More Boxes

El Greco meant this to be Mary Magdalene, evidently, but I liked it way better than all the Virgin Mary public domain images I found.

As I was telling you earlier, I’ve written three novels. (I actually got about halfway through a fourth, and then it completely escaped me. Plus I was telling it from the point of view of a 20-something guy, which I am not nor have ever been, and for various reasons I began seriously doubting my ability to write in such a voice.) The youthful dreadful one, the one that got published, and (the perhaps ironically named) Favored One, the one I can’t decide whether to keep hurling at agents or to self-publish.

Stephen King says writing is like an paleontological dig, and you just tell the story that’s already there (like an paleontologist uncovers the fossils already there). I take this to mean you write with the style that you have (not that it can’t and shouldn’t be honed) and the story that comes to you. He also talks about writing for a particular person, but I don’t seem to remember him saying a whole lot about otherwise knowing your audience. In my reading, however, almost all other writing-advice-givers admonish writers to know their audience.

This is a problem for me. Even with Trees in the Pavement, though I could place it at an upper-elementary-school reading level, is hard for me to classify as strictly a children’s book. This is not because I feel any shame in having written a children’s book–children’s literature is actually my favourite–but it is because a) people who don’t know children’s literature often assume “picture book” when I say I’ve written a children’s book (a type of book I also love, but that is not what Trees is) and because b) most of my adult friends have read it and really like it–even the adult friends who don’t normally read children’s literature.

Turns out I also have genre-boundary issues. (I said genre, by the way. In case you weren’t paying attention.) I subscribe to a few different Writer’s Digest emails, and once they made available a handy little download of fiction genre types and descriptions. It was an excerpt from theBeginning Writer’s Answer Book and it listed and described such genres as Action/Adventure, Historical Fiction, Gothic, Fantasy, Mystery, and so on. In case that wasn’t good enough, they also included a few sub-genres, like Historical Romance (complete with sub-sub-genres) and Romantic Comedy and Romantic Suspense.

I read with interest the ones I thought might be closest to whatever genre Favored One is–kind of the way you read through your results when you take a Facebook quiz which purports to tell you which Downton Abbey character you are. (I’m Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, in case you were wondering. With Lady Sybill as a close second.) But, just as I always had inner caveats to my multiple choice quiz answers in school, I couldn’t quite seem to find a genre that I felt Favoured One really fit.

Here is why I might be confused (and maybe some agents are, too):

Back in London–I don’t know, maybe halfway through my time there (though I didn’t know it was halfway), I started experimenting with lectio divina. I was going through a mystical phase, remember? Somebody there once (or maybe more than once) led us through an exercise where you put yourself into the Bible story being read, as one of the characters, and tried to experience the passage for yourself in your head. I kind of liked this–as a kid I was always acting out songs and stories and story-songs–so I began to do this on occasion by myself, and to write the experiences down like short stories. (Maybe one of these days I’ll transcribe a few of them here as blogposts.) After some time of doing this, I began to feel like I wanted to do this “as” Mary, the mother of Jesus. But I didn’t just want to pick an anecdote she was in. I wanted to do the whole story.

I guess I was exploring the idea of Mary as “God-bearer,” and then thinking about how Christians are supposed to be essentially possessed by the Spirit of God (I’m sorry that this is often the opposite of what it looks like), and so, though hoping to avoid any sort of self-aggrandisement or blasphemy, I was kind of mulling around the idea of what it means to be a God-bearer–and more particularly a woman God-bearer. This idea batted around my head for a long time, and then just before I left London, I started the process. By this time I had been given a copy of the Complete Jewish Bible, with it’s complete Hebrew-to-English transliterations of the names, and so I began writing as Miryam.

The upshot is a story that just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. It’s not biographical fiction, because I’m not particularly bothered about trying to discern who the real Miryam was. I don’t think that’s remotely possible. This isn’t an attempt to imagine how the real Miryam would have acted and reacted in the Biblical accounts, but more an attempt to imagine how I would have, had I been Miryam, and had all those things in the New Testament happened the way the Gospel writers say they did. (Was it tricky “harmonising” the Gospels for this project? Yes. But it was possible.)

It’s not a romance novel, because although there is some subtle romance between Miryam and Yosef, he’s not around for most of the story. It’s sort of women’s fiction I think, because it’s about one, and because Jesus’ female disciples blasted through a whole lot of stereotypes and cultural mores to follow Him around, but that was the first century and this is the twenty-first, and I’m not sure people who snatch up women’s fiction would necessarily put it in that category. Because enough people don’t actually believe the stories literally, it could be fantasy because of the miraculous, or it could be paranormal because there are demons as well as a Spirit impregnating a teenager . . . It could be multicultural like Trees because it takes place in a country where I’m not, in a language I don’t know, among a people group I’m not a part of.

In my opinion, the closest genre it comes to fitting is that of historical fiction, but . . . I just listed a bunch of reasons many people wouldn’t consider it historical. The people who would are conservative Christians, but I’m struggling with that one. I guess I just don’t really believe there should be “Christian” art. I know I’m probably shooting myself in the foot and losing all opportunity to ever be published again, but I guess I just wish there was no specifically Christian fiction publishing industry (I concede it may be different for strictly devotional material), or Christian music industry (same concession goes for music specifically designed to be sung in worship), or Christian movie industry. I wish there were just Christian writers and musicians and movie-makers and artists who made good enough art that people would take notice, even if they didn’t agree with it.

I’m not saying my art’s that good. I wish it were, but I’m not delusional. At least not about that. Meanwhile I think I just shut down my Christian publishing opportunities, and it’s pretty tough to try to sell a book to an agent when you can’t even put a genre to it. I completely resonate with Satis’ and the Bitchy Bride’s comments on this post, and maybe I should just taste my own medicine and keep working to write a good enough piece of literature that people outside of my subculture would want to read it. Or maybe I should do what the Blue Like Jazz guys did, knowing that there isn’t–and may never be–a mainstream market for what we’re into, but that at the same time the “Christian industry” isn’t what we’re into, either. Maybe the first few attempts will be a little rough around the edges, but I may just go the self-publishing route one of these days after all. Either that, or someday the future generations can dig through the boxes, both literal and metaphoric, and maybe they’ll see something in there that they like.

Yay!

I’m not sure if it’s a function of thinking too much or what, but as a self-described hopeful cynic, I have a little trouble with that attitude of gratitude that some less complicated (or maybe more spiritually faithful) souls often enjoin. The cynical part of me is always looking for the downside of things so as not to be taken by surprise, and even the hopeful part of me is always looking future-ward, which isn’t necessarily bad but does kind of lead to some blind spots about current blessings, sometimes.

Yesterday, for those of us in the United States of America, was Thanksgiving Day, a holiday which I recently heard someone describe as “the most American of holidays.” I might, on a day when I’m not trying not to be cynical (like tomorrow), write a post about why this is and isn’t an apt descriptor, but one reason it might be is that I’m pretty sure almost every American celebrates it, no matter what religion they espouse, and even whether they believe in God or not. And . . . I like it. I should probably (make that definitely) be more consciously and overtly thankful than I am, but I like that there’s at least one day a year that affords anyone who wants to take it with the opportunity to consider that they’re blessed, and articulate it.
And so . . . here are some of my things I’m thanking God for (since I do believe in God), in no particular order and off the top of my head:
I’m thankful that:
1. even though I crashed my flawless Nissan at the beginning of the year, I got another one quickly that does a decent job of getting me from point A to point B and even fits most teenagers for youth group outings.
2. I have (and still have) a job.
3. said job still keeps me interested.
4. I get to work with such a great group of teens, growing group of elementary aged kids, and stellar team of adult volunteers.
5. I am a part of the Women’s Bible study at Now Church.
6. I’ve had three super-fun visits with the BroFam this year.
7. we have family closeness, even if not geographically.
8. I have parents who give a constant example of gracious self-sacrifice.
9. I met The Boyfriend, and that the Matchmaker helped make this possible, humanly speaking.
10. Oscar and The Boyfriend’s dog get along and Oscar doesn’t have the chronic tummy trouble he used to have.
11. The Boyfriend’s and my friendship and relationship is growing and deepening. And also we go on hikes and watch Dr Who.
12. This is the 100th blog post on this blog.
13. The Readership.
14. Friends all over the world.
There’s more stuff, of course. But that’s enough for a blog. I just hope I keep saying thanks, even when no one can see it.

First Impressions

The Matchmaker, who works at another ivied school, once told me that I should not consider going to Princeton because its people make the people of his educational institution look humble. I laughed.

Now I have other reasons for considering not going there (primarily the Boyfriend), but I’m still curious about the place, if for no other reason than that I wrote a paper for my second church history class about the modernist/fundamentalist rift in the early part of the last century, and Princeton rather featured in there, so it’s interesting to me. And they have a double “major” MDiv plus MA in Youth Ministry which intrigues me. Plus I’m on vacation and Princeton’s supposed to be a pretty town, and as a prospective student, I can stay in their guest quarters for two nights for $55. Not too shabby.

I am apparently sharing this floor with a man with a British accent and a 30/40-something voice. Although I got over the accent fascination when I actually lived in London, I no longer actually live in London, and I’ve been hearing all kinds of lovely (and less lovely) accents in Dr Who, so that, in an earlier, more single incarnation, I might have found some excuse to meander out into the hallway while my floormate was out there talking to the concierge about something, in hopes of an introduction. We might, in fact, be sharing a bathroom. I have not yet determined if this is the case, but I rather hope it isn’t.

Anyway, apart from that, my first impressions of Princeton are as follows:

It is, indeed, a pretty town. It feels a little more Oxonian that BC, maybe because it’s actually in the Ivy League? Maybe there’s some code that says Ivy League institutions must conform to a certain “Oxbridge” type of atmosphere? (Can you conform to an atmosphere?) But it’s funny, because the stones are all wrong, even though most of the architecture is right, and the grand and impressive Gothic-y buildings are interspersed with also fairly grand houses which are either reminiscent of New England colonials or federalists, or are made of red brick and look like they should be in Virginia. Furthermore, there is a bank that looks like it belongs in the Netherlands. Except that it is red brick, too. I find the whole melange very fascinating.

If I were independently wealthy, I would love it down here–it is, I suspect, a shopper’s and eater’s paradise. As it is, I just had to get every part of my brakes except the front calipers replaced, so even at $55 for 2 nights, I probably can’t really afford this. The hamburger I ate this evening, however, was leagues better than the Reuben of yesterday.

The only thing I feel I’m lacking here right now is an electric kettle to make some tea–even though it was nearly ten years ago that I left the place, my experience with even the most basic guest houses in England was that every room always contained tea-making implements. I think this is very civilised indeed and find myself expecting this on the left side of the Pond, even though experience has told I shouldn’t. Perhaps the British floormate and I can fill in a suggestion card. Meanwhile, I haven’t even had a tour or learned anything first hand about the school and the classes. I guess that’s another story–for tomorrow.

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.

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 . . .

How Would Jesus Date?

“Who would Jesus date?” is, I think, a question that has already been asked, and I might sound off on that sometime, but this post (including the title) is being dictated almost entirely by the Matchmaker, who likes to ask intriguing questions and then suggest that I blog about them. And the title question is the one that he’s asking. I pretty much think he should just get his own blog, but I doubt that’s really going to happen, so I hope I can do his question justice. He says to tell you that you’re not allowed to steal this title because it’s going to be the name of my next book. You never know. He might be right.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the Matchmaker is an agnostic of Orthodox Jewish background. He married a Jewish woman to make his parents happy and it was not a success, and he claims that his dating experiences with other Jewish women subsequently have not gone well–that in his experience they’re brusque and rude, in contrast to women of other faiths he has dated. He has this theory that Jewish parents raise their sons and daughters in such a way that they are fundamentally incompatible with each other, and he is wondering how people of other faiths find their coreligionists to be, in the dating realm.

Particularly, I guess he is wondering if there is a corresponding habitual “type” of response among Christian men and women to each other in the context of dating. Are they kinder to each other than other people who don’t claim to follow Jesus, or are they like the Jewish women the Matchmaker has reached out to? Are there any distinguishing characteristics among Christian daters? Maybe–can we genuinely see Christ reflected in each others’ actions?

This might be a difficult question for life-long evangelical Christians to answer, at least in terms of comparison, because we typically hold to the idea that we should only marry other Jesus-lovers, and so it’s possible that many of us have only ever dated other Christians and can’t compare them to dating people of other or no faith. (Okay–you all know I’m not included in that “us,” but . . . some people are.) But before I sound off my own opinions (if, indeed, I do), I (and the Matchmaker) am curious to know about your experiences with this. What do you think? How do you think Jesus would treat a date? And have you been treated that way? And do you treat others that way? I wish I did more. I’ve been mulling this over a lot since the Matchmaker mentioned it. It’s a good question, I think.

Stories, please.

Dudes, Really?

There’s definitely a dating website “culture” of sorts. I should know. I’m part of it, evidently. There are things you can talk about with other website daters (yes, sometimes it pretty much is like just dating a website) that people who haven’t gone this route just don’t get. Kind of like when you’re single with no children and you go to a baby shower with a bunch of friends who are married with kids. You can join in the conversation, but sometimes its hard to get the in-jokes.

In case you have had little exposure to the strange and wonderful world of internet dating, here are some mostly innocuous observations. (We’ll leave the horror stories to other blogs, conversations and newspaper headlines.)

According to some of my male friends, it is customary for them to receive multiple emails a day from women from other countries, mostly looking for visas, and probably money. Apart from that, I can’t really say much about what goes on in women’s profiles because (shocker!) those aren’t the ones I’m reading. I can tell you that I personally don’t get multiple emails a day, but maybe some women do. I just can’t tell you what it is about their profiles that increases their traffic. Oddly, none of my male friends have intimated to me what profile details motivate them to get in touch with the person behind the profile in question, although I guess I could figure it out by what they say they want in theirs. I just don’t think I’m that girl, most of the time.

As for male profiles, well–listen up, guys! Here is how to get your profile to stand out in a crowd . . . at least, if you’re hoping to attract an excessively tall, intense, quirky, brainy, impractical and scatterbrained woman like this one:

1. Do not say, “Looking for a good women.” If you are, indeed, looking for multiple women, you might be on the wrong website and you might not want to employ the indefinite article a. If you just meant one woman, the singular is woman. Also, presumably most of you are looking for a good woman. And presumably most of us think we are. So . . . you can say it, but it doesn’t narrow down the field much.

2. What are you saying when you put “Drama free” in your tag-line? Are you trying to tell me that you will not break down and cry at every little thing? Or are you trying to tell me you can’t handle it if I get emotional? And if you can’t, why not? There’s “burned before” and there’s “afraid of one’s own emotions.” Probably in either case, we all need therapy. I usually assume that if I have to wonder about this, the guy in question would consider me dramatic and therefore I should steer clear.

3. The Matchmaker likes to tell me with a laugh about a woman whose profile he viewed once who put as her first qualification for a partner that he be clean-shaven. He said he thought men might be more shallow, but women are probably more open about their shallowness. This is probably because, as I do not read women’s profiles, he doesn’t read men’s. He has, therefore, never seen the profile I saw in which a man, in answer to two separate questions mentioned specific qualifications for body parts. Just because I happen to match the qualifications, did not mean I felt even remotely inclined to communicate with this person. And then there’s always Mr. Crest White Strips.

4. If you tell me you’re laid back and positive, I’m going to assume that I will feel judged and inadequate around you all the time, since I am intense and not necessarily negative, but definitely contrary. Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion “laid back and positive” are often just things people say.

5. On the other side of the coin: I totally get the self-deprecation thing (as evidenced by parts of this post). I also get the dismal feeling of having “lived” on a dating website for a large part of your adult existence. But probably screen names like “unlucky” and “tryingagainforever” and “itsgottaworkthistime” are not the best choices.

And yet, there are some great profiles out there, too. Like there was one guy who said, “I don’t believe in putting your kids before your spouse. I have seen it damage relationships. The greatest gift a man can give his kids is to love their mom 100%.” Yay! Good for him! I heartily concur and why don’t more people see that–and say it?

Or there was the guy who said, “Everybody always talks about how great they are, so how ’bout I start with some of my downsides?” Somehow the way he did this was way funnier and more upbeat than the pessimistic screennames above.

Since I’m on Christian websites these days, I like when the reference to Christian faith is overt but not too perfect. Like, “As with most people, I’ve had my time on the rollercoaster of faith, but my refuge and trust is in Jesus.” That resonates! Also, it’s way more concise than I would be.

In the end, of course, it’s all kind of a personal thing. I guarantee guys could go nuts dissecting my profiles. I’m just saying–this is stuff I’ve noticed . . . more than once. Anybody else got stories?

Escapist

(Somebody's sale item on ebay)In spite of all the lovely sentiments I wrote down a week ago, sometimes I wish I could just get “reconciled to my hermitage” and not bother with the rest of the stuff, because forgiveness and reconciliation, while supernaturally possible, are, I find, still usually also something of a long hard slog.

Ever since I used to curl myself into small spaces as a toddler in Costa Rica, I’ve rather liked the idea of tiny habitats. Ever since I got to go inside an Airstream trailer as a young child in Honduras, I’ve had something of a hankering for mobile living. You might also know that I have this sort of perpetually nagging wish to be what I call an “abridged hippie.” So maybe it’s not so surprising that this week I spent a lot of time fantasizing about purchasing a vintage 1970’s Volkswagen Vanagon (with what money? I have no idea, but I was just imagining) and driving around and . . .

“. . . selling mescaline out of it?” suggested a fellow Starbucks customer from my side of the counter when I was telling Star-becca about this travel-hankering of mine. Um, no, that wasn’t really the plan. I just want a Vanagon with a pop-top to live and travel around the Western hemisphere in. (The downside, besides having no money, is the lack of showering options, as well as the fact that it probably wouldn’t do so well with some of the weather we’ve been having lately,  but as I’ve said, I was imagining, here.) There have been all these male writers who basically lived roadtrips. Why not a female one, for once? The Matchmaker thinks I should be a truck-stop evangelist (I’m not sure how that’s supposed to happen if I’m also hypothetically supposed to be getting married, but whatever)–this would be a great way to keep “sharing Jesus” and living out some sort of vocation (whether or not it’s actually mine is debatable) while not having to commit to any community. Because, as we know, I love the idea of community, but find the practice of it a little problematic.

Then my friend Fortune’s Gale invited me to one of her folk music gigs on Friday. All I knew about this gig was that it was at a “mansion” at which there was an outdoor pool and an Indian sauna. She has invited me to this event in previous years and I have never gone, but, as I’ve just been telling you, I’ve kind of been feeling like escaping this week, so, after ascertaining that I could bring Oscar, I told her I’d go. Never mind that Friday dawned and stayed dark and stormy. I packed a swimsuit just in case the unlikely happened, and an overnight bag because Fortune’s Gale had offered her guest-room for afterwards, and my dog, and drove down through sometimes dark clouds and sometimes pelting rain.

I had thought I was running late, but when I got to the venue, Fortune’s Gale hadn’t arrived yet. I pulled into the parking lot behind the large house (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a mansion) and sat there for a while to get my bearings. Finally we got out of the car and went through the door with the sign in front of it that said, “Music here.” It was, evidently, some sort of studio (yoga, it turned out later), with a big mirror along one wall. Not many people were in there, but they all seemed to know each other, and they all stared uncertainly at Oscar and me as we went in. I hoped Fortune’s Gale’s friend would make himself known soon, so I could validate my own presence as well as my dog’s.

Probably because of the rain, and the age of the poorly-ventilated building, the atmosphere in the studio was somewhat dank, and smelled of “all natural products.” As a would-be hippie, I have a sort of idealistic view of things like homemade soaps and cleaners and such, but I confess that some such products really do have a kind of funky smell–like decomposing flowers. That’s what it smelled like in there, and maybe some other things, and when the host finally did approach me where I sat in a tall chair at a tall table near the door, I thought I could smell yet more things.

“Hello,” he said. He was tall and thin, probably in his early fifties, with curly brown hair and wide blue eyes. At some point in my existence I might have thought he was “alt-attractive,” but when, after greeting Oscar, he remained sitting on the floor, staring at me unblinkingly with those eyes and asserting, “I am kneeling at your feet,” I just thought he was mildly alarming. This impression did not dissipate on further interchange, or even when he went off some minutes later to help the first musician set up for his set; as the musician was setting up his mics and stands, Hippie-J got down on the floor again and began doing yoga stretches and rolling around on the floor in front of the performance space.

The complex, it turned out, was not only Hippie-J’s domicile, but also a New Age therapy center; I couldn’t tell if some of the other people there were other therapists, and if they also lived there, or what, but Hippie-J certainly wanted me to know about the different therapies they offered in case I ever wanted to drive all the way down there again and avail myself of any of them. Especially his, most likely.

Gale finally arrived, and the music was great. Between the first act and Gale’s set, there was kind of an open-mic and I got to read part of a chapter of Trees in the Pavement and managed to sell two copies. Hippie-J bought one of them, so I can’t be too hard on him. In the end, I had to admit I had had fun. But I also had to admit that, if Hippie-J and his entourage were “real” hippies (and I’m pretty sure they couldn’t get much more authentic–I kept thinking things like, “I like Bob Dylan. Is this what he would act like in real life? Is this what hippies act like?”), becoming the kind of hippie I envision really will take an awful lot of abridging.

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.

Making Arrangements

I’m letting my Netflix account peter out, because I really don’t have time to watch movies while working full time and taking three grad classes (and I haven’t even begun teaching any flute lessons yet–partly because I’m too busy to remember to advertise). But I still have a few movies left in the cue and I can’t quite bring myself to delete them and shut the whole thing down yet, so over the weekend I watched a film called Arranged.

I liked it a lot (apart from the henna tattoos part; I love henna tattoos and have been known to wear them myself, but why do they have this whole scene about henna-ing Rochel’s hands and another of her aunt objecting to it, and then make it obvious that her hands have not been hennaed for the film at all? It’s one of those film errors that’s more glaring than most). But it got me thinking about something that I occasionally get thinking about anyway, and that is arranged marriages.

Yeah, I know, that’s probably not normal for WASP’s like me, but I never claimed normalcy really, now, did I? (The Matchmaker coined the term “sweet weirdness” the other day and we decided that I am “all about” sweet weirdness. To the extent that I may just have to change the subtitle of my blog . . . )

When I was a junior in college (a time which simultaneously seems like last year and the Dark Ages), I went to India (during the summer, which is probably not really recommended, although I still like being able to say I spent my 21st birthday stranded in a bungalow in central India during a monsoon–which is why I just said it again even though you may have heard it a million times already). I went with a team of 8 other people, two of whom were an Indian brother and sister just slightly younger than I was. They had been born in India but relocated to the United States when they were pretty young, so they could have “westernized,” I guess, and they were Christians, but they were part of a traditionalist Indian Christian community and both of them, though especially the sister, anticipated having their marriages arranged for them.

I don’t remember specific conversations about arranged marriage on that trip, but I do remember that when I came home, considering Mini and Aby’s prospects and the fact that I was a 21-year-old WASP who hadn’t even dated yet, never mind had a boyfriend, I told my parents I would like them to arrange a marriage for me. I said I trusted their judgment, they knew me pretty well, and I thought arranging marriages was a good idea.

Their basic response was, “Um . . . no thank you.” Which I guess makes sense, because it’s a lot of responsibility to take on–someone else’s marital bliss or agony.

But occasionally I still think this method might have worked for me. Better than the alternative anyway. For one thing, Mini and Aby each did have their marriages arranged, and from all appearances and reports, they are very happy.

Let me make this clear: I understand that there are tremendous downsides to arranged marriages. I know that historically there have been miserable couples forged by this method. I’m not in favour of the abuse of women that has been fostered on occasion by this practice. I’m just wondering if statistically this method of spouse-finding is any less successful or potentially abusive than the practice of serial dating that is enjoined by postmodern Western culture.

What I started thinking after watching this movie was, “I wonder if conservative religious cultures almost have an imperative to arrange marriages for their adherents,” and “I wonder if the Western church abdicated it’s authority in marriage and family when it abdicated a prayerful and godly practice of arranged marriage.” I can imagine an outcry from all over the place about these ideals, and I hope you know me well enough to know that although I can be pretty staunch and stubborn about certain beliefs and principles, I’m not really a fan of having my life circumscribed by shoulds and shouldn’ts, and my staunchness and stubbornness has more to do with relationship than rule-following. I even cringe, myself, at thinking these things, because then I think about class-based societies and people marrying for money and all kinds of other shallow reasons. I also think of books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which I confess I have never read, but which, in spite of never having read it, I have never truly approved of (although I imagine I have lived my life according to the main principle!) and which I suspect doesn’t really address the problem of establishing Christian marriages in this culture.

But still. Hear me out.

Evangelical Christians today are in an uproar because, from our perspective, the sanctity of marriage and family is being totally undermined by fornication, adultery, pornography, homosexuality and abortion. (Yeah, I said it. Argue/discuss with me later if you want. I’m not as much of a jerk as it might sound.) Then-Church is sustaining a spate of divorces lately for some reason, and Now-Church doesn’t really blink at cohabitation, and it seems like you either just have to sigh and resign yourself to current trends, or wring your hands and try frantically to dam up a waterfall. We start yelling about marriage being a union of one man and one woman, and about true love waiting, and about abortion stopping a beating heart, and all those things may be true. But yelling and hyperventilating about it isn’t really endearing us to anybody, and meanwhile, all the slogans are not really helping Christian young people or not-so-young people make good decisions once they get out into the world of “dating = sex,” and “marriage = whatever makes you happy.” It’s like we have all these noble ideals, but the ideals somehow became porous and absorbed this liquid of “surrounding cultural mores” which are actually idealistically incompatible with what the church, when orthodox, asserts about marriage and family. People have to put these two polar opposites together, and one is definitely easier than the other, so eventually one gets tossed out or just kind of dissolves gradually.

I thought that the thing about Arranged was that both the Muslim and the Orthodox Jewish cultures had their presuppositions about what marriage was for (family) and what family was for (community), and in order to uphold these presuppositions or values, they also had a structure in place by which young people were helped to find someone with whom to embark on this kind of life. This movie depicts the protagonists from each culture as having a fair amount of choice, and as also having a little bit of internal conflict when their own personal desires don’t match up with their parents’ desire for expediency in the process. So, naturally there are drawbacks. But both women also were intentional about remaining in their communities and observing the traditions, and when they find some men who are, but who are also attractive to each of them respectively, they have a good chance at making a go of successful, lifelong marriages.

I don’t really think one blog-post of an almost middle-aged Christian spinster is going to change the entire evangelical substructure of how we meet and mate. (Which I realise sounds really impersonal, but I think you know what I mean.) Maybe I can blame the early Church Fathers for taking such a low view of marriage and sex, and assuming celibacy was a higher spiritual state. (It might be, but I’m not convinced, and the fact is that very few people excel at it so it might have been wiser to be a little more even-handed about the whole thing, and allow people in vocation ministry to marry, for example.)

I’m just saying, the Western evangelical community is kind of an anomaly, in that it tries both to be up-to-date and culturally-savvy and yet religiously conservative, and maybe the ways in which it tries to be these things are not always the right ones. Maybe, given Jesus as our “founder” and Lord, we could have a more traditional method of creating conjugal unions, while at the same time, a kind of out of the box approach. No need to pressure people to marry if they don’t wish to or if they can’t “settle” on one of their presented options. No need for the woman’s will to be railroaded in deference to the man’s or her family’s. No need for single people to feel like second-class citizens (while simultaneously spiritually superior? huh?). But a framework that says, “This is what a marriage is–a partnership under God to serve Him in the world while delighting in Him and each other; and this is what family is–kind of the same thing, actually, to bring His truth and love and glory to the world. And we know it’s kind of tough to tell who that is in singles’ groups and dating websites because people say what you want to hear and at the same time try to pretend they’re only interested in a friendship first, so there’s simultaneously an intentionality and an artifice that are hard to break through. So here, we’re going to help you find someone who thinks the same way about marriage and family, and with whom you can find mutual enjoyment and service. And when you have trouble, because you will, we’ll help you to get through it.”

I’m sure it still wouldn’t work for everybody. But I’m also pretty certain it would work a lot more of the time than this hash of dysfunction and confusion and selfishness and loneliness and damage-control the church has got going on right now.