Sometimes We Have to Enter the Cave

“The one great advantage you have as a new church pastor is that you are forced to start small. Nothing is imposed on you. Determine that you will know every person, their names and whatever of their lives they are willing to let you in on. Be in their homes. Invite them into your home in small groups for an evening or lunch. The killing frost in too much new church development is forming programs that will attract people or serve their perceived ‘needs,’ getting them ‘involved.’ The overriding need they have is worship and that is the one thing that is lowest on their ‘needs’ list. Insist on it: keep it simple – learn to know every last one of them relationally. And call them to worship – and not entertainment worship, but a community at worship. Americans these days are not used to being treated that way, personally and apart from promotional come-ons. Religious entrepreneurism has infected church planting all over the country. When it is successful numerically (and if you are a good salesman and smile a lot it probably will be) you will end up with a non-church.”

I recently ran across this quote from Eugene Peterson on J.R. Briggs’ web site. The context is new church plants/communities (and I think being willing to enter one another’s “caves” is what being a true church community is about), but it got me to thinking. I recently told a friend that “I know you like to withdraw into your cave. I’m just saying make room for me to keep you company.” Not that I have any special insight, I just know what I’m like when I’m in a “cavey” mood. Most people want to be pursued. We want to be cared for enough, matter enough, for someone to come after us. And sometimes we need space. On our end, we need to do a good job of communicating what we want. On the end of those we are in community with, we need to go after folks.

We often talk about relationships and being in community, but have little understanding of what that means and entails. Too many “guys” act like, well, guys . We’re prone to “give people space” when problems arise and then act stunned when situations are misread or misunderstood. We rarely take the time to evaluate if our approach is a healthy way to deal with situations. (Right now would again NOT be the time for someone to try to convince me women shouldn’t be leaders or wouldn’t make better shepherds). Maybe, in shepherding people, giving people space leaves gaps in relationships, or may leave people feeling isolated or alone.

This isn’t solely a “guy” thing: most people are relationally lazy. It’s easy to hang out with someone but it takes work to get to know someone. It’s easy to enjoy someone’s company during good times and harder to walk through the mess of their lives. I know many pastors get used to people coming to them when they have problems, so they get into a posture of not having to seek people out. Just like I know it’s easy for some leadership teams to go “well, so and so has kept in touch, so my base is covered.” No, it doesn’t: neglecting relationships doesn’t cover for you. Giving people space gives them room to hide. Most times, the hiding isn’t even some deep, dark sin but rather just people being afraid and broken and thus secretive, slow to trust. Requiring shepherds to walk with them for a while before they become willing to share and open up.

It comes down to the basic tools of “doing” relationships. A part of dealing with people as grown ups, mature men and women, means that we have to take risks. That part of being willing to “lay down my life for my brother” means that they might yell at us, they might be mad at us, but we take those chances so that we can hear from them in relationship. That’s why it’s so important to walk alongside folks and pour oneself into their lives. That, in over communication, we will fail on the side of love by letting the caver tell us when they need space.

Friday Night Date Place – Stronger Together

“We are all, in a sense, experts on secrecy. From earliest childhood we feel its mystery and attraction. We know both the power it confers and the burden it imposes. We learn how it can delight, give breathing space and protect.” –Sissela Bok

People don’t do friendships well. We don’t lend ourselves well to making friends (or have no idea of what making/being a friend is) and thus call people who should be acquaintances “friends” or BFFs, though they are as disposable as an unfriending on MySpace.

Part of the problem is out inability to handle intimacy well. When we ask ourselves why do we insist on continuing to date after so many heart wrenching, near life-destroying, pain-inducing, love experiences (and then remain hopeful that the next dating experience will be different)? our answer boils down to one word: intimacy.

We know that intimacy can be abused, but some people start off with a fear of intimacy. The idea of becoming close to another human being causes us to (mentally or emotionally, if not physically) flinch. T o run away. To not give people a chance. To let someone in, to care about them and let them care about you can only lead to two things: 1) the laying down of roots as you invest in a relationship and 2) the possibility of future loss, because at best all relationships are til death do we part.

This lack of intimacy can sometimes be the result of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of your experiences in the past, you’ve become reluctant to meet/let new people in. Not entirely unreasonably, your instinct tells you that they will be like the rest: they will get to know the real you, not like you, judge you, or otherwise abandon you and rather than wait for them to do so, you push and push and push new people until they finally have had enough and move on; then you pat yourself on your back for being right in not trusting them. In effect, you reject them before they can reject you and thus intimacy never occurs.

Some people can go through life as lone rangers, rootless in their life and relationships. However, I basically think that this points to the lie, or at least to the end, of American-styled individualism. That whole “I am an island”, “I don’t need anyone”, “you can only depend on yourself” ethos that eventually runs its course. Just like systematic theology can’t answer some ultimate/basic questions about faith, and when we come to the end of its usefulness and move on; in life, experience often teaches us that there are limits to what our own bootstraps can carry us through.

Yes, in the end, people will fail you. Despite our best intentions, sometimes even for the noblest of reasons, folks will let you down. That’s no reason to never let them in. Life is full of regrets. You, too, will fail others, but I’m sure that failure doesn’t define you, nor your relationships, and you’d like the chance to be forgiven and try again.

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Friday Night Date Place – Memo to the Nice Guys

Thinking back to my single and lonely days, I distinctly (painfully!) remember how often I was trapped in the friend zone. You know what I’m talking about: wanting to date, not quite knowing how to get with a person you’re interested in, end up sidling alongside them, becoming their friend and then confidante, even best friend, but they never quite see you as anything other than a dear friend.

I was always that guy. The best friend guy. Always had a bevy of girls around because they needed to bounce their ideas off of someone (and this was before the gay best friend thing became fashionable). But I was the safe guy, the one they could talk to, the one whose shoulder was always there for them to cry on. On one level, it was nice to have the attention and to be able to hang out with so many women. I learned how to be comfortable around this strange species of humanity, how to listen to them, what things they were concerned about. On another level, it was rather emasculating. Think about it: you weren’t seen as a “guy” as much as this sexless/genderless friend. Gender neutral.

You were a nice guy (or gal pal).

You were the one who watched the object of your affection go off and date, get into relationship after relationship, making bad choice after bad choice, waiting for them to FINALLY learn their lesson and appreciate what was beside them all along. How did that work out for you?

Like a fine piece of writing, I was never appreciated in my time. This may have been a function of where I was in life. High school/college-age. Ready to settle down (then … I out grew that a few years later once I recognized the pluses of singleness). I hadn’t come into my own. The girls/women I was interested in weren’t interested in settling down or lifelong commitments. They wanted to date and have fun. They weren’t looking for husband material.

So, memo to the nice guys: your time will come. Eventually your peer group/dating pool will come to appreciate you for what you are. You just need to be prepared when you are. Don’t be living in your mother’s basement or shacked up with an ex-girlfriend. Don’t let your lifetime of “woe is me” attitude define who you are. Don’t become self-defeated by your perceived ineffectiveness at dating (or unattractiveness to the other sex). Have a job and be prepared to be, if not a provider, then at least an equal partner in the relationship. Nice guys (or gals) don’t have to finish last, only be in a place where they can be appreciated for who they are when the time is right.

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Friday Night Date Place – Long Distance Relationships

Long distance relationship present their own brand of issues. I’ve been in a few (and they were exceptionally short-lived, even by my standards). However, I’ve had a few friends who have met online, though living in different countries, and have not only made a go of things, but even got married. To my mind, a long distance relationship amounts to one thing: missing that person (aka long distance sucks). So, to provide the voice of eloquence, I turned to a friend of mine to give me his perspective.

A guest blog by “redwinegums”

Long Distance Relationships.

They suck.

Plain and simple. Essentially they do. There’s the additional stress and strain of distance in addition to the normal downs in a relationship with very few of the ups. The hazards are plentiful and range from insignificant to major. They can work but there a few things that I feel make the difference. I’m not one to talk really. I’ve had two long distance interests. Neither worked out if works out means leading to a happy marriage. One ended well. One took a while to do so. The experience in my circle is of long distance relationships. In fact my expectation is for a long distance relationship. I’m not even sure I’d know what to do if I got a girlfriend who lived like in the same city as me. I’d be clueless as a result of shock for the first week or so. She’d find a way to snap me out of it I’m sure.

I don’t think long distance relationships are doomed to failure. In fact if you look back on the amount of conventional relationships that fail it’s not any big competition. A person might have half a dozen relationships in their life that don’t work out. This doesn’t mean that conventional relationships are cursed. With any type of relationship it takes work for it to come together. With long distance relationships it just takes a lot more work.

Anyway here are a few thoughts that represent my current views on the whole area. It’s just my opinion. Not a set of rules upon which your relationship must abide by in order to succeed. I’m no expert but when talking about life I’m not sure being an expert means all that much anyway.

The necessity of real time together before the break

I’m sorry to say that I don’t think starting the long distance thing from scratch seems to work. Not in my experience. The long distance relationships that have worked are those where the people involved spent a period of 6 – 12 months actually living their lives physically in the same location. The distance element happened but was never a permanent feature of the relationship. It was always a hurdle to be overcome; merely a phase that both had to endure. It’s very hard for a relationship to work when both people are on two very separate long travelled roads winding further away from each other

Know where life is leading

I think you need to be answer a few questions in an honest and truthful manner. Are we in similar stages in life? Can I move? Can they move? Will either of us actually move when it comes down to it? How does this affect those around me? Does leaving my support circle and starting a new life scare me? It should. If it doesn’t you’re fooling yourself. This ties into the previous point about distance being a phase and not a permanent state of affairs. If he’s planning to live with pygmies in Africa and you are going to become an investment banker in London it’s unlikely to work out.

Everything other than real contact is only almost

We’re spoiled in this part of the early 21st century. With Skype, email, IM clients and text messaging there are so many ways to keep in touch with loved ones. It’s great but it’s not real. It’s a mini date in a way every time. It’s an artificial situation that can seem natural because it happens so often, but it’s that regularity that can be so addictive. It can also become soul shattering because when you flick off that computer screen there hasn’t even been a simple little embrace to say goodbye. There’s just been the same old feeling of I wish you were here and now I have to face my life without you in it again.

You get their version of their life. Not the real version

“How was your day?”

Such an easy question but so difficult to answer. In fact most people never do. They gloss over it. The fine, fine, fine refrain a mother gets when she asks her children about their day is one that is heard in stereo in every town and city. Even if the other tells you they’ve had a bad day you don’t see how it affects them. She might comfort eat or be bitchy to her house mates in a way she isn’t to you. He might completely over react when a small little thing goes wrong on the computer and bang the table and start cursing. You don’t see it unless they tell you. You don’t seem them being mean to that barista or that waiter. Distance isn’t normal even though it can feel like it when you’re in the midst of it. What happens is you get used to living a life without someone it. It can be a tough change to handle when what you’ve wished for all this time actually happens.

Personal Caveat

I’m not sure how much of my experience is of use to anyone. I approach a romantic relationship in the conventional sense with marriage as a very realistic consideration. There’s been no sex and thus far not much kissing either in my life. I’ve never been on a date. Probably why I’m irrationally so good at crafting one for public consumption. In a very real way I’ve never properly had a girlfriend. The last interest was a total of four days physically in the same location in a total of five months. And two of those days were the days when we first met without anything in the picture. It’s easier if you have money and the ability to travel. With me it’s never been a case of hopping on a plane and visiting. In actual fact it’s normally been a minimum of two planes to even get to the other. It’s something to be acutely aware of. How far away does he or she live?

My brother is currently in a long distance relationship with an altogether wonderful woman. She is studying in the USA and he is studying here. Right now she is doing an internship in Australia. When he leaves Australia, having worked the entire summer to pay for traveling 20,000 miles to see her for a mere 15 days, it will bring the amount of time they have physically spent in the same location to a total of two months in two years.

In summary, they suck. More than you know. You might think you’re ready and able to handle it but you’re not. You don’t know how bad it will be until you are lying down wishing he was there and realizing that in a very real sense you are still alone. I’ve had two. Neither worked. Been honest I’m not sure I could handle another long distance relationship. Knowing someone would cuddle or kiss me but can’t due to distance is soul destroying in a situation like that.

I’ve traveled the world for love before and would do so again. Sometimes you don’t care about the odds you just know you have to take that chance. But you can’t be sure until you see the other and decide whether the risk is worth taking

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Friday Night Date Place – Believing the Lie

After my “dating teh crazy” blog (which mind you, wasn’t meant to be the most serious of posts), I was troubled by a recurring theme among some of the comments. It was as if they were battling against some sort of image forged in high school or something which they have carried with them well into adulthood. An image of themselves that tells them that they aren’t worthy of “doing any better.”

We are the fruit of a lifetime of listening to voices. Such formative listening too often results in us listening to lies, many of which we tell ourselves or allow ourselves to believe. We’re told we’re crap by enough people that we start to wonder and doubt; then we become quick to leap onto any bad appraisal of ourselves and end up in a self-defeating loop. That’s why it is so important to choose carefully the voices you choose to speak into your life.

This false idea of ourselves begins in small ways. You may have well-intentioned parents or teachers who trade on their love, attention, and/or favor to get you be behave a certain way. You may have grown up among peers/friends who constantly judge one another on who’s the funniest, has the most stuff, the prettiest, the most athletic. The take home lesson absorbed through all of this: you only have worth if you behave a certain way. What you are amounts to what you have, what you do, and what others think of you.

Too many of us have had life beat us down and feed our insecurities like a bulimic at a buffet to the point where we don’t think much of ourselves. We believe the lies these “lessons” have reinforced. We live in a closed off place, afraid to let others into your life because you secretly believe they might find out that we are what we believe ourselves to be: ugly, unloveable, unappealing, and unworthy of attention. suddenly we not only can’t see why someone else would like us or see anything of worth in us, but also think we better take whatever comes our way and be grateful (even if it means dating teh crazy).

You deserve better. Stop believing those lies. Self-destructive and self-hatred are not cute. There’s no need for you to keep putting yourself in “relationships” or situations not worthy of you. You deserve better. You have the right to be picky. You have to put to death this lie you’ve created of yourself. You deserve better.

Show me who’s been filling your head with those lies. Don’t make me have to cut somebody.

You deserve better. You are loved and worthy to be loved.

Next week I’ll talk about what it means or might look like to accept the truth about ourselves.

Because you deserve better.

Friday Night Date Place – A Question …

I know I usually spend these Friday Night Date Place blogs opining about one thing or another, but this week I need a favor. I’m thinking about the whole idea of a postmodern relationship. So I turn to you to ask: what might a postmodern relationship look like?

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Friday Night Date Place – Proper Expectations

We’ve all ended up in relationships that didn’t quite break our way. From friendships to work colleagues to significant others to spouses, some of the relationships we’re in don’t match up to our expectations of them. However, since our focus is dating, we’ll key in on that and allow for the trickle down theory to take into account other kinds of relationships.

For example, stemming from our friends without benefits discussion from last week, we might have a guy who is frustrated by women who have either wanted to date him (or who have previously dated him and have moved on) who end up just dumping him as a friend. Or a woman who feels the sting of not getting enough attention from the men in her life whose friendship she wants to deepen.

Relationships are a delicate dance of expectations (read: romantic ideas) clashing with the reality of another person intruding into your life. That also points to the crux of the matter: having realistic expectations of the relationship. Not lowered, not raised, but simply realistic. (Don’t get me wrong: I unapologetically expect a lot from people, especially those closest to me, myself included, and the relationships that I’m in. Sure I’m often let down, but that’s part of the deal I sign up for.) There are at least two things I try to keep in mind as I approach the people I’m in relationship with:

Accept who they are. We can’t be with people based on our expectations/daydreams of who they ought to be. People are just so darn … people-ish. They tend to not cooperate with our ideas of who we think they ought to be and how they ought to act. They are who they are. Their faults are their own and a part of what makes them who they are.

Forbear one another. One thing that HeWhoWouldBeHeadPastor said recently was that we need “to give someone room to be, and to become”. This applies even to (especially to) high maintenance folks.

It’s not wrong to have expectations from folks. Granted, having no expectations is a safe way of going through life: no expectations means you’re never let down. Another person is not the solution to the problems you face in life (no, not even loneliness as counter-intuitive as that may sound). A friend of mine passed along this observation:

“More specifically, we expect our love relationships to be exciting, romantic, erotic, passionate, cute, conflict-free, and perpetually novel. And like the consumers we are, we often break our commitment when we don’t think we have enough of these, and move on to a new relationship to find them again. Our materialist/consumerist mindset treats relationships as a department store for our personal satisfaction and pleasure. This defeats long term commitment, which must include compromise and hard work. Why do any hard work when you can just pick up a new one, or even get an upgrade?”

When I look at my marriage vows, I realized that I committed to the idea of our relationship as much as I committed to the person herself. During some of our bad patches, our commitment to the relationship was one of the things that kept us together. It was something worth preserving (even as we figured out how to live with each other). Granted, dating is a long way from marriage in terms of one’s commitment to it, but there is something to be gleaned from this. Deeper levels of true love and intimacy can only be mined over time. Once the “romance” has cooled, or rather the white hot feelings of “being in love” have.

We can’t force a relationship into our idea of what we want it to be. We have to take it on its own terms. Only from there can we judge whether it is a relationship worth pursuing or keeping in our lives. Because relationships take work, time, and commitment, but not all of them are worth that kind of effort. Some are best to simply let go.

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Friday Night Date Place – Friends Without Benefits

I had a friend who always got in trouble in one of the singles groups I used to be in. Whether he actually did anything wrong was a matter of debate, that debate usually splitting down the great sex divide. You see, he was nice. When he talked to women, he was attentive and actively listened. He walked ladies to their car. He checked on them if they were down or sick. He hung out with them regularly and paid for lunch when he did. To guys like me, we thought we numbered among a dying breed: the fabled gentleman. To the ladies in the group, he sent mixed signals of interest.

One of the peculiarities of that beast we call the singles group is how the dating tension is an ever-present specter. It hovers over each activity, conversation, and interaction, bubbling with attendant drama for the group. All because it’s tough having male/female friendships without sending “mixed” signals.

Because singles groups exist to kill time before people drop out of them, one of the casualties becomes the prospect of real friendship across the sexes. Everything become fraught with “is he interested in me” or “is she too into me” type questions in the back of people’s minds.

We’ve come so far in our social interactions, and by far I mean men have sunk so low, that gentlemanly actions, which were once routine, now signal interest. Apparently, if you do the gentleman thing with a lot of your female friends, despite your intent, it stirs up their passions. Why ELSE would you be so attentive? There’s nothing worse than a nice guy dangling themselves in front of a woman. So it was explained to me/us.

As I’ve managed to get my brain around this notion, despite what we said or how clear we’ve been about our intent (“I’m just looking to be a friend. I just want to get to know you better as a person”), we gave the illusion of interest. By giving the illusion of increasing intimacy (arm holding, lots of one-on-one time, even what we would consider simple politeness), we sent the signal that we were interested. In other words, it’s the couch dilemma (and will result in the dreaded “Defining The Relationship” talk).

Don’t get me wrong, if you find yourself (even in a platonic) cuddling scenario or if part of your act is being a perennial flirt, you do confuse the issue and send a mixed signal. It’s a fine tightwalk to walk. I tended to err on the side of love. I would risk helping, protecting, and nurturing because I try to be genuinely loving. If that sends a mixed signal, then, well I’m sorry society has conditioned us to believe that’s a mixed signal. In the end, I’m guilty of being nice. That being said, there is trust and friendship and relationship, none are to be treaded upon lightly. We want relationships, all types of friendships, so we need to be ever-mindful of the signals we send and the feelings that may get hurt.

Episode 31: Give me a slice of Mr. Broaddus

I was on another JustLifeTv podcast. The topic was my idea given a conversation that my wife and I had a week or so ago (which then was echoed by Team Broaddus).

Episode Synopsis
Almost everyone I know is busy. Busy with work, family obligations, hobbies, etc. Busy-ness has become a virtue in our culture. So today, we’re going to talk about what contributes to our busy-ness and what we are doing to keep our heads above water.

You can check out the podcast directly here. The whole idea of learning to rest is a tough one for me, though it might be time for me to revisit my blog Take Your Ass Home.

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Episode 14: Keyboard Courage (And Friend Pimpage)

For all those still butthurt over my “I hate Twitter” rant, I offer an olive branch of sorts. The folks at JustLife.tv had me back on their show to rant about the impact of technology on relationships.

Episode 14: Keyboard Courage (Part 1)

Episode Synopsis
Maurice was back for a two part podcast on friendship and technology. If you’re reading this, you’re using some of the technology we talk about in this podcast. We considered the role of technology in creating community and/or false community. It was a lively discussion that turned into two podcasts.

Episode 15: Keyboard Courage (Part 2)

Episode Synopsis
We continued rolling the tape (even though we’re using a digital recorder) as we continued discussing the role of technology and relationships. Maurice shared about his experience with “fans” who cross the line in their pursuit of moving a “virtual” friendship into a “real” friendship.

In the “I’m so happy for you/I hate you” of my friends department, two quick announcements: Kelli Dunlap is pleased to announce that her first novel has been picked up by Larry Roberts of Bloodletting Press and will be published under the new imprint of Morning Star in 2009. She shoots, she scores. And I’m sure she’ll still be “happy dancing” at Mo*Con and we’ll get nothing useful out of her on any panels. Probably ditto with Lucy Snyder: Del Rey has purchased her first novel Spellbent and two of its sequels. Their tentative plan is to release Spellbent in early-to-mid 2009 and the other books in the trilogy will of course come later.

Do you know what happens when your friends start selling their first novels? It makes you want to pick up the pen and start working your butt off so that you can keep up.

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