The Purity Conversation: Stories

This summer an online video and modesty conversations dominated social media. These conversations brought back up the differences that young boys and girls are given about purity within the church. Here are some takeaways from both Sunday Schools past and the viral video. Girls are told of the virtue of remaining pure for their one and only. Girls should be modest so as not to tempt boys. If you don’t live up to perfectly pure standard, you become damaged.

During this online fervor, I was taking a DMin course where I was the only woman present. During a break we started taking about modesty/purity/etc. and I made a side reference to the Sunday classes that many of my friends had gone through – I was met with blank stares. Our experiences were not the same. Here are two stories I shared with them. At some future point, I will do a post on language, how it matters and  forms us. If we are not careful, we can be sending harmful and dangerous messages we never meant to convey.


Here are two object lessons from childhood Sunday School (from either my own or my friends’ experiences). In some cases we were actually given a piece of gum/flower to complete the illustration.

1. You are a piece of gum

You are a piece of gum. You need to protect yourself for the man you will marry. Once you ________ with someone, it is if you are a piece of gum being chewed. After that you are a used, chewed up piece of gum. Who would want that? No one. No on wants someone else’s gum.

2. You are a flower

You are a beautiful flower. A flower with these beautiful petals. Every time you ________, you loose a petal. What happens when you loose your petals? What happens if you given them all away? You become a wilted stem. No one things a wilted stem is beautiful. No one wants a wilted stem. People throw away wilted stems. Don’t become a wilted stem.

* the _________ could be having sex, kissing, holding hands, etc. It varied depending on the context.



Even God is Single

20130928-165945.jpgSome friends gave me this book back in our college days. From what I can tell (via the inscription) it came after some relationship drama. It was a find in my home office as I reorganizing things. Couple the find with a sermon at church this Sunday on Singleness and the church and here we are – 5 quick reflections/thoughts (and a disclaimer) on being single in the church.

First a disclaimer: There is a good deal of variety within the single community, this is my list of five and it may or may not reflect others.

1. There are as many kinds of single people as there are married people. 

It’s true. Some are introverts and others are extroverts.  Some are excellent chefs and some are hopeless in the kitchen. Some love the beach and some love the ocean. I could go on and on – just like you could about the different kinds of married people. Let’s just call them people. People are all kinds of different.

2. People are single for all kinds of reasons

Shocking, but also true. For some people, from the time they were very small children, all they could dream about was being a spouse, or a parent, or a spouse and a parent. For others, their dreams of their future did not include a spouse or kids. Both are good dreams and both are hard to understand if it wasn’t your dream.

A third group: Especially in the church, there are people who are single because they have had to make some hard choices to be a part of this community. In this group, I think especially of my gay and lesbian friends – who have to reconcile their sexuality and faith in a way that those of us who are straight do not have to reconcile the two. (There is certainly more to say here, but not today.)

Then, there is this thing called life – and life can cause all kinds of crazy things to happen. In some cases that means that people get married (both people that always imagined they would and people who never thought they would). It also means that some people never get married. This can be part of the plan or a painful reality. Single people are all over this spectrum. Life can also happen to married people in the form of sickness, death, or divorce (among other things). This adds a whole new group – “single again” and a whole new layer of complexity.

3. Singleness looks different at different stages.

While I was living in the LA area, as friends in their late 20s/early 30s got married, the local reaction was, “Why are you getting married so early?” Back in Texas, college students have the pressure to “get a ring by spring.”

If your only experience of being single has been that summer between your sophomore and junior year of college – please realize that is not the same as a young professional single. Being single in college is different than it is after college or in your late 20s, or early 30s…….

Be careful being the singles expert based on that one summer. Several of my good friends are now single after years of marriage. There are many parts of that which I have no understanding from my own personal experience. As people move from one stage to another, there is a good chance they will experience a variety of feelings and emotions. Sometimes it might be hard for them to celebrate certain occasions because of these emotions.  (I have had several friends, who while they love children, that attending baby showers can be challenging because it reminds them of their own grief of not having kids in the midst of joy for the new to be parents.)

4. We’re not alone. We’re not broken. 

well not alone or broken any more than the married people you know.  (See being human above)

I may not be part of that “two become one” math, but that doesn’t mean that my life is lonely. My community just looks different. My community includes a mix of both married and single people. In some ways, my singleness allows me to be a part of communities the way that married people (or even people with kids can’t).

Also, my life isn’t incomplete because I am not married (or married with kids). It is still a complete life – just a different version than yours. Looking for another individual to complete you isn’t a great idea outside of the movies and maybe not even in the movies.

5. Let’s talk about it.

I am grateful that in a series about relationships, our church spend time talking about singleness. The ways in which it is affirmed in scripture have been long lost in our contemporary context. (Confession: I always get a little anxious of these kinds of sermons – I have seen them become disastrous in the past.)

Growing up within the Christian community, there was almost as much emphasis on finding the right spouse as there was being a disciple of Jesus. By the questions they asked, people were certainly more concerned with us finding the right person (“Oh you haven’t yet? Thanks ok, the perfect person is out there just waiting for you. You’ll find them when you least expect it.”) than that we were being formed into the image of Jesus. Ouch.

Talking about it is more challenging. It requires a community to look at the messages it communications less directly. How does our communal language reflect marriage and singleness?  Who are the visible people in our worship gatherings? In leadership? How do we talk to our kids about relationships? How do we make space for the other?


Chemistry is the study of transformation

In you haven’t been paying attention to any media for the last eight weeks (or five seasons or six years), Breaking Bad ends this upcoming Sunday.  Recent media has seen the rise in popularity of the antihero: This week  Dexter ended its eight season run and Blacklist aired its pilot episode. These last few seasons of Breaking Bad have certainly earned Walter White the label antihero. Whenever a show with an antihero for the main/title character reaches popular success, people will begin to speculate what is it that draws in such an audience. The final episodes of Breaking Bad have once again raised these questions. Perhaps, there are as many reasons as there are fans of the show. The internet is full of posts on Breaking Bad and evil, sin, justice, and consequences. For me, however, the show has always been about transformation.

With the final teaser promos, creator Vince GIlligan seems to be pointing us back in this direction:

(For full effect, you will want to play Junip’s Line of Fire in the background.) Main character,  Walter White, reaching back into his days teaching chemistry, reminds us that, “Chemistry is the study of transformation.” As he speaks, we are gifted with scenes from the past – which together bring us to the complex characters in this 62nd and final episode.

At its core, that is what Breaking Bad has been revealing over these past 61 episodes – transformation. Walter has been the protagonist, (in some ways) transformed into an antagonist, and become the antihero. Each of the characters in Breaking Bad has been an on-screen lesson in transformation. (Maybe not Todd. ugh. Todd.)

Unlike Dexter, who we knew was a serial character from the first episode, Walt did not begin as the antihero. He started out as a “Mr.Chips.” He was a high school teacher, turning 50, with a teenage son, baby on the way and a diagnosis of cancer – the kind where you talk about amount of time left and not treatment options. Financially, like many families, the Whites are making it but without much margin.  Walt, facing his own mortality, asks the question of how can I care for my family one last time. It is in this moment of desperation, out of concern for his family’s future, and the failed second job – that Walter begins down the road to becoming “Scarface”.  (It is also when America becomes familiar with the symbols for Barium and Bromine found in the Breaking Bad logo.)

From the beginning, Jesse Pinkham is the opposite of Walt. Jesse is introduced fleeing the scene of a drug bust, was a poor student (he failed White’s Chemistry course), and estranged from his family. His life is heading down a path which will not end well. He doesn’t seem to have a redeemable future. Blackmailed by Walt, he becomes a partner and together they find success in the drug business.

If  you haven’t seen it since the beginning, go back and watch the first episode again. Pay attention to their awkwardness. Watch as Walt, in only his underwear, lies to Skylar for the first time and he is horrible at it. Pay attention to the mobile RV meth lab in the desert when they barely make it out alive. There are no grandiose plans to become a kingpin here.

That to me, is the brilliance of Breaking Bad. We are shown the transformation of characters. We watch as Walt becomes the antihero and Jesse becomes the voice of moral reason. When Walt’s cancer goes into remission, we watch what he will do next. We watch the power of power and are asked “How much is enough?” We watch the original goal be lost and characters morph into someone else – we watch them become the result of their choices – for good or for bad. We watch spouses and families learn the dark secrets and have to grapple with their response. We are asked if and when we could walk away. We find ourselves rooting against characters which we had previously rooted for – and we even have our opinions of what would be a fitting ending. We have watched as these two main characters have embodied both sacrificial love and extreme evil. We become engaged with the transformation and the possibility (and seemingly impossibility) of what these characters become.

These past few episodes, we watched Walt complete the evolution into Scarface. Yet, there are moments that are reminiscent of the family man from season 1. Sunday, I am guessing, we will will come back to the question of who Walt really is – is he more than the sum of his choices, actions and consequences. In the end, how will his protective love of his family (and Jesse as an extension of his family) manifest itself in these final 75 minutes? Or is he too far gone? Or both.  This past week his son asked him, “Why are you still alive?” I am waiting with anticipation to hear this final answer.

If the audience allows themselves, Breaking Bad speaks about what it means to be human. How we become who we are – both how it can be redeemed and how it all fall from grace. It offers the invitation, if one chooses to take it, to reflect on how we are shaping our own transformation. To reflect on what external factors are shaping us. It offers the chance, through the narrative of these characters, to take an honest look at ourselves. To ask – what kind of person do you want to be? And then to become an intentional active participant in who you are still becoming.

Back, Back Again

I have this on again, off again relationship with having a website/blog. Welcome to the season of on-again. This is a place for the thoughts/posts/what nots that have been floating around in my head. I may or may not move things over from previous sites – but not today. Here is what is currently percolating: Breaking Bad and transformation, Singleness in the church, Purity culture and how we are forming our kids, and the language we use.

Fun fact: I registered back in 2005 and it has been dormant ever since. Yes, I spell Jen with only one ‘n’ and yes, wordpress required four characters.