Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Boy in Black Leather

“I was crazy for Jackie
I was almost ready to say
when a boy in black leather
came and took Jackie away”
— The Waterboys
Those of you who are a few years younger than I am, and most, if not all, of the men, can probably relate to that one. I don’t mean that you necessarily know the song, but you’ve almost certainly had the experience.

I had it as a teenager, and oddly enough the girl’s name actually was Jackie, though I can’t remember if the boy who took her away wore black leather or not. Those were the punk rock years, so it’s not improbable.

And, if I am completely truthful, there was more than one “Jackie” over the years, and more than one “boy in black leather”.

Jackie was the sweetest girl in our local church youth group. Not stop-your-heart beautiful, but pretty, wholesome and most appealingly, kind-hearted. She was the one who’d come and talk to the losers and outcasts who lingered on the fringes, and among whom I was often numbered in those days.

In all honesty, it was not a great youth group, as Christian youth groups go. I’ve certainly seen better since. The church leadership was probably thrilled to see so many teenagers out on a Sunday night, but what they didn’t know was that the primary reason we were all at the service was that we didn’t all have cars, and church was a convenient meeting place. Most of us got a lift there from our parents, piled into the cars of those who owned them right after service, and tore off for pizza or a Sunday night movie, quite often Restricted (though some of us were underage), because when a large group came in together the younger ones were rarely asked for ID.

There was a fair bit of typical teenage Church-ian hypocrisy about us. I won’t say “Christian” because some were, some clearly weren’t, and some I just plain didn’t know about. We knew how we ought to behave, talked about it enough in church, but didn’t do much of it. Most of us knew what Christian virtues were — we could certainly talk about the fruit of the Spirit when expected to — though few of us showed any.

Jackie was different. Nothing stand-offish or unapproachable about her. She seemed to have genuine Christian character. I liked her, and I also admired her.

And then one day she was gone, with an unsaved boyfriend; out of youth group, gone from church entirely.

A couple of years later I ran into her in downtown Toronto. Yonge Street on a Friday night, I think. Heavily made up, short skirt. I didn’t recognize her at first. I’m pretty sure she stopped me, because I probably would’ve walked right by her. I wondered what brought her downtown, since it was a long way from home. She told me she and her boyfriend had an apartment together not far away.

And that was it. Last time I saw her.

At the time, I put it down to “bad boy” syndrome. And maybe it was. Lots of women choose men with no visible character qualities. Many prefer it. At least, so I told myself. And it’s often true.

On the other hand, from the lofty vantage point of middle age, another possibility occurs to me.

In the circles in which I moved as a teenager, we were taught that women ought to be “in submission”. Oh, we understood that referred to wives with their husbands, as Paul told Timothy:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22)
But of course if that was how a Christian women was expected to behave with respect to her husband, it would be natural for a girl from a Christian family to start showing that kind of deference to men generally, by way of an indication she’d be likely to continue the behavior in married life.

Growing up, I knew submissive Christian women, unsubmissive Christian women, and women who simply behaved in accordance with their own personality type, whatever that was, and gave no apparent thought to the teaching one way or another.

I cannot say I ever gave a lot of thought to the man’s side of it.

See, if a woman is to submit, then, by implication, a man — in addition to loving his wife “as Christ loved the church”, which Paul also stresses in the same passage — absolutely HAS to lead.

There’s no real way around it.

Sometimes the appeal of the “boy in black leather” is that he’s a bad guy. If a girl has a taste for that, there’s not much you can do about it. Imitating his behavior isn’t likely to lead anywhere good.

But sometimes the appeal of a “boy in black leather” is that he knows who he is and where he’s going. It may not be a good place, but he’s real defined about it. He’s a leader.

At that age, I hadn’t the foggiest notion where I was headed or who I was, and neither did most of the guys I grew up with. We were all flailing around trying to figure out how we could manage to pass ourselves off as Christians without doing too much to embarrass ourselves in school or work. Our Christianity was wishy-washy at best, and that’s being charitable.

Other than the fact that one or two of us were reasonably good looking, when I think back to how we behaved, I can’t imagine much of anything about the way we lived, the things we talked about, the lack of confidence we had in our faith, or where we appeared to be headed in life that would be attractive to women. We weren’t horrible people. Some of us had some pretty decent qualities if you got to know us. We just weren’t much of anything.

We never gave a thought to the example we were setting. We never thought about “leading” anybody. And working on developing Christian character? Are you kidding me?

The Lord himself said “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Obviously he was talking about the preservative quality of Christian testimony in the world, not giving a seminar for teenage boys on how to attract girls. But his point was that his followers are to be all-in, all the time. There is little appeal to half-baked, partially-considered, occasionally-evidenced, tentative, timorous Christianity.

When salt retains its character, it has a value. When it doesn’t ... it hasn’t.

The boy in black leather may have taken Jackie away no matter what I was like in those days. Most probably he would have.

But I’m not sure I or any other boy in our youth group ever gave her a reason to hang around.


  1. I think a crucial factor in all this is exactly how the principles of wifely submission and husbandly love are modelled and carried out in the home. If you've grown up being taught that "submission" means "bowing unquestionably to everything a man asks you to do, even if you think it's wrong", then yes, you are going to end up gravitating to the wrong kind of man and making the wrong kinds of decisions (or letting him make them for you). But if you've had a mother who treated your father with respect but also let him know when she disagreed or had concerns about something that was going on, and you've seen your father model the equally vital principle of loving his wife as Christ loved the church and sacrificially putting her needs above his own, then you're more likely to want to hold out for a relationship like that.

    I think a big part of the problem with Christian relationships today is that often we're basing our ideas of men's and women's roles more on the cultural standards of 40 or 60 or 80 years ago, or on some quasi-psychoanalytical model of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", than actually basing them on Scripture. I often see Christian leaders proclaiming that women should behave like this or men should be like that, in ways that go far beyond what Scripture actually says and in some cases even end up contradicting it. We need to clean out our brain-attics and start fresh with the Word of God.

  2. Young Christian men don't need to learn how to get and keep Christian girls. They all might think they do, but they don't; they need to learn to be young Christian men.

    They need to learn that a man doesn't care either way. He's on a mission himself, one far too important to get off track.

    True, there are corollary benefits to being this kind of man, and one of them is women; but he keeps all such benefits in his side-view mirror, if he notices them at all. Paradoxically, women sense if they're in the front window: and they fear the pressure and naturally veer away from any guy stupid enough to make them the meaning of life. But they are magnetized to a determined man on a mission, especially one who doesn't give a fig how pretty they are or how hard they are trying to flag him down.

    The main mission is out in front: stop being a nothing, and start being good for the Kingdom.

    As for women, fuggedaboudit. The issue willl take care of itself, just as soon as the young men stop whining and get on with the mission.

  3. "As for women, fuggedaboudit. The issue willl take care of itself"

    I don't think so.