Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The grief of singleness

My church, which thankfully is more sensitive than many toward diverse populations, is holding an adult singles’ focus weekend the week after next. In advance of that, we singles were asked what leadership can do to minister to us properly.

It hit me for the first time on Sunday that, at least in the church, people need to know that singles are often dealing perpetually with grief — that because we’re unpartnered in a family-centric culture we often feel “less than.” Entering and leaving a church service solo when most people have spouses and especially children can be alienating.

It's easy to tell us that we really don't need a spouse and that we should concentrate on "spiritual" matters. While that's true in one sense, we humans are built, by God, to belong to something or someone, and when you don’t you really feel something missing — as we're reminded on a consistent basis. No amount of spiritual discipline or ministry activities can really make up for or address that; if anything, they can only hide the hole in our collective heart.

Of course, all three groups — widowed, divorced and never-married — have different issues. For the widowed, that loss is obvious; from what I understand, the death of a spouse, especially if the marriage was good, really does mean losing a part of yourself. DivorcĂ©es, in addition to the loss of a spouse, likely spend a lot of time second-guessing themselves, addressing either or both "What could I have done better?" or "Why did I choose this partner?"

The never-married — where I fall on the spectrum — can, and usually do, fall into the self-pity trap of "Will anyone want me?" Most of us have been in relationships before and are, like those who have been divorced, crushed when one fails. It's especially difficult when friends around you are tying the knot; in 1987 I played for my then-pen-pal's wedding reception in Wisconsin but with a heavy heart because right around that time I had come to realize that I would not get the woman I wanted. Men have it harder, I believe, because there are fewer of us than women in the church, and even at my age (nearly 54) asking a woman on a date is still nerve-wracking.

Oh, sure, we have things to do, and the majority of single Christian adults that I know do live life on life's terms. Speaking for myself, in my 30s I took the time to finish college and find a job in my field and after that embark on a parallel music career; more recently, I got into social dance. So I'm a very busy guy — but one who's more than willing to make the time for a special lady.

Hear what we're not saying, however: For the most part, we don't believe that merely having a partner will solve all our problems; some will be addressed, of course, but in the process others will be created. We understand this, which is why we're usually deliberate; because we've been burned we want the right person, not just anyone who comes our way. In other words, we're trying not to be desperate because we understand that's a turnoff.

I would say this: Please don't make any glib statements or give us advice, and be very, very careful about setting us up on blind dates (only one ever worked out for me). If anything, we need whatever support you can give us in our journey, although we can't tell you exactly what until we're there. All we ask for is your acknowledgement and presence; that would mean the world to us.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

In defense of ‘male privilege’ in the church

It's been a truism in evangelical circles that leadership is in some cases "too male" and that so-called male privilege needs to end for the benefit of its female members. I don't share that view.

So what would happen if women received the very same power in the church as the men, without any distinctions? Simple — there will be fewer men in the church than there are now. There are reasons for this.

First, under egalitarian leadership only certain types of men will be belong to, let alone lead, a church or fellowship.

They will be only the type of men who were reared in the church and go along with the prevailing church culture. They will be "safe," attractive and non-offensive and know how to operate; in other words, a man has to fit a certain image. Guys who don't fit the profile will be shut down and thus shut out.

This is especially the case in black churches, whose membership is, by numerous accounts, 75 percent female; in the case of one of the black Methodist denominations that was meeting in Pittsburgh a few years ago, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that number jumped to 84 percent.

In one fellowship like that where I attended in my 20s, I was once told that a number of the women felt “intimidated” by me. That may have been a fair charge, but I never got any specifics — who felt that way and what specifically I was doing. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, I left, and the group, shrinking anyway due to a change of leadership, eventually collapsed.

Second, and more to the point, for reasons I've already mentioned, women cannot really reach out to men. Nor should they.

I'm aware of the Rev. Mark Driscoll, the embattled former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Because I don't know the specifics, I'm not prepared to comment on what same people called his unbiblical theology and abusive leadership style.

But he did reach young men. (And, frankly, women flock to such churches when they want to be partnered with strong men.) In fact, the singles ministry at my complementarian church was a pretty big draw, especially back in the 1980s, for that reason. On top of that, we have a large number of reforming drug addicts and alcoholics, the type of people, mostly men, that good “church folks” often run away from.)

It was these men who may have been "rough around the edges" that the Apostle Paul reached out to, and his writings reflected that.

And here's something most people don't consider: How many major Christian movements were led by women, and how many mega-churches have they started? None I can think of.

I think this is a case where the issue of "power" has superseded the church's mission. We say we want good men in the church but then don't give them any reason to stay.

The ‘green’ party — a taste of its own medicine

Last week, at the end of his State of the Union speech, President Obama made the comment "I've run my last campaign," at which some Republicans in the audience applauded derisively.

And then this shot from the president: "I know because I won both of them."

Of course, GOP politicians went off on him as a result.

Now, you can argue that Obama was rubbing their nose in it, but was it necessary for them to applaud what will likely be the end of the political career of someone they deeply despise?

Let’s be honest as to what this is about: Envy. And we’ve seen this before, with Bill Clinton, who was hammered mercilessly with propaganda and gossip simply because he belonged to the wrong party. If anyone believed that things would change over time, he or she simply hadn’t been paying attention. I mean, opposing policies is one thing; sabotaging the office is another.

You might say, Well, the other side is doing it too! Prove that. And even if that were the case, does that make it right?

I get the feeling that some people would rather fight than work together to solve the nation’s problems, focusing on defeating enemies rather than considering that their worldview — or perhaps more accurately, that of the people who elected them — is the heart, not just part, of the problem.

Reality should tell you that not everyone is going to agree, and disagreement shouldn’t be a capital offense.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The difficulty with reconciliation

One of my favorite movies is “Cry Freedom,” which was based on a true story of the relationship between a white South African newspaper editor and a banned black activist whom he had savaged in print. At the behest of the activist’s mistress, the editor decided to pay a visit to the activist and experience his world. What the editor found was that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Eventually, the two men became friends and the editor became an activist in his own right, using the paper as a weapon against the unjust system of apartheid. The activist died in police custody, and when the editor decided to take his crusade to the world the South African government promptly banned him. The movie ended with the editor and his family managing to slip out of South Africa on a plane so that a book he could publish a book.

I bring this up because I don’t think we appreciate just how hard the work of reconciliation is. And much of that has to do with the unwillingness to consider life from another's point of view.

The incidents with Michael Brown and Eric Garner last year and Trayvon Martin the year before that should make that clear. (I don't need to go through the particulars, so I won't.) What bugged me the most was that activist Al Sharpton, who went to Missouri and Florida to organize, ended up being savaged for being, among other things, a "race-baiter" without considering his real mission. (By the way, Martin Luther King Jr. was denounced in the same way over 50 years ago.) What are people supposed to do — simply ignore the issue?

People need to be heard in their grief, and telling them simply to "get over it" is probably even more cruel than the act itself.

You see, to work on reconciliation you have to admit and come to terms with the fact that there's a breach that needs to be addressed for which you share the responsibility. "Well, I don't see one," you might say. Exactly, and that's the point.

That especially works on a spiritual plane as well. One reason why "evangelism" is so difficult in this country is because much of the church doesn't have a bead on its own separation from God — that is, the one that formerly existed. A second reason is that if often doesn't get the breach that exists between its members, sometimes based on race, class, culture and other things that divide. What's worse is that if you address these issues you're often labeled as "divisive." Though I recognize and thank God for the civil-rights and anti-apartheid movements, I mourn the reality that both pitted one set of Christians against another set of Christians.

So what do with do? Talk, listen and be willing enter another's world. Hard to do now, but we'll be blessed if we do.

When the editor and his wife were visiting with the activist’s widow after his death, she asked them, “You will come to the funeral?”

“Will we be welcome?” he asked, humbly.

“Yes," she responded. "You and [your wife] are our brother and sister” — a strong statement in that culture.