Friday, January 28, 2011

What should churches be doing for singles?

Over the past two days, I've twice been encountered with the laments of single women in church, looking for a partner. It's something I've been sort of slow to discuss with individuals lately, because some women, when met with my views that not all women are meant to marry, that we as women frequently don't try hard enough to understand who men really are and that the "prince" doesn't exist...well...I've been met with lectures on how I don't understand women who "really want" to be married and questions as to why God doesn't want us to have the best possible in all areas of our lives, no matter how gently I've phrased myself.

There's...a lot...there...on both my end on the opposite. It got me thinking why women feel lost in church when it comes to partnering and some seem very misguided on the Bible's stance on singleness. I've only heard men quote Paul's positive writings on staying single, and I think women especially could benefit from churches making efforts to meet the needs of singles. There are a bunch, but here are what I think are the top seven needs of singles in church...

1) Insight into the lives of single people in the Bible

2) Open discussion on the Biblically acceptable dating (relating to potential mates, money, sex, etc.)

3) Community involvment: Volunteer projects, keeping open and active connections with what's going on in the community.

4) Financial guidance (too many people wait until they're married to start thinking about money)

5) Feeling like a part of the church through having more visible, active, single leaders in the church

6) Self exploration: Encouraging singles to form groups/clubs based on interests

7) Guidance in finding God's will: Prayer groups

...I also think singles should get exposure to some honest looks into marriage. Maybe sitting in on some talks from married couples, divorced people and widowed members. I've learned a lot about the process not just from watching my parents' marriage, talking to my grandmother about her first and second marriages and talking to friends. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

What on earth am I here for?

"Our gifts, our ministries, our abilities, they are not an extension of ourselves. Our significance and our security lies in you."

Check out this message from David Chong Wui Howe.

At the end, David poses that you should ask yourself these four questions for guidance:

1) What do you feel joy doing? What is my deepest desire or passion?
2) What are you good at doing? What are my abilities, skills, spiritual gifts, mutant powers?
3) What do you feel are the biggest needs of the people around you?
4) What is your unique personality?
5) What do others in school, family, circle of friends, church community say about me? Is there confirmation from the Body of Christ?

This is something I've been praying about, earnestly, for over a decade. I've often wondered (usually in times of deep stress) why I feel I haven't yet found a clear answer, feeling as if I'm wasting the talents and time God as given me. At the end of the message, I heard something that is great insight into my situation: Finding God's purpose for your life is not just about praying, but also trusting God's will. I tend to struggle with that.

I'm beginning to understand that discomfort and difficulty do not mean we are necessarily in the wrong may simply mean we are addressing a situation incorrectly, or that we were simply meant to go through that trial.

I believe that whole idea of "too blessed to be stressed" might be a bit misleading. It's come to mind because whenever I've told Christians that I'm stressed, the leading response is "be thankful for what you have". I am and have been. I get the core idea behind the saying. God has blessed you...don't worry. But stress is different than simple worry. Stress can come from exhaustion, frustration, misunderstanding and other places. It also implies that those who are stressed, aren't blessed or don't know/acknowledge it.

I've been prayerfully reading through Phillippians this week (new concept to me) and ran across this verse

Phil 2:28
Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.

Not saying my anxiety is related to concern over the things of God, but it seems as though being anxious is not necessarily an indicator you're following the wrong path.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Generational Differences

With Facebook and other entities becoming larger and larger parts of our lives, there's been a lot of talk of the death of privacy. At the same time, in church lately, I've heard a lot about people becoming more isolated.

I think a friend of mine said it best yesterday, explaining that anyone who lived through the 70s or McCarthyism is used to hiding. My age on down, I believe we're on the other end of the spectrum. I believe we have a tendency to over-share to the detriment of genuine, personally enriching relationships.

Why aren't churches hooking up more singles?

On an online Christian forum last night, I read a particularly heart-felt post from a lady, who'd noticed how many unpaired people, both male and female, there were at a New Year's service at a very prominent church in the American South. She asked why churches weren't doing more to get their singles together. Responders to the post echoed the same sentiment, complaining that singles Bible studies didn't do enough to encourage couple-hood and that they were instead, run by "marrieds", dolling out the usual "be patient" and "this is all part of God's plan", to which one poster replied "walk a mile in my shoes". (I've personally heard more of the studies and activities turning into perpetual, drama-filled, Bible-based dating games)

At first thought, I felt as if I were more than qualified, because I have walked a mile or two in the shoes of singleness, but I've come to know that it comes in different forms, with people single for different reasons. I fall more toward the end of the "Single by choice" spectrum...not shunning partnership, but not endlessly pining for it either. It's hard for me to genuinely understand, but I know that there are Christians that deeply want to be married or don't want to be single anymore. I don't know if I'll ever understand, but I can sympathize.

That said, I do not believe it is the responsibility of churches to actively get their singles together. To do so is to imply that everyone should be coupled, or that everyone that WANTS to be married, should be. I do, though, believe that the church has certain responsibilities to singles:

1) To provide an environment that is "safe" for them. Basically, an environment where they can be single, without being accused of whatever short-comings people tend to believe "cause" singleness or left out of church activities.

2) To provide an environment that does not pity singlehood. The more it's pitied, the easier it is to view this lifestyle as something negative. It's not. It's a period where you have more room in your life for other people than if you were married.

3) To provide an environment that does not trivialize single life as a pass-through period of life. Whether you marry at 18, 30, 65 or never, being single isn't marriage's waiting room.

4) To encourage singles to take care of themselves as individuals, not just in preparation for marriage. Staying fit is about honoring the body you've been given, not just attracting, or pleasing a potential mate.

5) To create an environment where singles CAN get to know each other.

6) To maintain lines of communication between marrieds and singles. Yes, the two lifestyles do have aspects of them that should not be actively shared, but both have ideas and opportunities to offer each other, and shouldn't be completely segregated.

I also believe there is a duty to acknowledge that the title "single" also includes divorced people, separated people, those who have lost a spouse and possibly, even those who are attending church without their spouse.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The importance of friends

I was talking to a couple of friends after Bible study a couple nights ago, and we were talking about activities that have been productive in our lives and ones we enjoy. We're doing Peter, and had spoken briefly about how important it is to create bonds between people, and how that in turn, is how you make real changes in your life.

My mind's been on that topic quite a bit lately, and I'm realizing that it's important not only to have supportive people who want to see you grow in your life...not just to keep positivity around, but because there are many times in life, many things you'll have to do, where the people around you won't be positive, or supportive, or may just generally not care about you. Because of that, I want to say thanks for some of my friends and why they're a positive influence on me.

My frugal friends
People underestimate how much influence friends have on your spending habits. Having friends that aren't interested in driving luxury cars, are happy to have dinner together for a Christmas gift and are just as big as I am on traveling inexpensively is great.

My spiritual friends
This is a mix of new and old. These are the people who hear all my spiritual woes and highs. The ones that share revelations they've had and struggles they're going through. From a Ravi Zacharias weekend to  feedback on this blog.

My brainy friends
These don't let me get intellectually stagnant. They don't watch reality TV (or much TV at all for that matter). They read, they question, they think, they share and discuss. They keep me up on the worlds of education, art, business, science and technology. Kind of like the pre-Twitter Twitter feed.

My healthy friends
These are relatively new, but they're making me change the way I see my physical health. They (gently) encourage me to do more, eat better and live in a way that honors my body. I think of them a lot when eating and going about my day, and just knowing what they would do makes me make small changes in my life that are adding up.

The coolest thing is that a lot of the people in my life cross multiple categories.

I figured this was a good video to add for this post. It's one of my favorite songs, but the video's hilarious. Now...Joe Cocker...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A friend of mine just told me that he's dying.

And he meant it. He said it with more finality than I'd say "I'm going to work tomorrow". He said it in a way that wiped the "are they sure?" or "have you prayed about it?" out of my mouth. I asked instead how he was doing emotionally. He's doing very well.

Death is an odd subject as you get older. Not in the sense that you're getting closer to your own experience with it (though you are), but I'm noticing that after you crack 30, people are more open and honest in sharing their thoughts on it. Being Black American, I've experienced my lot. I have a large family and people die all the time. We joke about it. There's laughter at funerals. It's just another part of life. There's no lower age limit for attendance. They're like weddings. We have funeral traditions. Certain songs are sung.  Specific cemeteries are chosen. After-parties. I was averaging 3 funerals a year for a while. But still, death is beginning to seem very new to me.

My grandmother's been planning hers for...35 years now. She didn't think she'd make it this far, but she's still going. I think after a certain age, death isn't what people fear...nope. You know it's coming. If not in the form of disease or tragic accident, the sheer limit of human longevity eventually catches up with you. As much as I know she's ready to go, I know there's one lingering fear left. And that's leaving us, her loved ones, behind. I wonder if that fear ever goes away.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christianity and Martial Arts

All my life I've wanted to study a martial art. Being the non-athlete that I am, I just figured it was outside of my reach. After finishing undergrad and rethinking who I was and what I "could" try, I decided I was going to take up the practice of...something...I just had no idea what. 

I looked into kung fu, tai chi, jeet kun do, krav maga...all kinds of arts. Besides price and availability, I ran into one big impediment to practice. Some arts do contain a spiritual element, and though I read testimony of many Christians that practice internal arts, I was never quite comfortable. That's not to say it's not possible, but it wasn't going to work for me.

During my search, I ran into a lot of Christian MMA and BJJ organizations. I couldn't figure out why so many Christians were drawn to what appears to be such a brutal sport. I eventually ended up practicing Brazilian jiu jitsu (an art many MMA fighters train in) after stumbling across it in a search for a muay thai school...both external arts...and I think the internal/external question is a key element in the link between martial arts and religion. 

Shaolin Monk
An interesting theory I read on a forum once...that external arts like jiu jitsu and muay thai are better suited to Christianity because of its core teaching of separation from the body...contrast that with a physical practice like yoga (connected with the practice of Hinduism), that teaches enlightenment through a deepened connection with the physical. So, if you're punching someone in the face, you're causing harm to the actual spiritual being. 

There's a quote from George Foreman thrown around...after he was asked how he, as a Christian, could practice such an aggressive art. He responded that none of it was done in anger. After spending some time with MMA fighters, I'm inclined to believe that. They are some of the most "slow to anger" people I've ever run into. It's really got me thinking why, even in the internal arts, are they so frequently practiced by monks and holy men.