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Author Archive for The Awkward Spinster

An Awkward Spinster Has All the Thoughts as Summer Ends

With one week left of summer vacation, I think my mind is trying to process all the things it’s been pondering this summer. Things like women’s roles in the church, how best to help those suffering through grief and loss, the effects of institutionalized racism on my bookshelves, the awesomeness of graphic novels that work for kids and adults, the joy of supporting art, and how to be both firm yet gracious. I can ponder forever, but coming to conclusions is another thing. So now that I’m down to just a few more days before my mind is filled almost entirely with the business of getting the library up and running for the school year, I’m trying to actually make some decisions based on the things on which I’ve ruminated for the past couple of months. 

On the role of women in the church, this video by N. T. Wright has had me thinking for days. It was suggested by female Anglican priest Tish Warren in an interview on Preston Sprinkle’s podcast “Theology in the Raw.” As this issue has been a concern of mine for literally my entire life, and as it is an issue that directly affects me as a woman in ministry, any conclusions I come to will probably take more time and study. If this is a topic of interest to you, please check out the video and let me know what you think. Comment below if you’d like to get a conversation going. It’s a complex issue, and one that is often considered “not a priority” (a direct quote from a pastor with whom I discussed this) by many churches as men are solely in leadership, thus think they are not directly affected by this (they are), think it’s clear (it’s not), or think it’s not that important (it is to the other 50% of the church).

Last night, I showed my mum the Anderson Cooper interview with Stephen Colbert, and we both cried a little. Colbert’s compassionate and authentic response to Cooper’s vulnerable questions on loss and grief was insightful, beautiful, and pointed to Christ. As I am gearing up to, once again, co-lead a grief group at my church, this interview will stay in my mind. Check it out. Discuss below.

This January, as I thought of what New Year’s Resolution I could make, I looked around my bookshelves and realized that the ratio of white authors to authors of color was not great. Though many of my favorite authors are men and women of color, I’m still not hearing their voices as often as white voices. And since I’m actually pretty angry with many of the white voices that can seem to screech the loudest in our culture, I thought I’d like to hear some perspectives that differ. At this moment, I’m in the middle of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” If the late, great, Toni Morrison said it’s “required reading,” I’m there. It’s beautiful, difficult, thought-provoking, and important. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts below. If not, perhaps you can join me in reading it and we can discuss together when we’re done. Which will probably be tonight, because I can’t put it down.

Another way I gear up for the school year is by reading some of the kid lit I’ll be introducing to my library this fall. I had heard great things about the graphic novel series by Ben Hatke, “Zita: the Spacegirl,” but never got around to reading them. I know this shocks most people, that an English major and librarian hasn’t read Every Single Book in Existence, but hey, there are A LOT of books out there, so we can’t read them all! Anyway, I stumbled across the Zita trilogy for a great price at one of my favorite Southern California used bookstores, BookMonster in Santa Monica, and snatched them up for my kiddos. I just read all 3 in 3 days because they are fun, amazing, and lovely. I can’t wait to get them into the hands of my students as soon as the school library is open for business this fall! I’ve also been told that “Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl” is even better, so I can’t wait to read it. Someday soon. When I have time and money again. (I don’t get paid during the summer, and yet somehow I still bought 3 bags full of stuff for my library, sigh.) Are there any other graphic novels I should stock in my TK-5th grade library? Let me know.

Something that reminded me of how much I love to support others’ art was the successful Kickstarter campaign of illustrator Seth T. Hahne. His American Lit series is brilliant, and I’ve now got both the Salinger and Fitzgerald pieces framed and hanging on my living room gallery wall and mailed off a bunch of the others to some literary geek friends. Check his work out, and buy some. You can also support my two favorite artists-who-are-related-to-me, my brother Joshua Kemble, and his wife Mai S. Kemble. Their work is incredible, objectively, with no bias on my part. Check them out and support your local artists! Are there other artists I should know about? Link to them in the comments.

Another idea that’s permeated my summer is how to stop seeing people as one big group with whom I’m upset (cough *evangelical Trump supporters* cough) and instead get back to seeing individuals. And, as silly as it may seem, I’ve been convicted by the depiction of G. K. Chesterton’s gracious, kind, clever, and firm Father Brown. Mum and I happily discovered that Season 7 is now streaming on Amazon Prime’s Britbox (yes, of course we have Britbox), with a new episode offered each week on Thursdays, I think. If I could be more like Father Brown, I think I’d be doing well. His ability to both treat people with respect and grace, yet hold people accountable for their sinful actions and desires, all while calling them to repentance and reminding them of Christ’s ever-present offer of forgiveness is astounding. Are you a Father Brownian? Let me know in the comments. 

I realize I’m ending this post with very few conclusions, and possibly may be giving you more questions, but I’m an educator so questions are my favorite tool! Let’s ponder these things, and more, together. After all, a single lady needs her community to share ideas, debate, and discuss. Have at it.

Star Wars Land and Summer Brain

My summertime brain is muddled and lazy – perhaps the result of actually getting a normal human sized amount of sleep for two days in a row? I’ve always wondered what I’d be like if I didn’t have lifelong insomnia, with the oh-so-humble suspicion that I’d be a genius, sharp minded with an incredible memory, driven, energetic, and even more productive. But now I’m starting to suspect a well rested me might just be too relaxed. Perhaps the caffeine-driven, slightly stressed out, exhausted me is the only one who can get things done?

All this to say I’m struggling, yet again, you write a coherent blog that is both interesting and holds some value. I tried writing about Joshua Harris kissing his marriage and God goodbye, but everyone and their mom have already tackled it, some well. Katelyn Beatty’s was the most interesting take to me. She brings up the danger of the “sexual prosperity gospel” that many Christians were taught growing up.

Instead of delving into the depths of purity culture or some other hot topic in the single Christian world today, my relaxed mind keeps wandering back to how awesome it was to fly in the Millennium Falcon with my sister, brother-in-law, and little brother last week. How much joy it brought me to wander through Black Spire Outpost, drinking a thermal detonator Diet Coke (it turns out I’m not a big fan of the Blue Milk) and falling in love with the baby Jabba plushies. Watching my little niece shout “No” and stomp her foot firmly when a stormtrooper asked her if she supports the First Order was hilarious. We were so proud.

I’ve also been able to enjoy spending time with some of my best female friends, starting with going for drinks and dessert with 3 of them at a local art deco themed bar on my 41st birthday. Earlier in the day, I’d gotten a fortune cookie that said “the evening promises romantic interests” (oo-er). In usual Awkward Spinster fashion, however, those interests were not for me. Instead, a couple got engaged in a little alcove behind me, with staff and customers looking on. But not really me, because they were behind me and it felt weird to awkwardly crane my neck at them. So good job, little fortune cookie! Next time I get a romantic one, I should post about it so my other single friends can hang out with me and get the benefits.

I also got to meet up for lunch or snacks a couple times with some of my favorite single women who’ve been in my life since college, or since my time in LA. Between these visits, and a long texting session with a dear friend who has recently gone through a horrible divorce so is a newly single mom, I’m reminded of how diverse the world of singletons is, and how strong you have to be to exist in it without bitterness and fear, and how important lasting friendships are.

Right, this is one of those rambly ones I threatened a few posts ago. I blame 8 hours of sleep. This is me, summer-brained and newly 41, enjoying a rare lazy moment before the craziness that is the rest of my summer and then school starting begins. I’m learning to embrace rest, or at least not feel guilty when I can get it. I’ve been working (oh, the irony at having to WORK at rest) on this since my time at L’Abri a few years ago. I feel like I should apologize for a less-than-stellar blog post, but I think I actually shouldn’t because summer brain is fine, and in the case of an insomniac who got sick and broken down from years of doing too much and rarely sleeping, summer brain is actually just what the doctor ordered.

So happy summer to you, I hope no matter how much work you have on your plate, you find moments to rest and let your brain get smooshy and relaxed. I hope you can carve out even one day where you throw away your to-do list and just exist. It’s lovely.

The Danger of Treating Singleness Like It’s a Practice Round

Today I listened to a brief podcast about singleness and read a couple articles targeting singles. They were all biblically accurate, all well-meaning, and all left me with the same concern: there was a subtle but pervasive insinuation that the point of singleness is to help us practice for a godly married life.

I don’t think that was the goal of either message, in fact, I think the people involved in creating these pieces would firmly say that is not the point of singleness. And yet, there it is, woven into phrases like “when a single woman learns to submit to and honor authorities God has placed in her life, earthly marriage will simply be an easier transition that had she not.” It takes the good message of singleness not being a “holding station for marriage” and turns it into just that by using words like “this season” or phrases like viewing “these unique single years as “super years” to serve God.”

To many, these words and phrases may seem helpful or at least neutral, but they reveal the deep down belief that singleness is a temporary phase of life before marriage. And, in fact, all of the women who wrote the articles I read and spoke on the podcast I listened to are now married. They may commiserate with singles because they were single until the ripe old age of 29, but for them, singleness truly was just a season. 

Since many Christian men and women who struggle with their singleness will end up married, what’s the big deal about teaching like this? For many, it is a season that passes, it is a unique stage of life that can be seen as a special, separate moment. My concern is that all of these lessons are particularly targeting singles, especially ones who would like to be married someday. And unless you truly believe that God has promised a spouse for each and every reader and listener (he hasn’t) then we need to be a bit more careful in our use of language when discussing singleness. 

This might seem overly critical or nit-picky, but as a kid who grew up in the purity movement of evangelical churches, words like these, subtle, pervasive words, are what stay in our heads as we grow older. Words reveal what we really believe. It’s easy for a now-married man or woman to look back on singleness and remember their own struggles with it. But looking back on it from the lens of a currently married person might make you forget one thing: some of us will never marry. Even some of us who passionately wish to. It’s easy to look back and say hang in there, use your time well, serve hard in this special season, etc. But what about when that season is your entire life? What about when it is no longer “unique” but it is everything?

Be careful about the words you use to describe singleness because if you give off the feeling that it’s merely a practice round for real life, that will affect both how the singles around you view their lives and how you see them. Do you look at your own single life like it’s just a phase to get through before things get better? Do you look at your single friends like they aren’t quite there yet? Like they’re still not totally grown up? 

I appreciate when married pastors and speakers include singles in their sermons, podcasts, and blogs. It’s nice to be seen, included, and appreciated because we so often are overlooked. I don’t want to seem ungrateful about these messages, which do hold good truths, because of a word here and a phrase there. But these words and phrases reveal a bigger issue in the church, that we still view singleness as something to be got through and moved on from. And for many of us, this is just rubbing salt into an open wound.

For me, singleness is not a season; there is nothing unique about this part of my life. It just IS my life. It might not be what I would have chosen, but it is the life God has chosen for me, and many others like me. It is the life God chose for many of his disciples and for himself on earth. It is a good life, a full one, and not just practice for marriage. Stop seeing singles at the caterpillar, and start to see the butterfly already there.

An Awkward Spinster’s Summer

June meant the end of school, a trip to south Florida, a conference, lack of sleep, and lots of rest. But mostly it meant time with people – time for listening and deep conversations, time for meals/drinks together and car talks, time for late night chats and quick hugs hello/goodbye. 

Right now I know I should write about my week in Florida visiting a dear friend I’ve known since grad school, getting to know her husband, borrowing their car to zip around the area and sight see, breakfasting with another friend from my undergrad days, experiencing the southern summer rain, and having incredibly deep conversations over Star Wars themed beer, or Peruvian/Cuban/Jamaican food, or tea and seeing way fewer Florida Man incidents than I was hoping for. 

Or I should write about the biblical counseling conference I went to near San Diego the day after I got back and how I got to catch up with people from grad school and my LA home church, how I got to take part in a filmed round table discussion possibly to be used by churches as soon as next year, how I met women in my field of ministry who are inspiring powerhouses of intellect, skill, and desire to help the church, and how mum and I managed to squeeze in some vacation time in Carlsbad and San Juan Capistrano in the evenings and on the way home.

Or I should write about my disgust for how our country is treating the vulnerable and voiceless, migrant families and refugee children, how much I struggle with the attitude of so many Christians I know toward the least of these, our neighbors, whom we’re supposed to love, and how I didn’t really miss church because of this while I was out of town.

Or I should write about taking the last week off to REST for once, but also fit in a meeting with the LA Inklings (my writer’s group), breakfast with a childhood friend, church with an old friend from high school, and some family time with the kiddos in our paddling pool in the backyard, and also how REST doesn’t necessarily equal SLEEP for an insomniac like me, especially during summer.

But my head is foggy, full of allergies and a rough night without sleep, and the typical educator’s summer vacation inability to focus. Every day these past three weeks the thought “I should write a blog post” has popped into my head at some point, and then has been shoved aside in favor of, well, all the things above. But if I keep doing that, I’ll never write again, so here I am rambling along in happy summary of my recent life with nothing much to report. 

God is good. Church is hard. Living in the desert is hot and makes sleeping even more difficult. Family is still worth it. Singleness is still bringing me joy (minus those fleeting moments when I wish I could snog that one guy I barely know and won’t see all summer anyway). Paddington Bear (the best westie ever) is snugglier than ever. My little loves fill my heart. Fourth of July means Stranger Things 3 with the besties. And I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.

Singleness In the Church Isn’t One Size Fits All

It’s disturbing to me, a very single 40 year old woman, to hear the much younger, married, male singles group pastor express his frustration with a young widow because she hasn’t started dating again and still has photos of her dead husband up all over her house which might discourage a new guy from being part of her life. When I asked him if she was even interested in dating at this point, or even remarrying ever, he looked confused and had no answers for me. When I stated that her husband was the father of her children, so she will have photos of him up in her house probably forever, he looked surprised. When I went on to say that perhaps she doesn’t want to remarry, he was stunned. He couldn’t imagine a world in which a single woman would want to remain single. Even in the midst of deep grief over the loss of her husband.

The GriefShare group I help facilitate is giving me a new perspective on singleness as many of its participants are widows and widowers of varying ages, some with children, some without. Since my widowed mother is and has been one of my best friends, this second singleness has always been a concern for me. One thing that comes up over and over again is how many people in churches think grief ends when a new relationship begins. That “moving on” is the goal of grief recovery (it’s not, moving forward is, there is no “moving on”) and this will be recognized as complete when there’s a second marriage.

One of my beloved widowers was telling our group that he hadn’t gone to church since his wife died. He said “I just can’t do it. It’s full of couples and families and I just don’t fit anymore.” This is where I stepped in and told him that this isn’t a true thought. The church is actually full of single people as well as couples and families. I reminded him that my mum and I, both single in different ways, go to first service each Sunday and he’s welcome to sit with us. I encouraged him to go, and look around more closely the next time and he’ll see quite a few singles either alone or with friends or families. The church is full of perpetual singles like me, widows and widowers like him, divorced men and women, single moms and dads, young singles who may or may not marry, even men and women who were married more than once and have lost more than one spouse. The body of Christ is made up of all types, not just the typical family. We just need to look more closely.

I understand why he feels this way though, I struggle with that feeling as well. I think it’s because the ideal held up of Christian life is husband, wife, and kids. From the pulpit (since every pastor I’ve ever had has been married with children) most examples of Christian living involves being married. Church leadership tends to be completely made up of married men, with perhaps one or two exceptions. We don’t often see an ever-single man or woman on stage, or a widow or widower, or a divorced and not remarried man or woman (even if it was a biblically allowed divorce). And, since we don’t see ourselves in leadership, nor hear our lot mentioned in most sermons, but see the opposite held up as the perfect Christian life, it’s easy to think we’re alone. And, since we’re often not involved in the leadership of the church as much, our voices aren’t represented so our concerns may not even be noticed or recognized.

This is such an odd state of things, considering the early church was founded by single people and the church, historically, held singles in high esteem. The entire catholic leadership model formed around single believers. The Protestant church has, sadly, not really found a place for celibate single Christians in our average churches. Again, there are exceptions, but it certainly is not the rule.

Singleness isn’t a one size fits all type of thing, so our churches shouldn’t treat it as such. The joke of most “singles ministries” is that most of the single people in a church won’t be included. Once you pass the age of 30, or you’ve been divorced, or your spouse dies, or you’re not actively looking for a spouse, you don’t fit into the singles ministry. Rather, all ministries should embrace singles – in women’s and men’s groups, in Bible studies, in Sunday School, in counseling ministries, in college groups and elderly groups. Sunday morning sermons should include examples that can apply to many different demographics, different types of singles included. Messages that end with applications should work for unmarried parishioners as well as married ones. And articles about singleness shouldn’t focus on the usual “don’t waste this season in your life” and “pray and wait for God to bring your meant-to-be-spouse to you.” There’s more to singleness, and more types of singleness. Let’s make sure we’re asking questions and listening to the singles in our churches so we can understand their specific circumstances, and learn to love and serve them better as one of the unique and varied children of God.