Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It's official - We are a species apart

I guess singles have finally arrived as a separte species or at least culture of humanity. This morning I was channel surfing. (Our church is sharing facilities temporarily and we don't have Sunday Morning services which I miss terribly) Anyway, I came in on the middle of some sort of "special report." It was one of those "What's it like" type of reports where the reporter goes out to experience life as some type of person that is exotic or odd like a fighter pilot, a disabled person in a wheelchair, the opposite sex or something. In this case, she was going to a football game - hold onto your seats, this will shock and possibly disturb you - ALONE!!!!!!!

Of course, she wanders around in the parking lot looking pathetic until a family "adopts" here. And somehow in spite of this unnatural experiment in singleness she ends up enjoying the game. Of course, she will never do it again I'm sure.

I'm watching this and thinking, is this what the rest of the world thinks about us. That we can't enjoy life without some guy (or woman) in tow. If I only went to things with people, I would never go anywhere. And I am not to be pitied or "adopted" by "normal" people who are there with friends, family or a date. I am complete in myself. Yet, .... yet.... yet.... I have gone to the play and sat looking at the other tables (dinner theatre) with everyone else there with someone and feeling left out. Not because I couldn't enjoy the play without another person sitting there, but because I felt that somehow I was substandard, abnormal, or unworthy to be there.

I sometimes wonder if that motivates many singles as much as a natural desire for companionship. Perhaps we are also motivated by a culture that makes going to a sporting event alone something worthy of national television coverage.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Why Committed Part 2 - Power of Commitment

I wrote this once before and then lost the text. Maybe it needs reworking.

One of the most important reasons for being a "committed" single is that it shifts your direction and goal in life.

Our commitments and decisions drive our futures. When you commit to marriage, your future changes. You begin to plan your life differently. You make plans (or you should) that take into account your spouse. If you are living life committed to finding a mate (whether you ever do or not), that affects how you pursue life as well.

What is ineffective in life planning is the lack of planning and the lack of commitment. Someone said "No one plans to fail, they just fail to plan." This is true in a lot of areas of life.

The idea that you just go ahead and just let a relationship either happen or not without caring one way or another is not only irresponsible, it's also impossible. If you question people who claim this is how they deal with it, you find out that they usually are hoping to find that great person, they just are unsure they ever will.

You see, if I had committed to finding a relationship, I would pursue that. It wouldn't be my only pursuit, but I would make time for it, and I wouldn't involve myself in other activities without considering that possibility. I might never find that relationship, but I would pursue it. One does not need to acquire the Grail for the quest to be worthwhile.

But for me, that quest wasn't important. I look back and see that in the days I was pursuing a relationship, I did it half heartedly. I didn't pour myself into the quest like I do say web ministry or teaching. That should have given me a hint. It was not a high priority.

The power of making a specific commitment is that it helps to clarify your path. When I took my job at the college, I could begin to design a portion of my life around that commitment. That design was different than if I had become a PR person or a radio personality (both jobs I've held).

Committing to singleness gave some of the same clarity of purpose. I now know that I can leave myself open to certain ministry opportunities and certain career paths that would have been problematic if I was trying to juggle ministry, a career and a family.

I'm 7 years from retirement. The nature of my retirement planning is different. I am only planning for one. It's a different planning than if I planned to spend the next third of my life with someone else.

Commitment then gives direction and moves you forward in life. It's like you come to a crossroad. You can choose one path or the other and move on. Or you can set up a camp at the crossroad and wait for something to come along that drags you up that path. You can waste a lot of time at crossroads. I know. I did. Now, I'm moving on.

Why Committed Part 1

Sometimes I get so frustrated with people who don't understand the concept of a "committed single" and who say things like, "Well, you can live a full single life, but keep your options open God might send along that right person, yet." Others are more offensive and say outright, "That's all well and good, but if someone actually took an interest in you, you would lose that committment real fast." That's insulting on two levels. The first level is the assumption that no one has been attracted to me. (Some have, not many but some) and secondly, that my level of commitment to God is so shallow that I would turn aside for a pretty face.

The first one, though, is more subtle and all the harder to deal with because it is couched in "church-speak." God may send the right one along. You don't want to miss God is what they are saying. It assumes first that this type of commitment was made without my spending many hours in prayer before God concerning this decision and secondly it assumes that God is the great matchmaker in the sky who overrides everyone's free will to force them into marriages. It also ignores the seriousness of a commitment.

Perhaps if we used a more old-fashioned word, it may be more understandable. Perhaps if we used the word Vow. While it may not be made in front of an altar surrounded by family and the church, most of us who truly consider ourselves "committed singles" have made a vow before God to remain single and in His service.

You see, this moves it out of the venue of simply being happy being a single person, but being ready to forsake that for the right guy. It is saying, this is something I have prayerfully committed, promised, vowed to God that I would do in His service.

Perhaps the problem is that the spirit of the age shuns commitment. It says I will work for this organization until I get a better offer. I will go to this church until I find a better preacher at another church. I will marry this person and be faithful to them until I find someone better or the going gets tough in the marriage.

We live in a world where everyone is "keeping their options open."

But true vigor and strength of effort come with commitment. If I commit myself to my job and my employer, I work for more than a paycheck. I work for the honor of the organization and my association with it. I think long term with that company. I plan projects that will bear fruit not just months but years down the road. I plant forests and not gardens.

If I commit myself to my church, I develop relationships and ministries that are enthusiastically linked to that commitment. I am single minded in helping that church develop it's ministry to its fullest potential.

If I commit myself to a marriage totally, I am not looking at other men as possible replacements for my husband. I am working with a focused vigor to improve and stabilize our relationship for the long haul making it the best it can be even during the hard times.

So it is with a commitment to singleness. I am single-minded in the vow I made. I don't flirt with the new guy at church or post an ad on a dating site "just in case" and say, "Yes, I'm committed to being single unless I find a better offer."

So, why be committed? The first reason is that it creates a singleness of purpose and sets a focus in ones life. It strips away the other relationship concerns that can impede the fullness of enthusiasm for this particular type of life.

The second important reason is focus and planning. We will speak of these in our next entry.

The Un-Marriage Ceremony

I've been talking to a committed single friend of mine about how the married people have all the breaks beginning with the wedding itself. It starts with a shower where you get gifts. Then there is the wedding itself where you can wear a beautiful long white dress, attended by your friends, in the presence of your family and friends. Oh, and you get more gifts.

Well, we should get equal time. It should start
with an Old Maid shower. After all, just cause you are single
doesn't mean you couldn't use a toaster, a crock pot and some nice
dishes (not to mention some cool lingere). Then the ceremony. You walk down the aisle alone with your friends behind you to show that just because you are not
married you are not alone. You could then pledge yourself to God as a single person to serve him and his people. Your friends then pledge themselves to you as supporting you as their friend.

Then you have a reception (and another set of gifts) And you go on a
great trip on your own to celebrate. Maybe instead of Niagra where water falls down into a great chasm, we'd go to Yellowstone where Old Faithful pushes tons of hot water heavenward.

Okay, I'm only half joking. In some ways, a point of commitment at
a given place and time in the presence of your community of faith
might actually provide a type of respectability to being single by

I am a big believer in the power of ritual. Change points in our lives are marked by them. Graduations, parties, sweet 16 or quincinnera (sp), weddings, dedications,
baptisms, they all celebrate the passages of life. They also draw a line between the old and the new.

Most of us come to many of our passages gradually. We spend years studying to reach graduation. We gradually fall in love or come to the point of commitment to Christ. But all of these processes culminate in some sort of community celebration, a time of joyful sharing with family and friends, and possibly most importantly a
specific date and time that you can point to and say, "That's when my life changed."

It isn't true, actually. It had been changing for some time, but it gives one a point of change and a certainty of decision. While one may well divorce or backslide or decide their education wasn't worth the work, there is still that single moment in time
which defined a portion of their life. It was also a point in time when it was made public. The decision was confirmed as valid by the presence of the community to witness the culmination of the working out of that decision.

One does not hear someone say a day or two after getting married, "Well, maybe you'll change your mind and divorce the boy. You need to leave your options open. God may have someone else for you."

Yet, more than once after telling people about my decision to remain single, I've heard, "Well, that's fine, but keep your options open." It is as if my commitment to serving God as a single is less valid than that made to serving a man in marriage. If I am serious about my vow (yes, I will use that word) to God and my family and friends that I will remain single in order to serve others and God in a way I
could not as a married person, then I would not "keep my options" open any less than if I had made a vow to be faithful to a husband.

Maybe a ceremony of some sort would provide the closure we need and our family and friends need in order to see this as a valid life path which is no less committed than marriage.

I doubt such a thing will be seen in my lifetime. Perhaps never. The numbers are too few for whom this path is best. Still, it would be nice to have some sort of ceremony, if for no other reason than to be the center of attention in a long white dress.

Single, but an Adult

I was walking across campus at school friday when I observed an interesting interchange. A professor saw one of his students heading off campus. He waved at the guy, who was in his late 20's, and said, "Have a great weekend. I bet a single guy like you will be heading for the coast." The young man looked a bit annoyed and said back, "Actually, I'm doing some repairs around the house," then added what I considered a wonderful line, "I may be single, but I'm still an adult."

One of the myths about being single is that you are somehow a perpetual minor without any responsibilities. I think this comes from people who got married right out of college or high school. For them, marriage and family occurs just about the same time that they get their first responsible job and move out of the dorm or parents house. But for those of us who have been on our own for many years, we have most the same responsibilities of a married person.

I rent a three bedroom house. It needs to be cleaned. The lawn needs mowing. The garbage needs to be taken out. All just as if I were married. The only difference is that I don't have a "honey-do" list because if it gets done I have to do it or pay someone. Now, I make a good income and do have a gardener now. But in the past I didn't. Cooking for one or cooking for two takes just as much time.

But the assumption is that we don't have responsibilities. This often leads some to consider us as "public property." I've had my bosses ask me to take on extra duties, not because I am qualified or valued, but because, "you don't have a family and all the family people can't ...." In other words I'm an after thought.

Even the church often pushes jobs onto singles that the marrieds are "too busy" to do, yet in many church settings, we are barred from leadership positions because of our unmarried status.

So, yes, I am single, but I'm also an adult. I do have responsibilities. And I take care of those responsibilities.

Read any Good Love Stories?

Just because I'm single, doesn't mean I'm not in love. In fact, I have some love letters sitting right here on my desk. As I was preparing my daily devotion, I ran across this one which I thought was perfect for Valentines Day regardless of marital status.:

If today you went out to your mailbox and found a letter addressed to you with your name followed by "To: My beloved" and you looked up into the left top corner of the envelope and saw the return address, "Your Heavenly Father, The Celestial Palace, New Jerusalem, Heaven 77777,"

I'll bet you would open that letter first. Well, there is such a letter. It's not in your mailbox, it's right in front of you. No surprise, it is the Bible. This love letter took eons to create and nearly 1500 years to record. God went through more than 38 secretaries in the process. It's a marvelous letter. In it He tells a lot of the old family stories, reminds us about our older brothers and sisters, and tells us what he plans to do later on.

Like any love letter it is full of promises, but these are not the promises of some human suitor's fantasy. These are promises which are sure and certain. They will happen there is no doubt about that. He gives us a lot of advice in this letter. Since the writer is the source of wisdom itself, this advice is always sound. In the letter, the author reveals his heart. He tells us how he
rejoices over his beloved. He tells us how he longs for her even when she has disappointed him. He shows us what causes him pain and what brings him joy.

But the theme that runs throughout this letter is simple: "I Love You!"

Have you read your love letter today?

Of Love, Valentines And Super Bowl Sunday

This Sunday was superbowl Sunday. I'm not totally sure who was playing. I heard something about there being a "patriotic victory" so I'm assuming that one of the teams has a patriotic name, but frankly, it doesn't matter to me on iota. I'm not a football fan. I can't think of anything more boring that watching a bunch of guys walk around the football field for five or ten minutes doing nothing and then fighting for a few seconds over a mishapen ball (You would think that with all the money they make they could buy each of those guys their own ball so they don't have to fight over one. They fight so much over it, the ball gets squashed)

Now, I'm not the only person who doesn't like football. Yet, many of those people will follow the Super Bowl (and not just to see who disrobes this year). The do so because it is expected of them. Someone I was talking to was afraid to not go to a Super Bowl party at work, even though they had church at that time, because they were afraid of "how it would look" to their co-workers.

Okay, so, what does this have to do wtih love and Valentines Day. A lot of people are the same way about dating and marriage. They play the game even though their heart isn't in it. They believe, like many watching the Super Bowl that it is something they are expected to do. I know I did for years. I would vacilate from thinking I should have a boyfriend and try finding someone online or in the personals never really succeeding. Even going out with a guy who spent most of our time talking about how I could help him with business advice just to stay in the game.

Consequently, Valentines Day (a February traditon much older than the Super Bowl) became a dreaded day. It was the day that one kept score in a way. And I hit the day and always had a big zero on the score board. One more year of losing the game. And what's more like those people watching the game Saturday who really don't like football, I really didn't even want to win in this game. I knew I wasn't marriage material and while that doesn't make me less than human, I thought it did. My best destiny lay outside of marriage and family.

Now, I have never been one to plunk down and suffer through the Super Bowl just because everyone else was doing so. I went to church. I watched part of a Keeping up Appearances marathon on PBS, Part of a Monk marathon on USA and finished up by watching three Law and Orders on NBC. And did not feel left out at all. And I have never felt any compulsion to try to be a football fan one day out of the y ear to "fit in."

So, then why did I feel that way about love and Valentines Day? I don't know. Maybe because it is a bit more universal than football, but the numbers themselves should not make a difference in the person that I am. So, this year, I face Valentine's Day the same way I face the Super Bowl. It's great for those who are dating and married. But it's not for me. And I'm not going to worry about it.

I need neither romanatic love nor a Valentines day gift to let me know I'm loved. My friends, family and most of all God have already demonstrated that to me and God in particular wrote me a love letter and signed it in red.

The Myth of Having it All

Back in the early 1980's Helen Gurley Brown wrote a book called Having it All. It struck a chord with that materialistic culture of that decade. It basically told women that you can devote yourself entirely to family, entirely to a career, entirely to sexual fulfillment and basically you don't have to make any trade offs at all.

Women and men both adopted "Having it all" as a synonym for the good life. But "Having it all" is a LIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The true art of living. The true path to success lies not in having it all, but in managing the trade offs. So, what does this have to do with being a committed single. Well, for some of us it means a great deal. I know for myself, I am called to devote myself in a major way to my career and the ministries God has given to me. Actually, I see little distinction between the two. Even though I teach in a secular setting, I am helping people reach their goals and help others. So, it is as much a calling as my internet evangelism. Those are high priorities for me.

When I am honest with myself, I must admit they are much higher on my list of priorities than a husband could ever be. So, yes, I might get married, but with my husband not only being in second place, but possibly in fourth or fifth place, I would not be having a satisfying marriage. In my life then one of the trade offs I must make is a level of devotion to a career and ministry for a relationship.

Does this mean one cannot have a career and a relationship. Of course, not. But it means that there is a level of devotion to a career that goes beyond simply being a good professional. For some of us it means going way beyond what it necessary to what is over and above the requirements of the job. For instance, I am developing a number of innovative course offerings, designing online courses, developing an internet radio station proposal, pushing back some of the frontiers of how we do education. I could not do that and devote an adequate amount of time to a husband. I could have a poor marriage, but who wants a poor marriage just for the sake of being married.

Life is about choices. Somewhere along the way I chose not to be ordinary or even excellent in my career, but to be a pioneer and an academic explorer. That choice meant that any relationship other than that with God first and my field second would be unsatisfactory.

But as my last posting said, once I realized that this is the type of person I am and I let go of the idea of trying to have it all or to sacrifice what really mattered to me in exchange for a relationship. Once I let that go, an incredible wave of joy flooded over me.

I don't need to "have it all" to be happy. I just need to have the best God can give me. And when I accept that and cease striving for more I find that indeed I do have it all.

A Small Gripe

A couple of days ago I was in a pizza parlour waiting for my pizza and saw on the TV some celebrity then and now show. The segment I saw had to do with some rising movie starlet. I forget which one, there are so many out there being co-produced by the Hollywood star machine and the Beverly Hills plastic surgery machine.

They showed picture of this woman when she was in high school, talking about her life then. "She was on the yearbook committee and played saxophone in the band. she wore glasses then. But look at her today. She went from Geek to Chic." And they showed pictures of her then in the band and one of her in some ballgown costing more than the budget of some third world countries.

Looking at the photos, I thought the high school girl looked just fine. But mostly I was just a little bit angry that somehow because this girl who made music and engaged in graphic design (both perfectly good and noble pursuits) is considered to be a better person today than she was then because she can pretend to be other people on the big screen and she has contact lenses, a wardrobe mistress, and apparently no longer makes music.

What worried and angered me is the message this sends to young women (and young men in other stories) about what it means to be a valuable person. As one who has been called names like "geek" and "freak" and "nerd" I know that those are not just words, they are emotional bullets fired directly into the heart of your self esteem. Hearing them once or twice you can shake them off, but hearing them over and over and over again eventually kills your confidence and your validation of worth.

When the media compounds that by depicting the studious youth as a dud and the shiftless athlete as a stud. When it depicts the band member, debater or student journalist as ugly and undesireable and the scatterbrained cheerleader or party girl as beautiful, we send a message that looks are all that matter.

Many women using the personal ads to find relationships complain that they may be having a great online chat with a guy or exchange of emails until they send a photo. At which point the guy disappears. Are these "ugly" women? Probably not, but they are not the glamour girls of screen and stage and more invidious is that we have been taught that not being physically attractive makes one inferior to the person who is the glamour queen or king. Nobody says that outright, and in some ways it would be better if they did, you could counter it and the message would be seen to be absurd on it's face. Einstein, Schwitzer, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and many others we know to be great people today were hardly heart throbs. Yet, they would be "geeks" and "freaks" and "nerds."

So, today, it's time the "geeks" and "freaks" and "nerds" take back our dignity. Let's turn off the extreme makeover and plastic surgery shows. Let's stop idolizing the beautiful face and figure and begin valuing the intelligent mind and the compassionate heart. Most importantly, let us no longer view ourselves as geeks, freaks and nerds. We may not grace the cover of magazines, we may not have hundreds of admirers, we may even sit at home alone on a Saturday night (or better yet go out alone), but that does not mean we are worthless. Regardless of what Star Jones (hardly a glamour queen herself) standing on a red carpet outside a theatre may say.

So take up your saxophone and remember your debate and yearbook days with pride. Put on your glasses. because you and I guess I are very beautiful regardless of what those other voices tell us.

Single but not Isolated

I am a happy single person. I like my solitude and my alone times. Nothing wrong with that. However, I have a tendency, which other happy singles sometimes share. I have a tendency to isolate myself from others. I'm more likely to turn down an invitation to dinner than accept, to avoid parties, to watch TV rather than go to a concert. In other words cut myself off, in my personal life, from human contact.

Now, some of us, for whatever reason, are consitutionally more introverted than others. We work well alone. We are comfortable with our own company. We like solitary activities like reading or watching TV.

However, there is much to be gained from interacting with others. Other people stimulate your thinking and problem solving in ways you can't do on your own. They provide you with outside perspective. They help you cope with the difficult times in our lives. They also help us celebrate our joys.

Just because I have chosen not to marry or date does not mean that I should cut myself off from others totally. And I can do this easily enough. I teach college. I have taught face-to-face classes for almost 20 years. Recently I've been teaching online. I'm good at it and I enjoy it greatly. I'll be doing half my load online by fall. But I am setting a personal limit at 50 percent. It would be too easy for me to just sit at home at a computer and do all my human interaction on line.

A message board, some emails and IM'ing on occassion can build a type of relationship, but it is not the same as a voice on the phone, a hand held or a hug received. We are, after all, physical creatures. God made us that way and we need that physical connection with others.

Sometimes people say, "Why do I need to go to a brick and mortar church. I can read my Bible on my own, pray to God and even fellowship with others online. That's easier." And trust me that is tempting to me. Not have to deal with someone's overwhelming cologne, being able to choose what music to listen to rather than have to put up with the selections of the worship leader, and if the sermon I'm reading or listening to online offends me, well I can just surf away. It's easy, it's safe, it's sanitized, and its most of all impersonal.

Disembodied worship and fellowship is easier. But I'm not sure it's better. I'm not sure relationships are meant to be easy. Church relationships no less than others.

It is certainly easier and safer for me to sit at home, type on my computer, teach invisible students, build invisible friendships, even attend an invisble church. But that doesn't make me a committed single. It just makes me a hermit. And my house becomes my cave, a cave with bars on the door separating me from the ebb and flo of life around me, watching it go on, but not being part of it.

I've been there before. I sawed through the bars and escaped and I will not return.