In praise of healthy lament

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace” -Jeremiah 6:14

Dissociative disorder is defined as a “disruption or breakdown of memory, awareness, identity or perception.”  It’s a common occurrence among war veterans, physical and sexual abuse victims, those growing up in family systems broken by deep addictions, and among victims of religious/spiritual abuse.  The pain and trauma of the past or even the present is simply too much, so the person dissociates, meaning he or she moves into a different space, a safer space, by denying the painful realities of the present moment.  By denying reality, pretending there is no pain, and getting lost in some form of alternate reality, we find a fantasy land which is in the short run less painful.  But when the Disneyland we’ve created closes, we’re forced to face our pain again.  Eventually, if we hope to live the sort of full life Jesus promised, we’ll need to face to truth of our pain, both personal and collective.  Whether we do that, and how we do that, are perhaps two of the most important issues many of us will every face in our lives.

All of this, though, sounds very personal, a sort of clarion call to get therapy.  Maybe, but recently I’m struck by the reality that there’s a broader collective application of this dissociative tendency and our collective need to face reality.  Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia company (standard issue clothing at the church I lead) recently wrote, “I’m not optimistic at all. I’m a total pessimist. I’ve been around long enough, traveled around enough, and been around a lot of smart people to know that we’re losing. In every single category, we’re losing.” 

Wow Yvon.  Way to ruin my day.  I want to get up in the morning, hop in my car and drive my 1.2 miles to work, put in my time contributing to the industrial machine that’s drawing down the earth’s resources, drive home, eat my food that was raised in the industrial agriculture machinery that’s stripping the precious topsoil from land and laced with growth hormones and pesticides.  I’ll watch a little something on TV, endure a few ads reminding me either of my inadequacy if I’m prone to insecurity, or that the reality of my economic well being is predicated on other people buying crap they don’t need.  Then I’ll fall asleep and wake up the next morning with an injection of caffeine and do it all again.  I don’t want to be reminded of species extinction, or the fact that human trafficking and the oppression of women are at an all time high in the history of the world, or of the harsh realities in South Sudan and Syria, Ukraine and the oceans of pain on the streets less than two miles from my house – so I focus on my upcoming world cup brackets and Stanley Cup if I swing towards sport, or a new band if I don’t.  After all, I’m not part of the problem.  I pay my taxes.  Vote.  Stay sober.  Read my Bible and go to church.  Eventually the world will see the wisdom of the free market (or the socialist “single payer” solution if I think that way) and things will turn around.  They always do.

I can live that way, but this is dissociative; a massive form of self-denial.  With respect to things always turning around, the reality is that they “always don’t”, at least of the history of empires is any indication.  Jeremiah’s mourning in the 6th century BC was not only over society’s condition; it was over the massive, intentional, and collective denial of society’s condition.  If we take our cue from Alcoholics Annonymous we’ll recall the first condition of transformation is the admission that things aren’t just bad – they’re beyond fixing in the resources of our own strength.  If it’s Bible you want (and I hope you do) the same thing is declared all over the place.  The starting point of healing and transformation is staring the harshness of naked reality in the face.

At some point, it happens; it hits us hard.  We can see that though the system might be working for us, it isn’t working.  It isn’t sustainable.  It’s isn’t life giving.  It isn’t whole.  We see it, it hits us, and we’re filled with both grief and a longing for things to be other than they are for our world.  When we really see with clarity, and are willing to sit in the reality of what we see, we mourn.  When we mourn and lament, we open the door to even clearer ways of seeing and then, of living.  We re prioritize.  We confess.  We take a step towards wholeness; and then another; and then the steps become a journey; and the journey has a real joy in it, because it’s rooted in the truth and the truth, as painful and dark as it might be, will set you free.

There’s more.  Those who are willing, like the prophets of old, to look beyond the superficial categories of personal well being and forgo the temporary anesthetics of culture long enough to feel the pain will become part of God’s grand and joy filled solution, and this will happen for three reasons:

I.  Because we’ll think collectively

Our hyper individualized society makes it easy to dissociate ourselves from the sins of our parents, but we do this to our shame.  When Israel returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls of the city, the dedication included a lengthy confession of the sins of the parents. This isn’t a blame game.  It’s an acknowledgement that we’re shaped by our culture, by our family, or nation, or geography, and that there are scars because of it.  Our insistence that all’s well, that Adam Smith is wiser than Chief Seattle, that our internment camps were necessary, and that racism is behind us are all just a massive forms of denial.

We’re terrified of becoming negative, depressing people, but the reality is that my willingness to own every piece of the story that has shaped me lays a foundation for redemption and my own transformation that would be impossible as long as I cling to denial.

II.  Because we’ll make wiser choices

Seeing, owning, and naming the disastrous consequences of consumerism, nuclear proliferation, industrial agriculture, unrestricted free markets, commitment free sex, unrestricted access to abortion, will, if we allow ourselves to really see, change the way we live.  It’s in the wake of this kind of mourning that take bold steps towards simplification, or hospitality, or eating less fast food, or maybe even making a bold vocational change.  I’ve no illusions that these simple choices will change the overwhelming systemic problems.   But I do believe that creatively imagining a better world, as we’re wired to do, and equipped to do by the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the prophets (see Micah 6:8 here) will move us into a more joy filled, life giving, and peaceful existence, making us part of God’s solution.

III.  Because we’ll say Maranatha and mean it.

We who follow Christ have a grand hope and that has to do with the promise of his coming reign.  Just as the prophets are saturated with the bad news in an attempt to shake us awake, they’re equally overflowing with hope, as they envision all tools of war melted down, and an end to suffering, injustice, environmental degradation, and disease.  This kind of cosmic transformation won’t happen because I bring my own shopping bag to Trader Joe’s, even if I go there on my bike.  Still, every chance I might have to live as a sign that there’s a different kingdom than the prevailing kingdom of consumerism and trivialities will testify to the hope I carry in Christ.

All of it begins, though, with an acknowledgement that all’s not right.  So maybe join me in praying this Anishinabe prayer:

Grandfather; look at our brokenness.  We know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the Sacred Way.  We know that we are the one who are divided and we are the ones who must come together to walk in the Sacred Way.  Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor, that we may heal the earth, and heal each other.  Amen

to which I’d only add:  Marantha!  Come quickly Jesus!

Musings on Boston Strong and why Beating Fear matters so much.

Fear is a net which evil casts over us that we might become ensnared and fall. Those who are afraid have already fallen. D. Bonhoeffer

I went for a tiny little run this morning around the lake by my house, grateful for health, grateful for the remarkable hope I hold for, literally, all of humanity, because of Christ, and grateful for the beauty that attends the newness of the morning.  Running this morning, of course, I’m mindful of the many thousands who’ll be churning out their miles through the streets of Boston today, proud that there are at least two members of my own church who are there.  Boston is the ultimate in marathons, and this year’s is unlike any other because of the tragic events of last year.  This is the year when the runners, the fans, and the city of Boston declare that fear can be vanquished, that lost limbs needn’t stop runners from pressing on, that people in wheelchairs can offer hope to family members of last years victims, that every step is raising money to stand in the gap and support PTSD veterans, and families with children fighting cancer, and more; that runners say, over and over again, that they’re being carried by the spirit of the crowd.  The whole thing is a reclamation project, a way of showing fear the door, slamming it shut, and sending fear on its merry way to hell.

I love finding the image of God and snapshots of the gospel in everyday life, and today its not hard to do.  Fear is both a chief enemy of humanity, and one of Satan’s favorite and most often used tools.  The events of today are rooted in a public groundswell acknowledgement of this, and every runner, every fan, every dollar given in support of causes to serve those on the margins, testify to the reality that fear is an enemy that can be vanquished.

Simply acknowledging this is a huge step, but the good news of the gospel includes several declarations regarding why fear need never shrink our lives.

1. We’re freed from the fear of death, according to this declaration.  I have friends who have stared death in the face for their faith.  Their belief that death isn’t the end of the story enabled them to live with courage and integrity in the face of persecution.  Some of these friends escaped death and others didn’t.  All of them, though, lived with integrity to the very end, believing that death isn’t the end of the story.  Everything many of us celebrated yesterday is rooted in this reality, and if it’s not a reality for us, the fear of death will creep into our lives and create a terrible prudence, shrinking our concerns to the very private and personal, rather than the large outwardly focused hearts of generous service for which we’re created.  I need to live every day intent on doing the right thing, because that matters more than the outcome, even if the outcome is death.

2. We’re freed from ever being alone.  The first time I taught a Bible study, the text was Joshua 1:1-9, and the final declaration of that section shook my world that day I studied in preparation for teaching a small group of high school students in Fresno:  “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  The reason we’re called to courage is because God has promised to be with us, ‘wherever we go’.   I tell people I never fly alone, and they say, “So your wife goes with you on all your teaching trips?”

“No” I say, and when they look at me for more; “Jesus always goes with me – he travels coach too!”  That reality has served me well these past 40 years, because I’ve learned, through the untimely deaths of many friends and family, that our companions for our journey aren’t necessarily always able to with us.  Sometimes they even stop wanting to be with us, as relationships drift apart.  My dad; a favorite associate pastor at the church I lead (cancer); one of my best friends (paragliding accident); another close mountaineering friend (avalanche).  You never know.  One thing I do know, though, is that I’ll never be alone.  That’s why I take coffee with God so seriously, and nurturing the reality of companionship with Christ.  Our fear of being alone sometimes leads us into unhealthy relationships, or shabby substitutes for real intimacy, both of which can suck the joy and hope out of living.  How much better to begin with the reality and confidence of companionship with Christ.

There are a host of other fears from which we’re freed because of the power, beauty, and truth of the gospel, but I simply offer these two in order to prime the pump of your own thinking.  Because God loves us, God hates to see us enslaved to fear – ever.  As runners cross the finish line today, I’m celebrating the image of God in humanity, and realizing once again that the best lives in history were those who gave fear the boot.  As my favorite pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said so well:

It is not only anxious fear that is infectious, but also the calmness and joy with which we encounter what is laid on us. 

O thou Christ;

What a privilege to be reminded this day and every day, that we’re at our best when we do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.  Thank you for the many provisions granted us in you which enable to us to choose courage rather than fear.  Grant that we might hear your voice and, having heard, move with confidence into the future you have for each of us, clinging to you every step of the way and finding the joy and confidence that are ours in you.  This way we will be people of hope in a world still trembling, most days, with fear.   Thank you for the adventure awaiting us as we follow you every step of the way – and thank you for the marathon.

Amen…

 

 

Killing the Power Play – Lessons from World Vision and Church History

gotta kill the power play

It’s been over week now since World Vision acted, the Evangelical world reacted, and hundreds of us wrote about it.  This morning, I’m enjoying some coffee and reading John 9, which is a story about a blind guy Jesus heals with spit and mud on some random Saturday.   This leads to some intense questioning and right there in the middle of it all we read this:

Then some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God because he does not observe the Sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs and miracles?”  So there was a difference among them

People who are experts in knowing the text, when confronted with a real life situation, have differing ideas regarding the proper interpretation.  Imagine that!  It certainly won’t be the last time people disagree about what it means to live faithfully.  Circumcision, meat sacrificed to idols, observance of “a day” devoted to worship will all become issues, just in the first decades of the New Testament.

As church history unfolds, the number of issues about which people who share the same faith in Christ disagree will multiply exponentially:  working in theater, working for the military, the ownership and/or use of weapons, the deity and humanity of Christ, the nature and meaning of the priesthood, the meaning of communion, the permanence or passing nature of miraculous signs in the Bible, women in ministry, divorce and remarriage, the weighted balance of calls to justice vs calls to personal pious morality, whether translate the Bible into common tongue, and once that was decided, which translation is better – and I’m just getting started.

Our sadness and shock regarding events surrounding World Vision last week say as much about our collective amnesia as they do about the state of Christianity.  There really is nothing new under the sun, including the way people have reacted, including accusations and withdrawal.

There’s surely a time for both of these things.  We look back in horror at the church’s collective silence in Germany, or the failure of the Southern Baptists to apologize for racism until the 1990s.  While the majority went one direction, in both these cases there were minorities that actively resisted the trend lines, and withdrew from the prevailing tide of culture.  Bonhoeffer both spoke out against the Reich and began an underground seminary.  There’s a time to quit fighting and simply seek to gather with like minded people, out there on the margins.

Is this such a time?  Rachel Evans seems to think so.  She writes:   “I’m done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change”  and this is a good thing because forcing culture change has never been our calling.  We’ve always been called to offer an alternative to the prevailing winds of culture, not force culture change.

I don’t think the church gets this right very often because starting with Constantine, the threads of power have been tightly bound with threads of piety, and the results have been ugly, not just in recent history, but for about 1800 years now.   Crusades, Inquisitions, and the boycotting of Disney and Starbucks are all the same iterations of bringing power to bear on people in hopes of changing their view of truth.  Last week, though, it was this same tactic applied to people who share the same mission, as some Christians called for withdrawing financial support for World Vision in protest over a shift in HR policy regarding gay married couples.  Two days later they reversed their decision, leading at least some people I know to withdraw their support over the reversal.  I’m stunned that the same people offended by such tactics when the right invoked them against WV turned around and used them against WV when the shoe was suddenly on the other foot.  It’s loud.  It’s ugly.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s evangelical Christianity in the 21st century.

If you want to leave, there are plenty of places to go.  The Catholics have the coolest Pope ever, but they still forbid same sex unions, keep women out of leadership, and frown on birth control.  The Eastern Orthodox church has a marvelous creation theology, and a compelling view of the atonement, but they tend to think they’re the only ones with the truth (a kind of a “fundamentalism with incense”).  House church?  If it’s healthy it’ll grow and then you’ll need structure and kid care, and who makes these decisions?  No church?  It’s an option, but scripture’s clearer about gathering together regularly and living lives of interdependence in community as a testimony of loving each other than it is about nearly any other subject.  What should we do?

I’m about to write that we need to stop marginalizing people, and I can already hear the comments about how churches do exactly that when they draw lines.  But the reality is that every organization in the world stands for something, and when you stand for something, you draw a line, and when you draw a line there are outsiders.  So, we need to see that churches either have standards or they don’t stand for anything.   The question on the table is what do you do when an organization with which you’re affiliated, either through attendance or support, when you or someone you love is over there on the wrong side of the line on some issue?

 What then? 

Stay or go isn’t, in my estimation, the most important matter.  There are people in the church I lead who’ve done both very well, in spite of disagreements on some matters of faith and practice.  What matters most is that it’s high time to “kill the power play” (a hockey metaphor for my Canadian and Bostonian friends).  A British friend, long since passed away, shared a story with me once about a pastor in London.  He was intent on recovering a “true church” and was, by most counts, a brilliant bible teacher with a real capacity to see truth and communicate it with clarity. The trouble was that he saw things, in his own estimation, with such clarity, that he realized nobody saw the real truth except him.  He died only willing to take communion with himself, a tragic irony given the fact that communion is intended to be a testimony of our shared life in Christ.

And therein lies the problem with withdrawing.  Rachel writes about how great it would be to “focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion

Yes, it would be great.  But of course, there are theistic evolutionists who don’t favor gay marriage, or women in ministry.   What happens when that woman speaks in your new community, or isn’t allowed to?   –  because the reality is that if you’re now a community, you don’t have the luxury of not deciding – either woman speak or they don’t.   We don’t all agree on everything, and my British friend reminds me that when that’s the goal, we’ll end up dining, and worshiping, and bowling, alone.  That’s why the most important thing isn’t being in or out, it’s killing the power play.  Kill the notion that you’ll force change by exercising power!

What does that mean?  It means I need to stand with Rachel and everyone else by putting an end to the notion that our calling is to “force a culture to change” through boycotts, marginalization, and labeling.  It’s time we recognize that Jesus’ people have never agreed on anything, except that he rose from the dead.  This doesn’t mean an end to all discussion and spirited debate.   It doesn’t mean and end to communities and leaders needing to exercise spiritual authority and seek to uphold the faith with humility and courage.  It does mean an end to attempts at making other faith based organizations conform to my exact view of the faith, and rallying the troops to punish them when they fail to conform.

What does this look like in practice?   I think the best answer I can find is written by a former WV employee who is also gay (anonymous for obvious reasons)  Here’s what he writes in response to the decision and its subsequent reversal:

I am disappointed. I feel defeated. 

When it comes down to it, I understand the reasons behind the final decision – donor money makes things happen, and many donors didn’t agree with the policy change. My brain gets it, but my heart feels crushed.

It hurts to think that I could be turned away from my “dream job” at one of the best companies in my industry, not because of a lack of skill or education, but because of who I love and my self-expression.

… I feel all the emotions. Anger. Sadness. Disappointment. Shock. Confusion.

But beyond all of these, I feel love

I think of the millions of lives impacted for good. The children who have been fed and given an education. The parents who have received micro loans and given support for their families. This reminds me of why I love WV.

I think about the countless conversations I’ve had with people about the incredible work World Vision does. The feeling of excitement I get in my stomach when I explain the brilliant approaches WV has made for economic and community development around the globe. I still believe strongly that World Vision is one of the most effective development agencies operating today. This reminds me of why I love WV.

I think of my former coworkers and the relationships I’ve formed through World Vision. Several of my dearest friendships were established there. These are the people who have strengthened my skills, taken a chance on me, and challenged me to grow professionally and as an individual. These are also the friends who have been so supportive during my coming out process. This reminds me of why I love WV.

And so as I prepare for my meeting at World Vision (as an independent contractor not subject to WV’s employment standards), after hearing that individuals in same-sex marriages will still not be employed by WV, I am full of love.

Because love comes first, and the rest will follow. Because love is louder than hate. Even if hate has a louder bullhorn.

 

 

 

 

 

When “Here” is better than “There”

I wake up this morning in Colorado and, as is typical, make my coffee and then go to my ipad where I catch up on the news before reading my Bible.  It’s just getting light as I scan the news, the craziness that is Ukraine.  Last night on the newshour, a professor of Russian studies said, “even if you’re not religious, you should be praying, because if this becomes war, all bets are off.”  Toss in some stuff about Syrian refugees, and I’m mindful that our world is filled with suffering, and though the cup seems overflowing already, still there’s more pouring in, moment by moment, as lives are plunged into war, hunger, poverty, trafficking, disease. 

I read my scriptures for the day, something about nations and kingdoms fighting against each other, and food shortages, and epidemics.  It’s a reality, of course, as the news a few seconds earlier corresponds with Jesus’ timely words. 

Then I turn around, and there’s a sunrise happening that can’t be described, because it’s not just the colors: it’s the cold, it’s the clarity of the air, it’s the silence, it’s the raw beauty, and significantly, it’s the fact that I am here – in this place, and not there, and any of those places I’ve read about this morning.  I’m awestruck, but conflicted at the same time.  photo copy 2

“Why am I here” is the question that haunts me, and at many levels there’s no answer.  There are responses though, and some of them aren’t helpful.

Guilt isn’t helpful.  We’re here, in wealth and, relative to most of the world, peace and safety. There are hard working, honest people throughout the world who are victims of oppression and injustice, so the causal sense that we’re here instead of there because we’re better must be evicted from our thoughts.  Equally wrong, though, is a sense of paralyzing guilt, a sense that we, for some reason ought to be there and not here.

Fear isn’t helpful.  Our collective narcissism is evident when the questions and comments of journalists extend no further than how the events over there affect our “self interest here”  It can be strangely dis empowering to watch various parts of the world collapse around us, filling us with anxiety about whether we’ll be next, and how we should arm ourselves for protection.  But no, over and over again, Jesus tells us that he’s warned us about these things precisely so that we ‘will not fear’, which is the message that heralded Christ’s birth, and rings throughout his ministry for our benefit and well being.  We need to give fear a swift quick.

Isolation isn’t helpful.  “Not my problem” we see, as we change the channel to some rerun, or go out for a run, or pour another glass of Merlot.  It’s far too easy to believe that the stuff that over there is outside the sphere of our influence and should therefore be outside the sphere of our concern.  This, as we’ll see, misses that mark.  I’m surprised at how many people no longer digest the news because it’s simply “too depressing”.

To the extent that we allow these mindsets to carry the day, our worlds will shrink down into petty preoccupations with our own personal survival, or crippling depression and anxiety.  One need only read the Bonhoeffer story or this favorite diary read from WWII to realize how tempting these options are.  Gratefully, there’s a better way:

Instead of guilt, gratitude.  Every sip of cold water, every good night kiss, every moment of this very precious life.  It’s vital to recognize that our culture is well beyond the boundaries of comfort, having become guilty of lavish excess, and surely guilty of increasing injustice too.  Gratitude though, is for the fact that there no bombs on the roadside, that people gather in public places to express their views, mostly without fear of reprisal, that there’s food on the table and the possibility of friendship, love, education.  It’s far from perfect, but there’s much for which we can be grateful.  This is a starting point to living here well.

Instead of fear, hope.  It might sound shallow and cheap to offer hope from the scriptures for those living and dying in the midst of suffering, but what other hope is there?  Nations will rise and fall.  Justice will ebb and flow.  People will die in the crossfire, and the friendly fire, and the forest fire.  And those of us who escape these ravages?  We’ll die too, and it will always be inconvenient, and seem wrong.

This tired script, though, is coming to and end.  History is headed towards a new script, where every molecule is shot through with the glory of King Jesus.  You know, the one who loved lepers, and women of the night, who told stories that hinted his kingdom would be utterly other – a place where the lame, blind, oppressed, broken, would not only find healing, but a place at the table with the king – a place where all war, and cancer, and rape, and genocide, and AIDS, and tribal divisions will vanish in the flames of a just judgement, leaving nothing but healing and joy in its wake.  MARANATHA… it can’t come soon enough.

But until it does, it’s our calling to live as people of hope.  If the sun’s not yet fully up, we are, nonetheless, called to be the Colors of Hope – the sunrise foretelling a better world.  This isn’t about a short term mission trip; this is about a total overhaul of our values so that our daily lives embody, in increasing measure, the very hope of which Jesus spoke.  That way, Jesus is no longer a theory – he’s a living king, and our lives reflect his reign.  That’s the best response I can think of to the nightly news.

Instead of Isolation, Prayer.  We feel helpless, watching the news like that. We’re not.  We can pray, believing that God intervenes in history in response to the prayers of God’s people.  Years ago, a dear friend whose husband was a British Major in WWII showed me the program from a prayer service held in London after the war.  In it, there were quotes from Churchill, Roosevelt, and other spiritual and national leaders, calling the nations to prayer.  There were even specific prayers offered, having to do with weather.  History tells us (I believe) that God intervened.  Prayer matters.

Of course we’re not necessarily called to spend all of every day in prayer, interceding for each nation and activity.  That would take us out of the game. Instead, we’re invited to live lives that are permeable enough to let God in, to let God break out heart over some specific thing, whether its Sudan, Congo, Crimea/Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, homelessness, sexual slavery, or something else in the seemingly endless list of brokenness.  Maybe all you can do is pray over the thing that breaks your heart.  But prayer’s a big deal, or so we say we believe.  And of course, we could all pray this a little bit more, since Jesus taught us to do so:

May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen?  Amen!

I welcome your thoughts.

The End of Sex as we know it – and what to do about it (embodiment pt 2)

“Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex.” 

So begins an article about the continuing loss of interest in sex among young people in Japan.  The government even has a name for it:  Celibacy syndrome.  It’s examined at length in this article.   Though a loss of interest in sex might be every fundamentalist preacher’s dream, a closer look at the “why” behind it should terrify us all, for its rooted in several dysfunctions that are the byproduct of an increasingly techno/material worldview that has little time for, or interest in, physical or spiritual realities.   Here’s what I mean:

1. Work Life is consuming real life – Here’s an example from the article:  Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. “A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realized I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up.”  Careers take time in Japan, and they take time in the USA too.   A fruit of this value structure is that there’s less energy, both physical and emotional, for the pursuit of intimacy.  Still, it might be worth it if intimacy and union was something worth pursuing.  But it’s not, because of the second problem.

2. Intimacy Cynicism.  Every post-boomer generation seems to have an increasingly cynical view of marriage.  There are lots of reasons for this but perhaps the biggest one is the appalling lack of accessible healthy marriage examples.  Boomers marriages have failed more than previous generations.  Further, among those that didn’t fail, many simply lowered the bar, particularly in religious circles, so that a successful marriage was defined as “not divorce”.   I remember an older couple at church telling a young woman that the key to a successful marriage was to realize “there’s no back door – no escape – no leaving – no quitting”  I watched the hope drain out of her face and after he left she said, “That’s why I doubt I’ll ever marry.  I want intimacy, not a roommate to be stuck with the rest of my life.”

Of course, if I’m skeptical about marrying, or skeptical my marriage will last, then my own financial security becomes paramount “just in case”, and then the notion that either of us can contribute to the household in some way other than through a career evaporates.  We each need our jobs, not out of a sense of calling, joy, or creativity, but as a trump card for our own survival.  In such a setting, cynicism about the possibility of intimacy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many because you don’t have the hope and trust necessary to enter into the risk of commitment.  “Marriage?  Too risky.”  I hear iterations of this regularly.

3. The Dusk of Commitment Free Sex – From the article:  Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either. “I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair. They assume I’m desperate because I’m single.” She grimaces, then shrugs. “Mendokusai.”Mendokusai translates loosely as “Too troublesome” or “I can’t be bothered”. It’s the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia

There are a growing number of young people who are beginning to experience the reality articulated in sources as wide ranging as the Bible and “No Strings Attached”:  Sex has emotional consequences and costs.  The notion that sex can be rewarding as “just sex” is increasingly seen through the lens of real experiences as myth.  Sex is devalued.  Intimacy is divorced from sex, or intimacy is birthed as an unanticipated expectation.  And so, Mendokusai – not the worth the trouble.  Or, as I’ve heard it said in Italian: Non vale il pene – not worth the penis

4. A disembodied existence.  Our virtual world of social media, phones, TV, video games, and easy access to porn, creates an entire alternative, unreal world, a world which is consuming more and more time among the generations.  Phillip Zimbardo speaks of this through the lens of American culture in his e-book, “The Demise of Guys”, cataloging many factors for the social, sexual, and intimacy dysfunction of men.  The church, sadly, has been part of the problem too, not by encouraging social media and porn, but by ignoring enjoyment of, commitment to, and care for the body.  Unfortunate understanding of our faith have exalted disembodied spiritual existence as a sort of “Christian nirvana” when in reality the Bible is filled with great food, wine, sex, thirst, hunger, sweat, blood, sunrises, mountains, rivers and streams, and everything else that invite us to be spiritual people in our bodies.

The therapist in Japan says, cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. “I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work.”

If we who follow Christ shrug this off as “someone else’s problem” we’re blind both to our own sickness, and to the opportunity given us as a voice of hope and transformation.  Christ followers must show the way forward by living out their faith in the flesh, which requires the risk of intimacy, the enjoyment and discipline of the body, and aliveness of the senses, and the embodiment of genuinely grace filled intimacy and sexuality, with all its vulnerability and courage.  We can’t be light in this world without these commitments.

PS – since I’m out of words, and out of time, I’ll post thoughts regarding helpful steps for each of these four issues on Friday or next Monday.  If you subscribe, you’ll be sure not to miss it! (just hit the “sign me up” button to the right)

When Everything’s Collapsing? The Ancient Paths

IMG_0229It’s been a week.  In the normally limp and newsless lazy days of late August, our senses have been assaulted by horrific images, at home and abroad.  We’ve learned that the Syrian government is exterminating their own people, and that options of intervention run the risk of a full scale attack of Israel, an event which puts the middle east, and hence the world, in a heightened state of vulnerability – more ready to burst into flames than a California forest.

Meanwhile, our pop culture offers one of it’s stars at a music awards show and we’re struck with the realization that nobility, inspiration, edification, and real beauty are all lying on the ash heap of a previous era.  In their place, we’re offered objectified and sexualized bodies, bawdy lyrics, and the stark realization that our cultural “elite” have played their hand, declaring that this is, and will be, the new lower norm.  CNN’s elevation of the event to front and center news is newsworthy in its own right because the huge spike in readership for this “news” over any real news reveals the depths of depravity  (yes, it’s an Onion article, because truth is sometimes best told through satire) to which our collective culture is rapidly sinking.

It’s tempting to respond to all of it by turning off all media and withdrawing to a cave, or a fundamentalist church that’s working on personal purity and self-fulfillment while waiting for Jesus to come fix it all.  Nope: that’s a false hope leading to disengagement and private faith.   It’s tempting too, to mobilize, aligning ourselves with campaigns to reign in the crass media, and make sure our military, and Israel’s are both strong enough, not only to win the impending wars, which could be massive, but also the wars that will happen AFTER the wars are won, because God only knows who will fill the power vacuum in a new Syria.  It will become Egypt 2.0, only worse.  Nope: that’s false anger, leading to public rage, and more fear based responses.

How about this instead?

Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the anciengt paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ – Jeremiah 6:16

What are these ancient paths that will enabling us to know peace, beauty, hope, in the midst of the meltdown?

1. They are paths that take intimacy with God seriously.  Jeremiah lived in similar days, when people couldn’t look outside or inside without getting depressed or overwhelmed.  When all hell breaks loose, whether personally, culturally, or globally, it will be good to already have habits that take intimacy with God seriously.  This was Jeremiah’s point in my favorite Bible verse, found here.  He said that no other pursuit is worthy of “boasting”, which is a way of saying that nobody really cares about the car you drive, or the mountains you’ve climbed (corporate or literal), and neither, in the end, should you.  Your real joy, real meaning, ultimately should have intimacy with God at its foundation.  He’s the one who, as Jeremiah says, “practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth…”  Make knowing God a priority, and God’s priorities become yours.  You’re called, in the midst of all this insanity, to look like Jesus, and you will, as a by product of making intimacy with God your main priority.  We won’t always have economic prosperity, national greatness, physical strength – but we’ll always have our relationship with God – right up to our dying breath, and beyond.

Knowing God means looking for revelation from God everywhere, as I’ll write about later next week.  But to begin with, everyone needs a lens through which to look at everything differently.  Acquiring this lens comes by making a habit of listening for God’s voice in a daily encounter.  If you need help with that, let me suggest this resource, or this one, or this one.

I rise early, make my coffee, open my bible, sit in the forest, receive God’s revelation, pray a bit – and get on with my day.  Over time, I’m gaining a perspective on reality that’s different, more hopeful, less fearful.  I wish the same for you!

2. It’s a path that looks around and does something.  It’s easy, when the bottom drops out, to allow our concerns to shrink until our concerns become nothing more than our personal peace and safety.  Jeremiah, though, writing to people in the midst of a world (and culture) gone mad, writes:  “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” 

This is Jeremiah’s way of saying that hand wringing, and moaning, whining and withdrawing into our Christian ghettos to talk about how the world’s all “gone to hell”, or spinning conspiracy theories about birth certificates or NSA wire tappings or whatever it is that Limbaugh’s saying today isn’t, in any way, the Christian life.  Rather, the Christian life means being the presence of Jesus, right where you are, which means:

Giving stuff away, throwing a party for the neighbors, visiting someone in the hospital, spending time with children, mentoring a young mom, or young teen, serving in a homeless shelter, planting a garden, making beautiful music or art or great coffee, visiting someone who’s lonely, spending quality time with your grown children, or o so much more.

The days ahead don’t look very bright from my chair.  Years ago, though, I read this about that:

Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.   

Good idea… I think I will.