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.


  1. Hi, I am from Australia.

    Please find a unique Illuminated Understanding of the body (whatever it is altogether) and the all important emotional-sexual dimensions of our being.

    Plus essays on how to live Right Life altogether.

  2. After reading through some of the materials, my choice was to delete this response or leave it. While I suspect the posting wasn't really in response to my blog, which dealt with singleness, and may be simply a form of advertisement spam to trick people, I chose to leave it up - though I really hope people aren't influenced, or read, the linked materials. The material appears to be the writings of a deceased "guru" and appears to be a mixture of eastern philosophies. More generally, new age speak may be a way to classify the material. While on the surface such references seem to argue for the elimination of the self - in regard to living - the ultimate aim is full self-actualization, and therefore entry into the enlightenment (which I suspect is where the deceased "guru" may be today?). This seems to me to be the direct opposite of a Christian understanding of love and self would entail.

  3. When I read this response my choice was to delete it from the site, as off-topic, or let it stay. Seems simple doesn't it. I let it stay because while I think the post is most likely an effort to seek adherents and not an honest effort to engage in a conversation, it would be an act of power to cast this out because I could. I hope no one visits the sites. While I am okay with thinking outside the box, these writings argue for moving beyond self, which I find to be what Jesus wants for His followers, the purpose of moving beyond this self is to fully realize self and thereby merge with all that is enlightened. I suspect that is where the guru who wrote these things is at today as opposed to having passed on. Christianity isn't about self-actualization, and the end isn't about merging with the Trinity.