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 whom 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.