Quarter life crisis – a community called love

One of the things that I’ve highlighted as a defining feature for the lives of plenty of people in their twenties is a lack of commitments. This can take the form of getting married and having families later, changing jobs frequently, and being unable, or unwilling, to buy a house. The composite effect of these trends is a generation that is transient and is always open to change. But moreover, change is championed as a good in and of itself, decisions that could tie you down are delayed in order to be able to change at a moment’s notice.

I don’t think this is all bad, I think there are in fact very good things to be said for an attitude that is willing to experiment, and a flexibility to change when that is necessary. But it can also have a corrosive effect. It can shun stability as boring or constricting, it can limit the depth of relationships, and it stands in the way of developing community.

We’re so open to change that we no longer know what holds us together.

In the absence of married and family life, not only is permanence a luxury, but community is harder to form. I may have plenty of friends, I may have a diary full of social activities, and facebook notifications inviting me to more, but am I part of a community that invests in each other and cares and grows.

There is something about being part of a family unit that makes the development of community easier. And as you grow older and more people shift into that camp the remaining options become sparser. This is on top of the life in a city such as London where people frequently work long hours, commute considerable distances, live far apart and have hectic social lives. Where in this space does the energy and capacity for community?

A contradiction is at work here, I want to be a part of something, I want to know people and I want to be known. But I don’t always make the sacrifices necessary to make that happen. I tick the box to say that I want it but my priorities tell a different tale. We turn creating community into a purpose that we can reduce to defined functions and complete. We will spend time with people, we will eat together, we will be accountable to one another. We will do so much while still failing to build a community of love.

There are two things that mimic community but in my experience tend to fall short. The first is friendship groups and social activity and the second are church small groups. I think they come at the need from two different directions, friendships are built on time and communal activity, small groups based on defined purpose and structured meeting.

And we avoid intentionality, whether it’s in friendships or in church small groups. We like things to go with the flow, intentionality in friendship seems forced, and our church groups are too often simply a secondary reprise of the Sunday before. We can do a lot of stuff, whether it’s social or spiritual activity, but that doesn’t by itself translate to community.

I’m beginning to think that the starting point for developing an authentic community is a willingness to prioritise, so that while other things will make their calls on our life, the community to which we commit does not suffer. The social dimension of the gospel means that we cannot live out our faith alone, or in narrow silos unconcerned with each other. It needs an integrated space where we may live different lives, and work out our own stories but we can come together, and in doing that the stories of our life will always be changed.

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.

Beauty, lust and attraction

My view of what makes someone beautiful is distorted. It swings like a pendulum. From beauty in the eyes of media buyers and fashion columnists, to a rejection of physical attraction as somehow beyond the realms of what I am supposed to feel.

Sara, in her guest post focused on the former trend, so I’ll give less attention to this. But I will say a bit because I’m a guy and I see things a bit differently. I guess this is sort of a part two to her post at the weekend.

It will come as a shocking surprise to no one that the way I look and think about women is not always with the purist motives. I could blame it on a culture that has promulgated the Barbie doll image as the best way to get attention, snag a husband, and achieve generic happiness. I could blame it on television programmes that slip sex scenes into disconnected plot lines. Or the magazines that brandish nearly naked women as the way to get ahead. Or I could go the whole hog, blame the internet, it’s turned porn from the furtive acts of men in trench coats to the very next thing you see on your screen.

Last year a survey of Christians in Northern Ireland found that 65 per cent of men under 35 have intentionally accessed porn. It was more prevalent among church leaders, who also had a higher rate of affairs. Gareth Davies has recently suggested it might need addressing in sex and relationship education at schools due to the harm it causes.

Porn does things to your brain. It makes you think something is normal which is not. It provides a go to destination for lust and temptation. But it does something more. It alienates relationships from sex. It offers what you think you want in a way that comes without a cost. So when we look at an attractive girl we see sex, and when we encounter the challenges of living life with other people we opt for the easy casual disconnected option.

In See Me Naked Amy Frykholm tells the story of a man addicted to porn:

“Pornography had provided Matthew a safe place, deep inside himself, for pleasure. But the connection to another human being was part of the fantasy. Images of naked strangers provided the illusion of openness, as if the woman whose photo he looked at was making herself available to him. Pornography had the capacity to make him feel both fleetingly alive and simultaneously numb. Fantasy replaced the nuanced intimacy demanded of him in his everyday life.”

As well as being a guy that finds girls attractive, I am a single guy that finds girls attractive. I may have been a little less than serious with my step by step guide to marital bliss, but there are things that are in my mind when I weigh up if I’m interested in a particular lady. And physical attraction is on that list.

Should it be?

Should I find girls attractive, and should I use that judgement to decide who I want to spend my life with? I think so. I think otherwise I am abusing beauty in just as destructive way as the covers of magazines that portray a mirage of beauty painted onto a hollow shell.

Appreciation of physical human beauty is supposed to be off the reservation. It is akin to lust. It is gazing at what causes us to sin. So we should cover it up and avert our eyes. Beauty is not without consequences. I am guilty of only a little hyperbole.

Because when I walk down the street and I see a girl sunbathing in the park my eyes linger longer than they should. When I’m standing in church supposedly singing songs of praise to the God I love, I find my love annexed by the girl I am presently smitten with. My appreciation of human beauty is so often lust, it is so often unhealthy, and it ingrains in me a suspicion of that particular emotional reaction. When I see something that is beautiful I think that it is wrong that I have come to that conclusion based on my instantaneous and almost involuntary registering of attraction.

There is such a thing as lust. But beauty isn’t just found in those people to whom we are attracted to, or to use the infantile but efficacious expression, people we fancy.

Why has my view of beauty become so defined, so contingent on a message that beauty is a sexual thing, and sexual things should be desired after, and if I want something sexual then I should be able to get it? How have I let myself become consumed by a vision of sex that is so commodified and mangled into a shape that serves what I think that I want in that particular moment?

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.

Broken Cameras and Gustav Klimt blog survey

I love writing this blog, and I hope you enjoy reading it. I love it even more when people get involved, so now I’m asking for your input.

I’ve put together a short survey with a few questions about the blog in general and then about relationships in particular. I hope that by asking these questions, and by you answering them, I can write better and serve you more closely. They’re not meant to pry, and if they come across like that, just slam your hands on the keys and enter a bunch of junk. That’s what I do most of the time I try and write.

The survey will only take a few minutes and the answers can be completely anonymous.

Take the survey

Leonard Cohen and biblical sex

“He saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you, she tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair, and from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”

A moment of madness, a rash act, a crazed maze of unintended consequences. One minute David was gazing longingly at a woman bathing, the next he was sending her husband to the front of the battle to cover over the shame of having conceived his wife’s child.

Avoiding the fact that Leonard Cohen neatly conflates David and Samson’s stories into one testimony of the triumph of sexual temptation, the picture he paints is one never far from our own experience. We may not have avoided the challenges of battle to recline and seduce our neighbour. We may not have lost our incredible strength by succumbing to the charms of Delilah. But I’m sure there are times when we’ve let sexual temptation steal something from us.

When we’ve let our lust take from us the hallelujah that is due to God. When we have ducked the challenges of life for the easy satisfaction that is purportedly presented to us on a plate. The chance to have what we want, when we want it, and walk away unchanged but with our needs satisfied.

Free love, that’s the tale we are told and the dream that we are sold. And was the topic for week 2 of Christchurch’s Love is a Verb series.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there is no such thing as free sex. Everything comes with a price. Sex is an act of commitment between two bodies. Not that I’d know, but one hears that it is an act of immense fulfilment, which creates an obligation beyond just the physical experience of the moment. Which is why sex is best within a relationship that can bear the weight of commitment in emotional, psychological, spiritual, material as well as in the physical sexual sense.

Otherwise, the free love that we are experiencing leaves us in debt. It carries the weight of more than it can hold, it either tries to hold all of those levels of commitment on a pin head or we remove the attachment it creates and empty sex of its meaning.

The problem for David wasn’t that he failed in his worship of God, but that his life did not match up to that worship. I know that feeling too well. The ecstasy of worship followed by the cascade of the fall. The love for God and the desires of self. One doesn’t do away with the other. I can love God with all my heart, I can be passionate in my worship for him and still walk in the opposite direction. I know that path all too well.

I know the grace that comes when I confess all that I have done and all that I have thought. I know the darkness of my soul that is washed clean, and rendered ruined once again.

But love and worship of God isn’t a part time hobby. It’s not something we can pop into and out of. It’s not something we can leave to the side and pick up after we are done with what we wanted to do. It’s more than a full time job. It is complete absorption in the purposes and rigour of a life defined not by yourself. It is giving every ounce that you have and know that you have given it all, and then realising that is the time God’s grace is most present. In the moment of weakness, not before we try, but once we have failed.

Two final thoughts that may make there way into further posts so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Firstly, David tried to cover over his shame, and that made things worse. It is the haunting effect of guilt that drags us into deeper secrecy and shame in a forlorn effort to cover over our sin. The fear of shame allows it to become more ingrained and more pronounced. How do we break the ties of shame that clamp us to the floor?

Secondly, and this one I almost expected. The line that sex is a great gift from God, complete with the requisite analogy demonstrating its power but also the need for it to be used in the correct way. Maybe that needs to be said, but it comes supremely close to a taunt, that it is the greatest gift you will never receive. Unless you get married. There’ll be more on singleness in a couple of weeks, both in the series and on this blog. But how do you handle this tension, the need to affirm sex as good without making the wait all the more difficult for those not in a place to experience it?

Relationships revisited

When I started blogging I slightly accidentally stumbled into the label of being a relationship blogger. This wasn’t a title I wanted, nor what I wanted the blog to be.

But then again, I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted the blog to be. So for the first few weeks relationships was what I wrote about and that was what people wanted to read. However, I’ve got a small confession to offer to you: I don’t know much about relationships, I just make it up. Yet the more I talk to people, the more I read, the more I realise that this is a subject that people want to talk about, as they too feel as they are making it up as they go along. And regardless of the number of relationships that people have been in, or the experiences they have had, the questions remain.

I recently asked someone what it was about those early relationship related posts that they appreciated. Apparently it was because I was being brave. In talking about issues with openness and honesty I was doing something that other people weren’t.

I don’t feel particularly brave, the number of times I held back from saying things because I was worried about being open in so public a forum, and the frequency with which masqueraded the point I sought to make. On top of all that I was speaking about these issues online partly because I so patently fail to broach them in conversations face to face, they live in the solitary confines of my mind.

Since those early summer days I’ve returned to tales of romance and attraction from time to time but I’ve mixed it up with bits of politics, theology and the occasional more philosophical post which only 27 people read.

Over the next six weeks my church (Christchurch London) will be covering sex and relationships in a Sunday sermon series. And this news has had a mixed reaction. People I speak to individually are quietly fascinated to hear what will be said, but in groups there’s a fair dealing of groaning and scepticism.

What I intended to do is blog alongside this series. Each week I’ll post some reflections and thoughts on the talk, along with a link to the audio for those who don’t go to Christchurch. But I also want to cover some other topics, I’ve got a few lurking in the back of my mind which I plan to cover, but I want you to provide the topics as well.

I want to write with honest and openness, and I hope to create a space where you can join me and we can discuss issues which intrigue and terrify us, and all too often tend to define us.

So please let me know, in the comments here, on twitter, facebook or carrier pigeon, what you want to talk about. It can relate to dating, singleness, lust and temptation, or just about any related issue you have on the mind. And if you want to guest-post during this series, you’d be very welcome, again just pitch me an idea.

From one to another

Dear guys,

Last week I wrote a letter to the female race, you may have read it. If you didn’t, it might be a good place to start.

This is quite a different letter, to the ladies I was trying to give a glimpse of insight into the way one particular guy thought, felt and acted. To you I’ve got a few words of advice.

Decide if you like a girl, find a way to let her know, and explore if that liking turns to love.

I told you I only had a few. Because, who am I to try and tell you much else?

You have walked a road that I have not travelled. The chances for love may have been punctuated with disappointment. I do not think I can write for every situation that you will have experienced.

It is not my place to opine about you longing after a girl who has walked away.

Can I with any credibility chastise the philanderer who leads each girl on and into his arms, but finds that there is another more pleasing to his eyes?

When you tell me that you have asked out one woman and then the next, and this has happened time and time again and they continue to turn you down: because my rejection count does not compare, I cannot advise.

And when you meet the one who you love, when she takes a step into the church and you turn and gaze up the aisle, the joy that overwhelms must be contained.

Because I have not been there. I have not lived the life you live.

But in fact, we need to help each other. We need to be honest about the challenges we face, share the hopes that we have and the dreams that one day might be our reality.

We need to cry when sadness darkens our day, confide when we’ve nowhere left to turn. Tell each other when we are being idiots, encourage us in our pursuit, or caution against heartache that might lurk ahead.

We do not know the life that each other leads unless we let each other in. We cannot help each other until first we welcome help. We are not ready to love a lady, with all our heart, with all our strength, if we have not first learnt who we are.

We cannot use the exceptionalness of our lives as a shroud to permit secrecy. Of course we all have experiences that others have not shared, and we will sometimes struggle to comprehend what greets each others’ day. The words of advice may be idiotic, the comfort we bring ineffectual, but that is not an excuse to close our lives off. And how will we ever get better at helping one another if we do not give it a go.

I talked to a few girls before writing this letter, and basically, they want to know if we like them. I recounted a story, maybe because it’s quirkiness hid my true vulnerability. That there was a girl who I liked, and I chose to spend time around her, and as my affection grew I realised that my actions could be construed as evidence of my interest so I backed off. I was worried that the girl to whom I was expressing an interest might actually realise how I felt. I also didn’t want anyone else getting onto the idea that I liked her. That might puncture my charade.

That’s how crazy I can be, I can tie myself in knots. And the ladies I told struggled to comprehend this ludicrous behaviour.

And I know that in other ways, you too can act a little crazy. Sometimes we purport ourselves as content on our own that we ignore the interest of the fairer sex. Sometimes we are so desperate for attention that we take the easy chances, find the girls that will have us. Sometimes we stay with someone long after our interest has waned because our fear of conflict takes over.

We have also emasculated our emotions in an attempt to conform to the cultural caste of gender.

We think that guys should be manly, concerned only with adventures, hand-wrestling grizzly bears and we have turned Jesus into that man. We have tried too hard to make God masculine. We have forgotten how to cry.

As Joe Carter put it: “Young men don’t need a Jesus who strolls like the Duke, squints like Clint Eastwood, and snarls like dick Cheney. They don’t need Jesus the cagefighter, they just need Jesus the Savior”.

Until we are comfortable with Jesus as a paragon of vulnerable masculinity we will try to live a life that isn’t reflecting Him. And I think for a start this means countering our pride. I’ve made it clear before that I’m open to girls giving a relationship a kick start. This can be a hard thing for us, it seems like we’ve been pre-empted, had our role taken. But we get things so very wrong so very often, whether it is about misplaced attraction, about ignorance of how other feel, about how we may have led a girl to think we were interested. About how we may shy away from facing that spectre of rejection, and if a girl gives a guy a helping hand we should welcome it and not resent it.

Finally, a word on singleness and marriage. We have got to esteem marriage more highly, and stop just thinking one day it will come to us, at a time when it is convenient, at a moment when we are less busy, less lustful for the next beautiful girl, at a time when we are ready to settle down.

But it’s also a problem when we are too desperate for marriage, I could pretty much quote all of what Max Dubinsky has written over at the Good Women Project, but this will suffice: “The enemy loves that you so desperately want to be married, that you’re crying on your bedroom floor begging God for a boyfriend or girlfriend because you can’t handle being alone. That your attention is focused on finding someone to marry. He loves that you don’t think you will be happy until you find ‘the one’”. We have to learn to be single well.

If this all sounds a bit too emotional, that’s okay, we’re all made differently. But if it does sound like I’m trying to get you to open up, think about your feelings, then I am. I think there is nothing worse that the facade that we perpetuate that we men do not have feelings. That we are unemotional beings with a lustful intent that we conquer by brute force as Ulysses chained himself to the mast to avoid the charms of the Sirens.

There’s much more I could say, but for now let’s end it here, and let us also remember to talk. So maybe my words were not as few as I made out, or my advice as limited as I suggested, but we shouldn’t shy away from taking time to grapple with complexity.

Your brother.

Girls, if you’ve been reading I guess that’s okay. Give us a chance, and help us where you can.

The dark underbelly of internet dating

I know nothing about internet dating. So I’m not going to blog much about it, if anyone wants to write a guest post about why it’s great, or why it’s dreadful please get in touch. I’m sure it’s something people are interested in and a challenge for Christians to know how to engage with it. Otherwise you’ll just get my ignorant ramblings at some point in the future.

But that’s not what I’m writing about now. This is something that I do not need to know much about to be outraged. Advertising encouraging people to have an affair. It is wrong, it is immoral and it is a deeply disturbing aspect of our society that tolerates and perpetuates such damaging behaviour.

Jon Kuhrt has taken on this shameful type of advertising before, last year a website ran billboard posters encouraging affairs, Jon stepped up to the plate, took them on and won. But now they are back at it again, different name, different website, same horrific attempt to profiteer by ruining marriages. Jon’s written an open letter to the boss, Ross Williams, of the parent company, Global Personals. Read through his letter and I’d encourage you to give them a call and express your thoughts in a kind and considered manner. Also, join the facebook group for the campaign. For good reason the name of the site is being kept out of this, the controversy could just end up sending more traffic to the site.

And that’s almost all I would have to say on the topic.

If it wasn’t for www.justchristiandating.com which I stumbled upon while digging around the Global Personal website, which conveniently seems to be undergoing some redevelopment right now.

So a Christian dating website is part of a company which also runs a site which promotes unfaithfulness. It would seem so. That is, if you want to describe Just Christian Dating as a Christian dating website. Because it can’t be, unless you want to also call the mafia turning up for confession as the epitome of radical discipleship.

There are somethings which we shouldn’t accept. They may not be illegal, but the brazen attempt to make money by pulling people’s lives apart should not go unnoticed. And the thought that by putting ‘Christian’ into a dating site’s address could make it so.

Actually, that’s not so uncommon a problem. It’s not just online dating entrepreneurs who market their products to the church. We do it too. The books and the music, the conferences and the courses. If we call something Christian then surely Christians will buy. Sadly we are too often sucked into this lie.

I’m not convinced about Christian dating websites, but if we are going to use them, please make sure they’re not money spinners tied to an enterprise which Jon Kurht describes as “like a drug dealer who promotes what they are pushing as harmless when really they are trading in something deadly and destructive”.

Games of attraction

In the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ Russell Crowe’s character applies game theory to asking girls out. He explains why it is the best bet to ask out the second best looking girls. Because the best girls will be swamped with offers: guys will be fighting between themselves for a precious commodity and this will leave the way clear for him to go for the next best option.

This all makes sense in a world where beauty and attraction are objective facts, and rational choice prevails. But that is rarely the world we live in. Instead we live in the midst of confusion and uncertainty, of stunning beauty and waning attraction. We are designed to love beauty, and it comes naturally to seek it out.

So just how much weight should be given to our physical attraction to someone?

It has been said that true beauty exists on the edge of chaos, where something magnificent emerges from something that so nearly doesn’t work. The solar system finely tuned to sustain life, works of art that bring together styles, materials and forms.

It was Gustav Klimt that got me thinking about this. As I looked at ‘The Kiss’ I tried to wonder why this was such a magnificent piece. It is one of his most famous, and from the case in which it was housed most expensive paintings. But it shouldn’t be any good, it does not provide a likeness, the colours are all wrong; I don’t even think it holds any deep symbolic value: yet somehow this chaotic collage of gold leaf, silver and oil creates something quite incredible.

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; innovation cannot be taught, only inspired. Likewise beauty is not located on a map, there is no guidebook, no ‘x’ marks the spot. Beauty may be captured, but it cannot be controlled. Something that is truly brilliant and beautiful, that exists on the very brink of chaos, has an equilibrium, it is so finely tuned that the faintest shift can lead to disruption and failure.

So when I find a girl attractive, what cue should I take from it? Is it the indication of a deep soul connection, or a momentary infatuation?

That’s why attraction alone is never enough. Because beauty does not always win the day. The search for physical perfection leaves us hollow, it suggests that we can attain something which will not last. I have no idea who first said it but, ‘Real girls aren’t perfect and perfect girls aren’t real’.

It also lets lust win us over. If we are guided by what we find attractive we will find ourselves liking something new. Novelty too often attracts us. We grow bored by what we have and want something new. I remember hearing Pete Greig talk about materialism, and how in fact materialism as we understand it deeply rejects material goods, because it always wants to move onto the next thing. To really value something is to commit to it, to stay with it, and not be sidetracked when the big new thing comes along.

It is preposterous to think that if we are married we will never be attracted to another person. That doesn’t mean that the person is not beautiful, but this thought should change the way we respond to attraction.

So we should also be wary of our attraction if we are single. The options are more open, but if we are only ever guided by what we find beautiful we will be drawn in countless directions.

But physical attraction does play a role. I might like to think that I am only attracted to someone because of their godly character, virtuous actions or biblical wisdom. It might be more convenient to sideline my thoughts of who is good looking and who is not, and instead choose a girl based on more holy criteria.

Except, God created all of me. He created my emotions and my mind, he created my brain and my heart, he created my spirit and my body. The task is not to be ruled by our body, and this is not done by ignoring it. If we shut off our desires we are letting them win.

There’s one other interesting thing in play here: avoiding complementing someone on their looks because you don’t want to appear superficial, or just interested in them because of their physical attributes. But then what are we trying to achieve by side-lining these feelings? Are we trying to deny something that is intrinsic to who we are, or are we appropriately managing a desire within us that needs to be checked?