26 June 2006

Eros et Orca

Thanks (I think) to Kathryn for alerting me to Amy Sutherland's "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage," published in yesterday's edition of The New York Times. Now, maybe I'm particularly sensitive because I have just just finished reading The Four Loves for the third time (not including the time Lindsay Terrel and I listened to CS Lewis' recording of the book en route home from Tulsa). After all, when I sit on my couch and muse on the nexus of affection, friendship, and eros in my marriage, I just smile.

Should I should chill out? Maybe Sutherland is writing with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Doubt it. Some knotty excerpts:

I also began to analyze my husband the way a trainer considers an exotic animal. Yes, this will do wonders for the marriage union, as though your mate is just some appendage to domestic life that needs to be let out at lunchtime. Even those wives who regard their husbands as "another child" do not yet regard their husbands as pets.

Later, Sutherland delights in applying the "least reinforcing syndrome" or LRS: animal trainers do this when they refuse to respond to animals that do something wrong. In human communication, we call that "ignoring the man you love" and "manipulating through silent treatment." IML. MST. Sutherland has a vocabulary problem here: LRS might work with husbands as well as it works with dolphins, but husbands are not dolphins and deserve better respect.

Problem is, Sutherland testifies that it works. Ah, the postmodern gospel of pragmatism: if it works, it must be right. And then she concludes:

After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.

I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.

Instead of "thinking of my husband as an exotic species," what about "thinking of my husband of another human being while thinking of myself as a human with faults too. A little humility gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively."

Instead of "the trainers' motto" how about this motto for wives: "I share some at least blame here because I am not yet perfect."

And instead of taking the "this didn't work" data as motivation to change the procedure, how about taking it as motivation to change the hypothesis to something more like "Maybe treating my husband like an exotic animal wasn't where I should have started. Maybe the problem is more in my own heart and my inability to love him sacrificially, practicing longsuffering when faced with his idiosyncrasies."

This is the scientific method gone bad wrong. Evidence suggests that my husband is perhaps better than average: he contributes to the household economy (perhaps more than I do) and is characterized by real meekness. Still, wherever he can, he leaves piles of unexplained papers and clothes and old things that clearly should be thrown away while he fritters away down time playing Gamecube football. Does this mean I should try to train him like a killer whale? Heaven forbid. Let us live together in love, not manipulation.

13 June 2006

Morning Reading

The recent issue of Christianity Today features two articles that particularly caught my attention, one for good reasons and the other for bad ones.

Tim Keller wrote the good-reason article, called "A New Kind of Urban Christian" and there exhorts readers to just live real Christianity in the real world. Not exactly the pious mentality we often see where folks remove themselves from the big, bad world in order to become more holy all by their lonesomes; no, we actually become truly holy when we become truly practical about faith and truly loving of other people, and Keller suggests that we might best learn that in cities. Brilliant notion.

The bad-reason article is a magazine editorial entitled "Sex Isn't a Spectator Sport." Proceed with caution, preparing to mourn over how bent the world has become, setting up prostitution huts like portable potties so that soccer fanatics can get some without going far.

05 June 2006

Fun with Jacks

If ever there is a summer class more fun to be teaching than The Fiction and Nonfiction of C. S. Lewis, I would like to know. We have only had one day of it, but I am already convinced that every morning should start by telling stories about Jack Lewis (everyone should get the infinitely readable biography by A. N. Wilson right now) and then hearing letters from Screwtape aloud to elicit mild (okay, this part could be better) conversation about reason vs emotion. Thanks to Myles Roberts for playing along with me and the undergrads.