Monday, July 25, 2011

Lie #2: Men and Women Can't Be Friends

(The back-story behind this series of posts is "Relationship Lies Exposed." If you haven't already checked it out, that will clue you in on what this and the next post are all about)

Its incredible how much Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have shaped our culture. In the 80’s, When Harry Met Sally took on the topic of male-female friendships in an attempt, perhaps, to prove that they can actually happen. Crystal and Ryan’s characters certainly made it seem that way for a good portion of the movie, as they shopped together for furniture for their separate New York flats and cried on each other‘s shoulders over the failures of their respective romantic relationships. However, as predicably happens in the chick flick, this friendship too turns to something more. Ultimately, the answer we come away with from the film is “No, men and women can’t be friends. Just when you think you are close enough to get all the attraction (or as Billy Crystal refers to it “the sex part“) out of the way, you realize you’re in love.”

The theory that I’m about to subject you to is quite a new thought for me. Up until the last six months, I was quite convinced that this (movie plot) was indeed what panned out in each and every real life circumstance. Many a blog entry and 16-hour bus ride across the Australian bush was devoted to describing the pitfalls of platonic relationships.

“You can’t do it!” I would protest when someone insisted they were “just friends” with a person of the opposite sex. “I’m telling you; they’re either gay or you just don’t know they’re attracted to you“ (After all, this had been my story with every such friendship in my life. Surely, I could liken my experience to those of the entire world).

I’m sure it didn’t help matters that the first time I actually had friendships with guys (en mass, it seemed), was in college. Rife with hormones and ready to find a spouse (Christian guys, remember? They can‘t have sex till they get married…), both myself and my male friends were perpetually “on the make.”  I naively assumed that every time a guy shelled out $10 to treat me to a movie or devoted enough energy to maintain a three hour phone chat, that clearly something was up. Consulting my (ahem, single) girlfriends, I overanalysed every little hug, innuendo and last line of a phone call, over skinny lattes.

I don’t have to tell you how these conversations progressed. All you need to do is watch He’s Just Not That Into You. (Honestly, watch it. It will change your life). I intentionally waited to watch that film until I could admit that the title alone was my own story. As just so happens in the film, the girlfriends stereotypically gather round to console the rejected girl, whilst burning the arrogant boy, sputtering cliché’s like: “You deserve someone better” and “He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”

A brutally honest co-worker once had the guts to say it straight: “Girls always say ‘He just thinks of me as one of the guys!’ but that’s not true. He knows you’re a woman. You just need to face the fact that he can look right at you and not be attracted to you…”

Ouch. Harsh, but true. Even amongst the hormonal, Christian young adult population, we need to give ourselves more credit than to think that simply because we’re sitting beside a person of the opposite gender, we should (or do) automatically think of sex. Maybe those silly evolutionary biologists have poisoned our thinking, making us believe that we’re all just animals, and gratification by any quick and dirty means necessary is on par with eating and drinking. Let’s give ourselves a little credit here.

Scratch that, let’s give God a little credit.

Weird as it may seem, the very same God people search for, debate about and desperately cry out to kneeling beside their beds, is the mastermind behind this whole sex thing. Yup, no pious church ladies round here; we best be praising the Lord for this glorious invention! ;) And as the creator of sex, we must humbly concede that God knows what its best used for and how it can be harnessed. The Bible gives us the shocking command to control our bodies (Gasp…can animals do such a thing??). Why would we be commanded to do something that is not possible?

But it is possible! He is saying that humans are not animals, created to give in to every whim and desire. Through the strength of God within us, the ability to keep it in our pants is not only attainable, but can be taken one step further still. In the ideal world that the Lord desires for us to live (also known as The Kingdom of God; Jesus‘ most frequent topic of dissertation), men and women can be just friends. In fact, Scripture encourages it! It encourages men to be gentleman to the ladies in their life, and urges the women to do their male friends a favour and dress modestly to help them keep their minds pure.

I once thought “Friendlationships” were inevitable. This phrase, coined by Jeff Taylor in his twenty something Christian book with the same title, haunted me for a long time. Although the process certainly isn‘t easy, I know that I’m no longer fated to messy friendships with males. Even if the world can’t be “just friends” without motives getting mixed, the vision of having “brothers and sisters in Christ” compels me to strive for more. (Besides, I need more noogies and bear hugs in my life...)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lie #1: Arranged Marriages are Antiquated

(The back-story behind this series of posts is "Relationship Lies Exposed." If you haven't already checked it out, that will clue you in on what this and the next two posts are all about)

Confession: In my DVD collection resides a copy of The Wedding Planner. Ugh. I chide myself at the very thought of it, not only because it stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey (reason enough not to own a film), but because I dont agree with its relationship philosophy at all. The problem was, they wooed me into the plot-line by making me think that this rom-com was somehow different than its many clichéd counterparts.

To summarize the most interesting part of the film, Lopez’s character, a beautiful, but (alas) single, wedding planner, has the opportunity to choose between a man whom she is attracted to (but is engaged to another woman!), or a man whom her father wants to set her up with. In an intriguing plot twist (the hook for me), you discover that our beautiful heroine’s own father and mother were actually a love story born of an arranged marriage. Humbled by this new revelation, Lopez’s character comes to believe that she too can choose to be happy in an arranged marriage, just like her parents. When I first saw it, I sat perched on the edge of my couch, absolutely fascinated that a Hollywood film would redeem the concept of arranged marriage. (After all Bollywood films, stemming from the very sub-continent of matrimony set-ups, seem to be now showcasing more and more Western-style “love matches” than parental fix ups).

So, there I was, ready for some Hollywood redemption (oddly enough, care of a woman formerly known as “J-Lo”), when things quickly turned sour. The plot twisted yet again into something predictable (bleh). Instead of “taking the road less travelled,” the writers fell back on what they knew, which unfortunately, was attractions and affairs. J-Lo inevitably decides to “follow her heart” (attraction), and in the process, breaks up a happy couple (the object of her affection is about to get married). As a viewer, you are, of course, drawn into the story so as to empathize with J-Lo and not the ex-fiancée with the now broken relationship and broken heart.

“But its sooooooooooo romantic…,” all the starry-eyed girls would swoon.

Personally, I’m not swooning.

Why, then, would I actually choose to own this film? A bit of self psycho-analysis offers two possible reasons: Reason #1) To empathize with the protagonist’s lonely single life (outsiders assume that as a big-time wedding planner, it must be simply magical, while in the next scene, her mystique is unveiled to reveal she actually spends her evenings alone in her apartment, obsessively but quietly organizing it). Reason #2) As a platform for a relational rant on Hollywood’s messed up morals and their destructive effect on the psyche of both innocent young girls and disappointed middle aged women alike (the last thing my girlfriends expected on Chick Flick Friday. Reel them in with hunky men with Southern accents and go in for the kill with some pre-weekend philosophy. Ha!). Truth be told, my rant is actually quite brief. Its just to say that I believe our culture bases FAR too much emphasis on instant physical attraction and the necessity of “a spark” as a pre-cursor to a relationship (Wait for #3 of the list of things I no longer believe).

Back at my Christian university, our entire student body shared an inside joke in which we reminded each other, “Your camel is coming!” This infamous line came straight from our university president during a bi-weekly chapel address, referencing the story of Isaac and Rebecca in the Bible. Isaac, the story goes, was on the hunt for a wife. As was the thing to do in that day, Isaac travelled a long distance in order to find a woman that his family deemed a suitable match for him. Rebecca, it would appear, knew about the set up, and one day, while she was going about her business, was swept away by something she saw over the mountains. Trekking across the desert with his entourage of cattle and camels (hey, camels were it back in the day!), there was (at last!) her future husband--her personal prince whom she had never met!

As cliché as it sounds, I believe God is all about arranging marriages. When we let Him have the say, how can we expect to be let down? Maybe it doesn’t always come in the package we expected, but we have to admit that He knows a bit more than we do about what is best for us. Just like any other important decision in our life, I believe the choice of a spouse also needs to be surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus.

Now, I don’t claim to know whether these two had a spark when they met or they created their chemistry after years of marriage. But the point is, Isaac went out on a limb to travel a long way to spend the rest of his life with a girl he didn’t even know. He didn’t have the guarantee of physical attraction or compatible personalities, but he did trust the judgment of the family who knew him best. Perhaps Isaac learned from that same family the oh-so-important lesson that marriage is based on commitment, not necessarily romantic feelings.

The Big Book, the birthplace of the tale of Isaac and Rebecca, says very little about fairy-tale based stirrings as the ideal beginning for a relationship. Instead, it says things like “If you’re married, stay married” and “Love the wife of your youth.” Commitment, it seems, is much more important to God than whether two people “click” when they first meet.

A few years back, a friend bought me a stuffed camel from Hallmark. I now keep it by my bed as a reminder to keep an eye out for the substantial characteristics that sustain a marriage--not simply a spark. As God shuts relational doors and opens another, I hope I will have the courage to follow Him into the one He is holding open (even if I’m unconvinced at the start). When I see the camel that God has arranged for me, coming down that hill in my direction, I’ll just smile and trust that whether we click right away or not, by the grace of the Lord, we will make it work.

After all, that’s what an arranged marriage is about; trusting that most important Man in my life up until that point knows me well enough to pick out the second most important. It’s a pretty big deal, but if anyone won’t fail me, it’s Him…

Relationship Lies Exposed (AKA: Cosmo or the Bible: Which Gives Better Sex Advice?)

I had the fortune of embracing the Facebook phenomenon in its youth, as I was actually in college when the social networking site was reserved strictly for twenty-something students. While scrolling through the page of a classmate, I laughed out loud when I noted the name of one of the Groups she belonged to: “I Like to Give Advice for Relationships (Even Though I’m Single).” I joined immediately.

Never had there been a more true statement said of me. The only “relationship” I had ever been in at that point was a high school summer romance (truly, it began the day school got out and we broke up a few days before returning in the fall) to a guy who, within a few months, went after my friend, and two years later, came out to his family. (There should be some sort of club for innocent Christian girls with gay ex-boyfriends...). After that brief stint, I became pretty stubborn about maintaining high standards for guys I would date, and equally intent on making sure my other female friends did too. I developed a stack of relationship theories, most of which, by default, went un-tested. These theories emerged through a combination of movies, college lectures, and keen observance (and judgment) of the failed, flawed, but also successful relationships of my own family and friends. Without the necessary doses of reality and humility (those would come later), I would come to jealously guard and stubbornly uphold my theories for years to come.

Today, most of those theories have since been scrapped. Thanks, in large part, to a three-month Biblical worldview course I took a few years ago. Since that summer, I decided that instead of just soaking in films and professors perspectives, I should start seeing what the Bible actually had to say about love, sex and relationships. Quite a lot, it seems. And this was problematic for a twenty-something punk of a girl who thought she knew all there was to know about these sorts of things. Fortunately, I’ve been able to sift a lot of the junk from my theorires while I'm still single. But I could have saved myself a whole heap of time if I had just gone straight to ancient Hebrew literature in the first place.

During the next few posts, I'll share the top three things the world has to say on the subject of sex, singleness and standards that don’t (in my opinion) match up with Scripture…

Monday, July 11, 2011

Apocalyptic Hook-Ups

"Grab somebody sexy, tell 'em hey, give me everything tonight...for all we know we might not get tomorrow" -Pitbull, "Give Me Everything"

It’s the reoccurring nightmare of every Christian kid reared in a fundamentalist home: Sleepy eyed and dishevelled, your little self awakens in the morning and walks in the kitchen only to discover that everyone is gone. After briefly contemplating the possibility that you could be re-creating Macaulay Culkin’s serendipity a la Home Alone, your happiness quickly turns to horror. The unthinkable has just occurred: The rapture has happened and you’ve been left behind.

Fast forward to your teen years: That dream has since evolved into a scenario far more frightening. This time you KNOW the rapture has happened, because hey, there you are, caught up in the clouds with Jesus! Instead of rejoicing, however, you’re secretly a little pissed. “Really, God? Now?” You are now on your way to heaven without ever having had sex.

"It's like THE most tragic thing to die a virgin," so would have said my 13 year-old self. Even at that young age, the possibility of living a sex-free existence here on earth was very, very scary. And ironically, I have my church to thank for that...

Every single sermon from my youth group days (at least the ones interesting enough to be remembered years later) can be lumped in one of two general categories: A “Don’t Do It” sex talk and a “Get Your Life Right; Jesus is Coming Back” scare tactic spiel on the end times. I’m not sure who developed this particular sermon series, but may I say that it isn't the wisest strategy to pair these two topics together. The first admonition will (in many cases) only lead to curiosity or determination to break said rule, while the second offers the prime opportunity for action. The ever brilliant teenage mind quickly concludes: If I’m ever gonna see what this whole sex thing is about, I’d better do it quick. After all, true love waits, but the rapture might not.

Tim Keller, a Manhattan pastor, eluded to the concept of the “Apocalyptic Hook-Up” in one of his recent sermons. Apparently, the New York Times did an article in which they explored this “recent trend” where people make it their goal to hook up with someone far more attractive than they are. This experience, Keller noted, served as a self-esteem booster for many in order to prove that they could, in fact, get some from someone gorgeous.

When I first heard this new term, however, the possible definition that came to mind was not a one-night stand of epic proportions, but a hasty hook-up spurred on by a fear of the Apocalypse. In this case, it didn’t matter if your partner was super hot, just willing to share an experience that, if it didn’t happen now, might never happen at all. Although the New York Times-defined version might be new, I'm thinkin' that the "Last days = last chance for romance" idea probably first took flight 40 or so years ago...

From what I've gathered, the Jesus Movement didn’t seem too interested in discipleship. Back in the 70’s, with wars, rumours of wars, and the production of terrifying Christian movies about the Great Tribulation, the focus was on the present, not future. Therefore, Christians pushed evangelism; getting people saved was the ultimate priority. All that lifestyle stuff the Bible talks about (um, discipleship??) quickly took a back seat. There simply wasn’t enough time for that now…

Seeing as I didn’t even exist in the 70’s, I don’t claim to be the expert on this. I only know what my mother told me. My mom got saved in the Jesus Movement when she was 15. That same year, she got pregnant. As thankful as my mom is for her salvation experience, she desperately wishes they stressed different subjects in church back then.

“They really made you think that Jesus was coming back tomorrow!” she says of her own youth group sermons (Twenty years later in the 90’s, things hadn’t changed much. My experience was the same).

So, what else is a poor kid to do? “Eat, drink and be merry,” the Bible says, “for tomorrow we die” (discipleship 101 in a last days world). Live it up was the motto for all the youth who never even considered that the Lord might tarry long enough for them to actually get married (to have sex). And at 15, my mom certainly never pictured that one day she would be a grandmother of seven…

While I’m the first to chuckle at the fact that sex is a big enough deal in the mind of a teenager that it absolutely has to happen at all costs before Armageddon, I do find it disturbing that young people are so adamantly convinced in the ultimate satisfaction of it. Why is death as a virgin the worst thing in the world? I guess because, according to the world, it’s the best you can get. Love, closeness, and pleasure (in the most ideal scenario) can all be found in the embrace of another human being. As glorious as it may be (not the expert on this, but I'd venture it's a fair assumption...), I'm convinced there is infinitely more to life than this. Going back to that teenage dream for a minute: The dilemma is heaven vs. sex. And the sad reality is, most choose the sex.

This proves that we know absolutely nothing about heaven. In our finite brains, we can’t grasp the concept that something could provide FAR greater amounts of love, closeness and pleasure than doin' the dirty. But it's true! Only in recent years of studying the Bible as an adult have I discovered the book of Revelation is, in large part, NOT about the end times. (That truly came as a shock to me, I’m embarrassed to admit…). This book (often titled some form of the word Apocalypse in many Latin-based languages) is actually about the incredible beauty and greatness of God. Not to mention the perfect and perfectly satisfying home that He has waiting for us.

Just a few days ago, I was describing the California-based preacher/author Francis Chan to one of my friends. “Basically,” I said, “No matter what the subject of his sermon is, he always ends up talking about heaven.” In fact, Chan is perhaps the only person I’ve heard preach on Revelation without 75% of it (or more) being about pre, mid or post-trib theories and the implications of being “left behind” after the rapture (be-headings, anyone?). Nope, none of that: Chan just talks about the beauty of Jesus. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone talk more passionately about the anticipation of God’s glory revealed in heaven as Francis Chan (I take that back…Chan, and John Piper. See below). He is absolutely convinced that nothing on this earth could ever come close to knowing the Lord in His fullness. (I highly recommend his sermon “The Holiness of God” from Cornerstone Simi Valley Church. When I first heard it, I was speechless…).

John Piper, another preacher whom I deeply respect, is also known for touting God’s glory in each book he publishes and every sermon he preaches. His analogy pertaining to the heaven vs. sex argument is profound. In a sermon on singleness (continuing our “lack of sex” theme), Piper admonishes singles that the season they are in (whether permanent or temporary) offers them an opportunity for a unique covenant with God that married people don’t have. Its true: God makes the promise in Isaiah 56 (read the commentary on it). The problem is, Piper says, singles don’t actually believe experiencing the fullness of God to be a great reward (and certainly not a good trade for no marriage). Instead of cherishing the treasure of their singleness, they ask God for both: “Can’t I have the Biblical benefits of singleness (see 1 Corinthians 7) AND the whole marriage/sex thing?“ The two are absolutely incomparable, Piper says. Opting for human marriage over a rare closeness with the Almighty, is like God giving you the entire ocean, and you tugging on his shirt sleeve and asking, “Um, can I have a thimble too?”

(When it’s put in that light, we suddenly realize how foolish it is to desperately desire something so silly compared to something so beautiful).

Heaven or sex? Well, hopefully it's both :) But if it comes down to revelling in the lusts of the flesh (sex outside of marriage) or soaking up the beauty of Jesus, it should be a no-brainer. 

I pray that both myself and my students will have a relationship with God where we truly trust His ability to satisfy us more than anything else in this world. Oh, that we would look at that question and boldly choose the right answer...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Technological Romance

I once got proposed to in an email.

No joke. Throwing netiquette to the wind, my "friend" decided he'd take the plunge on a reply to a casual catch up email I had sent him, having not seen or heard from him in two years (I've always wanted to be swept off my feet through a computer screen with the compelling opener of, RE: Hey!). Perusing through his lengthy message, "I miss you's" suddenly morphed into love song lyrics ("You're so beautiful...") and then into a confession that he wanted to spend the rest of my life with me.

WTF???? An email...really? While meeting potentials online is no longer taboo, I hope to never live in a world where electronic proposals are considered commonplace. Upon realization that the email I just received was, in fact, popping the question, I started freaking out. I mean, this guy and I were just friends. We lived on different continents, had completely different lives and were not, by any means, close.

All the same, I figured this type of query had to have come from somewhere, so I frantically attempted to recall all of the encounters and conversations we had ever shared. While I don't think I appeared to express interest during the six months I knew him, I am all too aware that when one is completely smitten, every little action from a crush can be misconstrued as "confirmation" that said crush shares your feelings. You know what I mean: Grabbing a bite to eat at McDonalds suddenly becomes a "date." Wearing a dress the day you happened to run into him at the mall signals you were "trying to impress him." Oh yes...clearly. 

In his defense, which of us hasn't read too much into a crush's actions? I'm certainly guilty. Over the years, I've come to terms with the (many) occasions I assumed intention where there was only platonic relationship. With a clear head, I can now see my friendships with these guys as they did. This whole crush thing, though, is quite the perception-twister. When I start practicing my new signature using his last name, or humming Natasha Beddingfield's I Wanna Have Your Babies as I'm scanning through his Facebook profile, I know all I need is a good friend to come and slap me in the face. Or at least put He's Just Not That Into You into the DVD player and make me some popcorn. (Reality check...)

Friends, the moral of the story is this: You know what happens when you assume. That's right. Not only did this circumstance serve to paint email man in a bad light, but it made me feel pretty cheap as well. What kind of a girl actually says Yes to a no-prior-relationship-electronic-proposal? Definitely not this girl. As a society, I hope that we have progressed past the Jane Austen-era, where women (like Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice) are forced to accept whatever offer comes their way just because they are already (gasp!) 27.

Speaking of progression, allow me to offer some advice to any men who might stumble upon this blog: Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Even computer nerds need to know that the traditional always trumps the technological. So, do the right thing: Get in a relationship, get serious enough to already know the answer, and then, get down on one knee. And please, please...don't do it through Skype.

(Progression  = plane tickets).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Sex Lives of Virgins

I've started this new blog in hopes of being provocative. As in thought-provoking provocative, not so much dodgy provocative. In my attempts to embrace the former, however, the latter always seems to creep out. But I swear, dodginess was not my original goal. I suppose it's just the by-product of a bit of raw honesty :)

So, my first little tale here on The Virgin Verdict is my not-so-innocent start in the world of prolific-blog posting. As a Christian college student, Take One didn't pan out quite as pure as I intended. My first blog was deemed dodgy provocative, not as a result of racy writing, but from an unintentionally scandalous photo...

My favorite photo of myself is of me at my brother's wedding, wearing a strapless bridesmaids dress. Unfortunately, in order to put up that particular photo on my profile, I needed to crop it. And, silly me, I happened to position the crop so that it revealed only my face, neck...and bare shoulders. (I'll let you deduce the potential scandalousness of that...a fact I didn't truly recognize at the time...).

A week later, one of my blog's followers told me a co-worker walked by his desk as he was reading my latest entry and chastised him for his un-wise use of the Internet.

"Whoa, dude, what are you looking at???"

The implication? This upstanding Christian fellow should clearly not be reading (smut) from the blog of a little harlot with no top on.

Thus, I was forced to change my profile picture. But I really didn't want to. I just wanted to put a caption under it that said: "This is me in a STRAPLESS gown. Put your stones down!" Such a disclaimer, I hoped, would convince them to suck it up and look at my pretty, pretty face instead of my apparent lack of clothing.

 I, however, am not naive. Realizing that many a man's mind would likely remain in the gutter if the pic stayed, I swapped out the photo so that I could no longer be accused of being an accidental tramp.

Now, to purposely garner a bit of shock from my blog is more of a dilemma for me. Head-turning, attention grabbers are hard to come by when it seems that so many topics are taboo for the believer. It's like telling a clean joke: What they offer in G-rated appropriateness, they lack in actual humor. You hear one and offer a bland, tight-lipped smile, "That's cute..." Since cute isn't exactly the adjective I want attached to my writing. (I liken it to someone, after reading my manuscript, placing a hand on my shoulder, and giving me a pitying: "Bless your heart."), developing a clever, yet moral, blog is certainly a challenge for my wit. Perhaps that's why I took a 7 year hiatus from blogging. Until now...

Convinced that I could combine creativity with honesty (inspired by a chat with one of my favorite authors this afternoon), my I-95 commute was made a bit more interesting by brainstorming some witty possibilities. Instead of offering a new revelation, I decided to go with an unpublished classic (having resided in my head for years).

I've always wanted to write a book with the same title of this post. The use of the S-word, coupled with the irony of such a curious statement, would surely be a good marketing tool for a book. Although my college friends loved it, I knew it would probably never happen. Having floated from one Christian bubble to another--from youth group to Christian college to the multiple Christian organizations I've worked for--I've had my fair share of encounters with censorship. And through it all, I've discovered that not only are non-Western cultures concerned with saving face, Christians very much are as well. Sadly, we value appearance over vulnerability.

Note the collective verbiage there. With dozens of students looking to my example, my thoughts often revolve around how I look to them. Am I worthy of imitation? I can only imagine what actual celebrities, whose influence extends around the globe, have to go through when they make decisions. (Which is why, I'm sure, many choose not to care). It's so much pressure! And perhaps needlessly...

I want to teach my students how to navigate their lives in a real way, not striving to do/say everything in a fake-y "Christianese" way. And while I'm certainly not about to start condoning sin, I do want to be vigilant to guard against the legalism that can so easily creep into the Christian walk.

I think it's pretty amazing that Jesus pushed a lot of (social) limits but still remained radically pure. If He could do it, there's gotta be a way that we can as well...

p.s. Yes, I'm ending it there. I decided that I would compound the irony of this post by giving it a title that didn't exactly describe the subject matter. Someday, when you least expect it, I'll post a Part Two in which I actually write about the experiences of the un-experienced. But until then, I'll keep you guessing...  ;)