Monthly Archives: July 2014

An Arena of Safety

“Naked and unashamed…” the description of Adam and Eve that starts their existence is one that gives design to marriage.

When a couple marries they make vast promises to each other. For many people these vows mean, essentially, “I’m going to stick.” I think that’s cool. But the way I look at it, the vow of marriage means even more, that I am deciding and declaring in public that I will provide you with an arena of safety. In this place you will be able to be as vulnerable as you can possibly get and you will be safe. Things won’t hurt you here. For me this is the essence of sexual and sensual expression that is blended throughout marriage and is God honored. I will create a space where you don’t have to prove anything and that space is simply my presence. You can be who you truly and actually are and you will be safe as that.handholding

God’s pleasure in sexuality is not fully appreciated it seems to me. If we take the Bible at face value he reveled in it at creation. Then, just about the center of the book is an erotic poem entitled “Song of Songs.” Some people have tried to explain away the eroticism by attaching figurative spiritual meaning to it. That’s interesting, but I can’t completely buy it. There is Midrash, old Jewish commentary on Scripture, where an ancient Rabbi said that when the lover is describing his love’s breasts as “twin doves,” he was actually speaking about the two tablets of God’s law handed down to Moses. I’ve read the passage a number of times now and, in context, I’m pretty confident in saying the lover had something else in mind.

Other folks have taken the illusions and Christianized them, suggesting that Paul’s description of a husband loving his wife (Ephesians 5:25-32) being like Christ loving the church opens up the meaning of Song of Songs. Yeah, ah, no… I’m not seeing it. But I do find the arena of safety in Paul’s words as I do in the Song. Paul describes a husband as taking on the role of a body servant for his wife, one who intimately prepares and assists her from bathing to dressed in order to meet the one who loves her best as her truest self. Now, there’s a spiritual image I can move with. This is like Christ loving the church and the description of how a man treats a woman.

Or at least how a husband ought to treat his wife… he’s to be about two directions of work. He is to provide an arena of safety where he assists her spiritually in getting ready to come into the presence of God, some day, fully, prepared. He’s also to assist her to come into his own presence here and now, clearing away anything that doesn’t make her feel as completely safe and fully herself as she is when she is alone with him.

Wives teach their husbands that they also live within an arena of safety with them, but in what may be construed as a simpler fashion. She teaches him that the core of who he is deserves respect and she does. She teaches him that weaknesses he knows he has can be overcome with humility to God and partnership with the Spirit, and that he has the wherewithal to come into anyone’s presence and never lose his worth because of the work of Jesus in his heart. All of these are expressed in the respect she teaches her husband can be relied on.

Now, I’m pretty sure that I can be accused of utopian ideals in marriage, but I can make this even more idealistic. Suppose we kick it out even wider in scope and decide to treat the other gender as if inviting them into a wider arena of safety, one not as intimate as that in marriage, but moving in the same direction, maybe seen as care and value. Yeah, there’s an idea for the Body of Christ. Beyond our reach? What’s beyond the reach of Christ?

Blessings,
Geoff

It’s Not a Hard Choice

I wish it was. I wish that it was making a choice, but that’s not what it is at all. Regularly I’m told that people can’t “pin me down” or “they’re not sure where I stand.” And I think that’s because these folks want me to declare a position on their side or the other. I find that it’s not that I’m not declaring a position. It’s that I can’t be heard. What I’m declaring doesn’t resonate in our society well. My position is quite simple actually. It just makes other people uncomfortable. I think that’s because they’re not used to hearing it.

When I come to a rock and a hard place, Scylla and Charybdis, the rocky shoal and the whirlpool that are just too close to each other, I realize that it’s not a choice between one or the other. They’re both death. The only way to deal with them is to work your tail off to get between them. It’s not a decision. It’s realizing there’s only one living way and that neither side gets me to where I’m going.The Ship of Ulysses

I’ve been encouraged to hold classes in my church that are debates between sides on various important issues of the day. I’ve discouraged our church leaders from holding such classes. We have enough liberal/conservative, red/blue, pro/anti, progressive/fundamental sides today. We have enough opportunities to pit ourselves against each other. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an age when we can discuss ideas or explore perspectives. That’s enormously fun to me and something I still get to do in coffee shops with almost complete strangers because those moments fall under the cloak of “getting to know you.” But, we live in an age when we must assign positions to each other. We define, as if giving definition to living things isn’t prejudice.

So, to my cynical friends who abandon “church” and even faith and to my free-thinking friends who abandon “church” and even faith, do you realize that you’re both doing this? Do you realize you’re joining those who are belligerently entrenched in their opinions? I know the reasoning for your leaving. I know the history of horrific choices made by people who claimed the name “Christian”. I understand the movement of cultural futurescapes that demand progressive attitudes. Are you really able to capture with clarity a perspective from these that allows you to give your life away in following them?

I just don’t believe we are that capable as human beings. I don’t believe we have the intellectual wherewithal to make that kind of determination. I believe we have to deal with the person in front of us and to listen to what God is doing within this person.

We all face Scylla and Charybdis every day. We all are called to define and to decide, but that doesn’t mean that the options we’re being given are the only ones. Sometimes, it isn’t a hard choice. It’s just hard work. I think that’s why Jesus called it a narrow way.

Blessings,
Geoff

Normalcy

I had a conversation recently and, actually, it’s been a number of conversations and they each shifted at some point to normalcy. They shifted to that because that’s the point of society’s conversation now, right? The point is not acceptance. The point isn’t love. It’s normalcy. The reason my conversations shifted to normalcy is because that’s my road to acceptance of anyone. It’s that each one of us is normal.
As a pastoring counselor I have had a variety of moments where I’ve shared with people that they should have the anguish, pain, frustration, anger, sadness, despair that they are feeling. They should because that’s what human beings feel in moments like the one they’re in. It’s normal. Normal is an enormous word at times like that. I’ve seen waves of rest settle into someone’s physic as that word hit their souls. They are normal.normal It brings that relaxing because they are part of the community, they’re of a kind.
But there’s another meaning to “normal” that is even larger than just sharing similar appropriate reactions to circumstances, and I find that when I talk about “normal” this way it is different from others’ expectations. It is part of my personal acceptance of others, but in some cases it makes others uncomfortable.
What I find around me now is that people want to be or want others to be seen as “normal” and what they mean is “good.” And what makes them uncomfortable is that what I see as “normal” means “messed up.”
That’s not new with me, but it is what I believe church is all about. Church is all about being a group of sincerely, deeply and utterly messed up people. And what we offer as the way we get “better” is that we help each other grow ever more aware of how messed up we actually are. It’s as we confess, admit the truth of that, to each other, that we actually get more in contact with God because it is through confession that we find grace. We discover how well God knows us.
There’s a moment in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he encourages them to “continue to work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling,” and he goes on to explain that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” I think that the fear and trembling part comes into play when we confess we are messed up to each other. How scary is that? We’d like it to be demonstrating that we’re strong, able, mature, but it’s not our will that moves us ahead and it is not our power to act. Paul tells us that God is the one who does that. Our work, sincerely, deeply and utterly is being humble before each other and with God.
Humility is the road in.humility
Normalcy that leads to acceptance of anyone by the church is admitting that what I am at the heart of things is messed up. If you’re there before God… you’re already in.
Blessings,
Geoff

Three Little Words

What I’ve noticed in the discussion over homosexuality is that three words are repeated to me more often than any others. These words mark the moment of changes of opinion in so many cases that it seems they carry more weight than others. This is the thought that people claim has moved them from one place to another and now they are settled in the new. The words are “I know somebody.”

And that’s what makes the difference. Knowing this person, whom I care about or who is important to me for any number of reasons, means I cannot condemn them. If I can’t condemn them, then I must affirm them. And that becomes the movement because it seems like the only choice. It seems like I must choose affirmation or I will become one of those hypocritical, “Love the sinner/Hate the sin” Pharisees who tries to claim God abides in legalities. When I do that I place my own sin below others as if I am capable of actually accomplishing what is involved within that thought. I must always remind myself to “love the sinner and hate my own sin.”

So, here’s who I know… I have people in my family who are quite content in their homosexual status. They know what they believe, understand how they approach God and are living it out. I have people in my family who struggle with homosexuality as an experience that separates them from many things. And I have people in my family who explain that they have been “delivered” (their word) and do not follow a homosexual pattern anymore. And here’s my question – which of them is wrong? To which of these people do I turn and tell them that they’re getting it wrong, that they need to change?
handholding
Who am I to thrust my fingers into the heartstrings of another, to commandeer and to play my own tune? Can I do anything more than ask questions, to seek better understanding and meanwhile just love the one in front of me?

From all the reading I’m doing I’ve learned that queer theorists, writers and thinkers – who have no interest in changing – are saying that even with the latest DNA studies (from this past February) there is a 30-40% proclivity established genetically. What that suggests to them is that a number of other factors play into the establishment of a sexual perspective. What that suggests to me is that our perspective is not necessary. It may feel incorporated, it may feel oriented, but it may be that a kiss is still just a kiss… regardless of who brings it. We might be all more human and less delineated than we’re willing to admit just now.

I don’t feel a need to affirm any more than I feel a need to tolerate. I wish I could move into one of those camps because it would be great to simply be part of the movement or to simply put up with you, whoever you might be. But, instead I feel a tremendous need to love because I am seeking to follow the one who commanded me not to judge and also to love. You see what it comes down to is “I know Somebody.”

Blessings,
Geoff