Church, It’s About Time We Addressed the “Single” Elephant In The Room

Ahhh, 1 Corinthians 7 (especially verses 25-40), that section in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that’s well known for its message that “singleness is a gift.” And, yes, singleness is a gift, I’ve just heard too many sermons that get to the application as if Paul has written;

“To all the single people in the house,

You’ve been given a gift! Because you don’t have a spouse to prioritise, or children to take care of – you have more time, energy and resources to invest in the gospel and active ministry. The Youth Group and Sunday School need volunteers and there is always a need for people to go an do overseas mission. You are a gift to the church.

Now, let’s pray.”

However, Paul isn’t directly addressing those who are unmarried and widowed. He is answering a question concerning those in the church with a ‘single’ status. Can this passage encourage, comfort and challenge single Christians? Yes! Because singleness is a gift both for the individual and the church. It has advantages (hello independence!) while also being difficult and lonely. It’s not always permanent (see “4 Things God Says to Singles”) and it’s not a curse… This post has a unique and specific purpose: to add to the application, addressing the church as a whole. It includes every Christian, no matter your relationship status, gender or age.

“To all the people who love Jesus and are in fellowship with other Jesus lovers,

Singleness is a gift from God – both for the individual and the church. Therefore, as a church, we need to look closely at our culture and the message it is sending because I think we are falling short of who God calls us to be as His people. We have fallen into some bad habits, unknowingly. We are unconsciously minimising and demoralising our brothers and sisters in Christ who are single: whether unmarried, divorced and widowed.

Too often marriage and the nuclear family is idolised – good things God has created for His glory have become glorified. This idolisation converts singleness from being a good thing God has created for His glory into something resented and disliked. It’s as if singleness is an annoying infection that won’t go away… until, a partner, the ‘cure’ comes along.

As a church, we have paid a heavy price for this idol. Too many Christians start dating non-believers, playing the ‘flirt to convert’ game. Others get married way too early, unprepared and for the wrong reasons, which can lead to ‘unhappy’ marriages that don’t glorify God and sometimes end in divorce.

Some examples of how this idolatry plays out in the culture of our churches (of which I too am guilty of) are:

* We say and hear statements like;
“God has someone special just for you.”
“Just wait on God’s timing.”
“God is preparing you to be the best husband/wife you can be.”
Someone will come along when you least expect it – just be patient.”
“I met my spouse at Beach Mission – you should join a team this year”
“There is someone out there for everyone.”
 and
How are you still single?

These statements assume that a) that everyone wants to be in a relationship, and b) that God’s plan for everyone includes marriage while propelling the lie that marriage is needed for a content and full life. It can also imply that singleness is a ‘limbo phase,’ that they’re doing something wrong or that if they had more faith the ‘god-fairy’ would have provided someone already.

* Suddenly investing time, energy, food and coffee into two individuals once they’ve coupled up. This can take many forms. It may be more frequent invites to socialise with other ‘coupled’ peers or an older couple suddenly showing interest in accountability and mentoring of new couples in the church. God desires people of all ages and life stages to fellowship together, as every individual has both things to teach and learn from others.

* Ministry peer-support groups (usually gender driven) are formed exclusively for married people to talk and pray about married life. While there is a place for sharing with others in a similar life-stage as you, the Bible isn’t so picky.

* Buying into the world’s idea of the wedding. We may all know it logically, but marriage is more than the wedding. The wedding itself is a celebration of the union of two people for life. Some people spend way too much money and spend way too much time organising one day, with an exclusive invite list. The second question after “how are you?” most engaged people are asked is, “how are the wedding plans going?” While it can be an exciting topic for discussion, it shouldn’t become the first and often only one. Are you more interested in someone’s daily walk with God, or their one day of celebration.

* Buying into the world’s idea of sex. #sorrynotsorry, but “we’re too tempted sexually and God wants us to get married” (gee, thanks 1 Cor. 7:9) is not a good foundation for marriage – it’s called self-control (thank you Proverbs 16:32, 25:28; Galatians 5:22-23; Titus 2:11-12; 2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Peter 1:5-7; oh, and this blog). Too often we watch movies, binge tv shows, read books, share videos and skim magazines that make us think about and desire sex more than our intimacy with God. Let’s not put sex on a pedestal either. Sure, it’s another good thing from God – but so is the cocoa bean.

* Buying into the world’s idea of dating. There is nothing wrong with dating – honestly, each to their own – no judgement here. However, advice like, “put yourself out there, pursue someone” is so unhelpful, as is “your standards are too high.” The only one you should pursue is God. He should be our first love, single or married and He sets the standards for marriage partners, not us.

So, Church, it’s time to step up and treat our single brothers and sisters like the precious gift (and family members) they are. Some practical things we can do to start are:

1. Stop the assumptions: not every unmarried, divorced or widowed person is discontent with the singleness and wants to be married.

2. Stop the suggestions: marriage isn’t our life goal – bringing glory to Jesus is. Stop praying for a husband or wife, instead pray for contentment, godliness, that Jesus would be glorified always and to become more ingrained in the church family.

3. Stop the labelling: we are more than a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a fiancé, a wife, a husband, a mother, a father, a divorcee, a widow or a single person. We are children of God – chosen, precious, forgiven and loved more than we will ever know in this life. Asking “Oh, you’re still single?” or “any guys/girls on the scene?” can suggest that their relationship status or a label is the core of their identity.

4. Stop being ignorant: this IS an issue and we need to openly and lovingly address and challenge it.

5. Start the inclusion: 

Think about where you sit at church. While it is important to participate in fellowship and teaching together, it’s okay to have weeks where you don’t sit next to each other… but #sorrynotsorry, you have to be the one to take the initiative and invite others to sit next to you because people will assume you and your spouse will be seated side by side.

Invite a single person over for a family dinner one night a week. All it takes is an extra cup of rice and a few more veggies to cater for an extra person when you’re already cooking for a family. I’m sure if you ask them to bring dessert they’d be more than happy to.

Organise social activities without your partner. While it’s important to do things as a couple, you’re still individuals and participating in things with others and without your spouse shows you’re a) not literally joined at the hip b) interested in having your own friendships and relationships.

Try evolving the idea of a “Married Men’s/Women’s” support or prayer to be a simple, “Men’s” or “Women’s” group. Single people can both benefit from your life experience and contribute to the fellowship of these groups more than most of us would actually believe. You can’t tell me that in a “Married” men’s/women’s fellowship group that 100% or even 85% of the conversation is exclusively marriage related.

Really, initiating or participating in any activity that focuses on our unity and what we have in common, that promotes genuine community and sense of church family and embraces our differences as a point of uniqueness, not a cause for exclusion. Please, please share you have other idea’s.

We are all sinners who struggle to have an undivided heart for God. There are hundreds and thousands of things that can distract us from living a life devoted to God – marriage and family are only two of them.

So, sister or brother in Christ, how are we going to challenge and encourage each other to truly live in undivided devotion to the Lord, regardless of relationship status?

What are you going to do to start transforming our church culture, to celebrate singleness as the gift it is, stop both the exclusivity and the idolising of marriage and the nuclear family?

Jesus, please help us to be a considerate church that focuses on our unity. Please help us to do better.”

As a divorcee who is getting married in a week, I ask my friends to keep me accountable (because I should and do know better) – to challenge me when I fail and join me when I try to be more inclusive and mindful. I am more than a divorcee or fiancé and I will be far more than a wife. My intrinsic value and identity is bound in my status as a human being, created by God and called His child – because I’m forgiven and redeemed by Jesus. Guess what? So is yours, so let’s live like it!

Ps. if you ask when I’m going to have kids, you may experience death by stare.

Thank you to all those who contributed their experiences and ideas to make this post as real, honest and challenging as possible.

Self Compassion Henry

Henry has learnt how to be an expert at self compassion; choosing to ignoring the internal and external critics and instead, showing himself kindness, grace and acceptance.

We are constantly being compared and comparing ourselves to others. We see our sufferings as weakness. We see mistakes as failures and our illnesses as brokenness. We are constantly believing we are not good enough. I call bull-crap. They’re LIES! All lies.

To endure suffering is strength, to feel emotions makes us human, to persevere makes us strong and to measure ourselves up to no one but ourselves is freedom. The reality is that crap that is out of our control happens all the time. We all have bad, hard, painful and unbearable seasons in life. So instead of beating yourself up (or allowing others to do it for you), remind yourself; you’re doing the best you can, emotions are okay, you’re not perfect (and that’s not only alright, but what makes you human) and that you’re pretty, freaking amazing.

Begin practicing self compassion by putting your hand over your heart and saying to yourself, “may I know kindness. May I know grace. May I know happiness. May I be at peace. May I be at rest. May I know love. May I know empathy. May I show myself compassion.” Or “I am suffering. I am being kind to myself and giving myself permission to feel whatever emotions I am experiencing.

Be like Henry, learn the skill of self compassion. Be kind to yourself and stop beating yourself up! Self-compassion has been a life changing skill for Henry as he manages depression and FND.


Spiritual reflection

For those who believe in God, remember he is a compassionate God, who continually shows compassion to his people.

Is. 49:3 – Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

Jesus is the perfect example of this… oh, and we are also made in His image and are called to imitate His character.

Col. 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

So, let’s follow God and show compassion to everyone, including ourselves.


Some more information/resources on the concept of self-compassion:

Good Friday

What an honour it is to celebrate that the Son of Most High God, who is the creator of the entire universe was;

betrayed,

bound,

broken and torn,

falsely accused and charged,

hated,

mocked,

whipped,

crowned with thorns,

spat on,

stripped naked,

nailed to a cross of wood,

separated from His Father and

given the weight and burden of sin,

yet remained silent to change the course of history forever.

You’re alive. You’ve survived. You got this.”

While I was looking at the 5kgs I put on during my 5 week hospital stay and thinking about the fact I had been in a mental hospital for 5 weeks, I was beating myself up… but then that small, kind compassionate voice reminded me, “you’re alive. You’ve survived. You got this.”

If you’re in recovery be kind to and nurture yourself. Remember; you’re alive. You’ve survived. You can do this.

A Psalm: for Depression

Mighty God, Powerful Saviour;

My heart is breaking at its very core.
    When I look at the sinfulness and brokenness of this world,
    the injustice and hypocrisy –

    I just want to leave it all behind, forever.

My body is so tired and weary –
    every movement aches
    every motion is laborsome.
A knot sits in the pit of my stomach –
    I’m nauseous.
    I’ve stopped eating.
I wake during the night –

    my sleep is restless, fragmented.

My brain has turned against me –
    it has become my enemy.
    It has betrayed me,
    it is trying to kill me,
    it wants me to die –

I have no greater enemy than myself.

I am lost,
I am torn,
I am broken,
I am hurting, and

I feel stuck in the depths of this pit of despair.

But you, Lord, you hear my cry,
    you read my thoughts,
    you feel my pain, my anguish –
and you never abandon me,

    you never leave me alone in the mess.

Lord, please deliver me –
    rescue me from myself

    and the web of lies my brain has caught me in.

Lord, lift my soul from this darkness

    and bring me into your glorious light.

Lord, show me your loving kindness –
    your mercy and compassion.

Don’t leave me alone and abandoned in this lifeless pit.

Lord, please remind me
    of your glorious deeds
    and perfect promises

as you fulfil them every day.

I know the day of the Your return is near!
    But please protect and preserve me
    during these dark hours of the night,
that I may not be destroyed in my despair.

 

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Watercolour cloud painted by Alexandra Ellen on 29.1.18

A Night With Dylan Alcott!

By Caz Morton

Meet Dylan Alcott. Aussie Sport’s Champion. At 26 years, old he holds three World Grand Slam titles and three Olympic gold medals in two different sports… and his list of achievements are only growing. Have you heard of him?

He is a world champion tennis player and you can’t find his players profile on the official Australian open website – but don’t worry, you can hear all about Rogers new ‘dad beard’.

In the lead-up to the Australian Open this year, I am in deep hope that Roger wins another Slam, Novak fails and Sami doesn’t choke. I also wish I could watch legends Nova and Alcott play.

Both Nova and Alcott have much in common. They have both maintained seeded rankings and championship titles at the same time. They were both recently featured together at the Australian open ‘#ANightWithNovak’ charity fundraiser, where Alcott taught the tennis legend a lesson or two in the sport. When Nova was 26, like Alcott, he had three Grand Slams, 100 impersonations, was worth millions and had sponsors pouring thousands of dollars per week into his physical health.

However, there is a big difference between the two champions. Alcott was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord, leaving him a paraplegic. But being a paraplegic shouldn’t change your perspective or change the game plan. These two men are equals, both athletes have had to be disciplined and work hard for their achievements. But, are both men treated alike?

Let’s take a step back! Do you recognise Alcott? Unless you are an avid tennis addict or keep up with para sports like myself, you probably haven’t come by him. At the same time, I do feel safe assuming already know who Novak is, without watching tennis or being a tennis superfan like me.

Why am I writing this? I would love to see the Australian tennis federation treat wheelchair tennis with the respect and the value it deserves. I’m not going to wave my pitchfork and expect things will change immediately. It was only last year Serena Williams kicked up a stink about equal prize money for women. It saddens me to compare the $3.7+ million the men & women’s Australian Open winner will receive to the amount allocated to the whole Wheelchair tournaments for 2017 – only $200 000. $200K is the kind of money an ATP or WTA player walks away with if they LOSE a quarter-final.

Is this fair? Sure, wheelchair matches are not as long as men’s ATP, but they still play up to 3 set matches, the same as women, and they use the same courts! However, change is not easy or simple. Alcott (and other wheelchair Quad athletes) deserve way more than media attention if the tennis federation is to make changes.

What needs to change? The consumer needs to care, so the media follows suit. I’m tired of hearing about Hewitt’s relationship issues! I’d want to see more exposure on wheelchair tournaments and to hear the player’s stories. I can’t believe we have a tennis legend sliding across global hard courts winning titles left, right and centre and we are going to miss it. I don’t want to miss it, so why would you?

When I was training at the AIS for gymnastics, I would run around to the display room and join in on the wheelchair basketball and failed every time. It was a good experience being physically limited as a child because it’s not something I’ve understood until recently. Even now, sitting in a neck brace, I have only experienced what he has for 10 days. I also know there is no nerve damage and I will walk again – praise God! I won’t compare my scenario to his, but my injury has given my “2017 Aus Open Superfan Experience” a whole new perspective. Of course, I will still enjoy yelling at the TV with my family and friends. I’ll keep tweeting random tennis facts and reciting stats about the players. But sadly, in my excitement that the Australian open has begun today (would do a dance but, meh, fatigued) is shadowed with the disappointment that I can’t watch Alcott slam it on the court because it’s not being broadcast mainstream.

As a Children’s Pastor, I would love my kids to watch Alcott´s journey on free-to-air TV too. They are missing on the opportunity to be exposed to a great Aussie hero. Do you watch tennis with your kids? Will you share Alcott’s journey this season and talk to your kids about athletes with similar stories? Maybe as you google for ‘trolls’ merchandise you could watch his TedX motivational talk on normalising disabilities to be found at https://youtu.be/tvNOzJ7x8qQt. This video has also made me wonder what we value as a society and how we teach our children about disabilities. Unless you live with one, or know people who do, you’re often not exposed to people with a disability – until you finally are. Do we have these conversations at youth group, are our churches accessible and pastoral towards this specialised area? I’m feeling another post coming on.

I’ve never been to an Aus Open Match. I’ve dreamed of seeing Feds or Serena in a finals match in Melb (oh, my first world problem seems minimal), but I’d prefer to hang out with mates. However, if an Aus Open opportunity came my way, I wouldn’t be passing up the opportunity to sit front row at Alcott’s match. After all, it is the only way I can see him play because mainstream TV minimises para-sport broadcasting!

Image borrowed: Victorian Institute of Sport, Athletes profile, Dylan Alcott.

16106174_10154127497870868_1400488620_o.jpgMeet The Writer: Caz Morton 

Adopted by Grace, adopted from Sri Lanka.
Past handstand queen & proud member of the fashion police.
Recovering spinal and sternum injuries.
Youth and children’s pastor in Wagga.
Follow@jeanellen on Instagram

Painting as I enter 2017

My prayer for 2017 is Jeremiah 17:7-8; that each day I will place my trust and confidence in the creator, like a tree planted by a stream. May I continue to grow and bear fruit, even in the metaphorical heat! Praise the Lord for 2016; a year of mercy, grace, blessings, mourning, sorrow, growth and transformation.

#2017 #2016 #newyear #art #arttherapy #jeremiah1778 #faith #personalgrowth #spirituality

Book Review: The Call to Personhood (A. I. McFadyen)

Book Review for my MA(Min) subject, Theological Anthropology.

McFadyen, A.I. The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

The Call to Personhood is an exploration into how the ‘personhood’ of persons is formed and transformed through personal relationships with one another. A personal relationship is when at least two, autonomous and independent partners engage with each other, freely and without coercion. McFayden proposes that we cannot understand what it truly means to be a person based only on our internal independence as our “personal identities are moulded through our relationships”[1]. Therefore, we can only understand our personhood in the context of our inter-personal relationships.

We find McFayden’s thesis in between individualism and collectivism. He does this by proposing a ‘third option’ that accounts for an individual’s the autonomy and personal freedom while acknowledging the influence of relationships and institutions have on a human being. McFayden builds his argument through exploring the theological and anthropological concepts of the image of God, human ontology, free will, gender, and how they contribution to a relational understanding of personhood.

Image of God

McFayden explains that humankind being ‘made in God’s image,’ (Gen. 1:26-27) refers to the relational nature humanity shares with the triune creator. He proposes that the Trinity is a unique community, characterised by unity-in-diversity and mutuality. Each person in the Godhead shares in their divinity, while unique in their distinct in their role, Father, Son and Spirit. He argues that Humans then mirror this unique community when we openly communicate and interact with one another in various relationships.

However, God’s priority in creation was not the horizontal relationship between persons, but the vertical one between humanity and himself. According to McFayden, God created humans to be his ‘dialogue-partners,’ and addresses us so. As language is the universal form of communication, dialogue is McFayden’s preferred method of relationship. Therefore, it is through being a dialogue-partner with God and other humans that one can be a person, made in the image of God, in the truest sense. And the only way to have an undistorted relationship with God and other is through a restored dialectical conversation with Christ.

Ironically, for a Christian thesis based on communication and relationship with God, there is little said of prayer. The Call To Personhood would have contributed more to the discussion by addressing individual and corporate prayer.

While McFayden adequately explains the relational side of both God and humanity, he neglects the ‘dominion’ aspect of God’s image. That is, that God created humanity, under His authority, to rule over and look after the rest of God’s creation. Addressing this would have strengthened McFayden’s contribution to the field of theological anthropology.

Human Ontology and Free Will

McFayden firmly states that being ‘made in God’s image’ is the primary ontological structure of a person. Therefore, in light of God’s ‘address’ to humanity, the primary ontological construct of humanity is relationship and responsibility. That is, persons have a responsibility in how they respond to God’s address.

‘Free will’ is understood as autonomy and the freedom to reject or accept the invitation to be God’s dialogue-partner. At Creation humanity was created with an autonomous and ‘primal letting-be,’ which became independent in the fall. McFayden’s definition of sin is then a person’s refusal to reciprocate God’s call into a relationship with Him and by extension, the closure of communication with other individuals. As being made in God’s image is humanity’s primary ontological structure, we did not completely lose that image due to sin. Humanity’s misuse of freedom that has merely distorted our response and responsibility and as a result, restoration is possible.

McFayden offers a Semipelagian understanding of Grace and salvation. God’s extended the offer of a redeemed relationship with humanity through Jesus, who was not just the messenger of God’s Word but also the Word himself. Human beings then have the ‘choice’ to accept God’s offer or not.

Gender

McFayden develops his idea of a man reflecting God’s image through gender. His most insightful thought on the topic is when he explains that Adam’s ‘helper’ (Gen. 2:18) Eve, being made from his rib, is not a sign that she is his ‘subordinate assistant.’ Rather, Eve enables Adam to understand their interdependence and that the completeness of personhood is in a community. Adam being asleep reveals that Eve’s creation was fully God’s work.

McFayden acknowledges the distinction between sexes and explores how the sexual and dialogical relationships between each mirror God. However, gender differences are not explored outside of biology.

McFayden never suggests that these communities are exclusive to man and woman. The primary focus is not on gender, rather a discussion on how all types of relationships influence identity and the need to mirror God’s invitation of Grace through the development of ideal relationships. These ideal relationships never grow through coercion but mutual, genuine and open communication.

Community

The Call To Personhood suggests that the more open and dialogical conversations an individual has, the closer bond they form to communities, and as a result increases their development as unique individuals. McFayden’s thesis encourages the contemporary church to consider the following implications

A church should find its identity in its patterns of communication; therefore, a church must be a community that reveals to the world a “genuine response [accepting a relationship with God] to a genuine call [God’s address to humanity through Jesus].”[2] Unfortunately, McFayden doesn’t offer practical suggestions, as to how a church community goes about considering and evaluating their ability to listen and respond to both divine and human words when they meet.

As sin manifests as the partial or full closure of communication with other persons, the church should be modelling the process of developing mutual, dialogical and open relationships. McFayden includes the importance of forgiveness for interpersonal relationships as well as responding to Jesus’ call to care for the vulnerable. He suggests we can do this by creating ways for those with diminished communicative capacities not to be objectified, but rather, engage with them as subjects of conversation to maintain their dignity.

Through the exploration of these ideas, McFayden challenges Christians to consider political and ethical issues regarding mutuality vs. coercion, the power and influence in asymmetrical relationships and promoting healthy relationships and community development.

Although The Call To Personhood is not an easy book to read and is very theoretical, it challenges people living in an individualistic society to rethink the way relationships affect the personhood of each individual. McFayden encourages us to understand our personhood truly by accepting God’s invitation to be His dialogue-partner and offering the same invitation to the others.

[1] A.I. McFadyen, The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships (Cambridge University Press, 1990), 18.

[2] Ibid., 62.