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A Balanced Church

One of the elements of my writing centers around Christianity. I grew up in conservative Christianity, and by choice, have remained. That being said, however, there are times in which I really wonder about the church, in general.

Last week, I talked about sayings people offer singles in the church that intend to help, but often harm. Today, I want to focus on the church and singles in general.

A photograph of a loom might not make much sense, but it fits the point. The above photo is a close-up shot of one of my floor looms. Both my grandma and her mother-in-law wove, and I have inherited their looms. Floor looms come in three primary styles: jack, counter-balance, and countermarch. My looms are counter-balance looms which means I cannot weave an unbalanced woven structure such as a 2/1 twill (2 shafts up, one shaft down). A counter-balance loom requires an even amount of shafts (2, 4, 6, etc) with an equal amount of shafts up and down at any given time. Shafts are the elements through which threads are controlled. They create the up and down portions of a weave structure. If you've woven papermats before, you know that you have to send the strip over and under the other strips. A shaft makes it easier to control the up and down.

The Church (universal Christianity at this point) is created of a variety of individuals, many of which are balanced: men and women, old and young, leader and laity, single and married. These differences both create balance as well as tension. In art, balance and tension are important elements to create beauty, but in real life, they are often at odds with one another.

The Family and the Church

Currently, conservative Christianity, especially in America, leans towards married individuals with children. To find yourself outside that standard is to find yourself in cold lonely areas. For most of my adulthood, I've been in the church, but not quite. I'm a single woman living in a world where couples are expected. I'm a single woman willing to wait for marriage because I've seen too many end up in divorce. I'm a single woman trying to find my place in the church beyond nursery and children's church.

Believe me when I say it isn't easy.

This past weekend was Mother's Day, and at my former church, they gave the mothers flowers. Now, to be ecumenical and open, they gave flowers to all women who had graduated from college. The typical message focused on (a) celebrating moms, or (b) celebrating the ways women can be moms. According to my parents, this past Sunday's message was ways to honor our moms.

May I point out that nurturing, loving, supporting and guiding are not the exclusive domain of parents? Shall I continue to point out that encouraging those younger than us does not always entail a parent/child relationship? To say all women are mother-like to someone negates all the other ways women express themselves. In short, in the world I grew up, being a sister, daughter, friend, aunt, cousin or lover were nice alternatives, but being a mother was all-important.

Family was limited to those were married with children. When family came up in a service, it focused on mom, dad and the kids in elementary, secondary or college levels. For those outside that category, it was best just to listen politely, understanding nothing mattered to you.

I just want to point out here the many ways family is limited in modern Christianity: family friendly, family nights, and family support tend to focus on what parents with children under the age of twelve want or need. The nuclear family of mom, dad and children in school has become the norm both expected and approved in conservative Christianity. Outside that norm, many struggle.

Singles; divorcees, childless couples, empty-nesters, and others are all excluded from the group not by design, but from daily exposure. The thing is, the Church needs all of us, and to best support one another, needs a variety of people within her walls. Unfortunately, many local churches ignore the need in focus of their issue du jour.

A Broader Family

When I first moved to New York, I constantly had to explain who my various aunts, uncles and cousins were. I knew not only both sets of grandparents, but also many of their siblings. When I spoke about my family, I normally meant my sister, our parents, their parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. I kept that separation because I also had my grandparents' siblings, their children and grandchildren to keep track of as well.

Needless to say, I had a big family.

To put this in perspective, a few years ago I met a Korean War veteran, and mentioned that my cousin had been in Korea as a photographer. The man, who was older than my father, was confused and assumed I meant (a) my cousin had been in Korea recently, or (b) I meant my uncle. I had to explain, that no, it was my cousin - my grandmother's sister's son - who was in Korea during the Korean War.

In my world, I was accepted based solely on my blood, and the subsequent family connection. It didn't matter if I wasn't athletic or gifted musically. I am me, and being me is good enough. My family celebrates my accomplishments, and grieves my losses. My family acknowledges my gifts with writing and weaving, and enjoys my intelligence. I'm not pushed to the side because I remain single, but neither am I pressured to marry. Family, in short, means a group of individuals who will always love me. We might argue, or we might not talk for years, but when it boils down to it - we're still family.

We recognize the little ears and eyes among us, but we don't ignore harder issues. We might send the children off to play while the adults discuss adult matters, but if a teen wishes to join the conversation, we don't push her aside.

When we can recognize a larger picture of the family, I think conservative Christianity will go farther in helping individuals within the church.

Hope in the Darkness

This past Sunday, my current church started a new series. Quite honestly, I was concerned how they would deal with family. For most of my life now, singles were either broken and need of fixing, or a cancer in the church. While people may have never said, "When you have it all together, you'll marry," I felt they had. For me, trying to be pleasant, loving and children-oriented went against who I was. If being a good Christian woman, and thereby marrying a good Christian man, meant I had to give up intellect and dreams, I wanted no part of it.

I could not understand how God would give me these gifts, only to expect me to squander them. Within conservative Christianity, I often feel that is precisely what they teach, not through words, but through actions and opinions.

So Sunday, my church began the Family Series with a message on ... Singles.

I nearly did a happy dance in my seat. Worship was brighter, and I felt, for the first time in almost twenty years, that I had finally found a home. Someplace where being single didn't make me less than; where being intelligent was a gift, not a hindrance; where being a woman meant I was equal, not almost equal.

In October this year, I will turn thirty-two. The message this past Sunday was the first time in my entire life that I ever heard a message on singleness. A message acknowledging our struggles, as well as acknowledging our gifts.

To be single and female is not a detriment. It doesn't mean that I have failed in the game of life because I'm still unmarried. It doesn't mean that I am less than because I am single and female. It means God loves me, He created me for a purpose, and He will accomplish that purpose as I follow Him.

It acknowledged both the tension and the balance required in life. We are not separate beings, but are united in our pursuit of glorifying God. Separating shafts from others on the loom only ends up in a big knotted mess accomplishing nothing.

I wish the church could recognize this before it is too late, because if the knotted mess cannot be repaired - the weaver simply cuts it off and weaves what does work.


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