Monday, January 31, 2005

You ain't seen nothing yet


It is the dreaded "4th week of semester," when all of my lofty academic goals start falling apart and inevitably collapse into the chaos that defines academic life. This is when I start just trying to keep my head above water.

And I brought this on myself?? Wow, I can't wait till finals week. If I'm more than a lump of quivering flesh on the last day of finals, I'll consider it a victory.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

getting it on?

definitely rated PG-13. Proceed with caution.

In a special with Katie Couric, NBC reported tonite on "Teens & Sex." Focusing on teens from age 13-16, they reported that while teen pregnancy and the transmission of STDs are statistically declining (complete results here), the amount of variant forms of sexual activity (specifically "hooking up," oral sex, and "friends with benefits") are increasingly common even in this young group.

One interesting connection? Young teens who wish to avoid "having sex" will increasingly compromise with oral sex, because (duh!) teens don't consider oral sex on par with intercourse. If you're not ready to have sex, you can appease your boyfriend/girlfriend by agreeing to oral sex. Loveline hosts Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew often note that 30 years ago oral sex was "more than sex," while most teens today consider it a standard "third base."

With such a hyper-sexual society, constantly bombarded by sexual images from tv, film, radio and print advertising, why are these countervailing trends seemingly at odds? What's going on here?
Grace & Peace

Friday, January 21, 2005

Call them on it (Part II)

Note: this will make no sense if you have not read Part I, below:

Reflecting on my earlier post, I have come up with what I think might be an example of an acceptable answer (though certainly not a sufficient one), for those that are unclear exactly what I'm hoping for. I'm sure I am opening myself up to all kinds of criticism now:

The type of response we need developed is similar to the Catholic Church's understanding of the celibate priesthood. Centuries of wrestling with this issue has lead the Catholic Church to a complex theological understanding of celibacy that does not simply deny the sexuality of the priest as a human being. Though the Catholic Church has not abdicated its moral authority, (remaining firm on extra-marital intercourse) they have developed a well-articulated recognition by priests that they are, in fact, married to Christ and to His Church in a unique manner more real than a traditional male/female marriage. This special union necessitates the abdication of the right of the purely physical expression of sexual love, but focuses that energy toward the love of Christ and of the parish, instead of simply ignoring or denying it. This unique union provides special benefits of authority and uninterrupted communion with God not enjoyed by those partaking in marriage, and each diocese works to mentor and support the priest in his tasks and in this difficult calling. (See, for example, several scenes on this topic in "Keeping the Faith.")

How well this particular ethic plays out in real life is beside the point. What is significant is that this is a comprehensive understanding human sexuality outside of the context of marriage. Any comprehensive ECSS (Ethic of Christian Single Sexuality) would need to be formulated for a completely different constituency . But the possibility exists, and the theological tools are there to begin such a project. It's time to step up to the plate...
Grace & Peace

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Call them on it

NOTE: this is taken from a journal entry on 15 March 2004. Rated PG

I was listening recently to a Christian radio station in my area broadcast a program that was dealing with the issue of Christian teen sexuality. The hosts, a man and a woman, ended the program by nothing that the woman's daughter had pledged not to kiss any man until she was engaged. The finished the show by revealing conspiratorially that "many girls today are waiting to kiss until they get married," and exclaiming, "wouldn't that be great?!"

I turned off the radio, scoffing to myself and more that a little upset. Beside the fact that there are few statistics supporting the claim that "many girls" are waiting till they are engaged to kiss anyone, I found myself - a devout Christian and supporter of much of this radio station's content - angry at these commentators enthusiasm for something I considered absurd. Why was I so mad? Obviously, the route advocated by these commentators was not one I pursued myself, though sex was certainly not on my dating agenda. But I believe that my reaction was more than a case of self-righteous jealousy or indignation. In fact, I understood and even empathized with the commentator's "slippery slope" argument - each new sexual experience satisfies us, but leaves us wanting more. What I found so disturbing the complete lack of an understanding of what it means to be a sexual creature outside of the context of marriage. This is displayed by so many (married) Christian commentators that I've lost count.

In "The Most Important Year of a Woman's Life," the authors note that many people, but especially girls, find it hard to go from saying "no, no, no" with regard to their sexuality to "yes..yes...yes!" as soon as they're married. Although with the best of intentions, and important Biblical principles at hand, too many Christian leaders are, at best, simply unaware of how to articulate an ethic of healthy Christian sexuality out of the marriage context , and at worst, contributing to the sexual dysfunction of that new generation of Christian young people by refusing to develop a thoughtful model to articulate.

In their defense, this is a relatively new problem for many church leaders. For centuries, the American church tradition kept all manner of sexual discussion firmly pent up in private, reflecting their Victorian, and yes, Puritanical heritage. (Puritans were known for having sex with their clothes on in order to prevent immodesty and discourage lust.) Prior to the European Reformation, celibate Catholic priests/theologians hardly had the resources to articulate any vision of healthy sexuality, much less in the lives of today's young and single. (though I do believe that Catholic celibacy to be a viable, healthy sexual option that affords celibate priests resources of time and energy not possessed by married clergy).

It was the traumatic cultural upheavals of the 1960's and 1970's that actually encouraged Christian leaders to begin to speak openly about healthy sexuality. Thought they almost universally criticized the excesses of this era, it was the pressures of a rapidly evolving sexual society that forced many pastors to begin to talk openly about healthy sexuality at home. Today, many churches offer some form of "marriage retreat," a combination weekend-long counseling session and romantic getaway, where couples are encouraged to re-ignite passion in the bedroom as an essential key to a healthy marriage partnership. But when the subject switches to the unmarried (including, I might add, those who are engaged), these same pastors have nothing to say - preaching either implicitly or explicitly a complete "hands-off" (literally) approach to sexuality. This lack of a coherent vision is becoming an increasing problem in churches that regularly have 50-80% of their "twenty-somethings" unmarried. In a society that is maturing (physically) earlier and earlier, and marrying later and later, the Church has no comprehensive approach for dealing with often 15 years of sexual maturity and frustration beyond simplistic quips about lust and self-control.

What does it mean to be a sexual being in God's eyes, and why does this Bible seem to present a limited number of examples for dealing with these questions? This has more to do with the structure of ancient societies than it does with Biblical insufficiencies. Ancient societies, almost universally, have two things in common: a patriarchal structure and a low life-expectancy. The patriarchal norms means that women usually had little choice of when/who to marry, and girls - especially post-pubescent women - were often kept strictly separated from men. The low life expectancy, combined with a high mortality rate, means that women were married young, and forced quickly into childbearing and child rearing. Many girls might have been physically mature less than three years before they were "safely" married off. Much of this tradition continued right up to the recent past, when women's liberation and sexual revolution (especially the development of simple and effective birth control) finally meant that women and men can now interact together freely in the public sphere, without social pressure, and marriage and childbearing is delayed later and later for the pressures of education and career. Given these recent and dramatic changes, it is perhaps commendable that the Church has come as far as it has. Yet we are still left with a seemingly intractable problem: while previous century's theologians did not need to develop a "Christian single" sexual ethic because so few Christian singles existed, today's Christian single must wrestle through 10-15 years of sexual maturity, with little in the way of guidance from Church leaders, and virtually no understanding of what it might mean in God's eyes to be a sexual being, mentally and emotionally mature, looking for that special someone, but increasingly, not there yet.
Grace & Peace

Monday, January 17, 2005

a burning bush

or, "thinking about God"

God wakes you up during the night to tell you that he has a very important message for you. He wants to deliver it next Thursday from a burning bush near your house. Assuming that this message is from God and not last night's left-over sushi (never a good idea), you arrive at said bush and, sure enough, God delivers to you a powerful message.

Since God has promised to be there, to what degree is your encounter with the bush an encounter with God, and to what degree is your encounter with God simply an encounter with a bush?

ACHTUNG: This quetion contains epistemological overtones. Passengers should be warned that you may experience epistemological angst if you proceed.
I was speaking recently with my good friend M about the importance of Scripture. His take, grossly oversimplified, is that it is not so much the "words on the page" that are important in Scripture, but that these words lead us to an encounter with the divine. What makes the Bible so unique, in M's understanding, is the degree to which it is able to perform this function among all other elements in creation. Thus the Bible is essentially a vehicle that leads us (better than all other vehicles) to God. It's a fine distinction to make, but M iterated quite clearly that the Bible is not God, and God is not the Bible.

I believe that M is making an important observation about the nature of Scripture, and is quite right to resist the (all-too-common) urge to "deify" the Bible. Only God is God (spoken like a true theologian).

But God has also promised to animate the text of Scripture, to "breathe life" into it, and in some sense, to call these words "His Word." We are reminded in II Timothy that "All Scripture is God-breathed..."

Since God has promised to be there, to what degree is our encounter with Scripture an actual encounter with God, and to what degree is our encounter with God simply an encounter with words on a page?
There is a troubling extension here that I freely recognize, in the spirit of open dialogue on this issue; God has also promised, in some (analogous?) sense, to inhabit each of us (cf. Revelation 3:20). Yet we do not believe that an encounter with any Christian is a literal encounter with the divine - though we are adoptees into God's family, we are in no sense God. So there is a distinction to be made here, and I am legitimately curious where you think that distinction is.
Grace & Peace

Thursday, January 13, 2005

let's be honest...

a.k.a The Jimmy Carter syndrome

A recent expose on the Presidency of Jimmy Carter reminds me that George W. Bush is not the first President to wear his evangelical faith "on his sleeve," nor the first to justify difficult and controversial decisions in religious terms.

Democrats love to hate our current President - vilifying him is not only en vogue, it's practically assumed among the people I meet in my new residence. Democratic Christians especially seem to bristle under the religious language regularly invoked by the administration and its well-meaning supporters. Yet this was something Jimmy Carter did at least as much as the current administration, if not more so.

Interestingly, these very same Christians will not hesitate to state their own politics in decidedly religious terms! I have heard several progressive evangelicals speak of Jimmy Carter as if he were the answer to merging Liberal politics and evangelical faith - this from a Presidency considered by politicans and historians (on all sides) to be an unmitigated failure.

This type of double-speak drives me crazy, and implies to me that Christians of both political stripes have a very nasty habit of deriving political views, and then bending religion to fit politics, and not the other way around. I'm sure that I am as guilty of this as the next person, and I don't see any easy way around it. But I am highly uncomfortable with the idea that I do this...perhaps a certain self-consciousness of this habit is a step in the right (though not perhaps liberal) direction.

I also sense a lot more venom from my Liberal colleagues, though this is perhaps to be expected given the resounding losses they recently suffered. Most Republicans I know consider Democrats to be simply misinformed - "if they only understood the way things really work they would realize that Liberal policies are ineffectual." My Democratic friends, meanwhile, quite literally assume that Republican leaders get up in the morning and plan ways of decisively ruining our country and stomping on anyone they can in the process. This "assumption divide" has big implications for the possibility of productive dialog across the political aisle.

Here are a few instances of President Bush's Christian faith affecting his politics in ways in positive ways I think are worth considering:
  • A commitment to human rights abroad - especially efforts to stop sex trafficking.
  • Strong support for fighting AIDS worldwide.
  • A practical committment to securing the rights of pre-born infants.
  • The desire to see religious liberties spread to areas of the world not currently experiencing such freedoms.
  • A belief that religious charities applying for social-service grants shouldn't be discriminated against simply because they are religious.
  • White House's support for a college student who was denied a state grant because he planned to major in theology (that could have been me!).
  • The Cleveland school-choice case, defending the rights of parents to choose which school their children attend with voucher support, whether religious or secular.
I don't know. It's not an easy issue no matter how you look at it. But at least think about it.
Grace & Peace...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

spinning my wheels

As a tribute to my good friend "B," I am currently spinning the following tracks:

Radiohead - Climbing up the Walls
Hendrix - Purple Haze
Beatles - Strawberry Fields
R.E.M. - What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
Rolling Stones - Sympathy for the Devil
Led Zepplin - Ramble On
The Who - You Better, You Bet
Pearl Jam - Even Flow
Pink Floyd - Hey you
Grateful Dead - Casey Jones...?
Led Zepplin - When the Levy Breaks
Nirvana - All apologies.

Missed you this weekend, B.

With this level of inspiration, expect more profound posts to follow swiftly. I'm back home, people! Look out!
Grace & Peace...

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

(re)starting it up

After a long and ridiculously ardous journey, I have found myself in a new haven that will be my home for at least the next semester. Given the difficulty I seem to have relocating, I may very well stay here indefinately. I apologize for my extended absence.

I hope to have much to say in the future, including the extended remix of my trip (suffice it to say that I don't move well). I'm excited about everything in store for me this next semester, and I'm glad you will along for the ride.
Grace & Peace