The Chosen One

I guess it’s not that surprising that lots of Christian singles get caught up in the idea of “the one” that they’re “supposed to” marry. We have a lot of God-ordained-ness in our larger history. God chose Abraham through whom to bless the rest of the world. God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God chose the Israelites. And, if you swing this way theologically, God also chooses who’s going to believe in Him and be saved, and maybe also who isn’t.

Many of us consult God about vocations, relocations, churches we choose to attend, and I believe this is commendable and even commanded. (I’m less convinced we always know for certain what the answer is, or that people who swear up and down that God told them to do something are really always right about that, but that may be another post for another time.) How much more, therefore, should we try to ascertain God’s will about the person we are going to commit to spending the rest of our lives with? I absolutely think we should–talking to God about it should always be part of the process.

On a practical level, however, I think there are a few ways that this can sometimes break down. (By which I mean contribute to the inherent awkwardness that is Christian dating.) First of all, I’m not prepared to definitively state this, but I wonder if there really is (at least all the time) one right person for everybody. Or . . . everybody who God wants to get married, that is. (Oh yes, we’ll be posting about that, too.) It is pretty well acknowledged, at least in the circles I do or have run in, that if, say, you’re asking God for direction about a job change, and there are two equally good, God-honouring options, He probably doesn’t intend for you to beat your head against a tree and play guessing games with Him about Which One is the Right One. He probably just wants you to make a decision, and He’ll work with you and through you in whichever one you choose. I just kind of wonder if sometimes it’s like that with the whole pairing-off scene. Maybe–maybe–there is more than one person with whom you could be compatible and with whom you could effectively minister for the rest of your life, and circumstances and your own choice, more than God’s direct intervention, might have more to do with who you end up with, or if you end up with anybody. I myself have been praying through this entire “experiment” I’m on, and I sure hope God is actively part of the process, but I have seen people paralysed in the process and the reason seems to be that they’re waiting for some sort of beam of heavenly light and chorus of angels, and though I’d never say God can’t, wouldn’t, or even doesn’t work that way, I don’t think that’s His usual modus operandi.

The other way that this gets weird is for those of us who are internet-dating but are still not totally convinced that this is a “godly” way to meet a spouse. I used to be in this camp. There are two reasons I can see for this: 1) We buy everything else online these days, and there is definitely a “shopping” feel to dating websites. This makes it seems like we’re objectifying each other and feels rather carnal, especially for people who are ostensibly looking for a godly life-mate, etc., etc. 2) It feels too self-directed, and we want to marry “the person God has for us.” What if we’re being disobedient . . . and . . . we meet somebody on-line . . . who isn’t who God “has for us” (have you ever noticed that Christian grammar is kind of bizarre?) . . . and . . . we marry them . . . and . . . God allows it because He’s punishing us for being such self-sufficient pinheads . . . and . . . the marriage goes horribly wrong . . . and . . . we’re either miserable ever after because we’d better not disobey Him again by getting a divorce, or we disobey Him again by getting a divorce? (I’m not saying every Christian out there thinks like this, but I do in my less lucid moments, and I don’t think something like this thought process is really that unusual for some of us out there. At least the ones who still have very active imaginations.) Based on conversations I’ve had with other people, I’m not the only one who has wondered if joining a dating site is the faithless equivalent to Sarah’s giving her slave girl Hagar to Abraham so he could have the descendents God promised him.

I don’t really think it’s the same thing though. (It might be if you knew–somehow–that God told you you were going to marry a specific person and things didn’t seem to be going in that direction so you decided you had heard God wrong and joined a dating website to meet someone else . . . but I’m still not convinced you could really know that.) I think it’s more like Abraham sending out his servant to look for a wife for his son Isaac.

Every Christian single wants a story like Isaac and Rebekah’s. Maybe some Jewish ones do, too–the Matchmaker certainly mentions the pair often enough. One guy on one website screen-named himself waterformycamels. It’s everywhere. This story is clearly a case of God ordaining two specific people to be together (in spite of the fact that there were some serious breaches of trust and communication later on). It’s great: God makes a clear choice, the couple are actually into each other, and they stay married for life. It’s Biblical and romantic. What’s not to love?

Here’s the part that I think sometimes gets missed, however: yes, God directed, and yes, it’s romantic, but Abraham didn’t just kick back and say to his forty-year-old son, “Oh–what? You want to get married? Well, you can’t marry any of these Amorites around here because they’re pagans, but don’t worry–God will bring a nice, Him-fearing girl into your life. Just wait for it.” Maybe he could have, since Isaac was already a miracle and God had made it pretty clear that He was going to build His chosen group of people up through Isaac’s descendents–if anybody could have anticipated some kind of teleportation of “the one” into someone else’s life, even before anyone had thought of teleportation, it would’ve been Abraham and therefore Isaac. But Abraham (maybe wanting to forestall the scenario which would actually have been like the Hagar thing–deciding it might be okay for Isaac to marry a girl who was outside of the still fairly newly-forged Covenant with God) got practical. He saddled up some camels and made his servant swear a legally binding promise that he would go find Isaac a wife from God-fearers, or nobody.

The servant set out and, as Abraham was also probably doing, prayed. He prayed for direction and he prayed specifically. I don’t really think his prayer that a girl offer to water his camels was so much asking for a random sign as trying to discern someone’s character really quickly. I mean, it was a sign, but it was a sign of something practical and relevant–when Rebekah went above and beyond what the servant had even prayed she would do, it showed she was courteous, hospitable, respectful and generous . . . in about two seconds. In a way, the servant was “shopping.” In a way, he had to. (Luckily for him, he didn’t have to go through the whole catalogue, unlike some of us.)

I guess what I’m saying is, when it comes to Christian marriage, there’s a whole lot wrapped up in it, and because of this we should absolutely be on our knees asking for God’s will and direction about it. Maybe there are those of us whom He will specifically tell to only stand and wait. However, I think the rest of us should be a little more pragmatic, because marriage in itself, while encompassing many other things, is not un-pragmatic. I want to get married. Maybe it is not God’s will for me to get married (like I said, more on that another day), but so far I cannot tell that I have been commanded not to. If I live in the land of the Amorites and I don’t have a servant to go find me a husband (most of us do, and most of us don’t), then it seems to me dating websites fit the bill of matchmaking-servant about as well as anything these days. The biggest difference is that I have to pray the prayers and ask the questions and do the discerning myself. Who is this person? What is his character? What are his gifts? What is his calling? What do we have in common? What do we not? Could we be called in the same direction? Could we be called to each other?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I don’t think it’s disobedient to use a dating website to try to get the dialogue going. It just might be how God wants to show me (or “him”–whoever that is) His choice. It’d be nice to have a camel rubrick by which to assess different suitors (although . . . they might catch on). In the meantime, something like strawberries tied up with a ribbon aren’t totally irrelevant.

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Friends

Because the weirdness that accompanies dating (not to mention dating-as-a-Christian) seems just about limitless, let’s talk about it some more, shall we?

Remember how I was saying that I think, for a Christian, the ultimate goal of dating is marriage? Okay, so I really think that, but there’s also a really strong sentiment–everywhere, but also within the Christian subculture–that a person should marry their best friend. I actually concur with that, maybe solely on the basis of my parents’ example of marriage, which I would just like to laud here as exemplary and for which I am extremely grateful. They met in college and got married right out of it, and even though, had I done the same (and I wanted to, believe me!), I don’t believe I would have had all the adventures I’ve had, I do think they’re “way” of getting together was just about ideal.

That, however, is not what happened to me, nor is it what has happened to a lot of people I know, and so now we have to figure things out from a slightly different angle. Or maybe a couple: namely the “marriage is the goal” angle and “with your best friend” angle. Sometimes it seems like, in process, those two things are about as incompatible as some of the people who might reach out to you on a dating website. Not to mention that by the this time, we’re all working this out through relational wounds and heart-ache which incline us toward or away from certain ways of putting ourselves forward for the chance at another one.

I don’t know about the women, but lots of guys say in their profiles that they want to make friends first, and I applaud that, but I also want to know what that means, and sometimes I think it means semantics. My own profile mentions friends first, so any one of the following questions could just as easily be reversed and addressed to me, but they’re still questions I have, and I address the gentlemen because it is you whose profiles I read and am curious about:

1. At the very least I think it means you’re trying not to settle too immediately on one person before fully assessing your options and the relevant situations. I am fine with this, because I do the same thing myself, although I still think the whole process is for the birds.

2. Does this mean you’re trying really hard not to have “impure thoughts” (never mind actions), so you are relegating your lady friends to somewhat genderless status as much as possible? Years ago I had a friend who became a Christian as a young adult, but she had been a young adult for a little while before that, so when she started dating again, it was really hard for her and her boyfriend to figure out what to do together that was chaste, because she was so used to sex being the primary recreational activity. This really is a challenge. If friends first means, “We have to keep our distance in order to keep our purity,” I applaud it, but I still think there’s got to be some sort of balance and it still brings me to question 3, which is:

3. If question 2, how and what makes you suddenly switch modes so you can suddenly see your “friend” as both a companion and a lover? I think you have to see her in that capacity at some point before proposing to her, for example. (Note that I said see. I’m not talking about acting upon this realisation out of order.) I’m sure this can happen. It’s just . . . after I graduated from college, I moved to Nannyville to become a nanny and I was part of an interchurch young adults’ group. We hung out together and had parties and outings and went dancing and everything and it was great, but everybody was just everybody’s friend. Those of us who did get married, mostly got married to people outside of the group, and the rest of us could probably have married each other . . . and mostly still could, frankly, but we didn’t and we won’t, and I think it’s less because we were and are all so ineligible as that we got stuck in our “just friends” boxes.

4. If you are making “friends first” and you don’t want to “date multiple people,” does this mean you’re not going to meet any of these “friends” you are making until you’ve decided to date one of them? You’re just going to email them until . . . I dunno, you get sick of most of them, or they get sick of waiting around to meet you and drop off your correspondence list and the last one standing is the one you decide to meet/date? Or can you somehow meet these people without dating them? And don’t you think that’s kind of semantics?

5. Or is it? Does friends first mean you go to coffee and a museum with at least a foot between you at all times, and dating mean after the third get-together you might kiss her?

6. Or maybe, friends first simply means you are trying to get to know people without Marriage necessarily on the horizon, and dating means you’re trying to get to know them with it there. But in either case then we’re back to the same question we started with, which is–how are we supposed to conduct ourselves in all this–with these different understandings and different expectations and different standards? And one Lord?

Breaking up N’chushtan

What?

Yeah.

I have a “Chronological” Bible reading plan going on over at YouVersion (the name which I think is dreadful, but which is, nevertheless, a helpful tool) and right now I’m smack in the middle of Isaiah and Amos and the second of the Kings and Chronicles. It’s pretty interesting to read them all mixed together like this. This morning I had some Kings and Chronicles readings, and in 2 Kings 18 they introduce Hezekiah.

Hezekiah was one of the “good kings,” relatively speaking. Actually, the passage in question says there was no one like him among all the kings of [Judah], nor had there been among those before him (verse 5, CJB) , even though when he got sick later in life he got kind of wimpy and whiny . . . but don’t so many of us?

In the verse right before this assessment, the Bible talks about how he got rid of the idol paraphernalia that was being actively used all over the land of Judah, including breaking into pieces the bronze serpent that [Moses] had made; because in those days the people of Isra’el were making offerings to it, calling it N’chushtan.

For some reason, this verse just jumped out at me . . . like a snake . . . this morning, and I had to stop and think about it for a while. The bronze serpent that Moses had made had to have been beyond antique by that point, but in spite of having mislaid the written law of God (as we discover a few kings later), they’ve still got this bronze snake.

The bronze snake was made back in the days of 40-years-in-the-desert, when the Israelites and God were having one of their lovers’ quarrels and these poisonous snakes started attacking the people. After they called out to God (via Moses) for help, He told Moses to make this bronze snake and put it up on a pole, and when the people looked at it, they were healed. Cool. Maybe we’d hang onto a piece of memorabilia like that, too.

So . . . in spite of the fact that God had issued a command not to make “graven images,” it seems like it can’t have meant “for any reason,” because He also told Moses to make this thing. What was more, He used it to help heal His people. The thing itself was obviously not evil, because Jesus used it as a symbol of His own self, much later (being raised up, and people looking to Him for life), even though snakes don’t generally have the best reputation in the Bible. But here comes righteous Hezekiah, breaking the thing to pieces.

I got to thinking about this, I guess, because I was thinking about how those of us have some kind of “God-affiliation” can sometimes get hung up on something significant that God did in our past and end up worshiping that thing instead of God Himself. That snake was useful for the particular instance God commanded it to be used. But He really doesn’t seem to work in the same way twice too often, and that snake didn’t have any power in itself. It was just a tool, which accomplished its purpose so the Israelites could live another day and see what God was going to accomplish through them next.

I’ve been sitting here thinking about various communities I’ve been involved with, and how some have not, but many have, gotten stuck on a time in their history, or a particular ministry they had, or a particular person God used for a time in their existence, and how that ministry or person or time get inflated far beyond what’s inherently there. Those things were good and God should be thanked for them, and maybe even some person should be honoured. But if we stay there too long, we’re going to end up losing sight of the God who made that time or person or ministry significant, and things are going to go downhill really fast. I guess it’s not just churches who do this . . . I guess I do this as an individual sometimes.

I don’t think God is into novelty for the sake of novelty. For one thing, it’s hard to imagine anything actually being new to Him. But I do think He wants to move us beyond ourselves, and beyond our comfort zones and beyond our known experiences. If the known experience is a bronze snake that you end up naming (like my car?!) and offering incense to, like a glorified pet, well then, maybe He’ll decide it’s time to shake things up a little bit . . . send out a Hezekiah. Isaiah (who, as the chronological reading plan at YouVersion so helpfully points out, was prophesying during the time of Hezekiah) once quoted God as saying, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43.19, NIV).

I get scared when I get a hunch that God’s going to do “a new thing.” I go look for a N’chushtan, because offering incense is sure easier than changing course or changing an attitude or a habit. (Also, it smells kinda good.) But maybe I just need to go all Hezekiah on my pet comforts and nostalgia. Because how do I get those memories in the first place, unless I let God in to start making them?

Theological Accessories/Necessities

I think I’m about to be sorry.

I have, you may be aware, this love/hate relationship with bumper stickers, primarily, I suspect, because they end up being like oft-told jokes–once you see one, you see it again a million times and they lose their punch. Also because usually they’re very polarised–either way too left-wing or way too right-wing (and either way, often quite scornful and rude) for my just right-of-centre sensibilities.

I’ve been wanting to get one for my car regardless. I used to have one with the initials of the Living History Museum for which I used to work, when Bela Corolla and I were tootling around the backroads and blue-green-Corolla-laden parking lots of New England. It was a good little car-identifier, since I didn’t have a keyfob that made the car beep. I didn’t have a keyfob, or even electric windows, for that matter. The youth group kids used to get in the car and exclaim with something that sounded really close to awe, “Miss Jenn! You have old school windows!” Then they’d have to try them out.

Anyway, now I have Kermit the Altima who is green and of still fairly ubiquitous styling, but a little more identifiable and also who has a beep-and-blink-inducing keyfob. (The youth like him because they’re taller now and they fit inside Altimas better than Corollas.) But I find that I would still like to have a bumper sticker. I don’t just want any bumper sticker, though. It has to be the right one. Kind of like a tattoo. Of which I have none, by the way–in case you were wondering.

Every once in a while I’d see something that I thought I liked, and then I’d think about having it on my car until I finally wear it out (the car, but maybe the bumper sticker, too) and I realised I didn’t like it that much. And then about a week ago I was driving and a car passed me, and on the back of that car was a single word: Forgive. Maybe they make a practice of passing people and that’s their way of apologising, but it’s not like they cut me off or anything, so they didn’t really need to.

Anyway, when I saw it, I didn’t think of that. I thought, That’s it! Forgiveness is the core of the Gospel–the whole point of everything, really–and it totally reminded me of Jesus without being a Ichthus fish (which, sadly, no longer remind me of Jesus). I frequently say I don’t want to reduce Jesus to a bumper sticker, and I don’t, so maybe it’s hypocritical to be impressed by a bumper sticker that, in a way, does just that. But I guess I was hoping it wasn’t a reduction, although it was simple and minimalistic–I guess I thought it said everything that needed to be said. By a bumper sticker, anyway.

So I went on line and found one I liked the looks of enough that was about as inexpensive as could be, and I ordered it. I suspect I’ll get it tomorrow. Or maybe Friday. I will put it on my car and I will have my bumper sticker. And then I will be conscious of driving around with a “Forgive” bumper sticker, and of all the things for which I need to be forgiven, and of all the things I need to forgive. When I was in London I remember reading Matthew 18 (not for the first time) and being struck with the idea that I didn’t really know what it was like to struggle to forgive (such that it would truly be difficult for me to forgive someone in order to be forgiven myself) because I had as yet never been wronged that greatly. I remember being concerned when I became conscious of this thought, because I was pretty sure it meant someone was going to do something that would be very hard for me to forgive. Not too long afterwards, they did.

It still wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. People have much worse things to forgive all the time. But I wonder if, when I put a “Forgive” bumper sticker on my car, I will find my resolve to do so tested again and again. I hope not, but I’m not counting on avoiding it. And if that happens, I really may be sorry. In which case . . . will I have to forgive myself?

Confused Christian Daters

See this sign right here? It’s for real on the campus of Seminary. Would you ever see anything like this in any other type of place? I can’t think of one. Where did they even get the “please” signs from? How much extra effort did it take to order them and put them up there? This isn’t the only sign like this on campus. Aren’t we Christians so polite?

That would be the question, it seems. Some weeks ago, the Matchmaker wanted to know whether or not dating Christians treat each other any differently  than those who aren’t (Christians, I mean–everybody in the question is dating). I posed the question here, and a bunch of you answered and the Matchmaker felt like you were maybe evading his question, and I argued that no, we Evangelicals just have weird, quirky ways of thinking about things, and if he really wanted to discuss this why didn’t he start commenting on my blog, too, for goodness’ sake, but then I thought I wanted to talk about his question some more, because I think what it really was, in spite of the “How would Jesus date?” framing, was, “Are Christians kinder to each other when dating than other daters are?” Maybe he feels that kindness-in-dating should be a byproduct among people who believe that God came down here in person and in kindness and are supposedly trying to live our lives His way (or maybe he’s just trying to figure out why, in spite of my best efforts, I seem to be more drawn to heathens). I guess that expectation might not be totally unreasonable.

I can’t really speak for everybody else here, but my own personal answer would be: Certain specific individual Christians are exceptional in their kindness and other-focused-ness, but it has not been my experience in every case or maybe even most cases. I would even venture to admit that I myself have not been overly exceptional in this regard. I think there are probably a lot of reasons for this, but here’s one:

Sex.

Here’s the thing. There may be some variations on how dating goes within the secular culture, but in this day of “we weren’t even alive to witness the sexual revolution so all we know is the aftermath,” most secular dating seems to assume that sex is going to happen, sooner rather than later. If abstinence happens at all (and I feel okay about using the word “happens,” because honestly, it’s a lot of work), it’s because of wanting the sex to “mean something,” but there aren’t these glitches in the process (and I suspect the consciences of most people) that come from waiting until marriage because of some kind of religious scruples or something. Even if many people buy into a romantic ideal of finding “the one” person to spend the rest of their lives with, there isn’t an assumption of there being a “one” person that you’re going to exclusively spend all your sexual energy on for your entire life. I suspect, in a way, this mindset takes a lot of pressure off, because you can have the physical fun, not only without the commitment, but without having to figure out if the other person is worth the commitment, or even if you are at this point, or if you’re compatible really, or not. Or you can figure that out while you’re having sex. Supposedly. Things may get confusing, but they don’t have to start out that way. In my limited experience and also somewhat limited hearsay, there are certain “kindnesses” and affirmations that are offered at the beginning of a relationship which may just be an overture for something else that you hope to get out of it not too much later, but at least there’s something of a code, and the kindness offered isn’t necessarily hypocritical, even if it’s also pragmatic.

Enter the Christian subculture. We’re confused from the get-go. Scripturally and traditionally (and according to traditional interpretations of Scripture), we hold and are taught that sex is meant for context of marriage and marriage alone. Not before, not with someone other than your spouse during–just marriage.

But here’s the deal. We live on this side of the sexual revolution, too, and it really goes without saying that our subculture is affected by our super-culture, if you will. What this means is there are a whole lot of conflicting rules that everybody’s living by, and it’s tough to know who’s living by which. When you get to be the age I just turned on Sunday, you’re dangerously close to People-Making-Movie-Comedies-Out-of-Your-Sexual-Status if you’re still waiting. Most single people in my age bracket haven’t always been that way, so they’ve had sex already, and although I can’t say this with any sort of authority, my guess is chances are good they weren’t abstaining before their erstwhile marriages either. This is not a value-laden statement–just a guess at facts.

There is a pretty widespread mindset in both Christian and non-Christian spheres that the validity for sex has more to do with age and emotional readiness than with marital status. In the Christian world this is justified by the fact that all the “rules” about chastity were written in a culture where people got married a lot closer to puberty so there weren’t all these single people milling around into their 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. Nobody really expects you to go without sex that long. It’s just not healthy. All that stuff they tell you in youth group about how your virginity is the best gift you can give your husband is bunk by the time you reach late young-adulthood and early middle-age; most people would prefer someone with a little experience, and would prefer to have had some experience themselves.

I know this, because I’ve had it all said to me, and I’ve thought it myself, and sometimes I’m tempted to agree with it. But I don’t actually agree with it, and though I frequently get a little hacked at God for what seems like a divine hold-out for no good reason, I still think there’s godly sex and not, and that while not all marital sex may be godly (though it should be, and good grief, married people–don’t you know a good thing when you’ve got it?! Yes, I’m being simplistic here, and I know, I know, but here’s a single-never-married person’s confession of what I sometimes feel like when I hear married people complaining about their spouses), I don’t believe that “unmarital sex,” no matter how “good” it is, ever is godly.

Also, for the record, I would like to hypothesise that if we actually heeded the injunction to marry so as not to “burn,” and stopped absorbing the surrounding cultural mores about dating being an end in itself, and about some magical “one” that we’re waiting to marry, and about marriage’s sole aim being our personal happiness (instead of a covenant God-serving relationship which is ALSO supposed to be joyous and . . . heck–fun), there probably wouldn’t be so many Christian singles, at least, in their 30’s and 40’s and 50’s trying to make excuses for ourselves to have sex without being married.

What’s more, although I believe us to be such a minority I’m not sure I even know any single people (men, anyway) who agree with me that even 30 and 40 and 50-year-olds should practice abstinence outside of marriage, I think there still are some.

The point is, though, that everybody comes to the table with different expectations. How these competing standards and expectations complicate Christian dating is manifold, no doubt, but one of the ways is that . . . it makes many of us act like we’re still in junior high. I mean, me. Lately, and more than once, I have been told that I am awkward, which is true across the board (although I’m getting a little sick of being reminded of it). But I’m not the only one. How are we Christians supposed to comport ourselves when we’re dating? Is it appropriate or inappropriate to affirm our date’s appearance? When does a compliment cross the line? When (about seven years ago), a date of mine put his hand on my knee in the car on the way to a concert, was he wrong, or was I when I inadvertently flinched? Does the fact that none of my dates had ever touched me before that point excuse me, and what does that fact say about Christian dating? Is that kinder, or less kind?

How do you find out, if you’re a Christian, whether the Christian you’re dating believes that the sole purpose of dating is to find a someone to marry, and how do you find out what marriage means to them? How do you find out, without misstepping, whether the Christian you’re dating is old-school like me and committed to the idea of “saving sex until marriage,” or someone who would rather “test-drive the car.” (A phrase, by the way, which I frankly think is appalling and which also, from my perspective, says it all.)

What ends up happening are missteps aplenty, and misunderstandings, and people holding back on expressing interest because they’re afraid of what they’ll unleash–premarital sex on the one hand, or a commitment before both parties are ready on the other. It’s enough to make anyone grumpy . . . and not always very kind.

I don’t imagine I can, nor do I intend to try to, sort out this issue, but as someone who believes the ultimate reason for Christian dating is Christian covenant marriage, and ideally really good sex within that marriage, it seems to me that those of us trying to follow Christ in our dating should work on the injunctions to husbands and wives in Ephesians. There are ways we can show love and respect to each other in a premarital context without sex–we can build each other up and encourage each other without sex. I wonder what would happen if the question asked earlier got turned around. Not, “How would Jesus date,” but (dare I say it?) “How would I date Jesus?” It might change our approaches a little bit, I reckon. Well, it might change mine . . .

It’s the Little Things . . .

You may have noticed that I keep changing my blog theme. I just . . . I couldn’t quite find one I liked. “Elegant Grunge” was kind of great–especially the name–but you didn’t know that black-and-white background one was called “Elegant Grunge,” now, did you? Unless, of course, you have a WordPress blog and you used or thought about using that theme yourself. And the grey print . . . well, I thought it might be kind of faint and difficult for some people to read.

I liked the last one because I like green and I kind of liked those little designs, but it disappeared my other two pages (“On Paper” and “What’s a Jenn Story”) which was just sort of annoying. I tried other themes before and after, and they were kind of all right but I just couldn’t find anything that quite felt like me.

This is WordPress, I kept telling myself. Aren’t they supposed to be all hip and trendy and user-friendly and have something that fits EVERY SINGLE PERSONALITY IN THE WORLD? (Sorry–I know. I just got a little overexcited right then.) I have to say they’re extra-awesome in that when I have a technical question and actually get around to asking them about it, an actual person responds within the day, is friendly, and is always able to solve the problem. (This is more–a lot more–than can be said about some other blogging forums. Fora? Shouldn’t the plural of forum be fora?)

Every time they come up with a new theme, I check it out just in case it is, finally, exactly what I’m looking for . . . and today? It was!

Don’t you think?

Prunes

Just kidding.

Pruning, more like.

I feel like I learned a lot of little things on our Week of Hope trip last week, but one of them is that you can hack a plant almost to death, and as long as the roots are still in the ground, it’ll come back. (Kind of like that Ingrid Michaelson song . . . ) I think I knew this, but I don’t think I had ever been quite such a decided factor in the process. This fact manifested itself in many ways, such as the following:

1. Miss Evangeline said, “Please, will you dig up the rosebush?” She neglected to say that she or someone had obviously tried to remove it before, only with clippers; it was, as some British say, a “titchy little thing,” but when I actually dug, I discovered a root as thick as a small tree trunk. Sometimes you have to make do with what you’ve got, but I’m pretty sure what would have really been necessary to get that thing out was a bulldozer. So I tried an axe, and then the Other Adult sawed at the thing as close to the ground at the bottom of the hole I had dug, as possible. When we were done, the rosebush was gone, but I would be surprised if that root doesn’t send out some other shoots one of these days or weeks or months or years. Later, Miss Evangeline said, ” Did you manage to get that whole root out?” and I thought, Aha! You DID know there was a big old root in there! but I just told her what I told you.

2. Miss Evangeline said, “Please fan the irises.” This, evidently, referred to the fact that iris leaves tend to grow in a fan-shape, and she just wanted them cut back to a couple of inches from the ground. She wanted the same sort of “cutting back” done with a whole lot of other flowers: primroses and even daylilies, which are still in their glory back here at home.

3. Miss Evangeline said, “Please get rid of the ivy.” There were lots of ivy situations around the place, but the one with which I was directly involved was a bunch of ivy which had set up headquarters under the front porch. I think Miss Evangeline is the type of person who, given free help, likes to rearrange her gardens every so often, and in the front likes to change the groundcover every few years. I suspect the ivy used to serve that purpose before the myrtle which she had put in since (and which also needed to be “cut back”), and I found a couple of random shoots of pachysandra evidently from a previous garden incarnation.

4. Miss Evangeline had, as I implied, lots of shrubs. “Cut it right back,” she said every time I had completed one and she wanted me to start on another. “Cut it as close as you can and it still looks good.”

With all of this “cutting back” and all these remnants of plants which had been discarded but refused to go away, I started to think a lot about pruning, and about how the Bible uses it as a metaphor. Interestingly, the theme verse of the Week of Hope was from John 15. (Verse 5, to be exact.) This, of course, is where Jesus talks about being the vine and our being the branches and the Father being the gardener, and how He cuts off the branches that don’t bear fruit, and the ones which do, He prunes to increase their fruitfulness.

Usually I think of this in terms of myself, because I think I know, at least to an extent, what pruning feels like, although I’m chronically unsure that I am even yet bearing any fruit. This time around, though, I was thinking of people I know who are going through really difficult times themselves, some of whom don’t have the larger perspective of pruning. I was imagining if the wisteria that–to my thinking–I accidentally lopped one too many branches off, were sentient and could feel the lopping the way an animal or a person feels. I imagined how probably that wisteria would think, given how much of it ended up scattered all over the ground around it, that it was never going to make it–it was going to die. I wanted to tell all those plants we were “cutting back,” Don’t worry–you’ll be fine. You’ll be better and healthier and even more beautiful this time next year. I’m sorry it hurts right now, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll see.

It’s kind of hard, as a person, to say that to another person who is going through something worse than you’ve ever been through, and it’s all in a series of other “worse” things that I can’t quite imagine. But I do really believe that happens more often than not, and sometimes I want to say, with a combination of impatience and deep concern, Can’t you see that you’re not the one in control anymore? Can you stop trying to hang onto those branches? God’s telling you you don’t need them. Can’t you just let Him take over?

Other times I think . . . if God is indeed pruning these people and not “cutting them off to be thrown into the fire and burned” (which might be what it feels like, I suspect, but from an outsider’s view is not what it looks like), does that mean that, even if they’re not acknowledging Him yet, He’s planning on their being connected to that Vine (Jesus) and intending that they bear fruit? I want it to mean that. I want their suffering–and mine, too–to mean something.

The Second Calling

Last week I went to York, PA, with 9 of “my” teenagers from the Now Church youth group, and two other adults. We met up with a bunch of other youth groups under the auspices of Group’s “Week of Hope” and did community service for the . . . community . . . with people we didn’t necessarily know before, all week. It was great. Also, I discovered something really weird: even when it’s 97 degrees out, and more humid than a Swedish sauna, I like gardening/landscaping. Especially when showers afterward are available, which was not a foregone conclusion on the 4th of July, but that’s another story which may never make it to this blog because I’m pretty sure you had to be there and you might consider being grateful that you weren’t.

I used to hate it when my parents would conscript my services in the garden, and I have a little trouble doing all the yardwork I feel I should at my home right now, although it’s more because of busyness than dislike of the actual activity. This morning at church one of the two other chaperones announced decidedly to me that he never wanted to look at a garden again in his life, and he only had to do gardening one day this week and the rest of the time visited residents at a nursing home. I, on the other hand, got home on Friday and the next morning got up, pulled on some “grubbies” and set to work clearing out the yellow rhubarb and building a fence from scratch. (It is not very far along–at all–but I’m still kind of proud of myself.)

I spent the week weeding and hacking and shaping shrubbery, while the kids swung from ivy in an attempt to pull it from the trees and the other adult lopped branches from other trees. I got better and better at the shrub hacking, so that by the end of the week, my assigned forsythia looked like a very tidy ice cream cone.

We would break for water, which we certainly needed to do, given how hot it was, and I would drink the water and go right back to work. Maybe it tapped into my delusions about being a hippie. Although I’m pretty sure a hippie forsythia? Would look like the one at the top of this post and not like the one I ended up sculpting. I began fantasising about moving back to London and apprenticing myself to Gardener-Elaine; I can’t pretend I’m actually good at this yet. Gardener-Elaine herself, for example, pointed out on my facebook page that I have the ladder the wrong way round and am using the wrong tools. (In my defense, I would like to say that the loppers were the only tools working at this point, as they were both long-handled and sharp enough to accomplish what still needed doing, unlike the shears.) But I feel like I learned a lot and maybe I could become a gardener/landscaper on the side or something. Or cut animal shapes into the bushes at Disney World. If I could only get my own garden to produce more than a bonsai tomato, which was not originally of the “cherry” variety.

Of Height and Shoes: a Very Girly Post

We now interrupt what is becoming our regularly scheduled programming to talk about . . . shoes. I suppose these shoes might have implications for dating (like: I don’t currently know any guys I’m not already taller than, so I might not be able to wear these on a date, for example).

I am what as generally known as tall. When I was in Gospel Choir in college, our fabulous but, um, not tall choir director set the dress code: if we weren’t wearing our choir robes, we had to wear assorted bright solids on top and black on the bottom, and all the girls had to wear heels. I stood in the back row. I never wore heels. “It’s dumb,” I would say. “I’m quite tall enough, thank you. And I’m in the back. No one can see my feet.” I was either right, or Awesome Choir Director was secretly of a similar mind about me, because she never said a thing to me about it.

It wasn’t until I had gone to London and come back that I would even contemplate wearing heels, and then the heel couldn’t be more than an inch. Okay, or maybe an inch and a half. This summer I had to replace my black sandals, and the replacements might have a two inch heel. I think they’re really cute. I’ve been rationing out the things I have to replace, because, as usually happens, everything seems to wear out all at the same time. I had to break down and buy snow boots last winter, on account of it was snowing a lot. And I finally had to toss my calf-length dress boots (sad day!) It belatedly occurred to me this week that I could cut off two pairs of jeans with holey knees, so that I wouldn’t have to buy replacements for the shorts I need to get rid of. My silver-coloured sandals are also about to become sole-less, and the light brown ones are getting hollow-heeled. (It should be noted that I let things get to this state partly because of money, but mostly because I want to wear things into the ground before I’m willing to part with them.)

This evening I was hanging out with my Girl-Talk Friend (of course I have multiple friends with whom I talk girl-talk, but this one is distinctive for these topics). We had supper and then she had to go to Walmart. There was a Payless store in the same plaza, so I, thinking I could maybe find some cheap light-coloured sandals to take care of both the light-brown and silver-coloured problems, told her I’d go in there while she went to buy toilet paper. But of course, she wanted to come, too.

Here’s the problem with being a tall woman in a shoe store. Being tall necessitates large feet, and the large-shoe sizes always have the worst styles and the fewest. This store seemed to have taken that truism to a new level, but because Girl-Talk Friend’s shoe size and height are a little more reasonable than mine, she was finding all sorts of shoes to try on, so I just kept randomly trying on sandals for something to do. This is how it happened that I tried on this pair right here:

You might have noticed that in the picture the shoes are on asphalt, not on Payless econo-carpet.

Here’s something you have to understand about me. I like shoes and clothes, but I rarely purchase them. (Even more rarely these days. Thus the cut-offs.) I am not the type of woman to need a pair of shoes for every outfit. Mostly my shoe colour is just something I can “get away with,” with any given ensemble. Close-toed shoes are usually scuffed. Also, I am not an impulse shopper. If I buy anything at all on the same day as I noticed it, more often than not it is after having wandered around a few stores also not buying things, and going back and getting it. Even after I buy something, unless I’m 100% sold on it, I often take it home and leave it in the bag and try it on a few times and put it back in the bag and it could go either way, whether I return it to the store or keep it.

These red gingham shoes were so ridiculous. They were platform shoes, for goodness sake. Never mind that it’s not a very high one–the idea of wearing platform shoes had never ever even crossed my mind. Not to mention the heel is about four inches high. I had, I thought to myself, no business wearing a four-inch heel. But Girl-Talk Friend had just been telling me that I needed to wear heels more, and these did look pretty good . . . and they were $8. Eight dollars. Even by Payless standards, that’s cheap.

Girl-Talk Friend went nuts. They looked so cute on me, she said. They were so me, she said. Who cares if I’m already tall–I should wear them anyway, she said. She also kept reminding me about the $8. She tried on a pair in her size and liked them so much that she bought a pair in blue and in red.

That’s how those shoes ended up in the parking lot with my feet inside them. I wore them all around Walmart and my ankles didn’t even wobble once. I’m not sure when or where else I’ll ever have occasion to wear them . . . but my birthday’s on Saturday, so maybe a totally impractical $8 splurge was in order after all.

Would Jesus Date?

I’ll have to say the comment on the last post far exceeded my expectations; thanks for playing, everybody! I’m pretty sure I could get at least one blog post out of each comment, and that may end up being, more or less, what happens. I’m starting to be even more convinced that there’s a book here somewhere, although I feel a little overwhelmed and unsure quite where to jump in next. In the meantime, let’s just keep playing with ideas. I appreciate the help.

It seems that we got a little hung up at the beginning on the fact that Jesus wouldn’t date. You can just go read the comments on the last post if you really want to get into it, but here’s a rehash of my thoughts. The title question of this post isn’t really a question–I mean, it has a question mark and everything, but obviously Jesus wouldn’t date, because He didn’t. He lived in a time and culture where there wasn’t really any such thing as dating, and anyway, He wasn’t going to get married. I mean, this was Jesus, right? The one whom Christians claim is God. The idea of His taking a particular interest in one woman and wooing her, while a popular idea in novels like The DaVinci Code and among those who would like to cast aspersions on the Biblical canon and authority (as well as being a tenet of Islamic theology: Jesus is supposed to come back and marry Mary and Martha of Bethany and Mary Magdalene), is pretty much anathema to most orthodox Christians. It makes us feel squirmy.

I think there might be multiple reasons why we feel squirmy about this, but that might be a topic for another post. For now, I’d just like to suggest that Jesus came here on purpose to date, to woo, to court . . . I realise people make distinctions between those verbs, but I don’t think that’s necessary for this post. The point is, in the Old Testament, a primary metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel is marriage, and in the New Testament that metaphor shifts to Christ’s relationship with the Church.

Although I think it most likely that Jesus would have felt attracted to specific, individual human women (yet without . . . lust? a concept I believe was possible for Him but still seems like a stretch), I don’t believe the novelists (or gnostic gospel writers) who would have us believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a thing going on. Part of why I don’t believe them (apart from the fact that the Bible’s pretty good about announcing sordid or graphic details if they’re relevant, and I think if Jesus had been having “relations” with someone, it would have been noted), is that outside the Gospels, the entire New Testament has, as one of its underlying themes, this idea that Jesus came to get a wife, and that she is the Church.

I think, in the comments on the previous post, Jeff is very right when he says the the key to the question of how Jesus would date, were He going to, is in how He treats the Church. We see how He treats individual people, and that’s one thing, but we also get Paul’s extrapolations that come out in crazy injunctions like, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord,” and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” It’s true. Jesus Himself submitted to the Lord His Father, and He did also love the Church and give Himself up for her. Completely. I don’t think anybody’s exempt from the goal of Christlikeness in relationship here.

But I also think (although I’m not a big fan of making a division between the physical and spiritual–I think it’s a false dichotomy), that it might do us good to remember that on one level, anyway, God’s incarnation through Jesus Christ was all about romance–He has had His eyes set on this “Bride” of His since before we knew Him. It kind of validates the human search for partnership, I think, even if and though the reasons are different. And it does, I think, make the original question (“How would Jesus date?”) relevant.