(This is part 5—and the last part in a while—in the series, “What I Want My Teenage Daughters to Know about Sex.” Click here to read it from the beginning.)
We pick up this week with more myths about sex and relationships, especially that part about relationships.
Myth: “The right person will bring you lifelong happiness.”
Is it all in my mind?
Cause it seems so hard to believe
That you’re all I need. (Jack Wagner)
You bring me hope when I can’t breathe.
You give me love, you’re all I need. (Christina Aguilera)
All I need, all all I need… Is you smiling.
All I need, all all I need… Is life, love with you. (Awolnation)
You are all I need.
I’m in the middle of your picture,
Lying in the reeds. (Radiohead)
I’m holding on to you, holding on to me,
Maybe it’s all we got but it’s all I need.
You’re all I need. (Mat Kearney)
You’re all, I need—
Lie together, cry together,
I swear to God I hope we fucking die together
—to get by. (Method Man)
Truth: The right person will support you in your lifelong pursuit of happiness.
And you will support him.
It’s a very romantic fantasy, to fall in love with that person who fulfills you forever. But that’s all it is, a fantasy. In real life, human needs are complicated, and happiness is complicated. Life is complicated, and this is not an exception to life. In real life, we meet our needs and find happiness from a wide variety of sources, not from any single person. And in real life, people change, relationships develop, and we find new ways to meet our needs, new ways to find happiness.
Making a long-term relationship work involves a certain amount of flexibility and exploration, and a lot of communication.
(There’s that word again.)
Myth: “Sex is primarily for reproduction.”
“Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’”
Truth: Most sex is for enjoyment and bonding.
Otherwise, there would be no point in having sex after you’ve hit menopause. In fact, there would be no point in having sex during most of your cycle, only for the few days that you’re actually fertile. But that’s not how humans are built. Humans, like bonobos and chimps, are designed to have sex during most of the female’s cycle, even during those times she is not ready to conceive. Actually, humans seem to be designed to have sex during all of the female’s cycle.
This myth, unfortunately, is fallout from the culture war. Many religious conservatives insist that sex is primarily for procreation so that they can therefore conclude that gay sex is somehow evil or wrong.
But that’s simply not how we humans live. Even those of us who choose not to get pregnant, we still have sex, and usually a lot of sex. Even women who have had hysterectomies still have sex, and I’m not going to tell them it’s abnormal or immoral, because it isn’t.
On the other hand, with artificial insemination, women regularly get pregnant without having sex. I’ve said it before: sex has only a passing connection to pregnancy.
If it gives you a sense of purpose to think of sex as being involved in procreation—which it often is—that’s wonderful. Just don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
Myth: “The man is the head of the house.”
I was told this both when I was dating and when I got married. Now I’m a stay-at-home husband-homemaker who has found a great degree of fulfillment in so-called “women’s work.”
Truth: Two heads are better than one.
Individuals have different personalities, different preferences, and different styles. All relationships require honest communication, sensitivity, and compromise. That may mean that the woman takes the lead sometimes, or even all the time. Love must be defined within the relationship, not by some outside criteria.
This principle extends to how we think and act about sex. It is not a woman’s “duty” to give her man everything he wants sexually, as much as he wants, whenever he wants, without a thought to her own needs. Relationships are more complicated than that. Nor is a woman who asks for sex somehow acting slutty. Never be afraid to ask for what you want, and always require consent. For both partners.
Myth: “Sex is a sacred rite.”
“Sex is my ministry to my wife” (an actual quote from an actual youth pastor).
Truth: Sex is a part of life, and a normal part of being human.
That is why it’s important, for example, to negotiate condom use, in order to guard against pregnancy and STI’s.
Many religious people have built up a mystique around sex, and made it larger than life. When you build something up to that scale, it gets scary. And many religious people are very scared of sex.
I have decades of personal experience with sex—that makes me somewhat of an expert—and let me say, it’s not larger than life. It’s part of life, a small part.
By limiting the quantity and quality of sex, religious conservatives make it seem more scarce, and make it seem bigger and more valuable than it actually is. Then they focus on those limits to the exclusion of all else. No wonder the poor buggers go mad.
Don’t get me wrong: limits are good; they’re how we define who we are and how we live our lives. So set limits that work for you. But decide them with knowledge, not based on false perceived value.
Myth: “Focusing on God will keep you out of trouble.”
Again from that Christian book about teen dating.
Truth: Teenage pregnancy is higher among the more religious.
Yes, it really is. It could be because the most religious teens don’t know anything about sex, or about STI’s, or about birth control. After all, why would they need to, if they never plan on having sex? But without a plan, they end up making stupid decisions. (Note that this narrative is controversial, and not obvious from the data.) In any case, these teenagers, who presumably believe that abortion is murder, end up having more abortions than non-religious teenagers.
I believe God wants us to be informed, to know what we’re getting into, and to behave ethically. Only then can you make reasonably responsible decisions about when to have sex, with whom to have sex, and what to do if something goes differently than you expected.
Myth: “Premarital sex can destroy your relationship.”
Truth: Only you and your partner can build up or destroy your relationship.
Usually, when people blame premarital sex for destroying a relationship, what they mean is that the shame they feel destroys the relationship.
But sex itself is not supposed to be shameful. And certainly if you’ve behaved ethically, you should feel no shame. I know this may be hard to get your mind around, but please don’t let others load guilt and shame on you and ruin a promising relationship, no matter what else happens.
(This is part 4 in my series, “What I Want My Teenage Daughters to Know about Sex.” Click here to read it from the beginning.)
In the words of psychologist David Ley, “many of our beliefs about sexuality have been based on myths and subjective fears.”
Indeed, numerous myths about sex and relationships persistently circulate in religion and pop culture, and you’ve been exposed to both.
Here are some of the more significant myths that I’ve culled from my research. Unfortunately, it’s a very long list. I apologize for that, but I didn’t make up these myths; I’m just answering them. I’ve divided this list up into two parts. Next week, I’ll run part 2. Today, I want to start with this interesting tidbit, which almost sounds plausible…
Myth: “You don’t actually need sex.”
Well, then, that explains why so many marriages split up over sex issues. Uh. Or maybe it doesn’t.
Truth: Most humans are sexual beings and have a built-in sex drive.
We all need sex, and we all need the benefits that sex brings, whether we get them through healthy sex and relationships, or whether through dysfunctional behaviors. We all need attention, intimacy, and love. We all need the variety and discovery of accomplishment, and sex helps provide these, too. Sex is even involved in our sense of status and sense of purpose.
Myth: “Sex won’t make you happy.”
I swear, I actually saw this in a Christian book about dating, targeted at teens.
Truth: It depends.
We tend to get very unhappy when our basic human needs are not met. Sex is involved in meeting many of these needs, as I just pointed out. Therefore, sex actually is involved in your happiness. And since one of our needs is sex itself, if you’re not getting enough of it, getting more sex could indeed make you happier than if you didn’t.
Myth: “Men only want one thing.”
Truth: It’s way more complicated than that.
Some men indeed only want one thing. And so do some women. But men are told that it’s normal for them to want a lot of sex, and women are told it’s slutty for them. In fact, most men and women (both!) are interested in meeting a wide range of physical and emotional needs (as I mentioned above), and sex is only a part of how they do that.
For the record, when I was a teenager, when I was attracted to a girl, sex was the last thing on my mind. Yes, I had sexual thoughts, but not about girls I actually liked. With them, it was more about romance, affection, and attention. The sex always came after all that.
Myth: “Women don’t have a sex drive and don’t enjoy sex.”
The flip-side of the old chestnut above.
Truth: The female sex drive is at least as powerful as the male’s.
But women definitely want sex. And definitely enjoy sex. In Polynesian culture, it is a point of pride for the man to make sure that the woman has at least as many orgasms as he. Polynesian women are the same as women everywhere, except that they’re actually respected for their sex drive. May all men learn how to be Polynesian.
Or at least how to please a woman. There are a number of good, informative videos and books. When you’re ready, ask, and I’ll give you some titles.
Myth: “Oral sex isn’t really sex.”
Truth: Oral sex is definitely a kind of sex.
True, oral sex can’t get you pregnant. But many STI’s can spread orally: syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, HPV, internal parasites, hepatitis A, and HIV. Therefore, even with oral sex, use condoms and dental dams. (There are even flavored condoms designed for oral sex.)
(Note that some STI’s can also spread through touching with the fingers. Make sure you have no cuts on your hands, and wash your hands before and after touching your partner and before touching yourself. Or use disposable latex or polyurethane gloves.)
But it’s not just about STI’s. In a survey by the Guttmacher Institute, half of college students said oral sex is at least as intimate as PiV sex.
Sex is sex. Own up to it.
Myth: “Having sex during your period will increase your risk of vaginal infection and cervical cancer.”
I got this one from a Jewish website that was desperately grasping for sciencey-sounding reasons for Jewish religious purity laws.
Truth: Not really, not if you use basic sanitary practices.
It it true that the cervix opens during your period, to let blood flow through, and that this also can let infection through. And it is also true that the vagina is less acidic during your period, which allows more infections. However, with basic sanitary practices, sex during a woman’s period is still safe. Remember the general rule: Never put anything in your vagina that’s not clean enough to put in your mouth. (Really.) And if you really want to make sure, use a condom.
If you or your partner want to avoid sex during your period, either for religious reasons or for personal reasons, that’s of course just fine. But don’t do it for medical or safety reasons, because they just don’t exist. Your period is not dirty or unsafe.
Myth: “Abstinence is the best protection against getting pregnant or catching an STI.”
Truth: Or you could also just use a condom.
In the words of Penn Jillette, “But that’s like avoiding getting hit by a car by staying at home— all the time.” To me, that sounds a little agoraphobic. You can get treated for that, you know. It doesn’t sound like a very pleasant way to live, in any case.
So yeah, I guess abstinence is a sure-fire way to avoid getting pregnant. But most people don’t want to abstain. Most people really need not to abstain, at least at some point in their lives. Even religious folk who wait until they get married, after they get married they don’t practice abstinence as a form of birth control.
Myth: “Virginity is a special gift that you can give only once, to one special person.”
Truth: Only a special person would love you enough to accept such a crummy gift without complaining about it.
Thank God you can only give it once, because the first time you have sex is likely to be one of the clumsiest, most anticlimactic quests you’ve ever embarked upon. You won’t know what the hell you’re doing. Don’t get me wrong, the first time is still intimate and emotionally significant. But only after decades, after you’ve been studying, experimenting, discovering, learning, only then will sex become truly great.
So enjoy the journey. Just do so responsibly.
Myth: “If you abstain, then your first time will be amazing, intimate, emotional, beautiful.”
Actual words used by some young virgins on a documentary about abstinence.
Truth: It’ll be pretty boring, because you won’t know what the hell you’re doing.
Having great sex is a skill, like playing the guitar. You have to practice a lot before you get good at it. And you have to practice with the same partner to get good at understanding what he feels and what he likes, because everyone is a little different from everyone else. After you’ve been having sex with the same person for years, then it’ll finally start to get amazing, intimate, emotional, beautiful.
Myth: “Some people are perverts.”
Truth: We’re all perverts.
Some sexual practices are culturally or socially inappropriate, and sometimes it may be best not to share your thoughts and desires with others who cannot handle them and probably don’t want to hear them. (TMI!) But “sexual perversion” is a myth.
As they say: “Your kink may not be my kink, but your kink is okay.”
Myth: “Too much sex will turn you into a sex addict.”
Truth: Yeah, right… just like too much food will turn you into a food addict.
Like the porn addict, there’s probably no such thing as a sex addict. That’s just not how addiction works. Too complicated to go into here. The basic thing you want to focus on is whether you’re actually getting your needs met, and getting them met functionally, deepening your relationships, behaving ethically, and all the other things I talked about earlier. If you’re doing all that, you’re not going to get addicted to sex, no matter how much sex you want or how much sex you have.
“Re had been riding her dirt bike without a helmet, accelerating too fast, when she lost control and ran headlong into a tree. She had been killed instantly. And I had been out, almost losing my virginity, when the call had come in.”
That last sentence is a lie.
When I originally wrote it, I did not mean it to be a lie. I did not believe it was a lie. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I believe I was misleading you.
In Love through the Eyes of an Idiot, I tell the story of my whirlwind affair with Tracy (not her real name). If you read that story, you might get the sense that she was a sex-crazed, skin-deep, mixed-up slut, who would have destroyed my life if I had let her get too close. The truth is that I probably would have destroyed her life, had she let me get too close.
I’m still a little sad that she did not.
I don’t have many regrets about my life. But over the past several months, I’ve been discovering some doozies. Maybe not having any regrets is a sign of immaturity. Maybe you have to have lived long enough to reflect seriously enough to develop true regrets. And maybe some people never even make it that far.
Tracy was not sex-obsessed, but just sexual and sexy. And what we did together, by some definition, by my current definition, it was a kind of sex. And the feelings, as I remember, they were feelings of having made love. That makes her my first.
At the time and for many years, I didn’t see it that way. The night that Re died—I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s how I will always remember the night—we probably would have gone even farther. But she stopped, from shame. And I’m sorry she stopped, and I’m sorry I made her feel ashamed. That was the last time we ever dated.
Tracy was not skin-deep, but deeper than I was able to comprehend. It is true that our relationship was quick and shallow, a wild fling. But I remember some beautiful, wonderful, thoroughly enjoyable times I had with her. We shared some romantic, personal moments together.
She was not mixed up and dysfunctional, but struggling. A young single woman with a baby daughter and an ex that confused her and sometimes scared her. I never met him. Her daughter should be in her twenties now.
I like to imagine that she found her way, maybe got married, maybe not, had more kids, and is now living a blissful, prosperous life somewhere in Eastern Massachusetts—I just don’t know where. And I may never know. I regret that I couldn’t be a part of that; I don’t think I was capable of being a part of it.
At the time, I would have been unable to take care of her daughter. And I would have been unable to help her deal with the problems she was having with her ex. And I might have loaded onto her all the guilt and shame that I would have felt from so thoroughly enjoying our time together.
But now, I wouldn’t give up the memories of what we had for anything in the world.
Our last date still is my inspiration for all the best dates in my fictional romantic stories. The company. The conversation. The escargot—I had not tried it before, and I haven’t tried it since. Even the sex. I loved being with her and spending time with her and talking to her.
As a young man, I hated dating. For decades I would remember dating as a loathsome phase of youth. But there are two women who made dating fun. One was Margaret, my Beloved, who has since stuck with me through all the crap of real-life-after-dating. But Tracy was first. We indeed had some miserable moments. It was for those that I—not she—refused to stick through the crap of real life. We had miserable moments, but every single date we went on also contained marvelous moments. And I never gave her credit for that, for making dating fun. I am the one who should be ashamed, because I do not even remember her last name.
I do not remember the full name of the first woman I had sex with.
As a result, like Nora, who lost Julian’s phone number, Julian who showed her how to enjoy love— Like Nora could not find Julian, I cannot find Tracy.
But mostly I regret judging her. It’s so easy when you’re young and you haven’t faced the needs and feelings and problems that she was facing, it’s so easy to sit up in your ivory tower handing down dictums on other people’s lives. And that’s what morality teaches us to do.
But it’s unethical. And sad. And I regret it.
And I regret not being able to tell her I’m sorry.
I’m sure it wouldn’t make much difference now. Even so, I wish I could apologize. I wish I could tell her how significant she was to my life, or at least to my stories. I wish I could let her know how much I enjoyed our time together, in the perspective of hindsight.
Maybe she doesn’t even remember me. But I will always fondly recall the short time we spent together, both the wonderful moments and the horrible ones.
In Rev. Becky Gettel’s March 16 sermon at Trinity Episcopal (down the street here in Concord, MA), she tells the story of a little boy, a few years old at most. His mother brought him to a cocktail party: adults, fancy dress, best behavior. And naturally, while she was talking to the Reverend, the little boy began acting out.
“Come here,” she told him.
“No!” he said, and crossed his arms defiantly.
Threats were made, negotiations signed, and finally the little boy came to his mother. The Reverend saw that he was about to be punished. But what happened next surprised him.
The mother took the boy in her arms, rested his head on her shoulder, and he quickly fell asleep.
“He missed his nap today,” she explained. “And he missed his dinner, too. And he misses his Daddy, who is away on business. And I dragged him here to this cocktail party.”
And the Reverend was filled with compassion, in that space where once he held judgement.
In her sermon, Becky talks about the restoration of innocence, about moving from judgement to compassion, and then from compassion to relatedness, about seeing people as God sees them, and then as God sees us ourselves.
If you have a chance, before jumping to blame and castigation, take a step back and see the people around you as normal human beings, just as God sees you, and be filled with compassion, just as God is compassionate toward you.
Avoid the regret that comes from sitting too high on your own horse.
(This is part 3 in my series, “What I Want My Teenage Daughters to Know about Sex.” Click here to read it from the beginning.)
Yes, you heard me right: Getting married has nothing to do with getting pregnant, and getting pregnant has only a passing connection to sex.
You might think then that I want you to have wanton intercourse with boys far and wide. And it is true that some people do just that. And some of them say they’re happy with that lifestyle. And I believe them. (Many of them also say that they’re unhappy about the way society demonizes them— but more about that next week.)
But that’s not exactly what I said. What I said was: much of what society has told you about marriage and teen pregnancy is misinformation, and I don’t want you to rely on it.
However, sex does go along with marriage.
Wait until you’re 18, and maybe married
It’s pretty obvious that sex does go along with marriage. A person will usually have sex with his marriage partner. And will usually have sex only with his marriage partner, or at least only admit to having sex with his marriage partner.
I’m fairly sympathetic to the idea that you might want to wait until you’re married before you have sex. That’s because sex can be quite intimate, and in modern society marriage is an expression of intimacy.
I certainly think you should wait until you’re 18 to decide to have sex. This has nothing to do with the dangers of sex itself, but because of the way our culture and our legal system react to minors having sex. The way people react can emotionally scar, or even ruin lives, even if the sex itself doesn’t. As I pointed out before, sex is risky, and our otherwise progressive legal code includes some pretty puritanical laws regarding sex, at least if one of you is younger than 16. Even if you or your partner is 16 or 17, you could theoretically get into legal trouble for “corruption of a minor.” But once you’re 18, you’re legally an “adult”; you can sign contracts, join the military, and legally consent to the risks of sex, all without anyone else’s permission.
(This is in the state of Massachusetts. Other states have different laws. But all states recognize you as an “adult” when you turn 18. At 18, the only thing you apparently aren’t “old enough” to do is to buy alcohol. But you can still always come over to our house for a glass of wine, if you want.)
On top of that, our society really doesn’t offer much support for 16 and 17 year olds who want to have sex. And your particular sub-culture definitely doesn’t. In some cultures, this would not be an issue. In some cultures, young people are encouraged to begin having sex as soon as they hit puberty. But those cultures (or at least the ones I’m thinking of) also have other traditions and conventions that protect teens and teach them how to experiment with sex without getting hurt. We don’t have that here.
So you should absolutely, unquestionably, unequivocally wait until both you and your partner are at least 16 years old. And I think you should also wait until you’re at least 18, because you’ll be able to make better decisions then. And if you want to wait until you’re married, I fully support you and think that’s a great idea.
However, I freely admit to you, many people do have premarital and even extramarital sex, and they do so ethically, and many of them live happy and healthy lives.
What is an “ethical” sexual relationship?
Here’s another area in which I’m risking the rage of religious conservatives on my keppy. But I believe you need a sexual ethic that will bear the weight of 21st-century life. I’m not sure precisely what this ethic looks like, but I do know at least some of its components.
Always insist on informed consent. That is, make sure you have consent of your partner and that you have given consent. This means you always ask, and you always communicate, first. Sexual coercion is not necessarily violent; it is often simply manipulative. Always ask, always confirm, always communicate; never assume, never manipulate, never ignore your partners reservations or doubts. Never assume that you have consent simply because you’re married. Never have sex with someone who is too drunk to drive. Never have sex with someone who is too young to legally give consent. Never have sex with someone over whom you have power or authority.
Follow through on your promises. This basic rule of ethical behavior includes our promises of monogamy and fidelity. About 1 out of every 5 married people have had an affair. That’s cheating. If you find yourself wanting to have an affair, at the very least talk about it with your partner first. Realize that he may react very negatively, and you may have a lot of busybody friends who might think you’re nuts or evil (if it were any of their business), but at least you will have behaved ethically.
Tell the truth. That doesn’t mean you have to tell your partner everything that comes into your head. But do tell him what he needs to know, and don’t lie to him or mislead him about what you think or feel.
Own your own shit. Your feelings are your feelings, and your responsibility. Ultimately, you and only you can know your own needs and be responsible for getting them met.
Ask for what you want. You may not get what you want, but you’ll have a much lower chance of getting it if you don’t ask. And know the difference between a request and a demand. A bad feeling on your part does not automatically translate into a demand on mine.
Give what you can. Consider your partner’s emotional needs, and freely give him what he asks for if you can. I believe this is the essence of love.
Set appropriate boundaries. Your body, your rules. (And his body, his rules, too.) You and only you have control over your own body. You and only you know your needs, feelings, and thoughts. Therefore, you and only you can communicate with your partner, come to an adequate understanding with your partner, and offer him the same respect as you expect from him.
Assume good intentions. Some of the disagreements you will have will actually be misunderstandings. When we’re keyed up or tired, we tend to take things the wrong way, and this is especially true in a serious relationship. “You always hurt the one you love” is not just a 1950′s pop song.
Fight fair. Be slow to take things personally: the world does not revolve around you. Don’t tell your spouse what’s wrong with him: you are not his psychotherapist. “You know what the problem with you is?” Don’t do that. Instead, focus on expressing your own thoughts and feelings. Don’t hit below the belt; don’t dig up old wounds, old hurts that you can blame on the other person: this fight is about today, not about what happened in the past.
Foster communication. Always know that you can discuss issues with the other person. Don’t judge each other. Never shout, just to get in the last word, and then storm out of the room, because that cuts off communication.
Love unconditionally. Never put strings on your love. Instead, make your relationship safe enough to talk about anything you need to, no matter how outlandish. Unconditional love is the First Amendment of marriage.
Communication is especially important in this day and age, because many people assume a host of unwritten rules surrounding issues on which not everyone agrees:
- thinking about others as sexual beings, and being attracted to other people (even if you don’t act on it)
- looking at porn
- talking about sex to others
- a “duty” to have sex (especially, some guys assume that their women have a duty to “perform”)
- submission and dominance – who is the “head” of the house
- a supposed right to control your partner’s sexual expression
- even sex or romance with others – not everyone agrees on where the limits are
I’ll talk about myths regarding some of these issues, next week.
Almost 5 years ago, I posted some of my Little One Abbie’s artwork. Now that she’s a full-fledged high-schooler, calling her “Little One” feels a little creepy, and reminds me too much of Lwaxana Troi. (But I still sometimes do it anyway.)
Anyhoo, in the intervening years, she’s been posting lots of stuff on her page at DeviantArt. And so I figured it was time for an update. And so I sorted through some of her latest stuff, and picked out some of my favorites, and asked if that would be okay with her. And it was. And so here it is.
In that post, 5 years ago, I estimated that she might become an “expert” by the time she entered high school. I hope that you’ll agree at least that her skills have improved substantially, and that she’s developed an individual style.
Enjoy these drawings!
P.S. Please feel free to leave a comment below! I’ll make sure Abbie hears about the nice ones.
(This is part 2 in my series, “What I Want My Teenage Daughters to Know about Sex.” Click here to read it from the beginning.)
There’s a story that continues to permeate even modern society. If you have sex, you might get pregnant, and that would be a disaster. After you get married—or in some versions of the story, after you’re an “adult”—then it’s okay to have sex.
(This is just one of the stories we tell about sex, and I’ll be going into other sex myths in another blog post.)
There’s obviously a kernel of truth in the story. But this story oversimplifies the truth so badly that you almost can’t even see it buried within the mythology. And so when you do get married, or become an “adult,” you’ll probably have no idea how to think about sex and to protect yourself from sexual risks.
Firstly, getting married is not about getting pregnant. After your mother and I married, we waited several years before we got pregnant. And if we had gotten pregnant earlier, it would have completely changed the course of our lives, even though we were married. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but at least I knew how to read the condom instructions.
In today’s world, marriage has only a passing connection to pregnancy, and pregnancy has only a passing connection to sex. A woman might be married to one man, be sleeping with a second, and get pregnant by a third (a sperm donor) with whom she has never had sex. I’m not advocating that sort of arrangement: it can get really complicated really fast, and it’s usually not necessary, and could even be unethical. But it does show how the risks of sex are not all about teen pregnancy.
You don’t have to rely quite as much as we did on pure luck. You have a wide array of contraceptives available to you, and you should know about all of them. Some will protect only against pregnancy, and others will also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).
Sex is risky. So know the risks.
The biggest risk is that of STI’s. Many STI’s have no obvious symptoms, and you need to be tested by a doctor or at a clinic. And if you don’t detect them fast enough, some can silently become incurable and cause permanent damage, make you infertile, or even kill you. Meanwhile, if you’re having sex with multiple partners, you could be spreading these diseases to people you love.
Before you have sex with a new partner, be sure to ask all the important questions, and share answers between the two of you— There’s that dang blasted “communication” thing again. If you two can’t share answers to questions about sex, then you aren’t ready to have sex with each other. This counts, whether you’re getting together with a new boyfriend, marrying your first and only husband, or bed-hopping with lesbians. It’s a general rule you can apply anywhere, with any partner, in any situation.
(There’s a handy-dandy sexual-history form you can use.)
When were you last tested for STI’s?
Have you ever tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, any kind of HPV or HSV, or Trichomoniasis. (And share with him the results of your latest PAP Smear.)
How many partners have you had sex with? When? How many currently? What kind of sex, and with what kind of contraception?
Would he be willing to use a condom? And would you be willing to have sex with him if he won’t? (And if either of you are allergic to latex, you can use a latex-free condom.) The condom is a marvel of modern invention. Cheap, reliable, readily available. It protects against both pregnancy and STI’s. You can pick up a box for very little money at any drug store. And you need neither a prescription nor an ID. Use them.
Are you planning to have children? What time frame?
What happens if the condom fails? Will you use emergency contraception?
What will you do in case of unwanted pregnancy? (This is something your mother and I never discussed. We really lucked out. There are many couples who are nowhere near as lucky.)
What will you do if one of you tests positive for STI’s? Or if someone one of you has had sex with tests positive for STI’s? How will you tell everyone who needs to know?
Before you have sex, decide whether you’re comfortable taking on the risk with the new person, or whether you need him to get a new STI test first. For yourself, do you need regular STI testing? (Especially if you’re sleeping with multiple partners.) Do you have the means necessary to get those tests and to get treatment if you test positive? And remember that some STI’s won’t show up on a test for several months after someone is infected.
And agree on your expectations, what will happen after you’re having sex: Will you have sex exclusively only with each other? What will he do to protect you from indirect infection from new partners? And what will you do to protect him? What is your exposure to future risk? Being exclusive is obviously a powerful way to limit how widely STI’s spread. But that’s no reason not to discuss it and say so.
I believe that you want what’s best for you, and that whatever else happens, you’ll do what you think is right, however you reckon it. That’s why I want to impress on you how important it is to do get good information, know what questions to ask (and ask them), do the hard research, and plan out what actions you will take ahead of time, and under what conditions.
And more about these conditions next week…
I disagree with many other Christians about sex.
Firstly, I think God wants us to be happy and prosperous. He created us to enjoy the world and our existence in it. And sex is part of that existence. To turn a phrase, sex was made for man, not man for sex.
Sex should be fun, and it should always be fun. If sex isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right. Sex should never be dangerous, shameful, painful, scary, dramatic— unless of course you add a little drama just for fun.
I want you to find all the excitement and joy in sex that I have, and much more.
But you may find it hard to sort out sexual issues, because we now live in a complex, diverse society, with ever more options. I believe this is a good thing, because ever more options means you have ever more power to control your own destiny, and find a life that makes you happy. But it also makes sex more difficult, because you have to understand more different techniques and technologies, and wrestle with more sexual issues.
On top of that, I know, this is an emotionally turbulent time for you. I know this, because I was a teenager myself once, and the feelings are some of the few pieces of being a teenager that I still remember. This is normal; it’s part of growing up; it’s hormones (literally). And this must be one of God’s cruel jokes, that he designed us to wake up to our sexuality at exactly the same moment that our feelings are being whipped up into a frenzy within us.
However, in some ways, you have things better than I did. When I was your age, sex wasn’t really that much simpler than it is now; we just believed it was. We didn’t have the Internet, and we didn’t have Google. But we did have taboos and myths. I had to struggle through my first sexual experiences a complete ignoramus. And ignorance is sabotage. But you don’t have to. You now have such a wealth of information at your fingertips. Use it. No one can stop you from discovering the truth, if you seek it. Don’t go into sex without knowing what you’re doing or what to expect.
The most important sexual skill you will ever develop
It may not seem slick or sexy. It may not feel exciting. You may not even be thinking about it right now. But if you want to have fun sex, there’s one skill you should be working on as a top priority, and that’s the skill of talking to your partner.
Talking to him about what you expect from your relationship. Talking to him about what you feel. Talking to him about what you want. Talking to him about STI’s and about birth control. Talking to him about your views on emergency contraception. Even talking to him about how you feel about abortion. Talking to him about what turns you on, and what turns you off. About how to touch you and how you should touch him. And about what you might want to try, and what you will probably never be willing to try.
Communicate, because people have different personalities, different preferences, different values, and different ideas about sex. Only by talking about these issues can you have a meeting of the minds with your partner.
That’s why I want you to feel it’s normal to talk about sex with your partner. Sex should not be a verboten subject.
When I was growing up, my parents kissed, but they never talked to me about sex, and I never heard them talk to each other about sex. Clearly, they did have sex, because my youngest brother was born when I was 14. But I grew up feeling it was strange to talk about sex. Not until much later in life did I learn how to negotiate sex.
I talk to you about sex, and talk about sex in front of you, not to embarrass you, but only because I want you to see this as normal.
About halfway through the film Broken English:
“What are you thinking?”
Nora is laying her head back on Julian’s chest. The bath suds cover their nakedness. His arms intertwine with hers and wrap around her torso. He waits for a response, but she simply stares into space from behind blank eyes.
“Hey.” He splashes some water on her.
They have just made passionate love, and they were happy. She was happy. And if her pattern holds, the happiness will soon reach its abrupt end.
“Nothing,” Nora says. “I was just thinking about how I’m always telling my friend Audrey that I wasn’t going to see anyone.”
Like the last guy she slept with, who it turned out had another girlfriend he liked better than her.
He smiles. “And I changed your mind?”
“Are you seeing anyone right now?”
“No. Not now, just you.”
“But you do see other women.” He is, after all, from France.
“If I meet someone I like, yes.”
She stares into space.
“Why? What?” Julian asks.
“Nothing. Of course you do.”
“But you don’t?” He kisses her forehead.
No, I guess she doesn’t. She doesn’t do a lot of things. She doesn’t think before she falls. And she doesn’t question the intentions of men.
“What is this?” she says. “What are we doing here?”
“We take a bath.”
That’s not what she meant. “Why do you talk about love?”
“Before.” She struggles with the words she wants to say, the thoughts she wants to think, the feelings she longs to feel. “I’m just trying to figure out if this is supposed to mean something.”
“I don’t know, Nora. We have no contract. We are just meeting each other.”
Exhale. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” Smiles. “I’m sorry.”
How often do we let our expectations get the better of us? How often do we make a big deal out of them, instead of enjoying the moments we can spend together?
I often listen to the title track of Israeli jazz bassist Avishai Cohen’s album Shaot Regishot (“Sensitive Hours”). It’s about a relationship in that between-state, more than an acquaintance, less than a life-partner.
These lyrics have a certain melancholy tone to them. But I like to think of them reflecting enjoyment. I particularly love the lines in the chorus: “We didn’t ask for anything, just loved… If we knew, then maybe we didn’t know.” There’s a beauty sometimes in simply yielding to ignorance, and allowing it to become a momentary bliss.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to be in a new relationship in order to enjoy the people around you. Be sure to take a few sensitive moments today.
Here’s an English translation of the lyrics of “Sensitive Hours,” with a YouTube video embedded below. Enjoy!
The sad gaze in my heart yet remains.
I do not know anything except you— How can I?
Even if we do not meet,
Or are touched again,
The sad gaze in my heart remains.
And maybe yet will we get closer to love.
Only time will tell whether it is bad or good.
Even if we do not meet,
Or are touched again,
The sad gaze will remain close.
We asked nothing; we just loved.
The days advanced in silence.
If we knew, then we did not know, maybe.
We asked nothing; we just loved.
The days passed in stillness.
If we knew, then we did not know, maybe.
Nothing like taking a hike with someone you love, during the first sunny days of Spring. And that’s what I and my Beloved did this past Monday. It was the first time we had visited Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest. But since we’ve moved to the Merrimack Valley, it’s now a 10 minute car ride down a country backroad. So we spent Easter Monday morning together, and enjoyed each other’s company.
I managed to get one photo. The LDT Forest (as I like to call it, for short) is more than 15% wetlands. Here’s a view of (I think) Spruce Swamp, from the north.
(You should be able to click on any of these images for a larger view.)
The next day, my Elder Daughter became jealous that we had gone to the forest without her (even though she had been otherwise engaged). So she and I went for our own hike, which turned into a bigger adventure. This time, I remembered to take more photos.
We started at the main parking area in Lowell, hiking north up Trotting Park Road, toward Tyngsboro.
Eventually, we reached the town line. We had hoped to find the exact spot where Lowell, Dracut, and Tyngsboro meet, but only got close. Here’s a view looking toward Spruce Swamp from the road, near that point.
Beware of wildlife. We thought he was a stick!
We turned left to follow Trotting Park Road toward Lake Althea. On the way, we encountered more wetlands. Have the beavers been to Tyngsboro?
At the edge of the forest, we turned left so we could continue to hike through the Tyngsboro section of the forest.
We took a winding trail off of the main (though unpaved) road.
The trail took us behind the private property along the lake, and we eventually made our way to the tiny parcel of land where the state forest meets the water.
Whoever lives next door really doesn’t want any uninvited visitors. But at least the ground on his side of the fence is not littered with as much trash.
We then hiked down to the south edge of the forest, planning to follow the trail down along that edge, back into Lowell, and to where we parked the car.
The trail started getting thin, but at least we had clues that we were still in the right vicinity.
Unfortunately, we kind of ran out of trail.
Seriously, though, the trail kinda came to an end. At this point, we were really running late, and getting a little nervous, and feeling a little lost. And because I’m not a true documentarian, I promptly forgot to take any more pictures.
We tried to backtrack up toward the lake, but ended up turning the wrong way and going back out toward the forest exit, which I guess would have eventually taken us into somebody’s back yard along Sherburne Ave. And that’s not where we wanted to go.
So we had a little bit of an argument, in which my daughter pressed the idea that we want to stay on the path, and I pressed the idea that this was definitely not the path we wanted to follow. And we finally decided to turn around, and ended up back on the path we had originally come down. And walked alll-the-waayy-arouunnd back the way we came, back to the main parking area where we parked the car.
Total hiking time, about 2 hours.
My legs hurt.
(No post yesterday, because I was still on Easter vacation. So I thought now might be a good time to start sifting through the backlog of cool quotes I’ve been collecting.)
We often perceive single-parent families as abnormal, dysfunctional, deficient, dirty, indecent, cursed, doomed to failure. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In the words of Pamela Slim, “As the child of an amazing single mom, I can say wholeheartedly that a home filled with love is not broken. By definition, it is whole, powerful and holy.”
The reality is more complicated than our prejudices. Life is complicated, and this is not an exception to life.
Check out Pam’s latest book, Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together.
Tomorrow is a very special Sabbath, Shabbat Pesach. I spent almost two whole days this week wrestling over which songs to play in service. I probably overdid it, yes.
As a result, however, this is my excuse for a Friday post this week.
The three best things about being a Gentile living in a Jewish home at Passover:
- Buffalo chicken and blue cheese dressing on matzah.
- Liverwurst-matzah sandwich (with mustard).
- Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and matzah.
This is not crazy. Rather, because I’m a Gentile, it’s perfectly kosher for me to eat pork and to mix meat and milk. But Jewish homes contain no chametz during Passover, none, not even a little. Even a Jew’s dog goes unleavened during those 8 days. How much more so the husband of a Jew?
So no bread, no doughnuts, no cake, no cookies. Not really a problem for me, as I’m not supposed to be eating those anyhow. But a bacon double cheeseburger (without the bun)? No problem.
P.S. I actually don’t eat much matzah, either. Because it too is bread, and is loaded with carbs.
Today is the first day of the omer. Actually, it began last night.
Beginning with the second day of Passover, Jews begin counting the days. For 7 weeks they count, 49 days. This is called “Counting the Omer,” laid out in Leviticus 23:15-17. The omer was a measure of grain, an offering of thanksgiving for the freedom of Pesach. On the second day of Pesach, an omer of barley was brought to the Temple as an offering. The counting culminates with day 50, which is the holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, the holiday of Pentecost. Shavuot is a like a Hebrew Thanksgiving, and on this day, two loaves made of wheat were offered in the Temple. Jews don’t go to the Temple today, because there is no Temple right now; but they still offer prayers and thanksgiving to God for all that he’s given us. Many decorate their homes and synagogues with greens and flowers, to remember the harvest. Some stay up all night studying Torah. And they read the Ten Commandments in the morning service.
In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is when God gave the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai, and Israel became a nation, rather than just a bunch of refugee slaves escaped from Egypt. If Pesach is the holiday of chaos and questions and upheaval and dramatic miracles (and it is), then Shavuot is a holiday of fulfillment. And so Jews count the days between Pesach and Shavuot, and they pray each day, and wait for the fulfillment of the promise.
Tony Campolo popularized the line in his famous sermon, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.” He tells the story of an old, black preacher from the church he grew up in, who delivered a simple sermon with a profound message:
It was Friday. It was Friday, and my Jesus is dead on the tree. But that’s Friday. Sunday’s a-comin’.
Friday. Friday Mary’s cryin’ her eyes out. The disciples are runnin’ in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd. But that’s Friday. Friday. Sunday’s a-comin’!
Friday. Friday, those are looking at the world and saying, “As things have been, so they shall be. You can’t change nothing in this world! You can’t change nothing in this world!” But they didn’t know, it was only Friday. Sunday’s a-comin’!
Friday! Friday, them forces that oppress the poor and keep people down, them forces that destroy people, them forces is in control, and them gonna rule. But they don’t know, it’s only Friday! Friday!
But Sunday’s a-comin’!
In Tony’s retelling of the story, the old preacher went on for an hour and a half, riffing off that one line: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’.” It was inspirational. It was salvation personified. It was peace, love, and miracles.
“And the Spirit of God that possesses us,” Tony concludes, “will motivate us to give ourselves to those who are suffering in a way that we have failed to do up to this day.”
When God meets our needs, and we bring our offerings of thanksgiving to him, it overflows into the world around us and brings salvation to the needy around us.
In other words, it ain’t Sunday’s a-comin’.
After Yeshua’s resurrection, he told his followers, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Sunday had come and gone. And they were left in suspense, with only a promise.
And so they counted the days. And they prayed. And they waited for the fulfillment of the promise. For 49 days after Passover, they counted, and prayed, and waited.
As Shavuot approached, many Jews from the Diaspora came to present their offerings for the Festival of Weeks in the Temple. So at this time there were many Jews from all around the world staying in Jerusalem. Then on the day of Shavuot, suddenly they heard the roar of wind, like a tornado blowing through the house where they were praying. And what looked like tongues of fire separated and came down on each of them. And the Ruach Hakodesh filled them, and they went out into the street and began speaking to the gathering crowd, in all the different languages of all the Jews that had gathered from the different countries from which they had come.
When the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, in Exodus 19, there were roarings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and the presence of God descended on the mountain in a cloud of smoke. And Moses climbed the mountain, for the people; and God spoke to the people, through Moses; and he gave them the Torah.
But now, says Peter, what God promised the prophet Joel, it has come true: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Your young men will see visions. And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out my Spirit.”
Because in that Shavuot after Yeshua’s resurrection, his followers made their own journey up Mount Sinai.
Climbing Sinai is a fundamentally transforming event.
As Paul Harvey once put it, ‘You can always tell when you’re on the road to success; it’s uphill all the way.’
We all grow up automatically. But growth, you have to be intentional about that.
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, who was one of the great figures of the 19th-century Musar movement, he noted, ‘It’s easier to learn the entire Talmud – than to change even one character trait.’
That kind of growth only comes after years of learning, and trying, and even failing…
I think as Christians we often forget that Pentecost requires a climb, “uphill all the way,” up the Mountain of God. We forget that God’s grace requires our participation; that we are called by God’s Spirit to become more than we are, and our natural inclination is to fight this process every step of the way; that we need to be taught how to ask hard questions, and seek honest answers; that we must give ourselves to those who are suffering, if we expect God to be able to use us to alleviate their suffering. The bomb does not defuse on its own.
As Christians, we often focus on Yeshua’s redeeming sacrifice, and on his resurrection, in which the Apostle Paul said we would be united with him and which is a key aspect of our faith in him.
So you can imagine how important was this litany when Paul recited it to the Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
“But,” he continues, “by the grace of God I am what I am. His grace which was given to me was not futile, but I worked more than all of them; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
This is the journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from Passover to Pentecost.
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Pesach meal with you before I suffer.”
Tonight begins the first night of Passover, of Pesach, the Jewish holiday of remembrance and living-out the Israelite escape from Egypt. It is a holiday of questions, of upheaval, of chaos, of suffering and deliverance. And for Christians, also the beginning of a significant spiritual change.
Yeshua pours the wine. Then he lifts up the cup and says the brachah: “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” He drinks, then looks up at his disciples. “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine,” he says, “until God’s kingdom comes.”
His disciples had the sense that he was going to miraculously overthrow the Romans and usher in a new age of Israeli peace, all in good time. Now they know, “good time” means “real soon now.” A great political upheaval is afoot.
This is Pesach.
He lifts up the bread and says the blessings: “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us concerning the eating of matzah.”
Then he starts breaking the hard unleavened matzah into pieces, handing them out to the disciples, and says, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.”
They eat the Pesach feast. And while they’re eating, Yeshua drops another bombshell: “One of you is going to betray me.”
The disciples stare at each other for a long moment, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to think. One by one, each of them begins to ask, “Surely, you don’t mean me?”
Which one will accidentally say something stupid, betray him to his political enemies? A political defeat against the Roman empire would almost certainly mean a charge of treason and official execution, possibly for all of them.
He says, “It’s the one who dipped his matzah into the bowl at the same time I did.”
The traitor eyes Yeshua suspiciously. He wonders whether he has been discovered, whether he’s in trouble, or in danger.
Peter whispers to John, “Ask him who he means.”
So John leans near to Yeshua’s ear and quietly asks, “Lord, who is it?”
He whispers back, “It is the one to whom I will give this bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
“Is it me?” the traitor whispers, taking the bread.
Yeshua tells him, “What you’re doing, do it quickly.”
And he leaves to help Yeshua’s political opponents get close enough to arrest him.
This is Pesach.
The other disciples think that it was just business, because one of the traitor’s duties is as the treasurer of their little conspiracy. So they assume Yeshua sent him out on some business or other.
They finish the festive Pesach meal.
Then comes the third of the four Seder cups, the Cup of Redemption, symbol of God purchasing their freedom from slavery. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Because he passed through the land of Egypt, and killed all their firstborn. He executed judgment against the gods of Egypt. God purchased Israel’s freedom, bought them as slaves, for a price.
Yeshua pours the wine. He lifts the cup, says the brachah, and then adds, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. I am the price of redemption.”
Afterward, he prays late into the night, while his disciples wait. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Then betrayal, arrest, condemnation, execution. And resurrection—
This is Pesach.
In the modern Seder, bread is broken at several points. At Yeshua’s last Seder, the Temple was still standing, so the breaking of bread in the Gospel stories is probably the main blessing over the bread, before the meal. But in one of the rituals added after the destruction of the Second Temple, three matzot, which have been stacked one on top of the other and covered with a cloth, are uncovered. The leader takes the middle of the three, and breaks it in two pieces. The larger of the pieces is called the “afikomen.” He wraps the afikomen up in a napkin and hides it away until the end of the Seder. At that time, the children find it, and he “redeems” it from them, for a price. This broken matzah, the Talmud notes, is symbolic of the Paschal lamb, which the Jews were unable to sacrifice without the Temple. But no one really knows where the ritual comes from, or why it is hidden away and then later redeemed. It’s an open question.
This is Pesach.
This is the beginning of the Counting of the Omer, the 49 days between Passover and Pentecost, the journey from Egypt to Sinai, from slavery to freedom, from chaos to fulfillment.
According to Jake Shimabukuro, “It’s the instrument of peace, because if everyone played the ukulele, this world would be a much happier place.”
He said that at TED in February 2010, in the performance that kicks off today’s concert.
And then he set out to prove it by playing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the whole thing, solo, on his ukulele.
This post was actually inspired by a cryptic-to-a-non-musician but otherwise innocuous-looking circle-of-fifths chord chart, shared on Facebook by That ukulele-playin’ Neil Guy. Thanks to Facebook’s marketing, that led inadvertently to watching ukulele videos on YouTube, at which point I discovered some of what musicians are doing with ukuleles today, and it’s très kewl.
Therefore, I put together an ukulele concert, in the form of a YouTube playlist, of 48 minutes of some of my favorite online ukulele performances.
We start out with…
…Jake Shimabukuro, as I mentioned before, bringing peace to the world with his rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This is why the ukulele has the name “jumping flea.”
Then we travel across the pond to hear The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain—6 ukuleles and an acoustic bass, all tangled up in spaghetti—performing the theme to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (though they seem to have left the bad and the ugly at home that day).
The excitable and energetic—and rightly so!—ukulele trio Heart & Soul then joins us with a Hawaiian version of “Misirlou.” Makes me want to try surf skiing.
Enough with that amateur stuff, eh? Brittni Paiva proves that you can even play jazz on a ukulele— soulful jazz. Oy, I think I’m in love. (Don’t tell Margaret.) Seriously, though, she does a lot of covers, and every single one is better than the original. She and her ukulele passion make me remember why I fell in love with music in the first place, and makes me want to start playing my guitar every day again, like I did when I was young. (Maybe I might even get that good.) After the concert is over, check out Brittni’s albums.
As it turns out, there’s a great deal of wonderful ukulele music featured on the Hawaiian YouTube show HI*Sessions. A number of these artists have been featured there, including Brittni.
On the lighter side, James Hill turns his ukulele into a beat box. An amusing and entertaining interlude.
Now, some time ago, Walk Off the Earth did a version of “Somebody that I Used to Know,” all of them gathered around and playing a single guitar. When they went on Ellen, she made a crack about how it was good that they didn’t have to squeeze in around a ukulele. Therefore, today, the Waffle Stompers put their ska on hold, just long enough to show her a thing or two. Six people and 12 hands, all playing a single ukulele.
Juliana Richer Daily got a new ukulele as a gift, and makes me believe that even I could grok the intrument, with her cover of “L.O.V.E.” I could listen to her sing all day. Definitely check out her first and latest full-length album, Slow Love, which positively rocks.
And finally, The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra takes us out with the Theme to the Pink Panther (in German).
This post started with a cryptic comment…
…about the ukulele being the instrument of peace. That’s not as crazy as it sounds. Ukuleles for Peace is Paul Moore’s attempt to combine his love for the ukulele and his experience with kids, forming Arab-Israeli children’s ukulele orchestras.
Paul’s dream is to create orchestras in several communities and towns, enlarging the circle of real co-existence; enabling kids and parents to befriend one another; and with our modest abilities, helping to create a happier, better, peaceful society. There is a lot to be done in this area between the Arab and Jewish population in Israel. If the situation with the Palestinian Authority is safer, Paul would like to form a group there too. That will depend on a relaxing of travel restrictions and on parents feeling that things are safe enough for their children.
Frankly, of all of the attempts to bring peace to Israel and Palestine, this is one of the most likely to succeed. Political change occurs from the culture up (not from the rulers down). That’s why infecting a society with music has more potential to produce positive change than mobilizing all of the military might ever assembled.
And, oh, by the way, I now so want a U-Bass!
Here’s the concert video playlist
(This is part 3 in my series on 1 Corinthians 5. Click here to read from the beginning.)
Most of us probably imagine the first swingers as 1960′s hippies in a free-love commune. But in fact, it started earlier than that, in World War II. Christopher Ryan explains:
It seems that the original modern American swingers were crew-cut World War II air force pilots and their wives. Like elite warriors everywhere, these “top guns” often developed strong bonds with one another, perhaps because they suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the military. According to journalist Terry Gould, “key parties,” like those later dramatized in the 1997 film The Ice Storm, originated on these military bases in the 1940s, where elite pilots and their wives intermingled sexually with one another before the men flew off toward Japanese antiaircraft fire…
Joan and Dwight Dixon explained to Gould that these warriors and their wives “shared each other as a kind of tribal bonding ritual, with a tacit understanding that the two thirds of husbands who survived would look after the widows.”
I’m going to do something silly, anachronistic, and completely improbable. I’m going to retell the Story of the Corinthian Stepmother in these terms.
All we know from the Apostle Paul’s account of the story is the bare minimum:
It is actually reported that there is bad sexual behavior among you, and such a kind as exists not even among the pagans, that a man is having sex with his father’s wife! (1 Corinthians 5:1)
And Paul didn’t approve of this, no not one bit. And he demanded that the Corinthian church ostracize this guy, who was sleeping with his stepmother.
But what if we were to flesh out the details of the story?
An elderly Corinthian man took a young wife, whom he loved dearly. He knew his time on this earth was coming to much too quick an end. He expressed his concerns to his wife. And his wife proposed that his son, his heir, should also be bonded to her, so that after he was gone, she would not be a widow, but would be well taken care of.
Maybe a little self-serving on her part. But this certainly should have let the son off the hook. No, I don’t actually believe that narrative. But I tell it in order to focus not on what the Corinthian man was doing, but what Paul was really afraid of.
Off the top of my head, here are a few possibilities:
- He really was reacting to the wrong kind of people having the wrong kind of sex. (Remember, not an egalitarian society.)
- He was afraid the Corinthians would make Christians everywhere look bad, because word of them had spread far and wide.
- He was afraid they would make him look bad.
- He was afraid that this would give his fellow Jews another reason to reject Christianity.
- One or more of the above (to various degrees, plus others not listed).
I think most people naïvely assume option A. And that indeed may have been the only thing going through Paul’s mind. But I doubt it.
With regard to option B, Paul certainly cared how the church looked to the rest of the world. It’s even a theme expressed in 1 Corinthians: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (9:22-23). But more often, sexual conservatism in the modern world makes the church look petty and vicious. Not, I’m sure, what Paul had in mind.
The only thing option C has going for it is that Paul, like the rest of us, was human, a human being living in a human society. This life lesson I learned when my own father was pastor of a church, and some people blamed him when the church youth leaders left their respective families and ran off together. And we don’t know the social and political pressures Paul himself personally may have faced.
Option D is fairly intriguing. Remember, when Paul went to Corinth, in Acts 18, he started by talking to people in the local synagogue. But his fellow Jews there became abusive, and so he said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). And yet, he admitted in his letter to the Romans, “Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” This could have been on his mind, even when he wrote 1 Corinthians. Christianity, on the other hand, gave up on this vision many centuries ago.
Where does this leave us?
Bad sexual behavior, the Greek word porneia, was one of the items on the short halachah-for-Gentiles that came out of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15: “Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from porneia.” In fact, porneia is the only item on this list that does not refer back to the covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 9.
Over the centuries, we’ve read into porneia all manner of idiocy. For example, Christians used to believe that women ought not to enjoy sex. They had to have sex, of course, because otherwise how could they become pregnant and bear babies? But they definitely shouldn’t enjoy it, because that was supposedly sinful. (And for all I know, some still might believe this.) That’s only one example. Only God knows the countless couples who have been condemned to marital misery because of this kind of nonsense. “Porneia” is so vague, part of me would have preferred the New Testament writers had simply left it out.
But they didn’t. And this is one reason I increasingly believe we need a more refined sexual ethic. If the end of ethics is to promote well-being, we need a sexual ethic that promotes sexual and emotional well-being.
But that’s another post.
The Talmud tells this story (in Berachot 60b):
Rabbi Akiva was once going along the road and he came to a certain town and looked for lodgings. But everywhere he went, he was refused.
He sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”
So because he couldn’t find a place to stay in the town, he traveled out of town, into an open field, and camped out there.
Now, he had with him a rooster, a donkey, and a lamp. But during the night, a gust of wind blew out his lamp, and so he had no light, and no protection. Then a weasel came and ate his rooster, so he had no one to warn him, or to wake him when the sun rose. Then a lion attacked and killed his donkey, so he had no transportation, not even any way to get back to town.
He sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”
Early in the morning, while Rabbi Akiva was still sleeping, a band of brigands attacked the town. They stole everything they could get their hands on and even carried off the inhabitants of the town. But they didn’t see or hear or even realize that Rabbi Akiva was there.
When he woke up and realized what had happened, he sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”
We can’t control everything in our lives. And often our lives even wipe out spinning careening out of control. Every human has an innate sense that tells him—correctly—that this is a really bad thing. And that’s why it’s disturbing, and distressful.
But there’s a wisdom in accepting the things you can’t control, and focusing on those things that you can. Just because you feel out of control, that doesn’t mean your life is a mess. It only means that you can’t predict right now exactly what you’re going to be 10, 20, 50 years down the road. Well, welcome to the club. Sometimes it turns out that the distressful things that happen to you, they actually were blessings in disguise.
(This is part 2 in my series on 1 Corinthians 5. Click here to read from the beginning.)
One marvels at the repetition of intentionally tragic stories, like Evergreene’s: After her Christian marriage ended in divorce, and after she slogged through the concomitant depression, she decided she’d be happier living a bisexual, polyamorous lifestyle. She hid her new lifestyle from her Southern Baptist friends and family, but not well enough.
“My mother wonders what went so monumentally wrong with how she raised me.” Answer: probably nothing. Believe it or not, despite what the book of Proverbs says, there’s precious little we parents can do to change the direction of our children’s lives. I plan to return to this in a later post, but basically the best a parent can do is to provide her children with a safe environment in which to discover themselves and the world they live in. If she failed, she only failed in that.
“My sisters think I’m sick and disgusting.” A common reaction to anything we think of as immoral. And it’s a learned reaction. Suppose I place before you a plate piled high with rotting meat covered with cockroaches, hand you a fork, and say, “Bon appétit!” Your stomach is probably turning a little just imagining it. But in some aboriginal cultures, they commonly eat bugs and other various items they find lying on the ground. It’s part of how they survive. If I handed the same plate to one of them, the reaction might instead be, “Ooh! What a feast!” as he rubs his hands together lustily.
Evergreene continues: “My father tells me screaming that I am no longer his family.” So much for what Paul says about not being an abusive person.
And the story only goes downhill from there:
“I have been told that I am an animal in heat, looking for an excuse to have sex with anyone,” which follows neither from being bi nor poly. And even if they didn’t understand that, they could have asked.
“I have been told that I am a prostitute and whore,” which is factually untrue, and repetitive and redundant, “who will inevitably contract AIDS and other horrible diseases,” which is just plain stupid.
“I have been told that I might as well think that having sex with siblings, children, and pets is acceptable.” Because we all know that consensual sex with other adults is worse than child rape. And judging by the way Christians react to some Baptist ministers, maybe that’s what they actually believe.
Awful, sick, twisted things that I could never imagine saying to a family member – even to another human being. All from Christians. These are godly, sweet people who are generous, loving, and funny—unless you’re different.
Did Paul mean to ruin Evergreene’s life?
If he did, I think he probably failed, because she picked up the pieces and moved on. Regardless, I would like to believe he did not mean to condemn egalitarian non-monogamy while letting child rapists off the hook.
This story in the Corinthian church started at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 5:
It is actually reported that there is bad sexual behavior among you, and such a kind as exists not even among the pagans, that a man is having sex with his father’s wife! And you are proud! … I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. (vv. 1,3)
The Greek word porneia, which I’ve translated “bad sexual behavior,” doesn’t really help us understand where Paul’s coming from. We tend to load it up with modern social conservatism. That’s certainly what Evergreene’s friends and family did. But even the mores of modern conservatives bear little resemblance to the mores of first-century Rome, and our modern society bears almost no resemblance to theirs, making broad ethical comparisons nigh impossible. We need more context.
One has to wonder what, specifically, this Corinthian guy actually did to evoke such ire.
The simplest narrative might go something like this: He walks up to his sexy stepmom, wraps his hand around her ass, and says, “Hey, baby, guess what. Let’s go.”
Remember, this is not an egalitarian society. The father naturally finds this far from acceptable. But the son knows he can get away with it, because his father isn’t going to disown his only son, even if he is a jackass and a social reject. Besides which, he’s got the whole church behind him.
Still not quite The Priest and the Choir Boy, but we’re getting close.
See, a narrative like this makes it easy to take Paul’s side, not because the apostle was moralizing, but because he was applying a culturally relevant moral principle in an ethical manner.
But moral obligations are like knee-jerk reactions: they’re quick, they’re broad, and they evoke strong emotions. They polarize the issue and cloud one’s judgement. Moral obligations are that gut feeling you get, that something isn’t quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. And if you need to make an instant decision what to do, if it’s urgent, you go with your gut.
But if you can, you want to reflect a bit, to make sure you don’t fly off the handle, especially if the situation is not as black-and-white as it initially seemed.
So what if the ethics of the Story of the Corinthian Stepmother were less clear-cut?
Last week, I drove my daughter’s iPad down to her at to school.
One of the Blue Shirts there in the parking lot approached me and asked what I was doing, and told me, “we get a little concerned,” because I was waiting there for her. I figured, as soon as he realized I was a parent who had a legitimate reason to be at the school, that would be the end of the conflict. But during our short conversation, he repeated this line several times, “we get a little concerned.”
I said, “Sorry about that.” But what I was thinking was, “‘Concern’ on your part does not translate to a demand on mine.”
And maybe if I were a bigger asshole, I would have said, “Well, I’m sorry you feel concerned. Maybe if I bring you some milk and cookies next time, you’ll feel better. Would you like that?”
I really have to find a more constructive way of dealing with the Blue Shirts, because the nice-guy approach clearly isn’t working. Over the past 3½ years, I’ve had several unsatisfactory encounters. (And the sense I get from my daughters is that these are actually nice guys.)
The only other similar encounter I’ve had with a female teacher (who was not wearing a blue shirt), a couple years ago: I told her was meeting my daughter, and the very timbre of her voice became pleasant to listen to. I still remember smiling at her. I wish I could remember her name.
There’s a lesson in this: what the polyamorists call “owning your own shit,” and it’s a basic relationship ethic. It’s okay to feel however you feel. But it’s not okay to load it onto others. I am not responsible for how you feel. I am only responsible for what I do. Only you can manage your own happiness. This is an incredibly powerful—and empowering—concept. This means not turning feelings into demands. If I care about you, and you come to me and tell me that you were hurt when I did such-and-such, I may reconsider my behavior, if I can. (You’ve made a request, not a demand.) Or I may explain some part of the story you didn’t know about, and see if you then feel better about it. Or I might be unable to do anything.
But there’s another level to this, too, a flip-side: Only I can be responsible for my own actions and perceptions. If I’ve made a mistake, whether in acting wrongly, or in perceiving incorrectly, I ought to own up to it. (There’s that ethical language again.) Jenica Rogers (who as far as I can tell is not a polyamorist, but is apparently a Firefly fan) points out, “Owning your shit means taking responsibility for your actions, acknowledging their impact on others, and moving forward without trying to cover your ass.”
And I don’t know that you can do one without the other. Because managing one’s own happiness translates into action, and that action has consequences. And either one change his mind, or he stands by his actions; but in no case does he hide from what he’s felt and thought and done.
And I admit that I don’t always do this as well as I’d like to.
I really have to find some more constructive way of dealing with the Blue Shirts, because the nice-guy approach clearly isn’t working.
The Passover stuff is already out at the grocery store. At the other end of the store, an even greater selection of pastel-colored candy and related items.
But Pesach is still several weeks away, and first I have another bat mitzvah to think of. My Beloved will finally herself be called to the Torah in an adult bat mitzvah. Better late than never, as they say.
We’re all helping out. Our younger daughter is laining the day’s maftir portion. Our elder daughter is canting as chazzanit. And I am laining the New Testament reading for the day, which is from First Corinthians chapter 5:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little khametz leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old khametz, so that you might be a fresh batch of dough, in the same way as you are unleavened. For our Passover lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old khametz, nor with the leaven of ill-will and malice, but with the matzah of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Okay, so I took a little liberty with the translation. But those of you who have read Walking in the Moment between Tick and Tock will be used to it by now.
The reason we read this on this particular Sabbath is because it’s Shabbat HaChodesh, literally, “the Sabbath of the Month,” called such because it is the last Sabbath before the Hebrew month of Nisan. According to Exodus 12, this is when God started the Hebrew year and instructed the Israelites on how to prepare for the coming Passover, two weeks later. And so in our Messianic Jewish synagogue, we also read 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, because Paul uses the metaphor of preparing for the Passover, of cleaning out all the chametz, all the leaven, from one’s home, and replacing it with Passover matzah, unleavened bread.
But I have a problem with this passage.
What problem could I possibly have with this?
After all, this short paragraph is all about getting rid of the hate and meanness from our lives and plowing forward toward the light of truth. Every year, around this time, somewhere in the country, some Jewish rabbi will preach that sermon. And they’re absolutely right: that’s part of the symbolism of Passover. And that’s the part of the symbolism that Paul is calling on here.
But if we continue reading, Paul will quickly yank us back to his intended message:
I wrote to you not to associate with those who indulge in illicit sexual intercourse—not at all meaning those of this world who do so… but… if someone calls himself a fellow Christian, but engages in illicit sexual intercourse, or is greedy or an idolater, or is abusive or a drunkard or a swindler— Do not even eat with such people! (vv. 9-11)
Paul here is not talking about just getting the bad behavior out of our own lives. He’s talking about ostracizing people. Granted, these are people whose identity is wrapped up in certain unethical behaviors. But human beings nonetheless.
Perhaps a post for another day involves going down this laundry list and examining how conservative Christian churches in the US in practice deal with them (or ignore them), especially items like greed, abuse, and the art of the swindle.
For the most part, however, conservative Christians focus on the first item in this list, which I’ve translated “illicit sexual intercourse.” It refers to the Greek word porneia, usually translated “sexual immorality.” The problem here is that with the term “sexual immorality,” we immediately load into porneia, all modern social conservatives’ restrictions on sex, along with our modern understanding of the morality system, neither of which Paul had access to. Paul knew first-century Jewish ethics, of course, and he had access to the Greek and Roman ethicists. But he didn’t know there would ever even be a Thomas Aquinas, much less an Immanuel Kant.
And this is where the story get interesting, ugly, and painful, but in the opposite order.