Quotes


This won’t really be a book review. More like a collection of my favorite quotes from the book Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church by Christine A. Colon and Bonnie E. Field.

I have a memory of this book being advertised a few years ago in a Biola magazine, as the authors are Biola alum. Honestly, I was not attracted to the book… I probably thought something to myself along the lines of, “Lame. Another book for single people.” At that time I wasn’t exactly interested in the concept of singleness and the depth that it encompasses. But now, happily, I am.

While attending the Christian for Biblical Equality conference in Seattle earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop session facilitated by the authors of this book. They began with their stories that were strikingly similar – as I believe still is for a lot of women attending Biola today – that they anticipated being married within a few years of graduation. But it didn’t happen. And it still hasn’t happened for them.

I appreciated the content of the workshop so much that I bought the audio recordings of both their sessions and their book. It didn’t disappoint. The book takes the reader through a brief history of celibacy in the church and in Scripture, positive and negative messages from both secular views and the Church, confronts the inadequacies of the current dialogue on singleness in the Church today, and seeks to expand our narrow definition of sexuality to be more holistic. Acknowledging that the book is not all-inclusive, the authors communicated at the conference that they desire this book to be a launching point for deeper dialogue about singleness in the Church today.

Grab a taste and see for yourself:

“We tend to refer to our singleness as a ‘season of life’: we cannot imagine it lasting forever. While Rolheiser does not try to persuade everyone to take religious vows, he does warn us of the dangers of being unable to view celibate singleness as a potentially permanent state. If we only think in temporary terms we run the risk of never fully seeing our lives as worthwhile and actually worth living.” (200)

“What would it mean, for instance, to radically reconceive our ideas of celibacy to empower Christian singles to live our lives fully for God without remaining in stunted adolescence, searching obsessively for a spouse, or wallowing in depression and self-pity?” (203)

“If you are single right now, you are called, right now, to be single – called to live a single life as robustly, and gospel-conformingly, as you possibly can.’” (quoting Lauren Winner, 209)

“What we need is another category: those who are committed to celibacy until God reveals a different plan for them.” (208)

“While we believe…that God wants us contented and fulfilled, we would argue that God wants us to be contented and fulfilled in him. If we are truly delighting ourselves in the Lord, he, not a potential mate, will be the desire of our hearts. Of course this doesn’t mean that we will necessarily stop desiring marriage, but it does mean that we will realize that a spouse will not provide true fulfillment.” (134)

“’A challenge of the contemporary Church is to claim a theology of sexuality that names, validates, and embraces the sexuality of singleness.’ One place to start is to realize that singles, like all humans, are sexual beings. Sexuality for Christian singles isn’t magically ignited when the wedding ring hits the finger.” (quoting Lisa Graham McMinn, 213)

“Sexuality, then, provides us with our drive to connect with others, for “our existence as sexual beings gives rise to the desire to enter into community, and thereby to actualize our design as human individuals. Sexuality, then, is an expression of our nature as social beings… This need to find fulfillment beyond ourselves it the dynamic that leads to the desire to develop relationships with others and ultimately with God.” When we look at it from this perspective, sexuality has a much larger purpose than simply compelling individuals to find a mate.” (213)

“As we consider the needs of single as well as married Christians, we must also recognize that there resides within all of us a need that will never be satisfied here on earth: a holy longing, as Rolheiser calls it, that ultimately should drive us to God. In contemporary American society we are used to thinking that every need that we have will be satisfied if only we work hard enough or pray hard enough, but the reality is that we all experience dissatisfaction. As Rolheiser reminds us, ‘It is no easy task to walk this earth and find peace. Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest. Desire is always stronger than satisfaction.’” (217)

“We are not asking God to remove the pain of incompleteness that we all must struggle with, but rather we are asking Him to use this pain precisely as it was intended: to draw us closer to him and to help create the empathy that allows us to be witnesses for him in the rest of the world.” (219)

I have a soft spot for period dramas – particularly ones based on novels by Jane Austen. I’m not sure if it’s the long dresses or the beautiful shots of nature or just the ‘simplicity’ of the portrayal of falling in love but somehow these types have films have escaped the grasp of my embarrassed conscience and I continue to watch them.

But as I watch Sense & Sensibility I identify the extreme polarization of two of the main characters. Marianne is a naive woman of 17 who is a whimsical, romantic idealist. Colonel Brandon is an experienced military man old enough to be her father, who hasn’t loved since his wife died. Upon meeting her, the Colonel immediately falls in love with the young Marianne, but, of course, she fancies someone else. She follows her heart and he steadily loves her from afar.

Maybe though, what attracts me to stories like this is not the superficial aspects of clothing and screen shots but the deep rooted desire to have a love story that follows that of Marianne and Colonel Brandon. Maybe, what attracts me to this story is that I secretly wish the immaturity of someone like Marianne could truly attract a man like the Colonel; that I need not be anything other than my naive self to gain the respect of a mature, moral man.

Marianne’s almost-engagement crumbles and in her dramatic emotional state she goes out alone in the rain and falls. Colonel Brandon saves her (*surprise*) and she begins to realize how foolish she’s been. His steadiness tempers her and she becomes worthy of him.

And I’m wondering… where does this sort of fantasy love story turn into an expectation?

This isn’t just a story – I’m absorbing lessons from it. Such as, that it’s reasonable for a quality man to love a fickle, undeserving girl. That it’s okay or even normal for growth in relationships to take one path: the man teaches the woman/the woman learns from the man. That regardless of what the woman does to negatively impact her life, the man will be there waiting for her.

Hold up. This is sounding a little too close to my relationship with God.

When we get down to it, Marianne is an immature child. Colonel Brandon is more like a father figure – or God figure – who guides her development than a loving, equal partner. Granted, this story has context in its time period, but if women (and men) make this love story an ideal today, then it can be pretty destructive. Women abdicate responsibility for their personal growth and development while feeling entitled to a near-perfect man. Men strive to be an unwavering, emotionless provider/protector and don’t believe they have anything to learn from a woman.

I’ve thought a lot more about the repercussions for women than for men at this point. And I think there is a lot for us to consider. First, I think that a lot of young Christian women moan about the lack of quality men around when we aren’t doing a whole lot to pursue our own character growth. Second, we shouldn’t be pursuing our own growth only because we want to make ourselves deserving of a quality man. Third, we aren’t entitled to or promised a near-perfect man or even a man at all.

Don’t get me wrong – marriage is wonderful and I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be married. But as a wise, single woman in her 30’s said, “I know a lot of women who’s desire to be married is so strong that they are unable to live the abundant life that Jesus has given to us to live now.”

So, single ladies, if you so desire, join me in striving to be a well-rounded, accurately self-perceptive, confident in my giftings, deeply and intentionally loving woman regardless of whether or not a man is waiting for me at some point in my lifetime. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, and I’ll be in need of some company. Single gents, you can do the same. I hope and pray that, single or married, we can all experience the reality of the abundance of the Kingdom now, which is ultimately incomparable to these love story fantasies.

Confession #1: I have an aversion to Christian fiction.

I didn’t used to – my favorite book series in middle school was Adventures in the Northwoods, I was proud of owning most of the Mandie collection, and I adored the short-lived TV series Christy.

Confession #2: Actually, I still have a soft spot for Christy

But along the way, books or films that were labeled “Christian” became synonymous to me with “cheesy”, “poorly done”, and “cliché”. That we consider any work of art “Christian” is something we should also address – for more on that, visit my friend Matt’s blog post.

So whenever a Christian novel becomes popular I immediately resolve that it isn’t worth my time to read. Some of my college girlfriends can attest that I was never persuaded to read Redeeming Love. I just couldn’t. do. it.

But when a housemate whose taste in books I admire said that he enjoyed The Shack and encouraged me to read it, I began to have second thoughts. And when I spotted the book on another friend’s bookshelf and she offered to let me borrow it, I shamefully smuggled it home in my purse.

Confession #3: I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m no literary critic – practically the opposite – but I can tell you that I enjoyed it and I learned a lot. I don’t think it was superbly written, and I could usually tell where it was leading, but I appreciated what seemed to be the purpose behind the book: that God desires for us to be as whole as possible here on earth.

While some Christians may have severe critiques of the book, I choose to focus more on the process and less on the content. The book reminded me that God is wholly other than what I could possibly imagine him to be; that his grace supersedes any of my good intentions and self-righteous sacrifices. I was reminded that God is about relationship; I appreciated seeing God as three diverse individuals interacting with each other and the main character. My perception of God was changed to see him a little bit closer and more connected. It sounds trite, but because I’ve struggled with legalism for most of my life, this was freeing.

So next time a ‘Christian’ novel becomes big, I’ll take a little more time evaluating whether it’s worth reading or not. My aversion is beginning to lessen.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Mack wasn’t convinced. ‘But don’t you want us to set priorities? You know: God first, then whatever, followed by whatever?’

‘The trouble with living by priorities,’ Sarayu spoke, ‘is that it sees everything as a hierarchy, a pyramid, and you and I already had that discussion. If you put God at the top, what does that really mean and how much is enough? How much time do you give me before you can go on about the rest of your day, the part that interests you so much more?’

Papa again interrupted. ‘You see, Mackenzie, I don’t just want a piece of you and a piece of your life. Even if you were able, which you are not, to give me the biggest piece, that is not what I want. I want all of you and all of every part of you and your day.’

Jesus now spoke again. ‘Mack, I don’t want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything. When I live in you, then together we can live through everything that happens to you. Rather than a pyramid, I want to be the center of a mobile, where everything in your life – your friends, family, occupation, thoughts, activities – is connected to me but moves with the wind, in and out and back and forth, in an incredible dance of being.’

‘And I,’ concluded Sarayu, ‘I am the wind.’ She smiled hugely and bowed.”

The Shack, page 206-207

Some of my favorite moments are when I catch my housemates at home and we have a chance to talk. I had taken Friday morning off from work and was thrilled to find that I wasn’t home alone – Michelle was on the blue striped couch with a tall pile of thick books in front of her. As we caught up, my fellow Hollenbeck-House-resident-Christian-feminist mentioned one of the books she was reading was by a Westmont grad. As she had been reading about this woman’s life in which most of the time she is a stay-at-home mom, she was surprised when the author mentions out of the blue that she is an ordained minister. We both laughed; surprised at what seems ironic superficially.

Interested in this woman, I picked up the same book this evening and part of a chapter caught my eye.

“One of my favorite Celtic ideas is the concept of thin places. A thin place, according to the Celtic mystics, is a place where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one is more permeable – thinner, if you will.
Sometimes they’re physical places. There are places all over Ireland where people have said, if you stand here, if you face this direction, if you hike to the top of that ridge at just the right time of day, that’s a thin place, a place where the passage between heaven and earth is a short one, a place where God’s presence is almost palpable.
Thin places: places where the boundary between the divine world and the human world becomes almost nonexistent, and the two, divine and human, can for a moment, dance together uninterrupted. Some are physical places, and some aren’t places at all, but states of being or circumstances or seasons.”
Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist

Something about the concept of thin places resonates with my soul. Thin places, to me, are incredibly elusive. Those split seconds in which I freeze and realize, “That’s how this was intended to be.” They are glimpses of shalom¹ in a broken world. Usually these moments take me by surprise, but I wonder what would happen if I lived looking for them, expecting them to be just around the corner.

 

—–

 

¹Shalom: “the way things were intended to be,” wholeness, completeness, peace, reconciliation, healing.

“The feminism I ascribe to and work for involves more than women and our fictional representations simply acting like men or unquestioningly replicating archetypal male values such as being emotional inexpressive, the need for domination and competition, and using violence as a form of conflict resolution. In my feminist vision, part of what makes a character feminist is watching her struggle with prioritizing values such as cooperation, empathy, compassion and non-violent conflict resolution in a world largely hostile to those values.”

This woman is brilliant.

“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud…” [Proverbs 8:1-3 NIV ©2010]

This last week I attended the English-speaking life group hosted by the part of the body of Christ I commune with on a weekly basis. I’ve been attending this church in Lincoln Heights since August and while I’m involved relationally and in serving, had decided that I would take another step to become more rooted in this community after the holidays. The above passage was what we spent the majority of our time meditating on and discussing in life group this week.

Wisdom stands in the middle of the busiest intersection in town to proclaim her message. One of the women in the life group related this to the corners of Soto and Cesar Chavez, an intersection long known for being the center of Boyle Heights. How fortunate that wisdom is present in the busy and bustling areas of life! No need to remove ourselves completely from community and responsibilities to meditate for sustained periods of time in order to gain wisdom [not to disqualify solitude as being beneficial]. The Holy Spirit pours out wisdom in the midst of stress and confusion.

In pairs, we shared what “intersection” we are at in life and how wisdom has or can meet us there. I’ve certainly been viewing the last 7 months of my life as a transition period, waiting for a nursing job to point me in the next direction I’m headed. The image that comes to mind is one in the book Girl with a Pearl Earring, when Griet stands in the center of an enormous compass in the middle of the marketplace. So how has wisdom met me in this place?

I’ve been fighting the idea that this time is a transition because I want to be able to be fully present and not fall prey to the idea that my life will begin when I start working as a nurse. The Holy Spirit has been feeding me wisdom regarding my identity; in the last 7 months I’ve wrestled a lot with what it means if I don’t pursue nursing, or if I don’t pursue it right away. I’ve come to embrace that this has been a period of healing from feeling burnt out from nursing school and rest from the responsibility one holds when working in a hospital setting.

During my lunch break on Friday I sat by the fountain at Biola with my feet up, reflecting on what I’ve been learning since graduation. I was appreciating the different kind of responsibility I hold working in Multi-Ethnic Programs instead of in a nursing position. And that’s when I had an epiphany.

Stay with me. This will make sense in the end.

As a woman who has been single for the last 5 years, I’ve spent a bit of time getting to know myself. I still feel like I’m acquaintances with myself, not even friends, but I take comfort in knowing that Someone knows me thoroughly and there is grace for what I don’t understand. Okay, but singleness. During this time, I’ve recognized in myself waves of desiring a significant relationship that ebb and flow, lasting a variety of durations for just as many reasons. Some reasons are incredibly selfish and other less so. I’ve come to:

– acknowledge the desires I’m having (selfish or not)
– embrace the fact that desires are a part of my humanity (selfish and not)
– learn from these desires (repent of self-centeredness or affirm pure motives)

Recently the desire for a relationship washed up on the beach of my life a little farther than I anticipated. So as I was reflecting last Friday lunch on the relief I felt from hearing back that I was not chosen for a nursing position because I didn’t feel ready to handle the responsibility yet, I almost choked on my turkey sandwich.

And I realized my heart’s motives behind desiring a relationship this time.

1. I feel slightly overwhelmed that I am ‘alone’ during a period of significant change in my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not be ‘alone’.
2. I am uncomfortable with the responsibility of making decisions all by myself that will considerably impact the direction of my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not have to bear the weight of the responsibility by myself.
3. If I were in a purposeful, serious relationship that was moving towards marriage it would be considered ‘successful’ and would be a distraction from me feeling as if I’ve failed for not finding a nursing job.

Basically, the theme is abdication of responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom in the advice and input of others. But I don’t think it’s healthy for me to want someone else to share responsibility with me because I’m afraid of ‘failing’.

Dr. Ron Pierce, my Theology of Gender professor, once related a story to my class of a female student who told him that she couldn’t wait to get married so that she wouldn’t have to make any decisions and would just do whatever her husband wanted. At the time, I thought this girl was out of her mind – why would you want someone else to make all decisions for you? But now I can relate to her motives of not wanting to take responsibility more than I wish I did.

As humans, we must take responsibility for ourselves and the decisions we make. And no ‘failure’ is greater than the grace that is waiting.

This afternoon I was reading on my porch, conveniently located just a few blocks south of the intersection of Soto and Cesar Chavez.

“Christian vocation is not so much about career as about a call to the fullness of life – an invitation not to leave the world, but to embrace it. John Neafsey writes that vocation has to do with“the quality of our personhood, the values and attitudes we embody, the integrity and authenticity of our lives.” For Christians, vocation is the invitation to follow Jesus. “Come after me,” he said in Mark (1:17), an invitation to discipleship that – “more than an assent of the heart” – demands, as Ched Myers put it, “an uncompromising break with ‘business as usual.’” We all bring to our vocations experiences, gifts, and relationships. We bring the obstacles and distractions that clutter our lives. We bring who we are and who we are willing to become. We bring the context in which we live and a particular time in history. Vocation is about the totality of how we live the gospel in these times.” -Marie Dennis, Toward the Fullness of Life in Sojourners, February 2011

Wisdom made herself known to me in a momentous way in the current intersection of my life. She called out to me in the midst of struggling with the role my career and my relationship status play in my identity. And she proclaimed the truth that there is fullness of life right now, for who I am, and where I’m at. My vocation is to live out the grace I’ve been given as I grapple with learning about my humanity.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a book buying problem. I constantly find myself on Amazon looking up titles that were mentioned in other books and the site’s “related” feature sucks me in to what becomes a long trail of wish list- and cart-adding. I recently bought three new books when I have only finished one of the four books that I ordered in December, and one of the six books from my new favorite bookstore (The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles) that I bought in November. I just can’t help myself. My mindset has changed from, while in high school and early college, HAVING to finish any book I started to, now, considering myself better off for having read a chapter of a book than none at all… and plus I have all those books on my shelves in case I ever want to reference anything. Anything related to gender, that is, as those have been the majority of my book purchases as of late.

My most recent batch of literary-goodness that arrived in brown cardboard on my doorstep includes How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals by Alan F. Johnson (isn’t “F” a wonderfully strong middle initial? Those perpendicular and parallel lines making up crisp right angles? Mm). I attribute the consistency of my reading of it for the past *two* days to the short stories that make it up; lots of wisdom nuggets in a small amount of time. I would like to share a quote that made my spirit feel lighter and my soul feel more grounded.

“My journey to biblical egalitarianism was essentially complete. While I did not, and do not now, claim to have the final answer to every question or difficult passage, I was convinced the framework sketched above was clearly a superior way to account for the varieties of biblical evidence. […] But there was one more piece to my journey that is important, though seemingly small and unrelated to anything that had happened up to this point. It was the final piece that confirmed for me that I was on the right path.

In early 1974 I was preparing for a doctoral field exam in American church history by reading selections from some of the more important primary source documents representative of that history. When I came to the early and mid-nineteenth century, I was immersed in the literature surrounding the questions of slavery and abolition. The defenses of slavery by leading theologians and churchmen from the southern states were especially fascinating. Whether the men were from the Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational, or Roman Catholic traditions, the biblical and theological arguments in defense of slavery were essentially the same.

Abolitionism was said to be anti-Christian. Defenders of slavery claimed that abolitionists got their ideas from other sources and then went to the “Bible to confirm the crotchets of their vain philosophy”. Scripture, it was repeatedly argued, does not condemn slavery. In fact, Scripture sanctions slavery. In his parables, Jesus refers to masters and slaves without condemning slavery as such. In the New Testament, pious and good men had slaves, and they were not told to release them. The church was first organized in the home of a slaveholder. That slavery was divinely regulated throughout biblical history was evidence that the institution was divinely approved. When Scripture, as in Galatians 4, uses illustrations from slavery to teach great truths without censuring slavery, it was considered more evidence that the institution had divine approval. The Baptist Declaration of 1822 did accept that slaves had purely spiritual privileges (as Christians), but they remained slaves.

The defenders of slavery within the churches all claimed the Bible as their starting point, and all developed their defenses by appealing to Scripture in much the fashion I have summarized above. With one voice Southern churchmen defending slavery charged that to reject slavery as sinful was to reject the Word of God.

I had heard this line of reasoning before, but to actually read it for myself was an eye-opening experience. I was appalled and embarrassed that such an evil practice had been defended in the name of God and under the guise of biblical authority. How could churchmen and leading theologians have been so foolish and blind? […] It hit me like a flash. Someday Christians will be as embarrassed by the church’s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defense of slavery.” -Stanley N. Gundry in How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership


This realization was also a “rest stop”, so to speak, of my gender journey and I am so thankful to see it be so essential to someone else’s journey that they documented it. Reading about nineteenth-century Christians who defended slavery as being divinely approved knocks me off my feet and makes me think about other beliefs that I accept and practices I follow that I have never examined through the broad lens of the redemption story God is enacting throughout history. The Kingdom is coming, but He is also bringing the Kingdom now. And women and men get to be partners in seeing it happen!