Monday, June 08, 2009

Nothing Like Sex With No String Attached, Right?

One day I was driving to a meeting west of Chicago. My fingers fumbled through the radio stations I listen to, one being NPR. Brenda Wilson was at the beginning of her piece entitled, Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships. She begins with the basic reality facing our society today:
The hookup — that meeting and mating ritual that started among high school and college students — is becoming a trend among young people who have entered the workaday world. For the many who are delaying the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing, hooking up has virtually replaced dating.

This shouldn't be too surprising seeing as how many of us were brought up in small social enclaves that encouraged this, not by our parents of course, but in those late night "sleepovers," free summer days with no supervision, or studying, which was the great excuse for "going over to Johns for a party to get completely wasted and hookup with a wall because I'm so blitzed."

Yeah, hooking up has always had a loose definition as far as I know, especially when hearing of my friend's latest hookup, which could be anything from a long night to a long stare, a real girl or a fake story. One girl in the report mentioned that, "For me, it's been anytime that I was attracted to a guy and we spent the night together. It has been sex; it has just been some sort of light making out. That's the beautiful thing about the phrase. Whatever happened is hooking up."

As I have heard of studies done on young people taking longer and longer to move out of their homes (this is prevalent in Italy), this seems like another way where people are postponing responsibility and commitment. As Wilson writes, "Marriage is often the last thing on the minds of young people leaving college today." The average age of marriage for both men and women is higher, where the gap in between college and that time is not filled with dating, but with hooking up. I find it to be a paradoxical combination of frightened independence and heightened individualism--basically I don't want responsibility for anyone but myself and I don't want to be committed to anyone that's going to hinder that.

Wilson draws out powerfully the result of this hookup era, citing words from one of her interviews.
Today, Wilkerson says people hook up via the Internet and text messaging.

"What that means is that you have contact with many, many more people, but each of those relationships takes up a little bit less of your life. That fragmentation of the social world creates a lot of loneliness."

Fragmentation is the key word. The relationships take up just enough of your life for you to get what you want out of them and that's it. I believe this feeds into our highly self-protective culture where everything needs to be safe and in so many ways hooking up is a lot safer than love. Why? Because love is vulnerable. Love is intimate.

This is the note that Wilson ends her article on: What do we do with intimacy?
Hooking up started before the Internet and social networks, but the technology is extending the lifestyle way beyond the campus. Deborah Roffman says no one is offering this generation guidance on how to manage what is essentially a new stage in life.

The dilemma for this generation is how to learn about intimacy, she says: "How am I going to have a series of relationships that are going to be healthy for me and others, and going to prepare me" for settling down with one person?

The dilemma for this generation is how to learn about intimacy. This coupled with the striking suggestion that "no one is offering this generation guidance" is the resounding call to the Church. To be frank, for all our talk about the "close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ" have we neglected modeling what true intimacy looks like? Are we just like those in the hook-up culture who seek to get exactly what we want out of the Church, which is just enough to feel gratified for the moment, but never really engages the heart and soul? The hookup culture is akin to our walking in late to church and leaving early to remain unnoticed and uninvolved. The hookup culture is akin to our sitting in front of our Bibles for 10 minutes, almost mindlessly reading, just so we can tell our friends later that day, "Yeah, I read my Bible today," as if it were your conquest for the day. The hookup culture is akin to being in the sea of faces at church or in a bible study, having a lot of relationships, but never really being known or discipled.

We must ask: Is the Church in America the best model of intimacy for a culture that is longing to experience it?

Fact is much is lost in the hookup culture, but it is just one of countless realities in our lives that contribute to who we are as Americans, or better yet human beings. We want to be the pampered rulers of our own, individual kingdoms. For us it's earplugs for our ears only, screens for our eyes only, and as this story points out, hookups for our pleasure only. But we are designed for so much more. If the Bible is true, the first point is that our God is a deeply intimate God, first within Himself as a Trinity, and then with us, as we are created in His image. Intimacy with our God is characterized by "love" and "abiding" in Him.
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him (1 Jn 4:16).

We can only abide in him as we recognize that our shallow pursuits of hooking up leave us empty--pleasure with no joy, gratification with no gratitude, relationship with no intimacy. We are shells of who we are meant to be.

I am sure the definition of intimacy here differs from Brenda Wilson and Deborah Roffman and yours, but I would argue that it is the correct definition and is what we all truly desire. God has modeled it for us, showing that intimacy is found in self-sacrificing love:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation of our sins. (1 Jn 4:9-10)

We are human. There are always strings attached, even if we, like the puppet, don't know that they are. They can be toyed around with by the puppet masters of this world or they can serve as a reminder and a call to true intimacy where we could be attached to the only One who truly can provide it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

So Many Questions, Yet One Answer

Today I had a conversation with Bob (pseudonym) who asks for money on a corner near my apartment. He and I have established somewhat of a relationship over the past two months. Part of that relationship includes me getting food for him from time to time and us talking about Jesus. By this point he knows me well enough to say my name when we meet, ask me what I'm doing, and that I am praying he knows Jesus.

Bob is a smart man and extremely honest. He spends some of his time in the libraries around the city reading books on sociology and psychology and he has no shame telling me that if I were to give him money he would buy alcohol with it and that he doesn't really want to work because he can't give up drinking. In fact, he was in college, but dropped out because alcohol got the best of him. 30 years have passed since then--all on the streets. The addiction runs deep, but denial of it is not in Bob's vocabulary or demeanor. We have talked of freedom, not found in the system, but in Christ. However, like a job, Bob doesn't think he can give up alcohol for Him. I have tried to explain the beauty that we can never clean ourselves up in order to enter God's presence and know Christ. In fact, God does not even tell us to do that. We come as we are, sinners jacked up in countless ways, trusting that Jesus' blood washes us white as snow. His work, not ours. His glory, not ours. As I mentioned in the previous post, title to all our biographies should be "Sinners saved by grace."

This story may not resonate with anyone who reads this. Maybe for some, but for most you probably won't identify yourselves with Bob thinking there are no parallels in your lives with his. That may be the case situationally. You aren't on the streets; you aren't dealing with a serious addiction; you aren't alone in life. Instead you probably have a nice place to live, are eating well, and have plenty of friends. Life seems to be good. But that's where the relationship with Bob converges. He likes his life as it is. If you like it, why change it, right? But is it possible that people's lives here on earth can actually be content in shackles? Is freedom found in contentment or contentment found in freedom? For that matter how do we define freedom?

I end with questions as opposed to an answer because, like Bob, most people don't like the answer when the big questions are asked. I've given it before; I've given it here. The answer doesn't change, but the questions do remain.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Rough Reflection: Andrew=Sinner Saved By Grace

I am sinful. Sin is a serious--gravely serious--matter. Recall that Paul wrote of himself near the end of his life that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Tim. 1:15). The immediate observation is that the words for himself are in the present tense; Paul continued to see himself as the "chief of sinners." Yet he writes in that same passage about God's grace coming to him. Paul received Christ's mercy (vv. 12-17). Credit is given where credit is due--Paul as a sinner, Christ as his Savior.

This is tough because we don't have much recorded about Paul's regular struggles. We see repentance at his encounter w/ Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and there may be one other instance in Romans 7, but besides that there really is no recording of Paul's "sins." However, Paul did not see himself as the foremost sinner merely because of past sins, nor was it because he was struggling with blatantly sinning, taking his salvation for granted and living some kind of outlandish lifestyle in complete opposition to God though claiming to be a Christian.

I believe Paul saw in his heart utter corruption beyond self-repair. He knew only Jesus could restore him, that Jesus was, is, and forever will be the only human being to ever walk the earth who was capable of changing his heart and all our hearts. Paul saw his life as an example of God's power, writing, "I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life" (v. 16).

What Paul knew, I must know. Like Paul, I do not lose my identity while I am on this earth. I am the one created in the image of God, who, marred by sin in every way, is known as "a sinner." This truth is coupled with the glorious reality that my identity is also completely wrapped up in Christ's life-saving, merciful, perfectly gracious work to where I am also one who is "saved by grace." So here and now, in every day that I walk on this earth, I am a person whose identity is found in sin, but more so in salvation from that sin because of Christ.

I am Andrew, a sinner saved by grace.