Monthly Archives: August 2017

Redeeming Sex

3639Debra comes out with the vision of her book right away:

This book is about the posture one takes not the position one holds. 

She isn’t interested in writing a policy manual for the Christian position regarding issues of sex, gender, and the gay lifestyle. Her book is really her own personal story and the stories of the many that she loves. Deb was abused early and often, developed same sex attraction, almost as a defence mechanism against predatory men, ended up being part of a communal lifestyle with both men and women, then found Jesus, after a while she stumbled into an ultra conservative seminary to learn about the Bible. It came as a shock for Deb to find out that people at the Seminary might frown on her more “free” perspective on life and sex. Eventually, Deb would graduate from the seminary marry a guy named Allen and they would become the dynamic and influential writer/speaker duo that they are today. If I had to to tell you about her book using twitter my description would be as follows:

  • Sex points you to God
  • Christians have really screwed things up
  • Covenant love is where it’s at
  • Human Sexuality is complex, stop acting like a know it all
  • What’s the Christian position? — Love, Serve, Pray

Sex points you to God 

Deb is convinced that sex is more than a biological function. Her contention is that sex is a deeply spiritual event. It reveals the deeper human longing for eternal connection, for transcendent belonging. As Christopher West says “The sexual confusion so prevalent in our world and in our own hearts is simply the human desire for heaven gone berserk.” We want to belong so badly, but we don’t know how to get there, or how sex plays a role in that. She quotes psychiatrist M. Scott Peck on this saying “Sex is the closest that most people ever come to a genuine spiritual experience.” She goes further saying that  “orgasm is a fleeting experience of transcendence — a way of loosing ourselves.”

“Whatever it is that one is seeking in sex, one thing seems clear — it’s more than just about momentary pleasure, as intoxicating as that can be. It seems that almost all the existential and religious aspects of human life are somehow mysteriously involved.” 

Every aspect of our sexuality: our capacity for relationships, our longing for love, our identity as male and female, all point to something beyond oneself, to the “Eternal Other” I have come to believe that our sexuality is so interlaced with longing for and experience of spirituality that we cannot access one without somehow tapping into the other.”

I’m inclined to agree, but so what? What can this deeper meaning about sex actually accomplish? She jokes, but with seriousness, that spiritual people ought to be some of the sexiest people on the planet. This observation, serves to tee up her next major point which is:

Christians have really screwed things up

And have been for quite some time. The early church fathers were certainly not rejoicing in the mystical union of sex as a pointer to God. Origen thought his sexuality would interfere with his spirituality so he castrated himself.  Ambrose encouraged married priests “stop having sex with your wives” so they could focus on loving God. Jerome was utterly convinced that Mary the mother of Jesus could not have had a sex life, it would be dirt on her perfect reputation. Augustine, built an entire theology against the use of private parts by suggesting that original sin was passed on by having sex. The more sex, the more sin. Therefore sex should suppressed and avoided as much as possible.

Deb laments how fear has strangled a healthy sexuality out of so many Christians. Fear makes people create artificial boundaries, all the rules to make sure “it” doesn’t happen, actually back fires creating a forbidden fruit syndrome. Fear creates an over focus on sex. She quotes a popular Christian leader who recently wrote a tract entitled “12 questions to ask before watching Game of Thrones” All twelve of the questions had to do with the sexual content on the show, and none of the warnings were directed toward the greed, jealousy, deception, gratuitous violence, arrogance, or pride so prevalent.  Deb makes the incredibly poignant observation

“We worry about what people are doing in bed much more than making sure everybody has a bed to begin with… Boundaries are certainly important for life and sexuality, and the Bible does give us guidelines, but read through the lens of fear they can become the very prison form which we ourselves need liberating.”

No argument from me. Her longings for a fear free version of sexuality really resinated.

“What would our marriages, our friendships, our churches, and our communities look like if men and women were not afraid of connecting with each other in deep ways? What if men and women could really know each other without sex getting in the way? What if we did not have to be afraid of our own and others’ bodies that we cannot trust ourselves with them. I guess we would look a whole lot more like Jesus! In Jesus, the fully integrated human, the embodiment of spirituality and sexuality, we find our model. A man whose life was characterized by right loving, who navigated well both genital and social aspects of his sexuality.” 

Even still I’m afraid, I know my own heart, but I share her longing.

Covenant love is where it’s at

She doesn’t want to push anything on the reader directly, no dogmatic statements coming from this book, but covenant love certainly gets at least a gentle nudge in the readers direction. She describes it as “Abiding commitment to each other’s best interests, to the ongoing search for truth, vulnerability, the risk of getting hurt and the accountability of our community.” and contrasts it to its more intoxicating cousin, romantic love. She really isn’t a fan of our cultures efforts to send us forever hunting for the perfect romance, it’s an illusion, it’s a drug that wear’s off after a while. Our culture is intensionally misleading with it as well, because it assumes that once you’ve had “intense emotional connections” you’ve “fallen in love” and sex is the cultural expectation for those who experience these connections. This is neither right nor healthy. “Romantic love might get you down the aisle, but only the higher, more sacrificial love will carry you on till “death do us part” — Whatever human sexuality should look like, covenant love should be at its centre.

Human Sexuality is complex, stop acting like a know it all

In a way, she is calling her readers to chill out a bit, to stop talking and start listening. To realize that the world of black and white doesn’t mesh well with the complexities of human sexuality.

Regarding gender: She distinguishes the word from sex. Sex meaning the anatomical parts of the body, and gender being the non-physical aspects of being male or female that exist in a cultural context. Gender is also more internal, she says, it’s how we feel about ourselves. Gender “Is how we emotionally navigate the body we were born into.” It’s unhelpful for Christians to hang on to culturally solidified stereotypes of what it means to be a boy or a girl. She urges us to consider gender as more of a dynamic and fluid concept. The truth is expressions of masculinity and femininity change over time, and from culture to culture and that’s ok. She also doesn’t like the concept of “opposite sex” preferring rather that we understand ourselves as “neighbouring sex” since there is so much we share in common. To the Christian’s in her readership she says “The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t come in pink and blue” 

She is the first to say male and female are different, those terms aren’t meaningless, or unnecessary, She even quips “It seems men have a penchant for looking at people’s private parts, women for looking into people’s private lives.” but on the whole she hates generalizations and calls on us to be more broad when considering gender.

Regarding categorizing people:  Is this person gay, is this person not? Is this person trans is this person not? Her message on our never ending desire to categorize and label people is clear “Stop it!”

Deb says, “It’s ok to have intense same sex attraction and not have to view one-self as gay.”  She notes, “the gap between gay and straight is not often as clear for women as it is for men. Perhaps this accounts for the rise in women who identify as bi-sexual.” Feelings and attractions ebb and flow, people are different, people change, we all make choices, life happens.

“Simple binary categories of homosexual and heterosexual are not really good enough. They don’t do the job, everyone has a story and not everyone fits neatly into those categories. Given that everyone’e experience of sexuality is not only multifaceted but unique to their story, it’s almost impossible to place a generic label on a whole group of people and think you’ve defined them… Anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris says ‘try to define gay or straight and the words begin to slip through our fingers’.”

Hirsh says, “No one is simply born gay. No surprises here. Lady Gaga is wrong.” She goes on to confirm the complexity of human sexuality by quoting the American Psychological Association:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles. 

Her point is clear, whatever you think, there is an excellent chance you don’t know it all, what is true is that all human beings want to belong and to be accepted. Christians must be more than accommodating when it comes to that. Sadly we haven’t been.

Whats the Christian position? — Love, Serve, Pray. This book is a worthy read, it’s provocative and poignant. If you want a book that won’t give you all the answers your looking for, but will at least make you think, this is it. Also Deb is a delight to read, she uses humour well, and her stories are fantastic. I think I will finish this review by sharing some good quotes from her book.

  • The only thing wrong with being an atheist is that there’s nobody to talk to during an orgasm. 🙂
  • Beneath the search for genital sexuality is a longing to be loved. One seeks it where one can.
  • I accepted Jesus into my heart but how do I get him into my penis?
  • None of us are “healed from our sexuality” none of us are flawless. Most heterosexuals are actually polygamous in their orientation. We are all sexually broken
  • Avoid stereotypes, think well of others. Love the sinner, hate your own sin
  • Our business is to love, pray and serve and let God sort out the rest.
  • Be a listener not a teller
  • I have never been one for developing specific church policies on homosexuality. If we have a policy on homosexuality, why wouldn’t we also develop policies about every other ethical issue? For instance, what is our policy about greed? Jesus seems pretty concerned about this, yet I don’t know a single church who has a formal policy on it. The problem with writing policies on a particular issue is that you make that issue more important than the others
  • Acceptance precedes repentance
  • In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things love.
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Man’s Search for Meaning

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Victor Frankl was no stranger to pain suffering and death, even before the war as a successful neuroscientist and psychologist in Vienna, his practice led him to spend the majority of his time with suicide patients. In his research among these troubled souls, he found that 100% of them could not answer the question “Why am I here?” The absence of any ultimate meaning in his patients lives was the common thread in their suicidal perspective. Further, he discovered that alcoholism, drug abuse and most forms of neurotic behaviour were connected to the absence of meaning in a persons life.

As his research broadened he was startled to find that as much as 78% of German/Austrian young people in the mid 1930’s would rather have a clear transcendent meaning to their life than just making lots of money, or living for themselves. Sadly, Hitler capitalized on this “existential vacuum”  as Frankl liked to called it. According to Hitler there was a transcendent reason to live and die. He was the Saviour to follow and the Third Reich was the heaven to build, and brutality was the necessary equipment needed for the project. This was better than the boredom and despair that a meaningless existence was bringing to the youth of the nation of Germany.

The Nazi’s took over Vienna. Victor was Jewish, so that was a problem. First he faced the indignity of being terminated from his post at the university and hospital. Second, he and his wife suffered through the forced abortion of their pre-born child. Third, his grief was multiplied when he witnessed the arrest and deportation of all of his extended family members, including his elderly parents, his bereaved wife, and his brother. Finally, his own arrest and internment at Auschwitz, the most notorious of the extermination camps came. By the time it was all over he was the lone survivor among all his family and friends who went to the camps.

His discoveries at the extermination camps agreed with his earlier findings on the importance of transcendent meaning being critical to the health of a persons life.  The prisoners that survived clung to some meaning, some reason to carry on — those who were not able to grasp any kind of meaning to the madness of their existence simply gave up and died off.

Of course even those who had a greater purpose to their life died with ridiculous efficiency as well. Greater purpose did not mean you would survive, in many cases living by transcendent scruples just got you killed quicker, but somehow even the deaths of these meaning filled creatures were different. Frankl observed:

“They marched upright into the gas chamber with the Lords prayer or kaddish on their lips, offering whatever help they could to others.”

Their grasp of a “super meaning” as Frankl liked to call it gave them a confidence that there was meaning in suffering and meaning even in death itself. This confidence, allowed them to cope, to be at peace even as their lives were taken from them in the most despicable of ways.

The whole point of the camp was to dehumanize, to turn people into animals, it worked for many, but those who could hang onto meaning retained their humanity.

When Frankl was liberated it took him just 9 days to write the book for which he is most famous. “Mans Search for Meaning” has sold 10’s of millions of copies world wide, and has been translated into some 40 different languages.  Is Frankl on to something when he says we need a “super meaning” beyond ourselves to truly flourish a human beings?

Yes.

He gives several suggestions for how we as humans might be able to find greater meaning to our lives:

Finding meaning through a life’s work — Frankl stayed purposed during his time in camp, by secretly re-writing on tiny scraps of paper the manuscript for his book that the Nazi’s destroyed with his entry into camp.

Finding meaning through deeds —  Frankl turned down an opportunity (albeit a risky one) to escape in order stay with some of the sick in the camp that he had been charged to care for, it was the right deed to do.

Meaning through love — For Frankl the ultimate purpose for existence is love. In his own case, as he suffered, there were moments in the midst of it all, where his mind was transported to Tilly his wife. She spoke to him in his distress, and he dreamed of better days with her. He carried on, for her.

This is why things were even more difficult for him when he finally got out and discovered that she and everyone else he loved were dead.

“The best have not returned (also, my best friend [Hubert Gsur] was beheaded) and they have left me alone. In the camp, we believed that we had reached the lowest point—and then, when we returned, we saw that nothing has survived, that that which had kept us standing has been destroyed, that at the same time as we were becoming human again it was possible to fall deeper, into an even more boundless suffering. There remains perhaps nothing more to do than cry a little and browse a little through the Psalms.”

Frankl says ultimate meaning makes you human (animals don’t probe the depths of their own suffering) we do. Somehow that meaning becomes fullest when it’s connected to true love. The best reason for living, for suffering, for overcoming, and even for dying is love.

As a follower of Jesus this book, though entirely secular in nature, made me appreciate with renewed clarity the grand story of Jesus that I have come to love. The Christian story fits perfectly with Frankl’s findings. Love forms in us our greatest meaning which makes us truly human. To love, however, has it’s risks, for when that love dies or is somehow extinguished, we become susceptible to great despair. However, if our love is attached to a person who even death cannot vanquish, how then can despair conquer us? in a word, it cannot!

Who is in charge here?

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

I create the light and make the darkness.

I send good times and bad times.

I, the Lord, am the one who does these things (Is 45:6-7)

There is nothing that enters into our world that escapes Gods notice. If God was not willing to allow something it would not happen. Both the good and the bad have God’s all seeing eye on them. Nothing is hidden from God. So how is it then that a good God can allow bad things to happen?

We believe that God redeems even the bad things. So when we must walk through these dark valleys, we firmly hang on to the idea that some how, some way God will bring good out of it. The best example of this is the cross of Christ. Incredible evil allowed by the hand of God upon himself! All for an incredibly redemptive and wonderful purpose.

This explanation will be unsatisfactory to many, and in the deep moments of pain and sorrow it will always be better to simply cry with the crying rather than attempt to drive home any theological truth about God.

Speaking of God. what other options are there?

  • Remove God entirely and be comforted by blind chance, dumb luck, and the unforgiving nature of planet earth. Where the greatest comfort we could offer is “it sucks to be you” — Hardly.
  • Reduce God to the point where he has no knowledge in any real sense of the future, thus he becomes a weakly divine cheerleader as powerless against the forces of evil as you or I, but at least sympathetic. No thanks.

Ultimately regardless of my doubts I must come to see God as good even when he allows suffering to enter into my life. I refuse a negative judgement upon God recognizing that I don’t know everything but am trusting that he does. That is faith.

Symbolic Journey in The digital Age:

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My friend Steve is not happy. There is a problem:

The secrets of science appear unable to address the most personal and complicated questions in life, which is sad news for the rest of us. We, the people, are trapped in a philosophical limbo, victims of our success. This truth is reflected in the reality that even while the world has made significant improvements in the psychological and other sciences, nevertheless, war, crime, classism, and corruption remain embedded phenomena, and we are resigned to ignore the mostly invisible social disruptions of common deception, passive aggression, abusiveness, petty partisanship, hatred, lack of civility, cheating, patent suppression, malicious gossip, loneliness, neuroticism, cliquishness, greed, raw ambition, economic manipulation, abuse of authority, destruction of habitat, and just bad faith generally, among our other problems. The world lacks accountability, which is mostly due to a general lack of awareness and at times integrity. While the innocent are nothing more than prey to such forces, the sophisticated are slow to help, constituting many of the perpetrators, making progress fleeting in the darkest regions of our collectives. Our demons appear to evolve even alongside our angels, and the appearance of civility is not always the reality. It is this new self-awareness that challenges our modern sensibilities.There is always an unfolding reality that surprises us, and although we may evolve, we do not necessarily become purer. Is evolution about becoming better at surviving, or becoming better?

How did we get to this place? How did we come to be so lost in the midst of so much advancement? According to Steve the fault is with our education. The shift which put us on this dismal trajectory happened in our not too distant past. Steve fingers out James L. Hughes The Toronto Superintendent of Public Schools in 1886 as one of the champions of wrong headed education:

You cannot kindle all children by literature . . . A very large proportion of the race were not meant to be deep lovers of book learning. You may kindle more by manual training. Why? Because God meant men and women to be productive.

Education took on a new design, one of utility.  The goal was to help people become practical, efficient, and productive. Society became convinced that a liberal arts education was a worthless thing of past, to be replaced with sciences, math, and and a purely functional level of literacy all geared toward a productive end. Practical rather than cerebral was the new mantra.

“How to” and “How things work” should not be the goal of education according to Steve. Rather his vision has us learning about the consistent themes in history, alongside the different schools of thought and their takes on the causes of the big problems of life. It is exactly this that is at the heart of a significant education, as opposed to a utilitarian education that is meant to be accessible by the largest number of people while being effective at disseminating specific knowledge deemed valuable to the economy.

Steve assumes that his readers might label him as one who is “anti-science” He is not. However when teaching science, Steve warns us not to squander an opportunity to teach history. All scientific advancement’s have come to us in a historical context. Without the greater historical understanding of the sciences, The bigger picture, the deeper thought, the greater value is lost to pragmatics.

Among other things Steve laments the damaging effects of media to the problem of education. Neil Postman decades ago suggested that television makes us dependent on quickly changing images and shortens our attention spans, making us less capable learners; That concern finds the same arguments today about smartphones. We are a soundbite and highlight real culture now, which makes it increasingly difficult to even focus enough to learn holistically. We only seem to learn in bits and pieces now. This information is funnelled all towards the narrow end of our own selfish advancement. This path does not lead to human flourishing.

Steve summarizes his better way which will lead to a better world in the following way:

It is important to have a society of literacy and intellectualism above and beyond the technical, clinical, and utilitarian world of academia, reaching into the world of art, works, community, passion, emotional awareness, and spiritualism. A private society must exist that cares for the preservation of past and future, nurturing both hindsight and foresight (Epimetheus and Prometheus). Such a society aims to reduce mental illness, greed, misery, and aggression by promoting philosophical health and passion for the humanities.

Steve is very convincing, but his book does meander a fair bit, and at times I felt myself wondering where he was going. In some ways it felt a bit like a shot gun blast against all that is wrong in our world especially the later chapters. But the thread of hope remains as he takes us on his historical journey through all the schools of thought. He longs for a better world and is convinced that this world is possible if we would just take the time to learn about it, from all the various views and perspectives. I don’t believe that reading more broadly, avoiding the distractions of our media devices, and becoming less utilitarian about or educational systems will turn the world into a wonderful garden of love void of greed, misery, and aggression. However, I certainly believe these are good places to start! Steve is right that a correct belief or mindset is at the heart of lasting change, humans must do the hard work of the mind, and increasing numbers in the western world are simply not. We are to distracted, to amused, to disjointed and to self-focused to care. In a way this book attempts to call us back to caring about how we understand the world and organize our thoughts.