Christian Dating Culture

In light of Valentine’s Day, I want to start an honest conversation about Christian dating culture at George Fox University (GFU). On February 14th, I sat in an apartment with seven other girls and a guy. My lifegroup leader had brought her significant other; we were going to  talk about love. We were captivated as we drank tea on the couch and they answered our deluge of tough questions about relationships and marriage with poise and wisdom. I, for one, came in with a million questions and even more doubts. What if their answers were uncomfortable? What if it turned out that I had no idea what love is? They gave practical advice that I had never once heard from a pastor. And this is the great irony:in a of room six college students who had grown up in the Christian faith, a religion that is supposed to be characterized by love, not one of us knew what to make of the Christian portrayal of romance.

One statement my leader made, I will not forget. She told us that, as Christians, we are pressured to focus on the future, especially in regards to marriage and dating. And she said to us, “You can’t anticipate that future because you don’t know that ‘you’ yet.” As a collective group, we have made romance more about control than love; people try to control their future, their ability to plan and commit, and let’s be honest, when they can have sex. We no longer trust and explore. We control and “‘obey’.” And, by and large, we have been taught to do this by the Church.

Think about the last time you were given actual, practical relationship advice in a church service or chapel that wasn’t based on control or obedience. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Now think of the number of times you’ve walked out of a service feeling ashamed of your choices or having heard a message about finding the person God planned for you. If you grew up in the faith, you’ve probably  heard this too often to count. That’s a lot of pressure to put on relationships. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on any person: they have to be the “‘one.”’

I have had experiences with relationships that have hurt me, as have most of us. This is a part of life —, a part of growing up. But because of the messages taught in Church that link our relationships with our identity, I believe that the love hurts more often than it heals. What hurt me the most was not the actual break up but the fallout from it. There was this sort of unspoken expectation that it would work out, because, in a subversive kind of way, Christian uUniversity dating culture says, “If you date for longer than a month, you’re in it for life.” It was as if “, no” was not an answer that was allowed; expectations had already determined our future. My lifegroup leader pointed out that we often throw around phrases about love and marriage like they’re nothing. “Oh so when’s the wedding?” Elbow, elbow, nudge nudge. “I’m gonna talk about this at your guys’ reception.” It’s like we don’t even consider the idea that it’s okay to just date to get to know someone or that dating may be just as much about getting to know yourself. Being at a small school doesn’t help. With one sighting at Chapters or Coffee Cottage, everyone knows and everyone cares.

I am not against dedicated relationships. I’m in one. But we must remember that it takes a while to get there. There will be failures, setbacks, and close calls. There will be almosts and not-quites and some-days. But marriage is not for the faint of heart and divorce statistics will back that up. So, we must ask ourselves: in a culture where one date means marriage, what are we really telling our children about commitment? You may wonder why I’ve brought up this issue, or what the point of talking about it is. And to that I would respond, why not? Why are we more afraid to talk about dating than we are to get married after 6 months? It’s time that we stop being afraid and start having these kinds of conversations. Ask someone out, go to coffee, get to know people. If you like it, you really really don’t have to put a ring on it. At least not yet.

Sunday in the Park with George: A Review

“White, a blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole.” So starts the musical by Stephen Sondheim chronicling the life and work of George Seurat. The show focuses on the subjects of Seurat’s iconic painting: “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” and how the relationships depicted may have affected his work.  George Fox University’s (GFU) theatre department presented this show as their Winter Musical; it was shown from 26 Jan. to 5 Feb.

As the lights dim, the show opens with Nate Ayers, playing George Seurat, in the center of the stage. He launches into a monologue in which he explains the magic he sees in design. The audience sits in rapt attention as he pulls trees from the darkness of backstage with what seems to be pure willpower (in actuality, it is the work of a masterfully hidden stage crew). He reveals intricately painted walls and within moments, the audience is transformed into passersby in a French park. Together Ayers, as Seurat, and Sarah Aldrich, as Dot, weave together an unconventional and semi-tragic love story. It is a story of love between two people as well as the love between a person and his or her endeavors. Director of the show, Rhet Luedtke, said in an interview with GFU’s news release blog, “When does my creative drive and passion to create meaningful work negatively impact my relationships with my family and friends? Is compromise possible in the quest for excellence?” These are the essential questions explored in the show. From the park, to the studio, to a gallery, and back to the park, the audience experiences a full circle.It is a 100-year story of what it means to be passionately human, to endeavor to balance the pursuit of beauty with one’s own inherent flaws.

Tim Timmerman, artist and professor, praised the show. He specifically loved the opening song of Act Two: “It’s Hot up Here,” in which the cast appears in its entirety, replicating the poses of their counterparts in the original painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” As they sit and stand in their poses, they sing to one another in a humorous and accurate portrayal of the façade that melts away when people lose their ability to tolerate each other.

“The actors were very talented and it was a good story. I enjoyed that part of it,” said one theatre minor at GFU. His critique of the show was more toward the writer than the cast. He said that it was a bit long, and the off-kilter soundtrack was not his favorite for a musical. Overall, Roy commended the cast for their acting and the meticulous portrayal of their characters.

Those who did not get a chance to see GFU’s portrayal of “Sunday at the Park with George” can see the next production, Deus Ex Millennia, a student-written play. Opening night is April 6 at 7:30 p.m.