Tag Archives: sexuality

2014 #1 — Jesus – and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

Thursdays, so far, have been TOP TEN of 2014 days. This is the #1 most read post of 2014. Last March I tried to collect some basic thinking that could help us focus where we needed to focus when it came to the tender topic of sexuality. There was plenty of dialogue about just what all this means — and that is a good thing.

The other day a distant acquaintance accused our church of not talking about sex enough  (in the neighborhood gossip column, at least). It was right after we enjoyed an open forum about our theology of sexuality attended by over 100 people! It never ceases to surprise me that the more one does something, the more excuse it gives a few people to criticize you for not doing it!

If anything, Circle of Hope has been a good place to work through the trauma of our over-sexualized society. As our forum uncovered, a lot of people have had painful sexual experiences, and not just because the powers that be limit their sexual expression (since they don’t really do that anymore). Sex is painful because they are confused. And it is painful because they get run over by the wave of immorality that is surging through the culture. (Maybe using the word immorality even made you uneasy, since who could say what that is?). It is painful because sex has become an incessant demand and a constant source of scientific study. And it is painful because a lot of people can’t figure out what Jesus says about it.

Listening to people lately has helped me collect a few of the assumptions I often share when people want some spiritual direction about what to do with what they feel and how they are acting. When you only have your own impulses and a lot of societal pressure to work with, things can get confusing – and painful. So here are five things about Jesus that I think should inform how we have a dialogue about sexual behavior (among other things, of course). These five things will not solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not speaking from a place that has been processed by the leaders of the church, but I hope to name some basic things that guide life in Jesus and that apply to how we continue the dialogue about sexuality.

Continue reading 2014 #1 — Jesus – and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

2014 #4 — Marriage in the new creation

**Circle of Hope upgrades their teaching all the time, so this post is old now, in some ways. The new work is even better!** Here is the link to the latest.

For the next few weeks, Thursday is TOP TEN of 2014 day. This is the #4 most read post of 2014. Last June I tried to keep our conversation about sexuality going by publishing a variation on the theme of our statement we made after our lively “Doing Theology” session in the spring.

All year we have been trying to get out of the congress-type polarization of the Church’s dialogue about sexual expression and get into the grace of staying focused on everyone’s redemption. I think we are doing a good job. The pastors came up with a statement on marriage in March and taught it to the cell leaders. I think it is a good summary of where we have come so far. This post is based on that statement. What follows are three big points about marriage and sexuality and some basic ideas that might help apply them.

We need to keep the love chapter where it belongs

The apostle Paul places his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit is making the body of Christ out of the Lord’s followers (1 Corinthians 12-14). He does not place it after his chapter on marriage (1 Corinthians 7), which he could have easily done. The placement is important to note. Paul fully respects marriage as part of the order built into creation, but it is not equally important in the new creation.

In Christ, we are all bigger than the traditions that used to make up our identities. For instance, when Paul is talking to the church in Galatia about their temptation to follow the Jewish law he says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and “what counts is the new creation” (Galatians 5:6, 6:15).

When we are talking about the new traditions people are making and legislating about marriage and sexuality in our era, it is important to remember that what counts is the new creation. How I relate to everyone who is finding their way: relationally, sexually and otherwise, is based on this kind of thought: “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

There is more to you than your marriage or lack of one

Making families is great, but the ultimate in family comes from relating as brothers and sisters in Christ and respecting God as our true parent. That is a reality that takes the work of our Savior and the power of the Spirit to experience.

Jesus affirms the oldest teachings in the scripture about marriage (Matthew 19:5-6). Elsewhere in the New Testament we are taught that marriage is to be honored by all; all the Bible writers assume they are talking about a relationship between a man and a woman, lifelong and exclusive. At the same time, marriage is not considered the ultimate expression of love and commitment; love and commitment come from Jesus and are most fully realized in the body of Christ.  Within that inspired and diverse body, composed of everyone who can name Jesus as Lord, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” Every Jesus-follower is honorable and must be honored because each is given “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:5-7).

Our relationships with God through Jesus Christ are what define us. Our ultimate identity is not about how we are married or how we have sex, just like it is not about where we live or any other labels the world may slap on us.

The Church has slapped some labels on people, too.

Circle of Hope’s way of responding to our era’s new approaches to sexual expression has been based on the spirit of the preceding teaching from the Bible. At the same time, we know that the church has rarely been a safe place, historically, for sexual nonconformity. Many people have been oppressed and injured. One of the reasons people are deserting the church in vast numbers these days is not just because the members of the church do not live in the Spirit or do not express new creation life, it is because the church is even more oppressive than the world!

Because of this reality, we have tried to be even more careful to welcome every person as they are, no matter where they are on their journey, and have been committed to walk with them as they discover the fullness of what God has for them. We don’t do this just because people won’t like us if we don’t; we do it because Jesus is doing the same thing with us! Especially in regard to how people experience marriage, we don’t need that to be a big issue when we first meet someone. After all, we think that the best place to find fullness as one’s true self is as an honored member of the body of Christ, not in a sexual relationship, married or otherwise. So we try to keep our focus where the focus should be.

Some people might prefer a detailed policy statement

Our approach requires a great deal of love and personal commitment, not just careful adjudication or implementation of regulations. As Jesus-followers we need to love real, complex people with an unfolding future, not just organize identities as if we were the Social Security Administration. We want to have faith that requires our best — and loving people as they are will require our best. Being personally gracious and hospitable takes a lot of time and patience, but the  commitment it takes to work out our love in the ways we are directed is worth it.

Here are some basic applications of the scripture that answer questions people have about what we are talking about:

What about the pressure to choose a sexual identity? Sexual arousal is a characteristic of a person, not their identity. How we respond to our arousal and the feelings themselves tend to be fluid and are subject to the same temptations and maturation as are all our ways. Jesus is Lord of all our feelings and ways. We seek to honor each person as they experience their feelings and find their way along their unique journey as a member of the body of Christ.

What about the increasing experience of living together as sexual partners before marriage? Generally, sexual expression should happen within a relationship founded in a marriage covenant. Couples who cohabit as sexual partners without a public commitment should consider themselves married. Likewise, if they break up, they should consider themselves divorced. The rights the nation gives or withholds regarding marriage and other relationships are superseded by our life in faith as part of the new creation.

What about same sex attraction? Jesus followers who have same sex attraction are no less honorable than anyone else. They are going to work out their sexuality in a variety of ways, as they are convicted and gifted.

  • Some will choose celibacy and struggle alongside Jesus and Paul.
  • Some will choose to have a committed relationship that can be a faithful response to their desire.
  • Some will marry a person of the complementary gender and not express their other attractions, as all married couples are called to do.
  • Some may struggle with what to do and others may cause struggles with what they do.

There does not need to be one approach to marriage and sexual expression that supposedly meets the needs and aspirations of all people. The key to unity in diversity is the work of grace that enables disparate people to manifest the Spirit for the common good.  We all experience brokenness, sin and loneliness in our loves; so we will bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). What counts is the new creation.

Marriage in the New Creation

**Circle of Hope upgrades their teaching all the time, so this post is old now, in some ways. The new work is even better!** Here is the link to the latest.

All year we have been trying to get out of the congress-type polarization of the Church’s dialogue about sexual expression and get into the grace of staying focused on everyone’s redemption. I think we are doing a good job. The pastors came up with a statement on marriage in March and taught it to the cell leaders. I think it is a good summary of where we have come so far. This post is based on that statement. What follows are three big points about marriage and sexuality and some basic ideas that might help apply them.

love never fails, marriage includedWe need to keep the love chapter where it belongs

The apostle Paul places his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit is making the body of Christ out of the Lord’s followers (1 Corinthians 12-14). He does not place it after his chapter on marriage (1 Corinthians 7), which he could have easily done. The placement is important to note. Paul fully respects marriage as part of the order built into creation, but it is not equally important in the new creation.

In Christ, we are all bigger than the traditions that used to make up our identities. For instance, when Paul is talking to the church in Galatia about their temptation to follow the Jewish law he says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and “what counts is the new creation” (Galatians 5:6, 6:15).

Continue reading Marriage in the New Creation

Jesus — and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

The other day a distant acquaintance accused our church of not talking about sex enough  (in the neighborhood gossip column, at least). It was right after we enjoyed an open forum about our theology of sexuality attended by over 100 people! It never ceases to surprise me that the more one does something, the more excuse it gives a few people to criticize you for not doing it!

If anything, Circle of Hope has been a good place to work through the trauma of our over-sexualized society. As our forum uncovered, a lot of people have had painful sexual experiences, and not just because the powers that be limit their sexual expression (since they don’t really do that anymore). Sex is painful because they are confused. And it is painful because they get run over by the wave of immorality that is surging through the culture. (Maybe using the word immorality even made you uneasy, since who could say what that is?). It is painful because sex has become an incessant demand and a constant source of scientific study. And it is painful because a lot of people can’t figure out what Jesus says about it.

He wept over it
Enrique Simonet, 1892

Listening to people lately has helped me collect a few of the assumptions I often share when people want some spiritual direction about what to do with what they feel and how they are acting. When you only have your own impulses and a lot of societal pressure to work with, things can get confusing – and painful. So here are five things about Jesus that I think should inform how we have a dialogue about sexual behavior (among other things, of course). These five things will not solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not speaking from a place that has been processed by the leaders of the church, but I hope to name some basic things that guide life in Jesus and that apply to how we continue the dialogue about sexuality.

Continue reading Jesus — and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

The Difference between Acceptance and Agreement

What I want is what I have always wanted: to live in a community of trusted partners and to act for redemption in every way we can think to act.

  • I hope we can be Bible-lovers — like many so-called “conservatives,”
  • I hope we can be welcoming and justice-seeking — like many so-called “liberals.”

I hope we will never stop calling people to follow Jesus as their Lord and to discern the movement of the Spirit for their direction. And I hope we will never stop trying to create an environment in which people can come to Christ in different ways, at different paces and according to their ability. I want Circle of Hope to be a safe place to explore and express God’s grace where truth does not kill and love does not lie.

Orientation is a starting point not our end point

I think that spirit makes Circle of Hope welcoming, not just to people naming various sexual identities, but also to people of various political convictions and spiritual backgrounds. We don’t believe that people need to change their ordinary orientation, sexual or otherwise, in order to follow Jesus. Instead, we invite everyone to change their spiritual orientation toward God and their fellow human beings. When people adopt that orientation, they submit their humanness, in all its wonder and flaws, to God as revealed in the way of Jesus. That reorientation makes all the difference.

The New Testament repeatedly says, we are all wonderful image-bearers of God as far as the Lord is concerned because of Jesus, no matter how the world defines each of us. We can rest assured that God knows, as well as we do, that we bear that image in imperfect, broken, and often hurtful ways. But our ongoing relationship with Jesus as Lord and our movement toward expressing our true selves is much more important than our imperfect behavior. Hoping to keep us moving and not stuck in condemnation, I think Circle of Hope has been doing a good job to embrace and challenge people in all the broken and glorious conditions they come to us just like we accept God’s embrace.

non acceptance: Liberal-vs-Conservative-SimpsonsEven with that urge to embrace people as they are, it is almost impossible not to compare and contrast one another. But, the truth is, when it comes to “us” and “them,” there is no “them.” There is only “us.” We are all beautiful and precious people valued by God. We are also broken people, to one degree or another, needing the healing of the Holy Spirit and the experience of authentic community to live as Jesus calls us to live. To be human is, among other things, to be in some wonderful and weird way, dysfunctional. We are all broken people, as well as glorious people (Romans 3:23-24).

We need to get to “us” not just define “me”

As a result of our brokenness, we are prone to conflict and usually scared to death of “them.” I encourage Christians who invest too much time in defining their opponents to apply the difference between acceptance and agreement. When we confuse acceptance and agreement we do not love as we should.

In our Cell Plan we note that it’s a common mistake for people to assume that they should not accept someone fully until they have repented and changed. Some Christians think that a person is not evangelized until they behave properly! Some believers think they are condoning sin if they disagree with someone’s choices  but, at the same time, respect, honor, and accept them — even though the Bible calls us to be that generous! (see Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 3:15-16). If we applied acceptance and agreement as two different concepts, we might stop withholding acceptance as a form of disagreement and learn to better love those outside our boundaries of agreement.

Christ-followers ought to declare their love through their actions. Many Christians have the well-earned reputation of putting a lot of energy into their messages of disapproval — that’s their main activity! But disapproval is not the Lord’s main activity or His message! I hope people get the impression among Circle of Hope that, “We love you just like Jesus does.” For instance, we have been talking a lot about the protection of sexual minorities this week. I think it is an “of course” that people oriented toward Jesus and toward serving others would be among the first to look out for the human rights of any oppressed group, always showing them the utmost respect as image-bearers of God. The first time I ever got in “trouble” for moderating the Dialogue List was when I confronted a person who was sounding “anti-gay.” He was honing a message of disapproval and he wanted affirmation for it. I respected him, but I had to do my job, as pastor, to keep the community knit together in love, so I confronted him.

We want to be that unique Kingdom society within our secular culture that blesses those with whom we do not agree and who may not agree with us. Within that context of active, energetically-demonstrated love, we may then also make our differences clear. If we are loving as radically as we are given to love, this should only make the love we offer all the more meaningful and transformative. I don’t think I, or Circle of Hope, have always loved in transformative ways — but we mostly have! Even so, I am sorry for all the times people felt judgment, not love. People will outgrow us, get sick of us, or never understand us, but I always hope they never leave us because they bounced off our indifference or rejection.

We can’t make others accept before they agree. It takes faith.

I don’t think we are prone to judgment, but people feel judged nonetheless. It might be because they also need to learn the lesson we need to apply: the difference between acceptance and agreement. For instance, how someone sees sexual morality is the strange new litmus test for mutuality these days. Many people have liked us Christians but hated our morality. They have even felt “set up” when we were nice and then we did not agree with them; they felt welcomed to speak their minds and then felt betrayed when they were asked to listen. When it comes to unbelievers, in particular, they probably should restrain themselves from demanding that Jesus-followers sign up for the latest versions of the world’s philosophy, just like they don’t think Christians should tell them how to live. I felt like the church was demanding and a bit uncaring this week, too; so I also know something about how hard it can be to turn around and stay with love when I don’t feel the love coming my way. I still want to invite people into that process of staying with love in honor of Jesus, however.

I hope I am not wrong, but I think people can form mutually respectful friendships without demanding absolute agreement on all issues (most marriages seem to work this way!). There is a difference between acceptance and agreement. If there is acceptance, then any necessary agreement can be formed. Mutually respectful diversity, in the end, provides us with the most opportunity for growing, loving, and learning. What’s more, it allows Jesus to heal our wounds and make us one, just as the Healer and the Father are one, which is much more satisfying than anything the-powers-that-be promise.

“Identity” and What the Idea is Doing to Sexuality

This may not be my most “entertaining” blog post, but I think it is important to write it.  I hope you will work with me on something I’ve been thinking about a lot for the past couple of months. I don’t think Christians have a cogent, loving response to prevailing ideology about identity, especially sexual identity. We need to find one.

In a volume dedicated to seeking a new “language of liberation,” Linda Martin and Satya Mohanty acknowledge that the critics of the old language make sense: “Theoretical critics of identity politics claim that identities are social constructions rather than natural kinds, that they are indelibly marked by the oppressive conditions that created them in the first place, and therefore should not be given so much weight or importance. They point out, with some justification, that racial categories are specious ways to categorize human beings, that gender differences are overblown, that sexuality should be thought of as a practice rather than an identity, and that disability itself is often a product of social arrangements rather than a natural kind. These and other sorts of arguments are used to suggest that identities are ideological fictions, imposed from above, and used to divide and control populations. Both political and theoretical critics claim that we should be working to eliminate the salience of identity in everyday life, not institutionalize it.” 1 I have been among those critics.

It is nice to see academic types coming back around, as they sometimes do. In this case they sound a lot like they are challenging prevailing thinking using the same basic wisdom Paul used when he pleaded with the church in Galatia to stop dividing themselves up according to the “wisdom” of their latest teachers. He said, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

I think the identity straitjackets imposed by many of society’s latest teachers have been especially damaging to how we think about our sexuality. There is a sexual “script” that gives us all a part to play. If we do not learn our lines, there are social consequences. It goes something like this:

  • One’s sexual attractions signal a naturally occurring or “intended by God” distinction between homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality (and an increasing array of definitions).
  • Discovering one’s sexual attractions is elemental to knowing who you “really are” as a person.
  • Sexual attractions are at the core of who one is as a person.
  • One’s sexual behavior is an extension of that core.
  • Behavior that matches who you “really are” sexually is crucial for your self-actualization and fulfillment.

This script is a compelling invention. Almost everyone who will read this knows it intuitively by now. But it was invented in the 20th century and may already be losing steam in the 21st. Jonathan Katz wrote about how it all got started: “Between the 1890s and the 1960s the terms heterosexual and homosexual moved into American popular culture, constructing in time a sexual solid citizen and a perverted unstable alien, a sensual insider and a lascivious outlaw, a hetero center and a homo margin, a hetero majority and a homo minority. The new, strict boundaries made the new gendered, erotic world less polymorphous. The term heterosexual manufactured a new sex-differentiated ideal of the erotically correct, a norm that worked to affirm the superiority of men over women and heterosexuals over homosexuals.” 2 Now Hilary Clinton is spreading that thinking worldwide. I’m happy for no discrimination. I’m not so happy about the thinking that created the discrimination.

I think Paul rejected the arbitrary divisions between persons in his day according to what we now call “identity” in favor of one basic division according to allegiance to Jesus Christ. The division between Jews and Gentiles is sorted out when they all become children of God by faithing Jesus. Economic or gender divides are relevant to our relationships, but those elements are integrated into our primary allegiance to God. We are not stuck with who we are as defined by society according to our birth place or biology, we have an “identity” that is more basic than those which is given by God and actualized by Jesus.

As far as sexuality goes, followers of Jesus have an alternative script to the prevailing oppression:

  • Sexual attraction does not signal a categorical distinction among types of persons, but is one of many human experiences.
  • Who one is as a person begins with a restored relationship with God, which is the basis for sorting out the intricacies of desire and sexual expression.
  • Attraction does not require orientation which does not demand identity. Note a similar discussion Paul has about slavery — though you might be born a slave that does not mean you are not God’s freedperson which means you should think of yourself as free and become socially free, if possible.

The sexuality script has been popularized by the media until we are swimming in a sea of sexual messages that preoccupy how we think about ourselves. To even entertain an alternative to the prevailing script is a fear-filled thing to do, since it will generally be seen as unaccepting, unhealthy, unloving and maybe even illegal. I think the prevailing sexuality script is oppressive and leads people to excessive behavior: we are tempted to artificially label ourselves and we are pushed to exaggerate our behavior in a search for self-actualization (which all-too-often leads to various forms of sexual addiction). Most detrimental, we can be deprived of a Christ-centered approach that is more generous about our present sexual condition and more likely to provide a lifelong way to sort out our behavior.

I think Christians should follow the example of Paul as we relate to people consumed by the present-day subjugation to the ideas surrounding the word “identity.” The world is likely to keep labeling people for political or social reasons and the media is likely to promote the categories and advertise to them. And people are likely to emphasize personal characteristics that they consider socially important and relatively unchangeable. As Christians, we will be labeled and we may be tempted to see our faith as just another identity in the pluralistic pot, one that gives us self-respect or dignity. We may even be tempted to trade our “religious identity” for a more compelling “sexual” one that functions according to the prevailing script.

I am going to keep meditating about this. Being one with Christ may be an identity in the world. But it can’t be reduced to that definition. My relationship with God and his people in Christ includes all my sexual attractions and informs all the ways I enjoy them or struggle with them.

A couple of references:

1 This is from Reconsidering Identity Politics. Intro is online

2 Excerpted on the PBS website.

Companion blog posts:

More Thoughts on Identity

The Language of Sexuality

The Language of Sexuality

Depending on how I feel any given day, one of the benefits or banes of doctoral studies is learning a new language. One of my professors calls it part of my “socialization.” The implication is that we are growing up into “doctorhood,” so we’d best learn “doctorese.” The goal reminds me of the Wizard of Oz taking his unexplainable balloon trip to hobnob with the other wizards.

This past week the topic for my socialization was new language about human sexuality. I found myself in an unexpected but helpful “encounter group” for most of the class time. But there was also an interesting lecture on sexual “identity.” The guest lecturer was something of an evangelist for the latest science that defines who we are sexually. I haven’t sorted it all out yet, but I thought I’d let you in on the language, since it is bandied about all the time.

One can start with biological sex. When Solomon Schnapf was born Sunday, the doctors immediately took a look at his parts and announced his sex; they probably tagged him “baby boy Schnapf” and wrapped him in blue. Most of the time knowing one’s sex is easy,  but people do come out with a variation on parts.

Our gender is less obvious. Gender is how we feel, male or female. We all get socialized by our families and others to be men or women, but it is important to feel the part. Now that we have the science, wealth and politics to change, Chastity Bono can become Chaz.

Orientation is the morality hot-button territory these days. Regarding sexual orientation This used to be named preference. Most sexuality scientists insist that who-we-are-attracted-to is a built-in feature, not a choice. However, the Kinsey scale of hetero-homo orientation offers a lot of discussion about the science, since it appears that most of us are sexually attracted to most of us, at least a little. Christians who are solidly on the preference side of the definition often argue that God’s transforming power is greater, no matter how we come equipped. We insist that it is how we are oriented in relationship with God that is the heart of any other orientation problems, sexual or otherwise.

Then there is behavior. Biologically and psychologically, some things are hard-wired. But humans do what they decide to do and can be forced to behave in all sorts of ways. My teacher thought it might be a bit foolish not to act out one’s sexual orientation, and thought it was a Christian duty to help people be themselves. But people can and do act sexually in ways that go against their orientation and their morality all the time. They have seasons of behavior that come and go. They behave how they choose and they often behave according to definitions and roles people require of them.

I think some Christians get derailed in the discussion of sexuality because they are too hung up about orientation and get it confused with behavior. I think it is safe to say that God thinks everyone’s orientation is a mess. Everyone has sinned; everyone has experienced a broken relationship with God; everyone lives in an environment that is fallen; everyone needs a savior. We have orientation issues.

Obviously, not everyone sees it that way. Scientists and  philosophers from the beginning have tried to normalize a universe that does not include God, certainly one that does not include God-with-us leading us into fullness. They’ve tried to find ways to explain, justify and redirect our orientations. Scientists of sexuality (at least the few I have learned from) can be evangelists for respecting someone’s orientation as good, right, and theirs. If the scientists are Christians, then they can insist that “who you love” should be protected by the great Lover. Orientation meeting sanctioned behavior is their goal. I feel the love. But I don’t think our orientation issues get solved by making them normal.

Upon learning this language there were just a few howls, in our class full of Christians, from the biological side of the identity argument. A sex is a sex. But there was more grumbling from those who did not leap to the same morality as the presenters. An orientation is not a behavior. For one thing, singling out sexual “orientation” for their reasoning seems unfair. There are a lot of “orientations” that can land someone in prison if they are acted upon. For instance, society kills murderous psychopaths (at least in Texas) and has an elaborate system to protect children from pedophiles. This does not mean that homosexuals are the same as murderers; it means that society is passing judgment that might not warrant allegiance.

Even more irritating to some people, perhaps, was our lecturer quoting Sergeant Friday saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.” She claimed to be enumerating the facts; the implication was that the classmates who did not go along with her interpretation of them were wrong — and even more damning to Christians: unloving. But, in fact, the “facts” are a little squishy in the language of sexuality, and the interpretation of the facts is not that clear if one’s commitment to the assumptions of scientific rationalism is squishy.

My one conclusion to share today is this (really, this is all I have, the rest was meant to be open-ended): I don’t think God wants our orientations to define us. Making decisions based on the drives we feel or the feelings that have come to drive us often leads us to sin as much as it does to satisfaction. Our orientation is not God. Our so-called “orientations” in relationship with God, subject to the love and truth in Jesus, become aspects of our character that lead us to our renewed identity. Our sexuality is so deep in us that it might be the most difficult territory of all to explore. But all of us are exploring many territories and many layers of orientation that challenge us. We are all  deciding what to do about the facts of our lives. When people try to socialize us to submit to facts that don’t include God, his people, creation and revelation, the facts aren’t factual enough yet.

Companion posts:

“Identity” and What the Idea Is Doing to Sexuality

More Thoughts on Identity

Mating choices

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.  Philippians 1:20-26

 The other night at Rabbi Time we had a lively discussion about marriage, sex, “dating” — that whole fascinating area. One of the main things God reinforced for me through the discussion was that many of us need a redeemed set of reasons for what we are doing, in general, now that we have turned to follow Jesus. And we need to apply them to marriage, sex and “dating” (unless you kissed it good-bye, of course).

 If one looks in their concordance for “marriage, sex and dating” a few passages can be located — but probably not the verses from Philippians above. Yet I think what Paul writes there might give more direction for how to connect than other passages. Who one marries or considers marrying, how one connects sexually, isn’t another “area” of life that the Bible writers don’t seem to go into too specifically. Sexuality and spirituality are at the very heart of who we are and everything said about anything is applicable. In essence, the Bible writers are giving direction for sexual relationships all the time, and periodically they get specific.

 For instance, Paul is trying to decide whether it is more profitable to live or die (a much weightier subject than, “Who shall I marry?” even, and certainly weightier than, “Shall I go for an orgasm right now?”)! He decides that God will likely spare his life for further mission — if not, that is even better. That is good direction, I say, for how to make all sorts of decisions about intimacy. When we were talking the other night, a few times it seemed necessary to say that, “Who you marry is a missional matter.” Somehow, it seems that most Christians think such wild talk is for missionaries, as if their own purpose didn’t matter so much!

 Is it really so foolish to think that if one were looking for a mate they would want to find a good partner for fulfilling their part of the mission of Jesus to redeem the world? Wouldn’t that be as likely to result in satisfying sex and decent family life as wondering if you were aroused enough to sustain a long-term sex life, or attracted enough to think your relationship would stand the test of time, or whether you were ready enough to make a commitment that would include you staying home at night periodically, or to stop drinking so much, or to compromise some of your perfectionistic expectations?

 There are a lot of variations on how and why we connect. I am hardly trying to sum them all up in one idea, here. But I do want to submit that having a purpose and assuming that someone else would share it with you is pretty sexy. Honestly, I think it is more deeply erotic than mere skin-to-skin or attraction-to-attraction can sustain.