Tag Archives: Love

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Love

God gave everything for us at Calvary. He poured out His life, which is the best definition of love I know. We have all (I hope) known someone who sacrificed for us. But he or she did not give everything. God did. He died for us.

He died for us in order to gain us: He died to draw near to us, to be with us, to calm us with His Presence, to speak words we can hear, to nourish us with His body and blood. He ‘who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see’ (1T 6:16) humbled Himself in His Son and came closer to us than a mother or a lover ever could.

Love means God comes near to us in Jesus. We who are little and rebellious and unable to love Him back now have access to God through this Jesus. We are not alone anymore. Because of Him, we need not be destabilized by other lovers. All He asks is that we give everything to Him.

That seems like a lot. But it’s the only way we can live happy lives. To know Him but to serve other gods is torture, hell before hell. Discovering the secret of surrender opens to us the music of the spheres, the peace that surpasses understanding, unbounded joy. We die to worldly distractions in order to rest in holy love, to enjoy the fruit of His suffering–the Creator’s desire for intimate union with His human creation.

I want to rest in the arms of the One who fought for me. I want to know that sweetness in full. To do so, Oswald Chambers quotes St. Paul: ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20); “These words mean the breaking of my independence with my own hand and surrendering to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus…it means breaking the husk of my individual independence of God, and the emancipating of my personality with Himself, not for my own ideas, but for absolute loyalty to Jesus.”

Lent then is an opportunity to let go of specific distractions so we can know Him more. It is simple: we give Him more space to love us; in gratitude, we love Him back. That rhythm sets in motion the ordering of our other loves, the people He calls us to love.

Immersed in His Spirit of love, we may hurt when we discover that we have loved others poorly, be it in needing another too much out of disordered desire or withholding love because one threatened us or did not give us what we wanted.

Our pain is good. Weep and rejoice in His mercy that renews our efforts to love others better. The Lord is faithful. He will not leave us alone in our human loves. He loves us and them too much! He converts us continuously with His self-giving until we love as He does. By the time we see Him face-to-face, we may well love others better than we do now.

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Annette

Love has a name. I discovered its meaning only when I chose to offer myself 35-years-ago to this person named Annette. What I thought I knew about love meant little as I bumped up against my selfishness. (I prided myself on a kind of reflective, poetic awareness of love but actually knew next to nothing about it.) In joy and especially in her tears, Annette invited me to love her because she was worth it. I wanted to do so. Though desire spurs us onto discipline, they are not the same things. I was flabby in love.

One factor (though by no means the only) involved my homosexual background. Neither God nor I was content for me to muck around all my days bowing before mirror images of myself. I was done being seduced by Narcissus– mirages of idealized masculinity that lured me only to sicken me. The challenge of conversion is that you start to worship the ONE and in so doing you catch glimpses of what is true about yourself and the rest of creation. That is good. And scary. Pieper is right; maybe we stay sick in order to shirk the responsibility of wholeness.

Annette was a real woman, whole-enough: smart and sophisticated, attuned to others, a God-seeker but bound up inside too, as if she had to earn His love. Annette was dimensional, and I tracked with her; I wanted her but I wanted her on my terms and I cannot say I ever got close enough to anyone to know their terms. Until I entered into Annette’s world. Wow. Uncharted territory: would I love the whole of her and ‘man-up’ enough to offer the ragged whole of me?

A few things helped: mutual sexual desire took a little while, as is often the case when one has SSA. The pleasure we found in each other’s bodies developed in the context of a growing relationship; the more we disclosed about our lives and trusted each other, the more we desired each other.

And Annette was easy to desire. She possessed an ease of being, an integrated gift of welcoming others into her life. I marveled at how she could open the door of her heart to persons she trusted and display a range of emotions with an immediacy that at once drew me and challenged me.

It helped to place Jesus at the center of our communion. That may have been slightly defensive on my end but in truth, Annette and I wanted Him and His will above all else. As Annette discovered more about the depth of Jesus’ love for her and welcomed His Spirit in the core areas of her life (she had a lot of fear-based problems due to childhood sexual abuse), she grew more and more beautiful to me. I realize now that marriage involves body and soul and that the enlightened soul permeates the body and makes it hot. Spirit-filled Annette turned me on.

So in fear and trembling and with great expectations, we said yes to each other. Saying yes to each other meant saying no to everyone else. By that I mean divisive things, like unhelpful advice or other lovers, real or imagined. We took the marriage bed seriously and refused to allow phantoms to insinuate themselves into the bond we shared. Yes, we talked things out, still do, but out of respect for each other and on the solid ground of trusting each other.

We share a rich legacy in ministry but deeper still is our family life. Annette is the best Mom: she has never flagged at offering herself wholly to our four kids while also giving them space to grow apart from her. We shared parenting from the start, still do—we have discovered that the task morphs but never stops. Raising kids highlights the truth that sexual love is about more than interpersonal pleasure (though for that I am grateful); God intends sex to create other lives. That is why discipline in the sexual realm is so crucial. What you make you must also tend, and what you do privately gets passed down to your kids whether they know it or not. Sex is powerful. That’s why chastity means everything to us.

As we move into our 36th year, I notice that we bicker less and accept each other more; we no longer treat misdemeanors as felonies and have dug a deeper well of mercy that we offer one other in unspoken ways. We have weathered a host of hardships together, which has seasoned and tempered our bond. Annette grows in virtue, the beauty of holiness. We do not need to ‘talk things out’ as much as before. We look at each other’s exquisitely lined faces with gratitude after 35 years of life together. We speak words of love to each other. We grow in living those words. Not too hard–I know love’s name.

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Chastity and Mercy 3: Just Love

Chastity and Mercy 3: Just Love

‘We seek to be chaste because someone we love needs us to be chaste.’ Heather King

Justice means giving to another what is due him or her. In the sexual realm, chastity serves justice by freeing humanity to be good and faithful gifts to others; that involves keeping our sexual promises with those we most love. Therein lays our happiness, and another’s. The person undivided by lust of any kind exercises justice by employing one’s self-gift to confirm, not confuse or diminish another’s gift. In so doing, we discover ‘human freedom’ (CCC#2339).

Such freedom is miles away from the enslaving drive to withhold from the beloved or to partake of one not our own. That applies to real people as it does to a host of sexy, romantic illusions that captivate us; the screens that ensnare us with stories and pictures of lust have rendered most of us adulterers of heart. Jesus cites such interior compromise as a sin on par with obvious sexual acts in Matt. 5:28. Rather than grant us sinners a ‘pass’ when it comes to our sexual musings, He applies the sin of adultery to any way we objectify others and make them players in the bedroom of our hearts.

So when a woman is caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Christ by a group of law-abiding elders in order to ‘out’ Him as either a libertine or a hardliner (JN 8: 1-12), we need to listen. How does Jesus serve justice?

In order to answer this, we must take seriously how chastity serves justice and conversely, how sins against it are always profoundly unjust. Take adultery: the Mosaic law is utterly clear that to withhold from God and/or one’s spouse and to partake of another not one’s own is always profoundly unjust, so much so that it warrants a sentence of death (Lev. 20:10).  Pieper is right: ‘every external act has social consequences’, including illicit sexual ones; we are now accustomed to so neutering sexual sin that ‘we fail to see its impact on the order of our communal life and the realization of the common good.’ We have all witnessed the wounding of families, communities and nations (Bill Clinton, anyone?) due to sins against chastity.

Like Jesus, Pieper also applies sins against chastity to ‘lust of the eyes’ when he refers to ‘the roaming unrest of spirit’ that drives us to relinquish ourselves to the world and its idols. Unable to live peacefully in our own flesh, we adulterous ones stuff ourselves selfishly with the flesh of others; here we must make real people unreal by separating them from love and honor. Ultimately, we lose touch with reality altogether. Persons who suffer most are not ourselves but loved ones who have experienced the gradual loss of us ‘to the seductive power of stimuli from an artificial civilization, in which the dishonorable team of blind lust and calculated greed’ surround our broken sexuality (Pieper).

Persons familiar with the dehumanizing impact of their sexual sin do well to reckon with the injustices we have incurred. At once withholding and violating, we have damaged others. Sin brings death and warrants death. Further, our enemies are merciless and want nothing more than for us to live accused until death destroys us forever. Many of us have descended into despair, which has driven us into the oblivion of greater sins.

Here we must allow ourselves to be dragged by our accusers before the feet of Jesus. (We resume our glance on Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman.) Knowing the merciless hearts of our accusers and His, He refuses to dialogue with them. (a good rule btw for all confronted by the clever and mean-spirited)

Rather, He bends down and considers the many ways these ones avoided dealing with their own sins and so failed to welcome the mercy they needed. Realizing the folly of the unjust passing judgment on the unjust, He asks: ‘If anyone is without sin, cast the first stone.’ Waiting guilty on the firing line, we hear only the sound of stones falling in the sand. When we look up we see only Jesus standing straight in order to look deeply into our eyes and say: ‘Where are your accusers?’ ‘Gone’, we admit. Then neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ His voice is as firm as His eyes moist with mercy. We straighten up as He did, at once peaceful and provoked to leave our sins at His feet. Merciful Jesus serves justice.

‘Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expressed God’s way of reaching out to the sinner by offering him a new chance…God does not deny justice. He rather envelops it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.’ Misericordiae Vultus

‘Grant us mercy, O God. Our sins and our accusers are many, the damage deep. May we never minimize its depth; may mercy alone silence and surpass it.’

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Ambushed, Part 1

‘Do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do so with gentleness and respect…’ (1P 3: 14b, 15)

Gay Pride Month is upon us, and our queer nation is prouder than ever. From Neil Patrick Harris dazzling Broadway as a pissed-off drag queen to Obama successfully persuading federal and state officials to overturn traditional marriage laws, we the people are now post-Christian in what we believe about gender and sexuality.

That was obvious to my son and me when we recently visited Washington DC. Tourists like us intermingled with gaggles of gay-identified men whose bright outfits and bold displays of affection waved like flags declaring victory: ‘Our opposition has scattered and we now advance, unfettered and unashamed.’

If only it were so simple. I am convinced that no amount of legislation can resolve the conflict at the core of gender-bending. Deeper than animated expressions of solidarity lies an emptiness only Jesus can fill; that was evident in their boyish searching glances, the insecurities no temporary lover can assuage. Only Jesus can make solid the fault-line on which same-gender couples seek in vain to become one, or one gender seeks to become the other.

In what appears to be our defeat in the battle for gender clarity in the public square, we must remember: Jesus rose from the dead as Lord of Life so that we might rise and impart His real life to those most in need of it. That applies pointedly to the gender-conflicted. To whom will they turn: the community that invites transformation through Jesus Christ, or a host of secular solutions that goes only skin-deep?

But how we can we offer that gift if we feel ambushed—frightened and seemingly cornered by the opposition? Our greatest temptation will be fear: fear of the power of the ‘gay’ juggernaut advancing mercilessly wherever it wants. A female friend who deals with SSA expressed the threat she feels when around tough–looking gay-identified women; I confess my fear that several gay-identified friends seem more resolved than ever to celebrate their sexual liberties rather than repent unto Christ Jesus.

We must quiet our hearts and go deeper into His heart. Peter exhorts us; instead of abiding in fear, he urges us to ‘set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.’ That means not abdicating the truth that Jesus is still Lord over all. Instead of a tight defensive space, God has landed us on spacious ground. From there, we can see clearly and extend humbly the truth of His love as the only real base for the gender-conflicted.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel ambushed I go into survival mode. Shrill, angry, and controlling, I become the bad news. Peter reminds us that we will be bitterly opposed, but assures us that we, centered on Christ, can be the good news to our adversaries. Who knows? Deeper still, they may nourish an acutely felt need for more of this Jesus. He frees us to hold out our hope respectfully, with the same gentleness He showed us in our defensive wanderings.

‘A gentle answer turns away wrath…Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.’ (PR 15:1; James 1:20)

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Fourth of 7 Prayers for Marriage: The Gift of Gender Difference

Gender DifferenceProperly defined, marriage hinges upon gender difference. A wedding counts only when the angular awkward guy in the tux kisses the woman in white, a vision of curves and hidden complexity. Once the two have crossed the threshold, there is no turning back. They are united irrevocably in the mystery of two becoming one.

Gender difference is at the center of such wholeness. Becoming a whole sexual gift to another depends on that difference. Theologian John Mark Miravelli says it best: a gift ceases to be a whole gift if in fact I already possess what the other is offering me. In other words, a same gender friend can only mirror back to me what I already have; (s)he offers me  only a variation of what I possess. However blessed, same-gender gifts cannot approximate the offering of gender complements.

There may be good reasons why one attempts such unity with the same gender. Perhaps experiences with the opposite gender were unsatisfying, even abusive; it could be that a particular friendship generated heat and feelings of falling in love. None of that changes the truth: two of the same cannot a whole make. That is evident in the inability to reproduce life.

It is also evident in the failure of same-gender friends to balance each other out. Two grooms doom a ‘marriage’ from the start. The attempt at ‘normal’ is undermined by the absence of woman’s civilizing instinct. She insists that sex answer to relationship, not just new sensual thrills. Dan Savage, gay ‘married’ and sex columnist, makes my point precisely. He wants us to follow his example of an ‘open marriage’ where we spice things up with fresh partners. Fallen guy stuff squared, without the feminine antidote.

Two brides can readily devolve into bridezillas. I read with sorrow the emerging legal battles between now hostile ‘mama-bears’ fighting over the cubs they adopted in more peaceful times. Simply put, one woman’s attachment need is too great for another woman to bear. Like loose wires lashing out, these needs and longings require the grounding of a masculine complement. That is evident in all of life, whether two brides in battle or dueling mother/daughters without Dad. We need man and we need woman.

Marriage requires male and female. The design of our bodies and our souls directs us to the other. It can be an arduous journey for some. My own suggests that. It took a river of grace and no small effort for me to emerge out of same-gender infatuation and into my own intact masculinity. Reconciled to the truth of my design, I began to offer my own angular, awkward self to its lovely complement. Now I am free to offer another what she does not possess. And I can welcome what I actually need and desire from her.

‘Father, we thank you for how you designed marriage. It is self-evident. Forgive us for losing the truth that marital intimacy requires ‘otherness’; free us to become the gifts we are, and to behold the gifts we need in this other. We pray for the Supreme Court to uphold CA’s right to define marriage as intrinsically male/female; may our victory with Prop. 8 prevail for the good of all. We pray also for lead attorney Chuck Cooper as he prepares to make this case for marriage on March 26th. Bless him, his family, and his service on behalf of the just and worthy cause of protecting marriage.’

 

 

 

 

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