Archive for the 'Articles' Category

I am no longer a child. As I've mentioned recently in Inappropriate Conversations #195, both of my parents are now gone along with their sisters and brother and my grandparents. It is one thing to say I no longer have living parents. Feels quite different to acknowledge that I am nobody's child.

For many reasons, I believe that my faith over the decades is both unchanged in any significant way and very different from my mother's. In other words, in the years (and it was years) leading up to her death, I am not the one who drifted. I'm still the man (a young man back then) who has heard answered prayer and lived accordingly. And I know that, in many ways, many in my extended family do not respect that experience. 

This has left behind a complex experience of grief, beyond the standard mix of love and sorrow. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some smoldering resentment. I tend to feel that way on behalf of marginalized and dismissed people. Some times, like these, I am among "the least of these" too.

On and off for a few months now, I have been reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I would not be surprised to name her a Different Drummer in the future. My year has interfered with my reading. Business trip in February. My mother's death in March. Vacation a few weeks later. Another business trip this week. On the trip before my mother died, I was devouring pages in Bolz-Weber's book, and then I just stopped. Weeks before mom died, I just couldn't pick it back up. Accidental Saints was a traveling companion, along with holding the primary perch on my nightstand, but I didn't read a word. 

I am a man who believes he has heard answered prayer, but I didn't connect this reader's block with the Holy Spirit. Until now.

After once again making this book my traveling companion on a business trip, and after weeks of wrestling with conflicting emotions documented elsewhere, I once again let Bolz-Weber's voice into my head at the start of a long flight home. Her writing style seems conversational to me, so I genuinely hear the words through her voice, knowing how Nadia sounds through more than one podcast/radio interview. I drifted back to the end of the last chapter I'd read from the middle of her book, then the next. Nothing striking or odd about the passages I'd missed. No reason to think a wiser force was holding me back.

Then I got to a chapter called Parlors. It stopped me in my tracks. I had to wipe away tears. No mistaking why I somehow couldn't read those words before my mother's funeral, before my wife had read hurtful journal entries about my parenting from the one who raised me, along with other reminders that my parents were never going to recognize some of my friends as anything other than dangerous threats to my marriage -- based on nothing more than gender.

Before the Holy Spirit permitted me to hear from Bolz-Weber earlier this week, no one was really capable of speaking words of comfort to me. I needed to know that it was acceptable, even natural, to feel love simultaneously with resentment, regret, disappointment, and even anger. I needed that, and I needed it specifically now. More than a month needed to pass, for one thing. For another, I needed to be alone, even the "alone" you feel in an airplane packed with people. 

Perhaps I don't need to say that "Parlors" is a brilliant chapter in a wonderful book. Consider this a recommendation. I will share the passage that blessed me with an assurance I've been lacking lately. There is so much more, though. Clearly the author knows this. A year ago she shared the chapter (linked above, when I first called it by name) in a Patheos blog. 

Here's that paragraph or so:
"As sacred as love is, human love is never pure or perfect. We just aren’t that kind of species. There are cracks in everything and even the most shining aspects of our lives—even love, or perhaps especially love—come with imperfection.

"Often, when someone dies, we feel a combination of love and something else, and this, too, is holy. And entirely human. And they don’t cancel each other out. Love and anger. Love and disappointment. Love and emptiness. We always love imperfectly. It is the nature of human love. And it is okay.

"But despite all the love in the world, when it comes down to it, none of us can know the reality of another. We can share circumstances, personality traits, even parents, yet as much as we move through our lives alongside each other, none of us can fully know the internal reality of another."
(Nadia Bolz-Weber)

I'm hopeful that Inappropriate Conversations cannot be limited to a single point and that I have more points and questions to raise in the future. Surely one of those points, though, is that we Christians too often presume that we can know the internal reality of other people, and know it so well to justify abominations like denying them communion or trying to separate them from the people who love them most for reasons that have nothing to do with what Jesus taught and demonstrated. 

The other mistake is believing the very imperfections that make us human either separate us from God or justify an all-too-human tendency to play God ourselves by presuming we can or should separate the sheep from the goats, so to speak. 

That answered prayer I mentioned earlier was God telling me that I shouldn't remain silent. I needed to speak up because, in unexpected ways, the words might be more than just my own. Avoiding the risk of getting it wrong (often, in fact) is itself too risky, too high a price. It's far better to say something that should not be said than not to say something that should be said. The right words at the right time have been, for me, a call to worship this week. 

"Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
(Leonard Cohen)

 

The current political climate is presenting more threats to individual liberty. A fair amount of threats are disguised as efforts to protect "religious liberty" coming from state legislatures, several court jurisdictions, and perhaps soon the executive branch of the federal government. The "liberty" being sought is the power to refuse service to customers, fire employees, or worse. 

None of the fervently desired permissions to discriminate have anything to do with the behavior of those customers or employees in those roles within our economy and society. It's not about the customers who cost more money to do business with than the business can cover with profit margins. It's not about employees who fail to get the job done because of what otherwise would be described as the way they live their lives outside of work. It is truly about a false piety on the part of so-called Christian citizens seeking to redefine "religious liberty" to give them the power to impose an earthly judgment on people they perceive as living out sins that Jesus wants them to hate.

I've spoken elsewhere about the core theological questions, going all the way back to Inappropriate Conversations #20 (including the poem "Chapter And Verse") if not further back than that. When it comes to personal piety, "love the sinner but hate the sin" is an abomination, not what the Lord requires of us. "Love the Lord and your neighbor" is the sum of the Law, and Jesus reminded us of this repeatedly.

What this trend represents is a betrayal of Christianity by the "religious right" and other politically-active Christians. It represents a betrayal of our free market economy by giving an inappropriate veto power to something other than the laws of supply and demand. And, clearly, it threatens and thereby betrays all LGBTQIA people and anyone else these inept business leaders want to exclude for not being good enough to get into their heaven, and so not being good enough to shop or work in their stores or companies.

The next Inappropriate Conversations will be called "No Pharisee Shopping Spree" and it will explore how the rest of us -- including those who are far more committed to following Christ than this group of Christians -- can respond to protect people who are clearly assessed as "the least of these" by many of today's politicians, legislators, judges, etc.

It won't look like a boycott. This isn't going to be another pointless public proclamation about "not watching the Oscars this year" from people who haven't watched an Academy Awards telecast in years if not decades. We know they haven't paid the award shows any attention because they scream "not this year" on social media every single year. 
No, it is likely to take a different form, perhaps more measured but certainly more Walk than Talk.

For now, I'm calling it a Consumer & Employee Freedom Protection Action, but slogans are unimportant. What matters more is aggressively standing up for people who should not have their livelihood threatened because they aren't willing to lie to the rest of (as, to be fair, was required of them for centuries) about who they are and whom they love. 

I might go so far as to suggest that a day of evil is upon us. When people who publicly proclaim that they are Christians are so far away from Christ that their cherished solutions are little more than a means of bullying marginalized people into telling lies, then we can look to what Jesus said about "the father of all lies" and safely determine that we can know who the new Pharisees are. 

"When the day of evil comes, we must be able to stand our ground; and, after we have done everything, to stand."
(Paul of Tarsus, paraphrased)

I am a radical moderate. I have voted for non-RepubliCrats of several political parties as many times in my life as I have voted for Democrats and Republicans combined. The last two times I voted for anyone from the duopoly, those votes went to Republicans. The first two times I ever voted, I sided with Democrats. My track record, though, is shunning both.

This year, it is very tempting to shun both again. I voted for Jill Stein in 2012, and I would vote the same way again if given another chance in 2012. I'm not inclined to vote for her this year, though. This is not the place to post my reasons.

Libertarian-leaning candidates do not interest me, and I see friends with that mindset veering toward Gary Johnson. Too often, Libertarianism becomes all about the "ism" as if the political philosophy matters more than anything else. Ron Paul, for example, personified this in the last election cycle by suggesting that people who didn't buy their own health insurance should be left to die -- no coverage, no treatment. 

So, I am either stuck with "major party" options, or I need to dig deeper and find a candidate who, unlike Stein or Johnson, truly qualifies as fringe. Or do I?

The least attractive presidential candidate I can recall in my lifetime is Donald Trump. I say this as a registered Republican. He is not the only problem with the GOP today, though. Probably the biggest issue is Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate refusing to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing or vote to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court from Antonin Scalia's death in February. 

February. When the SCOTUS term begins in early October, almost 8 months will have passed. The Constitution requires the Senate to advise and consent on judicial nominees. There has been no advice, no consideration, no hearings, and certainly no consent. Our Constitution is being violated by people who have sworn to uphold it. 

I'm not naive. I understand the point of this anti-Constitutional obstruction. Political conservatives revered Scalia and don't want a more moderate judge sitting in that spot. Facile arguments have been made about mid-term election results and "the will of the people" requiring that the seat be left vacant until after a new president is inaugurated. None of this is Constitutional. Throughout our history, sitting presidents have filled judicial vacancies regardless of changes in majorities in either part of Congress.

Remember, the Constitution has nothing to say about political parties holding majorities. What it speaks of instead are concepts like advise and consent, the president's power and responsibility to appoint judges, and the importance of fair and speedy trials. All of these things are in jeopardy, and we are likely facing a genuine Constitutional crisis.

What does this have to do with my vote in 2016? 
I'm putting a decision deadline on the first Monday in October. 

As a Republican who has, frankly, long ago written off Trump as potentially presidential, I am hesitant to vote for Hillary Clinton. I didn't vote for her husband at either opportunity, so why would I vote for her? 
Of course, as a moderate my political views are far too complex for any Either/Or proposition like conservative v. liberal or Republican v. Democrat. And, as I've noted, the choices this year are not particularly compelling examples.

That said, the only way Trump can get any serious consideration from me is the Senate doing their job and filling the SCOTUS vacancy before the beginning of its term. Our Constitution says that, in this year, a Democrat sitting in the White House will appoint the next Supreme Court justice with the consent of the Senate. Do it. Do it now. Come back from recess in an emergency session if necessary. 

There is an Else to this formula. 
If Obama is not going to be the sitting Democrat who fills this vacancy (by the end of September, since it hasn't happened in the 2-3 months it normally takes), then I will do everything in my power to correct this Constitutional abomination by striving to put another Democrat into the White House to right this wrong. 

That doesn't just mean voting for Hillary Clinton. It means a straight ticket of Democrats across every level of government. Both the Senate and House openings on my ballot at the national level, but also across every state, county, city, and other jurisdiction. People within my party who don't respect the Constitution enough to rise up and fix this cannot earn my vote for their current or sought seats either. Who knows, in the five crucial weeks between the first Monday in October and the second Tuesday in November, I might even make financial donations (for probably the first time since college) to Democrat candidates within those elections. 

This isn't as extreme as it may sound to some. I am a radical moderate, and I'm approaching this from that perspective. All I am asking is for Republicans in the U.S. Senate to perform their Constitutionally-mandated duty in a timely manner that respects the importance and functions of the judiciary. If they cannot do that by the first Monday in October, then none of them deserve my consideration, or their jobs.

Right this wrong, though, and I will wipe the slate clean and spend the month of October re-evaluating candidates for every office on my ballot from a fresh perspective. That is my job as a citizen. Unlike far too many of my fellow Republicans, I am doing my job. 
Do yours or let someone else do it. Simple as that.

Concurring Opinion

On Inappropriate Conversations #184 I mentioned a process I've been calling First Track for more than a year now. Here is an example of that, reblogging myself.

Ray Boltz is famous, perhaps deservedly, for his song "Thank You" (thank you for giving to the Lord; I was a life that was changed). I'm probably exaggerating a little, but I can't recall ever attending a church camp or "weekend" as either a child or adult where that song wasn't played on a stereo or sung collectively. I'll share it below, but it isn't my ‪#‎FirstTrack‬ from Boltz.

I only bring it up as an introduction to wonder aloud if "Thank You" is still sung -- or now ever sung -- at such gatherings. I never hear the name Ray Boltz in conversations about CTC music. His song is still famous. He has made subsequent recordings. My favorite is "All You Died for Me to Be."
That one isn't the "first" either, but I'd still typically share it below. I can't/won't today because I can't find a video for it, not even one of those videos with a static picture of the album cover (Songs from the Potter's Field, 2002) and the music playing in the background.

Around the time of that album, Boltz publicly acknowledged some truths about himself that the broad Christian community strongly and intensely wanted him to keep lying about. Boltz is gay.

I have seen an evolution in modern Christian thought about this, even in just a few years now.
* Denial: he can't be gay because there is no such thing; it's just a lifestyle choice.
* Anger: if he can't lie to himself about who he is, then he's going to hell.
* Bargaining: I understand how he might not be able to lie to himself about this, but we'll continue to accept him -- sing his songs, buy his albums -- as long has he keeps lying to everyone else about his life and loves.
* Depression: the world is going to accept these pop stars and there is nothing "we" can do about it, so I'll just check completely out, including pretending that Boltz doesn't exist and never contributed any uplifting or edifying music to the modern Christian experience. I'll just stop "thanking him for giving to the Lord" whether my life was changed by his songwriting or not.

We haven't gotten anywhere near an Acceptance stage yet. The devil's bargain of "it's OK to be gay if you don't act upon it" is just another form of denial and bargaining. Another double standard. I don't believe for one second that the people who abandoned Boltz, burning his albums either literally or metaphorically, would really be "back to normal" as listeners. We know that as long as they didn't view Boltz as "normal" then they'd never be a regular listener ever again.

Some introduction! Well, I needed to make two things clear. I was never that huge fan in the first place. I prefer my music with a bit of an edge, and Boltz has never had such an edge. I own two albums, one recorded before he started telling people truths they didn't want to hear, and one recorded after. My favorite song from him comes from the latter, but the true "first track" comes from the former.

I wonder now when hearing the words to songs like "The Altar" if there is more meaning than any of us could have known at the time. What people in their private prayer life might long to leave at the altar is truly none of our business. Judging them for it, though, has been strictly forbidden by Jesus in The Sermon On The Mount and elsewhere. 
These days, though, it is harder and harder to find a Christian who truly cares what Jesus commanded or even taught. There is more lip service than faith in action about what Jesus died for us to be.

Ray Boltz - The Altar

Thank you, Ray, for your years of service, for your honesty, and hopefully for your perseverance in the face of undeniable betrayal.
Ray Boltz - Thank You

I'm told that April is National Poetry Month and April 21st is Poem In Your Pocket Day, so here is a one-page poem that I first shared on Inappropriate Conversations #23 in August 2010: "Laws Of Motion"

“He is never going to

Change, is he?”

We’ve always done it that way around here.

It is what it

Is: predictable.

What did you expect?

If you examine

All of the

Causes and effects, beforehand,

You could predict the future.

Bet on it;

The odds are with you.

He is never going to change.

 

“To make any

Headway, you’ve got

To hit the ground

Running.” Charge forward.

Work harder. Work smarter.

Direct the committee

To create a subcommittee.

The task force will recommend

Throwing dollars at the problem,

Or hours. Top priority, as in “now.”

The wrong answer today will always

Win over the right answer

At any other time.

 

“What goes around, comes around.”

Prepare yourself for

A backlash.

At the moment I say the

Words, I want to swallow them back

In my throat.

Yet, when I’m silent

I can’t hear my thoughts

Over the shouting.

Consequences.

Do we still believe in consequences?

No matter;

They still believe in us.

ForbiddenFriendshipsCover.jpg

Not long ago, some friends of the family told my wife and me that their elementary school kids would never be allowed to attend a party that included any children of the opposite gender. This policy against “boy/girl parties” included birthdays. It certainly covered the concept of play dates.

I do not know the reason why. The safe bet is the word “dates” and a clear animosity within the church about inter-sexual, or mixed gender, friendships. This was an after-church conversation. Several people had left the same church we left at roughly the same time. I document my family’s part of that process in the Walk The Earth podcast. I was left wondering if this other couple was going to struggle to find a gender-segregated youth group when their children got a bit older, or if I was just unaware of a new trend within mainline Protestant churches.

Remembering this makes me sad. I have a long history of being blessed by these kinds of friendships, using terms for most of my life like “sacred friendship” and “sacred history” to describe my mostly positive experiences of friendship across gender lines. I have shared some of those stories in Inappropriate Conversations podcasts. Perhaps I’ll use the comments section of this blog post to share a few links to specific episodes. We’ll see.

(A quick #IC list would be episodes: 44, 79, 80, 90, and 118, but there are more.)

Another point of sadness for me recently came from a book that I’m going to cautiously recommend. Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical Gift of Male-Female Friendship by Joshua D. Jones had its second edition released last August. Aimed at a Christian audience, I recommend the book to that target group. For others, I have reservations which I hope to explain well enough to expand the recommendation a bit further. Forbidden Friendships has much to commend within its short and direct page count.

Let me start with one positive and a couple of negatives. First, I find it challenging to critique an argument that I fully agree with. My style as a critic is, well, critical. Rather than gush about something that pushes all of my buttons, in a good way, I’d rather find even the most minor opportunity to improve. I am fully on board with Jones’ argument. On the other hand, I found the appendices at the end of the book disheartening. That also became my last impression, and it led me to re-read parts of the book in an effort to wash away the negativity.

I’m probably being harsh. One appendix shared Facebook feedback that Jones sought for the question of whether male-female friendships are “real friendships” or not. By my subjective estimate, the responses were pretty much an even three-way split between No, Yes, and some Maybes (so highly qualified that Yes simply doesn’t apply). More people in this nowhere-near-random survey would tell me that my personal experience is false, if not impossible. Fully a third would endorse the presumptions made by our friends from our former church. Maybe it’s just me, but the people who share my perspective seemed to be drowned out by those who don’t.

The other appendix was called “On ‘Being Gay’ and ‘SSA’” and I still have no idea how that applied in any direct way to the topic of genuine friendships that cross society’s gender lines. Jones used this section to promote his website, where that subject matter does appear, and homosexuality was mentioned a few times in the body of the book as well. I found it distracting. Despite both Jones and I being committed Christians, we differ slightly in our views of scripture and what I might call the focus of Christ. It’s a difference that makes a difference. Most of my friends who fall outside the gender binary will find little value in Forbidden Friendships. Some, though not all, of my gay friends will find sections insulting and potentially harmful.

Consider this a warning. Jones does denounce the “just a choice” mentality while still recommending what I would call forced, involuntary celibacy on a significant number of people. Faced with that option, I’m quite sure most LGBTQI people would leave the church instead. Many already have. My faith tells me that Jesus isn’t mired in the same Either/Or fallacies that characterize far too much of the “religious right” in the United States and elsewhere. (America isn’t the only place where political and religious ideologies have become too anti-intellectual to support even a narrow, Gospel-based discourse.)

I do not lump Jones in with the anti-intellectuals. Forbidden Friendships is carefully considered, well reasoned, and succinct. In the context of heterosexual men and women befriending one another in a way that completely subverts concepts like “with benefits” and rising above “more than a friend” and its presumed limitations, Jones has delivered essential reading for Christians and valuable reading for non-Christians.

Referring to the work of psychologist Carl G. Jung on the phenomenology of the self, I have noted that it is very difficult to follow notions of anima and animus through whatever “the opposite sex” might mean for homosexuals. I’ll simply leave the question open, as I have in the past.

Suffice to say that I dwell on this for sincere, heartfelt reasons that Jones would surely understand. Early on, he makes the observation that congregations maintaining a strict gender divide and carefully monitoring for “inappropriate” male-female interactions between the unmarried cannot claim a solid track record when it comes to scandal. It is precisely past scandals that have reinforced this version of gender apartheid within those churches.

The other side effect is homophobia. Jones says, “The result of these scandals and cultural shifts has also resulted in men being anxious of loving friendships with other men lest they appear ‘gay’. Adults also shy away from affectionate interaction with children for fear of pedophilia accusations. Greater distance isn’t just growing across the gender divide, it’s growing everywhere.”

So, let’s just say that I know I have been called to speak on behalf of sacred friendship, as I describe it. I use the word “called” intentionally, as a reference to answered prayer. I also believe I have been called to denounce homophobia.

Given the concerns I’ve already shared, I held my breath a bit on my first reference to the Notes pages. Names like Mark Driscoll and Focus On The Family appear there. Without exception, Jones cites them in order to refute their views. He, like me, disagrees with their narrow, harmful perspectives on inter-sexual relationships. One name I didn’t see that I think of often on topics like relationships and The Sexual Revolution was David R. Mace. That’s a shame. David and Vera Mace contributed valuable insight into marriage during their lives, and Jones’ work here would fit well on the topic of non-marital relationships.

Since there are Inappropriate Conversations podcasts that tell my stories in varying degrees of detail, I won’t dwell on my experiences in this review. Jones is also not particularly specific about his personal stories. The biographical section focuses elsewhere. Jones is pastor in the United Kingdom. He was born in America, married a Danish woman, and has lived in several places. His blog is at JoshuaDJones.com.

Forbidden Friendships is not addressing a side issue of marginal importance. Jones makes an argument that we aren’t just falling short of the vision Jesus described for the new heaven and new earth. Worse, many within the church seem to be regulating against the standard and example set by Jesus. In his First Word segment, Jones writes, “There has been a growing relational chasm within the church that seeks to keep men and women from engaging in genuine friendship. This separation has been parading under the banner of integrity and it has become unhealthy.”

By the end of this review, I might come close to describing that separation as blasphemy. Jesus said that in the afterlife there won’t be marriage (Mark 12: 18-27) with the implication that there will be something far greater. Greater than sex. Greater than marriage. Probably greater than the notion of friendship that Jones and I concur about, too, although perhaps of its type. The phrase that comes to mind is “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) which suggests that we will eventually comprehend love completely.

Like me, Jones does not view this sort of friendship as merely a preference. He shares a list of benefits with some supporting explanation:

Healing, joy and growth. God puts the right people in our path, regardless of gender.

To help us resist temptation. I’ve learned more about integrity from female friends than I ever could claim if “integrity” merely meant not having any connection with women other than my wife.

To strengthen our marriages. I’ve told this story online before, but the first person to tell me – as if she was seeing the future – “you are going to marry Sheryl” was a female friend. I cannot even imagine a male friend at that time using those words.

Because we are commanded to be. Among other things, we are commanded by Christ to be the Family Of God, and that includes relationships between brothers and sisters, regardless the heredity or biology.

To share the power of the cross. I believe God told me, “’Tis far better to say something that should not be said, than not to say something that should be said.” Those words were shared in the context of a male-female friendship, and they were meant to be spoken through other inter-sexual friends and into the entire notion of sacred friendship.

And, Release of ministry.

What about sex, though? Jones looks at modern sexuality through the work of Sigmund Freud. Perhaps Freud has been so influential that most of us take at least a few of his concepts for granted. My focus has always leaned toward Jung. While those two psychologists were roughly contemporary and even worked together for a time, Jung has more to say about interpersonal connections.

I’ve asked before in past blog posts, one in particular about the sexual orientation of potential leaders within youth Scouting programs, if we understand the concept of sexualization.

During one of the Boy Scouts Of America controversies in recent years, I asked some older church friends in a small group meeting how they understood the phrase “openly gay” in the context of kids who weren’t yet sexually active. They didn’t understand the question. To them, “openly gay” meant having sex. To me, it meant coming to terms with same-sex attraction as the reality for those potential Scouts. Just as the boys attracted to girls weren’t getting help earning a “hit it before you quit it” badge from their leaders, so the “openly gay” teens would also be learning about leadership and other skills while delaying sexual experimentation until a later stage of life.

It is possible, in other words, to refrain from sleeping with someone you are attracted to. Perhaps the most monstrous ideas I hear from opponents of my experience and perspective is that this is somehow impossible. If you love someone of the opposite gender and you are heterosexual, the logic goes, you therefore are inevitably mired in lust (whether you are aware of it or not). 

The first time I made a trip to visit a female friend after marrying my wife, the reaction of some within my family (not my wife, thankfully) was reprehensible. “What does he think he’s up to?!” was, I’m told, the response. It earned both the question and exclamation marks. The assumption was that I was being lustful and deceptive, perhaps even violating my vows. Irony abounds! The real deceptions here were accusations made behind my back and to my wife but never to me. As for breaking vows, if those false assumptions were true, I would have been breaking vows not only to my wife but also to my friend.

I’ve used the expression “sacred friendship” in the context of those friendships, as often as not. The words carry powerful meaning for me. It isn’t about sex, and certainly not about lust, and that’s what makes the friendship work. Or, would those who oppose the views expressed by Jones suggest that the only female friends of mine who are “genuinely friends” are those who identify as lesbian? There are some, and the differences in perspective Jones and I have about homosexuality make me wonder what he might do with that question.

No, what’s at stake here is intimacy, not sexuality. Jones shares a quote that he attributes to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. We all know the one about it being better to have loved and lost. What is perceived today as a romantic notion, Jones notes, was actually written for a close male friend of Tennyson who had died. We aren’t good at intimacy these days. Homophobia is one reason. Disregard for male-female friendship is surely another. There are more: presumptions of sexual intent, the false notion that love is a progression that inevitably leads to “more than a friend” concepts that exalt sexuality above all expressions of intimacy, etc.

“But in heaven,” Jones writes, “unity and intimacy with both the Lord and with others will be perfected beyond our wildest imaginings. In this world we get small tastes of what this will be like as we learn about a love that’s based upon naked souls instead of naked bodies.”

I read this book again, following my unhappy emotional response to the appendices, to recapture the beauty of that paragraph and the next two sentences. “Humans can live without sex. We can’t live without intimacy.”

Forbidden Friendships is worth reading to experience those words in context. There are many traditional, even old-fashioned, assumptions about sex and marriage from a Christian perspective in the book. It strikes me that there is a purpose beyond merely speaking to a churchgoing audience.

What I call sacred friendship, Jones describes as “soul friends” in the central chapters of the book. Anamchara is the Gaelic word for this. Funny, I started reading this book while visiting Ireland. Examples included St. Patrick and St. Brigid, along with St. Francis and St. Clare. There are many Protestant examples as well, like John Wesley and John Knox and their friendships with women Jones does not name. 

St. Teresa of Avila was also cited as an example. I’m familiar with her from this hauntingly beautiful quote:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

How many people would refuse to answer this call if their hands and feet needed to serve side-by-side, without a chaperone, with a person of the opposite gender who wasn’t their spouse? 

One of those central chapters looked at examples of these friendships within Christian history. The other looked at the issue within scripture, finding no Biblical prohibitions. I’ll share just a couple of the many examples.

Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I honestly don’t know if Jones would agree with me, but I would certainly emphasize that there is no gay or straight at the foot of the cross either, if only because James teaches in his letter that there are no “special sins” that make one person more unworthy of grace than another.

Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” According to Hebrew Scripture, human sexual reproductive practices have not yet entered the story. The concept of marriage is non sequitur at this point, too. What sense does it make to speak of vowing fidelity “to you and none other” when there are no others? Jones goes into more detail, drawing this wise conclusion from the Genesis passage: “[God] gave Adam an opposite gender friend.”

Breaking my heart as I was reading, once again, Jones makes this reference to Romans 16:16a: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” His conclusion, sadly, “Instead of replacing the ‘forbidden kiss’ with a ‘holy kiss’ we’ve opted for ‘no kiss’.”

Finally, Forbidden Friendships invests necessary time on the modern concept of “emotional adultery” which has been used to justify most of the segregation that Jones rightly describes as an apartheid. He starts the chapter with a brilliant use of a famous quote from The Princess Bride. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

From a Biblical perspective, certainly not. Adultery is something both the Old and New Testaments take seriously, and it always refers to sexual infidelity. It is a reckless, potentially blasphemous, mistake to pour a broader meaning into a concept that was used in ancient days as a cause for brutal capital punishment.

Among the biggest mistakes the church makes today is trying to specifically re-forbid what is already forbidden, or trying to re-codify as allowed what is already so clearly Biblical. We don’t need a new set of rules, a new legalism. Jesus said he was going to fulfill all of The Law and he did so dramatically and sufficiently on the cross (and after). By the way, conservative Americans are making the same mistake politically, with state after state passing laws that at best only restate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and at worst violating the Bill Of Rights by misrepresenting it. (We don’t need another law forbidding the government from either establishing a state religion or forcing pastors and priests to subvert their doctrine.)

Jones rightly identifies this as creating a new non-Biblical standard when we already have clear direction in scripture. It is wrong to covet, lust, or lie. These are already specifically denounced. All the while, loving others and helping them carry their burdens is specifically allowed, without any regard for age, race, nationality, or gender. (You may as well all sexual orientation to that list, from my perspective.)

There is one key exception where the notion of “emotional affair” isn’t fully covered by commands against the temptation to covet, lust, or lie. What about a situation where someone who isn’t coveting another’s possessions or relationship and avoiding lust is also quite openly exalting the relationship with an opposite-gender friend above their spouse and at the expense of the marriage? If my wife has ever shared a worry over friendships in my life, past or present, I suspect that this would be the concern.

Jones calls this a problem within that marriage regardless of the friendship(s), and he is right. I am thankful that I can confidently say I do not have this problem within my marriage. I have, though, always struggled with the terminology we use, with society’s obsession with “best friends” as a concept. I can certainly see how the implied ranking in that expression could be hurtful, either to a spouse or to other friends.

I mentioned our society’s persistent use of Either/Or logical fallacies, and it applies here as well. We just don’t know what to do with people like me. I’m not just one thing, not liberal or conservative across the board, not strictly traditional or progressive in church circles, and I refuse to play the “name your best friend” game either. 

To restate, love is not a scale where anything is singularly best. We don’t move from acquaintance to friend to “more than a friend” (aka, lover) to spouses. Jesus would describe the progression very differently, with “no such thing as marriage because heaven is so much more” as the pinnacle. Even that notion presumes a progression of sorts that Jesus said nothing about and, in all likelihood, would dismiss with a smirk. “Slow of heart” is the expression he used in Luke 24:25 with followers who seemingly couldn’t comprehend things that seemed obvious to Jesus in the scriptures.

The takeaway from Jones’ chapter on “emotional adultery” is two-fold. He easily dismissed the claim that this concept is even valid, calling it little more than a repackaging of admonishments against lying or behaving with lustful or covetous intentions. This sort of repackaging could generously be called unnecessary. Too often, though, it is more of an evil effort – however benign – to mix man-made rules in with the commandments Jesus gave us to follow. If, for example, we fail to love our neighbors as we love ourselves because we are afraid of whatever “emotional adultery” heaps above guidelines about treating others with dignity and respect, then this concept becomes an abomination.

Jones also dealt with the most valid cause for concern head on. I appreciate the honesty in dealing with situations where a marriage might be so broken that any loving relationship could be perceived as a threat.

Make no mistake, though. The term “emotional adultery” borders on blasphemy. The Bible is clear that adultery is a sexual act. It would be a deception to prevent people from loving their neighbors as the Holy Spirit leads due to some confusion about the difference between brotherhood/sisterhood and what might be called “friends with benefits” or something similar. It may well be evil because, as a deception, we must account for the fact that Jesus referred to Satan as “the father of all lies” (John 8:44).

Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical Gift of Male-Female Friendship by Joshua D. Jones has inspired some strong words from me. This book taps directly into some of the most important spiritual experiences of my life, providing historical and scriptural support in clear and simple arguments. I’ll restate, though, that Jones does not have any more answers than Jung (or me) on how to apply these concepts outside of the traditional gender binary. I do not recommend this book for insight on homosexual friendships or marital relationships. Of course, I also don’t believe those topics fall within his thesis, and those distractions play too much of a role in certain sections.

“There will be a day when we will be able to give and receive extravagant love with all our friends without any thought of boundaries or of being misunderstood,” Jones concludes in a section I won’t quote in much more detail because I don’t want to spoil a beautiful conclusion to a book written for Christians. Instead, I’ll give C.S. Lewis, quoted within these pages by Jones, the final challenging word.

“Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important. ... In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets ...” (The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis).


Note: I did not write this and cannot recall where I originally received it, at least 7 years ago, but the fable seems even more relevant now.

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. "What food might this contain?" The mouse wondered. He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

                Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning. "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

                The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

                The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

                The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

                The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house!  There is a mousetrap in the house!"

                The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

                So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house -- like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

                The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught.

                The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she later returned home with a fever.

                Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.

                But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

                The farmer's wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

                The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn't concern you, remember:  when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.


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