The Shadow Of Death

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Code in Ambulance by Daniel Sundahl

When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. Actually, I didn’t know who I was. I felt dizzy. Nauseated. Everything was spinning. Where was I? It was a big room with a lot of whirling machines and bright lights. I was freezing cold. I could smell rubbing alcohol and plastic. There was a lot of clanking metal. I could hear people talking. Then the faces of two ladies came into focus as they leaned over my bed. “Mr. Morgan, everything went just fine. We’ll be sending you back to your room in just a minute.” I was in an operating room. They were the anesthesia team who had put me to sleep for the first in a series of electroconvulsive therapy treatments. I was waking up. “Oh God, I’m not still alive am I? I want to die.”

I have bipolar I disorder. Medicines had failed to work on this cycle of depression and the ECTs were a last ditch effort to bring me out of the darkness. I’d rather have both arms and legs cut off than to have to go through this again. Don’t worry though. I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for about 30 years. Hospitals have become a way of life, or should I say a tortured way of life. Everybody knows me in the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit. My art work is hanging on their hallways. The nurse sees my stretcher coming down the hall and yells, “John! You’re back again?” I call it making the most of a bad situation. They roll me into my room. Some of my memory is coming back. I’ve been here before. Hope I have a quiet roommate because I don’t want to deal with anybody. Wait, what year is it? Who are the two old people in my room? The lady bends down and hugs my neck as she wipes away tears. I know that perfume. “Just remember that mama loves you.” Mama? Is that my mother? They walk out of the hospital room and I wipe tears from my eyes. Oh God, why me? The evening wears on and some of the other patient’s gather in the day room to watch T.V. One guy walks in with a guitar. Everybody gets quite. I remember this young man from a previous admission. He’s really sick. Somebody turns the T.V. volume down. He tunes it up a bit and looks up and says, “Would you like to hear a song?” Everybody cheers him on. For about the next hour I listened to a classical guitar performance that I should have paid money to see. The most gifted people I know live in psych units and long term psych facilities.

I wake up the next morning and cannot move. “Time to get up!” the nurse yells through my door. My roommate groans. I drag myself down the hallway to the third door on the left to get in the shaving line. When it comes my turn, I step up to the same little piece of metal bolted to the wall. I always miss a real mirror. I splash water on my face, shave, and then go get in the breakfast line.  Many people question whether miracles still happen. I can tell you they do. I’m still alive. I have spent years of my life in hospitals and psych facilities, seen enough doctors to start my own medical clinic, taken enough medicine to start my own pharmacy, and had enough electrical energy passed through my brain to build my own power grid. I’ve been launched into the stratosphere of bipolar mania and buried under the shadow of death. I should have been dead a long time ago.

But wait a second. This is a celibacy blog. People with bipolar disorder have wild sex lives, don’t they? They can’t control themselves and the men rape every woman in site. You probably believe that. Unless you or someone in your family has been affected by mental illness, you’re at the mercy of public ignorance. Just based on my bio, most people would have me pegged as just another free frolicking “John” living the good life as a single dude. Some may even think I know all the girls on the streets by their first names. Chalk my case up to a miracle. I would even say that having bipolar disorder has given me insight into mental illnesses and developmental disorders I otherwise would not have. Most of my best friends live with them – schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, and OCD, etc. I try to keep up to date on the latest research and treatments and am a mental health advocate. I work with NAMI, crisis centers, and speak to classes in high schools about our brains and what can go wrong. What I really miss is my memory.

So if there are still any romanticized ideals out there about people with the gift of celibacy being highly exalted and honored and perfect people, I hope this serves to break that stereotype. I’m not a bright and happy shiny person. If you still have me pictured as a monk floating blissfully over a field of “celibate service” while performing 15th century Gregorian chants, please replace that with reality. Reality is not always pretty.

If I Had A Son Or Daughter

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At the peach water tower in Clanton, AL

I live in an area where there are a lot of peach farms. Imagine that a peach growers seminar came to town, sponsored by our county cooperative extension office. Hundreds of people showed up asking a lot of similar questions about peaches. We were on the same wavelength, so to speak. The county had experts talking about different varities of peaches, soil types, irrigation systems, dormant hours, pesticides, everything you can think of that was related to peaches. When it was all over, everybody agreed that it was most informative and several people asked about another one next year. A week later, I got a call from the county agent, telling me that he received a letter from a man complaining about the seminar. He said he was a blueberry grower and lost his entire crop because he followed the seminar’s recommendations. The county agent called the man and explained to him the seminar was strictly for peach growers, which was made clear on all the publicity. The only answer the man could give was that he thought there was no difference in how blueberries and peaches were grown. He wrote an editorial for the newspaper, saying that he thought the county extension service was insensitive and non-inclusive and that we were all wrapped up in peach culture. Not wanting to leave anybody out, the county did a survey and found there were only two blueberry farms in the county, which makes sense because this is peach territory. It was later reported that we had the best peach crop in 15 years.  If we have a peach seminar next year, do you think it should include a half-day of blueberry advice just in case somebody else shows up who is confused, or should we continue with an all-peach seminar?

I realize this is not a perfect analogy, but if I had a son or daughter of any age waiting on marriage who attended a purity seminar, it wouldn’t matter to me how many people showed up who had made past mistakes, how dirty they felt, what their expectations were, whether it improved their dating life or self esteem, what kind of people they eventually married, how loud they complained, how uncomfortable they felt, how less of a person they felt, how religious or hateful they thought we were, how much shame they felt, how alienated or out of place they felt, or if they felt their lives were of less value. Honestly, I’ve wondered why anybody who was not a virgin would show up at a purity seminar to begin with. Are they confused? Do they not know what sex is? Actually, I’d like it better if they didn’t show up. If my child got something out of it and felt more committed to wait, that’s the only thing that would be important to me. I would do all I could to get the seminar back next year. Purity is always going to make people uncomfortable. Even the language we use is so offensive to the world that it brings up more straw men than we can keep up with. But we do have control over how our time and resources are spent. And we do have a choice about what our priorities are. Dirty chewing gum?  If it works, bring a truckload of it.  Christian priorities should never be rearranged to placate emotions or to be politically correct.

Dear 32 Year Old Virgin . . .

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There’s a recent article on Boundless titled “An Older Virgin in a Sex-Crazed World.” In it, a young lady complains about an “interrogation” she endured while undergoing x-rays to treat a ruptured lung. The technician asked her if she was on birth control, how she knows she’s not pregnant, and if there was any chance she could be pregnant now. She goes on to tell about her friend grilling her about her virginity in high school, how the world has placed pleasure before commitment, how fornication is everywhere, and how sex crazed society is today. What’s interesting is that the young lady who wrote it describes herself as a 32-year-old “older virgin.” Oh please. Do people not get out and meet each other anymore? Or are we wrapping ourselves up in our own little virtual cocoons? The 20-30 year-old young ladies who assume they are old enough to have the last word on virginity never cease to amaze me, and there are hundreds more on the internet. To quote Leslie Ann: “I’m no longer a naïve 19-year-old eager to spring into a relationship just to be romanced. I know the realities of married life by years of study and observance.” Well, gosh darn it, let’s go ahead and give her a Ph.D.  Or maybe she could write a book.  Let me just say this to Miss Leslie Ann and the hundreds of other young ladies who write on this subject – You are to be commended for making it to your 20s and 30s and still be a virgin. That does indeed put you in rare company. But there are much older virgins than you. As difficult as it is to believe, there are some old enough to be your fathers and grandmothers. I always find it quite interesting that they’re never discussed on your blogs. Honestly, I think arrogance is the fastest way for a beautiful young lady to become . . . not so beautiful. So in the big scheme of things, you are still quite a child and your opinions are not as important as you think they are. Some people may think I’m being cruel. But here’s why I think putting age in perspective is important: By making such assumptions about chastity and age and considering it only from the female perspective, we are reinforcing the age old stereotypes and double standards that cause such awkward questions as those Leslie Ann heard from her x-ray technician. When age is mentioned in the Bible, it is usually to break a stereotype – like the old ages of Elizabeth and Sarah when they gave birth. Imagine the people who scoffed when they heard about their pregnancies.  What was the purpose of them being old at childbirth?  Was it to teach them or their husbands a lesson?  Or was it to teach us a lesson today?  I tend to think it is the latter.  If 32 years of age is considered an older virgin, I guess I should see 54 years as one foot short of the grave. I could write an article and title it, “54 Year Old Virgin Calls For Priest During Last Hours.” While you may never meet me on the streets, you are able to read my story through the miracle of the internet. I do hope it inspires you. So even though the internet has brought with it a lot of bad things, I think our blogs and different ways of communicating can be very good things. Since I live in a very rural area, the internet has allowed me to get to know many people I would not have otherwise known. Plus, it allows me to stay in touch with my mentor, a virgin much older than myself. Yes, Leslie, they are out there. If we are only aware of the immediate world around us, like the people we go to school with and people we work with, then we will age much faster as virgins. At 30 we will look at ourselves in the mirror and see an old person who is odd and out of place. Sexual abstinence before marriage will indeed look very unrealistic.  But if we expand our realities with every means of communication at our disposal and humble ourselves enough to know there are older and wiser people out there, we will age much slower. Then at 30 we can look at ourselves in the mirror and see our younger selves with the confidence that comes from following God’s will and courage from knowing that others have come before us. I believe virginity is very much a relational issue on a social scale.  It’s not enough to tell someone, “We waited until we were married to have sex.  You can too.”  That rings hollow.  It takes real authentic people to pass this virtue to the next generation.  So when you put everything in perspective Leslie Ann, I hope being a virgin at 32 doesn’t feel so old after all. Let’s not bow down to the expectations of this world, but allow God to intervene in our lives beyond our wildest dreams.  He is still the same God who rescued Moses from the pharaoh and the same God who performs miracles today.

http://www.boundless.org/blog/an-older-virgin-in-a-sex-crazed-world/

Eunuchs Through The Ages

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Mural painting from Sucevita monastery located in Bucovina (Northern Romania)

I think there are many people still confused about Christ’s words when he spoke of “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” in Matthew 19:12:

“For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”

The disciples may not have known many eunuchs who were born so from their mother’s womb, or if they did they had never thought of them as eunuchs.  Plus, the technology to do sperm counts did not exist at that time.  But they certainly knew eunuchs who were made so by men. We are not told of the disciples’ reaction, but I can only imagine it was one of shock and horror, much like ours today. In wide-eyed amazement, they probably recalled the few people they knew who had met such a tragedy. They might have relived for a moment the gruesomeness that led to such a condition – the knife, blood, screams, and inhumanity of it all. And who knows, one of them could have participated in such a barbaric act. But what probably baffled them the most was the fact that these eunuchs were made so voluntarily by their own free will, without the cruelty of castration. I’m sure they were thinking, “What else but the blade of a knife could create a eunuch?” “Can a person will himself to be childless?” Plus, people with defective bodies were seen as unclean during that time. These are probably some of the same questions we ask today when we read these verses. We first have to see that Christ wanted us to think beyond the physiological effects of castration and understand the principle of permanence.  The thing that is really cut off with such an act is a man’s name and the possibility of heirs.  And I’m sure this slammed the breaks on the disciples expectations of divorce so hard that they are still sliding down the road today.  A person’s procreative abilities at the time of Christ were not something that could be turned on and off. This requires us though to see our bodies as God made them, not as they are made by 21st century vasectomies and tubal ligations. A eunuch at the time of Christ was a eunuch forever. There were no reversal procedures. Likewise, a person with the celibate gift is celibate forever. There are no reversal procedures. There doesn’t need to be.  And if you read closely, Christ didn’t say a person had to be a Catholic priest, take vows, or walk down the isle of a wedding chapel.  All of that is man-made tradition.  The person with the celibate gift is committed to Christ forever. Just like a husband and wife are committed to each other in marriage forever. I do believe eunuchs for the kingdom can be men or women. So the eunuch went from a state of disgrace and uncleanness at the bottom of Jewish society to a position of dignity for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He also gained the ability to produce children. In Isaiah 56:4-5, we read:

“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.”

So sex and babies were no longer needed to reproduce sons and daughters in the kingdom of God.  I’m sure that the change in priorities in Jewish heritage was a traumatic experience in itself. But honoring eunuchs did not disparage marriage. By making a pitiful condition a state to be admired, God highlighted the distance between the Jewish mind and his own kingdom. He highlighted the difference between the lineage on earth and no lineage in heaven.  In addition to permanence, I think the metaphor of the eunuch also indicates how difficult and painful celibacy can be.  I think the image of a surgical procedure gets that point across pretty well. The renunciation of a sexual relationship and sons and daughters hurts. Unfortunately, many religious leaders today (like Al Mohler and Russell Moore) can only defile the gift of celibacy with homosexuality and the call for all men to “man up” and get married. Even though our culture may not be able to conceive of virginity beyond “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” its biblical reality to come will not be counted in years. And the euphemism of “singleness will fair no better.

By choosing the metaphor of a eunuch, Christ acknowledged that celibacy does not stand in opposition to marriage. It strengthens it. To me, there even seems to be a reciprocal relationship between the two – the difficulty of faithful marriage linked to the difficulty of faithful celibacy. The person with the celibate gift can give up no more than what is realized as an ideal marriage in the current age. But his status is always on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. By making a pitiful condition a state to be admired, God still highlights the distance between the American mind and his own kingdom in heaven. Christ was also a eunuch, the same man who created marriage. He and his disciples may actually have been ridiculed as eunuchs. Marriage today may be broken with same sex marriage, divorce, domestic partnerships, and civil unions. But celibacy for the kingdom is as intact as it was 2000 years ago.

http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/03/02/permanence-before-experience-the-wisdom-of-marriage/

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-reviews-same-sex-attraction-and-the-church

http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/12/10/why-gay-celibacy-is-not-the-gospel-centered-answer/

http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/11/04/3588151/southern-baptists-ex-gay-mixed-messages/

http://www.ebireflections.com/2/9/6

Chastity Education

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Sex education in high schools has been an ongoing discussion in this country for a long time. It’s actually disheartening to think that parents would relinquish that responsibility to schools. But many of them do, I would estimate over 80%. Even Christian parents. I think the main reason for this is because so many parents have sexual baggage that prevents them from talking about it. They’d rather remain silent than face the ghosts of their past. The freedom and empowerment they experienced as teenagers is now an embarrassment they wish they could forget. But they can’t. They can’t start over again. It still comes back to haunt them. Now the single mom understands why her dad wanted her back home by 10:00. Now the single dad understands why his dad wouldn’t let him stay over at his girlfriend’s house. They know they can’t be role models for their children. Because the hard truth is that chastity can’t be taught. No amount of books can come close. It has to be modeled with the lives and legacies of adults in an exemplary environment of open communication and honesty. Chastity is a moral truth that has to be practiced, not learned. To teach a subject only requires knowledge of it – like history. It only involves the written word, symbols, and reasoning. To educate about a subject, though, requires a person to be something more than a teacher. It requires a mentor that can guide a person with personal experience beyond what books can teach. It takes someone willing to open up and provide examples of the right way to do things, not examples of the way things should be. Ideally, this role model would be the parent. Oftentimes it’s not. The parent may be able to teach on a lot o subjects.  But there’s a big difference between teaching and educating. It’s a fairly easy endeavor to draw diagrams of the human reproductive system and demonstrate how to put on condoms. Any sex education program can do that. It’s quite another thing for a teenager to make these decisions in the backseat of a car when hormones are raging.  What we know as sex education is really sex teaching programs.  They educate on nothing. The true influence of an educator does not consist of what he says, does, or teaches – but rather of what he is. They give themselves as living models, as real examples of how to live. Most of them volunteer their time. But we live in a time when a man’s worth is determined by his job title and credentials.  Not who he is.

We live in a time when young people are strictly segregated according to age and gender. Churches and schools have gotten this down to a fine art. Maybe one day we will come to a point when we realize that the information found in textbooks is not a fraction of the wisdom needed to live fulfilling Christian lives. If young people stay boxed in with people in their own demographic categories, that’s what will happen, very soon. Each generation thereafter will gradually devolve until we’re back at the hunter-gatherer stage, living on wild plants and animals, where men take multiple wives and become his property. To put a stop to all this and get us back on the road to Christian ethics will take people willing to take risks. Make a difference. Get involved in somebody’s life.

The Tragedy Of Birth Control

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Sulawesi Hand Stencils

The world would probably look much different if we had kept God’s original design of human sexuality in place, monogamous sexual relationships in marriage and faithful chastity in singleness. Most of the ethical crises that we face in the world today can be traced back to breaks in that design. One of the biggest breaks came when we separated sex from life with birth control. Whether in marriage or outside marriage, it is not part of God’s plan. It’s violates the fifth commandment which prohibits us from taking a human life. Calling it birth control may have been an attempt to put some noble spin on it, like population control. But there’s not much there. How many women would take contraception if babies were really delivered by storks? Not too many, I suppose. Would we be trying to control the inbound flights of storks? Birth control is not so much about controlling births as it is opening the doors of sexual freedom. It frees up sexual pleasure from that pesky little thing called pregnancy. God did not design sex to be free of responsibility. He did not design it to be a recreational sport. Think about the dignity he built into the whole process. He could have designed our reproductive systems with a more direct link between sex and pregnancy. Sex one day. Baby next day. That would have been too easy. But he threw in the variables of ovulation, fertility windows, sperm counts, and genetics, among a host of other things to remind us of his ultimate control. We tried to take that control. It failed. The feminists looked at birth control as their salvation, the way for women to have it all – the husband, the job, the status, and the children. It was about women’s rights and their ability to take their place in society. They were no longer trapped at home raising children. Mrs. Sanger would have been so proud. But she forgot that it took men to make babies too. Men looked at the pill as their ticket to paradise. This was especially true for single guys because it meant all women were available. Guys were now free to put the pressure on all women to have sex. They could have their cake and eat it too with no worries about the responsibility of becoming a father. Now we have a culture of kids with no fathers, single mothers, deadbeat dads, child support, and child abuse. A lot of single guys have had the benefits that only husbands should have. And a lot of single girls have had the benefits that only wives should have. Their sexualization may be illegitimate, but they are still socially identified as singles. Now it’s quite socially acceptable to refer to single men as predators and single women as promiscuous. Such social dynamics make the dating process even harder for Christian singles waiting until marriage to have sex, especially single women. The odds of them finding appropriate mates fall with each successive generation. We may like to think sex is a private thing between two people. It’s not. Every sexual relationship is a public event one way or another. And when you throw in birth control, it’s like setting up a podcast from your very own bedroom.

Even in marriage, birth control separates sex from marriage. It tells the world that we know more about what’s better for our lives than God does. It replaces our faith in God with faith in technology. It affirms that sexual pleasure is greater than the responsibility of being husbands and wives and moms and dads. Separating sex from responsibility also prevents married couples from seeing the real purpose and value of sex. If they don’t see the value of their own physical relationships in marriage, how will they appreciate the single people around them who have never had sex? On a deeper level, if all married people think about when they think of single adults is the yoke of our sexual desires, how will they ever appreciate someone for whom God has taken away those desires? How will their pessimism transcend the primordial forces of this earth and allow them to see the supernatural workings of God today? Maybe it’s time for married couples in churches to explain just what they have and what marriage means to them and what role sex plays in their marriages. Then maybe singles can explain what they don’t have and what role the absence of sex plays in their lives. Is honesty to much to ask?