Wednesday, June 30, 2010


This blog has moved to Evangelical Monk

Come and visit some time.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Being Single - Concluding Thoughts

As I was doing some sitting and reflecting on concluding these posts of singleness and marriage, a conversation with my friend who pastors in the St. Louis area came to mind. He noted how he was with a group of servants and the closeness and intimacy that existed for that time with them. He also noted that the intimacy then was equal to the intimacy he has with his wife. Then he nailed it for me when he noted that sex does not always and necessarily follow the trail of intimacy.

I then came across an article about the fallen Indiana congressman who recently resigned following the disclosure of an affair with a staffer. Souder placed the blame, a portion, on the job and the loneliness of the job, “Loneliness doesn't mean being alone as much as it means being around hundreds of people but not really knowing them. It's a job that results in hundreds, even thousands of friends, but not much closeness.” Souder went on to acknowledge that the blame rested, ultimately, on him and sin - his failure to subordinate his will to the Spirit.

The common ingredient in both situations is relationship. But the difference between the two is having an understanding about what intimacy is all about and being confused about intimacy and tying intimacy all up with sex.

Isn’t what this life is all about, the why God created us, to be in relationship - a flourishing and mutually beneficial relationship? I suppose it may be argued Souder could have worked on and had a better relationship with his wife, but somehow that seems, to me, to also likely have fallen short because he still would have spent so much time in that space of loneliness mired in the confusion.

Maybe the better answer may be to come to that place where we realize we need each other, in community. Married people need to be in relationship with single persons, single persons need to be in relationship with each other, and we need to be intentional about it. Lauren Winner in her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity suggests, “Relationships require that married people must invite single people into their lives, and vice versa. This means not just invitingyour friends over for dinner; it means going grocery shopping together and taking vacations together. It might even mean — as it does for Christians who create ‘intentional communities’ in houses or neighborhoods — married couples or families with kids living with unmarried folks.”

Supporting single people is more than making sure their social needs are met, rather condescending there isn’t it, but it’s all about recognizing that singles, and married people are part of the community. To be a faithful follower of Jesus means doing life together. It’s about coming to that place where we can honestly say that sexual relationship, within marriage, is not the height of pleasure and intimacy; rather it’s about tasting the reality of the emerging Kingdom and being in intimate relationship that will be fully ours down the road. As my pastor friend said, “When we stand face to face with our Lord and Savior on that great and glorious day, looking around us to see our brothers and sisters together, children, parents, and those that the Lord gave us to reach, how intimate will that be!!! “ How glorious that we can have the foretaste of that now as the Kingdom emerges around us and through us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Great read. For what it's worth, highly recommended.

JR Woodward, who I think it would be appropriate to label a missional thinker gathered a number of blog responses to his request for a summary of the Good News as if the contributor's local newspaper were to publish the summary. The result is this text of 50 responses. Those responses are neatly wrapped with a foreword by Scot McKnight and a conclusion by Chris Backert.

On one level it is quite possible to begin to feel a level of despair as the 50 entries all seem to indicate the world is in poor condition (and not getting all that much better). But the aim and strength of the text is how it contrasts that potential despair with the hope of the Good News for that community.

However ViralHope does not merely proclaim the Good News, or proclaim that the Kingdom is emerging here and now. Rather, the 50 snapshots show that this Kingdom is indeed here, something real, taking root and spreading. Despite unevenness due to the 50 independent entries, there is a powerful consistency in emphasis on not merely doing church - the faithful community led by Jesus - but being the church by a very real and physical presence in embodying the Good News for each of the local communities seeking to meet the needs of those particular communities. Fascinating as the book is really a compliation of blog responses to a question - a new medium of contact and communication? The variety of responses displays both the importance of engaging in conversation and active listening for creation of a rich dialogue that begs to be continued.

2010 publication by Ecclesia Press (the link will take you to the web site and more information about the text).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Being Single, Being Whole - Part 3

I guess the million dollar question is why do we seem to have such a drive toward marriage? There are indications that it is the script written from tradition - be it the normal for our culture or for some mix of economic, emotional, spiritual and religious reasons (as well as legal reasons when you include the same-sex union issue or unfortunately there are a number who seek marriage for immigration purposes).

To me it tends to boil down to an old fashioned term - kinship. That is, singles seek marriage (or in our day, co-habitation but the issue is not that different in the sense I'm using) in order to reach a fuller sense of self and gain intimacy, companionship and/or family (through children whether naturally or by adoption). David Matzko-McCarthy, in his text Sex and Love in the Home recites the standard script for most people, "two people meet, and they fall in love. Their love sticks so that they see marriage as the logical and inevitable next step. This story continues to be the predominant narrative of marital connection.”

By now it should be apparent I'm aiming at breaking down this drive as it seems a part of the fuel for this drive is this belief we become more complete, or fully whole (at least as much as is possible on this side of things) through marriage. From the earlier blog post, we can recall the observations from Focus on the Family, and theologian Stanley Grenz. And of course, the argument is hard to deflect - that if we accept the view humanity was created for relationship, then why not pursue marriage as the greatest form of relationship we can have. Seriously, if we walk around saying my BFF is Jesus, Lord of all so why do I need a marriage (again you can include within that term, co-habitation), you will likely be getting some looks that aren't what we would be able to mistake as looks of admiration.

But the bottom line is that absent a marriage, for that intimacy and companionship, if not family, we feel like we are missing out on the good things available on earth. While I am confident my pastor (who is a fantastic pastor) did not intend to slight singles at all, I am just as confident that when he made the statement perhaps marriage is the greatest form of relationship, I suspect there were quite a few people who would have nodded in agreement, and put their arms around their spouse/significant other or squeezed his/her hand or something like that.

Recall the observation by Rodney Clapp in the prior post, the normal single will sooner or later marry. In the RELEVANT Undergraduate College Guide, we find this observation, “People in The Couples Culture hate being single. They hate being alone and feel as if their happiness is defined by true love." Even when you look at the world, this can be seen as true. There was that wildly popular book by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love (to be made into a film with Julia Roberts per the rumor mills), who despite swearing off marriage, went in search of love and ultimately returned to that state of being as the source of full self-actualization and happiness (that is her sequel called Committed).

Yet I have this intuitive sense there is something a little off here. We have exalted the marriage/co-habitation relationship as the ideal, but as someone involved in a divorce recovery ministry, there seems to be a serious problem as roughly half of those marriages end in divorce (and I suspect the statistics for co-habitation are no better if not higher in terms of ultimate separation). Let me finish the observation by Matzko-McCarthy here, “when romance is the linchpin of a relationship or marriage, then the couple, after the first wave of passion is gone, will have to work a great deal in order to conjure up passion or spontaneity. The romance is likely to die because one or both partners will become tired of working to restore what is supposed to be spontaneous passion.”

Lauren Winner offers up a most telling illustration in her text Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. She relates her experience when she brought a group of college students to a convent. After observing a variety of activities, the students met with a sister, and she invited questions. Inevitably, the question came out what was up with the no sex thing. Sister Margaret responded, “I know giving up sex is a very particular renunciation. But I think we have an easier time of it here together in our community than you unmarried young people do out there, alone, in the world.” Sister Margaret spoke with great insight.

As believers are we not to understand this life, this emerging Kingdom, as not merely something for which we gain an individual gold star of merit, but that it is truly corporate as God’s mission of reconciliation is a community project. Maybe we together can take what Sister Margaret is getting at, that as a community we care about singleness and marriage, that we be transparent in the struggles that exist and will inevitably arise, that we ask for help, that we remove the barrier to sharing our selves, that we consider the new normal of confession and restoration and refuse judgment. Maybe we can begin a conversation about the stories in our Scripture about love, faith, hope (break down that 1 Corinthians 13:4 verse) and as a community share those stories, grow and learn about embodying those stories as present day realities within our current story.

That such a community came to be shortly after the Cross may be seen in the So-Called Letter to Diognetus, dated from the 2nd Century or earlier, as translated in the Early Church Fathers at 216-17, “for Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs.... Yet although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries but as aliens.... They marry, like everyone else and they begat children, but they do not cast out their offspring [note that infanticide, particularly as to female infants was supposedly practiced]. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh.”

That such communities exist and can exist within our secular system may be seen in a number of examples. Of course, no community has it down pat and I suspect there are difficulties from time to time but the effort, if anything I have said has any merit to it, must be continued. One such community may be seen in the work of Donald B. Kraybill and others in Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy – a snapshot of how a community that practiced the idea of forgiveness in its recitation of the Lord’s Prayer came to embody that practice in facing unbelievable tragedy – the slaughter of 5 of the innocent children of that community.

We see such a community in this observation by Fumitaka Matsuoka (reflecting on the heroic stance of a Japanese-American community in California following the devastation to life and property and indeed the atrocity of the internment camps in this country during World War II) in his essay “Creating Community Amidst the Memories of Historic Injustices” in Realizing the America of Our Hearts at 39, “the incarnation of Christian faith is both deeply personal and deeply public at the same time. Japanese-American Christians remind us of a key that does bind the people of the Rashomon effect together. What manner of people are they? Refusing to flinch in the face of the painful and unjust experiences of incarceration, attacking the unjust system that had bound them, they reach out to those who betrayed their trust and inflicted injustice to them, offering to build together a new society.”

Maybe what Jesus was talking about when he answered the question about marriage in the Kingdom was that the reality He was pointing to, and which is emerging even as we read this, stands beyond and transcends worldly preoccupation with marriage, intimacy and such things.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Going Deeper - Singleness and Joy - Part 2

From the last 2 blogs you may have a sense of the views I’m raising here. First and foremost, that singleness is a valid state of being for believers, and marriage, in and of itself, while equally valid, is not an ideal Christians should seek or hope to attain for any sense of wholeness or becoming complete. In the post prior to that I talked about having a sense of joy.

For the Israelites marriage and having a family were essential, as a command from the “be fruitful and multiply” verse, as the means of salvation and I’m sure for reasons of economic and societal survival due to the agricultural culture. The Old Testament is filled with stories of barrenness and the shame associated with that – we can read about Sarah and Hannah for example. As well the Israelites held firmly to the belief that salvation was available to those who were descendants of Abraham, literally. While we do see exceptions, Rahab and Ruth, those are more the rarer instances, as when we compare and contrast the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:9).

Jesus shattered that ancient conception of the path for salvation. As well, we are told that marriage is not to be an aspect of the future Kingdom (Matthew 22:30). To avoid the foolishness of the Corinthians, Jesus did not mean or imply that marriage as a state of being was no longer to be valid, rather that the exclusivity of marriage and family no longer existed as the controlling paradigm for salvation and Kingdom living.

Is it possible that God created male and female for the purpose of establishing His community, to be composed of single persons and married couples who as a community began the journey toward resolving and reconciling the fundamental incompleteness of humanity? The fundamental drive for this reconciliation was not intended to be our sexual differences, and resolving that difference through the state of being in marriage, rather the drive is the resolution of the relational separation that existed from the time of Eden.

Yet within the community of faith, the paradigm of marriage as the ideal state remains. Rodney Clapp in his Families at the Crossroads observed, “They [our churches] see singles as peripheral to the core of central members who belong to families. They assume that the normal single will sooner or later marry and start a family.” The parachurch organization Focus on the Family on its website suggests, “Genesis tells us that shortly after the creation of the first man, God acknowledged Adam’s incompleteness. God then created Eve as Adam’s partner, his completer, and blessed their union.” Stanley Grenz likewise notes that God saw Adam alone as not good, that Adam was "fundamentally incomplete", and created Eve to deliver Adam from his solitude (Sexual Ethics).

Part 3 will look at the confusion of love with romance, and the substitution of emotional joy for Kingdom joy. For now, hopefully we can affirm singleness as equally valid a pursuit as marriage. Stanley Hauerwas rightly notes, “Both singleness and marriage are necessary symbolic institutions for the constitution of the church’s life as the historic institution that witnesses to God’s Kingdom,” in A Community of Character. Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov relates singleness to a sense of joy, in his Sacraments of Love, “A single man can see opening up before him one of two paths, as he finds himself from the perspective of celibacy in the world. For the time being he accepts the situation cheerfully, with joy, he views it as the task limited to today, as the present and full value of his life.” (I think we can read Evdokimov in a non-gender specific manner and affirm his observation)

Is it possible to break the stranglehold and mis-notion of what normal should look like to begin approaching singleness and marriage in a more Scriptural sense, as articulated by Hauerwas?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Going Deeper - Being Single, Being Whole - Part 1

Another great sermon from Matthew this past Sunday and he tackled a controversial topic, for some, as to that word in Ephesians 5:22 - submit. While the sermon was remarkably well-considered, and was not intended or designed, as far as I could see, to consider the question of marriage and singleness as proper states of being, the context seemed to suggest joy and fulfillment were the gifts to be enjoyed once in that state of being. So I think the sermon was indeed intended and designed to speak to the question of forming and maintaining that state of joy, nevertheless, the take away for me was in the beginning (and which colored all that followed), that was the line that perhaps marriage is the greatest single form of human relationship God allows us to enter into. While the church has a lot of married people and families, it seems to me to be a little close to staking out a larger claim for the state of marriage than may be accurate.

I get that the intent was not to put any hurting on singleness but I have this sense that there were some who may not have gotten past that statement – particularly those who are in the midst of a divorce or recently have emerged from, sadly more often than not, that battle zone, as well as sending a message to those who aren’t married yet, for whatever reason (Albert Mohler’s views notwithstanding), that there is a need for speed here into order to get into that greatest form of human relationship possible on this side of Heaven.

Maybe it is personal. After my divorce, the sense of loss was significant. After about 10 years of being involved with a divorce recovery ministry, I am aware I’m not alone in that feeling of loss and in the recognition there is a huge desire to fill that loss sooner rather than later. So something that seems to suggest marriage is the standard or ideal state of being on this side of things just seems, for me, a little farther down the road than I care to travel nor do I want people to travel, as once a wrong turn is taken, you have to spend some time backtracking, so why go down the road if you don’t have to?

I have this sense of wrongness in telling someone in this pit of pending divorce or who is divorced to slow down this need, whether conscious or subconscious , when all we have heard otherwise up to that point in time is how wholeness and fulfillment and such are found in the ideal state of marriage. My thinking is that we need to better understand that the season of singleness we may find ourselves in not just a place where we bide some time until we can enter, or for some of us re-enter, that state of bliss. Indeed for some it is a call – that’s how I read Matthew 19:12, “Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so." (CEV) While for some to ignore or avoid hearing the call, it’s not, of course, the end of the world but it does make life that much more difficult at times.

So marriage is not the ideal state of being for us on this side of things. Now, in no way is anything here to be understood as suggesting singleness should be elevated to that exalted spot – it should not. Rather, marriage and singleness are two viable and equally valid options open to God’s people while we are in the process of becoming all that God desires us to be. For those of us who are not married, or no longer married, this is not an occasion to do a Jeremiah and lament how awful this state is, and become rattled over the seemingly deafening silence in answers to the fervent prayers to be lifted from this dreaded state – even if we enjoyed the time for a while, please God let me back into the land of the living, give me the good life and let me be married. My take is God isn’t ignoring those prayers but maybe we are not listening as well as we could be, and even if our listening gear is active, the message coming back isn’t what we are waiting to hear.

We need to see singleness as a valid and blessed state of being and learn to be content and comfortable if that is where we are at until He tells us something different and be at that point of submitting and finding joy in the truth that this is where He wants me at - maybe for a long long time. Just like we can say to people, waiting for the Lord to speak is a wise act of submission and obedience, say in life decisions, college or schooling, career choice, joining a fellowship, whatever but we many times tell each other bide your time on so many other things and we can be okay with that, biding our time in regard to singleness is no less valid an option and singleness is not less blessed and valued than the state of marriage.

Next time a little more on the state of singleness as valid and a state of joy.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Obedience, Joy and Good Works - part 1

A lyric from one of my favorite singers, Michael Card, goes, "There is a joy in the journey. There's a light we can love on the way. There is a wonder and wildness to life. And freedom for those who obey." For many I suppose that first line catches them as there is joy in the journey with Christ. But for some reason that last line caught me. Is there really freedom, if not joy, in obedience?

I've gone on record for the view that our stance as believers is faithful witness or better yet listening and obedient. Yet that seems just so far away from happiness and freedom - those two seem to be tied to each other. And therein lays the tension and the mystery.

In group we are studying the parables and are in the midst of the Parable of the Lost Son, and the study guide seemingly had a misprint as it labeled the parable that of the Lost Sons - great insight provided. The video seemed to focus on the older brother - the seemingly obedient one. Now we can’t ignore the younger brother of course as that sets up the stance that joy and freedom aren't really found in having money and the ability to do as we please with that money. Now to that older brother who was obedient and loyal to the father - seems rather clear from the parable he wasn't in the midst of joy either whether the younger brother was there or not.

It seems to me that we are still living out this tension today. On one side we have a culture that seems to glorify freedom and self-actualization. On the other side are those who argue for following the rules, if you will, laid out in Scripture. Many would say being obedient to a set of rules is surely opposed to any understanding of freedom, and if you get down to it, self-actualization without relationship seems pretty barren. Somehow, being in relationship includes release of some freedom – sort of like the kenosis of Jesus (Philippians 2:7 NRSV). I’m not sure either of those camps have freedom, let alone joy and happiness.

What if we came to understood joy as less of an emotional response to circumstances, and more of a state of being or a place we enter into. What if we understood joy as the result of being where God is at work and we have the unbelievable ability to be a witness to that activity or be actually a part of it. Joy as an emotional response seems to be fleeting and in many ways out of our control (of course we should already be aware of that, Job 20:4 – The Message, “Godless joy is only momentary”). Joy as a state of being or place we enter into is actually a foretaste of that which will not be temporary and indeed will characterize our existence (joy is found in communion with the Trinity, 1 John 1:3 – The Message, “this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!”).

Next time some more on obedience and joy.