Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sexual Freedom?

Anyone who has seen two children fighting over a single object in a room full of other equally fun toys can appreciate what philosopher RenĂ© Girard was getting at when he described the human predicament as "mimetic desire"—we do not want what we want, we want what others want. While we would like to think that our deepest desires are unique to us and in some way define who we are, in reality, we are usually mimicking the desires of those around us. We all want someone else's toy.

With the advent of easy-access pornography delivered anonymously through the internet, the desires of others are increasingly controlling our sexual desires. Most of us assume that what we like or don't like sexually, our sexual preferences, come from within us, from latent desires we discovered as we gained sexual experiences. The reality is the opposite. Our sexual experiences accumulate as desires, training us to prefer what we've previously experienced. So as we vicariously experience sex-acts through pornography, we are training ourselves with powerful rewards of pleasure to mimic porn-like preferences.

The results are not pretty. Pornography is training more and more men desire sex-acts with women that are embarrassing, uncomfortable, or even painful for women to perform. Some people are discovering that they cannot orgasm while having partner sex but only through masturbation. They have trained themselves to enjoy masturbation more than anything else by having the majority of their sexual experiences that way and enhancing the experience through pornography.

When human beings open themselves to a broad range of sexual experiences, real or vicarious, the end result seems to be people who desire sexual experiences that are not mutually satisfying. This individualistic pursuit of pleasure through sex is commonly thought to be the way to enjoy sex to the fullest. But contrary to what most assume, research shows that it is married, not single, people who have the most sex on average, and married women are more likely to experience sexual satisfaction than single women.

What if, instead of becoming slaves to the influence of others desires, we reserved our all sexual experiences for one person with whom we shared a mutual, lifetime commitment; trained ourselves to prefer sex-acts that brought that person pleasure; and devoted a lifetime to getting better and better at pleasing each other sexually? Wouldn't that be (in the sense of developing unique sexual desires and fulfillment) true sexual freedom?

Of course, this is what Christianity, teaching sex only within the marriage relationship, has promoted for millennia. And not just that sex should be reserved for marriage, but that it ought to be regularly enjoyed in marriage. Perhaps it's an idea whose time has come.

This article originally appeared in the Clergy Comments column of the Fort McMurray Today (February 25, 2012).

Cross-posted to true love is....

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sabbath in the Pastor's Schedule

The following is a summary of the devotional I presented at the Fort McMurray Christian Ministerial Association on February 7, 2012.

God saw all that he had made–and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.
The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation. (Genesis 1:31-2:3, NET)

We begin at the beginning. Here in Genesis we find the first mention of Sabbath. (The Hebrew word for "ceased," is the verbal form of Sabbath.)

Human beings without their creator are "very good," but they are not complete. They are finished, but they are not perfect. The essential meaning of Sabbath is that six without seven is incomplete. (The number seven in the Bible symbolizes perfection.) Human beings were created on the sixth day, but in order to move on to perfection, they need the seventh-day.

Pastors without God are not complete, and having God takes time. The call of God is foremost a call to himself. Jesus did not call his disciples to fish for men. He said “Follow me” and as a result "I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Our first priority is to be with Jesus.

Jesus was simply reinforcing a massage of Sabbath, because Sabbath is the first place in scripture where we encounter God as a person who desires a relationship with us. Everything else God has done up to this point in creation, could have been done by an impersonal deity. But the Sabbath indicates the desire of God to be in relationship with his creation, and his creation with him.

This emphasizes the importance of human being above that of human doing. Ministers face the constant temptation to base our spiritual value on how much or how well we serve. But when Adam and Eve their first full day of life was not spent tending the garden, it was spent in rest.

As ministers, our first duty is to rest in God, and let our ministry flow from that. Sabbath is where we acknowledge total dependence on God, because for 24-hours we do not try to make our own way in the world. On this day God sustains us and prepares us to depend on him in the coming week.

The way we keep Sabbath, as I see it in scripture, is a paradoxical combination of feasting and fasting—at once an ascetic and a celebratory practice. I will share how Adventists keep Sabbath in the hope that you will take something that is helpful to you.

On Sabbath we abstain
  • From regular work.
  • From commerce.
  • From secular media/entertainment/sports.
And on Sabbath we engage
  • With God.
  • With family.
  • With church family.
  • With God's creation.
  • With service to humanity.
Minister’s dilemma lies in the tension between the first point on the first list and the last point on the last list—our regular work is service to humanity. So how can we pastors rest on Sabbath and at the same time serve our people who gather on this day to receive a blessing?

To answer this question I refer you to an excellent article ("From Workday to Rest Day: One pastor’s journey to Sabbath renewal") that was published in Ministry magazine about this time last year. I will summarize the conclusion.
  • Don’t put off until Sabbath what can be done before Sabbath.
  • Don’t put off time with God until Sabbath
  • Consider your family's Sabbath experience
  • Be prepared to let some tasks go undone (or be done by others)
  • Be prepared to say No.