twentybydesign

the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for January 2012

Wedding Season

with 15 comments

Something is happening to my friends. In the last four to six weeks, I’ve seen more than ten updates on Facebook, all advertising the same state of euphoria. [I almost inserted a witty remark akin to “No, I’m not talking about Tebowmania…” then decided I don’t want to be that kind of writer.] It seems that lately the engagement bug is spreading like the plague. And it makes sense. If you want your next step in life after college to be marriage, then you get engaged in December and spend your senior spring planning a lovely summer wedding. Engagement is a validation of the months or years you’ve spent in relationship with this person, working hard to determine whether you are ready to give the whole of your lives to each other. It is a beautiful step in the journey to lifelong relationship and covenant, and I’m truly excited to support some dear friends as they embark on this journey.

Even so, as a lady who has spent the last three and a half years in a state of persistent singleness, all this talk of weddings is at times a bit hard to take. In the spirit of honesty and openness, I’ll confess that initially it brings up all of the old frustrations which stem from a place of jealousy and are reinforced by a persistent societal inferiority. It is frustrating to have desires for oneness, closeness, and companionship left unfulfilled. It is frustrating to go out alone and feel like restaurants, movie theaters, and even grocery stores are not designed to be enjoyed by the single. It is frustrating to pursue close friendship with those who devote so much emotional energy to romantic pursuits that they have little time left for friends. It is frustrating to feel personally and socially incomplete. In short, it is frustrating to know that there is space in your soul for deep union with another and to feel the ache of that space being left untouched, especially as it seems your friends are getting something you’re not.

And then I realize, this is ridiculous. I’m twenty years old. I can’t even buy myself a glass of wine in which to drown my sorrows.  I’m far too young to be a bitter old maid. Because being single does not make me incomplete. My friends who devote so much of themselves to these relationships aren’t trying to hurt me or alienate me. I didn’t blow my one shot at eternal happiness by not dating in college. The whole idea that the purest happiness comes from marriage undermines the truth that the only way to fill that empty space is through genuine union with the heart of Jesus. That ache, that loneliness, that frustration, and that persistent sense that something is missing is more than the desire for a husband, it is the desire for a savior. And the gift of ultimate redemption, of being welcomed into the kingdom as one deeply beloved, is not reserved for the married. As John Newton wrote centuries ago, to the married and unmarried alike:

 The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Why then, with such a beautiful and permanent promise, do I have any cause for worry or fear? Perhaps it’s because for a while it seems I’ve been told that my husband is out there waiting for me as I wait for him, that I’m absolutely entitled to a lifetime of marital bliss, and that just when I stop looking, that soulmate will come along and take away all of the ache and all of the loneliness.

These promises come from easily-resolved chick flicks, churches reinforcing the American concept of family above all else, fairytales in school, and even the examples of relatives and family friends. Somehow, I just haven’t managed to find many single folks to fill the role of mentor in my life. And while I’m grateful to have received personal and spiritual direction from married folks, I can’t help but feel a piece of my education is missing. Paul writes time and time again about how he thinks that it is better for man to remain single and how those who are married face many difficulties which often make it more challenging to pursue wholehearted service. And yet, it often feels as though all we see are announcements of weddings, celebrations of births, and the creation of a culture in which singleness is more of a disease to be cured than a gift to be valued. 

The body is bigger and more beautiful than any of that. It is not a place for married couples to meet other married couples and raise their kids and talk about their retirement plans. It is not a place for single people to meet other single people and get married so they can raise their kids and talk about their retirement plans. It is where single people and married folks find common ground and enter into life together. Yes, we rejoice at a wedding, but a wedding should plant a seed for deeper engagement with the kingdom and the community, not push the couple into focusing so much on their own relationship and family that they are no longer able to reach out.  And just as we take joy from a wedding, we should also rejoice when a man who is not bound to wife makes a commitment to devote his time, talents, energy and resources in an entirely different but equally valuable way to the contributions of the family man. It hurts our culture to elevate one state of being above all others, whether it is dating or single or thin or old or young or intellectual or artistic. We need everybody. Together. 

So, to my single brothers and sisters, take heart. Not everyone gets married right after college. More importantly, not everyone gets married at all. You are not an empty, unfulfilled, shell of a human being. You have been given a gift in this moment, a lifestyle and perspective that is different and valuable and important to be shared with your single and married friends alike. And, most important of all, you are not alone. The love and completeness you desire is offered freely by the your soul’s redeemer whether you marry or not. The church is more than just a place to meet your husband or wife, it is a place to form deep and authentic relationships with the body which challenge you in spiritual and personal growth. Some of you are called to singleness for a lifetime, others for just a season. But wherever you are, don’t imagine that the married folks are getting off easy, are completely fulfilled, or no longer desire your friendship. Take the hard step of reaching out, engaging with and learning from those who have been given a different gift. Your married friends still need you. And you still need them.

To the church, it’s been too long that we’ve seem marriage preached as the ultimate fulfillment and encouraged pastoral matrimony to the point where single leadership in the faith is hard to come by. I’ve visited at least a dozen churches in the past year, and engaged with half a dozen others through podcasts and blogs. I cannot remember a single church from the bunch that was not led by a married man. There are nearly three times as many books on Amazon written for Christian couples as there are for Christian singles (and even fewer for singles who aren’t trying to find a spouse). Our attitude, our culture, has got to change. Henri Nouwen, one of the most inspiring and encouraging, honest and genuine authors of the faith I’ve encountered, was celibate and single his entire life. The Apostle Paul never married, and yet authored a substantial portion of the New Testament. Many of the saints never married. Are we to assume that there was something wrong with them? Or is it possible that they were simply fulfilling the call of God in their life in the same way those who married young desire to do? Lift up the singles in your congregation, not as oddities, but as treasures. Encourage a life of singleness with the same ferocity you devote to the pursuit of healthy marital relationships. God loves the artist and the businessman, the explorer and the homemaker, and the husband and the monk with equal passion, and has placed a unique calling in each of their hearts with purpose and intention.Who are we to say any of those gifts are of lesser value or need to be replaced by a more socially encouraged gift?

And to my dear friends who are dating, engaged, or married, let me first say that I truly admire, applaud, and respect the path you’re on. It takes incredible devotion and strength of character, honesty and commitment, forgiveness and love, hope and faith to sustain such a close relationship between two people. The journey towards a lifetime of healthy commitment is far from simple or easy. I cannot pretend to understand the joys and sacrifices which comprise your relationship with your beloved. But I would, from my heart, ask you to remember that your beloved is only a part of the fullness of life God has in store for you. Fullness derived from engagement in community in which you have not chosen or been chosen by every member, community comprised of the sorts of folks with whom you would never have elected to spend the rest of your life, but are part of your family nonetheless. Keep a place in your heart for your single friends, even when it seems easier to hang out with other couples or spend most of your time with your spouse. Let your relationship bring you closer to God as you learn new ways to engage His heart together, and then share what you’ve learned with the body. Marriage is a public ceremony for a reason – the covenant is also with the community, and your responsibility to your community is just as important as your duties to your spouse.

In closing, some words from the blog of Andrew Arndt, pastor of Bloom Church in Denver. The original post can be found here

I also tried to draw attention to the fact that Jesus seems to think that marriage is not for everyone (this was the point that got the most response, especially out of our heavily singled crowd).  When the disciples say to him, “In that case, it is better not to be married!”, Jesus doesn’t reply by saying, “Oh no no no, marriage is great and everyone should do it!”  Rather, he says, “You’re right.  But some have been given the call to be married, and those who have should accept.”  This is basically similar to what Paul says in 1 Co 7.  ”Each has his own gift from God…”

So marriage is a high calling

And so is singleness

Both have an indispensable place in the church

My concluding points from all of this reflection were these…

1) Being single is not evidence of some kind of pathology, which is exactly the way we treat it in the modern church.  ”Married” is the normal mode of sexual life, and “single” is abnormal.  So we create “singles ministries” in the hopes of “ministering to the special needs” of single people.  This is exactly backwards from the early church, which understood that singleness was the “normal” mode of life for God’s new people in Christ, since, unlike Judaism, the religion didn’t grow by procreation but by witness and conversion.  You’ve heard it said, “God has no grandchildren”.  And that’s right.  So if you’re single, I said, EMBRACE THE MOMENT.  God may call you to be married, but you ought to carpe diem and give yourself over to the purposes of God in the very rich and marvelous way that Paul commends in 1 Co 7.

Carpe diem indeed, friends. Let’s go change some hearts.

(And for those of you who may not know much about blogging, I can’t tell you the difference a simple comment and willingness to engage makes to us lonely typists out there. Write back if you agree. Write back if you’re angry. Write back if you lost interest halfway through. But anytime you read a blog. Write back.)

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Written by Taylor Webster

January 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Three Album Heart

with 3 comments

I think a lot about art and faith. How our culture mashes them together, and how it tries to tear them apart.  While writing this I went to the website of a Contemporary Christian Music radio station, and was greeted by a  challenge to listen to nothing but “Christian” music for thirty days and see how my life would be uplifted and inspired. And I thought “Oh. Ok CCM station. You tell me exactly what Christian Music is. And I’ll totally do it. Can I still listen to Sigur Ros? The Decemberists? Mumford and Sons? What about LMFAO in hip-hop class? Or Taylor Swift with my pals who have an inexplicable love for sappy country ballads? Or those Guinness-swiggin’, kilt-wearin’ heroes of Irish Rock, Enter the Haggis? Where do I draw the line?”

Because here’s the danger with labels. They’re exclusive. Anytime you try to define what something is, you usually define what it isn’t. So when we say that there’s one radio station on the market playing Christian music, we’re also automatically saying that whatever we exclude from the station isn’t Christian. Whatever else out there is dangerous, so you better keep the dial on CCM109.3 24/7. And that’s just not the way music works. A desire to engage with the arts should come from a desire to expand your horizons, not to narrow them.

This post was inspired by my attempt today to sum up the music I love as a gift for a dear friend. Because she doesn’t buy much music for herself, I had to make  three CDs to cover all I wanted to share. Each volume came out to a particular theme. Yes, theme as in label as in what I ‘m railing against. But people like categories. So stick with it.

The first volume was called “Church Music.” It had all of that that big, sweeping, anthemic, super-chorus stuff we love to sing really loud in big groups, and which could probably be found on a CCM station and in the Sunday service of many an American church. And I do love that stuff. I do. There’s nothing quite like corporate worship, gathering to loudly declare who we are and what we believe, in waves of stirring, encouraging affirmation. This disc had tracks which have all been close to my heart and lead to intimate moments in a corporate worhship setting. Some favorites are Mighty to Save by Hillsong United, You’re Beautiful by Phil Wickham, and of course, How He Loves by John Mark McMillan. These songs are beautiful, passionate, and inspirational, most with a decided and intentional upward swing. And they’re written to be sung by groups of people who are reading the lyrics off of a slide projector, often led by a band of volunteer with a basic guitar/bass/drum set up. In short. They’re written to be sung on Sunday morning. And just as the world has always needed psalms and hymns, there will always be a place for church music with memorable choruses and poetic verses. It can truly be a beautiful experience.

The second volume was called “Heart Music.” It featured the songs which have been closest to my heart in the last few months and may never have been played on any radio station that isn’t publicly funded. These songs met me in dark places and spoke hope, reassurance, and solidarity into my heart. Some are by Christian artist. Most aren’t. But all are remarkably honest and beautiful in their own way. From unreleased Mumford & Sons gems like Sister and Lover of the Light to the folksy brilliance of Wagon Wheel by OCMS and Down in the Valley by The Head and the Heart, from the ethereal, hopeful wonder of Med Sud I Eyrum by Sigur Ros to the deep faith of  Audrey Assad’s piano ballad, The House You’re Building, this playlist is much more sonically diverse. The musical styles don’t all quite match up. Some sing about God directly. Some indirectly. Some not at all. Some of the lyrics speak of being lost and sad and alone. But somehow, because they dare to encounter these lower depths, their ascent to the highest, most exuberant peaks seems more honest. More real. More like the life I encounter every day. The raw human desires for peace, belonging, homecoming, and acceptance pervade the work of the many secular artists I grew up listening to. Everyone’s heart music is different, but there’s something about music that we allow into places of our self that nothing else can touch.

I made a third CD, filled with music that couldn’t be confined to either of the previous discs. This one was simply called Gungor. Partially because I wanted my friend to have the entire Ghosts Upon the Earth album and couldn’t bear to parcel out the tracks, but also because what I think Gungor is trying to do is vitally important. They’re looking to a generation of folks who were raised to distrust the musical shallowness and dishonesty they’ve encountered in radio-driven tunes (this isn’t just in CCM. Think about Top 40, country, hip-hop, pop, rock….they’ve all had their insipid moments) and who have turned instead to the honest creativity of  independently-fueled heart music. This generation is serious about God, but also knows that a lot of CCM stops short of what music can be. We long for music inspired by an infinite, passionate, overwhelming creator to hint at the redemption we have yet to fully experience. We ache for music written by other people to explain to us what it means to be human. And we gravitate towards music which tells the story of the interweaving of God’s beauty and our brokenness. To me, that’s what Gungor is all about. It’s not just the brilliant musical composition and deeply insightful lyrics. There are several bands I revere for those qualities. It’s that the music takes me beyond worship of the art itself into the vibrant, living presence of the eternal creator who made all things possible.

Music, like all art, isn’t inherently good or bad in and of itself. It is a vehicle which allows us to unleash and connect with a transcendence it is harder to encounter in an artless world. It is a tool. And, like all tools, the responsibility for damage or edification lies with the user. So I’m going to be a responsible consumer. I’m still going to listen to church music. I’m still going to listen to heart music. I may even get my groove on to some radio Top 40 every once in a while. And if I’ve learned anything from my encounter with Gungor, it’s to appreciate God flowing through all of it, transcending time and tempo and tradition to connect our hearts with His. And that’s worth celebrating.

(Michael Gungor’s  blog post, found here, inspired a lot of this line of thinking. Check it out. http://gungormusic.com/#!/2011/11/zombies-wine-and-christian-music/)

If you’re throwing a party – here are my “Heart Music” and “Church Music” Playlists.

HEART MUSIC

1)      Don’t Carry it All…………………….…….The Decemberists

2)      Helplessness Blues………………………………..Fleet Foxes

3)      Lover of the Light…………………………Mumford and Sons

4)      New Earth……………………………………….…….Zerbin

5)      Sister………………………………………Mumford and Sons

6)      Home is Not Places………………………..The Apache Relay

7)      The House You’re Building……………….……..Audrey Assad

8)      Down in the Valley……….………….The Head and the Heart

9)      Slow Your Breath Down………..………….Future of Forestry

10)  Orphan Girl……………………………………Horse Feathers

11)  Timothy Hay………………………..…………mewithoutYou

12)  The Perpetual Self, Or

“What Would Saul Alinsky Do?”……………….Sufjan Stevens

13)  Hold On to What You Believe…………….Mumford and Sons

14)  Wagon Wheel………………………Old Crow Medicine Show

15)  He Woke Me Up Again…………………………Sufjan Stevens

16)  Med Sud I Eyrum…………………………………….Sigur Ros

17)  Timshel……………………………………Mumford and Sons

18)  Sons & Daughters……………….………….The Decemberists

19)  Old Joy……………………………..…….Noah and the Whale

 CHURCH MUSIC

1)      Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) ………….Chris Tomlin

2)      Our God………………………………..……….Chris Tomlin

3)      Manifesto…………………………………..The City Harmonic

4)      Give me Faith………………………..……..Elevation Worship

5)      How He Loves……………………….…..John Mark McMillan

6)      I Will Waste My Life…………………….……..Misty Edwards

7)      You Won’t Relent………………………………Misty Edwards

8)      Marvelous Light……………………………..……Charlie Hall

9)      Mighty to Save (Live)…………………..……..Hillsong United

10)  The Stand (Live)…………………….……..…..Hillsong United

11)  You’re Beautiful…………………………………Phil Wickham

12)  Twenty Three………………………….……..Aaron Strumpel

13)  Centuries……………………………….…….Aaron Strumpel

Written by Taylor Webster

January 4, 2012 at 12:50 am