One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea of suffering. This has not been brought on because of personal suffering. I am in a season right now where I don’t feel a lot personal suffering. But I have had many seasons where I have. This was especially true when I was single.
What has brought on these thoughts is that I have friends who have suffered and I’ve seen a lot of confusion in the singleness arena about the idea of suffering. For example there is the idea that celibacy is too great a cross to bear. That it is unfair that we are asking those who are not called to Celibacy for the Kingdom to suffer. The idea that it is unfair to ask those who are unmarried and wish to be or those that are celibate due to the fall of man, to remain celibate is to ask them to suffer unfairly.
I want to offer a few thoughts here about suffering in general and then bring it back to singleness.
Many of you may remember the movie Jerry Maguire. In it Jerry is a sports agent and his assistant Dorothy falls in love with him. Jerry at first loves her but isn’t what one might call “in love” with her.** But at the end, Jerry realizes that he and Dorothy belong together. He goes to her and says, “You complete me.” They live happily ever after.
Now from a theological standpoint, there’s all sorts of things wrong here. As I’ve mentioned over and over here, what we often do in Christian culture is just take secular beliefs and dress them up into Christian ones. For example we take the romantic idea of the one, dress it up and turn it into the “one God has for us.” These examples go on and on.
But today I want to talk about the idea of two people completing each other. We talk about this all the time. Many times we hear how a person couldn’t be who they are without their spouse. We talk about how a person couldn’t do the ministry work they do without their spouse.
You may have seen in the news that a man recently “married” a hologram. Yes you read that right. A hologram. Now before you get all judgmental here please listen to the man. Akihiko Kondo points out that, “I believe that the shape of happiness and love is different for each person.” Does this sound familiar?
I’m not here to bash Kondo today. What I want to do with this post is discuss a couple of things. 1. We are careening off the rails as a culture and 2. What should it look like as the church to stand in the middle of it.
I see a lot of people these days critiquing the so called prosperity gospel. This prosperity gospel takes several forms and extremes. Sometimes it’s used to suggest that if I do certain things then God will give me worldly prosperity. For example if I tithe then God will give me a lot of wealth. Or if I give my life to Jesus, then my life will go the way I want it to. The idea is that doing what God wants will alleviate my suffering in this world sort of runs counter to the idea of picking up my cross.**
This is of course not true. Now it is true that God rewards faithfulness. It’s important as we critique the prosperity gospel peddlers that we not lose that truth. Otherwise we’d have to toss out a lot of scripture. But God doesn’t promise rewards in the way that we often like to see them. That’s the key distinction.
The other night I was perusing some old videos of a great teacher named Bishop Fulton Sheen. He is actually really entertaining. In this particular video he was talking about the difference between nice people and awful people. At one point he said this, “A nice person who drinks too much is an alcoholic. An awful person who drinks too much is a drunkard.” It’s funny and it’s brilliant.
One of the things I’ve tried to help guys with here over the years is the idea that your goal is not to be a nice guy. In fact I’ve said that you need to just quit being the nice guy. I’ve talked about avoiding the nice guy trap. I’ve talked about how women say, “He’s a nice guy but . . . ” when talking about a guy they are not attracted to.The bottom line is that women are not attracted to nice guys. I’ve shared all of this from the perspective as a guy who has in the past, and in fact still, struggles with being the nice guy.
This is the last post in a series about what it might look like to make the church unmarried friendly. We’ve talked about why this is so important for the future of the church and why it matters in the big picture. Last time we talked about the theological side of being a church that welcomes 66% of folks who don’t go to church – the unmarried. Today I want to get practical
The question you need to ask is what is the user experience for a single at your church? Here’s what I can tell you experientially; I was single until I was nearly 41 years old and one of the hardest places to go was church. The experience was mostly not good.
So what does it look like, or maybe a better way of saying it, what could it look like?
In the last couple of posts I’ve been trying to make the point that if we want to do evangelization in the current western culture we have to have the unmarried in mind. Two thirds of those that don’t attend church are unmarried. I’ve asked the question, is your church unmarried friendly. The obvious answer for most of us is no. So what would it look like if it were? Today I want to take a stab at the beginning of the answer to that.
There are at least two parts to this. First there is a belief side. This is the broader, overall view that we need to have in mind. It includes theology but also practical belief. The second part is the practices part. What does it look like fleshed out. What are some best practices that make the unmarried feel welcome? Assuming correct theology and practical belief, how do we put it into practice?
Today we’ll look at the first part. In my next blog we’ll take a stab a the practical implications.
As you may know, Christians around the world are being persecuted at a high level right now. I saw an interesting article about what one political group in India wants to do. They want to sterilize Christians as well as Muslims. You read that right. Confess your faith, be sterilized.
According to the article:
“Deva Thakur, vice president of the radical Hindu Mahasabha Party, has called for the forced sterilization of Indian Christians and Muslims. The radical leader also called on Hindus to have more children in order to counter the rise in India’s Christian and Muslim populations.”
Needless to say, this is an inhumane and terrible idea. But it sort of raised some thoughts for me about things we’ve talked about here in regards to the church and the family of The Kingdom, vs. the church of the nuclear family idol.
The real question is this, can you breed out Christianity? It’s actually a really, really interesting question. The answer is of course no. But it’s not as simple as even I might like it to be.
For the last several years we’ve been hearing from all sorts of places about how millennials are leaving or have left the church. In reality at some level church membership and attendance is down across all generations.
This gallup report shows a lot of interesting statistics about church membership. The bottom line however is that it has dropped significantly over the last 20 years. Not only that, but when we look at millennials (those born from 1980-2000 – those aged 19-39), they have lower numbers than previous generations had at their age. Only 42% of millennials are church members.
While the number of millennials who claim a religion at all is lower at 68% than the average of all Americans (77%) their church membership is even lower.
Now we could list a lot of reasons for the drop in church membership – not only for the millennials but for the country as a whole. But there is one reason that I’ve tried to hammer here over and over and yet no one seems to recognize it. That is, that single people, by and large, don’t go to church.
One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately as I’ve been reading some scripture is idea of choice in the face of different contexts. The particular scripture that started this thought was 1 Peter 2:13-20. Here Peter instructs even servants to submit to their masters. . . even the bad ones.
Now obviously our culture and history has a lot of impact on how we read that. But Peter’s point isn’t that slavery is good. Or that unreasonable masters are ok. The point is that regardless of my circumstances and context, I’m called to act as Christ would. Peter and the early Church Fathers backed this up with their lives. They actually did endure extreme injustice with joy. In reading their writings, and writings about them, you can’t really help but be amazed by it all.
This is true for every area of our lives of course. Our income level, our job, what country and situation we live in. But for the sake of this blog it also relates to singleness, dating and marriage.