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Boundaries and Marital Sexuality

Sexuality is intense and powerful. It can unite humanity in the most creative way imaginable; when misdirected, sex kills. Mason writes: “Marriage is the only weapon man possesses against the brutalizing passion, the primitive passion, the mindless explosiveness of the raw sex drive…The very existence of marriage heaps coals upon the head of profligacy (sexual immorality).”

I write this back in my boyhood home. 34 years ago, I first began to wander the beaches in search of anonymous sexual encounters with men. Men died for their lusts then. We infected one another with all manner of disease. Then came the AIDS virus. Even when it was named, few stopped the craziness. Our enslaving ‘liberty’ was too precious to us; we had come too far to be restrained. Most of my friends from that era are dead.

Today the gay movement is stronger than ever in my home town. It is one of three cities in California most in favor of gay marriage. The town’s sunny perversion thrives; just under half of its city officials are gay, wealthy, empowered, and without restraint.

All of us need restraint. And we need to acknowledge the shame that has marked all of our sexuality. That is not a matter of a naming a particularly perverse background. Shame shrouds us all. It resulted from the fall—Adam and Eve’s intensely felt emotion of exposure when God named their rebellion. Today we all live east of Eden.

Shame renders sexuality a mixed blessing indeed. It is either nasty, sought out furtively on the sly, or threatening—a big monstrous mess to be avoided at all costs. Even in marriage, our offering to one another may prompt more conflict than confirmation.

Boundaries have power to reclaim marriage. A union born of permanence and fidelity, protected by boundaries, challenges our shame-based reactions to sexuality. It shows us a better way. Marriage commands: “When I said yes to you for life and sealed that yes with my body, I said no to everyone else!”

Marriage provides the boundary for sexual love; our vows to each other are the basis for trust. And in the sanctuary of that trust, in the authenticity of our vows to be faithful, we find a remedy for our shame. Mason writes: “In the marriage bed, bonds of love and trust must be forged that will be strong enough to contend with the sin of shame.” The good news?  We can forge those bonds. And in those boundaries we can lie down with our spouses in peace.

God has given marriage that authority to enable man and woman to once more realize what it means ‘to be naked and unashamed.” (Gen. 2: 25) Mason again: “Marriage reclaims the body for the Lord, making pure and holy and clean again what has been trampled down in the mud of shame” John Paul II takes it further when he described sexual intercourse in holy matrimony as “an icon of the interior life of the triune God.”

I love marital sexuality; I am honored to partake with Annette of that bit of heaven on earth. Protected by the truth that our offering to one another is exclusive, sexual intercourse is redeemed from shame and confirms over and over our vows to love each other as one-flesh until death.

Honor Marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Reclaim our vision of sexual love in marriage, O God. Help us to see how a marriage with boundaries reclaims sexuality from the grip of shame. Free us from the myriad ways we and those we love have misused sexuality and so been subject to that shame. Grant us courage to set and keep boundaries. Strengthen the boundaries of marriage in this day, O God. Let no created thing divide what you have joined and guarded through holy matrimony.”

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Marriage and Sexual Wholeness

Man for woman, woman for man, committed to permanence and fidelity. Nothing better for the civilizing of sexuality. And its enhancement. Nothing channels the power of the raw sex drive better than a committed, honorable relationship between a man and a woman.

Think about it. Outside of marriage, sex readily becomes an arm of our own brokenness and delusion. Women may use it to secure ‘love’ or to retaliate; men may use it to prove their virility. Both genders may use it for pleasure’s sake.

As we shall explore in more depth later on, those with same-sex attraction use partners of the same gender sexually in order to meet profound emotional needs. These needs for same-sex love and attention are basic and childish. When confused with sensuality, those motivated by them become subject to the worst qualities of their own gender.

Men with men generate a lot of heat but fail to become a whole relationally; man needs woman’s greater relational strength to do that. Women with women get lost in each other. Their emotional drama is fueled by intense need that is dangerous when threatened. Without the man’s ballast and objectivity, tenderness squared becomes turbulent, and ultimately fragmenting to the feminine soul.

Marriage rescues sex from any number of excesses. From the misuses of sex. I think we can safely say that outside of a binding covenant, all sex is subject to misuse. It need not give an answer for itself. By that I mean sexual pleasure does not require that one player values the other person as a whole, as a human being and not an object to satisfy one’s own need.

In marriage, you must give an answer for sex: “Is this an expression of love? Is the desire for physical love matched by commitment demonstrated on other levels?” The offering of oneself to the other becomes more than an explosive moment, a grasping after some sensation or self-confirmation.

Marriage tempers sexual love. Over time and shifting circumstance, we learn to give ourselves to the other because we love the whole of him or her. We give our bodies to the other out of love and gratitude for the breadth of our life together.

In marriage, sex is not an isolated point of pleasure but rather a series of experience that bind two together. Over the course of a lifetime. Two bodies that merge together for life discover sexual wholeness: a loving offering of the self for the other’s pleasure. And discovering in such union, over and over, the awesome mystery of marital love, man for woman, woman for man, pledged together in fidelity and permanence.

Honor marriage. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Father, we confess the many ways we have misused sex. Rather than love the other because (s)he is worthy of it, we have used sex as an arm of our own selfishness. Open our eyes to the better way. Show us Your way for sex in the context of marriage. Whether married or single, reclaim Your will for us regarding sexual wholeness. Let the beauty of Your truth outshine the lies we have believed and even perpetrated.”

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Otherness and Sacrifice

Opposites are designed to attract; many can attest to the powerful pull of the other’s appeal that initially drew him/her into the marital relationship.

But chemistry alone cannot sustain the covenant. In truth, the precise differences that intrigued us in the other also expose, provoke and annoy us. Mike Mason writes: “It is a shock for a couple to discover how quickly romantic love is exhausted, how little they really know and understand one another, how deeply estranged it is possible to become from the person you thought you were closest to…”

Gender duality, that quality of ‘ otherness ’ essential to marriage, requires more than physical and emotional desire to create a whole marriage.

Marriage requires a willingness to value the other because (s)he is worthy of it. The late great pope, John Paul II wrote exquisitely on the need for marital love to possess a backbone of sacrificial love. He understood well the power of both sensuality and sentimentality in human relating. And he knew that unless these powerful human drives were subordinated to a higher love accorded the spouse then the marriage would be doomed.

He writes in Love and Responsibility: “Marriage is put to the test when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker…nothing then remains but the value of the person. Then the inner truth about the love of those concerned comes to light. If their love is a true gift of the self, it will not only survive in these dry times but will grow deeper and sink deeper roots.”

My generation was the first to discard our marriages when they did not work for us any more. We had plenty of time and money to explore rarified expressions of sensuality and romance. Our films and music and therapies catered to our consumerism but rarely encouraged any notion of sacrifice.

We refused the one true thing: valuing people more than the sensual and sentimental ‘rush’ they provide us. In contrast to our consumer-driven approach to marriage, in which the main reason to remain together seems to be what one is still ‘getting’, cultivating the discipline of giving is paramount.

I am challenged and humbled by my parents’ marriage. Just shy of 60 years together, the two 80-‘somethings’ quietly manifest a quality of love that shames me in its beauty. Sentimentality and sensuality have evolved into sacrifice. My mother serves my father, the weaker, tirelessly. He gives her what he can, out of a love and gratitude too deep for words. Their offering to each other is gold for all who know them.

I write this entry in their home, the home of my youth. I have the privilege to witness the otherwise unseen gestures of service, one to another.

And I know that beneath all my brokenness and selfishness rests a foundation laid for me through the sacrificial love of my parents for each other.

My parents’ marriage is a living witness of what Mason describes as “the single most wholehearted step most people will ever take towards a fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.”

Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote Yes on Proposition 8.

“Father, we ask for the grace to give more than we get in our marriages, to cultivate a heart of sacrifice for the other. Subordinate our consumer-driven quest for heightened sensuality or emotions. Temper our love for the other with the sacrifice that manifests the truth of our love for him or her. Manifest to others Your sacrificial love through our marriages.”

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Otherness and Holiness

Gender difference is marriage; its essence is male and female together.

Without the tension of otherness, there is not wholeness, no dance between similarity and difference. The duality between male and female draws one out beyond the limits of ‘sameness’; out of our depth, we are drawn from self-centeredness into the possibility of genuine self-giving. In losing ourselves to love this other, we find a whole.

God created marriage as a metaphor: as we have seen, gender duality reveals Himself, His image on the earth.

Humanity as male and female also conveys a glimpse of God’s holiness. He employs marriage—the encounter between two distinct parts–as a metaphor for how He encounters us as ‘Other.’ God is holy, meaning He is ‘other’ than us. He created us in His image but He stands over and beyond us as the Creator of that image. In our human duality as male and female, we represent Him in part.

But He does not allow us to reduce Him to that earthly image. He is God—as transcendent and beyond comprehension as He has revealed Himself to us in Christ.

Gender duality is one way He has made Himself known to us. He teaches us of holiness through the glorious mystery of man for woman, woman for man.

Mike Mason writes: “Both marriage and faith in God deal in the most direct way imaginable with the phenomenon of otherness in our lives. Both God and spouse encounter us as one who is like us, resembling us in image, but not us.”

God the uncreated made us in His image, not the other way around. Perhaps that is why authentic faith is so costly. Mason continues: “…God is not an idol, a human invention, not an extension or projection of ourselves. True religion begins with a profound acquiescence to the truth: there is one God, and I am not He!”

Marriage is but a pale image of the awesome otherness between the Creator and the created. Marital partners are both created flawed beings. Nevertheless, their union is the image God has chosen to teach humanity about holiness in human relating.

As we uphold and honor the good of ‘the other’, we manifest a glimpse of the ‘Other.’ We grow in holiness through God’s command to treat this other as a gift distinct from ourselves, created only in His image, not one that always seems right to us.
Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Father, forgive us for the way we have tried to conform You to the image that seems right to us. And forgive us for the way we have tried to conform the other gender to our own image of them. As You are holy, make us holy in faith and marriage.”

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Why Women Need Men

Femininity needs masculinity. Woman needs man. Her softness and depth not only invites intimacy; woman possesses a marvelous capacity to nurture relationship. Therein lies the paradox of woman—powerful in love yet equally powerful in her vulnerability to be wounded in those relationships.

Woman is a deep well. She needs man’s help to guard the waters, to keep them clear and free. And to help ensure that the gift of that water finds rich expression. Secure in the blessing of masculine love, she thrives like a ‘well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.’

A woman’s gift is herself. Unlike man, she finds meaning primarily in her relationships. The ‘earth-bound man’, raised from the dust, finds his match in the one taken from his side. Woman’s source is not inanimate; she is formed from a human, which establishes her as an essentially relational being.

Woman’s gift is in relationship. In whatever she aspires to do, her tasks and goals will have an implicitly relational dimension. Annette has noted that in spite of her many accomplishments, she instinctively defines herself relationally. She is not first a publisher/administrator/healer; she is Annette, daughter of Ruth and Harry, wife of Andy, mother of Greg, Nick, Kate, and Sam.

But that gift has a downside. Like the souring of man’s good earth and the strife that accompanied the work of his hands, woman can find her relational ‘sources’ cruel and embittering. And she not only the victim but the perpetrator as well!

Her curse involves relationships: the pain of bringing forth children, and a ‘desire’ for her husband that connotes a grasping, possessive grip. He will ‘rule over her’ outside the garden, an authority that strikes me as more ominous than protective. (Genesis 3: 16)

Woman is now set up for a grasping after relationship that invites pain and hurt—engendering a dark subjectivity in her depths. She needs the whole enough masculine to come alongside her, not to rule, but to call forth and guard the beauty of her exquisite and profound being.

When man rightly beholds her gift, and stands faithfully on her behalf, she thrives. Heaven is glimpsed on earth when a masculine image-bearer loves his feminine counterpart in a way that releases her to be grateful for the gift that she is.
Woman needs man. Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“O God, we honor Your design in creation, man for woman, woman for man. We do so humbly, full well knowing that our dignity together is matched by our capacity to bruise and break one another. In mercy, free us to honor Your design in creation by how we honor one another, man to woman, woman to man.”

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