understanding what it means to be single

In case you missed it, we are right in the middle of Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Psych Central has an excellent post about changing our understanding of what it means to be single. While a national singles week may seem slightly silly, consider: 44.1 percent of all U.S. residents 18 and older in 2012 were unmarried. When a demographic representing half the population is generally marginalized or even ignored, a bit of consciousness-raising may be in order.

“We need it because we are shorted on the 1,136 federal benefits, protections, and privileges that are available only to people who are legally married. We need it because there is housing discrimination and there are tax penalties and pay disparities linked to marital status.

“We need it because our educational institutions – those colleges and universities that should be at the leading edge of scholarship and critical thinking – have been just as smitten by the marital mythology as the rest of society. Those bastions of higher learning are filled with courses, degree programs, textbooks, journals, endowed chairs, research funding and all the other components of the intellectual industry that is the study of marriage.”

This is equally misrepresented by The Church. Just yesterday I received an email claiming that healthy marriages lead to healthy churches. This is a pretty good example of unnecessarily prioritizing marriage by overlooking a simple spiritual truth: healthy disciples (single or married) lead to healthy churches – and as a bonus – to healthy marriages. Yes, healthy marriages are important in the life of a church. You get them by growing committed disciples, married or not.

“We need it not just for the privileges and protections but also for the opportunities to give and to care. Because I am single and don’t have any children, no one can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for me if I fall ill…I also can’t take time off under the same Act to care for a person who is important to me, such as a sibling, a nephew, or a close friend.

“We are doing more than our share. In some significant ways, more of the work of holding together our networks, families, and communities, sustaining intergenerational ties, and caring for people who cannot care for themselves is done by single people than by married people.

“Follow the finger of married people as they point to an important person in their life and you will end up staring at a spouse. Follow the finger of a single person and you may find yourself gazing at a close friend or a sibling or cousin or a mentor or a neighbor.”

Dr. DePaulo’s post provides an insightful look at being single in today’s culture. Tomorrow I’ll try to complement that with a look at what it means to be single and a follower of Jesus in today’s Church.

not yet a hallmark holiday

So break out the champagne – it’s Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Yes, according to a news release from the U.S. Census, Sept. 15-21 has been set aside “to celebrate single life and recognize singles and their contributions to society.” Can I get a big “Whroo-hoo!”?

It’s nice to be – um – singled out for making a contribution to society. (Look! You don’t have to be married and you can still be successful!) Lots of celebrities are single. All those 20-something movie stars who dated someone for 9 months and have been “single” for 2. And Oprah. Although to be honest I think dating someone for almost 30 years should probably disqualify you.

Or consider the contributions of famous historical figures who were single: Florence Nightingale, Thoreau, Beethoven, Emily Dickinson. I like to think of Mary, who was a single woman when she became pregnant with the Savior of the world. Um… Jesus… let’s get real: in a culture where teenagers married, he had to be the odd old bachelor in the family. The Apostle Paul – whose words “wives, submit” we hold much higher than, say… his words “it’s better to be single.” Not so many sermons on that.

I’ll be posting some other thoughts on this subject amongst the revelry this week.

interview on social media church

Several weeks ago I was contacted by DJ Chuang about participating in his Social Media Church podcasts. If you’re somehow still unaware of this incredible resource, go and bookmark it now. DJ is curating interviews and thoughts about the use of social media within the Church, from all kinds of perspectives: communications, web, tech, marketing and more.

Our conversation is part of Episode 53: 4 Levels of Social Media Engagement. DJ and I go way back to “when blogging was big.” I remember meeting him at a conference and asking if he would be live-blogging the sessions. (Remember live-blogging? Who could listen and write coherent paragraphs at the same time? Uhh…not me.) He said he was trying a new thing called Twitter and would be “tweeting” the sessions. I made a mental note to find out what that meant.

So in Episode 53 we talk a little about blogging and social media, along with some of the how’s and why’s of what we’re doing at Eastside. I’m always happy to talk about my church.

Perhaps more importantly the podcast begins with thoughts about the 4 Levels of Social Media Engagement. DJ refers to some tech friends of mine, Van Metschke and Mike Sessler, who provide an amazing church resource called Church Tech Arts. The 4 levels provide some really good thinking on social media engagement.

Thanks DJ, for bringing it all together.

5 things to do when God is silent

There will come a time in the life of every believer when God is silent. Notice I didn’t say “when it seems God is silent,” though we might be more comfortable with that. It’s easier to blame ourselves than to point fingers at the Creator of the Universe. But the Bible is full of instances when people cried out to God with no answer (Psalm 22:2, 13, 77, and 88, just to name a few).

The truth is, times of spiritual dryness actually mean that God is paying attention to us – specifically working in us to help us grow and become more like Christ. You can read more explanation here about what’s actually happening during these times. But this post is about what you can do if you find yourself alone in the silence.

1. Pay attention to what God said to you before. The Bible is his words and they’re unchanging. Take time to review verses that connected with you before. And remind God of his promises. I call them “You Said” prayers, as in, “You Said you would never leave me or forsake me.” “You Said seek and I’ll find.”

2. Seek wise counsel. Don’t try to get through these difficult times alone. But you do have to be careful about who you choose to confide in. It’s possible for well-meaning friends to comment on your spiritual situation in a way that’s unintentionally hurtful. (Think Job’s famous friends.) Find a spiritually mature friend, advisor, or pastor who can encourage and pray with you through this season.

3. Try to discern what you need to learn. Where are you most uncomfortable or stressed? God may be trying to grow you in very specific areas of your life. Things like bitterness, a bad temper, impatience, guilt, or control might rise to the surface. When I was in this season, there were two long weeks when every time I had a mental complaint my very next thought was “that’s because you’re selfish.” Pray about relinquishing whatever that is to Him.

4. Rather than focus on what to do, focus on who to be. It may involve spending time on the quality from #3 above. And your temptation will be to do things like get busy and read the Bible more, buy and read books on this subject (that one might be just me), physically get on your knees to pray, and put worship music on auto repeat 24/7. None of these things are wrong, but be cautious about making noise just to fill the silence.

5. Check out a spiritual formation lecture. If you want to further study how and why God is working during this time, Biola University offers some lectures on spiritual formation online for free. Their Institute for Spiritual Formation is world class.

brands that create meaningful lives

Fast Company recently posted an article, A Successful 21st Century Brand Has to Help Create Meaningful Lives. An enormous study of how consumers around the world interact with brands finds that only the companies that make life better for consumers create impactful connections.

I’m always intrigued when culture begins to understand something the Church has been doing for centuries.

Understand that I’m not advocating for “consumer church.” In the above title, there’s a huge difference in my mind between “makes life better” and creating “impactful connections.” The first often takes the form of a prosperity or “name it and claim it” Gospel, in which God wants to improve your life and make you successful. The second – creating impactful connections – is what we’re focused on 52 weekends a year: to first create meaningful connections for guests with people in our church, and ultimately with Christ.

“It’s a simple question of philosophy. ‘CEOs are painstakingly trained to deliver outputs: stuff like slightly better sneakers, phones, or cars. And that’s exactly the problem, not the solution,’ says Haque. ‘Because what people are really looking for are outcomes: the real human benefits those outputs results in. … If you’re still seeing your business essentially as a giant factory producing outputs, instead of as a system that creates real, positive human outcomes–you’re still stuck in the industrial age, while the rest of the world, especially your customers, are beginning to take a quantum leap into what I call a human age–an era where a life meaningfully well lived is what really counts.'”

We’ve talked about this before. Sometimes we focus more on “outputs” – our individual seeker-friendly, artsy, fun, hipster, social justice-focused styles – rather than outcomes. Instead our focus should be on the only reason any of us are in ministry in the first place: the outcomes of a life forever changed by Jesus: restored marriages, addicts set free, the lost found, broken hearts overflowing with love, disciples who in turn connect him with others.

I’m incredibly fortunate to work at a church where I regularly hear people say (tweet, post, instagram), “I love my church!” and “I feel at home here.” These are people finding Jesus. Discovering grace. And that is the key difference between the Church and a corporation: rather than devising ways to bring meaning to a consumer’s life with the sale of a product, all we really have to do is be who we are. A family. Living lives of meaning together as loved children of the King.

the way of confusion

I’m not all that comfortable with confusion. As an ENTJ I’m prone to over-analyzing, and attempting to really nail things down so everyone in my same time zone can also be perfectly clear, just to be on the safe side.

As Christians, in my experience, we tend to believe confusion is bad. It implies I may be out of God’s will, that somehow I misunderstood his clear direction and leading in my life. “God is not a God of confusion!” we quote warningly. We feel a vague suspicion we’ve done something wrong, a fear that somehow, somewhere along the line we got off track.

But what if confusion is the right track? In spite of my discomfort with confusion, I’ve frequently found myself in situations that weren’t what I expected. We all experience times when things don’t seem to be working out the way we’d anticipated, when we perhaps prayed and sought wise counsel and very clearly saw God’s direction in a specific situation that inexplicably turned out to be a dead end. We don’t understand. We are confused. So our “Help Me” prayers gradually turn into “Why, God?” prayers, which of course lead to the somewhat panicked “Show me what to do!” prayers. Aside from the omniscience thing, sometimes I think God must find us terribly predictable.

Oswald Chambers explains it this way:

“There are times in spiritual life when there is confusion, and it is no way out to say that there ought not to be confusion. It is not a question of right and wrong, but a question of God taking you by a way which in the meantime you do not understand, and it is only by going through the confusion that you will get at what God wants.”

God is not a God of confusion, but in this life it’s easy to misread people and situations and even our own intentions. And in our confusion we can turn to him as a God of Love, whom we can trust implicitly to get us where he wants us to be.