Friday Night Date Place – Church Screws Up?

“A major source of hostility to sex is religion.” –A.C. Grayling

YBOR CITY, Fla. – A southwest Florida church issued a challenge for its married members this past Sunday: Hanky-panky every day. Relevant Church head pastor Paul Wirth says the 50 percent divorce rate was the catalyst for The 30-Day Sex Challenge.

“And that’s no different for people who attend church,” Wirth said. “Sometimes life gets in the way. Our jobs get in the way.” Oh, and the flip side of the challenge? No rolling in the sheets for the unwed.

A mandate for sex from the pulpit? These people are genius! I like sex (memo to my wife who I know reads this). I am pro-sex. I have no discomfort in talking about it (I talk about it in Friday Night Date Place fairly often). As parents, we try to navigate those seemingly treacherous waters early with our boys, 5 and 6, so the conversations go easier later (the 5 year old recently revealed having a thing for Summer Glau, the female Terminator so we might as well start having these conversations).

Except, the mandate for being pro-sex isn’t the relevant idea from a too cool pastor. It is an idea true to the story of the Bible. Church/religion has screwed up a lot of ideas about how we think about and deal with sex. We act as if the book Song of Songs isn’t in the Bible. We make our kids leave the sanctuary if we mention it. Why? They need to hear about it as much as anyone else. Where best can they learn what it means and how best to love one another?

(And I’m not talking about showing videos with a voiceover saying “here’s how pastor likes it.”)

Take “Christian love songs” for a example. Within the confines of the Christian ghetto, there is a need for Christian pop music, but much of it is bereft of the idea of how romantic love should work or how it should look. Christians singing love songs face hostility from within and without the Christian market, because they are expected to only talk about God, as if all areas of our lives aren’t under God’s dominion. As artists, we should be truthful (and true to our art) about the entire spectrum of the human condition. The whole of lives: being in love, being depressed, the beauty and passion of sex. It’s like there are some aspects of life we aren’t supposed to talk about from our pulpits or in our art.

In the ideal we were meant to be sensual, seeking pleasure in one another, being passionate. Tales of how we love each other should be something to write and sing about as part of enjoying creation includes each other’s bodies. Unfortunately, every relationship is touched by sin and pain. We’re a broken people doing our best to muddle through broken relationships as best we can.

We need a better, a bigger, view of romance and sex, both within the church and without. There is beauty to be found and had; the power and heat of attraction; the meaning of sex and the need to be known; the sensuality of being appreciated and of building up one another and putting the other’s needs ahead of your own. Conversations had without shame, all building on a sacred trust and commitment. Sex is the divine connection, we need to know more about it and not abuse it.

Dating is the process of two stories coming together in light of a greater Story. There is a public as well as private dimension to the process. I commend this church for having this dialogue on sex. Things ought to be discussed in community. Friends can see the disparity between the ideal (how folks in love see each other) and the real (how their friends truly are). Love gains confidence when affirmed by others, especially those who know them. In community, we need to model how to love one another and how to nurture relationship. In private, we need to pace ourselves and the relationship. If nothing else, remember the wisdom of Song of Songs 2:7: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

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Friday Night Date Place – Abusing Intimacy

Folks have to draw their lines where they feel comfortable. I knew a couple who so didn’t trust themselves that they didn’t kiss before they were married. I’m not going to stand here and say they were naïve, because as I said, folks have to draw their lines where they draw their lines. However, even within dating, there are various levels of physical intimacy and dating is a time to learn about being intimate with one another.

Before you think I’m backdooring my way into discussing premarital sex again, we’ve covered some of that ground before: chastity as discipline, “the talk,” the church and sex, biblical loopholes part I and part II, drawing a line, “you burning” part I and part II, and even a guest blog of further musings on the topic. In short, while there is a gift of celibacy, there is no gift of singleness. However, what I’m talking about today is intimacy as sharing of one’s self. Even physical intimacy is opening up one’s self on a basic level and it a reason why intimacy should be protected and treasured.

But let me come at this from another angle first. I’ve seen people use all manner of intimacy for all sorts of reasons during the course of a relationship: a balm to make themselves feel better, a bandage for a wound in them or in the relationship, as glue to hold the relationship together, a trap to keep their partner in the relationship, something to make their partner love them more, and even as a way to fix someone (which, mind you, if that’s how you’re going to fix me, it’s only incentive for me to stay broken).

And, mind you, these are some of the “positive” uses for intimacy. There are “negative” uses, when it is used as a weapon: revenge, spite, or even withholding it as punishment. There are times intimacy can be all of these things (sadly), but when it is primarily about one of these things, it is out of balance and out of purpose.

All areas of your life—money, materials, relationships, time—are about spiritual formation. I like to think of the various biblical admonishments as guard rails: nothing is going to keep you from going over the edge if you are determined to, however, they do help provide a line to help you stay on the right side (read: keep you from abusing your freedom or being abused by it). If you teach a line, people will go to the line.

Our lives are not our own; we have been set apart for the sake of others. Sexual purity is no different: how we view, do, and approach sex sets us apart from the rest of the culture. Yes, in some ways we’re going to be countercultural, but that’s true to who we are. It’s not about moral purity, because morality is secondary to the idea of holiness (set apart).

Okay, maybe I did back door this topic a little.

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Friday Night Date Place – A Few More Musings on Sex

If you’re looking for a rehash of my previous blogs on this topic, here’s one. Otherwise, I’m on deadline so here’s a guest blogger.

Guest blog by Rob Rolfingsmeyer

Sex unfortunately has gotten a bad rap over the past couple of decades. After the Sexual Revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s, we as a culture began to experience what it is that is destructive about our sexual behaviors. It’s not as though sex was discovered in the twentieth century; people have been sneaking around the public mores since civilization was born. Even today, people are willing to risk death to fulfill sexual “needs” (I’m not speaking of other cultures alone but our own as well, we understand the risks that we take in our day and age.) It’s indisputable, we are relational creatures. We define ourselves by our relations to others. I am the husband of my wife, the son of my parents, the father of my son, etc. We have a deep desire to love and be loved by others.

A sexual relationship is one of the most intense relationships that we can have with another human being. Sharing our soul with someone one-on-one is intense; sharing our bodies with one-on-one can be just as intense. The physical experience, the instant gratification that we can get from a sexual encounter is undeniably enticing. Whatever happened to prolonged gratification? Whatever happened to waiting for something before we finally get it? I know that this is a horrid example but I can’t help but think of Christmases. When I was a child, I remember my mother and father waiting to let me open my presents until Christmas morning. My other friends were allowed to open presents a couple of days in advance making me more and more jealous and wondering why my parents were so evil. Every day the anticipation would mount; my love for staring at the Christmas tree for hours grew from me waiting with bated breath, admiring its beauty while staring at my presents. If I hadn’t been in a position of prolonged gratification I wouldn’t have learned how to quietly sit and stare in the darkness at the beauty that had been created with the tree. Christmas morning would roll around and I would tear into my presents like there was no tomorrow. The anticipation had grown so much and the excitement had built exponentially, even my friends were amazed at how many presents I had on Christmas to open up. And they all wanted to come over and play with my toys…theirs had lost their luster.

With our modern culture and the vices that are literally at our fingertips, we have been conditioned into objectifying the human person. When I say the ‘human person’ I am speaking of both body and soul (the soul being understood as that which is essentially you, call it your consciousness if you like). As human creatures, we are subjects. Each person is an individual with feelings, hopes, loves, fears, dreams, etc (one of the reasons why porn is so destructive to both the viewer and the viewed is because all of that has been removed thus dehumanizing the individuals involved). Many people have fought for the right to be recognized as a human being (here in the Western world we have made great strides in this area, while people are still fighting and dying for basic human dignities in other parts of the world). So often we deny ourselves and others the subjectivity that we all deserve.

When we deny ourselves that prolonged gratification and seek that instant gratification that we each crave, we deny the person that we our desiring of their humanity, making of them a vessel for our own wants and desires. We may say we love them but think with me. Will you ever forget your first? No matter how hard we try, the first time we ever opened our bodies to another, we made ourselves vulnerable. These days, vulnerability (much like sex) has become quite a dirty word, to the contrary, vulnerability is trust to the extreme. But too often we lose this trust because that vulnerability is handed back to us crushed. For most people, the person who has hurt them the worst or done the most damage to their psyche is someone who was given that vulnerability and took advantage of it, or simply forced the vulnerability on the other. There is a certain connection that is made between two people (or more) when that intimacy is created. That bond is never broken and what has happened will never go away.

Interestingly enough, even though the ‘bond’ (no matter how destructive and damaging it could have been) seems to be the only thing that our sexual appetites have left us with to remind us of permanence. With the traditional familial position of sexuality destroyed, a sense of permanence is lost as well. Children no longer have an expectation of a mother and father who are going to be there (this is much different than those children who lose parents to death…and damage is done there as well.) We enter a relationship and want to ‘test it out’ first to see how compatible we are when we live together. The lie of this is that it is a practice marriage, in all actuality it is a practice divorce. The (what is supposed to be) permanent institution of marriage is left dangling as we have in the back of our minds that we can always walk away from this. As true as we wish this impermanence to be, as I said before, the bond was made, the memories are there and believe me (and I’m not the ‘sole authority’ on this), those memories come back to haunt you at the oddest of times.

Along with this sense of permanence is the idea that you have given yourselves as a gift to one another. Men, we know we don’t want to hear of the sexual exploits of our counterparts, women I know from having listened to the grievances of other women that you don’t want your boyfriends/husbands to discuss their previous escapades either. Why? Because you are supposed to be a gift to one another. Think of a time when you’ve been cheated on, or if you haven’t been, think of your significant other cheating. Why is this so hurtful? Why should this matter? The gift that they gave to you, they now have given to another. But you don’t have ownership of them do you? They are not your possession. So ask yourself why it does hurt so much. Why does betrayal hurt? We fly back again to vulnerability and the abuse that we leave ourselves open to. Also, the betrayer has taken the gift that you have given them and decided to share that with another (nowadays you never know what ‘gifts’ are going to be coming back to bed with you when that happens…if you know what I mean).

If you don’t agree with me, this is fine. All I ask is that you be respectful of yourself and think about the destruction that you could wreak on another when you ‘must’ fulfill your ‘needs’. I’m not trying to preach, I haven’t thrown out a bible verse or mentioned God until now. I’m trying to speak as one human to another, caring for the human person, the individual that we all are. I’m no saint when it comes to this. I used to be the jerk that women complain about. It’s when you see the devastation left behind and the denial process of the injured party as they attempt to dust themselves off that makes you begin to reflect on that which is sacred to the individual; their own subjectivity.

Peace, Rob

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Pry My Lingerie from My Cold, Dead Hands

Michelle Kuntz, 36, Greenwood, said her store, XO Paradise, in Old Towne Greenwood will comply with a new city ordinance regulating the sale of sex toys, maintaining the controversy about her business was overblown from the start. “This is not an adult entertainment business,” she said. “It has been misrepresented. No one was interested in clearing up any misunderstanding. It’s just wrong how this was handled.”

The Greenwood City Council passed an ordinance Monday night prohibiting businesses from selling sex toys without a license, after weeks of rumors about a racy store coming to the heart of the city.

I must live in the wrong neighborhoods. I’ve had lingerie shops right across the street from me. Granted, this is a far cry from when our crusading mayor cracked down and cleaned out all of strip clubs along Washington Street. However, I can see trying to nip a problem before it gets too out of hand.

I’m actually all for “community standards” by the way. I don’t think they have to be cloaked under the umbrella excuse of “we’re doing it for the children” (as “such businesses may not be closer than 1,000 feet from another such business or to schools, churches, day-care facilities, parks or residences.”). Do it because it needs to be done. However, let’s not stop there. My neighborhood has a liquor store on every corner. I’m much more worried about the “elements” they attract than a lingerie shop. I rarely see groups of men standing on street corners clutching nighties and talking crazy. I rarely see folks checking into rehab for push up bra fixation.

Here’s the thing: I’m a horror writer. A lot of what my genre does is push the boundaries. What people forget is that for boundaries to be pushed, someone has to set the boundaries. Which was why I wasn’t up in arms over the fallout from Janet Jackson’s Boob-gate. Sometimes it’s nice for that line to be pulled in a bit lest we get carried away with our own excesses. Excess tends to bring out the inner hack in all of us.

Someone has to fight these battles, I’m just glad it’s not me. There are just as many things to fight for as well as takes stands against, and I’d rather be defined by what I’m for. Until then, we need licenses for guns, so why not bras? And remember kids, when you outlaw lingerie, only outlaws will have lingerie. Or something like that.

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Friday Night Date Place – You Burning? Part II*

Last week we left off with an important question. If you are in a committed relationship, one with a mix of the friendship, commitment, and attraction kinds of love, then why do you have to wait until you’re married to have sex? The flippant (though equally valid) answer would be if you are already in that kind of relationship, why AREN’T you married? However, let’s examine this from a Biblical point of view.

It’s not solely a matter of here’s a verse that says don’t have pre/extra-marital sex, so don’t do it. You’d be surprised how often that doesn’t get very far with people. However, again, I’ll address the issue of what the Bible has to say, or not say, on the topic of extra-marital sex from a couple of different tacks.

Time and time again, I’ve been told that the Bible isn’t clear on the whole issue of premarital sex or heard “I’ve been taught that all my life, but I don’t see it for myself”. We’ll ignore the fact that most of Christian tradition has always taught this, but for those clinging to the hypermodernist/ “truth is how I see it for myself” paradigm, let’s see if there is an overarching theme to what the Bible has to say about sex.

We’ll start at the beginning, the book of Genesis to be precise. The story of the perfect creation order, life how it was supposed to be. God performs the first marriage service (Genesis 2:23), then concludes by saying “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). I guess “one flesh” is the closest rendering of “they get to boning.” Continuing and expanding on the idea of what “one flesh” means, we tie it to a New Testament passage”

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another.” I Corinthians 6:16-18 (The Message)

The reason this I Corinthians passage is so important is because it sets the context for the verse that brought us here in the first place: “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (I Corinthians 7:9). Why was chapter 7 written? Because there was so much sexual immorality running rampant. You can talk about cultural contexts all you want, but we’re talking about our nature’s. Men didn’t start trying to hump every hole we could in the 60s.

“Porneia” is the word translated as “sexual immorality”. Originally it meant the practice of consorting with prostitutes, but it came to mean habitual immorality. Porneia includes adultery (Matthew 5:32, 19:9), incest (I Corinthians 5), prostitution (I Corinthians 6), the “burning” (I Corinthians 7). It includes pederasty (I Timothy 1:9-10). Porneia, therefore, is the idea of fornication or any kind of extra-marital sexual relations. In its most general sense, it covers all types of sexual sin between male and female. In some passages, usually when Paul is listing various characteristics that we are to excise from our lives, “sexual immorality” is expanded on by words like “impurity” or “lust”. The word that translates as “impurity” has a broader reference since it includes uncleanness in thought, word, and act. “Pathos”, the word for “lust”, essentially means feeling, though in the New Testament it is used to denote uncontrolled desire.

Actually, I may be wasting my breath with some folks. I think most people, Christian or not, they get that the Bible must teach something along the lines of “no sex before marriage.” My thought was that, especially for Christians, if you weren’t seeing it, it was because you were choosing not to see. It wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last, I’ll have encountered someone who “questioned” the idea of the Bible’s teaching on a particular subject. Nine times out of ten, they didn’t really question it, they just wanted to do it. “I’m on a truth journey … to justify what I want to do.” It was frustrative because I usually felt like they were actually going backwards, being fundamentalist, if I have to break down chapter and verse for them. However, I remember talking to Lauren Winner (author of Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity) about how the church isn’t teaching on sex correctly, IF they talk about it at all. Which means there is a lot of work to have to do in this area of our spiritual development.

Sex is also about spiritual formation (What? Sex as spiritual formation? That’s a discipline I can get behind!). It’s about the kind of person you are wanting to be. Fidelity (in marriage) is hard. Chastity (in singleness) is tough. Sex is relational and not about your own gratification. We forget that disciplined and sanctified behavior shape us toward Christlikeness, even as undisciplined, do as we please behavior, train us in habits and behaviors that stick with us even once we’re married. This also offers insight into how to face temptations of all kinds: combat illegitimate desires by substituting legitimate ones.

Sex isn’t cheap and there is a sacred dimension to it. So, yes, as the two of you become more intimately involved, heading towards the fruition of your “burning” for one another, talk about life plans and move toward marriage. While the ceremony is important, it is about the witness of community. Marriage itself isn’t about the ceremony. We forget the word covenant when it comes to describing the ceremony, and that’s what the marriage bed is about. The covenant commitment between two people. Becoming one flesh is the seal of that covenant.

Your problem may be that you want to seal everything you meet. Don’t make me finish my blog called “masturbation theology.”

*For the record, the alternate title of this blog was “I’m Still Horny!”

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Friday Night Date Place – You Burning?*

“But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” –I Corinthians 7:9

We’ve been doing Friday Night Date Place for a while now, but can I tell you something? It is hard being a man. Fellas, think back with me. It started in high school. Your mind keeps wandering, you can’t concentrate. Your body starts going through all these changes. You have to wear your shirts untucked, hold your books in front of you, and have difficulty walking up to the chalkboard when called upon. It doesn’t get any easier. I’m surprised many of us can even hold down jobs because we think about, you know, so often. [I’ve been informed that my blog is being read by a larger contingent of people than I originally thought. In a nod to trying to be a more responsible blogger, I won’t do any more random digressions into boobies. The last thing folks want from someone is a pastor-ish role is blogs on how boobies obviously prove the existence of God. That blog has been scrapped. Though I did have Scriptural proof-texts which, I felt, backed up my position.] From puberty until sometime after our mid-life crisis, we are captivated, no, seemingly enslaved to thoughts of … you know.

Now, let me fill you in on a dirty little secret: women struggle with desires, too. You know, it was the one thing that growing up in church, that no one seemed to talk about. They made it sound as if as long as boys could keep it in their pants, there would be no sort of struggle. I mention a few times that women get horny too, and you’d think that the walls came crashing down. I know that our often Puritanical mindsets tend to preclude us from discussing such things aloud but there’s really no point in acting like Sex in the City spoke to men nor pretend like it is only men who think about, you know, all the time. Women have hormones to. They just don’t have to untuck their shirts.

It’s quite the tight rope that single folks have to walk. To try and not place themselves in tempting situations while not letting their “burning” lead to bad decision making (read: using sex as a band aid for their hurts or settling for fear of loneliness). This also doesn’t mean that you can just write off your battle with lust and temptation off as a lack of self-control. Learn self-control. If there’s one thing that being married has taught me is that if I didn’t have self-control or discipline before I got married, I’m not going to have it after I get married. There’s no switch that gets flipped when you say “I do.”

There are two central ideas I think we ought to consider. First, there are three words for love presented in the Song of Songs (yes, the bible’s sex book that reads like the first recorded booty call and yes, one of the verses backing up my “boobies as proof of God” blog was coming from this book):

a. raya – translated literally as ‘friend’ or a ‘companion’, you know, that person that you hang with. (4:7).
b. ahava – is the love of the will. This is beyond the romantic notions of love, the ones that accompany the flush of dating, the “falling in love” that we get swept up in. No, ahava is the decision aspect of love, the love that binds even when you don’t particularly ‘like’ the person. This is the love that’s kind of handy in a marriage since it’s the kind of love that leads to commitment. (8:7)
c. dod – would be translated to ‘carouse’, ‘rock’, or ‘fondle’ (did i mention the booty call aspect of the book? (1:2)). This is the physical, sexual aspect of a relationship.

What I would propose is that all three, friendship, attraction, and commitment are necessary to truly satisfy, to truly express how we were created to be. We often separate them, thinking that great sex alone can carry or express our feelings in a relationship. Of course, the other thing is that one could have all three of these elements of love in a relationship and not be married so what’s the big deal about being married?

That’s a great question. Let’s talk about it next week (it’s either that or a REALLY long blog this week).

*For the record, the alternate title of this blog was “Horny as Hell”

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