Ally McBeal – A Review

“I’ve been down this road / Walking the line, displaying my pride / And I have made mistakes in my life / That I just can’t hide…I believe I am ready for what love has to bring…I’ve been searching my soul tonight / I know there’s so much more to life / Now I know I can shine the light / To find my way back home” –Vonda Shephard “Searching My Soul”

From the first time you hear the familiar piano strains and Vonda Sherhard’s vocals, you immediately recall Ally McBeal like an old friend remembered fondly. It was one of those water cooler shows, or in my case, one of those shows I dissected either later that night or the next day with my female friends. After all, it was about the trials and tribulations of a modern single person trying to find happiness and contentment in her professional and personal life, sort of a Mary Tyler Moore Show for the nineties.

What made the show unique wasn’t only its lead being a single girl in her late 20s trying to find empowerment wherever she can, but how her inner thought life helped her muddle through her day and various life situations. Her secret life of Walter Mitty-esque escapades were filled with dancing babies, swelling heads, tongues sailing across the room to lick the face of a man she finds attractive.

David E. Kelly had a formula he’d been perfecting over the course of his long, often critically acclaimed career. From L.A. Law, Chicago Hope, Picket Fences, The Practice, Boston Public,to Boston Legal, he created sympathetic (if often … eccentric) characters and plopped them into either questionable/hot button issue moral dilemmas or ludicrous plot twists.

“Here I am, the victim of my own choices.” –Ally

Obviously, there are various issues surrounding the reality of singleness, from loneliness to unrequited love, and Ally McBeal wrestled with all of them. The main thrust of the show was about finding contentedness in her situation. It is about discovering herself, finding her own independence and self-reliance rather than (continuing to) make life choices based on a boy or defining herself through the ideas of what men want. It’s important to be content in your circumstances (Philippians 4:11), but some people define content—in terms of singleness—as relinquishing their desire to marry (read: given up). It’s not an either/or: you can both be content with your singleness and desire marriage. The danger of being discontent is that frustration and impatience can lead to forcing things and settling.

The thing about Ally McBeal is that there’s a reason we remember it fondly. The first season was great, after that, the series suffered from a roller coaster of quality. When it was good, it was very good; but when it was bad, it careened completely off the tracks. The second season was hit and miss at the best of times, with the show often becoming a caricature of itself. This is the danger of shows built on such well defined eccentric characters. If they stick around too long, they become one note jokes. Which only led to more ridiculous situations from Ally falling into a toilet and having to have firemen come to rescue her; or propelling herself down a bowling alley after throwing a ball that was stuck to her fingers. [Though the second best season of the show came in season four as the show found its center again with the casting of Robert Downey Jr as her love interest].

Ally McBeal redefined a lot of things (besides fashion, as short skirts were described as being “Ally McBeal short”). It fit neither the mold of the hour-long drama nor of the half-hour sitcom, thus paving the way for shows like Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty. And it never hurts to visit with old friends.

Friday Night Date Place: Design a Singles Ministry

I have a lot of experience in singles ministry. When I graduated high school, I helped start a singles group at my then church. When I switched churches, I found myself in the singles group and inadvertently a leader there. Even now, the Broaddus household is the default hang out for many of the single folks in our church. Part of it is because my wife and I have a heart for single folks (the other part is because we have an open door policy, so folks are free to come by to eat and do laundry whenever they need to. I’m glad to see that even when those singles become marrieds, they still like to come by and hang out).

My question to you is how would you design a singles ministry? How would you want a church to minister to your needs and where you are in your life? What would you expect them to do and be about?

Personally, I wouldn’t have one. I don’t believe in segregating folks by where they are in life: Youth Groups, College/Career, Singles, Young Marrieds, Old Marrieds, Single Agains. Not my thing and I think it does a disservice to the idea of the church being the body of Christ (by the way we minister, we’d like all the thumbs over here, never associating with the toes. Feel free to imagine where your station in life places you as I avoid the easy jokes).

Your typical church singles group has a few key characteristics: 1) the average stay of the typical member is five years and 2) about every three years, the group has gone through a cycle of turnover. Why? Because it is one of the few ministries where the object is to get out of it. People date, and if they marry, they leave. People date, and if it doesn’t work out, they leave. People hang out, and if there are no prospects, they leave.

In my experience, the singles ministries of churches, despite their best efforts become more about the meat market. Singles are there mostly to meet other singles. The best groups realize that while they are busy searching, they ought to be forming relationships/friendships that will last long past their single days. At their worst, folks of the meat market can be (unintentionally) cruel: the church is a refuge, and sometimes the folks who take refuge there are … socially inept. They aren’t the coolest, the funniest, the most charming. Sometimes they are awkward and uncomfortable and every bit deserving and searching for love, acceptance, and community.

And what would the singles issues be? Well, that’s pretty much the point of Friday Night Date Place, but once you get past the big issues (loneliness, finding God’s will, learning patience) … actually, scratch where that thought was going – all singles issues are people issues, things that everyone struggles with. You think it’s tough being lonely when you’re single; try being lonely in your marriage. And single folks would know that and would have a better idea of what they were getting into when they get married, if we weren’t so busy setting up dating opportunities for them.

So, my singles ministry would be the absence of a singles ministry. If single folks wanted to get together on their own time, in their own small groups, I’m all for that, I’m a pro-(good) cliques sort of guy. However, on “church time” the body of Christ ought to be the mixed bag of nuts it needs to be. Diverse life stations learning from one another.

In the mean time, I guess I have a small group who is learning what it means to live life together. Doing laundry, having meals together (teaching some of them how to cook), and hanging out. That’s as close to a single’s group as I’m getting these days (though I’m still trying to figure out how so many of us ended up in the tranny comedy club that one time. We’ll chalk that one up to incarnational ministry).

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Friday Night Date Place – Thou Doth Protest Too Much

Back in my single days, in my early twenties, I helped found a local branch of the Bachelors Til the Rapture (it’s the church equivalent of the “He Man Women Hater’s Club” that basically said we’ll be single until most of you get Left Behind). In my later twenties, I was a member of the Corner of the Roof Crew (there’s a Bible proverb that reads “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” –Proverbs 21:9. I still have the T-shirt).

It’s easy to see how such a stance develops. Some of it is the frustration of being alone and coping with it by embracing it in defiance. Some of it might be the false bravado of being at a certain place in life, wanting to date and have a relationship, but the reality of it seeming distant for a variety of reasons:

-personal circumstances may limit options. You may take the dating process so seriously that the likely prospects are (seem) slim. Some people have lists/standards/criteria of things that are important to them and critical for any relationship they will be in. Other have simply exercised their right to be picky, realizing that they have specific needs and wants and don’t want to waste anyone’s time or hurt them emotionally.

-life circumstances might prevent it in any practical sense. School, career, family situations (especially for care-takers) can make demands of one’s time to the point of not being able to have much of a life outside of them.

In other words, they may want to date, but only when it’s right for them and fair to the other person.

Also, let’s not forget that single folks are subject to constant questions about the state of their dating life. Such “Single Forever!” power stances are convenient ways to comically deflect what amounts to casual invasions of privacy deemed socially acceptable. It’s not like folks want to open up to just anyone about their dating stances. So if folks aren’t going to leave you alone, and you don’t want to keep having to explain your business (or in response to well-intentioned platitudes), they may get the pro-single mantra.

Looking back, only one member is keeping the dream alive of the Bachelors Til the Rapture and all of the Corner of the Roof Crew are married and have had to buy SUVs for all of their car seats. I’m left with a legacy of having a heart for singles and singles ministry. Go figure.

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Friday Night Date Place – The Discontent Dance

Here’s the thing: you hit that magical milestone we call 30 or you feel the ticking of a certain biological imperative or you otherwise find yourself “alone” when all of your friends are married and you may start to ask yourself a few questions.

Is there something wrong with me?
Who cares? There’s something wrong with everyone. Don’t get me wrong, self-examination is important. If you keep making poor decisions in choosing dating partners, you need to figure out why.

Am I not married because of past mistakes?
Again this points to a “God hiding in the bushes waiting to smite us when we screw up” mentality that we have of God or, just as bad, marriage as some kind of reward. Look, -if marriage is a reward for the life someone has lived, my wife should repent.

This is part of the tension of being patient vs. acting in faith … and learning to be content where you are. God is all I need (um, okay, if that works for you. He can only metaphorically embrace you). Don’t let people counsel you into “Jesus only”. One of my favorite book titles I’ve seen goes something like “If Jesus is my Husband, Why Does My Bed Feel Empty?” We have relational needs (Genesis 2:18 and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 are but two examples that point to our need for companionship).

It’s important to be content in your circumstances (Philippians 4:11), but some people define content as relinquished desire to marry (read: given up). It’s not an either/or: you can both be content with your singleness and desire marriage. It’s alright to keep looking. Having eyes and seeking opportunity is not being discontent; unless you are doing so as your sole mission in life. Instead, be preparing yourself for marriage by becoming ever more Christ-like. Do the things He’s called you to do and be.

The danger of discontent is that frustration and impatience can lead to forcing things and settling. And “’til death do us part” is a long time with someone you’ve only settled for.

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Friday Night Date Place – No Kids?

Last week’s Friday Night Date Place on meeting the kids got me thinking about the reverse scenario. The situation I’m talking about is the single person who finds themselves creeping up in age and the prospect of finding a partner and having a child of their own seems to be fading with each successive birthday. They hear their friends, hear the words of their families, and hear the (however unintended) message of the church and come to the conclusion that they are not fulfilled unless they are married with children. What have we been telling these folks and what should we be telling them?

There are several reasons why most folks are single:
1. Choice – some folks choose to be single.
2. Time of life – there are times when folks are more focused on getting through school, climbing in their careers, or are simply pursuing other interests such that it is not the right time to “settle down.”
3. Socially inept/clueless – I’m not going to lie, some folks haven’t quite figured out how to make connections with others (though, frankly, some of those people still end up married, they’ve just found someone to put up with them)
4. Just hasn’t happened. Try as hard and desire it as much as they want, marriage, much less kids, simply hasn’t happened for them.

Now, is the right message we are to be sending them that they have somehow fallen out of God’s will by remaining single?

There are two mindsets at work here: 1) we act like marriage is a trade up when it’s a trade over, a lateral move of equal value; and 2) we, as a church, have placed family on an altar as if sustaining the family is the be all of Christian living. All of this means we will have to examine what it means to be fully human.

We’re called to join in God’s mission, whether doing it on our own (as singles) or as a team (if married). I know, no one buys the whole “Jesus and Paul were single” argument (though, Paul might have been married at one point). Focus on the Family of God needs to be lived out more deeply instead of worshiping the idea of family. (If I was the cynical type, I’d note that the emphasis on families might have something to do with the fact that families, giving units, are where the money is.)

So we as a culture have set marriage and kids as the be all of existence, setting folks up to believe that it’s our destiny as humans. Somehow you’re not fulfilling your role as human being if you’re not reaching those goals (it doesn’t matter how much you would like it to happen, but it hasn’t ). You know what? Some folks may need to be reminded to cling to their faith that God loves them and is for them (God’s will is not out of whack. If all you do is work and go home, God isn’t going to materialize a partner for you. Your choices and decisions matter, so be for Him in all that you do, after that, it’s on you).

I’m not going to lie, I like seeing myself in my children. Now that I have them, they are my primary ministry. I still have responsibilities to do kingdom work and if I’m being honest with myself, marriage and kids pulls me from that. Time is one of the trade-offs when I went from being single to being married. We need to cling to the true purpose and mission of life: to be fully human is to be fully loving and be in community. When Romans 14-15 talks about living out the Christian life, it’s not about making babies. The bigger point is that we’re co-creators with Him, joined in a mission or reconciliation. We’re all called to be fully human, but that’s an edict that isn’t solely fulfilled by being married and having kids. For many, there is an emptiness and longing for something that hasn’t happened. We don’t know how to speak to that void (and most times, we’d be better off not saying anything). We do them a great disservice by treating (and telling) them as if they are less than human otherwise.

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Friday Night Date Place – To Date or Not to Date

I had a pair of Sunday School teachers, the unofficial leaders of the Singles Group in a church I used to attend, who were always encouraging us to date and get married. Two things fueled this, I suspect: 1) we had declared ourselves “Bachelors til the Rapture” (thus having a bit too much of a “thou dost protest too much” feel about us – especially since all of us are now married); and 2) they just wanted us to be happy. They liked us, saw all the good things about us, and were concerned that we might prematurely be cutting ourselves off from potential fulfillment. They didn’t want us to miss out.

Be they family, friends, co-workers, or folks at church, singles often have to suffer through the slings and arrows of well-intentioned though insensitive, intrusive commentary that was rarely asked for. To be fair, most of it does spring from concern (mixed with people’s general busy-body nature). It’s a shame that the stance of not dating has to be defended. It’s bad enough that the choice to remain single so often has to be defended from those who put family on an altar. However, I’ve come to realize that fundamentalists come in all stripes and there are those people who can only be described as “dating fundies.”

One of my first blogs in the Friday Night Date Place attempted to answer the question “why date?” I’m mean, really, why bother? Why get involved in the game, the silliness, the drama? Why put yourself through the emotional roller coaster over and over again? Why invest or risk so much of your self-esteem, self-image, and personal happiness on the possibility of going out with someone? Why do we end up defining ourselves, our well being, and our worth through the eyes of another?

The short answer then boiled down to us being wired for intimacy. However, just because we are wired for intimacy doesn’t mean that we have to date. For some people, the choice to start dating depends on the answer to a different question: are you ready to get married?

Each person has to answer these questions for themselves. Not everyone is always in a place to date. Sometimes it’s emotionally, not wanting to put themselves through the risk and vulnerability that dating so often requires. Sometimes it’s their place in life. With school, work, ministires/volunteering, and other things going on (especially if they have plenty of friends to sustain their need for intimacy), dating isn’t that much of a priority. Regardless, the key is that they have to answer these questions for themselves. They shouldn’t have to be held to some societal standard that says “you have to date”. It wasn’t that long ago that we did things via arranged marriages and let me tell you, I barely trust my parents to pick out my socks much less a life mate.

“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.” I Corinthians 7:8

Ah, the singles defense verse. Do you know what I often hear to that verse? “It’s rare that this verse applies to anyone.” Let’s be real: we don’t believe this verse. Many of us don’t think ANYONE is called to be single (or if we do, we believe in these “called” single people like we do any other mythical creature. You know, they may be out there but no one has ever seen one.). If people aren’t dating or show no interest in dating, we don’t think “maybe God has called them to singleness.” We don’t think “maybe they aren’t in a place to be dating now.” What do we think?

There must be something wrong with them.

Well-intentioned concern still can lead to awkward intrusions. However, the risk of having people in your life is the risk of the occasional awkward intrusion. But we really ought to consider what messages we are sending to people with the questions we ask and the “concern” that we show. It’s bad enough that our culture has turned us into “dating fundies”. Even worse that the church has sanctified this to the point that singleness is a condition one needs to be saved from.

It is possible to be a fulfilled single, joining in the mission of Christ, without dating or, *gasp*, being married.

And I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy.

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Friday Night Date Place – Singleness is a Sin

“I’m going to speak of the sin I think besets this generation. It is the sin of delaying marriage as a lifestyle option among those who intend someday to get married, but they just haven’t yet. This is a problem shared by men and women, but it’s a problem primarily of men.” Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky

This wasn’t the first time I head of this school of thought. There is a prevalent attitude, in action if not in word; in fact, I heard it from a pulpit not too long ago. The implication seems to be that we aren’t taking marriage seriously. I would contend the exact opposite. I guess we’re overlooking the fact that our parent’s generation did marriage so well. What happened to not entering into marriage lightly? Or a person simply not finding the right person yet? It’s almost like they are advocating “you better settle for whoever by the time you’re 30” as if marriage was the point of life. Their indignation at this generation of singles flies in the face of their belief in the sovereignty of God. Unless they are going to say that it’s God’s will that you get married by your early 20s: “If you’re 17, 18, 19, 20, in your early 20s—what are you waiting for?”

Here are the plain facts: According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the first marriage for a white male is now at age 27.5. For white females, the age is slightly lower. This amounts to a delay that often has devastating consequences. With puberty coming at earlier ages than ever before–certainly in the early teens for most Americans–the period of time between sexual maturity and marriage is now stretching out into something like an average of ten to fifteen years. The accompanying statistics related to premarital sexual activity parallel the statistics related to the delay of marriage. Can anyone be surprised?

The assumption that the delay is due to “young people” sowing their wild oats, every body’s doing it, and no one is capable of learning the discipline of chastity. I get that there is a generation of folks who refer to said singles as “younger folk” and who are more comfortable with the days when women stayed home and fulfilled their established role in life, however, this is also a symptom of the school of thought that has turned the family into an idol. Yeah, I said it. Too often, the singles of the church are neither reached out to nor truly appreciated, but treated like second class citizens within the church (because you haven’t fulfilled your role as a man or woman until you’ve gotten married and had children). Singles have all of this mythical disposable income since they don’t have a family to support and they are always available to run the church nursery so that real Christians can hear the sermon.

As one who believes wholeheartedly in the biblical pattern of complementarity and in the male responsibility to lead, I charge young men with far greater responsibility for this failure. The extension of a “boy culture” into the twenties and thirties, along with a sense of uncertainty about the true nature of male leadership has led many young men to focus on career, friends, sports, and any number of other satisfactions when they should be preparing themselves for marriage and taking responsibility to grow up, be the man, and show God’s glory as husband and father.

Do you know why it is the men’s fault? Primarily because it was women who raised the ruckus when he first talked about the sin of singleness. I guess we could blame the guys, but I suspect there’s a dearth of dating across the board. One of the things that plays into this extended dating time is that it is taking our generation(s) longer to find themselves. (My personal theory is because we haven’t had to. There’s been no major cultural event that has forced us to “grow up,” no major war (not like a World War or anything involving a draft), no Depression, no defining societal moment. It’s just a theory.)

That and Jesus was still single in his 30s. Couch that in “he had a mission” all you want, but the truth is that we all are to join in with his ministry and frankly, we are more able to be about kingdom work without the divided distraction of the idol of family. Some people take the apostle Paul seriously about not being hindered by marriage. Be content where you are. If you’re about the “hunt”, you miss opportunities to live life where you are. Be aware of the hunt, not focused on it. If someone comes along, good; if not, we have our work, our life, to be about.

Just a few thoughts.

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