Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Undergraduate Conference on Marriage, Family & Dating

This weekend, I am attending a conference in St. Louis on Marriage, Family & Dating. (Well, okay, I am giving a presentation, too.) The theme is "singleness as a vocation." I am looking forward to hearing how the undergraduate presenters think about singleness as a vocation and I'll have to update here when I get the chance!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Only white people marry...???

That's a suggestion in this op-ed piece by Joy Jones. She talks about a teacher who was her role model for the way life should be: career, good marriage, two well-adjusted kids. She also mentions the percentage of African American women who have never married: 42%, versus 22% for white women. Jones writes a very good essay that includes much of the current research that discusses the plight of African American men and the ways in which women have been and are now the primary keepers of family values.

Interesting statistic - and very telling, on a number of levels, about the ways we envision and describe marriage and family as a culture. First, of course, it is good to consider the differences present cross-culturally. But second, I think the 22% of white women having never married is a good reminder to white women that marriage is not a forgone conclusion. And finally, and perhaps most important, Christians need to think more seriously about the ways in which culture dictates how marriage is viewed...and that perhaps Christianity offers a more radical view.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Single college women and sex...

The New York Times magazine published this article on abstinence clubs at Ivy League schools. Janie Fredell, a Harvard student (and most often cited in the article), insists that abstinence can be argued from a secular point of view. Certainly there is new awareness among secular audiences that perhaps an overly-free-sex culture is not good for women (or men).

Be that as it may, more often than not Christians have been the ones seen as pushing abstinence in sex education and as the sine qua non for non-married people. Teaching about abstinence among Christians fails, I think, unless Christians can talk about abstinence in terms of a virtue - the virtue of chastity. Chastity is a virtue for all Christians, single or married, or divorced, or hormonal teenager. Chastity is the virtue that, in part, reminds us that sex isn't all about ME. I've got to pay attention, at the very least, to the needs of the other person involved. To practice chastity well requires a community of people who agree that chastity is a virtue and who are willing to help each other live that kind of life. It is not the kind of life that a secular culture can sustain - and that, I think, is a great difference between secular abstinence and Christian virtue.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Being never-married in a married church....

There are all kinds of single people in the church but one of the points I try to make in the book is the degree to which singles are largely ignored, to the Church's great detriment.

Let me try to narrate an account of one set of singles:
You are born. Your parents baptize you (or wait till you request it, depending on your affiliation). They bring you to church each week. You learn prayers and when to sit and stand and sing. You go to Sunday School and learn Bible stories. Eventually you become a teenager. You go to youth group. You get confirmed (or baptized). The people in your church love you because you're "THE FUTURE". You feel the love. You graduate from high school. And suddenly....

you fall off a cliff into the dark,murky,depths of singleness.

Now you are a single person and officially an adult. You have questions. You have doubts. You want to participate. You want to matter to this group of people called "The Body of Christ". After all, you were baptized there. They promised to "confirm and strengthen you" in the way that leads to life eternal. Where have they gone?

You try to find others who might ask the questions with you and live the faith with you. You despair a bit because the announcements each week deal with children's Sunday School or the new adult Sunday School class. You despair a bit because the sermons seem always to relate to married couples. You go to Adult Sunday School and discover you're out of place because they're all married and you're not.

You discover that most other people don't want to ask questions because they're married now and have children and any questions about faith are reserved for their children. And they don't have time to do much else other than raise their children. Understandable, you think. But still. Where's your place in all this?

You maybe find a small group of people (three or four) who are also not married. You get shunted into "the group that meets for brunch once a month with other unmarried folks."

You find yourself at a crossroads. If there is no place for you here in this Body of Christ, maybe you ought to leave. Or, you could get married. You struggle a bit but take the latter path. You sign up for an online Christian singles site. Maybe you find "the One". Maybe you get married. Maybe you have children. All this is good, very good.

But inside you're confused about the focus on marriage because you always thought that Christ was the only "the One". And in brief moments when dropping off children for Sunday School, you wonder what happened to the Church that proclaims 1 Corinthians 7.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Intentional Christian communities

When I first heard about intentional Christian communities, I thought, "Yeah, right - there can't be too many of those around." But it's one of those things where once you hear one described, they suddenly start popping out all over the place.

Intentional Christian communities are groups of Christians who commit to living together, often under a covenant. They vary in size and purpose, but they do tend to share some characteristics. For instance, many of them are experiments in living the Acts 2 community, meaning that they share some or all of their money and possessions in common, have regular prayer times and meals together, and do acts of hospitality in their surrounding communities. Most of the time, these communities are for single people only, though I have met married couples (with children sometimes!) who live in intentional communities.

I bet there are some reading this thinking: hmmm, this sounds an awful lot like monastic orders - Benedictines, Franciscans, and that sort of thing. Funny you should think that, because there is a loose coalition of several of these intentional Christian communities that consider themselves to be part of what they call the "New Monasticism." And, often these are not Roman Catholics joining these small communities (as sometimes people think) but Evangelical Protestant Christians!

I write about these communities here because I think they're one good place for single Christians to find a good community and engage in all the communal practices of Christianity without feeling like one must get married.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What I'm about in this blog....

When I was a single adult (12 years worth), I found myself sometimes obsessing to get married. Would I get married? Could I have my dream wedding?

Then, when I finally did get married (2.5 years worth), I found myself sometimes obsessing to get a free moment to myself. When would this other person in my life go away? How could I be me and still be married?

And I thought about how our culture, and to some extent the Church, cultivates those feelings. I have heard (and said often enough) that the church is really for married people. All the activities are geared toward married people. Sunday school and catechesis is aimed at married people's children. The few activities sometimes offered for (choose one): single adults, young adults, older adults - are dwarfed by the assumptions that being a good adult and being a good Christian means being married.

And I have heard (sometimes more hurtfully) that singles just care about themselves anyway, that they're free and wild, and therefore that they don't really care about adult responsibilities. Or at least, that's why lots of singles don't show up in church.

That description (of what we might call young adulthood) basically serves for a tiny portion of the single people in the church. Add to that the stigma associated with particular ways of living singly:
  • Celibacy - bad rap due to sexual abuse scandals, even though it has centuries (dating to pre-Christian days) of good reviews. Not all celibacy is bad.
  • Divorce - sometimes divorced people still feel stigmas about going back to church. And they struggle mightily with the scriptures dealing with divorce.
  • Widows and widowers - Often depicted as helpless old gossiping ladies - but really often the backbone of what gets done in a typical week at a church.
  • Lots of others might come to your mind, as well.
We could add all kinds of other problems and stigmas and issues that come up - most notably for a lot of people would be gay marriage/civil unions.

In this blog, I want to talk about all these things, but I also want to get us to start asking some different questions first, maybe. Being Christian doesn't depend on living any one particular state of life (though lots of literature might say otherwise) - I think all these "groups" belong in the church together, living a life of Christian discipleship. (Think about 1 Corinthians 7, for instance) But what does the Christian life, and then subsequently, one's marriage or life as a single person depend on? How do we live together in the Body of Christ and not see the dichotomies that sometimes seem all too real?

Now you might be thinking to yourself, she wasn't single for all that long, and she hasn't been married for all that long. So how does she think she can write about any of this. Good point - and part of my answer is that I'm hoping any visitors to this blog will fill in what's missing with some stories, some commentaries, some helpful critique.

The other part of the answer - at the time I started raising all these questions, I was a graduate student. And I wrote a rather lengthy dissertation about the questions, which subsequently became a book. So I've spent a lot of time reading about the subject and trying to live what I am thinking about - you'll see some of that in future posts). My concern was and is that people, and theologians in particular, haven't addressed the questions that married people AND singles together face, and my ultimate aim here is to raise some public awareness and maybe help us live better lives together in Christian community. Just a dream I have, anyway.

I'll try to be mostly non-technical in the blog - if you're really interested in some of my more technical arguments, you might check out my book.... And I'll post some reviews of other books from time to time.