B Minus

Evidently, I actually still care about grades. I used to be pretty over-fastidious about the studying thing and find it kind of upsetting to get anything lower than an A minus, but now that I’m older and more relaxed (if you didn’t know me in college, you will find it hard to believe I am more relaxed, but it’s true, I promise), and have more procrastinatory study habits, I didn’t think I cared that much anymore.

Then I got my Christian Ethics midterm back and it had a B minus on it. A B minus?! That’s practically a C! That’s the lowest grade I’ve gotten since . . . well, probably since I stopped getting grades, but definitely since I took that miserable Philosophy 101 exam my junior year and only escaped an F because my essay about how I had no idea what I was talking about, was articulate and funny. (Unlike this paragraph.)

I discovered this B minus in the mail the night I returned from the Bro-Fam’s, and so it was pretty much midnight and I was tired (although grateful that, unlike my last return trip, all my flights left at their scheduled times) and I could not really read all the critical remarks in the margins. The whole thing gave me this ancient, long-forgotten but familiar feeling of unfinishedness and outrage and embarrassment and queasiness in the stomach. The problem with my two-point-five hours worth of essays was, evidently (as far as I could read), that I had not cited enough Old Testament and New Testament reasons for arguing the things that I did, and that where I did use such examples, I did not cite chapter and verse.

I had known the chapter and verse thing was going to be a problem. I had not known it was going to be a problem that would put me at the brink of a C. You may remember I recently found myself cramming a half a semester into my head in a week and a half, and since my brain retains numbers (any kind of numbers) like . . . well, I don’t know like what, because it doesn’t . . . I dispensed with memorising the references in favour of getting a pretty good handle on different ethics and points of view.

And I’m still not sure how I feel about the justice of this grade. I am a seminary student. At this seminary, it is believed that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I myself also believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I agree that, as a Christian who believes this, it is important for me to have a biblical basis for my ethical beliefs. Although I haven’t been very disciplined about this activity since probably London, I acknowledge the value of memorising Scripture passages and can recognise that remembering exactly where they are in the book can be very helpful.

However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), I’m rather inclined to think that when it comes to ethical decisions and lifestyle, it’s better to have absorbed the biblical ideas so that they flow naturally out of your life than it is to be able to cite chapter and verse. The Matchmaker keeps referring to himself as the devil quoting Scripture, and while I disagree that that describes him, I do agree that it’s possible to be able to cite chapter and verse, as well as the content of chapter and verse, and not have a relationship with God at all, just as it is possible to have a vibrant one and have no clue where in the New Testament that bit about our adoption into God’s family is.

What do you think? Is it important for a seminary student, taking biblically based courses, to engage in rote memorisation, or not? (And is that a loaded question?)

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Matchmaking?

Shortly before I met the Matchmaker, I was seriously contemplating sending an email to all my Christian friends asking them to be on the lookout for a single Christian guys for me to meet. I have a third cousin or something whom I’ve never met, but who met her husband because he did that, and I figure this is the closest to an arranged marriage that I’m likely to get at my age and in this culture. I actually feel more content as a single person than I ever have in my life, but at the same time, I still feel that I would like to be married and up until this point, neither the “you have to put yourself out there” advice, nor the “it’ll happen when you least expect it–when you’re not looking” advice have been overly effective. Maybe it would work better if someone else is looking. As long as they don’t employ as simple a rubric as “He’s a heterosexual male, she’s a heterosexual female, they’re both single,” and actually take our personalities into account, I’m fine with being set up.

Then the Matchmaker discovered me and offered to help me find somebody. In spite of his agnosticism, he’s got a pretty good handle on the Old Testament and he regularly calls me a “woman of valor” (an epithet I’m not sure I deserve but I sure appreciate a whole lot), and he insists something along the lines that “it is not good for [this particular woman] to be alone.” I thought this surely could not be a coincidence–meeting him right after this emailing idea I had. But I also interpreted his offer to be my matchmaker as meaning he would go through his contacts, and their contacts, and try to find someone suitable from people he actually knew. Or could actually get to know.

Here’s what I didn’t take into account. The Matchmaker is (to simplify descriptions a little), an economist, and so he’s all number-y and statistic-y and stuff. A couple of weeks ago, when we decided to get back on track with this matchmaking scheme (after I insisted to him that really, in spite of forays–some of them extensive–into dating men who don’t know Jesus on a personal basis, I do need to date and marry a Christian), he presented me with the following plan. I mean, this is how I understand it:

The type of man I am looking for, who has a similar relationship to God through Jesus as I have, and who maintains the same kind of relational morals, is likely to be rare. (Especially in New England, I might add.) In order to increase my chances of meeting such an individual, I need to draw from as broad a pool as possible. Therefore, I need to sign up on multiple dating websites and just date and date and date and eventually, statistically, the likelihood of finding someone I can connect with will be greater. Not guaranteed, but greater.

This sounded frankly horrible to me, and it still does, as a matter of fact. The number of times I’ve sworn off dating websites, only to return to them with dismay and resignation, doesn’t bear mentioning. I know I’m not alone in this. However, I can’t argue with the Matchmaker about the statistics. I do think there’s another dimension in play that he can’t take into account because he doesn’t believe in it, and that’s God and His will. I would find it simply delightful if, in spite of the statistics and “the best-laid plans,” I actually met a single, Christian, kindred-spirit man who was somewhere within my age group, out of the blue–or at least at seminary. But my previous experience with seminary tells me that most of their students, while male, are either married, 25, or both.

So . . . Okay, so I’m now on two dating websites. And I’m talking to some men, each of whom are quite nice in their own ways. I haven’t actually met any of them in person yet, and am not yet even sure that I’m going to. Here are some things I’m observing at the outset of this experiment, however:

1. I’m not the same girl who first signed up at ChristianCafe.com in 2003. I used to fall hard for guys on the basis of a profile and maybe a couple of emails, and I had some pretty considerable (and essentially groundless) hopes painfully dashed a few times. Now, it takes me a while to size someone up. I want to really get to know a person before I decide to commit to an exclusive relationship, and what’s more, I don’t think I’m even capable of emotionally committing until I have gotten to know them. I am still attracted to great writing and a good sense of humour, but I fall in love for different reasons now. A man can tell me he rescued some baby squirrels (While You Were Sleeping, anyone?), but that’s not going to impress me as much as when I’m hanging out with a man and my friends, and one of my friends complains of a headache and said man wordlessly and unobtrusively disappears to the nearest drugstore and buys her some painkillers, after having ascertained which ones work for her. Or when he shows up outside my workplace just before I get out for the day and has Chinese food which we eat together in the car while the rain trickles down the windshield, because we can’t eat it as a picnic in the park. Those are the kinds of things that make me commit to a guy, and I will spend time with one to find out if he has such thoughtfulnesses in him, but I need to actually spend that time before I can be sure I want to commit.

I was semi-recently pressured into exclusivity before I knew the character of the man demanding it (and, arguably, before he really knew mine), with very unhappy results, so I’m a little more wary these days. A man who can be patient with this process will recommend himself to me strongly simply for that. There’s probably a fine line between pursuit and pressure. One I like, the other I don’t, and I’m afraid I can’t tell anybody exactly where that line is. But the fact is, it exists.

2. Many men I’ve been “meeting” lately (whether or not I’ve actually met them) seem to be in a hurry to find “the one.” I’m feeling pressure again and not patience, and while I don’t want to waste anybody’s time, I think ultimately holding back and getting acquainted is more efficient than trying to force “the one” identity on someone. Also, there seems to be this idea out there that people can’t “grow into” love. The number of times in the past year I’ve been told by someone, regarding a man I may have just met, “If you don’t feel it, you never will,” astounds me. But the man I most recently loved I had known at least slightly for three years before anything came of it. I didn’t feel anything for him at the beginning (and it would have been frankly inappropriate at the time if I had), but I certainly did for a good long while in the end.

3. Most men with kindred spirit potential are shorter than I am. I long ago dispensed with the wish to find someone taller than I am, and the truth is that even off-website, I seem to get along better with men who are shorter, but still. Why is this?

4. Making the desire for a godly husband the subject of an experiment in statistics and psychology is, at least in this stage of the game, taking all the joy out of relationship. Last night I had a dream that I had to marry somebody, so I got married to this random guy about whom I was not convinced, and who wasn’t that excited about me, either. I used to have dreams like that all the time, but until last night, hadn’t for years. Am I praying about this process? Yes. Do I really know how to? No.

I suppose simply by blogging about this, I could be tampering with the data of this experiment, but maybe blogging about it is part of the experiment. Anyway. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, if you know anyone . . . screen him thoroughly, please.

Proofs

Let me make a couple of things clear before I launch into this next story:

1. I actually do believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God, and in the story of our sin and Jesus’ redemption of us by dying and literally coming back to life, and though I don’t believe it can be fully proven, I do think there’s at least as much (even scientifically) to recommend it as there is to recommend any other system of belief or thought, including atheism.

2. I know that there is no way in this universe that blue and red make green.

But here’s the thing. In spite of point one above, I do understand how so many of my friends don’t (or maybe can’t?) see how there might be as much or more to recommend what I consider the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, over and above whatever my friends happen to believe in. Furthermore, I’m not that good at apologetics, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of times, when my friends are either open-mindedly asking or close-mindedly needling me about my faith (it’s reciprocal, by the way), what I’m saying to them sounds something like this:

This morning, before the first of two birthday parties in her honour, TWCN came into the living room. She had, about five minutes before, been insisting that she needed a piece of paper for drawing, so I had found her one. She got her own crayons, but about thirty seconds later she came back to me and now the piece of paper had a faint red line, a faint blue line, and a little green swirly under them.

“Look,” she said. I looked.

“Blue,” she said, pointing to the blue line. I nodded.

“And red,” she said, pointing to the red line. I nodded again, waiting for her to say, “And green!”

But instead she said, “Make green!”

“Oh!” I said. “Really? I thought blue and red make purple.”

“No,” she insisted, turning back to her paper. “See? Blue? And red? Make green!” She put her paper down triumphantly like a fundamentalist proof-texting to his or her own satisfaction, but maybe not that of the one being “witnessed” to, and then went off so Grammie (i.e. Mom–to me), who had arrived with Grandpa the night before, could put sparkly clips into her hair.

Let me say this again. I do not believe that my saying, “Jesus is God. Who died. And came back to life again–literally, physically” is equivalent to saying blue and red make green. But I do really understand how to some people, it pretty much sounds like it.

Worship

Some parents of young children (such as, maybe, Brother-Dave or Sister-in-Lu) may take exception to this statement, but I feel that sometimes it takes a pet or a very young child to teach a person something about God. (The exception that I believe might be taken has to do with likening, say, Oscar, to, say, TWCN, but today TWCN announced she was Oscar, so . . . she said it first.)

Yesterday, before I flew back out to visit the Bro-Fam again, I had breakfast with Mentor-Liz, and we were talking about how our dogs teach us about how we should relate to God by the way they are always attuned to their “Person’s” voice and presence. Today I had another glimpse of what my relationship with God should look like when I was at church with TWCN.

I was at church with the rest of the Bro-Fam, too, of course, and we had staked out a slate of seats, but then Sister-in-Lu spent most of the service in the back with Smiley-Guy and TWCN spent most of the song-time with me. First she held onto each of my hands with each of hers, standing in front of me, facing the musicians like the rest of us, and I waved her arms a little bit and we kind of danced together, while the congregation sang of Jesus. We might even have been able to legitimately sing that part in “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” (had we been singing that song this morning) that goes, “Oh I feel like dancing–it’s foolishness, I know. But when the world has seen Your light, they will dance with joy like we’re dancing now.” (If you’ve gone to an evangelical church with any consistency in the time between about 1995 and now, you can’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.) I’m not sure I’ve ever honestly been able to sing that part before–even when I was working for and attending a charismatic church.

Anyway, TWCN held my hands tightly for about two songs, and then she turned around and lifted her arms to be picked up. So I picked her up. She essentially clung to my neck for most of the next three songs before the children went out into the other room. Any variation on the neck-hugging took the form of putting her hands on each side of my face and looking at me and sometimes rubbing noses.

I work with young children and youth on a weekly basis. Back when I was . . . a lot younger, I used to work at a daycamp for eight weeks a summer to earn some money between semesters, and I don’t know exactly what the official state rules were, but we the counselors used to give the kids appropriate hugs, or arms around the shoulders, or affectionate punches in the arm. You just can’t do that anymore without incurring a whole lot of trouble; supposedly the child is allowed to initiate hugs still, but even that can be dicey. There is something truly wonderful, however, about having a small child, of her own volition and with implicit trust, come up to you and wrap her arms around your neck, just happy to be held for a while.

I think of this sometimes when people (including, sometimes, myself) ask why God, if there is one, would just let people keep messing up if He really cares. Why did He put that tree in the Garden anyway? This isn’t any kind of new idea, and I don’t think it addresses the whole of that question, but TWCN’s frank and sincere affection kind of put a “face” on the concept–that God isn’t going to force His kids to give Him a hug. But He really wants us to lift up our arms to Him so He can pick us up and hold us for a while. It wouldn’t be the same if He forced us to do it. But the connection that happens when the child comes running for the hug because she wants to, and the beloved adult wraps that love right back around her . . . well, it’s powerful. And I think that’s what worship really is. I tried to sing the songs like that this morning, while my niece hugged me.

Blog Pause

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I have a five-month-new blog here at That’s a Jenn Story, and surely there will always be enough Jenn stories to keep it going, right? And also time to write them. In my previous blog, there were often long stretches of time when I didn’t have anything to say or the words to say it, or it was more private than even I would dare to post, but that wasn’t going to happen in this blog.

Right.

It’s no mistake that the last post before this one was all about my upcoming Greek exam . . . which I took, closely followed by a Christian Ethics exam and a World Mission of the Church exam. I wish I could say they were all finals, but no. They were, for all intents and purposes, mid-terms. Somehow I managed to cram most of half of a semester’s worth of three classes into my head in two weeks. So, is it any wonder you haven’t heard from me much? Or that maybe the stuff that I wrote in the blue books is still in those but no longer in my skull?

But I do apologise, Dear Reader, because honestly. What is a blog without you?