Monday, August 20, 2012

Sex and the Church

I've been thinking about sex... in the church... and that we need much more of it.

Let me tell two stories and share a song to help explain.  About 15 years ago, we had taken a youth group from upstate New York to the New Jersey shore to help a church with their summer Bible school.  We took a day trip to Philly for fun and spent some time on south street.  We had given the kids some freedom - they were high school students - and walking down South Street, some of the adult chaperones found the kids... shopping in Condom Nation.  It wasn't a huge deal but there was some embarrassment and off we all went to get water ice.   Later as we were driving back to the shore through the New Jersey Pine Barrens at night something wonderful happened.  It was as dark as pitch and by the time you got to the back of the 15 passenger van, there was no light from the dashboard at all.  A teenage boy, feeling safe and a bit anonymous, asked a serious question, "What's the big deal about sex?"  It led to a wonderful conversation about sex that likely never would have happened under any other circumstances.

Jump forward to last week.  I came across a link to a blog called sexquestionsfromseventhgraders on tumblr.  (It looks as if it is gone now).  The blog was ostensibly written by a teacher who has an anonymous question box in their classroom and is just a selection of the questions put in the box.  Assuming it is real, and there is no reason not to, the questions are at once both shocking and easily imagined.  In a time when pornography is so easily accessible it is not a wonder that children see lots of it.  Many of the questions asked seem to come straight from typical porn themes.  "Do girls like getting semen on their faces?" "If you have anal sex are you still a virgin?"  And on they go.

It is shocking to go from the innocence of the question from a high school boy 15 years ago to the explicit questions from seventh graders today.  More shocking to me is that at least some of those seventh graders are learning about sex primarily from watching porn videos and expecting that because of what they've seen, they know about sexual expression and about what bodies are supposed to look like and how they work.

Sex ed in schools is fine for the mechanics of things but someone needs to be talking about values.  As often as not, parents are uncomfortable with talking in substantive ways about sex.  Conservative churches often have abstinence programs (good luck with that as all of the data shows) but seem to be just as reticent to talk about the real deal of sex.  Progressive churches often ignore the subject.   I think it is time that we bring sex into the church in a big way, being honest, and talking about the way God intended real people to enjoy one another.   Why not tell our kids that sex is fun?  That sex is about mutual pleasure?  That sex is about sharing and communication and giving?  That bodies don't look or work like the ones in porn videos?  That the kinds of treatment of women seen in those videos is not what God intended for our relationships or our sexuality?  That sex is wrapped in all kinds of meaning and is not the same as any other bodily function?  Why not talk about sex in all of its glory, pleasure, and the dysfunctional ways we relate sometimes?  If we don't, who will?  And if nobody does, then we're setting up an entire generation for frustration and failure in their relationships - relationships designed by God for mutuality, pleasure, and the humanizing experience of sharing the entire self with one's partner.

Here's another picture of an earlier time... as Richard Thompson sings about a teenage boy who learned all about sex from magazines and books and cannot understand why his girlfriend is not reacting correctly.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

foster kids

Some years back we did foster care and had a number of children come through our home.  Each had their own stories but for the most part, they were not happy stories.  In many cases, they had experienced things that children should never experience.   Each of those children made a place in our hearts and all these years later I find myself thinking about them - wondering what happened and hoping and praying for their best. 

We had one little boy whose life had been pretty bad who really caught our hearts.  Through the years, I have felt that we failed him even though we did our best for him.  My imaginings of his future were rarely positive.  Then the other day, I got talking about him with a church member and came home and decided to try to hunt him down on the internet.  I think I found him on Facebook.  Its hard to tell as he was just a child then and is now a grown man plus there is almost no biographical info on his facebook page and is name isn't an uncommon one.  Still, I'm pretty sure it is him. 

Here's the wonderful part, he looks to have gotten things together and found a positive direction for his life against what were terrible odds.  I hope it is him.  And whether it is or is not, that little boy, now a man, is still in my heart and my prayers.

I've thought about contacting him to see... but I'm conflicted between whether a contact from his past would be comforting (to know we still think of him and pray for him) or troubling as it would surely bring painful memories to the surface.  So, for now, I'm not contacting but continuing to pray and dream.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Political speech

I vote religiously (in both ways - in every election and in ways that reflect my faith).   I think it is an important thing to do as a  civic responsibility and as a steward of the future. 

This coming election strikes me as being especially important.  While things have certainly been worse, the country feels as if it is sitting on the knife edge.  The two candidates, especially since Romney chose Paul Ryan as his VP, have radically different agendas and understandings of the direction we should go.  If a Romney/Ryan ticket won the election and if the Tea Party was able to get a few more votes in congress, we could see a radically different country than the one I love in a very short number of years.  Add the possibility of the next president getting to choose as many as three members of the Supreme Court and this becomes a very important election in which everyone should vote.

There are multiple streams in this election cycle that deeply sadden me. 

The political discourse has become polarized to the point that there is little real discussion of the substantive issues.  Clear facts are dismissed out of hand.  Political leaders on the Republican side have stated that their primary goal is not to do right by the people but to ensure that Obama does not win again.  I am struck by the quick name-calling against Obama - Socialist, Marxist, Terrorist, America Hater... which feels more intense to me than I have experienced before.  My gut says that the degree of animus can only be based in racism but that is another post.

Both sides are throwing around inaccurate statements, although it seems to me that the Republicans are a bit more loose with the truth.  Still, both sides have trafficked in inaccuracies and at times, down right lies.  I know politicians "stretch the truth," but again, it feels worse to me than I have experienced before.

The money being spent... could do sooooo much good elsewhere.  Think how many teachers could be hired with the money spent on each one of those attack ads.  The amount of money being spent by billionaires is just obscene.   That the SCOTUS equated that with free speech boggles the mind.

Now, this year I am doing something I have never done before - I am making a campaign contribution.  I can't give $1 million like Bill Maher did or even less like Sheldon Adelson who has pledged as much as $100 million to defeat Obama and reportedly has already given over $50 million.

I believe in freedom of speech and have no problem with Mr. Adelson supporting whatever candidate he likes.  Here's my question... why is his speech allowed to be so much "louder" than mine?  If we put this analogy back to its origins, we see how silly the situation has become.  Back in the day, free speech was just that.  I could get my soapbox and go out to the corner and speak.  I could shout... but only so loud.  The physicality of it enabled a real exchange.  The woman who disagreed with me could get her soapbox as well and we could have a lively debate or at least any audience could hear both sides of the issue.  This just isn't possible when Mr. Adelson is able to speak at a volume 1,000,000 times louder than me.    Limiting the amount he can give to a candidate does not limit his free speech, it only limits the volume and ensures that mine can still be heard.

A friend of mine was a part of a Black Muslim group back in the 70's that had a saying, "He who talks loudest gets over."  This year the SCOTUS has institutionalized that saying... and that is not a good thing for the state of political discourse or for our country.