It’s not just that it’s been happening throughout history. It’s our collective complicity with it, through knowing and not speaking, through seeing and not saying. It’s the “this is just the way it is” of it that is at the heart of the blight. Turning a blind eye to sexual abuse, misogyny, and the abuse of power in relationships has been happening for millenia. These dark sins have, it seems, been so deeply woven into the fabric of our culture that they’ve gone tragically unnoticed.
Thanks be to God, the tide is turning. Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner occurred at a time when they were viewed as isolated incidents years and decades ago, and presidential liaisons before that were hushed up completely. But the rapid recent succession of Donald Trump, Bill O Reily, Roger Ailes, and now the Weinstein situation have brought the issue out onto the mainstage of culture, front and center. That’s good news, but only if we respond rightly and become part of the healing solution. So how should we respond?
Reject all objectification of women. It’s too easy for those who’ve never been guilty of overt abuse to wash their hands in false self righteousness, ready as they are to throw their stones. But the wise person will see abuse clothed in power as the presenting problem and travel further upstream to find the source of the malady. When he does, he’ll find that always, before there’s abuse, there’s an objectification – the reduction of a woman made in God’s image to nothing more than a body, a thing that exists solely for the satisfaction of the onlooker, as he uses her to fill some destructive void in his life. If this is the real problem, perhaps there’s not a man among us who isn’t guilty – and perhaps this is why Jesus took lust so seriously here.
Overcoming habits of objectification will require an active re-training of our senses, our interior thought life, because the reality is that our culture is complicit in the sex abuse problem, reducing women to objectified images in advertising, bait click portraits, movies, sitcoms, and shopping malls – let alone the vast world of porn. Every time I reduce a woman’s image or her presence to an object existing for my pleasure and satisfaction, I become part of the problem, feeding the purveyors of objectification yet another reason to continue and intensify their offerings.
I get it guys. You’re lonely, stressed, frustrated, insecure. You want comfort, intimacy, less stress, or at least a momentary hit of plelasure – and they all seem out of reach, so you reach for what’s so readily available in our culture and presto – problem solved. You leave satisfied. Except the problem isn’t solved – at all. The only thing that’s changed is that you’ve become weaker. You’ve made an offering to the gods of darkness intent on deepening the strongholds of abuse. O, and one other thing happened. Another woman was used – another story, another wall, another wound.
There’s a better way, and it starts with walking away from every whiff of objectification. And the courage to walk away usually begins by believing that I have a life and calling all my own, a completion in Christ that is real. Because of this, though I might feel lonely and frustrated at times, to the extent that I embrace my deepest and truest identity, I’m freed from letting the false void of inadequacy drive my behavior. I’ve no need to grab, fondle, or even fantasize about doing so, because I’ve an actual life to live, full of serving and sharing, blessing and building. Real life trumps fantasies and objectifications every time.
Restore the primacy of character in our voting, employment, and education. The words of Mr. Trump, caught on “access hollywood” tape should have been a warning: this is a man driven to conquer people, to use them, to acquire them as objects for his own purposes. “… and they let you get away with it…” He’s not the first president with the problem, by any means. Just the crassest, and most cavalier – on tape anyway. The scourge is well resourced with presidents from both parties.
The point isn’t perfection. One look at Abraham, or Noah, or David remind us that perfection isn’t the point. What’s happened in our culture, though, is that our silence, and our collective turning the other way, and our voting, have all become forms of tacit approval, not of those who have failed and know it, but of those for whom the misuse of power as a means of using a woman for sexual satisfaction became normal, even a matter for boasting.
All people are created in God’s image, and as such, none are ever to be treated as objects existing for the profit and pleasure of those with more power. Sadly, this has been one of the most violated truths in the history of the world, including American history. Blacks were literally property, for centuries, as confirmed “on the books” of insurance companies and banks whose records go back to the times of the colonies. American Indians? Objects. Women? Objects for sexual pleasure, void of voting rights, employment rights, equal pay rights, or even the most basic right of all – the right to walk through the world with the confidence that you’re being seen as a whole person, not an object to be used and discarded.
Are you intent on putting people in positions of power who believe in the dignity of all people, precisely because all are made in God’s image? Are you interested in ending the objectification culture that has wounded women in America for centuries? Are you going to take steps, as you’re able, to break down the dividing walls of racism, classism, and sexism that are a blight on both American culture and (too often) the church?
Continuing in a series of looking at ways in which the gifts God wants us to know and enjoy are stolen from us, this entry and the next one will consider how millions have lost their sexual joy and identity, and how all of us are paying a huge price because of it. I welcome your thoughts.
We’re sexual beings, made biologically for reproduction, and emotionally for intimacy. We’re made, by our creator, with sexual longings and appetites, and with the physiological realities that sexual arousal is intended to be pleasurable. There are body parts and nerve endings related to our sexuality that have no other purpose than to be a source of pleasure. Sex is a good gift from our Maker.
Alas, though, it’s a fallen world. As a result, this grand and precious gift has been stolen from us. The enemy of the kind of “life abundant”, which is what Jesus came to bring us, has, for all time, been a master thief in this arena. This theft, which I’d suggest likely has affected 100% of us in various measure at various times, leaves isolation, shame, fear, hatred, and heartache in its wake. Further, the strategies of the thief are many. Here I offer a few “theft strategies” , and with them, some practical steps to take so that sexual identity can return to its intended place in our lives as a powerful gift.
Strategy #1: “Sex as bad” – I put this first because many reading this are Christ followers, and the church has been deplorable in this regard. From the beginning, the early church rightly understood that our sexuality could easily be misused, but the response was to vilify it rather than hold it wisely. Some church fathers forbade sex for any reason other than procreation; others limited the days of the year on which intercourse was allowed; still others advocated castration. At the root of these lies, perpetrated by faith leaders, was the belief that sex is best controlled by killing it. Kill the desire and you solve the problem.
Desire, though, doesn’t die easily, nor should it. Some who manage to attain “purity” do so at the cost of believing in the goodness of sex. Others, who fail, fall into a dung pile of shame – their identity deeply damaged by the guilt heaped on them directly and covertly through an ethic for sex that God never had in mind.
Strategy #2: “Sex as recreation” – At the other end of the spectrum from a fear of sex, is the lie that sex is an appetite just like hunger, and as such, should be honored in a manner similar to our relationship with food. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re horny? There’s an app for that, and a willing partner nearby. It’s a “sex at dawn” mentality, based on the faulty belief that a) we’re nothing more than animals, and b) that the happiest animals were polyamorous. Though “Sex at Dusk” does a marvelous job deconstructing this false edifice with hard science, it’s not sold nearly as many copies as “Sex at Dawn” and appears to be out of print except for the kindle edition. It turns it we’d rather believe the lie.
The fruit of this is that sex in increasingly divorced from any sense of covenant commitment. That might sound appealing, and there are presentations of this lifestyle (such as the classic “Sex in the City”) that make hookup culture appear normal, and relatively risk free.
It’s not. Easy access to commitment-free sex, while superficially appealing to some (perhaps many), more often than not yields the ugly fruits of 1) loss of capacity for real intimacy 2) increased loneliness, which leads to, 3) an increased desire to quench the pain of loneliness, which leads to 4) an increased dependency on another sexual encounter. We call that addiction, and addiction steals huge swaths of your soul, as well as those of your family, friends, and co-workers.
Strategy #3: “Sex as pixels” – Internet pornography, and soon, virtual reality pornography, are creating an alternate universe of sexual pleasure and release ‘on demand’. The effect on the user is a rewiring of the brain in such a way that that began as a “demand” originating from your own will, ultimately becomes a “demand” on your own will creating an arousal addiction. Your brain on porn articulates the destructive consequences of this pathway physiologically and emotionally. Erectile dysfunction is an ever increasing problem among all men, tragically including young men in their 20s.
In addition, all porn users, of all ages, are rewiring their brains so that the scripted fantasies of actors, specifically intended to arouse, become their new “baseline” of what constitutes normal. As a result, arousal in the context of real intimacy (which must, of necessity, be mutual not unilateral, and include self-giving, not just receiving), becomes difficult, sometimes impossible. Thus the spouse of the porn user feels pressured to perform in a certain way, or perhaps doesn’t feel anything at all, because the user has substituted sexual release with pixels for genuine intimacy. The long term effects of either path? Sexual joy is stolen.
NEXT UP: In the next post, I’ll share some solutions to these theft problems. In the meantime, though, consider this read, as a means of re-orienting your brain toward a redemptive view of sexuality: Real Sex offers a way through the minefield, casting a vision of holding one’s sexuality joyfully, in wholeness.
There’s a line at the end of Song of Solomon in the 6th chapter that speaks of an old problem. “Come back! Come back, O beautiful woman, that we may admire you!” It appears that some onlookers are enchanted by the beauty of the woman in this love story. She strong, lovely, confident. And she’s courageously in a relationship of real love with her man, a shepherd. Note that in this particular scene, when she’s heading away with her lover, they call her back. Why? “So that we may admire you!”
They would, in other words, rather look on a relationship from the outside, experiencing the hollow thrill of being an observer, rather than jumping into the deep end of real intimacy in their own lives. This is a sort of primitive pornography, not in the sense that they’re viewing explicit love making but in the more critical sense that they’re voyouristic and vicarious rather than involved and intimate. Apparently the escapist fantasy route has always been an option. Today it’s more than just “an option” – it’s become so ubiquitous as to be considered normal. The popularity of video games, fantasy sports league, and pornography have created a destructive trifecta. There’s an entire virtual world now available to emerging generations and both genders, but especially men, are living there in increasing numbers, with increasing regularity. The pathologies arising from this sort of behavior present as everything from academic failure and arrested social skill development (especially with the opposite sex), to erectile dysfunction. Much of this is cataloged here.
Yourbrainonporn.com provides the compelling science behind why the prevalence of porn is so destructive for cultures, for those who value science. The short summary is that you can now encounter more lovers in an hour of the dungeon that is pornography than you would have encountered in one, two, maybe even ten lifetimes, one hundred years ago. You are not physiologically designed for the continual stimulation and variety offered in this fantasy world. What’s worse though, is that it can quickly become an “arousal addiction”, meaning that the addict doesn’t just want more of the same. He/she wants “different”. If this isn’t a recipe for marital disaster, I don’t know what is.
What’s more, porn is only one alternate reality inviting the investment of our time and attention. Why play sports when you can join fantasy leagues and watch sports, no exercise or risk of injury to body or ego required? You could play games demanding social interaction, eye contact, laughter, risk, courage, and wisdom, all of which combine to aid in the both the building of friendships and the development of social skills. But why not play a video game instead? Alone. With no risk of rejection or failure.
In a word: safety. Is this alternate world real? No. Life giving? No. Contributing to a person’s sense of mission? No. Capable of filling the intimacy void we all feel? No. But its safe, and in a world where there’s fear at every turn, safety is appealing.
What’s the way forward?
1. A strong core. If a person sees themselves as capable, having gifts to share with the world, forgiven, called, and empowered, its much more difficult to enjoy disengagement from reality. When people with a strong sense of self retreat into a tiny fantasy world for comfort, the dissonance is often just too much, and they refuse to stay there, in spite of the short term pleasures gained from escaping. You build a strong core by beginning to believe that what God says about you is true – that you’re loved, forgiven, blessed, gifted, and invited, even called, to be a blessing in this world. Keep learning what God says about you and believing it!
2. A sense of call. When it became clear that I wasn’t ever going to win the Alpine Skiing World Cup, or write a symphony, skiing and music took back seats to other things, like preaching, parenting, marriage, church leadership, teaching university students, writing, and helping create outdoor environments and experiences where people can encounter Christ. When I’m at my best, the use of my time, whether exercising, reading, or praying, feeds my sense of call and core identity and, to be blunt, there’s little time left for virtual escapes.
3. A high view of marriage and sexuality. The erectile dysfunction that’s hijacking healthy sexuality among increasingly younger men is happening precisely because the safer fantasy world, which over-promises and under-delivers, is so appealing. In contrast, Song of Solomon shows us that radical monogamy is better. It requires all kinds of things that are wildly beyond the scope of this post, but perhaps the main thing is a foundational belief that the best sexual expressions are mutual rather than one party giving in to the other out of a sense of obligation. They both respect the boundaries of the other, and at times this creates an intensifying of the longings because there’s a confidence in the underlying love, and an obvious playfulness sexually, whether or not it ends in the land of O. All this, of course, requires self-control and the belief that an unfulfilled sexual appetite won’t damage your body or soul, a message rare in our culture.
4. An internal bias toward reality rather than fantasy escapes. Whether porn, Netflix, Facebook, or Ben & Jerry – a chronic preference for these easily accessible and easily stimulating options creates an increasing bias towards the safety, predictability, and risk free nature of the virtual world (or in the case of ben & jerry – the high glycemic world). Such worlds feel good in the moment, but the ensuing crash leaves an emptiness and ache.
The good news is that movement away from all of that can happen! Here are a few resources for your consideration.
There’s a class at Bethany Community Church beginning at the end of summer that helps people move out of destructive behavior patterns and into God’s better story. Contact us for details. Here’s a testimony from someone who took the “spiritual journey” class.
The best resource, however, and the most important, is your life with God. You have a calling, a journey yet ahead. Don’t miss it by getting stuck in some fake world, when a real world of adventure awaits you. Yesterday’s gone, and there’s no point wallowing in guilt or shame over failures that are common, when God’s inviting you to move on, into freedom and real intimacy.
Preaching the Song of Solomon this spring has reminded me of a few critical truths that are mostly lost among Christ followers. In our fear of abusing the gifts of sexuality God has given humankind, we’ve unwittingly taught that our sexuality is a liability to be scorned and controlled, rather than a gift to be celebrated. The Bible tells us otherwise:
This past Sunday’s teaching, “Eros Affirmed” might provide some insight into what I’m talking about. Steep a pot of tea, a carafe of French Press, or a glass of “something”, and have a look and listen – and maybe consider sharing with someone who’d benefit from it. One woman told me on Sunday she’s planning on sharing it with a few folks who’d benefit from it.
(audio or video)
I welcome your thoughts!
When it comes to sexual abuse, and the treatment of women in general:
Words matter. Mr. Trump spoke on the bus about making unwanted sexual advances and literally grabbing women. He spoke to Howard Stern about walking uninvited into dressing rooms at beauty pageants (a word confirmed by beauty pageant participants). He has spoken numerous times throughout his campaign about the appearance of women, objectifying and judging them. “Locker room talk,” he says. He’s “Sorry. But Mister Clinton was worse.” Let’s take a look at two things that have come out from hiding because of his words.
First, his words have exposed the pain of a nation. Men should read just a few of the #NOTokay posts on twitter, as Trump’s words have led to an outpouring of women empowered to share their story. To say he’s exposed something would be an understatement. Women, by the millions, have been victims of unwanted sexual advances. Many don’t have a voice to fight back, don’t know who to trust with their story. As a result, they suffer in silence. I know this because in the wake of his words, I sat in a room and listened to the anger, the hurt, the stories from women.
There’s a culture of sexual abuse in our country, and it must be named, condemned, and stopped. The problem isn’t the past; it’s the present. And the problem in the present isn’t just a presidential candidate; it’s an entire culture.
Men, we should be offering Mr. Trump a stiff reminder that words matter. “By your words you will be justified and by words you will be condemned,” is how Jesus put it. He also said that, “out of the abundance of the heart” the mouth speaks. So when a man calls women pigs and says the things he said to Howard Stern and Billy Bush, and there’s an outcry from women, Mr. Trump shouldn’t be surprised.
There should be an outcry from all of us, as well. This is not just locker room talk, or typical banter, but even if it were, it’s not OK. Words matter, and words that treat women as objects to be used for men’s pleasure are far, far from the heart of the life for which any of us are created, men or women.
Second, Mr. Trump’s words have exposed the depth of sexual victimization, misogyny, and sick patriarchy in our culture. I know this because the other trending hashtag has been #repealthe19th, which is a wish-dream to remove the women’s right to vote. That there’s a group of people who are both Islamaphobic and only want men to vote is a bit of irony. That the group is large enough to gain notice is both sad and angering. Our nation has a long way to go, but it’s better than it was in many ways. Women vote. Anyone can sit anywhere on a bus. Sometimes you shouldn’t go back.
History reminds us that redemption is often born out of the depths of darkness. Rwanda’s genocide becomes fertile soil for a profound reconciliation movement. Germany’s implosion in the wake of WWII becomes a context for the rebuilding of a nation on an entirely different footing, where every person has dignity and worth, and the common good matters.
If we can listen to those hurt by Mr. Trump’s words, if we feel the pain of what’s been going on for generations and let the weight of it sink into our souls, this darkness can be a low point, a wake up call when we say “enough” and begin fighting to make honor, respect, dignity, and empowerment the norm. It needs to happen now. Who’s in?
Thirty seven years is a long time, and yesterday my wife and I were able to celebrate that time marker as the length of marriage. This is something that brings us both pride and gratitude, but more gratitude than pride. We realize that we’ve been largely healthy, and at least one of has been employed, the whole time. We have much cause for thanks, because of the lives we’ve been given. Still, 37 years is a big deal and to be both married and still very much in love is, we feel, no accident.
While I’d never presume to write a book about marriage, it may prove helpful to share some of “what’s worked for us…” So here they are: 37 lessons learned in 37 years. Enjoy! And if you find it helpful or think it might help others, share freely!
We’d love to hear what’s worked for you in the comments section. Cheers!
The first words out of Abraham’s mouth that are recorded in the Bible are spoken to his wife, when he says, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’ and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please tell them that you are my sister that it may go well with me, and that I may live on account of you.”
And so begins a mini drama where Abraham’s wife is taken by force because of her beauty and offered to the harem of the highest leader in the land. It’s an amazing story, and I don’t want to give everything away, because I’ll be preaching on it this coming Sunday here. One thing worth pondering during the middle of the week, though, is our often shallow, thoughtless, and critical judgement of Abraham, as we gaze down on his fear based decision, convinced that, “we’d do better”. Maybe you don’t think that way, but I have in the past, and still do sometimes. But let’s look a little closer…
That he was in a tough spot is beyond a doubt. What I often hear though, is that Abraham was faithless, and that he ought to have trusted God to protect him. That’s (for some, perhaps) easy for us to say, 4000 years later, in the midst of seminaries, Bible teachers, stories of God’s faithfulness down through the ages, and the fact that it isn’t really our problem. It’s just that sort of dismissive self-righteousness, that sense of “I’d never do that”, which stunts our growth, often creating an arrogant and ugly misrepresentation of our faith. So let’s just pause for moment and consider that, of the many reasons Abraham might have doubted God, there’s at least one worth talking about precisely because we still doubt God for the same reason:
Remember that when Jehovah spoke to Abraham, the notion of a single God to “rule them all” so to speak, was unheard of. The prevailing world view was that gods were territorial, and that if you were the god of Canaan, you had power only in Canaan, like being the local sheriff in a small town. You had power, but only to the boundaries. After that, there were other gods, and the stories of nation indicated that the gods had learned to steer clear of each other.
When God called Abraham, there are only subtle hints that anything will change. God tells Abraham that in him (Abraham) all the families of the earth will be blessed, which is a cryptic way of saying something, but not clear enough for Abraham to divine that, while in Egypt this new God of his would be his protectorate there too.
Add to this the fact that Abraham traveled south to Egypt in defiance of God’s explicit command, and you realize that, even if he believed the new God would protect, the fact that Abe went out ‘on his own’ would create questions in his mind about whether God would get him out of the jam. The net result of this kind of thinking? Abe felt that, down there, in Egypt, he was on his own.
“Silly Abraham” we say, as we put down our devotional reading (if we even have such a thing on those “other days” – you know, during the busy M-F routine). Then we’re online, checking the market. Our bottom line of course, is ROI (return on investment). We don’t believe in social venture funds because they’re “fraught with complexities” and rarely do as well as standard investment. So our money’s distributed among the fortune 500 and the S&P index. It’s sad that some of these companies are outsourcing to places where labor practices and environmental standards aren’t so stringent, but that’s the market, and we need to be “good stewards”. God language? Yes… but most if it comes from a different god than Jehovah.
Later tonight we’ll go out on a date, fully believing that the notion of virginity is an archaic throwback to earlier days because Dan Savage, Sex at Dawn, Sex in the City, and car commercials remind us that sex is for pleasure. That’s it’s meaning. Period. The culture preaching this has a beautiful man, made mostly but not entirely, of straw, that they easily topple, as they point out how many people have been damaged by shame inducing, body demeaning preaching that demands chastity or hell as the only options. It’s convenient for the culture to have this mostly straw man, but creates a false dichotomy between the gods of pleasure and suffering in a shame filled hell for daring to enjoy your body as the only two option. The beauty, eroticism, and intense sexual pleasure found within the walls of covenant relationships isn’t really elevated as a realistic option. Ironically, that’s the very first thing God tried to teach Abraham. It seems we haven’t learned it yet.
That’s because we too often also believe that God’s are territorial – not geographically, but ideologically. There’s one God for the my spirit, another for my money, another for my sexuality, another for my patriotism. But when we move into the land of economics, or (historically at the least, if not today too) colonialism, violence, slavery, nationalism, environmental stewardship, or the primacy of the individual over the community, we’re sort of singing the song of Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is.” As a result, Indians were given blankest infected with smallpox by Christian settlers. Slavery was not just sanctioned – it was exalted as sound doctrine from the Bible. These things happened because people failed to let God’s reign bleed into those areas of their lives.
Please don’t miss the point because of the illustration. I’m not telling you which stock to buy, or not buy. I’m suggesting God reigns over economic matters, and sexual matters, eating choices, body care, and whether community is more important than individualism. We should try to let God be God all week long.
Like Abraham, we function “on our own” outside of the small private realm where Jesus talks about justification by faith. Maybe it’s time we recognized the reality of Ephesians 1:10-11, which is that Jesus wants the glory of God to saturate every atom of the universe. Only then will infinite joy and pleasure, perfect justice and peace, reign!
Let Jesus go beyond the boundaries of Sunday in 2014 and get ready for a grand adventure. Who’s in?
A little while ago I posted a piece about “the end of sex” as we know it, referencing an article about the dramatically diminishing sex lives of Japanese young people, as the joy of human contact is displaced by virtual realities, work demands, and the discovery that commitment free recreational sex is a mirage, as even popular movies tell us here.
Stepping back from the particulars of sexuality, its easy to see the trend line pointing all of us towards lives that are increasingly removed from physical realities. Food comes from boxes. Comfort comes from climate controlled indoor boxes called buildings. Entertainment comes from boxes. Sexual release comes from boxes. It’s possible to live such a ridiculously insulated existence that we need never leave home again.
“That’s ridiculous!” I can hear you saying it. But when was the last time you ate food straight from a garden? Walked barefoot? Spent time outside in the rain? Slept under the stars? When was the last time you were hungry, or cold, or thirsty? When was the last time you hugged you spouse or parent or child, not in a formal way, but in a lingering way, indicating of your deep affection for the other? When was the last time you looked into your lover’s eyes deeply enough to see their soul, and allow yours to be seen too?
When David encourages us to “taste and see” that the Lord is good, he’s inviting us to allow revelation of God’s character to come to us through our senses, to allow ourselves to be shaped not only by revelation from the scriptures, but from taste, touch, smell, beauty, pleasure, pain. IN world that’s increasingly becoming virtual, urban, and disembodied, Christ followers have a chance to display an alternative: life lived fully, unmediated through pixels.
This, though, will be challenging because since the beginning, Christ followers have struggled with integration. The gospel and letters of John, along with Colossians, address our tendency to split the universe into spirit and matter, a view that comes from Plato, not Jesus. We’ve gone there though, for reasons beyond the scope of this little piece. The results have not been pretty, as sexual phobias drive desire underground, misreadings about “love not the world” lead to neglect of the environment, and “set your mind on heavenly things” has come only to mean “read your Bible more”. It’s time to come home to the good news that God has made us to be whole people. It’s time to come home to our bodies. Here are some ways:
1. View body care as a faith issue – Phrases about the spirit “giving life to our mortal bodies” and our bodies being “temples” ought to shake us out of our gnostic slumber long enough to help us see that exercising, eating real food, getting enough sleep, and maybe taking our shoes off once in a while aren’t evidence of self indulgent narcissism, but rather stewardship. There are lots of places to go if you need motivation or inspiration. I go here.
2. Embrace our identities as sexual beings – This is where we’re afraid to go, afraid even to talk about it because we think that any body positive, or sex positive messaging will lead to promiscuity and addiction. That’s like saying that we shouldn’t take about food for fear of obesity or anorexia. In fact, it’s the phobic taboo nature of the topic that leads countless men and women to struggle with their sexuality alone, underground. Thus this fundamental part of their identity, this gift from God is only spoken of in hushed tones, when it ought to be an integral part of our lives and teaching. I’m presently collecting resources to share in this area and will devote an entire post to a list soon.
3. Unplug. – You’ve got to turn it off. Phone. Pad. Computer. Music. You’ve got to listen to the silence, or to the nuances in the voice and body language of the one to whom you’re speaking. You’ve got to pay attention, tasting the food you’re eating, the smell of coffee just before it touches your lips, the new trees growing out of an old stump, the sensation of cold when you walk barefoot in November. This kind of “tasting and seeing” is ultimately a tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, or can be, if we’ll but start with the realization that God is speaking – all the time, through all God’s made. Reduce your focus to a screen, though, and you’ll miss it.
5. Get outside. Garden. Hike. Gaze at the Milky Way. Go for a run. Climb a mountain. Walk to work. Do whatever it takes so that you can come to see and believe that you’re part of something much bigger, that God’s providing for you through the water cycle, seasons, and the interconnectedness of all life.
6. Read your Bible. I just wrote about Coffee with God, and the necessity of meeting Christ in the Bible. Why? This is your map, offering interpretation for all the beauty and pain, and desire and fulfillment, loss and hunger, feasting and celebration, intimacy and distancing that you’ll experience when you live an embodied life. This is vital because in the end these very bodies we’re living in will decay. But if we let them, they’ll inform, sanctify, and fortify all that we are, not just in time but in eternity.
You think our world is thirsty for this? I do, as seen here:
“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)