This weekend is the “Men of Purity” Retreat at a church that I used to attend. Without attending, I know exactly what the message will boil down to:
-get rid of, or at least limit, you TV, movies, and music intake because they lead to licentious thoughts
-be accountable for your internet use because of the ever-present threat of internet porn
-never be alone with any woman who isn’t your wife because hormones happen

While there is a measure of wisdom in each of those things, it’s the mentality of building hedges in your life to the point where you are essentially isolating yourself that is over emphasized. The separatist overtones lead to trying to achieve a sort of monastery in the world or a spirituality of the individual (talk of accountability partners aside), neither of which work especially well.

This leads to the topic of chastity, one of those “lost” disciplines. By lost I mean we don’t talk about nearly enough, if at all. However, one of my message board moderators recently already wrote on this topic. She bugs me all the time to write about certain topics … for who knows what reason. To remind her of what she already knows and says so well?

Chastity’s hard.

I’m just going to be real here. When you’re into someone, it can be pretty difficult to keep things on the up-and-up (or on the “head-above-the-back-of- the-couch-and-feet-on-the-floor”). But tell me something? I’m going to go out on a limb here, but is fidelity EASY? No, I’m not going to say it’s not easiER, but is it easy?

I agree that it isn’t a good idea to drag out a dating relationship for the sake of dragging it out when both parties are willing and able to get married. What I’m saying is… I don’t think that marriage is the only protector of purity… or, heck, a protector at all. Isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit self-control? How about let’s munch on some more fruit, here?

I suppose what I’m saying is… I realize that Paul said that it’s good for a man (or woman) to be single, but if they don’t have self-control then they should get married. However, I don’t think that it was an invitation for every person who decided they had some urge to have sex (hello? Human anyone?) to jump into a marriage that they weren’t emotionally, spiritually, and financially ready for. And granted… you’re probably NEVER as ready as you’d like to be, but we all have those little, reasonable things that we’d like to be in place, and we all have to figure out what those things are and what is appropriate. We each, individually, have to be able to have someone we trust (or someones) look at those things and tell us if they’re reasonable or ridiculous. But we, each of us, have to be able to make that decision. If you’re dating someone, and you don’t feel as though you’re ready to get married… the Church can’t just keep telling you that it’s the only way to keep your relationship pure. I’m pretty sure there’s another way.

Love one another.

Love one another enough to set boundaries. Love one another enough to “back things up” if necessary… or even, sometimes, cut things off. Love one another enough to protect one another, to stay out of situations that “mess you up”, and to lay one another down, each morning, not in a compromising position… but upon the altar of God.

Can you do that? Can you love someone enough to do that? Can you love someone that you are powerfully attracted to and strongly attached to, enough to be able to tell God, “If You take them away from me, or if it is better for them to be without me, Your will be done…” and mean it?

In the meantime, I worry that the Church is scaring couples into jumping into marriages they aren’t ready for, and singles are using Paul’s words as an excuse for laziness and lack of self-control.

I’m tellin’ you, you’re going to have to learn it SOMETIME.

We have no cultural memory of chastity. For that matter, we’ve forgotten the simple power of modesty of dress – the “less is more” credo thrown out the window.. Somewhere along the way, chastity lost its appeal, was marginalized as a relic of a Puritanical age, a casualty of Madison Avenue marketing blitz.

Yet singleness boils down to the discipline of chastity: abstinence before marriage, fidelity within marriage. If you are disciplined when you are single, it makes it easier when you are married. Let’s not boil chastity down to “don’t have sex”. Chastity is about the pursuit of purity. Chastity is the commitment to have sex in its proper place (different from celibacy which is lifelong abstinence, swearing off sex). Right about now, I empathize with those parents who did drugs during their college days who feel hypocritical telling their kids “don’t do drugs.” However, I’m over it – I consider myself a living application of lessons learned. I wasn’t a master of chastity when I was single and I struggle with fidelity now that I’m married.

Chastity is a discipline.

Handling money is a discipline also. There’s nothing sinful about money–it has its time, place, and necessity–but its “sinfulness” depends on how it is used and how your prioritize it. I have this theory that having more money makes you more of what you already are. If you were out of control with no money, there are many bankrupt lottery winners that show me that you will be out of control with money. Not everyone is ready to handle money. There are plenty of folks who think they’re grown enough to handle money, but even if they wait until they are out from under their parents’ roofs and have credit cards thrown at them in college, they have little understanding of the long term impact and implications of their “feel good in the moment” choices.

Spiritual disciplines are about how we orient ourselves toward God, how we align our lives. Spiritual formation is like exercise, it trains us in spiritual living. Practices mold and shape us, our habits, our thoughts. Chastity has to be tied to other virtues, not held out as if it is the be all and end all of our lives. Charity, humility – all the virtues play a part in us having a well-rounded character. When we put all of our eggs into the (narrow vision of) “purity,” we set a trap for ourselves. You can’t define your Christian walk solely by your sexuality. You, in effect, are denying your humanity. We need to learn the discipline of self-control, in all areas, developing wisdom to discern and navigate our way through our culture. We can’t circle our wagons in fear of the illusion and fantasy of sexuality that our culture perpetuates (“Oh no! Cleavage! I’m impure, I’m impure!” – is no way to live). Holiness is about learning to love others, not cutting ourselves off from them.

Now, if you don’t mind, if the writing in this blog seems a little off, it’s because I just had to explain to my boys that the mommy and daddy raccoons in the tree in our backyard are in love and had to give each other a special hug.

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