Out of Body Experience: The Omnipresence of Mankind in the Digital Era

In the 1970s, Astral Projection and OBE (Out of Body Experience) became a big thing, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that it coincided with a lot of drug experimentation. This illustration to introduce the concept of God being omnipresent, fully present everywhere all the time, was lost on many of my middle school students. They couldn’t quite get past what would happen if your body needed to go to the bathroom while your spirit was floating around Antarctica watching the penguins march. I suggested that it would be advisable to only practice astral projection while sitting on the toilet just in case. While I don’t actually give much credence to OBE, you have to admit it resulted in some of the Beatles best work. Still, my students have a point. If your soul really could float away from your body for a brief jaunt it would be a very disconnected experience. Your body would sit there like a vegetable while your spirit is just floating around eavesdropping on the world, neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once.

In reality what I just described above is not all that different from our current cultural phenomenon of social media. Instead of Astral Projection we now have Digital Projection. Our bodies are walking, working, eating, and even interacting with others while our spirits are floating around the digital dimensions eavesdropping on the world. Neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once. I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions having a virtual out of body experience detached from what was happening right in front of me because the deepest parts of me were consumed with the digital dimensions I inhabit.

I’m not suggesting that we throw off social media and all the things that divert our attention from what is happening right in front of us. Social media is not evil and will not  be the catalyst to the decay and demise of human society. However, I do find it interesting that we live in the very same tension with one another that we as Christians often struggle to understand about God. “If God is fully present everywhere all at once then why doesn’t he step in more often?” It’s haunting how often that can be said of us. Never has there been a time in human history where more can be known about an individual without actually and very rarely experiencing their full relational presence. We, just like God, can be right there without others in the room sensing and experiencing our true presence. The question we must ask ourselves at any given moment is why we don’t step in more often?

God’s Not Dead and the Myth of the Militant College Professor

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Let me qualify everything I’m about to say by first saying that I have not seen the movie God’s Not Dead yet. This is not a movie review nor is it meant to discourage anyone from going to see it. From talking to some friends who have seen it, I understand there are some redeeming things about the movie and the story it presents. Amongst them is the fact that the main character is willing to stand up for what he believes in and takes the time to research and find answers to difficult questions posed by the antagonistic philosophy professor. I find it interesting that Focus on the Family’s movie review website, Plugged In, had this to say as the negative elements of the movie “Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.” As much as that bothers me and could be topic in and of itself or a blog—the portrayal of non-Christians in Christian movies—that is not the issue I have with this movie.

Surely there are professors that are antagonistic towards Christianity and organized religion in general. Many of them have published works that provide their explanations of why they think faith in a deity is intellectual suicide. I don’t doubt that many of them don’t shy away from sharing their antagonistic attitude in class. That being said, they are still professional. In any philosophy class you are not tested and assessed the same way you are in a math or even a science class. The field of philosophy does not require that you subscribe to the worldview of your professor. It does however require you give a rational support and or explanation of the worldview you’ve chosen. Thus the premise presented in the movie of a professor demanding that students deny God or gods completely at the outset of the semester is extremely far-fetched. Still that is not what bothers me the most.

For a number of years we’ve been warned that philosophy and professors of the sciences pose a major threat to Christian college students. We’ve been told that these cunning men and women are the main ones responsible for the often quoted statistic of somewhere between sixty to seventy percent of young Christians leave the church by their second year of college, a third of which never return. Yet in all my years of doing youth ministry—as a student, volunteer, and a pastor—I’ve yet to know of anyone who walked away from following Jesus Christ because of what they learned in a college philosophy or science course. On the other hand, I know a multitude of persons who have walked away from Christianity, all of whom walked away for one of three reasons.

The first is that they went away to college and eventually the guilt and shame from having premarital sex and or getting involved in alcohol and drug abuse became too overwhelming and thus it was easier to abandon faith than deal with their junk. Many of them feared being left out of all the fun everyone else was having and wanted to belong with their peers. They had been handed a faith that was primarily about behavioral modification and proved to be shallow and without roots. Some quite simply can be described by John 3:19 in that they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

The second reason is that they encountered some sort of tragedy or crisis, often the divorce of their parents or death of a loved one, and became either disillusioned with by God’s seeming disregard for their troubles or angry with him. It became easier to walk away than wrestle with what the Bible says about the present age and the age to come, namely the paradoxical reign of Christ on earth (the paradox of Jesus reigning on earth while there is still evil and suffering in the world) while yearning for the overflowing reign of Christ on earth where pain and suffering will be no more, and death will be defeated. Often times they’ve been handed a faith that says you suffer because you’ve been bad and God is punishing you. Ironically enough, this is where some adopt the Anosticism which says, “if there is a God who created the earth he or she is now totally uninvolved in the affairs of the earth”.

My point in bringing this to the table is this… Let’s stop blaming liberal college professors for the failures of the church, youth ministries, and parents. Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity summarizes the problem quite well, “it remains true that most churches are strong on teaching about conversion, but weak on teaching about how to live after conversion.” If anything college, or more to the point independence, is the testing ground of faith and the gospel message young people have been taught to believe. A gospel that primarily teaches you to modify your behavior is usually heavy on guilt and light on grace. A gospel that primarily teaches you that Jesus came to make your life better is light on hope for a world that is perishing and the cost of discipleship. A youth ministry primarily focused on having fun is going to yield young adults in search of more fun and entertainment. Sermons on how you’re blessed or claiming your blessing are light on telling the story of how God set out to bless the entire world and why it needed to be blessed in the first place. Parenting driven by fear of what could go wrong is light on talking about how the world went wrong and what God does about it in the past present and future.

We need to present our young people with a robust gospel that fosters disciples instead of converts and well-behaved kids. We need to own our failures instead of blaming them on people and institutions that weren’t around for the formational period of young adults lives. Otherwise, God’s Not Dead will be wholly accurate in their depiction of a young adult who has to go search for answers to tough questions in isolation, instead of in loving community, or abandon their faith all together.

“When Should I Talk to My Teen About Sex?”: 5 Sex Talk Tips for Parents

“When they were eight years old they all agreed they wouldn’t do anything, but now that they’re hit puberty we’ve got to have the talk all over again…”

 

–Bill Cosby Those Of You With Or Without Children, You’ll Understand

 

 

The most frequently asked question I get from parents when I give an overview of my sex talk curriculum is, “When should I start talking to my kids about sex?” Truth be, told many of them, like Cosby, already spoke to their children about sex prior to entering adolescence, but recognize that a new level of conversation and disclosure needs to be had now that they’ve entered adolescence and puberty.

The concern is that their young teen might not be ready or willing for that conversation. On the flipside there is the concern that they might have waited too late to continue the conversation on sex that began so many years earlier. You don’t want it to be awkward and yet you don’t want them getting the bulk of their information from all the sophisticated fools on the bus, playground, or in the cafeteria. With that in mind here is a general answer to the question of when parents should reengage their young teen on topic of sex as well as four other tips for having conversations on sex with young teens.

1.     Don’t Wait Until You Think They’re Ready. A psychologist friend of mine asked me to guess what the national average is for when kids are first having sexual intercourse. I guessed twelve. She said the answer is ten. Surely there are some of you that are thinking that can’t be true and would like to see the research. Like myself you started thinking about all the variables—single parent homes, socio-economic class, education, early onset of puberty in girls—but that’s not the point. The point is on average they’re getting started early so don’t wait until you think they’re ready. Besides, you’re never going to know for sure if they’re ready until you begin to talk to them about it. If they get uncomfortable (which is different than awkward) then use some discernment to know when to stop. You don’t want them to be so uncomfortable about it that they don’t ever want to talk to you about it again, but you don’t know how cold the ocean is until you stick your toe into the water.

2.     Do It In Stages. If you’ve never talked to your children about bodies and sex prior to adolescence more than likely it’s going to be really awkward when you initiate that conversation with a young teen (If you haven’t then even more of a reason to not delay any further). There needs to be a general conversation about their body when they’re five about the difference between boys and girls. They need to know that their penis or vagina is private, and they should never let anyone else touch it (You may be caught a little of guard by my choice of words there. More on that in the next tip). By eight years old I recommend you should have a general birds and the bees/“where do babies come from?” conversation. Fifth grade is usually when there is a more in-depth anatomy and mechanics discussion on sex in school health classes. It’s not a bad idea to preempt the school. After that having a more in-depth conversation is fair game as they will be on the precipice of adolescence and puberty. From personal experience my parents talked to me about sex in stages so when it came time to have the more in-depth conversation they had disarmed my ability to try and be awkward about it. They were even able to remind me of and pull out the books they used as resources to have the previous conversations with me.

3.     Don’t Talk In Code. I’m likely dating myself with this pop-culture reference, but remember in Kindergarten Cop starring Arnold Swarzenegger when the small boy announces to the class, “boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.” Part of the reason that scene gets so many laughs is because typically five year olds are taught code words for their private parts. Once again a psychologist friend of mine was telling me how they and many colleagues have watched defense attorney’s cast doubt in child sex abuse and molestation cases because the child did not know the anatomically correct term for their genitalia. There is also research on serial pedophiles where they confess to avoiding children who know the correct names because they know someone has talked to that child about their body. There really is no reason for us not to use the words “penis” and “vagina” with our children. When we don’t use those words or get awkward about saying them we teach them that those are dirty words. Thus we inadvertently teach them that their bodies are dirty gross and disgusting, which isn’t healthy for their development, nor is it true.

4.     Dual Parent Involvement. Both mom and dad need to be involved in these conversations with their children regardless of the child’s gender. In other words girls shouldn’t be having discussions about bodies and sex only with their mother while dad stays silent. Boys shouldn’t be having discussions about bodies and sex only with their father while mom stays silent. The whole point of having these conversations with your children is not simply for transferal of information. It is about shaping and forming a healthy view of bodies and sex in your children. There isn’t so much different roles mom and dad play as much as, depending on the gender, different things they need to hear from each parent. For example, moms are best suited to talk daughters about menstrual cycles, whereas dad is best suited to talk to her about what boys are like. Dads are best suited to talk to boys about nocturnal emissions and moms are best suited to talk to him about what girls are like. Still there is plenty in regards to sex that needs to be both mom and dad talking to children and young teens together. The point being that if they have questions or want to talk further they need to feel safe talking to either parent.

5.     Is A Weekend Camping Trip Really Necessary? If you have to schedule a special weekend to go away and have a sex talk with your young teen around a fun activity then maybe it should cause you to question whether or not you are creating regular rhythms where you are caring for the heart of your child (not to mention this tactic typically violates the previous tip). Put another way to drive the point home, if you aren’t the camping type and it isn’t something you typically do with your son or daughter, then they are going to think that something is up. They’re going to be suspicious and it will most likely be real awkward. For example if my dad wanted to have a more in-depth conversation with me about girls, and sex and so forth, then the natural rhythm would have been to initiate it during halftime or commercials of one of the countless basketball games we watched during my teenage years. Some of my fondest memories of spending time with my dad that nurtured my heart was watching the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers go at it during the NBA Playoffs in 94 and 95 while eating pizza from Domino’s. If you don’t know or don’t have a natural rhythm of caring and tending to the heart of your child by investing time in them with out an agenda then it is not too late to discover what it is or create one if necessary.

 

Conclusion: What Is Your End Game?

What do you hope to accomplish by talking to your young teen about sex beyond simple information transfer? Simply cautioning them to abide by a certain standard or moral code is not enough. You need to ask yourself, “Whom will my son go to first if they’ve gotten someone pregnant? Who will be the first person my daughter will go to if she’s contracted an STD? Who will be the first person my teenager will go to when they’re tired of being teased and harassed about choosing to abstain from sexual intercourse and intimacy until they’re married? They’ll rarely say it but young people are looking for adult mentors who are willing to show them what it looks like to be an adult as they are growing into one. Young people need a safe secure place to talk about how they are living out their sexuality. Teenagers need to feel safe enough to talk to their parents about their sexual lives even if they know they’ll be disappointed at what they hear. Sex is not just a reproductive process of two bodies joining together in a purely physical act, nor is it “the nasty”. There are emotions, feelings, and a sense of self, wrapped up in the complicated beauty that is human sexuality and relationships. Parents always have and always will have the most potential impact in their children developing dysfunctional or healthy sexual lives.

Why Do We Perceive Sex As So Gross?

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“Why do we perceive sex as so gross? Most people think its gross.”

That is one of the questions I received last week from one of my students anonymously on a 3×5 card. Last week we talked about myths and lies about sex from culture. Ironically enough we will be addressing the question this week when we talk about myths and lies about sex from the church. It is actually the third on my list of church myths under the title of, “Bodies and sex are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant.” However, if we’re being fair the lie of sex being gross is perpetuated by both the church and culture at large (I feel I should clarify that when I refer to the church in this case I’m referring to the Christian subculture as a whole in America. It’s not just a generalization of local church bodies but also Christian pop-culture of books, movies, and bible study curriculum).

I believe the reason why so many, probably not a majority, but a sizable amount of people, thinks sex is gross is because of the fear tactics meant to discourage us from having sex when we’re young. One of the buzzwords of our sex talk is ‘formational’. There are so many aspects of our culture that is formative in how we think about our bodies and sex. Given some of the messages we receive early on about sex from what is said and also what isn’t said has a way of teaching us that sex is gross.

Given how sex saturated the culture at large is some I assume many disagree that it actually uses fear tactics to scare us out of having sex when we’re young. I would point out that most of my students were apprehensive about having a sex talk to begin with because the sex talk they would have gotten at school was extremely awkward. Think back to the sex-Ed portion of your middle and high school health class curriculum. If you remember nothing else you probably recall being shown pictures of genitalia with rashes or worse due to sexually transmitted diseases, and video clips of a childbirth. Why would our culture, which tends to be fairly reckless with their depiction of sex on the opposite end of the spectrum use fear tactics to discourage young people from having sex? Above all else our American Western culture values individual autonomy. One sure fire way to threaten your autonomy before you even reach adulthood is to get pregnant, get someone pregnant, or get an STD. More to the heart of the issue if any of those things happen before you reach adulthood you’ve sent a shot across the bow of your parent or guardian’s autonomy (and their insurance premium). So if scaring you doesn’t work they’ll gladly teach and instruct you in the proper use of birth control and contraceptives. Also I think we would be amiss if we didn’t give some credit to the pervasiveness of hardcore porn to the belief that sex is gross. Most pornography is completely and utterly dehumanizing.

As for the church its uses fear tactics to try and scare you into obedience to God. Often the unintended overwhelming message from the church in regards to sex is that it is not allowed. Well that is until you get married. In the church premarital sin is treated like the unforgivable sin. I’ve read books and heard talks from Christian sources that would have you convinced that if you have premarital sex, you’ll be haunted by ghosts of your sexual past for the rest of your life, that you are used and soiled goods. Whereas the Bible teaches that purity is as much about sex as it is how we treat widows, orphans, and foreigners, the church has created an entire market around sex being the be all end all of purity from purity rings to the “True Love Waits” campaign. One of the most egregious examples of the church using fear tactics about sex, is Kay Arthur’s book The Truth About Sex where she likens sex to a can of Drano. That’s right, she likens sex to a toxic cleaning chemical engineered to clear out a clogged bog. She highlights the cautions and warning labels where it says “May be fatal or cause permanent damage if swallowed. Causes severe burns to eyes and skin.” I get what she’s trying to communicate. Being reckless with you sex life and misusing sex can put you at risk. However, what are the chances that a few teenagers hearing or reading that illustration is ever going to want to have sex even when they get married? In extreme cases they’ll only ever want to have sex in order to procreate or occasionally begrudgingly appease their spouse.

It is likely that both the culture and the church is to blame for why so many parents feel inept to talk to their kids about sex. Sex either becomes part of a child’s null-curriculum leading to curiosity suspicion and at time the assumption that it is wrong to talk about. Some parents feel awkward using technical terms when talking about sex and create code words for body parts and intercourse. Not only does this have the possibility of teaching kids at an early age that sex is always naughty, but it could have even more devastating consequences. I spoke with a psychologist once who told me they and many of their colleagues were witness to failed child abuse cases because the defense attorney seized on the fact that the child referred to their body parts with code words they learned from parents like “flower” and “butterfly” instead of an anatomically correct term.

At the end of the day the fear tactics from both camps fail because sex is good. Sex is designed for us, and in our sinful brokenness we have turned it into something it is not. Despite all the ridiculous illustrations and disgusting pictures of STDs people keep having sex because sex is a tremendous gift that God has given to his image bearers to experience the peak of companionship and oneness. And as with any great gift some people just can’t wait to open it. As with any great gift it can be misused and abused. None of that changes the fact that it is good.

 

If You’re In a Committed Relationship But Not Married Why Is It Bad to Have Sex?

Two weeks ago we started our Sex Talk with middle school students. At the end of this first part I did some Q&A with them. The following is one of the questions they asked anonymously on a 3×5 card that I thought would be a great one to attempt to answer and post on the blog.

As these posts have the potential to gain a relatively large audience I recognize that not all who read it share my faith and worldview. If you are an outsider to the Christian faith reading this chances are you won’t agree on principle with my answer. Even so I hope you may find it a well thought out answer.

Question: “If you’re in a committed relationship but are not married why is it bad to have sex?”

Answer: What makes a relationship committed? Is it simply two people agreeing that they won’t date another? Is it two people agreeing that they won’t be emotionally, physically, and sexually intimate with someone else? Committed is defined as, “being bound or obligated, as under a pledge to a particular cause, action, or attitude.” In marriage you are binding and pledging everything. Property, assets, name, and of course bodies, all legally lawfully bound together. Committed relationships, particularly those of teenagers, are in no way binding except for the fact that they spend a lot of time together, and are therefore exclusive with one another. There isn’t anything keeping them together beyond their affections. Should their affections change they can de-commit by simply, “breaking up”. There is no need to hire lawyers, divide property and assets, or change names back to what they were. Not that committed relationships are bad and should be done away with, but they were never meant to be the Junior Varsity to the Varsity Team that is marriage. Committed relationships are more like tryouts. No one receives nor gets to wear the uniform until the make the team. Sexual intercourse has the potential to bind you to someone in ways that can’t so easily be undone by walking away. The contraceptive industry makes the bulk of their millions by assisting people in a “committed relationship” to prevent being bound to one another via babies and STD’s. The false dichotomy of “casual sex” is built upon the exercise of divorcing your heart and mind from sex as to avoid being bound to someone with your thoughts and feelings. Likewise there is a false dichotomy of “sex within a committed relationship”. A committed relationship is for the purpose of deciding whether or not you want to commit to binding yourself to another for life. Sex then within a committed relationship is to begin binding a big part of yourself to someone while still having the option to “break up” at a significantly lower cost, before you’ve actually decided you want to commit to be bound to only them for life.

What makes sex sex? The Bible teaches that sex is way more than just two bodies joining together for the purpose of experiencing sensual pleasure (even though it doesn’t shy away from that aspect of it). So often the writers of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament writers, referred to sexual intercourse by saying “and they knew one another”. What are the scripture writers saying about what sex is when they refer to it as “knowing” another person?

When I was about 19 years old unmarried and a virgin, a sexually active non-Christian female told me, “If a girl ever tells you she wants you she doesn’t know what it is she’s asking for.” Admittedly I wasn’t quite sure what she meant but I know she, a sexually active unmarried non-Christian was provoking me to think of sex as much more than a physical act and thus something not to tread lightly upon. Honestly I think she was urging and encouraging me not to have sex outside of marriage. Think of the colloquialisms we have for sex today; ‘doing it’, ‘doing the nasty’, ‘afternoon delight’, the list goes on and on, but you’d be hard pressed to find any that capture the fact that when you become “one flesh” with someone there is the potential for something transcendent to happen that leaves you very vulnerable and exposed to the person you’re having sex with. I think that’s what she was trying to tell me. There is a power in sex to help heal our brokenness, to affirm our humanity and therefore it also has power to shame and destroy our humanity as well. There is a huge investment being made when we connect with someone sexually. The promises pledge and complete joining together of marriage is meant to provide the security of pledge and promise that frees us to experience it with our whole being without fear, without holding back any part of our humanness.

What is marriage? Contrary to what popular culture often tells us marriage is not shackles that imprison us to another but the safe confines to not have to keep parts of our self, the parts of us that can’t be quantified in limbs curves and skin, hidden from the person we are giving ourselves to and receiving them in return. Marriage is meant to be the confines within which you can be free to reveal and share all of who you are. That’s not to say that people in committed relationships can’t experience these things. It’s just that the cost to walk away doesn’t match nor correlate with the investment that sex dictates whether you want it to or not. We typically don’t tell engaged couples this when they are nearing the altar but the truth is they can still walk away without it costing them much. Sure the money spent on the wedding has gone down the drain, but they don’t have to divide up property and assets, they don’t have to change their name on legal documents and credit cards, and unless they have children they don’t have to be as concerned with who else it will have a lasting affect on. The reality is that some grown adults have chosen to join every aspect of their lives together as a functionally married couple without the formal and legal ceremony binding them together because so many married people have trudged into and out of marriage as though it were just another committed relationship.

How many committed relationships can one person have? Sometimes I wish I had dated more before I got married. I was slow on the pick up on how much a friendship with a woman and a “committed relationship” with a woman is not apples to apples. However, on the flip side if I had had a number of “committed relationships” how might they have formed me for marriage to my wife in ways that would be counter productive to our binding relationship? I can’t say for certain but she and I would have to take the good with the bad and everything in between. Say I had been sexually intimate in some of those hypothetical “committed relationships” I would have to unlearn, and undo the unique ways I had formed myself with those other women sexually, or bring all those things with me to be bound together with my wife. We often refer to all those things as baggage.

Why is it bad? At the end of the day you can do what you want. Even if you want to soften God’s commands into advisory precautions from the one who created human bodies, sex, and gifted them with this complex thing called intimacy, it’s not hard to see why sex outside of the binding pledge and promise of marriage is risky business. Encouraging young people, still dependent on their parents and under their authority, in particular to go ahead and have sex as long as it is within a committed relationship is as fraught with danger as encouraging the same young people to go to the bank and open a joint bank account. We would discourage teenagers from binding to one another financially no matter how much they thought they were in love or felt that the time was right. Likewise there is great wisdom in discouraging two people, especially teenagers, who aren’t joined and bound together by pledge and law from becoming sexual intimate.

One final thought… I have friends who aren’t Christians who have bound themselves to one another in most ways that married couples do. They have share exclusively with one another their bodies, their home, their property and assets. They are exclusively sharing their life and all of who they are with one another. In all likelihood they will never marry, but their hope is to grow old together. While I don’t approve of unmarried couples living together I treat them as a married couple. Given neither or them are Christians thus not holding the same view of marriage as me I want to encourage them to remain committed to one another for the long haul because that is their expressed desire. While I prefer they eventually make their relationship legally binding at this point I would hate for them to break the bonds they’ve formed together. In some ways based upon my view of how God designed humanity and sex they’ve gone too far in sharing their lives with one another exclusively that I’d hate to see them split and start the process over with someone else. If anything their decision not to marry is largely in response to how marriage is so often treated as a committed relationship. Too many married people don’t honor and value marriage for what it truly is. They see it as a means to be happy, and not as a means to bind them self to another person, and be fully known by them. Many people will end a marriage because they are no longer happy or don’t feel the way the once did. Many people who have pledged themselves to another in good times and bad, for better for worse, in sickness and health no matter what may come, in the sight of witnesses and God, only to leave when their marriage no longer suits them. They aren’t happy, they aren’t satisfied, the marriage is not what they thought it would be and so they break the pledge, the promise and the bond. Could it be that committed relationships while training us in some good ways also forms us to ignore, suppress, and break all the ways we have become bound to another person and muster up the ability to walk away because we’re no longer happy? Imagine how much easier it would be to suppress, ignore and break all bonds if you had done it even a few times since you were a teenager? Sex outside of marriage is not only not the best way to live it is a risky personal investment to make. Why is it bad to have unmarried sex in a committed relationship? Sex outside of marriage is potentially very bad for you.

Why I Won’t Be Giving My Daughter A Purity Ring

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with purity rings. I have no idea who started the trend and if it is even as popular now as it seemed to be when I was in High School and college. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. I’m quite positive purity rings have been effective in being the reminder they are meant to be to young people to order their bodies and sex lives to a higher standard. I just wonder if it might be a very well-intended thing that misses the true mark. This post is meant to be less criticism and more food for thought.

The true mark of the Christian pursuit of sexual purity (cause after all biblical purity encompasses much more than our sex lives) is worship of the God of heaven and earth, architect, creator, and definer of human bodies, and a living understanding of the gospel. A living understanding of the gospel entails a full comprehension that the gospel is a message that begins with all of creation, including human bodies and sex, declared as good and ends with creation being consummated by and to God.  In particular we have scenes described and doctrine expounded that human bodies of the redeemed being resurrected and made new.

My apprehension with purity rings concerns subtle shifts in thinking that I think they could create, that while not entirely bad miss the point of Christians ordering their lives under God’s grace and love.

 

  1. Locus of Relationship: The pursuit of sexual purity is to be encouraged and ordered in response to our standing and relationship before God. I can’t help but wonder if purity rings subconsciously shift the ordering of sexual purity as a response to the standing and relationship before parents. The difference is that one is ordering their life under a holy, life-giving God, and the other is ordering their life under a guardian who is just as subject to God as they are. Put simply the desire to please and not disappoint parents becomes the primary motivation to be chaste as opposed to pleasing God.
  2. It’s Not Just Sex: There have been whole books and lectures dedicated to purity and holiness that only scratch the surface of what it really looks like to live a pure and holy life to God because they only talk about sex. They really should be called “sexual purity rings” because that is the only aspect of purity that they are encouraging. Purity in the Bible, the kind God has freed us to live and Jesus gave the perfect example of encompassed every aspect of how we interacted with our neighbors and this world, not just the sexual aspect.
  3. It’s Not Pass Fail: I’ve met people who once they had crossed a certain line decided they would no longer wear the purity ring. Not that they wouldn’t aspire to continue to pursue sexual purity after their “transgression”. The first problem with this is in most cases sexual purity had already gone out long before “the line” was crossed. Secondly, the purity ring in their mind had gone from being a reminder to a badge of honor, and thus when they transgressed they could no longer claim this status and stripped themselves of their standing. When something like that happens it demonstrates that they are struggling to remember and live out the redemption component of the gospel story and instead focus on the fall.

 

Closing Thought: Why is it I can’t think of a single dude I ever knew who had a purity ring bestowed upon them? Why has the only purity rings I’ve seen exclusively been adorned by girls? Honestly, shouldn’t there have been just as many guys wearing them as girls? Anyway, as I said in the beginning I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. Whether you do or not I think those three things should be things you should be intentional to address with your child when encouraging them to live a life of purity.

Go Beyond Affinity: Finding Real Community In Church

189594_712152423977_1757242_n            This past Sunday I was at the memorial service for a friend who has passed on. It was a lovely service because quite simply she was a lovely person. All four of her children took turns speaking and everything they said was beautiful, full of love and gratitude for having her as a mom. I had never met any of her children, all of whom are just a little bit older than me if not the same age, but none of what they said was at all illuminating. It was not illuminating because all the wonderful attributes of compassion and investment of time they described had been experienced by myself and pretty much every adult sharing the same pew, all of whom are young enough to be her child. When I think of Christ centered community I think of Tom and Jeanne Gould.

When I was a college student at Spring Arbor University I served in the worship ministry of a local church as a vocalist and volunteer in the youth ministry. This church didn’t have a college or young adult ministry and yet I felt right at home as a young adult college student because families of students, other volunteers, and fellow worship team members showed an interest in me, and welcomed me into their homes. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Andy, Trish, Janine, Taryn, and Scott.

The first church I began going to without my parents started with getting involved with the youth ministry as a Senior in High School. They had a college ministry, but that’s not where I felt most at home. I felt most at home with Vaughn and Marilynn, so much so that most Sunday afternoon’s and evenings were spent in their home. A good number of Friday nights were spent hanging out with them as well as going to the movies and getting something to eat. Sure they had two kids my age, but our friendship deepened when their kids where away at college and I was still in town. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of the Lipperts.

All of us are looking for community. Many leave churches because they can’t seem to find community. I’ve heard many people lament the absence of a college ministry, or young adult ministry, or a young married ministry, or you name it ministry. There isn’t a ministry where they can get easily plugged into and get community. Then there are others who find the ministry for them, their demographic, and still leave because real community evades them even within the group.

Even though I wasn’t a student at the University of Michigan (I went to the local community college) I was looking for community and thus began attending Campus Crusade meetings with friends who were students. I never quite got plugged into that group even though there were some friends I made that I could hang out with probably because I wasn’t a student and though I lived in town I didn’t live on campus. Oddly enough the place where I did find community was also on the campus of University of Michigan, Athletes in Action, which was basically Campus Crusade for the athletes. Not only was I not a student at UofM, but I certainly was not a division I athlete. Yet just this weekend I connected with a friend that I know through AIA that was in town on business because we’ve been friends ever since we met thirteen years ago. When I was in Chicago two years ago on a Conference I was able to catch up with a friend who lives there for coffee that I met through AIA. I was invited to go on my first overseas mission trip with AIA in 2001. My reply was, “but I’m not even a student here much less an athlete.” The reply I received was assurance that despite those things I was definitely a part of that community. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Donte, Robyn, and Bruce.

The point I want to make with all of these stories and illustrations is this… If you want to find and be apart of Christ-centered community you have to be willing to go beyond affinity. If you’ve grown up in the church you’ve probably been conditioned to settle for affinity. From the time we are infants to when we are Seniors in High School our community in church is shaped around primarily being with people who are the same age and life-stage as our self. We unconsciously look for the people like us. It’s no wonder that most college students and young adults won’t even consider attending a church that doesn’t have a ministry for their age group and will eventually leave a church if they age out. Affinity is not bad it just has a way of robbing us of true community if we’re not intentional. It’s comforting to have “likeness” but we may find that something is missing without some diverseness and depth. Moreover, if we refuse to take a risk and invest relationally in someone else because they aren’t the same age or life-stage as us we could seriously miss out on some beautiful relationships. Even amongst those who are the same age and life-stage as us we often discover that there can be a disconnect because we haven’t discovered the deeper more significant and lasting affinities we have with people. And there is no deeper more significant affinity than having Christ in common. How else could I be friends with a raging Ohio State Buckeyes fan like Tom Gould?

When I first came on staff at Church at Charlotte I tried to help breath some life back into the 20s-30s group. It worked for a little while before things fizzled out again but when I think of that group I think of the couple who were well past their 20s and 30s by about twenty to thirty years that invested in that community. Even after the group fizzled out Tom and Jeanne continued to invest in many of the disbanded members. Tom led a Bible study with many of the guys, and together they went out to eat with and hosted many of the women in their home. Therefore there was a whole pew of people with whom the words of Jeanne’s children at her memorial service resonated with because they experienced the same kind of relational investment.

If you’re someone who is struggling to find community in a local church it might be time to go beyond basic affinity of same age and life-stage. If you’re someone who is well connected in a local church within a homogenous group it might be time for you to start going beyond affinity so that others can find community. Go beyond affinity and go deeper to find meaningful and lasting relationships