Monday, December 21, 2009
Today, Mary's journey to Bethlehem would be tantamount to me learning that a new tax law required Dale and I to fly stand-by to Alaska for registration a week before my due date. The kicker--there's no room in any inn, so we'd have to stay, and give birth to our firstborn son in the janitor closet of a Motel Six.
If that was what God had in store for his son I'd certainly wonder, "Couldn't you, the Maker of all things, orchestrate the arrival of the Son of God a little more majestically?"
Mary only got one dream from the angel Gabriel, only one customized message for her ears only, ordered by God to explain this Holy-Spirit-produced baby in her body.
Joseph got four dreams, explaining where to move, when to leave, how to find safety and what God was up to. I think I would have felt a little gypped, but Mary didn't.
How did she do it?
How did Mary have the strength to bear the Son of God and the serenity to respond to Gabriel's shocker of a newsflash with, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me according to your word"? (Luke 1:38).
Mary was not just a teenage woman pregnant outside of marriage. She was a good Jewish woman pregnant outside of wedlock.
As a Jew, she would have been familiar with one passage in the Jewish Scriptures that must have made her last minute trip to Bethlehem a little easier to swallow.
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (TNIV, Micah 5:2).
Mary could see how the pagan Roman census was actually accomplishing God's promise for Israel. Mary knew about the God of Israel, the God who was faithful to Abraham, the God who could lift the humble up out of the pit. Mary knew her God, she also knew what her God wanted out of her.
Around Christmas time, I notice women running around with lists of things to do. Minute Rice put together an advertisement in 2008 that summed up the way I often feel around the holidays. Surrounding a package of Minute Rice with a Santa Hat are hundreds of things to do, including things like:
get decorations out of the attic, sew angel costume for Molly's pageant, write annual holiday letter and try to sounds modest while bragging about the kids, drop off food at church, buy poinsettia plants, hang candy canes, try not to eat candy canes, clean house, keep tinsel away from cat, shop online during lunch hour, buy stocking stuffers, drive around and look at lights, plan menu for Christmas Eve, make punch for party, have patience when visiting in-laws, read "Night Before Christmas" outloud, attend candlelight service with family, remember reason for the season, pray for peace on earth.
Minute Rice, however, is here to help.
That last item on the list makes me stop and wonder,"How on earth can you pray for peace when your life has no peacefulness in it? There's no shalom, the kind of peace that envelops every dimension (spiritual, physical, political, economic, emotional, social) in this ceaseless running-around living.
I think that if Mary had a Minute Rice list, she must have scrapped it so she could make time for the Son of God to enter her life.
I recently found that Micah doesn't merely contain prophecies about Bethlehem, it also has a better to-do list. One that I'd like to recommend this Christmas to all those women (and men) out there who find there is just too much to do.
"He has shown all you people what is good. What what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly
to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."
What would it look like if we acted with justice this Christmas?
Even though I'm a fan of all the work for justice and social equality (Many of my posts are about the inequalities I see specifically with regard to women), one way I see women in particular refusing to act justly is in the manner in which we make time for ourselves. Women are perhaps the worst at taking a day off, of honoring the Jewish law of the Sabbath. Womens' souls are impoverished and run down because we try to love others so much we have no idea what Jesus means when he says, "Love others AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF." We don't know how to love ourselves, to let God love us one day of the week so we can love others the other six.
I don't think Mary had this problem with refusing to rest.
As soon as Mary learned she would carry a child without a husband she left her hometown of Nazareth and took a retreat. Not for a weekend or even a week, but for three months. Mary spent this time with her cousin Elizabeth (who was miraculously pregnant in her grandmother years) and I'm sure they cried and talked and grieved and laughed and rejoiced together. I imagine Mary did a lot of processing.
One things is certain, after her time away, resting and thinking, Mary sings a song that has gone down in history as Mary's Magnificat--a testimony to Mary's experience with the God of Israel (read it in Luke 1:46-55). It seems likely to me that Mary's time of rest provided the margin for something like the Magnificant to just bubble out of her.
So my challenge to women: take time to do justice to yourself by accepting God's gift of rest. At least one day in seven, 24 hours of true rest. If you have questions about what this might look like, write me a comment.
Number 2- Love Mercy
Isn't it interesting that Micah writes that we ought to love mercy? This means an ongoing relationship with mercy, not a one-night-stand, or even a hot/cold relationship. Loving mercy means steady dating, maybe even marriage.
I've lately been musing on what kind of relationship I've cultivated with mercy. With others? With myself? Do I love mercy as a friend? Or do I just use it when it makes me look kind and "Christian-like"?
Number 3- Walk Humbly with Your God
I've been doing a little more walking than usual lately, not much jogging at the moment. And often our three corgis come along for the walk. When we are walking together we encounter the same sights, smells and obstacles. Walking with God means much the same thing, bringing God into our days, our hours, our minutes.
So, for instance, Mary noticed that surprising events surrounding her son's birth and Luke says she treasured these things, "pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
This year I learned that I was pregnant with a boy the very same day I learned my husband has a form of skin cancer. I felt torn with two very opposite kinds of expectation. My hope clouded with fear. In sharing how anxious I had been feeling with a friend, I heard some wonderful advice from her.
She suggested I pray, "Jesus, I receive your peace." And then wait for God to show what this "peace that surpasses comprehension" is really like. I've had to pray that hundreds of times, inviting Jesus to walk along side me during the valley and the mountain top of expectation.
In the process, I've found that walking humbly with your God is a gerund, which, for you non-English nerds, means that it's an active verb, we're constantly doing it. There's always a new sight or smell or experience to share with our God.
We all need more of the Son of God in our lives. I imagine Mary as she walked the long road to her next destination (remember it was in Egypt), praying that God would help her do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with him.
Her son gives us the power to do just that this Christmas. Make this list your new to-do list for the next week!
An abbreviated version of this post can be read at Fullfill
"Mary and Minute Rice" originally appeared at the Christmas Banquet at North Coast Calvary Church in Carlsbad, Christmas 2009. To hear the talk visit soulation.org after the New Year.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Today was not one of the days I basked in my pregnancy. I still believe carrying life in my body is a privilege and honor, but as I ran an errand by myself I felt miserable, large and slow.
As I walked across the parking lot to give piano lessons I had to stop twice. Perhaps I was just exhausted from a full morning of dusting the house, cleaning the bathroom, writing blog comments, and writing 20 emails. Perhaps I felt blue because the skies were gray and sad. Perhaps I was just disgusted with my cumbersomeness, the heaviness I feel in my legs. Today was a day I would have loved to stroll briskly, but I physically cannot do anything briskly.
As I rested from the hill, walking carefully to avoid the icy patches I had slipped on the week before, I wondered about the way God designed things. I felt utterly amazed that a woman went through something like this for every single person who is alive.
You don't get human life without this experience.
It is a privilege, but it's also a task, a heavy one at that. My stomach has been unhappy all day long. I've felt both full and weak.
I've lumbered up and down the grocery store aisles and leaned heavily on the cart for balance. I spoke with the owner at Vino, a wine and cheese store, requesting some brie. I told him I was pregnant and so didn't want to buy a whole wheel of it, given that my doctor has encouraged me to limit my intake to one portion a week.
"Are you sure you're pregnant?" he somewhat pointedly asked.
I smiled wryly at him. He has little idea what it's like to go from having to tell everyone that you really are pregnant to watching others stare at your abdomen and ignore your face--all in a matter of a few weeks.
The prospect of traveling to speak in San Diego Tuesday, Vail on Friday and then to Diego again the following Tuesday feels enormous. I'll have Dale with me on the first two trips, but will probably travel alone next week.
I've never felt my vulnerability as much as I do now. The world is not designed to be navigated and successfully engaged for seven month pregnant women, sidewalks are too slippery, parking spaces too far, terminal corridors too long, grocery stores too big, luggage too heavy and snow too thick.
Pregnancy makes me think of the interdependence of men and women, as Paul says,
"For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God." 1 Cor 11:8-12
This mutual interdepence is something I feel every day now. Of course, this is one of my hard days where I feel my dependency on all those stronger than me. But my weakness is due to the work my body does in making a home for a boy, who will one day be a man, who will one day (I hope) help others who are weaker than him.
At home, after getting the mail, a process more involved out in the country than just opening a mailbox, and then putting the groceries away I did manage to ask for help from the man in my life.
I asked Dale to help me finish my laundry which involved a lot more instructions due to silk long-johns and wool scarves and other unmentionables that required special care and attention. He did it all beautifully. Meanwhile I finished putting my clothes away.
I watched the Incredibles and sat glowing in expectation for my dinner meal, which is the payment I receive for the piano lesson I gave earlier today.
Another glimmer was a package in our mailbox I just opened, a beautifully hand-crocheted baby blanket from my dear friend Jodi Holman, a woman I've been friends with since we were in diapers. Along with her exquisite labor of love came a baby size pair of blue jeans, a red flannel collared shirt, a matching faux fur trimmed aviator style hat lined in the same red flannel.
Little moments like these make the days more than just tolerable.
A few weeks later . . . (after learning that some of my fatigue was due to a sinus infection and completing the crazy week of travel to San Diego 2 times and once to Vail in which I rediscovered my love for speaking, ministering and then resting at home again) . . .
Little did I know that these last few days I've been actually training myself for a late night evidence that my body is actually stronger than I thought. Coming home from San Diego the 2nd time I decided that I had the strength to work out in some manner every day, even if this "working out" means a short walk.
So this last Friday I went on a snow shoe with the dogs and yesterday I actually swam 12 laps at the local pool, even while popping out of my pre-pregnancy tankini. Feeling very proud of myself yesterday I did another snow show before the snow fell by multiple inches.
There was over a feet covering our road by the time we made it home from our house church celebration late last night. Dale had just commented on how he worries on nights like this about getting stuck on the final steep "S" turn before we turn right into our driveway and having to walk up the rest of the way.
"I don't think you can walk up that far," he explained as he navigated the slippery road.
Indignant I disagreed.
Less than five minutes later we slid off the road into the ditch. We tried several times to power out and get back on the road, but the snow was like whipped meringue, it pulled us farther backwards, farther to the side until I felt more horizontal than vertical in my passenger's seat. I wound my scarf around my neck, jammed my gloves and hat on and clambered out of the car on the driver's side. My side would have left me waist deep in a snow bank.
You know, given that I had to walk over a 2/10 of a mile in knee deep snow, up a steep road, at 10 pm at night, in a tight pencil skirt and platform boots (waterproof, incredibly stable and comfortable, mind you!), in 25 degree weather (which, crazy as it sounds, really felt mostly warm except for the occasional wind), I did very well.
I'm very proud of my pregnant little body today, amazed at the strength I still had in me, amazed that my legs carried me and Birdie steady and true up, up, up the road, up, up, up the driveway, through the path into our warm house.
I'm determined to keep enjoying the tremendous compact feeling of having a child in my womb without having to worry about keeping him warm, fed, clothed, changed or burped... how marvelously compact he is. I'm delighted that pregnancy is so self-sustained that Birdie could stay warm and safe while I did the work of hiking.
I can get up for a 6am flight and not worry about waking him, I can swim laps at the local pool and not worry about watching over him, I can take all the leisure I need to get myself ready and not worry about bathing him. Of course when I get to worry about all these things, I plan to embrace them, but for now, I'm enjoying the portability of my son.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
From my interaction with them, I've begun to believe that it would be helpful for me and for you, my readers, to encounter some positive comparisons between these very different worldviews. I've heard people say all religions or philosophies teach people how to be better. If so, I want to hear about how, specifically.
I hope and have been praying that this blog post will serve to invite Jesus followers and Buddhists to post comments answering this one question:
How has Jesus or Buddha's teaching impacted your life in a positive way? Within this question is embedded the further interesting query of what attracted you to either Jesus or Buddha's life and teaching rather than the other? The more personal and specific you can be, the more interesting your input will be to all of us.
Try to avoid writing things like, "Jesus has saved me" or "Buddha provided the Noble Truths" instead tell us precisely how you've become a better person and how you've appropriated your religious founder's teaching. For example, if you post about how Jesus has saved you, we all want to know what you mean. What has Jesus saved you from? What does 'salvation' mean to you? Please reference the passages in the Holy Book that back up your beliefs, so we can all learn and read more for ourselves.
Like Christianity, Buddhism has different branches, Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana to mention a few, so let's be open to hearing about varieties within their belief system. For instance, as far as I can tell, Theravada Buddhists believe the canon to be closed with the Pali Canon Tipitaka and Mahayana Buddhists believe the canon is still open to more sacred scriptures. Christians look to the Bible as their holy book, Catholics include a few more books in this body of work, while Protestants a few less. Theravada Buddhists rely on the Pali Canon Tipitaka (includes Buddha's sermons, rules for monks and philosophy), Mahayana Buddhists favor the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma-pundarika) and the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna-paramita) and other writings, Vajrayana Buddhists use the Kanjur and the Tanjur. So keep an eye out for these holy books in our discussion below.
To get us started, I'd like to point out that there are significant differences in Buddhists and Christians understanding of things like salvation, enlightenment, death, worldview and the purpose of life. This means it is all the more important for each of us to define our terms.
I'd like to begin by re-quoting a few ideas my new Buddhist friend from Malaysia, Rahula, a knowledgeable blogger who I hope will be posting more of his insights here. To see Rahula's comments on the topic of Buddha and women look 1/2 way down in the comments on Jesus Outshines Buddha.
Enlightenment for a Buddhist means: the extinction of lust, hatred and delusion. (Samyutta Nikaya, 38:1-2). This is the definition given for nibbana and arahant.
In Siddhartha’s case, he is said to attain enlightenment when he had:
i)knowledge of recollection of his past lives;
ii)knowledge of the passing away & reappearance of beings; and finally,
iii)knowledge of the destruction of the taints/defilements (Maha Saccaka Sutta)
Rahula's explanation of enlightenment makes me think harder about what Buddha offers and what Jesus offers. How is Jesus' offer of "abundant life" and "living water"(John 10:10, John 4:13) different from Buddha's of enlightenment?
Rules of Engagement
Anyone can post here, I only ask you all abide by a few rules of respectful engagement in your commenting:
- Define your terms: whether they be "sin" or "samsara", "atonement" or "nirvana".
- Do ask questions of one another. Seek clarity from people who hold a different worldview than you do, ask them to help you understand better.
- Do not patronize, disrespect or in any way belittle other people's beliefs. If you do the latter I will reject your blog post.
- I invite you to include your email address at the end of our comment so that if your comment is rejected I can email you the offending section and you might be helped to re-post with offensive material deleted. This will help us all learn how to be more honoring in our discussion.
- I promise to carefully read every comment submitted. Since I come to this discussion as a follower of Jesus I want to be extra careful to not favor Christians more than Buddhists. So no matter how incredible your argument, do not insult, patronize or accuse others, if you do I will reject your comment. Ask questions, seek understanding, be willing to find Buddhists or Christians who do not fit what we may have previously believed about each other.
- I reserve the right to jump in and direct our conversation away from what appears to me to be a tangent and keep us on topic (the positive benefits of following Jesus or Buddha). My comments may be long or short depending on my job as facilitator. I ask that you, however, limit your responses to one comment to each person you are responding to (~4000 characters- blogger will let you know if your comment is too long). This will ensure our writing prevents us from overwhelming each other with exhausting, multiple comments to each other.
- As new comments come up feel free to post additional comments. I do not want to limit the times you post on this blog, but I do want the limit the number of comments you post to one person. We don't want to bombard or monologue each other away from discussion.
- If you have every taken a comparative religion class you will have amassed beliefs about other people's worldview. Take care when assuming this means you also understand the entire religion. I have been both falsely accused as believing things Jesus never taught and I have been guilty of accusing others of believing things Buddha never promoted. This blog and the ensuing comments are a place to learn. Please ask questions of one another for clarity, but do not assume you know more than adherents of any religion, unless you ask them first.
- If more rules are needed I will highlight them in the comments with "NEW RULE ALERT."
I'll get this started with a few things I've found Jesus has given me.
Jesus has given me steady companionship, someone I can ask questions of and find direction from. He promised he would be a friend to his followers (Matthew 28:20, John 15:15). For instance, I've struggled with lust and Jesus has been someone I can actively engage in my struggle. As I've written in a previous post, I practice inviting Jesus into my lustful thoughts and he works a 180 degree change in my beliefs, thoughts and desires. I find myself not ceasing to have desire for men, but my actual desire changing into hunger to know them as people, noticing the men around me, not in a predatory way, but with new eyes, to see them as made in God's image, valuable and distinctly personal with family, friends and the capacity for dignity.
I invite you to share how your spiritual journey, with either Jesus or Buddha's teaching, has changed your life positively. Let's learn and challenge one another toward truth!
Saturday, November 7, 2009
"Kimberly Munley, a 35-year-old police officer, happened to be nearby, waiting for her squad car to get a tune-up, when she heard the commotion. She raced to the scene . . . As she rounded a corner, she saw Maj. Hasan chasing a wounded soldier through an open courtyard. He looked as though he was trying to "finish off" the wounded soldier, Mr. Medley said.
"He looked extremely focused," said Francisco De La Serna, a 23-year-old medic who had fled the building and was watching the same scene unfold from a hiding spot across the street.
Ms. Munley's first shot missed Maj. Hasan. He spun to face her and began charging, Mr. Medley said.
The time was 1:27 p.m., just four minutes after the initial 911 call.
Authorities haven't said precisely how many shots were fired during the running gun battle between Maj. Hasan and Ms. Munley. But one of her shots hit Mr. Hasan in the torso, knocking him to the ground. With that, officials say, she quite likely prevented more injuries or deaths on the base.
Ms. Munley took two bullets to her legs. Both entered her left thigh, ripped through the flesh and lodged in her right thigh. She also received a minor wound to the right wrist.Specialist De La Serna, the medic hiding across the street, sprinted to the scene as the shooting stopped and put a tourniquet on Ms. Munley, who was fading in and out of consciousness, he said. Then he moved to Maj. Hasan, who had a gunshot wound through the chest.
Ms. Munley underwent surgery Thursday night to halt bleeding and faces at least two more operations to remove the bullets in her thigh." quoted from The Wall Street Journal, to read more from this article or from another in the WSJ "Lethal Rampage at Fort Hood."
When Sergeant Kimberly Munley pulled out her handgun to shoot Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan, a man who had killed 13 and wounded 30, she put herself, a woman, against a man. Without her gun she could not have matched his strength, but with her sidearm she was capable of meeting his aggression.
Ms. Munley makes me think of the unnecessary losses when a man pits his strength against a woman's vulnerability and dominates. Makes me think of the students at Virginia Tech. What if one female student at Virginia Tech, with the same tenacity to run after the assassin as Munley had been permitted to carry concealed weapons? Makes me think of my neighbor whose close friend was hunted down at her own home by a serial murderer and despite a long, physical struggle against him, eventually decapitated in her own home. What if she had had been carrying a concealed weapon and knew how to use it?
What if women were encouraged to know how to use guns, instead of our society relegating guns to violent, dangerous, testosterone-fueled obsessive types?
Munley laid her own life in harm's way to protect those who could no longer protect themselves. She was equipped not only with a weapon but with the courage and skills to protect herself and others. She bent stereotypes and for that I am deeply grateful. I feel my heart quake in me when I think of her running toward Maj. Hasan, drawing his fire away from the wounded. I'm sure she knew she might not come through alive. Still, because she was armed, a woman's strength was on equal ground with a violent man's. It surprises me that there are not more feminist's blogs commenting on the need for women to carry a concealed weapon.
Ms. Munley's heroism and willingness to attack an aggressor, rather than run, speaks to the power a sidearm when held by a capable woman in battle. Because she was trained and armed she was a force powerful enough to stop Maj Hasan.
Upon moving to the woods, a remote region in the Rocky Mountains, Dale and I both filed for concealed carry licenses. We had to take a three hour safety class and then endure fingerprinting and knowing we're under suspicion (you should hear some of our big-city friends when they find out) for the offense of wanting to exercise our Constitutional right (something I thought only fanatical, kooky people every wanted) of carrying our own guns.
Last month we took a handgun defensive training class, in Eastern Oregon at Thunder Ranch. Their goal, "Our primary concern is that people who come to Thunder Ranch® leave with a peace of mind in their heart and head. We strongly hope that they never have to use any of the skills or things learned here for the defense of themselves or their family, but if they do, we want this knowledge to be used confidently and with great vigor."
Still, I was, frankly, afraid. I didn't know my 40 caliber pistol all that well, I was nervous about making a mistake with so much risk at stake and the gun is just LOUD and forceful. Besides, I was 16 weeks pregnant. Was this a wise thing to do? My doctor, surprised at my request, said the baby would be fine and to be careful. If I learned anything at Thunder Ranch it was awe for the power of a gun. We NEVER allowed the gun to point at something we did not want to destroy. I'm more careful now than I was before, but I'm also a heck of a lot more accurate. Dale says he's glad to have me at his side.
Our instruction, Clint Smith, marine corps veteran and police officer, nationally known for training SWAT teams in urban defense, and his wife and one other assistant, helped me and 11 others learn the importance of steady, careful gun drawing, shooting, re-loading, clearing jams and re-holstering. We fired over 800 rounds in 3 days. And I've never met a more conscientious, respectful group of strangers. None of them fit the stereotypes of gun-carrying fanatics. You can, by the way take classes like these all over the nation, but Clint's record of safety (he's had NO accidents and 19,000 clients) and professionalism motivated us to make the trip.
The cost of the class was severe, not only in dollars, but also in energy, strain and fatigue. By the end of each day my pregnant belly, around which I could barely squeeze my belt to hold my holster, were aching. While the class included several couples, I was the only pregnant woman. By the second day I had rubbed my fingers raw with clicking the safety on and off of my handgun. It was very cold most the time (watch the video below to see our breath in the air as we practice a leaning drill to know how to be off balance and shoot around corner). We could not wear gloves, so we would know how the gun felt without any protection. I felt every bump and button, I know how to load and ask for "Cover!" while I'm vulnerable. And Dale and I know how to work as a team. The ear protection helped, but the repetition of drawing, firing, belting out verbal commands to "Get Away" or "Stop" combined with the ceaseless vigilance, left me utterly exhausted at the end of each day. Then we had to pick up all our shells, carefully unload, clean our equipment, then finally off to find some dinner.
While men and their guns has grown into a stereotype mixed with red-necks and caricatures of violence, I know many gun-carrying men (many who attended the class at Thunder Ranch) and women who carry their weapons with humility, respect and utmost safety. I would trust them to defend me. I'm grateful for their willingness to carry a dangerous weapon so others might be safe. So as I move on to catch up with the rest of my life, as I read the week 24 update on my pregnancy, as I think of protecting the lives of those nearest to me, I'm grateful to have a husband who wanted to educate me about concealed carry.
And in light of the sobering murders committed at Fort Hood, I want to salute the women across the country today who bare the disapproval, misunderstanding and mockery of carrying a sidearm, not only for their own safety, but for the love of their fellow men and women.
To read more about the Biblical justification for carrying a handgun see this helpful blog: The Cornered Cat
Saturday, October 31, 2009
What does it mean for a woman to be sexy? And is that something we can be without defrauding (arousing desires others cannot righteously pursue) in men (and women) around us?
Can you be sexy without being promiscuous, flirtatious, trampy? What are the core components of a sexy woman? Are these the same as the qualities of a sexy man?
When you say, "She's sexy!" what do we mean by the words? Are we speaking of a woman's power to dominate or attract the opposite sex? Or does 'sexy' mean something about her confidence. I remember C.S. Lewis' comment on a beautiful woman, "Just to watch her watch across the room is a liberal education."
Okay, this is where you comment below :)
What does it mean to be sexual? Lilian Calles Barger, author of Eve's Revenge, says we are sexual when we give ourselves; it's our capacity for self-giving. I beg to differ.
The act of sex, or erotic expression is by nature an act of self-giving and therefore an act of love. All self-giving acts are by nature loving, but I would not call all loving acts sexual. Would you?
When God the Father sent God the Spirit to live among men and women, to comfort and guide us, he was self-giving, but this wasn't sexual. Put another way, all sexual acts are self-giving, but not all self-giving acts are sexual. I can give chocolates to my mom for her birthday, but I wouldn't call the gift a sexual expression.
And yet, everywhere we go, we bring our whole selves into the action and part of being human is to have a body that is gendered... from conception we have the capacity for erotic love, we just need time and nutrients to grow the capacity into possibility/actuality.
And in ever encounter in life we are gendered (which has hints of sexuality) beings, whether we're "having sex" or not.
Have you ever noticed how every encounter between the sexes (brother/sister, father/daughter, co-workers, pastors on a church staff, bank teller and customer) has a sexual dimension to it. I'm not saying every person of the opposite sex creates a temptation for us to imagine sexual intercourse, this would mean every person struggles with incestuous thoughts.
Keep in mind that men and women's encounters need not always end in sexual intercourse. I think of the tender knowing between Matthew Cuthbert and Anne of Green Gables, when Anne says, "We're such kindred spirits he knows my thoughts." I recall the wry mutual respect between Elizabeth Bennett and her father as they mock the odious Mr. Collins. I notice my grandmother's relationship with her brother in law. They spend hours driving to visit his sister, sometimes my grandpa accompanies them, sometimes not. But they know each other personally and interact with mutual regard and delight.
I sit at an airport and watch male and female coworkers joking and teasing one another, three women and two men, tossing lines back and forth with ease and interest, witty enough for a sitcom script, enough mystery to keep me interested. I enjoy watching the sexes interacting with freedom and respect. After the men leave to de-ice a plane, the three women, all middle-aged, repeat lines, rehearse what they could have said and laugh all over again.
Now, several minutes later another woman walks up and the conversation switches to creating a wishing there were a magical machine that could lift their wrinkles and commenting on one woman's new hair color. The women switch gears, they mutually admire, they joke, but the hues have changed. They can let their hair down with each other in another way; their conversation has shifted into the ways they mutually understand female embodiment.
Unfortunately male and female friendships where the sexual element is neither erased nor swollen into raw erotic desire is hard to find.
Since most of our day to day interaction with men will be in the realm of friendship, if we're afraid that every close female/male friendship will erupt in illicit sex, we will not interact with men well. We will close off our person-hood and femininity and interact in functional ways. Kind of like the way I interact with my car: I expect it to offer a service, I feed it gas and oil and sometimes clean the windows, but I do not want to know what it thinks about, how it feels, what dreams it has. I see women relate like this to men, there's a cold efficiency in their actions, little eye-contact, a mechanical-ism that isolates and dehumanizes both parties. Perhaps it makes us feel safer. I know I whip out this functional behavior when men whistle at me, I stiffen my neck and regard them with the same interest I'd give a fence post. They've reduced me to merely my body, so I return the favor. I do not look into their eyes with any warmth. I can't and remain safe.
In a world where people are wounded and wound each other, I wonder if there are places women can be warm and fully embodied in our femininity with men?
I believe women, for instance, are always aware of the otherness of men (as men are of women), in a way that colors all male-female interaction differently than the hues in female friendship can.
When I meet a man I note the way he is different, no matter how similar our interests, training, upbringing, ethnicity or faith. A man incarnates to me another way to be human. And this otherness imbues my conversation with him with a brighter spectrum of mystery, more discovery, more suspense. This interest between the sexes is in part responsible for our love of movies where the guy and girl meet and navigate their relationship. What will they become? How do they see each other? Who are they individually and separately?
All humans come with a body predisposed to offer love in one of two ways, we give either female or male love. Instead of calling this our sexuality, since sexual can refer to the sex act or our gender, I'd prefer to talk about how we give to others in either feminine or masculine ways. So, how does a man love? What makes his love different than a woman's love?
The answer, I think, will constitute our femininity (or masculinity) and I believe begins when we realize how our souls are wrapped into this body we have, with male and female parts, hormones, experiences.
I believe men and women in the church easily believe that women can tempt a man beyond what he is able to resist (the vice versa is also true), so rules to guard marriage and prevent temptation get set up. Rules like, "Never be alone with a woman (including offering rides, meeting for a meal in a public place, meeting for a project)." Perhaps this feels safer, and sometimes it is.
But when do these rules prevent the divine alliance of masculinity and femininity from learning how to relate in sexually honoring ways. Sometimes stringent male-only and female-only activities keep men from personally knowing any women in their lives, save family members and spouse. It also inflates the mystery between the sexes, which, in my opinion, balloons out into misunderstandings, unBiblical Mars-Venus ideology and even provides more room for fantasizing about our co-workers. It's easier to project upon a mysterious man the ideals we want, isn't it?
Nothing cures a fantasy like a dose of the real person, in a friendship. When I've grown attracted in a base way to the bodies of friends' husbands, I used to think I had only one option: get away from temptation. Cut off friendship with him and maybe even with his wife.
But there is another option, I've found learning to know them better can actually douse my sexual fires with a cold splash of water.
My only rule of thumb: I do not let myself grow close to a married man without first growing even closer to his wife. Out of these friendships I learn about his masculinity, his person-hood that will be inevitably more flawed than who I made him out to be. He's not particularly patient with his children; he runs away from confrontation; he is more fallen and more human than I could have believed.
I believe this was Jesus' way of being so close to women, without giving into the temptation (he must have felt) to make love to them. He knew the dance of personal intimacy without sexual innuendo. This is how I want to treat the men in my life.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
It's called Kyria, a word that in Greek means "honored woman." It's brand spanking new, which is probably why I got a chance to write an article for the first issue. :)
I originally titled my article"Women and Their Wonderful Bodies" but they've changed it to "What our Bodies Tell us about our Identities" which makes sense give the 1st issue is all about BORN IDENTITY.
I wrote about the chance women have to wonder why their bodies are wonderfully made. You'll find a poem by George Herbert nestled in the article, too.
To read it, and see the nifty graphic design of this new digizine visit Kyria THIS month.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about the magazine and the case for women's bodies being wonderful little numbers.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Laying in bed, I listen to an elk call, a bugle that sounded at first like the ice cream truck. What is the ice cream man doing at 6am patrolling this forested neighborhood?
Then, I remember where I am, Thorp Mountain, nestled in Grouse Creek Park, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The sound is the elk attracting its mate for the season. If you've never heard an elk call during their mating season (rut) listen here.The time of new life comes in the fall for the elk. (Picture at right is taken from our property in the Spring, but it gives you an accurate feel of the quiet stillness of the aspen forest)
I lay on my back for about 30 minutes and pray about the new life in me. “Jesus, let me feel the baby move this morning.” I’m at 16 weeks; I've heard the heart beat; I've passed the anxiety of wondering if the baby will survive. I feel the miracle of growth every time I look at my swelling tummy, the amazement that the little one (a little bigger than an avocado now) is still alive and well.
The quickening is supposed to begin around this time, but most new moms don’t feel the baby until the 18 or even the 20th week. Still, I wanted to try to feel the little fledgling in my Fincher tummy.
I lay there for a long time, feeling nothing, feeling discouraged and a little anxious. Then, I noticed a prickling feeling, sort of like a tiny baby was tap-dancing with cotton slippers on my belly.
At first I thought it was my heart beat, but then I slowly moved my fingers up to my neck to check my heart and it’s steady thump-thump was not the same as the tap dancer.
I held my breath to feel it again and there it was, like the baby was doing a light waltz across my stomach, so imperceptible. But clear enough that I now know what to feel for.
No wonder I’ve been waking up each morning at 6am, this is the baby’s doing. Dance time.
I’m enormously gratified that our baby likes to dance.
Thankful for this early morning birthday present, I climbed down the ladder to let the puppies out for breakfast. I heard four more elk bugle calls. Lucy ate all but the bottom most layer of her food and I have a letter from Grandma Taylor and a package from Mom upstairs waiting for me to celebrate my birthday--little jewels of surprise. But I want to savor them, so I eat a slow breakfast and work on my email.
Dale is still asleep and I'm glad I haven't woken him.
Last night he danced with me and sang an ode to my 29 years.He sang about the last decade. How we’ve lived in 4 different houses, graduated from two different schools, started a non-profit, wrote books, acquired five pets, traveled, got pregnant.
The thirties will be a decade of raising a child.What a difference and yet, I hope some things stay the same. I love my life.
In thankfulness for this morning and for my life so far, for the life within me in this child, around me in my husband, the three Ladies, Sprout the faithful mouser, I want to share a poem I read this morning. It expresses this morning's joy.
"For Your Birthday"
by John O'Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us
Blessed by the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth.
Praise be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.
Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those you have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.
When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the gray wall formed around you.
Blessed be the gifts you never notice
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world's waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.
On this echoing--day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.
God knit me, he knits this child, he hold us all together.
Monday, September 14, 2009
The short version of Ms. Semenya's story: her running talents have pushed her to the forefront of competition as recently as last month in the World Athletic Championship where this South African track star, finished a full eight seconds ahead of her competition in the 800 meter, a race I trained for in high school. It's a doozy, the hardest long sprint I've every done. Interestingly, her speed is not unheard of in women. Ms. Semenya's time, 1 minute 55.45 seconds is several seconds behind the current world record, held by Czechoslovakian, Jarmila Kratochvilova, 1 minutes 53.28. I don't believe Kratochvilova enduring the same kind of treatment that Semenya faces.
The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), responding to accusations that Ms. Semenya looks masculine and is way too fast to be a woman, required the 18 year old to undergo testing (a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender issues) to determine her sexuality. The testing indicates that Ms. Semenya has normal female genitals, but internally has testes, and no womb or ovaries. She looks female on the outside, but produces more testosterone on the inside. The situation is not as unheard of as you might think. People with ambiguous genitalia make up a real, living, breathing percentage of our population, about 1 in every 2000 births in the United States. Read more specific statistics.
In response some were quick to use the inaccurate label of "hermaphrodite," which refers to pepole who have fully functioning genitals of both sexes. Since, Ms. Semenya has already endured the testing to determine her gender and exposure to the prying eyes of the public I feel it's necessary to speak up about her situation here, as carefully and charitably as I can.
First, let's get our terms more accurate. A person born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that do not fit clearly into typical male or female categories is an intersex person, not a hermaphrodite. For more read the front page at the Intersex Society of North America. One common and tragic characteristic among intersex people is their inability to have children. Sometimes they do not know why, some intersex people live and die without ever knowing they have anything ambiguous about their sexual identity. I find this fascinating and helpful in understanding Ms. Semenya.
In Ruby Slippers, I make a big deal about the main characteristic that joins all women together--the female body. Femininity isn't based in our high heels or acrylic nails, but it is owning a female body. And all women know that to own and glory in the body they've been given is hardly an easy task--I don't care how beautiful, athletic or svelte you are--it's tough. We don't believe Psalm 139, not entirely.
Ms. Semenya has the additional task of owning a body that has male genitalia inside. Can you imagine the task?
And yet, she's doing it, rather boldly and with much more pizzazz than most teenage girls.
In a recent appearance on the cover of the South African magazine, You, Ms. Semenya wears make-up, a dark dress, jewelry, and yes, that's fingernail polish. All marks of femininity today in our culture. The fact that she wears culturally chosen symbols of femininity does not turn her into a woman, but it does mean something significant to us, she has chosen to identify herself as female. It means she wants her body bedecked in feminine marks. And this takes courage and ownership, especially in light of what the world knows about her internal organs.
Ms. Semenya has reached the age where she believes she knows her gender identity. Intersex children are often forced to endure genital amputation to clarify their sexuality before leaving the hospital. The reason? Most parents aren't happy about bringing home a baby who isn't clearly male or female. Intersex people today advocate parents to protect their child from the emotional and physical scarring of reconstructive surgery in infancy and recommend parents raise each baby individually, either with a sex chosen or not. However, at adolescence, most intersex children develop and see themselves as either boys or girls. The case in As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl gives a helpful story of what happens when medical intervention botches up a human's gender.
And Ms. Semenya is not an exception in knowing her sexual identity. At 18, she shares that she has been raised as a female and seems to want to be treated as a female, an understandable request given that her body, sans surgery, looks like a woman's. I'm not very sympathetic to the charges that her muscles are so masculine given how many swimmers, runners, soccer players I've seen whose bodies seem just as muscular as Ms. Semenya's.
Whether the IAAF or even doctors completely agree with her, Ms. Semenya as an intersex person, has chosen her gender identity. Surely that should give us pause before we start referring to her as "he/she" or "hermaphrodite."
I've read blogs that claim that the Bible has nothing to say about intersex people. Perhaps this is because we're looking for the wrong words. It's true the Bible never mentions intersex or people with ambiguous genitals. But, then, the Bible never mentions the "Trinity", "Providence" or people who want to practice monogomous same sex relationship. However, we still believe the Bible has something to add to these discussions.
As I've written elsewhere,
There is an important, but often ignored question about the intersex person (a person born with ambiguous genitals), or more derogatorily called hermaphrodite, person. Intersex people are often permanently damaged because doctors and parents force a sex on them at infancy, even though most will gravitate toward one gender by adolescence. So how should we respond to those intersex persons whose genitals remain perpetually ambiguous? I would say Christians ought to be the first to validate them as full human souls with all their capacities intact, though with marks of the fallen world on their bodies. Perhaps this is what Christ meant when he said in Matthew, “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb” (19:12). (Ruby Slippers, p 92, ft 30).
The fact that Ms. Semenya cannot bear a child is a mark of living in this fallen world. It will be something she will have to grieve as she grows into her adult years. But it is not something I would have wished her to discover in the limelight.
However, in light of competition and attacks on her right to the gold medal, perhaps the real problem is the athletic community. Perhaps we've insisted on certain lines (male/female) in order to enjoy the thrill of watching a foot race. I can foresee problems arising on both sides. Let's say intersexed people can choose how they want to be identified for the sake of racing. What would prevent intersex men from choosing to compete as women? I suppose their honesty alone? Culturally fluctuating standards or gender? If they appear on the cover of a glamor magazine?
Regardless the problem looms larger and larger. But what about Ms. Semenya? As my husband says, "We've hyped up organized sports so much that they automatically give a person recognition, honor, fame that we don't think to question them as an institution. Instead of questioning the athletic organizations, we're much more interested in questioning this woman."
The IAAF will not be meeting and releasing its results until late November. Regardless of what they decide, I'm convinced that Jesus would want us asking the human question first, the athletic one second. Whether she can compete, keep the medal are significant questions, especially given the meaning we imbue into such events. However, I want first to recognize Ms. Semenya as a woman who wants to be known as a female person who is fully human. She has made it clear that she wants us to see her as a human God made. In her interview she says, "I am who I am and I am proud of myself. God made me the way I am and I accept myself.”(picture: Ms. Semenya with her grandmother)
I, for one, am happy to oblige.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
But don't misunderstand me for being so virtuous, it's not because naked men just don't do it for me. When I've stumbled upon completely naked men in magazines (I distinctly remember finding one in a European fashion magazine in my London trip abroad) I found myself both aroused and fascinated that THAT was what a penis looked like. It wasn't easy to turn the page.
I've also heard the opposite from those "cigar-filled rooms of men" about how valuable non-sheer lingerie is. Why? "leaves more to the imagination." So I think the desire for fully naked or partially naked men (or women) is quite personal.
In a study by Queen's professor and female sexologist, Meredith Chivers, we get a secular look into what turns men and women on. Chivers measures male and female arousal both objectively (through measuring blood flow to significant sexual organs) and subjectively (volunteering arousal by typing in). She monitored them as they watch videos of gay and straight humans and monkeys having sex. She found that men were turned on by their preferred orientation (so heterosexual men by heterosexual sex) and by lesbian sex. But men were not turned on by their non-preferred orientation (so gay men were not aroused by heterosexual sex). However, women were aroused no matter what human sexual coupling occurred, women with women, women with men and men with men. Neither men or women were aroused by the monkey's sex. Women, Chivers argues, can be aroused by more diverse stimuli then men.
So does this mean all women are really potential lesbians? Not necessarily. As Marta Meana, professor of psychology at Nevada University explained, "The female body looks the same whether aroused or not. The male, without an erection, is announcing a lack of arousal. The female body always holds the promise, the suggestion of sex." This suggestion sends a charge through both sexes.
A beautiful woman appeals to women as well, her body reminds women that we can be desirable, appealing to our narcissism. So putting a lovely woman on a billboard appeals to both sexes, not just those "red-blooded males."
In various studies, it appears that when it comes to arousal, women are turned on when they feel desireable. There is a power that flows through women if they feel desired. When viewing pornography men spend most their time looking at the woman's body, while women look equally at the man and woman. Take a moment and see how you respond to this picture of a couple kissing. Notice how the camera captures more of the woman's experience of feeling desired than the man's.
On a more somber note, this longing to be pursued hosts even darker, dangerous desires. According to the Journal of Sex Research, 1 in 10 women have reported fantasizing about sexual assault at least once a month in a pleasurable way. Why? The heat of being wanted so deeply eclipses the man's violation of her body that women think this might be enjoyable. The irony is that these women are controlling a fantasy of losing control. Of course in their minds the rape is pleasurable, or rape on their terms and nothing like the actual encounter of a man raping them.
Women, it appears, must face this tendency we have, this affair with self-love, perhaps more than men. We want to be THAT sought after. More on the problems of this to come.
Interesting, how important feeling desired is to women. On a more hopeful note, if a man loves and desires a woman, communicating that to her, he can turn her on. I would also argue that when a woman desires a man, he is also aroused. Love is a skill men (and women) can acquire, with God's help, even he doesn't have guns like Brad Pitt and even if she doesn't have a figure like Angelina Jolie.
For more on a secular picture of what turns women on, read Daniel Bergner's full article in The New York Times Magazine, "What Women Want." If you find the article worthy of more discussion, send me a comment.
Overall, I found Bergner's article interesting, helpful in pointing out the distinction between bodily arousal (happens to women even in rape) and consent, but he failed to note the difference between arousal and healthy, mutually satisfying sex, a question to which I will turn near the end of this post.
Women's Lust- Is it Different?
A girlfriend once told me that the way girls lust is different from guys. Girls want to get the guys attention, while guys just want the girl. Women are more often thought of as trophies or possessions or accessories, but perhaps this is what they want (in a fallen way).
I recently watched Twilight, a poor adaptation of the book as my high school friend informs me, but nonetheless a monstrously big hit among teens. The male lead, Edward, a mysterious, somewhat obsessive, hotty vampire wants to possess the female lead, Bella. No one finds this strange. In fact the idea that he craves her blood is sort of sexy, right?
I personally find that gross, but I think most romantically inclined women (a pack I once ran with) find the obsessive desire of a man tremulously irresistible. A man who literally craves you is a man who will always turn you on, hence Edward, actor Michael Welch's, breathtaking rise to notoriety. For more on Twilight see "When Perfection is Un-Human".
But do men also get turned on if a woman desires them to the same degree? What if Bella had wanted to suck Edward's blood, if Jane Eyre had wanted to possess Mr. Rochester, if Anne of Green Gables had wanted to own Gilbert Blythe? Somehow this isn't what I think most men find alluring.
I defined lust in my previous post as desiring sex for someone not your spouse. Whenever we think of lust we tend to think only in sexual terms, much like Jesus focused in on adultery "in our hearts" (Matthew 5:27-29). But lust has a few deeper dimensions.
In this post I want to push out into the margins of the meaning of lust among different people, to know how lust grows and why we don't easily recognize it in women.
Lust and Coveting
Last night, my husband, Dale and I were driving home from a day in Denver when he came up with a new angle on the 10 Commandments. These laws are all linked to the consequences of covetousness, to wanting something that doesn't belong to us. They each spring from a firm doubt in God's ability to get us what we need.
We steal because we covet our neighbors stuff, we worship other gods because we covet other gods' blessings, we lie because we covet a better reputation or the easy road over the truth. We commit adultery because we covet our neighbor's husband.
There is, in fact, is no command about lust, only about adultery and covetousness. Exodus 20:17, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Two definitions from the New American Heritage Dictionary:
Covet - to feel blameworthy desire for that which is another's, to wish for extensively and longingly (from the Latin cupiditas, desirous)
Lust - intense or unrestrained sexual craving, an overwhelming desire or craving, an obsessive desire.
With these definitions, lust appears to be only a slice, the sexual slice, of the covetousness pie. And while some, my father being one, have found it difficult to imagine a woman burning with lust, isn't it easy to imagine a woman struggling with covetousness? Just glance at a picture of the ladies in Sex and the City to realize how much we crave. Just one word: shoes.
So do women covet sex, too?
Covetousness with Lustful Tinges
Kelis' song, "Milkshake" helps me understand how a woman's coveting of power and attention might be another form of lust. In "Milkshake" Kelis proves that she's got the biggest and best bag of sexual favors. If you haven't heard the song borrow a young woman's iPod. I find it tantalizing, clever and debauched. Here are a few choice morsels.
My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they're like
It's better than yours,
Damn right it's better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge
I know you want it,
The thing that makes me,
What the guys go crazy for.
They lose their minds,
I can see you're on it,
You want me to teach thee
Techniques that freaks these boys,
It can't be bought,
Just know, thieves get caught,
Watch if your smart,
My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they're like
It's better than yours,
Damn right it's better than yours,
I can teach you,
But I have to charge
My aside, the song is catchy, but then embedded in the chorus you come to this verse:
Oh, once you get involved,
Everyone will look this way-so,
You must maintain your charm,
Same time maintain your halo,
Just get the perfect blend,
Plus what you have within,
Then next his eyes are squint,
Then he's picked up your scent,
So Kelis is still stuck doing the mincing femininity steps without missing a beat in her striptease, trying to keep her halo and still dole out some milkshakes. Kelis is a woman who honestly finds her stilettos liberating! She wants power, attention, but ultimately, she wants to rank higher than other women when it comes to getting a man to her backyard. She wants to be the most desirable. But perhaps this is because being desired turns her on.
Her new song, "Bossy" reveals even more. She reminds us that SHE'S the one who brings all the boys to the yard, she's the one whose tattooed on his arm, so she has a right to be BOSSY! But nearly every scene in the music video has a woman giving up her comfort, her dignity, her cleanliness, her sobriety, her freedom for a guy's sexual pleasure. Kelis says this is the price for the chance to be bossy.
The cover (at right) feels ironic to me. How can a woman in THAT shoe really dominate a man? And yet, women do dominate men wearing shoes like that one.
I've noticed that women who want to dominate men like this, get dominated by the system they've created. Men who want a woman like Kelis aren't particularly concerned with treating her as an image bearer of God. And women who want to boss their men aren't as concerned with sex as they are with power.
And yet both are forms of coveting. The woman covets the power. The man covets the woman's body. You could even argue as many Christians (often men) do that most women's lust is a disguised desire to be loved. And if they cannot love, then they'll just dominate. It's Genesis 3:16 all over again (as Kelis' album cover seems to indicate--by the way what's with the heart dotting her "i"?).
Then they'll argue that men lust simply because of all that testosterone. Lust is even expected from men. Kelis fits this diagnosis, she wants to be possessed, she wants a guy, sure, but for the money, for the boss-factor, for the power, maybe for the security. So maybe deep down she's looking for love?
But I'm still not convinced that all female lust is just coveting love or power. The lust I've experienced and I know others have too (check out the comments from the last post) is about sexually wanting a man, in bed, with you, right now. I appreciated Deborah's comments (last post) about how often female lust awakens later than men's and how our lust, while still visual, can also contain other components, like a rich fantasy life, a desire for what the man represents or a fatherly figure we missed.
On that note, it's easy for women (and I'd argue men) to have one night's stands because we can superimpose our imaginings onto the man we've chosen. For instance, if a woman met a men who reminded her of James Bond (Daniel Craig, of course) and slept with him that night, she could more easily imagine him strong, capable, witty, dangerous and intelligent simply because she knows LESS about who he really is. I find it much more difficult to fantasize that my husband is James Bond simply because I know who Dale is. I know he is the man who did the dishes the night before and who will probably forget to clear his desk of clutter the next day. I know we'll both tackle some new problem tomorrow and I know he is much more to me than James Bond.
I'd imagine that the anonymity of a one night's stand, or a chance encounter with an old romance, or an affair, leaves enough missing pieces for women to project the type of man we crave, not who we really have sleeping next to us.
So, in light of the many raised eyebrows I continue to receive from bringing up this topic of women and lust, let's venture a bit into why are so many lusty women silent? Why don't they talk about lust as much as men?
Different Consequences for Lust
When a woman lusts for a man and makes good on her desire, sleeps with him and goes home, she has a different physical experience to process than a man. I'm not saying a man is not harmed by flagrant sexual affairs, nor that the emotional and spiritual significance of hooking up only hurts women. However, women have more to face on the sexual disease front, the pregnancy front (the pill and condoms are not 100% effective), the infertility front and the hormonal front than a man. Even the most natural sexual act (sans condom) puts something inside a woman that could impregnate, disease or sterilize her, whereas the man is not automatically taking anything into his body.
Since a woman puts up more capital when she acts out on her lust, perhaps she learns to mute or is taught to silence her lust early on. More to lose, so it's just not worth it. Also, in our culture lust is a male thing, something several commenters noted in the previous post. Lust proves a man's virility, his "red-blooded-ness", so if you're a lustful women, you're basically more manly... Too much testosterone perhaps? And who wants to be a manly woman? Not too many girls grow up with that goal. No wonder we silence the lust inside us.
A helpful article diagnosing the church's tendency to overemphasize lust as a male problem was written in the journal "Mutuality" (Spring 2009), by Naomi Eden. "Sin Does Not Discriminate" talks about the "gendering" of certain sins in church culture so that women are believed to be less sexually motivated. So women are to dress modestly to keep men from lusting (modesty isn't something men have to think about), but women's own lust, sexual addiction and pornography go unaddressed. Eden asks people in the church, "Please do not act surprised if a woman is or has struggled with sexual sin in the form of pornography or extramarital affairs. This woman needs to hear that she can be renewed."
In the last post's comments Tasha asked about healthy sexuality. Given that lust is one of the ways we covet another person's sexual attention, healthy sexuality must strip itself of covetousness. Healthy sexuality must include a knowledge both of self and a desire to know the other. Healthy sexuality will by its nature make me very vulnerable to receiving all of my husband and giving all of myself in return. This is a lesson Dale has taught me time and again.
Dale and I notice that good lovemaking invites us to avoid these two extremes: subjugation on one hand and selfishness on the other. The extreme of utter subjugation may happen with either sexual partner. If the woman is completely bent on giving herself in bed while ignoring her desires as irrelevant, she’s missed the necessary element of self-love. For instance, when a wife approaches sex with the attitude, "I'll do whatever pleases you and never share my sexual hopes"; or when a husband works to steer clear of the aggressive, animal stereotype of his tribe by overcompensating to make sex all about her. This posture robs the lovers of satisfying each other because they stop thinking of themselves as worthy of being satisfied. Without communicating what she loves her husband to do, to say, to express sexually, she is not giving her full self to him (perhaps this is because she does not sexually know herself, but that is another issue all together). Love, ultimately, is a giving of oneself away, not by negating the self but by exposing the self and all of its passions. Letting a man practice out his sexual hopes on your body without communicating your desires is not full love. If a woman's sexual desires remain locked, or worse dead, in marriage then this woman is not loving her mate.
The other extreme is an attitude that is more stereotypically male, though from The New York Times Magazine article (i.e. women's narcissim and self-love) that women have a deep urging to say, as well, "I want THIS, sexually, in marriage so I will require this out of my mate." This demanding posture refuses to listen, either patiently or repeatedly, to the instruction, hope and differences of her spouse because her satisfaction is not mutual by one-sided. Demanding one type of sexual encounter without inquiring, as a scholar, into the body and mind's delights of our spouse means we fail to know and therefore to love our mate.
Interestingly, this is how God loves the world. He sacrifices, but so that his own desires will also be fulfilled. In laying down his life in Jesus, he lets us know he’s doing it, not only for our sakes, but for his. He wants the world to be reconciled to himself. We may be confused because of our church clichés and mistakenly think that true love is self-effacing, deny self and all that. But true love desires the best for ourselves too, especially in cooperation with another. This is the dance of the Trinity.
Tasha went on to ask, "Is it possible for a spouse to lust after a marriage partner by simply seeing the other as a means to their own end/happiness?"
Given that lust is a type of covetousness, I would say that whenever a husband or wife uses the other solely as a means to achieve personal gratification (either through demanding or hiding one's own desires), then love is missing in their relationship. I would not, however, call this lust. I would call it covetousness, a craving for something other than the body and soul of another person. So, as I pointed out in the last post, when a woman seeks sex only for the sperm in her husband's body because she craves a baby so deeply, then this woman is coveting her husband's sperm and not enjoying what she does own, namely his body.
Upon reflection and further research, I think a better word for this phenomena would be "baby covetousness" not baby lust.
Whenever I desire Dale sexually, even if it's to fulfill a deep sexual craving in me, I am not lusting. Why? because his body formally belongs to me. Paul says it nicely, "The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife." I Cor 7:4.
Before marriage, his body belongs to him. After marriage, we swap ownership rights to our bodies. I do not believe I can lust for something I know naturally, honorably and properly own.
In chatting with married women after posting my first blog about lust, I asked some, "Can you husband's body turn you on, simply by looking at it?" Every one answered, "Yes."
In fantasizing about a man not our husband women, like men, are tempted to imagine that another body is turning us on, too. Women, like men, must respect the role our eyes play in slipping us down the road of coveting our neighbor's husband.
Here's an idea of what we can do about coveting a man's body, attention, power for ourselves.
A few months back I was lunching with a friend at a local restaurant. We were deep in conversation when I became vaguely aware of a marginally attractive man walk in with a woman and an elderly man and sit across from me. Without missing a beat in my conversation, I glanced up and took him in. He wasn't as attractive (to me) as Dale, of that I could tell immediately. However, he seemed focused and clean and kind--all lovely qualities. And I was drawn to that.
Instead of being able to merely admire, I caught myself (minutes later) trying to catch his eye. In between my sentences with my friend I was stealing glances, lingering my eyes longer than I needed. Then, right dab smack in the middle of a sentence, my awareness kicked in. I became conscious of what I was doing.
I was lusting after that guy. I wanted him to notice me, and I wanted to let our eyes rest into each other and I wanted to distract him and I wanted to check him out a lot more. Why? well it wasn't to tell him about Jesus.
Typically in situations like these, my first response is some serious reining in and self-talk. Something like, "Jonalyn, that's wrong. God doesn't want you to think of him like that, stop it right now." You know the ol' accountability line.
But, since I've been reading Letters by a Modern Mystic which has been teaching me to invite Jesus into everything, I steered around my blamey self talk and prayed instead, "Jesus, I invite you into my lust."
And I went back to my conversation with my friend.
Then, in a flash, something changed, not about the man (he was still tempting to look at), but about my eyes. I felt like light had cracked open in the restaurant and I was seeing things clearly.
A lull in our conversation gave me a chance to lift my head and really look at that man across the restaurant. He was sitting with a man, perhaps his father, and a woman, presumably his wife. I felt his presence as a son, a brother, a father, a husband. The last one completely changed me.
I do not struggle with lusting after my family members, nor those who I clearly see in familial roles to me. I see them as friends, members of my family and therefore easily respect them. In that moment, after uttering a prayer, Jesus came into my lust and reformed my eyes to see the man as a human, made in God's image.
My desire for him as an object to possess melted and I saw him as someone worthy of my respect. I know I could have bumped into him later and not been afraid to look at him.
Often, accountability guidelines for ending lust focus on guarding our eyes from even looking or noticing beauty. But this feels Gnostic to me, a method of denying the inherit beauty in healthy men (and women's) bodies. I want to be free to notice beautiful men and I want Dale free to notice beautiful women. This allows me to thank God for his creativity.
Once I grabbed Dale's arm and pointed at a nondescript guys' amazing legs, "Oh my goodness, see that man's calves? They were HUGE!" And he'll notice and we'll talk about how men with calves like that would have been chosen to be the leaders in of Scottish clans and how so many men do not have calves like that and how gladiators would have HAD to had big calves just like that guy's. It's actually pretty fun.
We'll do the same if a woman with gorgeous legs walks by. Neither Dale nor I have stunning gams, but we love noticing others who do. And in the process, my lust isn't incited. I'm observing the art of God around me and sharing it with my husband. God called us very good. I'd have to agree.
If we find our admiration turning into covetousness, I'd recommend this relational approach of inviting Jesus into the moment. Asking for Jesus to abide in us reminds me of Jesus' words, "Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation." Matthew 26:41
No matter where you struggle with lust, invite Jesus to abide in you. Jesus is stronger than I've been or any other method I've tried.