40 – thoughts on marriage after 40 years of it

I’m just back from an anniversary reunion.  Our three children along with their spouses, three grandchildren and mom-in-law gathered together in a big house on the east side of the Cascades to celebrate Donna’s and my 40 year marriage.  It wasn’t really about the 40 years though – it was about the reality that we’re honestly entering our fifth decade of marriage together still enjoying each other’s company, still a team, still healthy and intimate with each other…in short, still very much “in love”. 

As has been my tradition for a while now, I offer up this list of 40 things I’ve learned about marriage, one for each year.  They’re not prescriptive as much as descriptive – they are what’s worked for us. I hope that some of this may work for you too.  They’re offered in no particular order: 

 

  1. We’ve always tried to spend less than we make.
  2. Eat by candlelight as often as possible (even when you don’t want to.  Sometimes just striking the match can be the trigger toward reconciliation after a disagreement) 
  3. Remember the reasons you married.  In my case, I said to her:  “you make me laugh, you give me the freedom to fail, you’ll live anywhere in the world”
  4. She responded, “Anywhere but Los Angeles…” and after assuring her that that would never happen, we felt God’s call to move there and she did!
  5. The best centerpieces are summer wildflowers in an empty beer bottle
  6. We’ve always tried to keep a sabbath day.  These days its hiking together, mostly in silence, and then sharing an evening meal.
  7. The TV is rarely a friend of intimacy – but we don’t judge ourselves when we watch some.
  8. Being radically different, in that we share no common letters on the Meyers-Briggs or numbers on the Enneagram, isn’t a bad thing….
  9. …IF (and it’s a big if) you can begin to see other’s differences, not as annoying, but as completing you.
  10. For example: Donna loves details and I hate them.  Just this morning she pointed out that I bought the Italian version of Grandpa’s Sausage from Owen’s Meats.  I told her I didn’t even know there was an Italian version.  She said, “That’s because you don’t read labels carefully.”   Instead of being annoyed, though, I think she appreciates my breadth of curiosity that makes me read more widely than deeply…
  11. …and I appreciate her attention to detail because: insurance, taxes, bills, desks to organize, closets and counters to clean of clutter, calendars, airline tickets, parking at the airport, and on and on it goes…  Every detail is a gift to me!
  12. In spite of vast differences, a shared passion is a gift.  Ours is the outdoors.
  13. But I like speed and peaks and she likes paying attention to forest details and mostly level ground.
  14. Rather than dig our heels in – we compromise.  I find scrambles to the tops of peaks she can do, or ridges with views (which she loves), and I leave the meandering snowshoe trips to her and her friends, and the hard skiing where I shoot for 55mph or more, or peak-bagging to me and my friends.
  15. Learning to compromise in the wilderness has been the lab, but the same kind of compromise has bled into lots of other areas of life…
  16. …like food – where I’m increasingly Paleo, but not a zealot about it because of French Toast and cheese sandwiches but because bread doesn’t treat her well, I eat that stuff when I’m alone in the city.
  17. Which reminds me that travel brings reality to the saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  After a time apart, when I’m away teaching, my appreciation of Donna is rekindled, as there are o-so-many things I miss when we’re apart….
  18. …as we are regularly in this season of life due to our dual living locations of Seattle and the mountains.  This is because of our privileged season of life to provide a home for Donna’s mom, which is a reminder that holding plans with an open hand and being flexible is far greater than making autonomous goals and going after them with rigid dogma.
  19. We’ve always given some money away –  giving to our local church and a few other things we support.  Never hoard it all for yourselves.
  20. Our devotional lives are dramatically different and I eventually learned that that’s OK.  There were years though, when I coveted greater spiritual compatibility.  Now I celebrate our different ways of viewing the world, and we’ve learned to listen to each other better as a result.
  21. As we’ve grown older, we’ve had more talks about our sex life than we did early on…
  22. …which have resulted in dramatic changes in our intimacy practices.  This is a testimony to honesty, vulnerable, and serving the other….
  23. …and as a result, our life in this area is better than ever! (our only regret is that we didn’t start this a few decades earlier)
  24. We’re not athletes or obsessive dieters, but we try to exercise most days, and eat decently.  We’ve been fortunate to be healthy and count that as both a privilege and a reason to keep pursuing and expanding healthy habits for spirit, soul, and body.
  25. Our best conversations are ones that nobody else will ever know about
  26. (And now a few from Donna): Laugh often.
  27. Remind myself that I’m not always right and sometimes “winning” is an illusion.  Miss Crankypants can be hard to live with too.
  28. Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. We are changeable people who live in changing times. What worked yesterday may not be working well today and may not work tomorrow so be open to change and adapt.
  29. Make do with what we already have. Mend it. Use it up. Wear it out. Get every ounce out if it whether it’s an older car, an “outdated” article of clothing or furniture, the end of the toothpaste, (and, yes, tea bags are  good for two cups of tea… Sometimes more, but I digress…)
  30. Cultivate the things we both enjoy and keep doing them. For us, it’s been nature and simply being out in God’s cathedrals.  I help him slow down and pay attention.  He helps me push myself a little harder.
  31. Be curious. About everything. Don’t settle for what I already know and stagnate there. Learn new things. Be open to other points of view. Stay nimble.
  32. Love God. Love others. Period.
  33. Cook together. Try new recipes. Tweak old favorites. We enjoy the process of alternating between executive chef and sous-chef. Clean the kitchen. Together.
  34. Learn to fight fair and then let go of past transgressions. Don’t keep a storehouse of bitterness. Let it go and move forward. Forgiveness needs to go both ways.
  35. Encourage Richard’s interests and be willing to enter into them, even if it’s not necessarily my favorite thing.
  36. Richard was very intentional about cultivating our relationship as a couple especially during those parenting years. It’s important to remember what we appreciated about each other in the beginning and keep encouraging that today.
  37. Date nights were not that great if all we did was talk about our kids. (Sorry kids. You were not the center of our universe…) We tried to talk about ourselves. How we’re doing as individuals and as a couple. We’re not afraid of hard conversations any more. Becoming good listeners needs to start with honest sharing.
  38. Conflict is not always a negative thing as long as our children see honest forgiveness, humility and reconciliation as the end result. (We weren’t perfect at this but we tried.)
  39. Embrace each day as a gift to be enjoyed. Life is uncertain. Since we don’t know how much time we have, we need to make each day count for something positive to share with our world.
  40. Don’t go to bed angry for two reasons: 1. You won’t really sleep well anyway. 2. Trying to have a “rational” conversation in the morning while you’re sleep-deprived probably won’t go as well. So skip the bad nights’ sleep and talk it out. We made a perfect divot together in the middle of our ancient futon for a reason. (Sorry if that’s TMI. But it’s true.)

 

 

 

 

“Don’t Love the World” “Love the World” Which is it? … a third way

I skied today during my work break, because I’m fortunate to live just a few minutes from lifts, groomed trails, and snow.  Our hill is, by global standards, small.  I don’t care.  I don’t ski to win anything.  I ski for the beauty, for the way the light reflects off the snow, and the clouds pour over the ridge, for the sun turning icicles into prisms, and for the reminder that I’m healthy, alive, and live in a beautiful world.  Each day, each breath, is a privilege.  Later I’ll drink a glass of wine, eat some shrimp bathed in a crispy crust, along with salad and beets, and enjoy conversation, and lovely music with family.

I LOVE this world, in the kind of way that I believe the Bible tells us to love the world.  I love the intricate biosystems of the human body, and the remarkable ecosystems and varied lifeforms that all contribute to our planet.  This ordered life is the thing the Bible calls COSMOS, for that is exactly the Greek word for “world”.  Sunsets.  Laughter.  Human touch.  Sleep.  Food and drink.  The glory and mystery of each human face.  Snow.  The arrival of birds in the spring.  Summers thick with life and ripening.  Fall colors.  Snow again.  So it goes.

I LOVE the world and the God who made it, and lets us enjoy it.

So I was a bit taken aback yesterday when, at the end of teaching a delightful group of college students for about six hours, one student asked me this:  “James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”  He then asked me how we could be involved in culture, or enjoy the world God has made in light of this severe observation.  “Adultery!!”  That’s God’s assessment of those who are ‘friends with the world’  I didn’t tell him that another verse came to my mind as well, which is I John 2:15, which reads, ”Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them”.  Wow!

He waited for my answer, and though class was already dismissed, nobody had left because I think it was a good, thoughtful, question.  Everyone was gathered around, standing, eagerly waiting for some kind of answer to this question which, apparently was quite important to them.  It was a good question because of its honesty, but also because the wrong answer to this question has led Christians to everything ranging from disdain for culture, to fear of, and withdrawal from, culture – and creation, all in the name of following the Bible’s teaching to “love not the world”

The answer to question begins with understanding the meaning of the word “world” in the Greek language.

The word Cosmos essentially means an arrangement, order, or constitution.  The universe, called the cosmos in Greek and English both, is ordered brilliantly, providing the precise conditions so that life on earth can flourish.  God loves the cosmos, the ordered system(s) created by God, because they are the way the universe ought to be.  It’s broken of course, because of a rebellion, and as a result, God intervened.  “God so loved the world that God gave God’s son…”, not just to get people a destiny of heaven, but in order to bring the cosmos back into alignment with its intended design.

If this is true, then we ought to love God’s perfect design too, which would mean marveling at sunrises, the unique intricacy of snowflakes, the atomic and chemical anomaly that is water (without it’s exact nature, life on earth wouldn’t exist). When we love the world God has made, we open the door to loving God.  When science and faith, ecology and faith, beauty and faith, become antagonists, we miss our calling, as those made in God’s image, to love the world.

The antagonism comes from a misunderstanding of the “world” word as used by Greeks, because Christ followers too often apply the word to the very “cosmos” God created and loves deeply (John 3:16)  Sadly, Christians taught to “not love the world” are often taught that the physical properties and pleasures of this world are off limits to believers.  It’s an insidious form of gnosticism that creates antagonism between Christianity and science, sexuality, ecology, art, and much more.  Those taught this way often become afraid of deep joy, good food, healthy intimacy, and things like the wellspring of emotion that comes when a herd of elk are rushing a meadow at sunrise on frosty morning in Colorado.  Don’t even get them started on movies, art, or photography.

Still, the question remains.  Why does James tell us that “friendship with the world is ‘enmity with God’”?  Why does John say “Love not the world…”  Simply put, it’s because cosmos, the word for world, which simply means, ‘an ordered system’, isn’t just used for our ecosystem and all God made.  It’s used for systems this world has made, like human-trafficking, slavery, racial constructs that inflame hatred and fear, economies based on greed and corruption, and systems of systemic violence and oppression that allow us to casually watch deaths by gun violence, starvation, gang wars, and so much more and sort of surrender to it all as “just the way it is…”   These world systems are also “worlds”, but their origin isn’t in the goodness of God, it’s in the sickness of humans and the power of evil.

The tragedy when Christ followers fail to understand the various meanings of “world” is twofold . First, we’ve seen they can become suspicious of the very gifts God desires to give us as signs of kindness and love.  Instead, they should learn to enjoy and give thanks, like this: Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 9:7-9

The second tragedy though, is that we fail to do war with the truly evil worlds that destroying life, stealing joy, and threatening the planet.  Unrestricted violence, ecological catastrophes that come from overconsumption and greed, human trafficking, the degradation of women, racism, the hyer individualism that leads to loneliness and commensurate addictions, and all the other maladies of our day — these are “the world” John has in mind when he says “love not the world”.  So when I endorse violence, when I’m silent about sexual abuse or racism, when I don’t think about stewarding creation by my consumer choices, I become passively complicit with “the world” – exactly what James and John said we shouldn’t do!

That’s why we love the sunrise and curse cancer.  Love the wine and curse alcoholism.  Love sexuality intimacy in the boundaries of marriage and curse sex trafficking and the oppression of women.  We love God’s world.  We hate the destructive world made by us as fallen humans, and as Christ followers, I pray we’ll spend our lives doing battle with that world, because of the better world that’s all around us because of Christ.

Yes.  Love the world God made.  No.  Don’t love the mess we’ve made of it.  Rather, stand against those worlds in Jesus name, just like Jesus did.

 

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#metoo

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?

#metoo

 

 

 

Steal, Kill, and Destroy – Stealing our Healthy Sexual Identity

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.

Vicarious vs. Experience: Not Even Close

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.

Celebrate Recovery

Homecoming

Pure Desire

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.

Video

37 Years married and Still Enjoying Eros: Here’s How

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:

  1. God affirms eros.
  2. Healthy eros requires a cocktail of practices on a regular basis, including affirmation, invitation, respecting each other’s boundaries, and a commitment to serving the other.
  3. These ingredients aren’t possible in casual hook-ups, let alone pornographic stimulation via a fabricated fantasy world.
  4. There’s a book in the Bible about sexual love, because God affirms it.  There’s only one book in the Bible about sexual love because it is a part of life, but isn’t the whole of it.

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)

http://churchbcc.sermon.net/main/main/20940294

I welcome your thoughts!

A letter to men:

 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?

 

 

Marriage: 37 Lessons from 37 Years of Experience

still smiling after 37 years of journeying together
still smiling after 37 years of journeying together

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!  

  1. We’ve always made big decisions entirely together.  Why would we move, buy or sell a car, change jobs, or practice radical hospitality, if only one party thought it was a good idea?
  2. Candles at supper have been the default for the 37 years.  We’re at our best when the TV is off and we’re eating together, sharing, talking, and listening.
  3. Our devotional lives are very different, and though it took over a decade for me to realize it…that’s OK.
  4. Our circadian rhythms are also different, and while I’m still convinced God’s desire is for all humans to rise early, I’ll confess I enjoy the quiet house before 7.
  5. We’ve learned to fan each other’s strengths into flame.  She’s better at details, organizing, and maintaining.  I’m better at vision, words, writing, teaching.  We’re done trying to change the other in these realms, now seeing them as assets.
  6. We enjoyed our children when they were small, and still do now that they’re all adults and married. 
  7. Though we enjoy our children, they’ve never defined us fully.  The whole time we’ve been married we realized that we’d been a couple before we had children, and would still be a couple (short of death), after they left home.
  8. Donna’s heart of compassion for others is a quality I celebrate, and I’m in awe of it on a regular basis. 
  9. Her compassion makes me a better pastor and teacher.  I know this, and so any accolades that come my way for my work, I share with her so she knows the important role she plays in my world outside the home.
  10. Donna has her own chain saw.   You have no idea how important this is unless you burn wood as your primary heat source. 
  11. We both love cutting wood, and I love splitting, while she loves stacking.  It’s as if we’re made for each other.
  12. We are both terribly easily pleased.  Sunsets, simple meals, good coffee or tea, the smell of the forest, and the sound of birds bring us as much joy as a night at a fancy restaurant, or a concert or sporting event. 
  13. We’ve learned that we’re aging (in spite of fish oil and eating occasional vegetables) and have adapted.  In fact, I’d say “adaptation to life’s changing seasons” has been one of the most important reasons we’re still wildly in love.  We gave up the illusion of control a long time ago.
  14. We’ve worked at our sex life to make sure it’s still enjoyable and life giving to both of us.  This requires conversation, total transparency, a bit of trial and error, and a sense of humor.  That is all.  
  15. She wants a cat and I don’t.  I want a big dog, like a Malamute or Husky, and she doesn’t.  So we’re happily pet free.
  16. Our shared love of the mountains, evident from the day we met, has been a good glue.  We get outside together often, and always have.  It’s a context where real sharing occurs.
  17. I’ve appreciated Donna’s quickness to forgive.  “The freedom to fail” was one of the three things I was looking for in a spouse.  She’s given me that and the result has been a profound transparency that I now realize is too rare among married couples.
  18. She’s not picky about music and I am.  This has worked out well for me and, I can only assume, for her too. 
  19. Early on we sought approval from each other for any expenses over $20.  The amount’s gone up.  The principle remains – no money is “mine” or “hers”.  It’s ours. 
  20. We’ve paid our credit cards on time every month, which means we’ve bought less than we’ve made.   
  21. We’ve given our money away – both to our church and other organizations.  We’ve done this regularly, even when we were making “not so much”. 
  22. Beyond our economic compatibility is the unanticipated gift that I’ve never felt pressured to “earn up” in order to achieve a lifestyle.  Only now, looking through the rear view mirror, can I see what a blessing this was, and still is. 
  23. We are both strong as individuals.  This has been important because throughout our marriage there have been seasons where we’ve been able to offer less of ourselves to each other.  Travel for work, young children, and aging parents, all come to mind.  I tell young couples that one of the best things they can do to prepare for marriage is develop a strong sense of personal identity, so that they’re not making incessant demands on their spouse to fill some gaping hole in their life. 
  24. To really know what the other person wants in a given situation we sometimes jokingly say, “What would you do right now if I weren’t here… If I were dead?”  “Well if you were dead, I’d have steak, mushrooms, and a spinach salad.  Then I’d go for a walk and listen to the birds.”  Done.  Evening planned, or decision made, according to the desires of one or the other of us. 
  25. Each of us believe that marriage requires a million tiny little positive investments, and that each positive investment will eventually yield rich dividends.  As a result, a neck rub, a clean kitchen, a meal prepared while the other rests after a hard day, are things we enjoy doing for each other.  We’ve recognized that the joy isn’t just in the moment, but that there will be joy later because of these tiny acts of kindness.
  26. We don’t watch much TV at all.
  27. When we argue, the win isn’t that one of us is right and one is wrong.  The win is that we both feel heard and honored by the time we’re done. 
  28. We both believe that God brought us together, and brings every couple together, in order to create a new union that will bless the world uniquely.  Because of this we have a sense of calling to be a blessing to others, and though we debate what that means and looks like, we are truly seeking to live into that calling.
  29. We are both able to say the hard thing to the other and know it will eventually be received. 
  30. We laugh nearly every single day and this seems, to me, to be a sign that we’re still having fun, and she’s still the one!
  31. We share some deep commitments to a body/soul/spirit theology that means we take exercise, food, stress managements, and sleep seriously, just as we take prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, and service seriously.
  32. We share some recreation, in particular hiking and downhill skiing. 
  33. Sharing recreation requires that we appreciate each other’s personalities.  I go fast and push for more.  She slows down to savor.  It’s a dance and we do it well enough that we genuinely enjoy our shared loves. 
  34. Traveling together has not only expanded our world, but increased our intimacy.  We’ve seen things in other parts of the world that have challenged our ways of thinking, and that we’ve seen them together has been helpful.
  35. We know each other’s love languages.  Hers is “words of affirmation” and mine is “time spent together”.  Knowing this and serving each other in these ways is huge.
  36. Christ is the foundation of our marriage in the sense that our completion in Christ is the well from which we’re able to draw so that we can serve and bless each other freely.
  37. Forgiveness.  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. Ephesians 5:32

We’d love to hear what’s worked for you in the comments section.  Cheers!  

Real Housewives of Mesopotamia – and what we can learn from them

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:

Territorial Gods

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?

Recovering the Body before its completely dead.

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:

Revelation, a Visual Poem. from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.