The Law of Love in a Shifting Culture

Originally posted on Faith Adrift in a Postmodern Sea:

As our society changes and evolves and I and my children and friends and my faith community are faced with ever evolving values and shifting truths and indeed shifting views on the very nature of truth and even outright denial that there IS TRUTH, I wonder, how now are we to live?

Our world has been dominated by the ebb and flow of many philosophies, cultural norms and religious ideas. Many have come and now vanished from the face of the earth. But the Judeo-Christian ethic  is one that has remained through much of human history. Whether one adheres to its philosophy or not , there can be no denying that it has a long, long tradition behind it. For many years, we had been accustomed to that same ethic dominating western thought. But today, that is no longer true. We live in the post-Christian era. This thought may feel…

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The Law of Love in a Shifting Culture

As our society changes and evolves and I and my children and friends and my faith community are faced with ever evolving values and shifting truths and indeed shifting views on the very nature of truth and even outright denial that there IS TRUTH, I wonder, how now are we to live?

Our world has been dominated by the ebb and flow of many philosophies, cultural norms and religious ideas. Many have come and now vanished from the face of the earth. But the Judeo-Christian ethic  is one that has remained through much of human history. Whether one adheres to its philosophy or not , there can be no denying that it has a long, long tradition behind it. For many years, we had been accustomed to that same ethic dominating western thought. But today, that is no longer true. We live in the post-Christian era. This thought may feel or sound disheartening, but I wonder if it isn’t an opportunity for the Christian church, worldwide to do something new. A time for the church to shine again, like a city on a hill.

In order to do this, we must turn inwardly. What I mean is that we often flail and fight and beat our fists against the changing laws and social mores of our shifting culture, yet within our own walls we gossip, complain, grumble, back bite, engage in what the Bible labels sexual immorality, and, I fear, that when we do not do these things we are often full of pride and self-righteousness because of our ability to adhere to a set of rules. Then we often withhold our friendship and kindness from those outside the faith. But the Bible says in I Cor 5:9-12, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” In other words, we have a certain set of values and standards by which God expects us to live if we call ourselves followers of Christ. Along with the listed offenses in this passage, in His Word, God continually calls out two particular types of people, more than any other. First, He calls out the prideful. Second, He calls out those that are strong who take advantage of the weak in any way. Psalm 10:14-18, Psalm 72:12-14, Psalm 146 and Luke 4:16-21 all outline God’s heart for the poor and oppressed.  Further the Bible states in Romans 12:14-18, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” With humility of spirit and with the aid of our Helper, the Holy Spirit, let us each subject ourselves to rigorous self-examination. Let our lives be an open book under the scrutiny of the Father and let us compare ourselves not to the world, where it may be easy to find ways in which we can be prideful, but to the standard set in scripture by Jesus. And, hardest of all, we must allow our lives to be an open book to other believers so that we can encourage each other in the effort to live how God calls us to live.  Brothers and sisters, we ARE called to judge. We are called to judge ourselves within our own church walls against this standard set out in scripture. That is how others will be drawn to the love of Christ.

The standards we should hold ourselves to as Christians should be motivated not by our own satisfaction in being able to follow a set of rules in order to achieve any kind of approval, either from God or man,  but by love. The standard of life set up in the Bible creates a way of living in which we are the least harmful and most beneficial to our fellow travelers to the grave. It is a life in which we learn how to love people, how to give love away even when it is hard, even when you don’t get anything back.  Jesus gave away love all the way to death. That’s hard.

On my daughter’s 20th Birthday

I could not let this day pass by without saying a few words about this momentous occasion. 

Twenty years. Can it be so many years since I brought home the most gloriously sweet baby girl? Her tiny head covered in dark, dark hair? Only twenty-one myself, young, unmarried, unsure, I had no idea what it would require of me to bring up a child. I had no idea what gifts it would give me in return, all of them of much greater value than any I had to give. At twenty-one, I was full of self, full of insecurity, full of fear. But my loving Heavenly Father had given me one wonderful gift already and I was to receive all that I needed from Him through the years. His first gift to me was my own mom, not a perfect mom, but a beautifully flawed one who loved me and made sure that I knew she would love me always, flaws and all, no matter what. And I was surely full of them, but I knew, I had been taught, to love my baby with all that I had within me and I did, and I do! Then, my Heavenly Father gave me the gift of Himself, through salvation. The transformative work He has done in my heart, gently, patiently has been a long one and continues, but I thank Him that He helped me to walk out this transformation in front of my own daughter’s very eyes. Indeed, she knows me as well as anyone and has been the recipient of the fruit of my flaws as much as anyone, but through the grace of God, she knows the power of repentance and forgiveness. And He gave me the gift of a God-loving husband who grew to love my little girl with heart of adoption, and the heart of a daddy. And God gave me the gift of knowing that my girl also loves Him. Not because of me, indeed, sometimes in spite of me, she has come to know the love of her Heavenly Father as well, and I am so grateful. When I see my beautiful daughter, she is so many of the things I wish I had been. She, through God’s gracious mercy, has been able to avoid many of the pitfalls and sins I fell readily into at her age. As I look forward to celebrating life’s milestones with her, it is with a grateful heart that she will not have many of the regrets that I had. There was a time in my life when my little girl and I were just another statistic, an unwed young mother relying on welfare and food stamps to get by, another brick in the legacy of dysfunction and fatherlessness and poverty, but my very big God has turned us into more than a statistic-indeed there is no one who is a statistic to Him-He has picked us up, turned us around and given us a legacy. Thank you, Father, for my daughter. Happy birthday, Allie. I love you times a billion. ImageImageImageImageImage

Did You Say “Sexual Restraint?” You’re a Bigot.

When it comes to sex and sexuality, we humans certainly do get very defensive. We definitely don’t want anyone stepping on our toes when it comes to fulfilling our personal sexual desires. Yet, I think a case can be made for taking sex and sexuality a little more seriously than we want it to have to be. We humans have gone to great lengths over many generations to remove the consequences of the sex act from it. We have done so with little success for the most part. Once we removed the imminent possibility of pregnancy with the advent of the “pill” sexually transmitted disease was a quite a bit more free to have its way with us, even coming up with a new and powerful punch, HIV/AIDS. While the pill, when taken correctly, does prevent most pregnancy, it comes with its own set of side effects and possible complications. The proliferation of the condom has also done a lot to prevent disease from being passed as freely as it might have, however neither has been a panacea for unplanned pregnancy or the passage of STD. In other words, whether or not we want it to be, sex is a very serious matter and comes with very serious consequences, life and death consequences, in fact. With such consequences at stake, is it truly any wonder that we ought also to take it seriously? But the fact remains, humans tend to want to do what they want to do and they don’t want to be told any better, but that does not mean we ought not to continue to fight for a better path. I do not want to place legalistic rules, boundaries and mores around other people’s personal lives. I would far prefer to sway hearts and minds to understand why sex and sexuality ought to be viewed in a different light than our culture is currently telling us we ought to view it. There can be no doubt that both men and women have an influence upon them to view sex sexuality in certain ways. Women, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, right? If the man is allowed to be free sexually, to pursue many partners, then why too, should not the woman?

Even if you remove morality and spirituality from sex, there are still some pretty serious ramifications involved, practically speaking. Sex creates new people. I know we all know how babies are made, but I’m not sure how seriously we take this matter. In a world of casual sex, whatever happens, whatever choices are made, it is the woman who is left with these consequences. Potentially, the man can decide to leave, say he never “had sexual relations with that woman” and essentially disappear. He is free to go along his merry way with nary a consequence to bear. Not so for a woman. We’re not really gonna get away with “oh, this? It’s a beer belly. I’ll lose the weight in a few months.” We bear the very obvious consequence and then must bear the responsibility of choosing what best to do with this brand new human being. It’s a person. That is a very serious matter. Additionally, sex transmits a number of diseases. Some of them present sooner than others, but they are able to hide within the woman’s body in a way that they cannot in a man’s. They also often present similar symptoms to other non-STD complications of being a woman.  Logically, this may be the very reason why the grip of sexual mores was historically held more tightly over women than over men. I’m not saying that it SHOULD have been that way; I’m simply saying that it is one practical explanation.

Consider the following from statistics from the CDC*:

·        STDs affect males and females of all backgrounds and economic levels. However, nearly two-thirds of all STDs occur in people younger than age 25.

·        STDs are on the rise, possibly due to more sexually active people who have multiple sex partners during their lives.

·        Almost one in five adolescents (19 percent) of adolescents in grades 9 to 12 has had four or more sexual partners.

·        Many STDs initially cause no symptoms. In addition, many STD symptoms may be confused with those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact – especially in females. Even symptom-less STDs can be contagious.

·        Females suffer more frequent and severe symptoms from STDs. Consider the following:

·        Some STDs can spread into the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.

·        STDs in females also may be associated with cervical cancer.

·        STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before or during birth. Some infections of the newborn may be successfully treated, but others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.

Is it possible that we have bought a lie, lock, stock and barrel? This great lie creates a great scenario under which men, having already historically already had the upper hand in access to whatever sexual desires in which they cared to partake, have as much or even greater access to that sexual freedom and less responsibility to the consequences. In fact, we women sometimes even glory in our ability to make a baby with some dude and then be left behind to deal with consequences, because it shows how tough we are, how much better we are than they. For the most part, the pendulum regarding mores on sexual behavior has swung between two extremes: sex is dirty, unsafe and forbidden or get rid of all restraint and just enjoy yourself. Neither extreme is honest nor helpful. Both approaches lead to much harm, rampant disease, unwanted pregnancy, prevalent abortion and damaged lives. What I lament is that when given the opportunity to level the playing field during the women’s liberation movement, rather than demanding better behavior and greater responsibility from our male counterparts, we chose to throw off restraint in an ill-advised attempt to show we could be just like them and have sex with whoever and not care. We decided to show that we could be just like men. What has this done for us? Are our lives really improved because of the proliferation of sexual freedom? It is as though we equate the idea of sexual freedom with ultimate happiness. And if I say to you that you should practice restraint in your sexuality then I am a brutal lawmaker, forcing you to bear the burden of outmoded religious and moral expectations from a less intellectually evolved, less enlightened time. What it really boils down to is an almost childlike tantrum in which societally we squeeze shut our eyes, clench our fists and scream “You’re not the boss of me!” Twentieth century author and philosopher, Aldous Huxley, eloquently expressed it this way:

“For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…” Ends and Means (pg. 273)

“The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do.” Ends and Means (pg. 272)

I seriously, philosophically, morally, intellectually and in all other ways question the notion that doing whatever I want sexually or otherwise really make a happier, healthier person or a happier, healthier, more satisfied, peaceful society. Some say it is the feeling of restraint via religious and moral codes which brings the unhappiness, but, really, our society has freed itself more and more throughout twentieth century (as have humans everywhere periodically throughout history) of moral restraint. How is our society doing when it comes to the feeling of happiness and satisfaction with life? Not so great. Case in point, we are an extremely medicated society, relying on many different drugs to solve emotional issues, many of which, if we’re honest, were caused by some sort of sexual abuse, betrayal or dysfunction. (Sidebar, I advocate appropriate treatment and medication for emotional and psychological issues). But you may think that here I stand with my outmoded morality trying to push it on society, and don’t I care about people’s feelings? Let’s get something straight. When we talk about feelings here, what we really mean, but don’t want to admit is impulse. I want you, god, the universe, society or whomever, to let me alone to be led by impulses, especially sexually. Fine, we mostly can all agree that if I have an impulse to punch an idiot clerk at the checkout stand in the face, I probably ought to check it. If I have an impulse to stab said idiot, I defiantly ought to check it. If I have the impulse to take your stuff, or stuff from the store, I ought to check it. But the line gets very blurred when it comes to sexual impulse. We want to be allowed to follow our own sexual impulses, but we know there should be some kind of lines as to which sexual impulse one ought to follow and which we shouldn’t. But the real point is, that many of the sexual “feelings” we want to be free to follow have very little to do with higher human emotion and a lot to do with impulse.

 Yeah, we have more drugs and treatments to free us from the consequences emotionally and physically from our behavior, but they only mask the deeper internal issues which come from the society which tells us we should be able to do whatever we want sexually. We still, in spite of scientific and medical advances, have rampant fatherlessness, overcrowded prisons (most, not ALL, most in prison will tell you they grew up fatherless), drug abuse, unwanted pregnancy, prolific abortion, prolific STDs, rampant emotional problems. And by the way, women, supposedly sexually free are now more objectified than ever, with a porn industry worth billions and a constant barrage of media images setting standards of perfection very few women can ever attain. Sexual freedom didn’t buy us happiness after all.

Just because we’ve been historically bad at staying the course sexually speaking doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and join the fray thinking, “everyone’s gonna do it anyway.” We all know that what is good for us isn’t always what’s popular or accepted. Which is why I have chosen to teach my children that abstinence until marriage is the best goal for them sexually speaking. This is not the unloving, rigid approach that many would perceive it to be. What I want for my children is the ideal, set forth in the book of the Bible, The Song of Solomon, in which the married couple enjoys a robust, clearly exciting and satisfying sex life. The book is filled with some very sexually explicit metaphors about sexual pleasure. I want them to have this. I want my daughter to be the apple of her husband’s eye. I want her to know that her body is never weighed against another’s and thus to be free of the fear that it doesn’t measure up. I want my sons to be able to be fully satisfied with their married partners, because they employed the self-restraint required and waited for her and all that she brings to the marriage bed is more than enough because it’s not compared against dozens of other experiences and unrealistic standards for his wife’s appearance. I want for them safety, knowing that with their sexual partner, they are safe from the harm of sexually transmitted disease. I want my grandchildren to have a mom and dad that love each other and have proved to one another that each can be trusted because they had the self-restraint to wait until marriage. If a young man or young woman had the self-control a patience to wait until marriage does this not build a case that they can practice the same self-control within the marriage and stay faithful when life requires it? Isn’t having someone in your life that you can completely trust and who will stick with you through the trials of life and be a partner to you and a witness of all your triumphs and all your tragedies, both public and private a great deal of what marriage is about?  That is what I want for my children. It’s not about the rules. It really, really isn’t. I teach my kids Christian sexual purity from a parent’s heart. I believe that I have a heavenly parent who asks sexual purity of me because He wants the same thing, from a Father’s heart. The rules aren’t about the rules for Him. The rules are about the His kids. You may think I believe in a fairy tale. If you do, then that’s alright with me, but either way, I still believe that sexual exclusiveness, morally, spiritually, emotionally, practically, medically and societally is a better way. Admittedly, there is a great divide between what Christians say they believe about sexuality, what they actually practice and what the culture says about sexuality. If we are honest, professing Christians bear a great likeness in practice to our non-professing counterparts. At one time, our culture had far stricter standards on sexual practice, in theory, at least. Humans have never been fantastic at practicing self-restraint when it comes to sexuality and that’s why the “world’s oldest profession” is, well, the world’s oldest profession. I, myself did not practice self-restraint, however, I do not stop striving for a better way just because we haven’t been good at practicing a better way up until now. At any rate, the “kids will do it anyway” does not ring true. Nor should it be what drives what I teach about anything. Parents who thoughtfully teach their children about sex, sexuality and the consequences of engaging in sexual activity can and do actually influence their children to postpone sex either longer than their average peer or until marriage. And YES, some, albeit few at the moment, since it is not encouraged societally, do choose to wait until marriage. There’s a lot of stuff that’s fun, but comes with serious risks and consequences and I’m going to teach my kids about those consequences and teach them to avoid them. Narcotic drugs make you feel good, but they come with a consequence, and not just because they are illegal. It’s called addiction. I don’t want my children enslaved by the consequences of their choices so I’m going to tell them that they were born with the ability to think and to choose and that just because “everyone’s doing it” that does not mean your own personal brain has been removed from your head and that you have no ability to practice self-control, so just go ahead and I’ll try to soften the consequences as much as I can. Nope. No way. I am going to teach my children that they are actually capable of not living up to the expectations of a society that tells them they will have sex anyway, they will drink to get drunk anyway, they will experiment with drugs. I’m going to tell my kids, hey, you don’t actually have to do any of that. You actually can do something else! Just because you’re a kid and it’s expected that you will rebel against every moral and standard your parents taught you, you don’t have to. You can think for yourself and make a different choice for yourself. You’re darn right that’s what I’m going to tell my kids. Maybe they will do differently. They may make some choice that I hope they avoid, but it won’t be because I taught them it was inevitable, that they had to. I guess it’ll be because they decided to. And, I’m going to love them anyway. I have taught them that they can choose because I love them in the first place.

*http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/STDs-Women-042011.pdf