30 April 2007

The Darndest Things {04/07}

30 April 2007: For the Birds
We eat a lot of cereal around here, much as I have tried to kick the habit. This morning, I poured out the last edible parts of a box, but there were some significant crumbs in the bottom. Not being one to waste, I suggested to E. that he go outside and see if the robins would eat the leftovers. He put on his dad's flip flops, and before he left he asked me if he could eat a little handful. "Sure!" I said.

It seemed like it was taking quite a long time to finish the task. I looked out the window. There was E., watching the birds while feeding...himself.

29 April 2007: The Perfect Evening
Sometimes, as a parent, you just want to freeze time. This evening was one of those times. I don't know what it was exactly. Was it the father and son practicing T-ball hits in the backyard, the son for the first time listening intently to his father's insructions on sports? Was it the toddler, clinging to her father's leg because she is terrified of the nearby squaking killdeer? Is the the baby, smiling sweetly as she (finally!) nurses in peace?

Or was it later, on our long walk, with the girls giggling softly in their stroller and the boy going on ahead on his tricycle with a too-big helmet atop his head? Was it how everyone stopped to look at the bees on the roadside?

28 April 2007: Early Days of T-ball
At this point, we have had two T-ball practices and two T-ball games, which puts us about one-third of the way through the season. T-ball is practically a rite of passage in our area, and though the children are not mature enough to play an actual game, they sure provide the adults with entertainment. Here is a sampling:

During the first game, almost every boy on the field ran to get the ball. They all collided, and no one seemed to have the ball, but they enjoyed a few moments of wrestling.

Our son doesn't run to first base. He walks. And once he is there, he likes to stay there and socialize with the coach instead of going to second base.

Today during the game, one little boy ran to first just fine. When it was time for him to run to second, he decided to run after the ball that had just been hit instead, following it far into right field. All the coaches tried in vain to get that child's attention. He didn't get the ball, and as he was making his way back into the infield, he decided to stop and pick some flowers.

This is the first time the kids played in a real baseball diamond with a real backstop. Instead of listening to their coach, the boys all began to climb the backstop. Not to brag, but our son definitely won the race for highest climber. We saw the coach reach out and pluck him off the metal fencing like an apple from a tree. Later on, we were searching the outfield. Where was E.? He was supposed to be playing left field, but where was he? Oh. There he was, with the opposing team, climbing the backstop again.

And once, while he was playing, he left the field in the middle of the game because he got thirsty.

24 April 2007: Attack of the Killdeer
Our backyard is an offical safe haven for killdeers. We love that they have the courtesy to create their nests and lay those eggs right on the ground where all of us, no matter how little, can see what they are up to.

It is too bad the killdeers do not offer the same sort of protection for my children.

It all started yesterday, when A. was testing the bird to see how close to the nest she could get. I had warned her the bird would become angry, but she didn't believe me. Well, that bird did get mad, and she started tweeting ferociously at A. This scared A. to pieces, and she began to run. Only she made the mistake of running towards the nest! That bird screeched and darted in front of A., tripping her and causing her to tumble into the dirt. There A. was, lying in a heap of tears and sobs, while I ran across the yard to rescue her. She was screaming, and all because that tiny bird was standing six inches away, loudly telling A. of her disapproval of all these goings on.

Today, the bird let the 4-year-old have it! It was snack time, and I was calling the children in to the patio to eat. E. came running from the farthest corner in the most direct way, which freaked out the killdeer. She actually flew at him, real low to the ground! She swooped in front of him two or three times as he was running. He never stopped, if anything he sped up, but he was screaming and beginning to cry with fright!

I really wanted to birdwatching to be a step towards raising my own little miniature naturalists. I'm not sure it's working out as I planned.

19 April 2007: Curiosity Killed the Nap
It is now official: all of my children have done this. It creeps up on me around the age of three or four months, and it surprises me each time! I mentioned before that my children sleep on their tummies. What I didn't mention is the phenomenon incurred when they acquire the ability to turn over. Take Q., who has now done this twice. She reaches that moment in sleep when it is most light. And then--gasp!--she is awake. Normally it would be just for a moment and then she would slip back into slumber, but her new eyesight abilities confound the process and she begins to slowly examine her surroundings. And then she looks up. What is there to see, exactly? The DREAD MOBILE. The mobile smiles down on her benevolently, calling to her, enticing her. And so she rolls over. But can she roll back? Most emphatically no!

At first, being on her back is exciting. After all, the DREAD MOBILE is in full view now. But then she gets tired. I hear the first small cry, and think it is nothing. But no! The wailing begins! Mommy! I am turtle-like, stuck on my back, and I can only sleep on my tummy! Help me!!! And so I saunter into the back room and give her a little flip. But now she is too awake, and yet too tired. She can't fall back asleep, but she can't handle being awake. What do we do, oh what do we do? We don't know.

Usually, we wing it for a week or so. Then, we take that mobile down and hide it away, never to be seen again. And peace again settles on our little home.

17 April 2007: E. the Naturopath
Me: Did you do this?

E.: I don't know.

Me: How can you not know? You either did it, or you didn't do it.

E.: I just don't know.

Me: Then I will ask Dad. I didn't do it. A. couldn't have done it. So if Dad didn't do it, then I know that YOU did it, son.

Si: I didn't do it.

Me: Then YOU did it, E.

E.: Those walnuts aren't working!

Si: Did you just lie to Mom?

E.: The walnuts--

Si: Did you lie?

Me: Wait. What do you mean the walnuts aren't working?

E.: They're supposed to help you think better, and they just aren't WORKING!

Editor's note: Walnuts are full of Omega-3, which promotes healthy brain development and function.

16 April 2007: Speech Therapy
Around the age of two, I begin working with my children on pronunciation. These are not formal lessons, but simply lessons that fit into our day as we talk or have a diaper change. A. pronounces "cup" as "bup." Here was today's attempt at correcting the problem:

Me: Say cup.

A.: Bup.

Me: Ck. Ck. Ck.

A.: Ck.

Me: C--up.

A.: C--Bup.

Me: Not quite. Listen again. Ck. C--up.

A.: Ck. C--UP!

Me: Oh! Good job, little girl! That's right! Cup!

A.: Bup-ck! {and smiles in triumph, no less}

14 April 2007: Starting Young
Today, E. had his first meeting for T-ball. This was the meeting where the children met their coaches and teammates, and learned the necessary details for the season. But what was the main topic of conversation when E. came home? Check it out:

E.: There was a girl there that I liked.

Me: What did you like about her?

E.: She looked cute.

Me: {flustered} Why did you like her?

E.: I was looking at her and she was looking at me. She was wearing purple pants with a bow.

Me: So you liked her outfit?

E.: She looked kind.

Me: Oh.

13 April 2007: Scared of Her Own Sheets
When A. was just an infant, I brought a quilt with me everywhere we went. It was the back of the quilt that I found useful. A simple green and white stripe, the stripes were so small and close together that it could almost be mistaken for a solid light green if viewed from a distance. It was this quilt that I put down, bottom-facing-up, in the crib at Granddad and Granmama's house. Why? Because A. was afraid of the bedsheets in that crib. They were busy. During one nap, she tortured herself by trying over and over to pick up the little tiny designs on the sheets.

I recently changed A.'s sheets in her crib {yes, she's still in a crib} here at home. She has two sheets. One is a solid green. The other is the same shade of solid green, but it also has some tiny paisleys floating about on it that are a simple purple color. She has used this sheet since she was moved to the crib from her bassinet at two months of age.

But this particular time, she was horrified by said sheet! She watched me change the sheets, but it didn't seem to matter. When I put her in her crib for naptime, she stood on her tiptoes in one corner of the crib, shrieking! She has now slept on this sheet about four times, including naps, and she is still resistant. Each time she gets into bed, I have to convince her that the sheets are safe.

1 April 2007: No foolin'
This morning at 6:30am, when all were sound asleep, Baby Q. awoke. Well, I'm not sure when she awoke, but 6:30 is when she woke me. I heard her gurgling and got up to check on her in her nearby crib. And there she was. On her back! She sleeps on her tummy, mind you, so I can only deduce that Baby Q. has learned to roll over!

26 April 2007

Inspiring Those Men

The last chapter of Maken's book is entitled Inspiring Men to Biblical Manhood. This chapter really resonated with me because I have a son, and I hope that he becomes a strong, godly man someday. I will admit that I read Getting Serious About Getting Married because of two of the many roles I play. First, because I am a friend to some very special single people who long to be married. Second, because I am a parent of children who I hope will grow up, get married, and {to be honest} give me lots of grandbabies.

Regarding Single Men
Because I am a woman, most of the single people I know are women. But there are a handful of single men I know through my husband. Some of you reading this may have a brother who is single, or a cousin, or a friend of your family. If you are married, perhaps your husband has a single uncle or cousin, etc. My point is that we all know men who are single and yet do not have the gift of celibacy. After reading this book, I believe that the greatest favor we can do for the single women that we love is to encourage the single men we love to grow up and get married, sooner rather than later {now is preferable}.

If you are like me, the single men you know just don't seem to be a good fit for the single women you know. If only it were that easy! However, we can remember that the single men we know should still be the husband of some woman out there, some woman who likely feels a lot like my single friends, which is to say they feel lonely, and wish there was something they could do to change their situation.

Every man who does not have the gift of celibacy and is refusing to grow up and get married is stealing a husband from a wife. At least, that was what Calvin said, and I am inclined to agree with him. If we start encouraging the men in our lives to fulfill God's calling for humanity, to create a family if they are not called to be celibate, we will be doing a great service to them, as well as their future wives.

Regarding Singles Ministries
If you are in any way involved in a singles ministry, that ministry model may need some rethinking. I would highly suggest getting together the single women from that group and reading Maken's book in order to start the discussion of what singles ministry should look like, or if it should exist at all. My new hunch is that single ministries may be enabling men to think that it is "normal" to prolong their singleness beyond an appropriate marrying age.

Singles ministries may best serve their members by teaching them marriage as normative for adulthood, and then finding out what exactly is wrong with the men within their membership. Maken reported that she would often tell the men she dated that "because they were over thirty and still unmarried, they lacked biblical leadership that requires securing a wife. They should have to explain why they are still single." Maybe singles pastors should be trying this approach.

Regarding Boys
This is my own observation after thinking so much about the concept of protracted singleness. I am the mother of a boy. I do not want him to delay marriage unnecessarily. Maken has convinced me that it is not healthy, and may even be sinful, depending on the circumstances of his heart. I wrote about this early on, but I think it is worth repeating. From now on, when I talk with my son about his adulthood, I will make sure that he understands that taking a wife {not a job} will be what makes a man of him. Making money does not make a man. Becoming responsible for a wife, and eventually children, is the pinnacle of Christian manhood. Does this mean I'm going to preach at him about getting married? No, I think it can be much more subtle than that. It will simply be implied in everyday conversation. When you are married you are an adult, I will say. By holding up family as the ideal environment for a grown man, he will understand his calling.

To End
So I think I am done with the singleness issue for the time being. Before I end, I will share what had the most impact on me. I wrote all about it in my post "Jesus is my Husband" Singleness. Once upon a time, spinsterhood was for the mean, the strong-willed, and the excruciatingly unattractive. Now, there are beautiful, intelligent, kind-hearted women who are single by default. They are single because no one is asking.

When the church stands up and chastises these women for admitting that they are not content with being single, the church is actually undermining marriage itself. In the very beginning, the first thing that God declared to be "not good" was man being alone. And it was marriage that He created to solve the problem of man's aloneness. God did not say that He would fulfill the companionship need. Rather, He invented marriage. What we see in Genesis was intended to be normative for mankind.

Commanding women to be content while they are single is to fail to deal with the problem. The Church as a whole needs to recognize that these women should be married, and then deal with the bachelors in their congregation as a way of tackling the problem. In the meantime, we should offer these women sympathy, encouragement, and a promise that we will encourage every single man we know to go and take a wife in the hopes of recapturing, both for the sake of these single women and the sake of our own children, a culture that esteems and encourages marriage.

25 April 2007

Maken's Plan of Action

Maken comes up with a step-by-step plan of action for single women who are single and hating it in chapter 13 {Enlisting Agency} of Getting Serious About Getting Married. But first, she begins the chapter with a defense. She explains why she thinks her plan works:
I am proposing that limited and guarded access to women produces responsible, wise and efficient decision-making from men, while unlimited and unchecked access produces complacency and generally unwise behavior--exactly where we are today.

Before I go on, I want to point out that there are other paths to marriage. I already explained that the route I took was more akin to contemporary dating patterns than what Maken is talking about. There is no denying that contemporary dating "works" on some level, because many people still get married through the process. But there is also no denying the statistics, which tell us that the longer the dating process has been entrenched in the culture, the more prevalent is protracted singleness. In other words, the dating model may ensure that some get married, but it does not encourage marriage as much as other models. Because of this, more and more people are finding themselves alone.

Maken seeks to change the culture, not to give a little list of tricks to "make dating work for you." Maken also explains how agency worked for her. But to know that story, you will have to read the book! Here are Maken's instructions for single women, using the order they appear in her book:
  • Move back home. Two things happen when a single woman lives alone: she become unbelievably lonely, and she is completely without male protection. Regardless of what the feminists will have you believe, a woman without male protection is actually quite vulnerable. Maken mentions once in the book that a woman living alone is more likely to be raped, but I am sure there are other vulnerabilities as well. Maken explains that God created people to live a family life. Biblically, there is no gap where the average person lives alone for years on end. There is living in the home as a child, then living in the home as the spouse and {later} parent. People are created to live in families. Families will ease the loneliness and offer protection.

  • Get a male father-figure advocate. Ideally, the single woman would have her own father provide the protection and guidance as she seeks a husband, but Maken acknowledges the broken family structure of today and explains that substitutes can be found within the church if necessary. This "advocate" is not just passively standing by to offer defensive protection when necessary. Rather, the advocate is actively working {with consent of the woman, of course} to pursue marriage on her behalf. Maken explains that some may call this "arranged marriage," but her experience felt more like a blind date arranged and protected by parents rather than friends. Maken's guidelines for agents are as follows: find an agent that is strong {he will stand up for you when you feel silly doing it yourself}, use him as a scout {seeking that future husband out}, have him discourage disparity {to keep you from marrying an unfit husband out of loneliness}, and use him to establish that scheduling order we talked about yesterday.

  • Add in agency, if necessary. The father-figure agent may not know any males who would make a fitting husband. Match-makers {yes, they still exist!} and online services can be enlisted to help the process along. People do this, but the difference is that all of this is supervised and guided by the father-figure agent. The agent may even be the one to place the advertisement or screen the prospects, depending on the desires of the woman. In the book, Maken gives a list of ways to "make agency work for you." These are guidelines that will keep a single woman from wasting valuable time.

  • Have your parents help you. Even if you do not or cannot move home, be honest with your parents. Tell them how they can pray for you. Ask them to sympathize with you, and then seek their assistance. I recently had a friend who married a man from her father's men's Bible study! Her father set up a blind date to introduce them. She was unsure about it all in the beginning, but he wooed her heart and they have now been happily married for a month. It is amazing how much a father can help if you let him know you want him to.

24 April 2007

Time Out for Materialism!

I won an auction on Ebay last night, and I am still so thrilled that I am going to subject you all to the details! {Can it really be called "winning" when you still have to pay for it?} But first, why I was out shopping in the first place. Because I really am not a shopper.

A. received money for Christmas, and I have been saving it all this time in order to buy supplies for her room. The daybed someone gave us has no bedding. The room has no shelving. She doesn't even own a pillow because she is still in a crib! However, a couple years ago, when we moved into this house, her room was too light in the late afternoon and evening periods. Her little baby naps became little baby play times followed by cranky baby nights. So I bought some simple drapes that matched her crib sheets.

I love those drapes.

So then I was in a bind. Those drapes were a shade of green that was "cool" two years ago, but it is really hard to find bedding to match it now. Unless I shop at Pottery Barn Kids. But I refuse! They are far too expensive.

That is where Ebay comes in.

I bought a complete set {new in package!} for less than half {including the shipping, mind you} of what it would have cost me buying from the catalog. This means the beautiful quilt and matching sham, the fitted sheet, the flat sheet, the pillow case...you get the idea. And they are the beautiful spring colors of a dreamy little girl room. And the green is perfect. And we are thrilled that there is still a bit of money left to buy the pillow, mattress pad, and shelving.

Here is a closeup so that you can see the pretty details. I bought the one that is mostly pink {on the bottom}:

Here it is on a bed so that you can see the green:

The sheets in the above photo are not the ones I ended up with, which is fine with me since I am not usually a large-flower-print person. A.'s new sheets are a cheery pink penny check.

When Q. moves into the room {over a year from now at least} we will make her trundle bed blend using the lavenders in A.'s quilt.

Isn't it great?

23 April 2007

Defining Terms

We're almost at the end here, folks. I must admit I wasn't sure what solution Maken could offer to the protracted singleness that she believes is propped up by the modern approach to finding a mate {i.e., "dating"}. And the solution surprised me, and yet, by the time she was finished explaining herself, I have to admit that it made a great deal of sense.

I spent some time this weekend questioning Si in regards to the last two chapters of Getting Serious About Getting Married. After all, Maken is a woman who seems to think she has figured out the effect of the culture of dating on men. I wanted a man's opinion on whether or not she was right. As we talked, I realized that Maken uses some language in a way that can be confusing to someone who hasn't actually read the book. So this post is all about laying the groundwork for a common vocabulary so that we can discuss the book without being distracted by semantics.

Terminology and Concepts
Limited/guarded access: When Maken refers to how things were done throughout much of history, she repeatedly uses the terms "limited access" or "guarded access" in reference to women. What she means is that a man was not able to go directly to a woman without going through an agent {which is actually the next term I will define}. This kept the power in the hands of the woman and her family. When we look at Genesis, there are three basic needs of a man that the woman is meeting. He is lonely {"alone"}, he doesn't have a "helper suitable" for him, and there is a sexual/reproductive need. When the access to women is guarded, according to Maken, none of these needs is easily met for a man until he is married to a woman. Once upon a time a man could only have these needs met respectably when he became married, thus creating a culture that encouraged marriage.

Agent: Maken starts by using the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis. Abraham used an agent when he sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. Rebekah was under the protection of her father, who was the agent who arranged the terms of her marriage to Jacob. In the current day, Maken suggests that many women may still find that their own father can serve as an appropriate agent, providing the protection and direction needed to get them married. But women without fathers, or without Christian fathers, may find it helpful to seek out a godly father-figure to serve as their agent.

Agency: When Maken speaks of enlisting agency she is making a broader sweep than she does with the term agent. Agent is usually a sole, male, father-figure type, or perhaps a trusted Christian couple. But agency can mean this and more. Agency can refer to getting a matchmaker, or even using online assistance such as eHarmony.com or Match.com. Also, agency does not necessarily offer the protection of an agent. If one were to employ impersonal, online agency, I believe Maken would suggest that she also find a real-life agent who would offer accountability, prayers, and protection.

Scheduling order: We all agreed that dating could encourage marriage too soon or too late. The scheduling order prevents this. The agent assists the single woman in coming up with a reasonable schedule of events. This would include how many dates or interactions should occur before she decides to rule a person out, how long casual interactions should go on before a proposal occurs, and how long an engagement should last. Obviously, this may not be set in stone for every relationship, but it will definitely offer much guidance, and because the decision was made with the agent, there is accountability for the woman {and her suitor!} to keep focused on the goal of marriage.

20 April 2007

The Consensus

Consensus is a big deal these days. Consensus proves that important things are true, such as Global Warming Being the End of Mankind and The War in Iraq Being Lost. Some people would say that one really should use data consisting of Facts That Can Actually Be Known. To that I say, "Humbug!" What is data compared to the profound anecdotal evidence presented by three dear friends and myself in yesterday's comments section?

Before I attempt to summarize the comments into a cohesive analysis of contemporary dating, I feel the need to define the phrase. It dawned on me later that I am using contemporary dating in the way it was used over a decade ago when I was in high school. I don't know if the definition has changed or not, but just in case, I will give my short definition of dating.

Dating is initiated by the male when the male says something brilliant, such as, "Hey. You wanna go out sometime?" This causes the female to go weak in the knees and say, "Why yes" while trying not to jump up and down. And then they go out. And if that goes well, they go out again. If they go out a few more times, usually one or both sets of parents will check out the happy couple and give an opinion.

Dating may or may not lead to marriage. Marriage depends on a variety of factors that do not have to be met in order to initiate the dating relationship. Dating may include some sort of physical relationship, but this is not required. Typically, in Christian circles, kissing is okay, but sex is not.

Dating tends to imply time spent alone together. This is why there is separate terminology for group dating.

As this applies to yesterday's participants, I think I know you all well enough to say that dating almost always meant a relationship {i.e., "boyfriend and girlfriend"}. There was a certain level of commitment involved.

The reason I am making this distinction is that it has come to my attention that there is also a type of dating that requires no commitment. One may date one person on Friday and another on Saturday. This is sometimes called recreational dating. The purpose may not be to attempt any sort of relationship, but rather a bit of temporary companionship to ease the loneliness.

I think it is important to note that none of the ladies from yesterday met their husbands through recreational dating. There was a connection that they made with their future husbands prior to the first date. The first date was the beginning of finding out where the relationship was going. By the way, if it turns out I am wrong about this, please correct me!

The Consensus
  • The first commonality I noticed between all four responses was that the marriages were born from a certain amount of friendship. My thought here is that friendship is a perfect foundation for a marriage to build on. Marriage is the deepest form of camaraderie, the sweetest form of companionship. Friendship is a good place to start.

    This doesn't mean that women should be out there deliberately starting friendships because they may or may not lead to marriage. It is just a simple observation, and it makes me think that females should never overlook their male friends when considering potential mates.

  • Another commonality was the belief that teens should spend their time cultivating friendships rather than romance. My thought is that though teens may actually meet a future spouse at that young of an age, there is no point in cultivating the romance until they are able to actually act on it. This goes along with the idea that improper dating is part of what encourages promiscuity.

  • There seemed to be an agreement that parents should have some sort of involvement in a relationship, though we probably differ in the area of degree. My personal opinion is that a good argument for parental involvement can be made simply from the fact that, should the couple marry, those parents become in-laws, they become family. One can introduce a boyfriend to the friends, and I think that is important also. But the friends never become family.

    I once dated a young man for a short while whose mother was insane. I mean this in an almost-literal sense. I remember thinking that I could never marry him because of his mother. Trust me, if one of his friends was crazy it wouldn't have been as big of a deal. His friends didn't raise him to be the person his was. His crazy mother did. So meeting the parents is important not just for the parents to assist their child, but for the potential spouse to know what he is getting into.

  • There was a consensus that the length of time spent dating should be reasonable--neither too short nor too long. I want to point out that one person rightly mentioned that the length of time may need to be adjusted when the majority of the relationship has been long-distance.

  • Most importantly, it was decided that one should never date someone one wouldn't marry. Not a Christian? Don't do it! When marriage is the goal, dating someone who is obviously the wrong person is a twofold mistake. Not only is there time being wasted on a relationship that necessarily must not go anywhere, there is also the risk of being tempted to marry the wrong person. Trust me. Marrying the wrong person would be a horrible thing to do. I know this because I know how delightful it is to marry the right person, to know that I not only have a wonderful husband, but a good father for my children, a good grandfather for my grandchildren. Deciding on a husband is not like finding a roommate. The entire legacy of faith for generations can be jeopardized by a choice poorly made.

The end of Maken's book appears to offer some sort of solution. I say appears because I haven't actually read it yet. But I will this weekend. And I will try to post a summary of her thoughts, along with any additions or modifications I can think of, this weekend or Monday.

19 April 2007

You Write the Commentary

I thought I'd try a different format for today. There are two reasons for this, the first being that I assume you are all quite tired of me endlessly digging through the minutiae of this book! The second is that our morning playdate fell through. I hadn't planned on writing at all today! So now...I don't have a lot of material to work with.

But it's just as well, because if you participate in the comments, I always love a good reader-contribution post. Don't worry, I will try not to go overboard on the questions. All of them, by the way, are inspired by chapter 12 of Getting Serious About Getting Married, which is entitled Saying No to the Dating Game. The questions are in no particular order. Please answer any or all of them in the comments as you have time. I am anxious to hear your thoughts!

  • Do you/did you date in the traditional sense of the word? And would you suggest this method of finding a mate to your children?

  • Do you think there is an ideal length of time that one should spend in a single dating relationship? What I mean is, is it possible for a dating relationship to lead to marriage too early? And conversely, could dating for an indefinite length of time be detrimental to a person?

  • Do you think it is important for a person to get their parent's approval/opinion on their date, even when they are an older single?

  • Do you think dating encourages women to pretend that marriage is of lesser importance to them than it really is?

I will leave off with this quote {Maken quoted it from the book What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us}, which inspired the last question:
Alas, it is usually at precisely this moment--when a single woman looks up...and realizes she's ready to take on family life--that men make themselves most absent...So long as a woman is willing to play a man's game at dating--playing the field, holding men to no expectations of permanent commitment--men would be around; they would even live with her! But the moment she began exuding that desire for something more permanent, they'd vanish. I suspect that few things are more off-putting to a man eating dinner than to notice that the woman across the table is looking as him more hungrily than at the food on her plate--and she is not hungry for his body but for his whole life.

So the single woman is reduced to performing the romantic equivalent of a dance over hot coals: She must pretend that she is totally unaware of the hot rocks beneath her feet and behave in a way that will convince a man that the only thing she really wants is the furthest thing from her mind.

18 April 2007

Protracted Singleness and Rampant Promiscuity

Why should one not forestall immorality by means of marriage? For if special grace does not exempt a person, his nature must and will compel him to produce seed and multiply. If this does not occur in marriage, how else can it occur except in fornication and secret sins?

But, they say, suppose I am neither married nor immoral, and force myself to remain continent? Do you not hear that restraint is impossible without special grace? For God's word does not admit of restraint; neither does it lie when it says, "Be fruitful and multiply." . . . You can neither escape nor restrain yourself from being fruitful and multiplying; it is God's ordinance and takes its course . . .

[W]hoever finds himself unsuited to the celibate life should see to it right away that he has something to do and to work at it; then let him strike out in God's name and get married.

--Martin Luther

One of the most important points one can make about singleness in our culture is that it is not the same thing as celibacy. Maken makes this point throughout Getting Serious About Getting Married, and she focuses all of chapter 10 on this thought.

Chapter 10 contains a small section on the sexual education debate that goes on in this country, and I thought her observations were too astute to miss mentioning. The debate generally consists of abstinence-only proponents on the one side and "safe" sex advocates on the other. Maken concludes that both side are right and both sides are wrong:
Those who preach safe sex are correct that human sexuality will run its natural course toward expression; they are wrong to conclude that sex should be condoned and subsidized outside of marriage. Those who preach abstinence are correct that sex outside of marriage is destructive; they are wrong to believe that we can convince kids to delay sexual fulfillment indefinitely. Both positions have proved the other's failure.

Before I go on, I want to make the point that I do, in fact, know single people, both male and female, in their late twenties who have managed to keep their purity intact. So please do not think I am saying there is no hope here, or that I am excusing immorality. But a friend of ours did recently tell us that it gets harder with time, not easier, and I believe him. If the Bible says that he was created to have a wife and "be fruitful and multiply," why wouldn't his very being be driving him that direction?

This whole idea of singleness being different from celibacy is connected to the constant refrain of, "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" The question is most always used to tell ladies not to give that milk away for nothing. But I have yet to hear it used to tell men to go out there and buy a cow, even though, unless they are eunuchs of some sort, they are all dying for a drink of milk. This is how God made them.

When Christians have young teens in their homes, much of the time spent discussing sex is spent discussing how to avoid it, how to protect their hearts, etc. Precious little time is spent developing a plan of action that moves the teen toward not only adulthood in general, but healthy sexual expression within marriage as God intended. We are told, for instance, that "teen pregnancy" is a terrible thing. But my own grandparents had three children before the age of 21. Teen pregnancy is not wrong if it occurs within the confines of marriage.

Okay, so back to singleness as compared to celibacy. Maken explains it this way:
Celibacy and abstinence are not the same. Celibacy and singleness are not the same. Celibacy and self-control are not the same. Celibacy is a gift of God in which he has removed the drive to pursue sex. . . .It is irresponsible to preach celibacy to a group of people when very few of them have that gift without preaching the pursuit of marriage in the same breath.

The idea here is that we must not preach perpetual abstinence. We preach abstinence until marriage and marriage sooner rather than later.

Now, I know what the response to this is going to be. Teens aren't ready to get married. Back in the Good Old Days teens were more mature, and this is why it was okay. These things are mostly true. But I have two thoughts on this:
  1. As a parent, I need to be raising a child that is more mature than his peers, because the peers are, on average, spending an extra ten years in childhood. I need to realize that history proves time and again that teens are capable of far greater maturity than is expected of them in today's culture. I need to make sure that I am deliberately raising an adult and not just an overgrown child. For my son, I need to be sure that his father and I direct him in the proper career path so that marriage is not unnecessarily delayed, and he will be able to provide a reasonable life for a young family. Maken mentioned that the Puritans did not view their parenting as completed until their children were settled into their own families.
  2. This one begins with a somewhat rhetorical question. How mature must one really be to get married? I am much more mature today than the day I got married. I am not saying that completely immature people should be encouraged to get married as is, but I think the culture is propagating a lie that one must be almost perfect in order to be "ready" for marriage. But a lot of the maturity required by marriage is also cultivated by marriage.

    I will go on to connect this a bit to birth control. When we were married five months and needed to begin telling folks that we were going to have a baby around the time of our first anniversary, we got a lot of the "you're too young" responses. And I felt too young. I only really became mature enough to be a mom by becoming a mom.

    I have one married friend in particular who is pregnant with her first child {no, she does not read this blog and you do not know her so stop guessing}, and I have heard some under-the-breath comments about her seeming too immature to become a mom. Almost every time I respond by saying that some people have to become moms first and mature through the process of becoming a mom.

    I think culture has it backwards. Instead of acknowledging that major life experiences mature a person, it is now believed that maturity is required for said experiences. I think that the best thing one can require is a heart that truly wants to obey God and live life according to His calling. That is all. If the heart is genuinely following the Lord, the maturity will come as the soul submits to Him in every new situation.

So where does the promiscuity come in? I thought you'd never ask! The promiscuity is God's design gone awry. As we squelch young men, giving them no direction on how to grow up in a timely manner, and no proper outlet {marriage} for their passions, they are set aflame. Instead of directing them to find a wife in their youth, and that finding a wife is a good thing, we tell them to abstain from immorality indefinitely. I do not seek to excuse immoral behavior, but I do think we must refer back to Luther's very realistic teaching above. Man is designed in a certain way, and if we do not teach him and free him to live out his sexuality in the way that God wills, the results may be devastating.

As Maken points out, we shouldn't end the teaching from Song of Solomon at "don't arouse or awaken love before it so desires." Rather, we should explain the beauty of love properly expressed within the bounds of marriage, and then direct a young man to go take a wife.

17 April 2007

"Jesus Is My Husband" Singleness

I don't believe the church offers anything that can fill that void on a Friday night. It can't make up for sleeping alone, hearing the floor creak and knowing you are all alone. It can't fill the empty space on the other side of the bed. It can't erase that sigh upon entering a dark, empty home night after night because you could only avoid the place for so long as you buried yourself in office work. It can't provide a date for those events designed for couples. It won't send you flowers on Valentine's Day or fill the emptiness on Mother's Day. It doesn't make up for watching nieces and nephews open presents on Christmas morning instead of your own children. It won't make up for the countless microwave meals eaten alone. It doesn't help as you earn wealth and wonder who will inherit it. It doesn't remove that lump in your throat with each passing birthday. It cannot make up for waking up alone for days, weeks, months, years, and decades. There's just no adequate substitute for a husband and family.

I never felt such compassion for single women as when I first read those words. Maken is brutally honest in Chapter Eight of Getting Serious About Getting Married. She makes it perfectly clear that not only did she mourn the loss she felt at remaining husbandless throughout her twenties, she did so alone. Why alone? Because the church's teachings on singleness heaped a good deal of guilt on her for being discontent. Jesus is all you need, they told her. A husband cannot meet all your needs. Only God can fulfill you.

We speak these words in our Newlyweds Ministry quite often. And though there is a ring of truth in it, there is also a lie in it when the words are spoken to singles. Though a relationship with God can be and should be very fulfilling, a relationship with God was never intended to meet the need for a husband.

I'll say it again: Though Jesus is depicted in Scripture as the bridegroom of the Church, I do not think we should take it to mean that He is the bridegroom of any individual person.

Is God the defender and protector of the needy, including widows and orphans? Absolutely. But He isn't anybody's husband.

Maken points us back to Genesis, which, incidentally, is usually the direction Jesus Himself pointed whenever He taught on marriage. In the very beginning, in the perfect Garden of Eden, God declared one part of His creation to be "not good." It was not good for man to be alone.

One must remember that Man had intimacy with God at this point. He walked with God in the Garden. He was apparently able to communicate with God verbally. And yet Man was said to be alone, and this was "not good." And how did God solve this problem? God created Woman to be Man's wife.

Are there folks out there with the "gift of celibacy?" Absolutely. However, it cannot be ignored that man's original situation was "not good" without woman. And woman never existed without being a wife. It would seem to be integral to woman's nature to be a wife.

Now, just like anything else that is not right in the world, God can and does offer a whole host of comfort. Maken's point is not to crush singles, but rather to give them permission to express their unhappiness with their situation, their yearning for more. After all, if one is not able, for whatever reason, to live out God's design for one's life {here in the form of having and being a spouse}, one must be sad about it much in the way that one grieves over premature death or infertility. It is the sadness that comes from sensing that all is not right with the world after all, that things are not as they should be.

Essentially, it is okay to be sad. Not to mope or sow seeds of bitterness, but just to express the grief. Maken implies that the church should be offering comfort, sympathy and assistance rather than trite platitudes about contentment. I'm inclined to agree with her.

As Maken puts it, if singleness is a gift, most singles want the gift receipt.

16 April 2007

The Effects of Education and Independence on Singleness

I think it important to mention that what I am discussing in this post is a subsection that follows right behind the discarding feminism subsection in Getting Serious About Getting Married. It is always good to know the flow of things in a book and try and discuss it all in context.

In the prior section {discarding feminism, remember}, Maken ends with two long paragraphs, the tone of which are sounding more and more defensive to me. She begins by accusing men of not being marriage material, of "lagging behind women in this culture." She explains that she knows this because more men than women are going to college, saving up and buying houses, etc. She then says that the attitude facing women today is that they "deserve to be single for choices they made." Specifically, she is referring to choices made that make them "successful." She ends the section with this:
How dare [women] be successful and leave men behind? As if one sex's success prevents the others.

This debate about a woman potentially being more "successful" than a man is personally important to Maken because when she was single she was an attorney. I think, from my reading of this section, it is safe to assume that there were people that Maken encountered in her personal life who thought that she personally was single because she was successful at being an attorney. Obviously, I do not know Maken, so I have no idea if this is true.

Now this is the part where this gets sticky. I do not have any friends who are single and in such a situation. Not that my single friends are "unsuccessful," but careers like being a doctor, lawyer, intensely specialized research scientist with a Ph.D. and a post-doc, etc., tend to be viewed in a category all their own. In her book, Maken points to certain other cultures, like that found in India, as an example of a woman's extensive education and success being viewed as an asset. She says that this is proof that "our mating structure, not educated women, are hostile to marriage."

I agree with her in general. I do think that the cultural method of finding a mate is highly unorganized, leaving much to chance and encouraging too much waiting and inactivity on the part of males. However, I also think that Maken is failing to deal with our culture and some of the reservations it has about women with high-powered jobs.

I asked Si what he would think if he were single and met a woman who was a lawyer. I asked him what he would have thought back when we were single and in college and a female classmate said it was her goal to be a lawyer. He said that he would immediately label her a Career Woman. Maken may rear up and say that this is unfair, and it may be, but, in all honesty, I would have done the same thing.

I now find it pertinent to share a bit of personal experience. When I first entered college, I was a voice major {think opera here, folks}. I had some health problems in my first semester that required me to rethink my major. So I set about asking the question, "What do I want to do with my life?" I always wanted to sing, and that wasn't an option any longer.

My father had often encouraged me to be a lawyer. Even recently he mentioned that I could have been a lawyer. And I can't say that being a lawyer was completely unappealing. Depending on what sort of law I got into, I think I could have enjoyed all the researching, writing, and developing of logical arguments.

What held me back was that my deepest desire was to be a wife and mom. Though being a lawyer might have held some short-term enjoyment, I was not created to be a lawyer. But law school takes an intense amount of time and money. It is a huge investment for someone who would immediately give it all up upon motherhood, if not upon marriage. The long and short of it is that I personally chose not to be a lawyer because it did not seem a good fit in light of my desire to be a wife and mom.

I do not know Maken's heart. But I do know why the stigmas surrounding women who are doctors, lawyers, psychologists, etc. are there. The stigmas are there because many women who have these jobs do not give them up for the sake of their families. Mrs. Maken did; she is now a homemaker. But I think that because of this she is underestimating the effect on a single woman if she admits to being a doctor or lawyer, or, when she is younger, wanting to be a doctor or lawyer. Many professional women keep the job and try to juggle it with family life. This is not an appealing prospect to some men, and these men may not immediately realize that some "Career Women" hold those careers with open hands.

Most single women do not have these careers and yet remain single. Having a career does not appear to be the sole cause of singleness. I think that Maken is rightly saying that there is something going on here at the macro level--at the cultural level.

However, it may help to think about it this way: When pursuing a goal, it is usually best to try the most direct route. Law school is an indirect route to motherhood. It doesn't preclude motherhood. Many lawyers are mothers. But if my daughter looks at me someday and says, "Mommy, my deepest desire is to be a wife and mom," I am going to help her take the most direct route possible. Though a job and education is of great importance when unmarried, I would never suggest she become a doctor while waiting for Mr. Right. It just doesn't make much sense.

I will close by saying that this post is not meant to be a criticism of a woman who is already in a high-level career. It is not meant to be interpreted that I have no compassion for single women who have this problem. It is simply that I think two things are overlooked by Maken:

  1. There is a stigma attached to being a doctor, lawyer, or any profession traditionally belonging to males. This is how the culture tends to be, especially the Christian culture-within-the-culture. Instead of decrying the stigma, Maken needs to be explaining to women in this situation that they are going to have to get past that barrier with prospective mates, and maybe give some suggestions on how this can be accomplished. Their career will not likely be interpreted as communicating a commitment to home life.
  2. Knowing this, parents have a chance to encourage the next generation to do differently, to make different choices. If Maken really believes that women should be getting married younger, that protracted singleness is inappropriate, and that it is the culture that is keeping them from getting married in a timely manner, the change in culture she is calling the reader to will mean they don't have time for a law degree anyhow. It logically follows that they will be too busy having babies.

14 April 2007

More on Four

If I can say anything about Chapter Four {The Lack of Male Leadership: The True Cause of Protracted Singleness} in a literary sense, it is that I felt like I was hit by a truck the first time I read it. The first three chapters of Getting Serious About Getting Married go much more slowly through topics like what the Bible says about marriage, what the Bible says about singleness, and historical perspectives on marriage and singleness. In fact, there is almost a whole chapter devoted to I Corinthians 7!

Chapter four, on the other hand, flies through some huge topics, making it a mile wide and inch deep compared to the previous chapters. This doesn't mean the ideas are bad. It's just that they aren't fleshed out very well. So my attempt to discuss it is a bit thwarted because there is so much and so little to work with all at the same time.

The chapter is broken into three main subtopics {after discarding feminism, of course}: Education and Independence, The Lack of Leadership in the Home, and The Lack of Leadership in the Church.

The Lack of Leadership in the Church
I'm going to work backwards here, because my main complaint is the first subtopic, and I want to save it for last. First, in The Lack of Leadership in the Church, Maken describes how the church has turned the table on singles. Whereas, traditionally speaking, it was always believed that marriage was normative for all humans, and singleness was a rare exception, now singles are told to pray and see if getting married is "really God's will." They are told to be content, when our forefathers would have thought that the notion of being content when you are outside God's explicit design for mankind as expressed in the Creation account in Genesis, was pure ridiculousness.

Conversely, Maken argues, pastors should be confronting the males in the church that are single and yet obviously do not have the gift of celibacy. By encouraging men to grow up and take a wife in the way Genesis describes, they will be doing single women a world of good.

And I completely agree. In fact, Si and I spent a bit of time discussing possible ways of influencing our own single male friends. After all, according to Maken, Calvin once declared that any man who did not have the gift of celibacy and failed to secure a wife was guilty of stealing a husband from a wife!

The Lack of Leadership in the Home
This section is mainly a rightful criticism of the modern and postmodern methods of parenting. Maken spends a small amount of time explaining why she believes parents fail to raise up children {specifically boys, I assume} that are ready to get married and create a family in a timely manner. It reminds me of the extended adolescence issues facing this country.

I decided to take action with our son, who loves to quietly sing this song to himself:
I'm the boss of this house...
I'm the boss of this house...

Yep. The kid has a definite problem with authority. So yesterday, after thinking over this chapter, I pulled him aside and explained that this song was silly, that he was not yet ready to be boss of this house, but that someday he would have authority when he became an adult that had his own wife and children. Maken explained that our culture tends not to link adulthood with marriage and family, even though the Bible explicitly does. I thought I'd take advantage of an opportunity to link these ideas {authority, adulthood, marriage and family} for my son.

Education and Independence
Bet you thought I was going to discuss this section today. I'm not. I'm running out of writing time, plus this post is getting a bit lengthy. Si often says my Thinking posts are too long. Tune in next time for Education and Independence.

13 April 2007

Lack of Male Leadership as a Root Cause of Singleness

Ipromised I would discuss chapter four, entitled The Lack of Male Leadership: The True Cause of Protracted Singleness, so here we go. Before I begin to explain the parts of this chapter that I do not agree with, I thought I would affirm the underlying assumption of Getting Serious About Getting Married. A well-educated attorney long before she became a wife and mother of two children, Debbie Maken believes that men were designed by God to lead. I think we can all agree that leaders are ultimately accountable for the performance of the whole team. I hesitate to use the following metaphor because it is not intended to convey a belief that the male/female relationship is akin to the boss/employee relationship. However, I think the boss/employee relationship is an excellent way to illustrate the accountability aspect of said relationship. If an employee makes a major mistake, who has the ultimate responsibility? The boss. The boss may have hired the wrong employee, inadequately supervised the employee, or given the employee authority beyond what he was able to handle. The employee made the mistake, but the boss needs to be held accountable.

Or maybe I should try parent/child. If my child does something horrendous, like throwing a raisin party, when I am out of the room, who is ultimately responsible for the travesty? Me! Because even though the child should not have been throwing a raisin party, I should have been more effectively supervising the child so that the party did not occur in the first place.

Make sense?

With the ultimate authority of men in the culture assumed, Maken has every reason to blame the rampant singleness in our culture on the general lack of male leadership.

However, Maken uses the idea of male leadership as a root cause to excuse feminism as some sort of hobgoblin distracting the church from the real issue. I would have felt much better about chapter four had it been followed up by a chapter five entitled Christian Feminism: Not Ultimately to Blame, but Still Contributing to the Problem. Or, Maken could have explained that there are lots of books out there that already address feminism as a real issue among Christian women, and then suggested her favorite.

My concern about this stems from two areas. The first is practical. Maken's primary audience is women, so, though I agree with her that single men who refuse to marry are revealing their own lack of leadership and maturity, this may allow some single women to excuse some other issues that also contribute to the problem, issues that they might actually have power over. It's kind of a take-the-rod-out-of-your-own-eye issue. Lack of leadership may be a plank, but it doesn't mean that feminism isn't a rod. And just like the leadership issues, feminism can haunt a marriage as much as it haunts singleness, so the earlier it is dealt with, the better.

My second reason is based on the saying that it takes two to tango. Si and I are old enough that we have had to watch a few marriages fall apart. Often, the falling apart is accompanied by an affair {usually on the part of the husband, but definitely not always}. In the situation of affairs, it is so easy for the "victim" to play the martyr, and never admit to playing any part in the overall failure of the marriage. But affairs, unless one inadvertently married some sort of sexual deviant, are often a symptom of a larger, unaddressed problem. In other words, if Maken wants to check out every angle on why, culturally speaking, she found herself single and unhappy at 28, she can't just brush feminism aside. After all, if the fact that bachelors went to prison for living alone in early America is deemed important, why not the very real current issue of so-called "Christian" feminism?

Next post, I will try to unpack some of the details of chapter four and explain where I think Maken goes right...and where I think she goes wrong. For now, I simply wanted to point out that though Mommy was ultimately to blame for the Raisin Party, this does not mean that the child should have thrown it. Though the boss is to blame for an employee's mistake, it does not absolve the employee of his failings. If we want to build a better culture for singles, we have to check out feminism, too, rather than brushing it aside as a mere ancillary issue.

12 April 2007

Rethinking the "Gift" of Singleness

I married fairly young. Technically, I was 22, but I turned 23 during our honeymoon week. I became a mom right after my 24th birthday. Needless to say, it never really dawned on me to question the rampant singleness found in our culture, even though it effected--and still effects--some of my dearest friends.

However, had I remained single until now, I would have done exactly what Debbie Maken did. I would have done research. Lots of research. And then I probably would have given all the answers away for free on my blog instead of being smart about it like Mrs. Maken and getting a book deal out of it!

But enough about me.

Really, I am writing about a book that I am reading, Maken's Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness. I will attempt to review it a bit as I go, but I would highly suggest reading this book, even if you are already married. {In fact, if you buy or borrow it and read it with me, I could end up hosting an online book group of sorts!} The reason for reading this is simple: Maken is making the case for marriage. She is revealing yet another symptom of the devaluing of marriage in our culture: perpetual singleness. And she is also helping me realize how important it is to have compassion on my still-single female friends who wish very much to be married one day, but they feel like a princess surrounded by a sea of toads.

If you are looking for another feel-good book on singleness and marriage, think again. Maken is a former attorney, and it takes some time to absorb all that she has written in regards to the history of marriage and singleness. For instance, did you know that, in early America, single people were not allowed to live on their own? Did you know that a bachelor that attempted to live alone was considered to be nursing some sort of secret sin and if he did not find a family to move in with or take a wife, he could be sentenced to time in the House of Corrections {aka "jail"}, as in the case of John Litleale of Haverhill, Massachusetts? I didn't either.

But Maken explains all this and more. She writes,
Early Americans did not think the single status or life anything to be glorified, but rather something that a "real" family should absorb, so that no one would have to suffer the infirmities of singleness, nor its vices. They wanted to restrict the negative consequences associated with singleness--loneliness and the anonymity needed for the continuation of secret sin. I suspect that the Puritan living patterns not only emanated to the surrounding public what was normative but also had the effect of limiting the choices of single men, with marriage being the most viable option. A young man like single John would much rather quickly grow up and take a wife so he could be king of his own castle than be treated as an immature child in another man's domain.

Maken's point, as she details the history of singleness in her book, is that society used to be on a woman's side when she was single. Society's laws and culture did everything possible to influence men to take a wife and have a family. Society pushed men, directly and indirectly, to step up, grow up, and be what God designed them to be: loving husbands and fathers. With society now looking with indifference, or even admiration, at bachelorhood, single women find it much more difficult to find a mate in a timely manner. And, as Maken puts it, as a woman, you can't get married when nobody's asking.

Overall, this is {so far} a great book. I keep stealing glances at it whenever I find the time. Chapter Four, The Lack of Male Leadership: The True Cause of Protracted Singleness, contains some thoughts I disagree with, and I will try to tackle that in my next post. However, I think that Maken's good thoughts so greatly outnumber the bad that it is well worth reading.

10 April 2007

The Easter Basket Cake

It's no secret that I like to create cakes for most every occasion I can. Putting in the time is a way I like to express love for my family. I hope my children remember that I made their birthday cakes every year...even when there was a newborn around!

When a family email went out asking what everyone wanted to bring to the Easter feast, I immediately volunteered to bring a cake. When I learned that around thirty guests were coming, I changed the cake I was planning on making to something simpler...and made two of them!

Naturally, I got the idea from that wonderful cake resource over at Family Fun. Here are the directions for making your very own Easter Basket Cake.

I thought the photos below might also be helpful to anyone who wants to do this fun little project next year. I made the cake batter using two box mixes, all in one bowl. I have two stainless steel mixing bowls, and I tried my best to split the batter evenly between two, and then cooked them according to the Family Fun recipe I linked to above.

The fun part is the decorating:

Here is the naked cake, all nice and round from being cooked in a bowl. Cut a good-sized hole out of the center, and it is ready for frosting.

I always make cakes a day before the event. This makes sure the project is completed on time, plus gives me the opportunity to redo it if I really mess up. Being that it was a day early, I made sure I frosted the inside of the hole using a spoon to get in all the little corners. Frosting protects cake from drying out. I use whippped frosting, as it spreads easier. If you add Cool Whip to make your own whipped frosting, you will have to refrigerate the cake. This is why I just pay extra and use the canned whipped frosting.

The grass is made from coconut and green food dye. Check out the candy and ribbon first and make sure to aim for the right shade of green. Place the coconut in a sandwich baggie. For this light shade of green, I only used three or four drops of dye. Massage the two together, and coconut easter grass appears before your very eyes! Line the cake hole with the green coconut.

Fill the lined hole with candy. I used the robin's eggs style jelly beans, plus large chocolate malt balls shaped like eggs. I thought that the deep brown was a nice contrast to all the pastels.

And here is the finished product! The "handles" are simply two pipe-cleaners {twisted together to make them long enough} and a ribbon. I bought the ribbon spools for a dollar each, and have plenty left over for a future project. Notice the ribbon and candy match. That was purposeful. These cakes doubled as a decoration on one of the tables. I thought it worked better to display one on a pedestal and one on a platter, to give it added dimension. This is one of my prettiest projects yet, and I can also say it was one of the easiest! Not a bad combination.

09 April 2007

Defending the Bride

What I mean to think about today is an increasingly common response to the accusation that the church is full of hypocrites. I have heard this many times before, and I'm sure I am not alone. The thinking goes something like this: Person A is resistant to Christianity because it is "full of hypocrites." Person A may even give an example of some recent failing in some Christian he knows personally. Person B thinks, "Well, I'm certainly not perfect." So Person B tells Person A that the church is a place for imperfect people. God saved us while we were yet sinners, right? The sometimes unspoken message is a type of agreement with the assertion that the church is full of hypocrites.

Sometimes, pastors will address a few points of resistance to the Gospel in their sermons. The "church full of hypocrites" assertion is often one of them. The goal is to try to clear out these objections. So they say something along the lines of, "So you say you don't want to go to church because it's full of hypocrites. Okay. So now you're here alone..."

And we all laugh.

I was thinking about this assent to the idea of a church full of hypocrites, an idea that I have encountered many times before in many different church services and chapels, and I decided that it is absolutely not true.

Allow me to explain by starting with the definition of a hypocrite.

My trusty Webster's 1828 dictionary defines hypocrite as:
One who feigns to be what he is not; one who has the form of godliness without the power, or who assumes an appearance of piety and virtue, when he is destitute of true religion.
I think this assent to the idea that the church is full of hypocrites stems from the fact that this culture has become very imprecise in the use of language. And so hypocrite has become interchangeable with the idea of being imperfect.

Before I go on, let me state, clearly and plainly, that I am not saying that the opposite is true, that the church is full of perfect people. My church, as well as my own home, is full of people who are not perfect.

But I don't think my church is full of pretenders, either.

When we assent to the idea of a church full of hypocrites, we are assenting to the idea that it's all a fraud, that everyone in the church, ourselves included, is pretending that it is true when it isn't. Or at the very least, it is saying that we are pretending to be Christians when we really aren't.

This is a big problem, primarily due to our own text. Because of the way English translations of Scripture use the word hypocrite, we end up sending a very strange message about the Church. Here is a sampling:
  • Psalm 26:4 equates hypocrites with men of falsehood.

  • Matthew 6:5 and 6:16 both explain that a hypocrite has no hope in the sense that they have already received their reward.

  • Matthew 23:13 is one of the many times that Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. He says that they neither enter the kingdom of heaven, nor do they allow others to enter.

  • Matthew 23:27 says that hypocrites are beautiful on the outside but full of dead men's bones.

This is so opposite of who Christians are in Christ that I hardly know where to begin! We are not people of falsehood, but those entrusted with Truth. Our reward is not on earth, but in heaven. We enter the kingdom of heaven because of Christ's death and resurrection, and we are given not only the ability, but the charge to tell others of this Good News. And we are sometimes not very beautiful at all on the outside, but we are full of the Spirit of the Living God.

To call a true Christian a hypocrite is to speak the worst of lies about who Christ's people are.

Now, are there hypocrites within the church? Absolutely. Jesus explained this in the parable of the wheat and the tares, where the enemy sowed tare seeds into the field of wheat, and the farmer could not tell the difference between the wheat and the tares. At the end of the parable, we learn that the tares become evident in time because they do not bring forth grain like wheat does. However, the field is full of wheat. The tares are in a wheat field. This is not a tare field.

Calling someone, anyone, a hypocrite without proper grounds is a grave misdeed. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and I am sure He is very defensive of His Bride, much the way my husband would defend me. If unfaithful, lustful women were rampant in our society, and someone walked up to my husband and said that I was a faithless wife because all women were this way, he would not assent to this! Rather, he would say, in no uncertain terms, that my accuser was wrong, and though there may be many faithless women, I was not one of them, and though I was not perfect, he was sure that my love was genuine.

The Church may be full of imperfect people. But these people love God. They are seeking Him. And as they grow in their faith, they are being made perfect, they are realizing their faith's power, so to speak, to change their lives.

So the next time you hear someone assert that the Church is full of hypocrites, let me implore you to stand for Truth. Tell them not to talk about the Bride that way. And then love them in such a way that they know that it is all True.

**Update 3:00pm--Apparently Doug Groothuis (aka The Constructive Curmudgeon) thinks the mainstream church is full of hypocrites. Any replies?

05 April 2007

News Lens: Orwellian Prophecy Fulfilled

I always wonder if people who were living at the time that Orwell debuted 1984 thought he was crazy. It sounds like such a stretch, thinking that the government could really require its citizens to live such colorless, micromanaged lives. And I suppose the whole picture hasn't quite come together in the West. There still is much liberty, albeit much less than at the time Orwell was writing. However, today I was amazed as his frightening accuracy.

Have you read it? Do you remember the telescreens? They give the government effectual omnipresence. Spying on you, watching your every move, drilling propaganda into your head twenty-four hours each day, every day of the week. They are like a television in their ability to broadcast, and like a videocamera in their ability to keep their eye on you at every hour.

Main characters Winston and Julia think they have found themselves a hideout old enough that it is telescreen-free. As they read a forbidden book in their secret haven, this is what ensues:
"We are the dead," [Winston] said.

"We are the dead," echoed Julia dutifully.

"You are the dead," said an iron voice behind them, turned into ice. He could see the white all round the irises of Julia's eyes. Her face had turned a milky yellow. The smear of rouge that was still on each cheekbone stood out sharply, almost as though unconnected with the skin beneath.

"You are the dead," repeated the iron voice.

"It was behind the picture," breathed Julia.

"It was behind the picture," said the voice. "Remain exactly where you are. Make no movement until you are ordered."

It was starting, it was starting at last! They could do nothing except stand gazing into one another's eyes. To run for life, to get out of the house before it was too late--no such thought occurred to them. Unthinkable to disobey the iron voice from the wall. There was a snap as though a catch had been turned back, and a crash of breaking glass. The picture had fallen to the floor, uncovering the telescreen behind it.

"Now they can see us," said Julia.

"Now we can see you," said the voice. "Stand out in the middle of the room. Stand back to back. Clasp your hands behind your heads. Do not touch one another."

They were not touching, but it seemed to him that he could feel Julia's body shaking. Or perhaps it was merely the shaking of his own. He could just stop his teeth from chattering, but his knees were beyond his control. There was a sound of trampling boots below, inside the house and outside. The yard seemed to be full of men. Something was being dragged across the stones. The woman's singing had stopped abruptly. There was a long, rolling clang, as though the washtub had been flung across the yard, and then a confusion of angry shouts which ended in a yell of pain.

"The house is surrounded," said Winston.

"The house is surrounded," said the voice.

He heard Julia snap her teeth together. "I suppose we may as well say good-by," she said.

"You may as well say good-by," said the voice. And then another quite different voice, a thin, cultivated voice which Winston had the impression of having heard before, struck in: "And by the way, while we are on the subject, Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head."

Something crashed on the bed behind Winston's back. The head of a ladder had been thrust through the window and had burst in the frame. Someone was climbing through the window.

Now go read this.

04 April 2007

When the Wind Blows Sweetly Through Our Home

This past week and a half or so has been quite difficult around here. It's been a combination of exhaustion, nursing strikes and fights, discipline issues, and bored-while-baby-is-nursing children.

Yesterday, especially last night, felt worst of all. And so I awoke this morning feeling the urge to pour some especially Good Things into my children today. We did catechism earlier than usual {if we can be said to have a "usual" after only three days}, and that time was sweet. I always appreciate that when we are done, my son always wants me to read more of the "Holy Scripture of the Lord," as he reverently calls it.

Later, I cracked open A.'s birthday gift, her beautifully illustrated copy of The Wind in the Willows. If ever there was a day to read of the adventures of Mr. Toad and his friends, it was today. The sweet and simple fragrance of this classic collection of tales blew through our living room. The children were enchanted for the half-hour it took to read The River Bank. It didn't hurt a bit that Michael Hague's illustrations complement this book with warm, detailed images that invite one to meander and enjoy, much the way one would if traipsing along beside a real riverbank.

Here are some of the parts we liked the best:
"And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!"

"By it and with it and on it and in it," said the Rat. "It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and {naturally} washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing..."
The Mole was quiet for a minute or two. But he began to feel more and more jealous of Rat, sculling so strongly and so easily along, and his pride began to whisper that he could do it every bit as well. He jumped up and seized the sculls, so suddenly, that the Rat, who was gazing out of the water and saying more poetry things to himself, was taken by surprise and fell backwards off his seat with his legs in the air for the second time, while the triumphant Mole took his place and grabbed the sculls with entire confidence.


Over went the boat, and he found himself struggling in the river.


When all was ready for a start once more, the Mole, limp and dejected, took his seat in the stern of the boat; and as they set off, he said in a low voice, broken with emotion, "Ratty, my generous friend! I am very sorry indeed for my foolish and ungrateful conduct. My heart quite fails me when I think how I might have lost that beautiful luncheon basket. Indeed, I have been a complete ass, and I know it. Will you overlook it this once and forgive me, and let things go on as before?"

"That's all right, bless you!" responded the Rat cheerily. "What's a little wet to a Water Rat?..."
This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and fuller of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learned to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them."

03 April 2007

More on Catechism

I am really getting into the catechism idea! From the Training Hearts Teaching Minds introduction:

Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter made it his practice to visit each of the eight hundred families in his church in a year, centering his visits on the instruction given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Besides examining children and adults to see how well they knew the catechism, he would ask additional questions to see if the answers had been understood. He would then go on to encourage all the members of the family to live in the light of the truth of each memorized answer. Baxter claimed to have more outward signs of success in demolishing the kingdom of darkness among his church members through this practice than through all his public preaching to them.

02 April 2007

Catechizing the Kids

When I was growing up, catechism was for Catholic kids. Little did I know that catechisms like the Westminster have a long tradition within the reformed Christian church. Training Hearts Teaching Minds is a book that we were given awhile back, but I assumed that it was too much for my children. If I had really looked at it, I probably would have started it right away.

This weekend, I remembered the book as I was pondering what to use for morning Bible time once kindergarten is officially underway this fall. Training Hearts Teaching Minds goes through one question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English per week. This gives plenty of time to explain to young children what the meaning of the question and answer is, as well as study various Scripture from which the answer was originally derived.

Starr Meade, the author of Training Hearts Teaching Minds, connects catechizing children to the larger purpose of the church. Essentially, Meade would say that if the church is to continue in the business of being the "pillar and support of the truth" {I Timothy 3:15}, the children, since they are the future church, must be taught the essential doctrines of the faith. She goes on to explain in her introduction that this was the original purpose of the various catechisms {including the Westminster}.

I was always resistant to memorization because I have often read disparaging things about what is disdainfully referred to as "rote memorization." However, Meade persuaded me when she wrote:
It is said that if we require our children to memorize by rote, they will only memorize meaningless sounds and words without understanding them. Certainly we do a disservice to our children if we insist that they memorize words they do not understand, while we fail to take the time to discuss, teach, and explain the meanings to them. The solution, however, is not to discard memorization as a teaching method, but to faithfully supply meaning by discussing and explaining.

Meade also discusses the importance of teaching children actual doctrine rather than doing what many churches do and presenting various Bible stories in the form of moral tales:
Children hear the same Bible stories repeatedly, almost always as moral lessons on how to behave. Typical Sunday school lessons reduce Bible stories to moral tales much like Aesop's fables. The focus is on the human being in the story, who becomes its main character. So the teacher comes to the end and concludes, "And you must be like David and God will bless you," or "You must not act as Ahab did or you will find trouble.

When Bible stories are used in this way, God sits on the periphery of the narrative, like the genie in a fairy tale, blessing human actors for good behavior or cursing them for failures. Children seldom learn to see that God Himself is the main character of every Bible story. They do not learn to ask about each account they read, "What does this story tell me about God?" They never learn to read all the biblical narratives in the light of God's overall purpose to redeem a people for Himself. All they learn is: Be good and God blesses; be bad, and He does not. Not only is this a faulty representation of the gospel, it is not the gospel at all! What a tragedy!

She goes on, explaining that this form of Sunday school teaching is failing to equip the Church's children to be that pillar and support of truth they are called to be. Her solution to this failure is her book. She explains:
Those of us who care about passing on the baton of historic Christian truth must awaken to the importance of faithfully imparting its doctrines to our children. We cannot depend on haphazard, hit-or-miss Bible stories and memory verses, hoping that somehow our children will distill from them Christianity's important teachings. Rather, we must provide careful, systematic instruction in doctrine. Children need a grid through which to sift all that they see and hear. We must provide this for our children while they are still young. Doctrine cannot wait until children are teens, because adolescents are making major life decisions. The theological framework on which to base those decisions, the biblical worldview, must already be in place.

And so today, this very day, we began our Westminster Shorter Catechism adventure. If we are diligent in our work, we will complete our trip through this book in approximately two years. If I can remember, I will post each week's question and answer in the sidebar. If you are like me, you could probably use a Doctrine Refresher Course anyhow!