his plans going forward.

It means quality over quantity. It's tempting to share every coherent thought that crosses my mind. It's tempting to run with what's popular or trending or easily-received by those whose opinions matter most to me. It's challenging to sit still and listen intentionally for a hot minute.

Our news cycle is currently churning up a 44-year-old man whose naive idealism is catching up to him two decades late. Rather than run and hide behind a willing-and-waiting fan club, Josh Harris has chosen to pause, dialogue, reflect, apologize, and dialogue some more.

Would that we could all be a little more like Josh. 


TEDx Harrisburg 2017

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