Thursday, March 20, 2008

the new definition

the new definition

Couples that are dating often have what they call a "define the relationship" conversation. If you've never experienced this, a DTR as it were, is when you discuss where the relationship is going. Are we casually dating? Is this a serious relationship? Are we boyfriend and girlfriend? Would you use the word "exclusive" to describe us? It's a fairly exhausting exercise that hopefully results in you having a clear definition of your relationship.

A friend of mine had one of those a few years ago and I can still remember his response to his girlfriend when she pressed him for a more detailed definition of where they were headed:

"Boyfriend, girlfriend, exclusive, those are just words, what do they even really mean?"

That's an admittedly discouraging response, but it does reveal a truth. On some level, we all live our lives safe in the comfort of flexible definitions. We spurn the concept of having a concrete definition for something and instead twist and pull the definitions that guide us until they are malleable and easily manipulated.

Case in point, a friend recently asked me if what he had looked at would be considered pornography. What he was asking was, "did I do something wrong?" And he wanted the definition of the word pornography to determine that for him.

That was an honest question, but I don't think you can define a word without really knowing it's context. That's why in spelling competitions the contestants always ask for origin and to hear the word they are trying to spell in a sentence. They need context.

For this friend, the context of pornography drastically altered the definition he needed to use in his own life. See for him, that word had dominated most of his life. It had consumed decades in its wide, broken-toothed mouth. So while the world might think that word only means materials that are rated XXX, for him, that word is a lot bigger. It means not watching some reality television shows. It means not looking at gossip magazines or doing a whole host of things that on the surface have very little to do with pornography. And he's not alone. I have friends that can't get money out of an ATM because any time they have cash that their support network of friends doesn't know about, they buy alcohol.

For them, just the act of getting money secretly out of an ATM is part of "acting out." They've studied themselves to know that part of their ritual when it comes to getting black out drunk is getting cash. So their definition of being safe had to stretch and grow to include things that most people would think are pretty normal and ordinary.

My question to you today is simply this: What definitions are you actively shaping and what definitions are letting shape your life?

Have you stretched the definition of love so that you can say, "I know the bible is against that, but we're in love so it's OK."

Is your definition of sin the only thing that helps you sleep at night because, "It's not so bad what I did, I mean I didn't _____, that's really what it means to sin."

Are you waiting to do something important, because you've said, "I'll follow my dreams in the future" and you've defined the future as a long way away?

I ask this, not because I know the answer to the problem of definitions. I ask because ultimately, on some level, I think the things you define end up defining you.


Scott said...

Wow - powerful post. Even as a follower of Jesus and "holding" to his definitions of things I still twist what I want how I want so as to be convenient for what I want. We all do it at some level which doesn't make it OK, but being aware of it is a good reality check.

Ally said...

Ah, the dreaded DTR.

Some of my definitions are constantly changing. I guess it's not actually the definition but more of my perspective is changing--on what I can and cannot handle without stumbling. The objective isn't to see how close I can get to the cliff without falling off, although sometimes my actions suggest otherwise.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Very good. I think I'm currently wrestling with the definition and application of transparency and integrity. On the large scale, it's a very easy thing to do. However, when it comes to true internal transparency self, God and close friends is much more difficult and scary. But, I'm learning, slowly. I definitely don't want the lack thereof to define me.

Writeaway said...

The question is never "how much can I get away with", but rather "what can I do to please Jesus?" When you ask that question, you don't have to define so much of the world. It's not relevant any more.