Desiring Permanence

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The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” I sometimes wonder if this means he has placed in our hearts a longing for permanence.

Unmarried or married, most of us will admit that we long for a place we can eventually “settle down” or “raise a family”.  If you are like me, perhaps you just want a place where you know that those closest to your heart are always close to your home.

Marriage and family are probably the most permanent things we can expect within our lives in the highly transitory culture that we live in. And being unmarried can often strike fear into many, including myself, because for most it sounds like a life lacking permanent companionship.

Of course, no relationship is permanent. Marriages fail, kids leave the house, tragedies happen. Death still ends the happiest of marriages, yet even the writer of Ecclesiastes knows that even though death comes to all that you should still “enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you because that is your portion in life…” Despite life being a vapor, the Preacher still knows that in our lives we find comfort in our toil through companionship. Even earlier in the book he mentions that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” The Preacher recognizes our need for loyal friends (not just spouses) in the hardness of this life.

Ever since Adam was alone in the garden, we as humans have desired companions. We have desired friends to go about life with us and to help cultivate the Earth through our work. However, because of the Fall we  no longer possess a permanent residence. We like Adam and Eve are without a permanent home in this life. Yet even in being banished from Eden, Adam and Eve were sent out together. Marriage is a taste of the home we once had without actually being there. However, again, all marriages end. Even Jesus Himself said that in the resurrection, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Those unmarried taste a permanence of something to come.

As earthly marriage is, in some ways, reminiscent of Eden, being unmarried is, in some ways, a hope for the new heavens and new Earth. Both of course hope and reminisce of that which once was and that which will be. This is not to say one is better or worse than the other, but both offer complex challenges. And for those unmarried, it means the longing for a permanent home may feel more keen and more exasperated because it is not as tangible. This I find to be both a blessing and a curse. Like the Apostle Paul said, “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that…For the present form of this world is passing away.” The longing for the permanence we tangibly lack hurts, yet it makes us more eager for “the things of the Lord” or more desirous of that which will not pass away, as Paul would have it. Although marriages may no longer exist, besides between the marriage of Christ and His Bride, I can not imagine that the friendships we have in Christ will ever be lost. Whereas those married may have a sample of that Marriage to come, those unmarried also get a taste of something permanent to come—vast, rich friendships when we “neither marry nor are given in marriage”. 

As we experience intimate years with friends and then hear news that they must move on, we are reminded that this life only offers glimpses of permanence. This life is damn hard, and we need those companions, whether they be our spouses, our Hermoines, our Rons,  our Eddies, our Faithfuls, our Hopefuls, or our Sams, to remind us that the fleetingness of this life is not all that is. As Paul said, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” We need friends who, among many things, long for that permanence with us. 

There is certainly a better day coming: a day when friends do not depart, a day when tears are no longer lost on the graves of those we love, and a day everlasting in communion with the very One who has always been and will always be. The One who has called himself “the beginning and the end” has written eternity on our hearts, and like Augustine once wrote, “he has made us for himself.”

“They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night in the city, and they will have no need for the light of a lamp or of the sun. For the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:4-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling Through the Cracks of Same-Sex & Traditional Marriage

“Loneliness is the greatest plague of our generation. The fight for gay-marriage is simply a response to it. Church, we are doing something wrong in our approach. Until we can be a nest of intimate friendships and a holistic community for the lonely, estranged, and non-married, a traditional sexual ethic will never be attractive.”

I wrote that last week in a bit of frustration over the responses I’d been reading about the recent SCOTUS ruling, and I wanted to follow-up on explicitly what I meant by those words. Hopefully this post will explain a bit of my frustration from both sides’ responses, and maybe this post will offer a little hope of something better.

If you haven’t been able to notice by now, if you know me or read this blog, I talk about loneliness and isolation a lot. Not just because I deal with both, but because I’m beginning to recognize like Henri Nouwen did that “loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering today,” and I’d like to see a way forward for me, for my friends, for my community, for my church, and for my culture.

I was visiting a church service this morning by myself in my hometown looking through the church bulletin which was covered in pictures of beautiful families, and as the pastor ran through his pastoral prayer for the congregation, I felt a tinge of isolation. His prayer hit on all the families in the church, the kids, those adopting, the grandparents, and those married without children – all wonderful things to pray for – but I felt like an oddball by its conclusion. Very rarely do I hear of single or celibate people being prayed for within churches. I hear many sermons on marriage and parenthood, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a sermon in person on singleness or the goodness of celibacy, despite what I see in scripture as a commending of those who are single. Add to this the little phrases littered throughout Christian culture like “family first” and “focus on the family”, and hopefully you can begin to see just some of my frustrations with being a celibate man in the church.

It often feels like there isn’t room within the church for those outside the context of biological families. I’m not saying this is always the case as I (and many others) have been blessed by a beautiful church home which has loved me incredibly well, and I only hope to love them a fraction as much as they’ve loved me, but I feel as though this is a rare treat. There’s definitely a pressure present in the mainstream of Christian culture in America of feeling as though I have two options: get married or be alone.

This is what has me sympathizing (but not agreeing) with the Left over the recent SCOTUS ruling. Although I don’t believe in a sexual ethic of anything but a man and woman engaging sexually in the context of marriage, I do understand the dark corner in which those with a homosexual orientation or who are experiencing same-sex attraction have been cast.

There’s a tension in our culture that if you don’t fit into the mold of a traditional family that you will forever exist in isolation and loneliness. For many who’ve considered themselves “gay” or “same-sex attracted” within the church, there’s this seeming, unwritten dichotomy in most places:

1) go away… and don’t get married despite not being in the church.

2) stay… but magically shift your entire orientation, and get married.

Is it any wonder there has been such a push for gay marriage? There’s an assumption in place that only in marriage can we escape loneliness. So why wouldn’t the LGBT community long for the same thing? We’ve offered what we’ve considered to be the “antidote” to isolation, and we’re now angry that others are seeking the same antidote.

I want you to consider living the rest of your life with no promise of a spouse, no promise of kids, no promise of grandchildren, no promise of people to take care of you when your old, no promise of people to love you if you fall seriously ill, and no promise of ever experiencing lasting intimacy with another. These are just a few of my thoughts that circulate when I imagine a life without marriage in this culture. Does this not sound even just slightly despairing? It makes sense that gay-marriage would be inevitable does it not?

As I scanned my newsfeed last week through the outrage and celebration over the results of the ruling, I again felt overwhelmingly overlooked. As someone who identifies with a traditional sexual ethic yet also experiences exclusive same-sex attraction, both sides left me frustrated. I don’t agree with the impossible dichotomy imposed by some of those in favor of traditional marriage, but, besides not morally agreeing with same-sex marriage, I also don’t agree with the conclusion that by marrying members of the same sex that we have found an answer to the problem of loneliness.

Between the traditional family and (now) the progressive family, I feel like someone caught in no-man’s land, and I know plenty of others who feel the same. Consider the single women who long to be married but can’t, the men and women who’ve chosen to live celibate lives despite their sexual orientations, the socially impaired, the mentally handicapped, the widows, and all the others that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 19:12. Consider this in the church where the traditional family reigns supreme, but consider this with the progressive family as well. Loneliness still exists, and (gay or straight) marriage can’t solve that.

So where do we go for the answer?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?

I have a few thoughts, but I’d be foolish to claim to have a definitive answer to such a question.

I think my own church has been a really beautiful reflection of what it may look like to move forward, so much of what I’m about to say has been sparked by the hospitality I’ve already so received and have been allowed to personally give to others.

So hopefully without sounding too idealistic, the church needs to begin to be a nest for those inside & outside the framework of the nuclear family. We need it to be a place that if you were to no longer be married or have kids, for whatever reason, that you’d still have enough meaningful or intimate relationships to sustain you. Single people need a place they can expect lasting, intimate friendships and not be looked down upon or suspiciously questioned for it. Families need a place they can be cared for by other families and single people – others who enter into their dysfunction, help cook meals, help look after kids, and take part of their load and place it upon their own backs. The church should look like an integrated community of single people, married people, families, widows, the elderly, college students, those of racial and sexual minorities, and all those I’m too naive to name.

Or as Wesley Hill quoted J. Louis Martyn in his recent article, “the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ.”

We need a way forward that proves that a life without sexual intimacy can still be a life full of intimacy in the context of friendship, community, and a “water thicker than blood” family. And perhaps by cultivating a community which includes those who’ve fallen through the cracks, we can begin to close the cracks themselves.

All Things Go. All Things Grow.

Ok. I did it. I’ve plunged headfirst into the Sufjan Stevens, fandom pool. And yes, as you can tell, I’m a little behind the times on cool, hipster music.

What hooked me was his song Chicago. If you haven’t heard it, I’d suggest you go drop everything your doing and go listen to it with your best friend, preferably in a van… in a parking lot (so sorry). I’ll even go ahead and do you the favor:

As some of you know, I’m currently in the process of moving to Connecticut (not Chicago) from my home in Orlando, Florida. A big change geographically, culturally, and pretty much in every other way. So, yes, I do know it will be blisteringly cold up there, most of the time anyways.

It’s a pretty strange feeling though. Orlando is where I have planted my roots for what seems like the first time in my life. And if I’m honest, I’ve never really let my roots down before having moved to Orlando. It feels weird now having to uproot and move to another culture, away from the friends I have made, the church I’ve invested in, and from a city that I’m beginning to realize I actually pretty well enjoy. Most have felt the pain of leaving home, and this feels like the first time for me.

I’m struck too with a little bit of existential angst: will life forever be laying down roots and uprooting every couple years? Will I ever find a permanent home? Is there even a point in letting the roots down?

I’m certain there is a point, but at the moment what I’m feeling in leaving is something that I’m having to grieve.

About a week ago, my community group from church threw me and one of my best friends a going away get-together. He happens to be departing to Jackson, Mississippi, so we’ve talked before about how we may never live locally together ever again. It’s a morbid thought but a true one nonetheless. Ironically enough, we’ve both bonded over that Sufjan song recently. Having listened to it way too many times, I think it’s about Sufjan uprooting and rooting from one place to the next for reasons that have left him upset and feeling sorely mistaken for ever having left. It’s an upbeat but somewhat melancholic song because I think like most of us, we’re constantly searching for “home” and coming up short (in our minds, in our minds). We are ambitious and excited but are then left wondering what we’ve done and why we’ve left.

For me, I know I am called to Connecticut but am now currently stuck in this tension of calling and comfort. Will I ever find a home on this Earth? Will I ever find a calling on this Earth?  When I lift up my roots will they dry up? If I stay in this soil will my roots dry up? Is this an act of naive self-destruction or hopeful self-cultivation? There’s a terror in this tension.

At that get-together, I voiced these thoughts to an incredibly wise and maternal other. I told her how I couldn’t fathom leaving my friends and community behind, and with a gentle but confident tone she responded, “Jeb, you know, after being uprooted – it’s the best time for something new to grow.”

Bingo.

I think that’s what Sufjan’s conveying by saying, “All things go. All things grow.”

It’s not about whether the roots should’ve been lifted or not but about now what will be grown.

It’s not about where the tree will be re-planted, in that soil here or that dirt there, but about who’s the gardener. My genuine home isn’t found on the ground in which I’m placed, at least right now, but in the hand of my Beloved – the one who cultivates us even when it feels like we are losing everything.

I’ve talked to numerous friends these last couple days who have previously left our community or who are soon departing, and all have mentioned the difficulty of living in an “already but not yet” world – a world between our former home of slavery and our future home of intimate glory. We’ve left home for a new home, but still, we are not yet home.

The nexus of Chicago leaves us with this, “If I was crying, in the van with my friend, it was for freedom from myself and from the land”.

I clutch for that freedom. The freedom that dispels the despair of feeling like I don’t currently belong in this land and the anxiety of wondering if I ever will find home.

I have a home. I have a purpose. In those two statements lies a freedom that I can find nowhere else but in the dirty hands of an often unrecognizable gardener.