So that whole post I had up yesterday about racism and Zinedine Zidane? Gone. Typepad had their wonkiest day yesterday since I joined them in January 2004, and I'm immensely annoyed. Fortunately, nothing else seems to have been lost, though I know that this blog was inaccessible much of yesterday afternoon and evening. (UPDATE: A kind reader, Amber, recovered the post for me via Bloglines; it is up again below. The comments, however, were lost).
This morning's poem, immediately below, has me reflecting on the intersection of faith and sexuality. I wrote below that since my college days (where I alternated between bouts of promiscuity and a fairly serious exploration of the celibate life of the priesthood), I've always considered two subjects to be of paramount interest: sex and God. The rest, indeed, is just commentary.
But I've been dissatisfied, sometimes deeply so, with the state of contemporary Christian literature on the subject of sex. I've been disappointed in my own writing as well. And that disappointment was crystallized for me in a conversation I had a few months ago with a young male Christian student. We were talking about sexuality and ethics; he is (like so many young unmarried Christians) intensely interested in discovering what activities and behaviors are ultimately acceptable for someone in his condition, and what aren't. He was asking me about my own adult conversion experience (he's a "cradle Christian") and he said something that made me very uncomfortable, even as I recognized it was true:
"Dr. Schwyzer, I know you're a believer. But I get the sense from you that you had more fun when you weren't."
Ouch, ouch, and triple ouch! It's been a long time since I've been so completely nailed by someone half my age! Of course, this young man was only pointing out what some of my blog readers have pointed out: that I spend a lot of time writing impassioned mini-sermons on the virtues of restriction, restraint, and self-control. Those are indeed noble virtues, mind, but they are only virtues I've embraced recently. And it does seem a bit, well, hypocritical to be encouraging those of high school and college age to live up to a standard I was only able to meet after hitting my thirties.
When this young man made the comment to me, it was not in response to some ribald tale about my past. I don't share names and numbers and details; I don't "tell stories". Indeed, I'm conscious not to spend too much time reflecting even privately on the specifics of my past. All of that energy needs to flow towards she who is my present and my future! And yes, that present is happy and exciting.
But the stark truth is that even after my conversion experience, I sometimes have a hard time summoning up regret for the decisions and actions of my youth. Yes, I regret the pain I caused -- three divorces being only a small part of it -- but I would be lying if I said that I didn't also have a whole bunch of fun too. And somehow, even when I don't get into details, even when I choose my words with exceptional care, the sense that I thoroughly enjoyed my "years of sin" comes across loud and clear to those with whom I work. That's humbling and frustrating.
There's very little honest Christian writing about sex, even now. The growing body of "pro-chastity, pro-abstinence" literature is impressive. It's often eloquent and winsome. I have great respect for the life and work of folks like, say, Bethany Torode and Lauren Winner. Both women, in different ways, make faithful and compelling cases for traditional sexual morality and for the central importance of family life. But when it comes to the actual details of sex (or the details of how an unmarried person is supposed to refrain) Torode and Winner, like their less eloquent counterparts in Christian publishing, are silent.
My dear fellow evangelicals: we've done a great job of publishing 64,898 articles and books on why folks should wait until marriage. We've made the case for saying "No" six ways to Sunday, and we've poured time and money and effort into doing so. The Christian publishing world does not need a single new book on abstinence or purity (I may regret having said that). And we don't need vague paeans to how wonderful married sex is when we all do a nice job of following "God's plan" for our bodies. It's all been written and it's all been said, and in the end, 90% of it is pretty thin stuff indeed.
Sometimes, I am an annoying blogger: I write these pat little posts where I present a problem and solve it with a short and impassioned homily, usually on the virtues of kindness, self-restraint, or greater acceptance. Some folks seem to like that sort of writing, but honestly, at times I think I'm about as deep as a thimble. What I want to do is find a way to write more honestly about the intersection of faith and sexuality. I don't want to find still another way to make a case for "waiting", nor do I want to make merely another case from the progressive side that pre-marital sex and devout Christian faith are comfortably compatible. I know how to do apologetics, and I could write a post from either perspective easily, but it doesn't get to the heart of the matter. And this morning, what the heart of the matter seems to be is this: how is human sexuality, both in its transcendent joys and its glorious messy physicalities, a reflection of our relationship with God? And how can we begin to talk and share more honestly about how our faith is lived out in our fantasies and in our actions, in backseats and bedrooms?
We Christians do a great job of making the case for "NO!" But what, exactly, is the true nature of the "YES?" What does it look like, taste like, feel like?
This morning's short poem from Sharon Olds describes (presumably) her own first adolescent sexual experience. And as a teacher and a youth leader,her opening lines haunt me:
I knew little, and what I knew
I did not believe – they had lied to me
so many times...
We who teach and parent and lead would do well to reflect on our own words, and whether or not we too are in complicit in spreading and reinforcing those lies.