Saturday, October 30, 2004

Single People are Pathetic

Got your attention?

I have a few disconnected rants against the language of "singularity" and "singles ministry," at least as I understand it:

Whenever I've been present for singles meetings, either in Texas or Kentucky, things got around to "recognition of singles" by "the church." I don't understand what the deal is with the generation before mine wanting some ethereal entity called "the church" to bless their way of living. Is complaining about this entity some kind of parental displacement? I don't concern myself whether "the church" or "lots of people" think that not being married at age 14, 22, 30, or never, is weird. What think the people who love me? What kind of man or woman, and in what way, am I called to be?

I am not married, and I won't be soon. I am attempting to cultivate a holy celibacy, belonging to God and to my community, a local grouping of the Body of Christ. I do not need some prancing prelate priestling pontificating from a pulpit to inform me that this is an acceptable way of life. I would be insulted by the attempt. My friends and I do quite well discerning my vocation. Christianity, Inc. and assorted associates can keep their opinions to themselves.

I am not single, or alone. Lots of people, including Christians, would say that I'm single, and not in a relationship. How sad it would be if that were true! What's with this "in a relationship" language? No wonder so many unmarried people feel worthless and unloved: they choose language that gives explicit value only those relationships that in some way sexual (or at least romantic) and implicit devaluation to those that are not. "No, I'm not in a relationship." Of any kind? With anyone?

If that's the way I saw it, I would certainly feel pathetic. But I am in lots of relationships, with lots of people. They love me, and I love them, and that's important. We learn to love well. We are committed to one other through our baptism and unity in the truth, empowered to love and remain by the Holy Spirit. Sexual relations would obviously not improve those friendships (for many, many reasons), but that's what's implied by the language of "in a relationship" and "just friends." Non-sexual relationships are second-best. Everyone knows that, apparently.

Christians are picking up the world's false views on healthy intimacy and happiness, and once again failing to teach a redemptive and healthy sexuality as a consequence. I think these false views of what it means to be with others and to be alone foundational to the idea of a "singles ministry," and why I don't share the enthusiasm of some of my colleagues.

While I am not in a romantic or sexual relationship with anyone, I am not "single" in any way that is meaningful to me, and I am certainly not "alone." For that reason, I could not in good conscience do "singles" ministry. I've not met any peers at this point in my life who see the need for such a thing, because for most of us it would unnecessarily separate us from our friends in the life of the Church.

At its worst, I think it becomes a lonely persons ministry or a matchmaker gathering, meant to offer "another chance" at dating or assuage the woundedness of those who experience continual relational disintegration. It can't ultimately heal those conditions because the premise is faulty: that unmarried (celibate) people are a different class of human, and need to be treated as such. In attempting to overcome the felt alienation of singles, these ministries increase it by buying into the assumptions of the cultural and ecclesial assumptions they hope to challenge.

And that's what I think about that.

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12 comments:

Rick said...

Hey, preach it brother! You are quite the poet. Great post. keep 'em coming.

Right on.

Peace,
Rick

Anonymous said...

Great sentiment. I need some more of that...

-Isaiah

Anonymous said...

Kyle,

After a first reading of your comments I'm wondering why you came to the Solo Flight training we all did together a few weeks ago?

I think you're missing the point. The church, and culture, needs to accept a new construct rather than the old "coupled" paradigm. Lots of single people need a ministry to them. I, for instance, became single after 32 years of marriage. I had no idea who I was or what my purpost was. No longer a wife. Not needed as a mother. My identity was gone. Even folks who have chosen to be single often experience problems due to the culture's veiw of them as somehow being "inferior" b/c they're not married. For me, Single Adult Ministry was a life saver. Literally.

There is a need to change this "coupled" way of thinking. Most ministries/programs in a church are geared for family. Maybe it doesn't bother you, young and always single, but as an old, recently single person it bothers me. A great deal. So I'm going to do everything I can to change it. Solo Flight is my bow and arrow. The Lexington diocese my target.

I think I understand where you are coming from. After all, I was your age once. In the Peace Corps and very idealistic. Nothing wrong with that. However, as I've aged, some of that idealism mellowed and integrated with reality.

Now I'm going to print your thoughts and read them again later to see what else they say to me.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

God's Peace,

Linda WArdle
kychads@yahoo.com

kay collier mclaughlin said...

Dear Kyle,

One of the most important aspects of leadership training in any content area is learning how to stand outside of one's own personal perspective, which is necessarily colored by environment, personality and life experience, in order to be in touch with the wider perspectives brought by any population one might lead.
It is difficult to gain this sort of broader perspective even within the confines of our own personal and professional circles, which tend to bring together those with life views which are in agreement rather than disparate.

As ministers in a particular area of interest, leaders must be aware that all who are in their demographic category will not necessarily participate in that ministry. I.E. All youth are not drawn to youth ministry, all college students to campus ministry, all men to men's ministry, all women to women's ministry or all single adults to ministry with single adults. Indeed, the persons identified by church or leader are generally those already involved with religion in some way. The larger portion of the population who may want or need a particular ministry area is generally outside of any church or religious organization. Ministries such as those listed above are therefore important "gateway" ministries with which people can identify, and make an initial approach to a Christian community. Evangelism without appropriate substantive content to move people through Christian Formation once they DO approach the community has little impact on either those who are being evangelized , or the community endeavoring to invite others in.

The fact is this: whether or not a particular individual needs a particular ministry at any one time in their lives does not negate the validity of the ministry. Indeed, ministry with single adults is one area in which both lay and ordained persons who have previously ignored or berated the ministry have found themselves joining the effort to support it in the Episcopal Church when they or someone they love has found themselves in need of some aspect of the ministry at some later point in their lives.

More importantly, however, let me stress that no leader, lay or ordained, in any denomination should feel the need to define themselves by negating someone else or a particular ministry area. When "inappropriate level of vitrol" marks a response to someone else's work, the 'leader' or 'leaders' would do well to discover what their own anger is REALLY about, rather than posting that vitrol in the guise of Christian response. Indeed, those who would see themselves in Christian leadership might consider the fact that we are all more together than any one of us is alone --and thereby join in thanksgiving for and support of the work of ministry, even if they don't understand or need that particular area of ministry themselves. Someone, somewhere does have that need.

And, they WILL know we are Christians by our love, our loyalty our collegiality and our ability to work together respectfully even when we are not in agreement--not by our vitrol.

Faithfully,
Kay Collier McLaughlin, PhD
National Leadership Consultant
Director of Communications and Ministries with Single Adults-the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington
Founder and National President
Solo Flight Ministries with Single Adults

Kyle said...

Again, Linda, thanks for your comments and engagement with my arguments.

I don’t consider myself to be an idealist, or altogether disengaged with reality: I agree with you wholeheartedly that “the church and culture need to accept a new construct rather than the old ‘coupled’ paradigm. I am obviously in no position to imagine what the needs of divorced people are, and honestly, I’d not thought about it. Thank you for your perspective.

I know very little about Solo Flight specifically. I am arguing that certain language (solo, single, et al.) reveals a way of defining and valuing relationships and those aforementioned ways of being in a fashion that implicitly devalues them. I am suspicious of the concept of “singles ministry” generally because I fear that language and those values exacerbate the problem that we have both agreed on.

A singles ministry that serves as a tool to integrate folks in all types of journeys (coupled or not) into the whole people of God and seeks to understand, teach and model healthy relationships while seeing to the urgent and important pastoral needs of single adults would be great. It’s the integration aspect that I fear is lacking in the very concept of singles ministry, or any specialized ministry.

Take my concerns for however much or little they might be worth. I made arguments about the general nature of singles ministry as I have understood it. As I said, I don’t know anything about Solo Flight specifically. I make no assumptions about the things you teach and model to people or the way you are with them in ministry. I don’t know anything about that, after all, as I met you once.

Oh, and I came because I was invited and encouraged to do so. Because I like to think I’m a little more open-minded than the way I might come across.

Peace!

Kyle said...

Kay,

While I won’t claim to be versed in the needs of all demographic groups (I’ll only say I have somewhat of a handle on my own), I wasn’t criticizing the existence of singles ministry on the basis of how I perceive the needs of various population groups. As I said above, my concern is with the impact of particular values (stated or implied) on the relational health of the wider congregational Body. Just because some singles feel “left out” or are upset that their needs aren’t getting met doesn’t justify one part of the body saying to the other, “I have no need of you.”

If the goal is of our common life (ahem) is to be whole and healthy in relationships as one Body (family?) together, than separating people in that fashion is counterproductive.

Do I define myself by negation? If I do, it is not in terms of this issue. And if I do, one couldn’t know that based on one essay. I believe in lots of things; I generally list those in the “essays and sermons” column instead of calling them "rants."

Why do I get hot about this issue? Because I think it contributes to a value system that hurts people. I think that in trying to ameliorate the effects of the social and religious values I listed in the original post, singles ministry actually propagates those ways of thinking. Ideas have consequences, and a well-meaning dose of arsenic in one’s coffee does not turn from poison to medicine by virtue of good intentions.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Kyle,
I understand where you are coming from on this. I wanted to chime in and perhaps offer my 3 cents (price adjusted for inflation). For maybe a bit of a different perspective, the following exerpt comes from the Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. I have a copy, and I find there is much wisdom in it. Take it for what its worth:

"Each of us will pass through different phases in our lives of celibate chastity. At times we will be glad of our inner solitude, which fosters prayer, and the diversity of relationships we enjoy in community and with friends; at other times we will feel loneliness. While others are enjoying the consolations of community life, some brothers may be missing the solace of partnership, the joys of sex, and the satisfaction of having a home of thier own. There will be seasons of contentment in our singleness; there may be days of strong testing and confusion if we fall in love, or beome strongly attracted to another. Struggles will come at different stages as we break through to new levels of intergration; the challenges faced by yound religious will not be the same as those that come with the onset of middle age. Old age may bring its own trials of doubt. Only if we share these different experiences in candor and trust can we offer one another geniune support.
"At times many of us will miss having fathered children. We shall need to open the poignancy of this loss to Christ in prayer. He will show us that in union with him our liveshave been far from barren. as we nurture others in Christ, and bring them to maturity, we shall discover that fatherhood has found expression in out lives. In prayer, meditation, our thoought, our work, and our friendships, we are called to fulfill our deep human urge to be creators with God of new lie, and to bear fruit that lasts.
"The disciplines that let chastity to take root in our lives are not mere curbs. Their purpose is to help us live with vitality and spirit. When we meditate we should truly pray with our bodies, and dwell on the glory with which the indwelling Spirit endows them. We are to reverence our bodies and do justice to their need for regula exercise and adequate sleep. Physical sloth and stress from overwork are equally liable to make sexual tension worse. Lethargy makes us more susceptible to the escapism of fantasy.
"The disciplines that foster celibacy include those which prevent our spirits from becoming solemn and heavy. We can all contribute to the sanity and balance of out life together by allowing playfulness and humor to keep us in touch with our humanity and to release tension.
"Jesus taught chastity of the heart, not merely of outward behavior. The conversion of our imaginations continues all our lives as we seek to make his intergrity our own. We shall need to examine our hearts to often test the drgree of our emotional honesty in our relations with others, and our faithfulness in honoring our personal boundaries. Whenever we are in perplexity or temptation it is essential to open our hearts to our spiritual directors and confessors, secrecy makes us more likely to deceive ourselves.
"It is through friendship that we will be of most support to one another. Celibacy could be unbearably lonely unkess we uphold one another in affection. Our friendship with one another does not draw us away from the centrality of the love of Christ in the heart, for that is the very thing we all have in common."
-Chapter 10 "Celibate Life" from the Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. (Cambridge: Cowley Publishers, 1989)

Anonymous said...

Dear Kyle,

We could not be more in agreement in our desire for the Body of Christ to be whole.

However, a reality in dealing with groups of people is that, at least at this point in time, people do form sub-groups in which they feel comfortable. There are many examples of this reality, in both the secular and religious worlds. I think we would be in agreement on the fact that in smaller groups, people are able to know each other more intimately, and as theologian Thomas Breidenthal says, more able to be the Body of Christ to each other. Hopefully, as more and more individuals are involved in small groups, they can connect in more powerful ways with others in the Body, and someday, hopefully, the whole Body.

Certainly this is integral to the work of Solo Flight Ministries with Single Adults.

One of the problems has been that the Episcopal Church, which came belatedly to the concept of adult Sunday School or Christian Formation classes, has not had the numbers or kinds of sub-group traditions that some of the protestant churches have had, and therefore, have also not seen the need, and now the pressing need, of providing gateways for this large portion of the population of the United States to be welcomed and attended to—always with the invitation to and hope of inclusion and participation in the whole Body.

Because this population has not been attended to, and their numbers are large, there is a feeling among many single adults of having been EXCLUDED FROM—and not really welcome in the larger body.

Solo Flight—and any sub-group ministry that understands the spiritual, theological, psychological and sociological underpinnings of their work, can and will be working toward the wholeness of the body as they attend to a portion of the body that they are prepared to minister with.

Kay Collier McLaughlin

Kyle said...

Yes, small groups and the intimacy they engender are absolutely integral to Christian growth. However, that in itself is no justification for separating people in terms of marital status. While separation along that cultural fault line might seem only natural, I still question its validity and am concerned that it is ultimately harmful, for the reasons I listed above.

Is the exclusion you mention a reality, or really a “feeling,” a perception? It might be more productive and healthy to correct the perception of exclusion apparently endemic to the population group you serve.

How would you define inclusion or exclusion in terms of the life of the Body of Christ? Why is creating a separate, alternative, “specialized ministry” somehow a solution to this perceived fragmentation instead of exacerbating the problem?

I am reading an oppression/liberation dialectic behind your words, but I don’t think you’re addressing the questions I’ve asked.

Anonymous said...

Kyle,

Your italicized paragraph to me is very good and I certainly agree with it. I think Solo Flight fits in there quite well. The whole point of the ministry, as I hope you caught a glimpse of during the training day, is to minister to the special needs of single people, guide them back to emotional and spiritual health so they can be integrated as whole and healthy people into the broader work of the church.

The majority of single people we minister to are those hurting deeply due to broken relationships (whether by death, divorce, loss of partner…). Hurting folks need care and healing as well as safe places to socialize. Solo Flight provides all of this. Safe social events bring folks in. (Safe meaning a place where one meets others in a similar situation and doesn’t have to worry about being sized up for a date/mate.) Then Solo Flight provides help with emotional healing through workshops like "Re-Writing My Story". Walking one's spiritual path is enhanced by Sunday school classes, diocesan workshops. All these contribute to a hurting person being transformed into a whole, healthy person who can bring much to the life of their church.

I hope you will attend the next leadership training to learn more about Solo Flight and share your ideas.

Linda
11/30/04

Anonymous said...

In re: to your last to Kay...
We separate people into categories all the time...teens, couples dinner groups, seniors, mid-life and so on. I'm not sure the needs of any of these groups can be met by mixing them up with each other. Each group has differing needs due to age, stage of life, marital status, married with/without children, single with children. Ministry is meant to meet those needs. By ministering to the special needs of a specific group doesn't disengage them from the church as a whole. It enriches their participation in it.

Linda
11/30/04

Kyle said...

Linda,

What I'm pointing to is bigger than "singles ministry" or even "divorce recovery" (which in itself sounds great). You seem to be taking at least two things for granted, which I don't:

1. Ministry defined as meeting peoples' (felt?) needs is a valid focus for being the Body of Christ together

2. That the catagory divisions you mention are good, natural, and irrevocable things.

It isn't, and they aren't.

I suspect that we are working from vastly different ideas of what "Church" means, and what life in the Body of Christ ought to be. In the context of my ecclesiology, "specialized ministry," the act of separating people into little groups to get their particular "needs" met, and presenting that as the normative pattern for the Body at large, is a bad idea. I would say the same thing for "twentysomethings," "mid-lifers," "second-halfers," "seniors," or "couples."

Singles ministry is not the problem. It's a symptom.