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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Monday, October 25, 2004

An Emo Installment: And I Don't Think I'll Miss Her at All

Fall Break has come and gone, but I think I made the most of it. I visited the folks at Vineyard Central this weekend; I feel pretty encouraged in terms of my discernment. There are indeed folks in the last couple of generations who are actively discerning what faithfulness to the Gospel means in terms of their ecclesiology and common life. It’s probably arrogant of me, but I was starting to think it was just me and a handful of friends. The gathering at La Roca a few weeks ago was good for that, as well.

Reading the first thirty pages of the Windsor Report as well as Mission Shaped Church from the Church of England has reminded me that mission and a catholic, missional, sacramental ecclesiology just might be in the Anglican DNA. This in spite of what I’m experiencing with rank and file Episcopalians. Maybe they’re mutants?

I showed my face at "church" for the last time yesterday. I had been growing tired of trying to make friends in a group of people with whom I couldn’t sustain a conversation of more than two minutes. I didn’t care about receiving the Eucharist or the music, (consuming or producing religious goods and services), but was only there to make friends with people. Three months of laborious coffee drinking later, and I still have to nearly pounce on people to have a quick, superficial conversation. Of course, it might just be my age, or values, or personality. I wear some pretty bright shirts, for example, and Jeremy (my roommate, the house god of snappy banter and fun times) says that they can be intimidating.

To say nothing of what I saw in vestry meetings. I’ve alluded to that before, so I’ll leave it be.

If a church ever tells you they’re a friendly bunch, know that they’re lying. Ask somebody who’s visited their house, instead.

I’m trying to drop angry language though. The whole thing just hurts, y’know?

I feel like I’ve broken up with a girl, from an odd kind of relationship in which the idea of romance was nice, but neither one of us was really into it. Or more like it, I just had a crush that was in no way reciprocated. Why keep crushing? What did I want to get out of it? I mean, anybody could have said she wasn’t my type.

What was the point of that little experiment? I don’t know. I’ll think about it and get back to you.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Opinion on the Windsor Report

For my part, I'm on page thirty-something of the sucker. So far it looks to me like it's staying that there are various reasons that ECUSA should not have "consecrated" Canon Robinson, the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster should not have approved a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions (to say nothing of declaring them to have official "sanctity") and that ECUSA bishops should stop performing marriages/blessings of same-sex couples. (Which, by the way, at least the bishop of Vermont has refused to do, and the bishop of D.C. has refused to stop his priests)

Gene Robinson says that he's glad to report doesn't say he shouldn't have been consecrated. I'm thinking he's not read it, as paragraphs 33 and following say that "present problems have reached the pitch they have" because ECUSA practiced theological innovation

1. without doing proper foundational theological work (33)

2. without following existing procedures for consulting with other Anglicans in that work (35)

3. ECUSA and the Diocese of New Westminster "hold to the opinion, at least by implication, that the questions they were deciding were things upon which Christians might have legitimate difference, while large numbers of other Anglicans around the world did not regard them in this way" (37). And you know, it's not like they weren't told this by many voices long before they did it.

4. The above parties "assumed...that they were free to take decision on matters which many in the rest of the Communion believe can and should be decided only at the Communion-wide level" (39).

Catholicity is a major issue (we'll leave aside the authority of scripture, just for the moment). If you want to make an formal innovation to Christian theology, you must consult. You don't get to just decide as if the Church of Jesus Christ were a local franchise that you get to run as you please. The bigger a question (or challenge) is, the wider one must consult. In regard to this de facto alteration of the Church's teaching on sexuality, the wider Communion (and the Church universal) has spoken against it. No, says Griswold, we're just a local franchise, and it only affects us.

I'm still reading. I'll get back to you on the rest...

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Eugene Peterson: Spirituality and Commitment

Shun spirituality that does not require commitment. Personal commitment to the God personally revealed in Jesus is at the heart of spirituality. Faddish spiritualities, within and without the church, ignore or deny commitment. Evangelical counsel places the Lord's commands - believe, follow, endure - at the core of all spirituality. A lifelong faith commitment to God as revealed in Jesus Christ is essential to any true spirituality.

"Ecstasy doesn't last," wrote novelist E.M. Forster, "but it cuts a channel for something lasting." Single-minded, persevering faithfulness confirms the authenticity of our spirituality. The ancestors we look to for encouragement in this business - Augustine of Hippo and Julian of Norwich, John Calvin and Amy Carmichael, John Bunyan and Teresa of Avila - didn't fit. They stayed.

Spirituality without commitment is analogous to sexuality without commitment - quick and casual, superficial and impersonal, selfish and loveless - eventually a parody of its initial promise. Deprived of commitment, sexuality degenerates into addiction, violence, or boredom. Deprived of commitment, spirituality, no matter how wise or promising, has a short shelf life.

– Eugene B. Peterson, Subversive Spirituality

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Athanasius: We are being raised

When the sun rises after the night and the whole world is lit up by it, nobody doubts that it is the sun which has thus shed its light everywhere and driven away the dark. Equally clear is it, since this utter scorning and trampling down of death has ensued upon the Savior’s manifestation in the body and His death on the cross, that it is he Himself who brought death to nought and daily raises monuments to his victory in his own disciples.

– Athanasius of Alexandria, 296-373, On the Incarnation, 29.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

McGrath: Experience and Theology

Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word – it must be judged and shown up as deceptive and misleading. The theology of the Cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God. God is active and present in his world, quite independently of whether we experience him as being so. Experience declared that God was absent from Calvary, only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on the third day.

– Alister McGrath, The Mystery of the Cross (Zondervan, 1990)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Mark Greene on the Sacred/Secular Divide

Mark Greene argues that “we set a lower educational standard for the way we teach kids in our churches than the standard set in the school room.”

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile: my experiences in most local churches thus far has made it clear that high schools expect a higher level of thought work from teenagers than churches do of adults at any point in their lives.

He blames “the sacred-secular divide: the pervasive belief that some parts of our life are not really important to God – work, school, leisure – but anything to do with prayer, church services, church-based activities is.”

He continues:
In sum, we teach our kids very young that what they do between 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, is not important to God. And we also teach them that their minds don’t really matter to God either. So it was that the national leader of an evangelistic ministry said, “We teach gentle Jesus, meek and mild to teenagers in church. Meanwhile in the world they’re studying nuclear physics.” That’s SSD – setting a lower standard of educational expectation for church teaching than for school, treating adolescents like kids, communicating to them that thinking matters in the world but not in the church [emphasis mine – KP]. That’s SSD, treating church time as if it we are primarily in an entertainment environment, rather than in a vigorous, worshipful, learning environment.

From the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity