The other day, one of those so-called “fun” surveys came across my Facebook feed. I usually love a mindless activity like this so I started to fill out the survey. I was about three questions in when I came to the question, "Have you ever been in love?" I hesitated. Now I have never been married, never really been in a serious long-term relationship, but I have still known love; love of friends and family. Yet when I got to that question I hesitated. I know better, but I stopped because of what I believe culture has taught me about “purity culture” and life as a single woman.
You see, I am a single woman who yearns to be a wife and a mom. Yet it seems that it is not okay for me to talk about this especially as a woman leader in the church. How will others see me if I am too honest about life as a single woman in this world? Will it taint how others see me? I ask myself these things even though I know the truth is that God calls all of us into relationship. I believe the church needs to do better about talking about our body parts and our bodies.
I have tried to figure out my role as a single woman, I have probably bought and read every book ever written about singleness and purity. On my bookcase you will find titles like "Single and Content," "Captivating," and "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." Yet how can I have kissed dating goodbye when I haven't really dated much in my life? I even almost bought a purity ring. I am finally realizing that these books and that ring I almost bought have done more damage than good.
It is hard to talk about singleness and even purity when the world is uncomfortable with who we are as women in the world. It is time we take a long, hard look at why this is. I think it has to do with the fact that our standards are different for men and women. Women are supposed to dress so that their knees are covered or not a hint of cleavage is shown. It has taken me a really long time to get there, but I am finally at a place where I feel beautiful and am not afraid of how others perceive me through what I wear and how I act.
Our perceptions are often influenced by the experiences we have had in life. Each of us are going to have different experiences. For me, those experiences are being the daughter of a woman who lives with a mental illness and being picked on as a child. Because of this, I cannot talk to my mom about boys like other women can.
Earlier today, I came across this quote from one of my favorite theologians Frederick Buechner. He writes, "I believe that there is within us this image of God...There is something deep within us, within everybody, that gets buried and distorted and confused and corrupted by what happens to us. But it is there as a source of insight and healing and strength."
It is my hope and prayer that places like #Slatespeak can be that place of insight and healing and strength for one another. I know that it has been for me! For in sharing our stories together, we realize that we are all incredibly loved and are all "fearfully and wonderfully made," no matter what our relationship status or identified gender may be.
Tara Ulrich (@diakonia78) is a single ELCA Lutheran girl called to the ministry of Word and Service who loves the prairies of ND! Jesus-Follower/Author/Sister/Friend. She blogs at prayingontheprairie.blogspot.com
Our conversation started with this simple definition from Jameelah Jones. Then she asked those of us gathered on Twitter this question: Q1: What do you think purity means? Q1a: Where did you get your definition from.
The conversation that followed sparked several reflections, the first of which had been written previously but fit the context.
Here are the words of @MissJerriD, Jerri R. Dyer, on Learning to be Beautiful.
When we started the Slate Project three years ago, we thought the people we would attract would be folks who did not go to church. You know, the “nones” and the “dones.”
But what actually happened is the people who came to our weekly dinner liturgy and bible study and who followed us online, were all church people. Like, serious church people. They were leaders, lay and clergy, of their churches. They were also all about what we were doing-- reimagining what it means to be church.
At first, we didn’t know what to make of this.
Our denominational leaders REALLY didn’t know what to make of this. They wanted to know who our “lay leaders” were; who our “members” were.
The truth was over half of the people who were “rising up” as leaders in our budding community were seminary-trained. Many of them were ordained in their denominations and actively serving other parishes. They were CHURCH PEOPLE.
It took us almost two years to embrace what was actually happening.
The Slate Project is full of people who have a love/hate relationship with the church.
Something about what the Slate Project is doing appeals to people who are in the church AND who are trying to change the church from the inside.
I think a big reason why TSP is so attractive to these people is because we are HONEST about this. We are honestly self-critiquing the church’s present and past. We are not spending our time trying to convince anyone that the church is amazing and has it all together. We are actively admitting and discussing where the church does not have it all together and trying to work through those areas.
It is no secret that the church (every branch, denomination, congregation you can think of) has issues. Some denominations and sections of the church are further along in their quest to address these “issues” than others. Many of us in TSP come from denominations that ordain women, support LGBTQ full inclusion, and are at least trying to deal with racism, poverty and all the other messes humanity is mired in. However, many of us do not. We come from denominations that purported "purity culture," who refuse to support and acknowledge women's leadership, who demonize people of different sexualities and gender expressions, and who have fully bought into the colonialist, capitalists ways of doing church.
No matter what part of the church we come from or what denomination we are running away from, we all have a long way to go.
If we, the church, can admit where we have failed... if we can admit where we have fallen short... if we can admit where we have done harm to one another and sinned against our brothers and sisters... if we can admit, and CONFESS, the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf... if we can say these things OUT LOUD... then we will have a better chance of tapping into the grace of God that will enable us to be something different, something better-- the Redeemed Body of Christ, living as Christ to the world.
The only way to live into God's dream for us is to seek it together. God is inviting us on a journey toward justice and freedom for all of us, for all of creation. The Slate Project is all about walking the journey of following the way of Jesus together. We need you. God needs you. There is a place for you here.