20 things to spot when observing Christian relationships

** WARNING – this post may lead to introspection**

If you spend enQuick-Easy-Valentine-Day-Treatsough time among Christians, especially those who are single and dating, some of these may be very familiar:

  1. The person who needs to be in a relationship just that little bit too much. Whenever an eligible boy or girl turns up on the scene they are the first to latch onto them, in the hope that maybe, this one, will be the one.
  1. The flirting butterfly. Every person is a target, they flit from one person to the next, pulling their best moves to impress the person in front of them. When one person rebuffs them, or often before they have the chance, they move onto the next. It’s not so much a relationship they are after but the affirmation that their flirting leads to when someone laps it up.
  1. The one who leads them on. They know they’re being flirted with, they enjoy it, they are the ones who lap it up – it makes them feel good. They’ve no intention of it going anywhere, but to turn the flirter down would mean turning down the attention. So they let it carry on.
  1. The one who seems above romance and relationship. They breeze through life as though attraction and emotion are unknown, they are busy in their own life. As far as anyone can tell they are attracted to no one, and no one is attracted to them. Except the person who is attracted to them but has no idea if they even notice.
  1. The one who is waiting for God to do it. They’re not exactly content in their singleness, because they’d rather be with someone, but they are trusting in God. This means they don’t do much on their initiative and are inclined to turn down offers if God hasn’t told them that it’s the one.
  1. The amazing girl who all the other girls can’t understand why no guy asks out. You hear the gasps of exacerbation and bemusement at why such and such hasn’t been asked out on any dates recently (or at all). This is likely to come with the tacit suggestion (and sometimes explicit) that you might want to rectify this state of affairs.
  1. The guy who doesn’t ask girls out. It’s not that he’s not interested, he is. It’s just he always finds a reason not to ask out the girl who’s occupying his thoughts. After a while he tends to decide he’s not that interested, or she’s not that interested, or sees she’s now with another guy.
  1. The married to Jesus one. They are so in love with the Lord, and he fulfils all of their needs. Until hot guy asks them on a date.
  1. I need a hero! They are just desperate for someone to fall in love with. Someone who is the right height, with the perfect colour hair, that compassionate but confident temperament who will sweep you off your feet without coming on too strong. Other than that, they’re off the market.
  1. The naïve one who everyone likes. They don’t know it but they have a legion of admirers. Guy after guy has a thing for her. All the girls wait around hoping she will be the one he picks. But it doesn’t happen, they seem immune to the volley of attraction they provoke.

    © April Killingsworth

    © April Killingsworth

  1. Friendship dependency. It starts with them hanging around and becoming friends, and being Christians they know that even if they were in a relationship with someone (not necessarily the friend in question) they wouldn’t get much more out of it then they do as friends. And they enjoy their friendship and lean heavily on it for emotional support. So friendships act as a buffer making crossing the Rubicon towards a relationship that bit less appealing (you know, they might get rejected and all that). This can lead to…
  1. The couple who aren’t a couple. They are categorically not going out, they are friends, they spend time together. Plenty of people think there must be something going on, but they’ve never even talked about such an occurrence. That would be awkward, and after all they’re not really attracted to one another. Problem is, getting a plus one to a wedding is even more awkward. But this is different to…
  1. The couple that will be a couple. Everyone can see it (apart from me), the friendship, the chemistry, the attraction. But it goes unspoken. Maybe they’re nervous, fearful of rejection, uncertain of the reciprocation of feelings, but they hold back. And everyone, the everyone who sees this as inevitable, hold back because to do otherwise would be meddling. Instead they just talk about it. And when they do they either become…
  1. The couple who want to convince you they aren’t a couple. Maybe it is early days in their relationship and they don’t want to be public about their growing amorous affection. They arrive separately, are distinctly detached in the post church mingle. But it is just a little too studied, a little too planned. Or…
  1. PDAs, alternatively known as: The couple who want to convince everyone they are in love. It’s all about the Public Displays of Affection. One minute they were single and the next inseparable. I’m all about showing your significant other how much they mean to you, but in church, during the sermon on atonement, really? I don’t think that’s what ‘his wrath was reconciled meant’.
  1. The couple who were a couple. They were going out, you knew about it, most people knew about it, but now you’re not so sure. It’s been a while since you’ve seen them together but maybe that’s just because one of them has been away. But because we don’t gossip no one talks about their break up, it just glacially filters through the ecclesiological eco-system hopefully in time to cut off another awkward plus one wedding invite.
  1. The Christian festival couple. In a blaze of camping induced romance they find the love of their life. They commit to each other 4EVA. The messages pass back and forth (in my day text and email, probably fb messenger, whatsapp and snapchat these days). But slowly it fades, until they embarrassingly bump into each other next year in the same showground having not spoken for months.
  1. The girlfriend (and sorry to be gender specific) who can’t do anything without their boyfriend. Being in a relationship mutes independent thought and the previously confident lady is a shadow of her former self.
  1. The over protective boyfriend (again, see above for apology). You get within a few meters of his girl and he’ll come alongside her and bring the conversation to a close.
  1. The wannabe matchmaker. They have a pairing for everyone, they think they’ve got skills in who suits who, and want their friends matched up pronto. Except, when it comes to it, the matching plan never hatches.single contact person

What about, a friend asks, the normal Christians, who are confident, honest, and not playing games?

Married.

What have I missed? What should be in the A-Z spotters guide of Christians who are single, dating or getting into a relationship (provisional title)?

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On being single

Kweku and Fi wedding cake detailWind wisps through the air, leaves shiver on their stems. People bustle past the forlorn store fronts hurrying to find their way to some indistinct place. Their speed suggests purposes, urgency, a thing to be done before any other. But they carry on, moving fast but arriving nowhere. A perpetual asymmetry of intent and achievement.

A perpetual asymmetry of intent and achievement.

A lot of movement but not a lot of action.

A lot of words but not enough openness. Frankness as shade to protect the fragile soul. Saying things we don’t mean to mask the heart. Leaving places too painful so we don’t have to wear our scars before those who know their cause.

The temptation to move on. The idea that some different place will be a better place. The hope that dreams might come true. The figment of our imagination we think might switch to reality if we loiter in its midst for long enough.

Continue reading

Seven fears that stop me asking girls out

© April Killingsworth

Two years ago I wrote a post “why guys don’t ask girls out”. This is a different post, it’s what stops me from asking girls out. Not why guys don’t, but why I don’t.

It is simple to slip into the abstract when writing about relationships, find the generalisation, the concept; the easy way out. It is also tempting to use other people’s stories, to aggregate examples and form a trend that is straightforward to talk about and respond to.

If you look at most of what is written about relationships that’s how it works. What is the problem, and what is the solution? It’s the mentality of glossy magazines and trendy bloggers, and we look for solutions because we think that if we have a list of things to do to solve the problem that’s the same as having it sorted.

… we look for solutions because we think that if we …

The other day Emily Maynard tweeted that if she were to write a book it would be called “I Have No Idea How To Fix Your Life And It’s Weird That You’re Looking In Books For That.” Continue reading

Why I write about relationships, and why I hesitate

good-relationshipsTwo years ago I started this blog with a series of four posts one day after the next on relationships in the church. For better or worse it established the foundations of what I would write a lot about, and more to the point, what I would be known to write about. I go through phases of leaving the subject to one side, letting it have a breather, but the issues do not go away and my opinions don’t always want to keep to themselves.

One of those four posts, “Why guys don’t ask girls out” gets hits every single day, and a few weeks ago I read it and winced not only at typos that continue to be read but what I said and the way I said it.

Many of the things I wrote on four consecutive days stand the test of time. There are some concepts and ideas that I articulated for the first time which had been percolating through my mind for many years, others that slipped off the fingers onto the keyboard without sufficient thought.

There are ideas I have rethought as I have written and reflected on a topic that is tender to many people. I have had to change what I do because of what I wrote, but what I write should also be affected by what I do – and too often I have written in a vacuum. Continue reading

Do nice guys finish last? Is pleasant unpalatable?

Sometimes I wish I was someone else.

Sometimes I wish I had a little more bravado. Sometimes I wish I laughed at things other people found funny. I wish I was more spontaneous. I wish I was unpredictable. Surprising. I wish I had that edge. Whatever that edge maybe.

That edge that makes guys attractive to girls. And makes dates more than pleasant.

Because sometimes I think I am dull. Just dull. Barely making the mark of mediocrity known as pleasant.

Sometimes I wish I was someone else.

Someone better, scrap that, not better necessarily. Better is a bit too much like nice which is a bit too much like pleasant which sounds rather like code for dull. Different, I want to be different.

nice-guy-emotionsYesterday Threads’ anonymous Girl About Town wrote about her date with pleasant Christian guy. And it provoked quite a reaction. Guys split down the middle between trying to demonstrate their ‘fun’ credentials, and those like myself who sneered at the somewhat faux virility and opted instead for self-deprecation. An elaborate double bluff showcasing introversion and nerd like pursuits as a masquerade to shield insecurities.

It’s a cliché that good guys finish last, but sometimes that is what it feels like. It feels as though to achieve success in one part of life I have to screw up a little more. I could swear here to make my point with added weight but I don’t want to. I prefer not to swear.

We turn finding someone to build a relationship with into a game, where there is success and failure, and we are tempted to try and stack our hand. We weigh percentages and hunches and work out what would give us an advantage. Wondering whether if we were someone else the road might be easier. Wondering if a new identity might help. Thinking the grass is always greener through our rose tinted glasses.

We want everything to be okay, we want to be without blemish so we erect structures and façades to shelter our fragile self. We are told there are ways to behave, things to do and not to do, and knowing that we don’t always live up to that we sometimes try to present an image that we do.

I think that if I wear the costume enough it might become a second skin. It is never quite home, but close enough that I lose sight of the ways it betrays me.

Sara Kewly Hyde commented: “I think sometimes rather than discovering the fabulous and unique individual God’s made them to be, some men (people) are trying to be what impresses others and that in turn can lead to… Well a whole host of insecurities, the fruit of which is sometimes blandness… I think as Christians we also struggle to assimilate our dark or shadow side so at times repress it rather than asking God to glorify himself through it. Repression can also = pleasant but nowt else. If we allowed our imperfections to be as visible as our good bits then it’s unlikely ‘pleasant’ would be the adjective de jour here. Pleasant is great if accompanied by other adjectives.”

Another friend simply said: “pleasant might also mean stifled”.

When guys hear they are too pleasant, the immediate reaction can be to add another layer of characteristics they think might help. So as well as being the good Christian guy they also need to be the Alpha male chopping down trees, skinning rabbits and rescuing the damsel in distress. I mock to make a point.

Christian guys are told to pursue, protect, provide and pastor, and that becomes another list of things they ought to do to make the mark. If they are being rejected as dull, dismissed as pleasant, then they are not doing enough to woo the women. Emily Maynard commented on cultural norms that so heavily circumscribe Christian dating, which create a culture imbued with such deep, existential morals and genderised stereotypes. And the fear of slipping into sin or causing someone else to sin.

We are afraid of doing it wrong. Asking the wrong girl out, acting improperly, not being sufficiently chivalrous, not picking up on signals, showing too much affection, or more likely not enough. And under the weight of it, all that emerges is a bland pleasantness that might not be offensive but betrays its insincerity. It can also freeze us into inactivity.

The layers of personhood expected to be worn to fulfil the role of the right Christian guy become so deep personhood is lost. In trying to be something we stop being ourselves.

Here’s the challenge, I get the thrill of the different, the exciting, the edgy, but telling Christian guys they are too pleasant puts them on the defensive. It knocks their security and only encourages more layers covering over who they are.

Truly pleasant

Being nice is not bad. Being pleasant is not just about being polite. And good guys do not need to finish last. But if the pleasantries are a charade or a forced manicure they leave an emptiness where you or I should be.

Dave Shearn put it like this: “I think lots of us are non-committal and non-confrontational in the name of being ‘loving’ and that is lame. Passive aggression and people not agreeing with God that he made them awesome also doesn’t help.”

I also wonder if there’s a false dichotomy that’s being set up between atheist-guy and pleasant-guy, is the very fact atheist-guy is such what gives him that edge? Pseudo-rebellious was the way someone put it. It’s not that Christians are necessarily more dull than anyone else, but they are known and to some degree safe, and sometimes an element of danger is alluring.

The unknown can be attractive but it is also dangerous. Because I hope one day to be fully known and to know someone fully. I want safety to be a good thing. In the long run maybe pleasantness is a valuable attribute.

That don’t impress me much

I want to marry someone who loves me, and not love who I might pretend to be. Someone who knows me with my frailties and my failings, who sees my longings and my hopes and dreams. But I also want to be a better man. And I think it is a noble thing to want to be with someone who prompts you to be your better self. Not some act to be more edgy or less pleasant. But to find the ways I can glorify God more fully. To see the ways I can live a more holy life. To bear witness to the image of God that gives me dignity and humanity. To echo in a quiet whisper the love that has been given me.

And be all of it. No one is just one thing. No one is just pleasant. No one is just dull. No one is just boring. And no one is just exciting, edgy or different. We are whole people with a breadth of characteristics and being pleasant is a good one to own. But if that’s all you see yourself as no wonder that don’t impress her.

And I think trying to impress a girl who takes your fancy is a good thing. As long as the impression you’re making is yours to give.

PS while writing this a friend tweeted a link to an interesting sermon on ‘new rules for love, sex and dating’ so I thought I’d share it.

Learning from Jennifer Lopez

It was one of those evenings. When you get in, picking up your small chips and battered sausage on the way home, grab the bottle of Bulmers which has been lurking in the fridge for an occasion such as this and swiftly fade into the folds of the sofa and absorb whatever the screen before you has to offer.

I could blame it on working all the way through the weekend, meaning I’m a little over halfway through this nine day week. Or I could blame it on a bout of lethargy that stopped me from getting that overdue piece of work completed. Either way I watched back to back films, beginning with Monster-in-Law, a pretty shocking Jennifer Lopez vehicle that weaved its way through her travails with her soon to be mother-in-law.

But like much inspiration it came out of nowhere. And this most unexpected of cultural landmarks offered up something to critique and something to appreciate. Jennifer Lopez’s character was sat shooting the breeze with a couple of friends wistfully describing her ideal man. He would be strong, but gentle, rough but in touch with his emotional side. It was a wish list that soon came true in the hands of Hollywood scriptwriters.

The inspiration came because it more or less echoed a conversation I had on Sunday, I’d rushed back for church from the conference I was at and lingered in the pub for a little while afterwards. Slightly in shell shock from the fallout from my previous post, it was a difficult time for me to be in company, the dissonance between my online writings and my face to face relationships abundantly apparent. The conversation was a critique of what girls look for in guys, wanting the best of both worlds, wanting the strength and the sensitivity. And I apologise because I wasn’t fully engaged in the conversation, but something stuck. And Jennifer Lopez’s words brought it back to mind.

We have wish lists. They can be long and they can be short. They can focus on the minutiae or the grand. When I was looking around houses my wish list was fairly short, I was flexible. Mostly, I had decided what I was going to do and that was the most important step. When it comes to relationships we have ideals and hopes and dreams. We manufacture edifices of imagination of what life will be like if it all comes to pass.

We want the strong and the sensitive, the fun and the focused. Whether it is a guy who will be unbreakable until he meets her charms, or the girl whose frivolity fades before the one true guy. We want to have it all.

But what if the most important aspect is not the marks out of ten that we ascribe but the decision that we take to engage in relationships.

This morning before I sat down to write I had my regular check of twitter and top of my feed was this from Lauren Dubinsky:

Whimsical? Probably. Profound? I think so too.

It is about the purpose and not the process. And that’s the part of Monster-in-Law that I appreciated. Amid the candy floss storyline that was always going to come good there lay a overriding decision that she was going to marry this guy. The details of the wedding, the disaster of the engagement party and rehearsal dinner faded before what was in her sights.

Maybe, just maybe, the first step is to decide to engage. There’s a lot of talk about waiting, and I’ve had my fair share. But I’ve also used waiting as an excuse for disengaging. A bit like that conversation after church on Sunday. I was there, but I wasn’t.

Where we end up may be less important than taking that step and deciding to make relationships, of whatever form, a priority. What do you think? Is it too much to just decide one day that it’s time to find a girlfriend/boyfriend, or even husband or wife?

Singleness and the church

This is not another post with tangential references to a Leonard Cohen song, I was going to title it ‘A bunch of lonesome heroes‘, but in the end went for something more self-explanatory. It’s about singleness in the church, and in particular in the church in London.

London is a peculiar place. And the church in London is somewhat of a outlier as well. The church is younger than in the rest of the country, even taking into account differences in the overall population it is still astonishing that 57% of people in their 20s who attend church do so in London. This creates one problem for the church outside of London – the lack of young adults, but it also creates problems for the church in London that are not as often recognised.

For churches in the centre of London there is frequently a distinct lack of older people, families and even married couples. That’s not to say they’re absent altogether, just that young single people make up a disproportionately large block. A while back a theory of church growth was in vogue, it was know as the homogeneous unit principle, and it came with its very own acronym: HUP. The idea was that people felt at home around people like them so it made sense for churches to reach out to people who were like them.

This isn’t a post about church growth, but I’ll say this: sometimes it works, we like things to be comfortable and therefore are inclined to go where the path is smoothest and when the congregation is like us there are less obstacles to us feeling at home. The problem is that this could descend down a road of ever intensifying stratification and the end point of that would be an infinite number of churches with a single preacher/worship leader/pew filler: me, or you. But not both of us. At its more practical it means that churches develop that are mono generational or mono cultural. This comes to the fore in London with churches that are young and hip. That means the church family becomes slightly dysfunctional.

It means that churches in central London have a high proportion of single people. For my church the natural affect of being based in the centre of the city is aided and abetted because it was planted only eight years ago, so most of the newcomers are students or young professionals moving into London.

This does two things, firstly it means that the members of the church suffer from not having the full range of people to interact with and learn from. In particular there is a gulf where father and mother figures should exist to provide wisdom and guidance to the younger generation. Secondly, it means that a culture of singleness is fostered as normality.

And this becomes enshrined in all sorts of aspects of church life, whether it is the make up of small groups or the type of social activities that build community around the more formal parts of church life. Added to this is the occasional fallout of relationships that do occur: how friendship groups are rent by couples splitting up. This all makes life a lot easier when a comfortable culture of friendship between groups of guys and girls is the norm.

Into this climate we import a further demographic trouble maker: the disparity between men and women. This isn’t as bad as sometimes it is presented to be, it’s roughly 60-40 in favour of the ladies, or the guys if you’re thinking of prospective dates. While the norm for relational dynamics is the friendship group and the limited dating activity is partly attributable to not wanting to disrupt this, beneath the surface many people remain discontent with the status quo.

It goes something like this: the girls look at the guys and think they need to sort themselves out and ask girls out, in the back of their mind lingers the fear that if the odds stay the same a chunk of them will stay on the shelf. And the guys return the looks, slightly paralysed by the pressure to make a choice and make the most of the favourable proportions. Guys know they ought to do something but don’t want to get it wrong, girls want the guys to ask them out but think it’s too forward to make this desire clear.

Without the wisdom of elders and the frank conversations between people at various stages of romantic liaisons, this becomes a secret minefield out of which the culture of singleness thrives.

This is all a bit detached and technical but I wanted to try and tease out some of the reason singleness has became an issue in the church, and identify the particular form that it takes in churches in London.

I’ll write more later in the week about my own personal experience of singleness. Of all the issues I write about it is perhaps the one which I have the greatest personal experience to draw on, but perhaps something I have dwelt on the least.

What do you think: is singleness an issue in the church? If so, why, and what can be done about it? Do we really believe that single people are equal with those who are married?

Dating by numbers

Some time ago Portsmouth University advertised its courses with the slogan: “What comes after the Internet?” Unfortunately the answer does not lie in any of their courses, or those of any other university. Innovation cannot be taught, only inspired and encouraged.

Many things in life are not located on any map, there is no guidebook, no ‘x’ marks the spot. They cannot be summed up in a whistle stop visit or captured on a postcard. There is no one hour audio guide available in ten different languages with special versions for children in German, Italian and English.

Romance is one of those things.

We want answers to all of our questions, but the more we look the more we find more questions to our answers. I flippantly wrote my guide to Christian dating recently, it took me quite a while to write and I removed bits I thought were too quirky or liable to misinterpretation. And still a few people thought it was out of line, they were fuming until the humour hit, if it hit at all.

I wrote it because I felt there was a need for clarity in the romantic interactions between guys and girls in church. I’ve got a couple of half written posts stored where I try to bring light to the subject, plus a short story that I hoped would illustrate with ease what I was struggling to say. In the end I opted for satire. I hoped to gentle show the eccentricity of our habits, but inadvertently I think I took on another liability we too easily slip into: wanting step-by-step instructions for every part of life.

I’m currently buying a flat and no one has told me how to do it. All the easy guides I find are either too complicated or don’t fit the specifics of my situation. Everyone I ask adds more factors into the equation. And I end up doing things in the wrong order and then rushing to catch up.

When it comes to relationships I want the idiot’s guide. I want the full colour illustrated edition with helpful footnotes and explanatory captions. I want it to be a dot-to-dot drawing, or one of those paint by numbers kits. I want someone else to do the hard work for me.

The latest talk in the Love is a Verb series focussed on singleness (more on that soon) and dating and the part that hit me hardest was exactly this point. Expect mess.

In the confluence of emotions and attraction between two people there will be mess, and the awkward outworking of this in thoughts and words and actions will not be straightforward. A bit like the reason no one can provide a simple guide for house buying because the exceptions out number the rules, no one can tell me how a relationship can and should pan out.

I tell someone I’m interested, but they are not. As hurt overshadows hope I wish it could be easier.

As the the girl I like walks off with another, I want to know how to stop this happening next time.

But maybe some things in life should be hard. Maybe the challenge and the climb, and the opportunities to bail out make the summit more of a joy.

Maybe the mess of the beginnings will remind us that mess is not washed away by rings and ceremonies and matching bible covers.

In pursuit of beauty

This is the 100th post on Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt and I’m delighted that it’s the first ever guest post. And it’s a stunner from Sara Kewly Hyde. If you want to write a guest post please get in touch. 

What is beauty?

A philosophy? A physical attribute? Something that grows from the inside out? Does the way I choose to define beauty tell you about me, or more about the society I live in?

The ancient Greeks used it in the phrase kalos kai agathos (approximate transliteration), which literally meant beautiful and good/virtuous. But it was also used as a coverall term for the perfect and balanced gentleman. We used to write it in cards to each other in sixth form as a compliment “Carry on being your kalos kai agathos self, I love you” (I then failed the Ancient Greek exam).

The Bible uses the term both to describe physical beauty like Queen Esther’s, and also to point to something much deeper in a verse like Psalm 27:4 “One thing I ask of the Lord… to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.” Although the use of the word “gaze”, may still point to something observable.

For my new year’s resolution, I thought that for every penny I spent on my outward appearance, I’d give the same to charity. And in so doing I’d understand more tangibly how much I throw my resources after the pursuit of the external.

I haven’t done it, I was too lazy, too scared. How do I perceive beauty? Is it about my desire to look like Jessie J? Or is it about small moments of kindness, a smile from my baby niece – interactions that make my heart cry out that was just beautiful?

So I believe beauty can be a heart attitude, but I’m going to focus more on the physical, on the external, on the industry. I am a slave to the beauty industry, to 21st century consumerist capitalism. We cannot divorce the ideal of beauty that constantly surrounds us, telling us how to be a woman, how to be human and the huge market forces behind it. I see an image in an advert of a woman. I compare myself to that. I find myself hideously lacking. I spend lots of time thinking about how I could look more like that. I start to turn the thought in to action and buying products and clothes to make me more like that.

More acceptable aesthetically. More likely to succeed. This works for me, I feel momentarily better, I feel more attractive because I am a millimetre closer to her “perfection”. Rinse, repeat. Each image I see feeds my insecurity that I am not physically up to scratch, each product I buy tells me I can fix it with an item acquired by financial transaction and then the bar is raised higher the next time. I know what the ideal is, an ideal that I’d need to be an anorexic with a boob job and permanent real-time air-brushing to achieve. Good-o. The beauty industry laughs all the way to the bank, while we’re left trying to force our bodies to conform to the market’s latest aesthetic ideals and grappling with even bigger insecurities.

Who cares? Why does this matter? We need to ask who is setting the beauty agenda. Who gets to say what is beautiful? We need to wonder why only one kind of aesthetic rules. We need to think about how this impacts upon our treatment of those who lack representation in the “ideal”, the disabled, the disfigured, those unable to afford the right clothes or products to reach the beauty bar. It becomes a discriminatory issue. Getting caught up in a paradigm that privileges the visual, turns women into sexualised objects whose value is solely contingent on their appearance and denigrates many other types of beauty, is a dangerous one-way street to misery. We will never be good enough. Women will punish their bodies in to further conformity. Men will measure women more against the model standards. Our humanity, our capacity to interact, to love and be loved is reduced by the fantasy world projected all around us. We try, we succeed, we fail, we learn. But in a world of perfection, where is the room for failure? For humility? For recognising our brokenness and need of each other?

I say I only want to be a slave to Christ, to righteousness, but if that is true, why do I shave my armpits, worry that my grey hair will render me undateable and my large pores be the death of me? I know too well the verses about God looking on the heart and not on the external and I’m glad about that, but what about my potential partner? How can I focus on developing what’s on the inside when if I went to work in the same clothes every day for a week and no make-up, HR might pull me in to have a word?

We need to be honest about the impact that our visual culture has on our faith. I love the Message translation of Romans 12: 2, it is a constant reminder to be aware of my context at this point in space and time “Do not become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking”.

What happens when the church pursues the beauty myth? We get our priorities wrong in what we are for and who we welcome most.

We spend too much money on assuaging our insecurities when we could be more generous to those who really need it. People get lonelier and we are alienated from our humanity. We need to reclaim beauty, to wrest it from the oppressors and celebrate the beauty in the small, the everyday, in every one who is made in the image of God. I’m still learning how and I’m getting it wrong, but I have to try because Jesus came to set us free.

Sara Kewly Hyde is a theatre maker and thinker who works with women in the Criminal Justice System. Follow Sara on twitter or find out more at www.kewly.org

A guide to Christian dating

© April Killingsworth

Christians need a helping hand to get on the relationships ladder, and I’m here to provide it.

I look around my church and see many eligible men and beautiful women who are not in relationships. I’m tempted to suggest arranged marriages – either by the wisdom of the elders or drawing of lots – but I suspect that my guide will prove far more productive. This is written for men (although I’m sure everyone can learn from its wisdom) but any offers to provide a companion piece for the ladies would be gratefully received.

Step 1. Find someone you like

There are plenty of girls around but making your mind up can be difficult, so here’s a little crib sheet that you can score potential marks out of ten.

  • Attractiveness – do you like the way their earlobes hang?
  • Personality – how many times an hour do they make you laugh? (laugh-o-meters are available from accredited retailers.)
  • Intellect – can they recite the books of the Bible backwards?
  • Spirituality – check out their prayers for buzzwords: propitiation, justification and atonement in the same sentence counts double.
  • Holiness – how important is God in their lives: do they carry their study bible everywhere they go? (You Version on the iPhone is indicative of a consumerist, easy, faith)
  • Testimony – will your life stories mesh together to provide a beautiful symphony of the Lord’s work?

I will leave to you what counts as a datable score in each category.

Step 2. The after church mingle and other appropriate social contexts

Once you have a particular girl in your sights the next task is to find ways of maximising social contact without disclosing your interest. The most obvious device to use at this juncture is the ‘after church mingle’, I would suggest you use this open social environment to test the waters of your potential date. If you are fortunate to attend a church with many mid-week activities you can maximise your engagement with the opposite sex, and if you diarise with skill you could scout out multiple marks at once.

A particular challenge in this regard is breaking down the inevitable cliques that develop in church. If the girl of your dreams always sits at another table when you go to the pub after church you’ll have to take additional measures. I would suggest segueing into a conversation by inquiring of them whether they enjoyed the prayer meeting last night, or other suitable occasion that provides a spiritual cover for gentle flirting. If there is an opportunity to discover where else you might happen to be in the same place together all the better.

Step 3. The pre-date

Anyone new to the world of Christian dating might be surprised by the tortured agonising that goes on before a guy asks a girl out. In the language of contemporary Christianity this is described as discernment. You have to make sure that the girl likes you before you let her know that you like her.

A decade or so ago dating was rather out of fashion, and the old fashioned notion of courtship came back into vogue. This tendency has now faded and replaced with an exhortation to guys to be direct and ask girls on dates. However, there remains a scepticism about asking girls out on a date with only a cursory post church mingle to ascertain your spiritual compatibility. This is why the pre-date is vital.

The pre-date can takes a variety of forms, the most common is the, ‘let’s meet for coffee before church’, but its more sophisticated proponents would also demonstrate the carefully orchestrated ‘walk to the station together after church’. Such circumstances are vital to ensure that you can savour a few moments of the person’s undivided company. Because of the prevalence of the pre-date and the myriad uses to which it has been put, for example providing friendship and company as well as testing out potential dates you may wish to provide an alibi for your coffee: planning an event or discussing important pastoral issues are common devices.

Interlude

At this stage in the process it is usual to participate in that vital aspect of informal church communications: the accountability partner. Through this sharing of dilemmas you can gently inform other people of your interest and if the networks work to their optimum capacity you can ward other potential suitors off before you mark is aware of your intent.

Step 4. The date

If all of the preliminary stages have been completed with due care and attention the ideal situation is that without having to disclose your interest you reach a point where your mark has provided a cast iron guarantee of their mutual desire for a relationship.

Unfortunately not all situations work out quite this well, which incidentally is the stimulus for an audit of relationships in church with the intended output of sharing good practice. This project goes by the name: Good Operations Statement of Sexually Interested Parties.

It is therefore often necessary to take the step of asking a girl out on a date. I am aware that this is an unorthodox and confusing practice so would like to off so high level guidance on how to do this. I would suggest: “Hi Gertrude, would you like to go out for dinner on Friday?” (If the girl you are interested in is not called Gertrude it might be apposite to use their name instead.)

During the date there are various things to bear in mind. It is vital to allow the direction of the Holy Spirit to function to its full degree so we would suggest not planning too precisely what you do, you do not want to be guilty of quenching the Holy Spirit. Once you have begun dating, everyone in the church will begin checking their diary is free on Saturdays nine months hence, so you don’t want to waste time dilly-dallying. Get to the core issues straight away, I would allow only a couple of preliminary questions before inquiring of the status of their walk with God. Good phases to throw into the conversation at this point include: “God’s calling on your life” or “His Will for your life”. From my vast experience I find that a simple “Tell me about your faith” works well. While prophesying on a first date may seem a little too much, if the Lord is directing you to share your vision of marital bliss I do not wish to stand in your way.

Step 5. The relationship

After a couple of walks around the park praying together and conversing with the Holy Spirit you may wish to start consider this relationship a Relationship. While you may have previously been going out with this delightful lady, only now are you ‘Going Out’. Please remember the important difference, and although you may still go on dates you are no longer ‘Dating’.

It is necessary to carefully articulate the terms and conditions of your relationship as it has been reported that some ladies are unaware they are in a relationship at this phase. One way of indicating this progression maybe through subtle physical gestures, such as holding hands, or even a peck on the cheek if you are feeling brave. As a last resort you could of course talk about the status of your relationship.

It is not essential to start scouting wedding venues as soon as you progress into this stage but depending on your timing, budget and aspirations it’s never too soon to start. As you are a Christian you clearly do not suffer with issues of lust and temptation, so it is not to dispel these urges that you might consider swift nuptials. Instead it is to honour and uphold the biblical command to go forth and multiply. Some things are a burden you must carry for the kingdom.

Step 6. Marital bliss

Once you are married all of your problems are solved.