dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

Dirty Little Word, Part 2

Spiritual Shots™ is a Richmond-based forum for those who are honestly exploring questions about Christianity. The series meets the second Tuesday of every month in the upstairs bar at Bottoms Up Pizza in historic Shockoe Bottom.
As the guest facilitator for February, I was asked to address the question of sex from this particular dimension: Why has the Church turned a beautiful thing into a dirty little word? The following, then, is Part 2 of my manuscripted outline from a sex talk on February 8th. Part 1 is here.

We Christians have a sex story that is meant to sing.

But...as mentioned before...we are often too busy policing or legislating. And meanwhile, crucially, our story appears thin from our own cultural discomfort, failings and wrongful stigmatizing of the body or pleasure.

 

Portland, Oregon || 2002 || Concert: Medeski, Martin & Wood

Listening to the American jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood allows a person the distinct privilege -- and the hard work -- of searching and finding the music within the band's relentlessly eclectic noise-making.

Considering all the noisy chimes blowing in the cultural winds of sex, finding the true music is exactly what I'm hoping to propose. So here now...three notes to hit when it comes to a Christian or Gospel-infused perspective of sex. 

 

The first note: Sex is a good thing.

This is, of course, the positive affirmation that sex is beautiful and pleasurable (without qualification) because sex is the idea and creation of God.

In fact, according to the Christian witness, sexual identity – maleness and femaleness – are part of what it means to be made in the image of God. We are sexual creatures (as if we didn’t already know). Sexuality is part of our essential being. It's reductionistic to consider sex in merely functional ways; sex is for the very understanding of who we are.

In the archetypal Christian love story, we find Adam walking around in a garden, perhaps disoriented, and singing a poem: “At last…bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Also in the Hebrew and Christian storybook, we get a bride calling to her groom:

Come, my beloved,    let us go out into the fields    and lodge in the villages;    let us go out early to the vineyards    and see whether the vines have budded,    whether the grape blossoms have opened    and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love. The mandrakes give forth fragrance,    and beside our doors are all choice fruits,     new as well as old,    which I have laid up for you, O my beloved. 

Song of Solomon, Chapter 7. Yeah. Outdoor lovemaking. New meaning to the phrase: “Get a room.”

That being said, from a Christian perspective, it is imperative to keep the following realities attached: Sex is good because God is good. Sex derives its goodness from God’s goodness.

Of all the good things God is said to have made at the beginning of the world, sex is one of them.

 

The second note: Sex is a context thing.

I don’t know how you ultimately feel about a statement like “God is good." Please hear me: I’m not throwing around the phrase lightly or as a magical cliche. I know, at times, it's complicated to view the world this way.

But the Church has historically thought and taught that part of what it means for God to be good is that he is all-knowing and all-wise. That he doesn’t give good gifts without limits.

The original man and woman were placed within a Garden -- a specified context -- where not every tree was available to them. And sex is placed within a context for its own good. For the good of both man and woman.

In our telling, sex does not exist in its own vacuum -- for its own sake. It is not free to do what it wants, so to speak. Sex is for the confines of covenantal relationship...for marriage...for something strong enough. In reality, the greatest freedom is actually a loyal bond.

So, again, like man and woman in the Garden context, part of the beauty and goodness of sex is its God-given responsibility or power.

 

The third note: Sex is a window thing.

What I mean by presenting this window image is the following: that a Christian view of sex -- simply and profoundly -- should be like a window to the world.

When you look through that window, you see all that sex is and was intended to be. But you also see that sex is not the greatest thing. It is only just a thing…to point to the greatest thing.

There is an increasingly modern dilemma with regard to sex, which is really a very old problem. Our American culture has often worshipped and often worships the created thing…sex...and not the thing behind the created thing...God.

It is as if we have followed our misplaced desires. We have tried to steal fire from the gods (to quote the Greek myth). We have tried to obtain or procure from sex what only God can give us…what we can only find in God.

Sex is a window -- from the Christian or Gospel perspective -- because the connection or bond in sex, the merging and the deep uniting experienced in sex, is a sign meant to reveal. It reveals a connection or bond, a merging and deep uniting, that is otherworldly. Sex is absolutely concrete, as we know, and of the material world. No doubt. But it is almost infinitely mysterious and from another world.

Sex is indeed a great thing, but it is not the greatest thing. In the Christian proclammation, sex is so beautiful and good...and so filled with responsibility and power...precisely because it's a window. And the window describes what it might be like to relate to the One who made all good things at the beginning of the world.