What Is Beauty?

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I guess they’re what you would call “goth girls” with their black pants and zombie-like faces. One had a skull and crossbones tattoo. Another had a mohawk. I was in Penny’s looking at shoes when they walked up to a very nice looking petite girl with auburn hair, a girl who really didn’t look like she belonged with them. Their blue and purple hair almost made me laugh and their heels made then five inches taller. But I guess she knew them from school. They laughed as they looked at the swimwear on the manikins, what little there was to see. I noticed one of them looked at the purse she had picked out and shook her head. “You must be kidding.” I wanted to yell at her “No! It’s perfect for her!” It was a conservative brown that matched her hair. Of course, the honest truth was she didn’t need anything else to make her beautiful.  She definitely didn’t need makeup. She was an angel. As her girlfriends put that common sense purse back on the rack, I asked myself “Is this what peer pressure looks like today?” What purse would they now pick out for her? I didn’t have to wait long to find out as one of them handed her a black leather-looking purse with spikes sticking out of the sides. “I don’t know,” she said as they put it on her shoulders. She glanced in the mirror and managed a halfway looking smile of approval. They threw it in her buggy and kept on walking around the store. Poor girl. It’s got to cost a fortune.

I looked back down at the men’s shoes and tried to find a pair that were “hip,” but didn’t make me look like a teenager. And then it dawned on me how lucky I was that I was able to pick out my own shoes without anybody else’s opinion. Whatever I chose, it was my style. I was not trying to find the trendy styles for men today. As long as they’re comfortable, functional, affordable, and don’t draw attention to my feet, I’m a happy man. I surely wasn’t trying to look like the guy on the cover of GQ or Muscle and Fitness. Just trying to be John. Plain old John.

But did this poor helpless girl know how beautiful she was without the leather purse and spikes? Did she know she didn’t need to waste her money on that to fit in? And oh my Lord, I hope she was not trying to get the attention of a boy – because it will definitely be the wrong boy. When she looked in her mirror at home, what did she see? Did her father ever tell her she was beautiful?

I found a pair of shoes I could live with and walked over to the shirts. They just don’t make them like they used to. What happened to “Made in the USA?” I spotted the girls again as they walked through cosmetics. “Oh, please Lord. Don’t let them force one of their zombie paints on her.” As it turned out, it was perfume. I can only imagine what it smelled like. Now I thought if she could only break free from them she might make it home looking like a breathing human being. Instead, they walked over to the piercing corner. I winced. “Oh, please Lord, don’t let it be a nose ring.” That was all I could take for one evening of shopping. Dad, if you have a daughter, please tell her she’s beautiful. Because if you don’t, somebody else will.

Ageism’s Hidden Role In A Lost Generation

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When most people think of segregation and discrimination they think of civil rights for minorities and employment rights for women. Those may make the news and catch the public’s attention. But are there other types of discrimination we’re not aware of? First, let’s look at the definitions. According to the Oxford Dictionary, segregation is: “The action or state of setting someone or something apart from other people or things or being set apart.” And discrimination is defined as: “The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.” Usually the consequences of discrimination are visible before the lawsuits are filed; like not getting hired, not getting promotions, and not getting a pay raise. There has to be evidence. What about consequences that are not so visible? Does all segregation and discrimination have to involve lawyers and money? In my opinion, the most damaging segregation and discrimination occurs in secret with no documentation. A prime example is ageism and its invisible consequences.

Children spend the first 18 years of their life segregated with kids their own age in school. They study with their own age group. They eat in the cafeteria with their own age group. They socialize with their own age group. Many people don’t realize that the K-12 system of American education was patterned after the child labor practices following World War I. Assembly lines became the classrooms. Production units per minute became grades. The system we have today has nothing to do with the best methods of teaching or learning; but everything to do with factories, production, child labor, and quotas. Students are, in essence, still production units today. Parents accepted that system because they abdicated their responsibility as parents to teach their children anything, including moral values. And then enter divorce. Single moms with daughters felt safer because their little Suzy Qs weren’t being influenced by those big, bad, dirty, older boys. As foolish as that kind of thinking was, it was convenient. I still remember the talk in high school about how seniors did everything. Some of the senior boys in my school reached legendary status because of their sexual exploits. The lower grades were even kept from passing by seniors in the hallways. They were just that bad. That was 40 years ago. How are our schools doing today? They’re one colossal failure, not to mention the debacle of common core standards.

Marketers and social scientists now label each generation . . . in hindsight. “Traditionals” were born between 1901-45, Baby Boomers between 1945-1960, Gen-X’ers between 1961-1981, Millennials 1982-2002, and the current “Z” generation 2003 until who knows when. These generations are defined by their shared experiences, feelings, activities, music, and movies. The only reason they’re identified is to help marketers identify sales demographics. Unfortunately, churches adopted the very same failed practices because they too saw themselves as companies with a product to market. When people today ask me what happened to the youth, I tell them “the church.” If you sat down with a calculator and tried to figure the numbers of permutations and combinations for age ranges and groups, you’d be better off looking at your local church of size. You’d probably find them all. Here are some examples:

“Ages 12-18 to do mission work.” http://www.scnow.com/news/education/article_3e358974-dd89-11e4-b802-0710360d5014.html

“Children’s Church for students ages 5-11.” http://tbcgraymont.org/assets/trinity_baptist_church_history.pdf

“Wee Wow is for students ages 2-6 and WOW is for students ages 7-11.” http://www.limestonefwb.org/ministries/children-s-church/

“Glory Girls is for students ages 6 grade through 12 grade. Glory Gals is for all women who are 18 years or older.” http://www.mudcreekchurch.org/

JAM & JAM JR. makes learning about the Bible lots of fun for students ages 3 through 4th grade, with skits, singing, games and stories. Club 56 (Grades 5 & 6), Junior High E.D.G.E. (grade 7 & 8) Senior High Reach (grade 9–12) also start at 6:30 p.m. http://www.chisholmbaptist.org/ministries/family-night/

Enjoyers – 75 yrs and up – Sunday School. http://www.fbcterrell.org/#/adults/sunday-school

College & Career (ages 18-25), Median Adults (ages 40-56), Adult 3 (ages 56-70), Adult 4 (ages 70+). http://sandspringsbc.com/adults/adult-sunday-school-classes

A new class for young singles only (Age: 30-50). http://www.valleybaptist.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=173354

This class is full of singles and couples ranging from ages 25-40. http://alcoafumc.com/sunday-school-classes/

There are literally millions more. Walk in as a first time visitor into any church in this country and you’re going to be asked one thing: “How old are you?” And probably: “Are you married?” Acturally, some “worship centers” look more like bars and night clubs than churches with their ear-splitting sound systems and light shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody walked up to a pulpit one Sunday evening and ordered a double on the rocks. They look and feel like the world. There are even churches like Edmond’s First Baptist in Edmond, OK that are proud of the fact that their age divisions replicate what is found in the world:

“For the purposes of Bible study and discipleship training, we divide into Connection Groups (small groups) according to age and grade. These divisions mirror those that happen naturally in life so that each class is comprised of small groups of peers who are facing similar joys, challenges, and experiences as others in the class.”

So, if anything happens “naturally in life,” well . . . glory hallelujah! It must be good!” I don’t naturally hang out with people my age. And who is my peer group? On the surface, it would seem that these kinds of age divisions in churches would be harmless. Most church members would probably say they just provide a way of dividing everybody up into neat little teachable groups. So innocent, they say. The problem is that the consequences of age discrimination usually don’t show up until years later, like the Millennials have shown up today. Only in the last 50-60 years have age groups become segregated and institutionalized. That may be because our country was not rallying around a common cause, like war.  Millennials, however, are rallying around one thing – sexual freedom and same sex “marriage.”  Why didn’t they get the same sexual ethics instilled in them as did the WWII generation?  It’s because the Millennials’ parents (Gen-Xer’s) and grandparents (Baby Boomers) didn’t have a legacy of sexual integrity to pass to their children.  And age segregation outside the home (i.e., church) prevented the few adults who did have sexual integrity from reaching them.  Their parents were too busy working and getting ahead. Children became unplanned mistakes, moms married their careers, and dads went missing in action. Parents turned over responsibility of discipline and moral guidance to the government and school system. That’s why age stereotyping became the norm. The school system became their parents, nothing more than a glorified child care service. How did the Millennials turn out? Age segregation outside school allowed them to become completely socialized by the surrounding culture instead of by parental discipline.  They learned nothing from previous generations, nothing about biblical principles and sacrifice. It became more about them, their education, and their personal goals.

So instead of generations lasting 50 years, like the greatest generation of WWII, we now have generations lasting about 15 years because values have not been passed from one generation to the next by parents.  And mentoring became a punch line for late night TV jokes, since it died at the hands of age segregation. Instead of a human touch, Millennials have grown up with the touch of a mouse, computer screens, and cell phones. That’s why they have no respect for authority or their elders. They look up answers to their most profound questions about life and the universe on the internet. They basically can’t communicate one on one. And the church has swallowed it all hook, line, and sinker. They typically have typically have youth classes, young adults, college and career, young marrieds, middle adults, senior adults, or some combination of those. It’s so bad now that some churches further segregate based on marital status and gender – “just to keep those old men from thinking bad thoughts.”

The idea of comprehensive age segregated discipleship and youth ministry is foreign to Scripture. It is not commanded by God. It is not identified as a godly pattern. It is not illustrated or legitimized by biblical principles. It is quite the opposite. It contradicts New Testament patterns and everything Jesus taught about the unimportance of age. Age segregation subverts the role of fathers, it turns the hearts of children away from their parents, it places youth in peer environments, it facilitates bullyng, and it leads churches to create offices that are not biblical. Even more tragic, it separates adults from the youth who need their help when parents refuse to be parents. And of course, it prevents mentoring, a biblical concept sanctioned in the Bible.  Consider what Moses told the people of Israel after he received the law. Deuteronomy 31:10-12:

10 And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles,
11 When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.
12 Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law.

Moses wasn’t their father.  But he was a man led by God who knew where he was going. The children learned with the adults, men with women, even strangers with the local people. There was no children’s church. Comfort and entertainment were not high on their list of priorities. I don’t think they had movie nights and beech weekends. They were not segregated in any way. If groups must be formed in churches, there are better ways of going about it, like study topics. It all goes back to the definition of segregation, setting someone apart from other people. With ageism, there are two groups being set apart – the younger and the older. In school, children don’t learn at the same age. So the K-12 system should have been abolished years ago. In churches, you may not even see the different ages together. That makes it even more of a conundrum. And of course intellectual maturity has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. I was recently trying to explain this to an older man in my church. He looked at me rather puzzled and I told him, “In other words, if I have something to say that your grandson needs to hear, he will never hear it because I will never be in his presence. And if he has something to say that I need to hear, I will never hear it.”  When man intervenes in something without biblical guidance, especially something so critical to our survival, he always makes a mess of it.  Like Moses, now we are looking at generations that have been lost for years.

http://www.fbcedmond.org/age-groups

https://ncfic.org/resources/view/the-un-foreseen-consequences-of-age-segregation-of-youth

http://www.truthaccordingtoscripture.com/documents/church-practice/age-segregation.php#.Vbp22EXWSo8

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Kim Peek, The Real Rain Man

I guess you could say I’m old school. While I do think we’ve made a lot of advances with high tech and the internet, I think we’ve also taken several steps backwards. One of the biggest steps we’ve taken backwards is allowing words to become more important than actions. We have, quite literally, allowed words to mean anything we want them too. Like the word chastity I talked about in the last post. There are many people writing about chastity today. They wax eloquently about chastity being both for men and women, for young and old, for those pursuing marriage and those who are not, and about it having a spiritual meaning. But when you look at the actions behind those words, their messages falls apart. Inconsistencies sabotage messages. That is especially true in Christian ethics because the unbelieving public is scrutinizing everything we do. For instance, I could write a book about chastity for men over 50, “Chastity For Gentlemen.” I could build it up on my blog and get the best publisher in the world. But what if I put a picture of a teenage girl on the cover holding a Bible under one arm and her boyfriend under the other? I think whatever message was in the book would be defeated by the cover, don’t you? It’s sort of like a politician you build up in your mind and then find out he had an affair with his secretary and paid her off to keep quite. Whatever image was in your mind is now history.

Consistency is a virtue that is integral to honesty and character. Yes, we grow and change as individuals and we love our freedoms and artistic expressions, as inconsistent as they may be. But the one constant that falls outside the world and must be defended is the Bible. God was the same a million years ago as he is today. He does not change. His word does not change. Not only are the virtues in the Bible consistently the same, we must be consistent in defending them. If you wrote a book on the value of human life, would you put Jeffrey Dahmer on the cover? You may say that the title of a book is still words. Yes, but those words speak louder than the words inside the book. The nonbelieving world is looking for inconsistencies in the Christian message. It’s one of their number one weapons. As a matter of fact, it’s the reason the U.S. Supreme Court just condoned same sex marriage. “Those hypocrites. They don’t have any room to talk. Look at all their divorces. Look at their live-in arrangements.” Church people preaching one thing from the pulpit every Sunday, but living another thing during the rest of the week. That is the fastest track to moral destruction. The same thing applies to barrier-breaking chastity. If we’re going to defend its biblical meaning and take down the divisions of age and gender, we must be consistent. That means it would be wise if we didn’t associate chastity with teenagers, girls, beauty pageant queens, dresses, purity balls, Cinderellas, Boazes, weddings, pink T-shirts, the Catholic church, priests, homosexuality, schools, or even marriage. You may be saying, “But John, chastity is mostly for teenage girls.” That’s the problem. We have GOT to take “most” out of our vocabulary. It is not part of God’s vocabulary. It’s a lame word. All it does is reinforce stereotypes. You may also be saying, “What’s wrong with encouraging girls to live chaste lives?” There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But the bigger wrong is that, by leaving out guys, you’re not telling the whole story of chastity. Can you find anything in the Bible that narrows down that virtue to one gender? I can’t either. We all know that a partial truth is worse than a one hundred percent lie. That is especially true when it comes to children. You may be one who believes that young minds are not impressionable. I don’t believe that. There are many, many young people today who have no guidance on sexuality at home and turn to their friends and the internet to find out what is right and wrong. Even though it is the fault of their parents, that does not give us the right to turn a blind eye. All of us are having an impact on at least one younger person, whether we know it or not. It could be someone at your job, at church, at school, wherever. They are looking for truth and consistency. Once you do something, you can’t take it back. The same thing is true for stories. Once you put them out there, how do you control who hears them or reads them? You can’t. They become part of our legacies.

Consider other people who do not fit stereotypes, like Kim Peek, the inspiration for the character played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Even though he is severely disabled, scores well below average on IQ tests, and can’t button his shirts – he has read over 12,000 books and remembers everything about them. He reads two pages at once in about 3 seconds, one with his left eye and one with his right. He can recall facts and trivia in about 15 different subjects, from history to geography. He also remembers every musical piece he’s ever heard and can play them back on the piano. So, what pigeon hole would you put Kim in?  As far as his legacy, do you think his actions speak louder than his words?

Chastity – Is It Worth Defending?

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Chastity speakers, chastity blogs, chastity belts, chastity vows, chastity education, chastity veils, chastity books, chastity jewelry, chastity T-shirts. Come one, come all, get your chastity now. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the world has gone chastity crazy. Has the world really gone crazy over a biblical virtue? What does chastity really mean in the world today? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not all about saving sex for marriage. Actually, it can mean anything you want it to mean. Both the words chaste and chastity come from the Latin adjective “castus,” which means “pure.” The word chaste is found in the KJV Bible three times. According to the 1995 Holman’s Bible Dictionary, chaste means: “Holy purity demanded of God’s people with special reference to the sexual purity of women.” We all know we can never measure up to the level of purity Christ set while he was on earth. But did he give special reference to women? I can’t find that anywhere in the Bible. The 2005 New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality includes men in the definition: “Chastity has been associated with a state of a celibate lifestyle, typically of lifelong virginity, as in the case of Catholic priests, monks and nuns. Historically and outside of the religious life, concern for the preservation of chastity, understood as virginity, most often arose with regard to unmarried women.” However, the current Oxford Dictionary’s definition of chastity reflects more the sign of our times: “The state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or especially from all, sexual intercourse: vows of chastity.” How can a person be in a state and practicing it at the same time? “I think I’ll practice dying, be right back.” Or “I think I’ll practice virginity. Tell me when I’ve perfected it.”

Somewhere around the 16th century and the reign of the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, it seems that virginity fell away from the definition of chastity and the word came to be associated with a vague notion of purity, void of any spiritual dimensions. The Renaissance also ushered in a new awareness of emotions, feminine beauty, and intellectual achievement. During this time also, history came to be associated with the written word, including sexual histories and romantic literature. An interesting and inescapable fact about virginity is that it requires a history. So what does a society do when they want to forget their history? They redefine the language to suit their culture. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, for example, female worth is connected with chastity and increased sexual pleasure, but not with anything of a spiritual nature. Indeed, with the advent of the printing press in the 15th century and creative writers like Shakespeare in the 16th century, histories became easier to record and stories became easier to tell. Thus, personal histories associated with chastity became as erasable as one of Shakespeare’s characters. Look at how we’ve devolved today. As Shakespeare said: “All the world’s a stage.” When the words become uncomfortable, change the script. When the world wants to tax you, change your identity.

Since all taxpayers are paying for abortions, contraception, STDs, unwanted children, etc., shouldn’t every one’s sexual history be public knowledge anyway? In Old Testament times, it pretty much was. If a man raped a woman, he was required to marry her. If a new bride was found to not be a virgin, she was stoned to death. Since chastity proved to be too heavy of a cross for pleasure-seeking man to bear, we find ourselves today with a definition of chastity that has been watered down to the point you can’t tell what the original definition was. Like a feature on a car, it has become but a specification on an object of pleasure, a value added bonus. Those who still associate a sacred element with sex (and thus chastity) are at constant odds with those who see sex as a recreational sport. As John Paul II said in 2009:

“A life of chastity, poverty and obedience willingly embraced and faithfully lived confutes the conventional wisdom of the world, because it is a proclamation of the Cross of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:20-30).”

It has confuted the world to the point to where those who do respect the human body and sexuality are fighting for every shred of authenticity that is left in the Christian vocabulary. Fighting for chastity to mean something more than “doing the right thing regarding sex.” When the world says the word chastity and means a device, we think of virginity. When the world says rainbow and means gay rights, we think of Noah and the flood. When the world says marriage and means a relationship of convenience between two people for sexual pleasure, we think of a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman. The devaluation of chastity has been on a progressive downhill path. When the dignity of marriage fell a notch, chastity fell a notch. Our sexual motivations went from a means to a higher spiritual end (i.e., propagation of the species) to a means of sexual gratification. And when biblical language was no longer passed to children, chastity became a smug idea that “only religious people understood.” Like a fog lifting off a hot drenched highway, teenagers could only see virginity in their rearview mirrors and exclaim “If only somebody had told me about that.” For those who have chosen chastity and the celibate life, it would be wise to keep Pope Pius XII words in mind: “Virginity is not a Christian virtue unless we embrace it ‘for the kingdom of heaven.'” Likewise, fidelity in marriage is not a virtue unless we embrace the goodness of procreation and raising children in Christian homes.

If we don’t embrace and defend the language of both lifestyles, all biblical vocabulary will become meaningless and Shakespeare’s characters will once again come to life today. From The Merchant of Venice:

“Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.”

http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~nunberg/chastity.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chastity http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_25031954_sacra-virginitas.

html http://en.radiovaticana.va/storico/2009/10/20/address_of_his_holiness_john_paul_ii_to_the_bishops_of_malawi_on_their/en3-327730 https://books.google.com/books?id=bPOft7krR84C&pg=PA189&lpg=PA189&dq=chastity+virginity+dictionary+-.com&source=bl&ots=RgRpC3ygTR&sig=E5fQqdfKP06qEmIfZsFlMbAR7B0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDIQ6AEwBmoVChMI0-XX7fzyxgIVTymICh2TyQow#v=onepage&q=chastity%20virginity%20dictionary%20-.com&f=false http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=1225

What’s Better About Celibacy?

Much has been made about Apostle Paul’s statement that those who choose celibacy “doeth better.” 1 Corinthians 7:37-38:

37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

These verses have fueled the marriage/celibacy debate for centuries. And then of course Paul also referred to celibacy as a “gift of God (1 Cor 7:7). But why is it better than marriage?  First of all, I don’t think Paul is talking about a father-daughter relationship here.  He is still talking about single men and single women, as he was in the previous verses. He is not talking about fathers giving away their virgin daughters in arranged marriages, which is a common interpretation. He is not talking about father/daughter purity balls. “Power over his own will” can only be referring to single men who are thinking about getting married. Today we call it self-control.  Also, I think these verses apply equally to men and women.  In verse 37, he is saying that if a man makes the choice under their own free will to get married and commit to a life of sexual fidelity to their wives, he does well.

Notice that verse 38 starts with “So then.” These two simple words are a testament to the literary genius of Apostle Paul and the divine inspiration of his writing. He had just described the self-control that a man and woman need to remain chaste until marriage. “So then” transfers all of that standing “stedfast in his heart” and “power over his own will” to the man who chooses celibacy.  “But he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better” adds to it an honor and dignity that is above marriage. In other words, Paul is saying: “It takes steadfastness and willpower to commit yourselves to an honorable marriage and sex with one woman for the rest of your lives. If you think that’s tough, it takes even more to commit to a life of celibacy and no sex.”  Also notice how Paul juxtaposes a man who giveth her in marriage with a man who giveth her not in marriage.  The word “giveth” is a verb.  In order to give something, you have to make a decision.  In other words, he is placing just as much importance on the decision to get married as he is on the decision not to get married.  It is a sacred decision; not an extended period of adolescence and greedy singleness as many preachers would have you to believe.   Another point to remember from earlier verses in chapter 7 is that when a man chooses a life of virginity, he is never again defined by something he will never have.  When he chooses to giveth her not in marriage, he is not required to continually look at women in the future and contemplate the merits of that decision.  Paul hinted to that in these verses.  “His virgin” in verse 37 is carried to verse 38 as “her.”  Unfortunately, we live in a world today where virginity means only thing – waiting until marriage to have sex.  That is directly opposite of what Paul is saying here.  People who choose celibacy are only waiting on one thing – the return of Christ.  We are not waiting on weddings, on finishing college, on finding a better job, on saving enough money, etc.   We are defined by what we are saying yes to, a life of dedicated focus on God’s concerns; and not defined by what we say no to, marriage and concern for a spouse.  1 Corinthians 7:32-33:

32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:

33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

A lot of people today are asking: “What’s the difference between married men and single men?” This ought to serve as an answer.  Married men have chosen to keep their virgins and care for the things of the world (having babies, education, domestic chores, securing the home, etc).  Single men have chosen to keep Christ and care for the things that belong to him.  How do we know when we do things that please the Lord?  In general, when we do these things, it will make the world very angry.  For example, if we try to defind the very definitions of virginity and chastity in order to provide virtuous role models for children, we may be called judgmental, narrow-minded, unforgiving,, etc.  While waiting on the rain to slack up in front of a Walmart store recently, a young black man, who works as a greeter in the store, walked up to me and said “I have this ex-girlfriend and she’s thinking about leaving town with this other guy.”  I asked him what he thought about the other guy and he said “well, I really don’t know him, but the thing is they are going to live together.”  I asked him what he thought about two people living together who were not married and he said:  Well, I don’t think it’s right.  But she keeps talking about how Russell Wilson and his girlfriend did the same thing.”  I just told him that I didn’t think they provided good examples of Christian behavior.  I said the same thing about Russell Wilson and Ciara on an internet blog and was called a narcissist along with a half dozen other names.  There are a few good celebrity role models out there.  I think Lolo Jones is a good example.  She’s not afraid to tell the world that she’s a virgin and waiting on marriage.  Is Lolo a better person than Ciara?  No.  But she does provide a better role model for young adults, just as the man who giveth her not in marriage doeth better than the man who marries her from an eternal standpoint.  It’s not about being a better person than someone else.  It’s about what we take and don’t take, our actions, our witness to the world, and our availability to help other people.  It’s about humbling ourselves enough to know that our purity doesn’t even begin to compare to the standard of purity that Christ has already established.

Another thing to look at is how Paul is using the word “better.” When our 21st century consumer-driven brains think of better, we think of an object being better than another. We automatically default to objectification. This car is better than that car. This peanut butter is better than that peanut butter. Paul is not using the word in that sense. We must connect the body back to the spirit and consider man as more than a bag of tissue and bones. Paul said that the man who passes on marriage “doeth better.” The word “do” is also a verb. It is not a subject. Since it is not a subject, he cannot be saying that those who choose celibacy are better humans than those who choose marriage. So really, we’re talking about a difference that goes beyond apples and oranges. He is not disparaging marriage whatsoever. I think he’s trying to communicate that celibacy is a more efficient and straighter route to heaven. Without a spouse obstructing our vision, we can see the gaits of heaven directly in front of us. It’s like choosing flying over driving. You wouldn’t explain your choice of air to your friends by telling them that jet planes are better than automobiles. It’s just the shortest and most efficient route to your destination. Likewise, people who choose celibacy and remain virgins for their lifetimes are simply taking the shortest and most efficient route to heaven. In addition, it’s a more accurate representation of what heaven will be like because there will be no marriages or families in heaven. Also, note that virginal chastity is not compared with any other form of chastity, including conjugal chastity.  Yes, it’s difficult. But that does not negate its reality. Christ was also a virgin, which reinforces that truth. And by giving birth to Christ and remaining a virgin, Mary ushered in an era where fruitfulness did not destroy virginity and virginity did not destroy fruitfulness, because the multiplication of children of God became more important than the multiplication of human lives to populate the earth.

Eunuchs – What’s In A Name?

man-walking-through-the-desert

I had some very colorful people in my family growing up. One was my Aunt Sudie. She had a different taste in books, food, furniture, and especially music. I always thought of her as more . . . refined, cultured, even more civilized. When I went to visit her, I could always here the soft background music of Birmingham’s only easy listening radio station, WQEN. Everything was slowed down in her house. Well, everything, but intellect. She was a thinking lady. Every response was measured. And even her clothes always seemed to match. I remember playing dominoes and chess with her on Sunday afternoons. You can guess how that went. My taste in music back in the 1980s leaned toward the Bee Gees, Boston, and Bob Dylan. One afternoon on top 40 WERC, I heard that our easy listening station was switching over to country format. I thought “poor Aunt Sudie.” The next time I saw her, it didn’t take long for her to bring up the subject. “How about that? Now I’ve got to choose between being a rock and roller or a honkytonk red neck.” I sympathized with her . . . a little. While I wasn’t an easy listening fan, I didn’t like the idea of someone being forced to listen to music they didn’t like.

Replaying that scene in my mind lately has given me pause because . . . I felt like I was being forced to choose between two things I don’t want – the virginity of bubble-gum popping teenage girls or the celibacy of black-robed Gregorian-chanting bread-making Benedictine monks. I wrestled a bit with that over the years. Who did I identify with? I knew no one who had chosen this life. In the Protestant world, there’s not much to identify with if you’ve chosen a life of celibacy, other than a cold pew in the back of a church. I know what their congregations think of single men. I won’t go there. Actually I identify with refugees, hostages, people with no identity, and others displaced from war-torn areas of the world. I relate to the people of Israel. But I know my real identity is in Christ alone. As Galatians 2:20 tells me:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

It’s interesting that the word “crucified” in this verse is in the perfect tense. The crucifixion was in fact a past action that has present results. Like Paul, I have died to all the expectations and assumptions surrounding a single man in the 21st century. Or I should say, it’s an ongoing process. All Christians are called to do this. But I think people who have chosen celibate life more fully embody that reality. We are more dependent on Christ every day of our lives. So even though a social identity may be a natural part of the human equation, it’s something we have to die to, much more so that any other segment of the population. When you get down to it, we don’t live natural lives. Those of us called to celibacy live supernatural lives. I’m sure Paul went through an identity crisis. Living a life as Saul, he had the responsibility of living in obedience to Mosaic Law. But instead of trying to find acceptance with God through following a set of rules, the person of Paul was now living by a new set of principles based on the Holy Spirit living inside of him. Just as it was the rules Paul had to cast aside, we oftentimes have to cast aside our very own language, our very own social identities. Because in a very real sense we are living outside our time zone. The world sees clocks on a wall and the oscillations of a cesium beam in the form of an atomic clock. We see an ocean of infinity that doesn’t need time. The world sees children holding hands with mom and dad. We see spiritual children in the future that can’t even be counted. We have even chosen to cast aside family and children. But remember that the Bible tells us we will not be forgotten. Isaiah 56:4-5:

4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;

5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

When I have an identity crisis, these are my go to verses. So I don’t like the sound of virgin? It doesn’t matter. I don’t like the sound of celibate? It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to be a monk? It doesn’t matter. One day I will have an “everlasting name.” I understand that to mean only eunuchs will have an everlasting name. Not moms. Not dads. Not preachers. Not teachers. Only eunuchs. I have no idea what that everlasting name may be. When I’m watching all the other parents pamper their children in church and I’m feeling rather childless, I remind myself that I will have an everlasting name. When the church throws a Christmas party and invites all the families but does not invite me, I remind myself that I will have an everlasting name. When I’m trying to think of people to include in my will, I remind myself I will have an everlasting name – and that my children in the future will get more than that. I don’t look at it as a consolation prize. It’s a biblical promise. All I can do now is savor the mystery.

The Elephant Man and Sexual Ethics

elephant man

There was a mystery writers’ conference in town recently. It was scheduled to last all day. A well-known author was scheduled to speak and talk about his books. When he got up to speak, he announced a “spoiler alert” because he was going to talk about his most recent book and how it ended. Those in attendance who had not read the book got up and walked to the back of the auditorium, where they found a separate room off to the side. Meanwhile, those who had read the book stayed in their seats. When he finished talking about his new book, he called them back in and asked them to sit on the side of the auditorium where a “newbie” sign had been placed and those who had read it to sit on the side where an “oldies” sign had been placed. He continued to talk about how to develop characters for a couple of more hours.

When lunch came around, can you guess who sat with whom? Yep, those who did know how the book ended sat together and those who did not know how the book ended sat together. They even had the diplomacy to sit on opposite sides of the cafeteria, so they couldn’t overhear each other’s conversation. People who had read it talked about the plot, the time frame, the characters, the places, everything about it. They laughed amongst themselves, with knowing laughter, while they discussed the story line and how it compared with other books. One girl actually stood up and, in a hushed whisper, told everybody that two of the characters in the book were actually brother and sister, a detail not too many people knew about. The people who had not read it were not in on what the laughter was all about. But they thought a little time of not knowing was worth it to preserve the mystery. They talked about why they liked mysteries, who their favorite authors were, sequels they would like to see, and how they could incorporate a trip to mars into a story. They also talked about which books they were currently reading and when they would get their copies of the book being discussed at the conference. A few of them said they’d changed their minds and had decided not to order it because they had learned of another one that was even better. This is a classic example of natural social division. It had nothing to do with shaming, evilness, condemnation, judging, and so on. It did not run along the lines of gender, age, race, class, or marital status.

It’s the same way with the mystery of sex. Is there a mystery more profound than sex and the creation of new life? I can’t think of one. It is infinitely more mysterious than a mystery novel. Given this, wouldn’t you think there were be a natural social division between those who have had sex and those who have not? God seemed to think there would be. That’s why he called one group virgins and one group marrieds.

The Elephant Man (1980) is one of my favorite movies. It’s about a man who was ostracized from society because of a disfiguring medical condition called neurofibromatosis. His face was enough to cause children to shriek. It was based on a true story. I was 19 years old at the time and I related to the story of Joseph Merrick. Here was a man who had been socially outcast and relegated to circus sideshows, not because of his character, but because of his appearance. I sometimes felt like a freak in a sideshow when I was 19. I heard a lot of “knowing laughter.” Shawna Sparrow described this very well in her book, Tough Crowd: My Adventures as a Chastity Educator:

“The word virgin has become code for ‘loser,” and it usually conjures images of being unattractive and undesirable. In our popular culture, someone who is a virgin is usually portrayed as an overweight geek living in his parents’ basement. So as a companion to the message, ‘Sex is cool,’ the media also gives us the message, ‘Virginity is lame.'”

As I got older, I realized that I was not the only one my age who had never had sex. And that had a TREMENDOUS effect on my commitment to wait. The value of relatability cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to passing sexual ethics to the next generation. “If that person can do it, I can do it too.” There is NOTHING more powerful in a young person’s life than finding a person to relate to. And in the case of chastity, that is not going to be his/her parents. If the Elephant Man was your son, who would you rather him meet – the latest male model on the cover of GQ Magazine or another person suffering from neurofibromatosis and their family? What are you willing to do to preserve a sacred mystery?

https://books.google.com/books?id=ScfvwN-7MrwC&pg=PA16&lpg=PA16&dq=%22the+word+virgin+has+become+code%22&source=bl&ots=_RZyvHvEjQ&sig=SRdtkgkjiaXAf7JOtzVUT1h7DX8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAGoVChMInoq4ob3exgIVA-KACh2z1gC_#v=onepage&q=%22the%20word%20virgin%20has%20become%20code%22&f=false