May 2007


I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately. I’m serious. In America today it’s difficult not to think about sex a lot. According to a 2005 study, 70% of television shows – excluding shows such as sports contests and newscasts – have sexual content, with about five scenes containing sexual content per hour (www.kff.org). Seven out of ten. Movies are higher: almost 90% have sexual material (www.nationalcoalition.org). And I could go on, about commercials and magazine ads and Super Bowl halftime shows, but you understand. We are infatuated with sex. I don’t seem as crazy now for admitting it. Sex surrounds us.

I’ve been loosely following the case regarding Deborah Palfrey, the “DC Madam” who ran a high-end escort service. A top state department official resigned after being named a client of Palfrey’s escort service, according to CNN. Whether he paid for sex or virtual sex or a sensual massage we don’t know, only that his name was named, and he resigned soon thereafter. But it begs the question of what, exactly, is sex, and what is right and wrong. And, naturally, you may be noticing this is a newsletter containing Christian thought, and you may be ready to put it down. Please, hold off. There is much more sexual content in the next few paragraphs.

I believe that God made us, male and female. And, in Genesis 1, the first words that God says to man and woman is: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” The first thing he says to people. God, who made men and women, clearly understands that “increasing in number” demands a certain act. Thus, we have evidence that God thinks sex is good. He encourages it. Moreover, he did a few unusual things in the human body. During sex, a literal cocktail of drugs is released in the human brain triggering immense pleasure. So, God designed all kinds of drugs to make sex pleasurable, and told humanity to increase in number. God thinks that sex is a good thing.

The erogenous zones on a human body are primarily located in the front. It’s almost like God intended for us to be face-to-face. Or, in relationship. Moreover, one of the chemicals released during sex is oxytocin. Oxytocin is referred to as the “love drug” and it is also released when a mother breastfeeds her baby. Oxytocin is an extremely powerful drug that encourages human bonding. Having sex, the drugs in your body are telling you that you should be bonded to the person next to you with bonds as deeply as a mother is to her child. Sex is not just about one act. It is about relationship.

This is why Christian teaching says sex outside of marriage isn’t desirable. Because only in the bonds of marriage – the trust and faith that go along with it – can sex be what it was meant to be: the deep body and soul connection between two human beings. Without marriage, without the vows to support and love the other person for life, the deep bonding doesn’t happen. There’s a disconnect. Physically, your body says that these bonds should be as strong as parent-child bonds. But mentally, or soulfully, you know that the relationship may not last, you don’t have the freedom to share the deepest parts of yourself. In ancient Jewish teaching, which much of the Bible is, sex means marriage. One of God’s laws in Exodus 22 is: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife.” Sex meant marriage. In ancient Jewish wedding ceremonies, sex was part of the ceremony (I know, a little weird). But the bride and groom would say their vows, then disappear into a room for awhile, and then come back out and party. Sex was part of the wedding ceremony because sex meant marriage.

When sex becomes one act outside of marriage its power disconnects people rather than bringing them together.

Sex, really, is about connection. Male and female. Two becoming one. I have friends who are celibate – either not yet married or called not to marry – who are incredibly sexual people. They are connected deeply with other men and women; they know how to love and laugh and care for people amazingly well. And I have friends who have sex but no real connection; they are shallow and always just looking for the next hook-up, the next relationship that they think will fill them. But it won’t. Sex outside of deep marriage connection isn’t meant to fill us.

May we be people who connect deeply with others, whether man or woman, and are able to love others from deep in our souls. May we think about sex in new ways, not seeing it as all bad or all good but a powerful form of connecting, the culmination of true relationships. And, when bombarded by sex on TV or in magazines or movies, may we see through the hype and know the truth and reality about this wonderful gift from God.

I spent this Memorial Day as wastefully as possible. I slept in as late as I could, I played Frisbee in the park, and I sat around and read and watched television. I told myself that nothing too productive would happen.  And it was fantastic.

Expedia.com does an annual “Vacation Deprivation” survey which came out at the end of April.  With summer coming, I figured it would be beneficial to know the vacation habits of my fellow workers.  The average American receives 14 days of vacation, up from 12 in 2005.  The average worker in
Great Britain, however, receives 24 days of vacation.  Germans take 26 days off, on average, and the French get a whopping 36 vacation days.  So, we have the least vacation time.  We can’t, however, complain.  This is because on average, for the roughly 146 million American workers, 3 vacation days get left on the table at the end of the year.  Three.  That adds up to 438 million vacation days that are unused in our country.  Do we not like vacation?  Is it too stressful to plan?  Is there too much to do at work?  Really, why don’t we use our vacation days?

I think our unused vacation days signal a trend in our culture: the inability to rest.  We are a stressed people.  We caffeinate ourselves to get going and take sleeping pills to stop.  We are connected and networked and wireless.  Our work rarely ends with the drive home.  We have forgotten the pleasure and necessity of a day, or days, of rest.

In place after place in the Bible, God commands his people to rest.  In ancient
Israel, the command to rest made the ten most important laws – the Ten Commandments.  Jesus picks this up in Matthew 11.  He was teaching a crowd and told them, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  He goes on to say, “You will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”  Jesus commands us to come to him not to work or serve, but to rest.

The word “yoke” had a different meaning in ancient
Israel, though.  Today, when I think of yoke, which I very rarely do, I think of yoking oxen together with a big wooden frame.  But, to understand “yoke” 2000 years ago we have to understand the culture.  At the time of
Jesus, Israel was extremely religious.  The rabbis, or religious leaders, followed literally hundreds of different laws.  They would get together and debate these laws, to talk about which were most important.  Some might argue it was more important to tithe – or give part of your income away – than to honor your parents.  Others might argue the opposite.  How they rated the different laws was called a “yoke.”  A rabbi’s yoke referred to their teaching of the laws.  Jesus said his yoke was light.

We see this in Mark 12 as Jesus enters one of these conversations.  The text says one of the scribes heard Jesus discussing religion, so he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important?”  Jesus answered very simply.  He essentially said, “Love God and love other people (Mark 12:28-31).”  He went on to say that all the Law depends on these two ideas.  He took hundreds laws and boiled them down to 2.

This has implications for us today.  In his time, Jesus was constantly coming up against the religious leaders for giving the people too many laws to follow.  In Matthew 23, he says the religious leaders “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders (Matthew 23.4).”  The culture of doing this and making sure to do that and following inane rules and trying to keep up appearances to look “religious” wasn’t what Jesus wanted his followers to be about.  He made things simple for people.  Two commands.  Love God.  Love other people.

Does the scenario in ancient
Israel sound familiar?  People trying hard to keep up appearances?  A culture where there is always one more thing you have to do?  A culture where everyone is trying to get ahead?

Jesus steps into that situation and declares that life should not be lived that way.  In a few years from now, or months from now, or even days from now, the chores and duties of today will not matter.  What will matter is how we love God and love other people.  It is a burden that is easy and light, not heavy like the race in which we too often find ourselves.  And whether we take all of our vacation days or not, we can live in a way that is relaxed and stress-less, by following only two commands.  Not all that society wants us to do.  Only two.

The Iraq War.

Few topics so easily divide and excite the populace. Personally, I have yet to meet anyone who has not formed some opinion on the war. In the beginning, the question was whether to attack or not. Since, it was how to proceed. Now, the question is, should we set a timetable on leaving Iraq? I’ve read probably hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles in the four-plus years that we have occupied Iraq. Maybe thousands. Politicians have won and lost based on their views concerning this war more than any other issue over the past few years.

I remember wondering at the beginning of the war, as a follower of Jesus, what should we support? I talked and debated. I remember coming to a different conclusion than other friends, who also followed Jesus and called themselves Christians. If we were all truthfully trying to discern what Jesus wanted, were some of us simply off track? Was it them or me?
I’m not writing today to convince anyone that my ideas are right. And, I’m especially not writing to convince others to be for or against a political viewpoint. I’m writing because I believe, as a follower of Jesus, I have a different point of view. Too often, we try to label people. In the case of Iraq, it has been all too easy. People are easily labeled being “for” or “against.” But, if my friends and I were all truly seeking Jesus and what he wanted for us, maybe being “for” or “against” was not what Jesus had in mind.

I think Jesus has a different agenda in mind. His life and movement, which never in his time became political, was about freedom, love, and caring for the poor and oppressed. I think Jesus asks us to do the same. He wants us to show love to U.S. soldiers and to Iraqi orphans. He wants us to show love to convicted terrorists, while realizing that justice as well must play a part in stopping evil.

Moreover, I believe Jesus wants us to act. He wants us to send care packages, or support Red Cross efforts. He wants us to pray. In the parable of the persistent widow, (Luke 18:1-8) Jesus exhorts us to pray without ceasing. Paul tells us the same in 1 Thessalonians. How often do we accuse a President or Congress without praying for them? Have you ever prayed for them? For their wisdom, their part in God’s plan? Whether you are for or against the war, have you prayed for peace, and a speedy ending to the conflict? Have you prayed for lonely soldiers, for orphaned children, or even for hardened terrorists?

Next time you label and take sides on the issue of a timetable or government funding, stop. Take a moment. Pray. Our leaders need our prayers. Focus on a different agenda, one that unites rather than divides.

Whichever side Jesus may take, I know that he would seek to bring light and hope to the situation, and to be a force for good in whatever capacity he could. And if the many times he is recorded as going out into the wilderness to pray are any indication, he would seek God’s face. He would pray.

Just a reminder: the Ugandan peace process continues to remain unclear.  Basically, the two sides have come to an agreement on everything but what to do about war crimes.  Joseph Kony and four other LRA leaders have been indicted.  This is a tough situation, because really, charging someone with war crimes during the peace process doesn’t help both sides come to an agreement.  Western nations, and the ICC (International Criminal Court) think that punishment should be severe for Kony and his crew.  Some Acholi leaders have suggested Kony re-enter the tribe through a retribution ceremony: drinking a mix of sheep’s blood and tree root while apologozing to families. 

Most of the people simply want an end to the fighting.

Continue to pray for the situation, to alert your representatives of the injustice.  Let others know what’s going on…

The NY Times reports that more and more college kids are interested in religion. Looking at the article, it seems these kids aren’t just copying the faith of their parents, but exploring what faith and religion mean, and asking tough questions. Experts don’t exactly know what is producing the phenomena, but pretty much everyone says that something significant has shifted.

I think this is a wonderful thing for the church…even when students explore other faiths, too. I go back and forth on the American church, and sometimes get disgusted at the materialism, the list of don’ts, the narrow moral message (homosexuality and abortion, anyone), and the lack of compassion, caring for the poor and orphan and widow, loving the outsider.

But I know that Christ loves the church, that he calls it his bride, and that as Paul said, when we are weak, then we are strong (because God’s love and power can work through us). And I read articles about growing spirituality on college campuses, and how people are asking tough questions about God and faith, and leaders are encouraging those questions and encouraging community, and I get excited. There are some amazingly bright spots in the American church as well.

May we have eyes to see the goodness. And may we have hands and mouths to encourage brothers and sisters further on their journey with God.

The Ugandan military accused the LRA of attacking and killing seven civilians in northern Uganda Monday night. Obviously, this is really bad news for the peace talks. The LRA came back Tuesday and denied the killings. We’ll see how this plays out in the course of the talks.

But, what Uganda truly needs is prayer.

Lord, we pray for these talks, that they would go smoothly and bring peace to this region. We ask for your presence and love to be obvious to the thousands in refugee camps, and ask that they would soon be able to go home. We ask that the deeper issues of economic and political disparity between northern and southern Uganda would be confronted in the weeks to come. Let the LRA leaders not only lay down their arms but come to justice, whether that’s through the International Criminal Court or traditional Acholi reconciliation. We pray, most of all though, for peace, for safety, for healing, for life for the millions affected in northern Uganda. Amen.