Friday, September 25, 2015

"Give Me Sex Jesus": Review

This is based off of having watched a documentary Give Me Sex Jesus

The central purpose of the documentary was to examine the 'Purity Culture' that resulted in the 'Love Waits' movement in the early 90's. Now I didn't grow up in any of this stuff, I received relatively little sex education in general. But I find this video interesting as it gives the current zeitgeist in American Evangelicalism (whatever that really is) and American culture at large. It's not necessarily what people are saying, but the sort of reasoning that goes on underneath. This is not psychoanalyzing, but taking apart arguments and seeing what lie at their base. This is what I find fascinating.

Now the tenor of this documentary, if you couldn't guess, is that sort of ugliness that lay at the root of the 'Purity Culture'. It creates an environment of fakery, of everyone being told to believe one thing, but then doing another. One interviewee talks about a Christian Summer camp he went to where one moment they were "singing songs to Jesus" and then right after they were masturbating. The Documentary reveals the fear and shame culture at the root of a lot of this teaching.

This is helpful to reveal, and to challenge. It is a kind of blasphemy to present God as a confused figure, who is a Big Nobodaddy in the Sky who is just waiting to swat you for misdeeds, which are almost defined exclusively as sexual. The Documentary also highlights, inadvertently, how this sort of theology and this kind of moral reasoning comes out of the WASP elitism present in the late 19th century. Purity was about keeping oneself from the hordes of immigrants and colored people, and sexuality was tightly guarded to protect these boundaries.

This is the key point the documentary reveals. The type of sexual moral reasoning engaged in by Evangelicalism has its root concern a sort of nationalized, possibly racialized, certainly culturalized ideal of the Middle Class White American.

Now let me put my cards on the table. I'm not sympathetic with the Documentary in its unstated goal: Sex is just sex, can't we just put down our anxieties and love each other?

This is utterly naive and foolish. The Scriptures have a serious ethical concern for sexuality. And while understanding God's judgment is not necessarily common, most people understand that sex requires ethics. It's only hungover post-evangelicalism that can't see this. That is, an ethic that is more than will-based (i.e. it doesn't violate my free-will or the other persons'). People enforce ideas about work-place sex as 'bad', that means unethical. Why? Because not only will emotional attachments of that sort skew your ability to judge, but now you are scrutinized as compromised in regards to that person. This is sort of common understanding has no recourse to any deep understanding, only empirical evidence.

There is more to question about many fundamental assumptions that the interviewees have. Sex is presumed to be an all-defining desire. Sex makes you as a person, sex is the ultimate pleasure one can find, God made marriage for the pleasure of sex, you're not really you until you can find sex, etc. I'm both sympathetic and blown away. I understand that kind of thinking. If I want it, why can't I have it? Never is desire itself thoughtfully considered. For these, it seems there's no such thing as bad desire.

The Christians are portrayed the worst. They seem juvenile, offensive, and obtuse. I can't say that's not an accurate description. They seem just as sex obsessed. Christian discourse has lost the concept of concupiscence. Never is the desire itself, its intensity, its gnawing and burning power, ever questioned. The appetites are given the benefit of the doubt.

This results in a juvenile sex ethics, one that  produces all the bizarre features of Purity Culture. It reflects an American Evangelicalism that is feeling-based, unable to see a greater metaphysical vision, and unable to engage anything other than the will (i.e. "well if I gave you a good argument and produced a good experience, why would you do otherwise?").

But on the other hand, before I throw them all completely under the bus: At least they did something!

Because even though it is rooted in a lot of Middle-Class sensibilities and an unreflective naturalism, they are recognizing a reality: sex is formative and an ethical domain. Christians need to continue to refine sex ethics, but one that is not rooted in a cultural bigotry, and one that is opened to a variety of experiences.

Celibacy as a vocation, and not merely a waiting-station, is very much neglected. Men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction are given no vision, no real guidance, they're treated as outliers that don't conform to the system. What ever happened to the reality that some are made, some are born, and some choose to be eunuchs for the Kingdom of God? Whatever happened to mortification as a means to arm us to reject the pomp of the World and its Devil? Battling with desires is not medicalized as neurotic and becomes a blockade in living 'authentically'.

This leads to another major problem. Friendship is a diminished shadowy reality. Anglo-American culture, influenced perhaps by a confluence of Puritan and Victorian mores with a dash of Freud, has sexualized companionship and the deep bonds of friendship. Now, granted, this, like sex, can an arena for destruction to be wrought. But if 'erotic' means sexual, then friendships become superficial and shallow. One's sex partner is supposed to be a 'soul-mate', 'compatible', 'reserved by God for you'. In other words, you can only have real deep, personal bonds between sex partners.

That's the real tragedy about the lesbian couple. On account of the taught naive sexual fantasies about finding your prince charming, they only could conceive their lives in trying to find the right man who would be their best friend. But instead, they found each other liking one-another's company more. What could this be besides same-sex sexuality? Becoming Lesbians was the only possibility to realize a deep bond. It was the only way for them to be "human".

On the other hand, if we want to pursue a right sexuality, we must consider the realities of sex. Maybe we need to come to terms that sex would normally produce children. Being born to a single-parent is being born into poverty, material, but also emotional and spiritual. And what might it mean to avoid these sorts of ordinances? What does a contraceptive mentalité do to a people?

That's another failure of this documentary. It directorially scoffs at Evangelicalism's proscriptive on watching certain materials. It's already a heavily documented reality that porn rewires the Human mind. It doesn't mean we need to be fearful or legalists, but we ought to examine the effects of what the outside world does to us. The fact that one guy had to shield his eyes when he saw a bare-breasted mother feeding her babies, something one might find in National Geographic, should not only be acknowledged as a weakness (which he does), but disturb us. Am I that sexualized that I'm turned on by breastfeeding because it shows naked breasts?

The rise and fall of the Purity Culture documents the natural evolution of the American conscience. No matter how many 'relevant' Evangelicals try to engage, they're stuck in the same mood and restricted to bad arguments. It's no wonder that more and more will reject them. It's no wonder that in 50's years time, Evangelicalism will be same-sex affirming, and whoever resists will be swept into a sectarian Fundamentalist mold. There's no good reason except stubborn resistance.

This documentary, perhaps unintentionally, reveals a deep and abiding concern for American Evangelicals by a missing comma. It's not 'Give me sex, Jesus', it's 'Give me sex Jesus', as if salvation (defined as Human fulfillment) is now a sexualized reality. Sex is salvation, and brought about by only full authenticity, whether same-sex, bi-sex, pan-sex, transgendered, whatever.

Christ Jesus brings salvation to the whole person, but maybe we need to return to seeking not abstinence and virginity, but continence and chastity. We need a sex ethics that addresses the deeper problem in all mankind: disordered desires and a rebellious will.

This documentary is a helpful diagnosis of a sick culture, but its really more depressing than it allows. We live in a culture where we struggle immensely with hyper-sexual appetites, loneliness, inability to form real bonds, and a smothering materialism. If you live in America, this is your problem. My hope is that the Church, instead of being a backwards kulturkampf for conservative interests, will be a place to ask these deeper questions and provide a truer way of living. Death and Resurrection is more than a theological concept, it is a way of life that calls all the spirits of This Age into question.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reading the Psalms

The Psalms have always left me kind of dizzy in reading them. They are filled with intense emotions. They are begging, pleading, shouting, crying dirges of doom and despair; and at the same time, they are symphonies of joy, love, hope, celebration, and exaltation. They travel the entire gamut of Human experience. They are the esse of Christian worship.

However, the Psalms are not easy to understand and are difficult to digest. Having been raised with liberal sensibilities, seeing such harsh requests took be a back. I was still plagued with deistic notions of a passionless God who demands passionless devotion. The reality was that when I experienced such rough-patches, I put God out of the picture. The world of justice would do without any petition for God's intervention, let alone breaking my enemies.

But as my biblical literacy grew, and my commitment to take the Scriptures seriously, the Psalms first came alive through certain 'emergent' readings of them. Slowly taking steps into imaging myself holistically (i.e. allowing myself to feel and weigh my emotions), certain authors helped me see the Psalms as God's recognition of the Human experience before Him. This was not to be cut out or erased from worshiping and communing with the Sovereign Lord.

This was a great insight that allowed me to begin to read the Psalms earnestly. But there was still a certain weirdness about the Psalms. Certain authors implied even the imperfection of the Psalms. It was in this vein: God wants you to be yourself and authentic, that's not necessarily what's best, but He wants you to express yourself. This translated that the Psalms let you be honest, but, well, maybe calling for your enemies to be cut off from the Earth is not the perfection we should strive for.

For those familiar with the Early Church, there was a certain kind of Macionism at work.

Christology helped me save the Psalms from discarding them. I could understand the Psalms as Christ's song book. Israel sang them as prophecy. All of the words that come from them belong to Jesus. Therefore Psalm 22 is Christ's grief on the cross, Psalm 2 represents God's conquest of His enemies in the resurrection, despite the conniving of both Jew and Gentile. All Psalms find recourse in Christ.

Again, this was another helpful development for me. It gave a certain depth and continued biblical literacy. However, as one might expect, the more difficult Psalms remained distant from me. Instead of veering away because they represented some imperfect human emotion, now I kept them away by explaining them away. They applied to Christ, not me. There was a gulf that I created.

This is not an uncommon theological opinion in much of popular-level evangelical Protestantism. Christ has called together a group of individuals. They may be Christians, or Disciples, or Followers, but we all maintain our own sphere of individuality. In fact, the adopted scorn of identifying as 'Christian' speaks against such distance. Yes, between Christ and the Church, His People, there is a gulf, as in between King and Country. But this also a mystical unity.

What started me down this questioning and keeping the hard Psalms away at a safe distance was broken down by Psalms that spoke of asking for forgiveness. If this is Christ's song, and He is sinless, how can there be repentance and confession of sins? How could Christ speak of His own sins as eating away His bones?

But Christology is not Christology if it does not include ecclesiology. Christ is both Head and Body. The People of God are not mere onlookers, but participants in Divine Glory.

Thus, now I can rightly understand Psalms that speak of the consequences of sin and the appeal to divine forgiveness and mercy as a song Christ sings and a song I am singing. Christ sings this song because of me, because of His People. He puts the failure and laments of His Body before His Father. He assumes the sin of the world. He is baptized in the Jordan to identify and full assume the mission of Israel in Himself. He is the beloved Lamb.

But Christ is also the conquering Lion of Judah. He is the Righteous One bringing down the domain of Satan, purging the sins of the Flesh, and overcoming the pride of the present World-Order. He destroys His enemies and vanquishes His opponents. None can challenge the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords.

But if Christ is the 'Whole Christ' in Head and Body, these songs are also mine. I am righteous, and am growing in righteousness, but its all in relation to being 'in Christ'. My works are not mere dirty rags, but, 'in Christ', they are adornments God has given me to be dressed with (c.f. Rev. 19:8).

But here let me pause. Life in Christ is a journey into realizing that precious union with the Savior. In the process we are repeating (imitating) the life of Christ in our own flesh. We are given the Law of Christ, the Law of Love, the Law of Perfect Freedom, that commends us to love our God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are tasked with these works.

But, as verse I referenced above, these works are given to us to complete. They are gratuitous gifts of God. The Saints did not 'earn' the white robes. They were given them. Our good works are themselves gifts from God. They do not allow us to stand.

And here, again, I must pause. 'Good Works', as in words other words, are rammed into Pharisaical definitions. All of these words have taken on self-defeating meanings. 'Pious' is an adjectival description of fluff. 'Righteous' is vicious and crushing disposition. 'Holy' is a mood of detachment and self-serving isolation.

What if 'Good Works' was primarily defined by the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector? What if the good works required are a broken and contrite heart? What if repentance is the righteous, holy, and pious disposition we are called to? As an online acquaintance put it, anti-Pharisaism becomes a neo-Pharisaism.

If the Psalms can be understood as our King's songs and our songs, if Jesus is the worship-leader of the grand assembly, maybe we can unlearn the corruptions of our false liberal age. Maybe we can really ask God to destroy our enemies, if our enemies are the oppression of the rich and powerful on the poor and downtrodden? And more importantly, what if that destruction is wrought in their conversion, a veritable death and resurrection?

This is just one example. The Psalms teach us how to hope, rejoice, and cry to the Lord over life and death, the God of Resurrection, the incomparable and matchless King Jesus Christ, Son of God.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

True Shame and Sorrow

I've been reading an excellent history "The Shame and The Sorrow" which details the interactions of the Dutch West Indies Company in their "colonies" in modern day New York City. In regards to praise for the book: wow! As I'm reading it, the prose draws me into the world of 17th century Dutch republican politics, the merchant ethos, and the mindset of a peculiar European people. It's fantastically well written, and an academic tome no less (which means full of end-notes and a thick bibliography). It's well researched and a solid piece of non-fiction.

Anyway, as the narrative goes, the Dutch are a bizarre and strange empire in the era of vast overseas exploration. The Dutch always maintained a certain psychological distance from their previous overlords: the Spanish. While the Spaniards would conquer land, plunder resources, and enslave the Natives. The Dutch had other plans. They were a commercial empire. They sought markets. They looked for trade. They were concerned for their bottom dollar.

This is what makes the Dutch so peculiar. The English, French, Portuguese, and the Spanish were all in the business, in their own ways, of claiming land, setting up shop, sending over colonists, and making a beachhead for their further endeavors. They actively sought building up a tangible presence that would meddle, intervene, or merely conquer the Native Americans who they dealt with.

As one might adduce from above, the Dutch were not involved as a nation-state per se. Corporations that had the blessing of the State were the ones that made overseas endeavors. As per Dutch politics, the State was a weak union of many independent Dutch city-state, and it had no real power to set sails and conquer the world. But even if it did, it wasn't the Dutch way (and it never would be, despite constant hypocrisy later on).

The Dutch cared about trade. They were neo-imperialists in a sense. Exploitation came through bending the markets and cutting the best deal. But it was not ruthless for the sake of ruthlessness. The Dutch cared, due to a certain bloodless realism, that manipulation and coercion can put potential clients, buyers, and markets at ends with the Company. Making sure wrongs are righted and trade is fair is the way to maintain a constant influx of money into the Dutch bourgeois merchant elite.

This is the truly astounding part. The Indians that encounter the Dutch no little of their religious or political affiliations. They know enough about the Dutch to try and game them. But their is nothing of that Puritan zeal that would drive New England to slaughter whole-sale entire tribes of Natives. In fact, whatever of the English that did rub off on them were upon the despised farmer-class, the Boers. The Dutch kept their opinions to themselves. Travel logs had little concern for "christianization" projects or civilization expansion. In fact, the Dutch Company was at loggerheads with its more adventurous colonists. The Dutch wanted their land-claim to a minimum.

It was Spanish to be a lion: arrogant, bloodthirsty, conquering. The Dutch were a Cat: quiet, non-obtrusive, self-interested.

The Dutch worshiped their god Mammon, and sought to enrich themselves on the peoples of the Americas, the islands of the India Ocean, and the East Indies.

This is the true shame and sorrow. Here, a society built on a renaissance based Humanism, that was averse to war and proclaimed the rudiments of free-trade imperialism was the most benign in a century of religious zeal. It was because they were most neutral that they caused the least bloodshed.

Now granted, there was love deep love in Christian missions that came from some Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missions, and the Moravians brought Christ deep to the peoples of the Americas. But this was often the minority of people who claimed to be acting (in the shallowest of ways) for Christ. The Empires of Spain, England, France, and Portugal caused untold pain and suffering in their quest for expanding their civilizations. They let flow an ocean of blood.

The Heathens blaspheme God because the agnostic, greed-consumed Dutch proved to be a more benign (and this is relative) group than the Puritan fanatics or the vicious conquistadors.

This story may seem to be a quaint historical novelty to marvel at and then put back on the bookshelf. But no, it has import for today. Sadly, the godless international capitalists, as calculated and cold-blooded as they are, cause less damage than the American Christian and his mission for global Christianity. The ideological American quest for democracy, freedom, 'god', and human rights (among liberals and christic Americans) is piling up skulls in a misguided effort to save the world from itself. At least the merchants of death are incentivized by nothing less than a dollar-sign.

May God have mercy on us. May Christ send His true Ambassadors to bring light to a world in so much darkness. May Christ send preachers of forgiveness and justice into a world soaked with so much blood and caked with so many tears. God help us.