culture

have we become the pharisees?

Currently doing some storyboarding for some more fiction I'm working on, but I discovered another piece hidden away in the archives that I had never published (seems like this is a semi-frequent occurrence). As I'm transitioning back to writing some fiction, I've been finding that it's taking me a lot longer to figure out how I want to write things and what kinds of ideas I want to use, but maybe that's more normal than I'm giving myself credit for.

With this piece, the primary idea behind it was conceived through a series of discussions I had at my Bible study where we talked about what it means to actually be a Christian in the 21st century, in 2016 and how we can sometimes read our own biases into the parables and stories we read in the Bible. Oftentimes, this manifests as us, as mostly privileged, American Christians, identifying more closely with the oppressed people groups described in the Bible rather than with the oppressors. However, something that we realized over the course of our discussion and Bible study was that while the Israelites and the entire nation of Israel have typically been the minority ethnic group and minority religion in the majority of eras, that's not really the case for most Westernized or American Christians. What we decided is that more often than not, our actual lived realities align more with those of the oppressing Pharisees than with those of the oppressed Israelites. Interesting food for thought for sure.

have we become the pharisees?

When I was younger and still in Sunday school or just in school for that matter, since I went to a Christian K-12 school for a long time, sitting in a sagging, scratchy couch in one of the many rooms scattered along the length of the Catholic church activities building that my school rented, I always thought that things were pretty straight forward. By the time I left that school after my sophomore year of high school, it was easy for me to assume that I had a lot of things about my faith and about the Bible all figured out, something that remains one of the most false thoughts I’ve ever had in my entire life. One thing that particularly sticks out in my mind is the way that we learned to categorize people in Bible stories. I always used to think that the Pharisees were the bad guys in the Gospels, but something I’ve been realizing is that they really weren’t, at least not at the time. No, quite the contrary, the Pharisees were the good guys in their day, and they were probably viewed as the ones who were as good as anyone was going to get.

The Pharisees knew their Scriptures. They knew the Old Testament law. They could probably recite entire chapters from what they had of the Bible without missing a beat. To make a loose parallel, the Pharisees were the pastors’ kids who were born and raised in the church, the kids that showed up to church every Wednesday and Sunday, the kids that were on worship team and hospitality team and everything else in between. Unlike how we were taught to view the Pharisees in Sunday school, they were the good guys, the good Christian kids of Biblical times.

And Jesus and His disciples? They were probably seen as the rebels of youth group and Sunday school. Jesus was the lone rabbi who may or may not have actually had rabbi credentials who went around Israel with his ragtag group of twelve, give or take a few. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t work during His ministry, instead living primarily off the support of his followers such as Mary and Martha and perhaps His family. When you think about it that way, it’s actually not too hard to imagine why the Pharisees and the other religious folk didn’t like Him.

Jesus was the unemployed fake rabbi wannabe who lived in his parents’ basement and only seemed to stir up trouble wherever He went. He took out the moneychangers in the temple with a whip, he hung out with the other good-for-nothings in Jewish/Roman society like the tax collectors and prostitutes, and he repeatedly broke the Sabbath, which, last I checked, was probably just as central to the Pharisees’ theology as being pro-life and saying that marriage is between one man and one woman are to conservative Christian theology today. On top of all that, he told them over and over again that they were being too legalistic, using all kinds of relatively nasty metaphors to get that message across. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Whitewashed graves. Blind guides. Jesus didn’t hold back when it came to telling the Pharisees exactly what He thought of them.

The more I think about those dynamics, the more I think that perhaps I would’ve been pissed at Jesus had I been living during that time period too, and that’s a scary thought to have, because I think that many of us have been raised and taught to identify more with the oppression and hounding of Jesus and His disciples than with the self-righteousness of the Pharisees responsible when I don’t think that’s the place that we hold in modern Christian circles. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, it makes more sense to put ourselves in the Pharisees’ shoes than in those of Jesus and His disciples, if we’re being very, brutally honest.

Again, the Pharisees really knew their stuff. They knew what the law said about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath or the regulations stipulating this or that about ceremonial uncleanliness, and I think that’s really reflective of many of us today, myself included. Many of us were raised in the church, and we also know all the Bible stories as well as what they’re supposed to mean and what we’re supposed to get out of them. Along the same lines, we also know all the verses that tell us what’s good and what’s not. We know the verses that supposedly tell us that women shouldn’t be leaders in the church. We know the verses that say homosexuality is an abomination. And we know the verses that “clearly” state every other thing we’ve learned in church or in school, but because of that we’re missing the point, just like the Pharisees were.

Because the truth of the matter is that it’s not about the rules or the law or anything else that makes the world seem like it’s black and white to us. It’s always been about standing out and being different, with radical love as our banner, because that’s what Jesus did, even though it doesn’t necessarily seem to make sense all the time. If you think about it, Jesus didn’t have to heal or do miracles on the Sabbath. He didn’t have to be kind and loving to the tax collectors who were seen as sellouts to the Romans. He didn’t have to heal the Roman centurion’s servant. He didn’t have to do any of it if He really wanted to fit in with the Pharisees and live His days as the good Jewish boy that He could’ve been, but instead He chose to be radical in way that directly opposed many of the religious traditions and norms of His day. He prioritized people and meeting with them, touching them, and loving them individually over religious correctness, and I think that’s crazy. I also think that the saying is true that we would probably crucify Jesus all over again if He walked the earth today, regardless of whether that’s physically, politically, socially, or culturally and that saddens me, though I would also include myself in that statement.

Something else that I kept asking myself as I was going through elementary school and middle school was how all of these people missed what Jesus was trying to do and how they couldn’t seem to understand some of the most basic concepts that He was trying to teach them, but I think I understand now because our American world has become so similar to the world that Jesus lived in, filled with people who know the Bible backwards and forwards, who know theology like it’s their native language, who know facts about God and arguments for this doctrine or that doctrine, but also filled with people who don’t know what love looks like anymore. All of sudden, love looks like being right when it comes to this or that theological question and knowing all the proper motions to go through at church, because you know that your love for God is measured by how often you show up to church, or how good of notes you took at that last sermon, or whether or not you’re on the church or school worship team, or whether or not you support the right political candidate, or whether or not your views on a particular issue align exactly with those of your church. That’s what love and devotion to God look like in 21st century American culture, and I think that’s the exact same kind of religious atmosphere that Jesus was born into 2000 years ago, at least by my reading of the Bible, and that makes us the Pharisees, regardless of whether we like it or not. We’ve become the bad guys that we loved to hate in Sunday school, all without even realizing it, because just like them, we think that we’re the good guys.

In light of that, I think that we need to try and do what the Pharisees failed to do. We need to follow Jesus’ example and start worrying less about being the good guys and more about loving the way that He did, because that’s the only way that we’re truly going to transform and engage with culture, not by being right or good, but by being loving.

when our words kill friendship (part one)

This is the fourth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

As a writer, you could say that I think about words a lot. Part of both the joy and frustration of writing is being able to find just the right word to express exactly the sort of sentiment you want to convey. For the most part, the English language usually does a pretty good job of supplying words that have the proper nuance, but something that I’ve been thinking about recently is how sometimes we don’t have enough words to capture the depth of some things that we consider to be so basic. Friendship is one of those things.

 

In English, our single word ‘friend’ encompasses such a wide range of meanings that other languages might divide into different words in order to convey the proper amount of nuance behind them. I mean, I think it’s a little strange that we use the same word to describe people that we’re connected to on Facebook, many of whom we might not even talk to or interact with on a regular basis, as well as people that we share our souls with and can call late at night to cry with. It seems almost disrespectful to use the same word for both of those kinds of relationships. After all, many people call their spouses or their siblings their best friends, and yet we’ll still use the same word to talk about that person we might’ve shared a class with freshman year of college or high school and haven’t talked to since.

 

That’s one of the things I loved most about being a linguistics major. By at least rudimentarily studying several other languages, you gain a broader understanding of how other people express different ideas across different languages, and the subtle nuances that those untranslatable words and phrases carry tell you quite a bit about how that language or culture thinks about and treats various aspects of life. With friendship, I think the contrast between English and other languages is quite striking.

 

Friend || English

We’ll start with the English word for friend, because I think that this word carries a lot of underlying connotations that we perhaps don’t consciously think about when we use it in our daily lives. Personally, in observing and thinking about the ways that the majority of people around me use the word ‘friend,’ I’ve realized that this word tends to carry notions of casualness and complacency that other languages’ terms for the same type of relationship don’t necessarily. In English, a friend can span anything from an acquaintance that you’ve met and small talked with to someone you’ve known for years and years and knows some of the most intimate parts of your life. Again, it’s peculiar that English uses the same words for both of those kinds of relationships.

 

The English word for friendship tends to carry notions of casualness and complacency that the same words in other languages don't.

 

The complacency and looseness of the term ‘friend’ comes into play when you start comparing friendship to other kinds of relationships. In American society specifically, I think that we tend to use a hierarchical system when it comes to how we mentally organize the different types of relationships in our lives. The pyramid is structured a little differently for everyone, but what I’ve noticed is that, especially in American Christian culture, we tend to place romantic and marriage relationships at the top, while simultaneously associating friendship with a slightly lower tier, as if friendships are inherently less valuable or desirable than romantic relationships. I don’t think many of us would admit it in those specific words, but I do think that this is how we tend to act when we really think about prioritizing relationships a lot of the time. I know that I’ve definitely chosen to do this before, giving someone that I might’ve been even vaguely interested in priority over my friends or family. I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing, because it might not be in every circumstance, but I think it’s definitely something to think about, whether we realize that we might be doing that and whether that’s something we want to continue doing consciously.

 

In American Christian culture, we tend to place romantic and marriage relationships at the top of the pyramid while simultaneously associating friendship with a lower tier.

 

Nakama/Shinyuu || Japanese

Japanese has a number of different words and expressions that are used for friendship depending on what part of the country you happen to be from, and these two are ones that I’ve heard the most frequently in shows and other media when characters are talking about especially close friends. Where we have the word ‘friend’ in English, Japanese would use [tomodachi], which is loosely used to refer to schoolmates or casual friends and acquaintances, people that you enjoy spending time with and doing certain activities with, but whom you’d probably still address using slightly more formal language, which is often a sign of closeness in Japanese culture. This seems roughly equivalent to the way that we usually use the word ‘friend’ in English, but then Japanese has [shinyuu] and [nakama], which express slightly different but similar ideas.

 

[shinyuu] refers to your best friend or your confidant, which is fairly commonplace understanding in English. It’s that person who knows your secrets, and obviously, you know theirs as well. In Japanese culture, these two people might refer to each other using just their given names or with diminutive honorifics, which usually implies a high degree of closeness, especially since honorifics and respectful speech are typically used as a means of social distancing for respect purposes in Japanese culture. For this reason, most people typically address each other by their last names accompanied by an appropriate honorific, or a little linguistic tag that denotes their status in relation to each other.  That’s why the very act of being able to address someone by just their given name signals that closeness in Japanese culture, and thus goes to show the level of friendship between two people meant to be understood by the use of this word.

 

On the other hand, [nakama] refers to friends that you almost no longer consider to be friends at all. When someone is [nakama], it means that person or those people have essentially become family to you, a person who will stand by you no matter what, which is even more significant in Japanese culture than it might seem to us Americans. In the United States, it’s more or less common to know people who consider each other to be family even if they aren’t related by blood. Perhaps they grew up together, or their parents are close, which led to them being close by default. That’s part of what [nakama] means, but it just barely scratches the surface, because family is so much more significant to someone’s identify and social construction in Japanese culture.

 

In Japan, the family is the first social unit that a person is born into and remains the main social unit for the rest of your life. There are a lot of stereotypical ideas about Japanese, or perhaps Asian honor culture in general, floating around the United States, and that’s what this plays into. Family is your biggest priority in Japanese culture, and a large part of your identify comes from how you interact and relate to your family. Anything that you might do will reflect back on your family and the same goes for anything that your family members might do in relation to you. It’s hard to properly describe how significant family is in Japanese culture, being a collective culture, rather than an individual culture like what exists in the United States, but it goes without saying that for a friend to become family in Japanese culture means for that relationship to be on a level above what we would normally consider friends to be in American culture.

 

In Japanese culture, for a friend to become family inherently means for that relationship to be on a level above what we would normally consider friendship in American culture.

 

I’m not sure that I have any true [nakama] in my life quite yet, but I would say that my friend Sheridan is pretty freaking close. We don’t quite reflect on each other in the same way that family members would reflect on each other in Japanese culture, but most people that know us also automatically know the other, or have at least heard of the other. But we definitely will stand by each other no matter what. She knows my secrets (provided that we’ve had time to actually catch up, considering that we’ve found ourselves living across countries or oceans from each other recently), she’s one of the first people that I want to tell when I have news, and she’s my first choice as a roommate once we decide to start trying to adult. She makes me want to listen to better music, eat healthier (and trendier, haha) food, and she’ll call me out on my BS without really caring if I’ll like it or not (because eventually, I’ll come around and realize that I was doing something stupid). She’s one of very few of my friends who I’ve cried with (and loudly at that) in person, and to top it all off, we actually technically weren’t friends for a grand total of three months at one point in time (again, because a certain person was being stupid – read – me), so if that’s not “standing by you no matter what,” then I’m not really sure what is.

 

She’s good for me in more ways than I have time to write about here, but I think one specific thing I will always love about her is that she has an uncanny sense of discernment that I haven’t seen in anybody else in my life. She can get a read on any situation and see through whatever other kinds of mess are floating around in a heartbeat.

 

Now, I’m definitely not the kind of person to overspiritualize everything, but last winter I was going through a pretty dark, suicidal period in life, which most people are familiar with, and she was the first person to point out to me that perhaps part of that cloud of darkness was a form of spiritual attack. It was something that hadn’t even been on my radar before she mentioned it, and frankly, I was a caught a little off guard by that assessment, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. That was the crack in the door I needed to be able to see the light on the other side, and that kind of discernment isn’t something that everyone has.

 

I’m not sure if the two of us will ever quite fit the exact definition of [nakama], just because American culture doesn’t work the same way, but if there was ever an American equivalent, Sheridan would definitely be [nakama] to me.

 

Maybe the reason we have such a low view of friendship in American culture is because we don't have adequate words to fully explain and define what those relationships mean to us.

 

These kinds of distinctions and nuances in how other languages talk about friendship consistently blow my mind, and I’m certain that they help me better understand what friendship really is, because our American view of friendship is so narrow and limited. In linguistics and probably also in psychology, we learn that the way we talk about things influences the way that we then perceive things and treat them. Maybe the reason that we have such a low view of friendship in American and American Christian culture is because we don’t have adequate words to fully explain what those relationships mean to us, and maybe we need to start borrowing some of this friendship vocabulary in order to free us from the cultural chains that bind our preconceived notions of what friendship is so that we can really, truly understand it in all of its beauty.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: the second half of this discussion on friendship in linguistic terms, covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff.

when your friends strip you down

This is the third entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

Vulnerability. Intimacy. Authenticity. Those are all pretty popular Christian buzzwords as of late, usually accompanied by an Instagram photo of daybreak from a mountain view or a crashing waterfall in the middle of an evergreen forest with a hipster backpack brand or some sort of “supply company” tagged toward the margins. Cheeky, right?

 

I’m not going to lie. I love a great nature shot or artsy portrait on a curated Instagram feed as much as the next millennial, but I think that perhaps we’ve turned those words into a brand in and of themselves, passing over their actual etymology in favor of a trendy aesthetic. All of a sudden, words like those get commoditized into hashtags and lose their meaning and appeal just as fast as the Billboard Top 40 and cheap gum, the difference being that people still listen to the same overplayed songs and buy $1 gum while we’re quickly losing the ability to actually be vulnerable and authentic.

 

We're quickly losing the ability to actually be vulnerable and authentic.

 

Maybe that’s because real vulnerability and real authenticity aren’t nearly as attractive in reality as the latest pop single or that Instagram photo with hundreds of likes. Most of the time, their true selves look a lot more like confessing dark secrets or having an ugly cry than a landscape panorama or a hand lettered poster of worship lyrics. I think that’s because true vulnerability and authenticity weren’t designed for social media or marketing campaigns. Instead, they fill the dark spaces where the light can’t quite reach past the masks we wear and the defenses we build up for protection against the outside world. They seep into the places where our voices fall to hushed whispers and where our hearts are afraid to even beat, lest someone hears, and oddly enough, they create safe spaces that aren’t guarded by walls, but rather by an understanding voice that says you aren’t alone and offers to cry with you.

 

True vulnerability and authenticity weren't designed for social media or marketing campaigns. They fill the dark spaces where the light can't quite reach past our masks and whisper that you're not alone while offering to cry with you.

 

Perhaps that’s why some of the most loving friends that I know, regardless of whether we’re close or not, are the ones who have had to walk through the valleys with looming shadows on either side. I think that their overflow of love comes from the fact that they’ve experienced the heaviness that comes from chronic pain and struggling. They know what it feels like, that a quick Bible verse or worship song isn’t going to fix the problem (though it could still make you feel a little better), and instead of trying to cheer you up, they take a seat next to you, pull their legs close to their chest the same way you do, and simply be with you.

 

My friend, Jordan, is good at that, and that’s no surprise to anyone who knows her. She’s a future nurse (as in she’s taking the NCLEX in a couple weeks, so if you want to pray for my friend, that’d be excellent), so her job will basically consist of taking care of people and making them feel better, at least in the oversimplified version of her job description, and I think that’s pretty fitting. She’s an incredibly compassionate soul, and I think a part of that can be attributed simply to her nature and another part to the fact that she’s gone through some heavier times herself and come out the other side.

 

Last summer was a particularly stormy period of life, with multiple things going sideways and a terrible attitude towards it all on my part to top it off. Needless to say, I wasn’t quite in a posture of being open to constructive criticism at the time. After one specific night of bomb after bomb being dropped, I was beyond fed up with life. I was taking summer classes at a school that I no longer wanted to be at, I didn’t like the vast majority of the people at this school or in my program, all of my closest friends were miles and miles away, and I really just wanted to bury myself in a hole for a few days and cry and feel sorry for myself. Sometimes you just get to points like that, and it’s completely okay.

 

At that moment, I distinctly remember drying some angry, confused tears with my sleeve and texting Jordan, “How socially acceptable would it be for me to call you and cry right now?”

 

“Pretty acceptable,” she answered in a matter of seconds.

 

"How socially acceptable would it be for me to call you and cry right now?" I asked.

"Pretty acceptable," she answered.

 

So, I did just that. Sitting in the hot, musty basement (because the program I was with was too cheap to actually pay for air conditioning in the summer) of a shoddily maintained dorm building in North Dakota, I called Jordan and told her a little bit of what was going on and cried. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I was glad to have someone there, even in spirit, to just be with me, something that I feel like we don’t utilize enough, the act of just being with another person when they’re hurting.

 

Talking to her the other day, I brought this up and she noted that it was a sad anniversary to be reminded of, but I don’t really think about it that way anymore. The sadness and frustration of those events faded a long time ago (and it’s beautiful really to think about the inability to remember a certain kind of pain from moments past), but what I still remember and will probably always remember is the time I had a friend open up her schedule to just be with me while I cried because of life circumstances. That alone makes that memory worthwhile, and I think it’s also one example of what real vulnerability and authenticity look like. It looks like admitting and being painfully aware that you don’t have everything all together and maybe resigning yourself to crying and being frustrated for a while. It looks like not caring what other people will think of you anymore, in general, but also to the extent that you’re no longer embarrassed to cry on the phone with a friend. The purest forms of vulnerability and authenticity look like an acknowledgement of our own brokenness and darkness and being able to open up enough to share that with another person without fear.

 

Real vulnerability and authenticity look like admitting and being painfully aware that you don't have everything all together, and that's okay.

 

That kind of openness doesn’t feel safe at first. In fact, I can attest to the fact that it feels pretty scary and dangerous. But at the same time, I think it’s another piece of evidence that true love does exist within the bounds of friendship, because love casts out fear, including the fear to be seen as scared, broken, and hurting in a world where so much of our lives and our identities have been carefully crafted to portray a certain kind of persona that’s only a shadow of what our true selves look like.

 

I think that one of the biggest problems that we have in our world today is that we keep slathering on layers of accomplishments, accolades, and achievements in order to protect ourselves from vulnerability while simultaneously aching to be fully known, which isn’t possible when we’re hiding behind masks. I think what we really need is to come out from behind our defenses for just long enough to realize that most of the time, being open about the hard things is usually met with a response that says, “Me too.” And I think that starts with our friends.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff.

when marriage has a monopoly on love

This is the second entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

American society seems to be going through something of a love crisis if you ask me. We’re completely captivated by love, or at least the idea of love. There are hundreds of songs, movies, books, plays, and talk shows, among other things all revolving around the concept of love. I’d wager that it’s probably one of the most commonly talked about things in this entire country. Without our fascination (or perhaps obsession) with love, I would also be willing to bet that the majority of pop musicians and young adult authors would probably be out of work.

 

But at the same time, it appears as if we don’t really know all that much about love despite our insistence on saturating our existences and media with talk of love. According to the American Psychological Association, somewhere between 40-50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce, with subsequent marriages only having higher rates of divorce. For the one relationship that we’ve all been taught and socialized to view as the epitome and encapsulation of love, it’s not doing the best job at upholding the standards that we’ve been spoon fed with love songs and romcoms. And yet, we still hold to these sensationalized stereotypes of love that don’t seem to quite square up with reality. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good Taylor Swift album as much as the next (and seeing her in concert is still up there on my bucket list), but I think that all the emphasis that our culture has heaped upon love, specifically romantic, idealistic love, has poisoned and tainted our view of what love really is and how it covers a lot more ground than American pop culture is willing to give it credit for. Instead of giving us a well-rounded, holistic view of what love is, we’ve been offered a distorted version of love with all the rough edges blurred out until it’s been censored to a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that gets us drunk on fairytale delusions and leaves us with false hopes when reality rouses us from our stupor.

 

The craziest part about this counterfeit love that we’ve been sold our entire lives is that it also gets us to buy into the false notion that love somehow doesn’t exist in its purest form prior to marriage. Sure, we might be able to state as a fact that we love our parents or that we love our siblings or that we love our friends, but when it really comes down to it, we don’t really believe it, or at least that how it appears to me. Rather than recognizing those relationships as true forms of love, I think that we tend to rationalize our devaluing of other forms of love by qualifying it, spewing out phrases like “just friends” or “love him/her like a brother/sister.” Though diminishing the worth of those types of love might not be our goal when we use phrasing like that, it still serves to create both a psychological and sentimental division between the different kinds of love that we experience. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, especially when you consider the fact that Greek has somewhere between 4-6 different words to describe love depending on how you categorize them, but the danger comes when that mental separation is combined with the American cultural idea that romantic, sexual love is somehow on a higher plane than the other forms of love that we experience.

 

We've been sold a counterfeit idea of love that says its purest form exists in marriage and only in marriage.

 

If you don’t believe me, just think about the majority of successful movies that come to mind. Many early Disney movies and romcoms as a genre typically center their stories around a certain couple falling in love and getting married or navigating their romantic feelings for each other. Again, that’s not bad in and of itself, but the majority of those movies treat that relationship as if it’s the beginning and end of all their problems. The conflict of the plot revolves around the romantic and sexual tension between the main couple, and the film usually culminates with a happy ending where the two lovers end up together, strategically placing the curtain call and final fade to black after a declaration of love or a wedding or something else similar, visually and sentimentally communicating that the success or at least the beginning of the success of that relationship is the end of the story and insinuating that all of the problems and conflicts in the film have been tidily resolved because of that relationship when that’s seldom how events play out in real life. Beyond that, the friends and families of the main couple are usually side characters, if they exist, and frequently, their relationships with those main two characters are not elaborated upon. To me, this seems problematic, because it seems to suggest that love only exists between those two people, and it relegates the relationships that they have with everyone else to the background or the sidelines, automatically placing those relationships on a lower level by default while the romantic, sexual relationship is elevated to a pedestal out of reach.

 

The majority of romcoms treat romantic relationships as if they're the beginning and end of all our problems when that's seldom how that works out in real life.

 

This harmful hierarchy of love is something that my friend Nikki and I have realized and are still continuing to unlearn and remind each other. Nikki is one of the bubbliest and most genuine people that you’ll probably ever meet. She’s a joy-filled human being and always sincerely glad to see you whenever you might cross paths with her. Even when she’s sad or upset, there’s still an underlying sense that whatever is going on is just a minor setback, and that’s probably one of my favorite things about her. But also, I think that most people don’t give her enough credit for the wisdom and insight that she has on the world. Out of all my friends who have taught me things, I think that she’s one of the few that’s taught me something that’s actually changed the way that I live and approach the world.

 

Last year, during my senior year of college, we both studied abroad back to back semesters. I was in Spain from the end of August until mid-December, and she left for South Korea mid-February and won’t be back for a couple more weeks until the beginning of July, so I didn’t get the chance to see her all that often, since we were only in the same state and country for about two months total. But I also think that she unwittingly taught me more during that period of extended physical absence than during the previous year when we were around each other all the time.

 

Even though we loved the school that we went to, had great, amazing friends, and were about to set off to travel the world on different continents, something still felt oddly off, like something was still missing from this novel-esque existence. Going to a small Christian college in the Midwest, we naturally attributed this state of dissatisfaction to the fact that we were both still very, very single, essentially pitying ourselves like that one thing was an affliction that drained the joy out of the rest of our lives. It seems illogical to juxtapose those things in writing, but when #ringbyspring is a very real assumption and stereotype of the Christian college that you go to, it doesn’t feel quite as much like the joke that it was originally supposed to be. It felt like a real threat to a happy existence.

 

Though originally a joke, notions like #ringbyspring really start to feel like a threat to a happy existence, because it tells us that we won't be happy until we're in a romantic relationship.

 

While I was in Spain, Nikki and I kept in touch over WhatsApp, and I can still remember the mutual amazement and ecstasy when we discovered that WhatsApp also supported voice messages. That aside, we would periodically send each other long updates on life, something that we’ve continued to do now that I’m home and she’s in South Korea. Over the course of the four months that I was there, I would intermittently revive the topic of our (or mostly my singleness), but she started telling me that I didn’t have time to worry about that because “YOU’RE IN SPAIN!” she would say. Instead, she would ask me about some of the places that we had traveled to, about the food, about the people that I was there with, and that topic would gradually drop off the radar. Maybe she was just trying to get my mind off that one specific topic, but I think that the underlying message that I heard every time she said, “YOU’RE IN SPAIN” was that there’s so much more to life and to love than being in a relationship with one specific person and getting married someday. There are places to travel, friends to make, foods to try, and so much more in our world than simply worrying about falling in love. We were made for so much more than that.

 

There's so much more to life and to love than being in a relationship with one specific person and getting married someday. 

 

And I think that both of us have grown more into that revelation as time has gone on. A few months ago, after she had been in Korea for maybe a month or two, I messaged her on WhatsApp and asked how she was doing with that line of thinking and she answered by telling me that she didn’t really think about it that much anymore. She explained that she was far too busy making friends, figuring out public transportation when the signs are all in Korean, trying out karaoke bars, and traveling all over South Korea to be preoccupied with such a minor detail of life. Hearing that put a smile on my face from thousands of miles away, partially because I was incredibly glad for her, but also because I understood what that felt like, probably because she’s the one that taught me.

 

Understanding that life doesn’t orbit around romance and finding that person was probably one of the most liberating lessons I’ve ever learned, and I’m glad that I had a friend like Nikki to teach it to me, because I’ve definitely heard that idea before, but I don’t think it ever really sank in until she pounded it into my being by constantly reminding me of it. Before, people would say that getting engaged and getting married wasn’t the focus of your life, but they would still act and behave as if it were. I think what really made it real when it came from Nikki was that she lived like it. She reiterated that it wasn’t the center of the universe and then went out and lived and breathed it so that you could see that it was what she really believed. I think that’s what makes every lesson come alive.

 

And what a poignant lesson. I know a number of people who have gotten so wrapped up in trying to find romantic love that they’ve either cast aside their friends, fallen into a state of depression and self-pity, or both. But maybe if we finally decentered romantic relationships in our universe and knocked down the pedestal that they sit on, we’d be able to open our eyes and see that the world truly is so much more vivid and rich than that. Maybe we’d be able to love our friends better and be more satisfied by them if we weren’t always so fixated on finding the one, because the world is so much bigger, brighter, and richer than that.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media if there are any other aspects of friendship I should write about!

a case against self-defense

As many people know, Love Does is one my absolute favorite books. Aside from the incredible stories of the things that God can do when we open ourselves up to all of the very real possibilities, I think that part of the reason I like this book is that the stories also exemplify a sort of selflessness that we may or may not have thought much about before, selflessness in the form of complete unconditional and unabashed love. And I think that’s pretty cool. If you watch any TV at all or happen to read any sort of article/magazine/what have you on relationships, it seems to me that they all try to get you to play this game where you sort of hint at your own feelings while making sure that there’s still enough space to play it off in case the other person isn’t feeling the same thing, and I don’t really like that making relationships has deteriorated to that in our culture. I think I resonate a lot more with some of these lyrics.

“I want to live like there’s no tomorrow, love like I’m on borrowed time.”

  • Good to Be Alive (Jason Gray)

 

“If I found out the world was going to end on Tuesday morning, I’d call everyone I loved and say what I was scared to say ‘til then. And now that I think about it, maybe I should always live like the world is going to end.”

  • Like the World is Going to End (Ben Rector)

 

You shouldn’t need to be embarrassed of the way you love. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not this person “finds out” that you’re interested. Because, in my opinion anyway, life is too short to play those kinds of games. Since when did love become about trying to outwit another person anyway? Yeah, you might be making yourself vulnerable and you might get hurt in the process, but that’s going to happen even if you go around in circles. It just might not be as obvious, because everything was so lowkey to begin with.

Besides, I think that’s also the way that Jesus loves us. He doesn’t worry if we’re going to “find out” that He loves us. He wants us to know, even if some of us still turn our backs on it anyway. And I think that maybe that can be one of the biggest countercultural things that we can do. I mean, the worlds thinks that’s crazy, just putting yourself out there and seeing what happens, making yourself vulnerable like that, but that’s how He loves us, so shouldn’t we do the same?

Anyway, lol at the fact that this post is so short and probably not written very well (because I’m finding that my ability to English is deteriorating), but I’ve just had a lot of time for writing and reflection recently (unfortunately, I’m finding that I’m unable to make it any more literary that what you’ve got in front of you, which means it gets turned into a blog post). Plus, I haven’t written a post in quite some time.

As for some parting words (since my posting is SO sporadic), I’ve been finding that studying abroad is about so much more than just doing school in a different country. I mean, I knew that it would be more than that to begin with, but it’s so interesting to actually experience. It forces you to deal with a lot of things from the past and present, it forces you to get to know yourself a lot better than you thought you did, and most of all, I think it definitely forces you to rely more on God and seek Him on your own time that you would normally at home. And while all of those things are so good, a lot of them are also hard to live through in the moment, especially while reminding yourself to be present in the place that you are, because it will fly by before you know it.

Well, that’s my scattered blog post of the day/week/month/who knows.

Until the next time you find yourself reading something that I happen to have written (which will hopefully also be written better).