Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Modest is hottest?

A couple weeks ago I sat in the McDonald's restaurant in Jonesville, Michigan preparing a teaching on the subject of modesty. Part of a series of sermons that are directed towards women in our church,  I was particularly nervous as I pondered how to address this sensitive topic. As I sat near the door - the only place near enough to an outlet to power my laptop - a parade of scantily clad women came and went.

Afterward I drove back to the camp where I was chaperoning my son's marching band. Along the way I got stuck behind a buggy full of Amish women and children. Driving three mile an hour down a two-lane road gave me plenty of time to survey the situation. Three women were wedged together on the seat with an assortment of five or so kids clinging to the sides of what looked like part pick up truck, part carriage.

I couldn't help but notice the difference between the Amish women with their long sleeves and covered heads and the tube-top-wearing women that frequented McDonald's.

When I arrived back at band camp, the marching band was readying for their evening rehearsal. As I situated my chair in the pavilion next to the football field, I noticed a freshman clarinet player readying her instrument. Printed on the front of her shirt were the words, "Modest is Hottest."

I stared at the phrase, turning it over in my head thinking, "How can I work that into my sermon?" Then, "Is that phrase even true?" Then, "Where can I get some of those t-shirts to hand out on the Sunday I preach this message?"

It must have been an uncomfortable few moments for her before I realized that this freshman girl must have thought I was staring - not at the message on her shirt - but at . . . what was directly beneath the fabric where it was printed. I know I felt awkward. I tried to explain to her that I was a pastor, but I think that only made things worse.

Later on I Googled the phrase and came across Sarah Pulliam Bailey's well written, cleverly titled Her*meneutics blog. She contends that the mantra hurts Christian women. "Modest is Hottest," she claims, objectifies women, just in a different form. The approach still reduces the female body to a sexual object.

But woman (and men for that matter) are so much more.

We are also spirit and mind. And, together with our bodies, we have been created to bring glory to God.

Who gets the glory goes to the heart of the issues surrounding modesty. Bailey wrote,
Men and women are urged to pursue modesty by which our glory is minimized and God's is maximized. The body, spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God we display the height of immodesty.
She's right. But we must not lose sight of the practical issue at work here, too - one that goes beyond the traditional don't-cause-your-Christian-brother-to-stumble conversation. As much as men are accused of objectifying women, women objectify themselves when they view their body as a marketing plan by which one can attract a man.

When a woman dresses provocatively she is marketing herself to every man. The problem with that approach is that every marketing plan assumes that the one doing the marketing can deliver the goods. But a woman should not, cannot deliver the goods to every man. Rather, she should reserve the most intimate part of her being - her sexuality - for only one man, her husband.

When a man or woman uses his or her sexuality to attract, he or she is writing a check with his or her body that the spirit cannot and should not cash.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Christians have hotter sex?

When my friend Dave sent me a link to an article from Psychology Today with the the title "Do Religious People Have a Hotter Sex Life?" it got my attention. I am in the midst of a three-week sermon series that is focused on women and that the third of these sermons addresses how men and women relate in the bedroom.

And then there is my choice in vocation. Most would agree that a pastor qualifies as a "religious person," so it would appear that the article speaks directly to my profession.

Then again, not quite the way I thought it would.

In short, the article suggests that religious people are having lots of sex. Just not with their spouses, unfortunately. Dr. Nigel Barber, the article's author, has the research to back up his claims. Consider these troubling statistics:
  • A study of people that have sex in public restrooms reveals that the "typical" participant is "married and religious."
  • Residents of highly religious states spend more time viewing internet porn than do the residents of less religious states.
  • A study showed that the level of agreement with the statement, "Even today miracles are performed by the power of God" was associated with higher pornography consumption.
  • States that have banned gay marriage have 11 percent more porn subscribers.
  • Finally, residents of states that claim to adhere to old-fashioned family values purchase considerably more porn than those that do not.
Why the inconsistency?

Dr. Barber suggests that one of the causes might be what psychologists call "the white bear effect." That is, tell someone not to think about a white bear, and that becomes all they can think about. With regard to sex, he opines that a similar effect may be at work. The more religions tell people not to engage in illicit sex, the more they want to do so.

Although Dr. Barber might disagree - he recently authored the book Why Atheism Will Replace Religion - I think there is something deeper at work here. A spiritual dimension. Christians call it, "spiritual warfare." The Apostle Paul put it this way:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The church of Christ in ancient Corinth knew something about spiritual warfare.  In his letter to these Christians who were acting as salt and light in a culture that was imbued with sexual licentiousness, Paul urged his fellow Christ-followers to win the battle of the mind. He told them to "take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ." 

In this respect, maybe Dr. Barber is on to something. The solution is not simply, "try not to think about it." But rather to embrace sexual thinking; to acknowledge the thoughts and redirect them. To take them captive.

For too long Christians have tried to refrain from indulging their sexual appetites when, in fact, we need, instead, to retrain them on the spouses that God gives us to enjoy. Here again, Paul speaks to this:
   Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.   The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.   Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
 In short, Paul counsels the Christian husband and wife to have sex, and lots of it.

It would be interesting, and probably more than a little illuminating, to learn how the level of sexual satisfaction within a Christian marriage relates to the statistics cited in the aforementioned article. I frequently tell couples that each of them is their spouse's first and best line of defense against sexual temptation. In other words, something that our great-grandparents said is probably quite true: when the home fires burn brightly, a man (or woman) is less likely to seek warmth somewhere else.

 I suggest you and your spouse test that theory out. Frequently.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Big boys, tiny trains and a REALLY BIG God

They say that the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Bitter Creek Western Railroad certainly confirms that sentiment.

Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, BCWR is a 7.5 inch scale model railroad. Over a dozen times each year fully grown men descend on Bitter Creek bringing their expensive toy trains with them. Costing thousands of dollars, these intricate replicas burn coal and generate steam - enough that the wannabe engineers can pull true-to-scale box cars, log haulers and passenger coaches along the 1.2 mile mainline.

Oil cans in hand, weekend railroaders wipe smudges from their cheeks with their blue bandanas as they ready their trains prior to riding them - yes, riding them - down the tracks through four tunnels and across six bridges and trestles surrounded by a ponderosa pine studded landscape.

The railroad is owned by Karl, an otherwise regular guy who wanted a place for his friends to meet and play with trains. He has succeeded in making enormously big steam engines small enough for regular people with regular wallets to live out their childhood dreams.

Don't Christians do something similar? Aren't we called to proclaim a transcendent God in ways that finite people can wrap their heads around? We make the infinite accessible - as much as it is possible.

Paul, a first century Christian missionary wrote, " . . . we are Christ’s ambassadors . . . "

Karl Hovanitz is rightly regarded as the preeminent "Model Railroad Ambassador."

As Christians we are scale-model ambassadors of a far greater reality. How? Paul provides the answer: "We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'"


Monday, August 13, 2012

Reflections on band camp

The sun is low across the lake. It has been cool all day with an unusually high humidity for an August afternoon. Sound travels far in this heavy air. I'm sitting on a picnic table outside a dorm with a Native American name I can't pronounce.

Fifty yards away, the percussion section bangs out eighth-note triplets. To my left the tubas are practicing scales. I can feel the notes slapping against the wall of the dorm. The trombones are playing the Grand Ledge High School Alma Mater off to my right. The trumpets - out of sight somewhere between the tubas and trombones - are working their way through I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. And, in the midst of the dissonance, the flag corp is on the outdoor basketball court tossing their flags in rhythm to a Lady Gaga tune. (They've somehow managed to drag a stereo to camp so Gaga can make her contribution to the musical mayhem.)

It is Band Camp 2012 at Kimball Camp.

I wonder what the neighbors' reactions are to this Sunday night cacophony. I wonder if they have any idea how blown away they'll be in about thirty minutes when the sections come together on the hastily marked out football field to play the fight song. When Mr. Blackmer hits the ignition switch on this nearly 200 horsepower music machine with trumpets blaring and percussion snapping out a rhythm that echoes through the meadow down to the water's edge and beyond.

It is an awesome thing when the band finally comes together on Sunday night.

But for now - on Sunday afternoon - they're in the sections. Doing their own thing. Making noise instead of music.

I wish it didn't remind me so much of Sunday mornings.