Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I Will Tell My Kids About Sex. Maybe.

[Whether I will actually give my kids a long speech using words like "aggrandizement" and "compartmentalization" remains to be seen. Though it's likely. At any rate, it's an interesting thought experiment. Content warning, I guess, though the title is probably a tip-off.]

Kids, Western culture's tendency over the last few hundred years has been to attempt to subordinate all ways of being and becoming, all methods of understanding, and all wisdom under the rather limited worldview fostered by one of the several branches of knowledge--namely, science. While science has led to many great things, its aggrandizement above other ways of viewing the world leads inevitably to a magnification of its flaws, as well as its fine points.

One manifestation of a common scientific worldview is our tendency toward division, categorization, and compartmentalization. You will see this whenever you walk into a bookstore (if indeed there are bookstores by the time you're alive, theoretical kids): bookstores inherently ask the question, what category are you looking for? Children's? Adult? Teen? Science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy? Teen paranormal romance? Erotic science fiction poetry? Here at the end of 2011, I think some of this strict categorization is starting to break down: I am seeing the same book shelved in teen sections AND adult sections, and "Young Adult" books shelved in "Adult" categories. Writers, as they ought to do, are breaking free from the compartmentalizations imposed upon them.

If bookstores were run by people with an artistic sensibility, the books might be arranged intuitively, or all grouped together in a single running mass. The fact that these ideas seem hopelessly whimsical simply shows how tenacious the grip of a scientific worldview really is.

In light of this, it might seem dangerous, even blasphemous, to say: babies--people--do not come from DNA. Yes, I'm familiar with genetic research, and the fact that we have supposedly broken people down into the constituent categories that add up to all their traits and tendencies. But people are greater and more mysterious than any combination of genes could ever describe.

In fact, people come from mystery. People come from sex. That is, people come from the mysterious absolute union of a man with a woman. This is just as true of babies formed in a test tube as it is of babies formed the old-fashioned way. People are a mystery that will not be solved by categorization; sex is a mystery which cannot even begin to be clarified by compartmentalization.

Our culture has an extremely clever way of covering up this fact: by making it ubiquitous. Sex and physical beauty are everywhere; therefore they come to seem like not a big deal. Here's a fun game: every time you hear a euphemism for sex--sleep with, screw, fuck, bang, do, etc.--replace it with the grammatically appropriate version of "the mystical joining of one body to another." See what happens. Maybe nothing; maybe you'll want to cry.

Just because a mystery can be cheapened does not make it less a mystery. Just because people treat sex sort of like a handshake does not mean that it has any less significance. Just because people categorize sexual acts into "more serious" and "less serious" does not mean that they are not all united.

Kids, sex is a lot easier to get into than to get out of. We are physical people; once we begin to rely on something that is physical, we get very upset when it goes away. There is nothing necessarily wrong with holding hands, kissing, "making out." But always remember that it's foreplay; and always remember that if you start getting to know someone physically and ultimately are not with them, the pain is just as great as if it is only your heart that desires them. And if your heart desires them too, then the pain is doubled.

If you are sixteen and never been kissed, don't worry about it. If you are twenty-one and have never even held hands with anyone, don't worry about it. If you are thirty, or forty, and still a virgin, good for you. Any friends--of whatever kind--that are upset with you for this are not your friends.

That said, don't get hung up on purity either. Purity is certainly a wonderful thing; it is, of course, the absolute safest way. But we are human. We are weak. It takes an endless string of victories of self-control to maintain "purity," but it only takes one defeat to lose it. I'm not recommending you go out and have sex; if you've been paying attention, most of what I've said has been dead set against it until the exact right time. However, if you end up doing so--or if you decide not to kiss anyone until your wedding day, and end up accidentally kissing on the first date--or whatever--it in no way decreases your value as a person. Christ still died for you. I still love you. You could get an STD--four of them--and these things would not stop being true.

We can get to the mechanics in a minute; any questions on this, the important part?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Men and Women and Being Friends

Apparently the "Christian Blogosphere," something with which I am only ever scare-quotably "current" by random chance, has been debating lately the topic of whether men and women can ever be "just friends." Here is one of the more balanced posts I've seen on the topic, which contains a link to another longer one by the same author.

Personally, I find it presumptuous and pretentious at best to even call this a debate. Why? Because in order to render this debate completely pointless, all that is needed is one single instance of a man and a woman being "just friends" and nothing more. If there is one single instance of this, anywhere, ever, then no matter how well-reasoned or smugly self-anecdotal an argument against the idea of men and women being "just friends," that argument has been disproven.

To be smugly self-anecdotal myself, I actually have rather a lot of experience here: I have more truly close friends who are women--that is, there are more women with whom I would entrust my life or my deepest secret--than men.

I would not want to belittle the complexity involved here; male-female "just friendships" tend to be more complicated than same-sex friendships (though I even have personal experience to contradict that generalization). Basically, in such a friendship, the possibility of romance has to be dealt with in one way or another. Sometimes one or the other or both friends have to go through a "crush" phase; sometimes re-evaluations need to be made--in some cases, frequently. Or, sometimes, both sides are uninterested in being anything more than friends from the beginning.

Whatever. The whole "debate" leaves a bad taste in my mouth; it's the kind of either-or thinking that a culture obsessed with polemics likes to jam down everyone's throats. It's the kind of binary thinking that makes for smug, self-assured, simplistic pronouncements whose effects are ultimately negative, in that they limit the range of options available in an already rather sticky territory. Sometimes when things are complicated, "either" and "or" are equally bad, and the best option lies somewhere not in the middle, but off to one side, above or below the stated options.

(By the way, as the post I linked above points out, this sort of "either/or" thinking is what's known as a False Dichotomy Fallacy--an argument that presents two options as if they are the only ones, when there are actually several more available.)

Ultimately, I think, it comes down to what world a person is willing to build. If a person decides to build a world where men and women have to be either More Than Friends or else ignore one another, then that is the world they are going to inhabit. However, if a person is willing to live in a world where it is perfectly possible to be friends with a member of the opposite sex, they will find that that world exists as well.

Monday, December 12, 2011


The boy stood on the balcony of his parents’ high-rise apartment, looking down at the city glimmering, swimming below, a stew of golden light and red and green and blue neon, with occasional glimmers from afar of the torches of the revolutionaries, occasional gunshots as the revolution made its slow progress, not affecting the boy and his family and those like them, the rich, the privileged.

As the boy stood there on the balcony, he knew. The knowledge came with his parents’ voices swirling and boiling out from the apartment, with the rising cacophony as they shouted at each other, screamed at each other, accused each other as the world burned around them.

The boy spread his wings and jumped. He flapped his wings and he flew. His stomach churning, he flew out over the sea of the city, out past the gleaming spires pricking the sky like silver pins, then out over the seas of rolling wheat, dull gold under the white of the moon. He came to a barn, and he flew into it and sat alone, and suddenly he knew that he was all alone. But it was better than hearing his parents scream.

The Happiness Fiasco

1. Skeletons

When [insert Idol here] happens, I will be happy.

As long as [insert Idol here] happens/fails to happen/continues to happen, I will be happy.

2. Some Possible Flesh

When I graduate, I will be happy.

When I get my bachelor's/masters/PhD, I will be happy.

When I get married, I will be happy.

If I can date [name], I will be happy.

As long as I marry [name], I will be happy.

If I always have friends around, I will be happy.

If I am always friends with [name(s)], I will be happy.

As long as I have a job that pays at a certain level, I will be happy.

When I am making enough to afford a certain level of luxury, I will be happy.

As long as I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat, I will be happy.

3. The Walking Dead

This is the kind of crap our culture foists on us. We are led, raised, and preached into the belief that there are certain things we must attain in order to attain happiness. This is preached at us by our books, our movies, our other entertainment, our pastors (even the good ones, sometimes), our presidents, our leaders, our role models. It is unavoidable. The pursuit of happy-ness is the medium in which our culture grows, and therefore it is inevitably the message of that culture.

4. The Problem Is

The problem is:

It's not true. None of it is true. If I cannot be happy with the sum total of all the gifts I have been given, then the sum total of all the gifts I have been given plus this one thing that I really really want is not going to give me happiness. Or, if it does, then it will be happiness founded on the most shifting of shifting sands.

5. The Religious Part

Up to now, what I've been saying is pretty ecumenical, I think. That is, it can be agreed with or disputed without getting into the thorny subject of religion. The rest of the parts are religious. So if that flips your lid, go away. OR, better yet, stick around and see how another side thinks.

Once I asked my brother if it ever seemed to him that if we could think the right thought, glean the right insight, we could see the bones of the world. Not really responding to that, he said the right insight is this:

Christus resurgens ex morituis iam non moritur mors illi ultra non dominabitur.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and dies no more; death shall have no more dominion over Him.

Everything else, from the clothes on our backs on up, is gravy.

6. The Valley

This kind of fiasco happens in a Christian setting, too, and sometimes it is all the more nefarious by being clothed in Christian language, as if not only is this the only way to attain happiness, it is the only way to attain salvation, or at least the only proper way to respond to salvation.

One that I see a lot due to my time of life is, “Once you are married you will attain happiness and be living a proper Christian life.” I have never had this preached at me; I have only had it assumed at me. Which, actually, is worse.

Others include:

Once you have joined a good Bible study, you will attain happiness and be living a proper Christian life.

Once you regularly tithe ten percent, you will be living a proper Christian life and attain happiness.

Once your church/youth group/Bible study swells in numbers, you have attained a sure sign of God's favor, and of course happiness. (An inexcusable personal aside: nothing will make me run from a church so quickly as when it is clear that its members and leaders are happy to see me not because I am a person, but because I am a number.)

Once you devote as many of your waking hours as you possibly can to things that are labeled “charities,” you will attain happiness and be walking correctly with Christ.

...all of the actions implied are perfectly honorable, and all are symptoms of a healthy faith. However, none of them, that is none of them, are requisite; none of them are required for salvation. The statements as they are written above are lies.

Look at “The Problem is.” I would be willing to bet every Christian knows someone, if only second or third hand, who has left the faith because something happened to them that they were somehow convinced a loving God would not let them go through. Often they lost the only person in the world who could make them happy. Is our faith as shallow as that?

7. Shall These Bones Live?

Our faith is ancient. We have roots that transcend this time, this culture, and the prejudices and blindness that come from any pervasive medium, any culture.

And what do we do with those roots? Our tendency is to ignore them, or to be embarrassed by them, apologize for them, and try to mold them to fit in with the message of our culture. Why? Every culture has its prejudices; every attempt at freedom is oppressive.

Our faith is an escape route. Embrace the ancient. The more it seems to offend our cultural sensibilities—whether that involves secular culture or church culture—the more likely it is giving us something that we need.

If Christ did not rise, I am of all men most miserable. You know the rest.