Tag Archives: Marriage

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Courage for Chaste Sex

At the Courage conference last week in Chicago, Annette and I had the privilege to testify on the glorious challenge of forging a marriage in light of my same-sex attraction and her sexual abuse—two gifts that keep on giving! Actually, we are gifts to each other who through the grace of Jesus’ cross have delighted in our co-humanity for nearly 40 years now.

We spoke candidly on our intimate life. We wanted to break the false yet common assumption that chastity always involves abstinence. Not so. Chastity is integrating one’s sexuality in such a way that frees one to be faithful to God in singleness or marriage. If married, that means being faithful to the one you actively engage with sexually. For us, chastity invites us into a robust sexual life that celebrates this bond of two–body, soul, and spirit.

The context mattered as Courage has not majored on marriage and the person with same-sex attraction. One might get the impression (however erroneous) that Courage is comfortable supporting singles en route to chastity but uncertain about whether God calls persons with same-sex attraction to marriage. Untrue. Many Courage members are married. And in truth, Annette and I are treated with such dignity in the Courage world. For Annette in particular, the Courage family has been the most warm and consistent and hospitable to her than she has experienced in any other comparable network.

Nevertheless, you could say that marrieds are underrepresented at Courage. Several members have questioned my call to marriage as if my diminishing same-sex attraction invalidates that call. Or disables it. Not true. I am convinced that persons with a background of same-sex attraction who become espoused to Jesus and who ‘work the program’ of acquiring self-control and activating their gender gift for the other become the best spouses. We rely on Jesus and are intentional in our love for this other. We make great lovers. Period.

And we realize that chaste lovemaking—earthy and sensational as it is–must take place in the context of a greater regard for the whole person. We prepare for nakedness by disclosing—fully clothed–our dirty secrets, our ragged complaints, and our gratitude for this person before us who seeks to give all to us. Surrounding our sharing is the grace of Jesus. He gave all, He gives all still, and that makes all the difference.

I close with this brief note I recently found from Annette, fall ’82. It represents for me the foundation for chaste sex. ‘When you remarked on my complexity, I began to reflect on how profoundly the Lord has transformed me. He has wrought changes in me that have created a new heart: a soft, feminine one, not the hard protective shell of a heart I had when we met three years ago. Thank you for standing by me. You represent security to me—the Lord has used you to give me a kind of permanence I’ve always needed. I love you very much.’ Annette

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Cross Fit: Sorrow and Self-Giving

I am just winding up a month off in which I spent a lot of time with the one I love most—me! Ouch. Truth hurts. Gratefully my native selfishness was no match for the glorious time Annette and I shared. We stayed home, caught our breath, and renewed our vows. Time off and tuned to each other: nothing better.

A long time ago Jesus called Annette and me to our primary vocation, which is marriage. Anything good that springs out of ministry flows from this most important union.

No-one deserves my attention like her. Consider this: for the last 36 years of our lives together, Annette has said ‘yes’ over and over again to Jesus as I have gone throughout the world to impart His transforming power for sexually broken people. We love to minister together but kids and Annette’s homing instinct have resulted in a division of labor, which became even more accentuated over the last six months. A flurry of national and international trips rendered Annette nothing short of a ‘war bride’ so it was a huge gift to have a month off to reunite. Thank you to all who helped to sustain Desert Stream in our absence. You freed us from any financial concern; we are deeply grateful. You gave and we rested. Bravo.

As always, repose brought exposure. At the beginning of our time off, Annette brought up afresh an area in which we have disagreed. I disagreed again and could not see her perspective. That day’s Gospel reading—‘whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me’ (Matt. 10:38)—hit me hard and exposed a plank in my eye. A familiar stronghold of selfishness blinded me to Annette’s greater need.

I sought out my pastor and he counseled me well. A deep sorrow over my sin resulted, something only the Spirit and holy space could inspire. Aquinas wrote that such sorrow is sign that the Cross is being born in one’s heart. Let it be so. In areas where I do not see well, I need to slow down and feel the gravity of my sin. Only then will my repentance be genuine, not a superficial shaking off of shame.

That repentance has continued over these weeks and resulted in what I can only describe as a renewed passion in me to fulfill St. Paul’s words ‘to love our wives as Jesus loves the Church and gave Himself up for her’ (Eph. 5:25). No small task! When I take seriously Jesus’ self-giving on Calvary—the piercing that released the healing flood (Zech. 12:10-13:2)—I can re-enter His fruitful surrender and deny afresh my selfish, controlling ways in order to offer what I can to this amazing woman who deserves that and more.

I do not allow my evident faults to stop me from giving more. That is always Jesus’ direction to husbands, a self-giving that springs from the arresting sorrow of His Cross.

Please join Annette and me in Chicago July 27th-30th at the annual Courage Conference where we will share about our rich life together. As I said, we don’t speak together often so join us for this unusual opportunity. The Courage gathering offers an array of healing persons and gifts. Hope to see you there.

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Bloody Marriage

Marriage is messy business. So much so that Jesus allowed Himself to get messed up for us. He shed blood to reveal our starting point as spouses: ‘O God, the love I desire to give, I do not!’ Or more accurately, I cannot. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Annette and I just finished leading a round of Beauty and the Breach, an 8-week course in which we invite frustrated couples to discover the Cross together through merciful exchanges of blessing, sin, and need. Each couple bore distinct wounds but faced a common block in offering themselves freely to the other. We placed a big Cross in the middle of our gathering as a reminder that Jesus’ covenant with us—His commitment to the marriage–supersedes our own; we stirred up the faith that somehow His blood could bore through the debris obscuring our true selves from the other. His Cross also reminded us that when it came to expressing hard stuff to the other, or hearing hard stuff, we could pick up our little crosses and endure shame and pain for the joy set before us.

Some of the couples could point to big historic sins as contributors to the current breach. A few had thought ‘marriage’ might cure sexual addiction or same-sex attraction or deep-seated fears; in truth, they realized that a good marriage exposes before it absolves. In a previous group, one woman expressed how her husband’s confession of a litany of sexual sins may have been in his words ‘a resurrection’ but for her, it was the beginning of a slow, long crucifixion. She had to die to what she thought her life would be. A source of security had become a threat; her closest walking partner, a dangerous sinner. How to love? ‘Lord, have mercy on me, sinner…’

I am not being romantic here. All sin is not created equal and certain betrayals require solid boundaries in order to protect the betrayed and provoke genuine repentance on the part of the obvious sinner. But it also invites the offended party to reckon with his or her limited love—the way (s)he loves according to contract, because the other keeps his or her end of the marital deal and thus justifies one’s love. When that contract is broken, one feels justified in breaking vows. But we marry based on covenant, the truth that we invoked the ONE who shed blood to grant us the mercy needed to extend mercy, especially to the sinner we’re sleeping with.

During our last night at Beauty and the Breach, the Spirit directed me to Luke 18: 9-14 where Jesus gives wise counsel to any ‘confident of their own righteousness’ (v.9), namely the Pharisee who thanked God for not making him an adulterer. Next to him at church was such an adulterer who simply cried out for mercy. God saved only the latter (v. 14). My prayer? That the Cross reveal to all spouses our inability to love the other as we should. May mercy come quickly to meet former Pharisees and former prostitutes who marry; may the bloody God be glorified on such broken, level and ultimately beautiful ground.

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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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Prodigal Pope

Prodigal Pope Embraces the Family (and this family man)

Francis’ long awaited report on marriage and family is good news, a hearty hug of a document that encompasses the best of what marital love can be.

I consumed the 256 page exhortation—Love in the Family—as a hungry man. Pressures on my own marriage and family life had been mounting in the days leading up its release; I needed release from my clouded capacity to be a ‘good-enough’ gift for wife and kids. Like a father embracing his confused son who knew only to turn in the general direction of home, Pope Francis met me; his intention to reclaim and renew the value of marriage nourished me like an empanada thick with meat and vegetables. ‘He set me at His banqueting table, and His banner over me is love’ (S of S 2:4) conveys well the impact of Pope Francis’ fatherly, at times folksy exhortation to this prodigal.

With characteristic tenderness, Francis champions marriage and family as the basic cell endowed with power to transform the world; at the same time, he realizes the anxieties and tensions faced by the modern family. He cites the impact of today’s extreme individualism, consumerism, social networking, and just plain narcissism that renders people immature and unable to see the ‘other’ beyond one’s own effort to find a ‘self’.

Drawing significantly on the ‘imago dei’ (humanity made in God’s image as male and female, Gen. 1: 26, 27) as parsed by his predecessors St. John Paul ll and Pope Emeritus Benedict, Francis summons our capacity as gendered, passionate people to be good gifts to another over the course of a lifespan, a commitment he claims can grow more beautiful over the course of a hard knock life. He melds expertly the ideological with the practical. An extended meditation on the ‘love’ chapter (1Cor. 13) goes hand-in-hand with tough words on why marriage must be ‘open to life’ then tempers the call to fruitfulness with wisdom about family planning, marital communication, and humane parenting. Uncle Francis indeed.

Most interesting to me are his limited references to homosexuality in the document. As you know, I had the privilege addressing some ‘Family Synod’ delegates in Rome last September as to convey an orthodox, merciful approach to persons with SSA. Those synod members wrote reports for Francis from which he created ‘Love in the Family.’

Francis deflates any hope that he has joined the rainbow bandwagon. Twice he states emphatically that ‘there is no ground for considering homosexual unions even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ And he extols every child’s need for both a mother and father in order to mature into wholeness. He decries modern gender theory on the grounds that ‘it promotes a personal identity and emotional intimacy that is radically separate from the biological difference between male and female.’

Pope Francis upholds the most vulnerable—children–who before God deserve the most strenuous efforts of both a mother and a father to succeed at marriage.

At the same time, Francis cites the very real difference between biological gender and how we develop a gender identity. He is nuanced and graceful with this distinction, which leaves room for women to lead and for men to dance. Yes we need to make peace with the gender of our birth in submission to our Creator, says Francis, and yes, we must respect diverse expressions of male and female identity. Alleluia. What a pope.

In regards to persons with SSA, Pope Francis directs us back to the wellspring of life, the nuclear family. He instructs family members to love us well so that ‘we might understand and carry out God’s will for our lives.’

I would have appreciated a little more input on pastoral care of persons with SSA (grounds for next blog, perhaps.) Perhaps that is beside the point, or at least a secondary one. Love in the Family reminds me that I am more than a person seeking freedom from disordered desire. I am a husband and a father who possesses the freedom to love well and so leave a legacy of truth and mercy for persons I love most. Thank you, Pope Francis.

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