Scattered, Smothered, and Covered

The title here could mean two things: one, being lost and drowning, or maybe you’re just hungry and found yourself at a Waffle House. The past few weeks have been rough mentally for me. I feel like physically I could have spent the time doing manual labor and still feel fine. There is just something about mental and emotional exhaustion that begins to suck the life out of… well, life. Actually, maybe there’s one more meaning to the title today…

I was struck this morning by a book I’m reading: The Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. I try not to judge books by the cover, but the cover drew me in. The title is superimposed on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich laying open on a green background. I think I brought up the idea a few years ago of this very sandwich being, in a way, a form of the Lord’s Supper (bread and fruit of the vine – grapes.) I was intrigued as to whether or not someone else had come to that same conclusion.  I haven’t gotten to that chapter yet, but a different idea hit home.

When Jesus was baptized, before he had done anything of note or miraculous, God called out from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Before Jesus did anything, God proclaimed love for him. God loved Jesus for who he is. Can you see where I’m going yet?

We love people based on who they are, not what they do. I was thinking this morning about what drew me to my wife. I came up with her spirit is what drew me in. It’s a hard thing to describe precisely who someone is. Her likes, dislikes, personality, whims, goals, and every other trait make up who she is. And that her-ness drew from me love, respect, joy, and commitment. I love her for who she is before anything she does.

God is the same way. He loves us from the word “Go.” I imagine this is much like being a parent. It’s now less than a month (give or take) before I get to meet my daughter. I already love her. I love her for existing, even if I have only seen glimpses of her and her personality. Suddenly, Little Bit has the love of so many people and she’s only just begun existing at all. Our own baptism, ,regardless of when it happened, is a moment when God’s grace is spoken over us before we have really done anything.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy being liked. I relish the feeling that people see that I’m doing a good job. But what’s more important is that I have people that like and love me regardless of the job I do. I don’t have to work myself to death to bring them happiness or joy. I just have to be me. It may be one of the most comforting thoughts to think about God’s grace and how His love doesn’t depend on my actions. Even reading Hosea’s pronouncement of coming punishment to Israel, there is a sense of hurt, of love, of a longing for God’s people to simply come back to Him.

So, I guess even when I’m scattered, I’m still smothered and covered in God’s love and grace. Sure, it may be cheesy, but sometimes love is too. And I think love tastes a little like Velveeta, but your mom may have used something different in your grilled cheeses growing up.

How do your children know you love them for who they are? What moments to you use to reinforce that idea? How do you tie in your love as being similar to God’s?

Marriage and Sex: Why Monogamy?

Call me crazy, because I am for trying to tackle this issue. Why, oh why would I decide to toss my dog into this fight? Well… I’m married, I have a kid on the way, and I currently work with children. I’ve been percolating on this topic for a while and I’ve some thoughts I’d like to jot down.

So here’s a question: have you ever driven someone else’s car? Do you remember how that felt? Every time I drive a different vehicle, I have to spend time adjusting mirrors, driver’s seat, steering wheel, A/C levels, and radio settings before even looking for the gear shift. Then, I have to fight with the steering’s looseness or tightness, how soft the brakes are, and how quickly the car accelerates… or not. I spend the entire drive trying to figure out the car… and heaven forbid it rain or I have to find the headlight switch.

I could very easily make a common sense argument for monogamy based on my car experience. I like my car. It’s comfy. I have the seat right where I want it. I can find every button without looking. I rarely have to adjust anything, and can turn on the ignition and go. I have an idea when something’s wrong and I need to have some maintenance work done. Because I drive the same car every day, the car and I can act like one body. Not to say my wife is in any way like a car. I have a hard time imagining trying to learn to live alongside a different human partner in the same house after six years of marriage. I know where Kristie sits, how towels should be folded, how she likes her steak. I know her habits and I have learned to appreciate everything she is. Personally, I can’t imagine spending another 6 years learning someone completely different. Part of the joy of monogamy is getting to know just how unique and multifaceted my wife is and enjoying the process as we both change and grow together over time.

So, to start into a theological discussion on relationships and monogamy, let’s go back to the beginning. I mean, of course that’s where we start, but I also mean Genesis. So looking at Chapter 2, we get a picture that one of God’s creations was lonely. He had a demanding, but fulfilling job – caring for an amazing piece of property and cultivating the land and animals – but something was missing. The man looked around at all of the animals and realized there wasn’t really anyone up to speed to be his partner, if you will. Sure, animals are great friends and we make stories and movies about that human-animal friendship all the time; however, it doesn’t satisfy the need humans have for community for relationships with other humans.

(Theological side note: we are created in God’s image. As Christians, we have a belief that God is a community in Himself – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – but also a unified God. So to be alone is to deny and to miss out on an essential necessity in the way God created us.)

So what does God do? Well, he creates a woman. He creates a human who is alike enough to be a companion, but different enough to add something new to the man’s understanding.

(Second side note: We usually see an artist’s last work(s) as the culmination of their efforts, a magnum opus, if you will. As such, woman is the crowning jewel in the creation of this universe.)

And yet, in all of this, there is something almost unnatural about selecting one partner “until death do us part.” Many of those who study the mating habits of animals and humans will often reference the fact that humans are one of the few species that continually mates with one partner for an entire lifespan… in theory, at least. Many of the sex-positive tribe (those that believe sex should be discussed and enjoyed in its many facets, without judgment from others) will often use these very natural observances of the world around us as a kind of permission for almost any kind of consensual act of sexual enjoyment between adults. The idea that society is the arbiter of sexual morals is at the same time both distrusted and used as a facilitator. (Read there: “No one can judge me,” but also “everyone else is doing it.”)

For those that claim to follow the Bible which contains Jewish and Christian texts, the concept of something being “natural” isn’t always a point in its favor. Even as we look around and death and violence seem to permeate every aspect of our lives, that natural violence and death are things God has been working to remove. The Mosaic Law creates a social order that cares for the weak and oppressed, and is written in such a way as to prevent and proactively fight against violence. Jesus and his followers often teach the nonviolent route, even to the point of submitting to that natural violence in order to defeat it. I think the same concept applies to sex.

Whether you are reading the Hebrew texts or the Christian ones, God is a God of order, who has a very clear idea of what a society should look like – that society should care for all, especially the weak. Society should give its worship to one God, and care for creation as duly appointed caretakers. Society should honor the family and give special respect to elders and children who often have no one to speak for them. These are not the natural order, but these are aspects of a supernatural order. God’s order goes beyond what nature insists and can even contradict nature’s imperatives.

Consider the first mention of marriage in Genesis 2 where the “man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” The order of words here is important: in this paradigm the man leaves his family to join the woman’s, not the other way around. It’s an interesting thought, and a subversion of what we typically think of relationships between the genders.

Polygamy, though recorded in the Bible, is not endorsed by the authors. Tolerated… maybe, but the stories and laws concerning polygamy more often illustrate the dangers, disruption, and unfairness inherent in a sexual relationship encompassing more than two people. The Patriarchs and their wives suffered because of this. David, Solomon, Esau and many others made the same mistake and found themselves in the natural trouble that arises from following a natural desire to its extreme. Also, polygamy, in ancient times, was often a way for one person to display their wealth and power – which often meant men having power over women who were considered property. Today, those that do practice poly-amorous relationships (romantic relationships involving more than two persons) still wrestle daily with the issues around openness, trust, and communication.

Monogamy is an idea baked into monotheism. Monotheism is, in a way, a covenant between a people and their god – one people, one god. Viewed this way, the relationship between God and his people is a view of marriage – a one-on-one covenant that relies on trust, faithfulness, and selflessness. God’s biggest complaints through the prophets often involve Israel’s unfaithfulness – going after other gods – and forgetting to care for the poor and oppressed. In other words, when the people began to drift back into the “natural” ways of thinking and acting, God sent his messengers to remind them that they had and have a higher, supernatural calling.

And so, we today, when faced with the natural urge to pursue multiple partners (not all are) we must remember that we are called to a supernatural standard that is in place to help create a different kind of society.

How will you discuss these issues with your family? How have you wrestled with the idea of monogamy? What messages do you and your family see in the media concerning relationships?

Peace in the Family?

I’ve been thinking a lot about child-parent relationships lately – mainly because I’m already trying to develop one with my own little girl. (A few months left before a face-to-face visit, but I’m already making sure to spend time with her nearly every night, talking to her, playing her music, and giving her some rubs. My wife’s not sure how to feel about the whole thing, but she’s being a good sport while I talk to her tummy.)

Not only has my own child’s impending birth got me thinking, but a passage in Romans got me thinking as well. See, Paul and I used to never get along. Growing up, my understanding of Paul was limited – I saw him as an angry grump who decided to switch to a Greek mindset once the Jewish community had ousted him enough times. I saw his trips to the synagogues in each town as more of a “let’s get this over with” deal. And because of that, the way I read his work was through a primarily Greek mindset – using philosophies built on Plato and Aristotle via the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. Recently, though, I have had a rather profound “duh” moment when I had an author (NT Wright) point out that Paul remained strikingly Jewish throughout his life and writings. Suddenly, I realized I need more insight into that line of thinking, and so I undertook a journey through the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and began listening to Rabbis to get a better grasp of how Jews view the Torah. And, fellow Christians, we’ve been missing so much!

Anyway, back to Paul, in chapter 5, he speaks about how we now have peace with God – a relationship… a parent-child relationship. In the previous chapter, he talked about how faith is the basis of Covenant membership now and how Abraham had been given covenant membership before his circumcision and the giving of the law. So now, the whole world is eligible for covenant membership based on faith – in trusting God who sent Jesus and raised him from the dead. And on that basis of being called “in the right” we have peace with God, a reconciled relationship.

The idea of reconciliation of family is a theme that runs deep in Jewish thought, and especially the Torah and Prophets. In Genesis, we see four sets of brothers, who become increasingly reconciled, but never reach the point of complete peace: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. Joseph and his brothers come the closest, but his brothers still remain on edge in case Joseph decides to revoke his kindness and pay them back. The Prophets continually use the metaphor of family reconciliation to talk about the time when God will forgive the idolatry of His people and heal the relationship between them. Both of these threads tie up nicely in the person of Jesus who made that peace possible through his own faithfulness in Israel’s place.

Sigmund Freud’s lesser known theories include one that the source of all conflict is sibling rivalry – that each child is vying for resources, particularly parental love and affection. Children may perceive parental love as a limited resource, rather than the unceasing fountain that it often is.

As I’ve wondered, I reach this point: how will I make sure my children understand that love will never run out? How do I give them each the affection they need to keep them convinced of their status of peace in the family?

How does your love model God’s to your kids? How do your priorities show your kids that love?

Your Boycott Is Futile (And How to Fix It)

So, you’re considering boycotting the newest film in the Disney collection? You’ve found some items in the movie that you disagree with and would prefer not to see the movie. You’re now on a mission to get all of your friends and family to do the same! Onward Christian soldiers, to the battle lines to stand there and do… well… uhm… nothing?

The problem with most boycotts of the Christian variety is that they are fundamentally campaigns of inaction. It’s much like saying, “All right men, steel yourselves for the coming battle in the ‘Culture War.’ Our next move is to continue to sit here with crossed arms and scowls.” Really? Is this the best we can come up with?

History lesson: American Christianity has already tried a Disney boycott. Do you remember the nineties? Do you remember when a major denomination suddenly declared Disney the enemy and all families should give no more money or time to Disney and its related media? I do. I remember almost missing Hercules because it was released during the “Boycott.” (To be fair, it’s not a great movie… but I have a soft spot in my heart for its art style and dialogue writing.) Did that boycott accomplish anything? Did it last? Did it slowly die as the leadership of that denomination realized that people were still watching these movies and spending money on trips to Disney World/Land anyway? (In order the answers are no, no, yes.)

So what’s different this time? Is there a real call to action? Is something going to be done with the money that would have been spent on tickets to Beauty and the Beast? I haven’t heard of anything like this. For the average family, a theater trip is around $40. What could $40 do to change the life of someone around you in your community?

In today’s culture Christians are often known by what they’re against rather than what they’re for. But I seem to recall Jesus saying something about we should be known by our love… It’s a shame that such a positive thing as “looking out for the good of others” has been replaced with “what makes us uncomfortable or what we disagree with.”

Now, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so, again, I cannot give a fair review. But here’s the rub: if something in the movie does reflect one of the more sweeping societal changes in our American society, what makes you think your child won’t see it elsewhere? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have the discussion at home after a shared experience rather than let someone else teach your child about the ethics your family has chosen to uphold?

I’m not advocating for seeing Beauty and the Beast, though I will most likely be going to see it. (My wife and I played Belle and the Beast the same year in separate troupes. It’s one of those shared stories that we enjoy.) Disney has spent enough on advertising that one mediocre blogger (me) won’t make much of a difference. And I’m not advocating for a boycott, either. But, if I were to advocate for a boycott, I would recommend putting some money where your mouth is. I would recommend donating the money that would have gone toward tickets to a local food bank, community kitchen, or homeless shelter. I would recommend spending an hour or two volunteering to spend the run time of the movie doing something to make a difference in your community.

As parents, we all have decisions to make regarding media. Your decisions are yours to make. My only caution is to think all the way through your decisions to see what the long-term, or maybe unexpected, outcomes may be. Do our children see us as people of action, of love, and of charity? Do our children see a culture of anger, complacency, and clenched fists?

How will your family handle social action: volunteering, boycotts, marches, protests, just to name a few? How do your discussions and reactions to these things affect your children? How are you modeling Christ’s love in response to these things?

Sex Martyr

Everyone has a period of history that bothers them. At one point, mine was early 20th century American history, the period before and just after WWI. Thanks to Dan Carlin and the Hardcore History podcast, I now have a better appreciation for that period of history. (His Blueprint for Armageddon 5 part series on World War One is a masterwork of historical storytelling and commentary.) Once that hill was climbed, American history in general seemed dull and bothersome. Once again, a podcast saved the day: the My History Can Beat Up Your Politics podcast with Bruce Carlson helped me gain a better understanding and interest in the particulars of American history.

But there is one period that still irritates me because its effects linger on in today’s cultural milieu. (“Milieu” is such a fun word… I never get to use it in Children’s Ministry, so you all get to enjoy fun words with me.) This irritating period is the 4th and 5th Century in regards to Christianity and its relationship with marital relations.

Note: the following is a broad oversimplification of much more complex cultural and societal questions considered from a modern perspective with the hindsight of give-or-take 1500 years. (And also coming from someone who tries to recognize the limits of his own perspective when it comes to complex issues.)

Consider that, for the most part, the Jewish culture had a fairly positive view of sex as part of a healthy life and the creation of subsequent generations to carry on the name of God and His praises. There was a sense of obligation, joy, and worship in the making and sustaining of a family, which models God’s own choosing and sustaining of the Jewish family. (I find it amazing and a testament of God’s faithfulness that the Jewish people continue to thrive despite the hardship they have faced.) Genesis is very frank about sexuality and what constitutes a right, faithful sexual relationship. (See previous post.) Sex in the Torah seems to connect the ideas of procreation and faithfulness with marital relations, and sex outside of that system leads to long-and-short-term conflict. (See Abraham, Sarah, Hagar; Lot and his daughters; Jacob and his wives; Abraham and Issac lying about their marriages to foreigners; just to name a few.) On a complementary note is the Song of Solomon which, on its face, seems to be a celebration of the pleasures of sex as enjoyed by two impassioned lovers. (Or at least the enjoyment of the anticipation, since upon closer inspection the lovers never get closer than being on either side of a door.) So, we see multiple aspects of sex illustrated throughout the Hebrew Bible: procreation, faithfulness, and pleasure.

With the entrance of Christianity things got more complicated (than they already were.) Around the 4th and 5th centuries, though developing earlier, the church began to separate sharply from its Jewish roots, tending to lean more often on Greek philosophy and modes of thinking to interpret the Bible, Gospel accounts, and letters written to churches. (Despite, however, the overwhelming Jewish nature of both the authors and their intent to further the Jewish story by pointing to its ultimate end with the incarnation and return of the Messiah to put all things right.) This entering of Greek thought also lead to the entertaining of Gnostic ideas, such as the utter separation of spirit and physical matter. Simply put, the spiritual was good, and the physical was bad. (This despite the Creation account in Genesis having God call his creation good, and the subsequent outpouring of God’spirit on that physical matter and even more important sending of Jesus as fully God and man, a unity of spirit and matter on a scale we still can’t quite grasp entirely.) Suddenly, amidst persecutions and the rise of Gnosticism, the church found itself sorting out complex theology concerning Jesus, the Spirit, and how these concepts applied to the life of the church and its sacraments.

Following the gradual dying out of the official fire of persecution, the church found itself in an odd place. This place was a church that had survived persecution, but now had a bevvy of new recruits that were clamoring to enter because of the change in status of the church, not only of the recognition of, but alongside official imperial support of, the church. No longer did the church have martyrdom, dying for the faith or persevering through intense persecution, as the pinnacle of holiness for its members to strive towards so it sought a new form of martyrdom. Based on the idea that physical pleasure is, at best, a temptation and enslavement to it something to be avoided, or, at worst, simply evil, asceticism became the new standard. Asceticism is any intentional lifestyle designed around self-discipline which can include abstinence from luxury, self-deprivation, isolation, or other practices intended to bring about a spiritual holiness via purification of the body. Some of the early ascetics were the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) who left the cities in search of isolation where they would spend their days in fasting, prayer, and meditation on the scriptures, battling the spiritual evils. Following this, a more organized effort was launched in order to create intentional communities of fellow ascetics who all sought to aid one another in their spiritual disciplines by holding one another accountable.

Some of those writing around this time found that voluntary celibacy aided one in maintaining spiritual purity. Young men and women were encouraged in these writings to abstain from any sexual activity, and in marriage, sex was only to be used as a method of procreation… and even then enjoyment was out of the question. One thing to consider is that many of those authors whose writings we have from this period espousing this view were themselves voluntarily celibate, and were writing from that viewpoint. While I can get behind the idea of celibacy as a choice for some, who for their own reasons don’t desire a sexual relationship or are dedicated enough to make that decision, I find more problems with celibacy being required in order to have a sense of “holiness.”

This idea seemed to persist in different forms through the centuries where it still seems to have a place in mainstream Christian thought, if not in practice. In some ways we have swung perhaps a bit too far the other direction, which shows up in the pestering of singles to get married instead of enjoying that period of their life as one of adventure and discovery. However, I still hear stories of women terrified of marriage because of the sex involved, the stories they have heard. I still hear talk of sex being “dirty” and “not a topic to discuss in church.” If the church won’t talk about sex, how can we expect people to have a healthy attitude toward it?

Today, secular society seems to be in the thrall of three gods: Mammon, Mars, and Venus. Money, Violence, and Lust rule the roost. CS Lewis, in a lecture series that turned into The Four Loves says that Eros, erotic love, is a fickle, angry god, but can also be taken too lightly and made into a vulgar joke. Sex, in and of itself, is good because God made it. A healthy attitude toward sex includes an understanding of its goodness, of its symbolism as an act of ultimate faithfulness, of its place as a sign of joyful love, and of its place as the method of human procreation. Things that are necessary for survival can be enjoyable. A cool glass of water is both needed, and pleasurable after working in the sun. A delicious meal is pleasurable even though it is necessary. The act of reconciliation, while challenging and painful, can also lead to the joy of a renewed relationship. And, sex, while necessary for the continuation of our species, is, when done right, enjoyable.

To be fair, I can sense these thought patterns in myself. The word “pleasure” contains for me an almost lustful sensuousness about it that makes me wary of typing or saying it. Is that true, though: pleasure as something deemed concerning or controversial? I should probably stop and sum up my thought before I end up on another several thousand word philosophical tear about the rightness or wrongness of pleasure.

TL;DR Version:

The church has a history of downplaying sex in particular, and pleasure in general, tending to view it not as something good to be enjoyed in proper context of covenant faithfulness, but as a tool for procreation to be used in the proper context of covenant faithfulness. I have come to the understanding that this belief has its roots in secular Greek thought rather than Jewish thought, (or even Pauline, though even making that any distinction with Paul and Jewish thought is a false dichotomy) though I am open to rebuttal.

How do your discussions of sex sound? Do they reflect a healthy, God-reflecting view of sex? What has your experience of church discussion surrounding sex been? What are your personal views of sex and its place in in the life of a Christ follower?

Christian Romance

If you’re picturing some sappy novels following a “they meet, they fall in love, conflict arises, they surmount the conflict, happily ever after” plot, I apologize for that. Truly, if we could find a better way to express our natural inclination toward the romance, we may be in a better place today.

You have probably heard this in a million sermons and cheesy quotes, but “romance” used to be a story term used for adventure tales. I like this. It makes the idea of wooing a lady, or a fella, sound much more exciting than flowers, chocolates, some long conversations, moonlit walks, and a sappy proposal which ends not in wedded bliss, but a profound contentment. (Not that there’s nothing wrong with that.)

So, here’s my romance story:

I was stalked by my wife. Not in a “hunted in the jungle wearing camo and war paint” way, but in an “ooo, that one’s cute, I’m going to watch him,” kind of way. My first memory of seeing my wife is her confused, and slightly panicked face at having botched a red hair dye attempt and ending up with bubblegum pink hair. She and a friend were driving rapidly off campus to find a way to solve the problem. It wasn’t until later that I found out that there had been some looking through incoming freshmen pictures in her dorm for any newcomers that struck their fancy. Apparently my goofy, awkward face won my wife over and she began to look for me on campus.

Our first meeting involved her getting shoved right into my face by my friend, December, who might’ve been cupid but for the wings. (She was small, personable, and a bit on the goth side, so maybe cupid in a Victorian dress? I don’t know.) Anyway, we awkwardly greeted one another, my wife insisting that I played it cool the entire time. (Good for me!) And between December and the contrivance of our shared voice instructor, we began to spend a good amount of time together. She tried to scare me off. I’m not a fan of violent media, and without knowing she managed to be watching things along the lines of “Silence of the Lambs” whenever I came to visit. Somewhere in there was a four-hour long Dairy Queen visit where we lost track of time, obviously.

Later, her father and brother conspired to test my mettle by inviting me to join in a small patriotic concert. So I learned the choral music on my own and, with very little rehearsal, I showed up on the day of the first performance to the greeting of, “By the way, you’ll be swing dancing with Kristie.” (Remember, no rehearsal, no preparation, just, “Go!”) So we danced, I sang… Oh, it wasn’t a particularly small concert either in a 5,000 seat auditorium with a 200 person choir. (Ok, neither were quite that large, but to me, I might as well have been singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and ballroom dancing at the Superbowl.) Her father and I discussed my dating her over corn shucking before church that Sunday morning, and I was able to hold her hand for the first time on the way to church that morning.

Time passed and we became engaged, a long story for another day. We were married and have been living a dream since. And, in a way, I mean that. It has been a dream, a short, fleeting dream punctuated by moments of great joy, and deep sadness. We’ve had trouble, some arguments, but we’ve also laughed until breathless and sat in silence listening to our breaths.

Romance is an adventure. The adventure isn’t getting the girl or guy, it’s what you do after “I do.” The romance continues because the story doesn’t end. Each person is writing their portion of a shared story, which is in turn having a large part written by God.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Go make a story. Try something new. Succeed. Fail. Laugh. Cry. No matter what it is, cherish the moments made together. Don’t get to the end of life and say the words, “I wish we had…”

May God bless your Romance, whatever it looks like. May your story go on, and may it have more ups than downs.

Sex: What’s the point?

It’s been a while since we discussed sex on this blog, mostly due to the fact that I have had several good, hard thinks and conversations about the subject and am nearly ready to put some ideas down in writing. I want to start vaguely and then move to specifics.

Conversations about sexuality are much like building a house. It really does no good to argue about the color of the paint or the particular furnishings of the house unless the foundations are discussed and decided upon. Most of the debates I hear about sexuality are more concerned with the furnishings of the house than the foundations of the house itself. Sure, the couch might look nice and be well made, but if it won’t fit through any of the doors, it’s of very little use.

Foundationally speaking, Jews and Christians often look to the same place: Genesis. Genesis begins with the building of a grand house, Creation, and the making of humans to inhabit that house as God’s representatives. These representatives were designed to reflect God’s character, love, and authority into the world, and reflect creation’s praise back to God. This is the idea of the royal priesthood, the role humans were made to fill.

Following this idea through Genesis shows what happens when humans are unfaithful to that calling and cease reflecting God’s character and begin reflecting nature back to itself. At that point, violence, exploitation, the beginnings of empire, power grabbing, greed, and lust all take shape as the story of Genesis continues into the story of Babel.

Abraham is then chosen to be the recipient of the Covenant. God cuts a covenant with Abraham and his family, which sees a dramatic illustration in the strange vision of Genesis 15, where God, as King, takes responsibility for the covenant with Abraham. This covenant is renewed in Exodus at Mt. Sinai where the people are given their royal, priestly vocation and then are told what would happen in case of infidelity on their part followed by God’s promise to redeem them.

After this covenant is cut with Abraham, with circumcision being the sign, the rest of Genesis is interwoven with the theme of sexuality. There are temptations, refusal of duty, lying, almost adultery, fornication, polygamy, and more. It makes more sense in light of Jewish interpretation (provided by Rabbi Sacks in his Covenant and Conversation materials, specifically the podcast “What is the Theme of the Stories of Genesis?” published 12/19/16) which points to the theme of sexual fidelity being parallel to fidelity to God. Marital faithfulness reflects faithfulness to God.

This makes sense as throughout the prophetic writings, the prophets use the image of Israel as the bride of God, which is then echoed in the letters of Paul which often reference the church as the bride of Christ. The idea of marriage being a covenant of faithfulness enacting our faithfulness to God is an ancient one, indeed. Israel’s sin is often couched as one of infidelity, of adultery, by chasing after other gods or putting other objects in the place of God. (See the entire book of Hosea which is a long illustration of this idea.) Reflecting the will of money, sex, power, or the individual led to exploitation, oppression, and violence among God’s people, which God, through the prophets, condemned. The issue at the center, though, was God’s longing to have Israel return to faithful covenant living. (And before anyone is quick to throw blame on the Israelites, we are all guilty of handing over ourselves to objects and drives that are not God. We, too, are called to repent and return to faithfulness.)

Sex is something that does matter to God. It matters as the method of human procreation. It matters as the way marital partners share in the joy of faithful covenant-keeping. It is a crucial part of the grand vocation to reflect God’s character, authority, and order to creation in that our committed faithfulness should reflect God’s own committed faithfulness.

A quick note on circumcision: John Goldingay notes that circumcision is pointedly a male issue. Why? Because in ancient times, as well as now, society has often given men free rein with their sexuality, while women often have been expected to be much more reserved. In part, God is literally cutting the male ego, especially in regards to sex, down to size. (This is not the only interpretation of circumcision, which is primarily the “cutting in” of the covenant illustrated by God marking this people as separate with a particular purpose.)

The foundation for sex is faithfulness. Sex without faithfulness is an exercise in handing our God-given authority to nature. We are called not to succumb to nature, but to rise above it, to join in God’s task of giving more meaning to the act of sex than mere pleasure, or mere procreation, but something deeper, more humble, and far more important.

Sources for this post are: Genesis parts One and Two by John Goldingay, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ various Covenant and Conversation resources, written and in podcast form. (As far as Bible translations used in studying these books, see the JPS version, the NAB, and John Goldingay’s literal translation included in his commentaries.

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