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Archive for Women of Faith

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.

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.

A Rambling Awkward Post

My back went out again, so I’ve spent the weekend in bed and on the couch, trying to move as little as possible, avoid deep breaths, and rest up so I can get through the next 3 days of the insanity that is the Book Fair. Did you know boxes of books are heavy? Yeah. They are. And with both my assistant and I with back injuries, it was an interesting time getting the book fair decorated and set up, and now staffing it. This is my first time running a book fair. It’s fun, but it’s incredibly exhausting.

It’s been good to rest this weekend, but that means I didn’t make it to church. Heck, I haven’t left the house since I got home from work Friday evening. Church: to be honest, that’s still a struggle for me. I still don’t fit at my church here. Which I know isn’t really the point, that it’s meant to be a coming together of a lot of people who “don’t fit” together but can love one another because God first loved us (I John 4:19). I’m trying. Well, when I can move, I’m trying.

My brain is so full right now. I realize I’m not my best when I have to make a ton of decisions all at once. Figuring out the logistics of the book fair, end of school stuff, end of this GriefShare session, summer travel plans, a conference at which I’ll be taking part in recorded panel sessions, book club, prayer group, writer’s group, getting a Real ID and renewing my passport, budgeting for summer (when I don’t get paid), birthdays, and visits to and from friends, well . . . it’s a lot to keep straight in a brain while on pain medication.

My poor blog has been the casualty of my busy life and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m still struggling to find direction in writing. I want to write. But when I’m happy and busy, I don’t really have as much to write about as I do when I’m dissatisfied and have tons of time. I suppose that’s a rather normal thing for humans – we love to rant when we’re unhappy, but don’t feel the need as much when we are doing okay.

But I want my readers to see this side of me, the side that might be in pain and overwhelmed but is still doing just fine. The side that, in this moment at least, trusts God with her future. The part of me that has already grieved my singleness and my childlessness and has moved forward to find a new normal that includes looking ahead to my future with less fear and sadness, and more joy and excitement even though I have no idea what will happen. The part of me that revels in my single life.

So I’ll leave you with this rambling, raw post today. I’ll try to write more frequently again, but am booked solid from now to the end of June so I might post on days other than Monday more often. I hope you’ll stick with me through the busy season ahead.

The Condescending View of Christian Singles Wasting their Lives

I know I’ve been away from my blog for a few weeks, which makes me feel bad. Then I start to think of how lazy I am, how undisciplined, until I realize that I’ve just been rather busy lately, that’s all. Busy working, ministering, and doing fun things with family, which is pretty awesome. Mum and I went to Disneyland a few weekends ago, then took a serendipitous trip to San Diego for a weekend which included staying in an ever-so-slightly-sketchy Airbnb and a St. Patrick’s Day Irish Festival. And then there was WonderCon with my sister and bro-in-law last weekend. So of course I then think I should be blogging on weeknights instead of watching Britbox shows, until I remind myself that I have prayer group and GriefShare and babysitting and family dinners almost every weeknight. Perhaps I’m less lazy than I think I am, but rather am just having too much fun living my life?

Reflecting on this made me think of all the other single Christian men and women I know who are out living their lives to the fullest; they’re busy working, ministering, loving friends and family, traveling, and enjoying the life God’s given them. This isn’t exactly the picture we often get of Christian singles, and sometimes it even takes me awhile to wrap my head around the fact that my life didn’t go remotely the way I’d hoped it would, and yet I am happy, I am satisfied.

I think back to many of the conference sessions I’ve heard preached to singles with the main message of “don’t waste this valuable time of your life waiting around!” Like singleness is this temporary state we treat like a waiting room for the rest of life. I believe I’ve even spoken and written on similar things. And I have actually known some single men and women who were so focused on the need to get married, that they put off careers, education, and ministry opportunities only to spend much of their time miserably waiting for a spouse who may not even exist.

But today, when I realized just how busy I’ve been out and about doing things, I thought about all the other single men and women I know who are my age or older and realized they’re all out living life too! I actually couldn’t think of one single Christian friend who is “wasting their singleness” at this point in our lives. To be honest, once you’ve been single long enough, you either have to settle and marry someone you probably shouldn’t, throw Christian celibacy out the window and embrace relationships that don’t necessarily glorify God, or just get on with your life as a single person. After awhile, you just can’t sit around being sad about being single anymore. You have to work. You have to have somewhere to live. You need other people in your life to survive so you’ve had to find some community. You just get on with things.

This idea that the main thing we need to tell singles is not to waste this valuable time, I’ve realized, is rather condescending. Most singles I know are busy doing incredible things for humanity: they’re nurses or administrators in war torn and famine ridden countries with organizations like Doctors without Borders, they’re teachers and librarians raising the next generation of kids, they’re caring for elderly parents, they’re completing grad school, they’re helping deaf people hear again, they’re buying homes, they’re planting churches, they’re baking delicious food, they’re taking other widows to their doctors’ appointments, they’re adopting pets, they’re dedicated flatmates and friends, they’re raising their children on their own, they’re leading support groups and prayer meetings, they’re founding ministries and organizations, they’re interviewing for dream jobs over and over again, they’re influencing nephews and nieces and godchildren, they’re texting encouraging things to friends who are struggling with marriage or parenthood, they’re doing IT support and training for missionaries or they are the missionaries themselves, they’re counseling younger Christians, they’re writing books and leading conferences, they’re busy doing what the Lord would have them to do. Seriously, I know single people doing each of the things listed here – these are real examples.

When most of the people speaking to singles are married men and women, their main reference for what singleness is like comes from their late teens-early 20’s, the few adult years of their own lives before they were married. They assume they know what singleness is actually like because they were once single for like a minute. Their frame of reference for singles is often stuck in a time of life when we are all figuring out who we are and what we’re doing, when we’re all a bit more transient, and bit more unsettled and confused.

And yes, during that time in my life, my hopes for marriage were strong, the dream of a spouse and kids and all that were still alive. This did, at times, lead to feelings of discontentment and fear, especially as my 20’s turned into my 30’s. And yes, I did have some friends who seemed to let this overwhelm them, this desire for marriage became their main goal. And, for a few of them, I saw this paralyze them or lead them away from God. But, looking back, most of us just got on with it. We got on with life, work, and ministry. Because we had to. I mean, who really has the luxury to “waste” that time of their life? What other option did we have?

And now that my 30’s have turned into my 40’s, I’m less discontent, less fearful, and less concerned about the possibility of marriage than ever before. I can look back and see that not one year of my life has been “wasted,” and neither have most of my single friend’s years. We are, most of us, much more settled in who we are and what God would have us do. Ephesians 2:10 says “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If our main goal is to glorify God, to do his will, then our lives will never be “wasted” because he’s got plans for us. He’s got good works all ready for us to do. Single. Married. Parents. Childless. Energetic. Exhausted. Healthy. Disabled. It doesn’t matter. God still has good works prepared beforehand for each of us which we will be capable of doing, by his grace.

Instead of underestimating singles, instead of assuming most singles need to be reminded not to waste this time, as if it’s some temporary reprieve from responsibility, full of free time and endless opportunity, we all need to remember that singles grow up just like everyone else does. 30 year old singles will be different from 20 year old ones, and now at 40, I’m even more different – I hope I’m more mature, a bit more wise, and a bit more free in Christ. And my mother, in her second-singleness as a widow, has also grown as a single person now that she’s in her second decade of singleness after my dad’s death.

Instead of treating all singles like we’re college students sleeping in all day during summer vacation, shirking any ministry opportunities, dating around irresponsibly with a fear of commitment, putting our lives on hold until our “perfect mate” shows up out of the blue, let’s see singles as full and complete humans who will mature, like everyone else, as we age and experience life. Let’s see singles as individuals who are different and complex. Let’s stop the condescending view of singles as struggling with waiting for life to happen and realize, while lots of Christians were busy thinking that, most of us have been out there living our lives to the fullest, to the glory of God, for years, maybe even decades.

I’m Dreaming of Expanded Ministry Opportunities for Celibate Single Christians

The singles ministry is led by a male pastor in his early 30’s who happily married quite young, had three little kids, and thinks everyone else should follow his example. The women’s retreat speaker has been married for 20 years and all of her illustrations refer to being a wife and mother. The high school youth group is run by a still-in-seminary early-20-something man who just got married two years ago, and his newly pregnant wife who helps out. The Women’s and Children’s Ministry Directors are married women with children who home schooled their kids and never had careers outside of the home. The break-out session at the parenting conference for single parents is facilitated by a middle aged married couple who blended their families from previous marriages. The entire paid counseling staff of the large church is made up of married men (a couple of women are available for an hour here or there as unpaid counselors who voluntarily counsel in the little spare time they can offer up). In fact, the entire pastoral staff is made up of married men.

When a single person does appear in paid ministry in these churches, it is usually an annoyingly energetic young man, currently in or freshly out of seminary, being groomed for future leadership in the church with the very strong expectation that they will soon get married and have kids,just like every other man on staff. A single young woman in a similar situation is never even a consideration.

This is the status quo of the churches in which I grew up and continue to be a part of. Every. Single. One of them. There may be an exception here or there in some more open minded churches, but for the vast majority of evangelicals, this is our experience.

In some denominations, most, if not all ministry is performed by single members of the clergy. Monks, priests, and nuns who took vows of service and celibacy led (and still lead) parishes and churches worldwide. They were and are respected, useful members of society and leaders in ministry. Yes, there are some who abused and continue to abuse this position (horribly and with lasting effect on those abused and the church itself), but this isn’t because they are single (married pastors are capable of just as much abuse as unmarried priests). The ability for ministers to marry is allowed in Scripture and has benefits of its own, so I get why the Protestant church pushed for that change in leadership policy. But instead of building a church body that allows married AND single men and women to minister in varied ways that utilize their skills and encourage spiritual growth across the board, the conservative evangelical church has relegated single Christians to the corners of ministry, especially single women.

Single women are encouraged to work in the nursery, or maybe the church office. Single men are encouraged to help out in youth group with the sporty stuff and help pass out the communion trays. Both are encouraged even more strongly to find Christian spouses and start “a family” as their main focus of ministry. And, for almost everything else, married men and maybe women will fill ministry roles.

So why is this? If I offered to speak at the next marriage conference, to married couples, about marriage, I’d be considered a bit nuts. So why is it that married people get to lead everything, even ministries specifically to singles? Why has marriage become a seminal part of the conscious or unconscious criteria for what it means to be a ministry-ready mature Christian? Christ was unmarried, as were Paul and Timothy and many other saints of the early church. It’s time to remember that.

Here’s what I’d like to see:

  • I’d love to see middle aged single men and women encouraged to lead the singles ministry, even hired (gasp!) to do so. If the main goal of the singles pastor is to get his parishioners married off, and to teach them how to be good future husbands and wives, then you’ve hired the wrong person for this job. If they view singleness as a temporary state to be raced through as quickly as possible, then assign them to a different ministry. We do not have singles leading married ministries, so why do we have married pastors leading singles?
  • I’d love to see youth groups invite dedicated, celibate, older-than-20-or-30-something single speakers when they discuss “purity culture” so there can be a balance to the whole “save sex until marriage” and “your virginity is for your husband/wife” message. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our teenagers realized that not everyone is actually going to get married? And that marriage isn’t actually the only way to honor God? And that celibacy is not punishment, but a form of worship? Only a single speaker can convincingly make this argument, not a married one.
  • I’d love for the next women’s retreat or conference to headline a single woman speaker rather than just have one break-out session (if any) for the singles that focuses on not wasting this valuable time until marriage (with eventual marriage assumed, of course). Let’s have sermons by women where being a wife and mother fills 10% of the illustrations instead of 100%, just every once in awhile to remind the other women that probably over 50% of adults in church actually aren’t married. Let’s have single male speakers at men’s conferences too, who can shift the focus from godly man=husband/father to godly man=godly man.
  • I’d love for every church that has a counseling program to hire a full time female counselor on staff, and why not some single ones while we’re at it? See, most of the people who turn to churches for counsel are women. And by most, it’s like 80%. Sadly, due to our culture’s weird view of masculinity, men don’t tend to ask for counseling. It’s tragic, really. But this does mean that more women are coming to churches for counseling, and most churches only have male pastors on staff to help them. They may have a few women who volunteer to counsel in between their jobs and kids and everything else, but our time is always limited, and we rarely get paid for it meaning we can’t offer as much. And, when women are not on staff at churches, the elder board will actually have zero clue what needs the women of the church actually have because they have no voice at the table. Single counselors would be awesome too, as we have a lot to offer!
  • I’d love for the next parenting conference to host a break-out session by a single teacher who can help them speak to their kids about the possibility that Prince Charming or their Disney Princess may not exist. Parents need to know that God may have chosen a path of singleness for their children, that they may not get grandkids, and that this, if it is God’s will, is truly beautiful and fine and good. Parents need to be told that putting undue pressure on their kids to find a spouse and “settle down” (as if all singles are unsettled???) is not showing trust in God. They need to know that it’s okay for them to pray for their kids’ future spouses, as long as they’re also praying for God’s will which may actually not include a spouse at all.
  • I’d love for Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries to hire single male and female professors to teach and mentor and for churches to hire full-time single Christians on staff. The next generation of Christians needs to see there are valuable places in the Christian community for singles. They need mentors who can minister differently. They need a variety of voices and perspectives pointing to the same God, using the same Scripture, loving the same body of Christ. They need to see that singleness can be used for the glory of God, that committed celibate singleness is respected, and that life is not over if you can’t find a spouse.

Inclusion of mature, dedicated, celibate single Christians is even more important in a time when we demand that same-sex attracted Christians remain celibate for life, closing themselves off to the possibility of any kind of traditional family, or marry someone they are not attracted to. We expect a woman who has never been sought after as a wife to remain faithful to God alone and find her fulfillment in Him instead of being a wife and mother, even when we preach that a woman’s highest calling is to be just that. We look at older single men in the church with suspicion. We demand a difficult commitment to purity and service, yet relegate singles to second-class status with few opportunities for Christian vocation, little respect, no possibility of paid ministry, no voice in church leadership, and ultimately a life on the fringes of the community that is meant to be our family.

The church is meant to be made up of all image bearers of God; this includes both men and women, people of every tongue and race, all socioeconomic backgrounds,  and it should also include singles as well as married Christians. If any of these are lacking, then the church is bound to not even realize the gaps in who they are not able to serve. The blind spots will be insurmountable because they won’t even know they exist. It’s time for singles to be involved in every aspect of church life, including leadership.