Sunday, February 28, 2010

Singing in the old church's choir

I am a member of a church that emphasizes biblical truth because the convenient, community-oriented church I used to attend taught too many things that conform to the doctrines of political correctness, and I couldn't stay in a place where that was the case.

That church felt like a real family, complete with lots of middle-aged choir ladies worrying about whether you're dating because they actually know you by name and always want to hear what's going on in your life.  It was a beautiful building, a smallish neo-Gothic cathedral with copious and lovely stained glass, a gorgeous organ, and an acoustic to revel in.

We just had a concert there, and even though I haven't attended in about 4 years now, they all still know me.  They knew me two years ago during my disastrous attempt to sing their Christmas Eve service with them (my music disappeared while we were getting robed up, and I had it marked up copiously in order to not screw things up, so I had to sing very cautiously, and it was not a lot of fun).  They know me when I help them out at their State Fair booth every summer.  When they stop by my workplace, they say hello.  They asked me at the concert, "So, when are you going to come back and sing in the choir again?"

The thing I loved most about that church was singing in the chancel choir.  Every single week (except over the summer), we got to make music in a beautiful space that makes every song sound special, even the boring and clunky ones.

I joined a small group at my church and then started leading one.  I was a real member of my new church.  I even sang in their festival choir but not in the weekly choir because our building has no acoustic, really, and the songs are all in English and not usually lovely.

I thought that in my maturity, I had gotten over my desire to sing in the old church's choir, but it seems I haven't.  I still want to.  If given the choice at 9:30 between attending an age-segregated "Sunday school" for adults at my Bible-preaching church or singing every week in that lovely space, I know what I want.  I could even be back to my real church for the service at 11.

But would that be a right thing to do?

I don't know.  It feels fundamentally disloyal.  You can only serve one master, right?  If you try to serve more than one, you are divided: your heart, your time, your attention, your love.  But we're not talking about loyalty to God here, are we?  Just where my body is on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  And my body will be in the right place at 11.  It will just be elsewhere at 9:30.  There is nothing wrong with that, is there?  So why does it feel like it would be wrong?

I don't like the way this thinking tears at me, the way it dichotomizes beauty and truth.  I feel like it's a false dichotomy here, like I'm making it something it's not.

Perhaps I am over-thinking, making things difficult for myself because that's what I do best.  Maybe it's not even an issue to fill up on beauty at one place and truth in another.

We're going through I Corinthians as a church, and last week we talked about liberty and conscience (chapter 8, if you're curious, and you should go read it right now several times because it's that great).  If the Bible doesn't speak against something, no other Christian can tell us it's wrong.  They're free to disapprove until the cows come home, but that's life.  We live for Christ, not to make other people happy.

If the Bible doesn't speak against something, but your conscience is uneasy because you think doing that thing is sinful, then you shouldn't do it.  For as long as your conscience tweaks you, you just shouldn't do it, no matter what anyone else says or does.  It is you who will stand before your master and be judged for your actions, not the Joneses or your friends.  Know your weaknesses; listen to your conscience; let the Holy Spirit guide you.

It also doesn't hurt to be sensitive to the weaknesses of those around you.  Whatever you do, don't try to force someone else to go against conscience because if you do, you become responsible in a way.

Talking about reasons and whys and convictions is perfectly fine.  As we grow in Christ as people and interact and discuss with others, our thinking changes.  Slowly, we grow in knowledge and understanding and sometimes, when we're not even looking, we change our minds.  Sometimes, things we were once violently opposed to because of conscience become non-issues with our new insights on the situation.  Suddenly we can do things without sinning that would have been sin for us to do once upon a time.  It's kind of breathtaking the way we bounce off each other and make each other different people.

With that in mind, back to my dilemma. I am not going to go against my conscience here, but I would be interested to hear arguments for and against singing with the old church choir.  What do you think?  What does love do in this situation?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

No boys allowed in the Bible studies?

No matter where you stand on the Egalitarian (every person is created equal and can fill all roles) to Complementarian continuum  (men and women were created for specific roles, and there should be no overlap), I would think it would be important to foster Bible studies that involve men in the church.  So why is it that all I see advertised are women's Bible studies?  Why are men excluded from them completely? 

Maybe things are different at your church (and I'd be interested in hearing how), but the most I've seen at any church I've ever attended were monthly men's prayer breakfasts.  Why this odd segregation?

Since I haven't participated in many "women's Bible studies," I can only speculate, but I'm pretty sure men aren't barred from them because of intimate female-only discussions (like sex-segregated health classes).  We just got done with a more-than-mildly embarrassing sequence of messages about sex, and they didn't have us sit in different sanctuaries or put up a wall between us like in the temples of yore.  Since there's no logical reason to segregate, it feels more like that girls club/boys club separation thing.  I'm just not sure that's what it should be.

Why haven't I participated?  Well, some excuses/explanations that come to mind are as follows:
  • 1) Most of the studies don't interest me since they aren't really about the Bible so much as about books that talk about stuff that's in the Bible in practical and applicable ways for the average, modern woman and her peers.
  • 1a) I am not the average, modern woman or her peers. 
  • 2) There has to be a good reason for me to subject myself to the company of others during my free time.
  • 2a) I would either want to be learning some really great stuff from a gifted teacher or interacting with a lot of interesting folks who would discuss deeply and challenge me intellectually.
  • 2b) I don't get on well with most women.  I am very different from them, and bridging that gap results in me donning a mask and/or exhausting myself beyond my limited capacities right now.
  • 3) I don't understand the gender-segregation thing.  I'd rather hear a slew of perspectives from everywhere on the age, life-stage, experience, and gender range.  If the boys aren't allowed to play, too, then I don't want to, either.
What are your thoughts on the subject (and on my thoughts)?  Overreacting?  Too sensitive?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Talking sex and celibacy in church (or, why I enjoy I Corinthians)

Things weren't nearly as awkward as they could have been when I lead the small group discussion about sex a couple weeks ago.  I thanked God for that.

We're studying I Corinthians at church, and I'm having a wonderful time, since I love me some Corinthians.  Some of the best celibacy stuff is in I Corinthians (not that it convinces my mom I'm not a deviant).  I love the fact that my pastor is addressing things most Christians don't even know are in the Bible.  Maybe next week here, I'll talk more about my concerns with the group/church reaction to the celibacy idea.  For now, back to sex.

Then the closing pray-er earnestly thanked God that a single woman would be brave enough to lead a small group in a talk about sex and lust.  I almost hurt myself not laughing out loud.  Bravery?  Seriously?

I mean, I suppose if I were a "normal" single Christian desperately longing for a spouse and praying that I hadn't been given the gift of celibacy if it was nonreturnable, maybe it would have been more awkward.  Or maybe if I were younger.  Or if I didn't live in a culture that tries to sell sex to anyone who is not blind, deaf, or sequestered in a far-out nunnery.

But, come on, they know by now who I am: an observant, thoughtful 30-year-old, informed and willing to choose something else. 

Sure, we were all a tad embarrassed: newly-marrieds, older-marrieds, and dating couple, along with single woman.  (I think it was a good thing the new guy didn't come this week, either.)  We're embarrassed partly because none of us have much experience talking sex with other people in the church.  It still has that slightly tainted status as a topic incapable of being included in godly conversation, which is silly.  God invented sex.  It's part of who most people are, and it's wrapped up in a lot of current cultural baggage.

Sex and sexual identity are a big part of who people are in America and possibly even more important in more conservative church culture.  We need to know how to talk about it biblically, compassionately, honestly, and rightly.

But with all this great biblical teaching about the benefits and goodness of celibacy, I can't understand why the church is so marriage- and baby-crazy.  It's absolutely ingrained, to the point where no one ever questions it.  When I asked if they ever considered not getting married, I got seriously blank looks.  They never thought about it as an option even when it was presented last week.  I'll bet other groups discussing this, groups that don't have a thrilled, celibacy-gifted member like me never really even went so far as to entertain the idea that some people actually choose it. 

Celibacy is not an embarrassment.  Let me rephrase that: a life style of celibacy should not be an embarrassment, especially not in the church.  But it is. 

Talking about celibacy with someone who is, in fact, celibate for one reason or another makes Christians uncomfortable, possibly more uncomfortable than talking about sex.  Truly it does. 

I've often thought that the only thing that would have traumatized my mom more about my sexuality would have been if I had told her I was homosexual.  My celibacy seems like a similar blow to her; she simply doesn't know how to react, how to process this ersatz sexual non-orientation.

It seems so unnatural to most people.  At least the folks in my MFA program were curious.  They asked questions.  Lots of detailed questions.  Their obvious befuddlement was refreshing.  They didn't understand, really, but they didn't pity me; they wanted to understand me as much as they could.  Believers seem to just feel sorry for celibate people.  I find the situation sad.  And, to be honest, pretty irritating.

For now, I'm just glad that we got through our discussions the last few weeks without anyone being too ashamed to meet anyone's eyes or flipping out too much.  The donuts probably helped.  Maybe the sugar low mellowed us out?

Have you ever talked sex and celibacy in your church or small group?  How'd that go for you?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Enjoy being single?

"When I'm not freaking out about dying alone and unloved, I actually really enjoy being single." - anonymous
I had to share this one; it made my day.

Does/did this ever describe you?