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______________________ LIFE, FAITH, ETCETERA

Good Christian Sex August 30, 2016

good

Good Christian Sex
Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option – And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex

OK.  As soon as some see “Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option,” they will stop reading and dismiss this book.  That will be their loss.  This is an interesting, challenging, thought provoking book.  At the same time, it is in many ways very traditional.

There is a lot of ground covered in these pages.  We explore the connection between our bodies, soul and spirit.  We look at romance novels, the “Disneyfication of our cultures ideas about love,” chemistry, desire, vulnerability, celibacy, knowing God, and social conformity.  We discuss Harry Potter, Plato, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Jerome and Carol King.

Lest you think the author is promoting meaningless promiscuous hook-ups, or “cheating,” let me first mention Chapter 8: Be Faithful.  This section is all about fidelity.  We do look at some erroneous ideas concerning fidelity.  Especially those shoved on us by religion.  Ms. McCleneghan states, similar to what I said in my “Tribbles” article, that there is a difference between lust and “appreciating someone’s God-given hotness.”  (That’s a great phrase!) We are sensual beings, and that is not in opposition to fidelity.  We look at what fidelity is not, as well as what it is.

The 1st topic after the introduction is masturbation, or as Bromleigh likes to call it, “self-stimulation.”  Despite the cultural baggage, our author states that it’s “normal to touch your sex organs for pleasure.”  Here we’re told that such activity is a “premoral good,” and “a gift from God.”  We have addressed the oft misused Biblical story of Onan, as found in the 38th chapter of Genesis.  There’s also a good quote from Caitlin Moran about masturbation being a perfect hobby:  “It doesn’t cost anything, I don’t have to leave the house, and it isn’t making me fat.”

Chapter 2 talks about desire, and how desire is “love trying to happen.”
The Bible’s “Song of Solomon” enters here.  When we stop jumping through hoops trying to pass that writing off as a metaphor of God and The Church, we can see it is a very, very racy love story.  Here’s where probably the most controversial premise of this book is stated as “Some Christians like to claim that all sexual intimacy outside of marriage will necessarily feel cheap and damaging, but many of us know that that’s simply not true.”
So there’s the main premise that’s stated on the cover.  Chastity isn’t the only option outside of marriage.
Here I have to interject.
Many of us had grandparents who told our parents to wait to have sex until after they were married, even though they themselves hadn’t waited.  Then many of us had parents who told us to wait, even though they didn’t.  Then many of us told our children to wait, even though we didn’t.  And many of our children will tell their kids to wait, even though they didn’t.  It’s like some false standard we feel bound to keep passing on, even though we know it’s not usually the norm.  What we need is good  sex education where abstinence is an option, but not a hypocritical mandate.
     Now back to the book.
“Jesus came that we might have life, even pleasure, and have it abundantly (John 10:10)”

[Buy the book.  Click HERE.]

Chapter 3 gets into ethics, and why it’s not good to keep “banging everyone we possibly can from the moment puberty starts.”
That “sexual sin is less about particular acts…than the way partners treat each other; sexual sin is about a lack of mutuality, reciprocity, and love.”  We also look at some of the differences between the teachings of mainline Protestantism, and the fundamentalist evangelical religious right that I was a part of.  (There are many “Christianities.”)  There’s some great discussion of the supposed “clear and knowable will of God,” and we look at the books of Exodus and Luke in regards to that.

The fourth chapter talks about, among other things, being single.  “God is not a jerk” is a great quote from this section.  We’re also told “If celibacy starts to stand in the way of abundant life for singles, they can rightly let it go.  Straight, gay, bi, trans, intersex: we are beloved.”

“Naked” is the title of chapter 5, and tells us a lot about being real and vulnerable.  As in chapter 1, there’s also some sexist fundamental assumptions we need to discard.  On the heels of vulnerability, the sixth chapter speaks of Intimacy.  “Through sex we can practice attention, invitation, hospitality, and the means of grace.”

In chapter 7 we look at how to deal with our sexual history, and that “there’s no such thing as a perfect life lived with no hard lessons.”  (Chapter 8 we covered 1st.) The 9th chapter is about the theology of leaving and staying.  Some relationships last.  Some don’t.  Sometimes you need to leave.  And not just for “infidelity.”

McCleneghan closes the book with “The Nature of Love.”  God is love.  Love is God.  “Sex marks us; love changes us.  So does God.”  A great quote here is “I do wish…that religious people, if they must speak of sex, would cease and desist in the propagation of terrible theology and bigotry.”

I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the material here.  I do have one small complaint.  It’s one I’ve had with other books.  The title.  I hate the title.  And that’s not because I can’t say it without hearing it in the voice of Dr. Ruth.  Maybe (as is some other cases) it was the publisher’s mandate.  Of course, a small matter.

I fear that some who may need this the most will resist reading it.  There are many others who will find great hope in these pages.  I don’t know that I agree with everything here, but that’s no big deal.  And any book that kindly speaks of the great Anne Lamott has already gained some degree of my approval.

[Buy the book.  Click HERE.]

Note:  I’ll add some more quotes later, but I’m barely meeting my deadline, so…

 

The Zimzum of Love December 7, 2015

zimzumThe Zimzum of Love:
A New Way of Understanding Marriage
– Rob and Kristen Bell

My wife and I have been through counseling.
We’ve also had training to “do” counseling.
We have, in fact, provided counseling.
And we have 36 years (more or less) of marriage.
Just saying, I know a little bit about marriage and counseling.
From that stance, I can highly recommend this book.

This is a pretty short, easy read.  Yet, there are some great truths and principles here.  There’s a lot in these pages that is relatively standard marriage counseling, as well as some new ideas.  All of it, of course, has that trademark “Bell-style” way of looking at life; a style I very much enjoy.


stickAnd, you get stick-figure drawings!
Who doesn’t like stick-figure drawings?!?!

We are given, of course, an explanation of zimzum (originally tzimtzum, a Hebrew word), and how that concept relates to marriage. Chapters 2 through 5 expound on how marriage is Responsive, Dynamic, Exclusive and Sacred.
“The Zimzum of Love” is highly anecdotal. There is a lot of back-and-forth between Rob and Kristen.
Every marriage is unique, but a book like this helps us see how universal many of our experiences are. Just about whatever you may be going through, rest assured you are not alone.

This book is written from a Christian perspective, and thus incorporates a lot of spiritual language and understanding.  The associated actions could be easily adapted by non-Christians, as well.  I can’t imagine anyone not receiving some benefit from reading this book.  I think this would be a good hand-out for premarital counseling, as well as for those already married.
I’ve only done a few wedding ceremonies, but for future ones I’m asked to officiate I will be offering this book to the couple.

Marriage has been at the forefront of recent national discussion.
Some see marriage as a meaningless social construct, and think we’d all be better off without the legal commitment and ceremonial form.  Many of us, including Rob and Kristen, believe marriage is much deeper than that.  We believe that there’s more going on than meets the eye.    More than biology.  More than just synaptic brain activity.   More, even, than what it means for the 2 people who are married.  That marriage means “more” for our entire society.

“The Zimzum of Love” takes an in-depth look at this “more.”

– dave

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

Some thoughts from other readers:

“The Bells wield their heartfelt words and honest voices to cheer on couples of all kinds. . . . This is a ‘feel good’ book, not because it skirts the issues, but precisely because it delves so deeply into them. . . . Married or not, read this book.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“After having stood on the cliff of divorce, I sure wish that our marriage counselor would have had a resource like this to share with us.” – Roger

“This is a book about how to people partner in life and create a special space between them–they zimzum. I’ve got a fantastic marriage, but I learned new things about my wife as we read this together.” – Mike

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

A few QUOTES:

– There are moments in marriage when you realize that some of the most profound truths of the universe are lying next to you in bed.

– Great marriages have an ease about them, a back-and-forth nonreactive, non-defensive, open, and ongoing flow in which you never stop talking and figuring it out together.

– Life never stops changing. It’s inevitable that these changes will affect the space between you.,br.

– Any thought – however trivial or fleeting it is – about who or what you aren’t takes directly away from who and what you are.

– Home is whenever I’m with you. [Recently stated by me to my wife during our recent move, before reading the book.]

– Out of 7 billion people on the planet, you decided to say yes to just one of them.

– Learn to see things from their perspective. When in doubt, assume that they are seeing something that you don’t.

– Few triggers are more explosive than the phrase “You always do that.”

– One of the primary ways you strengthen this bond is through shared experiences.

– Marriage -gay and straight – is a gift to the world because the world needs more – not less – love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice.

– It’s easy to divide your experiences in marriage into the good ones and the bad ones. We are invited to transcend those binaries, becoming aware of the divine presence in all of life.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

 

“They can’t all be true” April 16, 2015



OK. I don’t usually just post a link to another blog.
BUT, here’s an exception for a REALLY GOOD article by Roger Wolsey:


4no3

Perspective

 

 

Notes From (Over) The Edge November 21, 2014

notes
“Jesus basically did only two things – he showed up for life, and he lived authentically and true to his nature.
Guess what?
You can do that too!”

      “Notes From (Over) The Edge
      [Unmasking the truth to end your suffering]
      — Jim Palmer

OK.  First. the negative.
About a third of the way through the book, I almost stopped reading.
Why?
Redundancy.
There’s a lot of that here.  A lot of redundancy.
I’ve made that complaint about one or two other books.
For me, it’s a bit off-putting; the redundancy and all.
To be fair,  this is a book of “Notes,” and many times our thoughts have reoccurring patterns as we re-visit and clarify our own understanding.
FYI, I didn’t stop reading, and neither should you.

The second negative isn’t really a negative.  It’s more of a where-in-the-world-did-this-come-from thing.  There’s a particular idea that Mr. Palmer asserts (and repeats a number of times).  Of course, I’m not against believing something “just because I choose to believe it.” Which, bottom line, pretty much covers most, if not all, of our beliefs.
He does, also, advise the reader to “take everything written here loosely like a breeze or a whisper,” so he’s certainly not claiming to have things “nailed down.” That’s a big sign he’s worth listening to.
I considered mentioning the concept I’m referring to here, but I’ve decided to let you discover it for yourself.

And now, the positive:
“Everything else!”
This is a powerful book filled with powerful concepts.
If “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” then get ready for a boatload of freedom.
This is going to have to find somewhere to fit in my top 5 list of books, which means it will have to knock something else out.
This is not a “Christian” book (as if there were such a thing), though it is certainly about the life and teachings of Jesus. Nor is it exclusively for those of a Judeo-Christian background. If you’re a human, you can benefit from reading this book.

You should know that an “end to you suffering” is not synonymous with an end to pain, misfortune, or other troubles “life” may bring your way.  The suffering Jim is talking about is the kind caused by not accepting life on life’s terms.  It’s always been hard for me to “flow with it” without giving up hope.  There’s an old Steve Taylor song called “Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better.”  There is a lot of truth to that song, and for me, those were the two options:  Struggle with life, holding on to hopes and dreams, or just give up and say “The hell with it.”
“Notes From (Over) The Edge” helped me continue on a path I’d already started, where I can see another option.  An almost hidden (to me), yet painfully obvious option called “living.”
Something I didn’t see (or couldn’t admit) for most of the years I spent in institutional religion was all the baggage.
So much BS.
So much dung passed off as godliness.
So many yokes that were anything but easy.
So many burdens that cannot possibly be considered light.

Jim Palmer, too, was an active, educated, bible-preaching “believer,” who, in many ways like me, lived and taught much he now knows was not just less-than-helpful, but downright damaging.  Damning, if you will, to both the speaker and the hearer.
But we were where we were, and now we are where we are. And life is what life is. And “God and life,” Jim reminds us, are inseparable.

Jim’s understanding, as relayed in this book, seems to incorporate teachings I’ve learned from some Buddhist meditation classes that my wife and I recently attended (which have also been very beneficial to me).  It’s my belief that some other traditions (possibly Ancient Greek thought and/or Islam) are also represented here.  (Jim can correct me if I’m wrong.)
Of course, truth is truth, and all truth is God’s truth.
Truth, as Jim tells us, is simply “the way things really are.”  Much suffering is experienced when we, knowingly or not, fight that truth.

There’s no way I can “review” all the ground covered in this book, but one of the most important for those who have been involved in the Christian religion is section 3: “Christianity’s distortion of the person, message and truth of Jesus.”
I’ve said before, many/most people in Christianity (and the principle is probably similar in other religions) are read to from their scriptures, and at the same time, hand-fed a meaning said to be attached to those passages.
Once that is done, it can be nearly impossible to read those passages differently.  But, if you can detach what you’ve been taught something says from what is actually written, well, it’s like being born again.
“Notes From (Over) The Edge” can assist greatly with that rebirth.

And maybe a certain amount of redundancy isn’t all bad.
Maybe we need to hear truths over and over until they replace the lies in our own minds.
I can only hope more and more of us join Mr. Palmer in going over the edge.


Buy the book.  Click HERE.

Some Quotes:

– You must rethink your entire way of approaching the matter of Truth. Currently you have it framed in the idea of having “correct beliefs.” Correct beliefs are the Booby prize.
– Your mind creates a preference, makes an attachment, constructs an interpretation, offers a response, and each of those responses conditions your way of thinking, acting and being in the world. [But] you are not your mind. You are responsible for managing your mind. The mind doesn’t always get what it wants.
– The “son of man” or “son of Adam” means a human one in solidarity with all human ones.
– We exist within a sea of energy that connects all atoms. Everything we experience has a single interconnected source.
[Doesn’t that line up with the Christian concept of God being “in all and through all?”] – ed.
Buy the book. Click HERE.

– Repent is another term that is often misunderstood. [It’s not] being sorry for your past wrongs, turning from your wicked ways… “Repent” means a deep and profound shift in perception. It’s like the scales of ignorance fall from your eyes. [It] literally means “beyond the mind.”
– Jesus would have never signed off on the modern and made-up gospel of the Christian religion.
– People knew the reality of God long before there were sacred texts. Enoch “walked with God,” and yet there was no Bible or prescribed set of doctrines to govern his experience of God.
– One does not have to be able to read the Bible, the Koran, the Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, etc. to be enlightened. You can be illiterate and one with God. There is something to learn from this.
Buy the book. Click HERE.

– Jesus did not launch into heady theological diatribes or pedantic teachings about God. Instead, he invited people to notice the birds of the air and lilies in a field, or told stories about a father and his sons or a hidden treasure.
Instead of accumulating more theological information in your head, return to your regularly scheduled life and start living it as each moment requires — nothing more, nothing less.
– Fundamentalism doesn’t just apply to ultra-conservative, fundy Christians. I’ve met progressive and liberal Christian fundamentalists, Atheist, Agnostic, and Humanistic fundamentalists, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish fundamentalists, and New Age fundamentalists. [They all think] someone has to be “right,” which means someone has to be “wrong.”
Buy the book. Click HERE.

– The “will of God” is simply to be your Self, and to be in the present moment and respond as the situation requires. Just live your life. The fundamental way Jesus lived his life was that he simply did the next thing and responded to situations as they required.
– There was a historical Jesus before institutional Christianity got ahold of him and did their extreme makeover. He was a much better Jesus than the on Christianity produced.

Buy the book. Click HERE.
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Dear God (The Good Wife) October 8, 2014

good wife logo

If you watch “The Good Wife” you already know why the show and cast have won so many awards. It’s just a very well written, very well acted show.
The most recent episode “Dear God” (air date 10/05/2014), is no exception. (If you’ve not seen it, you can watch it on CBS.com or stream it via Amazon.)

There were a number of great turns by lots of guest stars (Linda Lavin, Michael Cerveris, Richard Thomas, Robert Sean Leonard and Gloria Steinem), as well as the top notch performances by the regulars including the always interesting Alan Cumming.

In this episode, there was a lot about God, religion and Christianity.
Some scenes exposed a few of the fallacies of Christianity, and some showed the good.
Pretty balanced, all in all.
I quite enjoyed “secular” lawyers employing the bad, bad practice of proof-texting the Bible in exactly the same way many Christians do. You really can spend hours spouting opposing scripture quotes at each other trying to prove your point.
It’s odd how so many people use “Well, you can make the Bible say anything” when they disagree with you, never realizing they themselves are, in that moment, doing that very thing. It’s always “someone else” who’s using it wrongly.

One of the moments I enjoyed most this outing was between our Atheist lead, Alicia Florrick (Portrayed by the amazing Julianna Margulies), and her Christian daughter, Grace (Makenzie Vega).
When Alicia asks Grace if she really believes all the stuff in the Bible, Grace responds beautifully:

“I don’t know if it’s all historically accurate, but I think it can be true in another way.
You know, like poetry; it can still be true even if it’s not accurate.
Look, if I wanted you to remember that God created everything, I’d probably tell you a story about it happening in seven days.
But that doesn’t mean it actually happened in seven days.
It just means that I wanted you to remember that God created everything.”


An intelligent response by a person of faith.
You don’t frequently see that on prime-time television.

Knowing, of course, that the opening of Genesis is, in fact, a poem helps Grace’s point sink in.
I could be wrong, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that if you look in Grace Florrick’s library, you’ll find copies of “A New Kind of Christianity,” “The Orthodox Heretic,” and most likely, “Velvet Elvis.”

 

Left Behind October 4, 2014

left_BFirst of all, this post is not about the ridiculous books, movie, or the bad theology they represent.
Not mostly, anyway.
This is about things I’ve left behind.
More than that, it’s about some of those things that I’m reaching back to pick up again.

There’s a small group of guys I meet with about once a week.
We are “Comrades.”
We share our life experiences, discuss “spiritual” issues (which means everything in life) and we often are somewhat of a “book club.” Books and audio we’ve delved into so far include, “The Naked Gospel,” “The Misunderstood God,” “The Idolatry of God,” and “Living By The Indwelling Life of Christ.”

roadWe’ve recently started the Brian McLaren book “We Make The Road By Walking.”
This is my ninth book by that author.
Basically, the book is made to be read and discussed one chapter per week for an entire year.
Each chapter also contains some suggested Bible readings.

Now, I used to read the Bible every day. I’ve been through it cover to cover a couple of times, read the New Testament dozens of times, and many passages, well, possibly hundreds of times. I am, after all, a [clears throat] “licensed minister.”
In my spiritual journey out of the cult of right-wing fundamentalist evangelicalism, reading the Bible is one of the things I pretty much left behind.
I also, for the most part, left behind biblical terms like “sin,” “salvation,” “hell,” “redemption” and many others.
Now, I’ve never stopped appreciating the Bible. In fact, I can honestly say I appreciate and respect those holy writings more than ever. A large part of that respect is realizing how disrespectful it is to take it all literately, or as some kind of historical or scientific text book.

Most of the reason for dropping terms like “salvation,” and the others, isn’t because I’ve stopped believing in them. It’s just that I’ve come to better understand them, and how differently they are actually used in the scriptures than I had been taught and believed. The misuse and abuse of those terms, as well as the Bible itself, led me to no longer refer to such because I knew that when I spoke them, what was being heard by others was not what was being said by me. Sadly, that’s still predominately the case.
So I needed a clean break.
A break from that kind of language as well as a break from even reading the Bible. Organized religion has brought so much baggage and destruction that the christ it presents is nothing like the Christ we read of in our holy book. I’m still aware of the limitations of using certain terms in public.
More and more, though, people are seeing that many (maybe even most) who believe in Jesus are not biblical literalists.

With help from authors like Philip Yancey, Peter Rollins, the amazing Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren (along with many others) I’ve been able to rediscover the beauty of The Book, properly understood. I’ve been able to see that terms like sin, salvation, glory, heaven and hell are all valid terms worthy of discussion when understood as the original audience understood them. Which, of course, is not how we’ve heard them used for centuries. Well, not from those most vocal who have falsely claimed to be speaking for God.

I know people often have to set aside things that have been an important part of their lives, re-evaluate, and then see what remains.
I actually missed what we called “worship music,” but so much of it was filled with such bad theology I could no longer listen to it.
Groups like “The Choir,” and “Gungor” have helped with bringing that back into my life.
Music which helps me contemplate The Divine.
Meditate.
I’m now able to pick up some of the things I’ve left behind. But I’m picking them up with the respect they deserve by not making them into something they were never supposed to be. I’m picking them up having shaken off the garbage I was told was inseparable from them.
Still, there’s much that remains behind me as my journey continues.
Some ideologies to which we’ve given birth need to be killed off.
Some babies actually should be thrown out with the bathwater.
Some cherished beliefs and doctrines really should be left behind.
better ahead


 

The Road To 60 September 13, 2014

Overhead-Road-Sign2

My wife, Kathleen, is about to turn 60.
In about 4 months, Lord willing, I will do the same.
The last 12-month stretch of the road to 60 has been, as most of my readers know, a rough one. Next month, October 22nd, will mark one year since Kathleen was diagnosed with breast cancer. The following days, weeks and months were quite intense.
Test after test.
Surgeries.
Chemo, which seemed to damn near kill her.
Radiation.
Pills.

The human mind always tries to make sense of things. That’s just part of what it’s supposed to do. But sometimes, there is no making sense of things. Others try to help you figure it all out with well-meaning but all too often meaningless platitudes.
“Just trust in the Lord.”
“It’s all part of God’s plan.”
If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid hearing anything like “You need more faith,” or “God’s trying to teach you something.”
I may have glanced at it briefly, but I never really went down the path of “Why, God?
I’m not belittling those who go there. It’s a natural place to go. It’s just that in my journey, I’ve learned that’s usually a fruitless endeavor.

People, especially Christians (especially Western Christians) too often seem to think God owes them an easy life.  When trouble hits their world they start questioning God’s “goodness,” or even if there be a “god.”  What many of us, in our comfy little lives, apparently fail to realize is that trouble is always hitting someone’s world.
Someone’s father is dying.
Someone’s sister is going through a divorce.
Someone’s little boy is being kidnapped or murdered.
“Their” bombs are killing our families.
“Our” bombs are killing their innocent children.
The world can be, as those famous prophets “The Temptations” have said, a “Ball of Confusion.”
But, God is still good while all this is going on…
Until it’s “me.”
Until it’s my family.
My life.
Then it’s suddenly “Where is God?!?!?”

The thing is, “The rain falls on everyone.”
That’s religious language for “shit happens.”

Through it all, as one who does still believe in God, I have hope.  I have faith.  (Not that those who don’t believe as I do can’t have hope and faith.)
BUT, it’s a very different hope and faith than I was raised with, or than I adhered to in the past.  It is not a hope or faith that requires life or God to be or act in a certain, narrowly defined pattern.  The Divine (by whatever name)  is not obligated to me because I quote some magical incantation from the writings of Saint Paul in the Bible.  That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped praying.  If anything, I pray more.
I believe Jesus clearly taught, and came to show, that what he referred to then (because of the culture he was born into) as the “kingdom of God” is here and now.  Being in that kingdom is a way of life.  It’s learning to truly be one with God’s good world, rather than planning an escape from it.  In this understanding, many Christians have been “left behind.”

How does that relate to pain and suffering?  Well, I’m not sure I know.  But I do know that even in my deepest dissatisfaction (and I’m one of those who is dissatisfied a great deal of the time) I retain some sense of, well, I guess I’d call it “ultimate peace.”  That peace that I can’t understand or explain.  A peace that’s there even when it’s not.  Yeah.  That makes no sense.  That’s the point.

So, the fact that my wife’s turning 60 this month is a pretty big deal.
Making it to 60, alone, seems to be an accomplishment.  Let alone being a cancer survivor.
She’s seen lots of pain in 60 years. Some of which I have been the direct cause.
But I know she’s had lots of joy and laughter in her life.
Some of which I believe I have also been the direct cause. 🙂
Next month will be a milestone.  We will discover if her system is currently cancer free.
(Yes, your prayers, thoughts and positive energy are requested.)

The road to 60 (or, at this point, almost 60) has taken us to some strange, horrible,
wonderful, awesome unimagined places.
For 35+ years, we’ve went most of those places together.
Whether in this realm or another; in body or spirit, or in some way I’m not yet aware, I’m
looking forward to the next 60 years I spend with Kathleen.
In my faith, in my hope, in my prayers we will be one forever.

RoadTo60
[Photo taken June 19, 2014 while joyfully attending
the wedding of Jean Capler and her wife, Jenny Austin.]

 

 
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