Holy Sexuality

“Our temptation is constantly to project on to the things and persons around us expectations they are unable to fulfill, and so to shrink both them and ourselves. We reduce the fathomless meaning of the other (fathomless because of its opening out to God) to the dimensions of our own need; we enslave ourselves to objects of desire that pretend to a finality and all-embracingness they cannot have. If we try to love human beings independently of loving God, we ignore what they are; we do indeed ‘use’ them, in the contemporary sense of the word, we make them serve our purposes, and in so doing make ourselves their servants in a sense quite opposed to the mutual serving of the members of Christ’s body.”

~ Rowan Williams, On Augustine

“God is calling us to so greatly love others that we do not desire for them anything that might separate them from God. Holy sexuality is a love so big that it treasures the purity of another, exonerating that person’s status as an image bearer or a daughter or son of the king and not dehumanizing him or her through manipulating lust.”

~ Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered

Literary Hedonism

One evening a month or so ago, my three oldest children were reading on the couch, each one in their own way. Maria, my second oldest, seven, was silently reading one of the Little House books to herself. In the middle of the couch sat Abraham, my oldest at nine years old. He was reading aloud one of the Hardy Boys books to Judah, five. Reading- aloud, silently, and by listening have been the trinity of my kid’s reading lives.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-10,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

I have been trying for most of my life to figure out reading. Before Rachel and I had children, we had aspirations for the kinds of educational goals that we thought would suit our children. These goals were as easy to discuss as ‘what would you do if you won the lottery,’ considering that we had no raw material to work from, no obstacles to weigh our dreams against. When we finally did have our firstborn son, we decided that above all else, we wanted our children to love and glorify God, and to love reading. We considered that a love of reading and learning would be conducive for properly shaping and equipping a young mind for the wide world and God’s purposes.

I obviously don’t know yet how many large directional mistakes we’ve made, but there are some things that have gone well. God has blessed our simple efforts to raise readers. Rachel and I wanted to expose their eyes and ears to the riches of literature, and we continued to raise our expectations just a bit higher than we thought them likely to attain.

Today, library trips are a regularly scheduled occasion. The children remind me of starving inmates awaiting daily rations. Entire series are greedily gobbled down before another trip can be arranged. Their enjoyment was something we could share together. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Abraham and Maria while they were three and four respectively. Since then, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed countless hours of shared literary experience. I can’t tell you how many Harry Potter jokes we’ve recounted to one another. Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, David Copperfield, and Narnia have provided worlds of imagination and shared culture to appreciate. Lewis, Kipling, Tolkien, Homer- our list of patrons goes ever on and on. We wanted to read with serendipity, a word that Alan Jacobs bequeathed to us that forever changed our reading habits.

So, we read for pleasure, for pure joy. Let us call it literary hedonism. If we find that we can enjoy a text that we had to work hard to appreciate, we are overjoyed for the pleasure of the thing. Lest concerns of pride arise, we pay homage to the author to receive and engage what he or she has to offer. We have nothing that we did not receive. It is all so exhilarating. I look over the lists of texts we’ve read with wonder- how many more will we share? We’ll enjoy the tales of arms and of men, of rings of power, and of the best and worst of times.

Does Satire Work?

Tony Reinke’s work at Desiring God has steadily drawn my attention over the last year. Here is an excerpt of his recent article on sarcasm, where he draws fruitfully from the late novelist David Foster Wallace:

Satire’s most potent work is in exposing phony facades. But it cannot accomplish anything more important, and there’s the problem, as Wallace explained in a 1997 radio interview: “Irony and sarcasm are fantastic for exploding hypocrisy and exposing what’s wrong in extant values. They are notably less good in erecting replacement values or coming close to the truth.”

Sarcasm is a free-swinging wrecking ball. It cannot construct.

So what happens when mocking sarcasm lives past its use and becomes the tone of a generation? Wallace explains. “What’s been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness, instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem. You’ve got to understand that this stuff has permeated the culture. It’s become our language; we’re so in it we don’t even see that it’s one perspective, one among many possible ways of seeing. Postmodern irony’s become our environment.”

Did the Simpsons Ruin a Generation?

So you might say satire works on one level, in its proper season. A sarcastic word fitly spoken is a delight to me. Reinke, however, (channeling Wallace) prophetically points to the moral possibilities of an entire generation steeped in parody, irony and sarcasm. There is also a time for earnestness and sincerity.

Walking On Water

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:28-30

Why can’t I keep my eyes on the one who never takes his eyes off me? I would much rather walk in the storm with you than sit with my fear until you get here. And I’ve seen enough to know that if you want me to, I can do anything at your word. But in spite of your command, and despite my faith and courage two steps later I am choking on sea water and screaming for help. My willingness, my faith, my courage, and my personal pride can’t overcome the shakiness of my legs. Wave dancing to drowning in an instant. Why can’t I hold eye contact even while you hold me upright?
It felt good to put a foot down on the top of the sea and feel it stop on the surface. It felt better to swing the other leg over the gunwale and stand with you in the middle of a storm. At your word I could defy the facts that I had known my entire life. Water isn’t wet, if you command it not to be.
Why don’t you ever look away? My legs, my heart, my little faith quit on you all the time and then I’m amazed that you step back in and pull me up to stand on my wobbly feet. You know what you are working with. It seems like you would find better raw material, somebody with some muscle tone to their thighs and balance to keep them standing when the surface shifts. It doesn’t make sense that one of these times you haven’t let me sink below the surface permanently. Yet somehow, you go from standing over there across the chaos, to instantly dragging me back upright beside you again. I’m not amazed anymore that you can, but I’m still astounded that you will.
You reach down for the one whose dreams are greater than the capacity of his backbone. You grab hold of the one who doesn’t have enough faith to trust you even in the middle of a miracle. You pull up the one whose courage lasts two steps at a time. Then you walk back to the boat beside my scrawny legs and let me try again tomorrow.