Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Left behind

Author Jefferson Bethke, known for his poem “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” and a follow-up book “Jesus > Religion,” has recently delved into the issue of adult singles in the church, saying that they — we — aren’t part of the Christian “JV team.” That is to say, Christian singles aren’t less worthy to be part of the church, to say nothing of being in leadership, just because they don’t have a spouse.

I understand that, but the real problem here is the lack of relationships between married and single, which obviously puts the single at an immediate disadvantage.

That should be obvious, but it’s something married people may not quite see. Of course the married person is in a covenant relationship, which by definition has to take priority. Usually, however, married people fraternize with other married people, and when you have a situation where pastors are married, which is almost always, the gap widens. And with more and more singles coming to church, especially with the “millennial generation” being primarily single, the difference in marital status will become an issue within the next decade.

As a lifelong singleton, I understand this from experience. I left the post-college fellowship at my former church because of the large number of weddings, 18 in the year-and-a-half I was part of it; I wasn’t in a position to date any of the women and had virtually nothing in common with the men, so I had trouble building relationships there. I ended up leaving the church altogether 12 years later for similar reasons; even though I was a respected deacon I felt lonely and fell for a woman in the church whom I had no business approaching; I realized in that situation that I was slipping spiritually.

My current church, where I’ve gone for over 17 years, has a large single population that at one time drove the church but no longer as visible as it once was. Spiritually, it suits my purposes, and I get to play music, always good for a musician. I’d like to find someone there that I could date and possible marry, but that hasn’t happened yet. Furthermore, I won’t change just for the sake of “finding someone” because I don’t see that as a valid reason to change churches.

But I digress. It’s still difficult to come to church alone and leave church alone, and I do with that I had a group of peers to go to lunch with. Would more coupled people be sensitive to that.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Connecting with an ‘inner child’

When I was in the fifth grade, my first year at a Christian academy, a first-grade girl named Cheryl who used to ride the same bus home seriously took a shine to me. She treated me like a teddy bear, occasionally playing with my hair, hugging me and — most notably — kissing her hand and brushing it up against my cheek. She even often told me that she loved me.

Interestingly enough, now that I think about it, she really did. After reading the book “The Five Love Languages,” I’ve determined that the two that affect me the most are 1) Physical touch; and 2) Words of affirmation.

And that relationship, as irritating and confusing it was to me at the time, affects those I have with women today.

I say this because over the years I’ve often found myself in the role of nurturer, occasionally a father figure, to women, some of which have told me feel “safe”; I used to consider that an insult because I wasn’t dating much and felt stuck in the “friend zone.” Today, however, I recognize that it brings the kind of responsibility that men need to have in any significant relationship with a woman, including a marriage.

About a decade ago I was attending a certain 12-step recovery meeting — for the sake of anonymity I won’t mention it — and one of the women who tended to dress sexily approached me, clearly wanting some validation from me, so I gave her some verbally. (I learned later that she was coming out of a marriage so trying to hit on her wouldn’t have been appropriate, plus I know from personal experience that such meetings aren’t good places to meet partners for a number of reasons.) Later on I gave her a balloon on which was printed, “To cheer you” — to that, she said, “This is just what I needed!”

Sometimes a woman may need to vent or grieve, not to solve a problem but just to be heard; at other times she may just want to curl up. Although I didn’t always, I do these willingly today without the expectation of gratification.

So what does this have to do with the “inner child?” Everything. Someone pouring her heart to me I now see as a gift — it’s not merely what she has; it’s who she is, and it’s something that I had better not exploit for my selfish purposes. Some women have been abused by significant others or, sadly, parents, and I don’t need to compound their trauma. It’s where the tender side of a man needs to come out.

Maintaining those boundaries has helped me quite a bit, especially of late. In the fall of 2014 I began learning West Coast Swing, and many of my partners are young enough to be daughters if I had children; as I wrote in an essay the next year, “It’s a lot like dancing with siblings.” In turn, they often give me energy, and I often leave a session feeling satisfied.

Even when I’m in a relationship, I remember the 6-year-old part of my partner — the part I really need to honor most.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected more …

Here in Pittsburgh an anchorwoman from the of the local television stations recently lost her job after she made remarks on a Facebook page concerning a mass murder that took place within walking distance of the station, in an “at-risk” neighborhood. She made a number of assumptions about the shooters, saying that they were probably young, fatherless black men (when in fact no suspects have yet been arrested as I write). She also compared them to a busboy at one of the local nightclub districts, wondering, in effect, “Why can’t they be like him?”

However, a number of politically conservative Christians have defended her, saying that her statements weren’t really racist. I wonder how some of those same people would react if she had made “anti-Christian” remarks.

And there’s the hypocrisy — in that narrative it seems that the only real persecution that exists surrounds them and their worldview. It’s been that way since the early 1980s, when the “religious right” gained a little political and cultural power and in the process began to trash those who disagreed.

If persecution is indeed the norm I would expect the Christian to sympathize with those who suffer, who experience at the very least insensitive remarks of some sort. But that hasn’t happened to my knowledge; it seems that many believers have forsaken the “do unto others” command, and that failure to be considerate is one reason the church is every bit as divided as the world. After all, our witness to the world is severely compromised when we don’t practice what we preach.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The discrediting of 'Reaganomics'

Former Rep. Joe Scarborough made an admission I never thought I’d hear from a conservative Republican: “It never trickles down.”

The reference, of course, was to what became known as “Reaganomics,” which posited that, were taxes and regulations cut, the wealthy would be free to invest and grow the economy.

I for one thought from the jump that supply-side economics, its formal name, was a scam inspired by pure greed, and Scarborough seemed to be saying that as well — although well over 30 years later.

What I found amazing is that such a scheme found its way into the church, almost as though being Christian was tantamount to supporting a pro-business ideology. Nothing wrong with being in business and not even with making a profit, but — really — how much money and power does one need? Especially with the pursuit of it leaving families and communities devastated, with more working-class people these days turning to drugs and even committing suicide due to the lack of economic opportunity.

Because what really happened is that the rich pocketed that money, taking it out of the economy altogether and using it to get more or maintain their privileged status. And while the economy did grow after President George W. Bush cut taxes, virtually all that growth came at the very top. And you simply cannot maintain a healthy society with such inequality because it means a lack of opportunity down the road.

National Review is in denial, publishing a tome that said that supporters of Donald Trump, whose candidacy for president the magazine opposes, have simply lost their “values.” But you can’t feed a family on values.

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks has been saying since 2008 that "the big [conservative] defeat is coming" — perhaps this year. I must confess that I didn't think it would happen like this, but the delusion of Reaganomics is finally being rejected.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

“Changing Washington” — won’t happen under Trump

It’s almost a truism that Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president, would be a disaster in the White House as things stand now. Some Democrats are actually gleeful at the thought, believing that he would be easier to defeat in the general election.

Whatever the case, Trump’s bombastic rhetoric will cost him down the road. Because of the way things are, his promises to foster change, essentially based on asserting American power, are worthless because they depend on changing the culture of Washington, D.C., which many, many “reformers” claim they want to do.

As Democratic political figure James Carville said in the book “Love & War,” which he wrote with his Republican wife Mary Matalin, “There’s only one way things are done [there], and that’s ‘as usual.’ ”

Why is this the case? Well, look at it this way: If Trump does get his way he alienates not only the political “establishment” but much of the country and world, let alone ignore the Constitution. If he becomes more “moderate” and reasonable he’ll be seen as a sellout to the establishment.

Does he reasonably think he can build a wall along the border with Mexico and have the Mexicans pay for it? Or that he can unilaterally take out the so-called Islamic State? And with the amount of money we're already in the hole because of the war in Iraq, how will we pay for that?

"Well, Trump isn't part of the 'establishment.' " And that's a problem because he not only doesn't know what the problems are but also how to address them. He said he'd hire people who would; trouble is, they'd by definition be part of the "establishment." And that would defeat the purpose.

Besides, at that level you have to cut deals to get anything done. That's required when you have people with differing ideological agendas, and suggesting that people who represent "blue" areas adopt "red-state" thinking simply won't happen. I'm not sure Trump gets that.

Bottom line, if Trump does the bull in a china shop thing he loses the country. If he compromises, he loses his base. When it comes to governing, he's going to have to be realistic. As Carville said, "You will not change it."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Moment by special, defining moment

Although I've dated some over the past few years, I haven't been in a committed relationship in 15.

And do you know what I miss the most about that? Going to the grocery store with my lady.

That may sound silly to some, but if you've been in a relationship for a long time, especially a marriage, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

I was inspired to write this by a post on Facebook that was complaining that people, especially men, of a Facebook friend’s generation don’t make commitments, especially when it comes to romance. They even seem to fear it.

But I think I understand that — what with their parents’ extremely high divorce rate and focus on the emotional life they don’t see that marriage is so much more than falling and remaining “in love.” Of course in our culture it’s how we choose partners, but after a while the “limerance” wears off and we often end up feeling stuck. What happens then?

That’s where the “special moments” that lead to memories come in, and I’ve been privileged to have a few of those even though I’ve never been married. When you can sit and just be with someone and not have to talk — mere presence sufficing — that’s when you really have something. A committed relationship should be simply steady, with a quiet assurance that the partner will be there. There’s a reason why people should be friends first and add the passion later.

And even in those cases where passion reigned supreme at first, eventually the real person will show up. Folks need to be ready for that.

Four years ago I found myself almost uncontrollably attracted to a woman at a local church's singles ministry. The very night that I intended to approach her I discovered — as a pleasant surprise — that she had already had her eye on me.

A few weeks later I took her out on a date, and halfway through it she had an emotional meltdown. Was I put off? Not at all — in fact, she allowed me to cuddle her, as she laid her head on my shoulder. It turned into one of those endearing moments where she trusted me enough to show her real self (although we haven’t been out together since).

What some people may have seen as an embarrassment turned into a privilege because I saw a real person no longer trying to make an impression. That’s a gift, and may we learn to understand where true intimacy begins.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Trump and evangelical idolatry

The front-runner as the Republican Party’s candidate for president is a thrice-married billionaire whose stance on abortion has changed like the wind and who doesn’t support any of the culture war themes that have defined Christian involvement over the past 40 years. But among self-identified evangelicals, Donald Trump is actually ahead — way ahead — of evangelicals Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson. Does that make sense?

Well, no, unless you consider what many of them really want — according to Ryan Dennison and quoting the Washington Post’s Joseph Locante, a "protector in chief."

The culture war, which got started for real in the 1960s but reached electoral status in the 1980s, at bottom always was a turf war, with anyone seen as a threat to some people’s superior economic class status needing to be neutralized without pity or mercy. Let’s not forget that tough talk, especially against the Soviet Union, helped Ronald Reagan win two terms as president, nor the large number of evangelicals who listened to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk-show hosts who made a mint trashing everyone in sight.

Thus, those who decry Trump’s status among Christians due to his bombast simply haven’t been paying attention.

Moreover, this should hardly be news to Bible readers, as ancient Israel on at least two occasions in its history craved a strongman. One was the monarchy, which was never God’s design in the first place but demanded by the people because they wanted to be like other nations that also had kings. The other was a misinterpretation of the promise of a Messiah, whom they hoped would expel the occupying Roman Empire. (Not for no reason did Jesus never volunteer the information that He was the Messiah.)

Thus, we’re looking at not just a political but also a theological issue — theological in that people really don’t want to trust God for anything and believing that being armed to the teeth and keeping “outsiders” out will lead to security and prosperity. Can anyone say “idolatry?”

It’s likely that Christians’ support for Trump is connected to their relative power and prosperity in American society — when you have it you tend to want to keep it. No matter what. And that’s the real problem.