I was seated in the living room of a single man who had opened his home to a diverse group of people attending the same church in urban Kansas City. The occasion was a community dinner where small groups would come together and get to know others within the congregation. The church is unique. While it is far from conservative, it isn’t quite liberal either, especially in the theology of its leadership. Instead, I would describe it as being somewhat experimental in it approach to developing ways to follow Jesus and teach scripture which are respectful to church history, yet open to newer metaphors.
The group of people I was with was an eclectic mix of young, older, single, married, straight, and gay. We had finished eating and were beginning to share about our lives in a deeper way. Just two days before, the woman to which I was married at the time and I had finished the paperwork to begin the legal process of divorce. Not only was I feeling very melancholy about this fact, I was also quite reticent to go into life as a single man. I told the story about how I had recently visited a church by myself, and aside from the traditional greeters just inside the front doors, nobody had spoken to me. I explained to the group that it felt as if people were a little intimidated by me, as if they were extending their arms, palms outward, to ward me off. After I finished my statement, a younger man in his mid-thirties, boldly spoke: “That’s what it feels like to walk into a church as a gay man…” He then began to tell his story about trying to find a church that would embrace him as he was. He spoke about knowing about his homosexuality from his earliest remembrances. I responded of knowing my own heterosexuality from my earliest remembrances. We both spoke, and we both listened. I was struck by how similar we were rather than how different.
Does it really matter with whom we have sex?
I believe it does… but probably not for the reason you might be thinking.
Recently, I was given the gracious invitation by my niece to take family pictures of her family. I agreed to do it, with great joy. Her family, with husband (my sister’s son) and three kids; my sister and husband; and myself met at a local tourist location with many backdrop options. After shooting about 180 pictures or so, we came to my house for them to see my home. In the corner of the living room, I have placed the mirror and collection of frames shown above. Each of the frames has a story linked uniquely to my heritage:
The gold oval frame originally contained my grandparent’s wedding picture, although the image and bubbled glass protecting it were broken in my mother’s move just after Dad was killed in a traffic accident.
The frame just beneath the gold frame was given to my father, along with a hand-painted landscape, by an artist he met in a church in which he held revival decades ago. Although the picture is long gone, I still have the frame.
Beneath the two previous frames is one made with barn siding taken from a home site in Southwestern Kansas upon which my dad’s family lived during his childhood.
This collection of articles, although not originally intended as such, is a spiritual metaphor to me. As we were sitting around talking, and looking at the images I had just taken of the family, I haphazardly looked into the mirror behind the frames, and noticed the reflection of London, the eldest daughter of my nephew and niece, framed by the successive frames. I immediately stopped, retrieved my camera, and took two shots of London’s reflection in the mirror. We then eventually said our good nights and they went home.
The next morning, as I was getting ready for work, I couldn’t get the image off my mind. Slowly, it dawned on me the symbolic impact of London’s image which could be seen through the tunnel of frames resting on the mirror. I began to remember the familial significance of each frame. It was as if this girl’s story, and image, were being framed by the stories of the familial and cultural heritage of those who came before her.
The gold oval frame symbolizes the long tradition of intact families. My grandparents (my father’s parents in this case) were married for over 60 years, even though my grandfather was 11 years older than my grandmother. In the long line of marriages within at least of 100 years of direct lineage, of which I am aware; London’s direct family tree (at least on her father’s side. I don’t know about her mother’s side) contains no divorces. The result is an expectation that marriage is for life, and couples have worked out their differences and stayed together.
The middle frame symbolizes the impact of the larger community of Christian believers throughout the centuries. My father’s family expressed openness and generosity to, as well as respect for, other expressions of the Christian faith than that to which they held. My mother also was open to growth in other expressions of the faith. Other faith traditions were treated with respect, with a careful understanding and communication to their children as to why they remained Christian.
The frame closest to the mirror symbolizes survival in hard times. Both my parents’ families lived through the Great Depression. They were poor. In fact, for the most part, we remained poor economically. We learned how to make do with few resources. Such difficulties help people rely heavily upon both each other, and to the provision of God, even when it is meager.
Most importantly, the mirror itself symbolizes God, and that we each bear God’s image. Each of us is a reflection of some aspect of the infinite Creator.
Ultimately, it is to this image that the search for Deep Sex is intended to take us. The journey to this image can be difficult, and takes a lifetime to clarify. In some families, the framework obstructs our capability to see the image. For all of us, the culture within which we live can also provide obstructions, or even worse, alternate images of ourselves that we are encouraged to emulate. Many times we can be our own worst enemies in acknowledging, embracing, and then living into the image of God in us. However, even in our brokenness, we reflect a God who can innervate us with God’s presence so that our entire experience is redeemed to benefit the community around us. Deep Sex is the expression of our deepest selves in love to God and others.
For instance, although I am the first person on my father’s side of my family to be divorced; God has redeemed the experience. I am learning more about myself, and life in general. I don’t recommend divorce… Divorce sucks… yet, as Jesus mentioned, Moses permitted the practice due to “the hardness of your hearts.” From my perspective, this isn’t just necessary because our hearts are hard in the midst of a bad marriage; so hard in fact, that forgiveness may be considered to be completely unreasonable by one or both partners; but divorce can be valuable because the pain and disappointment are so sharp as to pierce the callouses of our heart and allow us to be teachable once again. That is if we choose growth instead of bitterness. It is certainly possible to allow the pain to deepen the callouses of our heart, but this time the callouses cover a layer of pus which develops when we allow bitterness to guide our experience. We then are entrenched in our personal, relational dysfunction in ways that make personal vulnerability unlikely. Sadly, vulnerability is a necessary quality of love.
In warfare, I have heard it said that we are always preparing to fight the last war. Relationships can be like that, I think. It is easy to learn the lessons from the prior relationship, yet be unable to adapt to a new story. That is why I have come to find that the best way for me to be open to the possibility of a new love, is to learn all I can about how to live in healthier ways myself. Honestly, that isn’t an easy task. In so doing, however, I open myself to God to allow God to bring my own “Shadow” to light. It is difficult to know what “healthy” even looks like for me, if I don’t realize my dysfunction. I hate to see it… but I need to see it. Acknowledging my Shadow opens me to the grace of God. In this process, celibacy is invaluable. It is really easy for me to become obsessed with the fantasy which is at the beginning of a new relationship, and doing so can short-circuit the process of deep growth. But the fantasy feels so good! It is easy to overlook aspects of the relationship which really don’t work for us, because being close to someone feels comforting. Besides…
We wanna get laid…
But, what happens after the physical release? Are we really stronger and wiser? Or are we chasing a ghost of the dream when we fell in love for the first time?