Sunday, February 27, 2011



It's what everybody wants. It's what hardly anybody seems to have. And, sadly, it's what too many of us are avoiding. Intimacy is a beautiful idea, but an elusive reality, as well as the gateway to pain, rejection, risk, heartache, and deep joy.

Intimacy is also the context for The Talk with your kids and teens about sex. Intimacy is both what leads to sex and flows from sex. Intimacy was designed by God to lead to marriage and give joy to a marriage. So when you go to talk to your kids and teens about sex, you'll want to keep it in the context of marital intimacy. Which means you'll want to consider what kind intimacy exists in your home. The more authentic you can be as you have conversations about intimacy and sex, the more effective you'll be as a parent.

This might all seem a little to idealistic. It may be. But ideas about intimacy flows out of a reflection on this poem taken from Song of Songs:
Place me like a seal over your heart, 

like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death, 

its jealousy unyielding as the grave. 

It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love; 

rivers cannot sweep it away.

If one were to give 
all the wealth of one’s house for love, 

it would be utterly scorned.

Here we have a few phrases from a love poem, the words of the woman, reflecting on the intensity of the desire for intimacy with her husband-to-be. The desire for intimacy, the experience of intimacy is powerful and surging and dangerous. And it is good. A husband and wife come together and build their marriage on their passions and decisions flowing from their budding intimacy.

But then...

Everybody is avoiding intimacy. This is not to deny that at some level they are longing for it, but the problem is that they are also hurting for it. ... [they are] avoiding intimacy... half of them have been brought up in broken homes and are disabled from intimacy.

Does that sound like anyone you know? If you didn't see much intimacy growing up in your home, how are you supposed to cultivate it for your own home? Where you do you learn intimacy if not from your folks? Popular culture becomes the most influential teacher on intimacy, followed maybe by the chatter of high school. Not all understandings and expectations of intimacy are valid, some are toxic, some are unrealistic, some are fantasy. It may sound crazy, but this is why so many people turn to the Scriptures for wisdom on intimacy.

The Song of Songs invites readers to summon up the strength to take the risk. The Song gives expression to intrinsic human needs. It presupposes the human need for loving-recognition and acceptance, for the sense of being special, which makes self-acceptance more possible.

The Song invites readers to recognize that relationships are always on the way and continue to involve risk. They cannot be taken for granted.

They also raise the question whether people can rekindle love when the flame seems to have gone.

People do find security in a love relationship that leads to marriage, but once they take that for granted, they may imperil it.

Part of the thrill of the not-yet-married relationship is its not-yet-ness. It has the excitement of being on a journey. This is also one of the attractions of having an affair.

So there is a sense in which couples need to not take each other for granted, and need to see themselves as still on the way.

One image in the poems is that of wanting to get away from everyone else, and couples need that.

~John Goldingay, Key Questions About Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers, pgs 315-6

There's some rich material here for me to hear and contemplate and put into action.

Can husband and wife rekindle intimacy? It is possible.

Are you taking your spouse for granted?

What are some goals and plans for the near as well as distant future you and your spouse can set for yourselves and your family? Being still on the way helps restore opportunities for intimacy.

When's the last time you and your spouse were able to get away and enjoy each other?

Here's a thoughtful definition of intimacy: Giving loving-recognition and acceptance, fueling the sense of being special, making self-acceptance more possible. What could you do to foster more intimacy in your own home according to this definition?

Asking thoughtful questions  and getting wisdom from the Scriptures can be very helpful as you try to figure out how to stop avoiding intimacy, how to kindle intimacy, and how to pass it on to the next generation. So is seeing a wise counselor. And being part of a friendly church community that can help your family nurture healthy intimacy. Building friendships with some wise, mature, Christian couples can be helpful. Praying for this kind of stuff is the kind of prayers God loves to answer.

Friday, February 25, 2011

American Activism

I subscribe to the investigative journal Mother Jones. They sent me a survey the other day. One of the questions wanted to know the following about me:

In the last year, have you...
o voted in a Federal, State, or Local election?
o taken part in some local civic issue?
o actively worked as a volunteer for a nonprofit organization?
o written a letter to the editor?
o spoken at a public meeting?
o actively worked for a political party or candidate?

The question made me reflective of my participation in civic society as an American and as a Christian. I've voted and I volunteer, but I haven't taken part in a local civic issue, nor written a letter to the editor (I almost did two years ago...), nor spoken in a public meeting or actively worked for a political party or candidate. If I'm not very active in civic life, does that make me a leech?

The oft quoted tag-line for Mother Jones is, "It's worse than you think." The investigative journalism reveals the corruption and failures of government, business, civic and religious institutions and individuals. I can't read the magazine before I go to bed, otherwise I won't be able to fall asleep. I carefully choose when I'll read the magazine so that I have the emotional energy to react to the articles. Anger and frustration rise up in me as the stories unfold of the stupidity and cruelty that often mark the leaders and institutions of our nation.

What to do with that anger and frustration? Rant and rave? Despair and whine? Or fuel convictions with wisdom and action? And this is why I was affected by the series of questions about my activism as a citizen. It gave me a series of choices, ways to serve and channel my anger into constructive action. But it also revealed my lack of participation in American civic life.

There's obviously lots of anger in the air towards the state of affairs in America. Rage against government inefficiencies, bureaucratic sludge, corporate vampirism, and religious ridiculousness. But all of those institutions we are angry with are made up of fellow American citizens. We end up being frustrated at the system and at people - and maybe even with ourselves. And then we are torn between feeling helpless and wanting someone to come and rescue us and fix the problems.

Instead of waiting or wailing or whining, I must get more involved in civic life. Not from a posture of arrogance or anger, but as a neighbor. A neighbor who links up with others - others in need, others who are like-minded, others who have gifts to give, others who are different. A neighbor who gets involved in the complicated, messy, enduring stuff of community-life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Did You Get What You Want?

As you look back over your life, your friendships, your family, your accomplishments... did you get what you want? For the Christian, we would ask a follow-up question: Did God get what he wants?

In becoming a Christian, in saying "Yes" to God through what Jesus showed and taught and did for us, we are to let that Yes permeate our whole life, all our friendships, everyone in our family, anything we ever accomplish. This all-encompassing Yes is not a burden, but an opportunity to let God get what He wants for us and in us and through us. For Christians, we are learning through Jesus to let God get what He wants. We want the Spirit of Jesus to transform our desires for what we want so that we learn to accept and join God in what he wants.

Some of you have said Yes to God, but your life, your actions, your choices, your decisions, your attitude reveal a big huge No. In observing what you are doing with your life, how you treat your friends, how you care for your family, how you view your accomplishments, it would seem that it all adds up to a No to God. Maybe it's time for you to just go ahead and tell God "No."

I'm biased... I'd rather you say "Yes" to God, but maybe with where you're at in life, you'd be better off honest and unhypocritical and just blurt out the "No" that is characteristic of your life.

Here's how Jesus put it when he was hanging around here:
And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions.

You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, “I’ll pray for you,” and never doing it, or saying “God be with you,” and not meaning it.
You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true.

Just say yes and no. When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.
~Matthew 5v33-35 (The Message)

There's a need for more men and women who will stick to their "Yes", and hold their ground on their "No." It's gotten to the point where most people don't seem believable anymore. Yes doesn't seem to mean Yes anymore, and same for No. Promises are made in the moment, but either without the forethought to perceive the ability to keep it - or without the character to keep it when it gets terribly difficult.

Here's a simple test to reveal where you are at when it comes to Yes and No: do you find yourself over-promising and under-delivering - especially on the little things?
"I'll be home by 6."
"I'll see you on Sunday."
"I'll take care of it."
"I'll give you a call later tomorrow."
"I'll come visit you."
"I'll play with you in a minute."
"I'll pick this up on the way to work."

And so on. And then the little things catch up with us. If you can't be believable in the little things, why would you be believable in the big things?

I'm guilty of over-promising and under-delivering. My believability was eroding. I was greatly frustrated with myself. Why didn't I have the capacity to keep my promises? Why did I commit to a task I didn't really want to do? Why am I so ambivalent to breaking my word? How come I don't value the little tasks of everyday life for my family and friends?

Life is made of moments where you are confronted with reality, and then you get to make a decision. Reading Soren Kierkegaard one morning presented me with that decisive moment. Here's a portion of what I read, of what convicted me about Yes and No, about making and keeping promises.
When you say "Yes" or promise something, you can very easily deceive yourself and others also, as if you had already done what you promised.

It is is easy to think that by making a promise you have at least done part of what you promised to do, as if the promise itself were something of value. Not at all!
In fact, when you do not do what you promise, it is a long way back to the truth.

Beware! The "Yes" of promise keeping is sleep-inducing. An honest "No" possesses much more promise. It can stimulate; repentance may not be far away.

He who says "No," becomes almost afraid of himself. The world is quite inclined - even eager - to make promises, for a promise appears very fine at the moment - it inspires!
Yet for this very reason the eternal is suspicious of promises.

The good intention, the "Yes," taken in vain, the unfulfilled promise leaves a residue of despair, of dejection.

Beware! Good intention can very soon flare up again in more passionate declarations of intention, but only to leave behind ever greater desperation.

As an alcoholic constantly requires stronger and stronger drink, so the one who has fallen under the spell of good intentions and smooth-sounding declaration constantly requires more and more good intentions.

And so he keeps himself from seeing that he is walking backwards.

~ Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations, pgs13-15

Monday, February 14, 2011

Watch the Eyes

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

To add to the richness of the day, here are some thoughts about marriages that make it over the long haul. Thoughts on humor, the eyes, on respect. Rob Bell's got more great stuff in Sex God, and this was good for today.

The creator of the universe has a vested interest in this. God is for marriages.

And it must be protected at all costs, especially in the everyday, subtle sorts of ways. I've been around lots of couples who cut each other down in public, but it's all done in the name of humor.

"The ball and chain..."

"My old lady..."

"He isn't good for much, but I keep him anyway."

Whenever people talk like this, I always watch their eyes. Is this really all in good fun, or does it carry some truth? Most humor has truth in it.

You can tell when the marriage is in trouble. The jokes have an edge to them. The comments linger a bit too long on the negative.

And the eyes. Watch the eyes.

A friend of mine is a doctor who specializes in marriage and relational issues. He says that he can tell in a couple of seconds whether a marriage will last. Seriously, a couple of seconds. This is a science called thin slicing, and he's incredibly accurate in his predictions. He says it's all about respect. How he looks at her. How she looks at him. He insists that a few seconds of observing how a couple looks at each other is all he needs to know if the marriage will make it.

Maybe there's another reason why wedding ceremonies are so moving. Watch their eyes. They respect each other.

And then often something happens over time. The ground becomes less holy. And they begin to look at each other differently.

Instead of the initial, "Out of all the people in the world, I chose you!" it becomes, "Out of all the people in the world, I chose you?"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Catch the Foxes

Cute foxes, eh? Unless, of course you are the owner of a vineyard. Foxes have a nasty record of slipping into the fields at night and nibbling on the tender shoots, gobbling up the plump grapes, and sometimes destroying century old vines. Argh, those cute little foxes!

What are the foxes in your life? What is eating away at your marriage? What is nibbling away at your friendships? What is destroying the good and beautiful and true and free in your home?

The greatest song of the Hebrew Scriptures is attributed to a young king named Solomon. He discovers in one of his vast vineyards a beautiful woman. She is brown from the sun, dirty fingernails, windtangled hair, and to Solomon she is the great desire of his life. Together they write a poem about their surging and tender love for each other as they prepare for marriage. Their song has became THE song for Jewish men and women coming together as husband and wife.

Have you ever read the Song of Songs? You should. Here's some of it:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.

How handsome you are, my beloved!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant.

I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.

Like a lily among thorns
is my darling among the young women.

Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.

See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.

Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.

Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
our vineyards that are in bloom.

My beloved is mine and I am his;
he browses among the lilies.
Until the day breaks and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag on the rugged hills.

This poetry is sexual, sensual, dramatic, personal, playful, and enduring.  It's a vivid image of what love can look like between a husband and wife. And it's necessary to see, amidst the longing and desire the observation of the woman to the man: catch the foxes.

Foxes sneak into the home and hearts of a family and do their dark work of destruction. They nibble and break and wreck. The owners of the vineyard not only must work to catch the foxes (an unending task...), but they must also repair and restore the damage done to the vines.

A husband and wife will always have more work to do on their life together - the foxes come and go and do their damage, and there will always be wounds that need healed. Of course you must attempt to catch the foxes! Vigilance and protection are necessary and ongoing. But what do you do when the foxes still break through?

It's common to get tired of always fixing hearts in a home. How many times can you handle hearing the word "sorry?" How many times must you forgive for the same offense? Seven times? And what do you do when you discover you were the fox? There is always more work to do within yourself and in your home to repent, repair, restore and renew the damage of the foxes. You must find the energy to work to catch the foxes. And when you don't, you must turn around and tend to the wreckage.

What are some of the foxes that sneak in and ruin the good in your heart and home?
Your anger.
Your lust.
Your expectations.
Your pride.
Your busyness.
Your silence.
Your greed and envy and coveting.
Your fears.

Foxes are hard to catch. But the damage becomes obvious with the morning light. When you discover that the foxes have been at work in your home and heart, you must get to work. Immediately.

And what work would that be?

Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast, it is not proud.
Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Love always protects.
Love always trusts.
Love always hopes.
Love always perseveres.

Love. never. fails.

Catch the Foxes!

Friday, February 04, 2011

From Shame to Honor

What do you do with your shame? What do you do with those experiences and deeds of the past that leave you ashamed? Ignore it? Stuff it? Relive it? Fuel it? Find atonement for it?

Whether you are feeling ashamed for the sins you committed, or for the sins committed against you, there is a way to move from shame to honor. To feel shame is to feel dishonored. How do you cover your shame with regained honor? It's not an easy road, but it includes wisdom. 

The Eastern world from which we received our Scriptures is a honor/shame culture. It is very important to attain honor, and it is despicable to be shamed - especially in public. You want to attain honor for yourself, more importantly for your family, and especially for your tribe or nation. And if you are shamed, you must work to regain your honor. If you bring shame on your family, you have committed a terrible offense. 

The wise inherit honor,
but fools get only shame

Whosoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame,
but whosoever heeds correction is honored.

You can see here the great emphasis on getting honor and avoiding shame, and it's connection to wisdom and folly. Getting wisdom is the way to attain honor and avoid shame. Wisdom is also the path out of shame, it's the way to regain honor. 

Most everyone carries around within them stuff of which they are ashamed. Are temptation is to hide it from others, to bury it as a secret. A dark secret. A deep secret of which we are constantly aware, working to make sure no one finds out about it. Sadly, this adds power to the shame, guaranteeing it's control over your life. This is a foolish choice, it's an easy choice, it seems the most natural. But it adds to the shame. 

It is shameful to even mention what the disobedient do in secret. 

Don't you want to be free from the shackles of your shame? Don't you want to let loose those heavy chains of dark secrets? 

Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves. 

In seeking to honor others above yourselves, you must first do some work within. You must first bring honor to yourself - not for your own sake, but for those that your life is attached to. You seek wisdom and honor for yourself in order that you may act wisely and honorably to others, to lift them up. This is love that loosens the shackles of shame and shrugs off bit by bit the chains of dark secrets.

Guilt is the state of having committed an offense, violation, sin, wrongdeed, a crime - and thus having a feeling of responsibility or remorse for that action. 

Shame is the painful, embarrassing feeling of having done or experienced something dishonorable, improper, foolish, wrong, sinful. 

The remedy to guilt and shame is grace. Guilt requires you to receive grace from the one you offended. All sins are against a person, but also against God. The solution to your guilt is to receive forgiveness, to seek forgiveness, to work to make amends. Shame requires you to forgive yourself, to give grace to yourself.

The wise action, the honorable action is to give and receive grace. This does not mean that the sin wasn't damaging, or that the violation wasn't vile. It means that it won't be held against you anymore. It means that you are letting your feeling of responsibility drive you to making amends instead of empty remorse.

It is foolish and dishonorable to withhold grace from yourself, to not forgive yourself. You add to your shame by refusing to let go of the shame, by not sharing your secret with a trusted friend, mentor or pastor. Even sharing your secret with God is a good, wise start. God can be trusted with your secret.

We believe that in Jesus through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave God has forgiven the sins of the world. Your sins are forgiven, he has extended grace to you for your guilt and shame. We get to decide - will I receive this grace or not? Our choice - a powerful choice. Through Jesus we can begin again, guilt atoned for, shame covered and removed.

It is something we believe.
What we believe shapes how we live.

What you believe about shame drives how you live. 

What you believe about grace shapes how you live. 

Oh Lord, I believe!
Help me in my unbelief...