Friday, April 15, 2011

Christian women and sexuality

Some years ago I struck up a friendship with one of the women, unfortunately now deceased, who volunteered at the welcome center at my church. She was an attractive, friendly divorcee, had two daughters and worked in the health field.

During our second or third conversation, she wistfully confided to me, "I've been celibate for four years" -- obviously, not liking that -- and a part of me out of compassion felt like giving her what I knew she wanted. (Of course, the Biblical prohibition against sex outside of marriage kept me from trying to seduce her, not that I would have been successful anyway.)

I attend a lot of Christian singles events, these days dominated by folks in their 40s and older and probably a majority divorced, which means they have experienced sexual intimacy in a way that I haven't (though I admit to having occasionally crossed some lines that I shouldn't have). And probably most of them, including the women, "want it."

I was fortunate to grow up in a church that promoted a healthy view of sexuality -- beautiful if done right but ugly if done wrong. However, many of us didn't, that it's a subject that should be avoided until the proper time -- that is, the wedding night -- which I never understood. And as much as we may want to say differently, there still exists worldwide a cultural double standard that sex is somehow OK for us men but that women should give it only grudgingly. (Perhaps if a woman decided that she actually enjoyed sex for its own sake she may leave her partner if he doesn't satisfy her. While I can't say for sure, I surmise that's the motive behind the euphemism "female circumcision"; in cultures that practice it only the man is apparently supposed to derive pleasure from sex. Trouble is, that's not how God made us.)

And then, there's the issue of true intimacy, what most people, I would say especially women, are seeking but often not finding. Two girls in my childhood denomination, but not my specific church, that I knew fairly well who came from what I now know to be dysfunctional backgrounds became pregnant while still in their teens, one at 14. In the book "Beyond Culture Wars: A Mission Field or a Battlefield?", author Michael Horton noted that one out of every six abortions in the United States happens to an evangelical woman, which also suggests that something else other than "the act" is afoot. That's probably why my heart went out to the woman at the welcome center who expressed her cravings -- I understood what she really wanted.

Once in a while I receive on-line tips on how to get a woman into bed, and today I probably could if I really wanted to. That, however, smacks of exploitation, which I don't believe is how a truly strong man should operate -- he should focus on what he can give to, not get from, a woman. Last year I wrote about the late Teddy Pendergrass' performance of the 1978 song "Close the Door," which I didn't realize then but understand now is about true intimacy in the context of a committed relationship, hopefully marriage. God help me to "man up."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Obama, Bush and Clinton

The so-called birther movement has gone mainstream -- and that's sad.

You may recall that real estate mogul Donald Trump, now a Republican presidential candidate, has apparently taken the bait and is making noise that President Barack Obama wasn't actually born in this country, this despite evidence to the contrary. (For the record, he was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, and the state of Hawaii has provided proof. After I started writing this piece, he produced the long form but still hasn't shut up the critics.)

Let's be honest that the obsession with Obama's birthplace masks the real issue -- that he's in office, which for reasons I don't understand sticks in the craw of some people. Or perhaps I do understand -- he beat them fairly and squarely, so he must be destroyed or denigrated. When are we Christians going to have any discernment and recognize this Obamaphobia as motivated by hate and envy?

We've seen this mess before: With Bill Clinton. Upon his reelection in 1996, his enemies vowed to have him impeached and removed; they got the first all right, but their evidence turned out to so weak that legal experts warned ahead of time that he shouldn't be convicted, let alone have been brought to trial in the first place. According to Jeffrey Toomer's book "A Vast Conspiracy," Clinton's lawyer time and time again refuted the evidence that the House managers put forward and, when the Senate found him "not guilty," they slunk away.

So, what's the difference between the right's treatment of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and the left's treatment of, say, George W. Bush? Like night and day.

What's often overlooked is that, as much as it may have hated him, the left almost never said anything about Bush that couldn't be proven from multiple sources as factually true. Ended up with the office due to a questionable Supreme Court decision? True. Had alcohol problems? True. Went to war in Iraq to settle a score with Saddam Hussein? True ("He tried to kill my dad"). Former Sen. and presidential candidate George McGovern wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that, for their actions connected with Iraq, Bush and Cheney ought to have been impeached. (And he didn't even feel that way about Richard Nixon, who beat him in the 1972 election.)

But what was said about Clinton? That he was doing shady dealings with Whitewater, a venture in which he and Hillary lost money. That he supposedly hired someone to go through files of President George H.W. Bush. (Overblown.) That he raped a woman in Arkansas. (Not likely.) That he allegedly had a bunch of people who crossed him killed. (Another website, "Liberalism Resurgent," once published a "Bush Body Count" detailing the people that met similarly "suspicious deaths" courtesy of GWB and his father. Now, if you expect me to believe that one ...)

Face it, folks -- we're talking double standard here. Let's end it -- now.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My "favorite" misintepreted Scripture passages

One of my pet peeves is the misuse of Scripture to make points that it simply doesn't because of either misunderstanding its context or distorting its meaning to make a cheap political point. Below represent some I'm aware of:

1) "The poor you will always have with you ... " -- Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8

These words of Jesus are often used to suggest that nothing should be done for the poor on a political/structural level and that the truly Biblical way to deal with the poor should always be through private charity.

However, consider the background: All the references make clear that a woman had anointed Jesus with some extremely expensive perfume as a symbol of his upcoming burial; in response, His disciple Judas Iscariot had complained that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Indeed, the rest of Mark 14:7 reads: " ... and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have Me." Nothing at all concerning the "justice vs. charity" argument.

2) "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.' " -- 2 Thessalonians 3:10

This passage is often used to say that people should find work and not mooch off others or the government. However, the church of that day was convinced that Jesus would be returning in the next few years, so a few folks were just sitting around and waiting, not being active in any way. While telling people to find work is a good thing, it's not provable using this specific reference.

3) "No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again ... " -- John 3:3

Two problems with this passage. One, I understand that the original Greek renders the phrase "born again" as "born from above." Two, we often misinterpret it as accessing the afterlife. But it's clear from the conversation with Nicodemus, who as a Jew wouldn't have focused on that, was trying to pay Jesus a compliment by saying "You must be from God because Your teachings are first-rate"; Jesus responded, "If you don't look at things from His perspective, you won't recognize what He's doing in the here and now." Essentially, He was telling Nicodemus, "You miss the point."

4) The woman caught in adultery, John 8.

Here, Jesus is often referred to as being merciful toward her by telling the Pharisees who were about to stone her to death, "Let him without sin cast the first stone." However, this was a case where He went completely "by the book."

First, the Law made clear that her partner in crime was also to be stoned to death but, conveniently, was nowhere to be found. Second, to accuse someone of a capital crime you had to have at least two eyewitnesses; however, to watch people actually having sexual relations also was illegal, leading me to believe that it was a "sting" operation. Third, and most obscure, according to Leviticus 15:18: "When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both of them must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening" -- that is, assuming that her partner had an ejaculation, they brought a ceremonially unclean woman into the temple, where Jesus was teaching. Bottom line, the Pharisees, who were trying to nail Jesus in a Catch-22, instead were forced to withdraw the accusation.

That's what I have -- anyone have any others?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lenten discipline

Over the past four years I've had my somewhat dormant passion for big-band jazz revived by playing in one, and from the start our director has encouraged us to bring in charts that we write ourselves, with nearly half the band doing so. Two years ago I decided to step up to the plate myself, so, inspired by a sermon I heard in church, I ordered a copy of the music notation computer program Finale. I just finished my fourth chart, and some of the other guys seem to think I have real talent as an arranger.

However, in January I joined a Christian Leadership Concepts men's small group through my church, and earlier this week I found myself trying to finish that chart rather than studying the material the way I should have been. At that point I realized that my priorities were getting out of whack.

So, I'm doing something I've never done before: Giving up something -- in this case, Finale -- for Lent. (That is, after I tape the parts together.)

Because I grew up in a conservative Presbyterian denomination, I never paid all that much attention to the season, even in other churches I've attended where it was part of the liturgical calendar. But I've now come to appreciate the discipline.

It's really a time of fasting -- indeed, our bass trombonist, who is Russian Orthodox, is doing that now -- but not necessarily from food and not for its own sake. Really, it's an attempt to put away things temporarily that might be very good in favor of focusing upon God for a time. I've long heard about folks giving up sweets; I know of two women who abstained from going on Facebook. In my case, even though utilizing my musical talent is good, doing so can interfere with spiritual goals (and has done so).

So I've pledged not to begin any more arrangements until May. God willing, the program will still be there and I'll be able to write to my heart's content. But first, I must learn to be content in Him.