This week, I started thinking about Little House on the Prairie. About Laura and Mary Ingalls, out on the plains in a blizzard, with their neighbor, Mr. Edwards, bringing them presents for their Christmas stockings. Their enormous treat that year was a penny and a lump of horehound candy each.
At that time, where they lived, hardly any sugar was available, and their extremely limited consumption was normal and healthy.
Fast-forward to today. I didn't plan this, but as I write, Andy is out getting us a Dairy Queen Blizzard. And if I eat half of this Blizzard (we always share a small Reese's), I will consume in 5 minutes probably the equivalent of the sugar Laura Ingalls would have eaten in a couple of years.
Now, I think my sugar consumption is normal and healthy. I wouldn't say I'm addicted to it, but I'm certainly habituated to a fair amount of sugar, and I enjoy every bite of it. (My Blizzard just came in the door, BTW, and it is DELISH.)
If you told me I couldn't eat sugar any more, I would be extremely unhappy. I think that would be a sad and silly restriction, when I'm a healthy person who eats a normal amount of sugar.
If I set up camp at DQ and develop diabetes, then we can talk. Up til then, ixnay.
The Little House thoughts, and the varied responses to the survey have made me consider this question: what range of sexual thought and behavior is normal, healthy, and acceptable?
VERY important note: at this point, I'm not talking about abuse or addiction. Sexual abuse and sexual addiction are real things that are really harmful. We need to talk about those things, but before we can go there, we have to think about this first: healthy sex.
As I consider this question, I've been realizing how difficult it is for me to get free of my own familial and cultural upbringing--my own normal--to answer that question in any kind of objective manner.
I grew up in a very conservative Christian family, and that's where I've lived most of my life.
My understanding of life in general was that it was about restriction.
Being a Christian meant that were many, many things we did not do. We didn't go to movies, we didn't dance, we didn't drink. We tried to understand what the rules were, and then we tried to be even better than the rules. By the time we got to thinking about sex, the rules of restriction were firmly in place and the restrictions on sex were just a part of our cultural understanding.
Being super-restricted about life in general and sex in particular worked pretty well for me, until . . . the internet. Andy started looking at pornography, got addicted, and it blew our lives up.
Today, I'm the first person to tell you that our lives needed to be blown up, and I've always said that my memoir will be entitled Pornography Saved My Marriage. At the time, though, it was pretty horrible.
As we recovered and grew into a new life together, I started to realize that the old way of being restricted and having so many rules about everything, including sex, had been enormously harmful. The intention, I think, was to protect me from being harmed by sex. But instead, because sex was not a good thing to think or talk about, I didn't own my own sexuality.
Andy and I couldn't have conversations about sex, because I couldn't be an honest part of those conversations. As a result of those restrictions, a huge opportunity for intimacy was just not possible for us. And that fed the pornography addiction in many ways.
As much as I've been learning over the past 10 years about letting go of the rules, trusting in grace, and living in freedom, I still have a hard time thinking and writing about sex without saying, "Okay, but the lines are HERE. Here are the parameters of safety. Whatever happens, don't go beyond HERE."
(Remember: I'm not talking about addiction or abuse. Just this: what is healthy sex?)
The New Testament talks about people who have way less freedom and way more rules than others. It says those people are the weaker brothers. That describes me to a T.
When it comes to sex, I am the weaker brother.
I hate being weak. I'd like to think that all my rules make me the stronger person, the better person, the more together person. However, the Bible says otherwise. My rules and lack of freedom mean I'm weak.
I had a number of people tell me that pornography is a regular, healthy part of their relationship with their partner.
I have to be honest: I can't imagine myself in that place. I don't even want to be there. (More clues that I'm the weaker brother.)
But, when people are telling me these things, and I'm reacting, this echoes what the Apostle Paul says when he's talking about food sacrificed to idols in I Corinthians 8:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
I decided to put this whole text in here, because there is so much to chew on, and I will address almost none of it. But it's worth thinking about, so there it is. Chew away.
Here's what stands out to me, right now:
I've always thought, "Why does the weaker brother get to hold everybody else hostage? Why doesn't Paul have a seminar to educate the weaker brother, and stop him from being so dang weak?"
Because, clearly, food sacrificed to idols. Big deal. Get over it.
But then talk to me about sex? I am not over it. It is a big deal.
So here's the thing:
"Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know."
And I think that goes both ways, no matter what we think we know. Whether it's no big deal, or a huge big deal.
We can try to convince people all day long that we are right and they are wrong, and, as far as I can tell from Facebook, it doesn't do a darn thing except make us all mad at each other.
But love. When we love and respect people and express that? It does something totally different.
I don't want to force my so-called knowledge off on anybody else.
I don't want to restrict anybody's freedom, like Laura Ingalls showing up and condemning my Blizzard.
And I don't want to shove anybody into a false freedom that makes them uncomfortable. If you're happy with horehound candy, awesome.
It seems to me that these two things are true:
Every human being has been gifted with the celebrations of life: blue skies, flowers, rain, pets, friendship, laughter, good books, food, afternoon naps, long walks in the sunshine, sex.
We have enormous freedom to choose how best to enjoy all those pleasures of life, but the boundary is this: love and respect the people around us.
For some of us, enjoying our freedom is the problem. We end up judging those who have more freedom.
For others, being respectful of the weaker brother is our challenge.
(I have been enormously blessed by the respectful way that so many people have said to me in the course of this survey, "It doesn't have to be this scary!" I think I might be starting to believe you, a little.)
I've been challenged lately by the words of two men who were passionately committed to freedom.
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." --Nelson Mandela
"Whatever we do, we must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our actions. But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, [although] love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love. " -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For me, for so long, the rules in my life revolted against love.
And justice--"love in calculation"--invites me to live free in love, and to respect the freedom of others.