Reading this was cathartic to me. Life has been incredibly tumultuous for the past 18 months or so centered around deep feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, self-hatred etc. that resulted in severe marital struggles. I moved out for the better part of 6 months early last year and even when I was home, I refused to share a bed or almost any physical contact with my wife of nearly 30 years. I believed it was over. It is only in the past couple of months that God’s grace and the relentless love of my amazing wife finally broke through and I am on the road to healing.
I am certainly not alone. Looking back much of this stemmed from my own family situation and the messages, verbal and non-verbal, that underscored what Jonathan Grant in his book ‘Divine Sex’ suggests is ubiquitous in our misguided pursuit of ‘authentic’ relationships. Pent up since my early teens was an imbalanced impulse to secure parental (fatherly) acceptance through self-actualization and extreme independence, all of which was in contrast to my profession of faith in Jesus as savior. Grant hints at the challenges this drive toward an ‘atomistic worldview’presents in a committed marital relationship when he says: “Modern authenticity encourages us to create our own beliefs and morality, the only rule being that they must resonate with who we feel we really are.”Unbeknownst to me the insecurities I felt toward my father were realized in my relationship with my wife….for decades. “Behind the confident mask of the ‘authentic’ self often lies self-hatred or a lack of self-acceptance.”
Though I have been in ministry my entire adult life in one form or another, have had the opportunity to live in a cross-cultural context which fostered significant introspection and clarity regarding American cultural influences, I was still so deeply affected by the secular culture in which I was raised. “Even though we may believe in God, this secular vision has become the air we breathe, affecting our way of seeing and being in the world.”
This is all more than you wanted to know but, I write as I am impacted and this text resonated with long term personal issues. So how should the Church respond? There is no avoiding the culture unless you choose to join the Amish and eschew any meaningful connection with the surrounding culture. As Grant recognizes; “Christian faith and secular culture exist in complex interrelationship.” More exclusivism by Christians is not what the world needs. And if I, a middle-aged man, found myself so deeply impacted by misaligned thinking and misguided pursuit of false ‘authenticity’, how much more at risk are the younger generations? This has the potential to irrevocably alter the familial landscape in the U.S., not simply because of the law change permitting same sex marriage, but more importantly the widespread neurosis that avoids discomfort at all times. Marriage is an ordeal not simply a convenient relationship that is there to fulfill our inherent longings.
The challenge for the Church is that it has largely lost its ability to communicate effectively to the culture and even when it does decide to make some form of stand in support of marriage it is perceived as out of touch. “The cultural environment makes the Christian vision of sexuality and marriage seem naïve, unreasonable, or at least unworkable as a real-life philosophy – even for many Christians.”If those in our own congregations are not fully understanding the need for the sanctity of marriage then; “something in our approach to discipleship is not getting to the heart of things.”Perhaps we need to pick up from last week’s reading and be willing to ask new kinds of questions and seek out different answers in order to communicate the message in a more effective manner. “We cannot afford to let sexual and relational formation remain a secondary concern within the church.”
For too long we have predominantly ‘played’ at church and community. Even more so now that we have been inundated with hand-held computers. “Technology encourages us to personalize our religious experience, podcast our favorite speakers, plug in a suitable solo worship experience, and attend church simply for the social interaction and romantic prospects.”It seems that genuine community is not the norm and yet that is the one thing that would be most attractive to this generation of 2 dimensional relationships. “The hope of the Gospel is that it invites us out of hiding……to root us in real community.”The unwillingness of the church to adequately address issues of sexuality, familial relationships, marital fidelity, etc. because they are uncomfortable fails to recognize the centrality of these issues for living our God’s vision of “comprehensive human flourishing in all its fullness.”]
I, for one, with a renewed and balanced sense of self, hope to lead in this area or at the very least help those preparing for marriage to avoid some of the pitfalls that had captured me for so long.
Grant, Jonathan. Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015. P. 120
Ibid p. 30
Ibid p. 51
Ibid p. 122
Ibid p. 25
Ibid p. 19
Ibid p. 16
Ibid p. 23
Ibid p. 25
Ibid p. 34
Ibid p. 53
Ibid p. 17