Monday, June 30, 2014

Follow-Up to People Who Care

The other half of finding people who will walk with you is finding someone whom you will care about and walk alongside. If you wish to be mentored, coached, or directed you will do well to fulfill this function in someone else's life. Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States explains why each of us can be the vital link in the development of a young person.
When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become--whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm--her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, 'Yes, someone like me can do this.1
A full life does not consist in only absorbing from others; but rather a free exchange of influence and service between people. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).


Thursday, June 26, 2014

People Who Care

James Houston speaks of "mentoring," Bob Logan speaks of "coaching," and others speak of "spiritual direction." Each of these terms describe a specific methodology; but what they have in common is the concept of one person walking alongside another. In a world that is becoming more and more individual, where we define our uniqueness by our social media statements and the number of responses received, we each need people who will walk alongside us.
When we are looking for help from the right kind of people, "teachers" are not enough . . . We forget that the nurturing and caring relationship is inherent in effective teaching. Wisdom, after all, is more than data processing. Activism that is devoted to a cause can also be a poor substitute for relationships, because it is too busy to cultivate friendship. The Greek philosophers were wiser when they stated that "thought is not meaningful without action; and action is not meaningful without friendship."   James Houston, "The Mentored Life"
I encourage all of us to have people who will walk with us as either coach, mentor, or spiritual director. More than ever we need friends who will help us become real people with real thoughts and real actions. We need people who will ask us what is going on when we are "out of sorts." We need people who will encourage us when we are down. We need people who will slow us down when we are moving too fast. We need people who care about what happens to us.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Love and Reward

In Theology of the Body for Beginners: A Basic Introduction to Pope John Paul II's Sexual Revolution, Christopher West says, "In the moment we reject our receptivity before God and grasp at our own ‘happiness’ we turn our backs on God’s love.”1 He is making a significant point about the nature of love and sexual fulfilment. Neither love nor sexual fulfilment are things to be grasped; they come as by-products when we are receptive and when we give ourselves to others.

Thomas Merton said, “Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”2 In reality, because our biology and our psychology are corrupted by The Fall, we are broken inside. We often choose to grasp at our own happiness and gratification rather than open ourselves and give of ourselves to others. We choose not to wait for the reward. We are so sure that someone - our spouse, our God, or perhaps just the universe in general, will hold out on us and not give to us. So we grasp at love and gratification; we choose to take it for ourselves rather than be patient and take what comes to us as we give to others. We wound others. Others wound us.

It is the story of the Garden of Eden. You may not necessarily believe the story of The Fall but you will certainly recognize human nature in Genesis 3:1-24. Adam and Eve are given everything they could ever want but still they wonder if there is something more. They are led to believe that God is holding out on them. They want more and choose to take it for themselves. Each one takes what they are not to take and each one blames another. Trust is broken, shame and pain are experienced and there is no going back. The things that have been done and the trust that has been broken live on. God is the only one who can provide ultimate forgiveness and peace.

This story is lived out daily in current events. One person believes they have a right to another person's body or to another person's possessions. There is blame and justification. There is shame, pain and horribly destructive behaviour. Trust is broken and there is only one way back.3

“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved." (Merton) "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

1 (West 2009)
3 This blog owes much to the "Sex Matters" sermon series preached by Rick Scruggs at Bow Valley Christian Church, June 8-22.

Work Cited:
West, Christopher. Theology of the Body for Beginners: A Basic Introduction to Pope John Paul II's Sexual Revolution. Rome: Ascension Press, 2009.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sex Matters

This post is also available on the website of Bow Valley Christian Church.

Considering all of the trouble, pain, selfishness, and loneliness resulting from our sexual longings, what was God thinking when He made humans to be sexual beings? It might have been better to create us with the ability to go off into the woods and simply duplicate ourselves without any interaction with others. God could have made us that way. He must have had a plan and purposes. There are some purposes of sexual intimacy which almost all people would readily recognize.

First, we readily know that sexual intimacy is a pleasurable experience and that giving and receiving pleasure is part of the purpose. Whether we come at it from a theological or a scientific perspective, we know that sex is supposed to be pleasant and joyful.

Second, sexual intimacy is about love and romance. This is the predominant concept associated with sex in our culture. We have this sense that sex is to be something that is experienced between two people who love each other. In fact, this purpose has the potential to over-shadow all other purposes for sexual intimacy. It is taught in our schools, and is modelled in our entertainment, that when two people are in love they will naturally express that love with sexual intimacy.

The third purpose is also one that readily comes to mind: procreation. We know that sexual intimacy usually has the potential for procreation, continuation of the species, and continuation of the family unit. There are exceptions to this but it is certainly a purpose, if not the main purpose, for why sex exists.

Beyond these three, basic, purposes for sexual intimacy there would be other purposes. Some of these further purposes would not come as readily to mind but would still be important purposes; while others might be considered controversial and specific to a certain philosophical or lifestyle perspective.
Allow me to attempt a somewhat exhaustive list.

4. Perpetuation of society: not only does procreation lead to the continuance of the species and the family, it allows society to have a family structure out of which comes society. Looking back thousands of years it is hard to imagine a society that did not revolve around sex. If asexual reproduction had been the norm, society would have been very different and would have required additional constructs to create viable and sustaining organization

5. Giving of ourselves to one another: although there are examples of sexuality that are selfish, it is designed to be anything but selfish. True sexual intimacy is a giving of self which results in joy for the partner which, in turn, finds expression as joy for the first person. The two are intertwined (literally and symbolically) in an experience of mutual giving, pleasuring, and joy. Giving and fulfillment happen at one and the same time. Giving to the other in sex becomes an act of self-sacrifice and death to selfishness.

6. Complementation of one another: in nature, productive and procreative sexual acts result from biological complementarity. It is the experience of one with something that is other. In humans, sexuality is expressed with someone who is totally 'other' from ourselves.

7. Renewal of a covenant: when two people get married they establish a covenant. That covenant is said to be consummated by the first sexual experience together. Thereafter, every sexual moment experienced by the two is an act of covenant renewal. In this way, sexual intimacy is an act of worship.[1]

8. Integration of body and spirit: the act of being sexually intimate is both profoundly physical and sublimely spiritual. Worship is another experience which comes close to such a situation. When we experience a profound sense of worship with and toward our God, whether that be in a worship service with many others or in the woods all by ourselves, there is a sense in which our body is physically involved and our spirit is ecstatically involved.[2]

9. A dim foretaste of true intimacy between God and humans. Sexual experiences are never perfect and are often quite broken; yet, they always point to something higher. They are a fore-shadowing of the intimacy that we will one day experience in the heavenly realms when the Kingdom of God has come in all of its fullness. God and humans will finally be united in a spiritual intimacy that will be greater than any we have known on earth. All of the loneliness and brokenness of our relationships on earth will disappear with one moment of the intimacy of heaven. Jesus pointed out that there is no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30) and so in one sense there will be no sexual intimacy in heaven. Yet, in another sense, our entire time in heaven will be an ecstatic, intimate, and symbolically sexual experience. Thus, sexual intimacy points to the union of Jesus Christ and His bride, the church.[3]

10. An image of the faithfulness of God: sexual intimacy and its incumbent faithfulness of the two persons is a shadow of God's faithfulness to humans. God is the faithful husband who returns time and again to his unfaithful wife, asking her once more to be faithful to him. The whole book of Hosea is a tribute to the unrelenting love of God for His people.[4]

I am aware that there is some overlap among these purposes and there may yet be other purposes not listed. The aim has been to begin the conversation and set a framework within which we will talk about sex in future blog entries. As we conclude, there is one more thing we must understand in this discussion: sexual intimacy is essential to our being, but it is not necessary. God could have created a world without sex. Nature has examples of other methods of reproduction within biology. Yet, most of the organisms on this planet do use sexual reproduction. Sex is woven into the very fabric of our earth. Our God had a reason for making things the way he did. He wanted us to be aware of the many purposes and consequent inferences of sexual intimacy.

Interact with us on this. Why do you think sexual intimacy exists? What are the first answers that enter your mind when you hear that question? How many of these purposes would be controversial? What opinions on the purposes for sex would we find in our dominant culture?

[1] See The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, Dutton Adult, 2011.
[2] See the blog post "A Biblical Theology of Sex" by Dr. Jim Eckman at
[3] See this sermon by Tim Keller at
[4] Ibid.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Life is This Simple

“Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true.”
Thomas Merton, Spiritual Master: The Essential Writings;  Orbis Books, 2001.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Problem with Debate

High school debate teams are a useful method of teaching critical thinking, logic, etiquette, English and Humanities; but, beyond high school, the strict rules of debate largely go unheeded. View any political debate (there are plenty to be seen on YouTube) and you will soon understand that the structure of such debates is loose, judges seldom intervene, and clear, logical statements are rare. The same is true for most religious/philosophical debates. Organizers are free to create their own rules and the courtesy of listening to the other person and responding to the actual question posed is considered optional.

Perhaps some dialogues are not well-suited to public debate. There are reasons why most of the significant philosophical and theological conversations happen in obscure journals, academic papers, and in the oral defenses of Ph.D. dissertations.

It is unrealistic to expect that two people debating an ancient question of ontology, sociology, philosophy, or theology could achieve synthesis, persuasion, or agreement in a few hours. Discovery in philosophical and theological arenas moves in tiny increments at a glacial pace. In debate, the topic must be limited to a very small portion of the entire field of knowledge. You can't quote all of the pertinent sources in the time allowed and judgments must necessarily be constrained.

Contemporary debaters often disagree on the topic of a particular debate. They may explicitly agree on the title; but, the nuances of the proposition allow for a wide range of interpretations. Consequently, it can seem like the two are arguing for and against two different questions. Each debater readily ignores the other's questions because, to them, it appears that the other has strayed off topic.

Debate, by its very structure is a competitive endeavor. Cooperative methods might better serve ultimate reality and would more quickly lead to incremental progression in agreement upon shared understanding. What if two people started at a place in which they were in agreement before looking for the differences?

Another regular problem in contemporary debate is the uneven scholasticism of those debating. The two may be literally mismatched in their abilities to study and debate or they may be equally shallow in their approach to the debate. In 2010, when Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair debated, "Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?," we saw an author debate a former politician. Blair was educated at Oxford as a legal theorist while Hitchens earned an Oxford bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Both were intelligent celebrities, but neither was a serious philosopher. The debate was popular and accessible but did not go deep into the academic arguments of the day.

Perhaps one of the most obvious weaknesses of debate formats is that they usually do not influence minds. Entrance polls versus exit polls of audiences at debates typically show little movement. Most people come away from a debate with the same opinion with which they entered.

Most of us have at one time or another been enamoured by the potential of a single debate to change the course of history; it is likely that we have been greatly disappointed by this possibility. What we learn from debates is that they seldom have a lasting impact. Arguments don't create followers; but, a great parable can lead someone to follow the master.  This is one of the messages of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a master of telling stories that changed hearts and minds. He modelled a life that impacted the world and caused others to imitate his ethics, morality, and spirituality.

Story-telling, poetry, art, and literature are better tools than debate. If you want to change hearts and minds, don't become a student of debate; instead, become a poet, a song-writer, a sculptor, an artist, a writer, or a film-maker. There is good evidence that these disciplines will have a greater and more lasting effect.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Thomas Merton

When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash - at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the "newness," the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance. Thomas Merton, Spiritual Master: The Essential Writings;  Orbis Books, 2001. 

Thanks to Kimbra @kimbramusic for directing my attention to this quote.