Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book Review: The Single Issue

Book Review: The Single Issue, Al Hsu

I read this on the recommendation of 2 single friends, who both think it is one of the better ones around on singleness. I would agree, I thought it was very good.

Some of the highlights were:
  • an easy to read chapter on the history of singleness, covering OT and NT times, as well as the early church and Reformation. This was helpful in pointing out the changes in views over time, often swinging to extremes on the views on the relative importance of singleness vs. marriage.
  • I liked the chapter on 'the myth of the gift', outlining some of the unhelpful ways the 'gift of singleness' has been explained in the past. He rejects the 'gift of singleness' as being a spiritual gift, but rather the reality of a current state. If you are single, your singleness is currently a gift, if you are married, that is your gift. There is an interesting discussion about this at God's'Will
  • two chapters titled 'From loneliness to solitude' and 'From aloneness to community', thinking about the place solitude and community can have for all of us (single or married).
  • the final chapter 'Temptations singles face'. This was a helpful reminder to me of some of the challenges faced by my single friends - to put life on hold, to be over-committed, to be unaccountable, to live a life of regret, etc. This helped me to think about how I can be more or less helpful with some of these issues.

It caused me to think about:
  • How the Christian community at this present time is unhelpfully focussed on marriage and family as the 'ultimate' way of life. This is a situation that needs to be addressed probably in a number of areas: in attitude of churchgoers and ministers, illustrations from the pulpit and the ability of churches to welcome singles with open arms and with appropriate areas for to be involved in ministries and groups.
  • It is a shame our lives are so categorized by 'single' vs 'married'. I know it's an obvious thing to find out about someone upon meeting them, but it is not one's defining feature. I fall into this trap myself, as when asked about who am I or what I do, it is generally defined by my life's status - "I am married with 3 children". Perhaps we need to reconsider the need for such labels, or at least acknowledge the need for some sensitivity with them?
  • The reminder that Hsu gives that "Everyone is single at least once and often single again. Only the duration and the quality of singleness differ." I don't know whether that is a comforting statement for one who is single person (and would prefer not to be), but for me it is a reminder that marriage is a transient state which only exists for this life on earth, and for many, not for all of this life.
  • The 'Freedom and opportunity' chapter caused me to think about how my life could have been different had I not married. I married at 23 and was hardly thought out in my decision to marry, it just seemed like the right thing for us to do (and I think it was!). However, I wonder if being single for longer would have caused me to enter marriage more cautiously, at least aware of the opportunities to serve God and freedoms in doing so I was potentially giving up. I read another book this year, Loves Me, Loves Me Not (Laura Smit), which addressed a number of similar issues, but based about the framework of a theology of unrequited love. This was another helpful book (although not as easy to read as Hsu's).
The main point that both books make is that no matter what situation we are in at the moment, we should be serving God and growing in godliness.

I have noticed that the Equip Book Club is looking at "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?" this month, so I may read that one soon too.

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