Friday, May 8, 2015

where have all the Christian men gone?

Photo: Individuell Människohjälp

Women are from America.  Men are from Africa.

Before I continue, I should warn you that I'm going to make broad generalizations in this article based off of my own experience.  They can't possibly include everyone's experience and may not even reflect what is statistically true (in which case, I will edit).  My thoughts are definitely my own and don't reflect anyone I work for/with.

Okay, that said . . .

Women are from America.  Men are from Africa.

At least, as far as the church in America is considered, women are more in line with the culture the church expects to reach, and men are farther from the church, more foreign to it, and there lacks a coherent plan to reach them.

There are absolutely exceptions to this rule, but this post isn't about them.  This post is about the cry from our female Christian friends asking, "Where have all the Christian men gone?  And why are the ones we have found so apathetic toward pursuing relationships?"

First, a very encapsulated bit of history: feminism and the sexual revolution of the 1960s are responsible for the idea that women don't need men, an idea that persists today.  The natural consequence of this idea is that men should cower in awe of the power/beauty/strength/intelligence of women. This has been tremendously successful in academia and business but horribly damaging in relationships.

Men who want to date are left either embracing the sexual revolution, thus eliminating all motivation for commitment, or complying with its demands that men bow in reverence to women.

So far as the church is concerned, most congregations took an antagonistic attitude toward these culture shifts, teaching their members the evils and dangers of feminism and the sexual revolution without noticing that the culture around them was swallowing it up.  That is, the church drastically overestimated its influence in a culture that had rejected its authority.

Okay, so back to men.

1.) Men are farther from the church than women are.

Go ahead an pen your theological hate mail (because that's what Jesus would do . . .) explaining to me that "God sees all sin the same," but please just ball it up and throw it away.  I'm not talking about it being harder for men to get to heaven than women these days.  I'm talking about their hearts being harder to hearing from God at all, especially in the context of today's local church.

There's one nasty little four letter word responsible for this: porn.

90% of boys are exposed to porn before age 18.  68% of young adult men look at porn at least once every week.  Men are 543% more likely to look at porn than women.

Studies have shown that men who view pornography are significantly less likely to want daughters.  To sum up: porn makes men hate women.  It distorts the image of God found in female form.  It warps their sense of who God made them to be as men.  It enslaves men to perilous lies.

If you don't think this makes it harder for men to hear from God, you're out of your mind.

When churches are successful in reaching men, a lot of times, there's a lot more work to do with men than there is with women before they are "the marrying kind."

2.) Men are more foreign to the church than women are.

Take a minute and think about what would make your pastor think you were progressing as a Christian.  Seriously.  Stop and think for a minute.

It probably starts with church attendance, but then we get deeper into "pray and read my bible everyday" and maybe "give up a bad habit" or "worship passionately."  If we're feeling particularly holy, our pastors would love for us to give money every week or go on a trip to help people.

Most churches lead people to believe that they're progressing as Christians if they're having more frequent emotional experiences with God.

There could be a scorecard:
  • Cry during a sermon. +5 points
  • Raise your hands during worship. +10 points
  • Stop a sinful habit. +80 points
  • Adopt a Compassion International orphan. +2,000 points
I'm not saying that any of these things are bad.  In fact, most of them are good in the right context.  But let's be honest, if emotional connection to anything is important, women are at a distinct advantage.

Churches used to build hospitals, fight slavery, and peacefully defy empires.  In many parts of the world, they still do.  A lot of churches in America want you to stand in the dark and sing slow ballads about how you want to snuggle Jesus.

Nothing I'm saying here is new.  Books upon books have been written about the disconnection between men and churches.

3.) There is no coherent plan to reach men.


Even when churches do address men, the attempts are often so brazenly macho, it's off-putting.  None of my friends, none, have ever invited me to a cabin in the woods to shoot guns and barbecue red meat.  We did go to a Coldplay concert once, though.  That's sort of the same, right?

If churches were serious about reaching and discipling modern men, they'd do better to address them like they were from another country.  Learn their language.  Address their needs.  Live in community with them.  Give them hope.  Teach them to live the kinds of lives they desperately want to live.

Imagine if a church had the guts to say: "men matter."  They would risk the outrage of modern feminists to be sure, seeing it at the expense of women.  But what if that church helped men become the greatest protectors, defenders, and advocates of women that this world has ever known?  I'll bet you'd find a few "good ones" at that church.

Ladies wondering where all the Christian men have gone, pay attention here: depending on where you are part of a church, if there are men in your church, they are either more sensitive men (i.e. less likely to pursue you and risk rejection), they're struggling through leaving an old lifestyle, or they're only half as connected as you are.  Or maybe some combination of the above.

There's nothing wrong with being a sensitive Christian man.  I am one.  I've been one as long as anyone could rightfully call me a man.  But I was afraid of you ladies.  My sin wasn't sleeping around with a different woman every week, it was desperately hoping that just one woman would soothe the loneliness in my soul (and then being bitterly disappointed when my cloying eagerness made all of them run for the hills).

---------------

This rant would be pretty depressing without some action points, so, ladies who are feeling the absence of these bold, Godly men you seek, here's my advice.

1. Pray for the men of your church.

Some of them may look like pansies now, but a boy slayed a giant with child's weapon.  God is in the business of making much out of little.

My wife prays for me all the time.  I'm pretty sure her prayers work even more than the ones I pray for myself.

2. Talk to your pastors.

Ask them what they're doing to reach and build Godly men.  If it doesn't include the church actively participating where the young men in your community are (sports, business, military, etc.), press them on it.  You'd be surprised what a group of women on a mission can accomplish.

Missionary dating is a bad idea, but that doesn't mean missions is.

3. Encourage the men of your church to disciple one-on-one.

In whatever circle you're close to men (your family, your small group, etc.), ask guys you respect who they are bringing up in the faith.  If they're not helping grow up Godly men, kick their butts.

My heart aches for the wonderful, Godly women that Lindsey and I have known who can't seem to find their equal.  But we rejoice greatly when they find those men, and we are all better for having seen God answer those prayers.  Stay strong.  God hears you, and we love you.

Monday, May 4, 2015

taking the leap: how God turned a disaster into a delight



About 11 months ago, my wife called me at my office.  At the time, my office was only about 300 feet away from our home, but she was stuck there with two sleeping toddlers, so she picked up the phone instead of walking over.

She had just taken a test, the kind you don't have to study for, the kind you just have to take a trip to the pharmacy and drink a big glass of water for.  Despite not studying, she aced it, and she was calling to tell me the news.

It took a while to sink in.  Longer than it took with the other two.  We were a little exhausted, from job changes and moves and miscarriages and babies and surgeries and life.

I had just signed a renewal contract with the college where I was working.  No raise, but I had done work that I was proud of the previous year, and I was confident that I could do even more in the year to come.  My ear was out for other opportunities, but the right thing would have had to lure us away.

When my boss wanted to move our August 1 meeting off campus, I knew something was wrong.  He liked me, but after the initial "gain your trust" period where he used to buy me breakfast when he first started, I hadn't seen a free meal since Christmas.

I decided not to tell him at the table that my layoff date was right at the beginning of Lindsey's second trimester.  It just didn't seem like the right day to witness someone having a heart attack for the first time.

In September, I flew 4,000 miles.  Boy, were my arms tired.

Two headhunting agencies had lined up three interviews for me at churches in Colorado, Texas, and California.  I met wonderful people, but we all got the sense that my heart was somewhere else, despite my heart also being very much against impending homelessness.

After I got the phone call from the third church, we had a decision to make.  Now what?  More road to nowhere interviews?

Our photography business had done well last year.  It was a great way to make a small private college salary seem not so oppressive every time the kids needed diapers.  But was it enough to take the leap?

Lindsey and I agreed that we would go as long as we could pay rent.  If business slowed down too much at any point, I would look for a 9-5 somewhere.  To be honest, I kept waiting for it to happen.

I've heard many creative professionals say, "You have to bet on yourself," but that always seemed like fortune cookie wisdom for people who consider ending up destitute in a van down by the river as "great life experience" or "where I found myself."

Thankfully, I had a wonderful wife who bet on me, and she was pregnant, so really, she doubled-down.

A few friends picked opportune times to "refresh" their family photos, but then a bizarre thing happened.  The phone started to ring.  Metaphorically of course, because everyone e-mails these days, but there were buzzes, chirps, and notifications to rival that week when all my friends discovered Candy Crush.  (Thankfully not followed by the silence of the week where I blocked all the Candy Crush people.)

The other strange thing that happened is that I started, um, what's the word for it . . . smiling!  It turned out that I loved working for myself and getting to do creative work.  I loved running a business, taking risks and seeing reward, and growing as an artist everyday.

I was a little disappointed at first that I wouldn't be working in a church, but it turned out that I could give my time to our church for free (and not have to show up at the office everyday).  Then, I started doing communications work for a local church as a part of our business.

God has blessed us incredibly over the past seven months.  I remember writing a pathetically small tithe check to our church last October, the kind where I wondered if someone in the church office was going to see our check, multiply times 10, realize how broke we were, and drop groceries on our doorstep, but it felt good because it was the first one I had written in a while.  Tithing is one of the only areas where God encourages us to test His faithfulness.  While I don't believe that God wants us to give so He will make us wealthy, I do believe that God wants us to trust Him and that He likes making good on His promises.

As we start booking clients for 2016, I'm in awe of what God has done with our leap of faith this year.  I know that He would have taken care of us another way, maybe in another place, but it has been a joy to watch Him blow our minds repeatedly over this past year.  We can't wait to see what He does next.

(P.S. If you want to check out our business, head over to http://www.lullaphotography.com.)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

a talking dog, some ponies, and the dark, strange corners of the Internet


One day, I'm sitting with the girls watching Martha Speaks (a PBS show about a dog who eats some alphabet soup which goes to her brain and gives her the ability to talk, naturally).

The theme song is catchy and sounds vaguely like something Ben Folds would write, so I hop on the Google and find out that a guy named Daniel Ingram wrote it. One Wikipedia page leads to another, and I learn that Ingram also writes the music for My Little Pony. He is essentially a musical crack dealer who most certainly aced "Earworms 101" in college.

Because I'm working on my first children's book, I have been following a lot of children's authors I respect on Twitter. I guess this is what causes me to reflexively look Mr. Ingram up on Twitter

This is where things get weird. 

It starts with one peculiar entry. A young man reaches out to Ingram. He's a fan of Ingram' musical compositions featured in My Little Pony. This superfan is so passionate, he has remixed one of Ingram' songs and posted it on YouTube to be viewed by all. Now, he is here asking Mr. Ingram to watch his YouTube remix. 

Look, people are strange, and if I can't post anything on my own Facebook without somebody accusing me of being a schill for GMOs or vaccines or Obama or, sometimes, the antichrist, then there's no way a successful Hollywood composer could avoid having a few weirdos follow him around online.

BUT 

I scroll down his feed. Our illustrious remixer is not alone or even abnormal in this bizarre zipcode on the interwebs.

One Tweeter has made fan art (stills from My Little Pony with "inspirational" lyrics from Mr. Ingram's songs overlayed on top in cheesy fonts). Another thanks Ingram for how My Little Pony songs have changed his life.

Even more disturbing, one fan posts a photo of himself with Ingram while dressed as Ingram at some sort of cartoon convention.

But the most bone-chillingly terrifying is when Ingram retweets a reminder that the early-bird rate to the Third Annual Brony Gala is about to expire.  A "Brony," for the uninitiated, is an adult-male fan of My Little Pony.  And apparently, God help us, these Bronies have had a gala for the past two years (and will have their third this summer).

What started out as an innocent Google search about a composer, carried me swiftly on the wings of a pegacorn to a dark, strange corner of the Internet.

A few weeks later, I tell this story to my friend Michael.  He observes as he pantomimes, "That's when you shut the laptop, walk away, and say, 'I think we're done with the Internet today.'"

I am inclined to agree.

Monday, March 23, 2015

an open letter to our friend Erin on the subject of Chick-fil-A's new Frosted Lemonade

It brings all the boys to the yard.
photo: Chick-fil-A

Dear Erin,

I write to inform you that last week Lindsey and I tried Chick-fil-A's new Frosted Lemonade.  By the company's own description, the Frosted Lemonade is a "handspun combination" of their lemonade and cloyingly named but nonetheless delicious "Icedream."

The reason for my correspondence is this: Chick-fil-A's new Frosted Lemonade tastes exactly like a milkshake version of the filling in lemon creme sandwich cookies!  (I was going to link to Target's Market Pantry Lemon Creme Cookies for reference, but tragically, they appear to have been discontinued or are only carried seasonally.  Rest assured, a sleep-deprived, slightly unbalanced father's rant about this injustice will come soon.)

I knew that you, as a fellow connoisseur of sandwich cookies, would want to be informed of this development as quickly as possible via a public letter on a crackpot's obscure blog on the internet.

Chick-fil-A has not yet started serving this wickedly delicious concoction sandwiched between two frozen chewy vanilla cookies as doing so would be direct proof that Chick-fil-A reads my diary er, dream journal, er, super manly notebook of deep thoughts and business knowledge.  But I presume that this is an eventuality, as I am quite convinced that Mr. fil-A reads my thoughts through the dead-eyed gaze of the cow mascots which both delight and terrify my children.

I have taken the liberty of posting a check in the mail to reimburse you for your front door.  No doubt, you have by now stopped reading this missive and crashed through said door leaving behind a cartoonish outline of your body as you beat a path to the nearest Chick-fil-A.  My sincerest apologies for causing this sudden bout of mania, but I could think of no gentler way to break to you the good news of this discovery.

You might desire to capture a self-photograph on your Apple Computer mobile device as you devour your first Chick-fil-A Frosted Lemonade.  Surely, you will want a record of the day your life changed forever.

Sincerely, Your Sandwich Cookie Loving Friend,
Raj

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