Go East Young Man

For those of you who are not familiar with obscure quotes from great American newspaper editors, the title is a riff on what Horace Greely said, in 1865:

Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country”.

 Although another American author claimed Greely gave him similar advice long before Greely ever wrote his famous words:

 “Go West, young man, go West. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles.” “That,” I said, “is very frank advice, but it is medicine easier given than taken. It is a wide country, but I do not know just where to go.” “It is all room away from the pavements. […]”.

Now, while I don’t want you to think that I am going to write an American history lesson here (although some allowances should be made, as I am an American history teacher), but I feel that the spirit of Greely’s quote lives on, only now it lives in the East.

I first came to China three-and-a-half years ago. I accepted a position teaching English with the Hunan Provincial International Education Exchange Association and was placed at Nanya Middle School in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan.

When I first came to China, I had no idea what kind of opportunities there were for foreigners, other than teaching English, working for multinationals, or import-export. I only knew a few laowai who had their own businesses in China, and those were either consulting firms or import companies, and one bar owner.

It wasn’t until I came to Beijing that I really saw that a foreigner can really reinvent themselves here. You like beer? Start a brewery. You into music? You can open a venue, start a band, or start writing about the music scene already in place. Fashion your thing? You can open a boutique and start selling either vintage or local designers, or hell, start your own label. Beijing really is a city where you can do whatever it is that you are passionate about.

And luckily for people who don’t want to live in Beijing, this phenomena is spreading across China as a lot of thirty-something foreigners begin to realize that there is a void in China for whatever it is they’re passionate about.

Take me for instance, I entered the post-college professional world hoping to work in archaeology, I came to China as a teacher, and now I am embarking on a career as a writer and hopefully, later a brewer.

This is a place where anything can happen. Fortunes can be won and lost a dozen times over if you take the risk and hop a fight to the PRC. It’s not easy, but it can be rewarding.

How I learned to stop hating Paul….almost

The other day, I was reading something that a friend of mine had posted on Facebook, it was a blog post written by a single, Christian woman (in fact the name of the blog is Single Christian Girls), and it was talking the Christian myth (my words not hers) of the gift of singleness and how it isn’t really that great of a gift.

            Growing up in the church, I heard over and over again about how Paul said we should stay single. When I was a teenager and not dating, I thought it was awesome, because it made look holier than my friends. When I was in college, it made me want to go back in time and bash Paul’s head against a rock. Now that I am about turn 30 and still not in anything vaguely resembling a relationship, I think I may have finally made my peace with Paul. I still refuse to read that passage and I will probably walk out of any sermon that references it, but I don’t hate Paul any more.

            While I will make the concessions that being single does allow me to just drop everything and focus on something, and I probably wouldn’t have come to China if I was married.  However, one of Paul’s major points is that being single allows you to spend more time thinking about God. In reality, it gives you more time to wonder what is wrong with you and why you are still single, even after some of the dumbest people you have ever met have gotten married.

            For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about the offending quote from Paul is found in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9,27-28,32-35 (I hate people who take scripture out of context and only use what fits their argument, but in this  case all I am removing here is the stuff about married people): “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion… Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life and I want to spare you this…. I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

            This is seemingly beautiful advice from a concerned spiritual father, who has himself forsaken marriage. However, herein lies the rub, Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council on Judaic law, as such; Paul would have had to have been married. In fact, most Biblical scholars believe that Paul was married and had at least one son, but that both his wife and child died of some disease.

            This is how it always goes in the Christian world, the people telling you not to get married, are the ones who are already married. I have never met any unmarried Christians who have encouraged me to remain single, it’s always married people who tell I should stay single, which is like people have tasted ice cream telling someone who has never eaten ice cream, that they are better off never trying ice cream (I know my analogy is weak, but that’s how it feels).

And don’t even get me started on the language that Paul uses in his “advice”: “But if they cannot control themselves they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion…”, which makes it sound like you are some kind of unholy, deviant for wanting to get married (it’s almost as if Paul has no idea where babies come from, which is the one fault in the monastic ideal). Also the fact that Paul says that: “. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided.”, as an unmarried man I can tell you that I’m not always focused on the things of the Lord (in fact, as a 30 year-old, single man, I’m often more worried about what’s wrong with me that I have never been in a relationship (something we chalk  up to the overzealous Christian anti-dating movement of the late 90’s and early 2000’s (but that’s another post.).).). Also all of the greatest influences in my life, spiritually, are all married men. In fact, most of these men’s ministries were enhanced by the fact that they got married. I have a friend who is a really awesome man and a powerful speaker, but not very good with the small details like scheduling which his wife takes care of, without his wife I’m sure my friend would say he would be less effective.

My final beef with Paul, and then I promise will get to the part about not hating him, is that his word in 1 Corinthians 7 are held up as almost a commandment, when in fact it is on this point that Paul is interjecting his opinion:”…I have no command from the Lord, but I give judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think you should remain as you are. (1Corinthians 7:25-26). Two observations here, one Paul is giving his personal opinion, not the will of the Lord; two, Paul is speaking of a particular event (the present crisis), not an ongoing belief (although it probably was an ongoing belief of Paul’s, in this case he is speaking of a particular situation).

So as promised, I will now explain how sort of learned to stop hating Paul. Basically it boils down to ignoring him, and having gotten great advice and encouragement from some awesome married guys.

            The first thing that made these guys awesome is that they weren’t jealous of me for being single. I know that sounds conceited, but I have had to deal with one too many married giving me lectures about how as a single I have more freedom, but how I really needed to get married so we could still hang out.

Secondly, they didn’t try to push me in either direction, If mentioned to one of these guys about how I wanted to get married, they didn’t tell me to enjoy being single, they told me they understood. They didn’t push in one direction or the other; they just listened and accepted me for I am.

I think that’s what modern American Christians are missing when it comes to single people, understanding. Most of us want to get married at some time, hounding us to do it now only exacerbates an already sensitive situation. In the U.S., in the Christian world there seems to be some unspoken fear that if you don’t marry as soon as you graduate college, there must be something wrong. And if you’re unlucky enough to hit 30 and you still aren’t married, well then you must be broken and there is no hope of fixing you.

Basically, my advice to married Christians is to stop telling your single friends how much they need to get married, because, if they’re like me, one day they might just get fed up and punch you. And if they’re nicer than me, chances are you might still hurt their feelings. If your pastor and you’re married, don’t even mention what Paul said about remaining single (it smacks of hypocrisy) and don’t talk about “the gift of singlehood” (remember it’s a gift you gave back). Encourage the singles around you to pray and seek God for their future, remind that God has a plan, and remind them that 95% percent (not an actual statistic, but a way of saying a whole heck of a lot) of people end up getting married. Most importantly, love and support, because this is not an easy time.

In the end, I guess I made an uneasy truce with Paul. He stays away from me, and I don’t build a time machine and teach him the real meaning of the word persecution. For what it’s worth Paul does have some good stuff to say about other things.