I did my Masters in Cultural Psychology, and what that means is: I’m not much fun at parties. Especially when people start talking about ‘culture’ like it’s a set thing and I bust in and explain that: “actually, culture is defined as any process by which we make meaning”. I know. I know. WTF does that mean. (and how do I have any friends).
Culture isn’t about the kind of food you like or a type of music, it’s a psychological process. It’s the systems around us that determine how our brains make sense of the world. When something happens to us, when we have an experience, our brains look around for an explanation. When we have a weird rumbling in our tummy, someone once had to explain to us – that means hunger. Culture is the process of how we explain things. It’s the systems around us that explain our experiences – subconsciously and repeatedly until a meaning forms in our mind.
E.g. you may come from a family where tears ‘mean’ weakness. No one would say that in your family, but you were exposed to cultural processes over and over again that instilled that meaning in deep unconscious places in your brain. People’s reactions to your tears, jokes that were made, the kinds of things that were celebrated in your home – these are all cultural processes that generated a culture where tears felt (and probably still feel to you) like weakness.
Culture creates instincts, not conscious thoughts. It creates meanings. It determines the kind of people we’re attracted to and the things that disgust us. It’s a powerful force for our brains. And if we’re going to talk about singleness, we have to know – we’re not coming at this from a neutral position.
So, in the Church, when someone stands on a stage and says ‘God says singleness is good’ – we have to be really clear about what we mean by singleness. We have to make sure that we don’t have a culture of singleness that is different than God’s culture of singleness. We have to know what singleness ‘means’ to us – and we have to know where those meanings came from.
In the culture, you grew up in, what meaning was made around singleness? Did it mean someone was weird? Did it mean someone was brave? Did it mean someone was pathetic? Did it mean shame? How can you know? Think about the reactions people in your home had to single people. Think about what was prayed over you and what meaning your mind made of that. Think about who you saw as leaders and respected. Think about the questions you were asked when you brought someone home, or you didn’t have a boyfriend. Think about the jokes that were made when you did. All these things will contribute to what singleness means to you.
In the church cultures, you’ve been/are a part of, what meanings have been made around singleness? How many church leaders were/are single? At what level of leadership are they? How do people react to single people? Does that change depending on what age they are? What jokes have you heard that might inform the meanings around singleness? What questions have you been asked? What’s celebrated and what’s not? Is the meaning different for men and for women? What messages or structures impact that?
All these things might contribute to what you think singleness means. And the tricky thing is – often spiritual cultures shape, not just want meanings we make, but the meanings we believe God makes. Sometimes we’re told that God condones or approves of the cultures in the church (either explicitly or implicitly – by His sovereignty).
(One important note: culture is rarely formed by the things we declare as our values, it’s formed by the processes: by the kinds of things we joke about, we celebrate, we mourn, by our reactions and facial expressions, etc… )
I want to hear from you if you don’t mind sharing! Comment or message me – what meanings have you made around singleness?
**Also – if you’re a Patron, check out the “My culture worksheet” I uploaded for you to think through some of these things!