Saturday, May 31, 2008

Is Church Necessary?

“I’m not sure if we should consider people wicked? I’m not saying that there aren’t people who do terrible things, but whenever Christians make that distinction it always sounds like we’re being condescending. As in, thank God I’m not one of THEM.”
I paused, and looked at the small group, all of whom I’d met an hour ago. There were six of us gathered on the couches, my good friend Val sitting to my right, who’d invited me to her weekly small group.

“Maybe we should condemn trees. You know, the "Wicked" trees.” I said, unable to hold back the grin. The group quickly waded into my absurdity.

“Like the giants?”


“In that movie. You know, the giant trees.”

“You mean the Ents?” I said, laughing now. “In the Lord of the Rings?”

“Yes!” Christina said.

“But weren’t they good?” Jake asked.

“Yeah. They carried around the…”

“Hobbits.” Val said.

We are all laughing now and the conversation continues to bounce between the absurd and the serious for the next hour. They are an open and loving group, and I feel a great sense of welcome and acceptance in their midst. When we finish our ‘study’, we talk about our week, our goals, our struggles… and then pray for one another.

I haven’t attended a Sunday service in three months, but as Val and I say our good byes, one thought refuses to go away…

I love church.

Unfortunately, most people in North America do not love ‘church.’ The statistics are quite clear about this, (read "Un-Christian for more information) especially in the younger 16-29 age group (which I consider myself an err… honourary member). Spirituality is of an increasing importance in our society, even as the perceived need for a church declines. Most of my friends and colleagues have little or no use for the Sunday service. And too many of us who have been raised in the church either have no concept or understanding of this fading interest or spend far too much time trying to pour old wine in new wineskins. We imbue our Sunday events with current themes, better music, and more video. We build coffee bars and dress down and manipulate our lights like a modern disco club. All of which are (generally) good things, and all done in the name of making ‘church’ relevant.

But it isn’t working. Most of the time I find myself agreeing with my friends. Despite my experience and training as a pastor, the Sunday event holds little appeal for me. (From here on, I refuse to call it ‘church’, as I'll explain) It’s nice to see friends, the music can sometimes be uplifting, and there are some pastors who are compelling speakers. Other then that, well, I can do without it. Or so I’ve thought. But the truth is that not being involved in a community creates a void in my life and I am convinced it is impossible to follow Jesus outside some type of fellowship.

None of this helps me, and the questions remain.

Is church necessary? And why do so many people, like me, not enjoy the Sunday event.

...The bookstore is quiet for a Friday night. I’m sitting in my spot by the electrical outlet. My laptop is over ten years old, a nine-dollar bargain I picked up two years ago, that now needs a plug to work. (This goes nicely with the packing tape along the side that keeps the CD player from ejecting.) It’s a good spot to write. Just beyond the in-store cafĂ© is the children’s section, and every time I go for a walk, I pass some of the greatest children's literature of our time. The Chronicles of Narnia. Harry Potter. Charlotte’s Web. Sometimes I’ll stop and look at some of the newer titles, notice the outlandish, attention grabbing colour schemes, and smile at the memories of my experience as a kid, when going to the library was so much fun.

For me, books have always been the road to adventure. Throughout my life they have taken me to different worlds and different possibilities. There was no boundary that could hold me as a young knight, as a traveling cleric with magical powers or as a boy on farm with talking animals. (My one internal switch when first reading Charlotte’s Web.) And even now, brushing past these worlds inevitably bring a fresh wave of excitement.

When I first became a Christian, it was this same idea, this same discussion of hope and possibility in God and life that captured my imagination. Like any organization however, I soon learned that more people were interested in rules and behavioural standards for the Sunday group than the radical ideas of who Jesus was and what He’d taught. The concept of 'chucrh' as a place of hope was there in the letters, in what we said, but rarely evidenced in spirit, in the unhindered freedom of authentic relationships.

Through the years, I've come to understand this human tendency towards rules, but the concept of church is so much more than that. It's not that I think life is easy, because it isn't. The human story is inevitably a tragic one. But I wonder if the sobriety and need for rules in our buildings make life any easier or bring out the best in us, especially when trouble comes. It certainly doesn't hold a compelling reason to go to the Sunday event.

Too often though, we associate the "Gospel" as little more then an explanation why our rules are better than the Mormons and the Muslims. At least, that’s the perception for too many people outside the church.

The most disappointing aspect of this perception is that church, the gathering of people who believe Jesus to be the Son of God, can actually be uplifting. One of my own failings is that I often judge the church based on my own scars and wounds, but my time last night with the small group reminded me just how great it can be to share and laugh and pray with one another and why I still believe in Her. Believe in the people who are sincerely interested in serving God and helping others. What a wonder the church can be...

But the church is not the Sunday event. The church is me. The church is you. And the church only works when we are able to get together, not for the sake of establishing what sets us apart, but to explore that which holds us together in the first place.
When the church reflects the same magic that we find in great stories, we understand that the greatest magic belongs to the greatest story…

A story that is actually true.

...More people have filed into the bookstore. To my left a long line of teenagers are waiting to order their frappucinos and lattes before heading over to the movie theatre next door. The Sunday event seems irrelevant to them, and I understand that. It does to me too. But church, well, that’s another story. I still believe in her, and it is a song I will continue to sing, a story I will continue to share, no matter how frustrated I become.

My prayer this week is two fold: For those of us who are seeking, that we will all find our way into church; a place of community where people seeking God and serving each other come together. And second, for those of us who have found a community, that we will remember that the Gospel is best expressed not in the rules and regulations of corporations, but in hope and possibility… and in the freedom and love of a God who loves us, despite our failings.

NOTE: Special thanks to Chad and Crystal for opening up their home this week (I think I ate all your chips) and to Jake and Christina (and Chris) for their warmth... and to Val, well, for being you. :) Blessings...

Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Escape the Spin Cycle (Some Keys To a Better Life)

“Hey, bro.”

I hold my cell loosely against my ear and glance at the clock. 12:17 am. I’m not even close to being tired.

“Well,” Mark says. “I read your blog. A nice heart warming read... What’s up?”

“I’m not sure. Just one of those weeks, I guess.” I pause. “I’m looking for another job. I can’t do this, pal. I’m never going to make it.”

“What about the writing?” Mark says.

“I’ll always write. But I’m tired of having nothing. I’m tired of not being able to go out, or buy another pair of shoes, or being able to afford a date. I’m tired of looking at my bank account and wondering if I can make it through the week. I’m 35 years old, and what have I got? I needed a break, pal… and, well, it just hasn’t happened.”

Mark is quiet for a moment.

“That sucks, and I get it, but I just think you’re so close. I really think you just have to hang in there. Your work is good.”

I lean forward and think about all the “dream books” I’ve read.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ve been an idiot. Dreams suck.”

Even as I talk I’m thinking about how nice it would be to go shopping with, well, money. I’d bumped into an old friend today at the mall who’d just started working on a screenplay. When he heard I was a writer, he was even more excited. Only instead of being excited with him, mostly I was annoyed. I wanted to tell him not to bother. That the gods of the dreamers and artists, the publishers and patrons, were a capricious bunch. I’d bit my tongue, but it wasn’t easy.

Mark is quiet.

“Listen,” he says finally, “I really think your work is good. You get waylaid when you start thinking about your age and where you should be and all that stuff.”


We chat for a little while longer. When I hang up, I am somewhat encouraged. It isn’t the first time Mark’s given me a pick up. I pull out my work and start writing. Two hours later, I am worn and tired. It’s time to head outside for a break.

The sky is clear tonight, and it’s finally warm enough to stand on my stoop outside the front entrance without shivering. It’s been a long week, although in many aspects it isn’t much different from the last month, not on the surface at least. I’m still working for almost nothing. Still enjoying my co-workers and housemates. Still enjoying the interaction with the customers. Still writing. And yet, there’s a sense of routine that has crept into my life and has brought discouragement with it. Unfortunately, I'm not sure why things have changed. I understand that there is a rhythm to life, ups and downs that we do well to ride and not fight. That said, I can feel the change in my outlook, and it needs to be addressed.

The breeze picks up as I move down from my stoop and stroll down the driveway under the empty sky. The moon’s silhouette shimmers off to my left. A few birds have woken early and their scattered song reminds me of the late hour. It a funny thing about the human experience, but we do everything in cycles. Most of us have heard the expression that people are “creatures of habit”, and it’s true. Nothing we do is ever truly spontaneous, even for the most unpredictable personalities. We couldn’t survive if we did, but that said, it still has tremendous implications for our lives.

The routines we create for ourselves are based on the culmination of our life experience; our childhood, our past and current relationships, and yet rarely do we consider the reasons why we do the things we do. We certainly aren't programmed to make the “healthy” choice.
The sad truth is that most of our choices are based on convenience, pleasure, or fear. And that includes our religious choices -- the church we attend or don't attend. The God we believe in or choose to ignore.

What follows then, is that we entrap ourselves into habits that are actually destructive, relationships that smother us, faith that binds us, and jobs that drain life from our soul. And the most frustrating aspect of this human tendency is that we have the ability to change it. Too often we get trapped in this “spin cycle” and believe there is no way out. We spin and spin and church and churn until our lives become one long unpleasant dream.

People can only ask “what if” and “if only” for so long. If we don't escape the spin cycle life will eventually wear us down, and instead of feeling renewed and empowered, we will become critical. We'll mock others who are trying to make it. We'll scowl at those still enthusiastic about life. And we'll sniff (especially at the younger generations) about what it’s like in the “real world”. In other words, we contract the deadly virus of "trapped reality" and spread it with every brush of contact with other humans. We are unhappy, and we unconsciously pull others towards our own unhappiness to make us feel better. (Misery loves company.)

So the only question then, is how do we change it? And what happens when we realize that our life suddenly sucks?

First, understand that it isn't 'sudden', though it may feel that way.
Everything we do flows out of who we think we are and what we expect from the world around us. Happiness is achieved when we close the gap between our assumptions about what our life should be like and what we perceive it to be.
Notice that I didn't say how it "really is." (And I'm giving away my leaning towards post modern thought here) How it "really is" can't be subjectively defined. For example, I'm 35 years old. I work in a cafe. That's true, and if that was the whole truth, it would be easy to judge my life accordingly. However, I'm also a full time graduate student and striving to make a go of it as a full-time writer. I do not see myself as a failure, but as one striving towards the future for something better. What matters then, is not what others perceive about my situation, but how I see it. That's why we must be careful when considering the counsel of others, because the standards they are using are always different then our own.

Unfortunately, too often we listen to the wrong people and end up in spin cycles... (especially when it comes to jobs) simply because we accept other people's version of our reality?!
So to escape the natural trap, we have to learn to examine our own motifs on why we do the things we do, and why we're not able or willing to change them.

For me, one of my largest struggles is money. I don't know why I've historically been terrible with it, although I have a few ideas. What I do know, however, is that fear is involved. Suze Orman, the famous financial guru, asks her potential clients this question first when she addresses their finances: "What are you afraid of?"

I've spent the past week thinking about that. What am I afraid of? What is holding me back?
The key in the spin cycle is not to change just anything, but to find the idea or the root that is causing us to make the same bad decisions over and over. And how do you find the root cause? It's easy enough. Just think of the things that cause your emotions --sadness, fear, anxiety, anger -- to flash, and you will find the root. That which is without an emotional connection we are able to let go, but any memory or belief attached to an emotion is nearly impossible to release. (It's like sticking your hand into a pail of honey and then grabbing a loose roll of toilet paper) Not without dissecting it first, and perhaps getting some healing.

Second, once we realize where our emotions are most sensitive, we need to create a "blank spot" in our minds. No, it isn't some new age, voodoo mind trick. What I mean is that we pretend that there is no emotion. It's an acting trick, but it's an effective way to help us deprogram some of the more destructive habits in our lives. When you get up tomorrow, be someone else. Be the woman who you see in the mall striding along with confidence. Be the man you saw talking easily and casually with a couple of ladies at the restaurant. Be the university colleague who always seems so popular. Be the person you imagine that you would like to be, and make choices as if you were that person.

This is not a matter of authenticity. It's still you.
Remember, the core of who we are is not what others see. Our core, the "real us", is the person we long to become.

I know, I know, I can hear the comments already. "Steve, the person you are is how you behave." Nonsense. Even God, speaking to one of his prophets who is going to choose a king, says to his prophet (Samuel) "Man looks at the outward appearance, God considers the heart." (1 Sam 16:7) Our 'outward appearance' is our behaviour, and while it can give us clues as to who we are, it isn't the full picture. This is the reason we should always try to see the best in people, and encourage them accordingly.

Spin cycles occur when we lose sight of God's picture of who we can be, of who we were created to be, and in turn, who we really are. The Spin cycle is the product of a distorted view of self (and God) which prevents us from making the necessary choices to change the things that need to be changed.

My prayer this week is that you will identify at least one spin cycle in your life, and address the root emotion and cause behind it. If your spin cycle is a little bigger, as mine seems to be, maybe its time to do a little 'acting', and create the character that meets with the missing, unexpressed part of who you are. And finally, that you would understand that you are loved by your Creator, and that you were created the image of God for the purpose of serving those around you. If you don't, you'll inevitably move into another spin cycle. We were not given this life to live in endless pleasure, endless fear, or perfect convenience. We were created to serve God by loving Him and loving one another, and so long as we remember that, we can close the gap between whatever discouragement we are facing and the contentment that comes when life is no longer just one long routine.


Note: I can hear the comments already. Yes. I believe in absolutes, especially when it comes to the care and responsibility of our family. However, too often we still use behaviour and isolate it as "the sole expression" of another person and define them accordingly. How lucky are we that God judges us differently. We would do well to learn from Jesus I think, but it's just a thought...

Monday, May 19, 2008

When Hope Leaves

The sky is clear tonight, and the moon shadows the few clouds in the sky, looking down at me as I lean against my stoop. There's no reason for the melancholy that pervades my mood, no reason I can think of anyway. Is it the exhaustion of the week? Or is it the exhaustion of life? I'm not sure. Dreaming has its consequences, and while it lends wonderful moments that rip through us with an overpowering wonderment and joy, the reverse is also true. And tonight, for one night at least, my joy seems to be lost near the bottom of the river.

Such is the rhythms of life. That does not, however make it easy.

The street is quiet. Even the friendly raccoons who live behind my neighbour's house are not out tonight. It is an overwhelming sense that within my neighbourhood, within my busy house, all is quiet. I am alone. Ever alone. I try to pray, but I cannot form the words tonight, not even in my mind. God is absent. And so is the rest of the world.

When I was a kid, I used to get these moments when I felt this way. Perhaps it was one reason why I read so much, why I engaged my imagination. Even at a young age, it seemed to me that people inevitably let you down. That life was no fairy tale. I forgot that for a while when I first joined the church. I thought that somehow if I filled my life with "God-talk", all would be well. The years have passed and have revealed that time for what it was, more an episode than a series. On nights like tonight, I still long for those days. I long for the surety. I long for the rulebook, no matter how wrong it may be. What I want on nights like these is for someone to tell me how life works, and to stop whining and get "busy."

But then, that would be a lie, wouldn't it?

I pull my toque down more tightly as the cool wind slices through spring air. The trees rustle in the breeze, the new blossoms scattering in the moonlight along the street. One of the darkest secrets of Christianity is that no matter how much we believe in God, no matter how strong our faith is, that we will all have moments like this, when we wonder where God is. Where we wonder why he has left us all alone. We don't talk about it much because I guess it doesn't sell very well. How do we promote a faith that says in many ways, your human experience will not change. That you will still experience sadness. That you will still experience heartache and sorrow and despair. Instead, we turn Jesus into a cosmopolitan fixer, the One who will take all of our crap and pain and hurt and bad choices and somehow turn it into the pleasure dome.

The truth is that being a Christian doesn't save you from the human experience. If anything, it accentuates it. I believe that God is watching me tonight, that he loves me, and yet, I am lonely and inexplicably filled with sorrow. I believe that God knows this. Yet, nothing changes. Were I to break out in exuberant song or lament filled prayer, the pain would still exist. This is not easy to understand, especially not tonight.

The apple tree in my neighbour's yard is starting to blossom. It brings an unexpected smile. My housemates and I ate most of the apples last year, late at night amidst much laughter and goofiness. It's a good memory, and it holds me for the moment. But what do I do with it? What do I do with the good memories that come in the midst of sadness?

As a former pastor, it is here where normally an appropriate anecdote would fill the space. A story about the lesson I've learned. A story about how I learned that God really cared for me (and certainly, this has happened enough). But tonight I have nothing to offer. Nothing to offer God or the people around me. Even my soul feels heavy and silent.

The truth is that life is not an anecdote, and while it contains joy, it contains great sadness. Sadness that is sometimes inexplicable. To lighten it without facing it would be to lessen the experience and learning and depth that come with these moments. And while I know that I am filled with sadness, I know that tomorrow will be another day. I know that I will sleep in a warm bed with food in the cupboard. Many people long for that which I already possess.

I pause again under the still night sky. He is absent tonight. So am I. I can't sleep, and I am too tired to write. Too sad to know why. I climb the steps and head back into the house. Tomorrow will bring another day, I know that. But for tonight, I am empty.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Men Should NOT be Spiritual Leaders

The class was packed. Over sixty students listening to our professor in varying degrees of participation. Laptops filled about a third of the desks, and while some people listened closely, a number of others had already tuned the class out, sending emails or playing around on facebook. I watched them from a spot near the back, trying to stay calm. This graduate course in leadership had helped me in many ways, introduced me to a number of great tools and ideas I would use in the future, but today the focus would be different. For me, at least. Highly emotional and highly controversial.

"Okay, so what did you like about the textbooks we studied?" Dr. Magnus asked.

A few people responded, the class alternately nodding and nodding off. Of the three textbooks we'd been asked to read, one of them, Being Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs, had set my teeth on edge. It had confirmed my worst fears about the evangelical world, and at times, it was almost too much to handle. Mark had listened patiently when my rants on reading Malphurs had left me emotionally exhausted and discouraged. How could anyone even believe what this 'respected' leader had written? Why weren't my classmates more upset?

"All right. So what didn't we like about the textbooks?" Dr. Magnus looked at me as my hand shot up and merely sighed.

"Go ahead, Steve."

With that, I proceeded to deliver a four-minute rant about Malphurs' book, a work that not only implied limitations on Christian leadership, but essentially stated that men were more qualified to lead than women. It was this last idea, so visible in his text, that had set me off.
When the class ended, one of the women thanked me for what I'd said. I thanked her, my mind still absorbed and frustrated by the apathy of the class. I understood all too well the dangers of apathy. That which we refused to consciously reject we unconsciously embraced. I sighed and thought about my paper.

In one of our essays for the course, we'd been asked to interact (academically) with our textbooks. I'd broken the rules, and instead written a zero star movie review of Malphurs' work. Here is a portion of what I wrote.

"...Being Leaders is a wonderful text on leadership, but only if read as satire. Malphurs' hyper-Calvinistic, modernistic, misogynistic viewpoint is so stifling and discouraging it is nearly impossible to wade through the endless sea of haughty missives to find anything useful. His 'tools' at the back of the book are exclusive, narrow and insulting (especially to women) which arouses nothing in the reader but a passionate distaste for not only Malphurs' ideas of leadership, but for the Christian publishers and other readers who found the book so helpful. It was so disturbing at times, that only when I focused on the book as if it was written as a satirical diatribe on what leadership should NOT be that I was able to continue. Harsh? Perhaps. But then, perhaps we should reconsider publishing a text that believes women to be nothing more than house wives who should teach Sunday school and 'love their children', with apparently no intellectual capabilities whatsoever..."

Needless to say, my professor was not impressed. That review would result in my lowest grade on a paper the entire year. Now, thinking back, I stand by what I've written, my mark be damned. This idea that men should be the spiritual leader (in both the church and relationships) inherently exacerbates the idea that women should not and that men are not only different, but better. It is a gender-based ideal, and one that the church must reject. Being a man no more qualifies me for being a leader than being a teacher or journalist. Much has been written about the dearth of leadership in the church, but when we are basing our choices on physiological differences, (dare I say the word) then what do we expect?

As passionately as I will argue for the equality of women within the church, understand that this has been a long process for me. Growing up in a traditional home and being educated in a conservative environment did much to prolong my own ideas of inequality, though I didn't see them that way. I have heard and used the "Trinity argument" - i.e. women are not less, just different, just like Jesus and God the Father and the Holy Spirit. I have heard and used the "moderate evangelical" argument - i.e. "yes, men are to lead, but they are to lead by serving."
What I've seen, however, reveals otherwise. That as long as people believe they should be leaders as a matter of entitlement (born a man, not a woman), we are destined to have bad leaders promulgate their prejudice like a subtle poison.

And the real tragedy... all of this is done in the name of Christ.

The biggest argument an evangelical will hear/use is the Apostle Paul's statement about a woman NOT having authourity over a man. I won't drag into hermeneutics here, because it gets a bit boring, even if it's informative. What I will say is that hegemony always seeks to sustain itself. It is the nature of power. Paradoxically, this very thing is the most compelling aspect of Jesus, this idea of a God who forsook power to become one of us. If hegemony is found in the male, or the white male, then the natural tendency of the white male will be to sustain and excuse itself.

Christians often quote the New Testament, tell others that we 'literally' accept the Bible, (even though this is impossible) and denote that as our benchmark for not allowing women the right to lead within the church.

That (phallic) argument is fallacy.

If you accept the Bible literally, why are women not wearing hats in your church? Why do you reject that verse but accept Paul's comment about the family? And if you are actually making women wear hats, (Lord help you all) then why don't you have slaves? Didn't Paul tell the slaves to submit?

You see, we all accept and reject certain verses. This sounds obvious, but it is astounding how many evangelicals actually believe they are 'interpreting' Scripture correctly. I'm not saying that any group is wrong or right, only that we are all wrong a lot. And if that's the case, sometimes we have to allow principle, the principles of scripture, to dictate our beliefs. In this case, as I often do, I think about William Wilberforce. I think about the Christians who rejected his notion of freedom based on two of Paul's letters in the New Testament. I think about the endless debates he had with other "Christians" who somehow thought slavery was acceptable. I also think about the women I've spoken to this past year, those who live in relationships, trapped and tormented by men who believe themselves to following Jesus, and yet who deny their wives the very personhood Jesus sought to grant us by his death on the cross. It is a tragic, horrible picture, and it haunts me.

Should men be spiritual leaders? It is the wrong question. We should all be spiritual leaders. We should all be working to lead and to serve in our lives. And those who lead in the church should be leading based on their giftings, not on their gender. We've all sat under bad leaders. Some were men. Some were women. The truth is that both genders are capable of good and bad leadership, and both genders are capable of producing terrible leaders.

As a church, however, we must get away from this idea that because "the Bible says so" when it comes to leadership, we must get away from the ignorant argument "that's how it is."

My prayer is that this week you will ask yourself some hard questions. Does it bother you if women are in a position of leadership? Do you really believe women are equal to men? Women need to answer these questions too. I have seen too many marriages on the verge of breakdown, heard too many tales of abuse and control, because this question was never addressed.
There is no difference in the potential of men and women, and throughout his ministry, Jesus did nothing but affirm the importance of women in a society that had little or no use for them. Whatever we believe, know that if we are unwilling to bend, if we are unwilling to ask why we believe the things we believe and be honest about it, man or woman, we will never grow into the people God wants us to be.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts from the Week that Was...

First, my apologies to all regarding my lack of posts this past seven days. As many of you know, I finished my semester, and should -- should -- have more time now to post. However, as mentioned before, living the dream, as it were, includes tremendous sacrifice (I've made myself poor to give myself time to write). At the end of last week, I gave myself four months to make some head way as I transition into a more focused life of writing. This past week I worked on a new article, and edited five chapters from my book, In Love With a Stranger, that I'll be sending out proposals for to various publishers in the next few weeks. All of that to explain why I haven't posted my new blog. The columns I write on this website do not take the time of an article, they do however, generally take a couple of days to write.
I will have another column posted in the next two days however, and it will be controversial. Some of you will hate it. My hope, whether you agree with me or not, is that it will make you think. As for this week, here on some thoughts...

What I Liked

1. I was heading into work on Tuesday, and a Canadian goose was waddling across the middle of the street, effectively blocking all the traffic. A Chinese woman was trying to shoo it across the road, but it just kept honking and running away from her. Very funny. Traffic was backed up for at least a mile, but no one (who could see what was happening) seemed very upset. Like me, I think they were enjoying the humour (and humanity) of the situation. No one had left their car or was screaming at the 'stupid bird' at least. It's funny, but sometimes it's necessary to pause for life, isn't it? How cool that a Canadian goose can stop so many people just by wandering onto the road. Very cool... and very, very funny.

2. Obama has nearly grabbed the nomination. The two Democratic nominees continue to battle, but Obama's big win in North Carolina, along with his narrow defeat in Indiana, have all but sealed the Democratic nomination. With Clinton bleeding, especially when it comes to fund raising, it's time for the Democrats to announce their ticket. Obama is the better candidate. Clinton is too tarnished, too vacuous, and too polarizing in a general election.

3. I'm finished writing essays! The semester is over! No, I know this isn't a headline grabber, but it's a big deal in my small world, at least. For all of you who have finally finished the year, go grab a pint and celebrate... that's what Jesus would do. (See Jesus, wedding at Cana)

4. People arguing over who will pay. It happened a couple of times this week. People arguing at the till over who would pay. Two people would thrust a twenty or ten in my direction and insist that they pay for it. I have to say, it is a wonderful thing to see. Yes, pride is involved. But what I also see are people who are trying to lift one another up. After a long day serving customers, this always gives me a boost.

Things I Didn't Like

1. Why is Hillary insisting on holding on? All is does is break down the Democratic Party. Is she that vain? (rhetorical question) She is damaging Obama and giving hope to the Republicans. I'm not "anti-republican" and there is a lot to like about McCain... but he's 71 years old!! C'mon, people! Let's see what Obama can do!

2. Another week watching people driving BMW's and SUV's park in the No Parking zone outside my cafe. It sounds like a generalization, but the sense of entitlement for people who have money is ridiculous. People -- wealthy individuals -- refuse to walk an extra twenty feet even when the parking lot is empty. I confronted one of my customers about it this week, as he'd parked directly over the huge yellow painted letters "NO PARKING", that he couldn't park right in front of the store. His grunt made me wonder. Perhaps becoming wealthy means you actually become not only selfish, but an idiot as well.

3. Kobe winning the MVP. Okay, so the NBA is not a priority on everyone's list. I get that. And Kobe is terrific. But Kevin Garnett changed the entire culture of the Boston Celtics with his intensity and talent in one year. As deserving as Kobe Bryant is, awarding him the MVP is an embarrassment to the league.
I'll post my next blog in a couple of days...

Friday, May 02, 2008

How to Interest the Opposite Sex

Lessons From A Dork: Volume II

There are aspects to dating, and I mean trying to find special someone, that are just nonsensical. For most of us who are single, that's pretty obvious. For people who are married or in 'relationships', well, sometimes I have to remind them how tough it can be. How fruitless. How mind-numbingly, sigh inducing, and utterly ridiculous it can be. And that's just the first date.
It gets even tougher when you don't understand the opposite sex. Or yourself. Or what message you're supposed to convey. Or why the opposite sex responds to things they're not supposed to respond to. Or why they always want to be your friend. Or why they always want more than friendship.

This is true whether you're a Christian or not, religious or not; it's all the same, because these principles are universal. I'm not saying that makes it easier. If anything, it just makes it more difficult. Christians have certainly tried hard enough. Have you ever tried to read one of those ridiculous Christian 'dating' books? Yeah. Those are a big help. Especially since they're inevitably written by an old married guy who hasn't been on a date in twenty years. Ahhh. So you want me to 'court' the woman, whatever that means, and then make sure I ask permission before I bring my father's carriage over for a Sunday afternoon ride in the park. Helpful. What do I do when they won't get off their cell phone? Put the horses into a light canter?

I have to be honest, I don't worry about dating a whole lot these days. If a woman thinks I'm mean, or an idiot, or goofy, or whatever, I can smile and walk away. Don't get me wrong, I didn't get to this point because I suddenly understand the whole Mars/Venus thing. (Except for a basic premise that women and men are equal. That seems to be a big deal. Too many guys still attach their egos to their rims or their stereo or their finely tailored suits. It is called compensating, big guy, and its pretty obvious to the rest of us.) No. It happened when the information became so confusing at some point I just stopped caring. Little did I know that I was on the right track to becoming more interesting. Little did I know that I was starting to exhibit the behaviours and habits women were looking for. (Apparently I was showing confidence by not caring what they thought, although I may have wanted to care and wanted them to know that, but by not caring, it showed that I cared about the things that mattered most, which is what they cared about.)

Yup... it's confusing. Some authours try to divide their 'theories' specifically for men OR women, but the principles are the same. A friend tried to explain it to me a few years ago, but back then, I didn't really understand what he was saying.

Three years ago...

She was short, with curled brown hair that nestled around her shoulders and just past her graceful neck. She walked with an easy grace, and as she passed by she noticed me at the table and smiled. I tried to hide my surprise as I smiled and quickly looked away.

"I saw that." Jeff said.

We were having a coffee at my favourite cafe, and I was wrangling the confidence to ask him how I could be more successful with the opposite sex.


"You looked away. Why did you look away. Do you feel unworthy or something?"

"No. I mean- she just kind of surprised- it's not about being worthy- I just-"

He laughed.

"Well, maybe you can help me, dude."

I'd already thought about this. I figured someone who’d been dating four girls when he’d met his wife (to whom he remains happily married) could help my romantic skills. At this point I was being realistic. My track record spoke for itself.

He snorted and laughed when I asked him his secret.

“Are you serious? You want advice for dating women?” he said, taking a quick peek around, as if I'd asked him a national secret. I knew what he was thinking. What dork would openly admit he needs help!?

“Yeah. Like you’ve dated so many, and now that I’m back in the game, I want to get a handle on what’s changed.”

Jeff gave me a skeptical look, as if to say I’d never played the game, not at the competitive level anyway.

“Well, the first thing you need to do is not talk so much.”


“Don’t talk so damn much. Women hate it when you barrage them with information. It makes you look desperate. Be cool.”

“What makes you think I talk too much.”

He raised an eyebrow and took a sip from his coffee.

“Remember Kim?”

I nodded. Crap, I hadn’t remembered telling him about her.

“Okay, talk less. Got it. What else?”

Jeff scratched his head. I could tell that he thought this exercise was pointless but he kept going.

“Well, the main thing is that you have to not care. You have to not care if she likes you or doesn’t like you. It can’t bother you if she doesn’t call you back or if she ignores you at some point when you first meet.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense at all. If she doesn’t know that I want to know her, how will she know that I’m interested?”

“You don’t want her to know that you’re interested in her. You want her to be interested in you.” Jeff said, barely able to contain his frustration.

"But two minutes ago you told me I shouldn't have looked away, that I should have maintained eye contact."

f course! When you looked down you basically told her you were unworthy of her, that she was not at your level, that you would do anything to get her approval."

Now that didn’t make any sense at all. I sipped my coffee, pretending to think about what he’d said, but he might as well have been speaking Latin. What the heck is he talking about? I did all that. All I did was to sip my coffee?

The good friend that he is, Jeff sighed, sensing my lack of understanding, and tried again.

“Women want mystery. They want to know that you’re not easily available. They want to feel special, and so when you do give them attention, it means something. No woman is interested in a man who is obviously interested in her.”

"So... what do I do?”

“Ignore her. Let her make the first move.”

"Except when I first see them."

"Right, you need to establish that you believe you're worthy of them."

I stared at him blankly.

I’m going to be single for the rest of my life.

Jeff stood, his frame full of sighs and smirks and gentle humour.

"Burnsy, you’ll never play the game. Might as well stay out.”

“Wait! Don’t give up on me, pal. I hear what you’re saying. Let me see if I got this right. I need to talk less, hardly say anything, and when I see a woman that I’m interested in, I have to not care if she’s interested or not. I stare at her first, to establish my worthiness. But later, well, that’s when I ignore her, to give her a sense of mystery about the whole thing, and if she doesn’t make the first move, I shouldn’t worry about it.”

Jeff laughed so loud and so long that tears began to roll down his face.

"Oh, Burns…” Was all he could say before he broke into reams of laughter again. I sighed.

“I’m going to be single for the rest of my life, aren’t I?”

He patted my shoulder in reassurance.

“Believe it or not, Burnsy, there are women out there who don’t play the game. That’s who you need to find.”

Right. Piece of cake.

I remembered our conversation a number of months later after an unsuccessful foray into the female domain. What Jeff had said was pretty similar to the stuff John told me on a regular basis, but for whatever reason, I had trouble putting the whole thing into practice with the women I’d met. I can’t tell you how frustrating it all was.

I remember walking my friend Joanne to her car one day outside the school parking lot, when the subject of dating came up. She’d been single for nearly a year, and I was wondering if she’d met anybody interesting in the last month.

“I like being single, Steve. Right now, I just don’t want the responsibility of calling someone three times a day and knowing where each other is at all times and checking to make sure its okay if I do something with them.”

"Hey, Joanne, what do you think about this worthiness stuff?"

I told her what Jeff had said.

She laughed and then nodded.

"That's about right. A woman needs to know that a man will call her on her crap. If he's always looking for approval, it won't be good." She paused. "Would you want a woman who was always trying to please you?"

"Nope. I guess not."

As I watched her drive away, I wondered how my past relationships had affected me. Was I doing that? Looking for approval?


It amazes me how many unhappy couples I see. They fight on the bus, in the supermarket, in the coffee shop. Someone needs to tell them that they don't have to be together. Aren't relationships a choice? When did we decide that they were so important that you couldn't have a whole life without a romantic relationship? I think that a part of the problem is definitely related to our search for approval. That without someone telling us we are worthy, or implying our worthiness by their presence next to us. (Look, someone loves me. I must be valuable.) And we hold on to those relationships even when they are destructive.

Yeah, relationships can be great, but there are far too many people who are miserable in their relationships. Luckily, I don't need to produce a study to back this up. Just walk around and listen to people. (As a side note to you couples, please don't argue in public. We don't want to hear and see your crap. It isn't cool. If I go to a bookstore to relax, I don't want to hear you fighting over the new wallpaper or whether the crib should be corral or peach, or whether your sister-in-law was flirting with you. And that goes for people (single or not) on your cell phone. News flash. WE CAN HEAR YOU! Go outside or something.)

The voices in society tell us a lot of things. They tell we need this, that we must have that. They tell us we are worthy only if we are or do something a certain way. How cool that God loves us with all of our crap. Relationships are only worth it if they are worth it. If they aren't, then what are we doing?!

If I had figured that out when I was seventeen with my first girlfriend, it would have saved me a world of heartache, but that's a story for another day.