Friday, April 4, 2014

Christian MMA Branding and the Latest Threat to My Faith

I had one of those surreal experiences last where you wake up the next day and still aren't sure quite what happened.

A few months ago, my head martial arts instructor announced that he'd be having another MMA fight--it's something he does from time to time, so nothing struck me as strange--that is until I saw the promo poster. I felt my eyebrow raise as I read references to Genesis and scripture from Romans. I don't believe that martial arts, not even of the mixed variety, are incompatible with Christianity. I do though, have reservations about the faith being used for business reasons.

I had a feeling I'd be the only one to notice this, so I began bringing it up to friends--partially because I knew a couple of friends I was going with were staunch atheists/agnostic and honestly, I didn't want a "surprise" confrontation. It struck pretty much everyone as strange, but we all brushed it off.

The Fights   
The fights were good, with the expected progression from less skilled to more, my instructor being the main event. It was odd going to fights at a church (no alcohol, which wasn't surprising), but thinking back, seeing that steeple was a warning of the oddness to come.

I know a merger when I see one. 
Think of a jackalope--an animal that latches on to your consciousness simply because of the unnatural combination. It seems silly, but only slightly, because it's never really been executed.

Welp...last night, somebody glued antlers on a rabbit.

Imagine your standard UFC event, but during breaks between matches, instead of commercials, testimonials (as expected, from Benson Henderson and Vitor Belfort) and invitations to a massive Easter service were played. Like the jackalope, I couldn't realize the the depth of conflict until I actually saw it.

It started with the ring girls. I was at a table (with my atheist friend...more on that later), so my back was to the cage. I heard one of the teens at the table call out "...check out the ring girls." I turned slowly, half-scared of what I'd see. It was a toned down version of what you'd find at any bikinis, but still tights that look like they'd been painted on trailing down to high heeled sneakers.

The walk-out music was indistinguishable from any other event.

The calls to "come and visit our concession stand to be serviced by one of our ladies" gave me great pause. I don't think the word-choice was accidental.

The Effect
Being seated at a table of the non-churched, atheists and anti-church-type gave me insight that's rare for many Christians.

"Ring girls? At church?"

"Did that guy just say we could be 'serviced' at the concession stand? How much does that cost?" People expect a certain separation from Christians. Not all those expectations are wrong.

I began to feel like I was part of a bait-and-switch--the event equivalent of those fake evangelical dollars left on the ground that were really reminders that the reader was, in fact, going to hell. There were Biblical references on the flyers, yes, but most people didn't expect half a sermon after the undercard.

The Power
I sat and watched last night, and was reminded why it's unfair to blame Christianity or religion for all the ills of the world. Religion is a well-suited scapegoat indeed, and it's one, I believe, that has been heavily used to mask the spread and maintenance of power-structures (those principalities and powers and whatnot that we wrestle againt) around the world, but possibly most overtly in the United States.

I didn't put it all together until a man, who I assume was an assistant pastor, got up and proclaimed "We're in war for our freedom!"

What freedom? Who is "our"? A war with whom? I don't like vague statements like that, especially made to a crowd. It tells me the speaker is used to simply being understood. Unfortunately, I felt I knew exactly what he was saying.

As the night progressed, I started seeing the makings of a business deal. The potential for the growth of a Christian-branded MMA league. Its target market would be keen on vague mentions of "Jesus" and "Freedom" and women in bottoms so tight you can see the outline of their glutes, and burgers and punching and loud music and the idea of "being serviced." It was in that moment I knew I was not in their target demographic.

My Faith
As I drove home, I prayed, asking God if I'd failed him in not speaking out at people being upset that they'd been "tricked" into taking Bibles home...if I'd somehow fallen short at living out his calling that night.

I'm still asking that question.

I am though, glad I got to talk to a friend about my faith and its practice, and her experiences with church. It was a positive, but I'm not one to dismiss all the fault I saw because I had one, encouraging experience.

This story from Ravi Zacharias seems worth reposting, as it explains why today, I feel so much fear in engaging with organizational Christianity again. Though I have more clarity in navigating those waters, it's a concern that was reinforced last night.

"I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a Hindu. He was questioning the strident claims of the followers of Christ as being something supernatural. He absolutely insisted “conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that in most cases it was not any different to those claims of other ‘ethical’ religions.” So far, his argument was not anything new. But then he said something that I have never forgotten, and often reflect upon: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?” His question is a troublesome one. After all, no Buddhist claims a supernatural life but frequently lives a more consistent one. The same pertains to many of other faiths. Yet, how often the so-called Christian, even while proclaiming some of the loftiest truths one could ever express, lives a life bereft of that beauty and character."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

An odd reminder...

I woke up today with a scary, familiar feeling. It seems like the infection might be back. 

The first infection was potentially life-threatening, and life spurred me on to try my first entrepreneurial venture. I sat, profoundly worried about my soaring temperature, when I experienced a sudden stillness, and a reminder that it was happening for me. Today, 2 months after being laid off and 1 day after hearing back from my first potential consulting client, I'm sitting here, face swollen, worried about the return of the klebsiella.

I'm reminded though, that I need to trust God. I've been worried about income and career and becoming a consultant, but whatever's growing in my face has been a reminder of how important sitting back, and trusting as I ride this new wave of entrepreneurship, without a church home yet, I'm reminded of the importance of prayer...and of checking my temperature regularly. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sandwiches vs Bus Passes: One of Life's Greatest Dilemas

I didn't think it would ever happen, but I was finally laid off. It's been years...I'd devoted huge chunks of this blog to it. I'd written and reflected so much that other sites had picked up my story..but if finally happened

I heard a few condolences, which struck me as strange because personally I've been relieved. The hard part now, is being genuinely thankful and seeing being let go as the blessing it is. It's been easy to be glad I'm free, glad I got a severance and happy I'm away from some toxic people...happy I already had projects in the works, but am I thankful? A little, but honestly, if the circumstances were less tilted in my favor, I don't think I'd be feeling quite as awesome. I'd still be scared and likely having quite a few freak-out prayers a day. I got a good reminder what all that means last week.

I met a friend for lunch and after dropping her off, cut through a parking lot to avoid construction on a main road. I rode past a dumpster and saw a man in there digging. He was thin, disheveled--it wasn't too big a leap to think he was homeless. Now, here I'd like to tell you that I stopped and offered him my leftover half a sandwich. I didn't. I drove right on past and on my way home.

I didn't make it too far though...the magnitude of my selfishness hit me, so I circled back through construction and rush-hour traffic, kicking myself for not doing the right thing the first time. Well I found the guy again next to the same dumpster and asked if he were hungry. He asked if I had money I could give him. I'm personally not to big on giving money directly to people unless I'm specifically moved in the situation, so I asked him again if he wanted food. Again, he asked if I had some cash to help him get a bus pass. I could feel myself climbing on my high horse. I asked one more time if he was sure he didn't want anything to eat. He asked what I had and I gave him my Cuban sandwich.

I drove away thinking "man...that sandwich was good. I could have kept it and saved myself some gas." But then...then I saw myself. I saw how quickly I'd forgotten that the man actually appeared hungry. I saw how quick I was to forget that what people fight and push and strive for isn't always what they need. It was quite possible that man needed food more than money, even if the words didn't come out of his mouth--kind of like how I'd lived years needing peace more than a job, and had been too weak to just quit a position that was killing my health and happiness, and take what God had already blessed me with.

Many times I've been in positions where I needed a sandwich but was busy asking for a bus pass.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Back and Doing the Entrepreneur Thing

I haven't posted in a while. I've been wandering a bit spiritually and honestly, didn't want to share too much of that here. I've left my church of eight was hard, but necessary in sparing myself the bitterness that comes from being an outsider in an insider congregation. I've tasted that before in staying too long in the church I was raised. I know not to make that mistake of fear again.

That said, things are quite bright! My job has degraded from bad to saddeningly ludicrous. I've had to question and revisit my sense of self, my identity as a "worker" and an organizational participant to survive. Through all these years, I've been blessed not only with the drive, idea, resources and emotional motivation (I'm kinda done with the word "passion"'s a bit played isn't it?) to start, and sustain a teeny-tiny business. That is what I'm going to write on, at least for a while.

Christian entrepreneurship is strange. I'd prefer to call myself an Entrepreneurial Christian because honestly, I see what the Church does with business. I see how it, and religious groups have picked up the very Western attitude of businessman-as-savior and dislike it. I dislike it precisely because I know it. My MBA studies were warmer and fuzzier than most, but business is the applied science of people, and science is inherently cold and calculated.

My business is also in the world. There is nothing inherently "churched" about it. I deal with Buddhists and Atheists and pan-theists on a daily basis...getting in their heads, talking their ideas of community and watching how they deal with people. Somehow, I've found encouragement in my faith as a Christian, not just as a "good person", but as a Christian, in working with them. I've also met believers so amazing it makes my heart sing.

It's been hard...and amazing. I see more difficult decisions, more scary steps, more emotional ups and downs coming...but that's part of the deal...and I cannot thank God enough for that moment, when, in a moment of panicked threat to my health (spurred on by my doctors warning that a bacterial infection I had could kill me in a few days), he reached it, blew away the fog of my fears, and reminded me, how scary my own good can sometimes be. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Celibacy outside of the church

A close Christian friend of mine came out to me years ago. Not as gay, but as asexual. She talked of her challenges of not wanting sexual contact, and the expectations of that even within the church. Another friend of mine just sent me this article about Tim Gunn coming out as asexual and the fact that he hasn't had sex in 29 years.  I was floored by the reactions. He was "gross" and unnatural. I'm still in disbelief. How is someone gross for not having sex? Am I revolting because I'm sitting here right now just typing?

The whole discussion made me think back to what she dealt with...feeling like she had to be in a relationship with a sexual component because of social pressures...feeling like she had to be in a relationship at all because of church (and social) pressures...not knowing how to navigate advances from men, Christian or otherwise. It reminded me of how shallow the discussion of sexuality is, both inside and outside the Church. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

1 in 5 non-Christians don't personally know any Christians.

That stat came from this article on Christianity Today. Their conclusion as to why? Existing populations don't reach out into new communities.

We're just too comfortable. Too comfortable in our habits and our celebrations. Too comfortable in the kinds of parties we throw and the language we use. Too comfortable in our friendships and our relationships. This is why that statistic is what it is. Christians in the US have the unique blessing of living in a country that has not only the legal and social framework needed to breakdown the ugly, separatist nature of humanity, but also immigration patterns that create environments ripe for interaction...but most of us stay comfortable. We squander the opportunity for people to see what the life of a person working out their faith looks like up close, on a day to day, human level.

I read quite a bit of Seth Godin and he talks about the "lizard brain" a lot. It's that part of your brain that wants food, shelter, that second slice of pizza when you're on a diet. It's the one that keeps you from starting an exercise program, speaking in public or taking a leap into an uncomfortable new project. That's...all that's going on here.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

It's not about sex.

I really didn't think I'd be back to writing about singleness, but blogging is funny.

I went to a private school up through 8th grade. We had all the talks about no sex before marriage and STDs and teenage pregnancy. Twenty years later in life and the discussion around sex for single adults doesn't seem much more sophisticated. I've seen rejections of the idea that the Bible prohibits sex before marriage, and thankfully, have read more personal discussions of the reality of chastity. Still though, when I think of actual, applicable advice in navigating potentially sexual relationships, I'm not coming up with much advice...sad, because married and committed folk could likely benefit from a more honest discussion too.

I train in a martial art. Brazilian jiu jitsu to be exact. If you talk to anyone that's stuck with it a while, they'll mention the difficulty, the physical closeness, MMA, but universally, you'll hear about the bonds. Father to son, woman to woman, stranger to stranger, everyone mentions how training has helped them connect with a spouse, reconnect with a child or find a new or second family. None of that is accidental. BJJ, in all its closeness and difficulty, provides an environment of physical and emotional openness that fosters fast bonding. Safety+Vulnerability=Connection. It's just how humans work. It's why people in this photographer's experiment felt closer after just ten minutes of posing together. It happens even with people you don't like.

The sport is 90% male, so as a single, heterosexual female of reproductive age, all of that has created some interesting circumstances--particularly with three guys on my team. Like I mentioned before, BJJ puts you in a position where you develop a physical, non-sexual as well as an emotional intimacy with your training partners. You learn to listen to their breath and heartbeat to read their physical state and intent. I still remember the first time I sat with my ear on a teammate's bare chest, listening to his breath, trying to decipher when he might attack. I've come to accept that they squeeze, grab and touch all the parts of my body that I hide and accentuate with clothing. The bodily functions of gas, odor, sweat, bleeding, drool, menstruation, shedding hairs...they're all out there and everyone has to accept them, and the vast majority of the time, it's done in acceptance. It's all honestly one big study in breaking down cultural norms. There is no personal space. Respectfulness comes from behavior, not so much from restraining bodily processes. You watch each other get angry, frustrated, cry, lose, win, fall down, get back up, and again, and almost always do so with an attitude toward personal growth. You're left, stripped down of all sophistication and pretense, to be beaten down and humbled, again and again; and in that humility, accepted, again and again. It is almost impossible to do be vulnerable and hurt and then met with safety and acceptance, and not connect with someone. Which brings us back to the three guys.

Four years into training and I haven't been involved with anyone at the gym. (It's advice I give to any woman training, regardless of her attitudes toward sex because, if you want to continue training in an already difficult and delicate environment, sex makes things tricky.) That said, sexual intimacy is just the icing on the cake. Things can go WAY awry before then...

  • Hot Guy: No need to beat around the bush...this is the guy that EVERYONE notices. Not one straight woman in the gym, single, married or otherwise, hasn't commented on his physique. I remember when I first signed up and saw him walking across the parking lot...he has an intensity about him that's almost audible. He is very alpha and I noticed him noticing me. I decided immediately that this would not be an issue--not "I won't sleep with this guy" but instead, "I will not interact with him on a level that conveys interest". So no flirting, kidding, playful touching. The third class, I was working technique on the mat and heard a loud "snap". I looked up and saw him, just having whipped a towel, standing in his underwear, staring at me intensely. Considering the environment, that's not quite as out of place as it sounds, but his message was clear. Didn't matter though. Didn't matter that he was single. My lines were drawn well before he decided to flaunt his abs. Friendship happens though, and today, we talk, both at the gym and outside, but that's it. I've learned to not be so extreme as to not connect with men who I may be wary of, but I know the lines.  
  • Married Guy: He's basically Hot Guy, but taller, more muscular and with a more engaging personality. Everybody loves him. I was instantly attracted to him, but kept my distance...not because of some extreme holiness, I just know that you never know the circumstances of anyone in a gym. A couple of months after he started training, he awkwardly introduced me to his wife. I'm very glad he did, because while he may be married, his door is quite open. Men who aren't directly open to cheat on their can feel that a door is closed, even if there's an attraction. I haven't known Married Guy as long, but I limit my interactions. While I'm open to having and have had long phone conversations with Hot Guy, Married Guy isn't something I can toy with on that level, precisely because there is attraction from my end too. 
  • Buddy: A constant conundrum. He's not my type physically and vice versa, but he is a fellow INTJ and we clicked instantly and easily, which, for our personality type, is rare, so it results in a honeymoon of friendship. It's a relief to meet someone who thinks, feels and processes the world like you do, so you begin to share in and celebrate that relief with each other. We've spent hours on the phone discussing frustrations, food and music (he's a foodie and musician too), school, business, life and BJJ. We text literally every day. When I met him, he had a I didn't like much. That aside though, I know myself and my natural penchant to playing semi-girlfriend and the personal pain that comes with that. I've managed my connection with him very carefully. When he first broke up with his girlfriend, I was reluctant to accept invitations to dinners that would have been innocuous with anyone else. They've separated again, likely permanently, but for my own sake, I didn't allow myself to be a support system. When he came to me asking advice as to whether he should stay with her, I remained neutral on the subject. I believe it's part of the reason that now, we have a viable and growing friendship. While there are still awkward moments, I very much appreciate our relationship for what it is. 
I wrote this post mostly for myself, but also because I've met many Christian women struggling with relationship statuses with the men around them. These struggles are the pre-cursors to many of the affairs, pre-marital sex, bad relationships  and out of wedlock children that the church bemoans so, but seems to be missing the mark when it comes to getting at the root of the problem. It ties in a bit to my previous post about churches not offering much emotional safety or support to single women. Without that, many women find themselves looking elsewhere for this support, and it's a difficult field to navigate.