Men, Sex and Love

I would really, really like to quote the entirity of Micah Murray’s post on the idea that men give love to get sex and women give sex to get love. But doing that is frowned upon here on the internets, so I’m just going to quote a couple juicy bits. But these are no better than the rest of the post.

It seemed reasonable enough. And it fit neatly with the gender stereotypes I’d heard all my life: Men think about sex every seven seconds. Women aren’t visual. Men are like microwaves; women are like crockpots.

But, as a newly married man, I soon discovered that these ideas were both inaccurate and damaging in our relationship. Beneath the glib cliché was an economic model of sex-bartering that undermines the very essence of love.

If it’s true that men give love to get sex, then our shared sexuality is simply a business arrangement, a deal brokered in flowers and kisses. My wife is a deluxe call girl with a long-term contract, marriage is sheer capitalism, and love is a filthy currency.

I have to be perfectly honest and say that this view of men as base creature who want sex more than they want anything was a real problem for me. I suspect it’s been a problem for a lot of people and the church isn’t doing any favors peddling this sort of outdated stereotyping of men and women.

I like sex. My husband says I’m good at it. But I don’t like sex so much that I’d put it above love. Frankly, I can’t imagine what sort of person “gives love” in order to get sex. At the worst, such a person is someone who uses me for his own enjoyment. At best, such a person is not someone I can really trust. What if the sex is bad? What if I’m sick or injured and can’t have sex? What if I’m upset or angry or busy? I can’t trust in a person’s love for me if it’s dependant on the quality of our sex life. How can I even understand such a person? They’re like some weird, alien being to me.

And really, that was long how I viewed men. How I viewed my husband. I thought of them as untrustworthy, alien beings who I would never be able to really understand. Which is a horrendous perspective to bring into a situation where two people are expected to “become one”! How can I become one with someone whose love resides in their genitals and not in their heart? How could I trust their heart? Did they really have one or did everything run through their little head instead? How could I raise my boys if this were an immutable part of their mental make up?

Of course, as Micah points out, and I’ve been learning, this isn’t actually the reality of men, love and sex. Or at least it shouldn’t be true. Any ways. You should go read the article. And pass it on!

Christians and Interracial Marriage

Guys, what is this world coming to? Aljezeera America recently used the parable of the talents to explain current events. Christianity Today, the flagship publication of conservative, Evangelical Christianity, is promoting interracial marriage. And discussing racism. And even relying on the voice of a black women to explain the theology of the whole thing. The world’s going all off kilter here. 

I know the rest of the world (and many of us) find it ridiculous that the church still struggles with these things. But we are a people whose founder said he’d go back for the one sheep dumb enough to get left behind. So perhaps it’s part of being church in the world to be a sanctuary for those who just can’t keep up with the pace of change in the world. That doesn’t mean they need to become the sanctuary’s leaders and spokespeople, of course. It’s still a work in progress.

But look at this fruit. Doesn’t it make your heart sing?

God abhors racism. Miriam’s skin was turned “leprous, like snow.” Her punishment was directly related to her sinful prejudice against the dark skin of the Cushite people. I did a quick search to examine the effects of leprosy. (Not recommended.) Her punishment would change the way peopleviewed her. It would not affect the way they thought of her per se, but the way they looked at her. As Miriam once looked at the Cushite woman with distain, she would now know exactly what that was like.

What Miriam forgot, and what so many others still forget, is that all people are made in the image of God, we are all from the same Adam, and now we are all redeemed equally through Christ. Interracial marriage isn’t merely acceptable; it reflects the beauty and glory of the gospel.

Through the gospel, we are reconciled first to God, then to one another. We are made brothers and sisters in Christ. We are counted as righteous. The gospel breaks the barriers that once divided us.

You can read the whole post by Trillia Newbell here. Her book Union can be purchased here.

For the last several decades we’ve heard that we ought to accept interracial relationships for two reasons. One is that we can’t tell other people what to do or who to love. The other is that all races are equal. And those are fine things. Except “everyone should be able to do what they want to do” is something a 7 year old would say. And equal does not mean the same. We still have to figure out how to deal with those differences.

On the other hand, Newbell’s vision of interracial marriage is built around reconciliation and our true identity. She challenges us to see interracial marriage not only as an acceptable thing, but a good thing. A reflection of God’s Kingdom, in fact.

Perhaps this is why research has found that among people who attend highly segregated churches (read: among people who attend church), those who report praying and reading their bible frequently are more likely to date outside their race. Wouldn’t it be funny if being in an interracial relationship started being on of those easily recognized markers for being Christian? I mean, we can be induced to wear cheesy and often offensive T-shirts as a way to show what super, duper, committed Christians we are. Picking a dating/marriage partner from another race in order to look like a good Christian could become a thing in our hypercompetitive church culture.

Of course, wearing a t-shirt doesn’t grow or change you. Interracial marriage most certainly will. So maybe we should start spreading the word that interracial marriage is a thing that super committed Christians do. It’s got to be a better plan/witness than a “God’s Gym” t-shirt!

Angry Men and Crying Women

In the last few months, I’ve realized something about men and women and why we often struggle with each other. It might not be THE problem, but I would venture to say that it’s certainly been A problem. And figuring this out has been really helpful to me, so I thought I’d pass it on to y’all. It all has to do with the way we express our pain.

Generally speaking, there are two ways we experience the emotion of being hurt – through anger or sorrow. They look very different, but they are basically the same thing. So a person who is raging and lashing out at the world is essentially the equivalent of someone who is wailing with grief. This is really obvious for some of you, but I suspect that I am not the only person for whom this is a bit of an eye opener.

Most of us are trained – usually unwittingly – to express our hurt in a gender acceptable way. If you are man, you are allowed to get angry. If you are a woman, you are allowed to cry. It’s not universal, of course. But it’s common enough that it’s true more often than not.

We’re all familiar with people telling little boys not to cry. It’s a bad habit. It cuts them off from a legitimate and necessary means of experiencing and expressing his pain. On the other hand, some room is made to allow the boy to be angry. He can kick the dirt and throw down his helmet after losing a game, but can not sit down and sob.

It’s not talked about nearly as much, but little girls are often punished and disciplined when they get angry. Anger from a girl tends not to be seen as an expression of pain, but as a sign that she is out of control. And that’s not allowed. A good little girl is always in control of herself, willing to submit to what is expected of her. If she is hurting, she can cry in her room or to mom until she gets over it. But if she complains, throws something or has a temper tantrum, she is swiftly punished. Refusing to allow a girl to get angry cuts her off from a legitimate and necessary means of experiencing and expressing her pain.

So. men tend to get angry and women tend to cry. Again, it’s hardly universal, but it’s common enough. Now let’s go back to how many of us see anger and sorrow working in the real world. Many parents rely on anger to discipline and control their kids. And, of course, angry people frequently say and do things that cause harm to those around them.

Both men and women grow up with this model of anger, but we experience it very differently.Men often find anger empowering. Women find it frightening. Women find crying emotionally cathartic – a way to move through negative emotions. Men may feel helpless, irritated and embarrassed when someone is crying.

For a woman, anger is often very frightening.  This makes sense because for women anger is associated with being controlled by someone who may be willing to hurt you. We may even go out of our way to avoid situations in which anger is expressed. For example, research has found that women are much less comfortable with disagreement in regular conversations than men. We prefer to sit around and talk about what we agree on and may keep our disagreements to ourselves, even when it would be helpful and appropriate for us to voice them.

Boys don’t appreciate being controlled and hurt by an angry person any more than girls, I’m sure. But since boys are allowed some experience with anger, he will often learn to see it as a legitimate tool for exerting control. The fact that in anger he may hurt someone he loves may be a source of shame and guilt. But without the ability to express hurt through sorrow, the best many men can do is suppress hurt so as to reduce the likelihood of hurting someone in anger.

On the other hand, sorrow tends to be a pretty private emotion. Even small girls will go off by themselves to cry. Many kids can go their whole childhood hardly ever seeing an adult cry. When a woman cries in front of a man, it’s because she’s in pain and she trusts him enough allow him to see that. Her expectation is that he will do what other women do and offer expressions of concern and comfort to her while she is obviously in pain. However, a lot of men have little or no experience with crying people who aren’t children. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, but he knows the woman is going to get angry with him if he doesn’t respond well. Often he feels that a woman who is crying in front of him is trying to manipulate or control him. (Interestingly, researchers have found that in the presence of a woman’s tears, men’s testosterone levels drop. A crying women literally makes a man feel less “manly”.)

Odds are good that I’m describing things that most of you have experienced and observed yourselves. And no doubt some of you figured out long ago how to navigate this difference between men and women. But I do tend to be a bit slow to catch on, so realizing that anger is essentially the same thing as sorrow has been eye opening for me.

Although I’m pretty dang tough (for a girl 😉 ), anger has always made me uncomfortable. Being able to tell myself that anger is no different than sorrow, from an emotional perspective, has helped enormously. It has allowed me to make wiser choices about how to deal with and respond to anger. I’m less likely to get emotional or defensive. If someone’s really angry, I see them as someone who is really hurting rather than just as someone who is really scary. I don’t know what to do about anger except try to protect myself. But hurt? I know how to deal with someone who is hurting.

If my husband listened to anything I said, he might be able to tell me what this looks like from the male perspective. But I would imagine that it might be helpful for a man to see a crying woman as kind of the female equivalent of a buddy who’s letting off steam. Which might make it easier to realize when she just needs someone to be present, listen and maybe offer some encouragement.

Undoing this whole knot is a bigger task than I can take on here, obviously. But I do think it’s an important issue. Problems between the genders go back to the Garden of Eden. But we were made to live together as a whole, not in conflict with each other as warring factions.

A friend of mine recently told me that she had a revelation that there is a serious imbalance between male and female which is causing serious problems for humanity. I think that this area is a great example of that imbalance. When men can only get angry and women can only be sad, that’s an imbalance. It affects individuals, couples, families and even communities and cultures. Heck, world history and current events probably make more sense when you consider that everything has basically been run by people whose only tool for dealing with harm done is anger.

Clearly, world events are well beyond most of our control. But perhaps finding more balance, understanding and empathy within the context of our intimate relationships is as good a place as any for change to start.

Worst Clobber Verse EVER – Christian Patriarchy Edition

In a more perfect world, the title of this post would be complete jibberish to all of my lovely readers. But alas, we live in a world which is in the process of being redeemed, so some of you know all too well about Christian Patriarchy and clobber verses. However – joy of joys! – we live in a world which is in the process of being redeemed and I know that some of you have no idea what Christian Patriarchy or clobber verses are. So, for the blissfully uninitiated, allow I to explain a bit.

At its simplest, Christian Patriarchy is the teaching that there is a God ordained hierarchy in which men are over women and children. A daughter is under her father’s headship until she marries and responsibility for her is transfered to her husband. Ideally in this arrangement, the man is responsible for protecting his wife and daughter from other men as well as providing for her and overseeing her spiritual, moral and personal development. In exchange for this protection and leadership, a female treats her father/husband with respect, obedience and deference. Although this arrangement has been propagated around the world and throughout time irregardless of religion, Christian Patriarchy proponents insist that this is a Christian arrangement rather than just something people have had a tendency to do. Like going to war or practicing dietary restrictions.

A clobber verse is a verse of scripture which is used to provide definitive proof – in the mind of the person using it – that a particular idea or teaching is true, biblical and theologically unassailable. Now I have a few verses which I will use this way all day, everyday. “God is love” for example. What makes a clobber verse a clobber verse is that inevitably, they are pulled completely out of the context they were spoken into. Nearly always, on closer examination  the verse in question doesn’t even say what the person using it seems to think it is saying. (more…)

“If Any Man Come to Me and Hates Not . . .”

Yup. I'm about as intimidating as this guy here.

Yup. I’m about as intimidating as this guy here.

Back when I was 18, I had two different guys I dated break up with me and give me the exact same reason: I was intimidating. That’s the word they both used. Which is really weird. I’m about as intimidating as a tree sloth. Which is to say not in the least. Now if they had said I was sloppy or spent too much time sleeping or wasn’t ambitious enough, that I could have understood. (See – like a tree sloth!) But intimidating? Hardly.

Interestingly enough, it turned out that both of these young men felt intimidated by me for the same reasons. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t view making money as the most important goal I could have for my life. And they did. Now, I had never criticized either of them for these things. Not even obliquely. They drank. I didn’t. No big deal. I never asked them to stop, never said I didn’t want to be around them when they did, never spoke poorly about people who drank. Nothing. The same with smoking for the one who smoked. The same with money. But both of them were intimidated by me because of this.

What was really going on was that by not sharing in their behaviors and priorities, I wasn’t affirming them. If I had been critical, they could have just blown me off as a stick-in-the-mud. If I had tried to get them to change their behavior or priorities, they could have told me to mind my own business and leave if I didn’t like it. So when I also didn’t criticize or judge them for the ways they were different than me, they didn’t have anything to react against in order to self-affirm. But I didn’t do those things. Instead I was content to let them be them and me be me and just enjoy each other’s company. Which meant all they had was themselves. And there was something in both of them that wasn’t entirely comfortable with their own choices and priorities. Being around me made that discomfort harder to ignore. It made them feel less confident and sure about themselves which was why they experienced me as intimidating. (more…)

First Sunday of Advent – Waiting

I’ve said before that the events which lead to my husband and my separation last year was so intense and sordid that it would have made a great episode of Dateline Special Edition. If only we had no shame and one of us were a homicidal maniac. But, since we enjoy healthy levels of shame and we didn’t devolve into poisoning one another (not that such a thing was never contemplated), it’s a story which will have to wait ’til the great by and by to be widely disseminated. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t really anything either of us did that pushed us over the edge. Rather, it was the way the response to events unfolded which undid us.

In his book, Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch says that couples are pretty much always working at about the same emotional level. It’s why they are able to bond to each other. Couples who are a mismatch in terms of emotional depth, maturity and functioning who somehow marry each other nearly always end up with a failed marriage within the first two years. What happened with us, and what I believe happens to many couple facing an intensely traumatic experience, was that as we coped (or didn’t cope) with what was going on, we were jolted into wildly different places emotionally speaking. Instead of being matched and basically moving forward and growing up emotionally in the normal push and pull ways that couples do, we were suddenly completely out-of-sync. And within two years, our marriage was kaput.

Of course, we’re back together now although I can’t begin to say that everything is fixed. Instead, we seem to have stumbled into a way forward which is familiar to any serious Christian: waiting. We’re just waiting. Waiting for the other to work through their issues. Waiting for greater empathy and understanding to form. Waiting for time to take away the sting of the past. Waiting.

Waiting on God and for God is a theme found all throughout scripture. Abram waited. Joseph waited. Moses waited. The psalmists waited. The prophets waited. Jesus waited. The women and the disciples waited. We still wait today through dry times and unanswered prayers and silence that as a psalmist said is like a dark cloud God wears about him. As Christians, these waiting times are frustrating. We know that somehow this waiting is for a reason. Usually. Maybe it’s for our benefit. Or maybe it’s because there’s a problem elsewhere that needs to be worked out. Which is part of the frustration – we don’t really know. (more…)

When My Beloveds Talk Together

I’m going to tell you strange things today. Like about the times early in my marriage when I prayed to God, telling him about the pain of being married to another broken human being. I brought to God things I had never said to my husband because I knew he wouldn’t be able to receive them. And it happened more that once that my husband came home from working so hard to take care of us and said, “today, I really felt like God was telling me . . . ” And nearly word-for-word what I had said to God came out of his mouth. It turns out that the man who God provided for me has an uncanny ability to listen and hear God. It wasn’t the last time he would tell me things he had no way of knowing.

But one of the strange things about this life is that as much as we might want and seek after God as a way of protecting ourselves from the chaos and pain of life, it just doesn’t work that way. In time when the blows of life finally overtook us, this marriage of ours fell apart. I’d always said that we’d either end up as one of the world’s great love stories or self-destruct in a truly spectacular fashion. For a long time, it has seemed that the latter was our fate. It wasn’t that we stopped trying – far from it. In fact, in the middle of our worst arguments, my husband began to stop to pray and listen to God. I followed his lead and began doing it as well.  We became the only couple in all of creation perhaps that would actually stop to seek God in between throwing accusations and curses and venom at each other. And yet, even with both of us seeking after God, our marriage continued to devolve.

Only I’ve discovered that hearing God isn’t enough. In communication there is what is said, what is heard and what it understood. And it turns out that one must know God better than we humans actually know him to understand what he is saying. I learned this when one day my husband told me, “be careful – God told me that there are two voices you are hearing.” The way he said it made it clear that he thought I was being deceived. This was his own belief – that I was wrong and refusing to deal with reality. He thought God was confirming this. Only unbeknownst to him, I had been praying regularly to God complaining that I was no longer sure if I was listening to Him or just hearing what I wanted to hear – talking to myself. Over and over again, I had asked, “how do I know that when I think I hear you, I’m not just hearing what I want to hear?” And he answered me – “you’re hearing two voices.” I knew what it meant – you’re not just talking to yourself. But my husband, working with a different set of assumptions and knowledge, took away something totally different. As we can see perfectly well with all the people who know God’s word yet know little of love, simply hearing God is quite different from understanding Him. (more…)

Allow Me to Screw Up Your Sex Life a Bit

“We monks do not try to repress our sexual passions . . . Woe to those monks and nuns, who shovel into their subconscious their sexual passions. . . There is no spirituality in that. What happens, and what we aim at, is the transmutation of erotic energy from earthly attractions to God.” – Father Maximos quoted in The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides

In the old pagan world, sex and religion were all tied up together. Temple prostitutes and depictions of group sex on ancient Hindu temple walls and all that. Christianity has too often taken the opposite tact – sex as being so unholy that for a while it was considered a sin even in the context of marriage by the Roman church. Which led to possibly the most dysfunctional set-up ever; putatively and sometimes actually celibate priests being told each time a parishioner had sex with their spouse. What could be the problem with that, eh? Although the actual rejection of sex by the Christian church has varied wildly from place to place and time to time, the reality is that a lot of people continue to see sex and God as inevitably belonging in two separate spheres of our lives. To the extent that God and sex intersect, it is in the parsing out of rules for sexual conduct. But when actual sex takes place, well if our guardian angels could please exit the room, that would be great. And surely God has the good manners to turn his head for a few minutes. Wouldn’t want to be caught in flagrante delicto by the creator of the universe. That would be too weird. (more…)

I Need an Editor. Or Something. . . Forgiving. For Real.

A few years ago, I was writing an obituary for a friend’s father who had passed away suddenly.  As many of you may have noticed, I do alright with the writing part of things most of the time, but I’m not quite so skilled as an editor*.  So, you shouldn’t be too surprised at the fact that I accidentally put the word “believed” where “beloved” was supposed to go.  So the first line read: “Mr. Bob Kennedy, believed father of Teddy and Linda Kennedy. . .”  Suddenly it seemed like not such a bad thing that Mr. Kennedy’s ex-wife hadn’t shown up to help her children handle the arrangements. 

(I spent the weekend with Mr. Kennedy a couple of years earlier when his son Teddy got married.  We were both just-outside-the-inner-circle participants in the wedding.  My ex was the best man and Mr. Kennedy was the now sober  and present father.  I am quite certain that Mr. Kennedy absolutely laughed his ass off over the whole thing.  I mean, he valued his children more than men who never went without them sometimes do.  But the whole thing was pretty rich.  He would have seen the humor.)  

I keep thinking about that story, because I keep thinking about her – the former Mrs. Kennedy.  (more…)

Being right is not the most important thing

Shortly after I got married, a girlfriend passed on this advice: “Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you would rather be right or you’d rather be married.  Because you can be right all the way to divorce court.”  The is the best advice for life I have ever heard.

We humans have a strange obsession with being right.  Not only do we tend to think we’re always right and be very resistant to thinking otherwise, we even think that being right should change the way our lives work.  If we are right, everyone should get in line with us and life should go well for us.  Of course, it rarely works that way.  So we get all bent out of shape.  But when relationships are being destroyed and hearts are being broken, being right means nothing.  Holding onto it is choosing the petty over the important.

Think of an ongoing disagreement or conflict you have with someone in your life – big or small (starting small is usually easier).  Decide to let go of trying to convince the other person that you are right – no matter how right you are!  Instead, decide to focus on convincing them that you love and cherish them and see what happens.

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